Credit Mike McGinnis

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

Spring training has always provided an opportunity for teams to sort out their top performers at every position. Without fail, the most compelling of these competition is the volatile race to secure the role of team closer.

The bullpen has seen a role of increasing importance in recent years. Its use in high leverage playoff situations has been a major factor and the hallmark of successful World Series managers. This trend continues to develop with the advent of the long reliever and setup-man roles. Managers will inevitably continue to experiment with their late inning strategy, but the decision on who holds the ball with the game on the line, remains one of the most critical.

This topic was approached briefly in the Spring Training Fever article addressing the compelling Rockies closer situation. Today, The Game Haus takes a deeper look at the battle for the bullpen taking place around the MLB.

Los Angeles Angels

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

(Huston Street #16 – Getty Images)

Up until last year, the Angels received respectable production out of veteran closer Huston Street. Arriving in 2014, Street managed to post 40 saves a season until 2016 saw a 6.45 ERA and nine saves. Looking to bounce back Street will compete with Cam Bedrosian and Andrew Bailey for the closer role this spring.

Cam Bedrosian will be coming off his own injury but appears next in line to challenge for the position. At only 25, Bedrosian appears to have both the skillset and the supporting statistics to be a serious contender.

Sporting a 1.12 ERA, 1.091 WHIP with 40.1 innings pitched provides the Angels with an excellent second option. It would be no surprise if manager Mike Scioscia opts for the veteran, but whomever ends up will the role will be challenged to earn it this Spring.

Milwaukee Brewers

There has been no short list of successful closers that have spent some time with the Brewers. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, none of those closers remain.

The one bright spot has been the recent free agent acquisition of Neftali Feliz. Feliz had two outstanding seasons starting back in 2010 but after undergoing Tommy John surgery hasn’t shown the same dominance. Feliz will look to reclaim some of that excellence in 2017, but will contend with Corey Knebel during camp.

Knebel is a wild card after sustaining an injury early last season and missing on a few save opportunities. That said, given his youth and the opportunity at a healthy off-season Knebel should begin spring training ready to compete. Brewers manager Craig Counsell has left the door open for all contenders at this time, but safe money will be for the veteran Feliz to come out on top.

Cincinnati Reds

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

(Drew Storen while with the Seattle Mariners – Getty Images)

The Reds seem to have a knack for collecting bullpen arms. Since the departure of Aroldis Chapman, there haven’t been many save opportunities in Cincinnati, and the Reds’ bullpen has struggled.

However, with the development of a few young arms, Cincinnati may be poised for a bullpen renaissance. The three names in the mix in 2017 are Raisel Iglesias, Drew Storen and Michael Lorenzen.

Raisel Iglesias finished the 2016 getting most of the save opportunities after Tony Cingrani struggled down the stretch. Iglesias posted a very respectable 2.53 ERA with six saves and appears to be the main contender against Drew Storen.

Storen had a busy 2016 bouncing between Washington, Toronto and Seattle ending that campaign with a woeful 5.23 ERA. Consensus is that Storen is the favorite heading into camp, but will need a strong Spring to secure the position.

Finally, Michael Lorenzen also appears to be a very promising long-term option. Lorenzen has pitched sparingly up to this point but appears to be the Reds developmental hope and will also contend. Overall the Reds have a few solid options heading into 2017, the question for Cincinnati is how many saves situations will their bullpen actually have a chance at?

 

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fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Top Sleepers Candidates at Each Position

The Game Haus presents our fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates at each position for the upcoming Major League Baseball season.

According to Yahoo.com, the following players average draft positions, or ADP, are in, or after round 22. Standard fantasy baseball drafts range from 23-25 rounds, so these players are low risk, high reward.

They offer greater value than other players at their position, as they are being overlooked and selected in much later rounds than players who offer similar value.

 

Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Mike Zunino is no longer the backstop of the future for the Mariners as 2017 is his year to shine. (Courtesy of lookoutlanding.com)

The 2012 first-round pick has struggled in his time in the show, but 2017 is his year to earn his spot. Zunino is a pure power hitter who has hit fifty career home runs in 350 games.

