2013 MLB Preview: AL East

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The American League East has always been one of the best divisions in the MLB with multiple teams regularly making the playoffs. It seemed for the longest time that the wild card team would always be the runner-up in the AL East. The winner would also be a favorite to win the World Series every year. It became the toughest division in baseball with great teams all fighting for a spot in the playoffs and a few falling through the cracks. The 2012 season would see plenty of different stories for the AL East as the division was flipped upside down. The Boston Red Sox would fall to the bottom of the division after years of fighting the Yankees for top spot. As the Red Sox fell the Baltimore Orioles would take their spot rising to the top of the division after years of sitting in last place. The Toronto Blue Jays would try to crawl to the top but injuries would end any of their hopes as they sat in the middle alongside the Rays. The Tampa Bay Rays would fight for a spot in the playoffs but could not get there in the end. The only team that would last with all of the changes in the East was the New York Yankees who stayed resilient and won the division. The East was a completely different division last year and now it has received another facelift. The AL East is another completely different team in for the 2013 season as every team is in the midst of changes. With new moves and teams faltering the AL East is a big unknown this year with every team looking like a possible winner. Some teams had a terrible year last year and are trying to prove it was a fluke while others are just looking to continue their play from last year. Of course there are also the teams who have made changes in an attempt to compete for the division title. It could come down to the best division battle of the season as every team has some major questions and every team could win if everything goes right for them.

 

Baltimore Orioles

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The Orioles have had a long time to sit on the bottom of the division and were used to losing but that all changed in 2012. It was a magical year for the O’s who would make the playoffs in the wild card spot and lose in the ALDS to the Yankees. The Orioles are now in a very strange position as not many know if the 2012 season was the perennial losers finally turning the corner or if it was just a fluke. The Orioles go into the 2013 season with the thought that they are now a team at the top of the division but that might not be completely true. The way the Orioles won most of their games last year can wear on a team and doing it two years in a row is a tough task. The Orioles will not be able to do the same in 2013 as they cannot continue to live on the edge and have success. They need to be a better team if they hope to repeat their playoff performance from last year and after this offseason it does not seem like they are a better team. The O’s are a team getting better but expect a step backwards before they go forward as they will likely miss the postseason this year without the magic that carried them in 2012.

 

Strength:
2012 Confidence
– The Orioles had a great season last year and that is a big advantage as a team that was used to losing finally got a taste of winning which they are looking to make a habit and now that the team knows how to win they may be able to do it again this year

Weakness:
The Element of Surprise is Gone
– Teams like the O’s who come out of nowhere usually have the advantage of surprising other teams who can easily overlook them thinking that they are not as good as their record suggests but in 2013 that is gone as teams now know who the Orioles are

Biggest Loss:
Mark Reynolds, 1B (Free Agency)
– The O’s didn’t lose too many people in the offseason but a few role players will not be back including Reynolds who brought 23 HRs and 69 RBIs to the team and whose contributions will be missed in a lineup that needs to play as a team

Biggest Addition:
Jair Jurrjens, RHP (Free Agency)
– 2012 was an up and down year for Jurrjens who began the season on the DL and would spend the rest of the year up and down through the minors but he does have a lot of potential and could make his way to the O’s to contribute to the team

Player to Watch:
Manny Machado, 3B
– He would be called up in 2012 and then asked to change his position from short to third but that didn’t phase him as Machado will enter his second season in the MLB and will be a player that many will watch to see if he can match his performance of last year

 

Boston Red Sox

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The Boston Red Sox have been through a lot in their long history but 2012 may be one of the worst chapters. The Red Sox would completely fall apart in 2012 as the late season collapse of 2011 would continue into the new season. The Red Sox were a complete disaster both on and off the field with players fighting managers and the executives not doing anything to help. Now the Red Sox go into the 2013 season with a familiar face at the helm in John Farrell who returns to the Red Sox as the manager. The Red Sox are in need of some good this season and they will look to get back to winning by putting last season behind them. They will be a team in transition and will hope that last season was just a set of unfortunate circumstances and that they will not happen again. The Red Sox retooled in the offseason filling a few holes left by the midseason moves and now they are hoping everything can get back to normal. It won’t get back to normal though as the Red Sox went from playoff team to a rebuilding team and the rebuild will take longer than on offseason. The Red Sox could be the worst team in the division as they have not improved enough to keep up and need more time to rebuild until they can return to the playoffs.

