American League Preview

American-League

Another exciting MLB season is upon us! First, I will preview the American League aka the Junior Circuit before finishing up with my National League preview tomorrow.

Divisional Previews below, along with team capsules and projected order of finish.

*- denotes projected divisional winner

#-denotes projected wild-card winners

AL West Projected Finish

  1. Oakland Athletics*
  2. Los Angeles Angels#
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Houston Astros

Oakland Athletics: (2012 Record) 94-68, 1st Place, Lost ALDS to Detroit Tigers

OaklandAthletics-BradMangin-1

2012’s most exciting story looks to build on the success of last season

There is so much I can say about last season. The A’s overachieved plain and simple. It was the most perfect scenario that they could have envisioned. They led baseball with 14 walk-off wins (15 including the Postseason), brought excitement back to the East Bay, and showed everybody once again that Billy Beane is the best GM in baseball. Now the biggest question is can they repeat? They were expected to finish 3rd last season, and many will pick them to finish there again, but I think they can repeat because of their pitching. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Brett Anderson will lead a young talented (and deep) rotation, which should build on its MLB record 54 wins by rookies from last season. The A’s also have a bullpen, which may lack the household names that some other franchises possess, but they still are solid and don’t blow many leads. While the offense may not be the scariest in the league, it is scrappy and has some power. Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick will all have another full season to build on and should anchor down this lineup which will score enough runs to win ball games.

I will say this, last season was one of the greatest I have ever seen as an A’s fan (not my video unfortunately), and THIS will never get old.

Los Angeles Angels: (2012 Record) 89-73, 3rd Place

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo Day

Murderer’s Row? No, but these guys are scary good!

Wait. I know what you are thinking already. How could I pick the Angels to finish in 2nd place in this division? Ladies and Gentleman, pitching wins championships, as we have seen with the Giants 2 out of the last 3 seasons. Good pitching trumps good hitting every time. Remember, the Angels were very talented last year offensively and have a bona-fide ace in Jered Weaver, but after that it is pretty suspect. CJ Wilson is paid to be a #2 starter, but pitches more like a #4 starter. He had his highest HR total last year since moving to the starting rotation, and will need a serious bounce back season or else the Angels could be in trouble. The back end of the rotation is this teams Achilles heel and will likely be their downfall in the end. The Angels will make the playoffs, but in a short series they can’t matchup with the likes of the Rays, Blue Jays, Tigers or even the A’s. Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols will supply a ton of offense, but this season will not end the way they hope.

Texas Rangers: (2012 Record) 93-69, 2nd Place, Lost Wild-Card to Baltimore Orioles

mlb_u_rangers11_600

The Rangers season fell apart late last year, can they bounce back this year?

The Rangers are in a free fall. Interesting I would say this about a team who has been to the playoffs the last 3 years, twice reaching the fall classic, but its happening. After getting swept by Oakland the last 3 games of the season, they lost the Wild-Card game to the Baltimore Orioles and were sent home early. To make matters worse, their superstar Josh Hamilton signs with the rival Angels in the offseason and the rest is history. While the lineup is still fairly potent, it will considerably fall off without Hamilton’s presence. Lance Berkman will attempt to replace Hamilton’s in the lineup, but can the Rangers expect him to play 150 games at his age, even if he is relegated to DH duties all season? But the biggest loss will be losing clubhouse leadership. With Hamilton gone, along with Michael Young and Mike Napoli, the Rangers will need to find a new vocal leader in the clubhouse. The pitching staff is pretty solid still, headed by Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison. But trio of pitchers need to pitch more like they did in the first half (where they occupied 1st place), than late in the 2nd half (when they squandered a 5 game division lead with 9 games remaining).

Seattle Mariners: (2012 Record) 75-87, 4th Place

felixs-no-no

King Felix is ready to be a superstar? Is MLB ready?

