The 2019 American League East consisted of teams going in different directions with distinctive motives.
The New York Yankees, despite injury issues, clawed their way to 103 wins and an American League Championship Series berth. The Tampa Bay Rays, meanwhile, did not let a bottom-three payroll bother them, as the club would reach 96 wins and collect a Wild Card spot. The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays saw a change of personnel and an emergence of youth, respectively. Last but not least, you had the Baltimore Orioles, who continued their complete rebuild from the keel up.
Even with a shortened season, the AL East will, yet again, look to crop together fantastic storylines, shocking surprises, and marquee blood baths. Without further ado, here is a preview of the division with a ranking of the teams as the 2020 season gets underway.
1. New York Yankees (2019 record: 103-59)
Surprise, surprise. The Bronx Bombers find themselves as the undisputed kings of the division. This status would be achieved after winning 103 games last season despite an injury traffic jam that would give the Bronx a run for its taxi money. To briefly skid just the tip of the iceberg, Luis Severino, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez and James Paxton would all see the injured list at least once last season. Even still, the Yankees depth would shine on both sides of the ball, as New York’s collective .829 on-base plus slugging (OPS) ranked third in all of MLB, while the pitching’s collective 4.31 ERA ranked 14th.
Even with Severino missing the 2020 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery, New York’s blank check to Gerrit Cole will supplement a rotation that should be able to weather the injury storm once more if needed. When combined with the depth on offense, the Yankees are the easy favorites to not only win the division but the World Series as well.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (2019 record: 96-66)
Rays’ manager Kevin Cash brings craftiness and grittiness to an entirely different level with Tampa Bay as, despite a low payroll, he still works effectively with what he is given. It definitely helps, though, to have a flame-throwing veteran in Charlie Morton who, despite being 35 years old last season, possessed the 12th-best four-seam fastball average velocity (94.7) in 2019. While the Rays’ collective team OPS of .757 ranked 14th in the majors, the x-factor heading into 2020 will not be the offense, but the pitching. Will Blake Snell regain his 2018 Cy Young-winning form? Will Tyler Glasnow stay healthy and show his 2019 1.78 ERA again? Will the bullpen be able to put forth a successful back-end role in addition to a potential “opener” one?
While their offensive firepower might not be up to par with the Yankees, the pitching, if healthy, will. Should the offense take a step forward and the pitching stay healthy, the Rays should be able to vie for a playoff bid at the minimum and a division title at the maximum.
3. Toronto Blue Jays (2019 record: 67-95)
In a shortened season, teams will push for the playoffs based off of overall roster balance or a significant roster strength. Although Toronto brought in Hyun-Jin Ryu to anchor the starting rotation, the roster strength for the Blue Jays comes on offense.
After all, the youth movement spearheaded by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and company will look to build off a freshman 2019 as they head into their sophomore 2020 campaign. The high ceiling of the offense, in a shortened season, might just be enough to mask the starting pitching issues and, in turn, compete and contend for a Wild Card spot. While Toronto might not achieve postseason success this season, they are trending in the right direction.
4. Boston Red Sox (2019 record: 84-78)
As for a team trending in the wrong direction, look no further than Boston. After winning 108 games and the World Series in 2018, Boston’s starting pitching faltered in 2019, as injuries and underperformance resulted in the collective unit pitching to a 4.95 ERA, 20th in the majors and the worst among all teams that finished .500 or better. With their ace in Chris Sale out of action, along with David Price and Rick Porcello donning new uniforms in 2020, the rotation will lean on Eduardo Rodriguez to take another step forward after pitching 203.1 innings to the tune of a 3.81 ERA last season.
While the offense will be as productive and exciting (if not more so) than Toronto, the starting rotation and overall pitching upside do not have the prowess as Toronto’s. When combined with no financial flexibility, along with a new manager after Alex Cora parted ways with the organization due to his linkage in the electronic sign-stealing scandal, it looks to be a tough year for the Boston faithful.
5. Baltimore Orioles (2019 record: 54-108)
The rebuild for Baltimore is in full swing. For Mike Elias, the executive vice president and general manager of the organization, the goal is to continue to bring in bargains to potentially trade away as a means to churn in more prospect capital to a steadily growing farm system.
Rebound candidates in Chris Davis and Alex Cobb will also have the opportunity to prove they were loosely worth the contracts they were given. Top to bottom, Baltimore will use the shortened season as another year to gauge what they have at the major league level.
With the 2020 season cancellation of minor league baseball, Baltimore will also have the opportunity to hand over the ropes to up-and-coming youngsters, including that of Austin Hays, DL Hall and Yusniel Diaz, among others.
Baltimore’s rebuild will continue to have its growing pains, whether it be from young players attempting to find their groove or from their veterans who will attempt to rekindle it. Whatever the weather, the Orioles will stick to the long-term rebuild plan and play out the shortened season as if it was a 162-game one. Patience, Baltimore fans. All in due time.