2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Starting Pitchers

With the start of the 2017 MLB season still about three months away (85 days, six minutes, and 43 seconds, but who’s counting?), players and teams are beginning to gear up for the first pitch on April 2.

Let’s take a look at the top five starting pitchers for Opening Day 2017.

5. Justin Verlander- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

Justin Verlander will hope his 2016 success carries over to 2017. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander turned in a renaissance season for the Detroit Tigers in 2016. At age 33, he had his most innings pitched since 2012, posting a solid 227.2 innings. He coupled a full season with a return of his strikeout ability. Verlander struck out 254 batters and limited base runners with a WHIP of 1.00. The former Cy Young winner will look to continue his success into 2017.

4. Corey Kluber- Cleveland Indians

Corey Kluber bounced back in 2016 from a disappointing 2015 when he posted a record of 9-16. He matched his win-loss record from his Cy Young Award winning season in 2014 of 18-6. Kluber posted a solid ERA of 3.14 as well as striking out 227 batters over 215 innings pitched. He helped anchor a staff that would be a key component in the Indians run to the World Series. A surprise contender in 2016, the Indians won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season, led by staff ace Corey Kluber.

3. Madison Bumgarner- San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner is coming off of a season in which he posted career highs in strike outs (251), innings pitched (226.2), and ERA (2.77). All of that was good enough for him to garner his fourth straight All-Star game appearance, as well as a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Bumgarner led San Francisco to the NL Division Series, but the Giants were beaten soundly 3-1 by the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Surrounded by a strong pitching staff, Bumgarner will anchor the Giants starting rotation for 2017.

2. Clayton Kershaw- Los Angeles Dodgers

Even the casual baseball fan knows of the legendary dominance of lefty Clayton Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is only going to be 29 years old when the season starts, leaving his already stellar career all the more impressive. All this lauding may lead you to wonder why he is only second on this list. That is because of all the pitchers in contention for this list, Kershaw had by far the lowest number of innings pitched with only 149. He had his 2016 season cut short by injuries. Before he got hurt, he was on his way to posting an ERA below two (1.69) for the third time in four seasons! If it wasn’t for injuries, Kershaw would have been the runaway NL Cy Young winner as well as number one on this list. Kershaw is on track to to start Opening Day for the Dodgers.

1. Max Scherzer- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

Max Scherzer will dominate the NL in 2017. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

Max Scherzer won the NL Cy Young Award in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. He posted an ERA of 2.96, but it was his peripheral numbers that vaulted him to the Cy Young Award. He struck out an astounding 284 batters over 228.1 innings pitched. Scherzer also got batters out with ground balls and fly outs, supported by his WHIP of .097. By limiting opponents to an average of less than one baserunner per inning, and striking out batters at an astronomical rate, Scherzer was able to claim the NL Cy Young Award in 2016. In his prime, he is poised to add to his trophy case in 2017.

As the 2017 season draws nearer, look for these top five starting pitchers to dominate in 2017. Also watch out for some other names that just missed the cut. Pitchers like Chris Sale, David Price, Jake Arrieta and Noah Syndergaard will all be looking to make the cut next season.

 

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X-factors For Each World Series Team

Two games down and the series is split 1-1. The teams alternated who would dominate each game, as the Tribe took Game 1 with a masterful pitching performance from Corey Kluber and a couple of bombs from Roberto Perez. The Cubs took Game 2 with Jake Arrieta pitching well in his 5 2/3 innings and the Cubs playing some small ball to get their win. This article will analyze some of the players that may not be superstars, but will be relied upon nevertheless by both teams.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs showed Game 2 why their lineup is one of the most feared in baseball. The team constantly worked the count and strung plenty of hits together to produce a lead that would not be surrendered. One player who has been producing all playoffs, only sputter out in the World Series so far is Javier Baez.

Baez was the best hitter for the Cubs all postseason before the World Series. The man has accumulated 22 TB’s (Total Bases) and a .316 avg so far this playoffs, but only 2 of his 15 hits have come from Games 1 and 2 this World Series. Baez is in an important position of the lineup, hitting behind Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist, who have been the hottest hitters for the Cubs between the first two games. Baez needs to hit like he did in the ALCS and ALDS to knock in the hot hitters in front of him and maximize the run support for the rotation, especially since The Cubs Official Twitter Page has already come out and said Schwarber has not been medically cleared to play the field. Baez has always had high K totals, but has been able to hit at a well enough clip to still be included in the Cubs lineup, now is the time to prove he belongs.

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Kyle Hendricks is one of the many young Cubs players that have stepped up all playoffs. How will he pitch in one of the biggest games in Wrigley Field history? Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The rotation is the one part of the team the Cubs have been able to truly rely upon all season. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester were expected to produce, but it is Kyle Hendricks who has seemingly come out of nowhere to be the best pitcher for the Cubs this season. Hendricks was a little rocky his first start in the NLDS, but rebounded big time in the NLCS.

