John Gibbons and his Toronto Blue Jays have struggled to begin 2017.
X-Boston Red Sox 96-66
After a pair of last place finishes in the American League East in 2014 and 2015, the Boston Red Sox were able to bounce back in 2016. The Red Sox would win 93 games en route to claiming the A.L. East Title. The Sox appeared ready to make another a run at the World Series Title until they ran into the Cleveland Indians in the postseason. The Indians would sweep the Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series which meant that the career of designated hitter David Ortiz was over. In 14 years with the Red Sox, Oritz hit 483 home runs, while also being a catalyst for three World Series Championship teams. And now as the Red Sox are preparing for life without “Big Papi”, they are hoping not to take a huge step backwards.
Since Dave Dombrowski became the Red Sox president of baseball operations in August 2015, he hasn’t been afraid of making trade. And after Dombrowski’s wheeling and dealing put the Red Sox back into the postseason last October, he didn’t waste anytime this off-season when he acquired starting pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox.
Last year the Red Sox starting rotation produced the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in starting pitcher Rick Porcello who won 22 games in the regular season, along with starting pitcher David Price who won 17 contests. But behind Porcello and Price, Boston’s starting rotation was thin and it showed up in their playoff loss to the Indians. Acquiring Sale gives the Sox more depth in their starting rotation as he’ll more than likely be their ace, while it will push both Porcello and Price down in the pitching order.
Each of the last five Major League Baseball seasons have seen Sale be on the American League’s All-Star team, while he has struck out at least 200 batters in each of the last four years. Sale hurled 6 complete games last year with his quirky delivery for a left-handed pitcher as the ball is released from his 6’6″ frame keeps opposing batters on their toes. And I don’t see Sale being intimidated by playing under the microscope in Boston.
If you watched the Red Sox play in 2017, you know that their bullpen was shaky at times. Dombrowski hopes that he was able to sure up the middle relief when he acquired relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers. In 67 games for the Brewers last season, Thornburg posted a 2.15 earned run average, while striking out 90 batters, and saving 13 games. If Thornburg is on his game, the Red Sox eighth inning issues could be a thing of the past, while he could also be an alternative in the ninth inning as well.
Last year relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel struggled at times as he posted a career-high 3.40 earned run average. What hurt Kimbrel more than anything else was that he walked 30 batters last season which came back to hurt him at times. Kimbrel was still able to save 31 games for the Red Sox, but he’ll need to be closer to the player that led the National League in saves each year from 2011-2014 as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
Even without Big Papi no longer being around, the Red Sox once again have one of the more proficient offenses in the American League. The Red Sox led the A.L. in runs scored last year with 878 as the next closest team was the Indians with 777, while their team batting average of .282, and on-base percentage of .348 also led the way.
Outfielder Mookie Betts is coming off of a breakout season as he batted .318 with 31 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and 42 doubles. Betts finished second in the American League MVP voting and the case could be made that he should have won it. However with Betts possessing the blend of speed and precision, he should once again be in the mix to win the award as he’ll be a coup for anyone that picks him up in fantasy baseball.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. wasn’t that far behind Betts as far as being a breakout player for the Red Sox either. Bradley is coming off of a career-high in home runs with 26. Bradley had an on-base percentage of .349, however he was only able to steal 9 bases which is alarming with his speed. And I see the speed of Bradley being an aspect that Red Sox manager John Farrell will look to utilize more this season.
Along with Betts and Bradley, the Red Sox have another talented young outfielder in Andrew Benintendi as Boston could have their own version of “The Killer B’s”. The Red Sox made Benintendi the seventh overall selection of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft and it hasn’t taken him that long to make an impact on the big club. Last season in just 34 games, Benintendi batted .295 as he was able collect 31 hits, while also displaying tremendous range defensively in the outfield. And if Benintendi is able to build off of his strong showing last year, his name will definitely be in the mix as far as American League Rookie of the Year candidates.
Aside from Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi, the Red Sox have plenty of depth in their outfield with Chris Young and Brock Holt as Farrell has a good problem on his hands.
Now that Ortiz has retired, you can expect second baseman Dustin Pedroia to become more of a leader than he already is. Since Pedroia made his debut with Boston in 2006, he has been a scrappy player that everyone has respected. Pedroia is a lifetime .301 hitter, and it would not surprise me to see him get at least 40 doubles this season as he has been known to spray the baseball off of the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is a star in making as he is fresh off of his first All-Star Game appearance. Bogaerts has the potential to hit more than .300 this season, while belting 25 homers, and it doesn’t hurt that he can flash the leather in the field. Like Bradley, Benintendi, and Betts, I expect the Red Sox utilize the speed of Bogaerts on the bases this season as Boston could be a deadly hit and run team.
As the Red Sox decided to do away with the experiment of having Hanley Ramirez play left field, he had a stellar campaign in 2016. After hitting just .249, with 19 homers and 53 runs batted in for 2015, Ramirez bounced back in a big way last season to hit .286 with 30 home runs, while driving in 111 runs. Ramirez worked on his craft to be a solid first baseman for the Red Sox, and it didn’t hurt him being around Ortiz. However with Ortiz now retired, and with Ramirez’s propensity to play when he wants to, it’ll be interesting to see what version of him that Boston will see this season.
Ramirez will split time at first base and being the designated hitter with Boston’s newest acquisition Mitch Moreland as the two of them will attempt to replace some of the contributions by Ortiz. In seven years with the Rangers, Moreland hit 110 home runs, including 45 over the last two seasons. But only time will tell how Moreland will be able to fare under the microscope in Boston.
Then there is the case of third baseman Pablo Sandoval. After Sandoval helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series Championships, he hit free agency following the conclusion of the 2014 Major League Baseball season. The Red Sox scooped up Sandoval to the tune of $90 million over five years, but he has been far from living up to his end of things.
In two seasons with the Red Sox, Sandoval has only played in 129 games, while only batting .242 with 10 home runs and 47 runs batted in. Sandoval was limited to just three games last season due to shoulder surgery. Sandoval’s playing weight has always been an issue, but he showed up to spring training this year in arguably the best shape of his career as he looks to put his struggles with the Red Sox behind him.
As always the American League East will be tough to navigate. But if the Red Sox are able to manage within the division, while taking care of their business with everyone else, they should be able to reach the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Y-New York Yankees 88-74
Three of the last four years have seen the New York Yankees fail to reach the postseason, but things could be ready to change in the Bronx. The Yankees have taken a back seat in the American League East to the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and Baltimore Orioles as they’ve been in the process of trying to get from under some of their huge player contracts. The Yankees bid farewell to aging veterans in designated hitter Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Mark Teixeira who both retired, while they traded catcher Brian McCann to the Houston Astros. Trades last year of relief pitchers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman to the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs respectively netted the Yanks some prospects for the future as they are hopeful to be able to contend with them for years to come.
