Forecast: Hungover Red Sox Have Enough To Win The A.L. East?

The hangover from a World Series title is a very real thing, for any championship in any sport, really. And this year will likely be no different for the Boston Red Sox.

The hangover is a real thing for multiple reasons: There’s the actual exhaustion/hangover from the partying that goes on after winning the title, there’s the phenomenon of some players just not working as hard while they’re enjoying the championship, and then there is attrition as players leave for higher salaries with other clubs.

In that light, let’s look at the 4 1/2 contestants in the American League East.

BOSTON: When you look at the lineup from top to bottom, neither New York –and certainly not Tampa– matches up. Yes, the Yanks have two guys who can hit 50 maybe even 60 home runs, but they just don’t have enough guys. Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Christian Vazquez are all .280 hitters or better and all know how to find the Green Monster in left field.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is not in that class, at least he wasn’t last year. But when you have a guy like that in center and Betts in right and Benintendi in left that’s as great a defensive outfield as there is in the game.

On the mound, I’m not really worried about the loss of Craig Kimbrel. He’s been great during the regular season, but iffy in the postseason, when he was needed most. The minor leagues are full of guys who throw 93-98. The question is, do any of them know where the ball is going?

If you look at the stats, you could very well say the starting pitching is also top of the line and the argument could be made it was last year, too. But, I think the Red Sox have a very real problem in Chris Sale’s shoulder. I’m not sure how many innings that guy can pitch and I’m not sure how much longer David Price’s rejuvenation will last. Eduardo Rodriguez is a solid third and Rick Porcello is a fourth. One of those two will have to step up if Sale can’t go.

I love their offense, but their pitching scares me to death. If the starters are out and middle relief can’t cover for them, this could be a really entertaining 84-win club. If healthy, they could come in at 98. Let’s split the difference and call it 91.

NEW YORK: The Yankees we’re supposed to be great last year according to many. Oh, but The Spitter picked them to finish second. That was one of the picks we got right. So Yankees fans probably won’t rejoice when we pick New York to finish… second, tied with Boston and Tampa Bay, but losing in the head-to-head tiebreaker.

I know catcher Gary Sanchez had a rough year last year (.186 AVG, 15 HR) but if spring training is any indication he has learned from it. He was more patient at the plate and was driving balls to the opposite field. But, that’s spring training and .186 is a huge hole to climb out of. Add to the fact he was a defensive liability and that’s a host of problems for the Yankees to figure out.

Outfielder, Brett Gardner looks to be in decline. But he provides value as a competitor to teach the young guys the right way to play the game. He’s also coming off a year in which is on-base percentage was only .322, much like D. J. LeMahieu. But, LeMahieu is a career .300 hitter. His walks-to-strikeout ratio has always been good. Last year was a down year for him but he still hit 276. If he can walk a little bit more and strikeout a little bit less then Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will have opportunities to drive in runs. And then there is Miguel Andujar who hit .297 with 27 home runs his rookie year. So there’s four guys to carry the load…. which leaves five to drop it.

On the mound New York signed James Paxton away from Seattle. He’s a #2/3 starter much like Mashahiro Tanaka. Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German have to fill in for Luis Severino and C.C. Sabathia because those two start the year on the disabled list. Chad Green and Zack Britton were really good out of the bullpen. That’s good because some of the other guys weren’t. And then you have Aroldis Chapman to save games. He has more than 230 in his career so he knows how to do that.

So the pitching is okay-to-good, depending, but LeMahieu, Judge and Stanton are only three guys on offense and they all have to be playing at the same time. They’re like the old Miami Marlins but with more third starters. That model was good for what, 79 wins? I don’t see how this team wins more than 91.

TAMPA BAY: The Rays came out of nowhere to win 90 games in 2018 and did it with small ball: The fourth-fewest home runs of any team while stealing the second-most bases. They also introduced the idea of the opener –getting through the first inning with a lead and then hoping a crew of middle-relievers can hold on until the game gets back to the bullpen.

