Justin Verlander
Bernie Pleskoff
Written by Bernie Pleskoff

Last week, in this space, I shared my National League pennant predictions. This week, it’s time for me to take a good luck at the American League.

The American League features teams with very little chance to win. I don’t like the term “tanking.” I prefer to state that these teams have chosen to either guard their financial resources carefully or have engaged in re-setting the composition of their franchise. Call it what you will, there are plenty of American League teams who have as much chance of playing winning baseball as I have getting into the pants I wore in college. That is to say….no chance. None.

So, here are my 2019 American League standings predictions, with the projected win-loss record included.


Aroldis Chapman
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris


Yankees sunshine: The arrival of James Paxton adds depth to a pitching staff that needs him badly.

Yankees clouds: The injury to Luis Severino could be monumental. And Masahiro Tanaka could be a ligament snap away from disaster himself.

My expectations for the New York Yankees have decreased with the injury to Luis Severino. I think the injury has an impact on the season.

That said, I am excited to watch the Yankees play out the season. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio despising the dreaded Yankees. Why? Because they won. It was a special treat to watch the Indians beat the Yankees occasionally. It sure didn’t happen often.

This edition of the Yankees seems to be extremely formidable. I don’t think general manager Brian Cashman gets enough credit. To begin, he has compiled an outstanding farm system with depth everywhere in the organization. Granted, the Yankees don’t have the best starting rotation in baseball. Rather, they have enough pitching to stay in every game until one of the best bullpens in baseball takes over. It is the bullpen that leads me to the conclusion the team can win 92 games or more. Consider that when he is on his game, Aroldis Chapman is still one very solid closer. Even if Dellin Betances is injured and has lost something on his fastball, the team now has Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino joining the pen to bolster the late inning relief. Those are outstanding arms to use in the back end of games.

The rotation can be worrisome when one considers the health of several of the pitchers. To begin, we have been waiting for the ligament in the elbow of Masahiro Tanaka to tear completely. But we’ve been waiting for years now. Is this the year? James Paxton has spent time on the disabled list with the Mariners in the recent past and questions always surface about his health. J.A. Happ has had his health miseries as well. And now C.C. Sabathia has chronic knee problems as well as an angioplasty that complicates matters. He begins the season on the suspended list because he threw at a batter in late 2018. The biggest issue is with ace Luis Severino. He has right rotator cuff inflammation and is expected to miss all of April. What happens if April becomes May and then on and on for Severino? The questions with the rotation may mean the Yankees and Red Sox are closer than they were a couple months ago. At that time, the Yankees pitching, with Severino in tact, had a big advantage over Boston.

The offense is probably a bit deeper than that of the Red Sox. However, that can be a great source of debate between fans of both teams all season. To begin, not too many teams have the dynamic power that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton offer. However, the trio of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez are a wrecking crew that can destroy any pitching they see. So, the Red Sox offense and the Yankees offense both have their share of fence busters.

But Giancarlo and Judge aren’t alone in the Yankees deep lineup. Clearly Luke Voit and Greg Bird are more than capable of powering home runs. Both went deep Opening Day. While Gary Sanchez had an injury plagued year in 2018, he still has what it takes to help put points on the board with a bat that is louder than any of the Red Sox catchers. Miguel Andujar adds a bit of extra spice to the Yankees that may even get better when Didi Gregorius arrives following his injury rehabilitation. But what type of offense can the team expect from Troy Tulowitzki, their shortstop while the team awaits the return of Didi? Gleyber Torres and D.J. LeMahieu provide a nice duo at second base.

Any glance at the Yankees farm system shows an abundance of pitching prospects. Unlike many other clubs, the Yankees have the minor league inventory to fetch a huge pitching prize or any position player they need in mid-season. And that includes Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer if the Indians have faded by July 31.

It is the organizational depth that separates the Yankees from the Red Sox in a 162 game season. The Yankees have the depth. The Red Sox do not.

The Yankees win the East if:

  • The starting pitching holds up and can cover a potential lengthy loss of Severino.
  • The bullpen is every bit as good as I believe them to be.
  • The offense produces up to their capabilities. They don’t even have to exceed their potential.


Red Sox sunshine: Chris Sale can dominate any game he starts (provided he stays healthy).

Red Sox clouds: The back-end of the bullpen is the club’s Achilles heel.

I spent quite a bit of time watching the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Florida in spring training. I also saw them back in Mesa, Arizona when they took on the Cubs in the last two spring training games. I believe I have a good feel for the club.

