Winter has given way to Spring and that means baseball is back! Over the next week or two we’ll be breaking down each division and predicting the order in which they will finish. At the end we’ll take a crack at predicting who will win it all come October. But for now, we will settle on the AL East as the first division to take a look at. The AL East is perhaps the most difficult division to predict. That being said, we will try our best to make the right predictions.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have made their intentions clear by being the last team standing when the season ends. They just missed out on the playoffs last season despite being the hottest team in the league down the stretch. This off-season Toronto has been busy ensuring that they make a splash in the postseason this time around. Trading for Matt Chapman will boost their defensive capabilities as well as add another dangerous bat to their lineup. Altogether Toronto had one of the more aggressive off-seasons in baseball.
For years the Blue Jays biggest problem was their pitching staff. Well, in recent years they have poured in a ton of resources to fix that specific problem. A few years ago, they signed Hyun Ryu from the Dodgers to boost their starting rotation. In the last couple of months, they have also added Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios to form a strong top 3. Offensively there are few lineups in the league that are scarier than what Toronto offers. Anchored by heavy hitter Valdimir Guerrero Jr. the Blue Jay lineup at times can be lethal. As mentioned above Matt Chapman will join George Springer and Bo Bichette as dangerous weapons to support Vlady. It looks like it will be a long season for opposing pitchers whenever they have to face this lineup.
The key for this season is to regain the momentum they had to finish last season as soon as possible. If they can come out of the gates on fire, this team could end up with the best record in the AL. Even if they don’t, this team is a strong bet to finish atop of a very strong AL East.
Tampa Bay Rays
The AL East as currently constructed has existed since 1994. In that timespan there has not been one season where neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox finish in the top two. Yet, here I am predicting that 2022 will be the first time it has ever happened. I must admit after taking one look at the Rays roster it was a bit difficult to put them second. That being said, since 2010 only three teams in baseball have won more regular season games than the Rays.
The pitching staff suffered several injuries last season perhaps none more damaging than losing Tyler Glasnow. Despite losing him for a big chunk of the season the Rays pitching staff didn’t particularly miss a beat. The staff as a whole was still strong enough as a whole to help the team win a franchise record 100 wins. While the pitching staff struggles with health the Rays can rely on their offense to carry the team in the meantime. For years the Rays relied on timely hitting and defense to win games. While those two beliefs still remain, the Rays can now boast a little power to their game as well. Arozarena, Lowe, Meadows and Franco can all take pitchers deep with regularity.
A common theme you’ll see in this division is that any of these teams can finish the season first or in fourth and miss the playoffs. That especially rings true for the Rays as injuries could finally end up costing them. For now, I have them settling in at 2nd place in the division.
Boston Red Sox
When I started sketching which places teams would finish in their division, I had Boston in the 3rd place spot. Then they went ahead and signed Trevor Story to a massive contract. He certainly boosts the team’s chances at finishing at the top of the AL East, yet I still have them finishing third. At times last season they looked like the best team in the league. They are also the same team that blew a 10-game lead in the division last year.
Will this be the season that Chris Sale finally regains his superstar form and carries this rotation? If the answer is yes then the Red Sox get a massive boost, but if the answer is no, preparations to look elsewhere will begin. The hot and cold Red Sox lineup received a boost recently with the signing of Trevor Story. He is a plus defender and should help out a team that struggled at times in that aspect. The Red Sox lineup doesn’t present the threat that other teams in this division have.
Having a shaky bullpen combined with a boom or bust lineup is why I have Boston finishing third. Now this team could easily surprise us all and recapture some of the magic of last year. I just believe that the team that blew the huge division lead is the one we’re more likely to see.
New York Yankees
Unfortunately for New York fans their lack of activity has cost them in these predictions. Yankee fans have been begging all offseason for their team to make a game changing move. Yet they had to watch in horror as their division rivals made moves while they stood pat. Perhaps the most egregious part was the Yankees inadvertently paving the way for Correa to go to Minnesota.
On paper the Yankees boast a formidable top 3 in their pitching rotation. Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino are all game winners in their own right. The problem is Montgomery and Severino have struggled with consistency. Even Cole saw a dip in form during the middle of the season last year. As for the Yankees lineup, they have a lot of right-handed hitters who hit for power, but strikeout often. That can lead to games where they put up a lot of runs in a hurry. But also means that they can have stretches where the offense is nonexistent.
The Yankees have plenty of top end talent that at times can make them unbeatable. Unfortunately, consistency is something this team lacks and those dry periods could prove costly.
The division’s whipping boys are in the midst of another rebuild and will have low expectations in terms of winning. If seeing how stacked the rest of the division was didn’t convince you that the Orioles were likely punting this season, then the fact that they are only committed to spending a little more than 30 million on player salaries this year should. That’s the lowest in the league and 5 million less than the next closest team.
Winning isn’t the goal this season, and their main focus will be on development. With a top 5 farm system in the league, expect to see several players make their debut this season. If nothing else, at least the tickets will be cheap this season for Baltimore fans.