He will bat sixth behind Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. If this doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will. He will have plenty of chances to rack up some RBIs.

Unfortunately for Zunino, the Seattle Mariners traded for veteran Carlos Ruiz from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. This is a bit unnerving, as Ruiz will inevitably steal some at-bats from Zunino. However, I believe that it will be Zunino’s job to lose.

His ADP is currently above 260, as he is commonly going undrafted.

 

Mitch Moreland, 1B, Boston Red Sox

The Gold-Glove award winner in 2016 heads north to join Boston’s star-studded lineup lead by Dustin Pedroia and the killer B’s. Moreland will be the everyday first basemen for the Red Sox and will bat sixth or seventh in the lineup. The Red Sox are looking to make a World Series run in 2017, and Moreland will be a key contributor.

He is currently being selected in the 23rd round, after fellow first basemen Travis Shaw, Brandon Moss, and Danny Valencia. I prefer Moreland to the aforementioned options for multiple reasons.

First, he has a more proven track record, hitting twenty plus bombs three times in his career. Second, the Red Sox lineup adds immense value, as we all saw how well Travis Shaw produced in the six hole last season. Finally, Moreland’s glove will keep him on the field, so there is no need to worry about losing at-bats to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, or Allen Craig.

Moreland should do just fine in his first season in Boston.

 

Jose Peraza, 2B, SS, OF, Cincinnati Reds

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

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

The Cincinnati Reds have officially traded second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Atlanta Braves for two pitching prospects. This means that it is officially Jose Peraza time!

Peraza is a top 100 prospect according to MLB.com, Baseballprospectus.com, and Baseball America. The speedster has stolen 244 bases in 611 career games. Also, he has logged innings at second base, shortstop, and center field in his professional career, which will help him remain in the lineup throughout the season.

Peraza will primarily play second base, and will presumably start the season batting at the bottom of the order, but a promotion to the leadoff spot could be in order if he continues to find success at the plate. He has a career batting average of .312 at all levels.

He offers tremendous value through his speed and versatility in 2017.

 

Yangervis Solarte, 3B, 2B, San Diego Padres

Solarte, once a utility man for the Padres, will have the everyday third basemen job in 2017. He will bat in the heart of the order behind All-Star first basemen Wil Myers, allowing him to have plenty of opportunities to do damage. Solarte played in only 109  games in 2016, but managed to manufacture 71 RBIs on 15 home runs, while batting .286.

El Nino may be the most overlooked player in 2017, as he is a clean-up hitter playing an everyday role, but is being selected after utility players like Sean Rodriguez, Jurickson Profar, and Howie Kendrick.

Solarte has a great opportunity to surpass all of his career highs this upcoming season.

 

Danny Espinosa, SS, Los Angeles Angels

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Danny Espinosa has escaped the platoon that held him back in Washington. (Courtesy of Zimbio.com)

New doors have been opened for Espinosa, as he heads from Washington to Los Angeles to be the Angels everyday second basemen. The slugging middle infielder hit 24 home runs with 72 RBIs in 2016, surpassing his former career highs.

He will bat towards the end of sneaky deep Angels lineup, which will give him ample RBI opportunities. Espinosa is being selected in the 23rd round, after other shortstops including Alcides Escobar, Jose Reyes, and J.J. Hardy.

The 29-year-old can still improve his approach at the plate, and I would not be surprised by a 30 home run, 70 RBI campaign.

 

Michael Saunders OF, Philadelphia Phillies

The first-time All-Star in 2016 signed a one-year deal with a team option for a second with the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason. He will be one of their everyday corner outfielders and will bat sixth behind the young Phillies core of Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, and Tommy Joseph.

Saunders provides great upside as he hit .298 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs before the All-Star break in 2016. His value comes as he is being selected in the 23rd round after fellow outfielders Nick Markakis, Melvin Upton Jr., and Steve Pearce.