The emergence of catcher Gary Sanchez made it easy Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to part with McCann. In 53 games last year for the Yankees, Sanchez became an overnight sensation in the Big Apple as he batted .299 with 20 homers and 42 runs batted in. The Yankees brass sees Sanchez as the real deal and not the next Kevin Maas, but it will be interesting to see what he can do as New York’s everyday catcher, while the fans and media alike expect him to build off of what he was able to do in 2016.
The Yankees drafted outfielder Aaron Judge in 2013 and he has worked his way through their minor-league system. Judge has tremendous power as he can hit the baseball onto the Major Deagan Expressway. But for all of Judge’s power he has to work on his plate discipline. Judge struck out 42 times in just 95 plate appearances last year as he was only able to sport a batting average of .179. But the ceiling is still high for Judge who won’t turn 25-years of age until next month and he is a big part of the Yankees future plans.
First baseman Greg Bird showed flashes for the Yankees as he split time with Teixeira in 2015. Bird was expected to have a bigger role for the Yankees in 2016, but he suffered a torn labrum which put him on the shelf for the entire campaign. Now Bird is back and after hitting 11 homers in just 41 games for the Yanks, he is a guy that has the potential to go yard at least 25 times this season.
But aside from the youngsters, the Yankees have some veteran players that have some pop in their bats as well. Last year as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, first baseman Chris Carter led the National League in home runs with 41. At the plate it is either feast or famine for Carter as he has a career batting average of just .218 which is a good indication as to why it only took the Yankees $3.5 million to sign him. But make no mistake about that Carter is able to make contact with the baseball, it goes very far as if nothing else the combination of himself, Judge, and Sanchez will always put on a show in batting practice. Carter will be primarily used a designated hitter as this Yankees team will more than likely live and die by the three-run homer.
Along with Carter, Cashman also signed veteran outfielder Matt Holliday this off-season. For Holliday’s 13-year Major League Baseball career he has averaged 27 home runs and 105 runs batted in per season, while sporting a .303 batting average. At the age of 37, it will be difficult for the Yankees to expect Holliday to put up numbers at the plate like he did earlier in his career. However a veteran such as Holliday who was able to win a World Series Championship with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 will be vital for a young Yankees team.
However aside from the optimism that the Yankees have for their youngsters, there are some question marks on this roster. As the seasons go by outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is becoming less productive. When the Yankees brought Ellsbury on board in 2014, they were hopeful to get the player that led the American League in stolen bases in 2013 with 52 for the Boston Red Sox as he helped them win the World Series. But that has not been the case for Ellsbury’s time with the Yankees as he’s been oft-injured, while not being the lead-off hitter that they expected. In three seasons with the Yankees, Ellsbury’s batting average is 33 points lower than he was with the Red Sox. And if Ellsbury gets off to slow start this season, expect the fans in the Bronx to let him have it.
Outfielder Brett Gardner is as scrappy as they come, and although that his skills are beginning to diminish, the Yankees will find a spot on this team for one of the fan favorites. In the infield the Yankees will miss the contributions of Teixeira who was a five-time Gold Glove winner. The Yankees still have solid defenders in third baseman Chase Headley and shortstop Didi Gregorious. Second baseman Starlin Castro had a solid first season with the Yankees after he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs, and he hit a career-high in home runs with 21, while he cut down on the errors defensively as he only had 12 last year.
And overall the offense will have to carry the Yankees as they won’t be able to consistently rely on their pitching staff. As a team the Yankees team earned run average of 4.16 was seventh in the American League. But manager Joe Girardi had to lean heavily on his bullpen due to the fact that his starting pitchers don’t have the ability to go deep into games.
Last season the Yankees had 70 quality starts which was tenth in the American League, while no starting pitcher was able to throw a complete game. Girardi relies heavily on his bullpen which has seen them wear down as the season progresses.
All signs point to 2017 being the last year that starting pitcher CC Sabathia will be with the Yankees. Sabathia was instrumental in helping the Yanks win the World Series in 2009, but age and injury have caught up to him. Sabathia is 36-years of age and the Yankees would be fortunate to squeeze 12 victories, along with 150 innings out of him this season.
Starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was the only Yankees pitcher to win more than 9 games last season. Tanaka has been with the Yankees for three years and he has yet to reach the 200-inning mark in a single season as he has been bothered by elbow issues in the past. However if Tanaka is able to remain healthy, 15 victories could be in the cards for him this time around.
Starting pitcher Michael Pineda has been extremely up and down during his time with the Yankees as you never know what to expect from him on an inning-to-inning basis as he could look like a Cy Young Award winner in one breath, and a career minor-leaguer in another. However since Pineda is set to become a free agent following this season, the possibility looms that he’ll be able to get his act together for the entire year.
And as the Yankees must once again rely on their bullpen, they made the right move to bring Chapman back to the Bronx. Chapman saved 20 games for the Yankees last season after he was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds. But when the Yankees were ready to wave the white flag, they traded Chapman to the Chicago Cubs. Chapman came up big for the Cubs as they won the World Series, however when he hit free agency his asking price was too high for them.
It took $86 million over the next five years for the Yankees to lure Chapman to the Bronx, but he should be well worth the investment as he’s a dependable flamethrower that can consistently get the job done in the ninth inning.
A big reason why the Yankees brought Chapman back was because they weren’t sold on relief pitcher Dellin Betances being their closer. Betances has been primarily used as a setup man. But when the Yankees traded both Chapman and Miller last season, Betances was thrust into the role as the team’s closer. Betances’ earned run average more than doubled last season from the previous one as it was at 3.08. This was due to the fact that the Yankees over used him since they don’t have starters who can consistently go deep into games.
The situation was compounded this off-season when Betances went to arbitration and as he was seeking $5 million, the Yanks were only willing to give him $3 million. The battle was played out in the media with Yankees team president Randy Levine being critical of Betances’ agent Jim Murray whom he criticized for attempting to have his client compensated like a closer. But either way it would be prudent of Girardi to find a way to better manage Betances’ appearances this season in order to keep him fresh.
As usual the American League East should be one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball. And if the Yankees are able to get enough pitching, the season could end with them once again headed for the playoffs.
