Cleat Geeks


As we continue our look at Spring Training, let’s play a little game of over/under. For today’s purposes, the mark we’re focusing on is .500 and the target is the American League. I’m going to try to pick 3 teams – one from each division – that I believe will finish this season with a winning record, and 3 that I think will finish below the mark. My goal here, though, is to try and pick some teams that might not be the obvious choice. For example, if I told you that the Houston Astros (who have lost 92, 111,107, and 106 games over the past four seasons) would finish below .500…then that probably wouldn’t be much of a shock, or make for a very interesting article.

First up, the AL East:






I realize that Toronto (83-79 in 2014) has been a trendy pick in the East at times over the last few years. And yes, I recognize that they did not live up to the billing. But I am going to go ahead and say that the Blue Jays will not only finish above .500, but are my dark horse pick to win the East. Russell Martin was a stabilizing force in Pittsburgh, where they had their first two winning seasons in more than 2 decades. Josh Donaldson is being heralded as a great fit in the locker room in Toronto, but, more importantly, is a huge upgrade at the hot corner. The biggest question, of course, is whether their pitching staff can keep up with what should be an improved and powerful offense. Toronto had a +37 run differential last year, and still managed to finished 3rd in the division.

Baltimore, last year’s division winner, is, I believe, poised to take a step back this year. Can they replace the production of Nelson Cruz? How will Wieters, Machado, etc. recover from injury? Can Chris Davis bounce back? Just too many questions for my taste. Boston should have a potent lineup, but will not re-signing Lester come back to bite a rotation that lacks a clear ace? And what happens if Hanley Ramirez and the Green Monster can’t get along? Tampa Bay traded David Price and 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers. Can their young talent continue to step up and fill those holes?

Which brings us to the Yankees (84-78), who finished 2014 with their lowest win total since 1995. The Captain is gone, who will step into the leadership void left in his absence?Is Didi Gregorious really the answer to patrol the position that Jeter handled..well…since 1995? Furthermore, who is going to pitch? Both Tanaka and Sabathia are coming off of season-ending injuries. If Sabathia can recover some of the velocity that was notably absent last year, then perhaps he can anchor a shaky starting staff. And, lest we forget, A-Rod has returned to bring a whirlwind of distraction that will follow the team all year long. The Yankees are a largely aging roster that seem to be counting on bounce back or breakout seasons from more players than I care to name here. And so, for that reason, they have earned my “under.”

AL Central:






The White Sox (73-89) are the team that I predict will make the biggest jump this season – assuming that the plague of scorpions doesn’t continue to terrorize them. Chicago was aggressive this offseason, adding ace Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson at closer, and Melky Cabrera to solidify the outfield. With Chris Sale, they roll out a strong rotation from top to bottom. In addition, they have great depth in the bullpen and on the diamond, returning starters at almost every position. Their biggest question mark seems to be who will be playing at second base; a couple of young players will be battling for top billing this spring.

The Twins were the cellar dwellers in the Central last year, and I don’t see them making huge strides in a stacked division. I like Cleveland a lot; they will definitely be in the mix to win the division in 2015. Their rotation, sporting the reigning Cy Young winner in Corey Kluber, was especially strong in the second half last year. 2014 division winner, the Detroit Tigers, are a win-now team with some question marks surrounding some key players. Their rotation will be missing Max Scherzer, one of the most dominant arms in baseball over the last couple of years. Yes, they still have David Price. And Justin Verlander is still there as well – but I think we’re past the point where we can expect MVP performance from him. Speaking of MVP, Miggy Cabrera is one of a couple of players who the Tigers are hoping can make it back from injury in time for opening day.

The Royals (89-73) were the American League’s representative in the World Series in 2014. And they are my pick to be under in the Central this year. I could be off my rocker on this one. But I just think that last year’s run was the result of a team that got hot at the right time. That’s right, I’m calling it a fluke. Hosmer and Moustakas had a magical postseason, but batted .270 and .212 during the regular season with 9 and 15 homers respectively. In fact, no one on Kansas City hit more than 19 homers; and only one player, Lorenzo Cain, had a .300 average (.301). James Shields is gone. Jeremy Guthrie is the only other pitcher that logged more than 200 innings. Yes, they return the Big 3 in their bullpen, but can they repeat 2014’s unbelievable stat line? Maybe I’m wrong, but maybe there’s a reason that a team makes the playoffs only once every 29 years.

Last but not least, the AL West:






The Mariners (87-75) could not only take a run at the Angels for division supremacy, but could be serious contenders for a World Series berth. Either way, I think that this is the year they end their 13-year postseason drought. Newly signed Nelson Cruz should provide sufficient protection in the lineup for Robinson Cano. Perennial Cy Young contender Felix Hernandez tops a deep and talented rotation. Coming off a strong 87 win season, I see the Mariners direction as trending upward.

Yes, the Angels are probably still the team to beat in the West. They return a strong lineup featuring the best player in the game in Mike Trout. Their pitching staff should be improved with the return of Garrett Richards. No complaints here. The Rangers have the biggest room for improvement within the division, but I just don’t see either of the Texas teams making a whole lot of noise overall.

The A’s (88-74) were the team I felt the least comfortable making any sort of prediction about. Oakland cleared house this offseason. Of course, they did net a promising return of young prospects. Of course, they were able to fill holes with veterans like super-utility player Ben Zobrist along the way. But all of this after the “all-in” moves in 2014 like acquiring Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija? What can I say? Billy Beane continues to field a team that defies explanation. Even so, while Oakland has made the playoffs each of the last 3 seasons, there has just been too much turnover for me to not see a slide in the standings in their immediate future.

That’s it for this game of over/under. I look forward to hopefully hearing from some of you about my predictions. More than anything, I can’t wait to see how this season plays out – at which point I will be more than glad to gloat or grovel as the situation may warrant.

Thank you for the time, talk to you soon!

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