AL East Betting Outlook
AL East Betting Outlook
AL East Betting Outlook
By Matt Zylbert
Toronto Blue Jays
For years, it always seemed like the Blue Jays were on the cusp of greatness. In fact, one could easily argue that if they were in another division, possessing the type of balance that they've had, this would be a first-place ballclub. Alas, having been in the AL East all this time, sharing residency with perennial powerhouses like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, they've only been able to taste .500 and nothing more, and last year was no exception as the team endured a ridiculous number of injuries on both sides of the ball. Entering 2013, though, this is not only a team that is finally fresh from a health perspective, but one that is absolutely rejuvenated for the first time in a decade. Of course, it begins with the monumental deal they pulled off with Miami, bringing them stud players Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson, not to mention reliable innings-eater Mark Buehrle. Oh, and there was that trade that lured in reigning NL Cy Young R.A. Dickey to front their pitching staff. And you certainly can't forget the signing of Melky Cabrera, who, PEDs or no PEDs, is still a quality outfielder.
Even before these acquisitions, Toronto had obvious talent, such as the always-dangerous Jose Bautista and emerging slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who is coming off, by far, the best season of his career. Brett Lawrie is another potent bat with the sky being his limit, as long as he can avoid a lengthy DL stint. This sort of depth exists in their rotation as well, where Brandon Morrow, who was putting together a Cy Young-caliber campaign last year before injuries knocked him out a couple of months, also resides. Tricky Ricky Romero will be the most peculiar of the bunch, following a disastrous 2012 season, but having three new pitchers on board to take pressure off him could do wonders for his psyche, which is incredibly crucial considering he's one of the most mentally-oriented pitchers in all of baseball. Also having a very solid bullpen that figures to be even better with the return of Sergio Santos, there should be no doubts that Toronto is legitimate. And there should be no doubts that the power in this once-predictable division has finally shifted in their favor. Predicted Record: 93-69
Boston Red Sox
It's probably safe to say that there was no bigger disappointment in baseball in 2012 than the Red Sox, who followed up a legendary collapse at the very end of '11 with something even more painful - one of the worst seasons in franchise history. It was so disastrous that well-respected manager Bobby Valentine, who was in his first year with the club, was immediately sent to the chopping block following the finale. Enter John Farrell, former manager of the Blue Jays, who is returning to the organization where he had previously served as its pitching coach, and will inherit a team that, on paper, appears poised to contend again. Boston still has some of its familiar stars from recent past glory days, such as David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, and with the additions of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, and even Jonny Gomes, this has the makings of being a powerhouse offense again. Will Middlebrooks might be the most intriguing option, as he returns from an injury that halted his very impressive rookie campaign in August. If he picks up where he left off, this is absolutely a very dangerous lineup.
Boston has mostly proven arms to fuel its pitching staff, like senior members Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Felix Doubront showed potential last season in his first year, while the club figures to get a boost from newly-acquired Ryan Dempster and the returning John Lackey, who has not pitched since 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. The bullpen will be a surprising strength for Boston after being mostly ineffective a year ago, and that resurgence begins with the arrival of all-star closer Joel Hanrahan from Pittsburgh. Andrew Bailey, a former all-star himself, along with Daniel Bard, Craig Breslow, Koji Uehara, and Andrew Miller are all formidable options for the back-end of the bullpen and should put games away quickly. One thing is certain: This organization will rebound in 2013, and it could be in a significant way. Predicted Record: 87-75
Tampa Bay Rays
Common knowledge should dictate that Joe Maddon is not only one of the best managers in baseball, but all of sports as well. Give the guy his proper due, as he continually molds his Rays into being exciting contenders every year, even while dealing with a low payroll. His grittiness rubs off onto his players, who are certainly no slouches either. David Price, for example, just won the AL Cy Young a year ago, and being in the prime of his already-magnificent career, he should put together another beautiful statline. Beyond him are good options as well, most notably being Matt Moore, who contributed a unique up-and-down season, but at the same time, still showed flashes of greatness that have many people, fans and analysts alike, salivating over his ace potential. Look for him to take that next step forward in his very promising career. Alex Cobb also appears to be carving out his own little niche in the rotation. The bullpen was an unexpected strength for Tampa Bay last year, as Fernando Rodney converted all but two of his 50 save opportunities, while surprisingly emerging as one of the AL's more reliable closers. The key will be if he can successfully follow it up in this very competitive division.