The two game difference I project between New York and Boston in the American League East revolves around these factors:

The Yankees have a far, far superior bullpen to that of the Red Sox. That includes the back-end of each bullpen, which I find to be very problematic for Boston. It is a huge problem the team has not fixed as the season begins.

The Red Sox have Alex Cora as their manager. The Yankees don’t. I think Cora is the best in-game manager in baseball. I also feel his team is among the best prepared game after game.

The gap between the Yankees and Red Sox would be wider in my estimation if Luis Severino was healthy. However, I think David Price will face his own health issues for Boston.

The lack of a true closer for the Red Sox cannot be denied or overlooked. As he did when he was with Detroit, general manager Dave Dombrowski has left his team vulnerable after the 6th inning. I have seen Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree and Tyler Thornburg. I think each will struggle with keeping the ball off the barrel of the opponents bats. One or more of them will be asked to close games.

I think Nathan Eovaldi will have an outstanding season. I do believe arm related issues are in the rear view mirror for him. When I saw him pitch he looked very loose and easy on the mound. Eduardo Rodriguez is due for a big year provided he stays healthy. Rick Porcello can be very good or very bad. Chris Sale looked terrific when I saw him this spring. David Price…very meh. He’s far too hittable and he can’t recover easily with men on base.

For me, losing Steven Wright to an 80-game suspension is huge. He would be the guy to step up if a starter is hurt or falters. The loss of Wright is another big reason I like the Yankees by a couple games over the Red Sox. Boston just doesn’t have starting pitching depth.

Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers can bring the offense to any game. Mitch Moreland has some long ball appeal against right-handed pitching. Especially when the team faces a righty in Yankee Stadium. The bench is good, led in my opinion by a very underrated Brock Holt.

Everything will have to click for the Red Sox to edge out the Yankees this year. I don’t see it happening.

The Red Sox can win the East if:

  • They solve their closer problems.
  • Their starting pitchers all stay healthy and effective until Steven Wright returns.


Rays sunshine: They added a quality pitcher in Charlie Morton to help lengthen a short rotation.

Rays clouds: They don’t have enough starting pitching depth to compete with New York or Boston over a 162-game season.

I don’t think last year was a fluke. I don’t think winning 90 games was a fluke. However, I think it will be very difficult to win 90 games again with an improved New York Yankees club and a very strong Boston Red Sox club in the same division.

Actually, the Rays may be fielding a better team this year than last. I got to see them five times in Florida. They can play.

I don’t think either the Rays offense or their pitching is close to the Yankees or Red Sox. At least not yet. Not now.

Any team that has a Cy Young Award winner at the top of the rotation has to feel good about contending in their division. Blake Snell is a fine ace for an improving team. I think the year he had in 2018 was outstanding, but I do look for some slight regression this time around.

While I do like the edition of Charlie Morton to the rotation and I like the fact they have Tyler Glasnow for the entire year, the rotation is still short at the back end. The “opener” may still be used in the form of Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos. The team just doesn’t have enough starting pitching depth to keep up with the two teams ahead of them in the standings. Losing Brent Honeywell does have an impact on the club’s pitching depth. The front office in Tampa Bay is very smart. If they are in the hunt, the front office just may bag what they need to close the gap.

The bullpen is a bit deeper and longer than most, as they are asked to throw more innings and pitch a bit more often than most pens in the game. Jose Alvarado is a quality closer. But the pen doesn’t compare to the Yankees. It is, however, deep enough to hold leads in close games or start games and turn the ball over to their colleagues.

The offense just doesn’t have the firepower to rattle a pitching staff. They have good hitters like Tommy Phan, Joey Wendle and Austin Meadows. In my book, Ji-Man Choi, like Meadows, is underrated. Mike Zunino is a power-hitting catcher. Brandon Lowe is a sleeper in my book. Yandy Diaz should be playing some defensive position or be the designated hitter every day. He’s a very solid line drive hitter. But there aren’t many fence busters in the lineup. Diaz may have to spend time on the bench and wait his turn because he isn’t a big home run threat.

The Rays are a very balanced club with high energy and a very good manager. They will win plenty of games. Just not as many as New York or Boston.

The Rays win the East if:

  • They find at least one more very, very good starting pitcher in a mid-season trade.
  • Tommy Phan, Ji-Man Choi and Austin Meadows each provide All-Star caliber offense every month of the season.


Blue Jays sunshine: Highly touted prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr. is involved now in injury rehabilitation and will need minor league playing time to get in shape, but then he arrives. Big time. Probably.

Blue Jays clouds: The pitching, from the rotation to the bullpen falls far short of their division rivals with no help in view.