Saunders will have to bounce back to his first half form from 2016 if the Phillies want to have any serious success in 2017.

 

Chris Tillman SP, Baltimore Orioles

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Chris Tillman looks to recover from his disastrous second half of 2016. (Courtesy of csnmidatlantic.com)

Tillman has completed four consecutive seasons with over 170 innings pitched, with an average of 147 strikeouts per year. He will be atop of the Baltimore Orioles rotation for another year as he looks to improve on his career high win total of 16 from 2016.

Tillman had a phenomenal first half last season, sporting a 3.4 ERA and 7.8 K/9. His second half was atrocious, but he has shown enough consistency in the past to not warrant any serious regression.

I suspect Tillman to make adjustments, as he did from 2015 to 2016, where he went from a 4.99 ERA to a 3.77. Also worth noting that he had a sub three ERA on the road, and a four plus at home, so take that into consideration as well.

He is being selected in the 22nd round, after other starters including Clay Buchholz and Mike Montgomery. Tillman will eat innings and have great opportunities to win games for the Orioles come 2017.

 

Fernando Rodney, CL, Arizona Diamondbacks

The veteran closer signed a one-year contract for $2.75 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason. He is coming of a 25-save season where he exhibited a K/9 of 10.2, which is well above league average. His K/9 has surpassed 10 three times in his last four seasons. This is encouraging as his K/9 have not dipped even though his velocity has.

The 39-year-old will be the closer for the Diamondbacks to start 2017. With the return of A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and others, Rodney could be in store for an abundance of save opportunities. He is being selected in the 24th round, after many set-up men, including three Chicago Cubs, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Koji Uehara.

Rodney’s value should spike as owners realize his value as a closer, so do not be afraid to “reach” for him in 20 or 21st round.

 

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Center Field

In this eighth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we shift over to center field. It is one of the most difficult positions to play in all of baseball and where you can usually find the best athlete on the team.  From slugging to speed, center field has it all. Let’s kick off our rankings with the fifth best center fielder in baseball.

5. Dexter Fowler- St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Season

Dexter Fowler will go from rounding the bases at Wrigley to circling them at Busch Stadium. (Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo)

After helping guide the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title in 2016, Fowler will look to repeat as a champion with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. Fowler provides the Cardinals with a spark at the top of the order, which is something they have been missing for a long time. He batted .276, .393 and .447 on his way to an OPS+ of 126, which is 26 percent better than league average. Fowler helped fuel his offensive onslaught by smashing 13 dingers to go along with 48 RBI’s and swiped 13 bags. He has an excellent mix of power and speed, but don’t sleep on his defense.

Fowler had long been seen as a subpar defender in center field, and the defensive metrics helped prove it. He made a small adjustment that had a big impact; he stood about 10 feet farther back in center than he had in previous seasons. That might not sound like much, but his defensive metrics speak volumes. Fowler had -12 defensive runs saved in 2015, but improved significantly to 1 defensive run saved in 2016. With a steady offensive approach and improved defense, Fowler is primed to be a big performer in 2017.

4. Kevin Kiermaier- Tampa Bay Rays

From being a 30th round draft pick to being named the best fielder in the majors, Kevin Kiermaier has seen a lot in his time with the Rays. Kiermaier has been the epitome of a draft day steal. The 2016 season was no different for Kiermaier, who batted .246, .331 and .410 while hitting 12 homers and 37 RBI’s. He also stole 21 bases in 2016, putting up an OPS+ of 104. His offense has been above league average for two of his three major league seasons, but he has had Gold Glove potential since day one.

In his past two seasons in the majors, Kiermaier has had 67 defensive runs saved in center field! That is an astronomical number, boosted by his 42 defensive runs saved in 2015. Kiermaier had a “down” year in 2016, posting a measly 25 defensive runs saved. All kidding aside, Kiermaier’s defense is truly something to behold. If he can improve his offensive game and maintain his defense, Kiermaier will be in the running for the upper echelon of elite overall players in the majors.

