Winning in the American League is never easy, especially when you are in the AL East with Boston and New York. A few years back Tampa Bay caught everyone by surprise when they took the division. However most still go into every season assuming the top two teams will be the Yankees and Red Sox. History has shown us that tends to be the case and they always have a ton of talent on their respective rosters.
Now I'm not going to say that the Blue Jays are poised to win the division this year but I will say they may come closer than most would think. The Yankees are an extremely dominant line up for sure but the loss of Andy Pettit and not landing Cliff Lee has hurt their rotation outlook. They are relying heavily on Sabathia to lead the way and for Burnett to rebound from last years struggles. Phil Hughes had a very impressive season last year but can he repeat it? He has all of the needed tools but can he continue to adjust to hitter who have seen him 3+ times and are familiar with his pitches.
Boston looks to be the favorite for the division with arguably one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. They added more pop to an already powerful lineup by trading for Adrian Gonzalez. That should improve the overall run production but they lost Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez to free agency. Youkilis doesn't have nearly the defensive skill that Beltre did at the hot corner.
The Jays also made some moves this off season. They traded away Shaun Marcum, one of their best pitchers. The also moved Vernon Wells, and his enormous contract. The Wells move takes some power out of the batting order and that could slow them down. Set to replace him Rajai Davis doesn't have nearly the power but he does get on base at a pretty good rate and adds a lot of speed.
Marcum looks to be replaced by hot prospect Kyle Drabek. Drabek made an appearance last season and in 17 innings he looked respectable (ERA 4.76, K/9 6.35).
The Jays won 85 games last year, after trading away the best pitcher they had, Roy Halladay. They benefited in large part from Bautista putting together a remarkable season but all surprise teams will have some unforeseen element. They look to have a pitching staff this year that could contend with any, (Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, and either Jesse Litch or Marc Rzepcynski). Last year those 6 combined for 655 innings and 554 Ks. Compared to most any team that is impressive it works out about a 7.6 K/9 which only 7 teams finished higher than last year.
If these young pitchers can perform near what they showed last season they could be a great rotation. The best way to beat teams with the power that the Yankees and Red Sox have is to strike them out, just ask the Giants. Last year they rode all the way to the World Series on the backs of young pitchers with high strike out rates. I don't believe that Toronto is set to win the division but if they are close they do have some money available to buy a piece or two late in the season if needed. They are one of only 2 teams in MLB to have a debt/value of 0 according to Forbes. So if this team is close come July watch out for potential surprise moves to push them forward into true contention.