March 31, 2013

On Baseball: An unpredictable division

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Yankees look like a mess right now. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez could be gone for the year. First baseman Mark Teixeira is out with a wrist injury that could limit his power even when he gets back. Center fielder Curtis Granderson has a broken arm. Shortstop Derek Jeter is still on the mend from ankle surgery and will begin the year on the disabled list.

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Boston Red Sox Manager John Farrell warns to not discount the injury-plagued Yankees in the AL East this season.

AP

Jose Reyes
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Jose Reyes was one of many off-season additions for the Blue Jays, who many regard as the AL East’s top team.

The Associated Press

Red Sox Manager John Farrell is not fooled.

"You know they're going to be a very good team," he said. "Likely to score a lot of runs. And the way they've pitched over time, they have a solid rotation, a solid pitching staff."

Boston faces the ace of that staff -- CC Sabathia -- when it opens the season Monday at Yankee Stadium.

Usually, the Yankees are the odds-on favorites to win the American League East.

Picking a favorite this year is difficult.

The Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the traditional powers in this division, and the only two World Series winners among the group in the last 20 years.

But the Tampa Bay Rays have been a contender the last five seasons. Baltimore reached the playoffs last year, and Toronto made a huge splash in the off-season.

"Balanced," Farrell said of this year's race. "It is going to be very competitive. Start to finish, teams are going to be beating up on one another. I don't see a lot of separation."

Anyone favored?

"When you look on paper, you say Toronto should be in the World Series," Farrell said. "The talent they've added is substantial."

As for the Red Sox, who finished last in the division last year, Farrell does not like calling his squad underdogs.

"We have good players here," he said. "We're going to have a good team. I like our team."

For the record, 2012 Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said the same thing.

But it will be an interesting race. You can make a case for any team winning the division. You can also make a case for any team to finish last. 

THE YANKEES said good-bye to outfielder Nick Swisher and catcher Russell Martin. They signed a group of mid- to low-level free agents, like Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay.

And then there are the injuries.

But Jeter will be back soon. Granderson is looking at a May return. In the meantime, second baseman Robinson Cano will anchor the offense, while a starting rotation of Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova and David Phelps will keep New York in contention. Plus, Mariano Rivera is back in the bullpen.

Injuries and aging players have made the Yankees vulnerable. But betting against the Yankees is rarely a profitable venture.

BALTIMORE MAY feel like it is getting no respect because few are picking the Orioles to return to the playoffs.

One statistic stands out last year: 29-9. That was Baltimore's record in one-run games -- the best by a major league team since the 1800s.

Could Baltimore possibly repeat that kind of success? The Orioles were fortunate last year to have a strong and durable bullpen that pitched 5451/3 innings, third most in the American League.

Baltimore's starters accounted for a 4.42 ERA, ninth best in the league.

The Orioles have solid players such as center fielder Adam Jones, first baseman Chris Davis, shortstop J.J. Hardy and third baseman Manny Machado (and Portland's favorite utility player, Ryan Flaherty). But repeating the magic of last year may be asking too much. 

THE TAMPA BAY Rays continue to contend despite a low payroll and a yearly loss of players to free agency (B.J. Upton escaped to Atlanta this year, and pitcher James Shields was traded a year before becoming a free agent).

(Continued on page 2)

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