With the regular season opening up this week, we look at the biggest question facing each American League club in 2021: Baltimore Orioles: Can the young players take the next step?The Orioles are ready to turn the page on a rebuild that started in 2018. Ryan Mountcastle, who impressed as a rookie with a .878 OPS in 2020, and Anthony Santander will lead the offense until 2019 No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman is ready to join the mix. The trio gives Baltimore enough hope that the worst is over.Boston Red Sox: Can the pitching staff keep up?The Red Sox won't have any problems putting up runs this season. However, preventing their opponents from scoring will be a different story. There's still no firm timeline for Chris Sale's return from Tommy John surgery, and many questions remain about Eduardo Rodriguez's durability after he missed all of last season with a heart issue. Ditto for the often-injured Garrett Richards and Nathan Eovaldi. Ron Vesely / Getty Images Sport / GettyChicago White Sox: Are they ready to flip the switch?The White Sox are expected to be one of baseball's best teams after they landed top starter Lance Lynn and star closer Liam Hendriks in the offseason. Chicago's young core is oozing with talent, even after Eloy Jimenez suffered a potential season-ending chest injury. The young slugger's absence could open the door for top prospect Andrew Vaughn to become an everyday player. It's always easier to play when the expectations are low, but now Chicago is expected to win.Cleveland Indians: Who steps up in Lindor's absence? It's borderline impossible to replace a player like Francisco Lindor with one person. He's a legitimate five-tool player who hits, runs, and defends at an elite level, so Lindor's value will have to be pieced together to help complement Jose Ramirez. Andres Gimenez should be able to step in at shortstop, and he has enough speed to match or exceed Lindor's on the basepaths. However, questions remain about his bat. Former Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario, powerhouse Franmil Reyes, and postseason standout Josh Naylor are the most immediate options to make up for Lindor's absence.Detroit Tigers: How far away are they from contending?Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize represent a step toward the envisioned rotation that will lead the Tigers back to the postseason. Matt Manning should eventually help form a trio of young arms, and Spencer Torkelson - last summer's first overall pick - could skyrocket through the minors. Still, 2021 will be a year of calibration to determine if players like Willi Castro, Victor Reyes, Jeimer Candelario, and Nomar Mazara - among others - are long-term pieces or eventual trade fodder. Playoff contention is now less of an abstract concept in Detroit, but it's probably a couple of years away. Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / GettyHouston Astros: Will Tucker and Alvarez become stars?The Astros need to fill the void left by George Springer after they let him walk in free agency. Yordan Alvarez looked like the second coming of David Ortiz when he blasted 27 homers in 87 games during his AL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2019. He missed most of 2020 after undergoing a pair of surgeries. Kyle Tucker, one of the club's most highly hyped prospects for years, had his own breakout season last summer and is poised to join the upper echelon of big-league talent. Houston won't miss Springer much if both can live up to expectations.Kansas City Royals: Can they disrupt the playoff picture?The Royals have a chance to surprise a lot of people in 2021. Kansas City's lineup is deep thanks to offseason acquisitions Andrew Benintendi and Carlos Santana, and the starting rotation improved with the addition of former All-Star Mike Minor. However, the bullpen will need some nostalgic performances from Greg Holland and Wade Davis to tread water.Los Angeles Angels: Can Ohtani hold up over a full season?While conventional wisdom suggests avoiding putting too much stock into spring numbers, it's impossible not to get excited about Shohei Ohtani's performance. He's batting .571 with a 1.701 OPS and five home runs in 32 plate appearances. Ohtani's been shakier on the mound (7.88 ERA in three starts) but he's struck out 14 in eight innings and his fastball is hitting 102 mph. There's room for growth, but the hope of Ohtani being a legitimate two-way star has not been extinguished.Minnesota Twins: Will they finally get over the postseason hump?The Twins seem to fall apart as soon as the regular season ends. Minnesota has lost 18 consecutive postseason games dating back to Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS. The lineup is largely the same as last year's, only without longtime outfielder Eddie Rosario. With the White Sox surging in the Central, it remains to be seen if the additions of Andrelton Simmons, J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, and Alex Colome - and eventually outfield prospect Alex Kirilloff - will be enough to keep pace. Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport / GettyNew York Yankees: Can the big boys stay healthy?The Yankees have been profoundly unlucky when it comes to injuries in recent seasons, and things are already looking shaky. Reigning home run champ Luke Voit will miss at least the first month of the season with a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. This follows Zack Britton's elbow surgery to remove bone spurs. The Bombers still have a murderers' row but the injury bug has bitten the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks with regularity, so nothing can be taken for granted. If they can avoid the injured list, it will go a long way toward the team's pursuit of its first AL pennant in over a decade.Oakland Athletics: Can they repeat as AL West champions?The Athletics are going to have to fight off the Astros and Angels for another division crown. Oakland downgraded at shortstop and closer after replacing Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks with Elvis Andrus and Trevor Rosenthal. The team has enough talent to finish first again, but it's going to be a tight race.Seattle Mariners: How much impact will Kelenic have when he's promoted?Even though Jarred Kelenic was briefly sidelined by a leg injury early in camp, the 21-year-old hardly missed a step. He went 6-for-20 with two homers and four walks to only one strikeout over 10 spring games. Kelenic has only played in 173 minor-league contests since being drafted in 2018 but he looks the part of a major leaguer. If reigning AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is sidelined longer than expected by a knee injury, Kelenic may get the call early on. Expect it to be permanent if he does. Mark Brown / Getty Images Sport / GettyTampa Bay Rays: How much can they get from Archer, Hill, Wacha?The Rays have a reputation for turning water into wine, but Chris Archer, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha are not even close to the type of pitchers Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are. Tampa Bay's new additions have struggled to stay on the field over the last few years due to injuries. The club will need to get creative to keep up in a division with three top offenses.Texas Rangers: How deep will the rebuild go?The Rangers are expected to be one of the worst teams this season. So, all eyes will be on Joey Gallo, who might end up being one of the top trade targets. Veterans on short-term deals such as David Dahl, Jordan Lyles, Mike Foltynewicz, and Kyle Gibson could also be moved for prospects if things quickly go south deep in the heart of Texas.Toronto Blue Jays: Who steps up behind Ryu?Robbie Ray and Nate Pearson are both nursing injuries, so Toronto's rotation options are even more limited than before. Steven Matz is the Blue Jays' next best option if he can expand on his spring performance. He's posted a 1.76 ERA while striking out 15 and walking just a pair over 15 1/3 innings. Ross Stripling finished with a strong spring outing Sunday, allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings. Otherwise, the Jays will be relying on Tanner Roark and likely either Anthony Kay or T.J. Zeuch as everyone else gets healthy.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
AL East AL Central NL West NL East NL CentralThe Astros and Athletics have dominated the AL West since 2017. It's expected to be more of the same this season, but the Angels could have something to say about that. The Mariners, meanwhile, have a budding roster that could do some damage, and the Rangers are rebuilding.Houston Astros Ezra Shaw / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 29-31 (2nd in AL West)Payroll: $204MO/U win total: 92-70World Series odds: +20003-year trend: 2018 (1st); 2019 (1st); 2020 (2nd)Highest projected WAR: Alex Bregman (5.8)X-factor: Yordan AlvarezKey injuries: Pedro Baez, Josh James, Austin Pruitt, Framber Valdez, Justin VerlanderProspect to watch: Pedro LeonWinter report card: B-Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Jose Altuve 2B 3.2 2 Michael Brantley (L) LF 2.5 3 Alex Bregman 3B 5.8 4 Carlos Correa SS 4.0 5 Yordan Alvarez (L) DH 3.5 6 Yuli Gurriel 1B 1.0 7 Kyle Tucker (L) RF 2.8 8 Myles Straw CF 0.9 9 Martin Maldonado C 0.9 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Jason Castro (L) C 0.9 Robel Garcia (S) IF 0.0 Aledmys Diaz IF/OF 0.3 Chas McCormick OF 0.2 The Astros lost George Springer in free agency, leaving a glaring hole in the lineup that they hope to fill with speedster Straw and the return of powerful designated hitter Alvarez. Otherwise, Houston enters 2021 with essentially the same lineup it used to reach its fourth consecutive American League Championship Series last year after rebounding from an underwhelming regular season.