AL East team to beat?

Alec Scercy | PNN editor

The team that is being widely considered as the “team to beat” in the American League East is not the New York Yankees, it’s not the Boston Red Sox, and it isn’t even everyone’s favorite underdog Tampa Bay Rays; it is the Toronto Blue Jays, but I am (a little) skeptical.

Why are these Blue Jays the hot pick to win the AL East this year? Offseason acquisitions, that’s why, four of which are Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Emilio Bonifacio. And why do those names sound familiar? Those four names made up the core of the preseason bandwagon favorite a year ago.

At this point in the season one year ago, all the buzz centered around the Miami Marlins: they had new uniforms, new exciting players, a new coach, and a new stadium in Little Havana. These Marlins were considered by many to be the team to beat in the NL East last season and…. they came in last.

Last season’s Marlins had a disastrous year from the start, and involved everything from their new coach alienating their fan base when he praised Fidel Castro, to trading the face of their franchise to the Dodgers due in part to his negativity in the locker room.

All of this eventually culminated in their owner blowing up the team less than one year into building it. And… four key players on that team are now key additions to the newest bandwagon team in baseball.

I will say I do not expect a repeat of last years Marlins in Toronto this year, not at all. I just want fans to proceed with caution if they are attempting to hand the Blue Jays the AL East title before game one.

Johnson and Buehrle are joining a rotation that also added last season’s NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey while still keeping flame-thrower Brandon Morrow and last year’s ace Ricky Romero. This rotation has five solid names, but some question marks as well.

R.A. Dickey throwing his knuckleball for the Mets last year.

Dickey had a magical year last year, becoming the first knuckleball pitcher to ever win a Cy Young Award. The fact remains however that Dickey is a 38-year-old pitcher that just figured it out last year. Whether or not last year is who he is now, or just an amazing year is yet to be seen.

As for Johnson, it is the same question it has been for his entire career: is he healthy and can he stay healthy? Johnson missed almost the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury and never quite seemed to be himself last season, posting his lowest strikeout per 9 innings rate (7.8) since his rookie season and the highest ERA of his career at 3.81.

Two offensive players the Jays will rely on have some question marks as well. Melky Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion both had career years last year, with Melky batting .346 and leading the NL batting title race before getting suspended 50 games for using a banned substance. So how much was his big year enhanced by performance enhancers? We will have to see how he responds this season, but I will say his Career BA is .284 even with last years .346 outlier.

Encarnacion finally put it all together and cranked 42 home runs, only two less than major league leader Miguel Cabrera last year. But he is another candidate for “is this who he is?” Or did he just have one great year?

Toronto has some great talent on their team, and I fully expect them to challenge for the AL East title. Just don’t get caught handing a team a title in the preseason; it didn’t work last year. That is why they play the games.