2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees fought to be here

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Didi Gregorius smacked two dingers to lift the Yankees to the ALCS on Wednesday (WKYC)

Didi Gregorius and the New York Yankees stormed back against the Indians to move on to the ALCS on Wednesday. They found themselves in a 2-0 hole without any hope. Joe Girardi’s job even seemed to be on the line. After some questionable decisions early in the series, many were expecting him to have one foot out the door.

Just like they did in the Wild Card game, New York fought its way back to find themselves in the ALCS for the first time since 2012. While there were some offensive heroes such as Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner, the Yankees won in large part thanks to outstanding pitching.

With their backs up against the wall, their starting pitchers in the last three games of the series turned in 18.1 innings with just five earned runs and 25 strikeouts. They made the Cleveland offense look foolish. On top of that, Aroldis Chapman shut down the Indians’ season for the second year in a row.

What already seems to be forgotten is how the Yankees battled their way in the Wild Card game. They were down quick to the Cinderella Twins, giving up three runs in the first 1/3 innings. They quickly responded though and Joe Girardi played a bullpen game for the ages.

Houston has New York’s number

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Altuve has proven why he was the best hitter in baseball in 2017 (Yahoo Sports)

The Astros managed to go an impressive 5-2 against the Yankees during the regular season. What was especially impressive was that they managed to average 6.14 runs per game this season against the Bronx Bombers.

Houston played a great series against Boston and clicked on all cylinders. Their offense looked as good as ever and will be a challenge for New York to slow down. The Yankees’ pitching staff has had to work much harder than Houston’s, so something to look for in the series is fatigue.

Justin Verlander’s presence on the Astros pitching staff makes a significant difference this time of year. This Yankees team does not have a whole lot of experience against Verlander despite him pitching in the American League. This will be the first time that Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will ever see him.

The only starter that the Yankees seem to have success against is Charlie Morton. The team as a collective have a career .327 batting average against him with seven home runs. It will be interesting to see if A.J. Hinch will give Morton the nod this series. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. do have more success against the Yankees, but it is still in limited appearances. Look for the Astors’ starters to have some success in this series.

The main reason Houston is here, however, is their offense, something that went missing for the Indians in the ALDS. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa especially have good resumes against New York. Altuve is also swinging a hot bat after hitting three home runs in the first game of the ALDS.

How the series will play out

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Heroics from Gregorius and Gardner have led to some postseason magic for New York (ABC News)

Despite the Yankees recent success in clutch moments, the Astros are favored to win the ALCS and move on to the World Series according to Vegas odds. It won’t be a cake walk for Houston though.

A large part of the series is going to depend on the Yankees starters keeping up what they were doing against Cleveland. New York had some impressive times at the plate whether it be the two bombs from Gregorius in game five, or the 12-pitch at-bat by Brett Gardner in the ninth that led to insurance runs for the Yankees.

However, the offense as a whole was nothing to write home about.

It is hard to determine whether or not the success of the New York staff came from an Indians offense going cold or an overpowering performance by their starters. They will not be running into a cold Houston offense however. Houston has not been shutout since Aug. 17 and has scored two runs or more in all but four games since that date. Seeing that Houston had the best overall offense in all of baseball in the regular season, it will be tough for Yankees pitching to slow them down.

The postseason is unpredictable of course. Many thought it was all but a lock when the Indians went up 2-0 in the ALDS. New York wasn’t even a favorite coming out of their own division, so anything can happen this time of year.

What has been especially fun to watch with the Yankees is their ability to fight back. Brett Gardner has been a catalyst for New York. His final at-bat on Wednesday was evidence of how badly he wants that second ring. Despite the advantage the Astros have on the offensive side of the ball, the Yankees seem to have that postseason magic that every team is desperate to have.

If the Yankees pitching staff keeps it up then things could get very interesting this series. Nothing will be given in this series because each team knows what is at stake.

ALCS Prediction: Yankees in 7

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Have the Red Sox taken AL supremacy from the Astros?

As it stands, the Red Sox are 4.5 games back of Houston for the best record in the AL. Boston has been making a push for power as of late. In August thus far, Boston has racked up an impressive 11-2 record while the Astros have been slipping. Houston has a 5-11 record in that same time span.

Failure to launch in Houston?

Red Sox

Correa’s injury has proven to be costly in Houston (Sports Illustrated)

This playoff race shows just how unpredictable baseball can be. If it was June and you were to ask the average baseball fan who the best team in the American League was, they would say without a doubt the Astros.

Fortune has been swaying as of late though. The Astros have dealt with some injury issues as Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers have been hurt. Their lineup has also been bitten by the injury bug as George Springer and Carlos Correa have seen DL time.

