The AL East didn’t go anywhere close to how most people anticipated in 2014. The favorites coming into the season where the Boston Red Sox, who had just won the division and World Series the previous year with an overall record of 97-65, but they ended up finishing last at 71-91. Most thought the Baltimore Orioles were headed for a big setback and they won the AL East by 12-games with an overall record of 96-66.
The division isn’t as strong as it’s been in previous years, but it could end being one of the more exciting races in 2015. The Orioles don’t figure to be going anywhere, but figure to get a big push from both the Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. That leaves the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays left to fight it out for the bottom two spots. Here’s a more in-depth look at how I see the division playing out this season.
AL East Predictions (Odds to Win the Division from Bovada)
1st Baltimore Orioles (+350) – It’s hard to believe that team that won 96 games can be flying under the radar, but that seems to be the case with the Orioles, who have the 3rd best odds of any team to win the division. What Baltimore lacks in talent, they more than make up for in preparation and that’s a credit to manager Buck Showalter, who almost instantly turned this team into a contender when he took over the job.
The Orioles starting rotation isn’t going to wow you with big names, but they get the job done. Baltimore had the 5th best ERA in the AL at 3.16 and all six starters who played a major role are back. Much like the Royals, what makes the Orioles starting pitching so underrated is that they have a top notch bullpen backing them up. Starters don’t have to dominate like they do on other teams for Baltimore to keep the opposition in check.
Offensively, Baltimore lost a big big in Nelson Cruz, but a healthy return of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, along with a return to form from slugger Chris Davis, will more than make up for his loss. I don’t think the Orioles offense is going to be any worse off than it was a year ago and that makes them the team to beat in the AL East.
Projected Record: 90-72
2nd Boston Red Sox (+190) – The Red Sox are getting all the praise and are listed as the favorites to win the division, but I’m not nearly as high on this team as others. Boston made some big offseason splashes by signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and figure to be a much improved offensive team, but you can’t simply outscore the opposition in today’s game.
In order to be a serious threat, you need quality starting pitching and that’s an area where I feel the Red Sox regressed. They traded away veterans John Lackey and Jon Lester at the trade deadline last year and were unable to bring back Lester in the offseason. That leaves the likes of Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly slated in the starting 5. There’s some quality arms in this mix, but also a lot of question marks. With that said, there’s a lot of talent on this roster and if the pitching exceeds expectations, this team is certainly capable of taking back the top spot in the division.
Projected Record: 84-78
3rd Toronto Blue Jays (+275) – The Blue Jays are a popular sleeper pick in the AL East and for good reason. Toronto added in veteran catcher Russell Martin, who will not only provide a spark offensively but should have a positive impact on the rotation. Plus, they acquired slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson, giving them a potent 1-2-3 punch in the heart of their order with Jose Bautista and Edward Encarnacion.
While the offense figures to be one of baseball’s best, I’m not sold on Martin having a big enough impact on the Blue Jays’ starters for this team to live up to the hype. Veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are far from your prototypical top two starters in the rotation and I wouldn’t be surprised if both failed to meet expectations in 2015. I actually look for Marcus Stroman to take over as the ace of the staff, but he’s the only sure thing they have. I know they had 5 starters win 10 or more games, but I feel like that was a result of overachieving more than a sign of things to come.
Projected Record: 82-80
4th New York Yankees (+450) – It’s not easy picking the Yankees to finish in the bottom half of the standings, as this team has owned the division for such a long period. However, things don’t look all that promising in 2015. While New York finished 2nd in the AL East last year at 84-78, their -31 run differential suggested that they played more like a team that should have been closer to 10-games under .500. The Milwaukee Brewers were the only other team to post a winning record with a negative run differential and their run differential was just -7.
There’s a lot of big names that makeup the Yankees’ roster, but almost all of them are well past their prime. The only real promising player they have to build around is ace Masahiro Tanaka and he’s coming off a season ending injury. You could add starter Michael Pineda as a building block, but he’s got to show he can stay healthy. There’s enough talent for New York to be competitive, just not enough to be a serious threat in the division.
Projected Record: 79-83
5th Tampa Bay Rays (+700) – The Rays took a big step back in 2014, going just 77-85, which snapped a streak of 4 straight 90+ win seasons. Typically a team that had one bad year like Tampa Bay, would be a candidate to rebound, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case after losing manager Joe Maddon to the Chicago Cubs. Maddon got the very best out of his players and I just don’t see Kevin Cash having the same impact.
When Tampa Bay was winning 90+ games, they were doing so behind their starting pitching. This year’s rotation simply doesn’t stack up. David Price is no longer in town and future ace, Matt Moore, won’t be back until at least May from Tommy John surgery. That puts a lot of pressure on the likes of Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly. Even if they perform at a high level, the offense figures to have a difficult time scoring enough runs to contend for a division title.
Projected Record: 75-87
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