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2014 AL East Preview

By: Jon

The AL East is definitively the best division in baseball since they have the current champions, the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Orioles, and Blue Jays. The East has a legitimate threat of possessing three of the five playoff teams in the AL. Besides the Blue Jays, who still have a possibility of finishing over .500, the other four teams have a great chance of winning the division.


1) New York Yankees

The Yankees want to win one more before the Captain retires
The Yankees want to win one more before the Captain retires

The Yankees regained the title as the most expensive team in baseball after they spent nearly $500 million on free agents this offseason. The Yankees will be starting a completely new club from last season as only one player, Brett Gardner, will be starting Opening Day this and last season. The Yankees have a lot of talent, but they have many questions that may lead to their demise. Although the Yankees outfield should be the catalyst of team with Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, and Jacoby Ellsbury, the infield has many questions because the players, Kelly Johnson, Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, and Mark Teixeira, are all coming off  injury and have questions about their age. If the Yankees stay healthy, they should be one of the best teams in baseball and will contend for a championship.

On offense, the Yankees have speed, power, and high batting averages. The middle of the order, McCann, Tex, Soriano, and Beltran, should record a good deal of RBIs since they will have many opportunities to drive in runs. Jacoby Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, and Brett Garnder have shown that they have the ability to get on base, steal bases, and score runs at a very high level. In terms of defense, the team should be one of the best in the league, especially in the outfield. Jacoby and Brett are two of the fastest outfielders in the league and should be able to easily cover every ball in the outfield. Although he is old, Beltran is an above average outfielder with a great arm and instincts. On the infield, the return of Tex will be great since he is a premier fielder and prevents errors with his ability to scoop throws. Although Jeter or Roberts do not have great range, they are steady players and will not make many errors in the field.

On the pitching staff, the Yanks have some questions as well. If Tanaka, Nova, and Pineda can continue their success from Spring Training, the team will have a great pitching staff with each player has a lot of talent. Although CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have experienced poor spring trainings and did not have a good finish to last season, the Yankees need them to return to their old form. The Yankees have a few quality options, Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, and David Phelps, if injuries hamper their starting five. Unlike past seasons, the Yanks are not expected to have a good bullpen. The Yanks must answer a few questions if they are going win games with their bullpen like they have in the past. The Yankees need to replace the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, an eighth inning pitcher to replace David Robertson, and a lefty specialist to replace Boone Logan. If the Yankees’ starters fail to get injured, they can use their extra starting pitchers or prospects to man the positions. Although the Yankees have many questions, they have a lot of talent and expectations that their fans hope they can meet this season.

Predicted Yankees Record: 95-67

2) Boston Red Sox

The Sox are hoping to repeat this season
The Sox are hoping to repeat this season

The Red Sox are the defending champion and many believe that they have a great chance of winning the division and repeating as champions. The Red Sox are currently ranked second on this list because they lost a few good players to free agency that must be replaced. The biggest loss the Red Sox endured was Jacoby Ellsbury, who went to the hated New York Yankees for $153 million. Although Jacoby was occassionally injured, he was a great table setter for the Red Sox and was a lock for at least 90 runs a season. The Red Sox are hoping that Jackie Bradley Jr will be able to succeed at the major league level, although he was unable to hit in the majors at the start of last season. Bradley, although an above average defender, will not be able to replace Ellsbury’s defense because he does not have the speed. At shortstop, the Red Sox will have to replace the production from Stephen Drew. Drew was a solid option for the Red Sox because he was a good defensive player and could hit well for a shortstop. The Red Sox hope that top prospect Xander Bogearts will be able to turn his potential into production and replace the void left by Drew. Xander got his first taste of major league experience last season in the playoffs and regular season.

Besides those losses, the Red Sox kept the same team as last year. On offense, the Red Sox have a lot of good sluggers, Ortiz, Pedroia, and Napoli, and other quality hitters, which gives them a balanced offensive attack. The Red Sox have at least five or six players that can hit over .300 this season. Last season, they had three players hit over .300 and five that hit over .294. Like last season, they should rank as one of the best run scoring teams in the league.

In terms of pitching, the Red Sox have a deep rotation even though they do not possess a dominant ace. The combination of Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, and Clay Buchholz should give the Red Sox an above average staff as long as they do not have to deal with injuries. If the Red Sox do face injuries, they may have serious issues because they do not have many long men/spot starters on their roster. The Red Sox have a very good farm system with good pitching prospects, but it is unknown if they want to hurry these prospects to the bigs. In the bullpen, the Red Sox have one of the best in the league. If Uehara can give the Red Sox similar numbers to last season, they will be in great shape because they have solid lefties and power arms out of the bullpen. The Red Sox should be a 90 win team and compete with the Yankees and other AL East teams for the division and the Pennant.

