With Baseball officially kicking off on Sunday, it’s time to take a stab at predicting the success and downfalls of each division in the majors. We kick it off with the AL East, where all five teams have flaws, but are capable of putting together deep fall runs if things go the right way for them.
1. Toronto Blue Jays – A team built more for the regular season than the playoffs, the Jays may score over 900 runs, which will cover up a lot of pitching deficiencies. Marco Estrada is already slow to start the season, beginning on the DL until April 10th. Aaron Sanchez will attempt his first full season as a starter, J.A. Happ is in his 40’s and Marcus Stroman will attempt to complete his first full season after an injury derailed his 2015 campaign, so far so good. With no David Price, the Blue Jays literally have nobody to depend on in the rotation without some concern. Still, a full year of Troy Tulowitzki in the lineup, and a better opening day bullpen than last season should guide the Jays nicely back into the playoffs. Be aware of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion‘s age, but otherwise, this team should mash and that should be enough in this division if it receives even minimal impact from its high ceiling arms.
2. New York Yankees* – Another team who can hit when healthy and has question marks on the pitching staff. New York gets a lot of flack for its age, but is slowly transitioning that age into less important aspects of the team. Yes, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia are all old, but one is a DH, one plays the least demanding defensive position at first base and the other is now temporarily the fifth starter in the rotation. As long as Tex and A-Rod can stay healthy and hit, this team has a shot at the division and especially the playoffs. Upgrades at second base with Starlin Castro, a likely improved year from Chase Headley, any extra health from Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury and arguably the best bullpen in baseball when Aroldis Chapman returns from suspension in early May are all upside in the Bronx. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino and Nathan Eovaldi all provide potential in the rotation, but none of them sniffed 200 major league innings last season. it’s going to take a village for the Yankees and there’s always some risk there.
3. Boston Red Sox – Winners of the Winter rarely make the leap from worst to first, but the Red Sox did this just three years ago. Boston finished in last place, below .500 and 15 games out of the division lead last season, but have added Craig Kimbrel (and an injured Carson Smith), received major second half numbers from its young core and added a long sought after ace in David Price. That should get the Sox over the hump but it still has an uphill battle for the division crown. Boston will need David Ortiz to stay healthy in his final season, Dustin Pedroia to do the same at second base, can’t get any regression from its younger players and needs someone to step up behind Price in the rotation. It’s a lot to ask for a team who has a nine game deficit from last season against the Yankees, but Dave Dombrowski might go for it if the team is close in late July as opposed to Ben Cherington who preferred to fold instead.
4. Tampa Bay Rays – Tampa was a mixed bag in 2015, finishing 80-82 but better than most critics figured. This year it can enter the season knowing it has an elite MLB pitcher in Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi poised for a breakout season, a healthy Drew Smyly and Matt Moore and potentially, the return of Alex Cobb at some point. That’s a lethal rotation if everyone reaches their potential and stays healthy. Still, with another anemic offense in a division full of powerhouses, a likable but by no means dominant bullpen and a rotation with a high ceiling but a low percentage risk to reach it this season, Tampa won’t finish among the better teams in the division, but should do enough not to finish in last place.
5. Baltimore Orioles – Baltimore should hit enough with the return of Chris Davis and the additions of Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez – it may even challenge Toronto for the league lead in long balls. The problem with the Orioles isn’t going to be in scoring runs, with or without a healthy Matt Wieters, it’s going to be in preventing them. The Orioles have no ace, and may not even have a bonafied front of the rotation arm, especially with Kevin Gausman already hurt. It acquired Yovani Gallardo who should be a solid middle of the rotation arm switching leagues and divisions, but it lost two starters from an already mediocre pitching staff. The bullpen should be OK, especially with a strong tactical manager in Buck Showalter, but the Orioles are essentially the inverse of the Rays, and we’ll give pitching the edge in this case.
*- Denotes Wildcard