Every year I like to take a stab at forecasting the upcoming MLB Season. I’ll start with the AL East.
A decade ago, this was baseball’s glamour division. There was a time you could pencil the Yankees and Red Sox in for nearly 100 wins and an October showdown in the ALCS. Now, these clubs could be fighting for last place in the division. Honestly, this is one of the more wide open divisions in baseball.
1st place: Toronto Blue Jays
I’ll admit: this pick scares me. The Blue Jays certainly won the offseason, emptying the cupboard of their upper-level prospects for the chance to acquire plenty of premium MLB talent in return. But as we’ve seen recently, these super-team scenarios rarely work out well (see the 2012 Marlins; the 2012-13 Lakers; the 2011 “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles). So I’m not entirely comfortable with this pick, since recent history says to bet against it.
But the talent here is undeniable. The bold moves of GM Alex Anthopoulos could radically improve what was a 73-win ballclub in 2012. For starters, there’s the mega-deal with the Marlins: SS Jose Reyes, 2B Emilio Bonifacio, SPs Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Then there’s free agent addition OF Melky Cabrera, a batting crown contender prior to his suspension for PEDs last season. And if that weren’t enough, Anthopoulos plucked NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to complete the offseason haul. The starting rotation should be one of the best in baseball. An already dangerous lineup becomes even more formidable with Reyes and Cabrera serving as tablesetters for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Not since the days of Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter has the Jays lineup been this deep.
But there are still questions: Will Brett Lawrie be able to stay healthy and hold down 3B? Will Colby Rasmus stay motivated enough to tap into his vast potential? Can the bullpen coalesce despite a brand name closer & setup guy? Will Darren Oliver pitch into his 60s? Still, with this much talent, you gotta think they’ll be in the hunt.
2nd place: Tampa Bay Rays
The division’s best pitching staff and the division’s worst offense. Consider this pick a nod to the old adage that pitching is 75% of the game. With David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Fernando Rodney, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Juan Carlos Oviedo, the Rays are loaded with power arms. And that’s not even counting Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and Tyler Guerrieri who are waiting in the wings in the minors. Expect to see wunderkind Wil Myers up sometime soon to help with the offense. Until then, it’ll be up to Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Desmond Jennings to put up some runs. No other manager gets more out of his 25 man roster than Joe Maddon, so I expect them to be competitive. If pitching is 75%, in this division, it looks like staying healthy might account for the other 25%.
3rd place: Baltimore Orioles
If the Yankees weren’t so dinged up, I might pick the O’s to finish fourth. But you have to acknowledge what Buck Showalter has done in his short tenure in Baltimore. After a string of 90-loss seasons, the Orioles vaulted to 93 wins in 2012 and came within a hair of knocking off the Yankees in the ALDS. I think they’ll regress a bit; no way does the bullpen repeat their otherworldly success from a year ago and for a team that relies so much on the long ball, losing Mark Reynolds will hurt. But you have to think Adam Jones is coming into his own after his breakout last season. Ditto for Matt Wieters. Manny Machado’s best baseball is ahead of him and the same could be said for many of the young pitchers. Jason Hammel was on his way to a stellar year before he was felled by injury. And Dylan Bundy should make an impact at some point this season, too.
After last season, it’d be foolish to count these Birds out, but I expect them to come back to the pack a bit. I’m predicting they’ll win 85 games in 2013.
4th place: New York Yankees
Boy, what a mess. ARod. Teixiera. Granderson. Jeter. Pinieda. Hughes. And we still have 161 games to go. The lineup is a far cry from last year’s edition, a squad that scored over 800 runs on the year. Having Brett Gardner healthy for the entire season would be nice, but nothing is given on this club, especially considering all the greybeards in the clubhouse. Ichiro and Jeter are 39. ARod and Hiroki Kuroda are 38. Andy Pettitte is 40. Mariano Rivera is 43. I can think of no reason why any team would give Robinson Cano anything to hit this year. Sure, things will be different when Granderson and Tex get back, but that could be June or July. By that point, it might not matter.
Here are the bright spots: CC is still an ace. Cano is one of the best hitters around. Eduardo Nunez is a dynamic young infielder. David Robertson throws gas.
And the Red Sox are awful.
So, chin up Yankee fan. Chin up.
5th place: Boston Red Sox
I have no idea what this team is doing. You wouldn’t think a team could lose it’s identity so completely when a change is made in the front office, but it’s happened here. I suppose you could ignore last season’s Bobby Valentine debacle; last spring I was going on and on about how that was a trainwreck waiting to happen. But after last summer’s firesale, the BoSox offseason moves are simply baffling. Why does a rebuilding team go out and sign past-their-prime vets like Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, and Jonny Gomes? Why go out and sign Mike Napoli with his significantly high injury risk? How does the Stephen Drew acquisition help this team in either the short or long term?
As it is, this team has an ordinary nucleus of hitters outside of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz. Even with those three, Ortiz is already banged up and Ellsbury has played a full season once in the last three years. Jon Lester is probably glad to see John Farrell return to town, but the rest of the rotation is ordinary. And the bullpen is nothing to write home about either.
I have to admit, I’m kind of relishing the Red Sox misery, especially after all the exposure they’ve received on ESPN over the years. Where are all you bandwagon fans now, eh?
So there you have it, my AL East predictions. I’ll be back later in the week with more divisional previews.