As the Cleveland Indians have won their last seven games, they have plenty to celebrate about.
It’s hard to believe, but it has been nearly 12 years since the Chicago White Sox won their last World Series Championship. The White Sox came out of nowhere in 2005 to win 99 games in the regular season before they only lost once in the playoffs to win it all. But since then the White Sox have had a tough go at it as they’ve only made the postseason once since then, while failing to record a winning season since 2012. The White Sox struggles have been further compounded by the emergence of the Chicago Cubs who won the World Series last year for the first time since 1908. And since the Cubs became the champs, they have owned the City of Chicago, while the team that calls the South Side home in the Sox have been the wicked stepchild.
Whereas the White Sox could do no wrong in 2005, they have been a team that has been done in by bad personnel decisions ever since. Since 2000, starting pitcher Chris Sale has been the only first-round pick of the White Sox who has gone on the be an impact player with the team. And in the case of Sale, he was traded this past off-season to the Boston Red Sox as the losing along with front office issues had gotten to him. The White Sox have not fared any better better in trades or free agency. 2016 saw the Sox acquire third baseman Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds and starting pitcher James Shields from the San Diego Padres. In nearly two seasons in Chicago, Frazier has hit 56 homers, but he is only batting .220, while he is also prone to striking out. And as the White Sox are currently 38-50 which has them in last place in the American League Central, Frazier could be on the move again to a contender. In 30 starts with the White Sox, Shields in 6-14 with an earned run average of 6.32 as he has been throwing batting practice on the mound. The struggles of the White Sox led to the team trading starting pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs earlier this week as they are once again waving the white flag. However there appears to be no end in sight in regards to the futility of the South Siders.
The White Sox issues fall into the respective laps of the team’s president of baseball operations in Kenny Williams and their general manager Rick Hahn. Williams was the White Sox general manager when they won the World Series in 2005 and he was promoted to his current position in 2012 and he would be succeeded by Hahn as the team’s general manager. But this combo has been unable to do right by the White Sox.
Offensively the White Sox are no higher than sixth in any of the major categories in the American League. Chicago’s pitching staff has not done much better as they are last in the A.L. in quality starts with only 29, 11th in team earned run average (4.55), and their 326 walks have been the second most allowed. The White Sox have not been above .500 since May 6, and as the trade of Quintana is a sign that they are waving the white flag, don’t expect better things for this organization any time soon.
After five seasons as the White Sox manager, Robin Ventura was let go following an 84-loss campaign last year. Ventura would be replaced by former Cubs manager Rick Renteria who just like his predecessor has not been given a good team to work with which is the result of the lack of production by Williams and Hahn.
So now as the White Sox are an afterthought, it is time for team owner Jerry Reinsdorf to start over, and pushing the reset button means parting with both Williams and Hahn. The White Sox need a new voice in their front office that not only has an eye for finding talent, but also the development of players. The Sox are going to have to build from within in order to once again become a contender and Williams as well as Hahn are no longer the guys who can be expected to do so.
2017 is a wash for the Sox as it now time for them to focus on next year. Frazier and relief pitcher David Robertson could be traded. But if it is prospects that Chicago is seeking, they need to find guys who will be difference makers or else they’ll continue to be Chicago’s other baseball team that is in the shadow of the Cubs.
After nearly 25 years of futility, the Kansas City Royals broke through to win 86 games in 2013. The Royals won the American League Pennant in 2014 before taking home the World Series Championship in 2015. But immediately following their World Series victory, the Royals would take a step back in 2016 as they went 81-81 and things have gotten worse for them this time around.
The Royals currently are 17-23 which has them in last place in the American League Central as they are 4.5 games behind the first place Minnesota Twins. Even when the Royals won the World Series in 2015, they weren’t a team an offensive juggernaut as they relied on timely clutch hitting to compliment their pitching staff. But as the Royals pitching staff has a team earned run average of 4.24 which is tenth in the A.L., while they are near the bottom of most of the major offensive statistical categories, if has been difficult for them to stay afloat. And although that there is still plenty of time for teams to turn things around for the 2017 Major League Baseball season, that might not be the case for the Royals who are dealing with a harsh reality.
