The Boston Red Sox are expected to run away with the American League East this season, but as they say, you can’t predict baseball.
The Red Sox have the best rotation, the best lineup and the advantage of being last season’s AL East champions. But anything can happen over the course of a 162-game season, and the division still is one of the more competitive ones in Major League Baseball.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how each team stacks up.
The Favorite: the Red Sox
The Red Sox made the biggest offseason move in the division, adding Chris Sale to the rotation after sending four top prospects to the Chicago White Sox. Boston still has reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, too, and David Price is expected to be back in the lineup once he recovers from an elbow injury.
Beyond the rotation, the Red Sox also have probably the best lineup in the AL East, even without David Ortiz. Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez both turned in 30-plus home run, 100-plus RBI seasons in 2016, while guys like Dustin Pedroia, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts still produce plenty. No major league team is perfect, but the Red Sox have the fewest holes when everyone is healthy, which should keep them at the top of the division.
The Contender: the Toronto Blue Jays
While Kendrys Morales won’t completely make up for Edwin Encarnacion choosing the Cleveland Indians in free agency, the Blue Jays still are in very good shape and likely will be Boston’s biggest competitor. Toronto’s rotation statistically was the best in the AL and the fourth-best in baseball, finishing the season with an impressive 3.64 ERA. The Blue Jays’ lineup was one of the most powerful in the league, coming in fourth place again with 221 home runs, and they’re a good defensive team, too.
Toronto easily is the second-most complete team in the AL East, and if the Red Sox slack off at all, the Jays likely will be poised to snatch the top spot.
The Dark Horse: the Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays were bad in 2016, finishing dead last in the AL East at an abysmal 68-94. However, last season was a bit of a fluke, as the roster is capable of being much better than that.
That being said, a lot will have to go right in 2017 if the Rays don’t want to end up in the division’s basement again. Second-half Chris Archer will need to show up, as the starter turned in a 4.76 ERA through June but posted a 3.32 ERA from July through the end of the season. And if Jake Odorizzi can pitch like he did in 2016 and Alex Cobb can stay healthy, the Rays actually have a good rotation. Also, if Tampa Bay can hit for average and not just hit home runs — it hit the sixth-most in MLB with 216 — then the club should be a real contender.
If things don’t fall into place, though, the only competition the Rays will see is the one to stay out of last place again.
The Wild Card: the New York Yankees
The Yankees are maybe the most intriguing team in the AL East this season. Dubbed the “Baby Bombers,” the 2017 Yankees have some impressive young talent in guys like catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird and right fielder Aaron Judge, who’s drawn comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton for his size and power. Plus, with the addition of Matt Holliday, New York’s lineup has the potential to be one of the best in the league.
On the other side of the ball, though, the Yankees’ rotation is severely lacking behind ace Masahiro Tanaka. They do have Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen, but it remains to be seen if the starters can consistently set them up with seven good innings. Still, the Baltimore Orioles were able to earn a wild-card spot in 2016 with a great lineup and a weak rotation, so it’s not impossible to imagine the Yankees could compete, too.
The Injured Veteran: the Baltimore Orioles
Speaking of the Orioles, 2017 could be their fall from grace. After making it to the playoffs in three of the last five seasons, including 2016, Baltimore is in serious danger of falling to the bottom of the division thanks to their rotation, which easily is the worst in the AL East. No. 1 starter Chris Tillman has been dealing with issues in this throwing shoulder all spring training and isn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day. Behind Tillman, Kevin Gausman is OK, but last season was the first time he pitched more than 114 innings and 20 starts. Similarly, Dylan Bundy’s first full season in 2016 saw him make just 14 starts and pitch 109 2/3 innings, so the 24-year-old isn’t necessarily ready to handle a full workload, either. Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez round out the rest of the starting five, and either of them will be lucky to turn in an ERA better than 4.50.
Baltimore still has a formidable, powerful lineup and one of the best bullpens in baseball — the Orioles’ relievers posted a 3.40 ERA in 2016, good for first in the AL and third in the league — so the season shouldn’t be a total wash. But the O’s hitters and relievers will have to do a whole lot of work to make up for that rotation.
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