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Previewing The American League: Seattle's Time Is Now

Andrew Schultz |
April 3, 2015 | 9:15 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

With baseball season almost upon us, let’s try and predict what surprises may come with the new season, as well as division champions and major award winners.

Breakout Player

Red Sox 3B/SS Xander Bogaerts

Despite being one of the more exciting Red Sox prospects over the last couple years, Bogaerts has yet to live up to his hype on the field. He’s provided below-average defense at short and third, although he gets a little slack for being moved to third late last season, and is coming off a season where he hit a mere .240 with 12 home runs and 28 doubles. He’ll be the full-time shortstop with Pablo Sandoval at the hot corner, and I expect this to be the season he hits his stride, getting more comfortable at shortstop, improving his batting average, and becoming one of the league leaders in doubles. He’s currently hitting .261 in spring training with 2 homers and 3 doubles.

Bold Predictions

Alex Rodriguez will lead the Yankees in home runs

Brian McCann led the Yankees last season with 23 home runs, while Mark Teixiera finished second with 22 home runs. Age is a huge concern with this year’s squad, and they will likely be without key players at points during the season, including either McCann or Teixiera, due to rest or injury. A-Rod, who will be back with the Yankees after serving a year-long suspension last season, is currently tied with Chase Headley for the spring training home run crown with 3, to go along with a .286 average. Headley only hit over 15 homers in one season (31 with San Diego in 2012), and it seems unlikely that this would be the year. Despite being 39, I expect A-Rod to rack up about 25-30 homers this season, which could be enough to lead the Bronx Bombers.

Royals will fall to fourth in the AL Central

The Kansas City Royals provided a great story last season, making the playoffs and World Series for the first time in 29 years, only to fall to the San Francisco Giants in seven games. They enter 2015 without two of their biggest names in James Shields and Billy Butler, and weren’t very active during the offseason. Considering the strengths of the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox, it’ll be hard for the Royals to repeat last year’s success, and they’ll probably end up falling down to where they’ve generally spent the last couple decades.

The American League will lose the All-Star Game and World Series

This is really only considered a bold prediction because the American League is 14-3-1 in the All-Star Game since the 1997 season. With Jon Lester, James Shields, and Max Scherzer in the National League, the NL has a clear advantage on the pitching front, especially with Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Adam Wainwright. I expect players like Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen to provide the offense, allowing the pitching staff to shut down the AL en route to home-field advantage. The advantage will wind up crucial, as a National League team (either the Nationals or the Dodgers) will win the World Series.

Division Previews

AL West

The Rangers and Astros are in rebuilding mode, and the Rangers look to be sellers by the trade deadline with Yu Darvish out. The Angels were fairly quiet, while the Athletics have a completely different team than the one than made the wildcard game last season. The Mariners added a little bit of pop with Nelson Cruz, giving them an offense that should be as productive as their pitching staff.

While the Angels are poised for another strong season, their rotation leaves a lot to be desired, as Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson aren’t the most dominating top-of-the-rotation starters in baseball. The Mariners should be able to push themselves to the top of the standings behind their pitching and newly-acquired power.

Champion: Seattle Mariners

AL Central

A division that has been dominated by the Tigers in recent years is likely going to get a lot more competitive this upcoming season. The Tigers lost both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello from their rotation, but should be able to generate plenty of offense with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Yoenis Cespedes. The Indians made it close until the end of last year, and are led by reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. The White Sox have one of the strongest 1-2 punches at the start of the rotation in Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija. The Royals are expected to drop in the standings after losing key players, and the Twins are waiting for their top prospects to get to the major league level.

Until another team takes their crown, I have to go with the Tigers. Their 1-2 of David Price and Anibal Sanchez can compete with any other team, and their offense has the potential to be one of the best in the majors.

