Results tagged ‘ Indians ’

And so it begins …

safeco-fieldOpening Day is finally here, and Safeco Field seems like a fitting place to start. It’s home to the team many have picked to win the American League West. And it kicks off with a matchup between Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver, the two guys who have made the most consecutive Opening Day starts in the Majors (Hernandez at seven, Weaver at six).

But Opening Day is only a ceremonial thing. “One of 162,” as many say. The season is long and arduous. And by the end of it, what happens on Opening Day or even in the first series will be nothing but a distant memory (like last year, when the Mariners embarrassed the Angels with a lopsided sweep in Southern California at the start of April).

If the Angels want to win another division title, they’ll have to answer several questions over the course of these next six months. And below are the seven most prominent …

1. What becomes of Josh Hamilton?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the Angels aren’t necessarily in a welcoming mood with Hamilton, who’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be suspended for a self-reported drug relapse. The tone of their statements after news broke — and what they’ve said privately leading up to it — made you wonder if they even want him around. He’s a very likable guy, but he hasn’t lived up to his massive contract and his latest relapse struck a nerve with the Angels’ brass (make of that what you will). He won’t be going away, though. He’s owed $83 million over the next three years, so the Angels have to see what they get out of him. How does he fit into the roster? What type of production does he provide in his age-34 season? And how does he mesh with a team that may be better off without him? It’ll be the most fascinating storyline this season.

2. How good is Garrett Richards?

Richards has yet to allow a run in three Minor League outings and could return to the rotation by April 19 if all goes well, which means he basically misses only two starts. How good will he be upon returning, though? As good as he was leading up to the season-ending left knee injury he suffered Aug. 20? If so, this Angels rotation — with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago set to open the season — is more dangerous than people think. If not, they’re very vulnerable. A lot rides on Richards’ 26-year-old right arm (not to mention that left knee).

3. What will the Angels get out of second base?

They aren’t fooling themselves into thinking they’ll replicate the production of Howie Kendrick. If C.J. Cron takes the next step in his maturation process (see: patience), David Freese stretches his last four months into a full season and Albert Pujols continues to look as good as he did this spring, they won’t need it. But replacement level production would be nice. Johnny Giavotella will get the first crack, but we may see many guys play second base this year.

4. Who gets the lefties out?

The Angels haven’t had a true lefty specialist since the 2012 version of Scott Downs, and Downs wasn’t really used as a lefty specialist. Last year, the Angels’ go-to reliever to get lefty hitters out was the right-handed Fernando Salas, who has a nice changeup that darts away from left-handed hitters. Ideally, they’d have that traditional left-on-lefty guy. Mike Scioscia has mentioned Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez as possibilities, but they’re multi-inning relievers who don’t have the big stuff that plays in that role. The next hope would be Santiago, but that would hinge on Andrew Heaney or Nick Tropeano developing well enough to warrant Santiago’s current rotation spot.

5. How do they upgrade the roster?

Even without saving any money on Hamilton’s contract, the Angels enter the season with $10 to $15 million of wiggle room. That’s what Arte Moreno said early in camp. It’s more payroll flexibility than they’ve had in a while, and they plan to use it. Question is, how? Do they get a second baseman, even though there aren’t many of them out there? (Chase Utley looks like a long shot, because of how intimidating his contract is and because of his no-trade clause). Do they get an outfield/DH bat? Do they get a starting pitcher (a lot of big names are entering their walk years)? Or do they add more bullpen pieces, like they did last year? June/July should be very eventful.

6. What kind of year does Mike Trout have?

You could reasonably expect a great one, considering he stays healthy. But how does he follow up a season that saw him win the AL MVP unanimously? We saw Trout transition into more of a power game last year, hitting more home runs and stealing fewer bases. But he’s only 23 years old, scary as that seems, and he’s still figuring out who he’s going to be in this game. My guess is he cuts down those strikeouts — I don’t know anyone who truly believes Trout is a 180-strikeout-a-year player — but doesn’t increase his stolen-base total by much. The Angels seem content with how often they sent Trout last year. Teams watch him closely and, far more relevant in this matter, steals cause a lot of wear and tear on the body.

