The American League East is the perfect representation of the difference between Post-Steroid Major League Baseball and its hulking, high-scoring predecessor.
From 1998 to 2009, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were the dominant forces in the division, winning 11 of 12 titles. However, since the start of this decade all five teams have taken turns winning the division crown. And as we enter the 2016 season it is a legitimate toss-up as to who will emerge this summer.
Here is Doc's Sports 2016 AL East preview (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
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Toronto Blue Jays
2015 Record: 93-69 (+1100)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 86.5
Odds To Win 2016 AL East: +250
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +550
2016 Toronto Blue Jays Odds To Win World Series: +1800
Outlook : After 22 years on the outside looking in, the 2015 Blue Jays finally got Toronto back to the playoffs. The Jays did so by bludgeoning the opposition into submission with the best lineup in baseball, riding the thunder all the way to the ALCS. The primary sticks are all back and will look to power the Jays back to the postseason and perhaps to a World Series.
The Jays scored an MLB-high 891 runs last year, an amazing 127 runs more than the next-highest scoring team. The core of this team is the middle of the order, stacked with power hitters Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and last year's key midseason addition, Troy Tulowitzki. Assuming that everyone stays healthy, the Jays should again boast a relentless attack that is capable of dropping a three-run bomb at any point.
Last season Toronto posted a respectable 3.80 team ERA. And if the Jays can duplicate that then they should again run away with this division. However, they are putting an awful lot of faith in young Marcus Stroman and aging R.A. Dickey both staying healthy and Marco Estrada equaling last season's career year. The bullpen is decent, but not spectacular. The Jays will need the starters to log a healthy amount of innings so as not to expose their lack of relief depth.
The Blue Jays give MLB fans a little taste of the Steroid Era. At a time when seemingly no one can hit or score runs on a consistent basis, the Jays play a mash 'em and trash 'em style where they simply overwhelm opponents. They will need to avoid a letdown after last year's exciting run, though, because I think Toronto's pitching staff is going to collapse. And when it does they'll need every single one of those runs. Also, with so many key players entering free agency next season and a new general manager calling the shots you have to wonder how the chemistry will be in this clubhouse if the Jays struggle to match last year's production.
It is one thing to come out of nowhere and win the division. It is another thing entirely to enter the season as the favorite and live up to the hype.
New York Yankees
2015 Record: 87-75 (-340)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 86.0
Odds To Win 2016 AL East: +275
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +800
2016 New York Yankees Odds To Win World Series: +2000
Outlook: It's odd to live in a baseball world in which the Yankees are not one of the most talked-about teams entering the season. But after very quietly winning 87 games and going to the playoffs the Yankees enter the 2016 season flying a bit under the radar.
New York made some smart, low-key moves this offseason, adding Starlin Castro and up-and-comer Aaron Hicks in an effort to get younger and more athletic. Now if they can just get healthy seasons from their core players - and only the Rangers have suffered more injuries over the past two seasons - then New York might be in business. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have left their best years behind them. But when healthy - along with super-speedsters Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury - the Yankees have an offense that can generate runs a variety of ways. They were No. 2 in runs scored last season.
New York also appears to be following the Kansas City model of building their pitching staff backwards, working from the bullpen forward. The Yankees have a devastating backend of the bullpen, relying on newly-acquired Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, all three of whom are among the most effective relievers in the game. That trio will help New York shorten games and improve upon their mediocre 23-24 record in one-run games last year.
As for the starters, New York desperately needs Masahiro Tanaka to stay healthy (he hasn't made 30 starts in either of his two seasons). Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda are up-and-down options. But they should be good enough to keep New York competitive.
The Yankees are trying to thread the needle of moving on from an aging core of overpriced former stars while remaining competitive, building up their young talent base, and adding complimentary pieces rather than splashy, high-priced free agents. This is not the Yankee Way that we've come to expect over the last 20 years. And whether they can make a return postseason trip will depend solely on the health and productivity of their older guys and thin starting rotation.
Boston Red Sox
2015 Record: 78-84 (-650)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 88.0
Odds To Win 2016 AL East: +180
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +600
2016 Boston Red Sox Odds To Win World Series: +1400
Outlook : Don't be fooled by the fact that Boston has the third-best odds to win the World Series. The sportsbooks know that Boston fans are delusional and they'll get money on the Sox no matter what odds they post. But the fact remains that Boston has finished in last place in this mess of a division in three of the last four years, and the roster is not all that different entering this season.
Boston made the biggest move of the offseason by signing 32-year-old David Price to a massive $217 million contract. But they still need four other starters. Clay Buchholz has flashed potential. But he's oft-injured and was terrible in 2012 and 2014, the only times in the last five years that he's notched more than 20 starts. The rest of the rotation is terrible, with only lefty Eduardo Rodriquez flashing any potential.
