March 29, 2013

AL East Previews: Sports On Earth, MLB, SI

Jonathan Bernhardt, Sports On Earth:
The American League East, once the class of baseball, has faded a bit over the last two years, primarily due to the remarkable self-inflicted wounds suffered by first the Boston Red Sox, then the New York Yankees. Couple that with a somewhat shocking face-lift in Toronto this offseason and the consistent excellence of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, along with the bizarre happenings in Baltimore last year, and the East is more wide open than it's ever been. ...

Due to a combination of bizarre, forced austerity (see: the catcher situation) and injury (see: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson…) the Yankees will start the season with the worst lineup in the division ... and now Yankees ownership is freaking out and insisting on things like trading for Vernon Wells ...

The Red Sox are in the hangover period after a hilarious, self-destructive bender, and it'll show this year. They'll finish better than they did in 2012, and they probably won't be last place -- but unless the Yankees completely collapse they won't be a realistic candidate for third, and their path to the postseason involves a lot of career years and maybe one of the Wild Card teams forfeiting the season. ...

The [rotation's] success or failure, honestly, is going rest on two men, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, pitching like the last two years never happened. If they pitch like it's 2010 all over again -- and about ten other things break right -- then Boston's got an outside shot at a Wild Card.
Richard Justice, MLB:
Welcome to the American League East, where there's a legitimate case to be made for all five teams. ...

The Red Sox changed more than faces, although they did change faces, adding Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Mike Napoli and Joel Hanrahan. If Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey have solid seasons, the Red Sox are confident they'll be poised for a September run.

The Red Sox are a completely different team, with a better clubhouse and a better manager. If Lackey and Lester have big seasons and David Ortiz stays healthy, Boston is good enough to make the postseason.
It looks like Justice picks the division: Jays, Rays, Red Sox/Orioles, Yankees.

Ben Reiter, Sports Illustrated:
If there was anything positive to take away from last season for now second-year general manager Ben Cherington, it was that it once and for all showed everyone that his club needed to go in a new direction, after a major roster overhaul which was helped by the Dodgers, who traded for the mammoth contracts of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez late last August.

"It really forced us, more than we would normally anyway, to take a very hard look at ourselves, to be accountable for the decisions that had led us to that point, and to take a very hard look at what we needed to do better to put the team back in a position to be successful over a sustained period," says Cherington. ...

It is somewhat hard to imagine that in a stacked AL East the Red Sox will add the 20 to 25 wins they will need to reach the playoffs. ...

A return to the playoffs wouldn't be entirely shocking, but more likely is that 2013 will be a season for the Red Sox to firmly establish that they are back on the right long-term track, even if they end up home for their fourth straight October.
SI's prediction for the East (none of their writers pick the Red Sox for anything, but four out of the seven writers point to Shane Victoronio as the biggest free-agent flop):
Rays       92-70
Blue Jays  91-71
Yankees    82-80
Orioles    82-80
Red Sox    77-85
And ...

Buster Olney, ESPN: Orioles, Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees.