It’s on the Haus: J.D. Martinez traded, Carlos Correa injury, Julian Edelman has one less hater and Kyrie’s 2K rating

It’s on the Haus is a daily installment of sports news from the past day. Rather than waiting an entire hour to see the big news on a television program or come to multiple stories on multiple websites to get your sports fix, It’s on the Haus gives you the biggest sports happenings all in one place. You may feel guilty for reading this concise article that gives you everything you need to know, but don’t worry, It’s on the Haus. The SEO focus keyphrase for your viewing pleasure: J.D. Martinez trade Carlos Correa injury Julian Edelman Kyrie Irving

Yesterday’s edition: Zeke was wildin’, players react to Panthers GM firing, NBA Summer League sucks, Jeremy Lin to be drug tested

J.D. Martinez shipped to Arizona

Yesterday evening, the Detroit Tigers traded outfielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for three prospects. The most notable prospect the Tigers picked up is Dawel Lugo, the fourth-best prospect in Arizona’s farm system.

Lugo is a 22-year-old prospect who’s currently playing at the Double-A level. He’s amassed seven dingers and 43 RBIs with a .282 batting average.

Martinez didn’t play his first game of the season until May 12, but he’s produced like the All-Star he is since he’s season debut. In 57 games, he’s hit .305 with 16 home runs and 39 RBIs.

Martinez is the first Tiger to be traded from the Motor City, with more players expected to be given away. This newest Diamondback is #blessed, as he’s now a member of one of the brightest franchises in the MLB, and no longer a member of an upside-down trash truck that crashed into Lake Erie.

Carlos Correa is latest loss the Astros have suffered

J.D. Martinez trade Carlos Correa injury Julian Edelman Kyrie Irving

Carlos Correa will be absent from the best team in the AL for up to two months (Photo: AP).

The Houston Astros placed All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa on the disabled list yesterday due to a torn ligament in his thumb. Correa injured it on a swing in the Astros’ 9-7 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Monday. Correa is expected to be out for 6-8 weeks and will go under the knife, but a surgery date has not been set.

The 2015 AL Rookie of the Year is hitting .320 with 20 home runs and 67 RBIs this season, all good for at least second-best in the MLB among shortstops. Correa also has the second-best offensive WAR in the MLB at 4.74, only trailing his teammate Jose Altuve.

The Astros have clearly had strokes of bad luck in the past couple days. Not only do they lose Correa, but Carlos Beltran’s glove was also laid to rest two days ago. Beltran hasn’t played in the field since May, so Brian McCann and George Springer led a memorial service for the team’s fallen friend.

Beltran is hitting .235 this season with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs and has only played nine games in the field compared to 66 games at designated hitter. With the loss of Correa and Beltran’s glove, Houston may only get 100 wins rather than the 108 wins they’re on pace for.

Godspeed to the entire organization during this tough season.

julian Edelman has one less hater

It’s no secret that Julian Edelman has had to battle various obstacles on his journey to becoming one of the most well-respected wide receivers in the NFL. Coming from a small school in Kent State, playing quarterback in college, being a seventh-round draft pick and moving to full-time wide receiver in the NFL all added up to him being a longshot for success in the NFL.

Apparently his English prof from the College of San Mateo (CA) was one of the many #haters Edelman has had over his career.

I find it quite odd that this prof didn’t believe in Edelman’s dream, yet still had the audacity to call Edelman by his nickname, Jules. I mean, where does this guy get off thinking he can smash the dreams of the NFL’s most squirrely player yet send him a small note to apologize. Mind you, this isn’t even a hand-written note. Again, where does this guy get off?

We all know that Edelman is part of a system offense led by a system quarterback in Tom Brady, and that’s a fact (oh, sarcasm doesn’t translate over text, you say?). But nevertheless, Edelman’s numbers have surpassed even the most optimistic expectations, and for that, Edelman deserves all the kudos in the world, I guess.

Kyrie Irving’s 2K rating is just disrespectful

J.D. Martinez trade Carlos Correa injury Julian Edelman kyrie irving

Kyrie Irving is a baller and everyone expect for 2K knows it (Photo: bleacherreport.com).

The #haters have been having a rough go of it lately. Not only did I beat the haters by getting an Instagram account, but even Julian Edelman’s haters are suffering.

However, we live on a spinning sphere that no one truly understands, and each day we live here, we are hurled toward another great awakening that pushes our spineless world one step closer to forgetting that The Office is the greatest phenomenon to ever happen to us.

Kyrie Irving, NBA 2K18’s cover athlete, was given a 90 overall rating for 2K’s newest edition. Despite our best efforts, the haters are alive and well, folks.

Irving is the freaking cover athlete. Did 2K really think it’s OK to give Irving, the undisputed greatest all-around point guard in the NBA (undisputed by me, at least), a rating that’s only four points better than Devin Booker, or God help me Joel freaking Embiid? That’s super cute, but if Irving were to go one-on-one with Booker, Irving would win 21-2. This is an abomination.

I don’t care if 2K names Gilbert Arenas the cover athlete for next year’s game. Whoever gets the nod should be rated at least a 94. Kyrie deserves at least a 96, and he is well aware of it.

If NBA Live didn’t suck, I wouldn’t be throwing my money at 2K for yet another year for this tomfoolery. Mark my words: 2K will rue the day for this mistake, and there’s no denying that.

 

Feature image: Tom Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

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Big Three

Which Team has the Big 3 of Baseball?

With all the talk in the NBA about big threes and super teams, I got to wondering if there are any teams like that in baseball. Now, it is a bit different in the MLB as you don’t have as many superstars moving teams to create these unstoppable forces.

Baseball is also much more of a team game. One or two players in the NBA can carry a team far into the playoffs. In baseball, the entire team needs to be carrying their weight because each player doesn’t have the same opportunity to make a big play throughout the game.

On that note, let’s take a look and see who might have the best “big three” in their lineup in the 2017 season. This is referring to what three players contribute the most to their team as a collective.

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa

Combined WAR: 12.1

Altuve: .347/.417/.551 13 HR 50 RBI | Springer: .310/.380/.613 27 HR 65 RBI | Correa: .325/.402/.577 20 HR 65 RBI

Baseball super teams

Correa might be the best shortstop since Jeter (Bleacher Report)

The Houston Astros are proving to be one of the greatest teams in recent memory largely thanks to the work of the core hitters in their lineup. It seems though that their years with high draft picks are finally starting to pay off.

Houston has the best record in the American League and second-best in the majors behind the Dodgers, and they’re putting in a bid to win their first world series in franchise history.

All three of these young hitters are All-Stars in 2017 and it is well deserved. Correa may be the front-runner for MVP over Trout, seeing that Trout has been on the DL for the past few weeks. Not to mention, Correa is only 22 years old.

It is also hard to recall a middle infield combination that has been so threatening in recent years. The first one that comes to mind is Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano for the Yankees. Seeing how young Altuve and Correa are now, they may end up being more effective of a duo than Jeter and Cano ever were.

Springer is also really starting to come into his own now. Everyone always knew that he had some serious punch in his bat. At the All-Star break, he is already two home runs away from his single-season record. On top of that, he is hitting the ball much more effectively as his slugging percentage is at an all-time high.

Seeing as none of of these three players are going to be unrestricted free agents for another two full seasons, this powerhouse doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Even though the best player in baseball is in the same division, it seems that the Astros will be running the division for the coming years largely because of this hitting core.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy

Combined WAR: 8.4

Harper: .325/.431/.590 20 HR 65 RBI | Zimmerman: .330/.373/.596 19 HR 63 RBI | Murphy: .342/.393/.572 14 HR 64 RBI

Baseball super teams

Harper has continued to live up to his high expectations (Sports Illustrated)

Despite the fact that these three hitters are leading the National League in batting average, I had to think about who belonged in this big three. Anthony Rendon had a pretty good bid into this but it was just too difficult to leave the other three out.

Zimmerman has reignited his career and may be having his best year. He has only batted over .300 in his career once but now he is competing with his teammates for the best in the NL.

Harper has continued his rise to super-stardom and nobody seems to be getting in his way. After a somewhat slow 2016 he has reached new levels in 2017. He is currently on pace to break 100 RBIs for the first time in his career and could also reach 40 home runs for the second time.

Thanks to his teammates also hitting the long ball, it is not as easy to pitch around Harper either. Because of Murphy’s success with the Nationals thus far, it is giving Harper more opportunities do excel.

Daniel Murphy has far exceeded the expectations of the Nationals in his first two years with the club. He has become a power threat which he had never been before. We all know how valuable power-hitting second basemen are too. Murphy is also running for the hitting title for the second year in a row. The bottom line is that there is no break from this Nationals lineup. Every batter will be a battle, but these three especially will drive any pitcher nuts.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto, Zach Cozart, Adam Duvall

Combined WAR: 8.8

Votto: .315/.427/.631 26 HR 68 RBI | Cozart: .316/.394/.547 9 HR 35 RBI | Duvall: .278/.321/.557 20 HR 61 RBI

Baseball super teams

Votto, Duvall,and Cozart have continued to be the only bright spot for the Reds (USA Today)

The Reds have not been great this year. As I mentioned in the introduction, three players cannot carry a team to greatness. The Reds are a perfect example of that.

Votto and Cozart are both All-Stars this year and along with Duvall they have been a bright spot for Cincinnati. However, their abysmal pitching keeps them in last place in perhaps the worst division in baseball. We are not here to talk about poor pitching however.

Votto has continued a spectacular career despite him being on one of the worst teams in baseball in the past few years. He leads a club that currently ranks in the top 10 in hitting in the majors.

What makes Votto so difficult to pitch against is his smarts at the plate. He is not easy to fool, as he currently has 62 walks on the season compared to 42 strikeouts. With players that hit home runs as much as he does, it is more typical to have a higher rate of strikeouts. That is something that you can see with Votto’s teammate, Duvall.

Adam Duvall broke out as a serious power threat last season. However, he is striking out in 25 percent of his at bats and only walking in five percent of them. In order for him to be an even bigger threat, he is going to take after Votto. He has improved as an overall hitter though as he is on pace to have the highest average and OPS of his career.

Cozart may be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. He has still been hitting on all cylinders despite his injury issues. He provides good pop at the top of the lineup and is a good setup man for whoever follows him. Knowing the Reds’ need for young pitching, they may deal him because of his current value. Because of this, the Cincinnati big three may not be in tact much longer.

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorious

Combined WAR: 9.3

Judge: .329/.448/.691 30 HR 66 RBI | Sanchez: .276/.360/.491 13 HR 40 RBI | Gregorius: .291/.346.458 10 HR 38 RBI

Baseball super teams

Judge has already passed Dimaggio for most home runs by a Yankees rookie (Sporting News)

Aaron Judge has come onto the scene and is already one of the best hitters in baseball. He largely carries this big three due to his ability to hit the ball out of the park as well as hit for average.

There is no getting around him and his surrounding hitters have made is especially difficult. While the Yankees are fairly banged up at the moment, his supporting cast has been coming through.

Gregorious is not typically known for his bat but rather his glove. He came onto the scene at the plate last season with 20 home runs. This year, he is picking back up where he left off and is nearly a .300 hitter. While he is just an above average hitter on the moment, he is proving to be a key part of the lineup.

Gary Sanchez is proving to be one of the better power-hitting catchers in the league. Despite only playing in 57 games at the midway point in the season, he has 13 home runs. He and Judge are bringing back the Bronx Bombers, and they will be hard to stop for the coming years.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner

Combined WAR: 10.0

Seager: .298/.395/.502 13 HR 45 RBI | Bellinger: .261/.342/.619 25 HR 58 RBI | Turner: .377/.473/.583 10 HR 37 RBI

Baseball super teams

Bellinger is the latest Dodgers rookie to make a splash in the bigs (Sports Illustrated)

These three All-Stars have led the best team in baseball to a 61-win season at the break. They are the best team in the National League while being in perhaps the best division in baseball. Cody Bellinger is a big reason for that with his breakout season at the plate.

Justin Turner won the final vote to get into his first All-Star game. The only reason he probably didn’t get in originally was because of the time he has missed. Once he gets enough at-bats to be eligible for the batting title, he may run with it.

Corey Seager is showing that he deserved to be ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball. After his Rookie of the Year campaign last year, it looks like he wants to pass the torch along to his teammate. With Turner coming onto the scene in Los Angeles at the right time, these young players are showing how the Dodgers can win their first championship in almost 30 years.

The Final Rankings

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Washington Nationals
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Cincinnati Reds

Honorable Mentions:

Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado, Mark Renyolds, Charlie Blackmon: Each of these guys have some serious pop.

Tampa Bay Rays: Corey Dickerson, Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison: Dickerson and Morrison are having big years while Longoria continues his stellar career.

Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber: If this was any other year, they might be at the top of the list.

 

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Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

In this heat check, we will identify and analyze some of the hottest players in baseball. This segment is intended to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these players will continue at their torrid pace, or if it’s time to sell high.

The Houston Astros’ big three

Fantasy Baseball

Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer are propelling the Houston Astros into elite company. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

As many expected, the Houston Astros lineup has emerged into one the league’s most elite offenses. They are currently ranked third in runs scored per game with 5.45. Their three-headed monster of Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa are arguably the hottest hitters in the game. The trio is batting a combined .452 with eight home runs, 26 runs and 24 RBI in their last seven games.

Altuve is sporting a career high in both BABIP (.363) and ISO (.197), although to say regression is in store would be incorrect, as his career BABIP is a mere .28 points off of his current and his ISO nearly matches his 2016 mark of .194. Barring injury, you can pencil Altuve’s name into the MVP conversation for a fourth consecutive season.

Springer, even as their leadoff hitter, is leading the Astros in home runs, although his power surge may begin to slow down. His ISO is about .40 points higher than his career mark and his HR/FB rate is at an unsustainable 30 percent. Springer is a career .260 hitter with a current batting average of .272, although with a career BABIP of .318 and a current BABIP of .304, we can say that there is still room for progression. The only knock on Springer, who many considered to be a 30/30 candidate heading into the season, has yet to steal a base.

Former first-overall pick, Carlos Correa, had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2016. Many expected the 2015 Rookie of the Year to blossom into a top-10 MVP candidate, although he had less home runs and stolen bases in 153 games in 2016 then he did in 99 games the year before. So far in 2017, Correa is proving that he is a true MVP candidate, as he is batting a career high .310 while leading the Astros in RBIs and walks. The 22-year-old shortstop looks as though he will put together his first 30 home run campaign, which makes him an elite power threat at one of the shallower positions in fantasy baseball, as only three shortstop eligible players hit 30 or more home runs in 2016; Manny Machado (37), Jedd Gyorko (30) and Brad Miller (30).

The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff

Fantasy Baseball

Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn along with the rest of the Cardinals rotation are keeping St. Louis afloat in the NL Central. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

The Cardinals always find a way compete. In 2016, their bats carried them, as they finished fourth in runs scored, although in 2017 it has been quite the opposite. Their pitching staff is now ranked fourth in ERA, whereas their offense ranks outside of the top 20 in runs scored. The Cardinals had many question marks heading into the season; including Michael Wacha’s place in the rotation and Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn’s health.

There was speculation that Wacha would begin the year in the bullpen after struggling in 2016. After the team lost Alex Reyes to season ending Tommy John surgery, Wacha’s opportunity to return to the rotation arose. Since then, he has proven himself by pitching six quality starts in his last nine appearances. His ERA sits a tad below four, although his xFIP and SIERA are both below the marks they were at in 2015, where he finished 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. All signs point up for the 25-year-old.

