2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

The Game Haus returns with another issue of 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season. This past week has been an emotionally charged roller coaster in the MLB. Hall of Fame inductees and snubs have sparked debates among fans, players and writers. Old PED skeletons have spawned a number of questions about the validity of records and the integrity of players.

Worst of all, tragedy has again struck a young player with the loss of Royals’ pitcher Yordano Ventura.

Part of what makes sports great is the tremendous passion fans have around the game. These instances, while emotional, are part of the history and reality that makes this America’s past time. Fortunately, we can continue to look forward to the upcoming season and many more of the great moments that made us all fans to start.

This week we tackle 10-6 in the rankings. The big guns are coming out. While these teams may be a few pieces short of complete, look for all to compete come October. Many of these organizations were in the hunt last year and we’d expect much of the same this time around. All of these contenders have plenty of fire power on one side of the ball or the other. Time will tell if they can bring enough consistency in some of their weak areas to make a true run at the fall classic.

 

10. Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 78-83-1

The Buckos has a solid offseason, managing to hold onto Andrew McCutchen and securing Ivan Nova in their rotation. That signing along with Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow’s continued development makes for a sneaky good rotation. If Pittsburgh somehow manages to get a deal done for Jose Quintana, the NL Central may have far more to bargain for than they originally intended. Pitching aside, the Pirates also sport one of the more promising outfields in the MLB. If the Pirates get even moderate contributions from their infield, expect a battle for an NL Wild Card come October.

 

9. San Francisco Giants

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 87-75

The big knock on the Giants last year was a lack of bullpen firepower. San Francisco certainly addressed that with the off-season acquisition of Mark Melancon. Overall, the Giants pitching has never really been their problem. Any rotation anchored by two of the best in Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto give you a great chance come postseason time. The question is whether the offense can sustain production throughout 162 games. The Dodgers and a surprise Rockies team may challenge, but the Giants should be actively contesting the top of the division at year end.

 

8. New York Mets

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 87-75

Widely considered the single best rotation in the majors last year, the Mets’ pitching staff returns near full force. Matt Harvey’s health is perpetually in question and New York did lose Bartolo Colon, but this rotation is outstanding regardless. With Yoenis Céspedes resigning in the off-season and Jay Bruce looking for a bounce back year, the Mets should have plenty of pop to get the job done. With this rotation and dominant closer Jeurys Familia in the bullpen, this club won’t need many runs to win games.

 

7. Texas Rangers

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 95-67

The first of two teams in the AL west we at The Game Haus have affectionately dubbed “The Arms Race”. The Rangers and the Astros wasted little time in securing top tier sluggers across their lineups this offseason. The Rangers have taken that crusade one step further by also bolstering their pitching with the acquisition of Tyson Ross. Assuming Ross can bounce back from his 2016 season-ending injury, he should provide needed depth to the Texas rotation. Generating back-to-back 95 win seasons is a tall order for any organization. That said, one look at the offensive ability of this lineup and you’d have to think a repeat is possible.

 

6. Houston Astos

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 84-78

Narrowly inching out its rival in the division, Houston is poised to unseat their “Arms Race” opponent Rangers. The acquisition of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Josh Reddick add veteran power and presence to an already scary lineup. Young stars Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman continue to develop and I haven’t even mentioned perennial MVP candidate Jose Altuve. This lineup is that good. The question for Dallas Keuchel and staff is whether or not they can out-duel their divisional rivals. Both teams have the horses to win the AL West and for fans of baseball everywhere, this is the war to watch in 2017.

Link to Previous Rankings

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Third Basemen

The sixth installment of our position rankings lands us at the 2017 third basemen rankings. Third base is one of the most top-heavy positions in all of baseball. With steady veterans and young studs all around the league, let’s start our list with number five.

5. Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Like a fine wine, Beltre just seems to get better with age. By the way Beltre has been playing, you wouldn’t know he’s entering his 20th season in the majors. He bested his career averages in 2016 batting (.300/.358/.521.) And while he didn’t earn an All-Star selection in 2016, Beltre was still able to finish seventh in the AL MVP voting by hitting 32 home runs with 104 RBIs. But it wasn’t just his offense that vaulted him into the MVP conversation.

Beltre’s defense has been spectacular throughout his time in Texas, and it continued in 2016. He posted 15 defensive runs saved and was a wizard with the glove down at third base. That fancy glove work and powerful offensive production makes Beltre a solid pick to make the top five. Although he will be entering 2017 in his late 30’s, don’t expect Father Time to catch up with him anytime soon.

