Preseason predictions are forthcoming from the usual suspects any day now, and almost all of them will have the Yankees atop the A.L. East Division. But there are 162 games to play on the field, and as we know all too well, anything can happen.
The American League East has lost its banner as the A.L. Least, with the presence of the Central Division and is expected to be among the most competitive division in MLB in 2018. The Yankees, indeed, are locked and loaded and depending on how well the starting pitching performs, they have all the earmarks of a team leading the way in the division without much huffing and puffing. But as we’ll see, the competition remains formidable and each of the 162 games the Yankees will play this season begins with a score of 0-0.
We’ll do this again just before the start of the regular season when all the dust has settled, and team rosters are in place. But here’s a scan of the competition today.
Boston Red Sox
We begin with the Red Sox because things always seem to end with the Sox, as they will this season when the teams conclude their season playing against each other.
Mainly, the Boston Red Sox are the same team that left the field losing in the first round of the playoffs last October. They were good enough to withstand a late-season charge by the Yankees and win 93 games.
Of late though, very believable reports have surfaced regarding a decent amount of turmoil or at least some things that emerged preventing the team from having much fun during a pretty successful season. If you are a fan of the Sox, that should worry you some since the personnel hasn’t changed much.
Their relentless pursuit of J.D. Martinez as the answer to all their prayers has not reached fruition, but it probably will now that the Padres mutinied by signing a lengthy eight-year pact with Eric Hosmer. Nevertheless, the lineup is still without a “power combination” coming anywhere near the Yankees trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez.
The Red Sox need more than Chris Sale, and once again they will be looking to David Price and Rick Porcello to resume Cy Young-like seasons of the past. And Price needs to tone it down a bit with the media.
The Red Sox are destined to be there with the Yankees as always. But GM Dave Dombrowski has had a disappointing offseason, and that’s not likely to carry on through the 2018 season. He’ll make some moves, and the challenge to the Yankees will become real in September.
But as with the Yankees last season, the charge of the Red Sox will be too little too late.
Any team having Buck Showalter as their manager can never be taken lightly. Nevertheless, the Baltimore Orioles are a lightweight in the division, and it’s no one’s fault but their own. Predictably, they are still reeling from the bloated contracts they signed with Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis, totaling $35 million this season alone.
The Orioles have appeared as a team lost in space during the offseason with their on-again-off-again handling of Manny Machado, who one way or another, will not be with the team in 2019.
On the table now are decisions as to whether or not they will extend the only two pitchers of any consequence on their starting staff, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, both of whom will cost the team more as their years of arbitration and eventually free agency proceed.
The pick-up of Andrew Cashner will help if only regarding the innings he will provide. Zach Britton, the team’s premier closer, is on the 60-day DL, but even if he were here now, would the rest of the staff take the team to a point in a game where Britton is useful?
Attendance continues to decline at Camden Yards, an unthinkable development as the venue continues to draw fans from around the world, if not from Orioles fans.
The Orioles, if they remain true to form, will break out fast and then do an about face when June arrives. They pose no immediate threat to the Yankees, except that Showalter still has an ax to grind with the Yankees organization, and he will rally the troops in the nineteen games when the teams square off against each other.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays are another team giving the appearance of indecision as they enter 2018. While it’s a given they had to unload Evan Longoria before he reached the 10 and 5 rule capacity as a player with ten years in the league and five with the same team, earning him no-trade rights within five days of the season’s beginning.
He’s gone, as expected. But their DFA of All-Star Corey Dickerson along with the trade of reliable starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins are head-scratchers and should be cause for alarm in the offices of MLB as to whether or not the Rays are “tanking” the season and looking forward to a high draft pick come next year.
One more move (Chris Archer), and the Rays could indeed find themselves in an unwanted spotlight, driven by the media and even with Rob Manfred’s love affair with all owners of teams.
Perennially, the Rays always play the Yankees tough. And even though it might be due to the Yankees having to visit the Rays playing in that poor excuse for a ballpark, there’s something about the Rays, especially at home, that causes the Yankees fits.
Nevertheless, the Rays almost by choice will finish at the bottom of the A.L. East, and it will be just desserts for a team that remains on the periphery of major league baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays were the team picked by many to run away with the A.L. East in 2017. A horrid offseason negated everything, though, losing Edwin Encarnacion inexplicably to the Cleveland Indians, followed by a never-ending dance with Jose Bautista, and the Blue Jays were off and running in the wrong direction from the get-go.
A 1-9 start to the season didn’t help, but they never gained any traction to seriously challenge both the Red Sox and Yankees, despite repeated cries of “Here Come The Blue Jays” from the bleachers and media.
This year is no different, and when you look at the roster of the Blue Jays, the first thing you notice is they are an old team composed of seven players who range in age from 32-35 years-old. And not only that, but Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, J.A. Happ, Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, and Marco Estrada (all members of that group), compose a total of roughly $100 million for the upcoming season alone.
Happ, Donaldson, Estrada, and Pearce will all be free agents at the end of this season. Thus, the window is closing quickly on this team, and a fire-sale of epic proportions could be underway in July, depending on how well the team fares in the opening months of the season.
Without exception, Blue Jays fans can be counted as one of the most loyal groups in MLB, and attendance and therefore money is not a problem for the Blue Jays. What is a problem, though, is the team needs to cut bait now or go for it all as a serious challenge to the Yankees by adding some pitching to a depleted staff.
Like the Rays, the Blue Jays always seem to get their dander up when playing the Yankees. On paper, the Yankees should waltz through the nineteen games between the teams. We’ll see from the get-go, though, as they meet for four games beginning the season in Toronto.
Summing It Up
Make no pretenses; the race is between the Yankees and Red Sox for a division title. No other team has what it will take, at least in 2018. For the first time in a long time, it’s the Yankees division to lose. That alone will become the story of the 2018 season and how the Yankees react to the pressure of being the favorites, instead of the wanna-bees in a division that has always been up for the taking.
In the end, it’s all about the team in the Bronx, though, and how far they can carry the torch to attaining the 28th World Championship in their glorified history. Should be a hoot, no?