Kansas City is one of the smaller media markets in Major League Baseball and the Royals team payroll of $155 million on Opening Day this year was 15th in the league. But the foundation of the Royals mini dynasty began to erode immediately after they secured the final out of the World Series in 2015 versus the New York Mets.
Starting pitcher Johnny Cueto and utility man Ben Zobrist were each acquired by the Royals prior to the trade deadline in 2015. Both players were expected to only be rentals once Kansas City’s World Series run came to an end which was the case as Cueto landed a six-year, $130 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, while Zobrist joined the Chicago Cubs to the tune of a four-year deal for $56 million. The exodus continued in Kansas City following the 2016 Major League Baseball season as designated hitter Kendrys Morales would join the Toronto Blue Jays, starting pitcher Edinson Volquez would sign with the Miami Marlins. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson was traded to the Seattle Mariners, while relief pitcher Wade Davis was shipped to the Cubs. But the biggest blow of them all for the Royals came on January 22nd when starting pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in an automobile accident in his native Dominican Republic. And now the only key components that remain from the Royals championship team are first baseman Eric Hosmer, catcher Salvador Perez, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon. But the reality of the Royals being a small market has once again set in as with Cain, Hosmer, Escobar, and Moustakas are all set to become a free agents at the conclusion of this season as the end of the line is near for a team that enjoyed a meteoric rise.
And this is the reality of the current landscape in Major League Baseball as with free agency, it is difficult for teams to keep their core players for a long time; especially in the smaller media markets such as Kansas City. Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane has been the godfather of this as he’s been notorious for trading players prior to them hitting free agency in order to stock pile prospects in his minor-league system. But unlike Beane whose Athletics have not reached the World Series since 1990, Royals general manager Drayton Moore was able to develop his players, while making the right moves to bring Kansas City the World Series Championship in 2015. Of all of the Royals pending free agents, only one will probably still be in Kansas City when 2018 rolls around. And if the Royals continue to struggle this season, Moore will definitely be ready to wave the white flag prior to the trading deadline.
So when the Royals entered the playoffs in 2014 as a Cinderella wild card that got hot en route to defeating division winners in the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles to win the American League Pennant before bowing out to the Giants in seven games in the World Series, the Royals represented the underdog. However when Kansas City won it all in 2015, they were an established team full of players who were hungry to win it all after barely missing out in the previous year. But now it appears that it will be back to the drawing board for Moore as the chemistry and depth that was there for the Royals in 2015 has faded rather quickly.
X-Cleveland Indians 92-70
As good as the 2016 Major League Baseball season was for the Cleveland Indians, they are left to ponder as far as what could have been. The Indians enjoyed a postseason run that saw them sweep the heavily favored Boston Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series, and defeat the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series for their first World Series appearance since 1997. The Indians were one victory away from their first World Series Championship since 1948, but they would be the first team since the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 to blow a 3-1 lead in the Fall Classic, and the first since the Baltimore Orioles in 1979 to lose the final two games at home as their demise saw the Chicago Cubs become a team of destiny. And as close as the Indians were in 2016, it will be even tougher for them to get back to the World Series here in 2017.
But luckily for the Indians they are led by manager Terry Francona who is one of the best in the business as far as motivating and getting the most out of his clubs. Francona won a pair of World Series Titles as the skipper of the Red Sox, and in four years with the Tribe, they’ve never had a losing record. Now it will take the ultimate coaching effort from Francona in order to get his team to move on after last year’s collapse.
In 2016, the Tribe was one of the most balanced teams in baseball and it could once again be a strength for them. Last year each one of Cleveland’s starting pitchers was able to win at least 11 games, while this unit had 81 saves which was fifth in the American League.
In the last three years starting pitcher Corey Kluber has won 45 games as he is no longer a secret outside of Northern Ohio. However after Kluber was able to win 18 games in 2014, he would lead the American League in losses in 2015 with 16. Kluber did this while he posted an earned run average of 3.49 in 2015 as he was sometimes a hard luck loser. But after Kluber was able to once again win 18 games last season, along with the Indians explosive offense, he could find himself in the mix to win his second A.L. Cy Young Award.
