On The Mark by Mark Mayer | Should the Boston Red Sox repeat as world champions, it would be their third Series victory in five years and enough to challenge the neighboring Patriots for top dynasty status.
Hank Steinbrenner would just love that.
No, the new Yankees boss declared war on Red Sox Nation in spring training, saying the USA was mostly Yankee Country. If so, and not all the precincts are in, Japan has declared its delegates to Boston.
Before we get down to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, lest we forget there are three other teams in the AL East.
And Tampa Bay has already declared war on the Yankees after their lively battle-royal in Florida. By the way, its just Rays as of this season. The Devil has gone down to Georgia.
The Las Vegas Hilton has the Red Sox a 4-5 favorite to win the division. New York is next at 5-4 with Toronto 6-1. If you like longshots, try Tampa Bay at 40-1 and Baltimore at 50-1.
The Red Sox got an early start on the field with their two-game opening series in Tokyo against Oakland. Everyone else is in full swing this week which, thank goodness, means no more preseason write-ups. Let the betting begin!
Boston figures to be as good if not better than last year if injuries can be overcome. Josh Beckett (back tightness) is due to come off the DL later this week. Curt Schilling (knee) says he could pitch sometime this season, but nobody knows for sure. Other than that, the Sox are loaded. Theres no better 3-4 hitters than David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are young and good. The staff also has young studs in Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jonathan Papelbon. What curse?
New York is not used to being second fiddle to anyone, especially Boston. Yet the Yanks felt change was necessary so Joe Torre is on the Left Coast with the Dodgers, replaced by another Joe. The Girardi era as manager begins with Andy Pettitte trying to wipe away the steroids controversy. Speaking of steroids, Roger Clemens is gone. Making the playoffs could rest on young guns Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. A-Rod, Jeter and Posada are the glue, but the Steinbrenner heat is on.
Toronto has the ammo to make this a three-team race, but everything has to click. The offense is loaded, led by Frank Thomas, whose career has had a renaissance after big power numbers at Oakland and last year with the Blue Jays. Vernon Wells and Alex Rios are coveted outfielders, while Roy Halladay is a Cy Young pitcher. Management took half the St. Louis infield, installing pesky David Eckstein at short and slugger Scott Rolen at third. BJ Ryan is back at closer after Tommy John surgery. Pitching will tell the tale.
Tampa Bay is loaded with potential superstars. Carl Crawford is already there, off a .315, 50 stolen base season. B.J. Upton can be right there with Crawford, while Jonny Gomes and Rocco Baldelli make up a quality outfield. Akinori Iwamura is rated among the games top young second basemen. Carlos Pena has been a godsend from Detroit, belting 46 homers and knocking in 121. Scott Kazmir, despite just 13 wins, is one of the ALs top southpaws. Kaz has had a tender arm this spring. Obviously without him, the Rays burn up fast. Ex-Las Vegas 51 Edwin Jackson made the rotation. Watch this team.
Baltimore dealt Seattle its best pitcher, lefty Eric Bedard. If what the Os got in return, heralded OF Adam Jones doesnt work out, Baltimore could live in last place the rest of this decade. But, there is hope. Nick Markakis led the Birds in homers, RBI and batting. Brian Roberts stole 50 bases and Melvin Mora is a .300, 20 HR hitter. Jeremy Guthrie is the new ace, going 6-5 with a 3.44 ERA as a starter last year. Chris Ray saved 16 games, but may set up this season for George Sherrill, also part of the Bedard deal.
Based on the current rosters, we rank this division: Boston, NY Yankees, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Baltimore.
Infield: C Jason Varitek, 1B Kevin Youkilis, 2B Dustin Pedroia, 3B Mike Lowell (120 RBI), SS Julio Lugo (33 SB). Outfield: LF Manny Ramirez, CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.353 BA), RF J.D.
Drew. DH: David Ortiz (35 HR). Rotation: Daisuke Matsuzaka (201 K), Jon Lester, Josh Beckett (20 wins), Tim Wakefield. Clay Buchholz (1.59 ERA). Closer: Jonathan Papelbon (35 SV).
Infield: C Jorge Posada (.338 BA), 1B Jason Giambi, 2B Robinson Cano, 3B Alex Rodriguez (54 HR, 156 RBI), SS Derek Jeter. Outfield: LF Johnny Damon (27 SB), CF Melky Cabrera, RF Bobby Abreu. DH: Hideki Matsui. Rotation: Chien Ming Wang (19 wins), Andy Pettitte (141 K), Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina, Ian Kennedy. Setup: Joba Chamberlain (0.38 ERA). Closer: Mariano Rivera (30 SV).
Infield: C Gregg Zaun, 1B Lyle Overbay, 2B Aaron Hill, 3B Scott Rolen (Cardinals), SS David Eckstein (Cardinals). Outfield: LF Matt Stairs, CF Vernon Wells, RF Alex Rios (.297 BA, 17 SB), DH: Frank Thomas (28 HR, 95 RBI). Rotation: Roy Halladay (16 wins, 3.71 ERA), AJ Burnett (176 K), Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch. Setup: Jeremy Accardo (30 SB). Closer: BJ Ryan.
Infield: C Dioner Navarro, 1B Carlos Pena (46 HR, 121 RBI), 2B Akinori Iwamura, 3B Eric Hinski (Blue Jays), SS Jason Bartlett. Outfield: LF Carl Crawford (.315 BA, 50 SB), CF BJ Upton, RF Jonny Gomes. DH: Cliff Floyd (Cubs). Utility: Rocco Baldelli. Rotation: James Shields, Scott Kazmir (13 wins, 3.48 ERA, 239 K), Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, Andy Sonnanstine. Setup: Al Reyes (26 SV). Closer: Troy Percival.
Infield: C Ramon Hernandez (Padres), 1B Kevin Millar, 2B Brian Roberts, 3B Melvin Mora, SS Luis Hernandez. Outfield: LF Luke Scott, CF Adam Jones (Mariners), RF Nick Markakis. DH: Aubrey Huff (Rays). Rotation: Jeremy Guthrie, Steve Trachsel (Cubs), Daniel Cabrera (9 wins), Adam Loewen (3.56 ERA), Brian Burres. Setup: Chris Ray (16 SV); Closer: George Sherrill.
LV Hiltons projected wins: Boston 93½, NY 93½, Toronto 85½, TB 75½, Baltimore 65½.
Caesars Palace pw: NY 94, Boston 93½, Toronto 85, Tampa Bay 76½, Baltimore 65½.