With the 2018 MLB season less than a month away, it’s time to take a look and preview the season ahead. We’re going division by division to try and project every teams’ strengths, weaknesses, and questions heading into the season. Finishing with the AL East:
New York Yankees
2017 Record: 91-71, Lost to Astros in ALCS
Aaron Judge led the AL in home runs in 2017, and Gary Sanchez led all catchers, despite missing about a month with an injury. If that wasn’t enough, the Yankees went out and traded for reigning NL MVP and home run leader Giancarlo Stanton, and managed to sign above-average utility man Neil Walker in free agency. The Yankees as a team led the AL in homers in 2017 with 241, and these additions should help increase that total. Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner also both hit more than 20 home runs last season. The Bronx Bombers should definitely be able to live up to that nickname, but will also be prone to a lot of strikeouts.
Although the Yankees didn’t make any huge moves in the pitching market, their returning players should still be fairly solid. On the other hand, signing a manager with no coaching experience will always be a risky move, even more so when you’re expected to contend for a World Series title. Enter, Aaron (****ing, if you’re from Boston) Boone. He will be expected to make some rookie mistakes, such as when he forgot to warm up a reliever for a scheduled inning during spring training. The Yankees do have a young roster, which Boone will be able to mold for better or worse. If GM Brian Cashman, who is one of the best in the business, made the wrong call here, it could set the Yanks back a little bit.
Question: Could the Yankees attempt to get an early start on including Bryce Harper or Manny Machado into their team? Imagine the power in that lineup.
2018 Projected Record: 95-67
Boston Red Sox
2017 Record: 93-69, Lost to Astros in ALDS
Chris Sale is rested, and will be looking to decrease his workload in 2018, although he is still coming off a 300 strikeout season as well. David Price looked solid coming out of the bullpen, and will look to stay healthy and out of the headlines to be Boston’s number two starter. Drew Pomeranz is in a contract year, and coming off a career season in which he threw over 170 innings. The biggest questions will surround the health of Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright, as well as whether or not Rick Porcello can bounce back to his 2016 Cy Young winning form. The bullpen will be solid as well, led by the hard throwing Joe Kelly and closer Craig Kimbrel.
Although the Red Sox were sixth in the AL in runs scored in 2017, they were dead last in home runs. Adding JD Martinez should help a little bit, but it will also be up to guys like Hanley Ramirez and AL Rookie of the Year runner up Andrew Benintendi to step up their power numbers. Some of their lack of power could be due to injuries, as Dustin Pedroia, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Xander Bogaerts all missed time, and staying healthy could help those stats. A full season from Rafael Devers should help as well. New manager Alex Cora could be hit or miss as well, as he’s only had one season of coaching experience, which last season with the Houston Astros.
Question: The Red Sox won 93 games last season with almost the exact same roster. Can they do enough to stay ahead of the Yankees?
2018 Projected Record: 93-69
Toronto Blue Jays
2017 Record: 76-86, Did not make playoffs
Marcus Stroman won’t be the opening day starter, but he likely won’t miss a whole lot of time either. They were middle of the AL in ERA (4.42), and that was with Aaron Sanchez dealing with blister issues for most of the year. Jaime Garcia should provide a reliable option at the back of the rotation as well. Everyone will need to stay healthy, but there’s a decent sized gap between their current rotation, and other options that don’t involve a trade.
The Jays ranked last in the AL in runs scored in 2017. Justin Smoak could play close to the level he did last season, and Josh Donaldson will provide another MVP caliber season, but there are questions as to whether or not it will be enough. Randal Grichuk, brought over in a trade, has a career .297 OBP, and Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales and Curtis Granderson are all in their mid-30’s. Toronto added Yangveris Solarte and Aledmys Diaz to boost some of their infield production, but will that be enough to prevent another bottom of the league performance in runs?
Question: Can the rotation stay healthy enough to put Toronto back in the playoffs, or will the offense score enough runs for it to matter?
2018 Projected Record: 86-76
Tampa Bay Rays
2017 Record: 80-82, Did not make playoffs
Alex Colome is back after saving 47 games last season, as is Sergio Romo, who arrived mid-season from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Either Nathan Eovaldi or new addition Anthony Banda will look to be at the back end of the rotation, or both could potentially be bullpen options as well. If they end up going with a four-man rotation and a bullpen effort every fifth game however, they could end up getting some tired arms real fast, especially if they give up a lot of runs or rack up a high pitch count in those games.
The Rays were two runs away from being on the bottom of the AL in 2017, and they traded away four of their best players in the offseason. They did sign CJ Cron and Carlos Gomez, who aren’t horrible players, but are a downgrade when compared to the departures of Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, and Steven Souza. Kevin Keirmeier has never had more than 40 RBI in a season, and has only played in 110 games in a season one time. Other Rays players have had health problems too, such as Wilson Ramos, who has played less than 90 games in four of the last six seasons, and Matt Duffy, who is looking to come back after having not played a major league game since 2016.
Question: The Rays are a hard team to figure out. Will they be closer to a wild card spot, or the top overall pick in 2019?
2018 Projected Record: 78-84
2017 Record: 75-87, Did not make playoffs
Top to bottom, the lineup doesn’t look too bad. Manny Machado is still around for now, as are Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis. If Trumbo can hit closer to his 2016 numbers rather than his 2017, the team power numbers should be there. Trey Mancini is another power option after hitting 24 homers in his rookie season, but his batting average could use some improvement. Jonathan Schoop and Tim Beckham round out the infield, but Schoop is without a doubt the better hitter. He could be another Baltimore player to hit more than 20 homers in 2018, and the offense in this lineup could be very fun to watch.
Even with the addition of Andrew Cashner, who is coming off a decent 3.40 ERA and a 4.30 WAR, the rotation is still a glaring weakness. Chris Tillman will look to rebound after posting a 7.84 ERA in only 93 innings in 2017. Mike Wright is the current favorite for the fifth starter spot, but he hasn’t lived up to his potential yet, although, he is only entering his age 28 season. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are the top guys on this staff, but both have also dealt with some consistency issues. These guys probably won’t strike a bunch of batters out, and that could also be an issue.
Question: If the record is bad enough, will the Orioles consider trading some of their stars with an eye on the future?
2018 Projected Record: 78-84
All projected records according to Fangraphs.