Spotlight on the Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa can’t hit, but by the end of the season, they’ll look like last year’s Mets team. The rotation is young and deadly, with Cy Young finalist Chris Archer at the top. He’ll be supported by Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, and Matt Moore, all promising but injury-prone pitchers. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier succeeded third baseman Evan Longoria as the best Rays position player, but both could snag All Star appearances. Steven Souza should lead the power department, but for Tampa to make a real run they’ll need even more offensive contributions.
Best of the Rest
2)Boston Red Sox
A youth movement in Boston has the Sox pointed towards a resurgence. Outfielder Mookie Betts hit .291 with 18 homers in 145 games in his rookie year and combines a strong bat with stellar fielding. Shortstop Xander Boegarts made the leap and led the team with a .320 batting average, while outfielder Rusney Castillo and catcher Blake Swihart are prepping to make their mark as rookies. While those young stars rise up to the majors, 2016 marks the last season of DH David Ortiz. The Red Sox acquired David Price as a free agent to head the rotation and closer Craig Kimbrel to anchor a great bullpen. Pitching will be the key.
3)Toronto Blue Jays
The best offense in baseball fell in the American League championship, but even as the unit remains intact, the pitching is an issue. Ace David Price, acquired at midseason, left in free agency, leaving the promising but unproven Marcus Stroman (1.67 ERA, 4 wins) at the top of a sub-par rotation. MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson heads a scary good lineup, which also includes slugger Jose Bautista and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Baltimore is a dark horse to steal a playoff spot in the crowded American League. Slugger Chris Davis was retained, keeping the core of Davis, outfielder Adam Jones, and third baseman Manny Machado intact. Otherwise, the offseason was quiet and disappointing and the weakest link, the rotation, wasn’t improved. Manager Buck Showalter will have his hands full maximizing the potential of this team, but if the pitching can be above average, the O’s have a shot.
5)New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers came out of nowhere to win 87 games and reach the AL wild card game. The reason was strong seasons from the veterans, from Alex Rodriguez to Mark Teixera to Brian McCann. The Yankees kept their players, but 2016 will be a step back as the rest of the division moves on. The rotation is a problem, and their main trade acquisition, closer Aroldis Chapman, is banned 50 games for domestic violence. 2015 was a fluke and New York will fall to the bottom of the East.