Lynn missed the entire 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, causing many to speculate if he could return to his All-Star form. So far in 2017, he has proven all doubters wrong, as he has a sub-three ERA to go along with a respectable 8.34 K/9 and 1.07 WHIP. Unfortunately for Lynn owners, he looks to be in line for serious regression as he has a BABIP of .204, xFIP of 4.33 and SIERA of 4.22. Now may be a prime sell high period for the 30-year-old.

One of the most underappreciated pitchers of the decade, Adam Wainwright, has a 140-79 record, winning at least 19 games in four different seasons. After rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2015, Wainwright returned for an abysmal 2016 campaign which resulted in a career worst 4.62 ERA. The questions continued to swirl heading into 2017, as many wondered if we had seen the last of the Cy Young candidate Wainwright.

He is no longer the ace caliber pitcher he once was, although he has returned to a serviceable form. He has a 3.79 ERA to go with his 6-3 record. Also, he is arguably the hottest pitcher in baseball over the last month, as he has a 0.47 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in his last four starts. His age is worrisome, although he has never experienced any serious upper body injuries and has less mileage on his arm than most 35-year-olds.

There were nearly no question marks heading into the season when it came to the Cardinals unquestioned ace, Carlos Martinez. The 2015 All-Star has a career ERA of 3.29 and K/9 of 8.7. He is currently sporting a 3.08 ERA and 9.86 K/9. His above average xFIP of 3.45 and SIERA of 3.63 suggest that his success is very sustainable.

The most interesting name on this staff is Mike Leake, who struggled severely in his inaugural season with the Cardinals. He currently has a 2.64 ERA, which is bound to regress due to his .234 BABIP and 83 percent LOB percentage, which are both unsustainable. His 2016 xFIP (3.76) and SIERA (3.92) are very similar to his current xFIP (3.62) and SIERA (3.81), suggesting that his struggles a year ago may have been a fluke. In my mind, now is the perfect time to sell high on the 29-year-old, although, even with regression, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ranked inside the top-50 starting pitchers at years’ end.

The Miami Marlins’ power hitters

Fantasy Baseball

Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton continue to make the Miami Marlins relevant. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

The Marlins rank just inside the top-20 in runs scored and home runs, although three men specifically are to thank for keeping their offense relevant; Justin Bour, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton.

Bour is arguably the hottest hitter in baseball. He has a .377 batting average and six home runs in his last 15 games. The 29-year-old is currently sporting a career high BABIP and ISO, so regression should be expected, although I would ride this hot streak out as long as possible, as first base is the deepest positon in fantasy baseball, in turn lowering Bour’s value tremendously.

Ozuna exploded onto the scene in 2016, batting .307 with 17 home runs in the first half of the season. After falling off of a cliff, not literally, his batting averaged regressed to .266 and he finished with only 23 bombs. In 2017, he is batting an astounding .322 with 14 home runs and 40 RBI. His BABIP of .361 and HR/FB rate of 28 percent suggest that regression is absolutely in his future. If you expect another fall from grace, like myself, then now would be the time move the Marlin slugger.

Stanton is having similar success to his two teammates, although his seems much more sustainable. He is batting a career high .291 with a BABIP of .326, which is very similar to his career mark of .323, suggesting that his batting average is sustainable. Also, his current HR/FB ratio of 26 percent is less than one percentage point off of his career rate, showing that his home run production is sustainable as well. Stanton seems like the one to own of the three, although because of his name, he will have the highest price.

Featured image by Laurie Robbins/Pintrest

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2017 MLB Season

We have liftoff: The rise of the Houston Astros

No one saw what was to come of that October night in 2005. The Chicago White Sox had just swept the Houston Astros in four games to win the World Series, and the celebration that occurred in Minute Maid Park was one that left a sour taste in Astros’ fans mouths. Little did they know that it was a precursor to the next few years of Astros baseball.

But with a long rebuild finally in the rear-view mirror, fans have a winning team again. That night in 2005 seems a lot longer ago that 12 years, and that is in large part thanks to the success the franchise is experiencing. But how did a team that hadn’t finished better than 11 games back of first place average 85 wins in the past two seasons and have one of the best records in the majors this season? It took some savvy moves, and the ability to admit that change was needed.

Houston Astros

Dallas Keuchel was one of the shiniest diamonds in the rough ever, winning the 2015 AL Cy Young Award (Colin E. Bradley/AP Photo).

Cultivating the Farm

Even though the Astros lost the World Series in 2005, the core of the roster was held onto long after their glory days. With aging stars like Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and other core components still on the roster, management made a change for the better that came to a head in 2010.

Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were both shipped off to contending teams, but their hauls didn’t bring back any impact players for the Astros. Even so, their trades were still a key component in the rebuild process.

With the team being stripped to the bare bones, the rebuild was officially underway in 2011, as Houston lost 106 games.

But that season saw the first glimpses of the dynamic and diminutive second baseman, Jose Altuve. They also drafted center fielder George Springer in the first round of the MLB Draft that year. The duo of Springer and Altuve have become the core of the Astros, and have set the franchise up for a succesful future.

Young studs like Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman were also acquired via the draft, and have helped to lift the club back into contention.

They also found a Cy Young winner in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB Draft. After struggling in 2012 and 2013, Dallas Keuchel would go on to win the 2015 AL Cy Young award. But it wasn’t just the farm system that helped lift the Astros to relevancy

Bargain Deals and Smart Investments

Houston Astros

Will Harris has had a massive impact on a dominant Astros bullpen (Mike Carlson, Stringer).

The Astros were just as good at finding talent on the free agent market and waiver wire as they were in the MLB Draft. Right hander Collin McHugh was one of the worst starters in the league in 2012 and 2013, putting up a combined 8.94 ERA in that time.

But when he came to the Astros in 2014, he became a whole new pitcher. His 3.71 ERA in an Astros uniform is a stark contrast to his younger years, and he has developed into one of the Astros’ better starting pitchers.

But it hasn’t been just the starting rotation that has benefited from free agency. Will Harris came into Astros spring training in 2015 just trying to make the roster. Little did anyone know that he would finish the season with a 1.90 ERA out of the pen. His contributions were also joined by another relief pitcher in 2015.

Prized free agent reliever Pat Neshek made the move from St. Louis to Houston in 2015 and immediately made an impact. With a 3.36 ERA in his two seasons in Houston, Nesheck became a valuable member of a much improved bullpen.

Joined by fellow free agent additions Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, the Astros have had excellent success in the free agent market. By not overspending on free agents and being able to exploit the bargain bin, the Astros have put together a consistent winner in Houston.

Putting it all together

The Astros have had an interesting approach to rebuilding the team. By tearing the team down to its roots, they lost in the present to win in the future. And the future has finally arrived with a 31-16 record in the AL West and a young core to build around.

The front office has proven to be more than adequate at picking up well-priced free agents and finding contributors on the waiver wire. With the ability to put solid contributors around an excellent young core, the Astros are primed to fully wipe away the taste of the 2005 World Series and replace it with a savory World Series title.

 

Featured image by Troy Taormina, USA Today.

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World Baseball Classic Bracketology: Predicting the Semi-Finals

After an exhilarating first round in the World Baseball Classic, eight teams move on to the second round. With a few favorites and a few underdogs moving on, there is something for everyone. But as the competition grows more fierce, the cream of the crop will rise to the top. Who will make it out of the second round and make the coveted trip to Los Angeles? Pool E and Pool F have  plenty of talent, but only two teams from each pool will be able to say they are one of the four best national teams in the world. All records and standings are accurate as of March 14th.

Pool E

World Baseball Classic

Aoki brings a WBC championship pedigree to team Japan, winning the WBC championship in 2009 (Brad Mangin).

