Your baseball guide to the Amer­i­can League.

CAN THE JAYS MAKE IT THROUGH THE ALCS OR WILL THE IN­DI­ANS HEAL THEIR GAME 7 HEART­BREAK?

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - smitchell@post­media.com

Can the Red Sox sur­vive with­out Big Papi? Will the An­gels find help for Mike Trout? Will Jose Bautista find his form with the Jays? Scott Mitchell has your guide to the Amer­i­can League.

AMER­I­CAN LEAGUE EAST

BOSTON RED SOX Last year: 93-69, 1st in AL East; lost in ALDS Big­gest ad­di­tion: LHP Chris Sale (White Sox, trade) Big­gest loss: DH David Or­tiz (re­tired)

Big­gest ques­tion: Is David Price go­ing to be healthy?

Af­ter go­ing out and ac­quir­ing Sale, the Red Sox were dealt a blow early in spring train­ing when Price, last year’s prized ac­qui­si­tion, came down with a sore el­bow. He hasn’t pitched since. As the words Tommy John surgery are be­ing thrown around in re­la­tion to Price, who may not take the mound un­til May at the ear­li­est, the Sox were al­ready try­ing to re­place the sig­nif­i­cant pro­duc­tion lost (.315/.401/.620 with 38 home runs) when Or­tiz’s bril­liant ca­reer came to an end on a high note.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Last year: 89-73, 2nd in AL East; lost in ALCS Big­gest ad­di­tion: DH Kendrys Mo­rales (Roy­als, free agent) Big­gest loss: DH Ed­win En­car­na­cion (In­di­ans, free agent)

Big­gest ques­tion: How do they re­place En­car­na­cion?

The start­ing ro­ta­tion is the same and still re­ally, re­ally good. The bullpen is sim­i­lar. The man­ager John Gib­bons is back with a new con­tract ex­ten­sion in hand. The only thing that’s gone are the 66 home runs hit be­tween En­car­na­cion and OF Michael Saun­ders, now a mem­ber of the Philadel­phia Phillies. In their stead? Mo­rales, who hit 30 homers with the Roy­als last sea­son, and jack-of-all­trades Steve Pearce, who tends to mash left-handed pitch­ing. Per­haps the Blue Jays’ big­gest of­fen­sive gains, how­ever, could come with full and healthy sea­sons from 36-year-old right-fielder Jose Bautista, who’s play­ing for an­other con­tract, and sec­ond base­man Devon Travis.

BAL­TI­MORE ORIOLES

Last year: 89-73, 3rd in AL East; lost in wild card

Big­gest ad­di­tion: OF Seth Smith (Mariners, trade)

Big­gest loss: C Matt Wi­eters (Na­tion­als, free agent)

Big­gest ques­tion: Is the start­ing ro­ta­tion good enough?

That prob­lem has been com­pounded this spring due to right-han­der Chris Till­man’s shoul­der woes. Led by a lethal mid­dle of the or­der com­posed of 1B Chris Davis (38 homers), CF Adam Jones (29 homers), 3B Manny Machado (37 homers) and re­cently re-signed DH Mark Trumbo (47 homers), the O’s will con­tinue to hit home runs in bunches, but their start­ing ro­ta­tion is medi­ocre at best and will have trou­ble con­sis­tently hand­ing leads over to a fan­tas­tic bullpen led by all­star closer Zach Brit­ton as its an­chor. Young right­ies Kevin Gaus­man, 26, and Dy­lan Bundy, 24, do pos­sess up­side, how­ever.

NEW YORK YAN­KEES

Last year: 84-78, 4th in AL East Big­gest ad­di­tion: LHP Aroldis Chap­man (Cubs, free agent)

Big­gest loss: C Brian McCann (Astros, trade)

Big­gest ques­tion: Can they stay in the hunt un­til late July?

While a re­turn en­gage­ment with Chap­man was no small in­vest­ment at five years and $86 mil­lion, that’s about all the Yan­kees did this win­ter as they con­tinue to let their re­build take shape. There were big gains on that front in 2016, with catcher Gary Sanchez turn­ing into a le­git­i­mate late-sea­son star, while the trades of Chap­man and left-han­der An­drew Miller brought an in­flux of young tal­ent. If the Yanks are in the hunt this July, we could see some of that fi­nan­cial clout sud­denly back in the pic­ture, which could be a gamechanger in the play­off race.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Last year: 68-94, last in AL East Big­gest ad­di­tion: C Wil­son Ramos (Na­tion­als, free agent)

Big­gest loss: LHP Drew Smyly (Mariners, trade)

Big­gest ques­tion: Are the kids ready to com­pete?

They would seem to be pulling up the rear in the AL East at this point, but the Rays might be closer than ev­ery­one thinks when all is said and done. They still have a fran­chise cor­ner­stone in 3B Evan Lon­go­ria, while CF Kevin Kier­maier has quickly de­vel­oped into the best de­fen­sive cen­tre-fielder in the game and one who could po­ten­tially sup­ple­ment that with a 20/20 sea­son. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the Rays’ suc­cess, or lack thereof, will hinge on a tal­ented, but young ro­ta­tion, head­lined by RHP Chris Archer, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Blake Snell and RHP Alex Cobb.

AMER­I­CAN LEAGUE CEN­TRAL

CLEVE­LAND IN­DI­ANS

Last year: 94-67, 1st in AL

Cen­tral; lost in World Se­ries

Big­gest ad­di­tion: DH Ed­win En­car­na­cion (Jays, free agent)

Big­gest loss: Game 7 of the World Se­ries at home last Novem­ber

Big­gest ques­tion: How will they do now that they’re favourites?

Terry Fran­cona’s group was a pop­u­lar spring sleeper at this time last year, but it didn’t take long for them to show they were wide awake as le­git­i­mate con­tenders, reel­ing off a fran­chise-record 14-game win­ning streak in June. In the off-sea­son, Cleve­land de­cided its time is now as gen­eral man­ager Mike Ch­er­noff went out and signed En­car­na­cion to the rich­est deal in team his­tory, po­si­tion­ing them as one of the Amer­i­can League favourites. They boast a deep lineup that will get even bet­ter with a healthy Mike Brant­ley, a great ’pen and a ro­ta­tion head­lined by Cy Young con­tenders Corey Klu­ber and Car­los Car­rasco, but now there are ex­pec­ta­tions and pres­sure to deal with as well.

DETROIT TIGERS

Last year: 86-75, 2nd in AL Cen­tral

Big­gest ad­di­tion: C Alex Avila (White Sox, free agent)

Big­gest loss: OF Cameron May­bin (An­gels, trade)

Big­gest ques­tion: Is there an­other run left in the vet­er­ans?

One year af­ter fin­ish­ing on the pe­riph­ery of the wild­card race, 1B Miguel Cabr­era (33), 2B Ian Kinsler (34), DH Vic­tor Martinez (38) and closer Francisco Ro­driguez (35) will try to stave off Fa­ther Time for an­other year. Head­lined by vet­eran righthander Justin Ver­lan­der, who’s com­ing off one of the best sea­sons of his ca­reer, the Tigers’ ro­ta­tion could be much im­proved if 2016 rookie of the year Michael Ful­mer (11-7, 3.06 ERA) and lefty Daniel Nor­ris (4-2, 3.38 ERA) take steps for­ward, but a July sell-off wouldn’t be a sur­prise.

KANSAS CITY ROY­ALS

Last year: 81-81, 3rd in AL Cen­tral Big­gest ad­di­tion: RF Jorge Soler (Cubs, trade) Big­gest loss: RP Wade Davis (Cubs, trade)

Big­gest ques­tion: Is the Roy­als’ short run over?

Af­ter win­ning 89 and 95 games, re­spec­tively, over the 2014 and 2015 sea­sons, the ’15 World Se­ries cham­pi­ons took a step back­ward last sum­mer, fin­ish­ing with a .500 record. The cul­prit was a ro­ta­tion that held a 4.67 ERA, fourth worst in the Amer­i­can League. Sim­i­lar to the Orioles, their spot in the AL Cen­tral peck­ing or­der will come down to a start­ing ro­ta­tion that’s head­lined by left-han­der Danny Duffy and a group of mid-ro­ta­tion arms that don’t of­fer much up­side.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Last year: 78-84, 4th in AL Cen­tral Big­gest ad­di­tion: 2B Yoan Mon­cada (Red Sox, trade) Big­gest loss: LHP Chris Sale (Red Sox, trade)

Big­gest ques­tion: When will the prospects ar­rive?

Di­vi­sion mate Detroit de­cided to stay the course, but the White Sox went in the com­plete op­po­site di­rec­tion this off-sea­son, blow­ing things up with the trades of Sale and OF Adam Ea­ton. Closer David Robert­son, OF Melky Cabr­era, LHP Jose Quin­tana, 3B Todd Fra­zier and 1B Jose Abreu could all be next to go, while the fan base will sim­ply suf­fer through the losses and wait for Mon­cada and righthander Lu­cas Gi­olito, the jewel of the Ea­ton haul from the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als, to ar­rive. The fruits of the re­build on the north side of Chicago should give the South Siders hope.

MIN­NESOTA TWINS

Last year: 59-103, last in AL Cen­tral Big­gest ad­di­tion: C Ja­son Cas­tro (Astros, free agent) Big­gest loss: 3B Trevor

Plouffe (Ath­let­ics, free agent)

Big­gest ques­tion: Will By­ron Bux­ton turn into the star they need?

