Category Archives: Toronto Blue Jays

hiroki kuroda

AL East weekly update

AL BEast Notebook – May 20

** Another week, another significant injury for the New York Yankees as Andy Pettitte joins the rest of his All-Star teammates on the disabled list. Pettitte has a strained trapezius; it may be the first time I’ve even heard of the muscle. On the bright side, with Sunday’s rainout and a day off Thursday, there is no need of a fill-in starter right away and New York can go with a 4-man rotation a couple times before his spot comes up.

In the first game of the Yankees/Indians doubleheader Monday, salaries for the Yankees lineup totaled $30.35 M. Salaries for the Indians lineup = $41.35 M. Bet you didn’t expect that.

It has really been a weird season for the Yankees and nothing short of a miracle that they are still in first place. In that doubleheader Chris Nelson, Corban Joseph, Alberto Gonzalez, Preston Claiborne, Austin Romine, Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren, along with Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix, Brennan Boesch, and Ben Francisco all got on the field in pinstripes. Sounds more like an early Spring Training tryout, not a pair of mid-May games for the New York Yankees. Not surprising, those Bombers only scored in two of the 18 innings that day.

Yankees have had 13 shutouts over the last two seasons, and Hiroki Kuroda has started and won 7 of them.

** Boston Red Sox bounced back from their 2-9 stretch to win five in a row all on the road. Sox are now AL-best 14-7 on the road.

It has really been a roller-coaster season for David Ortiz. After missing the first 15 games (the team going 11-4), he returned in a flurry; batting .512 into the May 3 game and hitting in 15 straight games. But then a Boston columnist wrote an accusatory article accusing Big Papi of cheating and his on-field play plummeted as he hit just .175 over two weeks with RBI in just one game, and the Red Sox went on their big skid. But since then Ortiz turned it on again, hitting in 8 straight games, collecting 12 RBI in a five game stretch last week and the Sox are back to winning.

Big Papi’s teammate, former-MVP Dustin Pedroia is also on fire, hitting in 11 straight games, batting .343 on the season and producing 51 runs (RBI + R – HR).

But the top of the rotation continues to be the story in Boston. The Red Sox are 15-3 in games started by Lester and Buchholz, and neither pitcher has suffered a loss (12-0).

** Meanwhile, since losing Wei-Yin Chen to the DL the Baltimore Orioles have lost five in a row, all at home.  It was not a good week for closer Jim Johnson. After converting 35 straight opportunities, Johnson blew two consecutive saves, Tuesday against the Padres and Saturday in epic fashion versus the Rays. In the two games he allowed ten baserunners and seven runs while recording just four outs (one via an outfield assist to third base). The game on Saturday snapped Baltimore’s streak of 108 wins when leading after seven innings.

The Birds continue to be led by the incredible trio of Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones, who are each hitting above .310 with a combined 72 extra-base hits. Of other players only Mike Napoli has more XBH than that average of 24.

** Since starting 14-18, Tampa Bay Rays are on a roll winning 9 of 11. The Rays and Orioles had an interesting weekend together. On Friday, Baltimore scored six runs in the eighth inning; the next day Tampa scored six runs in the ninth inning.

Matt Moore is the first pitcher to eight wins, but due to high pitch counts he doesn’t go deep into games. In fact, he has recorded an out past the sixth inning just three times despite throwing over 100 pitches in all nine starts.

David Price went on the DL this week on May 15. He earned just one win in his nine games. On May 15, 2012 Price earned his sixth win.

** Not much to say about the Toronto Blue Jays who got embarrassed at Yankees Stadium over the weekend after it looked like they may be turning a corner.

One bright spot is Ramon Ortiz, who turns 40 this week. Since replacing injured J.A. Happ, Ortiz has had two good starts in a row, giving up just one run in each.

The postponed game comes at a good time, stopping some negative momentum and giving them a little more rest as several key injured players are getting close to returning (Josh Johnson, Dustin McGowan, Happ, and Rajai Davis), and an extra day to prepare for an important divisional homestand against the Rays (without seeing Matt Moore) and Orioles.

mariano rivera

AL BEast Team Capsules – quick news and numbers

AL BEast Notebook – May 13

New York Yankees

Despite having 11 players on the disabled list (including four third basemen and shortstops), the Yankees stand alone in first place. Since April 7, New York is 22-9.

  • Mariano Rivera has turned back the clock, picking up an AL-best 15 saves in 15 opportunities, supported by a 1.65 ERA and sub-1 WHIP.
  • After a shaky start, Hiroki Kuroda has thrown six straight quality starts. He’s now 5-2 with a 2.31 ERA.
  • Robinson Cano has been the one consistent in the lineup all year. Cano is hitting .311 with 10 home runs, 10 doubles, 23 RBI, and 22 runs scored, and committed just one error in 320 innings at second base.
  • Vernon Wells has been a big contributor to the team, hitting .293 with 9 home runs, 20 RBI and 19 runs scored. And the Angels are paying most of his salary.

