MLB Handicapping: American League East Race
by Trevor Whenham - 5/27/2011
Here’s a shocking headline -- things are tight atop the American League East. The most consistently tough division in baseball has three teams within a game and a half of each other, and those three teams -- the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays -- are all among the top four teams in the conference. At most two of those teams can make the playoffs, so there is a traffic jam atop the standings, and it doesn’t show a lot of signs of disappearing. Here’s a look at the strengths and weaknesses each team has in their pursuit of a playoff spot along with my MLB handicapping advice. (odds to win the AL Pennant are from Bodog):
New York Yankees (3/1)
Bats: They aren’t hitting for average this year, but there isn’t a lineup that is as deep or as scary as this one. There are just so many guys on this team that can hit effectively and can come through when needed. This team is almost as dangerous at the plate as their payroll would suggest they should be, and they are built to stay that way.
Play against bad teams: This team takes care of business when they have to -- they are 12-4 against what I would call bad teams this year. A team that wants to be a contender has to dominate teams they outclass.
Age issues: Two reliable cores to this team forever have been Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Jeter has lost a step or three, and Posada is acting like a baby and playing like one, too. Both situations have been distractions -- especially Posada -- and they will only be bigger distractions as the season progresses if they don’t turn around.
Rotation: When the bottom of your rotation is made up of Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, do you really believe you are built for the long term? When mental case A.J. Burnett is your second best pitcher are you any good? The Yankees can’t seem to buy themselves a good rotation, and that’s going to continue to be an issue.
Boston Red Sox (9/4)
Rotation: There are some concerns at the bottom end, but you certainly couldn’t dispute that the Red Sox have a significantly better rotation than the Yankees do. Unlike New York’s this group doesn’t seem to be overperforming, either.
Bats: There are still some issues, but the top end has been very good, the general performance is getting better, and the depth is solid. They have been fairly productive so far, and they can only get better with time.
Catcher: Jason Varitek is too old to be a significant contributor. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is clearly not an everyday catcher. This team has enjoyed such success behind the plate for so long, but they really aren’t getting it now.
Consistency: This team is totally manic. They are either really good or really bad, and there doesn’t really seem to be a middle ground. So far this year they couldn’t win a game, then they couldn’t lose one, then they were lousy, and now they are red hot. The highs could afford to be just a bit lower if the lows weren’t so low.
Tampa Bay Rays (11/1)
Character: Maybe this is a personal thing, but I just like how this team is built. There aren’t a lot of egos on the team -- unlike their competitors -- and there are a lot of guys who just show up, put their head down, and give it their all. That matters in my book.
Rotation: I really like this rotation. James Shields has been brilliant. David Price has been decent and can be much better. Jeremy Hellickson is young but already impressive. They have some depth concerns, but I still trust this group as a whole a lot more than I trust what the Yankees offer.
Depth: The Yankees and the Red Sox both have the luxury of depth. If a player isn’t working out or is injured they have some viable pieces to fill in. The Rays can’t say the same thing. What they have is good, but fragile.
Play at home: No team that wants to be a good one can be this terrible at home. It’s just doesn’t make sense that a team that is so solid on the road can be so bad at home. They are two games below .500 in their hideous stadium, and they can’t score runs there as well. That’s a fatal flaw if they can’t get their act together.
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