MLB 2022 Season Preview: AL East Divisional Breakdown

Baseball is back! A frosty, tense, and acrimonious lockout thankfully ended last week, and Spring Training is well underway. Pre-season games start on March 17th, with Opening Day scheduled for April 7th. Subsequently, it is the perfect time to look forward, not back, and preview the new campaign — starting with the AL East.

The division features four teams potentially good enough to win the division, possibly good enough to represent the AL in the World Series. Last season, the chase for the final playoff place went down to the wire; with more playoff spots up for grabs, the competition in the east promises to be incredibly close.

A preview of the AL East in 2022

2022 AL East Preview

Tampa Bay Rays

2021 record: 100-62, AL East 1st place

We kick off our AL East preview with the reigning champs. The Tampa Bay Rays won the division last year with 100 wins and grabbed the AL’s number one seed. The Rays were the best team in the AL last season before the swashbuckling Boston Red Sox bested them in the ALDS. The Rays have kept their core group of players that took them to the World Series in 2020, and they will have their eyes fixed on another postseason run in 2022.

Biggest offseason move: re-signing Wander Franco

The Rays wasted no time in locking down superstar shortstop Wander Franco. Franco only arrived in the majors last season, and he immediately shone. The all-world prospect slashed .288/.347/.463 and OPS of .810. It shocked no one that the Rays handed Franco an 11-year deal worth an initial $182 million.

Player to watch: Tyler Glasnow

Injury and eventual Tommy John surgery destroyed Tyler Glasnow’s 2021 season. A young Rays rotation battled hard in his absence, but they faltered in the postseason. The Rays signed veteran former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to bolster the rotation. Nonetheless, Glasnow will need to come back to his best. His electric stuff is elite, and he is a proven October pitcher. There is no ETA on his comeback, and the Rays won’t want to rush him back. When he does return, the Rays might find another level.

Season projection: AL East winners

The Rays are the most proven team in the division. They understand their formula; they are a settled squad with solid positional players, good starters, and a strong bullpen. Their analytical, data-driven approach is one that manager Kevin Cash knows inside out. While stiff divisional competition may hinder the Rays’ chances of repeating a 100-win season, they are the team to beat.

Boston Red Sox

2021 record: 92-70, AL Wildcard

Expectations were low for the Boston Red Sox in 2021. Nevertheless, this is a club used to winning. In Alex Cora, they have one of the most astute managerial minds in the game. The return of Cora as manager, allied with a ferocious batting lineup helped the Red Sox reach the ALCS. Expectations changed instantly, and now Red Sox nation expects more of the same in 2022.

The ‘Sox open their campaign on the road in New York, and they will have to weather storms from Tampa Bay and Toronto. Boston is a squad full of powerful batters that will win plenty of games. Rafael Devers, JD Martinez, Alex Verdugo, Kike Hernandez, and others should keep the Red Sox in contention.

Biggest offseason move: Jackie Bradley Jr

The Red Sox needed depth in the outfield, and they filled it with a trade that gave them Jackie Bradley, Jr. Bradley is a solid outfielder with good speed and awareness. Bradley replaces Kyle Schwarber. The acquisition provided the Red Sox with a bit more roster flexibility.

Player to watch: Rafael Devers

Rafael Devers stepped up for the Red Sox last season. A Silver-Slugger award and All-Star appearance highlighted his season as he smashed 38 home runs and 113 RBIs. Devers’ lefty power perfectly suits Fenway Park’s unique dimensions.

Per Baseball Savant, Devers’ percentage rates for exit velocity, slugging, and hard-hit rates are elite. Mix that with a good understanding of the strike zone, and Devers should have another good season with the bat. Where Devers must improve is in the field. The AL East now features some star third basemen. Devers must handle the hot corner better than ever.

