the scary thing about the best division in baseball… one of the
bottom-half teams could cost the other clubs dearly.
I expect Toronto to make a run at the playoffs? Nope. But they’re
a decent team, and playing Boston, Tampa and New York as often
as they so… more than a third of their season will be played against
those three teams… the Blue Jays will be in a position to cost
each a couple of victories.
victories could be the difference in a wild card slot or heading
home after the regular season.
victories could be the difference between a division crown and
a wild card slot.
those victories could screw up the seeding plenty… moving a first
or fourth seed into third and fifth.
What I expect in 2012: 97-65
they did in 2011: 97-65
personnel changes: Added Micahel Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda
(trade and free agent). And hey… Andy Pettitte may be back.
expectations: I don’t have any questions about their
pitching this season. I like it. To me it’s not one of the best
in the game… easy people, it’s not... but it appears to be deep
enough and consistent enough that during the regular season they
are going to throttle teams when opponents are throwing the weaker
portions of their rotations.
the playoffs I’ll take the offerings of Tampa, California, and
possibly even Boston ahead of New York’s starting staff. But…
of the things New York did so well when they were on their amazing
run a dozen or so years ago was pulverize inferior pitching. They
never sent a Roy Halladay or Justin Verlander to the mound. But
when the third, fourth and fifth options from their rotation matched
up against the corresponding members of the other team… ouch…
fireworks and numbers going up in the win column. In short… the
Yankees won when they were supposed to win.
if you don’t think that matters, you haven’t watched Boston struggle
against rookie pitching in recent seasons.)
don’t believe the Yankees have the best pitching in the American
League. (Again, I’d go with California and Tampa right now.)
don’t believe they have the best offense. (It is very good, and
could be the best. I’m just not willing to say it’s a given.)
don’t even give them the best bullpen… team defense… bench… minor
league rosters to draw on… and the story goes on.
they may be the most balanced team in baseball. They are above
the mid-point in all areas.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): See… let’s
look at Pineda.
he starts the season as a regular piece of the rotation, the kid
is going to win 15 games this year. (And if he doesn’t… Phil Hughes
will.) And everyone is going to tell you how awesome he is… or
Hughes is… because that’s what big-market-media does the best.
when he trips against Tampa or California at some point during
the first week to ten days of October, people are going to cry
that the long season caught up to him when he gets shelled.
his big numbers were in part due to playing for a good team against
inferior opponents. Maybe.
York is in a very funny place right now. With Jeter and Rivera
around, the glory days of a decade ago are still fresh. But many
of their veterans… Jeter and Rodriguez being the two best examples…
are just as capable of being anchors in 2012 as they are capable
of being champions.
Yankees strike me as a solid club from top to bottom that is going
to cruise to about 95-wins during the season. And… they also strike
me as a club that cannot compete with Texas, California, Tampa,
Detroit, or even Boston in the playoffs.
thing easily worth mentioning… Mr. Pettitte.
Yankees did not bring Andy back to throw 35 starts and pitch games
1, 4 and 7. He’s back to give them 15-20 starts and one of the
best safety nets you could ask for.
What I expect in 2012: 94-68
they did in 2011: 91-71
personnel changes: Added Carlos Pena (in a return to
Tampa) and Luke Scott.
expectations: Price… Shields… Hellickson… Moore… where
does the pitching end?
not kidding you… Tampa just might have a starting rotation in
the minors filled with five guys that would have come out of 2012
spring training as starters for any other club in the AL East.
a solid roster to the efforts of Joe Madden, and you can expect
big things from this club.
problems here are found in the trouble they could have scoring
runs. A very good defense will help that pitching to make most
of their contests low scoring affairs… but there will be some
heartbreakers this year.
and Scott add power, but likely won’t be getting many hits or
walks along the way.
for Evan Longoria to be in the MVP race. If he’s healthy all year,
the Rays will be just fine.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Injuries.
hate to mention it… especially since this club has in the past
maneuvered around some injury problems. But that’s the big thing
I see standing in the way of great things, because the Rays are
built very well at the top. Their pitching options are ridiculous.
They just don’t have much positional depth.
yeah… I could say that if Boston gets their act together, the
Rays could be the best team not in the playoffs. I don’t think
that’s fair though. Because while Boston needs to prove some things,
they may also need for some things out of their control to go
right as well. I think Tampa really is in charge of their own
destiny. Play well… and they will be playing in October.
