Good Sports: American League Baseball

So yes, baseball has technically started – there have been three games already, including one from the American League – but it’s okay, the Yankees lost. So how do I think that and other factors will affect the league that prefers their pitchers don’t hit, like how Madison Bumgarner (who had two home runs today, leading the league so far) does? Let’s find out:

AL East

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Boston Red Sox – I am not totally as optimistic as most people are for this team to win it all, but that’s the first twenty years of my life telling me to still be wary of the Red Sox, even after their three championships of recent years. Even then, the Sox have one of the most solid rotations in baseball, even before obtaining Chris Sale in that blockbuster trade back in December. David Price is questionable to start the season, but I do believe he should turn around his disappointing venture in Beantown. Eduardo Rodriguez is a wonderful young option for the team, and Rick Porcello is the reigning Cy Young winner. The biggest x-factor is that David Ortiz has finally retired. Sure, his offensive output spiked in his final year, but I think it was more going for broke because of the knowledge he could go out on a high point. Anyway, it’s a big hole to fill, and I don’t know that Hanley Ramirez can do it alone. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia will still be good, but I bet Andrew Benentendi will potentially fill that void. Time will tell.

Toronto Blue Jays – Now here’s where we’re not really sure what will play out. After seemingly casting off veterans RA Dickey and Jose Bautista, they brought the latter back on a one-year deal. He’s not the phenom he once was, and the curtain will likely close after 2017 for him to lead the team to another championship. Pitching isn’t as stable as once thought, but Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada are joined by last year’s acquisition Francisco Liriano for a longer campaign, and he can add some much needed stability after workhorsing for the Pirates. Kendrys Morales comes over to fill in on the DH, though I’m surprised at the deal thrown his way, especially for someone replacing Edwin Encarnacion. They’re putting a lot of stock in a journeyman, though I also have put a lot of stock in the other power players here, like Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Russel Martin. I’m banking on the Jays returning once again to the playoffs, but this time hopefully diving much deeper than the last few times.

New York Yankees – Here’s where a lot of people have put a little too much stock in some players. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez burst onto the scene last season, the former literally blasting his way into the record books. So it’s a bit of an understatement to say that everyone expects the pair to vault the Yankees back into the baseball gods’ good standings. Unfortunately, these wannabe Icari are more likely to fall back to Earth, especially when the lengthy and intensive schedule to come. I’m guessing they’ll be great in the long-term, two players to build a team around, but they may have to wait a year or two before the Blue Jays and Orioles officially fall off. By then many veterans will be gone and more prospects will be up to prove themselves anyway. In my opinion, this is a very 50/50 team. Judge and Sanchez won’t push them ahead. Certainly not with the fading rotation, either.

Baltimore Orioles – I like this team, but will they be better than the shiftily resurgent Yankees? I definitely don’t think they rank above the Red Sox, not with the aging rotation led by Ubaldo Jiminez and Kevin Gausman. I don’t even think their batters will be better than Toronto’s – Manny Machado and Adam Jones are beloved in Charm City, but they’re aging too, and likely to bounce as soon as their contracts end in 2019. So the time is now to go for it, but a lot of their key players left this or last summer – Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chin (who was better here), etc. So where does this leave the team? On the decline, or with one last spurt of energy, lashing out for the second wild-card? I’m thinking they fall out only to reconfigure for one last run next year with their stars…then a massive rebuild. Eh, I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, I’m guessing fourth place. Certainly can’t be any worse than the…

Tampa Bay Rays – It seems like another age that the Tampa Bay Rays were hosting the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Yet, here we are, another reminder that time marches on as the roller coaster ride that most teams find themselves drags them towards the inevitable dip in quality. Sure enough, the Rays will find themselves back on top, but they’re going to be bottom of the barrel now or within a year. Most of their best players have left, including James Shields, David Price, Matt Garza, Jason Hammel, Carl Crawford, Matt Moore, BJ Upton, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist. It happens with everyone, and this year it’s happening to Tampa. The only 2008 veteran left is Evan Longoria, who has honorably held the team up for nearly another decade while other teams waned and waxed around him. Chris Archer came later, and has been touted as the future, but chances are he’ll be dealt to invest in that greater beyond. Corey Dickerson and Jake Odorizzi are two other names to peek during this season, but there isn’t much hope beyond those four. Hey, who knows – they did beat the Yankees on opening day…

AL Central

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Cleveland Indians – I was so psyched the Indians made it to the World Series in 2016. Of course they had to go up against history and the Chicago Cubs kicking the billy goat out of Wrigley. So that just means they’ll make their own history this year, right? Statistics says no, but statistics also say they’ll have their best chance this October as well. Boy, does the team look as ready as they did at the end of last year – Mike Napoli may have headed south to Texas, but they found maybe the best damn replacement with Edwin Encarnacion.

Kansas City Royals – At lot of people were surprised and a lot of people were unsurprised that the Royals regressed last season. After building themselves up to a championship, they fell out on the injuries of several key players – which makes total sense, as the long haul of October often takes the toll on unexperienced players. When they return, of course, they are almost always ready for the challenge of returning to the playoffs. That’s what I think will happen here, especially as the only Cubs to leave Chicago after winning (other than Dexter Fowler) came to Kansas City. Jason Hammel and Travis Wood can only bolster an already decent rotation, despite tragically losing Yordano Ventura in the offseason to a car accident in his home country. Danny Duffy is a Cy Young candidate out of the gate and Ian Kennedy should have a nice bounceback year – on top of healthy seasons from Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. There’s no doubt in my mind that this team can be more consistent, they just needed to have an off year to rest.

