MLB season previews: AL East predictions

MLB season previews: AL East predictions

MLB season previews: AL East predictions
By David Chan

New York Yankees (89-73, 3rd in East)

Predicted 2009 finish: 1st place

Save for all of the drama surrounding Alex Rodriguez (I won't get into that here), the Yankees had a rather productive offseason, to say the least.

Their lineup reads like an All-Star team with the addition of Mark Teixeira at first base. From two through six, I don't think you'll find a scarier order.

The only question is health. Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui have been in and out of the lineup over the last couple of seasons, and even Derek Jeter has shown vulnerability in that regard. Add in the A-Rod confidence factor and the Yanks pacing the league in offense isn't a sure thing.

Hitting grade: A

The Yankees’ starting rotation was simply brutal a year ago, so it's no surprise that they went out and signed the two biggest fish on the market in A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia.

Sabathia flourished in the National League last summer so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to a return to the AL. A.J. Burnett has dealt with plenty of injuries over the years. His health is key to the success of this rotation. Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain round out the starting five with Ian Kennedy and Philip Hughes both capable of stepping in should anyone falter.

Mariano Rivera isn't getting any younger and he's coming off offseason surgery, so the bullpen may not be as solid as Yanks brass would like. Youngsters Edwar Ramirez and Dan Giese will be called on to be the anchors in middle relief.

Pitching grade: A

Tampa Bay Rays (97-65, 1st in East)

Predicted 2009 finish: 2nd place

Everyone likes a Cinderella Story and the Rays gave us just that last season.

The question is - can they return to prominence after disappointing in the World Series?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the approach Rays management took to their offense during the offseason. They did make a few acquisitions, notably Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler. Burrell will likely hit sixth in the order behind Carlos Pena while Kapler will split RF duties with Gabe Gross.

With last season's heroes B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Pena all back, the Rays offense should once again be feared.

Hitting grade: A-

Tampa Bay's starting rotation remains intact but the question is whether this young group can live up to the high expectations. Watch for David Price to step into the fifth spot after climbing all the way from A-ball to the Rays bullpen during the postseason push.

I'm still not entirely sold on the Rays bullpen which lacks a true closer. Troy Percival had offseason back surgery and is a question mark for the start of the season. Last year we saw several guys pitch above and beyond their potential. Can they do it in back-to-back years? We'll see.

Pitching grade: A-

Boston Red Sox (95-67, 2nd in East)

Predicted 2009 finish: 3rd place

After coming close to another World Series appearance last fall, the Red Sox felt the need for some offseason re-tooling.

From an offensive standpoint, they'll be counting on better production from the middle of their order, namely David Ortiz and Mike Lowell, both of whom are coming off subpar seasons.

The only offensive additions come in the form of OF Rocco Baldelli and C Josh Bard. Neither will be counted on for much other than production off the bench, and in Bard's case, to spell veteran Jason Varitek.

Hitting grade: B+

The Red Sox made a couple of curious moves in the pitching department, adding John Smoltz and Brad Penny. Both suffered through injury-shortened 2008 seasons and it's hard to imagine either staying healthy this year too. Indications are that Josh Beckett is still bothered by an injured side muscle suffered last summer. The rotation will essentially go as Beckett goes.

Boston's bullpen will be slightly stronger with the addition of Takashi Saito. But in keeping with a running theme, Saito is also coming off an injury-plagued season. He appeared in only 45 games for the Dodgers in 2008 after getting in at least 63 in his first two big league campaigns. Jonathan Papelbon remains the anchor. Gone are Mike Timlin and David Aardsma.

Pitching grade: B

Baltimore Orioles (68-93, 5th place)

Predicted 2009 finish: 4th place

After a disastrous 2008 season the Orioles are hoping for a Rays-like turnaround in 2009.

The O's didn't land their number one offseason target, Mark Teixeira, but picked up plenty of veteran talent including C Gregg Zaun, SS Cesar Izturis, and utility infielder Ty Wigginton.

They also added some speed to their outfield by acquiring Felix Pie. He, along with Adam Jones, give the O's speed to burn at the top and bottom of their order.

Gone are Ramon Hernandez, Kevin Millar, and Jay Payton. Replacing experience with even more experience seemed to be the theme for the O's this offseason.

With a solid middle of the order that includes Nick Markakis, Miguel Tejada, Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora, the O's won't have any problem scoring runs.

Hitting grade: B

On the mound the O's lose Daniel Cabrera and Garrett Olson but add Japanese import Koji Uehara along with proven commodities Mark Hendrickson and Rich Hill.

Cabrera and Olson were wildly inconsistent and won't be missed much. Hendrickson and Hill should provide stability, while Uehara has a ton of upside. Their bullpen remains intact, led by newly-signed closer George Sherrill.

Pitching grade: B-

Toronto Blue Jays (86-76, 4th in East)

Predicted 2009 finish: 5th place

Will the Blue Jays ever return to prominence?

Maybe, but it's not going to happen this season.

The offensive core is back - whether that's a good or bad is a point of debate. They did pick up utility men Brandon Fahey and Jason Lane, but neither will make much of an impact.

The majority of the load will once again rest on the shoulders of Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Lyle Overbay and Scott Rolen - all of whom are hoping to bounce back strong following down years. If they can return to form, the Jays can contend, but that's certainly a big 'if.’

Hitting grade: C+

Losing A.J. Burnett hurts, but injuries to two of the Jays youngest and brightest pitchers hurt most. Shaun Marcum will miss the entire season following Tommy John surgery while Dustin McGowan will be out until June after shoulder surgery. Needless to say, that puts a lot of pressure on Roy Halladay.

Jesse Litsch will move up from fifth to second in the rotation while the likes of David Purcey, Casey Janssen, Matt Clement and Mike Maroth will battle it out for the final three spots.

The Jays bullpen quietly posted the best ERA in the American League last season and they shouldn't suffer much of a drop off in 2009. The only issue could be an increased workload given the question marks in the rotation.

Pitching grade: B

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