Power Shifts In A.L. East But Yankees Still Reign


Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.

Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.

After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.

But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.

The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.

They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.

If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.

To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.

The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.

Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.

If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.

There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.

Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.

Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.

How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.

No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.

That is huge red flag to me.

Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?

Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.

That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.

It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.

That is my concern with the Rays.

In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.

One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.

They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.

The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.

However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury. ¬†Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.

If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.

The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.

Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.

They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.

That just about sums up the Orioles.

Now we come to the Yankees.

They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?

Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.

The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.

I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.

Here is the predicted order of finish:

1) New York Yankees 

2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)

3) Toronto Blue Jays

4) Boston Red Sox

5) Baltimore Orioles

If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.

 

7 Comments

The Yankees are getting old. A-Rod and Jeter are no longer the offensive threats they once were, Rivera is old and not scary anymore and pitchers like Kuroda will be lucky to keep his ERA under four in a pitchers park like Yankee stadium. The Yankees are a few injuries away from disaster and they aren’t getting any younger.

Also, don’t count the Orioles out just yet. They do have a tendency of starting fast, then fading for the rest of the season, but this is a different team this year. Adam Jones and Matt Weiters have improved each successive season offensively and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue and Nick Markakis has seemingly regained his power stroke this year. Reynolds can hit 35-40 home runs as he showed last year and Robert Andino will surprise in 2012 as he too made big strides last season and seems to be continuing that trend this year.

On the pitching side, Jake Arrieta has never looked better after getting the mass out of his elbow in the offseason, Tommy Hunter figures to be a solid piece in the rotation and Brian Matusz has regained his velocity, control and confidence after working hard with Brady Anderson in the offseason as have many of the other players. Matusz has something to prove and will have a good, perhaps breakout season picking up where he left off at the end of 2010. The bullpen is also much improved and we have more depth than we’ve had in many years.

Don’t be surprised if this is the year the Orioles climb out of the basement. If the team can stay healthy, watch out for the Orioles this year and next. The Yankees are a falling star. They won’t always be on top just like the Orioles won’t always be on the bottom. The Rays and Jays are definitely teams to watch out for this season as well. The power in the AL East is definitely shifting and the Yankees will not be unaffected by this.

Obvious you are an Orioles fan. I also have to say opinions are like butt holes, everybody has one. Hate to say that no expert agrees that the Orioles are a team to watch this season despite their 3-0 start against a weak Twins team.

I think the Yankees’ victory tonight proves why the Orioles were 5-13 against the Yankees for the past three years. Matusz looks like he has no clue as what he is doing, which is not all his fault because he was rushed to the majors much like Tillman, Arrieta, et al. The biggest failure of the Orioles has been their inability to actually bring up good pitchers like the Rays have. Without good pitching you just don’t win in the AL East.

I also hate to be the bearer of bad news but the Yankees are not a “falling star.” That is wishful thinking on your part. They won 97 games largely without A-Rod, a rotation using retreads like Garcia and Colon and really only Granderson and Cano had good seasons at the plate. What makes you think they will decline with A-Rod healthy, a better rotation and hitters who should be better in 2012? I did not even mention the bullpen, which is the best in baseball.

In addition, the Yankees have more good minor-league talent than you can shake a stick at. They have the makings of what could soon be a major-league rotation in Banuelos, Betances, Mitchell, Phelps and Warren at Triple-A. They have a good defensive catcher in Romine plus mega-catching prospects in Sanchez and Murphy who are only 20. They have a group of good outfield prospects in Almonte and Williams as well as slugger Dante Bichette Jr. Baseball America rates their minor leaguers very highly – higher than the Orioles minor leaguers.

I would say that as the Yankees age, they are going to have replacements ready to restock. Not to mention they always will have the money to sign whatever they need or they can simply make a trade as they did for Pineda.

But you just keep wishing it ain’t so. That is what makes it fun.

Thanks you also for reading my blog. I apreciate your input.

So I am supposed to watch out for the Orioles this season? I don’t think so. After watching them the past three nights I am unimpressed to say the least. I also do not think we are going see much fading in the “old” Yankees in 2012. That old guy Rivera can still make the Orioles look silly trying to hit him. Keep dreaming, Mike!

You can say that even after we were only one hit and one less error away from taking two out of three and took the so called best team in baseball into extra innings twice… or that your offense was practically shut down by two of our starters and our bullpen outside of Gregg, but no one thinks he’s any good anyway.

Your bias is way too big for the both of us here and that is evidenced by there being nothing (in your opinion) that was the least bit impressive about the Orioles in that series. I will give the Yankees this: you guys have one hell of a bullpen, but I’m still not scared of Rivera. How much does he really have left, anyway?

