American League East preview

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March 30, 2018 by squish

Written by Ryan Delaney

New York Yankees: 91–71 (2nd last season)

Key Additions: IF Brandon Drury, OF Giancarlo Stanton

Key Departures: 2B Starlin Castro, 3B Todd Frazier, LHP Jaime Garcia, 1B/3B Chase Headley, DH Matt Holliday, RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Michael Pineda

Most people would likely be surprised if you told them that the Yankees haven’t won the division in 6 years, but this is actually the case. Since 2012, the AL East has been arguably the most competitive division in the league during that time. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they have been on the wrong side of this. Three of the other four teams have won since the Yankees last title, with the Red Sox having the most with 3. Despite this, the Yankees have still managed to make the playoffs by way of the wild card twice, and even made a run that ended in game 7 of the ALCS last season.

This season is different, however, as the Yankees have loaded up in the offseason. Truthfully, the only major addition they made was Giancarlo Stanton, but adding a reigning league MVP can make it feel like they’ve won the offseason. Aside from Stanton, the talk is really about who they have coming back. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are your no-doubters as they are sure to continue the success they’ve had over the past season and a half. I don’t expect Judge to have quite the year he had last season, but he will for sure produce at a high rate.

Top to bottom, this lineup is scary. It can be seen as a little top-heavy with how much power they’ll have from those three guys, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen the rest of these guys produce. Didi Gregorius hit 25 home runs last season, and Aaron Hicks has shown flashes at times as well. The real question mark hovering over this team is the rotation.

Luis Severino had an outstanding campaign in his first full season, coming third for the Cy Young, and Masahiro Tanaka has been their ace for the past four seasons. Now with Sonny Gray coming back for his first full-season with the club, this rotation has lethal potential, but they need them all to click. CC is still kicking and is coming off a very good bounce back year, so it will be interesting to see if he can continue that in 2018. Jordan Montgomery was recently named the Yankees fifth starter. He made 29 starts last season and finished 9-7 with a 3.88 era, a very solid performance, especially for rookie. If they can get this to rotation to click, they have the potential to win 110 games, and that’s no joke. I do believe they will struggle at times though, which is why I have them at 99.

Team MVP: Luis Severino

I know most people will think that Stanton will be the MVP of this team, but the reality is, this lineup is going to hit no matter what. For the Yankees to be serious World Series contenders, the MVP of this team has to be Luis Severino. As good as he was last year, he needs to be better, which he has potential to do. If he does so, I wouldn’t want to play this team come October.

Team X-Factor: Sonny Gray

He was somewhat underwhelming in his half season in New York after the deadline, but if he can get back to what he was prior to 2016, the Yankees will be the favorite to win the World Series.

2018 prediction: 99-63 (1st)

Boston Red Sox: 93–69 (1st last season)

Key Additions: OF J.D. Martinez

Key Departures: RHP Doug Fister, RHP Addison Reed, OF Chris Young

For the past two years, the Red Sox have arguably been the preseason favorite to come out of the American League because of what they did during the offseason. Prior to 2016 the grabbed the best pitcher on the market in David Price, and then traded for Chris Sale a year later. After 2 years, these major offseason moves have led to 2 straight division titles, but only 1 playoff win. A combination of problems caused the Red Sox demise last season, with the major area of concern being the offense.

The Red Sox went from the number 1 offense in baseball to a very mediocre scoring team in just one season. Clearly the loss of David Ortiz hurt this team, but that’s no excuse for almost every guy in the lineup seemingly regressing in just one season. Now, the Sox are back to having a similar lineup in terms of power to what they did in 2016, with the addition of J.D. Martinez. I expect with him being inserted into this lineup, they will produce a similar output to what they did in 2016.

If we’re looking at each player’s ceiling, top to bottom this team has a deeper lineup than the Yankees, but some of those guys are also streaky hitters like Jackie Bradley and Hanley Ramirez. If all they can get the bats to click, however, this team can be a legitimate World Series contender, which I think they will be.

I believe this team will have a better record than last season, but will not win the division. The pitching staff is the best it’s been in a long time with the top 3 guys all being healthy going into the year. The last two spots in the rotation are a bit of a wild card right now, with really 3 guys going for 2 spots, but also a chance of none of them being ready for opening day due to injuries.

Eduardo Rodriguez will not be ready for the start of the season, and neither will Steven Wright, plus he’ll need to serve his 15 games suspension I don’t expect to see Drew Pomeranz until May as of now either, which is why I think Bryan Johnson, who has looked good during the spring, will grab one the last spots in the rotation for the time being. The other will likely be Hector Velazquez, which hopefully won’t last long, even though he was actually pretty good in the small sample we saw him last season.

At the end of the day, I’m a lot less worried about this rotation than I am about the offense because they have less to prove. The bullpen is also as strong as it’s been in a long time with Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg both being healthy now. We will likely finally get to see how lethal this bullpen could be with all these guys, and Craig Kimbrel at the back-end.

