Six Divisions in Six Days - AL East

This used to be the best division in baseball. It has taken a bit of a slide and now may be the worst division in the American League. There appear to be three teams capable of battling out for the division crown, but the AL East will be shut out of any wild card consideration for the second straight season.

1. New York Yankees - The Yankees fate could be decided by the three wise men that hold key lineup positions. Carlos Beltran in right field, Mark Teixeira at first base and Alex Rodriguez at the DH spot are all over 35 and need to stay healthy and productive for the Yankees to win this division. Beltran and Teixeira have had trouble staying healthy. With Beltran the Yankees have Aaron Hicks who could take over in right field, but Greg Bird is out for the season so an injury at first base will give the Yankees a choice between Dustin Ackley or Alex Rodriguez. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have also not escaped the injury bug. They are solid bats from the left side who will be spelled frequently by the right handed bat of Aaron Hicks to keep them fresh. Starlin Castro is a welcome addition of young legs. He will team with shortstop Didi Gregorious to give the Yankees solid defense up the middle. What will separate the Yankees from the other teams in the division is the bullpen trifecta of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, three pitchers all with closer stuff. Miller throws from the left side. The Yankees will have to only go to the sixth inning with their starters, which is a good thing for their ace Masahiro Tananka, who has pitched with a sore elbow. Before the season ends he could be replaced as ace of the staff by Luis Severino, who is young with a mid-90s fastball. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda are two young pitchers who the Yankees acquired via trade who can hit the high 90s with their fastball. This could be a breakout year for one or both of them. The fifth spot will given to C.C. Sabathia to start the season but at some point during the season will be replaced by Ivan Nova. Sabathia is just a shell of his former self and in a pennant race you can’t keep on throwing out pitchers who give up at least 5 runs per game.

2. Toronto Blue Jays - This team may have the best four hitters in the middle of the lineup in Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitski. Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion have all hit 40 or more homers in a season. Tulowitski may not generate the offense he did in the thin Colorado air, but he should still crank 20 plus homeruns. The key for the Jays will be whether they can find a player to hit at the top of the order. By default that may be given to centerfielder Kevin Pillar. Chris Colabello keeps on proving himself by hitting over .300. He may share the first base position with Encarnacion and Justin Smoak, limiting his at bats. Michael Saunders missed most of last season because of injury but he could find himself at the top of the order. His OBA tends to be better than Pillar. Russell Martin is still one of the best catchers at running a pitching staff and providing a bat that can drive in runs. Where the Jays will make an impact is with their rotation. They are riding on the arm of Marcus Stroman, who only started four games last year because of injury. He has had his struggles this spring. Marcus Estrada came out of nowhere to be the ace of the staff last year. It will be critical that he repeat his performance this year. R.A. Dickey has won a Cy Young, but his stuff is not the same. He fits well in the middle of the rotation. J.A. Happ will fill the fourth spot. The Jays have toyed with making Aaron Sanchez a starter, but he has always looked better in the bullpen. Spring will decide his role. The Jays traded for Drew Storen to be their closer. Roberto Osuna, the closer last year could take over if Storen struggles. Osuna would like to be in the starting rotation if he can’t be the closer and the Jays are looking at that possibility.

3. Boston Red Sox - The Red Sox have a habit of failings with their free agent signings. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez both signed big contracts and both bombed, ruining the Red Sox of a chance to go from last to first. Travis Shaw is outperforming both in the spring so it will be interesting if the Sox sit their large contracts on the bench. The outfield should be one of the best defensive outfields with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo, with three centerfielders roaming the greens. Castillo and Bradley have been inconsistent with the bat so expect a lot of appearances from super utility man Brock Holt. Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia make for a solid up the middle defense. Xander has a career on the upside while Pedroia has seen his best seasons. Dustin can still produce in smaller doses during the season. Blake Swihart is one of the better younger catchers in the game, but if he struggles the Red Sox can turn to Ryan Hannigan or another youngster Christian Vazquez. David Ortiz still lingers on as one of the best DH’s in baseball. This will be his farewell season so he would like to have it end on a high note. The Red Sox got one ace in their rotation with the free agent signing of David Price. After his spot is done the questions linger. Clay Buchholtz, Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly should fit at the back end of a rotation, but the Red Sox will have to force them to the top. The Red Sox paid a couple good prospects to the Padres to bring over Craig Kimbrel as their closer. The oft injured closer from last year Koji Uehara will act in a setup capacity. Junichi Tazawa is another Japanese import that will pitch in a setup capacity.

4. Tampa Bay Rays - The offense is always bleak as the Rays continue to focus on their pitching. For the Rays to be competitive in this division they need a bounce back year from Matt Moore. He is capable of winning an ERA title. He will not be pressured about being the ace with hard throwing Chris Archer at the top of the rotation. The Rays are also relying on a bounce back year from Drew Smyly and continued excellence from Jake Odorizzi. Brad Boxberger replaces Fernando Rodney as the Rays closer. He is not as flamboyant as Rodney, picking up 41 saves but also 10 losses from last year. Not a lot of proven pitchers in the pen who can step in as closer if Boxberger gets injured. The offense is a bit anemic with Evan Longoria their big time hitter. The outfield has the defensive excellence of Kevin Kiermaier in centerfield with offensive potential in Stephen Souza and Corey Dickerson at the corners. Corey hit over .300 in Colorado but Tampa is a different environment. Desmond Jennings has gone from super prospect to fourth outfielder. James Loney may be one of the weakest bats in the Conference but his defense is good and their is no true DH in the lineup. The middle infield position is still unsettled with Brad Miller and Logan Forsythe, whose best roles may be as utility players, not starters. Curt Casilla can provide some pop behind the plate, but like many players in this lineup, his average will slip below .250 before the season ends.

5. Baltimore Orioles - Fans have a lot of confidence Buck Showalter will get the most out of a poor team. They have some All Stars in Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Chris Davis, but the rest of their lineup is less than desired. Korean Hyun-Soo Kim has struggled this spring and has been outplayed by Rule V pick Joey Rickard. The signing of Pedro Alvarez for the designated hitter position will force the Orioles to put the defensively challenged Mark Trumbo out in left field. Chris Davis signed a big contract and needs to hit 40 plus homeruns to justify the Orioles expense in him. Jonathan Schoop is ready for a breakout season but his double play partner J.J. Hardy is going in the opposite direction. Matt Wieters settled for a qualifying offer but he continues to be bothered by arm problems. Caleb Joseph, at one time a career minor leaguer, will again see a lot of playing time behind the plate. The starting rotation will give up a lot of runs with five back end of the rotation pitchers vying for the top spot. Yovani Gallardo may win the top spot by default. The Orioles ate a draft selection to sign him. Ubaldo Jimenez has been a big disappointment, his troubles exacerbated by his inability to get the ball over the plate. Kevin Gausman has the stuff to be an ace with a fastball in the high 90s, but he has been too hittable in his starts. Chris Tillman can be good but last year he was bad. Miguel Gonzalez will be lucky to survive April in the rotation. The Orioles have to keep Dylan Bundy on the roster so he will begin it in the bullpen and could move to the rotation by mid-season. Zach Britton will close for a solid pen composed of two underneath throwers in Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens.

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