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Zack Greinke 191 4.26 Lance McCullers Jr. 148 3.76 Cristian Javier 109 4.92 Jose Urquidy 138 4.60 Jake Odorizzi 146 4.46 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Ryan Pressly 62 3.50 Enoli Paredes 58 4.11 Blake Taylor (L) 62 4.28 Joe Smith 56 4.12 Brooks Raley (L) 54 4.21 Bryan Abreu 26 4.26 Ryne Stanek 48 4.16 Luis Garcia 55 4.91 Houston is without Verlander for most, if not all, of the season while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The loss of Valdez due to a fractured finger for an undetermined amount of time is also significant, but it doesn't look as bad after the Astros signed Odorizzi. Pressly will move into the closer's role in a full-time capacity. Should he fail, the Astros have other options in Paredes, Stanek, and Baez (once he returns to form after a bout of COVID-19).Los Angeles Angels Masterpress / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 26-34 (4th)Payroll: $191MO/U win total: 86-76World Series odds: +40003-year trend: 2018 (4th); 2019 (4th); 2020 (4th)Highest projected WAR: Mike Trout (7.1)X-factor: Shohei OhtaniKey injuries: Luke Bard, Franklin Barreto, Felix PenaProspect to watch: Brandon Marsh (MLB.com: No. 53)Winter report card: BProjected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 David Fletcher 2B 2.1 2 Shohei Ohtani (L) DH 1.5 3 Mike Trout CF 7.1 4 Anthony Rendon 3B 5.4 5 Justin Upton LF 1.2 6 Jared Walsh (L) 1B 0.9 7 Jose Iglesias SS 1.8 8 Max Stassi C 1.8 9 Dexter Fowler (S) RF -0.1 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Kurt Suzuki C 0.4 Albert Pujols 1B -0.4 Jose Rojas (L) IF 0.0 Juan Lagares OF -0.1 The Angels boast one of the American League's most gifted lineups that should benefit from a healthy Ohtani, fewer at-bats for an aging Pujols, and the additions of Iglesias and Fowler. Trout and Rendon are two of MLB's best players, while Fletcher is one of baseball's most unheralded talents. A rebound from Upton after he posted an OPS below .725 in two straight campaigns would give Los Angeles a dominant top five.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Dylan Bundy 175 4.70 Andrew Heaney (L) 172 4.27 Alex Cobb 144 4.66 Shohei Ohtani 97 4.61 Griffin Canning 134 4.66 Jose Quintana (L) 156 4.45 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Raisel Iglesias 64 3.82 Mike Mayers 66 4.41 Junior Guerra 52 4.74 Alex Claudio (L) 55 4.28 Jaime Barria 50 4.72 Aaron Slegers 38 4.67 Chris Rodriguez 26 4.54 Patrick Sandoval (L) 43 3.93 The Angels' rotation and bullpen feature a lot of new faces, with Cobb, Quintana, and Iglesias highlighting the additions. Bringing the trio aboard should stabilize a rotation that looks fairly solid behind Opening Day starter Bundy and a bullpen that struggled to finish games last season; Buttrey was demoted after leading the team with five saves in 2020.Oakland Athletics John McCoy / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 36-24 (1st)Payroll: $99MO/U win total: 83-79World Series odds: +22003-year trend: 2018 (2nd); 2019 (2nd); 2020 (1st)Highest projected WAR: Matt Chapman (4.8)X-factor: Jesus LuzardoKey injuries: Mike FiersProspect to watch: A.J. PukWinter report card: BProjected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Mark Canha LF 2.0 2 Ramon Laureano CF 2.7 3 Matt Chapman 3B 4.8 4 Matt Olson (L) 1B 3.0 5 Sean Murphy C 2.4 6 Mitch Moreland (L) DH 0.1 7 Tony Kemp (L) 2B 0.7 8 Stephen Piscotty RF 1.0 9 Elvis Andrus SS 1.4 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Aramis Garcia C 0.1 Jed Lowrie (S) IF 0.1 Chad Pinder IF/OF 0.8 Ka'ai Tom (L) OF 0.0 The A's looks like contenders again despite losing Marcus Semien in free agency and trading Khris Davis to the Rangers for Andrus, who takes over at short. Along with the dynamic duo of Chapman and Olson, Oakland employs a rising star behind the plate in Murphy and underrated talents in Laureano and Canha. Lowrie and Moreland should be great for the Athletics' clubhouse and could provide the sort of low-cost value that's become synonymous with the franchise.