- The New York Yankees are heavily favored to dethrone the Rays and reclaim the AL East crown
- Tampa Bay took advantage of a shortened 60-game schedule to win its first division title in 10 years last season
- Read on for a division preview, full odds and a best bet on who will win the 2021 American League East
There was no great surprise to see an American League East team competing in the World Series last fall. But bookmakers had expected the Bronx Bombers to continue their long love affair with the Fall Classic, not the upstart Tampa Bay Rays, who became AL champions for just the second time in their existence.
The Rays also picked up the third AL East title in franchise history along the way, knocking off the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees in the first two rounds of the expanded postseason on their way to the World Series. While they may have beaten their more established rivals in the short sprint that was the 2020 season, they now get to match wits over a marathon 162-game slog.
With the Yankees expected to get their winning percentage back above a .600 clip, and the Blue Jays having splashed the cash to add talent around their young core, the Rays bona fides are going to be put to the test. The 2021 AL East odds reflect that reality, too, with the Rays just the third favorite to win.
2021 AL East Division Odds
|New York Yankees||-195|
|Toronto Blue Jays||+360|
|Tampa Bay Rays||+400|
|Boston Red Sox||+2000|
All odds taken Feb. 15 from FanDuel.
Bronx Bombers Bringing Heat
With arguably the most dangerous offense in the entire American League and the best pitcher – in the shape of Gerrit Cole – it is hardly surprising the Yankees are the favorites to win the AL East. With a World Series-appearance drought almost reaching record lengths, the team has designs on something far more meaningful than a division crown, but first things first.
Yankees rotation depth after Gerrit Cole pic.twitter.com/iThItaTtO1
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) February 3, 2021
While Cole is the very definition of an ace, the team has question marks in the rest of its rotation, with the departures of Masahiro Tanaka, JA Happ, and James Paxton. The Yankees signed two-time Cy Young-winner Corey Kluber, although he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2018, and traded for Jameson Taillon. Manager Aaron Boone will also hope that Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) will be ready at some point around midseason.
The overhauled rotation will need to improve on the team’s ERA of 4.35 last year, which was just barely above the MLB average of 4.44.
But the Yankees will always live and die with the offense. Their 5.25 runs per game was the best mark in the AL in 2020, while their home run total of 94 was just two back of the White Sox on the junior circuit. In particular, they will be reliant upon the health of their two biggest hitters, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Judge has missed 142 games since hitting 52 home runs in his rookie season of 2017, while Stanton has played just 41 regular-season games the past two years.
Taking a Flyer on the Blue Jays
Wherever the team calls home in 2021, and it’s looking like its spring training home in Dunedin is likely to be it for the start of the season, the Toronto Blue Jays are likely to be much improved from the 32-28 club that made the postseason for the first time in four years.
The signing is officially official. 👀
3x All-Star, 2x Silver Slugger, and World Series MVP George Springer is a Toronto Blue Jay! 🤩
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 23, 2021
To complement the young infield core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette, the front office reeled in the biggest free-agent fish this off-season, grabbing outfielder George Springer, who led the Astros in home runs with 14 last term. They also brought free-agent shortstop Marcus Semien and reliever Kirby Yates on board, lending a veteran spine to a youthful roster.
"When you sign a guy like George Springer it's like, boom. OK. Perfect. This is awesome. It's just exciting to be a part of a team that's trying to push really hard to go to the next level."
Kirby Yates shared his thoughts on the Blue Jays' pursuit of other impact players: pic.twitter.com/MO2TBnyYHV
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 22, 2021
Much like the Yankees, this Blue Jay club will be looking to outslug the opposition, averaging 5.03 runs per game last year. That’s a good thing, as even with the addition of Hyun-Jin Ryu last year, the team’s ERA was in the bottom half of the AL at 4.60.
Rays Running on Empty
For five consecutive seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays have improved their winning percentage, going from .420 in 2016 to .667 and a division crown last year.
It wasn't easy, it wasn't pretty
But your Tampa Bay Rays are American League Champions pic.twitter.com/EjeBy2hsT8
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) October 18, 2020
It’s a tall order asking this team to go one better for a sixth straight year, however, particularly one that has since been stripped of its two best pitchers in the shape of former Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. The team has brought in Tyler Glasnow, along with Chris Archer, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha, but fans should expect a sizeable drop off from the 3.56 team ERA from 2020.
The Rays are in agreement with southpaw free-agent Rich Hill, per @Feinsand.
Hill spent 2020 with the Twins, having a 3.03 ERA in 8 games. In 2019 with the Dodgers, Hill had a 2.45 ERA with 11 strikeouts per 9 innings in 13 games. Much added depth to the #Rays rotation. pic.twitter.com/gSi3ZJ05ly
— Spectrum Sports 360 (@SpecSports360) February 13, 2021
Thanks to his October heroics, Randy Arozarena has more playoff home runs and RBI than he does in regular-season ones. So it stands to reason that the Rays will be looking to the Babe Ruth Award winner to power the team’s offense in 2021, but is that a fair ask of a 25-year-old with just 84 career at-bats?
As it is, there are just too many things that can go wrong for the Rays to be considered a serious value bet to win the division again.
Rudderless Red Sox
After a last-place finish in 2020, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the Boston Red Sox are trying to do. Sure, the team has brought back World Series-winning manager Alex Cora, but these Red Sox are still some way from the squad that he led to glory.
The 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox!
Betts – GONE
Moreland – GONE
Benintendi – GONE
Bradley Jr. – GONE
Pearce – GONE
Kinsler – GONE
Nuñez – GONE
Kimbrel – GONE
Workman – GONE
Holt – GONE
Leon – GONE
Pomeranz – GONE
Price – GONE
Hembree – GONE
Porcello – GONE
— Daaa Red Sox Lose (@_RedSoxLose) February 11, 2021
Big hitters such as JD Martinez and Rafael Devers saw their offensive numbers trend downwards in 2020 – in Martinez’s case precipitously so – and Cora will have a job getting the runs flowing again.
Chris Sale, the ace on that championship squad, is coming off of Tommy John surgery, while Eduardo Rodriguez is recovering from myocarditis, a heart condition he developed after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Boston’s team ERA in 2020 was the third worst in all of baseball at 5.58, and there remains a lot of work for this team to return to serious contention.
Orioles Flying South?
Though the Orioles finished one game above the Red Sox last year, there is nothing to suggest Baltimore’s time out of the basement will last more than a single season.
The best draft prospect since Bryce Harper?
Adley Rutschman has done little so far to change our mind.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) March 22, 2020
The team has yet to give Adley Rutschman, the No. 2 prospect in baseball, a taste of major-league pitching and the team has yet to see how many of its other young hopefuls having staying power at the big-league level. Names likes Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays and Tanner Scott all have shown flashes of big-time ability, but 2021 will very much be a tryout year for the youngster on the Orioles roster.
And that, in short, all but rules out the Orioles as a contender for the division crown.
It really is the Yankees division to lose, but given the health problems that many of the Bronx Bombers’ big names have encountered in recent years, a slip here or there might be all the opening that the young Blue Jays need.
Blue Jays (+360)
2021 MLB division previews: