The Cream Rises: Setting Expectations In The American League This Season

Opening Day officially kicked off the 2015 Major League Baseball season yesterday, so it is time to go out on an impossible limb and call how the next six months should play out. The AL has been the lesser of the two leagues over the past few seasons, having produced one of the past five World Series champions, but it is also a very balanced league where the margin of difference between the top- and middle-tier teams is very slim.

That element makes it a very hard-to-predict mixture of teams that could easily produce a mostly new slate of postseason teams this year or, at the very least, three new division champions.

So how will it all play out? Here is a look ahead and prediction of how the American League food chain will work out across each division.

NEXT: AL East Predictions

American League East

1. Boston Red Sox

The Backstory: The 2013 champs were not here for long, as they fell out of contention early in the season and never were able to climb back into it. Amid a total failure of their starting pitching and a rash of injuries that decimated their lineup as well, the Sox finished in the cellar of the division.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox

The Winter: They were among the most active teams in all of baseball, reconstructing over half of their everyday roster amid a series of trades, promotions and big-ticket free-agent signings. The marquee signings were Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, who will make the transition from shortstop to left field. Since last year’s All-Star break they have added four new starters, and despite none being a top-tier option, it is an effort toward a reset.

The Prediction: They reset a lot of ground and now feature a lineup that has six players who have made an All-Star appearance within the past three years, as well a manager in John Farrell, who knows what it takes to pull a rebuilt team up by its fallen bootstraps as he's shown in the past. GM Ben Cherington will need to continue to try to add another top-line starter if this team is to really make a serious push late into October, but what they have already is impressive enough to win the East outright.

2. Baltimore Orioles

The Backstory: The O’s ran away with the division last year, winning 96 games and the division by 12 games. Despite injuries to Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, as well as a suspension to Chris Davis, they reached the American League Championship Series on the back of a better-than-advertised starting staff, a lights-out bullpen and a productive ensemble lineup with Adam Jones at the core.

The Winter: Despite their gains in the standings and a promising future on the horizon, the O’s were alarmingly quiet during the offseason, even when it came to keeping their own options in stock. The losses of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller were offset by virtually nothing in return.

The Prediction: They will still be a very competitive team, by virtue of their returning assets that missed so much of last season, as well as a still full stock of pitching. They are betting that this will be enough to offset the losses they incurred. A better bet is that they will slide some as the least active team in an always heavily active division—but not far.

3. New York Yankees

The Backstory: Derek Jeter’s farewell tour was the main highlight of the Yanks’ 2014 campaign, but along the way they did survive to finish in second place in the East. However, it was as disappointing of a second-place finish as could imagined, considering the team spent over $500 million in free agency the winter before to do anything but finish outside the postseason picture completely.

The Winter: Although they made Andrew Miller the highest paid lefty in free-agency history, coming off of the “spare no expense” nature of their past offseason, it was a quieter than usual winter for Brian Cashman, especially considering there were so many options that fit their specific needs available. They filled needs with Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, Nathan Eovaldi and a complete bullpen overhaul, but they stayed out of the spotlight.

The Prediction: A better-than-advertised team “could” be in store “if” they get consistent starting pitching and the bullpen changes set in. Considering CC Sabathia had another bad spring and Masahiro Tanaka’s arm is living on a prayer, it is hard to invest too deeply in a team with so many crucial question marks.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

The Backstory: The Jays stayed at their annually middling level last year: not quite great but not quite bad either. With a fully healthy Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes in tow and Edwin Encarnacion continuing to be one of the game’s premier power hitters, they boasted one of the most potent lineups in the game.

The Winter: Their mission over the past few years has been to “find the last piece,” and this winter they doubled down on that effort by surprisingly signing Russell Martin over the Dodgers and Cubs, as well as trading for third baseman Josh Donaldson from Oakland.

The Prediction: For all that they have continued to do to their everyday effort—and it is impressive—they still have serious issues on the pitching front. Their bullpen is in disarray, and the ninth-inning situation is still unsorted as the season opens. The loss of Marcus Stroman to an Achilles tear has impacted an already short on impact starting staff. It could be difficult for the Jays to win many matchup wars this summer.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

The Backstory: The cracks in the establishment finally saw ruins made of the perpetual underdog status the Rays enjoyed for so long. David Price and Wil Myers were dealt away, Joe Maddon left for the Cubs, and GM Andrew Friedman moved over to the Dodgers’ front office. Nothing truly was the same.

