You’ll have to forgive me for the lack of a snazzy title, but hey even the best minds need a break once in a while. This ladies and gents is my opinion on how the Birds will stack up to the rest of the division. I will make you all a promise, I will do my best to not write this while I wear the Orange colored shades. I may look stylish in them, but i’ll settle for my transition lenses just this once for the sake of journalism. Or something close to it anyway, but enough about that from bottom to top, my thoughts on the AL East.
5. Tampa Bay Rays: In a division famous for making a litany of moves, were you really surprised that the Rays are my pick for finishing last in the division? Now don’t get me wrong, this pitching staff will keep them in a lot of games. With Chris Archer and Drew Smyly leading the charge, this staff will only be better with a healthy Matt Moore and Alex Cobb.
The problem I have with this team is the offense. Their inability to score runs really hurt them last year. Losing Asdrubal Cabrera will certainly not make things easier for Evan Longoria and company. They did manage to snag Corey Dickerson from Colorado. If the kid is healthy, he is a grade A all-star. The problem is the Rays had to part with Jake McGee to do so. McGee was absolutely filthy last year. While the Rays trot out new relievers like athletes trot out new cars, this kind of left handed arm is almost irreplaceable.
So while Steve Pearce and Corey Dickerson could be good for the Rays, I just don’t think they’ll be enough to hang with the rest of the power hungry East.
4. Boston Red Sox: Do you remember how funny it was last year when the Sox were dubbed World Series favorites after signing Hanley “I only play when I want to” Ramirez and Pablo “Big Panda” Sandoval? I laughed as hard at that as I did waiting on David Ortiz to finally reach second base. Well the Sox went and bought themselves 1/5 of a starting rotation in David Price for the ridiculous sum of seven years and 212 million dollars. Along side of Craig Kimbrel to slot in as the closer the Sox have something cooking.
The big problem here is once again the unpredictable nature of all the moving parts. Clay Buchholz can be deadly when he gets it, but he usually doesn’t get it for weeks sometimes months on end. Roenis Elias came over from Seattle and is a fly ball pitcher coming to the band box that in Fenway Park. Our old friend Eduardo Rodriguez is slated to be part of this rotation, but his success will depend on his ability to adjust to the league as they obviously figured him out after his whirlwind debut. Add to the pitching question marks the horrid nature of Hanley playing defense, Big Papi calling it quits at the end of this year, and seeing if the Panda can actually play to his contract will be too big a weight for the Sox to crawl out from under.
3. New York Yankees: If I had my way the Evil Empire would be in last place every year. Trying to be as impartial as possible requires I actually judge them on talent. I find the Yankees in third place this year for two VERY BIG reasons. First of all, the Yankees made in my mind the best trade of the offseason. In bringing Aroldis Chapman to the team from Cincinati, the Yankees officially have made every game they play a six inning game. They have the best back end of the bullpen in all of baseball now with Betances and Miller following Chapman. If teams do not reach this starting staff early, it may be too little too late.
The reason this won’t be enough if because Girardi and sons had one big thing on their side last year. Father Time was nowhere to be found. They put all of their faith in a 40-something broken down steroid user with two bad hips and a mid 30s first baseman who hasn’t stayed healthy since he signed his contract. It was enough to get the job done as A-Rod had a resurgence from the year prior and Mark Texiera didn’t much time on the DL at all. The luck will run out on this team and it started when mega prospect first baseman Greg Bird was lost for the whole year due to injury. Add to this a starting staff that is certainly without it’s flaws, and the Yankees will come back down to Earth from where they were last year.
2. Toronto Blue Jays: Ok I know you are all thinking it. “Way to not wear the Orange shades, James.” I surprised myself on this one too. The more I think about it however, the more this choice makes sense. One of the biggest loses for the Blue Jays believe it or not will be back up catcher Dioner Navarro. Russel Martin has a propensity for getting tired or injured if not kept fresh throughout the year. With Navarro in town there was virtually little to no let down in production if Martin needed a day or two to rest up. Without him there, it will be interesting if Russell can last the marathon that is the baseball season. Also putting their faith into prospect Dalton Pompey to take Ben Revere’s place could possibly be a risky move. While he has slashed some impressive numbers in the minors, it always is a big jump to the big show. He will be a name to be watched.
On the pitching side of things, anytime you lose a David Price, you tend to be a bit weaker. While Marcus Stroman is stepping into his shoes, those are some awfully big shoes to fill. How the young man holds up to the pressure will be paramount as to how the Jays season goes. So while it may be by only one or two games, and I see them winning the wild card, the Jays will finish in second this year.
1. Baltimore Orioles: On the heels of one of the best off-seasons in team history, the fever of the new baseball season is starting to pulsate around Charm City. Nobody is arguing that the loss of Wei-Yin Chen will be a little hard to overcome. He was one of the most consistent starters we had. The fact we were able to replace him with somebody like Yovanni Gallardo helps ease that sting. Work horse is an understatement for this guy as he has made 30 starts since he was able to pick up a baseball. Let us also not forget the impact that bringing a Darren O’Day back into the fold will have on the likes of a Dylan Bundy, who must remain on the roster all year as his contract is almost up. The pitching side is already on the up and up.
We all know how happy we were when Chris Davis agreed to hit moon shots all over Camden Yards for the next seven years. We were also a little surprised when Matt Wieters accepted his qualifying offer. My joy was insurmountable when I heard word we added Mark Trumbo and Dexter Fowler to the mix. A true DH and legit lead-off hitter to this already deadly line-up will legitimately have pitchers struggling to find a way through. While pundits may say we’re putting too much faith into rebound seasons for the likes of Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez, I say let them. 2014 was a year of doubt for the Orioles, it certainly seems as though 2016 is shaping up to be the same.