 

Strength:
Veteran Presence
– The Red Sox may be a changed team but the veteran core that has been with the team for years will remain like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz who will be the rock that new manager John Farrell will have to lean on if they hope to have success

Weakness:
Management
– John Farrell is going to come into his dream job with a big challenge and that is a senior management team that has come under fire for wanting a “sexy” team rather than a winning team which has not paid off in the past few years

Biggest Loss:
Cody Ross, OF (Free Agency)
– Ross is one of those not so “sexy” players that the Red Sox management reportedly does not like but he does produce and his production will be missed on a team that needs these players to help the rebuild

Biggest Addition:
Shane Victorino, OF (Free Agency)
– As the Red Sox begin to rebuild they added a number of players that they hope will bring back the winning ways and Victorino could do just that as he is a good player that will have an impact on the team immediately

Player to Watch:
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
– After the ups and downs of the Red Sox in the last few years only a few players remain and one is fan favorite and leader of the team in Dustin Pedroia who will be leaned on by John Farrell this year more than ever to provide the stability the Red Sox desperately need

New York Yankees

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2012 was a crazy year but the Yankees seemed to be the only team to come out without any major changes. There were some unusual stories with the injury of Derek Jeter and the saga of Alex Rodriguez that could sink most teams. The Yankees stayed the course though and would win the division and move into the postseason where they would come up short of another World Series. Even with the win the Yankees are a team with plenty of questions heading into the 2013 season and the main question is a familiar one. The Yankees are an old team and they have been for years but many are thinking that this could be the year the age finally catches up to them. The Yankees have dealt with this before as they are a team that likes to sign and rely on veterans. It is a winning formula as the Yankees always seem to be on top of the AL East but can they continue to overcome the age issue to win again. The Yankees are an old team and that age will catch up to them eventually but it won’t be this year. With so many teams in transition the Yankees are the only ones who remain stable for another year. They will not have an easy time of it but they will win the division once again as the Yankees will continue to be the ageless team in the MLB.

 

Strength:
Experience
– The Yankees have some of the best players in baseball and they have plenty of experience which means that no matter what happens to the Yankees this season the players on the Yankees will have already been through as nothing can surprise this team

Weakness:
Age Might Catch up to Them
– The Yankees are at a tipping point where age will eventually become more of a problem than an advantage and the entire AL East is just waiting for that point which could be this year after 2012 saw them run into some problems with their aging stars

Biggest Loss:
Russell Martin, C (Free Agency)
– The catcher is a very important position in baseball as they have a special relationship with the pitching staff and when a catcher like Russell Martin leaves he leaves a big hole in the lineup not only on the offence but on the defence

Biggest Addition:
Kevin Youkilis, 3B (Free Agency)
– In typical Yankee fashion they went out to get another veteran in the MLB as Youkilis will replace the often injured and overpaid Alex Rodriguez as the new third baseman will provide a great and frustrating hitter into the batting order

Player to Watch:
Mariano Rivera, RHP
– The Yankees love having Rivera in the lineup and last year he would spend most of the season out of the lineup after a freak injury while shagging flyballs and now he returns but can he be the same shutdown closer in his last MLB season

