Who are the American League's Top Title Contenders in 2015?
New teams taking over at the top of the American League
Last season the Los Angeles Angels surprised people when they were able to play well enough to earn the American League's top record. This season, success by the Angels is expected, but for the second straight year a new team could take over the top spot in the American League standings. With the Royals putting together an impressive postseason run last year, defeating American League contenders without a loss on the American League side of the bracket, this would suggest that the league is wide open for a surprise team to take by storm. The best regular season team is not always the league's top title contender however, but the Seattle Mariners appear to have the balance needed to be a strong title contender in the American League this season. With a great pitching staff, the Cleveland Indians are also in position to compete at a high level in throughout the 2015 regular season and postseason. The Boston Red Sox athleticism allows them to be a title contender, despite having some question marks surrounding the top of their rotation. A more in depth look at each of these teams, will help to determine what makes them the best title contenders in the American League for the 2015 season.
The Seattle Mariners have one of the best starting rotations in Major League Baseball even without a pitcher with impact talent holding the fifth starter's role. Of course two of Seattle's five starters do not have much experience, but the talent is apparent for youngsters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. With Felix Hernandez being the best starter in the American League the past few seasons, the top of the Mariner's rotation is their strength with Hisashi Iwakuma complementing Hernandez against other team's best starters. With either J.A. Happ or Roenis Elias in position to take the fifth spot in the Mariner's rotation, they have plenty of experience at the back end to make up for the lack of experience in the middle of their rotation. A strong pitching staff is one of the biggest reasons why the Mariners will be an American League title contender.
A very strong bullpen also helps to make the Mariners a title contender in the American League. Fernando Rodney is dynamite in the closer's role for Seattle, but the depth behind him in the bullpen is what could allow this team to reach their potential. Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen provide the team with multiple strong setup options among their right handed relievers. Charlie Furbush regularly gets big outs against the opposition's best left handed hitters, while J.A. Happ could provide the Mariners with a second left handed option to turn to out of the bullpen. An elite ability to hold late inning leads will help the Mariners to earn those tough wins in the postseason, as they look to contend for a title in 2015.
The Mariner have put together a solid group of defenders recently, without having to sacrifice too much offensively in order to make that happen. Austin Jackson in centerfield and Dustin Ackley in left field are both strong defenders, while Seth Smith is just an average defender in right field. On the infield, Brad Miller and Kyle Seager are great defenders on the left side of the infield. Robinson Cano is also a great defender for the team at second base, which helps to make up for Logan Morrison's lack of defensive ability at first base. Mike Zunino gives the team a great option defensively as the team's starting catcher, with great blocking and framing skills to go along with a strong throwing arm. Strong defense at nearly every position on the field, helps to make Seattle a legitimate title contender in the American League in the coming season.
The Cleveland Indians are another team that could challenge for having one of the best rotations in baseball, despite some inexperience in the middle of that talented group. Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber is the ace of the staff, with another emerging starter in Carlos Carrasco slotted right behind him. Power right handers Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar make up the middle of the Indian's strong rotation, with left hander T.J. House in position to earn the fifth spot in the rotation. House had a breakout season in 2014 as a rookie, to give the Indians five different starters with significant upside in their rotation to start the 2015 season. Having such a strong rotation should work to the Indians' advantage as they look join the American League's elite as a title contender in 2015.
The Indians have a solid bullpen backing up their strong rotation, which they can add to throughout the season by sending some of their starting pitching depth to help out in this area. Power arms make up the back of the bullpen with Cody Allen holding down the closer's role and Bryan Shaw in position to take the setup role for the coming season. With Marc Rzepcynski holding down the left handed setup role, the Indians have three strong relievers to turn to in the late innings for the toughest outs to get in the ballgame. Scott Atchison provides the club with veteran leadership among their middle relievers, which as a group includes himself, Kyle Crockett and left hander Nick Hagadone. Josh Tomlin is likely to take the long relief role for the Tribe this season, after having some success in the Indians rotation in the past. Overall this above average unit of the team gives them a chance to compete at a high level in the American League.
The Indians defense struggled at times last season, but they have made the necessary changes to prevent that from happening on a regular basis in 2015. With Bourn and Brantley healthy for the team in 2015, they have two excellent defenders in the outfield who are joined by the Indians upgrade in right field with newly acquired Brandon Moss ready to lock down that position. Lonnie Chisenhall and shortstop Jose Ramirez have the athleticism to play strong defense on the left side of the infield for the Tribe, while Jason Kipnis plays above average defense at second base. Carlos Santana moves back across the infield to first base, where his defensive skills play best, after trying to be the team's starting third basemen a season ago. Yan Gomes continues to display strong defensive skills as the team's starting catcher, to have their defensive unit ready to help the team compete for a title in the coming season.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox have assembled a solid rotation for the coming season, but with Clay Buchholz likely to be their opening day starter, they do not have that traditional stopper at the top of the rotation. Rick Porcello and Wade Miley give the team dependable options behind Buchholz, with Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly giving the team plenty of upside on the back end of the rotation. The Red Sox have plenty of pitching depth scheduled to start the season at triple-A this season, with pending midseason debuts coming from top prospects Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Barnes. With the upside in depth that the Red Sox currently have in their MLB rotation, they are now in position to compete for a title again in 2015.
In the bullpen for the Red Sox, there are three strong right handed options at the back end, starting with closer Koji Uehara. Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica are likely to have seventh and eighth inning roles for the team this season. Craig Breslow and Robbie Ross are in position to take the primary left handed relief roles in the pen, with both being extremely effective when facing mostly left handed batters. Anthony Varvaro helps to strengthen the middle relief roles for the team, while either Brandon Workman or Alexei Ogando will hold the long relief role for the team this season. This group has plenty of upside collectively, but after some of their struggles last season, they can only be graded out as an average unit right now. The Red Sox will need their relief pitchers to meet their upside in 2015 if they hope to be able to compete for a title.
The Red Sox young athleticism plays very strong in helping them to put a great defense on the field behind their pitching staff. Veteran Shane Victorino looks to once again provide the team with excellent defense in right field, while playing next to the Red Sox new phenom in centerfielder Mookie Betts. Hanley Ramirez joins the Red Sox outfield in a difficult left field, but with plenty of athleticism and veteran knowledge, he should be able to master the position as a great athlete in the outfield. Pablo Sandoval provides at least average defense at third base, while Xander Bogaerts provides well above average defense from the shortstop position. On the right side of the infield, both Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia figure to once again be great defenders for the Boston Red Sox. Starting catcher Christian Vazquez is known as a glove first player, which should allow the defense and offense provided from Boston's strong group of position players, to make up for any deficiency they may encounter on the pitching staff this season. With eight fantastic baseball players taking the field with their pitcher each day, the Boston Red Sox figure into the conversation of being an American League title contender.
Will one of these teams play in the World Series?
With the great groups of talent that each of these teams have assembled for the 2015 season, they appear to be in great position to compete for a title. However, with Justin Verlander showing signs of returning to form for Detroit, the Tigers are a team that could join the conversation as an American League title contender despite the question marks surrounding their bullpen and defense. The Los Angeles Angels also could join that conversation if they are able to once again jump out to a division lead that prevents the Mariners from taking the American League West division title this season. However it is the Mariners with the best pitcher in the American League, who are the most likely to contend for a title. The Indians remain a strong candidate if Corey Kluber can defend his Cy Young Award with another strong season, and a division title in the East would position the Red Sox to make a significant run. With the American League once again wide open, there will be plenty of compelling storylines throughout the pennant race in the summer of 2015.