It is not the time to say Houston can not come back from their issues. However, the team has shown vulnerability the last couple of weeks.

They also seem to be proving the fans right, as their inability to make a deal at the deadline would come back to bite them. The only trade of significance the Astros made was acquiring Francisco Liriano, which was not the kind of name they or the fans were looking for.

The Astros did make a move after the deadline and acquired Tyler Clippard, who is a two-time All-Star from the Chicago White Sox. There have still been rumors that they are in the mix for Justin Verlander. However, Jeff Luhnow has stated that expectations are “very low” in terms of trading for a starting pitcher.

Carlos Correa should be coming off the DL in the coming weeks. Houston still should feel good about their spot in the postseason, but they should be concerned with their current performance as well. This may serve as a wake up call for Houston for them to realize it is not a given that they will reach the World Series.

The Red Sox are red hot

Red Sox

Devers is the latest rookie to make a big splash in the show (Boston Herald)

Boston is 4.5 games up on the rival New York Yankees, who have been picking up the pace since their four game losing streak. Winning the division will be key for either team, as not playing in that dreaded wild-card game has a lot of upside for division winners.

Much of the team’s success has been coming from their pitching. Boston is second in the AL in ERA behind the Indians, and have the most quality starts from their starting rotation led by Chris Sale.

Last December, the Red Sox traded a couple of their best prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech for the side-armed lefty. Sale is tied in the AL for most wins with 14, and has the lowest ERA with an impressive 2.51. He also leads American League pitchers with a 5.6 WAR.

Boston has also received a shot in the arm from their new rookie sensation, Rafael Devers. In a season full of star-studded rookies, Devers has been able to make a name for himself at the young age of 20 years old.

Since being called up to Boston on July 23, Devers has hit six home runs and has a slash line of .348/.416/.667. His performance has been one of the best on the team besides their newly acquired infielder, Eduardo Nunez.

Nunez was traded to Boston at the deadline, and it showed they are not kidding around the season. Unlike Houston, Boston was able to solve some needs going into the trade deadline and it has paid off. Nunez has a slash line of .321/.348/.455. It is apparent that these moves have been working out for the Red Sox and they will be tough to beat coming down the stretch.

Will Boston prevail?

Since the Red Sox have taken off they have played some good teams as well as some lowly ones in the American Leauge. Four of their wins in August have come from the Chicago White Sox, but they have also won against the Rays, Cardinals, Yankees and Indians. This says that Boston will be able to match up with anybody down the stretch.

Boston will most likely keep pace and make sure the Yankees stay in second in the division. As I said earlier though, anything can happen. The Red Sox have a good amount of reliable players on their team though in order to ensure they stay on track.

Barring any injury setbacks that may come Houston’s way, the Astros should have Correa and McCullers back on the field in the coming weeks. Since they should be healthy for the postseason, they will prove to be a tough test for anyone that comes their way. If the standings hold as they do today, then there is a chance we could see the Astros and Red Sox face off in the ALCS.

This would be a very entertaining series as both clubs have the tools to win a World Series. Perhaps Houston will be able to break out of their slump and fend Boston off. If the Astros are able to break out of their funk and prove that their performance earlier in the season was not a fluke, then they will be a force to be reckoned with in October.

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Deadline

Dodgers, Cubs, others make big moves at trade deadline

One hour before the 4 P.M. MLB trade deadline, nothing was happening. There were rumors and whispers here and there. Some decent names had been moved but nothing that we have been looking for over the past few weeks. All of a sudden news broke that the Yankees would be acquiring Sonny Gray from the Athletics. Would this be the first domino to fall?

As the hour went on nothing else seemed to be happen. Everyone was expecting the Dodgers to make the big move they needed but nothing was coming. Is Los Angeles really going to stay put with the roster they have? Every World Series champion in recent memory had made moves at the deadline to bolster their team. Are the Dodgers really that good that they don’t have to go out and get anyone?

When 4 P.M. hit it seemed like that was the case. After about 20 minutes the news started to break however. The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers in the blockbuster trade we were expecting. This trade also punctuated a trading season that emphasized pitching and had very little movement with hitters.

This was a very interesting deadline to track. There were some surprises as well as moves that we expected. Here are some of the notable teams that were making moves at the deadline.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquisitions: Yu Darvish, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson

Los Angeles bolstered its bullpen with two solid left-handed relievers in Watson and Cingrani. These guys are a great compliment to Kenley Jansen and it takes a lot of pressure off of the starting rotation, especially seeing that Kershaw will be out for the coming weeks.

Yu Darvish has been expected to go to Los Angeles for the last month. Most were surprised that no news had broke when the 4 P.M. deadline approached. I was ready to criticize the Dodgers for their lack of improvement. When the news was announced, it immediately became World Series or bust for this team.

Darvish provides the same sort of punch to the rotation that Zach Greinke provided when he was in LA with Kershaw. These pitching acquisitions may make the Dodgers the most complete team in the majors now. They filled their pitching needs and left their offense alone which has been fantastic. What might be the one of the biggest upsides from this trade season is that the Dodgers did not give up any of their top three prospects for Yu Darvish.

The Dodgers know that they will be making the postseason. These trades were specifically for October because they know that it is now or never if they want to break their 30-year championship drought.

Houston Astros

Acquisitions: Francisco Liriano

The Astros currently have the best record in the American League. Going into the deadline, it was obvious that Houston needed to bolster its pitching staff. Dallas Keuchel has been dealing with injury issues and may not be the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young. Lance McCullers has also not been consistent. On top of that, the Astros are in much need of bullpen help.

Houston acquired Liriano from Toronto, but this was not the attractive pitcher that many were looking for them to go out and get. They needed a pitcher to fill into a rotation that looks a bit shaky. However, Liriano will not be in the starting rotation and will be filling in the bullpen.

This had to be disappointing for Houston fans because they did not make the improvements that other contenders made. Even though they are sitting comfortably in first place in the West and are a sure thing for the playoffs, they may be sweating a bit.

Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and George Springer are all on the DL right now. The Astros must be comfortable with the injuries since they didn’t make any moves. However, the gap seems to be closing between them and the Yankees and Indians.

New York Yankees

Acquisitions: Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, David Robertson

The Yankees made a big move a couple weeks ago acquiring Todd Frazier and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox. Robertson really helps out a bullpen that needed some help and Frazier is a bat the Yankees needed to fill a hole in the lineup.

Deadline

The Yankees got one of the most valuable pitchers at the deadline in Gray (Getty Images)

The big news from Monday was the Yankees acquiring Sonny Gray from Oakland. This was a trade that made a lot of sense for the Yankees because it helps answer questions in their rotation for 2018 and 2019 as well.

The Yankees may lose the majority of their rotation after this year so getting this deal done is a big deal for New York. For this year though, Gray provides a big punch in the rotation for October seeing that the young pitcher already has postseason experience.

Starting pitching was one of the biggest question marks for the Yankees. Boston made a solid move in getting Addison Reed, but the excellent job at the deadline by Brian Cashman may make the Yankees the better team.

Look for the Yankees to separate themselves from Boston and give Houston some trouble in the postseason potentially.

Chicago Cubs

Acquisitions: Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila

The Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed to do in order to finally separate themselves from the rest of the NL Central. They addressed a rotation issue, a bullpen issue and a catching issue.

Deadline

Quintana is the highlight of the deadline for the Cubs (Sporting News)

Quintana was a get for the Cubs that was way ahead of the rest of the field at the deadline. Chicago knew what they needed and got a pitcher in the prime of his career that will be under team control for the future.

The rotation has been underperforming for the most part and Quintana provides a spark that has gotten the rest of the team going. With the potential this team has, they may be one of the best teams built for the postseason after the acquisition of Quintana.

Alex Avila adds experience at the catching position that the Cubs really needed. Miguel Montero was sent to Toronto after he ragged on the pitching staff for the Cubs’ shortcomings. He was the veteran presence that the pitchers need behind the plate.

Wilson Contreras has been very productive with a bat in his hands but he does not have the skills needed to call a good game in the playoffs. He is a converted infielder that is still learning the craft, so Avila provides the presence that the Cubs needed.

Theo Epstein went out and addressed the exact problems that needed addressing. Cubs fans should be happy with how he approached the deadline. The only downside is that the Cubs now have no prospects in the MLB Top 100. Much of their talent is at the big league level so that is a big reason for that. However, their talent has been underperforming this year.

The Cubs are hoping that their players play to their potential. If they do, then they are as good as anybody in the league.

Washington Nationals

Acquisitions: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle

The Nationals’ bullpen has pretty much been a joke this year. It is by far their biggest weakness, so much so that a fan ripped on the bullpen in his obituary.

Deadline

Scherzer got the bullpen help the rotation desperately needed (Getty Images)

Washington has one of the best hitting trios in baseball with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. They also may have the best starting pitcher in the game in Max Scherzer.

However, they were not taken as seriously to compete with the Dodgers in the postseason because of how important relief pitching is these days.

Sean Doolittle has been struggling this year, but he is still a step in the right direction for Washington. However, Ryan Madson has been a very reliable reliever and Brandon Kintzler was an All-Star this year. Kintzler has converted 28 of 32 saves this season and also provides reliability at the back end of the bullpen.

Relievers were a hot commodity at the deadline this year. The Nationals knew that relievers are what they needed in order to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Mike Rizzo did a good job of getting these guys in order to be a threat in October.

Chicago White Sox

Deadline

Jimenez is the 7th ranked prospect in the majors (Baseball America)

Acquisitions: Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Blake Rutherford, AJ Puckett, Andre Davis, Tito Polo, Ian Clarkin, Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, Byrant Flete, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez

As you can tell, the White Sox had a busy trade season. They traded away many major leagues such as Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. Even though it is pretty apparent that you could say the White Sox are tanking, fans have to be happy with general manager Rick Hahn’s job this past month.

The White Sox now have two of the top 10 prospects in MLB, and eight in the top 70 according to MLB.com. Chicago is the only team on this list that are not contenders this season but they may have had one of the best months in the league.

The benefits from the past month will not show this season or next season. In a few years though the success of the front office will be apparent.

This may be a slight overreaction, but there is a possibility that we could see a Cubs-White Sox World Series down the road. That may be a bit dramatic but wouldn’t it be exciting to see a Chicago championship series? The only thing I would be concerned about is whether or not the city would still be standing in the aftermath.

Final thoughts on the deadline

The most glaring detail of this trade deadline was the emphasis of pitching. Outside of J.D Martinez, there were no major position players that were moved this year. Yes, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were moved as well. However, all of the big trades were centered around pitching.

It seems that many teams are content with the hitting they have. It may not be a coincidence that major league players are hitting home runs at one of the highest rates in history. Bullpen and rotation help is the attractive thing these days. Especially considering how difficult it is to close out a game in today’s game.

By no means is the 2017 season decided already. There is still a long way to go in the season and anything can happen in October. Championship teams do look back to the trade deadline though to see what they did right at that time. Monday was a pivotal point in the season, but baseball is a crazy game so it will be fun to see how these moves pan out.

 

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Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (May 21st – May 27th)

With two months of the season in the books, it is time to continue our weekly fantasy baseball update. We will continue to notify fantasy owners about eight players who are either hot, or cold, and whether they will continue to trend in that direction. Previous weekly fantasy baseball updates can be found at thegamehaus.com.

Who’s Hot

Anthony Rendon, Third Baseman, Washington Nationals

Last seven: .476 BA, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB

Rendon flew under the radar to begin the season since third base is arguably the deepest position in fantasy baseball. So far this season, he has shown flashes of greatness with two multi-homer games, including a record-setting three-homer performance in late April.

The 26-year-old is a former first-round pick by the Nationals, and officially broke out in 2014. In his sophomore season, he batted .287 with 21 home runs, 111 runs, 83 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Rendon clearly has the ability to be a high-end fantasy producer.

However, after battling injuries in 2015, his stock dropped significantly. He rebounded with a respectable 2016 campaign and so far has exceeded expectations this year.

He is currently batting .286 with nine home runs, 24 runs, 32 RBIs and three stolen bases. Also, Rendon’s ISO has risen significantly, which would help propel high into the next tier of elite third basemen. He is currently on pace for over 30 home runs and 100 RBI.

 

Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros

Fantasy Baseball

Dallas Keuchel is a clear Cy Young candidate in 2017. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Last three: 3-0 W-L, 1.59 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 17 IP, 21/3 K/BB

Keuchel’s success in 2017 has been immaculate. He has shown that when healthy, he is a true Cy Young caliber pitcher. He recently missed one start due to a pinched nerve in his neck, although it clearly hasn’t slowed him down whatsoever. He is currently 8-0 with a 1.81 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 8.01 K/9.

The 29-year-old has an incredible xFIP of 2.75, which shows that he is finding success without his defense or other factors of randomness. His BABIP of .223 is bound to rise, especially because he is a ground-ball pitcher. However, this shouldn’t affect him too severely. At this pace, Keuchel looks to be pitching his way to a second career Cy Young award.

 

Devon Travis, Second Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

Last seven: .419, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB

Travis underwent knee surgery this offseason, which clearly contributed to his extremely slow start this season. He is currently batting .252, although over the last 30 days he is batting .344.

The 26-year-old was on many fantasy owners’ radars entering this season, as he had batted .300 with 11 home runs, 54 runs and 50 RBIs in only 432 plate appearances last year. His career BABIP is an outstanding .340, but his current BABIP is only .286, suggesting some progression is in store. Travis will certainly be a top 20 second baseman, and possibly top 15 at the end of the year.

