I titled my 2013 AL East prediction column, "It's anybody's ball game." The Red Sox, to the surprise of many, emerged victorious. This year it seems the consensus is that it is a four-team race with many discounting the Toronto Blue Jays. My memory is vague on this matter (intentionally so), but I tend to remember having a fondness for over-hyping the boys from north of the border. I am fighting the temptation to do it again this year.
Let's dive right into it. Here are my predictions for the AL East:
5. Baltimore Orioles (79-83)
The Orioles always surprise me. Kudos to manager Buck Showalter for that. They do possess the best player in the division. Adam Jones is a superstar who I still don't think gets his due. Chris Davis finally fulfilled his potential in a big way last year by clubbing 53 home runs. The O's also added Nelson Cruz. That's a formidable 3-4-5 punch in the lineup.
The problem is their pitching. I'm not sold on their starting rotation and I'm certainly not sold on Tommy Hunter as a closer. The Orioles made a huge mistake not adding a legitimate closer to replace Jim Johnson. It will cost them.
Toronto Blue Jays (80-82)
I couldn't put them in the basement. I just couldn't. Actually, I have to fight the urge to move them up to third. I picked the Red Sox to finish third last year and they wound up winning the division. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Jays make the same leap.
I don't understand why everyone is counting them out. Last year, they were everybody's darling. This year, they are being thrown to the corner. Why? Jose Bautista is healthy after missing huge chunks of the last two seasons. Reliever Sergio Santos is back healthy. He bolsters the bullpen exponentially. He is filthy good.
Their batting lineup is above average. Their starting rotation is acceptable. Their bullpen is solid.
So what is the problem? Oh, I see their manager is still John Gibbons.
New York Yankees (89-74)
For a while it looked like the Yankees front office had fallen asleep during the offseason. They let Robinson Cano escape to Seattle. Seattle? Over New York? The Yankees responded with a flurry of signings which made me shake my head. McCann? Ellsbury? Beltran? Kelly Johnson? Brian Roberts?
McCann has struggled staying healthy in recent years. Ellsbury and Beltran join an already crowded, veteran outfield. Johnson and Roberts are expected to replace Cano and Alex Rodriguez at third base and second. Good luck with that.
The Yankees will be better than 2013 due to their improved starting rotation. The funny part is their projected starting rotation should be flip-flopped by midseason. Projected aces CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda's best days are behind them. Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda will all outperform Sabathia and Kuroda.
The Yankees bullpen is a huge question mark. They got some good young arms, but are they ready to perform under the bright lights of New York. It's been a long time since the Yankees didn't have the security blanket of Mariano Rivera at the back end of the bullpen.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (92-70)
Two words-- Joe Maddon. As long as he is the manager of the Rays, I will pencil them in for 90 wins. If they ever add a slugger, I will pencil them in for the World Series. Of course, I am still waiting for that to happen. Then again, they may have that slugger in the form of youngster Wil Myers.
Tampa's starting rotation is always rock solid. Their bullpen always seems shaky to me, but they always get it done every year. Grant Balfour takes over as Rays' closer. The Orioles had a deal in place for Balfour, but something came up in his physical that scared them away. That's not encouraging. Even less encouraging is that Tampa has Heath Bell as Balfour's backup.
But Maddon always makes it work.
1. Boston Red Sox (95-67)
I wrote last year that the Red Sox were primed for 2014 and beyond. Well, here we are. Oh, as an added bonus, they won the World Series in 2013 while they waited.
The Red Sox aren't without some question marks. A lot of talk has surrounded the centerfield position. I question the entire outfield. Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be much-needed spelling injury-prone veterans Grady Sizemore and Shane Victorino. As the season progresses, I think right field will be a bigger problem for the Red Sox than center, and one which they will need to address at the trade deadline.
The Red Sox starting rotation is the best and deepest in the American League. Their bullpen is also the best. The strength of the Red Sox is their organizational depth. If they need anything during the season, they have internal options or the chips to deal to get help.
This could be the beginning of a dynasty for the Red Sox.