Views From The 6

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By Stefan Anderson

Back to Back.

It wasn’t just the Drake diss track to Meek Mill that had the City of Toronto Charged Up. It was the back to back blockbuster trades made at the July 31st trade deadline. The Blue Jays were able to secure arguably the best SS in the MLB in Troy Tulowiski and a well needed starter in LHP David Price.

The irony that since July 29th , when Back to Back was released, the Jays have been on string of wins, 12 of the last 13, that includes 9 straight with series wins over the premier teams of the AL, the Yankees and Royals.

But it’s bigger than Drake; the Blue Jays are now the hottest team in baseball, shoring up their weakness in the pitching staff.

Over the 13-game stretch, the Toronto hurlers have held opposing batters to a .182 average.

The transformation is happening at the perfect time as the baseball season is winding into its final stretch, the Blue Jays have now fought from 8 GB of the Yankees to now knocking on the AL East’s steps at 1 game back, while taking sole possession of the AL Wild Card spot. With a huge series versus their AL East rivals this upcoming weekend, it could catapult the Jays into the position take the lead and gain some separation while doing it.

With all things going into stride for Toronto, it makes them scary heading into October, with 3 of the strongest bats with Tulowiski , Donaldson and Bautista and possible four pending the return on Edwin Encarnacion.

The Blue Jays can only be stopped by themselves.

If they continue to keep their pitching abreast with their offense, they will be running the 6ix with their wins, and an AL East pennant as well.

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The Amazing Return

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By Stefan Anderson

After remaining on the irrelevant for the nearly a decade, the New York Mets are back and making strides toward a progressive season in 2015. To talk about the Mets, I spoke with an insider and good friend of mine,Avery Decker of Mets Merized, a site that caters to everything about the Mets.

 

SA: The Mets have seen early season success, taking 1st place in the NL East and what has been the key for the Mets revival?

 

AD: You have to credit there pitching up to this point. Besides there early winning streak, the Mets haven’t really been hitting the ball all that much. They needed their pitching to carry them and continue to carry them. Bartolo Colon has been one of the better pitchers in the NL up until this point. Harvey is Harvey. The Mets have also received strong early season starts from deGrom and Gee. Now with their top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard up, it’s tough to see the staff slowing down.

 

SA: The Bullpen has been the backbone for the teams early success, how far can this group of guys shoulder the load?

 

AD:The bullpen has been way better than expected. Nobody saw Familia emerging as the league leader in saves after he was penned to be the setup man before Mejia’s suspension. He has been electric on the mound and has embraced his new role with those intangible closer characteristics. There have been some other nice surprises this year as well from Carlos Torres and Erik Goeddell who have both been consistent. Keep in mind that this bullpen lost their best left-specialist early in the year, Jeremy Blevins to a fractured forearm. This team is also waiting for Vic Black and Bobby Parnell to return from injuries as well as Mejia to return after the All-Star Break. If the bullpen can hang on until the reinforcements arrive, the Mets will have a good problem.

SA:With Tulo taking himself of the trade block, what mid season move do you see the Mets making to improve their chances?

 

AD:This is a tough one to answer. From watching the Mets for so long and understanding the beliefs of the regime in place, I don’t believe they are going to make a move. Any pressure they have from the fanbase will be put off by justifying a lack of offensive production with the losses of d’Arnaud and Wright early in the season. However, I would imagine most logical Mets fans and writers know that ontop of those two, this team still needs another bat. Another place they’ve struggled is with their defense in the infield, again a product of some injuries. However, Wilmer Flores, the player the Mets hope can handle the SS duties, is leading the team in HRs and RBIs. Tough to take him out of the lineup. I would still argue that their isn’t really a small move to make because the rotation and bullpen are solid right now. Sure you can add a bench guy but that won’t do much and the Mets have some strong bench options in AAA. I think it’s boom or bust with a trade, you go after someone big or go with what you have.

The trade I would really like to see the Mets do is to trade Murphy. He has been a consistent hitter over the past couple years, but he will be a free agent this off season. He will demand more than I think he’s worth and probably more than the Mets will pay him. Rather than losing him outright, I would rather trade him for a young prospect or something like that. Alderson has proved his ability to acquire young guys who work in the minors and impact the team. I don’t think they will get much for him, but a contender can surely use his bat. It makes sense because he is a sub-par defender and if the Mets plan on running Flores out there everyday, they need a better defender to counteract the poor defense in the infield that exists already.

 

SA: Wild Card or NL East champs? Which one seems more possible for the Mets?

 

AD: I still don’t see the Mets making the playoffs this year. You look up and down the lineup and it isn’t scary at all. Again, this relates to injuries but still. The lineup isn’t that of a legitimate playoff team. Contender, yes. But I will take the under on this one.

 

SA: Last question, What has been your favorite Mets moment thus far ?

AD:It’s hard to pin one moment as my favorite one of all this season. I’ve seen Harvey pitch in person and that is an experience unlike any other. However, when I go to the ballpark, one thing I always look forward to is watching Lagares roam around in CF. His defense alone is worth the price of admission. Check out his highlight reels and see what i’m talking about.
For more on the Avery Decker and the Mets, check out Mets Merized at http://metsmerizedonline.com/

2014 MLB Preview : NL West

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By Greg Hudson

For the NL West, the 2012 and 2013 seasons were about two teams: in 2012 it was the eventual World-Series-Champion San Francisco Giants, and in 2013 it was about the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2014 season seems set to be a potential showdown between the two organizations since the times when they played at Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. But appearances can be deceiving and improvements for other teams may make the NL West anyone’s to take.

 
Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81, 2nd in 2013)
 
The fact that a .500 record was good enough for second place in the division last season shows the weakness of the division on the whole. But thanks to a good offseason the Diamondbacks will be looking to finish well above .500 this year, and it will be thanks in no small part to their work to bolster the pitching staff. Veteran starter Bronson Arroyo and new closer Addison Reed will look to keep the Snakes in the playoff hunt with consistent results, while slugger Mark Trumbo joins a powerful lineup that already features Martin Prado, Cody Ross, and Paul Goldschmidt, who all know how to swing a bat.
 
Don’t expect to see them in October, but don’t expect them to drop out of the race in the early going.
 
Colorado Rockies (74-88, 5th in 2013)
 
To think that just seven years ago the Rockies rode momentum into a World Series appearance, it’s hard to fathom how far the nearly-mighty have fallen in just a few seasons. The glory days of Matt Holiday and Ubaldo Jimenez are long gone, and last season showed it as the Rockies finished at the basement of the division.
 
But there remains potential for the team, albeit it mostly in the form of some relatively unknown quantities. Starting pitchers Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles join a rotation that is wholly devoid of spark. Anderson put up mixed numbers during his time in Oakland while Lyles’ numbers with Houston are atrocious – but that may be a product of playing for baseball’s worst team rather than a lack of ability or grit.
 
The lineup has potential too, as Justin Morneau joins the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and fellow ex-Twin Michael Cuddyer in the thin air of Denver – and that could be a big factor in improving the offensive production the Rockies need if they want to reach the .500 mark again this season.
 
Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70, 1st in 2013)
 
The Dodgers won the NL West by 11 games last season with a record which may not have even earned a wild card in the American League. But the Dodgers don’t lack fire power – or star power, for that matter, with names like Clayton Kershaw, Brian Wilson, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Adrian Gonzalez at the club.
 
But despite the efforts of Cy Young-winner Kershaw and former Cy Young winner Zach Grienke, the rest of the rotation was less than stellar. Paul Maholm and Dan Haren – veterans both, join the rotation this season with a view to changing that.
 
The lineup, meanwhile, looks much the same, except for the addition of Alex Guerrero at second base to replace the outgoing Mark Ellis, and one would expect them to continue their high-powered offensive push for the playoffs, but don’t expect them to win the division by 11 games this season.
 
San Diego Padres (76-86, 3rd in 2013)
 
After years of disappointment the Padres showed significant signs of improvement last year, although the faithful shouldn’t get too excited, as their third place finish was largely due to the inexplicably poor season from the reigning champion Giants.
 
