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The Wolfpack

2017 MLB Preview- American League

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Nick Hedges, Reporter

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In the fall of last year, the Curse of the Billy Goat was reversed as the Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in a historic World Series, ending the club’s 70-year championship drought. After a season boasting those kinds of fireworks, its up to the 2017 season to try and best them. With so many teams looking to have a realistic shot at the playoffs, this year is tough to predict, but we did our best. Here are our predictions for the American League in 2017.

 

AL West

1. Houston Astros
Last Year: 
84-78 (3rd in AL West, missed playoffs)
Key Players: SS Carlos Correa, P Dallas Keuchel, OF George Springer
Season Outlook: The Astros disappointed last year. After many expected them to win the American League, Houston barely managed to finish above .500 on the season and finished 11 games back in the division. Much of their struggles were the result of poor pitching, as Keuchel, typically one of the more dominant arms in the AL, struggled throughout the season. This year should be different, however. Keuchel is expected to rebound, and the roster features a healthy mix of young talent like Correa and Springer, and veterans such as 2B Jose Altuve and new arrival Carlos Beltran, who will likely DH for the Astros this year. If Houston can avoid injuries and play to their potential, expect them to be tops out west and compete deep into the playoffs.

2.  Texas Rangers
Last Year: 95-67 (1st in AL West, lost to Toronto in Divisional Playoffs)
Key Players: P Yu Darvish, OF Nomar Mazara, 2B Rougned Odor
Season Outlook: Texas completely blasted away any expectations placed on them last year, winning the division. Their fortunes could repeat again this year, but that will come down to their head-to-head against Houston. The Rangers went 15-4 in the Lone Star Series in 2016, a record that propelled them to that division crown. If they can manage their business against divisional opponents like they did last year, they could coast to another division win, but that is much easier said than done. Darvish will be key, as he is probably the Rangers’ best bet to find a consistent starting pitcher. If he and the Texas lineup, behind the exciting youth of Odor and Mazara, can stay consistent, the AL West championship could remain in the Metroplex in 2017.

3.  Seattle Mariners
Last Year: 86-76 (2nd in AL West, missed playoffs)
Key Players: 2B Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz, P Felix Hernandez
Season Outlook: Seattle comes into the season with one of the more intriguing lineups in baseball. Cano and Cruz team up with new arrivals Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura in a lineup which won’t be short on firepower. The Mariners’ shortcomings are seen in their pitching. King Felix will provide consistency on the mound every five days, but after him, the rotation and bullpen is questionable. Hisashi Iwakuma is another starter who has shown encouraging signs at times, but beyond those two, this could be a challenging year for Seattle arms. In the end, the Mariners will enjoy their offensive and defensive success, but won’t be able to keep up in the division on the mound.

4.  Los Angeles Angels
Last Year: 
74-88 (4th in AL West, missed playoffs)
Key Players: 3B Yunel Escobar, SS Andrelton Simmons, OF Mike Trout
Season Outlook: The Angels are proof that having (arguably) the best player in the game is no guarantee of success. Trout, the defending AL MVP, puts up outstanding numbers every year, and this year should be no different. Unfortunately, even with a once-in-a-generation performance from him, its hard to see the Angels making the playoffs. Much hype surrounds the lineup in Anaheim, with Escobar and Simmons helping the charge, but, like Seattle, the pitching will be a struggle. Matt Shoemaker should be the opening day starter, and he should have a good year atop the rotation, but after him and closer Huston Street, the Angels have a lot of boom-or-bust guys in the back-half of their rotation and bullpen. They could boom and prove me wrong, but it seems they will bust and drag the Angels into another disappointing season.

5.       Oakland Athletics
Last Year: 69-93 (5th in AL West, missed playoffs)
Key Players: OF Rajai Davis, P Sonny Gray, 2B Jed Lowrie
Season Outlook: The biggest issue the A’s face this year is a lack of star power. Nothing really stands out with this team. Sure, they have Gray, who finished third in the Cy Young voting in 2015, but after him, there isn’t too much to notice. Even picking key players is tough, because the roster is full of guys who probably won’t put up eye-catching numbers. Davis may help team morale after his almost-legendary homer to tie Game Seven for Cleveland in the World Series last year, but, that’s a hopeful assessment at best. In the end, with a bad A’s team, the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, and the Warriors building their brand new stadium across the bay in San Francisco (moving out of Oakland), homegrown Oakland fans are in for a depressing few years.

