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The Peter Principles (Ch. 7) – Wren not zen, a Ray of darkness and Frank malaise sets over Orioles

Posted on 23 June 2017 by Nestor Aparicio

(Author note: This is Chapter 7 of my book “The Peter Principles,” which I was working to finish in March 2014 when my wife was diagnosed with leukemia the first time. I will be releasing the entire book for free online this summer – chapter by chapter. These are the true chronicles of the history of Peter G. Angelos and his ownership of the Baltimore Orioles. If you enjoy the journey, please share the links with a friend who loves the team.)

 

7. Wren was not Zen: A Ray of darkness and a Frank malaise casts franchise adrift

 

“He called me and told me the pitching coach should be the manager’s prerogative. We tried his prerogative. It didn’t work. I don’t think he ever got over that.”

 – Peter Angelos (re: Davey Johnson) in  December 1997

 

WHEN THE DAVEY JOHNSON VS. Peter Angelos divorce letters finally hit The Washington Post – after two weeks of “he said, he said” – the newspaper literally just published the two faxes next to each other and let the fans and sportswriters read between the lines – the children, in this case the fans, were left behind in the nasty public divorce.

Angelos and Johnson simply let the peanut gallery and sportswriters pick a side after the split. And, now, just four years after buying the Orioles and seeking his fourth manager, Angelos was beginning to lose his initial honeymoon popularity and Johnson would be become a martyr to the team’s fan base for years to come.

Davey Johnson had his own demons entering the relationship and had a well-established, anti-establishment, competitive arrogance that he brought into every room. But, most folks around the 1986 New York Mets’ magical World Series run would tell you that the manager whose nickname was “Dumb Dumb” was actually always the smartest guy in the room. And Peter G. Angelos was developing a well-earned reputation as a supreme meddler, an intimidating life force and a bad guy to work for in Major League Baseball. He was making the antics of George Steinbrenner circa 1978 look like a sick, reprised role in Baltimore.

In the spring of 1998, with Johnson still unemployed after walking away from a $750,000 job and the third year of his

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 14-3 loss to Yankees

Posted on 11 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles being swept in a lopsided 14-3 loss to the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Who would have guessed that Orioles pitching giving up eight runs Friday would be the group’s best performance of the weekend? The club already entered Sunday with the worst road ERA in the majors, and it only grew worse in the series finale in the Bronx.

2. Putting aside any hopes of Kevin Gausman becoming an ace, this is a young pitcher who posted a combined 3.77 ERA from 2014-16 to establish himself as no worse than a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. He’s way too talented to be pitching this horribly 2 1/2 months into the season.

3. Fastball command borders on being a cliché used to explain any pitcher’s problems, but just look where Gausman’s fastball consistently ended up in relation to Welington Castillo’s target. The 26-year-old hasn’t commanded it all year and doesn’t have the secondary pitches to survive without it.

4. No matter how resilient and mentally strong you fancy yourself being, watching a starting rotation give up 15 first-inning runs in a four-game stretch will suck the life out of anyone. The Orioles needed a lift after Chris Tillman’s debacle Saturday, but Gausman only increased the frustration.

5. That reality was evident with a few defensive miscues and Chris Davis barely rounding first on a ball to the right-field wall that should have been an easy double leading off the sixth. The Orioles rarely look like a team that’s given up, but they did on Sunday.

6. Buck Showalter should go a step further from his famous decision years ago to intentionally walk Barry Bonds with the bases loaded and just give Aaron Judge a free pass when he’s still standing in the on-deck circle. That guy is unbelievable to watch.

7. Trey Mancini drew two walks in a game with few offensive highlights for the Orioles. The rookie has drawn only 11 free passes in 169 plate appearances this season, but nine have come in his last 31 games.

8. The debut of Jimmy Yacabonis started well with a strikeout of Chris Carter on a 98 mph fastball, but it crumbled quickly after that. Given the state of the bullpen, you hope his performance was more a product of nerves as the Orioles need all the help they can get.

