American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Over-Performing Underdogs

The American League West has been dominated by the Astros, but the other two divisions have been surprising. Cleveland got off to a slow start, creating a tight early-season race in the AL Central. The AL East has arguably been the most competitive division with some surprise contenders rising to the top.

Today’s wrap-up looks at those teams who have exceeded preseason expectations and how they got there.

The New York Yankees

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Over-Performing Underdogs

Photo by Reinhold Matay | USA Today Sports

We knew the Yankees were going to be better than the last few seasons, but not this good. The Yankees have done a masterful job bolstering their young core during prior seasons. Players like breakout rookie Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes were advertised as great, but they weren’t supposed to be ready this soon.

While the younger talent has certainly performed, the rest of the team has more then pulled their weight. Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks are all 27 years old and batting above .300. Adding to this strong mix are veterans Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Holliday, who have also been key contributors so far this season.

New York’s lineup has been a wonderfully-balanced attack on offense and has them sitting in the top five in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and RBIs.

The only thing that could have held this offensive juggernaut back was a questionable pitching staff. That rotation currently holds the third best ERA in the AL. Things are firing on all cylinders for the Bronx Bombers as they continue to battle for top position in the East.

The Baltimore Orioles

The other club battling for the top position in the East has been the surprising Baltimore Orioles. Most analysts, including this one, thought the Red Sox were a shoo-in for a repeat of their 2016 performance. However, it’s been the Yankees and Orioles dominating the top of the division.

While the Yankees have the stat lines you’d expect to see at the top of the division, the Orioles are a bit more of an enigma. A look at their statistical standings places them mid-tier in most major pitching and hitting categories. Their pitching staff suffered early season injuries, and their MVP-caliber third baseman, Manny Machado, has struggled early.

Those issues haven’t deterred the back-half of the Orioles rotation from silencing critics. Dylan Bundy and Wade Miley have been the picture of consistency, posting a combined 2.36 ERA through 15 starts. These impressive performances combined with the recent return of team ace Chris Tillman may signal continued success for this staff. Combine solid pitching with the ever-present power threat of the Orioles lineup and you have a combination that can steal a lot of games.

The Minnesota Twins

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The 2017 AL Central discussion has been about nearly every team other than the Indians. Cleveland continues to press the top of the standings, but it’s been Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota who have kept it close.

The Twins in particular have been a surprise given their last place finish in 2016. The reemergence of Ervin Santana as a top league ace has certainly helped their cause. The remainder of the Twins pitching staff has posted respectable performances and should get better with the recent call up of José Berríos. Highly-touted young gun Miguel Sano has emerged this season, slashing .297 / .439 / .667 with 10 home runs.

Interestingly enough, Sano is the only member of the Twins lineup hitting anywhere near .300. In fact, the Twins average, slugging percentage and RBIs rank in the bottom half of the league. That said, their on-base percentage is in the AL’s top five, and they’re clearly doing enough to win games. Minnesota is definitely on a hot streak, capturing six of their last ten.

This recent success is promising for the Minnesota fan base. However, unless some of the offensive statistics pick up, it’s hard to foresee a sustained push by the Twins.

 

Featured Image by Tony Gutierrez / AP

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American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Injuries and Ignorance

The MLB season is rolling right along as we are already into the first week of May.

The AL East has dominated headlines of late with the red-hot Yankees and standout rookie Aaron Judge. The Orioles and Red Sox feud has escalated to the point of commissioner involvement and the Blue Jays are the first team to 20 losses.

The Central is a tightly contested race with the Indians only ahead of the next three teams by two wins or less. The West is still the Astros and everyone else, although the angels continue to surprise by holding onto second place.

The divisional standings are starting to take shape, but unfortunately it’s been the negative news that’s been front and center. The recent rash of injuries and nonsense in the AL East has certainly created an interesting news cycle, and provides the focus of the wrap-up today.

An Apple a Day Keeps the DL Away

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Injuries and Ignorance

(Photo by Associated Press)

The number of injuries this season has been staggering. Corey Kluber, James Paxton, J.A. Happ and Tyler Skaggs are just a few of the recent additions.

The laundry list of critical rotation pieces who have suffered early season stints on the disabled list continues to grow. Position players have certainly had their fair share of injuries, but it appears pitching staffs have felt the greatest impact.

Preseason speculation regarding the disabled list duration rule change predicted an uptick in DL stints, but not this many. The reduction of the 15-day duration was intended to give teams additional roster flexibility. Furthermore, the rule change wouldn’t penalize players and teams as harshly for taking needed rest to prevent injury. The rule change certainly worked.

Soreness, tightness and inflammation have been some of the most commonly cited ailments plaguing the league this season. Questions have begun to arise as to whether or not teams are taking advantage of the new system. This isn’t to say players don’t have legitimate injuries, but the new duration has clearly lowered the barrier.

