Updated: May 31
2022 MLB Division Preview: American League East
Written by: Andrew Quinn
A glance at every team in the AL East Division - follow me on Twitter @AQuinnFF for more!
Baseball fans, get excited! We have a little over a month left before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. Major League Baseball should be around the corner - pending the lockout ending. Before the season starts, I plan to preview each division in both the National League and the American League. That starts today with the American League East.
Last season, the AL East was arguably the most competitive division in all of baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays finished in 1st place with exactly 100 wins. The Yankees and Red Sox both had 92 wins and faced off in the AL Wild Card game that was ultimately won by Boston. The Toronto Blue Jays missed a playoff berth by 1 game, finishing 91-71. To bring up the rear, the Baltimore Orioles went 52-110, tying for the worst record in baseball last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Luckily for the Orioles, a new season means that anything is possible. And if you have watched enough baseball, you know that any team can win on any given day. Let’s kick off the first team preview of 2022 with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles had few bright spots last season, but that was to be expected as their franchise is currently rebuilding. They have lots of young talent that we can expect to see in the big leagues this season, which I will get into later. Let’s start by evaluating their returning players from last season’s roster.
Cedric Mullins was the biggest contributor for Baltimore last season, hitting .291 with 30 home runs and 30 steals at the top of their lineup. The center fielder is under club control for the next 3+ seasons, and he is quickly becoming a fan favorite for the Orioles. I believe that he will be a player the Orioles commit to and try to build around for the next few seasons. Mullins reminds me of Dustin Pedroia - both are undersized players that have a ton of heart and can really surprise you with their play.
Other contributors for the Orioles include Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle, who both play first base and combined for 54 HRs and 160 RBIs in 2021. Aside from the 3 players I have named, the Orioles mixed and matched their lineup a lot of last seasons. I expect them to have a few more new faces throughout the upcoming season.
A player to watch for the Orioles is catching prospect Adley Rutschman, who is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. The 2019 first round pick is expected to make his MLB debut in 2022. Unfortunately for him, the Orioles will likely be lacking in the pitching department.
The Orioles only starting pitcher with a history of MLB success is John Means, who threw a no hitter last season. Aside from him, their rotation will be full of question marks that will make or break the Orioles’ season.
Prediction: The Orioles will still be rebuilding in 2022. Their pitching is not going to win them many games, but they have enough firepower on offense to compete with some teams. I believe they will finish under .500 again in 2022, but I think they will win more than 60 games. Record prediction: 62-100, miss playoffs.
Boston Red Sox:
The Red Sox were one of baseball’s biggest surprises in 2021. Most fans, including myself, expected them to be rebuilding after trading away Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. The team proved to be competitive without their former superstar, as they made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. They also had a 2-1 series lead in the ALCS before ultimately losing to the Houston Astros. Falling 2 games short of the World Series is not too bad for a team many people were writing off at this time last season.
Boston has a mix of young talent and veteran experience, with players like Alex Verdugo coming into his own last season as an everyday player. Veteran JD Martinez proved that he can still be very productive, even as he continues to get older. Rafael Devers was in the MVP conversation last season, hitting 38 HRs and driving in 113 RBIs. The Red Sox had a great offense in 2021, hitting .261 as a team and scoring 821 runs. I expect some regression to set in this year for their offense: their team average will likely be around .250 this year. That will lower their offensive output from 2021 and will likely lead to less wins in 2022.
The Red Sox pitching in 2021 was also much better than expected. They allowed just over 1 baserunner per inning and had about 3 strikeouts per walk on the mound. They did allow 176 home runs, about 1 per game, but their team ERA was below 4.50. I expect their pitching to be slightly less effective because of regression, but I don’t think that it will hurt them too much. Their ERA should be about the same, but they will likely allow closer to 1.5 baserunners per inning.
Prediction: I love what the Red Sox did in 2021, but I think they are a team that is poised for regression in 2022. Regression does not mean negative production, but rather moving closer to the average. Boston was well-above average in many important categories last season, and I do not predict that they will be an outlier two years in a row. They could surprise me again in 2022, and I would be all for it! Record Prediction: 89-73, miss playoffs.
Toronto Blue Jays:
The Blue Jays have some of the most exciting young talent in all of baseball, and last season they were so close to making the playoffs. They have already added talent to their team and should continue doing so after the lockout. Toronto has not been to a World Series since they last won it in 1993 - almost 30 years ago - but they have the roster to get them to the playoffs in 2022. If they do, they might break that drought this season.
If you read my last article, I talked about the Blue Jays as one of my favorite teams to bet on right now to win the World Series. Here is the link if you want to take a quick glance at it: https://www.sportstimehq.com/post/world-series-bets-to-target-in-2022.
The Blue Jays had 4 sluggers with over 100 RBIs last season, though one, Marucs Semien, has left for the Texas Rangers in free agency. While the Jays lose his massive production, they will likely get a chunk of that back with both Cavan Biggio and George Springer starting out 2022 injury-free. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette have continually improved during their time in the big leagues, and I expect Biggio to also take a big step forward this upcoming year. Offensively, I don’t have any major concerns with Toronto; they hit for average, hit for power, find ways to get on base, and don’t strike out as much as some other teams in the division.
