American League preview: Odds, picks and moves for the 2018 MLB season

PHILS09
Aaron Judge set a rookie record with 52 home runs last season and will be part of a Yankees lineup that could be epic.

Spinning through the American League, where the Yankees, Cleveland, and Houston will win their divisions and Boston and Minnesota will claim wild-cards. Maybe.

Teams are listed in predicted order of finish. Links are each club’s Philly.com team page.

AL EAST

New York Yankees

Last year: 91-71, second place, lost to Houston in ALCS (4-3).

Runs scored: 2nd. Runs allowed: 4th.

Manager: Aaron Boone (first season overall).

Quick hits: The Yankees (surprise) made the biggest offseason move by acquiring 2017 home run king Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins. Stanton (59), Judge (52), and Gary Sanchez (33) hit 144 home runs last season. The Giants, as a team, hit 128. Pittsburgh hit 151. … Speculation was that Judge-Stanton-Greg Bird-Sanchez would hit 2-3-4-5, but Bird is now out two months after foot surgery. … Right before the Stanton deal, the Yanks dumped manager Joe Girardi for Boone, who had been a broadcaster the previous eight years.

The last word: Judge was warned about tampering when he made an offhand remark about Baltimore star 3B Manny Machado possibly joining the Yankees. “I’m just glad they didn’t catch Manny recruiting Judge,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter quipped.

Boston Red Sox

Last year: 93-69, first place, lost to Houston in ALDS (3-1).

Runs scored: 10th. Runs allowed: 5th.

Manager: Alex Cora (first season overall).

Quick hits: David Price looks ready to be a dominant starter again after ending an injury-marred season coming out of the bullpen. He and Chris Sale, second in the AL Cy Young voting to Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, anchor the rotation. … Rick Porcello (11-17) looks to bounce back after winning the 2016 Cy Young, while Drew Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32) is coming off a career year. He had some forearm trouble in camp. … Signed DH J.D. Martinez to a five-year, $110 million contract. … Cora had been the Astros’ bench coach.

The last word: Martinez hit .303 with 45 home runs in 119 games for Detroit and Arizona last season. Boston was last in the AL in 2017 with 168 team home runs, 27th overall.

Vegas Vic’s odds

AL East WS Div. Wins
Yankees 6-1 1-2 94.5
Red Sox 12-1 3-2 91.5
Blue Jays 30-1 10-1 81.5
Orioles 125-1 30-1 76.5
Rays 150-1 30-1 72.5

Toronto Blue Jays

Last year: 76-86, fourth place.

Runs scored: 26th. Runs allowed: 18th.

Manager: John Gibbons (11th season, all with club).

Quick hits: J.A. Happ (remember him?) will start on Opening Day Thursday. Marcus Stroman is the staff’s ace, but he had some shoulder inflammation in the spring and was pushed back to Sunday as the Jays start the season with a four-game series at home against the Yankees … Troy Tulowitzki, limited to 66 games last year, is dealing with bone spurs in his right heel. In 9+ seasons with Colorado, Tulo hit .299. In 2+ years with Toronto, he’s hit .250.

The last word: “I know what I’m capable of,” said Strohman, who went 13-9 last year with 164 strikeouts and 62 walks. “I’m not close to my pinnacle, I can promise you that.”

Baltimore Orioles

Last year: 75-87, fifth place.

Runs scored: 16th. Runs allowed: 27th.

Manager: Buck Showalter (ninth season with club, 20th overall).

Quick hits: Manny Machado, 25, leads a group of Baltimore’s top players in contract years. It’s tempting to think of the Phillies making a run at Machado, who had 33 home runs and 95 RBI last season. He’s moving from third base back to his natural shortstop position. …  Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick in 2008, will play third. … They signed righthander Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57 million deal last week. Cobb will start the season in the minors building his arm strength.

The last word: They have made postseason every other year since 2012. Will be a long shot to keep that quirky streak going.

Tampa Bay Rays

Last year: 80-82, third place.

Runs scored: 25th. Runs allowed: 10th.

Manager: Kevin Cash (fourth season, all with club).

Quick hits: The Rays have eight off days scheduled in the first six weeks and plan to open with a four-man rotation with long relievers covering occasional starts. It’s something Vegas is sure to monitor to see if any wagering trends emerge. … No. 1 starter Chris Archer has been on the (trading) block so long, he could be a taxidermist.

