The Boston Red Sox will attempt to become the first repeat winner in the American League East since the New York Yankees in 2011-12, but as is usually the case in baseball’s toughest division, finishing first won’t be easy.

The AL East sent three teams to the postseason last year, while the Toronto Blue Jays have reached the American League Championship Series in back-to-back seasons. Toronto’s elite pitching staff and loaded offense should have it in the playoff conversation once again alongside reigning co-wild-card winners the Baltimore Orioles. Don’t sleep on the young New York Yankees or even the restocked Tampa Bay Rays, either. It’s not inconceivable to think that any one of the five teams could find itself atop the standings come October.

As we continue marching toward Opening Day, here’s all you need to know about the AL East in theScore’s division primer.

Division Primers
AL East I AL Central | AL West

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Baltimore Orioles

2016 record: 89-73 (T-2nd)
2017 payroll: $158,602,115
Over/Under win total for 2017: 80.5
Odds to win World Series: 33-1
3-year trend: 2014 (1st); 2015 (3rd); 2016 (T-2nd)
Highest projected WAR: Manny Machado (6.4)
X-factor: Dylan Bundy
Prospect to watch: Chance Sisco (MLB.com: No. 99; Baseball America: No. 57; Baseball Prospectus: No. 76)
Winter report card: C

Projected Lineup

ORDER PLAYER POSITION
1 Hyun Soo Kim LF
2 Adam Jones CF
3 Manny Machado 3B
4 Chris Davis 1B
5 Mark Trumbo DH
6 Seth Smith RF
7 Jonathan Schoop 2B
8 Welington Castillo C
9 J.J. Hardy SS

Projected Rotation

Pitcher Throws Projected ERA
Kevin Gausman RHP 4.07
Dylan Bundy RHP 4.67
Wade Miley LHP 4.30
Ubaldo Jimenez RHP 4.65
Chris Tillman* RHP 4.72

*Expected to begin season on DL

Orioles win the division if …

The starting pitching shows much improvement. The Orioles’ offense carried an abysmal rotation to a wild-card berth in 2016 and they’ll need much of the same this season to make it back to the playoffs. Baltimore returns virtually the same lineup as a year ago, so scoring runs shouldn’t be in issue, though preventing them will be. The rotation is even more of a concern with Chris Tillman injured, meaning the Orioles need both Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy to take the next step in their development.

Boston Red Sox

2016 record: 93-69 (1st)
2017 payroll: $190,296,429
Over/Under win total for 2017: 92.5
Odds to win World Series: 9-2
3-year trend: 2014 (5th); 2015 (5th); 2016 (1st)
Highest projected WAR: Mookie Betts (5.6)
X-factor: Eduardo Rodriguez
Prospect to watch: Rafael Devers (MLB.com: 17; Baseball America: 18; Baseball Prospectus: 13)
Winter report card: A

Projected Lineup

ORDER PLAYER POSITION
1 Dustin Pedroia 2B
2 Andrew Benintendi LF
3 Mookie Betts RF
4 Hanley Ramirez DH
5 Mitch Moreland 1B
6 Xander Bogaerts SS
7 Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
8 Pablo Sandoval 3B
9 Sandy Leon C

Projected Rotation

Pitcher Throws Projected ERA
Rick Porcello RHP 4.00
Chris Sale LHP 3.48
Eduardo Rodriguez LHP 4.36
Steven Wright RHP 4.53
David Price* LHP 3.53

*Expected to begin season on DL

Red Sox win the division if …

They limit the trips to the infirmary. Health is the biggest issue standing in the way of a Red Sox repeat. David Price remains without a timetable, Tyler Thornburg and Drew Pomeranz are set to start the season on the disabled list, and Hanley Ramirez’s shoulder has yet to allow him to play in a game defensively. Even without David Ortiz, the offense should score a lot of runs thanks to a well-balanced lineup built with power and speed. Craig Kimbrel needs to return to his dominant form to alleviate any concerns about the bullpen, which remains the club’s biggest weakness heading into Opening Day.