Yay for Seattle! No more days of being the division’s whipping boys. Encouraging that they added Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez to the lineup. Even more encouraging was the way Michael Saunders played in the WBC (8/11, 3 Doubles, Home Run, 7 RBI in pool play, earning MVP honors). Did I mention they are moving the fences in at Safeco Field as well? This team will once again be competitive, but because they play in the most competitive division in baseball, they will have to settle for the distinction of the best 4th place team in baseball. Felix Hernandez is back for the Mariners, and should be a bright spot on this roster once again, but you have to wonder what kind of stats he could put up on a contender.

Houston Astros: (2012 Record) 55-107, 6th Place (NL Central)

New Uniforms, New Division, Unfortunately same results

New Uniforms, New Division, Unfortunately same results

Still trying to process this move. I knew it was a long time coming, but it will be weird to see them play in the American League. Bottom line on this team, they will lose 100+ games. An alarming statistic I read the other day, the Astros collective payroll is less than Alex Rodriguez will make this whole year. Can’t decide if that is more on how bad the Astros are, the fact that A-Rod makes too much, or if both are equally bad. I’m sticking with the latter. Bold prediction, more losses by the All-Star break than the Nationals will have all season. Interesting read from the guys at Grantland last year about the Astros, before their last season in the National League in which they lost 107 games.

AL Central Projected Finish:

  1. Detroit Tigers*
  2. Chicago White Sox
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Kansas City Royals
  5. Minnesota Twins

Detroit Tigers: (2012 Record) 88-74, 1st Place, Lost World Series to San Francisco Giants

Tigers should have more champagne parties this year

Tigers should have more champagne parties this year

What is there to say about the Tigers? Justin Verlander proved to us all he is single handedly the most dangerous pitcher in a short series, Miguel Cabrera ONLY won the Triple Crown last season (no big deal), and this team made it all the way to the World Series despite only winning 88 games. The Tigers are still loaded. They added Torii Hunter to the mix through free agency and Victor Martinez is coming back from an ACL tear that kept him out all last season. The biggest question mark with this team is definitely the back end of the rotation and the bullpen. Luckily the Tigers can outslug any other team in baseball and won’t have to address that issue until the playoffs. Look for them to run away with the division again.

Oh yeah, along with Justin Verlander being a one man wrecking crew, he also owns a pet TigerBOSS

Chicago White Sox: (2012 Record) 85-77, 2nd Place

This year the White Sox will commemorate their 1983 team which coined the term "Winning Ugly". Ironic?

This year the White Sox will commemorate their 1983 team which coined the term “Winning Ugly”. Ironic?

Every time I look at the White Sox lineup and write them off, somehow and someway they surprise me. This team is not scary by any means, but have just enough talent to finish 2nd in a very mediocre division. Best-case scenario, they stay afloat through the trading deadline and finish somewhere around .500 this season.  Worst case, the offense shows its true colors and they finish 4th in probably the worst division in baseball. They have a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation with Jake Peavy and Chris Sale (of FGCU fame), along with a couple guys in their lineup who can bash 30+ homeruns, but this team will not even get close to a possible playoff berth this year. But who knows, the White Sox have been outperforming their expectations the last 8 years, why should this year be any different? The White Sox are probably going to be one of those teams this season who make some splashes midseason to add to the roster. New GM, plus staying in contention could spell a trigger happy club come this summer.

Cleveland Indians: (2012 Record) 68-94, 4th Place

Clevland may have done the Harlem Shake to switch things up, but still won’t equal wins this year!

First things first, hiring Terry Francona to coach this team is a smart move. Great leader, even better clubhouse guy, just was in a little over his head his last season in Boston. But how can you blame him? That team was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. But the Indians made a few other smart team moves, to set up the future. They were active in free agency, signing hometown guy Nick Swisher to a multi-year deal, along with Michael Bourn locked up for 4 years and even acquired Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer for Shin-Soo Choo. This team won’t compete for the division crown this year, but if all goes to plan they should be able to compete in the AL Central in the coming years, especially if the division continues to stay mediocre. One problem they will have to address is the pitching. Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson’s numbers will improve because of an improved defense, but don’t expect a drastic improvement.

