AL East

Who is chasing who in the AL East?

The Red Sox finalized a deal on Monday to bring in perhaps the best hitter on the free agent market, J.D Martinez. Martinez provides a much needed punch to a Boston lineup that finished sixth in total runs scored in 2017. It isn’t like the Red Sox struggled to score in 2017, but it will definitely help keep up with an impressive New York Yankees squad.

The Yankees made the biggest splash this offseason by taking on the vast majority of Giancarlo Stanton’s massive contract, and only really giving up second baseman Starlin Castro. The Judge-Stanton-Sanchez trio will be one of the toughest middle of the order bats to get through in the league.

The question here is, who is chasing who? The Yankees may have made it to the ALCS in 2017, but if you ask them, they have some unfinished business with the Red Sox. Despite making it further than them, Brian Cashman and the Yankees feel they have something to prove to Boston. The Red Sox won the AL East in 2017 and the Yankees just made it though the Wild Card.

What do all these moves mean for 2018 though? Is there a clear favorite between the two?

Coaching

This is interesting as both teams are being taken over by new managers. Despite the fact that both teams had relative success in 2017, the front offices felt that it was time for a change. It wasn’t a bad idea either as they both have solid teams, but they just weren’t getting to where they wanted to be.

It is way to early to tell who has the edge here. Aaron Boone is coming off of a job at ESPN to coach the Yankees, while Alex Cora was the bench coach for the team that won the World Series in 2017. Despite that fact, there is not to much to go off of here.

Verdict: Push

Defense

AL East

Betts is among the best right fielders in baseball (ESPN)

Mookie Betts has turned into one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball. Not only that but one of the best defensive players in all of baseball. He finished with a 2.6 WAR on defense which was fourth best in all of baseball.

Neither team finished great defensively in 2017 though. New York finished eighth in total fielding while Boston was at 12th. New York finished with the edge but Gary Sanchez behind the plate is a real liability for the Yankees. His bat is second to none but his inability to block pitches can really hurt them in tight situations. Giancarlo Stanton is another guy with a cannon for an arm, and Brett Gardner has a solid glove.

As mentioned, Betts has become one of the better defenders in baseball. However, the rest of the team leaves some work to be done. Boston’s defense does not look much different than last year with Martinez likely taking up the designated hitter role, so expect more of the same from them.

Verdict: Yankees

Pitching

AL East

Chris Sale had a tremendous 2017 regular season for Boston. (NESN.com)

Boston and New York finished fourth and fifth in team ERA in 2017. Boston is headed up by Chris Sale, who is a favorite to win the Cy Young every year. However, the Yankees have a rising ace of their own in Luis Severino. Severino was not able to keep it together in the Wild Card game, but that should not take away from his breakout year with a 14-6 record and sub 3.00 ERA.

Severino is backed up by Mashiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray who both have had success in New York. Both of them finished with an ERA in the mid threes. The real punch of their pitching comes from the back of their bullpen though, and that is where it can get real challenging for opposing teams. Aroldis Chapman still may have the strongest arm baseball has ever seen, and Dellin Betances could be a closer all on his own.

Top to bottom Boston may have the edge in the rotation though. With two Cy Young winners along with David Price and Drew Pomeranz coming into his own, Boston has an impressive rotation. Outside of Craig Kimbrel though, the bullpen could be better. That is where the Yankees have them beat.

Although the two teams are extremely comparable on the pitching front, Boston has the slightest edge.

Verdict: Red Sox

Hitting

AL East

Expect a lot of big flies in the Bronx (MLB.com)

The addition of J.D Martinez makes the Red Sox a scary one top to bottom. However, it is very difficult to argue against Stanton and Judge taking up the middle of the lineup. They both finished with the most home runs in baseball, and Gary Sanchez has the ability to bash 35 homers on top of that.

Didi Gregorious has also turned into one of the better shortstops in the games at the plate, along with Greg Bird who has a chance to showcase his power for a full season. The Yankees have a couple more holes with Todd Frazier and Starlin Castro out of New York though, but Stanton certainly makes up for that.

Boston is expecting Benintendi and Devers to come into their own as young stars in the majors. Until then though, the Yankees have more certainty on the offensive front and should be able to overpower anything Boston throws their way.

Verdict: Yankees

How will the season play out?

The Yankees have the best chance to run away with the AL East title in 2018. The Blue Jays should also not be ignored as guys who can disrupt any sort of run, but the real race is between Boston and New York.

It will be a close one but the Stanton trade makes the Yankees offense too scary. Barring any injuries, the Red Sox will have a tough time defending their AL East title.

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MLB Game 162 2011

Remembering baseball’s best night ever: Game 162

It is times like this when the average fan will look back and remember some great moments in baseball history. The hot stove is rather cold, and we are still six weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting in the spring.

One of the greatest moments of the 21st century, if not ever, was the 162nd game of the 2011 regular season. I am not talking about one game in particular. I am talking about four different games that all led to one of the greatest finishes to a regular season ever.

Before we can focus on game 162, we need to know the context of the season.

September 2011

On Sept. 1, 2011, the Boston Red Sox were in first place of the AL East and were nine games ahead of the third place Tampa Bay Rays. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals were 7.5 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and 8.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card. Remember, this was the year before there were two Wild Card teams accepted from each league.

At the beginning of the month, everything was perfectly laid out for teams that looked playoff bound. Boston was a favorite to go to the World Series at the beginning of the year, and they looked poised to make another trip. However, they went 7-18 going into the last game of the season, and the Rays went 16-9 going into game 162. They were tied for the Wild Card with one game left, and everyone knew it would be exciting night just on that front.

The Cardinals were long shots for the postseason at the beginning of September. They were further back in the Wild Card than they were in the division. Luckily for them, the Braves went 8-17 going into game 162, while the Cardinals went a solid 16-10. This also left Atlanta and St. Louis tied for the NL Wild Card, just like the American League.

The hype for these games was there, and luckily for us, they did not disappoint one iota.

What was the situation for game 162?

Where even to start? The Cardinals were playing the Astros in Houston in what would be the last time Minute Maid Park would ever be a part of the National League. The Astros were also the worst team in the league with a lowly 56-105 record.

The Braves, on the other hand, were playing at home. The only problem is that they were playing the best team in the majors, and their bitter rival, the Philadelphia Phillies. Even though the Phillies had clinched the division and home field advantage through the entire postseason long before this game, they still had every intention of keeping their division rival out of the playoffs.

Much like the Cardinals, the Red Sox were on the road and they were playing one of the worst teams in the league in the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore had lost the previous game, but were treating this last one like it was their World Series. Under no circumstances were they going to let Boston have a free ticket into the playoffs.

Down in Tampa, the Rays were playing the New York Yankees, who already clinched the AL East as well as home-field advantage through American League playoffs. The Rays had won five games in a row and had Boston sweating up in Baltimore. A Boston loss and a win against New York would give the Rays their third playoff birth in franchise history.

The National League

MLB Game 162 2011

The Braves collapse will go down as one of the “greatest” ever (Photo from NY Daily News)

The first domino to fall on the historic day was St. Louis beating Houston 8-0. It was a straight forward game that left the Cardinals confident they would have a ticket to the postseason. The problem was that the Phillies were down to the Braves 3-2 going into the ninth inning. It looked like the Braves would hold on amidst their September collapse.

Not so fast. Chase Utley flew out to left field to allow Pete Orr to score and tie the game. They were on the way to extra innings.

The Braves were not able to muster much of anything in extras. The closest they got was in the 12th where they had runners on first and second with two outs. Martin Prado proceeded to ground out, and they went to the 13th.

Hunter Pence came to bat in the 13th and was able to drive in the go-ahead run on an opposite field single. That gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead going into the bottom of the inning where the Braves would fight to stay alive.

Due up in the bottom of the inning were three of the Braves best hitters in Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman. Jones began the inning by striking out, followed by Uggla being walked. It was a runner at first with one out with the young Freeman at the plate. He then grounded to first base, where John Mayberry and Jimmy Rollins were able to turn the double play, and Freeman slammed his helmet on the ground in disgust, finishing off what was an epic collapse to miss the postseason.

The American League

The results of the day are not the only thing that makes these games incredible, but it was in the manner in which it happened. Fangraphs did an excellent piece on the timing and odds that went into the regular season finale in the American League.

To sum up the games, New York had taken a 7-0 lead over Tampa, while Boston had a 3-2 lead over Baltimore. It looked like Tampa had no chance of coming back and that Boston would hold on. The stadium had emptied out as all hopes of the postseason alluded the Tampa faithful. About half the stadium looked emptied out at this point. All those fans forgot the wise words of Lenny Kravitz.

It ain’t over til it’s over.

The Rays burst out for a six-run bottom of the eighth, largely thanks to a three-run home run by Evan Longoria. The only problem was that they were still down 7-6 going into the ninth inning. They were down, but not out.

MLB Game 162 2011

The Rays react to a stunning home run from Dan Johnson (Photo from mlb.com)

The Rays found themselves down to one out in the bottom of the ninth. Joe Maddon used Dan Johnson as a pinch hitter to try and save their season against Cory Wade. Johnson fell behind and eventually reached a 2-2 count. The season was all but lost. Then, something magical happened.

Johnson roped a ball around the right field post for his second home run all season long.

Johnson trotted around the bases taking in what would be one of the greatest moments of the year. Everyone in Tropicana field went nuts, except for the skipper, Joe Maddon, who was stunned beyond belief.

It wasn’t over yet though. Boston and Baltimore had been in a rain delay, and they were just beginning to resume their game with Boston leading 3-2. They went to the bottom of the ninth, and Jonathan Papelbon had retired the first two hitters, and Baltimore was down to their final out.

Chris Davis was at the plate and was able to rope a ball down the right field line and get to second base for a two-out double. Nolan Reimold proceeded to drive a ball into the right-center gap for a ground-rule double to tie the game. Papelbon was just trying to get out of the inning at this point with Robert Andino at the plate. Andino was batting just .262 and was not a big threat at the plate. No problem for Papelbon, right?

MLB Game 162 2011

Mike Aviles walked off the field watching Baltimore celebrate their improbable victory (Photo from New York Times)

Wrong. Andino hit a line drive to the left fielder, Carl Crawford. Crawford bobbled the ball on the hop as he tried to make a play to catch the ball. That brief moment where he could not gather the ball led Reimold to round third base. Reimold steamrolled into home and just beat the throw. You might have thought that Baltimore had just won the World Series after that play.

Even after the blown save by Papelbon, the Red Sox still had hope. Hope that relied on the dreaded New York Yankees taking an extra-inning lead against the Rays. A moment where the Red Sox and their fan base would pray all they could for the Yankees to win, a true once in a lifetime moment. That moment was short lived.

It was not but three minutes later that those hopes would go down the drain.

Evan Longoria, the cornerstone player of Tampa Bay, perfectly fit a baseball just over the 315-foot marker on the short left field wall. The Rays came back from the grave in the Wild Card race in game 162 to stun the Boston Red Sox, who had just lost a heartbreaker 1,000 miles away.

The Aftermath

Terry Francona left as the Red Sox manager shortly after they blew their postseason chances. The Tampa Bay Rays lost in four games to the Texas Rangers, who eventually went on to the World Series.

The Philadelphia Phillies played the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, the very team they allowed to enter the postseason after they stunned Atlanta. They lost the series to the Cardinals after a stunning performance by Chris Carpenter, outdueling the great Roy Halladay.

St. Louis went on to beat the Texas Rangers in seven games in the World Series in stunning fashion. That story is for another day though.

 

Featured image from the Tampa Bay Times

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Manny Machado top destinations

Top destinations for Manny Machado

The dust from the Giancarlo Stanton hot stove has settled, but the rumor mill is not slowing down. It seemed like Stanton would be the biggest name on the trade block, but Manny Machado is a name of similar star power with only one year remaining on his contract.

Baltimore would be wise to move Machado as their AL East rivals are pulling away from the competition. With the acquisition of Stanton, the Yankees are all in for October this year. It has become evident that the Orioles do not have what it takes to compete with them or the Red Sox at this point. With only one year of control over Adam Jones and Zach Britton as well, it is time to see what haul of prospects they can bring in for the future.

Any contending team could use Machado’s services in 2018. General Manager Dan Duquette has stated there will be no open window for teams to discuss a contract with Machado, so odds are he will hit the free agent market next winter. With that being said, here are the most likely destinations to land his services.