4. Manny Machado- Baltimore Orioles

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Many Machado will try to carry the Orioles to the playoffs in 2017. (Rob Carr, Getty Images).

At 24 years old and entering his fifth season in the majors, Manny Machado will be a mainstay on this list for years to come. Machado really came into his own in 2016, putting up career highs in batting average (.294), slugging (.533) and posting a OBP of .343. Machado was also able to continue to utilize his power in 2016, mashing 37 homers and driving in 96 RBIs.

Like Beltre, Machado was also in the 2016 AL MVP conversation, finishing fifth. Machado also proved to be pretty steady with the glove as well.

Coming up as a shortstop with the Baltimore Orioles, Machado has always been a great fielder. He has been able to utilize his defensive skills at the hot corner, posting 13 defensive runs saved in 2016.

Machado has found his power, and coupled that with an excellent ability to make contact, good batting eye, and stellar defense to up his game even more in 2016. The 2017 season should prove no different for Machado.

3. Josh Donaldson- Toronto Blue Jays

While Josh Donaldson was a great player in 2013 and 2014 with Oakland, he blossomed into a legit MVP player when he was shipped north of the border in 2015. He continued his offensive onslaught in the 2016 season, slashing .284, .404, .549 and launched 37 homers to go along with 99 RBIs.

While Donaldson did have a drop off from his 2015 MVP season to his 2016 season, it is extremely hard to improve on an MVP season. Donaldson also experienced a sight drop off in his defense as well in 2016.

Donaldson had 2 defensive runs saved in 2016, not spectacular, but solid nonetheless. As Donaldson enters the 2017 season, he will look to continue what he accomplished in 2015 and 2016. His glove and his bat are one of the best in all of the majors, and Donaldson has a chance to prove it in 2017.

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Nolan Arenado has launched 80 plus homers in the past two seasons. (Ben Margot, AP Photo).

2. Nolan Arenado- Colorado Rockies

After two seasons of 40 plus homers, Nolan Arenado has officially cemented himself as one of the best players in the league. He put up a slash line of .294, .362, .570, career bests in average and OBP in 2016. He also earned an NL All-Star appearance, Gold Glove award and Silver Slugger award for the second year in a row.

Arenado has produced at a ridiculous rate in the past two seasons, hitting 83 homers to go along with 263 RBIs. He has certainly found his swing at the plate, but he has always had a stellar glove.

Arenado has been a Gold Glover for his entire major league career, earning the award each season he has been in the majors. And 2016 was no different. He had 20 defensive runs saved in 2016, an amazing number for a third baseman. He is without a doubt one of the best overall defenders in all of baseball, and 2017 will be no different. If Arenado can continue his torrid offensive pace and spectacular defense, he will be a perennial MVP candidate.

1. Kris Bryant- Chicago Cubs

With just two seasons in the majors under his belt, Kris Bryant has done things that many thought would never be done. He helped bring the Cubs a World Series title in 2016 and won the NL MVP in 2016 after winning the NL ROY award in 2015.

Bryant has put up monster numbers since being called up in 2015, batting .284, .377, .522 as well as blasting 65 bombs to go along with 201 RBIs in his career. He has also stole 21 bases in his time in Chicago, exceptional for a slugger like Bryant.

Bryant has also made his name with the glove. Coming up as a third baseman with the Cubs, Bryant was always a solid fielder. But his defensive prowess has grown since being called up to Chicago. He posted 4 defensive runs saved at third base in 2016, providing a solid glove at the hot corner.

But Bryant has also proven to be a solid defender all over the field. Logging time at third, the outfield and first base in 2016, Bryant has become one of the game’s most versatile player. Bryant is a once in a generation talent, and is just beginning his young career.

It is a golden age for third basemen, with multiple young players performing at a high level. From Gold Glovers to Silver Sluggers, the major league landscape is dotted with players who are set to put up monster numbers in 2017.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Catchers

This is the second installment of the 2017 MLB Season Position Rankings. In this installment, we will be focusing on catchers. Catchers will be weighed by their offensive as well as defensive stats.

Lets start our list of backstops at number five.

