By Coach Ryan and Cal Meacham,
With Major League Baseball’s Opening Day upon us it is time to dust off the old grey and Chief Wahoo ball caps and strap in for 162 games of baseball, baseball, baseball.
While some professional prognosticators would have you believe that they have a clairvoyance on par with Dr. Manhattan, others just cover themselves on both ends (here & here) so that they can say that they were right. We at FOH can tell you up front that we claim to be neither of those things. Instead we have derived a formula that involves equal parts baseball knowledge, love for our hometown teams and Yuengling.
The more Yuengling and craft beers we drink the more we like discussing our predictions and takes on everything you can find on our site. For Cal and myself, seldom do topics get us debating as much as baseball. We both are fans of the AL Central, and although we may root for different teams we still try to be somewhat realistic with expectations as we praise or critique players and teams around the league.
Today, we bring you our predictions for the AL Central along with the rest of the American League:
- Cal: Tampa Bay Rays – The Yankees stocked up on some more hitting while the defending WS Champion Red Sox bolster a solid rotation, but the team that has the best of both worlds is the Rays. Retaining David Price instead of trading him this past offseason put the pesky Rays out front in what should be a tight race in the East. I will be cheering for the O’s and think they could make a mess of things on offense but we they have a lot of questions with pitching including the questionable money spent on Ulbaldo Jimenez. The Rays bullpen will keep them in most games and I expect a huge year from Wil Myers.
- Coach Ryan: Tampa Bay Rays– The AL East will be billed by many as one of the toughest divisions in baseball, as it should be. Although Boston surprised me by winning the World Series last year I still have them finishing behind the Rays. The one thing I would be willing to bet on this season is that money doesn’t necessarily equal success as will be demonstrated by the Yankees who once again decided to overpay for talent, which will easily pay for their extended golf season. I still consider Joe Madden to be one of the top managers in baseball and retaining David Price sets an example in the clubhouse I think will go a long way.
- Cal: Detroit Tigers – Even with all of the spring injuries, no other team in the Central has the horses to keep up with the Tigers. The Royal and Indians have some pieces to chip away some wins but I expect the Tigers to win the division by 10 games. The Ian Kinsler era starts in Detroit and they will hope that he can stay healthy because they will need ducks on the pond for Cabrera and V-Mart. The addition of Joe Nathan solidified a major need at the closer position and Smyly is perfectly capable of filling the void left by the trade of Doug Fister. The Tigers are a legitimate World Series contender if they can get passable production out of left field and Alex Gonzales can provide a .260+ average while filling in for Jose Iglesias so that it will take some of the pressure off of the young third baseman Nick Castellanos.
- Coach Ryan: Detroit Tigers– As a well-documented Indians fan it pains me (and probably in a weird way Cal too) that I’m picking the Tigers to once again win the Central. Even though I’m picking Detroit, I think it’ll be a closer division than what people think. For the past several years experts have been saying the Tigers would win the Division by 15+ games but as last year’s Indians team proved by finishing 1 game behind Detroit, don’t count out the rest of the Central. It’ll be a very competitive year for the Indians and Kansas City, and if they can play tough against Detroit this division could come down to September and create another Wild Card team. Although Chicago also improved I don’t see them really competing down the stretch, but how the rest of the division plays the Sox could go a long way to deciding the division. An interesting story to pay attention to in Detroit this year is how the massive contract of Miguel Cabrera will affect the future in regards to free agents to be like Max Scherzer.
- Cal: Texas Rangers – I always have and always will have a hard time picking the Oakland Athletics to win anything. I feel like I am constantly waiting for the wheels to come off the wagon, but they continue to surprise. That being said, I think the Rangers offseason makeover served them well as they added another big bat to their home band box and I fully expect a 30 home run year from Prince Fielder. Will the rotation hold up past Darvish? There are a lot of questions about the whole A.L. West but I believe that the Rangers will be able to hit themselves out of trouble for most of the season.