Boston Red Sox

Two weeks ago I wrote that it was all smiles in Red Sox Nation, as Boston held the best record in baseball with a favorable upcoming schedule. Things haven’t stayed so sunny.

  •  The Red Sox are falling apart. They are 2-8 in their last ten games, including losing 5 of 6 at home to the Twins and Blue Jays. The games haven’t been close, either. Boston was outscored 33-62 over those last ten.
  •  The bullpen was supposed to be a big strength for the team, but it is actually the main cause of the problems. Hanrahan got hurt then got hurt again in his first game back and will miss the rest of the season. Andrew Bailey filled in well as closer until he got hurt. Tazawa has not been effective. Actually, the Sox haven’t had many save opportunities at all lately enough to worry about who’s the closer. The Red Sox bullpen WHIP and ERA are highest in the AL.
  • After his late start, David Ortiz hit .500 in nine April games. In May he is batting just .179.
  •  Red Sox games have a lot of whiffs. Boston hitters have struck out 317 times, more than any AL team. Their pitchers have also struck out the most batters (363).
  • It isn’t all bad for the Sox. Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester continue to pitch well. They are combined 11-0.
  • Here are a few things to add comfort to Red Sox fans. The three batters they sent to the Dodgers are all hitting well (Adrian Gonzalez .345, Carl Crawford .315, Nick Punto .338). Jed Lowrie is hitting .310 for Oakland with 13 doubles. James Loney is hitting .376 for the Rays. Marco Scutaro is hitting .479 since April 29 for the Giants. And that’s excusing Josh Reddick, who hit 32 home runs in Oakland last year.

Baltimore Orioles

Orioles have been very consistent all year, having scored the most runs in the league and have the best run differential in the division.

  •  Chris Davis was red-hot for the first three weeks, and Manny Machado has been on an absolute tear the last three. Since the middle of the doubleheader on April 20 (22 games), Machado is hitting .396, with three straight three-hit games over the weekend.
  • Jim Johnson has converted 35 consecutive regular season save opportunities, most in franchise history. Johnson has not allowed a run in any save situation this year (14 innings).
  • There are suddenly some concerns with the starting rotation. Wei-Yin Chen was cruising along with five shutout innings Sunday when he left with an oblique strain. An oblique strain usually means a trip to the DL. If so, he would be joining teammate Miguel Gonzalez, who went on the DL Thursday with blister problems. They have sent down pitchers Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton (and Josh Stinson) to the minors in the last few weeks. Freddy Garcia has been starting and is scheduled for Wednesday, but I trust Garcia about as far as I can throw him.

Toronto Blue Jays

Despite a 5-3 stretch recently (a big improvement), there is still plenty of concern in Toronto.

  • Josh Johnson is on the disabled list, Brandon Morrow was scratched from his start on Sunday, and J.A. Happ was struck in the head with a line drive last week. Ricky Romero was removed after recording just one out in his second start and promptly returned to the minors. Blue Jays pitchers have already issued the most walks and allowed the most earned runs and unearned runs, and these recent events put even more pressure on R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, who haven’t been very good anyway.
  • Rajai Davis strained his oblique over the weekend and will also be shelved for a couple weeks, the Jays second leadoff hitter to go down.
  •  Toronto is in last place by five games and has the worst run differential in the league.
  • There is one thing the Blue Jays do well and that is hit home runs. They lead the league in bombs (51 in 39 games).
  • Jose Bautista is starting to heat up. He is hitting .333 in May (with .453 OBP), although his two homers in Sunday’s blowout win were his first since April 27.

Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay has won five straight games to crawl above .500 (19-18).

  • Here’s a strange situation: the Rays hitters are Top Ten in runs, home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage while Rays pitchers are in the bottom half of the league in ERA, quality starts, batting average against, on-base percentage and home runs.
  • Matt Moore is 6-0 and had a quality start in every game outside of Coors Field. His 2.14 ERA is among the league leaders.
  • James Loney has now accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. His .376 average trails only Miguel Cabrera.
  • Evan Longoria continues to do it all: .333 average, 47 hits, 9 home runs, 10 doubles, 28 runs scored, and 26 RBI.

(Disclaimer: Again, the Astros are so bad that when giving team rankings in the league, the Astros are ignored. So technically worst probably means second-worst.)

daniel nava

late-April Look at the AL East Awards

AL BEast Notebook – April 26

Four weeks into the season isn’t too soon to evaluate award races for the AL East. Well, maybe it is… but it’s still fun.