The impact to the team of losing a key lineup piece hasn’t changed. However, the potential of key rotation members to only miss one start as opposed to multiple may help explain the rash of trips to the DL. It will be interesting the monitor the usage of this system throughout the season and if the league addresses the topic after the season ends.

Ignorance in the East

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Injuries and Ignorance

(Photo by TIM BRADBURY/GETTY IMAGES)

There hasn’t been much good to come out the most recent matchups between the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen fans hurling peanuts and racial slurs followed by players hurling pitches at each other.

The Adam Jones incident has sparked a great deal of discussion around the league and rightfully so. While it’s truly unfortunate anyone has to endure that type of shameful behavior, it has put a renewed focus on how organizations handle this type of behavior.

The conversation on how teams manage fan behavior will continue to evolve. It was encouraging to see the post-incident fan reaction. The standing ovation Jones received after the story came to light was a particularly classy move by Boston fans.

It’s fine to have rules and policies around this type of behavior. However, as fans, we all have an obligation to hold one another accountable and not let a few individuals ruin the reputation of city, a team or a fan base.

An Eye for an Eye

The Jones incident was ugly, but it wasn’t the only absurdity in the series. The headhunting saga should be at its end now that the commissioner is involved. Rob Manfred was forced to get the managers and general managers of both clubs on the phone to discuss the feud.

The duel has been well-documented, and it raises concerns about the unwritten rules of baseball. The game of baseball has always been played with a not-so-secret honor code that all players abide by. Players who showboat or play recklessly often find themselves on the receiving end of a retaliatory fastball.

Whether you enjoy this aspect of the game or not, there is little doubt this behavior is on its way out. We’ve seen an increased focus on player safety in recent years starting with the “Buster Posey” rule that eliminated catcher collisions. Based on that trend, there can be little doubt that firing pitches at players’ heads won’t be tolerated moving forward.

Suspensions and fines have already been applied in this situation. Don’t be surprised when we see these events become rule-book changes as soon as this offseason.

 

(Featured Image by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

 

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*Featured Image Courtesy of Seth Wenig AP Photo*

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 4 April Standings

It is one month into the 2017 season, and the league has already thrown a number of surprises our way. While April was as tumultuous as years past, it feels as though that early season rust is dissipating. Teams and players alike have begun to settle into regular season form with some standout performances mixed in across divisions.

So far this season we’ve looked at hot and cold starts and individual statistical standouts. Now let’s look at the month in review. This week will highlight the current American League standings and preview of how May is shaping up.

*All statistics as of end of day 04/29*

AL East

AL East Standings W L PCT GB WCGB
NY Yankees 15 7 0.682
Baltimore 14 8 0.636 1 1.5
Boston 12 11 0.522 3.5 1
Tampa Bay 12 13 0.48 4.5 2
Toronto 7 17 0.292 9 6.5
American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 4 April Standings

(Image Courtesy of AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

As expected, the AL east has been one of the most contested divisions in baseball. The Yankees, and standout rookie Aaron Judge leads the division with Baltimore right on their heels. Judge has been excellent so far this season, setting the rookie home run record with ten in April. He’s more than living up to his projected power potential.

Concerns about Baltimore’s pitching staff with the loss of Chris Tillman hasn’t slowed the team down. Strong contributions from both Wade Miley and Dylan Bundy have kept the Orioles in games as their power packed lineup continues to mash.

Boston and Tampa Bay are both sporting 12 wins in the middle of the division, but don’t expect this to continue. The Red Sox have been led by utterly dominant performances by Chris Sale. Boston’s lineup has the second best team average in baseball, but is last in home runs, and bottom five in RBIs. Expect the team that generated the most offense in baseball last year to pick up its pace and its win total in May.

Tampa Bay and Toronto round out the bottom of the division, but have had two very different starts. While the Rays have shown impressive resilience behind a young core of players, Toronto is floundering. It’s hard to predict what’s next for the Jays, but below average pitching and an anemic offense don’t exactly spell future success.

AL Central

AL Central Standings W L PCT GB WCGB
Chi White Sox 13 9 0.591
Cleveland 13 10 0.565 0.5
Minnesota 11 11 0.5 2 1.5
Detroit 11 12 0.478 2.5 2
Kansas City 7 15 0.318 6 5.5

After offloading their top talent in the offseason, Chicago has decided it would like to be in first place anyways. Struggling stars Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier have contributed little, while Avisaíl García has slashed .376 / .418 / 1.053. Best bet is Chicago comes back to earth soon, but then again, no one expected this either.

Cleveland’s slow start to the season has been met with a recent resurgence and plenty of optimism. The defending AL champs have three of their five starters clicking on all cylinders with lock-down contributions from the bullpen. The not-so-surprising star of the offense has been Jose Ramirez. After a breakout campaign in 2016, Ramirez has slashed .333 / .388 / .997 with six home runs and 21 RBIs so far this season.