What I expect in 2012: 90-72
they did in 2011: 90-72
personnel changes: Traded Marco Scutaro away, along with
Jed Lowrie. Jonathan Papelbon left as a free agent.
Kelly Shoppach, Cody Ross, and Nick Punto. Traded for Andrew Bailey,
Mark Melancon, and Ryan Sweeney.
expectations: The more things change…
know the rest… and because of it, I’m worried about the Red Sox.
take a look at things.
Crawford ended the 2011 season with everyone hoping to move along
and make it a deep, distant part of history. Now… he’s not going
to be playing for a few weeks. He’s injured. And while I wish
him the best… it’s a wrist injury… and you know, it’s not like
baseball players use their wrists in any repetitive, high stress
motions. (Speaking of Crawford and being on hold with an injury…
not only are there questions about his return and potential lingering
issues… do not forget for a second that since he hasn’t been playing,
the wonderful batting order question still isn’t settled.)
we’re treated to ideas that Bard… the supposed lock of the new-to-the-rotation
options… may not be such a lock after all. Whether he is or isn’t
a starter, their pitching is potentially great… potentially bad…
and very unstable.
the close of last season, they had a shortstop but no right fielder.
Now, they have no shortstop, and thanks to Crawford’s rehab, right
field still isn’t really finalized because the starter and back-up
that we have been presented with as a wonderful platoon in right
will instead be covering left and right for a few weeks.
where I’m going? Even though things have been addressed… really…
the same questions remain.
to the pitching. Do you trust their pitching?
shouldn’t. Not for opening day.
and Beckett are two very good pitchers. Both have been elite at
times. But I don’t think you can place either one at the top of
the pitching world today. Lester is quite capable of getting into
the conversation… and Beckett is someone I would want pitching
for my team in the playoffs at all costs. But right now? I’ve
ok… let’s take a look at one player and one team. Justin Verlander
from Detroit… the starting rotation of the Tampa Bay Rays.
there, from just six pitchers, I’ve given you a group that could
provide five names better than any starter Boston sends to the
take the silence you’re offering now as the initial stages of
understanding my statement… Jon Lester an ace or no… could have
look… rest easy… it doesn’t have merit. It’s far too easy to bundle
the bad together and toss out everything. Lester is one of the
best pitchers around. Still…
I didn’t include anyone from the staff of the California Angels.
Didn’t mention the New York Yankees. Avoided the Texas Rangers.
(California… New York… Texas… you may want to note these are three
playoff candidates. And California… like Tampa, but not quite
as deep… is going to be loaded in starters this season.)
now New York and Tampa are better teams… it really is nothing
more than that. And with Texas the defending West champions and
California stocking up for 2012, I think you could easily argue
that Boston isn’t one of the top five teams in the American League.
Even with the expansion to five teams, becoming a playoff participant
is going to be a real challenge for this team.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): The answer
is where it could go right.
much as I pick on them in my expectations, the truth is that this
is a talented club that won 90 games last season despite all their
problems. There is no doubt they could win 95-100 and the division
this year, or even secure a playoff spot with time to spare to
set up a postseason rotation. And with Beckett, Lester and Buchholz…
I pick on their regular season records, but if healthy all three
could be incredible in the playoffs… they could send any starter
to a one-game playoff situation and not be thrown off in the next
series if they win.
of this moment, it looks like Daniel Bard or Alfredo Aceves will
end up back in the bullpen. One of them should pair with Felix
Doubront for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.
before you wonder about Aceves and how losing his versatility
might hurt the bullpen… it looks like Aaron Cook may be a starting
option before the end of April… Diasuke Matsuzaka could be throwing
minor league rehab in April or May with an eye on a June return
to the Sox.
short… the pitching problems might actually have some answers
available very quickly. And problems could become strengths.
showed flashes of promise in Colorado… and I’m one of those that
thinks that while Matsuzaka hasn’t been brilliant, he’s definitely
performed better than the reputation many give him.
these things go right, the Red Sox could be a force well into
the playoffs, with significantly deeper pitching than anyone expected
(and no trade necessary to accomplish it). A bullpen involving
Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon, Bard, Doubront, and Aceves because
the starting five is filled out and comfortably producing? This
club could be in great position by mid-season. And while I mention
Beckett, Lester and Buchholz as occasional question marks during
the regular season (for health, consistency, etc.)… any of the
three easily could be a legitimate contender for awards like the
team will score plenty of runs.
