MLB: 2015 American League Preview

It was another terrible winter in Boston, and now that the 83 weeks of spring training are just about over, it’s time for my annual American League preview! I’ve been doing this in some form since 2005 and I hope you still enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it. I know spring is either just around the corner or has arrived whenever I put this together.

As I’ve done the last few years, I stay away from specific predictions with where teams will place in the coming season and instead just offer a general outlook on each club. If nothing else, it makes me look like less of a doofus at the end of the year when I get things wrong.

Clubs are presented in alphabetical order by division, going east to west. I welcome your critiques in the comments.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the real games when they start Sunday night.

AL EAST

BALTIMORE: It appeared 2014 would be the year these Orioles made it to the World Series, before running into the Royals October buzzsaw. After the offseason soap opera around Dan Duquette’s aborted attempt to flee to Toronto, Baltimore will be mostly the same team with one significant difference: gone will be Nelson Cruz and his 40 HRs. They’ll fill the gap with Travis Snider, Delmon Young, Matt Wieters (when he’s healthy) and Chris Davis (when his suspension ends). Buck Showalter’s pitching remains in tact, so I expect the O’s to be in it all year.

BOSTON: The biggest question: Will the pitching match the offense? No question Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval add firepower to John Farrell’s lineup, while young guns Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts won’t be relied on as much to produce. Yet no one knows if this rotation will hold up all season and we may be whistling past the bullpen’s graveyard. But, Ben Cherington has more than enough trade chips to fortify his core of arms. Given just how much talent Boston has, a trade or two seems inevitable anyway.

NEW YORK: I can only imagine what Yankees fans thought when Brandon McCarthy signed with the Dodgers for $48 million and Brian Cashman said, effectively, he was too expensive for them. Meanwhile, they’ll spend $98.5 million this year on five veterans (Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann) who won’t play up to their contracts. The Yankees’ quiet offseason may be a harbinger of what’s to come as they wait for albatross contracts to clear. Fans will have to be patient as a result.

TAMPA BAY: A wind of change blew through Tampa this winter, starting with Joe Maddon opting out and Andrew Friedman fleeing for Chavez Ravine. Will the Rays still be the Rays with Kevin Cash and Matt Silverman in charge? When healthy, they likely have the division’s strongest rotation, yet health is the big concern. By mid-season, however, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi could make the Rays the most dangerous team in the league. But all the pieces have to fall into place and we’ve never seen Cash at the helm.

TORONTO: It’s been a long, long time since I’ve believed in the Blue Jays and once again, I don’t believe in them. Spending lots of money on Russell Martin was OK and Alex Anthopolous pulled a terrific trade for Josh Donaldson. No doubt Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista will form a deadly mid-lineup force. But their pitching may be worse than Boston’s, with R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle entering their twilight years, Marcus Stroman devastatingly blowing out his knee in spring training and no clear dominant bullpen piece. It won’t be their year, once again.

AL CENTRAL

CHICAGO: The Pale Hose went from also-ran to legitimate AL favorite in the course of one offseason. They added a bonafide closer in David Robertson, a solid #2 starter to pair with Chris Sale in Jeff Samardzija and some great lineup compliments in Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche. Combine those guys with the existing infrastructure of Sale, bomb-hitting phenom Jose Abreu and strong supporting cast members like Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia and Jose Quintana and it’s easy to see why there’s so much hype around the White Sox. This is a stacked division, but Robin Ventura’s team in positioned to win now.

CLEVELAND: Raise your hand if you saw Corey Kluber’s dominant Cy Young season coming at this time last year. No one out there? That’s what I thought. It goes to show you never can tell when it comes to pitching and who qualifies as an “ace.” Terry Francona has one now with Kluber and his presence gives stability to a developing rotation that will rely on younger guys like Carlos Carrasco and the perpetually-underwhelming Trevor Bauer. With few other changes besides the addition of Brandon Moss, it should be a good year in Cleveland.

DETROIT: The Tigers’ super-rotation is no more with Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello gone, yet David Price, Anibal Sanchez and a hopefully-healthy Justin Verlander remain. Those guys should be enough to prop up another playoff-worthy edition of the Tigers, but the issues in their bullpen should scare the crap out of anyone who thinks they can sail into October again. Joe Nathan was abjectly terrible last year and I can’t imagine much faith in Joakim “Two Tommy Johns” Soria exists. Detroit may need some luck, given the Central’s strength.

KANSAS CITY: Man, what a fun ride that was for the Royals last October. They were the Cardiac Kids, winning in dramatic fashion until Alex Gordon was (correctly) held at third base in World Series Game 7 and their impossible dreams for a title were dashed. While baseball may be revitalized in KC, its team didn’t improve much for 2015. James Shields is gone, replaced by Edinson Volquez. Billy Butler and Nori Aoki departed for Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios. But everything else remains in place, including that devastating bullpen.

MINNESOTA: The weak link in the AL Central, once again, is in Minnesota. With Paul Molitor now at the helm, the Twins will struggle to be relevant with a lineup bereft of elite talent (unless you still think Joe Mauer is elite, which is quite debatable) and a rotation that will be without Ervin Santana for half the year thanks to a steroid suspension. Phil Hughes may continue his bounce-back and Glen Perkins is a decent closer, but it seems very likely the Twins will top 90 losses for the fifth straight year.

AL WEST

HOUSTON: For once, the Astros have some hope. Guarded hope, but hope nonetheless. A solid core is growing thanks to George Springer’s dynamism, Jose Altuve’s electricity, Chris Carter’s power and the unexpectedly strong pitching of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. They’ve fortified their bullpen with Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, added Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbeuna to their lineup and have future pieces like former top picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel. Houston may not be great yet, but the rise is coming.

LOS ANGELES: Mike Trout is the best, their rotation should be great when healthy, Huston Street gives them an excellent bullpen, Mike Scioscia is excellent, blah blah blah…I’m having a hard time thinking positively about the Angels right now in the aftermath of their shameful handling of Josh Hamilton winning his drug suspension appeal. Hamilton clearly has personal issues to deal with and for the team to pile on like it did was inexcusable in every way. I sincerely hope Hamilton gets help and never has to play for this team again.

OAKLAND: The Athletics had one of the strangest offseasons of any team I can remember. They dealt off Jeff Samardzija just months after giving up a prized shortstop prospect to get him and puzzlingly sent Donaldson away for Brett Lawrie, but also added Billy Butler, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard. So while the A’s may be solid once again, it’s anyone’s guess what Billy Beane will do during the season. It doesn’t matter if they’re bad or good, Beane could deal anyone at anytime. It makes predicting how they’ll be this year very difficult.

SEATTLE: It seems like every year folks jump on the Mariners’ bandwagon and 2015 is no different. It’s hard not to be drawn in thanks to the AL’s best pitcher, Felix Hernandez, the new big bat addition of Cruz and Robinson Cano coming off a strong first year in Seattle. I’m just not sure they’ve added enough to really be a threat to the Angels. They’ll need healthy and productive campaigns from Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton while asking a lot of 38-year-old closer Fernando Rodney. Right now, I don’t see a big year in Seattle.

TEXAS: Yu Darvish became the latest major casualty of the Tommy John epidemic running through baseball these last few years, and man does that suck for him, the Rangers and baseball in general. Texas will attempt to make due with what’s left around including Derek Holland and newly-acquired Yovani Gallardo. The Rangers were inundated with injuries last year and will look to get a full season out of Prince Fielder in 2015. They should be competitive if their rotation and bullpen hold up.

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