As the GIF above shows, really Cleveland?

Kansas City Royals: (2012 Record) 72-90, 3rd Place

Optimism in Royals Nation!

Optimism in Royals Nation!

It’s tough to evaluate this team. This team has a slew of young talent, and this offseason they did the smartest thing possible by adding to the pitching staff. They acquired James Shields, Ervin Santana, and Wade Davis to supplement Jeremy Guthrie and Luke Hochevar. This is a talented rotation nonetheless, but the newcomers need to remember they are pitching for the Royals in 2013, and not their former teams. The lineup has talent and may be something to be reckoned with down the line. But for now we should look at them for what they are, and that is for the potential that they have down the line and they might not be ready just yet. But we all saw how the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles shocked the baseball world last season, so why can’t the Royals? They have a good manager, talented rotation and a lot of young unproven guys in the lineup. They could very well be the 2013 version of Baltimore or Oakland. But don’t rush to Las Vegas just yet to make your bets. This team at best can finish in 2nd, only because this division is weak, but also at worst they could be in the cellar. But that’s why we play 162 games, so we can decide who wins and loses based on the results on the field.

Minnesota Twins: (2012 Record) 66-96, 5th Place

Last season of the M&M boys in Minnesota?

Last season of the M&M boys in Minnesota?

How can a team with 2 $100 million stars such as the M&M boys (Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau) be so bad? Health. Plain and simple. Injuries have drastically changed the course of their careers, with Justin Morneau feeling the effects much more. Should they consider dealing either one of them, shedding the contract and moving on? The fans would hate it, especially if they dealt Mauer who is from the area, but this could be a reality come the All-Star break if the Twins are on their way to another finish in the cellar.  Realistically, they will part ways with either Morneau or Willingham, because the 2 are a little more expendable than Mauer. The rotation is another story. Expect another season in the cellar from this team.

AL East Projected Finish

  1. Tampa Bay Rays*
  2. Toronto Blue Jays#
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Boston Red Sox

Tampa Bay Rays: (2012 Record) 90-72, 3rd Place

Fernando Rodney's hat might just turn all around this season

Fernando Rodney’s hat might just turn all the way around this season

Why does anybody EVER count out the Tampa Bay Rays lately. Last season they almost made the playoffs, even won 90 games, with their superstar Evan Longoria only playing 74 games. A healthy Longoria means the Rays will stay in contention longer. They also have some guy by the name of David Price, who won the CY Young last year. And, they have a phenomenal manager in Joe Maddon who has done all the right things with this club since taking over 8 years ago. Quick recap, healthy superstar who is X-factor, best pitcher in the league, and a manager who can get it done in the playoffs. Not to mention they had the best ERA among pitching staffs last season. Tough decision to put them ahead of the Blue Jays, but just like in the past when the Rays overtook more talented teams such as the 2008 Red Sox, and the 2010 Yankees, they have chemistry and always find a way to get it done. Look out for Will Myers, he was the main piece acquired in the James Shields deal and should be a big middle of the order bat come midseason. Watch out for Tampa, they are dangerous. Plus, how could you not root for a team that has worn these in the past and will adopt these as their new throwbacks?

Toronto Blue Jays: (2012 Record) 73-89, 4th Place

The Blue Jays are banking on their newest additions to lead them to the Playoffs and hopefully the World Series

The Blue Jays are banking on their newest additions to lead them to the Playoffs and hopefully the World Series

Yes, the Toronto Blue Jays won the offseason. They acquired a haul of talent from the Miami Marlins, who were in fire sale mode during the offseason, which included Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle,  Josh Johnson, and Emilio Bonifacio. Somehow, they were also able to pluck the reigning NL CY Young winner from the New York Mets. While he may have been forgotten after his PED suspension, the Jays also acquired Melky Cabrera, who the Giants basically threw away. Add in a healthy Jose Baustista, this Blue Jays team could be something special. But we all need to remember championships are not built on paper. This team is going to struggle with chemistry and getting acclimated to playing with each other, but once they figure it out, the American League should watch out! I have them winning the Wild-Card not the division, primarily because I think there are too many questions about the back end of the rotation/bullpen and they are relying on so many players coming back from injury. Upside, this team wins 95+ games. Downside, they could win less than 85, and the masses will riot! Only kidding about the riot, but it would be a huge disappointment. But look for the Jays to make their first trip to the postseason since 1993.

