April 2nd, 2015
It takes a great deal of skill mixed in with some good luck to win a division title. The competition in both leagues is stiff. Today I take a look at the American League and share my thoughts about the pennant races. Of course, one serious injury to a key player or a bad performance or two could certainly alter the playing field.
Last year’s record is in (). My prediction for this year follows immediately.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Seattle Mariners (87-75) 90-72 Those that have followed me for a while know that I have been very bullish on the Mariners and Marlins for a few years now-saying that their times will soon be coming. I’ve liked what both teams have been building. I think the Mariners time has come. The additions of Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith help lengthen their lineup and provide the firepower that has been missing. I really like what I’ve seen of Taijuan Walker during Spring Training. I think the team is hungry, balanced and poised to win the west. But it won’t be easy.
Los Angeles Angels-(98-64) 89-73 I’m not saying the loss of Howie Kendrick will amount to a 9 game swing in their record, but the loss of Howie Kendrick will loom large IMO. They have a huge hole at second base. I’m also a bit skeptical of their rotation-and the lack of starting pitching depth. I like the bullpen. And of course I like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. But I think the rotation and the bench may result in the losses piling up against the Mariners in head to head contests. And that’s how I think the division will be won by Seattle. I look for C J Cron and Kole Calhoun to shine. But it’s the pitching woes that concern me as well as games against Seattle.
Oakland Athletics-(88-74) 83-79 The injury bug bites again. And it’s Coco Crisp once again. He’s a guy they can’t afford to lose. But they have. Already shallow in the outfield, the loss of Crisp leaves a huge hole to fill. I like the pitching, but I think they are playing with an offensive water pistol as opposed to the cannons of the Mariners and Angels. They lost too much over the winter and even their pitching depth can’t help them overtake the clubs ahead of them.
Texas Rangers-(67-95) 78-84 Pitching, pitching, pitching. It just isn’t there. The loss of Yu Darvish is huge. There are just too many questions in the rotation. And in the pen. But. I really think Prince Fielder will rebound to have a very respectable year. The same goes for Shin-Soo Choo. So offensively, they will be a better club. They still have Adrian Beltre as well-albeit he’s another year older. I just don’t see the firepower being able to trump lousy pitching.
Houston Astros-(70-92) 73-89 Color me among the few that do not like the moves the Astros have made of late. Losing players like J. D. Martinez, Jarred Cosart and Mike Foltynewicz made me scratch my head at the time of each transaction. Yes, the bullpen is better with Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, but I still see lots and lots of strikeouts (with men in scoring position) by the offense. And a mediocre rotation. And yes, the team will hit tons of home runs. That should be exciting. I just don’t see enough wins to overtake any other club in the division.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL (this division can be won by any of four teams IMO)
Detroit Tigers-(90-72) 87-75 The addition of Yoenis Cespedes is important because he adds another potent (albeit inconsistent) bat to a lineup that already includes J D Martines, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They can be lethal. Losing Max Scherzer and having injury issues with Justin Verlander are reasons to believe the team may not be as strong as in the past. Can Anthony Gose hit during the regular season or will we see a platoon with Rajai Davis? There are some outs to be found in the lineup-and opposing pitchers will have to count on those to succeed. The Tigers are still strong. The bullpen is an issue for me. Especially at the back end. But they win.
Cleveland Indians- (85-77) 85-77 The potential of the starting rotation is excellent. Corey Kluber may regress a bit, but he’s still an awesome presence. I look for Carlos Carrasco to have learned well from watching Kluber. Breakout time for him. Beyond that, I have questions about Bauer, House and McAllister. They can be very good or very inconsistent. I have to admit though, I really like T J House. The offense? Here’s where I have some problems. Jason Kipnis? Will he come back? Michael Bourn? Will his hamstrings hold up? Lonnie Chisenhall? Can he hit for a full season? For me, Michael Brantley is an incredible five tool player. The best they have. They may contend, but they need much more offensive, defensive and hitting consistency.