Offensively, there's a lot to like, all beginning, of course, with the face of the lineup, Evan Longoria. Desmond Jennings, despite a little bit of a disappointing 2012, is still one of the more multi-dimensional lead-off hitters in the game, as long as he stays healthy, and could easily challenge for the 60-70 stolen base plateau. Ben Zobrist, as his inclusion on the USA roster during the World Baseball Classic proves, is nice, solid player to lean on as well. A wild card in all of this will be Wil Myers, whom the club acquired when they dealt away longtime Rays' staff anchor James Shields to Kansas City. Myers is a highly regarded prospect with a ton of talent, and if he receives his shot early on, he could make a tremendous impact right out of the gate. No matter what, as long as Maddon is leading this squad, Tampa Bay will be right in the thick of things till the end. Period. Predicted Record: 83-79
New York Yankees
Interesting how the most storied franchise in all of sports enters 2013 with a story that seemingly no one can predict for the first time in quite awhile - and one that may not conclude with a happy ending. Why? Simple: Old age, injuries, and health issues. It all begins at the top, where Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the two most identifiable faces of the organization over the past two decades, are attempting to return from severe injuries. Furthermore, the latter, who is the best closer in the history of baseball and will probably keep that title over the next century, has announced this will be his final season, making this an even more peculiar ride for the once-always mighty Yankees. While reports have circulated that both senior members of the club should be at full strength when Opening Day hits, there are still other injuries that have plagued fellow key players, particularly Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, whom will both miss at least April and probably more. Even so, there's still leadership and talent that can hold the Yankees above water until they're back at full strength. Jeter, for example, put together a renaissance year last season, which most did not envision, given his age nearly creeping up to 40. Furthermore, Robinson Cano continued to prove why he's arguably the best second baseman in the game with another fantastic campaign, while mid-season addition Ichiro Suzuki proved very useful and remains with the club. Plus, New York added former nemesis Kevin Youkilis, a talented veteran in his own right that is capable of considerable numbers.
Believe it or not, the Yankees' pitching staff might be flying under the radar, despite its immense talent level. C.C. Sabathia is still at the helm as the staff ace, followed by Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, two veterans who have proven they can still pitch at a high level. Phil Hughes took a step forward last year in his own personal evolution as a quality starter, but at the same time, the sleeper of them all just might be Ivan Nova, who has had success, and as long as he stays healthy, can still turn out to be a very dominant pitcher with his excellent stuff and high strikeout-rate. The back-end of the bullpen, led by the aforementioned Rivera, is still top-notch, so perhaps it is not time just yet, to write off baseball's most controversial franchise. Manager Joe Girardi will have his guys fighting to retain their usual stronghold over the division. (Note: Alex Rodriguez was secluded from this preview for being too insignificant.) Predicted Record: 82-80
Having reached their first postseason since 1995, there's no question the Orioles were one of baseball's true feel-good stories from last year. Not only that, they almost took down the vaunted Yankees in the first-round, and despite failing to do so, they sent a strong statement to the rest of the league that they are finally legitimate again. Or perhaps they were just a flash in the pan? Wei-Yin Chen was a very pleasant surprise in assisting greatly with the team's postseason push, so it will be interesting to see how he does in his second go-around in the majors. Beyond him is really suspect, however. Jason Hammel enjoyed the best season of his 7-year career, but was it a fluke? Miguel Gonzalez and Steve Johnson showed something in their rookie seasons, but can they sustain it over a full year? There are a lot of questions to be answered concerning their starting pitching, and that can also be applied to the bullpen as well. Closer Jim Johnson had an outstanding 2012, which also featured his first all-star berth, but after getting shelled in the playoffs, can he rebound and repeat his regular season performance?
The club's offense appears to be in fine shape, led by star-on-the-rise Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, but even that, too, has its questions. Will Nick Markakis return at 100-percent after missing more than 50 games for the first time in his career? Are longtime Orioles Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold going to be back healthy after extensive injuries? Has Chris Davis finally developed into an everyday Major League first baseman? Can JJ Hardy bounce back after an underachieving 2012? And is Manny Machado ready to live up to the lofty expectations surrounding him? That's a lot of questions, especially while competing in arguably the toughest division in baseball. Yes, having Buck Showalter as your manager certainly helps, but with the rapid improvements of some of the teams around them, it's hard to envision Baltimore pulling off what they did last season. They need answers quickly. Predicted Record: 72-90
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