Baseball Blog: Three-Team Race in the AL (But Good on Ya, Mariners — The Drought Might End in 2018!)

Mitch Haniger is tied for the league lead in home runs with 10 for the Mariners, who are looking to end baseball's longest playoff drought (2001).

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the World Series will take place in either Boston, New York (x2, perhaps?), or Houston. The American League looks like a runaway for those three teams, with it being anyone’s guess who emerges.

The Red Sox lost their first home series of the year, dropping two of three to the Rays. They’ve admittedly looked a little shaky since being no-hit in Oakland last week, but nonetheless can make a case for being baseball’s best squad. At 20-7, they should be running away with the division, but here come the Yankees. Perhaps symbolically, the Yankees are 18-9 after a 99 start. I say symbolic because lest we forget, they last won a championship in 2009 and are looking to keep a nine-year thing going by winning in 2018 (they also won in 2000). And of course, the Astros are pretty good at baseball, too, what with having the game’s best starting rotation and a solid lineup.

So am I giving you any new information here? Not really. I also don’t need to tell you the race for a top two or three pick in the 2019 draft is on between the likes of Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, and Texas.

Can it really be this cut and dry already? It’s not even May yet, after all. I didn’t mention the Indians, because I’m far from sold. They will not be tested whatsoever within their own division this year, as the AL Central is clearly the worst in baseball. The starting pitching is really good, as is the bullpen (although Andrew Miller is currently on the 10-day DL). It’s the lagging lineup that worries me, and the fact that the Tribe has blown a two-game series lead in each of the last two years.

For a few weeks, the Angels had us snowed. But then they faced the Red Sox and Yankees at home, and went 0-6. Can you really feel that a club like that has the stones to put up a fight in a postseason series against the big dogs? They’ve played very well on the road, even taking a series in Houston last week, but Mike Scioscia’s club has plenty of warts.

And then there are the Mariners! The team with baseball’s longest playoff drought (2001) might finally break through and appear in the one-game wild card this season. Sure, you already know about Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Felix Hernandez. But how about Mitch Haniger leading the league in home runs with 10? How about Edwin Diaz leading the AL in saves by a landslide with 11? How about the team starting 11-6 on the road through 17 games? The signs are there that the Mariners, even in a relatively tough AL West, can finally break through in 2018. We are suddenly hearing from names like Ryon Healy and Guillermo Heredia, and the addition of Dee Gordon at the top of the lineup has paid big dividends. Oh, and don’t let me forget Jean Segura, who along with Haniger easily represents GM Jerry Dipoto’s best trade yet (Segura, Haniger, and Zac Curtis for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte).

If there is one glimmer of hope this year in the top-heavy Junior Circuit it might just be the Mariners. It is a slam-dunk that all three division winners will return to the playoffs this year, with the AL East runner-up nabbing the top wild card spot. That means that the Mariners would be the only fresh face in 2018, since it sure doesn’t look like the Twins are any sort of threat this season.

Do the top three teams have legitimate weaknesses? That’s debatable. The Astros certainly have bullpen woes, but that’s also nothing new. AJ Hinch figured out a way around his problems last October, eschewing Ken Giles in favor of starting pitchers. Adding Joe Smith and Hector Rondon haven’t made an impact yet (the best thing Smith brings to the Astros is Allie LaForce). But the starting pitching is as good as it gets, and the offense could be if/when it finds its stride. The Red Sox have potentially dominant starting pitching, a very sound bullpen, and a much more potent lineup than 2017 with the addition of JD Martinez. And the Yankees have baseball’s most dominant bullpen and most loaded offense. The only question is whether their starting pitching can match up with Boston and Houston.

So while summer drags on with the Big Three duking it out, just remember — go Mariners!

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