Results tagged ‘ Red Sox ’

Pujols’ wrist, Richards’ return, Cron’s future, garden gnomes …

Albert Pujols returned to the Angels’ lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox from Fenway Park, two days after a fastball caught him on the left hand/wrist.

Pujols initially thought for sure that he was headed for the disabled list, but a CT scan revealed only a bruise and the swelling on the bottom of his left hand went down significantly. The Angels’ 35-year-old first baseman is going to have to hit through a little bit of pain, but believes it’s manageable.

“Albert is as tough as they come,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He wants to play. He’ll go out there when he’s at 60 percent. He’ll go out there and compete and usually get it done. He just wants to play.”

Here’s the Angels’ lineup …

Erick Aybar, SS
Mike Trout, CF
Pujols, 1B
Kole Calhoun, RF
David Freese, 3B
Matt Joyce, LF
Chris Iannetta, C
Marc Krauss, DH
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

SP: RH Garrett Richards (3-2, 2.29 ERA)

Richards dismissed the thought of there being any added emotion upon returning to Fenway, the place where he suffered the gruesome knee injury that ended his season and sent him on a long rehab on Aug. 20. Scisocia place much significance on it, either.

“It wasn’t Fenway Park that hurt his leg,” Scioscia said. “It was just a baseball field. I think he’ll be fine.”

Some additional notes …

  • C.J. Cron scorched through Spring Training, but he has a .200/.222/.274 slash line and isn’t starting against right-handers. He’s still 25 and developing as a hitter. Is it best for him to go to the Minor Leagues to work some things out at the plate and get some regular playing time? “You don’t have to get [at-bats] seven days [a week], but if you are getting them one day a week, then there’s a discussion of what’s best for the team and what’s best for the player. C.J. has gotten enough at-bats where if he’s swinging like he can, he’d be contributing. But he hasn’t found that swing yet.”
  • A more positive memory from Fenway Park was Calhoun’s brilliant catch over the right-field fence. “That was incredible. You know, most guys would’ve probably caught that neck-high,” Scioscia quipped. Calhoun is listed at 5-foot-10 and Collin Cowgill, who typically comes in as a defensive replacement in left field, is listed at 5-foot-9. “When him and Cowgill are out there, they’re two LA Angels garden gnomes. That’s what I tell Trout — make sure you don’t step on them.”
  • The Red Sox called up Rusney Castillo and optioned Jackie Bradley Jr.

Alden

And so it begins …

safeco-fieldOpening Day is finally here, and Safeco Field seems like a fitting place to start. It’s home to the team many have picked to win the American League West. And it kicks off with a matchup between Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver, the two guys who have made the most consecutive Opening Day starts in the Majors (Hernandez at seven, Weaver at six).

But Opening Day is only a ceremonial thing. “One of 162,” as many say. The season is long and arduous. And by the end of it, what happens on Opening Day or even in the first series will be nothing but a distant memory (like last year, when the Mariners embarrassed the Angels with a lopsided sweep in Southern California at the start of April).

If the Angels want to win another division title, they’ll have to answer several questions over the course of these next six months. And below are the seven most prominent …

1. What becomes of Josh Hamilton?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the Angels aren’t necessarily in a welcoming mood with Hamilton, who’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be suspended for a self-reported drug relapse. The tone of their statements after news broke — and what they’ve said privately leading up to it — made you wonder if they even want him around. He’s a very likable guy, but he hasn’t lived up to his massive contract and his latest relapse struck a nerve with the Angels’ brass (make of that what you will). He won’t be going away, though. He’s owed $83 million over the next three years, so the Angels have to see what they get out of him. How does he fit into the roster? What type of production does he provide in his age-34 season? And how does he mesh with a team that may be better off without him? It’ll be the most fascinating storyline this season.

2. How good is Garrett Richards?

Richards has yet to allow a run in three Minor League outings and could return to the rotation by April 19 if all goes well, which means he basically misses only two starts. How good will he be upon returning, though? As good as he was leading up to the season-ending left knee injury he suffered Aug. 20? If so, this Angels rotation — with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago set to open the season — is more dangerous than people think. If not, they’re very vulnerable. A lot rides on Richards’ 26-year-old right arm (not to mention that left knee).

3. What will the Angels get out of second base?

They aren’t fooling themselves into thinking they’ll replicate the production of Howie Kendrick. If C.J. Cron takes the next step in his maturation process (see: patience), David Freese stretches his last four months into a full season and Albert Pujols continues to look as good as he did this spring, they won’t need it. But replacement level production would be nice. Johnny Giavotella will get the first crack, but we may see many guys play second base this year.

