Welcome to the final edition of 500 Level Fan’s divisional preview series. Today’s focus is on the AL East, the home of the Blue Jays.
Past Five Champions
2014 – Baltimore
2013 – Boston
2012 – New York
2011 – New York
2010 – Tampa Bay
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 96.2
Jose Bautista, Jays
After two injury shortened and disappointing seasons, Bautista reclaimed his position as best player in the division with a huge 2014. He finished T-5 in the AL with 35 HR, T-7 with 103 RBI, 4th with a .928 OPS, and T-7 with a 6.0 WAR last year, and if all goes well in 2015 he might improve on all of them. Hitting smack in the middle of a lineup that includes Jose Reyes, Russell Martin, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson, J-Bau should see plenty of RBI opportunities and plenty of protection. If they Jays are to take the next step and finally break the 20+ year playoff drought, it will be Bautista leading the way.
Honourable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Jays; Adam Jones, Orioles
The AL East used to be the place where you’d find elite arms. Think Clemens, Pedro, Halladay, Schilling, Mussina, Price, Shields, Lester, etc. But things have changed. Heading into 2015 there is not a single pitcher who stands out above the rest. Instead there is a very interesting mix of arms. You have guys who could be elite if they stay healthy: Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda (Yankees). You have intriguing young arms poised to break out: Smyly, Cobb, and Archer (Rays); Hutchison, Norris, and Sanchez (Jays); Gausman (Orioles). You have guys who might or might not be good: Dickey (Jays); Miley, Porcello, and Buchholz (Red Sox); Tillman and Jimenez (Orioles). I don’t think it’s possible to pick just one.
Honourable Mention: See above
Three Storylines For 2015
1. Going For It, Version 2.0
At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Alex Anthopoulos decided the time was right to blow up the farm system and go for broke. The Jays brought in R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Melky Cabrera, and promptly finished dead last. After an encouraging step forward last season, AA once again decided to go all-in this winter, acquiring Russell Martin, Devon Travis, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders. With superstars Bautista and Encarnacion only signed until the end of the 2016 season, the time is now for the Jays. They still have holes – the bullpen remains a question mark, the rotation is young and untested, the Stroman injury was tough to swallow – but so does the rest of the division. It’s up to the players to make sure that 2013 does not repeat itself (and 1993 does).
2. From Worst to First to Worst to….?
Boston has been all over the place recently. The Red Sox finished dead last in 2012, won the World Series in 2013, and went right back to last in 2014. So to make sure the rollercoaster once again trends up, Boston management opened their wallets in the winter. In are former World Series hero Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, and Wade Miley. They join a team loaded with young prospects who all might be poised to breakout at the same time, including Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. But it’s not all cupcakes and flowers in Beantown. Jon Lester spurned them for the Cubs, leaving the rotation bare of an ace-like arm. Ramirez will be playing left field for the first time in his career. Sandoval appears to have spent the offseason eating (and eating, and eating, and eating). By all accounts the team is better – but by how much?
3. Not Your Usual AL East
Remember when it was called the AL Beast? That seems like so long ago. Gone are the days when the Yankees and Red Sox would battle at the top and the rest of the division would fight for third. What we have this season are five teams that each have flaws, strengths, and major question marks hanging over them. Tampa Bay lost their GM, manager, and a good amount of players, yet still bring back a bevy of young arms and Evan Longoria. The Yankees are getting older and now have to deal with A-Rod, but might benefit from full seasons from Pineda and Tanaka. Baltimore won the division handily last year, but enter 2015 without Markakis and Cruz, and with injury clouds hanging over Wieters and Machado. The Jays and Red Sox (discussed above) are not without their issues. This is a division that is almost impossible to predict, mainly because it’s possible to envision a scenario in which any team can take it. That means 2015 should be tons of fun.
The following are actual statistics put up in 2014 by Tampa Bay Rays catchers: .524 OPS (dead last), 5 HR (dead last), .194 average (dead last), .250 SLG (dead last). Those numbers were compiled by Jose Molina (.417 OPS!), Ryan Hanigan, Curt Casali, and Ali Solis, who were beyond miserable. A lot of negatives were said about the Rays in the offseason as they offloaded Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, and Joe Maddon, but they made some very under the radar moves in acquiring catchers Rene Rivera and John Jaso. Nobody is going to confuse those guys for Buster Posey or Russell Martin, but with OPS’s last year of .751 (Rivera), and .767 (Jaso), the Rays may be poised to improve their overall catcher OPS by over 200 points. In the grand scheme of things that might be worth a couple of extra wins, which in this division might end up being huge.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column in early April.