When the annual projections for winners and losers in 2018 start rolling out, the New York Yankees will be installed at the top of the American League East. But the Division could contain a snake in the grass here and there, as teams look to upset the Evil Empire.
For the New York Yankees, competition in their division has always been severe and rarely a walk in the park.
For instance, over the last three seasons, Baseball Reference shows the Yankees dominating only the Tampa Bay Rays in head-to-head competition (35-22). They hold a slim margin of three games on the plus side against Boston and Baltimore, but they’ve been manhandled by the Toronto Blue Jays (22-35).
Over the same period, the Yankees have used the AL Central to fatten up their record, with winning margins against all teams in the Division except for Cleveland. This includes going 14-5 against the Twins and 14-6 when they played the Royals.
But the road to the playoffs must include a division title as a prerequisite for reaching the World Series. Having to beat three teams to get there last season as a Wild Card was a tall order for the Yankees, and as we know, they fell just short.
Having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is a big deal for a team like the Yankees considering the raucous crowds at Yankee Stadium that greet all opponents. This means the team needs to be in the hunt for the best overall record in baseball as well as winning the AL East.
To reach these goals, the Yankees need to pummel their opponents in their division more frequently than they have in the past few years. And when you look around the division at what other teams have done so far during the offseason, there is a good reason to believe they can reach the playoffs in better shape than they did last season.
Tampa Bay Rays
Let’s begin a quick trip around the division with a look at the Tampa Bay Rays. As a small-market team playing their games in an incubator, the Rays are perennially looking at a modest payroll. The franchise does not appear to have a clear idea of where they want to go in 2018.
The Rays unloaded the aging face of their team when they traded Evan Longoria to the Giants, but they have been hesitant to pull the trigger on Logan Morrison, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer. All are highly sought after by other teams, but trading any or all of them would send a signal the Rays are all in on a rebuild.
Prediction: With, or especially without this trio, the Yankees should find little or no competition from the Rays this season, going 14-5 overall.
Next are the Baltimore Orioles. Once never thought possible, attendance is down at Camden Yards.
The team is reeling from the bewildering and ultra-expensive signings of Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis. And they have no starting pitching to support Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Toss in the much-hyped on-again off-again dangling of Manny Machado, and you have the makings of a three-ring circus Buck Showalter is going to have to deal with.
Prediction: Showalter always demands his team gets up for the Yankees. And the Orioles usually respond. The Orioles will come out of the gate strong again, but then they’ll do their annual fade settling into the middle of the division. A 12-7 record in favor of the Yankees is probably as good as it’s gonna get against this pesky team.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox, oh yes, how could we forget them? Well, we may need to wait a while before we know where they stand entering the 2018 season. And that’s because the Red Sox are dealing mainly with Scott Boras, who waits and waits until he finds the best deal for his clients.
J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and Jake Arrieta are all Boras clients linked to the Red Sox. The Red Sox re-signed Mitch Moreland, but they still need to add more power to what has become a feeble lineup since the departure of David Ortiz. They have credible starting pitching led by Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, but David Price needs to put his arm where his mouth is. Dustin Pedroia is injury prone and a mere shell of what he was.
Prediction: The Red Sox are not the big bad wolf they were last season. The Yankees will switch places with them this season, and it’ll be the Sox looking up in a futile, but interesting, chase for first place. Never underestimate what David Ortiz meant to Beantown. Yankees win the series 11-8.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays fell flat from predictions made at this time last year as the team to beat in the AL East. The bungling of Edwin Encarnacion’s free agency and the never-ending dance with Jose Bautista before they signed him was an embarrassment to what is a professional organization. They needed to play 10 games before they won their first of the season and they never recovered from that start, despite the frequent calls “the Blue Jays are coming.”
The Jays are old and worn at several spots coming into the new season. Apparently, they’re holding on to Josh Donaldson for one more go-around (good move), but they haven’t done much to replace the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop. Russell Martin also saw reduced time behind the plate. Still, starting pitching gives the team hope. Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman will give the Yankees and any other team something to think about, and if they can find a fifth starter – you know what they say – pitching can take a team a long way.
Prediction: The Yankees set the record straight this season against the Jays by a narrow margin, 10-9.
Totaling It All Up
If these numbers are near correct, the Yankees will finish the season 47-29 against their AL East competition, a winning percentage of .618. To reach 95 wins, they’ll need to find another 48 wins.
The Yankees have drawn the National League East as their interleague play opponents. This means there will be home and away series against the Braves, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, and Marlins, as well as an opportunity to fatten up on everyone with the exception of the Nationals, and possibly the up and coming Phillies.
But as we have said, everything starts and ends in the AL East where everyone seems to be at a standstill waiting for the other shoe to drop when the Evil Empire adds either now, or in July, to their already potent lineup and a bevy of starters to go along with a dominant bullpen. To the delight of Yankees fans, things are back to normal again.