7. Are the Angels better than the Mariners?

That’s probably what it’s going to come down to. The Mariners are a popular pick to win the division, because their rotation could be something fierce, their bullpen was one of the best in the game last season and their lineup got a big missing piece they needed in power hitter Nelson Cruz. But the Angels return the core group of a team that led the Majors in wins and finished second in run-differential last year. They’re starting a season with what should be a reliable bullpen for the first time since Jerry Dipoto came on board in October 2011 and they carry the confidence of succeeding with this group.

It should be interesting.

And to get you ready, here’s a look at our Opening Day content, in case you missed anything …

MORE LINKS! An updated depth chart is here, injury updates are here, pitching probables are here and a look at the top 30 prospects is here. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe to my weekly Angels podcast with Richard Justice here.

MLB.com compiled dozens of predictions on who will win each division, how the postseason will play out and where all the major individual awards will go. Below were my picks, if you’re interested …

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: Angels
NL Wild Cards: Marlins, Pirates
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Indians
NL champion: Nationals
AL champion: Angels
World Series champion: Nationals
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL Rookie of the Year: Steven Souza

Feliz Opening Day!

Alden

Shuck claimed off waivers by the Indians …

Outfielder J.B. Shuck, a big contributor to the Angels last season, was claimed off waivers by the Indians on Friday. In exchange, the Angels received cash considerations.

Shuck was designated for assignment on Tuesday, along with hard-throwing reliever Michael Kohn, because the Angels needed to clear space on the 40-man roster for a couple of September call-ups (catcher John Buck and infielder Shawn O’Malley).

Shuck, a scrappy left-handed hitter who primarily plays left field, was signed to a Minor League contract two offseasons ago and wound up leading American League rookies in plate appearances in 2013, while batting .293 with 20 doubles, 39 RBIs and eight steals.

The 27-year-old lost his job as the backup outfielder to Collin Cowgill in Spring Training and wound up appearing in only 22 Major League games this year, batting .167. With Triple-A Salt Lake, Shuck batted .320/.382/.446, with five homers, 57 RBIs and nine steals.

Alden

Angels claim a reliever; can they claim a starter? …

The Angels claimed reliever Vinnie Pestano, a veteran sidearmer who was really good very recently (2.45 ERA in 137 appearances for the Indians from 2011-12) and who carries plenty of flexibility (he can be optioned this year and next year, and is under club control for three more years).

What would really be great is if they could acquire the Pestano equivalent as a starting pitcher.

That’s “really hard,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said.

“The idea that you can make the perfect acquisition for your rotation in August is not great, but there are going to be available options. We just have to determine what the right timing is, or if we need one.”

The Angels currently have Tyler Skaggs nursing a forearm strain that will put him out an indefinite amount of time and C.J. Wilson holding a 12.50 ERA in five starts leading up to tonight’s Freeway Series finale. That leaves their rotation very vulnerable, with Hector Santiago and Matt Shoemaker being counted on to step up in support of Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards, and very little available to them in their Minor League system.

Dipoto pointed out that left-hander Wade LeBlanc, reacquired on June 17, has been pitching well at Triple-A Salt Lake, where he has a 4.04 ERA in 18 starts. Chris Volstad is also there, with a 5.18 ERA in four starts. But the Angels — with money available — will continue to monitor the waiver wire in hopes of landing additional starting pitching depth.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the household name sitting in the 7 hole right now,” Dipoto said. “I don’t know that anyone really does. That’s what august waiver are for. That’s what our minor league system is for.”

It’s Mike Trout‘s 23rd birthday, in case you hadn’t heard. Here’s what he said about that pregame …

  • His best gift? “Nothing too crazy for my birthday. I got Cornhole. I played it over the All-Star break and I liked it. Parents got it. My mom’s brother builds them and he sent me one. Other than that, I don’t need gifts.”
  • Trout has homered in each of his last two games on his birthday. Pressure to hit one tonight? “Nah, no pressure to do so. If I hit one tonight, I hit one.”
  • Do you feel old? “Everyone keeps asking me that. I was talking to [Jered Weaver] about it, looking at how much time I have up here. After this year, over three years. It’s been quick. I’m having fun here; this is where you want to be. I can’t ask for anything else.”

And the lineups for tonight’s Freeway Series finale …

Dodgers (65-50)

Justin Turner, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Hanley Ramirez, DH
Matt Kemp, RF
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Miguel Rojas, SS

SP: LH Hyun-Jin Ryu (12-5, 3.39 ERA)

Angels (67-46)

Erick Aybar, SS
Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, DH
Josh Hamilton, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
C.J. Cron, 1B
Collin Cowgill, RF

SP: LH C.J. Wilson (8-7, 4.74 ERA)

Alden

C.J. Cron continues to sit …

Stephen Vogt, C.J. CronThe National League rules of Atlanta kept him out of the lineup this past weekend, the constant stream of Indians right-handed starters have prompted Mike Scioscia to go with the left-handed-hitting Raul Ibanez on a daily basis, and suddenly the still-developing C.J. Cron is adjusting to life as a part-time player.

“It’s how it works,” Cron said. “Obviously, I want to be in there as much as possible. But I’m not in the lineup, so I’ll be ready in case a pinch-hit comes or whatever.”

Scioscia has continued to go with a strict platoon at designated hitter, starting Ibanez three straight times against righties even though the 42-year-old carries a .153/.257/.258 slash line on the season and is 3-for-18 lifetime against the Indians’ Wednesday starter, Justin Masterson.

The Angels’ manager pointed out that one of those hits was a two-run triple on April 28, brought up the fact that Masterson has limited righties to a .630 OPS this season and said Ibanez “has had some good at-bats in this series,” going 2-for-5 with a couple of walks and no strikeouts.

“I don’t think you’re going to look up tomorrow and see Raul hitting what he should with the production you would expect,” Scioscia said. “But there’s no doubt that he’s making some strides in the batter’s box and you’re seeing better swings. The bottom line is production. Nobody understands that better than Raul. He knows that he needs to contribute and have better at-bats. Nobody is working harder at it than Raul, and we’re very confident that he’s going to contribute for us.”

The question is: When will the right-handed-hitting Cron get playing time?

The 24-year-old had a .305/.329/.524 slash line as of June 4, but has three hits and seven strikeouts in his last 20 at-bats, hasn’t started since last Wednesday and is rotting during a stretch in which the Angels are mostly seeing righty starters. The Indians are throwing four in a row this series, the Rangers will only have one lefty – Joe Saunders on Friday – in Anaheim this coming weekend, and the Twins, who play at Angel Stadium from next Tuesday to Thursday, have only righties in their rotation.

Scioscia said “there’s a chance Cron will get some at-bats against righties, too.”

But for now, he waits, and the Angels face the dilemma of keeping Cron in the big leagues or sending him down to Triple-A so he can get consistent at-bats and continue to develop.

“Ever since I’ve been up here I have kind of platooned,” Cron said. “It hasn’t switched yet. I come to the field every day as if I’m going to play. If I’m not in the lineup, I’ll help the team later in the game.”

Angels (38-32)

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Raul Ibanez, DH
David Freese, 3B
Hank Conger, C

SP: LH C.J. Wilson (7-6, 3.50 ERA)

Indians (36-36)

Michael Bourn, CF
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Carlos Santana, 1B
Ryan Raburn, RF
Nick Swisher, DH
Yan Gomes, C
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
Mike Aviles, LF

SP: RH Justin Masterson (4-5, 5.05 ERA)

Alden

Shoemaker makes a statement …

Matt ShoemakerMatt Shoemaker certainly isn’t making the Angels’ forthcoming rotation decision an easy one, and that’s certainly a good thing for the organization.

