For the first time in a long time the American League East is anyone’s for the taking, and the usual favorites, the Red Sox and Yankees, are being picked to finish at the bottom by many experts.
The Orioles are coming off of a spectacular season in which they made the playoffs as a Wild Card team, their first playoff appearance in more than 15 years. The Blue Jays finished fourth, but had perhaps the best offseason of the five AL East teams, and the Rays will always be there with their outstanding pitching staff.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are coming off of a 69-win season, their worst in more than 45 years, and the Yankees are one of the oldest teams in the league with numerous injuries to key players going into the season.
Here are Metro Boston’s AL East predictions for the 2013 season:
Tampa Bay Rays: 90-72, AL East Champions
The Rays didn’t make any big splashes this offseason, but it’s not like they needed to. They have arguably the best pitching staff in the entire American League in David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Moore as well as Fernando Rodney in their bullpen. In what could be the most competitive AL East in recent memory, solid pitching should guide the Rays to the top of the standings.
The real question with the Rays is can they hit? Obviously everyone knows what Evan Longoria can do, but can he stay healthy? The third baseman has missed 117 games the past two years. Ben Zobrist will be a key to the team as he’s hit .270 or higher in three of his past four seasons, with 20 or more home runs as well. The Rays also traded for star prospect Wil Myers this winter, who will start the year in the minors, but could very well find himself with the big league club during the year. He could add some real pop to the Rays lineup.
Boston Red Sox: 87-75, Wild Card Winner
Many people have already written off the Red Sox, a team coming off of a 69-93 season and a last place finish in the division. But 2013 is a new year. The team still has a great deal of talent on the roster in Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks. The Red Sox also signed Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino this offseason, who bring plenty of leadership to what was thought to be a temperamental clubhouse.
As is the key with most teams, the success of the Red Sox will depend on their starting pitching. The staff was dreadful in 2012, finishing second to last in the AL in both wins and ERA, but certainly has the talent to lead the team to a playoff spot. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have proven in the past what they are capable of. John Lackey will be a player to watch as he comes off of Tommy John surgery. If he can put things together, the Red Sox could be in position for their first playoff appearance since 2009.
New York Yankees: 82-80
These Yankees are already behind the eight ball with a number of injuries before the season has even begun. Derek Jeter is hobbled and won’t play Opening Day. A strained right wrist will keep first baseman Mark Teixeira out for at least the month of April -- same goes for outfielder Curtis Granderson who has a fractured right forearm. Even worse is Alex Rodriguez who will be out until July at the earliest as he comes off of hip surgery.
The Yankees starting rotation isn’t the same dominant group as in the past. CC Sabathia is coming off of a season where he made just 28 starts, his fewest since 2006. Hiroki Kuroda had a solid 2012, but he is 38-years-old, and many questions surround the rest of the staff in Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Michael Pineda.
With all the injuries the Yankees will open the year with, they certainly have quite the hill to climb, and it might be too tall of a task as the Yankees could miss the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Toronto Blue Jays: 81-81
No team in the division made as many moves this offseason as the Blue Jays. Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes were added from a trade with Miami and the team also signed starter R.A. Dickey. The pitching staff will be much improved to go along with an offense with explosive bats in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
On paper the Blue Jays may be the best team in the division, and will surely improve on their 73-89 season last year, but not by much. Toronto hasn’t made the playoffs since 1993 and although they will likely have their best season in recent memory, it may not be good enough to end their playoff drought.
Baltimore Orioles, 78-84
Coming off one of the biggest turnarounds in recent memory and making the playoffs for the first time since 1997 last season, it could just be a “one-year wonder” scenario for the Orioles. Baltimore was an astounding 29-9 in one-run games and won 16 straight extra innings games, but that is highly unlikely for a team to duplicate in back-to-back seasons.
In 2012 the O’s ranked ninth out of 14 teams in runs and only had one starter make more than 20 starts. Baltimore does have young prospect Manny Machado playing his first full season and also owns one of the better catchers in the game in Matt Wieters.
Follow Metro Boston Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84