After covering the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rays this past week, it is finally time to make my final predictions for the 2008 AL Eastern Division. But first, let's break down the division by pitching and offense.
After losing Erik Bedard to the Mariners, the Orioles have one of the three worst rotations in the game. The only pitcher who has a chance of having a decent season is Jeremy Gutrie. Guthrie exploded on to the scene last year after being a disappointment to all the scouts that heralded him as a potential future stud. For all the inconsistency in his career, I'm unwilling to say that Guthrie is nearly as good as he was last year.
The Orioles bullpen is below average as well. After acquiring George Sherrill in the Bedard trade, it appears to me that he'll assume the closer's role. If that happens, the Orioles will also have the worst closer in the game. It's okay Orioles fans, you still have the 4th pick in the draft in June to look foward to.
The Yankees fans will probably say that this is a biased choice to rank the Yankees behind the Rays; however, I feel it is completely justifiable. Andy Pettitte had a rough off-season and has a long history of elbow troubles. C.M. Wang is not a good pitcher; in my mind, he is at best a number 3 guy. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are unproven and Mussina struggled greatly last season.
The Yankees pen, with the addition of LaTroy Hawkins, has potential to be above average. While, as those of you who saw my "Prospect Perspective" post on him in December would know, I'm not too fond of Joba Chamberlain, I think he could do an adequate job as a 7th inning guy. However, the one concern Yankee fans should have is whether this is the year Mariano Rivera finally goes downhill.
I love how Andy Friedmann has put together this pitching staff. With Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and James Shields at the front of the rotation the Rays have the best rotation in franchise history. Throw in the fact that they have top major league ready pitching prospects in Jeff Niemann and David Price.
I also love the acquisition of Troy Percival. Percival and Al Reyes give the Rays a strong back end of the bullpen to close out games.
The Blue Jays pitching staff depends totally on health this year. If Roy Halladay continues to have injury problems and A.J. Burnett continues to get hurt every other day, the Jays rotation will struggle. If both pitchers remain healthy, Toronto should have a solid rotation.
In the pen, it all comes down to whether B.J. Ryan can make a successful return or not. If yes, the Jays will have a way of shortening games to eight innings. If not, the Jays can count on Jeremy Accardo to blow a few games a month.
Although they took a big hit with the loss of Curt Schilling, the Red Sox rotation could be among the top 10 in baseball if Dice-K learns the strike zone a little better and Clay Buccholtz and Jon Lester can become the-top-half-of-the-rotation starters they're supposed to become.
The real strength for Boston is their pen. With Johnathan Paplebon quickly becoming the best closer in the game, that shortens most of Boston's games to 8 innings. Throw in the fact that they have three of the best 7th and 8th inning relievers in Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin, and Manny Delcarmen; the only way to beat the Sox is to get to their starters early and often.
The Orioles have a very weak offense this year. With the loss of Miguel Tejada, and possible loss of Brian Roberts, the Orioles best Opening Day hitter could be Nick Markakis (who is the best Greek baseball player in the game). If the Orioles want to finish with anything other than the 30th ranked offense in the game, they'll need contributions from Adam Jones, Ramon Hernandez, and Melvin Mora in a big way.
4. Blue Jays:
The Jays offense took a bit of a hit. They traded away Troy Glaus for an inferior offensive third baseman in Scott Rolen. The only way the Blue Jays can have a league average offense is if the two ex-Cardinals can perform like they did at the peeks of their careers.
The Rays offense is young, with a few skilled veterans, like Cliff Floyd, mixed in. However, with Cliff Floyd and Carlos Pena as the two major stabilizing forces in the lineup, prone to left handed pitching, the Rays could struggle against southpaws this season.
2. Red Sox:
The Red Sox still have one of the most dominant one, two punches in history in Manny and Papi.The only thing that keeps them out of the #1 rank is the fact that I don't know which Mike Lowell will be playing third for them this year; the one Florida couldn't wait to get rid of, or the one that had a tremendous year last year.
Thanks to Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees earn the top rank despite their rosters increased age. However, with Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Damon on the downside of their careers, the Yankees offense has a chance to struggle this year.
1. Boston; 89-73
2. Tampa Bay; 85-77, 4 GB
3. New York; 84-78, 5 GB
4. Toronto; 83-79; 6GB
5. Baltimore; 59-103; 30 GB
Division MVP: Manny Ramirez; How Manny performs this season could have a huge effect on whether or not he is in Boston next season. Everyone knows that Manny is the type of player that plays well when he wants to, and doesn't play as well if he doesn't feel like it. This is why I'm picking Manny to have a monster season; perhaps, the best of his career.
Runner Up: A-Rod
Divisional CY-Young: Josh Beckett; Beckett is one of the top five pitchers in the game. While some people try to diminish his regular season abilities by saying he is only one of the best in the postseason, I still believe that Beckett can win 20 games every year.
Runner Up: Scott Kazmir