Friday, March 22, 2013

AL East Preview

1st Place--Toronto Blue Jays
2012 Record: 73-89
2012 Pythagorean: 74-88
2013 Projected: 94-68
It's been 20 years since Joe Carter crushed one of the most memorable moon shots in baseball history. In the two decades that followed, Toronto hasn't made a single postseason appearance or won more than 88 games, falling from its perch atop the AL East into the middle of the pack. That's about to change. A pair of blockbuster trades brought All-Stars Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey north of the border to join two of the league's top power hitters (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion), the next Ryan Braun (Brett Lawrie), and a budding ace (Brandon Morrow). In the span of a few short weeks, GM Alex Anthopoulos transformed his ballclub from also-rans into World Series favorites. Toronto's rotation boasts five frontline starters and its lineup is loaded, putting the Jays in a great position to take advantage of their weakened division rivals. That said, they haven't won anything yet. After what happened to the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels last year, it's important to remember that winning the winter doesn't always translate to winning the regular season. Anthopoulos raided his farm system to acquire established big league talent, so the moves better pay off.

2nd Place--Tampa Bay Rays
2012 Record: 90-72
2012 Pythagorean: 95-67
2013 Projected: 92-70
With plenty of pitching and just enough offense to scrape by, the Rays are like the Junior Circuit's answer to the San Francisco Giants. Even without "Big Game" James Shields, Tampa Bay still has an incredible starting rotation headed by AL Cy Young winner David Price. Price is flanked by 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and two promising arms (Alex Cobb and Matt Moore) looking to build on strong rookie showings. The bullpen and defense is just as strong, but the Rays will be a bit short on offense again this year, especially after losing B.J. Upton to free agency. A full season from Evan Longoria will help, but bringing in the likes of Yunel Escobar, James Loney and Kelly Johnson doesn't figure to add much pop. They could really use a breakthrough from Desmond Jennings, but he looks like the second coming of Upton in that he's a toolsy outfielder who strikes out a lot. Tampa does have Wil Myers waiting in the wings, and he's good enough to provide a Bryce Harper-type impact if/when they promote him to the Show. Joe Maddon is one of the best managers around and will find a way to guide Tampa Bay to another 90-win season.

3rd Place--Boston Red Sox
2012 Record: 69-93
2012 Pythagorean: 74-88
2013 Projected: 87-75
I've talked extensively about the Red Sox in this space before, and at this point I don't have too much more to say. GM Ben Cherington had his work cut out for him after dumping Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett on the Los Angeles Dodgers last August, but he's done more than enough to help Boston get back to its winning ways in 2013. As always, the Red Sox have assembled a potent lineup that will probably rank at or near the top of the league in runs scored. There's a nice blend of speed (Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury, who's going to have a monster year) and power (David Ortiz, Will Middlebrooks, and Mike Napoli, who was built for Fenway Park). Ryan Dempster is a solid addition to John Farrell's starting rotation, which should get bounce back years from Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and (dare I say) John Lackey. The bullpen is sneaky-good, especially if Andrew Bailey avoids the Disabled List and Alfredo Aceves can get out of his own head.  Some see 2013 as a bridge year, but with good health and positive regression to the mean, Boston has a decent chance of contending for one of the two Wild Card berths this year.

4th Place--New York Yankees
2012 Record: 95-67
2012 Pythagorean: 95-67
2013 Projected: 82-80
The Yanks sure got old in a hurry. The season hasn't even started yet, and they're already stretched thin because of injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson, meaning runs are going to be hard to come by this spring. Their catching situation (Ian Stewart and Francisco Cervelli splitting time) is laughable. Derek Jeter couldn't defend his position before fracturing his ankle. The rotation consists of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and a bunch of question marks named Andy Pettitte (old), Phil Hughes (injury-prone)and Ivan Nova (just plain bad). Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki are on their last legs. The Yankees are going to start slow as they always do, only this time they'll be too old and banged-up to make a full recovery. Given New York's lack of depth and minor league talent, I wouldn't be surprised to see Joe Girardi penciling Bleacher Creatures into his lineup card come August.

5th Place--Baltimore Orioles
2012 Record: 93-69
2012 Pythagorean: 82-80
2013 Projected: 76-86
Baltimore stunned the baseball world by snapping its 15-year playoff drought last year, but I predict a return to mediocrity in 2013. I didn't buy their fluky success last year, and even though they proved me wrong I'm not buying their success this year. Call me stubborn if you will, but the Orioles won an ungodly amount of one-run games last year. That's not going to happen again. Furthermore, GM Dan Duquette failed to improve his team over the winter, unless you believe signing Jair Jurrjens makes a rotation better (I don't). Much like the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore is banking on continued improvement from its young core of stars: Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and Dylan Bundy. While I like their lineup a lot (Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis are good, too), their lack of accomplished starting pitching is a cause for concern. Buck Showalter has just one hurler--Wei-Yin Chen--who won more than nine games and threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title last season. Chen enjoyed a solid rookie campaign but hardly qualifies as an ace, something the O's desperately need but haven't had since Mike Mussina signed with New York. Bundy has that kind of potential, but the 20 year-old needs more season and will begin the season Double-A. The bullpen was phenomenal last year but is going to be overtaxed if Showalter can't squeeze enough quality innings out of his rotation.

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