5. New York Yankees

Manny Machado top destinations

Even after the Stanton acquisition, the Yankees are still hungry for more (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

The Yankees have emerged as suitors for Machado in 2018. However, the Orioles do not believe it is in their best interest to trade their cornerstone player to their division rival. Even if they are to trade him elsewhere, they believe there is a possibility he could still be flipped to New York.

Baltimore is in the market for some young arms, and New York has that in their farm system. That has to be attractive for them as New York is always the team to go after the big name players. Landing Machado would immediately make them World Series favorites for 2018.

The largest hurdle they will have to jump is the Orioles’ reluctance to hand him over within the division. The Yankees would have to give up a serious haul to get them on board.

4. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are not a conventional team to find on this list. There is no real chance for them to even win their division in AL Central. Reports have emerged, however, that they have the most intriguing offer for the Orioles. Even if that is the case, it still does not make sense.

The guys from the south side have been wheeling and dealing to the point where people fear they will be one of the most dangerous teams in baseball come 2021. They have six prospects in the MLB Top 100, and that doesn’t include former No. 1 prospect, Yoan Moncada.

Since Machado is only under contract for one year, there is no guarantee he will stick with the team long term. It is hard to believe that he won’t test the free agent market, so it does not make sense for the White Sox to give up more than one of these Top 100 prospects. The only way this will work is if they are confident that he will sign with them after 2018.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona lines up well with Baltimore in the sense that they have the arms Baltimore wants. One name that has popped up onto the market is Zack Greinke. He is owed a salary of $34 million each of the next four years and is already 34 years old, so it is not exactly what Baltimore may want. However, he is still proving to be a viable option in the rotation.

The Diamondbacks are not far off from competing either. While they may have been swept in the divisional series by the Dodgers, they still have what it takes to do well in October. Again, this may come down to whether or not the Diamondbacks feel they can keep Machado past 2018.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Manny Machado top destinations

It will take a lot for the Cardinals to part with their top pitching prospect,
Alex Reyes (Photo from ESPN)

The Cardinals are back into the mix in the rumor mill. Although they did not land the 2017 NL MVP, they did land his outfield counterpart, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna provides a good punch to the lineup, but General Manager John Mozeliak has expressed that he is not done adding pieces to his lineup.

The Cardinals are thought to be the perfect fit for the young superstar. They have the most attractive pitching prospects for the Orioles and have a place for him at shortstop, which is where he would like to move. St. Louis had a surprise from their rookie shortstop last year, but he is able to play third base as well.

St. Louis knows that if they add Machado, then they will have enough to compete with the Cubs in 2018. However, the prospect cost may be too much for the Cardinals to go for. It will be difficult for the Orioles to get Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty without any guarantee that he will stay past 2018. What happens in the next few weeks may determine how much the Cardinals, or other teams value one year of a superstar player.

1. Baltimore Orioles

Even with all of the rumors floating around, the Orioles are still the most likely place Machado will play. Between the Orioles not wanting to trade with the Yankees and the high asking price for Machado, it is doubtful that anything will be able to get done. If the Orioles realize that it will be hard for them to get a trade done with the current asking price and lower it, then it will be more likely for him to go St. Louis or Arizona.

If the Orioles can settle with two higher-end pitching prospects, then something will be done. Only time will tell if the Orioles bargain for the 25-year-old free agent to be.

 

Featured image from Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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Hosmer

Eric Hosmer free agency: Best landing spots

With all of the talk surrounding Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani, some free agents have been lost in the mix. Eric Hosmer is an intriguing name on the market and could prove to be helpful for many teams. Here are the top destinations for the All-Star first baseman.

Boston Red Sox

Eric Hosmer free agency: Best landing spots

Boston has emerged as a favorite to land Eric Hosmer (Photo by ESPN.com)

First base was not a strong spot for Boston in 2017. Mitch Moreland was serviceable, but not much else. He was able to mash 22 home runs and brought in a 2.0 WAR. He was a plus fielder, however he is a free agent now and it does not look like he will be returning to Boston.

Eric Hosmer would make a lot of sense for the Red Sox. With the hole they have at first base and a need to bolster their lineup, Hosmer could provide a more reliable bat in that lineup. He is a guy Boston could count on to drive in 100 runs and knock 20 home runs along with a .280+ average.

The Red Sox GM, Dave Dombrowski, is also known for bringing in big name free agents. He is currently focused on trading for Giancarlo Stanton, but the first backup he should look at is Hosmer. A splash like Hosmer could really energize Boston and have them competing with the Yankees for AL East supremacy yet again.

The one caveat to signing Hosmer is his price. Hosmer is only 28 years old, so he still has a good amount of time left of being in a batter’s prime. He will be looking to sign a long term contract though, potentially around $100 million. Hosmer has shown he deserves that kind of money, the problem with the Red Sox is that they are only $9 million under the luxury tax. It would be ideal to stay under that figure, but Dombrowski and the Red Sox are serious about competing with the Yankees and Astros. It would not be absurd to see Hosmer in Fenway next year.

Kansas City Royals

Eric Hosmer has called Kansas City home since 2011. He has solidified himself as a above average first baseman there as well. Hosmer won a World Series with the Royals in 2015, so he would have no problem sticking around. The problem is that the old Royals core is starting to fade. Hosmer may be on the move, and Lorenzo Cain may be on the move as well.

The Royals have made it clear they want to bring Hosmer back as they do not have a good replacement for him at first base. He is their number one target, and they are hoping that he may be okay with a discount for the team that drafted him.

Hosmer is still likely to go where he is going to make the most money, but it will be interesting to see how much he would really like to stay in Kansas City. His leadership is forefront in their clubhouse. If the Royals were to go into rebuild mode, Hosmer would have a long enough contract to stick around and play well while leading the young new talent into the majors.

St. Louis Cardinals

Eric Hosmer free agency: Best landing spots

Carpenter was solid at first in 2017, but he is capable of playing almost anywhere on the field too (SI.com)

The cross-state rivals of the Royals are looking for a big name bat in the middle of their lineup. They already have Matt Carpenter manning the first base position, but the front office has already approached him about being an “everyday utility man”. This means he will basically be playing a different position everyday. This would free up room for Hosmer hypothetically, as they have been looking for a solidified first baseman since Albert Pujols left in 2011.