The Jays have already improved their pitching this offseason as well, even though they were mostly solid in that realm in 2021. They lost last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Robby Ray, to the Seattle Mariners. But they have other quality starters returning, like José Berríos and Hyun Jin Ryu, who have multiple years of above average production on the mound. Their bullpen is full of proven talent as well but could be the one area of concern heading into 2022. I would not be surprised if the Blue Jays are in the market for another bullpen anchor, whether it be via trade or free agency after the lockout ends.
Prediction: The Blue Jays were eliminated from the playoffs during the last game of the season in 2021. On top of that, they lost one of their 3 most productive players from last year. Even with those losses, I expect the Blue Jays to be right back in the mix for a playoff spot in 2022. Their young talent and starting pitching depth will make them a must-watch team this summer. Record Prediction: 96-64, AL Wild Card.
Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays are one of the best teams in baseball to root for. They have shown success with a low payroll and use analytics as much as any team in the MLB. We have seen it all with the Rays over the last few seasons: from making the playoffs on a last-game walk-off home run, to using ‘opener’ pitchers, to having multiple bullpen arms that throw 95+ MPH. You cannot deny that the Rays are one of the most uniquely competitive teams in all of baseball.
Tampa has a lot of key contributors returning in 2022. Brandon Lowe, their second baseman, had a great season in 2021, belting 39 HRs and driving in 99 RBIs while reaching base in 34% of his plate appearances. Austin Meadows and Randy Arozarena were both strong producers in the outfield. Up and down the Rays lineup, there were guys contributing on a nightly basis. As a team, the Rays hit 222 HRs and reached base at a .321 clip.
Looking deeper, here are some numbers that concern me for Tampa in 2022. They struck out at an almost 3-to-1 rate compared to their walks (1542 Ks, 585 BBs). That’s closed to averaging 10 strikeouts per game, or slightly over 1 per inning. In recent years, baseball has swung to more of a high-powered, high-strikeout approach for most hitters. And the Rays have shown that they can be successful with this approach. It can be great, but it can also be really bad sometimes. As a pitcher, you know that your team can erupt at any moment; but when their offense has an off night, putting up 1 or 2 runs against Tampa could lead to a win for the opponent.
Speaking of pitching, let me quickly touch on the pitching staff for the Rays. The Rays had one of the deepest starting rotations and bullpens in the MLB last season. What stands out to me is they only had one pitcher eclipse 150 innings (Ryan Yarbrough), but 10 pitchers with at least 50 innings - and a majority of those 10 had 75+ innings. I think that the Rays are one or two more all-star caliber pitchers away from being legitimate World Series contenders again in 2022.
Prediction: The Rays are setting themselves up for another successful year in 2022, with anything but a playoff berth being a failure for the franchise. I expect them to bring in one or two more high-quality pitchers before the season starts. If they do that, pencil them in for 95+ wins again in 2022. Record prediction: 96-64, AL wild card.
New York Yankees:
The Yankees are built to contend for a World Series title, and we all know that they will spend as much money as they need to in order to get there. In recent years, we have seen them spend for superstars like Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole. However, the Yankees have also cultivated some impressive young talent, like Gleyber Torres, who was acquired in the Aroldis Chapman trade back in 2016. Both the superstars and the young phenoms will have to mesh together and contribute in order for the Yankees to reach their ultimate goal: hanging another World Series banner in Yankee Stadium.
In recent seasons, the Yankees have been unlucky with injuries. Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t played a full season since he’s been in New York. Luke Voit missed the majority of 2021 with nagging injuries. Luckily, Aaron Judge played a majority of the games for the Yankees last season, but he has a history of injuries as well. If the Yankees stay healthy in 2022, they will be a favorite in the American League.
From an offensive standpoint, the Yankees are similar to the Rays in a lot of ways; both teams hit a lot of home runs, but the Yankees had slightly more walks and slightly less strikeouts than the Rays in 2021. If that carries over into 2022, the return of their star players should lead to even more offensive production. However, if the injury bug bites again, that could change everything for the Yankees.
On the mound, the Yankees return Gerrit Cole, who is arguably one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. He had over 240 strikeouts last year in 181.1 innings. But they will need more than just a high-quality ace to have success this season. The Yankees had many games won and lost by their bullpen in 2022. I believe this speaks to both their offense for being able to come back late in games, and also the struggles that their pitching staff had in 2021. I expect the Yankees to make a big signing or trade after the lockout ends to add another starting pitcher alongside Cole.
Prediction: Assuming they are healthy, the Yankees should be the favorites to win the division. They will spend money to bring in the talent they are lacking, as their franchise is close to a “World Series or bust” mentality. Even if they start off slow, I expect them to have one of the most talented rosters in baseball by the trade deadline mid-season. Record prediction: 101-63, AL East division winner.