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The 2021 MLB season is just days away. Expectations are set, as we prepare for the first full MLB season in two years. However, who are the players that can move the needle for their respective teams when it comes to exceeding expectations? Here is the X-factor for every American League team in the 2021 MLB season.
American League East x-factors for 2021 MLB season
Tampa Bay Rays: Randy Arozarena
Arozarena is coming off a postseason run for the ages. The million-dollar question is whether his offensive brilliance, which featured him performing at an MVP-caliber level, was a glimpse into the future or a hot streak? Arozarena hitting at a high level gives the Rays a prominent hitter to lean on and helps them stay in contention given their surplus of pitching. Him performing at an adequate level makes the Rays a borderline playoff team.
New York Yankees: Luis Severino
Gerrit Cole is one of the three best starting pitchers in the sport, but his arm alone can’t get the Yankees to the World Series. Luis Severino and offseason additions Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon haven’t pitched a full season since 2018. If healthy and on top of his game, Severino can be the Yankees second ace. He gets considerable movement on his fastball and provides length. On the other hand, an underwhelming Severino continues the team’s ongoing rotation woes.
Toronto Blue Jays: Steven Matz
George Springer and Marcus Semien improve the Blue Jays offense and defense, but they don’t address the team’s weakness: starting pitching. Acquired as a reclamation project from the New York Mets, Matz has shown the ability to be a steady starter every fifth day. That said, he has been roughed up over the last two years. Hyun-Jin Ryu can’t carry this rotation by himself. Matz has to turn his career around for this aspect of the Blue Jays to be a reliable unit.
Baltimore Orioles: Keegan Akin
Outside of left-hander John Means, Baltimore starting pitching has flashed little promise in recent memory. However, Keegan Akin has some upside. The left-hander posted a 4.56 ERA and totaled strikeouts at an impressive clip across eight appearances (six starts) in an AL East division that has a boatload of heavy swingers. The Orioles have some capable players around the diamond; they need starting pitchers to boast about. Akin taking the next step would go a long way.
Boston Red Sox: Garrett Richards
The Red Sox have a health-plagued rotation (Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi). Free agent signee Garrett Richards is no exception, but he’s the only one of the aforementioned starters who pitched the length of the 2020 season (he spent last season with the San Diego Padres). The right-hander is a reliable groundball pitcher whose continued presence in the ballpark can add stability to Boston’s rotation. Without such stability, this will be a severely lacking unit.
American League Central x-factors for 2021 MLB season
Minnesota Twins: Kenta Maeda
Kenta Maeda had a Cy Young-Award caliber 2020 campaign, highlighted by a 2.70 ERA. The Twins project to have a balanced rotation but only if Maeda performs the way he did last season. An efficient, savvy Maeda forms a potent one-two punch with Jose Berrios. The Dodgers’ version of Maeda, a reliable but yawning starter, adds a new chapter to the Twins’ up-and-down rotation resume.
Cleveland Indians: Aaron Civale
The Indians are as good as any organization in MLB at developing starting pitchers, but they need that unit to be elite to make the playoffs. Aaron Civale getting back on track would add depth to their rotation. He’s a season removed from posting a 2.34 ERA across 10 starts, whereas he posted a 4.74 ERA across 12 starts in 2020. Civale is capable of catching hitters off-guard with his breaking pitches.
Chicago White Sox: Dylan Cease
The White Sox have a productive rotation headlined by Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. An advanced Dylan Cease takes them to the next level. Prior to tailing off a bit down the stretch, Cease was having a phenomenal 2020 campaign. The AL is top-heavy with the White Sox being a part of that power chain. They need as much fortifying as humanly possible to contend for the AL. Area for improvement exists in the back end of the rotation.
Kansas City Royals: Brady Singer
The Royals have a compelling positional depth chart. Their rebuild yielding positive results comes down to their rotation making a jump. Brad Keller did as such last season. Brady Singer could do the same in 2021. Singer posted a 4.08 FIP and limited damage across 12 starts in what was his first season in the big leagues. Him building off his rookie season adds credibility to the Royals’ rotation.
Detroit Tigers: Casey Mize
Mize is the Tigers’ top prospect, but he struggled mightily across his first seven starts in the big leagues last season. (Mize posted a 6.99 ERA). The highly-regarded right-hander is the expected future of this rotation. Yes, Spencer Turnbull is coming off an encouraging season, and Matthew Boyd logs strikeouts at a high rate. At the same time, the Tigers need Mize to live up to the hype of being the first pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. His progression is pivotal to their rotation’s outlook.
American League West x-factors for 2021 MLB season
Oakland Athletics: Jesus Luzardo
Is Luzardo best suited starting or coming out of the bullpen? Was his shaky 2020 the byproduct of an injured-riddled spring training? Can he be their ace? The A’s are founded on positional versatility and pitching depth. They need the latter to perform better than it did in 2020 (the A’s rotation was 16th in MLB in ERA last season). Luzardo is a compelling left-hander with ace potential. A dominant rotation keeps the A’s in contention.
Houston Astros: Jose Urquidy
Urquidy has been efficient and frankly pitched at a high level, but it has come in spurts. That has been a result of rotation depth (2019) and injuries (2020). With Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Forrest Whitley down with injuries, the Astros need some of their young starters to pick up the slack. Urquidy’s funky delivery can deceive hitters, inducing weak contact and easy outs. A healthy version of Urquidy can keep the Astros afloat until their rotation get healthier.
Seattle Mariners: Yusei Kikuchi
Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are all coming off encouraging seasons. That said, the Mariners need more to be an ambush playoff threat in the AL. Yes, Kikuchi has struggled to get his feet beneath him in the big leagues. At the same time, he now has two MLB seasons under his belt. The 2021 season could see him begin to turn a corner and serve as a reliable fixture in the Mariners rotation.
Los Angeles Angels: Griffin Canning
Dylan Bundy had a superb debut year with the Angels, and Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb are respectable pickups. With that said, the Angels need an ace to emerge: Griffin Canning can be that pitcher. He has gradually improved over his 28 starts in the big leagues, works out of trouble and looks poised to be a top-of-the-rotation arm. A jump to stardom for Canning gets the Angels in the playoff mix.
Texas Rangers: Dane Dunning
The Rangers need a boost from their rotation for the sake of their rebuild. Dunning, who was acquired from the White Sox for Lance Lynn in December, could move the needle for their rotation. The former first-round draft pick posted a 3.97 ERA and was able to evade midgame catastrophes across his first seven career MLB starts last season. Him making quicker work of hitters could be a bright spot in a likely dry 2021 season for the Rangers.