2011 Season Preview: AL East

Other Divisions:

BOSTON RED SOX:

Record – 96-66

Improved playerDustin Pedroia (a health prediction as he was limited to 75 games last year.)

Improved pitcherJohn Lackey (wasn’t as bad as many perceived last year.)

Regression playerMarco Scutaro (already regressed a bit in ’10, could see another step down in ’11 opening the door for Jed Lowrie.)

Regression pitcherClay Buchholz (but probably not as much as some believe; think 3.30-3.55 ERA as opposed to something near or above 4.00.)

Why they will win – because they won 89 with an injury-ravaged team and they’ve added two All-Stars (to replace Victor Martinez & Adrian Beltre) in addition to getting the injured players back full-time.

Why they might not win – Lackey and Josh Beckett regress further and Buchholz does fall off as far as many think leaving them with essentially a one man rotation and too many 8-7 games in an ultra-competitive division.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – It may be boring, but they are the best team heading into Opening Day and it’s by a clear margin.  Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez aren’t pure additions because of the losses, but those two are better than what they lost.  Throw in full seasons of Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis to 89-win team and they could push 100 with the right breaks. 

NEW YORK YANKEES:

Record – 90-72

Improved playerAlex Rodriguez (his “down” seasons are still well above average, but I think he has at least another MVP-caliber season left in his career and it could be 2011.)

Improved pitcher Joba Chamberlain (this looks like a strong bullpen on paper, but they will need Joba to be Daniel Bard/Luke Gregerson-esque and anchor those middle innings getting to Sori & Mo especially as the rotation works itself out behind C.C. Sabathia.)

Regression playerRussell Martin (nothing in his profile suggests resurgence, in fact it stands to get worse which could open the door for super-prospect Jesus Montero sooner than later.)

Regression pitcherFreddy Garcia (did yeoman’s work in 157 IP last year at 35, but the skills were flimsy and 2011 sets up to be worse than his 4.64/1.38 numbers last year.)

Why they can win – …because the team we see right now is almost assuredly not the team they will end up with by season’s end whether they add reinforcements from their farm or outside of the organization using their farm depth to get the missing ingredients.

Why they won’t win – …because the back-end of that rotation, and by back-end I mean #2-5, is shaky and there may not be enough reinforcements available to fix it, especially since Manny Banuelos likely won’t be ready to be a major contributor at any point this year having pitched just 15 innings above High-A.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – They have a stacked lineup, a true ace and a strong bullpen, but too many wildcards in the rotation makes it tough to compete with the league’s best team and two others who aren’t terribly far behind them.  Don’t rule out a major trade with this team, though, which would change the game entirely. 

TAMPA BAY RAYS:

Record – 87-75

Improved playerManny Ramirez (I think he beasts out for one more season.  Not quite 2008’s explosion, but about 80% of it.  He’s not done.)

Improved pitcherJames Shields (well he can’t get any worse and his skills are just far too good for another 5.18 ERA season.)

Regression player – I don’t really have one for them, I think we will see improvements from some (Manny, Longoria, Upton) and just “as-is” performances from the rest with any major disappointments.

Regression pitcherJeremy Hellickson (not really a regression since he’s a rookie, so I’ll go with “Disappointment” here.  Rookie pitchers more often pitch like David Price did [4.42 ERA/4.59 FIP] than Tommy Hanson [2.89 ERA/3.50 FIP] and Hellickson would be an exception to the rule with an impact season.)

Why they can win – The loss of Carl Crawford is filled in differently (power as opposed to speed & defense), but adequately from a wins standpoint by Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Upton’s improvement.  The rotation is strong 1-5 even if Hellickson “only” pitches to a 4.20-4.40 ERA as a rookie.