Baltimore Orioles: (2012 Record) 93-69, 2nd Place, Lost ALDS to New York Yankees

Orioles made it to the Postseason last year, expect for them to fight for it again this year!

Orioles made it to the Postseason last year, expect for them to fight for it again this year!

One of baseball’s best stories from last season looks to repeat its success and take the next step, but once again will have to do it in a division they have been written off in. Last season the Orioles went 29-9 in one-run games, and while that will be almost impossible to repeat this season, they should still compete in this tough division and even fight for that second wild-card position again. Why? They have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. This guy changed the whole culture of the Orioles within 1 season, and you are stupid to think he won’t have them prepared to succeed again this season. Add in a full season from Manny Machado, the improvements of key players such as Adam Jones, Matt Weiters and Nick Markakis, the Orioles aren’t going anywhere. Plus, since the Ravens won the Super Bowl last season, you know the Orioles want to join in on the fun.

New York Yankees: (2012 Record) 95-67, 1st Place, Lost ALCS to Detroit Tigers

2013 New York Yankees? Might as well be.

2013 New York Yankees? Might as well be.

The Yankees are in trouble. I had a hard time not putting them at the bottom of the cellar, but the fact remains, this team is too talented and too prideful to let something like that happen. Now on the other hand, they are counting on too many older players to return from injury this year. Derek Jeter broke his ankle last year in first game of the ALCS, and the Tigers in 4 games subsequently swept the Yankees. Mariano Rivera, who will be 43 this season, is coming off a torn ACL which he suffered shagging fly balls during batting practice last year. Mark Teixiera and Curtis Granderson suffered injuries during spring training and won’t be back for a couple months, leaving a huge power gap in the lineup. The team also failed to re-sign Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez, therefore losing more pop from the lineup. Some people are proclaiming this franchise dead, and I for one could not be happier! There is a serious possibility that the Yankees finish below .500 for the first time in 20 years. Their pitching isn’t awful, they still do have CC Sabathia at the top, but their offense will be putting replacement players in the lineup everyday for the first couple months of the season. If they can stay afloat until the big guns get back, the Yankees might make a late season run, but I wouldn’t count on it. This Yankee team is stuck in a interesting situation. If they can get their team salary under $189 million, which they seem pretty committed to doing, then their penalty will reset for the 2014 season when they can max out on Robinson Cano. This could be a long season in the Bronx for the Bombers, but hope is on the horizon.

Boston Red Sox: (2012 Record) 69-93, 5th Place

Big Papi is back, but the Red Sox will finish 5th in a tough division

Big Papi is back, but the Red Sox will finish 5th in a tough division

Gone is Bobby Valentine and replacing him is John Farrell. This is going to be a long season in Boston. After the free agency fiasco of a few years ago when they were handing out $100 million contracts to everyone, the Red Sox decided to take the safer route this offseason. They signed Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Joel Hanrahan, Johnny Gomes, and Stephen Drew to short, team friendly deals. They are looking to slowly change the culture in Boston and hurry and get back to their winning ways. This team has an upside to win around 83-88 games this season, but a lot of things need to go right, and in this division it is going to be tough. But hey, stranger things have happened in baseball.

Playoffs:

Quite possibly the hardest thing in baseball to predict. But here it goes anyways…

Wild-Card:

Toronto Blue Jays over Los Angeles Angels

Division Series:

Tampa Bay Rays over Toronto Blue Jays

Oakland Athletics over Detroit Tigers

League Championship Series:

Tampa Bay Rays over Oakland Athletics

World Series Preview will come with the National League Preview…

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