Y-Toronto Blue Jays 88-74
The last two years saw the Toronto Blue play a very exciting brand of baseball. The Blue Jays had a lineup that was full of sluggers who were always more than eager to launch homers high and deep into the Toronto sky. This brand of baseball led to the Blue Jays winning the American League East in 2015 for the first time since 1993 and it would also lead to another postseason appearance last October. But things would change for the Blue Jays towards the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season when general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined a five-year contract extension as the result of a power struggle between he and the recently hired Mark Shapiro who was now the team’s president of baseball operations. Shapiro’s philosophy is different from that of Anthopoulos, and when the Blue Jays take the field to begin the 2017 MLB season, they are definitely going to have a different look.
For nearly eight years, first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion captivated baseball fans in Toronto with his power hitting ability and trademark of “walking the bird” each time that he went yard. Encarnacion’s 239 home runs while wearing a Blue Jays uniform are the third most in franchise history and he still had plenty in the tank which was evident by his 42 homers and 127 runs batted in last season. But Shapiro decided to let Encarnacion walk in free agency as he landed with the Cleveland Indians after both sides agreed on a three-year deal that is worth $60 million.
Along with Encarnacion, outfielder Michael Saunders who hit 24 homers last season for the Jays left Toronto as well in free agency as signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. And it seemed that outfielder Jose Bautista was headed for the same fate as Encarnacion and Saunders until he and the Blue Jays came to an agreement on a one-year deal for $18 million late in the free agency period.
Like Encarnacion, Bautista is one of best power hitters in Blue Jays franchise history. Bautista’s 265 career home runs are the second most in franchise history which has also seen him lead the American League in home runs on two separate occasions. However Bautista has done this while always having Encarnacion protecting him. And with Encarnacion now in Cleveland, along with the fact that Bautista is 36-years of age, it’s less of a guarantee that “Joey Bats” will enjoy another vintage year at the plate.
The departure of Saunders means that Melvin Upton Jr. will become an everyday player in Toronto’s outfield. The Jays acquired Upton from the San Diego Padres, and in 57 games with Toronto, he batted .196, while hitting 4 home runs. Throughout Upton’s career he has always been a guy who has been known for his potential, but overall he has failed to live up to it, and I believe that the Blue Jays are set to find that out firsthand.
And whereas that the Blue Jays lost Encarnacion in free agency, Shapiro picked up designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Morales was a valuable bat in the middle of the Kansas City Royals lineup when they won the World Series in 2015, and he should be able to fit in with the Jays as he is coming off of the second 30-homer campaign of his Major League Baseball career.
After being named as the American League MVP in 2015, third baseman Josh Donaldson was right back in the mix last year. Donaldson is one of the best at the hot corner in baseball with his glove and bat alike. In two seasons with Toronto, Donaldson has hit 78 home runs, and he should be in the running to once again hit at least 35. Like Donaldson, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was an addition to the Blue Jays in 2015 as they became a playoff contender. Tulowitzki is not the same player that he was during his time with the Colorado Rockies, but the Jays still need him to remain healthy as he is a player that still has the potential to go yard at least 20 times.
The Blue Jays pitching staff was overshadowed by the team’s potent lineup, but this unit led the American League in team earned run average last season at 3.78. Starting pitcher J.A. Happ became the first Blue Jays pitcher since Roy Halladay in 2008 to win 20 games. In Aaron Sanchez’s first year as a full-time starter for Toronto, he was able to win 15 games. Marcus Stroman was the only Jays starting pitcher to reach the 200-inning plateau last season, but he must become more consistent as he has the potential to win 15-18 games; however he must not only work on getting ahead of batters, but also putting them away.
Veteran starting pitcher Francisco Liriano was picked up from the Pittsburgh Pirates and he has a wealth of experience to pass on to the youngsters in Toronto’s rotation. Liriano is a two-time American League Comeback Player of the Year winner and his ability to work the corners as a left-handed pitcher should be valuable against the power lineups that the A.L. East has.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has two dependable relief pitchers to close out games in Roberto Osuna and Jason Grilli. Osuna has saved 56 games over the last two seasons for Toronto, while Grilli can be either a setup man or a closer which gives Toronto some much needed depth late in contests.
The Blue Jays pitching staff has the benefit of working with catcher Russell Martin who is one of the best in the business behind the plate. Martin knows how to call a game, while he can frame pitches like now other. And the cherry on top is that Martin is a solid contributor as each of his two seasons with the Blue Jays has seen him hit at least 20 home runs.
As previously mentioned the American League East will more than likely once again be the toughest division in baseball. The Blue Jays should hold their own as it will just be a matter of how long that it will take them to gel.
Baltimore Orioles 85-77
The 2016 Major League Baseball season saw the Baltimore Orioles possess one of the best teams in Major League Baseball, but they played in the league’s toughest division. The American League East saw four of their teams in contention for the postseason with three teams getting there. The Orioles were one of those A.L. East teams that were able to reach the postseason, but since they were unable to win the division, they had to begin the playoffs in the Wild Card Game. And as the O’s went back and forth with the Toronto Blue Jays, they were ultimately done in by their bullpen in extra innings. It was a bitter ending to a solid season for the Orioles, but as a new season is to begin, along with the fact that manager Buck Showalter is once again leading the way in Baltimore, this squad will once again be a tough out.
The Orioles have allowed some quality sluggers such as designated hitter Nelson Cruz to leave in free agency over the past few years, but they continue to fins a way to trudge along. Third baseman Manny Machado is one of the treasures of Major League Baseball. Machado continues to improve at the hot corner with his glove as well as hit bat. Machado’s numbers at the plate have increased in each of his five years with the O’s. And after Machado batted .294 with 37 home runs and 96 runs batted in last season, he will once again be in the running to win the American League MVP Award.
As a team the Orioles led the American League in homers last season with 253 and the long ball will once again be en vogue at Camden Yards. After outfielder/first baseman Mark Trumbo led the the A.L. in homers last season with 47, there was a huge possibility that he would leave Baltimore in free agency like other sluggers have recently. However there weren’t any teams that were willing to break the bank for Trumbo’s services which resulted in him returning to the Orioles. It’s not a guarantee that Trumbo will once again be the top power hitter in the A.L., but he should benefit from being in a solid O’s lineup.
First baseman Chris Davis has led the American League in strikeouts, but the caveat to that is his power. The past five years have seen Davis belt 197 home runs and “Crush” should continue to climb up Baltimore’s all-time home runs list. For nearly a decade outfielder Adam Jones has been the face of the Orioles franchise. Jones is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner as he has plenty of range in center field, while he continues to provide Baltimore with a consistent bat at the plate being that you can always count on him to hit at least 25 homers.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop is quickly becoming one of the better second baseman in the American League. Schoop hit a career-high 25 home runs last season, but he needs to work on his plate discipline. Schoop struck out 137 times last season, while he was only able to draw 21 walks. And if Schoop can cut down on the strikeouts, while drawing more walks and picking up his batting average, he could be in line for his first All-Star Game appearance this summer.