9. I thought the Yankees were a year away from being a serious contender at the start of the season, but their plus-115 run differential and the highest-scoring offense in the majors tell me their first-place standing is no fluke. That’s bad news for the rest of the division.

10. Remember that crazy extra-inning win the Orioles had in Detroit last month? They haven’t had a road victory in nine tries since. Their .333 road winning percentage is behind only Oakland (.281) for the worst in the American League.

11. I’m the last person to start calling for drastic changes nor am I suggesting that will happen, but this is the kind of stretch in any sport that can get someone fired. There’s no sugarcoating how embarrassing this series was.

12. The Orioles dropped behind Tampa Bay for fourth place in the AL East, and you have to wonder if these are the last few days they’ll spend above .500 without a dramatic turnaround. Since starting an impressive 22-10 to begin the season, Baltimore has gone 9-20.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-3 loss to Yankees

Posted on 31 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their eighth loss in nine games in an 8-3 final against the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The good vibes from Monday’s win vanished in a matter of nine pitches as Chris Tillman allowed a pair of solo home runs. We’ve seen Tillman straighten himself out after rough first innings numerous times in the past, but it was apparent that wasn’t happening Tuesday.

2. Tillman allowed nine of the 17 New York hitters he faced to reach base in what was easily his worst start of the year. His command wasn’t there as he either missed his spots badly or left pitches over the heart of the plate. That’s a lethal combination.

3. It was only a matter of time before the home runs allowed began to normalize as Tillman hadn’t allowed one over his first 20 1/3 innings of 2017. That was one of the lone factors keeping his ERA at a tolerable level through his first four starts.

4. Tillman showed his best average fastball velocity of the season at 90.8 miles per hour, but that’s still below his career average. He again said after the game that his shoulder feels good physically, but you wonder if this is the best we’re going to see from him moving forward.

5. Yankees starter Luis Severino deserves credit as he lowered his season ERA to 2.93 after 6 1/3 superb innings, but the Orioles scored fewer than five runs for the seventh straight game. Most of the lineup just looked lost as the quality at-bats were few and far between.

6. Manny Machado struck out four times in a game for the second time in his career as his average fell to .210. You could lower him in the order or sit him down, but perhaps a game at shortstop would get him to focus on something other than his struggles.

7. J.J. Hardy had an RBI single in the eighth, but three straight swinging strikes on Severino sliders with the bases loaded in the second were deflating as the Orioles had a chance to fight back against an early deficit. The 34-year-old shortstop has a .561 on-base plus slugging percentage.

8. Trey Mancini continues to be a bright spot as he went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a walk. His .873 OPS continues to lead the Orioles, and he continues to have impressive at-bats for a rookie.

9. Matt Holliday and Brett Gardner continue to be Oriole killers in 2017 as they each hit two home runs on Tuesday. Holliday has five homers against Baltimore this season while Gardner has four.

10. I hate the mentality of immediately blaming coaches when players aren’t performing, but hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh has to find a way to help get Machado going. The inconsistency of Chris Davis is one thing, but Machado is too good to be struggling this long.

11. Buck Showalter was asked about the possibility of shaking up the lineup Tuesday, and the time feels right to try it. With few hitting well, I’m not sure which direction to go, but maybe he should just draw names out of a hat like his mentor Billy Martin once did.

12. At some point, the obvious question needs to be asked about the Orioles’ starting rotation: How do you go about cloning Dylan Bundy?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win over Yankees

Posted on 29 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles snapping their seven-game losing streak to beat the New York Yankees in a 3-2 final on Memorial Day, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dylan Bundy was the stopper, which is exactly what the club needed after dropping 13 of the previous 16 games. The 24-year-old registered his 10th quality start in 11 outings this season and did it against one of the best offenses in baseball. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2. The results over seven innings were paramount, but Bundy showed some of his best fastball velocity of the season, sitting comfortably around 93 mph over his final five innings and touching 95. For what it’s worth, this was about the point last year when his velocity began climbing.