3. Charlie Blackmon- Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Season

Charlie Blackmon can sometime be buried in a lineup like Colorado’s, but he shines nonetheless. (Russell Lansford, Icon SMI)

After making the move from pitcher to outfielder in his college days, it’s safe to say Blackmon made the right career move. The Rockies center fielder had his best offensive season in 2016, putting up a slash line of .324, .381 and .552. After three years of average offensive production, his 2016 slash line along with 29 homers, 82 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases were good enough to earn him an OPS+ of 130. While he has played half of his games in hitter friendly Coors Field, OPS+ takes into account the park in which a player plays, and Blackmon was still 30 percent better than league average.

Although Blackmon experienced an offensive explosion in 2016, his defense remained about the same. He posted -2 defensive runs saved in 2016, below average for a major league center fielder. His defense, albeit below league average, is still passable with his explosive offense. Blackmon will need to continue his offensive pace and improve his defense to become a regular on this list.

2. Jackie Bradley Jr.- Boston Red Sox

In his first full season in Beantown, Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to finally lay Jacoby Ellsbury’s ghost to rest. Bradley Jr. showed flashes of pure brilliance in 2016. He hit in 29 straight games and started in the All-Star game for the American League. Over the course of the season, Bradley Jr. hit .267, .349 and .486 as well as slugging 26 home runs. He also added 87 RBI’s and nine stolen bases to give him an OPS+ of 116. While Bradley Jr. was finally able to find his way at the plate, he has long been a master with the glove.

Bradley Jr. had 11 defensive runs saved in 2016, a remarkable number for a player who just played his first full season in the bigs. He has long been known as a defensive savant since his days in the minors, and he proved his reputation true in 2016.  Bradley Jr. made 156 starts in center for the Red Sox, and is entrenched at center for the foreseeable future. With the ability and opportunity finally matching, Bradley Jr. is set to have a monster year in Boston.

1. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

2017 MLB Season

Mike Trout is one of, if not the, best player in the game (AP Photo, Jae C. Hong).

Could it have been anyone else? Trout has put up video game numbers since being called up by the Angles at the ripe old age of 19. Since his first full season in the majors at 20 years old, Trout has finished either second or first in the AL MVP Voting, winning two AL MVP awards in that time as well as five Silver Slugger awards. Trout put up another spectacular season in 2016, batting .315, .441 and .550. He also slugged 29 bombs, had 100 RBI’s and stole 30 bases. Trout is the best overall offensive player in the game, but his glove doesn’t trail too far behind.

Mike Trout had six defensive runs saved in 2016 while roaming center field. His high water mark for defense was in 2012 when he had 23 defensive runs saved in center. While that might be difficult even for Trout to match, he is certainly one of the top fielders at his position. Trout is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and shows no signs of slowing down. 2017 will be what we’ve come to expect of Trout; one of the best players of his generation at the top of his game.

Center field can be considered a top heavy position; it’s Mike Trout and then everybody else. While there may not be that much depth behind Trout, there are still young players who will be looking to take the next step in their careers in 2017. With the position full of young talent, they will all be vying for number two on this list for a long time to come.

 

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Mike Trout’s GOAT Potential: A rumble with the legends of the game

With the Hall of Fame induction vote finished, it only makes sense to take stock of our current MLB stars. No single player currently embodies the talent and qualities of a HOF candidate quite like Mike Trout. The debate rages on about the Angels’ inability to harness this generational talent into team success. However, Trout’s numbers speak for themselves and he only continues to improve year after year.

Mike Trout’s GOAT Potential

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

This MLB writer wasn’t fortunate enough to watch many of the past greats live performances, and can only admire the stats and the stories. Only now are childhood heroes like Jim Thome and Chipper Jones surfacing for induction into the hall. That said, the statistics remain, and it’s fascinating to compare the old-time sluggers to the players of today.

