AL East Division Preview: Questions

Over the last half decade or so, the American League East has been, without question, the strongest division in baseball. Home to the perpetually competitive Yankees and (until recently) Red Sox, it has also seen the Rays and Orioles share the spotlight. Last year, it was the only team to have three teams win 90+ games (though the ALW came close). However, the sure thing that is the ultra-powerful AL East is a bit less sure this year. Each team has one big question nagging it. Let’s jump in.

The Baltimore Orioles came out of no where last year to win 93 games and make the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Though they eventually bowed out to the Yankees in the ALDS, 2012 was undeniably the most successful year the Orioles have had since the late 90’s. The team has a young core and a solid manager, so they should be set up to keep the success going, right? Well, maybe. Quick, name the biggest move the O’s pulled in the offseason. Exactly…there wasn’t one. The question I have for Baltimore is how do they expect to compete again after doing literally nothing to substantially improve the team? Further, does the club–which had a lot of fluky stuff go its way last year–expect the likes of Jason Hammel and Miguel Gonzalez to keep pitching like guys who’re much better than Jason Hamel and Miguel Gonzalez? Can Manny Machado live up to his big time hype while playing a new position and getting his first extended action in the bigs? Can Nick Markakis stay healthy? Can Matt Weiters’ bat take the next step forward? The answers to all these questions are not slam dunk positives for Baltimore, and that’s why their sit-back-and-relax approach to this offseason has me scratching my head.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum sit the Toronto Blue Jays. Unlike their other-bird counterparts’, the Jays’ beaks were anything but silent in the offseason. They went out and did a lot of damage on the trade market, swapping with the Mets for R.A. Dickey and with the Marlins for Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Emilio Bonafacio. On paper, this team looks to be the strongest in the division, but like all things baseball, it’ll come down to health. Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow are two pitchers I’ve always rooted for; they’re big, hard-throwing strikeout guys, and who doesn’t like that? But, as we all know, these guys are almost never healthy. If they’re not healthy, how good can this team really be? Jose Reyes’ legs and turf…how will they mix? Skepticism is certainly warranted there. Jose Bautista missed the end of last season with a bad wrist injury and if there’s one thing bad for power hitters, it’s a bad wrist. Can he bounce back and be what we’ve expected him to be over the past few seasons? Health, though, isn’t the only concern. There are also questions of integration of new players and hope for repetition. Mark Buehrle is a durable and reliable pitcher, but will his soft-tossing shtick work in the AL East? Can Dickey adjust to a new league? Is the Melky Cabrera of 2011-12 going to show up again? Can Edwin Encarnacion repeat 2012? This team looks terrific on paper–probably like the best in the AL–but is that enough?

Like the Jays, the Red Sox spent a bit this winter. They wound up with Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, David Ross, and Mike Napoli. They’re definitely improved, yet no one seems to see it that way. Like Toronto, they’ve got health questions: Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Clay Buccholz, John Lackey, Mike Napoli…They’ve also got performance questions that need to be straightened out. What the hell was up with Jon Lester last year? Shane Victorino had a down year in 2012. Can Ryan Dempster be as solid as he was in the past now that he’ll be in the AL for a whole year? Anything is an improvement over 2012, but it still may take a bunch of breaks for this team to finish any higher than fourth place in 2013.

We all know the Rays can pitch, and they’ll definitely do that well this year. But can they hit? This is a question we ask every year and the answer, to me, keeps coming up “meh.” This year, the answer may be less “meh” than in years past, but I’m still not sure this team has enough offense. Evan Longoria is great, but rarely healthy. Matt Joyce and Luke Scott are powerful, but limited against lefties. Desmond Jennings has been good, but underwhelming and Yunel Escobar, Jose Molina, James Loney, and Kelly Johnson aren’t scaring anyone. The only offensive player who can be relied upon to be consistently healthy and productive is Ben Zobrist.

Last, but certainly not least, there are the Yankees. Our beloved Bombers seem a bit embattled to start the year. Health. That will be the determining factor for the Yankees in 2013. The pitching is there with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda leading the rotation, while Mariano Rivera and David Robertson hold down the bullpen. The offense, however, has already been decimated by injury and the Opening Day lineup is going to read like a Spring Training split squad one. Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez will all (hopefully) return from injuries at some point during the season. How they return will determine how far the Yankees go. If they come back and are even representative of themselves, the team’ll be fine. If they can’t come back or come back as diminished players, the Yankees are in for a long season. The pitching may be strong, but it is not strong enough to withstand another setback on the offensive side of things.

A native and resident of the Mean Streets of Southwestern Connecticut, Matt is a narcissistic, misanthropic 20something English teacher who lives by a simple creed: Yankees Only.