Blue Jays fans will be clamoring for the big league arrival of Vlad Guerrero Jr. the day he is deemed healthy enough to play. For now, the team is spared having to make a tough decision about starting Guerrero’s clock because he is injured. When healthy, he will likely get assigned minor league games to get in shape and work out the kinks before he is promoted. Remember, he missed spring training repetition, so he will need work to get in game shape. So, I think he will be with the parent club a couple weeks after he is cleared to play. If then.

This is a team that will be built around Guererro Jr. and eventually, shortstop Bo Bichette, another solid prospect waiting in the wings. Once they arrive and are established, the team will show improvement.

However, adding pitchers Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton and Clayton Richard in the offseason has not and will not fix their rotation. The rotation is still not anywhere close to their rivals in the AL East. The top of the rotation is staffed by Marcus Stroman. Frankly, he has a career of inconsistency. Another starter is likely to be Aaron Sanchez. He has upside remaining, but his injury history isn’t good. So in essence, the rotation is very questionable.

The bullpen has Ken Giles as the closer with free agent Bud Norris in a set up role. Meh. I don’t think the pen will protect many leads in the 6th and 7th innings, let alone the back-end of the game. I’m not a fan of the bullpen.

Brandon Drury starts at 3B until Guerrero Jr. appears on the roster. Drury can hit, but he needs a chance. He isn’t a good second baseman, so moving him there once Guerrero Jr. arrives doesn’t seem like a good option to me.

The offense, like the pitching, is just lacking. The names are interesting, but the track records of players like Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Justin Smoak and Kevin Pillar have been spotty, at best. Inconsistent is the right word to describe them in my opinion. I’m not a fan of shortstop Freddie Galvis. I do, however, like the upside of rookie catcher Danny Jansen. After trading Kendrys Morales, Rowdy Tellez made the club.

In short, the Blue Jays didn’t fix their pitching over the winter. They added names and changed the order of the deck chairs.

It seems they are another team with the financial wherewithal of ownership, but an unwillingness by ownership to spend enough money necessary to field a credible team. I think it will continue to come back to haunt them and great fans will be short changed.

The Blue Jays win the East if:

  • Dinosaurs return this year to roam the earth.



Orioles sunshine: Boog Powell still has a great food stand outside of right field on Eutaw Street.


Orioles clouds: The Orioles are in a complete state of flux, with little hope to be competitive this year.


A once proud and glorious franchise has been allowed to wither before our eyes.

The Baltimore Orioles, the team of Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, and countless legendary names has become a club content to put nine men on the field every day and take whatever comes their way. It really is tough to watch. Especially the pitching.

It wasn’t long ago that a ticket to Camden Yards was hard to get. Still one of the greatest places to watch a game, Camden Yards is now a place for diehard seam heads. Like me. I still go there. But the stands clearly aren’t as full as in the glory days. Not even close.

It’s all about the pitching. Or lack thereof. The Orioles are going to face the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays each about 14 times each year. Those 56 games will be very tough to win with Andrew Cashner, Nate Karns, Dylan Bundy, David Hess and Mike Wright as their probable starting five. I just don’t think this rotation can hold up over the course of a year. Sadly, their best pitching prospect is DL Hall, and he’s in the low minors.

There are some bright spots on offense. I do like Rule 5 shortstop acquisition Richie Martin, who came to the club from Oakland. Cedric Mullins has speed at the top of the order. Jonathan Villar showed signs of a resurgence in spring training when I saw him play two games. But we can’t forget that Chris Davis remains in the lineup at first base against right-handed pitching. It seems he is signed for eternity.

It remains to be seen if Trey Mancini can earn his keep on fantasy rosters. I like his bat. I still think the club is making a huge mistake by sending Austin Hays back to Minor League Baseball. If he can’t play for the Orioles, I have totally misjudged Austin Hays. And one of my favorite prospects, Yusniel Diaz should be close to major league ready as well. There is some hope for the future.

The Orioles win the American League East if:

  • I ever eat a meal of steamed fish, steamed broccoli, Brussels sprouts and a kale salad. Not gonna happen. Ever.


Francisco Lindor
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris


Indians sunshine: They open the season with the best starting rotation in baseball.

Indians clouds: Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis open the season injured.

