Thursday, March 21, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: AL East

     The AL East has always been known to be one of baseball's toughest divisions, but mainly because both the Yankees and the Red Sox were atop of the division. This year, the AL East is one of baseball's toughest divisions once again. However, it's not because of the Yankees and the Red Sox. It's because ALL of the teams in the AL East are playoff contenders. Toronto had one of the busiest offseasons recently, Tampa Bay's pitching is still strong even without James Shields, Baltimore has most of their roster from last season's playoff run intact, and you have the Yankees and Red Sox. So don't be surprised to see any of the AL East teams ranked higher or lower than what's predicted here. This division's seriously up for grabs.

  1. Baltimore Orioles: Plus: The Orioles have most of their roster intact from last season with the exception of Mark Reynolds and Robert Andino. Catcher Matt Wieters will become an MVP candidate if he can improve on his .243 batting average, and center fielder Adam Jones and designated hitter Chris Davis must continue driving in runs. Third baseman Manny Machado will be another tough out for opponents as well. Their bullpen is also strong with relievers like Darren O' Day (0.94 WHIP, 2.28 ERA, 15 holds), Troy Patton (1.02 WHIP, 2.43 ERA, nine holds), and Pedro Strop (2.34 ERA, 24 holds) manning the pen. Minus: Wei-Yei Chen was last year's team leader in ERA at 4.02. Baltimore's starting pitching also ranked 21st in the MLB in quality starts with 78. But Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel, and Chen will provide the O's with a decent top end of the rotation.
  2. Toronto Blue Jays: Plus: With GM Alex Anthopoulos adding shortstop Jose Reyes and left fielder Melky Cabrera (amongst many other acquisitions) in a productive offseason, the Blue Jays will have one of the best lineups that the franchise has seen in years. Add in right fielder Jose Bautista returning with third baseman Brett Lawrie's stock rising and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion belting home runs all over Canada and you have a scary group of bats. Minus: The Jays practically got a good majority of the Marlins fire sale, acquiring Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson in a big trade with Miami. They also acquired NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets this offseason. However, Buehrle must return to form after a 13-13 season which included an ERA of 3.74 and 125 strikeouts and R.A. Dickey must duplicate his Cy Young performance from last season. Also, Toronto has to stay relatively healthy throughout the season.
  3. Boston Red Sox: Plus: The Sox added catcher Mike Napoli to their lineup, gaining some power in their bats for this season. They also got right fielder Shane Victorino and left fielder Jonny Gomes as well, joining the likes of designated hitter David Ortiz, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a deep Red Sox lineup. Minus: Boston saw just how vulnerable they were without a closer after losing Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies the year before. Alfredo Aceves blew eight saves last season while pitching an ERA of 5.36 and a WHIP of 1.32. Joel Hanrahan will be an upgrade, but he still has control issues.
  4. New York Yankees: Plus: In typical Yankees fashion, New York got a big name in free agency this offseason by signing third baseman Kevin Youkilis (Boston fans must be THRILLED to hear this *sarcasm*). He'll add more pop to the Yankees lineup, which will be bolstered even further once center fielder Curtis Granderson returns from a forearm injury. They also have the likes of second baseman Robinson Cano, who can hit. The Yankees' rotation is also very underrated with the likes of C.C. Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA, 197 K's) and Hideki Kuroda ( 16-11, 3.32 ERA, 167 K's), along with their fielding (third-fewest errors in the MLB last year with 74). Minus:  Injuries seem to be a major issue for the Yankees. Shortstop Derek Jeter's "cranky" ankle might put him on the DL to start the season, first baseman Mark Teixeira's wrist injury may require season-ending surgery, and A-Rod's on the 60-day DL with hip issues. In fact, age is a major issue for New York; the average age of a roster member of the Yankees is 28.5.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays: Plus: Even trading James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals doesn't put a dent into the Rays' rotation. Tampa Bay ranked 1st in the MLB last year in team ERA (3.19), WHIP (1.17), and opponent's batting average (.228). They still have their ace, 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price (20-5, 205 K's, 2.56 ERA, home WHIP of 0.94) along with Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, both of which had ERA's below four in 2012. In fact, the Rays have great pitching all-around. Joel Peralta and Jake McGee combined for 57 holds last year and both had WHIPs under one (0.97 and 0.80, respectively). They have a great closer as well in Fernando Rodney and his lucky banana. Minus: They need to find offense from someone other than third baseman Evan Longoria. Losing B.J. Upton to the Braves this offseason only makes matters worse for the Rays.

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