Over the next six days, I will preview the six divisions followed by a postseason preview and award predictions. I will be doing a Phillies specific preview before Opening Day.
2010 AL East Preview - *2009 record shown
1. New York Yankees (103-59)
The Yankees reclaimed their division throne in 2009 which ultimately ended with a World Championship. 2010 will be no different as the Yankees look to have the pieces in place for a return to the World Series. After the big offseason between the 2008 and 2009 season that saw the arrival of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira, New York has put themselves in a good position to start a new Yankees dynasty but will have to do so fast. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera all become free agents after the 2010 season. Then again, who doesn’t think those three will re-sign with the Yankees? Still, age is a factor for this team with Jeter turning 36 in June, Pettitte turning 38 in June, Jorge Posada turning 39 in August, and Rivera turning 41 in late November. The Yankees and Red Sox have dominated the AL East (except for 2008) and the entire baseball world for most of the 2000’s but age is becoming a serious factor as evidenced by the Red Sox’s decline last season.
Seven of the nine players who started for the Yankees the night they won the World Series last season return. Two big pieces of the Championship team are gone though with 2009 World Series MVP DH Hideki Matsui now in Anaheim and LF Johnny Damon in Detroit both via free agency. The Yankees replaced Damon by bringing in CF Curtis Granderson through a trade with the Tigers and replaced Matsui with veteran Nick Johnson. With Granderson in town, Brett Gardner will move to left field while Nick Swisher will take over the right field spot.
The top three starters from 09 (Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte) will once again head the best rotation in the AL East. Javier Vazquez returns to the Bronx after the Braves traded him to the Yankees for OF Melky Cabrera. Vazquez pitched for the Yankees in 2004 and posted a 14-10 record. Recently, Phil Hughes was named the fifth starter. Rivera will close for the 15th straight season.
2. Boston Red Sox (95-67)
The Red Sox veteran players are slowly coming to the end of their careers. Long time catcher and captain of the Sox, Jason Varitek is no longer the starting catcher, DH David Ortiz had a terrible 2009 season batting .238, SP Tim Wakefield enters the season at 43 years of age, and 3B Mike Lowell won’t be at third base after the offseason signing of Adrian Beltre. Fortunately for Boston, they have one of the best minor league systems in baseball and a lot of cash. The Sox are still a great team but missing the playoffs in 2010 isn’t out of the question.
The core of the Sox – LF Jacoby Ellsbury, 2B Dustin Pedroia, 1B Kevin Youkilis and DH David Ortiz – is still intact for 2010. After losing the big offensive numbers that Jason Bay put up in Boston, the Red Sox decided to sign Mike Cameron to play center field and move Jacoby Ellsbury to left. J.D. Drew will be in right field. The left side of the infield includes two offseason signings in SS Marco Scutaro and 3B Beltre. Martinez will be the starting catcher.
Two of the best pitchers in baseball, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, will top the Boston rotation again this season. New addition John Lackey will be the third starter after eight seasons in Anaheim where he posted a 102-71 record. Daisuke Matsuzaka will be the number four but will start the season on the DL. Clay Buchholz will be the number five. After a disappointing season, closer Jonathan Papelbon will need to rebound and return to All-Star form.
3. Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
After an amazing 2008 season that saw the Rays winning the AL pennant, Tampa had a disappointing 2009 season and finished third in the East. Former Phillie Pat Burrell didn’t provide the offensive numbers that the Rays needed from him at the DH position. Starters James Shields and Matt Garza both finished with sub .500 records. J.P. Howell took over the closers role in 2009 but blew eight saves. The Rays are still a good team and most of the 2008 roster is still around but everyone will have to produce to get back to the playoffs.
Eight of the nine starters from last season are back. The only new addition to the Tampa starting lineup is 2B Sean Rodriguez who takes over for Akinori Iwamura who is now a Pirate. LF Carl Crawford is entering his contract year so expect big numbers from him as usual. He will be one of the top two outfielders available after the season along with Phillies RF Jayson Werth.
Pitching killed the Rays last season. Former number one starter Scott Kazmir is gone but Shields and Garza still sit atop the rotation. David Price, who closed for Tampa during their 08 season, is now starting and posted a 10-7 record in 2009. Jeff Niemann led the Rays with 13 wins last season and will be the number four starter followed by Wade Davis as the fifth starter. Tampa brought in Rafael Soriano from Atlanta to close.
4. Baltimore Orioles (64-98)
With a 64-98 record in 2009, it seems odd to pick the O’s to finish fourth in the East. However the team is finally starting to turn the corner. Young players like catcher Matt Wieters, CF Adam Jones, LF Nolan Reimold, SP Chris Tillman and SP Brian Matusz are giving Orioles fans a reason for hope. Combine the young guys with veterans like 2B Brian Roberts, 3B Miguel Tejada, 1B Garrett Atkins, and SS Cesar Izturis and you have a great team. RF Nick Markakis is, in my opinion, the most underrated player in baseball.
Tejada is back in Baltimore after two seasons in Houston but this time as a third baseman. He replaces long-time Oriole Melvin Mora at the hot corner. Tejada had a fantastic 09 season batting .313 with 86 RBIs and will need to produce those numbers again batting in the cleanup spot for the O’s as his career comes to an end. Former Rockies 3B Garrett Atkins will be at first after seven seasons in Colorado where he hit .289 with 98 home runs and 479 RBIs. Leadoff hitter Brian Roberts is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.
Offseason signee Kevin Millwood will be the number one for the Orioles and provide them with a solid veteran starter to teach the younger guys. Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, and Chris Tillman will follow Millwood. Mike Gonzalez was brought in to close from the Braves.
5. Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)
The reason why the Blue Jays will struggle this year is the same reason why the Phillies may win another NL pennant: Roy Halladay. One could argue that Halladay alone kept the Jays above the O’s in the standings all those years but now he is gone. The new #1 Jays starter? 28 year old Shaun Marcum who has a career 24-17 record. All-star 2B Aaron Hill, CF Vernon Wells, and DH Adam Lind will put up big numbers offensively but it will not be enough to keep the Blue Jays out of the cellar.
There are only two new faces in the Toronto starting lineup with former Red 3B Edwin Encarnacion and former Red Sox SS Alex Gonzalez now in Canada. After a terrible 09 where he hit .260 with 15 HRs and 66 RBIs, Wells will need to return to All-Star form to boost the Jays offense. 2B Aaron Hill will probably be the lone All-Star selection. 22 year old LF Travis Snider will have his chance as a starter in 2010.
With the departure of Halladay, Marcum is the new number one. He will be followed by Ricky Romero who went 13-9 for the Blue Jays last season. Former Seattle reliever Brandon Morrow will now start in Toronto. Morrow has only started 15 games in his MLB career. The number four starter will be Marc Rzepcynski who started 11 games for the Jays last season. The fifth spot will be Brian Tallet who enters his fifth season with Toronto. After an up and down season with the Cubs, Kevin Gregg will close for the Jays in 2010.
All Division Line-Up
1B-Mark Teixeira (NYY)
2B-Aaron Hill (TOR)
SS-Derek Jeter (NYY)
3B-Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
LF-Carl Crawford (TB)
CF-B.J. Upton (TB)
RF-Nick Markakis (BAL)
All-Division Rotation and Closer
SP-CC Sabathia (NYY)
SP-Josh Beckett (BOS)
SP-Jon Lester (BOS)
SP-A.J. Burnett (NYY)
SP-Matt Garza (TB)
Closer-Mariano Rivera (NYY)
Best Player: Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
Best Pitcher: Josh Beckett (BOS)
Surprise Player: Nolan Reimold (BAL