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Now we arrive at the big one.

First off, thank you to everyone you has read and commented on these so far. I haven't gone maybe as in depth as I'd perhaps instinctively prefer, but also man... deep dive researching teams like Colorado, Pittsburgh, Miami etc and trying to sound somewhat interested in what I'm saying is an Everest sized challenge. Besides, after years of these previews I've finally climbed Mount Doom and reached the American League East! Alas, it will be very, very difficult to be objective... but I will try, and do follow me along.

Tampa Bay Rays (2020: 40-20, 1st, AL Pennant, Lost WS)

Q: Does winning really matter to these guys? Or is the method of operation more important?

Answer: I'm 100 percent certain the players want to win, as does the front office... but the dark side of the force is strong here. By the way if you're keeping score, that's now one Lord of The Rings reference and one Star Wars reference. If I work in Star Trek somehow I get a free sub!

Regarding the Rays, is there a more cynical organization in baseball? They were two wins away from a World Series championship, a young team with a potential superstar exploding onto the scene in the playoffs... so lets trade our ace and former Cy Young winner for prospects. "Blake Snell sure seemed grouchy about us pulling him in a must-win World Series game he was completely dominating... he must be the problem goodbye!"

This is an extremely smart and innovative organization, and there's a reason they keep (somehow) optimizing so much from seemingly so little... pulling names out of a hat and creating yet another unhittable bullpen (step right up, Hunter Strickland and Collin McHugh). I like a good underdog story, but the Rays are that underdog that insist on being jerks about it. Every trade they make seems so consistently lopsided in their favour (the Archer/Glasnow swap, the Arozarena/Cardinals trade, Nick Anderson from the Marlins), plus their team is just so damn annoying to play against especially in that empty cavern of echoes they call a home field. Ughhhh just get out of there already!

I don't like the Rays, at all. And once again, after losing Snell and Charlie Morton from their rotation, people are all set to write them off. Don't make the mistake. They're too smart, too cost efficient, too ruthless in seeking untapped advantages to go gently into that good night. They'll find a way to get the innings they need out of Rich Hill, or the Chris Archer reunion, or maybe they finally figure out lefty Cody Reed. Who knows? The Tampa Bay Rays seem more like an experiment in roster construction/development than an actual team, like somebody wagered I can win pennants while just constantly cycling players through without consequence, fandom be damned. Winning is priority #1, I agree, but as a fan how can you get attached to any of these players when you know they'll almost certainly get traded once they start getting expensive? There's a proven heartlessness to it that I simply can't respect, and sadly it works since most teams are now copying their heavy relief pitcher model of roster construction. I'll give them credit in one place though: they (Kevin Cash) use platoons brilliantly and I'm a fan of that.

I do not like the Rays. I would not, could not, at the bay! I would not, could not, in any way! But they're not going anywhere anytime soon. Super prospect Wander Franco is closing in (it's like they saw Vlad Jr. and said "we'll develop an even better hitting prospect, who's younger, switch hits and plays shortstop! We are the Kings of the Trolls!")... as are many other names that are great promising young players and... ugh. The cheap cynicism is depressing me, I despise this team lets just get out of here.

New York Yankees (2020: 33-27, 2nd, lost ALDS)

Q: Health, health, health. Will they have it?

Answer: If they do, they'll win 105 games. They probably won't, though. Injury prone players seldom overcome that frustrating weakness.

Geez, I never thought I'd be more excited to talk about the Evil Empire... but here we go! As per usual the last couple seasons, the Yankees starting lineup looks monstrous. Remember when Gary Sanchez was going to be the next great MLB catcher? He'll hit 40 bombs! Well he'll still hit bombs, but he might bat .180 doing it. But that's fine, he's probably batting 8th in this lineup anyway. His career has been uneven, sure, but his career OPS+ is still 116!

It's a deep lineup, a necessity since their (literally) big slugging outfielders tend to miss large chunks of seasons. I like Aaron Judge (wish he wasn't a Yankee, darnit) and as an objective baseball fan it's mighty unfortunate we haven't seen him able to play a full season since his 52 homer explosion in 2017. Giancarlo Stanton meanwhile, has played a total of 41 combined games the past two seasons. Thing is, even if those trends continue (and now 2020 AL home run leader Luke Voit is out for a couple months), they still have enough guys left to cobble together a dangerous offense.