First Month Awards

MVP: Chris Davis, Orioles. Davis leads the division in home runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and runs created and WAR (sabermetric stats), and all that with virtually no protection in the lineup (J.J. Hardy, batting .181). Napoli and Cano honorable mention.

Best Pitcher: Matt Moore, Rays. 4-0 in four starts in two good hitters’ parks (Arlington and Camden Yards) along with dominant performances over the Yankees and Indians. ERA of just 1.04, WHIP of 0.92 and batting average against of .116. Apologies to Clay Buchholz.

Biggest Surprise: Daniel Nava, Red Sox. The 30-year old career fourth outfielder’s strong start has allowed him to take over left field from Jonny Gomes and Jackie Bradley, Jr. Nava is third in the AL East in on-base plus slugging percentage (behind just Davis and Cano) with 18 hits in 18 games along with 10 walks, 4 homers, 11 runs, and 15 RBI.

Biggest Disappointment: David Price, Rays. Tampa is 0-5 in last year Cy Young winner’s starts. After racking up more Ks than hits three years in a row, he’s struck out just 26 batters while allowing 37 hits, and lots of the extra-base variety (five home runs and ten doubles), although neither in recent loss to Yankees).

Manager: John Farrell, Red Sox. The new sheriff in town came to fix the pitching in Boston and in April he has. Starting pitchers have allowed three runs or less in 20 of the Sox 22 games. Boston’s team ERA has rebounded from worst to best. The offense has also been surprisingly strong, leading the division in on-base percentage, helping the Red Sox jump out to an early tie for best record in the American League at 15-7.

Rookie: Manny Machado, Orioles. He’s not technically a rookie since he had 181 at bats in 2012, but the 20 year old wonder kid has blossomed into an All-Star already. He’s batted #2 and played third base every inning of Baltimore’s games. Along with racking up defensive highlights he is showing a clutch gene, going 6 for 9 with runners in scoring position and two outs, for 11 of his 14 RBI. If not rookie, he’s been the breakout player at least.

Crazy Stat: Toronto’s J.P. Arencibia, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Colby Rasmus have combined to hit 22 home runs and just 31 singles. They also have 98 strikeouts.

Updated Projections

Orioles 88 (0)

Blue Jays 87 (-2)

Yankees 84 (0)

Red Sox 84 (+4)

Rays 80 (-3)

josh johnson

Injury Updates and Recent Moves

AL BEast Notebook – April 26

Here’s an update of injuries and significant transactions (from reputable sources around the teams) all organized nicely to help you keep tabs on what’s going on around the division.

New York Yankees

- Kevin Youkilis has been out a week with a sore back. He was supposed to be back yesterday but needed some more rest.

- As for the regulars, Curtis Granderson is the most likely to return first. He was hitting off a tee this week and could be two weeks away. Mark Teixeira was targeting May 1, but is now realistically hoping for a late-May return. Michael Pineda threw a simulated inning and is hoping to make a June return. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are hoping to be ready in July.

- (UPDATE: it was an eventful night at the Stadium. Francisco Cervelli was hit by a foul ball in the first inning and fractured his hand; he needs surgery and will be out a couple months. Austin Romine is being called up to be the backup catcher. In the third inning, Ivan Nova left with a sore elbow.)

Boston Red Sox

- Shane Victorino has missed three games this week with back stiffness. On Thursday John Farrell said he will not return to the lineup until he is “symptom-free.”

- John Lackey threw this week and is on track to come off the DL and pitch against the Astros on Sunday, which is like a glorified rehab assignment.

- Joel Hanrahan threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and is headed to Pautucket on Friday to begin a rehab assignment.

- Craig Breslow is planned to pitch back-to-back days in Pautucket this weekend and could return to Boston next week.

- Franklin Morales had a setback in his rehab, developing some soreness in his chest this week. There’s no timetable on his return.

Other moves: Alfredo Aceves was demoted to AAA. Daniel Bard was brought back up this week after Steven Wright came up for one poor outing before getting sent back down. Allen Webster was called up and started one of the doubleheader games and promptly returned (although he pitched well). Backup catcher Ryan Lavarnway is in Boston.

Baltimore Orioles

- Steve Johnson pitched a rehab game in the minors on Wednesday and didn’t do particularly well, giving up four runs in five innings. He could be back in Baltimore next week.

- Brian Roberts has not been cleared for baseball activities. He jogged on a treadmill in a pool this week (sounds like fun). Late May is a realistic expectation.

- Tsuyoshi Wada, recovering from Tommy John surgery, pitched four innings in an extended Spring Training game this week. Orioles hope he can be back in June.

