Opening Day is finally upon us which means it’s time to start looking at the landscape of Major League Baseball in 2018. The Houston Astros will strive to defend their World Series Championship but, naturally, they will face heavy competition throughout the league.
The American League East division features two playoff-caliber teams that could present a legitimate challenge to the defending champions in the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Bay Rays will struggle to compete within the division and, in the case of the Rays, could find themselves scraping the bottom of the standings in the American League.
With that said, here is a more comprehensive look at how the American League East figures to shape out in 2018.
1.) New York Yankees
The New York Yankees look poised to make another run at a World Series berth in 2018 coming off the heels of an unexpected, yet extremely impressive, 2017 campaign. The Yankees made the biggest splash in the offseason by acquiring the 2017 National League Most Valuable Player, Giancarlo Stanton, via trade. The Yankees’ lineup is stacked, but they will also need consistent starting pitching if they want to surpass the Houston Astros as the best team in the American League. Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, and Sonny Gray will be leaned on heavily, as will the back end of the Yankees bullpen.
Players to Watch For: Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez
Adding Stanton to the already potent lineup featuring the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year, as well as runner-up MVP candidate, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez makes the 2018 Yankees impossible to ignore. The, “Bronx Bombers” are likely to live up their nickname this coming season, but they will still need their rotation and bullpen to contribute as well. These three sluggers form what is perhaps the most intimidating middle-of-the-order lineup throughout all of Major League Baseball.
2.) Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox will be looking to rebound from what was a swift exit from the playoffs last season. The Red Sox were knocked out in the divisional round by the eventual World Series Champions, the Houston Astros. Boston enters the 2018 season with a new manager, Alex Cora, and a new clean-up hitter, J.D. Martinez. The addition of Martinez bolsters their lineup, but questions remain surrounding the Red Sox starting rotation and bullpen. With a stacked Yankees squad looming over them, the Red Sox will be hard pressed to repeat as American League East division winners.The AL East is perhaps the most intriguing division in baseball this season for a variety of factors.Click To Tweet
Players to Watch For: Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale
The Red Sox will have to rely on consistent, strong offensive production from both Mookie Betts and newcomer, J.D. Martinez. Both of these players will have to serve as anchors for the Red Sox lineup in 2018, leading the way for the younger hitters such as Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. As for Chris Sale he will have to avoid the late-season fatigue that has plagued him throughout his career. The Red Sox plan to manage Sale’s innings more appropriately this season which should allow him to be more effective for a potential postseason run. A healthier and improved Red Sox bullpen should also help ease the stress on Sale throughout the season.
RF Mookie Betts (R)
LF Andrew Benintendi (L)
1B Hanley Ramirez (R)
DH J.D. Martinez (R)
SS Xander Bogaerts (R)
3B Rafael Devers (L)
2B Eduardo Nunez (R)
CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)
C Christian Vazquez (R)
3.) Toronto Blue Jays
After a difficult 2017 season the Toronto Blue Jays will be looking to bounce back into contention in 2018. Toronto will be counting on a rebound season from the likes of Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, both of whom struggled last season at the plate. However, a questionable starting rotation and retooled bullpen could cause problems for the Blue Jays in 2018.
Players to Watch For: Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Troy Tulowitzki
The Blue Jays’ offense runs through Josh Donaldson, there is no doubt about that. He will be anchored in the middle of a classic, “boom or bust” type of lineup. With hitters such as Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, Randal Grichuk, and Curtis Granderson, the Blue Jays have the potential to produce a high number of home runs. However, this type of lineup could struggle to hit consistently, as well, which may be the downfall of this Blue Jays team. This will also be a big year for Marcus Stroman, whom may finally take that big step forward that Jays fans have been hoping for. Should Stroman reach his full potential he could help keep the Blue Jays in contention in the American League East.
4.) Baltimore Orioles
The disappointment of finishing in last place in this division just a year ago still remains with Orioles fans heading into the 2018 season. With Manny Machado‘s free agency looming, plus the achilles injury to their closer, Zach Britton, things are not off to a good start in Baltimore. A muddled starting rotation and weaker bullpen leaves little room for optimism for the 2018 season.
Players to Watch For: Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, Trey Mancini
Manny Machado, as mentioned previously, is set to become a free agent after the 2018 season. This leaves many questions and concerns for Orioles fans, particularly as it pertains to the possibility of Machado being dealt at the trade deadline in order to obtain the most value for him rather than letting him walk as a free agent. Should things go poorly in the first half of the season a potential fire sale is very much on the table for the franchise. There is hope when it comes to Trey Mancini, the Orioles’ rookie sensation from last season. He will look to come back with an even more impressive sophomore campaign in 2018 and could make the potential departure of Machado more tolerable for O’s fans. The success of the 2018 Baltimore Orioles hinges on their pitching staff, led by Dylan Bundy. He will enter 2018 as the team’s ace, but he will have to improve on his 4.24 ERA from a year ago in order to truly be considered the leader of that pitching staff.
5.) Tampa Bay Rays
After an offseason that saw the Rays deal off some of their best hitters in Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza Jr., and long-time team leader, Evan Longoria, the 2018 season is looking bleak in Tampa Bay. Chris Archer is the lone remaining star left in Tampa, and there is a good chance that he will have a new home after July 31st. The Rays are, once again, in full rebuild mode, much to the dismay of its long-suffering fan base.
Players to Watch For: Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier, Wilson Ramos
Chris Archer was a trade target for several teams last season and he figures to lead that discussion once again this season. Archer, 29, is one of the few trade-worthy assets left on the Rays and there is a good chance that Tampa continues its rebuild by trading him at the deadline this season. The Rays will look to their speedy center fielder, Kevin Kiermaier, to provide some offense at the top of the lineup. However, injuries have been a consistent concern for Kiermaier, so staying healthy will be the first priority. Wilson Ramos should provide some power out of the catcher position, but his health has also been a concern throughout his career.