Phil Rogers

American Dream: All AL clubs contenders?

American Dream: All AL clubs contenders?

We could realistically have a season without a single American League team that loses 90-plus games.

That hasn't happened since pre-integration-era baseball in 1924, when Walter Johnson's Washington Senators won the eight-team league. Imagine how tense, how tight the competition will be this season if that transpires. How electrifying will September series be in the AL if teams are as bunched as they appear on paper?

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For decades, if not forever, the teams at the top of the AL -- mostly the Yankees, but more recently the Yanks and the Red Sox -- intimidated the competition. Teams maneuvered cautiously and settled for middle ground, feeling a rise to the top of the league was too ambitious. But those days are long gone, to the delight of fans everywhere (except maybe in New York and Boston).

Gray hoping for a monster 2016

There are no true rebuilding teams in the AL. Not at the moment, anyway. All three divisions feature five teams that are truly intent -- and quite capable, by the way -- of winning a division title.

Maybe you don't think the A's can win the AL West. After all, they lost 94 games last season, finishing 20 games behind the Rangers.

But Oakland stood out because it was the only team to lose 90-plus games in the AL. This marked only the third time since the institution of a 162-game schedule that the AL produced only one 90-game loser, strike seasons excluded. The balance that is so obvious this year was also in play in 2015.

And everything had to go wrong for the A's to have such a rough season. This is a team that won 88 games and went to the postseason the year before, after all. Oakland will be much better this season, and could wind up as contenders if free-agent signings Henderson Alvarez and Rich Hill are as good as Billy Beane expects them to be behind Sonny Gray. Ryan Madson, John Axford and Liam Hendriks will line up alongside Sean Doolittle in the bullpen, which will make life better for all the starters.

High Heat: Dan Duquette on Davis

Who other than the A's stands out?

There's some talk about the Orioles as the last-place team in the AL East, but this is a lineup that will include Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop, along with one of the best catching tandems in the Majors in Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph. They could use a front-of-the-rotation arm, especially with Wei-Yin Chen signing with the Marlins, but both Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are the kind of young arms who could fill that void and then some.

The Mariners and White Sox had matching 76-86 records last season, but should be seen as dangerous teams when given a mulligan. Neither dismantled. The M's did change management, with Jerry Dipoto replacing Jack Zduriencik as general manager and subsequently hiring manager Scott Servais, while the White Sox only turned up the heat on GM Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura.

Sale on fans, 2016 outlook

While the top National League teams are every bit as strong as any in the AL, there's no comparison at the moment at the bottom of the two leagues. Both the NL Central (Brewers and Reds) and East (Phillies and Braves) are home to two ongoing rebuilding projects, and the West features the Padres and Rockies, who haven't been able to deliver on their ambition.

According to standings projections over at FanGraphs, all 15 AL teams will win more games than those six NL teams. Those projections, which are powered by the Steamer projection system, have the Twins and Orioles at the bottom of the AL with 78 wins -- just six games under .500. Both clubs have the talent to win 90, though. (I'll humbly suggest that the impact that Korean slugger Byung Ho Park will have in Minnesota is being highly underrated.)

On the flip side, the Red Sox are projected as the AL's only 90-win team, with no other AL club projected for more than 86 victories. "How is that possible?" you might be wondering. The answer is simple: It's hard to pile up wins when you never get to play bad teams.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.