- Wilson Betemit, torn PCL in his right knee, should be back sometime this summer.

- Top prospect Dylan Bundy is dealing with elbow/arm problems and will visit Dr. Andrews on Monday for a second opinion. 20 year old Bundy hasn’t thrown off a mound since March.

Other moves: It has been a game of musical chairs for Orioles pitchers lately. Josh Stinson was called up for one start and was promptly sent back down. Reliever Alex Burnett was also called up and returned a couple days later. Zach Britton was called up Thursday and scheduled to start Monday after Jake Arrieta was sent to the minors.

Toronto Blue Jays

- Josh Johnson will miss Friday’s scheduled start because of triceps tightness, though the move was described as precautionary. He has had a poor April, giving up four runs and not pitching past the sixth inning in three of his four starts.

- Sergio Santos is eligible to come off the DL on April 30 but I can’t seem to find any update on him. Seems like he’s not likely to come back for at least another week.

- Jose Reyes is targeting the All-Star break as a return date from his severely sprained ankle.

- Blue Jays have several lesser pitchers out without much of a timetable (Dustin McGowan, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchinson).

Other moves: Blue Jays picked up Aaron Laffey off waivers and he will start in place of Johnson today (Friday) against the Yankees (New York usually struggle against lefties.) Ramon Ortiz and Brad Lincoln were swapped for the bullpen.

Tampa Bay Rays

- Yunel Escobar left the game Wednesday with tightness in his hamstring and not expected to play Friday. He’s day-to-day.

- Luke Scott is set to make his season debut on Tuesday.

- Jeff Niemann underwent shoulder surgery April 10 and will miss the season.

robinson cano

AL East Preview and Predictions

AL BEast Notebook – March 29

I’ve been covering each of the five East teams all winter and spring long and here is my “Official 2013 Preview.” Yes, it’s long so bookmark and come back often. I’ll have the rest of the league up in the next couple days.

The AL East will be the most interesting division in baseball with five teams that could each reasonably finish in first or last place. All should have win totals in the 80s. While the division has been known for it’s intimidating sluggers and top-to-bottom lineups, there has been a clear shift to pitching.

For each team you have:

1) my report with reasons to be excited and reasons to be concerned

2) specific bullet points of what must happen for them to succeed

3) specific bullet points of what must happen for them to end up in the basement

4) Season headline

5) My record prediction

6) How many more wins in best-case scenario (ceiling)

7) How many fewer wins in worst-case scenario (floor)

8) A player that is likely to outperform expectations

9) A player that is likely to disappoint

Boston Red Sox

After being MLB’s most disappointing team two years in a row Boston is looking for a bounce back season. They definitely aren’t in typical “Rebuilding Mode” with the likes of Victorino, Napoli, Gomes, Dempster, Lackey and (eventually) Ortiz all in prominent positions. Now that expectations are so low after losing 93 games they hope that a new manager, revamped lineup and more secure bullpen will get them back into prominence. But it won’t be easy.

Two of the best pitchers this spring were Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. After a dismal 2012 campaign, that is a welcome sight for Sox fans. Even Jon Lackey has been effective. In fact, the Red Sox staff led the league in Spring Training ERA. It may just be Grapefruit League but it’s much better to be good than bad!

There are issues with the lineup. Your Opening Day lineup will include Jose Iglesias, Jonny Gomes, Jackie Bradley, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The #5 hitter is a player with less than a full year of major league experience (Will Middlebrooks). If things go poorly—and with injured and injury-prone players like Ortiz, Ellsbury, Napoli and Gomes, and young players like Middlebrooks, Bradley and Iglesias, you can expect it—there is virtually no depth on this roster.

The weak bullpen from a year ago looks to be put together well. New closer Joel Hanrahan, former All-Star Andrew Bailey, and veteran setup man Koji Uehara are expected to shorten games to 6 innings.

For those that think the pitching staff will bounce back to greatness, consider this: Saltalamacchia is the signal caller. Jason Varitek is long gone. Once Salty took the majority of the time behind the plate the starting pitching (everyone) fell apart. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good catcher (or impact of a catcher the pitchers don’t trust).

Red Sox will WIN the division IF…

1) Jon Lester wins 20 and Clay Buchholz wins 18

2) Ortiz and Ellsbury combine for 55 home runs

3) Napoli and Middlebrooks stay healthy all year

4) Dempster or Lackey pitch effectively

 Red Sox will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Ortiz and Stephen Drew are ineffective

2) Two of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Napoli or Middlebrooks miss significant time

3) Any two of the starting five pitchers miss significant time

Miller’s Forecast

“Sox Crumble Third Year in a Row”

80-82 +8 ; -8

Surprising impact: Jacoby Ellsbury

Biggest Disappointment: Ryan Dempster

Tampa Bay Rays

david price

Tampa Bay had the best team ERA in all of baseball last year and won 90 games, but still finished third in the division, three games out of the final playoff spot. And in the offseason they lost James Shields, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena and didn’t really replace them.

