Boston Red Sox slump

The fall of the Boston Red Sox

A little over a month ago, the Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball. They were sitting over four games ahead of the AL East and rolling on both sides of the ball. But since April 20, they are 11-12 and have fallen a game back of the mighty New York Yankees.

The Red Sox are 5-5 in their last 10 and just cannot seem to beat the Oakland Athletics (1-4 this season). The quality starts and the offense have not slowed down, but the bullpen has had a tough time nailing down close games.

The situation

Prior to April 20, the Boston Red Sox were 17-2, playing some of the best baseball in the league and sitting comfortably atop the AL East. Since then they have free fallen. David Price, Hector Velazquez and Carson Smith have all been in and out of the disabled list, hitters have gone cold and besides Craig Kimbrel, it seems like the back end of the bullpen is more than struggling.

There is not really one true problem to point to with the Red Sox so far. Although it was impossible for them to keep up their early season torrid pace, no one had them going 11-12 following a 17-2 start.

David Price

Boston Red Sox slump

David Price (Photo from Boston Sports Journal).

Well here we are with David Price again. Price has a 4.89 ERA with just two quality starts out of his eight. He is averaging the lowest total amount of pitches thrown per start of any Red Sox starter this season. He is averaging a walk every two strikeouts.

He is on pace to have the highest ERA of his career and is already rapidly approaching his season averages for runs allowed, and he has only pitched 42.1 innings.

Obviously it is early in the season, but Price has yet again struggled for the Boston Red Sox. He is on pace to have his worst statistical season of his career.

Hector Velazquez

One of the best pitchers on the staff might not be one that casual baseball fans have heard of. Hector Velazquez is quietly going about his work and has a 2.10 ERA through 25.2 innings.

He has started two games and appeared in eight others. He has given Boston’s offense a chance to shine. He is 5-0 this season, has kept the ball in the ballpark and also has not handed out free passes. He has quietly been one of the best pitchers on staff, and the Red Sox cannot get him back fast enough.

The top of the lineup: The good

1. Mookie Betts, 2. Andrew Benintendi, 3. Hanley Ramirez, 4. J.D. Martinez, 5. Xander Bogaerts.

The top five of the Red Sox order has been the most consistent thing there is.

Andrew Benintendi is on an eight-game hitting streak where he is hitting over .360. Mookie Betts has hit three leadoff home runs this season and is sitting squarely in the MVP conversation. Hanley Ramirez, outside of his recent woes, has been hitting around .300 and is seemingly knocking a runner in every single night. J.D. Martinez is hitting well over .300 and is proving that he is not just a power hitter, but one of the best overall hitters in all of baseball. Finally, Xander Bogaerts has been the most consistent hitter this season. The five of them account for 130 of the Red Sox 213 RBIs thus far.

The pen

There has been some good in the Red Sox bullpen. However, as the Sox are rotating pitchers in and out, the pitchers have hiccuped. Carson Smith was just recently placed on the 10-day disabled list. He was having a solid first half to the season before hurting his throwing shoulder.

The long relief pitching has struggled for the Red Sox. In 19 1/3 innings, Heath Hembree has given up 11 runs. Brian Johnson, who has been in and out of the bullpen, has given up 14 runs in 21 innings. Steven Wright, who has finally returned from injury, has given up two runs in two 1/3 innings. In other words, when the Red Sox are down in a game, they struggle to get back in it. The long relief pitchers have struggled to pick up the starters when they have struggled.

The Boston Red Sox are not a good come-from-behind team this season. In games that Rick Porcello and Chris Sale start, they have seemingly dominated this season. Due to the fact that the two starters can almost always be counted on, the Red Sox always jump out to an early lead. Just to speak the obvious, everyone is more relaxed when a lead is acquired early in a game.

 

Featured image by AP Photo/Richard Rodriguez

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Boston Red Sox: The difference

The 2018 baseball season is just 15 games young, but the Boston Red Sox have the best record in the Major leagues. They have won 13 out of their last 14 and have won their last four in a row. The Red Sox have never jumped out to 10-games above .500 faster than they have this season (14 games). In 15 games they have given up 47 runs which translates to just over three runs a game (3.07 which is fourth in all of baseball).

Their offense is in the top four of baseball in runs (86), batting average (.273), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.445). Their pitching has been equally as impressive. The Red Sox have 11 quality starts in fifteen total games which is the best number in all of baseball. They are also fifth in the league in WHIP at 1.16 and eighth in the league in batting average against at .225. The Boston Red Sox have been the most balanced team in baseball.

The Offense:

It seems as though it’s a different bat every night for the Boston Red Sox. They have 14 players on their roster with at least one run batted in and have seven players so far with at least one home run. Every member of their opening day starting lineup has at least nine hits and no one has more than 18 in Mookie Betts. J.D. Martinez and Hanley Ramirez both have three home runs and over 12 RBIs through 15 games this season. Despite the Red Sox slightly increasing their Homerun total comparatively to last season, they are striking out less and turning in better quality starts on the mound.

The Missing Pieces:

Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz, (AP Photo/Steve Nesius).

It’s so easy to forget that the Boston Red Sox are missing some of their most important pieces. Hector Valazquez and Brian Johnson, although extremely talented, are just filling in for Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz to come back from injury. Drew Pomeranz is the biggest missing piece. He is a lefty that all of last season pitched like an ace. He finished the season at 17-7 and have a 3.34 ERA which was good for third among the starting pitchers last season. It was one of his best seasons and he is waiting to join the team again.

The other important missing piece is Dustin Pedroia. Many people forget about the former MVP because he hasn’t played in seemingly ever. Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox everyday second baseman. What will happen when he gets back is a logjam of everyday infielders and one will be on the outside looking in. It might even be Dustin Pedroia who goes from everyday starter and MVP to backup if the lineup stays this hot.

Xander Bogaerts:

There was no one hotter at the beginning of the season than Xander Bogaerts. The shortstop was hitting .368 with two home runs and nine runs batted in in just nine games and 38 at-bats. Half of his 14 hits were doubles and he didn’t make an error in those nine games. Now he has been pushed to the 10-day disabled list and has been seen in a walking boot to protect his injured ankle. Since his injury, however, the Red Sox are 4-1 and Brock Holt and Tzu-Wei Lin have been fantastic since he has left. One thing is for sure, the Red Sox don’t have a bunch of depth in the middle infield on their 40-man roster.

What they can do:

The Boston Red Sox have tons of balance and depth. The pitching staff essentially has four aces on it when healthy and their starting lineup doesn’t have a single easy out in it. Barring a bullpen collapse they would be 14-1. The Boston Red Sox will only go as far as their hitting takes them. The pitching has been there and that has been proven for the last three seasons with the same rotation. J.D. Martinez has been added to an already potent lineup and after scoring 29 more runs than opponents this season, the Boston Red Sox seem to be firing on all cylinders. Despite everyone talking about this new look New York Yankee lineup, the Boston Red Sox have a 3.5 game lead on the AL East, and the Yankees aren’t even the team in second place.

 

Featured image from The Boston Herald.

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2018 Boston Red Sox preview

2018 MLB Preview: Boston Red Sox

2017: 93-69 (first place in the AL East)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 2013

2017 Recap

For most fan bases, a 93-win, division-winning season is spectacular. Unfortunately, in the eyes of Boston fans, the 2017 Red Sox failed.

Maybe you can blame the New England Patriots for creating this “championship or bust” culture in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, the Red Sox did not show up when it really mattered, losing the ALDS 3-1 to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros. Because of the meltdown, and a lot of other things, manager John Farrell was fired and replaced with Alex Cora.

After acquiring Chris Sale in the offseason, Boston became an instant favorite to win the World Series. They started out well, hit a bumpy road in July, but got back on track with a great 18-9 August. Unfortunately, leading up to the playoffs, Boston finished 2-5 to close out the season, and the staff looked worn out in the ALDS, posting a 6.35 team ERA.

2018 Boston Red Sox preview

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

Sale was lights out throughout the regular season. The lefty ace finished first in K/9, FIP and strikeouts. He was fourth in WHIP, fifth in wins and seventh in WAR for pitchers.

All this was great, but Sale had never pitched in the postseason before, and also led the league in innings pitched. In one start, and one relief appearance during the ALDS, Sale went 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA. Translation: He was tired, and the Red Sox should have managed him better as the season went on.

Boston was fourth in the AL in hits, doubles and walks. They finished third in steals, fifth in OBP and sixth in runs. Although they won a hefty 93 games, they could have been even better had they played well against the Yankees and Orioles, two division rivals that Boston had losing records against.

Mookie Betts, who finished runner-up to Mike Trout for the 2016 AL MVP, was again Boston’s best player. Betts finished third in doubles, fourth in defensive WAR and ninth in overall WAR for position players.

Not only does he excel at offense, Betts is also one of the best defensive right fielders in the game. In 2017, he finished first in range factor/9 innings and second in total zone runs. Because of his stellar performance in the field, Betts earned his second Gold Glove Award.

His batting average dipped to .264, but he still had an OBP of .344 and hit .355 with runners in scoring position. As a team, Boston finished fifth in batting average with runners in scoring position, led by Betts, Eduardo Nunez (.394, acquired at the deadline) and Andrew Benintendi (.351).

Of course, we were unable to see Boston at full strength because of injuries to David Price. Price, a former Cy Young Award winner, started just 11 games. He was able to get some time out of the bullpen, which finished with the second best ERA in baseball.

2018: Around the Diamond

A major problem for the Boston Red Sox last year was their lack of power. After David Ortiz retired in 2016, Boston, out of the 15 AL teams, finished 14th in slugging percentage and 15th in home runs. J.D. Martinez is still up for grabs, so Boston fans should stay optimistic.

2018 Boston Red Sox preview

Devers looks to be an offensive star in the making. (Photo from The Boston Globe)

Even if they don’t reel in Martinez, this team is still very talented. Behind the plate, the Sox could roll with Christian Vazquez, who hit .348 at home, Sandy Leon or even Blake Swihart, whose last two seasons have been destroyed by injuries. Mitch Moreland will remain at first base, after hitting 22 home runs and 34 doubles last season.