But that being said, there’s hope for this Padre’s team, thanks in no small part to some major moves in the pitching department. Highly-touted Josh Johnson joins the rotation, and relievers Alex Torres and Joaquin Benoit come to help a bullpen not know for reliability put more marks in the W column.
 
The fairly young lineup has room for improvement, but that improvement is likely to come with time. Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso are only 25 and 26, respectively, and with more experienced sluggers like Chase Headley and Will Venable in the lineup to mentor them, they could grow and mature in the kind of players that could give the Padres faithful a .500 season again soon – just not this season.
 
San Francisco Giants (74-88, 4th in 2013)
 
Hero to Zero.
 
The phrase sums up the Giants season in 2013, the year after waltzing to their second World Series title in three years. But while some consider it a one-off season, there remain struggles if the Giants want to make another run deep into October in 2014.
 
Limited off-season moves saw only two big names join the team – but they were big names. Michael Morse joins the outfield while Tim Hudson joins the rotation. But both these players embody the struggles that face the Giants: they aren’t getting any younger. Wrist surgery sidelined Morse for much of last season, while the 38-year-old Hudson has already undergone Tommy John surgery and frankly doesn’t have that many good years left in him. The bullpen is comprised almost exclusively of soon-to-be pensioners and youngsters without much experience but plenty of promise.
 
The lineup is much the same. Marco Scutaro is 38, while the rest of the infield features Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Pablo Sandoval, the oldest of whom is the 27-year-old Sandoval. And it’s the Panda who likely holds the key to the Giants’ playoff potential this season: the pudgy third baseman has dropped over 30 pounds since the end of last season and is determined to lose even more of the chub that earned him his nickname, and a healthier, more productive Sandoval could be the catalyst the Giants need to put them back in contention for October.
 
Prediction:
 
1st: Dodgers
2nd: Giants
3rd: D’Backs
4th: Padres
5th: Rockies

2014 Preview: NL Central

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By Greg Hudson
 
Chicago Cubs (66-96, 5th in 2013)
 
The Cubs had a season to forget in 2013, failing to win 70 games and failing crack into the top 5 in any statistical category with one exception: starting pitcher Edwin Jackson led the majors with 18 losses.
 
Frankly, 2014 doesn’t have much brighter prospects for the Cubbies, either, with an almost entirely unchanged lineup featuring only the addition of rookie infielder Mike Olt, while Edwin Jackson will continue taking the hill for a rotation that will add Jason Hammel. The signing of journeyman closer Jose Veras could help them win close games, but only if the lineup can produce enough runs to get him out of the pen in the first place.
 
For the time being, if you want to find the Cubs in the NL Central standings, look towards the bottom.
 
Cincinnati Reds (90-72, 3rd in 2013)
 
A 90-win season in 2013 meant the Reds were headed to the postseason, but their October dreams were cut short after a loss to division-rival Pittsburgh in the wildcard game. 
 
The Cincinnati front office was clearly satisfied with the productivity of the team, however, and the 2014 roster is set to look almost exactly as it did last season, with the only change being the replacement of Shin-Soo Choo with rookie prospect Billy Hamilton. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a sport where constant change is an accepted way of life and continuity is rare, the Reds roster has stayed together and is a few years off from experiencing the decline that has plagued the aging Yankees lineup in the past few seasons. Their entire rotation is under the age of 30, including 24-year-old who impressed with a 7-4 record and 2.92 ERA in 2013. Meanwhile the bullpen is full of experienced hurlers like Jonathon Broxton and Manny Parra, while featuring younger players like 26-year-old closer Aroldis Chapman.
 
The position players have a similar story. The only regular starters over 30 are Brandon Phillips at second and Ryan Ludwick in left, while the big hitters Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are only 30 and 26, respectively.
 
They missed out on a long postseason run last year, but look for them to be making a case to play in the NLCS this time around.
 