The Winter: Tampa is not the type of team that can competitively rebuild quickly, so the Rays began to just fill needs where possible. This began by surprisingly giving rookie manager Kevin Cash a five-year deal, thus putting a long-term basis in place. They continued by acquiring John Jaso, Steven Souza and Asdrubal Cabrera to be low-cost, structure fits.

The Prediction: They will certainly be able to pitch. In all reality, they should have the best starting staff in the division, but it will be offset by what could be a league-worst offense. It will take some time to put the punch back into the Tampa attack.

NEXT: AL Central Predictions

American League Central

1. Detroit Tigers

The Backstory: They won their fourth consecutive Central crown on the back of two MVP-caliber performances from Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, as well as the acquisition of David Price and another top-tier effort from Max Scherzer. However, it came up short once again, as they were swept by the Orioles in decisive fashion in the Division Series.

Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers

The Winter: Scherzer, who turned down a contract extension entering the season, predictably departed from the club and set in motion a string of events. GM Dave Dombrowski made a series of interesting moves, dealing Rick Porcello for more offensive punch in the form of Yoenis Cespedes and also acquiring All-Star Alfredo Simon from Cincinnati.

The Prediction: Much of this outcome is based on if Justin Verlander can at least hold his same level of impact from last year and if Simon can fill for what that Porcello did, but Price will make a comparable impact to Scherzer’s, while both Cabrera and Martinez have proved they are healthy and ready to go. This will be enough to keep the Tigers atop the Central again.

2. Cleveland Indians

The Backstory: The season was just a month too short for the Indians, who surged in the late stages of the year behind Corey Kluber’s Cy Young push, Michael Brantley’s top three MVP vote finish and a strong core of a team that came together. Indians starters posted the best team ERA after the All-Star Break.

The Winter: Besides getting in on the Oakland fire sale and acquiring Brandon Moss, they made no significant moves. Instead, they stayed the course with the team that showed so much promise at the end of 2014.

The Prediction: It’s a close call, because the element of Terry Francona being armed with a team that has been able to build a steady chemistry around a deep lineup with a matching rotation is hard to deny. And while they will come up short in the regular season, it should not be surprising to see this be the team that could last the longest in the big picture after reaching the fall via the Wild Card game.

3. Kansas City Royals

The Backstory: They were the darlings of the game last year, building on a strong rise at the end of the year and then going undefeated through the American League half of the playoffs before extending the World Series to the full seven games. Yet they were turned back by the undeniable showing of Madison Bumgarner.

The Winter: Despite their huge run to top of the AL, the Royals still stayed a course that they would have taken regardless of the road last season took. James Shields and Billy Butler were not attempted to be re-signed, while the team instead made a series of value additions in Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez and the rehabbing Kris Medlen.

The Prediction: It is very difficult to put a team that played so inspirationally well as unit just a few months ago, and did not take any loss this winter that it couldn’t bare, so much further down the standings. It would not shock me and should not shock anybody else if they extend that run into this summer, but right now it does not spell out in plain sight where they are better than Detroit or Cleveland, but they certainly will a team that will make it tough on both while they jockey for position above KC.

4. Chicago White Sox

The Backstory: The Sox muddled around toward the bottom of the division yet again, despite another Cy Young-competing effort from Chris Sale and a huge debut from Jose Abreu. Yet, it was a season that seemed to inspire the desire to get back into the competition window in a division that had been dominated between three clubs over the past three years.

The Winter: The Sox were among the busiest teams in the game, signing David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, trading for Jeff Samardzija and then rebuilding their entire bench and bullpen as well.

The Prediction: There is a lot to like about the Sox shakeup, but then remember the fact that it takes time for a team to jell. While Robin Ventura’s club will be improved, this is a division that is not going to cut slack for growing pains of a team coming together. They will not be far from the action but are probably a year (or another move …) away from being a part of it.

5. Minnesota Twins

The Backstory: Another year, another finish in the cellar for the Twins. However, it was not a season without some promise, as there were a few strides that came together and free-agent investments that paid off, such as Phil Hughes.

The Winter: They were able to lure Torii Hunter back home for at least a year, as well as land the since suspended Ervin Santana. Gradually, more and more free agents have begun to consider the Twins over the past few years.

The Prediction: More of the same at Target Field, but there are signs of steady improvement to their core. Homegrown talents such as Brian Dozier, Danny Santana and Kyle Gibson are leading the way, while top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer are not far off from arriving to make a legit Twins push back to respectability.