Dustin Pedroia, who missed a chunk of time last season, had knee surgery in October, and is not expected to be back with the team until May or June, although he hopes to be back for Opening Day. If Pedroia is unable to go, the Sox have Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. They have also remained in touch with free agent Eduardo Nunez.

At shortstop will be Xander Bogaerts, who finished with the second highest position player WAR on the team in 2017. Rafael Devers will hold down third base as he enters his first full season in the bigs. Devers was on pace for a 28 home run, 84 RBI season in 2017, but is significantly better against lefties (.400 BA), than he is against righties (.250). Although he started in July, Devers somehow finished with the fourth most errors by a third baseman, which should concern the Sox.

Left field will again feature Benintendi, who hit 20 home runs, stole 20 bases and had a .352 OBP during his rookie year. Jackie Bradley Jr., who struck out 22.9 percent of the time, will continue to be an elite defender in center field. And, of course, Betts, their only offensive All-Star, will be in right. Hanley Ramirez, who Boston needs more production out of, will remain at DH.

On the Bump

Pedro Martinez, Red Sox legend and member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, spoke to WEEI recently, a Boston radio station, and believes we will see a different David Price in 2018. He will start the year healthy and his track record shows he is gearing up for a monster year.

2018 Boston Red Sox preview

Expect a monster year from David Price. (Photo from The Boston Globe)

We know what Chris Sale did last year, but what the heck happened to Rick Porcello? Porcello, who won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award, was absolutely terrible in 2017. He gave up more home runs than anyone, allowed the second most hits and finished fifth in earned runs. The major issue was how Porcello would start games. When he faced the order, the first time around, opponents hit .301 against him.

Drew Pomeranz was a nice surprise for Boston, going 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA. He looks to be the third starter with Eduardo Rodriguez, who was banged up last season and had knee surgery in October, and Steven Wright, who missed almost all of 2017 and was also in the news for the wrong reasons.

2016 AL All-Star Craig Kimbrel, one of the best in the game, should continue to dominate in the ninth. Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith look to be good to go for 2018, after both have dealt with injuries. Joe Kelly, who went 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA, will again be a key member of the pen.

The Future

As we know, to acquire Chris Sale, Boston traded Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, who at the time were two of the best prospects in the MLB. They have gone all in to win now, but they still have two members of MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects” of 2018. Michael Chavis (No. 79), who can now play first base, along with third, had a monster 2017 season between Class A Advanced and Double A. The 22-year-old smashed 31 home runs with 94 RBIs and had an OPS of .910.

Boston’s first-round pick in 2016, Jay Groome, also cracks the list at No. 85. This offseason, the 19-year-old Groome has been working out with Sale three to four times a week. Groome is a 6-foot-6 lefty who can touch 97 with his fastball. Sounds a little bit like Sale right? Unfortunately, Groome is averaging close to five walks per nine innings as a pro and needs to get his control intact. Only time will tell if the young stud can blossom into something special.

2018 Prediction: 98-64

The Red Sox are still pursuing J.D. Martinez, who would immensely improve this team. However, Price is now healthy and there are pieces in the bullpen.

In his first season as manager, Alex Cora is inheriting quite the roster. Sale and Betts are two of the best players at their positions. Devers and Benintendi appear to be absolute studs. They will need a better season from Porcello, but this team could easily win the World Series if they avoid injuries and get some pop in the lineup.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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J.D. Martinez free agency: Where should he sign?

Arguably the top free agent in the upcoming 2018 class, J.D. Martinez is anticipated to receive a hefty contract next offseason, although which team he will sign for is unknown.

After missing all of April and part of May, Martinez clearly has no shot of winning league MVP, although after his monstrous second half, he has been propelled into the conversation. The 30-year-old has played a total of 107 games, where he has batted .318 with 39 home runs, 25 of which have come in the second half. When healthy, it is clear that Martinez is one of MLB’s premiere power hitters, and thus will continue to be a sought-after fantasy commodity.

Any Chance of returning to an old club?

J.D. Martinez free agency

J.D. Martinez began his career in Houston after being drafted in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB draft. (Photo by Getty Images)

Houston Astros

Martinez began his career in Houston after being drafted in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He failed to make an impact in his 252 games as an Astro, batting only .251 with 24 home runs and 126 RBIs. He was consequently released by the club in 2014.

Now a serious World Series contender, the Houston Astros don’t necessarily need Martinez, although adding his bat to a lineup of George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa would allow the Astros to compete to be the best offense in baseball with the Cleveland Indians.

The Astros will head into 2018 with nine players under contract and over $93 million already on their total payroll. Their total payroll in 2017 was $148 million, which included over $14 million in retained salaries. It is approximated that Martinez will earn a multi-year $25 million offer, so it seems unlikely the Astros would spend nearly half of their remaining salary on an aging outfielder, as they already have Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker under contract.

Detroit Tigers

After being released by the Astros, Martinez was signed two days later by the Detroit Tigers. Martinez was under the tutelage of future Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Torii Hunter. Martinez improved drastically, batting .315 in 2014, his first season in Detroit. He would go on to bat .300 with 99 home runs and 285 RBIs in 458 games.

Detroit had a fire sale this summer, trading away the aforementioned Verlander, along with former All-Stars Justin Upton and Alex Avila. It isn’t likely that Detroit would resign Martinez, although with Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Nick Castellanos still in the lineup, they should compete in the consistently competitive American League Central.

J.D. Martinez free agency

Since his arrival in Arizona, J.D. Martinez has batted .285 with 23 home runs and 49 RBIs in 50 games. (Photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks in July for three minor league prospects. Since his arrival, he has been phenomenal, batting .285 with 23 home runs and 49 RBIs in 50 games. At this pace over a full season, Martinez would have 74 home runs and 158 RBIs. Although that is clearly an unsustainable pace, it shows how elite Martinez can be during a stretch, especially in a lineup like Arizona.

According to AZcentral.com’s Nick Piecoro, Martinez said “he would love to return to the Diamondbacks”, although their financial situation makes that possibility seem very unlikely.

Where do we want him to land?

Obviously, we would all love to have Martinez sign with our favorite team. For me that would mean Boston. With the Red Sox outfield filled, Martinez would be forced into the everyday designated hitter role. This move is more realistic than I originally thought, as Mitch Moreland is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. So, if the Sox let him walk and move Hanley Ramirez back to first base, Martinez would fit perfectly into the designated hitters role.

He would undoubtedly dominate in Boston, as he bats .444 at Fenway on the career. Also, he would assume the same mentor role that Miguel Cabrera once played for him, as he would join a young lineup with blossoming stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.

Fantasy-wise, where would the optimal landing spot be?

J.D. Martinez

(Photo by Latinoathlete.com)

Aside from the Red Sox, the best landing spot for Martinez would be with the Baltimore Orioles. With Baltimore, Martinez would replace Seth Smith in right field. He would be in line for improbable levels of production, as he be surrounded by the likes of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Chris Davis, Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo.

It is clear that Martinez is most comfortable when batting fifth, as his career batting average in that lineup position is .296, compared to .264 when batting third and .266 when batting second. If he were to land in Baltimore, he would likely fit in to the fifth spot in the order due to the depth of their lineup.

Also, Martinez has had incredible amounts of success against American League East foes. He has a batting average at least .300 against the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays. Unfortunately, he has had minor struggles against the Tampa Bay Rays in his career, as he bats .250 when in a dome and more specifically .257 at Tropicana Field, although it is public knowledge that the Rays need a new stadium, so if they were to leave the Trop, Martinez could thrive even further in the AL East.

Martinez is good enough to be an impact fantasy player on any team, although some situations are clearly more beneficial than others.

If J.D. Martinez ended up in San Francisco, which is a very possible move as they are desperate for power hitters and outfielders, it would not bode too well for his fantasy outlook. Although Martinez would be given the opportunity to play a good chunk of games in Arizona and Colorado, he would be forced to play over half of his games in San Francisco and San Diego, creating a disadvantage as San Francisco and San Diego are notorious pitchers ball parks. Also, Martinez would be forced to bat clean-up behind Buster Posey, placing an abundance of pressure and lack of protection around the 30-year-old.

If Martinez can stay healthy and find himself in the middle of an elite offense, he will be a top-10 fantasy player next season.

Featured image by AZcentral.com

 

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Rookie

The Rookies under the Judge-Bellinger shadow

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger have been in the limelight this season. On its face, one might think that Judge and Bellinger are the only ones doing anything this year in the world of the rookie. In reality, that is not the case. Names like Paul DeJong, Andrew Benintendi and Josh Bell have been lost in the shadow of the young studs out of New York and Los Angeles. Here is a closer look into those names that might be getting lost.

Andrew Benintendi

Rookie

Photo courtesy of masslive.com

Benintendi has been one of the focal points of a Boston team that has been surging as of late. He has managed to rack up 18 home runs along with a .279/.358/.450 slash line. He also has a 2.0 WAR which ranks 6th among rookies in the MLB.

The Red Sox are not a power hitting club by any means. However, it is still impressive that Benintendi has been able to get himself tied in home runs with his teammates Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez. His slugging ability bodes well for the future of Boston. He also rounds out a club that has had a lot of solid young talent come up recently, including Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts.

Benintendi especially falls victim to being overshadowed by the other sensations in the league, due to the fact he is in the same division as Aaron Judge. Now that Judge is on a cold stretch since the All-Star break, names like Benintendi’s have been coming out of the woodwork more often. Another AL East rookie has been having a heck of a year, but you rarely hear his name.

Trey Mancini

Rookie

Photo courtesy of mlb.com

Mancini has also been having a great year and has been hitting at a similar level as Benintendi, however you hear his name even less than the rookie from Boston. Mancini has racked up 22 home runs along with a slash line of .282/.333/.503. His name would also be in the mix for Rookie of the Year if this was any other year than 2017.

