The day we've been waiting for since Mariano Rivera induced a Shane Victorino groundout to end the World Series is almost upon us and excitement isn't a strong enough word for what's going to happen on Sunday night. CC Sabathia against Josh Beckett at Fenway Park is a pretty special way to start a title defense and start a season that could unfold in one of the greatest divisional races you'll ever see.
You can make a strong argument for predicting any of the Rays, Red Sox or Yankees as the AL East champion come the end of October and an equally strong argument that they are the three best teams in all of baseball. The Yankees added Javier Vazquez to the rotation that won it all and they might have the third best starting staff in their own division. The Rays may score 800 runs and still finish light years behind the Sox and Yankees when it comes to offensive prowess.
And looming behind the three contenders are the Orioles. They are going to play 17 games against the three favorites in September, games that are likely to loom large in deciding who moves onto October and who stays home. If Adam Jones, Brian Matusz and Mtt Wieters develop as expected, those games are going to be nightmares for the big three.
That's getting way ahead of ourselves, though. Right now it's better just to focus on setting the stage for the year to come and pointing out a few players to keep an eye on when you aren't watching the Yankees.
In Boston, Adrian Beltre is going to be worth your attention. Theo Epstein's offseason was devoted to run prevention and no move led to more ink spilling than signing Beltre to replace 2007 hero Mike Lowell at third base. Beltre's defense is excellent, but his offense was erratic during his years in Seattle. The Green Monster has been friendly to many a right-handed bat over the years, though, and if Beltre is posting strong offensive totals the Red Sox are going to be very, very good.
The Rays have talent coming out of every orifice and, scarily, almost every one of their best players has room for improvement entering the 2010 season. B.J. Upton is one of those players and he'll be on the spot after following up a star-making 2008 postseason with a fairly dreadful 2009 season. He was hurting for much of the year, though, and has the mixture power, speed and defense that makes people drool with envy when he's plying his trade at optimal levels. If he turns in the kind of season he's capable of, the Rays are going to be even better than most people think and the Yankees are going to have a helluva fight on their hands.
Now that the table's been set, we'll clear out of the way and wish everyone Bon Appetit for the 2010 season. It should be a feast.