With plenty of an action free offseason remaining, it would appear that a majority of the clubs across baseball are yet to finalize their rosters for 2018. But that won’t stop four of Soxsphere’s writers from speculating as to who’s going to dethrone the Boston Red Sox from atop the division standings. Unfortunately, for the past two seasons, Boston’s failed to capitalize on their regular season winning ways.
With the presently constituted rosters, we’ll look at who’s capable of the task, keeping in mind one major addition could change the landscape of the A.L. East.
Will Judge Hold Court in 2018?
Gabe: It’s fairly obvious what team is going to be the toughest for the Red Sox in their division – The New York Yankees.
This past season, the Bronx Bombers finished second behind the Sox in the division. They were lead by slugger Aaron Judge. The rookie led the American League in home runs and runs scored hitting 52 bombs and crossing the plate 128 times.
Not only was Aaron Judge hitting homers, a lot of other guys on the teams were crushing the ballas well. This led to New York leading the majors in said category.
And now, the lineup is borderline terrifying with the addition of the 2017 major league home run leader, Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton finished last season with 59 home runs, which combined with Judge gives the duo 111 home runs in the 2017 season.
What is even more worrisome for A.L. East fansis the notion New York could possibly trade for All-StarManny Machado.
Imagine that lineup – Sanchez, Judge, Stanton, Machado.. Wow. Talk about middle of the lineup production, as that foursome could lead to a 1000 run season.
The Red Sox do have an edge on the Yankees in one category: starting pitching. The Sox starting rotation is better than the Yankees.
Hopefully, when the Red Sox face off against the Yankees, Boston’s starting rotation can slow their offense down. If not, it will be an ugly sight. Even if the Boston pitching holds up, you could put New York down for an easy 100 victories and a 2018 division banner.
What’s in store north of the border?
Dom: Spring Training is rapidly approaching, and the hot stove has been as frosty as a Boston blizzard this offseason.
Last season, it was expected that Toronto would battle the Sox for the East, but the Jays faltered, and the Yankees challenged Boston for most of the year.
If you look at the last five seasons, Toronto’s record versus Boston is 6-13, 10-9, 9-10, 12-7 and 8-11. Since 2012, Toronto has finished in the top 10 in home runs every year and have finished in the top four every year, barring 2017. Hell, as recent as 2015 and 2016 they had one of the most prolific offenses in baseball.
The Jays have some familiar faces, including Ben Cherington, who you may have heard of. They also have sincere threats in Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, and Troy Tulowitzki.
Pitching was a major issue last year as JA Happ regressed horribly in 2017 and Aaron Sanchez was never able to stay healthy. Stroman had a nice season and received Cy Young votes, posting a 3.09 ERA and a WHIP of 1.31, averaging one hit per inning (201 innings pitched, and 201 hits allowed).
Expect Donaldson and Stroman to take large steps forward in 2018. Toronto is a real threat, but are unlikely to finish atop the crowd.
Is Tampa a Surprise Contender Without Evan Longoria?
Sasha: There have been quite a few moments between the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays that have made a once one-sided rivalry leaning towards the Red Sox, to a more equal between the two teams.
Here are a few examples of how the rivalry between the Rays and Red Sox has not only been entertaining but has increased the dislike between the two teams.
•August 29, 2000: when Pedro Martinez took the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays and ended up pitching 9IP-1H-0R-0BB-13K, yet it was a 1-2 fastball that went high and inside hitting Rays batter Gerald Williams. Williams immediately looked at his wrist as he took a few steps toward first base. He then looked out at Pedro, back at his wrist and at Pedro one last time before deciding to beeline it straight for the Red Sox ace. A melee broke out.
Pedro went on to throw 8.2 of no-hit baseball until John Flaherty broke up the no-no with a single.
•2008 ALCS: this series was back and forth for it’s entirety, until Game 7. The Rays brought in rookie David Price, who ended up shutting down the Red Sox rally at the time by striking out JD Drew with the bases loaded, thus preventing the Red Sox from moving on to the World Series.
•Evan Longoria hits a walk-off home run off of Yankees pitcher Corey Wade in the 12th innings, eliminating the Red Sox from the playoffs in 2011.
Heading into the 2018 season, the Rays are currently managed by former Red Sox catcher, Kevin Cash. They have a strong core of veteran players like Wilson Ramos behind the plate, a perennial Gold Glove candidate in centerfield with Kevin Kiermaier, and recently acquired Denard Span who is a Tampa Bay native.
Tampa is hopeful they’ll provide the leadership, as well as a winning mentality, for the younger Ray players such as Willy Adames, Christian Arroyo, and Daniel Robertson.
If the Rays choose not to deal away their closer, Alex Colome who last year saved 47 games, they should be a tough team to beat in one or two run games.
They could also potentially sign free-agents Mike Napoli or Jose Bautista, which could bolster a lineup that could definitely use the additions. The Rays may not win more than 75-80 games and a 4th place finish is likely.
Baltimore is going to struggle.
Gerard: Dan Duquette somehow almost fielded a contending ball club last year, with hardly a focus on pitching. Or running. Or defending. The O’s were well below the league average in staff ERA (4.97), WHIP (1.44), and thefts (32). According to baseball-reference.com, they cost their team 19 runs over the course of the year; Boston’s defense saved their pitchers a league high 70.
At the end of the day, the Orioles bopped there way to a last place division finish, and haven’t done anything to improve their chances of competing for a division crown. Even the Sox have been more active, and all that’s entailed is bringing Mitch Moreland back while actively seeking a Hanley Ramirez trade partner.
Out of respect to the O’s, their lineup is filthy, although righty-heavy. Jonathan Schoop, Chris Davis, Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, and the ever dangerous Manny Machado are all worthy of a 3-4 spot in the batting order, and all are 30/100 candidates.
But… the pitching. With essentially 60% of their rotation a total guessing game, Baltimore has yet to make a free agent move to steady the ship. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are expected to head the herd, but you could argue if they were wearing Sox uniforms, they’d be battling out for the 5th spot behind Price, Porcello and Pomeranz (not in that specific order). And unfortunately for Camden Yard patrons, Zach Britton will be lost for at least the beginning of the season. However, Brad Brach has been an incredibly dependable righty for the last three years, and will assume Britton’s duties.
There’s no reason to expect Baltimore will compete for a playoff spot in 2018, but the same was said last year about the Rockies, Twins and Brewers. Yet, we saw Colorado sneak into the wild card round, Milwaukee lead their division for four months, and Minnesota even took a 3-0 lead against the Yanks in their wild card matchup. You can’t ever rule a team out, especially not in January, but hopes can’t be high for the Orioles of 2018.
My prediction? Basement dwellers at 73-89. Baltimore falters out of the gate with a rotation comprised of youngsters, the Britton injury costs the team wins, and Machado is dealt to a contender in July.