American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

Week two is in the books, and the early season continues to shake up preseason predictions. April batting averages and win records are hardly worth over analyzing, but that doesn’t change the standings.

Last week’s Wrap-Up was dedicated to teams with impressive starts. This week examines those teams on the other end of that spectrum and a few reasons for optimism, because let’s be honest, its still April.

Early Season Struggles

Toronto Blue Jays

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

Image Courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesKendrys

Toronto was facing a seven-game losing streak until a walk-off home run from Kendrys Morales liberated the club. The offseason acquisition of Morales was a nice boost to, what so far, has been an anemic offense. The Jays are clearly missing both the bat and leadership of Edwin Encarnacion, but unfortunately, trouble doesn’t stop there.

Toronto’s luck worsened when team lynch pin Josh Donaldson was placed on the 10-day with a calf injury. Russell Martin is admittedly in one of the worst down hitting streaks of his career. Vocal player Jose Bautista has started with a .136 average and hasn’t generated a single dinger. It has been a cold start in the frozen north, but all is not lost.

Turning it around in Toronto

The Jays pitching staff currently ranks 14th in the MLB. While this isn’t their overall best ERA as seen in 2016, all the pieces remain for a repeat performance.

The Donaldson injury is frustrating, but before that, he led the team in average, OBP and homers. If Donaldson can continue his typical MVP-caliber play, the Jays’ star can keep them in contention. Joey Batts and Martin won’t hit this way forever, and both represent a power threat that can surprise opponents.

Finally, the return of closer of Roberto Osuna should give Toronto confidence they can secure wins when they carry the lead.

Seattle Mariners

After a busy offseason, Seattle can’t be thrilled with the slow start to the season. The offense currently ranks in the bottom third of the MLB, and the pitching is not far off.

With key veterans Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz off to a slow start, it’s no surprise the Mariners have struggled to generate runs. Further compounding these issues has been the fact that every game, and therefore every loss, has been against divisional opponents.

Silver Lining in Seattle

It’s fine to be a little disappointed with the early start, but there are significant reasons for optimism in Seattle.

How about the fact that James Paxton has tossed 21 scoreless innings to start the season? Many analysts, including this writer (who snagged Paxton in fantasy), believe this was the year Paxton established himself. Early signs point to Paxton’s ability to establish himself as the ace, and that is until you remember that King Felix is still on this team. There is also plenty of talent in the back half of the rotation that shouldn’t be discounted, despite a slow start.

Pitching will be a strength for this team, but the offense has some work to do. Fortunately, early performance is proving out the acquisition of Jean Segura, who has started the season batting an impressive .313.

On top of that, there is plenty of veteran’s offense on this ball club. The start may have been slow, but if there’s any group that understands the baseball rollercoaster, it’s this team.

Cleveland Indians

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

(Photo Courtesy of Ron Schwane / Associated Press)

Best bets wouldn’t have placed the defending AL champs at the bottom of the division two weeks into the season. After an impressive series against the Rangers to start off 2017, the Tribe has struggled as of late. Most shocking is the Indians highly touted rotation currently sporting the worst ERA in Major League Baseball through 12 games.

The offense has been a strange mixture of extremely hot and ice cold. Failing to get nearly anything going against the Diamondbacks and White Sox, the Indians have also crushed multiple grand slams in the first two weeks. It’s hardly time to panic, but the Indians could undoubtedly benefit from a little more consistency.

 

Turning the Corner in Cleveland

Cleveland has traditionally been a slow starting team in April, but there are already signs of life from the Tribe. Carlos Carrasco has been brilliant in his first two starts, sporting a 2.13 ERA and displaying top notch command. Danny Salazar wasn’t able to secure the win, but in his most recent start, he fanned 11 to tie a career high. Corey Kluber, stoic as ever, continues to generate solid performances despite the occasional blow-up inning. Long story short, pitching will be just fine in Cleveland.

On the offensive front, Cleveland currently sports a top 10 offense despite missing a few key pieces. The Indians appear to be easing Michael Brantley back into the mix. Lonnie Chisenhall returned in grand slam fashion and Jason Kipnis is just a few Minor League starts away from his debut. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have both been off to torrid hitting starts, and the rest of the team has been contributing regularly.