Team MVP: Hanley Ramirez

You seem to have idea of what you’re going to get from most of the guys in this lineup, but if the Red Sox really want to have a good shot at another title, they need their MVP to be Hanley Ramirez. The numbers will show you that since he’s been here, when Hanley hits like we know he can, the Red Sox start winning, but when he’s cold, the team is cold. The only problem is going to be that he is going to be starting the season splitting time at first base with Mitch Moreland until one can prove they’re the right guy for the job. If Hanley plays like Hanley, though, he’ll for sure take the starting spot.

Team X-Factor: Jackie Bradley Jr.

I don’t think it’s overly necessary and crucial to this team for him to perform well at the plate, but if he plays similar to he did in late 2015 and early 2016, he will be the X-factor for this team, and could change the outlook of the division.

My guess is that the Red Sox will win 95 games this year and the division will be competitive right until the last week. This isn’t really what fans want to hear though, and the really test is going to be if they can win in the postseason. If they lose in the wild card game or have a poor showing in the ALDS again, I think there could be major changes with this team next offseason, but most people around the league, including myself, expect this team to be competitive in October.

2018 prediction: 95-67 (2nd)

Toronto Blue Jays: 76–86 (4th last season)

Key Additions: SS Aledmys Diaz, LHP Jaime Garcia, OF Curtis Granderson, OF Randal Grichuk, IF Yangervis Solarte

Key Departures: OF Jose Bautista, IF Ryan Goins, C Miguel Montero, OF Michael Saunders

Toronto is in a similar place to Baltimore where they looked like they had something a few years ago, but now their window is also closing quickly. They’ve been on a steady decline over the past 3 seasons, but I don’t think they’ll get any worse. To me, there at an in between area, but also where I think their floor is going to be for the foreseeable future. Guys like Bautista and Tulowitzki are still hanging around, but are not quite what they used to be, and won’t have a major impact going forward.

Josh Donaldson is still there as well, and could very well be an MVP candidate once again, but he’s really the only elite level player on this roster, similar to Machado in Baltimore. All the way through, this lineup can still produce, but what I think will be this team’s downfall, similar to last year, will be their pitching.

Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez have shown what kind of potential they have in the past, but consistency has been an issue. Stroman finished last season with a 3.09 era in a full season of starts, but the rest of his numbers nearly mirror what they were the previous season when he finished with a 4.37. Marco Estrada had very strong 2015 and 2016 campaigns, but was garbage last season with an era barely under 5. J.A. Happ has been the most consistent on this staff over the past two years, but his wasn’t anything outstanding last year.

This is why I’m very torn on how I feel about this rotation for this season. Of the last two years, it seems like each guy has had one good season and one bad season. The only real thing we can wonder is what guy will we see in 2018. If all 4 or even just 3 can be near what they were at their best, this team has potential. Stroman and Sanchez are still in their mid-twenties, and are just nearing their prime, but Estrada and Happ are on the back nine of their careers, and it’s a real question of how much they really have left.

One big thing that stands out about Toronto is the young guys that are coming up through their system. Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Anthony Alford are all among the league’s top prospects, but it is uncertain whether they’ll all be ready to go at some point this year. Guerrero looks like he’ll start the year on the major league roster, but Bichette is going to be in AA, while Alford is starting the year on the DL. The hope seems to be that Guerrero will produce right away, but whether he does or not is a completely different question. I expect him to have an impact, but not to the extent that Blue Jays fans might be hoping for. I think he’ll be similar to what we saw from Andrew Benintendi on the Red Sox last season, but not much more than that. Either way, it is definitely exciting to see what these young guys can do for Toronto going forward.

Team MVP: Aaron Sanchez

This Blue Jays team is good, but I don’t think it’s nearly built like Boston or New York. I expect them to be on the outskirts of contention right up until the last month. For Toronto to have a real shot at the postseason, they’ll need their MVP to be Aaron Sanchez. He only appeared in 8 games last year due to injury, but if he’s healthy, I expect him to return to what we saw in 2016. That’s the only full season we’ve seen from Sanchez in his young career, but he was lights out, finishing with a 3.00 era and the best winning percentage in the league. I know we shouldn’t look too much in wins and losses for pitchers, but when this guys on, the team wins.

Team X-Factor: Roberto Osuna

Osuna has been probably the least respected dominant closer in the league over the past three years. He just turned 23 and has already had more saves than Wade Davis and Craig Kimbrel in the last two years. This guy is a stud, and if he can be what he was last year, I expect this team to compete. They finished at 76-86 last season, but that was mostly due to a rough start, and if they can prevent that, they have a decent shot. It’s an outside shot, but if you have a shot you’ll take it, and that’s where Toronto is at in 2018.

