There is just something about March Madness that gets me so jacked up! No, it’s not the random 14 seed that hits a 3 pointer to seal an upset win over a #3 seed. It isn’t the cutting of the nets, the strive for perfection, or listening to Jay Bilas tell me how to fill out my bracket if I want to make sure I don’t win my pool.
Nope, it’s the mere fact that once the television drama of the tournament comes to a close, it’s time for what really matters. The start of the Major League Baseball season is upon us. The snow is melting, the grass is starting to show, and the winter coats are starting to head up into the attic. There’s no better time to be a sports fan than April through October, and it starts with the crack of the bat or the pounding of a glove.
Over the next few days we’ll take a look at each team, give our predictions and hope that you too will indulge us in your predictions for the upcoming season. Did you see the 2014 Royals coming? Did you see the Brewers being a red hot team that would fizzle when it mattered?
So let’s begin with what is sure to be a conversation starter… the American League East.
Division Analysis: To me, this is the most wide open division in the sport. Nobody in this division appears on paper to have an edge over the rest. In every contender, there seems to be reasons to avoid picking them to come out on top. I’m confident that this division will see just one playoff team emerge, I’m just not confident at all in who it will be – but I’ll take my best shot.
Tampa Bay Rays – 5th Place
I look at the lineup and see players like John Jaso, James Loney and Asdrubal Cabrera being needed to have borderline career years for this lineup to produce around Evan Longoria. Steven Souza is an intriguing talent, and people in Tampa Bay seem to be excited about his potential. He’ll be interesting to see.
Longoria is the face of this franchise, he has taken team friendly deals in an effort to stay in Tampa Bay – but he struggled last year for really the first time in his career. Coincidentally, 2014 was the first time Tampa Bay looked like the “Devil Rays” in Longoria’s career. It’s easier to be the face of a successful franchise, not so easy when the team is rebuilding.
The pitching staff for the Rays is falling apart day by day. Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly are already dealing with discomfort in their throw arms (or shoulder), and Matt Moore is still trying to recover from Tommy John surgery. So right off the bat you’re heading into 2015 with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and I guess Nate Karns?
If a team retooling the lineup with band aid parts can’t rely on their pitching staff, they can’t be successful.
Baltimore Orioles – 4th Place
Buck Showalter, like Joe Maddon is one of the very few managers that I believe makes a big difference in a team’s performance. The Orioles have overachieved in the last two years, and now they are faced with the challenge of repeating three successful season, with much less talent.
The Orioles lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis via free agency, and didn’t really replace either of them at all. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I think Travis Snider is truly the answer, nor do I think counting on Chris Davis to replicate his 2013 campaign is a realistic thought either.
This team will go as far offensively as Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones can take them. Part of the problem is Wieters is returning from Tommy John surgery (not a typo), and so it’s tough to predict how he might bounce back in 2015.
The rotation is highlighted by Chris Tillman leading the way with Wei Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and possibly Dylan Bundy in the mix as well. You look at that team and you think they need Cole Hamels, and they probably do – but I just am not sure they believe they need the front line starter to compete. This is basically the same rotation that made it to the LCS last year and ran into a buzzsaw in Kansas City.
Would I be surprised if Baltimore won the division? No. But I look at the division and I see the teams I predict ahead of them getting better and Baltimore’s roster changes making them worse.
New York Yankees – 3rd Place
Most Yankees fans I know have changed their usual tune. You can tell that this team is heading down a dangerous path just by talking to some of their most loyal fans. No longer do they “expect” to win, now they “hope” that “if” everything goes right, they will win.
Their issues are clear, and their fans while in some ways are in denial about the roster on paper – luck has done stranger things than work its way into a divisional race.
The Yankees need a lot of luck. Yes, any player, at any time can get hurt. It’s true. But, when you have old players who normally get hurt, or young players who have had 6 injuries over the last 6 years, the odds dramatically increase that you’ll be piecing together a team through your minor league affiliate.
