With Opening Day just days away, teams are getting set for the 2012 season: final rosters are being assembled, uniforms cleaned and pressed, and fan anticipation is growing.
Each team has had six weeks to prepare, work out the kinks, and set their lineup. Each season brings new hope, but with hope comes disappointment. Injuries, losing streaks, and errors all cost teams’ games over the course of the season. The following players from each team will be vital to their team’s success and thus are considered the “X-Factor.”
Although Roberts will start the season on the Disabled List with post-concussion syndrome, reports have him improving daily and getting closer to game action. He is the table-setter for the Orioles, and for them to have a decent season and try to hover around .500, they need their leader healthy and on the field. His defense, speed, runs, and .300 batting average will not be generated by the likes of Wilson Betemit and Robert Andino.
For the past three seasons, Daniel Bard has been a very effective member of the Red Sox bullpen. However, this season, with injuries to starters John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, Bard is slotted to pitch behind Josh Beckett, Clay Bucholtz, and John Lester. Bobby Valentine’s decision to put Bard in the rotation was made easier by the strength of the Red Sox bullpen.
There is a lot of pressure on Bard to succeed, as the Red Sox starting pitching is seen as their weakness, and beyond the top three in the rotation, there is uncertainty. In the American League East, you need five starters to be reliable, not three. If Bard, who throws hard and has good potential, can be a solid fourth starter, it could help propel the Sox to the playoffs.
This team has two factors, as both need big bounce-back seasons to get the Yankees to the World Series. Hughes suffered through injuries last year and was not able to repeat his 18-win season of 2010. Hughes has looked healthy this spring so a return to his 2010 form will provide a solid #2 starter behind ace C.C.Sabathia. With Michael Pineda suffering shoulder issues and Hiroki Kuroda having no experience in the American League, Hughes is very important to the Yankees.
A-Rod, who played only 99 games last year, needs to be able to be appear in roughly 140 games to have the kind of impact that the Yankees have come to expect. He received treatment in the off-season in Europe to deal with a nagging knee issue and reported to camp healthy. A typical 30-100-100 season from A-Rod looks to be in the works, and with the aging Yankee line-up, his impact will have to be felt.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, Jennings is poised for a breakout year. However, with the recent news that center fielder B.J. Upton will start the season on the D.L. with lower back spasms, Jennings will be even more valuable to the Rays in their effort to get off to a fast start. In his last pre-season game, Jennings hit three home runs, including a grand slam. If he can provide that power and get on base ahead of Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, and Evan Longoria, Jennings could not just be a difference maker for the Rays, but in the entire A.L. East.
The players mentioned above are just a few who could be influential in the A.L. East. During the course of the season, other players will of course make a difference, but these five are the ones to watch as the season opens.
From the couch?