It will be up to veteran catchers Welington Castillo and Caleb Joseph to replace the contributions of Matt Wieters behind the plate as he joined the Washington Nationals. And the combination of Castillo and Joseph will have their hands full with an Orioles pitching staff that is far from stellar.
The Orioles team earned run average of 4.22 was tenth in the American League, while their 69 quality starts were 11th. And aside from starting pitcher Chris Tillman who won 16 games last season, there isn’t a ton of optimism for this rotation in Baltimore.
However Showalter will have to rely on his rock solid bullpen that features relief pitchers Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. Britton led the American League in saves last season with 47, while he posted an earned run average of just 0.54. It’ll be hard for Britton to top his performance from last season. But Showalter will once again lean on him.
24 of Baltimore’s first 27 games will come against the American League East. And although that I don’t anticipate anyone running away with the division, it will still be important for Baltimore to get off to a solid start.
Tampa Bay Rays 68-94
After the Tampa Bay Rays were a thorn in the side of the baseball world for seven years, it is safe to say that the thrill is gone. Each of the last three Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Rays finish with a losing record with the bottom officially falling out in 2016 as they lost 94 games for the first time since 2007. And by the way that things are shaping up in Tampa, it won’t be getting better anytime soon.
Matthew Silverman is in his fourth year as the Rays president of baseball operations and he needs to get into gear as far as redeveloping Tampa’s minor-league system which was the backbone of their success from 2008-2013.
One of the positives for the Rays heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season is that they still have third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria is hands down the best player in the franchise history of the Rays and he is coming off one of his best seasons as he hit a career-high 36 home runs. Longoria is 31-years of age, and with the Rays not expected to contend for a playoff spot this year, will he be trade bait?
But if the Rays decide to keep Longoria, he would be a part of a lineup that had plenty of pop in 2016. The Rays hit 216 home runs which was fourth in the American League, and they had four players hit at least 20 homers. But whereas the Rays know a thing or two about going yard, many were of the solo variety as they were 14th in the A.L. in runs scored. The Rays need a table setter in their lineup who could be outfielder Desmond Jennings who has only appeared in 93 games over the last two years, while utility man Brad Miller will look to make it consecutive years where he hits 30 home runs.
The pitching staff of the Rays is looking to bounce back; especially starting pitcher Chris Archer whose 19 losses were the worst in American League. However Archer does have electric stuff, but he appeared to be over pitching at times last year due to the fact that there wasn’t a ton of talent around him. And if Archer is able to put it all together, winning 15 games isn’t out of the question for him this season.
Relief pitcher Alex Colome saved 37 games last year in his first season as a closer, but he flew under the radar since the Rays were not a good team. But being that Colome was able to strike out 71 batters in just 56.2 innings pitched, the other teams in the American League will need to pay closer attention to him this time around.
Archer, Colome, and the rest of the Rays pitching staff should benefit from the team signing veteran catcher Wilson Ramos. Ramos was in the midst of having the best season of his career last year as a member of the Washington Nationals until he suffered a torn ACL. Ramos is expected to be healthy by July and he should be able to provide the Rays a veteran backstop to work with this pitching staff.
For Rays manager Kevin Cash, his team doesn’t have the talent or financial stability that their rivals in the American League East have. And thus Tampa Bay needs to get back to what made them which is to scrap and claw for 162 games.
Y-Wild Card Berth
X-Toronto Blue Jays 88-74 (3)
Excitement returned to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015 as they won the American League East in route to their first trip to the postseason since 1993 and in the process, they captivated the entire nation of Canada. The Blue Jays are eager to get back to it as they fell two wins short of winning the AL Pennant and they are hopeful that it won’t take another 22 years to get back to postseason baseball. In a surprise move, Alex Anthopoulos stepped down as the Blue Jays general manager after he was the architect of the team’s turnaround. It’s not known whether or not that the arrival as Mark Shapiro as the Jays new president of baseball operations last summer led to the departure of Anthopolous in Toronto, but Ross Atkins will be the team’s new general manager in 2016.
If you’re a fan of offensive baseball, and more importantly the long ball, then you might want to pull up a chair when the Blue Jays are at bat. The Blue Jays led the American League in most major offensive categories last year and you can expect more of the same in 2016. Led the reigning AL MVP in third baseman Josh Donaldson, the Blue Jays have four players returning to their lineup that hit at least 20 home runs. It is truly pick your poison with the Jays lineup as they are the modern “Murderers Row” with Donaldson, designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, outfielder Jose Bautista, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and catcher Russell Martin. And with all of that power in the Jays lineup, it will be imperative for players such as outfielder Kevin Pillar to get on base ahead of the big bats in the Blue Jays batting order.
Last season the Blue Jays team earned run average was fifth in the American League at 3.80, but they also lost two starting pitchers from last year’s squad. Last July, the Jays acquired starting pitcher David Price from the Detroit Tigers and he was a horse from Toronto down the stretch of the regular season. Price went 9-1 with a 2.30 earned run average in 11 starts for the Jays. But Price decided to join the Boston Red Sox in free agency. Starting pitcher Mark Buehrle led the Jays in wins last season with 15, but after 16 Major League Baseball seasons, he elected to retire. For Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, he is hopeful that his younger starting pitchers in Drew Hutchinson, Marco Estrada, and Marcus Stroman will be able to take over the reigns as far as being at the top of rotation. 2015 saw relief pitcher Roberto Osuna save 20 games for the Blue Jays, and if he is able to flirt with closing at least 30 games for Toronto this year, it should signal good things north of the border.
The majority of the Blue Jays schedule in April will be against the American League East, and a strong start could put them in the catbird’s seat real early.
Y-Boston Red Sox 88-75 (5)*
With the exception of winning the World Series Championship in 2013, the past four years have been a struggle for the Boston Red Sox. In three out of the last four years, the Red Sox have finished in the basement of the American League East. The Red Sox have struggled over the past few years as they’ve appeared to be a team without a plan due to the fact that they want to first go for the youth movement until they decide to go crazy as far as spending in free agency. Things began to change for the Red Sox last year when former Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski became the team’s new president of baseball operations. Dombrowski’s arrival signaled the end of Ben Cherington as the Red Sox general manager as he was replaced by Mike Hazen. But make no mistake about it that Dombrowski is the man that will be calling the shots.
On the field the Red Sox are happy to have manager John Farrell back. Last year Farrell was diagnosed with lymphoma and he underwent treatment as he missed the last two months of the Major League Baseball season.
Farrell, Dombrowski, and the Red Sox have set out to repair the Red Sox pitching staff that’s team earned run average of 4.31 was 14th in the American League last year. The Red Sox also allowed opposing hitters to have a .264 batting average along with a .327 on-base percentage which were each the third highest in the AL.
