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If you were paying attention at all to the way the American League East played out throughout the year in 2015, you’d have gotten yourself quite a few headaches with all the shuffling that went on for the first 2-3 months of the season. Every single team in the East held first place at some point. Then came the trade deadline and the Toronto Blue Jays changed everything bringing in names like Price to a rotation already with names like Dickey and Buerhle. Tulo and Revere to add to an already potent lineup with names like Bautista, Encarnacion, and that guy named Donaldson who’d go on to win AL MVP.
On August 1st, the New York Yankees had a five game lead over the Baltimore Orioles and a six game lead on the Jays. Exactly one month later, the Jays would take control of the East and never look back. What did the off-season bring to possibly shift the power and once again shuffling things up in the division once called the toughest in baseball?
Let’s take a look (in order of my projections for 2016):
- Toronto Blue Jays – The defending division champs have been relatively quiet in the off-season which actually should scare everyone else in the East. That lineup will be dangerous, once again. The pitching staff had a very solid second half of 2015 and have brought back lefty J.A. Happ and signed former White Sox righty Gavin Gloyd to compete for a rotation spot vacated by now Red Sox ace David Price. The key for them repeating as champs will be to stay away from too many key injuries to their pitching staff. Their offense should carry them, but that staff can’t afford a major hit.
- Tampa Bay Rays – This team has done everything right this off-season bringing in much needed depth at key positions but staying away, as they do, from the big name free agents. Logan Forsythe should prove his 2015 breakout year was no fluke at the plate and in the field while Evan Longoria eclipses 30 home runs for the first time since 2013. The additions of Steve Pearce, who can straight mash at Tropicana Field, Corey Dickerson, and Logan Morrison should make this offense one to watch. The pitching staff will be led by Chris Archer who could very well be, once again, in Cy Young discussions. The key will be the production of a bullpen without Jake McGee to take pressure off reigning AL saves champion, Brad Boxberer in the late innings.
- Boston Red Sox – The Sox have their ace in David Price and their closer in Craig Kimbrel. But for a team who finished in the top 3-5 in just about every offensive category in the AL in 2015 – they finished dead last in the standings. The pitching staff was atrocious for most of the season and Price and Kimbrel can’t do it by themselves. Rising stars like 23-year olds, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts give Sox fans plenty of hope that the offense will continue to thrive, not to mention it’s the swan song season for “Big Papi” David Ortiz. If the pitching staff can find it’s way and the offense picks up where it left off last year – the Sox could do some damage.
- New York Yankees – Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman will help immediately. But the Yankees really have question marks all over their pitching staff that was mediocre at best in 2015. Offensively they’ll score some runs but I’m not so sure they’ll be quite as potent as they were last year. Alex Rodriguez is 40 and had a complete shock of a comeback year last season. Can he repeat that production? Mark Teixeira is no spring chicken, himself, and needs to stay healthy. They have maybe as scary a lineup as the Blue Jays if everyone is healthy – but that pitching staff might be their undoing.
- Baltimore Orioles – The only team in the AL with a worse starting rotation than the O’s was Detroit. They did nothing in the off-season to make anyone think that will improve in 2016. Their bullpen should be okay and most likely improved after finishing last year 3rd in the league in ERA. The offense needs Matt Wieters to be healthy. In the last two seasons he’s played in just 101 games and they need his presence both at the plate and behind it all year. Chris Davis is back and will most likely compete for another home run crown while Manny Machado and Andrew Jones will continue to be studs, as well. If that rotation can’t drastically improve over 2015’s performance and the O’s have any one of their offensive studs go down – it could be a long year for Buck Showalter and Co.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m under the mindset that pitching wins championships. For proof – see the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals from last year. You can have all the offensive firepower in the world but a mediocre or worse staff won’t get you very high in the standings in baseball these days. Of course these predictions could fluctuate as spring training games kick into full swing in a couple weeks as there will, no doubt, be injuries and/or a few late transactions before Opening Day.
Baseball is a funny beast. So let’s enjoy the boys of summer as they kick off their spring and play some ball!
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