The 2016 MLB season begins on April 3rd with excellent matchups between Cardinals and Pirates, Blue Jays and Rays, and a 2015 World Series rematch between the Mets and Royals. To get the season started, we will be posting Season Wins Previews by division for every team. Today, we’ll start with the AL East per our fearless leader, Matthew Holt.
Boston Red Sox – 89 ½ wins
The Red Sox made a big splash this offseason hiring Dave Dombrowski as President of Baseball Operations. Dombrowski was the orchestrator of the recent rise of the Detroit Tigers from the cellar of the AL Central to its front runner for the several years in a row.
The Red Sox also acquired ace lefthander David Price and star closer Craig Kimbrel in the offseason to shore up the front and backend of the pitching staff. The remainder of the staff, however, leaves plenty of question marks. Clay Buchholz has front of the rotation stuff when healthy but Rick Porcello is coming off a season in which he allowed 25 home runs and 103 runs in 172 innings pitched. Hard throwing righty Joe Kelly had a poor 1.44 WHIP last season which led to an ERA more than a full run above his career average. Steven Wright is a career minor leaguer who is actually 31 years old already and it is unknown what he will bring to the backend of the rotation.
The starting lineup is loaded but the infield is aging. Big Papi is 40 years old, Pedroia is 32 and Sandoval has more wear and tear on his body than most 29 year olds due to being overweight. Hanley Ramirez, a former All-Star shortstop has now been relegated to 1B duties due to injuries that have piled up throughout his career. One bright spot though is Xander Bogaerts is rapidly becoming one of the best young shortstops in baseball and he is only 23 years old.
The outfield may be the fastest in Boston history but lacks that home run punch often associated with the AL East. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr, Brock Holt, and Chris Young all have good gloves, cover a ton of ground and bring some speed to the lineup but not sure any of them will be able to reach the 20 home run mark.
Overall, Boston has a great lineup, a loaded bullpen and a true ace at the front of their rotation. Injuries and starting pitching behind Price and Buchholz will be the biggest liabilities for this team. If they stay healthy they certainly have a chance to win 90 games but with a season win total of 89 ½ there is not a lot of wiggle room on the upside and the 3-5 spots in the rotation offer little assurances at this point.
Toronto Blue Jays – 88 wins
The Blue Jays enter the season with as much hype as they have had in quite some time coming off a 93 win season and a deep playoff run. Despite the amazing amount of success the Blue Jays had last season and the amount of midseason trades they made, the offseason was more about who left than who arrived in Toronto.
There was no doubt to anyone around this team last season that they were willing to do whatever it took to try and win a World Series last season. Yet the departures of ace lefty David Price, leadoff hitter and center fielder Ben Revere, and catcher Dioner Navarro, have left some holes on this year’s squad.
The lineup is still likely the best in the American league, especially in the power department with Donaldson, Encarnacion, Bautista, Tulowitzki, and Pillar. Pillar will take over centerfield duties and Bautista is locked in right field but the departure of Revere leaves question marks about the third outfield spot which will be filled by Michael Saunders or Junior Lake.
The infield is solid both in the field and behind the plate with maybe the best left side of an infield in baseball with reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson at 3B and Troy Tulowitzki at SS. They will miss Navarro, who could take the pressure off Russell Martin.
The starting pitching could be very good but there are also some serious questions abound about almost every starter in the rotation. It all starts with 24-year old ace Marcus Stroman, who returned from an ACL tear last season to have a great September and October. The problem is your ace is a 24-year old with 157 career innings pitched and pitched just 27 innings last regular season.
Marco Estrada also far exceeded his career stats last season with Toronto and one has to wonder if regression back to the norm is in store for the 32-year old right-hander. R.A. Dickey had his lowest WHIP as a Blue Jay last season but as is the case with most knuckleballers there is a lot of volatility in his numbers.
J.A. Happ also had a career year last season and pitched well above his career numbers and the fifth starter, Aaron Sanchez is 23 years old.
