Only one team in the American League West finished above .500 last season, although the Houston Astros did sneak into the expanded MLB playoffs despite finishing 29-31.
The AL West could be the most wide-open and hard to predict division in baseball this season, but Houston’s experience with several players still around from their World Series runs make them a clear favorite. Here’s a look at how the division stacks up.
Apr 4, 2021; Oakland, California, USA; Houston Astros left fielder Chas McCormick (6) is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run during the sixth inning against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland one the division on the strength of a pitching staff that was fourth in all of baseball with a 3.77 ERA last season. They bolstered that by adding reliever Trevor Rosenthal in free agency.
The strategy in Oakland is clear – hold the score low and rely on their pitching. The offense was anemic at times last season. The leading hitter on the team, Mark Canha, hit just .246, although he did have a .387 on-base percentage. Matt Olson led the team with 14 home runs, but he hit under .200 for the season.
Last season’s compressed schedule certainly played a role and made it easier for slumps to have big detrimental impacts on players’ stats. But if Oakland is going to hold onto their division title, they’re going to need to find more offense this season.
Houston doesn’t have quite the starpower it possessed during its peak, but the Astros are still very good despite losing mainstay George Springer in the offseason. Springer lead the team with 14 home runs, but Yordan Alvarez, who missed last season, is back and he should help make up for some of the lost power.
The pitching should also remain a strongpoint. Justin Verlander appeared in only one game last season, but he’s back and healthy. He’s also in a contract year, so he’ll no doubt be motivated to get one more big payday in his career. Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr are also still around. They also added Pedro Baez to bolster the bullpen.
Health is always a concern with a team with as many veterans with complex injury histories as Houston, but the Astros have the most talent in the division and should win it.
The Mariners were more competitive last season than most predicted, but their clear weakness was the bullpen. They bolstered that in the offseason while weakening a division rival by adding former Texas closer Rafael Montero. They also have solid bullpen options in Kendall Graverman, Anthony Misiewicz, and Keynan Middleton. Seattle just missed a playoff spot last year, so if they can hold more leads in late innings, they could exceed expectations again.
Kyle Lewis, J.P. Crawford, and Evan White were all okay offensively last season, but the Mariners were fourth in the division and near the bottom of the American League in runs scored, so they’ll need major improvement offensively to compete in the division.
The Angels added closer Raisel Iglesias in the offseason and hope that veteran stars returning to form can turn their fortunes around this season.
Mike Trout continues to anchor the lineup as one of the greatest hitters of all-time. Anthony Rendon, Dexter Fowler, and Justin Upton have all also had All-Star caliber seasons in their not-too-distant pasts.
Shohei Ohtani, who has star potential as both a hitter and pitcher but has dealt with constant injuries in the Major Leagues, is also a potential franchise-altering talent if he can stay healthy finally. He’s hit four home runs in Spring Training and his fastball has reached 100 mph.
It’s all about the pitching this year. The Angels gave up the second-most runs in the American League and third-most in all of baseball last season. If their pitching even approaches league-average marks this season, they could make a real push for the division title.
Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo give the Rangers two players in the lineup with power potential. Gallo has five home runs so far in Spring Training. But Odor hit just .167 last season and .205 the season before. The Rangers also scored the second-fewest runs in all of baseball last season.
Their pitching wasn’t great either, and losing closer Rafael Montero probably makes it worse this season. Texas should finish last in the division and will be in the mix for the worst teams in all of baseball.
When a team goes and hires a Hall of Fame manager who hasn’t managed a game in a decade, you know they’re serious about contending. The Chicago White Sox have one of the best young collections of talent in baseball, but the Minnesota Twins were the class of the division last season. Tony La Russa, at 76-years-old, will see if he can take the White Sox to the next level. Here’s a look at the AL Central.
Apr 2, 2021; Anaheim, California, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (79) is greeted by catcher Yermin Mercedes (73), center fielder Luis Robert (88) and shortstop Tim Anderson (7) after hitting grand slam home run in the third inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Getting to the postseason hasn’t been a problem for the Twins, who have won two straight division titles. But winning there certainly has been an issue. They’ve lost 18-straight playoff games as a franchise.
They gave up the second-fewest runs in all of baseball last season and their +54 run-differential was in the top seven in all of MLB last season. They also weakened the White Sox by signing away closer Alex Colome.
Their offense will be the biggest question, though. The Twins scored just two runs in their two-game sweep to Houston in the playoffs last season.
Expect prospects Alex Kirilloff and Brent Rooker to make an impact for the Twins at some point this season.
Rick Renteria led a young White Sox team into contention last season, finishing within a game if the first-place Twins and tied with the veteran Cleveland Indians. But a disappointing playoff performance against Oakland led to the White Sox making a bold move. They fired the successful Renteria, but you can’t really argue about the credentials of his replacement.
Tony La Russa is one of the best managers in the history of baseball and he’s won World Series titles in Oakland and St. Louis. His hiring is also reminiscent of a young Florida Marlins team that hired and older manager in Jack McKeon in 2003. McKeon helped guide that team to a World Series and La Russa will have a similar mandate in Chicago.
Chicago’s rotation led by Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance Lynn is one of the best trios in baseball and the team’s +60 run-differential last season was tied for third in all of baseball.
The offense, led by reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu and shortstop Tim Anderson, should easily be the best in the division.