Hendricks made two starts in the NLCS, putting together a stat line that nobody could frown upon. in 12 2/3 innings, Hendricks only gave up one run (0.71 ERA) and managed a WHIP of 0.71 as well, amassing 11 k’s in the process. The fact he did not get two wins in the NLCS just goes to show why wins is not a good stat for comparing pitchers. His biggest stage is still yet to come, however, as he will pitch the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945. Hendricks will also be relied upon to pitch either Game 6 or 7 if the series reaches that point. A Cubs team that relies so much on the rotation pitching well, it will be fun to watch to see if Hendricks is up to the task.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians dominated Game 1 of the World Series. Corey Kluber twirled a pitching gem before getting pulled early for one of the best 1-2 relief punches in baseball of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Game 2 saw the opposite, as Trevor Bauer constantly put his teams into jams and the hitting seemingly disappeared. The Indians only run Game 2 came from a wild pitch. Now the Indians go to Wrigley for three games, hoping to pull out at least one win to give themselves a chance at home.

In order to pull the win, however, the Tribe needs their star to step up. Jason Kipnis may not be as big a name as he should, but he is worshipped in Cleveland (maybe not after his two errors in Game 2). 2016 was a rebound season for the man who has always had double digit stolen bases, but finally put up more than 20 home runs in a season (23, which cannot be a coincidence right?). All postseason, however, Kipnis’ has been putrid, only putting together 6 hits in 39 AB’s (.154 BA). Hitting second in the lineup, he needs to get on base in front of Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli. Kipnis is no slouch on the basepaths either, which leads to Lindor and Napoli seeing more fastballs and hopefully jumpstarting the Indians offense. The Indians offense is going to need somebody to get the lineup going, as playing a World Series game at Wrigley is a very difficult experience.

The second X-factor for the Indians is a big name player, their best pitcher, Corey Kluber. The truth is, Kluber may have to start three games in a seven game series, potentially pitching games 4 and 7 to go with his game 1 start. The man is a machine (or Klubot), who despite a rough April, put together a potential Cy Young season to lead a young rotation through much of the season.

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Kluber has been lights out all postseason. Can he carry that momentum into Games 4 and 7 this World Series? Picture courtesy of the USA Today

Kluber has carried that momentum into the postseason, where he has been unrelenting to opposing hitters. The man has made 4 starts this postseason, giving up only 2 ER’s the whole time. He has a K/9 of 10.73, which is comparable to a stud reliever, but done with a sample size almost five times larger. Indians manager Terry Francona knows he needs Kluber to win this series, which is partially why Kluber was only pulled 88 pitches into Game 1, despite not giving up  a run through 6 innings. Kluber gives the Indians the best chance to win, so having him pitch potentially three games this series will be an interesting experiment for the Tribe, but one that should pay dividends for the team if history is anything to go by for Kluber.

In the end, baseball is a team game, where anything can happen and anybody can step up and elevate the team. That being said, the aforementioned players elevating their game for the rest of the World Series will be a large step forward for either team who are looking to go home World Champs.

 

Is Terry Francona Changing Baseball?

The Indians came into the playoffs as underdogs in the national media. The team came from a small market, at least by baseball standards, and quietly went about their business securing the AL Central early in the final month. After sweeping the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, the Indians are once again in the lead for the ALCS. What has Terry Francona been doing to carry these underdogs to the World Series?

The Indians have won on the backs of good starts from the rotation. Staff ace Corey Kluber has pitched very well all playoffs, not crumbling under the pressure of being the backbone of the Tribe’s rotation. Two of his three starts have been quality starts, with his third getting there before being pulled early for the bullpen, which has been a reoccurring theme all playoffs for Terry Francona.

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Cleveland gave up a king’s ransom to acquire Andrew Miller at the deadline. Every game he has pitched this postseason, however, has just shown he was worth it for the Tribe. Picture courtesy of Zack Meisel of cleveland.com

Andrew Miller, who the Indians gave up the #15 prospect in all of baseball for at the trade deadline, has been receiving plenty of the national media attention as well. Andrew has pitched 9 innings altogether this playoff in five appearances, three of which occurred in the first three games of the ALCS respectively. Miller has done it all this postseason, coming in the fifth to build a bridge between middle innings of the game, all the way to securing the save for the Indians in the 9th inning of Game 3 of the ALCS. In the 9 innings pitched this postseason, he has yet to give up a run, has accrued only 2 walks and 6 hits, and have accumulated 20 k’s for the Tribe. Miller, however, is not the only one dominating American League hitters this postseason.

Cody Allen, the Indians reliever with the title of “closer”, has been pitching nearly as well as well as Miller this postseason. A 23rd round pick in the 2011 amateur draft, the man ended the game for the Tribe in four of his five appearances, earning a hold in his last appearance to give Miller the save. Allen has yet to give up an earned run as well in close to seven innings, striking out 7 and maintaining a WHIP right near 1.

