Spring Baseball Preview: Part One

Written by Ezra Troy on . Posted in Sports

American League East

Perennially one of the best divisions in the league, the East sent half of the AL playoff teams to the playoffs last year. With the Red Sox’s offseason acquisitions, the Yankees’ prospects, and the Blue Jays’ free agent losses, it will be interesting to see how the division plays out this year.

1) Boston Red Sox: Starters - 1, Bullpen - 2, Lineup - 1

Yankees GM Brian Cashman called the Red Sox the “(Golden State) Warriors of baseball” for good reason. After winning the division last year, they added key pieces in the offseason to improve their team. Not only did they make a high-profile trade for top pitcher Chris Sale, which gave them arguably the best top three starting pitchers (SPs) in baseball (Porcello, Sale and Price), but they also made another key trade. They traded for reliever Tyler Thornburg, who had a 2.15 ERA and 90 strikeouts (SOs) in 65 innings last year. This move shored up their bullpen, which already has a very good closer (Craig Kimbrel), and some other nice players.

 

Their lineup has the right mix of new and old, with young stars Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts to go along with older players such as Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez. The only real question is left field (LF), currently being manned by former first-round pick Andrew Benintendi, who played fine last year, batting .295 in 105 games last year.

2) New York Yankees: Starters - 4, Bullpen - 1, Lineup - 4

The Yankees, who finished just five games out of the playoffs last year despite being held back by aging veterans, look to start a new era over the next couple of years. CC Sabathia is the only remaining big contract on their payroll from their 2008-2009 shopping spree and their team is filled with young talent, both in the majors and minors. Their opening day lineup average age last year was 31.7, as compared to 28.7 (projected lineup) this year.

Their bullpen is one of the best in the MLB, with the two-headed monster of Chapman and Betances. The question is: can their rotation can stay consistent and can their young players perform and survive the grind of the long season?

3) Toronto Blue Jays: Starters - 2, Bullpen - 4, Lineup - 2

The Blue Jays lost slugger Edwin Encarnacion in free agency, but their lineup will still be pretty dangerous, anchored by all-stars Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki and filled with a good mix young talent and solid veterans.

Even though their rotation doesn’t have a true ace, they have five consistent starters. Three of their starters are young, up-and-coming future stars (Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman). They have one of baseball’s top closers in their bullpen, Roberto Osuna, and a few okay players behind him, but no stars. The Blue Jays could definitely make a run, but they need to avoid injuries, which really hurt them last year and can be an even bigger issue this year with Encarnacion gone.

4) Baltimore Orioles: Starters - 5, Bullpen - 2, Lineup - 3

The Orioles are basically the same team from last year, which finished tied for second at 89-73. This is a liability; their team is more or less the same, and they consequently will be leapfrogged by the young Yankees. They have a strong bullpen, anchored by Cy Young candidate Zach Britton and two stars in their lineup (Adam Jones and Manny Machado), as well as key pieces Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and JJ Hardy but they have little else. They only have one good pitcher, Chris Tillman, and many of their players are injury prone.

They still might be able to make a run, but they would need Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis to both hit many home runs and would need a great season from one of their back four starters (Gausman, Bundy, Miley or Jimenez).

5) Tampa Bay Rays: Starters - 3, Bullpen - 5, Lineup - 5

The Rays have an aging Evan Longoria and no one else in their lineup. They are the only team in the division without a star closer. Their only bright spot is their young rotation led by Chris Archer, and even they are getting older. Brace yourselves Rays fans, this may be a long season.

American League Central

The division of the AL champs, the Indians, the AL central is going to be very interesting this year. From the Indians to the Tigers to the Royals, this division is going to be a tight race.

1) Cleveland Indians: Starters - 1, Bullpen - 2, Lineup - 1

The Indians are defending AL champs and only improved this offseason. The addition of Edwin Encarnacion, one of the league’s best power hitters, improves an already good lineup filled with other good players such as Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley and up-and-coming stars such as Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez. The Indians’ pitchers are also very good, with a rotation filled with rising stars such as Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer and led by Corey Kluber.

Their bullpen is led by Andrew Miller, arguably the best setup man in the league and Cody Allen, who had 32 saves and a 2.51 ERA this year. As long as they don’t have too many critical injuries, the Indians should repeat as AL champs.

2) Kansas City Royals: Starters - 4, Bullpen - 1, Lineup - 2

The Royals, World Series champions two years ago, failed to make the playoffs last year, but seem primed to bounce back. With the trade of Wade Davis for Jorge Soler, the lineup should be good this year. Even with the loss of Davis, the bullpen, led by electric (now) closer Kelvin Herrera, journeyman Joakim Soria and Chris Young, it promises to be one of the best in the league (again). The only problem seems to be the rotation. With the loss of Yordano Ventura (who tragically passed away this offseason), the rotation lacks an ace. Though they still have good pitchers such as Danny Duffy and Jason Hammel, they lack the ace they have had in past.

