Opening Day is right around the corner, and the Red Sox will look to defend both their World Series and American League titles from 2013. But with the target focused squarely on the backs of the Red Sox, their foes around the AL have loaded up this offseason to try and take down the 2013 pennant winners. Here is a look at the scouting report for the junior circuit heading into the 2014 season, listed in order by how they finished in 2013 AL standings. Next
Boston Red Sox
Last year: 97-65 (Beat Tigers in ALCS)
They’ll win if: They continue to emphasize strong team chemistry and get timely hitting and pitching; no MVP-caliber superstars, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; Xander Bogaerts progresses into the franchise shortstop that many believe he can be.
They’ll lose if: There is a major injury to Jon Lester or two starting pitchers; Grady Sizemore (pictured) gets hurt and Jackie Bradley Jr. struggles in centerfield; David Ortiz gets injured, there goes the Red Sox unquestioned biggest source of power. Next
Last year: 93-69 (Lost ALCS to Red Sox)
They’ll win if: They can translate regular season success to the postseason; Miguel Cabrera shows no setbacks from his late season hip injury; Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (pictured) continue to be the same 1-2 punch they were in 2013.
They’ll lose if: Their bullpen can’t finish off games for their strong rotation; their shortstop situation cannot be resolved through Alex Gonzalez; the offense can’t make up the loss of Prince Fielder. Next
Last year: 96-66 (Lost ALDS to Tigers)
They’ll win if: Scott Kazmir can return to even a shell of the ace pitcher he was in Tampa Bay; Jim Johnson can take over the closer hole left by Grant Balfour; Yoenis Cespedes (pictured) takes a step forward and can produce 30 home run and 100 RBIs in the middle of their lineup.
They’ll lose if: The injuries they sustained in the spring (i.e. Craig Gentry, A.J. Griffin, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker) cause them to fall behind early in the season; Cespedes tries to change his swing and continues to struggle. Next
Tampa Bay Rays
Last year: 92-71 (Lost ALDS to Red Sox)
They’ll win if: Grant Balfour brings the same ninth inning shutdown ability he had in Oakland to a weak back of the bullpen; their pitching staff has another year in the top-3 in batting average against.
They’ll lose if: They deal David Price (pictured) during the season, weakening their rotation; their lineup can’t improve from their .257 batting average they had in 2013; their pitching staff falters, as their hurlers are what got them into the playoffs last season. Next
Last year: 92-70 (Lost Wild Card game to Rays)
They’ll win if: Justin Masterson (pictured) gets back to being the ace of the staff he has been in most of his time in Cleveland; Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley lead the Cleveland offense to supplement the pitching staff.
They’ll lose if: New closer John Axford can’t rekindle the magic from his 2011 season, where he led the Brewers to the ALCS; Danny Salazar can’t blossom into his top of the rotation potential; the rotation can’t recover from the losses of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. Next
Last year: 91-72 (Lost Wild Card tiebreaker to Rays)
They’ll win if: Prince Fielder provides the same pop in the middle of the order that he had for Milwaukee and Detroit; Elvis Andrus makes up the difference in the middle infield with Ian Kinsler now in Detroit.
They’ll lose if: Starting pitchers Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison miss significant time due to injury; Joakim Soria struggles at closer, leading to a controversy with Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz both in the bullpen. Next
Kansas City Royals
Last year: 86-76 (3d in AL Central)
They’ll win if: They take another step forward from their successful 2013 season, their first winning season since 2003; James Shields is the reliable top of the rotation pitcher and stays consistent all season; closer Greg Holland shuts the door in the ninth like he did in 2013, when he saved 47 games in 50 chances.
They’ll lose if: They can’t find a replacement for Luke Hochevar, who is done for the season after Tommy John surgery; Alex Gordon can’t lead the team as the veteran presence and can’t stay in their lineup (he has a long history of injuries); Omar Infante can’t shake the elbow issue he has had through the spring. Next
New York Yankees
Last year: 85-77 (T-3d in AL East)
They’ll win if: The spending spree they went on during the offseason (Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka) pays off; their infield can survive all the questions from last year (health of Jeter and Teixeira, loss of Cano, and suspension of A-Rod).
