Little doubt the East is toughest Division in the AL

by Dan M | Posted on Sunday, March 30th, 2014


By Dic Humphrey
The East has reclaimed the position of best division in the American League if not all of baseball.  It’s possible that every team finishes above .500 and that both Wild Cards come from this division.
The big spending Yankees were back in the market this winter as they try to overtake the reigning World Series Champion Red Sox.  Baltimore and Tampa Bay have also made nice additions.

2013 Record 97-65
Finished 1st
Last year, Boston manager John Farrell restored order and confidence from the disjointed tenure of Bobby Valentine as manager.  The key offensive elements are back for the highest scoring team in 2013 – Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, just to name three.
The team will be breaking in their remarkable rookie – Xander Bogaerts at shortstop.  He was the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year in 2013 and has participated in the last two Futures All-Star games.
They should get some punch in their batting order with the addition of A. J. Pierzynski behind the plate in place of the departed Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury creates a hole in center field and at the lead-off spot in the batting order, but they always seem to come up with talented players to fill voids.  One of those talented players is Jackie Bradley.
On the mound, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Clay Buckholz are a formidable starting rotation, perhaps the best five from top to bottom in the American League.
Koji Uehara emerged as the closer last season, and he was very good.  Farrell was a highly respected pitching coach before he became a manager.  He will put a good staff together.

2013 Record 85-77
Finished 4th
The Yankees were essentially never in the race last year.  Mark Teixeira was injured early, and Alex Rodriguez was a circus.  This year Teixeira is back, and Rodriguez is lost to the PED suspension.  Both developments should be positive for the Bronx Bombers.  They have re-loaded their outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.  They spent big on Brian McCann to handle their catching duties.  They signed the best free agent pitcher on the market – Masahiro Tanaka, and they added Alfonso Soriano to DH.  They have spent liberally to get back to competitiveness.
Tickets for Yankees’ games will also come at a premium around the league as Derek Jeter announced his retirement after this season and will be making his farewell tour.
The outfield should be great, but the infield is highly questionable, both offensively and defensively.  Jeter is not the star he once was and neither is Teixeira.
Second and third base are question marks.
On the pitching side, a slimmed down version of CC Sabathia returns at the top of the rotation.  Hideki Kuroda is back as the number two starter.  Tanaka and Ivan Nova will be the three and four starters in some order, and the Yankees are expecting to finally reap the benefits of the Michael Pineda trade two years ago.  He’s allowed just one run this spring. This is a good starting five.
David Robinson has big shoes to fill at the back end of the bullpen.  He takes over as closer for the retired Mariano Rivera.  He was 5-1, 2.04 with three saves in 70 relief appearances last season.  Stepping into the Yankees’ closer role though will be different than his days as the closer at the University of Alabama.

2013 Finish 92-71
Finished 2nd
Tampa Bay has been as consistent a team as there has been in baseball over the past five years.  They always have young (cheap) pitching, play good defense, and tack together enough offense to stay in the race.  Joe Maddon is recognized as one of baseball’s top managers.
David Price, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore form a tough top of the rotation.  Grant Balfour was signed to be the closer.  Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is recognized as perhaps the best general manager (no matter what his official title is) in baseball.  He’ll put together enough arms for the bullpen.
The team is offensively challenged with Evan Longoria, Wil Myers and James Loney being the three big bats in the order.  If they score enough runs, the Rays will be in the race all the way.

2013 Record 85-77
Finished 3rd
Baltimore has added Ubaldo Jimenez to what looks like an ordinary starting rotation on paper.  Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, We-Yin Chen and Bud Norris fill out the starting five.  Top prospect Kevin Gausman waits in the wings.  While this rotation doesn’t look glamorous, it has proven to be steady on the field.  It should be able to keep the Orioles in the chase.
The birds traded 50 save closer Jim Johnson, and former Ranger – Tommy Hunter – appears to be his replacement.  The rest of the pen may not be well known names, but they do a great job of inducing ground balls.  The Orioles’ pen will be a plus.
Offensively, they are good.  Former Ranger Chris Davis has blossomed into the player the Rangers hoped he would be.  He led the American League with 53 home runs and 138 RBIs last season.  Manny Machado at third base, Matt Wieters at catcher, and Adam Jones in center field form the heart of the batting order.  Still another former Ranger Nelson Cruz was signed as a free agent and should flourish in Camden Yards.
With Wieters and Davis nearing free agency, the window of opportunity may be closing soon for Baltimore.  There’s a lot of pressure to win now.  With good luck, this team could win the division.  Without it, they could finish last.

2013 Record 74-88
Finished 5th
Toronto put together a team they thought could compete last year, but didn’t.  Key players missed significant playing time to derail the Jays’ bid to compete.  They have a nice collection of offensive talent, most notably Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes.  Their starting rotation is headed by knuckleballer R. A. Dickey, the National League Cy Young Award winner just two seasons ago.  The rest of the rotation is questionable, though the bullpen looks solid.
The Jays could win more than 80 games, but they are unlikely to make a serious run at a playoff berth.


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