With the MLB season delayed due to COVID-19, we here at Garage Door Sports wanted to look at what the season might hold when it does get played. We will do an in-depth breakdown of each division and how they should breakdown down over a full season. Make sure to follow along as each division is released in the MLB Season Preview series:
AL East – Where they should finish
- New York Yankees
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Boston Red Sox
- Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees
The class of this division last season will continue their dominance once again. The Yankees are head and shoulders better than the rest of the division. Ok, maybe only a head above Tampa Bay – but their pitching staff is the crème of the division and will anchor a team that finished second in the MLB in home runs with 306.
The Yankees managed to add the biggest fish in the free agent pond this offseason with Gerrit Cole and his 2.50 ERA to a pitching staff that authored a 4.31 ERA as a team. Slotting the former Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates ace at the top of this rotation only makes this team scarier. If you manage to get through Cole, you must follow that up by getting through Masahiro Tanaka, left-handers James Paxton and J.A. Happ and then get to Jordan Montgomery. Not a bad rotation.
The bullpen is no slouch either. The ninth inning will be a lockdown by the perennial all-star and, all of a sudden, buffed out Aroldis Chapman. Before that you have a scary seventh and eighth inning tandem of Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton who each had a sub-2 ERA last season. Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green will also come out of the pen for the pinstripes. Youngsters Jonathan Loaisiga, Jonathan Holder and Luis Cessa round out the group that will have many teams wishing they got to face the starter all game.
In the Field
Aaron Hicks will miss this season due to Tommy John surgery which opens up a spot for long time Yankee Brett Gardner to slot back in. The trio of Gardner, Aaron Judge and Mike Tauchman will be more dangerous at the plate than in the field. But don’t try running on them – Judge and Tauchman led the team last year in defensive WAR sitting at 1.7 and 1.6 respectively. Gardner was fourth with 0.7 dWAR. Add in Giancarlo Stanton as the designated hitter and sub for the outfield and the Yankees are set.
The infield is just as good. All five, including Gary Sanchez, hit at least 20 homers last year. Gleyber Torres led the whole team with 38 and will now be a full-time starter, which could spell disaster for the rest of the division.
Tampa Bay Rays
Finally breaking away from the shadow of the Boston Red Sox last season, the Rays are set up to be even better in 2020. With young guns coming up from the minors and a pitching staff that can stand toe-to-toe with most, expect the Rays to fight for a wild card spot when playoffs come around.
The Rays have one of the deepest pitching rotations in the league, right up there with the Yankees. Cy Young winner Blake Snell struggled last season and is still a little banged up, but at only 27 he is expected to return to a top of the rotation arm this season. Charlie Morton may be 36 but he has one of the elite curveballs in the league. He blossomed late, so age is just a number to him. Add in Tyler Glasnow and his 1.78 ERA across 12 starts last season and you get a top three that can compete with any in the league.
The four and five starters are not spaghetti arms either. Yonny Chirinos had a good year last season winning 9 games in 18 starts while striking out 114 batters. Following him there will be competition for the last spot as Ryan Yarbrough will hope to beat out two-way phenom Brendan McKay. McKay had electric stuff in his short stint in the majors last season. In 49 IP the young lefty had 56 strikeouts. He was sent down prior to the shutdown but expect him to be called up at some point this season.
In the Field
Don’t look now but the team in Tampa is young and fun. All nine projected starters are 30 years old or younger. Only one player on their projected opening day roster (for position players) is over 30.
The team is set up to play heavily on platoons. The starting lineup is defensively sound and with Willy Adames up the middle you know what you are getting every game. His 388 assists led the team by 124 and his 2.1 dWAR was by far the highest mark on the team. Austin Meadows may not be the defensive stud that Adames is, but his offensive upside can’t be denied. The 25-year-old batted .291 with 33 home runs in 2019 and will look to continue that success this season.
The addition of Hunter Renfroe from the San Diego Padres will help boost the output for the Rays as well. Adding him and Manuel Margot was good business as they are versatile. Margot will especially be used against left handers and as a late innings runner. Jose Martinez is another lefty crusher and will come off the bench with the new three batter ruler frequently. Expect this to be the case all season and the Tampa Bay team will be pushing for a post season berth with no problems.
Toronto Blue Jays
Another year older and another year of experience will do the young Jays good. The nucleus of what will be a dangerous team the next few years will get their second chance to play a full season together in 2020. Expect them to take another step forward and jump the Red Sox for third in the division.