This team has as much potential as any team in baseball but they also have the opportunity to become one of the biggest disappointments if the young arms don’t live up to lofty expectations and the veterans revert back to their career norms. The lineup is loaded but Encarnacion and Tulowtizki are both injury prone and Bautista is 35 and struck out more than 100 times last season. Only time will tell but I would be reluctant to bet this team over 88 wins even though their ceiling is a little higher than that as the floor is much, much lower here than in some other cases.
New York Yankees – 85 wins
The oldest team in baseball continues to plug away and is once again one of the most interesting teams in the sport. Most people expected this team to struggle mightily last season but they surprised people and won 87 games and clinched a wild card berth.
The starting lineup is riddled with older veteran players that cannot be expected to match last season’s contributions. Alex Rodriguez hit 33 home runs and Mark Teixeira hit 31. I am not sure either could be expected to approach those numbers again this season. Veteran Catcher Brian McCann hit 26 home runs and drove in 94 last season. He is now 32 and injury prone the last few seasons.
It doesn’t get much younger in the outfield where Carlos Beltran is 38 years old and long beyond his prime while Jacoby Ellsbury and Bret Gardner are both 32 and neither has the speed they once did in the field or on the bases.
The starting pitching is likely to be the strength of this version of the Bronx Bombers, especially if Masahiro Tanaka is fully healthy. Tanaka was limited to just 24 starts last season due to injuries but managed a WHIP under 1.0 and had an over 5:1 K/BB ratio. When healthy, Tanaka is one of the toughest pitchers in the AL.
Like Tanaka, 27-year old right hander Michael Pineda has ace stuff when healthy which hasn’t always been the case in his Yankee career. In 27 starts last season, Pineda posted an amazing 156 strikeouts with only 21 walks.
A pair of young right-handers make up the 3rd and 4th starters as 22-year old Luis Severino looks to build off a strong rookie campaign this season. Severino will need to have better control this season to continue his climb. 26-year old Nathan Eovaldi struggled at times last season but at times flashed really strong stuff. 35-year old left-hander CC Sabathia is the 5th starter and comes into the season with very tempered expectations in 2016. Sabathia struggled mightily at times which is apparent from his 1.42 WHIP last season and 28 home runs allowed. Not sure how much the former ace has left in the tank going forward but that has been said of many of these Yankees before.
The Yankees got better than expected production from multiple veterans thought to be long past competitive. It seems a little unreasonable to expect Teixeira, A-Rod, Beltran, and McCann to not only stay healthy but to replicate or exceed last season’s numbers. What seems more likely is that each of those names either spends extended time in a slump or on the DL this season. With that being said, this has a chance to be one of the best starting pitching staffs in the American League and the Yankees may not need to score a ton of runs to win games, which makes this season win total a tough one to project.
Baltimore Orioles – 80 wins
The Orioles failed to live up to expectations last season as the sexy preseason pick from the AL East but they still finished .500 at 81-81. Their season win total is actually a game less than they won last season, yet one could make the argument that this is one of the top three lineups in baseball when everyone is healthy and the Orioles have a strong chance at leading the league in home runs.
The infield is a deadly as any in baseball. 1B Chris Davis led the league in home runs again last season with 47, drove in 117 runs and scored 100 runs. 2B Jonathan Schoop is one of the top young hitting infielders in baseball. He hit 15 home runs in only 86 games played last season and is only 24 years old. 3B Manny Machado is actually younger than Schoop at 23 years old and is coming off a season in which he hit 35 home runs, scored 102 runs and hit 30 doubles with an .861 OPS. Machado is one of the top young hitters in the game.
The outfield is also loaded with Adam Jones in center field and power hitting Mark Trumbo in right field. Pedro Alvarez will get at bats at 1B, 3B, and DH just to add some more pop to this lineup.
So no one questions the lineup in Baltimore. They are young, full of talent and power and should score plenty of runs. The question marks pretty much all start and end with the rotation which was epically bad last season and lost its top performer Wie-Yen Chen.
