Tony Paul’s AL preview: Indians will feel the heat
Second in a series that previews the 2017 MLB season. Today: American League.
Things look a whole lot more wide-open in the American League than they do in the National League. That’s because the Indians were a surprise league champion in 2016, and it’s always hard to repeat — especially when that team isn’t used to the expectations, as the Indians aren’t. Their pitching is scary good, but you always wonder if the extended workload will catch up the following year. (That’s the theory behind why the Giants were on an every-other-year thing.) The Tigers figure to push them in the division, and after that, anything can happen. At least three AL East teams could be serious challengers.
There are two teams to keep an eye on, one being the Orioles, who always find a way to be in contention under Buck Showalter, and the other being the Astros, with one of the better young rosters in the game. Both play in pretty deep divisions, though, which is problematic. Another team to watch is the Mariners, who might be the pick here to win the AL West, but they’d still fall under the “darkhorse” label, given the last time they made the playoffs, their lineup consisted of the likes of John Olerud, Bret Boone, Carlos Guillen and Edgar Martinez, as well as some rookie named Ichiro Suzuki.
MIKE TROUT, Angels: Well, he’s finished either first or second in the voting each of the last five years. How can you not start with him?
CHRIS SALE, Red Sox: The latest big-time pitcher acquired by Dave Dombrowski, it cost a lot of great prospects, but it should be worth it.
Rookie of the year
ANDREW BENINTENDI, Red Sox: He has an OPS of more than .900 in two minor-league seasons. By all accounts, he’s ready for The Show.
Manager of the year
JOHN GIBBONS, Blue Jays: Just rewarded with a two-year contract extension, Gibbons should reward ownership’s faith in him.
Red Sox over Tigers
Red Sox over Indians, 3-2; Blue Jays over Mariners, 3-2
Blue Jays over Red Sox, 4-2
CUBS OVER BLUE JAYS, 4-3: As recently as last fall, there were 100-year-olds who had never seen the Cubs win a World Series in their lifetime. Now, there could be soon be 2-year-olds who’ve seen the Cubs with two World Series — after which, you might as well just send Theo Epstein to the Hall of Fame, already, no passing “Go,” no collecting $200.
(In predicted order of finish)
Manager:Terry Francona (5th year, 352-294; 1,381-1,209 overall)
2016: 94-67, 1st; lost World Series
Hi: DH Edwin Encarnacion
Bye: LF Rajai Davis, 1B Mike Napoli
Over-under (pick): 93.5 (Under)
Rookie to watch: OF Yandy Diaz
Bounce-back candidate: LF Michael Brantley
Outlook:The Indians finally did enough to drum up some fan support, and ownership responded by signing Edwin Encarnacion, the biggest offseason splash for the city in years. With Michael Brantley healthy, the offense should be improved, even if Jason Kipnis misses extended time, and the rotation is full of thoroughbreds. But now, the target is squarely on the back of the reigning AL champs. How will they handle pressure?
Manager:Brad Ausmus (4th year, 250-234)
2016: 86-75, 2nd
Hi:CF Mikie Mahtook
Bye: CF Cameron Maybin
Over-under (pick): 83.5 (Over)
Rookie to watch: RP Joe Jimenez
Bounceback candidate: LF Justin Upton
Outlook:So few folks around the nation are talking about this team, because there was no typical big Tigers’ offseason splash. The payroll is being reeled in, but that doesn’t mean there’s no talent. There’s tons of it, provided they stay healthier last season. There already are concerns on that front, with J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. Provided they do better than 4-14 against the Indians, they’ll be in this thing.
Kansas City Royals
Manager: Ned Yost (8th year, 549-550; 1,006-1,052 overall)
2016: 81-81, 3rd
Hi: SP Jason Hammel, DH Brandon Moss, RF Jorge Soler
Bye: RP Wade Davis, OF Jarrod Dyson, RP Luke Hochevar, DH Kendrys Morales, SP Edison Volquez
Over-under (pick): 74.5 (Over)
Rookie to watch: RP Matt Strahm
Bounce-back candidate: LF Alex Gordon
Outlook:After making back-to-back World Series in 2014-15, and winning it all in 2015, you almost get the sense they’re on the rebuilding path again, albeit slightly. The pitching simply isn’t anywhere close to what it has been, with the tragic death of rotation ace Yordano Ventura in an offseason car accident, and the trade of closer Wade Davis to the Cubs. Having Mike Moustakas healthy will be a bonus, but won’t be enough.