St. Louis has plenty of money to spend, so Hosmer would be very affordable compared to trading for Stanton or signing J.D. Martinez. That is why this move would make sense.

The one thing that may be holding them back is that Carpenter can still play first base, but even if he is not there, they can plug in Jose Martinez. Martinez broke out at the end of last year as one of the best rookies in the league. Martinez is already 29 years old, but he was still able to hit 14 home runs and had a .309 average despite only playing in 106 games.

New York Yankees

The Yankees, much like the Red Sox, have a luxury tax problem at the moment. However, first base may be their weakest position in their lineup at the moment. Nobody was able to really solidify themselves as the Yankees first baseman in 2017. Brian Cashman says Greg Bird is the future at fist base, but if they want to compete for a championship, they may have to look elsewhere for help.

New York is not shy to bring in veteran free agents. Not to mention, it is always a perk to keep them from their rival in Boston. Hosmer would serve as an excellent compliment to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, as well as provide stability at first base for the next five to seven years.

The Yankees do have a young core in Severino, Judge, Sanchez, and Gregorius. That is what may make them more likely to wait out for Bryce Harper potentially as he will hit the market next year. 2018 will be an impressive draft class, so it may be worth to wait.

Where will he go?

Hosmer will likely stay in the state of Missouri. The Cardinals would be a likely destination if they are not able to get Martinez or Stanton, so him going there is contingent on those players as well. In all though, it is most likely that he will stay in Kansas City. As stated earlier, it is a top priority for the Royals to keep Hosmer on. They are not close to the luxury tax either, unlike the Yankees and Red Sox.

New York is need for a first baseman the most, but they ought to stick it out with Bird for at least one more year. Brandon Moss would likely take over the roll in KC if Hosmer is to leave, but the Royals don’t necessarily want that. The Royals will have to pay up though as Hosmer may look for this contract to play out for the duration of his career.

 

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Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins playoffs: Nobody saw this coming

Seven years ago, the Minnesota Twins headed in to the 2010 postseason as the 94-win AL Central champions. It was their last playoff appearance.

Even the most optimistic of Minnesota Twins fans could not have foreseen what this season had in store. Sure, there are probably a select few who were predicting the postseason in April, but then again, every year is a World Series year for those people. It’s adorable. And as someone who has spent the better part of 30 years rooting for Milwaukee, I get it. We had our own improbable run this year.

The Manager

Minnesota Twins

Twins Manager Paul Molitor has done a lot more smiling this year than he did in 2016. (Photo courtesy of: KARE TV)

Unlike the upstart Brewers (who cling to just the faintest of life), you have succeeded in stamping your ticket to the postseason. Although, it did require the help of a legendary Milwaukee Brewer “Igniter” piloting that ship and steadying it through turbulent waters. Obviously, this is tongue in cheek, but let’s face it, Paul Molitor has done a heckuva job with this ball club.

I’ve heard grumblings from Twins fans on social media questioning how Molly runs a pitching staff. I find that a lot of the time, however, you can’t please everyone. The differences in this year’s Twins twirlers compared to that 2016 abomination are something you should be celebrating.

Don’t misunderstand, nobody is saying the Twins staff is dominant, but improvements in team pitching are why you’re here. Last season you finished dead last in the American League in pitching and that had to be painful to watch; 59-win seasons do tend to be pretty awful.

This season however, the Twins pitching staff ranks 10th of 15 in American League total team pitching. This team has shaved close to half-a-run off their team ERA (4.63) in 2017, down from a revolting (5.08) ERA in 2016. It must be at least a little depressing to average giving up five-plus runs per game. What am I talking about? It is depressing, I’ve been there and done that with some of those fine collections of soft-tossing beach ball dealers the Brewers have collected over the years. Doug Davis anyone?

Ask yourself one question: Would you rather have another season where you endure giving up 889 runs, or would you rather give up over 100 fewer runs and play October baseball? This is more than enough reason to get behind your club and your manager in my estimation. Forget about the questionable pitching management, you’re in the playoff club!

Byron Buxton

Minnesota Twins

Byron Buxton, at age 23, already makes center field look way too simple. He should win the Gold Glove in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of: Twincities.com)

It doesn’t hurt a team’s fortunes either when one of your top youngsters flips the switch and begins to figure out the Major League game. This is exactly what Byron Buxton has done in 2017 for the Minnesota Twins.

I’m going to say this right now. Minnesota Twins centerfielder Byron Buxton is a Gold Glove winner. Should he not win the award bestowed upon the season’s best fielders in the AL this year, it will be an injustice.

He is just glove-ly. He uses that blazing speed to his advantage to become the predator lying in wait for any unsuspecting line drive looking only for clean grass to nest in. Even the best hitters regularly find the deep pocket of his cavernous glove.

And you can forget about burning this man. You’re not going to. He gets such an unbelievable jump on the ball and his read off the bat is so sharp, balls that would eat up most normal centerfielders find Buxton effortlessly tracking them down.

Long story short, he makes center field look easy. His (dWAR), or defensive wins above replacement, rating of 2.9 is second best in the majors this year to only all-world short stop, Andrelton Simmons who sits at a not too shabby 4.2 dWAR. And I do say that sarcastically by the way. Simmons is a man-god at short for Los Angeles.

Since the beginning of August, Buxton has been absolutely raking. As we have hit the dog days of summer, Buxton seems to be playing his best baseball at the right time stroking a (.303/.349/.556) line. Down the stretch, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a scorching (.380). This suggests he will almost certainly cool off. Twins fans however, hope that happens after the World Series.

It doesn’t matter what way you slice it, Buxton has been  great this year for the Twins. At 23 years old, the best is almost certainly yet to come. But for now, this is a young player on the rise and seemingly coming into his own. Buxton will not be a free agent until 2022, so enjoy your defensive stalwart in centerfield while he’s there.

Please, Not New York… Again

With Boston again losing to the Astros last night 3-2 and the Yankees shutting out the Blue Jays 4-0, the AL East is still in play. New York is sitting two back with a pair left to play entering Saturday.

