American League predictions: Yankees take the East, defending champs Royals take the Central
This is one of two MLB American League predictions. Read Co-Senior Sports Editor Quentin Haynes' predictions here.
If you predicted Josh Donaldson to take home MVP honors or no-name Dallas Keuchel to win the Cy Young, you are probably lying.
Last season was one of the most unpredictable years in the MLB’s American League in quite some time. Players that weren’t even on the radar before the season now enter as some of the hottest storylines to follow for the 2016 season.
There will always be fresh talent ready to amaze the baseball crowds. It’s just a matter of whom.
Here are my predictions for the 2016 AL playoff teams.
AL East Winner: New York Yankees
Year after year, the most hated team in baseball somehow makes its way back into the playoff picture. Albeit a quick departure last year in the wild card matchup, this will be a team to prevail in one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball.
The new additions of free agents Aroldis Chapman and Starlin Castro are pieces added to a rare farm-built Yankees roster.
Starting pitcher Luis Severino is the real deal, outfielder Aaron Judge is a power-hitting phenom and set-up man Dellin Betances centralizes one of the best bullpens in baseball.
I don’t have faith in the newly built Boston Red Sox. The Tampa Bay Rays don’t have enough talent to make it competitive aside from a few key players. The Baltimore Orioles invested too much in Chris Davis instead of focusing on pitching.
The only team primed to make a run with the Yankees at the AL East crown is the incumbent Toronto Blue Jays. But in the end, the Bronx Bombers will prevail.
AL Central Winner: Kansas City Royals
It’s hard to doubt champions.
It’s even harder to doubt champions that got better.
From its improbable comeback against the Houston Astros in its divisional elimination game to the end of the playoffs, the Royals were unstoppable. They weren’t the greatest team assembled, but they played like they were.
Kansas City possesses one of the most complete pitching rosters filled with flamethrowers and breakout stars. Atop the breakout list is Yordano Ventura, a young pitcher who will ascend near elite ranks by the end of the season. Starting pitching may be their weakness, but with a bullpen it has it won’t matter all too much.
Closer Wade Davis, reliever Kelvin Herrera and new-edition Joakim Soria assemble a dominating relieving force.
The offense hasn’t changed much, either. The main loss was an aging Ben Zobrist. Instead, the offense will have a more experienced Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas.
If they played even half as well as they did in last year’s playoffs, the Royals will cruise to the playoffs.
AL West Winner: Houston Astros
The Astros are one of the scariest teams in all of baseball.
They are a team with power, speed, arms and most importantly, youth. This corral of players led by reigning-Cy Young Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer make Houston fans forget about the dark ages as recent as two years ago.
What makes this team so dangerous is potential. The Astros knocked off the Yankees behind what was really a rookie campaign in a place they didn’t belong.
They are the most sure-fire pick in the West. The Texas Rangers have aging stars and their closest challenger, the Seattle Mariners, always seem to choke mid-season.
I’d like to see the Los Angeles Angels make a run, but behind Mike Trout, there’s nothing to get excited about.
The Astros, equipped with a full rotation and to-be-all-star closer Ken Giles, have the pieces to not only make the playoffs, but make a deep run as well.
AL wildcard No. 1: Toronto Blue Jays
Come on, the Blue Jays aren’t staying out of the postseason with that roster.
Pitching may be their weakest point with the loss of David Price, but they may possess the best offense in all of baseball. Reigning MVP Josh Donaldson will build off his incredible 2015 campaign and continue at the hot corner. Jose Bautista, bat flips and all, is still one of the best power hitters in baseball.
And when Troy Tulowitzki is healthy, he’s the best shortstop in the game.
The pitching staff has always been the question. Their No. 3 guy is an aging knuckle-baller in RA Dickey. Aaron Sanchez is unproven and J.A. Happ is way past his prime.
Then, there’s 5-foot-8 Marcus Stroman who is considered the ace of the rotation. He’s filthy. I saw him pitch last summer on a rehab stint and he pitches like he’s 6-foot-4. As long as the rotation can hold up, the offense will propel Toronto to the postseason.
AL wildcard No. 2: Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are the best team that no one really knows about.
Of course, everyone knows Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. Yet the Mariners don’t have an elite roster by any means, but there are a lot of key players who have years of MLB experience and are intriguing prospects ready to break out.
Sounds a lot like last year’s Royals.
Adam Lind was a great pickup from the Milwaukee Brwers. He’ll add instant locker room presence and power to the middle of the lineup. More importantly, he will make opposing pitchers throw to the elite 3-4 punch of Cano and Cruz.
The outfield will be one of the best defensive outfields in the league. Leonys Martin will patrol centerfield, new-addition Nori Aoki was one of the best acquisitions of the offseason and will provide a huge spark at the top of the lineup and in left field.
Behind Hernandez is quite an impressive rotation as well. Hisashi Iwakuma established himself as a legitimate No. 2 last year and should assume that role swimmingly this year. Prospect Taijuan Walker, with his dominating fastball and wicked curveball, is ready to break out. Wade Miley can also be good with a scenery change after a down year in Boston.
It won’t be easy. It may even come down to the final game of the season. But Seattle is my final playoff pick.