It all seemed to be coming together for the Toronto Blue Jays late last summer and, bat flip or no bat flip, it almost did. The Jays had to settle for winning the Eastern Division with 93 victories and then losing in six games in the League Championship Series to eventual World Champion Kansas City, but when they added Troy Tulowitzki and David Price to an already solid team it had seemed as though the Skydome was the limit.
Now, with Price taking the money train to Boston and Mark Buehrle retired, the Blue Jays do not seem to be impressing the experts as they did some short months ago but, looking at the competition, I find it hard to believe that they will not repeat. This would be a really fun team to follow if they had a decent yard to play in at home, one where home runs were not so cheap and where sunshine and grass were permitted to flourish. Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson give Toronto a very, very, strong left side of the infield, both offensively and defensively. That is provided, of course, that shortstop Tulowitzki spends more time on the field than on the disabled list. Then you have Ryan Goins, a golden glove candidate at second base, Kevin Pillar, likewise golden in center field, and Russell Martin, who is now the best catcher in the American League. So there is your basic, old school, strength up the middle core, plus nobody in the league scores more runs. Right fielder Jose Bautista struck out 106 times last season (is that now, like, the average?) BUT he walked more (110 times) and his OPS of .913 gives him slack to flip out a little now and then.
Ah, you say, but what about pitching? Well, Buehrle and Price are gone but Marcus Stroman is back, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey eats innings, as the gourmet analysts say, and the Jaybirds have a pretty strong bullpen featuring Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil among others. They also have a couple of very useful bench players, infielder Darwin Barney and outfielder Ezequiel Carrera. It won’t be a cakewalk, but the Jays have a lot of acorns stashed as 2016 begins.
I’m taking a big, deep breath first, but now I’m going to write that the New York Yankees just might be the next strongest contender in the A.L. East. There are some big “ifs” involved here, but not nearly as many as the Steinbrenners had going into last season. The repulsive Alex Rodriguez proved he could still hit at age 64 last season, but the Yanks don’t even really need him this time around IF: the injury riddled starting pitching staff can keep them in range of victories before a potentially devastating relief corps that will eventually include Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman take over and IF: Mark Teixeira can once again play enough to get the 392 at bats he had last year and IF: the new double play combination of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro hold together in the field as well as at bat. Gregorius was glorious in 2015. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have speed and defensive prowess in the outfield and old Carlos Beltran wasn’t as washed up as we all thought he was last year. Brian McCann is good enough behind the plate and Dustin Ackley and Aaron Hicks are capable backups.
A lot of the East Coast bias types have somehow figured out that the Red Sox are pennant winners again. Well, the David Price addition is certainly more promising than the Pablo Sandoval one was last year. They do have some players, notably the fly chasing center fielder Jackie Bradley, whose hitting appears still to be a work in progress, and Mookie Betts who became the replacement for Jacoby Ellsbury that they have craved. David Ortiz is the fine wine element, raking away on into retirement. Dustin Pedroia has slowed just a bit but could provide dramatic leadership if they threaten to contend, After Price, however, we have Joe Kelly, Rick Porcello, and Steven Wright, none of whom are reminding us of Jim Lonborg or Pedro Martinez. The enigmatic Clay Buchholz could be great or lousy, we never know. Xander Bogaerts has developed nicely at shortstop but Hanley Ramirez, once a four tool sensation, has become a designated sitter type who isn’t even hitting that well. Not this year, beaneaters.
The Baltimore Orioles were my pick in this division last year, which shows how much I know. They had shown many good things in 2014, especially a sterling defense and lots of power in a power friendly home yard. They had Matt Wieters and Manny Machado coming back from injuries. But they also had a pitching staff that performed much better than they would in 2015, especially starters like Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez, and shortstop J.J. Hardy was still very good in the field but slipped badly at the plate. Adam Jones is great in center, and Jonathan Schoop broke out big time at second base, while Chris Davis was his old self at first and Machado was a good MVP candidate. So the Orioles have weapons, but Buck Showalter will need to work magic with a marginal crew of starting pitchers if they are to fly high.
Okay, name five players other than Chris Archer who are on Tampa Bay’s roster. You people in St. Petersburg don’t get to play. Well, they still have Evan Longoria, and he’s still pretty good. They also have Tropicana’s version of Willie Mays, at least defensively, in Kevin Kiermaier. For some reason they released James Loney. Can’t be because they have Logan Morrison, who hit .225 in another bad yard for hitters, Seattle. Steve Pearce is a good all around backup who devastates left handed pitchers. The pitching staff has good numbers but again, it’s a terrible place to hit–or watch baseball, for that matter. Wher have you gone Joe DiMaddongio?