The Major League Baseball season is about to kick off; with as many as a dozen teams believing that 2015 is their year. There is a greater parity in the American League than in years past; with the stalwart Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers having some lineup/rotation concerns that opens the door for others to join the party.
Below is a preview and prediction of the American League season and likely contenders for a World Series title.
Blue Jays: 90-72
Red Sox: 89-73
Summary: In a tightly contested race, the Blue Jays will edge the also playoff-bound Red Sox for the division crown. With a balanced offense and rotation depth (pending of course all remain healthy and perform to their potential), the Red Sox will remain in the hunt for the division crown through the last week of the season. Acquisitions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez will make the once center-heavy lineup much more balanced. Should the lack of a staff ace prove problematic, Boston has the resources to remedy it through trade deadline acquisitions. Toronto has plenty of offensive balance and pop (Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin) to supplement their solid (although unspectacular) rotation.
Baltimore and New York could be a dark horse teams; and could be in the mix should pitching remain stable and offense performs ahead of current projections. The lack of health, depth and balance on both respective teams’ lineups makes their margin of error much smaller than their division rivals. After several years of playoff contention, Tampa Bay will slide back into obscurity. The lack of a consistently productive offense will not provide enough runs to support a young and emerging starting rotation. The loss of dugout stabilizer Joe Maddon will also contribute to their 2015 challenges.
White Sox: 83-79
Summary: The Indians made some key moves this off-season to bolster their lineup. An re-emergence of Jason Kipnis to his All Star form and the further development of Yan Gomes will add pop to a lineup bolstered by Brandon Moss. The Indians will be a legitimate playoff threat if young starters Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar continue their development into solid double-digit win contributors. Late 2014 has given the city of Cleveland hope that the model (long-term youth investment) will provide franchise stability and built contenders for 2015 and beyond.
The Tigers remain in the hunt; and can capitalize on the aforementioned Indians players not providing to expectations. Due to a solid lineup and two top of the rotation aces (David Price, Justin Verlander), Detroit can once again be playoff-bound. The White Sox are an intriguing team; with a couple of solid top of the rotation starters (Chris Sale, Jeff Samardija) along with middle of the lineup offense pop (Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche). Kansas City will slide back to the pack after an improbable second-half run in 2014. Free agent defections will hinder their AL championship defense. Fans in Minnesota can look forward to brighter days with young talent, but will struggle to consistently win in a very competitive Central race.
Summary: Seattle is the most likely team to emerge from this division in 2015. Addition of Nelson Cruz and continued production from Kyle Seager will lessen the burden on Robinson Cano. Lineup protection should result in an MVP-like season for Cano. The Angels have strong lineup talent and solid top of the rotation starting pitching; making them a legitimate threat. Should the talent align in 2015, the Angels could easily reach the World Series. Oakland will again build a team using the “Moneyball” approach that has made GM Billy Beane the franchise’s biggest star. Losing the lineup pop that Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson provided will prove extremely difficult to counter in 2015.
Houston continues to develop young talent in a similar fashion as the Braves (1990’s) and Rays (2000s) have; making their ascent more unpredictable. Nevertheless, the Astros are on the right direction and will contend for a .500 record this season; perhaps surprising some along the way. The slide of the Rangers continues. The team’s investment in Shin-Soo Choo is still a head scratcher; with Choo being more of a complimentary player than his salary suggests. Texas’ overall lineup and rotation depth are in question, especially after the injury to one of the league’s more dominant starters (Yu Darvish) his loss is the biggest factor in making 2015 a potentially long season in the Lone Star State.
AL MVP: Robinson Cano
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
Division winners: Blue Jays, Indians, Mariners
Wild Card: Red Sox, Tigers
ALCS: Indians, Red Sox
AL Champion: Red Sox