2012 Predictions: American League East
During the first part of the twentieth century, the heavily coiffured boffin Albert Einstein dispensed with the acknowledged Newtonian model of mechanics, and transformed Physics with what would become known as his Theory of Relativity. Although not widely accepted on its initial publication, Einstein’s assertion that time was not uniform and absolute, and thus could no longer be understood by time itself, has become fundamental to our understanding of the World around us. It is also a concept that is integral to justifying the dubious publication date of this somewhat retrospective prediction.
The third and final look at this year’s American League triumvirate features the heavyweight East division, and does so by going against conventional chronology and utilizing the benefit of a month’s worth of hindsight.
One team that would jump at the opportunity to go back in time is the Boston Red Sox. During large chunks of the season, the 2011 Sox looked every inch the studs that many experts predicted they would be, but then came September, and the complete and utter collapse of the side. Despite widespread endorsement of the ‘rally beer’ technique, and the implementation of a high protein intake formulated by the dieticians at Popeye’s, the Red Sox were ultimately destined to implode on the final day of the season.
With the polarizing figure of Bobby Valentine now at the helm, the 2012 Red Sox have struggled to find any kind of consistency out of the gate, and while a series of injuries and hard-luck defeats have punctuated the all-too-frequent bullpen games, it seems fair to say that the new skipper has not yet ingratiated himself to the potentially explosive Boston fan base.
The original projected outfield platoon of Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross have so far performed admirably in their enhanced roles, while Mike Aviles has shown great value at the plate since assuming the burden of being everyday Shortstop. Veteran DH David Ortiz has started the 2012 season hotter than a Buddhist monk at a ‘Free Tibet’ protest, and seems intent on ensuring the Front Office regret their decision not to offer him a multiyear deal during the offseason.
The rotation has been identified as a glaring weakness, and the somewhat forced inclusion of Bard and Dubront did nothing to eradicate these concerns, however both men have done enough so far to allow respite from the abysmal Clay Buchholz. The normally reliable Jon Lester has been something of a mixed bag so far this season, and has struggled to find the ‘lights-out’ form he is more than capable of showing.
The bullpen has experienced a crisis of identity thanks to the loss of Closer Andrew Bailey and the shifting of Daniel Bard to the starting rotation. While former Astro and ‘Plan B’ Mark Melancon works out his considerable kinks down in Pawtucket, the accomplished long relief man Alfredo Aceves has assumed the 9th inning duties, and has settled nicely after a tragic series in Detroit.
The activation of Matsuzaka in the next few weeks will offer the Red Sox rotation a much needed boost, while the return of Jacobi Ellsbury, and a healthy and hitting Carl Crawford, could turn out to be just what the doctor ordered.
The global trend for austerity seems to be hitting even the New York Yankees, where a desire to fall under the luxury tax threshold by 2014 has been assured by Bert & Ernie Steinbrenner. With several high profile bats locked up on long term exuberant contracts, it is the starting rotation that has felt the full force of the scythe.
So serious are the concerns surrounding the Yankees pitching that the exhumation of Andy Pettitte has been authorized, and providing the veteran can show that he hasn’t forgotten every clubhouse conversation that took place with his mentor Roger Clemens, he should at the very least have a positive impact on what is a decidedly sketchy rotation.
CC Sabbathia will undoubtedly rack up his usual solid numbers as the season progresses, however the loss of Michael Pineda for the season ensures that any potential success gleaned from trading legendary top prospect Jesus Montero remains as yet undefined. Phil Hughes continues to be the same volatile start as he was in 2011, while Freddie Garcia has already been absorbed into an extremely solid bullpen currently coming to terms with the loss of Mariano Rivera.
The Yankees have a powerhouse batting lineup that has almost negated the requirement for pitching in past years, and Derek Jeter continues to fend off the annual criticisms regarding his age and production with a roasting start to the 2012 campaign. Mark Teixeira will no doubt shake of his traditional lethargic April and drive in his usual 100+ RBI, while self professed ‘half-man, half-beast’ Alex Rodriguez is expected to follow suit if he remains healthy, and by factoring in the scary numbers achievable with Grandison and Cano in the lineup, it’s all but guaranteed that the Yankees will bludgeon their way into postseason consideration.
