The American League East look like a real horse race this year. Most experts are saying that almost any of the five teams could take the Division. In my opinion, and I have been wrong before, like expecting the Red Sox pitching staff to be very strong last year, the American League East will come down to a real battle between two teams, the Red Sox and Yankees.

Given my track record, I don’t think this prediction will cause the Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays to lose much sleep. Now that I have said that, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at these two teams as they begin Spring Training. Both teams opening day starting lineups, as far as position players go, seem pretty much set at this point.

Starting behind the plate, the Yankees have 31 year old, veteran, Brian McCann who hit
.232 last year with 26 homers and 94 RBI’s. Unless he has a terrible spring, Blake Swihart will probably get the Opening Day nod for the Sox. He hit .274 with five homers and 31 RBI’s last year in 84 games. Christian Vazquez, coming back from surgery after missing all of last year, will challenge Swihart. He hit .240 with one homer and 20 RBI’s in 2014. Both are inexperienced big league receivers while Mc Cann has 11 years with the Braves and Yankees. Advantage Yankees.

At first base the Yankees have 35 year old Mark Teixeira, one of the best fielding first basemen in baseball, who hit 31 homers and drove in 79 runs in just 111 games but only hit .255 last year. The Sox, of course, have Hanley Ramirez, one of the worst fielding left fielders in baseball, at first base. He hit .249 with 19 homers and 53 RBI’s last year. If the Ramirez experiment doesn’t work out, the Sox have Travis Shaw, who, as a rookie, hit .270 with 13 homers and 36 RBI’s, as back up. Advantage Yankees.

The Yankees picked up Starlin Castro from the Cubs to play second base. He hit .265 with 11 homers and 69 RBI’s last year but is a better hitter than that and has averaged 148 games a year for his career. Of course, the Sox have Dustin Pedroia, who only played in 93 games last year because of injuries, at second. He hit .291 with 12 homers and 42 RBI’s. Pedroia is probably the best all around second baseman in baseball with the exception of Robinson Cano. Advantage Red Sox.

Yankee Didi Gregorius, playing under the pressure of taking Derek Jeter’s spot at short, had a very good year, hitting .265 with nine homers and 56 RBI’s while playing 155 games. Sounds good but, on the Sox side, Xander Bogaerts had a break out year, playing 156 games, hitting .320, second in the league, and hitting seven homers and driving in 81 runs. He will only get better. Advantage Red Sox.

At third, the Yankees have Chase Headley who played 156 games and hit .259 with 11 homers and 62 RBI’s. The 31 year old Headley may have been the only third baseman in the league to have a worse year in the field than Pablo Sandoval, his Red Sox counterpart had. Sandoval, who hit .288 but only produced 10 homers and 47 RBI’s last year had 15 errors in 126 games while Headley had 23 in his 156 games for a .946 fielding average compared to Sandoval’s .949. Call this a draw, assuming Sandoval can get in shape after reporting to Spring Training looking heavier than he was last year.

In left field, the Yankees have eight year veteran Brett Gardner, .259, with 16 homers and 66 RBI’s last year. Rusney Castillo will start in left for the Sox. The 28 year old hit .262 in 80 games in his rookie season last year with five homers and 29 RBI’s. Gardner, at the top of the lineup with Jacoby Ellsbury, gives the Yankees more offense than Castillo is apt to generate with better fielding ability and experience. Advantage Yankees.

Jacoby Ellsbury, the Yankee center fielder, had a typical year last year. Only played 111 games, because of injuries, hit .257, well below his .289 career average, and had just seven homers and 33 RBI’s. For the Sox Jackie Bradley, proved that he can play the outfield with the best of them. He hit .249 for the year, in 74 games, with 10 homers and 43 RBI’s. However, from August 9 until September 7, he went 33 for 86 for a .384 average. If you take out that hot stretch, he hit .163 the rest of the year. I personally think Bradley will hit for a decent average if he plays every day, however, the Advantage has to go to the Yankees here.

The Yankees have 38 year old Carlos Beltran in right. Beltran, a 17 year veteran, hit
.276 with 19 homers and 67 RBI’s last year compared to the Sox Mookie Betts, moving from center to right, who hit .291 with 18 homers and 77 RBI’s. Defensively, Beltran does not have the speed or the ability to match Mookie who proved last year that he can play anywhere. Advantage Red Sox.

At Designated Hitter, the Yankees are bringing back Alex Rodriguez who will turn 41 during the year. He had a sensational year last year after missing over a year, with a
.250 average, 33 homers and 86 RBI’s but only hit .216 after the All Star Break and appears to be having a hard time catching up with the fast ball. The Sox have David Ortiz, who, although he says he is retiring after the season, has shown no sign of losing bat speed, and hit .284 last year with 37 homers and 108 RBI’s. The ageless Ortiz could probably DH another five years if he wanted to. Advantage Red Sox.

If you haven’t been counting, that’s four for the Yankees, four for the Sox and one draw.
I have always believed in the old adage that, aside from pitching, the team that is strongest up the middle will win. By my calculations, the Yankees are the stronger of the two in center field and behind the plate and the Sox are stronger at second base and short stop.

You can’t get much more evenly matched than these two teams as far as position players go. Of course, if it should turn out that some of the Yankees are beginning to show their age or this Red Sox team is too young and inexperienced and may not be as good as we think they are, anything can happen but my money is on a great summer for Yankee and Red Sox fans as they battle for the title.

Next week, I’ll take a look at the two teams’ pitching.

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