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MLB Fan Take: Breaking Down the AL East

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The AL East is like this: every member of the division is a playoff caliber team, well except for the Orioles. Over the past few years, the Rays have shown that you can overpower the Red Sox and the Yankees without a financial surplus. The Toronto Blue Jays also look to join the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees in contention this year. This will be an intriguing division and who knows how it will play out.

1. Tampa Bay Rays (projected record: 97-65)

To be honest, I think the Rays are the best team in baseball. The offense is a fairly underrated considering the hype the pitching is getting. Jose Molina, is the starting catcher, and he is a guy that should put up at least league average numbers for the position. Plus Molina is a big upgrade on the defensive side of the ball. The addition of Carlos Pena at first base gives them another big time power threat who can get on base and play decent defense. Ben Zobrist and Reid Brignac should be the starting middle infielders. Zobrist is a catalyst and i expect another outstanding year from him. Evan Longoria, a popular MVP pick, starts at the hot corner. Longoria will anchor the offense, and barring injury, should be among the best hitters in the majors.

The Rays have 3 all-star caliber players manning the outfield in Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and BJ Upton. Jennings is a star in the making and could be a 20-40 player as early as this season. At DH, Luke Scott gives the Rays another power option. The offense is well above average, but the pitching is what makes this team so great. The staff is led by David Price, my pick for CY Young in 2012. James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson, both starters with no. 2 upside, slot in at no. 2 and 3. Matt Moore will likely be the 4th starter. Moore has electrifying stuff and should start the year in the Rays rotation. He has number 1 starter upside. The 5th spot will go to Jeff Niemann, while Wade Davis will end up in the bullpen. The fact that 4 of these guys can perform as number 1 or 2 starters, makes the Rays possibly one of the most exciting teams of 2012.

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Bottom Line: The Rays are a solid team all around, and appear bound to return to the postseason.

2. New York Yankees (projected record: 95-67)

The Yankees seem to be an easy pick to return to the postseason in 2012. The offense is getting up there in age, but they still are among the major's best lineups. Russell Martin will provide offense from the catching position and Mark Teixeira should be his usual self at 1b. Robinson Cano could be the best bat on the team, and should contend for the MVP. Jeter and A-rod are each on the wrong side of 35, but still should be productive enough to be worth a lineup spot.

The outfield is led by Curtis Granderson in center with Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner in the corner spots. The bullpen is deep and could be the best in the American League. Mariano Rivera, in what could be his final season, should be his usual self. David Robertson and Rafael Soriano each have closer potential, but are relegated to set up duty. After adding Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, the rotation should be much improved from 2011.

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Bottom Line: Whether it's through the division or the wild card spot, the Yankees will likely be playing under the lights of October in 2012.

3. Boston Red Sox (projected record: 89-71)

As good as the Red Sox are, they just aren't in the same class as the Yankees and Rays. The Sox have plenty of holes and question marks that could make or break their 2012. Is Nick Punto/Mike Aviles the answer at short? Will Carl Crawford rebound? What will happen with the 4th and 5th starter spots? These questions may hinder the Red Sox's chances in 2012. The Sox will still return the powerful core that nearly led them to a playoff appearance in 2011. I expect the Red Sox to have one of the best offenses in the majors. The overall pitching should be decent, the problem being the lack of rotational depth.

Bottom Line: With the new wild card in place for 2012, the Red Sox should be a strong competitor for one of the spots.

4. Toronto Blue Jays (projected record: 86-76)

If the added wild card helps one team in particular, it's the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are a young, potential-ladden team that should be a contender for years to come. The Blue Jays may make the playoffs as early as this season, but the toughness of the AL East makes that possibility a little far-fetched. Either way, look for Toronto to be a contender year in and year out within the next couple years. The Jays have a very solid offense led by Jose Bautista. Youngsters Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and Yunel Escobar each provide potential all-star talent to support Bautista. Offense isn't really a problem for the Jays. The issue that the Jays will likely have to compete this season, is the lack of rotation strength.

They have Rickey Romero and Brandon Morrow at the top, both of whom profile as no. 2 starters. But after that, it's rather weak. Henderson Alvarez could be decent, but we havent seen much of him. Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan are nothing special. The bullpen is much improved though. They have plenty of arms in the 'pen such as Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, and Jason Frasor.

Bottom Line: The Jays should be a 85-90 win team this season, but I don't think they will be a legitimate threat to the big three until 2013 or 2014.

5. Baltimore Orioles (projected record: 63-99)

Unfortunately for the Orioles, they really have no chance in 2012 and likely anytime in the next 5 years. The Orioles offense is fairly solid, but the pitching is just horrendous. When your opening day starter is Tommy Hunter, you know you have an issue. Jake Arrieta, Zack Britton, and Brian Matusz each have potential, but they all have their flaws. If I am the Orioles, im looking at this year as a developmental year for the pitching staff.

Bottom Line: Expect another 5th place finish for the Orioles in 2012.

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- Justin (@Justinmillar1)

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