The pitching is what will sink or rocket-power this team, and they're really relying on a pair of high upside, high risk additions in Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber. Luis Severino won't be back until after the all-star break, so they really need Taillon and Kluber to pitch like their old selves and slot in behind super ace Gerrit Cole. If they can actually give this team 120-150 innings each of above average production, it's hard to see another team in this division stopping them. However! Their bullpen (a super strength in previous years) is significantly weakened with the injury to Zack Britton, the money saving dispatching of Adam Ottavino and the usual bad shinanegans of employing Aroldis Chapman. A lot of upside, but a lot that can go wrong.

Toronto Blue Jays (2020: 32-28, 3rd, lost WCS)

Q: What will it take?

Answer: A lot. They might be just a year away from really causing trouble, but 2021 isn't impossible either.

The unexpected competence of the 2020 team (even in a shortened season) I believe accelerated the timeline of contention for the Blue Jays, which hey that's mighty damn good news. Young players stepping up and forcing your hand into a big free agent signing or two? What's not to like.

Thing is, the 2020 team wasn't maybe as good as we'd like to remember. Their playoff hopes were iffy (and frustrating) during multiple points that season, whether it be the 7-11 start (with Bo Bichette getting hurt at the tail end), or the 2-8 stretch at the worst possible time in mid-September. On the season, despite being outscored by ten runs, they were four games over .500.

But! George Springer and Marcus Semien are very good major league players, and you really can never have enough of those. It was already an above average offense (3rd in the AL in runs scored for 2020) now even more enhanced by those additions. If Vlad Jr. has the breakout people have been anxious for, or if Bichette can stay healthy for an entire season, or if Danny Jansen finally figures out how to hit line drives like he did in the minors, or Almirante Kirk (that's my Kirk nickname and I'm going with it) keeps barrelling pitches so much you can't keep him out of the lineup, or really any combination of those things in even conservative measure... they're going to score a lot. Wasn't Randal Grichuk batting second or third in the playoffs? With everybody healthy on this team, he probably bats 7th or 8th (say what you will about Grichuk and his clear flaws, he'd make a damn fine number 8 hitter).

As it is for basically every non-Dodgers team I talk about, it comes down to pitching. Aside from Hyun Jin Ryu and soon 2021 Cy Young winner Steven Matz, this pitching staff is really made up of a bunch of "good, not great" options. Which, if that's how it shakes out, will be perfectly fine. If the 2021 Blue Jays can be a middle of the road pitching team, getting serviceable innings from some combination of Ross Stripling, Robbie Ray, Trent Thornton, Tanner Roark, Nate Pearson, T.J. Zeuch, combined with the bullpen brigade and maybe eventually Alek Manoah... combined with what should be an elite offense, you've got a playoff contender. I think the front office considered those free agent options and elected for the legion approach instead. Mighty risky to be sure, and I was definitely banging a snare drum for Taijuan Walker to return before he joined the lolMets. The approach makes sense in terms of wanting to see now what you have, but it sure might be rough in the beginning of the season just in figuring out which of these guys can actually help you.

Even if it all goes horribly wrong (the pitching is terrible, Semien can't hit and injuries slow down Springer and Bichette all year... woooo go Team Nightmare!) I'm coming around on the idea that this isn't the year anyway. Not saying I'd be particularly encouraged or optimistic if they went 71-91, more that if they ended up 84-78 I wouldn't find it too catastrophic considering this is also a good "Help Is On The Way" team. In the meantime, set a course for that unknown, potentially hazardous portion of the galaxy, Mr. Spock. Told you I'd work it in.

Baltimore Orioles (2020: 25-35, 4th)

Q: Why are we here and why are we doing this to ourselves?

Answer: Somebody has to finish last...

There is so little to say about the 2021 Orioles. They're rebuilding. They were actually semi-respectable in 2020 after two straight 105+ loss seasons (the 2018 team one of the worst in modern MLB history). They signed Matt Harvey and Felix Hernandez because.... apparently it's 2014 again?

Oh, they released Hernandez. Damn it, you guys just don't want to be any fun, do you?