Predicted Red Sox Record: 94-68

3) Tampa Bay Rays

The pitching could lead the Rays to the playoff
The pitching could lead the Rays to the playoffs

The Rays have been steady winners over the last five seasons. Before their nice run, the Rays were one of the worst teams in baseball and never made the playoffs. Previously, they would always receive high picks in the draft, which enabled them to build a core and achieve success. Although the Rays have lost stars over the past few seasons, they have a deep farm system to replace their stars with stud prospects.

Although the Rays normally win with their pitching and defense, the Rays offense has improved drastically and should be a strength this season. The middle of the order will be led by Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, James Loney, and Matt Joyce. These power hitters should easily be able to drive in a lot of runs since Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, and possibly star shortstop prospect, Lee, are all good table setters and have the ability to reach base. The Rays should continue playing great defense because Longoria, Myers, Escobar, Loney, and Desmond are excellent defenders and do not commit many errors.

Although the offense is improving, the pitching is the best part of the team. The staff is led by former AL Cy Young Award winner David Price. Along with Price, the Rays have Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer, and possibly Jake Odorizzi. Besides Hellickson, each starter had an ERA below 3.50. The Rays’ pitching staff should continue stopping opposing offenses and lead the Rays to the playoff as long as Price stays in the rotation. Since Price has achieved a lot of success, the Rays are looking to trade him since it is unlikely they will be able to re-sign him next offseason. Although the Rays would receive a King’s Ransom for Price, the players will not be able to immediately help the Rays, if they trade him at the trade deadline. Like many prior seasons, the Rays’ bullpen is different from last season and has many questions. The Rays have signed a few relievers that are coming off bad seasons and were able to sign them at a bargain. The Rays will rely heavily on Grant Balfour, Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, and lefty flamethrower Jake McGee. Each reliever has experienced success in the past and the Rays hope they can catch lightning in a bottle once again.

The Rays were able to win 92 games last season despite them starting slowly because of poor pitching. However, this season, the pitching should not let the Rays down at the start of the season and should enable them to win over 90 games again this season. The AL East should have a great fight at the top since each of the three aforementioned teams has the ability to win 95 games. The Rays do not have as much depth or offensive talent as the Red Sox and Yanks, so it is unlikely they will beat them during the regular season.

Predicted Rays Record: 92-70

4) Baltimore Orioles

The O's need Crush Davis to have another great season in order to succeed
The O’s need Crush Davis to have another great season in order to succeed

Unlike previous seasons, the Orioles spent a lot of money this offseason to improve their team. Last season, the Orioles won 85 games, but still finished 6.5 games out of the wild card race. The Orioles possessed one of the best and most explosive lineups in the league a season ago. The Orioles are led by the middle of their order, which includes stars Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and JJ Hardy. Although the lineup was already deep, they signed power hitting outfielder, Nelson Cruz, to a one year deal. Also, the Orioles will be returning Manny Machado from a serious knee injury, which will bolster the squad. In terms of defense, the Orioles have a solid defense because Jones, Hardy, Wieters, and Machado are great fielders and man the most important defensive positions.

Although the Orioles’ offense and defense is very good, the pitching could pose problems for the Orioles as they attempt to make the playoffs. The Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez this offseason and are hoping that he returns to his Rockies’ second half form. The Orioles do not have an ace, but have multiple quality pitchers. The Orioles’ staff, Jimenez, Tillman, Norris, Gausman, and Chen, is deep and should be able to win games against the back of opposing teams’ staff. If the Orioles do experience injuries, they have multiple options that will allow them to continue winning. In the bullpen, the Orioles have multiple weapons that can throw hard and strike out opposing hitters late in games. Although the O’s dumped former closer Jim Johnson, they will be replacing him with Tommy Hunter. Hunter throws extremely hard and has been able to pitch well over the past few seasons as an eighth inning pitcher. Along with hard throwing from the right side, Brian Matusz is a lefty specialist that pitches in the mid to high nineties and has improved over the past few seasons.

Although the Orioles improved their team this offseason, the other teams in this division have improved as well, so it is unlikely they will noticeably improve their win total from last season.

Predicted Orioles Record: 85-77

5) Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays hope they can avoid the East cellar
The Jays hope they can avoid the East cellar

The Blue Jays entered last season as one of the best teams on paper and many thought they would be one of the best teams in the league. However, the Jays did not meet expectations as they suffered many injuries and their players did not play to previous standards.