3) Detroit Tigers: Starters - 2, Bullpen - 4, Lineup - 3

The Tigers are led by one of the greats of this generation, Miguel Cabrera. Along with Cabrera, they have Ian Kinsler, JD Martinez and Justin Upton. Besides these players, however, they don’t have much on the offensive side. They have an above-average rotation led by Justin Verlander with some nice young pitchers (Daniel Norris and Michael Fulmer) as well as veterans Jordan Zimmerman and Mike Pelfrey. Their weak point seems to be a bullpen that has no obvious stars.

4) Chicago White Sox: Starters - 3, Bullpen - 3, Lineup - 4

The White Sox seem primed for 2019. With the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for top prospects, the White Sox have become even more depleted than last year, when they finished at 78-84, good for fourth in the division. Yet they still have all-stars Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu. They also have some nice pitchers behind Quintana (Miguel Gonzalez, James Shields, Derek Holland and Carlos Rodon). The White Sox may be able to win 80 games, but will most likely win around 70.

5) Minnesota Twins: Starters - 5, Bullpen - 5, Lineup - 5

Other than Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier, the Twins don’t have much of a team. They have Kyle Gibson and Hector Santiago and no other good pitchers. The Twins, as usual, will not be good this year and will finish last in the division.

American League West

The AL West has teams in all stages. A team coming off a recent rebuild (Astros), a team (trying) to rebuild (Oakland A’s) and three teams in between (Angels, Rangers and Mariners). Each of these teams can win the division and that is what makes this division so intriguing.

1) Texas Rangers: Starters - 1, Bullpen - 2, Lineup - 1

The Rangers have a stacked lineup. They have one of the best catchers in the league (Jonathan Lucroy), a great power hitter (Adrian Beltre) as well as many other good players. While the bullpen isn’t remarkably strong, they still have some solid relievers, such as their good closer, Sam Dyson. The rotation also has one of the best one-two punches in all of baseball, Darvish and Hammels. Behind them, there are some young pitchers with a lot of potential, but who have a lot left to prove. If Darvish stays healthy and their young pitchers play to their potential, the Rangers can be a 100+ win team; if not, they should still be able to repeat as division champs.

2) Houston Astros: Starters - 2, Bullpen - 1, Lineup - 3

The Astros have the best double-play combination in the league, Correa and Altuve, but not too much behind them in the lineup. Their rotation is filled with above-average starters, but because Dallas Keuchel was not able to repeat his 2015 Cy Young performance, they don’t have an ace in their rotation. They have a pretty good bullpen, led by Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson. The question is whether Keuchel can return to 2015 form and give the rotation an ace, and whether players such as Alex Bregman can emerge and give Correa and Altuve some lineup help.

3) Seattle Mariners: Starters - 4, Bullpen - 4, Lineup - 2

The Mariners have three great hitters in their lineup, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Other than those hitters, they really don’t have much lineup help. Felix Hernandez had an off year last year, but is only two years removed from his 2014 season, where he went 15-6 and led the league with a 2.14 ERA.

The rest of the rotation has some decent pitchers, but nobody special. Their bullpen is the same, with not many good pitchers and no clear star. If Hernandez gets his stuff back and the Mariners hitters can provide some support for their big three, they have a chance at a playoff berth, but I see them as a mid-70s early 80s win team as opposed to a late-80s early 90s win team.

4) Los Angeles Angels: Starters - 3, Bullpen - 3, Lineup - 4

“But they have the best player in baseball,” one may say. “Why are they fourth in the division?” The Los Angeles Angels have no good hitters to go alongside Mike Trout. Pujols is aging, Simmons is a defensive whiz and can’t do much with the bat, and Cameron Maybin is a career .259 hitter. The rotation isn’t much better, where besides an up-and-down Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, they have nobody. Same thing with their bullpen, where they have Houston Street, followed by a bunch of no-name relievers. The Angels are a 75-win team at best.

5) Oakland Athletics: Starters - 5, Bullpen - 5, Lineup - 5

Since their 2014 playoff run and subsequent disassembly of their team, the Athletics are a combined 137-187 and that losing trend looks to continue. With no stars on their team, the Athletics look destined to start their rebuild, trade Sonny Gray and have another 65-win season.

Wild Card Game: Yankees beat Astros

ALDS: Red Sox beat Yankees

ALDS: Indians beat Rangers

ALCS: Indians beat Red Sox

Ezra Troy is a sophomore at the Berman Hebrew Academy and is an avid baseball fan. He also writes for the sports blog myespnforkids.com.