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Random Thoughts Time: AL East Preview - This Is Sports Zone

You know I was going to start off this preview of mine by apologizing for my tardiness in writing this while stating that I just have not been able to stop laughing at the fact that the Yankees willingly traded for Vernon Wells the last 24 hours, but I’m not going to do that.  I just read the Yahoo Fantasy guys “Bold Predictions for 2013” article, and I have to share a few of the quotes:

Roy Halladay is not a Top 80 starting pitcher in fantasy this year.(Scott Pianowski)

With a fresh start and sweet spot in the middle of the Phillies lineup, Michael Young rebounds at the plate to return top 10 fantasy value among the 2B-eligible crowd. (Brandon Funston)

Freddie Freeman leads the National League in home runs. (Pianowski)

Atlanta’s Kris Medlen dazzles as a full-time starter leading the National League in wins, ERA and WHIP, accolades that net him the NL Cy Young. (Brad “Noise” Evans)

The Yankees finish last in the AL East, and outside the Top 8 in runs scored.(Pianowski)

Now we’ll talk about the NL ones in the NL Preview (and I don’t entirely agree with all those quotes myself), but that last one intrigues me.  Honestly I kind of want to agree with that, but I don’t agree entirely that the Yankees finish last, trust me, if I had something tangible proving that statement true, I’d be writing about it now.  And the reason I don’t think the Yankees finish last in the East (but probably outside of the Top 10 in runs scored), is that just because the Yankees are so looking much worse (at the moment, I’ll be fair) than they have been in 20 years, doesn’t make the other teams World Beaters.  We’re going to talk plenty about the Yankees on Thursday, so that should be all of the Yankee talk for now, as we focus on the other teams fighting for supremacy in the division.  We will start with my prediction for ther AL East standings:

Toronto Blue Jays      90-72

Tampa Bay Rays        85-77

Boston Red Sox         83-79

New York Yankees   83-79

Baltimore Orioles    79-83

– I’ve always considered myself to be someone who believes in the idea that “Money doesn’t buy championships, and teams that set out to create an All Star Team of High Priced Talent are doomed to fail.”  On Thursday I’ll probably be saying this statement repeatedly if we talk about the End of the Yankee Dynasty, which I believe really started in 2001, when you consider that from 1996-2000 the only real big money name on the team was Roger Clemens, and then as they started spending frivioulously, they have gone to only three World Series’ with only one win to show for it, so from 2001-2012 the Yankees have basically been the Braves of the 1990s for all intents and purposes…..So why do I think the Blue Jays win the division?

Real simple-  The Blue Jays went into the offseason with a solid core of talent in young stud third baseman Brett Lawrie, flamethrower Brandon Morrow, the recovering Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion (who slammed 40 home runs last year), a decent if unhealthy bullpen, along with guys like Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, Rajah Davis, and JP Arencibia, who they were pushing into places in the batting order they clearly shouldn’t have been in.  They then went out and added one of the best leadoff hitters in the game (Jose Reyes), two versatile veterans with speed (Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis), the Disgraced One on the Cheap (Melky Cabrera), and three starters who could very well give the Blue Jays the best 1-4 order in the Majors, despite their flaws (Josh Johnson, RA Dickey, and Mark Buehrle).

If you look at the Dodgers and Angels spending habits the last couple of years, I feel like the rosters assembled look more like they are simply comprised of whoever they could throw the most money at without a real goal or overall roster direction in place– this goes true for the Dodgers more than anyone, because for all the money they’ve spent they were still planning on starting the season with Mark Ellis at second base and Luis Cruz at Short or Third BEFORE Hanley Ramirez went down (and if you don’t know who Ellis or Cruz or, congrats, you get the point).

With a possible lineup of Reyes, Bonifacio or Izturis, Lawrie, Bautista, Edwin, Melky, and then guys who still have power in Lind and Arencibia, plus guys with potential (Rasmus) and speed (Davis), they may not be the Angels or the Tigers, but they may very well lead the league in Runs and Stolen Bases, and the Breakout Star to Watch in my eyes is still Brett Lawrie.  He’s going to start the season on the DL, could be out for up to a month, but one way or another he’s out of the leadoff spot this year.  He’s a guy with 30 home run potential, but only blast 11 with 48 RBIs last year, when 61 of his 125 games saw him batting first.  He is one of the brightest stars in this division, and if he bats 3rd or 5th on a consistent basis, he’s going to put up massive numbers.

