AL East preview

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:20 AM ET

You got your Yankees and you got your Red Sox and you’ve got to figure one or the other will win the AL East, then the AL crown and top it off with a World Series triumph.

That’s the way it seems to go, last year, this year and the following years.

It says here, though, that the hated Yankees will once again come out on top and we’re looking — hoping — that the entertaining Rays from Tampa Bay will make a push for the top, settle for second and a wild-card berth.

Boston, thanks to a formidable rotation, could win it all but for this year we’ll pick ’em third.

It’s about the songs.

In the Big Apple, it’s all about Frank Sinatra and New York, New York which to these ears isn’t nearly as grating as the eighth-inning Sweet Caroline thing they have been blasting for a godly number of years at Fenway Park.

It is nauseating at best and upon hearing it day after day you begin to thumb through the yellow pages — remember those — for the sites of gun shops.

1. New York Yankees

WHY THEY’LL FINISH FIRST: They won it all last year which should make it an easier path for a repeat performance in 2010. For starters, there is no longer a target on the backs of manager Joe Girardi and serial dater Alex Rodriguez, who finally came through in the clutch in October. The Bronx Bombers have a great Big Three atop their rotation. It will be interesting to see how Javier Vazquez, who was booed out of the Bronx a few years back, fares in his second coming. Then there is the Yankees infield which, depending on your leaning, is either the best in the biz or tied with the grouping of the Phillies. The Yankees don’t have a lot of punch in their outfield but they have enough Bombers in their lineup. They also have the mystical Mariano Rivera to close things out.

COULD GO SOUTH IF: The only flaw appears to be age — Derek Jeter is 36, Andy Pettitte will turn 38, Rivera is 40 and Jorge Posada is going on 39. One of these days, they might all turn into wheezers at the same time. But probably not in 2010.

2. Tampa Bay Rays

WHY THEY’LL FINISH SECOND: The thing that’s hard to understand is how there are so many empty seats at Tropicana Field. About the only thing missing and the reason they won’t finish on top is the lack of a true ‘ace’ a big horse like a CC Sabathia or Roy Halladay to lead the way. But they do have pitching depth and plugged a gaping hole from last year’s team by acquiring closer Rafael Soriano. This is the final contract year of speedy outfielder Carl Crawford, so Tampa fans, enjoy it while you can. Third baseman Evan Longoria is also a delight. A bounce-back season from B.J. Upton would help their chances as well.

COULD CLIMB HIGHER IF: To topple the Yankees, the Rays need another magical year, especially from the rotation. They also need consistent performances from their bullpen, especially over the final two innings. However, they will probably end up a few games short.

3. Boston Red Sox

WHY THEY’LL FINISH THIRD: It would be absolutely no surprise at all to see Boston finish on top, given the quality and depth of their rotation. And they also have that Papelbon guy at the end of their bullpen. But trouble looms. The big news in Beantown is that they are trying to go from a sluggo team — which has been the Boston trademark even from the Babe Ruth days — to a team of speed and defence. It seems to go against the grain, especially with that short porch in left, an area that can effectively be manned by a player in a wheelchair. But speed and defence it is as Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro climb on board. If all goes according to plan it could work. In the end they’ll be looking to add a big bat.

COULD CLIMB HIGHER IF: Dice-K returns to full health and the trio of John Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are lights out. Ditto to either Clay Buchholz or knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. They also need steady performances at the plate from the usual suspects.

4. Baltimore Orioles

WHY THEY’LL FINISH FOURTH: The Orioles have been dreadful the past decade but now sport some green sprouts of hope. They have a number of solid young players in the likes of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis and added some punch with the acquisition of Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada. So they’ll be able to score some runs. The O’s history is one of great starting pitching but the problem is that the past decade it’s been just that — history. For a change of pace they have some young arms on the rise. They seem to have more set pieces than the Jays but have no hope of finishing higher than fourth.

COULD CLIMB HIGHER IF: This year there’s no chance. Next year could be another story.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

WHY THEY’LL FINISH FIFTH: The theme of this year’s spring training camp is: ‘We’re not as bad as everybody thinks’ but the Jays have to go out and prove it. Could they suffer a 100-loss season? It could happen if everything goes south, if the young starters struggle, if Vernon Wells, Edwin Encarnacion and Lyle Overbay don’t provide bounce-back seasons, if Aaron Hill and Adam Lind suffer any kind of slump off their 2009 numbers. Then it could be ugly beyond belief. Development is they key and fourth is as high as this bunch can dream of attaining. It will be a rebuilding year for players and fans alike.

COULD CLIMB HIGHER IF: Same as the Orioles.

mike.rutsey@sunmedia.ca


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