Preview- Despite averaging less than three runs a game after the all-star break, the Indians were still competing for the last wildcard spot until the 159th game. This was because of a tremendous, young, pitching rotation. Corey Kluber, the reigning AL CY Young winner, led the rotation. While some people expect Corey Kluber to regress a little bit, there is little reason to believe last year was a fluke except the fact that he had never pitched that well before. After Kluber, they also have Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Gavin Floyd, and Danny Salazar. Bauer and Salazar both posted ERA’s over four, but are both young, and showed a lot of promise last year. Floyd is coming off an injury, but before he was injured, had an ERA under 3. Carrasco posted an ERA of 2.55 over 133 innings, with 140 K’s.
The issue for the Indians will be their hitting and defense. On defense, they led the league in errors. Their infield defense was particularly bad, where injuries stretched them thin. On offense, they were boosted by the breakout performance of Michael Brantley. Unlike with Kluber, some regression is expected for Brantley. He will still be a good hitter, but his BABIP last year was over inflated, so his average should be expected to dip a little bit. This along with him turning 28, which is usually the age where steals start to go down. This means we should expect a slight regression across the board for Brantley, but for him to still be an overall, good player. Indians fans should also expect some improvement out of Jason Kipnis. The addition of Brandon Moss should also help, as most likely a healthier season overall for the tem. The Indians will once again push for a playoff spot.
Player to Watch- SS Francisco Lindor- Lindor has been one of the best prospects in baseball for a while now, and should finally make his debut this year, giving a huge boost to the lineup.
- Toronto Blue Jays
Preview- There are few teams with as much power as the Blue Jays have. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both going to hit at least 30 homeruns if healthy, and could reach 40 with good years. After that, Josh Donaldson also has 30+ homerun potential. Donaldson hit 29 last year, despite being marred in a slump for part of the season, and playing in O.co Coliseum. Besides the power hitters, they have Jose Reyes, who continues to be one of the best hitting SS’s in the league. The additions of Michael Saunders and Russell Martin should prove to be small improvements. Beyond that, there are some holes at the bottom of the lineup. Dalton Pompey was a good minor league hitter, but still needs to prove he can hit in the Majors. They are also pretty weak at second base.
Their pitching rotation also has a lot of promise. Starting Pitchers Drew Hutchinson, Aaron Sanchez, and Daniel Norris, all have the potential to be anywhere from middle-of-the-rotation pitchers, to potentially top end talent, but have yet to show it in the MLB. Sanchez and Norris have barley even played in the Majors yet. Sanchez has worked mostly out of the bullpen, where he had a lot of success. As for Norris, he has one start and it wasn’t very good. There will be growing pains, but overall, their pitching rotation should be good. Their bullpen is still pretty weak though. Overall, they should be able to push for a playoff spot in an AL East that is weak.
Player to Watch- SP Drew Hutchinson- Hutchinson has the most potential of all the young Blue Jays pitchers, mostly because he has the most experience. He already showed the ability to miss bats in the MLB, and it isn’t rare to see young pitchers drastically improve their ERA . Expect him to get his ERA down to around 3.5 this year, and to continue to strike hitters out. There is a lot of promise here.
- Pittsburgh Pirates
Preview – After being bad for such a long time, the Pirates are finally a winning team. The question is can they improve even more and become a team that can win playoff games? They have now made the postseason in each of the last two years, falling in the divisional round to the Cardinals in 2013, and to the Giants in the Wildcard play in game last year.
Everyone knows about how good OF Andrew McCutchen is, being probably the second best OF in the game, only behind Mike Trout. Neil Walker has become one of the better home run hitters at second base, having a pace of 20 homeruns in every year since 2012. He has had some chronic back issues, but managed to play all of last year. Walker is in a contract year, and is a candidate for an even bigger breakout this year. They also have Starling Marte in the OF. While Marte has had his share of struggles in his young career, he put it all together in the second half last year, with a line of .348/.408/.567. The 30+ steals will continue to be there, and a sharp uptick in power number wouldn’t be surprising this year. He is another breakout candidate on this Pirates team. Pedro Alvarez is always going to struggle to make contact, but the power should come back this year. The lineup should be able to score runs this year.
