2016 MLB Season Preview: American League
By NICK ALBICOCCO
After a year of teams rising from obscurity to make the playoffs, there shouldn’t be many surprises this year. Who’ll represent the AL in the Fall Classic? Will the Royals make it three straight years of World Series appearances or will the Astros take the next step after an unforeseen 2015? Who will take home the MVP and CY Young awards? Whatever happens, there’s no doubt this upcoming season will be unforgettable.
- New York Yankees
The Yankees didn’t do much past offseason, yet they will end up winning the AL East. How? It all starts with their bullpen. After trading for flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman and retaining Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, the Yankees boast a frightening threesome of relievers that will make it seem as if the team needs to lead after 6 innings to secure a win because these guys are nearly unhittable. Additionally, the team has three good starters in Nathan Eovaldi, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino along with a deep, powerful lineup that is sure to hit plenty of home runs. The lineup took a hit when Greg Bird was announced out for the season but as long as top players Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Texiera can escape the injury bug, the Yankees should win the division.
- Toronto Blue Jays
After winning the AL East last season, the Blue Jays failed to resign star pitcher David Price. Nonetheless, the Blue Jays have a rising star in Marcus Stroman (who’s from Long Island) and a 20-year-old closer who has a nasty repertoire of pitches. Yet, the lineup is what makes the Blue Jays an entertaining team. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki and AL MVP Josh Donaldson form a fearsome foursome. Bautista, Encarnacion, and Donaldson all hit 40+ home runs last year. I would not be surprised to see the Blue Jays fighting with the Yankees all year for the division crown.
- Boston Red Sox
On paper, the Red Sox lineup looks ridiculously stacked. Yet the games are played on a baseball field and that is why the Red Sox won’t perform as well as they should. Second basemen Dustin Pedroia routinely struggles to stay healthy. Corner infielders Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are subpar defenders. On the other hand, the outfield is loaded with power bats and great defenders with Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. Obviously, DH David Ortiz will try to put on a show for his last season. On the rubber, the Red Sox went out and signed David Price for a small sum of $217,000,000 and traded for the top closer in baseball, Craig Kimbrel. Unfortunately, the rest of the rotation is shaky and most of the bullpen is full of old, worn-down relievers.
- Baltimore Orioles
After making the ALCS in 2014, the Orioles regressed big-time in 2015, not even making the playoffs. Over the offseason, they acquired 2 players with tremendous power in Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez. Add these two to a lineup that already features multiple all-stars in Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones, and the Orioles have a potent offense capable of putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, many of these Orioles are high-strikeout hitters, which causes the team to be streaky at times. The bullpen is solid with Zach Britton and Darren O’Day holding down the fort. Lastly, the rotation is rather sketchy. After Chris Tillman and Yovani Gallardo, the remaining starters have a tendency to lose control and give up big innings. The Orioles are not a bad team, and if they played in any division but the AL East, they would finish higher than 4th place.
- Tampa Bay Rays
Before analyzing the team, it is important to note that the Rays play in the most awful stadium of any professional sports team, which often leads to fans of opponents outnumbering Rays fans. The Rays’ strength is their starting pitching. They have a core of young starters such as Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Matt Moore with a high K/9 ratio. It’s the offense that drags the team down. The Rays don’t have much protection around Evan Longoria, who is their top hitter. Kevin Kiermaier (who’s a defensive whiz) and new acquisition Corey Dickerson are probably the 2nd and 3rd best hitters, which signals how shallow this team is. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rays end up with a top 5 draft pick for the 2017 Draft.
- Kansas City Royals
The reigning World Series champions proved that home run hitting is not a necessity to win a title. Instead, it’s a combination of speed, contact hitting, and great pitching. Well, over the offseason, the Royals shored up their bullpen by adding former all-star Joakim Soria, and signed SP Ian Kennedy to fill the #2 slot left open by the departure of Johnny Cueto. While the team chose not to resign 2B Ben Zobrist and RF Alex Rios, they did resign one of the glue guys of the team, Alex Gordon. The rest of the lineup is filled with pesky contact hitters like Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar, who are sure to run up opposing teams pitch counts. Plus, with Wade Davis holding down the fort in the 9th inning, the Royals are practically guaranteed a victory if Davis comes in with the lead.
- Cleveland Indians
While most pundits have stated that the Mets have the best rotation in baseball, there have been some that have named the Indians’ staff the best. The Indians feature three starters with potential no-hit stuff in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. Plus when adding in the wild-card of promising young gun Trevor Bauer, the Indians can pose nightmares for opponents on a daily basis. It’s not just the pitching that’s fantastic. Rising star Francisco Lindor put his name on the map last year and is already regarded as a top-5 shortstop in baseball. If Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley can get and stay healthy (Brantley is out indefinitely), the Indians will be neck and neck with the Royals atop the AL Central.
- White Sox
The White Sox were publicized world-wide this spring and it wasn’t for the great moves they made. Instead, 1B Adam LaRoche suddenly retired because he was told to limit the visits from his son during the upcoming season. The GM and LaRoche went back and forth and you can read about it on just about any website. Back to baseball. Chicago may have made the best trade of the offseason when they acquired former Reds slugger, and Home Run Derby winner 3B Todd Frazier. Across the diamond remains Jose Abreu who has the potential to lead the league in home runs. The White Sox also acquired starters in 4 new positions in CF Austin Jackson, 2B Brett Lawrie, C Alex Avila, and SS Jimmy Rollins. On the mound, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana form a dynamic duo that few teams can rival. The rest of the rotation is subpar and the bullpen has some holes but this season is guaranteed to be the franchise’s best season in quite some time.