Japan (5-0 WBC Record)

After mashing their way through Pool B, Japan emerged with a decisive 3-0 record. After scoring 22 runs while giving up only eight in three games, Japan seems to be firing on all cylinders. And they have carried over that momentum into Pool E, running up their winning streak to five games. Supported by Astros outfielder Nori Aoki, NPB slugger Tetsuto Yamata and a 2-0 record in Pool E, Japan should already have their flight booked for Los Angeles.

The Netherlands (3-2 WBC Record)

As one of the four teams in Pool E, the Netherlands earned their spot with a solid 2-1 record in Pool A. Powered by the Ranger’s Jurickson Profar and Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorious, the Netherlands was able to produce just enough offense to squeak by Chinese Taipei and score five runs against Korea. But with an offensive explosion that has brought them a 1-1 record in Pool E, their offensive woes seem to be long gone.

Israel (4-1 WBC Record)

With one of the deepest grouping of teams in WBC history, Israel stands out among Japan, the Netherlands and Cuba. But they have certainly earned their place in Pool E. They torched their way through Pool A, putting up an impressive 3-0 record. And they have held their own in Pool E, going 1-1. Jason Marquis and Nate Freiman hope to continue their strong play, as they have bolstered Israel up to this point. But with so much deep competition, Israel will need to play above their talent level to move on. And up to this point, they have.

Cuba (2-3 WBC Record)

Cuba has long been a national powerhouse in the baseball world. And after putting up a 2-1 record in Pool B, they earned their spot in the second round. But their performance in Pool B had many questioning Cuba, and it has only gotten worse since second round play has begun. With Cuba barely able to overcome upstart Australia 4-3 in Pool B, the doubt began to creep in. Cuba’s pitching has been their downfall, with Bladimir Banos and Yoennis Yera letting them down. And that has carried over to the second round with Cuba putting up a 0-2 record.

Pool E Representatives in Semis: Japan and Israel

Japan is just stacked across the board, with MLB players and NPB stars carrying the national team. Their 5-0 overall record in WBC play proves their depth, as they have beaten teams with relative ease. Surprise contender Israel is not far behind, with a 4-1 record in WBC play. They have advanced farther and done better than many thought they would. But don’t think their run is over, as Israel has the potential to be this WBC’s Cinderella.

Pool F

Dominican Republic (3-0 WBC Record)

World Baseball Classic

Robinson Cano led the Dominican Republic to the championship in 2013 (Al Bello/Getty Images).

As one of the most stacked squads in the WBC, the Dominican Republic certainly did not disappoint in Pool C. Their undefeated record (3-0) was the best of the Pool C competitors, and landed them a spot in the second round. With MLB stars like Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano, to just name a few, dotting the roster, the Dominican Republic scored 26 runs in round one of the tournament. If they can keep their offense clicking, don’t expect the Dominican Republic to experience a loss anytime soon.

Puerto Rico (3-0 WBC Record)

Another undefeated team, another talent-rich roster. They rode their impressive MLB talent to a perfect 3-0 record in Pool D, besting each team they faced. With the likes of Carlos Beltran. Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa, their talent level is off the charts. They dominated offensively in Pool D, scoring 29 runs. That kind of offensive production is some of the best in the WBC. But don’t think Puerto Rico will run out of gas soon. Their offensive depth drives this club, and they are one of the heavy favorites to move on to the semis.

United States (2-1 WBC Record)

With the top professional baseball league in the world, you would expect the United States to dominate the WBC every year. But with MLB getting so much of it’s talent from all over the world, the United States has to recruit other MLB players to don their nation’s colors. Even so, the talent on the United States roster rivals any other team in the WBC. With Andrew McCutchen, Nolan Arenado and Buster Posey headlining the roster, the United States pummeled north of the border rival Canada 8-0 and eked out a close 3-2 win over Colombia in the first round. Their offense and pitching staff are deep, and they will need every bit of that depth to move on to the next round.

Venezuela (2-2 WBC Record)

After beating Italy 4-3 in the Pool D tiebreaker, Venezuela moved on to the second round. While they have been playing .500 ball in the tournament, they will look to their stars to turn it on in Pool F. With players like Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and Rougned Odor, Venezuela certainly has the talent to compete in the second round. But they will need to tie it all together, as they were outscored 23-24 in Pool F. If Venezuela’s pitching staff can perform well, the offense will be able to power them all the way to the Championship Round.

Pool F Representatives in Semis: Dominican Republic and United States

The talent for the Dominican Republic is undeniable, and it’s that talent that will drive them to the Championship Round. They boast legitimate MLB stars both on the mound and at the plate. This balance in talent gives the Dominican Republic a massive advantage over some of the other teams in the WBC. But one of those teams is not the United States. Their only loss so far was to, you guessed it, the Dominican Republic. Even so, the offensive firepower of the United States lineup is deafening. And with all of the quality arms skipper Jim Leyland has to call on, a Championship Round appearance seems likely for the United States.

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Shortstop are commonly known for their glove, but after the explosion of home runs in 2016, shortstops have emerged as a power position heading into 2017. 15 shortstops hit 20 or more homeruns last season, where only two did in 2015. The shortstop position has transitioned from one of the weakest to one of the deepest.

The top 25 shortstops have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Orlando Arcia (MIL), Ketel Marte (ARI), Jose Iglesias (DET), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Jose Reyes (NYM).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Manny Machado’s consistency warrants a first round pick. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  • Manny Machado (BAL)
  • Carlos Correa (HOU)
  • Corey Seager (LAD)
  • Trea Turner (WSH)
  • Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  • Xander Bogaerts (BOS)

 

Manny Machado, primarily a third basemen, played 44 games at shortstop in 2016, after an injury sidelined Baltimore Orioles starter, J.J. Hardy. Machado, a career .285 hitter, has tallied at least 35 home runs and 100 runs in his last two seasons.

The 24-year-old has yet to reach the 100 RBI plateau, although if continues to progress, he could easily see a .300/100/40/100 season in his near future.

Machado’s consistency and potential make him the first shortstop that should be taken in 2017.

Xander Bogaerts is one of the safest picks an owner can make in 2017. The 24-year-old will be entering his fourth season in the majors, where he is a career .286 hitter.

His .320 batting average in 2015, and .330 batting average in the first half of 2016, suggest that he can sustain a well above .300 average for a full season in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 180-pounder raised his home run total from seven in 2015, to 21 in 2016. Bogaerts power is sure to improve one day, although I believe he will focus solely on sustaining contact rates next season.

Whether the power numbers show or not in 2017, Bogaerts is well worth a top 25 pick.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Trevor Story is healthy and ready to go for 2017. (Courtesy of Sporting News)

  • Trevor Story (COL)
  • Jonathan Villar (MIL)
  • Jean Segura (SEA)
  • Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  • Aledmys Diaz (STL)
  • Addison Russell (CHC)
  • Dansby Swanson (ATL)

 

Trevor Story had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time, and only played in 97 games due to a hand injury in 2016. After mashing 27 home runs with 76 RBI’s, Story managed to be one of the most productive players in the league during that stretch.

He will bat in the middle of an electric Colorado Rockies lineup, which may put up historically great numbers this season.

The only drawback on the 24-year-old is his atrocious 31.3% strike out rate, which may suggest that he sees a decline in batting average.

Regression of average or not, Story is well worth a top 35 pick, as his power upside is tremendous.

Dansby Swanson is currently being drafted as the 170th overall player, and 17th shortstop off the board, although I have him ranked as the 13th. The upside with Swanson is incredible, as he has the potential to bat .300 while batting second for the Atlanta Braves. This gives him the potential to score 100 runs in his rookie campaign.

The big power numbers have not shown yet, although he had sneaky power in college, hitting 15 home runs in 71 games. He also hit eight home runs in 84 games at the AA-level, which shows that he has the potential to hit 15 or so this season, giving him a chance to be a top 10 shortstop.