One aspect of Mancini’s game that is somewhat alarming is his strikeout to walk ratio. Mancini has struck out 103 times and only walked on 26 plate appearances. This demonstrates how Mancini needs to work on his plate discipline as well as his batters eye. If he does not cut down on the strikeouts then major league pitchers will figure him out quickly. This is apparent because he is only hitting .223 since the All-Star break, although he has been able to keep up his home run pace with seven in the past month.

Josh Bell

Rookie

Photo courtesy of ESPN

The power numbers for the Pittsburgh first baseman have been there all year. Josh Bell has 21 home runs along with 72 RBIs. His slash line is a respectable .261/.340/.493 along with a WAR of 2.0.

Bell has been progressively better for the Pirates as time has moved on though. Before the All-Star break his batting average was a lowly .239. Since the break, he has been hitting a more impressive .316. His bat has been complimenting the return of Starling Marte in a great manner, as he is a big reason that Pittsburgh has been able to stay in the race for the NL Central, despite the fact that some teams are starting to make their move to separate themselves.

Among qualified rookies, Bell ranks second behind Benintendi in BB/K rate at a .59. He has not fallen as victim to the typical strikeout problem that happens to many rookies. He has definitely started to figure things out at the big league level though, and really adds a big bat to an already solid Pirates lineup.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has been one of the biggest surprises for an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season. DeJong has 20 home runs and 48 RBIs along with a .299/.330/.580 slash line. He also sports a 2.0 WAR despite only playing in 71 games this season.

DeJong has been cemented at the shortstop position for St. Louis despite the fact he was primarily a third baseman when he was coming up through the system. Not only that, but he has been batting in the three-hole for the Cardinals due to their lack of a big bat. DeJong is the first Cardinals rookie to bat in the three-spot since Albert Pujols.

DeJong would be slightly behind the home run pace of Cody Bellinger if he had as much time in the big leagues. However, he is also a victim to the strikeout. He has been struck out 87 times and has only been walked on 11 occasions, which does not give much hope for the future. It would lead one to believe that major league pitchers will catch up with him, and thus he may not be as dominant down the road. In the meantime though, he has been a huge bright spot for his team.

Rookie of the Year

At this point, it is pretty clear-cut that Cody Bellinger in the National League. Bellinger has been able to keep up his spectacular year since the break, however Judge has been sluggish in the past month.

Judge set the record for most consecutive games with a strikeout. He is also hitting .169 since the All-Star break. The Yankees and Judge are hoping that he will be able to break out of this slump because the Red Sox are starting to pull away with the East. At the moment, Judge has the Rookie of the Year most likely. There is more baseball to be played though. If he does not turn things around then he will get people talking about players like Benintendi and Mancini for Rookie of the Year.

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Best power hitting infielders

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Shortstop are commonly known for their glove, but after the explosion of home runs in 2016, shortstops have emerged as a power position heading into 2017. 15 shortstops hit 20 or more homeruns last season, where only two did in 2015. The shortstop position has transitioned from one of the weakest to one of the deepest.

The top 25 shortstops have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Orlando Arcia (MIL), Ketel Marte (ARI), Jose Iglesias (DET), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Jose Reyes (NYM).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Manny Machado’s consistency warrants a first round pick. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  • Manny Machado (BAL)
  • Carlos Correa (HOU)
  • Corey Seager (LAD)
  • Trea Turner (WSH)
  • Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  • Xander Bogaerts (BOS)

 

Manny Machado, primarily a third basemen, played 44 games at shortstop in 2016, after an injury sidelined Baltimore Orioles starter, J.J. Hardy. Machado, a career .285 hitter, has tallied at least 35 home runs and 100 runs in his last two seasons.

The 24-year-old has yet to reach the 100 RBI plateau, although if continues to progress, he could easily see a .300/100/40/100 season in his near future.

Machado’s consistency and potential make him the first shortstop that should be taken in 2017.

Xander Bogaerts is one of the safest picks an owner can make in 2017. The 24-year-old will be entering his fourth season in the majors, where he is a career .286 hitter.

His .320 batting average in 2015, and .330 batting average in the first half of 2016, suggest that he can sustain a well above .300 average for a full season in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 180-pounder raised his home run total from seven in 2015, to 21 in 2016. Bogaerts power is sure to improve one day, although I believe he will focus solely on sustaining contact rates next season.

Whether the power numbers show or not in 2017, Bogaerts is well worth a top 25 pick.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Trevor Story is healthy and ready to go for 2017. (Courtesy of Sporting News)

  • Trevor Story (COL)
  • Jonathan Villar (MIL)
  • Jean Segura (SEA)
  • Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  • Aledmys Diaz (STL)
  • Addison Russell (CHC)
  • Dansby Swanson (ATL)

 

Trevor Story had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time, and only played in 97 games due to a hand injury in 2016. After mashing 27 home runs with 76 RBI’s, Story managed to be one of the most productive players in the league during that stretch.

He will bat in the middle of an electric Colorado Rockies lineup, which may put up historically great numbers this season.

The only drawback on the 24-year-old is his atrocious 31.3% strike out rate, which may suggest that he sees a decline in batting average.

Regression of average or not, Story is well worth a top 35 pick, as his power upside is tremendous.

