Baseball officially returns on Sunday night when the Mets visit the Royals in a rematch last year’s World Series, which Kansas City won in five games. In-depth season previews for the Mets and Yankees are forthcoming, but for now amNewYork examines all 30 teams at a glance, projecting how each team will finish within their respective divisions.
1. Boston Red Sox
The BoSox should be back on track this season, having salved their pitching issues by signing ace David Price away from Toronto and trading prospects for elite closer Craig Kimbrel. Behind young hitters Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts and veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, this lineup will be just fine if healthy — just five position players appeared in more than 125 games in 2015.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
The aforementioned loss of Price is a major setback for a rotation that wasn’t all that strong behind him. As long as their star-studded lineup (AL MVP Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki) has them in the mix, the Jays could add an arm for a postseason push as they did last year with Price.
3. New York Yankees
The bullpen could be all-time awesome when Aroldis Chapman returns from suspension, but the lineup still relies heavily on aging or injury-prone veterans like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. New second baseman Starlin Castro is the wild card, and a strong season from the former All-Star will go a long way for the Bombers’ playoff hopes.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Was it enough to re-sign slugger Chris Davis, catcher Matt Wieters and closer Darren O’Day? Not in the top-heavy AL East. Unless right-hander Yovani Gallardo, a late offseason addition, comes up big for the starting rotation, the O’s don’t have the pitching to hang against some beefy lineups.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
Evan Longoria is 30. If the Rays are going to win with him as the centerpiece, they need a better lineup around him. Even with ace Chris Archer, Tampa Bay just isn’t going to scare anyone in this division. It may be time to enter full-on rebuilding mode.
1. Kansas City Royals
The defending champs will be hard-pressed to win 95 games again, but they’ll be fine. Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales will keep the lineup steady. There’s no true ace on the staff, but there’s enough depth that they will win consistently. Plus, closer Wade Davis is as good as they come, and he’s not the only capable arm in the bullpen.
2. Detroit Tigers
Last season was a disaster, but there is hope. Miguel Cabrera should be healthy now, and he’s still a killer at the plate. Detroit made some strong offseason additions (outfielder Justin Upton, starter Jordan Zimmermann and closer Francisco Rodriguez) that should help right the ship. But the Central will be competitive, so a second-place finish won’t be easy.
3. Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale is going to win a Cy Young Award one of these years. A much-improved lineup could shine a brighter spotlight upon him. The ChiSox added Todd Frazier and Alex Avila take the pressure off slugger Jose Abreu in the lineup. There’s no reason this team couldn’t win the division outright.
4. Minnesota Twins
Last year’s pleasant surprise will go as far as its young stars will take them. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are the future, but Sano especially was excellent in 2015. Lackluster pitching limits the Twins’ ceiling for now. Maybe they’ll be buyers at the deadline in July.
5. Cleveland Indians
The division’s least-intimidating lineup isn’t going to cut it. Beyond Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis, there just isn’t much. Maybe Francisco Lidnor becomes an All-Star in his second season, but even that might not be enough. At least The Tribe can win any time Corey Kluber takes the mound.
1. Houston Astros
All of a sudden, the Astros have gone from chumps to championship contenders. AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel leads an underrated rotation, and newly-acquired Ken Giles gives them a reliable ninth-inning man. At just 21, power-hitting shortstop Carlos Correa is poised to lead a sturdy Houston lineup — along with George Springer and Jose Altuve — deep into October.
2. Texas Rangers
The surprise winners of the AL West a season ago should get ace Yu Darvish back before June. The Rangers also will have Cole Hamels for a full season. If they reach the playoffs again, that’s a potent one-two punch in a short series. Factor in Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre at the heart of the lineup, this is a quality ballclub.
3. Los Angeles Angels
The team with best player in baseball at present (Mike Trout) and the best game’s best player from the previous decade (Albert Pujols) just can’t break through. Part of that is how much Pujols has declined from his Cardinals days, but he had a fine campaign in 2015. The real culprit behind this team’s mediocrity: lackluster pitching.
4. Seattle Mariners
The first-half struggles of Robinson Cano had a hand in the M’s disappointing season. Seattle was active during the offseason adding help to its Felix Hernandez-led pitching staff, but only time will tell if the moves were enough to move up in the crowded AL West standings.
5. Oakland Athletics
Like the Mariners, the A’s will have a tough time breaking through into the top three of the division. They simply lack the necessary pieces. Sonny Gray is a talented arm at the front of the rotation, but run support will be hard to come by.
1. New York Mets
The Amazin’s have an embarrassment of riches in their rotation. They have two aces (Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom) and six quality starters when Zack Wheeler gets back. The unexpected return of Yoenis Cespedes keeps this team and its deceptively deep lineup on the short list for World Series favorites. The only real question mark is how the bullpen will perform.
2. Washington Nationals
Last year’s meltdown shouldn’t be expected to carry over. At 23, NL MVP Bryce Harper is only getting better, although the rest of the lineup cannot carry the Nats if Harper misses time. Fortunately, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the rotation are formidable. It’s unlikely D.C. will sit out the postseason this year.