Like the other American League East teams, the Blue Jays have a threatening lineup. On the infield, the Blue Jays have Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, and Maicer Izturius. In the outfield, the Blue Jays will be led by Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, and Colby Rasmus. The Blue Jays have one of the best 3-4 hitting duos in the league because Bautista is one of the best power hitters and Encaracion has turned into one of the better hitters after a sluggish start to his career. At the top of the order, the Blue Jays will have Reyes and Cabrera at the one-two positions as they both have great speed and the ability to reach base at a very high percentage. If the duo can stay healthy, they will score a lot of runs and help the Blue Jays score runs because Bautista and Encarnacion should both be able to record at least 100 RBIs. Although the Jays have the potential for a great offense, their defense does not have the same ability.

In terms of pitching, the Blue Jays have many questions in their rotation, which negatively separates them from the rest of the teams. Although the Blue Jays gave up two very good prospects to the Mets, they did not receive great production from RA Dickey last season. Although Dickey should be able to achieve more success this season because he is now healthy, it is unknown if he can return to his Cy Young form. After Dickey, the Jays have Brandon Marrow, Mark Buehrle, JA Happ, and Esmil Rogers in the rotation. Mark Buehrle and Esmil Rogers are steady pitchers and should provide the Blue Jays with consistent quality outings. Although Marrow and Happ have great talent and have shown they can produce at the major league level, they are consistently injured and cannot pitch at their full potential. If the duo can remain healthy, the Blue Jays can compete in the East and win about 85 to 90 games.

Although the Jays may have the worst starting rotation in the division, it is likely they have the best bullpen. The back of the Jays bullpen is very solid with Sergio Santos as the closer and Steve Delbar and Brett Cecil as the set up men. Last year, Cecil and Delbar had great seasons and made the All-Star team. If the Jays can maintain a lead into the 7th inning, they will have a great chance of winning games and competing for the last Wild Card spot. Unless the Jays have a few surprises in the rotation, it is unlikely they will win more than 80 games in the difficult AL East.

Predicted Blue Jays Record: 78-84


Pics and stats from ESPN.com

Analysis of the Red Sox’s victory over the Rays

By: Josh M

An easy win for the Boston Red Sox, right? Or was it? Last season, the Boston Red Sox had the worst record in the AL East, lost their manager, and contemplated losing the icon and symbol of the franchise:  DH David Ortiz. The Boston Red Sox have not won a World Series since 2007 or made the playoffs since 2009. The stakes rode high as people where questioning the possibility of another drought for the grief-ridden team. However, the team ended the regular season with the best record in the league and hopes were high for them. In the ALDS the team drew the Tampa Bay Rays, one of their AL East division rivals.

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

In the first game, Boston pitcher, Jon Lester, who had a disappointing season last year going 9-14, was pitching against the Rays’ Matt Moore. However, the Rays had been the underdog going into the season and in this game as well. Lester had been hot all season and was the first top pitcher in the rotation. In the game, it was a blow out. Nothing special. Jon Lester had pitched virtually lights out except for two botched innings that resulted in two solo home runs. However, the Red Sox scored 12 runs in the game and made this no contest. However, the Red Sox did not hit a home run for the prodigious amount of runs that they amassed in game 1. On the contrary, they picked up the “W” in the first game of the best of 5 series.

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

In game 2, the game was held in Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox, for the second consecutive game. Once again, the Red Sox demolished the Rays and sent them home to Tampa Bay with something to worry about. The Ray’s prominent pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner David Price pitched against the Sox’s John Lackey. After Boston’s two-run first inning, it was extremely difficult for the Rays to muster enough energy and spirit to make a comeback. Moreover, the biggest highlights of this game were the home runs by the Red Sox. Big Papi hit two home runs to blow the game open in the first and eighth innings. Also, Dustin Pedroia tacked on 3 RBIs in this game.

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

In game three, the Rays hoped to have redemption. And they did. When the Sox went up 3-0 in the in the 5th, the Rays were in a dire situation. In the bottom of the inning, they tallied three runs to tie the score. Later in the game, in the 9th inning, it was all tied up at 4-4 with Jose Lobaton stepping into the batting box. Here, every baseball fan heard of the man that has never made much noise in the MLB, with his 2alk off homerun off of closer Koji Uehara. The Rays celebrated, but they were still down 2-1 in the series and the Sox only needed one more win to advance to the ALCS.

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

In game 4, Sox pitcher Jake Peavey was set to face Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays. This game was not a spectacular, exciting, or heroic victory. The Red Sox merely won off of a sac fly and a wild pitch. The Sox won the game 3-1, but it didn’t matter how they won as long as they did win. The team celebrated and popped champagne, although they were in the opposing team’s clubhouse. This was a momentous victory for the team because it advanced them to the ALCS. They were set to play the Detroit Tigers, with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, to compete for the World Series. This win was huge for the Boston Red Sox, but it would be an even sweeter if they can win against the Tigers. This could be their first appearance in the World Series since their victory in 2007.

