There are so many great potential story lines – a part of so many teams that potentially could make it to the play-offs – that it’s difficult to know where to begin in rounding them up.
That’s especially the case in the American League.
Whilst there are teams that likely will be out of the play-off conversation when September comes around (to my reckoning: Baltimore, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota, Oakland and Tampa Bay), none of them are punting on the season and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that one of them could still be in with a sniff if things go their way.
You can put together realistic scenarios for most of the teams to at least have a shot at the Wild Card. Here are a couple of the main stories in the three AL divisions alongside my predictions (i.e. somewhat educated guesses) as to who will finish where.
The Toronto Blue Jays clearly had a good team last year and the logic of them winning the AL East division in 2015 made many overlook that this was a club that hadn’t made it to the play-offs since their back-to-back World Series triumphs in 1992 and 1993.
It was a tremendous achievement for John Gibbons and his men and they will hope that having taken that leap they are set for a period of success; however, there’s a shadow hanging over the club that may call that into question. Sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both out of contract at the end of the season and neither have signed an extension as yet, with their own self-imposed ‘start of season’ deadlines about to expire. If that doesn’t change in the next few days, the possibility that two of their core players could both be leaving at the end of the season will add an extra dimension to their campaign.
The Boston Red Sox know that this will be David Ortiz‘s last season as he is set to retire and they will want him to go out on a high note. They’re an interesting team this year. The starting rotation includes plenty of question marks after the newly-recruited ace David Price, but from there this is a roster that should be competing at the sharp end. The thing is, you could have said the same before the 2014 and 2015 seasons and in both cases they didn’t just miss out on the play-offs, they finished dead last in the division. David Ortiz’s send-off is far from the only reason that 2016 has to be different.
The projection systems have written off the Kansas City Royals yet again despite back-to-back World Series appearances and capturing the ultimate prize last year.
The Royals are not an extravagantly talented team loaded with stars and instead very admirably have found ways to work around their limitations to be more than the sum of their parts. Their Opening Day starting rotation of Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Yordano Ventura, Chris Young and Kris Medlen looks underwhelming, for example, but they’re an excellent fielding side and if they can hand over the game to their bullpen with a lead then that’s normally good enough to win the game. Doubting their ability to make it three Fall Classic appearances in a row isn’t unjust; however you shouldn’t be surprised if they do.
Conversely, the Detroit Tigers are still being looked at favourably despite falling to pieces in 2015 and falling to the bottom of the division. They’ve just become the first MLB team to hand out two $100m+ contracts in the same off-season – signing outfielder Justin Upton and pitcher Jordan Zimmermann – so their worst-to-first intentions are clear. If they get some luck with good health to their key players – and that’s a big if – then they just might do it.
Look through all the predictions and this is the division that has the most people scratching their head when trying to pick a winner. If in doubt, the best starting place is to look back to how things turned out last season, and that would mean the West being a Texas two-step battle once again.
The Houston Astros’ excellent 2015 was a surprise even to the team itself and they will be an exciting club again this year with Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel leading the way. It’s worth remembering, though, that they got off to a dazzling start by winning 15 of their 22 games in April and then played just a shade over .500 the rest of the way (71-69) to an 86-76. They will enter this season with expectations on their shoulders, so we’ll have to say how they carry that load.
The Texas Rangers went in the other direction. They struggled through April and on 3rd of May were bottom of the division on an 8-16 record, 9.5 games behind the leading Astros. The Rangers then swept a three-game series in Houston on their way to a 19-11 May and ultimately swept past their Lone Star State rivals on 15 September to go on and win the division.
All of which means that we shouldn’t overact to how the standings look at the end of the first month. The full 162-game regular season showed that both the Astros and Rangers were good teams in 2015 and, irrespective of their April records this year, that’s likely to be the case again in 2016.
AL East – Toronto, Boston (WC), NY Yankees, Tampa Bay, Baltimore.
AL Central – Kansas City, Cleveland (WC), Detroit, Chicago WS, Minnesota.
AL West – Texas, Houston, Seattle, LA Angels, Oakland.