2015 MLB Preview: AL East

Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the first College Sports Town divisional preview for the 2015 MLB season. I’m going to take a look at every team in the league, analyze each one’s offseason moves, and offer my prediction for what their respective seasons will look like. As always, I’m going to begin with the AL East. It has been a year of turnover for several teams in this division. The Tampa Bay Rays lost manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman along with several promising young players, the Boston Red Sox could not bring back ace Jon Lester, and the New York Yankees said goodbye to a little-known shortstop named Derek Jeter (perhaps you heard something about his retirement?). Will any of these teams be able to adjust to these changes well enough to challenge the Baltimore Orioles for the division crown?

Divisional Breakdown

  1. Baltimore Orioles
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Toronto Blue Jays
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. New York Yankees

Team Breakdown

  1. Baltimore Orioles

Powered by Nelson Cruz’ league-leading 40 home runs and the stellar play of Adam Jones, the Orioles had a terrific 2014, winning 96 games before falling to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. This season, the Orioles will return a fairly familiar roster. Though Nelson Cruz will be missed in the middle of the lineup, new acquisition Delmon Young aims to provide production in the DH role. And though someone other than Nick Markakis patrolling right field at Camden Yards seems strange, Travis Snider is a promising replacement. The most important acquisitions of the offseason for the Orioles were the returns from injury for Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters. If these star players can return to form, the Orioles will be a formidable offensive threat once again in 2015. With a rotation that remains fairly solid yet unremarkable, and a serviceable bullpen, Baltimore will once again depend on the core of their lineup to power the team to victory.

Verdict

Best Case- Jones is stellar yet again, Machado, Davis, and Wieters are All-Stars once more, and the Orioles win the AL East for the second straight year.

Worst Case- Cruz’ production cannot be replaced, Baltimore’s core of stars is injury-riddled once again, and Baltimore falls short of a playoff spot.

If Chris Davis can return to his 2013 form, the Orioles will take flight once again.

  1. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have for several years been the bane of my prognosticating career, as the squad has bounced from last place in the AL East in 2012 to a World Series championship in 2013, then back to last place in 2014. However, I have confidence that I have finally pegged them accurately as a wild card team in this upcoming season. Just like their division rivals the Orioles, the highlight of this Red Sox team is the lineup. Joining Boston mainstays David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, who both signed massive contracts this past November, and my Rookie of the Year pick Rusney Castillo. The Red Sox should score plenty of runs, especially if young players like Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Xander Bogaerts produce adequately. The concern for this squad lies with the pitching staff. Jon Lester chose to go to Chicago rather than headline this bunch of solid yet unspectacular starters. Presumptive ace Clay Buchholz is wildly inconsistent and oft-injured, and it remains to be seen if solid pitchers Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson can maintain a higher level of success. The bullpen is decent, with Koji Uehara closing, but is filled with question marks like Craig Breslow and and Edward Mujica. The pitching staff has the potential to be quite good, but it might also be a disaster.

Verdict

Best Case- The offense fires on all cylinders, the staff impresses, and the Red Sox win the AL East.

Worst Case- Ortiz shows his age, the offense can’t score enough to make up for lackluster pitching, and the Red Sox miss out on the playoffs again.

Pablo Sandoval, pictured here with his brother, will be a key component of the Red Sox lineup.

  1. Toronto Blue Jays

The 2014 Blue Jays performed decently, finishing third in the AL East after falling behind in a tight AL Wild Card race. Toronto followed that performance with perhaps the splashiest offseason in the AL East. In addition to acquiring Michael Saunders and Russell Martin, the Blue Jays traded Brett Lawrie and prospects to the Oakland A’s for All-Star Josh Donaldson. Though Melky Cabrera will be missed at the top of the lineup and Colby Rasmus will be missed in center, Toronto’s offensive production should be similar to last year, when the Jays scored the fifth most runs in the league. In what is seemingly a trend in the AL East, the weakest part of this team is the pitching staff. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are solid but old, and the loss of the promising Marcus Stroman to an ACL tear will hurt. Toronto will have to hope Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris can live up to their potential and fill the voids in this rotation. In the bullpen, Brett Cecil will take over closing duties from the departed Casey Janssen. Toronto had one of the worst bullpen ERAs in the MLB last year, so hopefully this shakeup will improve things.