The biggest question for the Rays is where is the offense going to come from? Yes, Evan Longoria is ready after missing half the season and could finally emerge as an elite player, and Wil Myers will get called up sometime, but who else is there? Ben Zobrist and Luke Scott?  That’s it! And while Myers is the best hitting prospect in baseball, he probably won’t break out like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. He could be great, but the Rays tend to baby their young players. Myers will be a star in 2014, but for ‘13 Tampa has the weakest lineup in the division.

Of course, their pitching is very good.  David Price won 20 games, the other starters were great and Fernando Rodney finished 2012 with a 0.60 ERA and 48 saves. Can young Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb keep the Rays’ team ERA microscopic again? Well sure, but it’s not a guarantee. And if you check the history of Rodney, his first year in Tampa was his first since 2006 of an ERA lower than 4.24 and WHIP under 1.47. Seems like a fluke.

Many people are picking the Rays to make the playoffs. The Rays have been the quietest team in the league this spring, and that’s surely a very positive thing. Great pitching in Tampa has been a given for like eight years now. Joe Maddon, perhaps the best game manager in baseball is running the show. But I cannot see how a team that continues to lose key players year after year without bringing in free agents will keep it up this year, especially in such a competitive division.

Rays will WIN the division IF…

1) David Price wins 20 games again and another pitcher wins 16

2) Evan Longoria plays 155+ games

3) Wil Myers is called up early and breaks out in a big way

4) Fernando Rodney continues where he left off in the WBC with another All-Star season

5) Two of Zobrist, Joyce, Scott or Jennings hit .295+ with 25+ homers

Rays will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Something happens to Price and Longoria

2) Hellickson and Matt Moore regress

3) No hitter beyond Longoria provides power

Miller’s Forecast

“Where’s James Shields?” and “Not Enough Help for Longoria”

83-79; +7 ; -4

Surprising impact: Alex Cobb

Disappointment: Matt Moore


New York Yankees

Yankees won 95 last year, and this team looked like the worst 95-win team in the history of baseball. Due to injuries and questionable personnel decisions the lineup is very different, especially early in the season.

Everybody knows about the crowded star-studded disabled list (Teixeira, Granderson, A-Rod, Pineda, Hughes and Jeter) and they have a whole bunch of other players that could potentially fall apart (Hafner, Youkilis, Wells, Ichiro, Pettitte, Rivera) and some key positions that are serious offensive question marks: catcher (Stewvelli) and first base (Overbay). It is just not the situation you want to be in to start the season.

One concern with this team is that they are very lefty-heavy in the lineup. Cano, Granderson, Gardner, Ichiro, Hafner, and Overbay all bat from the left side. That’s great for Yankees Stadium, but they will struggle on the road against left-handed starting pitchers.

Robinson Cano is the one rock on this team. He will be an MVP candidate every year he stays in pinstripes. Reports are that Curtis Granderson should return on time and back to form in May. The power is gone, but there is still ability to score runs with Ichiro, Gardner, and Jeter/Nunez at the top of the lineup. The starting pitching is strong and deep. The bullpen, even without Rafael Soriano, should be very strong again as long as Mariano is effective.

Eduardo Nunez struggles defensively, but if he ever gets a full-time job he could hit .300 with 25 homers and 30 steals.

 Yankees will WIN the division IF…

1) C.C. Sabathia makes 28+ starts

2) Derek Jeter plays 145 games and hits .290+

3) At least two of Hafner, Youkilis, or Wells make it through the season healthy and somewhat effective

4) At least two of Teixeira, Rodriguez or Pineda return and are somewhat effective

5) Mariano Rivera stays healthy and Rivera-like

 Yankees will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Sabathia and Cano miss significant time

2) Teixeira and A-Rod miss the season, or are ineffective upon return

3) Rivera shows the effects of his 43rd birthday, getting hurt or pitching poorly

4) Yankees get nothing from Wells and Youkilis

Miller’s Forecast

“Old Age and Injuries Catch With Bombers”

84-78; +5 ; -6

Surprising impact: Kevin Youkilis

Disappointment: Derek Jeter

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore had a miracle season, winning 93 games taking the Yankees to a full series after knocking out the Texas Rangers in the playoffs. And all this after averaging 94 losses for the previous six seasons. What was most miraculous was how they won. They did not even have a positive run differential until September 28, the last week of the season. They dealt with tons of injuries. They only had one pitcher start more than 20 games or pitch 140 innings, and that was an unspectacular rookie. And of course, their 29-9 record in one run games, including a record 13 in a row, is something difficult to explain.