I’m reaching on Swanson’s potential in all drafts in 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Can Didi Gregorius continue to improve upon his breakout 2016 campaign?(Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Didi Gregorius (NYY)
  • Brandon Crawford (SF)
  • Brad Miller (TB)
  • Javier Baez (CHC)
  • Eduardo Nunez (SF)

 

Didi Gregorius, most notably the player that replaced Derek Jeter, quietly had a breakout seasons in 2016. Gregorius has continuously improved his batting average, going from .257 in 2014, to .276 in 2016. He has also seen a huge jump in power numbers, as he hit 20 home runs, which is 11 better than his former career high of 9.

The 27-year-old still has room for improvement, although his power numbers may fall, as the majority of his homers limp out of the Yankees short porch in right field.

Gregorius is a safe late round selection, but may have limited upside.

Eduardo Nunez spent his 2016 split between the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants. The All-Star batted .321 with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases in the first half of 2016. This shows how good Nunez can be when he is playing every day at his best.

The reason for Nunez’s low ranking is because of his lack of consistency and poor production with the Giants. Hitting home runs as a righty in San Francisco can be quite challenging, which makes me think his home run totals will drop severally.

Nunez has a solid average and will continue to steal some bases, which makes him a good mid to late round pick in all formats.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

  • Jose Peraza (CIN)
  • Elvis Andrus (TEX)
  • Danny Espinosa (LAA)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM)
  • Marcus Semien (OAK)
  • Matt Duffy (TB)
  • Tim Anderson (CWS)

 

Jose Peraza has been compared to Jose Altuve, in not only their size, but also their skill set. Both have elite speed and get on base at a well above average clip. Peraza will finally have an everyday role with the Cincinnati Reds as they have parted ways with their franchise second basemen, Brandon Phillips, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Peraza has stolen 281 bases in 611 professional games, which is about a half a steal per game. This alone gives Peraza elite stolen base value, as he has the chance to steal over 60 bases. This paired with the fact that he is a career .312 hitter gives him great potential to be a breakout star in 2017.

Tim Anderson commonly flies under the radar, as he will bat at the bottom of an inconsistent Chicago White Sox lineup. 2017 will be Anderson’s first full MLB season, which could mean a breakout is in the making for the 23-year-old.

We cannot forget that he stole 49 bases in 125 games in 2015. While he bats at the end of the order, which limits his run and RBI potential, he should be given plenty of opportunities to swipe bags.

The former first-round pick in 2013 is a career .283 hitter, which is a solid floor for a starting fantasy short stop. Anderson’s ADP of 191 makes him well worth a late pick as a middle infielder or starter in deeper leagues.

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World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool D

In this final review of the WBC teams, Pool D will take center stage. Playing in Jalisco, Mexico, these teams will be battling for the final spot to move on to round two. If you missed any of our previous pool reviews, you can find them below.

1.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

2.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

3.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool C

Italy

World Baseball Classic

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli will represent his home country in the WBC (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Italy is not known for its baseball history, but they’re set to start making some in this year’s WBC. After making a surprising run to the second round in 2013, Italy will look to build on their success.

 

Most of the lineup from 2013’s squad will make a return in 2017, as Italy has a host of major league talent. On the mound, one of the game’s most interesting pitchers will suit up for his mother country.

Pat Venditte, the switch-pitching reliever, gives Italy a whole new dimension in the bullpen. Venditte can pitch left and right handed in the same inning. He will also be joined by journeyman reliever Tommy Layne.

In the field, Italy has as much talent as any other team in Pool D. The pitching staff will be handled by veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli. After seven seasons as a part-time starter in the Bronx, Cervelli has performed well after earning the starting job in Pittsburgh.

Another position player of note is Chris Colabello. After having a break out year in 2015, Colabello was suspended for PEDs in 2016 and had a -36 OPS+. It remains to be seen what Colabello will contribute. Brandon Nimmo and Daniel Descalso will also play the field for Italy.

With a good amount of talent both on the mound and the field, team Italia is set to compete in the WBC. Italy will have a tough road to the second round in a competitive pool.

Mexico

World Baseball Classic

Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez returns for team Mexico (Christian Petersen/Getty Images).

As the host country, Mexico will have home field advantage. With a dominant pitching staff to rely on, Mexico won’t need much offense to stay competitive. That’s good news for team Mexico.

With a rotation of five major league starters, Mexico has plenty of starters to choose from. Pitchers Julio Urias, Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia will lead the staff. They will be joined by Jorge De La Rosa and Yovani Gallardo to round out the starters for Mexico.

With that strong rotation also comes a strong bullpen. The bullpen is as deep as the rotation, with Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna headlining the pen. Osuna will be joined by Oliver Perez, Joakim Soria and Sergio Romo to form a dominant bullpen.

Off the mound, Mexico is sorely lacking. Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez will lead the position players. After hitting 18 homers and driving in 90 RBIs in 2016, Gonzalez is poised to perform well in the WBC.

He will be joined in the lineup by A’s slugger Khris Davis. The 29-year-old outfielder hit 42 homers in 2016, finding his power as he put up a 126 OPS+. While Mexico is lacking on position player talent, Gonzalez and Davis are some of the best at their respective positions.

As Mexico will rely on it’s dominant pitching, it will be hard to muster much runs. Gonzalez and Davis will have to be on top of their games to help propel team Mexico out of the first round.

Puerto Rico

World Baseball Classic

After winning the Caribbean Series, Puerto Rico will rely on Carlos Beltran to lead them (J. Meric/Getty Images North America).

With an ample amount of talent in the majors, Puerto Rico is still overlooked. The island is small compared to other nations in the tournament, but their amount of talent certainly is not.

 

Puerto Rico is coming off an inspiring championship victory in the Caribbean Series and will use that momentum to drive their WBC run.

Top pitching prospects Jose De Leon of the Rays and Jose Berrios of the Twins will be led by veteran starter Hector Santiago. Santiago is their most accomplished starter, with a 3.84 ERA in five major league seasons. Their position players far exceed their pitchers.

As their pitchers try to limit runs, these players will try to score them. They will be lead by all-star outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Puerto Rico native is a legend both in his native land and the states, as he has hit 421 career homers and stolen 312 bases.

He will be joined in the outfield by veterans Angel Pagan and Eddie Rosario. The infield will be manned by young stars Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez. Lindor and Correa are some of baseball’s greatest shortstops, and Baez has crazy power potential.

Behind the dish will be none other than Yadier Molina. One of the best defensive catchers in history, Molina is a vital asset for Puerto Rico.

Just because Puerto Rico may be lacking in terms of major league talent doesn’t mean they won’t be able to compete. A limited pitching staff does hinder Puerto Rico, who will have to rely heavily on its big bats.

Venezuela

World Baseball Classic

Felix Hernandez returns to the WBC for Venezuela (Doug Benc/Getty Images North America).

As Venezuela keeps churning out major league talent, you would think they would have at least one WBC championship to their name. After being knocked out in the first round in 2013’s WBC, Venezuela will be more determined than ever to bring home the title.

On the mound is one of the game’s greats. Felix Hernandez has been nothing short of dominant since he set foot into the majors. With a career 3.16 ERA and 8.4 K/9, Hernandez will be a force in Pool D.

He will be joined by major league veterans Jhoulys Chacin and Martin Perez for a solid rotation. The bullpen will be a bit lacking, with only Bruce Rondon and Hector Rondon as the notable relievers.

There will be plenty of firepower in the lineup. All-around great catcher Salvador Perez will handle the pitching staff. As Hernandez and company know, having a great catcher is critical. With multiple gold gloves, Perez is one of the best in the tournament.

He will be joined by all-star sluggers Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is arguably the best pure hitter in the WBC, able to hit for both power and average. Altuve is no slouch either, winning the AL batting title in 2016. Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez will lead the outfield, as well as slotting in the lineup behind Cabrera. With massive raw power from the right side of the plate, Gonzalez is poised to feast on opponent’s pitching.