They're a big "Is Help On The Way?" team and it is! Adley Rutschman is their new Catcher of The Future(TM) and the pedigree ain't nothing to sneeze at (1st overall pick, consensus top 5 prospect etc). Aside from that, well... this rebuild might be a bit longer than expected. Not to say I think the Orioles will immediately sink back to those 18-19 levels of pure wretchedness... but they're clearly multiple notches below everyone else in this division in every aspect. Over 60 games, you could see a plucky team making some noise thanks to a couple weeks of good fortune. Over 162 games, the pretenders are more likely to be weeded out (*cough* 2020 Marlins *cough*).

There are some bright spots. Ryan Mountcastle looks like a hitter and... um... Chris Davis only has two years left on that contract? Wow, still two years eh. At 23 million per year, eh. Yowza. I've got nothing against the guy, but here's a dude whose singular value is his bat and just put up a .115/.164/.173 batting line in 55 plate appearances last year. Or do you prefer his .179/.276/.326 line from 2019 in 352 appearances? I'll stop, because it gets uglier. Part of me suspects the Orioles won't be serious about actually winning until this contract is finally over, like they don't want to jinx themselves or something.

Boston Red Sox (2020: 24-36, 5th)

Q: Are we underestimating this team? Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez should be back!

Answer: I don't think the 2021 Red Sox will be a pushover. Xander Bogaerts is a star shortstop, I expect J.D. Martinez's bat isn't as washed as it looked last year and Alex Verdugo is a very compelling player (still doesn't excuse trading away a potential HoFer like Mookie Betts though).

Man, though. This pitching staff is pretty hideous. Especially with Sale out until June and Rodriguez questionable for the start of the year. You're really relying on the health of Nathan Eovaldi? Not great.

I think Boston assumes this isn't their year anyway, unless their plan to overtake Tampa, the Yankees and yes the Blue Jays is to add a bunch of spare parts like Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez, while counting on totally reliable innings-giver Garrett Richards to bring their starting rotation out of the dumpster. Maybe they end up in a situation where those three teams are beating up on each other, the Red Sox are a handful of games back with Sale, Eovaldi and Rodriguez pitching great and so make a big move? Possible I suppose, and if that happens somebody please buy me a drink. I'm extremely cool with Boston being bad for a while.

For the last time in these previews I ask.... "Is Help On The Way?" For the Red Sox, it potentially is! Not immediately, though. Jeter Downs and Tristan Casas are a pair of mid 50s position player prospects expected in a year or so, which is fine and all except this team desperately needs pitching. Even if Sale comes back and is old Chris Sale, he's also 32 and frankly their awful pitching staff in 2020 wasn't a bunch of young kids figuring out the majors, it was a bunch of late 20s/early 30s retreads getting innings because.... because I guess.

They have enough hitters to be a pain in the ol' rear region, and you'll probably have to duke out a bunch of 9-6 games against them... but it's so hard to see this squad as a legitimate threat as some might be thinking. Even if their plan is to outscore all their problems, the Yankees and Blue Jays will likely be better at that anyway.

Here goes, the final crystal ball... and definitely the hardest. Here goes my best guess (and explanation afterwards):

NYY 95-67
TOR 89-73
TB 87-75
BOS 75-87
BAL 68-94 

Ugh. I hate it, but again this is all based on general sense and less on deep analysis. Jameson Taillon is such a big pickup for the Yankees if he can stay healthy, they have the best starting pitcher in the division (maybe the AL) in Cole, plus the young guys Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia and Domingo German (coming off suspension, a pretty gross situation there that even teammate Zack Britton called out) give them enough options should Kluber not be himself or injured again. If the Blue Jays do win 89 games, they're definitely in a Wild Card hunt and considering they lost 95 games just two seasons ago... I'd say that's good progress. The Rays will be annoying as always (feel like I'm underestimating them here, frankly) and could easily just win this damn thing again, jerks. 

With every division done, how about some playoff picks! Guess I have to be consistent with my own W-L records and such. Here goes:

NL West - Dodgers
NL Central - Cardinals
NL East- Barves
NLWC - Padres/Cubs
AL West - Angels
AL Central - White Sox
AL East - Yankees
ALWC - Twins/A's

World Series -- Dodgers over Angels (the year of LA!)

