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08/30/10 3:35 PM ET

Williams: Don't count out the Red Sox

Strength of Boston, Tampa Bay pitching could leave Yanks out

If you think the battle for the American League East is a two-team race between the Yankees and Rays, you are sadly mistaken. The Red Sox are still in this thing.

I base that statement on their starting rotation, which is very solid. Josh Beckett is only 4-3 and has missed most of the season, due to injury, but he's back now, and we all know how tough he can be in September and October.

Then there's Jon Lester (14-8, 3.12 ERA), who has some of the best stuff of any left-handed starter in baseball. Clay Buchholz has been the ace of this staff all season, compiling a 15-5 record with a stingy ERA of 2.21. And the Red Sox have been able to limit his innings to just 146 2/3.

John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka round out a rotation that gives the Red Sox a legitimate chance to gain ground on the Yankees and Rays. To have endured the injuries they have and still have the fourth-best record in the AL proves this team will fight to the end.

As for the Yankees' rotation, beyond C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, who have combined for 33 wins, it's got problems. After that, the dropoff is significant. A.J. Burnett and Javier Vasquez have struggled, and Andy Pettitte has been hurt. If they don't pick it up, the Yankees will have a difficult time holding off the Red Sox.

The Rays have six starters they can plug in and expect to win. David Price, Matt Garza, Jeff Neimann, Wade Davis and James Shields are a formidable five, and Jeremy Hellickson is an ace in the hole.

I believe Boston and Tampa Bay have better bullpens than the Yankees, so here's my prediction for the AL East:

The AL Wild Card will come out of this division, and I believe it will be the Red Sox, which means the Yankees or the Rays will be left out of the postseason. I think the Yankees will fall short, because they lack depth in the starting rotation.

I could be dead wrong about this, and Pettitte could come back and give the Yankees the boost they need to hold off Boston. But if that doesn't happen, the Yankees are going to have to hit a ton in September in order to be playing in October.

Mitch Williams, an analyst for MLB Network, played 11 Major League seasons, pitching for six teams, including the 1993 National League champion Philadelphia Phillies. He writes a weekly column for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.