With the start of the Major League Baseball season happening this week, it was time for my predictions for each team and which players will bring home the individual hardware at the end of the season. I’ll start with my preview of the American League today, and Wednesday I will have my picks for the National League.
Baltimore Orioles: Last year, this team finished atop the AL East with 96 wins, and there is no reason to think that anything will change this season. Despite losing Nelson Cruz to free agency, this team looks just as strong (if not stronger) than last year. With multiple players that can play multiple positions, the Orioles have great flexibility on their roster and a great mix of power and speed. Add to that a pitching staff that is dominant, and this team will have the division wrapped up by early September.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox made a huge splash in free agency by signing both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. There is no question that their bats will be dominant this year, but the Red Sox will lose tight games because of their pitching staff. Each pitcher in their starting rotation is a big question mark right now, and their bullpen is very shaky, highlighted by closer Edward Mujica who has just 49 career saves in 67 attempts.
New York Yankees: Despite their struggles last year, the Yankees still have a lineup that pitching staffs will struggle to get through unscathed. This will help the Yankees stay in the playoff race until mid-August, but injuries will plague this team all season long. Their pitching will also hurt the team as they do not have a single reliable starter (whether because of injury, performance, or experience), and their bullpen is young and in a learning phase.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays have tried to make a splash the last couple of seasons, but the talent in their division has prevented them from doing anything special. The team has some offensive firepower, but a lack of pitching and consistency will keep this team from being apart of the playoff race past early August. However, a highlight for this team will be rookie outfielder Dalton Pompey who has a major chance to have a great season for this team.
Tampa Bay Rays: This is a young team that is in complete rebuilding mode. Behind rookie manager Kevin Cash, this team will experience a lot of struggles from the start of the year to the finish. It would not be a surprise to see third baseman Evan Longoria traded before the July 31 trade deadline.
Cleveland Indians: Corey Kluber, the reigning Cy Young winner, has proven himself in his first two seasons in the league to be an ace at the top of the rotation. If the rest of the young staff behind him can have an above average year, this team will win the division. A strong lineup, highlighted by the rising star catcher Yan Gomes, and a great bullpen will be the keys to success on this team. In the two seasons that Terry Francona has managed this team, the Indians have made the Wild Card and narrowly missed the playoffs. This will be the year that they win the division.
Detroit Tigers: Offensively, this team is one of the best in the league. There is arguably no better hitter in the league than Miguel Cabrera right now, and the addition of Yoenis Cespedes is a major lift to this lineup. The biggest question mark for this team right now is how they will respond to losing two aces in Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. The Tigers still have a very strong front end of the rotation, but they will be relying on Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon as their last two pitchers. That coupled with the recent inconsistency of Justin Verlander will prevent this team from winning the division.
Chicago White Sox: The White Sox made some very big moves in the off-season by getting starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, closer David Robertson, and left fielder Melky Cabrera. This players were added to an already very strong team that features star second-year player Jose Abreu. The White Sox will improve on their 73 win season from last year and finish with somewhere near 85 wins this year. But, this will not be enough to put them into the playoffs as they are playing in one of the toughest divisions in baseball and a very competitive American League. This team is still one year away from winning the division.
Kansas City Royals: Last season, the Royals made a magical playoff run to reach the World Series for the first time in 29 years. Unfortunately, that magic will run out this year as the Royals will narrowly miss the playoffs in this tough and tight division. The Royals lost James Shields in the off-season which will really hurt their starting staff, and their bullpen cannot be expected to have the same “lights out” effect that it did last season. The team had just 94 home runs last season, and they did not add a power bat in the off-season. The lack of power and dominating pitching will keep the Royals from making another incredible playoff run this season.
Minnesota Twins: Probably the most positive thing that Twins fans can look forward to this season is the return of Torii Hunter for one final season playing right field in Minnesota. This will be a long year for a team that recently learned that their number 2 starter, Ervin Santana will be serving an 80 game suspension to start the year. It will be a big year of rebuilding for a team that has some talent but not nearly enough.
Los Angeles Angels: This was the best team in the American League last season and will be again this season. The Angels will become the first team to eclipse 100 wins since the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies. Despite not knowing how the Josh Hamilton situation will play out, the Angels have arguably the best lineup in the AL. Reigning MVP Mike Trout and three-time MVP Albert Pujols will be a dominating one-two punch that will prove nearly impossible for opposing pitchers to stop. This strong offense coupled with an strong pitching staff (led by Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson) will help the Angels to finish with the best record in the American League.
Seattle Mariners: Much like the Angels, the Mariners have it all. Their offense, which was statistically middle of the pack last season, received a major boost this off-season. The Mariners were able to sign Nelson Cruz and pick up Austin Jackson at the trade deadline last year. Third baseman Kyle Seager, who has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last three season, and offensive superstar Robinson Cano will also make this lineup difficult to shut down. Their pitching is also going to play a major role in helping this team make the playoffs with Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker being steady forces behind the Cy Young winning pitcher Felix Hernandez.
Texas Rangers: This is a team that severely underperformed last year due, mostly, to injuries. This season, the Rangers enter with a healthy offensive squad that could improve by at least 15 on their 67 wins from last season. The team will benefit from having first baseman Prince Fielder back, and a healthy Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre will create a strong middle of the lineup. However, whether this team trades for Cole Hamels or not, the Rangers do not have the pitching to make the playoffs. Starting pitcher Yu Darvish is lost for an extended period of time to start the year, and the back end of the rotation is very weak. Aside from Neftali Feliz in the bullpen, who’s velocity has been suspect this spring,the Rangers will struggle to hold leads which will cost them a chance at winning this division or making the Wild Card.
Oakland A’s: The A’s made an all out attempt at a World Series last season but fell short by losing in the Wild Card game to the Royals. This year, the A’s have a lot of talent on their team, but not enough to make a push at the playoffs. The pitching staff has a special talent in Sonny Gray, and the bullpen is probably the strongest part of the team. But, offensively is where the A’s will struggle the most this season. This team relied heavily on home runs last season, but they cannot realistically expect the same kind of results this year.
Houston Astros: The Astros are a team that has been in a major rebuilding process for the last couple of years, and they still have a couple of years to go. Getting Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena this off-season did fill much needed holes in the Astros lineup, as will having outfielder George Springer for an entire season. Allowing their entire pitching staff to grow and develop will be beneficial for the Houston Astros, but the effects will not show in the short term as the Astros can expect to miss the playoffs for the tenth straight year.
Divison Winners: Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles
Wild Cards: Detroit, Seattle
World Series: Los Angeles
MVP: Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners)
Rookie of the Year: Dalton Pompey (Toronto Blue Jays)
Comeback Player of the Year: Prince Fielder (Texas Rangers)