Throughout the season, a collaboration of writers at Baseball Essential will rank MLB teams considering record, potential, recent trends, and injuries. The rankings will be bi-monthly around the 1st and 15th of each month.
The contributing voters for the American League rankings include Jon Becker, Sam Bellestri, Tyler Fiedler, Jake Hasan, Mark Hoffberg, Mike Husson, Matthew Hutcheson, Gershon Rabinowitz, Jesus Rivera, Josh Sadlock, Scott Stone, Brian Stoops, Chris Wickersham, and Ryan Witry.
The Tigers have proved doubters wrong so far this season, cruising through tough road tests at Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They are second in the MLB in average at .312 and first in on-base percentage. A pitcher has to cringe at the thought of facing Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Yoenis Cespedes in order. As a pitching staff, the Tigers have a 1.91 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP, both good for first in the majors. While David Price has been impressive in two starts, the biggest wildcard for the Tigers season is Shane Greene. So far, Greene is 2-0 with 16 shutout innings.
The Royals were the last undefeated team in baseball before they dropped two at on the road to the Twins. They lead the majors in batting average and have an impressive bullpen. Wade Davis, Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland have combined for 15 2/3 innings of shutout baseball. At the plate, Lorenzo Cain has impressed early with two home runs and 11 RBI while hitting .429 in 35 at bats. This is a team built for October. They just have to get there.
The ‘no ace’ tag on Boston’s rotation has not held them back in the win column so far, but Red Sox fans have to be concerned. While Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly have combined for three nice starts, the back-end of the rotation has been a disaster. Clay Buchholz gave up nine against the Yankees on April 12, while Justin Masterson and Wade Miley were both tagged for seven runs against the Nationals on consecutive days. It could be a roller-coaster year for the pitching staff, but the offense should provide plenty of runs. Xander Bogaerts has been off to a sizzling start. He has a .382 average with six runs and seven RBI in 34 at bats. Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez have also combined for seven home runs for Boston, who is second in the majors with 56 total runs.
Jared Weaver has been off to a rough start in 2015. In two starts, he has thrown 10 1/3 innings while allowing 15 hits and 10 earned runs. At the plate, Mike Trout has picked up right where he left off after his 2014 MVP campaign. The young phenom has 14 hits in 32 at bats for a .438 average. Unfortunately there hasn’t been much help behind him so far. Albert Pujols is hitting .188 to start the year, but he has two homers. As a team, the Angels are hitting a mere .231 with a .293 on-base percentage. Despite their cool start, the Angels should be in the pennant race once the bats heat up and Weaver pitches more like the 3.32 career ERA pitcher he is.
Caleb Joseph has been a nice surprise for the Orioles while filling Matt Wieters‘ spot behind the plate. He has a .375 average with three extra-base hits in 24 at bats. Adam Jones is off to a hot start and should make a case for his first MVP award in the fall. So far, Jones is hitting .406 with four home runs and 11 RBI. On the mound, Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez have been masterful. The duo has only allowed two runs in 19 2/3 innings. Once Wieters returns from injury and Manny Machado hits his stride, the Orioles will be poised to surprise everyone again in the AL East.
Everyone knew the rotation could be a struggle for the Blue Jays in 2015 after they lost Marcus Stroman for the season to an ACL injury. However, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle have recorded four quality starts and have provided a much needed spark while the offense has been up and down. Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, and Edwin Encarnacion are all in slumps to start the year, all hitting below .200. However, rookie second baseman Devon Travis is off to a impressive start. He has two home runs, three doubles, and nine RBI in his first 31 major league at bats. If he continues to produce, he will fill a much needed hole in one of the best lineups in baseball.
The Mariners have been an early disappointment to start 2015, ranking near the bottom of the majors in hitting and pitching. Right now, they are struggling to find a reliable arm behind Felix Hernandez in the rotation. 23-year-old Taijuan Walker has given up 14 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings, while James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma have recorded four decent starts. Things should turn around for them once Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager regain their usual form. Cano is hitting just .211 with four extra-base hits so far.
Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco have been dominant at the front end of the rotation for the Indians. The trio have combined to allow only eight runs in 32 innings. However, the guys behind them have been another story. Zack McAllister and T.J. House both allowed six runs in their first start of the year. At the plate, no consistent starter is hitting above .290. Things will get better in Cleveland once Carrasco and Michael Brantley recover from injury, but the rotation needs to carry the Indians if they want a shot at the postseason in a tough division.
The good news: Chris Sale looked like himself in his first start of the year, lasting six innings while allowing one run with eight strikeouts. The bad news? Jeff Samardzija has been underwhelming in two starts and most of the lineup if off to a slow start. A hitter to watch for the rest of the year is Avisail Garcia. He hit .304 with five home runs for the Sox after Detroit traded him in 2013. However, he lost the majority of the 2014 season to injury.
The Rays have played well above expectations after losing a few key pieces in the off-season. While Evan Longoria has been off to a slow start, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza have provided much-needed power to a Rays lineup that only hit 117 home runs last season. On the mound, the young arms have shined. 25-year-old Jake Odorizzi has given up only one run in 14 2/3 innings of work while Chris Archer has given three solid starts in the ace role. Archer’s year has been highlighted by a seven inning, one hit performance against Miami on April 11.
The A’s pitching staff has been stellar to start the season. Leading the way, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir have combined to allow only two earned runs in 28 1/3 innings. At the plate, Billy Butler has found a new home in Oakland. In 39 at bats, he has 14 hits, three doubles, and a home run. While 2015 may look like a rebuilding year on paper, don’t be surprised to see the A’s linger around in September.
Alex Rodriguez has been a nice surprise for the Yankees. He has two home runs with a .286 average in the first 28 at bats since his return. However, Carlos Beltran, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Brian McCann, and Stephen Drew have struggled to produce consistently. On the mound, Masahiro Tanaka is a huge question mark as he continues to pitch with a partially torn UCL. In two short starts, Tanaka has been shaky, allowing seven runs in nine innings of work.
The Astros continue to wait for their young stars to shine. 24-year-old outfielder Jake Marisnick has three extra base hits and a .320 average in 25 at bats. On the mound, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have a combined 3-0 record in four quality starts. It’s only a matter of time before they break through and become a threat in the AL West.
Prince Fielder has been the lone shining star in Texas, while Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, and Elvis Andrus have been off to slow starts. Fielder has 16 hits and three walks in 40 at bats. On the mound, 24-year-old Nick Martinez has been lights-out in two starts. In 14 innings, he has only one unearned run on nine hits. He is a player to watch in the rotation while Yu Darvish recovers from surgery and is a nice sleeper pick for fantasy baseball owners.
The beginning of Minnesota’s season was a complete disaster before they took the series from the reigning AL Champion Kansas City Royals earlier this week. Tommy Milone has contributed nicely on the mound, allowing three earned runs in 13 innings. The main story of the season for the Twins will be if they decide to call up the plethora of talented prospects in their farm system.