I feel like Major League Baseball added an extra Wild Card spot in each league this season just to give someone outside of the American League East an actual chance at the postseason.
Or maybe they just wanted to give some of the other teams inside the East – which has been responsible for five straight AL Wild Card teams and eight of the last nine – a shot.
Toronto has been one of the most underappreciated franchises in all of baseball. Faced with the unenviable task of toiling in a division with baseball megapowers Boston and New York (combined 2011 payroll: $364 million), the Blue Jays (2011 payroll: $62 million) have more than held their own and been one of the most consistent teams in the game.
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Toronto has won 80 or more games in six of the last seven years and 11 of the past 14 seasons. They have also finished above .500 in five of the last six years. That is a better mark than more highly-regarded franchises like the Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, and Colorado Rockies. Consequently, the Jays have been one of the best bets in the sport during this period as they are one of the most underrated and undervalued organizations in the game.
But the difference between the Jays and those other teams is that all four of those other teams have been to the postseason at some point in that time period while the Jays haven’t reached the playoffs since their World Series win in 1993.
That could potentially change now. In the past, the Jays would have had to surpass either the Yankees or Red Sox (or in recent seasons upstart Tampa Bay) to steal the Wild Card berth. Now they have a shot at reaching just one rung lower and getting a chance to see what they can do on a national stage. I know that my money and I will both be pulling for them.
Here is Doc’s Sports 2012 AL East predictions and futures odds:
New York Yankees
2011 Record: 97-65 (+900)
2012 Wins Over/Under: 96.5
Odds To Win 2012 AL East: 1-to-1
Odds To Win 2012 AL Pennant: 1.5-to-1
2012 New York Yankees Odds To Win World Series: 3-to-1
Outlook: If you don’t know the primaries on this squad you probably shouldn’t be risking your hard-earned dollars on the diamond. The Yankees are the best team that money can buy. But while they have no real weakness they also don’t really overwhelm me with one true, no-doubt strength.
The lineup is still going to be among the best in baseball. Jeter, A-Rod, Tex, Cano and Granderson are still the foundation. But A-Rod has become injury prone since getting off the juice and Teixeira was down in every category but the power numbers. And as good as Jeter was for half a season he was equally awful for the other half. This team is going to score runs – make no mistake about it. But they don’t have as potent a lineup as some of the other teams in the AL.
C.C. Sabathia is still among the game’s best and is the ace of the staff. But after him there are more questions than answers. Ivan Nova just wins. He is a solid arm and his numbers last year were remarkable. Can he duplicate it? Hiroki Kuroda is a crafty veteran that came over from the Dodgers and is legit. But how will he handle the American League? Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia both have their own baggage. And their big winter pickup, Michael Pineda, has had velocity (and weight) issues this summer after really tailing off at the end of last year.
There is the potential here for one of the best starting staffs in the AL. Or the Yankees could end up with the same patchwork approach that doomed them last year.
As long as Mo Rivera is still closing games the Yankees will have an excellent bullpen. And this group is built similarly to the rest of the team: they have a lot of very good, very proven guys. But while they do a lot well there is nothing about this bullpen that really jumps out at me. (Well, besides Rivera.)
The Yankees have the best team in baseball from top to bottom. But as we’ve seen often in the past decade that doesn’t always equate to winning the World Series.
Boston Red Sox
2011 Record: 90-72 (-1265)
2012 Wins Over/Under: 93.5
Odds To Win 2012 AL East: 1.5-to-1
Odds To Win 2012 AL Pennant: 4-to-1
2012 Boston Red Sox Odds To Win World Series: 8-to-1
Outlook: The Red Sox enter the year trying to shake the shadow of one of the biggest collapses in baseball history. And after an offseason that saw them scuttle/scapegoat their manager and general manager, anything less than a playoff berth will be considered a massive crisis in Beantown.
Fortunately, the Red Sox enter the season with one of the best lineups in baseball. Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury put forth MVP-quality seasons in 2011. Kevin Youkilis returns from an injury-plagued season and former MVP candidate Carl Crawford should bounce back from a disgusting first season in Fenway. So in a lot of ways the No. 1 scoring offense in the Majors could be even better this year. That’s a scary thought.
What is also scary is the back end of the Boston rotation. Clay Buchholz has to stay healthy. And even if that happens this team is putting an awful lot of faith in Alfredo Aceves and Dan Bard’s transitions to starters. And if those two former bullpen hands can’t get the job done Boston will be forced to trot out retreads like Aaron Cook or Vicente Padila.
And even if Bard and Aceves fit in the rotation. The Boston bullpen will be significantly weaker, with a host of new setup men leading to new closer Andrew Bailey.
Having an offense as devastating as Boston’s certainly makes it easier to pitch. But if their rotation, their bullpen, and their locker room under eccentric Bobby Valentine don’t all hold up then this team is headed for another busted season.
