In European football competitions, when the draw is made for the groups for same, there is invariably a group that's much harder in terms of standard than the others. This often gets dubbed 'the group of death'. Welcome to the 2009 AL East, MLB's own 'group of death'.
With the exception of the pathetic Orioles, the AL East boasts four of the top tier of Major League Baseball clubs. Any of these teams would waltz through the Al Central or give LA a real pennant chase in the West.
Instead they have to battle it out together for the East.
Poor, sorry, sad Baltimore. They have to play Tampa, Boston, NY and Toronto 19 times each! Goodness. Could we be looking at a 100 loss season for the Orioles? It isn't beyond belief. Meanwhile, of the big four, Toronto are a decent side however they are probably not equipped to take on the big three for the entire season. They might play the role of very dangerous spoiler as September approaches.
What to make of those Yankees? Initial indications are not good, if you are a fan of the Bronx Bombers. Sabathia is out of shape (even for him) and getting shelled and A-Fraud is hurt. Whatever about those obvious signs of distress, what is more intriguing is how this club will hold up over the long course of the summer. When exactly will AJ Burnett's arm fall off? How will the A-Fraud steroids scandal affect the clubhouse atmosphere? What happens when one or two players go down and the Yankees have to turn to their almost barren farm system? What about Giradi? He has not proved as yet he can handle managing a club in the pressure cooker that is the New York media circus.
Tampa? Two words. Sophomore slump. Opposition coaches will not be caught be surprise in 2009. Scouting reports will be adjusted, preparations will be more detailed, and baseball will be ready for the 2009 Devil Rays. The Sophomore Slump is not just an idle threat, it actually happens, frequently too, and the Rays are headed for one in 2009. Nothing too dramatic. Just a second place finish to the most well rounded, deepest and overall most talented squad in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox.
Starting pitching? Superb, with Brad Penny and, more importantly, John Smoltz waiting in the wings. Not to mention Clay Bulletholes. Relief? This could be the strongest, deepest bullpen in Theo Epstein's rein. A healthy Saito backing up Papelbon, Okajimi, Delcarmen and Masterson? Lineup? Ellsbury, Pedroia and Youkilis are now the backbone of this team, three gifted young players who are set to tear it up in '09, ably assisted by the more veteran likes of Ortiz, Drew, Lowell and others.
No doubt it will be a tough, tight season in this 'group of death', however the Red Sox have all the answers to all the toughest questions, pitching in spades and depth at all levels of the farm in case of emergency (wait until you see Daniel Bard pitch in September, wow).
Observe closely, Yankee fans, this is what's called a 'pitching prospect', your farm doesn't have any but this is what one looks like - Daniel Bard
- New York