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Spring is here, and that means the start of the baseball season. After a crazy winter, the flowers are starting to bloom, the birds are chirping and the fans are ready for the National pasttime to get up and running.
That also means, it’s time for our MLB Previews. With six divisions, and a whole lot of movement over the off-season, let’s not waste any time and jump right into it.
Starting with the on again-off again most competitive division in baseball, the American League East often features a mixed bag of surprises, overachievers and let downs. This year especially left many questions in need of answers and could be the year that those questions become even louder.
The big question is, can whoever wins this division drown out the smaller questions long enough to go on a deep run in the postseason? Let’s check it out – here’s the American League East under a microscope:
1. New York Yankees
Last Year’s Record: 99-63
Player to Watch: Shortstop Anthony Volpe
X-Factor: Pitcher Nestor Cortes
This past offseason was not a very “Yankee-Like” offseason. They made two big moves by signing homegrown outfielder Aaron Judge to a long term deal and signing pitcher Carlos Rodon to a six-year pact. Other than that, they didn’t really do much in terms of improvement at positions they probably could have used them.
Strong springs from shortstop prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza could definitely make up the difference, especially if one can learn a different position (shortstops are often extremely versatile after all). If New York can find a way to utilize both and hope they can produce the way they have in the spring during the regular season, then this should be a great year for the Bronx Bombers, especially if they can get their pitching going on a consistent basis.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
Last Year’s Record: 92-70
Player to Watch: Outfielder Dalton Varsho
X-Factor: Manager John Schneider
Living in the shadow of a sleeping giant is often one of the most horrifying things, but that’s a reality that some teams face nowadays. One such sleeping giant has been the Toronto Blue Jays, who we’ve known were going to be good, but had yet to see. Then last season, the team went on a tear and finished second in the division, after the dismissal of their manager Charlie Montoyo and the hiring of his replacement, John Schneider.
The question now remains, was this a case of sleepwalking or are they fully awake now? A lot of the core pieces of this team are so young, and have veterans in place to help them develop and get even better. If this team is fully awake, they may run away with this division, but until that’s proven, they’ll be in a dog fight for sure.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Last Year’s Record: 86-76
Player to Watch: First Baseman Luke Raley
X-Factor: Outfielder Randy Arozarena
It’s hard to make heads or tails of the Tampa Bay Rays at this point. On the one hand, they’re good enough to get 80-90 wins and be a playoff team. On the other hand, once they reach those marks, they seemingly run out of gas and fall apart.
Kevin Cash is a great manager and truthfully should have one World Series Championship ring on his finger (not from playing). If his boys can’t take that next step, including Randy Arozarena, who we’ve waiting for to become a star, then this team may be doomed to stay in second-third place purgatory, where they’ll just be good enough. No more, no less.
4. Boston Red Sox
Last Year’s Record: 78-84
Player to Watch: Catcher Reese McGuire
X-Factor: Starting Rotation
Of all teams in the American League East, the Boston Red Sox may be one of the hardest to project. They’ve got so much young talent coming up (like pitcher Brayan Bello and first baseman Triston Casas), veterans returning from injury (like pitchers Chris Sale and James Paxton) and young talent that could breakout if they stay healthy (infielder Adalberto Mondesi and outfielder Masataka Yoshida) that they could either be good, really good, bad or really bad.
Boston could very well overachieve again, as manager Alex Cora does have a tendency to get the best out of his players. However, it’s going to come down to if it’ll be enough and can he get it started early enough. There’s a solid chance he could, but it’s far from a sure thing.
5. Baltimore Orioles
Last Year’s Record: 83-79
Player to Watch: Catcher Adley Rutschman
X-Factor: Third Baseman Gunnar Henderson
It’s hard to trust that Baltimore will build upon their late season run from last year. Other than small signings such as pitcher Kyle Gibson and second baseman Adam Frazier, they haven’t done much to build upon the team. Even with a youth movement, this team needed some kind of mid-range acquisition and they just didn’t deliver.
This is a team that a has reputation of building a good, young team that goes on a run out of nowhere, and then just falls flat the next year. Manager Brandon Hyde is really going to need to pull a rabbit out of his hat here or his seat could get hot quickly.