I don’t know if anyone debates that this is the toughest division in baseball. It took teams like the O’s and Jays a long time to get back to where they were in the 90’s, but now both organizations are seemingly back. And I may have the Red Sox 5th, I may have the Rays 1st, but I wouldn’t be anything shocked if it ended up with the Sox in 1st and the Rays in 5th. It’s that tight of a division and should be awesome to follow all season.
1. Tampa Bay Rays – I would love to put the Jays 1st, but I have to be objective and I just don’t see how you can go against this teams pitching, even without James Sheilds. David Price is filthy and he’s still only 27 years old. This could be the season that Matt Moore steps up into the elite class of the American League. He turns 24 in June, so if that doesn’t happen this season I would suggest he has a bit of time left to figure it out…they also have Chris Archer speaking of 24 year olds with amazing stuff and apparently an even better work ethic. The bullpen last season was just as good if not better than the starters, registering the best ERA in the American League. No way that Fernando Rodney has the same kind of season again this year (48 saves, 0.60 ERA), but if he gives them anything close to that again they’ll be happy. The bats are the weakness of this team and have been for a while now. The reason they dealt Sheilds and Wade Davis was to get super prospect Wil Myers from the Royals. This kid has incredible potential, but you likely won’t see him before the end of May at the earliest. Desmond Jennings takes over for B.J. Upton in CF moving over from LF where I’m sure Myers will end up playing when he is called up. But really the offense is all on Evan Longoria’s shoulders. If he can stay healthy this season it will go a long way to getting the Rays a division title. Another big reason I like the Rays to take the division is Joe Maddon. The guy has established himself as one of the top managers in baseball. It helps that he consistently has one of the best rotations in the A.L., and that rotation should serve them well again this season.
2. Toronto Blue Jays – HOMER ALERT!!! I will try to be objective here, but excuse me if this starving Jays fan is a little pumped about them having the best team they’ve had since the glory years. I actually didn’t mind John Gibbons being brought back to manage. He did a solid job the last time around. That pitching staff is ridiculously deep. I’m not sure if R.A. Dickey can keep up what he’s been doing the last few years, but if he can’t Josh Johnson I’m guessing will take over as the ace. He’s got ridiculous stuff and is pitching for a contract so I believe he has a very big season. Mark Buehrle was a very underrated addition. Very solid vet and is a lock to get you 200 innings. Brandon Morrow will be helped out greatly by having the pressure taken off. The offense is very balanced. Jose Bautista being healthy is without a doubt key for this team but if he is Jays fans have come to simply expect 40+ HR’s from him. And now he has an elite leadoff man in Jose Reyes to constantly drive in. But the big question marks are at 1st/DH and in CF. Adam Lind may never get back to the production we seen in 09 and Rasmus is very talented but is an enigma. Edwin Encarnacion had an amazing season, and while it was out of the blue, he was always a guy with that kind of talent. 40 HR’s is tough to repeat, but if he gives them around 30 I think the Jays would be thrilled. The bullpen also has big question marks, but a healthy Sergio Santos could go a very long way. They easily could win the division, but I think it will take a little time to gel so a wildcard spot is a safer bet.
3. NY Yankees – HATE WITH A PASSION ALERT!!! Nothing against Ryan “Bloomberg” Doull (friend of the blog), I’ve just never taken to them. But dislike aside this absolutely feels like the season it falls apart for the Yanks. Many people have been predicting it for a long time, but they’ve never had the injuries that this team will have. A-Rod out until at least the All-Star break (not to mention more steroid distractions), Jeter coming back from his ankle and fatness injuries (fat is a tough one to recover from, I know first hand), Curtis Granderson is on the DL, and of course Mark Teixeira. Hell even GM Brian Cashman is injured! Vernon Wells I doubt is any kind of answer. Catching is a total mess too. Gary Sanchez isn’t ready to take that spot, and Chris Stewart sure isn’t the answer. I just can’t believe they’re going into the season THIS weak behind the plate. The pitching is suspect after C.C. Sabathia. Andy Pettitte pitched well last season, but he’s going to turn 41 in June. Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda are solid, but not what they need. Who knows if Mo Rivera can do his thing at 43 and coming off a major injury himself? The bullpen is pretty deep, but they need Rivera to be…Rivera. The one thing I won’t rip on though is Joe Girardi, he has been a bit underrated since taking over in the Bronx. But there are just too many question marks, no big offseason additions, I just don’t see it happening for the Yanks in 2013. Then again, they’ve shocked us all before.
4. Baltimore Orioles – Nothing against Patty (friend of the blog), but I just don’t see them getting the magic back that they had last season. It was remarkable how great this team was in tight ball games and how they just kept getting the clutch hit at the right time, the clutch pitch at the right time. Buck Showalter is an elite manager, no other way to put it. But once again he has his work cut out for him. Dylan Bundy will help once he is called up. Bundy (much like Wil Myers and other big time prospects) probably won’t be seen in the majors until late May/early June. The kid has ace written all over him. Jason Hammel has to stay healthy. I don’t know how they survived without him in the middle of last season. Miguel Gonzalez was a nice surprise going 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA, they’ll need more of that to compete in this division though. The lineup I like better than the rotation. Adam Jones is a stud, Manny Machado was fast tracked last season but looked amazing, and Matt Weiters is one of the best catchers in the American League who is still on the rise. The bullpen isn’t really a strength but the way Buck Showalter used it last season it kind of became one. It just seemed like he always was using the right guy at the right time. But Jim Johnson is obviously the key. If he can mantain the level he was pitching at last season the rest should fall into place. I like this team but in such a tough division and seeing how the ball seemed to always bounce their way last season I just can’t see them repeating 2012.
5. Boston Red Sox – Nothing against Phippsy (nobody’s friend)….actually, I hope you take big offense to this pick Phippsy! Having seen John Farrell’s act up close, I don’t know that he is the answer Red Sox fans and management think he will be. It blew apart with Farrell at the controls last season in Toronto, and this is a lot more hostile of a situation than that was. I think its a down year for the Sox, but they still have pieces to keep them very competitive. I may have them finishing 5th, but that’s a reflection of the division and not that the Sox will be that bad. Having a healthy Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz would be a nice start to things. The offense is good IF they’re healthy. Bringing in Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes will help. The staff needs more than health to get it turned around on their end. Its tough to explain what has happened to both Jon Lester and John Lackey. They need to regain there form for the Sox to have any hope of contending in this division. Clay Bucholz has been OK, but he’s never lived up to the lofty expectations Red Sox fans had for him. And as for free agent addition Ryan Dempster, he needs to prove he can pitch in the A.L. He was a disaster after going from the Cubs to the Rangers last season. He is gritty and will battle, but at 36 years old (on May 3rd) that can only get you so far after so many years. The bullpen will get a boost from adding Joel Hanrahan as their new closer and Andrew Bailey back after missing most of 2012. I wouldn’t be shocked if they snagged a wildcard spot, but they would need a lot to go right.
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