Slow starts are nothing new in Cleveland, and it certainly appears the Tribe is about ready to turn the corner.

 

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2017 American League Preview: The AL East

Divisional competition consistently provides us some of the most compelling storylines in sports. While there are classic rivalries across any league, few match the excitement of a tight September pennant chase. In the weeks leading up to the season, The Game Haus will breakdown these classic divisional matchups and predict their outcome.

This week’s preview looks into the fierce battleground shaping up in the AL East. Baseball is famous for league parity, providing an environment where any team can emerge if they’re in the October hunt. In 2017, no division better represents this notion than the hotly contested American League East.

In addition to playing host to the storied rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, several other teams have proven themselves contenders in recent years.  The road to the playoffs is never easy, but teams emerging from this division will have undoubtedly earned their spot.

 

#5 Tampa Bay Rays

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 70-92

One has to admire the Rays continued offseason efforts to infuse young talent into the organization. However, this is not the year for the Rays to compete with the remainder of the division. Tampa still has franchise stalwart Evan Longoria, and Kevin Kiermaier continues to improve.

It won’t be enough to contend. The Rays should improve slightly this year, but their main focus will be expediting young talent through the minors.

 

#4 Baltimore Orioles

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 82-80

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

The Orioles’ front office must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Mark Trumbo signed on the dotted line. Attempting to replace league leading home run production with the acquisition of Seth Smith can hardly be considered a strategy. Most would expect some regression as it relates to Trumbo’s torrid power spree, but Baltimore will need every last long ball given the pitching situation.

There’s a ton to like about Baltimore’s lineup, and their power potential could very well lead the MLB once again. That said, relying on Chris Tillman to act as rotation ace should be a clear indication of a gap. Baltimore ended up posting an impressive 89 wins in 2016, but it’s hard to visualize a repeat performance.

 

#3 New York Yankees

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 85-77

Viewing the Yankees as the dark horse candidate in this division feels foreign. New York has spent the last few years on the cusp of contention but experienced a disappointing finish in 2016. However, a subpar finish to the season was quickly replaced by incredible optimism for the future. In an impressive series of moves, general manager Brian Cashman orchestrated the acquisition of several of the league’s top prospects from contenders.

The Yankees will look to put some of that young talent on display in 2017. Behind young bats Gary Sánchez and Aaron Judge, the Yankees should see an uptick in offensive production. The question facing New York will be last year’s injured and underperforming rotation.  The Yankees will give their divisional opponents headaches but may be a year out of real contention.

 

#2 Toronto Blue Jay’s

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 87-75

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

Edwin Encarnacion’s WAR in 2016 was 3.7, so perhaps projecting the 2016 win total to only drop by two is optimistic. The acquisitions of Kendrys Morales and Francisco Liriano, along with a dominant rotation has to count for something.

The Jays were also able to resign Jose Bautista and have many options to replace Michael Saunders. Overall, not much has changed for the Jays.

The core of what makes Toronto dangerous is still in place and this fiery Jays team will compete in 2017. The lineup is still strong, but the Jay’s will rely on the rotation that led the American League in ERA.

 

#1 Boston Red Sox

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 92-70

There are many worthy teams in the AL East, but one club stands above the rest. The Red Sox fell short in the ALDS last year but look to return with a vengeance in 2017. With the offseason acquisition of Chris Sale and rapid progression of star prospect Andrew Benintendi, Boston stands ready to compete.

The team that sported the most runs last year will miss the production of legend David Ortiz. However, the amount of young talent in the batting order backed by a star-studded rotation should put Boston at the top of arguably the most competitive division in the MLB.

 

*All logo images courtesy of MLB.com*

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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 Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

We’re back with the Game Haus’ fourth installment of 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four. In recent news, the Mariners decided to spite my previous ranking by making a plethora of moves and trades to shore up their rotation heading into the season. While Seattle undoubtedly improved it was the Braves and the Rays that both left that exchange with a promising future. In the meantime, teams all across the league continue to avoid arbitration and extend their players with a multitude of contracts being signed. Finally, with less than a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report, several worthy veterans remain on the open market.

