2016 MLB Preview: American League East

The Jays win by a beak
I'm writing this in early April, but don't be surprised if by the time you read this every team in the AL East is playing .500 ball. Get used to it; it's going to be like that all summer. I guess I'll pick the Blue Jays because no one has consistent pitching and the Jays hit better than anyone in baseball, but you could put these five teams in a random number generator and have as much of a clue as I have about how they'll finish. Flawed teams in a flawed division are like that.

Predicted order of finish: Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Rays.

Losing David Price was huge, but if any two of these–Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, and Aaron Sanchez­– live up to their hype, the Toronto Blue Jays should muddle through. But the staff has issues—Dickey is ancient, the bullpen is unimpressive, and the only southpaw is Happ. The Jays may end up winning a lot of 9-7 games, but with guys like Encarnacion, Bautista, and Donaldson, they will indeed win those games. I'm not sure Tulowitzki is durable and there are potential gaps in left and at second, but it looks like the Jays' division to lose for the simple reason that only a few holes gives them a beak up on the rest of the division.

On paper, the Boston Red Sox appear stronger. They'd better be or John Farrell will be unemployed by All-Star break. Betts and Bogaerts look to be special players and even die-hard Yankees fans admire old-school Dustin Pedroia. But, man, are there questions: Can Swihart or Jackie Bradley hit? Do you like Holt as an everyday left fielder? (You shouldn't!) Can Hanley Ramirez handle first base? (I'm skeptical.) Is Travis Shaw a third baseman? (Well, we know Sandoval isn't.) And I don't care if it is his retirement year, everyone outside of Beantown is sick of David Ortiz, his antics, and the free ride Pill-Poppin' Papi got on the PED thing. David Price is fabulous, but ask the Mariners how well it works to have one stud and four duds. Buchholz? If this were my team, if he's still a bust by midyear, I'd trade him to the Korean League for kimchi and dried noodles. I like Joe Kelly okay, but Porcello seems to have relocated to Planet Buchholz. The best hope is restored health to young fireballer Eduardo Rodriquez. Could be first, but could be last again.

The New York Yankees might contend, but that's probably not the real plan. I can envision see this team moving big contracts at the trade deadline to someone who thinks A-Rod, Beltran, Sabathia, Headley, McCann, or Ellsbury can give them a playoff push. And I'm pretty sure the whole point of signing Aroldis Chapman, whom they don't need, was to move him for a fistful of prospects. Even if the Yankees succeed only in moving a few of these guys, if one of them is Ellsbury, call it advantage New York. I really like Gregorius and Castro in the middle of the infield. They, pitching stud Luis Severino and Mashiro Tanaka are the only Yankees guaranteed to be in Pinstripes in 2018. Don't be surprised if another midyear move involves Tanaka undergoing the Tommy John surgery he needs. The Big Plan is to get under the luxury cap for one year,  go after Bryce Harper in free agency, and pair him with Aaron Judge in the outfield. What could wrong? The Yankees might actually be good enough to be in the pennant mix and unable to move enough dead wood.

If the Yankees do dismantle, the Baltimore Orioles should jump them in the standings. With Chris Davis, Adam Jones Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, J. J. Hardy, and Pedro Alvarez, this is the only team that could out slug the Jays. They'd better, because until Gausman and Tillman prove they can win on the MLB level, the O's pitching is as thin as a bulimia ward. Gallardo won't like pitching in the AL and nobody ever knows what will happen when Jimenez takes the mound.

T'is always the same with the Tampa Bay Rays—great pitching, but a lineup that couldn't hit a brick wall with a loaded machine gun. Some have said how much they've upgraded from last year, but if all you've got to offer is Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison, I'm not impressed, and I'm walking Evan Longoria to face them. Chris Archer sometimes looks like he's going to be the AL's Clayton Kershaw, but last year he was 12-13. Can't miss Jake Odorizzi was 9-9.They'll need help from Matt Moore and Drew Smyly.  Call the Rays the Reverse Mirror Jays; they win 3-2 games but get to 4 against them and declare victory. It's time for my annual "Just Move This Team to Montreal" chant. I know, I know—think of the nine thousand Tampa Bay fans who'd be crestfallen.    

{Since writing this, Gallardo and Kelly have gone on the DL, the second of whom matters more than the first as BoSox pitching looks really suspect. And before you get all excited about the O's start, remember that this is April.}

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