Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2013 AL East Preview

With the baseball season just 2 weeks away from starting up, I wanted to do some MLB previewing before we delved too much into the NFL free agency and upcoming draft. Here's how we see the AL East playing out in 2013.

1st Place, Toronto Blue Jays

Projected Lineup
SS Jose Reyes
LF Melky Cabrera
RF Jose Bautista
1B Edwin Encarnacion
3B Brett Lawrie
DH Adam Lind
C J.P. Arrencibia
CF Colby Rasmus
2B Maicer Izturis

RHP R.A. Dickey
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Josh Johnson
LHP Ricky Romero
SU: Sergio Santos
CL: Casey Janssen

Adding a bunch of payroll and big names didn't quite work for the Dodgers last summer, but things should be different north of the border. The Blue Jays new pieces all have time to mesh in spring training and they added professionals like Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes, who are both notoriously strong clubhouse presences. I absolutely love their rotation, where they have 2011 staff ace and 20-game winner Ricky Romero as their fifth guy. The only question I have with this squad lies in their bullpen where their closer is a little banged up heading into the season and they aren't extremely deep. As long as they keep their key cogs healthy though, they should be the clear-cut favorites in a weakened AL East.

2nd Place, New York Yankees

SS Derek Jeter
RF Ichiro Suzuki
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixiera*
LF Curtis Granderson*
3B Kevin Youkilis
DH Travis Hafner
C Francisco Cervelli
CF Brett Gardner

LHP C.C. Sabathia
RHP Hiroki Kiroda
LHP Andy Pettite
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP Ivan Nova
SU: Dave Robertson
CL: Mariano Rivera

*ETA early May

The Yankees have some big injuries to overcome with Tex and Granderson out to start the year, but I think they can get by with small ball until then with Ichiro, Jeter and Gardner. Getting Mo back in the 9th should help solidify things a lot though, and I think Youkilis will be a steady add to the lineup after the ARod debacle. They're obviously a team built to win now and have the oldest roster in baseball, but I can see them staying strong for another run. As long as their two injured sluggers return in good shape by their estimated time-table (early May), Andy Pettite's arm holds up for one more year, and Phil Hughes can continue to take strides forward, I think the Yanks will be in the mix for one of the Wild Card spots. Plus it's the Yankees we're talking about, so even if they're falling short, they'll do whatever they can at the trade deadline to help themselves.

3rd Place, Tampa Bay Rays

CF Desmond Jennings
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Evan Longoria
RF Ben Zobrist
LF Matt Joyce
DH Luke Scott
2B Kelly Johnson
1B James Loney
C Jose Molina

LHP David Price
RHP Jeremy Hellickson
LHP Matt Moore
RHP Alex Cobb
RHP Jeff Niemann
SU: Joel Peralta
CL: Fernando Rodney

I don't love Tampa's lineup, but I really like their pitching staff, despite the loss of James Shields. Price, Hellickson, Moore and Cobb are all bright young arms who've already had success at the big league level and will only get better. Then there's that bullpen, which is one of the better ones in the league and won't be coughing up many leads they take into the 7th inning. If they can get Jennings, Joyce, Johnson and Escobar to all get back to their standard level of play, and they keep Zobrist and Longoria on the field together, then they're going to be a solid squad. If they could have gotten one more big bat for the middle of the order, they'd be a lot better off. They certainly have one of the best in the game pushing the buttons for them in Joe Maddon, who's had that team a perennial contender since taking over as manager. If the Yanks can't get/stay healthy, then they slide up to 2nd and NY sinks down.

4th Place, Boston Red Sox

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
RF Shane Victorino
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz*
1B Mike Napoli
3B Will Middlebrooks
LF Jonny Gomes
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Stephen Drew

LHP Jon Lester
RHP Clay Bucholtz
RHP Ryan Dempster
LHP Felix Doubront
RHP John Lackey
SU: Andrew Bailey
CL: Joel Hanrahan

*Will miss opening day, no concrete ETA

The Red Sox lineup will take a huge hit if David Ortiz's injury continues to linger and hold him out of significant action.  I don't like their pitching staff as much as Tampa's, but even without Ortiz, that lineup should still put some runs on the board, especially in Fenway. A healthy Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan pose one of the best 1-2 punches to end games, but the bullpen has a lot of question marks aside from that. Ellsbury and Pedroia are two of the best at their positions in the game, but the Red Sox are no longer the AL East powerhouse they've been ever since breaking the curse in 2004.

5th Place, Baltimore Orioles

2B Brian Roberts
DH Nolan Reimold
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
1B Chris Davis
3B Manny Machado
LF Nate McLouth

RHP Jason Hammel
LHP Wei-Yen Chen
RHP Chris Tillman
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Steve Johnson
SU: Pedro Strop
CL: Jim Johnson

The O's surprised everyone with their Wild Card birth in '12, but the stars kind of had to align for it to happen. I do like the makeup of their young pitching staff, but they don't have a true ace. Jason Hammel will carry that role but he has a career ERA of 4.78 and I expect him to return closer to that level than the 3.43 number he put up last season . They do have bright young arms like Tillman and Chen, and there's Dylan Bundy waiting in the wings, and I like the middle of their order. However, unless Brian Roberts returns to form, they really don't have a true leadoff hitter either.

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