2.) Dice K
I think we can all agree Toronto is #4 and Baltimore is #5. But what I’m really interested in are the 3 contenders. Toronto could possibly be higher, they led the league in fewest Runs Allowed (610) last year. But with the very quiet off season they’ve had and the losses of Burnett, Marcum and McGowan, its hard to argue for them being able to duplicate last year’s performance.
The Yanks have 3 guys with top of the rotation stuff (CC, AJ, Joba) and Wang might be the best 4th option in Baseball. I think Andy will be solid, people seem to forget that there were questions about him holding up through the season going into ST last year, because he wasn’t able to keep up with his off season conditioning program due to the Clemens/Congress distractions. The Yanks do have some questions on health, but no more than anyone else does. AJ Bunett’s fragility has been overstated (avg 183 IP over last 4 years ) and Wang’s injury wasn’t even arm related. They also have more depth to deal with injuries this year, with last year’s opening day #4 (Hughes) and #5 (Kennedy) in AAA.
The Red Sox may still have the best pitcher of the 3 teams in Beckett, but he was shut down for a month late last year with an injury that the Sox were (and still are) very evasive about. It makes you wonder about the shoulder that the Sox were so worried about when they saw his medicals after they traded for him in November 05. The one Gammons said was described to him as “chopmeat” by a Red Sox exec, and they demanded (and received) extra compensation for in reliever Guillermo Mota. But until he visits Dr Andrews, you still have to assume he’ll be great. Dice-K is another story, he can’t keep walking 5.06/9IP and succeed in MLB. He appears to be falling into the same pattern that has plagued other Japanese imports like Hideo Nomo, becoming increasingly bat shy and trying to get outs with pitches outside the zone. He was ‘a Houdini act’ last year, but his luck won’t last forever. Lester is terrific and you expect good things from him, but after that it’s a mess. Who knows what Wakefield gives you anymore and I have no idea what they were thinking with Penny. He was horrendous last year (6-9 6.27 ERA) with LA and has a bad shoulder which hasn’t been operated on yet. They’re going to have trouble every 4th and 5th day, and their bullpen is still thin in the middle. Smoltz is a wild card, but at age 42 and coming off shoulder surgery, it’s hard to count on him. Smoltz may very well be used out of the bullpen if needed. Their off season moves (including Saito) appear to be intended to buy time for Bucholtz, Bowden, Masterson, Bard and others to develop. And they’ll need them to, especially if they suffer any injuries to the top 3.
Tampa figures to be outstanding top to bottom, and Price may very well be the best pitcher on the staff. But given that it will be his first full season in the bigs, its tough to expect him to dominate right away. Kazmir is very good and if can learn to economize his pitches he can get even better. But the elbow injury from last April bears watching. Shields is the most complete pitcher they have, Garza can be as good (or bad) as his maturity allows him to be. The 1-2 punch of Price/Garza could eventually be as good as there is in the game, but that figures to be a few years down the road for both of them. Sonnanstine is a nice #5, and they have good options in AAA backing him up. The Rays enjoyed exceptional health from their starting 5 last year, which is difficult to repeat. Given how young many of their starters are, their health history is still somewhat incomplete. Tampa will pitch well and catch the ball, the question will become whether they can score enough runs to keep up with the Yanks and Red Sox.
I would rank them as follows
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