The rotation like their lineup will succeed if they stay healthy. Take a look around though. Masahiro Tanaka is a Tommy John Surgery waiting to happen. If his injury was as bad as they told everybody then I’m sorry, they were foolish not to have the surgery. That decision to me was about money, and the idea that not being able to showcase Tanaka as their headliner for 2015 would decrease money in their pocket. If Tanaka stays healthy and gives the Yankees 30 starts, he’s winning the AL Cy Young.
Michael Pineda can’t stay on the field. 6 injuries in 6 years, all you hear is how good he’ll be – but he simply hasn’t proven he is capable yet.
CC Sabathia has a degenerative knee problem which for a larger American should be no problem right? The rest of the rotation is a dime a dozen. Nathan Eovaldi got lit up in the National League East last year, have fun against Baltimore, Toronto and Boston.
The lineup has Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Alex Rodriguez – all practically sure things to land on the DL. If they don’t though, this is a team that not only could win the division – but could challenge for the pennant. Rarely do you find a team with such a dramatic pendulum swing where the thought of landing on the DL seems more certain than unlucky.
I can’t think of another team that ever had it’s core of talent so injury prone, yet so capable of doing great things if they avoid the inevitable. Think about it, you could make a strong and reasonable argument that 6 out of the Yankees starting 10 players on Opening Day could either have a great season leading them toward a pennant, or they could spend serious time on the disabled list.
I think the Yankees whiffed on the bullpen, because while I agree Dellin Betances is nasty, I think the way in which they handled David Robertson’s free agency hurt their plan to have a dominant bullpen. Betances could be a very good closer, but what if he’s not? Andrew Miller is not a closer, Robertson filled the biggest shoes of anybody by replacing Mariano Rivera. They had a chance to have a lights out 7-8-9, instead they didn’t even pick up the phone.
At the end of the year I think we’ll look back and see Joe Girardi does another great job piecing a season together with AAAA players, but it won’t be enough to take the division.
Toronto Blue Jays – 2nd Place
It’s honestly mostly a guess to be straight with you. This franchise has not see a playoff game since Mitch Williams tossed one in to Joe Carter. Karma has to catch up with them at some point right? Truth be told until I started writing this, I had Toronto winning the division.
The Blue Jays added in Russell Martin, Justin Smoak/Daric Barton and Josh Donaldson to the lineup which should in theory provide Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion with greater support and more opportunities to drive in runs. We all know Jose Reyes leads the lineup at the top, and though he has seemingly regressed every year since leaving New York – he’s still worth noting.
The rotation took a huge blow by losing Marcus Stroman. They expected huge things from him and to tear an ACL on a defensive drill? Yikes. Seems karma is still not on their side.
I’m confident enough in R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. They will be fine, neither will be an ace but truly acceptable near the top of the rotation. I have my doubts about the rest of the rotation, and pair that with the fact Brett Cecil is likely their closer – you have a red flag.
I think Toronto wants to make a move, and I do think they will act on an arm or two becoming available. They need less to go their way to compete for this division, but I don’t see them having the horses right now.
Boston Red Sox – 1st Place
I’m not really confident here because I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this team lands in 3rd place. The Red Sox whiffed on the Jon Lester situation. After that trade happened, it seemed every Boston fan you knew was saying they’d get Lester back and it’d be no big deal. Well, we all know that didn’t happen and now the Red Sox rotation is relying on Rick Porcello to be the counterpart to Clay Buchholz. Porcello is no Lester, not even close.
The rotation is alright, just alright. I think like pretty much everybody not named the Yankees in this division – it lacks a true ace.
The catcher spot will be interesting to because I’ve heard Red Sox nation regard prospect Blake Swihart as the next Jason Varitek. Not sure Swihart will be with this team any time soon, it really depends on Christian Vazquez.
The heart of the order is dangerous for sure. Pedroia-Ortiz-Hanley-Sandoval will give most pitchers fits throughout the year.