Obviously, they are plenty of knocks and plenty of injury risks on this teams.  From how Reyes holds up on artificial turf, to Josh Johnson (even though he’s in a contract year, which i think was the main reason Erich once gave me as to why he thought Grandy and Cano were going to have careers this year—- so I think that should count), to RA Dickey (I love the attitude that the Mets were wrong for trading him for guys who help the franchise for the next five years, and yet Dickey can’t help the Jays win the division) to Beuhrle (who has literally thrown 200+ innings every year since 2001 , the very definition of Innings Eater) to Bautista (healthy so far) and Ricky Romero (who might lose the 5th spot to JA Happ and be demoted).  Personally, while health is always the key, the Blue Jays transformed themselves into a highly well- rounded team that can take advantage of the weakened conditions of both the Yankees and Red Sox.

-As for the other teams:

-I look at the Red Sox, and I know their pitching isn’t as good as the Yankees (boy I guess I lied about that not talking about the Yankees until Thursday), even if Jon Lester rebounds he’s not CC Sabathia.  Clay Buchholz has never really been the pitcher he was seemingly supposed to be, and while Ryan Dempster has become another Innings Eater over the last few years, and Felix Doubrant may have some upside, John Lackey is in fact considered terrible until further notice.  Even with Joel Hanrahan as the closer, Boston’s pitching staff, from starters to relievers isn’t on the level as the Yankees, if they all hold up, of course.

But I look at Boston’s lineup, even with David Ortiz out for a month, and I can’t honestly say its worse than the Yankees currently is.  For starters, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are both healthy, and Mike Napoli could probably lead both teams in home runs (if that hip holds up), plus Shane Victorino is still an above average hitter, and the Red Sox have two quality young players expected to have big roles this season, the first being Will Middlebrooks at 3rd base, who is going to be a legitimate 25 homer/ 90 rbi threat yearly, and the second being Jackie Bradley Jr, who might very well make the jump from Double A to starting in left field for the big club on opening day, and could be very intriguing in either the leadoff or #2 spots.  At the very least, Boston, as does Toronto, begins the season missing one important contributor to their lineup apiece, and the Yankees are missing four, some for a while.  Good news is, everybody plays each other at least nine times in the first two months, so that should set the tone.

-As for the Rays, if I had to pick one major league front office to switch with the Mets, I think it might be with the Rays, I love the way they stocckpile talent, I love the way they always seem to manipulate their never-ending arsenal of top pitching prospects to their advantage, and yes, I thought it was great to see them do it again when they traded James Shields away to the Royals for some players I think help the Rays in the second half in Wil Myers and either Jake Odorizzi or Mike Montgomery (I believe one comes up this year, and if its Odorizzi he’s not going back down).  But until then, its still another team that will probably outslugg the Yankees this year, I’m expecting a big second year out of Desmond Jennings to go with Swiss Army Knife Ben Zobrist and Stud Third Baseman Evan Longoria, plus power bats in Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, along with the potentially above-average Kelly Johnson- Yunel Escobar double play combo.  James Loney is nothing special, but at the very least this lineup will produce runs, and the pitching is going to survive losing Shields.

David Price and Matt Moore should form a solid 1-2 after Moore’s solid second half of last season.  Pressure will be on Jeremy Hellickson to lower his WHIP, which seems to get higher every year, but Jeff Nieman has been a reliable pitcher for the Rays, and while the Roberto Hernandez formerly known as Fausto Carmona probably isn’t going to be around too long, the Rays should wind up showcase some good young arms this year, if not Odorizzi then Chris Archer, who was competing for the fifth spot this spring.  And remember– if you wind up paying attention to the Yankees you know something– the Yankees never hit an unknown young starter they see for the first time well—to me that should be the Rays secret weapon.  Plus the bullpen is still strong with Fernando Rodney back as closer.  Bottom line– the Rays should have enough offense and pitching to match the Yankees, and I believe they get a Wild Card spot this season.

-I spend the least time on the Big Surprise from last year- the Baltimore Orioles, who have a really solid core in Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, the healthy Nick Markakis, and Chris Davis, who had a breakout season last year, and have a solid SS in JJ Hardy, plus a surprise contribution from Nate McLouth.  But they stood pat on their roster this year, which was a nice show of faith in their players, but perhaps not the smartest move in the world, considering this pitching staff is arguably the worst in the division.  Jason Hammel, Yu- Wei Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta.  That’s the staff until Dylan Bundy comes back up.  I can’t consider the Orioles contenders until this pitching gets better.

We’ll do the NL next time and I’ll try not to be so long, enjoy this image for now:

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