Toronto Blue Jays
2011 Record: 81-81 (+250)
2012 Wins Over/Under: 80.5
Odds To Win 2012 AL East: 30-to-1
Odds To Win 2012 AL Pennant: 30-to-1
2012 Toronto Blue Jays Odds To Win World Series: 60-to-1
Outlook: Say hello to my sleeper team of the 2012 season. I think that Toronto is a club that can really sneak up on some people this year. And as I already mentioned, they have been one of the most reliable and most profitable teams in baseball for the better part of the last 10 years. I expect nothing less this year and I have a feeling the cat is going to come out of the bag, so to speak.
Toronto’s rotation isn’t as decorated as the ones in Boston and New York. But from the perspective of just pure stuff, the quartet of Romero, Morrow, Cecil, Alvarez and McGowan can be as electric as anything those other teams trot out. Toronto also has young Kyle Drabek in the kicker if anyone gets injured or flames out. The health and overall performance of those starters are going to determine if the Blue Jays can be as good as I think they can.
Toronto’s lineup produced the sixth-most runs in the Majors last year despite finishing No. 20 in batting. They did so with the long ball, as the Jays hit the fifth-most home runs in the game. I am expecting more of the same, with big bats like Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Yunel Escobar anchoring the order. Toronto added Colby Rasmus and they have an excellent bench, with proven guys like Edwin Encarnacion, Rajai Davis and Ben Francisco providing valuable at-bats throughout the year.
The X-Factor for this team is the bullpen. They were No. 21 in the league last year and they simply have to be much better than that this time around. They blew 25 saves last year and it is up to newly-minted closer Sergio Santos to turn that around. The former White Sox hurler can be devastating. The Jays have a lot of quality veteran arms – Frank Cordero, Darren Oliver, and Jason Frasor to name a few – working around the young Santos. I expect these guys to be better and if they are then the Jays will be in the hunt. Again.
Tampa Bay Rays
2011 Record: 91-71 (+870)
2012 Wins Over/Under: 88.5
Odds To Win 2012 AL East: 3.5-to-1
Odds To Win 2012 AL Pennant: 5.5-to-1
2012 Tampa Bay Rays Odds To Win World Series: 12-to-1
Outlook: I’ve come to the conclusion that as long as benevolent genius Joe Maddon is pulling the levers this team is going to be in the mix in the American League. On paper, these guys should be about the ninth or 10th best team in the AL. But in reality they are a squad with a very deliberate style that just finds 90 wins year in and year out.
Tampa Bay didn’t finish in the Top 15 in runs or hitting last year. They were terrible with runners in scoring position. And there wasn’t a single offensive category that they were really effective in. But they manage to score just enough runs to supplement their outstanding starting pitching staff. The Rays should be even stronger at the plate this year since stud third basemen Evan Longoria lost a lot of his 2011 season to nagging injuries and ineffectiveness. And as long as the rest of the scrappy bats that surround him continue to produce these guys will continue to find those wins.
The Rays starting pitching is the best in the division and their staff is one of the best in the league. Everyone is back, including aces James Shields and David Price, and the Rays have a group of six starters that are the envy of most of the rest of the game. As long as those guys are hurling this squad will continue to win in the opposite manner as slugging teams in Boston, New York and Texas.
Tampa Bay does need some better bullpen work, though. They were in the bottom half of the league in bullpen ERA last year. And if this team is going to continue to play as many tight, low scoring contests as they normally do.
I haven’t liked this team the last three years. And I have been wrong twice and right only once as they have won 84, 96 and 91 games. Again, as long as Maddon is doing his thing I’m sure they will be fine. But I will predict a little back slide this year to make way for Toronto to step up.
2011 Record: 69-93 (-475)
2012 Wins Over/Under: 74.5
Odds To Win 2012 AL East: 50-to-1
Odds To Win 2012 AL Pennant: 50-to-1
2012 Baltimore Orioles Odds To Win World Series: 100-to-1
Outlook: Yes, the Orioles still suck.
That may seem like I’m oversimplifying things. But the fact of the matter is that Baltimore’s roster could be good enough to win the National League Central. But we’d never know it because they are so clearly the No. 5 team in an absolutely murderous AL East. Buck Showalter will have this team ready to compete. But they simply don’t have the horses.
Baltimore’s lineup has some decent pieces in Brian Roberts (when he’s healthy, which is never), J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis (who is better in fantasy baseball than in real baseball) and Adam Jones. But they also have a ton of holes in their lineup. This team strikes out too much and doesn’t do enough of the little things (advance runners, contact plays, steal bases, etc.) that add up to winning baseball. That won’t change this year.
And the main reason the Orioles can’t compete in the East is that they still haven’t put together a quality pitching staff. There is no ace on this team. And guys like Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel and Alfredo Simon have proven that their ceilings may be around a 4.50 ERA. That just doesn’t get it done.
The bullpen is improving. But it’s been a work in progress for the better part of 15 years. There is still no closer here and still no real cohesive plan. And even if they had a brilliant bullpen it would likely be overworked by July due to the fact that their starters are five-innings-and-out guys.
It’s going to be another long year at Camden Yards. And just like last year about the best this franchise can hope for is a shot to be a spoiler in those last few weeks of September.
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