In order for this team to grab the division, they need Clay Buchholz to emerge as a frontline starter the way he appeared to be in 2010. I’m not sold on this at all. I look at his body of work over the last four seasons and I can’t see how he replaced a guy like Lester.
The team will need to outslug everybody to win, and while that is possible – I am not banking on Boston having enough to steal the division, but it’s the most likely scenario I can think of.
AL East MVP: Dustin Pedroia. If I am taking Boston to win the division, I think Pedroia has a big year.
AL East Cy Young: Tanaka. I’m flipping a coin here. He either missed May-next year or he pitches long enough to set himself apart from the rest of the pitchers in this division. Simply hedging my bet here.
AL East Sleeper: Devon Travis. I think if Travis can win the starting job and stick with it, it’ll be a big bump to Toronto.
First I’d like to address something from Jessep’s opening. “Did you see the 2014 Royals coming?” Yes. Yes, I did. Now that the horn-tooting is out of the way, on to my picks.
I think Jessep is 100% correct. Or 100% wrong. Or pretty close, or maybe really far off. How do you forecast a division that has exactly one great pitcher when that pitcher is a strong breeze away from missing eighteen months? Or when the best hitters are old and declining? The best talent in the division is still Evan Longoria, but there’s nothing surrounding him. The best hitter in the division over the last three seasons has been Robinson Cano, and he wasn’t in the division last season.
Tampa Bay Rays – 5th Place
The Rays are my choice for the number one pick in the 2016 draft.
Boston Red Sox – 4th Place
The Red Sox will finish fourth because the free agents they signed will bust to the surprise of no one and there’s no real good pitcher anywhere on that team. For the Sox to compete, every free agent they signed has to perform to their top potential, and they used up that sorcery in 2013. Additionally, Betts and Xander Bogaerts will have to to get their careers jump started early and Porcello will have to be an ace. I like Porcello, but not to lead a staff.
Baltimore Orioles – 3rd Place
The Orioles will finish third because they’re getting Machado back and Davis can certainly achieve a 2012 redux. I’m encouraged by Bud Norris’s 2013 and Kevin Gausman‘s potential. They did lose Cruz, but Machado and Davis bouncing back will more than cover that and Markaikis has been league average at best since his 2012 breakout.
New York Yankees – 2nd Place
The Yankees get the second place nod here because of potential. If they can get 140 games out of Teixeira, McCann and A-Rod, and 30 starts from Tanaka, Sabathia and Pineda, you can reasonably expect enough production to win 86-ish games and not embarrass themselves. There’s a very minimal likelihood that happens, but I won $800 at Mohegan Sun last week, so I’m feeling lucky. I disagree with Jessep about Robertson. I think the Yankees handled that well, letting him go for a draft pick and giving the team-controlled better talent the chance. I don’t love all that money for a reliever they gave to Miller, but he’s better and cheaper than Robertson and the Yankees gonna do what the Yankees gonna do.
Toronto Blue Jays – 1st Place
The off season splashes Alex Anthopoulos is famous for recently that have consistently blown up in his face (as off season splashes always do), may finally pay off, although “by default” probably wasn’t the way he pictured it. I think the Jays are the favorites because they have the most dependable roster. Nothing there is great, but you can reasonably expect health and that makes them the best offensive team in the division. Besides Dickey and Buehrle, I think Drew Hutchinson is poised for a step forward and Aaron Sanchez has tons of potential. They were able to steal top player Josh Donaldson from the A’s, they upgraded at catcher with Russell Martin and one of these days I’ll be right about Michael Saunders. The bullpen is an issue and there’s no league-best anythings outside of third base defense, but they’re the best by default.
AL East MVP: Evan Longoria. One day I’ll be right.
AL Central Cy Young: Chris Archer. I’ve always liked him. Maybe it’s his year finally.
AL Central Sleeper: Brett Gardner. He’s the elder statesman of the Yankees, believe it or not, and I think he’ll be able to reconcile the high OBP skills he has (2010) and his new found power stroke and combine them into a .290/.365/.430 season and really become a leader on that team.