[MLB] Preview: AL East, NL East

Over the next three weeks, we'll be running through a preview of the upcoming MLB season, team by team. First in the lineup, the AL East and NL East.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll be running through a  preview of the upcoming MLB season, team by team.  First in the lineup, the AL East and NL East.


Predicted order of finish

1.)New York Yankees

2.)Boston Red Sox

3.)Tampa Bay Rays

4.)Toronto Blue Jays

5.)Baltimore Orioles

Of all the divisions in baseball, the AL East is probably the hardest to predict. In many polls, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays hold the top three spots in all of baseball. How can anyone be expected to accurately predict anything that will happen in this division? One of these three teams will be left out of the postseason party. Last year it was the Yankees. But, after a monstrous winter spending spree, the Bronx Bombers are primed to return to postseason glory. The only real guarantee, though, is that the Orioles and Blue Jays are extremely overmatched and will undoubtedly spend the whole season battling for fourth place.

New York Yankees: As I mentioned before, the Yankees missed out on the post season last season after finishing 89-73 and six games behind wild card Boston. That’s a terrible record for the team with by far the biggest payroll in baseball. New York was the only Team with a payroll exceeding 200 million (by a lot). Well, if you can’t win with the highest payroll how can you win? Add to the highest payroll by signing the top two free agent pitchers and best position player available. That better get the Yanks back to the after party or else there will be a lot of red-faced Steinbrenners in October.

Predicted rotation:

1.) C.C. Sabathia

2.) A.J. Burnett

3.) Chien-Ming Wang

4.) Andy Pettitte

5.) Joba Chamberlain

Predicted lineup:

FB: Mark Teixeira

SB: Robinson Cano

SS: Derek Jeter

TB: Alex Rodriguez

C: Jorge Posada

RF: Xavier Nady

CF: Melky Cabrera

LF: Johnny Damon

DH: Hideki Matsui

How they’ll do: The Yankees should win the AL East, but they aren’t free of problems and question marks. Is Joba Chamberlain ready to be a full time starter or will the lack of any bullpen help after aging Mariano Rivera make him a better fit in the setup role? If so, who will be the fifth starter? Phil Hughes? How healthy is Jorge Posada? Will A.J. Burnett stay off the DL? Will A-rod be able to handle the relentless taunting he’ll receive at every away game? Even with all these questions, the Yankees should win the AL East.

Predicted Win Range: 93-98

Boston Red Sox: Prior to last season, it looked like the Yankees had brought in the pieces to add to their twenty-six World Series trophies. Boston, just like this coming season, had a lot of question marks. Could Jon Lester become a productive member of the rotation? He did and more. How was Jacoby Ellsbury going follow up his amazing production at the end of ’07? Can you say “50 stolen bases”? Did Dustin Pedroia really deserve to win rookie of the year? He followed it with an AL MVP .How many facial hair variations would Kevin Youkilis go through during the season? Too many to count. The Red Sox answered those questions while taking the AL wild card and made it all the way to the ALCS.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Josh Beckett

2.) Daisuke Matsuzaka

3.) Jon Lester

4.) Time Wakefield

5.) Brad Penny

Predicted lineup:

FB: Kevin Youkilis

SB: Dustin Pedroia

SS: Julio Lugo

TB: Mike Lowell

C: Jason Varitek

RF: J.D. Drew

CF: Jacoby Ellsbury

LF: Jason Bay

DH: David Ortiz

How they’ll do: Boston has the look of a playoff team. But, as we all know, every one of the “big three” won’t be able to make the playoffs. The Sox have quite a few lingering questions. Will Brad Penny stay healthy and bounce back from his injury riddled ’08 season? Who will be the starting short stop? Will it be popular, untested, youngster Jed Lowrie? So, that would make Julio Lugo a multi-million dollar backup? When will John Smoltz play and what will be bring to the table? Will Rocco Baldelli be able to contribute? Which Josh Beckett can fans expect this season? How many Fenway Franks can I eat during one game? That’s almost too many questions. Sheesh. Boston should take the AL wildcard again and will face the Yankees in the ALCS. Somewhere Don Zimmer is cringing at the thought.

