April 17, 2014

Seamheads American League East Season Preview

April 1, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

2009 Preview of Baseball’s Best Division

2009 Projected Standings

A.L. East -  W L GB
Boston Red Sox
98 64
New York Yankees 96 66 2.0
Tampa Bay Rays
95 67 5.0
Baltimore Orioles
75 87 13.0
Toronto Blue Jays 70 92 18.0

Boston Red Sox - The Boston Red Sox have more pitching than anyone in baseball.  The combination of starting pitching depth and an excellent bullpen will really make the difference for Boston in the 2009 season. Boston was able to lead the AL East in runs scored and will have essentially the same lineup coming into ’09 as they did in ’08.  The projected line up has speed in the form of Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup, followed by power potential  in spots 2-7.  Jed Lowrie provides Boston with an offensive upgrade in the 8th spot over what they started with last season with Julio Lugo leaving Jason Varitek as the only real hole in the lineup. The good news for Tek is that he’s had a good offensive spring, hitting 4 home runs from the left side of the plate.

The biggest “if” with this team is the health of the offensive core who all missed time in ’08.  Mike Lowell has looked good in spring training and has shown the ability to play in back-to-back games.  Ortiz played on the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic  but didn’t really show his power until returning to the Red Sox.  Since his return he’s gone 3-for-8 with two long balls in three games. J.D. Drew had been troubled by back problems in the beginning of spring training but has been playing regularly as of late. All good signs for Ortiz, Lowell, Drew and the Red Sox.  If any of Boston’s big offensive guns were to go down for an extended period of time, Boston has the blue chips available to acquire a bat from elsewhere and the financial flexibility to take on a significant amount of payroll.

The combination of having done it last year in a worst case scenario, having flexibility to make moves if necessary, and a stockpile of pitching like no other team in baseball has to give Boston an edge over  any other American League team.

New York Yankees -  Don’t get me wrong…the Yankees had the biggest offseason of any team in baseball and have brought players in that will really help them in 2009.  The biggest thing that people overlook is that the Yankees needed to bring in that much talent just to be able to compete with the Rays and Red Sox.  New York will also have Chien-Ming Wang back in the rotation to fill the three spot in the rotation behind CC Sabathia and Josh Burnett, and Joba Chamberlain starting the season in the 5 spot behind Andy Pettitte.  Wang’s return to the rotation will have a greater effect on the success of the team than people think…it’s not often that a team can add an 18-game winner to their rotation.

The Yankee lineup is full of as many, if not more “ifs” than Boston’s.  Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, all experienced injuries in ’08 at an advanced baseball playing age. The difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees could be those “if’s” or it could be the loss of Alex Rodriguez during the first month of the season.  With three contenders battling for the Division Championship and likely the Wild Card, one or two games could separate these teams.  Replacing Rodriguez with Cody Ransom for a month shouldn’t have that much effect on the race spread out over an entire season but it could lead to that one or two game difference. A-Rod’s absence not only weakens the team through replacing him with Ransom but also forces Matsui to bat clean-up and weakens the rest of that lineup by moving batters 4-9 up a spot.  The Yankees certainly have the talent to win the division, but like the other teams they’ll be competing with, luck will have to be on their side.

Tampa Bay Rays -  Tampa’s ’08 season can be summed up with one word…Magical. Their defense was amazing, their bullpen was solid from end to end, their starting pitching was great and they had luck on their side.  Tampa was 29-18 in one-run games, 10-6 in extra inning games, and had an expected win-loss record of 91-71, out-performing that expectation by 6 wins. Not to discount anything Tampa did last year, but they did have a bit of luck on their side.  Rather than taking that success and resting on the assumption that it will get better next season, Tampa went out and made a conscious effort to get better.  They signed Jeff Nelson and Pat Burrell and then traded for Matt Joyce. Burrell fills the hole the Rays had at DH and will give them a bigger bat against lefties. Joyce is young, cheap and a good defender.  Just the type of player the Rays like, and Nelson gives them another effective right-hander out of the pen.

A number of Rays had off seasons last year and no one really had a career year.  That being said, the Rays are poised for an improvement.  Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton both should have better ’09s and a full season of Carlos Pena should also add to an improved Rays offense. The Rays were in the right place at the right time in 2008.  Boston and New York were riddled with injuries providing Tampa the opportunity to shine.  Tampa will take that experience and build upon it in 2009. With just three games in the projected standings separating the first and third teams in the American League East, anything can happen causing any of these three to switch places. Health will be the biggest factor in who succeeds and who fails…Nothing is set in stone, it’s why they play the games.

Baltimore Orioles – The Baltimore Orioles can do one thing and that’s hit.  They had 5 players with 20 or more home runs and have only lost one of them (Kevin Millar, 20) during the off season but have filled him with a suitable replacement (Ty Wigginton, 23).  As good as Baltimore’s offense was, their pitching was equally as bad, ranking ahead of only the Texas Rangers. The O’s pitching staff did improve, they added Koji Uehara to compliment staff ace Jeremy Guthrie but the rest of the rotation is uncertain and the candidates are mostly unproven or a year or two away.

It’s likely that the O’s will continue their consecutive losing seasons streak for another year but should be able to improve in the near future to a point where they won’t come close to challenge Pittsburgh’s mark of 16, at least if catching phenom Matt Weiters has anything to say about it.  Weiters comes into the 2009 season as baseball’s biggest and most highly-touted prospect.  He’s been dubbed a “Joe Mauer with power” and will make headlines throughout the season.  As far as becoming a contender goes, O’s fan’s will have to wait for that to happen due to them delaying Weiters’ start to the season until at least mid-May at the major league level in an effort to gain another year out of him before he reaches free agency.

Toronto Blue Jays -  The Blue Jays took a tremendous step back after a disappointing 2008 season.  Blue Jay pitching was the best in baseball in 2008 but with many leaving through free agency or missing time due to injury, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to do it again in 2009.  Toronto’s biggest weakness in 2008 was its offense and they’ve done little to improve it during the off season. Kevin Millar is a great guy, but hardly a difference maker when it comes to improving an offense.  Vernon Wells missed a majority of spring training after re-aggravating his oft-injured hamstring, and Scott Rolen experienced some back trouble early as well.  With both of these guys having injury concerns and large contracts, that could prove to be troublesome for the Blue Jays for at least the foreseeable future if they can’t stay healthy.  Management has been talking about 2010 before the 2009 season even began so it doesn’t look to be a good year for Toronto.

The combination of a discounted currency, a depressed economy and traditionally low attendance could really hurt the Blue Jays this season.  It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see them enter the early-to-mid-season as big sellers on the trade market. With the stiff competition that exists in the East, coupled with a front office that’s already focused on next year, it’s a safe assumption to make that this year won’t be the year for the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Blue Jays will likely share the role of American League East punching bag with the Baltimore Orioles.

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