In the re­build­ing White Sox and Twins, the AL Cen­tral may fea­ture two of the worst teams in baseball this sea­son. The Twins were al­ready there in 2016, earn­ing the first-over­all pick in the 2017 draft thanks to a God-aw­ful 59-103 record, one that might not get much bet­ter this sum­mer. A lot of it hinges on the devel­op­ment of Bux­ton, the 2012 sec­on­dover­all pick. The out­fielder suf­fered through a pair of false starts the past two sea­sons, strik­ing out 34.5 per cent of the time, but the pre­co­cious 23-year-old seemed to figure things out in the fi­nal month of the sea­son, hit­ting nine home runs over the last 29 games.

AMER­I­CAN LEAGUE WEST

TEXAS RANGERS

Last year: 95-67, 1st in AL West; lost in ALDS

Big­gest ad­di­tion: RHP Tyson Ross (Padres, free agent)

Big­gest loss: DH Car­los Bel­tran (Astros, free agent)

Big­gest ques­tion: Is there enough ro­ta­tion depth?

The bullpen was one of the league’s worst last sea­son with a 4.40 ERA, while the start­ing ro­ta­tion be­hind Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels is sus­pect. For a sin­gle sea­son at $7 mil­lion, the sign­ing of Ross, who missed all of 2016 with shoul­der prob­lems and is cur­rently on the mend from tho­racic out­let surgery, was a savvy up­side play by Rangers GM Jon Daniels, one that could pay off big or not at all. Ex­pect to hear the Rangers linked to avail­able starters all sea­son long.

SEAT­TLE MARINERS

Last year: 86-76, 2nd in AL West

Big­gest ad­di­tion: SS Jean Se­gura (Di­a­mond­backs, trade)

Big­gest loss: RHP Tai­juan Walker (Di­a­mond­backs, trade)

Big­gest ques­tion: Can Felix Her­nan­dez re­dis­cover his ace form?

Since tak­ing over in Septem­ber 2015, gen­eral man­ager Jerry Dipoto has made close to 40 trades, leav­ing less than 25 per cent of the orig­i­nal 40-man ros­ter he in­her­ited in place. It might not mat­ter if Her­nan­dez doesn’t re­turn to form. Af­ter a hand­ful of dom­i­nant sea­sons, Her­nan­dez pitched to a 3.82 ERA last sea­son in just 25 starts and the pe­riph­eral stats were even uglier. Ev­ery­one in the Pa­cific North­west will be watch­ing to see if the down­ward trend con­tin­ues.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Last year: 84-78, 3rd in AL West

Big­gest ad­di­tion: OF Josh Red­dick (Dodgers, free agent)

Big­gest loss: 1B/3B Luis Val­buena (An­gels, free agent)

Big­gest ques­tion: Are the Astros this year’s Cleve­land?

For those of you who don’t think April baseball mat­ters, the Astros were ev­i­dence to the con­trary in 2016. Af­ter sur­pris­ingly win­ning 86 games to se­cure a wild-card berth in 2015, the Astros took a small step back­ward last sea­son, mostly thanks to a hor­rific 7-17 start. A trendy pick this off-sea­son like the In­di­ans were a year ago, the Astros have all the in­gre­di­ents you look for in a post­sea­son team.

LOS AN­GE­LES AN­GELS

Last year: 74-88, 4th in AL West

Big­gest ad­di­tion: 2B Danny Espinosa (Na­tion­als, trade)

Big­gest loss: RHP Jered Weaver (Padres, free agent)

Big­gest ques­tion: Can they get Mike Trout some help?

Al­ready a two-time AL MVP at the age of 25, Trout has been the best player in baseball for five years now, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing WAR at a his­toric pace that has him on par with men like Mickey Man­tle and Ted Wil­liams. With a num­ber of bad con­tracts ei­ther now off the books or com­ing off next win­ter, the An­gels are po­si­tion­ing them­selves to get Trout some much-needed help. If they don’t, the An­gels may have to even­tu­ally think about what it would take to trade away an all­time great in the mid­dle of his prime.

OAK­LAND ATH­LET­ICS

Last year: 69-93, last in AL West

Big­gest ad­di­tion: OF Matt Joyce (Pi­rates, free agent)

Big­gest loss: INF Danny Va­len­cia (Mariners, trade)

Big­gest ques­tion: When will Money­ball work again?

The A’s have Money-balled their way to 68- and 69win sea­sons the past two years, but the process hasn’t changed as Billy Beane went out and did what he usu­ally does this off-sea­son, adding pla­toon pieces — Joyce and Ra­jai Davis to the out­field mix — and un­der-val­ued bullpen parts. They did, how­ever, make an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic run at Ed­win En­car­na­cion, which sug­gests they may be­lieve a com­pet­i­tive win­dow is open­ing in the next cou­ple of years with the ar­rival of short­stop prospect Franklin Bar­reto, the rea­son Josh Don­ald­son re­sides in Toronto.

NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Toronto Blue Jays en­ter the 2017 sea­son hop­ing first base­man/des­ig­nated hit­ter Kendrys Mo­rales can help fill the void left when Ed­win En­car­na­cion left for greener pas­tures by sign­ing with the Cleve­land In­di­ans in the off-sea­son.

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