But even with Kluber leading the way, the strength of Cleveland’s pitching staff will once again be their bullpen. Francona has his version of “The Nasty Boys” in relief pitchers Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen. Allen saved 32 games for the Tribe last season, while Shaw was able to record 25 holds. Miller was acquired from the New York Yankees just prior to the trade deadline last year and he proved to be vital coming down the stretch. Miller struggled late in the World Series, but he should be able to bounce back as the elongated delivery coming from his 6’7″ frame makes his fastball that much more difficult for batters to pick up.
After the Indians offense was able to score 777 runs last season which was second in the American League, they should once again be fun to watch. First baseman Mike Napoli left in free agency to sign with the Texas Rangers, but Indians general manager Mike Chernoff didn’t waste anytime in finding a replacement for him as he signed first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. For the last eight years Encarnacion has developed into one of baseball’s most feared power hitters. Encarnacion hit 239 homers while wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform which is third most in their franchise history. And even at the age of 34, Encarnacion will provide the Indians with a veteran slugger that can provide some of their other key hitters protection in the lineup.
After shortstop Francisco Lindor finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, he is beginning to show his worth as one of Major League Baseball’s future stars. And along with displaying some slick fielding at shortstop, Lindor is a potential .300 hitter whose ability to set the table will be important for Cleveland.
Carlos Santana will alternate with Encarnacion at first base and being the Indians designated hitter as he looks to build off hitting a career-high 34 home runs last season. I don’t see Santana taking a step backwards as playing with Encarnacion could make them one of the best power hitting combinations in the American League.
A shoulder injury is expected to keep second baseman Jason Kipnis on the shelf to begin the season, but he is one of Cleveland’s best overall players along with being a leader. And if the Tribe is able to get off to a solid start without him, their chances will only be magnified upon his return to the lineup.
Like Lindor, outfielder Tyler Naquin is one of the young and bright stars that the Indians can lean on. Last year as rookie, Naquin batted .296 with 14 home runs and 43 runs batted in, and heading into 2017, he is seeking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Shortstop Jose Ramirez gives the Indians another potential .300-hitter in their lineup as Cleveland has the potential to hang with the best offenses in the American League.
Right out of the chute the Indians will be on the road to face the Texas Rangers as these two clubs could once again be two of the best in the American League. The competition in the A.L. Central will once again be difficult, however Cleveland has the ability to hold their on within the division.
Detroit Tigers 87-75
After four consecutive trips to the postseason which included winning the American League Pennant in 2012, the last two years have seen the Detroit Tigers fail to make the playoffs. But after missing out on a playoff berth by just 2.5 games in 2016, there is some optimism for the Tigers heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season. And for Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, he has a veteran team that is definitely in win-now mode.
Since first baseman Miguel Cabrera joined the Tigers in 2008, he has done just about all that a future Hall of Famer can do. Cabrera is a two-time American League MVP which included him winning the Triple Crown in 2012 as he became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to lead the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Cabrera will have his 34th birthday in April, and although that the Tigers will look to use him more as a designated hitter, he still has one of the best bats in baseball as he is one of the top contact hitters that the game has ever seen.
As a team the Tigers were able to go yard 211 times last season which was sixth in the American League and you can expect more of the same this season. After outfielder Justin Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 million contract with Detroit last off-season, he appeared to be pressing and thus got off to a slow start. However Upton was eventually able to get it going as his 31 homers were second to Cabrera’s 38 on the Tigers. Upton has been a very streaky hitter during his career, but with that he has the potential to put the Tigers lineup on his back for an extended period of time.
When the Tigers acquired second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Texas Rangers in 2014, they got him for his ability to be a table setter; however he has been able to do than and then some. Kinsler was able to blast 28 home runs for the Tigers last season, while he also won his first Gold Glove Award. And even at the age of 34, Kinsler is still able to get it done at a very productive level.
Even on knees that he taken a beating from his days as a catcher, designated hitter Victor Martinez can still get it done. Martinez is 38-years of age, but he still possesses the ability to hit at least 25 home runs, while giving Cabrera some protection. Since joining the Tigers in 2014 after being released by the Houston Astros, outfielder J.D. Martinez has turned into a star. In three years with the Tigers, Martinez is batting .299, while he was hit 83 homers. And I expect Martinez to have a big 2017 campaign due to the fact that he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
In each of third baseman Nick Castellanos’ three seasons with the Tigers, he has continued to improve, and as he finds himself in one of Major League Baseball’s best hitting lineups, he has the potential to become an All-Star this season.