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 4 April Standings

(Image Courtesy of Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota and Detroit are locked up at 11 wins each and have continued to press the front-runners. The Twins have seen an outstanding come-back performance from Ervin Santana who currently holds a 0.77 ERA through four starts.

While Byron Buxton has continued to struggle at the plate, Minnesota has seen great contributions elsewhere. Young guns Miguel Sano and Max Kepler are both off to excellent starts with strong averages and decent pop.

Detroit is in a bit of a tail spin after dropping its last four games of the month. They will have one more opportunity to snap that in April against a hot Chicago White Sox team.

Justin Verlander and the rotation are off to a shaky start. The good news is Justin Upton has looked every bit the player Detroit expected when they acquired him last year. Between Upton and the cast of veterans on this squad, the Tigers should have plenty of run support for a struggling rotation.

Kansas City needs a turnaround, and fast. The Royals have seen minuscule production from an offense that has them last in the league in the run category. An impressive start from Jason Vargas and solid hurling from Danny Duffy has kept the royals pitching numbers respectable, but it’s not enough.

Kansas City is facing the potential departure of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Vargas at the end of the season. If the Royals are going to make one final run with this group, they will need a whole other level of urgency heading into May.

 

AL West

AL West W L PCT GB WCGB
Houston 15 9 0.625
LA Angels 13 13 0.5 3 1.5
Oakland 11 13 0.458 4 2.5
Texas 11 13 0.458 4 2.5
Seattle 11 14 0.44 4.5 3

 

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 4 April Standings

(Image Courtesy of Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

In the West, it’s been the Astro’s and the rest. The Astros are off to an excellent start in 2017 and have received contributions from every part of the club. While it’s easy to be excited by the young talent in the lineup, it’s actually the rotation leading the way.

The resurgence of 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel has been instrumental to a rotation ranking third in ERA. If the remainder of the rotation can keep pace with Keuchel’s great start, it could be a runaway race in the west.

The Angels are actually the surprise second-place team in this division. The Angels were riding a five-game hot streak until it was broken up by Carlos Gomez and the Rangers. Mike Trout continues to quietly be Mike Trout slashing .365 / .436 / 1.155 with seven home runs.

In typical Angels fashion, other than Trout, everything has been mediocre. The offseason acquisitions, the pitching and essentially every other player has been average to start the year. It is overall an impressive start for Los Angeles, especially considering the myriad of injuries the team has faced.

The bottom of the division is essentially a three-way tie between Oakland, Texas and Seattle. It’s clear the Mariners and Rangers are underperforming, while Oakland has overachieved considering the loss of Sonny Gray.

There have been some impressive individual performances such as Seattle’s James Paxton and Mitch Haniger. Oakland’s Khris Davis has put on an impressive power display thus far, and Carlos Gomez just hit for the cycle with Texas. It’s still early in the season, so I would expect at least one, if not two of these teams, to challenge the top of the division before the year ends.

 

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Calm Yourself Cleveland: Why the Browns Draft Strategy Makes Sense

Less than 24 hours in, national media outlets and local Cleveland Browns fans alike have condemned the Cleveland Browns draft strategy as an abject failure. All in response to the Browns decision to trade back from 12 with the Texans.

The result of the trade netted Houston their quarterback after promptly snagging Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. The Browns secured pick 25, which turned into Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, and a future first rounder.

Cleveland Browns Draft Strategy

Photo: Brandon Wade, AP

Now I can understand the national media’s annual witch hunt. If they aren’t clubbing Cleveland over the head, who else would they direct that pent-up aggression at? But Cleveland fans are better than this.

Now I understand the arguments, the anger, and some of it is completely justified. “It’s been years”. “You need players not picks”. “What good are picks if you can’t identify talent”. “At this rate, me and everyone I know will be dead by the time we win anything” etc, etc.

But let’s take a step back here and talk about why this is all going to work out in the long run.

“This front office can’t identify talent”

Really? We’re one year in. I understand several “regimes” have floated through Cleveland the last few years. That said, Sashi Brown and Co. have only had their finger on the trigger for one complete draft thus far. That same draft where they amassed an insane amount of capital for the future.

Granted, the jury’s still out on Corey Coleman, Emmanuel Ogbah and Cody Kessler. Writing off an entire draft class, based on one rookie season with little talent around them is premature at best.

Cleveland Browns Draft Strategy

Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown addresses the media during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

How are we doing so far in 2017? Consensus top overall player in the draft. Fills a need.

Versatile safety, who can play multiple positions, on a team that needs athletes at multiple positions. Fills a need.

Sashi utilizing that “future capital” to move up and acquire the second ranked tight end in the draft. Fills a need.

Obviously, as with any pick, it remains to be seen how these decisions play out. What you absolutely can’t say is the Browns didn’t acquire starting caliber talent in round one.

“Players not picks”

“Picks are just a promise of something in the future, not guarantees.” If you’re searching for guarantees in the National Football League, keep searching. Guess what a good strategy is to hedge against one player being a bust, having another player.

