American League East Preview

American League East Preview

American League East Preview
By Steve Merril
Covers.com

The AL East is always a deep and talented division.

The defending World Series champions are Boston, the free agency champions are New York, and a potential sleeper team is Tampa Bay.  The Orioles have recently become a playoff threat and the Blue Jays were actually the favorite to win this division just one year ago.

Baltimore Orioles (2013: 85-77, +37 units, 75-78-9 over/under)

Division odds: 15/1
Season win total: 81.5

Why bet the Orioles: This is a deep lineup if Nick Markakis can stay healthy.  Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Adam Jones form a nice 2-3-4 order in the lineup. Defensively they can rely on JJ Hardy and his gold glove and Matt Wieters is the best defensive catcher in baseball. The rotation got a boost when they signed Ubaldo Jimenez. They also have their usual arms in the bullpen which provide for good mix and match situations late in games.

Why not bet the Orioles: Their starting pitching rotation is full of question marks. Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris both posted ERAs over 4.00 in the second half of the season, while the fifth starter spot is undecided. While the bullpen has good arms, it doesn't have Jim Johnson - who was traded to Oakland -, so Tommy Hunter may need to step up. The bench is lacking as well with Jemile Weeks and Henry Urrutia the only options to be counted on.

Season win total pick: Under 81.5

Boston Red Sox (2013: 97-65, +1,864 units, 74-84-1 over/under)

Division odds: 7/4
Season win total: 88

Why bet the Red Sox: Last year's defending World Series champions, returns their offensive lineup almost completely intact, with a slight upgrade at catcher with AJ Pierzynski. Jackie Bradley Jr. will be an improvement from last year although he won't be Jacoby Ellsbury.  The rotation is good with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz leading the way. Koji Uehera was a god-send out of the bullpen last season, posting incredible numbers.

Why not bet the Red Sox: A lot broke right for Boston last year. They will miss Ellsbury at the top of the lineup as well and Xander Bogaerts will try to hold down the shortstop position. The back end of the rotation is questionable as Ryan Dempster's departure raises issues. The team caught some breaks last year with their longest losing streak being just three games. A lot of older players on this team might now feel fat and happy after winning a title last season.

Season win total pick: Under 88

New York Yankees (2013: 85-77, +454 units, 67-85-10 over/under)

Division odds: 12/5
Season win total: 87

Why bet the Yankees: As usual, they had a strong off-season with the additions of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. They also had addition by subtraction with the suspension of A-Rod. Derek Jeter's pending retirement could be a motivating factor for the Yanks. Kelly Johnson was also a nice addition as he can play several positions.  CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka will provide a nice 1-2-3 order in the rotation. If Michael Pineda can get healthy, he'll be a productive piece for them as well. David Robertson isn't Mariano Rivera, but he is a solid closer.

Why not bet the Yankees: The rest of the bullpen is suspect outside of Robertson. Ass for the starting rotation, Kuroda slowed down during the end of the season and Sabathia is also coming off a rough season in which he allowed the most earned runs in the league last year. This is an aging team, so injuries and extended stays on the disabled list is always a concern.

Season win total pick: Over 87

Tampa Bay Rays (2013: 92-71, +71 units, 76-78-9 over/under)

Division odds: 7/4
Season win total: 88

Why bet the Rays: The Rays have won 90 or more games in each of the past four seasons and could do so again with magnificent starting pitching. David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Jeremy Hellickson all back for the the deepest rotation in baseball. Evan Longoria is back as well to hold down the hot corner and stabilize the lineup. Wil Myers was the first player to lead AL rookies in RBI with less than 90 games played since the late 1940's.

Why not bet the Rays: The back end of the bullpen is a problem again. They signed Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo who have closing experience, but aren't the answer at that position. Certain parts of the offensive lineup - which struggled to score at times last season - is weak and so is the bench. This lineup does not steal bases and often has a hard time manufacturing runs.

Season win total pick: Over 88

Toronto Blue Jays (2013: 74-88, -1,080 units, 79-80-3 over/under)

Division odds: 15/1
Season win total: 79.5

Why bet the Jays: Toronto was the favorite to win the East last year and although they underachieved, they still have a solid nucleus of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista. If Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind can live up to their potential, then this offensive lineup will be fierce. Mark Buehrle is the picture of consistency with at least 10 wins and 200 innings for 13 straight seasons. Casey Janssen is an underrated closer and recorded a solid 2.56 ERA and 0.99 WHIP last year.

Why not bet the Jays: Last year did happen and the best team money could buy did not win ballgames. Encarnacion, Lawrie, Lind and Colby Rasmus are all inconsistent. The back-end of the rotation is up in the air with Esmil Rogers and J.A. Happ, the front-runners to nap the last two starting spots. Brandon Morrow has injury issues and he will need to stay healthy in order to solidify the third spot in the pitching rotation.

Season win total pick:  Over 79.5

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Re: American League East Preview

AL East Preview
By Matt Zylbert
VegasInsider.com

New York Yankees

Despite not making the playoffs for only the second time since 1995, the Yankees still, as always, dominated the headlines throughout 2013, mostly thanks to the monumental departure of legendary closer Mariano Rivera. This year, not only will the Bronx Bombers be determined to get back into the postseason, but they’ll be enjoying a similar tearful ride along the way, as they prepare to say goodbye to the one and only Derek Jeter, who is set to retire at season’s end. New York added three tremendous hitters to join the future Hall-of-Famer in the lineup, that being Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann.

Aside from them obviously being talented, all three are battle-tested and have excelled in the postseason with clutch at-bats, an area the Yankees have struggled in mightily since their last title in ’09. With Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson gone, they’re really going to need each of those guys to deliver, to go along with the other notables - Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brett Gardner - that remain. Furthermore, New York picked up old foe Brian Roberts, who could be a nice bonus to the roster if he can somehow stay healthy. Oh, and you can’t forget Alex Rodriguez, who will miss 2014 due to suspension, but some would see that as “addition by subtraction,” as A-Rod’s production has seriously gone down in recent years anyway.

As expected, the Yankees also made changes in the pitching department, nabbing the most-talked about name available, Masahiro Tanaka. The Japanese export comes to the United States with enormous expectations, given the pressure that comes with being a high-profile player making his way to New York. Not only that, they also are dealing with uncertainty surrounding their ace, C.C. Sabathia, who is coming off a surprisingly career-worst campaign, as well as needing to replace Andy Pettitte, so Tanaka’s emergence will be crucial. On the other end of the spectrum, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova are coming off two very pleasant campaigns and should be looked at as constants in this rotation. The wild card, however, might be Michael Pineda, who is seeking to win the final spot on the pitching staff. His health seems to be at its best since coming to the Bronx a couple of years ago, and if he’s able to resemble how he was in his rookie season of 2011, the Yankees have a real gem on their hands.

With the bullpen, the Yankees will obviously be scrambling to fill the giant void left by Rivera, but David Robertson, after years as a very successful set-up man, appears to have the mentality and stuff to handle the high-pressure gig. With Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, and free agent signee Matt Thornton working ahead of him, the Yankees have a fine group in place to get Robertson the ball in the ninth. The success, or lack thereof, of the new relief corps could ultimately be what determines the fate of The Captain’s final season. No matter what, it should be another wild ride for America’s most prestigious franchise.

Predicted Record: 95-67

Boston Red Sox

It just goes to show how quickly things can change, as one year removed from a shocking last-place season in 2012, the Red Sox rebounded as quickly as possible to record the organization’s eighth World Series championship a season ago. So how will they do for an encore in their second season under manager John Farrell? Whatever the results, it will be conducted without one of the team’s key players over the past several years, that being Jacoby Ellsbury, who left through free agency and landed with the enemy Yankees. Aside from also losing Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the silver lining is that just about all of last year’s title-winning roster is still in place, which should ensure another intriguing run for the controversial Boston franchise.

Above everything, the two club leaders, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, still remain, after both registered marvelous seasons in ’13. The other key proven contributors, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, are also still here, but it could be the new wave of fresh talent that determines how far these Red Sox go in the upcoming campaign. Xander Bogaerts looked impressive at shortstop in the postseason, while the team will be leaning on Jackie Bradley to replace Ellsbury in centerfield. Will Middlebrooks has had success before at the hot corner and the potential is still there for him to carve out his niche as a solid everyday player. Furthermore, despite losing Salty, the Red Sox replaced him with veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who could be an upgrade at catcher.

It’s always good news when you’re able to keep an established, solid pitching rotation from a championship-winning team, and that’s exactly what Boston managed to do. Following a pretty disappointing ’12, ace Jon Lester re-emerged in a big way last year to help lead the starting staff, as he posted great numbers all across the board. Clay Buchholz was outstanding, too, even though an injury wiped out half his season, but he was still able to return and make significant contributions in the playoffs. Perhaps the most valuable cog of this group in 2013 was John Lackey, who seemingly came out of nowhere to enjoy a true renaissance season, even winning the World Series clincher. Felix Doubront is another arm to pay attention to, as the left-hander is a pretty big part of their future, and he’s already had success.

As good as their rotation sounds, it actually might be the bullpen that is stronger, especially after the incredible display we saw from closer Koji Uehara throughout all of last year, most notably in the playoffs. He’s getting up there in age, though, so Boston wisely acquired some insurance, picking up Edward Mujica, who will team up with Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow in the meantime to comprise a very strong back-end of the bullpen. The AL East should be highly competitive, as it always is, but the Red Sox appear to have enough fuel once again to push them into another postseason run.

Predicted Record: 87-75

Toronto Blue Jays

No team in 2013 epitomized the word “disaster” more than the Blue Jays. Could it have been any worse for this organization? Entering the year as a very trendy pick to win the division, Toronto instead finished in last place while seemingly never getting out of first gear. In their defense, the AL East is chock full of competitive squads, and the Blue Jays did have numerous significant injuries, which muddled them early on in a deep hole that they could ultimately never escape. Not only was the face of the franchise Jose Bautista banged up, but so were their two top offensive acquisitions from the offseason, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera, both of whom each missed approximately half the year. Furthermore, arguably their brightest young player, Brett Lawrie, missed a large chunk of the campaign, and thus was severely limited.

The good news for Blue Jays faithful is that all of those key players will be healthy from the start, and if they can get another outstanding season out of Edwin Encarnacion, one of the true underrated power hitters in the game, that would be a huge facet to build around. Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind are two other fine sluggers in this lineup, which should rebound in a big way in 2014 - if they stay healthy.

Remarkably, it wasn’t just the batting order that was marred by injuries; their pitching was, too. Much like in 2012, the Blue Jays saw some of their significant starters go on the shelf in 2013, to the point where they only had two pitchers make over 20 starts the whole season. The two guys who accomplished that, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, remain with the club, each still having the potential of helping lead a pitching rotation into the postseason. Brandon Morrow, meanwhile, was one of those aforementioned injured arms, but will enter this campaign “fully healthy,” according to general manager Alex Anthopoulos. That’s important, considering Morrow was enjoying a Cy Young-caliber season the year prior before getting hurt. Another key name that could help considerably, J.A. Happ, has had success before and really has potential to settle in as one of the more dependable lefties in the AL, now that he’s finally found a permanent home after a few years of uncertainty.

As long as the Blue Jays get solid, consistent pitching, that could really go a long way, as their bullpen was an excellent strength last year. Casey Janssen performed wonders as the closer, and having the likes of Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, and Brett Cecil setting him up, that should ensure continued success for this unit. The main issue overall, of course, will be if they can stay healthy. If that’s accomplished, you have to look out for the Blue Jays this season.

Predicted Record: 83-79

Tampa Bay Rays

When you have one of the best managers in baseball, and you’re winning 90 or more games every year, why even attempt to make any serious changes? That’s the sentiment abided by Tampa Bay, who made almost no alterations to their roster from a year ago, while seeking to go further this season after an anti-climactic ALDS exit at the hands of the eventual-champion Red Sox. Grittiness, scrappiness, and competitiveness are three distinct adjectives to describe any Joe Maddon-led team, and there shall be no exception in 2014, with the same group of mostly youngsters about to hit their stride for the Rays. That couldn’t be more appropriately said for the pitching staff, which is amongst the best in baseball. Everybody already knows ace David Price, and while he was hampered a bit by injuries in ’13, the 2012 AL Cy Young still enjoyed his usual dominant campaign. Behind him, though, is what Tampa might be most excited about. Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer are all under 27 years of age, but even at this stage in their careers, all three have proven themselves as formidable arms that can make a huge impact in the immediate years to come.

The only question mark revolves around mainstay Jeremy Hellickson, who will miss the first two months of the season. The bullpen had the most changes, with Grant Balfour coming over from Oakland to take over as the new closer in place of Fernando Rodney, while the club also added Heath Bell to join the impressive set-up unit that already features Joel Peralta and Jake McGee.

On offense, the Rays remain the same as well, which makes sense considering the talent that’s already in place. It centers on their cornerstone superstar, Evan Longoria, who has been one of the best third basemen in the American League for several years now. Soon enough, it could revolve around another big-time player, Wil Myers, who was acquired prior to last season in the James Shields deal. Myers enjoyed a very nice freshman campaign as soon as he was called up in June, leading to his capture of the AL Rookie of the Year award, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the budding star.

Tampa Bay has other unique pieces in their lineup, like Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings, each providing a different dynamic in their respective roles. Jennings is a very good lead-off hitter who boasts a lot of tools, while Zobrist brings quality versatility in the field and a dangerous bat at the plate. Also having others names who shouldn’t be overlooked, such as David DeJesus, James Loney, and Yunel Escobar, this Tampa Bay fits the persona of a Maddon-managed group to a tee. In the past, it’s always led to success, but with how extremely competitive the AL East is, they’re really going to have to dig deeper than ever.

Predicted Record: 80-82

Baltimore Orioles

When manager Buck Showalter took over in Baltimore in 2010, the franchise was in disarray, having owned a miserable streak of 12 consecutive losing seasons. Luckily for Orioles fans, it would only take Showalter two seasons before he broke through, guiding his men to the franchise’s first postseason berth since 1997, albeit while coming up just short in the ALDS that season. Despite missing the postseason a year ago, the Orioles still managed to win 85 games in a very respectable performance, and with the influx of young talent that is in place right now, there might be enough ammunition to get them back into October. A potential postseason run centers around the organization’s young core four on offense, that being Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters, all of whom have already established themselves among the best at their respective positions.

Machado might be the most intriguing, as he’s the youngest and arguably the most talented on both sides of the ball, but will be returning from a serious injury that derailed the end of his 2013. If he picks up where he left off, that could be a determining factor alone. Nelson Cruz, underrated on the free agent market by seemingly every team in baseball, was added at the last minute and should be a huge boost for a team that could really use it in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. In addition, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis are two holdovers who contribute solid production.

Everything looks nice and clear regarding the offense, and the same can be said for the pitching as well. On the starting front, the Orioles made one significant addition when they signed Ubaldo Jimenez, and while the mercurial right-hander has been erratic over the past few seasons, he is coming off his best campaign since leaving Colorado. While Jimenez was dealing in Cleveland last year, the Orioles were getting modest, steady numbers from the main nucleus of their rotation, consisting of Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez. However, the real wild card of this group just might be Bud Norris, one of the more underrated hurlers in baseball who is a very solid strikeout pitcher.

Perhaps the best facet of Baltimore’s starting pitching is that they have tremendous depth in their farm system, with the likes of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman waiting in the wings in case one of the names already in place goes down. The bullpen will feature a different closer, with Jim Johnson moving on, and that gig most likely will go to Tommy Hunter, who has shown enormous potential to handle the role successfully. With Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, and newcomer Ryan Webb setting him up, odds are relief pitching will be a strength for Baltimore. The trick will be getting in that position to win consistently, which will be a challenge for all of these teams in the intense AL East.

Predicted Record: 76-86

Final Say on the AL East: This is the best division in the American League, if not all of baseball. In fact, it’s probably the toughest to predict, as it’s the only division where every team that resides in it actually has a legitimate chance of finishing in first. Even the Blue Jays, who disappointed greatly last year en route to a last-place finish, are capable of a lengthy run that could propel them above their four other counterparts - if they can just stay healthy this time. The Orioles, with their talented youth emerging into their respective primes, are dangerous as well. Of course, you can never count out Tampa Bay either, especially considering how good their manager is at what he does in bringing out the best out from everyone on his roster, despite usually having less to work with. Overall, though, it’s hard not to see the Yankees and/or Red Sox tussling over first at the end of the day. Aside from a pretty big overhaul of their roster, New York will get a mental lift from the impending retirement of Derek Jeter, and while that necessarily didn’t work with Mariano Rivera last year, you have to remember how decimated they were by injuries - and still managed to win 85 games. The Red Sox are the defending World Series champions with much of the same roster intact so you have to believe they’ll be somewhere towards the top. As far as futures bets go, I wouldn’t even recommend anything in the AL East. Way too close to call, with all the potential that oozes from this group collectively.

