And, The AL East…

And now- drumroll please- our Blue Jays and their competition in the AL East:

Baltimore – it’s hard to know what to make of the Orioles. They’re one of a few teams that seem to neither be “All in” nor “all out” in terms of trying to win this year. As always, they should put runs on the board- Adam Jones, Manny Machado (as long as he stays by the Chesepeake), Jonathan Schoop who surprised all topping 100 RBI last year. Chris Davis on the other hand, has seen a Bautista-like offensive graph through the past three seasons, going 47/38/26 HR, .562/.499/.423 slugging and with walks dropping off as well. Now in his 11th season, it’s unlikely he’s going to be the big bat that protects the others in the lineup again. Regardless of that, while Alex Cobb was a decent (if overpaid) addition and young Dylan Bundy may progress, the rotation is still rather horrible. Brad Brach isn’t too bad, but he’s no Zach Britton – but will have to replace him in the closer’s role for half the year or more while Britton rehabs from surgery. Last but not least- Colby Rasmus. Winners. Don’t seem to go together well, do they? Projection: 70 – 92

Boston – much ado about J.D. Martinez’s signing after months of speculation, is not about nothing. Martinez is a great power hitter who should excel in Fenway and the East division, even if last season was a bit of an outlier. There’s a lot to like here, of course, from Mookie Betts who was a bit disappointing last year but still topped 100 RBI to Chris Sale who’s as likely as anyone to win the Cy Young this year, to Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen. And sophomore Third Baseman, Rafael Devers, who at age 20 last year hit .284 with 10 HR in 58 games, after hitting .311 with 20 more round-trippers in the minors. A .300/30/95 , >850 OPS year wouldn’t surprise. But there are questions still. Like sophomore Third Baseman Devers’ fielding, which has been shaky at best at any level of the game and at 6′, 240, is also a guy who perhaps lacks requisite range for the “hot corner”. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shifted to first, or DH by mid-season and perhaps Manny Machado come in via trade if Baltimore seem out of contention (which they will.) Stephen Wright and Drew Pomeranz start the year on the DL and neither look to be dominant starters when back (and in the former’s case, that will also be after a 15 game suspension for domestic violence.) A scout told Sports Illustrated the biggest challenge for the pitching coach is to get David Price’s head screwed on right; Price has the talent to be a solid #2 starter but has also got quite a chip on his shoulder about his team and city it represents. A few things could trip up new manager Alex Cora, not the least of which is Cora and his inexperience himself. Projection: 88 – 74

New York: Toronto’s already had a look at the behemoth Bronx Bombers, and well- it went better than some expected. Many seem to have already proclaimed the Yanks as the Natural Born Champions, but I’m not so sure. Indeed they have talent to spare. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton may not (likely will not) match their 2017s, but working off each other in the hitter-friendly parks should top 80 homers and 200 ribbies between themselves if they stay mainly healthy. Didi Gregorius is starting to look like a fitting replacement for Derek Jeter after being a regrettable choice having a tough job; the 28 year old has gone from .265/.276/.287 average, 9/20/25 homers through the past 3 seasons, all the while improving his fielding to be now, above-average at short. Neil Walker was a great veteran addition at second. Sonny Gray’s an under-rated starter and a nice followup to power-throwing young Luis Severino who will be in only his second complete season with them after lowering his ERA by better than 2 runs last year to 2.98. CC Sabathia isn’t All Star material anymore, but is a reliable innings-eater who should have his 12th 30-start year and has a chance to make it to 250 career wins (he needs 13 to hit that now lofty plateau.) New manager Aaron Boone has lots to work with, but still has a few potential problems with some aging veterans, a weak bottom end of rotation and Aroldis Chapman as closer. He throws bullets, but never has become the dominant, wily pitcher the Reds, then NY hoped him to be. Projection- 95 – 67

Tampa Bay – The Rays had 694 runs last year, one more than Toronto at the bottom of the AL. They responded by getting rid of Franchise Player Evan Longoria, as well as Stephen Souza and Logan Morrison. They brought in Carlos Gomez (who hit just 17 HR with homer-happy texas last season) to replace them. Denard Span and Kevin Kiermaier give them speed and “D” in the outfield, but there’s little to cheer on the field and too few fans in the stands to cheer for them anyway. Pitching-wise, they’re a bit better but the loss of Odorizzi and Cobb will hurt. I personally am not a huge fan of Chris Archer. He’s ok, by all means, but no “Ace”. He’s perceived as a “kid” but will be 30 before season’s end, and is two full seasons removed from what so far is his “Career year”, in which he hit highs in wins (12), innings (212), strikeouts (252) and best in ERA (3.23) On a given day he can look unhittable, but just as likely as not, he’ll struggle to make it through 5 next time to the mound. It’ll be a long summer on the Gulf Coast. Projection: 65 – 97

Toronto – I’ll look at our Jays in a bit more depth next time out. In short, they need more production than they had last year if they want to compete, and while perhaps Solarte and Diaz will do that by improving upon last year’s IF backups Goins and Barney (and are likely to be everyday players like Goins was last year) and with Randal Grichuk seen as a power threat, they’ll really need two more things: Justin Smoak to prove that last year’s April-July weren’t flukes, and a more aggressive approach on the bases. Today’s 2 homers from Justin and incredible three steal inning (including stealing home!) from Kevin Pillar go a ways towards suggesting they will see that happen. I personally think Pillar could be a “breakout” player in 2018, perhaps hitting career highs in average, slugging and steals. the pitching should be very good if the starter’s stay in good health; starting depth isn’t a strength. The bullpen however, is a strength and if any fall down there, Buffalo should be able to provide quick and effective replacements. Projection : 87 – 75

So where does that leave us: With New York, Cleveland and Houston in as division champs and Bosox and our own Blue Jays in the Wild card game. Houston should take on the wild card, New York and Cleveland battle each other. I’d go with Cleveland over the Bronx, and Houston, alas,over either Toronto or Boston.

Here’s what my picks look like with the “panel of experts” from SI, Yahoo and USA Today mentioned in the NL column.

my pick top pick of others second pick third pick
East New York New York (11) Boston (3)
Central Cleveland Cleveland (14)
West Houston Houston (14)
AL Champ Houston Houston (5) New York (4) Cleveland (3)

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