“This team has holes everywhere.” Agreed, how would you like to fill those holes? I understand the Hue Jackson’s award winning smile helped the Browns net Jamie Collins, but free agents aren’t exactly breaking down the door to come to Cleveland. I know you want to fill all the holes now, or a decade ago, but you can’t have that.

Embrace the realization that the only way to plug this many holes is with a lot of picks. Collecting a lot of picks takes a lot of time. Sashi has done a fantastic job of amassing a lot of picks in a “relatively” short period.

I know it’s relative for us because we’ve been waiting near two decades for this, but we must hold on. Pink Floyd once said “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding, and you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat.” In this terrible analogy, getting picks is the meat, and getting wins is the pudding.

“You need a quarterback to win”

I’m so sick of this *insert expletive here*

Here you go, here are some quarterbacks…

2016     Robert Griffin III (5) / Josh McCown (3) / Cody Kessler (8)

2015     Josh McCown (8) / Johnny Manziel (6) / Austin Davis (2)

2014     Brian Hoyer (13) / Johnny Manziel (2) / Connor Shaw (1)

2013     Jason Campbell (8) / Brandon Weeden (5) / Brian Hoyer (3)

2012     Brandon Weeden (15) / Thad Lewis (1)

2011     Colt McCoy (13) / Seneca Wallace (3)

2010     Colt McCoy (8) / Jake Delhomme (4) / Seneca Wallace (4)

2009     Brady Quinn (9) / Derek Anderson (7)

2008     Derek Anderson (9) / Brady Quinn (3) / Ken Dorsey (3) / Bruce Gradkowski (1)

2007     Derek Anderson (15) / Charlie Frye (1)

2006     Charlie Frye (13) / Derek Anderson (3)

2005     Trent Dilfer (11) / Charlie Frye (5)

2004     Jeff Garcia (10) / Kelly Holcomb (2) / Luke McCown (4)

2003     Kelly Holcomb (8) / Tim Couch (8)

2002     Tim Couch (14) / Kelly Holcomb (2)

2001     Tim Couch (16)

2000     Doug Pederson (8) / Tim Couch (7) / Spergon Wynn (1)

1999     Tim Couch (14) / Ty Detmer (2)

 

Cleveland Browns Draft Strategy

Cody Kessler (AP Photo/David Richard)

Of the quarterbacks drafted in round one this year, how many are franchise guys? Of course, no one knows. What we do know is that in nearly every draft one to four quarterbacks are taken in the first round.

What we also know is that a small percentage of those end up being franchise guys. Of those franchise guys, a small percentage of them end up being in the top tier or even top 15.

The point here is that all teams, not just the Browns, are constantly reaching for quarterbacks. The mantra around the league is do what it takes to get your guy. Given the high failure rate for the position, if a team doesn’t feel like the guy is there, how can you fault them for not going that route.

Ultimately, do you need a quarterback to win? Yes. Should the Browns waste draft picks, on players they evaluate as mid-tier, during years they aren’t going to compete? No.

This is not a re-tool or re-load, it’s a re-build. It’s a completely unfair ask of Browns fans at this point but additional patience is required here. Even if you’re not sold on the names in the front office, at least there’s a strategy in place. It’s clear, it’s long term, and if they stick with it we may just see some winning football a few years down the line.

Stay strong fellow Browns fans!

 

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American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

Week three has come and gone and things have begun to normalize around the league. The divisional records remain close with only a few games separating the pack. That is, every division except for the East and Toronto. Sorry Blue Jay’s fans, we feel for you.

Other than the anomaly up north, teams are clearly settling into the regular season groove. This has netted baseball fans some extremely impressive performance so far this season, and that’s what we’ll be highlighting today.

Today we look at the statistical leaders from around the AL and decide if we’re buying or selling that performance over 162 games.

Buy or Sell: Statistical Standouts

Average: Avisaíl García

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

(Photo Courtesy of Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Besides having one of the most fun names to say in baseball, Avisaíl García has been on a torrid hitting spree to start the season. As a top 100 prospect back in 2013, the White Sox organization has been patient with Garcia’s development. That patience has certainly paid off as the 25-year-old is slashing .371/.426/.581 with three home runs to start the season.

Season Long Statistical Standout: Sell

What I will buy is that Garcia will end the season as the White Sox best hitter. Given the make-up of the White Sox roster, that isn’t a glowing endorsement, but it’s something.

There’s no reason not to believe Garcia will be a significant part of the Chicago rebuild and a solid ball player for this club. That said, Garcia has hit a .250 average over the last three seasons, so handing him the batting title now may be a bit premature.

Power: Khris Davis / George Springer

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

(Photo Courtesy of Thearon W. Henderson)

Both Davis and Springer are off to excellent starts and currently are tied with an AL leading seven home runs apiece. Both sluggers are in their prime at age 29 and 27 and displayed breakout power in 2016.