Venezuela is a dark horse in the WBC, being overshadowed by behemoths like the Dominican Republic and the USA. As a strong club overall, Venezuela will be a tough competitor in Pool D.

Verdict

Pool D has one of the best collections of overall talent in the WBC. With parity throughout, it is hard to pick a favorite. Italy will have the toughest time advancing from Pool D, but don’t be surprised if they pull off an upset or two. Mexico is limited offensively, and will have to rely on its dominant pitching staff.

The top two teams in Pool D have a good mix of both batting and pitching. Puerto Rico will rely on young arms and a mix of veteran and up-and-coming position players to carry them. They will be a tough out, but not too tough for the favorite: Venezuela. Any team with Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and Felix Hernandez has to be a favorite. With multiple other big league names on their roster, Venezuela should advance out of Pool D and make a run for the championship.

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Shortstop

In this fifth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we will make our way around the horn, landing us at shortstop. Shortstop has seen an influx of young talent in recent seasons.

With the position fluxing with talent, let’s start out our list at number five.

5. Jean Segura- Seattle Mariners

2017 MLB Season

Jean Segura will bring his newfound power to the Pacific Northwest in 2017. (AP Photo, Ross D. Franklin)

Jean Segura will be on his fourth team in six years in the majors when he debuts for the Seattle Mariners this season. Part of a deal that sent Taijuan Walker to the desert, Segura will be paired alongside standout second baseman Robinson Cano. Segura’s 2013 season showed glimpses of what he could be.

This season he slashed .319, .368, and .499, which are all career highs. He also had 20 homers to go along with 64 RBI’s and 33 stolen bases. Segura developed into the total package offensively in 2016, but his defense still leaves something to be desired.

Segura had zero defensive runs saved in 2016, equating to league average on defense. With the offensive numbers he put up in 2016, league average defense is totally acceptable. Segura played second base with the Diamondbacks in 2016, but that was his first season at second base in his six-year career. He should be able to slide back over to his old position seamlessly in 2017.

4. Brandon Crawford- San Francisco Giants

Brandon Crawford has quietly put together a solid career for the San Francisco Giants. After hitting 26 home runs over parts of his first four seasons, he has clubbed 33 in the past two seasons. His growth in power has also been accompanied by an improvement in his batting skill. Last season, Crawford posted a slash line of .275, .342, and .430 with his batting average and OBP being career highs. While Crawford’s bat has continually improved, his glove has always been his calling card.

Crawford had one of his best defensive seasons of his career in 2016. He had 19 defensive runs saved in 2016, which is the second most in his career. With growing prowess in the batters box and a stellar glove, Crawford has quietly ascended into the ranks of the top shortstops in the game.

3. Francisco Lindor- Cleveland Indians

2017 MLB Season

Lindor will bring the total package to Cleveland in 2017. (Jason Miller, Getty Images North America)

After making his major league debut in 2015, Francisco Lindor has made the leap from top prospect to top position player for the Cleveland Indians. Lindor built on his debut 2015 season in which he finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to put up a slash line of .301, .358, .435 in 2016. He also hit 15 homers to go along with 78 RBI’s and 19 stolen bases to help lead the Indians to the World Series. Lindor’s bat has certainly created problems for his opponents, but it’s his glove that has carried him this far in the rankings.

Lindor had 17 defensive runs saved in 155 games played in 2016. His slick fielding was on display all season. He also continued his high level of defense well into the World Series. Lindor was the total package for the Cleveland Indians in 2016. He is primed to lead the Indians back to the playoffs in 2017.

2. Corey Seager- Los Angeles Dodgers

Seager had been tabbed as the NL Rookie of the Year in 2016 long before the season began. All that hype can sometimes go to a player’s head, but not Corey Seager’s. He performed far beyond even the most lofty expectations in 2016, batting .308, .365, and .512. He also blasted 26 bombs to accompany 72 RBI’s. Those numbers were not only good enough for NL ROY, but also a third place finish for NL MVP voting.

While his bat was at an MVP type level, his glove work was anything but. While he wasn’t spectacular with the glove, he was league average with zero defensive runs saved in 2016. He proved to be a driving force for the Dodgers in 2016, helping lead them to the NLCS where they were ousted by the eventual World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Seager will look to build on his impressive rookie season in 2017.

1. Carlos Correa- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

Carlos Correa will lead a stacked Astros team in 2017. (Troy Taormina, USA Today)

When Carlos Correa made his major league debut at the ripe old age of 20 in 2015, many wondered if he would be able to hack it in the majors. Well, hack it he did. Correa has knocked 42 balls into orbit since being called up by the Astros. In his first full season of play he hit .274, .361, and .451 to go along with 20 homers, 96 RBI’s and 13 steals. Correa has shown maturity beyond his years in the batters box. With a good eye and powerful stroke, Correa is already one of the elite offensive players in the game. The jump from elite prospect to elite player doesn’t just include hitting.

Correa has proved to be less than stellar in the field in parts of two major league season. While he has made some spectacular throws, he posted a defensive runs saved of -3 in 2016. While it was a regression from his 0 defensive runs saved in 2015, it was Correa’s first full season. The 2017 season will be a big one for both Carlos Correa and his Houston Astros.

Shortstop is in good hands for 2017 and far beyond. With so much youth at the position, shortstop will prove to be one of the more difficult positions to rank for years to come. Watch for these players to move up and down the list in the coming years.

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2016 American League West Preview

Courtesy of, brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy of: brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

The Texas Rangers were the best team in the AL West last year. The Rangers had a solid offense with good enough pitching to back it up. They had some vets like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre who really helped them push their way to a division title. However, they were not the team everyone talked about. That team, was the Houston Astros. They came out of nowhere and almost won the division and were good enough to make it to the Wild Card round.

The Astros finished second last year but, were a major surprise to baseball as they had been picked by many to not contend at all. Their young players stepped up and shinned. Carlos Correa has the talent and the ability to be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.

The Angels finished third last year and played well throughout the season, just barely missing the playoffs. They had the offense coming from their superstar Mike Trout and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Their problem was, and still is, pitching.

The Seattle Mariners finished fourth last year in a disappointing 2015 campaign. They struggled in hitting as they finished in the bottom three for both runs scored, strikeouts, and batting average. Their pitching was also nothing to write home about as they finished the year with a 4.16 ERA.

Last were the Athletics who were expected to have a down year. They traded away many of the pieces they had brought in for the 2014 playoff run. Billy Beane decided it was time to rebuild. They brought in some interesting players through trades and Sonny Gray was spectacular.

That was last year though, lets move on to what should be an exciting 2016 for the AL West. I will start by giving which place I believe the team will finish in, then I will go through almost every position and tell you all what I see and lastly I will name my player or players to watch.

1st Place: Houston Astros

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Last year the American League West had a surprise team, the Astros. While they did not win the division they had everyone talking. This was because they were well ahead of schedule. The Astros were a young team that many thought wouldn’t be contending this soon after they had blown everything up years before. Everything is finally coming together for a team that was the worst in the majors for almost 3 years. Their loyal fanbase will have to opportunity to watch a team that has unbelievable talent.

The outfield rotation of Rasmus, Gomez, Marisnick, Tucker and especially Springer are all solid. They can play defense well and carry some impressive bats. Springer and Gomez should have excellent seasons this year. Gomez will finally be able to play a full season with a winning team. Springer will look to continue to improve on what was a spectacular 2015 season. As long as the injury bug does not get to him he should have a monster year.

