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BASN’s 2007 MLB Previews: Scouting The AL East
By Tony McClean
Updated: March 26, 2007
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — We now sit less than a week away from the start of another long baseball season. From Barry chasing Henry Aaron to whether the Cardinals can repeat, all issues involving the diamond will be and should be resolved within the next seven months or so.
Just before spring training, BASN took a sneak peek at the 2007 campaign. Starting today and over the next five days, yours truly has been entrusted to take a comprehensive look at all of this year’s six division races.
From the AL East to the NL West, we’ll take a look at the things you should watch for during the 2007 season. We’ll tell you who we think will make the postseason and who Bud Selig will be handing the World Series trophy to in October.
Today, we take a peek at the AL East. (Teams listed in order of predicted finish)
1. BOSTON RED SOX
While SI cover boy Daisuke Matsuzaka has been getting most of the hype this spring, Boston’s best move may have come just days ago when they decided to put flame thrower Jonathan Papelbon back in his role as Beantown’s closer. However, this does put a little more pressure on the starting trio of Curt Schilling, Dice-K, and Josh Beckett. Especially when you consider that the starters as a whole finished 26th in the majors in ERA last year. Don’t be surprised if either Dice-K or Beckett emerge as Terry Francona’s “ace” before the year is done. Adding SS Julio Lugo and OF J.D. Drew to an already potent lineup will help, but the Red Sox will also need a full season from team captain Jason Varitek to stabilize the pitching staff. It’s no surprise that losing him down the stretch led to Boston’s dismal 2006 finish.
Outlook: They have a solid lineup and enough improved pitching to make them the favorites to take this division in my eyes. Of course, their 19 battles with that team from the Bronx will have a lot to say about that, but right now I’d give the boys from Beantown the slight advantage.
2. NEW YORK YANKEES
Yes, they have a great lineup. Yes, Joe Torre does a great job on managing this bunch. But as the playoffs proved, you will not get out of the first round without good pitching. Losing ace Chien-Ming Wang (hamstring) may not hurt right now, but when you look at the rest of the pitching staff, even the most die hard Yankees fans have to wonder. While many think the team across the river has aging pitching, it’s safe to say that guys like Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and even Carl Pavano are starting to show a little wear on their tires. The tabloids will playing the ARod watch all season, but he may not be the only main cog that walks after this year. Guys like Torre, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada could be outta Dodge as well. Watching this team this year will be like watch the drama queens in Dallas this past season in the NFL.
Outlook: They’ll have their days when they’ll look like Murderers’ Row and then on the other days they’ll look like the Hitless Wonders. They’ll be in the mix for the division, but if they don’t get any sort of consistent pitching, they’ll be watching the playoffs from their homes for the first time in a long time.
3. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Stop me if you’d heard this before. An AL East team with a great everyday lineup, but suspect pitching at best. Say hello to the 2007 Blue Jays. Any team who has DH Frank Thomas, 3B Troy Glaus, OF Vernon Wells, and 1B Lyle Overbay has to be acknowledged. Unfortunately, the pitching leaves a lot to be desired after Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. And when you consider the fact that the oft-injured Burnett has only reached the 20 starts plateau only once since 2002, it gets even thinner. John Gibbons is looking at a rotation that includes two pitchers coming off injuries (Gustavo Chacin and ex-Brave John Thomson) and the enigmatic Tomo Ohka. B.J. Ryan is one of the game’s most underrated closers, but even he’ll be hard pressed to get 38 saves like he did last year.
Outlook: Much like the Yankees, Toronto will be entertain to watch at the plate at times. But they like many teams don’t have enough pitching to call themselves legitimate contenders. If they can add another quality arm during the year, they’ll be able to make some noise. As of now, they’re on the outside looking in for a postseason berth.
4. TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
That’s right, I’ve picked the D-Rays not to finish in the AL East cellar this year. Yes, I know they’re on the fifth year of their three-year rebuilding plan, but I really think that they’ll be an improved team this season. While their own Japanese import (3B Akinori Iwamura) didn’t make as much of a splash as the previous mentioned Dice-K did in Boston, this five-time Central League All-Star should give some much needed spark to this team. Joe Madden has one of baseball’s most underrated outfields in Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and rookie Delmon Young. All-Star Scott Kazmir headlines a young and developing starting staff that isn’t quite ready for prime time, but will show improvement in 2007.
Outlook: Despite losing 100 games last year, the D-Rays finished .500 (41-40) at Tropicana Field for the first time in franchise history. Yes, it’s a small point but for a franchise that’s always seems to be going backwards, it’s something to build on. Look, no ones saying that they’ll win the East, but I just get the feeling that the franchise is ready to slowly turn the corner.
There are signs that the O’s are getting back to respectability. There’s the emergence of veteran P Erik Bedard and young OF Nick Markakis. Also, the acquisitions of OF Aubrey Huff and P Chad Bradford will help as well. However, a pitching staff that gave up an AL-worst 216 homers and had the league’s second worst ERA (5.35) in 2007, suffered a major blow by losing Kris Benson for the season. While they may have more proven veterans in their lineup than Tampa, you get the feeling that Baltimore is on the way down. Plus when you consider just how top heavy this division is, the O’s could improve and still finish last in this division.
Outlook: I’m not convinced that the O’s have enough pitching to get through the entire season. They do have some good spots in their lineup, but it’s probably not enough for them to make any real noise in the AL East. They’re a team on the rise, but they won’t be able to rise that much this season.
Tommorrow: The NL East.