Schlossberg on Baseball: Sox to tangle Sox in AL playoffs • Latino Sports

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Schlossberg on Baseball: Sox to tangle Sox in AL playoffs

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Although pre-season predictions are invariably written off as a yarn, that’s not the case in 2015. There’s little doubt that the re-darned Sox — of both the red and white persuasions — will become entangled in a postseason snarl.

Both Boston and Chicago, tired of playing second fiddle to New York, spent the winter retooling and mastered the job so well that they’re not primed to lock horns this fall.

Here’s why:

American League East

Did the Red Sox pay by the pound for Pablo Sandoval?

Did the Red Sox pay by the pound for Pablo Sandoval?

1. Boston Red Sox — Armed with a contract extension, manager John Farrell has a fortified team poised to become the first to go from worst-to-first, from first-to-worst, and then back to the top again. Boston bolstered its offense by adding Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Cuban teenaged prodigy Yoan Moncada and replaced Jon Lester by landing three starters (Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson) whose combined salaries equal Lester’s deal with the Cubs. Future Hall of Famer David Ortiz, still a potent DH at 39, spearheads a revived attack.

2. Toronto Blue Jays — Another club fresh from a winter metamorphosis, the Jays added Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin to a lineup anchored by speedster Jose Reyes and potential home run kings Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Innings-eating lefty Mark Buehrle  joins Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, and veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in a strong rotation but the bullpen is in flux until Brett Cecil proves he can close.

3. Baltimore Orioles — Buck Showalter’s boys over-achieved last year and will be weaker without Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Comebacks by Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Matt Wieters would give Adam Jones and Steve Pearce a lift in the lineup but the jury is still out on the pitching. Bud Norris and Chris Tillman are top starters on a staff that sorely needs improvement from Ubaldo Jiminez. Closer Zach Britton, a lefthander coming off a 37-save season, reprises his role as closer.

4. New York Yankees — An old team that lost its captain and its closer, the Yanks made some questionable winter moves

The Yankees hope CC Sabathia's knee problems are behind him. Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

The Yankees hope CC Sabathia’s knee problems are behind him.
Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

that may have weakened the team further. Martin Prado, Shane Greene, and David Phelps could have helped in the Bronx. The return of Alex Rodriguez creates daily controversy on a club that hopes ex-Marlin Nathan Eovaldi injects youth to an old rotation headed by comeback candidates CC Sabathia, a rotund southpaw with knee issues, and Masahiro Tanaka, a Cy Young contender before his elbow began barking last summer. Fleet outfielders Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury set the table for comeback candidates Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann.

5. Tampa Bay Rays — After losing their manager and general manager during the winter, the Jays also lost Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, Matt Joyce, Jeremy Hellickson, and Joel Peralta. New arrivals Asdrubal Cabrera and Steven Souza Jr. should help but there’s not much offense after Evan Longoria and James Loney. Pitchers Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Alex Cobb, joined by comeback candidate Mike Moore, will beg for more run support.

American League Central

The White Sox welcome the lefty power of Adam LaRoche,.

The White Sox welcome the lefty power of Adam LaRoche,.

1. Chicago White Sox — After finishing fourth with 73 wins, the Sox opened the vault this winter for Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, and David Robertson and then traded for Jeff Samardzjia. They already have Jose Abreu, who had 36 homers and 107 RBI as a rookie last year, and Adam Eaton, who had 10 triples in 2014. Signing versatile Emilio Bonifacio helps too. Holdover lefties Chris Sale and John Danks join with Samardzjia in a solid rotation nucelus.

2. Detroit Tigers — Losing four dependable pitchers, including ace Max Scherzer, does not help Detroit’s outlook. The left-right tandem of David Price and Justin Verlander should be good, especially if the latter returns to his 2013 form, while Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon lend support. The return of slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias (leg stress fractures) gives the pitchers more confidence but Joe Nathan needs a comeback to keep his job as closer. Best Bengal batters include table-setter Ian Konsler, two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera, veteran DH Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez (no relation).

3. Cleveland Indians — Corey Kluber’s surprise Cy Young Award helped the 2014 Indians finish third last year with 85 wins. A repeat will be tough since no other returning starter even reached double digits. Terry Francona is banking on Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and journeyman Shaun Marcum, with Cody Allen closing again. Chief run generators for the Tribe are Carlos Santana, newcomer Brandon Moss (25 HR for Oakland), and Michael Brantley, an MVP contender last year. It would also help if Michael Bourn remembered how to steal bases.

