2015 MLB Preview: AL East

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The American League East has always been the toughest division in the MLB but that title is quickly falling away.

The past years it was a constant battle at the top between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to not only win the division but win the league. They were consistently the top teams in the league and during the single wild card era it seemed like no other division could match the East in putting teams in the postseason.

It always featured the winning team from the division, generally the top team in the American League, and the second place team taking the wild card.

That made it a lot tougher for the other teams in the division as they had to compete with two teams that had endless pockets to sign all of the big name stars and any up and coming stars. When other teams in the division saw some promise from young players they usually left in their prime for bigger money.

It made the task of winning the division extremely hard as Boston and New York battled while the rest of the teams tried to find ways to put their hat in the ring.

That power couple could not last forever though and in the last few years the old powers in the East have begun to fall off while the teams that often took a back seat began to find their way.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles started to see advantages from building their farm systems and were beginning to press the top two teams to make the postseason.

The Red Sox and Yankees were still a big part though as they continued to make the postseason but it was no longer just those teams.

One of those teams would still make the postseason but either the Rays or the O’s were right there alongside in the postseason.

Coming into the 2010s the transition was truly beginning as the Orioles and Rays were beginning to be recognized as legitimate teams while the questions began to rise about the Yankees and Red Sox.

As the times continued to change in the East the powers fell further down the standings while young teams started to rise and take over the last spots.

In 2014 the transition seemed to be complete with the AL East putting only one team in the postseason for only the second time since 2003.

New York finished in second place but a tough season gave them only 84 wins and kept them out of the wild card.

The Red Sox went from first to worst last year as the defending champions finished in last place.

Meanwhile Baltimore became the East representative while the once consistent Rays sat near the bottom of the division.

The Toronto Blue Jays have long been the team that nobody can figure out as they have done well in some year only to falter the next and through it all have missed the postseason for 21 years. They have rebuilt time and time again and yet have not been a part of the old or new powers and after finishing third in 2014 they remained the same type of team.

As the new season approaches the debate will rage on if the time of the Yankees and red Sox is officially over. If they are no longer the powers will the Orioles take over or can another team step up and create a battle in what used to be the toughest division in baseball.

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The Baltimore Orioles are looking to become the new beasts of the East as they are in position to take the torch from the old guard. The Yankees and Red Sox were long the kings of the division but in the last few years the Orioles have been rising up to take over. Last year they took advantage of bad years form most of the decision to take the title in what, at one point, seemed unlikely. That doubt arose from the fact that the Orioles lost their three best players throughout the season. At first it was injuries to Matt Wieters and Manny Machado that put a dent in the postseason hopes. Then it was the suspension of Chris Davis for PEDs that put their postseason run in doubt. Still they found their way to the postseason and to the ALCS where they eventually fell to the Royals. Now Wieters and Machado are set to return from injury as Machado recovers from his second knee injury and Wieters tries to recover from Tommy John Surgery. Both will be closely watched to see if they can reclaim their form while Davis returns with a medical exemption for Adderall and looks to recover from a season that did not match his breakout in 2013. There are some big questions for these player this year and with the loss of Nelson Cruz they will have to carry a little extra load along with Adam Jones and Steve Pearce, who had a breakout year in 2014. The additions of J.P. Arencibia and Travis Snider should provide some secondary offence but they won’t provide any major boost. As the offence looks fine but does have some questions the rotation remains much of the same for the O’s. They have a very deep pool of starting pitchers with six pitchers that could all take on more innings. Last year they juggled the rotation well but this year they might have to find their top five and get some more offence for the odd-man out. The Orioles did not do too much in the offseason and when they did suffer losses did little to replace them. Depending on boosts from returning players is a risky decision but if it works out they will stand at the top of the division again.

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When the 2013 season began the Boston Red Sox were considered one of the worst teams in the MLB. They had come off of one of their worst years winning only 69 games in 2012 and although they rebuilt, the moves they had made did not make any confident that they would return to the postseason. The moves worked though and the men they brought in may not have been flashy but they bound together to support a hurting city and won the World Series. So hopes returned to their height in 2014 but again the Red Sox surprised everyone, this time by falling to the bottom of the division again. Boston finished with 71 wins last year and far out of the postseason as the up and downs are beginning to become a constant. This year the Red Sox rebuilt again as they went after some of the top free agents in the off-season with hopes that they could once again put together a great turnaround season. The Red Sox added Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Cuban star Yoan Moncada, who was one of the most sought after players this off-season. All three will bring their great hitting to a hitter friendly ballpark as they will both see the benefits of playing in the confines of Fenway. Both will also bring plenty of defence with Ramirez taking advantage of a small left field and Sandoval sure to continue his great play in the hot corner. The offence got a big boost with those signings while the pitching staff that was ripped apart last year when they knew they were not making the postseason. After Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy were all traded last year the Red Sox brought in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson. The rotation may not be as powerful without those three pitchers from last year but the replacements should fit in nicely with their rotation. The Red Sox made plenty of noise in the offseason and much like 2013 they look like a new team but will the rebuild work for a second time? The Red Sox are once again looking to make a run and in a division where there are more questions than answers but they may have done enough to win the East.

