Welcome to the final edition of 500 Level Fan’s divisional preview series. As usual, we saved the best for last – the AL East.
Boston Red Sox
Past Five Champions
2017 – Boston
2016 – Boston
2015 – Toronto
2014 – Baltimore
2013 – Boston
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.4
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees
There is a lot of talent (as always) in the AL East but the nod for best player goes to the man who has yet to play single game as a member of the division. When the Yankees
stole acquired Stanton from old friend Derek Jeter in December they added the defending NL MVP and home run champion to an already loaded lineup. After five straight seasons battling injury, Stanton finally stayed healthy in 2017 and his awesome potential finally became reality. He popped 59 HR, drove in 132 runs, and posted a .281 / .376 / .631 / 1.007 slash line, with a 7.6 WAR. Now, plopped into the middle of a modern day murderers row and playing in a Little League-type stadium, the sky’s the limit.
Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
Sale made quite the first impression in Boston last season, coming out of the gates firing and putting up an epic debut season with the Red Sox. The left-hander led the AL with 214.1 IP, 308 K, a 2.45 FIP, and 12.9 K/9 ratio, and posted a 17-8 record, 2.90 ERA, and 0.97 WHIP. He was rewarded with an All-Star appearance, a runner-up finish in Cy voting, and a 12th place finish in AL MVP balloting. If there was once concern it’s that Sale noticeably tired down the stretch, going 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA in August and September and went 0-2 with an ugly 8.38 ERA against Houston in the ALDS. With question marks continuing to surround David Price, Rick Porcello, and Drew Pomeranz, the Red Sox will once again be relying rather heavily on Sale’s left arm.
Three Storylines For 2018
1. Just Like Old Times
From the mid ’90’s through to 2010, except for a few outlier seasons, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox finished first and second in the AL East. Fans of the Rays, Jays, and Orioles often lost interest in the baseball season by June when it was clear the best they could do was a distant third. After a few years of change from 2011-2016, when the division crown was actually passed around between those three, we appear to be back to the old days. Boston and New York finished 1-2 last season and then spent the offseason adding star players to supplement their young and dynamic cores. The Yankees brought in Giancarlo Stanton to team up with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Didi Gregorious, while Boston signed J.D. Martinez to slot alongside Betts, Benintendi, Bogaerts, and Pedroia. With Chapman and Kimbrel, each team also has one of baseball’s best closers, and both have rotations loaded with both solid and spectacular arms. If there is any potential hindrance it’s that both teams are employing rookie managers, but otherwise, to the nightmares of the rest of the East, both look to be set for years.
2. Is the Window Still Open in Toronto?
After back-to-back postseason appearances in 2015 and 2016, the Blue Jays were once again picked by many to reach the playoffs last year. But 2017 was a nightmare. They were decimated by injury (Donaldson, Tulo, Martin, Travis, Sanchez, Osuna, and Happ all missed time), Bautista fell off a cliff, and Morales failed to replace Encarnacion. Now one of the older teams in baseball is another year older, begging the question: is this still a playoff contending team? The front office added a lot of nice pieces over the winter giving Toronto significantly more depth and versatility than a year ago. But the season will likely rest on the health of key players. Can Aaron Sanchez make a regular rotation turn? Can Devon Travis finally stay in the lineup every day? Can Russell Martin still handle a full season behind the plate? If the answer to those question is yes, the Jays should be in the mix come September. If not? Donaldson might be wearing a new uniform in August.
3. Infielders for Sale?
As it stands right now, baseball is set to experience the greatest crop of free agents in history at the conclusion of this season. The biggest names that may potentially be available are Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw, but two of the AL East’s greatest infielders are also potential free agents: Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado. With the Yankees and Red Sox firmly entrenched at the top of the division, there seemingly is only one playoff spot left to play for and both Baltimore and Toronto will be in tough. By all accounts the Jays are ahead of the Orioles in the pecking order, but a slow start by either club will set the rumour mills buzzing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see one of (or both) players gone before the calendar flips to September.
In 1961, Yankee teammates Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) combined to hit 115 home runs, a record for most HR by teammates. After bringing Giancarlo to New York over the winter, the 2018 version of the Yankees boasts the reigning AL HR champ AND the reigning NL HR champ in their lineup. Last season Stanton and Aaron Judge combined to hit 111 bombs, which would have been the second highest total if they shared a uniform. Judge took full advantage of the short porch in Yankee Stadium, but Stanton called Marlins Park – a notorious pitchers park – home. Now that he can also take aim at the tiny RF fence in New York we may very well see Maris and Mantle’s record fall.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column at the end of March