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Re: American League East Preview

Win Total Bets - AL East
By Bruce Marshall
VegasInsider.com

BEST BET...

When was the last time the New York Yankees (86½) were undervalued? While the baseball world suffers from bad case of Red Sox fever and the media concerns itself with Derek Jeter's retirement tour, GM Brian Cashman has quickly reassembled a contender in The Bronx. After struggling with sorts such as Lyle Overbay, Kevin Youkilis, and Vernon Wells to plug gaps a year ago, Cashman has presented skipper Joe Girardi with the likes of CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RF Carlos Beltran, and C Brian McCann to better fill out the lineup card this season and to help cushion the departure of 2B Robinson Cano to Seattle. The addition of supreme table-setter Ellsbury was critical, as in one blow the Yanks were able to weaken their eternal enemy Bosox while providing themselves with perhaps the bigs' best catalyst at the top of the order. It also signals a change in philosophy by Cashman, no longer simply hoping to outslug every opponent, as the new-look Yanks will put more of a premium on defense and manufacturing runs. Moreover, this season they also do not have to worry about the many distractions caused by A-Rod. Cashman also hopes his big-bucks signing of potential ace righthander Masahiro Tanaka (24-0 last season in Japan!) will bolster a staff that could use CC Sabathia bouncing back from a very subpar campaign (4.78 ERA), at least by his standards. There are some obvious potential trip wires beyond Sabathia, as 1B Mark Teixeira and Jeter are off injury-plagued years, and the projected lineup could consist entirely of players on the long side of 30 years old. One of those, however, 38-year-old Alfonso Soriano, could flourish in the DH role after hitting 17 homers following his trade-deadline acquisition from the Cubs in late July. Blame for the slowdown of the farm system also lies mostly at the feet of Cashman, although his response to last year's stumble was more sensible than what team prexy Hank Steinbrenner's dad might have done a generation ago. On paper, Cashman's roster upgrades look good...enough to look "over" in The Bronx.

THE REST...

We thought the price was too light a year ago on the Baltimore Orioles (80½) and were rewarded accordingly when the Birds stayed on the periphery of the wild card chase into September and handily cashed the "over" with 85 wins. But there is no room to stand still in the AL East, especially if the Yankees are rejuvenated and the Blue Jays improve as many expect. And there were also concerns throughout March in Sarasota relating to star 3B Manny Machado's slow recovery from knee surgery, which is likely to keep him out well into May. As a result, Buck Showalter's likely opening-day lineup is filled with so many potential weak spots (such as David Lough in LF, Ryan Flaherty taking Machado's place at 3B, either ex-A Jemile Weeks or rookie Jonathon Schoop at 2B, and "all-attitude" Delmon Young at DH) that shrewd opposing pitchers can likely work around the likes of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and J.J. Hardy. We haven't even begun to mention the staff, which is crossing its fingers that late-signee Ubaldo Jimenez can anchor the rotation after his recent revival with the Indians; some observers believe Jimenez is more likely to regress to his later days in Colorado, as the shorter Camden Yards dimensions may prove much more problematic than the bigger park in Cleveland. Counting upon any help from the oft-injured Johan Santana (throwing slow toss-like in spring and at best available sometime in the summer) is not much more risky than trusting the rest of the staff, which is also gambling that Tommy Hunter can emerge as an effective closer after some success in a brief audition for the role late last season. Too many question marks to get excited, with Machado's absence for the first potion of the season and shaky pitching suggesting a sub-.500 campaign in Baltimore. It's an "under" for us in Birdland.

