By Michael Levitt
With the baseball season starting in a little over a week, people are making predictions for who will make the World Series. The American League has fewer contenders than the National League and less teams on the bubble. However, that is not to say that the American League is not as exciting.
The American League East division could be the most exciting race to watch in the American League. Between the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, it should be fun to see which team can pull ahead of the others and lock up the division title. The Yankees are one of the favorites for American League champion almost every year, and if their talent can stay healthy, they have a real shot at making it far in the playoffs this year. Their stars have had some trouble staying on the field in the last couple years, but if outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton can be productive and healthy, their offense will be even better than it was last year. They are hoping for a bounce-back season from catcher Gary Sanchez as well, although they do have high-quality backup Kyle Higashioka waiting in the wings should they need him to take on a bigger role. The Rays just made the World Series last year, so there is no doubt that the team knows what it is doing. Tampa Bay has become the next level Moneyball team that can make it far in the playoffs while having a low payroll, and they should still compete for the division even after losing arguably their top two starting pitchers in Blake Snell and Charlie Morton this offseason. They signed Rich Hill, Chris Archer and Michael Wacha to replace Snell and Morton, and combined with new ace Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough make up a solid rotation. The Blue Jays will start their season playing their home games in their hitter-friendly spring training stadium, so there should be some higher-scoring games than Toronto normally has. Hitter-friendly park or not, their rebuilt offense should be one of the better offenses in the league and could compete with the Yankees as the best in the division. New additions George Springer and Marcus Semien could bat first and second in Toronto’s lineup, and could teach the club’s younger hitters a thing or two to help them take another step forward. The Boston Red Sox will likely finish in fourth place, although they would like to think that they can compete for the division title. Their rotation is still a bit iffy, although Chris Sale regaining his former success after returning from injury around midseason would stabilize the rotation more. The outfield in Boston will look even more different this year after the club traded Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City and let Jackie Bradley Jr. leave in free agency. The Baltimore Orioles will almost certainly finish in fifth place this year, although they somehow finished ahead of Boston in 2020. The Orioles are still rebuilding but have some good young players who will take on bigger roles this season. Those players include outfielder Ryan Mountcastle and starting pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer. Baltimore is still on the hook for first baseman Chris Davis’ contract and will look to give him a role with the team to at least try to get something out of his disastrous contract. This division has three frontrunners for the division champion, and all three teams have the potential to be the most exciting team to watch in the American League.
The American League Central division should also have some exciting battles to watch, but it is probably the weakest division in baseball as it stands now. The two leaders to run away with the division are the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins. The White Sox made some big upgrades this offseason, bringing in relief pitcher Liam Hendriks to replace the leaving Alex Colome and outfielder Adam Eaton to be the starting right fielder for his second stint with the team, and they traded for starting pitcher Lance Lynn as well to give the club a strong top three of the rotation. The White Sox also have the reigning winner of the Most Valuable Player Award in first baseman Jose Abreu and some exciting young players such as outfielder Luis Robert and relief pitcher Michael Kopech. After blowing their division lead last season, the White Sox will look to keep the division lead this time if they can get one. The Twins did not make many big moves this offseason other than re-signing designated hitter Nelson Cruz, but still have a very dangerous offense and a solid 1-2 punch in the rotation with Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios. They also added one of the greatest shortstop defenders ever in Andrelton Simmons, which will push Jorge Polanco to second base. The Twins were one of the beneficiaries of the White Sox losing their division lead last year and will hope that they can keep it close if they are not leading the division. The other three teams in the division are a step down from those two, as the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals are retooling, and the Detroit Tigers are rebuilding. The Tigers are trying to find some young pieces to build around and may have found some in starting pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. Most of their hitters are older though, which could make the team unsure if they will still be there when the team is trying to compete. The Royals added some pieces that they think could help in the future while also locking up their core players, such as late bloomer Hunter Dozier and longtime catcher Salvador Perez. Kansas City is mainly waiting for their prospect pitchers to come up to the major leagues and have success. Brady Singer was the first of those to make it to the majors in 2020 and had a decent year, although the Royals will likely want to see how he can do over a full season. The Indians traded away some of their main players this offseason and became one of the lowest payroll teams for this season. They still have third baseman Jose Ramirez and starting pitcher Shane Bieber, but most of their other proven players are now gone, such as relief pitcher Brad Hand and shortstop Francisco Lindor. They could still compete for the division, but it will be harder now that the White Sox made some big upgrades this offseason and the Twins are still dangerous.
The American League West is the only division that seems relatively straightforward in its competition. As usual, the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics should be in competition for the division title, with the Los Angeles Angels possibly in the mix as well. The Astros still have a large amount of talent, even after losing Springer and with starting pitcher Justin Verlander most likely out for the season. Their hitting is top of the line, and their pitching is strong despite the injuries they have faced. Between Verlander and Framber Valdez hurting his finger, the Astros’ starting pitching depth has been tested. However, they have a solid top three in Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers and Jake Odorizzi. The Athletics have good hitting as usual, and their pitching could be sneakily good despite baseball fans not knowing some of the players. Young starting pitcher Jesus Luzardo will get to show what he can do over a full season, and new acquisition Elvis Andrus will see if he is able to fill Semien’s shoes as the starting shortstop. Oakland’s hitting seems a bit worse than it has in the last couple years, but it might be good enough to make a run at the division title. The Angels will look to make the playoffs for only the second time in Mike Trout’s career and try to finally get the outfielder a World Series ring. Their hitting is consistent, but their pitching is the issue that has prevented them from getting to the playoffs. They have had a lot of injury-prone pitchers in recent memory, although most are not with the club anymore. Their rotation seems to have more talent this year, with two-way player Shohei Ohtani going back to pitching again and the additions of Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb. The Seattle Mariners are still rebuilding, and the Texas Rangers are retooling, so they will both most likely be out of the playoff hunt. The Mariners are waiting for some of their prospects to make it up to the major leagues, but have some promising young players, such as shortstop J.P. Crawford and starting pitcher Justin Dunn. Texas has some pieces to compete, but their pitching seems to hold them back from competing for the division. They rebuilt their rotation this offseason, adding Kohei Arihara, Mike Foltynewicz and Dane Dunning. However, that will most likely not be enough to overcome the Astros and Athletics.
There are some exciting teams to watch in the American League, although not all of them will make the playoffs. It will be fun to see if any teams run away with their divisions or if there are tight races that go down to the wire.
Edited by Emma Moloney