2017 MLB Preview: AL East

al-east

It wasn’t too long ago that the American League East was the division that struck fear into everyone throughout the league.

The group of teams led the league throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s with some dominant teams.

The New York Yankees were the leaders of the group without question as they took four World Series in the 1990s including a three-peat beginning in 1998.

The Yankees were only the tip of the iceberg though as the Toronto Blue Jays started the decade with back-to-back titles while the Boston Red Sox regularly made World Series appearances.

Then they finally made good on those appearances in 2007 to break one of the longest droughts in MLB history.

The entire division has tasted success and has been a division full of contenders for years but that is beginning to fall away.

That isn’t to say that the division doesn’t produce some great teams and doesn’t produce teams that could make a run at the World Series.

The dominance of these teams is long gone though and a lot of that has to do with the New York Yankees.

For years they were a team on the edge of falling off but never quite getting there as they continued to load up on veteran players.

Eventually, it came to a head and the Yankees began to fall off of their perch becoming just another good team.

While that was happening the Red Sox continued to be a team to watch but never a team that was guaranteed to be the best in the game.

The Toronto Blue Jays started to invest in winning and as a result, they have risen to the top of the division in the last few years.

The Baltimore Orioles have become a team that can sneak up on any other team in the league but often aren’t at the top of the league.

In Tampa, they had a period of great play but they haven’t been able to keep it going although they still give plenty of teams problems.

All five of these teams have had their moments at the top but none of them have reached the same dominance that the Yankees once had.

In that era of the league, there was rarely a time where the Yankees weren’t mentioned as favourites to take the World Series.baseball-sidebar

There was rarely a time where they didn’t look like they could either as they always had the best team on paper.

So when another team could take them out and unseat them as divisional champions it was a big deal.

That other team had to be good to win the division title and they always had a good shot of making it far in the postseason.

The battle for the top spot in the division was a tough one and it was so tough that often the losing team still got a shot.

The East always took two postseason spots as the winners of the division moved on while the second place team settled into the wild card spot.

It was essentially a guarantee that the East was going to take two postseason spots and the other teams were simply fighting for their divisional spots.

Things have changed though as the AL East remains a division with good teams always fighting but they are far from the dominant teams they used to be.

They are always a part of the fight for the wild card but not necessarily guaranteed to take all of the available spots.

It is now a bigger fight than it has been for years and the east is not the division that is taking everything in every season.

They did get a glimpse of their old dominance in 2016 when they turned back the clock and saw teams from the East take every spot available.

Boston took the division title while Baltimore and Toronto clinched the wild card spots leaving no room for the rest of the divisions.

It might be a sign of a return or just an off year for other divisions but one thing that 2016 did teach everyone is that this division may not be as dominant as they used to be but the fight for the title is as good as every.

There were more than a couple teams in the fight last year and that could just continue this time around as there are a few teams that can compete, changes and all.

baltimore_orioles.fw

The Orioles have turned from a forgettable, sometimes good team, to an offensive powerhouse in the league. They are among the best offences in the MLB with some great power hitters in the middle of the lineup. Last year that offence brought them to the wild card game but that was as far as they could get losing to the Blue Jays. With a few changes this year they are hoping that things can change but the concern remains for this team regarding loading up too much on one side of the ball and forgetting the other side. The one side they have concentrated on is the offence and that remains this year despite some losses. The biggest of them being their catcher Matt Wieters who was a consistent run producer for the O’s. That doesn’t mean they are without their biggest run producers though as Chris Davis and Manny Machado remain the heart of this lineup. When they added Mark Trumbo last year there was some scepticism due to his age but he came through with 47 home runs to lead the league. The trio should keep them among the top scoring offences in the league while Wieters’ replacement, Welington Castillo should be a solid replacement for the runs lost by the young catcher. Where they have had issues in the past is on the mound as they can put up runs but a pitcher’s battle tends to lead to losses for them. Their rotation remains a concern heading into 2017 as they lack the depth of the great teams in the league. Chris Tillman is among the top pitchers in the league but a shoulder injury could shorten his season while Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy need to continue to develop if they are to be relied upon. Beyond a healthy Tillman and both young pitchers meeting their potential, there isn’t much in this rotation. That makes for some major questions and concerns heading into a new season. The bright spot in the staff though is a great bullpen led by Zach Britton that had the AL’s best ERA in 2016. They can do their job to disguise their bad rotation but it makes things tough for this team. They aren’t bad enough to be out of the hunt for the division title or at least a postseason berth as they have enough to disguise their issues. Making a serious run at the World Series doesn’t seem like it is impossible without some great seasons out of their starters as they will struggle against the teams that can expose their issues.

