Updated: April 6, 2015
By Anthony McClean, Editor – in – Chief, Emeritus
NEW HAVEN, CT (BASN): It’s now Part Two of our preview tour of Major League Baseball. Yesterday we gave you some food for thought about what we’re focusing on regarding the National League in 2015.
Today, it’s time to focus on the junior circuit. Similar to every off-season, there are many old faces in new places. Not to mention returning stars with something to prove as well. So without further ado, let’s get this started.
1. After last year’s incredible title run, will the Royals have enough to make another push in 2015?
Pitching and defense were the two main ingredients that keyed KC’s surprising run at a World Series crown. While losing RHP James Shields and OF Nori Aoki will be a bit of a blow, bringing in RHP Edinson Volquez, OF Alex Rios, and DH/1B Kendry Morales should help absorb the losses. Morales’ power will give the Royals another big bat in the middle of their balanced lineup. The element of surprise is now gone and the expectations are higher as well. That should work to their advantage.
2. Are the Blue Jays the team to beat in the AL East?
Let’s see, the O’s lost OF’s Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz. Joe Maddon will be working his magic in Chicago. The Red Sox have a great lineup, but questionable pitching and the Yankees appear to be in full rebuilding mode. That leaves John Gibbons’ squad as the pseudo favorite in the East. And they have pitching issues as well that got magnified with the season-ending injury to Marcus Stroman. Veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle will be asked to take up the bulk at the top of the rotation. Getting 3B Josh Donaldson and OF Michael Saunders will help the lineup. However, their most key acquisition may be adding veteran C Russell Martin who will be asked to nurse over a staff that has a mix of youth and experience.
3. How much will the Angels miss Josh Hamilton?
Not as much as folks may think. While the former AL MVP dodged a serious bullet — for now — in regards to his possible drug suspension, he was likely going to be out until at least May due to another one of his numerous injuries. Management won’t say it out loud, but with the emergence of OF Kole Calhoun and DH C.J. Kron, the Halos have all but replaced Hamilton in their mind’s eye. Truth be told, Howie Kendrick going to their cousins in Dodgertown may impact their lineup more than the oft-injured Hamilton. Look for them and the Mariners (more on them later) to battle it out all summer for supremacy in the AL West.
4. While the Cubs are getting all the hype, is it possible that the White Sox are not only the best team in Chicago, but the AL Central as well?
After watching the Royals make their World Series run last year, one gets the feeling that Chisox management said, “Hey, we can do that too!!” Adding ex-Cub ace Jeff Samardzija and relievers David Robertson and Zach Duke to an already decent pitching staff was a good start. Especially now that ace Chris Sale is nursing a broken foot. Throw in some depth with 1B-DH Adam LaRoche and OF Melky Cabrera to go along with sophomore 1B Jose Abreu and you’ve got a perfect storm brewing on the other side of the Windy City. Much like the Cubbies, the White Sox might not win the division. But then again, neither did the Royals or the Giants last year and look where they were in October.
5. The Mariners were in the playoff race right up until the last day of the season. Do they finish where they started and is it enough to win the AL West?
All the naysayers who thought the mega-signing of Robinson Cano wouldn’t amount to much in Seattle had to eat some serious crow last year. The All-Star second baseman had another solid (and almost MVP like) season and nearly led the M’s to the postseason. Adding quality bats like OF-DH Nelson Cruz and INF-OF Rickie Weeks plus the continued improvement of 3B Kyle Seager and OF Austin Jackson will also make it so that Cano won’t be pitched around this season. Also with King Felix at the top of the rotation along with underrated hurlers Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton behind, Seattle is more than poised to make a run at the Halos.
6. Like a lot of clubs this off season, the Red Sox made a lot of interesting moves. Were they enough to make them contend in the AL East again?
Call it a flashback to the 1970’s moment for Boston management and their fans. They added some much need punch to an anemic offense with the signings of SS Hanley Ramirez (soon to be converted OF) and 3B Pablo Sandoval. Seeing these pair of All-Stars along with Big Papi and the emergence of OF Mookie Betts should be just what the doctor ordered for the AL’s 11th ranked offense in 2014. But just like the past, the Fenway faithful will be bashing balls at the expense of a suspect pitching staff. With no clear No. 1 starter and closer Koji Uehara slated to begin the year on the DL, John Farrell will need someone to step up become a true head of the rotation guy. If not, there could be a lot of 8-7, 9-8, 12-10 games at the park where the Bosox will be on the short end of.
7. Which team has a better chance of bouncing back — Texas or Cleveland?
Injuries and failed expectations were the mantra of these two squads in 2014. The Rangers lost ace Yu Darvish and 1B Prince Fielder for most of the year with injuries which led to a 95-loss season. It was the most since 1985 and it cost Ron Washington his job. As for the Tribe, the feel good playoff run in 2013 was replaced by injuries and sub-par performances from their nucleus. New Ranger skipper Jeff Banister does have a healthy Fielder, but Darvish is already out for another season due to Tommy John surgery. Despite the ups and downs of 2014, Terry Francona’s bunch was still within striking distance late in the year. Given that fact, it looks like Cleveland has the better opportunity to right the ship in 2015.
8. What AL manager needs to win this year to save his job?
This is a bit of a tricky question for this upcoming AL season. While there are the usual suspects like in any year, there is no clear cut hot seat candidate. The new guys in Texas, Tampa, and Houston won’t likely get the Rick Renteria treatment so that only leaves a small number of skippers to choose from. Even though Mike Scioscia is the league’s longest tenured manager, a slow start by the Halos could possibly cost him his job. The big transition in New York (we’ll get to that in just a few) could possibly be a red flag for Joe Girardi even with a World Series crown under his belt. Stay tuned.
9. How much of a drop off will we see in the Bronx this year?
The ghost of Derek Jeter, the defection of closer David Robertson, and an aging lineup. And did I mention that A-Rod is back as well? To say that things could get ugly at the Park that the Boss built is an understatement. Oh and by the way, both pitchers at the front end of the rotation (Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia) are coming off on knee and elbow issues as well. While SS Didi Gregorius may wind up being a decent replacement for the retired No. 2, one gets the feeling that the notoriously vicious New York media — and the fans that are fueled by them — will be using either Didi or that aforementioned DH as whipping boys during the season. It’s safe to say that this isn’t looking like a “summer of love” at the big ball yard in the Bronx this year.
10. Why do “baseball purists” still buy into the myth of Billy Beane and “Moneyball”?
I know that I’m in the minority in regards to the anointed Mr. Beane being considered a baseball “genius”. Now I’m not ready to give the “Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius” treatment either, but doesn’t one have to at least win or get to a World Series before such things are said? This offseason, Beane dealt away five of his seven All-Stars from last year and made nine trades involving 27 players. This coming after making another ill-fated run at the AL West only to fall to the Royals in the wild-card game. While the fantasy geeks and slaves to sabermetrics worship at his feet, what exactly has he won during his tenure? Yes they made the postseason four straight years from 2000 to 2003, but all of those trips ended in the ALDS. In fact, they’ve only been to the ALCS once during his reign. At the end of the day, I feel that his reputation is much bigger than his actual accomplishments.

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