Miami Marlins

AL preview: The time is now for Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners' Nelson Cruz (23) smiles as he celebrates his two-run home run against the Cleveland Indians with Robinson Cano, right, during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Goodyear, Ariz.
Seattle Mariners' Nelson Cruz (23) smiles as he celebrates his two-run home run against the Cleveland Indians with Robinson Cano, right, during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Goodyear, Ariz. AP

How they'll finish in the American League and why:

1. Mariners: Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001 (the second-longest drought in baseball) but was only a game out of the wild card last year and picked up the best offensive weapon available in the offseason in 34-year-old power hitter Nelson Cruz. With Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and one of baseball’s best bullpens, Seattle is poised to make a Royals-like, wild-card run in October and reach the World Series for the first time.

2. Royals: Nobody should write off the defending league champions because they lost James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki. Baseball’s best bullpen remains intact and the additions of Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez will prove valuable. Yordano Ventura is going to win the AL Cy Young award and lead the team to its first division crown since 1985.

3. Angels: Mike Trout is going to win his second MVP award and Los Angeles again will have the best record in the AL. But it doesn’t have the pitching to win when it matters most. Andrew Heaney and Garrett Richards have bright futures but aren’t ready to shine in October yet.

4. Red Sox: New arrivals Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello have the folks in Boston believing this is going to be another worst-to-first turnaround. Adding an ace at the trade deadline could make that a reality, but David Ortiz, 39, is old and Ramirez and Sandoval both have to adjust to the AL. That smells like trouble come October.

5. Tigers: Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander will find a way to get Detroit into the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, but this Tigers team lost more than it gained in the offseason, and that’s why winning in the playoffs will elude them again.

6. Indians: Cleveland won 85 games last year, added Brandon Moss from Oakland and has one of the best young rotations in baseball led by reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. But the bullpen, which blew 22 saves last season (tied for fourth-most in baseball), remains a concern and will keep the Indians — Sports Illustrated’s pick to win it all — just out of October.

7. Orioles: Baltimore had the seventh-lowest ERA in baseball and probably doesn’t get enough credit for how good the starting rotation is. The healthy returns of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and a return to form by Chris Davis could offset the loss of Cruz to Seattle. But Buck Showalter’s club is due for a letdown.

8. White Sox: With Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana, the White Sox will have a much better ERA than last year’s, which ranked 27th in baseball. The additions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche, though, won’t be enough to help reigning AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu get Chicago back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

9. Athletics: Oakland barely made the playoffs last year and then said goodbye to Samardzija, Jon Lester, Josh Donaldson and Moss in the offseason. Sonny Gray and a young rotation will keep Oakland in the wild-card hunt for a while, but not deep enough into September.

10. Blue Jays: With one of baseball’s most potent lineups, Toronto’s 21-year postseason drought could come to an end. But the Blue Jays need young arms in the rotation Daniel Norris, Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez to pitch better than declining veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, and that won’t happen just yet.

11. Yankees: Things could get interesting if Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia return to form. But the more likely scenario is a healthy and semi-productive Alex Rodriguez gets traded to a contender (Dodgers or Angels) and fans in New York rejoice because they’ve rid themselves of at least one problem.

12. Astros: Newly acquired left fielder Evan Gattis is going to provide support for future All-Star George Springer. But until Houston cuts down on strikeouts at the plate (second-most) and picks more of them up on the mound (27th fewest) they will stay under .500.

13. Twins: Ervin Santana and Torii Hunter will make the Twins slightly better than last year’s 70-win team. But with all four of the other teams in the division playoff contenders, Minnesota will serve as the Central’s punching bag again.

14. Rangers: Injuries to Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo helped make 2014 a long season. This year, Yu Darvish (Tommy John surgery) will be to blame.

15. Rays: Quality pitching (3.56 ERA) couldn’t overcome an anemic offense, which scored the fewest runs in the AL last year. That story line will repeat itself in 2015. The newer one to emerge: All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria will ask out of Tampa.

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