Predicted Win Range: 90-95

Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays made one of the biggest turnarounds in MLB history from ’07 to ’08. They went from 66-96 and a last place finish to 97-65 and a trip to the World Series. Even though Tampa Bay lost to the Phillies, it proved that any organization, with the right moves, can build a championship contender. From savvy free agent signings to homegrown talent, Tampa Bay smartly and cheaply created a team to fear. The Rays are no longer doormats and they will be out to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Scott Kazmir

2.) James Shields

3.) Matt Garza

4.) Andy Sonnanstine

5.) David Price

Predicted lineup:

FB: Carlos Pena

SB: Akinori Iwamura

SS: Jason Bartlett

TB: Evan Longoria

C: Dioner Navarro

RF: Gabe Gross

CF: B.J. Upton

LF: Carl Crawford

DH: Pat Burrell

How they’ll do: Will Tampa Bay add to their ’08 accomplishments or are they due for a major letdown? Were they overachievers or did they finally start living up to their potential? Personally, I think they played slightly above their talent level last year. I’m not saying they are due for a big decline, I’m merely saying that everything has to go perfectly to have another season like ’08. The addition of Pat Burrell could be huge for the power production of this team. Burrell hit 33 homers in the regular season. But, only had one hit (a double) in fourteen World Series at-bats. Tampa will be battling for a playoff spot long into the season. But, I just feel that even though the wildcard will once again come out of the east, Tampa will be left out.

Predicted Win Range: 88-93

Toronto Blue Jays: What is going on in Toronto? Just when it looked like the organization was primed to shake up the AL East after finishing only two games behind the Yankees, the front office decided not to sign anyone to replace the ginormous loss of A.J. Burnett. There were a lot of cheap, decent arms available. But, Toronto was content to have Roy Halladay spend the whole winter tossing and turning in his bed as he thought about the nightmare that will be 2009. Tim Burton couldn’t design a more nightmarish scenario for one of the best arms in the game. It’s Roy Halladay, a good bullpen, a respectable offense and nobody else. They might be a playoff team, if somehow Halladay starts every other game. But, that aint gonna happen.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Roy Halladay

2.) Jesse Litsch

3.) David Purcey

4.) Scott Richmond

5.) Matt Clement

Predicted lineup:

FB: Lyle Overbay

SB: Joe Inglett

SS: John Mcdonald

TB: Scott Rolen

C: Rod Barajas

RF: Alex Rios

CF: Vernon Wells

LF: Adam Lind

DH: Travis Snider

How they’ll do: This Toronto team is kind of a mystery. After Roy Halladay, they have a lot of untested starters. Jesse Litsch went 13-9 with a 3.58 ERA, Shaun Marcum went 9-7 with a 3.39 ERA, but, all of the other possible starters are relatively unknown. That’s really bad. The bullpen is, as I said before, but, it doesn’t matter what reliever you throw in when you’re already losing 6-0 in the second inning. This is going to be a long year for Toronto and it’s not going to get any better unless this organization decides to start shelling out big bank like Boston and New York or sprucing up their farm system like Tampa Bay. Toronto will not make the playoffs this season or any season in the near future.

Predicted Win Range: 75-83

Baltimore Orioles: Baltimore is very similar to Texas and Toronto in the fact that both teams always seem to have a ton of offensive firepower, but no pitching. The O’s opening day starter will probably be Jeremy Guthrie. He went 10-13 and had a 3.63 ERA last season, but probably wouldn’t even make the Yanks, Red Sox, or Rays rotations. If he’s the Orioles ace, they have problems. They will put a lot of runs on the board, but without reliable pitchers they most likely won’t even equal their win total of 68 from last season. Maybe the O’s will be this year’s version of the Tampa Bay Rays, but I highly doubt it.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Jeremy Guthrie

2.) Radhames Liz

3.) Mark Hendrickson

4.) Koji Uehara

5.) Rich Hill

Predicted lineup:

FB: Aubrey Huff

SB: Brian Roberts

SS: Cesar Izturis

TB: Melvin Mora

C: Gregg Zaun

RF: Nick Markakis

CF: Adam Jones

LF: Felix Pie

DH: Luke Scott

How they’ll do: The only reason I picked the Orioles to finish in last place is the fact that their rotation is so full of no-names that they make the Blue Jays arms look good. They also have no bullpen whatsoever. Oh wait, that’s a lot of reasons to pick Baltimore to finish in last place. I really feel sorry for any fan that has to root for this team. I thoroughly believe that the often mocked Kansas City Royals will finish at least ten games better than the Orioles. The Orioles will not make the playoffs and should just forfeit all of their games. Just kidding…not really, though.

