Last time, we took a look around the National League East as the Phillies prepare for the shortened 2020 season. In the 60-game season, the Phillies are reported to play 60 games: 40 against the NL East, and 20 against the American League East.
In a season in which the Phillies are already projected to win only 31.5 games, every game counts.
With as difficult a division as the NL East to win, the Phillies will need every win they can get. The NL East just might be decided by who can win more games against the AL East. Today, we will take a look at the AL East, who hosted two teams in the playoffs last season between the Yankees and Rays.
If there is a silver lining in the Phillies playing against the AL East this year, it’s the Baltimore Orioles. The past three seasons have found the O’s at the bottom of the AL East. In 2018 and 2019, they only averaged 50.5 wins per season.
In the last few years, the O’s traded away players like Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy, and Jonathan Villar. They are rebuilding and taking their sweet time in doing so. The Orioles are accruing plentiful prospects, but have next to zero shot of winning the AL East this year.
And they just lost one of their best remaining players. On April 28th, Trey Mancini penned a heartfelt piece on The Players’ Tribune announcing that he has Stage III colon cancer. In his letter, Mancini writes about how grateful he is for the support he has received from the Orioles, family, friends, and fans. He remains hopeful that he will return to play again, but states “If baseball returns in 2020, it will probably be without me.”
The Phillies’ contests against the Orioles appear be the easiest on the 2020 schedule. But in a shortened season, every game counts.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are in the middle of the pack in the AL East despite their annual top-five payroll. In February, the Red Sox traded away cornerstone outfielder Mookie Betts and ace David Price to the Dodgers as part of a three-way trade. Alex Verdugo was traded to the Red Sox in the deal. Verdugo is not popular among Red Sox fans due to the trade, but he is a solid outfielder and batter. He is recovering from a stress fracture in his back – the belief is he will be ready for the season. Verdugo is only 24 years old, and hit for a .294/.392/.475 slash line last year in 106 games.
Verdugo joins a potent Red Sox lineup that includes OF/DH J.D. Martinez, SS Xander Bogaerts, and 3B Rafael Devers. The trio each hit over 30 home runs last year while earning OPS+ scores of 133 or higher.
The Red Sox’s starting rotation did not fare so well last year. Big names like Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price all struggled in their own right, with 26-year old Eduardo Rodriguez posting a staff-leading 3.81 ERA. Over the offseason, the Red Sox lost Price in the Verdugo trade while Porcello joined the Mets in free agency. Matters were made worse when it became apparent that Sale required Tommy John Surgery in March. That leaves Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi to lead a new pitching contingent. As we will see, an inferior pitching staff could prove fatal in the AL East for the Red Sox.
New York Yankees
The Yankees and Dodgers are the best teams that money can buy heading into 2020. In 2019, the Yankees led the league in runs scored (943) and smacked 306 dingers. 306 home runs would have been the record for most home runs in a season had the Minnesota Twins not hit 307 home runs last year as well. The only crucial piece to the Yankees’ offense that they lost over the offseason was now Phillies’ SS Didi Gregorious, but he was being phased out for the much younger Gleyber Torres. Torres led the team last season with 38 home runs in only his second season.
C Gary Sanchez and 2B DJ LeMahieu each had strong years last season as well. Sanchez hit for 34 home runs while LaMahieu had 197 hits. It’s scary to think that this lineup is so deep that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton didn’t even lead the team last year. It would suffice to say the Yankees have one of if not the deepest lineup in the MLB.
As deep as their lineup is, the Yankees’ pitching is even more so. Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, and Zach Britton are the largest names in the Yankees’ bullpen. Their ‘pen was one of the best in the league in 2019 and could be clutch in a shortened season. Combine that with a scary pitching staff led by former Astro Gerrit Cole and opposing batters will be left with an uphill battle. The Yankees are without Luis Severino as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery, but Cole will not be alone as Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton will create a difficult top three starters. Combine the trio with former Phil J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery and the Yankees have a strong rotation.
