Previewing the AL East
Editor's note: ESPN.com has teamed with ESPN The Magazine and the SweetSpot Blog Network to produce this year's preview capsules. Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian examined the American League and the National League, respectively. They ordered the teams based on how they think they'll finish, while also breaking down each team's best- and worst-case scenarios.
The SweetSpot bloggers provided the projected lineups, pitching rotations and bullpens, which are mostly approximations based on the latest information. In most cases, they don't include players who will open the season on the disabled list. The lineups reflect the most likely batting order against a right-handed starter and are subject to change.
Click on the links below to go directly to a capsule for each AL East team:
Tampa Bay Rays | Toronto Blue Jays
- Best-case scenario: Wunderkind Desmond Jennings picks up right where he left off after a stellar second-half debut (10 HRs, 20 SBs), and the starting pitching turns out to be as good as it can be, with rookie Matt Moore teaming with ace David Price to form the American League's premier lefty tandem.
- Worst-case scenario: Tampa Bay's fragile bullpen, filled once again with buy-low journeymen, collapses, and the lineup sputters due to strikeout-prone hitters (B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena) and potential black holes at catcher (Jose Molina) and shortstop (Sean Rodriguez).
- Best-case scenario: Michael Pineda develops a changeup to baffle lefties, Ivan Nova continues to evolve into a reliable midrotation starter, Phil Hughes rediscovers his 2010 form and suddenly the Yankees have a powerhouse rotation that can go toe to toe with the Rays' starters.
- Worst-case scenario: Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson can't do enough to prop up Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, who, as it turns out, can't beat Father Time. An aging core of position players finally crumbles, and, coupled with a shallow rotation, it leads to (gasp) a fourth-place finish.
- Best-case scenario: Buoyed by bounce-back years from Carl Crawford and Clay Buchholz and invigorated by the arrival of manager Bobby Valentine and his attention to detail, the Sox bury their reputation as beer-drinking, in-game-feasting louts by playing deep into October.
- Worst-case scenario: The Great Collapse of 2011 continues despite Valentine, and by season's end, the Boston fan base is calling for tar-and-feathering, or at least a shake-up of the Pedroia-Youkilis-Ellsbury core. The countdown continues to 2017, the end of Crawford's monster contract.
- Best-case scenario: The offseason work of Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek pays off, and the Jays fashion a strong rotation behind Ricky Romero. On offense, 3B Brett Lawrie blossoms into a star to complement Jose Bautista, and the Jays make the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
- Worst-case scenario: Bautista extends his second-half slump (12 HRs after the All-Star break), and core young players such as Lawrie, Drabek and CF Colby Rasmus fail to take the next step. The offseason decision to stay out of the high-end free-agent market buries the Jays in the loaded AL East.
- Best-case scenario: Left-handers Brian Matusz and Zach Britton make major strides before the team is crushed under the weight of a powerful division. For the sixth straight year, Baltimore fails to win 70 games; for the 15th straight year, the team has a losing record. Yes, this is the best-case scenario.
- Worst-case scenario: Matusz's oblique injury limits the velocity that once made him a top prospect, and Toronto's improvement makes Baltimore even more of an AL East whipping boy than usual. The O's end up breaking the club record (107 in 1988) for losses in a season.
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