Since 2008, starting pitcher David Price has been a thorn in the side of the Red Sox. That year Price made his Major League Baseball debut as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays and he helped to prevent the Red Sox from repeating as World Series Champions with Tampa’s big victory over Boston in the American League Championship Series. Along with the Rays, Price has pitched for the Detroit Tigers, and Toronto Blue Jays as the 6’6″ left-hander can keep hitters off balance. Price won the American League Cy Young Award in 2012 along with being a five-time AL All-Star. And once Price became an unrestricted free agent over the winter, the Red Sox were fed up with him terrorizing them as they signed him to a seven-year, $217 million contract. But we’ll have to wait and see if the Red Sox gave up too much to get Price.
Aside from Price, the Red Sox acquired relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres. In the last five years, Kimbrel has saved 252 games and he’s looking to avoid a second consecutive slow start to the season as he introduces his fiery fastball to the American League.
There has been some reshuffling to the Red Sox lineup as the Hanley Ramirez experiment in left field is done. Ramirez will be playing first base for Boston, but you never know if he is a player that will be focused for the full 162-game regular season. The Red Sox are hopeful that third baseman Pablo Sandoval will be more comfortable during his second year in Boston, but the conditioning that plagued his time with the San Francisco Giants could be a factor once again; although he did arrive at spring training in better shape this year. The Red Sox do have stalwarts in their lineup with shortstop Xander Bogaerts and second baseman Dustin Pedroia. But make no mistake about that the heart and soul of this Red Sox team is designated hitter David Ortiz.
Ortiz has announced that 2016 will be his last Major League Baseball season and the team hopes to rally around him as he has meant so much to the organization for more than a decade.
The Red Sox will possess one of the fastest outfields in Major League Baseball with Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and Rusney Castillo. And if each player is able to have a solid year, it could point Boston to the postseason.
The Red Sox will still need to pick up another starting pitcher in order to become a legitimate playoff contender, and I don’t see Dombrowski resting on his laurels in order to get Boston back to the postseason.
New York Yankees 86-76
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi knows how to get the most out his players as he is a master motivator. Last season the Yankees went 87-75 and made the playoffs with a team that was kept together by spit and glue. The Yankees are a team that is currently influx as they are in the process of trying to shed some of the bloated contracts that they have attached to veteran players while also developing young talent within their system. The Yankees will once again exceed the luxury tax threshold in 2016 as their team payroll will easily be over $200 million, but that hasn’t stopped team general manager Brian Cashman from going to work this off-season to get New York back to the postseason in 2016.
The Yankees team earned run average of 4.08 was eighth in the American League and their 72 quality starts were 13th as New York’s starting rotation lacks pitchers that can consistently pitch deep into games. Starting pitcher CC Sabathia is 35-years of age with a bad knee and plenty of mileage on his arm as he is rapidly breaking down. Elbow issues for starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka continue to put a ton of question marks around his overall effectiveness while Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have each been inconsistent. Starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi did lead the Yankees in wins last season with 14, but his 4.20 earned run average was aided by a New York lineup that swung the bats tremendously when he took the mound. The Yankees are thin in starting pitching which led Cashman to getting creative over the winter.
The Yankees already possessed two of the best relief pitchers in Major League Baseball last year in Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Cashman added to that when he acquired relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds. Chapman comes to New York as a four-time National League All-Star who has saved 145 games over the last four years for the Reds. And what Chapman gives the Yankees is more depth in their bullpen. Chapman, Betances, and Miller were three of the toughest bullpen pitchers for hitters to make contact on last season and the Yankees are letting it be known that if you want to score runs on them, you had better do it early.
But all is not well with the Yankees bullpen due to the fact that Girardi tends to use his relievers a ton due to the inability of his starters to go deep into games. Last season Betances made 74 appearances while Miller made 60, and coming down the stretch of the regular season, neither one of these pitches had anything left which could once again be a problem in 2016.
Offensively, the Yankees have the potential to be feast or famine in 2016. After being suspended for the entire 2014 Major League Baseball season due to his use of performance-enhancing drugs, designated hitter Alex Rodriguez came back as a force last year to prove to people that he’s still got it. Rodriguez managed to lead the Yankees in home runs with 33 while he put New York on his back for lengthy periods the season. But at the age of 40, can the Yankees really expect another season like that from A-Rod?
Like Rodriguez, veteran first baseman Mark Teixeira is an aging player. Teixeira will be 36-years of age next month, and the injury bug is beginning to catch up to him as he only appeared in 111 games last season. The Yankees were counting on Greg Bird to get more playing time at first base in 2016, but a torn labrum will put him on the shelf for the entire campaign. Veteran outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran did lead the Yankees in batting average last season, but it was only with a .275 batting average. Beltran will be 39-years of age next month, and like Teixeira, his skills are diminishing. The contract of outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury appears to be another one that the Yankees are going to be stuck with while you have to wonder if the front office in the Bronx has given up on outfielder Brett Gardner.
The Yanks will face a tough schedule right out of the chute with series’ against the Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, and Toronto Blue Jays. And a slow start by the Yankees could bring out the naysayers in New York, but Girardi won’t allow his team to succumb to the white noise as they will play tough all season long.
Baltimore Orioles 86-76
After winning the American League East in 2014, there were some people that expected the Baltimore Orioles to once again contend for the division title last year. I wasn’t one of those people as the Orioles had simply lost too much in free agency in order to contend. And my theory about the O’s proved correct as they finished with a record of 81-81. Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been notorious as far as keeping it close to the chest in regards to spending which makes things a little tougher for Baltimore to consistently field a contender. But if there is a guy that can make lemonade out of lemons, it is O’s manager Buck Showalter.
Since Showalter joined the Orioles, the team has only had one losing season under him. Showalter has a no-nonsense approach while he puts a ton of attention on baseball fundamentals which means that he attempts to make the O’s sound in each phase of the game along with not beating themselves.
The Orioles recent success has been centered around outfielder Adam Jones. Jones has spent the majority of his Major League Baseball career with the Orioles where he has become the face of the franchise in Baltimore. Jones has made five All-Star Game appearances and you should once again be able to pencil him in to hit at least 25 home runs while driving in 85 runs. And another solid campaign by Jones in 2016 should see him move into the top 20 of the Orioles all-time WAR list.
Third baseman Manny Machado was the third overall pick of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft by the Orioles and after a knee injury threatened to hamper is baseball career, he has become one of the best third basemen in the game as he could be in the running to be American League MVP this year.
First baseman/designated hitter Chris Davis led the American League in home runs last year with 47. It was Davis’ walk year and he was expected to receive a huge payday this winter; just not in Baltimore. However Angelos and the Orioles shocked many people when they came to an agreement with Davis on a seven-year deal that is worth $161 million. Davis is that classic power hitter as he strikes out a ton along with going deep, but the Orioles feel that he is worth the risk.
For the first time in a few years, catcher Matt Wieters is healthy for the Orioles, and they should get a stellar season out of him as he is set to hit free agency next winter while infielder Jonathan Scoop is on the verge of being a breakout player.
The Orioles pitching staff isn’t littered with Cy Young talent, but they all possess a strong with ethic. And if this O’s starting pitching staff that includes Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman can get the ball to relief pitcher Zach Britton in the ninth inning, Baltimore will have a shot to be a playoff team in 2016.
The Orioles should hang around in the playoff race until the very end and it will be interesting to see if general manager Dan Duquette will be willing to trade some prospects to make his team a surefire contender.
Tampa Bay Rays 78-84
The magic appears to have finally run out for the Tampa Bay Rays. After six consecutive winning seasons from 2008-2013, the Rays have finished each of the last two Major League Baseball seasons with losing records. Rays president of baseball operations/general manager Matthew Silverman and manager Kevin Cash are set to begin their second year working together and they’ll once again have their hands full as they attempt to compete in the American League East.
The Rays will once again have one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball as they play in a small media market along with the fact that they struggle with home attendance at Tropicana Field.
In recent years pitching has been the backbone of the Rays organization as they had the fourth lowest earned run average in the American League last season and they’ll once again need to be one of the better staffs in baseball in order to give Tampa a chance.
If the Rays will be able to give starting pitcher Chris Archer consistent run support, he could be in the conversation as far as winning the American League Cy Young Award. Archer will also look to break his single-season strikeout record that he set just last year when he struck out 252 batters. Arm issues have derailed what once appeared to be a promising Major League Baseball career for starting pitcher Matt Moore, but the Rays are hopeful that this is the year in which he is able to put it all together.
Aside from Archer and Moore, the Rays have solid starting pitchers in Alex Colome, Alex Cobb, Erasmo Ramirez, and Jake Odorizzi that could put a damper into the chances of the contenders in the American League East. The Rays pitching staff must also get accustomed to a new catcher behind the plate in Hank Conger who was acquired from the Houston Astros in December.
Relief pitcher Brad Boxberger saved 41 games for the Rays last season, and if Tampa falls out of the race in the AL East early on, I can see Silverman looking to trade him.
Offense was a struggle for the Rays in the 2015 as they were 14th in the American League in runs scored and it should once again be the case this year. The only way that the Rays will be able to stay afloat in the American League East is if third baseman Evan Longoria has an MVP-caliber campaign while they are also hopeful that outfielder Desmond Jennings will be able to remain healthy.
Under Cash, the Rays will be an up and down team in 2016, but they will compete on a nightly basis.
Y-Wild Card Winner
It’s been 22 years since the Toronto Blue Jays last made the postseason and a lot has changed on the baseball scene in Canada since then. The Montreal Expos left Canada in 2004 to become the Washington Nationals which left the Blue Jays as the only Major League Baseball team to not call the United States home. But the Jays have become a forgotten team in the American League East. Since Toronto won the World Series in 1993, they’ve watched the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox combine to win the Fall Classic eight times while every team in the AL East with the exception of the Blue Jays, has won the division title at least two times over that stretch. But Toronto is out to change that this season.
In recent years, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been active as far as making deals to turn the fortunes of Toronto around. In 2013, the Blue Jays acquired starting pitcher R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets while also making a move to obtain starting pitcher Mark Buehrle and shortstop Jose Reyes from the Miami Marlins. In 2013, the Jays were only able to win 74 games, but last year they went 83-79 as they finished five victories short of the final wild card spot in the American League.
This season the Jays have been a team that is hovered around the .500 mark, but they could be ready to take their game to another level.
Leading up to the MLB trade deadline, Anthopoulos was very active. The Blue Jays traded Reyes to the Colorado Rockies along with three minor league players in exchange for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins. This past Thursday would see the Jays strike a deal with the Detroit Tigers to acquire starting pitcher David Price and just prior to the deadline, they were also able to get outfielder Ben Revere from the Philadelphia Phillies. The moves to bring in Tulowitzki and Price have brought excitement to the fan base in Toronto as it could be just what the doctor ordered to get the Blue Jays to the postseason this October.
This year the Blue Jays are 12th in the American League in both quality starts (47) and team earned run average (3.99) But not since the days of starting pitcher Roy Halladay have the Blue Jays had a player in their rotation that was a true ace which changes now with Price. Price fits that mold of an ace as he is a pitcher that you want on the mound to start a winning streak, stop a losing streak, and the Jays are hopeful that he’ll ultimately begin a playoff series for them this October. Price has a career earned run average of 3.13 and he also won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. Price is in the final year of his contract as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this winter which means that he’ll be in line for a hefty payday. The Blue Jays decided to roll the dice in acquiring Price who should pitch lights out for them coming down the stretch due to the fact that he’s looking to get paid in the off-season.
Price’s presence in the Blue Jays starting rotation also pushes Dickey and Buehrle who are both veteran pitchers further down in the pecking order. Dickey throws the unpredictable knuckle ball while Buehrle is a “junk” pitcher who no longer has to feel the strain of attempting to carry the Blue Jays starting rotation.
But as bad as Toronto’s pitching has been this year, their lineup makes up for it. The Blue Jays have one of the top offenses in Major League Baseball as they are first in the American League in runs scored (556) and slugging (.443), while they are third in home runs with 142, as they have some fierce power hitters in their lineup in the form of Tulowitzki, third baseman Josh Donaldson, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, and outfielder Jose Bautista. And with all of that power, it is surprising that the Blue Jays have only struck out 732 times this year which is just 11th in the AL as once you factor in catcher Russell Martin whom Anthopoulos signed last winter, there really isn’t a perceived soft spot within Toronto’s batting order.
The Blue Jays entered play today tied with the Baltimore Orioles for second place in the American League East as each team is six games behind the Yankees while Toronto is just a game behind the Minnesota Twins for the final wild card slot on the Junior Circuit. I previously commented earlier this season that the Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays will fight for the title in the AL East as now Toronto has a full squad that can close the gap on New York within the division. And what the additional wild card spot has done is to give more teams hope as far as making the postseason which is good news for the Blue Jays who are looking to end the longest current drought in Major League Baseball without reaching the playoffs.
