Welcome to the finale of my American League East position comparisons article. Be sure to check out Part I and Part II if you haven't already. And if you have, go ahead and read them again. It won't hurt anything. Now, to finish up, I'll compare the AL East pitching staffs and managers and give my predicted division standings.
2. Red Sox
5. Blue Jays
The Rays have one of baseball's best young rotations; most any team would love to have one of David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore or Chris Archer, and the Rays have all four. The defending champion Red Sox aren't too shabby, either, with quality starters at all five slots in the rotation, headed by Jon Lester and John Lackey. The Yankees' staff has its share of question marks -- will CC Sabathia's velocity continue to drop? How will Michael Pineda fare in his first action in three years? But the signing of Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka adds a key weapon. The Orioles' season-opening rotation is the best it's been in years, but lacks a bona fide ace. The Blue Jays, who ranked as my No. 2 rotation last year, forgot to sign a starting pitcher this offseason and have woeful depth behind R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle.
1. Red Sox
2. Blue Jays
The Red Sox added Edward Mujica -- who was an O's closer target this winter -- to an already stellar bullpen, and Koji Uehara is coming off an otherworldly season as closer. The Blue Jays sent two of their relievers -- righty Steve Delabar and lefty Brett Cecil -- to the All-Star Game last year, and should have plenty of depth, even with closer Casey Janssen on the shelf. The Rays have added closer Grant Balfour to their usual stable of power arms out of the bullpen. The Birds have a few reliable arms, but there are questions about Tommy Hunter's ability to close. The Yankees' bullpen will likely suffer from Mariano Rivera's retirement; David Robertson might be able to replace him adequately as closer, but who replaces Robertson as the setup man? There's not much depth.
1. Joe Maddon, Rays
2. Buck Showalter, Orioles
3. Joe Girardi, Yankees
4. John Farrell, Red Sox
5. John Gibbons, Blue Jays
This is exactly the same order in which I ranked the managers last year. Why change? Maddon continues to be one of the most innovative, forward-thinking managers in the game, and Showalter continues to inspire the best in his Orioles teams. Girardi and Farrell both have World Series rings, but are fairly uncreative and by the book as in-game tacticians. Gibbons, in his second stint as Blue Jays manager, led his hyped team to a 74-88 record in 2013.
Now that we've compared every team by position, let's tally up the results and predict where each team will finish in 2014 -- in the AL East and in the other MLB divisions.
FINAL AL EAST STANDINGS PREDICTION
2. Red Sox
5. Blue Jays
I'm projecting the Rays' staff to vault them to the division crown, with the Red Sox securing a wild-card berth. The aging Yankees and light-on-talent Blue Jays will bring up the rear. And although I have the Orioles finishing third, fret not, Birds fans -- I'm picking them to snag the second AL wild-card spot.
5. White Sox
I think the Tigers are a little bit overrated, but on paper, they're still better than anyone else in their division. But don't count out the Indians, who have some thump in their lineup and a solid bullpen.
The Athletics and Rangers have both suffered numerous injuries to starting pitchers, but I think Oakland has the better depth to stay afloat. The Angels have fizzled the last two seasons, when there were high expectations on them; they might actually have a decent season now that few people are expecting it.
I'm predicting the Nationals to run away with the division, as most people are, but I'm also making a bold pick here -- the Marlins will finish second. They have an underrated, young pitching staff and an exciting outfield, and it could be enough to surpass the Braves, whose rotation has been decimated by injuries.
The Cardinals just have too much talent to ignore. They could be the best team in baseball. I also see the Pirates sliding back a bit after they made no upgrades to their team this winter.
The Dodgers have one of the most talented rosters in baseball, which they should, given the billions of dollars they're spending. But I could envision a scenario in which any of these teams wins the division -- except the Rockies. They're not good.
AL WILD CARDS: Red Sox, Orioles
NL WILD CARDS: Diamondbacks, Giants
I'm picking both AL wild cards to come from the East and both NL wild cards to come from the West. Those could be the two most competitive divisions in baseball this year.
AL PENNANT: Rays
NL PENNANT: Cardinals
WORLD SERIES WINNER: Cardinals
The Rays have been in the playoffs four times during the last six years, but have made the World Series once -- I'm thinking 2014 will be the second. And in the NL, when in doubt, pick the Cardinals. They seem to find themselves in the World Series more often than not, and they have a loaded roster, top to bottom. Don't be surprised to see them win another championship, following their 2011 and 2006 titles.