Now that spring training is officially underway in both Arizona and Florida, let’s take a quick look around the American League to check in on the state of affairs and make some early projections.
If you would like to see my preview for the National League, part one was written last week. This is in no way exhaustive, but only an overview. A more in-depth and up-to-date preview for both leagues will be written closer to the beginning of the regular season.
The bottom feeders: As opposed to the National League, I expect more parity between the contenders and non-contenders in the American League. Don’t expect to see much improvement from teams like the Orioles, Tigers, or Royals. I would also put Toronto in this group, as they just don’t have the depth to compete yet. I anticipate the Rangers to take a step back from the mediocrity they experienced last year. And that leads us to the Mariners. It doesn’t look good. This is the first year that Seattle will be in full rebuild mode, and it will show. The M’s are given a whopping 0% chance to make the playoffs this year according to PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus’ projections system based off pure data). For reference, Kansas City, who finished with over a hundred losses a year ago and didn’t add anyone of value this offseason, has a 0.1% chance to make the playoffs. Of course, more could be said of Seattle’s impending dreadful season, and more will be as we get closer to opening day.
The Mediocre: As I mentioned before, I expect a greater divide between the upper and lower levels of the league, so this category does not include very many teams. I think the White Sox, Athletics, and Red Sox probably fall into this category. If I had to pick one team to make a playoff push out of these three teams, it would be the Athletics due in part to them seemingly always finding a way to clinch a wild card despite not looking like they have the roster to do so. I think the Red Sox probably have the talent, even with the departure of Betts; but with the upheaval of the coaching staff in the offseason, I think it will be too much to overcome. The White Sox have a lot of rising talent and I expect them to take steps forward, but I still believe they are a year out from getting a playoff appearance.
The Contenders: The Twins aren’t going anywhere. We have seen them get better consistently over the last few years, and I still expect them to be right there competing for their division. That being said, the Indians will return to form and I expect a hotly contested two-team race for the AL Central. The Angels are also right there. Most people expect them to take a wild card spot, but I see them at times during the season challenging the ‘stros for the lead in the west. You put Anthony Rendon on the same team as Mike Trout, give them an incredibly accomplished manager in Joe Madden, add in a trade deadline top-end SP/reliever, and you have the ingredients for not only a playoff push but a World Series run. I will keep them in the contenders category for now just because of the many variables they have and really needing a few more ingredients to be elite. Expect to see the well-managed and talented Rays to contend for a wild card spot as well.
The Elite: As far as pure talent, there are really only two teams in the American League that belong in this category at this point: Houston and New York. With that being said, I believe the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal to be more of a factor this season for both Houston and New York than some people think. For the Astros, I believe it will be a constant distraction and toll on the team, and because baseball is a game of focus, it will be difficult for Houston to come out of the regular season ready and determined to make a deep playoff run. For the Bronx Bombers, however, it will be a motivator as they were debatably the most slighted by the cheating Astros. The Yankees, with no motivation, would dominate. Add in the anger and rejuvenated focus they will have this season and they will be dangerous (both to other team’s records, as well as to Astros batters). Circle on your calendar the Astros visit to NY September 21st – 23rd, as it will be must-see TV.
My Picks for playoff spots and AL champion
AL East: New York Yankees
AL Central: Minnesota Twins
AL West: Los Angeles Angels
AL Wildcard spot #1: Houston Astros
AL Wildcard Spot #2: Cleveland Indians
ALCS: The Yankees will defeat the LA Angels in the ALCS to represent the American League in the Fall Classic.
All in all, I think this season will be extremely exciting and I can’t wait for the season to start! I mean, who doesn’t want to see a Cubs/Yankees World Series?