Time for my annual preview of the upcoming MLB season. I’ll just say right off the bat that there are a few teams that I really like in the American League. In fact, I could see three new division winners across the AL this year. Here’s a division-by-division breakdown of the Junior Circuit.
I’m seeing a lot of love for the BoSox among prognostications. I think some forecasters are enamored at the possibility of a worst-to-first-to-worst-to-first narrative here. Boston spent the winter loading up on the game’s most scarce commodity: power. With the additions of switch-hitting 3B Pablo Sandoval and new LF Hanley Ramirez, the Sox lineup might be the deepest in the game. Mookie Betts has looked like a revelation in camp this spring. If vets Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, David Ortiz, and Mike Napoli just have average seasons, Boston could still pace the league in runs scored. But I think the offense will need to be elite to keep pace with a pedestrian pitching staff that lacks a true #1. Truthfully, most of these guys would be #3 or #4 on any other big league pitching staff. With news that Koji Uehara is injured to begin the season, the bullpen looks ordinary, too. Expect a lot of 8-6 ball games in Boston this summer. Without a pitching upgrade, I see Boston winning 84-86 games.
I really like Toronto in the East. The Jays boast the only lineup that can keep pace with Boston. The big move was the acquisition of 3B Josh Donaldson from Oakland. In Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays could get 100 HR, 300 RBI production out of #3-5 in the order. C Russell Martin is also a difference maker behind the plate. The Jays season will hinge on the contributions of a bevy of high-upside but unproven players. Top prospects Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris will be given the opportunity to prove their wares in the rotation. Speedster Dalton Pompey has been given the CF job. Rookies Miguel Castro and Robert Osuna are poised to be key contributors in the bullpen setting up new closer Brett Cecil. It’s not a given that these young players will pan out, but this is a team that is trending in the right direction. I think they could be a surprise team this season.
Of course, you can never count out the O’s, at least not as long as Buck Showalter is at the helm. They lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller from last year’s 96 win club. If Matt Weiters, Chris Davis, and Manny Machado all return to form, the lineup should continue to be strong. But these O’s may not quite have enough to surpass Boston and Toronto.
Ditto for the Yankees and the Rays. The Yankees simply don’t have enough pitching, even if Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia bounce back. The lineup is filled with question marks as well. Will Jacoby Ellsbury’s oblique injury linger? How capably will Did Gregorius fill the vacancy at SS? How much do Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira have left in the tank? And will the circus that constantly surrounds Alex Rodriguez continue to be a distraction? The win total in the Bronx is trending in the wrong direction: 97 (2011) to 95 (2012) to 85 (2013) to 84 (2014). Expect more of the same this summer.
After the loss of GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, the Rays are in a complete rebuild. With Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi, the Rays have the pitching to contend right now, but the lineup was already anemic before the trade of Ben Zobrist.