2018 prediction: 85-77 (3rd)

Baltimore Orioles: 75–87 (5th last season)

Key Additions: RHP Andrew Cashner, OF Colby Rasmus

Key Departures: C Welington Castillo, SS J.J. Hardy, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Wade Miley, OF Seth Smith

Two or three years ago it seemed like the Orioles were ready headed in the right direction, but a combination of injuries and no real improvement in the roster has left them in the same position, but their window is getting smaller. The lineup has continuously been one of the better ones in the AL, but the pitching staff has always been their weak spot.

They made the wildcard game two seasons ago and ended up losing to Toronto in extras. It’s fairly safe to say that they likely wouldn’t have even been there had it not been for the outstanding play of closer, Zach Britton, who was in contention for the Cy Young. Britton then missed a large amount of last season, and it already starting 2018 on the 60 Day DL. If he can come back sooner rather than later and Baltimore is still in contention, having him back could set them up for a deep run. It will be tough for him to return to full-form coming off of injury though, so this seems like an unlikely scenario.

Last week former Rays pitcher Alex Cobb signed a 4-year deal worth $57 Million with the club, which will definitely add some much-needed depth to the rotation. Cobb will be the borderline number 1 on this staff that has some guys with good upside, but also some shaky reputations. Dylan Bundy is still only 25 years old and has shown flashes of having potential, despite not recording an era sub 4. Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman are the established veterans in this rotation, and for any real success the Orioles may have this season, they will need these two to return to what they were in 2016.

It’s going to be a battle of maintaining consistency throughout the season for this Baltimore club. We’ve seen that the lineup can produce, and the rotation can shut teams down, but that needs to happen throughout the year for them to have a shot at making it to October. This isn’t a team that looks to be built for a title run, but they do have some elite caliber players.

Team MVP: Zach Britton

Manny Machado is the hands down best player on this roster, but if they want a chance at winning this division, they need their MVP to be Zach Britton again. Even though we likely won’t see him until May, he could still deliver when he comes back, as we mentioned earlier. Holding leads is extremely important, as we saw from him in 2016, and this team is going to need that more than anything.

Team X-Factor: Trey Mancini

Not many people know his name because he’s only played one full season, but he’s shown that he has a high ceiling. Mancini had arguably one of the most underrated and under-appreciated stat lines in the American league batting .293 with 24 big flies, and 78 RBIs. Nothing huge, but a very above average showing, and with the power this lineup already has, Mancini could add a nice complement to that. I really don’t expect this team to be there at the end of the road, but with they get things to click, they have a fighting chance.

2018 prediction: 80-82 (4th)

Tampa Bay Rays: 80–82 (3rd last season)

Key Additions: LHP Anthony Banda, 1B C.J. Cron, OF Carlos Gomez, RHP Daniel Hudson, OF Denard Span

Key Departures: RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Alex Cobb, OF Corey Dickerson, 1B Lucas Duda, 3B Evan Longoria, 1B Logan Morrison, RHP Jake Odorizzi, OF Steven Souza Jr

Alright, I know I’ve written a lot, and I plan on keeping this last one short, because to be honest, there really isn’t much to talk about. The Rays don’t have a lot of hope going into 2018. They finished in third in 2017, and I don’t expect them to do that again this year. Nothing about this roster really grabs your attention. They traded away their heart and soul guy, Evan Longoria. They last their best hitter, Logan Morrison to Minnesota, and Kevin Kiermaier is still the most overrated player in the American League.

Chris Archer is no doubt a stud, and would be the ace of most teams in this league, but there’s only so much one guy can do. Archer is under contract through 2019, with team options the two years after that, but if Tampa is really struggling, he could potentially be a trade piece at the deadline. It’s unlikely, but it could still happen. It’s going to depend on where the Rays see themselves going over the next couple seasons, because to me, they are still several years away from being something. Could they prove me wrong? Sure. But will they? Absolutely not, they’re the Tampa Bay Rays.

They did sign Carlos Gomez to a 1-year deal this offseason, so maybe they’re not completely packing it in, but there just isn’t much hope. They’re guys are either too young or just have a ceiling that isn’t very high. That doesn’t really jump out as a threat to win this division, but you never know.

Team MVP: Chris Archer

If the rays want to contend, they need Chris Archer and Chris Archer only to be their MVP. His numbers other than his era have been outstanding for the past three years, so if he can get that down, I expect his win total to go way. That’s the only real way I see them contending. Even if that does happen, they still need to score him runs, and there’s not many guys on this roster that you can say will for sure do that for him.

Team X-Factor: Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, but was a decent middle of the rotation guy prior to that. The last time we saw him was almost two years ago for the Yankees, where his numbers we less than stellar. His numbers seem to dwindle the further he goes into the year, but maybe that will change after a year off. He throws gas, but it’s tough for those type of guys to maintain their performance for a full season. If he can get his era somewhere in the mid to low 3s, the Rays could be onto something. Like I said, they need Archer to give them ace level stuff and nothing less, but if both of these things happen, they’ll have a very, very outside shot at maybe a wildcard.

2018 prediction: 73-89 (5th)

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