Dansby Swanson is currently being drafted as the 170th overall player, and 17th shortstop off the board, although I have him ranked as the 13th. The upside with Swanson is incredible, as he has the potential to bat .300 while batting second for the Atlanta Braves. This gives him the potential to score 100 runs in his rookie campaign.

The big power numbers have not shown yet, although he had sneaky power in college, hitting 15 home runs in 71 games. He also hit eight home runs in 84 games at the AA-level, which shows that he has the potential to hit 15 or so this season, giving him a chance to be a top 10 shortstop.

I’m reaching on Swanson’s potential in all drafts in 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Can Didi Gregorius continue to improve upon his breakout 2016 campaign?(Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Didi Gregorius (NYY)
  • Brandon Crawford (SF)
  • Brad Miller (TB)
  • Javier Baez (CHC)
  • Eduardo Nunez (SF)

 

Didi Gregorius, most notably the player that replaced Derek Jeter, quietly had a breakout seasons in 2016. Gregorius has continuously improved his batting average, going from .257 in 2014, to .276 in 2016. He has also seen a huge jump in power numbers, as he hit 20 home runs, which is 11 better than his former career high of 9.

The 27-year-old still has room for improvement, although his power numbers may fall, as the majority of his homers limp out of the Yankees short porch in right field.

Gregorius is a safe late round selection, but may have limited upside.

Eduardo Nunez spent his 2016 split between the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants. The All-Star batted .321 with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases in the first half of 2016. This shows how good Nunez can be when he is playing every day at his best.

The reason for Nunez’s low ranking is because of his lack of consistency and poor production with the Giants. Hitting home runs as a righty in San Francisco can be quite challenging, which makes me think his home run totals will drop severally.

Nunez has a solid average and will continue to steal some bases, which makes him a good mid to late round pick in all formats.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

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

  • Jose Peraza (CIN)
  • Elvis Andrus (TEX)
  • Danny Espinosa (LAA)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM)
  • Marcus Semien (OAK)
  • Matt Duffy (TB)
  • Tim Anderson (CWS)

 

Jose Peraza has been compared to Jose Altuve, in not only their size, but also their skill set. Both have elite speed and get on base at a well above average clip. Peraza will finally have an everyday role with the Cincinnati Reds as they have parted ways with their franchise second basemen, Brandon Phillips, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Peraza has stolen 281 bases in 611 professional games, which is about a half a steal per game. This alone gives Peraza elite stolen base value, as he has the chance to steal over 60 bases. This paired with the fact that he is a career .312 hitter gives him great potential to be a breakout star in 2017.

Tim Anderson commonly flies under the radar, as he will bat at the bottom of an inconsistent Chicago White Sox lineup. 2017 will be Anderson’s first full MLB season, which could mean a breakout is in the making for the 23-year-old.

We cannot forget that he stole 49 bases in 125 games in 2015. While he bats at the end of the order, which limits his run and RBI potential, he should be given plenty of opportunities to swipe bags.

The former first-round pick in 2013 is a career .283 hitter, which is a solid floor for a starting fantasy short stop. Anderson’s ADP of 191 makes him well worth a late pick as a middle infielder or starter in deeper leagues.

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Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Top Sleepers Candidates at Each Position

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

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

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

 

Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mitch Moreland, 1B, Boston Red Sox

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

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

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

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

 

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

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Danny Espinosa, SS, Los Angeles Angels

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

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

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

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

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

 

Michael Saunders OF, Philadelphia Phillies

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

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

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

 

Chris Tillman SP, Baltimore Orioles

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fernando Rodney, CL, Arizona Diamondbacks

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

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

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

 

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World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

As a baseball fanatic, this time of year can be a little tough. Spring Training is just around the corner, but real competitive baseball is still more than two months away. If this sounds like you, don’t worry my friend.

The World Baseball Classic, a competition held every four years between the top national teams around the world, begins on March 6. Let’s dive in head first and take a good look at the teams in Pool A and predict who will emerge victorious.

 

Israel

After advancing from Qualifier A in 2016, the Israeli team will be participating in it’s first World Baseball Classic. Manager Pete Kurz will have plenty of good players to rely on. Many of them have major league experience.

Slugging first baseman Ike Davis is one of the more notable position players on the team, having hit 81 bombs in his major league career. He will be joined by fellow position players Ty Kelly and defensive specialist Sam Fuld, who also have major league experience.

On the mound, team Israel will be led by journeyman pitcher Jason Marquis. While pitching 15 years in the majors, Marquis garnered a 4.61 ERA. He will lead a pitching staff devoid of major league talent, with the only other pitcher with major league experience being Josh Zeid.

Other names being reported as potential additions include Joc Pederson, Jason Kipnis and Danny Valencia. If skipper Pete Kurz can confirm their additions, he will have a deep roster that could make a surprise run.

Korea

World Baseball Classic

Choi leads a deep Korean team dotted with KBO stars (Yonhap News).

With a pronounced influence in the majors, it is surprising to see Korea so sorely lacking in terms of major league talent. The only current major league player that manager Kim In-Sik will be able to call on is Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh. The 33-year-old broke out in 2016, posting a 1.92 ERA. Oh won’t be the only player with major league experience on the roster.

First baseman Dae-Ho Lee will join Oh to play for Korea. Lee played 104 games with the Mariners in 2016 and hit 14 home runs. He is currently a free agent. Major leaguers like Jung-Ho Kang, Hyun-Soo Kim and Shin-Soo Choo are all expected to miss the WBC. Don’t let the lack of major league talent fool you.

Korea will have plenty of quality players to call upon, most of them from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). All-Star pitchers Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jong Yang will be joined by position player Hyung-Woo Choi. Choi is a star in the KBO, and proved it in 2016 batting .376/.470/.651 with 31 homers and 144 RBIs.

While lacking in terms of major league experience, this team is certainly full of talent. Some of the best KBO has to offer will suit up and join Seung-Whan Oh to try and continue their WBC success.

Chinese Taipei

This team will be one of the most difficult to analyze. The Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) has been quiet on potential players it will include on its roster. It is easier at this point to discuss what players will not be on the roster, proving to be more helpful in analyzing this team’s chances.

The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) decided to boycott the WBC, leaving many of Chinese Taipei’s best players out. Chun-Hsiu Chen, Hung-Yu Lin and Po-Jung Wang, who are three of the best pitchers in the CPBL, will all miss the tournament. There is still hope for Chinese Taipei’s pitching staff.

Major leaguers Wei-Yin Chen and Chien-Ming Wang are both potential additions to the roster. Chen is coming off a less than stellar year in Miami, posting a 4.96 ERA in 123.1 innings pitched. Chen has stated that he will allow the Marlins to decide on his participation in the tournament, leaving his status up in the air. Wang is also a questionable addition after pitching in relief for the Royals in 2016. The 36-year-old is currently a free agent.

Chinese Taipei is sorely lacking in major league talent, and the questionable state of their roster leaves them in flux. If they are able to land Chen and Wang, they will have a solid one-two punch at the top of their rotation. That may be all they will have, with little other major league options.

Kingdom of the Netherlands

World Baseball CLassic

Simmons lead the Dutch National Team in the 2013 WBC (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images).

The Dutch National Team is the most storied European team in the WBC, and arguably one of the most talented. Manager and San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens will be able to call upon multiple current major leaguers, all of whom have had success at the major league level.

The Netherlands will have a loaded infield, highlighted by Oriole Jonathan Schoop and Angel Andrelton Simmons. Schoop provides plenty of power in the heart of the lineup, hitting a career high 25 homers in 2016. Simmons brings the defense. Simmons is arguably the best defender in the majors, and will certainly shine in the WBC.

The best overall player in all of Pool A has to be Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts. He provides a strong overall offensive game, hitting 21 homers and stealing 13 bases in 2016. His 109 OPS+ was the best of his young career, and is something skipper Meulens will be counting on.

What the Dutch National Team does lack is pitching. Former major leaguer Rick van den Hurk is the only confirmed pitcher currently on the roster. He had a career 6.08 ERA across six seasons in the majors. What they lack in pitching they make up for in hitting. The Netherlands has a deep infield to rely on, and should make good use of it.

Verdict

While Israel has a good amount of major league experience on it’s roster, they will be hard pressed to compete. Chinese Taipei is seen to be the least talented team in the pool, even with questions surrounding its roster. That leaves The Netherlands and Korea.

With a deep infield, the Netherlands has a good chance to emerge from Pool A. However, Korea has the edge. With only two players with major league experience set to play for Korea, they will rely on their KBO stars to carry them. Korea is one of the most successful teams in WBC history, and that will continue in 2017.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

American League East Opening Week Recap

Apr 8, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) high fives third base coach Bobby Dickerson (11) after hitting a home run in the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The O’s are on fire to start the season. (Photo: USA Today Sports)


 

You may not know it by the weather, but baseball is back. Usually the return of baseball brings warm weather and a foreshadowing of summer, but this year makes me want to climb back into my winter lair of a wood burning stove and multiple blankets.

As spring gives way to summer, and baseball gets into full swing, I’ll be documenting life inside the American League East. If you’re late to the MLB preview party, you could at least take a gander at my American League East article.

If you read the aforementioned article, I predicted the Baltimore Orioles to go 162-0. So far, so good (I’m a liar, I didn’t even predict Baltimore to win the division.). The Orioles beat Tampa Bay to improve to 5-0 today, and they are the winners of the first week of baseball.

It’s too bad there’s 162 games in the MLB season, because now Baltimore has to keep playing well for a long time. I predict Baltimore loses at least one game during the season, and I hope you appreciate my #HotTake for the day.

I thought Toronto was going to be very good this season. I’m not trying to overreact, but the Blue Jays’ pitching staff better wake up and smell the freedom. Just because they aren’t part of the United States doesn’t mean they have to distribute runs equally just like their Canadian government would approve of. Prior to shutting out Boston today, the Jays had given up 21 runs in their past three games, which is the opposite of good.

Speaking of Boston, they’re doing okay. At 3-2, Boston hasn’t gotten much playing time due to half of their scheduled games in Cleveland being cancelled due to the cold.