 

Robbie Ray, Starting Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fantasy Baseball

Robbie Ray is an official strikeout machine. (Photo by The Edwardsville Intelligencer)

Last three: 2-0 W-L, 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 18 2/3 IP, 17/6 K/BB

Ray exploded onto the scene last year after striking out 218 batters in 174.1 innings. So far this year he is 4-3 with a 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 11.10 K/9. His current BABIP of .271 is sure to rise. However,  because he is generally a strikeout pitcher, it shouldn’t hurt his WHIP too much.

The 25-year-old has and will continue to be a great source of strikeouts for the foreseeable future, although he has been far from elite. His control issues will hold him back from being considered a top 20 fantasy starter this season for sure.

Who’s Cold

Eric Thames, First Baseman/Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Last seven: .087 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SB

Former KBO star Eric Thames has been a major story this season. He is coming off of three consecutive 37-plus home run and 120 RBI campaigns, and has shown flashes of similar greatness at the MLB level.

The 30-year-old currently has 13 home runs, 26 RBIs and 39 runs scored while batting .278. Over the last 15 days, Thames is batting just .103, with zero home runs, one RBI and six runs scored. Ups and downs must be expected as pitchers are bound to adjust to his approach.

Thames’ plate discipline and isolated power make him a great source for home runs, RBIs and runs, but his 23 percent strikeout rate will prevent him from entering the elite first baseman conversation along with Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt.

 

Julio Urias, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Fantasy Baseball

Julio Urias will be apart of the Dodgers rotation for the remainder of the season. (Photo by NBC Sports)

Last three: 0-2 W-L, 9.24 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 12 2/3 IP, 6/6 K/BB

Urias, formerly the Dodgers top pitching prospect, has now made 20 starts in his major-league career. This year he is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 4.24 K/9. So far, he has struggled to locate the ball, strike batters out and make it deep into a ball game.

The Dodgers have said they are committed to the 20-year-old staying in the majors, although his current struggles are quite alarming. His xFIP is an atrocious 5.68 and his BABIP is under .300. I would not feel comfortable starting Urias in any formats for the time being.

 

 

Manuel Margot, Outfielder, San Diego Padres

Last seven: .160 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB

Margot had arguably been the favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year this season before entering his current slump. His stat line this year consists of a .259 batting average, four home runs, 16 runs scored, 13 RBIs and five steals.

Rookie woes are typical and should be expected, so do not give up on the 22-year-old just yet. He was recently placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a strained soleus muscl, and is without a time table for return. However, his skill level makes him too talented to drop in the majority of formats. Margot will have solid fantasy value once he returns, and should not be abandoned.

 

Amir Garrett, Starting Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds

Fantasy Baseball

Amir Garrett has succumb to some serious struggles at the major-league level. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

Last three: 1-1 W-L, 9.00 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 15 IP, 9/9 K/BB

Garrett began the season with three electric performances. Since then, he has struggled with control and health issues.

He was recently placed on the 10-day disabled list with right hip inflammation. He is expected to make his next start on June 4 against the Atlanta Braves, although I would recommend benching him since he has allowed 13 earned runs in his last nine innings pitched.

The 25-year-old clearly has talent, but his current .232 BABIP suggests that he getting fairly lucky even with his current struggles. His 4.75 xFip would also be considered extremely poor, which shows that bad luck and defense are not the reasons for his poor performances. Garrett was a prime sell high candidate, although now on the DL, you will have to simply ride out the storm and hope for the best.

 

Featured Image by Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

*Featured Image Courtesy of Seth Wenig AP Photo*

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 4 April Standings

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

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

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

AL East

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

(Image Courtesy of AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

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

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

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

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

AL Central

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

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

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

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 4 April Standings

(Image Courtesy of Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AL West

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

 

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 4 April Standings

(Image Courtesy of Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 2nd – April 8th)

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 2nd – April 8th)

In this weekly segment, I intend to inform fantasy owners about who’s hot and who’s cold during a specific week, and whether or not I believe they will continue to trend in that direction.

Who’s Hot?

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Veteran Mark Reynolds is taking advantage of every opportunity he gets in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

Mark Reynolds, First Basemen, Colorado Rockies

 

  • 9 for 22 with 4 runs scored, 3 HR, and 8 RBI

 

Reynolds has taken over for an injured Ian Desmond as the Rockies first basemen to start 2017. The 33-year-old veteran has been incredibly productive over the first week, as he is tied with Brandon Belt as the National League home run leader. Reynolds has been a prototypical home run or bust player over the years, as he has hit over 250 career home runs, while also leading the league in strikeouts four consecutive times. On the contrary to Reynolds perennial struggles at the plate, he batted .282 with 14 home runs in 393 at bats during the 2016 season. His playing time is sure to become sparse once Desmond returns, but until then, Reynolds will remain a comfortable source of production as he will continue to be an everyday player in the middle of the Rockies lineup.