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Chris Bassitt 176 4.38 Jesus Luzardo (L) 151 3.75 Sean Manaea (L) 161 4.23 Frankie Montas 145 4.18 Daulton Jefferies 66 4.22 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Trevor Rosenthal 62 3.63 Jake Diekman (L) 67 3.43 Sergio Romo 63 4.75 Lou Trivino 62 4.28 J.B. Wendelken 59 4.07 Yusmeiro Petit 70 4.75 Adam Kolarek (L) 53 3.87 Cole Irvin (L) 54 4.50 Oakland's rotation finished middle of the pack in several categories last season, but it should benefit from full campaigns from talented youngsters Luzardo and Puk. The Athletics' bullpen should be strong once again, with Rosenthal replacing the departed Liam Hendriks while Romo and Kolarek add depth to a group that ranked fifth in ERA and seventh in fWAR in 2020.Seattle Mariners Stephen Brashear / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 27-33 (3rd)Payroll: $91MO/U win total: 71-91World Series odds: +135003-year trend: 2018 (3rd); 2019 (5th); 2020 (3rd)Highest projected WAR: J.P. Crawford (2.6)X-factor: James PaxtonKey injuries: Ken Giles, Shed Long Jr., Andres MunozProspect to watch: Jarred Kelenic (MLB.com: No. 4)Winter report card: BProjected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Mitch Haniger RF 1.5 2 Dylan Moore 2B 0.6 3 Kyle Lewis CF 1.6 4 Kyle Seager (L) 3B 2.1 5 Ty France DH 1.0 6 Tom Murphy C 0.9 7 Taylor Trammell (L) LF -0.2 8 Evan White 1B 0.7 9 J.P. Crawford (L) SS 2.6 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Luis Torrens C 0.6 Sam Haggerty (S) IF/OF 0.4 Jose Marmolejos (L) 1B/OF 0.0 The Mariners return much of last season's lineup as they continue to develop a young core led by 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Lewis and defensive wizard Crawford. Trammell should also get his first crack playing above Double-A. The 23-year-old is an electric talent with speed for days and has looked spectacular in spring camp (.388 OBP, 1.016 OPS).Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP. PROJ. ERA Marco Gonzales (L) 180 4.50 James Paxton (L) 133 4.03 Chris Flexen 103 4.09 Justus Sheffield (L) 149 4.49 Yusei Kikuchi (L) 158 4.21 Justin Dunn 112 5.29 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ IP. PROJ. ERA Rafael Montero 63 4.01 Kendall Graveman 63 4.18 Anthony Misiewicz (L) 62 3.95 Casey Sadler 52 4.52 Keynan Middleton 56 4.35 Drew Steckenrider 10 4.45 Will Vest 28 4.56 Nick Margevicius (L) 37 4.68 Seattle's stable of starting lefties grew this offseason after the team reunited with Paxton following his two-year stopover with the Yankees. Paxton has incredible swing-and-miss stuff when healthy and should provide depth for a six-man group that features another new addition in Flexen. The Mariners' bullpen landed some power arms in Montero and Middleton, and both could close games at various points throughout the year.Texas Rangers Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 22-38 (5th)Payroll: $99MO/U win total: 67-95World Series odds: +100003-year trend: 2018 (5th); 2019 (3rd); 2020 (5th)Highest projected WAR: Joey Gallo (2.2)X-factor: Joey GalloKey injuries: Brock Burke, Willie Calhoun, Khris Davis, Jonathan Hernandez, Joely Rodriguez, Jose Leclerc, Brett MartinProspect to watch: Josh Jung (MLB.com: No. 63)Winter report card: BProjected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Isiah Kiner-Falefa SS 0.3 2 David Dahl (L) LF -0.5 3 Joey Gallo (L) RF 2.2 4 Nick Solak 2B 1.2 5 Nate Lowe (L) DH 0.8 6 Jose Trevino C 0.2 7 Ronald Guzman (L) 1B -0.2 8 Brock Holt (L) 3B 0.0 9 Leody Taveras (S) CF 0.2 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Jonah Heim (S) C 0.5 Adolis Garcia OF 0.0 Eli White OF -0.5 Charlie Culberson IF/OF 0.0 The Rangers' rebuild is in full swing after a disappointing 2020 campaign yielded a last-place finish. Texas' offense is built around Gallo, who should receive support from a couple of intriguing offseason additions in Dahl and Lowe. This team has a chance to hit a lot of homers.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Kyle Gibson 174 4.68 Kohei Arihara 128 4.65 Mike Foltynewicz 128 5.53 Jordan Lyles 133 5.50 Dane Dunning 130 4.64 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Ian Kennedy 32 4.47 Matt Bush 60 4.55 Josh Sborz 58 4.40 Taylor Hearn (L) 89 4.31 Brett de Geus 44 5.35 Kolby Allard (L) 53 4.57 Wes Benjamin (L) 52 4.80 John King (L) 38 4.14 Kyle Cody 104 4.94 With the exceptions of Gibson and Lyles, it's a new-look rotation for the Rangers after they traded Lance Lynn during the offseason. The starting five offers promise, but it's riddled with question marks. Arihara has never pitched in the majors, Foltynewicz hasn't been effective in more than a year, and Dunning is unseasoned. The bullpen is also plagued with injuries to begin the season. Closer Leclerc, set-up man Hernandez, and Rodriguez are all sidelined, creating opportunities for the returning Bush and non-roster invite Kennedy.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.