Springer is the better-rounded player of the two, but Davis actually appears to have more power upside. Granted there is a small sample size in this department for both, but both have excellent power potential.

Season Long Statistical Standout: Davis – Buy / Springer – Sell

As previously mentioned, this is not a comment on who I believe is the better overall player. That award currently belongs to Springer. Given the current state of the MLB, it is going to take over 40 homers to win this category. Davis has already shown that type of power in 2016, and it’s clear that pace hasn’t slowed.

Unfortunately it appears Springer is dealing with some early-season injury issues, which will clearly impact overall totals. Even so, when it comes to the pure power department, it will be no surprise if Davis is leading at the end of the season.

ERA: Jason Vargas

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

(Photo Courtesy of John Sleezer)

Alright let’s be honest, no one saw this coming. Not to say Vargas hasn’t been a solid pitcher over the course of his career, but this was unexpected. A 34-year-old who had Tommy John surgery and sporting a career 4.11 ERA isn’t supposed to lead the entire MLB in this category.

Vargas has been masterful in his first three starts at a time when the Royals desperately need an ace. The question facing this veteran is how long can this continue?

Season Long Statistical Standout: Sell

Vargas is very much the Kyle Hendricks or Rich Hill type of story we saw in 2016. He’s a pitcher who relies on mixing it up and keeping hitters off balance more than overpowering them. It may take the MLB awhile to adjust, but given Vargas’ stuff, it’s likely only a matter of time.

There’s still plenty of reason for optimism, and pitchers like Vargas have experienced increasing success in recent years. However, the next name on the list isn’t going to make it easy for other pitchers to lead in many categories.

Strike Outs: Chris Sale

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

(Photo Courtesy of Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP)

You knew this guy would show up somewhere. Currently leading the league with 42 strikeouts in four games, Sale has certainly found his groove in Boston. Sale has wasted little time in establishing himself as the undisputed ace in a rotation featuring Rick Porcello and David Price. It was hard to visualize Sale being much more dominant than he has been in years past, but here we are.

Season Long Statistical Standout: Buy

Sale went for eight innings in his last star and didn’t allow a single run while throwing nearly 80 percent of his pitches for strikes. It’s been that kind of command we’ve seen throughout his career, but it has been even more impressive to start the season. There’s little more to say, other than Chris Sale is dominant and the odds-on favorite for AL Cy Young in 2017.

 

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American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

Week two is in the books, and the early season continues to shake up preseason predictions. April batting averages and win records are hardly worth over analyzing, but that doesn’t change the standings.

Last week’s Wrap-Up was dedicated to teams with impressive starts. This week examines those teams on the other end of that spectrum and a few reasons for optimism, because let’s be honest, its still April.

Early Season Struggles

Toronto Blue Jays

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

Image Courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesKendrys

Toronto was facing a seven-game losing streak until a walk-off home run from Kendrys Morales liberated the club. The offseason acquisition of Morales was a nice boost to, what so far, has been an anemic offense. The Jays are clearly missing both the bat and leadership of Edwin Encarnacion, but unfortunately, trouble doesn’t stop there.

Toronto’s luck worsened when team lynch pin Josh Donaldson was placed on the 10-day with a calf injury. Russell Martin is admittedly in one of the worst down hitting streaks of his career. Vocal player Jose Bautista has started with a .136 average and hasn’t generated a single dinger. It has been a cold start in the frozen north, but all is not lost.

Turning it around in Toronto

The Jays pitching staff currently ranks 14th in the MLB. While this isn’t their overall best ERA as seen in 2016, all the pieces remain for a repeat performance.

The Donaldson injury is frustrating, but before that, he led the team in average, OBP and homers. If Donaldson can continue his typical MVP-caliber play, the Jays’ star can keep them in contention. Joey Batts and Martin won’t hit this way forever, and both represent a power threat that can surprise opponents.

Finally, the return of closer of Roberto Osuna should give Toronto confidence they can secure wins when they carry the lead.

Seattle Mariners

After a busy offseason, Seattle can’t be thrilled with the slow start to the season. The offense currently ranks in the bottom third of the MLB, and the pitching is not far off.

With key veterans Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz off to a slow start, it’s no surprise the Mariners have struggled to generate runs. Further compounding these issues has been the fact that every game, and therefore every loss, has been against divisional opponents.

Silver Lining in Seattle

It’s fine to be a little disappointed with the early start, but there are significant reasons for optimism in Seattle.

How about the fact that James Paxton has tossed 21 scoreless innings to start the season? Many analysts, including this writer (who snagged Paxton in fantasy), believe this was the year Paxton established himself. Early signs point to Paxton’s ability to establish himself as the ace, and that is until you remember that King Felix is still on this team. There is also plenty of talent in the back half of the rotation that shouldn’t be discounted, despite a slow start.

Pitching will be a strength for this team, but the offense has some work to do. Fortunately, early performance is proving out the acquisition of Jean Segura, who has started the season batting an impressive .313.