Looking ahead to now, there are actually very few question marks with this team. While they don’t have a true “ace,” they have one of the deepest reservoirs of starting pitchers in the league including a handful of pitchers that were outstanding in limited 2012 action. Due to 65 starts by terrible pitchers their overall ERA was mediocre, and that should improve this season with a little stability.

Baltimore’s bullpen was one of the AL’s best, led by closer Jim Johnson’s league leading 51 saves, and Darren O’Day, Troy Patton, Pedro Strop and Luis Ayala. Johnson is a regression candidate, but the ‘pen should still be very strong.

The lineup is also very stable with many players on the way up in their careers (Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nolan Reimold). Nate McLouth may have regained his All-Star form after the trade to Baltimore. Late call-up Machado looks like he could be a star player and is here for a full sophomore year. The biggest difference could be in the middle of the field as two-time All-Star Brian Roberts is finally healthy and looking good in spring. It looked like he would be hitting leadoff but just today Showalter announced that Roberts will start at the bottom of the order.

Buck Showalter has turned this young group into winners. They have a very good core of players in Jones, Wieters, Machado and Davis, and if the starting pitching doesn’t fall apart they should contend for the Wild Card again. If Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta develop and improve, they could win the East outright.

Orioles will WIN the division IF…

1) Team pitching gets their ERA down to 3.80

2) At least three pitchers win 13 games

3) The bullpen remains a strength

4) Brian Roberts plays 140+ games

5) Adam Jones and Matt Wieters make their third All-Star game

Orioles will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) The inexperienced pitching falls through

2) Two of oft-injured Roberts, McLouth, Reimold and McLouth can’t stay healthy and produce

Miller’s Forecast

“Critics Still Waiting for Showalter’s Club to Fade”

88-74; +4 ; -8

Surprising impact: Brian Roberts

Disappointment: Wei-Yin Chen

Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto sailed along at 45-44 until July 16 when Jose Bautista injured his wrist. Several pitchers broke down as well and the Jays floundered, going 28-45 the rest of the way. GM Alex Anthopoulos was very busy this offseason, acquiring R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and re-hiring coach John Gibbons. Suddenly, Toronto looks like the most complete team in the division.

The biggest x-factors for the Jays this year are Johnson and Brandon Morrow. If they can stay healthy the Jays rotation should stay quite effective. You know what you are getting with Dickey, Buehrle and J.A. Happ, and the offense will score a lot of runs and hit a lot of home runs. Johnson and Morrow have top-of-the-rotation potential. If they stay healthy Toronto will win a lot of games.

One concern critics have is all the moving parts. Reyes played poorly in Miami, Johnson was less effective, Melky was suspended 50 games, and Dickey moves from pitcher friendly Citi Field and the NL East to the AL East. Bautista is coming off a wrist injury that has the potential to drain his power. All that being said, this is a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in twenty years. Changes had to be made! Opportunities presented themselves and the Jays jumped. And with three pitchers coming from the NL to AL East, remember that none of the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox or Orioles improved their lineups; in fact, they all (other than the Orioles) should have worse offenses.

I love the way this team is made: Knuckler, power righty, soft lefty, power righty, lefty. Reyes, Melky, Bautista and Encarnacion (42 homers in 2012) should be the most productive 1-4 this side of Los Angeles, and if Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie produce they are even deeper.

The one issue with the Jays is their bullpen, which was dead-last in the AL in 2012. They didn’t add anyone new. Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season, and Sergio Santos missed most of the regular season with shoulder surgery as well. The way the Jays are set up for “Win Now,” expect them to look at the free agents available (Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez) should things start to fall apart.

Blue Jays will WIN the division IF…

1) Morrow and Johnson pitch 56+ games

2) Jose Bautista regains his power stroke and has an MVP-level season

3) Reyes and Cabrera each play 145+ games and hit over .290

4) Bullpen finishes no worse than 10th in the AL

Blue Jays will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Any two of their top four starters miss significant time

2) Bautista re-injures his wrist

3) Bullpen repeats a dismal season

4) Major chemistry issues emerge

Miller’s Forecast

“Joey Bats is MVP” and “Anthopoulos’ Aggressiveness Pays Off”

89-73; +5 ; -5

Surprising impact: Brett Lawrie

Disappointment: Melky Cabrera

ra dickey

Toronto 89-73

Baltimore 88-74

New York 84-78

Tampa Bay 83-79

Boston 80-82

ricky romero

Jays ship Ricky Romero down to minors

AL BEast Notebook – March 27

Last year’s Blue Jay Opening Day starter and current projected number five pitcher Ricky Romero was sent down to the Class-A affiliate in Dunedin today. J.A. Happ will take his place in the rotation.