Ubaldo Jimenez is expected to be the opening day starter. Jimenez was not horrible last season but was inconsistent and when he was off it often got ugly. He did have 168 strikeouts in 184 innings pitched and the 182 hits allowed isn’t a terrible clip. Add in the 68 walks and 20 home runs allowed to a 1.36 WHIP though and there is no way he can be a #1 starter on a competitive team.
The Orioles signed Yovani Gallardo despite the fact that his fastball averaged just 90.4 mph last season, the lowest since an injury riddled 2008. The velocity deficiency showed up in his strikeout numbers which dipped to just 121 strikeouts in 184 innings pitched. Due to a lack of ability to punch guys out he lasted more than six innings just 13 times last season in 33 starts.
Right handed veterans Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez are the #3 and #4 starters and neither is coming off a good season or generates any optimism.
25-year old righty Kevin Gausman rounds out the rotation. Gausman has decent control and was much more effective as a starter than he was coming out of the bullpen so there is some optimism there. Gausman only walked 29 batters while striking out 103 in 112 innings. He did, however, let up 15 home runs in his 17 starts.
Baltimore is going to score runs this season but the pitching staff is going to give up a lot of runs as well. Outside of the Yankees the pitching in the AL East is not very deep and the division is low on star level starting pitching so they may be able to outscore some teams. Assuming they stay healthy and the batting averages don’t dip too low or the strikeouts get too high on this power hitting lineup then I think they may have enough hitting and just enough pitching to turn in a winning season and that would get the cash on the season win total.
Tampa Bay Rays – 78 wins
With Baltimore we had a team that could score tons of runs and hit home runs at an extraordinary rate but couldn’t pitch. Now we move onto a team that can pitch but is one of the worst offenses in baseball.
The Rays have one of the best young righty-lefty combinations in Chris Archer and Matt Moore. Archer was a Cy Young candidate last season despite having just a 12-13 record. He struck out 252 batters in 212 innings pitched which was good for 2nd in the AL behind Chris Sale last season.
Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly make up the #3 and #4 spots in the rotation and both of them had their moments last season. Odorizzi struck out 150 batters in 169.1 IP and had a very respectable 1.15 WHIP. It will be interesting to see if the 13 home runs allowed after the break was a trend or just an anomaly after allowing just 5 before the break. Smyly is the other lefty in the rotation and at times he also looked great last season and ended with respectable numbers despite injuries. He ended with a 1.17 WHIP and 77 strikeouts in 66 innings pitched. If all five starters stay healthy this is a great rotation.
The problem for Tampa Bay is the offense which ranked 14th out of 15 teams last season and didn’t get any better on paper. Evan Longoria is coming off back to back sub-par seasons and looks to be moving further and further from his prime numbers despite being only 30 years old. He drove in just 73 runs last season despite getting over 600 at bats.
The rest of the infield provides little to no fear in opposing pitchers with James Loney and Steve Pearce platooning at 1B and Brad Miller at SS and Logan Forsythe at 2B.
The outfield is not much better. Desmond Jennings has never lived up to the hype failing to hit above .268 in any season since 2010 and his power never really developed either as he topped out at 14 home runs in 2013 and hit just one last season in 97 at bats. Corey Dickerson, who was acquired from the Rockies had horrible numbers away from the friendly Coors field last season and while just 26 years old there are very few indicators pointing towards a power surge there.
Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier has been one of the most talked about outfield prospects in baseball for four straight seasons. Yet his numbers last season were almost identical and even a little worse than in 2014 so he didn’t progress at all last year. He hit exactly 10 home runs two straight seasons and batted .263 exactly each of the last two seasons. To make matters worse in 2014 he hit 10 home runs with only 331 at bats and last season hit 10 with 505 at bats and struck out 95 times.
This team can only go as far as the pitching will take them. Not only is the lineup extremely poor but there is no young potential breakout stars where that make you think they could help turn it around. With that being said the Rays starting pitching will keep them in a lot of games and the 78 win total already predicts them losing 84 games. There may be enough cushion with this starting staff to take a flyer on the over and hope they get just enough hitting to squeak out a winning season.
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