Handicapping MLB 2014 Division Odds – AL East
I know that it may not seem possible but Spring Training – yes Spring Training has already started for MLB teams – most of the talking can now cease and results on the field can be the measuring stick to which teams are defined.
The Boston Red Sox begin the season as surprise defending champs in the division – they will be the hunted rather than the hunter. The Yankees lost some talent but seemed to retool in an effective way and the Blues Jays’ expectations have fallen back to earth after an insane offseason last year failed to turn the team around.
So who should we keep an eye on – which team will emerge out of the toughest division in baseball – let`s take a look.
AL East Odds: Boston Red Sox +200
Season Win Total: 87.5
The Red Sox were one of the true surprises of the league last year – amazing how a change of Manager can turn a team around. This year they enter the season with higher expectations but with a few question marks. How will they fill void left by Jacoby Ellsbury? Will the fact that Ryan Dempster is sitting out 2014 have an effect of this aging rotation and will the addition of AJ Pierzynski behind the plate be enough to keep this team on top of their game?
Outside of Pierzynski the Sox didn’t do a whole lot in the offseason – they will have to hope that everyone exceeds expectations again, that Koji Uehara can duplicate what was a magical 2013 season and that the youngsters on this team – Daniel Nava, Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks can build on what was a terrific season last year.
The Sox fooled me last year and perhaps they could do it again. But… and that’s a huge BUT, Boston won’t be sneaking up on anyone. The Yankees, although they are slightly different from last year, the Rays, who still have the best pitching in the game, Toronto, and Baltimore still exist to give the Sox issues along the way.
Boston will be tough but like last year, I can’t see them as the top team in the AL East.
AL East Odds: New York Yankees +200
Season Win Total: 85.5
The New York Yankees lost Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano and A-Rod but didn’t waste much time replacing them with some very high-priced talent. The Yanks spent $500 million in free agency adding Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann as well as arguably the biggest free agent prize – Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Derek Jeter’s effectiveness in his final season is a question mark after missing most of 2013 due to injury, Mark Texiera and his ongoing wrist issues could be an issue and pitching depth in the rotation and especially in the closer role all raise red flags to those backers of the New York Yankees. Is CC Sabethia a legit #1 still? Can the Yanks survive late in games knowing that Mariano Rivera isn’t there? Can the banged up super stars get back to their elite levels?
On paper, there is still a stronger team in the AL East – the Yankees seem to be relying on name alone. Vegas loves the Yankees – I just don’t.
AL East Odds: Tampa Bay Rays +225
Season Win Total: 87.5
The best pitching in the AL East belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays … again! David Price was resigned and will anchor a very good rotation for the Rays. And closing out games will be Grant Balfour again. The issue, as always with this team is whether or not they can provide the offense to keep up with the stout lineups in Boston and New York.
The loss of Evan Longoria to injury last year really hurt this team – with Longoria in the lineup the Rays were a much better team. His health is key for the Rays this year! If Longoria stays healthy, he and James Loney who had a terrific 2013 season should provide enough offense along with second-year Stud Will Myers.
With terrific pitching and adequate hitting, Tampa Bay is my favorite to win the AL East. Manager Joe Maddon is one of the best in the game – he will find a way this year.
AL East Odds: Toronto Blue Jays +900
Season Win Total: 79.5
Well, it has been a different offseason for the Toronto Blue Jays and because of that the expectations for this team don’t touch those of the 2013 season. Health is the key for this team. If brittle Brandon Morrow can play a full season, if Jose Reyes can stay on the field and if RA Dickey can rediscover his Cy Young Award winning form, the Blue Jays could surprise.
The Jays have had a curiously quiet offseason – Bautista, Incarnation and Reyes will have to have career years and a rotation that was absolutely battered by injuries and unrealized expectations will have to raise their game to a different level.
Simply put, the Jays aren’t a whole lot different than the team that entered last season as favorites in the AL East – the pieces are there but need to perform to or exceed expectation.
AL East Odds: Baltimore Orioles +1200
Season Win Total: 78
The O’s are the longest shot to win the division and rightfully so. They are awfully thin at starting pitching, they traded their closer Jim Johnson for an unproven second baseman, Manny Machado is a huge injury question mark and Chris Davis likely cannot be counted on to duplicate his ridiculous 2013 numbers.
The Orioles were stellar in 2012, fell back to 85 wins last year and look worse, on paper, than last year’s squad. With no reliable pitching, it won’t matter what Chris Davis does – Baltimore is destined for a last place finish in the AL East,
AL East Prediction: The AL east looks poised to take a small step backward this year – how many years have we been saying that?
With that in mind, look for the team with the best pitching to emerge. That distinction belongs to Tampa Bay – my pick to win the AL East this year. Boston finishes second and battles for a Wild Card, the Yankees finish third, followed by the Jays and the O’s