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2023 Cubs: Know your enemy, AL East

The Cubs played these teams last year, so there’s at least some familiarity.

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Over the last three days we’ve taken a look at the Cubs’ National League competitors, all of whom they’ll play in at least one home-and-home series in 2023.

Now we turn our attention to American League squads. The Cubs will face all these teams in one three-game series this year, either at Wrigley Field or on the road, with the exception of the White Sox, who as the Cubs “designated rival” will face them in a pair of two-game series.

The Cubs played AL East teams last year in the final year of the old interleague divisional rotation scheme, which had been in place since 2013. They went 5-11 against these five clubs, winning only the three-game series against the Red Sox.

But hey, it’s a new year and maybe things will be different. Let’s have a look at all five AL East clubs.

Baltimore Orioles

Key departures: Jesús Aguilar, Jordan Lyles, Rougned Odor

Key arrivals: Franchy Cordero, Adam Frazier, Kyle Gibson, Mychal Givens

The O’s pretty much came out of nowhere in 2022. They went from 110 losses in 2021 to an 83-79 record, making them the first team in the Modern Era (since 1900) to finish over .500 after losing 110 or more games the previous year.

That’s a 31-win improvement, which is fantastic in any circumstance. (FWIW, the Cubs franchise record for such things is 28 wins, from 1966 to 1967.)

How did they do this? Mainly a vast improvement in pitching, from 954 runs allowed in 2021 to 688 in 2022. Mostly that was a lights-out bullpen, because the starting staff ranked 21st in ERA at 4.35. And that worked even after they traded their closer, Jorge Lopez, to the Twins.

Baltimore’s big move was signing free agent starter Kyle Gibson, but he had a 5.05 ERA for the Phillies in 2022. They’re going to have to hope some of their young hitters, particularly catcher Adley Rutschman, continue their development.

The Cubs will host the O’s in a three-game series at Wrigley Field June 16-17-18.

Boston Red Sox

Key departures: Xander Bogaerts, Franchy Cordero, Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Tommy Pham, Matt Strahm

Key arrivals: Richard Bleier, Adam Duvall, Kenley Jansen, Corey Kluber, Chris Martin, Justin Turner, Masataka Yoshida

The Red Sox continue to be molded by Chaim Bloom in a similar fashion to the Cubs’ restructuring under Jed Hoyer.

If you look at the lists of players above, that’s a pretty underwhelming group being added, and a fair number of good players leaving, particularly Bogaerts.

Add to that the facts that Trevor Story will miss most of this season with an injury and that their rotation is hope-and-a-prayer, and I don’t see Boston anywhere near the top of this division. The Fenway faithful are going to be restless this year, I think.

The Cubs will host the Red Sox in a three-game series at Wrigley Field July 14-15-16, the first three games after the All-Star break.

New York Yankees

Key departures: Andrew Benintendi, Zack Britton, Matt Carpenter, Aroldis Chapman, Jameson Taillon

Key arrival: Carlos Rodón

Last year’s Yankees ran out to a 61-23 (.726) start, which would have produced a 118-win season if they could sustain it.

No team has ever done that, obviously, and the Yankees didn’t even win 100 games, going 38-40 the rest of the way to finish with 99 wins. They survived a tight division series with the Guardians only to get swept by the Astros in the ALCS.

If you look at the transactions noted above, the Yankees basically replaced Taillon with Rodón and stood pat everywhere else, re-signing their own free agents Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo. I’d like to think Taillon is Rodón’s equal, since Taillon is now a Cub, but the reality is that’s an upgrade for the Yankees — and that’s not a swipe at Taillon, it’s just that Rodón is really, really good and we can only hope Taillon can come close to that.

The Yankees are a well-oiled machine and should win this division. But they’ve been in the postseason 10 times since their last World Series win in 2009 and haven’t even gotten back there. Could they this year? Sure, but I said that last year, too.

The Yankees have signed a bunch of former Cubs who will be in spring camp: Rafael Ortega, Michael Hermosillo and James Norwood, and also former Cubs minor leagers Stephen Ridings and Billy McKinney. Should be old home week for Rizzo.

Keep an eye on Anthony Volpe, their No. 1 prospect and one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He turns 22 in April and is likely ticketed for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, but it would not surprise me to see him in Yankee pinstripes this year. My personal six-degrees connection to Volpe: A good friend of mine from the Wrigley bleachers is a cousin of Volpe’s.

The Cubs will visit Yankee Stadium for a three-game series July 7-8-9, the last three games before the All-Star break.

Tampa Bay Rays

Key departures: Nick Anderson, Kevin Kiermaier, Corey Kluber, David Peralta, Brooks Raley, Mike Zunino

Key arrivals: Charlie Culberson, Zach Eflin, Heath Hembree

It occurs to me that the lists above don’t mean as much for the Rays as for some other teams, since their baseball management staff always seems to pull MLB-ready talent out of their system. They seem poised to do that again.

They’ll get Tyler Glasnow back after he missed much of 2021 and most of 2022, and that’s a huge boost to their rotation. Their bullpen is solid — the Cubs gifted them Jason Adam! — and while their lineup appears a bunch of no-names, they always produce. Keep an eye on former Cubs prospect Isaac Paredes, who hit 20 home runs for the Rays at age 23 last year. He seems ready for a breakout season.

The Cubs will host the Rays for a three-game series at Wrigley Field May 29-30-31.

Toronto Blue Jays

Key departures: Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Ross Stripling, Raimel Tapia

Key arrivals: Chris Bassitt, Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, Daulton Varsho

The Jays made a couple of really interesting trades, giving up two players (Gurriel and Hernandez) who had provided quite a bit of offense for them in 2022.

In the Gurriel trade, which also included top catching prospect Gabriel Moreno, they acquired Varsho from the D-Backs. Since the Jays already have a pretty good catching tandem in Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen, Varsho will likely replace Hernandez in the outfield. It’s a bit of musical baseball chairs, with Belt replacing Gurriel at first base.

The Jays have a solid rotation with the addition of Bassitt, though it will be interesting to see how Kevin Gausman reacts to the new “disengagement” rule.

This is a strong team that lost a tough wild card series to the Mariners last October, a series that easily could hav gone the other way. They should make the playoffs again.

They’ve changed the dimensions at Rogers Centre, so that will be interesting.

The Cubs will travel to Toronto for a three-game series against the Jays August 11-12-13.