In 2022, the New York Yankees enter another season with championship aspirations. Even with the new expanded playoffs, winning your division is still as important as ever. The division structure is still the same, but only the two division winners with the best records will get a first round bye. Avoiding the best-of-three wild card round could prove to be of immense importance for a deep playoff run, just like avoiding the one-game wild card was. Unfortunately for the Yankees, winning the AL East hasn’t exactly been easy over the past decade. They have only won it twice in that span. So, which teams will give them the biggest challenge for the AL East crown?
Toronto Blue Jays:
First up is the massively hyped Toronto Blue Jays, who just narrowly missed the playoffs in 2021. They feature a core of young stars Yankees fans have become acquainted with over the past few seasons. Among them are Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, who are poised to be threats for years to come. The Blue Jays’ lineup and rotation are both extremely deep. Look out if George Springer stays healthy. Public perception is that the Jays are the favorites in the division, but most projections have the Yankees on top.
It is important to point out that the Blue Jays lost two of their best three players in free agency in the offseason. Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray and third place MVP finisher Marcus Semien both signed massive deals with new teams. The Blue Jays have made offseason acquisitions to supplement these losses by signing Kevin Gausman and trading for Matt Chapman. But is that really enough to replace the 14 bWAR that Ray and Semien gave them last year? On paper, the Blue Jays are worse than they were in 2021. However, their young players and the improved health of Springer could vault them to a division crown nonetheless.
Tampa Bay Rays:
The Tampa Bay Rays have been the Yankee’s kryptonite the past two years. As of late, the Rays have humiliated the Yankees. They have a 22-12 head-to-head record against the Bronx Bombers since 2020. This domination has been dealt with a mere fraction of the Yankees payroll to boot. Despite trading away key pieces like Austin Meadows and Blake Snell, they seem to always find a way to win. Their sustained success can be partially attributed to their incredible farm system, which has produced exceptional replacements to star players at a fraction of the price. Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz, and Wander Franco are just the beginning of what is yet to come out of the Rays system.
Despite most projections having the Rays winning about 87 games, don’t be surprised if they storm through the American League winning 95+ games.
Boston Red Sox:
The Boston Red Sox are in an interesting place heading into opening day. They are coming off an ALCS appearance and just signed star SS/2B Trevor Story to a six-year contract. However, their pitching is extremely suspect. Cris Sale will miss at least two months due to a broken rib. The Yankees’ most bitter rivals may be in a vulnerable position in 2022, but with the firepower in their lineup, anything is possible.
Despite the Blue Jays roster being absolutely loaded with talent, I still think the Rays are the Yankees biggest threat in the AL East. Yankees fans have experienced humiliation at the hands of the Rays time and time again over the past few seasons. I don’t expect this to turn around anytime soon; the Rays are such a smart organization and just seem to have the Yankees figured out. I’d also like to reiterate that the Blue Jays losing Ray and Semien is a bigger deal than I think baseball fans realize. That being said, by no means should you sleep on the Blue Jays, or even the Red Sox. They are still both terrific teams. It’s hard to predict what will happen in baseball, but one thing’s for sure, the AL East race will be a wild ride.