Category Archives: AL BEast Notebook

derek jeter

Jeter has a new crack in ankle, out ’til ASB

AL BEast Notebook – April 18

Well, Eduardo Nunez, this is your chance.

After breaking his ankle in the playoffs last October, Derek Jeter set his sights on April 1, Opening Day, to return to the field. When that didn’t work the goal was May 1. Now the time for seeing The Captain playing shortstop in pinstripes is way down the road.

A CT scan revealed a small crack in his ankle in the area of his previous injury. It is a new crack. He has been declared out until July, at least. That will be after his 39th birthday. That will be at least nine months after he last played. And that is best case scenario. Early August is more likely.

Eduardo Nunez has been the everyday shortstop in his absence and that will continue to be the case. After struggling defensively for much of his career he has actually been solid with the glove and throwing. He has not hit at all yet, just .240, and Nunez has missed basically five games already from getting hit by a pitch a couple times.

People have said for years that Jeter can’t be an everyday shortstop anymore, and even after he returns that will likely be the case. So here we are at the post-Jeter Yankees. I’ve said that Nunez can be a quality starting shortstop in this league, and this is the time for him to show that.

Nunez won’t be able to replicate Jeter’s 216 hits, but being in the lineup every night will help him be comfortable and get in a better rhythm. He is capable of racking up a .275 average, 10 homers and 15 steals by July 1. For a backup shortstop that should be fine. However, the only other infielder on the team is Jayson Nix, a weak offensive player that was pinch-hit for last weekend even though it caused Cano to move to short and Francisco Cervelli to play second. There’s no additional room for injuries in the infield.

As for Jeter and the Yankees, it’s hard to say what’s left in the tank. This latest injury is probably a result of Jeter pushing himself too hard for Opening Day, so the Yankees are going to take this slowly and carefully. Hard to believe, but Alex Rodriguez could be back before Jeter.

It has been a rough month for AL East shortstops. Along with Derek Jeter’s extended absence, the Blue Jays also have an All-Star (Jose Reyes) that is out for three months with an ankle injury. The Red Sox just got their shortstop Stephen Drew back after a concussion. The Orioles’ J.J. Hardy is batting .193, but that is still a lot higher than Yunel Escobar (.115) for the Rays.

robinson cano

what’s the purpose of an off-speed pitch?

AL BEast Notebook – April 17

In the bottom of the fourth inning on Tuesday, the Yankees were trailing the Diamondbacks 2-0. With one out and runners on first and second, Brandon McCarthy was pitching to Robinson Cano.

McCarthy threw a slider outside, another slider in the dirt, then a changeup for ball three. Cano taking all the way, the next pitch was a changeup right down the middle, followed by a slow inside curveball that was fouled away.

The sixth pitch of the at bat was yet another changeup, right down the middle, and Cano blasted it to Timbuktu.

So yeah, what is the point of an off-speed pitch, specifically a changeup? To interrupt the batter’s timing and keep him off balance. So why in the world is the pitcher throwing six off-speed pitches in a row? I think Robinson Cano is perfectly capable of hitting an 84 mph fastball, and when you don’t throw a real fastball to him–throwing six consecutive slower pitches–that’s all a changeup is!

Cano’s hit was a three run shot that was just crushed. Yankees won the game 4-2.

Dear Brandon McCarthy: you have a 94 mph fastball; use it. Otherwise you might as well be Jamie Moyer, and Jamie Moyer isn’t sneaking an 84 mph fastball past Robinson Cano.

yankees

mid-April view of the New York Yankees

AL BEast Notebook – April 15

For all the doom and gloom of the preseason and then Opening Week, things have turned pretty well for New York lately. The Yankees have won five of their last six to sit at 6-5, much of the pitching is going well and the offense is finding pleasant surprises. Basically, the good has been great and the bad has been dreadful.

There was cause for concern when CC Sabathia looked lifeless on Opening Day and then Hiroki Kuroda’s hand was struck by a line drive in the second game, but since then the top of the rotation has been all that you could ask for. Kuroda pitched an absolute gem on Sunday night, going the full nine innings and didn’t even allow a runner to reach second base until two outs in the ninth (thanks to an error and fielders choice). After a dreadful second inning against the Red Sox, Sabathia has responded with just one earned run in his last 18 innings. Andy Pettitte has been stellar on the mound, allowing just one run in each of his two starts.