4. Who gets the lefties out?

The Angels haven’t had a true lefty specialist since the 2012 version of Scott Downs, and Downs wasn’t really used as a lefty specialist. Last year, the Angels’ go-to reliever to get lefty hitters out was the right-handed Fernando Salas, who has a nice changeup that darts away from left-handed hitters. Ideally, they’d have that traditional left-on-lefty guy. Mike Scioscia has mentioned Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez as possibilities, but they’re multi-inning relievers who don’t have the big stuff that plays in that role. The next hope would be Santiago, but that would hinge on Andrew Heaney or Nick Tropeano developing well enough to warrant Santiago’s current rotation spot.

5. How do they upgrade the roster?

Even without saving any money on Hamilton’s contract, the Angels enter the season with $10 to $15 million of wiggle room. That’s what Arte Moreno said early in camp. It’s more payroll flexibility than they’ve had in a while, and they plan to use it. Question is, how? Do they get a second baseman, even though there aren’t many of them out there? (Chase Utley looks like a long shot, because of how intimidating his contract is and because of his no-trade clause). Do they get an outfield/DH bat? Do they get a starting pitcher (a lot of big names are entering their walk years)? Or do they add more bullpen pieces, like they did last year? June/July should be very eventful.

6. What kind of year does Mike Trout have?

You could reasonably expect a great one, considering he stays healthy. But how does he follow up a season that saw him win the AL MVP unanimously? We saw Trout transition into more of a power game last year, hitting more home runs and stealing fewer bases. But he’s only 23 years old, scary as that seems, and he’s still figuring out who he’s going to be in this game. My guess is he cuts down those strikeouts — I don’t know anyone who truly believes Trout is a 180-strikeout-a-year player — but doesn’t increase his stolen-base total by much. The Angels seem content with how often they sent Trout last year. Teams watch him closely and, far more relevant in this matter, steals cause a lot of wear and tear on the body.

7. Are the Angels better than the Mariners?

That’s probably what it’s going to come down to. The Mariners are a popular pick to win the division, because their rotation could be something fierce, their bullpen was one of the best in the game last season and their lineup got a big missing piece they needed in power hitter Nelson Cruz. But the Angels return the core group of a team that led the Majors in wins and finished second in run-differential last year. They’re starting a season with what should be a reliable bullpen for the first time since Jerry Dipoto came on board in October 2011 and they carry the confidence of succeeding with this group.

It should be interesting.

And to get you ready, here’s a look at our Opening Day content, in case you missed anything …

MORE LINKS! An updated depth chart is here, injury updates are here, pitching probables are here and a look at the top 30 prospects is here. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe to my weekly Angels podcast with Richard Justice here.

MLB.com compiled dozens of predictions on who will win each division, how the postseason will play out and where all the major individual awards will go. Below were my picks, if you’re interested …

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: Angels
NL Wild Cards: Marlins, Pirates
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Indians
NL champion: Nationals
AL champion: Angels
World Series champion: Nationals
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL Rookie of the Year: Steven Souza

Feliz Opening Day!

Alden

You can win in October without dominant starters …

Mike Scioscia, Dino EbelIt’s no secret. If the Angels — considering a three-man rotation for the American League Division Series — are to go far in the playoffs, they’ll have to rely heavily on their deep bullpen.

The question is: Will it work?

One of baseball’s dogmas says teams that are “built for the playoffs” are the ones that have dominant starting pitching. But in the Wild Card era, that hasn’t proven to be true. Consider: Since 1995, the Major League quality-start percentage has been 48.88 in the regular season, 48.88 in the postseason and 51.96 in the World Series; in terms of innings per start, it’s 5.91 in the regular season, 5.76 in the postseason and 5.88 in the World Series. That’s a very negligible difference, especially when you consider all the bad teams that are lumped into that regular-season category.