The Futures Game

By: Evan

All-Star break is baseball’s showcase, a mid-season celebration of the game’s top talent.  The Homerun Derby is fun and the All-Star game displays great players at every position.  Yet the All-Star game is the second most important game of the festivities, often marred by nostalgia, with some players past their prime usually featured prominently.  For my money, the vastly underrated Futures Game is the one to watch. The Futures game does not attract widespread attention because the players are not household names yet.  But in reality, the Futures game previews the best young talent in the game, the players whose jerseys will be selling soon. Look at the members from the 2011 US Futures’ team roster; Matt Harvey, an All-Star and potential Cy Young winner, Shelby Miller, a contender for NL Rookie of the Year, Matt Moore, an All-Star, Manny Machado, an All-Star and Gold glover in the making, Paul Goldschmidt, an All-Star and contender for NL MVP, Bryce Harper, a two-time All-Star and the then injured Mike Trout, the best five-tool player in the league right now. Not only are these Futures Game alums young, all 25 or under, they are dominating and will continue to get better.

Just some of the 2011 Futures Game alums

Now, looking to this year’s game, who are the rising stars of the game?

5.) Taijuan Walker SP Seattle Mariners

Taijuan Walker

Taijuan, or Tai Walker looks to be the next great Seattle ace, just like Randy Johnson and Felix Hernandez. Tai has great stuff, boasting a mid 90s fastball with a devastating change-up that makes his fastball look even faster. He is using the minor leagues to develop his slider as well as a curveball to compliment his two dominant pitches. Tai is tall and long, standing at 6’4 with arm action that can trick hitters who are looking for fastballs. The Mariners have been known for their tremendous farm system and their development of pitchers and Taijuan looks to be next in line. While Tai has all the ability, he still needs experience at the AAA level and with the Mariners falling further and further back in the AL West, Tai probably won’t make his debut until 2014.

4.) Xander Bogaerts SS/3B Boston Red Sox

Xander Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts reminds me of another 20 year old, Manny Machado. The two are extremely similar, in height, weight and ability as both are natural shortstops who are now playing third-base. Xander has the power to hit 20-25 home runs per year and potentially drive in over 100 runs. While Manny is a better defender, Xander will use his time in the minor leagues to improve his defense and display his overall talent. Boston is also known for its great farm system as they have developed another terrific third baseman in Hanley Ramirez.  If Boston wants to remain as the AL East leader by the playoffs, Xander should be called up by August or September.

3.) Jorge Soler OF Chicago Cubs

Jorge Soler

Cub fans have been the proverbial butt of every losing joke known to man. But don’t worry Cub fans, at least you get to chant “Hip-Hip Jorge.” Jorge Soler is a dangerous outfielder with power and a cannon for an arm. He has to potential to be a regular 30-30 or 40-40 player with his speed, but he needs to improve his ability to make contact so he can get on base at a higher percentage. He reminds me of a smaller version of fellow Cuban, Yasiel Puig, an extremely talented but raw prospect with a sky-high ceiling. The Cubbies have locked up Soler with a 9 year 30 million dollar deal that could make him one of the most price efficient players in the league. The Cubs are not in contention to win anything and Soler still needs time to develop and learn so his debut may not come until late into the 2014 season or the start of 2015 season.

2.) Miguel Sano 3B Minnesota Twins

Miguel Sano

The Twins have the best farm system in baseball and Sano is going to crucial in the Twins’ rebuilding process. Sano reminds me of another Jose Bautista, a player with ridiculous power and an overwhelming presence at the plate. Sano desperately needs to hone in on his defensive play and become a smarter base-runner but all of the tools are there. The Twins are known to slowly develop players who eventually become stars, David Ortiz (although how could they use Ortiz to bunt men over into scoring position???), Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Sano’s future is very bright and the Twins will rebound in coming years.

1.) Byron Buxton OF Minnesota Twins

Byron Buxton

Remember the name Byron Buxton because he is THE future of baseball. He has earned Mike Trout and even Willie Mays comparisons. Buxton has it all, all five tools that enable him to be the most complete prospect in baseball. Scouts are amazed by his maturity and dedication along with his talent. The #2 overall pick in 2012 MLB draft just needs time to hone in on the smaller facets of his game that need improvement, such as learning how to play all three outfield positions and improve his batter’s eye. Buxton will probably stay in the minors until 2015, but when he comes up he will be phenomenal.

First picture from Huffpost.com Every other picture from espn.com