2007 will not be a year where yet again it is between the Sox and the Yanks. There are going to be some unfamiliar franchises making some noise and pushing for a playoff birth. With that said, in 2007 the East crown belongs and will remain in the Bronx until proven otherwise.
The Baltimore Orioles have a closer that converted 33 out of 38 save opportunities and a decent starting pitcher with Erik Bedard (33 starts, 15 wins, ERA of 3.75 in'06). On the offensive side, their lineup has some respectable names as well: Tejada, Mora, Millar, Gibbons, Payton and Corey Patterson are all above average. That's the good for Baltimore. Problem is that there is some bad as well; and there's a lot of it in the form of starting pitchers. After Bedard, the remaining 5 had ERAs that were either approaching or above 5 and were all (except Jaret Wright) sub .500. They are just bad. So bad in fact, that the Orioles are going to end Tampa's reign of 2 years for last place.
The 2007 Boston Red Sox will likely be the place to tune in if you're a soap opera fan as there is going to be plenty of drama. Let's set aside for a moment that David Ortiz is the clutch hitter in Major League Baseball and that Jon Lester will be the feel good comeback story of the year. Schilling is a year older (and no he is not Clemens Part Deux in the form of getting better with age) and injury prone. Beckett is inconsistent and posted an ERA above 5 and expect to see a repeat of that if not worse as the Boston Media is ready to turn him into Road Kill. And until someone shows that a Japan born pitcher can make an impact for an entire MLB season, Dice-K will not perform to the Cy Young standards that everyone seems to think he will produce. Compound the questionable pitching with the signing of JD Drew - who is good, but not well liked or respected and could prove to be a distraction for the team with his Manny-like focus. Bottom line is, this will be the worse year Boston has had in some time and may end with several several trades, a pledge to re-build with some youth, and possibly Francona's firing.
Now it gets interesting because, for the first time ever, Tampa Bay is actually going to be a factor. I know, it feels weird even typing that last sentence. Tampa has the best young pitcher in Scott Kazmir. They also have some young players in the field that have shown promise so far and may be ready to take it to the next level in Baldelli, Crawford, and Cantu. 1B Ty Wigginton is heading into prime (24HRs .275 avg. in '06). Plus, and I think it will prove to be a big plus, Tampa signed the best player that was up for bidding in the Japan auction in Third Baseman Akinori Iwamura. They also have a class act for a manager in Joe Maddon. Add it all up, and you have a 2007 that could be their best year yet (not a high bar to raise for sure) finishing Third.
Toronto may have a long over due return to greatness this year and place them as a leading candidate at making the Wild Card. When you look at the offensive lineup that the Blue Jays can pencil in, and then look at their '06 numbers (HRs/Avg.) it is impressive: Reed Johnson (12/.319), Alex Rios (17/.302), Troy Glaus (38/.252), Lyle Overby (22/.312), Big Hurt Thomas (39/.270) and of course superstar Vernon Wells (32/303). On pitching, while Tampa may have the best young pitcher, Toronto has the best pitcher in Roy Halladay. A.J. Burnett could improve but is a solid #2. Even though I think that B.J. Ryan is overrated, his numbers suggest otherwise with a 1.37 ERA and converting 38 out of 42 save opportunities. The GM and owner for this club should get credit for investing in their team in order to boost performance. Oddly, an area where they should have gone shopping and didn't will what ends up costing them a real shot at winning the East - that is the Manager John Gibbons. He is their weak link and has exhibited poor role model traits. Some compare him to a Lou Pinella or Billy Martin - but he's not. He's in over his head and from time to time it shows - as it will this year. If you want a shot at greatness, you have to have a great leader, talent will not be enough and Gibbons is no great leader. The Jays make a playoff push, make a run for the division, may make the Wild Card, but to get at the big machine, they need a better manager and Gibbons will be gone when '08 comes around.
A detailed Yankee breakdown will be coming in about a week. Until then, and to just recap, here's the projected finish for you to chew on. In 2007, the final AL East standings will be:
- Blue Jays
- Devil Rays
- Red Sox