We can all exhale; the 2014 season is finally upon us as the Dodgers took on the Padres last night. The full swing of action gets going in just a few hours, and Yankees baseball is just one day away. As we countdown the hours until the Yankees take the field in Houston, we have looked at the starting rotations and bullpens of the five AL East teams. This last post is about the lineups. The guys who will be swinging the bats and producing runs to help the starters.
As there were many moves made to each rotation and bullpen, the moves made around the division were impact moves to help each lineup score runs. The Yankees brought in Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann to boost the offense and help replace the hole Robinson Cano left in the line up when he left for the Pacific Northwest. Baltimore added power bat, Nelson Cruz to protect Chris Davis and Boston injected youth to their offense with Xander Boegarts as their starting short stop.
The division has been known for the power offenses with big hitters like David Ortiz, Jose Bautista and Chris Davis, and I see no difference in 2014. Each team has a lineup capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Last season the teams in the division all ranked in the top 16 in runs scored. There is no question that each of these teams are more than able to reproduce last year’s offense success, if not surpass in some cases.
While each team will play around with their batting orders, the majority of the position players will remain the same throughout the season (barring injuries- I know us Yankees fans know all about that). So let us take what we know heading into the season and take a look at each team’s starting lineups.
David Lough: LF – (.286 avg, 5 HR, 33 RBI) *With Kansas City
The Baltimore lineup is an old school power-hitting lineup with the reigning American League home run champ, Davis to the newly acquired Cruz. This team will not run you off the field as they ranked 16th in swipes in 2013 with only 79 total steals. Their game is power and timely hitting in the friendly confines of Camden Yards. Thanks in large part to Davis’ 53 dingers; the Orioles were first in Major League Baseball with 212 round-trips in 2013. Runs were something Baltimore had success with scoring 745 runs, which was good for fifth in the league. To continue this into the 2014 season they will count on another MVP-caliber season from Davis all while Jones continues to progress into an All-Star and Manny Machado stays on his projection to be a major contributor on both sides of the ball. We have seen Machado time and time again end up with highlight plays in the field. What people may not have realized is the Orioles had the highest fielding percentage in MLB last season at a .991 percentage while only committing 54 errors. The combination of being able to score a lot of runs, and not give runs away in the field have allowed the O’s to be in the playoff picture the last two years. I would expect the same formula to be in place for them this season.
The names are there for Boston once again, led by David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Last season the Sox were by far the best team at run production with 853 runs (57 runs better than the second place Tigers). This was by in large due to timely hitting up and down the entire lineup. We saw exactly how this team operated in the playoffs last year as clutch hitting in big moments propelled this team to another World Series win. Not only were they first in runs scores, but also ranked sixth in home runs, second in team average and fourth in stolen bases. They presented an all-around threat for the opposition every time they took the field. Some may say it was a team of destiny. Others would say the personalities just happened to click and carried them to the championship. Chemistry was definitely a factor in Boston’s run, as was the emotional drive of the city after the tragic events during the Boston Marathon, but this team performed in every facet of the game. They did lose two big pieces from last year in Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltamacchia and have replaced them with Grady Sizemore and A.J. Pierzynski. The question for Boston in 2014 will be can they find that same chemistry and timely hitting that carried them to a championship season.
Well if you couldn’t tell by all of the asterisks and notes, the Yankees have undergone some massive changes in their lineups. They have established stars returning to the lineup as Jeter and Teixeira are coming back from serious injuries in 2013. They also have three All-Star newcomers in Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran who look to make an immediate impact on this team. In addition to the big stars, Brian Roberts, a former All-Star in his own right, and Kelly Johnson will look to provide production in anyway they can as they replace Cano and Alex Rodriguez. A major concern for the Yankees is the fielding abilities of the infield with an older Jeter coming back from an ankle injury, Teixeria trying to find his comfort as his wrist continues to heal, Roberts is trying to just stay on the field and Johnson is ready to play third base- a position he has less than 20 career starts. Basically anything the Yankees did last year offensively, you can throw out as they have seven new bats in the lineup, and only Gardner and Soriano are carry-overs. The concern for all Yankees fans is whether or not these guys can stay healthy, as the majority of them have injury-riddled past. If this team can stay healthy, then they sky is the limit in Jeter’s farewell tour.
Tampa Bay is a team that leans on their pitching staff, and it is with good reason they do. Scoring 700 runs in 2013 was good enough for 11th in baseball; as they were also 11th in home runs and 12th in average. If you can keep your offensive production in the top-10, or just outside, in a number of major categories, you will find a lot of success. That is just what Tampa Bay does. They keep games close and they pounce when they get their chances. Led by Evan Longoria, the Rays boast a number of guys who can play several positions to maximize their lineup every day, no matter if they face a lefty or righty. The names up and down the line up will not blow you away and strike fear in other teams fan bases, but as us Yankees fans are well aware, any one in this line up can hurt you at any time. Last year James Loney had a great season, especially when he faced the Yankees. Game in and game out, Loney came up with huge hits. This year that guy may be the second year stud, Wil Myers. We saw last year the raw power Myers possesses with a quick bat and long arms to reach the outside corner. To round out the lineup guys like DeJesus, Zobrist and Joyce can all come up with the clutch hit when needed.
As I look at the statistics for the Toronto hitters last year, it seems as though their power numbers were good (185 team HRs-good for fourth in baseball), but they hit all their home runs with no one on base as the RBI totals were so low. With 712 total runs scored and only 669 of those coming from RBI, it seems on the surface the timely hits weren’t there, and neither were the big innings. You do have to chalk some of their offensive downfalls to the fact that many of their major contributors missed time due to injury. As Bautista continues to come back from his wrist injury, he and Encarnacion will be expected to carry the load for this offense. It wouldn’t be crazy to me to see each of those guys hit 40+ home runs this season. If that is the case, it would be advantageous for guys like Reyes and Cabrera to be on base when those long flies leave the park. With the speed combo of Reyes and Cabrera at the top, and Rasmus in the nine-spot, the Blue Jays have the potential to move runners around the bases in various ways. For Toronto to be successful this season this line up needs to produce runs as a high-rate to counteract what looks to be a sub-par pitching staff. As we saw in the starting rotation post, it won’t be an easy task for the Blue Jays as the pitching around the division looks to be solid all around. The way I see it- Toronto might have a long season coming their way in 2014.
After looking at the starting line-ups each team in the division is projected to play most of their games with this season, I would have to rank them in the following order:
So there you have it. We have looked at the starting pitching, the bullpens and the lineups for the five teams that will be battling it out for the AL East crown this season. Let us know how you think these teams stack up in the comment section below.