12 thoughts on “AL East Division Preview: Questions

  1. uyf1950

    I have a question this is probably a bit off topic but I'd like some opinions on this. Apparently Jeter is not healing as quickly as both he and the Yankees would have liked, for whatever reason. Here is my question. Does anyone here think this setback in Jeters recovery schedule might give him pause about playing past this season, and not exercising his 2014 option?

    He obviously has more money then he could ever spend and it's highly unlikely that he will reach the 4,000 hits level. So why would he continue especially if this injury limits his defensive abilities even more going forward?

    • I'm thinking he continues to play, but this ankle thing may hasten the Yanks' decision to move him off SS and his decision to accept that. Coupled with ARod's health issues, I can see Cap moving to third with Alex heading to DH land.

      • Jeter can't move to third. His quickness is terrible and that's what 3B is all about. Also, I don't think he has the arm strength necessary to play third, since that requires a lot of planting and throwing, which Jeter is not so great at.

        • Michael

          Well….can Jeter continue to play SS? We shall see. I think no matter what happens (barring a catostrophic meltdown) he will exercise the option to try and play one more healthy season and give himself a shot to see what hes got left. Regardless I do think the Yankees should platoon him at short. Jeter should DH against lefties and let Nunez play short. Get both bats in the lineup and let Jeter rest. Also the Yankees have a huge decision coming up. If Nunez isnt the guy, and the Rangers let Andrus walk away to play Profar, it will directly coincide with when Jeter is a free agent after the option year. What happens now could go a long way to determine what happens then.

  2. Corey

    The Rays seem to be the best team. They have good young pitchers and manage to scrap enough runs to get by. I'd put the Jays second given the strength of their roster on paper — I'm skeptical that they can translate this into a division win particularly given health concerns. That leaves the Yankees third. Stil a good team, but one that is not likely to win 90 games. This leaves Baltimore fourth and Boston fifth.

    • uyf1950

      Well I subscribe to the theory to be the best you have to beat the best and none of the teams in the AL East have beaten the Yankees so far. I'm also of the opinion that both some fans and media are jumping way to soon on the Yankee injury bandwagon. Several of the injured players should be back in the line up by mid May some well before that. Most of the regulars on this board should know that I'm not ready to as they say "throw the baby out with the bathwater" before the season has even begun. I still say the Yankee get most of their injured players back and they play up to my expectation and the Yankees win the division. After that I don't care who comes in 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th. That's just my opinion.

    • Mike

      I'm assuming all these guys come back from injury ok and they reach 90 wins along with the Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. My thinking is that Toronto won't be able to quite outslug it's deficiencies enough, and will be victimized by poor defense while their pitching won't quite live up to the high expectations.

      • Mike

        Rays once again have the best pitching but can't muster enough offense. And O's luck regresses so they don't win all those 1-run games and have so many guys all overperforming. They look like they should be the worst team in the division and struggle to reach 80 wins. Boston is improved but their pitching is not good enough. So yeah I think as long as the Yanx can get these guys back from injury ok, then they should take the division. If they can't, then this team is just like the Rays except pitching is not quite as good.

        • Michael

          For all the talk of the Orioles luck, that was mainly an early season thing. They out won their pythagorean runs scored vs runs prevented stat early on but it evened out as the season went on and they were much less fluky. Its a lot of talented young kids who may have just put it together. Im not so quick to write off the Orioles as a one year wonder.

          Honestly I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the divison this year. I wouldnt be surprised with any order whatsoever. Totally wide open in my mind.

  3. mcmastro

    I'm not even certain if the Rays have the best rotation anymore. I think, honestly, that the Yankees can match them 1-5. And i'd take the Yankees bullpen over their bullpen as well. And truly, if the Yankees pitching can hold them up, they should have no problem competing for the AL East. If the Rays can do it with their pitching and no hitting, the Yankees can CERTAINLY do it with the rotation the possess and the fact that they'll be (near) full health with the bats by mid may.

  4. Ben

    It's a hard division to figure. Yanks have better offense than Tampa but maybe not as good pitching (starting the Rays have upside, but overall with the bullpens, I think they're equal) and the Yanks don't have as good hitting as the Jays. But the Yanks have a better offense than the Rays (yes, even with the injuries) and while the Jays might have more upside with starting pitching, I think the Yanks have more of a sure thing with their staff, not to mention their bullpen is much better. Boston, I just don't see it, unless Lester returns, Buccholz stays healthy, Lackey comes back from nowhere and Doubront is steady. Baltimore, well apparently the Orioles found a way to spell lucky out of Baltimore in 2012.

    • Michael

      No one sees Boston as a threat? Remember how good Ellsbury is when healthy? napoli bouncing balls off the green monster. I just dont think they are as big a lock for 4th place as everyone thinks. No idea whats going to happen but I do expect all the teams to be above .500

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