Predicted Win Range: 68-75


Predicted order of finish

1.) Philadelphia Phillies

2.) New York Mets

3.) Atlanta Braves

4.) Washington Nationals

5.) Florida Marlins

The NL East is an equally intriguing division. Most writers will tell you that the AL and NL East are the two hardest divisions to predict. The Phillies won the World Series last year and look like major contenders to repeat. But, the Mets did a lot of wheeling and dealing during the winter months in an attempt to end the misery that has plagued the organization the last two seasons. The Bravos haven’t made the playoffs since 2005 and have been in a rebuilding mode ever since. They ruled the NL East for a decade and a half and are now on the outside looking in. The Marlins can never be counted out. The Nationals just might surprise me this year.

Philadelphia Phillies: For the first time since 1981, the Phillies will start the season as the defending champions. With a formidable rotation, amazing bullpen and explosive offense, Philadelphia is definitely the favorite to repeat as NL champions. If it weren’t for the Yankees off season spending, they would be the overall favorites. No team is as complete from top to bottom as the Phillies. Pat Burrell was a big loss. But, he was replaced by Raul Ibanez, who isn’t a slouch at the bat himself. In fact, if he doesn’t regress, Ibanez should have a much more productive season than Burrell did in Left Field in ’08.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Cole Hamels

2.) Joe Blanton

3.) Brett Myers

4.) Jamie Moyer

5.) Kyle Kendrick

Predicted lineup:

FB: Ryan Howard

SB: Chase Utley

SS: Jimmy Rollins

TB: Pedro Feliz

C: Carlos Ruiz

RF: Jayson Werth

CF: Shane Victorino

LF: Raul Ibanez

How they’ll do: As I said before, the Phillies are pretty solid from top to bottom except for Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz. Will the rotation play as well as they did last season? Is Cole Hamels’ ERA going to continue to get lower like the last two seasons or is he due for a step back? How much longer can Jamie Moyer contribute positively? Is Brad Lidge going to stay healthy? How much will the bullpen miss J.C. Romero while he serves his 50 game suspension? They’ll definitely make the playoffs. Most likely win the East.

Predicted Win Range: 90-95

New York Mets: Just like in ’07, ’08 ended with a choke instead of a growl. The Mets have made it a habit too get their fans hopes up all season only to dash them during the last few days of the regular season. In both seasons, they missed out on the post season by only one game after leading the division for extended periods of time. Those teams had one Achilles heel, the bullpen. During the offseason, the Mets stocked up on all star closers in hopes that a late season collapse can be averted this time around. The addition of Felix Rodriguez and J.J. Putz should help the fans at Citi Field breath a little easier.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Johan Santana

2.) Oliver Perez

3.) John Maine

4.) Mike Pelfrey

5.) Tim Redding

Predicted lineup:

FB: Carlos Delgado

SB: Luis Castillo

SS: Jose Reyes

TB: David Wright

C: Brian Schneider

RF: Ryan Church

CF: Carlos Beltran

LF: Fernando Tatis

How they’ll do: Switching from the NL to the AL is a big change, especially for a pitcher. K-Rod is moving from the laid back style of the Los Angeles Angels to the loud, busy and unforgiving New York Mets. How will he handle the pressure to anchor a revamped bullpen? J.J. Putz was a closer when he played for Seattle. But, now he’s a the main set up man for Rodriguez. How will he handle the extremely different mentality associated with this position? Eric Gagne’s career fell into a tail spin of awful play when he became the main set up man for Jonathan Papelbon. Some closers can’t hack it in a different relief position. Will Oliver Perez be the pitcher the Mets think they signed, or will he be the inconsistent underperformer that the Pirates gave away? The Mets will find a way to miss the playoffs again.

