Power on Display When Indians Pitching Meets Mighty AL East Bats
Bob Toth | On 29, Mar 2016
Last season, the American League East division was the tightest race of the three divisions in the Junior Circuit. Toronto (93-69) eventually claimed the eastern crown, with the New York Yankees making the AL Wild Card play-in game, but ultimately losing to the upstart Houston Astros.
This season may be no different as the five teams made little movement in the offseason, with the exception of the Boston Red Sox picking off a top free agent from the Blue Jays behind a substantial expenditure.
The Indians went 18-15 against the East last season, but struggled against two of the division’s top three teams in Baltimore and Toronto. They will need to find a way to stay on the positive side of the slate against their eastern foes to stay competitive in the AL in 2016. It will be power on display when the Tribe’s strong starting rotation contends with some of the big boppers housed on the AL East rosters.
Last season: 81-81 (third in AL East)
Last season vs. CLE: 5-1
2016 contests: Home – May 27-29 (3); Away – July 22-24 (3)
It was a fairly quiet offseason for the Orioles, sans returning a pair of key free agent pieces in the offseason. The offense displays a dangerous home run clout with the return of Chris Davis, the AL leader in the stat in 2015. The bullpen returned reliever Darren O’Day.
A story about the Orioles, however, would not be done justice without mentioning one of the top young talents in the game, third baseman Manny Machado. If his first full season in the Majors in 2013 was not enough of a breakout, he took his potential star power to the next level last season, playing in all 162 games on the schedule and hitting .286 with 35 homers, 30 doubles, and 86 RBI. He also matched three combined seasons of stolen base numbers with his 20 during the second All-Star season of his career. Joined by deep threat Adam Jones and a healthy Matt Wieters behind the plate and the O’s have a lineup worth noting.
Their weakness may be enough to keep them out of contention in the division, as their starting pitching remains suspect at best. Chen left for Miami and was replaced by Gallardo, but he joins a questionable mix featuring Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and familiar Tribe face, Ubaldo Jimenez. Given the little attention the rotation received in the offense, it looks like the Orioles hope to follow the Jays approach and outslug their opponent on a nightly basis.
BOSTON RED SOX
Last season: 78-84 (fifth in AL East)
Last season vs. CLE: 2-4
2016 contests: Home – April 4-7 (3); Away – May 20-22 (3)
The 2015 season fell well short of expectations in Beantown, where manager John Farrell was lost for a stretch of the season due to serious health concerns and the front office was revamped with the addition of Dave Dombrowski as president.
The season will serve as the last curtain call of Boston legend David Ortiz, who has announced that this season will be his last. Big Papi, who turned 40 in the offseason, is coming off of a 37-homer, 108-RBI season in his 19th in the Bigs. Underperforming big contracts may have weighed the club down some last season, as neither Hanley Ramirez nor Pablo Sandoval proved worth their weight, hitting .249 and .245 respectively with a combined 29 homers and 100 RBI.
New leadership did not change their big spending ways, as the club spent a fortune to bring in one of the top free agent pitchers on the market in Price to provide a much needed arm in the rotation. He will team up with several young or unproven rotation arms to try to stabilize a club weakness in 2015. The bullpen was bolstered with the additions of Kimbrel and Smith. They will have some young talent up the middle to support them though, as Xander Bogaerts is coming off of a .320 season and Mookie Betts showed 20-20 potential in center field. Both are only 23 years old.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Last season: 87-75 (second in AL East; first AL Wild Card)
Last season vs. CLE: 2-5
2016 contests: Home – July 8-10 (3); Away – August 5-7 (3)
After making the playoffs but meeting a quick elimination, the Yankees did the opposite of what most would have expected – they didn’t spend. The formerly free-spending Bronx baseball club clamped its wallet shut and may be looking to ride the experience granted to its young rotation that pairs with a rapidly aging roster. Instead, they made their major moves by trade, curiously adding Chapman to a strikeout machine at the back end of the bullpen that already featured Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
Castro plugs a hole in the infield and will tandem up the middle with Didi Gregorius. Both 26 years old, they will be the only regular starters in the New York lineup under 30. Alex Rodriguez led the club with 33 homers last season and was second with 86 RBI. Catcher Brian McCann led the way with 94 RBI, but hit .232. Mark Teixeira missed 51 games but was playing at a strong pace and finished the year with 31 homers and 79 RBI. Hicks will help keep the legs of Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran fresh over the year.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Additions: C Hank Conger (Astros), OF Corey Dickerson (Rockies), P Danny Farquhar (Mariners), SS Brad Miller (Mariners), 1B Logan Morrison (Mariners), OF Steve Pearce (Orioles), RP Ryan Webb (Indians)
Last season: 80-82 (fourth in AL East)
Last season vs. CLE: 2-5
2016 contests: Home – April 12-14 (3); Away – June 20-22 (3)
At this point, the Tampa Bay Rays are Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, and a bunch of guys you’ve likely not heard much about. They have continued to operate on a miniscule budget and trade off their best talent before it gets too “Price-y”. Price and James Shields were dealt in recent years, as was McGee after strong seasons of relief work.
