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The AL East isn’t decided yet

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Two great teams at the top get the attention, but the division remains as deep as ever

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Here we are, on the opening legs of spring training, getting our first looks at the probable 2018 Yankees roster. In Wednesday’s loss to the Tigers, Yankees fans saw a lineup that had a good chance of being the team’s Opening Day outfit, and at 5-1, the team is virtually tied for first in the Grapefruit League standings, for all that spring training records mean.

After acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, and seeing the Red Sox pick up JD Martinez, the Yankees have to be relatively confident in their playoff chances. ESPN published updated odds that had both New York and Boston as favorites to make the playoffs. On paper, this looks like an exciting season for Yankees fans, but as the cliche goes, they don’t play the games on paper.

Both the Yankees and the Red Sox have the misfortune to play in the AL East, perennially one of the toughest division in baseball. Even in what may appear to be a down year, the other division squads look more than capable of competing with the prohibitive favorites.

The Toronto Blue Jays, to start, have done an excellent job of raising their collective floor over the offseason. Signing free agent Curtis Granderson and trading for former Cardinal Randal Grichuk went a long way in elevating projected outfield performance from the Bluebirds, and it’s entirely possible star center fielder Kevin Pillar will actually have some defensive help this season. Add in the potential of prospect Anthony Alford and sort-of prospect Dalton Pompey, and the Jays look set to field an impressive outfield corps.

Of course, the team returns what might be the division’s deepest pitching rotation, albeit one that comes with health questions. Marcus Stroman has dealt with shoulder inflammation this spring, and Aaron Sanchez fought blister issues all 2017. Still, a high-ceiling rotation combined with star production from Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin could keep Toronto in the hunt all season.

Next, we turn to the Baltimore Orioles. Now, we at Pinstripe Alley have had some fun with the Orioles and their complete lack of anything resembling an MLB pitching staff. While the staff is still terrible - no, Andrew Cashner isn’t secretly good - the offense is probably going to be among the league’s most prodigious. Two teams are projected to break the all-time single season home run record in 2018; one team, of course, is the Yankees. The Orioles are the other team, pegged to hit 267. Given that projections are median expected values, the sky might be the limit for Baltimore in 2018.

Clearly, the strategy for the Orioles is to engage in slugfests with their opponents. The pitching can’t hope to contain baseball’s better lineups, but in an era of juiced balls and bandbox ballparks, maybe it doesn’t have to. Certainly a team like the Yankees, whose pitchers can give up their share of home runs, could be tested by the offensive output expected by the Orioles. Add that to an annually excellent bullpen, with Zach Britton due back by May, and it’s far too early to write off the Orioles.

The Yankees and Red Sox are the favorites to emerge from the AL East come October. It may be fashionable or desirable to discount the rest of the division, but that’s just not realistic. The remaining teams simply boast too many high-ceiling stars to hand the division over just yet, and Yankee fans would be wise to temper their expectations before Opening Day.