While it is still mathematically possible the Yankees could walk away with the East, they need to win out. They also need Boston to lose out. And then they would need to win a one game playoff at Yankee Stadium to send Boston into the Wild Card matchup with the Twins. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? No.

The Minnesota Twins are most likely going to New York, folks.

Minnesota Twins playoffs

The 85-win Minnesota Twins record the final out in the 1987 World Series, overcoming a stacked St. Louis Cardinals team. (Photo courtesy of: Minnpost.com)

If you’re a Twins fan, you don’t need to be reminded of the tough luck in October since the 1991 dream season. The Twins successfully went from dead last in 1990 to champs in 1991. Since that season, which culminated in arguably the best World Series of all time, Minnesota’s fortunes have been much different. The New York Yankees have been a main culprit.

In four of the last seven playoff series the Twins have played, the Yankees have been their opponent. The results have been far from resembling competent baseball. In four Division Series hookups, the Minnesota Twins have played to a (2-12) record. The Twins were also swept out of October in each of the last two playoff series they played (2009 & 2010).

Over those 14 games, the Yankees have regularly out-slugged the Twins. Take Derek Jeter for instance, as he hit at a .351 clip through that stretch while also adding eight RBIs to further his team’s cause.

This type of performance wasn’t limited to just Jeter though, because the Yankees also hit 20 homers to Minnesota’s eight. That’s a lot of runs to be giving up over one swing of a bat, so it’s really not surprising they have only taken two wins in 14 games.

Although Jeter has since ascended in to baseball mythology, the Yankees have a new batch of talented players. Of course, this is including Rookie of the Year shoe-in and notorious baseball abuser Aaron Judge.

Here’s the good news though Twins fans, this is a one-off matchup. We all know that on any given day in MLB literally any team can win. This my friends, is the great equalizer. You don’t need to be consistent over a series of games. You only need one performance to pass your first test.

Granted, it’s a big test going on the road with a pitching staff that can be prone to giving up some runs. On top of that, you are facing a good slugging Yankee team.

But, there is always one of those, right? If you can get to the Yankees early and allow defenders like Byron Buxton to salt the game away in the field, you might just pull this baby out. And you might just start exercising some of those historical demons.

Just remember this, in 1987, the Minnesota Twins went 85-77 and won the whole dang thing. Anything is possible, dreamers!

 

(feature photo: KMSP TV)

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Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers: Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers find themselves 3.5 games behind Chicago Cubs in race for the NL Central division crown with 12 to play; also gain on idle Colorado.

In most seasons, it is with little fanfare the weeks of September pass lazily by for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans. But wait! Hold on! To quote the fictitious Lou Brown “We’re contenders now.” Please allow me to gush about a team none of us saw coming.

Hell, I thought the Brewers last meaningful game would be on or around the first of May! I bet you did too.

Millennials Don’t Understand

Milwaukee Brewers

Legendary fictitious manager, Lou Brown. (Photo courtesy of: bloguin.com)

Many of the younger Brewers fans can’t recall how terrible this club has historically performed. They can’t wrap their heads around how brutal the dual division format was. There was a time when winning 100 games and missing the playoffs actually happened. Yes, really. They can’t feel the disappointment of finishing with 91 wins and being shut out of the playoffs.

The American League East was a meat-grinder in the 1980s. Millennials just don’t remember how hard losing out to the Red Sox by 2 games in 1988 was. This youngest generation of Brewers fans has been spoiled in comparison to us who are getting a little long in tooth these days.

I have to just shake my head at those who are overly pessimistic about the prospects of seeing meaningful October baseball in Milwaukee. Look alive out there! The Brewers are still in this thing!

Sure, at 3.5 games back they have their work cut out for them. But with 12 games left to play and with four at home against the Cubbies, all bets are off. Sure, they need to be almost perfect to take the NL Central crown but what would you rather be doing right now? Talking about the postseason? Or having a round table debate on how fast the Brewers will move Keston Hiura through the farm system? I know what I pick.

The Beermakers have had fairly consistent playoff baseball to look forward to since they slump busted their way to the 2008 postseason. Granted, they lost out in five to the Phillies in the NLDS but nobody will ever take away that lone series win for Dave Bush. Put that one in your pocket Dave, it’s yours to keep forever.

Ok, so the Milwaukee Brewers have not exactly been perennial playoff contenders like St. Louis and the New York Yankees. What the Brewers have done in the last decade however, is double their playoff appearances from two to four. This was all a long time coming too, 26 years between postseason berths is far too long.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s were the decade of bad music (disco) and horrendous Brewers baseball. From 1970, the Brewers’ inaugural season in Milwaukee, through 1977 they won an average of 69 ballgames. Over that span they put up an atrocious (.427) win percentage. Yikes!

Milwaukee Brewers

Unlikely playoff winner Dave Bush floats one in there. (Photo courtesy of: NY Daily News)

The only thing golden about this period of Milwaukee Brewers team history is George Scott’s five consecutive gold glove seasons manning first base.

After the 1977 season concluded Harry Dalton was hired as GM. This keen hire would ultimately change the hard luck fortunes of Milwaukee’s annual celebration of futility when Dalton wasted no time in hiring new manager George Bamberger.

The change in Milwaukee was sudden. In 1978 the upstart Brewers would post not only their first winning season, but suddenly found themselves in the thick of the AL East pennant race. They would romp to a franchise high 93 wins. However, Bambi’s Bombers would fail to bring the pennant home, finishing in third place behind Boston and soon to be World Champion New York.

As suddenly as this renaissance had taken place however, it appeared to be over when Bamberger suffered a heart attack at spring training in 1980. Bamberger would return after having surgery to repair his condition but he would not finish the season at the helm, resigning his post September 7, 1980.

Oh No! We Suck Again!

While it must have been a thrilling time in the early 1980s for Milwaukee Brewers fans, the period from 1993-2006 was anything but.

After the Brewers won 92 games in 1992 to finish four games off the pace of eventual world champion Toronto,

Milwaukee Brewers

The inspiring Davy Lopes. (Photo courtesy of: Reuters)

an era of 12 uninterrupted losing seasons ensued.

If you’re too young to remember much of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1990s, you aren’t missing much. Those teams left scars, man.

Perhaps no scar is uglier and more painful than the 2002 season.

