division is it… the true battlefield for major league baseball.
many of the articles, I’ve been talking a lot about arguments
you could make this season. How good is Milwaukee’s rotation?
Is Colorado the most talented team in the NL West? Could C.J.
Wilson get votes for the Cy Young award? Stuff like that. Well…
here is the top of the arguments I believe you could successfully
attempt to defend…
top three teams in the AL East are the top three teams in the
American League, and three of the top five in all of baseball…
maybe three of the top four.
know. A lot of baseball still needs to be played. And, we’ll get
to the obstacles Tampa needs to overcome in a second… not the
least of which is two stronger and deeper teams with bigger wallets
in their division, and only two playoff spots possible from any
point is… I really do believe you could take their starting pitching,
and Evan Longoria, and the potential of the younger players, and
compare them quite favorably to Oakland, Texas, Minnesota, and
Chicago. I really do believe they could win the AL Central… the
AL West… the NL Central… the NL West. I really do believe the
teams that I know… not believe, know… should be better them include
Boston, New York (Yankees… though I probably didn’t need to specify
that), and Philadelphia, and then we get into that grey area of
Atlanta, San Francisco and potential division winners.
immediate response… first thought that hits your head. Ready?
did you come up with?
nothing. Fair enough. They’re an afterthought for many people.
Oakland… California… all recently good teams or improving clubs
that could win a division if things break right in 2011. Right?
Ok… each of the three had a worse record than Toronto last season.
The Blue Jays won 85 games.
think about that for a second, and expand the thought. Four teams
in the AL East won 85 or more last season. One that you wouldn’t
give more than two seconds of thought about not only had a winning
record, they won more that several teams that people think could
make a playoff run in 2011. Here’s some more…
number one to chew on… The American League East went 431 – 379
in 2010. The Baltimore Orioles were 30-games under .500, and yet
the entire 5-team division still played .530 baseball and finished
52-games over .500.
number two to chew on… The top three teams in the division won
280 games… or an average of just over 93 each. The top three.
Even though, thanks to the unbalanced and vision heavy schedule,
each faced the other two for about a quarter of their games.
What I expect in 2011: 97-65, lose in World Series
they did in 2010: 89-73
personnel changes: Have you been under a rock? Adrian
Gonzalez… Carl Crawford… Dan Wheeler… Bobby Jenks… a ton of guys
on minor league deals that will almost certainly make appearances
during the season.
when you consider the draft picks the departures of Victor Martinez
and Adrian Beltre will bring back, they really didn’t lose much
because they brought in talent, as of right now didn’t add payroll,
and they gained draft picks. (In fact, count me as one that believes
Beltre will be an anchor in Texas for most, if not all, of his
expectations: You’ve read all about it… so let’s see
if I can make this short, and yet still impart something different.
look at last year’s record. 89-wins. Beckett, Ellsbury, Pedroia,
Youkalis, Cameron, and Martinez all missed significant chunks
of the regular season due to injury. And they weren’t the only
ones missing time. Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Lackey are being asked
to “bounce back” because last season they didn’t contribute that
much. And yet, (1) the team won 89-games without them contributing
much, and, (2) those three are the back of the starting rotation.
Gonzalez, Crawford, Wheeler and Jenks were added to the roster
that managed to win 89. Plus, right now, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkalis
and Cameron are all healthy.
they are deep. Cameron… the back-up outfielder… is likely to start
on opening day because Texas will probably send lefty C.J. Wilson
to the mound. Lowrie… the utility infielder… is mentioned as a
possible starter instead of being a role player.
they are deep. Wakefield won’t be starting. He’s headed to the
pen. So that’s six starters, along with the guys in the minors.
They have one guy in the minors… Okajima… that closed for them
many times in recent years. And, their roster features (not including
Wakefield), no fewer than four players that have been successfully
used as closers (Wheeler, Jenks, Bard and Papelbon).
they will score runs.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): I’m really
just trying to be fair by not predicting a win total over 100.
I mean I suppose alot of things could happen. But… they have so
many in-house answers.
Ellsbury isn’t working out at the top of the order, they make
a quick adjustment, hit him ninth, and go with some fashion of
Crawford – Pedroia – Gonzalez – Youkalis up there.
