Sunday, March 11, 2007

My MLB 2007 Season Predictions: The AL East


The American League East has been a two-horse race for the past decade, with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox taking turns trading titles for wild card entries. Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays passed the Bosox for the second spot, but only because Boston had more injuries than a geriatric softball team of 60-somethings playing in the Leisure Village Senior League. Once again, it figures to be the Big Apple vs. Bean town playing Abbott & Costello in the AL East, with the only question being “Who will be on first?” when it’s all said and done.

My pick to win it this season is the New York Yankees. Instead of turning their off-season into another annual garage sale, the Bronx Bombers played it smart and held their cards close to their chest during the winter. General Manager Pat Cashman has finally been allowed to run this team without Georgy Porgy getting in his way. The franchise has started to concentrate on building from within and the two most immediate examples of this are young promising pitchers Phil Hughes and Russ Ohlendorf. Neither of these future phenoms may be ready to contribute in 2007, but at least they represent baby steps in the right direction. The Yankees unloaded all-stars of the past Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson while picking up solid team-oriented guys like Andy Pettite and Doug Mientkiewcz. The pitching staff in NYC is one of the reasons I’m picking them, led by Chien-Ming Wang (19-6, 3.63) and the always reliable Mike Mussina (15-7, 3.51). Offensively, it’s hard to believe that guys like Johnny Damon (.285, 24 HR 80 RBI), A-Rod (.290, 35 HR, 121 RBI) and Jason Giambi (.253, 37 HR, 113 RBI) could get better, but they can. The Yankees will live up to the hype and win the division, primarily because the circus has moved out of town.

The Boston Red Sox have a roster packed with talent. Guys like Ortiz, Lowell and Ramirez are savvy everyday performers that make up the core of a solid squad. By raiding the LA Dodgers and picking up fragile J.D. Drew (.283, 20 HR, 100 HR) and versatile Julio Lugo (.278, 12 HR 37RBI) during the off-season, the Red Hose have made themselves deeper and stronger. Throw in the promising rookie 2B Dustin Pedroia and the Japanese acquisition-of-the-year P Daisuke Matsuzaka, and you have a team that will rock Fenway Park and put a smile on Manager Terry Francona’s face. The only problem I can see here is their pitching depth. Curt Schilling (15-7, 3.97) and Josh Beckett (16-11, 5.01) did fairly well in 2006, but I have to believe they won’t be able to keep it up and will falter by mid-season. Schilling is old and rickety and Beckett is over and done. The biggest hole, however, is in the Bosox bullpen. With last year’s closer Jonathan Papelbon in the starting rotation, Boston is going with Joel Pineiro (8-13, 6.36) as their closer, which could be an enormous mistake. In many other divisions (like the AL West), the Red Sox would dominate, but in this one they’re only second-best.

The Toronto Blue Jays ended up in second place last year. The last time they were able to finish that high was when they won the World Series since 1993. To make any kind of run this year, they’re going to need better pitching, defense and situational hitting. Overbay, Glaus and Rios make up a strong offensive nucleus, and the best thing this team did during the off-season was retaining CF Vernon Wells (.303, 32, 106) a star today and for many years to come. Losing P Ted Lilly will hurt. Trying to replace him with John Thomson is like believing that Jay Leno could have ever possibly made us forget about Johnny Carson. Roy Hallady (16-5, 3.19) is one of the best in the game, and A.J. Burnett (10-8, 3.98) is no slouch either, but the Blue Jays don’t have enough live arms to make it to the postseason in 2007. They’re an improving bunch, however, and we may be hearing “Oh, Canada” being sung in the playoffs sooner than you think – just not this season.

Britney Spears has a better chance of getting through rehab than the Baltimore Orioles do of getting through 2007 without a series of disasters coming their way. This entire team needs an intervention, starting with their bullpen (5.27 ERA in 2006, ranked 13th in the AL). The O’s signed a plethora of arms in hopes of taking up the slack – cast-offs like Danys Baez, Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford – which will only cause the wounds created by Baltimore’s starting staff to bleed even more. If it weren’t for the quality players that the Orioles were able to steal from the Oakland A’s over the last several years – namely SS Miguel Tejada (.330, 24 HR, 100 RBI) and C Ramon Hernandez (.275, 23 HR, 91 HR), Baltimore fans would be rooting for hot dog vendors.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays should be hoping that global warming would hurry up and flood their ball park – washing away the embarrassing season that’s coming their way in 2007. The team has some promising talent – players like 3B Akinon Iwamura, OF Delmon Young, Infielder B.J. Upton and SS Ben Zobrist are all up-and-comers. But, that’s not going to be enough to catapult the Rays out of the MLB’s little leagues. P Scott Kazmir (10-8, 3.24) pitched amazingly well with little support last year, but the rest of the starting staff all feature ERA’s between 5.00 and 8.00. If Al Gore is right, Tampa Bay isn’t long for this planet. And that may not be such a disaster.

So, it’s the Yanks, the Bosox, the Jays and then who cares in the AL East in 2007. It will be a fun year featuring a century-old, super intense rivalry -- complete with gyro balls, green monsters, witty Boston Herald and New York Times’ headlines and enough hand wringing and rolling eyes to keep us on the edge of our seats all season long.

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