According to the most recent MLB futures, Toronto is the pre-season pick not only to win the most games in the division, but also to take the American League East, the American League pennant and the World Series. So no pressure, right? Well, at least one other team in the division might have something to say about that.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 78.5
The big question about the Orioles is: can they repeat their results from last season? One look at the projected over/under wins above tells you that Baltimore has its doubters. They won plenty of one-run games last year (29 of 38) and 16 extra-inning wins in a row — in a row! — with timely hitting and fantastic performances from the bullpen, especially Jim Johnson, who led the majors with 51 saves.
So, were they one-year wonders? Maybe, but here are some factors in their favor. First, they have a respected manager in Buck Showalter, who was masterful in figuring out when to make changes on the field; second, they have a fine core of players in Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, up-and-coming 3B Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters; third, they have depth and prospects in their farm system. Their pitching is the big unknown here, but if starters like Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta can come good — or at least get the ball to the bullpen without too much damage — this team should continue to challenge for a playoff spot.
Predicted finish: Second in the division, and fourth or fifth in the league.
BOSTON RED SOX
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 83.5
After a disastrous 2012, general manager Ben Cherington opened the vault and splashed a minimum of $60 million to sign or retain several players. He has to hope they’ll be worth the money, but the signs are already ominous: shortstop Stephen Drew, DH David Ortiz and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury are hobbling, with Drew going on the DL. The club renegotiated catcher/1B/DH Mike Napoli’s deal lower after a hip condition was revealed in his physical. New closer Joel Hanrahan struggled early in camp, but was coming around towards the final week of March.
Along with the dark clouds, there are some silver linings here: Dustin Pedroia is still great at second base, Will Middlebrooks is developing into a fine third baseman, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. had a fantastic camp, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are a solid one and two in the starting rotation. They’ll need more than that to compete, though.
Predicted finish: Fourth in the division, and seventh to 11th in the league.
NEW YORK YANKEES
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 87.5
Vernon Wells. Things got so desperate in the Bronx that they actually needed Vernon Wells. The laughter erupting from Yankees-haters echoed across the baseball world after that move was made, but the Pinstripers didn’t have much choice. Last year’s team home-run leader, center fielder Curtis Granderson, is out for several weeks, there no knowing when shortstop and team leader Derek Jeter will be back, hip surgery will shelve 3B Alex Rodriguez until the All-Star break, and 1B Mark Teixeira has joined them on the disabled list too. They also lost Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez via free agency. They are left with contact hitters such as Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez. Robinson Cano is the only full-time player capable of home-run power who is also healthy enough to play on Opening Day, so they needed Wells to form some kind of attack along with 3B Kevin Youkilis and aging DH Travis Hafner. Ouch.
Then there is the pitching. It’s gone under the radar (as it were) but it remains as potent as ever. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and the seemingly ageless Andy Pettitte — who expects his team to be in the World Series — are all there, but question marks remain elsewhere. Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps have issues with fitness or performance or both. Closer Mariano Rivera has said he’ll retire at the end of the season, but the number of save opportunities should be greatly reduced. Despite what Pettitte says publicly, the championship season of 2009 seems further away than ever for this group.
Predicted finish: Fifth in the division, and eighth or lower in the league.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 86.5
More than ever before, Tampa will rely on All-Star 3B Evan Longoria to produce MVP-style numbers this season. Designated hitter Luke Scott is already on the disabled list and the rest of the lineup — filled with the likes of Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, James Loney and Sam Fuld — will hardly inspire fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. The lack of power will be felt, as will the loss of outfielder B.J. Upton. But they still have pitching, right? Yes they do, and even with James Shields gone they still have David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb to get quality innings. Fernando Rodney will get the lion’s share of save chances, with capable setup man Joel Peralta getting the ball to Rodney. That batting order, though, will keep them in the middle of the pack.
Predicted finish: Third in the division, and sixth to 10th in the league.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 89.5
Canada’s team has taken some risks by sending many of their prospects in two big deals to remake the active roster. This year they are the ultimate in “win-now” clubs, so nothing less than the championship will do for them and their fans. Now we all get to see if general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made the right calls. The trade with the Miami Marlins brought not only pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, but also speedy Emilio Bonifacio and, perhaps most importantly, shortstop and leadoff man Jose Reyes. The Jays haven’t had a table-setter with a glove as good as Reyes since Tony Fernandez, he of the two World Series rings. Maicer Izturis will fill in at third base while Brett Lawrie is on the injured list; Melky Cabrera is labeled for second in the order and a slot in left field; and R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball took him to a Cy Young Award last season with the New York Mets. They still have the big bats of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to find the fences. It will also be up to John Gibbons as manager to pull the right strings at the right time: if he can do that, there’s enough talent and depth on this team to take them all the way.
Predicted finish: First in the division, and first or second in the league.