2013 American League East Preview
For the first time since I can remember the AL East is as wide-open as any division in baseball. Usually before the season experts pencil in either the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox to win the division. That is not the case this year with the Yankees getting older and being plagued by injuries and the Red Sox still finding their post Terry Francona identity. The Tampa Bay Rays have been a tough competitor in the last decade. The Baltimore Orioles were the Cinderella story of the league last year winning the single elimination Wild Card game against the Texas Rangers and contesting the Yankees to five games in the ALDS. The story of the off-season in the AL East is the blockbuster trade that the Toronto Blue Jays made with the Miami Marlins. They have had talent but now with these acquisitions have made them front-runners to win the AL East.
Although you can never count out the New York Yankees, they are definitely not the favorite to win the AL East. They made it to the American League Championship Series last year but after their captain Derek Jeter went down with a broken ankle in game one, they seemed to have no chance. He said he is going to be ready to go for opening day on April 1st as the Yankees host the rival Red Sox. There are two other all-stars not going to be in the opening day line-up. Although lately Alex Rodriguez has been scrutinized for producing far below his pay grade, he still is one of the best hitters of all time and is a presence in the middle of the lineup. He will be out at least until the all star break. Also outfielder Curtis Granderson will be until sometime in May with a broken forearm. That hurts the Yankees power numbers considering Granderson hit 43 home runs last year. Also all-star first baseman Mark Teixeira has a torn tendon in his right wrist and will be out indefinitely. That is an injury you cannot rush. So all that said, the Yankees are focusing on other ways to produce runs. They will be playing more small ball than the home run crushing ways of the winning past. They added first baseman Travis Hafner and third baseman Kevin Youkilis and although they cannot replace A-rod and Teixeira, they have to be offensive contributors if the Yankees want to produce runs. As Jeter said in an interview I saw earlier this month, ” Pitching wins championships.” Their best pitcher is the best closer of all-time in Mariano Rivera. After announcing his retirement at the conclusion of this season, I think the team will try their best to achieve success for the legend. The Yankees will hope that is their formula to success this year.
The Toronto Blue Jays as I said made big moves this off-season. In a trade with the Miami Marlins, they acquired all-star shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. They also picked up knuckle baller R.A. Dickey through free agency. If you were to tell me last year that the Jays pitching staff will be the best in A.L. East next year I would have told you to see a shrink in a way not so nice. But realistically they have put together a starting five that can fill that title. They also have sluggers like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion driving in runs. They put together a team that could win the fall classic and we will just have to wait and see how they perform.
Last year was one to forget for the last place Boston Red Sox. They struggled to find chemistry and drive to play for Bobby Valentine, who was relieved of managing duties this off-season. They hired their former pitching coach John Farrell to manage the team. They made a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in order to free up a whole lot of money. They will use that to rebuild their farm system and get back to the competitive team they have been in the past decade. They need their stars like pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to perform as they should. They also need slugger David Ortiz and all around players Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury to play their best in order to be even considered a potential team to make the playoffs.
As I said earlier, the Tampa Bay Rays always seem to be right in the thick of the playoff race towards the end of September. They didnt make the playoffs last year but with the great coaching of Joe Maddon and a great pitching staff, you can never count them out. They will need their best player Evan Longoria to stay healthy and perhaps the most under-rated player in baseball, Ben Zobrist to keep producing in order to be successful. The Baltimore Orioles and coach of the year Buck Showalter need to repeat last years performance in order to make the playoffs again. They were just one win away from advancing to the AL Championship Series. If they keep playing as a team, and with the young fire provided by 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado, they could be a legitimate contender.
This AL East should be close all year and is so tough to say who will end up on the top of the division come early October. If I were to have to guess I would choose the Yankees solely on their veterans knowing how to win. It will be an extremely intriguing season.