2016 AL East Predictions: Orioles Defy the Haters Once Again

orioles player walking by fans in stand holding champion flag
Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP

Spring Training is over. And what a spring it was. Dexter Fowler was an Oriole. And then he wasn’t. Miguel Gonzalez was an Oriole. And then he wasn’t; but he might be again? Hyun-Soo Kim was the starting left fielder. And then he wasn’t. Joey Rickard was a long-shot Rule V pick. Now he’s the starting left fielder. Tumultuous to say the least.

But with everything that happened in what felt like the longest–and strangest–offseason in recent memory, excitement still looms as the Baltimore Orioles get set to open their season tomorrow against the Minnesota Twins. So where will the Orioles land when the season comes to a close on October 2nd? Will they make a return to playoffs, or will they be on the outside looking in once again? Everybody in baseball seems to be choosing the latter, with win predictions ranging anywhere from 69-82 wins. I see it a bit differently. Without further ado, here are my 2016 American League East predictions.

 

  1. Baltimore Orioles (88-74)
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (87-75)
  3. New York Yankees (84-78)
  4. Boston Red Sox (82-80)
  5. Tampa Bay Rays (78-84)

 

1. Baltimore Orioles

I know how this looks. Believe me, I know how this looks. But I’m all in this year. Somebody has to be. We all know what this team can do. Their lineup can absolutely mash. Sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez have been added to a lineup that has hit 200+ home runs in each of the last four seasons, including 217 in 2015.

This team, on paper, has a chance to set the all-time home run record, featuring six players who have posted 30+ HR seasons. They can play defense as well as anybody, featuring four Gold Glove-winning players in Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, and Matt Wieters. Chris Davis was a finalist for the award in 2013, and Jonathan Schoop may have the strongest arm and turn the best double play of any 2B in baseball.

And the bullpen is one of the best in the game, featuring two pitchers in Darren O’Day and Zach Britton who were rated in the top 10 for relief pitchers. Britton’s sinker was voted the best pitch in Major League Baseball.

Now, I could stop here and my argument would be valid and legitimate. But that wouldn’t be responsible. This team has a huge hole, and that is in the starting rotation. Chris Tillman, Yovani Gallardo, and Ubaldo Jimenez round out the top three. If you looked at this rotation just two years ago, it would be a no-brainer to pick the O’s first in the division. But Tillman had his worst statistical season in 2015 since he became a mainstay in the rotation four years ago, Gallardo’s velocity is down and his WHIP is up, an Jimenez is still Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, turning in a dazzling start followed by a bewildering one on a regular basis.

With Mike Wright earning the fourth spot, and the fifth spot still up for grabs (Tyler Wilson is my guess), this rotation leaves much to be desired. Wright has nothing left to prove in the minors, and as manager Buck Showalter alluded to, his time has come.

Tillman, Gallardo, and Jimenez have proven track records for success, but also have seen some failures in their careers. The Orioles don’t need them to do much. If the starting rotation can pitch to an ERA around 4.00, the team will win a ton of games. I think that’s what ultimately ends up happening, especially after Kevin Gausman makes his return to the rotation.

Come October 2nd, all will be right in Birdland.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

Power, power, power. This team has a ton of power, much like the Orioles. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki. There’s no doubt, these guys can hit the long ball as well as any team in the game. Defensively, they are sound, but not spectacular. Tulo is very dependable defensively, as is Donaldson. Kevin Pillar is as good as they come in the outfield, no matter if he’s in left or center. And Jose Bautista is a solid right fielder with a cannon for an arm.

The bullpen is OK, with Brett Cecil, Drew Storen, and Robert Osuna forming a formidable back-end of the ‘pen. But the rest of the crew doesn’t strike fear in many players. What it all comes down to for the Jays is the starting rotation. Marcus Stroman is an ace in the making, but has yet to pitch a full season and is still only a year removed from a torn ACL. Marco Estrada is coming off a very solid 2015, and might be the most underrated pitcher on the staff, while R.A. Dickey is as dependable as they come, though age may catch up with him at some point as he starts the season at 41-years old.

The biggest question mark is J.A. Happ. In 21 games with the Padres last year, Happ pitched to a 4.64 ERA, but posted a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts with the Pirates after a mid-season trade. If he lands somewhere in between those numbers, this team is going to be dangerous again.