The last word: Tampa did very well to play near .500 ball last season, but traded franchise linchpin Evan Longoria. Their first nine games are against either the Red Sox or Yankees.

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians

Last year: 102-60, first place, lost to Yankees in ALDS (3-2).

Runs scored: 6th. Runs allowed: 1st.

Manager: Terry Francona (sixth season with club, 18th overall).

Quick hits: They signed Yonder Alonso to take Carlos Santana’s place at first base. Alonso, who turns 31 on April 8, banged 28 home runs last year, the first time he cracked double digits. He hit a monster homer on the first pitch he saw in spring training. … Last two seasons ended with a Game 7 loss in the 2016 World Series and by blowing a 2-0 lead to the Yankees in last year’s ALDS. Now that’s heartbreak.

The last word: “We’re probably the only sport that can do [this],” said manager Terry Francona, referring to the return of bullpen carts to bring relievers into the game.

Minnesota Twins

Last year: 85-77, second place, lost to Yankees in wild-card game.

Runs scored: 7th. Runs allowed: 19th.

Manager: Paul Molitor (fourth season, all with club).

Quick hits: They plucked Lance Lynn out of free agency on March 12, which should offset the loss of ace Ervin Santana, who will miss at least the first month after surgery on his pitching hand. Lynn made at least 29 starts in each of the last five seasons for St. Louis. … Trivia I never would have gotten: Twins closer Fernando Rodney is the active leader in career saves with 300. … Shortstop Jorge Polanco, the three-hole hitter, will serve an 80-game PED suspension. He’s also ineligible for 2018 postseason games. Yo.

The last word: “We want a clean game,” said Twins second baseman Brian Dozier. “It sometimes is disappointing in seeing guys still trying to use performance-enhancing drugs. But at the same time, when it comes to a guy on my team, that’s my brother. He needs love right now. That’s the only thing I’m really worried about.”

Vegas Vic’s odds

AL Central WS Div. Wins
Indians 7-1 1-4 94.5
Twins 30-1 4-1 82.5
White Sox 200-1 30-1 68.5
Royals 300-1 40-1 71.5
Tigers 300-1 50-1 68.5

Chicago White Sox

Last year: 67-95, fourth place; last postseason appearance was 2008.

Runs scored: 23rd. Runs allowed: 23rd.

Manager: Rick Renteria (second season with club; third overall).

Quick hits: Highly regarded second baseman Yoan Moncada, the face of the Sox rebuilding, will start the season leading off. Moncada was acquired from the Red Sox in the 2016 Chris Sale deal. He’s a five-tooler who turns 23 on May 27. … James Shields, 36, leads a young rotation. Lucas Giolito, 23, had a 2.38 ERA in seven starts last season and  is among the young arms with high hopes.

The last word: “I would like to be here when this team wins the Worlds Series,” catcher Welington Castillo told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It won’t be long. … I see as much talent here as I’ve ever seen anywhere.” Castillo, 30, played for the Cubs from 2010 to 2015, so that’s a heady statement.

Kansas City Royals

Last year: 80-82, third place.

Runs scored: 24th. Runs allowed: 20th.

Manager: Ned Yost (ninth season with club, 15th overall).

Quick hits: Mike Moustakas reportedly rejected a $17.4 million qualifying offer in November to test free agency. When that test came back negative, he re-signed with the Royals for $6.5 million in March. Ouch. … The Royals did lose two other heroes from the 2015 title run ­– Lorenzo Cain (Brewers) and Eric Hosmer (San Diego). … Clay Buchholz, who was paid $13.5 million by the Phillies for his two starts last season (7 1/3 total innings!), was signed late in spring training..

The last word: Had to get this in. When bench coach Dale Sveum was unable to make it to the team photo because of a medical appointment, the Royals called on actor Jim Caviezel to sit in Sveum’s place. Photoshop would put Sveum’s image in the picture. Caviezel, best known for his work in the movie The Passion of the Christ, happened to be visiting Royals camp.

Detroit Tigers

Last year: 64-98, fifth place; won 86 games in 2016.

Runs scored: t-18th. Runs allowed: 30th.

Manager: Ron Gardenhire (first season with club, 14th overall).

Quick hits: The Tigers are in rebuilding mode, which becomes painfully evident every time Justin Verlander wins a game for the Astros. … The last time the Tigers lost 100 games was in 2003, when they went a staggering 43-119. … Three years later, they were in the World Series.  … They have the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft.

The last word: Of course Gardenhire has seen some of the media recommendations about how he should construct his lineup. “I’m fine with them,” he told reporters. “Except you won’t get fired when we suck.”

AL WEST

Houston Astros

Last year: 101-61, first place. Won first World Series in team history.

Runs scored: 1st. Runs allowed: 9th.

Manager: A.J. Hinch (fourth season with club, sixth overall).

Quick hits: Jose Altuve has three batting titles and  a mega contract and delivered the first World Series to Houston. Now if the rest of baseball can quit making light of his height (5-6), especially those All-Star Game exchanges with Yankees behemoth Aaron Judge. … The staff’s loaded with stars, so allow us to point out that Lance McCullers, the fifth starter, had a strong spring training. We’ll see.

The last word: It’s been 17 years since a team repeated as World Series champs, the longest string in baseball history. The primary factor, of course, is that there are more teams, more rounds of playoffs and more money for players to go chase.

Los Angeles Angels

Last year: 80-82, second place.

Runs scored: 22nd. Runs allowed: 12th.

Manager: Mike Scioscia (19th season, all with club).

Quick hits: Shohei Ohtani, dubbed the “Japanese Babe Ruth” for his ability to hit and pitch, looked more like Dr. Ruth during a rough spring training. … Other sizable off-season additions include 2B Ian Kinsler (Rangers) and SS Zack Cozart (Reds). Cozart is moving to third base with three-time Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons entrenched at short. … The Angels should be in the wild-card hunt.

The last word: Mike Trout’s current contract runs out after the 2020 season and the money he will get in his new deal is sure to be obscene. He decided to wear a faceguard this season after taking a pitch to the helmet during spring training.

Vegas Vic’s odds

AL West WS Div. Wins
Astros 5-1 1-5 97.5
Angels 20-1 5-1 84.5
Mariners 40-1 10-1 81.5
Rangers 200-1 30-1 77.5
Athletics 200-1 40-1 75.5

Texas Rangers

Last year: 78-84, tied for third place.

Runs scored: 9th. Runs allowed: t-21st.

Manager: Jeff Banister (fourth season, all with club).

Quick hits: If the Rangers’ rotation was a house, it would be a fixer-upper. Matt Moore (6-15) and Doug Fister (5-9) are coming off dreadful seasons and Mike Minor hasn’t started a game since 2014. Cole Hamels (11-6) remains the anchor and is one of four lefties Texas will start. … Looks as if the closer by committee could include Jake Diekman.

The last word: A wild-card run is not out of the question if some of those starters find their stuff again.

Seattle Mariners

Last year: 78-84, tied for third place.

Runs scored: 15th. Runs allowed: 15th.

Manager: Scott Servais (third season, all with club).

Quick hits: Felix Hernandez missed three weeks with a right forearm contusion after being struck by a line drive  Feb. 26. He’s fine, though, and will make his 10th consecutive opening day start. Hernandez made just 16 starts last season because of shoulder injuries, his fewest in 12 years. … Ichiro Suzuki, the franchise’s all-time hits leader with 2,533, is back after six years. Hitting coach Edgar Martinez is second in M’s history with 2,274 hits. Those would be fun chats to eavesdrop on.

The last word: Seattle used 40 pitchers last season, tying the 2014 Texas Rangers for most since 1901.

Camera icon Frank Franklin II / AP
File Photo: Future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki is back with the Mariners.

Oakland Athletics

Last year: 75-87, fifth place for third consecutive season.

Runs scored: 17th. Runs allowed: 26th.

Manager: Bob Melvin (eighth season with club, 15th overall).

Quick hits: This is the A’s 50th season in Oakland. … They lost starter Jharel Cotton to a torn UCL in spring training, which leaves the rotation precariously thin.  … CF Dustin Fowler is a guy to root for. He ruptured his right patella tendon crashing into a wall during his major-league debut last season with the Yankees. He was acquired by Oakland in the Sonny Gray trade.

The last word: The concession stands at Oakland Alameda Coliseum are debuting this year something called Impossible Burgers, which pretty much sums up the A’s chances.