first_imgSN’s 2019 MLB GUIDES:AL: East | Central | WestNL: East | Central | WestThe AL East is going to be a three-horse race, but there are still questions heading into 2019. Here they are:YankeesStrength: Lineup.Weakness: Starting pitching.Question: What’s up with the rotation?The Yankees took steps to reinforce their rotation after 2018, trading for James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. This was all made, however, with the assumption that Luis Severino would be their ace.The problem is, Severino is on the shelf until May and the rest of the rotation is riddled with question marks. The old saying is: You can’t win a division in April, but you can lose one. While the Yankees’ emergency lever is the bullpen — which is scary good and improved after 2018 — if they tire out the bullpen early in the year, how will they fare come the fall? They’re strong everywhere else — lineup, bullpen, bench and defense — but the same starting pitching woes that have plagued New York for the better part of a decade are rearing their head again, and they can’t afford to give starts away early in the year if they want to avoid the wild-card game and win the division.Red SoxStrength: LineupWeakness: BullpenQuestion: How are you going follow up 2018?It was a historic year for Boston, winning 108 games in a tough division and then trouncing through the playoffs en route to a World Series victory. When Brandon Phillips is hitting game-winning home runs for you in September, it’s just your year.That said, it’s hard to see how everything goes right for Boston again in 2018. They’re still without good bullpen help — Matt Barnes and Ryan Brazier are their two back-end guys right now — with the team seemingly wanting to move on from closer Craig Kimbrel.They still have SN’s Player of the Year in Mookie Betts, along with Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. as a great outfield trio, and J.D. Martinez had an enormous year for Boston. Alex Cora pushed all the right buttons in 2018 and that should continue into 2019, but some of that good baseball juju and karma might not swing Boston’s way in 2019. Still, they’re an excellent team with one, major, glaring flaw.MORE: Opening Day schedule for all 30 MLB teamsRaysStrength: Manager, outfieldWeakness: Bench depth.Question: Can you do the darn thing?The Rays are going to be good. They have a full season of Tommy Pham and Austin Meadows, both acquired via trade during the 2018 season. They signed Charlie Morton to a two-year contract to help solidify the rotation this past offseason. They boast the reigning AL Cy Young winner at the top of the rotation. They brought in Avisail Garcia and Mike Zunino, both guys who needed a change of scenery and could thrive with Tampa Bay.The Rays are going to be able to challenge the Yankees and the Red Sox in 2019 — they finished 9-10 and 8-11 vs both teams, respectively, in 2018 — but do they have enough depth and talent on the bench and in the rotation to keep it together for 162 games? The survey (of one) says yes.The Rays turned to the opener in 2018 to mixed results and manager Kevin Cash did an excellent job of navigating the experiment en route to a 90-win season. With a revamped offense and a good rotation, the Rays are going to be a problem that the rest of AL East will have to deal with. It’s just a question of how much their bench depth will play into their success.OriolesStrength: Really nice ballpark.Weakness: Everything.Question: How bad is it going to get before it gets better?Is it possible to believe the Orioles are going to be even worse than they were in 2018? Balti-less won only 47 games in 2018, by far the worst record in Major League Baseball and the second-worst winning percentage in franchise history, second to the St. Louis Browns’ 43 wins in 1939. Now, the Orioles enter the 2019 season without Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones and a farm system that ranks among the worst in baseball. That’s a scary thought.It’s apparent that the Orioles’ best days are in front of them, but no one knows when those best days might come. They did a decent job of replenishing the farm system with the pieces they moved at the last trade deadline, but their farm system is still in the bottom third of MLB, so we’re still a ways from seeing that talent impact the major league club. The Orioles’ best hope is that Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Trey Mancini can be the power threats in the lineup — a fair ask — and the pitching be average at best. But in a division with three really, really good teams, don’t expect the Orioles to turn it around quickly.Blue JaysStrength: PitchingWeakness: Lack of powerQuestion: How long until we see the future?The Blue Jays lucked out in a bizarre way when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit the shelf with an oblique injury, instantly giving Toronto a readymade excuse to stash baseball’s top prospect in Triple-A to circumvent service-time rules.  One team boasts being a “fully operational Death Star,” but this division might once again be tighter than Han Solo and Chewbacca. The Evil Empire looks to add a 28th ring to its collection in 2019, but it’ll have to overcome the defending World Series champs and an upstart Rays team to make that dream come true. Toronto boasts the No. 1 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, but the Jays also have four other top-100 guys, including Bo Bichette and Danny Jansen. The Blue Jays might not be great in 2019, but it’s beyond 2019 that has everyone’s attention.The Blue Jays have a better team than you may think, but 2019 is riddled with questions. What will Randal Grichuk be in his second year? Can Marcus Stroman turn it around after a bad and injury-plagued 2018? All eyes are on the future, not the present, for Toronto, which could make the Jays a dangerous team if they’re overlooked.last_img

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