2011 Previews: AL East

Did pretty good last year: picked five of the eight post-season teams, including the Rangers and Giants. So, a little late, let’s get started on the 2011 forecasts with the American League and the East:

BALTIMORE: The Orioles have a lot going for them, not the least of which is information I couldn’t have known until tonight. Brian Matusz’s injury forces their hand on young lefty Zach Britton, who drew the most oohs-and-aahs in Florida as he mastered veterans like they were platoon guys in the Eastern League. For the Orioles to be anything more than a Cinderella team, Britton, Jake Arrieta, and Brad Bergesen will have to form a “Baby Birds” rotation as effective as the Milt Pappas/Jack Fisher crowd of 50 years ago – but less likely things have happened. The O’s have a confused but deep bullpen, and a powerful line-up that also presents an airtight infield defense if Derrick Lee and Brian Roberts can stay healthy. J.J. Hardy was described in Florida as “re-born” and Vladi Guerrero is still hitting anything that doesn’t hit the mascot. It’s also Buck Showalter’s Honeymoon Year – his second season in each job (1993 Yankees, 1999 Diamondbacks, 2004 Rangers) has seen a playoff contender grow out of almost nowhere.

BOSTON: I need to tell you about this? The Red Sox added two ex-closers to the bullpen, have a line-up with six potential All-Stars in it, and Mike Cameron on the bench? And that in my night in their dugout in Fort Myers last month, the focus of the stars was cheering everything that the then-struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia did? There is just so much depth that unlike last year the team could contend even with a star – or maybe two – falling to injury. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are also tremendous teammates, not merely tremendous talents. Buster Olney said it best, in mime. He put one hand by his belt to indicate the other 29 teams. He put the other at his neck: “The Red Sox are here.”

NEW YORK: The aforementioned Mr. Olney tracked the end of the Yankee dynasty to Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, but this kind of overlooked the fact that they made the post-season in eight of the next nine years, reached the Series twice, and one once. This is the year the whole dynasty ends. Alex Rodriguez is healthy again and poised for an epic campaign, and there is no reason to doubt Cano or Teixeira. But otherwise I’d rather have Baltimore’s lineup. Or Toronto’s. The treatment of Jorge Posada (he can’t even be the back-up catcher? Not even the emergency back-up catcher?) and the reliance on such late-round fantasy fodder as Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and maybe Kevin Millwood is just startling. What? Juan Acevedo and Scott Erickson weren’t available? There is always the chance that Derek Jeter is right and everybody else is wrong about his deterioration at bat and in the field. On consecutive at bats in the second inning on Opening Day, a Miguel Cabrera screamer cleared Jeter by at least ten feet yet he jumped anyway as if unable to judge its height; then, a pretty ordinary liner by Victor Martinez nearly took his glove off. It seemed prophetic. I cannot see this team in the post-season, and none of its prospect-saviors: Banuelos, Betances, Brackman, or Montero, are ready yet.

TAMPA BAY: One of the explanations I heard for Austin Jackson’s blossoming in Detroit last year was that they put Johnny Damon’s locker next to his. This year he’s supposedly tutoring the gifted but so-far underachieving B.J. Upton. You’ve already heard the story of Manny Ramirez – hearing either the call of the clock or of the diminished paycheck – volunteering for spring training road trips and extra work in left. You know that Dan Johnson can produce the same kind of power/low batting average at first that Carlos Pena did. You have noticed the Rays’ rotation is as young and as deep as anybody’s this side of Philly (and might have improved with Matt Garza clearing space for Jeremy Hellickson). But Tampa is being written off because Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey have to fabricate a whole new bullpen. The readily forgotten reality is that they had pretty much done the same thing in 2010, with just as unlikely a cast. The key men: the closer Rafael Soriano (Atlanta), the 8th-inning guy Joaquin Benoit (hurt in the minors), and the lefty specialist Randy Choate (minors) had all been elsewhere in ’09. They are not likely to have the wire-to-wire reliability of a Soriano, but there is no reason why Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta shouldn’t hold the fort until Jake McGee or Brandon Gomes is ready. The Rays are not in Boston’s class – who is? – but they are Wild Card-worthy.