The lineup picked up last week, led by Robinson Cano who hit .500 with three homers, four doubles and eight RBI. Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and even Francisco Cervelli have been quite productive. In fact, even after looking entirely anemic against the Red Sox and Tigers, Yankees have the highest OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) in the American League. Cervelli has been the biggest surprise, as the catcher is 3 for 3 with runners in scoring position and two outs. He has also worked seven walks in nine games and holds a .500 on base percentage, and has not allowed a stolen base.

Injuries and depth, of course, continue to be the primary concern with the Yankees. Derek Jeter is nowhere near returning. His replacement, Eduardo Nunez has been hit by a pitch a couple times, causing him to miss multiple games on two different occasions already. The only backup infielder is Jayson Nix, and he is pretty much an automatic out. Girardi pinch hit for Nix on Saturday and had to use Cervelli at second base and move Cano to shortstop.

Pettitte missed a start due to back spasms (he is old) and was pushed back a couple times. He is expected to pitch on Friday, ten days after his last game. Another seasoned vet Ichiro looks awful out there (.176, no stolen base attempts).

Back of the rotation is definitely a sore spot. Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are combined 0-3 with an 8.75 ERA. Fortunately, the Yankees could skip Nova’s start last week thanks to rain in Cleveland. He starts Tuesday against the 8-4 Diamondbacks. David Phelps is ready to take his place should he struggle, although Phelps has been very effective in long relief.

Back of the bullpen (Rivera and Robertson) has been fine, but the rest of the pen has pitched poorly to the tune of a 5.19 ERA and 1.67 WHIP overall. It hasn’t affected the outcome of any games as starting pitchers have picked up every decision.

Overall, the games have really been dictated early on. New York is 5-0 when the score first, and 1-5 when first scored upon. There hasn’t been much drama; every game has been decided by two or more runs.

Due up: D-Backs, @Blue Jays, @Rays, Blue Jays

rays

mid-April view of the Tampa Bay Rays

AL BEast Notebook – April 15

Tampa Bay is off to a terrible start. After Monday afternoon’s loss in Boston the Rays are sitting in the bottom of the AL East at 4-8.
My biggest concern with the Rays is here front and center: they just can’t hit!
- Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist are doing pretty well at the plate, but they are getting no help. Batters 5 through 9 in the order, plus #2 (that’s two thirds of the lineup!) are hitting a paltry .169.
- As a team they have hit just four home runs in twelve games. Before Longoria’s homer in Monday’s game they had gone over six games without bopping one out.
- Rays are just 1 for their last 28 with runners in scoring position.
- Tampa has scored AL-worst 35 runs (2.9/game)
And they haven’t been facing amazing pitchers in pitchers’ ballparks: Fenway Park and the Ballpark in Arlington, and the Indians and Orioles at home. They simply can’t hit.
Where is Wil Myers when you need him?
The Rays have been victimized by some poor officiating. One of the games against the Rangers ended on an egregious called third strike that should have loaded the bases for Longoria, and today in Boston Longoria was incorrectly called out at first on a play that should have brought home a run in the sixth. Both games were lost by one run.
- The biggest strength of the Rays is David Price. That has not been an advantage, as the team is 0-3 in his starts.
- Matt Moore has been a bright spot. He has not given up a run yet in his two games and has two wins. However, a high pitch count has prevented him from pitching past the sixth inning.
- The bullpen has a 5.22 ERA.
- Roberto Hernandez won the #5 starter job but he has been poor, holding a 6.08 ERA and allowing 21 base runners in 13.1 innings. Unfortunately, the pitcher he was selected over, Jeff Niemann, had shoulder surgery and will miss the whole season. If Hernandez continues to struggle, the Rays will have to bring up Chris Archer, who made four starts in the majors last year.
Due up: Three series: @Baltimore, Athletics and Yankees, followed by a 10-game road trip.

baseball’s Catch-22

(April 12)

Felix Hernandez hits Alex Rodriguez with a pitch, breaks his wrist, A-Rod misses over two months.

J.A. Happ hits Curtis Granderson with a pitch, breaks his arm, Granderson misses two months.

A couple years ago, Alfredo Aceves hit Marlon Byrd in the face with a pitch, Byrd misses six weeks.

Zach Greinke hits Carlos Quentin with a pitch, Quentin charges the mound and breaks Greinke’s collarbone, Greinke to miss two or three months.