Now here’s a case-by-case look at each of the last 19 World Series champions, with the first stat being innings per start and the second being the amount of quality starts throughout the postseason …

2013 Red Sox: 5.81 IP, 8 of 16 QS
2012 Giants: 5.64 IP, 6 of 16 QS
2011 Cardinals: 5.11 IP, 7 of 18 QS
2010 Giants: 6.44 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2009 Yankees: 6.29 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2008 Phillies: 5.9 IP, 10 of 14 QS
2007 Red Sox: 6 IP, 6 of 14 QS
2006 Cardinals: 6.20 IP, 10 of 16 QS
2005 White Sox: 7.66 IP, 9 of 12 QS
2004 Red Sox: 5.61 IP, 9 of 14 QS
2003 Marlins: 5.66 IP, 8 of 17 QS
2002 Angels: 5.02 IP, 2 of 16 QS
2001 D-backs: 7.08 IP, 14 of 17 QS
2000 Yankees: 6.42 IP, 8 of 16 QS
1999 Yankees: 6.58 IP, 10 of 12 QS
1998 Yankees: 6.79 IP, 9 of 13 QS
1997 Marlins: 5.83 IP, 5 of 16 QS
1996 Yankees: 5.42 IP, 5 of 15 QS
1995 Braves: 6.64 IP, 10 of 14 QS

That’s nine of 19 champions that got less than six innings per start during the playoffs, and seven that won the World Series despite receiving a quality start in less than half of their postseason games. Look at the 2002 Angels. Stunning. Managers tend to have quick hooks in the playoffs, because it’s all hands on deck and because the off days tend to keep bullpens relatively fresh.

So, you can win in October with a deep bullpen, a good offense and a rotation that keeps you in the game. And the Angels have the potential for that. Since Garrett Richards went down, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago have allowed three earned runs or less in 20 of 23 starts (includes tonight).

Just something to think about.

Alden

Richards injures knee, carried out on stretcher …

Garrett RichardsGarrett Richards’ left knee buckled while sprinting to cover first base in Wednesday’s second inning at Fenway Park and had to be carted off the field in a stretcher. The Angels initially called it a left patellar injury, awaiting further evaluations before announcing anything more definitive.

Nonetheless, the ailment looks serious.

And now the first-place Angels — sporting a one-game lead on the A’s for the best record in the Majors when play began — are facing the scenario of potentially being without their best starting pitcher for the rest of the season, with little help available in their Minor League system.

With one out, runners on first and second and the Red Sox leading, 2-0, in the bottom of the second, Brock Holt hit a grounder to the right side that Albert Pujols fielded and fired to shortstop Erick Aybar at second. Richards came over for the potential inning-ending double play, but collapsed just before reaching the bag and was on the ground for about eight minutes.

All of the Angels starters surrounded Richards, with Pujols momentarily holding Richards’ hand and Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz came out to show his support as they lifted the 26-year-old right-hander onto the stretcher, a moment that drew a standing ovation from Red Sox fans in attendance.

Richards entered Wednesday’s start 13-4 with a 2.53 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 167 innings, numbers that made him a candidate for the AL’s Cy Young Award. The Angels have already lost 23-year-old starter Tyler Skaggs to Tommy John surgery, and are thin on starting pitching in their farm system. Potential call-ups from Triple-A include lefty Wade LeBlanc (4.00 ERA in 21 starts), lefty Randy Wolf (5.26 ERA in 25 2/3 innings) and righty Chris Volstad (5.45 ERA in six starts). Another option could be lefty Michael Roth, who is 10-6 with a 2.82 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A Arkansas.

Below are some of the tweets that have been sent out in support of Richards …

Alden

Hamilton sits again in Boston …

Angels cleanup hitter Josh Hamilton was out of the starting lineup for a second straight day on Monday, with manager Mike Scioscia wanting to give him some extra time to recover from his ongoing slump.

Hamilton has five hits and 18 strikeouts in his last 38 at-bats, dropping his batting average to .266 while keeping him stuck on eight home runs in 72 games. He’s scheduled to come to Fenway Park early on Tuesday to have a one-on-one session with hitting coaches Don Baylor and Dave Hansen “to try to find a comfortable concept in the batter’s box that he can take to the game,” Scioscia said.

“I’m all right,” Hamilton said, “but I don’t make the lineup. … I’m gonna do some early work tomorrow, see how it goes. If I hit enough out, I’ll play.”

With Hamilton out, Howie Kendrick – with 10 hits in his last 30 at-bats – batted in the No. 4 spot for the second straight day and Brennan Boesch started in left field, with Albert Pujols at designated hitter and Efren Navarro at first base. Scioscia will try to stay away from Hamilton in the series opener against the Red Sox.

The 33-year-old slugger has missed five games in the last nine days, if you count two Angels off days on Tuesday and Thursday. Hamilton got mental breaks Monday and each of the last two Sundays.