Chicago White Sox
Manager: Rick Renteria (1st year; 73-89 overall)
Hi:SP Derek Holland, 3B Yoan Moncada
Bye:CF Adam Eaton, 2B Brett Lawrie, C Dioner Navarro, SP Chris Sale, Manager Robin Ventura
Over-under (pick): 68.5 (Over)
Rookie to watch:3B Yoan Moncada
Bounce-back candidate: RF Avisail Garcia
Outlook: Another offseason of “what-the-heck-is-happening” in the South Side, where they traded away ace, Chris Sale, as well as their starting CF Adam Eaton. At least they hung on to 3B Todd Frazier, closer David Robertson and SP Jose Quintana, despite rumblings they might be gone, too. A bad start, and they just might be. Youngsters Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, acquired in the Sale deal, must contribute in a hurry.
Manager:Paul Molitor (3rd year, 142-182)
Hi:RP Matt Belisle, C Jason Castro
Bye:3B Trevor Plouffe, C Kurt Suzuki
Over-under (pick): 75.5 (Under)
Rookie to watch: RP J.T. Chargois
Bounce-back candidate: SP Hector Santiago
Outlook:Things looked so promising in Paul Molitor’s first season, and fell off in a hurry in his second year. That might put him on the hot seat this season, which would be totally unfair, given the front office, under new GM Thad Levine, gave him few new talented players to work with. This is easily the worst rotation in the league, the bullpen’s not much better, and the offense is a whole pile of boredom. Good luck.
(In order of predicted finish)
Toronto Blue Jays
Manager:John Gibbons (10th year, 644-614; two stints)
2016:89-73, 2nd; lost in ALCS
Hi: RP J.P. Howell, DH Kendrys Morales
Bye: RP Brett Cecil, SP R.A. Dickey, DH Edwin Encarnacion, LF Michael Saunders
Over-under (pick): 84.5 (Over)
Rookie to watch: RP Tim Mayza
Bounce-back candidate: SP Marcus Stroman
Outlook: Yes, they lost two big-time sluggers in Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, but they were able to keep Jose Bautista, and added Kendrys Morales, enough to keep this lineup among the most dangerous in the game — especially if Devon Travis stays healthy for once. Don’t be surprised if the rotation now takes the next step, especially given how fantastic Marcus Stroman looked in the World Baseball Classic.
Boston Red Sox
Manager:John Farrell (5th year, 339-309; 493-479 overall)
2016:93-69, 1st; lost in ALDS
Hi:1B Mitch Moreland, SP Chris Sale
Bye:SP Clay Buchholz, 3B Yoan Moncada, DH David Ortiz, 3B Travis Shaw
Over-under (pick): 92.5 (Under)
Rookie to watch: LF Andrew Benintendi
Bounce-back candidate: 3B Pablo Sandoval
Outlook:Most folks’ pick to win the division and maybe the league, and that’s surely understandable. But losing David Ortiz to retirement is huge, not just in the lineup, but the clubhouse, too. And the rotation could be an issue, even with the addition of Chris Sale, given there are health concerns with David Price and Drew Pomeranz, and reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello can’t possibly repeat his masterful 2016.
Manager:Buck Showalter (8th year, 547-482; 1,429-1,315 overall)
2016:89-73, 2nd; lost in wild-card game
Hi: C Welington Castillo, RF Seth Smith
Bye:SP Yovani Gallardo, C Matt Wieters
Over-under (pick): 79.5 (Over)
Rookie to watch: C Chance Sisco
Bounce-back candidate: 1B Chris Davis
Outlook:Oh, what could’ve been for this team last year had Buck Showalter not made the serious blunder of leaving closer Zach Britton in the bullpen, as the season came to an end. They re-signed slugger Mark Trumbo, a wise move. The rotation was awful a year ago, and they still made the playoffs. It’s better, with a full season of Wade Miley and Dylan Bundy in the mix, but it’s still not great. That’s why the bullpen is huge.
New York Yankees
Manager:Joe Girardi (10th year, 819-639; 897-723 overall)
Hi:RP Aroldis Chapman, DH Matt Holliday
Bye: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira
Over-under (pick): 83.5 (Under)
Rookie to watch: RF Aaron Judge
Bounce-back candidate: SP Michael Pineda
Outlook: Spring wasn’t kind to them, as they lost starting SS Didi Gregorius for more than a month. They’re a team that, dare we say, is rebuilding, and they have some super-promising youngsters in the mix, led by near-AL rookie of the year Gary Sanchez and one of the most-hyped rookies in the game in slugger Aaron Judge. Still, the lack of depth in the rotation likely means a fourth missed postseason berth in five years.