Thanks again to all for reading! If there are two things we can agree on, it's that much of this simply will not come true and that the true excitement of a baseball season is seeing how that gradually unfolds. I hope my omission of the local nine from the playoffs proves to be my most glaring error. Happy Opening Day everyone and let's play ball! 
A Quick Look At The American League East | 12 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
scottt - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 08:34 AM EDT (#395581) #
I don't think Archer and Hill will be great.
The Rays bullpen could be decent, but a good pen needs many innings from the rotation.
I am not sure what Arozarena will do. Wander Franco will probably have a huge impact when he comes in, which probably depends on what kind of contract he signs. If he wants one of those 10/300+M contract, we probably don't see him for a few months.

On paper the Yanks are really good.
It seems impossible that they'll be healthy over 162 games when they could not field a good lineup for more than 30 games last year. Everybody is older, more injury prone. Not one drop of new blood here.
It looks like they plan to ride Cole hard while using a 6 man rotation. Sounds risky.

I think the Jays are exactly on time, not early at all.  I'm still waiting on Pearson.
That was the real, actual point behind the "service time manipulation" stuff.
If Vladdy breaks out and no more than 2 position players hit the IL at a time, the lineup is deep.
Ryu over 30 starts is a huge concern for me.
Ray was looking really good before the elbow bruise.
I think Matz can be as good as Taijuan Walker.

Everybody expects Boston to bounce back, but I don't like their pitching.
E-Rod didn't pitch last year and is out with dead arm.
The current rotation has 3 guys who project for ERA over 5.
Kike Hernandez? He's basically a 2 WAR guy.
Pesky Mitch Moreland is now with Oakland and Bobby Dalbec is starting at first.
Their pen wasn't great and they didn't do anything to fix it.

85bluejay - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 08:46 AM EDT (#395582) #
I like the Jays team, young and exciting with some interesting talent in the high minors who may make an impact this year - But the Achilles heel of this team is its defense and that may keep it from the post season this year.
scottt - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 08:48 AM EDT (#395583) #
The did improve the defense with Biggio at 3B, Semien at 2B and Springer in CF.
Not a lot of room for improvement there unless some players just get better.

Jonny German - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 08:51 AM EDT (#395585) #
My spreadsheet has produced this very specific prediction: The Jays are going to score 838 runs and allow 727. According to Pythagoras that's good for 91 wins.
Dave Till - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 09:06 AM EDT (#395586) #
The good news: the 2021 Blue Jays remind me of the 2015 Blue Jays.

The bad news: they remind me of the 2015 Jays as they were in the first 100 games of the season, when they went 50-50 and were sending people like Felix Doubront and a young Matthew Boyd out to start ballgames. Unless Nate Pearson finally gets over his injuries and blossoms in the springtime, the Jays are likely headed for a similar .500 fate.

The other good news: a .500 team that scores a lot of runs is more fun to watch than a .500 team with a crappy offense. They'll almost never be completely out of any game they play, and it will be fun to watch the young players get one year better.

And, with the third COVID wave about to crash over Ontario, any diversion to keep us sane during what will be a very difficult spring will be a godsend. Play ball, and let's hope all of the Jays - and all of you reading this - remain safe and healthy.

Also: my fervent hope is that Vlad figures it out this year. Vlad as superstar would be great for the Jays and great for the game.
John Northey - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 09:37 AM EDT (#395587) #
For me, being old, these Jays remind me of 1984 - the Jays went out after their best season in 1983 (89 wins, first time not last or tied for last) and signed Dennis Lamp to close, Willie Aikens was traded for to DH. These were the days when Gillick was gun shy on trades/had no money to sign free agents so that was as good as it got. That improved the team from 89 wins to ... 89 wins. But despite the Tigers getting that insane 35-5 start the Jays almost caught up on June 6th - 3 1/2 back. But they lost to the Tigers the next day (Morris...grr...) and proceeded to lose 5 in a row to move to 8 back. They won the next 5 but only gained 2 games in the standings. And that was the end of the 1984 season. Year 2 of 10 straight 500+ finishes. The next year, 1985, was the first playoff appearance (99 wins still a highwater mark for the franchise).

