Monday, we reviewed my NL preseason picks and took a glance at the upcoming playoffs. Today, let’s do the same with the American League.
My AL East Standings (Predicted win total; actual win total)
Baltimore (90-92 wins; 81)
Toronto (83-86; 93)
NY Yankees (77-80; 87)
Boston (76-81; 78)
Tampa (74-78; 80)
Cleveland (86-89; 81)
Kansas City (84-87; 95)
Detroit (78-85; 74)
White Sox (81-84; 76)
Minnesota (72-75; 83)
Seattle (92-95; 76)
LA Angels (89-92; 85)
Houston (75-82; 86)
Oakland (73-77; 68)
Texas (67-70; 88)
Much more of a mixed bag in the AL.
My best picks: I nailed the fall of the A’s and the Tigers; I predicted that Toronto would have the best offense and that a big trade in-season was likely AND would put them ‘over the top’; I had Boston and Tampa pegged correctly as well; I had the Royals as a playoff team, if not quite the best in the AL. I also had the Astros improving and a ‘darkhorse’ wildcard contender.
Misses: WOW, did I mess up the rest of the AL West. I had Texas as the worst team in the entire league – and would have stood by that as late as Aug. 1. Their turnaround after trading for Cole Hamels was amazing, credit to Prince Fielder as well for a great comeback season. I was fairly close on the Angels, but way off on the Mariners – they are about to go through yet another rebuild under another GM.
I also missed somewhat on the Yankees, but if I told you in March that A-Rod would come back and be a productive player, at age 41, after missing a whole season…you’d have laughed at me. His comeback, plus the re-emergence of Mark Teixeira, saved their season and there’s no way I would have ever predicted that. I have no such excuse for Baltimore, I never thought their offense would ‘tank’ that much.
Overall – not that great. Credit for some of the tougher calls, major deductions for the Rangers and Mariners.
On to the postseason, Junior Circuit style:
Strengths: The best offense – by far – in baseball. I thought that Donaldson, Encarnacion and Bautista might average 35 homers apiece – they ended up averaging an even 40 (41, 40, and 39). But it was more than the ‘Big Three – as a team Toronto hit .267, had a .345 OBP and a .457 slugging %. Those are all-star numbers for most individual PLAYERS in today’s game. They had seven players hit 12 or more home runs, 10 players with 18+ doubles.
They also have an ace – David Price – that was the missing link. Price has been outstanding (9-1, 2.30 ERA, 74 innings in 11 Toronto starts). They also have an excellent late-game bullpen with Cecil, Osuna, and Hendricks.
Weaknesses: Toronto has questions in the rotation after Price. Marcus Stroman is just coming back from a torn ACL – he’s been effective, but will he have the stamina to go 6+ innings against top offenses? Marco Estrada posted a good ERA and few hits allowed, but he doesn’t miss bats (131 Ks in 181 innings). Mark Buehrle is apparently being left off the postseason roster, leaving knuckleballing RA Dickey as the #4 starter – as with most knucklers, he’s unpredictable.
In addition, while they have a powerful offense they don’t have a FAST offense – there’s little in the way of stolen bases, and they do rely on quick-strike power. Can they mash against the best in the AL?
Outlook: Their pitching isn’t good enough/deep enough to win 3-2 or 2-1 games consistently. They will have to score enough to win a few 6-5 type games. Against most pitching staffs, I believe they can pull it off, and they match up very well with Texas. As always anything can happen in a short series, but Toronto is my heavy favorite to represent the AL in the World Series.
Strengths: Offense. The Rangers are a poor man’s Toronto, in that they have a powerful, deep offense as well – just not quite as deep or powerful. Fielder, Moreland, Choo, and Beltre all had very good seasons, and as a team they slugged 172 HRs (7th in AL) and scored 751 runs (3rd in the AL). They have some team speed (101 steals) and like most playoff teams, a good back-end bullpen. Hamels has given the staff the ‘ace’ it has lacked (his numbers are more of a #2, but he’s durable and experienced which does count).
Weaknesses: The rest of the rotation is weak, and as a staff they do not miss many bats – they ranked 14th in strikeouts as a staff, and have BY FAR the worst team ERA of any playoff qualifier in either league. Simply put, get past Hamels and their top two-three relievers and there are runs to be scored aplenty.
Outlook: This is the worst possible matchup for Texas. They could have hoped to out-slug any other AL contender and had a ‘puncher’s chance’ – and make no mistake, they DO have a chance – but I think they are the largest underdog of any team in the Division Series round. They will need two big starts from Hamels and a couple of surprise stories to make it far this October. They are a great story and they appear well-positioned for 2016, but I don’t think this is their year.
Strengths: This team is the ‘Iceman’ of the AL. Like they said in Top Gun ‘ice cold, no mistakes…you get bored, frustrated, do something stupid and he’s got you’. This team isn’t flashy…they don’t hit for power (14th in the AL in HRs), they don’t strike out (fewest by almost 200 K’s in the league) or walk (fewest in the league)…they put the ball in play and pressure your defense. They have plenty of team speed and a deep lineup – they have seven regulars who hit .260 or better, with double-digit HRs and 20+ doubles. They also have 2/3 of their imposing bullpen from last year (Herrera and Davis) intact; Greg Holland was lost to an elbow injury last month.
Weaknesses: They thought they had their ‘ace’ in Johnny Cueto, but that hasn’t really worked out…in 81 innings for KC, Cueto has allowed 101 hits, struck out only 56 and has a 4.76 ERA. They have only one other ‘swing and miss’ starter, and Yordano Ventura has been extremely streaky. The rest of the rotation is heavily reliant on the defense; the Royals only struck out 1160 batters, 11th in the AL.
Also, while their offense applies pressure, it tends to not score in bunches. This is a team built for a 3-2, ‘grind-it-out’ win – if they are forced to go toe to toe with the Yankees or the Blue Jays’ potent offenses, they might not have the firepower to keep up. Of course, we said all this stuff last year as well.
Outlook: They aren’t the best team in the AL for nothing. Their strengths tend to play well in October, when homers become scarce and ‘small ball’ plays up. I’ve learned never to count this group out, but it all comes down to their starting pitching. If it holds up, they can repeat as AL champs.
Strengths: Well, they aren’t quite the ‘Bronx Bombers’ of old, and they aren’t on Toronto’s level, but these guys can rake – 2nd in the league in runs, 3rd in homers and slugging%. Under other circumstances, A-Rod’s 31-homer campaign would be comeback player of the year material, but I doubt he gets much support. Carlos Beltran also has defied Father Time, finishing with the best average of any regular. Teixeira was unfortunately lost to a fractured leg, but Greg Bird has come out of nowhere to hit 11 HRs in limited action.
On the mound, in a postseason filled with good bullpens the Yankees might have the best lefty-righty finishers in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. In 145 combined innings, the duo allowed only 78 hits and 60 walks while striking out 231, while allowing only 28 runs. If they get a lead to the 8th, NY is very likely to win.
Weaknesses: Oh, that Yankee rotation. It was already weak, but with Nathan Eovaldi injured and CC Sabathia done for the season the depth is completely gone. Masahiro Tanaka has pitched bravely through a damaged elbow, but his numbers are more like a high #3 than a #1 – and it goes downhill from there. Young Luis Severino has been good in 11 starts; can he hold up to the pressure in the LDS?
Also, the lineup, while powerful, is slow and hits for a very low average – in many ways they are the anti-Royals. This lineup can be handled by elite pitching, meaning their date with Dallas Keuchel Tuesday night is a big challenge.
Outlook: I don’t favor the Yanks to get by Keuchel and the Astros, and I certainly cannot favor them over the Royals if they reach the LDS. They did amazing work to snag a playoff berth, but this roster seems too old, too one-dimensional to eke out another World Series berth.
Strengths: Power. Only Toronto hit more homers than Houston’s 230, and only the Jays had a higher slugging %. Houston had 11 players reach double-digits in homers, and five hit 20+. They also have speed – five players stole 10+ bases, and as a team their 121 steals paced the AL. The lineup is young and improving, much like the Pirates in 2013.
On the mound, the Astros led the league in ERA, and Dallas Keuchel emerged as an ace..20-8, 232 innings, 2.48 ERA, 216 K’s. Young Lance McCullers emerged as a capable #2 starter for the ‘Stros as well, and Houston has a top-notch bullpen headlined by Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, and Tony Sipp.
Weaknesses: On offense, the Astros are homer-happy; despite the homers, they finished only 5th in the AL in runs, due to a low average and a lack of walks. They also led the league in strikeouts. Only four of their regulars have an average above .250, and no one on the roster drew more than 57 walks. This is definitely a boom-or-bust offense.
The rotation has issues after Keuchel and McCullers – Kazmir hasn’t pitched well since being traded from the A’s, and both Feldman and McHugh allow more than a hit per inning.
Outlook: This team is ahead of schedule and will be a power in the AL West for years – and they stand a good chance of knocking off the Yankees Tuesday night. Having said that, there are still some major holes, both in the rotation and in the lineup, and I don’t think this team can get by either the Royals or the Jays this season.
But…that’s why they play the games!
My ‘official’ World Series prediction is the Jays vs. the Mets – expect a Series Preview column as we get closer.
Later this week – Penguins Preview 2015, with the rest of the NHL to follow.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.