In Tuesday’s 9-3 win, the 27-year-old right-hander got “real aggressive” and tossed a career-high eight innings, giving up only two runs, scattering five hits, walking one batter and striking out a career-high 10. He could’ve had a complete game, but the tarp came onto the field as he warmed up in the bottom of the ninth with 94 pitches, prompting an 11-minute rain delay that forced Mike Scioscia to use Ernesto Frieri (his only rested reliever).

“I was thinking if it’s a real quick one I have a chance to go back out there,” Shoemaker said. “A lot of times, it’s like a 20-, 30-minute delay, and once that happens, hopefully I get a chance to go back out there. It’s unfortunate, but I understand.”

Shoemaker will settle for the win, and continued success. In six starts since initially replacing Hector Santiago in the rotation, he’s 4-0 with a 3.41 ERA.

Asked what he feels like he’s shown the Angels since arriving from Triple-A, Shoemaker said: “That I can definitely compete at this level and be a good attribute to this team. Just keep taking that mental approach of being aggressive, and do whatever I can to help this team win.”

Tyler Skaggs could be activated early next week, at which point the Angels will seemingly have to make a decision between Santiago and Shoemaker. Santiago has stated his case, too, pitching six shutout innings against the A’s on June 10 and throwing five scoreless against the Braves on Sunday before getting hit around a bit in the sixth — and he’d probably have the upper-hand given how much the Angels were counting on him at the start of the year.

But Shoemaker has shown he deserves to stay in the big leagues, either as a starter or a swingman in the bullpen.

The latter, however, would cut into the Angels’ organizationally starting-pitching depth.

“You never try to think about that,” Shoemaker said of pending roster decisions. “Sometimes you might think about some of that. But you say, ‘OK, let’s not think about that. Let’s think about what we’ve got today.'”

Alden

Skaggs won’t be activated when eligible …

Tyler SkaggsIt turns out Tyler Skaggs won’t be activated when eligible on Saturday.

Skaggs, on the disabled list since June 10 because of a strained right hamstring, didn’t throw his scheduled simulated game at Progressive Field on Tuesday. Instead, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, the 22-year-old left-hander will “probably throw a bullpen in the next couple days.”

Scioscia said Skaggs didn’t suffer a setback; the Angels are just “going on his pace.”

“He’s feeling good,” Scioscia added, “but not quite enough to do what you need him to do in a sim game.”

The Angels can afford to wait a little longer, with Hector Santiago (six shutout innings against the A’s, followed by five scoreless against the Braves before a rough sixth inning) and Matt Shoemaker (3-0 with a 3.76 ERA in five starts heading into his Tuesday outing) throwing the ball well.

Skaggs would have to see hitters before getting activated, either in a sim game or, if his recovery stalls a little longer, a Minor League rehab assignment.

“I think it’s just getting back to where he wants his mechanics, his motions, everything,” Scioscia said of Skaggs, who’s 4-4 with a 4.34 ERA in 12 starts. “He was down for like nine days, so it’s going to take a little bit of work to get him where he wants to be.”

Angels (37-32)

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, DH
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Raul Ibanez, LF
Hank Conger, C

SP: RH Matt Shoemaker (3-1, 4.19 ERA)

Indians (36-35)

Michael Bourn, CF
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Carlos Santana, 1B
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
David Murphy, RF
Nick Swisher, DH
Yan Gomes, C
Ryan Raburn, LF

SP: RH Josh Tomlin (4-3, 3.33 ERA)

Alden

Home runs ‘killing’ Jered Weaver …

Jered WeaverJered Weaver gave up two home runs in Monday’s 4-3 loss — a two-run shot to Asdrubal Cabrera in the first, a solo shot to Carlos Santana in the fourth — and has now given up 14 in 95 2/3 innings this season, giving him the second-highest total in the American League.

Last year, the Angels’ ace gave up 17 homers in 154 1/3 innings.

“It’s no secret, I just can’t stay away from the home-run ball,” said Weaver, now 7-6 with a 3.67 ERA. “It’s been killing me lately, and that was the difference in the game again tonight. I don’t think I’ve thrown the ball terribly, but when I’m making mistakes, they’re hitting home runs. It’s definitely frustrating.”

Weaver’s velocity has continually eroded over the last few years, and he entered Monday averaging a career-low 86.2 mph on his fastball. That could explain the higher home-run rate, or at the very least his shrinking margin for error, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia believes Weaver’s “stuff right now is batter than it was last year.”

So, why all the homers — particularly eight in his last seven starts?

“I don’t know,” Weaver said. “Wish I had an answer. When I have an answer, I’ll let you know.”

From 2006-13, Weaver’s homers-per-nine-innings rate was 0.96, tied for 45th in the Majors. This year, it’s 1.32.

“Just can’t stay away from the home-run ball,” Weaver said. “That contributes to losses. Nothing else to be said. I think my stuff is good. Take away the home-run balls [on Monday], it’s not a bad outing. But those home-run balls are not taken away, and that has led to us losing games.”

Alden

Garrett Richards’ second inning: Immaculate …

nolanNolan Ryan and Garrett Richards.

That’s it.

Those are the only two guys in Angels history to record an immaculate inning, which consists of nine pitches and three strikeouts. Ryan did it on June 9, 1972, in the second inning against the Red Sox. Richards did it on Wednesday, in the second inning of a 4-0 win over the Astros.

“That was my guy growing up,” Richards said after eight shutout innings. “It’s cool. It’s cool to be put in a group with a guy like that. I didn’t even realize it until after the game. It was fun. It was a fun game to be a part of.”

Yes, Richards is way too young to grow up idolizing Ryan. He’s 26, which means he was 5 years old during the Hall of Famer’s final season with the Rangers in 1993. But his father was a big fan of Ryan, and that made Richards, raised in Southern California, a fan, too.

“I met him one time in Texas,” Richards said. “It was awesome.”

Here’s how the bottom of the second went (video here) …

Jon Singleton: 96-mph fastball (foul), 88-mph slider (swinging), 79-mph curveball (swinging).
Matt Dominguez: 95-mph cutter (looking), 97-mph fastball (swinging), 97-mph cutter (looking).
Chris Carter: 97-mph cutter (swinging), 79-mph curveball (swinging), 88-mph slider (swinging).

Three others have thrown an immaculate inning this season (Justin Masterson of the Indians on June 2, Cole Hamels of the Phillies on May 17 and Brad Boxberger of the Rays on May 8), and Richards’ is the 55th in Major League history. Thirty-three have come in the National League, twenty-two have come in the American League. Ryan also accomplished it with the Mets in 1968, and Lefty Grove did it twice in one season (1928, with the A’s). Nobody has ever done it more than once in the same game (here’s the full list).

“That’s just the type of stuff you rarely ever see,” catcher Hank Conger said. “But with a guy like Garrett, that’s the type of things that can happen, especially with his type of stuff.”

Alden

ST Game 12: Angels 8, Indians 3 …

Jered WeaverMost important thing: Jered Weaver labored through 4 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on five hits and two walks. But he finished strong, striking out three of the last five batters he faced, and felt perfectly healthy afterwards. Weaver sat at mostly 86 to 88 mph with his fastball, hitting 89 mph twice, which is normal for him.

Second-most important thing: A lot of the guys fighting for bench spots had nice showings. Andrew Romine drew three walks and drove in two runs. Grant Green went 2-for-4 with a double (though he misplayed a grounder at second base and hardly got any action at third). And Collin Cowgill hit a long two-run homer against Trevor Bauer.