A young core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Blake Swihart will blend with veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. But the x-factors are Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, two high-priced players that have been clubhouse distractions. Sandoval and Ramirez have All-Star talent. But the drama they've brought to Beantown has outweighed their production. And the Sox can't get where they want to go without them playing at a high level.
I still think the Red Sox are overrated entering this season. I like Price as much as the next guy. But Boston's starters beyond that are shaky at best and dreadful at worst. Boston could get an emotional boost from the Ortiz Retirement Tour. But that didn't work for the Yankees two seasons ago with Derek Jeter. And if Ortiz, Pedroia or Sandoval come up lame or if the youngsters aren't quite ready to live up to the hype then Boston could be in for a world of hurt.
2015 Record: 81-81 (-350)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 78.0
Odds To Win 2016 AL East: +1000
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +2800
2016 Baltimore Orioles Odds To Win World Series: +6000
Outlook: Less than 18 months ago the Baltimore Orioles were battling with Kansas City in the American League Championship Series. Now heading into the 2016 season most prognosticators have them in the basement of the unpredictable A.L. East.
The glaring, gaping weakness on this year's Baltimore team is, basically, the same glaring, gaping weakness that they've had the past five years: their complete lack of top-end starting pitching. Baltimore's starters carried the sixth-worst ERA in the Majors last year. They are still trying to talk themselves into erratic Chris Tillman as their No. 1 starter. And their only offseason addition was even more erratic Yovani Gallardo. Also, the O's insist on trotting out Ubaldo Jimenez every fifth day despite the fact that he's one of the worst starters in baseball.
So yeah, Baltimore's starting pitching is garbage. That said, from a betting perspective that is actually one of their greatest strengths. MLB moneylines are set primarily based on starting pitching matchups. And since the O's have no big-name starters we can catch favorable numbers on them every day.
Beyond the starters, the Orioles do just about everything well. Their defense and relief pitching have been among the best in baseball. And they've been in the Top 10 in runs scored each of the past three years thanks to a powerful lineup led by sluggers Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado. So if the starting pitching can improve back to its 2014 level then these guys should be above .500 again.
I think that Baltimore is one of the more undervalued teams in the American League right now. The Orioles have won an average of 88.8 wins per season over the last four years. Buck Showalter is one of the most underrated managers in the game, and I think that the Orioles were able to upgrade ever so slightly this offseason. Their pitching should undercut their attempt to win the division - unless one of the youngsters emerge - but this team will be a factor.
Tampa Bay Rays
2015 Record: 80-82 (-550)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 81.0
Odds To Win 2016 AL East: +700
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +2500
2016 Tampa Bay Rays Odds To Win World Series: +5500
Outlook : Tampa Bay still looks like the team that was a consistent overachiever for most of the past decade. But there's something missing. Maybe it is not having Joe Maddon on the bench. Maybe it is the lack of clutch late-inning hitting. Or maybe it is the dearth of past-their-prime veterans outperforming their contracts to help stabilize this team. But whatever it is, Tampa Bay is looking less and less like a potential thorn in the side of the division powers and more and more like a team just taking up space.
The lineup is still a hodgepodge of guys surrounding Evan Longoria. And as good as Longoria has been, he has proven that he can't carry a lineup all by himself. I am a fan of Logan Forsythe, and one of the youngsters could take a big step forward. But they scored the second-fewest runs in the A.L. last season and didn't do much to upgrade.
Tampa Bay will try to win with pitching, defense, and clutch hitting. They have plenty of the first two, including staff ace Chris Archer. He is one of five young, potentially outstanding starters for the Rays, with four of them (Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez and Drew Smyly) each posting ERAs below 3.75 last season.
I don't think that Tampa Bay has enough juice to compete for the full 162. But their pitching is good enough to keep them in the mix and in their usual role of division pain in the ass. Unlike Baltimore, Tampa Bay is a tough team to wager on because the premium price bettors have to pay for Tampa's quality starters doesn't reflect the talent of the rest of their team. Approach these guys with caution.
2016 American League East Picks and Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
1. Baltimore Orioles
2. New York Yankees
3. Boston Red Sox
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Tampa Bay Rays
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Robert Ferringo is a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the top MLB cappers in the country and has turned a profit in three consecutive baseball seasons (and six of his last eight). Robert closed 2015 with an amazing $11,400 in earnings over the last four months and this summer will try for four straight profitable years. He is looking forward to a great upcoming season against the MLB odds. Click here for more information on his MLB picks.
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