The American League East will be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, but the other teams in the division do have their question marks.
The Toronto Blue Jays had what might be the best off-season in baseball, but, based on last season, the team with the most high profile acquisitions does not necessarily translate to on-field success. Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and Josh Johnson were previously on the Miami Marlins, and the team struggled while they were on the roster. Buerhle has been consistently solid throughout his career, but he has pitched more than 200 innings in each of the past 13 seasons, so some regression can be expected. He will also be moving from the NL East to the offensively superior AL East. Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes, who the Blue Jays will be counting on to perform at a high level, have the potential to be All-Stars, but also have a history of being plagued by injuries. They also acquired knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in a blockbuster trade with the Mets during the off-season. It appears that he has mastered the pitch, based on pitching three dominating season for the Mets, and being awarded the CY Young last season, but one never knows when a pitcher will lose command of the knuckleball. It does appear that on paper the Blue Jays will finish in first place, but based on what has happened to previous teams, many factors could prevent that from happening.
The Orioles have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter, who was instrumental in getting them to the postseason for the first time since 1997. However, they were lucky last season since had only a +7 run differential, which was last among all playoff qualifiers. Also, they were 29-9 in games decided by one run and 16-2 in extra-inning games. They do have some promising young players in Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, as well as the established trio of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts, but I think they will finish with about 85 wins as opposed to 93 wins from last season because the pitching is not very strong and there is no way that they will win as many one run games. The Tampa Bay Rays are without the production of James Shields and B.J. Upton, but the Rays still have one of the best pitching staffs led by David Price and Jeremy Hellickson and a lineup led by Evan Longoria that gets the job done. The Rays, who are managed by the unorthodox, but at the same time highly effective, Joe Maddon, have won 90 or more games in four out of the past five years (three times in the playoffs). They are due for a 90 win season. Finally, after their dismantling of the Yankees this afternoon, the Red Sox are somewhat unknown. They don’t have the star power that they used to have, but Red Sox Nation still has Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jaccoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and an injured David Ortiz. They have an intriguing rookie in Jackie Bradley Jr. to combine with sophomore Will Middlebrooks at third. Their new manager, who used to be their pitching coach, will try to stabilize a rotation without much depth. Boston should win about 88 games.
The Yankees will need to win 90 or more games in order to qualify for the playoffs. The second Wild Card will likely either come out of the Al East or the potent Al West. They will need to hope to sneak in as a Wild Card because it isn’t likely that they will win the division like last season.
1. The Orioles will need to regress to the record that their run differential said they should have been last season. This could very well happen since they did not add any significant off-season additions. The Yankees will need the Blue Jays to win closer to 90 games than 100. It will also be a boost to the Yankees if the new Red Sox manager, John Gibbons, is not able to help the rotation like expected. If the Orioles regress as expected, the Yankees need to win 10 or 11 games against Baltimore.
2. Since the Yankees will not be hitting as many homers as last season, (as a result of the off-season departures, not signing any marquee free agents and the previous injuries) they will need to have a top three defense in the league. They will need to prevent as many runs as possible. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart need to limit the passed balls while throwing out a high percentage of potential base stealers. Since it appears that Eduardo Nunez will be playing more in the field than anticipated (as a result of Jeter’s injury), he will need to make accurate throws while making the challenging and routine plays. He has struggled with his defense the past few seasons. The outfield defense, once Granderson returns, should be one of the best in the league (although Gardner does not have the strongest arm).
3. The Yankees will need to improve their clutch hitting. Just like they will have to have a top three defense, the Yankees will also need to be near the top of the league when there are runners in scoring position, in addition to hitting with two outs and men on base. They will need to hit and run and advance runners when the opportunity arises. They will not really be able to rely on the homer, especially until Granderson and Teixeira return, so they will have to play fundamental baseball to perfection. The Yankees will not come close to the 245 homers that they slugged last season, so they will need to play fast, which means that Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Nunez will be important parts of the offense.
4. In terms of the rotation, the Yankees will need CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and David Phelps to perform as good as or better than last season. Hughes will make a start for Triple-A Scranton and should be able rejoin the team next week against the Indians. They should have one of the top rotations and bullpens in baseball, which will be necessary based on the offense. Finally, if all of the above occurs, in addition to Jeter, Granderson, Teixeira and Hughes not having any setbacks and the roster not having to go through another major injury, they could win about 90 games. Optimistically, it seems that the Yankees could finish in second or third place (ahead of Boston and Baltimore) in the division giving them a chance at a Wild Card.
This is a year when everybody who is healthy will have to raise their level of play as a result of injuries and not having as much talent as previous years. In 2013, the Yankees will need to be a team known for their pitching, defense and clutch hitting. Before the 2013 season, the Yankees have made the playoffs in 18 out of the last 19 seasons.