How's this for a fearless prediction?
First, there were the countless years of the Tampa Bay Rays disappointing their fans with last place finishes in the AL East. From 2004 to 2007, the Rays could not get out of the basement of the AL. In 2003, they finished fourth in the East—their best year of existence.
Then it was the Yankees turn to let down their fans last year when they, despite a massive payroll, did not make the playoffs for the first time since 1993, and watched Boston and Tampa come out of the AL East.
Because the AL East is such a stacked division, one of the "Big Three" are going to be the disappointments of the group. This year, I believe it is Boston's turn to dishearten and shock baseball viewers.
Let's have a look at how the teams stack up:
The Rays are essentially the same team that made it to the World Series last November.
Many say that they are actually an improved squad from last year with the addition of Pat Burrell from the World Champion Phillies.
The Rays haven't had a good DH in a while. They did lose starter Edwin Jackson to Detroit, but they have rookie David Price filling his shoes as the fifth starter.
The Rays have a very solid lineup, with batters like the powerful Carlos Pena, playoff hero B.J. Upton and the young third baseman Evan Longoria. Dioner Navarro and Carl Crawford are no pushovers either.
Tampa Bay's rotation is very young, very skilled, and full of potential. Besides Price, the four other starters from last year remain the same, with Scott Kazmir and James Sheilds leading the way.
Any way you slice it, The Rays have nowhere to go but up, and I would not be surprised if they repeat as AL East Champs again in '09.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have spent the off-season rebuilding by adding numerous free agents to big money contracts. These names include C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira.
The Bronx Bombers certainly do not want a repeat of last year's season.
New York's batting order is still in question as to whether or not they can win a championship, but hitters such as Alex Rodriguez, Teixiera, Derek Jeter, and Hideki Matsui should help silence critics this year.
They also have young Brett Gardner, who has looked great since starting for New York, and Jorge Posada, who is looking to rebound from an injury-plagued season in '08.
The Yanks also sport one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. With Sabathia, Burnett and Chien-Ming Wang combined with Andy Pettitte, and young Joba Chamberlin, opposing batters should be very afraid, and I haven't even mentioned Mariano Rivera.
Make no mistake, New York is ready for a comeback season, and they have all the tools to make a playoff run once again.
Then there is the Red Sox.
I am not saying that Boston is a bad team. They would be sure winners in almost every other division in the MLB, maybe every other. They have Ortiz and Jason Bay and reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, but there are still some issues with this team.
The pitching staff has some questions to answer this year.
Can Beckett be the ace he once was? Is John Lester the real deal? Will John Smoltz make the rotation?
How will Brad Penny play? Is Tim Wakefield done? I just don't know.
The injury bug has often hit a few Red Sox players, including Mike Lowell and a few starters (Smoltz, Beckett, Penny).
Injuries can play a major role in Boston's success this season because they lack depth. And lets be honest, Julio Lugo isn't exactly the starting shortstop you want on a team either.
A few Sox are getting old and are past their prime, so maybe Boston's time is up after all.
In the end, anything can happen. I just do not believe that Boston is a better team than New York or Tampa Bay this year.
I know I'm not going to make many friends with this prediction, but who really knows what will happen?
All I know is that right now, all three organizations each have very good teams.
However, in the end, there can only be one division winner and possibly a Wild Card entry to the playoffs.
I do not think Boston's pitching staff is as good as New York's staff, or even the Ray's staff for that matter. The Yanks just look too dominant not to make the playoffs this season and Tampa Bay is a very young and exciting team who are actually better than they were last season.
How's that for dangerous?
I am not sure who will win the AL East and who will make Wild Card, but I can definitely see both New York and Tampa Bay playing in October this year.
That being said, there is no longer room for the Boston Red Sox to engage in the postseason activities that we're so used to seeing them in.
Sorry Sox fans, not this year.
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