After a disastrous 2012 where he went 1-13 after June 22 and finished with an ERA of 5.77, Romero has continued to struggle this spring. In five Grapefruit League appearances, Romero pitched 13 innings, giving up 17 hits, 10 walks, and holding a 6.23 ERA.

Toronto coaches have been working with the 28-year-old on tweaking his mechanics, but after last night’s disappointing performance against the Pirates (4.1 IP, 6 hits, 3 walks, 3 runs), there just isn’t any more time to get him right before the season. Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos says he will stay in the minors as long as it takes to get back to form.

Ricky Romero pitched very well for Toronto in 2011, maintaining a 2.92 ERA for 225 innings and 15 wins and setting himself up as a staff ace. So the potential is there.

J.A. Happ, 30, has a 35-35 career record with the Phillies, Astros and Blue Jays with a 4.19 ERA. In 2009, his first year as a starter, he had a 12-4 record with a 2.93 ERA in 166 innings.

vernon wells

your last-week-before-Opening-Day team notes

AL BEast Notebook – March 26

Yankees and Red Sox start the season next Monday, Orioles and Rays play Tuesday, Blue Jays host the Indians on Tuesday. And the Rangers and Astros kick things off on Sunday. Things are coming down to the wire so decision time is NOW. Here’s what you need to know.

Yankees

- Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and (of course) Alex Rodriguez will start the season on the DL. Jeter could be back as soon as April 6, but may be out even three weeks longer. Teixeira and Granderson should be back in May, although Tex’s injury may be season-threatening.

- Yankees have acquired outfielder Vernon Wells from the Angels. There may be a couple players to be named later going to Anaheim, while the Yankees will only be stuck with about $13 million of Wells’ contract over the next two years. The commissioner has yet to finalize the deal and Wells still needs to pass a physical. Wells is slated to be the Yankees starting left fielder until Curtis Granderson returns. After that he will platoon with Hafner at DH, as well as be right handed relief for the three starting lefty outfielders.

Wells, 34, signed a huge contract extension prior to the 2007 season. Since then he has not recorded 90 RBI or 90 runs scored in any season and just once batted above .273. In 2010 he did have 31 homers and 44 doubles. He was traded by the Blue Jays to the Angels in 2011 and was terrible in two injury-plagued seasons.

- The WBC is reportedly responsible for Mark Teixeira’s salary while he is injured, so that frees up at least $7 million. That news showed up right around the time that the Wells’ talks got serious.

Red Sox

- David Ortiz and Stephen Drew will start the season on the DL. Jacoby Ellsbury sprained his ankle but says he’s fine.

- Lefty outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. improved his chances of making the Opening Day lineup when he hit a three-run homer off lefty Cliff Lee on Monday.

- With Lyle Overbay being released this morning and Ortiz starting on the DL, Jonny Gomes will likely start as the regular DH, making space for Bradley in left field, and Mike Carp will back up Mike Napoli at first base.

Orioles

- Wilson Betemit will start the season on the DL. Betemit has a grade 2 PCL tear and is out two months. Chris Tillman is likely to start the season on the DL.

- According to MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli, Baltimore would need a fifth starter just once in the first three weeks of the season. Therefore, with Hammel, Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez, they could take it easy with Chris Tillman and use Jake Arrieta in early April.

Blue Jays

- Brett Lawrie will start the season on the DL. He is eligible to come back around April 6 but there is no timetable for his return yet.

The injury means that Emilio Bonifacio is likely to start at second base and Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa will fill in at third.

Rays

- No candidates for the disabled list, although Luke Scott was scratched with right calf tightness yesterday.

The Rays continue to be the quietest team in the preseason.

blue jays

news from Blue Jays camp

AL BEast Notebook – March 20

- Blue Jays were well-represented on the WBC champion Dominican team this month, with Jose Reyes hitting leadoff and Edwin Encarnacion batting cleanup for the team that went a perfect 8-0 in the tournament. They each hit doubles in the first inning to give the DR 2-0 lead in the final game, which would be all they needed. Reyes and Encarnacion were also honored by selection onto the All-World Baseball Classic Team.

- Closer Casey Janssen has been dealing with soreness in his right shoulder but made a step towards being ready for Opening Day with an outing in a Minor League game on Sunday. “We’re going to see how he feels tomorrow; it’s a day-by-day thing,” said pitching coach Pete Walker. “I’m adamant that he’s not going to go unless he’s 100 percent, not 95 percent, not 97 percent.” He will need to make a few Grapefruit League appearances, throw on back-to-back days and feel good afterward to really be ready to pitch when the games matter. There isn’t much time left in Spring Training but he has not been ruled out yet. In the meantime, Sergio Santos will regain his place as closer until Janssen is ready.