Mar 16, 2021; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Cleveland Indians pitcher Shane Bieber against the Los Angeles Angels during a Spring Training game at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland had been hinting at a rebuild for a couple of seasons and finally made a big move in that direction in the offseason, trading star Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets for prospects in a blockbuster trade.
Cleveland hasn’t done a full tear-down just yet, though. Their top two starting pitchers, Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac, were dominant last season and their bullpen is still very good.
Cleveland will have a weaker offense than they did a season ago, but their pitching will keep them with Chicago and Minnesota all season, unless they decide to make more moves for prospects.
The Royals could be competitive this season, if some “ifs” go their way.
The biggest question mark they are trying to answer is how fast some of their young pitching prospects will be ready to contribute. Brad Keller was solid at the top of the rotation, and top prospects Brady Singer and Kris Bubic both debuted last season. If those two can improve and another top prospect or two from the group of Asa Lacy, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, proves ready to contribute, then Kansas City could certainly threaten to overtake Cleveland in the division race.
Their offense should be bolstered by the addition of first baseman Carlos Santana as well.
The Tigers have continued to stockpile young talent in recent drafts, but it remains to be seen how ready those players will be to contribute this season.
The team has a new manager in AJ Hinch, a former Tiger who led the Astros to a World Series title before his involvement in the sign stealing scandal cost him his job.
Pitchers Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning and hitters Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson are among some of the most highly thought of prospects in the game. Detroit won’t be ready to contend, even in a so-so division, this year. But if any of their group of prospects show they’re ready to take a step toward stardom, this will be a successful season for them.
As they always seem to do, the Tamp Rays exceeded expectations last year and made it all the way to the World Series. Of course, the compressed schedule and injuries played a key role in keeping their chief rival, the New York Yankees, out of the race until later in the season. As the schedule returns to a normal format and the Yankees enter the season healthy, expect the balance of power to shift in the AL East. Here’s a look at how the division stacks up before the season starts.
Mar 16, 2021; Lakeland, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Tampa won the division largely on the strength of great starting pitching. In the offseason, of course, they promptly went out and got rid of their top two starters, Charlie Morton and Blake Snell.
For all of their success in their still-young franchise history, the Rays are most known for their inability to keep their homegrown talent once it becomes too pricey. But they also have an almost unparalleled ability to replace and develop new talent. That means Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough step into bigger roles and the team has filled out its rotation with new signings Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, and Chris Archer.
The offense will be led by Randy Arozarena, who was one of the breakout stars of the postseason after hitting 11 home runs in the Rays’ run to the World Series.
Tampa’s pitching won’t quite be as dominant, but expect them to be competitive against just about every team in baseball all season.
Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon were once-dominant pitchers who, if they return to form, will give the Yankees one of the best top three in its rotation in baseball behind Gerrit Cole.
The pitching only needs to be marginally better for the team to have a big improvement, too. The offense led the American League in runs scored and was fifth in all of baseball in home runs. That’s even more impressive considering stars Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both missed significant time with injuries. If both players can stay healthy, their offense becomes even scarier. Batting champion DJ LeMahieu re-signed in the offseason and should be on base plenty for New York’s sluggers.
New York is banking on a lot of health variables going right, but if things work in their favor, they easily have the scariest lineup in the AL and potentially one of the best starting rotations.
Mar 13, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder George Springer (4) hits a sacrifice RBI during the fourth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The young Blue Jays surprised a bit last season by making the playoffs. Their talent was unquestioned, but they were thought to be about a season away from contending because their pitching staff wasn’t quite as accomplished as their young power hitters.
The Jays were third in the American League in runs scored last season, but still had a –10 run-differential as their pitching wasn’t strong.
So, of course, in the offseason, they went out and … bolstered their offense. They added former Astros star George Springer and former A’s second basement Marcus Semien, who should help propel them to among the best offenses in all of baseball.
The also added a new closer in Kirby Yates and a new starting pitcher in Steven Matz. Neither are stars but if they can help the Blue Jays even have a league average pitching staff with their offense, they should be a championship contender.
The Jays will still not be able to play in their home stadium for a while due to Canada’s COVID-19 rules, though. They’ll begin their season playing home games in their spring training stadium in Florida.
In a mild surprise last season, the Orioles didn’t finish in last place in the AL East, finishing a game ahead of the Red Sox.
Baltimore is still in its rebuilding phase. Their top prospect, Adley Rutschman, could make his debut this season. In the meantime, the Orioles will hope some veterans nearing the end of their careers can help the team play competitively. Felix Hernandez and Chris Davis are both former All-Stars who haven’t played well in recent seasons, but could become trade pieces if they return to any semblance of their old form.
The Orioles’ bullpen was a strongpoint last season, and they’ll need to continue that with little depth in their starting pitching.
Alex Cora, who managed the Red Sox to a World Series title, returns to Boston after he was suspended last year for his role in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal when he was bench coach with the Astros.
The Red Sox are also hoping players returning from injury, like starting pitcher Chris Sale, and players who had down seasons a year ago, like JD Martinez and Rafael Devers, can re-find their old form.
Boston still has arguably more talent than any team in the division other than the Yankees and Blue Jays, so if they stay reasonably healthy, they should be much more competitive this season even if the organization has moved into more of a cost-savings mode in recent years compared to their more free-spending World Series contention days.
Predicted Finish: 1. Yankees 2. Blue Jays 3. Rays 4. Red Sox 5. Orioles