By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
Here is my quick breakdown of how I expect the AL East to playout.
Baltimore Orioles: If I have learned anything the last several years, it’s never to count the Orioles out. Ever. Their coaching staff and front office always engineer creative ways to keep Baltimore competitive. Their lineup at Camden Yards is as lethal as any other team’s in the division. Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Manny Machado will no doubt propel their run production, as well as others throughout their lineup. They have the best closer in the division (Sorry Yankees), and a pretty steady bullpen behind Zach Britton. Their rotation perhaps might leave a little to be desired. However, Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Dylan Bundy have all shown the potential to be very solid. Last year the Orioles were an after thought to many of us heading into opening day. I figured they would be one of the worst teams in baseball, but they lead the division for most of the year, and I would not be shocked if they were to win the division in 2017. They easily have the best manager (Buck Showalter) in the American League to guide them in that direction.
New York Yankees: The Yankees are another team that always finds creative ways to at least stay in contention. They have a very solid bullpen behind Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. Outside of their phenom prospect Gary Sanchez, their line up quite frankly isn’t sexy enough. Gardner and Ellsbury are getting up there in age. The addition of Matt Holliday could reap some rewards, but I don’t see where they will generate the runs to keep up with the other loaded lineups in the AL East. Their rotation is also a mess. Tanaka was a Cy Young candidate last year, but there is nobody else behind him. Not a single starter in their rotation pitched more than 180 innings last year, and the 2017 version of the Bronx Bombers very much looks to be a team in transition.
Tampa Bay Rays: No chance whatsoever. If you’re of strong religious faith, say a prayer for them. I would do it myself, but I’m agnostic!
Toronto Blue Jays: This is a team that has a very real chance to steal the AL East, and they’re a team that everyone loves to dismiss as legit contenders. Toronto has a very strong rotation behind Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, and J.A. Happ. Not only is this rotation strong, it could very likely produce the next Cy Young winner. They still have a rock star lineup behind Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and newly signed Kendrys Morales. Their bullpen has it’s questions as it usually does, but they’re a team with a fan base who has plenty to be excited about. Two years in a row they appeared in the ALCS, and I would be the LEAST shocked than most if they made a third appearance this year. I could definitely see a Blue Jays/Red Sox rivalry becoming one of the biggest in MLB for the next few years.
Boston Red Sox: Finally our beloved Red Sox. I have absolutely no questions whatsoever about our rotation. It’s easily the best in the sport. And it’s perhaps the best in franchise history. I do have a lot of questions about our lineup. Can Pedroia stay healthy? Will Sandoval bounce back and be productive? Does Andrew Benintendi avoid that dreaded “sophomore slump?” Can Mookie Betts take the reigns and essentially handle the pressure of being the biggest bat in our line up? It would be a lot easier to give all of the above the benefit of the doubt had David Ortiz not retired. But nonetheless, despite my apprehensions, our line up is loaded with talent and proven production. Our bullpen, however, does give me very legitimate concerns. Craig Kimbrel proved very much in 2016 to be a major head case, and never was never quite able handle the pressure of pitching in the toughest market in the entire league. Also, Tyler Thornsburg is somewhat of an injury liability. He had a partially torn UCL in 2014, opted for blood platelet injections rather than Tommy John surgery, and surprisingly has pitched fairly well since. Carson Smith is coming off Tommy John surgery himself, and will pitch out of a Fenway bullpen until mid May at the earliest. Aside from the injury liabilities both Thornsburg and Smith present, we still have no idea how each of them will handle the pressure of pitching in the city of Boston. Ross, Barnes, and Kelly are solid middle inning relievers when called upon, but none of them individually will carry a major league bullpen. Our bullpen alone will prevent the Red Sox from “running away with the division.” But despite my above concerns, despite the fact that teams that are too big to fail often do, I am still picking the Boston Red Sox to break the 90 win barrier and win the division. Even though John Farrell is still our manager. Ever since the Sale trade, everyone has taken for granted that we would in fact win the division. I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but it’s not going to be easy. It will be another season of ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Hopefully, just hopefully, the chemistry will click, and the momentum will be there at the end of the season to not only play deep into October, but win our fourth World Series this century.