Make no mistake. I am very disturbed, upset and almost unhinged at the horrible offseason of the Cleveland Indians. They stood by and watched as Michael Brantley signed with Houston. They watched as Lonnie Chisenhall, and Melky Cabrera signed with Pittsburgh. They traded Erik Gonzalez to the same club. They traded Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle. They traded Yandy Diaz to Tampa Bay and catcher Yan Gomes to Washington. They watched as critical game-winning RBIs walked out the door. They watched countless runs leave with the guys named above. Now, a few short months after dismantling their offense, how will they score runs?

If they win the Central this year, I think it will be the last time for years and years to come. This team wasted an open window. This team will waste wonderful starting pitching. And there is no excuse for it. They are one additional Minnesota Twins quality starting pitcher away from turning the division over to Minnesota. And probably for years to come.

I think the Dolan’s should sell the team. Tomorrow.

They also lost relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. That doesn’t upset me.

New to the team? Jake Bauers, Carlos Santana, Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Plawecki, Max Moroff, Jordan Luplow and Brad Miller.

Which group would you rather have? The guys that got away or the guys now on the club? Well, that’s a no-brainer.

Did I mention I think the Dolan family should sell the team? Tomorrow. It really is already to late to sell today. Tomorrow would be fine with me. Thank you.

If Minnesota gets one more starter, I think they overtake Cleveland in the Central. One more.

The Indians rotation of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber is outstanding. However, I truly believe the team wants to trade Mr. Bauer. He’s getting a bit too testy with his actions and comments for their liking.

The bullpen is very mediocre beyond closer Brad Hand. The team did bring in Alex Wilson for spring training and released him. The team did bring in Justin Grimm for spring training and released him. I’m not a big fan of Dan Otero. Or Neil Ramirez. Or Adam Cimber. Or the bullpen. Or the offense.

I see Jose Ramirez struggling to come anywhere close to his first half from 2018. I think he is pressing with every at-bat to recover his first half form. Lindor is hurt. He now has an ankle sprain in addition to a bum calf. I don’t think Tyler Naquin is a big league hitter over a full season. I hope I’m wrong. Jake Bauers can’t hit lefties. I do like Leonys Martin and Carlos Santana. A healthy Lindor makes the club 100% better than what they have going into the season. I am not a fan of Jason Kipnis. At all, whatsoever.

Believe me, that starting rotation better be the equal of Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Mike Garcia, and Early Wynn for the Indians to win the division. And the bullpen has to have a Don Mossi and Ray Narleski if they want to beat out the Twins. But this isn’t 1954-this is 2019.

I think the Indians can win 92 games because the Royals, the Tigers and the White Sox are not very good at all. The Indians and Twins can get fat on those three clubs alone.

The Indians win the Central if:

  • Their rotation pitches to projections and the Twins don’t get another quality starter.
  • Lindor returns to the lineup healthy by the second week of April and has a typical year.
  • Ramirez can produce better than the second half of 2018. He doesn’t have to match the first half, but he has to be close.


Twins sunshine: The arrivals of Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez for the offense.

Twins clouds: A lack of starting pitching depth that could haunt them until it is fixed.

The Twins are a very, very good offensive baseball team that happens to have a very, very mediocre starting rotation. That is the only factor separating the Twins from a Central Division Championship. If they get a solid starter to replace someone in the rotation like Jake Odorizzi, the Indians better watch out.

As it is, the Twins have two very reliable starting pitchers in Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson. Berrios is still only 24 and getting better. He could be poised for a great year. Gibson is 31, but he’s improving as well with a new delivery. Michael Pineda impressed me when I saw him pitch in Florida. He was getting great sink on his pitches and hitters were pounding the ball into the ground. The Twins just don’t have much starting pitching depth and they failed to fix it. And I think the AL will feast on Odorizzi.

Consider having to navigate through Max Kepler (underrated), Jorge Polanco (underrated), Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario (underrated), C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro and then an inspired, motivated Byron Buxton. I think that’s an awesome lineup. And Miguel Sano may return from a heel laceration and have a great year.

Utility player Willians Astudillo has been the star of fantasy drafts. He’s a portly guy with a great bat. And he can play all over the place. Keep an eye on his playing time. The guy can barrel the ball.

The Twins bullpen will feature Blake Parker, Trevor May and Taylor Rogers in addition to Trevor Hildenberger. It’s a good pen. The pen is stronger and appears to have more depth than in the past.

Watch out for the Twins. They are right on the heels of the Indians and it would not surprise me if they overtake Cleveland this year.

The Twins win the Central if:

  • They add one quality starter during the early part of the season.
  • They enjoy the type of run production for which I think they are capable.


Royals sunshine: Having three of the best base stealers in baseball on their roster in Billy Hamilton, Whit Merrifield and Adelberto Mondesi.

