Booooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!! Red Sox favorites in the AL East!
Posted 03 April 2006 - 08:45 PM
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Dayn Perry / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 12 days ago
The hot stove is finally cooling off.
Almost every free agent of note has a new home, and several noteworthy trades have gone down. With pitchers and catchers already on the job and spring-training games in the offing, it's time to start making some predictions.
# NL East preview
# NL Central preview
# NL West preview
# AL East preview
# AL Central preview
# AL West preview
We'll start by forecasting each of baseball's six divisions. First is the AL East. Certainly, injuries or late-hour trades can change things before opening day, but here's how things stand now ...
2006 predicted order of finish: AL East
1. Red Sox
3. Blue Jays
5. Devil Rays
*Predicted AL wild-card winner
Boston Red Sox
# 2005 runs scored (AL rank): 910 (1st)
# 2005 runs allowed (AL rank): 805 (11th)
# 2005 starters ERA (AL rank): 4.56 (7th)
# 2005 bullpen ERA (AL rank): 5.17 (14th)
Boston last season had the best offense in all of baseball, and most of the principals are back for 2006 (albeit another year older). In center, Coco Crisp should roughly approximate Johnny Damon's level of plate production, and the right-handed fly-ball stroke of shortstop Alex Gonzalez should play reasonably well at Fenway. Also, among J.T. Snow, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell (who's a strong rebound candidate) they should be able to cobble together solid production at first and third. Expect the Sox to once again lead the majors in runs scored.
Spring training 2006
Photo gallery ...
# Ten hidden spring gems
# Top MLB prospects for 2006
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Ken Rosenthal's preview ...
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# Best, worst off-season moves
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Roster updates ...
# Position battles: AL | NL
# Team-by-team roster rundowns
# MLB Fantasy Fifty
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# Sleepers | Flops
The rotation should be improved. Curt Schilling is reportedly at last recovered from ankle surgery, David Wells showed up to camp on time, and Josh Beckett is newly in the fold. If nothing else, the Sox have a surfeit of arms they can run through. Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo and, if need be, Jon Papelbon give the Sox rotation depth that they haven't enjoyed in quite a while. It won't be a league-leading corps, but expect Boston starters to improve as a unit.
According to ERA, the Red Sox bullpen was the worst in the AL last season. In 2006, things are bound to get better. Keith Foulke is throwing with more velocity this spring, Mike Timlin returns, Craig Hansen will work a full season, Papelbon will open the year in the pen, David Riske comes over from Cleveland, and Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez were signed on the free-agent market. That's going to be a vastly improved unit.
Overall, the Sox will thump, play capable defense, trot out a solid rotation and benefit from a significantly ramped-up bullpen. That all adds up to an AL East crown.
New York Yankees
# 2005 runs scored (AL rank): 886 (2nd)
# 2005 runs allowed (AL rank): 789 (9th)
# 2005 starters' ERA (AL rank): 4.59 (8th)
# 2005 bullpen ERA (AL rank): 4.43 (10th)
The Yankees were a lot like the Red Sox last season: great offensive attack, sub-optimal rotation and a downright bad bullpen (to be more specific, a downright bad bullpen other than Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon).
Most notable, of course, is that the Yanks have belatedly gotten around to adding a legitimate center fielder. They overpaid for Johnny Damon, but he does plug the sucking organizational chest wound that's been with them for about half a decade. He's an upgrade — offensively and defensively — over decline-phase Bernie Williams and the assorted fauna they ran out there last season.
If there's a concern throughout the lineup, it's this: the average age of the Yankees regulars on opening day will be just over 32. New York is aging at a number of key positions, and they face the unseemly proposition of having to play Jason Giambi in the field on a daily basis. They'll score runs, but you can expect further decline from guys like Giambi, Jorge Posada, Gary Sheffield and Bernie Williams.
There's also the matter of the woeful Yankees bench. You can make the case that the Yankees roster, as currently constructed, has the worst assemblage of reserves in all of baseball. Andy Phillips would make a useful platoon partner for Cano, but there's nothing in the way of a lefty bat on the bench and no pinch hitter of note behind Phillips.
The rotation is deep and should benefit from having Damon behind them and from getting full-season doses of Shawn Chacon and Chien-Ming Wang. The Yanks would do well to limit Jaret Wright to low-leverage bullpen innings or just cut bait on him altogether.
As for the bullpen, Kyle Farnsworth replaces Gordon, and the Yanks should be adequate from the left side. It's not as strong as Boston's revamped pen, and it should place middle of pack in terms of relief ERA.