For this analysis, we take a look at modern day master Mike Trout against the best there ever was. The idea here is to predict Trout’s career in order to place him on par with the legends of the game. There will of course be some assumptions to follow, but those will be documented and explained throughout the analysis.

Without further ado, let’s nerd out.

 

Introducing first, fighting out of the present day, standing 6’2″, weighing in at 230 pounds, THE CHALLENGER, MIKE TROUT:

 

Mike Trout Career Totals

BA OBP SLG OPS H HR RBI
6 Year Totals 0.306 0.405 0.557 0.963 917 168 497
162 Game Avg. 0.306 0.405 0.557 0.963 183 34 99

 

Trout has been in the league 6 years and has consistently posted outstanding numbers while casually collecting two MVP awards. While the above takes into account more classic hitting statistics for comparison, Trout’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) numbers are even more impressive. Trout continues to carve a legacy against the greats by already leading this statistic every year, at every age (An outstanding analysis by Neil Paine can be found here). His current career WAR sits at 48.5 through six seasons while averaging a WAR over eight.

To put this in perspective, the site FanGraphs defines WAR as follows:

  1. Scrub 0-1 WAR
  2. Role Player 1-2 WAR
  3. Solid Starter 2-3 WAR
  4. Good Player 3-4 WAR
  5. All-Star 4-5 WAR
  6. Superstar 5-6 WAR
  7. MVP 6+ WAR

In other words, Trout averages MVP caliber play. Even taking into consideration his sub-par rookie numbers after his midseason call-up in July 2011, the man is incredible.

Introducing next, fighting out of days of baseball past, standing at the greatest of all time, and weighing in at baseball’s finest, THE CHAMPIONS, THESE GUYS:

 

Legends Career Statistics

Years Played BA OBP SLG OPS Hits HR RBI’s
Barry Bonds 22 0.298 0.444 0.607 1.051 2935 762 1996
Ted Williams 19 0.344 0.482 0.634 1.116 2654 521 1839
Hank Aaron 21 0.305 0.374 0.555 0.928 3771 755 2297
Willie Mays 21 0.302 0.384 0.557 0.941 3283 660 1903
Babe Ruth 22 0.342 0.474 0.69 1.164 2837 714 2214

Argue with me if you must about the names on this list, but these guys could hit a baseball.

 

The Comparison

In order to get apples to apples, we have to extrapolate Trout’s numbers over a period befitting of one of the greats. As demonstrated in the above table, each one of these players spent nearly two decades in the majors. An average of their time spent comes out to 21 years.

Now the big assumptions in calculating future Trout are as follows:

  • Maintains his current averages as it relates to the ratio-statistics
  • Will play to his 162 game average
  • Have at least a 21-year career

 

Mike Trout’s GOAT Potential

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

 

Obviously, there are some red flags here. The chances of Trout never getting injured, sitting for any extended period of time, or experiencing general regression in his later years are minimal. On the flip side, Trout hasn’t even reach what would be considered a “baseball prime” in terms of age. With that in mind, it’s entirely possible we have yet to see career highs from Trout in any of these categories.

With those assumptions in place, the math becomes relatively simple. Take Trout’s six-year career numbers, and add them to 15 additional years of the 162-game average statistics (15+6=21 years).

 

 

 

 

Do that, and the chart now looks like this:

Years Played BA OBP SLG OPS Hits HR RBI’s
Barry Bonds 22 0.298 0.444 0.607 1.051 2935 762 1996
Ted Williams 19 0.344 0.482 0.634 1.116 2654 521 1839
Hank Aaron 21 0.305 0.374 0.555 0.928 3771 755 2297
Willie Mays 21 0.302 0.384 0.557 0.941 3283 660 1903
Babe Ruth 22 0.342 0.474 0.69 1.164 2837 714 2214
Future Trout 21 0.306 0.405 0.557 0.963 3662 678 1982

The Conclusion

Interestingly enough, this analysis doesn’t have Trout leading a single statistical category. Even so, he has numbers that rival the greats in literally every major hitting metric. Furthermore, this analysis doesn’t take into account WAR or fielding statistics which both add additional firepower to Trout’s case. GOAT may be some ways off, but most well-rounded is certainly in play as long as the performance continues.