Former Indians pitching prospect Archer is the name to watch on the staff, but is not the only pitcher to know. Jake Odorizzi showed some potential in the rotation last season and the club has a pair of left-handers, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore, who can contribute greatly when healthy. Erasmo Ramirez had a surprising season after joining the starting staff. Closer Brad Boxberger is coming off of a 41-save season.
The addition of Dickerson should help the middle of the Rays lineup behind Longoria, who has seen a drop off in homers of late. Chances are you saw highlight reel plays by Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier in center more than once last season. Second baseman Logan Forsythe was second on the club with 17 homers and 68 RBI. Prospect Richie Shaffer is waiting in the wings in Triple-A for a spot at which to play, presumably either corner of the infield, and should help when ready.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Additions: OF Domonic Brown (Phillies), OF Darrell Ceciliani (Mets), P Jesse Chavez (Athletics), P Gavin Floyd (Indians), SP J.A. Happ (Pirates), P Roberto Hernandez (Astros), OF Junior Lake (Orioles), RP Drew Storen (Nationals)
Subtractions: SP Mark Buehrle (retired), RP LaTroy Hawkins (retired), P Liam Hendriks (Athletics), IF Maicer Izturis (retired), IF Munenori Kawasaki (Cubs), RP Mark Lowe (Tigers), C Dioner Navarro (White Sox), IF Cliff Pennington (Angels), SP David Price (Red Sox), OF Ben Revere (Nationals)
Last season: 93-69 (first in AL East, lost in ALCS 4-2)
Last season vs. CLE: 4-3
2016 contests: Away – June 30-July 3 (4); Home – August 19-21 (3)
Toronto improved ten games in the win column last year and made their first postseason appearance since winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993. Those title dreams fell short in 2015 as they lost in six games to the eventual champions, the Kansas City Royals, in the American League Championship Series.
The Jays did little spending after the season after a shopping spree in year brought aboard both Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The club, now under the presidency of former Indians chief Mark Shapiro, may be banking on what a full season of Tulo and the returns to health of Michael Saunders and Devon Travis can do for an already-frightening lineup (Travis is due to miss at least two months after left shoulder surgery). They all join reigning AL Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson, king of the bat flip Jose Bautista, and designated slugger Edwin Encarnacion. That trio combined to hit 120 homers and drive in 348 runs. Russell Martin also chipped in 23 doubles, 23 homers, and 77 RBI on the power-packed lineup.
The rotation, as is the case in Baltimore, will be what makes or breaks the club. Marcus Stroman won all four starts in his late season return from injury and Marco Estrada returns after an unexpected result in the rotation. R.A. Dickey will eat up some innings at the age of 41 and Happ returns to Toronto after one season away, now a slightly more successful and much more wealthy starter after his three-year, $36 million deal. The “window of opportunity”, a favorite phrase of Shapiro’s while in Cleveland, is open in Toronto, but with Bautista and Encarnacion both primed for free agency after the seaon, the time for them to strike is now.
Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images