And.. yes, watch out for the Orioles this season. If you are so blind to say you were completely unimpressed by any part of the Orioles play in that series, then you really can’t be a fan of baseball, only the Yankees. Take this to the bank: the Orioles won’t win the division and probably won’t be anywhere near the wild card, but we’ll be closer to both than we’ve been in a long time and we will NOT finish last in the division. No higher than third, but NOT last.

The only one dreaming is the one who probably thinks the Orioles will always finish last and the Yankees will always finish first. All good things (and bad things) come to an end. If this team stays healthy, watch out. Baltimore is on the way up whether you want to see that or not. :)

A measure of a team is not how many close games it loses. It is the amount of games they win. Bottom line: The Orioles lost all three and it does not surprise me the games were close because they are in the A.L. East with familiarity with the Yankees.

The biggest issue I have with the Orioles is their starting pitching. It simply does not measure up to any of their other teams in the division. You can’t say that any of the five (Arrieta, Hunter, Hammel, Matusz or Chen) are established starters in that they have a long track record of success. Arrieta may do that. Chen may do that. But when is a question. Your bias may be at play here but the reality is they have a lot to prove and it takes 162 games to figure out if they succeed.†

Another issue I have with the Orioles is that despite the fact they have power in their offense, they struck out 10 times in Game 1, 15 in Game 2 and 12 in Game 3 versus the Yankees. That is 37 strikeouts in three games and 37 times that a runner was not advanced. They kill an offense and ultimately it was what really decided the series. Players like Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds do more harm than good because they just strike out too much and do not make contact enough.†

You seem so sure the Orioles will not finish fifth. I wonder who you are saying will finish below them. Obviously, you praised the Jays and Rays as good teams. So I am assuming you do not mean them. It can’t possibly be the Yankees because teams don’t win 97 games and fall into last. That leaves the Red Sox, I guess. So let me say this: If the Orioles finish ahead of them I am more than fine with it. It would serve Red Sox Nation right.

I do admit to be a Yankee fan but I also was a fan when they really stunk between 1965 through 1975 and from 1982 through 1994. If the Yankees were that bad now I would admit it. But the truth is they are the class of the East until they are proven otherwise.†

The biggest problem the Orioles have is their owner. Angelos is just clueless on hiring the right people above the GM and the team has drafted terribly as a result. Buck Showalter is an excellent manager but it is akin to hiring a skilled gunfighter and not providing him any bullets. It is just pointless. Eventually Buck will tire of it and quit. But until then he will keep the team afloat. They may even win more games than last year. But they will still finish under .500.

It is a Baltimore tradition of losing Angelos seems proud of.

Oh and Mo may not scare you anymore but then again you do not have to step into the batters box and try and hit his cutter. Last year his ERA was 1.91 and his WHIP was 0.90. He was 41. His last season where his ERA was over 2.00 was 2007 and before that he had four more seasons below 2.00.†

I can’t think of another closer who I would want to have in a game that mattered. He may blow a save here or there. After all, he is human. But his career save percentage is 92%. I think Buck Showalter would take him if he were offered. You know that too!

Like I say, keep dreaming.

________________________________

I have not heard much from you lately, Mike. How are things in Birdland? It seems that I was correct about the Yankees. Even you can see that they are the class of the division. Fortunately for your Orioles, the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays are having a contest to see how many key players they can lose. Otherwise, the Orioles would definitely be in last by now. They still could finish in last because they are only three games up on the last place Jays we just demolished. I just can’t wait for July 30 when the O’s come to the Bronx for their beatdown. I hope they are not in last place by then. I would like the Yankees of having the pleasure of putting them in their place in that series.

So keep dreaming, Mike. That is what makes baseball fun. You keep dreaming of the Orioles beating the Yankees and I get the pleasure of watching them fall miserably short every season.

Hey Buddy!

How are things with you? I sure have missed your informed prattle about the Orioles. How did their season go? Oh no! They lost to the Yankees? Woe is me, that is a darn shame. After all those late-inning rallies and extra-inning wins, they end up just another one of the losers in 2012. Have to give them credit for taking advantage of how bad the Dead Sox and Jays were this season. Looking at their long-term prospects, I still do not see them as a perennial contender – yet. The biggest problem is with players like Reynolds, McLouth, Hammel and Davis. Can they maintain what they did in 2012 or will they revert back to what they were.

There is a giant hole at second base and Hardy is retarding Machado’s growth if he stays at short. But if you move Machado to short, who plays third? More holes.

I also am not sold on the long-term prospects of the bullpen being that good. They seemed to have caught lightning in a bottle there. O’Day is simply not that good. Strop looks like he is going to break your heart with his awful control.

Yep. The biggest issue though is with the rotation because I do not see a legitimate ace in the bunch. That was the reason they lost to the Yankees. Hammel was good but Sabathia was better in both games.

But, hey, it has been nice chatting with you this season. Best of luck and keep dreaming that the Orioles will best the Yankees someday. You may be waiting a very long, long time.

Dante – Bottom of the Ninth blog

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