Milwaukee Brewers (74-88, 4th in 2013)
 
A losing record seems a fair assessment of the Brew Crew in 2013, but perhaps to finish 15 games under .500 was a little unfair. But it’s the product of playing in perhaps the most competitive division in all of baseball, with now three legitimate World Series contenders in the Central in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, where a middle-of-the-pack team doesn’t really have a chance to show it.
 
Brewers hitters ranked 16th in batting average (.252) and 14th in on base percentage (.398) last season, while the pitching staff ranked 16th in ERA (3.84) and 14th in WHIP (1.29). It was truly a middle-of-the-pack season at Miller Park.
 
It’s likely that those numbers, and the numbers in the wins column, should be about the same this year too, with perhaps a few improvements in the pitching department with the signing of veteran starter Matt Garza and set-up man Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, who returns to Miller Park after spending much of last year in Baltimore. 
 
But the mediocrity in the lineup remains, despite the addition of Mark Reynolds and his power. The simple fact is that Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez can’t be the only two sources of consistent production if the team wants to reach the .500 mark.
 
Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68, 2nd in 2013)
 
In 2013, all the promises the Pirates have made since the days that Jason Bay was a top rookie came to fruition as the Pirates secured October baseball for the first time since 1992. And it was no small miracle: a mix of experience and youth provided the right combination of speed, power, and consistency to get them to 94 wins despite sub-par hitting stats, thanks in no small part to the elite work of a pitching staff that ranked third in ERA (3.26) and 2nd in opponent batting average (.238).
 
This season looks to be another positive one, with the lineup and bullpen set to remain unchanged as young players like Jose Tabata and Starling Marte continue to develop and mature. The only major change is in the rotation, as the Pirates welcome righty hurler Edinson Volquez to a rotation that dominated opposing hitters in 2013.
 
Look to see them fighting to play in October again, but the Reds will be a tough team to beat if they want to make the playoffs again.
 
St. Louis Cardinals (97-65, 1st in 2013)
 
Last year’s World Series runners up are a veritable juggernaut, and have been since their loss in the 2004 World Series, also to Boston. Cardinals hitters ranked 3rd in runs scored and on base percentage, and 4th in batting average at .269. The pitching department was equally dominant, ranking 5th in ERA and 8th in WHIP, thanks in no small part to young phenom Michael Wacha.
 
Wacha and his friends in the rotation and the bullpen won’t be welcoming any new faces unless struck by the injury bug, but the already strong lineup has been further strengthened by shortstop Jhonny Peralta and catcher Peter Bourjos. Look to see them in the NCLS, for a start.
 
Prediction: 
1st: Cardinals
2nd: Reds *wildcard
3rd: Pirates
4th: Brewers
5th: Cubs

2014 Preview: NL East

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By Greg Hudson

 
Atlanta Braves (96-66, 1st in 2013)
 
The Braves had a spectacular season in 2013, finishing 30 games over .500 and falling just one game short of the Cardinals for top seed in the National League. But while they certainly had some powerful offensive performances – thanks to the likes of Chris Johnson, the brothers Upton, and Jason Heyward – the story of the Braves season was all about pitching. Atlanta pitchers ranked first in the majors in ERA at 3.18, and second in both quality starts (102) and WHIP (1.20), thanks is no small part to Chris Medlen’s 15 wins and 3.11 ERA, and the positively lights-out work from closer Craig Kimbrel.
 
The 2014 Braves Lineup should look very much like last year, seeing as no major moves happen into or out of Atlanta, with one major exception: the announcement that the Braves will be leaving the Atlanta Metro area and taking up residence at a new home some 15 miles out of the city. But for the next few years, until the stadium is ready for the 2017 season, Braves fans can expect the recent string of success to continue, provided the quality of players in the current lineup stick around and keep improving.
 
Miami Marlins (62-100, 5th in 2013)
 
For as impressive as the Braves were last season, the Marlins were just as much entirely awful in their second season in their new Miami home. While their pitching was an improved mediocre, Marlins hitters ranked dead last in the majors in runs scored, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and were rather lucky to lose only 100 games.
 
With such awful hitting stats it’s no surprise that the Marlins have made several lineup changes, most notably the additions of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, and Casey McGehee, who will hopefully add some production to a lineup otherwise mostly devoid of oomph.
 
