With opening day mere days away, the Big League Stew crew is here to get you up to speed on the baseball season ahead. We'll examine some of the big questions in each division, point out a few critical players and predict the final standings, division award-winners and break-out stars. First up: The American League East.
Home of the wheeling-and-dealing Toronto Blue Jays, the surprise-a-year-ago Baltimore Orioles, the always-dangerous Tampa Bay Rays and two traditional powers — the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, this is the AL East. Let's forecast, shall we?
[AL Central Preview: No. 2 is up for grabs]
1. How good are the Blue Jays? It's the question all of baseball is asking these days. Can the Blue Jays — assembled in the offseason from castaways from the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, and with an infamous PED user to boot— be as good as many are predicting? Or are they another "super team" that won't deliver? We say the former. The Jays are for real.
2. Can the Orioles keep up Baltimore's winning ways? Or was last year's magical run for the O's just hocus pocus? With the Ravens winning the Super Bowl, Baltimore fans wouldn't mind even more success spilling over into the baseball field. A lot hinges on star Adam Jones and a team that came up big in close games last year being able to doing so again. Will fate be on their side? To be honest, we're torn.
3. Are we underestimating the Tampa Bay Rays? Probably. Much of the talk in the AL East is about the Blue Jays and the Orioles and how good they could be. Or the Yankees and the Red Sox and how good they might not be. But what about the Rays? They've proven to be a team that's always in the mix — even if attendance isn't great and despite chatter about moving the team or getting a new stadium. With David Price and Evan Longoria as frontline stars, plus Wil Myers waiting in the wings, you can't count them out.
4. How weird is it that we're not talking about the Yankees vs. the Red Sox for the top of the division? Very. They've been near the top for the last decade. In fact, 1992 was the last time both the Yankees and the Red Sox finished outside of the top 3. But with 2013 looking like a tough year for both teams, it could happen again. Could we actually see them both battling, not for first place, but to stay out of last?
5. How long until we get used to Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes? Answer: Never.
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FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Robinson Cano: It's a contract year for Cano, and he's the guy the Yankees are counting on. Joke all you want about A-Rod, or Mark Teixeira injuring himself hitting off a tee, but there are no laughs when it comes to Cano. He's the Yankees best hitter, and the Bombers need a big season out of him with all the rest of their injuries.
2. Melky Cabrera: How will Melky do post-suspension? Will his new home, with Toronto Blue Jays, give him a fresh start? We all know the 2012 story by now: Career year with the San Francisco Giants, leading the league in hitting, then comes to the PED bust. He's not the main man in Toronto, so he'll be able to hide out somewhat. If he puts together a respectable season, it could be huge for the Jays.
[AL West Preview: Angels, A's, Rangers contenders in wild, wild west]
3. Jackie Bradley Jr.: He's making a case that he should start the season with the rebuilt Red Sox rather than Triple-A (decision pending, but it looks good). He's had a stellar spring, in which he boasted a .523 OBP. The 22-year-old outfielder could also be a defensive boost.
4. Brian Roberts: The Orioles veteran had a rough past few seasons. He's dealt with nasty concussions as well as a hip surgery last year. Now, he seems ready to go for 2013, hoping for his first full season since 2009. On a young and exciting team, a wise, scrappy veteran like Roberts, 35, could be integral.
5. Wil Myers: If you're prospect watching, Myers of the Rays is the guy to keep an eye on. He's being pegged as baseball's next rookie sensation. It's unfair to label anybody "the next Mike Trout" — so we'll just say expectations are big with Myers, who was swapped to Tampa Bay from the Kansas City Royals in one of the offseason's biggest trades. He's starting the season in Triple-A with the Durham Bulls, but don't expect him to be down there all year.
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Order of Finish
1. Blue Jays
4. Red Sox
2. Blue Jays
5. Red Sox
AL East MVP
Oz: Jose Reyes (Blue Jays)
DB: Jose Reyes (Blue Jays)
AL East Cy Young
Oz: David Price (Rays)
DB: Matt Moore (Rays)
AL East Rookie of the Year:
Oz: Dylan Bundy (Orioles)
DB: Dylan Bundy (Orioles)
[NL East Preview: Can Phillies keep up with the Nationals and the Braves?]
AL East Break-Through Star
Oz: Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox)
DB: Desmond Jennings (Rays)
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Up next: National League East
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