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MLB season preview 2015: The American League

Pablo Sandoval of the Boston Red Sox makes

Pablo Sandoval of the Boston Red Sox makes a throw to first base during the seventh inning of a spring training game against the Mets at JetBlue Park at Fenway South on March 16, 2015 in Fort Myers, Florida. Photo Credit: Getty Images

A look at the American League heading into the 2015 MLB season, with teams ranked in each division.



The Red Sox finished dead last in the division a year ago, barely cracking 70 wins, so that can only mean one thing for 2015:

Congratulations, Boston, on yet another world championship!

Seriously, though. The Red Sox seem to have this worst-to-first thing down pat after sandwiching the '13 title between two terrible seasons, and they went for the big reload during the offseason by signing Pablo Sandoval ($95 million) and Hanley Ramirez ($88 million) and making rotation-fortifying trades for Rick Porcello and Wade Miley.

That's going to be some Monster-mashing lineup now, harking back to the days of the five-hour Fenway showdowns with the Yankees. The Sox will regret the back end of those Panda-Hanley deals, but not this season. And with a deep farm system, they'll find a way to secure another front-line starter for a rotation of 2s and 3s.

Will that mean another trip to the World Series? Not necessarily. But with the Bronx superpower looking creaky and the rest of the AL East flawed, the new Evil Empire is going to show a division crown still can be bought.


Losing Long Islander Marcus Stroman -- their potential No. 1 -- was a big blow to the Jays, who probably consider themselves lucky it was a knee injury and not Tommy John surgery. But scoring runs shouldn't be a problem if Jose Reyes remains healthy, especially after the acquisitions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Can they cobble together enough pitching to be a serious October threat?


The fragile state of the rotation could mean a 10-game swing either way. If CC Sabathia is effective despite an arthritic knee, Masahiro Tanaka avoids TJ surgery and Michael Pineda makes 30 starts, this is a playoff team. The odds of everything going right, however, seem long, and that includes the iffy status of A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, too.


Poor Buck Showalter. Not only do the Orioles get upset by the Royals last October, but Showalter could only watch as Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Nick Markakis bolted Camden Yards for more cash. Manny Machado is back, but Matt Wieters still was having elbow issues in spring training, not a good sign.


So how many wins is a good manager worth? How about a crafty GM? Unfortunately for the Rays, they'll get the answers to both those questions after losing Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman during the offseason.



It's hard to believe that the Tigers, a team that seems stacked every season, is working on a 31-year title drought. For as smart as team president Dave Dombrowski is -- and he's one of the best minds in the game -- the best-laid plans often go awry, which is why it now might make perfect sense to double-down on the Tigers.

The window is closing in Detroit. No doubt about that. The anchors of the roster -- Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera -- aren't getting any younger and David Price is headed into his walk year. The Tigers didn't blink in Scott Boras' high-stakes game of chicken and let Max Scherzer bolt to D.C. for $210 million. They also flipped a durable starter, Rick Porcello, to the Red Sox for another power bat in Yoenis Cespedes, a pending free agent without draft-pick compensation attached.

Offense again won't be an issue, and a Price-Verlander-Anibal Sanchez trio is a solid front to the rotation. Joe Nathan, 40, is a calculated risk as closer, so the Tigers will have to pound opponents into submission. They're still equipped to play that way.


Big doings on the South Side during the offseason with the stunning trade for Jeff Samardzija as well as swiping former Yankees closer David Robertson with a four-year, $46-million deal. Those are huge upgrades, but the Sox also need Chris Sale to stay healthy and slugger Jose Abreu to avoid a sophomore slump. Should be poised to challenge the Tigers.


Corey Kluber's breakthrough 2014 season resulted in the Cy Young Award, and at age 28, he should be hitting his stride. Carlos Carrasco is a solid No. 2, but after that is where the Indians have trouble going toe-to-toe with the top guns in the division. Getting Brandon Moss adds some needed pop to go with Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana.


Could it be one-and-done for the AL champs? Unfortunately for the Royals, James Shields turned out to be an October punch line, but that's 34 starts and 227 innings -- with a 3.21 ERA -- to replace after he signed with the Padres in the offseason. Yordano Ventura is next up as the No. 1, but the rest of the rotation is so-so. Let's see if they can run their way to the playoffs again.


Bringing back Torii Hunter makes for a nice homecoming and maybe will sell a few tickets. Paul Molitor takes over for Ron Gardenhire, but he'll have the same problems his predecessor did -- a lack of talent.



What's the best headline here? Robby's revenge? Last laugh for Cano?

It's been more than a year since Robinson Cano was branded a sellout for turning his back on the Yankees and taking $240 million from the Mariners, a team that supposedly didn't have the resources to build around him.

But not only is Cano extremely rich, he's probably headed back to the playoffs before his buddies in the Bronx. The Mariners already had the best 1-2 rotation combo in the division with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but it's filled out with up-and-comers James Paxton and Taijuan Walker rounding out the top four.

Cano also got some lineup help for spacious Safeco Park, with the Mariners spending $57 million for Nelson Cruz, whose power numbers last year were not simply a Camden creation. Cruz hit 25 of his 40 homers away from cozy Oriole Park, with a much-superior road slash line of .289/.346/.584. Given that the lefthanded-hitting Cano and Kyle Seager were Seattle's two best hitters last year, Cruz's righthanded pop should be the perfect complement.

But the AL West will be a dogfight to the end between the Mariners, Angels and A's. It wouldn't be a surprise to see a tiebreaking Game 163 to decide the crown.


Two big things the Angels have going for them: Mr. MVP Mike Trout and the return of Garrett Richards, who seems ready to be great again after a freakish knee injury ended his season in August. Albert Pujols hasn't put up Cardinals-type numbers, but at least he stayed healthy for an entire year. Huston Street, picked up last season, anchors the bullpen from Opening Day, which is a positive.

3. A's

Just when it looked as if Billy Beane was switching to Rebuild Mode, and taking heat for it, the Moneyball GM pressed the reset button in trading for the versatile Ben Zobrist and signing DH Billy Butler. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir remain to anchor the rotation after Jon Lester left for free agency and Jeff Samardzija was traded to the White Sox.


Texas had a stunning 2,116 days lost to the DL last season, pretty much the reason for their 67 wins and last-place finish. But with Yu Darvish already felled by Tommy John surgery, that's not a good omen for '15.


The Astros aggressively pursued bullpen help during the offseason but were rebuffed by the two best free-agent relievers, Andrew Miller and David Robertson. It was a reminder that Houston remains pretty low on MLB's food chain, even if the not-too-distant future looks bright.


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