There have been no major moves in the pitching staff, but top prospects Andrew Heaney and Kevin Slowey will be fighting for a spot in the rotation against the likes of Tom Koehler during spring training. A successful season for either of them will be the highlight of the year for the fish.
 
New York Mets (74-88, 3rd in 2013)
 
When one looks at the Mets season last year, one has to admit they were remarkable. A team that couldn’t really hit (29th in batting average), couldn’t really field, and aside from Cy Young candidate Matt Harvey, couldn’t really pitch (20th in opponent batting average), finished less than 15 games under .500 despite having one of the worst home records in the majors. 
 
To say that the Mets have turned the corner in the off-season would be overselling the improvements the organization has made, but there’s no doubt the division’d third-place team last season has taking steps in the right direction, signing outfielders Chris Young and Curtis Granderson, while adding veteran hurler Bartolo Colon to the rotation and set-up man Kyle Farnsworth to the bullpen.
 
It isn’t likely to be a very successful season this year, but with Matt Harvey due to return next season and some very highly rated prospects coming through the system, including infielders Gavin Cecchini and L.J. Mazzilli, son of Met legend Lee Mazzilli. Don’t expect them to play October just yet though. Yet.
 
Philadelphia Phillies (73-89, 4th in 2013)
 
The Phillies were a team of contradictions in 2013. The team with the 9th most quality starts had one of the worst ERA’s and WHIP’s in the league, and while ranking 21st in batting average, Phillies hitters ranked 24th in on base percentage. So for them to finish with 73 wins, it’s tough to predict the 2014 season based on last season’s lineup.
 
Fortunately, we don’t have to try, they’ve added several key players in an attempt to improve their weakest elements. Marlon Bird features in the outfield while AJ Burnett, Roberto Hernandez, and rookie Miguel Gonzalez are part of a total overhaul of the rotation after the retirement of Roy Halladay.
 
They won’t be in the playoffs, but they could prove spoilers for teams like the Braves and the Nationals as they fight for the division title.

2014 Preview: AL West

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By Greg Hudson

 
The 2013 season saw big changes in the AL West, namely the addition of the Houston Astros to the previously four-team division as part of the restructuring of the league. The newcomers had struggled mightily in their final seasons in the National League and that trend continued in their new division. Meanwhile, the perennial playoff contender Texas Rangers found new competition from the Oakland Athletics, while the star power of Albert Pujols in Los Angeles didn’t produce the desired results. Here’s how it looks for the 2014 season.
 
Houston Astros (51-111, 5th in 2013)
 
The Astros had a truly miserable season in 2013, and there’s little surprise to it. The 2005 World Series runners up have long lost or liquidated their best players and haven’t had the strength in the trade or free agent markets to assemble a team that can compete for anything other than last place. In 2013, Astros hitters ranked 29th in on base percentage at a lowly .299, with the team’s leading hitter Jose Altuve batting just .283. Coupled with a woeful pitching staff ranked dead last in team ERA and WHIP, the surprising stat is that they somehow managed to win 51 games.
 
But while the Astros haven’t added much quality or depth to their roster for this season, they can take heart in the progress of top prospects like pitcher Mark Appel, who could be facing major league hitters by the end of the 2015 season.
 
Los Angeles Angels (78-84, 3rd in 2013)
 
The 2013 hardly went according to script, as far as the Angels are concerned, as a team usually considered to be playoff-caliber failed to reach the .500 mark. But this failure isn’t the sign of a lack of quality, but rather a sign that the other teams in the division are improving, namely the Athletics. After all, the Angel’s have sluggers Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Trout as part of a lineup that ranked in the top five in batting average and on base percentage, along with a starting rotation featuring Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. But for all the offensive success, pitching remained a weak spot for the Angels in 2013, as the pitching staff ranked 24th in ERA with a 4.23, 26th in opponent batting average at .261, and 27th in WHIP with a 1.38.
 