Spending money on a free agent from another team? Not preposterous. Spending money on one of the top free agent pitchers? Now that is very un-Jays like. Yet here we are and the front office shelled out the money to bring veteran lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. Coming off a season that saw the lefty craft a 2.32 ERA, good enough for tops among qualified NL pitchers, the Jays will hope he can carry his success into the slaughterhouse that is the AL East. After Ryu the rotation is filled with veteran arms trying to prove they still have it. Chase Anderson will likely slot in as the second starter after arriving in a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers. Tanner Roark will also be in the rotation. He hasn’t had an ERA under 4 since 2016 when he finished 10th in Cy Young voting.
The last two spots in the rotation will be going to two surprises from last years team in Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton. Shoemaker, a seven-year veteran, was the Jays best pitcher prior to an ACL injury that kept him out the rest of the year. He will look to come back and pitch like the 1.57 ERA he had across three starts last season. Thornton, meanwhile, had an impressive rookie season, striking out 149 batters across 154.1 innings. He will look to improve in his sophomore season.
The bullpen is not the strongest by any means, but it has some intriguing pieces. The additions of veterans Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis and Marc Rzepczynski will give some stability to the team. Shun Yamaguchi, a 31-year-old from Japan will also slot into the bullpen to start the season, but don’t be surprised if he makes starts as well. The real gems in the pen are Sam Gaviglio and closer Ken Giles. Gaviglio, struck out 88 batters in 95.2 innings last season. The hard throwing Giles one up’d his teammate, spinning a 1.87 ERA with 83 strikeouts in only 53 innings.
Don’t forget the youngsters who might not start the season with the big club, but will certainly have an impact in 2019. Nate Pearson is the ninth ranked prospect in the entire league heading into the 2020 season. He spun a 1.29 ERA in four spring training starts before the shutdown and will most likely make his presence felt at some point in 2020 after starting the year in AA. Yennsy Diaz will most likely start the season with the club, but the 23-year-old should be recognized as a threat out of the bullpen. Anthony Kay and Sean Reid-Foley will also most likely find time in Toronto at some point during the season.
In the Field
If the Rays are young, the Jays are babies. Six players in the projected starting lineup are 26 years old or younger. Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are both under the age of 23! Yet, they are the best the team has to field, and they are pretty good at that.
Bichette led the team last year as he batted .311 across 46 games. Guerrero Jr. wasn’t too shabby in his rookie season either, hitting .272 with 15 home runs. Cavan Biggio, the third member of the legacy club, surprised many hitting 16 home runs in his first taste of the major leagues. After all that, the young Jays will get another year of at-bats in and most likely get better. Add in the emergence of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and they have the key pieces to swing the bats. Travis Shaw will pencil in as the starting first baseman after joining the club in the offseason. In the shortened spring training, Shaw was batting just .214 and could be usurped by fan favourite Rowdy Tellez.
The outfield will be manned by Gurriel, Randal Grichuk and a combination of Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford by the looks of it. Grichuk was handed the centre-field role to start spring training this year and will go into the season with that in check. Gurriel Jr., after converting to outfield last season, will be the starting left-fielder baring an injury or poor play. Hernandez is the most likely candidate to start in right and will bring his 26 homers from last season with him. The bench will be interesting as Joe Panik was added in the offseason. He, along with Alford, Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney will be called upon to come off the bench when required. Reese McGuire will take his role as backup catcher behind Danny Jansen.
Boston Red Sox
Just two seasons ago the Red Sox won the World Series. Boy have times changed. They traded away their best player in the offseason and dealing with injuries, this could be a season to forget in Boston.
What was once a feared rotation now is rather tame. David Price, who had his struggles, was shipped off to the Los Angeles Dodgers with Mookie Betts. Chris Sale will miss the 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in March. Free agent signee Collin McHugh will also be out temporarily due to elbow surgery. The Sox could get lucky and McHugh could be ready to start the season when it does start. If he isn’t ready the Sox rotation is rather sparse.
Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi both will lead the rotation with strong season last year to build on. After that, the three remaining projected starters had ERA above 5.00 last season with only Martin Perez owning a winning record at 10-7. The other two, Ryan Weber and Brian Johnson, pitched primarily out of the bullpen for the Red Sox last year. They will be throw into the deep end right away.
