Thursday, March 30, 2017

Baseball preview 2017, part 2--American League forecast

Major League Baseball now starts their season on a Sunday, and this year, it's not just confined to the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball opener, as there are day games on the bill. I can't think of a better time than to continue our preview of the season, and focus on the American League. The National League preview comes on Saturday.
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American League East:

Toronto lost a large chunk of offense when Edwin Encarnacion took the money and ran to AL Champ Cleveland in the offseason. Outfielder Michael Saunders is gone, too (Philadelphia), as are pitcher R. A. Dickey (Atlanta) and reserve catchers Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole. Thole is now in Arizona. While Marcus Stroman helped carry Team USA to the World Baseball Classic title last week, I don't know if he can sustain the momentum. Boston will try to make it two division titles in a row, and all they did with the departure of David Ortiz (retirement) was retain Pablo Sandoval, hoping he can relocate his confidence and power stroke. Add him to an already lethal offense fronted by two-sport star Mookie Betts, and this could be the Year of the Panda after all. The Sawx let Travis Shaw go to give Sandoval his job back at third base. The Yankees don't have much pitching past Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda, but they did get Aroldis Chapman back to close after he won a World Series with the Cubs. We already discussed the Bombers in detail. Tampa Bay is rebuilding, and I'd not be surprised if they finally sent Evan Longoria packing for prospects. I would not sleep on Baltimore. The Orioles will always be a threat.

Projected order of finish:

1. Boston.
2. Baltimore.
3. Yankees.
4. Toronto.
5. Tampa Bay.

American League Central:

Kansas City may have made a mistake in letting Wade Davis leave (Cubs). Mourning the loss of pitcher Yordano Ventura, who passed away in the offseason, the Royals now have Danny Duffy as their #1 starter. Second generation player Raul Mondesi, Jr. has made the opening day roster. While his dad was an outfielder with the Yankees and Dodgers, the younger Mondesi is an infielder. Who knew? Cleveland is in the same position the Royals were in. Oh so close to ending a title draught before falling in 7 to the Cubs, but I don't think they can sneak up on anyone this time. If the World Series didn't teach the lesson, the WBC certainly proved that Andrew Miller is mortal after all. Terry Francona can only go so far with a no-name rotation. Detroit is also in a period of mourning, as owner Mike Ilitch, the founder of Little Caesar's Pizza, passed away. Ilitch also owned the Red Wings, who've already honored him. Winning WBC manager Jim Leyland is an assistant to the GM, but I'd not be surprised if, coming off the WBC, he's coaxed back into the dugout if management sours on Brad Ausmus before the All-Star Break. Chicago jettisoned Robin Ventura and brought in Rick Renteria, whose stint with the Cubs was cut short so the North Siders could sign Joe Maddon. However, ace pitcher Chris Sale is gone (Boston), and while Jose Quintana impressed in the WBC, he's not a real #1 starter, in this writer's opinion. Minnesota needs a quality starter other than Ervin Santana and decide if Joe Mauer can transition full-time to first base. Bear in mind, the Mets tried that with Mike Piazza at the end of his run with them, and it failed spectacularly. San Francisco's doing the same thing with Buster Posey. Cincinnati, as memory serves, tried out Johnny Bench at both first and third at the end of his career. Bench & Piazza are in the Hall of Fame. Mauer could get there, but only if the Twins can end a 26 year draught.

Projected order of finish:

1. Cleveland.
2. Detroit.
2 (tie). Kansas City.
4. Chicago.
5. Minnesota.

American League West:

The window of opportunity for Los Angeles DH/1B Albert Pujols to win another World Series may be closing. When the bulk of your offense is Pujols, Mike Trout, and Kole Calhoun, it's no wonder the Angels haven't lived up to expectations. Seattle acquired infielder Jean Segura (Arizona) to give them speed at the top of the lineup and a better double-play partner for Robinson Cano. Not sure if that will be enough to take them to the top. The division will again be a Lone Star showdown between Texas & Houston. The Astros welcomed back Carlos Beltran, who split last season between the Yankees and Rangers, but they're hoping he can recapture his post-season 2004 form. Beltran is being reunited with catcher Brian McCann, who lost his starting job with the Yankees due to the emergence of Gary Sanchez. The Troy-to-Houston pipeline continues to produce, with AJ Reed & Joe Musgrove reaching the bigs last year. Meanwhile, in Arlington, the Rangers are hoping Josh Hamilton can find his missing stroke, but they've got a blossoming star in second baseman Roughned Odor, who just signed a contract extension the other day. As for Oakland, rebuilding starts anew. That's all I can say.

Projected order of finish:

1. Houston.
2. Texas.
3. Seattle.
4. Los Angeles.
5. Oakland.

Of course, I could be wrong.

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