There isn’t much debate which team in the American League East has the best chance to navigate its way to the division title. With the Yankees tightening the purse strings and getting older and the Red Sox looking for an identity the guard is certainly changing. While the Toronto Blue Jays seem to everyone’s darlings and the Orioles are riding a wave they may not be ready to ride on, the Tampa Bay Rays have the best shot at this division.
- Division’s Best Player: Robinson Cano (2012 Line: 33 HR, 94 RBI, .313/.379/.550, .929 OPS)- Few players in baseball can do as much as Robinson Cano does on a baseball field. The 2012 Gold Glove Award winner not only continued his ascension among baseball’s elite, but he proved he was ready to take the mantle of New York’s “go to” Yankee from one Derek Jeter.
- Division’s Best Pitcher: David Price (2012 Line: 20-5, 2.56 ERA, 211.1 IP, 205 K’s)- 2012 Cy Young award winner, ERA crown, and wins leader. I would say Price went next level, and at age 27 he has nothing but prime years in fron of him. the only question going into 2013 for Price is how much longer he will be doing this in Tampa Bay?
- Division’s Best Manager: Buck Showalter- One need only look at what he did in 2012 with the Baltimore Orioles to realize how good this man is in a dugout. He’s a proven institution among active skippers, and should be respected as such. Now, if only he could get that elusive world title.
- Division’s “X” Factor: Evan Longoria- It’s pretty simple really: If Evan Longoria plays 135-145 games this season, the Rays will win the division. If he plays less than 100 (as he did in 2012 when he played in only 74) they will fall short. In a division that could be decided by five games between first and last place, that isn’t an option.
- Tampa Bay Rays (2012 Finish- 3rd (90-72))- I wasn’t making it a secret how much I like this team. Between the rotation of Price, Moore, and Hellickson and the lineup with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, an experienced Desmond Jennings, and the later addition of Wil Meyers there is more than enough for this team to be the one to beat. My only concern is the bullpen and if it will be able to hold leads and get the ball to Fernando Rodney.
- Toronto Blue Jays (2012 Finish- 4th (73-89))- I know this is the media darling, but I’m not buying this team. Could I end up with egg on my face at the end of the year? Sure! That’s why this is a prediction. I would say I’m even doing this club a solid placing them second. Bottom line is this, Josh Johnson needs to be healthy and start 30+ games (big “if”). Mark Buehrle was slowing down before he was shipped to the National League and benefited from the pitcher batting 9th. Now he’s in one of the toughest divisions in baseball and isn’t exactly going to get a break with any of the clubs in that division. Jose Reyes has looked impressive, but if Bautista isn’t back to full strength and Melky Cabrera really did need “help” to achieve what he had the past couple seasons, this team is no different from the one that stunk up South Beach.
- Baltimore Orioles (2012 Finish- 2nd (93-69))- Last season I was harsh on this team, then they went on to win 93 games and push the Yankees to the brink in the Division Series. This season I have my doubts, but there is still a lot to like about this team. They play hard, have pieces in Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis who seemed to have turned a corner, and if Machado develops into the hitter he is expected to while playing third at a gold glove level, the lineup looks good. My concern isn’t with the bullpen (which was top-5 in the majors last season) but with the starters. It will be a project to get what they got from the group last season, but if they can, they will be a feisty group to deal with again in 2013.
- New York Yankees (2012 Finish- 1st (95-67))- The demise of the Yankees is exaggerated, but only slightly. Stuck with contracts they don’t want (Alex Rodriguez) and regressing production from players they can’t afford (Mark Teixeira) they have some issues. On top of that, Granderson is expected to miss a month or so with a broken forearm, Derek Jeter is slated to begin the season on the disabled list, and they don’t have anything going for them at catcher. While the pitching is there in C.C. Sabathia, Philip Hughes, Kuroda, and Pettitte, they have to be concerned with the age of the back-end of their rotation and the health risk. For the first month or so they will be depending on Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, and Francisco Cervelli. Not exactly the contingent you want to depend on in this division and it could cost them position in the standings early that they can’t recover from.
- Boston Red Sox (2012 Finish- 5th (69-93))- I’m going to hear it from the New England crowd (although they’re a smart group so maybe not) but the Red Sox could be bringing up the rear this year in the division again. Dempster and Lackey aren’t as reliable as most are thinking, they had too many games to make up in the standings from a disastrous 2012 and while Victorino and Napoli could serve them well, it won’t be enough. The Red Sox are desperately hoping Daniel Bard gets it together back in the bullpen (where he should have been all along), and that Buchholz and Ellsbury can keep things together for a full season. All that said, there just isn’t enough to compete with the top-3, and when the Yankees get healthy, I don’t see them having enough to take fourth.