Last year I thought three of the five best teams in baseball were in the AL East and that could be the case again this year. The Yankees and Red Sox have rearranged their rosters a bit but both still look like serious contenders. Tampa Bay's 2009 regression was expected but they did not lose any key players off their roster and are more likely to improve this year than get worse because of their youth. Meanwhile Baltimore is slowly pushing some pieces from a prospering farm system into the majors and is making progress. Toronto played better last year than their record indicates and even without Halladay they have a lot of talent as well.
1. New York Yankees 95-67
I am projecting the Yankees to slide back to the field a decent amount this season but still lead the division. Last year their top four starters each made over 30 starts and even though they added Javier Vazquez (a very durable pitcher) I just do not expect so few injuries in back to back years. The defense should be better than last year but some offensive regression from the older players seems likely. On paper this team may appear to be just as strong as last years, but I don't think they will get quite as many breaks this season and have to "settle" for 95 wins.
2. Boston Red Sox 93-69
There has been a lot of talk this off-season that the Red Sox have given up far too much offense in favor of defense. While they may not score quite as many runs as last season, this is still a potent offense, and now one of the better defenses in baseball. I also think they have the best pitching in the league if you factor in both starters and relievers. The difference between Boston and New York is always incredibly slim and ultimately come down to which team stays healthiest over the course of the season.
3. Tampa Bay Rays 89-73
The underdog group from Florida is once again a major threat to the powerhouse teams in their division. They got horrible seasons last year from B.J. Upton, Pat Burrel, Dioner Navarro and Gabe Gross but even with four of the spots in their lineup producing almost nothing they won 84 games. All of those slots should be better this year. Their pitching was healthy last season for the most part and if they can stay off the DL again this year, some improvement is likely from nearly their whole rotation. The bullpen was a bit of a mess at times last year but is fine overall and they have a lot of capable pitchers sitting in AAA who are ready if needed.
4. Toronto Blue Jays 78-84
Toronto is a very difficult team to figure out. They consistently under-perform their pythagorean W-L expectations and have used so many different starting pitchers the last few years that projecting their record is tricky. In another division I think they might even be contenders, particularly with Travis Snider seemingly ready to produce. But even with the strong lineup, not having Halladay on their staff makes it look very underwhelming. They have a lot of #3 and #4 starters but no top of the rotation players that can be counted on. With all of the big hitting lineups in their division, Toronto will struggle in the run prevention department.
5. Baltimore Orioles 75-87
The Orioles are moving in the right direction, and I think it starts to show in their record this year. The already solid lineup should get better as Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold build on their early success. Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman are young but also not far from breaking out and anchoring the rotation. Kevin Millwood, Brad Bergesen, Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara also give them some nice pitching depth and I expect them to drastically cut down on their runs allowed this season. The bullpen needs a lot of help but that can wait until they are ready to make a run at a division title, probably in 2012.