On top of that, there is plenty of veteran’s offense on this ball club. The start may have been slow, but if there’s any group that understands the baseball rollercoaster, it’s this team.

Cleveland Indians

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

(Photo Courtesy of Ron Schwane / Associated Press)

Best bets wouldn’t have placed the defending AL champs at the bottom of the division two weeks into the season. After an impressive series against the Rangers to start off 2017, the Tribe has struggled as of late. Most shocking is the Indians highly touted rotation currently sporting the worst ERA in Major League Baseball through 12 games.

The offense has been a strange mixture of extremely hot and ice cold. Failing to get nearly anything going against the Diamondbacks and White Sox, the Indians have also crushed multiple grand slams in the first two weeks. It’s hardly time to panic, but the Indians could undoubtedly benefit from a little more consistency.

 

Turning the Corner in Cleveland

Cleveland has traditionally been a slow starting team in April, but there are already signs of life from the Tribe. Carlos Carrasco has been brilliant in his first two starts, sporting a 2.13 ERA and displaying top notch command. Danny Salazar wasn’t able to secure the win, but in his most recent start, he fanned 11 to tie a career high. Corey Kluber, stoic as ever, continues to generate solid performances despite the occasional blow-up inning. Long story short, pitching will be just fine in Cleveland.

On the offensive front, Cleveland currently sports a top 10 offense despite missing a few key pieces. The Indians appear to be easing Michael Brantley back into the mix. Lonnie Chisenhall returned in grand slam fashion and Jason Kipnis is just a few Minor League starts away from his debut. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have both been off to torrid hitting starts, and the rest of the team has been contributing regularly.

Slow starts are nothing new in Cleveland, and it certainly appears the Tribe is about ready to turn the corner.

 

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Major League Baseball Weekly Wrap-Up: Opening Week

The experience of an opening day is like few others in sports. There is something truly special about the crack of the bat after a long winter. A new season means new hope and the chance at unforeseen excitement from around the league.

162 games is a haul, but opening week always presents a reminder of the great things to come every year. This year is certainly no different. The Game Haus is committed to highlighting all the action from around baseball all season long, starting with Opening Week.

Off to the Races

A few teams always seem to start hot out of the blocks. With many games to be played, there is certainly no crowning of a champion yet. However, for fans around the league, it’s hard not to get excited about a great start. Here are a few teams that have emerged quickly out of the gates.

Colorado Rockies

MLB Opening WeekThe Colorado Rockies are off to a hot start with five quick wins under their belt. They are tied for the best record in the MLB with the equally hot Diamondbacks. The NL West looks extremely exciting.

Nolan Arenado has led the charge, treating fans to a ninth inning shot giving Colorado an early season 2-1 win.

Later in the week, Clayton Kershaw experienced the power of this offense after giving up back-to-back home runs to Mark Reynolds and Gerardo Parra.

We knew the offense was going to be good, but up to this point, the pitching has been impressive as well. A solid young rotation and the resurgence of Greg Holland makes this Rockies team look incredibly promising in 2017.

Baltimore Orioles

Mark Trumbo showed everyone just why he was worth that contract in an opening day display. He blasted a walk-off home run in an 11-inning showdown with Toronto to help Baltimore set the tone early. The power on this Orioles team is unquestioned, but it was the pitching that presented the biggest unknown.

This Orioles’ staff has collectively posted a 3.64 ERA through five games. With Chris Tillman out, the remainder of the rotation was thought to be suspect at best. This hasn’t stopped Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy from picking up the slack and putting on impressive displays in week one. Look out AL East. Don’t sleep on the Orioles.

Minnesota Twins

MLB Opening Week

The hot start in the Central belongs to the defending AL champions, right? Not quite. Minnesota currently leads the Central and is tied for the most wins in the AL with five.

The Twins weren’t exactly saddled with high expectations to start the season, but this doesn’t seem to bother Minnesota. So what’s going on?

The return of Ervin Santana has certainly helped to anchor the rotation, and the bullpen has shown surprising upside. Names like Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton should give Twins fans something to be excited about.

If veterans Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer can lead the way for these young players, the Twins may end up much better off than originally thought.

The Twins haven’t exactly played world beaters in the Royals and the White Sox, but a W is a W, and you can’t take those away.

 

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Collecting the Hardware: National League Preseason Predictions

It’s finally here! After waiting all the cold and dreary months for baseball to return, it has finally arrived. Analysts from all over baseball continue to roll out their predictions for what’s sure to be an incredibly exciting 2017 season.

Last week I issued my picks for Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP in the American League. In the AL, Andrew Benintendi, Marcus Stroman and Mookie Betts took center stage. This week we’ll take a look at the National League and take a shot at some additional bold predictions.