Why they won’t win – The bullpen is entirely rebuilt (unless you count Andy Sonnanstine and the currently injured J.P. Howell) and I have zero faith in Kyle Farnsworthless as a potential closer regardless of his otherwise strong peripherals the last three years.  I’m even less sold on Joel Peralta after a 49-inning sample of quality at 34-years old.  Shaky bullpens can ruin seasons and if theirs doesn’t work out, they could finish as low as 4th.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – The talent is there for another run, but they would need a lot to go right for another division title or even a wildcard berth.  I think there is slight regression for this club in 2011.  However, per usual since their rise in 2008, reinforcements are on the way in droves so they won’t be “down” long even if they do just have an over-.500 third place season. 

TORONTO BLUE JAYS:

Record – 83-79

Improved playerTravis Snider (I’ve had him on the Adam Lind Path to Stardom for a few years and I was hoping he could skip a year and breakout last year, but it wasn’t so making 2011 his eruption season.)

Improved pitcherBrandon Morrow (this obviously assumes limited time missed on his current injury, but all signs point toward just one missed start.  We could see a mid-3.00s ERA and 200 strikeouts in approx. 180 innings.)

Regression playerJose Bautista (easy, obvious, but also very probable.  I don’t think he falls off the map though, with 36-41 home runs and a strong on-base percentage despite a middling batting average.)

Regression pitcherKyle Drabek (as with Hellickson, this is a disappointment call more than a regression because Drabek is also a rookie with just 17 major league IP under his belt.  I think the expectations need to be tamped down a bit for both.)

Why they can win – …because they have gobs of power throughout their lineup (Adam Lind and Aaron Hill improving back to their mean level should cover Bautista’s comeback) and two very good starters (when Morrow returns) atop their rotation.  Their bullpen, once whole, has four guys with closing experience who have had success at various times (Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor) along with other useful parts.

Why they won’t win – What if Morrow doesn’t come right back?  Then you’re left with Ricky Romero, who I love, but then a series of question marks.  Heck, even if all the “why they can win” comes true, the competition might still be too fierce to overcome.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – An improving team with an excellent fantasy baseball lineup and some intriguing rotation parts, but they are still at least a year away from viable contention in their remarkably difficult division. 

BALTIMORE ORIOLES:

Record – 70-92

Improved playerMatt Wieters (the former #1 prospect in all of baseball can’t keep disappointing, right?  No more excuses about learning to catch, no more excuses about adjusting to the big leagues, it’s time to put up or shut up for the talented backstop.)

Improved pitcherBrian Matusz (it is cheating a bit to pick him given how well he did down the stretch, but we need to see a full season if he’s to be trusted as a budding ace and I think we will despite the stiff competition of the AL Beast.)

Regression playerBrian Roberts (only played 59 games last year, but even a full season is likely to carry some regression to average or slightly below for aging, fragile second baseman.  I don’t think he falls off the map entirely, but he’s no longer one of the best of his position.)

Regression pitcherJeremy Guthrie (I just don’t believe in this guy and I know perhaps I should after three sub-4.00 ERA seasons out of four despite skills that suggest much worse.  Call me stubborn, but I prefer risk-averse, he’s just not that good.)

Why they can win – …because the lineup could really surge as the youth ascends and the quality veterans return to their former glory for at least another year.   Combine that with their non-Matusz top pitching prospects (Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton) all paying dividends this year and they could shock the Junior Circuit.  In other words, it’s a longshot.

Why they won’t win – …because they just don’t have the pitching to compete in that division.  Even in a crop of multiple blue chip prospects, you can’t expect all of them to hit big so it could be that Tillman and Arrieta don’t develop to a level commensurate with their minor league track record.  It looks like Matusz is going to be the star and I think Britton is going to be a quality 2-3 type which leaves the odds strongly against either of Tillman or Arrieta becoming All-Star quality.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – They are making strides, but they are still a good bit away.  I like the veteran fill-ins that could make them competitive in stretches throughout this season, but too many question marks in the rotation leave them in cellar for at least another year.  I do look forward to Britton coming up because I think he will emerge and give them a strong 1-2 youth punch with Matusz breeding hope for the future.

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