Starting pitcher Justin Verlander has been the face of Tigers pitching for more than a decade. Verlander’s 2,197 strikeouts are the second most in franchise history, while nine out of the last ten seasons have seen him pitch at least 200 innings. Verlander is 34-years age, and what has allowed him to be able to remain around in baseball so long is that he is a very determined athlete. Several times Verlander has been written off by his skeptics, but he now combines his power fastball with craftiness to work the corners of the plate. And after once again leading the American League in strikeouts last season with 254, Verlander should once again be solid for the Tigers here in 2017.
2015 saw the Tigers lose starting pitcher Max Scherzer in free agency as it impacted their postseason chances. However after the Tigers traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets in 2015, they found themselves a gem in return.
In trading the slugging Cespedes, the Tigers received starting pitcher Michael Fulmer. Fulmer was a first-round pick of the Mets in 2011, but as they are a team that is currently loaded with pitching, they could afford to part with him and the Tigers were more than happy to receive him.
Fulmer started 26 games for the Tigers last season and he sported a record of 11-7 with an earned run average of 3.06 in 159 innings pitched. Fulmer became the first Tigers player to be the American League Rookie of the Year Award since Verlander in 2006, and he is poised to become Detroit’s next ace.
Fulmer has a power fastball that he can mix up with a slider and a changeup. Fulmer just turned 24-years of age last month and the Tigers are going to proceed with caution, but it would not surprise me to see him get close to pitching 200 innings this season.
However for the Tigers, there will more than likely be a drop off in their starting pitching production behind Verlander and Fulmer. Last year the Tigers pitching staff’s earned run average of 4.24 was 11th in the American League with no other starting pitcher winning more than 9 games. After starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman won 19 games in 2013 as a member of the Washington Nationals, his career has taken a step backwards. Last year Zimmerman agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract with Detroit, but he was only able to make 19 starts. And if the Tigers are going to be a playoff team here in 2017, Zimmerman is going to need to pitch much better.
The Tigers bullpen still has been unable to shake their reputation of blowing games which is one of the issues that has prevented them from winning their first World Series Championship since 1984. Relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez was able to save 44 games for the Tigers, but he knows how to put stress on a pacemaker as he allowed 45 hits in just 58.1 innings pitched last season.
The upcoming Major League Baseball season will mark the first time that the Tigers will take the field without being under the ownership of Mike Illitch since 1991. Illitch was a very respected throughout the Detroit area and I expect the Tigers to play with tremendous emotion this season as they seek to honor him.
Kansas City Royals 85-77
After the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 2015, they took a huge step backwards last season as injuries were a big reason why they finished 81-81. And as there is always optimism heading into a new Major League Baseball season, the Royals will be fighting an uphill battle before it even starts.
On January 22, the Royals received the tragic news that starting pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura was only 25-years of age, and he was just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Ventura’s death will leave a void in the Royals starting rotation, but the organization must find a way to move on.
Aside from Ventura’s death, the Royals understand that they’re a small market team which means that they have to rely on developing talent as opposed to big spending in free agency.
The small market Royals lost designated hitter Kendrys Morales and starting pitcher Edinson Volquez in free agency, while they traded relief pitcher Wade Davis and his 44 saves over the past two seasons to the Chicago Cubs. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson was sent to the Seattle Mariners as Royals general manager Dayton Moore understands the business side of operating a small market team. And as Moore will probably be trading other talented players soon, he is still attempting to field a team that can compete for the American League Central Title.
The Royals have some talented players in their lineup; however this team is not known as an offensive juggernaut which means that they’ll once again have to scrap and claw to consistently score runs. The Royals should benefit from having a healthy Mike Moustakas at third base. Injuries limited Moustakas to just 27 games last year and Kansas City missed his bat as well as his spirit in their lineup. Along with Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer is the heart and soul of this team. Hosmer made his first All-Star Game appearance last season and in 2017 he will continue to be one of the best first basemen in the American League.