Predicted Win Range: 88-93

Atlanta Braves: How embarrassed are the Braves right now? John Smoltz jumped ship (to Boston) after twenty seasons in Atlanta. They didn’t believe that he would leave and he called their bluff. His pride was hurt by their lackadaisical attitude toward re-signing him and now their team is hurt with his absence. They had to scramble to sign Derek Lowe to replace him. Anyone who knows Lowe’s history definitely knows that he can be hit or miss. Who knows if he’ll thrive as the ace of the Atlanta staff? Also, is Mike Gonzalez going to be reliable as the go-to closer?

Predicted rotation:

1.) Derek Lowe

2.) Tom Glavine

3.) Jair Jurrjens

4.) Javier Vasquez

5.) Kenshin Kawakami

Predicted lineup:

FB: Casey Kotchman

SB: Kelly Johnson

SS: Yunel Escobar

TB: Chipper Jones

C: Brian McCann

RF: Jeff Francoeur

CF: Josh Anderson

LF: Garrett Anderson

How they’ll do: Would the real Jeff Francoeur please stand up? Who is this guy? His first three season, he was a big bopper who seemed to be able to leave the yard at will. Last year he looked confused and uncomfortable whenever he was shown on camera. His batting average dropped about sixty points from ’07 to ’08. Is he ready to make a come back or is he going to continue to decline? How much will Tom Glavine contribute this season? Is Kenshin Kawakami the next Daisuke Mastuzaka or the next Kei Igawa? Still, there will be no return to the post season for Hotlanta.

Predicted Win Range: 80-85

Washington Nationals: Washington was the worst team in baseball last season. It was one of only two teams to lose over 100 games. They had almost no home run production with Lastings Milledge and Ryan Zimmerman leading the way with a whopping 14 homers each. The addition of Adam Dunn, and his 40 home runs, will be huge for the Nats, unless, Dunn gets walked every at-bat. Sadly though, the rotation does not look very promising, I’ve never even heard of their presumed opening day starter, John Lannan. There’s a reason why people make jokes that Washington is a minor league baseball team.

Predicted rotation:

1.) John Lannan

2.) Scott Olsen

3.) Daniel Cabrera

4.) Shawn Hill

5.) Collin Balester

Predicted lineup:

FB: Adam Dunn

SB: Ronnie Belliard

SS: Cristian Guzman

TB: Ryan Zimmerman

C: Jesus Flores

RF: Elijah Dukes

CF: Lastings Milledge

LF: Josh Willingham

How they’ll do: Back in 2002, I was lucky enough to go to a Montreal Expos game at Stade De Olympique. Even though they lost by one run to the Houston Astros and it was obvious that they would be leaving town soon, the Expos had a good club that season and finished the year 83-79. Since the move to Washington, the Nationals have declined every season. They went from 81 wins in ’05, to 78 in ’06, to 73 in ’07 and finally 59 last season. Is this the year they start to turn it around? A once proud franchise in Montreal has become the laughing stock of baseball. It’s about time something changes. Sadly, it probably won’t.

Predicted Win Range: 70-75

Florida Marlins: The Marlins challenged for a playoff spot late last season. But, it doesn’t look likely that it will happen this season. Their rotation might be better than the Nationals. But, on paper, the outlook is equally as dismal for this team. The loss of Mike Jacobs and his 32 home runs isn’t good for a team that pretty much only relies on offense. Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla will have to produce big time if they have any chance of even equaling last seasons win total.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Ricky Nolasco

2.) Andrew Miller

3.) Josh Johnson

4.) Chris Volstad

5.) Anibal Sanchez

Predicted lineup:

FB: Jorge Cantu

SB: Dan Uggla

SS: Hanley Ramirez

TB: Wes Helms

C: John Bakers

RF: Jeremy Hermida

CF: Cameron Maybin

LF: Brett Carroll

How they’ll do: I think I already opened myself up for disaster by picking the Marlins to finish in last place. In past season, The Marlins have been like the little engine that could. They always seem find a way to win close games and challenge for a playoff spot. But, I really feel that with their lack of a rotation, this is the year they start off slow and never gain momentum. They never should have let Joe Girardi go. What were they thinking? They were on track for a return to the playoffs, now they are a team with a roster that actually looks like the tiny amount of money they spent for it. Not even close to the playoffs this season.

Predicted Win Range: 65-70

Image by: Chris Collins, SXC

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