Top-to-bottom, the American League East is baseball’s most competitive division..
For the first time in a long time, the New York Yankees are not the team to beat in the AL East. They’re old, hurting and suddenly pinching pennies. George Steinbrenner must be fuming in his private suite in baseball heaven.
I believe the Yankees are more likely to finish last in the AL East than win it.
Here is Bob’s American League preview:
1—Toronto Blue Jays (predicted record 91-71). Can this team defy the odds and go from a 73-89 record in 2012 to first place in arguably baseball’s best division in 2013? I think so…Eight reasons why: Slugger Jose Bautista is healthy again + newcomers SS Jose Reyes, LF Melky Cabrera, 2B Emilio Bonifacio, INF Maicer Izturis, and starting pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle…Holdovers include Edwin Encarnacion (42 HRs, 110 RBI), Brett Lawrie, Cody Rasmus, J.P. Arrencibia, Adam Lind and starting pitchers Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, and relievers Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln, Darren Oliver, J.A. Happ, Esmir Rogers and J.A. Happ…There are question marks: Is Bautista’s wrist 100 percent? How much will the carpet at Rogers Centre hurt Reyes’ knees? Can Rasmus and Lind return to top form? How much did PEDs help Cabrera last season (.346, 11 HRs, 60 RBI in 113 games with San Francisco)?...Losing road records the last nine seasons…Buehrle has double-digit wins the last 12 seasons…Blue Jays were 15-25 in one-run games last season…Bautista had a MLB-most 124 HRs the last three seasons…4.82 ERA in 2012 ranked 25th in MLB…Likely to make the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993.
2—Tampa Bay Rays (89-77). No team does more with less. The frugal Rays have averaged 92 wins the last five years…What the Rays do worst is draw fans to Tropicana Field (the first team to win 90 games but finish last in MLB in attendance). It isn’t their fault…What the Rays do best is pitch. That’s why they’re always a threat against the much richer major-market teams…Led MLB in ERA (3.19; best ERA in AL since 1990) and opposing batting average (.228) last season…Excellent top four starting pitchers: David Price (20-5; 2.56 ERA), Jeremy Hellickson (10-11, 3.10 ERA), Matt Moore (11-11, 3.81 ERA), Alex Cobb (11-9, 4.03)…Price and Moore combined for 2,561 Loaded bullpen, including closer Fernando Rodney (0.60 ERA; 48 saves), Joel Peralta (MLB-most 37 holds), Jake McGee and Chris Archer…3B Evan Longoria (new $100 million contract through 2022) and versatile Ben Zobrist are the team’s only established big-time hitters…Other decent bats include Desmond Jennings, Yunel Escobar and 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers (acquired for pitcher James Shields)…The 2012 Rays (.240) and A’s (.238) became the first teams to win at least 90 games and bat .240 or worse since the 1972 A’s (won the World Series).
3—Boston Red Sox (83-79). The Red Sox were 69-93 in 2012, their worst record since 62-100 in 1965. But they’re considerably better than many critics think…An extraordinary number of injuries to key players (including Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, John Lackey, Andrew Bailey) and unpopular and ineffective manager Bobby Valentine were the main reasons…John Farrell has replaced Valentine and the team figures to be healthier this season. The additions of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Ryan Dempster can’t hurt…Lots of scoring potential with Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli, Victorino, Gomes, Will Middlebrooks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and new SS Stephen Drew…Underrated starting rotation with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dempster, Felix Doubront and maybe John Lackey…Bullpen should bounce back with closer Joel Hanrahan, Koji Uehara, Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, maybe Daniel Bard, and lefthanders Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales…Started 4-10 in 2011 and 2-10 in 2012…Some poor numbers from 2012: 17-22 in one-run games; 43-68 vs. right-handed starting pitchers; 2-10 in extra innings; 4.70 ERA was 27th in MLB.
4—Baltimore Orioles (81-81). The O’s shocked the baseball world with their first winning season (93-69) and trip to the playoffs since 1997…They were pretty good and extremely lucky: 54-23 in games decided by two runs of less, including a MLB-record 29-9 (.763) in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings…No pitcher won more than 12 games…Hit just .256 with runners in scoring position…45-50 at the All-Star break and 48-29 in the second half…Promising nucleus of position players (3B Manny Machado, C Matt Wieters, CF Adam Jones, 1B Chris Davis, RF Nick Markakis, LF Nolan Reimold, J.J. Hardy)…A comeback by 2B Brian Roberts would be a boost…Decent starting rotation without a true ace: Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and maybe Jair Jurrgens…Baseball’s top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy will be ready soon…Solid bullpen, featuring closer Jim Johnson (MLB-most 51 saves last season), Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day and Luis Ayala…74-0 in games they led after seven innings….MLB-worst .980 fielding percentage…214 HRs second-most in MLB…16-18 vs. AL west and 77-51 vs. all other teams…Breakthrough 2012 season wasn’t a complete fluke but don’t be surprised if improved Toronto and Boston win more games this season.
5—New York Yankees (80-82). They were an AL-best 95-67 last year but they suddenly look too old and too injured to make the playoffs this season…A self-imposed payroll cap doesn’t help…George Steinbrenner must be fuming in his private suite in baseball heaven…Team-record 245 HRs last season. Nine players hit at least 15 HRs, but most of them are gone or will start this season on the disabled list (including Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter)…2B Robinson Cano, CF Brett Gardner and INF Eduardo Nunez are the only position players in their primes…Weak-hitting catcher platoon (Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli)…Loaded with retreads, including Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Juan Rivera , Brennan Boesch and Chien-Ming Wang…itching is the team’s strength but there are a few injury concerns…Team-record 1,318 strikeouts and AL-fewest 431 walks in 2012…Familiar starting rotation: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova or David Phelps…Deep bullpen, including closer Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Clay Rapada, Boone Logan…Figure to miss departed catcher Russell Martin and closer Rafael Soriano…Jeter led MLB with 216 hits last season. He’ll turn 39 in June…Sabathia is 74-29 as a Yankee…Have made the playoffs 17 of the last 18 years. I don’t expect them to make the postseason this season.