The rankings must go on! This week takes a look at teams 15-11. Now we’re talking competition. Each one of these teams has enough pieces for a solid 2017 campaign. While most wouldn’t place these teams in the top tier, any of these organizations could make a wild card run. As we all know, if you are still in the running in October, anything can happen.

 

15. Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

Record: 86-75

Many pegged the Tigers as sellers this offseason, but that sale never really came. Detroit returns in 2017 sporting much of the same core it’s competed with the last several years. Last season, Justin Verlander reclaimed his ace status and Michael Fulmer emerged as an extremely promising second option. Add that to a lineup chalk full of seasoned veterans led by Miguel Cabrera, and you’ve got yourself a shot. The Tigers should find success given the largely depleted AL Central, but will it be enough to match the Indians?

 

14. New York Yankees

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 84-78

No one would accuse Yankees GM Brian Cashman of being dormant this Winter. Not only did the Yanks clean up last trade deadline, but also managed to reclaim star closer Aroldis Chapman. Blue Chip prospects like Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres came over during the Yankees closer sale, but aren’t even part of the young core already on the field.  Didi Gregorious, Aaron Judge, and breakout star catcher Gary Sánchez have already emerged, and are expected in the 2017 lineup. The real question facing the Yankees is whether Masahiro Tanaka and company can bounce back from a tough 2016. Rotation aside, the Yankees may be a bit young for a serious run, but lookout for the pinstripes very soon.

 

13. Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 75-87

Admittedly this feels a bit high up in the rankings for a Rockies team with 87 losses in 2016. That said, one can’t help but be impressed by the lineup Colorado has assembled. The surprise signing of Ian Desmond alone gives the Rocks a sizable infield boost. Pair that with young players like Trevor Story and potential NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, and you’re looking at serious potential. Like many teams, the question mark hangs over a young rotation that did show promise in 2016. Coors Field will never be a pitchers dream, but if just one of those young pitchers can establish themselves as an ace, look for Colorado to do some damage in 2017.

 

12. Toronto Blue Jays

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 89-73

The Blue Jay’s had an AL leading 3.78 ERA in 2016, and that whole rotation will be returning. Tack on a presumably healthy Francisco Liriano, and you have one of the more dangerous rotations in the MLB. The rotation is set, but now Toronto must cope with the loss of star slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Further adding complexity is the loss of Michael Saunders from the lineup. Jose Bautista will be staying in Toronto. However, losing both Encarnacion and Saunders leaves a considerable gap for the Jays to fill. The offseason signing of Kendrys Morales certainly helps soften that blow by adding a solid DH. The Blue Jays may have a different dynamic than in years past, but expect them to be competitive regardless.

 

11. St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 86-76

The Cardinals are just solid. At this point, it’s basically their thing. The team continuously churns out seasons on the better side of 85 wins. Continue packing Busch Stadium with loyal red birds’ fans, and they continue their war against the top team in the MLB. The Cards have great depth and flexibility throughout their lineup bolstered by the poaching of center fielder Dexter Fowler. At this point, this question is the broken record of baseball, but again we’re asking, “What about that rotation?” Adam Wainwright is the perennial staple for this staff, but a slow decline the past few years is concerning. However, if Wainwright reclaims some former glory and Michael Wacha can bounce back from an injury-wrought 2016, the Cards may just have enough in the tank to cause trouble for the Cubs.

*Logos courtesy of MLB.com*

Link to Previous Rankings

Part 1: Here

Part 2: Here

Part 3: Here

 

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ALCS Preview: Toronto Blue Jays vs Cleveland Indians

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

 

Toronto Blue Jays

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

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

josh-donaldson

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cleveland Indians

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

andrew-miller

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

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

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

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

coco-crisp

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

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

 

Prediction

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

Everything You Need to Know About the AL Playoffs

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

 

The Boston Red Sox (93-69)

big-papi

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

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

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

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

 

Cleveland Indians (94-68)

corey-kluber

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

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

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

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

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

 

Texas Rangers (95-67)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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