3. Perhaps that velocity was the reason why Bundy relied so much on his fastball, throwing his four-seamer and two-seamer a combined 53 times against the powerful Yankees. We hear it over and over, but fastball command makes pitching so much easier and allows you to stay in attack mode.

4. Pitch efficiency allowed Bundy to complete seven innings for the fifth time this season as he had thrown only 72 pitches through six frames. A lengthy seventh prevented him from setting a new career-long outing, but he did quite a job staying out of trouble.

5. Jonathan Schoop delivered the key two-run double in the third after the Orioles had squandered some other opportunities early in the game. The second baseman added a nifty double play in the sixth inning with Bundy facing the heart of the New York order for the third time.

6. Bundy appeared to have struck him out on a questionable check-swing call earlier in the at-bat, but Aaron Judge showed off his monster power with a 429-foot home run to the bleachers on a 3-2 pitch in the seventh. He’s impressive to watch.

7. The Orioles made Jordan Montgomery throw a whopping 56 pitches over the first two innings, but they managed only one run. Give them credit for battling the lefty, but that’s the kind of result occurring far too often lately.

8. Buck Showalter would gladly take a young pitcher like Montgomery in his rotation, but his 100 pitches over 4 1/3 innings on Monday would fit right in with what we’ve been seeing in Baltimore. That’s not fun to watch.

9. The Orioles defense was trying to do too much early as Mark Trumbo cut in front of Joey Rickard on a fly ball — allowing Starlin Castro to advance to second — and Chris Davis deflected a Didi Gregorius grounder going right to Schoop. Those plays cost Bundy a run.

10. Darren O’Day is quietly looking like his old self again as he registered his fourth straight 1-2-3 inning and sixth consecutive scoreless appearance. He’s missing bats again, which the Orioles really needed.

11. That was as good as Brad Brach has looked all season as he struck out Judge and Gregorius to end the game. It isn’t coincidental that he and O’Day look much better when not having to pitch five times per week. Of course, the Orioles need to find middle ground.

12. Manny Machado struck out to lead off the bottom of the third and slammed his bat down at home plate, leaving the bat boy to go fetch it in the middle of an inning. His .216 average is concerning enough, but that wasn’t a good look at all.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-4 win over Yankees

Posted on 30 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles avoiding a three-game sweep in a 7-4 win over the New York Yankees in 11 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. In what was sure to be one of the strangest games of the entire season, the Orioles battled back to salvage a win in what was a pretty miserable series. I’d imagine that Buck Showalter and his club couldn’t have been happier to leave the Bronx on Sunday evening.

2. The game would have ended in the 10th inning had Welington Castillo not made a terrific short-hop pick on J.J. Hardy’s throw to the plate for a force. Castillo added to that effort with three hits and an RBI single to give the Orioles more breathing room in the 11th.

3. If someone had told you Friday afternoon that Logan Verrett would be pitching in the 10th inning on Sunday, you’d guess that the series didn’t go well, but the right-hander did great work despite his mental gaffe on Brett Gardner’s bunt. He pitched two scoreless frames to collect the win.

4. The Orioles bullpen had done superb work in Zach Britton’s absence prior to this weekend, but Darren O’Day joined Brad Brach in blowing consecutive save chances against the Yankees. Fortunately, the All-Star closer is expected to be activated this week.

5. The Yankees handling an 11th-inning rundown like a Little League team allowed the third run of the inning to score. After what happened in the ninth, the Orioles needed all the scoring they could get to make Verrett’s job easier.

6. Joey Rickard’s stolen base was the pivotal moment in the 11th and the third of the game for the Orioles, the first time they’ve swiped that many in a single contest since Aug. 19, 2015. As former Kansas City nemesis Jarrod Dyson once said, “That’s what speed do.”