5. Yasmani Grandal- Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Season

Yasmani Grandal will be a steady presence behind the plate for the Dodgers in 2017. (Kevin Sullivan, Dodgers Staff Photographer)

Yasmani Grandal has proven to be a steadying presence behind the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After being acquired from the Padres in the 2014 Matt Kemp trade, he has come into his own. He has provided a solid bat with some good power, knocking 27 long balls to go along with 72 RBI’s in 2016.

Grandal also has good control over the opposing team’s running game. In 2016, Grandal threw out would-be base stealers at an above average 29 percent. Grandal also had 13 defensive runs saved in 2016, providing elite defense behind the plate.

While Grandal does hit for a relatively low average (career .238 hitter), he makes up for it with good power and exceptional defensive skills. Look for Grandal to contend for his second career NL All-Star appearance in 2017.

4. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays

Wilson Ramos turned into an offensive force for the Washington Nationals in 2016. With the decline of Bryce Harper from his 2015 MVP form, Ramos was able to pick up some of the slack and help Washington to their third NL Division Series in the last five years. However, the Nationals were unable to get over the hump.

Ramos posted career highs in all major offensive categories. He batted .307 and launched 22 bombs to go with 80 RBI’s. While putting up career highs in offensive numbers, Ramos also exhibited a strong control over the base paths. Ramos was well above league average (27 percent) in throwing out baserunners, limiting opposing teams to 37 percent.

While Ramos did provide ample control of the run game, his overall defense left something to be desired. He posted -1 defensive runs saved in 2016. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged the slugging catcher this off season, and will value him more for his bat than his glove in 2016.

3. Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

2017 MLB Season

The base paths are on lock down with Salvador Perez behind the dish. (John Rieger, USA Today Sports)

Salvador Perez has been one of the top catchers in all of baseball since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. In that time, Perez has garnered four AL All-Star appearances to go along with four Gold Gloves. He has provided a steady presence for the Royals and helped fuel their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015.

While his bat did slip some from his career averages (career .272, .247 in 2016), his power was ever present. Perez slammed 22 home runs, the most of his career to go along with 64 RBI’s.

He also continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers of the game. Perez threw out opposing baserunners at an astounding 48 percent, easily tops for the catchers in contention for this list. He also provided solid overall defense with 3 defensive runs saved. Perez is set to continue his run as top defensive catcher in all of baseball for years to come.

2. Jonathan Lucroy- Texas Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy saw his season be split between the NL and the AL as the top catcher available was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline. Lucroy posted solid numbers in both leagues in 2016, batting .292 while providing exceptional power evident from his .500 slugging percentage. He used his 24 home runs to pad his slugging percentage while pairing them with 81 RBI’s.

Lucroy was a force for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, both behind the plate as well as in the batters box. He threw out runners at a 39 percent clip, more than 10 percent better than the league average. Lucroy also had 4 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving he is one of the top overall catchers in baseball. A change of scenery seemed to fuel Lucroy in 2016. Look for him to continue his ascent while helping lead the World Series contending Texas Rangers in 2017.

1. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey has proven to be the total package for the San Francisco Giants. He has four career NL All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and an NL MVP Trophy to go along with his NL ROY award. Posey easily gained the top spot in these rankings, but not just by his trophy case. He posted a batting average of .288 to go along with 14 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

Posey was able to couple his solid offense with his stellar defense to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance and earn his first Gold Glove. Posey posted stellar defensive numbers, providing 23 defensive runs saved in 2016, easily tops on this list. Combine that with his ability to limit the running game by throwing out 37 percent of baserunners, and you have the best defensive catcher of the 2016 season. Posey will give the Giants a strong glove and bat in 2017.

Catchers play a vital role in the offense and defense of a team. While catchers are more heavily weighed on their defensive stats, in the next installment of this series we will be looking at some of the biggest bats in the game. Stay tuned!

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Why Baseball is the Greatest Sport

Baseball has been dying. America’s pastime is not as popular as it once was. Football and Basketball have risen above it because they are faster and “more” exciting sports. The faster pace is definitely true and nobody would argue that. However, baseball is definitely exciting. In fact, baseball is the best sport.

No Clock

In football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and basically every sport, you have a clock. This allows fans to know how much time is left in the game and when they can expect it to be over. With the clock, teams can also manage it to their advantage. Teams with a small lead can kill the clock to help them win.

SCOREBOARD

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, there is no clock. Baseball has innings. Fans and teams have no idea how long a game can last. It could last two and a half hours, or it could last four hours. Baseball does not let a clock dictate how much time is left in a game. As a result, teams can’t kill clock. Baseball teams can’t take the easy way out. They have to play hard all the way through. They can’t let up and take it easy.

