We are 1 day away from the Red Sox taking the field at Fenway for Opening Day against the Pirates and it cannot come soon enough. The Red Sox have high expectations in not only the AL East but also the entire American League. However, the AL East as a whole is a huge question mark this year. The Red Sox are projected to be a top team in the league, the Rays a bottom-feeder, and the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Yankees somewhere in the middle. The Yankees and Rays open up today at Tropicana to kick off the MLB season. If the three middle teams perform well the AL East will be highly regarded, but if they play poorly it could be seen as the worst division in baseball this year.
In 2016 the final standings shook out as shown above: The Red Sox won the division, the Orioles and Blue Jays met in the wildcard game, and the Yankees and Rays failed to make the postseason. If 2017 plays out anything like 2016 the AL East will once again be considered one of the top 2 divisions in baseball. Now it's time to see how we think this season will finish.
1) Boston Red Sox
Key Acquisitions: Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale, Tyler Thornburg
Key Departures: David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Michael Kopech, Yoan Moncada, Travis Shaw, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler
Before you overreact to these lists make sure you don't just see that the Red Sox had more key departures than key acquisitions and assume they are going to be worse than last year. Of course losing Big Papi hurts the most and is a hole that will never be able to be fully filled, but the addition of Chris Sale is arguably the best move of any team this off-season. The largest reason the Red Sox will be better than last year is the additional year of experience and maturity for their young guys. Eduardo Rodriguez, Marco Hernandez, Betts, Benintendi, and Bogaerts are all under 25 years old and are only getting better. Look for Benintendi to have a breakout year and lead this powerhouse offense. The Sox bullpen will be important to keep an eye on throughout the year but let's be honest, would we rather have Thornburg or Buchholz?
There is not much to say as every expert is picking the Red Sox or Indians to represent the AL in the World Series this year. I predict the Red Sox will slump in the middle of the year and severely miss Big Papi's bat throughout those dog days and August. Overall they are a more sound team than last year and should have no problem winning the division with time to rest some guys before the playoffs. Before Price got injured I could have seen them winning 100+ games. Having to rely on Rodriguez, Wright, and Kendrick/Pomeranz in the back end of the rotation is less than ideal and will cost the Sox some games. Final Record: 97-65
(Click to scroll through slideshow below)
2) Toronto Blue Jays
Key Acquisitions: J.P. Howell, Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Joe Smith
Key Departures: Joaquin Benoit, Brett Cecil, R.A. Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion, Scott Feldman, Michael Saunders
Many Blue Jays fans are worried the losses of Encarnacion and Saunders are going to kill the Blue Jays this year in a strong pitching division. But don't count out these Blue Jays just yet. The Jays picked up power hitting DH Kendrys Morales and veteran utilty man Steve Pearce to hopefully provide some pop off the bench. The Jays also picked up Jarrod Saltalamacchia to spell the aging Russell Martin behind the plate in order to keep him fresh for the stretch run in September and October.
With the Red Sox having what many are considering a top 3 rotation in the league the Blue Jays strong rotation gets pushed to the wayside. The Blue Jays rotation has 5 guys who could all be considered the ace. The opening day starter is Marco Estrada, taking the mound in game 2 of the series will be J.A. Happ, followed by Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano to pitch the first game against the Rays. Their fifth starter is Aaron Sanchez, the pitcher who finished highest in the Cy Young voting of their starters last season.
The Blue Jays will sorely miss the bats of Encarnacion and Saunders throughout the season but their pitching will make up for their lack of hitting at times. Stroman's performance in the World Baseball Classic cemented him as a powerful pitcher in the AL East as long as he plays with energy and a love for the game. Let's not forget that Joey Bats is still anchoring the middle of the Jays power hitting lineup. The Blue Jays will have to battle their way through the season but all-in-all they will finish second in the AL East and play in the wild card game. Final Record: 87-75
3) Baltimore Orioles
Key Acquisitions: Michael Bourn, Yovani Gallardo, Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, Vance Worley
Key Departures: Welington Castillo, Seth Smith, Logan Verrett
There aren't too many major changes going on in the Orioles clubhouse from last year to this year. They didn't resign long time Oriole Matt Wieters and signed Wellington Castillo to take his place. They also signed Seth Smith to fill the outfield spot left open by the departure of Bourn, Pearce, and Reimold. Obviously they have a top 3 closer in the MLB in Zach Britton who had a 0.54 ERA last year. Their pitching staff of Gausman, Tillman, Bundy, Miley, and Jimenez will be above average but nothing to write home about once they are all healthy. Once Tillman and Miley return from their DL stints to start the year they will be serviceable, but until then the offense will need to score more in order to win games.
This Orioles team is extremely similar to last year's team and I expect them to perform somewhat similarly as well. The injury concerns with the starting rotation lead me to believe they will not put up close to the same record as last year. Of course, we have been saying the Orioles aren't going to be good for years but when you have a corner infield of Machado and Davis you're bound to win games. They need Adam Jones to step up this year and the be the player we all know he can be while Dylan Bundy takes advantage of the opportunity and keeps the Orioles in striking distance until the other starters return. The injuries will be too much to overcome and their second-half comeback will fall just short of making the wild card game. Record: 84-78
4) New York Yankees
Key Acquisitions: Albert Abreu, Aroldis Chapman, Jorge Guzman, Matt Holliday, Chris Carter
Key Departures: Dustin Ackley, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Goody, Brian McCann, Blake Parker, Mark Teixeira
The Yankees are a young team that started to head in the right direction after the trade deadline last year. The upper management got rid of A-Roid and Teixeira so that their kids could get experience in the bigs before 2017. Technically they "acquired" Chapman in free agency but they had him for most of last year anyway. The Yankees are the toughest team to predict for this year because of the youth throughout the lineup and rotation. One thing I'm sure of is Aaron Judge may be the biggest baseball player of all-time and will certainly draw the Yankees some viewers. The positive is that they will have phenom Gary Sanchez for a full season to go along with some power in the DH role whether it is Holliday or Carter.
With youth comes inconsistency and with inconsistency comes missing the playoffs. Throughout the year the Yankees will look like they could be the best team in baseball and the worst, sometimes within the same week. They will likely have a mediocre rotation supported by a mediocre lineup. Could the Yankees surprise the MLB and challenge the Red Sox for the AL East or even the pennant? Sure. Could they also find themselves as a bottom-feeder? Definitely. In reality they will fall somewhere in the middle. Record: 81-81
5) Tampa Bay Rays
Key Acquisitions: Wilson Ramos, Colby Rasmus, Mallex Smith
Key Departures: Drew Smyly, Alexei Amarista
The Rays finished last season with a 68-94 record and 25 games back of the Red Sox. Unfortunately for them, that doesn't seem to be turning around any time soon. They lost a major piece of their rotation in Drew Smyly, but add some power to their atrocious 2016 lineup with the signings of Rasmus and Ramos. Ramos will not be able to play to start the year as he is still recovering from ACL surgery. The good news for the Rays is that even if they don't exceed expectations, there won't be anybody at Tropicana Field to see them lose. The one bright spot of the Rays will be their rotation. Archer, Odorizzi, and Snell are all young arms that they hope to build around in the future. It will be tough for these pitchers because they have to be perfect in order to make up for their lack of offense.
The Rays are simply not a competitive team in this year's MLB. They will most likely be a bottom feeder once again, especially in the AL. It would be nice to see them compete in the AL East but it doesn't seem likely. They are tied for first right now at 0-0! Feel for Longoria because once again he isn't surrounded with players of his caliber. At least they play at a nice stadium... Record: 70-92
The Red Sox will run away with the AL East title late in the season while the Blue Jays fight for the wild card. The Orioles will stop overachieving and the Yankees will define inconsistency. The Rays...well, they will be the Rays.
AL East MVP: Jose Bautista
AL East Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL East ROY: Andrew Benintendi