The infield, particularly the middle of it, will be amazing as well. Jose Altuve was one of the only good players on the team during their rebuilding process. His patience has paid off. With him and Carlos Correa manning the middle of the field the Astros may have the best middle infield in baseball. Correa has shown that he can be a major force. He can hit for average, power, bat with runners in scoring position, steal bases and play defense. The kid was a number one overall pick for the Astros and he has not disappointed. Look for him to have an amazing year and look for his name on the MVP ballot at the end of the year.

The starting rotation added Doug Fister to the mix which is a solid pickup. Keuchel, the reigning Cy Young Winner, McHugh, Fiers, and Feldman make up the rest of what should be a solid rotation. They have their ace and a great number 2 in McHugh. Those two should make the top of this rotation deadly. The back of their rotation is also made up of solid overall pitchers. Many of them are innings eaters who will keep you in a ballgame and give you a good chance of winning once you get to the bullpen.

The bullpen has the potential to be great. Ken Giles who was the Phillies closer was traded to Houston this offseason. He did not win the closing job, it was announced that Luke Gregerson would have that job, but, I can see Giles eventually winning it back. Pat Nesheck and Tony Sipps will also round out what will be an older but, effective bullpen.

The Astros should win this division barring any terrible injuries. Look for them to make some trade deadline deals to improve their corner infield positions and maybe add one more starter if they have the money to. They are one of my picks to make it to the World Series this year.

Player to Watch: Carlos Correa

2nd Place: Texas Rangers

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This Rangers team came out and won the division last year, yet they were not the talk of the division. Many people outside of Texas had forgotten that they were the Division Champions, not the Astros. They will be looking to improve on their performance last year as they will have Yu Darvish back this year and an interesting piece in Ian Desmond patrolling left field. Ultimately they will finish 2nd behind an up and coming Astros team because their age will start to show and I do not think they will end the season with a healthy enough team to win the division.

The outfield will have Ian Desmond who to an extent is an experiment out in left field. He has been an infielder for his entire career but, he looked serviceable during Spring Training. They brought him in for his bat and they got him cheap. They are hoping this move will pay off. The rest of their outfield is much less exciting. Delino Deshields Jr. will be playing center field and while he is solid on defense he has a lackluster bat. Shin-Soo Choo will be playing right field and is a solid, but not all that exciting, player. He had a great season last year but, has been known to be injury prone throughout his career. Lastly is Josh Hamilton who should be back sometime in May. He has always had the potential to be a star but, his past and his age are starting to catch up to him. Sadly I do not see him playing all that well this year.

The Rangers infield will be solid. Adrian Beltre will playing solid defense and swing a mean bat. People are wondering if he is a Hall of Famer, I think he is and I think he will continue to prove that this season. Elvis Andrus will continue to bat for a decent average, steal bases, and playing great defense. Rougned Odor won the starting job at Second for now. Jurickson Profar will be called up if Odor starts to struggle at all. Mitch Moreland will be manning first base and will continue to hit. The big man has finally come into his own and deserves to be their starter. Prince Fielder will also play some first but, will mostly be their big bopper at DH. He will continue to do what he always has done, hit.

The most exciting part about this team is their starting rotation. Lets get the 3, 4, and 5 pitchers out of the way to start. Martin Perez is young and has good stuff but, he will need to prove that he deserves to stay in this rotation. Colby Lewis has been the Opening Day starter in the past and he has also dealt with health issues. If he can stay healthy he will be a solid back of the rotation guy. Derek Holland is in the exact same situation as Lewis. Now we get to the fun part, Yu Darvish who will be back in May and Cole Hamels. These two are both Aces and have been top 3 in Cy Young Voting. They are one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. Their only problem is staying healthy. If either of these two are down for too long a time the entire rotation gets significantly worse. If they are healthy for the entire year they will be fun to watch.

Here is most likely the biggest weakness for the Rangers, their bullpen. Look at these names and tell me what average fan will know them? Not one. Shawn Tolleson will be their closer and he has been solid the last two years with ERA’s of 2.76 and 2.99 respectively. He is not flashy but, he should get the job done. After him is a mix of many no name players. This will be an area they will need to improve drastically if they want a chance at winning the division.

Overall this Rangers team will be solid if they improve the bullpen and if they stay healthy. That is two too many ifs for me. I doubt they will stay healthy and I don’t think they will be able to improve the bullpen enough. I do think they will have a good year and have a chance at the wild card.

Player(s) to Watch: Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This team has consistently under-performed.  Robinson Cano, King Felix, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are their best players. These four are great but, they have never been enough to push them over the top. There are just too many holes. They will play some good baseball but, they will not be anything spectacular this year. This team outside of a few players is boring.

The outfield will consist of Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, and Franklin Gutierrez. All of these players are good, but none are great. Aoki will hit for a good average, Martin has not hit well, Smith was once a solid player but, age has caught up to him, and Gutierrez is the definition of OK. This outfield will be boring, not much more to say than that.

The infield is similar. Kyle Seager is fun but, will most likely be forgotten as his brother Corey takes over in Los Angeles. Ketel Marte is 22 and could be a fine major league player. The only problem is that he wont be a star. He, like most of this team will be good but, not great. Robinson Cano has been solid but not the Superstar Seattle wanted. His power numbers have dropped off a cliff seemingly and age is not on his side. He will be good like every year but, unless he regains that power stroke he will not be the Superstar Seattle desperately needs. Adding Adam Lind to play first adds  power and stability to the position. He is again like the rest of this team, solid, but nothing amazing. He will play well and hit 20+ homeruns this year. Nelson Cruz was a great addition to the team. He was the only really exciting hitter last year for this squad. For a time it seemed like he alone could carry this team on his back along with his 44 homeruns. Sadly that was not the case. Cruz is 35 this year and he should start slowing down, right? Chris Iannetta will be the catcher this year. He is a good defender with no bat. They are all solid but, will any of them bring the necessary boost that the Mariners need? I do not believe so.

The starting rotation is a little more interesting. Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns are like the rest of this team, solid but nothing great. King Felix is well the King of Seattle. He is always in the talk for Cy Young and has been the backbone for this lackluster pitching staff. I am sure he will be in talks for the Cy Young again this year. Iwakuma won 15 games last year and proved he could be the number 2 behind the King. This was something Seattle has needed for a long time. The only problem is that he is heading into his age 35 season and will most likely not be able to put up the numbers as he has been for much longer.

The bullpen has some intriguing players but again none of them are great. Steve Cishek will be trying to get back into form as he once was in Miami. Joaquin Benoit has always been a good option in the pen and will most likely continue to be just that. Lastly the addition of Nick Vincent from the Padres is a move that will go under the radar but, should prove to be a great one for the Mariners.

The Mariners are a good team, do not get me wrong. The problem is they are boring. They do not have what it takes to push for the division or a playoff spot. Some people are picking them as a dark horse team but, until there is a spark from one of their players I do not foresee them being anything more than a .500 team.

Player to Watch: King Felix

4th Place: Oakland Athletics

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Billy Beane has been doing Billy Beane things. He has brought together a cheap but, intriguing roster. I do have them finishing 4th just to be safe but, I think this team could make a charge at the wild card if certain things can go their way.

Their outfield consists of Khris Davis, Billy Burns, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Chris Coghlan. These 5 could be a great rotation. Davis and Reddick bring power. They could each hit 25+ homeruns this year. Burns and Crisp bring the speed and Coghlan is just solid all around. They could do great things as a group. If Davis can reach his full potential watch out, he could be a monster hitter. Billy Burns is probably the most exciting player you have never heard about. He is the typical Billy Beane player.

The infield should be interesting as well. Marcus Semien could be very good if he can bring down the strikeout numbers. The A’s received him in a trade with the White Sox last year and he has been pegged as their Shortstop of the Future. Jed Lowrie is always a solid veteran to have on your team. He is manning second because age is starting to catch up with him but, his bat should still provide solid at-bats. Yonder Alonso, Mark Cahna, and Billy Butler will all be splitting time at DH and first base. Alonso was picked up from the Padres last year and has been a solid everyday player. He can hit for contact and has gap power. If he can hit with runner is scoring position and add some more power, Alonso could finally reach the potential many thought he had. Steven Vogt was a suprise player last year. He hit 18 homeruns and drove in 71. He is a solid bat and even better behind the plate.

