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Franco: AL East preview

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The American League East will be a two-team race. It’s apparent that the New York Yankees are the favorite to win the pennant again this year.

But the Red Sox are right there with the ‘Evil Empire’ with an edge in pitching. Either way, both teams should make the postseason.

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The remaining three teams in the AL East have all improved as well. Talent wise, I feel this is one of the best divisions in baseball.

Lets note that there is no value for the Sox or Yanks concerning futures. But if you’re a long-shot gambler, the next three teams have little if any chance.

Here is a look at the forecast for each team, including what options are available for your betting appetite. Here in Las Vegas, just like offshore books, you must shop around when it comes to any future plays.

**New York Yankees**
Odds to win the 2004 World Series: 2/1
2003 record: 109-69 including post season
Home: 53-37
Away: 56-32
Division: 51-32
2004 win total: 101

The Yankees never rebuild, the Boss just retools the franchise. This is his team more so now than in the past eight to ten years.

Joe Torre has gone from underdog in 1996 versus the Braves to the biggest ‘chalk’ manager in the game. Torre still has to manage this All-Star roster, but the Bronx Bombers should be on cruise control.

I don’t believe you will see oddsmakers giving us any value when it comes to betting New York games ‘over.’ The Yankees are unlikely to see many games with a total of fewer than nine runs.

Right-hander Kevin Brown is probably the biggest offseason addition. If the sinkerball pitcher can stay healthy, he has a shot of winning 18 to 20 games.

**Boston Red Sox**
Odds to win the 2004 World Series: 5/2
2003 record: 101-73 including post season
Home: 56-30
Away: 45-43
Division: 44-39
2004 win total: 97

Boston fans have to feel jilted after not getting Alex Rodriguez, especially since the reigning AL MVP went to its biggest rival. Nomar Garciaparra can’t be too happy, especially since he will start the 2004 campaign on the disabled list.

Pitching is the key for the Red Sox this season, and they are loaded both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. Getting Curt Schilling from Arizona was big time, but the addition of top-notch closer Keith Foulke could be just as valuable.

**Baltimore Orioles**
Odds to win the 2004 World Series: 75/1
2003 record: 71-91
Home: 40-40
Away: 31-51
Division: 31-45
2004 win total: 81

There is no question that Baltimore has upgraded its lineup. Rafael Palmeiro, Javy Lopez and Miguel Tejada hit a combined 108 home runs last year for other teams, but the addition of the big three should get the Orioles over the .500 mark. That would be a 10-game improvement over last season. Pitching will still handicap this club.

**Toronto Blue Jays**
Odds to win the 2004 World Series: 50/1
2003 record: 86-76
Home: 41-40
Away: 45-36
Division: 37-39
2004 win total: 82

The Blue Jays have a new look, including some modern-day uniforms. Toronto has been a solid hitting team over the last two-plus years, but now the team can look further than ace Roy Halladay for some consistent pitching.

Toronto added two starters in Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista. The question lies in who will close the door late in the game for the new-look Jays.

**Tampa Bay Devil Rays**
Odds to win the 2004 World Series: 250/1
2003 record: 63-99
Home: 36-45
Away: 27-54
Division: 34-32
2004 win total: 69

Manager Lou Pinella has added the don to his coaching staff (Don Zimmer), but Tino Martinez is probably Tampa Bay’s biggest former Yankee acquisition.

Having the lowest payroll in baseball can never help, but this is a young team with some players looking to make names for themselves.

  
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