On the mound, it appears they can repeat that success. The team has five honest-to-god starters this year, and no, I don’t mean Ryne Stanek, who started 29 games last year, but pitched only 66 innings. Blake Snell is coming off of a Cy Young season with a 1.89 ERA and 11 strikeouts per 9 innings. The Rays hope Tyler Glasnow can be Snell Jr. He throws 97 miles an hour. Charlie Morton is a number one starter on some staffs and an excellent number two or perhaps number three on this team. After that you have Ryan Yarbrough and his 3.91 ERA last year and Yonni Chirinos who didn’t crack the 90 inning mark, but had a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Coming out of the bullpen Jose Alvarado is solid from the left side, but he’s the only lefty they have. Diego Castillo is really good from the right side. As Tampa Bay didn’t allow hits last year, it had the fourth-best ERA and second-most saves.

Offensively, this group isn’t much to look at. Their home run-leader from 2018, C.J. Cron went to Minnesota. That leaves Tommy Pham with 15. Third baseman Matt Duffy hit four home runs last year while hitting .294.

Defensively, Willy Adames better figure out shortstop and fast. He was fifth last year in errors and played only half a season. Kevin Kiermaier is a Gold Glove-winner in center field. Brandon Lowe had only one error at second base in a quarter-season last year and has shown some pop in the minors.

Projection: As much fuss was made about the opener last year, this team could have the best starting five in baseball. Good pitching still beats good hitting. Tampa has just enough to hang with anybody and their bullpen’s pretty good too. It will be a big-hit-by-committee offense with this group. I think 91 is a good number for them.

TORONTO: For the Blue Jays, it’s time for their young pitchers to return to form and hope first baseman Justin Smoak hits one out every eighth game. They traded their best player, Kevin Pillar to San Francisco. Really, everyone is waiting for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to arrive. He’s hit .331 in the minors. He’s also on the “Fitness with Terry Pendleton” plan. If Toronto waits, they lose more games. Yuli Gurriel’s brother Lourdes looks like he could be a player. Other than that…Teoscar Hernandez, anybody?

On the mound, Matt Shoemaker has had success, and arm troubles: 
Posterior interosseous nerve syndrome. The Jays hope he can return to  2014 form when he won 16 games. Trouble is, he doesn’t miss bats: .250 career average-against. Aaron Sanchez has talent…and finger laceration and blister problems. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is also 2:1. Marcus Stroman throws ground balls. Not sure how great the middle defense is to turn those in to outs.

Defensively, Randal Grichuk had one error in 975 chances in the outfield last year.

Projection: This likely a mess, 65-70 wins almost seems generous. Call it 66.

BALTIMORE: Toronto has nothing on the Orioles when it comes to messes. This is a team with not one but two starting pitchers with an era near 5.50 last year and five guys with at least 100 at-bats who failed to hit .200.

There is a glimmer of hope for the distant future in Trey Mancini. He’s hit .270 with 55 home runs in roughly two full seasons worth of at-bats. Mark Trumbo is solid at DH and will keep them in at least 30 games with a home run. Renato Nunez and Jonathan Villar are perhaps their second best hitters. Anything above .255 will be a bonus. Villar’s okay at shortstop and second base.

On the mound, Andrew Cashner is not a solution. Paul Fry might be their best pitcher, but he’s a reliever. David Hess was pretty decent in AAA two years ago and at least had an era under 5.00 for the Orioles last year. Yes, that qualifies as hope. Nathan Karns had a 3.67 ERA in 2015 with Tampa Bay, but spent most of the last couple years on the disabled list with elbow and/or nerve problems in his right arm. He obviously has talent.

Projection: This is a team built for long, long losing streaks. I feel empathy for them and hope that the starters don’t go on the D.L. Using the opener sure wouldn’t hurt. After a 48-win, 114-loss season in which everything went wrong, let’s be optimistic with a new manager and hang a 55 on the board. No team should lose more than 110 games a year.

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