Royals clouds: They don’t have much other than having three of the best base stealers in baseball.

And so we have come to the “also rans” in the Central. Kansas City is probably the best of the rest, but that isn’t saying much.

The trio of Hamilton, Merrifield and Mondesi may steal a ton of bases if they can get on base. Ah, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Can Billy Hamilton get on base?

Ryan O’Hearn is intriguing as a young first baseman who will get a chance to hit against right-handers. But buyer beware. Hitting home runs isn’t easy in the Royals home park. And by the way, just who is Jorge Soler? Is he finally the guy the Cubs thought they were getting before they traded him to Kansas City? Can this be his year? Alex Gordon returns for his 187th year as the Royals left fielder. Now 88 years old (actually, he’s only 35), Gordon remains a fixture in the Royals lineup. Lucas Duda seems to have made the club as a left-handed DH. Really? Is that how a team re-tools?

Now we come to the pitching. I must admit I like Brad Keller enough to have included him as my fifth starter on one of my fantasy teams. When I saw him pitch this spring in Surprise I was impressed with the ease with which he threw the ball. So-he’s a keeper. Some people like Jakob Junis and Jorge Lopez. I’m still trying to determine my feelings about each of them. However, my jury is in on Homer Bailey, and I don’t think he’s a guy I would include on a rotation of a team that is rebuilding.

The bullpen is built around closer Brad Boxberger. The same Brad Boxberger who lost his closer’s role with Arizona last year due to his inability to get anyone out in the second half. Wily Peralta may ultimately get the closer’s role. The rest of the pen is meh! And remember-it was the bullpens that made the championship caliber Kansas City Royals clubs what they were in the past. Those days are long, long gone. But they do have one great story. After being hurt early and often in his career, it seems Kyle Zimmer is back on the mound for the Royals. Maybe he becomes a starter at some point. Right now, however, he’ll be pitching out of the pen. And that’s a good thing.

The Royals win the Central if:

  • “Leave It to Beaver” becomes the most highly watched and highest rated show on television for 2019.


White Sox sunshine: Eloy Jimenez arrives to set the pace for a number of future White Sox prospects.

White Sox clouds: The other prospects are still in development and the team will struggle until they arrive.

I believe this is the last year the White Sox will be in this position in the standings. They are improving. It may have taken a bit longer than they and their fans had wished, but they are improving.

My top prospect player, Eloy Jimenez has made the major league club. He has signed a nice contract and has some security as a rookie player.

Michael Kopech, a flame-throwing rookie pitcher is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and should be ready to pitch in 2020.

Other rookies such as Dylan Cease, Nick Madrigal, and Luis Robert are exciting components for the future.

For now, they are in a waiting mode. They will start the season with an improving Yoan Moncada playing third base instead of second. Moncada should be coming into his own as a hitter. He has to start swinging at good pitches as opposed to taking them and striking out looking, which he did far too often last year.

Daniel Palka is a very strong outfielder who will have to fight for playing time. I think the offense is much better with him than with Jon Jay, who is injured to start the season. Palka has game-ending power.

I’m not a big fan of Yonder Alonso or Adam Engel, two every day players in the lineup. But I do think Wellington Castillo and Jose Abreu can both be dangerous at the plate. They will be counted on to drive in runs.

The rotation of Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and Ivan Nova shows promise. Once Dylan Cease is in the rotation, it will improve even more. The final link will be adding Michael Kopech when he proves he is healthy.

I think it’s a better rotation than the Tigers. And the bullpen that features Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera and Nate Jones is credible.

It may be tough for Chicago to win 70 games. However, I feel they are capable. We may see an infusion of younger players enter the roster as the season progresses. This will become an exciting team to watch. For now, however, White Sox fans have to enjoy watching Eloy Jimenez refine his game at the major league level. It will take time, repetition and patience for Jimenez to gain a comfort level, but eventually he will be an All-Star every year. Fans need to give him time to grow and learn. But it’ll be so much fun to watch.

The White Sox win the Central if:

  • Eloy Jimenez has a Most Valuable Player/Rookie of the Year season and two Cy Young candidates emerge from their rotation.
  • Jose Abreu hits .400 to go along with MVP Eloy Jimenez.


Tigers sunshine: They still have Miguel Cabrera.

Tigers clouds: They don’t have enough pitching or hitting to compete on a daily basis.

Let me begin by saying that I believe Miguel Cabrera will have a monster season. When I saw him in Florida he looked healthy. His swing was a bit tardy, but as the spring progressed, so did his approach at the plate. He remains one of the greatest right-handed hitters I have ever seen. He can change a game with one swing of the bat.

Sadly, there isn’t that much surrounding Cabrera in the lineup. As a result, he may not see that many good pitches to hit. Victor Martinez is gone, having retired. I think Nicholas Castellanos is a good player, but like third baseman Jeimer Candelario, he is inconsistent. The rest of the lineup is very weak. I like the fact second baseman Josh Harrison can get on base. Both he and shortstop Jordy Mercer came over from Pittsburgh as free agents. They are the new combination in the middle of the Tigers infield.

The outfield is really weak with Mikie Mahtook, Christian Stewart, Dustin Peterson and Castellanos. I see little hope this offense can produce runs.

Matthew Boyd is showing signs of increased velocity and better command as one of two lefties in the Tigers rotation. The other lefty, Matt Moore looked lost in his previous stint with the Rangers. He came to Detroit as a free agent. Tyson Ross signed with the Tigers as well. He looked really good in the start I saw in Florida. It remains to be seen if he can keep that up and even remain healthy.

Shane Greene and Joe Jimenez both have good enough arms to close out games. But the rest of the bullpen is very mediocre and I fear the middle-relief will be a season-long issue.

Sadly, the Tigers don’t have much immediate help on the way in their farm system. Longer term, pitchers Casey Mize and Matt Manning may provide some much needed rotation assistance when their development concludes. Outfielder Daz Cameron is at Triple-A, but I found him to be very underwhelming and overrated when I saw him in the Arizona Fall League.

The Tigers are a long way from being competitive. And it really is a shame to see such a great franchise struggle.

The Tigers win the Central if:

  • I am named a major league manager this season.


Jose Altuve
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris


Astros sunshine: Justin Verlander keeps getting better and is a fabulous mentor to outstanding starter Gerrit Cole.

Astros clouds: Will shortstop Carlos Correa’s health hold up for an entire season? He is already showing signs of disability.

The Houston Astros are so good, and the American League West is so mediocre beyond the Astros, I feel they are the only American League team that will win 100 games. The Astros will easily beat up every other AL West opponent.

I don’t think this edition of the Astros is as good as last year’s group. They have lost both Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel from the rotation. Those are big losses. However, prospect pitcher Forrest Whitley is on the horizon waiting for a chance to ease some of the pain from losing Morton and Keuchel. He will have to wait, but his time will come.

So with a weakened rotation overall, the team still trots out the incredible Justin Verlander as their ace, with a very good Gerrit Cole slotting right behind him. That’s a terrific and dynamic duo to have as the first two starting pitchers. But it gets a bit more average with Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock assuming the last three rotation spots. They will miss Morton and Keuchel, perhaps more than the team brass realizes. Yet.

But the bullpen is really solid. Roberto Osuna came over from Toronto amidst controversy last year. He’s a quality closer. Next in line is the underrated Ryan Pressly, who was traded by the Twins to Houston last year. Hector Rondon and Will Harris join Chris Devenski as mid-inning relievers. Josh James, a young right-hander may start in the pen as the long man, but he could find himself in the rotation if injury or poor performance require a starter.

Other than Verlander and Cole, it is the Astros offense that makes them so special. Pitchers will have to navigate through George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa (if healthy), newcomer Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel, designated hitter Tyler White, Josh Reddick and Robinson Chirinos. That’s a tough order. Even for the best pitchers in the league. Chirinos is an outstanding hitter that is still gaining recognition.

The Astros will pound the ball out of the park, hit both gaps with regularity and score runs in bunches. They will be a very tough club to beat.

The Astros win the West if:

  • They execute the fundamentals of baseball and the players perform to their expectations.
  • The rotation can get the ball to the bullpen with the team still in the game.


Mariners sunshine: An influx of exciting players compliments those who were already on the roster

Mariners clouds: Felix Hernandez is at the end of the road and it is very difficult to watch him struggle

Before everyone else in baseball started their season, the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners began their year in Tokyo, Japan in mid-March. In close games, the Mariners swept the A’s and begin the season with a 2-0 record. That may have some meaning as the season moves along

There isn’t a general manager more inclined to make moves than the Mariners Jerry Dipoto. His opening lineup this week will include 4 new players via trade and one new player via free agency. His rotation will include international import lefty Yusel Kikuchi from Japan

New to the lineup are Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnacion, Domingo Santana, Omar Narvaez and Tim Beckham. Those are some nice offensive weapons to have. Especially Encarnacion and Santana

They will be joined in the lineup by speedy outfielder Mallex Smith and Dee Gordon who returns to second base, Ryan Healy at third base and Mitch Hanniger in right field. Haniger is coming off an outstanding year. The offense should have plenty of balance between power and speed. It will be a fun team to watch.