question I see for this plan becomes easy enough… will Tampa and
New York have put strong starts in place, leaving too much ground
for Boston to cover once those arms are available?
by the way… it is a matter of surviving and then having enough
time, because Boston should be horrendous out of the gate. I mean
just plain awful. If you think they may have some problems off
the field… and I have no way of knowing, but I sure do… then wait
until you see what they have on the field to battle. They travel
to play Detroit and Toronto as their first two opponents of the
year. That should be a lovely 6-games on the road. It gets worse
at home. When they get to Fenway, Tampa arrives for a 4-game weekend
stay, followed by… yeah, get ready… Texas and New York. (And you
think 2011 ended badly? Just wait.))
What I expect in 2012: 78-84
they did in 2011: 81-81
personnel changes: I don’t think the Blue Jays really
scared New York, Tampa or Boston… but if I was in Baltimore, I
wouldn’t be happy about the sudden activity from Canada.
only have they seemingly teamed up in every mid-season 2011 trade,
but in the off-season they were mentioned all the time. A few
trades and some free agents brought in… the Jays aren’t a playoff
threat, but they definitely won’t be easy to beat on any night.
Santos, Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver make up part of a
new… and stronger looking… bullpen for Toronto.
expectations: Bautista is Bautista at this point… no
longer a break-out and unexpected wonder, he has led the league
in home runs and provides the Jays with an MVP candidate. He isn’t
alone though… doesn’t need to lead the league in 2012 for the
Jays to find success. The batting order should put up some runs.
problem is that the Blue Jays are the fourth best team in their
division. And frankly, third place isn’t close.
could see Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus being quite big pains in
the plans of opposing managers. Do not forget the end of 2011…
where in slightly over 40 games Brett Lawrie joined the roster
and managed to hit over .290 with 9 homers. The Jays will not
be getting swept that often… they should be a tough victory for
any opponent to notch on any night.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Let’s do
New York… Tampa… and then Detroit… California… Texas. That right
there represents about 90-games for Toronto. (The number is actually
less, but you’ll see my point in a second.) Even if they manage
to go 45-45 in those games, they would need to go 45-17 in the
remaining games to reach 90 wins.
record? Yeah… maybe… though I doubt it.
Not a shot.
be honest… their starting rotation is the fourth best in the division.
The balanced roster and solid bullpen are good. But if they can’t
deliver a winning record against New York, Tampa and Boston, there
is simply too much ground to make up against the rest of the league.
What I expect in 2012: 66-96
they did in 2011: 69-93
personnel changes: Are you kidding? I’m proofreading
this column while the Orioles are losing… albeit in an exhibition
contest with much of the roster not truly involved… the Orioles
are losing to a community college team. And we’re supposed to
think of key changes?
fine… they traded Jeremy Gutherie to Colorado.
expectations: (I’d put the word “huge” in some giant
font type, but there isn’t a size available big enough to really
emphasize what I am about to say.)
are huge questions about Baltimore’s starters. In fact… it isn’t
just questions. The Orioles have a horrible rotation. (Their top
five might have problems reaching the double-a team for Tampa.)
that goes into the bullpen as well, with… to my eyes… more major
concerns. After that… depth at every position becomes an issue.
Hardy, Markakis, Jones and Wieters should be ok as far as hitting.
Even Mark Reynolds isn’t bad there. I don’t think they’ll score
a ton of runs… but there is enough to feel comfortable placing
them at or above the center of the 30 major league teams when
it comes to offense.
Brian Roberts is having troubles getting back to the field… and
that leads to one hole in the order. Right now they’re having
troubles with any catcher not named Matt Wieters. And they still
don’t really have a designated hitter anyone would ever pitch
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): It isn’t
going to go right. They have no pitching. The Baltimore Orioles
are quite likely the team that will give up the most runs in 2012.
is one of the best catchers in the game right now. There just
isn’t a lot of strong play around him. The pitching is suspect,
and the hitting rises to average (at best).
look… I like Baltimore, and always have. I want them to do well.
I agree that Hardy, Markakis and Jones are good players that not
only would you want to build around, they could even be here when
the organization threatens a winning record again.
Wieters is the only superstar. In the AL East, these clubs have
two superstars plus stellar pitching.