Terry Francona has been going to the bullpen early and often, which has seen short term success for the manager as all the members of the Indians bullpen have been pitching well. This was most prevalent when the bullpen had to come in for Trevor Bauer in Game 3 of the ALCS after his stitched up finger started bleeding to the point of no return. Francona had to utilize six relievers over 8 1/3 innings, and the bullpen came through for them, only giving up 2 earned runs in the process. That specific instance was more due to necessity, but provides a decent example of what Francona has been doing all season.

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Terry Francona may be unconventional, but if his methods prove fruitful, he may be starting a trend that will change modern baseball. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer

Francona’s heavy reliance on his bullpen has generated quite a buzz around the MLB. Relievers are relatively inexpensive compared to some of the money aces are getting paid yearly.The aforementioned Miller was highly contested in free agency, and ended up signing a 4 year deal worth $36 million ($9 AAV). In comparison, the top two pitchers in the rotation for the Minnesota Twins not named Berrios are making around $14 million a year (Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana) each. Both Santana and Hughes would be nothing more than middle to back end rotation pieces on a contending team.

The financial savings, especially for small market teams, is a big reason, but not the only one, to rely on relievers. Using relievers for more innings each season would save starter’s arms, who are not only worth more on the current market (a trend that may change if relievers are used more frequently), but could also lead to a decrease in Tommy John surgeries league wide. Many teams rely on young arms that are arbitration eligible to fill out a bullpen, an idea that is both cost effective and give the young guys a chance to earn their place in the MLB.

Most importantly though, Francona’s style of bullpen management relies on the idea that the team pitches their best reliever in the situations needed most. It makes no sense to have a closer if your team cannot bridge the gap from the starter to the 9th inning. If a team has the heart of the order coming up in the 8th, does it not make the most sense to use your best relief pitchers against the best bats on the opposing team?

Francona has been unconventional with his bullpen use, a move that could pay off for the Tribe in the upcoming weeks. It is a strategy that has not been as prevalent in modern day baseball, but could become more prevalent if the Indians succeed this postseason. If it works, it will be addressed all offseason, but only time will tell if more teams adapt the Francona way.

 

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All stats courtesy of baseball reference.

ALCS Preview: Toronto Blue Jays vs Cleveland Indians

Both ALDS series were over as soon as they began, as the Indians and Blue Jays swept their opponents in the first three games of the five game series to move on to the ALCS.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays came into this series as underdogs to the Texas Rangers, who had the best record in the American League. By the end of the series, however, it was evident that the Jays showed up to play and the Rangers complacency and “playoff curse” struck again.

The Blue Jays blew out the Rangers in the first game of the series on the back of an exciting pitching performance from underrated Marco Estrada. Estrada went 8 1/3 innings, giving up only four hits and one earned run. Despite settling into more of a back of the rotation role with the Milwaukee Brewers, Estrada has pitched very well ever since signing with the Jays before the 2015 regular season. Often overlooked due to the potency of the Jays lineup, Estrada will be a big factor for the Jays as ALCS Game 1 looms closer.

josh-donaldson

Josh Donaldson just flat out raked during the ALDS. Donaldson went 9 for 18 with 5 doubles to help lead the Jays over the Rangers in 3 games. Photo courtesy of Patrick Semansky of the Associated Press

Game 2 saw the Blue Jays do what they do best, aka hit home runs like crazy. The Jays hit a total of four home runs, three of them solo shots, to beat the Rangers 5-3. The Rangers pulled a couple runs back in the 8th, but it was nice for Jasy fans to see their closer, Roberto Osuna, come in and shut the door after Francisco Liriano was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Osuna had been brought into a sticky spot with runners on 1st and 3rd and no outs, but managed to only give up one unearned run and preserve the Jays lead for the last two innings.

Game 3 was the most exciting of the bunch, as the Jays won in walkoff fashion. The inning got started with a Josh Donaldson double, a recurring theme through much of the series. Edwin Encarnacion walked and Jose Bautista struck out, which brought up Russell Martin. Martin grounded into what looked like a routine 6-4-3 double play, but a throwing error by the second basemen, Rougned Odor, led to Donaldson crossing the plate and wild celebration for Jays fans everywhere.

The X-factor for the Blue Jays against the Indians will be the starting pitching. Aaron Sanchez, arguably the best Jays pitcher throughout the season, got roughed up in Game 3 against the Rangers. The Jays will need him to bounce back along with Marco Estrada repeating a performance similar to what he did Game 1 against the Rangers. The Jays have a plethora of all-stars in their lineup and the bullpen looks stronger than ever. It will be up to the Jays starters to not dig them a hole to deep to get out of.

Teams like the Red Sox showed this postseason that despite being a strong team on paper, if the core of the lineup is not hitting, then the results will not be in their favor. The Jays core is hitting real well so far this postseason, and coupled with a strong bullpen performance and great starts from 2 of their 3 starters, the Jays look like they can make some noise this ALCS despite being the wild card team.

