Now that the Astros are in the American League, I’ve started following the offseason transactions more closely - even if the American League isn’t real baseball because the pitchers don’t bat (No, I’m not at all still bitter about the move to the AL). The AL East has historically been one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, although the last couple of seasons the competitive teams haven’t been the ones we have traditionally grown accustomed to. There are three types of teams in this division this season: “Great-and-spends-a lot-of-money”, “great-and-doesn’t-spend-much-money”, and “spends-a lot-of-money-and-signs-huge-free-agents-that-underperform-so-the-Red-Sox-trade-them-all” (that one’s the Red Sox). I don’t rule any of teams out of winning the division because they all have a lot of experienced talent, but a couple of these teams have a much better shot to win than others. Because this division is so competitive, whichever team comes out as the champion usually has the depth and pitching to give itself a good shot to win the World Series. Let’s get to the predictions!
Baltimore Orioles – The Fightin’ Showalters showed a lot of moxie last year, won 93 games, and managed to pull an AL Wildcard spot all while being told they couldn’t keep their lucky streak going all season. Well, it did come to an end but not before they eliminated Texas in the Wildcard play-in and played the Yankees into a game five before ultimately losing 3-1. When I tell you that they did all of that with a payroll that was about $40,000,000 less than the Rangers and $116,000,000 (!?) less than the big, bad Yankees, it makes it even more impressive. The Orioles over-under last season was 69.5 wins, so it’s an understatement to say the 93 wins were unexpected. Can they do it again? I think they can put together a really good season - much better than Orioles fans were used to before last season, but this division is too strong for the O’s to sneak into the playoffs again. This team has guys like Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters that can mash at the plate but pitching will be a major question. Jason Hammel is at the top of the rotation and after that, I wouldn’t describe anyone as “above-average”. This team should be able to string together some wins but the AL East is just too tough. I like the Orioles to regress from last year but still finish with a solid record at a couple of games over .500 around 83-79.
Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox finished with an abysmal 69-93 record last season and look to rebound in a big way in 2013. And they will. Sort of. I think the Red Sox will improve considerably from last season but not enough to make a playoff push. Rookie Will Middlebrooks should provide some spark at the plate, and if veterans Mike Napoli and David Ortiz can play like they are capable of and provide big seasons, the Red Sox could outperform many expectations. Pitching on this club isn’t, uh, great. In fact, you could probably say that it’s bad. You know what, I will say it. The Red Sox pitching is bad. There. Jon Lester is hoping to bounce back from a poor 2012, and so are Buccholz and Lackey and Dubront (although he’s just 26). There are a lot of question marks surrounding this team, but they definitely aren’t coming in with the hype they are used to. I like the Red Sox to go 79-83, which isn’t great, but it’s a marked improvement.
New York Yankees – The Yankees. I’m not going to spend too much time here because A-Rod and the Yankees are really all ESPN talks about and everyone is sick of hearing about them. The Yankees are going to be very good again this season but they should be! Their projected team payroll is $210,000,000! If you’re spending that kind of money you better be one of the best teams in baseball. The team this year isn’t too different from the end of last season. They added Kevin Youkilis to play 3B while A-Rod is out (with injury and/or steroid suspension) and he is an on-base machine if he can stay healthy, but we all know he’ll miss 60 games with a “strained oblique” or something of the like. Pitching is ok, but not great. I expect another solid season out of C.C. Sabathia, but I’m not sure what to think of 40-year-old Andy Pettitte coming back for another season. While this is a good Yankees team, it’s not one of the best they’ve ever assembled. I think they put together a very good record at 89-73.
Tampa Bay Rays – This Rays franchise place in the AL East is like growing up playing 1-on-1 basketball with your little brother. For years, he’s no competition and you don’t even have to try to beat him. After a few years and a growth spurt or two later, he’ll give you a good game every now and then but you both know you’re still the better team. Then, all of a sudden, he seemingly comes out of nowhere and starts beating you and you can’t figure out what happened. You buy an expensive gym membership that he can’t afford to try to get better, but he hangs right in there with you. So what happened? Well just like the little brother, the Rays spend years developing and cultivating talent in the farm system while the big clubs overlooked them. Now even though they don’t have the money to buy free agents like the big boys, they have enough homegrown talent to compete every year. These guys are going to come out and compete for a division title again this year even though they were last in 2012 attendance. Come on Tampa Bay, show some support! They have playmakers all over the field, not to mention trading for top-3 prospect Wil Myers in the offseason who should debut sometime this season. Pitching is phenomenal like it always is, and Fernando Rodney, the best closer in baseball last season is back for another year. I expect big things from this team and think they finish 93-69.
Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays probably had the most active offseason of all the teams in the MLB. They basically traded the Marlins for all of their good players, had over a 50% increase in payroll, and signed a couple big name free agents in R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera. Will all of this wheeling-and-dealing work out? For the Jays sake, I hope so. Offensively, this team should be a juggernaut. They have speed on top of speed, and power to hang with any team in the league. The knuckleballer Dickey heads up a rotation that could be very good, but has underperformed recently. If Josh Johnson and Ricky Romero pitch like they did in 2010-2011, this team has a chance for a deep playoff run. I think they finish 94-68 but even if they don’t play like they are expected to, they are going to be fun to watch.
Final Regular Season Standings:
1) Toronto Blue Jays (94-68)
2) Tampa Bay Rays (93-69 Wildcard)
3) New York Yankees (89-73)
4) Baltimore Orioles (83-79)
5) Boston Red Sox (79-83)