On the whole, you have an 800-run offense, a moderately improved team defense and rotation and a bullpen that's about the same. That won't be enough to catch Boston, but the Yankees will claim the AL wild card.
Toronto Blue Jays
# 2005 runs scored (AL rank): 775 (5th)
# 2005 runs allowed (AL rank): 705 (6th)
# 2005 starters' ERA (AL rank): 4.20 (6th)
# 2005 bullpen ERA (AL rank): 3.81 (8th)
This winter, the Jays made a pair of canny — if pricey — additions in A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan. The rotation, provided Roy Halladay stays healthy, will be imposing, and the bullpen will be moderately improved.
The key thing about the Jays is that they had one of the most groundball-heavy staffs in the AL last season, and they've added Burnett, who himself is a pronounced groundballer. That means the infield defense is particularly critical for a team like Toronto. In light of that fact, it's puzzling that the Jays would trade away second baseman Orlando Hudson, who's one of the most valuable defenders in the game, and slough off a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman in Corey Koskie.
Aaron Hill is one of several Blue Jays youngsters that need to step up if Toronto is going to contend for a division title. (Michael Zagaris / Getty Images)
Aaron Hill is a skilled defender at the keystone, but he'll be at least an order of magnitude shy of Hudson's stellar glovework. Troy Glaus provides a notable offensive upgrade at the hot corner, but he's not the defender Koskie is, and his troublesome right shoulder will always be a concern. New first baseman Lyle Overbay is skilled defensively, and the Rogers Centre is a great park for doubles hitters like him. Also, Bengie Molina should provide admirable receiving skills and above-average offensive production at the catcher position.
If young Toronto hitters like Hill, Russ Adams and Alexis Rios make strides, if Glaus and Halladay dodge the DL, and the middle-relief corps surprises, the Jays will content. Those, however, are a lot of ifs.
# 2005 runs scored (AL rank): 729 (10th)
# 2005 runs allowed (AL rank): 800 (10th)
# 2005 starters' ERA (AL rank): 4.82 (10th)
# 2005 bullpen ERA (AL rank): 4.10 (9th)
Finishing ahead of the hapless D-Rays — and only the D-Rays — is the chilliest of cold comforts, but that's all Baltimore will have going for them. In fact, that's exactly what's happened in seven of the last eight seasons.
On offense, the O's have a solid crop of capable-to-very-good hitters in Miguel Tejada, Ramon Hernandez, Jay Gibbons, Javy Lopez, Melvin Mora and Brian Roberts (although Roberts is a serious candidate for regression this season). However, they have a yawning void in left field and a bit of an uninspiring bottleneck at first base. They should do better than 10th in the AL in runs scored this season, but it won't be an upper-tier attack.
The rotation will be better. Kris Benson should give them 200 league-average innings, Daniel Cabrera (because of his groundball tendencies and strikeout numbers) is a prime breakout candidate, Bruce Chen may have finally found his groove, and Erik Bedard, if healthy, should be a nifty contributor. Barring a rash of injuries, the starting five will fare much better in 2006.
The bullpen, of course, suffered the loss of B.J. Ryan, one of the best closers in the game. Chris Ray, a gifted youngster, will likely replace him, but there's no guarantee he'll adapt to the pressures of closing games at the highest level. The setup corps? Well, there's the mercurial LaTroy Hawkins and … not much else. It'll be among the league's worst relief units.
If things break for the O's and against the Jays, a third-place finish is conceivable, but serious contention is out of the question.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
# 2005 runs scored (AL rank): 750 (8th)
# 2005 runs allowed (AL rank): 936 (14th)
# 2005 starters' ERA (AL rank): 5.62 (13th)
# 2005 bullpen ERA (AL rank): 5.02 (13th)
The Rays have finished in last place every year of their existence, and that won't change in 2006; the pitching simply isn't there. Going forward, however, things will be different. Tampa is graced with arguably the best collection of young, pre-arbitration talent in the AL. Performers like Delmon Young, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, Jorge Cantu, Jonny Gomes, Carl Crawford, Wes Bankston and Jason Hammel mean better days are ahead. But those days aren't here yet.
Fortunately for Rays fans, the team finally has a capable front office in place. The key will be flipping their vets (e.g., Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, Travis Lee) for young pitching at the deadline. They'll finish in the cellar at least one more season, but the Rays are about two or three years from seriously vying for a playoff spot.
Posted 04 April 2006 - 05:33 PM
" Winning isn't everything; its the only thing"
RIP Uncle Bob 5/12/06
Posted 04 April 2006 - 09:45 PM