Boston Red Sox (89-73, 3rd Place AL East in 2010): The Red Sox really have a different feel to them this year. Sure, they ran out of time to run down the big boys in the AL East last season and were very uncharacteristically left out of the postseason, but they definitely have some new blood in the lineup in the form of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. These two really could shine and make everyone else in this batting order better, and when you've already got one of the most stacked pitching staffs in baseball, you've got a heck of a shot to win it all.
Strengths: Is there anything that this lineup can't do? Gonzalez might hit 40 homers in this ballpark, as he can just sit there and take pot shots at the Green Monster or rip one down the line near Pesky's Pole. Crawford brings another dimension of speed to the lineup, and he and Jacoby Ellsbury might combine for 100 swipes this year. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are a great tandem for getting on base. Oh yes, and we haven't made mention of JD Drew or David Ortiz either.
Weaknesses: We have some questions about the middle of this rotation, but we're really nitpicking. Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka really haven't shown us much over the course of the last two years or so, and they could both be decaying. If that's the case, men like John Lackey and some of the youngsters in Pawtucket need to step up and help out Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester at the front of the rotation.
Prediction: Anything less than 100 wins for the Red Sox would be incredibly disappointing. If they don't win the AL East, Manager Terry Francona has some explaining to do.
2011 Boston Red Sox Prediction: 1st Place in AL East
New York Yankees (95-67, 2nd Place AL East in 2010): General Manager Brian Cashman knew that he needed to make a big time splash in the offseason, but he just wasn't able to do so. Cliff Lee spurned the team and is taking his trade to the City of Brotherly Love, which really leaves New York high and dry in terms of finding some help for CC Sabathia at the front end of the rotation. Andy Pettitte has already retired, and men like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera aren't getting any younger. Will there be another run into the postseason this year for the boys from the Bronx? We're really not all that sure.
Strengths: The strength of this team is definitely the middle of its lineup. There really might not be a better 1-2 punch than Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. These two both had great Spring Trainings, and both hope that they can really get going with perhaps as many as 80 homers and 250 RBIs between them.
Weaknesses: Cashman knew that he needed pitching in the offseason... and he still doesn't have any of it beyond CC. The real bad news is that Sabathia can walk after this season, and he really might do so. But beyond that... AJ Burnett, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Phillip Hughes... who are these guys? We wouldn't be shocked if the rest of the starters in this rotation aside from Sabathia end up with a joint ERA above 5.00 by the time this season is said and done with.
Prediction: Pitching wins championships. Big bats don't. The Yanks will slug a number of teams under the table this year, but we're not so sure that that'll be enough to put them in the second season. Don't be surprised if Manager Joe Girardi has a lot of pressure on his at the end of this year, as his team will be watching the second season from the couch.
2011 New York Yankees Prediction: 2nd Place in AL East
Tampa Bay Rays (96-66, 1st Place AL East in 2010): The Rays might have a second division title in their last three seasons, but no one is expecting a repeat performance this year. The window of opportunity might have slammed shut on this team this past year, as ownership slashed payroll, causing for the departure of men like Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and basically the entire bullpen. There's still plenty of talent here in Tampa Bay, and Manager Joe Maddon is one of the best in the biz at turning chicken poo into chicken salad, but this task is just too tough this year.
Strengths: The front end of this rotation might not have Garza any longer, but the team survived the loss of Scott Kazmir two seasons ago as well. David Price was probably screwed out of the Cy Young Award last year, and he is going to be a frontrunner for the award again this season. Jeremy Hellickson is the new man in the mix, as he takes over for Garza. Hellickson is one of the top prospects in the game right now, and the Rays have to be excited about watching him work a full season this year. James Shields, Wade Davis, and Jeff Niemann round out what should be a great rotation, and Andy Sonnanstine is a great option for a sixth starter.
Weaknesses: For as great as the rotation is, the bullpen on this team is just that bad. Literally every piece from last year's puzzle was dismantled, and now the club has to start over once again. Jason Isringhausen was brought in to be the closer for this team, which would have been a great move... six or seven years ago...
Prediction: The Rays just lost too much this year. Can Maddon pull off a .500 season this year? Sure, it's possible. After all, guys like BJ Upton, Evan Longoria, and the likes are all still in town, and who knows what Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are going to bring to the fold. But when push comes to shove, that pen is just going to blow too many games for this team to seriously contend.
2011 Tampa Bay Rays Prediction: 3rd Place in AL East
Baltimore Orioles (66-96, 5th Place AL East in 2010): Manager Buck Showalter got the most out of his Orioles last season, as they actually played better ball over the course of the last 50 games of last season than almost every other team in the entire league. Sure, there are still some questions, especially in the pitching staff from top to bottom, but this lineup is looking a heck of a lot better now than it did last year. These youngsters really could be the new up and coming team in this division this year.
Strengths: There is a lot of veteran leadership in this lineup now, which is something that was desperately missing last year. Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, and Mark Reynolds are all in orange and black now, and this could mean great things for younger guys like Brian Roberts, Felix Pie, and Nick Markakis. Baltimore could quietly hit 200 home runs this year as a team, something that would've been unheard of in seasons past.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of decent No. 3 arms in this rotation, but there just isn't an ace to be had. Brian Matusz just doesn't scare us, and neither does Jeremy Guthrie. If someone can step up and be the real leader of this rotation, Baltimore might be frightening. Otherwise, if there isn't a pitcher that is going to post an ERA of better than 4.50, it could be a long year.
Prediction: This team will be the one that is moving and shaking in this division this year. Baltimore will improve at least a dozen games from last year's team, and we wouldn't be surprised if the club challenges that .500 barrier in its effort to prove that it belongs with the big boys. It still will be a season where a fourth place finish in the division would be considered a triumph.
2011 Baltimore Orioles Prediction: 4th Place in AL East
Toronto Blue Jays (85-77, 4th Place AL East in 2010): Toronto just seems to hang around that .500 mark every single season in this division, something that is really unheard of consistently for a team not named New York or Boston. This just seems like another one of these years though, where the boys from the Great White North just don't have the horses to compete, and they'll once again be competing for somewhere between third and fifth place unless there are some really unforeseen developments.
Strengths: Of all of the pitchers in this division, Ricky Romero is probably the most underappreciated. He has 27 wins over the course of his two seasons in the majors, and this is a year in which he really might be busting out. He went 4-1 over the course of his last six starts last season, and the team won five of the six. Romero might be the real key to this entire season for this team.
Weaknesses: Where is the power coming from in this lineup? Gone is Vernon Wells, who was capable of blasting 30 homers in a season, and replacing him is Rajai Davis. Does anyone really think that Jose Bautista and Aaron Hill are going to have seasons like they did last year? We certainly don't.
Prediction: We wouldn't be shocked if Toronto ended up in the cellar this year in this division. It's a shame too, because the pitching staff is good enough to win most any other division in baseball. But competing against these teams for 19 games apiece just isn't going to be a good thing, and the Blue Jays will pay the ultimate prize and be stuck in the gutter.
2011 Toronto Blue Jays Prediction: 5th Place in AL East