 

Cleveland Indians

The Indians came in as small market underdogs against a Boston Red Sox team that was expected to compete in the playoffs before the regular season even began. Many pundits even thought the Indians would not even finish top two in their division, as the Kansas City Royals were coming off a world series and the Detroit Tigers upgraded their already potent lineup with the signing of Justin Upton. Yet, it was the Indians who secured home field advantage on the final game of the season and was crowned AL Central champs when all was said and done.

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Andrew Miller is proving that even though the Indians gave up a hefty price tag for his services, it may all be worth it. He mowed down Red Sox hitters all series, holding them scoreless over four innings. Photo Courtesy of Zack Meisel of cleveland.com

The Indians and Red Sox ALDS series provided a little more excitement than the Jays and Rangers series. Game 1 concluded with a 5-4 victory for the Tribe as Indians Manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen early and successfully, getting 4 1/3 innings out of 3 relievers and only giving up one run in the process. Andrew Miller, the trade deadline acquisition that saw the Indians give up two top 100 prospects, looked extremely impressive, going two innings and giving up only one hit.

Game 2 saw a Cy Young performance out of Corey Kluber, who went 7 innings maintaining a WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) below 1 and accrued 7 k’s. David Price, who has the third highest salary in all of baseball, just got shellacked by Indians hitters. The Indians won with small ball scoring and a 3-run homer from Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been annually on the cusp of the Indians lineup, but never truly cemented a secure starting spot on the team over the last couple of seasons. The best part, for the Indians, was that the Red Sox had to go to the bullpen constantly through the first two games. The Indians, on the other hand, got to rest both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen Game 2, making them fully rested for Game 3.

Game 3 utilized a similar recipe that Game 1 did to secure the Indians the series. Josh Tomlin got the start and gave up only 2 runs in the early going for the Tribe. By the time the 5th inning rolled around, Francona had already called in Andrew Miller from the bullpen, who combined with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw to only give up one run over the final 4 1/3 innings of the game. Coco Crisp, acquired at the Waiver Trade Deadline (which I outlined previously here), went on to not only provide a crucial sacrifice bunt in fourth inning, but hit the go ahead two-run homerun in the 6th inning.

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Coco Crisp’s 2 run homerun in the top of the sixth provided all the run support the team needed to pull off the series sweep against the Red Sox. Gif courtesy of giphy.com and TBS

The Indians, though often referred to as the underdog by national press and TBS announcers, proved that the team is a force to be reckoned with. The team may not arguably have any premier hitters in the lineup, but the team wins thanks to a different player stepping up everyday. Combine that formula with a Cy Young pitcher in Corey Kluber, along with one of the best 1-2 punches in the bullpen with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and the Indians look like they may have all the pieces necessary to continue to prove the doubters wrong and win one for Believeland.

 

Prediction

In the end, I think the Jays pull off the upset in six games. Progressive Field is one of the most hitter friendly ballparks in the MLB, which will play in favor to the Jays lineup. Kluber gives the Indians one true stud in their rotation, but question marks surround the consistency of Bauer and Tomlin, and an over reliance on the bullpen by Francona could hurt the team long term in the series. Even with the latest news that Danny Salazar, another young stud for the Indians, could return for the ALCS, he has not pitched well the second half of the season. Rushing him back could cost the Indians a game the team can’t afford to give up in the series.  I think most games will be high scoring affairs, but look to the hot hitting Blue Jays to outgun the Indians squad and secure the series in Game 6.

Everything You Need to Know About the AL Playoffs

As the one game wild card playoffs are finishing up, now is a good time to look at each American League team and determine what will push them to win it all, or what could end up being each team’s downfall. The Boston Red Sox start their series against the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers will faceoff against the Toronto Blue Jays, who won the wildcard one game playoff against the Baltimore Orioles this past Tuesday. Both series commence on Thursday, October 6th, with the Jays vs. Rangers series at 4:30pm and the Red Sox vs. Indians series at 8pm on TBS.

 

The Boston Red Sox (93-69)

big-papi

David Ortiz has had a phenomenal last season. Will he be able to finish his career with another World Series champions celebration? Photo courtesy of John Tlu Macki of the Boston Globe

The Red Sox come into the playoffs as the AL team with the third best record. Do not let that fool you, however, as the Sox may be the most complete team in the AL. The lineup, top to bottom, may not have as much true power as the Blue Jays, but still contains three hitters with over 30 hr’s during the season (Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and David Ortiz). Betts is a potential regular season MVP (As outlined in one of my articles from last week) and David Ortiz has been Mr. Clutch during the Red Sox last three World Series runs. The true question mark around the lineup is whether the youth that powered the team, aka the Killer B’s (Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., and Benintendi) will be able to handle the added pressure surrounding the MLB Postseason.

