2015 AL East Standings Prediction:
1 - Toronto Blue Jays
X-Factors: Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison
I know what you're saying: the Blue Jays never seem to put it all together. They took on contracts of the Marlins flop signings from a few years back, and so far it hasn't made a difference. This offseason Canada's team added perhaps the top pitch framing catcher in Russell Martin and an excellent two way third baseman in Josh Donaldson to their lineup already fully loaded with mega sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and speed demon Jose Reyes. Martin should help improve the pitching staff to an extent, but I'm counting on a big year from 23 year old righty Marcus Stroman to take it to the next level. Their bullpen needs to improve as well, but rookie Aaron Sanchez could be a difference maker for their entire season if he gets an opportunity to close. Overall, the lineup is just too good to avoid at this point, and with a few solid seasons out of young pitchers; veterans RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle can show the Jays how to move forward into the playoffs.
**UPDATE: It appears that I have cursed the Blue Jays and poor Marcus Stroman, who tore his ACL during fielding practice and will miss the entire 2015 season. With the value I put in Stroman's arm leading Toronto to a division title, I will now switch out the Blue Jays and the Red Sox; the Jays winning a Wild Card spot and the Sox taking the division. It's my blog, and my predictions after all, right?**
2 - Boston Red Sox
X-Factors: Wade Miley, Xander Bogaerts, Rusney Castillo
I don't like to rank the Red Sox high, but this only seems logical. They have had some serious ups and downs over the past several seasons; finishing last in 2012, winning the World Series in 2013, and finishing last again in 2014. They have an enormous surplus of outfielders at the moment, and it is left to be seen if they are able to turn some of those players into a staff ace, which appears to be their largest weakness on the roster at the moment. They made strides adding Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson to their rotation, but I think they will need to do more before they top Toronto in the division. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval were added to support the aging David Ortiz and downward trending players Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, and Mike Napoli. It remains to be seen how Hanley will fare in left field since he's always been an infielder, but Fenway Park shouldn't give him much trouble.
3 - New York Yankees
X-Factors: Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, C.C. Sabathia
I put my Yankees third on this ranking, and that may be a bit of a hometown discount. I like their moves this offseason acquiring Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorius, and Nathan Eovaldi; along with resigning Chase Headley, but I still don't think it was enough to put them over the top. The pitching rotation is loaded with potential, but even more so injury potential. Masahiro Tanaka is one bad pitch away from missing the next calendar year due to Tommy John Surgery, and although C.C. started eating big macs again I don't see him reviving his entire career (although I do see an improvement). The bullpen will be excellent as usual, but an aging, struggling lineup and scary rotation leaves the Yankees out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year in my opinion. I would love to see them prove me wrong, but with the roster assembled compared to other teams in the division, I find it a bit far fetched. And no, there's absolutely no reason to believe that 39 year old injury prone Alex Rodriguez will make any sort of difference, let alone be relevant next year.
4 - Baltimore Orioles
X-Factors: Chris Davis, Kevin Gausman
The Orioles failed to make a splash this offseason in free agency to replace last year's 40 home run slugger Nelson Cruz and mainstay Nick Markakis; who left for Seattle and Atlanta, respectively. However, they will be getting Matt Wieters back behind the plate to fill the void he left when he had Tommy John Surgery early in the 2014 season. Chris Davis received a prescription to use an ADHD medicine that he was suspended for using last year, and Manny Machado will hopefully make it through the season healthy. There are definitely question marks surrounding the birds, but Buck Showalter is the best manager in the division and should be able to make this team a contender. I think 96 wins again is pushing the bar too high, but I can see them making a case for a wildcard spot if all goes well.
5 - Tampa Bay Rays
X-Factors: Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier
The Rays are a new team in 2015, now without Joe Maddon under the helm for the first time since 2005 and also without GM Andrew Friedman, who fled for the Dodgers over the offseason. Former catcher Kevin Cash is taking the reins of the baseball genius, and he doesn't have nearly as much to work with this year. Ben Zobrist, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Joyce, and Yunel Escobar found new homes, and were replaced with players such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Steven Souza Jr. (of Jordan Zimmermann no-hitter saving catch fame). Evan Longoria seems to be declining every season, and their young rotation has a lot to prove before Tampa Bay can find their way back to the top of this division. Alex Cobb does appear to have the best chance of any AL East pitcher to dominate 2015, as long as he shies away from comebacker line drives.
Division MVP: Josh Donaldson
Division Cy Young: Alex Cobb
Playoff Teams: Toronto, Boston (Wild Card)
This division may contain the biggest question marks of any division in the game this upcoming season, but I see it playing out competitively. I don't think there will be a team with well over 90 wins like Baltimore accomplished in 2014, because the parity in baseball seems to be stronger than ever. I honestly would not even be surprised if Tampa Bay found a way to crawl out of the cellar and have a great season, because somehow they never seem to be out of the hunt. There is a chance that the Yankees could finish last, but I want to show some faith in my team and I think 3rd place is a more than fair projection.
I picked Josh Donaldson to have the best MVP chances out of any AL East hitter, but it really could be Bautista or Encarnacion. I just feel that Donaldson will have a lot of RBI opportunities hitting behind them in the lineup, and his defensive prowess balances out his game better than it does for the other two. As I said before, I like Alex Cobb a lot in 2015, even if the Rays aren't a competitive team, thus I chose him as the Cy Young pick for the division.
Agree? Disagree? Agree to Disagree? Leave a comment below, let's talk some baseball.