New signings may help those numbers improve this season, with two new starters joining the rotation: Hector Santiago and youngster Tyler Skaggs, who impressed in limited appearances in Arizona. New setup artist Joe Smith will do his best to make life easier for closer Ernesto Frieri. The already solid lineup has also been padded with a potential .300 hitter in third baseman David Freese, while power hitter Raul Ibanez will likely fill the DH spot.
 
It’s tough to say whether they’ll be a playoff team this season, and it will likely depend on the reliability of the rotation, who certainly underperformed last season. If they can keep up with the likes of Texas and Oakland, they’ve certainly got the talent to make a run for October ball.
 
Oakland Athletics (96-66, 1st in 2013)
 
Oakland was the revelation team of 2013. Despite ranking only 14th in batting average, the A’s put up the fourth most runs in the league last year, thanks in no small part to timely hitting and the power of sluggers like Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Donaldson. A solid pitching rotation starring Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin ranked in the top 10 in most pitching departments, including the third best WHIP in the majors.
 
Considering the talent at play in Oakland, the A’s didn’t need to dip too deep into the market this off-season, but they did bolster their pitching staff with the addition of veteran starter Scott Kazmir, a move which may pay dividends. The bullpen also welcomes setup man Luke Gregerson and closer Jim Johnson. Look to see them throwing several times a week, all season, and well into October.
 
Seattle Mariners (71-91, 4th in 2013)
 
After a fairly anonymous season in 2013, the Mariners made a big move for the 2014 season, landing free agent Robinson Cano in a big-money move that has Seattle fans cheering and the rest of the country scratching its head and the length and value of the contract given to the ex-Yankee.
 
But the addition of Cano, along with DH Corey Hart and outfielder Logan Morrison, doesn’t make up all the ground between the Mariners and teams like the Rangers or Athletics. A poor performance from the pitching staff last season won’t necessarily be helped by the addition of two rookies to the starting rotation this season, despite the efforts of ace Felix Hernandez. And trusty new closer Fernando Rodney won’t have much work to do if his starters can’t give him a lead to work with.
 
They’ve still got some work to do, but things are looking up, at least.
 
Texas Rangers (91-72, 2nd in 2013)
 
The Rangers had their hearts broken by the Rays last season, but they’ve responded to the challenge of the playoff race by strengthening an already strong squad. Sure, the departures of David Murphy and Ian Kinsler hurt, but the addition of slugger Prince Fielder and hurler Tommy Hanson will only add quality to the fans in Arlington.
 
Yu Darvish will look to put his remaining doubters to shame this season, and there’s no doubt that new arrival Shin-Soo Choo will look to replicate his success in Cleveland and Cincinnati in the Lone Star state.
 
If they can play consistent baseball all season, then they stand a chance to take back the division crown from Oakland. But if they fail in that department, it’s likely that the road to the playoffs may again run through Tampa Bay.
 
Prediction:
 
1st: Athletics
2nd: Rangers
3rd: Angels
4th: Mariners
5th: Astros

2014 Season Preview : AL East

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By Greg Hudson
 
With the start of a new baseball season just a month away, Major League Baseball is ramping up with spring training and invites for young prospects to get a shot at a big-league roster spot. But the off-season has been full of big moves, big contracts, and big news about major teams and players that will have a big impact this season.
 
To preview the 2014 season, Starting Point Sports is taking a look at each division in the coming days, starting with the American League East.
 
Baltimore Orioles (85-77, 3rd in 2013)
 
The Orioles will be frustrated after failing to make the playoffs in 2013 despite securing a winning record for a second year running, as young players continued to develop into a fearsome lineup that featured Chris “Crush” Davis and Manny Machado at the corner infield positions and Adam Jones and Nick Markakis in the outfield. An underwhelming pitching rotation led by Chris Tillman struggled at times, but a sensational bullpen kept them in the hunt for a wildcard spot until a late surge from the Texas Rangers knocked them out of contention in the final weeks of the season.
 
The off-season acquisition of Ubaldo Jimenez should provide more stability to an otherwise unaltered pitching staff. The Birds have also signed veteran outfielder Delmon Young, who may prove valuable as the season progresses and they look to get back in the hunt for October baseball.
 
