Who Will Win The A.L. East?
Each year, baseball experts across the country attempt to predict the winners of respective divisions, series, awards, and titles. But as we all know, baseball is a game of inches; it’s a game of seconds, and ultimately, it’s a game of variability. However, regardless of the dynamics, I’m going to attempt to do so anyway.
Aside from maybe the National League Central, the American League East is the most wide open. Anybody could win the division in all reality. The Boston Red Sox have reloaded on their pitching staff. The Toronto Blue Jays have the best lineup in baseball. The New York Yankees have a lights out bullpen. The Tampa Bay Rays are young, hungry, and scary. The Baltimore Orioles, led by Buck Showalter, are always prone to surprise anybody.
Keeping in mind these realities, here’s my low down on the AL East for 2016.
Toronto Blue Jays
There’s no doubt that the Blue Jays have arguably the best group of hitters in all of Major League Baseball. Led by the “rain”ing MVP Josh Donaldson, the Jays also boast veteran players in the lineup such as Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion – not to mention others like Chris Colabello, Russell Martin, Michael Saunders, and Justin Smoak. Additionally, they posses a bullpen featuring a hard throwing Roberto Osuna, Drew Storen, and Brett Cecil. The only question mark for the Jays is their starting rotation following the departure of David Price. Marcus Stroman is a stud, but he needs to hold up this season in order for Toronto to fully maximize their capability. Behind him, there are some question marks in the consistency of Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, and J.A. Happ – who received a lucrative 3-year contract in the offseason. Bottom Line: The Blue Jays will easily win the division, but only if Stroman can emerge as the best young pitcher in baseball, given all the run support he will have.
Boston Red Sox
After three last place finishes in four years, a September collapse, and a lone championship in between, the Red Sox could use some consistency. Since 2009, Boston has only made the playoffs once, and has signed a tea ship load of bad free agents. However, there seems to be some desperation among Dombrowski and Co., especially considering the extension of bench coach Torey Lovullo and the recent move to name Brock Holt/Chris Young the starting left fielder(s). Although this still doesn’t answer some of the biggest question marks around the Red Sox. For example, will Hanley Ramirez pan out at first? Can Pablo Sandoval get on the field and produce or will Travis Shaw take his place? Will Clay Buchholz make it through June? How soon will Carson Smith and Eddy Rodriguez be back? Can newcomers David Price and Craig Kimbrel live up to their expectations? Will Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hold up all season? Perhaps the only given is the talent of the young guys – Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Blake Swihart – but even they may have too much pressure put on them. Bottom line: Price, Kimbrel, and the young guys will keep this team in the hunt for the second wild card.
New York Yankees
You better be ahead on the Yankees by the end of the sixth inning, or else you probably won’t win too many games head-to-head. New York boasts the best bullpen in all of baseball – featuring Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Dellin Betances. But in order for New York to fully compete in the AL east they’ll need production from veterans like Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, who have yet to live up to their contracts, as well as health from Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees will miss Chapman for the first thirty games of the season, which will add pressure to their performance. However, I expect to see good things at the plate from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius early in the year. Plus, we all know this is the beginning of the Alex Rodriguez Twilight show. Bottom line: The lights out bullpen will win a lot of close games for the Yankees and keep them right on the heels of their rivals.
Other than the Red Sox, the Orioles are the team in the division with the lowest basement and highest ceiling. Veterans with playoff experience including Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and J.J. Hardy provide great upside, along with young dynamic players like Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop. Additionally, guys such as Jimmy Paredes and Ryan Flaherty (straight outta the 207) will provide decent depth off the bench. Newcomers like Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez add explosive power when productive. On the pitching staff, the O’s are still headlined by Chris Tillman, but posses arms that will eat innings when they need them, such as Miguel Gonzalez, Yovani Gallardo, and the always talented Ubaldo Jimenez. Closer Zach Britton had 36 saves and 2015 and returns in 2016 hoping to do the same. The strategy to pay Davis and let Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis walk in recent years may pay off for the Orioles. Time will tell. Bottom line: a healthy Machado and contributions from the veterans will keep this team in contention through most of the season but not enough for a playoff run.
Tampa Bay Rays
Pitchers Chris Archer and Matt Moore return to the Rays in 2016 hoping to lead the rotation of a young franchise in need of relevance. In addition, the Rays also boast some young players with upside such as Kevin Kiermaier and Logan Forsythe. But in order to maximize the capability, they’ll need consistency from established players like James Loney, Desmond Jennings, and Evan Longoria. A big question mark for the Rays is arguably the time table on the return of starting pitcher Alex Cobb and the catching position, where the Rays are much weaker than the rest of the division. In the pen, the Rays welcome back Brad Boxberger, who saved 41 games in 2015. Bottom Line: The Rays will have enough pitching and young talent to make the division interesting, but will ultimately fail to make a playoff run.
Overall, there are absolutely no guarantees. Aside from potentially the Blue Jays, no team stands out to run away with anything – which could make for a very interesting and unforgettable pennant race.
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