Ranking the AL East Teams

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The AL East will be a dominant force in baseball this year. The division possesses four teams, all capable of winning 90 games or more this season. Just like in 2021, there figures to be a battle for playoff contention among the top four teams in this division. Only the lowly Baltimore Orioles figure to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race. The Orioles went 52-110 in 2021, and their record could worsen in 2022.

The Toronto Blue Jays are probably the most hyped team in baseball right now, as many people’s favorites to win the pennant. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays will get a full year from budding superstar Wander Franco and still possess an elite defense and bullpen. The New York Yankees have diversified their offense and significantly improved their defense. And the Boston Red Sox added one of the best shortstops in baseball…to play second base. It will be a dogfight between these four teams for AL East supremacy. Each team has its strengths, and those teams will be ranked in order by each aspect of their team.

AL East Rankings

Offense

Toronto Blue Jays (1)

Boston Red Sox (2)

New York Yankees (3)

Tampa Bay Rays (4)

Baltimore Orioles (5)

In 2021, the Rays won 100 games and scored the second-most runs in the sport. It just shows how good each of the other AL East teams is. While the Orioles boast some pretty good to great offensive players in Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins, they are not as experienced or have the great depth the other four teams have. The Blue Jays lost a 7.3 WAR and 45-home run player in Marcus Semien but replaced him with a great third baseman in Matt Chapman. While Chapman struggled in 2021 (.716 OPS), he could surely get back to the all-start level hitter he has been in the past as a result of Toronto’s monstrous lineup.

It is easy to think the Yankees did not improve the offense from 2021, where they had some mediocre numbers. However, having Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo in pinstripes for a full season can only help their comfort and performance level as both struggled late in 2021. Josh Donaldson is a significant upgrade over Gio Urshela, and there is no real way Isiah Kiner-Falefa can perform worse at Shortstop than Gleyber Torres did in 2021. The Yankees project to trot out some combination of Donaldson, Aaron Judge, Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, D.J. LeMahieu, and Gallo in the top six spots in the order. With their hitting styles and talent, this could be the best one-to-six in baseball.

What I stated about the Yankees can be noted for the Red Sox. They replaced a good hitter in Hunter Renfroe with Jackie Bradley Jr., a far inferior hitter. However, adding Trevor Story brings another power to their lineup for opposing teams to be scared. With Story, Martinez, Devers, Bogaerts, and the rise of Bobby Dalbec and Jarren Duran, the Red Sox will be an offensive force this season.

Defense

Tampa Bay Rays (1)

New York Yankees (2)

Boston Red Sox (3)

Toronto Blue Jays (4)

Baltimore Orioles (5)

The Orioles could win fewer than 52 games, which is very hard to do. They have the worst team, all-around, in the division this year, and that might not change until about 2024, even if Adley Rutschman comes up and plays well this year. The Rays are one of, if not the best defensive teams in the sport and have been for years now. With Kiermaier, Margot, Phillips, and now top prospect Josh Lowe in the outfield, it will be interesting to see how low the batting average is on balls in play over 200 feet this season because those guys will catch everything.

The Yankees got significantly better at shortstop and catcher, two of the most difficult and important defensive positions on the field. A fully healthy Aaron Hicks manning center or left field surely helps. In recent years, the Red Sox infield defense has been a huge issue, and adding Story should help that. Adding Chapman and Raimel Tapia should improve the Blue Jays’ defense, but Tapia probably will not be a full-time player, and the rest of that outfield isn’t the strongest. What is most interesting about the top four teams is that they improved defensively, which is not what most people think about when it comes to the AL East and its hitter-friendly ballparks.

Starting Rotation

Toronto Blue Jays (1)

New York Yankees (2)

Boston Red Sox (3)

Tampa Bay Rays (4)

Baltimore Orioles (5)

The Orioles’ rotation falls off a cliff behind John Means. The club’s number two prospect, Grayson Rodriguez, should make his debut this year and add a much-needed boost to the rotation. Unsimilarly to the offense and defense, the pitching in this division is not the deepest. Despite losing Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, the Jays added two all-stars to their rotation in Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi. Combine that with another leap forward from Alek Manoah and a full season from Jose Berrios, and their rotation is sneakily one of the best in the sport. The Boston Red Sox lack a deep rotation, and Chris Sale missing the first two months does not help things. Eovaldi has turned into an ace, but there are significant question marks with Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck lining up behind him.

On the other hand, the Rays only have one veteran in their rotation, Corey Kluber. He put up a 3.83 ERA and 9.2 K/9 with the Yankees in 2021. However, it was only over 16 starts. The rotation would look much better if Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz were not missing most of the season with injuries. Surprisingly, the starting pitching held up for the Yankees in 2021 and served as the primary reason they won 92 games and made the playoffs. Instead of making any big moves, they decided to run it back and hope that some of their young arms like Luis Gil and Clarke Schmidt take a big step forward and a healthy Luis Severino.

Bullpen

New York Yankees (1)

Tampa Bay Rays (2)

Toronto Blue Jays (3)

Boston Red Sox (4)

Baltimore Orioles (5)

The pitching has been the bugaboo for the Orioles during their rebuild. That will be no different this year. As is also usually the case, the Yankees and Rays possess the two best bullpens in this division and two of the best in baseball. The Rays can never be counted out as all of their relievers have elite stuff and can strike out the world. However, the Yankees are number one because they possess the most bullpen depth in several areas. They have reliable arms that can pitch in high-leverage spots and reliable components in multi-inning appearances.

Toronto and Boston’s bullpens ranked middle of the pack in terms of reliever ERA last year. Boston’s relievers ranked 5th in baseball with 3.8 fWAR and 7th with a 3.57 ERA in the first half of 2021. However, the ‘pen did falter big time in the second half. The important thing about these bullpen rankings is that Toronto’s rotation and general starting pitching options are better than Boston’s. Greater innings from the starters mean fewer innings and ideally more consistent performance from the relievers. That is why their bullpen is ranked ahead of Boston’s bullpen.

Final Thoughts on the AL East

Which team is truly the best in the American League East based on these rankings? While the Blue Jays are the current favorites, it should not surprise anyone to see the Rays or Yankees end up at the top of the standings come October. Each team has its strength. Toronto owns the best offense and rotation, the Yankees with the bullpen, and the Rays’ elite defense. Those top four teams can finish between first and fourth in the division. Altogether, the AL East will be the most competitive and tight division.

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Players mentioned:

Wander Franco, Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Gallo, Josh Donaldson, Gio Urshela, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Hunter Renfroe, Jackie Bradley Jr.Trevor StoryBobby DalbecJarren Duran, Adley Rutschman, Josh Lowe, Aaron Hicks, Raimel Tapia, John Means, Grayson Rodriguez, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi, Alek Manoah, Jose Berrios, Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Corey Kluber, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Baz, Luis Gil, Clarke Schmidt, Luis Severino