2018 MLB preview: Texas Rangers

2017: 78-84

Last Postseason Appearance: 2016

Last World Series Title: NEVER WON A WORLD SERIES TITLE

2017 Recap

In 2016, Texas won 95 games and finished first in the AL West, but folded in the playoffs, getting swept in three games by the Toronto Blue Jays. With the same main core of players, the Rangers won just 78 games in 2017, and had a losing record, head-to-head, against Houston, Seattle and Oakland.

Elvis Andrus finished fourth in doubles, and sixth in hits in 2017. (Dallas Morning News)

In one-run games, Texas was 13-24. They had a losing record in both the first, and second half, and never led the division at any point of the season. The pitching staff finished last in the AL in strikeouts, 11th in runs, and 13th in walks allowed. The offense finished 26th in the MLB in runs, and 27th in hits.  However, Texas finished fifth in the AL in runs, mainly because they were third in the MLB in home runs. They also finished fourth in steals, which shows this team has plenty of power and speed.

Elvis Andrus had a career year, finishing fourth in doubles, and sixth in hits. He also hit a career high 20 home runs (Previous high was 8), scored 100 runs, and drove in 88 (previous RBI high was 69). Andrus also added 25 steals and joined Jose Altuve, Mike Trout, and Tommy Pham as the only four players to hit .290/20HR/20SB.

Although he finished second in strikeouts and hit just .209, Joey Gallo had solid 2017. In his first full-season, Gallo came in fourth in at-bats per home run, clubbing 41 bombs, which was fifth in the MLB. Yes, the average is low and he strikes out too much, but the .333 OBP isn’t terrible, and he draws a lot of walks (9th in MLB at 14.1% in BB%).

2018: Around the Diamond

Texas will be sending out virtually the same lineup as they did in 2016. Robinson Chirinos, who hit 17 home runs with a .360 OBP in just 88 games, will remain behind the plate. Around the infield will be Gallo, Rougned Odor, Andrus, and Adrian Beltre.

The Rangers will need Odor to bounce-back from last year’s blunder, as he hit just .204 with a .252 OBP, and struck out 24.9 percent of the time. He walked less than 5 percent and showed no discipline at the plate, as his .224 BABIP was the worst among qualified hitters. Fortunately, Odor hit 30 home runs, which was the third-most by a second basemen.

Although he battled injuries most of the year, the 38-year-old Adrian Beltre continues to perform at an elite level. In just 94 games, the 4x All-Star hit .312, and 17 home runs with a .383 OBP. He is in the last year of his deal, so expect Beltre to continue to play his heart out and be one of the best personalities in baseball.

Nomar Mazara has a bright future ahead of him. (Sporting News)

Left to right, the Rangers will showcase Willie Calhoun, Delino DeShields, and Nomar Mazara. Calhoun was acquired from the Dodgers in the Yu Darvish trade last July. He played in 13 games last year for Texas, and hit .265 with one home run and four RBIs. The 23-year-old has shown some power in the minors, hitting 27 HR in AA in 2016, and 31 HR in AAA last season. DeShields had 29 steals, which was tied for seventh in the bigs, and posted a .347 OBP in 120 games.

Nomar Mazara hit 20 home runs for the second straight season, and posted his first 100 RBI year. Mazara is just 22 years of age, and looks like he will have a long career in this league. Shin-Soo Choo hit 22 home runs with a .357 OBP in 2017, and will play the majority of the games at DH. Choo has a career .378 OBP, and has always been a solid talent.

On the Bump

The Rangers starters finished seventh in baseball in terms of WAR. The first four spots in the rotation look to be set. Cole Hamels had a down year in 2017, posting a 3.20 ERA, which was his highest since 2009. His walks have been up ever since he joined Texas, but he is still a great option for a number-one starter.

The Rangers will need Martin Perez to take a big step forward in 2018. (Sporting News)

Hamels will be followed by Martin Perez, Doug Fister, and Matt Moore. In 2017, Perez allowed the third most hits, and 10th most runs in the MLB. He needs to lower his ERA, but he is a reliable arm, throwing 185+ innings in back-to-back seasons. The veteran Fister showed glimpses of his younger self in 2017, but he will need to start games better if he hopes to remain in the rotation for the full-season. Last year, first time through the order, Fister had a 8.16 ERA.

Matt Moore is probably the biggest wild card. He was acquired this past December in a trade, after being one of the worst pitchers in 2017. Moore had a 5.52 ERA (7.22 on the road), 1.532 WHIP, and had the third-highest OPS against among qualified starters. He lost velocity on his fastball and has really never been the same since his Tommy John surgery in 2014. Before the surgery, Moore was 29-17 with a 3.53 ERA, and an opp. SLG of 3.65. Since, he is 22-31 with an ERA of 4.85, and an opp. SLG of .438.

The fifth starter spot will be a battle between Mike Minor, Matt Bush, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Ronald Herrera, and Yohander Mendez. Minor, who was a starter with Atlanta, posting a 2.55 ERA as a reliever in 2017 for Kansas City, probably has the best shot at earning the final spot in the rotation.

Alex Claudio will start out as the closer. In his career, over 162 innings, Claudio is 9-4 with a 2.66 ERA and a 1.152 WHIP. He had 11 saves last season, which was the most among all Texas relievers.

The Future

Joining Willie Calhoun on MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects’ list is Leody Taveras, who checks in at No. 34 on the list. Just 19 years of age, the switch-hitting outfielder is cousins with the 2008 MLB stolen-base leader, Willy Taveras. Speed runs in the family, as Leody stole 20 bases in 134 games in A-ball. He has the ability to play all outfield positons and, last season, hit eight home runs with seven triples as a member of the Hickory Crawdads.

2018 Prediction: 77-85

Texas has plenty of power and speed in the lineup, but the lack of pitching depth in a tough division is a glaring issue. Besides for Hamels, it is hard to rely on anyone in this staff, so expect more of the same for the Rangers.

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2018 Oakland Athletics preview

2018 MLB preview: Oakland Athletics

2017: 75-87

Last postseason apppearance: 2014

Last World Series title: 1989

2017 Recap

2014 was the last year in which the A’s finished above .500. They won 88 games with players like Sonny Gray, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Jon Lester, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija, but ultimately lost to the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card Game.

2018 Oakland Athletics preview

Matt Olson hit 24 home runs in just 59 games. (Photo from Athletics Nation)

Gray was the only player named above that was on the 2017 team, and he was traded at the deadline. With that said, not much was expected from the low-payroll A’s, who finished 27th in batting average with runners in scoring position and in runs on the road. They were 25th in bullpen ERA, and only three teams had more than Oakland’s 25 blown saves.

 

However, Oakland had the fifth highest OPS in baseball after the All-Star break, so they do have some momentum, and clearly some pop as they head into 2018.

Khris Davis enjoyed his second straight season with at least 40 home runs as he clubbed 43, which was fourth in baseball. He also finished seventh in RBIs.

Jed Lowrie had a career year, as the second basemen led the team in WAR while finishing second in the MLB in doubles, with a career best .360 OBP. Oakland’s 2014 first-round pick, Matt Chapman, was seventh in defensive WAR and hit 14 home runs in just 84 games.

The biggest surprise was first baseman-outfielder Matt Olson. The 47th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft hit 24 home runs, with a .352 OBP in just 59 games. His 13 September home runs was a rookie record, and the 23-year-old also managed to hit a home run in five straight games. The 24 home runs was tied for the third most home runs in a player’s first 65 games.

The other Matt, Matt Joyce, hit a career-high 25 home runs, and crushed righties, posting a .509 SLG. Yonder Alonso, now with Cleveland, made his first All-Star team, and hit 22 home runs with a .369 OBP in 100 games for Oakland.

2018: Around the Diamond

No Alonso and no Ryon Healy means we will be seeing a full season of Matt Olson at first base. Jed Lowrie will remain at second, while Marcus Semien, who played in just 85 games last year because of a wrist injury, will hold down shortstop. In his 85 games, Semien was able to hit 10 home runs and steal 12 bases. Don’t forget, in 2016, he slugged 27 home runs.

2018 Oakland Athletics preview

Khris Davis has hit 85 home runs over the last two seasons. (Photo from Bleacher Report)

Matt Chapman will continue to play great defense at the hot corner, but he desperately needs to get his strikeouts down. He struck out 28.2 percent of the time with the major league club in 2017, but an even worse 30.9 percent in his 49 games at Triple-A.

Catcher will be a platoon job between Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley. Khris Davis, who played 116 games in left field last year, will be the primary DH, so look for his numbers to possibly go even higher.

Playing in left, in place of Davis, will be a mix of Matt Joyce, Chad Pinder and Brandon Moss. Moss was acquired from the Royals and hit 22 home runs last year and 28 in 2016. Obviously, Joyce will be the starter, but he is terrible against lefties, hitting just .186 last year, so Pinder (.247 against lefties) and Moss (.271) will see some action.

As of right now, the 23-year-old rookie, Dustin Fowler, is in line to start in centerfield. Fowler, who was traded in the Sonny Gray deal, made his MLB debut for the Yankees on June 29, but it was as rough of a start to a career as you can expect.

While chasing down a fly ball, Fowler ran into the wall and hit his knee on an electrical box. He was carted off the field and diagnosed with an open rupture of the right patellar tendon. He did not even get to step in the batter’s box. To make matters worse, he was due up first in the next inning.

Fowler hit .293 with 13 home runs in 70 Triple-A games and expects to play by the end of February.

Boog Powell, .358 OBP in 52 games, will also get some time in center field.

In right field will be former first-round pick, and California native, Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty was acquired from the Cardinals in a trade in December. Not only is this a great baseball move, but Piscotty is also able to now be closer to his mother, who is battling ALS.

Although he struggled in 107 games last year, Piscotty still posted a .342 OBP. In 2016, he hit 22 home runs with a .343 OBP, so expect a nice 2018 season from him as he is able to ball and be close to his family.

On the Bump

Unfortunately, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson will not be suiting up for Oakland in the year 2018. This is a staff with a lot of question marks, but also has some guys who could surprise people.

This may sound crazy, but Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea are really the only locks to be in the rotation. Six guys, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn and Chris Bassitt, will be fighting for the last three spots. Realistically, you have to imagine Mengden will make the rotation after posting a 1.54 ERA in five starts in the second half.

Cotton and Gossett pitched the most innings out of these six, but combined to allow 49 home runs in 220 1/3 innings. Still, Cotton has one of the best changeups in the game, and will make this rotation because of his upside. But don’t sleep on Blackburn, who posted a 3.22 ERA in 10 starts.

Blake Treinen, who was acquired in the Sean Doolittle trade, will be the closer. As a member of the A’s in 2017, Treinen thrived, posting 13 saves, as well as a 2.13 ERA. Oakland still has former Giants closer, Santiago Casilla, as well as Liam Hendriks, who struck out 78 batters in 64 innings in 2017.

The Future

Oakland has four players who cracked MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. Headlining the list is the No. 32 prospect, and second-best LHP prospect, A.J Puk. Puk has arguably the best slider among any prospect, and was taken sixth overall by Oakland in the 2016 draft. Puk’s fastball fires between 93-97 mph and he strikes out batters with ease. In 125 innings between A+ and Double-A, Puk struck out 184. He is a giant at 6-foot-7, and is seen as a legitimate No. 2 starter.

2018 Oakland Athletics preview

A.J. Puk is the future for the A’s. (Photo from Mercury News)

Behind Puk is Jesus Luzardo (No. 60), Franklin Barreto (No. 66), and Jorge Mateo (No. 72). Luzardo, a LHP like Puk, has dealt with injuries and Tommy John surgery in 2016. In Rookie ball and Class A short-season, Luzardo posted a 1.66 ERA in 43.1 innings.

Barreto, shortstop-second baseman, played in 25 games for the A’s in 2017, but struggled, hitting just .197. Still, the middle infielder has put up solid numbers in the minors, hitting .290 with 15 home runs in 111 games at Triple-A in 2017. He will ultimately need to cut back on the strikeouts in order to see some consistent time at the MLB level.

Jorge Mateo is widely regarded as the fastest runner among all prospects. The shortstop-outfielder had 82 steals to lead the minors in 2015, and 52 more in 2017. Shortstop is his main position and he is a nice all-around player who scouts believe has a ceiling of about .275 with 15 home runs.

2018 Prediction: 71-91

With the amount of power the lineup possesses, this team could be fun to watch, but the lack of overall talent is concerning. Graveman can never seem to stay healthy, and the rest of the guys are highly suspect.

A full season of Matt Olson will be fun, and Khris Davis is almost a lock for 30 home runs. But in a division with the Astros, Angels and Mariners, the A’s will have a hard time creeping up in the standings.

 

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2018 MLB preview: Seattle Mariners

2017: 78-84 (third place in AL West)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2001

Last World Series Title: NEVER WON A WORLD SERIES (Joined the AL as an expansion team in 1977)

2017 Recap

In 2016, the Mariners won 86 games, but finished three games out of the Wild Card. With some big additions for 2017, Jean Segura, Yovani Gallardo, Mitch Haniger, and Jarrod Dyson, Seattle fell below expectations and won just 78 games. This marked the 16th straight season in which the Mariners failed to make the postseason, which is not only longest current streak in the MLB, but also the longest postseason drought within the Big Four North American Sports.

So what went wrong? Among the 15 AL teams, Seattle’s offense finished sixth in batting average and on base percentage, seventh in runs and hits, which isn’t terrible. As far as pitching, the Mariners staff finished seventh in the AL in runs, and allowed the fifth fewest walks. So when you look at the numbers, Seattle is pretty average at everything, which is not the worst characteristic in baseball.

A glaring number that defines Seattle’s 2017 season was 26. Last season, the Mariners blew a league-high 26 saves. A few less blown saves and this team is easily in the hunt for a spot in the Wild Card Game.

Nelson Cruz hit 39 home runs and had a career high .375 OBP in 2017. (Grantland)

Of course, there were plenty of players who performed well for Seattle in 2017. Nelson Cruz’s 39 home runs was good for sixth in the MLB. He also finished fifth in RBIs, ninth in adjusted OPS, and had a career high .375 OBP. Cruz was the best DH in the league this year, and should continue to mash in 2018.

Mike Zunino finally looks like the catcher the Mariners had hoped for when they selected him third overall in the 2012 MLB Draft. Zunino was sixth in WAR among catchers, and hit 25 home runs with a .331 OBP. In the second half of his breakout year, the 26-year-old hit .281 with 13 home runs.

Seattle’s best pitcher was James Paxton. Paxton had multiple stints on the disabled list, but made the most of his time on the field. He was the AL Pitcher of the Month in July when he went 6-0 with a .79 WHIP. Paxton finished the year with a 12-5 record, 2.98 ERA, and 156 strikeouts in 136 innings.

2018: Around the Diamond

Like the previous offseason, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto made plenty of moves to spruce up his ball club, in hopes of finally getting back to the postseason. The biggest move was the trade for Dee Gordon. Seattle already has future Hall of Famer, Robinson Cano, at second, but the Mariners traded for Gordon to play centerfield. He is clearly quick enough, having led the majors in steals in three of the last four seasons, and he has shown great ability with his glove, having won a Gold Glove in 2015. With Miami in 2017, Gordon hit .308 with 114 runs scored and a .341 OBP. He also stole 60 bases last season, which is almost double the amount that the AL Steals leader, Whit Merrifield (34) had in 2017. With that said, the Mariners should easily lead the AL in steals.