For the projected wins of a recent-memory World Series champion not named the Marlins to drop by nearly ten games is almost unprecedented. But the oddsmakers must suspect something is up, or is it down, with the Boston Red Sox (87½) after they streaked last year to their third crown since 2004. While manager John Farrell had little issue with the Boston press in last year's near full-season honeymoon, he could experience the notorious other side of the Beantown scribes this summer. The aforementioned loss of Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees could have a devastating impact on the lineup, which has no ready-made replacement at the top of the batting order. Farrell is also counting upon two rookies (SS Xander Bogaerts and CF Jackie Bradley) to step into the lineup full-time after they got limited exposure to the bigs a year ago. Bradley, in particular, struggled mightily in a brief debut, and Farrell might have to quickly resort to Plan B, vet Shane Victorino, to move from RF if Bradley falters again. There is still enough pop in the offense with 2B Dustin Pedroia, 1B Mike Napoli, and Big Papi at DH to score plenty of runs, but the real red flag for the Bosox is with the pitching staff, in particular if anything should happen to aces Clay Buccholz and Jon Lester. So thin is Farrell in depth that the likes of journeyman Chris Capuano and some untried prospects are all that is available (for the moment, at least) in reserve. More bullpen help was also necessitated in the offseason, resulting in the FA signing of Edward Mujica, who saved 37 games for the Cardinals last season before imploding in September, and is now available in case 38-year-old Koji Uehara is either worn down or proves not as impossible to hit as in his wondrous 2013. Farrell's ability to get the chemistry just right as he did last year is no easy task, perhaps further complicated by some key cogs (such as Lester and Ortiz) dealing with the distractions of their contract years. We know we're alienating Red Sox Nation, but it's an "under" for us at Fenway Park.

Having become the best-run franchise for the money in the AL since 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays (88½) have averaged over 90 wins since because of superb starting pitching, a fertile farm system, great managing by Joe Maddon, and a team-first approach by the franchise's leading players and pitchers. Now, the Rays might have fewer variables hanging over their heads than at any time during the past seven seasons. Although star lefty David Price is probably going elsewhere either at the trade deadline or at season's end, Tampa Bay will get at least part of one more outstanding season out of the ex-Vandy ace, and as usual there is plenty of depth in the staff, augmented by Matt Moore (17-4 last season), Alex Cobb, and the next possible phenom, Chris Archer, while Jeremy Hellickson's return date from elbow issues could be as early as mid-to-late May. Shrewd GM Andrew Friedman might have also lucked out in the offseason and upgraded his bullpen with the addition of ex-A's (and long-ago ex-Ray) FA closer Grant Balfour, who didn't pass an Orioles physical (only Peter Angelos knows why) and stayed on the market long enough for the Rays to slot him into the inconsistent Fernando Rodney's old role. Meanwhile, Friedman was rewarded by a couple of his typical Rays buy-low gambles a year ago when both 1B James Loney, who posted his best numbers since 2007, and LF David DeJesus, who appeared to be a late-season rental, were each signed to extended deals in the offseason and will continue to complement the likes of All-Star 3B Evan Longoria and 2013 Rookie of the Year and likely future All-Star CF Will Myers. So, while the media fawns as usual over the Red Sox and Yankees, the Rays are probably the division's best bet to make the postseason once again. It will make number one fan Dickie V. happy to know we're looking "over" again at The Trop as we are entertained as always by Dewayne Staats' excited description on Rays TV.

Last year at this time, many were getting ready to fit the Toronto Blue Jays (80½) with World Series rings. Didn't happen, and the playoff dry spell at Rogers Centre now extends to 21 years, back to Joe Carter's ninth-inning homer in Game Six of the '93 World Series off Mitch Williams and the Phillies. Along with the Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup drought at 47 years and counting, locals could be excused for turning their attention to the CFL Argos. Even after that big-contract mess in 2013, team prexy Paul Beeston is apparently giving GM Alex Anthopolous a mulligan, because much of last year's roster was back for another go this spring in Dunedin. Anthopolous wasn't nearly as active this offseason, hoping instead to get healthy years of out potential catalysts such as LF Melky Cabrera, SS Jose Reyes, and 3B Brett Lawrie, each hampered a year ago, while counting upon the likes of RF Jose Bautista, 1B Edwin Encarnacion, DH Adam Lind, and CF Colby Rasmus to keep hitting. Bash-ball might be the Jays' best chance, because we are a bit uncomfy with a pitching staff that has a lot of age at the top of the rotation (R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle) and a lot of questions thereafter, especially with the once-touted Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison off elbow surgeries. (Anthopolous would rather not rush top pitching prospects Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.) We're not overly optimistic on a jump of seven or more wins above last season's mediocre 74-88 finish, but this could be a different team than a year ago if all of the pieces stay healthy. We'd rather pass at Rogers Centre...while keeping our eyes on the Argos.

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