Is it too presumptuous to say the AL East matchup this season between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is going to be fantastic to watch? Are we doing a disservice to the teams in Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay if we just assume it’s a two-team race?
However you want to answer that question, there’s no doubt Yankees vs. Red Sox is the story in the AL East — heck, it’s the heavyweight fight of MLB this season. The Yankees, who surprised everyone last year with that deep playoff run, got Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins and made themselves even scarier. The Red Sox countered with J.D. Martinez. This figures to be quite the fight — and it’ll be fun to watch.
Elsewhere: The Orioles are trying to keep up. The Blue Jays are trying to stay healthy and the Rays are trying to, well, we’re not exactly sure. They’re either rebuilding or trying to find the next baseball experiment that works.
We’ll dissect the AL East with a look at its new faces, its biggest questions and what each team would have to do to win.
In case you need you a reminder of who plays where now
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees
Stanton is the biggest of all new faces. His face is enormous and all the other new faces are just normal sized. The Yankees made a big step forward in 2017, and adding Stanton and his 40-homer potential makes them a legitimate threat. Of course, Stanton will have to stay healthy, something he did last year for the first time since 2011. There are no guarantees, but the season hasn’t even started yet and Stanton and the Yankees are already sucking all the air out of the AL East.
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
It took them almost the entire offseason to do it, but the Red Sox signed someone who has a concrete chance of making them better in 2018. J.D. Martinez is just what Boston’s lineup needs, since it’s relatively unchanged from the 2017 version, which saw the Red Sox hit the fewest home runs in the majors. Martinez alone won’t be able to fix that, but he’ll certainly help them avoid doing the same thing two years in a row.
Randal Grichuk, Toronto Blue Jays
With the Jays saying goodbye to Jose Bautista at the end of 2017, right field at Rogers Centrer needed a new resident. The team found one, trading for Grichuk from the Cardinals. Grichuk is definitely an upgrade over Bautista. He’s a solid defender with greater offensive potential than he’s been shown. Hitting in AL East might bring that out. Grichuk won’t be able to fill the Bautista-sized hole in the hearts of Jays fans, but hopefully they can take comfort in knowing that the Jays appreciably improved their team during the offseason.
FOUR BIG QUESTIONS ABOUT THE AL EAST
Good news: We’ve got 162 games to figure out the answers
1. Can anyone stop the Yankees offense?
The Yankees were on the rise even before adding Giancarlo Stanton’s bat to the lineup. Now they’re threatening to be unstoppable with a core that centers around Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Navigating this lineup will be a difficult challenge for any opponent, but especially for those in the AL East, who must face them 18-19 times. Surviving those series without gassing the bullpen may prove more important than completely stopping them.
2. Did the Red Sox do enough to repeat as division champs?
Beyond Martinez, they don’t look much different from 2017. Typically, that wouldn’t be a huge concern for a 93-win team that’s won back-to-back division titles, but with the Yankees arrow pointing way up they’ll have a lot of work to do. Getting a healthy and productive season from David Price would be like adding another All-Star starter to the mix. Still, it feels like the Red Sox won’t have much margin for error.
3. Will the Orioles have enough starting pitching?
Manager Buck Showalter thinks the Orioles are poised to surprise in the AL East. For that to become a reality, they will need their shaky rotation to find more solid footing. Signing Alex Cobb — as was reported Tuesday — will help a lot, but he’s not quite an ace and can only fill one spot. Beyond him, it’s tough to find reason for optimism with Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Andrew Cashner. None of the three have been the picture of consistency. With the options behind them being veteran Chris Tillman, who’s coming off an injury-plagued season, and a handful of unproven prospects, it’s possible Showalter will be more disappointed than we are surprised by Baltimore.
4. Will the Blue Jays contend or rebuild?
More so than any other team in MLB, the Blue Jays feel like they could go either way this season.
Some projections have them contending for a wild-card spot, but with injuries already impacting Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Marcus Stroman, it’s a reminder of how reliant they’ll be on good health. The first month or two of the season could be telling for Toronto. With several tradable assets, particularly on the pitching staff, rebuilding could quickly become the plan.
HOW THEY COULD WIN
Every team can’t win. Most won’t. But here’s how each could *could* win the AL East:
• New York Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton does it again. He, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez combine to blast over 150 home runs as the Yankees routinely blow out the competition by five runs per game. The rotation sees a rebound from Masahiro Tanaka, continued growth from Luis Severino and CC Sabathia staves off Father Time for one more season.
• Boston Red Sox: Mookie Betts sees his batted ball luck swing back in the right direction and becomes an MVP candidate again. Xander Bogaerts takes some advice from J.D. Martinez and re-discovers his power swing. David Price stays healthy, Rick Porcello rebounds and Chris Sale finally takes home an AL Cy Young award.
• Tampa Bay Rays: Innovation makes the Rays a surprise contender after they prove a four-man rotation can work in today’s game. The strategy is revolutionary, leading to All-Star seasons from a number of the team’s pitchers. The offense turns in an average season, but that’s enough to get by with the team’s dominant new pitching strategy.
• Baltimore Orioles: It’s not unlike any other year during Buck Showalter’s tenure as the team’s skipper. After being discounted all spring, the Orioles hit the stuffing out of the ball in the regular season, get just enough out of their starting pitchers and then employ a murderer’s row of relievers in the late innings to win 20 games over their projected figure.
• Toronto Blue Jays: Everyone in the rotation is fixed. Marco Estrada gets back to his old ways, J.A. Happ stays health and Aaron Sanchez doesn’t get any blisters. Justin Smoak proves he’s the next reclaimed slugger to develop in Toronto. Devon Travis stays healthy enough to challenge for the All-Star team. Josh Donaldson does Josh Donaldson things.
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