Baseball is back, they call it America’s Summer Game so it’s always a sign of better weather ahead. Andy Turner brings you all you need to know ahead of the new season, kicking things off with the American League East…
I will start this preview with the American League (for those of you who don’t follow baseball, yet, the champion of the American League meets the National League champion in the World Series).
The AL East is arguably the glamour division. Traditional superpower New York Yankees have been doing un Yankee like things in the last couple of seasons, that would be not splurging squillions on aging superstars, but trading for or promoting from the farm system talented young players and waiting for aging high priced superstars to drop off the roster.
Gone are Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera, Mariano Rivera and of course Derek Jeter, but there are still one or two quality veterans on the roster, such as Jacoby Ellsbury in centre field and Matt Holliday, who signed in the off-season to play designated hitter.
The core of position players are young and promising such as Didi Gregorious (who replaced Derek Jeter at Short Stop), Gary Sanchez at Catcher and Starlin Castro at 2nd base. If the Yankees have a question mark it is their starting pitching. When a past his sell-by CC Sabathia is listed 2nd on the rotation you know there might be doubts, but it is a rotation with a lot of promising young guys.
The one splash the Yankees made was signing closer Aroldis Chapman, and the bullpen – as is the vogue in baseball – figures to be a strength.
The Yankees biggest rivals are the Boston Redsox, who are in ‘win now’ mode. They made a big splash in trading for Chris Sale, the White Sox’s ace pitcher, to add to an already deep rotation including Rick Porcello and David Price. Yet already a little rain has fallen as Price is having an MRI on a sore left elbow before the preseason has even begun. While as mentioned the Sox have two other legitimate aces, Price is an inning eater regularly accounting for 200 innings a season, which is vital in keeping a bullpen fresh.
The Redsox bullpen runs from awesome to mediocre but closer Craig Kimbrel is elite. Boston’s major loss over the off season was the retirement of David Ortiz, who pulled out a brilliant final season and his influence in the locker room will be a big miss. They have players who should cover for his loss though, and the Sox are seen as one of the favourites to reach the World Series.
The Toronto Blue Jays made the playoffs for the 2nd season running, albeit via the wildcard. The Jays have been a fun team to watch, built around great slugging power and with Jose Bautista always a short distance from a bench clearing brawl.
Both Edwin Encarnacion and Bautista were free agents, but not surprisingly Bautista (one of the least popular players amongst other players in the league) is still a Blue Jay. Encarnacion and his 44 HR’s, however, left for Cleveland. There is still plenty of power with Josh Donaldson and a hopefully fit Troy Tulowitzki.
Pitching was a strength last year and JA Happ, Aaron Sanchez and a bounceback year from Marcus Stroman should see them in a race for the playoffs again.
Toronto beat the Baltimore Orioles in the wildcard game last season (162 game regular season and a 1 game wild card playoff, go figure!) The fact the Orioles are competitive every season is a tribute to manager Buck Showalter, but incredibly their defeat in the wildcard game (in the 11th inning) saw Showalter showered with criticism.
He has a starting rotation of Chris Tillman and four other guys, but his bullpen – smartly used around ace closer Zach Britton – is strong. In the positional players the Orioles have legitimate superstars in Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Manny Machado. They held on to 47 HRs as Mark Trumbo signed a new contract. That’s what the Orioles do, they hit the long ball, and it’s had them in the playoffs three out of the last five years
The Tampa Bay Rays seem to act as a farm team for the rest of MLB. They are the ultimate small team stuck in a division of giants. They draft well and trade their name players for more prospects. It works for them, but last year their big players, such as ace pitcher Chris Archer, didn’t perform and they faced multiple injuries amongst key position players. Their pitching rotation is Archer, some journeyman and young promising arms.
The Rays problem is they don’t generate enough runs and help for Evan Longoria (their one star bat) would help enormously. They don’t score a lot and they don’t draw many fans to the worst home field in baseball. Predictions are anywhere from 5th to challenging for the play offs.