With the regular season opening up this week, we look at the biggest question facing each American League club early in 2023.
Baltimore Orioles: Are they ready to take the next step?
The young Orioles didn't make too many big moves after nearly crashing October last season, meaning that the kids - including Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Grayson Rodriguez - will again determine this team's success in 2023. A full season of Rutschman will help immensely, and the likes of Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, and Dean Kremer add even more solid homegrown pieces to an already talented group. But young teams also have to take their lumps. Last year, the Orioles had zero pressure and nothing to lose during their surprising run. While nobody's forecasting 100 wins, fans in Baltimore should be expecting a winning record and contention for a wild-card spot right to the end at minimum. That's a lot to ask of this very young squad, even if the talent is capable of getting there.
Boston Red Sox: How will all the new faces gel?
There was a lot of turnover in Beantown during the winter. Out went Red Sox mainstays Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Matt Barnes, and Nathan Eovaldi. Their replacements include veterans Justin Turner, Adam Duvall, Kenley Jansen, and Corey Kluber, plus Japanese star Masataka Yoshida. Top prospect Triston Casas is also set to play a prominent role in the big club, taking over at first base. Rafael Devers, armed with a rich new extension, is the unquestioned clubhouse leader, but that's about the only sure thing.
Chicago White Sox: Who gets the ninth inning?
With Liam Hendriks sidelined indefinitely, the White Sox closer role is open, although nobody's run away with the job just yet. It's a major conundrum for rookie manager Pedro Grifol. Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly both have plenty of big-league experience in the bullpen, but they've combined for just 22 saves in the majors. Aaron Bummer's become a staple of the White Sox 'pen, but his extreme splits could pose problems against right-handed hitters in the ninth. Reynaldo Lopez revitalized his career as a reliever and owns a powerful arm, but he has even less experience closing than Graveman and Kelly. If the White Sox go with the closer-by-committee approach, someone is going to have to eventually step up and cement themselves as the ninth-inning guy for Grifol until Hendriks returns.
Cleveland Guardians: Can the offense do its part?
There's zero questions as to whether the Guardians can pitch. Cleveland's rotation, fronted by former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and rising star Triston McKenzie, is as formidable of a quintet as any in baseball, while Emmanuel Clase leads a powerful bullpen that can shut down most lineups. But the Guardians can't win every game by a score of 2-1. Cleveland won the AL Central last year in spite of some serious offensive struggles. While the Guardians were the toughest team to strike out in 2022, they hit the second-fewest homers in the league, and their 99 wRC+ was the lowest among all playoff teams. Jose Ramirez is a perennial MVP candidate, but he can't do all the work himself. If the entire Guardians lineup can pull their weight consistently, there's no reason why this team can't waltz to a second straight division title.
Detroit Tigers: How much will the kids contribute?
It's another rebuilding year in Detroit, and that means even more focus on the many youngsters poised to carry this franchise forward. So much is riding on how this inexperienced group does when it's thrown into the fire. For former first overall pick Spencer Torkelson, it's a particularly big year, as he needs to finally make good on the potential the Tigers saw in him three years ago. Riley Greene and Kerry Carpenter are also going to be counted on for production on a daily basis. On the pitching side, Matt Manning and Spencer Turnbull will get chances to show that they can carry the rotation long term. The 2023 Tigers will only go as far as their young stars will carry them.