AL East Division Preview
03/10/2023 9:07 AM
Article By: Michael Lane
MLB Opening Day is 20 days away, so today we’re beginning our preview series for this season, focusing on Cape League alumni.
The Yankees are coming off a near 100-win season and their sixth straight playoff appearance, but it wasn’t as good as it may sound. On July 8th the Yankees improved to an MLB best 61-23, 5.5 games ahead of the next closest team. After July 8th though, the Yankees went just 38-40 to close the season. After narrowly escaping the ALDS, the Yankees met the Astros in the ALCS for the third time in six years. The Astros swept them in four games, sending a Yankees team home that on July 8th seemed poised to play in the World Series.
The Yankees lineup largely remains the same, anchored by reigning MVP Aaron Judge (Brewster ‘12). While it will be difficult to duplicate the historical season Judge had in 2022, he is one of the best players in the entire league and should remain in the MVP conversation again. A full healthy season from Harrison Bader (Bourne ‘14) should be huge for the Yankees in 2023. Acquired at the deadline and dealing with an injury, Bader didn’t show his true potential until the postseason, when he homered five times. The Yankees lineup will also feature Josh Donaldson (Harwich ‘06), DJ LeMahieu (Harwich ‘08), and Jose Trevino (Y-D ‘13).
Despite their ending in 2022, the Yankees enter 2023 as the team to beat in the AL East and World Series contenders.
2. Toronto Blue Jays: 92-70 in 2022, lost to the Mariners in the ALWC
For the second straight year, the Blue Jays made a lot of moves this offseason and will enter the season as contenders. Despite slight regression from two of their star hitters in 2022, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, the Blue Jays made it to the postseason.
The Blue Jays lineup is extremely well-rounded, but the health of George Springer (Wareham ‘09/’10) is crucial to that. Springer played in 133 games last year, was named an AL All-Star, and helped the Blue Jays finish with the fourth best offense in MLB. They are hoping for bounce-back seasons from two veteran bats: Brandon Belt (Harwich ‘08) and Whit Merrifield (Y-D ‘08/Chatham ‘09), both of which had strong seasons as recently as 2021.
The Jays rotation is equally as impressive, with a one through four that has the potential to match up against any other team. Alek Manoah (Wareham ‘18) is the ace of the rotation, coming off a 2.24 ERA last year and finishing third for the AL Cy Young. Kevin Gausman (Harwich ‘11) slots in right behind Manoah. Gausman has a 3.07 ERA the past two seasons in 64 combined starts. Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios, and Yusei Kikuchi round out the rest of the Blue Jays rotation.
If any team in the AL East is able to take down the Yankees this year, it’s going to be the Blue Jays.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: 86-76 in 2022, lost to the Guardians in the ALWC
The Rays made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in 2022, as the final Wild Card team in the American League. From 2019 to 2021, the Rays had a combined winning percentage of .615 with two division titles. In 2022 they took a step back, with a .531 winning percentage.
The strength of the Rays roster during the past five years has been their pitching, with an innovative front office able to maximize their players potential by using openers. The bullpen should once again be strong this year, with a lot of high-end depth. The Rays pitching staff features eight Cape League alumni: Jalen Beeks (Harwich ‘13), Pete Fairbanks (Hyannis ‘13), Andrew Kittredge (Orleans ‘10), Garrett Cleavinger (Falmouth ‘14), Calvin Faucher (Y-D ‘16), Kevin Kelly (Orleans ‘18), Ryan Thompson (Hyannis ‘13), and Colby White (Cotuit ‘18).
Producing enough offense to support their pitching staff will be the biggest challenge for the Rays, as they ranked in the bottom third of runs scored across the league last year. A fifth straight playoff appearance is possible, but given the strength of the AL East, it’d likely be in the Wild Card again.
4. Baltimore Orioles: 83-79 in 2022
The Orioles haven’t been to the playoffs since 2016, but they took a massive step forward in 2022 with their first winning season since 2016. The Orioles farm system is one of the best in the league, with eight prospects inside MLB’s Top 100.
Leading that youth movement in Baltimore is Adley Rutschman (Falmouth ‘18). Rutschman finished the 2022 season with 5.2 WAR and placed second in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Rutschman, who slashed .254/.362/.445 last year, could quickly become one of the best catchers in the entire league. Kyle Stowers (Falmouth ‘18), a teammate of Rutschman on the Cape, came up late in the season for Baltimore and is another piece of that youth movement. Stowers appeared in 34 games and hit .253 with a .724 OPS. This spring, Stowers is hitting .333 with a .874 OPS. Jordan Westburg (Hyannis ‘19) should get a chance this season to make his MLB debut.
While Kyle Gibson (Falmouth ‘07) should help stabilize the Orioles rotation, they’re still a year or two away from being serious contenders. Regardless of if they’re able to get back to the playoffs in 2023, the future is bright in Baltimore!
5. Boston Red Sox: 78-84 in 2022
Chris Sale (Y-D ‘09), Rafael Devers, and Ryan Brasier. Those are the only three players remaining from the Red Sox 2018 World Series roster. It was a difficult offseason for Red Sox nation, as they’ve said goodbye to Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez,, and Nathan Eovaldi following a 78-win season.
The 2023 Red Sox lineup will look a lot different, but the front office is optimistic about the moves they made this offseason. Justin Turner (Y-D ‘05) will provide a veteran presence in the Red Sox lineup, after nine years with the Dodgers. Towards the back of the lineup, Connor Wong (Y-D ‘15/Bourne ‘16) will get a chance to be the everyday catcher.
The health of Chris Sale will once again be the biggest question for the Sox. When healthy, Sale is one of the best pitchers in MLB and alongside guys like Garrett Whitlock (Chatham ‘16), Nick Pivetta, and Corey Kluber, the Red Sox rotation looks serviceable. Unfortunately since August 13, 2019 Sale has made a combined 11 regular season starts.
Realistically, if the Red Sox are going to reach the playoffs in 2023, they’re going to need over 150 innings from Sale. Will he be able to do that for the first time since 2018?