For the fifth season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I had the Red Sox placing first in 2015 and they finished last), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.
I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:
1. Red Sox
3. Blue Jays
For a team that has finished dead last each of the past two seasons, it’s hard to wrap my head around placing the Red Sox to win the Americna League East division in 2016, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Not everyone has them faring quite as well, but there are a number of factors that have me seeing great things from them this season. First of all, the addition of Craig Kimbrel to their bullpen — along with Carson Smith from the Mariners — to close out games for them will wind up being huge, in my mind. As far as their starters are concerned, placing David Price in the rotation automatically improves their chances of winning every fifth day, even though the rest of their rotation isn’t on Price’s level. The Red Sox don’t have an overly dominant pitching staff, but with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez looking to have bounceback seasons offensively in this being David Ortiz’s last season, I feel big things are ahead for Boston.
What the Yankees lack in offensive thump (besides Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) they make up for in pitching. Their rotation and bullpen aren’t overwhelming at first glance, but they are a group of solid pitching workhorses who will post a ton of innings of good baseball all season long. With that in mind, I have the Yankees finishing second to the Red Sox, as they will likely be very competitive, but I can’t see them winning the whole division. Even so, with Masahiro Tanaka looking to have a fully healthy season, along with Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, combined with a bullpen of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and newly acquired Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees pitching will inevitably carry them when their offense isn’t clicking. They’re basically the opposite of the Red Sox. Bottom line: The Yankees are a team that shouldn’t be overlooked, as they look to make it back to the postseason this year.
The Blue Jays have a true dream-lineup, with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista all providing major power threats at any point in the game. But they’re missing one thing that would lead me to placing them atop the division: a strong pitching staff. Yes, they have guys like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez who look to have big futures ahead, along with veteran R.A. Dickey, but I’m not fully on board with them placing any better than third in the division. If they can find a way to pitch well day in and day out, then there is no stopping the Blue Jays from dominating the division, but there are a lot of “what ifs” with their team. After making it to the postseason for the first time in over twenty years last season, it wouldn’t shock me at all if they make it back again in 2016. But on the flip side, it wouldn’t fully shock me if they don’t make it either.
If history has taught us anything it’s that predicting how any given season will pan out is impossible. However, history has also shown that it takes a good pitching staff to make it much of anywhere in the divisional races, and I don’t see a very deep rotation or bullpen for the Orioles. They have several solid starters, from Chris Tillman to Brian Matusz, as well as newcomer Yovani Gallardo who will help them out tremendously, and their bullpen has a couple of the best relievers in baseball, with Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. But I simply don’t see them as having enough to outplay the Blue Jays, Yankees or Red Sox. Their pitchers would have to be atop their game all season long, and their lineup would also have to perform on an equally high level. But with all of that said, with guys like Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones, it’s not entirely impossible for them to have special year, I just don’t predict it.
Someone unfortunately has to finish last in every division around baseball no matter how good their team is, and I’m placing the Rays in that slot for 2016. Putting them last was extremely hard. I could make a strong case for them outplaying the Orioles, with even somewhat long shot cases of them placing in the top three. They have a team that makes anything possible. Their rotation is better than that of the Orioles and Blue Jays, in my opinion, with guys like Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb (once he returns) and Matt Moore, but I’m not convinced that their offense, other than Evan Longoria and a few others, will be consistent enough to take on the top teams in the division. If they can score runs, they can compete with anyone. It all comes down to execution. That’s what makes them just like the other four teams in the division who I could see coming in first or dead last. It’s truly going to be that close of a race in the division.
3. White Sox
This is another very difficult division to decide where to place each team, but I have the Royals winning the division once again. They aren’t a very flashy team, but they do a lot extremely well. In 2015, the Royals were the king of the comeback, constantly coming back from big deficits to win games that ultimately lead to them becoming World Series champions. I feel they will be able to do that again this season. One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Alex Gordon deciding to stay with the Royals, and I feel that him sticking around will help them exponentially. Combined with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, the Royals have a good enough lineup to post a nice amount of runs. What will help the Royals win their way to the division title, however, is their bullpen, with Wade Davis helping to lead the charge. If all goes right, winning the division should be fairly easy.
Not a lot of people believe in the Tigers for 2016, but upon looking at their roster, I don’t see a spot where they are weak. Over the past few seasons, their bullpen has been one of their worst spots, but they addressed that nicely with the pickup of Francisco Rodriguez who is a proven closer that can shut down games for them. Beyond that, their rotation got a bit better, as the pickup of under the radar starter Jordan Zimmermann, to go along with Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris, should help them win a lot of games. But while their pitching staff is strong, their roster is even stronger. Miguel Cabrera will put up Cabrera-like numbers, and if Victor Martinez can have a healthy year, along with J.D. Martinez and offseason pickup Justin Upton, Detroit appears to be in good shape. If absolutely everything goes right, the Tigers could win the division. But I’m leaving them finishing in a close second.