No one wants to see players get injured. Baseball is centered on pitchers’ ability to throw accurately. When pitchers throw 90 miles an hour, there is serious risk of significant injuries to the batter. There are times when it is obvious that a pitcher intentionally hits a batter, and I have no problem when batters charge the mound in those situations.

But on a 3-2 pitch leading off the sixth inning in a one run game, Greinke’s throw on Quentin was not intentional.

I believe that pitchers should be held responsible when they cause batters to miss time with an injury from a HBP. When a batter charges the mound and injures the pitcher, I believe the batter should be held responsible.

Is this just part of the game that teams, fans and players have to deal with? Is there a better way to legislate/enforce?

Should Happ and King Felix sit out while the batters are out? Should Quentin sit while Greinke is out?

chris davis

what you need to know about Chris Davis

AL BEast Notebook – April 6

Orioles games have become Must-See TV with the way first baseman Chris Davis has been hitting. Much has been said already but here are some things that stick out to me.

- Only two other players in history have hit a home run and had three runs batted in four straight games: Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey (75 years ago). They both did it five in a row.

- Every team has played four games. Fourteen teams have lower home run totals than Chris Davis.

- Davis has produced more runs (17; 16 RBI plus one other run scored) than sixteen teams have scored. That’s over half the league.

- 16 RBI is the most for the first four games in MLB history.

- Davis has 9 hits in his last 13 at bats (.692) with four homers and three doubles.

- Davis is 5 for 7 with runners in scoring position for 14 RBI, and 3 for 3 with RISP and two outs.

- Davis is 7 for 8 batting against righties and has hit two home runs against lefties.

- Three of his home runs are on pitches outside the strike zone. He has hit a home run to right field, center field, and two to left field.

- For his career, Davis has averaged a strikeout every three at-bats. This young season he has one strikeout in 15 at-bats.

- Despite his hot hitting, Davis has been walked just once. Why? The man immediately in front of him (Adam Jones) has a league-leading 10 hits. And the batter before Jones has had four hits and three walks. Strangely, managers have intentionally walked the batter before or two before Davis twice. Davis knocked the ball out both times.

chris davis

O’s sting the Rays on Opening Day #2

AL BEast Notebook – April 2

Trying to show that last season was no fluke, Baltimore started the season with an impressive win in Tampa Bay over David Price and the Rays’ bullpen.

Everybody got hits for the Orioles Tuesday afternoon but it was the heart of the order that did all the damage. David Price gave up a two run homer to Matt Wieters in the first inning. Then, with two on, two strikes and two outs, Adam Jones smacked a go-ahead double in the seventh, and after an intentional walk to Wieters, Chris Davis took Jake McGee to the bleachers.

After Wieters’ homer in the first Orioles had lots of baserunners but Price did a good job of getting out of trouble. He escaped a bases loaded jam in the third and leadoff doubles in the fourth and sixth. Price ended his day after six innings with a lead, but McGee couldn’t put batters away.

McGee had two strikes on both Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis but the veterans each smacked the ball right back over the mound for singles. Then with two strikes to Adam Jones, the center fielder hit a clutch shot to deep left center for the go ahead runs. Davis’ three run homer followed. McGee has a dubious 67.50 ERA after one day.

Ben Zobrist homered in the fourth for Tampa’s first run. Joe Maddon and the Rays manufactured a couple runs in the sixth to take the lead. After a leadoff walk, Jennings doubled in a run, Fuld bunted him over to third, and Ben Zobrist hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2 Rays. But the pitchers couldn’t stop the O’s, giving up 13 hits (including two homers and four doubles) and four walks.

Jones, Wieters and Davis combined to get on base nine times and knock in all seven runs.
The division rivals meet again Wednesday night with Wei-Yin Chen opposing Jeremy Hellickson.

From around the league, the Daily Top Five:
- Yu Darvish retired the first 26 Houston batters until Marwin Gonzalez broke up the perfect game with a shot up the middle between Darvish’s legs with two outs in the ninth. I have a feeling that we will be seeing several more potential no-hitters against the Astros this season.
- The knuckle wasn’t working for R.A. Dickey today as the new Blue Jays’ ace gave up five hits, four walks and four runs in a loss to the Indians. It took Darvish 107 pitches to finish six innings.
- Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki each homered for the second straight game. Rockies beat the Brewers 8-4.
- Elvis Andrus and the Rangers agreed to a contract extension through 2022. Including the two years he had remaining, the deal is basically for 10 years, $131 million. So much for the Yankees’ plan of chasing him to be Jeter’s replacement. Andrus is 24 years old.
- Madison Bumgarner is pitching a gem. Through six innings he’s given up just one hit while shutting out the rival Giants.|
sabathia ellsbury

Opening Day win for the Red Sox in the Bronx

AL BEast Notebook – April 1

It’s a great start to the season if you are a Red Sox fan. Not so much for their proud counterparts in the Big Apple.

