|It all boils down to whether this guy is on the field or not.|
PECOTA: 87 wins
My pick: Over
Joe Maddon's squad ended last year with the run differential of a 95-win team but underachieved to the tune of 90 wins, just short of the playoffs. Despite trading away a key contributor in James Shields and losing B.J. Upton, this team actually might have improved. New shortstop Yunel Escobar upgrades what's long been a key weakness, while newly acquired outfielder Wil Myers is projected to be an elite all-around slugger whenever the team decides to let him play in the pros (certainly this year at some point).
The pitching staff lost a big-time innings-eater but the organization already had an overflowing supply of young starters to work with, hence the need for a trade. Even without Shields, their rotation runs 7 or 8 deep right now. This team can pitch. It's the lineup that could potentially be a problem. Evan Longoria tends to miss too many games, Myers is currently being kept in the minor leagues for money reasons, Toronto's discarded keystone combo (Escobar and Kelly Johnson) could easily falter, they're getting no offensive value from the catcher and first base spots, and newly-minted centerfielder Desmond Jennings is still unproven. Even with so many question marks, this should still be the best offense the Rays have had in a few years. With Longoria playing at full strength, I think they'll edge out Toronto for the division and be a good bet for the World Series.
2. Blue Jays
PECOTA: 84 wins
My pick: Over
Few rosters are as deep and versatile as this new assembly of Blue Jays. The rotation is strong from top to bottom. A quartet of proven high-impact hitters carry the lineup along with 23-year-old breakout candidate Brett Lawrie. They've got speed, power, potential, and even a couple above-average utility guys who can cover any position. The bullpen looks tough, too.
The stage is now set for a new rivalry in the AL East between the Rays and Blue Jays, with the Red Sox and Yankees bowing out of competitive play for a year or two (and the Orioles likely to regress badly). The two teams look just about even on the pitching side but Toronto will have one of the better offenses in the AL this year if everybody's healthy. Reyes smacking triples around the Rogers Centre turf will be exciting to see and he'll have last year's NL batting champion and then two homerun machines batting right behind him. The new-look Jays are gonna be lots of fun to watch. My pick: 91 wins and one of the two Wild Cards (the A's being my other Wild Card pick).
3. Red Sox
PECOTA: 84 wins
My pick: Over
Tough to get an accurate read on this team because they were so atrocious last season and have made so many changes since. For one thing, it's never a good sign when one of your big offseason acquisitions is a 32-year-old, over-the-hill and never-all-that-good-anyway Shane Victorino.
But with Mike Napoli joining Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury, this team should be fine on offense. The inability to pitch has been the source of the team's misery the last few years. If there's anyone who will extract good performances out of Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz, though, it's their new manager John Farrell (formerly the Red Sox pitching coach back when they sort of knew how to pitch). Scoring punch and much-needed pitching improvements will win them a boring battle for 3rd place with the Yanks.
PECOTA: 91 wins
My pick: Under
The imminent decline and fall of the Evil Empire has been hinted at often the last few years as their core has aged but the mighty Yankee machine has maintained, finishing as one of the best teams in baseball each of the last 4 years. This time around, with injuries to key players (Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, A-Rod) before the season has even begun, poor replacements for them and a 38-year-old shortstop returning from a gruesome injury of his own, it's tough to foresee this iteration of the Yanks competing for a playoff spot. The 91-win, first place PECOTA projection actually kinda baffles me.
Their bullpen should be strong with Mariano back and they've still got C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda atop the rotation, but the mighty Yankee lineup appears weaker than it's been in a very long time. I've seen some pundits burying them as a last-place team or even a losing team this year. I wouldn't quite go that far. I have them down for 84 wins, though, which would be their worst finish in almost 20 years. That shit ain't gonna fly in New York, so expect some drama.
PECOTA: 74 wins
My pick: Over
After the Oakland A's had their surreal storybook season last year, GM Billy Beane quickly promised that he'd try to keep the team together and not make too many drastic changes. That didn't happen they made a bunch of trades and are now a different (arguably improved) team. Their fellow 2012 Cinderellas in the American League, on the other hand, barely budged in the offseason. And it will probably come back to haunt them.
While there's a nice batch of talented young hitters throughout this lineup, there aren't too many guys who get on base often. The O's were below average in basically every offensive category last year except homeruns. That's not something you want to rely on going into a new season. The rotation and bullpen also got by on lots of luck and magic last year and they didn't receive any reinforcements in the offseason. With Buck Showalter running things the Orioles aren't gonna suck, but they'll need some more miracles to get over .500 this time. I'm not a believer.