Season projection: Wildcard team

The expanded playoff format provides the Red Sox with comfort. Even in such a tough division, they should have enough. The significant concerns are on the pitching side. Chris Sale is dealing with a rib injury that will see him miss the opening series in New York. Veteran free-agent acquisition James Paxton is another pitcher on the 60-day injury list.

The ‘Sox did add a few veteran arms, but they will run it back with primarily the same group from 2021. Their team ERA of 4.26 ranked 7th in the AL. It can’t get any lower than that for the Sox to have any hope. The big sluggers will surely need to shoulder the burden for the Red Sox.

New York Yankees

2021 record: 92-70, AL Wildcard

The New York Yankees experienced a turbulent, erratic 2021 season that ultimately ended at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. The defeat extended the Yankees’ World Series drought. 2022 is a massive year for Aaron Boone and GM Brian Cashman. The Bleacher Creatures are restless.

Biggest offseason move: Trading for Josh Donaldson

The Yanks needed to improve on defense. Therefore, it surprised no one that they struck a trade for former MVP Josh Donaldson. The veteran is an experienced player, and he is an automatic improvement on Gio Urshela. Moreover, Donaldson’s power and consistent fielding prowess should add more predictability to the Yankees’ infield. Mix in 26 homers, an OPS of .872, and the Yanks have a proven commodity.

Player to watch: Gerrit Cole

The abiding image of 2021 Gerrit Cole is the one of him getting heckled at Fenway Park as he looked at Xander Bogaerts’ monster home run. Cole crumbled in the most significant moment of the season. Moreover, Cole struggled with fitness late in the season, and there were murmurs that the ban on sticky stuff hurt him more than other pitchers. The rotation behind Cole is shaky; the $324 million man must step up and have a Cy Young caliber season.

Season projection: Wildcard team

The Yankees’ lack of starting pitching depth and an inconsistent batting lineup too reliant on the long ball will keep them from winning the division. Nonetheless, the AL is weak, and the Yanks will still win many games. Their limitations are apparent, but they still boast too much firepower. Boone’s team will make the postseason.

Toronto Blue Jays

2021 record: 91-71, 4th place

The Toronto Blue Jays finally emerged from their long hibernation as they stormed to a 91-win season. The young talent within the Blue Jays’ system started to make their mark in the majors. Another year of development, experience, and an expanded playoff format should help the Blue Jays take another step forward. Add in an exciting offseason, and they should be in the mix.

Biggest offseason move: trading for Matt Chapman

The acquisition of Matt Chapman completes the Blue Jays’ star-studded infield. Chapman’s plus power and a career slugging percentage of .478 make him a significant plate threat. Chapman adds Platinum Glove-quality to Toronto’s infield — already boasting Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. It is perhaps the best infield in the AL East.

Player to watch: Bo Bichette

Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager are some of the premier shortstops in baseball. Young Bo Bichette is capable of jumping into that elite category. Bichette is a career .300 hitter with a solid OPS of .850. The Floridian-born star is the embodiment of a five-tool player. Last year, Bichette enjoyed a solid year with the glove. If he can find another level in the field, Bichette is ready to break out hugely.

Season projection: 90-plus wins, wildcard place

The Blue Jays are the team best positioned to challenge the Tampa Bay Rays. The ‘Jays have the depth and skill to last 162 games. The top of the pitching rotation has high-caliber talent, and the batting lineup is deep with potential MVP, Silver Slugger, and All-Star talents.

Toronto added vital pieces such as Kevin Gausman, and they extended ace Jose Berrios. Adding their grit and experience to a young team could be an inspired decision.

Baltimore Orioles

2021 season: 52-110

We finish our AL East preview in Baltimore. It was another miserable season for the Baltimore Orioles in 2021. The O’s won 52 games as their painful rebuild passed by another year. The promise of Adley Rutchsman was the sole thing that kept the Baltimore faithful placated.

Biggest offseason move: Robinson Chirinos

Veteran Robinson Chirinos signed a one-year deal, and his experience of winning organizations should help engender a healthy culture within the Orioles’ clubhouse. Moreover, his knowledge of the catcher position could help accelerate Adley Rutschman’s development.