This was the era of Davy Lopes. I’m sure Davy is a good guy in person, I wouldn’t know I’ve never met him. But his teams were a dumpster fire and of course, the front office had plenty to do with that too. I swear Davy Lopes was sleeping in the dugout during most games. And why not? After all, Glendon Rusch doesn’t really inspire anyone but the opposing fans dreaming of catching a home run ball. My god, their odds of catching one had to be about 50-50 when he took the hill, the bleacher seats were more like an artillery practice range.

We Brewer fans didn’t bring gloves to those games. Hell no. You wouldn’t dare. You brought your hard hat or didn’t come back. That’s just how it was.

Oh 2002, how I loathe you. It’s like a bad ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The memory always there, haunting you, laughing at you. Reminding you just how bad things were. That’s how it feels to witness a 106-loss season finally cave in on itself, forever buried in the past. No grave marker, no eulogy. Just gone. Dust to dust baby, dust to dust.

Milwaukee Brewers Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers are contenders, so don’t be sad. Definitely don’t be that guy. Nobody thought they would be here right now 3.5 behind the Cubs with a fateful four game series on tap for the weekend but only the most delusional among us (don’t worry we love your foresight). Yet, here we are and you’re going to have to deal with the Brewers if you want the NL Central.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee’s first playoff team stands for the national anthem in 1981. (Photo courtesy of: onmilwaukee.com)

The Brewers right now are surviving in Pittsburgh hoping to keep pace with Chicago after taking two of three from Miami on the “road” at Miller Park. If that is a bone of contention for you, I urge you to please, contact the MLB office. I’m sure you’ll be the first knucklehead they’ve heard from too! Get over it, it’s done. I mean, it’s not like a hurricane was threatening to sink Miami or anything.

Losing Jimmy Nelson has hurt, he was just starting to get locked in and it’s an absolute shame that we’ve lost him. You know this guy wants nothing more than to be on that mound, trusting in his grind. I feel bad for him. But be that as it may the Brewers are not done, they are contenders now.

And you know what? I am not even going to hide my homerism here. How can I? It took 26 years at one point in my life already to suckle the sweet, sweet nectar of glorious October baseball. And let’s get real, postseason baseball is a white unicorn for anyone rocking the hottest gear in sports. The ball and glove logo of the Milwaukee Brewers is by far the best logo in MLB for sure, hands down.

And for the love of god, please don’t be like Randy Quaid’s rendition of “angry Indians fan” from Major League II.

Milwaukee historically doesn’t play many meaningful games this late in the year, and winter is coming folks. The long frigid winter. It chills my bones just thinking about it because we very rarely get to warm ourselves by the hot stove either. I urge you all to put aside the speculation on who the next Eric Thames-esque signing is going to be next January. That’s seriously about as much fun to think about as getting a root canal by a meth-head dentist who has since graduated to PCP. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Let’s hold on to our boys of summer just a little bit longer! I’m headed over to Milwaukee this Saturday and I don’t even have a ticket yet.

What’s your excuse?

 

(feature photo courtesy of: gorillabaseball.com)

 

 

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AL East Shenanigans: Just How Close is the Race?

By the time September rolls around, there is generally a couple of teams who have secured playoff spots and can look to rest key players sporadically during the remainder of the season. As of September 9th, Texas had a nine game lead over the 2nd place team in the AL West, the Houston Astros. Cleveland has been cruising lately, going 8-2 in their last 10 games to secure a six game lead in the AL Central. The AL East, on the otherhand, is where it get reals interesting.

What sets the AL East apart from the rest of the American League is that the division has four teams that are within four games of each other. Not only does the division hold a playoff spot for the division leader, but also has both of the wild card spots in the AL, and a fourth team just two games back for a wild card spot. The beauty of September baseball, as well, is that the majority of games that will be played by the teams will be against their division opponents. So not only is it a tight race for the division lead, but the race is nowhere near the finish line as the standings will be in constant flux.

The Boston Red Sox are the current division leaders in the AL East with a one game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays. Buoyed by the fanfare of David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s retirement tour and an MVP-worthy season from youngster Mookie Betts, the Red Sox are looking every bit like a playoff team. The pitching has come around since the beginning of the season, with David Price, Rick Porcello and deadline acquisition Drew Pomeranz (The Killer P’s?) resembling a strong rotation come playoff time.

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. Can he keep up his dominance down the stretch and propel the Sox into the playoffs? Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today

Porcello especially has impressed, reducing his BB/9 to a career low 1.35 while maintaining a K/9 near 7.5. Porcello’s off-speed pitches have come around this season, which has led to hitters not receiving as many easy pitches to hit and thus leading to more outs generated for Porcello and the Sox. Fangraphs says this season, opponents are only hitting .171 against his change and .212 against his slider, compared to .292 and .342 respectively last season. The weakness of the Red Sox is the bullpen, especially bridging the gap from starter to Kimbrel in the 9th. The Red Sox addressed the issue at the deadline, adding Ziegler from Arizona, but Ziegler has produced mixed results since the move. Look for the bullpen being the reason why the Red Sox will either keep producing efficiently, or start to move down the standings as the month rolls by.

The Toronto Blue Jays currently sit in second by a game and lead the wild card race. I profiled the team briefly in my article on the AL Division Race a week ago, so I will just give a quick rundown. Basically, Toronto has the best offense on paper, headlined by potential AL MVP Josh Donaldson and bat flipping champion Jose Bautista. A supporting cast of hitters including Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Edwin Encarnacion rounds out the most potent lineup in the American League, if not all of baseball (I’d argue the lineup is more potent than the Cubs).

Jose Bautista has powered the Jays to the playoffs before...can he do it again? Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

Jose Bautista has powered the Jays to the playoffs before…can he do it again? Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

 

What could be the Blue Jays downfall, and my reason of hesitancy, is that pitching matters, and the Blue Jays do not have the stud pitching seen in other potential playoff team’s rotations. Just this past weekend, the Jays’ starters gave up a combined 11 earned runs in 13.2 innings (in 3 games) against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that is twenty-one games below .500. That is not pitching a fan wants to see leading into the playoffs.

