To help Let's Go Tribe readers get a better sense of the World Cup, I decided to compare each American League team with one of the national teams competing in this year's tournament. Part one covered the AL Central, and part two covered the AL West.
Today our third and final part looks at the juggernaut division that is the AL East.
Baltimore Orioles - Colombia
The Orioles and Colombia share quite a few similarities, especially among their personnel. Both teams can each lay claim to a star player at the peak of their abilities: Baltimore's Chris Davis had a monstrous 2013 campaign, crushing a league-leading 53 home runs and 138 RBI. The 28 year-old All Star first baseman had a sublime, record-breaking season on his way to a deserved Silver Slugger award, and it can be argued he was unlucky to finish just third in the AL MVP voting. His Colombian counterpart is also 28 years-old and shares Davis's love of offense and scoring: Falcao, the AS Monaco star striker, blossomed into one of the deadliest forwards in all of soccer during the 2012-13 season, when he scored 34 goals in 41 games for his club at the time, Atletico Madrid. Unfortunately for Davis and Falcao, their success last season did not transfer into 2014: Davis is currently stuck on 9 home runs with a mediocre .230 batting average (on this date last year he already had 20 homers and a .335 avg.) Falcao had a transitional first season in the French league, making just 19 total appearances for Monaco and scoring 11 goals, as injuries took their toll. In fact, Falcao's injury problems mean he will miss out on this World Cup, as he hasn't recovered in time to make the final Colombia squad for Brazil, a devastating loss for his team.
Despite Davis and Falcao's recent issues, the O's and Los Cafeteros have some exciting young players like Manny Machado and James Rodriguez to enjoy, both men under 22 years old but prodigious talents. Yet both teams are let down by an inconsistent defense that will likely hinder their chances in 2014; the Orioles starting rotation only has one starter with an ERA under 4.00 (Bud Norris, who scrapes by with a 3.94 ERA) and the Colombians rely on 38 year-old Mario Yepes to anchor their back four. Not exactly the stuff of champions.
Toronto Blue Jays - France
The Blue Jays and France share a peculiar problem that afflicts many successful sides; both teams look great on paper and could matchup against a lot of teams and expect victory. However, for one reason or another, that never translates onto the field. The Jays and Les Bleus boast some of the finest players in their respective sports but things just haven't fallen into place in recent years. Toronto possess All Star caliber hitters like Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They have pitchers with real quality like 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle, owner of a perfect game in 2009. Tipped as World Series contenders the past couple of years, the Jays have fallen on their face instead, posting sub .500 records. France's national team have some elite talents like Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery (who misses out in Brazil due to injury), and Laurent Koscielny, yet they barely scraped into the tournament via the playoffs, coming from two goals down on aggregate to beat an average Ukraine team in Paris.
Both teams do have successful recent histories though, with the Jays winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, and France capturing their first World Cup in 1998, as well as the European Championship in 2000. However in 2014, despite all of those skilled individuals mentioned previously, both sides have an air of transition about them and don't seem to have nailed down a team identity just yet. Success this year will probably be beyond Toronto and France, but you can never count them out completely.
Tampa Bay Rays - Netherlands
Baseball in Tampa Bay has been transformed since the team ceased to be the Devil Rays, and under Joe Maddon's leadership they are consistent World Series contenders year after year. Despite coming so close in 2008, when they were beaten by the Phillies, the Rays are routinely considered one of the best teams yet to claim a championship. This is an unfortunate trait they share with the Netherlands national side. The famous Oranje have given us some of the best moments in the game's history, but they've finished as World Cup runners-up three times, in 1974, 1978 and 2010. So close, yet so far.
In 2014, expectations are lower than usual for both teams. The Rays still possess All Star-level players like David Price, Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, but are really struggling for form this year as they languish at the bottom of the AL East with the worst record in the American League. Holland are in a similar position heading into Brazil, as they are led by world class players like captain Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder but don't have much support thereafter. The Dutch squad is primarily comprised of native players from the local Eredivisie, who are somewhat unproven on the international stage. The majority of the Dutch media don't expect any miracles at this tournament, especially considering the tough group they have. Rays fans can relate there, consistently up against the titans in New York and Boston. 2014 will likely end in disappointment for both sets of fans, but they should be fun to watch at least.
Boston Red Sox - Spain
The reigning champions Boston and Spain share more in common than just their love of the color red. The BoSox and La Roja are in the midst of their most successful period in their team's modern history: The Red Sox have captured three World Series championships in the last decade, famously dispatching their demons in 2004, then beating Colorado with ease in 2007, before winning it all again in 2013. It's been a momentous run for the boys from Beantown, who have created a mini-dynasty of sorts. Spain, always a team who had great ambitions but ultimately disappointed, finally got the job done when they won their first international tournament since 1964 at Euro 2008. They rode that wave into South Africa in 2010, capturing their first World Cup, and retained their Euro title in 2012 as well. Three championships over four years is a pretty good haul by anyone's standards.
However, the Sox and Spain are not completely invulnerable and despite their success, there are some weaknesses creeping in. Boston haven't got off to the best of starts in defense of their trophy, currently holding a 29-35 record, which includes an unfathomable 10 game losing streak. Their core players like David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, A.J. Pierzynski, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy are all over 30 years-old, and you begin to wonder just how long this unit can fight off father time. The Sox have already struggled mightily with injury this season. Spain retain the foundations of their successful team stretching back to Euro 2008, but again they too are not getting any younger. Veteran leadership and experience is an important aspect in any sport, but Spain's leading men could struggle in the hot climates of Brazil: the golden generation of Xavi (34), Iniesta (30), Xabi Alonso (32), Torres (30) and captain Iker Casillas (33) have lost a step or two to their younger competition. Despite this, Boston and Spain remain contenders until the day they are officially eliminated. Both groups contain proven winners and can never be written off.
New York Yankees - Brazil
Last but not least come the Yankees and the tournament hosts Brazil. I know, it's kind of predictable to pair these two together but historically both teams have left me little choice. I hate the Yankees as much as the rest of you, and it hurts me to compare them to the wonderful Brazil. But the facts speak for themselves.
Both teams are quite simply the best at what they do, and the Yankees and Brazil are the finest teams in their sports' history. The Bronx Bombers have won a record 27 World Series titles, stretching from 1927 to 2009. They were absolutely dominate during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The men in pinstripes were nearly unbeatable throughout that era. Brazil share New York's taste for success, holding a record 5 World Cup trophies in their history. They are the only team to retain the World Cup, winning it in 1958 and 1962. If they hadn't lost the final in France 98, they would have won three straight from 1994 to 2002.
Let's look at some of the legendary figures who have played for these teams: For Babe Ruth, see Pele. For Joe Dimaggio, see Garrincha. For Mickey Mantle, see Jairzinho. For Mariano Rivera, see Romario. For Derek Jeter, see Ronaldo, and so on and so forth. I could go on all day. Every single player a hero to their fans, who have stamped their place in their sport's history books as some of the greatest individuals to play the game.
I hope you enjoyed this mini-series and feel prepared now ahead of the World Cup. What would your choices be, who would you have paired together? If you had the National League available, who would be their counterparts?