I'm going to take a page out of The Red Reporter's playbook and take some quick looks around the AL East to see how our competition stacks up. Or, rather, how we stack up to the competition. Or both.
We'll start with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, perennial basement-dwellers that climbed to fourth place thanks to the injuries and ineptitude of the Blue Jays in 2004.
With Rocco Baldelli out of action for a while, it looks like Tigers castoff Alex Sanchez will be starting in center field for Tampa Bay, a hell of a big downgrade on the earlier expected outfield of Aubrey Huff in left, Carl Crawford in center and the now-retired Danny Bautista in right. It now appears that Huff will play right and Crawford remains in left field.
Lineup-wise, the Rays are pretty weak. Crawford is developing into a disruptive if still-flawed leadoff hitter, and Sanchez can get on base with singles and make things happen in the running game too. But Huff is the only hitter they have with any real power. The infield looks like Alex Gonzalez at third, Julio Lugo at short for now, Jorge Cantu (possibly could be their second-best hitter this season) at second in place of the also-retired Robbie Alomar, and Travis Lee at first, with Toby Hall catching and Josh Phelps as the DH. Phelps is a former BP coverboy and all-around disappointment.
Their rotation features youngsters Dewon Brazleton and Scott Kazmir, along with basketball player Mark Hendrickson and journeymen Rob Bell and Hideo Nomo rounding it out. If Nomo can get back on track, he will be a nice addition, but he was hideous last season.
Brazleton and Kazmir will continue to take their lumps this season, but Kazmir at least should wind up a cog in the rotation for years to come. Hendrickson and Bell are both pretty decent, but would need a better offense behind them to do a whole lot. They won't lose the games outright, but they aren't going to get a lot of help either.
The bullpen is led by closer Danys Baez, Jesus Colome and Lance Carter, with Casey Fossum in the mix along with Seth McClung. Lou Piniella still has to settle on a couple of bullpen additions, but none of the candidates are anything special.
This team will be hard-pressed to repeat their fourth-place finish from a year ago, with Toronto getting key players healthy and the Rays missing Baldelli. They aren't near as horrible as they have been before, though. The Devil Rays could maybe make a little noise in the AL Central, but perennial AL Central champions Minnesota would be a distant third in the East. I have to pick the Rays fifth, but it'll be a better fifth than usual.
My Pick: 5th
Street & Smith's: 5th
Sporting News: 5th
Sports Illustrated: 5th
(For more on the Devil Rays, visit our colleagues at DRays Bay)