bal-facts

bos_redsox.fw

The Boston Red Sox were a team that always seemed to sit on the edge of being too old but still competitive. They showed that in their last few inconsistent seasons where they regularly went from one of the best in the league to a last place finisher. Last year things seemed to start to turn as young players came into their own while the veterans continued playing great. They finished at the top of the division last year but couldn’t finish the season they way they were hoping, losing to Cleveland in three straight games in the ALDS. A few more additions this year will hopefully get them over the hump while the continued development of young stars could get them back to the World Series. The biggest addition in 2016 was David Price but he wasn’t the ace they were hoping for as he was good but not great putting up a 3.99 ERA, second highest in his career. He hopes to get back to his old ways and he will have some of the pressure taken off of him with the addition of another lefty ace, Chris Sale while Rick Porcello looks to continue his performances from a Cy Young worthy 2016. These three pitchers are the linchpin to the season for the Red Sox because if they pitch like they can it will be hard to stop this team. They might have to as well with a bullpen that is a bit of a question with Craig Kimbrell suffering through some control issues last year. If the starters can get the job done though this team is going to be tough to beat because there will be plenty of support from the batting order. There is no doubt that the loss of “Big Papi” David Ortiz will hurt as he continued to be the best DH in baseball in his final season. They still have plenty of support though as veterans like Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez are still producing while young stars like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have proven to be up to the task. A big piece of this offence could be Pablo Sandoval who can produce with the best but has struggled since going to Boston. If he can return to form it is just another power bat to add to the list. The Red Sox may have some issues but for the most part, they are a complete team which will make them tough to beat. Another division title isn’t out of the question and a deep run towards the World Series could be in the cards as long as things go right.

bos-facts

ny_yankees.fw

The Yankees were always the team that brought a host of big name veterans to the ballpark every day. They have always had the money to sign the biggest free agents and they built a team with those big names that could compete. Everyone knew that the strategy of signing these older stars couldn’t last forever as eventually, age would catch up to them. That is exactly what has happened in the last few years as their ageing team has seen reduced production with the Yankees no longer being the Bronx Bombers of old. Last year they still fought for a playoff spot but when the season got closer to the end they fizzled out and ended up in fourth place. They enter a new season with a slightly new strategy that started a few years ago when they started seeing the writing on the wall. The Yankees are going a lot younger this year, and although they still have the veterans that have helped them in the past they are looking for the future. The leader of that new group is Gary Sanchez who burst onto the scene last year and is expected to be a cornerstone for the team heading forward. With Brian McCann gone Sanchez is the everyday catcher and he joins young stars like Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro along with some top prospects like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge. They didn’t get entirely away from their love of veterans though as the signing of Matt Holliday shows that they still of ageing players. On the mound, there are few changes and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. They still rely on some older players who have struggled to get to the mound every five days. CC Sabathia might still have it after a good 2016 season while Masahiro Tanaka has proven to be great when he can pitch. Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are both massive questions marks with plenty of talent but struggles with consistency. The biggest addition is the return of Aroldis Chapman who is now a World Series Champion closer and still regularly throws above 100 mph. The Yankees traded him away last season and were far worse off for it but his return will help them as he joins Tyler Clippard to lead a good bullpen. The Yankees are still going to rely on veterans to lead this team as they wait for their top prospects to adjust. That reliance could be bad as they have seen what happens when veterans start to show their age. Then again they might be able to provide leadership to the young players who could play above what is expected and lead them to the postseason.

