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A full season from Evan Longoria makes the Rays the favorites in a competitive AL East.
|AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST|
| 1. Tampa Bay Rays 94-68|
| 2. Toronto Blue Jays 89-73*|
| 3. Boston Red Sox 85-77|
| 4. New York Yankees 83-79|
5. Baltimore Orioles 77-85
*Denotes Wild Card
When you make preseason projections in baseball, depth is just as important to look at as impact. Injuries are going to happen, but the teams that make the playoffs are those that can make it through those times by dipping into their farm system or a bench player who takes to an everyday job for a few weeks.
That is the preface I present for why the Rays, not the new-look Blue Jays, are going to win the American League East.
Tampa Bay still has the deepest pitching staff in the American League, even without James Shields. David Price is a stud. Matt Moore will get better. Jeremy Hellickson is as solid as they come. Alex Cobb didn't get a lot of hype last season, yet posted a 3.86 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 189 innings.
The Rays always find pieces to plug into their bullpen, though they are bringing back a lot of key players from last year's group like Fernando Rodney, Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta.
If this team had just a league-average offense last season, they would have made the playoffs. Evan Longoria is the straw that stirs the drink, so it is imperative he plays in 140 games. But Ben Zobrist remains the most underrated player in the game. They also have Wil Myers waiting in Triple-A.
Toronto made a lot of bold moves this offseason to get back to the postseason for the first time since 1993. It is easy to envision a scenario where the Blue Jays are the best team in the American League East.
It is even easier to see where some things fall apart. Do you believe Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow are going to make 55 combined starts? How will Mark Buehrle's style translate to the American League East? Can R.A. Dickey possibly be as good as he has been with the Mets in a league with much better offensive teams?
Even the offense has questions. Jose Bautista has to prove his power will come back after last year's wrist injury. Brett Lawrie is already on the disabled list. Melky Cabrera had a fluke season in 2012—not for what most people think, but because of a .379 BABIP (70 points higher than his career mark) and no significant difference in his strikeout-to-walk ratio or line-drive percentage.
Tampa Bay is just deeper than Toronto entering the season. That's why the Rays get the edge in the division race and the Blue Jays are a wild-card team.
Boston is not nearly as bad as its record last year indicates. That was just a perfect storm of everything going wrong at the same time. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have to throw 400 quality innings. David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury have to play 420 games. The bullpen is much deeper this year than it was in 2012.
One of the smartest moves of spring training was giving Jackie Bradley Jr. a chance to start in the big leagues. He has a great, patient approach at the plate and is a great defensive player in center field (even though he will be playing left field because of Ellsbury's presence). Even if he struggles, you don't lose much because he goes down to Triple-A, fixes what didn't work and comes back up later in the year.
The Yankees are finally at a point where they don't have the answers needed to stay in the division race. They are old, hobbled and all the top talent in their system is at least a full season away.
CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda should be fine at the top of the rotation, but putting faith in 41-year-old Andy Pettitte is not a recipe for success in this division.
Who knows what Alex Rodriguez will be when he returns, assuming he does. Derek Jeter is a bad defensive player and his offense is predicated on hitting a lot of ground balls that find holes. Curtis Granderson can't hit left-handed pitching. Mark Teixeira has been declining for the last three years, with his OPS going from .948 in 2009 to .807 last season.
The Orioles were largely a product of a great bullpen and luck last season, going 29-9 in one-run games and winning 16 consecutive extra-inning games in the regular season. Those kinds of numbers don't sustain themselves on a year-to-year basis.
Oh by the way, star pitching prospect Dylan Bundy has been shut down with elbow tightness.