TORONTO: Like Baltimore, rookie manager John Farrell has an airtight batting order with 20-homer power at every spot in the line-up, and a rotation and bullpen that could be heaven or hell. I prefer Baltimore’s starters to Toronto’s, but Farrell’s unique background of college head coaching, major league talent development, and major league pitching coaching, might enable him to get more out of the Jays’ mix of what I think is an overrated Ricky Romero and a cast of dozens. It is simply tough to imagine a team hitting as many home runs as the Jays will and still finishing last.

THE FORECAST: I don’t think the top two spots are at issue. Boston wins, the Rays probably take the wild card. The question becomes whether the Yankee collapse, and the Oriole and Jay growth spurts, happen rapidly enough to unleash Steinbrennarmageddon in the Bronx: the Yankees finishing last. I suspect we will see them occupy the basement long enough for the kind of good old-fashioned accusation firestorm and managerial firing speculation that used to make 161st Street the Bronx Zoo. But I do not think both sets of birds will fly with equal success. I may have Toronto and Baltimore switched here, but I see it: 1. Boston, 2. Tampa Bay, 3. Baltimore, 4. New York, 5. Toronto (and the last three, very close indeed).




  1. D. P. O'Connell

    You’re mad, mad I say! Here’s how I see it (with minimal commentary): 1. Boston, 2. Yankees (wild card) with 92 wins, 3./4. Baltimore and Toronto fighting it out, 5. Tampa Bay … Your lesson on the Yankees will be: Don’t let what you so clearly _want_ get in the way of evaluating teams this early in the season. (So there!) Have a great weekend!

  2. Tyler

    I think you’re selling your Yankees short. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to see it. But what happens when they trade for King Felix at the deadline? The bats’ll be fine.

    And don’t crown my Sox yet. They’re loaded, but on paper. Crazier things have happened. Reverse jinx?

  3. E. Santos

    THANK YOU, SIR! THANK YOU! (yes, I am yelling) After arriving home from my Rays’ Opening Day debacle to the Orioles I read your reinvigorating words about Tampa Bay and that, coming from you, gave me hope for some light at the end of the tunnel (not the incoming train that everyone else is calling upon us). I hope (and oray) Sir, that you are just right! Thanks KO!

  4. Dennis

    April fools, right? I can’t really grasp how the “treatment” of jorge will keep them out of the postseason. Did you watch games he caught? My god. If you think the Yankees will come close to finishing last I would appreciate if u at least share your drugs with me.

  5. Robert

    I could see the Yanks falling hard. Do they have enough pitching behind CC and Hughes? Is Nova ready? He looked great in an exhibition against the O’s, but is he for real? What about the #4 and 5 starters?

    Not sure I see the Orioles getting to #3 in the division yet, but it could happen if the pitching comes around AND Roberts and Lee stay healthy.

    The AL East is a beast this year

  6. Peter

    Picking the Yankees 4th? And people call you biased! I do believe the hype about the O’s as well. I also think Toronto could finish above .500, but will probably fall short.

    Patiently awaiting your AL Central predictions

  7. David M. Quintana

    Hey Keith, I agree with you on Jeter…but 4th place…I see the Yankees winning the division or at the very least securing the wild card spot…CC, Hughes, AJ and Nova will all have sensational years…And, Alex, Tex and Cano will carry the offense…The Yankees will win 95-100 games this year…

  8. Kiko Jones

    I appreciate your efforts towards not being perceived as a “homer”, KO, but your 4th place prediction for the Yankees is nothing more than an April Fool’s joke. Only in the realm of lunacy could the lowly O’s outperform the Bombers–or even Toronto!–in 2011.

  9. Vikki

    I agree that the O’s will be greatly improved, and quite frankly the Sox scare me this year but predicting 4th for the Yanks? Wow! I seriously thought this was an April fools joke. They may not win the division, but you are selling them short. And I echo the sentiment from another poster: did you *watch* Posada catch? My father always joked that Posada translates to “passed ball” in Spanish.

  10. apcig

    You sell the Yanks short, but Kyle Farnsworth will “hold down the fort” for the Rays? What? Oh wait, this was posted in the final minutes of April Fools Day.

