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Previewing the opposition: AL East

Lousy geographic scheduling...

MLB: Exhibition-Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we asked some questions about how the season will go of the NL East SBNation writers. Today, it’s the turn of the AL East folks. You know, the really, really tough division. The one the Phillies have to navigate while the NL Central gets to play the likes of the Royals and Tigers.


Mark Brown - Camden Chat

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

When your favorite baseball team is projected to be the worst team in MLB, there’s really nothing that can come along to scuttle the season. It’s already scuttled. The only thing that might go “wrong” is if some player nobody expected much from, who also is not going to figure prominently in any future plans, has a hot two months and helps fuel wins that only take the Orioles farther from being able to draft #1 next June.

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

People who obsess over prospects might already be familiar with Austin Hays, though I’d guess most fans of other teams aren’t familiar with him. The outfielder stormed through the minors to debut in 2017, only about a year after he was drafted, but he had a lot of health/performance setbacks since then. His 2019 September call-up, where he batted .309/.373/.574 in 21 games, has some folks (including me) excited to see what he’ll do this year.

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle to particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

The Orioles pitching staff is set up to fail because no particular interest has been taken in improving it since Mike Elias took over as GM after the 2018 season.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

For several years now, I’ve liked to say about the Orioles that they have depth in the same way that quicksand has depth. Once you experience it, you’re already dead.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

PECOTA, Fangraphs, and 538 all predict the Orioles to be one of the worst, if not the absolute worst, teams in baseball. I haven’t seen anything to make me believe differently. I’ll be amazed if they finish much better than 20-40.


Matt Collins - Over the Monster

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

The obvious answer for the Red Sox is their rotation, which just might be the worst in all of baseball. I’m actually fairly confident in Nathan Eovaldi compared to most people around this team, but when he is your Opening Day starter you have issues. That was supposed to go to Eduardo Rodriguez, but he just joined the team at camp this past weekend after battling COVID-19 and it’s not clear when he’ll be back. After Eovaldi you have Martín Pérez, who has basically never been good, Zack Godley, who just got cut by the Tigers, and then probably Ryan Weber and Brian Johnson. That’s a straight-up disaster.

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

This is kind of a difficult one because it seems like the Red Sox are so stars and scrubs that all the important players get discussed, but I think Christian Vázquez could be more important than people think. If the Red Sox are going to be good it’s because their offense carries them most nights. Vázquez has always been a glove-first catcher but last season he showed more with his bat than ever before, more than doubling his career home run total from the rest of his career combined. There’s going to be some regression with that power, but if he shows he can be even close to a league-average hitter that will be an underrated boost for this lineup.

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle to particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

Terribly. I mostly answered that above, but the depth is not much better than the names at the top of the list. I do think the Red Sox bullpen is a little bit better than most give it credit for, but even there they are missing two of their most important arms in Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor, both of whom also tested positive for COVID-19. I do think they can get creative early in the year with bigger rosters to maybe piggyback some of their fringe starters and use some openers, but overall the depth just kind of stinks.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

This is also not great. The offensive depth is certainly better than on the defense side, but besides Bobby Dalbec there isn’t really an exciting bat that is expected to start the year off of the active roster. This is the exact reason Chaim Bloom was brought in to make them a more well-balanced roster rather than one reliant on stars, but for the time being if their stars don’t play things could get ugly.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

Aside from the obvious caveat that I have no idea what is going to happen in any respect this year, I do think the Red Sox have a good enough offense to keep them from totally bottoming out. That said, the more I look at this roster the less optimistic I get. I think they’re probably the third best team in the AL East, but they’re closer to fourth than second. Ultimately I see them hovering around .500, with my official prediction being 28-32.


Danny Russell - DRays Bay

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

My biggest concern is a roster crunch. The Rays are one of the deepest teams in baseball, with multiple players available at every position and a robust pitching staff. How on earth can they trim this roster to 26 players in a couple of weeks? There are issues keeping it to 30!

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

Ji-Man Choi is quietly one of the Rays best hitters, and a late career break out from a Korean baseball player is not making the airwaves. Could he do what Carlos Pena and David Ortiz did before him? Would that be the narrative if he played for a bigger market team?

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle to particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

Absolutely, and I’ll defer to Sam Miller’s observation at ESPN this morning as to why:

What they do better than any other team: Shut down opponents on no days’ rest. The Rays bullpen was both the best in baseball and the most used in baseball, a neat and difficult trick to pull off. No team’s relievers made more appearances on back-to-back days than the Rays’ relievers, who threw 125 innings in 143 appearances on no rest. In those innings, they had a 2.59 ERA, the lowest no-rest ERA in baseball, edging the Yankees’ 2.70 ERA in far fewer such appearances.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

The Rays are ready for just about anything, even at all-important positions like CF (the game’s best OF defender Kevin Kiermaier is now backed up by Manuel Margot), and SS (where Willy Adames has baseball’s top prospect Wander Franco and system defensive player of the year Taylor Walls in the wings). When Margot gets playing time in LF, that player (Japanese star and new addition Yoshi Tsutsugo) can play third, and third baseman Yandy Diaz can play first. This is the Gumby of major league rosters.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

Are the Yankees still in the division? Fine, Wild Card it is.


Tyler Norton - Pinstripe Alley

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

The Yankees have elevated injuries to an art form over the last two years. The 2019 Yankees had an injured list that ran the length of a CVS receipt. Spotrac has the details, and they aren’t pretty:

Injured Players: 30
Cumulative days on the IL: 2,674
Dollars on the IL: $84,779,405

So, I suppose now I’m worried about a meteor crash-landing in the Yankees’ outfield, or the reverberations from the empty stands causing a team-wide episode of tinnitus, or Luke Voit going to work at the Springfield Nuclear Plant and coming down with a nasty case of radiation poisoning. I mean, you can’t rule it out.

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

Is it possible for Giancarlo Stanton to be underrated? I know, it sounds absurd, but hear me out for a minute. Stanton appeared in just 18 regular-season games last year, and he had to sit out most of the playoffs, too. Yankees have turned on him, with Joe from the Bronx calling up WFAN and saying, “Listen, Stanton is a bum and we should trade him for a bag of balls.”

But he’s also Giancarlo Stanton, and he can do something like this.

Underrated? Maybe. For now. Until he regains his status as Giancarlo Stanton, destroyer of baseball worlds.

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle to particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

*Looks at the Yankees’ pitching depth chart and sees Gerrit Cole on top*

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

I’m sorry. That never gets old. I think the pitching staff will handle a sprint just fine, so long as they give Cole as many starts as possible.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

The Yankees have gone full Dodgers in recent years, meaning their depth charts consist of players who could, theoretically, start on other big-league teams. Clint Frazier is a fourth (fifth?) outfielder, while Thairo Estrada and Mike Ford figure to be bench players or on the taxi squad. It’s kind of ridiculous how deep the Yankees are, so I feel good about them in that respect.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

World Series, y’all. These Yankees have been knocking down the door since 2017. They ran into a few bad breaks (the Astros, plus a trash can, and the ridiculous 2018 Red Sox) but now they’re ready. Time to go all the way.


Tom Dakers - Bluebird Banter

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

Well, you might not have heard, but our federal government has decided not to allowed the Blue Jays to play in Toronto. I agree with the decision, having anyone fly into Toronto from the various hot spots would be foolish. One would have expected the team to have Plan B ready to go, but they didn’t or at least didn’t have a workable Plan B (playing in Dunedin had been the idea, but that would be just stupid, playing in Buffalo was Plan C but the ball park isn’t MLB ready). The plan, at the moment, seems to be begging another team, or teams, to let the Jays borrow their park.

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

There is this guy named Vlad who you haven’t heard of before who has had 2 weeks to learn first base because, as Wash would agree, it is incredibly easy. Beyond that, let’s say Lourdes Gurriel. Gurriel isn’t unknown, but he’s had a tough time with injuries in his first two seasons. The plan is to bat him third. If he can play 55ish games and hit the way he should, it would help us out a lot.

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle to particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

Well, the top starters seem to have ramped up their pitch count quicker than I expected. The Jays are fairly deep in pitching, there are a number of top prospects who are now about major league ready. Nate Pearson in particular looks very good, he’s likely to miss the first 7 days of the season to gain another year of control. I think the pitching should be ok, my concern is there are a lot of options and the team has to make the right choices on those options, there isn’t time to have someone make 5 starts, fail and go on to the next guy.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

This is a concern. The Jays are pretty thin in the outfield, if a couple of guys were to go down, there is a big step down to the second line. And, of course, a huge step down if Vlad, Bo Bichette and/or Cavan Biggio had to miss some games, it won’t be pretty.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

Honestly, I have no idea. I’m thinking the teams that keep their players healthiest are the ones who are going to do best. The Jays are in a tough division and won’t be playing in their home park were they would be most comfortable. I think the first 10 games will be important, if they do well, it should carry them along. If they do poorly, I think there is a chance they could figure that this mockery of a season isn’t worth the effort, and just try to run out the string. Beyond that, I think Hyun-Jin Ryu, Matt Shoemaker, and Nate Pearson should make a very good top of the rotation (presuming they can stay healthy), so it could be fun.


Some tough teams here for the Phillies to face, but here’s hoping for a successful year. My thanks to all who responded.