The National League

NL Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson

Collecting the Hardware: National League Pre-Season Predictions The rookie hype is undoubtedly surrounding Andrew Benintendi on what is sure to a very successful Red Sox team. The Braves aren’t likely to receive the same notoriety, but Dansby Swanson will be key to their success this season. After his second-half call up in 2016, Swanson slashed .302/.361/.442, with three home runs and three stolen bases.

That call-up coincided with a strong Braves performance after the All-Star break and positioned Atlanta nicely headed into 2017. The Braves didn’t stop there. They added veteran pitching and bolstered the farm system in the offseason. This sets the stage for a Braves’ resurgence led by one of the most exciting young rookies in the MLB.

Swanson absolutely cruised through the minors and has been a demonstrated winner at every level he’s played at. Some may argue for other rookies and their upside, but Swanson is poised to not only take NL ROY, but also have the best overall rookie performance in 2017, period.

NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard

Collecting the Hardware: National League Pre-Season Predictions The year-over-year obvious choice for the NL Cy Young is Clayton Kershaw. A pitcher who displays such incredible dominance at his position that it’s honestly a privilege to watch him play. With that said, I didn’t choose Kershaw for the award because where is the fun in that?

Noah Syndergaard met every expectation in his first full season, posting a 2.60 ERA with 218 strikeouts. Syndergaard is the clear ace of a Mets pitching staff whose entire rotation could act as the number one or two guy on most teams in the MLB. Coming in this season at 24 years old, the ceiling is scary high for this young flamethrower.

The Met’s have certainly battled injuries, but with “Thor” anchoring the rotation, the organization has to like their chances.

NL Most Valuable Player: Paul Goldschmidt

I admit this is a bit of a protest pick. I think conventional wisdom would say that the MVP typically belongs on a contender, Mike Trout being the exception. However, if we’re going to give Trout the credit (which he absolutely deserves) for carrying the Angels, than “Goldy” deserves some love here too.

Paul Goldschmidt quietly slashed .297 /.411 /.489 with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases during the 2016 season. This was the same season where he experienced a significant slump early in the year that had many analysts in panic mode.

There are a number of worthy candidates for this pick, but I’d like to put the statistics in perspective. Goldschmidt stole 32 bases in 2016 as a first baseman. That put him ninth overall right behind speedster names like Jean Segura and Trea Turner. Goldy smacked 24 homers in a down year when he’s displayed power of 30 plus and strong slugging percentages.

Most impressive of all is his on-base and walk ratio. Goldschmidt walked 110 times in 2016, second only to Mike Trout. That was down from his previous year where he walked 118 times. Ranking number four in OBP, two spots behind “best eyes in baseball” Joey Votto, Goldschmidt sees the ball as well as anyone in the game.

The Diamondbacks may still be a few pieces away from contention, but without Paul Goldschmidt, it’s not even a discussion.

These predictions are truly fun because there are almost too many good options. This writer could make a case for any number of stars in the game today. Who knows how the season will play out or if any of the name on the list will be up for their listed award? What we do know is that baseball is back and we are in store for another exciting season of America’s great pastime!

 

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Collecting the Hardware: American League Pre-Season Predictions

*Feature Image courtesy of Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Stringer (Getty Images)*

The regular season is so close you can almost taste that dollar hot dog promotion. That means it’s time for baseball analysts to release their “Bold” (and not so bold) predictions for the 2017 season.

The names here would hardly be considered daring, but each will need a monster year to secure the hardware. This list looks at the potential league leaders we may be discussing at the end of the 2017 season.

 

American League

AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi

(Photo courtesy of Icon Sportswire)

Largely viewed as the consensus top prospect heading into the 2017 season, Andrew Benintendi carries some significant expectations. Slashing .292/ .364 / .905 with 2 home runs during spring training, Benintendi appears poised to exceed those projections. Batting third amidst and absolutely stacked Red Sox lineup, the opportunities will be there and the runs should be plentiful.

The questions that faces all young players is how that level of production holds up over the course of 162 games. Many, if not all of Benintendi’s AL rookie counterparts will start the 2017 in the minors. This positions him perfectly to establish an early track of success and lock up the award come year end.

 

AL Cy Young: Marcus Stroman

This may be the “boldest” prediction on this list given the volatile nature of Stroman’s past performances. However, fresh off an outstanding World Baseball Classic performance Marcus Stroman appears poised to make a statement in 2017.

The career statistics don’t exactly backup this assertion, but when Stroman’s locked in, his performance certainly passes the eye test. He’s currently listed as number four in the rotation, a testament to the strength of the Jay’s staff. Given his skillset, Stroman can establish himself as the team ace if he can demonstrate some consistency throughout the season.

The fiery young pitcher represented well in the WBC, and should be an absolute treat to watch in 2017.

 

AL Most Valuable Player: Mookie Betts

(Photo courtesy of Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

The young Red Sox star was already hot on the heels of the best player in baseball during the 2016 season. Mike Trout isn’t going anywhere anytime soon but that doesn’t mean Mookie Betts won’t be challenging for top dog every year. Betts has already established himself as a top player in the game, but where is his ceiling?

