2015 MLB Season Preview: American League
By RYAN KAMBER
It’s that time of year, everyone, and the new season is almost upon us! Following an off-season full of impact trades and signings, the landscape of baseball is changed and parity throughout the league is reaching historic levels, leaving thousands of questions to be asked and answered over the course of the next six months. So, without further ado, here are your official JerEcho American League Predictions.
American League East:
1. Toronto Blue Jays: With a potent offense that includes speedster Jose Reyes and sluggers Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and new addition Josh Donaldson, the Toronto Blue Jays seem bound to light up major league pitching. A so-so pitching staff led by former NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey can actually be improved by the Jays’ new $82.5 million catcher Russell Martin who is a great fielder, a phenomenal pitch framer, and an excellent handler of pitchers. I expect the Blue Jays to come out on top in a weaker-than-usual American League East.
2. Baltimore Orioles: The reigning AL East champs may have lost designated hitter, Nelson Cruz, who led baseball with 40 homers last year. However, O’s fans can look forward to getting All-Stars Manny Machado and Matt Wieters back into one of the best offenses in baseball. Adam Jones remains one of the game’s most consistent players putting up almost boringly identical stats every year (.283 BA, 26 HRs, 85 RBIs, and 11 SBs). As for pitching, the O’s have an underrated rotation that includes workhorse Chris Tilman and veterans Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris.
3. New York Yankees: The bombers enter 2015 as one of the most iffy teams in baseball. After failing to make the playoffs and seeing a legend retire in each of the last two seasons, the Yanks have the potential to be very good; however, they can also be very bad. Their offense includes injury risks Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran. Another name in this lineup is the always controversial Alex Rodriguez, who is coming off the longest suspension in major league history after not playing a single game last season. As for the rotation, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda are a great 1-2 at the top of the rotation, but both are prone to injury. CC Sabathia wasn’t healthy much last year, and even when he was, he wasn’t very effective. Nathan Eovaldi can be a huge x-factor for the Yankees. Acquired from Miami, Eovaldi has arguably the best raw fastball in the American League, though control problems and the lack of a good secondary pitch caused him to give up the most hits in the National League last year. The bullpen can be very good with Andrew Miller or rookie of the year finalist Dellin Betances closing, although Betances has struggled with both velocity and command this spring which can be a huge issue in the regular season. So with all their questions, I put the New York Yankees in third place, but don’t be surprised if they finish any higher or lower.
4. Boston Red Sox: GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox had one of the American League’s most busy off-seasons acquiring two of the best hitters on the free agent market in third baseman Pablo Sandoval and shortstop-turned-outfielder Hanley Ramirez. Manager John Farrell has got to be excited to write these two names in a lineup card that already includes all-stars David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Napoli. However, their pitching staff can be a major issue. Clay Buchholz (who had an MLB worst 5.34 ERA among qualifiers last year) is their ace, and I find that laughable. New additions Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson are okay I guess, but if the Red Sox really want to contend for a championship, they desperately need to bolster their rotation.
5. Tampa Bay Rays: Poor Tampa. This once inspiring small market contender has little going for them. Already owners of one of baseball’s worst fanbases and tenants of the dump known as Tropicana Field, the Rays lost one of baseball’s best managers in Joe Madden and general manager Andrew Freeman. Without these two men at the helm, the Rays just seem lost. The rotation is decent with up-and-coming Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Drew Smyly. The offense is pretty ugly with Evan Longoria being the only true threat. It’s likely to be a long year for this club.
American League Central:
1. Chicago White Sox: Arguably the most improved team of the off-season, the White Sox traded for southpaw Jeff Samardzija, giving them a fantastic 1-2 punch of ace Chris Sale and Samardzija. They bolstered the bullpen by adding former Yankee closer, David Robertson. Not to mention the fact that they improved an offense that already included last year’s AL Rookie of the Year, Jose Abreu, by signing outfielder Melky Cabrera and first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche. With a deep rotation, a solid bullpen, and what looks to be a productive offense, in a division that has been won by Detroit every year since 2011, the White Sox have a roster that looks more than capable to unseat the Tigers.
2.Detroit Tigers (1st Wildcard): The Tigers’ window for a championship is closing quickly. After letting former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer walk in free agency and trading away breakout pitcher Rick Porcello, Detroit’s once strong rotation is looking depleted as ever. Free-agent-to-be David Price is a fantastic ace, however there isn’t much to this staff after him. Justin Verlander, who just a few years ago was widely viewed as the best pitcher in the world, has seen a steep decline over the past few years, posting a 4.54 ERA last year, good for fifth worst in the American League. The rest of the rotation consists of Anibal Sanchez, and two new acquisitions Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon. The offense, on the other hand, is still in great shape. Former Triple Crown winner and two time MVP Miguel Cabrera is coming off his version of a “down year” (.313 BA, 25 HRs, and 109 RBIs). He is surrounded by offensive weapons such as DH Victor Martinez, who finished 2nd in AL MVP voting last year, second baseman Ian Kinsler, last year’s breakout star JD Martinez, and new slugging Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The bullpen is shaky as usual, but overall this is a good club that we will most likely see more of in October.
3. Cleveland Indians: Even with the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, MVP finalist Michael Brantley, and two time World Series winning manager Terry Francona, the Indians continue to fly under the radar. Keep an eye on them, because with a young rotation full of potential and a decent offense, the Indians will definitely be in the mix for a wild card spot.
