After second-guessing my way through the AL Central, I’m here to assure you the rest of the way in the American League. I guarantee I know what I’m doing and I’m definitely not just checking in on who’s been transferred between all the teams…..well, at least I’ll have this down by the NL West, right?
Anyway, here’s what I think may or may not happen in those teams that comprise your American League in the west:
The news is only good for fans in Houston: the championship is nearly all intact. Carlos Beltran understandably retired on a high note, while Francisco Liriano made it up to Detroit with Mike Fiers in tow. Fiers barely made a dent in the Astros championship, so he and Tyler Clippard won’t be missed. (Clippard helped down the stretch but not one pitch in the postseason, and heads to Toronto). The only true impactful player that’s gone is rental role player Cameron Maybin, who snuck off to Miami. The no-brainer move was to retain AL MVP Jose Altuve, and he’ll be joined by all those teammates that watched him grimace last week in the White House ceremony: George Springer (World Series MVP), Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Evan Gattis and Brian McCann. Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel will be followed up by Gerrit Cole while any trepidations about Ken Giles retaining the closer position will be soothed with the knowledge that former Cubs closer Hector Rondon will be backing him up. There will definitely be a small amount of regression, but this team is such a complete group that I feel they have the best chance of a repeat since the late nineties Yankees.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
There’s a big old Japanese shaped question mark to start the season for the Angels. Shohei Ohtani allowed Anaheim to win the lottery and sign him, or did they? Reports from training camp paint a stark picture of Ohtani failing to adjust to American baseball as well as one might hope. The onetime top news item will struggle his way into the rotation, but if he hits a spark, watch out. He could be the clear ace on a team wishing to make their way back into the playoffs. One thing that will definitely help is the inclusion of Ian Kinsler and Zack Cosart. With the middle infield secured with some of the speediest in the game, the runs should rise from the basement (22nd in runs, 27th in total bases). Jack Johnson will hopefully stabilize the bullpen behind Cam Bedrosian, who now commands the closer role. Garret Richards should have a bounce-back campaign, but this whole thing might hinge on Ohtani proving himself.
Oakland hasn’t had a breakout pitching star in the rotation since Sonny Gray managed to turn the Bay area team’s fortunes around in 2014 alongside Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija. Could it happen this year, after they’ve picked up a handful of bullpen movers and a pair of bats to bolster the hitting? Will Jharel Cotton win our hearts? Not this year, as he was shut down Wednesday with Tommy John surgery. How about their number one prospect, AJ Puk? Nope, he’s out with bicep tightness. He won’t be dazzling us for some time. Paul Blackburn? Never mind, he was knocked out on Thursday with a possible torn UCL….with worries he’ll follow Cotton down the Tommy John rabbit hole. So we’re back to the ragtag group from last year, including Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea and Daniel Gossett. The moneyball era rolls on, folks, and you’ll hope for some tinder being sparked by hot bats with names like Matt Joyce or Matt Olson…or Matt Chapman. They did add Stephen Piscotty (St. Louis) and Jonathan Lucroy (Colorado), so there’s a chance they won’t just be the walking mat of the baseball world.
Ichiro’s back, baby! That’s really the most important part of this series of articles for me, as I love this guy and I hope his return to Seattle fares a tiny bit better than Griffey’s stop back home. He hasn’t been his stellar self, but the guy is ageless and apparently wants to play through age 50, seemingly becoming the Jaromir Jagr of baseball. If he can slam at least 30 more hits, he’ll move into the top 20 hitters in MLB all time. Oh, right, it’s not just about Ichiro. Seattle? They’re in prime position for the third straight year to break back into meaningful October baseball. Now that the Bills have ended the longest drought in professional sports, Seattle is the next up. They can hand that title over to the Cleveland Browns (perhaps briefly) if usual suspects Robinson Cano, Jean Segura and Nelson Cruz can put in career years, or at least decently similar years to their past few. Dee Gordon is another nice addition to the squad, and should be a quick shot into their arms and legs. The biggest hope is that there will be two ageless wonders in the Emerald City, as Felix Hernandez would like to bounce back from perhaps his worst year in professional baseball. James Paxton is consistently better each year, and Mike Leake will be able to prove the trade towards the end of last season was worth it. I’d like to make some of the bold claims I did last year, but this really is Houston’s division to lose, and the Angels made more money moves than Seattle.
Amidst the fire sales in Pittsburgh and Miami, and the crashing in Detroit and Tampa Bay, it’s been lost that Texas is gambling for that basement view in the standings. Yu Darvish chose the Cubs over a return home to Arlington, though many would say that’s a bullet well dodged. Time will tell on that, but Andrew Cashner and Miguel Gonzalez were fine ballast weights for the backend and could improve on their respective teams this season. Cole Hamels may leave if things go south quickly, but the Rangers are hoping some second and third chances on journeyman pitchers Matt Moore, Doug Fister and Mike Minor will prove to be the Cinderella story of the season. My guess? The bats will be more meaningful, with Elvis Andrus frustrated and carrying the team towards .500. The mediocrity will be hidden behind their inability to patch together win OR losing streaks. If their multiple injuries remedy themselves soon, or Tim Lincecum recovers for a second career, Texas may be the talk of the town.
With that, we complete the American League! You can probably guess who I think will overpower each division, but we’ll wait until Wednesday to find out where I expect the postseason to develop. Tomorrow I’ll begin the National League with a cross-country trip back to the East. Don’t forget a fly-over to the Central on Monday, and we’ll finish things off with the NL West on Tuesday.
Thanks for sticking with us!