Will the Cubs trade for Manny Machado?
Manny Machado Chicago Bound?
American League baseball didn’t offer much excitement in 2017, unless you are a fan of the five teams who finished above .500 and made the playoffs.
There was no drama, no September runs or battles worth following. The Red Sox and Yankees dueled to the final week for the division title, but it didn’t matter. We knew they were both in the playoffs since July.
Things appear about the same this season, with the Yankees rebounding from a slow start to do battle with the Red Sox and the Indians and Astros poised to run away with their divisions.
Did April offer any hope of a more exciting American League season? Well, yes… it did. Here’s how I see things shaking out in May.
Boston became the first team to win 20 games by ending Tampa Bay’s 8-game winning streak. The Rays pulled within a game of .500 before Boston slowed them down.
Few noticed the Rays’ streak because it paled in comparison to the Yankees’ 9 game stretch. With the Red Sox treading water over the last ten days, New York pulled within two games of the division leaders behind solid hitting and improved pitching.
Warm weather was apparently all the Yankees needed, as they were barely a .500 team playing their first 18 games in 48-degree or lower temps and rattled off their nine-game streak in 50-degrees plus.
It looks like the Red Sox and Yankees will treat their fans to another season-long battle for the title that will probably put both teams in the playoffs. Tampa Bay will continue to make us think there was a method to their off-season madness by hanging close to the break-even mark.
The mystery team is the Toronto Blue Jays. After coming out of the gate looking ready to challenge the Red Sox for the division, they lost 5 of their 7 head-to-head games with the two division leaders to fall into a distant third place.
Toronto is still a plus-.500 team at 15-12, however, and is far from down and out. They hope to get some offensive help soon as Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson work their way back from injury. But anything more than a two-team race for the East title is unlikely.
Cleveland is supposed to run away with the AL Central title again in 2018. Indeed, they own the only winning record in the division, but that record is an unimpressive 14-12.
Detroit, in the middle of a full-blown rebuild and not expected to contend for a couple of years, is your second-place team at 11-15.
I’m not as sure the Tigers be able to carry that winning percentage for a full season as I am that the dismal start to the White Sox (8-18) and Royals (7-20) is indicative of where they will end up.
The team to watch is the Minnesota Twins. They had the misfortune of playing both the Yankees and Rays during their winning streaks, which accounted for 7 of their 8 straight losses at the end of the month.
Minnesota is not hitting worth a lick yet, but it is more likely they ran into a buzz-saw facing the two hottest teams in the major leagues than it is they are the team to play if you want to start a winning streak.
Cleveland remembers how they turned it on during the summer months of 2017 to pull away by 17 games. They’ll need to make a little run somewhere if they expect to hold off a Twins team that will rebound from a miserable April.
Houston won the AL West by 20 games and it wasn’t even that close in 2017. At the end of April, Seattle is one back in the loss column and Los Angeles… California… Anaheim… the Angels are two back.
Can either the Angels or Mariners keep up with the Astros? Can the Astros keep winning? Odds are, Houston will finish with something close to their 101 wins of last year.
The Mariners blamed injuries for derailing their 2017 and believe they are this good. The Angels made some serious off season moves, including the addition of Japanese phenom, Shohei Ohtani, and expect to stay in contention all season, too.
The title might come down to who stays the healthiest. All things being equal, it is hard to see the Astros failing to defend their title status. Which means…
Most MLB pundits, including this one, assume the first American league wild card team will come from the east. But it is too early to rule out a challenge from the West.
For those teams to pull off a wild card sweep would take some luck on the injury front. Something would have to happen to New York or Boston, preferable right after the trade deadline, for them to slip.
Seattle and Los Angeles would have to make it through the season nearly intact and see one or two of their pitchers stand out.
Minnesota has to rebound from their recent swoon quickly if they plan on contending for a wild card.
It is more likely that one of the western teams will fall off the pace as the season wears on. Minnesota will have to hit its stride and keep it up to swipe the second wild card from the other.
Since that was my preseason prediction, I’ll stick with it for another month. The survivor of the Red Sox/Yankees battle will be joined by Minnesota in the wild card game, with one of the west teams keeping things interesting into September.
It’s not much, but it could be a little more exciting than last season.