They’ll lose if: Ellsbury gets injured (he’s in the “injured” year of his every-other-year being great or hurt cycle); Masahiro Tanaka goes the way of Daisuke Matsuzaka; their “who’s who” rotation and bullpen fall apart faster than the offense. Next
Last year: 85-77 (T-3d in AL East)
They’ll win if: Manny Machado can come back relatively soon from the season-ending knee injury he suffered last September; Ubaldo Jimenez leads the rotation as a strong No. 1; Tommy Hunter can emerge as the reliable closer Jim Johnson was for the O’s before he began to falter.
They’ll lose if: They lead the league in blown saves again (they had 27 in 2013); they continue to lack discipline at the plate (OBP in 2013 was .313, AL average was .329); Nelson Cruz can’t provide the pop they hoped to put behind Adam Jones. Next
Los Angeles Angels
Last year: 78-84 (3d in AL West)
They’ll win if: Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols play like Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols; Mike Trout has anywhere close to the MVP-caliber year he’s had the past two seasons (projections say he’ll have an even better year).
They’ll lose if: Their starting pitching doesn’t hold up; offense can’t get enough runs on the board; Pujols and Hamilton have mediocre seasons again; Ernesto Frieri takes a step back after a 2013 in which he saved 37 games. Next
Toronto Blue Jays
Last year: 74-88 (5th in AL East)
They’ll win if: The bullpen has another great year, led by closer Casey Janssen and All-Stars Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil; R.A. Dickey returns to his 2012 form, where he won the NL Cy Young award with the Mets.
They’ll lose if: Three of their most important hitters are injured again (in 2013, Jose Bautista played 118 games, Jose Reyes played 93, and Melky Cabrera played 88); Edwin Encarnacion has a down year, leaving no protection for Bautista. Next
Last year: 71-91 (4th in AL West)
They’ll win if: The massive 10-year, $240 million contract they gave to Robinson Cano works out; Felix Hernandez continues to be one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball; Fernando Rodney can remember how he was such a dominant reliever for the Rays in 2012 before he somehow lost it in 2013.
They’ll lose if: Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker spend too much time on the DL, leaving their rotation with no one except Hernandez; the rest of the lineup besides Cano can’t step up and give their biggest free agent acquisition since Ichiro some protection. Next
Last year: 66-96 (4th in AL Central)
They’ll win if: Joe Mauer transitions well to full time first base and can get back to his strong hitting ways; Josh Willingham has a 2012-like season (he hit .260 with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs that year).
They’ll lose if: Glen Perkins, their All-Star closer from last season, falters after signing a three-year extension to stay in Minnesota; no one in the lineup besides Mauer and Willingham can step up and be productive. Next
Chicago White Sox
Last year: 63-99 (5th in AL Central)
They’ll win if: Chris Sale has another strong season after posting a 3.07 ERA in 214.1 innings in 2013; Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, who the White Sox signed after a bidding war for the free agent, lives up to the hype; Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn can combine for the production they both used to have on their own earlier in their careers.
They’ll lose if: John Danks can’t get back to the form last seen in 2010, when he last posted a sub-4.00 ERA; the White Sox’ young outfield of Adam Eaton, Alejandro De Aza, and Avisail Garcia can’t get it going, leaving three holes in Chicago’s already shaky lineup. Next
Last year: 51-111 (5th in AL West)
They’ll win if: A miracle happens – but seriously, if they want to get better in the short term, they’ll need to rely on their bullpen and rotation. While they probably won’t suffer as many losses as in 2013, the Astros are still another year or so away from contending in the American League for manager Bo Porter.
They’ll lose if: They continue to field a team of entirely young, work-in-progress players (five of their starting nine last season were 25 or younger), and those players show that they are just not ready to be in the majors yet. Back to the beginning
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