MLB 2019 preview: Projecting the AL East | MLB
In 2018 the AL East provided the Word Series champion Red Sox, a second 100-win team in the Yankees, AL MVP Mookie Betts of the Red Sox and AL CY Young winner Blake Snell of the Rays.
The calendar may have flipped, but it’s likely to be more of the same as storylines won’t be hard to find from this division in 2019.
Boston has a target on its back, New York has taken aim with free-agent signings and a largely healthy core, Toronto appears ready to turn the organization over to its star prospects, Tampa Bay wants to prove it belongs in the postseason and Baltimore, well, the Orioles will play 162 games.
For an extended look at how things can shake out, here is your 2019 preview for the AL East.
Storyline to watch: Boston’s bullpen (or lack thereof)
While the Yankees made it a point to enter 2019 with a stacked bullpen by signing free agents Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton, the Red Sox stood idly by.
Boston has yet to make a decision on who will be its closer, and the two top candidates, Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes, have a combined two saves in the big leagues.
The Red Sox could still bring back free agent Craig Kimbrel, but Alex Cora seems content to let that staring contest drag into the season when this odd strategy could likely haunt the defending champs.
MVP candidate: Aaron Judge, Yankees
It’s hard to believe, but it’s possible we haven’t see the best version of Judge as he enters his age-27 season.
Judge missed roughly nine weeks of the 2018 season with a wrist injury but has proven to be fully healthy with a tremendous spring batting well over .300, slugging north of 1.000 and cutting down his strikeouts significantly (only nine through his first 37 plate appearances).
— MLB (@MLB) March 17, 2019
Judge wasn’t even the best right fielder in his own division in 2018, but if he brings his spring form into 2019 he could be the first Yankees outfielder to win league MVP since Mickey Mantle in 1962.
Cy Young candidate: Chris Sale, Red Sox
Sale is the most criminally underpaid and underappreciated pitcher in baseball — but that will all change after this season.
Sale is set to make $12.5 million in 2019 before hitting free agency and will use the next six months to prove why he deserves a $20 million raise in 2020. His ERA and WHIP have both dropped in each of the last four seasons, while his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) reached a career-high 13.5 in 2018.
Chris Sale looks ready. pic.twitter.com/MYheJ8xxvp
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) March 16, 2019
If Sale continues to only get better this will be the year he finally collects some hardware and monster payday to match.
Prospect to watch: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
In a division ripe with star power, Guerrero may steal the most headlines of any player in the AL East this season.
Baseball’s top prospect won’t start the season in the bigs as he nurses an oblique strain, but when he slides into the middle of Toronto’s order in May he’s expected to have an instant impact.
The compact third baseman batted .402 with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 61 games at the Double-A level in 2018. His power and plate discipline (only 135 strikeouts in 276 minor league games) are fully expected to translate to the majors as he’s arguably the most highly anticipated prospect since Bryce Harper in 2012.
Division prediction: Yankees win (barely)
The Red Sox have won the division the last three seasons, and frankly, the Yankees seem to have had enough. New York addressed its infield depth, bullpen and starting rotation during the offseason after watching a 100-win season spoiled by Boston in the playoffs.
The bullpen question looms too large for Boston to confidently put the Red Sox ahead of a Yankees team that checks every box heading into the season.
If New York remains healthy and handles high expectations, it has no reason not to win the AL East.