The pitching staff could surprise as well. I’m optimistic about Marco Gonzalez as the rotation leader. Yusel Kikuchi isn’t overpowering, but he knows how to pitch and should be able to adjust to stateside hitters. Mike Leake is a problem for me. He’s way too hittable. The same goes for Wade LeBlanc and Felix Hernandez, who’s decline has been rapid and steep. However, Justus Sheffield waits in the wings as a rookie the team traded for. Justin Dunn is further away.

The bullpen will feel the loss from the trade of Edwin Diaz, probably one of the best closers in the game. He is now working for the Mets. Hunter Strickland, formerly of the Giants is the new closer. The bullpen also includes Cory Gearrin, Zac Rosscup, Matt Festa and a few other arms to help out. I’m not a fan of the pen.

The Mariners can pound the ball. They can steal bases. They’ll have to do both with a mediocre rotation and less than average bullpen. Still, I like their offense better than I like the Angels offense. And I don’t like either of their pitching staffs. I like their pitching better than the Athletics pitching. But that isn’t saying much.

The Mariners win the West if:

  • Pay telephone booths return to every street corner in America.


Athletics sunshine: Khris Davis is an awesome power hitter.

Athletics clouds: The team did not fix a weak starting rotation.

The Oakland Athletics had a fine 2018 season. Their problem was a lack of starting pitching. They may have a fine 2019 season. Their problem may well be a lack of starting pitching. They wasted the offseason by not fixing a very thin rotation.

Starting for the A’s will be Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Brett Anderson, Frankie Montas and Aaron Brooks. None are going to bring fear to the opposition. Each seems like a journeyman to me, clinging to hold on. However, the West division is very mediocre after Houston is considered. The Athletics could pound the ball and not have to worry about their starting pitching. They have enough good hitters to stay in games.

An unfortunate hamate bone injury to first baseman Matt Olson will require weeks of recovery. His loss is major.

The team still has Matt Chapman, Jurickson Profar and Marcus Semien to hit the ball out of the park. The big bat belongs to designated hitter Khris Davis who can hit a home run off any pitcher in any park at any time. He is that strong.

Stephen Piscotty is a very nice hitter hitting third in the lineup, right in front of Davis. He could have a very big year. Profar will move from second to first while Olson recovers. Chad Pinder fills the role at second base.

Blake Treinen is a superb closer. He will be joined at the back end of the bullpen by Joakim Soria and Fernando Rodney, both veterans capable of pitching well. Keep an eye on flame-throwing Lou Trivino as a sleeper in a very good bullpen that also includes Ryan Butcher, Yusmeiro Petit, and Liam Hendricks. I really like this bullpen.

Because they didn’t fix their rotation, I think the Athletics will struggle all year. When Jonathan Luzardo and A.J. Puk join the rotation after returning from injuries and graduating to the big leagues, I think the Athletics could take off as a contender

The Athletics win the West if:

  • All five of the starting pitching staff can keep their team in every one of 162 games with a lead going into the 8th inning.
  • Treinen, Soria and Rodney can close out 101 victories. Because that’s how many it will take to beat Houston.


This team has Mike Trout. No other team has Mike Trout. Mike Trout makes a difference in a team winning or losing baseball games. The Angels would be a sorry lot without Mike Trout.

The Angels open the season without the services of Justin Upton who has turf toe and Shohei Ohtani, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Those are two big bats to be missing from the lineup. And Ohtani would help as a starter if he were healthy.

The Angels signed Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey as free agent pitcher in the off season. The added a third starter, Chris Stratton via trade with the San Francisco Giants. The rotation also includes Felix Pena and Tyler Skaggs. I do think the rotation is more dependable than last year as well as being deeper. When healthy, Ohtani will slip in to a rotation spot as well.

The bullpen has been revamped a bit as well. Cody Allen came over as a free agent from Cleveland. If he pitches like he did last year, Ty Buttrey will be an important component of the pen. There are some interesting names in the bullpen, but I’m not very impressed. Hansel Robles, Justing Anderson and Cam Bedrosian are the mid-relievers.

Cole Calhoun has really struggled as a hitter. He’s a find defender in right field, but he hits right in front of Trout in the lineup. I’m not sure he’s the right guy for that role. My choice to leadoff would be shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a good offensive player with some good speed. Zack Cozart won the third base job. Brian Goodwin was signed off waivers to play in the outfield. Meh. Jonathan Lucroy is the primary catcher. The team will also have Justin Bour at first base, a guy with big time power. Albert Pujols remains as a designated hitter. So basically, the offense features several retreads and aging veterans.