3. New York Yankees

Joe Girardi is as good as they come as a manager. The way he navigates through injuries and one of the oldest rosters in the game is incredible. Seven of the nine regulars will be 32 years old or older by mid-May. Three of them (Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez) are aged 36 or older. The team can still hit, as evidenced by the 212 HR they launched last season, as well as the 764 runs they scored, second only to the Blue Jays in all of baseball.

But with the power the O’s and Jays have in their lineups, the Yankees fall just short of matching up. The starting rotation has talent, but lacks results. Masahiro Tanaka is an ace, but he is also a Tommy John surgery waiting to happen. Michael Pineda has great stuff, but was mediocre last season, registering a 4.37 ERA in 27 starts. Pineda has never made 30 starts in a season. Nathan Eovaldi had a sterling record last year at 14-3, but his 4.20 ERA needs to improve this season. Luis Severino is nasty, plain and simple. A full season out of him could catapult the Yankees, but he could also have growing pains. And C.C. Sabathia‘s best years are behind him. He hasn’t been good since 2012, but he provides a veteran presence on the mound and eats innings despite a lackluster ERA.

The real strength of the team comes from the bullpen. Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman comprise the scariest bullpen in all of baseball. All of them have closer-stuff, and all of them are practically unhittable. Chapman will miss the first 30 games due to a personal conduct suspension, and Miller, while still active, took a line drive off his right wrist which could cause some discomfort while throwing, though apparently not enough to DL him. Betances has thrown 174 innings the last two years, which is a ton for a non-starter.

You can’t predict injuries, but if those innings continue to pile up, a dead arm would not be surprising. These guys aren’t robots. The main thing for the Yankees is health. If they stay healthy all year, they’ll be right there at the end. But that’s a big IF.

4. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have a nice infusion of youth mixed in with veteran talent. Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. are all good, young players just coming into their own. Bogaerts and Betts broke out last season, with Bogaerts batting .320 and Betts batting .290 with 18 home runs. JBJ’s numbers all trended in the right direction, and if his offense ever catches up with his defense, look out.

Over in left, Brock Holt was an All-Star in 2015, but probably because the Red Sox were a last-place team and needed a representative. With a lineup that includes David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Hanley Ramirez, the Red Sox offense should keep pace. It hurts the team that they have $95 million sitting on their bench in Pablo Sandoval, who seems to show no interest in getting in shape to live up to his contract.

The problem comes with the pitching. After David Price (SP) and Craig Kimbrel (CP), there’s not a ton left. In the rotation, Bucholz is as much a roller coaster type player as there is, and has posted solid numbers since his injury-shortened 2013 campaign. Eduardo Rodriguez will start the year on the DL, Joe Kelly just learned how to pitch in the big leagues last season, and Rick Porcello is the most overrated and over-paid pitcher in the game today. In the bullpen, Koji Uehara is dependable and consistent, but tends to wear down late in the year. Junichi Tazawa is solid, but after him the bullpen is average at best, now that Carson Smith will start the year on the DL, a huge blow to the team.

The Red Sox will contend this season, but they’ll fall off late and settle in to fourth place.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

Same old song and dance here. The Rays can pitch. They have the best starting rotation in the division;tThat isn’t up for debate. But the Rays bullpen might be the worst in the division, and their best reliever, Brad Boxberger, is expected to miss two months following groin surgery. Offensively, Evan Longoria is a very good player, and Corey Dickerson adds average and power to the middle of the order. The problem is, aside from those two players, the lineup features a bunch of .250 hitters with little-to-no power.

Good starting pitching is nice, but this rotation needs to be on every single night for the Rays to have any shot at contending this year. At some point, ownership needs to step up and put a better offense on the field to go along with this rotation. There’s really not much else to say about this team. In a loaded division, they’re the weakest team.

Well there you have it, folks. My 2016 American League East predictions. I know I’ll be accused of “drinking the orange kool-aid” or being a homer, but this is how I see the division unfolding. Every team has its strengths, every team has it weaknesses. But there is no stat for team chemistry, and I think the O’s and Jays have the best chemistry in the division, along with the most talent.

No matter what happens, it’s going to be a fun, and probably nerve-racking season in 2016.

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