2015 Preview: Is this the weakest AL East we’ve seen in years?

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A lot of people thought the 2014 AL East could be the weakest. They especially thought that after the first couple of months of the season when the Toronto Blue Jays sat atop the division and everyone else was sorta floundering. People suspected that the Jays were in for a correction — and that correction came thanks to both injuries and finding their true level — but no one else looked particularly strong. Some commentators were nearly certain that no team would even win 90 games.

The Orioles, however, soon began to pull away. The ended up with 96 wins and won the division by a dozen games while everyone else either struggled, reconfigured their rosters or both. Was it a strong division last season? Nah, not really. But at least one team came out of it looking good, and the streak in which the winner of the AL East had at least 95 wins under its belt reached its fourteenth straight year.

It’s hard to see that streak continuing this season. As our previews of the individual AL East teams demonstrate — here are the Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Jays, Rays — there is an argument for almost every team to either win the thing or crater badly.

The O’s look OK, but they’re counting on a lot of comebacks from players with injury histories. The Red Sox have pop, but the pitching is not scaring anyone. The Yankees have some famous and talented players who could experience a nice late-career resurgence, but betting on aging and injury-prone players is no safe bet at all. The Jays are starting a lot of rookies and lost their best starter for the year. The Rays lost their manager, GM and arguably their best player in the offseason and don’t gave the resources to reload as quickly as most teams do. Taken together, that’s a pretty darn mixed bag.

But I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing that everyone in the AL East has a big flaw or three. I mean, what has been everyone’s biggest complaint about the AL East for most of the past 20 years? That there were two teams — the Yankees and the Red Sox — who could field more talent and pay that talent more money than anyone else and that the Jays, O’s and Rays couldn’t break through. The Rays broke through, but that was often explained away as some function of Moneyball magic and years of high draft picks and, man, merely mediocre teams like Toronto and Baltimore had no shot.

Well, now everyone has a shot. And even if that means that we won’t necessarily see the most stellar brand of baseball being played at all times in this division, we should see some competitive races. So viva the “weak” AL East. Even if it’s the weakest it’s ever been.

Gaylord Perry, two-time Cy Young winner, dies at 84

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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GAFFNEY, S.C. — Baseball Hall of Famer and two-time Cy Young Award winner Gaylord Perry, a master of the spitball and telling stories about the pitch, died at 84.

Perry died at his home in Gaffney, Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler said. He did not provide additional details. A statement from the Perry family said he “passed away peacefully at his home after a short illness.”

The native of Williamston, North Carolina, made history as the first player to win the Cy Young in both leagues, with Cleveland in 1972 after a 24-16 season and with San Diego in 1978 – going 21-6 for his fifth and final 20-win season just after turning 40.

“Before I won my second Cy Young, I thought I was too old – I didn’t think the writers would vote for me,” Perry said in an article on the National Baseball Hall of Fame website. “But they voted on my performance, so I won it.”

“Gaylord Perry was a consistent workhorse and a memorable figure in his Hall of Fame career,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, adding, “he will be remembered among the most accomplished San Francisco Giants ever … and remained a popular teammate and friend throughout his life.”

Perry was drafted by the San Francisco Giants and spent 10 seasons among legendary teammates like Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who said Thursday that Perry “was a good man, a good ballplayer and my good friend. So long old Pal.”

Juan Marichal remembered Perry as “smart, funny, and kind to everyone in the clubhouse. When he talked, you listened.”

“During our 10 seasons together in the San Francisco Giants rotation, we combined to record 369 complete games, more than any pair of teammates in the Major Leagues,” Marichal said. “I will always remember Gaylord for his love and devotion to the game of baseball, his family, and his farm.”

Perry, who pitched for eight major-league teams from 1962 until 1983, was a five-time All-Star who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991. He had a career record of 314-255, finished with 3,554 strikeouts and used a pitching style where he doctored baseballs or made batters believe he was doctoring them.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame said in a statement that Perry was “one of the greatest pitchers of his generation.” The Texas Rangers, whom Perry played for twice, said in a statement that the pitcher was “a fierce competitor every time he took the ball and more often than not gave the Rangers an opportunity to win the game.”

“The Rangers express their sincere condolences to Gaylord’s family at this difficult time,” the team’s statement said. “This baseball great will be missed.”

Perry’s 1974 autobiography was titled “Me and the Spitter,” and he wrote it in that when he started in 1962 he was the “11th man on an 11-man pitching staff” for the Giants. He needed an edge and learned the spitball from San Francisco teammate Bob Shaw.

Perry said he first threw it in May 1964 against the New York Mets, pitched 10 innings without giving up a run and soon after entered the Giants’ starting rotation.

He also wrote in the book that he chewed slippery elm bark to build up his saliva, and eventually stopped throwing the pitch in 1968 after MLB ruled pitchers could no longer touch their fingers to their mouths before touching the baseball.

According to his book, he looked for other substances, like petroleum jelly, to doctor the baseball. He used various motions and routines to touch different parts of his jersey and body to get hitters thinking he was applying a foreign substance.

Giants teammate Orlando Cepeda said Perry had “a great sense of humor … a great personality and was my baseball brother.”

“In all my years in baseball, I never saw a right-handed hurler have such a presence on the field and in the clubhouse,” Cepeda added.

Seattle Mariners Chairman John Stanton said in a release that he spoke with Perry during his last visit to Seattle, saying Perry was, “delightful and still passionate in his opinions on the game, and especially on pitching.

Perry was ejected from a game just once for doctoring a baseball – when he was with Seattle in August 1982. In his final season with Kansas City, Perry and teammate Leon Roberts tried to hide George Brett’s infamous pine-tar bat in the clubhouse but was stopped by a guard. Perry was ejected for his role in that game, too.

After his career, Perry founded the baseball program at Limestone College in Gaffney and was its coach for the first three years.

Perry is survived by wife Deborah, and three of his four children in Allison, Amy and Beth. Perry’s son Jack had previously died.

Deborah Perry said in a statement to The AP that Gaylord Perry was “an esteemed public figure who inspired millions of fans and was a devoted husband, father, friend and mentor who changed the lives of countless people with his grace, patience and spirit.”

The Hall of Fame’s statement noted that Perry often returned for induction weekend “to be with his friends and fans.”

“We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Deborah, and the entire Perry family,” Baseball Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark said.