The old adage is that pitching wins championships and if the Blue Jays were to find themselves in a one-game, wild card playoff, they have a guy in Price that can get the job done as he proved that by pitching the Rays past the Texas Rangers in 2013 in a one-game playoff to get Tampa to the American League Wild Card Game. And the Blue Jays definitely have the hitting lineup behind Price and the other pitchers that will keep them in games coming down the stretch of the season.
Toronto has won three out of their last four games and you can feel the buzz that is building there as the folks are coming to the Rogers Centre to support their beloved Blue Jays. From 1985-1993, the Blue Jays won the American League East five times with the last two titles being the prelude for them winning the World Series. Those Blue Jays teams enjoyed tremendous balance as they had tremendous hitting with the likes of Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar while they had solid starting pitching with the likes of Jimmy Key and Dave Stieb. For Anthopoulos and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, they could be potentially riding the wave of something special down the stretch of the regular season. And as teams can still put a waiver claim on a player until August 31, the Blue Jays and Anthopoulos aren’t necessarily done upgrading as this team could still use some help in the bullpen. But these next two months could be very special for the Blue Jays and their fan base in Toronto.
X-Toronto Blue Jays 89-73
In 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays enjoyed their first winning campaign since 2010, but it still was not enough for them to get to playoffs for the first time since 1992 which is now the longest active postseason drought in Major League Baseball. But will this be the year that the Jays are able reverse the tide?
The past two-offseasons have seen Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos become active in making trades and signing free agents. This winter the Blue Jays signed free-agent catcher Russell Martin to a five-year deal for $82 million. Martin wasn’t brought to Toronto for his bat as his ability behind the plate is what teams truly covet. Martin spent the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and during his time there the team’s pitching staff never had a team run average lower than fifth in the National League which is a credit to Martin’s ability to call a game behind the plate and that is music to the ears of Anthopoulos and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons as their pitching staff’s team earned run average of 4.00 was ninth in the American League last season.
Veteran starting pitcher Mark Buehrle will provide tremendous experience for the Jays in their rotation while R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball will frustrate hitters in the AL. But there are questions behind Buehrle and Dickey for the Blue Jays in their rotation as they will need youngsters Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchinson, and Daniel Norris to step up if they are going to be able to entertain realistic thoughts about ending their playoff drought.
The questions about Toronto’s pitching don’t stop at their starting rotation. In the past three seasons, Casey Janssen saved 81 games for the Blue Jays, but he is now a member of the Washington Nationals and the task of closing games in the ninth inning for Toronto will be placed on the right arm of relief pitcher Brett Cecil.
If the Blue Jays are able to still be playing baseball come October, they will need pitching, but during the season they will rely heavily on their potent lineup which is one of the best in Major League Baseball. The Blue Jays hit 177 home runs last season and you can expect more of the same in 2015. Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista has been a late-bloomer by MLB standards as far as being a power hitter, but the folks in Toronto certainly don’t mind. Bautista is 34-years of age and he will once again be expected to deliver 30 home runs for the Jays in 2015. Bautista should once again be joined in the 30-homer club this season for the Jays as first baseman Edwin Encarnacion can launch the baseball deep over the outfield walls at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Jays also added depth to their lineup by signing former Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo who is coming off of a 21-home run season. The Blue Jays have speed at the top of their lineup in the form of shortstop Jose Reyes, but the wild card for Toronto this season will be third baseman Josh Donaldson. The Blue Jays acquired Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics this off-season and he’ll give Toronto a good glove man at the hot corner along with another power bat in their lineup.
The American League East is as wide open as ever and as long as the Blue Jays are able to keep their key players healthy, they will have a great chance to end their long playoff drought.
Boston Red Sox 85-77
In the past four seasons it has either been the penthouse or the outhouse for the Boston Red Sox. After winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox lost 91 games last season as they finished in the basement of the American League East. The Red Sox also finished in last place 2012 before turning it around the following season and they are hopeful that this will once again be the formula for them in 2015.
The Red Sox missed out on bringing starting pitcher Jon Lester back to Boston this off-season, but they still have a pitching staff that has potential. The Red Sox acquired starting pitcher Joe Kelly from the St. Louis Cardinals last season. Kelly is 26-years of age and the Red Sox believe in his potential to be a solid starting pitcher in their rotation. The Red Sox also acquired starting pitcher Rick Porcello from the Detroit Tigers. Like Kelly, Porcello is 26-years old and he is also coming off of his first 15-win season in Major League Baseball and the Red Sox are hopeful that he is ready to turn the corner as a starting pitcher. Arm problems have been plaguing Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz over the past two seasons and it will be tough for manager John Farrell to be able to depend on him to make 30 starts this year.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington wasn’t afraid to spend money this off-season to upgrade an offense that was near the bottom of most statistical categories last year. After helping the San Francisco Giants win three World Series Championships in the past five years, third baseman Pablo Sandoval is heading to the Red Sox after signing a five-year, $100 million contract. In his seven years with the Giants, Sandoval averaged 20 home runs, 86 runs batted in, and a .294 batting average per season. But was Sandoval merely a system guy or a player that can shine under the immense pressure that he will now face in Boston? After spending nearly two-plus seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Hanley Ramirez is returning to the Red Sox. The Red Sox signed Ramirez as an amateur free agent out of his native Dominican Republic in 2000. Ramirez was groomed to be the Red Sox shortstop of the future until he was traded to the Florida Marlins in 2006. Ramirez has been a shortstop for the majority of his MLB career, but now the Red Sox will ask him the play left field which in itself is a tough transition and it will be more difficult due to the fact that the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston is no easy task for outfielders to figure out.
Cherington is also hopeful Rusney Castillo will be as good as advertised in center field while second baseman Dustin Pedroia will bounce back from an injury plagued season. At 39-years of age, the Red Sox are hopeful that designated hitter David Ortiz isn’t ready to slow down as he is one the cusp of hitting 500 career home runs and that he is not ready to slow down while it is time for Xander Bogaerts to live up to his potential at shortstop.
Just like the past few years in Boston, this season will either be really good or horrifically bad for the Red Sox and one way or the other it will be entertaining.
New York Yankees 85-77
After making the playoffs 17 times from 1995-2012, mediocrity is setting in for the New York Yankees. The Yankees core that guided them to five World Series Championships over that stretch has retired and the Bronx Bombers have a ton of questions about their roster heading into the season.
Joe Girardi is set to begin his eighth season as the Yankees manager and he is known as a skipper that will get the most out of his club which is a notion that will be tested in 2015. The Yankees are set to welcome back third baseman Alex Rodriguez to the team. Rodriguez missed the entire 2014 Major League Baseball season as a result of his role in the Biogenesis Scandal. Rodriguez is a three-time American League MVP, but at 39-years of age his skills are not what they once were. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has let it be known that he no longer views Rodriguez as a viable option at third base and he wants the slugger to be the team’s everyday designated hitter while also learning how to play at first base. Rodriguez’s bat has slowed down drastically and it isn’t feasible to expect him to have a big impact. But if Rodriguez is able to hit at least 20 home runs while batting .275, the Yankees will take it.
