Typically, we save the prognosticating for people who know better. Like Nostradamus or that Seacrest fellow. But as the beginning of a new baseball season represents a clean slate, we feel it our responsibility to help dirty up that slate with our own unsubstantiated and quite frankly drug-induced thoughts on how the A.L. East might shake down this season. So here we go.
1. The Boston Red Sox
Homerism? You bet your sweet ass! But with their low-key maneuvers over the off-season, the Sox will be operating under far less pressure than their brothers-in-arms in the Bronx. And the fact that last year’s team, ragtag and beat-up as it was, clawed its way to within one game of the World Series bodes well for an ’09 team that can stay healthy.
Why: Their off-season moves might not have been as splashy as New York’s, but clever folks who talk loudly in restaurants can see that the low-risk, potential high reward signings of the likes of Brad Penny and John Smoltz neatly complement existing strengths. And if pitching is truly the key to winning the AL East, I’d take Professors Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Penny and Wakey–not to mention our bullpen–seven days a week and twice on Sunday.
The “ifs”: Of course, all that pitching won’t matter if we can’t push a couple runs across each game. Key to our success will be David Ortiz reverting to the ball-jacking, ninth-inning-parade-inducing motherflipper he was in the 2004-2007 salad days. With whispers of steroids and aging and how he just can’t cut it without Manny’s bat close-by, it’s safe to bet the guy’s aiming for a monster season to prove us all wrong. Can he do it? Are you gonna tell him he can’t? A healthy J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell could certainly make difference, but it’s almost impossible to count on them for an entire season. Unfortunately, the two most able-bodied replacements for these gents, Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay, come with their own medical uncertainties. Also, after last year’s scuffling and off-season contract negotiations that went down about as awkwardly as a first date boob grab, Jason Varitek’s gonna need to be a little less Chinese Democracy and a little more Appetite for Destruction to justify that C on his chest in my book. Watching him flail away at the plate almost put me in an early grave during the 2008 post-season, and as much as his teammates are saying all the right things about how thrilled they are to have him back, I hate to see such a glaring hole in the line-up.
The Sure Things: Papelbon will be Papelbon, which means the legend of his awesome will evolve to the point that he should be fitted for some of those rasslin’ pants with “Thump” written across the ass like the Junkyard Dog used to wear. Dustin Pedroia will continue to talk trash and tear it up with the bat. Youk will invoke the holy trinity of timely hitting, stellar fielding and terrifying facial hair to f@#k his enemies’ shit up. And don’t let his new, clean-shaven appearance fool you; Youk’s beard is bigger than all of us. If it wants to come back, it will, regardless of what Youk himself wants. Something else to be certain of: I won’t make it through Jim Rice Appreciation Night without crying. And neither will you.
Not-So-Bold Predictions: Pedroia will earn back-to-back MVPs. Lester will be elected Mayor of Quincy. Rocco Baldelli will have 37 blogs dedicated to him by the All-Star Break and at least 15 commercial endorsement deals. Josh Beckett, never one to rest on his impressive laurels (two World Series titles, Leeann Tweeden), is due for a monster season after health woes heralded a surprisingly un-Beckett-like showing in 2008 (most important figures to remember: Josh’s 2007 ALCS ERA: 1.93; Josh’s 2008 ALCS ERA: 9.64). And even though he’s no longer with the team, don’t discount the possibility of Julian Tavarez showing up pantsless in the locker room.
The Bold Prediction: Julio Lugo is going to have THE season. The type of season on which future Sox shortstops will be judged. “Lugo would have had that!” will be a familiar refrain throughout the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons. Hell, even in 2013, when robot players are the norm, we’ll look back fondly on Lugo’s 2009 exploits. Also, Amalie Benjamin will finally take me up on my standing offer of dinner at the Union Oyster House, followed by six hours of snogging behind the the IHOP in Brighton.
2. The New York Yankees
There’s a part of me that would love to see the bloated zeppelin of the 2009 Yanks crash and burn in its new billion dollar stadium. But the fact is that much talent can’t go south all at once. It’s the Justice League of America rule: If you get past Superman, you still have to deal with Batman. If you get past Batman, you still have to deal with Wonder Woman (aka Jorge Posada). In other words, you have to work your way through a lot of toughness before you can kick around the likes of Captain Waffles and Caibo, the Puerto Rican Snowman. Yes, like every team, they have their questions: A-Rod could crumble under the weight of A-Roid Gate, or he could suck it up, keep focused, and tear ass this season. Burnett and Sabathia could be neck-in-neck for the Cy Young, or bunkmates in Mercy Hospital’s arm recovery ward. But one thing is certain: Teixeira is going to beat the paste out of the ball. Still, with all the new faces and egos and controversies that will be forced to gel through the course of the season, I don’t see the Yanks taking the East. But that may be wishful thinking and/or wishful boozing.
3. The Tampa Bay Rays
No matter how much we may want them to pull a Tom Arnold and simply fade away from the national consciousness, the Rays aren’t going anywhere. They’re young, tough and, having tasted life in the penthouse, they’re not bloody likely to be keen on heading back to the trailer park. I still think, at least on paper, that the Sox have stronger pitching and the Yankees have an offense that can go all Chuck Norris on just about anyone. But one discounts the reigning AL East champs at their peril.
4. The Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve always liked Cito Gaston for a couple reasons. One, he looks kinda like Sweet Pea Atkinson from my favorite band, Was (Not Was). Second, he’s the consummate professional when it comes to managing his baseball team. Besides Gaston’s wizardry, there are two things about the Jays that should concern us: They’ve always played us tough–since 2005, we hold a 32-41 record against them–and they have absolutely nothing to lose. Like the 2008 Rays, no one’s expecting much of ‘em, so there’s the element of surprise thing. Of course, unlike the 2008 Rays, the Jays aren’t exactly bursting with raw talent. But they’ve still got Doc Halladay. And now, Kevin Millar! And, lest we forget, the league’s coolest beer vendor:
5. The Baltimore Orioles
On May 16, 2009, the entire Orioles team will be teleported to the sixth dimension by Galactus, and forced to participate in the Battle of the Third-Rate Interplanetary Franchises. Luckily, no one in Baltimore will notice until late August.