The biggest MLB storyline for the 2011 season will be the beastly American League Eastern Division. The A.L. East has been the toughest division in the game for the past few seasons, and this year will be no exception.
The New York Yankees are coming off a season in which they made it to the ALCS despite off years from Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and especially A.J. Burnett. The Captain has revamped his swing this spring, Teix is looking to start strong instead of dealing with his usual lackluster April, and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild is hoping to work his magic on Burnett. In addition, the Yankees still have a fearsome lineup that includes last year's MVP candidate Robinson Cano, the consistent Nick Swisher, and centerfielder Curtis Granderson, looking to continue his strong end to the 2010 campaign. Look for a better season from Jorge Posada, who should benefit from DHing and not having to worry about the wears and tears of catching on his 39-year-old body. With arguably the best bullpen in the league anchored by the legend himself, Mariano Rivera, the only question that remains with the Yankees is their starting pitching beyond Sabathia and Hughes.
The Boston Red Sox had an incredible offseason, solidifying an already impressive lineup by adding the likes of speedy Carl Crawford and slugger Adrian Gonzalez. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are strong again after being sidelined by injuries in ’10, so the Red Sox lineup is another force to be reckoned with. Questions do arise in regards to their starting pitching, though. Youngsters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are reliable starters, but then you have to consider the remaining three- the often erratic Josh Beckett, an aging John Lackey, and the frustrating Daisuke Matsuzaka. Still, it’s hard to argue with many early predictions that the Red Sox might just be the team to beat.
Tampa Bay has been overlooked going into 2011. Their starting five is a talented group of young arms with enough firepower and experience to make opposing batters rather uncomfortable at the plate. The lineup is impressive, too. Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton are joined this season by two veteran superstars who each had a great deal of success with other A.L. East teams, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. As hard as that lineup will be to navigate, the issue with the Rays is, of course, their bullpen. Sending away their closer Rafael Soriano, as well as Benoit and Balfour, the only problems the 2011 Rays will have will most likely be the late innings.
In the past, the Orioles and Blue Jays were the overlooked teams in the division. It might be time to give them a second look. Baltimore was an entirely different team after Buck Schowalter came along midway through last season and breathed new life into the Birds. Their 2011 revamped lineup is nothing to be scoffed at, with Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Brian Roberts being joined by Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, and J.J. Hardy. Jeremy Guthrie and Justin Duchscherer will anchor the rotation and propel the Orioles to what will probably be their best season in years. The Blue Jays, on paper, look to be the weakest team in the division, but being the weakest team in the toughest division in baseball doesn’t mean they can’t contend.
The A.L. East is up for grabs in 2011.