Chicago White Sox-(73-89) 84-78 This is the most improved team in the division, if not the entire American League. Adding David Robertson as their closer is a huge step. Adam LaRoche adds another big bat to lengthen the lineup. Adam Eaton is underrated as a terrific table center and outstanding defensive center fielder. But here’s my issue-beyond Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and the very underrated Jose Quintana I think they are very vulnerable. If the division beats up on their No. 4 and No. 5 starters, it could have very negative consequences. Both the Tigers and Indians have longer and deeper rotations. It’s the only reason I don’t have them No. 1.
Kansas City Royals-(89-73) 84-78 This was a difficult call for me. Why the five game differential from last year? I think the loss of James Shields is huge. Not the Shields of the postseason. The Shields of the regular season. He was stable and relatively consistent. I have the same issues with the length and depth of the Royals rotation as I have with the White Sox. I think their pitching has been weakened and it will cost them games against division opponents. I do like the offense. Especially Lorenzo Cain. I look for a big comeback from Kendrys Morales. But I can’t get past the rotation. The bullpen, however, is among the best in baseball. They’ll have to be because they will be called on early and often. But the pen will respond to the task.
Minnesota Twins-(70-92) 75-87 The offense on this team is very underrated. I think they’ll score plenty of runs. That won’t be a problem. Pitching, however, will be. Both in the back end of the rotation and the bullpen. Can Phil Hughes repeat his fantastic season? I’m a bit skeptical. How much will Ervin Santana help? A lot. But which Ricky Nolasco will show up? I’m not at all a believer in the pitching. But the bats will play. And the Twins will put a hurt on at least one contender at the end of the season.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST (this is my toughest division of any to predict)
Baltimore Orioles (96-66) 90-72 Yes, they lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. But they get Manny Machado back and Chris Davis for all but the first game of the season. Eventually, we’ll see Matt Wieters, I hope. But they still have the very reliable and dangerous Adam Jones. Steve Pearce remains an unknown to most. But he can hit. And I like the pitching. Especially Chris Tillman. I think they are deep enough in the rotation to hold off a charge by the Red Sox. But this is a very close call.
Boston Red Sox (71-91) 89-73 Do they have enough to make up all the ground from last to first? Hanley and Panda certainly help. But the real stud is Mookie Betts. I liked him when I saw him playing second base in the Fall League two years ago.
The team is an offensive juggernaut. The issues? Who is the real Clay Buchholz? Who is the real Justin Masterson? Can Wade Miley keep the ball inside the park? Will Koji Uehara return from his hamstring woes? Too many pitching issues for me to jump on board. But the offense just may beat the opposition into submission. It’s that good.
Toronto Blue Jays (83-79) 88-74 Six rookies have made the opening day roster. Yes, it’s a gamble. But it also means energy and excitement. Fans are going to love new second baseman Devon Travis. And of course, they added Josh Donaldson to go along with Bautista and Encarnacion. That’s some true power in the middle of the lineup. I like the pitching better than I like the Red Sox pitching. But I like the experience and depth of the Red Sox offense just a bit better. The Blue Jays will contend all season.
New York Yankees (84-78) 84-78 Wait until next year. I think the Yankees will have a field day with the free agent pitching coming on the market over the winter. Guys like David Price and Johnny Cueto. I think they bide their time this year and do the best they can with a chronologically advanced group of veterans. By next year we’ll likely see Gary Sanchez behind the plate and perhaps Greg Bird at first and Aaron Judge in the outfield. I look for a fantastic year from Michael Pineda but hiccups and heartaches from the rotation. C C will be so so. And will Masahiro Tanaka’s arm last the season. Lots of rotation issues. They’ll hit, but the starting pitching is suspect.
Tampa Bay Rays-(77-85) 75-87 We are seeing the transformation of a franchise in a short one or two year span. I really like the young pitchers on the staff. They have some depth and pitching can help win some games. I think the offense remains suspect. Steven Souza may struggle a bit at first, but I like his upside a great deal. Isn’t it time for Desmond Jennings to step up? I don’t see them being able to beat the other teams in the division with any consistency. The future looks brighter than the present.
I hope you will follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. And thank you for reading my prospect profiles at MLBPipeline.com. I wish you all a great baseball season. May your team bring you great joy and excitement. And don’t be upset with me if I had harsh words for your club. I just try to write what I see.
That’s it. I’m done.