7. You won’t find too many pitching lines weirder than what Wade Miley produced as he gave up only two runs in five innings despite allowing a whopping 13 baserunners. His escape acts in the second, third, and fourth innings kept the Orioles in the ballgame.

8. Walks continue to be an issue for Miley and the Orioles staff as he walked at least five for the third time in five starts and Darren O’Day walked two in a brutal ninth. Baltimore is walking 4.2 batters per nine innings this season, up from 3.4 in 2016.

9. Before the blown save and extra-inning theatrics, Jonathan Schoop had been the player of the game for the Orioles with the go-ahead RBI double in the sixth and a sensational defensive play in the seventh. His .538 slugging percentage is tops among Orioles everyday players.

10. He hasn’t been asked to pitch the ninth inning, but Mychal Givens has been the MVP of the bullpen while Britton has been sidelined. Asked to pitch more than one inning again on Sunday, the right-hander pitched two scoreless to lower his season ERA to 1.29.

11. I don’t recall watching a game in which a pitcher threw an inning, moved to another position, and then returned to the mound like Bryan Mitchell did for the Yankees. It was creative maneuvering by Joe Girardi, but Mitchell gave up three in the 11th inning to take the loss.

12. After Mark Trumbo drove in the go-ahead run in the 11th and hit a grand slam on Friday night, the Orioles can only hope that he’s finally getting the bat going after a difficult start to 2017.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-3 loss to Yankees

Posted on 09 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their first loss of the season in a 7-3 final against the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Baltimore pitching staff tested its fate throughout the afternoon by walking a total of 11 batters before the floodgates finally opened in the ninth inning. Frankly, the Orioles were fortunate to even have a chance to win with that kind of pitching performance.

2. Darren O’Day getting off to a poor start is concerning after an injury-plagued 2016 season that included hamstring and shoulder ailments. He walked three and gave up four earned runs in the ninth inning and has now issued five free passes in his first two innings of 2017.

3. You won’t find many starts stranger than what Wade Miley offered as he matched a career high with seven walks while giving up one hit in five scoreless innings. For a guy with a career walk rate of 2.8 per nine innings, you don’t expect control problems like that.

4. Even with those optics, I’d guess most fans would have gladly taken five scoreless frames from the inconsistent left-hander. Of course, it didn’t help that Ubaldo Jimenez and Kevin Gausman had short outings the previous two nights.

5. You knew the Orioles wouldn’t have their full bullpen Sunday after closer Zach Britton and setup man Brad Brach had pitched four times in the previous six days. Buck Showalter confirmed after the game that those two as well as Oliver Drake were not available for the series finale.

6. Of course, the offense didn’t help matters by managing only three runs before the final 14 Baltimore hitters were retired in the defeat. With Miley on the hill and a short bullpen behind him, the Orioles had to figure they’d need plenty of runs to stay undefeated on Sunday.

7. Tyler Wilson snapped the bullpen’s streak of 17 1/3 scoreless innings to begin the season by giving up a two-run triple to Ronald Torreyes in the sixth. Showalter leaned heavily on his pen to secure the first four wins, but it will catch up to you, especially without much offense.

8. It was good to see Mychal Givens get a key out against lefty-swinging Chase Headley to end the seventh, but he blew his second save by giving up the game-tying home run to right-handed bat Aaron Judge in the eighth. My main concern with Givens is still getting out lefties.

9. The Orioles haven’t seen a ton of Matt Holliday as he’s mostly played in the National League, but the new Yankees designated hitter capped off an impressive weekend by drawing a career-high five walks. The 37-year-old remains a dangerous hitter.

10. Caleb Joseph had a chance to end his long RBI drought, but he grounded out with runners at second and third in the second. He showed in 2014 and 2015 that he can be a good backup catcher, so I’m rooting for him to get through this embarrassing spell.

11. There had to be plenty of groaning in both dugouts after the clubs combined for just two runs despite 13 hitters reaching base over the first three innings. This one was hardly a classic.

