Last but not least, the one we care most about here. I’ll be brief to get this up before we start counting All Star ballots! Will the twin powerhouses in Boston and New York still rev, or will the Rays shine brighter than expected? And of course,how about those nest rebuilding Blue Jays?
TEAM bY TEAM:
Baltimore – last year’s Orioles were appallingly bad, going 47 -115. Funny thing is, they didn’t seem too worried and did little in the off-season leading to the question, “they can’t be as bad as that again…can they?” On paper, the answer is “yes, and then some” but realistically look for them to win a few more due to law of averages, or other teams deciding to have fun and wear blindfolds on the field against them to keep it interesting or something. Still, with Adam Jones gone, they will need a big comeback from Chris Davis who had one of the worst seasons on record last year, hitting .168 with a -2.7 WAR. He’s now 6 years removed from his 50 homer, 138 RBI year, but don’t fret O’s fans. He’s under contract for 4 more years so you’ll have lots of chances to see him rebound… Dylan Bundy is their top starter and last year he served up more homers than any pitcher anywhere in 7 years. Which gives you an idea of the player value of Alex Cobb and Kevin Cashner, the #2 and 3 guys.
Boston – like Baltimore, the Red Sox rather rested on their laurels in the off-season. Unlike the Orioles, the Sox were the best team in baseball last year and won a World Championship, so not doing a whole lot might be the way to go. Big question mark (and no it’s not perennial Cy Young candidate Chris sale, even if he did give up 7 runs on opening day against Seattle) is who takes over from Craig Kimbrel as closer? Seems like Matt Barnes has been appointed that, and he should do OK, although it’s not a slam dunk. While he did stirkeout 96 in just 61 innings last year, he also walked too many (31) and had an ERA of 3.65. He’s only be called on to get 2 saves in the past three years, so how he handles pressure will be a question. But, with the offense the team has, there might not be that many close games for him to save in the 9th anyhow!
New York – the Bronx Bombers are getting tired of not winning World Series, and set out to do something about it, beefing up the rotation in the winter with James Paxton and re-upping late season acquisition JA Happ and aging CC Sabathia. With the power bats of Judge, Stanton, rookie of year near miss Miguel Andujar, the team is loaded. About the only thing that could cloud that October-blue sky for them would be injuries. Ahem… Andujar has a shoulder tear and although he says he won’t need surgery, most are skeptical and don’t see him returning this year. Sabathia’s not back yet from heart surgery last year, super-reliever Dellin Betances is out with a “shoulder impingement” and hopes to be back in May but don’t set your calendar on it… he was topping out at 93MPH in spring, about 7 miles below his usual heat. Didi Gregorious won’t be back from shoulder surgery until the All Star Break, and who knows when Jacoby Ellsbury will get back from hip surgery. Worse yet, wunderkind starter Luis Severino has a rotator cuff injury. When was the last time you saw a starting pitcher return promptly from that? And for good measure, Giancarlo Stanton just hurt his biceps and will miss at least a couple of weeks. Yet, for all that the Yanks sitll look like contenders.
Tampa Bay – glance at the Rays roster and it doesn’t look like much. But you don’t see Kevin Cash’s smoke and mirrors listed. How the Rays won 90 last year, in this divsion, is a total Sherlock Holmes case. But they made their shifts, started bullpen arms and utilized players you never heard of to win and win regularly. It would be arrogant to think they won’t do so again. Still, good as Blake Snell is, it might be tough for him to repeat his Cy performance of ’18 featuring a 1.89 ERA and club record 21 wins. He did after all,allow fewer hits last year in 181 innings than he did in 2017 in just 129 and he got knocked around on opening day by Houston who smacked 3 homers off him. But he’s a qualtiy pitcher for sure, and then players like Kevin Kiermaier (.217, only 29 RBI last year in an injury-shortened season) could bounce back and Tommy Pham looks like the next unknown hero-in-the-making after reveling in his chance to play every day once traded from St. Louis. Career highs in games and at bats last year didn’t harm his performance, and in the tail-end of the year…the tampa end… he hit .343 with a .622 slugging percentage. So how good will the smoke and mirrors be this year?
Toronto – as I write this, I’m seeing the longest-serving Jay, Kevin Pillar was just traded to SF for two minor league pitchers of little note and a backup infielder, Alen Hanson, who Athlon note is a very good left-handed hitter, but not good hitting from the right which he also does. It’s a shame to see Pillar go, especially without winning at least one Gold Glove for Toronto, which he richly deserved, but it’s characteristic of the new Jays. Last week they traded aging DH Kendrys Morales to the other Bay Area Team (Oakland) . Both trades don’t bring back a huge return but freed up roster spots for young talent; Rowdy Tellez in Morales’ case (as backup 1B and part time DH) and presumably,Anthony Alford in this one. Alford was once one of the team’s top prospects and seen as a 5-tool star in the making but his star has dipped, last year hitting a weakly .238 with 5 homers in the minors. He seems to have gottne serious and had a great spring training, so he’s another young buck we’ll have lots of chances to evaluate. Along with outfielders like Billy McKinney, Teoscar Hernandez and any number of infielders who could appear, most notably of course 3B Vladimir Guerrero who’s now rehabbing in Florida and could/should appear in Canada by the end of the month.
there’s a lot to grumble about (even the mayor quickly was commenting on what a loss to the city Pillar would be) , but a lot to be optimistic for the long-term about as well. Oddly, the initial concept was that Jays would be a good-hitting team with a thin pitching staff, but so far the reverse is true. through the first five, they’re hitting an anemic .180 as a team with only 29 hits, but the pitching has been spectacular, with the starters not allowing a run in the first four games, something not done by any team since the 1970s. One is reminded that not too long ago, before blisters, injuries and (on #6’s part) temper tantrums, both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman were among the elite of the young pitching talent in the game.
BOSTON – 104 – 58
NEW YORK – 99 – 63
TAMPA BAY- 80 – 82
TORONTO – 78 – 84
BALTIMORE – 56 – 106
A postscript that NY may struggle to get to 99 if injuries to Andujar and Severino keep them out for the whole year and that Baltimore look to me like a team that will win less than last year… but it’s mindwarping to imagine they could end up with more than 115 losses!