Player to watch: Adley Rutschman

The number two ranked prospect per MLB.com is the silver lining for Orioles fans. The 2019 draft pick has the pedigree and the raw tools to excel at the big league level. However, luck dealt the Orioles a tough blow as Rutschman picked up a tricep injury to sideline him for 2-3 weeks. Nonetheless, it will be must-watch TV when Rutschman returns to the bigs. He is one of the game’s brightest young stars.

Season projection: AL East last place finish

Orioles fans should brace themselves for another difficult season. In a loaded division, the Orioles are sure to finish last. Bright sparks will occur as prospects maneuver through the pipeline, but many losses are in store for the Baltimore Orioles.

That’s it for the AL East preview! Come back at the end of the season to see how these predictions played out, and tune in to Around the Block to catch previews of each of the remaining divisions.

Yordan Alvarez Was On Fire; Named ALCS MVP

Will the fiery youngster fresh off an MVP bring more hardware to Houston?

To say that Yordan Alvarez was pretty good in the American League Championship Series is an understatement. Saying he was on fire the last two games of the ALCS is pretty accurate. Alvarez, who was named the series MVP, was virtually unstoppable in the final two games. In fact, in games five and six, he outhit the entire Red Sox by himself. The ball may be looking huge to him right now and the Houston Astros are hoping that stays.

The Astros and the Atlanta Braves will meet starting Tuesday night in Game 1 of the World Series. Alvarez will be playing in his second World Series after appearing in the 2019 Fall Classic as a rookie against the Washington Nationals. Alvarez’s been a skilled acquisition for the Astros. However, if not for former GM Jeff Luhnow, he may not have ever come to Houston.

Minor Leagues

The Dodgers signed Alvarez as an international free agent after two seasons in the Cuban National Series. The Astros traded for him in 2016 for reliever Josh Fields. Alvared would make his professional debut in 2016 with the Dominican Summer League Astros, and began 2017 with the Quad City River Bandits. During this time, he was promoted to the Blues Creek Astros. He appeared in the All-Star Futures Game.  

While with AA Corpus Christi in 2018, he was ranked among the top minor league prospects in the game. This earned him a promotion to the Fresno Grizzlies of Class AAA Pacific Coast League. He hit a combined .293/.369/.534 with 20 home runs, and 74 RBI. The 2019 season for Alvarez with the Round Rock Express of the PCL finished as follows: .343/.443/.742 with 23 home runs, 71 RBI, 38 walks, and 50 runs before he was called up on June 9, 2019. 

MLB Career

Alvarez made his MLB debut against the Baltimore Orioles and went 1 for 3 with a two-run home run. In 87 games with the Astros, he batted .313 with 27 home runs, 75 RBI, and had a slugging percentage of .655, which was the highest in history for a qualified rookie. He helped lead the Astros to the World Series and hit his first postseason home run in Game Five’s victory. After the season, he would win the American League Rookie of the Year award unanimously.   

The 2020 season would be one to forget for Alvarez. He sat out at the start of the season due to testing positive for COVID-19. He would return in August but only play two games due to knee issues that would cause him to have arthroscopic surgery on both knees and shut him down for the season. 

2021 Season

Alvarez would rebound from his lost 2020 season and play well in 2021. He finished the regular season batting .277 with 33 home runs and 105 RBI, helping the Astros win the AL West division. He’s been successful this postseason; now just hope he can keep his hot streak going in the World Series. Should he stay hot, it’ll go a long way in the Astros winning their second World Title in five seasons. For him, it would be his first and the perfect way to end the season after a lost one.

Framber Valdez Shuts Down Red Sox

The Houston starter regains his composure from Game 1.

Framber Valdez
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Framber Valdez was on top of his game in game five of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night. No Houston Astros pitcher had gone more than three innings in any of the previous four games in the series. Valdez went eight innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out five to shut Boston down. The Astros are now one game away from their third AL Pennant and advancing to the World Series for the third time in five seasons. 