4. Kansas City Royals: By now you’re asking, “Are you serious?” The Kansas City Royals were an inhuman Madison Bumgarner away from winning the World Series last year! Why in the world do you think they will take such a giant step back and finish in fourth place? That can easily be explained. First, last year’s ace, “Big Game James” Shields is now in San Diego. Yordano Ventura is a great young arm, but it’s a little early to consider him an ace. Secondly, the AL Central may be the best it’s ever been. Kansas City may very well still finish over .500, however, don’t expect to see them playing any October baseball.
5.Minnesota Twins: The rebuild that started in 2011 is so close to being over. Minnesota’s farm system is one of the best in the league. With MLB.com’s top-rated prospect, outfielder Byron Buxton, knocking on the door of the bigs, the Twins cannot possibly be mediocre for much longer. Tori Hunter’s return to Minnesota provides a fantastic veteran leader for prospects like Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Alex Meyer. Brian Dozier is among the top second baseman in the American League, and under-the-radar guys like Oswaldo Arcia and Kenny Vargas can potentially provide offense for a solid veteran pitching staff that includes Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana. Expect an improvement from last year, but don’t expect them to make any noise in the central… yet.
American League West:
1. Seattle Mariners: The Seattle Mariners may be the best team in the American League. Their signing of slugging DH Nelson Cruz appears to be a match made in heaven, providing protection for baseball’s best second baseman, Robinson Cano. The Mariners also extended homegrown third baseman Kyle Seager for seven years $100 million, a fantastic deal for both sides. Outfielders Austin Jackson and Seth Smith also fit in nicely to this lineup. While there is a lot to like about the M’s offense, there is even more to like about their pitching. Mariners ace, Felix Hernandez, is the best right-handed pitcher on the planet. Hisashi Iwakuma finished third in Cy Young Award voting two years ago and has quietly dominated the league since his arrival in 2012 (38 Wins, 3.07 ERA, 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings). Veteran JA Happ and young guns James Paxton and Taijuan Walker seem poised to take the league by storm. Walker, in particular, is having a phenomenal spring letting up just a single run, and striking out 24 in 25 innings total. With a solid bullpen anchored by closer Fernando Rodney, the Seattle Mariners look like the cream of the crop in the American League.
2. Oakland Athletics (2nd Wildcard): This is really just on a hunch. The Oakland Athletics have had a turbulent and questionable off-season to say the very least. After a midseason gamble that saw the A’s trade away Yoenis Cespedes and top prospect Addison Russell, among others, to acquire pitchers Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel, Oakland (who sat comfortably in first place at the time of those trades) collapsed in the second half of the season, barely clinching a wildcard on the regular season’s last day. In the wild card game in Kansas City, the A’s squandered multiple leads, losing an instant classic to the eventual AL champs in extra innings. After failing to advance past the first round in the first round three years in a row, GM Billy Beane decided that his club needed a makeover. He traded away all-stars Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija, and Derek Norris as well as countless other players to acquire value players such as Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, and Tyler Clippard. While many people are writing the new-look Athletics off right away, in my experience, I have learned never to doubt Billy Beane. Expect a breakout year for young pitcher Sonny Gray and a wildcard spot for the Oakland Athletics.
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Some negatives for the Angels: last year’s best pitcher, Garrett Richards, won’t be ready for opening day after the gruesome leg injury he suffered last season. Josh Hamilton, who has been disappointing since he had signed that five-year $125 contract before the 2013 season, is going to start off injured and suspended after an episode with cocaine in the off-season. Also, their top two pitchers, Jared Weaver and CJ Wilson are obviously in decline. The positives? A 23-year-old centerfielder and reigning AL MVP by the name of Mike Trout, who is the best player in baseball, period. He hasn’t even played three full seasons, yet he’s been in the top two for MVP voting every year since he broke into the league. The offense is looking well, even without Hamilton and second baseman Howie Kendrick who was traded away to the other Los Angeles team in the off-season, the Angels still boast a lineup that includes future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols, speedy shortstop Eric Aybar, up and coming lead-off man Kole Calhoun, and of course, Mike Trout. Coming off a season in which they had the best record in the American League, it appears that the Halos will take a step back this year.
4. Houston Astros: Your 2017 World Series Champions! The Astros have been comically bad in past years, although they continue to improve along with their farm system. With young power hitting outfielder George Springer, last year’s batting champ Jose Altuve, solid arms in Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, and a good bullpen that includes new additions Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, the Astros will continue to take steps forward.
5. Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish’s Tommy John surgery spells out another bad season for the Rangers. The rotation has no depth and new acquisition Yovani Gallardo is going to get shelled in the boom box known as Globe Life Park. After Gallardo, Derek Holland, and mediocre Colby Lewis, the rest of the Rangers’ pitching is basically just one big, “Who is that?” Consider them the Rockies of the American League, because while their pitching is a joke, they’ve still got some great bats. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is one of MLB’s ageless wonders. Seriously, the guy is 36 years old and hasn’t batted below .296 since 2010. His power was down last year (19 home runs) but with stars Prince Fielder and Shin Soo Choo coming back from injury this year, expect Beltre’s power, as well as the rest of Texas’s offense, to go back up.
MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Heaney, Angels
Manager of the Year: Robin Ventura, White Sox
Wildcard Game: Tigers over Athletics
(1) Seattle Mariners over (4) Tigers in four games
(2) White Sox over (3) Blue Jays in five games
(1) Seattle Mariners over (2) Chicago White Sox in six games