Last week we took a look at how the National League teams are faring within their divisions after playing the first forty games of the season, so this week let’s examine the American League.
First Quarter Baseball Season Breakdown: American League
AL East Division:
Led in part by their youth, and in part by David Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox have enjoyed a power heavy, run producing offense to begin the season. In his final year before retirement, the 40-year-old Ortiz leads the team with eleven home runs and thirty-seven RBI, and sits atop all major league batters with a 1.092 OPS.
Whatever knowledge he has been passing down to the younger Red Sox players appears to be working as well. Xander Bogaerts, 23, leads the AL with sixty-three hits and a .346 batting average; Jackie Bradley Jr., 26, is currently riding a 27-game hit streak and is in the top-ten in all of baseball with a .413 OBP; Mookie Betts, 23, has powered his way to nine home runs, thirty-three RBI, and a 2.3 WAR; Travis Shaw (yes, the same Travis Shaw that earned the opening day starting role over the ever evolving Pablo Sandoval) enjoys a .305 batting average, six home runs, and twenty-nine RBI. Of the nine everyday starters, seven of them have over twenty RBI (outfielder Brock Holt is one shy at nineteen RBI, otherwise he would make eight). If any team wants to beat the Red Sox this year, their bats must be ready to score about six runs per game.
The New York Yankees have started to bounce back after a slow start to the season. Their bullpen has proved to be one of the best in baseball now that Aroldis Chapman is back from his thirty-game suspension, but their offense needs to pick it up if they want to catch the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Manny Machado is off to an MVP season for the Orioles, and flashes one of the best gloves in baseball at third base. The Toronto Blue Jays continue to make headlines, but for the wrong reasons. Did John Gibbons get ejected again? Did Jose Bautista get punched in the face again? As for the Tampa Bay Rays, their starting pitching has been letting them down, and their .235 BA as a team has not been able to carry them thus far.
Tim’s Take: Red Sox will continue their hot start and take the division. Look to see the Yankees battle them down the stretch, but ultimately fall short and claim a Wild Card spot.
AL Central Division:
Remember the debacle with the Chicago White Sox, Adam LaRoche, and his son back in Spring Training? Well, it appears the team has been able to come together under Robin Ventura and bounce back. The White Sox lead the division by 2.5 games over the Cleveland Indians. Their pitching staff leads the AL with a 3.15 ERA, thanks to starters Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Sale has jumped out to a 9-0 record with a 1.58 ERA and a 0.72 WHIP (only Clayton Kershaw has a better WHIP, at 0.70).
Quintana has been a solid number two starter with a 1.98 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, and their bullpen, led by closer David Robertson, sports an AL-best 2.62 ERA. Todd Frazier, while his average could definitely use some improvement, leads the AL with fourteen home runs and is tied for third with thirty-four RBI. Their next eight games are within their division, which could help pad their lead or allow the Indians and Kansas City Royals to climb up the standings.
The Royals have not looked like the team that won the World Series a little over seven months ago. They are tied with the Minnesota Twins for the fewest runs scored in the AL (152), but fortunately their pitching staff hasn’t allowed them to drop completely out of the race, as is the case with the 11-32 Twins.
Cameron Maybin of the Detroit Tigers shared AL Player of the Week honors with teammate Miguel Cabrera, and could serve as the spark needed to help get them back on track. The Indians Danny Salazar is proving to be the ace they need him to be, but outside of him their starting rotation has had some setbacks due to injuries.
Tim’s Take: Look for Royals offense to get back on track and move up to win the division over the White Sox and Tigers, with the Tigers snagging a Wild Card spot.
AL West Division:
The Seattle Mariners have been getting the job done on both sides of the ball. Second in the AL in both runs scored and ERA, they sit on top of the West with a 1.5 game lead over the Texas Rangers. Robinson Cano is leading the majors with thirty-nine RBI to accompany his twelve home runs and .288 batting average. Nelson Cruz is right behind him with a .275 batting average, nine home runs, twenty-nine RBI, and a .380 OBP.
Felix Hernandez leads the starting rotation with a 2.21 ERA, but has struggled a bit with some control issues to begin the season (twenty-five walks in fifty-seven innings pitched thus far). But, like the White Sox, their bullpen has been great to begin the season. They rank second in the AL and fifth in the majors with a 2.63 ERA, and lead all of baseball with a .264 OBP against. At the end of the day, their team is finding ways to win ball games. If they can stay healthy, unlike the rest of their division, they should be able to remain in control of the division.
The Rangers suffered recent losses due to injuries to Drew Stubbs, Shin-Soo Choo, and Josh Hamilton. With Prince Fielder off to a very slow start, these injuries could prove very difficult to overcome. Likewise, the Los Angeles Angels pitching staff has been depleted by injuries to Andrew Heaney (UCL), Garret Richards (elbow), and Huston Street (oblique). They have signed Tim Lincecum in hopes that he can help bolster the rotation, but coming off hip surgery and not having pitched in a major league game since June 2015, how effective he will be waits to be seen. The Houston Astros pitching staff sits at the sixth-worst, with the Oakland Athletics right behind them at fifth-worst. At this point, there aren’t any signs of either of those changing.
Tim’s Take: The Mariners will go on to win the division. No other team from the division will make the playoffs.