12. Some uneasiness about O’Day’s performance is fair after Sunday’s defeat, but the Orioles still finished off a 4-1 homestand to begin the season. The irrational dream of a 162-0 season is over, but you’ll gladly take that kind of a week against two AL East foes.

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Orioles place Rickard on 10-day DL with sprained finger

Posted on 09 April 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Mulling a difficult roster move to make room for starting pitcher Wade Miley, the Orioles instead saw the decision take care of itself with outfielder Joey Rickard injuring his left middle finger.

Baltimore placed Rickard on the 10-day disabled list Sunday after he sprained the finger sliding into second base on a stolen base attempt in the seventh inning of Saturday’s win. Buck Showalter said the hope is that Rickard will not miss more than the 10-day minimum and will not need a minor-league rehab assignment. The manager added that the new 10-day period for the DL from the former 15-day minimum made the decision easier instead of potentially waiting a few more days to see how Rickard’s finger would respond. The 25-year-old will travel with the Orioles to Boston as they begin a three-city road trip and is eligible to be activated as early as April 19 in Cincinnati.

Miley was activated from the 10-day DL to start against the New York Yankees in Sunday’s series finale.

Rickard’s injury leaves the Orioles with a conventional four-man bench after Showalter was able to have both an extra man on the bench and an eight-man bullpen with two off-days in the first week of the regular season. Miley’s activation claims one of those luxury spots, and the Orioles will need a fifth starter for the first time in Toronto next Saturday.

With Rickard now sidelined, veteran Craig Gentry was leading off and starting in left field against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia on Sunday afternoon.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles rallying to beat the New York Yankees in a 5-4 final to win their fourth straight to start the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The home run is their calling card, but the Orioles used some unlikely small ball to win Saturday’s game as Mark Trumbo stole second base off Dellin Betances before Hyun Soo Kim delivered the eventual game-winning RBI single on the next pitch. Go figure.

2. It hasn’t always looked easy, but the Orioles bullpen delivered 4 1/3 shutout innings to add to their season total of 16 2/3 scoreless frames over the first four games. Buck Showalter has taken advantage of two off-days to use Zach Britton and Brad Brach in every contest.

3. After being called out on a borderline third strike with the bases loaded in the fifth, Kim showed impressive poise in his encounter with Betances to work a full count before picking up his third hit of the night to give Baltimore the lead.

4. Trumbo also had a great at-bat against Betances as he stayed back on his slow breaking ball to line an RBI single into left after being late on his mid-90s fastball on the previous pitch. You don’t see that success often against the Yankees reliever.

5. His teammates picked him up, but Kevin Gausman having command problems for the second straight start is a little disconcerting since he’s rarely had issues with walks in the past. He couldn’t locate his fastball and has walked seven in his first 10 innings of work.

6. There was debate over Gausman’s balk that plated the third New York run, but you’d really prefer his focus to be on retiring Starlin Castro with two outs in the fifth inning instead of worrying about catcher Austin Romine running at third base.

7. It was a bummer seeing young Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez leave the game with a right biceps injury. He’s going to the disabled list, but you hope it’s nothing serious for such a talented young player.

8. J.J. Hardy left the bases loaded in the fourth inning and is just 1-for-13 with an infield single to begin the season. It’s obviously early, but you’d like to see him hitting the ball with more authority on the heels of the back problem that disrupted his spring.

9. He made up for it with an RBI single and a walk later in the game, but Welington Castillo had a rough second inning as he failed to get a tag down on Aaron Hicks at the plate and committed a throwing error on a stolen base attempt. He then struck out in the bottom half of the frame.

10. The Orioles had their share of poor at-bats in Saturday’s contest, but Yankees shortstop Ronald Torreyes swinging at the first pitch to pop out to end the top of the eighth after Brach had issued back-to-back walks was cringeworthy.

11. His baserunning has never been a strength, but Manny Machado stole second base prior to Castillo’s RBI single in the fourth. This came after he didn’t steal any last year and stole 20 in 2015. After stealing only 19 bases last year, the Orioles had two on Saturday.