“It brings a lot of attention to what you’re trying to do when a guy you count on to hit in the middle of your lineup is struggling for a long period of time. We have every confidence, and I know Josh does, that he’s going to find it and he’s going to contribute. Any concern would just be short term trying to find a path that’s going to get him where he needs to be. This guy’s going to hit.”

Alden

Can the Angels ‘respond’ to the aggressive A’s? …

Arte Moreno, Jerry DipotoI asked Jerry Dipoto recently about watching the A’s, not just where they’re at in the standings but what moves they make, and how that affects whether the Angels win the division or have to play for one of those do-or-die Wild Card spots. He said they have to focus on what’s best for them, and that if you try to react to other teams and get wrapped up in a game of scenarios, “you’ll talk yourself into bad decisions.”

Fair enough.

But the A’s just got Jon Lester. It was the ultimate “win-now” move, sending fan favorite Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox in exchange and bringing former fan favorite Jonny Gomes back. Now Lester — three-time All-Star, big-time postseason performer — joins a rotation that includes recent addition Jeff Samardzija along with Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez.

The A’s have better starting pitching than the Angels (that almost goes without saying). They also have a better record (leading by 2 1/2 games when play began on Thursday). On top of that, they have a far more favorable schedule (I went into that here). And the last thing the Angels want is for their season — a great season, with the second-best record in baseball, amid an ever-shrinking championship window — to come down to one elimination game because they had to settle for the Wild Card.

But here’s the problem: It would be really hard for the Angels to “react” to the aggressive A’s, even if they wanted to.

Lester going to Oakland won’t magically inject the Angels’ farm system with a bevy of prospects necessary to get a top-of-the-rotation starter. They just don’t have it. What little they had was sent to San Diego in exchange for closer Huston Street. Prior to getting Street, the Angels checked in on David Price (again), and they tried to acquire teammate Ian Kennedy. And the message they received was clear: Their farm system isn’t getting them a major rotation upgrade. So, they went the bullpen route, and created one of the best relief corps in baseball.

It seems there are only two ways for the Angels to truly beef up their rotation …

1. If they want to do it before 4 p.m. ET, they’d have to part ways with Major League players. Asked about that late last week, Dipoto said, “I don’t want to break up this group.” That, of course, was before the A’s traded for Lester. Maybe he changes his mind on this; but that remains doubtful.

2. Wait until August. And this is a legitimate possibility, because the Angels have money left over (they’re somewhere between $10 and $15 million under the luxury-tax threshold, if my math is correct) but don’t want to give up more prospects from a thin farm system they’re trying to cultivate. The former plays in August, when teams can put in claims on anybody who goes through waivers and players can’t be traded unless they clear; the ladder, not so much.

So this is where the Angels stand moving forward. Tonight, they’ll play another game against another contender, and they’ll try to avoid a sweep from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. They can look forward to the possibility of C.J. Wilson likely rejoining the rotation by Saturday, and hope that he’s fixed whatever it was that caused him to give up 19 runs in 16 2/3 innings from June 24 to July 9.

And that, still, may be the best acquisition they make.

Alden

Garrett Richards’ second inning: Immaculate …

nolanNolan Ryan and Garrett Richards.

That’s it.

Those are the only two guys in Angels history to record an immaculate inning, which consists of nine pitches and three strikeouts. Ryan did it on June 9, 1972, in the second inning against the Red Sox. Richards did it on Wednesday, in the second inning of a 4-0 win over the Astros.

“That was my guy growing up,” Richards said after eight shutout innings. “It’s cool. It’s cool to be put in a group with a guy like that. I didn’t even realize it until after the game. It was fun. It was a fun game to be a part of.”

Yes, Richards is way too young to grow up idolizing Ryan. He’s 26, which means he was 5 years old during the Hall of Famer’s final season with the Rangers in 1993. But his father was a big fan of Ryan, and that made Richards, raised in Southern California, a fan, too.

“I met him one time in Texas,” Richards said. “It was awesome.”

Here’s how the bottom of the second went (video here) …

Jon Singleton: 96-mph fastball (foul), 88-mph slider (swinging), 79-mph curveball (swinging).
Matt Dominguez: 95-mph cutter (looking), 97-mph fastball (swinging), 97-mph cutter (looking).
Chris Carter: 97-mph cutter (swinging), 79-mph curveball (swinging), 88-mph slider (swinging).