 

Yasiel Puig, Right Fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

  • 7 for 19 with 5 runs scored, 3 HR, 5 RBI, and 1 SB

 

Puig has been one of the biggest teases in recent fantasy baseball history, as he batted .319 with 66 runs scored, 42 RBI, 19 HR, and 11 SB over a 104-game span in 2013. After dealing with nagging injuries and on and off the field issues in 2015 and 2016, he is finally showing his potential once again. The 26-year-old has begun the year batting in multiple positions in the order including fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth. It is a bit concerning that he is batting .000 in the four and five spots, although on the bright side, he may have found a home at the bottom of the lineup as he is batting over .500 as the seven or eight hitter.

Puig will continue to be a tantalizing fantasy option, but be aware of possible struggles. His plate discipline is league average, as he swings at about 30 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, which could be a cause for concern as he will begin to see more off-speed pitches when batting in the heart of the order.

 

J.T. Realmuto, Catcher, Miami Marlins

Fantasy Baseball 2017

J.T. Realmuto is off to red hot start. (Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel)

  • 10 for 18 with 6 runs scored, 2 HR, and 6 RBI

 

The Marlins catcher is flat out on fire. Realmuto has begun the year batting primarily in the two-hole, which has worked great so far as he is currently batting over .500.  I wasn’t expecting this to type of success to happen to Realmuto, nor am I expecting it to continue.

The 26-year-old has a career ISO of .141, which suggests that his home run totals will not spike any time soon. This paired with his atrocious career walk rate of 4.7 percent makes me uneasy when thinking about Realmuto going forward.

 

Nomar Mazara, Right Fielder, Texas Rangers

 

  • 10 for 21 with 5 runs scored, 2 HR, and 9 RBI

 

The Rangers outfielder is off to a hot start in his second major league season. He has already mustered up nine RBI along with two home runs, all while batting just under .500. The 22-year-old has been a highly touted prospect since he was signed in 2012, and for good reason. He has hit 20 home runs twice, once at the minor-league level, and the other time being last season in 145 at bats in the majors. He is also a career .271 hitter at all levels, which is very respectable. In a full season, Mazara should have no problem hitting 20 bombs and batting .270 plus.

 

Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Dallas Keuchel is looking to return to Cy Young form in 2017 now that he is healthy. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

  • 1-0 allowing 1 ER, 4 H, and 3 BB over 14 IP with 8 Ks

 

The 2015 Cy Young struggled last season as he dealt with nagging shoulder and back injuries throughout the year. He has come into 2017 at 100 percent, and is ready for the season, which has shown in his first two appearances. Keuchel’s two starts have resulted in one win, and only one earned run over 14 innings pitched. The Astro’s are beginning to look like one of the American League’s most dangerous teams, which along with Keuchel’s improved health, gives him good chances of becoming the Cy Young once again.

Who’s cold?

 

Sam Dyson, Relief Pitcher, Texas Rangers

 

  • 0-2 allowing 8 ER, 7 H, and 2 BB over 1 IP with 0 Ks

 

Dyson has gotten shelled in his first two appearances this season, pitching a total of one inning, allowing eight runs, walking two, and striking out none. Of course, his first two outings are disconcerting, but manager Jeff Banister has said he is not ready to move Dyson out of the closer role yet.

Dyson had a very successful 2016, pitching a total of 70 1/3 innings, resulting in a 2.43 ERA and 55 strike outs. I have confidence in Dyson retaining the closer job for the long-term future, as he has had enough success in the past to warrant a longer leash than most closers.

 

Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Masahiro Tanaka is off to a shaky start in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • 0-1 allowing 10 ER, 14 H, and 6 BB over 7 2/3 IP

 

After allowing 10 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings over his first two starts, Yankees’ ace Tanaka will take the mound Thursday, April 13th, at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. His first two appearances came away against American League East foes, which are commonly the toughest starts this pitcher will make all season. Yes, he has struggled mightily this year, although I’m confident he will turn it around.

The 28-year-old has a career 3.26 ERA over 497 2/3 innings pitched. He has no chance of losing his job, although his injury history is a bit unnerving. A partially torn UCL brought up talks of tommy john surgery last season, although he opted to forgo the surgery in order to avoid a long and tedious recovery process. Tanaka will remain an injury risk all year, but his numbers should return to form.

 

Byron Buxton, Center Fielder, Minnesota Twins

 

  • 1 for 22 with 0 runs scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

Unfortunately for baseball fans, Buxton is off to a brutal start. With only one hit in his first 22 at bats, once touted as the next Mike Trout, Buxton has consistently disappointed. He has batted an underwhelming .214 over 449 at bats at the major-league level.

The 23-year-old still has untapped potential, as he batted .322 with 15 home runs, 119 runs scored, 85 RBI, and 57 steals in 2013 at multiple minor league levels. In keeper leagues, he is definitely worth holding on to. Although, in redraft leagues, it may be time to go in another direction.

 

D.J. Lemahieu, Second Basemen, Colorado Rockies

Fantasy Baseball 2017

D.J. Lemahieu has only one hit in his first 22 at bats, although it is too early to give up on the 2016 NL Batting Champ. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

  • 1 for 23 with 2 runs scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

The 2016 National League Batting Champion is off to an ice-cold start this season. He has only one hit in his first 23 at bats, which has resulted in him receiving a day off this Sunday. Lemahieu will remain atop the Rockies lineup for the time being, but a move to the bottom half of the order could help rejuvenate the All-Star. The 28-year-old is a career .298 hitter who should have no problem getting back on track.

 

Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher, Texas Rangers

 

  • 1 for 15 with 1 run scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

The Rangers backstop also has only one hit to start this season, although once again, I’m not worried about the future production of All-Star. Lucroy is a career .283 hitter, who hit 24 homers just a year ago. He is also in a contract year, so he has more to prove then most players. There is no reason to worry about arguably the best two-way catcher in baseball.

 

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Best Opening Day Performances

Opening Day in Major League Baseball is one of the best times of the year. America’s past time makes it’s return from hibernation to roaring fans and players hungry to play ball. They say everyone is in first place on Opening Day, but that only applies to teams, and not players. These players made the most of the Opening Day spotlight, and put themselves in first place to start the season.

Madison Bumgarner – San Francisco Giants

While the Giants and Diamondbacks game was included in my Opening Day Games to Watch article, even I wasn’t expecting the performance we got out of Madison Bumgarner. The Giants ace opened up the season on a high note, and lead a valiant effort. He dominated on the bump, giving the Giants seven strong innings. While he did give up three earned runs, they only came on six hits. Bumgarner also struck out 11 in his first outing of the season, and kept the Giants in the game. But it wasn’t just his pitching that kept the game close.

Bumgarner has always been keen with the bat, but never like he was on Opening Day. He mashed two long home runs, one off Diamondbacks ace Zach Greinke. That was the first time a pitcher has hit two home runs on Opening Day in MLB history, furthering the legend of MadBum. And after one full day of games, Bumgarner leads all of baseball in batting average (1.000), on base percentage (1.000), slugging percentage (4.000) and OPS (5.000). Needless to say, Bumgarner got off to a pretty good start on Opening Day.

Opening Day

Joc Pederson provided plenty of pop in their Opening Day match up against the Padres. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports).

Joc Pederson – Los Angeles Dodgers

Batting in a deep Dodgers lineup, no one expected the type of performance Joc Pederson put up on Monday. The Dodgers were matched up against the lowly San Diego Padres. And Pederson and the Dodgers took advantage of their juicy match up with San Diego’s “ace”, Jhoulys Chacin. The Dodgers lineup combined to put up 14 runs on the Padres, punishing their pitching staff. But it was the performance of Joc Pederson that drove the offensive explosion for the Dodgers.

Pederson was off to a fast start, blasting a home run off of Padres starter Chacin. He utilized the massive power he has to mash the ball out of the park, giving the Dodgers hope for what could be throughout the season. Pederson utilized the long ball in the perfect situation, unloading the bases to break open a Dodgers lead over the Padres. And while he did only have one hit on the day, his five RBI performance was more than enough to pace the Dodgers impressive offense. Pederson has gotten of to a fast start, one that Dodger fans will carry him through the season.

Dallas Keuchel – Houston Astros

After a lackluster 2016 season, the Astros ace was looking to return to his 2015 Cy Young form. Dallas Keuchel put up a 4.55 ERA in 2016, far removed from his Cy Young campaign 2.48 ERA in 2015. But on Opening Night in Houston, the Dallas Keuchel of old seemed to return. He blanked the Seattle Mariners, scattering two hits and four strikeouts over seven dominant innings. But it wasn’t just Keuchel’s work on the mound that earned him his spot on this list.

Keuchel has long been known for his defense, winning three Gold Gloves in the past three seasons. And Monday night, he showed why he’s already in contention for a fourth straight Gold Glove. Keuchel showed off his arm and athleticism, taking two bunt hits away from the Mariners. He also started a double play on a come backer, helping his own cause in the field as well as on the mound. If Keuchel can string together a couple of strong starts, look for him to start generating some Cy Young buzz.

Noah Syndergaard – New York Mets

Opening Day

Noah Syndergaard continued over his 2016 dominance to 2017 Opening Day (Jeff Roberson/AP).