 

AL Central

1.   Cleveland Indians
Last Year: 94-67 (1st in AL Central, lost to Chicago Cubs in World Series)
Key Players: DH Edwin Encarnacion, P Corey Kluber, SS Francisco Lindor
Season Outlook: Cleveland was oh so close to winning another championship for the Land and ending their own championship drought.  There isn’t too much not to like about this year’s Indians team, though. They return the bulk of the pitching staff which dominated opposing hitters in 2016, led by Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber. Offensively, the Indians probably got better through the free agent signing of Encarnacion, a big bat who adds bulk to the middle of the lineup. Add Lindor and the return of OF Michael Brantley from a series of long-term injuries and Cleveland looks even more dangerous than last year. 2016’s Cinderella story received a nice update, and they’ll be expected to compete for another AL pennant in 2017.

2.  Kansas City Royals
Last Year: 81-81 (3rd in AL Central, missed playoffs)
Key Players: CF Lorenzo Cain, P Danny Duffy, 1B Eric Hosmer
Season Outlook: After Cleveland, it’s a three-horse race to get to second in the AL Central. 2015’s champions were expected at least to get back to the playoffs in 2016, but a mere .500 record kept them out in 2016. After a tough off-season in which ace pitcher Yordano Ventura lost his life to a tragic car accident in his native Dominican Republic, many expect the Royals to struggle, but I give them the edge over Chicago and Detroit for that same reason. Behind emotional leaders Hosmer and Cain, Kansas City should be an inspired team in 2017. They have much more to play for than just wins and losses, and that should fuel them throughout the season. Cleveland will overpower them, but expect Kansas City to be one of the feel good stories of 2017 and compete for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.

3.  Chicago White Sox
Last Year: 78-84 (4th in AL Central, missed playoffs)
Key Players: 1B Jose Abreu, 3B Yoan Moncada, P Jose Quintana
Season Outlook: The White Sox are an intriguing group. They feature one of the best bats in baseball in Abreu and head their rotation with Quintana, considered by many to be the favorite to win the AL Cy Young this year. Chicago has a fair supporting cast headed by SS Tim Anderson and 3B Todd Frazier, but the team’s overall success and momentum will probably depend on the development of Moncada. Signed by Boston in 2015 from Cuba with a hefty $31.5 million signing bonus, Moncada will begin the season in the minors, but if all goes well, he’ll be back up in the bigs soon. If he can come in and have a major impact, don’t be surprised if the Sox make a late push for a spot in the playoffs.

4.  Detroit Tigers
Last Year: 86-75 (2nd in AL Central, missed playoffs)
Key Players: 1B Miguel Cabrera, OF Justin Upton, P Justin Verlander
Season Outlook: The Tigers look to be boom-or-bust in 2017. They have a talented roster, with Cabrera, once considered the best player in the game, as well as Upton, ready to lead the charge. The aforementioned boom-or-bust factor comes into play with their pitching staff. Verlander hasn’t pitched up to his dominant potential, but if he does, he could be a solid base to build a rotation around. The rest of the staff could be really successful, but at the same time, they could also drag the team down. Ultimately, due to the relative inexperience throughout the staff, its hard to see the boom taking the day. Expect the Tigers to be competitive early on, but fall off as the season progresses.

5.  Minnesota Twins
Last Year: 59-103 (5th in AL Central, missed playoffs)
Key Players: CF Byron Buxton, 2B Brian Dozier, P Ervin Santana
Season Outlook: Last year, this was a dark team with a few bright spots. Dozier was (under-the-radar) one of the better bats in the AL, hitting over 40 homers and driving in 99 runs. Buxton, considered by many to be a future star, will add some excitement, but still has a few years until his full potential is fulfilled. Beyond all that, the worst aspect of the Twins is their pitching. Santana is probably the best pitcher on the staff, and that’s not good, as most teams would field him as their second or third starter, not the ace. Unfortunately for Minnesota, 2017 looks to be headed for another season near the bottom of the league.

