Five Potential Winners of the 2018 American League Pennant – MLB Analysis

By Michael Wynn
Published on July 13, 2018
AL Pennant

The MLB All-Star Game is around the corner. I have had plenty of time to try and figure out which teams are poised to make some noise come October. Here’s what I’ve gathered.

The American League is bunched up at the top, with more than a couple teams vying for the top spot and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I want to focus my attention on the 5 teams in the American League that I feel have a golden opportunity to reach the World Series this season.

I have been studying and watching these teams compete all season long, yet I have no personal biases attached to any of these organizations. You are getting the perspective of someone who is just calling it like he sees it!

While some of these squads will surely be adding some depth to their starting lineups and pitching rotations before MLB’s July 31st trading deadline, these teams are already locked and loaded to make a serious push towards the Fall Classic.

I’ll start at the top with the team that has the best record in the league as of July 7th. They also happen to be the team I picked to win it all before the season even started!

Boston Red Sox

When you look at the Boston Red Sox lineup, it’s a pretty scary sight if you are an opposing pitcher. Starting with the top of the order, you’ve got 2015 AL MVP Mookie Betts.

The Bo-Sox starting right fielder is right on par with what Mike Trout is doing in Anaheim, and it’s hard to name more than a couple players in the world that play the game better and more consistently than Betts does.

What is so intimidating is that after Betts comes Andrew Benintendi, the left-handed left fielder who bats 2nd in the order. In just his second full season in Beantown, the former Arkansas Razorback has settled in as one of the premier all-around hitters in this league.

He can hit for average, and he can hit for power. He can steal bases, and he plays tremendous defense in the outfield. Should he continue the upward trajectory he is on, the Red Sox have themselves a guy who can become a without-a-doubt Hall of Famer. That’s how good this kid can be.

What is so crazy is that despite all the accolades and high praise I have shelled out for Betts and Benintendi, I haven’t even introduced the dude who hits third in the order and has a chance to win the Triple Crown this season!

At the time of this article, JD was leading the AL in home runs and RBI and was 4th in batting average. The dude who was brought in to hit homers and clean the bases is sporting a spiffy .327 average to go along with his whopping .642 slugging percentage.

The top 3 in this order isn’t just the scariest in all of baseball; it might be the most loaded top 3 of a batting order that I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve been watching and covering baseball for years.

Can I finally bring up their ace pitcher Chris Sale? The left-hander who led Major League Baseball with 308 strikeouts a season ago looks like his typical self and can be relied on when the team needs a big-time start.

Forget about Clayton Kershaw, folks. Nowadays, there is no more debating who the best southpaw starter in the league is. The answer is Chris Sale.

The way this lineup is clicking, I really wouldn’t bet against this team.

With the help they’re getting from guys like Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez in the back end of their rotation, I’d have a hard time putting my faith in another team beating the Red Sox in a 5- or 7-game series.

Perhaps their rivals in New York will have something to say about it.

New York Yankees

Right on the heels of the Boston Red Sox are the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers are playing fantastic baseball under first-year skipper Aaron Boone, and they are getting it done thanks to the long ball.

The Yanks have pounded out a remarkable 144 jacks through their first 84 games, which is 20 more homers than the next-closest team.

They recently put rookie sensation 2nd baseman Gleyber Torres on the shelf with a right hip strain, but the team hopes that the 21-year-old Venezuelan will be back shortly after the All-Star Break.

That’s about the only sap story going on for Yankees fans right about now because this lineup is stacked with talented pieces all around. Everybody knows about the power and persona that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton bring to the Big Apple.

But a guy like Didi Gregorius has also been outstanding this season and deserves some of the credit.

Speaking of credit, nobody deserves more for the early-season success of this team than SP Luis Severino. The 24-year-old who hails from the Dominican Republic has been nothing short of outstanding this season and is one of the frontrunners to take home the AL Cy Young award.

The reason I’ll give the edge to Boston in the AL East is because after Severino, the Yankees have a bunch of question marks in their rotation. CC Sabathia will be turning 38 later this month, and I’m not ready to trust the arm of Domingo German.

And I don’t want to hear any talk about Sonny Gray, because the Tennessee native has been downright awful this year.

They’ve got a lot of pizazz in NYC, and they hit lots of long balls. But when push comes to shove, I think Boston edges them out due to their extended pitching depth that the Yankees lack.

Houston Astros

I had a feeling that adding Gerrit Cole to this team was going to really beef up this starting pitching rotation and make it the best in the league.

However, I’d be lying if I told you I thought they’d still have a sub-3.00 ERA this late into the year and be giving up more than a half-run fewer per game than the next-best team.

The Houston Astros don’t just have the best pitching rotation in the American League; they have it by a long shot.

