Today on SportsCenter Michael Wilbon and Jon Barry (?) hosted a mocking segment about whether the Red Sox had reason to panic after starting the season zero and three. It was right at the top of the show. It lasted just a couple of minutes. I had just eaten a great deal of ice cream and peach cobbler. I wanted to un-eat it.
If any team besides the Yankees and Red Sox starts zero and three, that segment does not happen. Welcome to the AL East, where baseball just matters more. The microscope, the East Coast bias, the New York Media. All that stuff. On its surface, West Coast baseball fans hate it. We are diminished by it. But at the same time, we need it. It defines our “otherness” and makes Barry Zito Barry Zito and gives us the chip we so cheerfully lug on our collective shoulder.
Another thing: AL East baseball is really exciting. This may seem like a trite and obvious statement, because everybody’s always writing about how the AL East is the best division in baseball, but best does not always mean most entertaining. The Yankees have a lineup that crushes the souls of NL West fans. So do the Sox. So do the Rays. So do the Blue Jays. Hell, so do even the Orioles.
Bright lights. Big bats. Let’s get into it.
I think the teams will finish in this order:
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles
I realize everybody has the Sox winning the World Series and that they have Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez but I have a hard time picking against the Yankees. For one, the Yankees continue to be the Yankees. For all the shiny pieces playing in Boston now, there are comfortable and less shiny ones in New York. As long as the Rivera/Posada/Jeter trifecta exists I don’t think I can expect the Yankees to be anything but great. And they haven’t been. Even at their Giambi-bloated worst.
The Red Sox are loaded and not at all in panic mode. The Rays are a perpetual motion machine – fascinating and far too mystifying to write about with any brevity. These are not surprises. The top of this division is like a rock paper scissors game. Only geniuses and idiots think they have it figured out.
But the bottom is nothing like that. The Blue Jays are a home run-bashing sabermetric dream. The Orioles are a ragged band of leftovers and craftsmen and yesterday’s hottest prospects today. The division may not be competitive all the way through, but the balance of entertainment value is evenly divided. I care as much about whether Jose Bautista repeats himself and whether Buck Showalter continues to do be far more awesome than he ever was on ESPN as I do about who wins the games. It may be that the Jays and Orioles benefit from the exposure and challenge that comes with playing 50 games a year against the big three (and it is a big three now, at least qualitatively). But I appreciate them for making the most of that opportunity.
I eager await the travails of Brandon Morrow, the frightening xenophobia of Luke Scott, and yes, greatness, no shame in saying it, of the Yanks, Sox, and Rays this year. If there wasn’t an AL East, baseball wouldn’t be what it is today. In other words, let’s appreciate it.