2013 AL East Preview

2013 AL East Preview

Over the past decade, the AL east has been defined as a rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. This rivalry is no longer a rivalry as the Red Sox have all but fallen off the map. Today, the rest of the division seems to have caught up, with the Orioles, Rays and Jays all feeling like they could contend for the East division title in 2013. Check out the previews for each of the AL East teams by using the tabs below. Each preview has been meticulously prepared by one of the top sports bloggers for each of the respective teams, giving us the best look at how each team is projected to perform in 2013.

 

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Baltimore Orioles

2013 Orioles Preview

This 2013 Orioles preview is brought to you by Randy of Orioles Baseball Blog. On his blog, Randy provides regular updates on Orioles news and analysis coming out of Baltimore. Enjoy!

With 2012 in the rearview mirror, the Orioles are now looking to build upon a season, which saw them finish over .500 and make the playoffs for the first time since 1997.    There were hopes this offseason that big ticket free agents would finally be motivated to come here by the success of last year.  Dan Duquette may have been in the conversation for the star free agents, but his biggest transaction was resigning outfielder, Nate McLouth for 1 year at $2 million. The biggest losses ended up being pitcher, Joe Saunders, and 1B/3B Mark Reynolds.   Outside of those changes, the main roster remains largely intact.

The question has been and always remains; will the Baltimore Orioles have the firepower to compete with the heavy artillery in the rest of the AL East?  This year, the New York Yankees are not as good having been hit with injury, the Boston Red Sox still have problems, the Toronto Blue Jays vastly improved, and the Tampa Bay Rays are still a team capable of 90 wins.  With the roster mostly untouched, it is hard to believe the team can replicate their success in close games and extra inning games from last year.  Then again, who saw it coming last year?

The issues coming into the 2013 season start with the starting pitching.  Buck worked his magic last year, inserting Miguel Gonzalez in the rotation and getting Chris Tillman to finally show some flashes of his talent.  The problem is while pitching depth has increased; the team did not acquire that ace starter they desperately needed. New acquisition, Jair Jurrjens seems to have the inside track on the fifth slot in the rotation.  The O’s have SO much depth at the position that one, if not both, of Jack Arrieta and Zach Britton may be starting the season in the minor leagues.

Offensively, the team has LOTS of room to improve.  In 2013, there will be a full season of young stud third baseman, Manny Machado, plus another year of Wieters, Jones, Hardy, and Davis.  I see all of them taking big steps forward this year.  With the power from Mark Reynolds gone, the rest of the team needs to pick up the slack.  If the young core that we have can all take steps forward, in addition to having Brian Roberts and Markakis back in the lineup, the Orioles can mash the ball with the best of them.

One thing I can stress, Showalter has the team believing it CAN win every game.  That mentality proved all the so-called “experts” wrong last season and I fully believe it can happen again.  With that said, I expect the Orioles to be in Wild Card contention this season.  For the first time in Baltimore since I was old enough to remember, Orioles baseball has this excitement around it. The first home playoff game was electric last year!! Baltimore baseball has returned and the Orioles have what is needed to be competitive this coming season and beyond.

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Boston Red Sox

2013 Red Sox Preview

This Red Sox preview was written by Will of BostonRedSoxBlog.com. You can stay up to date on all the news out of Boston by following the blog, or by following on Twitter @BOSredsoxblog

A mere five months ago, the Red Sox concluded perhaps the worst season in franchise history. They lost ninety games for the first time since 1931 despite a $175 million payroll. The team shied away from the biggest prizes on the free agent market this off-season, and as a result are not one of the favorites to capture the AL East crown. But don’t count the Boston Red Sox out in 2013.

The Red Sox could lead the majors in runs scored this season. They finished eighth in runs last season despite giving almost 2,000 plate appearances to players not on the Opening Day roster and losing many key players to injury and through trades. When healthy, this lineup will have no easy outs. Every hitter except for shortstop Stephen Drew is a serious threat to hit twenty-five home runs or steal thirty bases, and eight of their projected starters have posted OPS’s of .810 or higher in at least one season over the past three years.

Their bullpen depth is perhaps unmatched by any team in baseball. They have four experienced late inning men in Joel Hanrahan (1.83 ERA in ’11), Andrew Bailey (1.03 career WHIP), Koji Uehara (0.92 career WHIP), and Daniel Bard (0.96 WHIP in ’11). If Bailey’s health fails him again and if Bard can’t return to his 2011 form, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, and Andrew Miller are all capable of taking on bigger roles.

The offense and bullpen are playoff worthy. But the starting pitching will determine whether or not the Red Sox will play in October in 2013. The Red Sox return three starters (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Felix Doubront) from a pitching staff that finished 27th in the MLB in ERA a season ago. To that threesome they add John Lackey, who posted a 6.41 ERA when he last pitched in 2011, and Ryan Dempster, whose ERA after being traded to the  Texas Rangers from the Chicago Cubs last season was 5.09. The combined ERA’s of the starting five in each of their last full seasons is a whopping is 4.78. Some combination of the resurgence of Lester and Lackey, more consistency from Buchholz and Doubront, and a smooth transition to the AL from Dempster are needed to put the Red Sox over the top.