The only real benefit to stinking out the joint for the best part of a decade is the consistent opportunity to draft well, and Tampa Bay have undoubtedly made the most of their considerable number of chances over the years. Since exorcising the Devil from their moniker in 2008, the Rays have frequently bested the big spending Yankees and Red Sox, and have become regulars on the October circuit as a result.
The Rays have the best rotation in the AL East by a country mile, and arguably one of the finest in all of Baseball, and the prospect of facing James Shields, David Price, and the baby-faced Jeremy Hellickson over a series can leave the most virile line-up with nothing to show for a tough few days at the office.
While the starting rotation is undoubtedly the key to the Rays success, the return of fan favorite Carlos Pena has augmented a lineup that always seems to give the impression that it has been thrown together as an afterthought, with a sprinkling of kids fresh from the pages of the latest Baseball America Prospect Handbook, fleshed out by a handful grizzled bit-part players, all surrounding the potent bat of the contractually ambivalent Evan Longoria.
Despite his immense talent, Longoria is gaining a reputation for being slightly injury prone, and is currently sweating out yet another stint on the DL. For one so integral to lineup, he is bound to be sorely missed over the next few weeks, yet the benefit of having a two-time AL Manager of the Year at the helm cannot be understated, and it seems that whoever is out there swinging for the Rays, the inspirational Joe Madden somehow manages to squeeze the best out of them.
The only remaining Big League side north of the border has had a tough time since scoring back to back World Series titles in the glory days of 1992 and 1993, but there may be interesting times in Toronto once again while under the guidance of highly respected coach John Farrell.
Showing a shrewd sensibility in the marketplace over the last few years, the Blue Jays have managed to jettison some heavy contractual obligations created by the previous regime, and put together a reasonably competitive side for the new campaign.
Ricky Romero leads out a solid rotation that has the ability to sparkle on any given night, while Jose Bautista looks to continue his one-man crusade to rid the World of all Bud Selig sanctioned Rawlings products, and the installation of talented hitter Brett Lawrie at the hot corner has given the Toronto crowd a local interest that doesn’t involve a bunch of toothless Eastern Europeans punching the living beards off each other.
Perennially dubbed as ‘one to watch’, the Blue Jays are without a doubt an admirable foe, and would surely experience greater success in any other division except for the powerhouse AL East. The Rogers Centre crowd will at least see a few games in October for a change, if only due to the scheduled visit of the Twins for the final regular season series of 2012.
In spite of having one of the most aesthetically pleasing ballparks in the Majors, the Orioles have consistently provided the city of Baltimore with some downright ugly Baseball. Following a miserable start to the 2010 season, the hiring of Buck Showalter saw the O’s fortunes experience something of a renaissance, and the side saw out the final three months of the season with a 34-24 record, and offered the Camden Yards fans some degree of hope for the future.
Showalter’s initial success proved to be short lived, as the next year saw Baltimore register a losing record for the 14th consecutive campaign. This time around it is former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette who has been charged with the task of reversing the fortunes of the tragic Orioles.
Baltimore have slowly put together a lineup that has the ability to put runs on the board, and contributions from up and down the lineup has placed the side in the very unfamiliar situation of leading the charge in the AL East, with even long-term catching ‘prospect’ Matt Weiters cranking up his career average through batting .300 in April.
One weakness inherent throughout previous seasons has been pitching, and on occasion it has been downright laughable, however the 2012 rotation has been nothing short of superb over the first month, and the Orioles currently sport the lowest ERA in the American League. The bullpen has been as tight as a whale’s arse at fifty fathoms, and Closer Jim Johnson has recorded 8 saves in as many attempts and has yet to give up a run.
Even with this unexpected start to the new season, the Orioles remain odds-on favorites to finish bottom of the heap once again, if only due to the fact that they will be mugged over the long haul by the strength of their AL East rivals.