I will be doing an MLB preview of each division as the season starts in less than a month. First up the AL East:
There has been lots of moving and shaking in the AL East standings in the past couple of years as the Red Sox have fell dramatically from the top and the Yankees have been hit with numerous injuries plus the improvement of the Orioles, Rays, and Blue Jays.
Last year, the AL East had three teams reach at least 90 wins as the New York Yankees won the division by two games over the late charging Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees were lead by the duo of CF Curtis Granderson and 2B Robinson Canó, who combined for 76 HRs and 200 RBIs. The O’s made the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and defeated the Texas Rangers in the inaugural season of the one game wild card playoff. The Yankees again got the better of the Orioles as they won the ALDS in five games. The Yankees would go on to the ALCS where they were swept by the Detroit Tigers. The Tampa Bay Rays finished in third place in the division with 90 wins but missed 3B Evan Longoria greatly, as the star only played in 74 games last season. The Blue Jays finished the season 16 games under .500 at 73-89 and the Red Sox had their worst season since 1965 as they fired Bobby Valentine after a disappointing 69-93 2012 campaign.
It was a busy offseason in the AL East this year as John Farrell left his managerial positional with the Blue Jays and was hired as coach of the Red Sox, where he was the Sox pitching coach from 2006-2010. The Red Sox also signed OF Shane Victorino and C/1B Mike Napoli to help boost their offense that was plagued by injuries to OF Jacoby Ellsbury and DH David Ortiz last year. Although he had a down year last year, expect Victorino to contribute nicely in a lineup where he will fall between Ortiz and co. The Yankees didn’t make a huge splash in free agency but did add 3B Kevin Youkilis, who could be the starting 3B for the first half of the season as Alex Rodriguez is not expected back until July as he rehabs from hip surgery. The Rays did trade SP James Shields to the Kansas City Royals but acquired OF Wil Myers. Myers has yet to play in a major league game but is supposedly the real deal and was Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year last year. The Blue Jays were the recipients of the Miami Marlins dumping their whole team as they acquired four-time All-Star SS Jose Reyes, P Mark Buehrle, P Josh Johnson, C John Buck, and CF Emilio Bonifacio on November 20th. They also acquired OF Melky Cabrera and NL CY Young Winner, R.A. Dickey. With all of their new pieces, are the Blue Jays the favorites to win the division?
Baltimore Orioles- This team came out of nowhere last year as Buck Showalter lead the Orioles in his second full season as coach to the playoffs. All-Star OF Adam Jones led the group with 32 HRs and 85 RBIs last year. The Orioles have a solid outfield with Nate McLouth in LF, Jones in CF, and Nick Markakis in RF. C Matt Wieters is emerging as one of the best catchers in the league after hitting 23 HRs and bringing in 83 RBIs last year. This team likes playing as the underdog as watching Showalter being interviewed by the guys on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, he feels that his team still hasn’t got the respect that they deserve but feels that he can prove the doubters wrong this year. The Orioles have a solid batting lineup to carry them in games but I am concerned with their pitching as they don’t have a clear number #1 starter. That will be crucial coming down the stretch if the Orioles want to contend for a division title.
Boston Red Sox- What a horrendous season the Red Sox had last year. Their worst record since 1965 as Bobby Valentine had problems controlling the team and blasted the organization in one of his last news conferences before being fired. But now, John Farrell has the task of bringing the team back together that used to be one of the best in the American League. I really like the signings of Victorino and Napoli as both are All-Stars when they are on but both had off seasons last year. The Red Sox are going to need Ellsbury to stay healthy if they want to contend in the division but there is also a big question surrounding David Ortiz’s production as last year was his worst year as a Red Sox. Ortiz is at the tail end of his career but can he come out this season and produce or will the Sox bench him? P Ryan Dempster is a solid #3 starter for the Red Sox who have Lester and Buchholz as their #1 and #2 starters. Newly acquired CP Joel Hanrahan is also a two-time All-Star.
New York Yankees- When healthy, the Yankees are one of the best teams in the MLB. But the health of the whole team will be a big question heading into this season. This last week has not been good for the Yankees as CF Curtis Granderson suffered a broken forearm on a hit by pitch and 1B Mark Teixeira strained his right wrist during Team USA’s batting practice on Tuesday and will now be out for 8-10 weeks. The team is also without 3B Alex Rodriguez until mid-July as he recovers from left hip surgery. SS Derek Jeter is coming off of ankle surgery and CP Mariano Rivera is still not healthy after tearing his ACL shagging fly balls in a game last year. It will be very tough for the Yankees to hang in the division without three of their stars for sure and the status of others uncertain, but they do have 2B Robinson Cano coming off of a stellar season. The Yankees are the Yankees but are they good at all without some of their key pieces.
Tampa Bay Rays- The Rays lost a big piece of their rotation when they traded P James Shields to Royals. Shields had 87 wins in 7 seasons with the Rays and made his first career All-Star appearance in 2011. Without him, the youngster duo of P Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore are expected to see an increased role. Both of them are entering their third year in the league. But the Rays do have David Price. Price had his best season of his career last year as he won the AL CY Young Award and tied for the AL lead in wins with 20. The Rays offense will be the issue if they want to improve on their 90 wins from last year. The Rays lost CF BJ Upton, who went to the Atlanta Braves. Entering this season, the Rays finally have 3B Evan Longoria healthy. He will have to carry this team if they want to make the playoffs this year.
Toronto Blue Jays- The last time the Toronto Blue Jays made the playoffs was 1993. This year the Jays have a real shot at winning the division as they made some big trades in the offseason to acquire SS Jose Reyes, P R.A. Dickey, P Josh Johnson, and OF Melky Cabrera among others. This team has talent there is no doubt about it but can they the chemistry going with so many new guys. The Blue Jays 1-4 spots in their lineup might be the best in the AL with Reyes, Cabrera, OF Jose Bautista, and 1B Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion had 42 HRs and 110 RBIs last year while Bautista was plagued by injuries but did hit 27 HRs in 92 games. The Jays rotation has the talent but some of the guys are coming off of bad years. If P Mark Buehrle, Johnson, and Ricky Romero can each win 15 games, the Jays could run away with the division.
Prediction- I think that this is a two-team race between the Orioles and the Blue Jays. This division will not be decided until late into September but I think that the Jays will edge out the Orioles and win the division. The Orioles will make the playoffs as a wild card.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
2. Baltimore Orioles
3. New York Yankees
4. Boston Red Sox
5. Tampa Bay Rays
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