The rotation is good as well. Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole, and Vance Worley should all be able to keep their ERA around 3.5. Cole in particular has a chance to really improve. Overall, the Pirates should again be in that wildcard spot, but they may need that breakout from Gerrit Cole if they want to be able to win a playoff series. Otherwise, it may be hard for them to win a series if they get matched up against a team who can throw out a true ace again.
Player to Watch – OF Gregory Polanco- Polanco had a disappointing rookie year, but has the talent to be one of the better hitters on the team.
- Detroit Tigers
Preview- Despite being one of the winningest teams over the past three years, the Tigers have little to show for it. They have made the postseason in every year since 2011, and even made the World Series once. Despite that, they have had no parades, and wear no rings on their fingers.
There is a lot to like about this team. For one, their lineup should be very good. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Yoenis Cespedes, and J.D. Martinez make for a phenomenal top of the lineup. Miggy is coming off a down year, but that’s a down year by his standards. He was still one of the best hitters in Baseball, and still finished with over 100 RBI’s. Yoenis Cespedes is also coming off a down year, but with his raw power, there is reason to expect a bounce back. They also have a couple of young players in Anthony Gose and Nick Castelanos, who have the potential to be very good as well.
Losing Max Scherzer will hurt their pitching rotation, but even without him, it is still decent. They have David Price as their ace, and then Anibal Sanchez, and Alfredo Simon who are good pitchers as well. Justin Verlander will start the season on the DL, but he has been a league average pitcher at best the past two years, so missing him won’t hurt them too much.
What has been, and still is, their weakness, is the bullpen. The bullpen is league average during the season, but hasn’t been dependable at all in the postseason. A full season of Joakim Soria will probably help, but with Joe Nathan and his 4.81 ERA still in the closers role, it will again be hard to depend on late leads for the Tigers. They should at least be a playoff team again though. Who knows what will happen once they get there though.
Player to Watch- 3B Nick Castellanos- He was relatively unimpressive last year, but this is what he has done in the first year at every level. He could definitely take a big step this year.
- Seattle Mariners
Preview- The Mariners, like the Marlins, are receiving a lot of hype this season. With the Mariners though, that hype may be warranted. They have a lineup with a lot of potential, and already had a great pitching staff.
Their staff is headlined by Felix Hernandez, who after Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher in the league. James Paxton was looking like a terrific pitcher last year before having to miss four months with a shoulder injury. Taijuan Walker has been one of the more hyped pitching prospects in the last few years, and will finally make his full season debut this year. Hisashi Iwakuma is also in the rotation, and while he may not be as well known as Walker and King Felix, he has been one of the most under rated pitchers of the last couple of years, and should continue to produce.
The lineup isn’t quite as good, but as said above, it has potential. The top of the lineup is Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Austin Jackson, and Nelson Cruz. While those four are all very good, the line up gets weaker after that. Dustin Ackley and Seth Smith aren’t terrible hitters, but they aren’t very good either. Logan Morrison has showed potential in a few years, but lately has had off the field issues, which has affected his play. Catcher Mike Zunio is probably the best defensive catcher behind Yadier Molina, and can hit 20+ homeruns, but he hit under .200 last year. If he can get his average up, he could be one of the best catchers in the league. This could finally be the year they make the playoffs. With a great rotation, and a decent lineup, there is a good chance they make the playoffs for the first time in a while.
Player to Watch- SS Brad Miller- Miller has showed flashes of greatness, but hasn’t been able to show any consistency. He is a potential 20-20 player though. If he can improve his approach, and find some consistency, he can be another great hitter to add to the top of the lineup.