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2011 MLB Preview: AL East

The 2011 Major League Baseball* season is just six precious days away. Today will round out our division previews with a look at the AL East. Burning information on the NL West, the AL West, the NL Central, the AL Central, and the NL East can be found by clicking those links.

1. Boston Red Sox (2010 record: 89-73, 3rd place) — Maybe it’s being a fearful Yankee fan, but it’s difficult to imagine any other team walking away with this division other than the Boston Red Sox. Joining Pink Hat Nation this year will be Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, an Ozzie-free Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, and Alfredo Aceves. Loving the Aceves pickup. As long as Terry Francona doesn’t abuse his availability like Joe Girardi did, he’ll be a fantastic versatile option out of an already very good bullpen. The kind of damage Gonzalez plans on doing in Fenway Park is, in a word, terrifying. With him and Crawford in the picture, expect many, many, many eight hour Yankees-Red Sox games. Seriously, look at this lineup: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Crawford, Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Marco Scutaro. Relatively ridiculous, and no, this section of the post is not a reverse jinx. The pitching is really what separates them from their division counterparts. A starting rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and the worst pitcher to watch pitch, Daisuke Matsuzaka is annoyingly solid. If Buchholz finds his groove consistently, say goodnight. The only thing holding them back? This atrocious song:

Prediction: 98 wins

2. New York Yankees (2010 record: 95-67, 2nd place) The Yankees are two seasons removed from their last world championship. Over the last 17 years, they have won the division 12 times. In four of the five years they did not, they finished second and went to the playoffs as the wildcard. A similar body of work over a similar span of time that might compare to the Yankee run is the Indianapolis Colts, but they’ve fallen short in the postseason much more frequently. If you’re a Yankee fan, you are not allowed to complain. Missing out of the great Cliff Lee was disappointing for sure, but it’s not raining spiked bowling balls like it is in Flushing. CC Sabathia will once again go on an innings binge, Phil Hughes will inch closer to 200 innings (176 last year), and A.J. Burnett (career-low strikeout rate in ’10) has nowhere to go but up. He’s clearly the No. 3 on this team, so perhaps with the word “ace” removed from all sentences containing his name he’ll be able to relax. After those three, it’ll be some combination of Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, and Bartolo Colon (Sergio Mitre was traded today). Kevin Millwood may even make an appearance at some point this summer, too! If that implodes, you can expect a move. If this is simply not enough for the irrational Yankee fans who expect a Clemens/Wells/Cone/Pettitte merry-go-round every year, I implore them to watch the following video:

Mariano will be Mariano, and now they have a closer playing the role of setup man in Rafael Soriano as well as a lefty, Pedro Feliciano, who doesn’t live on the DL. The offense will be there like it has been for quite some time. Most importantly, The Captain, Derek Jeter will reach 3,000 hits by early summer, the first Yankee ever to do so. Now stand up and clap like you’ve never clapped before. Prediction: 90 wins

3. Tampa Bay Rays (2010 record: 96-66, 1st place) — The list of goners from last year is a significant one: Grant Balfour, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Dioner Navarro, Chad Qualls, Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler, and Rocco Baldelli retired. As currently constructed, the lineup isn’t inspiring anyone to bust out the Ric Flair strut unless you’re impressed by the fact they went out and signed what’s left of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. Six years ago, acquiring these two alone would be enough to pencil in a parade. In 2011, those two just want to enjoy the warm weather as they coast into retirement. Now after saying that, you can fully expect Manny to put up ridiculous numbers and win the MVP, all while the Smurfs theme song happily plays in his head. Remember how lethal B.J. Upton was in the 2008 ALCS against the Boston? Where the hell is that guy? If that version of him can be found, it will restore some faith in this lineup. Starting pitching is what made the Rays relevant, and once again they’ll have a nice rotation, but this division is like going ten rounds with Piston Honda and Soda Popinski at the same time. The performance of 23-year-old starter Jeremy Hellickson could very well be the difference between third place and the wildcard. Prediction: 87 wins

4. Baltimore Orioles (2010 record: 66-96, 5th place) — Buck Showalter’s club! Will they switch to cotton? Will Costanza be brought on to screw with everyone’s swing? Time will tell, but I’m absolutely loving Buck’s presence in the AL East. He’s already taken shots at Derek Jeter and Theo Esptein, which he should be commended for. Often times Toronto and Baltimore have been too passive and far too respectful of their beastly division counterparts, so Buck’s approach is refreshing. He’s not taking anyone’s shit and I’m guessing his players love it. Hopefully this attitude will lead to a few beanings and a couple haymakers. New in town this season are Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero, Justin Duchscherer, J.J. Hardy, and “closer” Kevin Gregg. The bats are solid top to bottom. Check it out: Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Luke Scott, Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. I’m telling you, this will finally be the year where Markakis, an awesome outfielder, puts it together at the plate. I’m liking the chances of Wieters busting out too, or at least putting up far better numbers than last year because he’ll be able to fly under the radar with the welcomed presence of some established veterans in the lineup. What they get from the back end of their rotation with Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen is a mystery, though Arrieta showed a little promise last year. Regardless, the bats will be keeping Buck’s boys in games. Showalter was 34-23 after taking over last year. This team is improving fast. Prediction: 83 wins

5. Toronto Blue Jays (2010 record: 85-77, 4th place) — Someone has to finish last in this division, but this doesn’t really feel like a fifth place team, especially since one of the most embarrassing closers in the game, Kevin Gregg, is no longer with the club. Sadly, he’s being replaced by the always adventurous, Frank Frank. One of the major questions for this team is if Adam Lind and Aaron Hill can bounce back. Both players drove off a cliff at warp speed in 2010, so how they fare will have a big impact on the rest of lineup. J.P. Arencibia will be the starting catcher and I’m already a huge fan. Make sure you read this story about him and his mother. Sounds like a class act. As for the pitching, after staff ace Ricky Romero, who was pretty awesome last year, it’s a bit unknown. All their starters — Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek, Marc Rzepczynski — are young and for the most part have not pitched a full season in the majors. I’d be shocked if all four performed well, which is part of the reason I have them in last place. I also have them in last place because that’s the reality of residing in the AL East. Being a Blue Jays fan must be more depressing than the unfortunate discovery of pancake tits flopping out upon bra removal. Then again, the dudes that dress up as umpires seem pretty happy. It does not appear that their spirit can be broken. Prediction: 80 wins

*That one was for you, Schlereth, Merril & the many others who cover the National Football League

[Photos via Getty]

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