Who can knock off Sox, Yanks in AL East?

February, 25, 2011
2/25/11
4:03
PM ET
The American League East division is a beast. At one point in 2010, the top three teams in baseball were New York, Boston and Tampa. No other division in baseball can keep pace or boast that type of firepower.

This offseason, Boston made waves by signing and trading for big-time hitters and bullpen arms. In one fell swoop they became the pre-eminent favorites in the AL East and perhaps all of baseball.

The New York Yankees floundered around in the winter and lost out on Cliff Lee, prompting the Yankees' fan base to split among depression, denial and anger.

And despite spending over $200 million, guys such as Mark Teixeira and GM Brian Cashman refer to themselves as underdogs (tell that to Orioles fans) while all of this hoopla in Boston runs rampant.

So that now means that the AL East winner is already a foregone conclusion. It will be the Red Sox and they could very well win 100 games in the process. The Yankees will take second and probably win the wild card. No need to play the games. Just look at the rosters and move on.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez and Johnny Damon
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Rays brought in Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to help shore up an offense that lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena.
That is of course until you get to the "lowly" Tampa Rays who watched their star outfielder, Carl Crawford, defect to Boston. Wasn't this team supposed to be bad? They lost Crawford, Dan Wheeler, Rafael Soriano, Carlos Pena and traded Matt Garza. No way can they compete.

But in what was supposed to be the year that the Rays returned to insignificance, they have quietly (and cheaply) revamped their offense by adding Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Their pitching staff is fully stocked and loaded with high-impact arms and they boast one of the best managers in baseball as well as one of the smartest front offices.

Maybe it's time we stop trying so hard to overlook them.

Up in Toronto, (where lately fly balls and home runs are more abundant than hockey pucks) the mood is high after the organization brought John Farrell in to manage the team. The Jays, while not as well put together as Tampa, also boast some great players and have some young arms that should flourish under Farrell, the former Red Sox pitching coach.

But Toronto's calling card last year was what chicks dig the most -- long balls. The Jays' plate approach -- put the ball in the air -- helped carry Jose Bautista to a 54-home run season. Anyone want to take the over on 40 homers in 2011?

While the Blue Jays could cause some headaches for the Red Sox and Yankees, it's highly unlikely that enough stars will align to propel them to a division championship this year.

And how about the Orioles in Baltimore? Is there any reason to "Fear the Bird"?

Short answer: no. But that offense has been stacked up with some nice offensive pieces and Camden Yards is pretty favorable for home run hitters. The additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and J.J. Hardy will certainly help them score runs and Mark Reynolds may even churn out 30 homers this year (with 250 strikeouts). How many times will Clay Buchholz strike Reynolds out this year? Seven, eight times maybe? Reynolds is already 0-for-3 against him with three strikeouts.

The real problem for Baltimore is that pitching staff. Good luck keeping opponents to fewer than five runs per game when you are trotting Jeremy Guthrie to the mound as your ace. Sure he might give you 200 innings, but that’s about all you're getting unless he can continue to post sub-30 percent hit rates.

O's fans better hope that Brian Matusz can wear the crown as he's been anointed (much like Matt Wieters) but the team is built as a dichotomy -- offense for today and the pitching for tomorrow. It's doubtful that Baltimore will win 65 games in 2011.

So, can anyone knock off the Yankees or Red Sox? Probably not -- they are both fully loaded with deep war chests.

But don't sleep on Tampa just yet.

Darryl Johnston contributes to Fire Brand of the American League, a blog about the Boston Red Sox. You can follow him on Twitter.

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