All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star game is better than any other All-Star game in sports. The league that wins the MLB’s All-Star game gets to host the World Series. This gives both teams a reason to play hard.

The NFL’s All-Star game, which is the Pro Bowl, is a joke. The best players rarely play. They are worried about getting hurt. The Super Bowl is also the week after, meaning no one from the two best teams in football will be playing.

Last year, the six quarterbacks on the rosters were Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, and Tyrod Taylor. Those guys are decent quarterbacks, but they are nowhere near the best in the NFL. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers were all absent.

allstar_chicagotribune

Photo: Chicago Tribune

The NBA’s All-Star game is filled with entertainment. There is a lot of exciting offense, but that is mostly because zero defense is played. It just becomes guys shooting wide-open threes and throwing alley-oops from all across the court. The best players play, but it is not a hard fought game and the guys mess around more than anything else.

In the MLB’s All-Star game, the best players play. They play hard and they play to win. Home field advantage for the World Series is on the line. Baseball is also not a violent game and no one is worried about getting injured.

Player Rings

NFL players, quarterbacks specifically, and NBA stars get overrated and underrated based on the amount of championships they have won. Dan Marino is hardly ever talked about as a top 5 all-time quarterback, but John Elway is. Fans say Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning because he has more Super Bowls. Bill Russell is actually considered an all-time great because he won 11 championships in an era where the NBA was small and slow. Elgin Baylor doesn’t get the credit he deserves because his NBA finals record is 0-8.

Seattle Mariners

Photo: Huffington Post

Championships are team accomplishments, and baseball fans seem to understand that better than any other sports fans. No one thinks less of Ken Griffey Jr. or Tony Gwynn for never winning a ring. Griffey and Gwynn were some of the greatest hitters of all time and they get that credit despite not winning a title. Nobody thinks Yogi Berra is the greatest player of all-time due to the fact he has won more World Series than any other player. In baseball, players put up the numbers and get the credit they deserve.

Team Sport

Baseball is more of a team sport than any other. Lebron James lead the 2007 Cavs to the NBA Finals with his best teammates being Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel Gibson. In basketball, one player can lead a team a long way, even to the championship like Lebron. There is no way they are going to win it all though. That season the Spurs swept the Cavs in the Finals 4-0.

Football is more of a team sport. You need a lot more than one star player to lead a team to the championship. Both the offense and defense need to do well. Tom Brady couldn’t save the Cleveland Browns’ season with how bad their team has been.

unpredictability_espn

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, you don’t really need a superstar to win the World Series. Take a look at the 2010 San Francisco Giants. Buster Posey was their only 300 hitter. No one on their team hit 30 home runs. They didn’t even have a batter get 90 RBI’s. They didn’t have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 3. Tim Lincecum lead the starters in wins with 16.

This Giants team beat the star-powered Texas Rangers. Josh Hamilton was the best hitter in the league with a 359 batting average, 32 home runs, and 100 RBI’s. Vladimir Guerrero hit 300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI’s. Nelson Cruz joined the team late, but hit 318 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI’s. They had two great starting pitchers in CJ Wilson and Cliff Lee and the hottest closer in the league in Neftali Feliz.

The Giants victory over the Rangers proved that baseball is a team game. Championships are a team accomplishment and every position is important.

Unpredictability

clay_bostonglobe

Photo: Boston Globe

The Giants 2010 World Series proves just how unpredictable baseball can be. Last place teams can beat first place teams in the regular season. The Cubs overcame a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series. The 2004 Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second career start. Josh Hamilton, Lou Gehrig, and 14 others once hit four home runs in a single game. You never know what is going to happen. No lead is safe in baseball either. Baseball may be low scoring, but it just takes one swing to put one run on the board.

It is difficult to predict the playoff teams in the MLB at the beginning of the season. Almost everyone can predict most of the NBA playoff teams and almost everyone predicted a Cavs/Warriors rematch in the finals. In the NFL, it is also not too difficult to predict playoff teams. In baseball, it is much more challenging. The season is long. Teams can go hot and cold so quickly. There are always teams that breakout.

Playoffs

padres_sportslogos-net

Photo: SportsLogos.net

You won’t see any team below 500 in the MLB playoffs. The worst team to make the playoffs in baseball was the 2005 San Diego Padres, who finished with an 82-80 record. The 1981 Kansas City Royals made it with a 50-53 record in a strike-shortened season and different system. The bottom line is only the best teams in baseball make the playoffs.

Each league now allows five postseason teams. There are three division winners and two wildcards. The NFL allows six teams from each conference and the NBA allows eight. Teams below 500 have also made the playoffs in these leagues. It is fairly common to happen in the NBA. The Carolina Panthers recently won their division with a 7-8-1 record and the Seattle Seahawks won with a 7-9 record. You would never see this in baseball and you should never see it in any sport.

Contracts

In baseball, there are no max-contracts or even a salary cap. Max contracts put a maximum on how much players can make based on their years of experience in the league. Max contracts have allowed the NBA to form the “super team” culture that traditional basketball fans hate because teams don’t have to necessarily break the bank to sign a top free agent. For example, Lebron James could have signed with any team he wanted to in free agency. The offer he received from each team would be essentially the same because each team could only offer him a certain maximum amount of money to come play for their team. Money does not talk in situations like this. Instead, the team’s success and location does.

Giancarlo Stanton recently signed a 13-year contract with the Marlins for $325,000,000. This is the largest in baseball history. Before him, Alex Rodriguez had the richest contract of 10 years for $275,000,000. The free market determined the value of these players and not a max-contract. The free market allows talent to be distributed evenly among baseball teams. It is difficult to build a super team in baseball.

stanton_cbssports

Photo: CBS Sports

The NBA, along with the NFL, has a salary cap. A salary cap puts a limit on the amount a team can spend to put together its roster. The MLB does not have a salary cap. This forces teams to make money so they can afford to buy players. Some people may argue and say it is unfair that only the rich can win. This is not always the case. Big-name free agent signings don’t always work out. The 2016 champion Cubs were 14th in payroll. The 2015 champion Kansas City Royals were 16th. The Dodgers and Yankees, who were the top paying teams in both of those seasons, were no where to be found in the World Series. Spending money can make a roster look good on paper, but it does not always guarantee success.

Some fans will say that a salary cap is necessary because it will keep competitive balance. Well, lets look at the NBA as an example. Since the NBA implemented the salary cap for the 1984-85 season, only ten different teams have won the NBA Finals. That is just ten teams in 32 years. Three of those teams, the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Mavericks, have only won the Finals once. Then there are teams like the Lakers, who have won eight. The Bulls have won six. The Spurs have won five. If you are going to make the competitive balance argument, the NBA is not the league to look at. 

Baseball, which does not have a salary cap, has had a much more even spread of world champions. Since 1985 (the same year the NBA added their salary cap), 18 different teams have been crowned world champs. Compare that to the 10 in the NBA. Only eight of those teams have won more than once. The MLB proves that a salary cap does not bring competitive balance.

 

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Everything You Need to Know About the AL Playoffs

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

 

The Boston Red Sox (93-69)

big-papi

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

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

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

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

 

Cleveland Indians (94-68)

corey-kluber

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

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

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

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

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

 

Texas Rangers (95-67)

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

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

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

rougned-odor

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

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

 

Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tracking the Transactions: Rating AL Deadline Trades for Contenders

With the season coming down to its final two weeks, and a little over a month on their respective new teams, I think now is as good a time as any to rate who has produced with their new teams. We’ve seen some guys bring a huge boost to the teams they ended up with, while others have proven to be more of a liability. Here, I’ll give my opinion on who falls where. I’ll give players a rating between one and five based on how they’ve done since the deadline. Teams will be sorted alphabetically.

Baltimore Orioles – Wade Miley: 2

Miley hasn’t been great since coming from Seattle. A respectable July appeared to show that Miley was on the upswing; this has clearly not been the case, however, as he is just 1-5 with a 7.14 ERA in seven starts with Baltimore. I’m not really surprised by Miley’s lack of success, his numbers were certainly better while he was in Seattle either, posting a 4.98 ERA in 19 starts with them. With what Ariel Miranda (who the Mariners got in the deal for Miley) has done on the mound, the Orioles look like they may have ended up on the wrong end of this deal.

