Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2011 MLB Season Preview: AL East New York Yankees

Now I can't stand the Yankees, but I will be as fair as possible and write an unbiased preview. While the Yankees may have missed out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, and there are tons of questions surrounding their pitching rotation, they're still the Yankees. No matter how many times I pray at night and hope that one of these years they'll just fade off and I won't have to worry about them, I know it'll never happen. The Yankees continue to compete every year, the highest payroll in the League is a big advantage, and helps to keep them ultra competitive every year. The Yankees do manage to develop some home grown talent in Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner, and they have some young pitchers coming up that may have to be an impact later this season.

The most glaring problem is the pitching rotation. The top two in the rotation are solid with CC and Hughes anchoring the staff. If AJ Burnett manages to prove that last year was simply a fluke he will greatly boost the rotation and take at lot of Cashman's mind. The bottom two of the rotation still leave a lot to desire, but with the dynamic Yankees offense, those weaknesses can be covered pretty quickly, especially pitching against other teams 4 and 5 starters. Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and Ian Nova figure to compete for those last two remaining spots. They also have a few options in the minors that could get looks later in the season, or in a pinch earlier on.

Health will be a key to this teams success. They lack depth in just about all aspects of this team. If CC or Hughes goes down, the rotation could be a major liability and something they'd be unable to cover-up. They have the ability to cover up some short term injuries in the OF and INF in Ramiro Pena and Andruw Jones. There are plenty of "what if" scenarios, but the simple fact is the Yankees will still compete no matter what questions remain out there.

2011 MLB Season Preview: AL East Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays took plenty of hits this past off season, losing 12 players off their roster last year. There bullpen, which was one of their big time strengths last year, was torn about in free agency. Their dominant closer Rafael Soriano went to the Yankees, they saw Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour go to the Red Sox and Athletics respectively. While they took plenty of big hits, the Rays always seem to be able to piece together solid bullpens among players that are on the scrap heap, or through their internal options.

They also lost a fair amount of offense. Carl Crawford joined a rejuvenated Red Sox line up, Jason Bartlett was shipped to the Padres, and Carlos Pena signed with the Cubs, so they have plenty of holes to fill. The Rays will most likely rely on Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist to handle the SS position. Brignac showed some promise last year with a few break out games, but hasn't shown his true potential. Zobrist is a solid player where ever the Rays put him, and will be a vital piece this year for the Rays to succeed. While Pena's production took a big hit, especially in the BA department, his defense was still highly regarded. Dan Johnson was solid last year, and the Rays would love to see a continuation on last year, that most likely won't be the case, and they will be looking for another first basemen to platoon with him. Additions Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon were brought in to pick up some of the slack left from the loses stated above. While neither offer much in the form of defense anymore (never did Ramirez's case), if either one of them see some of their success from a few years ago in this season, they will be a bargain.

Their starting pitching should continue to be a strength. If their youngest improve they could be looking at one of the best rotations in baseball. Behind ace David Price they have James Shields, who hopes to rebound from a slightly disappointing 2010 season, Jeff Niemann, Jeremey Hellickson, and Wade Davis. Hellickson could have a breakout year, as he looked pretty good in some late season call up work. Niemann and Davis had their up's and down's as any young pitchers will have, but still figure to be better this year.

The Rays knew this year was coming, where they'd lose some of their core players to free agency, but they still have a good solid young core headlined by Evan Longoria. I'm not sure if Longoria and Zobrist can carry this lineup into the postseason, but if Manny or Damon can put together a decent season, look for the Rays to be in the upper parts of the standings.