Noah Syndergaard got the Mets 2017 season off against division rival Atlanta. And while the Braves are still in rebuilding mode, that doesn’t mean they lack legitimate hitters in their lineup. With emerging star Freddie Freeman, veteran Matt Kemp and former top prospect Dansby Swanson, the Braves have a solid offense. But that didn’t matter on Opening Day. With Noah Syndergaard on the bump for the Mets, the Braves had no chance.

Syndergaard gave the Braves more than they could handle on Monday. Debuting a simplified delivery, Syndergaard was able to blow past the Braves hitters. Delivering six solid innings, Syndergaard scattered five hits while racking up seven strikeouts. After finishing eight in the NL Cy Young voting last season, Syndergaard is primed to pick up where he left off in 2017. And he’s already off to a great start.

 

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Comeback Candidates for the 2017 MLB Season

Every year across the majors there are players that fail to meet expectations. Whether it be from injury or poor performance, it is usually unexpected. With a new season comes new opportunities. These players are MLB comeback candidates for the 2017 season.

Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

Much has been written about Nationals star phenom Bryce Harper. Comparisons to the games late greats have set expectations sky high. Harper seemed to finally meet them in 2015 with an astounding 198 OPS+. All was right, until the start of the 2016 season.

Only a player like Bryce Harper could have a season with a 116 OPS+ and have it labeled a “down year.” His .243 batting average was the lowest of his career. Much of his struggles were blamed on an injury he suffered during the season. Harper played through it, proving he is able to deal with pain.

Even though Harper was hampered by injury in 2016, he was still able to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance of his career. With a full offseason to rest and recuperate, Harper is poised to be closer to MVP form. Look for Harper to drive the ball and improve his average in 2017.

MLB Comeback Candidates

Matt Harvey looks to return to Flushing refreshed in 2017 (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images).

Matt Harvey- New York Mets

Coming off a World Series appearance in 2015, Matt Harvey was the linchpin of a young, talented New York Mets rotation. They were picked by many to make a return to the World Series in 2016, but fate would prove otherwise.

Matt Harvey started off slow in 2016 and never recovered. Like his NL East rival Bryce Harper, it was discovered that Harvey was suffering from a shoulder injury. This was not something that could be played with, and the Mets shut Harvey down after 17 starts in 2016. A 4-10 record with a 4.86 ERA tell the story. Those are not numbers you would expect from a staff ace like Harvey.

After being shut down in July and having surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, Harvey should return in 2017. Harvey has been a fixture in Flushing since his debut in 2012, and is just entering his prime. At 28 years old, don’t bet against Harvey making a full recovery in 2017.

A.J. Pollock- Arizona Diamondbacks

A.J. Pollock seemed to be a star in the making after a stellar 2015 season. Pollock hit 20 bombs, stole 39 bases and put up an impressive 130 OPS+. After the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke and traded for Shelby Miller, 2016 looked bright in the desert.

That is, until Pollock was limited to 12 games in 2016. Pollock suffered a fractured elbow in an April spring training game against the Royals, effectively ending his season. While he was able to come back towards the end of the season, he struggled with a .244 batting average and .390 slugging percentage.

Pollock has proven throughout his time in Arizona to be a tough out, and 2017 is looking to be no different. His recovery has gone well and he is set to start Opening Day in center field. The 2016 season may have been dark for Pollock and the Diamondbacks, but 2017 provides a new opportunity to shine.

Dallas Keuchel- Houston Astros

MLB Comeback Candidates

While Dallas Keuchel’s beard was on point, his game was off in 2016 (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel was on top of the world in 2015. Keuchel struck out 216 batters over 232 innings pitched on his way to the 2015 AL Cy Young award. After a strong 2014 season and a stellar 2015, it was thought Keuchel had finally proved he was legit, until the 2016 season began.

Keuchel struggled from the beginning of the season, mirroring his team’s mediocre start. He finished with a 4.55 ERA and a 9-12 record in 2016, far from the marks he set in 2015. While he did make 26 starts, he was ineffective and left many wondering: what is wrong with Keuchel? He did struggle with some injuries, but avoided any major ones and pitched 168 innings.

There is really no clear answer to why Keuchel struggled. Keuchel just seemed to never get it together in 2016, but 2017 provides a new opportunity. With a loaded roster and high expectations in Houston, the Astros and Keuchel are expected to make some noise in 2017.

Baseball is one of the most difficult sports to predict. With so many variables and a grueling 162 game season, maintaining a high level of play is the biggest challenge the sport presents. Sometimes it’s injury, others it’s just the grind of the season.

These aforementioned players have proven at one point or another to be some of the best in the game. With a fresh start in 2017, they will be determined to make the most of it.

 

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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?)

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