Third-most important thing: C.J. Cron continues to hit, and he’s handling himself pretty well defensively at first base. The 24-year-old spent the summer trying to gain a better strike zone awareness in Double-A and had an up-and-down season for the Arkansas Travelers. But he raked in the Arizona Fall League and is having a very nice spring, going 2-for-4 on Monday to put his Cactus League batting average at .545.

Fourth-most important thing: Matt Long is a longshot to make the team, but he went on a tear on Monday, getting four hits and falling a homer shy of the cycle to lead an Angels offense that was low on everyday players — Chris Iannetta and Raul Ibanez were the only ones — but in need of some production.

Fifth-most important thing: Five relievers fighting for jobs (Buddy Boshers, Robert Carson, Josh Wall, Brandon Lyon and Michael Kohn) had scoreless outings, combining to give up only two hits while walking two and striking out four in 4 2/3 innings.

Best defensive play (that I actually saw): John McDonald, a frequent contributor to this section, dove to his left and quickly flipped across his body to get a force out at second base and rob Carlos Santana of a single in the third inning.

Best quote: Weaver, on his spring results: “I don’t worry about that until the last start before the season. … Until then, I’m just trying to work on stuff.”

Angels’ record: 5-6-1

Alden

Division-by-division: AL Central …

ALCS Tigers Red Sox Baseball

Leading up to Spring Training, I’ll take a look at each of the six divisions in hopes of providing an overview for what to expect this coming season. Next up, the AL Central.

Indians
Last year’s record: 92-70, 2nd place (lost to Rays in AL Wild Card game)
Key additions: OF David Murphy, RP John Axford, RP Josh Outman, 1B David Cooper, INF Elliot Johnson, OF Nyjer Morgan, RF Jeff Francoeur, C Matt Treanor, SP Shaun Marcum
Key subtractions: SP Ubaldo Jimenez, SP Scott Kazmir, OF Drew Stubbs, CL Chris Perez, OF Jason Kubel, RP Matt Albers, RP Rich Hill, RP Joe Smith, C Kelly Shoppach
Biggest strength: Offense. The Indians ranked sixth in the Majors in runs scored last year, despite down years from Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera, and have replaced the strikeout-prone Drew Stubbs with righty masher David Murphy.
Biggest question: Pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Kazmir signed with the A’s and it doesn’t look like Jimenez is coming back, so it’ll be up to young guys like Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Carlos Carrasco to fill the void as starters. The bullpen no longer has Perez, Hill and Smith, so the likes of Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Vinnie Pestano have to step up.
Most important player: Salazar. The 24-year-old right-hander has the makings of a front-of-the-rotation starter and needs to emerge as one for the Indians to take the next step.
In 25 words or less: The Indians let a lot of veteran pitchers go, and now their playoff fate will rest on an assortment of young, albeit-talented arms.

Royals
Last year’s record: 86-76, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Jason Vargas, OF Norichika Aoki, 2B Omar Infante, INF Danny Valencia, SP Brad Penny, RP Jon Rauch, OF Carlos Peguero,
Key subtractions: SP Ervin Santana, 1B Carlos Pena, INF Miguel Tejada, INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, RP Will Smith
Biggest strength: Relief pitching. Greg Holland was one of baseball’s best closers last year, with Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow helping to make up arguably the game’s best bullpen.
Biggest question: Youth in the starting lineup. If the Royals are going to make the playoffs for the first time since winning it all in 1985, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will have to finally come into their own.
Most important player: Danny Duffy. The 25-year-old lefty missed almost 14 months due to Tommy John surgery, then posted a 1.85 ERA in five starts down the stretch. He still has upside, and could provide a huge boost to the rotation if he takes a step forward.
In 25 words or less: Aoki, Infante and Vargas could very well be the moves that push the Royals over the top and end a brutal, 28-year playoff drought.

