Well on Day 2 of the season, we’ll shift our gaze westwards and look at the American League’s Central and West divisions.
The long and short of it, the way I see it:
Cleveland 97 65 —
Minnesota 86 76 -11
Chicago 70 92 -27
Kansas City 69 93 -28
Detroit 66 96 -31
Houston 99 63 —
Seattle 84 78 -15
L.A.Anaheim84 78 -15
Texas 75 87 -24
Oakland 69 93 -30
The skinny: Cleveland could actually over-achieve this year, with a schedule thick on weak opponents. Their top of rotation 1-2 of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco is as good as any in the league and the rest of the rote is better than most as well. Francisco Lindor is quickly becoming recognized as up there with Jose Altuve as the best all-around player in the league; third baseman Jose Ramirez might join the ranks this year . He’s 25 and over past 3 seasons his average has gone .219/.312/.318 and his slugging percentage, from a dismal .340 to a rather stellar .583. A bounceback year from Jason Kipnis wouldn’t be surprising, after missing nearly half of last year with injuries. But, as much as I like EE, I think Encarnacion is following his buddy Jose Bautista on the downward slope.I’ll be surprised if he hits .250 or 32 homers this year.
Minnesota were the surprise of ’17, and congrats to Paul Molitor for turning the team around. The addition of Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi to the rotation improves the team, and I’m not alone in thinking Byron Buxton is about to become the superstar everyone projected him as a few years back. Still, Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier have seen better years, the bottom of the rotation is shaky and Fernando Rodney was a risk as a closer back when he was in his prime- which was long ago. They’re not quite there yet, but are a team going in the right direction.
Likewise, the White Sox. Yoan Moncada signals a movement towards good young players, catcher Wellington Castillo was a great addition at, and behind,the plate but there are a lot of holes to be filled. Six years back, I would’ve liked James Shields as the Opening Day pitcher. By now I’d be wary of having him on the roster, let alone the “Ace.”
Heading in the opposite direction, KC. Little remains of their 2015 championship team, and the parts that are there (like Kevin Herrera) are largely on the downward slope. Mike Moustakas is back, of course, and probably disgruntled. I expect him to be moved on elsewhere by the end of July.It’s gonna be a long ninth season on the bench for Ned Yost.
The best new addition to the Tigers is aging manager Ron Gardenhire. No Justin Verlander, no Ian Kinsler. Miggy’s still there, but the future Hall of famer is a very old 34 as he heads into his 16th season. His .249 average and .399 slugging last year were career lows – they’re not going to go up anytime soon (but he doubtless ads a maturity to the young clubhouse.) The Blue Jays look pretty smart with the David Price trade of ’15… neither Daniel Norris nor Matt Boyd look like they’re amounting to much so far but both are in the rotation.
Westwards, hello Harris County! The reigning World Champions look like World Champion repeaters on paper at least. They’ll have timeless workhorse Justin Verlander for the whole season, added a rising star in Gerritt Cole and already had a good rotation. Brad Peacock is bumped to the bullpen, which shows how strong the pitching is. Then there’s multi-time batting champ Jose Altuve, and the likes of Carlos Correa (23) and Alex Bregman (24) who are young still and improving, believe it or not. Even Yuli Gurriel, 33, is possibly not at his peak , given that he’s only had two MLB seasons behind him. The only reason I project Houston to win “just”99 is the possibility of a bit of complacency setting in, or injuries.
Seattle have in recent years always seemed better on paper than on the field, which is why I don’t see them hitting the post-season in 2018. A big comeback from 3B Kyle Seager and one-time superstar “King Felix” could change that. Canadian James Paxton could take over the Hernandez “crown” as king of the mound, if he can stay healthy all year and go past 180 innings.
The Angels may be the most interesting team to watch this year, with their additions and of course, the Japanese sensation, Shohei Ohtani. He’s really the key to the team’s success. He can throw very hard (past 100mph) but was hit hard in spring and may not be just a hurler rather than a real “pitcher” at his young age. Will the power hitters catch up to his speed ? We’ll have to watch and see. Even more of a question, can he hit? Spring training suggested “No”, but he did score a single in the opener. If he’s a flop at the plate, the Angels are in a hard place. He picked their team essentially on a promise of being a regular DH, but what happens if his bat costs them games? There are other problems Anaheim way anyway; although they should score runs, they’ll give up plenty too. whether they opt for a normal 5-man rotation or a new 6-man, the pitching is mediocre at best.
Texas do things big,and with the likes of Nomar Mazara, Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo, they’ll hit a lot of big flies. But the fielding looks questionable and beyond Cole Hamels…there’s a whole lot of “ifs” on their mound. “If” Mike Minor can come back from all those surgeries, “if” Martin Perez can become more consistent, “if” Tim Lincecum can return to 2011 form (the last time he had an ERA below 4 or limited runners to less than 1.25 per inning) and convert to the bullpen, maybe they won’t be so bad.
Little hope of that inOakland. Jonathan Lucroy was a great addition both in his veteran stature and as an above-average catcher but there’s not a whole lot there to turn one’s head. Not a terrible team, but one that doesn’t stand out in any way at all.
So, later this weekend we’ll look to what we Jays fans care about- the AL East!