1st) Toronto Blue Jays – 97-65
With one of the most exciting teams in recent memory, Toronto has their eyes set on the World Series. Ace David Price took the money and ran to division-rival Boston and the Jays failed to find a near-value replacement. They will now be led by 24-year-old Marcus Stroman. The former Duke Blue Devil is the lone bright spot in a very bleak rotation. Returning late last season from a torn ACL, Stroman went 4-0 to the tune of a 1.67 ERA. While he won’t have a sub-2 ERA, “Stro” will be considered one of the elite pitchers in the game by the time October comes around. The rest of the rotation features 41-year-old R.A. Dickey, free-agent signee J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez who only has 11 career starts. And yet, none of this matters because Toronto has one of the best offenses in the post-steroid era. Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and reigning MVP Josh Donaldson all made the All-Star team last year while 39 homer guy Edwin Encarnacion was criminally left off. The bullpen is much improved after acquiring Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez and that should be enough to bridge that gap between the rotation and Roberto Osuna. Enjoy this team while you can because there aren’t many like it.
Key pitcher to watch: Aaron Sanchez. As stated earlier, Sanchez only has 11 career starts. Still, he has put together two solid season out of the pen and is only 23 years old. He will need to step up if Toronto wants to make a deep postseason run.
Key hitter to watch: Chris Colabello/Devon Travis. I’m breaking my own rules and picking two guys. Colabello is the better part of a first base platoon with Justin Smoak and, in reality, should get a lot more AB’s than he does. He hit .321 with 15 HR in a limited role last season and will look to garner some more playing time. Toronto will be better if he does. Devon Travis had one of the best April’s in baseball last season. However, he hurt his shoulder in May and it bothered him the rest of the season and forced him to the 60-day DL in September, ending his fine rookie year. Out until late May, Travis hopes to rehab quickly and be a spark-plug in an already fantastic Blue Jays lineup.
2) Boston Red Sox – 83-79
Boston is very confusing. They somehow found a way to finish last in the division in 2015 behind the Tampa Rays, yet they have a lot of star power. I’m not really sure they’re good, but fortunately for them, neither is the rest of the division. Boston did get a bit better this offseason by adding David Price and demoting Pablo Sandoval to bench duties (or should I say doodies). However, the team still has some glaring holes. The rotation is very weak after Price and Clay Bucholz, we don’t trust Jackie Bradley, Jr. as an everyday player, Hanley Ramirez doesn’t seem to care about the game anymore and starters Blake Swihart and Travis Shaw have only combined for 149 career Major League games. Still, Boston does have some incredible talent in its lineup. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts not only have two of the best names in baseball, but they’re also key to the future of baseball. Both recently turned 23 and are already the best players on the roster. David Ortiz made sure to let everyone know he’s retiring at season’s end (so prepare for every team to shower him with gifts and act like they love him. UGH.) and has his eyes set on the World Series. However, he and the Sox won’t get there. In fact, they won’t even get to the playoffs. Big Papi will tip his cap for the last time on October 2 at Fenway against the Jays.
Key pitcher to watch: Steven Wright. I’ve been getting into astronomy so I installed a skylight. The people who live above me are furious.
Key hitter to watch: Brock Holt. I have always been a fan of Holt. He makes solid contact and can play practically anywhere on the diamond. I expect him to hit his way out of the timeshare with Rusney Castillo and assume full-time left field duties for the Sox.
3) New York Yankees – 81-81
I have absolutely no idea how the Yankees made the playoffs last year. The team is old and not extremely talented but, hey, baseball is weird. Their best hitter is Alex Rodriguez who, two short years ago, was about to be launched into the sun. Now he’s the most beloved man in New York not named Porzingis. He has a real chance to pass Babe Ruth for 3rd on the all-time home run list and, come July, that will be the only reason to pay attention to the Yanks. The end of the bullpen is terrifying (Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances) but they won’t be given the opportunity to shine because the lineup won’t give them many leads.
Key pitcher to watch: Luis Severino. I wanted to pick Nathan Eovaldi but my friend who is a Yankees fan equates Severino to a Greek god, so here we go. Severino might actually be the best pitcher for the Yanks. Forget the name power and money behind Masahiro Tanaka, Severino is the real deal. He put together a 2.89 ERA in his rookie season, albeit 11 starts, and will look to repeat his performance. As one of the top prospects in the game, I don’t see any reason why he can’t. This kid is a star in the making and will be fronting New York’s rotation for many years to come.
Key hitter to watch: Starlin Castro. After leading the Majors in hits in 2011, I was ready to proclaim Starlin Castro as the greatest shortstop of all-time (once his career ended, of course). He has seen his hit total drop every season since and just doesn’t care about playing defense. Maybe the change of scenery will do him some good and he can fulfill the prophecy and become the next Derek Jeter.
4) Baltimore Orioles – 78-84
After a few exciting seasons, Baltimore has reverted to the team we’ve known for a long time. They have some talent, Manny Machado is one of the best players in the world and is only 23, and players like Adam Jones and Chris Davis have been household names during their stays in Baltimore. However, they’re not enough to get them back to the playoffs. The rotation is bad and the lineup is very meh. No one except for Machado and Jones hit the ball consistently so expect the O’s to strikeout a lot and have one of the worst averages in the league. Come July, Baltimore might want to consider trading players like Jones and Davis for prospects in hopes to develop them while they still have Machado under contract. If not, it will be another decade, at least, before we see the Orioles playing in October.
Key pitcher to watch: Kevin Gausman. The Orioles rushed Gausman to the Majors two years too early and it stunted his development. Mix in repeated right shoulder problems and we’re left with a big question mark. Gaus is three years into his big league career and people still don’t know what to think of him. He’s starting the season on the DL, so we’ll just have to wait a bit longer.
Key hitter to watch: Hyun Soo Kim. Watch him for a completely different reason than all of my others picks. Kim won’t be good. He had a historically bad Spring Training and has already fallen out of favor with Baltimore after zero career Major/Minor League games. The Korean hitter put together some great seasons in the KBO, but is already considered a bust. He refused to be sent to AAA and, as written in his contract, must now be included on the Major League roster. There is a real chance he is sent back to Korea before he even takes a Major League at bat. This is unprecedented and it will be fun to watch it unfold.
5) Tampa Bay Rays – 72-90
If they change their name back to the Devil Rays and bring back those sweet, sweet jerseys, I will put them at number 4. They don’t deserve any further analysis.
Key pitcher to watch: Matt Moore. The Rays actually have a pretty good rotation. Damaged, but good. Moore was one of the most exciting players in baseball before Tommy John Surgery forced him to miss most of 2014 and have an awful 2015. Looking to regain his pre-surgery form, Moore will be a very interesting player to watch.
Key hitter to watch: Logan Forsythe. Forsythe is the most tradeable player in the lineup. He offers some solid power at second and will be asked about a few times around the trade deadline. That’s literally the only reason I picked him. There’s not a reason to closely watch other Rays’ hitters. If Fred McGriff and Quinton McCracken ever decide to come out of retirement, I choose them.