Champion: Detroit Tigers

AL East

The AL East could be the most competitive division in all of baseball, with no team having a clear advantage. The Red Sox made the biggest splash by adding Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. The Yankees had a quiet offseason for the first time in recent memory, the Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, and the Orioles and Rays lost major contributors to free agency or trades. Each team has major weaknesses: the Yankees are old and have done little to change that, the Red Sox and Blue Jays lack a true ace in the rotation, the Rays are back to relying on young talent after losing Wil Myers and Ben Zobrist, and the Orioles’ two best players are either coming off down seasons (Chris Davis) or injuries (Manny Machado).

I expect the AL East to come down to the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Red Sox. The Orioles have the pitching advantage over both teams, and they should be able to generate enough offense to win the AL East for the second year in a row.

Champion: Baltimore Orioles

Wild Card Game: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Cleveland Indians

World Series Representative: Seattle Mariners

The Mariners appear to be one of the most well-balanced teams in the American League, and I expect them to be the front-runners to reach their first World Series in franchise history.

Award Picks

Cy Young Award: Mariners SP Felix Hernandez

While the Cy Young race isn’t as loaded as the National League, especially with both Jon Lester and Max Scherzer signing with the Cubs and Nationals, respectively, there are plenty of strong candidates for the Cy Young award. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber surprised everyone by making a late push to win the award last season, and he’ll have to keep that momentum if he hopes to win it for a second consecutive season. Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, and David Price are all considered favorites for the award, and all of them will ensure a tight race until the end of the season.

Unfortunately, most of the likely candidates come with their own risks. Kluber is unlikely to maintain his second-half pace for an entire season. Tanaka’s elbow is a huge concern, while Price wasn’t exactly lights-out after being traded to the Tigers. That leaves Sale and Hernandez, and, although both are exceptionally strong pitchers, the fact that the Mariners are a common playoff pick means King Felix could be headed for his first Cy Young award.

MVP: Angels OF Mike Trout

Unlike some of the other awards, the race for Most Valuable Player has a clear frontrunner. Reigning champion Mike Trout has torn up the league since his rookie season in 2012, finishing as MVP runner-up in 2012 and 2013 before finally winning the award in 2014. Trout has led the American League in runs scored in each of his first three full seasons, and is only two home runs away from a 100-homer/100-steal career.

Trout will need to improve if he wants to win the award again, however. He led the American League with 184 strikeouts, and posted (only) 16 steals for the season. He has worked during the offseason and spring training on being more aggressive on the basepaths and more selective in the strike-zone, and he’ll likely need to improve on both fronts, while maintaining his other excellent numbers, in order to come out on top. He’ll have to watch out for potential bounce-back seasons from Rays 3B Evan Longoria, Orioles 3B Manny Machado, and Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera, as well as strong campaigns from Jose Abreu, Seattle 2B Robinson Cano, and Tigers C/DH Victor Martinez.

Rookie of the Year: Rays OF Steven Souza

Last year’s Rookie of the Year race was essentially a two-man race between White Sox 1B Jose Abreu and Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka, until Tanaka missed a significant portion of the second half with an elbow injury. Abreu went on to win the award unanimously after finishing with a .317 batting average, 36 homers, and 107 RBIs. In 2012, Mike Trout won the award after tallying a .326 average, 30 homers, and a league-leading 49 steals and 129 runs.

Luckily for baseball fans, this season’s rookie class should be a lot more evenly matched, with a variety of highly touted prospects set to debut this year, especially in the AL East. The Blue Jays have six rookies on their roster, led by pitcher Daniel Norris and OF Dalton Pompey, while OF Rusney Castillo will likely contribute for the Red Sox, despite not starting the season in the starting lineup. However, the rookie that will likely have the biggest impact is Rays OF Steven Souza, who was acquired from the Nationals. He hit .350 with 18 homers and 26 steals in Triple-A last season, and will likely be counted on to help generate some offense with Wil Myers now in San Diego. I expect him to rise to the challenge, and become the third Rays player to win ROTY in the last five years (Jeremy Hellickson in 2011, Wil Myers in 2013).

Reach Staff Reporter Andrew Schultz here or follow him on Twitter @SChultz315.



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