The Baltimore Orioles are the often forgotten studs in the AL East. The Orioles currently reside only two games back in the AL East standings and are perched in the second wild card spot with a one game lead over the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles also feature a potent lineup starring Manny Machado, Chris “Crush” Davis, and Adam Jones. Yet, those are not the only ones doing the heavy lifting, as the rest of the lineup has been hitting dingers all season as well. Mark Trumbo, most notably, has been a key fixture in the middle of the Orioles lineup, despite being traded for in the offseason for a backup catcher.

Mark Trumbo has been very productive for the Orioles, especially since he was traded a backup catcher. Photo courtesy of Butch Dill of the USA Today

Mark Trumbo has been very productive for the Orioles, especially since he was traded a backup catcher. Will his power be enough to get the Orioles playoff-bound? Photo courtesy of Butch Dill of the USA Today

This season, Trumbo has put up 41 homeruns while maintaining an adequate .255 batting average for the season. Another notable hitter is the underrated second basemen Jonathan Schoop, who despite only having 18 walks this year, has put up a .282 batting average and 21 homeruns for the club.

Despite all the power in the Orioles lineup, the problem comes down to the rotation once again, as the Orioles rotation is filled with veteran journeymen and super young pitchers. Keep an eye on Kevin Gausman though, who despite his record, has pitched well lately, not giving up a run in his last three starts. The rotation will be the question mark for the Orioles as the postseason looms ever closer.

The final team still battling for the AL East is the New York Yankees. The Yankees are interesting because the Yankees were sellers at the MLB Trade Deadline, moving Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Carlos Beltran for a plethora of high upside prospects. Yet, a month after the deadline, the Yankees are only sitting four games back in the division and two back from the Orioles for the final wild card spot. The Yankees have been by their promoted youngsters, especially the polarizing Gary Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez has been raking for the Yankees. Can he keep up the hot hitting down the stretch? Photo courtesy of Brad Penner of the USA Today

Gary Sanchez has been raking for the Yankees. Can he keep up the hot hitting down the stretch? Photo courtesy of Brad Penner of the USA Today

Sanchez was promoted right after the deadline and has played in thirty-one games since, sporting a .336 batting average and knocking out 11 homers. Tanaka has been pitching like the ace that was expected out of his contract and the team has also received decent pitching from Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia over the course of the season.

The thing to watch with the Yankees will be whether the hot hitting will continue. The team is currently riding a five game winning streak (as of 9/9), but if the team strings together a couple of losses, it will be interesting to see if the veterans will be able to steer the rookies back on track or the team will fade off.

The battle has been raging all season long for the division, and yet, despite five months of baseball, there is no clear indication who will lead the division at the end of the season. Question marks surround each team as the margins are constantly fluctuating throughout the month. The Red Sox appear to be the most complete team on paper, but a shaky bullpen can turn a few wins into losses and hurt a team’s place in the standings. The Jays and Orioles face question marks surrounding their rotations, despite the electric lineups each team fields. The Yankees have been buoyed by their youngster hitters, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the team starts stringing together a couple of losses back to back instead of riding the hot streak forever. The 2016 AL East is the reason why baseball is exciting in September and will be a fun story to follow for the rest of the month.

 

Stats courtesy of fangraphs and standings according to MLB.com

Shoutout to u/twistedlogicx for pointing this out on r/baseball

Red Sox and Sandoval Need to Part Ways

Pablo Sandoval Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Boston Red Sox signing Pablo Sandoval to 5-year, $95 million deal before the 2015 season has looked like a mistake from the start. Sandoval was coming off a heroic postseason with the San Francisco Giants in which he collected his 3rd World Series ring at the young age of 27.

The Red Sox brought in Sandoval, along with another top free agent Hanley Ramirez, with the hope of adding to the Panda’s ring collection. Instead, a combination of weight issues and lack of production have led to Sandoval losing his starting job, and more recently, being placed on the DL with a “shoulder” injury.

The contract looked like a mistake seemingly before the ink dried when Sandoval, who earned the “Panda” nickname presumably in part because of his round physique, showed up to 2015 spring training out of shape.

It did not appear to be a huge deal at first. Sandoval had never looked particularly athletic, but, it didn’t matter because he could hit. Before joining the Red Sox, Sandoval was a career .294/.346/.465 hitter, with an impressive post season resume.

While his weight was sometimes a point of emphasis for the media, Sandoval got away with it for one simple reason; he produced at the plate.

That changed when he joined the Red Sox though. In 2015, his first season in Boston, Sandoval posted career lows in BA, OBP%, and SLG%. It was by far the worst season of Sandoval’s career.

Somehow, even with all of the disappointment of 2015, Sandoval is off to an even worse start in 2016. He lost his starting 3rd base job in spring training to Travis Shaw. Through the first week and a half of the regular season Sandoval logged a mere 7 plate appearances, drawing a lone walk and striking out 4 times.

The only AB he had of note was when his swing caused him to break his belt, in a moment that perfectly mirrors his time with the Red Sox so far; embarrassing, and even a tad bit sad.

Sandoval and the Red Sox are at the point where they are better off without each other. To the Red Sox, Sandoval can be DFA’d, subsequently released, and deemed a mulligan. A situation that would cripple some team’s payroll flexibility, is something that the Red Sox can afford to do given their market.

It will rid them of a punchline for the headlines and of a wasted bench spot as Travis Shaw and sometimes Brock Holt have proved to be better options at the hot corner than Sandoval. Even the organization thinks they are better off without Sandoval on the 25-man roster, as they seemingly made up a shoulder injury in order to stash him on the DL.

It will most likely be impossible for the Red Sox to trade Sandoval as is, and it would be foolish for another team to claim him on waivers and take on his contract, but it shouldn’t matter to the Red Sox because they are simply better without him.

Sandoval also appears to be better off without the Red Sox. He could find himself a starting gig on a lesser team on a 1-year deal and do what it appears he wants to do, play his way into shape. Maybe he could strike lighting and regain form with a new club, something that won’t happen with an organization willing to hide him on the DL.

The Sandoval era in Boston needs to come to an end, so both player and team can move one and be better off.

2016 American League East Preview

Jose Bautista hit a clutch three-run home run in Game 5.

