It's early but this season has, at least early on, bucked a lot of preseason forecasts. The Red Sox look surprisingly terrible and the Cleveland Indians are scorching the league. Which trends are likely to evaporate and which ones will probably continue throughout this season and beyond? Let's take a look:
The Tampa Bay Ray's Poor Start
Before the season, the Tampa Bay Rays were a trendy pick to exceed expectations and perhaps make the playoffs in a loaded American League East. But now they look dead in the water: Manny Ramirez had a drug issue and retired and Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria are injured. So, what gives? In the Ray's case, this early season trend is probably indicative of what their 2011 will look like: the team's pitching will get back on track but the organization lacks the hitters necessary to come close to late season contention. At this point, thirty-seven year old Johnny Damon is their second best hitter and that is not a recipe for success.
However, make no mistake: Ray's ownership and management knew a retooling season was likely in the cards and prepared well. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon were stopgap "let's see" gambles but their failure is not an endemic problem. Long-term, the Rays have the brightest three to five year horizon of any American League East team: they should have the best pitching corps in the AL by next season with the addition of left-handed super prospect Matt Moore and prospect hitters outfielder Desmond Jennings, 2B Hak Ju Lee (a defensive phenomenon and potential all star leadoff man who came from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade), and catcher Justin O'Connor should arrive to form the core of a strong, young, and productive lineup for years to come.
The Red Sox's Strange Early Season
The Boston Red Sox were picked by many to win the 2011 World Series but weak hitting and horrific pitching have doomed them to a terrible early season start. But will the ship right itself quickly. Yes, but there are serious issues that are not going away and could hurt Boston's attempts to contend over the next few seasons. The hitting will be phenomenal and should fix quickly but the team's pitching is another story. Daisuke Matsuzaka has pitched terribly since 2008 and is locked into twenty million more dollars through next season. John Lackey and Josh Beckett's contracts look even worse: Lackey looks finished and Beckett is never healthy but both are signed for a combined thirty-five million dollars through 2014. How will the Sox look to improve and contend with those onerous-and likely untradeable (though they can always try the Angels)-on the books for the next four seasons. It's hard to say: top pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo is the only frontline starter in the organizational pipeline. The Red Sox may need to get creative but this is one of the most creative organizations in the majors so it's a strong bet that they will figure something out.
The Angels Scorching Start
Absorbing the Vernon Wells deal is still a long term mistake but the Angels still look like a contender for the next few seasons. Dan Haren appears rejuvenated (unsurprising considering his strong peripherals last year and Arizona's abysmal team defense) and the Angels may have the strongest pitching corps one through five in the majors. Plus, the team has the best defense in baseball as well: a Wells, Bourjos, and Hunter outfield is where doubles and triples go to die and most of the team's infielders are plus defenders as well. The lineup may not have the power to contend late in the fall but it could surprise since Wells, Hunter, Morales, and Kendrick all have power. Plus, uber-prospect Mike Trout is on the way.
That's today's look at some of the early trends in the 2011 baseball season. Of course there are many more so check back soon to take a look at our assessment of the other top trends in baseball. Stay tuned, whatever happens it's a long season.
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