CC Sabathia gave up four runs in the second inning on walks and singles and that was all Boston needed as they beat the Yankees 8-2 on a day that started out warm and sunny and ended cold, rainy and windy, with empty bleachers and trash blowing all over the field.

The Yankees certainly didn’t exactly resemble your traditional Bronx Bombers. Confused New Yorkers were cheering for “Yooouuk.” Injured A-Rod and Jeter were replaced by Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez, who combed for 0-6 with five strikeouts. Ben Francisco, playing for his sixth team in the last 16 months, was the designated hitter. They needed some terrific pitching from their ace, and they didn’t get it: CC gave up eight hits, walked four batters and got pulled after the fifth inning. Joba Chamberlain, looking like a caterpillar is taking up residence under his nose, pitched a terrible ninth allowing three to score that only about 68 fans left in the stands witnessed. It was an uninspiring performance by the Yankees, who allowed four infield hits and walked eight Boston batters.

Sabathia’s career ERA in April is 7.24 and despite starting five times he is still winless on Opening Day with the Yanks. In his last seven games against the rival Red Sox he is 2-4 with a 6.70 ERA.

The Red Sox lineup wasn’t much more intimidating, but the first three batters had seven hits while Jarrod Saltalamacchia and rookie Jackie Bradley combined for six walks and four runs. Bradley had a big impact in his major league debut, also beating out a throw at second base that opened the floodgates in the second inning, then made a run-saving catch in left field in the third.

The lone bright spot in the game for New York was Francisco Cervelli, who coaxed Yankee fans one step back from the ledge when it looked like it would be the same old story. Cervelli got a two out hit, the Yankees’ first in two years, with the bases loaded to send two runners across home. Then in the sixth he made a great tag to stop Ellsbury at the plate and keep the Sox’ lead at just two.

But the day belonged to the Red Sox and the Yankee lineup made Boston’s pitchers look nearly perfect. Lester had just one bad inning while striking out seven in five innings, while five relievers yielded one hit across the last four frames. New Sox reliever Koji Uehara needed just five pitches to get through the sixth. New closer Joel Hanrahan also threw a 1-2-3 inning in his his first appearance for the club.

If the game wasn’t bad enough, Alex Rodriguez made an appearance for the media beforehand, answering more questions about PEDs and stating that the Yankees being projected to finish in last place is “pretty crazy.”

Both teams get a day off tomorrow. Then the Yankees will shake up the lineup with righty Clay Buchholz taking the hill, although that really only means Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner get the start and Ichiro bats second.

Certainly, Girardi declares afterward that it’s just one game out of 162, but the lackluster yet predictably bad performance will probably not be a rare occurrence this month.

From around the league, the Daily Top Five:

- Bryce Harper homers twice, Strasburg throws seven shutout innings, Nationals win 2-0
- Clayton Kershaw pitches a complete game shutout and breaks a scoreless tie himself with a home run in the eighth, Dodgers beat the Giants
- Angels and Reds combined for 30 strikeouts and 4 errors in a 4:45 long 13 inning game in Interleague action on Opening Day. Reds batters not named Shin-Soo Choo went 1-37 (.027). Angels win
- Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale each threw 7.2 shutout innings for the Mariners and White Sox, Jeff Samardzija throws 8 scoreless for the Cubs
- Meanwhile, the Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles and Indians are saying “don’t forget about us!”
robinson cano

AL East Preview and Predictions

AL BEast Notebook – March 29

I’ve been covering each of the five East teams all winter and spring long and here is my “Official 2013 Preview.” Yes, it’s long so bookmark and come back often. I’ll have the rest of the league up in the next couple days.

The AL East will be the most interesting division in baseball with five teams that could each reasonably finish in first or last place. All should have win totals in the 80s. While the division has been known for it’s intimidating sluggers and top-to-bottom lineups, there has been a clear shift to pitching.