Toronto earned the AL East crown last season thanks in part to Jose Bautista. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

The AL East could be the most talented divisions from top to bottom in the entire MLB. Every single team in this division can not only compete, but compete for a playoff berth at the end of the season. Sure, the NL Central is the most loaded at the front end, but the Brewers and Reds bring them down. I find it hard to believe that any team will win less than 80 games in the AL East.

Toronto is the clear favorite to win the division, as their offense can mash home runs, their pitching is serviceable, and their defense can make ends meet. From there, the division is piled with questions.

Boston and New York need to use their youth as a springboard to a new generation of winning, while the Rays and Orioles both have potential to be good, but have holes in different areas of their respective teams.

This division may end up being the tightest division in the MLB, just like it was last season. The AL East’s first and last place teams finished just 15 games apart, five games better than the next closest division.

My guesses for how this season will shape up are simply just a shot in the dark, as there are so many ways this division could end up unfolding.

1st Place: Toronto Blue Jays (96-66)

The Blue Jays are in great shape to take the AL East crown for the second season in a row. Toronto has managed to retain every starter in the field from a season ago, but they have lost David Price to Boston.

The team will hit plenty of home runs and score plenty of runs, but they’ll need to make sure they can pitch their way deeper into the playoffs than last season. When it comes down to a team with great pitching versus a team with great hitting, history sides with the pitching team. Losing David Price is a big time loss, and Toronto can’t showcase their starting pitching rotation like other teams in the MLB can.

Marcus Stroman is by no means an elite ace, but he’s on the rise in his career and should put up 15 wins. The back end of the rotation will prove to be their weakness, but Toronto should breeze through the regular season provided they lean on the bats.

Player to Watch: Troy Tulowitzki

Can Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy in consecutive seasons? (Photo: thestar.com)

Injuries have put a hamper on what could be a potential Hall of Fame career for Troy Tulowitzki. The shortstop came to Toronto via a trade which sent him away from Colorado. Tulo hasn’t hasn’t had back-to-back seasons with at least 100 games played since the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The shortstop played in 128 games last season, which could mean he’s trending towards less games this season.

Tulowitzki also hit just .239 with Toronto, a huge dip in production from his .300 average with Colorado in 2015. If Tulo can return to play anything like his plus .300 years with Colorado, it’d be a huge boost to the Blue Jays’ chances of winning it all this season.

2nd Place: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Boston will earn their keep this season through starting pitching. David Price, Clay Buchholz, and Rick Porcello lead a staff with potential to be the best rotation in the division. Boston also acquired Craig Kimbrel to be their new closer this season, paving way to a solid pitching staff as a whole.

Boston’s offense is nothing to scoff at, as they’ll enjoy watching Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts bloom, while looking to get steady production from veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia as well.

Player to Watch: Rick Porcello

After going a combined 28-21 in 2013 and 2014, Porcello went 9-15 in his first season away from the Detroit Tigers. Porcello had his best season statistically in those two seasons, and the steep drop in production is worrisome. Whether or not Porcello can find out how to be successful this season won’t be known for a while, but the Red Sox need him to turn it around and be a reliable third man in the rotation.

3rd Place: Baltimore Orioles (85-77)

Here’s where things get fuzzy in the AL East. On paper, the Orioles look like a contender for a wild card spot this fall. Baltimore’s first four hitters are loaded, and the back end of the bullpen should be good.

Baltimore’s starting pitching leaves more to be desired. Led by Chris Tillman who went 11-11 last season, the Orioles have no established ace. The last two pitchers in the rotation figure to be rookies, so their could be some growing pains this season in Baltimore.

I still like Baltimore to win a lot of games thanks to their solid lineup. They are filled with players who could hit 25 home runs, but are also susceptible to striking out.

Player to Watch: Pedro Alvarez

Pittsburgh Pirates fans are probably rejoicing at the departure of Pedro Alvarez. A strikeout machine and error fanatic, Pedro Alvarez should feel lucky to even be on an Opening Day starting lineup. He’ll no longer have to figure out how to close his glove when a ball enters it, so he’ll have plenty of time to swing a wooden stick at a ball. Sometimes dumbing it down works for people, and I feel like it’d help for Alvarez. If he can hit 20 home runs and hit for .250, it be a great season for Alvarez.

4th Place: Tampa Bay Rays (82-82)

The Rays will welcome four new starters to Tropicana Field, none of whom are big time acquisitions. Chris Archer is an up-and-coming starting pitcher who will lead the Rays, and there are a few names behind him who could make some noise in the AL East.

The team is filled with middling starters, which is why it’s pretty easy to see them finishing as average as average gets. Evan Longoria seems to be out of his prime, and there are a lot of holes throughout this team. Even still, I like Tampa’s serviceable lineup, and potentially good pitching staff with Drew Smyly and Co.

Chris Archer simply needs run support to be considered one of the best pitchers in the AL East. (Photo: Sporting News)

Player to Watch: Chris Archer

The most helpless job in the world is being a starting pitcher in the AL. Even if you throw a seven inning, three hit, one run outing, you could still end up with a loss if your offense sucks. That’s what happened plenty of times to Archer. Archer suffered a loss or no-decision in ten games last season in which he gave up two runs or less, including four games in which he gave up zero earned runs. Provided Archer can get more run support this season, look for Archer to improve upon his 3.23 ERA and win 15 games.

5th Place: New York Yankees (79-83)

I’m all for teams with starting pitching, and the Yankees could have that. If every starter can pitch to around 80% of their potential, it should be a good season on the mound for them. New York has no shortage of overpaid, old, former superstars, so they must squeeze everything they can out of the veterans in order to have a solid season.

The Yankees bullpen is their calling card, as they’ll boast one of the best one-two punches in baseball with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. The only players in the New York batting order that are under age 32 are Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. The two middle infielders have been unsuccessful in living up to their hype in the MLB.

With a career ERA of 2.17, Aroldis Chapman looks to continue his dominance with a new team. (Photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Player to Watch: Aroldis Chapman
After an offseason trade that sent Chapman from Cincinnati to the Big Apple, the Cuban Missile must prove he can succeed even with a change of scenery. No one likes to face Chapman’s combination of 105 MPH fastballs and 92 MPH sliders and changeups. Chapman has proven to be wild at times, but has also made countless hitters look like your grandma. Chapman is suspended for the first 30 games of the season, but after that, I look forward to seeing how Chapman does in New York.