The biggest issues with this team are their injury history and their starting pitching. The level of improvement of the team in these two regards will determine the chances the Red Sox have of competing in what should be one of the tighter and more thrilling races in the American League in recent memory. I expect the Red Sox to win eighty-five games and finish just out the playoffs, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they manage to sneak into the postseason for the first time since 2009.

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New York Yankees

2013 Yankees Preview

This 2013 Yankees preview is brought to you by Jamie of BomberBanter.com. You can follow all the news coming out of New York on the blog, or on Twitter @BomberBanter. Enjoy!

Another season of New York Yankees baseball is nearly upon us.  We’ll have to wade through the rest of Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic, but before you know it, it’ll be time for big league baseball.  The question is:  what do the 2013 Yankees have for us?

Less Offense
With the departures of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, the Yankees are surely going to hit for less power than they did last year.  Kevin Youkilis should hit some dingers, but I expect he’ll take at least a two week trip the DL like he almost always does, and he’s certainly not the player he used to be – and that goes for Travis Hafner as well.  Maybe Alex Rodriguez will ride in on a white horse on August 1st and club some homers.  All this and the decline of Mark Teixeira and the injury to Curtis Granderson tells us that this team is not built to sit around and wait for the three run homer, because it’s not coming.

Improved Outfield Defense
A healthy Brett Gardner is back, so that’ll go a long way in suring up a shaky left field – although one presumes he’ll play center until Curtis Granderson gets back.  Ichiro is fast, but I feel he takes an extra beat to get rid of the ball, but I’d guess  he’s close on a defensive metric to Swisher, if not a tad better because of his speed.  Once Granderson returns, the Yankees should have a fairly tight outfield.

Who knows what at Catcher
I presume Chris Stewart will be the Yankees starting catcher this year, which is frightening.  On the other hand, Francisco Cervelli has been doing a great job in Spring Training thus far throwing out runners, so maybe they’ll switch back and forth and Joe Girardi will keep them both fresh.  Either way, don’t expect much in the way of offensive from this position – which I’m sure is true for many teams, but us Yankee fans are spoiled.

When it all comes down to it,
this Yankee team probably isn’t as good as last year’s, but we’ll have to see what happens.  I pencil the Bronx Bombers in for 92 wins this year, which I think will be good for a playoff spot.  If the pitching stays healthy and they come up with some timely hits, this team could go places.

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Tampa Bay Rays

2013 Rays Preview

This 2013 Rays preview is brought to you by Anthony of  XRaysSpex, a blog dedicated to the Rays. In addition to following the blog for all the latest news coming out of Tampa, you can follow on Twitter @BARaysFanSite. Enjoy!

As Cole Stevenson of Opposing Views put it, “The Tampa Bay Rays continue to be the perfect model of how an organization should be run. Not just in baseball, but in all of sports.” And though the head of the players union, Michael Weiner, may see things a bit differently, there is something to be said about a team that’s won 90 games in four of the last five seasons. Though Tampa Bay lost a few key pieces following the 2012 season – namely Wade Davis, J.P. Howell, Jeff Keppinger, James Shields, and B.J. Upton – I think that the Rays are in line for another 90+ win season.  Whether they can eek out a playoff spot is still unwritten. I’d reckon that it (somewhat) depends on the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays; one team that had a quiet off-season following an incredible run in 2012, and another that made some monster moves though may not congeal as a team, at least in 2013.

Strengths:

Tampa Bay made some key off-season acquisitions that promise to shore up the Rays defensively. The Rays will likely ask Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar to do what they couldn’t in 2012 with the Blue Jays: match their career norms on offense while provide a steady middle infield defense. Escobar and Johnson’s contact skills have been in steady decline in recent years, but they could bolster the Rays offense if they if they can sort things out at the plate. It will also be interesting to see what impact Wil Myers and Tim Beckham could make this season, assuming they get called up at some point.

Then there’s the starting rotation. Following the Shields trade, the 2013 Rays success/failure will rest on the young and talented arms of the starting rotation. With less than 30-days left until opening day, it’s going to be interesting to see who fills the number five spot on the rotation. It’s certain that David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb will fill out the first four spots, while the competition between Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Niemann, and Chris Archer continues to heat up.

Personally, I’d love to see Archer get the spot. I like Hernandez in the long relief position, while Niemann’s chronic injury record could find him as a more effective piece in the pen. Whatever the case, the upside potential of Moore and Hellickson is off the chart. We all saw what Cobb could do last season. And what more can be said about the 2012 Cy Young Award winner, David Price? USA Today has all 5 of the Rays starters in the top 81 (out of 150). If this staff can stay healthy and live up to expectations, they could singlehandedly keep the Rays in contention.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors put things in perspective, “The Rays won’t have an imposing offense in 2013. It’s a shortcoming, but one they’re accustomed to dealing with. Jose Molina’s pitch-framing skills, the versatility of Ben Zobrist and the depth of their pitching staff enable the Rays to prevent runs as well as any team (they allowed the fewest runs in MLB in 2012). As long as newcomers such as Escobar, Johnson and Loney contribute something on offense, the Rays should continue to outscore their opponents often enough to remain a threat in the AL East.”

