Two of baseball’s monsters, the game’s only Canadian team, a low-payroll squad chock full of talent and a franchise rich in history, but mired in a drought – that’s the American League East division in a nutshell.
The 2011 version of the AL East is easily the strongest division on paper, and one that could beat itself up over the course of the regular season.
KP’s 2011 American League East Preview
Offense: The O’s had a very busy offseason, most notably in revamping its offense by adding the likes of J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero. That added pop should provide protection and a likely boost to the production of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters.
Defense: GM Andy MacPhail improved the defense by adding solid gloves to its infield, most notably Derrek Lee, while keeping Cesar Izturis (returning to anchor the infield as a backup).
Pitching: The rotation is still young, yet talented. Both Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen finished the season strong. Health and growth will be key. The bullpen is also beefed up, featuring five pitchers with closer experience (Accardo, Uehara, Gregg, Johnson and Gonzalez).
Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Nick Markakis – His career average is .298, but Markakis just managed 12 HR last season. With pitchers forced to pitch to him more, there’s no reason to believe that Markakis couldn’t contend for a batting title, plus hit 20-plus homers in 2011.
KP’s Take: The Orioles continue to fly under the radar heading into 2011 (ESPN the Magazine has the O’s finishing last in the division), even after Buck Showalter pushed the team to the division’s best record over last year’s final two months. If healthy, there’s no reason to believe that this Baltimore team can’t finish at or above. 500, plus contend for a wild card spot.
Boston Red Sox
Offense: This offense performed well last season, and that was even after injuries to Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, among others. This season, everyone is back, plus superstars Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are along for the ride.
Defense: Boston was ranked 20th in MLB in fielding percentage last year, but the Sox lost talented gloves due to injury. This year’s team should play enough quality defense to help out the loaded offense and pitching staff.
Pitching: The rotation (Lester, Lackey, Beckett, Buchholz and Matsuzaka) is one of the best in baseball and arguably the best in the American League. The bullpen has many quality arms, and added Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks during the offseason.
Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Jarrod Saltamacchia – For one, the rest of the team has already broken out. Being surrounded by this lineup, Salty could see plenty of pitches, and continue to grow into a productive offensive player. The key will be playing time split with Varitek.
KP’s Take: Because of last year’s injuries, the Red Sox – a team that still won 89 games in 2010 – have essentially added five bats to its lineup, and not just two. There’s simply too much depth and talent – both young and old – not to expect a deep playoff run in 2011.
New York Yankees
Offense: Not much changed with New York’s lethal offense. Derek Jeter resigned and Russell Martin is in town to catch. The usual suspects – A-Rod, Cano, Teixeira, Swisher, among others – are still in place, and will clearly continue to dominate pitching staffs throughout baseball.
Defense: Teixeira is still one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball, and the Yankees as a whole finished with the 2nd best fielding percentage in 2010.
Pitching: The biggest surprise was the Yankees’ inability to reel in major pieces to its pitching staff, especially in the rotation. New York swung and missed on Cliff Lee, and instead added a number of veteran question marks in Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior, Freddy Garcia and Kevin Millwood.
Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Brett Gardner – Like Boston, there are few choices with all the talent in place. But many have noted how Gardner struggled down the stretch last year. He’ll remain in the lineup because of his speed and defense, and could be a productive bat to add, assuming he finds a way to sustain a full season of productivity.
KP’s Take: It’s hard to keep a team with so much talent out of the playoffs, but that’s the case here. New York has too many questions in its starting rotation. With each of the four division rivals having loaded lineups, the Yankees will have to outslug its opponents on a regular basis. While that will happen more often than not, it won’t be enough to overtake Boston.
Tampa Bay Rays
Offense: The Rays lost significant pieces in the offseason, but attempted to replace them with veteran bats in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. While each could still be productive, it seems a long shot that Tampa Bay can improve on last year’s occasional offensive struggles.
Defense: This is a very solid defensive team, and the Rays specifically finished 6th in baseball in fielding percentage in 2010.
Pitching: Don’t expect a drop in the rotation’s productivity with Matt Garza gone to Chicago. Tampa Bay has young stud Jeremy Hellickson to replace him. The real question mark will be the bullpen, which lost closer Rafael Soriano to the division rival Yankees.
Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Jeremy Hellickson – The 23-year old starter went 4-0 in 10 games (4 started) last year, with 33 K’s, a 3.47 ERA over 36 1/3 IP. Expect bigger things in 2011.
KP’s Take: The Rays are a talented bunch, as they were last year – but they will miss the likes of Carl Crawford (Boston), Jason Bartlett (San Diego) and Carlos Pena (Chicago Cubs). An offense that struggled at times in 2010 will again, and the Rays just miss out on the postseason.
Toronto Blue Jays
Offense: The Jays’ offense can kill you, especially with the long ball. Gone from last year’s team is Vernon Wells, dealt away to the Angels. Signed to an extension is Jose Bautista, who shocked the baseball world by hitting 54 HR last season.
Defense: This was a top ten defense in 2010, and one that allowed the third fewest steals in the game last year.
Pitching: Toronto is a team with young, yet talented arms – much like Baltimore. Making some interesting trades over the last few seasons, there are plenty of arms in place that could be top of the rotation guys in the very near future.
Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Kyle Drabek – Consider him the gem in Toronto’s deal with Philly, and a 23-year old that has plenty of talent, and a mid-90s heater. As the season progresses, Drabek could wind up as a nice fantasy sleeper.
KP’s Take: There is plenty of talent in Toronto, with power arms that will be lights out on some nights, but also struggle during others. The bats will serve up its share of home runs, but in the end, being in such a competitive division will be too much for this bunch. By season’s end, the Jays will find itself in the AL East basement.
THE FINAL WORD
The American League East is the strongest division in baseball, featuring five starting lineups that will give pitching staffs nightmares throughout the season. With so much talent beating itself up over the course of the year, I don’t see the wild card emerging from this division. There are no cupcakes here, and the losses will stack up because of that. But in the end, it will be the stacked and loaded Boston Red Sox that emerge out of the AL East and to the playoffs.
KP’s Division Winner: BOSTON RED SOX
KP’s Overall 2011 MLB Season and Playoff Predictions will be posted in the next few days…
Who Will Win The American League East Division in 2011?
- Boston Red Sox (46%, 18 Votes)
- New York Yankees (23%, 9 Votes)
- Baltimore Orioles (18%, 7 Votes)
- Tampa Bay Rays (10%, 4 Votes)
- Toronto Blue Jays (3%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 39