Three others have thrown an immaculate inning this season (Justin Masterson of the Indians on June 2, Cole Hamels of the Phillies on May 17 and Brad Boxberger of the Rays on May 8), and Richards’ is the 55th in Major League history. Thirty-three have come in the National League, twenty-two have come in the American League. Ryan also accomplished it with the Mets in 1968, and Lefty Grove did it twice in one season (1928, with the A’s). Nobody has ever done it more than once in the same game (here’s the full list).

“That’s just the type of stuff you rarely ever see,” catcher Hank Conger said. “But with a guy like Garrett, that’s the type of things that can happen, especially with his type of stuff.”

Alden

Mike Trout’s jersey cracks Top 20 …

The latest list of most popular jerseys was unveiled on Thursday morning, and Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz ranks first. That’s no surprise, given that numbers are based on sales in the offseason, after the 2013 World Series was concluded. Naturally, teammate and fellow champion Dustin Pedroia ranks second.

Mike Trout, meanwhile, ranks 14th. When the previous list came out in late September, based on sales following the 2013 All-Star Game, Trout was 10th. Both seem a little low for the game’s best all-around player and potential “face of baseball.” But overall team popularity plays a huge part in these numbers, which is a big reason why the Red Sox (3), Yankees (2), Dodgers (2), Cardinals (2) and Rangers (2) have more than one current representative.

Here’s the full list …

1. Ortiz
2. Pedroia
3. Derek Jeter (NYY)
4. Yadier Molina (StL)
5. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
6. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
7. Buster Posey (SFG)
8. David Wright (NYM)
9. Robinson Cano (NYY/SEA)
10. Manny Machado (BAL)
11. Yasiel Puig (LAD)
12. Bryce Harper (WAS)
13. Miguel Cabrera (DET)
14. Trout
15. Matt Harvey (NYM)
16. Prince Fielder (DET/TEX)
17. Adam Wainwright (StL)
18. Koji Uehara (BOS)
19. Yu Darvish (TEX)
20. Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS/NYY)

Alden

Angels don’t have to wait until Opening Day with Trout

It turns out the Angels no longer have to wait until Opening Day for Mike Trout to put pen to paper on a long-term extension.

The Angels don’t want the average annual value of Trout’s potential new extension — still under negotiations — to affect their Collective Balance Tax payroll until the 2015 season, so that they don’t blow past the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in 2014. But the club recently found out, and confirmed through Major League Baseball, that they don’t necessarily have to wait until after Opening Day to have Trout sign (and subsequently announce) a long-term extension in order for that to be the case.

As soon as Trout’s compensation for 2014 is set, his AAV on a long-term deal automatically won’t count until the following season.

The rule changed shortly after Adrian Gonzalez signed a seven-year, $154 million extension with the Red Sox — a deal that was being talked about in December 2010 and wasn’t signed until the following April for CBT purposes — but it’s unclear when it was adopted.

The purpose for the change was to guard against teams going through an entire spring without having the deal get signed because their weary of the CBT, and then having the player be subject to potential injury and the contract getting nixed.

The Angels are currently in the process of agreeing with their zero to three guys (those who are pre-arbitration), and Trout’s could get done soon. After that, he can sign an extension at any point. Neither side would comment on a potential deal on Monday, but nothing is imminent — despite a Sunday report from Yahoo! Sports that the Angels and Trout are working on a six-year, $150 million contract.

Alden

Division-by-division: AL East …

Red Sox Parade BaseballLeading up to Spring Training, I’ll take a look at each of the six divisions in hopes of providing an overview for what to expect this coming season. Next up, the AL East.

Yankees
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Masahiro Tanaka, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, INF Kelly Johnson, INF Brian Roberts, RP Matt Thornton
Key subtractions: CL Mariano Rivera, 2B Robinson Cano, OF Curtis Granderson, 3B Alex Rodriguez, SP Andy Pettitte, SP Phil Hughes, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Boone Logan
Biggest strength: Outfield. They’re deep enough there that they can eventually use Brett Gardner as a chip to help shore up another department. For now, Gardner is expected to start alongside Ellsbury and Beltran, with Alfonso Soriano (129 OPS plus with the Yankees last year) serving as the primary designated hitter and Ichiro Suzuki (eventual Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki) off the bench.
Biggest question: Age. Four of their projected starting nine are 35 and older (Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Brian Roberts, Beltran), CC Sabathia is seemingly on the decline and Hiroki Kuroda is 38.
Most important player: Tanaka. He was signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract on Wednesday, and if he becomes the ace suggested on his price tag, or even just a very formidable No. 2, the Yankees’ rotation can compete in baseball’s toughest division.
In 25 words or less: The Yankees re-established themselves as a financial juggernaut, but can they be dominant again? That’s up to Father Time.

