After a multitude of offseason moves across the division, the AL East isn’t quite what it looked like last October. Every team in this division is going to have a different chemistry, a different feel to its playing style. With that in mind, here are my predictions for how this toss-up division is going to play out.
1/ Boston Red Sox (Projected Record: 96-66)
The Sox have only gotten better this offseason. Chris Sale becomes the ace of an already solid starting rotation of Rick Porcello, David Price, Stephen Wright, and likely Drew Pomeranz. At the dish, Boston made the necessary moves to become a team that is dangerous from top to bottom. Snagging Mitch Moreland from Texas was huge–this gives the Sox all sorts of flexibility at the DH position. Since Moreland will become the new first baseman, it’s likely that we’ll see some of Hanley Ramirez at first base, as well as Pablo Sandoval, who finally showed up to Fort Myers with a flatter stomach. With that in mind, expect to see a mix of Hanley and Pablo at DH as well. Defensively, the outfield is one of the best in baseball, anchored by Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Mookie Betts. Sox fans can expect to be singing a whole lot of “Dirty Water” this season.
2/ Toronto Blue Jays (Projected Record: 90-72)
I’ve got Toronto higher than most experts, but I love the way this team attacks on offense. Josh Donaldson can do it all, whether you need a grand slam or a single up the middle. The powerful Jose Bautista returns on a one-year deal–the Jays will need him to have one of his best seasons yet to keep up with Boston. At the mound, there are guys here that can get it done. Aaron Sanchez broke out last year (15-2 with a 3.00 ERA). Marcus Stroman had a tough year in 2016 (9-10 for the year), but we know what this guy is capable of (he’s 15-6 over the rest of his short career). J.A. Happ provides veteran leadership for this rotation. Don’t be surprised if the Jays trade for a big-name starter this summer, to push them over the edge and get them through to October.
3/ New York Yankees (Projected Record: 84-78)
There’s something so intriguing about this Yankees team. Maybe its the youth of its stars: Aaron Judge is knocking baseballs into another dimension, Gary Sanchez has become the new young sensation in baseball, and Greg Bird has shown his pop at times. After a few years of speculation, these three guys will all be in the starting lineup this season, which should provide the Bronx some much needed energy, after what has become almost a decade of mediocrity. On the mound, the Yanks are anchored by Masahiro Tanaka, who went 14-4 a year ago with an ERA of 3.04. My x-factor for this Yankees team in 2017? Gotta be Didi Gregorious. The dude plays out of his mind on defense, and we finally saw what he’s capable of at the plate in 2016 (20 homers, 70 driven in, and a .276 batting average). If he can out-do these numbers in ’17, the Yankees might have stumbled upon one of the best shortstops in baseball.
4/ Baltimore Orioles (Projected Record: 79-83)
Baltimore was simply too quiet in the offseason for us to have any confidence in them making a statement this season. My biggest issue right now is the starting rotation. It’s a pretty experienced group of pitchers, but those veterans might be past their prime overall (Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, etc.). On offense, the O’s have the same recipe for success that they’ve had for a few years now–Chris Davis and Manny Machado lead the charge at the dish. A solid bullpen gives hope, but only if that rotation can give quality innings. Count on a near-.500 season for the Orioles.
5/ Tampa Bay Rays (Projected Record: 70-92)
The Rays are young. Like, really young. That means it might take a year or two for this team to sneak back into contention. For now, they can build on their youth. Chris Archer must be better on the mound this season, after a 2016 performance that saw him take a step back. Losing Logan Forsythe also hurts, but with the draft pick returns, maybe Tampa Bay can parlay that trade into success down the road. This team has some serious base-stealing talent–if they can get on base on a consistent basis, that might be enough to get this team out of the cellar. For now, however, a last-place finish seems realistic.