Clearly, the Angels could slip in the lineup if Trout gets hurt and if they don’t get Upton back quickly. Calhoun has to show improvement at the plate.

The Angels win the West if:

  • There are three 20-game winners on their pitching staff.
  • There are seven .300 hitters with 15 homers each in the lineup.


Rangers sunshine: They get to move in to a new stadium in the near future.

Rangers clouds: The entire pitching staff from rotation to the bullpen is abysmal.

What happened to this once quality franchise? What happened to the Rangers teams that could win with good pitching and good hitting? Well, those teams are long gone. This edition of the Texas Rangers is just as bad as last year, if not worse. Last year they won 67 games. I project they will win one more game this year.

The Rangers didn’t sit still over the winter. They added pitching. New starters include Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller. Sorry, I’m not too bullish on any of them. Maybe they will each exceed my expectations. But I have seen a very mediocre Lynn and a very good Lynn. Which one shows up? I’ve seen a good Smyly and a bad Smyly. Which one shows up? All I’ve seen is a very bad Miller. I’m pretty sure which Miller will show up over the course of a season. If he can stay healthy. If he takes the ball and makes his starts.

The rotation also has Mike Minor and Edinson Volquez in the top two slots. Again, I’m not overly excited about that, either.

The lineup can be dangerous. Rougned Odor has always had potential. Is this the year he does the job? Elvis Andrus is getting a bit older and may slow down a bit. Hunter Pence made the club. If he stays healthy, Texas is a great place for him to hit. There is little doubt that Joey Gallo can hit tape measure home runs. Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman each have sneaky power and are getting better. I have no worries about the offense. They can hit and they can run. Delino DeShields Jr. has plenty of speed. But can he get on base to steal?

Jose Leclerc is the closer with Jesse Chavez and Shawn Kelley being the prominent guys behind him. It isn’t a formidable pen, at all. If the Rangers do get ahead in games, I think it will be tough for them to keep leads.

The games the Rangers do win may end at 10-9.

The Rangers win the West if:

  • Indeed, the moon is made of green cheese.


COME TO CUBA WITH US January 6-January 13, 2020

From January 6, 2020, until January 13, 2020, I will host a group on an educational trip to Cuba. We will start our journey in the beach town of Varadero and then head to Havana.

If the Cuban National Serie (their World Series) is anywhere near Varadero or Havana, we will go and watch incredible baseball. If there is no professional baseball, we will watch amateur games so our group can get the feel for Cuban baseball.

Cuba is like no other place I have ever been. The journey is life-enriching in every way. I love seeing hundreds and hundreds of 1950’s automobiles in every color of the rainbow.

I love visiting Hemingway’s estate and seeing the boat he used when he wrote “The Old Man and the Sea.” Everything comes to life right in front of our eyes.

Like me, maybe you’ll love talking baseball at the Hot Corner with Cuban natives who love the game and know the game very well. They get in heated arguments with each other

I loved going to the show at the Tropicana Nightclub where fabulous musicians of the 1950’s played to adoring crowds. The show is the same now as it was then. Beautiful costumes and wonderful music.

I loved staying at the iconic Hotel Nacional, where the mafia hung out and movie stars, baseball stars and politicians frequented the fabulous hotel in the 1950’s. Again, it all comes to life right in front of our eyes. Maybe you’ll stay in the room with the STAN MUSIAL plaque outside the door. Names of prominent guests who stayed in the room are posted on the door for all to see.

Maybe you’ll be like me and enjoy watching the old fashioned way cigars are made-live and in person at an old cigar factory. Or you may enjoy watching rum produced at the rum factory.

You will really like the fabulous restaurants we will frequent. In two trips to Cuba, I haven’t had a meal I didn’t really, really enjoy. And I’m a very picky eater.

Like me, maybe you’ll love hearing the government planner tell us about what is in store for the future of Cuba.

There is so much to see, to do and experience in Cuba. Take a taxi ride (probably about the equivalent of $1) in a 1952 Chevy convertible. Or just relax at the beach in Varadero, where our hotel is all inclusive and you can have as much beer, wine, alcohol, coffee, soft drinks and everything you want—-all on the house.

Interested? Email me for all the details at

Listen to Doug Hall and me on ShortHops podcast at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Earth and of course, right here at

Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff


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About the author

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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