It’s clear Trout still has a long way to go and a lot to prove if he wants to be considered among this outstanding group. That said, Trout is well on pace to rival the greats, and as anyone who’s watched him will tell you, the best is likely yet to come.

 

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2017 MLB Playoffs

Potential Dark Horse Teams for 2017 MLB Playoffs

Just as the leaves change each fall, so do MLB’s playoff teams. Each year there are a number of surprise contenders looking to make a run at the World Series. Whether they come out of the gate strong or turn it on late, you can almost guarantee that one team will fit the Cinderella Story narrative.

So with the season fast approaching, which teams are primed to be this year’s Cinderella? Let’s take a look at four teams who might be able to fit into the glass slipper for the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Colorado Rockies-NL West

Nolan Arenado looks to provide the power in a deep lineup. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP Photo)

The Colorado Rockies finished 2016 at 75-87, good for third in the NL West. While they were 12 games under .500, don’t let last years results fool you. They received strong contributions from home grown starting pitchers Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray. Both were in their first full seasons in the majors, and performed well; Gray struck out 185 batters over 168 innings pitched while Anderson posted a solid 3.54 ERA. With the offseason addition of Ian Desmond to play first base and the continued growth of Gray and Anderson, the Rockies could look to turn some heads in 2017.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- AL West

The Los Angeles Angels have one of, if not the best player on the planet. Automatic playoff berth, right? Not so much. In Mike Trout’s tenure with the Angels, they have only made the playoffs once, while Trout has won two MVPs in that time. The Angels are hoping to provide Trout with more support in 2017. With the acquisition of disgruntled second baseman Danny Espinosa from Washington, the Angels have added more pop to their lineup. Couple Espinosa with prime Trout and past-his-prime-but-still-dangerous Albert Pujols, and you have the core of a pretty good lineup. Couple in the additions of outfield speedster Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin and the Angels have a lineup that can compete with most any in baseball. If Pujols and Espinosa can take some pressure off Trout, the Angels could make a surprise run to the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Miami Marlins- NL East

2017 MLB Playoffs

Giancarlo Stanton looks to send plenty of balls into orbit in 2017.(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the loss of pitcher Jose Fernandez in 2016, the Miami Marlins lost more than an ace; they lost the soul of their team. With heavy hearts, the Marlins were able to go 79-82 in 2016, finishing third in the NL East. It was an inspiring finish to the season, and one I believe will carry over to 2017. The Marlins will look for Giancarlo Stanton to improve on his lackluster 2016 season, in which he posted a slugging percentage of .489, the lowest of his career. Stanton won’t have to carry the Marlin’s offense on his own though. Dynamic second baseman Dee Gordon will be back to start the season and will be joined by steady outfielder Christian Yelich and power hitting Marcell Ozuna. If starting pitcher Adam Conley can build upon his solid 3.85 ERA and Wei-Yin Chen can get back to his career average 3.90 ERA, the Marlins will have two good starting pitchers to build their staff around. If Giancarlo Stanton can deliver on his 40+ homer potential and the pitching staff can stay near league average, this team could mash it’s way to a playoff berth.

Tampa Bay Rays- AL East

Out of the previous three teams, this team will have the most difficult time of making it to the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2016 season at 68-94, 25 games back of first place in the AL East. The AL East is one of the most stacked divisions in baseball, with three out of the five teams making the postseason in 2016. But the Rays have one thing that every team covets; young, good starting pitching. The Rays have one of the deepest and youngest starting rotations in all of baseball, with five starting pitchers logging more than 100 innings pitched, and those same starters averaging 27 years old. With the addition of slugging catcher Wilson Ramos and the resurgence of third baseman Evan Longoria, the Rays will look for their offense to help carry them to the 2017 MLB Postseason.

The MLB season is full of surprises. Players and teams alike will burst onto the national stage, defying expectations. But while players look to their cleats to propel them from base to base, some teams will be looking for more dainty footwear. Maybe a glass slipper?

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2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two

Welcome to the second installment of The Game Haus’ 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season. Since the initial ranking, a number of small deals have continued to occur across the MLB. However, none of these deals have yet to include some of the larger trade candidates still being named by the rumor mill.

Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, and Brian Dozier still remain a heavy topic of conversation. Both free agent sluggers Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo are also still available in free agency. That fact would make Quintana the most likely candidate for movement until the slugger market dries up.

This week’s rankings include five teams who wouldn’t quite be considered rebuilding, but rather retooling. Recently, many of these clubs have reestablished a young core and are now looking to grow and mature that base. These clubs stand further back in the rankings, in large part, due to their youth. However, if their front offices stay on course, these teams could be the “look out” contenders in 2-3 years.

All logo images courtesy of MLB.com.

25. Milwaukee Brewers

2016 record: 73-89

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two The Brewers are an organization with a number of young players beginning to emerge, with even more on the way. The Brewers are among the top rated farm systems in the MLB with several of those top prospects already in Triple-A. Last year’s emergence of young players such as Zach Davies, Jonathan Villar, and Keon Broxton represent a strong core to build around. The dark cloud over the Brewers continues to be the curious case of what to do with Ryan Braun. At age 33, Braun posted a very respectable slash line of .305/ .365/ .538, while adding 30 home runs to the mix.  The Brewers just need to find a partner willing to roll the dice on that kind of production. If so, the Brewers may quickly become one of the younger, more formidable teams over the next few years.

 

24. Tampa Bay Rays

2016 record: 68-94

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two The Rays have been a tricky team to predict. One can’t help but feel as though they have under performed given their talent. Part of it is due to a struggling Chris Archer and an Alex Cobb who simply can’t seem to stay healthy. The Rays did manage the solid pickup of Wilson Ramos, who can provide stability behind the plate while adding pop to the lineup. At just 31 years old, Evan Longoria continues to be one of the quietest super stars in the game. All the signs point to an improved Rays team in 2017, but it may be a long road to get the top of the highly competitive AL East.

 

23. Philadelphia Phillies

2016 record: 71-91

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two The signing of Clay Buchholz provides stability and veteran leadership to one of the most promising young pitching staffs in baseball. Buchholz may even prove to be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. Regardless, the Phillies are one of a few teams I expect to a make a surprise leap forward in 2017. The addition of Howie Kendrick alone won’t make up for an offence with the worst run differential in baseball. Another year for this young team to mature with some solid veteran additions definitely shows promise.

 

22. Miami Marlins

2016 record: 79-82

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two There is simply no filling the void left by Jose Fernandez. Pitching will be an area of need. However, a fully healthy Giancarlo Stanton alongside a continuously emerging Christian Yelich makes for a nasty outfield 1-2 punch. Add that to a solid young infield and you have the makings of a pretty strong lineup. Unfortunately for the Marlin’s, the Phillies and Braves aren’t going to be the punching bags of past years. The Nationals and Mets will likely both be contenders or at least in the hunt. This could leave the Marlins in a much more competitive situation then they’ve faced in years past.

21. Los Angeles Angels

2016 record: 74-88

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two The only offseason move of significance for the Angels has been the trade for second baseman Danny Espinosa. While this move provides a nice boost in their lineup, few around the league feel this changes the Angels 2017 outlook. Smaller moves like signing outfielder Ben Revere and trading for catcher Martin Maldonado also represent decent additions. However, they really aren’t game changers. If the Halos can stay healthy, they have enough in the tank to compete, but not to contend. The real question for this organization will be whether or not they sign Mike Trout for the “king’s ransom” that this once in a generation talent commands.