For each team you have:

1) my report with reasons to be excited and reasons to be concerned

2) specific bullet points of what must happen for them to succeed

3) specific bullet points of what must happen for them to end up in the basement

4) Season headline

5) My record prediction

6) How many more wins in best-case scenario (ceiling)

7) How many fewer wins in worst-case scenario (floor)

8) A player that is likely to outperform expectations

9) A player that is likely to disappoint

Boston Red Sox

After being MLB’s most disappointing team two years in a row Boston is looking for a bounce back season. They definitely aren’t in typical “Rebuilding Mode” with the likes of Victorino, Napoli, Gomes, Dempster, Lackey and (eventually) Ortiz all in prominent positions. Now that expectations are so low after losing 93 games they hope that a new manager, revamped lineup and more secure bullpen will get them back into prominence. But it won’t be easy.

Two of the best pitchers this spring were Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. After a dismal 2012 campaign, that is a welcome sight for Sox fans. Even Jon Lackey has been effective. In fact, the Red Sox staff led the league in Spring Training ERA. It may just be Grapefruit League but it’s much better to be good than bad!

There are issues with the lineup. Your Opening Day lineup will include Jose Iglesias, Jonny Gomes, Jackie Bradley, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The #5 hitter is a player with less than a full year of major league experience (Will Middlebrooks). If things go poorly—and with injured and injury-prone players like Ortiz, Ellsbury, Napoli and Gomes, and young players like Middlebrooks, Bradley and Iglesias, you can expect it—there is virtually no depth on this roster.

The weak bullpen from a year ago looks to be put together well. New closer Joel Hanrahan, former All-Star Andrew Bailey, and veteran setup man Koji Uehara are expected to shorten games to 6 innings.

For those that think the pitching staff will bounce back to greatness, consider this: Saltalamacchia is the signal caller. Jason Varitek is long gone. Once Salty took the majority of the time behind the plate the starting pitching (everyone) fell apart. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good catcher (or impact of a catcher the pitchers don’t trust).

Red Sox will WIN the division IF…

1) Jon Lester wins 20 and Clay Buchholz wins 18

2) Ortiz and Ellsbury combine for 55 home runs

3) Napoli and Middlebrooks stay healthy all year

4) Dempster or Lackey pitch effectively

 Red Sox will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Ortiz and Stephen Drew are ineffective

2) Two of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Napoli or Middlebrooks miss significant time

3) Any two of the starting five pitchers miss significant time

Miller’s Forecast

“Sox Crumble Third Year in a Row”

80-82 +8 ; -8

Surprising impact: Jacoby Ellsbury

Biggest Disappointment: Ryan Dempster

Tampa Bay Rays

david price

Tampa Bay had the best team ERA in all of baseball last year and won 90 games, but still finished third in the division, three games out of the final playoff spot. And in the offseason they lost James Shields, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena and didn’t really replace them.

The biggest question for the Rays is where is the offense going to come from? Yes, Evan Longoria is ready after missing half the season and could finally emerge as an elite player, and Wil Myers will get called up sometime, but who else is there? Ben Zobrist and Luke Scott?  That’s it! And while Myers is the best hitting prospect in baseball, he probably won’t break out like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. He could be great, but the Rays tend to baby their young players. Myers will be a star in 2014, but for ‘13 Tampa has the weakest lineup in the division.

Of course, their pitching is very good.  David Price won 20 games, the other starters were great and Fernando Rodney finished 2012 with a 0.60 ERA and 48 saves. Can young Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb keep the Rays’ team ERA microscopic again? Well sure, but it’s not a guarantee. And if you check the history of Rodney, his first year in Tampa was his first since 2006 of an ERA lower than 4.24 and WHIP under 1.47. Seems like a fluke.

Many people are picking the Rays to make the playoffs. The Rays have been the quietest team in the league this spring, and that’s surely a very positive thing. Great pitching in Tampa has been a given for like eight years now. Joe Maddon, perhaps the best game manager in baseball is running the show. But I cannot see how a team that continues to lose key players year after year without bringing in free agents will keep it up this year, especially in such a competitive division.

