|AL East preview: Yankees rotation built to contend|
|Updated 4/5/2012 4:23 PM ET|
1. New York Yankees
•Season storylines:Andy Pettitte coming out of retirement has added an unexpected wrinkle to a club that had boosted its rotation by acquiring Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda. Closer Mariano Rivera seems to be leaning toward retiring after the season and would like nothing better than to collect a fifth World Series ring.MORE: AL Central: Fielder, Cabrera's big bats to lift Tigers MORE: AL West: Pujols to challenge Rangers for No. 1 spot PHOTOS: Five pivotal MLB players to watch in 2012
•Seasonstat: 94. Games third baseman Alex Rodriguez (63) and shortstop Derek Jeter (31) missed last year. With A-Rod at 36 and Jeter at 37, the left side of the infield could be vulnerable to injuries. Rodriguez hasn't played in 140 games since 2007.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Pivotal player: Red Sox's
After making 192 major league appearances out of the bullpen and pitching exclusively
from the stretch, Daniel Bard needed until his next-to-last outing of spring
training to feel like a starter.
But how long will the Boston Red Sox wait for Bard to become an effective starter?
Bard's Grapefruit League numbers weren't pretty -- a 6.57 ERA and 16 walks in 24 2/3 innings -- but they're not necessarily what he was gauged on in his conversion to the rotation.
The Red Sox brass wanted to see him settle into a starter's routine and develop his repertoire from fastball-slider to a four-pitch assortment.
The first part of that equation began to fall into place at the end of March. The second remains a work in progress.
"I finally had the times down: when I needed to start getting ready, how many pitches to throw in the pregame bullpen," Bard said after his fifth appearance of the spring March 25. "Things like that are really getting comfortable for me. And sitting between innings, I didn't have a lot of multiple-innings stints out of the bullpen. I was really comfortable using that time to rest up and going out there the next inning."
The Bard experiment is a critical part of the Red Sox's plan for replenishing the rotation after losing John Lackey to Tommy John elbow surgery and failing to land free agent Roy Oswalt. Daisuke Matsuzaka is also rehabbing from elbow surgery and might be available in June.
Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are ensconced in the top three spots, and Bard was presumed to take over as the fourth starter, leaving one opening to be decided among rookie left-hander Felix Doubront, swingman Alfredo Aceves and veteran Aaron Cook.
Valentine on Sunday named him the fifth starter, with Doubront at No. 4 to avoid leading into Lester with another lefty.
Bard hopes the club remains committed to him in the rotation considering how far he has come, especially compared to the last time he started as a minor leaguer in 2007.
"I was a straight-up thrower," he said. "Not that I'm Greg Maddux now, but I think I have the ability to throw four pitches, grind through games.
"I didn't know anything about the mental game of pitching. I've matured a lot in that respect."
By Jorge L. Ortiz
•Season story lines: Entering his final season before free agency, is B.J. Upton finally ready to put it all together? Upton had a big September — five homers, 20 RBI, a 1.038 on-base-plus-slugging percentage — to help fuel the Rays' late push for a playoff spot, and he says he's in a good state of mind. Another product of the Rays' prolific farm system, left-hander Matt Moore, impressed with his sensational playoff performance in October. Will he live up to the hype?
•Season stat: 155. Bases the Rays stole last season, the fourth consecutive year they led the AL in that department.
3. Boston Red Sox
•Season storylines: New manager Bobby Valentine insists September's collapse will no longer be a topic of conversation. That might be wishful thinking. There is a lot of intrigue surrounding the team on the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, from Daniel Bard's conversion from reliever to starter to left fielder Carl Crawford's attempt to come back from a brutal first season in Boston.
•Season stat: 5.84. The Red Sox's ERA in September, a major reason for the team's 7-20 record in the final month. Questions about the pitching staff remain.
Rookie to watch: Rays' Matt Moore
Matt Moore swears he's trying hard, sweating even. It's just difficult
to discern much effort in the left-hander as he fluidly winds up and unleashes
fastballs in the high 90-mph range to stunned hitters.
Ask the Texas Rangers, who flailed away for seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball in the opener of last October's AL Division Series, as Moore led the Tampa Bay Rays to their only victory despite being the least experienced pitcher ever to start a postseason game.
Ask the New York Yankees, who struck out 11 times in five shutout innings in his only previous major league start before the playoffs, at Yankee Stadium no less.
Yes, Moore was working at it, though you might have been able to tell only by the results.
"I know what it looks like and I've heard that before," Moore says . "It's a gift I can't quite explain. I think it has to do with arm speed. I can create some arm speed that makes it look like my body is not having to work."
Moore's sensational debut came on the heels of a minor-league season in which he went a combined 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA at Class AA and AAA, holding hitters to a .184 batting average.
That performance and his uncommon poise for a 22-year-old make Moore a strong candidate to give the Rays back-to-back AL rookies of the year, after Jeremy Hellickson won the award in 2011.
Moore, whose repertoire includes a curveball and changeup he may throw in any count, has earned the fourth spot in a rotation that led the AL in ERA last season .
"His stuff is unbelievable," Hellickson says. " It doesn't look like he's using any effort at all."
By Jorge L. Ortiz in Port Charlotte, Fla.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
•Season story lines: The Blue Jays hope to make a run at the playoffs in baseball's first season with an additional wild card. They feature a dynamic lineup led by home run champ Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie. Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson, both acquired in mid-2011, are due for bounce-back seasons. But success might hinge on the starting rotation. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are entrenched, but the others are question marks.
•Seasonstat: 13.07. Strikeouts per nine innings Sergio Santos averaged last season with the Chicago White Sox. He takes over as the closer.
5. Baltimore Orioles
•Season story lines: The Orioles' search for pitching led them to Japan and Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada. It's a crucial season of development for young pitchers Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton. With Brian Roberts still sidelined by effects of a concussion, the best leadoff candidates are J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones, both of whom hit for power. Yet the team lacks a true cleanup hitter.
•Season stat: 5.31. Runs Baltimore's opponents averaged a game, by far the most in the AL last year.
|Posted 4/4/2012 11:29 PM ET|
|Updated 4/5/2012 4:23 PM ET|