Boston and New York have all the makings of a down-to-the-wire finish, but Toronto may have something to say about that.
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: July 18, 2017 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America
The early 90’s showed two A.L. East organizations trending opposite of each other. The Toronto Blue Jays were a powerhouse, winning back-to-back championships, and the Boston Red Sox were mired in mediocrity despite having a transcending ace in Roger Clemens toe the rubber every fifth.
The Jays were stacked; the right side of the infield was young but blessed, featuring the helmet-friendly John Olerud and an uber-talented Roberto Alomar. Robbie was acquired via trade from the Dads of San Diego along with starred slugger Joe Carter a few months before the 1991 season. The result? An appearance in the ALCS, followed by the aforementioned World Series titles in ’92 and ’93. The Sox? They could barely muster a 70 RBI season out of their cleanup hitter in ’92, and the following year would be the worst of The Rocket’s career.
Needless to say, a lot can change over 25 years. And a lot has.
A 21-year playoff drought contributed to the attendance dropping nearly 60% from 1993 to 2002 for the lone American League representative of Canada, whilst Boston began the ascent upwards with a comeback of epic proportions against the Bombers (after a disastrous Grady Little brainfart), and the dismantling of the Cards, Rox, and Cards again, culminating in three World Championships from 2004-2013.
But since 2014, the tectonic plates of the East have shifted, meaning the Jays and Sox have found something of a middle ground. In the last four seasons, Toronto has averaged 85 W’s to Boston’s 83; the caveat? This trend right here:
Boston / Toronto
2014: 71 W / 83 W
2015: 78 W / 93 W
2016: 93 W / 89 W
2017: 93 W / 76 W
Much the opposite of the 1990-1993 campaigns, one franchise seems to be on the right track, as MLB’s now single representative north of the border is beginning to struggle to recreate the magic of 2015’s division crown.
So what does this mean for 2018? Let’s compare the clubs.
Offseason +: Randal Grichuk, Jaime Garcia, Curtis Granderson, Seung-Hwan Oh
Offseason –: Jose Bautista
The Jays roster remains mostly intact, minus the declining bat of, well, Joey Bats. His production will easily be replaced by a full (and probably final) season of Josh Donaldson and former Cardinal Randal Grichuk. If Grichuk is able to surpass 450 at-bats for the first time in his young career, he’s certainly heading for a 25 home run season. Defensively, unlike Bautista, he’s far from a liability.
Toronto’s lineup will also rely heavily on the premise that Justin Smoak isn’t a one year wonder, while the ageless Curtis Granderson will be looked at to provide his fourth consecutive campaign of 26+ long balls.
The Jays pitching staff is well equipped to handle the bats of the American League East, headlined by a bona fide ace in Marcus Stroman. Much like the team’s starting nine, Toronto is relying on the health and consistency to bounce back from rotational assets Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ, as the two pitchers combined to equal the same number of starts made by Marco Estrada (who was accompanied by a 4.98 ERA last season).
The loss of Dominic Leone was significant but necessary for the Jays to acquire a young talent in Grichuk, meaning the club will rely on Oh to revert back to his 2016 form — as well as quality innings from returnees Ryan Tepera and lefty Aaron Loup— in order to bridge the gap from their game day starter to their All-Star closer.
Prediction: This may not be the year for a Toronto. Smoak needs to prove he can replicate his performance, Kendry Morales’ negative WAR must improve, Grichuk has shown an inconsistency to stay on the field, and Tulowitzki is on the back nine (he hasn’t been legitimately healthy in seven years). The pen has to prove itself, as does new addition Jaime Garcia who fared poorly in the East a season ago.
Reinforcements are on the way in AA blue chippers Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr., but that’s not propelling the MLB roster as of yet. 88-74.
Offseason +: J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Nunez, Mitch Moreland
Offseason –: Addison Reed
The Sox let Reed and Fernando Abad walk, having full confidence in the crew of Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden, Carson Smith, Heath Hembree, Bobby Poyner and the masterful Craig Kimbrel, he, who was worthy of enough Cy Young votes to finish 6th in the running a season ago. The rotation is headlined by perennial All-Star Chris Sale, Cy Young winners David Price and Rick Porcello, with the back end being comprised of Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez, when healthy.
Assuming E-Rod continues to progress, he’ll hold down the 4th spot while Brian Johnson keeps Pom’s spot warm for him. With 80% of the rotation comprised of All-Stars, plus Steven Wright and Hector Velazquez available to provide adequate depth, the Red Sox will look to pitch their way past the bats of Toronto and New York, the two viable threats in the East.
The major power outage of 2017 was addressed in the signing of JDM, and the Sox lineup has remnants of the days where Papi reigned large. If Martinez can replicate the success he’s had over the last four years, Boston can easily surpass the 900-run plateau —as they did between ’03-’05.
With incredibly gifted players in Rafy Devers, Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts, the sky is the limit for the Red Sox lineup. Question marks will continue to hover over Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. until they show a larger contingency of consistency.
Prediction: Chris Sale doesn’t fade late thanks to a new offseason workout regiment, Martinez blasts 40 dingers, and the youngsters step up to the plate in a big way. 94-68.