With opening day quickly approaching, it's time to take a look at how each team looks around the division. Each team is previewed in 250 words or less, before an "expected win total" is provided. Overall, this looks to be the strongest division in all of baseball, and you can expect the greatest combined record. Without further ado:
The 2015 Blue Jays boasted the best offence in baseball by a wide margin, and every key member of that group will return this season. Although some regression can be expected, increased playing time for both Michael Saunders and Troy Tulowitzki should help maintain the top-notch offence. The team defence is also very strong, as the infield is full of above-average defenders, and Kevin Pillar seems to take away anything hit to centre-field.
The rotation will miss the durability of Mark Buehrle, but a full season of Marcus Stroman could more than offset this production. Adding J.A. Happ, Jesse Chavez, and Gavin Floyd provides the Jays with terrific depth, but the team does lack a 2nd top-notch starter to pair with Stroman. However, the bullpen is much better than on opening day in 2015, and John Gibbons will have very strong late-game options in Drew Storen, Brett Cecil, and Roberto Osuna. Even an average pitching staff, combined with a strong defence, should make the Blue Jays an above average team in terms of run prevention. The team will surely miss David Price's production down the stretch, but the pitching depth is just so much stronger than in 2015.
On paper, this team definitely possesses the level of talent to challenge for a playoff spot, and look out for Dalton Pompey when an opportunity arises. The health of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin will be this team's X-factor.
Expected Win Total (+/- 5): 89
The 2015 Red Sox were a complete train-wreck, but significant and expensive offseason acquisitions should help make this team a playoff contender this season. David Price will make an incredible impact on this rotation, and Rick Porcello seems due for a bounce-back year. With Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Joe Kelly to round out the starting staff, this rotation should improve to at least league-average. In addition, the acquisitions of Craig Kibrel and Carson Smith should transform this bullpen into an elite bunch. This entire pitching staff should benefit from an improved defence, as moving Hanley Ramirez out of left field will do wonders for their outfield defence.
Offensively, the Red Sox were around league average in 2015, but both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval cannot be much worse. A 40-year old David Ortiz is expected to lead the group, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to be an ageless wonder. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are terrific young players, while Dustin Pedroia continues to be an above-average player. Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo, and Blake Swihart form a solid bottom-third of the lineup, with Brock Holt, Chris Young, Ryan Hanigan, and Travis Shaw providing strong depth. The Red Sox may not have a Jays-level offence, but this definitely projects to be an above-average group. Boston projects to present the biggest threat to the Blue Jays in this division.
Expected Win Total (+/- 5): 87
Although this team lacks an offensive superstar, the Rays are able to compensate by having a rather deep lineup. Kevin Kiermaier is an absolute freak defensively, and even a league-average level of offence makes him a star. Evan Longoria's production at the plate has gone from "very good" to "above-average", but he does stay on the field. Corey Dickerson replaces John Jaso as the guy who can really hit right-handed pitching, while Steve Pearce is just one season removed from an outstanding offensive campaign. The outfield just has so many options; especially if Desmond Jennings is able to stay healthy, as Brandon Guyer and Steven Souza also deserve playing time. Expect regression from Logan Forsythe at second base, but the addition of Brad Miller will help form a formidable middle-infield. Hank Conger and Curt Casali are huge offensive improvements behind the plate, plus Logan Morrison could help the first base situation.
Even with Alex Cobb on the disabled list for the majority of the season, the Rays still bolster a convincing rotation. Chris Archer is a legitimate ace, and Jake Odorizzi just posted a 3.35 ERA in 2015. Drew Smyly is very effective when healthy, while Erasmo Ramirez has emerged as a nice mid-rotation option. Although Matt Moore has struggled post-surgery, he still offers a bit of upside. Speaking of upside, Blake Snell dominated the minors and should factor into the equation. The bullpen is looking awfully rough, but the group will benefit from a strong defence.
Expected Win Total (+/- 5): 82
The Orioles could be the odds-on favourite to lead the league in homeruns. To start, Chris Davis returns to the middle of this lineup, and will be joined by one of the best young players in major league baseball in Manny Machado. The other big name on this team is a very good player in Adam Jones, but his offence leans closer to above-average than elite. The team did struggle at the designated hitter and corner outfield positions in 2015, so Pedro Alvarez, Mark Trumbo, and Hyun-Soo Kim should be noticeable additions. In addition, Matt Weiters and Caleb Joseph form a solid catching tandem, while Jonathan Schoop has a lot of power for a second baseman. The team's shortstop, J.J. Hardy, cannot play much worse than he did in 2015. All in all, the Orioles should boast an above-average offence, but their on-base ability is not as strong as their power potential. I do expect them to regret losing Steve Pearce to the division-rival Rays.
In terms of pitching, the O's will struggle to replace Wei-Yin Chen, the team's best starter from last season. Baltimore does a pair of decent mid-rotation starters in Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez, but this team lacks an ace. Kevin Gausman provides upside, but Chris Tillman is a guessing game, and Miguel Gonzalez looks like a rather mediocre 5th starter. On the bright side, the bullpen is strong, as Zach Britton and Darren O'Day form a great duo.
Expected Win Total (+/- 5): 81
The Yankees roster will be incredibly similar to last season, as Aroldis Chapman, Starlin Castro, and Aaron Hicks represent their only major additions of the offseason. The "Bronx Bombers" may have boasted an above-average offence in 2015, but that production was led by older players who could very well decline. It's tough to see Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran maintaining that level of play this season, and I'll be very surprised if Alex Rodriguez can play over 150 games yet again. In fact, just about every key member of the offence was incredibly healthy last season, as Brian McCann, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, and Brett Gardner excelled at staying on the field. In addition, the age of this roster seems to make this group a below-average team defensively.
New York's rotation will be led by Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, two starters that are very effective when on the mound, but simply cannot be counted on to throw 200 innings. Both Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino are solid mid-rotation starters, but expect this staff to feel the loss of Adam Warren, as C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova do not inspire much confidence.
What the Yankees do have going for them is an absolutely incredible bullpen. The combination of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller should be outstanding, but the team did lose one of their best relievers in Justin Wilson.
Expected Win Total (+/- 5): 80