Boston Red Sox (97-65, 1st in 2013)
 
It was a tale of two seasons in Beantown, as the Sox went from Zeros to Heroes in 2013. After a disappoiting 2012 season that saw the perennial playoff team fall to the basement of the AL East, the Sox were a revelation in 2013, winning the AL East, the American League pennant, and the World Series. They got their largely through their high-powered offense, which led the league in runs scored, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and put together a .277 season batting average. Pitching was no less impressive, with the starting rotation providing 95 quality starts and 67 wins. The big weakness in the Sox squad was the bullpen, especially in the closer role, earning only 33 of 57 save opportunities.
 
But the Sox didn’t focus on the bullpen in the offseason, though they did pick up starting pitcher Chris Capuano who will only add to the quality in the rotation. Grady Sizemore, an ex-Indian who hasn’t played in the majors since 2011, was an interesting acquisition. I look forward to seeing whether or not he features at all this season.
 
New York Yankees (85-77, 4th in 2013)
 
The Yankees are a team in transition, and a transition made all the more moving by the announcement that the 2014 season will be Derek Jeter’s final season. The most important player in Yankees pinstripes in the past two decades and the final tie connecting the glory days of the late 1990s to the futile string of seasons in the past decade, he will leave a hole that will be almost impossible to fill.
 
But more concerning for Yankee fans this season will be all the other holes the Yankees have to fill. Suspended third baseman Alex Rodriguez may or may not be missed, but the lack of a quality replacement leaves the Yankees short in terms of power, compounded by the departure of Robinson Cano. Injury-plagued first baseman Mark Texeira will be an unknown quantity in his return this year.
 
The signing of All-Star outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will more than make up for the departure of Curtis Granderson, but the biggest acquisition was Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, pipped as a future Cy Young winner. But pitchers coming to the majors from Japan have historically been either great successes or great failures, as both Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka can attest. The quality of his season could well be the deciding factor in whether or not the Yanks get back into the hunt for October in an increasingly competitive division.
 
Tampa Bay Rays (92-71, 2nd in 2013)
 
The Rays squeaked into the playoffs last season after beating the Texas Rangers in a special win-or-go-home game to decide the final playoff spot, the first time since 1999 that a team that won 90 games failed to make the playoffs. The Rays dreams fell short in the playoffs, but the Rays will be pleased with the performances of their young up-and-coming stars, namely breakout phenom Wil Myers and lights-out pitcher Chris Archer.
 
The Rays haven’t done much to their roster in the offseason, which speaks to the strength of their drafts in recent years. The team has invited several non-roster players to try out for a big-league spot this year, including 2013 draftee Ryne Stanek, a top pitching prospect, and other highly-rated minor-leaguers Taylor Guerrieri and Oscar Hernandez. The Rays clearly think the future of the team already lies in the organization, and that says a lot about a club. 
 
Toronto Blue Jays (74-88, 5th in 2013)
 
The Blue Jays have been the only AL East team not to contend for a playoff position in the past five seasons. Their 2013 season continued a recent trend of poor pitching and middle-of-the-road hitting that put them within 15 games of a .500 record, thanks to an unusually high run output, despite ranking just 15th in batting average and on-base percentage, thanks in no small part to the speed of players like Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion, and the power of slugger Jose Bautista.
 
The Jays’ biggest weakness continues to be starting pitching, as the organization failed to make any notable signings during the off-season. But 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey will hope that his second season in Toronto will be a comeback year after a thoroughly disappointing season in defense of his Cy Young award. Mark Buerhle will also be hoping to return to the lights-out quality he produced during his days in Chicago. The Jays will need them to pull it off too, if they want to climb out of the basement of baseball’s most competitive division.
 
Prediction: In the end, despite some big moves in and out of the teams in the division, there won’t be that much change in the overall standings. The gulf in quality between the top three teams and the bottom two teams is just too much for either team to overcome. But look for the Orioles to be there in September fighting for the second wildcard spot.
 
1st: Red Sox
2nd: Rays *wildcard
3rd: Orioles *wildcard
4th: Yankees
5th: Blue Jays