Last season, Dee Gordon hit .308 and stole 60 bases  (Seattle Times)

With Gordon at the top of the order, Seattle now has a pretty lethal offense. Especially with the addition of Ryon Healy to play first base. Last season, the Mariners got little to no production out of the first base positon, finishing 23rd in WAR for 1B. In comes Healy, who hit 25 home runs last year, and .314 against lefties. He doesn’t walk enough, and strikes out a bit too much, but he is clearly an upgrade at the position. Healy will be out 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery to remove bone spur from his right hand, but it is not considered a big deal and he should be fine for the season.

On paper, this Seattle team should do some damage. Even though Cruz is getting up there in age, he is still the best DH, and one of the best power hitters in the game. Zunino is one of the best power-hitting catchers in the league, and Cano is still a top-5 second basemen. In 2017, Cano hit .280 with 23 home runs and 33 doubles. The Mariners will also have a healthy Jean Segura, who hit .300 with 11 home runs with 22 steals in just 125 games, at shortstop. Let’s not forget that, in 2016, Segura was an MVP candidate.

If they hope to make a playoff run, The Mariners desperately need Kyle Seager to get back to his 2016 self. That year, he finished 12th in MVP voting and hit 30 home runs with a .359 OBP. Last season, he hit just .249 with a .323 OBP, and his 107 OPS+ was the worst of his career since becoming a full-time starter. He still hit 27 home runs, but needs to be better in 2018.

Joining Gordon in the outfield will be Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger. Haniger was fantastic in 2017, that is, when he was on the field. He missed a lot of time because of injury but was able to hit .282 with 16 home runs and .352 OBP in only 96 games. Ben Gamel hit .323 in the first half and finished at .275 with 11 home runs.

On the Bump

Not only did Seattle make moves to help with the offense, but they also brought in veteran pitcher Mike Leake. Leake is coming off a solid season, in which he posted a 3.1 WAR, the highest of his career. He had a rough second half, but this is a guy who can give you innings. Leake has thrown at least 175 innings over the last six seasons.

Paxton looks to be in line to start Opening Day, but let’s not forget about Felix Hernandez, who was the face of this organization for so many years. Hernandez was banged up last year and posted a 4.36 ERA, which was his worst since 2006. He also gave up 1.77 HR/9, a career high for the former CY Young Award winner. Yet, this was only in 86.2 innings, and Felix is healthy and ready to go in 2018. Although the man has already thrown over 2500 innings, there has to be something left in the tank.

Rounding out the rotation will be Erasmo Ramirez, and Ariel Miranda. Although, Hisashi Iwakuma, when healthy, and Marco Gonzales should also start some games. Edwin Diaz, who finished eighth in saves last year, will remain the closer. Diaz has great stuff, but gave up 10 home runs in 66 innings last season. If Diaz struggles, Seattle has guys like Juan Nicasio, David Phelps, and Nick Vincent, who are all capable of giving you quality innings out of the bullpen.

The Future

The Mariners top prospect is their 2016 first round pick, Kyle Lewis. Lewis, a 22-year-old outfielder, missed half of last season while recovering from knee surgery. Still, he was able to 7 home runs and 31 RBIs in 49 games between R/A+. In six playoff games for Modesto, Lewis hit .393 with six RBIs. He is now fully healthy, and the plan is to work his way up to AA at some point in 2018.

 

2018 Prediction: 86-76

They will have to fight off the Angels, but Seattle should end their playoff drought in 2018. Had they not blown 26 saves last season, they would have had a shot, and now, with key additions to the lineup and a healthy rotation, there is no reason for Seattle to struggle again. They have a legitimate offense and if they can play better against Houston and Los Angeles, they will be fine.

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2018 MLB preview: Los Angeles Angels

 

2017: 80-82 (second place in AL West)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2014

Last World Series Title: 2002

2017 Recap

Although the Angels finished second in the AL West, they were ultimately 21 games back from first place and last led the division on April 13th. Against World Series champion Houston, the Angels went 7-12, and against the Texas Rangers, who won just 78 games, Mike Scioscia’s squad went 8-11.

The loss of Mike Trout, who played in just 114 games because of thumb surgery, obviously derailed this team from getting over the hump. Despite missing nearly 50 games, Trout, who would be a Hall of Famer if he retired today, joined Barry Bonds (1993) as the only players to have a season with at least 33 home runs, 20 steals, slugging percentage of .629 and an OPS+ of 187.

The best player in the game, Mike Trout (USA Today)

Trout also finished first in offensive win percentage and OPS, second in offensive WAR and OBP, third in slugging percentage, fifth in at bats per home run, and sixth in walks. Can you imagine the type of numbers he would have put up, had he not gotten injured?

The Angels led the league in steals, which is great, but they also finished near the bottom in a lot of other major offensive categories. As a team, Los Angeles finished 22nd in runs/game, 23rd in OBP, 24th in HR/game, 27th in SLG, 28th in batting average, and 29th in hits/game.

On the plus side, Andrelton Simmons had a career year. The shortstop finished first in defensive WAR, and eighth in overall WAR. “Simba” hit .278 with 14 home runs, 19 steals, and 77 runs scored. He, along with teammate Martin Maldonado, earned a Gold Glove Award, marking the third of Simmons’ career.

Even without Garrett Richards for essentially the whole season, the Angels pitching was not all that bad. Among the 15 American League teams, they had the third fewest walks, and the sixth best ERA. Their bullpen wasn’t too shabby as well, finishing with the fourth most strikeouts and the fifth best ERA in the AL.

2018: Around the Diamond

After finishing near the bottom in almost all the offensive categories, the Angels revamped their lineup, and head into 2018 as a serious playoff contender. This offseason, Los Angeles signed second basemen Ian Kinsler. Kinsler, who struggled last season, hitting just .236 with a .313 OBP, is out of his prime, but can still produce. 2017 was probably his worst season as a pro, yet he still hit 22 home runs and scored 90 runs for Detroit.

The Angels also welcomed in Zack Cozart to play third base. Cozart is coming off a career year with the Cincinnati Reds. He was named an NL All-Star and finished the year hitting .297 with 24 home runs and a .385 OBP. The Angels finished 27th in WAR for 3B, and 30th for 2B so bringing in Cozart and Kinsler is a huge positive.

Maldonado, who played a career high 138 games last season, will remain behind the plate, while Simmons will, of course, still be at shortstop. First base will most likely belong to CJ Cron, a former first round pick who hit 16 home runs in 2017. Luis Valbuena, who hit 22 home runs but batted just .199, will also get reps at the corner positions.

The Angels need Justin Upton to mirror his 2017 stats in order to make a run. (SI.com)

Last August, the Angels traded for Justin Upton, who, last season, hit a career high 35 home runs and had a .361 OBP, which was his highest since 2011. He hit .344 against lefties and 23 home runs against righties. The veteran outfielder also excelled with RISP, hitting .336 with 10 home runs. Because of his stellar season, the Angels signed him to a five-year, $106M deal.

Kole Calhoun, who has had four straight seasons of at least 17 home runs, will remain in right. The Angels also have the best player in the league playing center so this outfield for a full-season will be dangerous.

Unless your Tom Brady, father time catches up to everybody. Unfortunately, the Angels are seeing this with Albert Pujols. Pujols saw his OBP dip below .300 for the first time in his career and had a -2 WAR, the first time his WAR had ever been below zero. Pujols will be the primary DH, but it is assumed he will get less at-bats than previous seasons. Still, the future Hall of Famer hit 23 home runs and hit .324 in high leverage situations.

One player that could also get some time at DH is the “Japanese Babe Ruth”, Shohei Otani, but let’s give him a proper introduction as a pitcher.

On the Bump

Otani is listed as the number one prospect in all of baseball. He is the biggest story in 2018, as he hopes to pitch and occasionally hit in the MLB. His fastball has touched 102, while his splitter and hard slider are devastating strikeout pitches. He does have an elbow injury, but the Angels are not too worried.  In 2017, on the mound, Otani went 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA. The year before, in 140 innings, Otani struck out 174 batters and posted a 1.86 ERA. We will have to wait and see how Mike Scioscia will use him.

Otani has arrived. (DailyNews)

Two pitchers to keep an eye on are Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, who both dealt with injuries in 2017. Richards has made just 12 starts over the last two seasons, but is poised for a comeback in 2018. Last season, in 27.2 innings, Richards had a 2.28 ERA and a .904 WHIP. He has shown he can be an ace when healthy, but we will have to see if he can stay on the field.

Shoemaker missed almost the entire second half of 2017 because of a forearm injury. He posted a 4.52 ERA, but is now healthy and good to go.

Tyler Skaggs could be a major sleeper in fantasy baseball for 2018. Skaggs has dealt with injuries throughout the start of his career, but the former first round pick pitched well in the minors and has the stuff to be a quality starter in this league. In 2017, Skaggs started 16 games and posted a 1.388 WHIP. Andrew Heaney, Parker Bridwell, and JC Ramirez, who won 11 games last year, will all be fighting for starts at the end of the rotation.

The Angels hope last year’s bullpen can keep the momentum going into 2018. They brought in veteran Jim Johnson, who could close out some games, but let’s not forget that the Angels had eight different relievers record a save in 2017. Cam Bedrosian looks to be the front-runner to be named the closer.

The Future

Aside from Otani, the Angels have three other members in MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects” list. Two outfielders, Jo Adell (No. 62), and Jahmai Jones (No. 93), as well as infielder Kevin Maitan (No. 87). Adell, the Angels first-round draft pick in 2017, had a tremendous start to his professional career. The 10th overall pick hit .325 with 5 home runs in 49 Rookie-Ball games. He is only 18 years old, so give the kid some time to grow.

Jones, whose father and brother played in the NFL, is a raw athlete who has exceptional speed on the base path. In 127 games between A/A+, Jones hit .282 with 14 home runs and 27 steals. Jones is expected to make his MLB debut in 2019.

Kevin Maitan, like Adell, is also just 18 years of age. According to MLB.com, “The Venezuelan teenager had been compared to Miguel Sano and his ceiling has been put side-by-side with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones.” However, he had a poor start to his professional career in 2017, batting just .241 with 2 home runs in 42 games.

2018 Prediction: 84-78

The Angels will be right in the hunt for the second Wild Card and should get over the hump in 2018. They are in a tough division, but they have the best player in the league, and have made key additions to the lineup. Otani will be exciting, and if the rest of the rotation can stay healthy, there is no reason as to why this team will not be in the playoff hunt when all is said and done.

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2018 Kansas City Royals preview

2018 MLB preview: Kansas City Royals

2017: 80-82 (third place in AL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2015

Last World Series title: 2015

2017 Recap

Falling one win shy of winning it all in 2014 and then following that season up with a World Series title in 2015, Kansas City’s success was beautiful, but it has run its course. 2017 was understood to be the last season in which the Royals had possession of all three of their best offensive players, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Unfortunately, the team was unable to do much damage.

Kansas City had a terrible April, going just 7-16, and was never able to own first place in the AL Central over the course of the entire season. They had losing records against the Twins, White Sox and Indians, which made it hard for the Royals to ever gain any momentum.

A team that finished top-five in the AL in ERA from 2013-15, Kansas City finished 10th this past season and 16th in the majors in terms of bullpen ERA. Good pitching had been their identity, and without it, the Royals are just an average ball club.

2018 Kansas City Royals preview

Eric Hosmer was tremendous in 2017. Will he re-sign with Kansas City? (Photo from Royals Review)

Among the AL teams, the Royals offense finished 11th in slugging and home runs, 12th in OPS, 13th in runs and dead-last in OBP. Salvador Perez was able to hit 27 home runs, but had just a .297 OBP. Mike Moustakas, who finished eighth in home runs with 38, had a .314 OBP.

Luckily for Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, two players who were hoping for a big payday after the 2017 season, both had tremendous seasons. Hosmer finished fifth in hits, eighth in batting average and ninth in times on base. Hosmer had career highs in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage and hits. Cain hit .300 with 15 home runs, 26 steals and a career-high .363 OBP. He looked a bit more patient in 2017, walking 54 times, which was 17 more than his previous high of 37.

In late January, Cain was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and signed a five-year deal worth $80 million. Hosmer has yet to be signed, but is reportedly looking for a contract worth more than seven years. Kansas City hopes to bring him back, so we will have to see how things pan out.

Like Hosmer, Moustakas is also yet to be signed, but the Yankees, among others, are rumored to be interested in the third basemen.

2018: Around the Diamond

Cain is now in Milwaukee, Hosmer is looking for a big contract and Kansas City does not appear interested in bringing back Moustakas. With that said, the Royals’ lineup will have some big shoes to fill.

Salvador Perez will remain behind the plate. If Hosmer is not with the team on Opening Day, expect Cheslor Cuthbert to fill in at first. Cuthbert made his MLB debut in 2015 and hit .231 in 58 games during the 2017 season.

One of the surprises from last season was second baseman Whit Merrifield. Merrifield finished fourth in the MLB in steals and joined Jose Altuve as the only players to hit at least 18 home runs and steal 30 or more bases. Shortstop Alcides Escobar will remain with Kansas City after signing a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.

The most likely candidate to start at third would be Hunter Dozier. Dozier, a former first-round pick, had a horrific 2017 season, but has potential. In 2016, at the Triple-A level, Dozier hit .294 with 15 home runs in 103 games. Clearly, he has produced at the minor league level, so we will see if that translates over to the bigs.

2018 Kansas City Royals preview

Is 2018 the year for Jorge Soler? (Photo from ESPN.com)

Alex Gordon, who had a dreadful 2017, hitting just .208 with an OBP of .293, will remain in left, while Paulo Orlando is in line to take over for Cain in center. Orlando struggled at the plate last season, hitting just .198 in 39 games. Jorge Bonifacio, who smacked 17 home runs in 113 games, will play right. Bonifacio has some pop and is able to draw a fair amount of walks.

If you are a fantasy baseball guy, make sure to keep an eye on DH Jorge Soler. Soler dealt with injuries in 2017 and was never able to figure it out at the plate, which led to his demotion to Triple-A. In 74 games at Triple-A, Soler mashed 24 home runs with a .388 OBP. Clearly, Soler is talented, and 2018 could be the year where everything comes together.

On the Bump

It doesn’t look like the Royals will be bringing back Jason Vargas, who won a league-high 18 games in 2017. Even if they had Vargas, this staff would still be in trouble.

Danny Duffy will most likely start Opening Day, with Ian Kennedy, who allowed the seventh most home runs last year, following him. Jason Hammel will remain in the rotation after allowing the fourth most hits and fourth most earned runs in the MLB.

The other two spots will most likely go to Nathan Karns, who is recovering from his thoracic outlet surgery in July, and Jakob Junis. Junis went 9-3 with the Royals in 2017 and posted a 1.281 WHIP. Kansas City is also hoping closer Kelvin Herrera can return to the pitcher he was when they were making postseason runs.

The Future

In all honesty, Kansas City has one of the weaker farm systems in baseball. They do not have one single prospect in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. Their 2017 first-round pick, Nick Pratto had a decent Rookie Ball season, but he still needs more time to develop. Pratto is a first baseman who can hit for power and plays tremendous defense.

Khalil Lee is another name to note. The 19-year-old can play all three outfield positions. In 2017, at the A-level, he hit 17 home runs and stole 20 bases.

2018 Prediction: 75-87

With or without Hosmer, this team will struggle on offense. There is not enough skill around the field, and the pitching is weak. At best, this is a third place team in the weak AL Central.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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2018 Minnesota Twins preview

2018 MLB preview: Minnesota Twins

2017: 85-77

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 1991

2017 Recap

In 2016, the Twins finished with the worst record in baseball, winning just 59 regular season games. Last year, they became the second team in MLB history to have the No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft and make the playoffs in the same year. Although they fell to the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, Minnesota was the first franchise to lose 100 games and then go to the playoffs in the following year.

So how in the world does a team, with virtually the same roster, do a complete turnaround and win 26 more games? Well, to start, they learned how to field.

In 2016, Minnesota racked up 126 errors, the second most in the MLB. Miguel Sano, who played just 80 games in the field, had 18 errors, and Jorge Polanco had 15 in just 61 games. A year later, and the Twins made 48 less errors. Sano cut his errors in half, and Byron Buxton was the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. Here is a table to back that up.

Byron Buxton’s 2017 Defensive Ranks

STATISTIC RANK AMONG CF’S
DEFENSIVE WAR 1st (3rd OVERALL)
DEFENSIVE RUNS SAVED 1st (3rd OVERALL)
REVIZED ZONE RATING 1st (1st OVERALL)
OUT OF ZONE PLAYS 1st (5th OVERALL)
RANGE RUNS 1st (2nd OVERALL)
PLUS MINUS RUNS SAVED 1st (3rd OVERALL)
TOTAL ZONE RUNS 1st (1st OVERALL)

 

Minnesota’s 2016 team finished 11th in the AL in batting average and 11th in OBP. In 2017, they finished fourth in both categories. Eddie Rosario had a career year, hitting .290 (.332 at home) with 27 home runs. Sano raised his average by nearly 30 points, while also hitting 28 home runs with an OBP of .352.

2018 Minnesota Twins preview

Byron Buxton is one of the best defenders in the game. (Photo from Twinkie Town)

Their two big-name players, Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier, also played well. Dozier, after 42 home runs in 2016, finished 2017 with 34 home runs, 106 RBIs and a career best .359 OBP. He also ranked 10th in runs scored.

Joe Mauer, one of the best Twins of all time (fourth in WAR), hit .305 with an OBP of .384. The craziest stat was Mauer’s average after going 0-2 in the count. In 88 at-bats, Mauer hit a ridiculous .341.

Here is a table to illustrate the differences between the Twins offense in 2016 and 2017.

2016 vs. 2017 Minnesota Twins offensive ranks

STATISTIC 2016 AL RANK 2017 AL RANK
RUNS 9th 3rd
SLUGGING PERCENTGAE 9th 6th
BATTING AVERAGE 11th 4th
OBP 11th 4th
RUNS WITH MEN IN SCORING POSITION AND TWO OUTS 14th 3rd
BATTING AVERAGE WITH RUNNERS ON 13th 4th
BATTING AVERAGE WITH BASED LOADED 15th 2nd

 

2018: Around the Diamond

Minnesota will sport a practically identical team from last season. Jason Castro will remain behind the plate, while Joe Mauer, who will enter the last year of his eight-year deal, will hold down first base. Kennys Vargas will get some time when the old 34-year-old Mauer needs a rest.

Up the middle is Brian Dozier at second, and Jorge Polanco, who hit 13 home runs and stole 13 bases in 2017, will play shortstop. Miguel Sano will man the hot corner, and DH, with this current lineup, could vary between Vargas, Eduardo Escobar or Robbie Grossman.

Eddie Rosario will play left, and Max Kepler will most likely start out in right, although Grossman has a shot. Kepler hit 19 home runs in 2017. Their best defender, Byron Buxton, who won a Gold Glove, as well as the Wilson Overall Defensive Player of the Year, should improve as a hitter. He finished seventh in steals and joined Jose Altuve and Whit Merrifield as the only players to hit at least 16 home runs and steal 29 bases. Buxton will need to get on base more in 2018, but he is coming off a great second half in 2017, as he hit .300 with 11 home runs.

On the Bump

In December, the Twins signed Michael Pineda, who had elbow surgery last July and has just started throwing. He will hopefully have a positive impact on the team in 2019.

With that said, the rotation remains the same. Ervin Santana, who finished second in innings, ninth in WHIP and tied Corey Kluber with the most complete games and shutouts in the MLB, will be the ace. He was seventh in Cy Young voting, going 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA.

Santana was the only Twins pitcher to throw over 200 innings, which will hopefully change in 2018. Jose Berrios, the former first-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, had a solid season at age 23. He went 14-8 with a 1.23 WHIP. He is a bit wild as he was third in hit batters and needs to pitch better on the road. At home, Berrios was terrific, posting a 2.41 ERA, but on the road, his ERA sky-rocketed to 5.41.

Kyle Gibson, who has had a 5.07 ERA in back-to-back years, will follow Santana and Berrios. Adalberto Mejia looks to be in line for the fourth starter. The last spot could go to the 25-year-old Aaron Slegers, or the veteran Phil Hughes. In Triple-A during the 2017 season, Slegers went 15-4 with a 3.40 ERA.

The one thing Minnesota did was revamp the back-end of the bullpen. The Twins signed Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney, two veterans who Minnesota hopes will finish games in 2018.

The Future

The Twins best prospect has to be the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, shortstop Royce Lewis. Lewis, the top ranked high school position player in 2017, is obviously still just a kid, but has posted solid numbers as a pro. In Rookie Ball, over 36 games, Lewis had a .390 OBP, and in A ball, he had a .296 batting average. 2018 will be Lewis’ first full season as a pro, which is exciting for everyone involved.

2018 Minnesota Twins preview

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Royce Lewis (Photo from Star Tribune)

Their top pitching prospect, Fernando Romero, has spent a lot of time on the DL over the past few years, but could see big league action in 2018. Last year, in Double-A, Romero won 11 games and finished with a 3.53 ERA in 125 innings. His fastball can reach triple digits, so let’s hope Twins fans can see this guy on the big stage at some point this season.

Minnesota also has pitcher Stephen Gonsalves, who could also see time with the MLB team in 2018. Gonsalves was tremendous in 2017 at the Double-A level, posting a 2.68 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 87.1 innings. MLB.com claims he “has the ceiling of a solid mid-rotation starter.”

Don’t forget about Tom Gordon’s son, and Dee Gordon’s brother, second baseman/shortstop Nick Gordon. Gordon hasn’t progressed like other first-round players in his draft like Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto or Trea Turner, but the former fifth overall pick looks to be a solid everyday player at some point. Last season in Double-A, Gordon hit .270/.341/.408 with nine home runs and 13 steals.

2018 Prediction: 82-80

Minnesota is linked in rumors to Chris Archer, so if they trade for him, that could shake things up. However, in the AL, you have to think that Boston, New York, Cleveland and Houston have four of the five playoff spots locked up. That means only one spot is up for grabs, and although they made it in 2017, Minnesota will fall just short in 2018. The pitching isn’t deep, and the lineup will not perform as well as they did in 2017.

 

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2018 Cleveland Indians preview

2018 MLB Preview: Cleveland Indians

2017: 102-60 (first in the AL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 1948

2017 Recap

After falling one win shy of winning the 2016 World Series, the Indians were looking for revenge in 2017. Not only did they win 102 games, but Cleveland also won 22 games in a row, which is now the longest winning streak in American League history.

Unfortunately, their incredible regular season may have actually hurt them in the playoffs. After going up 2-0 in the ALDS against the underdog New York Yankees, Cleveland lost three straight games to end their season.

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

The Indians were feeling 22. (Photo from The Week)

Although the season did not end the way Cleveland had hoped it would, let’s not forget how good this team really was.

Let’s start with the pitching. As a staff, it finished first in ERA, strikeouts and walks. The rotation was led by Corey Kluber, who was the best pitcher in the MLB in 2017. He won the AL Cy Young and finished first in WAR for pitchers, ERA, wins, WHIP, complete games and shutouts. Kluber was unstoppable all year, but in the second half alone, the right hander posted a 1.79 ERA. His slider was the best pitch in baseball in terms of pitch value.

Not only did they have the best starter in baseball, but they also had a top-10 arm in Carlos Carrasco, who finished ninth in WAR for pitchers, eighth in WHIP and posted a 2.65 ERA on the road, which was top-10 in the MLB for starters. While Carrasco and Kluber tallied 18 wins apiece, the 27-year-old Trevor Bauer finished with 17.

While the rotation flourished all season, one could make a case that the Indians’ bullpen was even better than their starters. Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Nick Goody, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen all had sub 3.00 ERA’s while appearing in 50 or more games. As a unit, Cleveland’s bullpen finished first in ERA with a 2.89.

Pitching, of course, was only part of the reason Cleveland was able to win 102 games. Their offense finished second in the AL in batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS and walks. The ringleader in the lineup was Jose Ramirez, who was one of the 10 best players in baseball. Ramirez finished tied for first in extra-base hits, fifth in total bases, sixth in offensive WAR, seventh in slugging and ninth in batting average and runs scored.

The Dominican-born star hit .329 against lefties and .312 against righties, proving to be almost impossible to deal with. On 0-1 counts, Ramirez batted .301, which was top-10 in the MLB. Think about that, when already down a strike, he was able to hit over .300.

2018: Around the Diamond

After spending his first eight seasons with Cleveland, Carlos Santana was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies. Santana hit 23 home runs and finished ninth in walks in 2017. He has a career OBP of .365, so Cleveland will definitely miss the powerful switch hitter.

To replace him at first base, Cleveland signed Yonder Alonso, who was an All-Star last season. After not eclipsing nine home runs in his previous seven seasons, Alonso hit 28 home runs. If he can be anything close to what he was last season, the Indians will be happy.

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

Jose Ramirez was sensational in 2017. (Photo from NEO Sports Insiders)

Jason Kipnis looks to bounce back after he played in only 90 games because of injury in 2017. The two-time All-Star second baseman hit just .232 with an OBP of .291. Cleveland will need him to tear it up with his double-play partner, Francisco Lindor, one of the best shortstops in the game. Last year, playing in nearly every single game, Lindor finished sixth in extra-base hits and eighth in total bases. He also slugged a career high .505.

With a healthy Kipnis, Ramirez will be playing all his games at third base. Behind the dish will be Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes splitting some time. Michael Brantley, who was an All-Star in 2017 but missed a good chunk of the season due to injury, will be ready to go in left. In the first half, Brantley hit .304 with 17 doubles.

No more Austin Jackson means Bradley Zimmer will be the starting centerfielder. Zimmer stole 18 bases, but had an OBP of just .307. He fell apart in the second half, hitting just .196 with 56 strikeouts in 46 games. He is still only 25 years of age and could turn into something special.

Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been with Cleveland his whole career, will man right field. Guys like Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte should also get some reps in the outfield. Keep in mind Cleveland also brought in Melvin Upton Jr. as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.

Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 38 home runs last season, will remain at DH. Encarnacion finished fourth in walks and had the best walk rate of his career, while also posting his second-best OBP.

On the Bump

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

Klubot. (Photo from Cleveland.com)

Cleveland’s elite starting rotation will remain intact for 2018. Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer will be followed by Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar. Salazar has had a tough time staying off the DL his whole career, but could be a sleeper in fantasy baseball. Mike Clevinger and Cody Anderson, who is coming off Tommy John, should also get some starts.

McAllister, Otero, Miller and Allen are all returning, which is unfortunate for opponents. No reason to think this pitching staff won’t dominate again, especially if they can get something out of Salazar.

 

The Future

According to MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect’s list, the Indians have two of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. At No. 11 is the No. 1 catching prospect, Francisco Mejia. Mejia is a switch-hitter, who has also spent the entire Arizona Fall League practicing at third base. In just 92 games at Double-A, Mejia hit 14 home runs and batted .297 in 2017. He also got 13 at-bats in the MLB. We will most likely see the 22-year-old at some point playing consistently for Cleveland in 2018.

Cleveland’s other top prospect is pitcher Triston McKenzie. McKenzie flourished in A-ball, going 12-6 with a 3.46 ERA and an opponent batting average of .203. He stands tall at 6-foot-5, and according to MLB.com, McKenzie has “all the ingredients to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter.” He has great command and has posted a .99 WHIP over three professional seasons.

2018 Prediction: 95-67

No reason to think that the Indians won’t win the AL Central for the third year in a row. Chicago and Detroit are rebuilding, the Royals will lose Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to free agency and Minnesota is not nearly as talented as the Indians. This team will again be in the chase for their first World Series title since 1948.

 

Featured image by Bleacher Report

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2018 Detroit Tigers preview

2018 MLB preview: Detroit Tigers

2017: 64-98 (fifth place in AL Central)

Last Postseason appearance: 2014

Last World Series title: 1984

2017 Recap

In 2011, the Tigers made it all the way to the ALCS before losing to the Texas Rangers in six. The following season, Detroit made it to the World Series. In 2013, they were back in the ALCS, and the following season, they won the American League Central Division for the fourth straight year. Boy that seems like decades ago.

64 wins was Detroit’s fewest since the dreadful 2003 team that won just 43 games. It all started in March when Tigers star, and future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera left a World Baseball Classic game with back tightness. He would eventually spend some time on the DL and posted the worst numbers of his career. Cabrera hit just .249 with an OBP of .329 while slugging just under .400. He had a WAR below zero for the first time in his 15-year career.

Also in March, J.D. Martinez was forced to miss around two months because of a right foot sprain. However, in his 57 games, Martinez mashed 16 home runs and hit .305. He was later traded to Arizona in July for a trio of prospects.

Detroit’s offense finished 16th in OBP and 18th in slugging percentage. They ended up 29th in run differential, which was mostly due to their atrocious pitching. The pitching staff finished 20th in BB/9, 23rd in HR/9 and last in H/9, WHIP and ERA. Among the 15 AL teams, they were 11th in walks and 12th in home runs.

Fortunately, it wasn’t all bad. Before being traded to the Los Angeles Angles, Justin Upton hit .279, 28 home runs and 94 RBIs in 125 games for Detroit. Nick Castellanos hit 10 triples, which was good for third in the MLB. He also hit 26 home runs, had 101 RBIs and batted .341 with men on base.

2018: Around the Diamond

No more Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton or Ian Kinsler means a new wave of Tigers will be asked to step up in 2018. Numbers show that Miguel Cabrera should go back to being his elite-level self.

Last year, in expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), which, according to rotoballer.com, establishes the “value a player brings per plate appearance, accounting for unintentional walks, hit by pitches, and all base hits,” Cabrera ranked 19th in the MLB. Expected weighted on-base average uses launch angle and exit velocity of every ball put in play, so it is quite possible that Cabrera was just a tad unlucky last year.

2018 Detroit Tigers preview

Miguel Cabrera will bounce back in 2018. (Photo from Call to the Pen)

James McCann will remain behind the plate, but needs to do a better job defensively. In 2017, he allowed the fourth most steals and had the fifth most past balls.

Taking over Kinsler at second will most likely be Dixon Machado. The 170 pound Machado has played in 105 career games and has hit just .246 with a .303 OBP. Jose Iglesias, who hit 33 doubles last season, will remain at shortstop, while Jeimer Candelario is in line to start at the hot corner. Candelario, who was acquired by the Cubs in the Justin Wilson and Alex Avila trade, hit .330 in 27 games for the Tigers in 2017.

Nick Castellanos, the former third baseman, will start in right field if he remains on the team. Castellanos has been heavily mentioned in trade talks and is coming off a solid offensive season. Newcomer Leonys Martin, who Detroit signed as a free agent this offseason, will start in centerfield. In limited games, Martin struggled mightily last season with the Mariners and Cubs, but hit 15 home runs and stole 24 bases back in 2016.

Mikie Mahtook will most likely start in left field after posting the second best OBP on the team last year. JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes will also be competing for playing time.

As far as the DH goes, Victor Martinez, in his last year of his deal, will start. Now 39 years old, Martinez did not have a great 2017, hitting just .255 with 10 home runs in 107 games.

On the Bump

Michael Fulmer, who was an All-Star in 2017, looks to be the No. 1 option on this team and should be ready for Spring Training following an elbow injury. Fulmer is lucky the All-Star game is a first half competition, because he posted a horrendous 5.33 ERA in 49 innings during the second half of the season. However, Fulmer looks like a legitimate top of the rotation starter, as he allowed the second fewest home runs per nine innings in 2017.

2018 Detroit Tigers preview

Jordan Zimmerman is owed around $75 million over the next three years. (Photo from Bleacher Report)

Detroit also signed Mike Fiers, who won a World Series with Houston, but did not pitch in the playoffs. In the 2017 regular season, Fiers went 8-10 with a 5.22 ERA.

Speaking of scrub pitchers over 30, Jordan Zimmermann will again attempt to figure it out in Detroit. Zimmerman, who was terrific in Washington, has been a total disaster with the Tigers. In 48 career games with Detroit, Zimmerman has a 5.60 ERA. In 2017, he finished tied for the most earned runs allowed.

Keep in mind, Zimmermann is owed $24 million in 2018, $25 million in 2019 and another $25 million in 2020. I know there is a lot of crime in Detroit, but Zimmermann stealing from the Tigers is the biggest of them all.

Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris will make up the rest of the rotation. Boyd rocked a 1.56 WHIP in 2017, while Norris, a former second-round pick, posted a 5.31 ERA in 18 starts. Both are still considered young, so hopefully they turn out better. In 2017, Shane Greene looked good when he moved over to the closer role after trades, so it makes sense for him to remain the ninth inning guy.

The Future

The Tigers have four starting pitchers on MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects” list for 2018. Among them is Franklin Perez, who was sent over in the Verlander trade. The 20-year-old Perez went 6-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 19 appearances between A+ and AA. He is seen as a middle of the rotation type of starter.

Next on the list is Matt Manning, son of former NBA player Rich Manning. Matt was the ninth pick in the 2016 draft and pitched well between short-season Class A ball and Class A West Michigan.

Alex Faedo, who ranks 59th on the list, was selected 18th overall in the 2017 Draft. Coming off knee surgery, Detroit opted not to use him in 2017, but he pitched well with the Florida Gators, so Detroit is hopeful they made the right decision.

The last Tiger on the prospects list is Beau Burrows. The right hander has a fastball in the mid-90s and looks to be a big league starter down the road.

 

2018 Prediction: 72-90

Miguel Cabrera will be back in the All-Star game, and Nick Castellanos, if still on the team, will have another good year with Detroit. However, the pitching is still a disaster. They’ll win more games than last year, as they should play better against the White Sox and the Royals, but it will be another long year for Tiger fans.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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2018 Chicago White Sox preview

2018 MLB preview: Chicago White Sox

2017: 67-95 (fourth place in AL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2008

Last World Series title: 2005 

2017 Recap

2017 was the official start of the rebuilding process for the Chicago White Sox. In the previous offseason, Chicago traded away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, while receiving top prospects to help with the future of the team. While it may take some time, the White Sox will be competing for a title before we know it.

Chicago, a team that has made the playoffs nine times during its franchise history, was far from a contender in 2017. They finished 22nd in slugging, 23rd in runs, 24th in WHIP, 25th in OBP and pitching ERA and 30th in walks per nine innings. They also were a disaster in the field, committing the third most errors in baseball.

2018 Chicago White Sox preview

Avisail Garcia had a career year in 2017 (Photo from ESPN.com)

There were a few bright spots on the south side. Avisail Garcia, the 26-year-old from Venezuela, had his best MLB season by a long shot. Garcia was named to the American League All-Star team and finished the year with a batting average of .330, which ranked third in the MLB.

His insane .392 BABIP, which can be impacted from a little bit of luck, was the best in baseball among qualified hitters. Garcia also slugged 18 home runs, hit .424 against lefties and had a .380 OBP. He also performed when Chicago needed him most, hitting .374 with men on base.

Chicago’s other offensive star was Jose Abreu. Abreu has hit at least .290, 25 home runs and 100 RBIs in each of his first four seasons in the MLB and continues to be one of the most consistent offensive players in the game. The Cuban slugger finished fourth in total bases, fifth in extra-base hits, seventh in doubles and tied for eighth in hits. Abreu also hit .357 with men in scoring position.

The stat that really defined this team was walks. We mentioned they were 25th in OBP, but Chicago really could not walk. Todd Frazier, now a Met, led the White Sox in walks with 48. Frazier’s last game as a member of the team was on July 16.

The pitching was pretty much a total disaster, but because of the highly touted prospects, White Sox fans should stay optimistic and trust the process.

2018: Around the Diamond

On Dec. 1, 2017, the White Sox signed free agent Welington Castillo to start behind the plate. Castillo will bring a nice veteran presence, as well as some pop in the lineup. Since 2015, Castillo has hit 53 home runs and is coming off a career best .282 batting average from 2017.

2018 Chicago White Sox preview

Will Moncada take a big leap forward in 2018? (Photo from FanRag Sports)

Abreu, who in January, avoided arbitration and signed a one-year deal worth $13 million, will remain at first base. Yoan Moncada, who along with Michael Kopech was sent over from Boston in the Sale trade, will start at second. Moncada struck out in 32 percent of his plate appearances. That’s terrible, especially if you aren’t hitting over 30 home runs a season. He had a .325 BABIP, so when he hits the ball, he is good, but the 22-year old has a lot of growing to do. Still, his potential is through the roof.

Shortstop Tim Anderson swung a nice bat in 2017, hitting 17 home runs while stealing 15 bags, but he also led the MLB with 28 errors. He will need to clean it up in the field to keep the White Sox afloat.

Yolmer Sanchez, who finished sixth in triples and hit .303 with men in scoring position, will most likely play third. Chicago will also have Matt Davidson at DH.

Other than Avisail Garcia in right field, the remaining two positions are really up for grabs. Charlie Tilson has a good shot to bat leadoff and start in centerfield, while Leury Garcia, who played in just 87 games last season due to injury, should start in left field after positing decent numbers when healthy. Nicky Delmonico and Adam Engel will also be competing for spots in the lineup.

On the Bump

James Shields, who is owed a whopping $21 million in 2018, will unfortunately remain in the rotation. If you looked up “washed up” in the dictionary, you would probably find a picture of Shields’ face. He had a 5.85 ERA in 2016 and followed that up with a 5.23 ERA last season.

The White Sox also have two young studs, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, who will continue to get reps as starters and hopefully blossom into big-time pitchers in the MLB. Lopez started eight games in 2017 and posted a 4.72 ERA. Giolito looked great in his seven starts, finishing with a 2.38 ERA. He also never allowed a run in the 16.2 innings he pitched when he faced the lineup the first time through. Giolito could take off and have a great 2018.

Carlos Rodon had shoulder surgery in September and won’t be ready for Opening Day, but he will eventually give Chicago quality innings. They also welcomed back Miguel Gonzalez, who was bad in 2017. The 24-year-old Carson Fulmer will also get a chance to prove he can make something happen over a full-year span. Chicago also brought in Joakim Soria to close out games.

The Future

Chicago has seven players on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect list, which is tied for the second most in baseball. While the MLB team doesn’t look up to par, just wait on it. Headlining this list is outfielder Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Michael Kopech. Jimenez is considered the best power hitting prospect in the game and has drawn comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton.

2018 Chicago White Sox preview

Is Jimenez the next Stanton? (Photo from NBC Sports)

Not only does he mash the ball, Jimenez also hits for a great average. In 89 games between A+ and AA, Jimenez hit 19 home runs and batted .312 with a .568 SLG. He has serious potential to be a top power hitter in this league and should see time with the major league club in 2018.

Kopech should also be getting some time at the major league level this season. In just 134 and a third innings between Double and Triple A, Kopech struck out 172 batters and had an ERA of 2.88.

While Chicago’s 2018 staff looks a bit suspect, keep in mind they have Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning, three right-handed starters who rank in the top 100.

