The AL East has been great to baseball fans in the state of Kentucky and lousy to everyone else. Louisville has won 3 straight division titles, although the Blue Devils from Charlotte put together a nice run at the Legends and managed to snag a wild-card spot, advancing to the 2nd round. What does season 4 hold for this division?
Louisville has been one of the best offensive teams three straight seasons and I don't see much changing. 2B Bernard Young is gone, but they still have plenty of firepower, led by DH Ernest Montgomery. LF Yank Lohse came over from Boise (Vancouver from 2 city changes ago) in season 3 and had by far the best season of his career, becoming an RBI threat as well as providing some speed. Cy Hughes is a good two-way catcher and 1B Ismael Polanco had a season's worth of numbers in less than 100 games- expect big things from him as he probably gets a full-time spot.
Boston checks in next. They have plenty of heavy hitters in the likes of LF Bob Koplove, 1B Wilton Petrick, and sophomore 3B Julian Nichols. CF Steven Leonard and 2B Justin Hernandez need to set the table for the big boppers in the middle.
New York has seen quite a bit of change in the offseason. Bernie Soriano and Vladimir Rodriguez find themselves shipped out of town, but the New York squad welcomes SS Orlando Franco from Buffalo (deal pending). He'll join a middle of the order also containing RF Pete Duvall and 3B Melvin Bailey. CF R.J. Figureoa can score runs, but needs to cut down on his strikeouts.
I'm unsure what to expect from Charlotte this season. They are expecting a healthy IF/DH Moose Coleman this season, which would help a lot. CF Justin Hernandez is a stolen base artist par excellence; if 1B Lyle Barber and SS Alex Li have something left (both had big dropoffs last season with their former teams), this could be a viable offense. They really are relying on these three guys, none of whom produced last season and 3B Greg Whitaker, who has big potential but severely underachieved last season.
We start again in Louisville. They have an ace in Carlton Fleming, but there is also good depth behind him in Lance Stevens and Danny Little. Hipolito Maradona may never be as good as touted in the minors, but he's still got the stuff to be a solid starter, which is all Louisville needs right now. This rotation only gets deeper when Albert Herzog returns from injury. Tom Beltran is pretty solid in the closer's role; they could use a quality setup guy.
New York brought in 37-year-old Max Jacquez to lead the staff. He's got quality youngsters in Jason Sprague and Kenneth Graces. Perry Herman is solid in the #4 spot but is capable of doing more- he's got a lot of talent. Eduardo Moya will close- he was just OK last season. Setup man Wesley Cora was dealt to Buffalo, so the setup position will be given to talented but unproven rookie Dan Daley and sophomore Freddie Hampton.
Charlotte was able to get a playoff position based mostly on their pitching. Clarence Forsch and Tony Howell pitched better than their records; their ERAs were both right around 3.50. Norm Edwards should get a starter's spot this season- he's got good potential. Dennys Fox and Ivan Quinn may be hard-pressed to repeat what they did last season, but they both provide depth. Vic Trevino gave up a few too many runs in the closer's role; Andres Rivera was very good setting him up.
Boston may struggle, as Fenway is not considered to be a pitcher-friendly park. On the upside, they still have Daryl Cashman, who turned in his best season last year. Sadie Witt and Damion Mays need to help Cashman out more. Russell Watson is signed for a total of $10.4 million for the next two seasons- this doesn't appear to be a good investment right now. Davey Guzman saw his ERA spike to over 6 last season- this will not cut it in Boston. Billy Ray Ennis and Lefty Hahn are solid in setup.
1. The Legends have already played tic-tac-toe by scoring three in a row. Make it 4 straight division titles.
2. The AL wild card race could be about as wide open as the NL for once. Any one of the other three teams could find themselves in the thick of the race. If you told me that one of them would make it and made me pick which one, I'd say New York even though it remains to be seen how all the new pieces fit together.
3. I see Charlotte taking a step back. I think they did it last season mostly with smoke and mirrors, and that magic trick rarely works two seasons in a row.
4. Expect a whole lot of 11-9 and 13-12 games up in Boston, and not just because of the park.
5. Breakout star: Ismael Polanco.
6. Big-time name most likely to change addresses: don't really see one. I think just about everyone will stay in it and the team I like the least, Boston, has a fairly young core. I'd say either a guy like Barber or Li if Charlotte falls out quickly or if it's Boston, it may not be a big name like, say, Cashman or Koplove, but more likely a guy like Hahn.