  11. Pingback: 2011 Previews: AL East (via Baseball Nerd) | cre8tive YouTH*ink
  12. SL Cabbie

    Hmmm… “Steinbrennarmageddon”?

    On the order of what happened in ’66? Hard to say, but New Yorkers will look at it that way even if the Yanks finish only third…

    On the “small market front,” here on Planet Utah our only major league team is doing the “Legendary owner passed away Last Days” scenario, and it is butt ugly… Well, at least the Jazz will get another lottery pick that we can then watch another team scoop up after he’s developed… The cannibals won’t find their next pickings nearly as well-coached, however…

    Well, you’re allowed your predictions as long as you realize you’re going against 90 years of conventional wisdom and betting against the Yankees…

    A now-expired friend of mine made that error in ’77 and was crowing at me as the bottom of the 9th started against the Royals… I felt some genuine compassion for him (but I collected his money and the re-buy on whether the Yanks would win the Series. Got odds on that last one). Thus doth the baseball god destroy those who would make themselves arrogant…

    So how about a little confession to the cabdriver, Keith? Are you making bets that way, or just copy…

  13. Martin Lefebvre

    Personnally, I belive that you’re way off this time. I may be biased, but last year you predicted that the Jays would finish last. Last year, they finished 4th with a record above .500 in the toughest division in professional sports. I would argue that this year they have a stronger team than last year. I see a lot of similarites between this year and the Jays’ 1984 team. All the ingrediants are there, all they need is a few year to become a contender.

    Second point: The Jays pay their players in US dollars and get revenue in Canadian dollars. The Canadian dollar is now at or just above a 1:1 exchange rate. This is much better than in the late 90s where 1 Canadian dollar fetched 65cents US. They now have the money to get AND retain their talent.

  14. John Hall

    There is a possibility this team could get old overnight and that they finish in the bottom part of the A.L. East. That said, I think the Yanks manage to survive another year and at least get the wild card.

  15. tinagrrl

    Gosh Keith, you are WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! Esp. about the Yankees.

    It’s too bad, your deep prejudice is showing.

    Oh well, eventually you just MIGHT learn.

  16. djpostl

    Rofl, I had to save this just so you can eat your own words come September. Yankees 4th huh? Rays and their pathetic offense meets mediocre bullpen 1st? Rather have Baltimore’s lineup? Yeah because A RF who neither hits HRs or steals bases and broke dick Derek Lee supplement Vladdy so well. Not like Swisher, Granderson, Gardner and Jeter are better than them lol.

    Any and all credibility you had just flew out the window.

  17. Justin

    How can you justify the O’s rotation over the Jays? I mean, it’s tough to take any of the AL East rotations over the Jays. Romero’s advanced stats matched his traditional ones last year, implying he’s performing right around his true talent level. I don’t see a regression at all with him, and he’s probably only the third-best starter on the club. Morrow is filthy, and Drabek looked today to be even filthier.

    You’re a heck of a fan, Keith. A great baseball historian. But I really don’t think you’re much of a talent evaluator.

  18. walt kovacs

    lackey looked terrible today

    neither the yanks or the sox make it to the post season

    the orioles surprise everyone and win the division

  19. Daniel

    why does everyone forget what constitutes common sense in the regular season when doing their preseason rankings? Managers are never worth more than 4 wins/losses in a season. Buck in Baltimore might improve the team but has he made enough changes to bridge the 14 game difference between the Jays and themselves from last year? No and you’d be enjoying the finest pair of rose colored spectacles if you truly believed that.

    Derek Lee and Vladi are not an answer to anything beyond ‘what two players will combine for 162 days on the dl this year?’ So why shun the conventional wisdom here? Is it perhaps that everyone hopes that the orioles will be better this year? I think a lot of people want to believe too much that they can be a Cinderella story, the feel good team of the year. This is not an organisation of lovable losers, it is an organisation of losers. For as awful as they have been for the past decade they still have the worst farm system in the division. This is a team going nowhere with a bullet and when the clock strikes midnight we are going to find that they are once again a bottom feeding team with a sub 500 record and very few prospects for the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s