Opening Day is just a few days away. It’s an exciting time of year for baseball fans. I thought we could start the season with my predictions for what this year will look like. We’ll just go through the league the way I remember seeing the standings listed in the newspaper when I was a kid. So, at the top, we find the AL East. Baltimore’s resurgence in 2012, Toronto’s spending-spree in the offseason, Boston dumping salary . . . and there’s little doubt about which division in baseball is the most intriguing. I’ll give the AL West a close runner-up, but there are no lackluster teams in the AL East. So, here’s how I see the season shaping up in this hotly contested division:
- Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)
- New York Yankees (87-75)
- Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
- Baltimore Orioles (82-80)
- Boston Red Sox (79-83)
Blue Jays: Yes, I’m “drinking the Kool-Aid”. But, take a look at this team. What is there not to like? Starting Rotation: Dickey, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow (2.96 ERA last year), and probably J.A. Happ. The bullpen includes the ageless Darren Oliver, Aaron Loup (2.64 ERA last year), and Casey Janssen, who did a very good job as their closer last season (2.55 ERA, 0.86 WHIP). And, an offense that was already explosive, just got more so: Reyes, Melky, Bautista, Encarnacion, Lawrie, Bonifacio, Lind, Rasmus. They have speed and power. With all of the question marks on the other teams, I think this is the most complete team in the AL East.
Yankees: I was tempted to drop their win total even further, but they’re the Yankees, and they always seem to find a way to make things work. Here’s the problem – most, if not all, of their pre-all-star break games will be without the following names: Granderson, Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Hughes, Pineda. Granted, Youkilis is raking right now in Spring Training, and he will be an extremely important piece of this offense early on, if they hope to stay competitive. But, other than Youk and Cano, their lineup is pretty weak come Opening Day. I also have concerns about the pitching staff – another year older doesn’t make Pettite a great #3 or #4 starter. C.C. at the top is fine, but you have a lot of question marks after that.
Rays: B.J. Upton. That’s the list of players that were a significant offensive threat in their lineup for more than half of last season (Longoria only played 74 games). Now, Upton’s gone. Longoria’s back, but who’s going to keep every pitcher from pitching around him? Zobrist? Loney? Joyce? The pitching staff in Tampa is one of the best (led the league in practically everything last year), which is the only reason they will finish the season above .500. But, if they want to seriously compete, they need to find some offense somewhere other than at 3B.
Orioles: Pitching wins championships. Everything really fell into place just right for Baltimore last year. But, they can’t continue to ignore the fact that their starting rotation was 21st in ERA last year (4.42), and that their bullpen had the 4th most IP in all of baseball. Their bullpen held up last year, but they can’t keep that up for long. And, the “big” addition to their starting rotation (Jair Jurrjens) has a lot of question marks of his own. The offense might see slight improvement, now that Machado has MLB experience under his belt. But, it was middle-of-the-pack last year, and I don’t see enough improvement to help this team keep up the same winning ways as last year.
Red Sox: I think they will take big strides in the right direction (a 10-game turnaround), but I also believe they gave up a little too much in the deal to dump salaries on the Dodgers. Gonzalez was a big bat in the middle of that lineup, and I don’t think Mike Napoli is a 1-to-1 replacement. I think the Red Sox are rebuilding, as evidenced by all the 1-year deals they gave guys (Napoli, Hanrahan, Drew, Uehara). I’m also not convinced Lester is #1 starter material, so I think the starting rotation is suspect. But, they’ve put together a decent lineup, and rid themselves of some unneeded clubhouse funk.
All in all, I expect this to be a very tight division (10 games separating 5 teams). But, I think Toronto is poised to take it this year.