Papelbon isn’t working out as the closer, they have Bard, Jenks
and Wheeler to move around and still present a dynamite presence
from the seventh inning on.
they need to make a trade, they didn’t give up players like Michael
Bowden or Lars Anderson in any of their off-season moves. So even
in getting Gonzalez, they actually added additional draft picks
and kept some solid prospects.
a few things are worth watching.
pitching. I’m not sure how this Varitek and Saltalamacchia situation
is going to work out. Since we have switch-hitting going on and
no knuckleballer likely as a regular starter out of the gate,
you would figure there isn’t a ton to fix in on. However, by mid-May
it might be interesting to see whether… oh, I don’t know… Varitek
catches more often in a day-game-after-a-night-game or when Beckett
is starting. In other words… are they following a system with
the catching, or does it appear that the method to their madness
is comforting a few egos? (By the way… while I wouldn’t expect
this particular scenario… I could oh so easily see the Red Sox
and Rangers on the phone in late June discussing a trade with
Mike Napoli coming to Boston for some bullpen help. Maybe that
won’t be the particular trade… but catching is simply the most
likely place for Boston to have a need. And I happen to like that
Napoli has a bit of Mike Scioscia in his history.)
how about the batting order? When it first looked like Gonzalez
would bat fifth, I was a little stunned. But as I thought about
it, well: (1) In this lineup, batting 3, 4 or 5 isn’t likely to
cost many plate appearances over the course of the season. Batting
third or fifth isn’t likely to be the difference between three
or four appearances each night. (2) Maybe a righty-lefty thing
is going on. Sure… they’re leaning toward Gonzalez fifth because
they’ve decided Ellsbury, Pedrioa and Crawford are too valuable
a block of hitting to break up and so it’s him or Youkalis. And,
ultimately, depending on whether a lefty or righty is pitching,
flipping Youkalis and Gonzalez won’t matter much. But that lefty-righty-lefty
start to the order is pretty well defined. And, (3) Gonzalez is
getting ready for regular playing time after an injury. Having
him fifth while he regains his hitting stride and plays 6 to 7
games a week isn’t a bad thing.
watch whether or not someone like Ellsbury gets moved to ninth
in the order. Pay attention to the playing time of J.D. Drew.
And look to see if Ortiz is suddenly batting third and Crawford
sixth for a few straight games.
other words… the Red Sox should be a really great formula team.
Maybe you flip Youkalis and Gonzalez depending on the opposing
starter… but everything from the batting order to the bullpen
makes more than a fair amount of sense without much thought going
into it. If you suddenly notice that Varitek’s catching day matches
Beckett’s starts an awful lot… or if Pedroia is leading off… that
does means something.
What I expect in 2011: 92-70, wild card
they did in 2010: 95-67
personnel changes: Here’s the amazing thing. Absolutely
nothing about Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia (and as I wrap this
up, Kevin Millwood) excites me when it comes to individually being
on the New York roster. However… since these three guys are effectively
being asked to fill a single roster spot, that does get interesting.
any of them to make 30 or more starts? Maybe even be consistent
enough to play a substantial part on a playoff roster? Then the
Yankees are doomed and looking at a 162-game year. But that’s
not really the idea… is it? Instead we are talking about 10-15
starts from any of them… maybe catch lightning in a bottle… and
a spot in the bullpen if they even are on the postseason club.
For a team that can afford it, there’s nothing wrong with that.
all three of those signings were on minor league contracts. May
not be a big splash… may not matter much when the leaves are falling
off the trees… they are solid risks right now.
say much about Andrew Jones… there isn’t much to say. Rafael Soriano
me the problem with Soriano is simple… how great is a very good
player if he doesn’t get off the bench? See… the Yankees will
most likely either be miles ahead of their opponent, or way, way,
way behind in most eighth innings. Does it matter who gets the
ball? Because they won 95 games last year with guys that were
already on their roster. Soriano should be a good signing. Maybe
even a very good one. Trouble is… bullpen still isn’t deep to
my eyes… rotation still isn’t deep.)
then Russell Martin.
like the trio of starters, the signing itself is a decent one.
You can’t deny the flashes of talent. Unfortunately, the Yankees
keep stockpiling positions with broken parts. How many catching…
bench utility… designated hitter… all three rolled into one players
can you have? Sure… oversimplification of the situation. Still…
you get the idea. When everyone is healthy, they can’t all play,
and no matter who is playing the team is losing something by what
they send to the bench. But everyone isn’t healthy and likely
won’t stay healthy, and the team is weaker because of the losses.
expectations: For me, everything is based on their pitching.