Tampa Bay Rays
Manager:Kevin Cash (3rd year, 148-176)
Hi:LF Colby Rasmus
Bye:2B Logan Forsythe, SP Drew Smyly
Over-under (pick): 78.5 (Under)
Rookie to watch: OF Jake Bauers
Bounce-back candidate: SP Chris Archer
Outlook: After winning 90 or more games each year from 2010-13, they’ve been under .500 the last three years, bottoming out last year. Bottoming out this year is a possibility, given there’s barely any offense to see here. The rotation always seems to be the saving grace, though, and that figures to be the case again, with a full season of Blake Snell, plus the return of Alex Cobb from Tommy John surgery.
(In order of predicted finish)
Manager: Scott Servais (2nd year, 86-76)
2016: 86-76, 2nd
Hi: OF Jarrod Dyson, SP Yovani Gallardo, SP Drew Smyly, 1B Danny Valencia, IF Jean Segura
Bye:1B Adam Lind, RF Seth Smith, SP Taijuan Walker
Over-under (pick): 85.5 (Over)
Rookie to watch: SP Chase De Jong
Bounce-back candidate: SP Hisashi Iwakuma
Outlook:They haven’t won the division since 2001, so maybe this pick is a stretch. But a 10-win improvement from 2015 to 2016 was an eye-opener, as was the offense’s significant improvement, with a middle trio of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager (a combined 307 RBIs). The addition of Drew Smyly lengthens a rotation that’s pretty good at the top. Bullpen probably is the team’s biggest concern.
Manager:Jeff Banister (3rd year, 183-141)
2016: 95-67, 2nd; lost in ALDS
Hi: 1B Mike Napoli
Bye:CF Ian Desmond, SP Derek Holland, SP Colby Lewis, 1B Mitch Moreland
Over-under (pick): 84.5 (Over)
Rookie to watch: SP Yohander Mendez
Bounce-back candidate: SP Yu Darvish
Outlook: It’s pretty amazing this team won 95 games a year ago, when the rotation featured one killer injury after another. It appears healthier, at least for now, and especially at the top, with Yu Darvish. Still, though, it lacks serious depth — there are only four starters listed on the team’s depth chart — so the bullpen could be relied on heavily again, as it was in 2016, when it did very well. CF Carlos Gomez needs to rebound.
Manager: A.J. Hinch (3rd year, 170-154; 259-277 overall)
Hi:LF Nori Aoki, DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, RF Josh Reddick
Bye:C Jason Castro, SP Doug Fister, LF Colby Rasmus, 1B Luis Valbuena
Over-under (pick): 91.5 (Under)
Rookie to watch: SP Francis Martes
Bounce-back candidate: SP Dallas Keuchel
Outlook:The offense is greatly improved, with the potential for 60 or more homers than a year ago. And the rotation should be better, even though there was no great additions on that front. Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh both had off years last year, and the odds of both slumping again are long — and the same is true with closer Ken Giles. But even if they don’t bounce back, the farm system is stacked and ready to help.
Los Angeles Angels
Manager:Mike Scioscia (18th year, 1,490-1,264)
2016: 74-88, 4th
Hi:2B Danny Espinosa, 1B Luis Valbuena
Bye:SP Jered Weaver
Over-under (pick): 80.5 (Under)
Rookie to watch: SP Alex Meyer
Bounce-back candidate: RP Huston Street
Outlook:They’ve made the postseason just once in the last seven years, despite a big-time budget. That could put Mike Scioscia, baseball’s longest-tenured manager, on the hot seat this year. That’s tough, because this team still doesn’t seem to realize you need good starting pitching to contend. Matt Shoemaker (EMU) is back after getting hit in the head by a liner last year, and that’ll help the rotation. But there’s little else.
Manager:Bob Melvin (7th year, 462-447; 955-955 overall)
Hi: RP Santiago Casilla, CF Rajai Davis, RF Matt Joyce, 3B Trevor Plouffe
Bye:1B Danny Valencia
Over-under (pick): 74.5 (Under)
Rookie to watch: 2B/SS Franklin Barreto
Bounce-back candidate: SP Sonny Gray
Outlook: Often, the A’s are ripe for a surprise season. But it’d sure be a neat trick this year, with a pretty ugly rotation, even if Sonny Gray becomes the Sonny Gray of old — and that’s off to a tough start, as he’s been battling a lat injury. The bullpen is in decent shape, but could get overexposed. The lineup also features three new everyday players, but all were picked out of the bargain-basement bin.