If the rotation is a worrisome spot for Boston, then the bullpen is a haunted house. Brandon Workman is a very good closer. Matt Barnes and Marcus Walden are both good arms out of the pen as well. But outside of that they don’t really have anyone they can rely on. Ryan Brasier saw his ERA triple from the 1.60 mark he set in 2018. If he can bounce back the Sox would be better off. But in a division with the Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays bats, that is a tough task. Veterans Heath Hembree and Austin Brice are both uninteresting arms and will be used when needed. The sophomore duo of Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor could provide a boost if they can take steps forward. But if they struggle in their second seasons it could be tough for the Sox to get through the middle innings.
In the Field
With Mookie Betts gone, it is now time for Alex Verdugo to man right-field for the Bo-Sox. But other than the free-swinging lefty, the only other change to the lineup will be Michael Chavis having full run of second base. So where are they going to struggle you ask? It’s simple, when you lose your best player you need to account for that production. It wouldn’t be a surprise for the team to average close to the same numbers of runs as last year though. Verdugo batted .294, almost a perfect replacement for Betts’ .295 average. The newcomer won’t hit the same number of home runs, (he only had 12 last year), but he will get on base and move the lineup.
Still, there will be a struggle when you lose your manager before the season and having to implement a new system. They have the bats to compete, but will the bats be able to make up for the lack of quality pitching that looks like it will befall them? That is the problem and it doesn’t look like they will be able to get close to the Rays or Yankees. Expect them to compete with the Jays for that third spot in the division.
It’s almost not fair to Baltimore fans that their team has to play in the stacked AL East. After fielding competitive teams in the mid 2010’s it’s been nothing but hard to watch lineups. 2020 is shaping up to be no different, but there might be some signs of life in Maryland.
After trading away their best pitcher it will be a new starter on opening day. Last year’s surprise rookie John Means spun a tight 3.60 ERA across 27 starts. He will be given the opening day start most likely, and will become the fifth different opening day starter in the last five years. After him though there isn’t much hope. Alex Cobb authored a 10.95 ERA across three starts last season before undergoing hip surgery to fix a torn labrum. Asher Wojciechwoski fared slightly better with a 4.92 ERA in 16 starts, but he finished the year with a 4-8 record. Veteran Wade LeBlanc will join the rotation, as will Kohl Stewart, who will bring his 6.39 ERA from last year to Baltimore and fill the fifth starting spot. Not exactly a murderer’s row of pitchers there.
The bullpen has some good pieces in it, a slight positive for the Orioles fans. Mychal Givens has electric stuff, and has shown that through his career. He has hit the 80-strikeout mark three times despite never pitching in 80 innings in a season. Last year he only pitched 63 innings and still had 86 strikeouts. Hunter Harvey is the next name in the bullpen. The then 24-year-old rookie threw an impressive 1.42 ERA in seven appearances in relief last year and will most likely be a key piece in long relief. The last member of the highlight team is Miguel Castro. Another electric arm with strikeout capabilities. He will need to be at his best as he will be leaned on heavily. Outside of those three, it is more of the same for the lowly Orioles. Don’t expect much.
In the Field
Looking at the starting nine you almost want to question how a club can field this kind of lineup and still have fans. It is hard to look at but there is a method to the madness if you believe management. The future looks bright with top prospects Adley Rutschman, Ryan Moutncastle, and Yusniel Diaz all coming through the system. While Diaz and Rutschamn are at least another year away, there is real optimism that Mountcastle will make his MLB debut in 2020. Chris Davis and his .179 batting average stands in his way when he gets called up. Listen, it’s hard to see there being any real opposition to Mountcastle being the starting first base after the call up, but Orioles brass has to be hurting paying Davis’ $23M per year salary.
Outside of the first base competition that won’t be a competition, there is only little hope. Jonathan Villar, the team’s best player last season, was traded. Jose Iglesias will take his spot alongside the aforementioned Davis and the returning Hanser Alberto and Rio Ruiz in the infield. Pedro Severino will look to continue to build on his best season as a pro last year. If he can take a step forward offensively it would be a huge boost for the Orioles.
In the outfield Baltimore will trot out three players who have upside, but need to prove something in 2020. With Trey Mancini out due to surgery to remove a malignant tumor in March, the team will have Anthony Santander, Austin Hayes and DJ Stewart most likely manning the grass. While they have the potential to take steps in 2020, it will be hard to hide the fact the team will not be good.