The American League East has long been baseball’s best division; how often have we heard that the Baltimore Orioles would probably be better if they weren’t in that division? However in 2013 it might end up being baseball’s most perplexing division, as the landscape has changed so much in such a short span of time. Going into Spring Training not many people were giving the O’s much of a shot, which is about par for the course. However I would submit that at this point there can’t be much doubt that the Orioles have as good a shot as anyone…if not better than some.
The New York Yankees suffered another huge blow yesterday when they found out that first baseman Mark Teixeira would be out of commission until at least mid-May. That puts him on course to return around the same time as centerfielder Curtis Granderson, who broke his wrist during the first week of Grapefruit League play. Ironically, GM Brain Cashman addressed the media yesterday from a wheelchair after suffering a fractured ankle in a sky diving accident. (On a side note, best wishes to Cashman for a full recovery; being in a sky diving accident is not anything to laugh at.) Before losing Granderson and now Teixeira, New York was already looking at missing 112 home runs from last year’s production with Alex Rodriguez being out and as a result of several key free agent departures.
New York is a team that has always seemed to try as hard as they could to not see past the tips of their noses. I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing given that they’ve played at a high level and won championships for a long span of time. They’ve also had pretty good luck with injuries over the years, while teams such as the Orioles haven’t. However when I say that they’ve never looked past the tips of their noses I mean that their contingency plan for people going down was always to buy someone. On the other hand, the Orioles have stockpiled organizational depth such as the likes of Steve Pearce, Conor Jackson, Ryan Flaherty, etc. Many of these guys are getting meaningful reps in Spring Training, which would serve the Orioles well come the regular season if someone goes down and someone else has to step in.
Don’t get me wrong, fans should not anoint the Orioles or anyone else at this point or at all (until perhaps September). These are still the New York Yankees, and somehow they always seem to find a way to at least keep their heads above water. Their pitching is still pretty tough, and I would submit that C.C. Sabathia has one of the best sliders in the game. However the players that NY is missing will make it really tough for them to compete. I recall in 2010 when the O’s lost four or five players (namely Brian Roberts) in the first week of the season, and ended up starting 2-16. I think that the current NY Yankee team is probably a bit more skilled than that Orioles team, however my point is that injuries can cripple a team if they happen so close in succession.
Brian Cashman pretty much said that the only personnel moves the team could hope to make were low level moves. Furthermore, if you’re the Yankees what kind of trade pieces would you have to offer? For their sake, their captain Derek Jeter should be ready to go in the regular season. However Jeter’s never been a power guy, and most of their power guys are out injured right now. Again, you never count the NY Yankees out of anything, because they’re still the NY Yankees. Low level prospects can suddenly turn into gameday hero’s in a heartbeat. However we’d be remiss if at this point we didn’t make mention of the fact that they appear poised to struggle out of the gate.
The Orioles need to come out of the gate at a full sprint. They only have one series against New York in the first month-and-a-half, however let’s keep in mind that the O’s and New York’s pennant race came down to the final few games last year. Granted the Yankees are the defending champions in that sense, so anyone that’s going to go out and win the AL East this year has to go out and get that pennant from them. However let’s put it this way; it’s been said that you can’t win a pennant in April. However you can lose one.