Yup, it sure does feel like spring! What with the half a foot of snow on the ground in the northeast, it really makes us baseball fans itching for the first pitch next Thursday. Well it might not seem like it’s here already, the Major League Baseball season will be in full swing by 12:40 pm on March 29th, the earliest in the calendar year the sport has ever begun. Snow might still pepper the north, but in southern Florida, Jose Urena will throw out the first ball to whichever Cub leads off the side.
Before we dive into that game, I’m heading to the other league, the American, to preview what should be one of the highest hitting divisions in baseball in 2018, the AL East:
We start this off with one of the teams most likely to disappoint during the season. Their fifth-place finish last year was no fluke, and despite having two of the most dynamic hitters on the East Coast in Manny Machado and Alex Jones, the pair will suffer under the lack of pitching depth and role players to support. Camden Yards may have seen the last of that albatross Ubaldo Jimenez, who remains unsigned by a new club, as well as the underperforming Wade Miley, who traded locales for Wisconsin. Beyond that, they’re in the same division as those vaunted Bronx Bombers who all other pundits have breaking home run records. I wouldn’t count that out of at least making a go of it in the early running, as they picked up Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner to bolster Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. They’re a pair of pitchers I’ve always liked, and if they patch together a good run in April we may be talking about a dark horse in Baltimore.
Boston Red Sox
The entire offseason discussion in Boston was centered around the heavily anticipated acquisition of JD Martinez. Now that the dust has settled, the debate will rage all season if they or the Yankees made the better improvement. It’s simple to look at Martinez and compare him to Stanton, and to look at the aging veterans of a more recent World Series winning squad and think that New York has the brighter future. For now, though? Don’t count out players like Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts, all of whom return to a perfectly potent lineup this year. The main question merely falls on the return of Dustin Pedroia, who will miss all of spring training recovering from knee surgery. If we must compare the team to their biggest rival, then look no further than the competent pitching staff: David Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello are a hefty one-two-three punch in the arm, while Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz and Stephen Wright will hope to fill in that fourth and fifth spot in Doug Fister’s absence. All in all, I think this is a better team than the Yankees, but mostly because the pinstripe powerhouse is being overestimated.
New York Yankees
Like I just said, there’s a bit of an overestimation for the dominant Gotham club. There’s certainly still a lot to love about this team, from the dynamic duo of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, who will be the bread around the delicious Giancarlo Stanton sandwich. If nothing else, there will definitely be homers rocketing into the East River. I just don’t think they should rely solely on that. The troublesome Michael Pineda jumped ship to Minnesota, but the Yanks also lost rental Jaime Garcia to their rivals north of the border. Luis Severino proved himself last season, and the club took an inexcplicable chance on CC Sabathia capitalizing on his comeback last season. Sonny Gray is a capable pitcher, but Masahiro Tanaka is on the other side of his rapid peak performance, so that gives you two able bodies and two large question marks. What happens when the potent bats freeze up? What happens if Aroldis Chapman continues to swing wildly between shutdown and free-wheeling? There’s also a lot of assumpitions that the Yankees will do incredibly well, but just because you bought the best players doesn’t push them to do their best.
Tampa Bay Rays
Florida teams had a huge fire sale this winter, like it was going out of style. Their southern relatives aside, Tampa Bay broke up the remaining parts of what once made them good, shipping star player Evan Longoria across the country in an uncomfortably necessary separation. The unaccountable release was when they merely left Corey Dickerson out to dangle on waivers, which resulted in a lone happy day for Pittsburgh (unless there’s something we all don’t know). What’s left for this team a decade removed from their World Series appearance? The speedy Denard Span soothes the sting of the Longoria trade, but beyond that there isn’t much power hitting in the lineup. Chris Archer remains as the bedrock on the mound, and with Alex Cobb’s recent signing for Baltimore, this looks like the Devil Rays of old. There is a glimmer of hope in a pair of young arms – Blake Snell and Jacob Faria. They won’t be all-stars, but they could bridge the gap between now and a rapid recovery from the basement in the division.
Toronto Blue Jays
The only true change for our Canadian brethren this offseason was the depature of Jose Bautista (who could swing by and revive Tampa, right?). In his place, a pair of newcomers could push the Jays back into relevance quicker than expected. Curtis Granderson is a swift but aging veteran who will bring experience to the locker room, whilel Yangervis Solarte is one of the best bench players you could ask for. The lineup is relatively similar to last year, and they’re merely hoping for less injuries. Marcus Stroman and Troy Tulowitzki are the current names on the report, so look for them to be back eventually. Stroman returns sooner than Tulo, but can easily be spelled by journeyman Jaime Garcia. My guess is 2017 was more fluke than flop for the Blue Jays, and they’ll be fighting their way into the conversation come June.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more baseball in the AL Central preview! Royals and Tigers and Twins, oh my!