The American League in 2017 features two teams that appear on a collision course to decide the pennant as well as a Wild West that could be won by any one of three teams (sorry, Oakland and Los Angeles).
And then there’s the New York Yankees, in the midst of a youth turnover that could blossom this year.
As you gear up for competing with a new set of teams in your simulation games, here’s a look at the top five contenders in the American League for 2017 (including a fifth spot that we basically could have given to four teams).
You can read about the National League here.
American League 2017: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox won the East last year, only to lose to the Cleveland Indians in the divisional round. They come into the 2017 season with aces still on their staff in David Price (although he may miss the start of the season) and Rick Porcello. If that’s not enough, they acquired Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale in the offseason. They also have a great core of young offensive players. They need to replace the power of DH David Ortiz, who hit .315 with 38 homeruns and 127 RBI at age 40. That won’t be easy.
So very, very close last year to winning it all. The Indians return with rising young stars they had at the core of last year’s lineup, plus they have added Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 42 home runs and drove in 127 runs last season. Michael Brantley also will return. Corey Kluber leads the rotation, and the Indians could use improvement from Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar over the course of a full season. In the bullpen, lefty Andrew Miller is a shutdown pitcher in a setup role and may also get a few spot saves.
The Tigers should be the only team in the Central to compete with the Indians, but they’ll need help behind Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer at the top of the rotation (although there’s always the possibility of a sophomore slump from Fulmer). A healthy Jordan Zimmerman, injured through much of 2016, would obviously be a big shot in the arm. Also, the entire bullpen looks shaky and closer Francisco Rodriguez is not getting any younger. That said, the offense is loaded and with strong pitching at the top of the rotation, the Tigers should contend at least for a wildcard.
Here we split with many predictions. But if you look at last year’s champion in the West, the Texas Rangers, there are issues all over the place. They have to replace the bats of Mitch Moreland and Carlos Beltran, which is doable. More troubling is a rotation where the skill and experience level drops off a cliff after Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Meanwhile, in Houston, a young core of offensive players continue to improve, and the team added veterans like Brian McCann and Beltran in the offseason. The big question is in the starting rotation, where former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel needs to rebound from a rough 2016 season.
As mentioned above, the Rangers have issues. It’s tempting to put the New York Yankees here or the improving Seattle Mariners. Or the Toronto Blue Jays, who also are on the rise. Still, if Hamels and Darvish hold up for a whole season and they find decent starters to fill the back end of the rotation, they will compete. Bats have never been an issue in Texas, but it will be interesting to see if Carlos Gomez can continue to play at a high level through a whole season and whether additions like veteran Mike Napoli can pay off.
That’s a quick look at the American League for 2017. Clearly Cleveland and Boston are the top tier, but young and improving teams such as Houston and Seattle – and, as always, the Yankees – could change the picture.