New York Yankees

2016 record: 84-78 (4th)
2017 payroll: $191,960,000
Over/Under win total for 2017: 82.5
Odds to win World Series: 25-1
3-year trend: 2014 (2nd); 2015 (2nd); 2016 (4th)
Highest projected WAR: Gary Sanchez (3.9)
X-factor: Michael Pineda
Prospect to watch: Gleyber Torres (MLB.com: No. 3; Baseball America: No. 5; Baseball Prospectus: No. 15)
Winter report card: B-

Projected Lineup

ORDER PLAYER POSITION
1 Brett Gardner LF
2 Jacoby Ellsbury CF
3 Gary Sanchez C
4 Matt Holliday DH
5 Greg Bird 1B
6 Starlin Castro 2B
7 Chase Headley 3B
8 Aaron Judge RF
9 Ronald Torreyes SS

Projected Rotation

Pitcher Throws Projected ERA
Masahiro Tanaka RHP 3.90
CC Sabathia LHP 4.38
Michael Pineda RHP 3.51
Luis Severino RHP 4.08
Chad Green RHP 4.29

Yankees win the division if …

The Baby Bombers carry the load, the starting pitching overachieves, and the bullpen tandem of Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances doesn’t burn out. Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird will be leaned on heavily in their sophomore seasons with the hope that veterans Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, and Brett Gardner can ride the wave of the youth movement and bounce back from poor seasons. The Yankees’ division hopes hinge completely on the partially torn right elbow ligament of Masahiro Tanaka.

Tampa Bay Rays

2016 record: 68-94 (5th)
2017 payroll: $53,358,334
Over/Under win total for 2017: 77.5
Odds to win World Series: 100-1
3-year trend: 2014 (4th); 2015 (4th); 2016 (5th)
Highest projected WAR: Chris Archer (4.0)
X-factor: Blake Snell
Prospect to watch: Jose De Leon (MLB.com: No. 33; Baseball America: No. 29; Baseball Prospectus: No. 38)
Winter report card: C-

Projected Lineup

ORDER PLAYER POSITION
1 Kevin Kiermaier CF
2 Brad Miller 2B
3 Evan Longoria 3B
4 Corey Dickerson DH
5 Matt Duffy SS
6 Colby Rasmus LF
7 Steven Souza RF
8 Logan Morrison 1B
9 Derek Norris C

Projected Rotation

Pitcher Throws Projected ERA
Chris Archer RHP 3.39
Jake Odorizzi RHP 4.09
Alex Cobb RHP 3.97
Blake Snell LHP 3.67
Matt Andriese RHP 3.77

Rays win the division if …

The pitching is elite enough to make up for a mediocre offense. While the Rays remain the worst team in the division on paper, they’re certainly no slouch. The rotation, headed by Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, is as strong as any in the division, while the club should benefit from a return to health from Alex Cobb. Pitching – as always seems to be the case – will have to carry an offense that ranked as one of the league’s worst last season. The front office made minor upgrades with the additions of Colby Rasmus, Derek Norris, and Wilson Ramos, though the latter will miss the first several months with injury.

Toronto Blue Jays

2016 record: 98-73 (T-2nd)
2017 payroll: $156,145,238
Over/Under win total for 2017: 84.5
Odds to win World Series: 20-1
3-year trend: 2014 (3rd); 2015 (1st); 2016 (2nd)
Highest projected WAR: Josh Donaldson (6.0)
X-factor: Devon Travis
Prospect to watch: Rowdy Tellez (MLB.com: N/R; Baseball America: No. 95; Baseball Prospectus: N/R)
Winter report card: C

Projected Lineup

ORDER PLAYER POSITION
1 Devon Travis 2B
2 Josh Donaldson 3B
3 Jose Bautista RF
4 Kendrys Morales DH
5 Troy Tulowitzki SS
6 Russell Martin C
7 Justin Smoak 1B
8 Kevin Pillar CF
9 Melvin Upton Jr. LF

Projected Rotation

Pitcher Throws Projected ERA
Marco Estrada RHP 4.81
J.A. Happ LHP 4.25
Marcus Stroman RHP 3.73
Francisco Liriano LHP 4.00
Aaron Sanchez RHP 4.04

Blue Jays win the division if …

The rotation continues its remarkable run of health. The Blue Jays used just seven different starters in 2016, with five pitchers making at least 29 starts. With little depth behind them, the club needs its five most solid arms to take their turn every fifth day. Jose Bautista also needs to return to being six-time All-Star Jose Bautista. While Kendrys Morales should help supplement some of the loss of Edwin Encarnacion, keeping the offense elite requires Bautista’s return to form.

Photos courtesy: Action Images
Salary projections courtesy: Cots Baseball Contracts
Projected WAR, ERA courtesy: Fangraphs
Odds courtesy: Bovada

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