nyy-facts

tb_rays.fw

The Tampa Bay Rays have been a team that figured out how to win without the big names that so many other teams in their division loved. They did this really well when Joe Maddon was their manager and could get the best out of players that were never really considered to be great. The Maddon era is over in Florida though and without him, the strategy of getting more with less has not really worked out. They do still have some advantages though as their scouting department is among the best in the league with a constant flow of young talent. The problem with that flow of young talent is that when they start to develop into great players they leave for bigger money. The window for the Rays to compete always seems to be small as it seems like everyone will leave when they can. It hasn’t stopped them from putting together a great rotation year after year and in 2016 it was that rotation that led them to most of their wins. This year the rotation is once again led by Chris Archer, who is among the best young pitchers in the game. Alongside Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb and their latest promising prospect Blake Snell this rotation is young but still good. The bullpen is less so as they have had good outings from closer Alex Colome but not many others. They will hope that the addition of Shawn Tolleson helps but the bullpen is still a concern. On offence, the Rays are a mixed bag as they haven’t had the same success developing young hitters as they have had developing young pitchers. They will lean on Evan Longoria as a leader and human highlight reel Kevin Kiemaier who is only three seasons into his career but is still one of their most reliable players. These two big successes are an important part of the team while they will hope that Wilson Ramos can help them on both sides of the ball after he returns from surgery while Colby Rasmus can help them in offensive production that they can sometimes struggle with although he does have the same strikeout issue that has plagued the Rays. The rest of the offence isn’t much to fear as they are a mix of good players but nobody that really strikes fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. The Rays are still a team trying to figure things out as they have talent but most of it is in their rotation. It is also young rotation meaning that mistakes will happen and with an offence that cannot consistently produce they likely won’t be back in the postseason hunt.

tb-facts

tor_bluejays.fw

The Blue Jays have taken a somewhat quicker path than most to become one of the top teams in the league. They took a page from some of the teams in their own division and made some big moves over the last few years. Most of those moves came in the Alex Anthopoulos era and after the team parted ways with their young GM they brought a new group which has taken full control this year. The attitude is different but the goal is the same as they are not as willing to give away the future for the present and as a result, the team has lost some big players that have changed the face of this team but not necessarily made it worse. For the last few years the Jays have been one of the best offensive teams in the league but with a few changes through last year and this off-season, the focus turned to the rotation. The Jays have put together a good rotation as their young guns Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman lead the way with the Jays hoping that they can meet expectations again this year. Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ are not necessarily the pitchers anyone thinks of as dominant but while with the Jays both have been great. Francisco Liriano fills out the final spot as he looks to be the solid pitcher he has been for years in his first full season in Toronto. To add depth the Jays added Mat Latos while Gavin Floyd could help them out should someone go down. The rotation will have to be good as their bullpen is a work in progress with good role players like Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna but questions everywhere else. The rotation is no longer the question in Toronto but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any questions as the offence has taken focus this year. That was largely due to the fact that the Jays will be without Edwin Encarnacion who left for Cleveland and took his power with him. Although Kendrys Morales won’t provide the same power as Encarnacion the new arrival does provide a professional hitter that can soften the blow. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista will supply the power while the Jays will hope to see Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis step up to provide extra offence. There are still questions on offence though and the main one is whether or not they can shift from depending on the home run to being able to score multiple ways. They should still compete for a postseason spot but the offence will make the difference between fighting for the wild card or the division.

tor-facts

Prediction:
The battle for the top of the division is going to be another tough one and finding a postseason spot in the battle is not going to be easy. The Red Sox look like the early favourite as a few key additions have only strengthened them. They will make a serious run at the division and will come out on top but after that, things get tricky. The Blue Jays and Orioles will fight for the second place spot and the wild card this year with the Jays taking the win. The Orioles will come up short and won’t make the postseason although they will be in the hunt for most of the season. The Yankees and Rays could put up a fight for the postseason but both will probably fall off and out of the hunt late in the season leaving the Rays in last and the Yankees out of the postseason again. The battle is going to be a tough one and with so many questions anything could happen for any team.

aleast-prediction

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 126 other followers

%d bloggers like this: