Boston Red Sox

2017 Boston Red Sox profile

After two first place AL East finishes in a row and two straight ALDS appearances, John Farrell was fired. That is just an example of how much the fans and ownership expect of this team. Even with a World Series title to his credit, Farrell wasn’t safe from the offseason axe. But it was more than just Farrell’s performance that got him the boot in Boston. His players’ performance, or lack thereof, played a part as well.

2017 Season

Boston Red Sox profile

Chris Sale pitched well in the regular season, but struggled in his first playoff appearance of his career (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports).

After being swept by the Indians in the 2016 ALDS, many thought it was just the beginning of a Red Sox resurgence. The team had won 93 games, won the AL East and had a young nucleus.

But instead of improving, the team became stagnant. They posted the exact same regular season result as 2016, winning 93 games and the AL East in 2017. While that is a good season for most teams, it was the lackluster playoff performance that did Farrell in.

The addition of Chris Sale was supposed to put a rotation that featured two Cy Young winners in Porcello and Sale over the top. Instead, it faltered in the ALDS.

Sale would post an 8.38 ERA in the series, giving up 13 hits in 9.1 IP. Ironically enough, David Price, who had been moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter, logged the second most IP for the Red Sox with 6.1, all out of the pen. His 0.00 ERA was a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy playoff performance.

But even with the poor pitching in the series, it’s the offense that will need some help this offseason.

Team Needs

Even after a playoff collapse, the Red Sox pitching staff was excellent in the regular season. Their collective team ERA of 3.70 was good enough for fourth in all of baseball. It was the offense that struggled throughout the season, posting the 26th highest team slugging at .407. They also finished 27th in home runs, hitting 168 as a team. The loss of David Ortiz was certainly felt this season, and young players like Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts weren’t able to make up for it. Power will be in high demand in Boston this offseason.

Another, more specific area of need is first base. The departure of Mitch Moreland won’t cause too much unrest in Boston, but it will leave a gaping hole at first base. Hanley Ramirez is a DH first type player, and there are no true first basemen on the Red Sox roster. If Boston wants to keep a hold of the AL East crown, they will have to find an answer for their first base question. But if the Red Sox are able to, they could kill two birds with one stone.

Potential Offseason Acquisitions

Boston Red Sox profile

Giancarlo Stanton was a force in Miami, and is the prize of Dave Dombrowski’s eye (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

Eric Hosmer has been linked to Boston even before the season ended. It seems like a perfect fit for both sides. A great player in the prime of his career, and a big market team willing to pay the price. But it isn’t that easy. If the Red Sox swing and miss with Hosmer, they will have to look at other options to fill in at first base.

Carlos Santana has also been listed as an option for the Red Sox. While Santana is a step below Hosmer in terms of overall play, he would be a noticeable improvement over the departed Mitch Moreland.

Another option the Red Sox could consider is one much more flashy than either Hosmer or Santana. Giancarlo Stanton is the top name on the Red Sox wish list this holiday season. And after his 2017 NL MVP season, it’s easy to see why.

Stanton would be the ultimate luxury on a team that is set in the outfield with Betts, Bradley and Benintendi. But Stanton’s prodigious power could be too much for Dave Dombrowski to dismiss. The Red Sox could play Stanton at DH and move Hanley Ramirez to first base full time, but his diminished defensive skills could make the move a hard sell to Boston fans.

With a strong nucleus and a large market, the Boston Red Sox should be in contention for years to come. But their run as AL East champions may be coming to an end. With the New York Yankees “rebuild” all but over, the Yankees and Red Sox could again be locked into an arms race rivaling that of the Cold War.

 

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Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles team profile

The Baltimore Orioles enter the 2017 offseason with way more questions than answers. A 75-87 season with a last place finish in the AL East will do that to a team. Even so, the Orioles are just one season removed from an 89-73 season and a second place finish in the AL East. How did the Orioles fall off so quickly and where do they go in 2018?

2017 Season

After a second place finish in 2016, the Orioles were primed to make another run at the AL East crown. Through the month of April, it looked like they would do just that. They boasted a 15-8 record and were one of the hottest teams in baseball.

Baltimore Orioles

Manny Machado struggled mightily at the plate in 2017. (Photo by Karen Hill/Houston Chronicle).

However, an absolute collapse of the pitching staff grounded the Orioles’ playoff aspirations. As a staff, Orioles pitching gave up 841 runs on the season, averaging out to a little over five runs per game. That was much too difficult for the eighth ranked offense in the American League to overcome.

It wasn’t just the pitching staff that suffered from inconsistency though. Star third baseman Manny Machado got off to a poor start in 2017, batting .224 in March and April and slumping to a .191 batting average for the month of May. Throughout the whole season, he only slugged over .500 in one full month, slugging .690 in August. Even with Machado’s struggles, the Orioles were able to score 743 runs, only one less than their total last year.

One reason for that was the emergence of Jonathan Schoop. Schoop definitely tapped into his power this year, launching 32 home runs. He also drove in a team high 105 RBIs.

Another factor was the under the radar addition of shortstop Tim Beckham. Beckham is the new poster child for the change of scenery narrative. After posting a paltry 97 OPS+ in Tampa Bay, Beckham hit to the tune of a 131 OPS+ in Baltimore. Both Beckham and Schoop will be relied on next season season.

Team Needs

The Baltimore Orioles are set in the infield, with catching duties likely being split between Caleb Joseph and prospect Chance Sisco. Beckham will take over for the 35-year-old J.J. Hardy, solidifying a strong infield.

Where the questions begin is in the outfield. Nine different players earned time in right field for the Orioles, with 35-year-old Seth Smith playing the most games with 80. Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry and Mark Trumbo all played at least 31 games in right, but none are thought to be long-term options. Rickard, who will turn 27 next season, has a career 77 OPS+. Gentry will be 34 with an 84 OPS+ for his career, and Trumbo was mostly a designated hitter. Either way, right field will be the least of the Orioles’ problems if they can’t find some starting pitching.

When your “staff ace” posts a 4.24 ERA, you know there are bound to be some problems. The Orioles had two starters with ERAs well over 5.00. Wade Miley made 32 starts and posted a 5.61 ERA. Not to be outdone, Ubaldo Jimenez went one step further. The former Rockies ace started 25 games and posted an atrocious 6.81 ERA.

Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman were the only starters to post sub 5.00 ERAs on the season. The Orioles will definitely have to dip into the free agent market to address one of the worst starting staffs in the majors.

Potential Free Agent Signings

One player that the Orioles could target is pitcher Trevor Cahill. While adding a pitcher with a 4.93 ERA this past season may not sound like a good idea, a closer look at the numbers says otherwise.

As a starter with San Diego, Cahill made 11 starts, going 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA. It was when Cahill was shipped to Kansas City that his numbers started to balloon. A change of scenery and a change to the bullpen spelled disaster for the former second-round pick. Cahill will only be 30 years old next year, and should come at a reasonable price.

Baltimore Orioles

Tyler Chatwood has a chance to be an impact arm (Photo from AP Photo/David Zalubowski).

Another option for the Orioles is pitcher Tyler Chatwood. With Chatwood, you have to look even deeper than with Cahill. The former Rockies starter has a chance to be a diamond in the rough. Chatwood is a perfect example of how pitching in Colorado can damage a pitcher’s career.

He has posted a 5.25 ERA in 68 games at Coors Field. But outside of Colorado, Chatwood has posted a 3.31 ERA in 62 games. He has also given up 25 homers on the road compared to 42 at home, and limited batters to a .241 batting average on the road. There is only a 17-inning difference between his 332.1 IP at home compared to his 315.1 IP on the road. While Cahill could be a solid signing, Chatwood has the chance to be an impact arm for the Orioles. And at almost 28 years old, he’s one of the youngest available starters on the market.

The Baltimore Orioles have a chance to turn their organization around in 2018. However, with the Yankees and Red Sox back to powerhouses once again, the best the Orioles can hope for in 2018 is a Wild Card spot.

 

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New York Yankees

New York Yankees team profile

The New York Yankees are without a doubt the most storied franchise in baseball history. That is why many fans were not too happy about them “rebuilding” in 2017. Like most events in Yankees’ history, they were able to have their cake and eat it too. They were ahead of schedule in 2017, besting the pundits predictions. But how did they get there?

2017 season

After going 84-78 and finishing fourth in the AL East in 2016, many believed it was time for the Yankees to finally begin the dreaded rebuild. Only three everyday position players on that team were younger than 30 years old (Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks, all 26 years old), and the major league team seemed ready to be laid bare to cultivate the fruits of the farm. But as the Yankees are known to do, they ended up competing yet again for a World Series berth in 2017.

New York Yankees

C.C. Sabathia has been a key contributor in the Yankees rotation. (Photo by Kathy Willens/Associated Press).

Breakout seasons from Gary Sanchez, Gregorious and Hicks all contributed to the Yankees 91 wins. However, the real story of the season was the behemoth in right field, Aaron Judge. His 52 home runs are the most ever by a rookie, topping Mark McGwire’s record 49 in 1987. Judge also easily paced the team with a 171 OPS+. With the AL ROY already a lock, all that’s left is the coveted MVP.

The often forgotten piece of the Yankees surprise resurgence was their pitching staff. Luis Severino assumed the role of staff ace and proved to be an excellent frontline starter. His 14 wins tied the team lead, and his 2.98 ERA lead the starting staff.

Grizzled veteran C.C. Sabathia was also able to turn in a solid campaign, winning 14 games and posting a 3.69 ERA. The deadline addition of Sonny Gray helped balance out the starting staff. A strong bullpen comprised of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and the breakout of Chad Green (1.83 ERA in 40 games) was able to lock down opponents in the late innings as well.

All of these factors combined to bring the Yankees within one game of the World Series. To achieve that status, some glaring holes will need to be addressed.

Team needs

The biggest of those holes is the one Joe Girardi left. The longtime Yankees skipper was let go after guiding the Yankees to within one game of the World Series. After 10 years at the helm, general manager Brian Cashman believed that Girardi had lost his personal touch with the players. With Girardi out of the clubhouse, Cashman seems to be looking high and low for the next manager of the Yankees.

Names from former Cubs catcher David Ross to current ESPN analyst Aaron Boone have been rumored to be in the running. One thing is for certain though, they are looking for someone with a more personal touch. Many of the players had expressed the same sentiment Cashman had. A manager with playing experience seems to be the focus.

Another area the team needs to focus on is the corner infield positions. First base was an odyssey all season long. Greg Bird was finally able to get healthy and performed well in the playoffs. Third base was solidified by mid-season acquisition Todd Frazier. With Frazier becoming a free agent this offseason, Chase Headley is the lone option. The Yankees may just go through the 2018 season with Headley as the starter. With Manny Machado coming up for free agency, don’t be surprised to see the Yankees make a run at him.

Potential free-agent signings

With a glaring hole at third base and the Yankees unease with Headley as the starter, Mike Moustakas will be in Brian Cashman’s sights. The career Royal slugged 38 homers in 2017, setting the Royals single-season record. He also batted .272, which would be an upgrade over Frazier.

New York Yankees

Shohei Otani has drawn comparisons to Babe Ruth, Josh Beckett and Anthony Rizzo (Photo by Getty Images).

While the Royals will make a run at keeping Moustakas, the upcoming rebuild in Kansas City will be a huge factor. The Yankees will at least make a call to the burly Royals third baseman and also may look to the far east for free agents.

The one name that everyone in New York will be asking about has no MLB experience. In his time in Japan, he has garnered comparisons to none other than Babe Ruth.

Shohei Otani will be the most coveted player on the market this offseason. All Otani has done since his debut at age 18 is dominate the Japanese league. In five seasons, Otani has slugged 48 homers and won 42 games. He has hit .286 and posted a 2.52 ERA, proving to be dominant on both the mound and at the plate.

With the Yankees’ history of Japanese players, Otani may favor the bright lights of New York.

Impact minor leaguers

Two prospects stand out for the Yankees that could make the jump to the majors next year. One of those is infielder Gleyber Torres. Torres was on the fast track to the majors this past season, seeing time at third base at Triple-A. However, a season ending injury left Torres waiting for next season, and now might be his chance. He hit .309 in 23 games at AAA, and should start the season there. But if he can impress in camp, Torres may start the season on the big league club.

The other option is third baseman Miguel Andujar. He has shown a cannon of an arm in the minor leagues, and his defense has continued to improve. His bat is no slouch either, as he hit .317 at Triple-A and launched nine homers. While he may not profile as a future silver slugger, his bat and glove combine to make him a potential starter for the big league club.

This team is definitely on the rise. With a stacked farm system and a strong major league club, the Yankees will be a threat in the AL East for years to come. Look for them to make some impact free-agent signings and maybe even some big trades with their deep farm system.

 

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National League West

Predicting the Top Ten teams of 2023: 10-6

With the World Series in full swing, the Houston Astros have become the poster child for successful rebuilds. But going from 100+ losses to 100+ wins is no easy task. It takes skill in both the front office and the scouting department. It also takes the determination to see the rebuild through, no matter how ugly it gets.

These five teams have shown to have that skill through the stockpiling of young, elite talent. They also have the determination to lay their major league roster bare so as to lay the seeds of a successful rebuild. In these seeds are young talent and veteran leadership. Burt which teams have the best chance to emulate the Astros success?

Top Ten of 2023

Sheldon Neuse showed off a polished bat at Oklahoma (Chuck Cox/RoadTripSports).

10. Oakland Athletics

The Athletics did again this season what they seem to do every season; trade away major league talent for minor league promise. Relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson were both shipped to the Nationals, and in return they received pitchers Blake Treinen, Jesus Lozardo and third baseman Sheldon Neuse. While Treinen is an established veteran and Lozardo is a mid-level prospect, Neuse is the main prize. He was the sixth ranked prospect in the Nationals system prior to the trade, and is now the fourth best in Oakland’s system.

He is also joined by former Yankees prospects Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo and James Kaprelian. All three were acquired in the Sonny Gray trade. Mateo ranks sixth and Kaprelian seventh in Oakland’s farm system, and Fowler was a Top 100 prospect at the time of the trade. But Oakland has their own home grown prospects to rely on as well. Top prospect Franklin Barreto will have a strangle hold on the shortstop position for years to come. With an even mix of pitching and position players, the Athletics have a shot to compete in the near future. But until ownership shows the determination to bring in veteran talent to supplement their young players, the best they can hope for is to compete on the fringes of baseball’s elite teams.

9. Tampa Bay Rays

Top Ten 2023

The Rays won the Wander Franco sweepstakes with a $3.9 million deal (Sports Gaming Rosters).

As a small market team, the Rays have had to rely on their farm system to keep them relevant throughout their existence. But you won’t find anyone in Tampa complaining, as it has reaped some nice dividends for the Rays. And they seem to be on that same path again, as they have a loaded farm system that ranks sixth in baseball. But the Rays haven’t acquired this talent through big time trades. They’ve done it the good old fashioned way; through savvy drafting and international signings.

Three of the team’s top ten prospects are already knocking on the door to the majors. With that much talent so close to graduating, the Rays are on the edge of rebuild and close to all in contention. But it will take those top three players living up to their potential to vault the Rays into contention. Their depth is not just limited to AAA, as top international free agent Wander Franco also helps bolster the farm system. Along with multiple other players in A ball, the stream of talent should be steady for Tampa long into the 2023 season.

Top Ten 2023

Mackenzie Gore was one of the most impressive starters in rookie ball this season (East Village Times).

8. San Diego Padres

The Padres find themselves in a similar situation with the Rays. A small market team which has to rely on it’s farm system to compete. But San Diego is different from Tampa in one regard. It has already graduated two of it’s top prospects to the majors. And they still have the fourth best farm system in all of baseball. Outfielders Manuel Margo and Hunter Renfroe both had solid rookie seasons for San Diego. While they weren’t Bryce Harper or Kris Bryant esque type seasons, they still showed improved growth. They will need them to continue to grow to support the next wave of young talent.

And by 2023, that talent will have already arrived. While none of the Padres top ten prospects are higher than AA, most of them will have had a taste of the majors by the 2023 season. Their top ten is highlighted by one of their youngest players, left hander Mackenzie Gore. After being chosen as the third overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Gore blew away the competition in Rookie ball to a tune of 1.27 ERA. Needless to say, Gore is well on his way to being the ace of the Padres rotation. While their farm system is pitcher heavy (seven of the top ten are pitchers), those prospects can always be flipped for position players. But with Margo and Renfroe already a strong core, and impressive young pitching on the way, the Padres will certainly make some noise in the 2023 season.

Top Ten 2023

Carson Kelly will soon take over behind the dish for St. Louis (MLB.com).

7. St. Louis Cardinals

As one of the most historic franchises in baseball, the Cardinals have always relied on their farm system to keep them in contention. An innate ability to blend young talent and established veterans has been key for their success. And with the 11th best farm system in baseball, the Cardinals are primed to make that leap from good to great.

That is in no small part due to their stacked farm system. But the Cardinals have a vastly different system than the previous teams on this list. With five of their top ten prospects already in the majors, the farms system will soon be greatly reduced. But that is just the farm having a bountiful harvest. Pitchers Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Sandy Alcantara will all be vying for a spot in the rotation in the 2018 season. They will be joined in the majors by backstop Carson Kelly and outfielder Harrison Bader. They will form the core of the next championship run for St. Louis. The farm system of St. Louis is very top-heavy, with nine of the top ten in AAA or the majors already. This will give them ample time to adjust to the major league game, and fully mature.

Top Ten 2023

Alex Verdugo has shown off a sweet swing in his time in the minors (baseballamerica.com).

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

You would think that the Dodgers would be out of contention five years from now. Sure they’re in the World Series, but it is very difficult to keep such a dynamic core together for that long. Include the fact that Clayton Kershaw will be 34 and Justin Turner will be 37 five years from now, and it would be easy to dismiss them from contention. But that would not be us giving them their due. The Dodgers have the willingness to spend like no one else, and a stacked farm system. Those two factors are the main ingredients for success, and the Dodgers are excellent chefs.

The Dodgers have excellent depth in their minor league system, with pitcher Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo claiming the top two spots. They have also reached the major league level, and could be top level contributors in 2023. But they are far from the only pieces Los Angeles can lay claim to. The remaining prospects are all below AAA, but that should bode well for the future years. Given time to grow and develop, players like pitcher Yadier Alvarez and catcher Keibert Ruiz have a chance to be impact players in the next couple of years. Couple that with the Dodgers’ expansive checkbook, and you have a contender for years to come.

Feature image by Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

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Dodgers Astros World Series

Astros vs Dodgers: Who has the edge?

The matchup we have all been waiting for has finally arrived. The Fall Classic is upon us, pitting the two best teams in baseball against each other. The Dodgers and Astros took two very different routes to get here, but here they both are.

The Dodgers trounced their way to the World Series, posting a 7-1 record so far. Needless to say, the Astros 7-4 record isn’t bad, but they are coming off an emotional seven game series where they struggled to put away a young Yankees squad. So who do you trust in this clash of sabermetric savants? The rested Dodgers or the battle-hardened Astros?

avoiding elimination game drama

Jose Altuve looks to launch the Astros to a World Series title (USA Today).

Lineup

Both of these teams put up spectacular numbers in the regular season. The Astros paced all of baseball in team average (.282), were second in team home runs (238), and lead the major leagues in runs scored (896). They also had a decided lead over the Dodgers in those three major categories. The Dodgers were only 19th best in team average during the regular season (.249), 11th in home runs (221), and 12th in runs scored (770).

Even with this decided advantage in the regular season belonging to the Astros, the Dodgers have shined brightest on the biggest of stages. The Dodgers have average six runs per game this postseason, compared to the Astros four runs per game. But in a seven game series like this, one player can carry an offense.

And the best suited for that behemoth task is the diminutive Jose Altuve. The presumed American League MVP has hit a scorching .400 in the postseason and launched five home runs. The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig may have Altuve bested in postseason average at .414, but he has done so in only 14 at bats, a far cry from Altuve’s 40. With the amount of firepower in Houston’s lineup, they should be more than able to keep pace with the Dodgers.

Verdict: Astros

Starting Rotation

Dodgers Astros World Series

Dodgers co-ace Yu Darvish has the ability to stymie the astros potent offense (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson).

The biggest deciding factor in Los Angeles has also been the biggest presence on the mound. Clayton Kershaw has been one of the best pitchers of his generation, with a 2.36 career ERA and three Cy Young awards to his name. But what you won’t find on the burly left hander’s possession is a World Series ring. There are some players that blossom under the playoff spotlight, but Kershaw hasn’t been one of them. In fact, he’s wilted to the tune of a 4.40 postseason career ERA. Even so, Kershaw does have a steady stable of starters to rely on to help carry the slack.

Fellow lefty Rich Hill and former Rangers ace Yu Darvish are slated to start Games Two and Three respectively, and have pitched well for the Dodgers in this postseason. Hill has pitched to a 3.00 ERA while Darvish has sparkled with a 1.59 ERA. Those types of numbers will give the Dodgers plenty of chances to win. That is, if they can score.

Justin Verlander has been, bar none, the best pitcher in baseball since the Astros acquired him in August. He cruised through the finish of the regular season, going undefeated in an Astros uniform. And he hasn’t let up yet. In 24.2 IP this postseason, he has a 1.46 ERA, a perfect 4-0 record and has struck out 24 batters. Given that he will be preceded by co-ace Dallas Keuchel (2.60 postseason ERA) in Game One, The Astros have the definite advantage at the top of the rotation. But depth will play a key role in this series. With Cy Young caliber pitchers in the form of Kershaw and Darvish, and the depth of Rich Hill, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda all able to start for Dave Roberts, the Dodgers have the advantage.

Verdict: Dodgers

Dodgers Astros World Series

Kenley Jansen has posted a stunning 0.00 ERA in the postseason (espn.com).

Bullpen

If you’re going to make a run like the Dodgers and Astros have, you must be able to shut teams down in the late innings. The Dodgers have paced baseball in team ERA this postseason with a 2.28 ERA. That is good enough to lead the next best team (Nationals) by almost a half run per game. The Astros have been markedly worse at preventing runs from scoring, with a 3.79 team ERA.

Even with the team advantage, the Dodgers have the individual advantage as well. Kenley Jansen has pitched eight innings of shutout ball this postseason, as fellow reliever Brandon Morrow has posted a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings of work. The Astros flagship ace hasn’t fared nearly as well. Ken Giles has allowed three runs over the past three innings pitched. That does not bode well for an Astros team that may have to rely heavily on him late in critical games.

The wildcard from the mound will be Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. McCullers will start Game Four of the World Series, and could come in as a relief pitcher in Game Seven if needed. He has shown lights-out stuff as of late, and A.J. Hinch could opt to use him in relief after his start. Even so, the Dodgers have the clear advantage in the pen.

Verdict: Dodgers

Prediction

This World Series is shaping up to be one for the ages. As the historically dominant Dodgers look to make a return to glory, the Astros are on the hunt for that elusive first title. But the Astros may have to wait just a little bit longer. The Dodgers are on a postseason run unlike any seen in a long time. And that may just be the deciding factor in this series.

Verdict: Dodgers in six

Feature image by Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

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2017 MLB Playoffs: Could bullpenning change baseball?

After a 162-game marathon, it all comes down to 11 wins (or 12 for wild card participants) for those in the 2017 MLB Playoffs. Baseball’s top eight teams compete to be crowned World Series champions, but only one will prevail. Teams tend to rely on the old adage that defense wins championships.

But offense has been on the rise this postseason. Through 12 postseason games, the average combined score of each game has been over 14 runs per game. That has led some to question the traditional use of starters and relievers to try and stymie this outrageous offensive output.

From starters and relievers to just pitchers

2017 MLB Playoffs

Kenley Jansen posted a 1.32 ERA in the regular season, and could be a huge weapon for the Dodgers (espn.com).

There has been a growing movement among baseball to eliminate starters and relievers and their expected roles. Have the best pitcher start the game, and go from there. And in this postseason, that seems like a sound idea. In the first inning alone, 25 runs have been scored.

Starters like Luis Severino, Ervin Santana, Jon Gray, Taijuan Walker and Doug Fister all gave up three-plus runs in the first inning. That type of performance put their teams at a severe disadvantage, as three of those five lost their teams the game.

These struggling starters eventually gave way to their bullpen counterparts. And in the Twins vs Yankees AL Wild Card game, they came in hot and heavy. Yankees skipper Joe Girardi used four different relievers to bridge the gap between the first and the ninth inning.

But it wasn’t by choice, as starter Luis Severino gave up three runs before handing over the ball in the first inning. Even so, those four relievers (Green, Robertson, Khanle, Chapman) only allowed one run. They also struck out 13 Twins on their way to victory. Even though it wasn’t by design, the Yankees showed how effective bullpenning could be.

Blurring the line between starters and relievers

2017 MLB Playoffs

David Price has found the fountain of youth in the bullpen (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images).

The difficulty accompanying bullpenning is the use of pitchers not accustomed to pitching a high number of innings. Many of these guys pitch 60-70 innings a year, while starters can easily top 200 innings if they stay healthy.

But the playoffs are a whole different animal. Gone are the dog days of summer and the long home stands. With only a handful of games separating teams from immortality and oblivion, managers should utilize their best weapons in the ideal situations. And as previously proven, that would be at the beginning of the game.

But the idea of bullpenning isn’t limited to utilizing those 60-70 innings pitched guys like Chapman and Kimbrel. A new breed of reliever has started to take form: the super reliever. Pitchers like Chris Devenski and David Price have made the move from starting to the bullpen and have had plenty of success.

And with their experience of starting games, they give their respective managers a valuable weapon. They are capable of pitching multiple innings out of the pen. But what if they just skipped straight into starting the game?

How bullpenning could work

2017 MLB Playoffs

Chris Devenski has been a vital option for the Astros, both starting and relieving (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images).

Bullpenning is a new concept for a lot of traditional baseball fans. Many of us grew up watching dominant starters blow the opposing team away, and those types of performances can still be found. But the argument for bullpenning is not one against starters.

It’s main premise is to utilize the best pitchers at the beginning of the game to maximize their potential. This strategy would not work with a 162-game schedule, but in a condensed postseason (around 20 games or so), it could be a huge equalizer for teams lacking starting pitching.

The ideal situation for bullpenning would be to have the team’s best reliever start the game. That way the offense has the opportunity to score early while having the best chance to limit opposing runs. Said reliever would pitch an inning or two to maximize his potential, followed by another reliever and maybe a starter or long reliever.

By using this strategy, teams can essentially shorten the game and put the pressure on the opposing offense. And with the plethora of relievers able to hit 99+ mph and include effective breaking pitches, offenses could see their run totals plummet.

Relievers often enter the game when the score has already gotten out of hand or is precipitously close to doing so. Their ability to prevent runs is what their teams value the most. But what if, instead of trying to stop the bleeding, it never begins in the first place?

 

Feature image by Frank Franklin II/AP Photo

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How the Yankees can challenge the Indians

The New York Yankees matched up against the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night in the AL Wild Card game. And boy, was it wild. After a slug-fest of a first inning that saw six total runs scored, the Yankees were able to bullpen their way to an 8-4 victory. But even with a rough outing from starter Luis Severino, the Yankees showed why they belong in these playoffs. They also showed something more; the grit and determination to give the Cleveland Indians a run for their money.

Four is better than one

Yankees starter Luis Severino was chased from the AL Wild Card game after just 1/3 IP (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Playoff baseball is different animal, as Luis Severino quickly found out. He couldn’t tame the Twins, allowing three earned runs in 1/3 IP. But after ousting the startled starter, the Minnesota Twins could only muster one run for the remainder of the game. The Yankees sent four different relievers to the mound, and the Twins were baffled by each one. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Khanle, and Aroldis Chapman combined to whiff 13 Twins, en route to a dominate bullpen performance.

This masterful performance by the Yankees bullpen cannot be understated. The Minnesota Twins were one of the highest scoring offenses in the late stages of the season, catching fire at the plate at the beginning of August. But after Severino’s struggles, the Yankees were able to throw out four high-quality relievers to shut the game down. The starting rotation may be the weakest link of this Yankees team, but when Girardi can rely on a bullpen as deep as his, it almost doesn’t matter.

Deeper than the long ball

Matt Holliday will provide the Yankees with clutch ABs off the bench. (sportingnews.com)

After rookie sensation Aaron Judge mashed 52 long balls to take the rookie HR crown, he began his search for a new crown Tuesday night. His quest began in style, taking Twins reliever Jose Berrios on a two-run ride to left field. But it wasn’t just Judge providing the offense, as the Yankees had contributions from the whole lineup. Only three players were held without a hit, as Starlin Castro, Jacoby Ellsbury and Todd Frazier went 0-fer on Tuesday night.

The Yankees offense also extends to it’s bench, as grizzled veterans Matt Holliday and Chase Headley ride the pine. Both players had 60-plus RBIs in the regular season, and have 30-plus homer seasons under their belts as well. With that much power on the bench, the Yankees are one of the deeper offense in the playoffs.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

The former Cy Young winner will look to continue his renaissance season in the playoffs (Kathy Willens/Associated Press).

While the starting rotation may be the weakest link of the team, having a former Cy Young winner in C.C. Sabathia can help strengthen that link. Being able to pair Sabathia with prized trade deadline acquisition Sonny Gray and Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka gives the Yankees a solid starting rotation.

But they may not even need it. With the bullpen showing its mettle in the Wild Card game and the offense being one of the deepest in the playoffs, the Yankees have multiple ways to win. And they will definitely need to employ each one to have a chance against the Cleveland Indians.

With a combination of savvy veteran starters, fire throwing relievers, and a dynamic offense, the Yankees have a collection of talent to rival any other team in these playoffs. Whether its the baby bombers Judge and Sanchez, or the dynamic duo Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, the Yankees can score with anyone and completely shut down everyone. Needless to say, the Indians will have a challenge on their hands. The Yankees are similar to the Indians of the past; a young and hungry team with the talent to match up against anyone.

Feature image from Associated Press. 

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The race to the top: The AL Wild Card

As the trade deadline draws nearer, teams have to determine if they will be buyers or sellers. The separation between the two is pretty evident in the National League (minus the NL Central). But with six teams within two games of the last American League Wild Card spot, the race is wide open. Even so, only two teams make it to the Wild Card game. Let’s take a look at the top four teams vying for the coveted Wild Card berths and determine if they have what it takes to make it to the playoffs.

New York Yankees (44-37)

AL Wild Card

C.C. Sabathia has been a key contributor in the Yankees rotation (Kathy Willens/Associated Press).

Current Wild Card Standing: 1st Wild Card

After spending the majority of the season atop the AL East standings, a rough patch has left them two and a half games back of the Boston Red Sox. Even so, the Bronx Bombers are making a comeback, with an offense that can rival any team in the American League. Just look at the numbers; fourth-best team batting average in the majors (.269), fourth-most home runs (125), and second-best on base percentage (.347). That also included AL MVP front-runner Aaron Judge, who has buoyed the Yankees offense.

The pitching staff has also performed well. With the sixth-best team ERA in the majors (3.93), fifth-best WHIP (1.24), and fourth-best batting average against (.237), the Yankees are a complete team. Even though team ace Masahiro Tanaka has struggled this season with a 5.56 ERA. Jordan Montgomery and C.C. Sabathia have been key contributors for Joe Girardi. And with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in the ‘pen, the Yankees can hold a lead as well as anyone. Look for them to be a lock for the AL Wild Card and to contend for the AL East for the remainder of the season.

Tampa Bay Rays (43-41)

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

AL Wild Card

Corey Dickerson has been an excellent addition to a surprising Rays’ offense (mlb.com).

Even occupying the second Wild Card spot hasn’t been enough to earn the Rays the attention they deserve. But with only one player making the AL All-Star roster (Corey Dickerson), the Rays have relied on timely hitting and clutch pitching so far. The offense’s strength has been power, with the second-most home runs in the majors (128) and seventh-best slugging percentage (.447). Even though the offense has the ability to bludgeon opponents, it hasn’t had to. The pitching staff has done more than hold its own this season.

Ranking in 11th place in the majors in team ERA (4.18), WHIP (1.31) and tied for ninth in batting average against (.250), the pitching staff has given the offense plenty of opportunities to win games. Chris Archer and Alex Cobb have both had average seasons so far, and will need to turn it on down the stretch to ensure the Rays stay in contention. But if rookie Jacob Faria can maintain his 2.23 ERA, the pressure on Archer and Cobb will be vastly diminished. The Rays should hover around the top of the Wild Card standings and could make a run for the top spot.

Kansas City Royals (42-40)

AL Wild Card

Jason Vargas has put up a Cy Young caliber season in Kansas City (mlb.com).

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

Of all of the teams in contention for the AL Wild Card, the Royals are the most interesting. Just two years removed from winning the Fall Classic, the majority of the championship roster remains intact. Although the team has a World Series pedigree, the offense has been sub-par. Ranking 20th in the majors in team batting average (.251), 29th in on base percentage (.303) and 22nd in slugging (.414) doesn’t bode well for their playoff hopes. Even strong seasons from Lorenzo Cain and All-Star starter Salvador Perez haven’t been enough to right the offense.

The pitching staff has fared better than the offense, but not by much. With the 13th best team ERA in baseball (4.26), 18th best WHIP (1.37) and 19th best batting average against (.260), the pitching staff has been below league average. The bright spot in the rotation has been Jason Vargas, who is a legitimate AL Cy Young candidate. Vargas and Danny Duffy have carried the pitching staff, but it’s not nearly enough to keep the Royals in contention. With a tough division and even tougher Wild Card race, the Royals don’t have enough to contend. Look for them to be big sellers at the trade deadline and gear up for a long rebuild.

Minnesota Twins (42-40)

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

AL Wild Card

Sano has been terrific this season, earning his first All-Star appearance (mlb.com).

After years of rebuilding, the Twins are trying to turn promise into playoffs. But so far, the results have been mixed. Miguel Sano has turned into an All-Star third baseman, while second baseman Brian Dozier has put up an average season. Their contributions have led to the Twins 18th best team batting average in the majors (.252), 10th best on base percentage (.328) and 23rd best slugging percentage (.413). Even with a middling offense, it has driven the team’s success so far, as the pitching staff has struggled.

Ranking in the bottom third of the majors in team ERA (4.88, 27th), WHIP (1.44, 26th) and batting average against (.269, 26th) has kept the Twins from being true contenders in the AL. Even with Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios pitching well, the remainder of the Twins’ staff has let the team down. The Twins are in a precarious position; too young to rebuild but not quite good enough to be serious contenders. They could add a pitcher at the deadline, but it wouldn’t make much difference in a competitive AL Wild Card race. The Twins will ride out the remainder of the season and finish around the .500 mark.

Feature image by John Sleezer, TNS. 

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Transcending eras: Clayton Kershaw

When you think of the great pitchers of the game, there is generally a consensus on most of the names. Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Pedro Martinez. The list could go on and on with dominant pitchers who have played the game. Even so, how about we add one more name to that list; Clayton Kershaw.

The burly lefty may only be 29 years old, but when you review his career so far, it’s hard not to see how truly dominant he has been. But does he truly match up to the likes of Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan? Let’s delve into the numbers and see how the Dallas native compares to the past greats.

Best pitcher of all-time

Clayton Kershaw is arguably one of the best pitchers of all-time (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

Mature beyond his years

That could be one of the more accurate statements made in regards to Kershaw. When the southpaw made his major league debut at the ripe old age of 20, no one could have predicted what he was to become. After being drafted seventh overall in the 2006 MLB Draft, he was pegged to be a future top of the rotation arm, a potential ace. Kershaw quickly proved that to be true after he posted a 2.79 ERA in his 21 year old season. He also punched 185 tickets in 171 innings pitched that season, proving to have electric stuff.

That season was just a glimmer of what Kershaw would become. Throughout his twenties he pitched like a grizzled veteran, compiling Hall of Fame type numbers. In his first 10 seasons in Los Angeles, he has a career 2.38 ERA with 2,033 strikeouts in 1,863.1 innings pitched. Kershaw became the second fastest to reach 2000 career strikeouts this season, bested by only Randy Johnson. The pitchers behind Kershaw on that list read like a who’s who of great MLB pitchers; Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, to name a few.

Even so, it’s much to early to mention Kershaw in the same breath as the likes of Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, isn’t it?

Lefty on lefty

When Kershaw became the second fastest player to reach 2,000 career strikeouts, many people both in and out of the game of baseball took notice. But if that was their first exposure to the Dodgers’ ace, then they have been missing one of the most masterful pitchers in baseball history. That may sound blasphemous to some die-hard baseball fans, but when put up against the game’s greats, Kershaw does more than hold his own. Let’s take Randy Johnson for example.

The Big Unit didn’t make his major league debut until he was 24 years old. Even so, we will compare his first 10 seasons to Kershaw’s, given that is the breadth of Kershaw’s career so far. In Johnson’s first 10 years in the league, he posted a 3.37 ERA, over one full run more than Kershaw’s 2.38 ERA.

Johnson also struck out an even 2000 batters over 1734 innings in those 10 years, 33 less than Kershaw. Even though Johnson was 33 strikeouts off of matching Kershaw, Johnson pitched 129 fewer innings than Kershaw, so that statistic can be misleading. That explains Johnson’s edge in SO/9, with 10.4 compared to Kershaw’s 9.8 SO/9. With the small difference in SO/9, Kershaw still easily bests Johnson in run prevention, the main responsibility of a pitcher. It can be reasoned that Kershaw has pitched better than Johnson in his first 10 seasons, but what about another great?

Righty on lefty

Best pitcher of all-time

Nolan Ryan’s greatness was on display for decades, but Kershaw might be catching up with him (baseballhall.org).

Nolan Ryan has largely been lauded as one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. The 12th round MLB Draft pick out of Refugio, Texas defied expectations, making his MLB debut at 19 years old. He put up a 3.09 ERA in 21 games in 1968, and struck out 133 batters in 134 innings pitched. In his first 10 seasons, Ryan was a force for both the Mets and Angels. With a 3.11 ERA and 2085 strikeouts in 1935 innings pitched over his first 10 seasons, Kershaw matches up well with his fellow Texan.

Kershaw again has the lead in ERA, with a 2.38 ERA compared to Ryan’s 3.11 ERA. Ryan has more strikeouts than Kershaw (2085 compared to 2033), but their SO/9 is eerily similar. Ryan possesses a 9.7 SO/9 compared to Kershaw’s 9.8 SO/9. The similarity in SO/9 is remarkable, and means Kershaw and Ryan have been about the same in regards to their strikeout ability. Even so, Kershaw again has an edge over his counterpart, with a lower ERA and similar SO/9 in their first 10 seasons.

Kershaw’s dominance can not be overlooked. And when you compare his career to some of the game’s greats, his dominance becomes even more evident. If Kershaw retired today, he would garner considerable Hall of Fame consideration. But with no signs of slowing down on the horizon, and at only 29 years old, Kershaw could continue dealing at a high level for years to come.

Feature image by USATSI.

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The most underrated hitter in MLB

There have been many later round draft picks that have performed well beyond their expectations in the majors. Dallas Keuchel was a seventh round draft pick, and an eventual Cy Young winner. Albert Pujols was a 13th round selection, and recently joined the 600 home run club. Daniel Murphy was also a 13th round selection, and turned into a Silver Slugger. The list could go on and on. But one thing sticks out about these late round success stories; they have gained ample amounts of national notoriety.

How does one of the most successful hitters in the game not get as much fanfare as the three previously listed players? Is it because he was an eighth round selection out of San Marcos State University? Or is it because he has spent his seven year career in the desert? Either way, Paul Goldschmidt is arguably the best hitter in the game, and has been for years. It’s okay if you didn’t know that. I’ll fill you in.

Underrated hitter in MLB

Luis Gonzalez has been overcome by Paul Goldschmidt as the best hitter in franchise history (venomstrikes.com).

Best Hitter in Franchise History

When comparing Goldschmidt with the best players in Diamondbacks history, one can begin to comprehend his greatness. Using WAR, Goldschmidt edges out one of the most revered players in franchise history, Luis Gonzalez. Gonzalez spent eight seasons in Arizona and amassed 30.0 wins above replacement in that time. He also garnered five All-Star appearances, and helped put the franchise on the map.

In Goldschmidt’s seven seasons in the desert, he has already surpassed the great Gonzalez. Compiling 31.8 wins above replacement and posting a career 147 OPS+ compared to Gonzalez’s 130 OPS+ in Arizona, Goldschmidt has quickly become the best hitter in franchise history. But given Arizona’s short history (founded in 1998), some may discredit Goldschmidt’s accomplishments, citing the franchise’s limited history and success. To counter that argument, let us examine where Goldschmidt ranks among the best hitters in the game today.

Best Hitter in the Game?

Underrated MLB hitter

Bryce Harper may have a MVP award, but Goldschmidt has the lead in all major statistics (sportingnews.com).

Okay, that may be a little bit of a stretch. Even so, in an era with Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto, Goldschmidt does more than hold his own. Goldschmidt came into the league in 2011, but didn’t cement his status as a full-time starter until the 2012 season. If we use 2012 as a starting point, his career aligns favorably with one of the most hyped prospects ever to play the game; Bryce Harper.

Harper busted onto the MLB scene in 2012 and has been a dominant force ever since. With a 40 home run season, one MVP award and a ROY award already on his mantle, there’s no way a player like Goldschmidt could compare to that right? Think again. Over the same time period, 2012-2017, Goldschmidt has a slash line of .302/.404/.531. Compared to Harpers’ .282/.386/.511, Goldschmidt is clearly the better hitter. But if a few percentage points are not enough to sway you, let us delve a little deeper.

Harper has hit 136 home runs, driven in 378 RBIs and posted a 141 OPS+ since 2012. Goldschmidt has hit 145 home runs, driven in 526 RBIs and has a 149 OPS+ in the same time period. In all measurable statistics, Goldschmidt is better than Harper. Even in stolen bases, with Goldschmidt swiping 107 bases compared to Harper’s 59. So if Goldschmidt is an overall better player, including defensively (three Gold Gloves for Goldschmidt, zero for Harper), why isn’t he getting as much coverage?

Underrated MLB hitter

Paul Goldschmidt is looking to get the notoriety he deserves as the Diamondbacks improve (Jim McIsaac/Getty).

Hidden in the Desert Sun

Goldschmidt has finished second twice in the NL MVP voting in his career. Even so, the Diamondbacks slugger has deserved much more consideration in his career. Ironically enough, Goldschmidt finished second in 2015 to none other than Bryce Harper, and to Andrew McCutchen in 2013. It can be argued that playing in Arizona has hampered Goldschmidt’s exposure, and caused him to be highly overlooked.

The Diamondbacks haven’t exactly been as successful as Goldlschmidt has, without a winning season since his rookie year in 2011. With an inept franchise in a small market like Arizona, it is easy to see why Goldschmidt has been overlooked by fans and media alike. But with the team sitting at 34-25 and Goldschmidt performing like he always has, maybe he’ll finally get the recognition he deserves.

He certainly has from me, and now hopefully from you now as well.

Feature image by Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports.

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