Depth of their roster concerns me as well. But pitching is the
batting order is simply brutal. I want to hate it. I admit that.
But I guarantee you that over the course of this summer you will
be watching the MLB Network… or Baseball Tonight… and you are
going to have your evening ruined by names like Gardner. Think
about that. As a pitcher, you handle Jeter… Rodriguez… Teixeira…
Cano… Granderson… and you’re still likely to get your butt handed
to you. Wonderful. I don’t know how many times… we’re talking
double-digits in any season… I have flipped over to see a portion
of a Yankee game, watched a pitcher navigate through Jeter, Damon,
Matsui and so on through the years, only to watch someone called
up that morning from the low minors connect on the memory of a
lifetime and send the ball into Monument Park. (It happens even
more often than an umpire calling the runner safe in the bottom
of the ninth, even though the ball arrived at first base two cab
rides and an elevator trip to the top of the Empire State Building
ahead of the Yankee hitter.)
said… it’s Sabathia, Soriano and Rivera and, critical that I may
be, an awful lot of question marks. Too tough? Ok… you go across
the country, any place except within 100-miles of Yankees Stadium…
and find me a majority of people that think Phil Hughes is better
than Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz right now. And you can’t have
it both ways… Hughes is talented and a very good pitcher, while
Lester and Buchholz may be (or soon become) two of the very best
in the game. Joba Chamberlain is not a feared weapon any more.
(And I blame the organization for that as much as anything.)
club is going to win 90-plus… if only because everyone, including
the umpires and league offices, believes they are supposed to.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Simply
put… that lineup needs to carry so much weight.
the pitching deliver, night after night after night? I don’t think
won’t matter on some August evenings. Felix Hernandez will beat
the Yankees… but they will crush Kansas City and Cleveland and
Seattle on any night he isn’t the opposing pitcher.
cringed in recent years when a rookie faces the Red Sox… because
that rookie ends up looking like a $20-million-per arm. The Yankees
don’t make that mistake. They always seem to put their foot on
the throat when they face inferior talent.
problem… and where it might go wrong… is that the AL East is absolutely
loaded. I said earlier that a quarter of their schedule ends up
played against Boston and Tampa… which, yeah, ouch. Go beyond
that. Keep in mind… weaker or not… a club like Baltimore has Matt
Weiters, Nick Markakis, and Adam Jones… a club like Toronto plays
What I expect in 2011: 85-77
they did in 2010: 96-66
personnel changes: I won’t applaud Manny Ramirez or Kyle
Farnsworth, and I wonder about Johnny Damon (who seems to be saying
way too many positive things about the Boston Red Sox club he
turned down last season). And yet… here with Tampa, a club that
has talent and rides the outer edge of the playoffs… they aren’t
Carl Crawford, Dan Wheeler, Rafael Soriano… losses where Tampa
not only got weaker, but Boston and New York got better. Carlos
Pena. This club is talented and good, but they are losing major
expectations: And they are losing too many major contributors
for my comfort. Let’s do a quick count. Just a quick count.
Crawford… Dan Wheeler… Rafael Soriano… Carlos Pena… Matt Garza…
I’m already at five members of the 25-man roster, and we’re talking
solid, no doubt about it members of the roster. Not guys that
might drop down to AAA or be released or sit on the bench.
their favor, the batting order features professional pain in the
neck Johnny Damon. They still have Evan Longoria.
lord… they have some pitching.
I got winded talking about Boston and all of their pitching. We’ve
got Price and Shields still in Tampa. And if you aren’t familiar
with names like Davis and Hellickson just yet… well… it’s just
a matter of time. Their starting rotation is young and should
get deep into every game. Which is good… because the bullpen plenty
of potential landmines.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): There used
to be a joke about the NFL… actually, maybe not a joke… that the
reason Super Bowl clubs couldn’t survive as a playoff team for
more than a couple of years was simply because they couldn’t afford
to keep signing their bench players. Thanks to the salary cap,
once they were successful and gave dollars to the stars there
wasn’t much left for a talented second string guy. Toss in that
being a good team meant lower draft selections, and suddenly you
had a recipe for diminishing returns over time.