The Red Sox’s biggest question mark entering the season surrounded the pitching rotation. As the season progressed, however, the rotation became one of the Sox’s biggest strengths. Rick Porcello, often considered nothing more than a middle of the rotation starter, has pitched a potential Cy Young season, finishing with 22 wins on the year. David Price is the big money man, brought in to be the ace, may not have lived up to the expectations of years past, but is still a strong number two. The bullpen was a bit of a question mark during much of the season, but the Sox brought in Brad Ziegler from the Diamondbacks. Since about mid-August, the bullpen has stepped up and dominated competition, turning a concern into a strength as well.

The Red Sox have the pleasure of matching up against the Cleveland Indians in the NLDS, who will provide a difficult matchup for the Sox as the series progresses.

 

Cleveland Indians (94-68)

corey-kluber

Corey Kluber has put together a Cy Young worthy season. Can he rally the injury riddled rotation and carry the Tribe past the Red Sox? Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

The Indians came into a season as a favorite only if you were an Ohioan. The Kansas City Royals were coming off a World Series and the Detroit Tigers had seemingly upgraded their lineup by signing Justin Upton in the offseason. It was the Indians, however who ended up with the division crown on the back of one of the best young pitching rotations in the majors (maybe even better than the New York Mets’ young staff).

Yet, as the final months rolled around, half of the young core hit the disabled list, and leaves question marks as to how the Indians’ three man rotation will matchup with the Red Sox. Corey Kluber put together a ridiculous season pitching, putting himself in line for a potential Cy Young by finishing near the top of every pitching category in the American League. Inconsistency is Trevor Bauer’s, the Indians Game 1 starter, middle name. Josh Tomlin has not given up more than 2 runs in any of his last five starts, but was rather inconsistent leading up to September. The bullpen, much like the rotation, has been pretty strong through the season. Cody Allen is one of the more underrated closers in baseball, as he has just accumulated saves consistently while maintaining an ERA around 2.5. Andrew Miller was brought over at the deadline to give the Indians the best setup man in baseball.

The rotation may be questionable, but the lineup is not. A healthy mix of youngsters and seasoned veterans fill the squad as postseason looms. Mike Napoli, a postseason regular with the Red Sox previously, fills the veteran role for the team and will power the Indians through the series. Tyler Naquin has put together a surprising rookie campaign for the Tribe and just gets on base regularly for a team that is less about hitting homeruns and more about small ball baseball. One of the most underrated trades of the deadline saw Brandon Guyer go to the Indians who just rakes as well, scraping together an OBP of .438 since the deadline for the Tribe. All this talk surrounding the lineup does not even include the stud middle infielders the Tribe have built around of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis who have Indians fans excited for the team’s postseason potential.

The Indians will put up a good fight against the Red Sox, but despite owning home field advantage, will fall to the Red Sox in 6 games, as Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin do not inspire much hope for the Tribe. If the Tribe had Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar healthy, this would be an entirely different conversation.

 

Texas Rangers (95-67)

The Rangers came into the regular season as the favorites in a weak AL West division. The Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners put up a fight for awhile, but the Rangers kept winning and slowly gained ground on both teams as the season progressed. By the time the Rangers were officially crowned division champs, it was a mere formality, as the chance was slim since the beginning of September for either team to challenge the Rangers for the crown. Having the best record in the American League will give the Rangers home field advantage throughout both the ALDS and ALCS rounds, but that is not the only thing the Rangers have going for them.

The Texas Rangers lineup have five players with at least 20 hr’s and most the team have been in the playoffs together multiple times. Adrian Beltre, the ageless wonder at third base, leads the lineup as he has 32 hr’s and a.300 batting average this season. Rougned Odor, the young stud second basemen, has chipped in 33 hr’s of his own (a rare sign for a middle infielder) and has double digit stolen bases as well. He does not walk much, but if Odor puts wood on the ball, he is going for extra bases. Jonathan Lucroy was picked up at the deadline (after Lucroy spurned the Indians) and has provided consistency at the single position the Rangers had issues with throughout the season. The Rangers lineup is in their peak right now, so they will be exciting to watch as the series progresses.

The Rangers also have the pitching to provide support to the lineup. The two headed monster of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish provide two aces at the top of the rotation. Darvish has been pitching better of late, so he will probably get the ball Game 1. The third spot in the playoff rotation leaves the rotation a little shaky, but if Hamels and Darvish can pitch on shortened rest, they may only need Martin Perez to pitch a single game for them in the NLDS. The bullpen is solid, with Sam Dyson closing down games with great success lately, only giving up one earned run in the last ten innings. Dyson was inconsistent midseason, but has come around and looked the part of a closer, despite a lower than usual K rate for a closer. Matt Bush may be one of the best free agency pickups as the former top pick has redeemed his life and career in Texas, performing well in the setup role for the Rangers.

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The animosity is strong between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. Will the hate carry over into the ALCS and hurt the Rangers’ chance at a World Series run? Photo courtesy of Richard Rodriguez of the AP.

The Texas Rangers have the best record in the AL because of just how complete the team is. The lineup and rotation have playoff experience and stability throughout. The bullpen, though inexperienced, has looked good of late. If there is one thing holding the Rangers back, it will be the animosity (The link leads to the brawl from earlier in the season between these two teams) between them and the Blue Jays from previous series hurting the team during the series.

