Baseball is a finicky sport. Momentum can carry a team through long stretches during the 162-game season, but sometimes, the best effort in the world can still leave a team short of their ultimate goal. With only five teams (out of 15) in each league able to qualify for the postseason each year, the competition is intense and the agony of defeat is brutal after grinding through six months of action.
This makes life in Major League Baseball’s best division, the AL East, all the more grueling. In 2015, every one of the five teams in the AL East seemingly had a case as the best team in the division at some point in the season. The Toronto Blue Jays ultimately prevailed, but after an offseason of players changing teams (even within the division), the AL East is certain to be as unpredictable as ever in 2016.
So, to figure out who the favorite is in this loaded division, we broke down each clubs’ roster, strengths, and weaknesses heading into the new campaign. You just might be surprised with who we think will walk away with the division crown once October rolls around.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
2015 record: 80-82 (fourth in AL East)
The Tampa Bay Rays are always a pesky team that finds a way to be competitive each season, but based off the strength of the division, we think they are destined to finish last in the AL East this year. Last season, they had a good pitching staff that ranked fourth in the American League, which allowed them to stay in the race for a majority of the year in 2015.
Cy Young-caliber pitcher Chris Archer (who had the fourth-most strikeouts in the game with 252 a season ago) should keep the Rays solid on the mound, but things become challenging for the club offensively, making their road toward a division title unfavorable. In 2015, the Rays were one of the worst teams offensively in all of baseball, especially when it came to scoring runs.
Nobody in their projected starting lineup — outside of third baseman Evan Longoria — screams with the ability to produce runs, so it should be a struggle at the plate again in 2016. In a division full of powerful offenses like the Toronto Blue Jays, that inability to send runners across home will likely be the demise of Tampa Bay in 2016. It will be interesting to see how long they can stay competitive.
4. Baltimore Orioles
2015 record: 81-81 (third in AL East)
It was only in 2014 that the Baltimore Orioles found themselves at the top of the AL East and just a mere four wins away from the World Series. However, 2015 was a major let down for the O’s, as they failed to finish the season with a winning record. If they want to improve on that mark this season, they’ll have to improve on a pitching staff that ranked in the bottom half of the American League last season.
Offseason acquisition Yovani Gallardo should help in that regard, but Baltimore will also need Ubaldo Jimenez and the rest of their rotation to pick up their play. The Orioles found a majority of their success at the plate in 2015, as they ranked ninth in baseball in runs scored. That success is thanks to plenty of talented hitters who know how to produce runs.
Whether it’s Manny Machado, Chris Davis, or Adam Jones, this club has a handful for opposing pitchers. Throw in the addition of power hitter Mark Trumbo and this team becomes a legitimate nightmare with the bat. Despite their ability on offense, we think Baltimore’s pitching could hold them back in the division, forcing us to pick them to finish fourth.
3. New York Yankees
2015 record: 87-75 (second in AL East)
After a two-year hiatus from the postseason, the New York Yankees returned to playoff action last season — although their stay was short-lived. A big reason for their success in 2015 was their high scoring offense, which ranked second in the MLB. Alex Rodriguez had a career rebirth of sorts (with 33 home runs), Brian McCann nearly drove in a hundred runs, and Mark Teixeira was awesome all season long until he got hurt.
All of those guys will be back for New York in 2016 — as will a talented outfield that includes Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner — so their offense shouldn’t miss a beat. Where things get difficult for the Yankees is on the mound, specifically with their starting rotation. Their bullpen is great with Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and (eventually) offseason prize Aroldis Chapman.
However, after ranking low in the AL last season, their starting group could struggle this season once again. They have guys with potential in Masahiro Tanaka and Nathan Eovaldi, but there simply may not be enough pitching for the Yankees to compete with the top teams in the AL East. That’s why we have them projected to finish third in the division this season.
2. Boston Red Sox
2015 record: 78-84 (fifth in AL East)
Since winning the World Series in 2013, things have gone as far south as possible for the Boston Red Sox. Despite acquiring plenty of talented individuals over the past couple of offseasons, the team finished last in the AL East in both 2014 and 2015. Now, after another offseason of adding talent, there is no excuse for the Red Sox not to finish at the top of the division in 2016.
Their biggest move since last season was the addition of David Price, one of the best pitchers the game has to offer. Of course, Boston really needed to upgrade their pitching after finishing with one of the worst staffs in baseball in 2015. We’ll see if Price adds enough juice to their rotation. The Red Sox have the position players to own a productive offense. David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and rising star Mookie Betts are just a few of the great names in their lineup, which led Boston to scoring the fourth-most runs in the MLB last season.
It truly is about figuring out their pitching woes if the Red Sox want to compete for a division title this year. We think Price could be the answer and that their offense will keep on clicking, leading to a second place finish in the AL East and a likely playoff berth.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
The defending AL East champion Toronto Blue Jays are our favorites to win the division again in 2016 and it’s because they appear to have the most complete roster in the division. We all know what the Blue Jays can do at the plate, seeing as they scored the most runs in baseball last season and made a living off crushing home runs.
They will return all of their key hitters from that powerful offense as well, from reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista to Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. If this team doesn’t have the best offense in the game once again this season, they will certainly be no worse than top five. You may think that Toronto is all offense, but they actually have a capable pitching staff (even without David Price).
With the excitement around young ace Marcus Stroman, the addition of a starter in J.A. Happ and a closer in Drew Storen, and other steady pieces in play, the Blue Jays have more than enough on the mound to support their power at the plate. They’ll be in a battle all season in the AL East, but Toronto is the team on paper to reign supreme in the division once again.