In 1984 we had our first full season of Tony Fernandez (the uber prospect of the day - got into just 88 games due to a bizarre need to let Alfredo Griffin play everyday with his 48 OPS+). Aikens had just an 83 OPS+ as a DH, Lamp a 91 ERA+ and just 9 saves vs 5 blown (4 holds). You can see why that winter they went out and traded the team MVP (Dave Collins) plus Griffin to get Bill Caudill to close (36-8 SV-Bl in '84). He'd not do well for the Jays but they got lucky and claimed Tom Henke in the old free agent draft (lose a player get to pick one - last time done). The '84 Jays had 5 future key regulars on the team under 25 (Bell/Moseby/Barfield, Fernandez, Gruber who was a rule 5 pick that year) plus Jimmy Key coming up that year as a reliever. Lots more talent came later of course, and some already was established (Stieb, Clancy, Upshaw, Mulliniks, Garcia all under 30, Whitt was already 32 but just entering his prime go figure). Wonder in 35 years who we'll be talking about from the 2020 team that became the core of the next great Jays team - who will be remembered as among the best around? Bo/Vlad/Biggio are the core right now but will Jansen or Kirk become one of the greatest Jays? Gurriel or Hernandez all-stars? Tellez a Fielder type who we regret the Jays trading away someday (my gut says they will trade him this season for pitching help at some point)? Who knows?
scottt - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 09:42 AM EDT (#395588) #
The 2015 Jays had a rotation of
Dickie ERA 3.91
Buehrle ERA 3.81
Estrada ERA 3.13
Hutchison ERA of 5.57

The pen had Osuna, Sanchez, Hendriks and Cecil, but not to start the season.

The starting lineup at Yankees stadium was
Reyes SS
Martin C
Bautista RF
Encarnation 1B
Donaldson 3B
Navarro DH
Pompey CF
Pillar LF
Travis 2B

They won 2 out of 3, losing only because Aaron Loup couldn't get an out in game 2 and allowed 3 earned run as the setup guy.

Dave Till - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 09:47 AM EDT (#395589) #
I'm old too, and I remember the 1983 and 1984 Jays vividly. I didn't think of them as a comp for the 2021 Jays because those Jays had a good starting rotation but were let down by a legendarily crappy bullpen. I still recall the collective sense of disappointment when new closer Dennis Lamp blew the save on opening day in 1984.

But the 2021 Jays and the 83-84 Jays are similar in having a core of young players who were on the upswing. And the 83-84 Jays became the 1985 Jays, who remain my favourite Jays team of all time.
electric carrot - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 10:01 AM EDT (#395590) #
I love the hitting. I think the starting pitching has a good chance to be average and a small chance of being good. I think the closer situation may need to be addressed at the trade deadline. I think the defense has a decent chance to be average. Predictions: 86 wins. Guerrero breaks out: near 30 homers, near 50 doubles, bats over .300, plenty of walks.
ISLAND BOY - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 11:35 AM EDT (#395597) #
Thanks, Eephus for your work on this. Question : Do you not like the Rays? Lol.

I'll go one better, Electric Carrot and say 87 wins. I think the defense will be better but the starting pitching looks thin. Worst case scenario would be getting swept by the Yankees to start the season and the starters giving up a lot of runs. In any case, Play Ball!
Nigel - Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 12:05 PM EDT (#395598) #
The general consensus for the current roster seems to be 84-90 wins. I'm probably on the lower end of that range with the current roster. This line-up will score a lot, but the run prevention issues are real. Like Dave, I see a first half of the season with a lot of 9-7 score lines, both ways. The exciting thing is that the team has the resources (budget, some advanced pitching prospects and some surplus middle infield prospects) to improve the run prevention issues as the year goes along. It should be a very fun team to watch.
scottt - Saturday, April 03 2021 @ 07:22 AM EDT (#395701) #
No surplus middle infield prospects will be taking AB from Guerrero/Semien/Bichette/Biggio this year, unless somebody is injured and that would not be a good thing.

Orelvis Martinez looks exciting, but he won't reach until 2023.
Groshans is most likely an upgrade over Biggio at 3B, but outside of a cup of coffee in September, we don't see him.
Martin will be a CF or super-utility guy and he's not known for his defense.
Also, only 2 players can be added in September. Maybe a catcher, one or two relievers.

Gurriel should get better defensively as he plays.
He has good wheels for LF and a great arm.
Springer should be decent.

A Quick Look At The American League East | 12 comments | Create New Account
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