12. I’ll never get tired of seeing the alternate orange jerseys for Saturday games. It’s one of the best looks in all of baseball.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles topping the New York Yankees in a 6-5 final to improve to 3-0 on the infant season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Seth Smith picked the opportune time to hit his first home run as an Oriole, not only getting in the tying run from third base with less than two outs but giving his club the lead in the seventh inning.

2. I had to laugh at the Orioles still cashing in via the long ball after J.J. Hardy had bunted Jonathan Schoop to third base before Smith came to the plate. Who needs small ball anyway?

3. Despite striking out three times, Manny Machado hit the three-run shot off the hard-throwing Luis Severino with two outs in the fifth that shrunk a four-run deficit and breathed life into a lineup that hadn’t done much to that point.

4. Friday marked the 18th time in his Orioles tenure that Ubaldo Jimenez allowed five or more earned runs in an outing. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty for the veteran starter in his season debut as Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez hit homers off his ineffective splitter.

5. It’s apparent that Buck Showalter still isn’t keen on giving Hyun Soo Kim opportunities against left-handed pitching as Joey Rickard hit for him in the sixth against southpaw reliever Tommy Layne. Kim is still looking for his first hit of 2017.

6. Darren O’Day made his 2017 debut in the sixth inning, marking just the sixth time since the start of 2013 that the reliever has appeared in a game before the seventh. There’s some impressive depth in that Baltimore bullpen.

7. Walks were an issue in O’Day’s injury-plagued 2016 campaign, and he issued two in his 1 1/3 innings of work. It’s fair to note, however,  that the right-hander hadn’t pitched in a while after a bout with the flu.

8. Collecting his first major league win, Donnie Hart gave up a hit to the lefty-swinging Jacoby Ellsbury in his season debut after lefties went 5-for-38 against him last year. It was good to see the lefty specialist retire the right-handed Starlin Castro to end the top of the seventh.

9. Brad Brach was sensational in the eighth, striking out Chase Headley, Aaron Judge, and Pete Kozma on just 11 pitches. That was the All-Star version of Brach that we saw in the first half of 2016.

10. The Orioles didn’t want to see Zach Britton roll his right ankle on a Gary Sanchez comebacker in the ninth, but that was easily his best performance of his first three outings. Showalter seemed to think his All-Star closer was OK after the game.

11. Britton may have converted his 51st consecutive save dating back to the end of 2015, but Chris Davis deserves an assist by picking low throws from Britton and Machado for the final two outs in a one-run win.

12. You had to feel for fans braving a cold and windy night with a less-than-stellar version of Jimenez on the mound. That’s not a pleasant combination, but the Orioles provided the desired result for the home crowd in the end.

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2017 American League East preview

Posted on 01 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The American League East has been won by a club winning fewer than 95 games in each of the last two seasons, something that hadn’t happened since 2000 prior to that.

It’s a reflection of how competitive the division has been in recent years after a long period of time in which New York and Boston dominated at the top and the other three clubs languished. However, the Red Sox look like the favorite to finish in first place in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1915 and 1916 when Babe Ruth pitched at Fenway Park.

Below is a capsule of the five AL East clubs in their predicted order of finish:

1. BOSTON (2016 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable additions: SP Chris Sale, 1B Mitch Moreland, RP Tyler Thornburg
Notable losses: DH David Ortiz, RP Koji Uehara, RP Junichi Tazawa, INF Travis Shaw, RP Brad Ziegler
Why to like them:
Already sporting the third-best starter ERA in the AL last year, the Red Sox added one of the game’s best pitchers in Sale to go along with the highest-scoring offense in the majors.
Why to dislike them:
Starters David Price and Drew Pomeranz and Thornburg headline the list of current pitching injuries, which put more pressure on an offense that lost the incomparable Ortiz.
Player to watch:
A trimmed-down and healthy Pablo Sandoval had a good spring and could help stabilize the hot corner for a lineup with very few holes elsewhere.
2017 outlook (92-70):
Even with the current concerns in their rotation and the potential emotional hangover of no longer having Ortiz, the Red Sox still possess the most talent in the division.

