December 1, 2021

2008 Season Review: AL East

November 10, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

It was an amazing season in the American League East.  The home of the strongest division in baseball saw only one of its five teams finish the season without a winning record.  The American League East was also home to the American League Wild Card winner and the American League’s representative in the 2008 World Series.  Here’s a recap of the season that was in the American League East in 2008.

Tampa Bay Rays

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The Tampa Bay Rays making it to the World Series and transitioning from the losers of the American League East to an AL contender was one, if not the biggest story in baseball.  If you don’t believe me you obviously weren’t watching any of the playoff games or World Series. As the announcers liked to tell anyone who would listen, Tampa’s improbable run at baseball supremacy was something that no one could have predicted.  Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays in an amazing 2008 season.

What Worked: Tampa’s improvements to the defense and pitching staff really tied up the loose ends for the Rays.  Tampa allowed 944 runs in 2007 and the bullpen finished dead last with a 6.16 ERA, which was the highest bullpen ERA in 50 years.  Rays starting pitching wasn’t much. Tampa’s team ERA in 2007 was 5.53, more than a full run higher than the league average of 4.52. In 2008 Tampa traded for starting pitcher Matt Garza and added closer Troy Percival.  This was the first time in what seems like the history of the franchise that the Rays signed a real major league reliever.  Adding Percival and Garza allowed the Rays to move what was left of the 2007 relievers down in to positions better suited for their abilities.  Wheeler was now the 8th inning man (when Percival was healthy), while Trevor Miller, Chad Bradford, Grant Balfour, and J.P Howell locked up the rest of the bullpen spots.

The Rays were also able to make improvements on the defensive side as well.  The Rays added Jason Bartlett and moved Akinori Iwamura to second base decreasing the errors up the middle from a combined 57 in 2007 to 34 in 2008.  Tampa also moved Upton to center field, brought up Evan Longoria to play third base and started Gabe Gross a majority of the time in right.  Tampa reduced their errors from 117 in 2007 to 90 in 2008 and increased their fielding percentage to .985 from .980 the year before.

What Did Not:Despite all of the improvements Tampa made in 2008, they failed to score as many runs as they did in 2007.  Tampa saw a decrease in runs scored from 782 in 2007 to 774 in 2008.  Tampa was outscored by three other teams in its division and ranked 9th in the American League.  Tampa also saw inconsistency in the closer position and in the amount of hustle the players showed on the field.

Shopping List:Tampa has an offensive hole in the right field position and could really use a solid closer.  Look for the Rays to trade away one of their back end starters to fill either of these needs and then add a free agent to fill the other.

Boston Red Sox

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The Boston Red Sox were one win away from defending their title in the 2008 World Series. Injuries to Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and David Ortiz opened the door for the Tampa Bay Rays.  In the end, Boston just didn’t have what it needed to get the job done.

What Worked: Promoting from within and developing young players really helped the Red Sox in 2008.  Being able to call on Justin Masterson, Jon Lester, and Jed Lowrie when the team needed really made a difference.  Teams who win the World Series the season before often see a drop off during the following season due to complacency.  The Red Sox were able to overcome despite a great deal of adversity.  Boston didn’t add any significant free agents during the off season, dealt with the whole Manny saga and saw injuries to Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Julio Lugo, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell.  In the end Boston’s organizational focus of drafting well and bring up young talent kept them afloat during tough times.  Although Boston didn’t make it to the World Series again this season, getting to within one game of doing so is a tremendous accomplishment for any major league baseball team.

What Did Not: It’s tough to find things that didn’t work for any team who was able to make it into the late rounds of the playoffs.  Like the Rays, Boston saw a drop off in runs scored from 867 in 2007 to 845 in 2008 but were fortunate to lose only one win from season to season.  The Red Sox line up was a bit weak at the bottom, mostly in the spot occupied by Jason Varitek.  The overall age of some of the players may have caused a sudden drop in production and failing to add an impact bench player reared its ugly head during the playoffs when Mark Kotsay filled Mike Lowell’s spot in the line up.

Shopping List:The biggest need for Boston this off season is filling the catcher position.  Boras is demanding an outrageous contract for a soon to be 37 year old catcher with diminishing skills and there’s also a scarcity of available options so the Red Sox front office will have it’s work cut out for them.  Theo Epstein will have a lot of money to spend on players like Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, who might be considered luxuries to the team.  The Red Sox don’t need to sign these types of players but it would keep them away from the Yankees. Boston will also need to address the holes in their bench and on filling the spot in the bullpen left from the departure of Mike Timlin.

 

New York Yankees

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The Yankees failed to reach the post season for the first time since 1995 and it wasn’t from a lack of effort or talent.  The injury bug ravaged the Yankees pitching staff and line up from top to bottom in 2008, but the Bronx Bombers still managed to win 89 games.  If only they didn’t play in the toughest division in baseball.