4. Kansas City Royals — A one-year wonder? Without top starter James Shields, leadoff man Nori Aoki, and DH Billy Butler, Kaycee will be hard-pressed to win 89 again, let alone reach October. They still emphasize speed over power but hope Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, and holdovers Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will produce more punch. A solid bullpen troika led by closer Greg Holland backs a rotation that includes Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie, and erstwhile Atlanta ace Kris Medlen (if recovered from his second Tommy John surgery).

James Shields has walked away from the AL champion Royals.

James Shields has walked away from the AL champion Royals.

5. Minnesota Twins — The managerial debut of Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, a local hero, depends upon a pitching staff fortified by the signing of Ervin Santana. Though Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson had solid seasons, the Twins could use a healthy Mike Pelfrey (elbow surgery) and a Ricky Nolasco comeback. All-Star closer Glen Perkins figures to be busy again. Old hero Torii Hunter, now 39, returns as a free agent, helping an attack headed by Brian Dozier and Oswaldo Arcia. Now that he’s back at shortstop, his natural spot, sophomore Danny Santana should be a stable lineup presence.

American League West

1. Seattle Mariners — Adding Nelson Cruz (a league-best 40 homers for Baltimore) solidifies last season’s sad-sack attack, which ranked near the bottom is several categories. Stymied by Safeco Field, even Robinson Cano hit his fewest home runs since 2008. With Cruz aboard, however, Cano, Kyle Seager, and Dustin Ackley have more protection. If they score consistently, the M’s will be sitting pretty behind a rotation topped by perennial Cy Young contender Felix Hernandez, who joined teammate Hisachi Iwakuma as 15-game winners last year. Fernando Rodney (48 saves in 51 tries) is a solid closer.

Defending MVP Mike Trout has to carry a heavier load this season

Defending MVP Mike Trout has to carry a heavier load this season

2. Los Angeles Angels — The Halos had hoped to hammer rivals with a trio of former MVPs, from 2014 winner Mike Trout to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. But Hamilton (shoulder surgery) won’ t be ready for the opener and the lineup could suffer. The club needs more from Matt Joyce and David Freese and someone to succeed Howie Kendrick (traded across town for pitcher Andrew Heaney) at second base. Jared Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, and Garrett Richards would form a formidable Big Three if Richards (left paterllar tendon) is sound again. Closer Huston Street (41 saves) is.

3. Oakland Athletics — A busy winter left the A’s with a shaky outfield and uncertain pitching staff. Only Josh Reddick reached a dozen homers among Oakland outfielders, while only Sonny Gray and southpaw Scott Kazmir won at least 14 games. With closer Sean Doolittle idled at the start by a rotator cuff tear, the pen could be shaped by ex-National workhorse Tyler Clippard.  Versatile Ben Zobrist, acquired from the Rays, will join ex-Met Ike Davis and former Kaycee DH Billy Butler as newcomers who could help.

4. Texas Rangers — Healed from neck  surgery, Prince Fielder can bring instant respectability to a Rangers lineup that

A healthy Prince Fielder will give the Rangers a major power boost

A healthy Prince Fielder will give the Rangers a major power boost

lacked punch last year. He’ll get help from Adrian Beltre, comeback candidate Shin-Soo Choo, and maybe even rookie Joey Gallo (42 HR in the minors).  Yovani Gallardo arrives with Milwaukee to form a formidable 1-2 punch with returning ace Yu Darvish but more is needed from lefty starters Martin Perez, Derek Holland, and Ross Detwiler and closer Neftali Feliz.

5. Houston Astros — After leading the league in hits, batting, and stolen bases, Jose Altuve heads a growing Houston attack anchored by sluggers Chris Carter, who hit 37 homers last year, and Evan Gattis, whose 40-homer potential will be tested by hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park. George Springer and Colby Rasmus should help too. But the pitching is thin behind the left-right tandem of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh.

Wild-card game: Toronto over Los Angeles

ALDS: Chicago over Toronto; Boston over Seattle

ALCS: Boston over Chicago

World Series: Boston over Miami

 

 

 

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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