With Baseball Season in Full Swing, Who are the A.L.’s Biggest Contenders?



Zander Frost

The MLB season, at long last, is upon us. After an offseason of flashy trades and big-money signings, the American League has finally started to sort out and we’ve begun to see how teams stand. It looks like one of the most unpredictable sets of teams in recent history, but let’s give it a shot anyways.

The American league this year is arguably the most competitive it has ever been, with each division supplying what could be three or more contenders. The American League West will be close, as the contending Rangers, Angels and Athletics vie for a division crown with the young Mariners not far behind. However, the fact that the Houston Astros have now joined the fray essentially gives each of the other squads a free set of wins this year. The Astros have somehow managed to assemble a worse opening day roster than last year’s, a feat that seemed as impossible as an Orlando Magic win against the Miami Heat last week. I really can’t stress enough how bad the Astros are this season. Bud Norris was their opening day starter! The point is that they really weaken this division and give the second and third place lineups in this division a better shot at landing a wild card. When push comes to shove, the division favorite is still the Texas Rangers. Their pitching remains solid behind Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and a strong bullpen. They also return a strong lineup with the additions of Lance Berkman and Aj Pierzynski to counter the loss of Josh Hamilton, and they have a proven track record of success. The Angels have serious concerns with their starting pitching, but they should be close behind, and the ever-lurking, young Athletics could easily surprise again and snag the division crown.

With that being said, this division still is not as competitive as the daunted American League East. The division looks to be the most equal it has ever been, with a case to be made for every team in support of a division crown. The Blue Jays have added a slew of new talent, including the 2012 N.L. Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, as well as 2011 N.L. Batting Crown winner Jose Reyes. They also signed Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and Melky Cabrera. Now these names could all fail as many of their previous teams did last season (or in Melky Cabrera’s case, how he failed), but the more likely outcome is that the Blue Jays become a serious contender for the World Series. The Orioles bring back another young, hungry squad behind all-stars Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Jim Johnson, and legendary manager Buck Showalter. The team appears ready to launch another playoff campaign.

Although G.M. Dan Duquette remained quiet over the offseason, he has assembled a deep, young roster that is much improved from this time last season.

The Rays have taken a step back with the losses of BJ Upton, James Shields and Wade Davis, but their pitching is as good as ever and a hopefully full season from Evan Longoria should keep them firmly in the race. Lastly, there are the aging titans and the overpaying powerhouses of baseball: the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Red Sox are coming off a disappointing last place finish, but by changing managers from Bobby Valentine to John Farrell and by overpaying for a few decent players, they will be significantly better this season. The Yankees, on the other hand, are dealing with major injuries to core players like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera, Curtis Granderson and perhaps Derek Jeter, and are showing substantial holes across the field. Their roster is a proverbial black hole at catcher because they decided not to pay for Russell Martin. Now, you read that sentence thinking that, “Perhaps the Yankees have become frugal,” but after they acquired Vernon Wells, you realize that they just screwed up their entire roster on a whim to avoid the luxury tax. Terrific. Anyways, my prediction for this division is an Orioles crown with a wild card for the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays will certainly perform well, but it will take a month or so for the team to gel.

Last, the American League Central will likely be the weakest division. Detroit has won this division handily the past few seasons, and fans can expect the same thing this year. They’ve only gotten better with the addition of Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez. The rest of the division is pretty rough to look at and the only team other than the White Sox that could potentially challenge the Tigers would be the Royals if everything magically fit together and Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer started hitting .300. But, realistically, that’s probably not going to happen this year.

The Twins will improve but they’re probably going to be moving assets at the All-star break this year. The Indians made some nice moves in the offseason by bringing in Nick Swisher and Trevor Bauer, but neither they nor the Twins will improve anywhere above their slots just about the Astros in the American League. The White Sox challenged the Tigers for most of last season, but the loss of AJ Pierzynski and potential regression for Alex Rios and Chris Sale (he was weak towards the end last year) make me believe they won’t likely be there at the end. It’s truly Detroit’s to lose.