NEXT: AL West Predictions

American League West

1. Seattle Mariners

The Backstory: Their busy offseason paid off, as the Mariners’ offensive upswing pulled them to the brink of the postseason. Robinson Cano had another strong campaign to build around, while the Felix Hernandez-led pitching staff continued to be one of the strongest units in the game—and one that received some run support finally.


The Winter: The push to continue to put the Mariners over led them to acquire the defending AL home run champ Nelson Cruz to hit cleanup and provide some protection for Cano.

The Prediction: The strides the team took last year were sizable, and they already boast the most complete pitching staff in the game. With the addition of Cruz to their offensive attack, they are poised to be one of the most formidable teams in the American League and a frontrunner to make it to the World Series.

2. Los Angeles Angels

The Backstory: Mike Trout’s had his biggest impact to date, while Garrett Richards rose to front-line consideration in the AL, joining an 18-win season from Jered Weaver and a surprising rookie impact from Matt Shoemaker. Albert Pujols, Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun provided a strong supporting cast, and together it lifted the Angels to the AL’s best record as they won their first AL West title since 2009.

The Winter: The Angels moved out Howie Kendrick in order to obtain a youthful arm in Andrew Heaney. The club had to deal with uncertainty in the return of Richards from knee surgery, while also having to confront a relapse from Josh Hamilton, as well as the sizable fallout from their response to the situation.

The Projection: They were good last year, however not truly 98 wins good. This year sees them return to a more representative range of their talent. The Halos will be in a tight Wild Card race and stand a good chance of making back-to-back October appearances due to playing a lighter divisional schedule than any other runner-up.

3. Oakland Athletics

The Backstory: The A’s went from runaway best team in the AL for the first half of the season into one that had to survive to land a playoff spot, before ultimately being quickly eliminated in the Wild Card game last year. Billy Beane’s efforts to fortify the roster sent it spiraling instead and put a team fully entrenched in “win now” mode in a position to change its gears quickly.

The Winter: Beane proved that the regular season was only a preview of coming attractions when it came to rebuilding his club’s roster. Over the winter the A’s added 11 new members, including five in the everyday lineup including Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie and Billy Butler.

The Projection: Having an entirely new look isn’t a new element in Oakland, but having to do so while dealing with a rash of injuries impacting their roster as well is concerning. However, the unpredictable A’s are just as capable of sitting on the outside of their division as they are ending up on top of it. But this seems to be a team that could continue to deal throughout the year, so outside of the race feels more likely.

4. Texas Rangers

The Backstory: No team was more snakebit by injuries last season than the Rangers. With Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez (among others) all out of action for sizable parts of the year, they fell into the cellar of the West with no hope of rising out.

The Winter: They opted to make small, yet necessary, moves during the winter, bringing in Yovani Gallardo to their still injury-plagued rotation and acquiring the versatile Ross Detwiler.

The Projection: They were looking like an intriguing team to shake things up in the West, with a fully healthy and potentially impactful lineup ready to produce together along with a solid pitching staff. But this was until the injury monster hit them where it hurts the most and sent Darvish underneath the knife and out for the year.

5. Houston Astros

The Backstory: There was a pulse in Houston for the first time in years last season, as the Astros' youth movement began to make an impact. The Stros pulled out of the cellar, with Jose Altuve leading the way by leading the Majors in batting average at .341.

The Winter: GM Jeff Luhnow was a busy man this winter, signing Jed Lowrie to add some veteran savvy to the club, as well as dealing for the versatile Evan Gattis to add even more pop to a team that finished third in the league in home runs last year. The additions of Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson to the bullpen provide more certainty late in games as well.

The Projection: So why would a team that has so many signs of ascending fall back down the standings? It is more of a case of wrong place at the wrong time. While their promise is beginning to be delivered on, they are still lacking in the pitching department to make a true push past the stacked lineups within their division. But don’t worry, their day is coming far sooner than later.

NEXT: AL Awards Predictions

Awards Tour

Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Angels

Cy Young Award: Felix Hernandez, Mariners


Rookie of the Year: Carlos Rodon, White Sox

Comeback Player of the Year: Prince Fielder, Rangers

Playoff Push

AL Wild Card Game

Indians vs. Angels

AL Division Series

Mariners vs. Indians

Tigers vs. Red Sox

AL Championship Series

Mariners vs. Red Sox

American League Champions

Seattle Mariners

Do you agree with our choices for division winners and award recipients? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, as we gear up for the 2015 MLB season!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *