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2013 American League East Preview

Max Meyer |
March 25, 2013 | 10:15 a.m. PDT

Associate Sports Editor


Will Jose Bautista be able to power the Blue Jays to a first-place finish? (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Will Jose Bautista be able to power the Blue Jays to a first-place finish? (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
The American League East is baseball's most competitive division, as all five teams have a chance of winning the division. However, expect the Blue Jays to win their first AL East crown in 20 years.

1. Toronto Blue Jays 90-72 (2012 Record: 73-89)

Key Additions: SP R.A. Dickey, SS Jose Reyes, SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buehrle, OF Melky Cabrera

Key Departure: 2B Kelly Johnson

The Toronto Blue Jays were this past offseason's winners because they overhauled their entire roster. They acquired three-fifths of their 2013 starting rotation, including R.A. Dickey, last year's National League Cy Young. They bolstered their top of the lineup by adding one guy who had the highest batting average in the National League in 2011 and another guy who would have been the NL leader in batting average last year if he didn't get busted from using performance-enhancing drugs.

Besides their new acquisitions, the Blue Jays still have a lot of talent that was on the team last year. Their middle of the order in Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie may be the best in the American League, if not baseball. They combined for only 80 home runs last year. However, with better health, the trio can realistically be projected for at least 100 home runs between them. 

Brandon Morrow was well on his way towards a career-season until he went on the 60-day disabled list after straining his oblique. He's a fireballer who's averaging 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings over his career. Dickey, Morrow, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle form a very solid rotation. Ricky Romero, the fifth starter in the rotation, was having a promising career himself until his disastrous 2012 season. If he can turn it around (his bad spring training isn't helping), the Blue Jays will have the best rotation in the American League. Having the best lineup and rotation in any division certainly gives that team a huge advantage towards finishing at the top. Expect the Blue Jays to capture their first AL East since 1993, the year they last won the World Series. 

2. Tampa Bay Rays 88-74 (2012 record: 90-72)

Key Additions: Wil Myers, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar

Key Departures: B.J. Upton, James Shields

Every year, key players leave the Rays in the offseason and baseball analysts project them to finish near the bottom of the American League East. However, the Rays are one of the most resilient teams in baseball, and are always in the playoff hunt in the final weeks of September. Losing B.J. Upton and James Shields will be tough, but the Rays still have loads of talent on their roster. 

The Rays actually took the Blue Jays' top of the order from the beginning of last season, and added them both to their lineup. Yunel Escobar is expected to bat second, while Kelly Johnson will be placed in the middle of the lineup. MVP candidate Evan Longoria will need to have a huge season to make up for the loss of Upton. But the guy who will take the biggest leap is leadoff man Desmond Jennings. Jennings is a former top prospect who is heading into his third year in the MLB, and needs to be a more consistent hitter. After adjusting to the majors for two seasons, this will be the year that he breaks out. Also, watch out for when the Rays call up Wil Myers, the super prospect they acquired for Shields. He's an impact bat that could form a dynamic duo in the heart of the lineup. 

Their young pitching staff will be the biggest reason for their success this season. David Price is not only the best arm on the team, he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore will also be counted on to have big seasons. Alex Cobb has a lot of upside, and there are several other young pitchers waiting for an opportunity to crack the rotation. The bullpen is also strong, and led by closer Fernando Rodney, who had one of the best seasons for a reliever in baseball history last year. Never doubt the Rays, especially with manager Joe Maddon, who always seems to push the right buttons and instill a winning attitude with this team. 

The Yankees will be counting on Robinson Cano to have an MVP season because of all of their injuries. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
The Yankees will be counting on Robinson Cano to have an MVP season because of all of their injuries. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
3. New York Yankees 82-80 (2012 record: 95-67)

Key Addition: Kevin Youkilis

Key Departures: Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin

The Yankees keep on getting older. Since they saved money this past offseason by not making any significant moves, this could be the year it all collapses. Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are all expected to miss significant time due to injuries. Kevin Youkilis, who hit .235 last season, will be batting fifth on Opening Day for the Yankees. The bottom of the order is even uglier than that though. Juan Rivera, Travis Hafner, Dan Johnson and Francisco Cervelli are far from the typical feared Bronx Bomber bats. The recent addition of Vernon Wells won't help much either. In fact, I expect Robinson Cano to have a higher home run output than all of those guys combined this season. 

