by Matt Wells
So, baseball is around the corner, as we all know. We’ve got our fantasy baseball teams lined up and we’re wearing our team colors to work, school, etc. (I’m not, but I know some die-hard baseball fans who will).
Just like at the beginning of every season, we all make predictions. A-Rod will hit such-and-such amount of homers, Johan Santana will get __ wins in his new Flushing digs, Team X will finish with 80+ wins, etc. There is one thing that I know for sure, though. This year, the American League East will be a dogfight.
The Boston Red Sox, the defending World Champs, will open the season favorites once again. Josh Beckett might be starting the season hurt, but he should return soon enough and in good form, as well. Follow that up with Dice-K Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Clay Buchholz (perhaps), Bartolo Colon (perhaps), and John Lester. Of course, right now, I’m not sure who is making the starting rotation this year..just yet. Throw in David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell, and Jason Varitek, to name a few, and you have yourself a team that deserves to be favored to win their division. With Jonathon Papelbon at the back end of that bullpen, the Sox are very strong once again.
Their rivals, the Yankees, are hit or miss right now. It all hangs on the young arms of Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain (if he starts), and Phil Hughes. Veterans Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte might have decent seasons record-wise, but they can’t carry teams like they used to. The Yanks are still stacked with loads of offense in Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Robinson Cano, and Jorge Posada. But, can the young arms carry this team? Can the veterans stay healthy? Can Mariano Rivera continue to put up the dominant stats we’re accustomed to seeing? One thing is clear, from my perspective, the Yankees days of winning the division are over…young arms or not.
The Toronto Blue Jays are a team to watch. Building around offensive stalwarts Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, the Jays acquired Scott Rolen from the Cardinals this offseason and signed SS David Eckstein away from those same Cardinals. The Jays also have an excellent starting rotation 1-3 in Roy Halladay, AJ Burnett, and Shawn Marcum. The player to watch is closer B.J. Ryan. If he stays healthy, the Jays could be serious contenders. Even if Ryan gets hurt again, the Jays have the luxury of having another pitcher who can close: Jeremy Accardo, who saved 30 games in 35 chances last year. The Jays, if they stay healthy and if the veterans produce, can contend for a wild card spot this year.
Speaking of teams to watch, the Tampa Bay Rays are armed with a new logo, new colors, and (very soon) a new stadium. (I don’t like the new logo though. What was wrong with the dark forest green?) The Rays, due to their past years of futility and picking high up in the draft, have built themselves a fine team made up of mostly youngsters. Evan Longoria, the uber-prospect, will be a star as early as this year at the hot corner. The Rays still have young starters in Scott Kazmir and James Shields. Their offense, on paper, is incredible. B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Longoria (if he produces like the projections say he will). That’s not to mention that they have the young lefty David Price waiting in the minors. He’ll crack the rotation next season, or maybe even this season if he gets the mid-season call-up he’ll be waiting for. The only problem the Rays face is their division. They would possibly be wild card contenders in the National League. The future, finally, is bright for the Rays. By the way, have you seen that new Sailboat Stadium? It’s quite a modern marvel..waaaay better than the dark Tropicana Field. Photos can be seen here: www.tampabay.com/2007/11/28/images/newballpark-400xshallow.jpg
The Orioles? There isn’t much to say about the Orioles, who are destined for a last-place finish in 2008. Miguel Tejada (Astros) and Erik Bedard (Mariners) are gone, and Brian Roberts may soon follow them out of Baltimore. Here’s the only good news if you are an Orioles fan: the prospects the O’s are getting in these deals are solid players for the future (especially, if the Roberts deal goes through. The Cubs are offering big-time prospects). Good times are not here now, but things will get better…eventually.
Yes, the AL East is going to be a dogfight. And can you believe that only one team from this powerhouse division might make the playoffs? The Indians (if the Tigers take the Central) and the Mariners (if the Angels take the West) might be battling New York, Toronto, and, yes, even Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot. This…this is exciting. This is baseball.