Red Sox
Last year’s record: 97-65, 1st place (beat the Cardinals in WS)
Key additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, INF Jonathan Herrera, RP Edward Mujica, RP Burke Badenhop
Key subtractions: OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RP Matt Thornton
Biggest strength: Starting pitching. The Red Sox return all six starting pitchers from their World Series-winning team — Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
Biggest question: Their young players, specifically Jackie Bradley Jr., who will replace Ellsbury in center fielder, and Xander Bogaerts, who’s expected to replace Drew at shortstop after a stellar postseason.
Most important player: Clay Buchholz. The 29-year-old right-hander has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout a full season. Last year, he had a 1.74 ERA but made only 16 starts because of shoulder fatigue that diminished his fastball velocity in October.
In 25 words or less: Once again, the Red Sox have a nice blend of accomplished veterans and talented young players, and look like a force.

Rays
Last year’s record: 92-71, 2nd place (lost to Red Sox in ALDS)
Key additions: CL Grant Balfour, C Ryan Hanigan, RP Heath Bell, INF Jayson Nix, RP Pedro Figueroa
Key subtractions: CL Fernando Rodney, OF Luke Scott, INF Kelly Johnson, RP Randy Choate
Biggest strength: Starting pitching, like it is every year. The Rays never seem to run out of it, no matter how little money they have to play with. The quintet of David Price/Alex Cobb/Matt Moore/Jeremy Hellickson/Chris Archer is as good as anyone.
Biggest question: Protecting Evan Longoria. It’s an annual question with this money-strapped bunch, but could cease being a problem if Wil Myers builds on his Rookie of the Year season.
Most important player: Balfour. The Rays signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal on Thursday, a month after his two-year, $15 million agreement with the O’s was taken off the table over issues with his physical. If he can be the guy the A’s have had the last two years (2.56 ERA, 62 saves), he’ll be a bargain and stabilize an otherwise uncertain bullpen.
In 25 words or less: If they keep Price, they’ll find a way to contend. If they trade Price, they’ll find a way to content. They don’t stop.

Blue Jays
Last year’s record: 74-88, 5th place
Key additions: C Dioner Navarro, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Chris Getz, 3B Brent Morel, RP Tomo Ohka
Key subtractions: SP Josh Johnson, RP Darren Oliver, OF Rajai Davis, C J.P. Arencibia
Biggest strength: Offense. With Jose Reyes at the top, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle, and Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie sprinkled throughout, Toronto has the makings of a potent lineup — if everyone performs to their career norms.
Biggest question: Starting pitching. The Blue Jays ranked 29th in starting-pitcher ERA last year, ahead of only the Twins, with R.A. Dickey having a rough first half and the likes of Johnson, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ and several others all struggling.
Most important player: The free-agent starter to be named later. The Blue Jays could target someone like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. And if they get one of them, it’ll take a lot of the load off Dickey, Morrow and Mark Buehrle.
In 25 words or less: The same core that looked primed to win the division and grossly underachieved is back almost entirely. That’s both good and bad.

Orioles
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: 2B Jemile Weeks, OF David Lough, OF Delmon Young, RP Ryan Webb, RP Brad Brach, OF Tyler Colvin, OF Quintin Berry, OF Julio Borbon
Key subtractions: CL Jim Johnson, 2B Brian Roberts, OF Nate McLouth, OF Michael Morse, SP Scott Feldman, SP Jason Hammel, SP Tsuyoshi Wada, RP Francisco Rodriguez
Biggest strength: Star power. In third baseman Manny Machado, center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis, the O’s have three of the best players at their respective positions.
Biggest question: Their assortment of young starting pitchers. Few have actually clicked, and if the O’s are to compete again, someone will have to emerge from a group that includes Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson and T.J. McFarland.
Most important player: Bundy, the 21-year-old who was ranked by MLB.com as the eighth-best right-handed-pitching prospect. Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery in June and could give Baltimore a much-needed boost in the rotation if he returns to form around mid-season.
In 25 words or less: A talented core exists, but this team needs more additions to compete in this division.

Predicted order of finish …

  • Rays
  • Red Sox
  • Yankees
  • Blue Jays
  • Orioles

Previous entries: NL East

Alden 

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