2016 American League East Preview

Jose Bautista hit a clutch three-run home run in Game 5.

Toronto earned the AL East crown last season thanks in part to Jose Bautista. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

The AL East could be the most talented divisions from top to bottom in the entire MLB. Every single team in this division can not only compete, but compete for a playoff berth at the end of the season. Sure, the NL Central is the most loaded at the front end, but the Brewers and Reds bring them down. I find it hard to believe that any team will win less than 80 games in the AL East.

Toronto is the clear favorite to win the division, as their offense can mash home runs, their pitching is serviceable, and their defense can make ends meet. From there, the division is piled with questions.

Boston and New York need to use their youth as a springboard to a new generation of winning, while the Rays and Orioles both have potential to be good, but have holes in different areas of their respective teams.

This division may end up being the tightest division in the MLB, just like it was last season. The AL East’s first and last place teams finished just 15 games apart, five games better than the next closest division.

My guesses for how this season will shape up are simply just a shot in the dark, as there are so many ways this division could end up unfolding.

1st Place: Toronto Blue Jays (96-66)

The Blue Jays are in great shape to take the AL East crown for the second season in a row. Toronto has managed to retain every starter in the field from a season ago, but they have lost David Price to Boston.

The team will hit plenty of home runs and score plenty of runs, but they’ll need to make sure they can pitch their way deeper into the playoffs than last season. When it comes down to a team with great pitching versus a team with great hitting, history sides with the pitching team. Losing David Price is a big time loss, and Toronto can’t showcase their starting pitching rotation like other teams in the MLB can.

Marcus Stroman is by no means an elite ace, but he’s on the rise in his career and should put up 15 wins. The back end of the rotation will prove to be their weakness, but Toronto should breeze through the regular season provided they lean on the bats.

Player to Watch: Troy Tulowitzki

Can Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy in consecutive seasons? (Photo: thestar.com)

Injuries have put a hamper on what could be a potential Hall of Fame career for Troy Tulowitzki. The shortstop came to Toronto via a trade which sent him away from Colorado. Tulo hasn’t hasn’t had back-to-back seasons with at least 100 games played since the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The shortstop played in 128 games last season, which could mean he’s trending towards less games this season.

Tulowitzki also hit just .239 with Toronto, a huge dip in production from his .300 average with Colorado in 2015. If Tulo can return to play anything like his plus .300 years with Colorado, it’d be a huge boost to the Blue Jays’ chances of winning it all this season.

2nd Place: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Boston will earn their keep this season through starting pitching. David Price, Clay Buchholz, and Rick Porcello lead a staff with potential to be the best rotation in the division. Boston also acquired Craig Kimbrel to be their new closer this season, paving way to a solid pitching staff as a whole.

Boston’s offense is nothing to scoff at, as they’ll enjoy watching Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts bloom, while looking to get steady production from veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia as well.

Player to Watch: Rick Porcello

After going a combined 28-21 in 2013 and 2014, Porcello went 9-15 in his first season away from the Detroit Tigers. Porcello had his best season statistically in those two seasons, and the steep drop in production is worrisome. Whether or not Porcello can find out how to be successful this season won’t be known for a while, but the Red Sox need him to turn it around and be a reliable third man in the rotation.

3rd Place: Baltimore Orioles (85-77)

Here’s where things get fuzzy in the AL East. On paper, the Orioles look like a contender for a wild card spot this fall. Baltimore’s first four hitters are loaded, and the back end of the bullpen should be good.

Baltimore’s starting pitching leaves more to be desired. Led by Chris Tillman who went 11-11 last season, the Orioles have no established ace. The last two pitchers in the rotation figure to be rookies, so their could be some growing pains this season in Baltimore.

I still like Baltimore to win a lot of games thanks to their solid lineup. They are filled with players who could hit 25 home runs, but are also susceptible to striking out.

Player to Watch: Pedro Alvarez

Pittsburgh Pirates fans are probably rejoicing at the departure of Pedro Alvarez. A strikeout machine and error fanatic, Pedro Alvarez should feel lucky to even be on an Opening Day starting lineup. He’ll no longer have to figure out how to close his glove when a ball enters it, so he’ll have plenty of time to swing a wooden stick at a ball. Sometimes dumbing it down works for people, and I feel like it’d help for Alvarez. If he can hit 20 home runs and hit for .250, it be a great season for Alvarez.

4th Place: Tampa Bay Rays (82-82)

The Rays will welcome four new starters to Tropicana Field, none of whom are big time acquisitions. Chris Archer is an up-and-coming starting pitcher who will lead the Rays, and there are a few names behind him who could make some noise in the AL East.

The team is filled with middling starters, which is why it’s pretty easy to see them finishing as average as average gets. Evan Longoria seems to be out of his prime, and there are a lot of holes throughout this team. Even still, I like Tampa’s serviceable lineup, and potentially good pitching staff with Drew Smyly and Co.

Chris Archer simply needs run support to be considered one of the best pitchers in the AL East. (Photo: Sporting News)

Player to Watch: Chris Archer

The most helpless job in the world is being a starting pitcher in the AL. Even if you throw a seven inning, three hit, one run outing, you could still end up with a loss if your offense sucks. That’s what happened plenty of times to Archer. Archer suffered a loss or no-decision in ten games last season in which he gave up two runs or less, including four games in which he gave up zero earned runs. Provided Archer can get more run support this season, look for Archer to improve upon his 3.23 ERA and win 15 games.

5th Place: New York Yankees (79-83)

I’m all for teams with starting pitching, and the Yankees could have that. If every starter can pitch to around 80% of their potential, it should be a good season on the mound for them. New York has no shortage of overpaid, old, former superstars, so they must squeeze everything they can out of the veterans in order to have a solid season.

The Yankees bullpen is their calling card, as they’ll boast one of the best one-two punches in baseball with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. The only players in the New York batting order that are under age 32 are Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. The two middle infielders have been unsuccessful in living up to their hype in the MLB.

With a career ERA of 2.17, Aroldis Chapman looks to continue his dominance with a new team. (Photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Player to Watch: Aroldis Chapman
After an offseason trade that sent Chapman from Cincinnati to the Big Apple, the Cuban Missile must prove he can succeed even with a change of scenery. No one likes to face Chapman’s combination of 105 MPH fastballs and 92 MPH sliders and changeups. Chapman has proven to be wild at times, but has also made countless hitters look like your grandma. Chapman is suspended for the first 30 games of the season, but after that, I look forward to seeing how Chapman does in New York.

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