You know where it’s not cold? Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is warm, like, always. I predicted them to be painfully average this season, and they are pretty average so far. They’re 2-3, and they currently are at a -6 run differential this season. I root for that to be +/- 10 once the season ends.

The New York Yankees are 3-2, and have dealt with some games being postponed as well. They went 2-1 against Houston, which is good. Originally scheduled to play on Sunday Night Baseball, the game has been cancelled.

There’s your primer, now let’s get a little more affectionate with the American League East. We’ll start with the top of the division, and go downward.

Baltimore Orioles, 5-0

Baltimore has enjoyed their opening week, as they’ve faced two projected bottom feeders in Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Baltimore allowed two runs against the Twins in each of their three games, and they’ve given up just four runs total in their two games against Tampa. Their date on Saturday against Tampa was postponed.

The services of Joey Rickard and Mark Trumbo are valued highly right now in Baltimore. They’ve combined for 7 hits each, and Rickard has launched one home run and a double so far this season.

Chris Tillman has proved to be more than just a scrub ace so far this season. In two starts, he’s 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA. Tillman threw just two innings in his first start, thanks to multiple rain delays throughout the game. Tillman followed with a five inning outing in which he allowed just one run, notching his first win of the season.

Not to be outdone, Ubaldo Jimenez’s first outing was a seving-inning win. He’s also sporting a 1.29 ERA.

It’s only been five games, but so far Baltimore’s pitching and timely hitting has propelled the O’s to a 5-0 record. This will only put them a few games ahead of the rest if a losing streak comes.

Boston Red Sox, 3-2

Boston’s first scheduled game of the year was cancelled due to cold and rain, but their bats have been hot to start the season. Boston is fourth in the AL with a .276 team batting average, and fourth in the AL with six home runs.

Mookie Betts (50) must product from the plate this season. (Photo: zimbio.com)

Mookie Betts (50) must produce from the plate this season. (Photo: zimbio.com)

Mookie Betts is yet to catch fire like some of the other Boston hitters. He’s hitting just .130 with eight strikeouts compared to three hits this season. Betts must pick it up, as he and Xander Bogaerts (.227 average) were supposed to be the 1-2 punch of youth in Boston’s lineup.

If you’re looking for a stud to add on your fantasy baseball team, consider Brock Holt. Holt plays both infield and outfield, and is owned in a little over half of fantasy baseball leagues across all formats. He’s hitting .412 with two home runs and eight runs batted in, but is dealing with a minor foot injury.

Boston should be right in the thick of the playoff race come September, and just a week of baseball isn’t enough to tell how good any teams will be. Nevertheless, it’s a quality start for Boston this week.

New York Yankees (3-2)

Today’s rubber game against the Tigers was cancelled, so New York will get two days off before heading to Toronto for a three-game set against the Blue Jays.

New York’s hitting has been even better than Boston’s, as they are second in team batting average and third in home runs in the AL. A large portion of that production came in game three of four against Houston, as they scored 16 runs in their 16-5 win.

There hasn’t been a dominant game in terms of starting pitching so far for the Yankees. The longest outing by a starting pitcher was six innings by C.C. Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka has allowed the least amount of earned runs at two.

New York should be happy with a 3-2 start, as I don’t see them as being contenders in the AL East this season. With a very old team, the Yanks will have to steer clear of injuries in order to have any shot of the playoffs.

Toronto Blue Jays, 3-4

The Blue Jays are off to a slow start, as both the bats and arms aren’t doing as well as I projected. Josh Donaldson is the only hitter with an average of at least .300 at .310, and the Jays’ pitching staff is waiting on a solid outing from R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman.

Josh Donaldson is up to four dingers, but Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Troy Tulowitzki are all struggling at the dish in some capacity this season.

Jose Bautista must help the Blue Jays in order to notch another division crown. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Jose Bautista must help the Blue Jays in order to notch another division crown. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Toronto blanked Boston today, 3-0, thanks to a stellar performance from Marco Estrada. Estrada threw seving innings of scoreless baseball to lead Toronto to the win.

It’s still very early, so I’m not too concerned about Toronto. However, inconsistencies in the pitching staff could become startling if they don’t find a grasp within the next two weeks or so.

Tampa Bay Rays, 2-4

A 5-3 loss sent the Rays to 2-4 today against the Orioles. Tampa sits in the bottom half of the AL in batting average, runs, and walks so far this season. They’re also in the bottom half of the AL in ERA, walks allowed, and opposing batting average.

I’m hoping Tampa Bay improves, but only a little. I really want my prediction for them to be overwhelmingly average to be correct. So far, Tampa is slightly below average, so they’ll have to pick it up a little.

The Rays’ leading hitter is Steven Souza Jr., who sports a .381 batting average. However, Logan Morrison and Brad Miller have combined for just two hits in 25 at bats this season.

Lead starting pitcher Chris Archer is 0-2 so far with a 7.20 ERA. He must pitch better in order to set the tone for the Rays this season.

Tampa probably doesn’t have much to play for this season, and they haven’t proved me wrong so far. Again, it’s only been a week, but Tampa is already looking like a bottom feeder in the AL.