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Photo courtesy of bostonherald.com

Boston Red Sox – Drew Pomeranz/Fernando Abad: 4/3

Both of these guys really follow the same storyline on their journeys to Boston. It looked pretty scary at first, with Pomeranz going 0-2 in his first three starts (and going only three innings in his debut with the Sox) and Abad shouldering a loss in two of his first four appearances.  Since then, Pomeranz has gone 2-2 with just a 2.76 ERA. He hasn’t surrendered over three runs in a start since the end of July, which is a normally a good thing considering Boston has the top offense in the MLB. His record since coming to Boston isn’t the greatest, but if he keeps having these outings, he should start racking up wins when they really matter. Abad is a part of that Sox bullpen, which is still the biggest question mark on the team. He hasn’t surrendered a run in his last eight appearances, spanning back to August 19, though.

 

 

Cleveland Indians – Andrew Miller: 4

Miller has looked great with Cleveland, only allowing two runs throughout the entirety of August. September hasn’t been as kind to him, he’s allowed three runs over four innings; luckily, the Indians have a pretty massive cushion nearing the end of the year, so it’s better for him to get the kinks out now before the postseason (the guy’s sitting at a 1.69 ERA on the year, he was due for a hiccup eventually). He hasn’t seen as many save opportunities as people thought he would but he’s still been a very strong setup man with Cody Allen seeing the bulk of the closing opportunities. It’s hard to evaluate just how much Cleveland gave up for him, since none of the four prospects dealt by Cleveland have seen Big League play. Miller has proven to be a valuable asset, for Cleveland, though, and I’m looking forward to see him in postseason play.

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Photo courtesy of mlb.com

New York Yankees – Tyler Clippard: 5

A lot of people, myself included, were confused as to why the Yankees went and made an acquisition after selling two of the biggest names in the organization in Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Clippard’s performance has shut me up, however, as he’s been stellar since putting on the pinstripes. He’s allowed just one run in 17.1 innings pitched since joining the Yankees, that’s a 0.53 ERA for those keeping track. He’s the go-to guy in the pen on a Yankee team that has improbably stayed in this AL playoff race. He’s looking reminiscent of his All-Star days in Washington, which is great to see given his recent dip in performance over the past couple of seasons.

 

Seattle Mariners – Drew Storen/Ariel Miranda: 3/5

Drew Storen has received a lot of flak over the years for his performance as a closer. I think August shows that he’s still a strong arm in the bullpen, going 2-0 and only allowing one run over eight innings of work. He’s still prone to the occasional meltdown, however, surrendering four runs in his initial outing with the team. Since then, he hasn’t allowed more than one run in an outing.

Ariel Miranda looked like a young guy that was just a piece from Baltimore for Wade Miley. He’s turned into a real asset at the back of the rotation for a Mariners team that’s hanging around in the Wildcard Race. His numbers won’t blow you away, but let’s not forget that August was his first month of MLB play, and the fifth man slot isn’t known for posting overpowering stats. He was 0-1 as a starter in August, with a 4.90 ERA (he picked up one win in a relief appearance). In two starts this month, however, he’s picked up two wins and recorded his first career quality start in the Bigs.

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Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Texas Rangers – Jonathan Lucroy/Carlos Beltran: 5/4

Lucroy was one of the biggest names heading in to the deadline, and he’s proven why with his performance since coming to Texas. The Rangers have ballooned their divisional lead since their deadline acquisitions that have further bolstered their offense. Lucroy has hit ten homers in his month and a half in Texas (he had 13 in four months with Milwaukee this year) and has driven in 25 runs as well.

Beltran came to Texas as one of the big surprises of 2016. The 39 year old showed he could still rake, clobbering 22 homers and 64 RBIs while hitting .304 in New York. He’s tapered off a bit since the deadline, but he hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the mind. He’s hitting a respectable .284 with the Rangers, hit five homers, and driven in 23 RBIs. He’s certainly looked like an upgrade from Prince Fielder, who manned the DH spot before ending up on the DL and later retiring from baseball altogether. Texas is a very hot team at the moment, and I’m interested to see how far into the postseason Beltran, Lucroy, and the rest of this offense can carry the team.

 

Toronto Blue Jays – Melvin Upton Jr./Scott Feldman/Francisco Liriano: 2/1/3

Upton was meant to bring a speed aspect to an otherwise one-dimensional Blue Jays outfield. Since joining the Jays, however, he has only stolen six bases since joining Toronto. primarily because he hasn’t been providing much at the plate either, batting just .226 in August and .200 so far in September. His power numbers have also slowed down considerably, as he has just four homers since joining Toronto. There’s always time for Upton to turn it around and make a difference in these AL East and Wildcard races, but his performance so far makes me wonder whether he was a wise acquisition.

