By Scott MacLean
Major League Baseball’s season returns this week, with all 30 clubs having spent the last 5 weeks at their Spring Training bases in Arizona and Florida gearing up for the long season ahead.
Last year no team won 100 games and I’m picking no one will again, and this year there’s also an absence of teams that look downright horrible on paper. That should mean a bunch of close division races and scrambling for the two wildcard berths, particularly in the American League which could have an entirely different group of playoff teams.
The National League preview will follow tomorrow.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: The O’s coasted to the division title by 14 games last year, but face a sterner challenge this year. Manager Buck Showalter is one of the game’s best and will again guide a club that will need bounceback seasons from Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado to overcome the departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to stay a force. Their pitching staff is both underrated and a strength.
Projected finish 87-75
Boston Red Sox: There seems little question that they’ll hit, with signees Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez joining sluggers David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the middle of the lineup. Add in prospects Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo, a developing Xander Bogaerts and a hopefully resurgent Dustin Pedroia they could score runs in boatloads. The issue is on the pitching side, with a rotation lacking in real star power.
Projected finish: 86-76
Toronto Blue Jays: Canada’s team have similar questions to Boston. With Joey Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and the newly-acquired Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin they’ll hit with the latter two also improving their defense, but outside of veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey do they have enough pitching, especially after losing Marcus Stroman for the year to an ACL tear?
Projected finish: 84-78
New York Yankees: The Bronx Bombers are a team in transition, moving on from the end of the ‘Core Four’ era with Derek Jeter’s retirement and dealing with the remaining pricey years on the contracts of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera, and Alex Rodriguez, who is returning from a season-long suspension. After more than 20 years finishing over .500 this may be the season they end with a losing record.
Projected finish: 77-85
Tampa Bay Rays: With both a new manager and GM it’s a new era in western Florida. They have a potentially stellar young pitching staff with Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore once he returns from Tommy John surgery; but will lean heavily on Evan Longoria to lead the way offensively as they build for the next few seasons.
Projected finish: 75-87
American League Central
Cleveland Indians: The Tribe have quietly been very good over the past two seasons, but expectations mean they won’t have that luxury this year. They have plenty of good young pitching headed by AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, and a flexible lineup featuring budding superstar Michael Brantley that could score a lot of runs.
Projected finish: 89-75
Detroit Tigers: The three-time defending division winners should still be a potent force, anchored by former MVPs Miguel Cabrera (the games’ best hitter) and Justin Verlander, and former Cy Young winner David Price. However they have holes in the lineup despite acquiring Yoenis Cespedes and resigning Victor Martinez, and will need to overcome the departure of Max Scherzer.
Projected finish: 85-77
Chicago White Sox: The Southsiders did some spending in the offseason to complement ace pitcher Chris Sale and Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, and will close the gap on the teams at the top of the division. But they have similar lineup issues to Detroit and not the same strength in depth.
Projected finish: 82-80
Kansas City Royals: The reigning AL Champs were the feel-good story of 2014, rolling all the way to the World Series. It will be asking a lot to repeat that, but the hope is that both their young hitters and starting pitchers take a collective step forward and they get a repeat of their stellar defensive work and shutdown bullpen.
Projected finish: 80-82
Minnesota Twins: Most interest will be centred on ballyhooed outfield prospect Byron Buxton when he debuts. While they have a solid veteran pitching staff, the young lineup will be a work in progress under new manager, Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.
Projected finish: 74-88
American League West
Seattle Mariners: After accumulating pieces over the last two seasons the M’s should return to contention with a vengeance. Adding Nelson Cruz to provide thump behind marquee man Robinson Cano alongside emerging star Kyle Seager fills out the middle of the lineup. The latter two, alongside shortstop Brad Miller, will also be key cogs in the defense behind the solid pitching staff led by the outstanding Felix Hernandez.
Projected finish: 89-73
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels have had one setback, with slugger Josh Hamilton suffering an addiction relapse and will miss time. They will be hard-pressed to repeat last year’s 98-win season, but remain a talented team especially if Garrett Richards returns strong from injury and Albert Pujols stays healthy and productive. Oh, and they have the best player in the game, reigning AL MVP Mike Trout.
Projected finish: 87-75
Oakland Athletics: A’s GM Billy Beane has never been one to stand pat, with the likelihood this Opening Day lineup will be almost completely different to last. It may be year of retrenchment after the efforts and resources expended in last year’s unsuccessful effort to reach the playoffs, but you never really know with this club. One to watch if he makes the team is Pat Venditte, who’d become MLB’s first fulltime ambidextrous pitcher.
Projected finish: 82-80
Houston Astros: After a complete tear-down a few years ago the ‘stros are returning to competitiveness from mediocrity, but they still have some time to go. You’ll feel the breeze from all the strikeouts, both dished out by a promising pitching staff and taken by their lineup, which aside from Jose Altuve is not averse to swinging for the fences.
Projected finish: 74-88
Texas Rangers: After setting an MLB record in using 60 different players last season, Texas’ hopes for better health have already been dented by losing their best pitcher – Japanese star Yu Darvish – for the season with an elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery. Full seasons from Derek Holland and Prince Fielder are a must given how thin this clubs quality of depth is at this stage, while the outstanding Adrian Beltre continues his bid to reach 3,000 career hits.
Projected finish: 72-90
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