Weaknesses:

Offense. Though Tampa Bay has done a lot to assure they’ll make fewer errors and give up fewer unearned runs, the question remains whether they’ll have enough offensive oomph to compensate for the loss of BJ Upton. What’s more, there’s also the question of Evan Longoria’s health.

Longoria, the Rays’ franchise player, has missed considerable time with injuries in 2011-12. The Rays had to compensate for the loss of Longo in 2012 by signing a laundry list of inferior players. Do the Rays have enough depth if, god forbid, Evan Longoria goes down again in 2013? To that end, can Luke “All Talk” Scott make an impact in 2013 after spending a considerable amount of time on the DL in 2012?

“The surgery is an 18-month process and I’m not even at that mark yet,” Scott was quoted as saying in October. “Reflecting back on my season personally, I had the 0-for-41 slump. That stunk. And I had the back and the oblique, but other than that, man, besides hitting .230, my production numbers for the amount of at-bats I had, they’re not bad.”

Scott has a point. His .439 slugging percentage was respectable, and another offseason of rest could make a difference. Then again, he’s always been a streaky player and has never gotten 500 at-bats in a season. Plus, if being pinched from Sunday’s Spring Training game due to a tight right hamstring is indicative of anything, Scott will be more of an injury risk than ever as a 34-year-old entering 2013.

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Toronto Blue Jays

2013 Blue Jays Preview

This 2013 Blue Jays preview is brought to you by Jeremy of 500LevelFan.com, a Jays blog covering the wild antics taking place in the upper deck of the Rogers Centre. Along with the regularly updated blog, you can follow 500 Level Fan on their Facebook fan page. Enjoy!

.774 and Sky High. 

The former was the Toronto Blue Jays winning percentage in 2012 Spring Training, leading to the latter: fan expectations for the season ahead.  When a team that was viewed in the industry as “up and coming” dominates the exhibition season, people get excited, and in Toronto the Blue Jays were once again becoming a big talking point.

However, at the end of October, just a few weeks after the World Series, those sky high expectations were long gone, replaced by the emptiness of rock bottom.  After going through a season in which the Jays lost their closer, their star player, and three starting pitchers to injury, saw their ace pitcher implode and become the worst starter in the American League, and saw their top young player become a “helmet toss at the umpire” sideshow, they had fallen apart as a team.  To make matters worse, John Farrell abandoned his position as manager and bolted to the rival Boston Red Sox, using the words “dream job” to describe his new opportunity.  It was the ultimate slap in the face to Blue Jays fans.

Just when things looked darkest, up stepped GM Alex Anthopoulos.  In just over one glorious month, Anthopoulos transformed the Jays from one of baseball’s biggest disappointments into the Las Vegas favourites to win the World Series, with two shrewd free agent signings and two legacy-defining, franchise-altering trades.  Into the fold came Maicer Izturis, Melky Cabrera, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Reyes, and defending NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.  At the end of 2012 Toronto had massive holes in the rotation, and in left field, at shortstop, and at second base.  Those holes no longer exist.

For the first time since 1993, the Blue Jays will entire a season as a true contender.  The remade rotation (the three newcomers join Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero) gives Toronto one of the best starting-fives in the league.  The bullpen, remade on the fly last summer, welcomes back a re-signed Darren Oliver, and a fully healthy Sergio Santos to join one of baseball’s most efficient closers from 2012 Casey Janssen.  And then there is the line-up.  With Reyes and Cabrera now solidified at the top of the order, Toronto’s offense looks formidable.  Edwin Encarnacion, fresh off a 42-HR season is back, joining a poised-to-breakout Brett Lawrie, big-hitting catcher J.P. Arencibia, and former top Baseball America prospect Colby Rasmus.  Oh – and there is also the return of two-time HR King Jose Bautista to the line-up, fully healthy after wrist surgery last September.

On paper, the roster is one of the strongest Toronto has had in years, maybe decades.  But there is more for Jays fans to be excited about than the remade roster.  For the first time in many, many years, the American League East is winnable.  Boston and New York are no longer the behemoths they were.  The Red Sox finished dead last in 2012, and the New York Yankees are aging and injury plagued.  The Tampa Bay Rays still look strong, but lost James Shields in the offseason, and the Baltimore Orioles didn’t add much to their fairy tale 2012 team.

It all adds up to a golden opportunity for the Blue Jays.  The ingredients for success are in place.  Just like opening day of 2012, fan expectations are sky high.  But this year, with a much stronger roster, the results shouldn’t disappoint.

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Check out the rest of our divisional previews for 2013

About Aaron Garcia

Aaron is an avid sports fan who passionately follows the NFL, NBA and MLB, in addition to NCAA Sports. He is an Arizona State University grad who loves the Dodgers and the Patriots.