Bronx Baseball Daily has been fortunate enough to add a third writer in recent weeks, Rilwan Ameen, who will be joining the team with regular columns. His first piece takes a look at the fact that for the first time in probably 20 years the Yankees are not looked upon as favorites to make the playoffs. With a new found budget-concious Yankees and improvements to nearly every team in their division it’s not hard to imagine the Yankees finishing anywhere from first to last (well, maybe not last place). Anyway, enjoy Rilwan’s piece and join me in welcoming him to the team.
By Rilwan Ameen
For the first time in two decades, the New York Yankees come into a MLB season viewed as decided underdogs in their own division.
Throughout the 2012 Major League Baseball season, there was no division as competitive as the American League East. The Yankees won the division with a 95-67 record, making it all the way to the ALCS before bowing out in four games to the Detroit Tigers. The Baltimore Orioles finished second in the division, amassing a 93-69 record and then beating the Texas Rangers in a one game playoff before losing in a thrilling five game series to the Yankees. Also reaching the 90 win plateau were the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished 90-72, just missing the postseason.
That left the Toronto Blue Jays (73-89) and the Boston Red Sox (69-93) as the two teams in the division that did not threaten to crash the playoff party. However their records were not indicative of how competitive they were within the AL East.
This offseason, the entire division landscape changed on Nov. 13, when the Blue Jays struck a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins. The Jays acquired all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck, utility infielder Emilio Bonifacio and three starting pitchers to bolster what was an average rotation in Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and reigning NL CY Young award winner R.A. Dickey.
The Jays, already formidable with slugger Jose Bautista, who had 27 homers in only 92 games and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion who had a career year with 42 homers and 110 RBI’s, also added all-star game MVP Melky Cabrera at a discounted two-year, $8 million deal. These acquisitions make the Blue Jays a threat to take over the spot as top team in the AL East.
While the Blue Jays improved significantly on paper, the other contending teams in the AL East have mostly kept their playoff caliber squads intact. While the Yankees did not re-sign outfielder Nick Swisher and closer Rafael Soriano, they re-signed starting pitchers Andy Pettitte (who had a 2.87 ERA in his 12 starts before injury) and Hiroki Kuroda (who had 16 wins). Along with the returns of shortstop Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees are going into the 2013 season with the same expectations from their fan base as they have every year, world championship or bust. But this upcoming season seems different, beginning with vast improvement from the teams around them.
The Baltimore Orioles were the biggest surprise of the division last year, thanks to the managerial working of Buck Showalter, and their penchant for winning one-run games. With the injured Manny Machado returning to the lineup along with all-star Matt Wieters behind the plate, outfielders Adam Jones, Nick Markakis driving in runs, and closer Jim Johnson getting the final outs of the game, the O’s do not plan on heading to the basement of the AL East any time soon.
The Tampa Bay Rays also have plenty of talent in order to make a run at the playoffs. With 2012 Cy Young winner David Price leading a very deep pitching staff, with Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays are going to give up very few runs. Along with stud hitters Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, it is also very easy to foresee the Rays playing October baseball as well. Trading James Shields hurt, but acquiring the Royals’ top prospect Will Myers trumps the loss of Shields and Wade Davis.
With the current MLB playoff format, only one of these teams will make the playoffs by winning the division and it is possible for two other teams in this division to claim the wild-card. In this situation, one playoff caliber team will miss the playoffs. That’s not even counting the fact that another division can produce a wild-card team. Factoring in the strength that lies in the AL West with the Angels, Rangers, A’s, and the young but improving Mariners, these teams threaten to take away one if not two wild-card spots from the AL East. Factor in a surprise team like the Indians in the AL Central and the playoff races will be hotly contested.
The AL East will be tough for all of the teams because they play every other team within the division 19 times. Also the Red Sox, who might not be in contention to make the playoffs next year, have improved greatly with obtaining Joel Hanrahan from the Pirates, Shane Victorino from the Dodgers, and Mike Napoli from the Rangers. The Red Sox would love nothing more than to play spoiler to an archrival like the Yankees or Rays.
In 2013, a changing of the guard in the AL East seems to be on the horizon. Come April, it will be unfamiliar territory in the Bronx, as for the first time since 1993 the Pinstripes are not expected to represent the American League, let alone their own division in October.
Will the Bronx Bombers relish the unusual role of playing the underdog with lessened expectations? Fewer expectations will be the best thing that happens to the New York Yankees this season. For a team needing a moment out of the spotlight after a tumultuous off-season, a blessing in disguise is in order.