- Coach Ryan: Texas Rangers– I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the year that Billy Bean and the Athletics finally miss the playoffs. They once again were able to play money ball with acquisitions such as Scott Kazmir, but that fails in comparison to what the Rangers have been able to accomplish this year. Although Prince Fielder and Shin Shoo Choo both put up less than stellar numbers with their previous teams the hitter friendly Arlington Stadium will go a long way to improve their run production. The Rangers also have one of the best pitchers in the game in Yu Darvish which follows the formula and possible run production that has worked well with Detroit. Unfortunately as good as Mike Trout is, the Angels still have to deal with the contracts of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols while the Mariners could become the latest MLB team scratching their head on the lack of production their new high priced talent brings.
Wild Card #1
- Cal: Baltimore Orioles – There is a lot to like about the Orioles and they remind me a lot of what the Pirates have been doing for the last few seasons. There is much to be made of Chris Davis and his monstrous season last year but they have plenty more offense if he takes a step back this year. I was critical of Ulbaldo earlier but I think that he still manages a 14 win season for the team and with their complementing young arms, the O’s will streak into the playoffs. Much like the Rangers, the O’s are built around their hitters and the lineup that includes Markakis, Jones, Machado, Wieters, Reimold and a fresh start Nelson Cruz leaves very few holes to pitch around. The team finished 5th in the majors with 745 runs scored and I have every expectation that they will pile on that total and push it towards 775 this year.
- Coach Ryan: Boston Red Sox – It’s hard for me to bet against the Red Sox for a Wild Card spot. Not because they won the World Series but mainly due to the fact that essentially the same team won 97 games last year. Sure they lost Jacoby Ellsbury, but he tends to be injured almost as much as his replacement Grady Sizemore. I’m not saying the Sox don’t have their issues. I just don’t see their problems being 7-10 games worse than last year, especially with me thinking the Yankees are on the decline. If anyone can surpass the Red Sox in the East and take their Wild Card spot it will be the Orioles who will be my Wild Card alternative.
Wild Card #2
- Cal: L.A. Angels – I figure that the stadium might just implode if this high payroll squad repeats last years disappointment. Pujols will have to play more then the 99 games that he did last year and Josh Hamilton will have to get his homer numbers back up in the 30’s to provide enough support for the uber talent that is Mike Trout. Is Tyler Skaggs ready to up his game or will they struggle to find pitching a solid back end to their rotation. Garrett Richards enters the season with expectations that he will pay off as the guy that they drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft but as with most of the Angels roster, there are a lot of expectations and a whole lot more skeptical questions.
- Coach Ryan: Cleveland Indians – The Central is sneaky tough and if you read my Tribe predictions you know a lot has to go right in Cleveland for this to happen. The second Wild Card spot could come down to the last week of the season and be a two pony race between the Royals and the Tribe. I’m taking the Indians by a game or two based on the experience from last year along with Terry Francona being a proven winner and knowing what he needs to get his team to do to win. This year’s Indians team may have lost Ubaldo Jimenez, but they’re bringing one of the more talented young pitching staffs to the table. As with my first Wild Card pick, I’m also going to list the Royals and being the first alternative to this spot meaning I think the East and Central will produce the two AL playoff teams.
- Cal: Detroit Tigers – This is the year for the Tigers with new Manager Brad Ausmus taking over a primed team. With the last year of their contracts of Torii Hunter and Max Scherzer the Tigers are in a situation where they need to win. Jimmy Smokes, at times was too conservative on the base paths and too stubborn with his bull pen. The fresh and primed Ausmus should open things up a bit and hopefully he can get the best out of the mix which is good parts veteran and youth. No other team in the A.L. stands out but as we all know it, when the playoffs come it is all down to who has the hottest pitching staff. The Tigers have the staff in place to be that team and I think that this new outlook team will be there in the end.
- Coach Ryan: Detroit Tigers – I think the Tigers are going to be in a closer division race than people think, but in the end I believe this will help the Tigers get over the hump. They may have lost Prince Fielder to Texas, but that should lead to more of team play and chemistry at the plate instead of constantly going for the long ball. The loss of Fister could be the one thing that could prevent them from making the Series but an improved bullpen along with good numbers by Drew Smyly should be good enough to take care of the AL in a 7 game format.