The rotation will be where this team will need to improve. They have a lot of injuries to deal with and not much talent to speak of. They will be the reason this team does not make the playoffs and they are why I have them fourth. Of course their is one Superstar, Sonny Gray. Everything I said before only talks about the rest of the rotation. I think Gray could win the Cy Young away this year. He has amazing stuff and is very collected for how young he is. People need to start paying attention to him. The only problem is that knowing Billy Beane he could get traded if the season completely implodes.

The bullpen will be a major strength for this team. They have the potential to be one of the best ones in the game. Sean Doolittle will be closing this year and doing his normal thing of getting outs as long as he is healthy. They brought in Ryan Madson and John Axford who were both previously All-Star type closers. If they can get back into form, watch out. These three could be what they Pirates had a few years ago with Grilli, Melancon, and Watson. Liam Hendricks and Mark Rzepczynski also have a track record of getting the job done. This bullpen could be amazing and if the starters can keep the game close and give it over to the pen the A’s could win many more games than people are predicting, including myself.

This team has potential if the moves they have made pay off. They could make the playoffs as a wild card. Sadly it is more likely that they will finish right around .500 because not every move can always pay off.

Player(s) to Watch: Sonny Gray and Billy Burns

5th Place: Los Angeles Angels

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

I know many of you have been wondering where this team would be. I can tell you right now that this team is vastly overrated because of two players, Mike Trout (he is not overrated, just the team) and Albert Pujols (he is overrated). They will have a bad year for many reasons, one being money and two being the lack of any prospects. This is normally any team’s nightmare. When you have all your money sunk into just a few players and no prospects that means rough years are heading your way and I think that starts this year.

The outfield of Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun is just not good. Left Field will be platooned by Nava and Gentry and neither of them are all that great. Trout is obviously one of the best players in baseball so no matter what else I say, much of it does not apply to him. Calhoun is solid but, it seems as though he has already reached his best. I think that last year will be the best year he ever has which again is not bad but, left much to be desired.

The infield is a train wreck outside of Andrelton Simmons. Yunel Escobar is decent but, nothing great. Johnny Giavotella is serviceable at best. CJ Cron is a similar player to Calhoun except he plays first base. Albert Pujols is one of the best players ever and he hit 40 bombs last year but, he is still a huge chunk of their payroll and he can’t carry teams like he used to. Simmons is a wizard on the field and is improving at the plate. The problem is that the Angels gave up so much to get him and for what reason? They will not be good this year. These kinds of moves are made by GM’s and Front Offices who are afraid to lose their jobs. Lastly Carlos Perez and Giovanni Soto are behind the plate and are decent at best. Perez is young and has some potential but, I would not count on him for much.

The rotation is not terrible but, there are many questions left unanswered. CJ Wilson is having shoulder problems which means it is just swollen and he isn’t out for very long or, it means surgery and he is out for quite awhile. Garret Richards has the potential to be solid but, I just do not know if he has what it takes to be the Ace for a team. 2014 was a great year for him but, 2015 was average. Alex Heaney was a top prospect for the Marlins and has been traded around a bit. If, and I really do mean if, he can pull it all together he could be a nice young player. I just have not seen enough of him to be convinced that he will be able to. Santiago and Shoemaker are not bad but, they are not playoff caliber players and Jared Weaver is in the twilight of his career.

The bullpen has even more questions than the rotation. How much longer can Street be this good? He and Joe Smith are the only good players in a very average bullpen. Will anyone step up? Does their depleted farm system have a diamond in the rough? They do not have the money to go out and get anyone and their farm system is atrocious.

The Angels are heading into what could be a long string of bad years. They will need to try and dump contracts near the trade deadline to try and revamp this team. They have no money and a bad farm system. All of this spells impending doom for a once great franchise. They may be in the hunt near the beginning of the year but, eventually I think it will all fall apart. The worst part about this is that they cannot blame it on injuries. As of now Wilson is their only injury problem. This could be the year the Angels start to fall apart.

Player to Watch: Mike Trout (Who else?)

A Look at the AL West: Can the Astros take it all?

Last year was the Astros’ third year in the American League, and the first year in seemingly forever where they showed the ability to be a real playoff team in the MLB. After being the consistent bottom-feeder of the NL Central and not showing greater success in their first couple of years with the AL West, Houston had a breakout 2015 season, finishing just 2 games back of the Rangers in the division and locking up a wildcard spot. They took out the New York Yankees in the play-in game, but lost the Divisional Round series 3-2 to the eventual World Series champion, Kansas City Royals.

Dallas Keuchel brings not only a strong beard game, but is pretty good at the whole MLB pitching thing too. Photo courtesy of MLB.com.

So the question remains, can the Astros repeat last season’s success in 2016? I think the team is primed and ready to do so for a couple of reasons: The maturation of young talent on the mound and the explosiveness of their hitters, both at the plate and on the base path. The Astros had the best team ERA in the American League in 2015, just 3.57. Dallas Keuchel has really come into his own over the past couple of seasons, and should continue to improve as number one in the rotation. Lance McCullers record from last season may not be the most impressive, just 6-7, but he should be pitching a lot more comfortably this season, with his first professional season behind him.

The remaining three pitchers for the staff have all seen some success throughout their careers, and it’s just a matter of returning to form. Collin McHugh has been remarkably better with Houston the past two seasons than his previous two, he should continue to trend in the right direction on the mound.

Doug Fister probably had the roughest season of these five starters in 2015. He started the year with a starting rotation spot with Washington, but some consistency issues ended up getting him demoted to a bullpen spot by the end of the year. If he’s able to regain his composure with a new team and pitch like he did in 2014 with Washington (16-6 2.41 ERA in 25 starts), this Astros rotation looks suitable to defend its position as one of the best in the AL.

Carlos Correa and his middle infield partner Jose Altuve will continue to set the tone for the Astros bats in 2016. Photo courtesy of MLB.com.

The offense is spotted with stars like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Correa became the first number 1 draft pick overall to win Rookie of the Year in the American League last season. However Correa has already made it very clear that he does not intend to stop there, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise. Correa could begin making his case as an elite talent in the MLB over these next few years, in the same league as guys like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, if he continues to improve on his impressive opening season.

Altuve has hit over .300 in his past two seasons, and has begun to find more power in his bat, recording his first double-digit home run season. He also solidified his glove work, posting a .993 fielding percent in 2015.

Correa and Altuve could be a middle infield duo that terrifies the division for years down the road.

The rest of the Astros bats are supplemented with some solid veteran talent combined with rookies looking to mature and make their first big splash at the plate. As of right now, the team’s starting 9 are all returning from 2015, so they have the element of chemistry on their side as well.

The Mariners and A’s are continuing to find themselves and presently should not provide too much of a threat to the Astros within the division. The Rangers are coming off a year where their pitching ranked 3rd worst in the AL in terms of ERA, over a point higher than Houston’s. Although the Rangers are hoping Yu Darvish’s return from injury and Cole Hamels will help fix this problem, I don’t think it will be enough. While this team has great hitting, I think that, outside of Darvish and Hamels, it lacks the pitching depth required to make a serious postseason run. The Angels continue to see great production out of Mike Trout, but long-time slugger Albert Pujols numbers seem to be trending downwards, and their admittedly solid rotation currently lacks a true ace on the level of Keuchel and Hamels.

I think the Astros will continue to see themselves in the top half of the AL West standings for a long time with the young talent they have accrued over their time at the bottom of the MLB. Carlos Correa will only get better (a scary proposition) and young batters will only continue to improve with just the right amount of veterans around them.

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