Rays will WIN the division IF…

1) David Price wins 20 games again and another pitcher wins 16

2) Evan Longoria plays 155+ games

3) Wil Myers is called up early and breaks out in a big way

4) Fernando Rodney continues where he left off in the WBC with another All-Star season

5) Two of Zobrist, Joyce, Scott or Jennings hit .295+ with 25+ homers

Rays will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Something happens to Price and Longoria

2) Hellickson and Matt Moore regress

3) No hitter beyond Longoria provides power

Miller’s Forecast

“Where’s James Shields?” and “Not Enough Help for Longoria”

83-79; +7 ; -4

Surprising impact: Alex Cobb

Disappointment: Matt Moore


New York Yankees

Yankees won 95 last year, and this team looked like the worst 95-win team in the history of baseball. Due to injuries and questionable personnel decisions the lineup is very different, especially early in the season.

Everybody knows about the crowded star-studded disabled list (Teixeira, Granderson, A-Rod, Pineda, Hughes and Jeter) and they have a whole bunch of other players that could potentially fall apart (Hafner, Youkilis, Wells, Ichiro, Pettitte, Rivera) and some key positions that are serious offensive question marks: catcher (Stewvelli) and first base (Overbay). It is just not the situation you want to be in to start the season.

One concern with this team is that they are very lefty-heavy in the lineup. Cano, Granderson, Gardner, Ichiro, Hafner, and Overbay all bat from the left side. That’s great for Yankees Stadium, but they will struggle on the road against left-handed starting pitchers.

Robinson Cano is the one rock on this team. He will be an MVP candidate every year he stays in pinstripes. Reports are that Curtis Granderson should return on time and back to form in May. The power is gone, but there is still ability to score runs with Ichiro, Gardner, and Jeter/Nunez at the top of the lineup. The starting pitching is strong and deep. The bullpen, even without Rafael Soriano, should be very strong again as long as Mariano is effective.

Eduardo Nunez struggles defensively, but if he ever gets a full-time job he could hit .300 with 25 homers and 30 steals.

 Yankees will WIN the division IF…

1) C.C. Sabathia makes 28+ starts

2) Derek Jeter plays 145 games and hits .290+

3) At least two of Hafner, Youkilis, or Wells make it through the season healthy and somewhat effective

4) At least two of Teixeira, Rodriguez or Pineda return and are somewhat effective

5) Mariano Rivera stays healthy and Rivera-like

 Yankees will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Sabathia and Cano miss significant time

2) Teixeira and A-Rod miss the season, or are ineffective upon return

3) Rivera shows the effects of his 43rd birthday, getting hurt or pitching poorly

4) Yankees get nothing from Wells and Youkilis

Miller’s Forecast

“Old Age and Injuries Catch With Bombers”

84-78; +5 ; -6

Surprising impact: Kevin Youkilis

Disappointment: Derek Jeter

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore had a miracle season, winning 93 games taking the Yankees to a full series after knocking out the Texas Rangers in the playoffs. And all this after averaging 94 losses for the previous six seasons. What was most miraculous was how they won. They did not even have a positive run differential until September 28, the last week of the season. They dealt with tons of injuries. They only had one pitcher start more than 20 games or pitch 140 innings, and that was an unspectacular rookie. And of course, their 29-9 record in one run games, including a record 13 in a row, is something difficult to explain.

Looking ahead to now, there are actually very few question marks with this team. While they don’t have a true “ace,” they have one of the deepest reservoirs of starting pitchers in the league including a handful of pitchers that were outstanding in limited 2012 action. Due to 65 starts by terrible pitchers their overall ERA was mediocre, and that should improve this season with a little stability.

Baltimore’s bullpen was one of the AL’s best, led by closer Jim Johnson’s league leading 51 saves, and Darren O’Day, Troy Patton, Pedro Strop and Luis Ayala. Johnson is a regression candidate, but the ‘pen should still be very strong.

The lineup is also very stable with many players on the way up in their careers (Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nolan Reimold). Nate McLouth may have regained his All-Star form after the trade to Baltimore. Late call-up Machado looks like he could be a star player and is here for a full sophomore year. The biggest difference could be in the middle of the field as two-time All-Star Brian Roberts is finally healthy and looking good in spring. It looked like he would be hitting leadoff but just today Showalter announced that Roberts will start at the bottom of the order.

Buck Showalter has turned this young group into winners. They have a very good core of players in Jones, Wieters, Machado and Davis, and if the starting pitching doesn’t fall apart they should contend for the Wild Card again. If Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta develop and improve, they could win the East outright.