What Worked:  When New York’s players were healthy enough to be on the field, they played like a team who could win.  Mike Mussina was finally able to win 20 games and Andy Pettitte showed he could still pitch 200 innings at age 36.   A-Rod will be A-Rod and  Mo is still lights out in the 9th. It was a tough luck season for New York but they made the best of a bad situation.

What Did Not: The Yankees reliance on its young pitchers really let the team down this season.  At the beginning of the season the Yankees and Red Sox both looked poised to transition from the elder statesmen of their rotation to the young guns.  It worked for Boston but not for New York.  Chamberlain’s transition from reliever was well executed but hit a snag when he developed shoulder tendinitis.  Hughes and Kennedy combined for 73 and 2/3 innings and allowed 61 earned runs, pitching ineffectively until they were each injured. Robinson Cano’s character was called into question at the end of the season and was pulled from a game and benched for not hustling.  These are not the types of problems a ball club wants to have with the future of the franchise.

Shopping List:The Yankees have a lot of work to do this off season and its no surprise that they have a lot of money to spend.  With a new stadium and nearly $80 Million coming off the books, the Yankees will be able to throw money at any hole in their line up. The Yankee’s list of considerations will include C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez and Ben Sheets among others.  They could also make a move to trade some of their youngsters to bring in Jake Peavy.  With Hank and Hal running the show now Brian Cashman may be in the minority of any off season decision.  The Yankees will need to address first base, centerfield, and pitching before they move on to fill spots elsewhere on their roster.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

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The Toronto Blue Jays looked as if they were one move away from being a contender in the American League East but later fell to the superior teams above them in the standings.  If Toronto were able to add an impact bat before the deadline things could have worked out differently in the standings.

What Worked:  The Toronto Blue Jays had the best pitching in baseball, hands down.  Toronto allowed the fewest runs of any team in baseball and lead the majors with a 3.49 ERA, 15 complete games, and led the American League in batting average against (.244), hits allowed (1,330), earned runs allowed (561), and was 2nd in the AL with 13 shutouts. An amazing end to end stretch for any modern day pitching staff.

What Did Not:  Toronto had the pitching to win, but not enough offense.  Toronto ranked 11th in the American League in runs scored (714), 10th in home runs (126), 12th in total bases, and 11th in slugging and OPS.  Their offense was almost as bad as their pitching was good.  Toronto could have really been a contender if they had a few more bats.

Shopping List:  Toronto will need to add an arm to replace A.J.  Burnett if they cannot re-sign him and their offense could really use a make over.  Alex Rios and Vernon Wells could use some help and they have spots open at shortstop and DH. Rafael Furcal would be a nice addition up the middle as well as Milton Bradley, Jason Giambi, or Raul Ibanez in the DH role.  If the Jays don’t want to spend any money in the off season they could tap into their bullpen surplus to fill holes.  Toronto could even trade closer BJ Ryan if they needed to without really weakening the team that much.  Ryan would fetch a pretty penny prospect wise with his 2 year $20 million contract in the weak ’09 closer market.

Baltimore Orioles


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The Baltimore Orioles took over the spot that’s usually been reserved for the Tampa Bay Rays at the bottom of the American League East.  It was a disappointing year for O’s fans but they did see some promise from some of their young players.  Jeremy Guthrie looks like the read deal and Melvin Mora was able to turn his season around.  There could be light at the end of the tunnel but it’s still a ways off.

What Worked:  The one thing the Baltimore Orioles could do was hit the long ball.  The O’s scored more runs in 2008 than the Rays and Blue Jays and had 6 players with over 10 home runs and 2 with over 100 RBI’s.  Nick Markakis is turning into the impact player people thought he would and Luke Scott and Adam Jones both look to have promising futures ahead of them.  The offense was definitely the best thing the O’s had going for them in 2008.

What Did Not: Aside from Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore’s pitching was awful finishing ahead of only the Texas Rangers in team ERA.  The O’s gave up an astounding 810 runs and an American League leading 687 walks while losing 93 games. The staff’s batting average against (.277) was second worst in the league, again only better than the Texas Rangers.

Shopping List:  Baltimore isn’t even close to the point where they can start signing big name offensive free agents. The team is in the beginning of its rebuilding stage and has a long way to go before it gets there.  No one knows what the opening day pitching staff looks like outside of Guthrie and if they were to make any moves they should try to sign a front of the line starter to a long term deal so that he’ll still be around when the team is ready to contend.  The name AJ Burnett has been tossed around but I don’t know if he would sign with them.  Baltimore needs to add a first baseman to fill the hole left by Kevin Millar and should look into trading some of their veterans to bring some new young talent into the organization.

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