How do they do it? How is it that the Rays win 90 games year in and year out on such a measly payroll? You really have to give all the credit to Manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman. Maddon’s moves can definitely be maddening at times but you can’t argue with the results. On paper, this team should wilt next to the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox, but there they were last season, playing meaningful baseball deep into October against the eventual World Champs! Kudos to Friedman for bringing in Loney last year when many questioned the move and for pulling the trigger on the Wil Myers trade. All the kid did was win American League Rookie of the Year. Here’s how the always tough AL East shapes up this year along with my predictions.
It seems like forever ago when the Orioles were able to able to sneak into the playoffs on account of all those one-run victories but it was only 2012. Last year Chris Davis blasted 53 home runs, the most in the majors, and that wasn’t enough to propel the Birds into the playoffs. Can he match that sort of output in 2014? We’ll have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure; that bottom third of the O’s line-up isn’t scaring anybody with the likes of DH Nolan Reimold, LF David Lough, and 2B Jemile Weeks digging in at the plate.
BOSTON RED SOX
It’ll be interesting to see if Big Papi and the boys can match last year’s World Series winning theme where the Boston Marathon bombings served as the season’s backdrop. Ortiz is another year older and this team has to deal with seeing Jacoby Ellsbury in pinstripes. Is Xander Bogaerts ready to step up and make an everyday contribution? You know the pitching staff is strong with Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, and Peavy starting things out and Uehara closing up. You have to wonder about World Series malaise creeping in. That and knowing the Sox are getting everybody’s best game, there may not be a repeat in Beantown.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Only the Yankees can lose a perennial MVP candidate in Robinson Cano and still look extremely dangerous. With an order that reads: Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Mark Texeira, Brian McCann one through five, it appears the Bombers have re-loaded. I wouldn’t expect 2B Brian Roberts to be on the field for more than 90 games as he has proven to be made of glass in his later years but it may not matter. With a slimmed down Sabathia, the much-hyped Tanaka, and a team inspired by “The Captain” and his impending retirement, the Yankees will be tough to beat.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays aren’t using the phrase “all in” but let’s face it, they are. Keeping David Price for the journey says so much, especially at the top of the order with arms such as Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Chris Archer to follow. That should be comforting for Tampa Bay fans and not so much for opposing batters. The Rays had a myriad of pitching problems in 2013 and still managed to make the playoffs. They should benefit with full season contributions from Myers and LF David DeJesus as well as the return of a paid-up James Loney. Grant Balfour returning in the closer’s role is an immediate upgrade. This team will be pesky.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
You look at this team featuring SS Jose Reyes, RF Jose Bautista, and 1B Edwin Encarnacion and you think that this team is definitely going to make some noise. At least that’s what everybody thought last year, especially when you factored in the addition of 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey but it wasn’t meant to be. The much ballyhooed Blue Jays finished a depressing 74-88, 23 games behind the Red Sox. Look for more of the same this year. Dickey’s 2012 season will go down as a fluke. This team will again stumble, though not as mightily as last year.
2014 AL EAST PROJECTED FINISH
New York Yankees 96 – 66
Tampa Bay Rays 93 – 69
Boston Red Sox 88 – 74
Toronto Blue Jays 80 – 82
Baltimore Orioles 76 – 86