The skewed perspective of a conservative Catholic employee-side employment lawyer living in the most exciting city in the Milky Way, Las Vegas, Nevada USA, who listens to a lot of really strange music and who, for some reason, lives and dies St. Louis Cardinal baseball

4/02/2005

Baseball preview: AL East

Prediction:
New York Yankees (95-67), AL champions
Boston Red Sox (91-71), AL wild card
Baltimore Orioles (87-75)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (73-89)
Toronto Blue Jays (70-92)


2004 Final Standings
New York (101-61)
Boston (98-64), AL wild card, World Series champions
Baltimore (78-84)
Tampa Bay (70-91)
Toronto (67-94)

The last three World Series champions were wild card entrants into the playoffs. The Red Sox are on track for another AL wild card. Two in a row? Not now that the Yankees are on a mission.

The Yankees are, above all else, professionals. Think they’re not completely sick of all the accolades and hosannas (even from their hometown paper, the part-owner of the Sox, the New York Times) which have been directed northward toward Boston ever since the Yanks’ shocking playoff collapse? The Yanks have more than just motivation to fend off the Red Sox challenge. They have a significantly improved pitching staff, with the addition of marquee free agent Carl Pavano and ageless Randy Johnson. I’ve given up waiting for the 41 year old Big Unit to go into an age-induced decline. I accept the fact that he is a complete freak of nature. There are danger signs as the central core is another year older, Bernie Williams especially. And Jason Giambi is finished (the re-signing of Tino Martinez is an indication the Yankees know this). Still, these are the Yankees and they are the frontrunners by default. Someone will have to come out and do something extraordinary to keep them out of the World Series.

What will the Red Sox do for an encore? You got to think it will be a difficult recovery from the hangover suffered from celebrating the team’s first World Series title in 86 years. The signing of SS Edgar Renteria and P Wade Miller, and the re-signing of Jason Varitek, are certainly strong doses of Excedrin to ease the headache pain and aid in the recovery. The injury to Curt Schilling, however, is a significant contra-indicator. Still, even without Pedro, this very much remains the team that won last year’s World Series, a team that should not have been good enough to get the World Series, let alone dismantle the mighty Cardinal machine they face. They shouldn’t win this year, but they should not have won it all last year.

The Orioles are good enough to win three, maybe four other divisions. Unfortunately for Peter Angelos and subordinates, they play in the Gold Standard of baseball divisions, the home of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry. While I don’t think much of the signing of Slammin’ Sulkin’ Sammy Sosa, this team was poised to win 85-90 games without him. Sammy is a cancer, but he’s not sufficiently malignant to cause the team to lose W’s. The O’s infield features plenty of offensive firepower, especially from SS Miguel Tejeda (always terrific in the regular season) and versatile 3B Melvin Mora. If the pitching staff is decently effective, the O’s could appear to contend for a wild card spot.

On the other hand, the T-Bay D-Rays can only hope to contend for a winning record. There are some terrific young players on Lou Piniella’s team, like OF Carl Crawford, but not enough to fill out the whole diamond. For example, Alex S. Gonzalez (late of the Cubs and Blue Jays) may be significant playing time at third. Ouch. The pitching is an even bigger "ouch." The talented young staff that the D-Rays appeared to be developing a few years ago have been scattered to the winds. The current staff is young and unproven. The home team of the Florida Gulf Coast would struggle in a lesser division; unfortunately, they are not playing in a lesser division. Struggling is a given.

But not as much struggling as we can expect from the last major league team left in Canada. There are so many reasons to be optimistic for B-Jays. They are coming off a terrific spring, running up an impressive 17-8 record. Cy Young winner Roy Halladay appears healthy. Vernon Wells is only 26 and poised to make another leap forward. Corey Koskie has come home to the True North to play a great defensive third base. Yet struggle this thin team will do. The bench is thin. The RBI bat of anti-American Carlos Delgado will be dearly missed. And the clubhouse presence of obnoxious Shea Hillenbrand surely is worth a few extra numbers in the loss column. The long baseball season in Toronto will do nothing to alleviate the suffering caused by the absence of ice hockey. Me? I'm just happy that the baseball gods are punishing this franchising for switching last year to the ugliest logo in the game.

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