Feldman and Liriano currently both find themselves in the bullpen, after being part of the Opening Day rotations for their former teams (Liriano also started for a month with Toronto). Feldman has struggled, allowing 23 hits and 14 runs (13 earned) in 13.1 innings since joining Toronto. He just hasn’t found his comfort zone since leaving Houston, where he was already beginning to display struggles. Liriano has been what we’ve come to expect from him this year, mediocre. He had two quality starts and two not-so-great starts as a part of the Jays’ rotation in August. The same can be said for his two September bullpen performances. In one he didn’t record a single out and surrendered three runs (two earned) and in the other he went two scoreless innings and struck out three batters.

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American League Division Race Outlook

There is a month left in the season and there are about ten teams fighting for five spots in the American League (AL). The inclusion of the second wild card spot, though stimulating much debate at the time of introduction, has led to much more excitement down the stretch for fans as competition becomes fierce for the extra playoff spot. It is not just the wild card that is competitive, however, as two of the three divisions are still open to change.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

As of writing, the Toronto Blue Jays are sitting atop the AL East. The Jays have been very hot lately, winning four of their last five games. Josh Donaldson has been putting together a MVP caliber season for the Jays, and yet, this may be the hottest he has been all season with his six homers in the last five games. Bat flip champion Jose Bautista is healthy again and will make the potent lineup even stronger as the postseason looms.

Jose Bautista will forever be remembered in baseball lore for his ALCS Game 5 bat flip after a go ahead three run dinger in the bottom of the 7th inning. Photo courtesy of Chris Young of the CP.

Jose Bautista will forever be remembered in baseball lore for his ALCS (American League Championship Series) Game 5 bat flip after a go ahead three run dinger in the bottom of the 7th inning. Photo courtesy of Chris Young of the CP.

 

Chances are, the Jays should be able to hold off competition to keep a playoff spot, as the offense is just too dominant not to win games this September. The biggest question will be whether the rotation can keep the Jays in the lead in the east. The Jays rotation can be described in one word: inconsistent. The talent is there, but starters R.A. Dickey, Francisco Liriano, Marcus Stroman, and even Marco Estrada lately have been entirely too inconsistent for a team that has World Series aspirations. Look for the Jays to have to lean on their offense and Aaron Sanchez, who is not currently in the rotation due to innings constraints, to force their way into the playoffs. The Jays will get into the playoffs in a wild card spot, as the Red Sox are a more complete team and will catch them by season end.

 

Cleveland Indians

The tribe has all of the pieces that make small market fans salivate. The young stud pitching core is complimented with a successful small ball lineup that is headlined by their middle infielders Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. Lindor leads the MLB in three hit games this season with twenty-one and is a true cornerstone piece the Indians can build around for the next few years. The Indians also upgraded their bullpen at the deadline, adding one of the best setup men in baseball, Andrew Miller. A complete team on paper, the Tribe seems like a playoff lock, so long as the young team does not run out of fuel down the stretch.

 

Lindor smiling as the postseason moves closer into his grasp. Photo credit courtesy of Ken Blaze at USA Today Sports

Lindor smiling as the postseason moves closer into his grasp. Photo credit courtesy of Ken Blaze at USA Today Sports

Yet the Tribe’s offense has gone cold, producing more than one run in a game once in the past week. Danny Salazar, the best starter for the Indians in the first half of the season, has been sputtering lately and may be sidelined with injury for the foreseeable future. A series with the Twins could be just what the Indians need, however, to right the ship and gain some momentum heading into the home stretch of the regular season. The Indians will hold off the Tigers and Royals and win the AL Central.

 

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are another team that just looks complete on paper. The lineup has the potential for true production from top to bottom, especially after the reinforcements purchased at the trade deadline at a prospect premium. The pitching rotation has two heads at the top, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, which can guarantee a quality start for the team. Even the backend of the bullpen has stabilized after starting August rather shaky. Sam Dyson has reeled off three saves in a row and Matt Bush may have been one of the best under the radar signings in the 2016 offseason.