Overall, the Yankees are the only Eastern MLB team that I believe has a chance to win 40 games this season. If the Phillies want to be the best, they’ll have to prove it by beating the best.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are perhaps the most interesting team the Phillies will play this season. Last year, the Rays fought their way into the playoffs with a 96-66 record with the lowest payroll in the league. The Rays know how to play “Moneyball” better than the Oakland Athletics themselves as they are constantly looking to get better and younger for less money.
Offensively, the Rays essentially are one large platoon, playing their players to the best matchups they find. The Rays traded away OF Tommy Pham to San Diego for a large return including young outfielder Hunter Renfroe. Renfroe hit 33 home runs last year and could stand to learn from long-time Rays OF Kevin Kiermaier.
One player Phillies fans should hope to see play against them this year is Avon Grove High School’s own Joey Wendle. Wendle, the 30-year-old 2B, was drafted by the Indians in the 2012 MLB draft out of West Chester University. That year, he helped the Golden Rams win the 2012 NCAA Division II National Championship.
A few years ago, the Rays were famous for introducing the opener concept to the MLB. This year, however, it seems likely the Rays are going to have a traditional five-man rotation this year. And a deep one at that. Charlie Morton leads a cast that includes former Cy Young winner Blake Snell. While Snell did not have his best year in 2019, he looks to return to his Cy Young-status this year. They will be joined by a back three that includes Tyler Glasnow, Yonny Chirinos, and Ryan Yarbrough. Meanwhile, prized prospect Brendan McKay will look for any chance to join the rotation after getting a taste of the majors last year.
The Rays will find it challenging to usurp the Yankees for control of the AL East. The Phillies, meanwhile, will have to treat each game against the Rays like a playoff game. Rays players will also find it easiest to adjust to playing with no fans, as the Trop is normally empty anyway.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are in the midst of a rebuild. Similar to the Orioles,, the only difference between the two is that the Blue Jays are a little farther along. While the Orioles are still fermenting their prospects, the Blue Jays are calling them up. Three of the Blue Jays’ top four projected lineup slots were rookies last year. SS Bo Bichette, 2B Cavan Biggio, and 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are all either 21 or 22 and are seeking to legitimize themselves.
OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is the most experienced batter at the top of Toronto’s lineup, and he has only played in two seasons! Gurriel hit 20 home runs in 84 games last season. The young core will look to veteran bats like Randal Grichuk and Travis Shaw for guidance and lineup support.
Over the offseason, the Blue Jays put together a new pitching rotation, spear-headed by Hyun-Jin Ryu. Ryu threw for a league-leading 2.32 ERA last season in 182.2 IP for the Dodgers. This performance earned him second place in the Cy Young award standings behind Jacob DeGrom. Ryu joined the Blue Jays following fellow free agent Tanner Roark. Toronto also traded for Chase Anderson this offseason. While Ryu acts as team ace, Roark and Anderson will look to eat innings. The team’s bullpen is led by a familiar face as Ken “100 Miles” Giles acts as closer.
The Blue Jays are a few years away from competing for the AL East. The Yankees are by far the division favorite, but the Rays cannot be ignored. The Red Sox are the dark horse in this race, but will look to close the gap.
Joel Sherman reported that the interleague schedule will be similar to the 2018 schedule.
If his report pans out as true, the Phillies will play three each against the Yankees and Rays, four each against the Orioles and Red Sox, and six against the Blue Jays. This schedule would be a near best-case scenario as the Phillies avoid extra games against the top teams of the AL East.
If the Phillies want to separate themselves from their competition in the NL East, they need to win as many games against the AL East as possible. The Blue Jays and Orioles are the easiest of the bunch, but no one should be taken for advantage in a 60-game season.
Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Shaun is a Phillies Contributor for PSN and a Sports Information Graduate Assistant at West Chester University. An alum of The University of Tampa, Shaun is an accomplished sportswriter, having covered three NCAA Division II National Champions and now the Philadelphia Phillies. Connect with Shaun on Twitter @shaun_nestor