Detroit Tigers – The Tigers were bad last year. I had posited them as a surprise comeback kid of the year, but they sputtered almost as badly as 2015. The good news was that Justin Verlander returned to form, and should have at least one more decent year on his arm, so there’s the chance they slide back into contention on his back. However, there are a lot of questions: If Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez break down, who are they going to turn to for power? The outfield is full of rookies and the infield has Ian Kinsler. Pitching beyond Verlander? Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris are somewhat decent, but nowhere on the level the Indians are. At best, I’m betting for a third place spot.

Minnesota Twins – Now we can talk about surprises. While I’m for now in agreement with most pundits that the Twins have another year before they get talked about at length for playoffs, this could be the surprise of the season merely for the underrated rotation they have going. Ervin Santana, Hector Santiago and Kirk Gibson are all solid performers, while Phil Hughes has a chance to redeem himself after rocketing back and forth in quality the past two years. They could be sneaky good, and start modeling themselves after the Royals run over the past few years – Brian Dozier is set to top the league in stolen bases, while Miguel Sano has two ways of making runs – his legs and his bat. Some of the bSeattle Marinersit players are unknown, like Detroit, but I like the Twins for the Cinderella of 2017.

Chicago White Sox – Speaking of cinders, the White Sox clearly were set to burn their team down and rise from the ashes another day. Chris Sale could have been the player to build around, but by trading him to the other Sox, they have a lot of future to look forward to. Other than Todd Frazier, the offense is a ragtag group that could rival the Athletics and Padres for ignominy. James Shields is a shell of his former self and while Jose Quintana will be solid, there’ll surely be a trade watch on for him. Good for the Sox, they’ll certainly be ready for 2019.

AL West

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Seattle Mariners – This is my bold prediction division. You’d probably already figured that out from the picture above. Let’s go for broke – Robinson Cano gets MVP. James Paxton proves how great he could have been last year and vies for the Cy Young, going 19-5. Felix returns to form and does almost as good. The one-two punch is bolstered by star making campaigns from Kyle Seager and Michael Zunino, and Nelson Cruz remains in form by crushing that AL batting title. Bold predictions? Why not call Jean Segura the steal of the year, after Seattle nabbed him over the summer in the Fernando Rodney trade? Edwin Diaz is a fine replacement, by the way. Let’s go all the way and say they’ll win the whole kitten….eh, let’s wait for tomorrow and see where this goes. For now by boldness stands at winning the division.

Houston Astros – So I met a prospect for the Astros yesterday while filming the opening day for Princeton baseball, where they swept the Brown Bears 2-0. I can’t tell you his name, but he does play for their Short-Season A team, the Tri-City ValleyCats. What I can tell you is that if Seattle isn’t nearly as good as really only I believe they can be, Houston will nab that top slot. Just look at the team: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Mike FIers, Ken Giles. Add to that Carlos Beltran, Nori Aoki and Lance Reddick and you have one of the best teams on paper. Heck, without the latter three I had the team making it to the World Series last year, so I have a good feeling about this team anyway. As long as the team stays healthy, and gels with its newcomers, it’ll do much better than last season, particularly against their greatest rival…..

Texas Rangers – Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels are arguably the best one-two punch in baseball. Beyond that, I…at least…can’t name the rest off the top of my head. Ah, wikipedia tells me it’s Martin Perez and AJ Griffin. Well Griff was on Oakland last year, and Perez is solid, so I’ll give them that, but really we’re looking at a 50/50 team. The reason they made it so high last year was Houston’s regression, Seattle’s inability to field an apt team and being so highly overrated pre-season, while everyone gambled that Cole Hamels would balk and Yu Darvish would come back from injury useless. Jonathan Lucroy insisting on Texas becoming his everyday routine was a boon, and Mike Napoli won’t hurt either. But the rest of the team has a big question mark hanging over its head – will they remain relevant? In my opinion, the AL West will continue to rotate back and forth, and this is merely just a down year for Texas.

Oakland Athletics – So Oakland is still doing their Oakland thing, picking up the dregs of baseball and attempting to turn them into gold. This year’s notorious lineup includes Trevor Plouffe, Jed Lowrie and the return of Rajai Davis, who join usual suspects Marcus Semien, Chris Davis and Steven Vogt. While that has the potential for potency, the pitching is another story. Today’s opener has Kendall Graveman, a long time third or fourth starter, since Sonny Gray is starting on the DL. Doesn’t bode well for a return to the playoffs.

Los Angeles Angels – Sad to say, but the A’s should still be better than the Angels. I love Garrett Richards, but rumor has it he’s wonky since elbow and knee surgery. It’s a shame. But there’s not much past him. Matt Shoemaker? And the offense isn’t really much to speak of past perennial MVP Mike Trout. Albert Pujols is nearing the end of his tenure, Kole Calhoun is more of a filler than a star. So who’s left? Cameron Maybin? Andrelton Simmons? It’s another bargain year, and likely will end with Trout on the Yankees. Bold predix? Sure. But rapidly making more sense.


Tune in tomorrow for my playoff predictions!

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