3. Miami Marlins
Keeping Giancarlo Stanton healthy has proved challenging. But when he plays, his prodigious power is a game-changer. Dee Gordon likely peaked last year, but he’s still a talented player. If young ace Jose Fernandez returns to form and puts injury issues behind him, the Fish might post a .500 record or better for the first time since 2009.
4. Atlanta Braves
The Braves aren’t really trying to be good this season. They’ll be duking it out with Philly for last-place, but Freddie Freeman alone makes them better than the other AL East cellar dweller. Julio Teheran is a solid starter, but he’s more of a middle-of-the-order guy on a better team.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
This team looks like a 100-loss collective. They lost 99 games a year ago, and they sure don’t look better this year. A diminished Ryan Howard might still be the team’s best player. That’s a bad thing. With not much pitching to speak of, Philly is in for a long year.
1. Chicago Cubs
On paper, this is the best Cubs team in decades. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and a talented-laden lineup — which added Jason Heyward in the offseason — can explode on any given day. The rotation improved by adding John Lackey behind NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. With manager Joe Maddon guiding them, the sky — or another “curse” — is the limit.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
This Bucs still have the great Andrew McCutchen leading the outfield, which also includes Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. But losing Pedro Alvarez (Orioles) and Neil Walker (Mets) could put a small dent in their offensive output. Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole remain a great front end of the rotation. This still looks like a playoff team.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
How many times can the Cards recover from losing key contributors before it catches up with them? This may be the year we find out after Heyward and Lackey bolted for the rival Cubbies. Ace Adam Wainwright and outfielder Matt Holliday are healthy again, so don’t sleep on St. Louis even in a brutal NL Central race.
4. Cincinnati Reds
One of their best hitters (Frazier) is gone, as is their flamethrowing closer (Chapman). Who’s left to help the stellar Joey Votto for the next six months? Outfielder Jay Bruce could finally be dealt this season, and there’s not much pitching to speak of. Cincy is going nowhere.
5. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brew Crew are racing to the bottom. The Reds could be worse, but it won’t be by much. At least they’ve got two All-Star caliber hitters in outfielder Ryan Braun and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, but their pitching staff is utterly underwhelming. They’re looking to the future.
1. San Francisco Giants
It’s an even-numbered year, so the Giants will win the World Series — hey, it worked the last three times. But seriously, it could happen. Buster Posey still is the teams’ best hitter, and that’s a good thing. More importantly, ace Madison Bumgarner now has Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija behind him. This rotation rivals the Mets’, but boasts more experience.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The departure of Zack Greinke weakens the rotation, but not heavily. Clayton Kershaw remains one of the finest pitchers of this generation, so they’ll be OK. The lineup isn’t what it once was, but Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez should be All-Stars. The Dodgers could make the postseason, but they may have missed their championship window.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs made a splash by adding Greinke and Shelby Miller, completely remaking the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt should get MVP consideration if he can lead Arizona to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. That will be tough, but keep an eye on them.
4. San Diego Padres
Last year’s offseason binge ended in disaster when the Padres won just 74 games. Pitching remains a strength with James Shields and Tyson Ross in the rotation, but the lineup needs help. Matt Kemp must hit like the All-Star he once was with the Dodgers, but dont count on that happening.
5. Colorado Rockies
Nolan Arenado is a star worth building around, but he’s stuck on a bad team that’s likely to trade Carlos Gonzalez one of these days. The pitching remains terrible, especially when they call hitter-friendly Coors Field home. Another lost season in Denver.
AL WILD CARD
c Rangers over Blue Jays
NL WILD CARD
c Nationals over Pirates
c Astros over Rangers
c Royals over Red Sox
c Cubs over Nationals
c Mets over Giants
c Astros over Royals
c Mets over Cubs
Mets over Astros
Mike Trout (Angels)
He’s a safe bet. The 2014 award winner was the runner-up every other year since 2012. Not too shabby for a 24-year-old.
Next pick: Lorenzo Cain (Royals)
Chris Sale (White Sox)
Last year’s AL strikeout king also led in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s overdue.
Next pick: Chris Archer (Rays)
Byron Buxton (Twins)
Long considered one of the top prospects in baseball, Minnesota has a lot riding on him.
Next pick: Joey Gallo (Rangers)
John Farrell (Red Sox)
He beat cancer, and his BoSox could make a big turnaround in the tough AL East.
Next pick: Robin Ventura (White Sox)
Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)
He’s received votes for years. This is the year the first baseman takes home the hardware.
Next pick: Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)
Madison Bumgarner (Giants)
Believe it or not, he still hasn’t won the award. This is the year that omission is rectified.
Next pick: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)
Steven Matz (Mets)
Pitching for a contender helps his cause. The lefty from Long Island is primed for a strong season.
Next pick: Corey Seager (Dodgers)
Terry Collins (Mets)
The skipper finally gets a full season with a well-assembled ballclub.
Next pick: Joe Maddon (Cubs)