We’re through the first quarter of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, and the Boston Red Sox sit near the top of the heap in the American League — much to the delight of Sox fans who watched their team slog its way to consecutive playoff no-shows in 2014 and 2015.
At 25-16, the Red Sox boast the AL’s second-best winning percentage and the third-best mark in the majors, and with an offense that rans first in baseball in runs, the Sox are in as good of a position as anyone to make a serious run.
There still are a whole lot of games to play, though, and Boston is far from the only club with its eyes on an AL pennant. Here are a few of the teams the Sox should be most wary of:
Baltimore Orioles (24-14, first in AL East)
The case for: The O’s can mash with the best of them, and their pitching has been surprisingly good thus far, ranking fourth in the AL in team ERA. They’ve also prevented the Red Sox from gaining even the slightest bit of separation during Boston’s recent hot streak.
The case against: Orioles starting pitchers have thrown the fourth-fewest innings in the majors. No bullpen can handle that type of workload throughout an entire season.
Toronto Blue Jays (19-23, fourth in AL East)
The case for: They’re the defending division champs, came within two wins of the World Series last season and boast an absolutely stacked lineup featuring the likes of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson.
The case against: When those guys aren’t hitting, Toronto’s pitching staff isn’t good enough to carry the team. Right now, the Jays rank in the bottom half of the majors in most offensive categories, and they’re below .500.
Chicago White Sox (24-16, first in AL Central)
The case for: While their buddies on the North Side have received most of the attention this season, the White Sox have been one of the most surprising teams in baseball (we’ll get to the other in a second) thanks to a dominant pitching staff that leads the AL in ERA and starter ERA and ranks third in bullpen ERA. Jose Quintana and Chris Sale have been the two best starting pitchers in the AL, statistically speaking.
The case against: The White Sox’s lineup is nothing special, and closing out games has been an issue, as they’ve converted on just 61 percent of their save opportunities (25th in MLB). They also should face stiff competition in the Central from both the Cleveland Indians and the defending champion Kansas City Royals.
Kansas City Royals (20-20, third in AL Central)
The case for: As we just mentioned, Kansas City won the World Series last season, and it’s taken home each of the last two AL pennants. The core of that title-winning team remains intact.
The case against: Outside of their exceptional bullpen, the Royals haven’t done anything particularly well this season. They’ve scored fewer runs than all but one AL team, and their starters rank near the bottom of the pack in both ERA and WHIP.
Seattle Mariners (22-17, first in AL West)
The case for: The big leagues’ other upstart this season, the Mariners are on pace for their highest win total in more than a decade. Their pitching has been great (first in the AL in batting average against, second in ERA), and the only more productive AL offenses are Boston and Texas.
The case against: Like the White Sox, Seattle faces a tough battle within its own division. Plus the M’s are accustomed to being nowhere near the playoff race, so it’ll be interesting to see the toll a full summer of meaningful games takes on them.
Texas Rangers (22-19, second in AL West)
The case for: The Rangers are another team that can score a boatload of runs, and they’re playoff-tested, reaching the postseason in four of the last six seasons and advancing all the way to the World Series in two of those. Texas also has three starters ranked in the top 12 in the AL in ERA (Cole Hamels, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez).
The case against: Closer Shawn Tolleson appears to have lost his job, and the bullpen as a whole has been a glaring weakness for Jeff Banister’s club this season.
Thumbnail photo via Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports Images