Tampa Bay Rays

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The Tampa Bay Rays were a team that was looking for yet another appearance in the postseason but would fall short amid the changing face of the division. The Rays are a team that goes against everything that the baseball world has told them. They have one of the lowest payrolls in the league and use new tactics on the field. This balancing act rarely works for most teams as baseball is a money driven world where teams that spend the most win the most. The Rays have proven that theory wrong in the past years as they have been a very successful team using this formula. The biggest question for them is how long it can last as their new tactics are no surprise to other teams and do not surprise anyone anymore. Their commitment to a small payroll has also caused many of their best players to move on for bigger money. Much like the Yankees the Rays are on the tipping point of when their strategy will finally stop working and they will start to lose. The Rays are looking for the same success that they have had in past years but big losses to the team will be a major obstacle in their way this year. The Rays are still a good team but they are not as strong as they once were and so expect them to continue to fall back until they can find a new way to win games.

 

Strength:
Experience in Winning
– The Rays know how to win which is very different from a lot of teams as the Rays have become a powerhouse team and this experience in winning has become a habit as they know how to come out on top throughout controversy

Weakness:
They are Falling Behind
– The Rays are in a very tough division that has only become more difficult as teams have become better while the Rays cannot keep up and are falling behind in the talent race of the AL East

Biggest Loss:
B.J. Upton, OF (Free Agency)
– He was a major superstar on the Rays and one of the first in what could become a pattern in the Rays organization as he would leave for more money on a different team leaving the Rays without his bat and his speed on the bases

Biggest Addition:
Yunel Escobar, SS (Trade)
– Escobar is not the ideal candidate on a team with controversy following him wherever he goes but the fact is he has a good bat and an even better ability in the field that the Rays will welcome and hope that he has matured

Player to Watch:
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
– James Shields is gone and is leaving a massive hole in the pitching rotation that the young Hellickson will be looked to as he will need to help a slightly depleted rotation but he does have the ability to do just that

Toronto Blue Jays

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There was a lot of hope heading into the 2012 season for the Blue Jays as many had believed they had put together a team that could compete for the wild card in the American League. Then came the injuries as Jose Bautista went down and three of their starting pitchers went out for the season within four days of each other. The Jays would end up back in the bottom of the division and left wondering what else they could do. They would answer that question this season as they would make the biggest impact in the offseason with the biggest moves in the league. First came the 12 player deal with the Miami Marlins that would bring Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto. Then came another trade and signing that would bring NL Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey, to the Blue Jays. Their message was simple, the Blue Jays are back and ready to get back to the top of the MLB for the first time since back to back world series in 1992/93. The Blue Jays are committed to winning this year and with so much changing in the division it could be their year to finally get back to the playoffs. There is no question this team is better and the playoffs are a very real possibility as they will fight for the division crown as long as they don’t get hit by the injury bug again.

 

Strength:
Pitching Staff
– The Jays went from a staff with massive questions in 2012 to one of the most feared in the league with last year’s NL Cy Young award winner in RA Dickey along with inning eater Mark Buehrle and power pitcher Josh Johnson that should provide a lot of problems for their opponents

Weakness:
Team Unity
– The only problem with changing the team so much is the fact that these players do not know each other and when big personalities come together problems may happen as this clash could sink the Jays’ hopes as unhappy players do not play well

Biggest Loss:
Travis D’Arnaud, C (Trade)
– He is not a well-known major leaguer yet but he was the crown jewel in the Blue Jays’ minor league system that was considered one of the best in the MLB and was almost gutted including this catcher that could be a superstar in the near future

Biggest Addition:
R.A. Dickey, RHP (Trade)
– It is hard to decide who is the best addition with so many new faces, but Dickey won the NL Cy Young Award in 2012 as the knuckleballer is at the top of his game and will provide the first true ace for the Blue Jays since Roy Halladay left in 2010

Player to Watch:
Jose Bautista, OF
– As much as the new additions will help the Blue Jays the team is still led by Bautista who has 50 HR ability and will look to return to form after a wrist injury ended his 2012 season and with the player now ahead of him in the lineup he is in perfect position to rule the league again

Prediction:
1. New York Yankees
2. Toronto Blue Jays
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Boston Red Sox

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