With Chris Sale leading the way as the Ace of the staff, along with Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana likely to have solid seasons, the White Sox appear to have a decent enough pitching rotation to win ball games in 2016. However, I don’t see it as being strong enough to overtake either the Tigers or Royals. Furthermore, I’m not fully convinced that their lineup is going to be all that spectacular either. They had one of the worst lineups in baseball last season, and while they picked up Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason, they can only help so much. Guys such as Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton will do their parts throughout the season, but I simply don’t see a way for the White Sox to finish any better than third place in the division. That’s a sharp contrast from some people around the baseball world who actually have the Sox winning the division this coming season, but I can’t place them that high in my mind.
If the Indians can get the fullest potential out of Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar this coming season, the sky is truly the limit for them. However, with that said, I’m not sure what to expect out of the Indians’ starters as a whole. Over the past few seasons, each of the aforementioned names have been dominant, but they have failed to be dominant at the same time, with a lot of inconsistency coming from them all. Additionally, although their lineup contains some big names, I simply don’t think that it will be enough to stack up against the other three teams above them on my list. Yes, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley, among others, are capable of carrying the Indians far in the season, but their overall makeup isn’t going to be consistent enough, in my opinion, to make the coming season that special of a year for the Indians.
The Minnesota Twins shocked the baseball world last season when they finished in second place in the division. But I see a drastic fall back for them in the coming year. If their rotation was stronger, I could see another good year. However, with Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes being historically inconsistent over their careers, their pitching isn’t exactly their strong suit. Where the Twins thrive is their lineup, which contains a ton of power. Miguel Sano burst onto the scene last year and was absolutely tremendous right out of the gate, with fellow sluggers Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia likely to be the key power sources of their roster. If they can get those guys going, along with Byron Buxton, who was somewhat of a disappointment upon his debut last season, then the Twins very well may prove me wrong and climb their way up the rankings. I just have a hard time seeing a scenario where that happens.
After several years in a row of finishing the season with greater than 100 losses on the year, the Astros have finally been heading in the right direction in recent history, with them actually making the playoffs in 2015. With a starting rotation that includes 2015 Cy Young award winner, Dallas Keuchel, along with youngster Lance McCullers and newcomer Doug Fister, I really like Houston’s starters heading into the year. And their bullpen is even better. Picking up Ken Giles from the Phillies in a trade to join Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson in the bullpen, the Astros look ready to mow down opposing teams all season long. On the flip side, they also appear loaded in their lineup. While they lost slugger Chris Carter, they still have reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa who looks headed for superstardom, along with Jose Altuve, Carlos Gomez and George Springer. All things together, the division title is the Astros’ to lose.
The Angels’ lineup is certainly a great mix of both veterans and young, talented players, and I think they will all come together to truly shock some people in 2016. Despite that, I don’t see them taking out the Astros for top spot in the division. Albert Pujols had a solid year last season, and Mike Trout is seemingly getting better and better as each year passes. Look for both of them to power the team towards a lot of wins, along with some help from guys such as Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron and offseason pickup Andrelton Simmons. But while I feel their offense will be okay at best, I predict their pitching to be superb in 2016. Getting a healthy Garrett Richards for this season, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Andrew Heaney all looking to have a bounce back or breakout season, I don’t feel that any of the other three teams below the Angels on my list will be able to challenge them for the full 162-game season.
Third in my divisional standings predictions for the American League West are the Rangers, however, they could easily overtake the Angels if they don’t perform the way I’m expecting them to. For that reason alone, the Rangers are a team to watch very carefully in 2016. Although their lineup is going to be fairly good, with Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder all ready to mash in the coming year, there are too many questions with the remainder of their roster for me to extremely believe in them. Furthermore, the question marks extend beyond their lineup. They lost Yovani Gallardo to the Orioles this offseason, and although they have proven themselves in the past, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish performing at the top of their game after injuries is yet to be seen. Even so, the Rangers should be a very good ball club that may wind up just short when all is said and done.
When I look at the Mariners’ rotation heading into this season, I see a ton of talent but also a ton of question marks, much as I did with the Rangers’ lineup. Beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who will both be great all year long, Seattle’s rotation isn’t really proven enough for me to think without a doubt that they are headed for big things this year. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have a ton of potential, and have shown flashes of greatness before, but they have been too inconsistent to have an idea of what to expect from them in 2016. Beyond their pitching, the Mariners also leave a lot to be desired in their overall lineup, as other than players such as Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, I don’t see a lot of pop in their everyday 1-9. For all of those reasons, I feel that it is going to turn out to be another disappointing season in Seattle.
Finally on my list of picks in the American League divisional races in 2016, I have the Athletics finishing at a dismal last place in the west. While the pickup of Fernando Rodney will go a long way in further improving their already decent bullpen, their starting rotation begins and ends with Sonny Gray, who I see as having another Cy Young conversation season. With the unfortunate loss of Jarrod Parker due to another arm injury, I don’t see a lot of options for their rotation that will be overpowering. More of the same holds true for the offensive side of their roster. To me, although they have a few impact bats such as Billy Butler and Josh Reddick, along with 2015 breakouts Stephen Vogt and Billy Burns, they simply don’t have good enough pitching or hitting for them to perform at a competitive level in the division they are in. Ever since losing Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the A’s just haven’t been the same.