So I am writing the 2009 MLB Season Previews. I know it might be a little early, but apart from the always entertaining Manny Ramirez sweepstakes that apparently nobody is buying into, many of the major pieces are already in place. Yes a few worthy pitchers are left and a few good bats are there, so maybe we can call this an early, early season preview.
Anyway, I have made my way through the American League East and Central. I am thoroughly unimpressed with the Central. It looks like the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins will fight for the top spot again. Cleveland could contend, but after last season’s debacle I do not want to go out on a limb. Kansas City actually has a shot at getting to .500, but history is not on their side. Kind of like pitching is not on the Tigers side.
The American League East looks like the Central last year. I hope this is not as huge as a bust. I mean the New York Yankees are looking to kick off the inaugural season at New Yankee Stadium with a team loaded with the new stars. Mark Teixeira , C.C. Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett are the new faces that could end the glee in Boston.
Meanwhile over in Bostonia the Red Sox tickets should not come with any doubt. This is a team that got rid of the aforementioned Manny Ramirez. Sure, Ramirez single-handedly took the Dodgers from NL West wannabes to West champions. He can jumpstart an offense, but he can also drag down a locker room, which is exactly what he was doing in Boston. They survived the talent fallout and entered the playoffs as the wild card. Not bad.
The team is largely intact. The pitching is still there. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and now Brad Penny give the team enough talent on the mound to handle just about any lineup. The Red Sox still have David Ortiz. The also have a seeming replacement for Ramirez in Kevin Youkilis and an MVP in Dustin Pedroia. The playoff team is still there and this time they could take the top spot from last years champions.
I do not know if the Tampa Bay Rays are going to stick around at the top of the pack. Will they pull a White Sox move and disappear the next year. The hitters could stand to make a little more contact, but the speed on the base paths (B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford) and the rally players (Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena). I think that the real decider of the Rays fate is in the hands of Akinori Iwamura. Iwamura led the team in hitting with a .274 average. He also seemed to come up with the right hits at the right time. If his average dips below .250 then I think Tampa can count out another potential postseason surprise.
The pitching is there too. James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine are quality starters that need to have a tremendous year. Also, the team has a new closer in Dan Wheeler. Wheeler was a very good setup man, but Troy Percival is gone now and the close games lay in his right hand.
Those are the top three that everyone knows about. The bottom two, the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays, are far from bottom feeders. Orioles tickets may have been a huge bust last season at Oriole Park at Camden Yard. The team has the mid-level veteran talent to win 80 games if they can come up with some chemistry. Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff bring power and contact to the plate.
Pitching could be a problem. Jeremy Guthrie is the only solid starters. The rest are young and could have an incredible break through seasons. George Sherrill is a rare lefty closer who has a good save percentage, but an awful ERA. If the staff can hold teams to a few runs less per game, they could be more than a few guaranteed wins for the rest of the tough competition.
The Toronto Blue Jays are my favorite dark horse so far. The staff lost A.J. Burnett to the Yanks, but the Blue Jays season is far from over. Roy Halladay is still a Hall of Fame class pitcher. Jesse Litsch is a good replacement for Burnett as the number two in the rotation. Having two bullpen guys step up as starters could deplete the bullpen and ruin games late. Dustin McGowan is a real starting pitcher, but the Blue Jays could use a pitcher from the free agent list to solidify the rotation.
The bats were quiet last year, but Vernon Wells was injured and never really got the team back on track. Lyle Overbay and Alex Rios are far from heavy hitters, but they can be dangerous as Wells supporting cast.
I think if there is any division to buy MLB tickets for, it is the American League East.