A Quick Look At The American League East

Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 06:36 AM EDT

Contributed by: Eephus

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!