2. TORONTO (2016 record: 89-73, tied for second place)
Notable additions: DH/1B Kendrys Morales, 1B/OF Steve Pearce, RP Joe Smith, RP J.P. Howell
Notable losses: DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion, OF Michael Saunders, RP Brett Cecil, RP Joaquin Benoit, SP R.A. Dickey
Why to like them: The Blue Jays finished first in the AL in starter ERA in 2016 with both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman having the potential to be even better this year.
Why to dislike them: You can understand not wanting to invest too much in the 34-year-old Encarnacion, but the Blue Jays are going to miss his dangerous bat in their lineup.
Player to watch: The Toronto lineup looks even more vulnerable if Jose Bautista’s decline in 2016 was more about age and less about the nagging injuries he dealt with.
2017 outlook (88-74, wild card): The Blue Jays offense isn’t quite as dangerous as it was a couple years ago, but the rotation has fewer questions than Boston’s despite lacking the same star power.

3. BALTIMORE (2016 record: 89-73, tied for second place)
Notable additions: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, RP Vidal Nuno, OF Craig Gentry
Notable losses: C Matt Wieters, SP Yovani Gallardo, 1B/OF Steve Pearce, RP Vance Worley
Why to like them: The home run potential remains impressive, the bullpen dominant, and the infield defense very strong as the Orioles seek their fourth trip to the playoffs in six years.
Why to dislike them: The starting rotation is this club’s Achilles heel every year, but Chris Tillman’s lingering shoulder issue creates more concern than usual in this department for Buck Showalter.
Player to watch: Dylan Bundy enters 2017 as the No. 2 starter in his first full season in the rotation, which is a lot to ask of a pitcher who lost significant parts of three minor-league seasons with injuries.
2016 outlook (85-77): Kevin Gausman might be ready to become a legitimate ace, but there’s too much uncertainty with Tillman and Bundy to trust that the rotation won’t hold back the rest of the club.

4. NEW YORK (2016 record: 84-78, fourth place)
Notable additions: RP Aroldis Chapman, DH/OF Matt Holliday, 1B/DH Chris Carter
Notable losses: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, SP Nathan Eovaldi
Why to like them: Catcher Gary Sanchez is headlining a youth movement that has many expecting the Yankees to return to prominence soon while the bullpen should be very strong with Chapman’s return.
Why to dislike them: Masahiro Tanaka is very good and Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are talented, but there isn’t much else to really like about a mediocre starting rotation.
Player to watch: After shoulder surgery cost him the entire 2016 season, first baseman Greg Bird had a monster spring and showed the promise he did at the end of the 2015 campaign.
2017 outlook (80-82): The Yankees have some intriguing youngsters to watch, but they’ll have growing pains and there are still too many declining veterans to allow them to seriously contend.

5. TAMPA BAY (2016 record: 68-94, fifth place)
Notable additions: OF Colby Rasmus, OF Rickie Weeks, RP Tommy Hunter, C Wilson Ramos, OF Peter Bourjos, C Derek Norris
Notable losses: 2B Logan Forsythe, SP Drew Smyly
Why to like them: Chris Archer leads a starting rotation that still holds plenty of talent despite injuries and ineffectiveness that led to the Rays underachieving in 2016.
Why to dislike them: The offense lost Forsythe in the offseason and still remains a clear weakness while the bullpen doesn’t inspire much confidence to back up the starting pitching.
Player to watch: Alex Cobb was on his way to becoming one of the top pitchers in the AL before injuries cost him all but 22 innings over the last two seasons, but he finally appears to be healthy.
2016 outlook (74-88): Injuries and tough luck made the Rays worse than their talented suggested a year ago, but the days of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman still feel like a long time ago.

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