Tigers
Last year’s record: 93-69, 1st place (lost to Red Sox in ALCS)
Key additions: MGR Brad Ausmus, CL Joe Nathan, 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Rajai Davis, INF Steve Lombardozzi, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Ian Krol
Key subtractions: MGR Jim Leyland, SP Doug Fister, 1B Prince Fielder, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Omar Infante, INF Ramon Santiago, C Brayan Pena, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Jeremy Bonderman, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Jose Veras
Biggest strength: Starting pitching. Even without Fister, the Tigers’ staff looks like the best in baseball, with the reigning Cy Young Award winner (Max Scherzer), a former MVP (Justin Verlander) and the guy with the lowest ERA in 2013 (Anibal Sanchez). And don’t forget about ground ball machine Rick Porcello pitching with a better defense behind him.
Biggest question: Ausmus, because it’s always tough for a rookie manager to take on a veteran team with World Series expectations, especially while filling the shoes of a legend (though Mike Matheny seemed to do OK). Everything else about this club is solid.
Most important player: Victor Martinez. With Fielder in Texas, it’ll probably be his job to protect Miguel Cabrera as the new cleanup hitter and get pitchers to throw the two-time MVP a strike every once in a while.
In 25 words or less: The defense is a lot better with Cabrera at first and the ninth is finally locked up with Nathan. If healthy, they’ll contend once again.

Twins
Last year’s record: 66-96, 4th place
Key additions: SP Ricky Nolasco, SP Phil Hughes, OF Jason Kubel, C Kurt Suzuki, SS Jason Bartlett, RP Matt Guerrier
Key subtractions: C/OF Ryan Doumit, SP Liam Hendriks
Biggest strength: Their farm system. Keith Law ranked them second, behind only the Astros, while center fielder Byron Buxton (first) and third baseman Miguel Sano (third) rank among MLB.com’s top three prospects.
Biggest question: Starting pitching. The Twins had by far the worst rotation in the Majors last year, with a 30th-ranked 5.26 ERA, then spent a combined $84 million to bring in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and resign Mike Pelfrey. They’ll be better, but they’ll still be bad.
Most important player: Joe Mauer, of course. He’s signed through 2018 and is making the transition from catcher to first base in hopes of staying as healthy as possible during that time. How will he handle it defensively, and will he produce the power numbers required for that position? These are crucial questions for the Twins’ future.
In 25 words or less: They’ll take their lumps again this season, but the rotation will be better (how can it be worse?) and some very talented prospects arrive soon.

White Sox
Last year’s record: 63-99, 5th place
Key additions: CF Adam Eaton, 1B Jose Abreu, 3B Matt Davidson, SP Felipe Paulino, RP Ronald Belisario, RP Scott Downs
Key subtractions: SP Gavin Floyd, CL Addison Reed, OF Brandon Jacobs, SP/RP Hector Santiago, SP Dylan Axelrod
Biggest strength: The front of the rotation. Chris Sale is up there among the best pitchers in the game, and 25-year-old Jose Quintana (3.51 ERA in 33 starts last year) has emerged as a solid No. 2.
Biggest question: The lineup. It could be solid; it could also be very bad. Eaton, Abreu, Davidson, Dayan Viciedo, Avisail Garcia, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, Tyler Flowers and Alexei Ramirez all bring varying degrees of questions.
Most important player: Abreu. He was given the largest ever contract for an international free agent ($68 million over six years) and has supplanted Paul Konerko as the everyday first baseman. Now we’ll see how the Cuban slugger’s power translates to the States.
In 25 words or less: The White Sox can’t contend this year, but GM Rick Hahn is doing a nice job rebuilding in hopes of getting them there soon.

Predicted order of finish …

  • Tigers
  • Royals
  • Indians
  • White Sox
  • Twins

Previous entries: NL East | AL East | NL Central

Alden

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