Tuesday, March 25, 2014

AL East Preview




We kick off our division preview with the powerful AL East. Over the next 6 days we will go through each division in baseball, giving you our predictions about each team and where they'll be come October. The AL East is the only division in baseball where all 5 teams have a realistic chance to make the playoffs. This division should come down to the wire, just like it always does. Feel free to chime in with your own predictions!

1. Tampa Bay Rays
The AL East is the best division in baseball, and it's tough to pick who will come out on top. The Red Sox and Yankees have a chance to win it, but the Rays are the most equipped to take the Division title. The Rays had a relatively low key off-season, with most of their moves involving the bullpen. They lost closer Fernando Rodney to Seattle, but signed Heath Bell and Grant Balfour to bolster the back end of their bullpen. Balfour is a step up from Rodney, as Rodney struggled last year to close games. The rotation, which has also been a strong suit for Tampa, will be one of the best in the American League. David Price anchors the staff that also includes young guns Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Chris Archer. With those guys on the mound, Tampa will always have a chance to win. The offense isn't the most potent out there, but it plays small ball and executes when it needs to.

If Everything Goes Right: The combination of the Rays dominant young staff and shut down bullpen overcome any short comings the offense might have. The Rays take the AL East title, and make a deep (maybe even a World Series) run in October.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The young pitchers regress, the offense struggles, the Rays get overrun in the powerful AL East, and there's no October baseball in Tampa Bay.

X-Factor: Wil Myers. Myers was the big piece that the Rays received when they sent James Shield to Kansas City before last season. A highly touted prospect, Myers played well last year after being called up mid-season. He hit .293 with 13 Home Runs and 53 RBI's in 77 games. If the Rays are going to make a World Series run, they need the young star to have a breakout season and lead the offense.

2. Boston Red Sox
The defending champions have a tough road ahead if they want to repeat. They're in the toughest division in baseball and as defending champs, they'll have a target on their back. They signed A.J. Pierzynski to play catcher, and he should be a good fit in Boston. They also added relief pitcher Edward Mujica, which should strengthen what is already one of the best bullpens in the bigs. The lineup remains one of the best in baseball with Dustin Pedroia and World Series MVP David Ortiz. The big question mark is the starting rotation. The rotation was average during the regular season, but in October, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Bucholz turned it on and lead them to the World Series title. If they pitch like they did in October, we could be looking at the first repeat champions since the Yankees, when they did it 1998-2000.

If Everything Goes Right: The rotation pitches like they did in the playoffs, the lineup wrecks havoc on American League pitching, and the bullpen continues to dominate. Beantown has another champion.

If Everything Goes Wrong: 2012 Lester and 2011 Lackey show up, teams start to figure out closer Koji Uehara and the Red Sox watch the playoffs from home.

X-Factor: Xander Bogaerts. The #2 ranked prospect on MLB.com, Bogaerts showed a lot of promise down the stretch last season. Boston expects big things of him and he should be the staring SS on Opening Day. If he succeeds, the Red Sox lineup will be unstoppable.

3. New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers lost the biggest offensive free agent (Robinson Cano), but signed the biggest pitching free agent (Masahiro Tanaka). It was a busy off-season for the Yanks, which doesn't always guarantee success (see 2012 Marlins, 2013 Blue Jays). Even though they lost Cano and Curtis Granderson, they signed Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury. They're still an older team, but should be in the hunt down the stretch. Plus, they'll have that extra motivation to give Derek Jeter a final season to remember.

If Everything Goes Right: C.C. Sabathia regains his old form, and combines with Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda to form a strong rotation. The offense bounces back after a miserable season and Derek Jeter gets one last chance in October.

If Everything Goes Wrong: Tanaka doesn't live up to the hype, the aged offense continues to decline, and the Yankees finish near the bottom of the AL East.

X-Factor: Masahiro Tanaka. The man everyone wanted to sign wound up in New York. Now the big question is this, will he be an ace like Yu Darvish? Or a bust like Daisuke Matsuzaka? If he's the former, the Yankees will make a playoff push; but if it's the latter, the Yankees will be in trouble.

4. Baltimore Orioles
On paper, the Orioles are a good team, just not great. The offense is elite with Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and free agent pickup Nelson Cruz, but the bullpen and rotation aren't quite there yet. The O's signed Ubaldo Jimenez, but he can be inconsistent and he isn't the ace this rotation needs. They didn't bring in anyone to replace closer Jim Johnson, so that will most likely go to Tommy Hunter or Darren O'Day, and neither have much experiencing closing games. The O's also need young star Manny Machado to return from his gruesome knee injury healthy and ready to contribute.

If Everything Goes Right: The rotation and bullpen take big steps forward and the Orioles are in Wild Card position come September.

If Everything Goes Wrong: Pitching continues to plague the team, and the offense struggles to keep up. The Orioles return to the AL East cellar.

X-Factor: Chris Davis. Davis had a breakout year last season, and if the Orioles want to contend, they need him to do it again. However, he hit .250 in August and September last year and he had an alarmingly high strikeout rate. So, will we see first half Chris Davis? Or Second half Chris Davis?

5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays were the favorite to win the division last year, but instead, finished dead last. They bring back almost the same team this year, hoping it will be different. When they're up to bat, they are scary. Edwin Encarnacion is one of the most underrated hitters in the game. He's hit 78 Home Runs and driven in 214 runs over the past two seasons. Plus they have a guy named Jose Bautista. However, the pitching staff is subpar at best. R.A. Dickey turned out to be a one year wonder, Brandon Morrow was hurt, and Josh Johnson never fully recovered from his shoulder injury a few years ago. If the Jays want to compete, they need a healthy rotation.

If Everything Goes Right: Brandon Morrow turns into an ace and the rotation is good enough. The offense picks up the rest of the slack and Brett Lawrie finally breaks out. The Jays are in playoff contention come September.

If Everything Goes Wrong: See 2013 Blue Jays

X-Factor: Brandon Morrow. Morrow pitched surprisingly well in 2012, posting an ERA under 3.00. There were high expectations for him coming into 2013, but injuries plagued him throughout the season. Toronto needs him back healthy and he needs to be the staff's #1 in order for them to compete.

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