Both leagues feature beasts of the East • Latino Sports


Both leagues feature beasts of the East


As the baseball calendar inches toward St. Patrick’s Day, most experts suggest that the balance of power has shifted to the east in both leagues.

A country lawyer could argue a good case for any of the five teams in the American League East while keeping a wary eye on the NL East, home of the two best teams in the majors.

After a winter of trades and signings, the Toronto Blue Jays seem determined to return to the World Series. But they’ll have to overcome the over-achieving Orioles, reconstructed Red Sox, pitching-rich Rays, and dollar-rich Yankees.

The Jays raped the Miami Marlins during the winter, acquiring the right-left tandem of Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle plus switch-hitting speedster Jose Reyes, and plied ageless knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and his National League Cy Young Award from the hapless Mets. Toronto also took a chance on Melky Cabrera, the 2012 All-Star Game MVP and would-be NL batting king (he declined the title in the wake of a positive drug test).

As for the Yankees, defending the AL East title is hardly likely following injuries to Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, the Alex Rodriguez hip surgery, and the late spring training starts of  Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and CC Sabathia. The aging ballclub also lost 155 home runs when Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Russell Martin opted for greener free agent pastures.

Boston will be better because Bobby Valentine was bounced, Mike Napoli was added, and Jacoby Ellsbury is playing out his contract. But David Ortiz has heel problems that could put a serious dent (not Bucky) in an offense that lost Adrian Gonzalez from last year’s roster. The Law of Averages, coupled with the trade of Josh Beckett, suggests the pitching has to be better.

Buck Showalter made Baltimore into a winning team again but the betting here is that the O’s don’t come so close to the top (one-game deficit) again. The Birds will only win by outscoring the opposition, since their pitching doesn’t suggest the second coming of Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, and Dave McNally.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, does bank heavily on holding opposing hitters down. Defending Cy Young Award winner David Price leads a starting staff that lost James Shields, traded for slugging rookie outfielder Wil Meyers, while Evan Longoria anchors an offense that seems certain to struggle.

There will be plenty of pop in the National League East, where both the Braves and Nationals could crush opponents this summer.

Nobody won 100 games in 2012 but Washington came close, finishing four games ahead of the Atlanta. Both teams seem even stronger now.

Determined that his last season will produce his second world title, Nationals manager Davey Johnson should benefit from an attack anchored by Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Bryan Harper, and Adam LaRoche, the team’s top slugger last season. Adding fleet centerfielder Denard Span, acquired from Minnesota, helps the top of the lineup.

But pitching will be the key now that Stephen Strasburg is no more innings limits and Rafael Soriano has been signed to bolster the back of the bullpen. The Nats also have Gio Gonzalez, a lefty who won 21 last year, and fellow starters Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren. Bespectacled Tyler Clippard, last year’s closer, returns to a set-up role, where he  is more effective.

Although Atlanta lost its two best hitters in Chipper Jones (retired) and Martin Prado (traded), the Braves believe they are no longer vulnerable to lefthanded pitching. Righthanded sluggers B.J. Upton (signed) and Justin Upton (acquired from Arizona) get lineup help from lefties Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, not to mention comeback candidates Dan Uggla and Brian McCann. If all six finish with 30 homers, that would be a major-league record.

The Braves have baseball’s best bullpen, with Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters at the front and Craig Kimbrel at the end, and a solid rotation that features Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, and Julio Teheran.

Like the Yankees, the Phillies are aging at numerous positions. They still have a terrific troika in their rotation but Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are no longer locks to succeed every time out. Cole Hamels, however, could be the league’s best lefty. The Phils need Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to stay healthy and Ben Revere to reach base ahead of them. But the jury remains out on the wisdom of adding greybeards Michael Young and Delmon Young, both stronger on offense than defense.

One thing is certain in the NL East: the Mets and Marlins will battle for the basement. The former has David Wright, Ike Davis, and a fragile Johan Santana, while the Fish have little beyond Giancarlo Stanton and a new ballpark.

Oh, yeah: the Mets also have an All-Star Game to host in July.

Dan D. Lines: Nice to see Ralph Garr (1974 NL batting champ), Fred McGriff, and Brian Jordan in uniform with the Braves in Tampa Saturday . . . SUITS star Gabriel Macht, his brother Ari, and his father Stephen are all Yankees fans . . . Kissimmee and Fort Myers are waging a tug-of-the-war for the Nationals, who are looking to leave Space Coast Stadium in isolated Viera . . . A kid named Evan Gattis, a catcher who can play the outfield, is forcing his way onto the Atlanta roster with an explosive bat . . . Mariano Rivera plans a November trip to Israel after the New York Board of Rabbis named him its Man of the Year because of his charitable work . . . In a quick of horrendous scheduling, both the Yankees and Mets open the season at home April 1 with 1:00 starts. Since the Yanks host the Red Sox, do the Mets seriously think anyone will come to their game against San Diego?


About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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