The rotation behind CC Sabathia isn't that much better. Can Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte pitch well even when they are battling against father time? For Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, can they pitch with the consistency that the Yankees need? Even for CC Sabathia, with all of the innings and pitches he's thrown over the years, will his production decline?

The only reason why I think the Yankees can still manage a winning record (albeit, barely) is because of their rock-solid bullpen. Even though they lost Rafael Soriano, the greatest relief pitcher of all-time, Mariano Rivera, is returning for one final season before he plans to retire. Additionally, fireballer David Robertson is one of the best setup men in baseball. Essentially, if the Yankees lead after seven innings, they will be in a very good position to win the game. However, they are simply lacking in several areas, and manager Joe Girardi will have an extremely tough time staying above .500 with this team. Unless the Yankees can pull off the similar magic that the Rays have used in the past couple of seasons, this is the beginning of the end of a dynasty. 

4. Boston Red Sox 79-83 (2012 record: 69-93)

Key Additions: Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes

Key Departures: Cody Ross, Daisuke Matsuzaka

After the one-year Bobby Valentine experiment was an epic disaster, the Red Sox began their renovation of the franchise last year. They traded away Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the offseason, general manager Ben Cherington made some big signings to try and improve the team after their miserable 2012 season. Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli are two guys who will help out near the top of the lineup. The Red Sox will also have a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. Add in second-year player Will Middlebrooks, Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes, and the Red Sox have a very potent lineup.

The starting rotation though could be the worst in the division. Ace Jon Lester had his worst season in 2012, which included a losing record and an ERA close to five. Lester's strikeouts per nine innings have also decreased in four straight seasons, which could mean that batters are figuring him out. Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront are young arms, and both of them need to have extremely strong seasons if the Red Sox even want to dream about making the postseason. However, the signing of veteran Ryan Dempster could be pivotal. While Dempster struggled in the American League after being traded to the Texas Rangers, he could end up being the top starting pitcher in the Red Sox rotation. 

The Red Sox will improve quite a bit from 2012. However, in baseball's most competitive division, I don't see them finishing higher than fourth place. At least their new manager, John Farrell, will be able to handle the clubhouse much better than Valentine did. 

5. Baltimore Orioles 77-85 (2012 record: 93-69)

Key Additions: None

Key Departures: Mark Reynolds, Robert Andino, Joe Saunders

The Orioles were quite the story last year, coming out of nowhere to make the playoffs. However, this season, they will have a tough time repeating since the team didn't improve and the fact that they are now on the American League's radar as a dangerous team. 

The Orioles lineup still has a powerful punch in the middle. Adam Jones was the big breakout for the Orioles in 2012, and he'll be batting cleanup. He hit 32 home runs and had a .287 batting average, and the scary part is, he can be a bigger offensive threat this year. Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters bat third and fifth in the lineup respectively. While both of the former top prospects are solid hitters, neither has broken out the way Jones has. The most intriguing name in the batting order is Manny Machado. He played 51 games in his rookie campaign, and had a respectable .262 batting average and .445 slugging percentage. However, he needs to get on base more this season. If he can, look for him to make the leap and move up towards the top of the lineup. 

In a reoccurring theme for the bottom three predicted teams in the AL East this season, the Orioles biggest weakness is their starting rotation. They exceeded expectations last year, but they need their young arms to step up even more in 2013. Ace Jason Hammel was injured often throughout last season, but he still had his best season. His 3.43 ERA and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings were by far the best numbers he's posted in his career. The young arms of Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez pitched effectively last season. Chris Tillman and Zach Britton need to be consistent this year though, or else the Orioles will find themselves at the bottom of the division. Manager Buck Showalter did an incredible job last year taking this team to the postseason, but I don't think he has enough up his sleeve to pull it off two years in a row. 

Reach Associate Sports Editor Max Meyer by email, or follow him on Twitter.



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