The AL East is the strongest division in the already formidable American League. Baltimore is the only club from the AL East that would not make my top 10 list for most talented teams in all of baseball and no National League team even cracks my top 7. People often cite the Toronto Blue Jays as the team that most benefits from MLB’s decision to allow one extra team from each league entry into the playoffs however to be playoff bound they still have to win more games than at least 2 of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Angels, and Rangers, a challenge that most analysts do not think they are up to. In fact, since they last made playoffs in 1993 the Jays would only have entered the post-season once under the new rules. Toronto will likely need more than 90 wins to make the playoffs and those in the AL East will face divisional rivals in over 40% of their games this season making wins even more difficult to come by. All of that said, I not the first to speculate that they may be up to the task: both Eric Karabell and Keith Law have predicted that it could happen this year on their “Baseball Today” podcast (this podcast is seriously great!). Here are my predicted AL East standings:
New York Yankees – 93 Wins
It seems that every year I expect it to be the last time the Yankees excel but they bought an extra post-season berth this winter with the addition of Pineda, Kuroda, and Ibanez. Outside of CC Sabathia, the Yankees’ rotation seems like a risky bunch but there is enough depth there to compensate for the extra years being piled on to Jeter and ARod and the inevitable regression of Granderson. I actually expect a bit of a renaissance for ARod and think that the rotating DH slot strategy may be a decent substitute for the Yankees’ failure to discover a fountain of youth. Ibanez should also perform well. Teixeira and Cano are more reliable than the US Dollar.
Tampa Bay Rays – 93 Wins
I love this team and actually think this prediction is rather pessimistic. Longoria has had a season of power, a season of speed, and a season of high average. This is the year he puts them altogether. Is there and echo in here? His BABIP last year was a measly .239 suggesting he was held back by a lot of bad luck. Desmond Jennings is my player most likely to arrive in the way that Ellsbury did last season, though 20-40 numbers might be more realistic, and if you don’t believe that Matt Moore is going to be something very special then you don’t believe that pitching is scoutable. That pitching staff could win a lot of games.
Toronto Blue Jays – 90 Wins
I make no bones about it. I am a Jays fan and I am biased. The young Toronto pitching staff is unproven but features an impressive coupling of talent and depth. This system WILL be great. This prediction relies on it happening sooner than later. The bats are already there and although spring training statistics are pretty much meaningless the last team to perform as well as Toronto did this year won the World Series (the ’97 Marlins). Bautista’s HR in the opening game of the season helped to calm more than a few nervous Jays fans after an unspectacular finish to 2011. Brett Lawrie is often compared to Ryan Braun and this analogy is not only apt, he may already be there. Colby Rasmus is going to have to live up to the expectations that used to accompany his name. Johnson, Lind, and Snider will also need to step up or step away. The demotion of Brett Cecil may be a blessing in disguise as Carreno is underrated with over 10k/9 in each of the last 2 years in the minors and an ERA of 3.73 or lower every where he’s played since 2007. Hutchison is off to good start in AA, too, and McGowan has looked good when healthy. The Jays led the league in blown saves last season but this year they sport a vastly improved bullpen which should earn them some extra wins. Toronto has one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball. The Angels/Rangers will be difficult to out-win but if they don’t make the playoffs this year, it won’t be long.
Boston Red Sox – 87 Wins
Something stinks in Boston. AGone will be great but apart from him only Crawford will avoid a major regression and that’s only because it’s impossible after his dismal performance last year. Big Papi will show his age. Ellsbury can’t possibly repeat last season. A little guy who swings big, Pedroia is overdue for a DL stint. Bard isn’t cut out for starting and the back end of the Red Sox rotation is worrisome. Their bullpen took a hit with the loss of Bailey, and their SS is also significantly weaker in 2012. Taken together, the Red Sox are a worse team than they were last year when they failed to make the playoffs. And The Babe smiles on.
Baltimore Orioles - 67 Wins
Those poor, poor Oriole fans. It’s just not fair. They’re not actually a bad team. Keep an eye on Weiters and Matusz. The pedigree is real, but the AL East is not a forgiving place to grow up. Machado might be an autumn announcement.
Running Commentaries: Evan Longoria wins AL MVP. Brett “the Hit man” Lawrie MVP of the Toronto Blue Jays. Another HR title for Jose Bautista. Sabathia wins Cy Young as Price and Moore split votes. Nova and Pineda each suffer injuries but combine to make a serviceable #3 pitcher in 2012. ARod a top 5 offensive third baseman. Matt Weiters arrives! Toronto Blue Jays make the post-season for the first time since 1993. Tampa Bay Rays World Series Champions!
Best Hitter: Adrian Gonzalez will take it this season. Longoria and Bautista will be there to keep him honest, though.
On The Rise: Brett Lawrie is going to be a monster. The other story is Matt Moore.
On The Decline: Big Papi
Comeback: Carl Crawford
Sleeper: Colby Rasmus
Best Pitcher: In any other division, CC Sabathia would have won the Cy Young last year. Yeah, I said it. Look a little closer at the numbers.
Players to watch: There are a lot of exciting guys here. Moore and Lawrie top the list but keep an eye on Matt Weiters
AL East All-Star Team
C: Matt Weiters
1B: Adrian Gonzalez
2B: Robinson Cano
SS: Yunel Escobar
3B: Evan Longoria
LF: Desmond Jennings
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury
RF: Jose Bautista
DH: Carlos Pena
SP: CC Sabathia