American League preview: A four-team race in 2018?
How will the American League shape up?
Predictions are just glorified opinions. Projections, when they’re grounded in mathematical simulations and conducted by a respected outlet, have a little more validity to them. Just a tiny bit.
Baseball Prospectus has the Red Sox finishing at 88-74 in 2018.
That’s not exactly the improvement from two straight 93-win seasons that many expect. It’s also just one prediction.
FanGraphs has the Red Sox at 93-69.
Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
Here’s a peek at the rest of the American League, which has the look of being a four-team race.
Reigning world champions always deserve deference at the following year’s Opening Day. They always receive it, too. But not all reigning world champions are created equal, and the Astros are as well positioned to repeat as any team in recent memory. Yuli Gurriel had hand surgery, but that’s about the extent of the team’s problems — and he may not even need a trip to the disabled list. With Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander already on staff, they added Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. Their rotation is effectively six deep, which few teams can boast. Jose Altuve has the comfort of a huge contract now and their progressive front office and manager leave them in pole position, with little reason to think anyone will catch them in the regular season — the usual caveat of health aside.
Some folks like to think the Yankees are due to slide back in 2018. The 2017 Red Sox are considered the blueprint: look at how well some, like Mookie Betts, did in breakout 2016 seasons, and then there was a drop-off. Perhaps the Yankees’ young stars face a similar fate. Maybe Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton don’t combine for 830 home runs. Maybe CC Sabathia shows his age. But the Yankees’ lineup remains stacked — and more powerful than Boston’s — with prospect Gleyber Torres in the wings. Their rotation is not as strong as the Red Sox’, but it’s also not too far behind. Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery are formidable, and they have a dizzying number of power arms in the bullpen. They’ve lost Greg Bird for a couple months.
Long live Tito. And Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. They need their pitching to be healthy. Kluber didn’t look right in the playoffs. Danny Salazar is often injured. Reliever Bryan Shaw left via free agency, as did Joe Smith, but Andrew Miller and Cody Allen remain. The most notable name the Indians brought in this winter is Yonder Alonso, who can be an offensive force. Meanwhile, they lost Carlos Santana. Can Michael Brantley give them close to a full season? The American League Central doesn’t look to be too difficult, and the Indians are this year’s quietly lurking force. They didn’t surprise anybody last year, they don’t have the buzz, but you can expect them to be very good once again.
A three-team race in the AL East would be more intriguing than a two-team race. But the Blue Jays don’t appear to have enough firepower, and they’re putting themselves in a similar spot to the Orioles: good enough to say they’re trying, and trying is a good thing, but not good enough to be taken too seriously.
Shohei Ohtani’s the show, or at least, the Halos hope. Whether he and Justin Upton and Zack Cozart and Garrett Richards are enough is to be seen. Albert Pujols rebounding would do wonders. Mike Trout belongs in October baseball, though.
Baseball Prospectus projection: 79-83
The Mariners have baseball’s longest playoff drought. Ichiro’s back with them. Some circularity would be nice.
Baseball Prospectus projection: 82-80
No one took advantage of the slow free-agent market quite like the Twins did. They were a Wild Card winner a year ago. As ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote: “the Twins have landed two starting pitchers for this season, a middle-of-the-order hitter, two setup men and a possible closer for a grand total of $60 million.”
Baseball Prospectus projection: 81-81
They’re a smart franchise but an incredibly cheap one that traded away good players and in the process irked baseball’s players union to the point a grievance was filed for lack of spending. Mediocrity has become the calling card, there’s no reason to think that changes this year.
Baseball Prospectus projection: 83-79