Luis Robert checks in at No. 28 on the top 100 list. Robert, only 20 years of age, hit .310 with three home runs in 28 Rookie-Ball games. Coming in at No. 99 on the prospects list is Blake Rutherford. Rutherford, also 20 years old, did not have a great 2017, but according to MLB.com, has been “compared to a more athletic version of David Justice.” Only time will tell if these top dogs will pan out.

2018 Prediction: 65-97 

Chicago should see some of their top prospects at the major league level, which is fantastic. But this team is at least two or three years away from competing.

 

Featured image by ChicagoNow.com

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2018 New York Yankees preview

2018 MLB preview: New York Yankees

2017: 91-71 (second place in AL East, first in Wild Card)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 2009

2017 Recap

To say a team that hovers around the top one or two in payroll every year actually exceeded expectations would sound a bit odd. But that is exactly the case with the 2017 New York Yankees. On Opening Day, New York opened as 30-1 odds to win the World Series. When October came around, they were one win shy of a World Series berth.

The Yankees started the season hot and entered the postseason flaming. They went 15-8 in April and 20-9 over the last 29 regular season games. Against the first place Red Sox and third place Rays, New York went a combined 23-15. They also dominated Interleague play, going 15-5.

2018 New York Yankees preview

All Rise. (Photo from The New York Times)

So how did New York surpass expectations? Two names stand out heavily: Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. Judge, a physical freak at 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, struggled during his first stint at the big league level in 2016. In 27 games, Judge struck out 42 times, hit just four home runs and batted .179 with an OBP of .263. A year later and Mr. Judge was the runner-up to Jose Altuve for AL MVP and was named AL Rookie of the Year.

Judge led the AL in runs (128), home runs (52) and walks (127). Overall, he finished second in WAR, OPS and at-bats per home run, third in OBP, slugging percentage, runs created and time on base, sixth in total bases and RBIs and seventh in extra-base hits. When an at-bat started out with a ball, Judge hit .357.

Luis Severino, who in 2016, spent time in the minors and made a handful of appearances out of the bullpen for New York, was one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball in 2017. Severino finished sixth in strikeouts, WHIP and K/9, seventh in ERA+ and FIP and 10th in WAR among pitchers. He was absolutely outstanding on the road, ending the season with a 2.24 road ERA.

As a team, New York finished with the second best run differential in the MLB. Among the 15 AL teams, they ranked first in home runs and walks, second in runs, total bases and OBP and third in hits and slugging percentage. The pitching was also impeccable, finishing with the fewest amount of hits allowed and the third best ERA.

The Yankees had a tremendous season, yet not everyone in New York was happy with the team’s performance. After 10 years as manager, New York decided to relieve Joe Girardi of his duties with the team and hire Aaron Boone to run the team.

2018: Around the Diamond

The biggest splash of the offseason was of course, the Yankees trading for the 2017 NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. A team that ranked first in home runs now has Stanton, who hit more home runs than anyone in 2017. He also finished first in RBIs and slugging percentage, second in total bases, third in runs and WAR and fourth in OPS. Quite frankly, there wasn’t much any team could do to stop this man. Against lefties, he hit .323, and against righties, Stanton clubbed 44 home runs.

Stanton looks to be the DH while Judge will hold down right field, but these players could flip-flop at any moment. Joining them in the outfield will be Brett Gardner, who is coming off his first 20-20 season of his 10-year career, and Aaron Hicks, who hit 15 home runs in just 88 games. Keep in mind, the Yankees will probably also be forced to play Jacoby Ellsbury, who has three years left on his deal and is owed $64 million.

Starlin Castro, an All-Star for New York in 2017, was sent to Miami in the Stanton trade, and Chase Headley returned to the San Diego Padres in free agency after three and a half seasons with New York. This means the Yankees have some holes to fill in the infield. Unless they make a move, Miguel Andujar, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, will start at third, and Ronald Torreyes will man second.

2018 New York Yankees preview

Expect a lot of big flies in the Bronx. (Photo from Twitter)

It still feels weird to not see Derek Jeter at shortstop, but Didi Gregorius has been terrific in the Bronx. Gregorius is coming off back-to-back 20-home-run seasons and hit .321 on the road in 2017. With the addition of Stanton, as well as Greg Bird being healthy, Gregorius will slide down the order, which is actually where he thrives. Last year, when batting seventh, Didi hit .333, and in the eighth-spot, he hit .563.

Bird, whose 2017 was spoiled because of a foot injury, could bounce back and have a really solid season. He will most likely be hitting behind Judge and Stanton and in front of Gary Sanchez, which means pitchers will be forced to go after him. Although he hasn’t had the success at the big league level that he is hoped for, 2018 could be a nice breakout year.

Speaking of Sanchez, the Yankees catcher is one of the best offensive players at his position. In 2017, he led all catchers in home runs (33), RBIs (90) and runs scored (79). All that is terrific, but he also finished first in errors for catchers and first in past balls. He needs to clean it up behind the plate, but this man is a problem with a bat in his hand.

On The Bump

New York will continue to be led by Severino, and it will be interesting to see what Sonny Gray can do in a full season with the Yankees. Although he settled down the second half, Masahiro Tanaka needs to be better if this teams wants to win a title.

Last season, Tanaka allowed the fourth most home runs and finished eighth in walks per nine innings. He had a 5.47 ERA in the first half, and, when it comes to road ERA, the 29-year-old is still probably in disgust. Tanaka finished 2017 with a 6.48 ERA when away from Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia is back for another year, which is great for the clubhouse and pretty solid for the product on the field. Rounding out the rotation will be Jordan Montgomery, who had a solid rookie season in 2017, winning nine games with a 3.88 ERA.

The bullpen, which finished third in the MLB in ERA, should without a doubt sustain its previous success. A bullpen that consists of Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson and Dellin Betances is flat-out scary. However, a crazy stat from last year is Betances finishing seventh in hit batters despite being a reliever. He literally tied with Max Scherzer, who threw 140 more innings than him.

The Future

Yankees infielder, Gleyber Torres, is regarded as one of the five best prospects in the MLB. Torres, who was acquired from the Cubs in 2016 when the Yankees let them borrow Aroldis Chapman, became the youngest player to win MVP of the Arizona Fall League in 2016. He was off to a great 2017 before getting injured during a play at the plate, which required Tommy John surgery. Still, in 55 games between Double and Triple A, Torres hit .287 and had a .383 OBP. The 21-year-old should see some big league action in 2018.

2018 New York Yankees preview

Gleyber Torres will be playing in the MLB at some point in 2018 (Barstool Sports)

The other infielder on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list is Miguel Andujar, who, like mentioned earlier, could be starting at third base for the MLB club come Opening Day. Andujar hit .315 with 16 home runs between Double and Triple A in 2017, while also going 4-7 in the bigs.

Joining Torres and Andujar on the top prospects list are four other Yankees. This is without counting Clint Frazier, who played in 39 games for the Yanks, but could possibly be traded since their outfield is so stacked.

Speaking of outfielders, Estevan Florial, ranks 44th on the prospects list. In 110 games between A and A+, Florial hit .298, stole 23 bases, had seven triples, and had an OBP of .372. He has potential to become a 30-30 player, but needs to kick back on the strikeouts.

The Yankees top pitching prospect, Justus Sheffield, who was acquired with Frazier in the Andrew Miller trade in 2014, had a solid 2017 in Double A. In 17 starts, the lefty had a 3.18 ERA and struck out 82 batters. The Yankees also have two more pitching prospects in the top 100, as Albert Abreu (No. 74) and Chance Adams (No. 75) could both blossom into something special.

 

2018 Prediction: 90-72

This offense will be good, but there are questions in terms of production from the corner infield positions. Also, on paper, Boston’s starting pitching is better than New York’s. Severino had a fantastic 2017, but we will see if he can replicate that. Sonny Gray did not look great with New York, and Tanaka clearly cannot be trusted away from New York. However, the roster is too talented, and the Yankees will again, win the Wild Card and make a run at a World Series title.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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