Hamels pitching in incredible form as the postseason looms. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Becker USA Today Sports

Hamels pitching in incredible form as the postseason looms. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Becker USA Today Sports

The Rangers have almost a nine game lead in the AL West, a number that seems rather insurmountable during the last month of the season. Carrying the best record in the AL, the Rangers should breeze into the playoffs and play whoever wins the one game wildcard playoff. The key for the Rangers will be the bullpen, which took a blow with the Jeremy Jeffress DWI. Sam Dyson has managed to pitch pretty well so far in the closer role, but his WHIP (Walks + Hits per innings pitched) has been 1.50 since July and his K:BB ratio (Strikeout vs. Walk Ratio) is 16:9, which shows signs of regression for Dyson. The Rangers do have alternatives though, including the aforementioned Jeffress, Jake Diekman, and Matt Bush who have all pitched very well lately from the bullpen.

 

All stats are courtesy of baseball reference and are as current as 08/31/2016

 

The Legacy of Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod Cover photo

A-Rod mulling over his future legacy. Photo courtesy of Elise Amendola of the AP

 

In the present, Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) may be an unwanted salary burden on the New York Yankees roster. Playing sparingly for the pinstripes, he has since announced he will be ending his professional career and moving to an adviser role with the Yankees.

His career was not always spent on the bench. A-Rod is a recipient of the Most Valuable Player Award three times, was a member of the American League All Star team fourteen times and even won a couple of Gold Glove awards in an era defined by great defensive shortstops, like Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.

Drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1993 out of high school, he began the 1994 season quickly skyrocketing through the Mariners farm system before making his debut at shortstop on July 8, 1994. The expectations placed on A-Rod were enormous, much like the hype that surrounded Bryce Harper in present time. The only difference was, the Mariners already had multiple, integral pieces in place for a potential playoff run. A-Rod would be the icing on the cake for them.

A young Alex Rodriguez in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Bob Leverone Sporting News.

A young Alex Rodriguez in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Bob Leverone Sporting News.

A-Rod would go on to headline a roster that included Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, perennially making it to the playoffs, but never sealing the deal. A-Rod used up his service time never making it past the American League Championship Series with the Mariners. By the time free agency hit, A-Rod was already a four time all-star at a vital position and would receive a lofty paycheck.

That lofty paycheck would be a 10 year, $252 million deal. Not only was the deal the most expensive in MLB history, but it was more than $50 million larger than the next closest deal. That was a deal that caught many experts by surprise because Texas had been dwelling in the cellar of the division for the last season and had multiple needs to spend money on.

Despite three strong seasons in Texas, where A-Rod hit a combined 156 home runs, won a gold glove and a MVP award, Texas looked to move him due to the financial burden it put on the team. A potential deal to the Boston Red Sox, before the start of the 2004 season, was vetoed by the player’s union due to A-Rod voluntarily reducing his salary. This led to the New York Yankees trading for A-Rod, a move that seemed like a slap in the face to Red Sox Nation (Who ended up getting the last laugh during the infamous “Four Days in October” during the playoffs that season).

A-Rod celebrating winning the World Series in 2009. Photo courtesy of Charles Wenzenburg of the N.Y. Post.

A-Rod celebrating winning the World Series in 2009. Photo courtesy of Charles Wenzenburg of the N.Y. Post.

A-Rod continued his dominance on major league pitching for much of his reign on the Yankees. A-Rod won two of his MVP awards with the Yankees, along with clubbing 30 home runs at the heart of the lineup when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. A-Rod had often been the focal point of criticism come playoff time in New York, as his postseason numbers were never strong. All that changed in 2009 when A-Rod went on to hit for a .365 batting average and six home runs in 15 games for the Yankees in the postseason.

A-Rod’s career is not without controversy; however, much like the rest of the late 90’s and early 2000’s for baseball, A-Rod was often a focal point of talks concerning potential steroid abusers. A-Rod has come out and admitted to using steroids while in Texas from 2001-2003. He was not punished for the admission of guilt as there were no penalties for steroids at the time and he claimed to have stopped using them once he joined the Yankees.

Later, news surfaced that A-Rod would be suspended for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, which would lead to him sitting out all of 2014 after a lengthy appeals process. The DEA released notes in November of 2014 where A-Rod admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, which painted A-Rod as a liar due to him vehemently denying using any performance enhancing supplements through much of the 2014 season.

A-Rod has consistently put up numbers that would normally paint a player as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Yet, the steroid controversies in Texas, along with Biogenesis, make the decision a lot more difficult. No known steroid user, including Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, have cemented a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame yet. A-Rod will always be remembered as an outstanding baseball player, with his countless all-star appearances and three MVP awards. Only time will tell how badly the steroids will tarnish A-Rod’s ultimate legacy.

 

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