In other injury news, third baseman Brett Lawrie played catch today for the first time since straining his rib muscle on March 7. He reports no problems and hopes to be ready for Opening Day. I couldn’t help but notice that he got “hurt” playing in a pre-tournament game for Team Canada and is back in action the day after the WBC concluded. Just saying…

- As for the guys that have been playing official Spring Training games: Melky Cabrera (.356, 11 RBI in 15 games) is picking up where he left off last summer, Adam Lind (.400 in 16 games) is hitting well, and Jose Bautista (4 home runs) is showing he still has power in his wrist after all. Speedy Emilio Bonifacio has stolen seven bases without being caught.

- So there is Spring Training, and then there are the Minor League games. Today in the Grapefruit League, Jeremy Jeffress, Dave Bush and Guillermo Moscoso (who?) pitched for the Blue Jays while R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson pitched for the AAA team. I don’t think those patterns will continue much longer.

curtis granderson

early injuries to know about approaching Opening Day

AL BEast Notebook – March 8

It is no surprise that players sit out preseason games, pull out of the WBC or end up on the injury report with sore arms, sore legs, sore backs, etc. before such a long season. Sometimes it can be hard to keep track of who is resting and who is actually injured. Whether it is preparing for your fantasy league draft or just keeping tabs on your team, here are the situations in the AL East that you need to be aware of as Spring Training rolls along.

- Blue Jays. Third baseman Brett Lawrie is out a couple weeks with strained rib and intercostal muscles. That puts him up against Opening Day without much prep time.

- Yankees. Yes, there are a lot of names that you’ve heard about. Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are both out until mid-May.

Derek Jeter has finally been medically cleared to resume baseball activities. He was initially hoping to play in a Spring game March 10 but that is being pushed back. He will probably not be playing shortstop the first week of the season, although he is likely to start at designated hitter.

Phil Hughes is recovering nicely from the bulging disk in his back, says he experiencing “no problems,” and “feels good,” and may be ready for his first turn in the rotation when the season starts.

The bullpen is dealing with a bunch of minor issues. David Robertson slept on his shoulder wrong and Boone Logan has a sore elbow. But the other lefty in the bullpen Clay Rapada has been shut down for a couple weeks due to shoulder bursitis, making him a likely candidate to start the season on the DL.

- Red Sox. David Ortiz still feels pain in his right Achilles, seven months after suffering the injury. Before and after running around the bases a few times he is feeling soreness in both lower legs. With just a few weeks before the start of the season it is a cause for concern, even for a guy that won’t play the field.

Franklin Morales (back), right now slated as the Sox #6 starter or long reliever, played “catch” Thursday, but is still a ways off. Middle reliever Craig Breslow has a bad shoulder and is still working to develop his arm strength. Both Morales and Breslow are likely to start the season on the DL.

- Orioles and Rays: no injury concerns heading into the season.

francisco cervelli

quick and relevant Stats from Spring

AL BEast Notebook – March 2

There is plenty of news off the field. A week into Spring Training, here is what is happening on the field.

- Blue Jays’ second base battle is off to a thrilling start. Maicer Izturis is 0-12 while Emilio Bonifacio has committed three errors (Izturis has two).

- Jose Bautista homered in his first game this spring. Since then he’s 0-11.

- Joe Maddon says he’d like to see Sean Rodriguez play some in the outfield. Well, the utility player is still looking for his first hit (0-11) so he won’t be playing anywhere but AAA if that continues. Especially as Leslie Anderson is off to a hot start, 7-15 with a double, triple, home run, and 7 RBI in seven games.

- Rays’ Chris Archer, a candidate for a rotation spot, has pitched four scoreless innings. Steve Johnson has a leg up for a spot in the Orioles rotation. In two games he has given up 1 hit and no runs in three innings.

- Jon Lester has pitched five shutout innings so far, yielding just 1 hit and 1 walk. David Phelps is showing the Yankees that they can be patient with Phil Hughes’ back; he has also pitched five scoreless innings.

- Francisco Cervelli is doing his best to help Yankees fans forget Russell Martin behind the plate: he’s already thrown out 5 would-be base stealers (in 6 attempts).

- Cody Eppley has pitched in 3 games (3 innings) and given up runs in each one (7 total). He pitched okay in the Yankees ‘pen last year but he won’t make the team at this rate.

And the ever-oh-so-important stat of the spring:

- Orioles are 6-1, Yankees are 1-7