- Detroit Tigers
The Tigers still have Miguel Cabrera, who remains one of the baseball’s most feared hitters. They also kept Victor Martinez, JD Martinez, and Ian Kinsler, who have all had a season of 20+ home runs in the past. Add star OF Justin Upton and the Tigers have a formidable top 5 of the lineup. Yet the bottom half is filled with inconsistency. Same goes for the rotation. Justin Verlander and new acquisition Jordan Zimmermann are fantastic pitchers yet the rest of the rotation consists of a regressing Anibal Sanchez, a journeyman who has struggled to find consistency in Mike Pelfrey, and Daniel Norris, who has great upside yet failed to stay healthy and was diagnosed with cancer last year. Their bullpen is solid with Francisco Rodriguez and Bruce Rondon but there may not be many save situations for either player this season.
- Minnesota Twins
The Twins shocked the baseball world last season as this group of homegrown talent exceeded all expectations and narrowly missed the playoffs. Once again, the Twins will contend for the AL Central yet as the season goes on, I see them fading back in the standings. There is no shortage of young talent with players such as Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Brian Dozier, but this lineup pales in comparison with most of the other American League teams. Their pitching staff had a surprisingly good season last year, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see the team’s two top pitchers, Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana, regress in their performances.
- Houston Astros
It would’ve been laughable in years past to say the Astros are the favorites to win the division. Even last year, many baseball writers, including the JerEcho’s own Ryan Kamber, pegged the Astros to finish in last place. That won’t happen this year. The middle infield combination of batting title champion Jose Altuve and Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa is almost unfair. George Springer, Carlos Gomez, and Colby Rasmus form the best home run hitting outfield in the American League. When reigning CY Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel is pitching, a victory is almost automatic as he was undefeated at home last year. Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers performed well in last year’s playoffs, and have shown signs of no regression in spring training. Lastly, after acquiring Ken Giles from the Phillies, the Astros have the last piece of a bullpen that’s ready to assist in a run to the pennant.
2. Texas Rangers
The other team in Texas was surprising in its own right last year, ending up with the division crown. Yet in the playoffs, the Rangers absolutely choked. With a full season of Cole Hamels and the return of Yu Darvish, the Rangers have more pitching depth than last year, which will prove helpful. Their already powerful lineup, which consisted of Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder, gained a boost with the signing of Ian Desmond. The former Nationals shortstop intends to man the outfield for the Rangers this season. The middle infield combo of Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus has great potential, yet it seems as if Andrus always underperforms. Finally, Joey Gallo is destined to be called up this season and it is possible that his monstrous power will carry the Rangers to some wins. The Texas rivalry between the Astros and Rangers will be huge in determining the AL West Champ, and the Rangers are set up to contend for a division flag.
3. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners hold the longest playoff drought in baseball and despite the increase in talent, the drought won’t end this year. The lineup still consists of the big three of Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz. After those three, the talent level drops off but not by much. New acquisitions Nori Aoki, Adam Lind, and Leonys Martin will lengthen and strengthen this Mariners’ lineup. Two new members, Wade Miley and Nate Karns, were added to a rotation that’s headed by the great Felix Hernandez. With a revamped bullpen, the Mariners pitching is now a strength. If the lineup can produce big numbers, watch out for a possible wild-card run.
4. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, yet it’s become clear that one player can’t carry a team to the playoffs. The Angels attempted to surround Trout with talent by adding Andrelton Simmons and Yunel Escobar to form a slick-fielding left side of the infield. Of course Albert Pujols still mans the first base position, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see his numbers decrease this season. Their pitching staff is alright, with Garret Richards as the ace. After Richards, the Angels have two developing lefties in Andrew Heaney and Hector Santiago, and both will need to pitch fantastically for the Angels to have a shot at a division crown.
5. Oakland Athletics
In the 2014 offseason, the Athletics roster received a facelift with multiple All-Stars being traded away. Those moves led to a disappointing 2015 season and things aren’t much brighter for 2016. The team still has solid hitters in Josh Reddick, Billy Butler, and Stephen Vogt, plus two new power threats in Yonder Alonso and Khris Davis. Yet their lineup has the least amount of talent in the American League. On the mound, Sonny Gray is on the verge of becoming a household name and a top-5 pitcher in baseball. The rest of the rotation is unproven and honestly isn’t that good. Additionally, after having the worst bullpen ERA in baseball, the A’s went out and signed veteran relievers Ryan Madson and John Axford. While these two will improve the bullpen ERA, they’ll probably be traded by mid-season because the Athletics should be well out of reach for a playoff spot.
MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
CY Young: Chris Archer, Rays
Rookie of the Year: Byron Buxton, Twins
Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Indians
WC Game: Texas Rangers over Toronto Blue Jays
ALDS: (1) Astros over (4) Blue Jays in 5 games
(2) Royals over (3) Yankees in 3 games
ALCS: (1) Astros over (2) Royals in 6 games