 

AL East

1.   Boston Red Sox
Last Year: 93-69 (1st in AL East, lost to Cleveland in divisional playoffs)
Key Players: RF Mookie Betts, P Rick Porcello, P Chris Sale
Season Outlook: There is a fair chance that Boston will win all three major individual awards in 2017. After his numbers last year, Betts looks to be a good choice for AL MVP this season, Sale or Porcello are both decent bets to win the Cy Young (Porcello won it in 2016), and LF Andrew Benintendi, the number one prospect in baseball, will make the Opening Day roster and look to fulfill lofty expectations. The Red Sox are flat-out dangerous, at the plate, in the field, and on the mound. Boston’s dominance could expand further if P David Price is able to come back from injury. He’s another Cy Young caliber pitcher at his best, but that’s the key. He needs to be at his best. If he is, and everything else falls into place, expect Boston to be playing deep into October.

2.  Toronto Blue Jays
Last Year:  89-73 (T-2nd in AL East, lost to Cleveland in ALCS)
Key Players: RF Jose Bautista, 3B Josh Donaldson, P Marco Estrada
Season Outlook: The Jays will once again look to win an American League crown, but their stiffest competition may be in their division. Boston and Baltimore will both be tough to beat, and Toronto will have to be successful against those two just to get into the playoffs. The Blue Jays will try to outscore their opponents as their pitching staff isn’t the strongest, but with their lineup, that’s not a bad approach. It’s worked the last few seasons, but, in the end, Bautista’s numbers will tell a lot. His downed production last year was made up by a monster year from Edwin Encarnacion, but he’s gone to Cleveland. Bautista will have to get back to his usual hitting form if Toronto wants to make it out of the AL East. If they can get to the playoffs, though, all bets are off.

3.  Baltimore Orioles
Last Year: 89-73 (T-2nd in AL East, lost to Toronto in Wild Card game)
Key Players: 1B Chris Davis, CF Adam Jones, 3B Manny Machado
Season Outlook: Baltimore is very similar to Toronto in that they’ll score plenty of runs. Davis will probably be near the top of the home runs leaders, Jones is capable of hitting over .300, and Machado will likely stake his claim as one of the best players in the game. I give the edge to Toronto because of pitching. With Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman, Toronto has a decent rotation, but Baltimore, headed by opening day starter Kevin Gausman, may struggle on the mound. For Baltimore to top the Jays and challenge Boston atop the division, they’ll have to figure out how to make their pitching staff more effective. If not, Baltimore could go from possible championship contender to a playoff absentee.

4.       New York Yankees
Last Year: 84-78 (4th in AL East, missed playoffs)
Key Players: P Aroldis Chapman, SS Didi Gregorious, P Masahiro Tanaka
Season Outlook: The Yankees aren’t necessarily a bad team, it just turns out that they’re fourth best out of themselves and Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto. The acquisition of Chapman as the closer will give them a huge edge in close games, and that should earn them some wins. New York boasts a consistently decent lineup. There isn’t really anything outstanding among position players or the rotation, but all their players are capable of having success. Gregorious will have to get healthy quickly, but if all the pieces fall together, the Yankees could surprise some people.

5.      Tampa Bay Rays
Last Year: 68-94 (5th in AL East, missed playoffs)
Key Players: P Chris Archer, 3B Evan Longoria, CF Kevin Kiermaier
Season Outlook: The last few years have been miserable for Tampa Bay, but this year, the Rays show some promise. Behind one of the better aces in baseball (Archer), the Rays’ rotation may be the deepest in the AL, but their season will come down to their ability to back that up. Longoria will need to build off a quality showing in 2016, and the Rays’ young talent, headlined by Kiermaier, will have to show up in a big way. Ultimately, however, it’s hard to see the Rays climbing out of the cellar in the always difficult AL East, as, even with a record that will probably end up above .500, the other four teams in the division look a bit better this year. A year from now, Tampa may be competing with Boston for a division title, but in 2017, expect a promising campaign that will valiantly fall short of the playoffs.

Playoff Teams
AL West: Houston Astros
AL Central: Cleveland Indians
AL East: Boston Red Sox
WC 1: Toronto Blue Jays
WC 2: Texas Rangers

ALCS: Houston defeats Cleveland to move on to the World Series
Cleveland and Houston will likely be the top two seeds in the AL playoffs, so this is an explosive match-up. In the end, Houston just has too much firepower and will grind their way to a spot in the World Series and the right to play for a championship.

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2017 MLB Preview- American League