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The New York Yankees had a strange season to sum up in 2014 as they were not good but they were also not bad. They finished in second place in the division but never seemed poised to take a postseason spot. Much of that has to do with the injuries that they incurred during last season when three of their top pitchers all found their way to the DL. That included their newest superstar Masahiro Tanaka who was signed from Japan and had an immediate impact for the Yankees after becoming their top starter. They finished the season out of the postseason for the second year in a row and upset plenty of fans who are used to seeing October baseball in the Bronx. Despite the disappointment the Yankees did not do what the Yankees usually do as they did not go on a shopping spree instead focusing on the players they have. They will look to the return of Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda in the rotation while one of their few signings in Nathan Eovaldi will likely take another spot and the final spot will be up for grabs. The money in the off-season seemed to go more to the batters as they spent $52-million on Chase Headley and $5-million on a one year contract with Stephen Drew. The biggest focus will be in the middle though as Derek Jeter leaves a massive hole at Shortstop and Alex Rodriguez returns from a season long suspension after he was implicated in the Biogenesis scandal. Jeter leaves a big hole not only on the field but off the field as well and replacing him will be up to Didi Gregorius, although Stephen Drew may move over if the team begins to shuffle. The return of Rodriguez may not have a massive impact on the defence as the Yankees seem to be set on him in a DH role but his presence is sure to be a distraction. The Yankees are not a rebuilt team and have a massive distraction on their hands in A-Rod and for the Bronx Bombers that might not be a great thing heading into a new season as another year out of the postseason might be in the works.

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The Tampa Bay Rays seem to be done with their period of success by spending less as they struggled for most of the year in 2014. They made a low payroll and won the division twice while going to the postseason an additional two times. They were the picture of success in the new moneyball era of the MLB but that success has fallen off in the last few years. In 2014 they finished in fourth place only picking up 77 wins throughout the season. A trade that included David Price was the beginning of the rebuild and they continued into the off-season. The Rays unloaded young guns Wil Myers and Jeremy Hellickson along with vets in Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce. The trades got back a host of prospects along with designated hitter John Jaso, catcher Rene Rivera, and outfielder Steven Souza. The Rays do still have some familiar faces though as Evan Longoria remains the face of the team along with a handful of other veterans. The pitching staff may be the most unfamiliar though as they are a young group led by an injured Matt Moore, who may not return until June after Tommy John Surgery. The group made up of Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Ordorizzi, and Drew Smyly are a good group but are a young group, all are under 30, and could have some ups and downs this year. The biggest change though, will be in the dugout as Joe Madden has left for the Cubs. Madden’s time on the Rays made him one of the greatest managers in the league as he was able to win without relying on power and changed the way the game is played by employing defensive shifts and encouraging small ball with the odd power. Without Madden at the helm Kevin Cash will have to try to continue their success by doing more with less. The Rays are rebuilding and trading away their top talent, save a few players, should send a clear message that they are not going to compete for a World Series any time soon. They may be better than most expect but they won’t finish anywhere near the top of the division as they look to the future with more promise.

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The Blue Jays have had some of the most hype surrounding them in recent years after a 2013 rebuild that featured some of the biggest trades and signings of the year. In 2014 after a disappointing season the Blue Jays tried to get rid of the dead weight and make a run at the postseason. That strategy didn’t work out either and the patience of baseball fans for Canada’s only team began to wear thin. They were a respectable third place in 2014 but respectable is beginning to get old in Toronto. It was not the flashiest of off-seasons but signing Russell Martin, the top free agent catcher, and trading J.A. Happ for Michael Saunders, who might miss the start of the season after injuring his knee, not only helped to improve the defence and provide some extra offence but also brought in more Canadian content to Canada’s only team. The biggest move by far though was trading away the popular but often injured Brett Lawrie for MLB All-Star and MVP candidate Josh Donaldson. All three of these moves will provide a great boost to the offence that already including power hitters Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. More than that though these moves brought in some great defensive players but they didn’t solve the biggest issue for the Jays. The pitching staff has long been the Achilles heel for the Jays as they have failed to find a true ace since Roy Halladay left. This year they did not upgrade the staff and let their closer walk away without a true replacement. With Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey leading as the veterans the Jays will have to depend on a young group. Marcus Stroman showed some signs of promise last year but will miss the season after tearing his ACL, while Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez are two of the most exciting young prospects. Still they are all prospects and have not pitched a full MLB season. If the pitching staff can hold up the Jays have one of the best offences in the league and their time to go to the postseason may be here but they have to see a lot go right to end the longest active MLB postseason drought to end and if it doesn’t expect so major changes in the offices of the Jays.

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Prediction:
The American League East is nearing the end of their shift in power and as a result there is clearly one team that will be on top. The Baltimore Orioles are the best team in the division and if they can stay healthy this year there is no question that they could be the team to beat in the East. Meanwhile the rebuilt Red Sox will give the Orioles a run for their money with a new-look offence that could be one of the best. They will find their way to the postseason with that new offence but will fall short of the division title. The Blue Jays will try to make it a three-way race but losing one of their top young pitchers in spring training has thinned out an already thin pitching rotation. The Yankees and Rays will take up the back-end of the division as both teams have simply not done enough to compete with the top teams this year although the Yankees have a better chance of making a run that the rays will.

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