In 2016 Betts slashed .318 / .363 / .897 with 34 home runs and 26 stolen bases. Entering the Majors at age 21 Betts has already displayed incredible improvement year over year. Granted, Betts played the most games of his career in 2016, but the improvement in ratio statistics validates the jump.

Given his current performance, Betts is already incredibly close to 30/30 performance. Most players power and slugging improves as their career progresses while speed typically diminishes. Based on Betts youth, speed doesn’t appear to be in danger and his stellar OBP ensures he will have the opportunities to steal. If these factors play out in a traditional way it wouldn’t be surprising to see Betts trend even closer to a 40/30 or even 40/40 season, if health permits.

There is an amazing amount of young talent throughout the MLB today. The margin between the top players may be closer than ever. Baseball has always been a game of parity between competing teams. The fact this has extended to individual competition truly adds to the excitement and enjoyment of the game. Whether it’s witnessing the best young player or best overall, there is no doubt the 2017 season should be chalk full of amazing performances.

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The Spring Injury Report: Next Man Up

The injury bug is a dreaded topic for teams and fans alike. Managers are settling in on their Opening Day rosters with two short weeks remaining until regular season action. Unfortunately, they must contend with the question of who will bridge the gap while the starters recover.

Today, The Game Haus takes a look at some of the most impactful injuries from around the league. Who are the big names? How will teams have cope with their absence? Who will step into the role in the short term?

 

Jason Kipnis

Injury Update:

Strained Rotator Cuff – Out 4-5 weeks

Analysis:

Kipnis experienced a brief, five-day shutdown early in camp with what was described as shoulder soreness. The injury didn’t appear serious at the time, but it has escalated from what the team originally expected.

Kipnis has no history for this type of injury, which should give fans some comfort this won’t be a reoccurring issue. However, the escalation of “soreness” to now missing over a month does provide cause for concern.

Next Man Up: Jose Ramirez

The extremely versatile Jose Ramirez played the role of ultimate utility man last season. He spent time primarily at third base and left field. Ramirez also has experience at shortstop. The transition over to second base may be challenging, but Ramirez has the skill set to manage.

The Indians don’t have many options in terms of late spring acquisition, and the farm lacks depth at second. The other problem this creates will be backfilling Ramirez at third. Fortunately for the Indians, minor leaguer Giovanny Urshela has some MLB experience and would provide a serviceable stopgap at third.

Kipnis is undoubtedly a critical part of this Indians lineup, but Ramirez has proven more than capable and should be able to carry the load in the meantime.

 

Ian Desmond

Injury Update:

Fractured Left Hand – Expected out until late April

Analysis:

This is an incredibly frustrating injury for both Desmond and the Rockies. Desmond was slated to be the everyday first baseman before being hit by a pitch during a spring training game. The Rockies made a sizeable offseason investment to the tune of five years and $70 million.

It looks as though Desmond is slated to return at the end of April after receiving surgery on his hand. Disappointing as it is, one month out of the entire season shouldn’t give the Rockies much cause for concern.

Next Man Up: Mark ReynoldsThe Spring Injury Report: Next Man Up

With Desmond out and Gerardo Parra taking increasing repetitions in the outfield, first base falls to veteran Mark Reynolds. Reynolds looks likely to win the job, but will compete this spring against younger options Jordan Patterson and Stephen Cardullo.

Reynolds hasn’t traditionally hit for average, but he did bat .282 in 116 games last season. He also brings a decent power threat to the table, which should play well in an already strong Rockies offense.

You can’t replace Desmond’s production in the short term, but if he returns fully healthy at the end of April, the Rockies won’t miss much.

 

Anthony DeSclafani

Injury Update:

Sprained UCL, right elbow – Expected out 1-2 Months

Analysis:

DeSclafani is listed as the ace of this Red’s pitching staff to put this loss in context. The Reds aren’t seen as a highly viable contender this year, but losing starting pitching hurts regardless. The good news is that the injury won’t require Tommy John surgery as is so prevalent in the MLB today. A speedy recovery should see DeSclafani back in a rotation that will undoubtedly be missing him by May.

The Spring Injury Report: Next Man UpNext Man (Men) Up: Tim Adleman, Bronson Arroyo, Rookie Davis, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Sal Romano and Robert Stephenson

Wow, talk about a spring training competition. Adelman is currently listed highest on the depth chart at number four out of all those names. That should be an indication of how many spots were up for grabs before this injury.

With this many rotation spots in flux, the balance of these names will end up in the bullpen. The Reds will need a lot more than one guy to step up if they’re going to successfully bridge the gap until DeSclafani’s return.

The silver lining here is that for a rebuilding team, plenty of young players will have the opportunity to develop. It may feel like an awfully long season for the Reds’ fans and their organization while they wait for that development to happen.

 

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