To replace Rodriguez at third base, the Yankees re-signed Chase Headley. The Yankees acquired Headley from the San Diego Padres last summer and in 58 games he batted .262. Now it is Headley’s job at third base and the Yankees are hopeful that he’ll be close to the player that he was when he hit 31 home runs in 2012 as a member of the Padres.
All eyes will be on the Yankees new shortstop Didi Gregorius. The Yankees acquired Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks this off-season and he’ll have his work cut out for him as he is charged with replacing a legend at shortstop in the Bronx in Derek Jeter. Gregorius has never lit it up at the plate during his Major League Baseball career, but the Yanks brought him on board to be a defensive presence on the left side of their infield. Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is longer going to be a guy that will hit .285 with 30 homers, but he still has one of the best gloves in baseball at first base as he is the anchor on the infield which is evident by his five Gold Glove Awards. The Yankees have tremendous speed and range in left field with Brett Gardner and in center field as well with Jacoby Ellsbury, but there is a huge question mark surrounding Carlos Beltran in right field. Beltran is entering his second season with the Yankees, but he’ll be 38-years old in April and the team will be thankful if they are able to get 120 games out of him this season.
The Yankees team earned run average of 3.75 was eighth in the AL last season and their pitching will either be really good or extremely horrible this season. Last season Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was in line to become the AL Rookie of the Year. Tanaka was 12-3 with an earned run average of 2.27 through the beginning of July until discomfort in his elbow derailed his season. Tanaka attempted to comeback and pitch later in the season and his effectiveness was gone. To me Tanaka’s arm problems smell of a potential Tommy John procedure that could really hinder the Yankees chances in 2015 if that is the case. Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia and his bothersome knee were limited to just 46 innings pitched last season. Sabathia has always been a durable pitcher, but realistically the Yankees should be thankful if they are able to get 150 innings out of him this season as he is not the same pitcher that he once was. Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda has all of the tools necessary to be a dominant starting pitcher and Girardi is hopeful that this will be the season in which he is able to put it altogether while Chris Capuano and Nathan Eovaldi will round out the starting rotation in the Bronx.
The Yankees bullpen will once again be strong as they signed left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller. Miller split last season between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles as he had an earned run average of 2.02 while striking out 103 batters in 62.1 innings pitched. Miller is 6’7″ and he has the ability get batters out from both sides of the plate. The Yankees focused on Miller this off-season and in the process they allowed relief pitcher David Robertson to leave as a free agent and join the Chicago White Sox. Robertson saved 39 games for the Yankees last season and his departure means that the Yankees will have their fourth different closer in as many years. Last season relief pitcher Dellin Betances was tremendous as a setup man to Robertson, but now it will be his time in the ninth inning. The Yankees are hopeful that Betances is able to make the transition to pitching in the ninth inning in the same fashion that Robertson and Mariano Rivera did before him.
These aren’t your father’s Yankees as the name of the game this season will be pitching for the Yankees. If Girardi is able to get six solid innings from his starters, he can turn the game over to a reliable bullpen, but overall New York must remain healthy if they are going to entertain any thoughts of winning the American League East in 2015.
Baltimore Orioles 84-78
Last season the Baltimore Orioles enjoyed their finest year since 1997 which culminated in a trip to the American League Championship Series. But it will be tough for the Orioles to repeat that success in 2015. The O’s had some key departures in free agency that will be tough for them to replace. Last season designated hitter Nelson Cruz led the Orioles in home runs (40), and runs batted in (108), but he was a free agent and he signed on with the Seattle Mariners. Outfielder Nick Markakis had a tremendous glove in right field and he also led the Orioles in on-base percentage last season at .342. But like Cruz, Markakis left Baltimore and he signed with the Atlanta Braves. And to top it all off there are rumors that Orioles general manager Dan Duquette could leave Baltimore to take the same position with the Toronto Blue Jays. As the O’s were definitely one of the feel good stories in 2014, things could sour for them a bit in 2015.
Luckily for the Orioles they are still led by manager Buck Showalter who is one of the best motivators in Major League Baseball. The Orioles still have outfielder Adam Jones whom you can go ahead and pencil in to hit about .285 with 30 homers and 100 runs batted in. After being a bit player in his first seven Major League Baseball seasons, utility man Steve Pearce had his best season last year as he hit 21 home runs. And with Markakis now a member of the Braves, Showalter will count on Pearce even more in right field. Third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters missed the majority of 2014 with injuries and for the O’s to be a contender this season, each player will need to make some noise on the baseball diamond. After battling through injuries and eventually a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis will return this season and he could be the ultimate wild card for this team.
The Orioles pitching staff may not jump out at most people, but they had the third lowest team earned run average in the American League last season while four starting pitchers had at least 10 victories and they were led by starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen who had 16 wins. The Orioles pitching staff has a workman like approach, but they will miss relief pitcher Andrew Miller who left to sign with the New York Yankees after posting a 1.53 earned run average in 23 appearances last season.
The Orioles first 19 games of the season will be against their American League East foes. The Orioles could struggle to find their identity at first, but with Showalter leading the way you can never fully count them out.
Tampa Bay Rays 66-96
Last season saw the Tampa Bay Rays suffer their first losing campaign since 2007 and the folks in Western Florida have to get accustomed to it as wholesale changes have been made. Longtime Rays manager Joe Maddon was able to opt out of his contract which allowed him to become the skipper of the Chicago Cubs. The Rays also lost longtime general manager Andrew Friedman who left to become the president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Matthew Silverman is replacing Friedman while Kevin Cash is taking over for Maddon as the manager of the Rays. Silverman and Cash are basically starting over from scratch as they will have their hands full in trying to keep the Rays relevant in the American League East this season.
In 2014, the Rays traded starting pitcher David Price to the Detroit Tigers and they didn’t get the slew of minor-league prospects in return that most people expected them to receive. Longtime utility man Ben Zobrist was traded to the Oakland Athletics this off-season while outfielder Wil Myers who won the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Award was sent to the San Diego Padres in a three-team deal that also involved the Washington Nationals.
The most recognizable player on the Rays roster in 2015 will be third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria has spent his entire seven-year Major League Baseball career in a Rays uniform, but with the team recently departing with so many other key players, will he be the next to go?
This Rays team is being held together by spit and glue as it will be tough for them to not get lost in the shuffle within the AL East.