 

Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)

The Blue Jays were a playoff favorite going into the season. It was unexpected that three AL East teams would be battling for the two wild card spots, along with the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros, but the Blue Jays came out on top of the pile. The Blue Jays knocked off the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff on the back of Edwin Encarnacion’s three run walkoff homerun in the bottom of the 11th.

Homeruns are what you are going to see when watching this lineup. The Blue Jays have four players in their lineups who could hit 30 homeruns a season if healthy, three of which who could reach forty homers. Jose Bautista, the batflip champion, has provided playoff homerun heroics in the past, but does not have to shoulder the power alone. Bautista, Josh Donaldson (another potential 2016 MVP), and Edwin Encarnacion give the Jays the best 3-4-5 hitter trio in all of baseball. Troy Tulowitzki, though often in the background behind the big three, is still one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball when healthy, along with very strong defense up the middle. Michael Saunders was an underrated pickup from the Mariners as he has hit 24 hr’s from the outfield and as many doubles as Josh Donaldson (32).

The Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Atlanta Braves 9-3.

Encarnacion has already hit more than 40 homeruns this season. Does he have enough power in the tank to hit a few more for the Jays this postseason? Photo courtesy of Carlos Osorio of the Toronto Star.

The downside of the Jays revolves around the pitching. Aaron Sanchez has pitched phenomenal all season for the Jays and Liriano has been pitching well since coming over from the deadline. The Blue Jays have  actually gotten a couple of strong seasons from journeymen J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, but there is a reason they are journeymen. Marcus Stroman was supposed to be the ace of the rotation by the end of the season, but remained inconsistent through most of it. If the rotation can make it to the bullpen, though, then the Jays have a good shot. Joaquin Benoit came over at the deadline as well, and has only given up one run since the beginning of August (that is a 24 inning span).

The Blue Jays lineup is definitely the strongest in the AL, as the power potential is truly real. The pitching will be the X-factor for the Jays as the Rangers are the more complete team on paper. In the end, the Rangers are the favorite for a reason, and  will prevail over the Blue Jays.

 

AL Regular Season Award Predictions

As the season begins to wind down, all sorts of guesses as to who will win the MVP and Cy Young awards. So many factors are taken into consideration including team record, individual statistics, and how the player has been performing as of late. Inside this article, I make some predictions for who will be the winner of each American League award as the season concludes.

 

MVP Award

Early on I thought the award would go to Houston Astros second basemen, Jose Altuve. He was on a tear the first couple of months. However, as the season progressed, Altuve has cooled off, and the award has become a tossup. The award now belongs to one of three people; either, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts, or Mike Trout.*

*The Angels are not contending for the playoffs, which for better or worse, eliminates Trout from the close race.

Betts has been a true five-category player, hitting 31 home runs, a .318 average, 25 stolen bases, and triple digit rbi’s and runs. Despite Donaldson displaying more power, Betts gets the nod for his substantial lead in stolen bases and batting average (RBI’s are hard for me to argue as it is dependent on people getting on in front of you.) The Red Sox moving to first in the division with a five-game lead on the Blue Jays is just the icing on the cake for Betts getting the MVP award.

 

Cy Young

The Cy Young Award is always tough to predict because people all the pitching stats differently. Rick Porcello leads the American League in wins but has 50 less strikeouts than Corey Kluber. Masahiro Tanaka has the lowest ERA in the AL, but has only amassed 14 wins. Justin Verlander accumulated a 5.5 WAR and a 1.01 WHIP in a career rebounding season but his team is currently on the outside looking in for the wild card.

 

I do not even think Kluber thought he was going to have the season he is currently having back in spring training. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

I do not even think Kluber thought he was going to have the season he is currently having back in spring training. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

In the end, I think Corey Kluber is most deserving of the award. He had a rough first couple of starts to the season, but once he settled in, produced strong numbers for the rest of the season for the Cleveland Indians. Kluber leads the American League with 224 Ks, the Indians are on top of the Central Division and is third and fourth respectively in ERA and WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched). 18 wins, though dependent on the team, would rank him third in the AL and leads all AL pitchers in WAR. All these numbers, coupled with the Indians making the playoffs should be all the voters need to pick Kluber for the Cy Young.

 

Rookie of the Year

After the first month of the season, the award would have gone to Nomar Mazara. The MLB season is long, though, and a lot has changed. Mazara slumped, and Michael Fulmer started to rise to on the board. Fulmer has produced at an elite level for the Tigers, with a 3.03 ERA. Fulmer had the award locked up, well, until September rolled around and teams started calling up young prospects. Controversial, but the award belongs to Gary Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez is sitting at forty-three games on the season but has hit 19 home runs and is producing a .337 batting average. He has spent half of those games at the catcher spot, a position usually devoid of strong hitters. His WAR is already 2.2 (an average an MLB starter will accumulate 2-3 over the whole season) and it is not crazy to think that even if Sanchez started slumping, he could have produced a WAR hovering near five, which would be top 20 in the American League. The only thing holding back Sanchez is his lack of playing time, but I think the production over a month and a half is more than enough for Sanchez to usurp Fulmer by season’s end.

 

Mariano Rivera/Rolaids Relief Award

This award is probably the easiest to decide as there is one closer who has been heads and shoulders above the rest of the American League. Zach Britton not only leads the American League in saves, but his WHIP and ERA are both below one. Britton has only given up four earned runs all season in 61 innings, meaning every 15 appearances he makes, he gives up one lone run. To put this in perspective, Mariano Rivera’s lowest ERA in a single season was 1.38 (He gave up 12 ER’s in 78 innings), and he is considered one of, if not the best, closer of all time.

Britton has done way more than his expected workload for the season as he has been the best closer in the American League. Photo courtesy of Joy R. Absalon of USA TODAY Sports

Britton has done way more than he was expected to this season as he has been the best closer in the American League. Photo Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon of USA TODAY Sports

Britton has not blown a save all season, and three of his runs came in the first month. This means that in 52 appearances since the beginning of May, he has only given up one earned run. Britton has never been a dominant strikeout guy like Aroldis Chapman, which makes the ERA even more impressive as Britton relies on inducing groundouts. Britton is the only answer to who should win the Mariano Rivera award, regardless if the Orioles snag the last wild card spot or not.

 

Manager of the Year

This answer is not as clear-cut as the Britton one, but I believe there is still only one clear answer for Manager of the Year. Terry Francona has had playoff success in the past with the Red Sox, but nowadays, he has the MLB world buzzing about the Cleveland Indians. The Indians were not expected to win the division by a majority of baseball experts at the beginning of the season, as the Royals were the reigning World Series champs. The Indians were not even expected to make the playoffs, as the AL East was projected to lock up at least one playoff wildcard spot and the Detroit Tigers would have too hot of an offense to be slowed down for the second spot. Buster Olney, Jerry Crasnick, Tim Kurkjian, and Jon Morosi are all experts who predicted that the Indians would not even be in a playoff spot by the end of September.

As of now, however, the Indians are sitting seven games ahead of the second-place team in the AL Central. Francona has a potential Cy Young winner on the staff complemented by more young pitching.  He messed around with a lineup that led to Carlos Santana, a 210 pound first basemen, leading off for the better part of a season. All this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this

Francona has a potential Cy Young winner on the staff complemented by more solid, young pitching.  He messed around with a lineup that led to Carlos Santana, a 210-pound first basemen, leading off for the better part of a season. All this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this

All of this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this year. However, they have the core pieces in place long-termterm success for the better part of the future. The Manager of the Year has the second best record in the MLB, despite rather lackluster preseason expectations for the team headed into the season.

 

All stats courtesy of baseball reference

 

Players of the Week in the AL Central: 5/23-5/29

The American League Central really started to get competitive this week. The White Sox are currently on a six game skid to move from first place to third. Kansas City has won their last three games to claim the top spot. The rest of the division held serve, with the Indians staying in second and the Tigers and Twins rounding out the bottom of the division. Here are five position players and five pitchers who did the most for each team in the division:

  1. Kansas City Royals (27-22)

    Wade Davis has proven again that he is a premier closer in baseball. Photo courtesy kansascity.com.

Pitcher: Wade Davis

The Royals played six games on the week and Davis managed to pick up three saves to get them to first place. He had five strike outs and no earned runs allowed, to add to his impressive season. With 14 saves and a 0.92 ERA, Davis is in great position to win the Reliever of the Year Award.

Position Player: Salvador Perez, C

Perez only played five games on the week, but still managed to pick up ten hits. His .526 average led the team, and he added four RBI. His power numbers were solid, as he hit two doubles, a triple and a home run.

2. Cleveland Indians (26-22)

Pitcher: Corey Kluber

Kluber had one start this week, going seven and one third innings against the White Sox and picking up a win. He only allowed one run and struck out 9 batters.

Mike Napoli had a great all-around week for Cleveland. Photo courtesy cleveland.com.

Position Player: Mike Napoli, 1B

Napoli hit .318 on the week, but the amazing thing was his power numbers. His three home runs and nine RBI generated some much needed offense for the Tribe. The two stolen bases for Napoli were the lone ones of the season.

3. Chicago White Sox (27-24)

Pitcher: Zach Putnam

Putnam appeared in three games, without allowing a run. His five innings pitched and .125 batting average against made him the most impressive pitcher of the week for the White Sox.

Austin Jackson was the only bat who produced for the White Sox this week. Photo courtesy southsideshowdown.com.

Position Player: Austin Jackson, CF

The bats went cold for the White Sox this week, but Jackson tried his best to keep them hot. He hit .462 with 4 RBI. His 12 hits for the team were four more than the next highest player on the team.