Orioles will WIN the division IF…

1) Team pitching gets their ERA down to 3.80

2) At least three pitchers win 13 games

3) The bullpen remains a strength

4) Brian Roberts plays 140+ games

5) Adam Jones and Matt Wieters make their third All-Star game

Orioles will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) The inexperienced pitching falls through

2) Two of oft-injured Roberts, McLouth, Reimold and McLouth can’t stay healthy and produce

Miller’s Forecast

“Critics Still Waiting for Showalter’s Club to Fade”

88-74; +4 ; -8

Surprising impact: Brian Roberts

Disappointment: Wei-Yin Chen

Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto sailed along at 45-44 until July 16 when Jose Bautista injured his wrist. Several pitchers broke down as well and the Jays floundered, going 28-45 the rest of the way. GM Alex Anthopoulos was very busy this offseason, acquiring R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and re-hiring coach John Gibbons. Suddenly, Toronto looks like the most complete team in the division.

The biggest x-factors for the Jays this year are Johnson and Brandon Morrow. If they can stay healthy the Jays rotation should stay quite effective. You know what you are getting with Dickey, Buehrle and J.A. Happ, and the offense will score a lot of runs and hit a lot of home runs. Johnson and Morrow have top-of-the-rotation potential. If they stay healthy Toronto will win a lot of games.

One concern critics have is all the moving parts. Reyes played poorly in Miami, Johnson was less effective, Melky was suspended 50 games, and Dickey moves from pitcher friendly Citi Field and the NL East to the AL East. Bautista is coming off a wrist injury that has the potential to drain his power. All that being said, this is a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in twenty years. Changes had to be made! Opportunities presented themselves and the Jays jumped. And with three pitchers coming from the NL to AL East, remember that none of the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox or Orioles improved their lineups; in fact, they all (other than the Orioles) should have worse offenses.

I love the way this team is made: Knuckler, power righty, soft lefty, power righty, lefty. Reyes, Melky, Bautista and Encarnacion (42 homers in 2012) should be the most productive 1-4 this side of Los Angeles, and if Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie produce they are even deeper.

The one issue with the Jays is their bullpen, which was dead-last in the AL in 2012. They didn’t add anyone new. Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season, and Sergio Santos missed most of the regular season with shoulder surgery as well. The way the Jays are set up for “Win Now,” expect them to look at the free agents available (Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez) should things start to fall apart.

Blue Jays will WIN the division IF…

1) Morrow and Johnson pitch 56+ games

2) Jose Bautista regains his power stroke and has an MVP-level season

3) Reyes and Cabrera each play 145+ games and hit over .290

4) Bullpen finishes no worse than 10th in the AL

Blue Jays will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Any two of their top four starters miss significant time

2) Bautista re-injures his wrist

3) Bullpen repeats a dismal season

4) Major chemistry issues emerge

Miller’s Forecast

“Joey Bats is MVP” and “Anthopoulos’ Aggressiveness Pays Off”

89-73; +5 ; -5

Surprising impact: Brett Lawrie

Disappointment: Melky Cabrera

ra dickey

Toronto 89-73

Baltimore 88-74

New York 84-78

Tampa Bay 83-79

Boston 80-82

lyle overbay

Yankees make Lyle Overbay their man

AL BEast Notebook – March 28

The Yankees finished their Grapefruit League season today, losing 2-1 to the Pirates. After the game, Juan Rivera was released and according to ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews, Lyle Overbay will be the starting first baseman for Opening Day and for the next six weeks.

Well, almost. Their first game is against lefty Jon Lester, so it is likely that Jayson Nix or another righty gets the start instead. Overbay will get the nod on Wednesday against Clay Buchholz.

Juan Rivera, signed January 28, played pretty well this spring, hitting .305 (18-59) with five doubles. But after the Yankees signed Ben Francisco on March 11, Brennan Boesch  March 15, traded for Vernon Wells March 25 and acquired Lyle Overbay on March 26, there is no room for Rivera.

So I guess that means Lyle Overbay’s three day audition was successful.

Continuing what I wrote yesterday, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner’s offseason strategy of alternatives (Juan Rivera, Dan Johnson, Matt Diaz) and rookies (Ziolo Almonte, Melky Mesa, Slade Heathcott, Ronnie Mustelier) was a complete failure as they pulled the plug on each one with four crappy acquisitions within three weeks of their first game. I mean seriously, they had seven guys all along and quit on all seven in the last two weeks of Spring Training!

What have Overbay, Wells, Francisco and Boesch proven?