Verdict

Best Case- The offense is imposing, Sanchez and Norris pitch well, and the Jays return to the postseason for the first time since 1993.

Worst Case- Martin is injured, the staff shows its age, and Toronto finishes last in the AL East.

Josh Donaldson, attempting to taste the Canadian air, is a welcome addition to the Jays.

  1. Tampa Bay Rays

After finishing under .500 for the first time since 2007, Tampa Bay overhauled their roster and front office. In addition to the aforementioned departures of Maddon and Friedman, the Rays traded away or let walk key players including Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, and Wil Myers. The new Rays lineup might not be worse than that of last year, when the Rays scored the fewest runs in the AL, but it is not that impressive. New manager Kevin Cash will have to hope for bounceback years from Evan Longoria and James Loney if he wants to be competitive in 2015. John Jaso should provide power in the DH spot and highly-touted prospect Steven Souza will, at the very least, provide stellar defense in the outfield. The Rays might have the best rotation in the AL East, which is impressive considering the youth of their starters. Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi all performed quite well last year, and Drew Smyly, acquired in the David Price trade with Detroit, has looked tremendous in his brief Rays stint. It will be up to them to keep games close for this relatively weak offense. Tampa’s bullpen is a bit of a mess at the moment, and it will be up to Brad Boxberger, Jake Mcgee, and new acquisition Kevin Jepsen to keep things relatively under control.

Verdict

Best Case- Longoria has an MVP-caliber year, the rotation is stellar, and the Rays sneak into a wild card spot.

Worst Case- The offense sputters, the inexperience of the rotation is on full display, and the Rays finish in the AL East cellar.

Evan Longoria, after realizing Maddon, Zobrist, and Price are gone.

  1. New York Yankees

Now, I’m not predicting that the Yankees will finish dead last in the AL East because it gives me great pleasure to do so (even if that may be true). The fact is, the Yankees overachieved during the 2014 Derek Jeter farewell tour- sorry, the 2014 season. The difference between their actual win-loss record and their expected (Pythagorean) win-loss record was 7 games, as the Yankees led the American League in luck. Even though the Yankees did make some quality moves this offseason, I do not think that the 2015 team will be as competitive as last year’s. The lineup can be solid when everyone is healthy, but health could definitely be an issue for a team that depends on so many older players. Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Chase Headley are all fairly good and should provide good production, but Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann had disappointing debut seasons in the Bronx and it will be up to them to turn things around, which can be tough when one is on the wrong side of 30. Also, Brian Cashman is presumably counting the days until he can replace Stephen Drew with Rob Refsnyder at second base. This is not to mention the return of Alex Rodriguez, likely to the DH spot from which he should provide a lot of drama, if not production. The rotation, like the lineup, can be pretty good when healthy, but that is a dubious assumption to make. Masahiro Tanaka was outstanding in his debut season, but his decision against Tommy John surgery for his partial UCL tear could come back to haunt him. Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia both have long injury histories, and both Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova will start the season on the DL. I’m a fan of Nate Eovaldi, whom the Yankees acquired from the Marlins, but there is a concerning lack of starting pitching depth for such an injury-filled rotation. The bullpen is the brightest spot on the team, with new acquisition Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances serving as a vicious end of game combo.

Verdict

Best Case- Tanaka’s arm holds up and he is a Cy Young candidate, the lineup stays healthy and productive, and the Yankees win a wild card spot.

Worst Case- Tanaka needs Tommy John, the rotation and lineup is filled with casualties, and the Yankees finish last in their division for the first time since 1990.

A-Rod, seen here attempting to bat with no hands, will bring even more drama into the Bronx this year.

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