Thursday, March 10, 2016

Praise Parity

It's going to be tough for KC to repeat with so much competition (CNN)
If you thought there was a lot of parity in the American League last year, just wait. Everybody's going for it this year, which means anyone could win. It's going to be a fun summer.

I've highlighted the strengths of each team below, outlining the reasons they could be this year's American League champions. The teams are ordered by FanGraphs' projected standings, with their projected records and run differentials included in parentheses.

AL East--We've reached a point where every year it seems like every team in the division could have a winning record. Maybe that happens this year.

Boston Red Sox (88-74, +69)
After another busy offseason, Boston now has the division's best pitcher in David Price as well as a shutdown bullpen and a promising lineup. They're blessed with two great young catchers (Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez) who complement each other perfectly, are extremely talented up the middle and project to have an amazing outfield defense of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Rusney Castillo. This is pretty much the same team that was favored to represent the American League in the World Series last year, only with a better bullpen and the ace that Ben Cherington refused to acquire.

Toronto Blue Jays (84-78, +32)
The best lineup in baseball is back and ready to mash its way to the playoffs, giving pitchers plenty of nightmares along the way. Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, and Aaron Sanchez will have to step up and cover the losses of Price and Mark Buehrle (who finally retired), but if they do it could mean a second straight division crown for Toronto.

New York Yankees (82-80, +11)
New York returns essentially the same crop of position players that outscored every team except Toronto last year, and that was despite having three offensive black holes up the middle in Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury (Chase Headley wasn't anything to wrote home about, either). Gregorious is never going to hit, but Drew's gone (replaced by Starlin Castro) and Ellsbury should be better with improved health.  Their rotation has loads of potential if Luis Severino and Michael Pineda break out to supplement Masahiro Tanaka, and their bullpen is so good that they may never lose a game they're leading after the sixth inning.

Tampa Bay Rays (81-81, -1)
PECOTA picked Tampa Bay to win the AL East, and if you look at their starting rotation it's not hard to see why. Headed by Cy Young candidate Chris Archer and filled out by Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb, the Rays rotation could be the AL's best. Its offense should also pack more punch this year--especially in the outfield--with a healthy Desmond Jennings and the plundering of Corey Dickerson from Colorado.

Baltimore Orioles (80-82, -7)
Baltimore boasts a power-laden lineup that ranked third in the majors in home runs last year and could easily lead both leagues this year, which is why FanGraphs expects them to outscore every team except the Blue Jays. Most of their position players are in or near their primes, Manny Machado is still only 23, and Matt Wieters could be in line for a big bounce back as he plays for his next contract. Their bullpen was very good last year, and the rotation could get a boost if young starters Kevin Gausman (25) and Dylan Bundy (23) make the leap.
Chris Sale (pictured) and Jose Abreu lead an improved Chicago club (
AL Central--No longer Detroit's to lose, but they're not going down without a fight.

Cleveland Indians (86-76, +45)
The Indians have what FanGraphs believes to be the run prevention in the American League, which could be the case if its flamethrowing rotation holds up. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco make for a formidable big three, and there's plenty of arms beyond them in Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, and Cody Anderson. Cleveland's lineup is balanced, with only one glaring weakness in center field, and their infield looks tremendous on paper. A full season of Francisco Lindor will help, too.

Detroit Tigers (81-81, -1)
After stripping down their team last summer, the Tigers reloaded during the winter and are poised to make another run. Jordan Zimmermann joins what should be a solid rotation, especially if Daniel Norris breaks out and Justin Verlander rebounds a bit. Their dynamite offense, bolstered by Justin Upton, could improve as well if Victor Martinez bounces back, Miguel Cabrera stays healthy, and Nick Castellanos progresses.

Chicago White Sox (81-81, -4)
Two consecutive offseasons of upgrades has the Sox on the brink of contention. Their offseason wasn't as splashy as the cross-town Cubs, but they still improved themselves plenty by signing Mat Latos and Austin Jackson in addition to trading for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie. The result is a very well-rounded roster that should make a lot of noise in an up-for-grabs division.

Minnesota Twins (77-85, -34)
Minnesota surprised everyone by remaining in contention deep into lastyear, and their young players are only getting better. Miguel Sano looks primed for an MVP season and Bryon Buxton should make more of an impact. A healthy Ervin Santana will help the rotation.

Kansas City Royals (77-85, -39)
Coming off two straight pennants and a World Series victory, Kansas City is this division's team to beat. They're bringing back pretty much the same team from last year, too (minus Johnny Cueto, who stunk for them anyways).

Already, the best shortstop in baseball, Correa could be AL MVP this year (
AL West--Houston appears to be the top dog in this dogfight.

Houston Astros (87-75, +60)
Houston has plenty of power and speed after ranking first and second in the AL last year in steals and long balls, respectively. Full seasons from George Springer, Carlos Gomez, and Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa will add more of both.  Their rotation is really good too, led by defending Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and fortified by Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, and Doug Fister. The Astros are the most complete team in this division and loaded with young talent, making the AL West theirs for the taking.

Seattle Mariners (82-80, +12)
The M's are like the Rays--loaded with pitching but short on bats. Their rotation projects to be one of the better units in the league, especially if Taijuan Walker steps it up in his third season and Felix Hernandez rebounds from what was a down year for him. They'll have plenty of help from newcomers Wade Miley and Nate Karns as well as the always-underrated Hisashi Iwakuma. Bounce backs by Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano will infuse the offense and relieve some of the pressure on Nelson Cruz.

Los Angeles Angels (81-81, -3)
Mike Trout, a healthy Albert Pujols, and C.J. Cron can do some serious damage, and they now have the game's best defensive shortstop in Andrelton Simmons. The rotation will be better than last year with better health from Matt Shoemaker and C.J. Wilson, improvement from Andrew Heaney and a rebound from Jered Weaver.

Texas Rangers (80-82, -8)
Texas has big bats all over the place with Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Ian Desmond, Josh Hamilton, and Shin-Soo Choo leading the charge. Those are all veterans, but the Rangers have talented youngsters too, as Rougned Odor is trending up and everyone's in love with Jurickson Profar. They also have a pair of bona fide aces in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, which will make them tough to beat if their stars ward off age for another year.

Oakland Athletics (79-83, -17)
The A's were one of baseball's unluckiest teams last year, so if their luck flips they'll be contenders again. As always, they're a deep team with talented players manning every position, which makes them better able to withstand injuries. They also have one of the best young pitchers in baseball in Sonny Gray, who heads an intriguing rotation. Full seasons from Kendall Graveman and Jesse Hahn, plus a renaissance from the seemingly rejuvenated Rich Hill, could add up to a successful year for Oakland.
My take: As a Red Sox fan I'm tempted to pick Boston, but Houston appears to have the best all-around team on paper. I think their division might be a little easier, too, since LA and Oakland aren't that good and Texas could easily regress if everyone gets old at once. They're a team on the rise, and I like their chances in 2016.

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