After a fall full of intrigue and drama, one which saw the hot stove boil over to historic levels, the 2019 MLB season is right around the corner. For months, the league’s 30 teams have been hard at work, making moves to improve their rosters and improve their shot of playing into October.
Entering this season, everyone is chasing one team, the Boston Red Sox, who won 108 games last year as well as the World Series trophy. The Red Sox aren’t the only team at the top of the US sports betting sites’ odds. In fact, they aren’t the only ones in their own division with top odds to win the classic yet again.
This is part one of our 2019 MLB Season Preview Series, the AL East.
MLB’s only division with two 100-win teams and three over 90, the AL East was the class of baseball in 2018. It was also an incredibly top-heavy division, as for as good as the top three were, the bottom two were as bad, both losing over 70 games apiece. So how has the outlook changed in 2019?
5. Baltimore Orioles – The Orioles finished in last place with 115 losses, the most in baseball. In 2019, Baltimore is projected significantly over that win total, despite still being pegged to finish last in the division. The Orioles are expected to lose 15 less games this year, in due part because of a strong bullpen which should keep them in close games. But that’s only when the games get close.
Last year, Baltimore’s starting staff ranked dead last in ERA (5.48) and their offense finished 27th in runs scored. They didn’t make any real improvements in free agency and instead are focused on elevating their young players. Make no mistake, this is the beginning of what could be a long but significant rebuild for the O’s.
4. Toronto Blue Jays – Also projected to see a slight uptick in victories are the Blue Jays, who went 73-89 last year against tough competition in the AL East. Toronto’s biggest strength last year came with the long ball as the Blue Jays finished fifth in MLB in home runs.
However, outside of power, the team struggled offensively, batting among the middle of the pack and unable consistently to get batters on base to help generate runs and run scoring opportunities. This is one area Toronto made slight improvements in as they will look to the continued rise of 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is expected to make his big league debut at some point this season. Primarily however, the Blue Jays will need to get better production from their starting staff which helped contribute to the fourth worst ERA in baseball last year (4.85).
3. Tampa Bay Rays – For the Rays, hitting 90 wins last year was something that certainly came as a shock to many, as just two years prior the team went from 68 to 80 wins and then increased that total another 10. Since reaching their first and only World Series in 2008, the Rays have gone through some dramatic changes but once again, have found their way back into contention, partially due to their ingenuity.
Last year, the team found success with a concept called “the opener,” a pitching strategy that saw the team use closer Sergio Romo to start the game and pick up early outs as opposed to coming in at the end. It was out of the box no doubt, but it seemed to work to the tune of 90 wins.
What also worked was the outfield, which ranked sixth best in MLB. Offensively, the team played well and from a pitching perspective, their staff carried loads of depth. The team’s weakness came in terms of their power where the Rays ranked 27th in home runs. That could change this year however as the team acquired Mike Zunino in the offseason, who is coming off 20-home run seasons in each of his last two. Will it be enough to get the Rays back to 90 wins? The projection has them falling just shy of that mark with 85, but all wins are down in context this year, even the team that we’re about to talk about next.
2. Boston Red Sox – Last year’s World Series champions, the Red Sox are still expected to finish near the top of MLB’s standings with 92 wins, but that’s a far cry from the 108 they won last year. That’s not to say the Red Sox got progressively worse because they haven’t. Last year, Boston succeeded on the backs of homegrown talent, a tried and true formula in baseball. Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. combined as one of MLB’s best outfields and undoubtedly the best made up of players all farmed through the organization.
Betts is coming off an MVP season, where he captured the award with a line of a .346 batting average, 47 doubles, 32 home runs, 129 runs, 30 stolen bases and 80 RBI. His supporting cast was no slouch either as Boston finished with the league’s top team batting average, RBI, hits, runs, OPS, the list goes on.
Boston put in a season for the record books, but there was one weakness, in terms of their bullpen. Fortunately, the Red Sox had and still have a phenomenal starting staff. So why is it that coming off this historic season the Red Sox aren’t sole favorites to win the World Series or favorites at all to win the AL pennant and AL East? Because while the Red Sox are still the Red Sox, their biggest rival may have won the 2019 offseason.
1. New York Yankees – As much as the Yankees want to win another World Series trophy, that would be their 28th and first in a decade, what might be equally important is being able to defeat the Red Sox in the AL East and perhaps in the playoffs to do so.
Entering this season, the Yankees who won 100 games last year, are projected to win an MLB-best 98 in 2019. They are also the co-favorites with the Red Sox and Houston Astros (+600) to win the World Series, co-favorites to win the AL Championship with the Astros (+280) and favorites to win the AL East (-135).
Why might that be? Well for starters, the Yankees signed some big names in Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu. Both men will add to an offense that ranked second in runs, RBI and first in home runs. That’s going to be New York’s biggest strength this year as well. The offense got better, the starting staff got better with the additions of James Paxton and JA Happ and most importantly the bullpen got better.
In all, the Yankees took a 100-win team and actually made it better and with even more depth and ability than before. That’s no easy task but alongside the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East, the Yankees won the offseason and they’ll be looking to take that victory to not just an AL East crown, but a World Series one as well.