Game Five Recap

Valdez, who started game one and lasted two and ⅔ innings, was great in game five. He got into a jam in the fifth inning, however. After Rafael Devers singled to right field and then a hit-by-pitch to J.D. Martinez, Astros manager Dusty Baker visited the mound to talk and calm his right-hander. Whatever was said worked, as Hunter Renfroe grounded into a double play and Alex Verdugo grounded out to first. 

Valdez and Red Sox starter Chris Sale were in a pitcher’s duel going into the sixth inning. With the Astros leading 1-0, on the strength of a Yordan Alvarez solo home run in the second, they erupted for five runs in the frame. After Jose Altuve singled and Michael Brantley reached on an error, Alvarez doubled to left to score them both to make it 3-0. A Kyle Tucker infield single would move Alvarez to third and a Yuli Gurriel double would bring him in to make it 4-0. Jose Siri would follow and single to right, scoring Tucker and Gurriel for a 6-0 lead. 

Houston would add another run in the seventh on a Brantley single to center, scoring Altuve. Two more runs in the ninth on a Gurriel single would bring Alex Bregman and Correa around to make it 9-1. Alvarez would finish the night three for five with three RBI and finishing a triple short of the cycle. Valdez went eight innings and allowed one run on three hits and five strikeouts. Ryne Stanek would pitch the ninth to finish off the win. 

Look Ahead To Game Six 

The Astros will now head back to Minute Maid Park just one win away from moving on to the World Series. Game Six will be a pitching rematch of game two. Luis Garcia, who went one-plus inning in game two and left with knee soreness, will oppose Nathan Eovaldi who won game two. Garcia should be good to go with no issues. The Astros bullpen is rested now after throwing 28 ⅓ total innings from game one through game four. If he can go at least five innings, I am sure Dusty will be good with that. The offense has been hot the last two games after scoring nine runs in back-to-back games in Fenway Park. Game six will be Friday at 7 PM from Minute Maid. 

Astros Advance To 5th Straight ALCS

Astros ALCS

Jose Altuve put the exclamation point on game four of the ALDS with a three-run home run in the ninth to push the Houston Astros back into the ALCS with a 10-1 win. The Astros now head to their fifth-straight ALCS to face former bench coach Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox. With their defeat of the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros became only the third team to make five consecutive League Championship Series appearances (Oakland Athletics, 1971-1975; Atlanta Braves, 1991-1999).

Game Four Recap

The Astros got behind early on, then took a 2-1 lead in the third when Carlos Correa doubled off White Sox starter Carlos Rodon, bringing in Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. They would then add to their lead in the fourth inning. Martin Maldonado would single to center and scored Kyle Tucker after he stole second and third base. An Alex Bregman double that would score Altuve and Maldonado would make it 5-1. Michael Brantley would single in the sixth to bring in Chas McCormick to make 6-1. He would single again in the eight to plate Altuve and make it 7-1. Altuve would then go on to make it 10-1 with his homer in the ninth.

Lance McCullers Jr. started for the Astros, going four innings and allowing one run on five hits while striking out five. He was not as great as he was in game one but was good enough. He exited the game due to forearm tightness and hopefully will be available for the ALCS. The bullpen would finish the game off with five scoreless innings, with Yimi Garcia picking up the win.

Looking Ahead

The Astros will get ready to appear in their fifth consecutive ALCS, where they will face the Red Sox in a rematch of the 2018 ALCS. The Red Sox would win that series in five games en route to their World Series title. The Red Sox are coming off their ALDS win where they ousted the number one seed Tampa Bay Rays three games to one. Game one will be on Friday night at Minute Maid Park. The Astros and Red Sox faced each other twice in the regular season, with Houston winning the season series four games to two. This series will be fun to watch. Friday cannot get here fast enough.