Justin Verlander seems to be getting stronger and stronger, and Dallas Keuchel is still dominant. Gerrit Cole has emerged as an ace in this league. Having Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton as your 4th and 5th options means that this team ready to seriously contend and repeat as World Series champs.

If you watched this team defeat the Dodgers in last year’s 7-game thriller, then you remember how potent this lineup is. The bad news is that star shortstop Carlos Correa is being hampered by a sore back and is yet to resume baseball activities.

This is certainly worrisome for A.J. Hinch, but this team is so deep that they should be able to withstand his absence.

They still have George Springer and Jose Altuve. Alex Bregman is a budding star in this league, and guys like Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick are solid role players that can contribute when called upon.

I’d be all aboard the train that’s picking this team to win it all, but something tells me they won’t get back to the World Series this season. It has less to do with the inefficiencies of Houston and more to do with how good teams like Boston and New York are.

I certainly wouldn’t count the Astros out; I’m just slightly leaning towards the Red Sox.

I haven’t even brought up another team who can’t be written off just yet: the Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland Indians

While the Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros are getting all the attention (and rightfully so), I actually think the Cleveland Indians are in as good of a position of any to capture the AL pennant. I know I picked Boston to win it, but I’d be far from surprised if Terry Francona’s boys get it done.

We have talked about some pretty incredible 1-2-3 batters with the lineups above, but the Indians’ top of the order is nothing to balk at. In fact, you could argue it’s as good or better than even the Red Sox top 3, and you might have a case.

Leadoff hitter Francisco Lindor isn’t just the best young shortstop in the majors anymore. He is the best ss in the big leagues, period, regardless of age or experience.

Outfielder Michael Brantley is finally healthy again and is playing really consistently for Cleveland. I can’t tell you how happy “Tito” is to have Brantley back as his everyday left fielder.

He’s hitting over .300 and has nearly a 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio – exactly the type of batter you’d want setting the table for the meat of the lineup.

That “meat of the lineup” includes Jose Ramirez hitting in the 3-hole and Edwin Encarnacion settled in as the cleanup batter. When you talk about AL MVP candidates, Jose Ramirez is right up near the top of the list, just as he was a season ago.

As sweet as this lineup is, it’s their pitching staff that has me really excited.

This isn’t just the Corey Kluber show, boys and girls. The Indians 2-3-4 of Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger can all shut hitters down, and they all strike batters out at a high clip.

I can’t promise you how this finishes up, but I can promise you that no team will want to face Cleveland come October. And you can bet your bottom dollar on that one.

Seattle Mariners

I must start this segment by saying the following. Given how legit the first four teams on this page are, I have a hard time envisioning the Seattle Mariners representing the American League in the World Series. But then again, I have certainly seen weirder things happen.

Unless they have a second-half collapse, Seattle should be able to lock up one of the two Wild Card berths, and that’s if they can’t chase down the Houston Astros in the AL West for the divisional crown.

The Mariners might not have a superstar that everyone has heard of and roots for, but don’t get it twisted here.

James Paxton is having an AL Cy Young-type caliber year, and Mitch Haniger has emerged as a stud outfielder. Nelson Cruz is a bigtime home run hitter, and speedsters Dee Gordon and Jean Segura help set the table at the top of the order.

There is no denying that Seattle has a plethora of offensive weapons, even with Robinson Cano shelved due to an 80-game PED suspension. Cano can actually return to his squad in mid-August and may even provide the late-season boost the team needs to contend.

But can Felix Hernandez give the M’s valuable innings down the stretch? Can they get solid production out of the back end up the rotation from guys like Mike Leake, Marco Gonzales, and Wade LeBlanc?

I wouldn’t count on either of those two things happening. Which is why, in the end, I think it’s a nice story in Seattle, but they aren’t true contenders.

Perhaps making a move before the deadline to bring in another arm would change the tune, but short of that, I don’t think the Mariners have enough.

The behemoths they are staring up at in the standings are just too tough.

Going Away

You can plainly see that the American League pennant is as up for grabs as it has ever been. I can’t remember a time when the top of each division has been so strong.

There are stars everywhere you look, and the biggest media markets like New York and Boston are right in the thick of it. The second half of this season is going to be one wild ride all the way to the finish.

I’m looking for the Red Sox to be the last team standing, but I won’t be caught off guard if the Yanks, Astros, or Indians can supplant them.

I guess I just have to continue following the action and see how it all plays out!

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Five Potential Winners of the 2018 American League Pennant - MLB Analysis
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Five Potential Winners of the 2018 American League Pennant - MLB Analysis
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Which team will rise to the occasion and represent the AL in the World Series? This American League Pennant preview lists a case for 5 teams who could win.
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