If you are interested in part one, you can find it here.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Rich Hill and The Perfect Game That Almost Was

This past Saturday, September 10th, Rich Hill was pitching a gem of a game. Hill pitched seven innings, dishing out nine K’s without giving up either a hit or walk. Hill was on the verge of throwing a perfect game, with only two innings left and sitting at only 89 pitches going into the 8th inning. Yet, amidst the potential perfection, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Hill in favor of a reliever fresh from the pen. The move drew the ire of fans post game, as the feat of a perfect game has only occurred twenty-three times in major league history and Hill was only six outs away.

Rich Hill could make a significant impact for the Dodgers playoff run...so long as his blisters do not get worse. Photo courtesy of Mark Terrill of the AP.

Rich Hill could make a significant impact for the Dodgers playoff run…so long as his blisters do not get worse. Photo courtesy of Mark Terrill of the AP.

Roberts did not pull Hill simply because he wanted to ruin Hill’s perfect game chances, but actually had legitimate reasons for doing so. Rich Hill has spent the past month and a half battling painful blisters on his throwing hand, making only three starts since July 17th. Every inning during the perfect performance, a trainer checked Hill’s hand to make sure the blisters were not becoming worse. The blister’s condition was the true reason Roberts pulled Hill despite his historic performance.

The situation Roberts was put in was a lose-lose situation. Leaving Hill in there could lead to another DL, or season ending stint for Hill due to inflammation of the blisters. How would Dodgers fan react if their trade deadline acquisition was going to miss the rest of the season/the playoffs because of overuse, especially since there was no guarantee that Hill could have closed out the final two innings of the game perfectly? The truth is, nobody will ever know, but what we do know is that Hill may still have a shot at pitching for the Dodgers come playoffs time, as the Dodgers currently reside in first place of the NL West with a four game lead.

Rich Hill as a young pitcher early in his career with the Cubs. Photo Courtesy of Jamie Squire of Getty Images

Rich Hill as a young pitcher early in his career with the Cubs. Photo Courtesy of Jamie Squire of Getty Images

Hill’s career, historically, has seen a lot of bouncing around various clubs. Hill started in the rotation for the Cubs before bouncing back and forth between rotation and bullpen for the Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox again, Athletics and finally the Dodgers. Hill pitched well as a reliever, but was never really used in high leverage situations, never recording a save. 2016, however, has seen a new Hill rise from the ashes of the old one, as he started fourteen games for the Athletics, amassing an ERA of only 2.25. Hill was one of the few bright spots on the Athletics team, which led to Athletics’ GM Billy Beane moving him at the deadline for prospects.

The blister issue was known before the trade was finalized, but the Dodgers were paying for the potential Hill could provide to the rotation once healthy. The Dodgers’ rotation has been decimated by injuries already, but even healthy, Hill could still slot in to the middle of the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda. The truth is, there is no guarantee that Hill’s blisters will subside by the postseason, but monitoring and being conservative with them can give the best opportunity to help the Dodgers in the long run.

Perfect games are a rarity in baseball, with the idea of twirling one a fantasy for about all pitchers in the modern game. Rich Hill came close, going seven perfect innings for the Dodgers before being pulled after 89 pitches by the manager Dave Roberts. Roberts made the right call, however, for the good of the team, despite the backlash from baseball fans nationwide. If saving Hill’s throwing hand for two innings now can lead to two more innings in the playoffs, then I’d say it is worth it for the Dodgers, especially if he keeps pitching the way he has been all season. I mean, just check out how nasty of a curveball Hill can unleash

Rich Hill unleashing his devastating curveball to Brad Miller of the Rays. GIF courtesy of giphy.com

Rich Hill unleashing his devastating curveball to get Brad Miller looking absolutely silly, on a full count no less. GIF courtesy of giphy.com

 

All stats courtesy of baseball reference

 

 

2016 American League West Preview

Courtesy of, brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy of: brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Place: Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player to Watch: Carlos Correa

2nd Place: Texas Rangers

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player to Watch: King Felix

4th Place: Oakland Athletics

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5th Place: Los Angeles Angels

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player to Watch: Mike Trout (Who else?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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