4. Detroit Tigers (24-25)

Justin Verlander had a great start this week for the Tigers. Photo courtesy stack.com.

Pitcher: Justin Verlander

There were plenty of pitchers who could’ve been the pitcher of the week for the Tigers, but Verlander led them all with ten strike outs. He only gave up three hits in eight innings against the Phillies. His two walks allowed showed how precise he was with the ball this week.

Position Player: Victor Martinez, DH

Martinez had a blistering-hot week by hitting .500 with 11 hits. He didn’t draw any walks, but did add six RBI to help the Tigers stay in the race for the American League Central.

5. Minnesota Twins (15-34)

Pitcher: Fernando Abad

Abad threw 3.1 innings in four relief appearances on the week. His two hits allowed and .167 batting average against helped the Twins win four games this week.

Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano couldn’t stop hitting home runs if they tried this week. Photo courtesy twincities.com.

Position Player(s): Joe Mauer, C and Miguel Sano, RF

Both Mauer and Sano crushed the ball this week. They both finished with four home runs and seven RBI and hit home runs in three straight games. Without their offensive output, the Twins wouldn’t have won four out of six games on the week.

Why I Think Jay Bruce to the Indians Works

Courtesy of, metsmerizedonline.com

Courtesy of, metsmerizedonline.com

Jay Bruce has been a staple in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He was hyped up to the fans throughout his minor league days and moved relatively quickly through the organization making his debut when he was 21. The soon to be 29 year old has been the subject of many trade rumors over the past year as it is no secret that the Reds are rebuilding.

While he will most likely not be traded until trade deadline with most of the big outfield free agents off the board, it is still possible that he would be traded before the season starts.

Bruce had been someone who was improving in every category each year. Then he had an injury that set him back and has been regressing ever since. His power numbers are down, he’s not driving in the runs he once was, and he is not hitting for average. For a rebuilding team keeping a 29 year old struggling outfielder does not make much sense. It is likely that a change of scenery to a contender would help him.

While looking at teams who might want Bruce I came across many possibilities. The Orioles, Angels, Astros and Giants all came up in my searches, but there was one team that I think he would fit in with perfectly, the Indians.

The Indians are desperately in need of a right fielder as they have Lonnie Chisenhall listed on their website as their starter. Bruce would be a massive upgrade and would add even more power to a lineup that is already ripe with it.

Because he is a solid defender the Indians would be getting a great upgrade there. Bruce has made some incredible plays not only with the glove during his time at Great American but, also with his cannon of an arm. The one thing that has been consistent throughout his trying times at the plate has been his defense.

Bruce would give them way more power than Chisenhall would. He would be given protection up and down the line up which could only help his batting average and runs driven in. Also he would be able to help the offense early in the season until Brantley came back from injury.

Let me ask you Indians fans, would you love to see an outfield that features Rajai Davis, Michael Brantley, and Jay Bruce? Let me answer for you, yes.

The Indians already have solid pitching led by Corey Kluber and he would fit the biggest need they have. Also he could DH as he aged and could be a staple in the Indians organization for years to come.

The next question Indians fans would be asking is, what would we have to give up to get him? I would respond with not a whole lot for what you would be getting. As we have all seen the Reds are completely rebuilding and have been taking some trades that have been questioned by the fans and experts alike. They are desperate to reduce the payroll and really blow this thing up.

So the Indians would most likely need to give up a few middle tier prospects or one top prospect and a lower tier prospect.

I would imagine the trade might look something like this, Jay Bruce for Jose Ramirez, James Ramsey, and Shawn Armstrong.

Courtesy of, factoryofsadness.co

Courtesy of, factoryofsadness.co

The Reds would be getting a decent return while the Indians would only be losing a depth player who has not panned out the way they had hoped, a number 12 prospect who is slated behind the likes of Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier and a number 27 prospect who is a middle reliever.

Jose Ramirez has been a highly touted prospect but has not panned out all that well for the Indians. Now with and infield of Jason Kipnis, Rookie of the Year runner up Francisco Lindor, and Giovanny Urshela who is solid with the glove and is probably the Indians 3rd basemen of the future, Ramirez will be a bench player. He would be the main piece in this deal.

Reds fans might be asking why another infielder? Well Ramirez is still only 23 years old and has plenty of potential that could be unlocked with a change of scenery. He would add to a young future infield with Peraza at 2nd and Ramirez or Suarez playing SS or 3rd seeing as either could play both positions.

The Reds would also be getting a solid prospect in James Ramsey who was a former 1st round pick with power and a lively arm in Armstrong who could earn himself a bullpen spot.

What is most important to the Reds though is that all three of these players are basically Major League ready players which is something that the Reds Front Office has been saying they wanted all along.

The Indians would get their rightfielder that they desperately need to help them compete and the Reds would get three solid Major League ready prospects in return.

What do all of you Indians and Reds fans think of this trade? Tell me if I am stupid or a genius either in the comment section below, on twitter @roberthaness, on our facebook page, or on the forums!