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(2006) AL East Predictions: Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Devil Rays

Elvis Elvis

The baseball season opens tonight for the Yankees in Oakland, and this is the last opportunity to make pre-season predictions.

While this may seem to be a classic “homer” prediction, I do strongly believe that the Yankees will win their ninth consecutive AL East title this year and finish the season with a record something like 101-61.

Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina Are Concerns

There are major concerns, however, the most prominent being whether Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina will pitch like they’re supposed to pitch as Numbers 1 and 2 starters; that injuries won’t decimate the rotation (like last year); that the Yankees get something productive from Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright; and that the bridge to Mariano Rivera in the late innings is sound.

Yet, the Yankees were ripe for derailment last season and stayed on track, and this year’s club should be stronger and deeper than last year’s team.

Prediction: Boston Will Finish Second

I know everyone is jumping on Toronto’s bandwagon, but I still believe the second-place team will be Boston.

Three good reasons to stick with Boston:

1) The duo of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz is the best in baseball since Ruth and Gehrig.

2) The starting rotation should be solid to strong.

3) Waiting in the wings to play major roles are three outstanding pitching prospects – Jon Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Craig Hansen.

If Hansen makes it big, expect somebody’s head to roll with the Yankees. The Yanks could have drafted Hansen and passed him over.

Boston’s biggest problem may be the huge turnover they’ve had since winning it all in 2004. It is simply not the same team, and lots of clubhouse-chemistry guys have departed. Some say Coco Crisp will be an improvement over Johnny Damon, but Crisp will have to cope with a lot of pressure on him, playing in the fish bowl that is Boston and replacing an icon like Damon. Many have wilted under such pressure.

(2006) AL East Predictions: Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Devil Rays

Watch Baltimore

I think Baltimore is getting ready to make a move. They have a good starting rotation, including three solid starters in Rodrigo Lopez, Kris Benson, and Bruce Chen, and two starters, Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera, who have the potential to be very good, maybe even excellent. Moreover, there are several good young arms waiting in the wings.

On the minus side, however, there are still too many problems for the Orioles to win the division. Among the most glaring problems are poor leadership exhibited by Miguel Tejada (who was brought to Baltimore to lead as well as hit), doubts about whether Brian Roberts can rebound from a serious late-season injury, an unhappy Melvin Mora regarding his contract status, nowhere to play (or hide) Javy Lopez, and the lack of a complete player (i.e., one who is good both offensively and defensively) to play center field.

Nevertheless, the starting pitching and the pitching depth should make Baltimore a better than .500 team. Third place.

Expect Toronto to Finish Fourth

Obviously, I did not get on the Toronto bandwagon. I see them finishing fourth.

I think they overpaid for a good (but far from great) closer in B.J. Ryan, and I think they overpaid (a la the Yankees and Carl Pavano) for A.J. Burnett, whose lifetime record is 49-50 and who is already hurt and will miss the beginning of the season.

They also obtained two overrated players, Troy Glaus and Bengie Molina, and lost a very under-rated player, Orlando Hudson. Granted, Roy Halladay may be the best starting pitcher in the division, but the other starters are question marks. Ted Lilly’s ERA hasn’t been under 4.06 since he left the Yankees, Gustavo Chacin is promising but not battle-tested, and Josh Towers is 38-35 lifetime. If Burnett doesn’t have a big season, this rotation is merely average, even with Halladay excelling.

When Toronto added first baseman Lyle Overbay, from the noise I heard, it seemed like the Blue Jays had added the second coming of Don Mattingly, maybe even Lou Gehrig. But here’s the deal with Overbay: He has never hit 20 home runs or had as many as 90 RBI’s, and he is already 29 years old. He doesn’t even come close to filling the hole left when Carlos Delgado departed a couple years ago. All in all, I think Toronto has taken a step backwards, not forwards.

Tampa Bay is destined for fifth place, where it may stay until its ownership decides to spend more money and puts in competent people to run the organization.

But what team wouldn’t want to have some of Tampa Bay’s young talent, specifically exciting players like leftfielder Carl Crawford, rightfielder Jonny Gomes, outfielder Joey Gathright, outfielder/prosect Delmon Young, and pitcher Scott Kazmir.

One thing is for sure: The Yankees will need to improve upon their miserable 2005 record against Tampa Bay this year.