thought came to mind here. I think it really applies to perfectly
trade a player like Scott Kazmir or Matt Garza. They lose a player
like Carl Crawford. And somehow they keep managing to bring up
players like David Price and Evan Longoria and so on to take those
roster spots. They load the farm system with prospects. They make
use of extra draft picks. The train keeps rolling.
problem is… eventually there comes a point where you have to be
perfect all the time in your moves or you will get at least a
bit weaker. Especially when two of the teams in your division
can pretty much afford to spend two dollars for every one of yours…
year after year after year. This year Carl Crawford’s roster spot
is basically filled by Johnny Damon. (I’ll give you all the time
you’d like to defend that as an upgrade or even swap… but you
might want to just save yourself the troubles and admit it can’t
be done right now.)
Longoria has a great year, and the starters make almost every
one of their starts, and a few young players contribute a bit
more than expected for their first or second years… this is a
dangerous club. Hey… we’re not talking about a bad team here.
I sincerely believe they could win the Central or West divisions
(in either league). The trouble is… they reside in a division
with two powerhouses.
What I expect in 2011: 79-83
they did in 2010: 85-77
personnel changes: (Sound of deep breath and a slow exhale.)
else looking forward to Thor? I wasn’t too interested
in it, but then I started hearing about Kenneth Branagh, and I
saw the trailer, and… yeah… I’m looking forward to it.
America: The First Avenger? Not so much. Wasn’t too interested
in the beginning. Still not. Maybe even less now.
also wondering about…
expectations: How they heck did they win 85 last season?
roster is weak… they have no defensive skills, are jaw-droppingly
slow, and much of the year will be spent watching Kyle Drabek.
don’t like much of their batting order.
not certain any of their starters would even be one of the best
15 of the division.
yet they won 85 games.
feel better placing them in front of Baltimore if they still had
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): I don’t
see a way it gets better than this for the Blue Jays in 2011.
In fact… it is more likely to get worse.
while the Orioles may not have much pitching either… they have
a team that seemed to play better last season once current manager
Buck Showalter took over. And… the Orioles have some talent in
their group of regulars.
I being fair? Maybe not. They do have some young pitching that
could be dynamic pitching in a season or two. Drabek could be
part of that, along with Romero and Morrow. And the bullpen… while
filled with guys other teams didn’t want to take chances on… can
also point at those same guys as veterans capable of doing a bit
better than just ok. (There is zero doubt in my mind why the Blue
Jays would look to a pitching coach for their new manager. John
Farrell is being asked to bring along the young arms and do whatever
he can to get some extra miles out of aging arms.)
you get around Jose Bautista and the power he demonstrated last
season though, there isn’t much to count on. Possibilities… well,
maybe. They did win 85 last season. But a reliable home run barrage…
reliable pitching… reliable winning. Nope. Not buying it.
team is going to frustrate many opponents… taking a series from
the Yankees one weekend and then the Red Sox a few weeks later.
But they are also going to frustrate fans… looking ugly at times
and likely never winning consistently.
What I expect in 2011: 75-87
they did in 2010: 66-96
personnel changes: Brought in Kevin Gregg, Vladimir Guerrero,
Derrek Lee, Cesar Izturis, and Justin Duchscherer. Traded actively
as well. Didn’t lose any players that you would be concerned by
if you like the Orioles… seriously, Kevin Millwood leaving is
not a concern.
moves that they may be threatening to get out of the AL East basement…
not enough to scare anyone when they arrive in town though.
expectations: Improvement. No massive jump. They still
need pitching… and consistency.
looking at their roster… and then flipping over to Tampa. I don’t
see a single night I would take their starter over what the Rays
will send to the mound.
when you see them patching together the remainder of a batting
order with players like Guerrero and Lee… both fine, but let’s
face the facts that they’ve crossed the mid-point of their careers…
that’s a problem.
said… one thing Showalter does well is bring stability. Sure…
he brings it in a way that wears out its welcome just as the highest
rewards are being realized. The trick here is… if the Orioles
get it right, they actually could get to a point where they are
capable of spending some serious dollars. It’s a great ballpark,
a marketable brand, and while it may not be bundles and bundles
of cash… well… if Minnesota and Detroit are spending over $100
million a year, Baltimore should be able to get well beyond them
if they can field a winning franchise.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): If it goes
right, they get out of the basement.