Catcher Salvador Perez was able to avoid an severe injury scare after a collision in the World Baseball Classic as he was playing for his native Venezuela and he is on track to be in the lineup for Kansas City on Opening Day. What Perez gives the Royals is a leader, a clutch bat, and one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. Each of the last four years has seen Perez make the All-Star team along with winning a Gold Glove which is something that cannot be lost of the Royals pitching staff.
To offset the loss of Morales, the Royals are going to need outfielders Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Brandon Moss to have solid impacts. Gordon is set to begin his eleventh season with the Royals and he has entered some rare air. Gordon’s career wins above replacement total of 32 is eighth most in franchise history, and his 278 doubles are sixth. Injuries limited Gordon to 128 games last season and he is still a vital part of this team; especially in the outfield as he is a three-time Gold Glove winner.
Like Hosmer, Perez and Gordon, Cain was a big part of the Royals championship team in 2015. And like Gordon, injuries got the best of Cain last season. But the Royals and Cain will enter in an awkward position being that he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the season. The Royals want to compete, but if they fall out of competition prior to the trade deadline, I would not be surprised to see Cain put on the trade market.
The Royals signed Moss to a two-year contract for $12 million after he had one of the best seasons of his 10-year career. Moss hit 28 home runs last year for the St. Louis Cardinals, and although that he might not be the consistent threat that Morales was, he is still solid enough to contribute in Kansas City as I see him being more of a designated hitter than an outfielder.
But one player who could be a sleeper for Kansas City in their lineup this season is outfielder Paulo Orlando. Injuries last season opened the door for Orlando to be an everyday player, and he made the most of hit as batted .302. I don’t see Orlando taking a step backwards in 2017 as he should once again be a regular in manager Ned Yost’s lineup.
The Royals pitching staff that was a big part of their run to the playoffs in both 2014 and 2015 struggled last season as I don’t see things getting any better this season. The Royals team earned run average of 4.21 was ninth in the American League last season, while they were only able to muster 68 quality starts. But if starting pitcher Danny Duffy is able to build off of his 12-3 mark from last season, it could keep Kansas City in the playoff picture.
Yost is one of the best managers in baseball as far as having the idea of the pulse of his team. Yost is a hands off manager that lets the players police themselves, and his laid back approach should once again allow Kansas City to relax and hang around in the playoff picture.
Chicago White Sox 68-94
The last four years have seen the Chicago White Sox finish with a losing record, and the recent success by the Chicago Cubs which includes them winning the World Series last season means that the South Siders have become nearly forgotten in the Windy City. In five years as the manager of the White Sox, Robin Ventura was never able to get Chicago to the postseason, while they never finished higher than fourth place in the American League Central during the last four years. But Ventura cannot take all of the blame for the White Sox struggles as this is an organization that cannot figure out if they want to contend or rebuild. However it is now Rick Renteria’s turn to be the skipper of the South Siders as with the 2017 Major League Baseball season right around the corner, all signs points to the Pale Hose being in rebuilding mode.
The past five years saw starting pitcher Chris Sale emerge as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Over the last five seasons Sale won 70 games while he also got the nod to start in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game last summer. But Sale had his issues with the White Sox front office which reached a fever pitch on July 23 when he was suspended for five games after he used scissors to destroy the team’s throwback uniform that he didn’t want to wear. Aside from trading Sale, outfielder Adam Eaton was traded to the Washington Nationals in a move that saw the Sox receive three young pitchers in Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, and Dane Dunning that the jury is out on.
The writing was on the wall for a divorce between Sale and the White Sox. And during the off-season the White Sox were able to find a trade partner in the Boston Red Sox. In exchange for Sale, the White received four players which includes infielder Yoan Moncada who received a ton of hype when he defected from Cuba, but has yet to deliver in Major League Baseball.
Moncada joins a White Sox lineup that includes first baseman Jose Abreu and third baseman Todd Frazier who if nothing else will excel in putting balls into the seats. Since making his Major League debut for the South Siders in 2014, Abreu has been one of the best first baseman, but he gets lost in the shuffle since he doesn’t play on a good team. And aside from possessing a solid glove at first base, you can also pencil him in to hit 30 home runs, while also driving in 100 runs. After the White Sox acquired Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds last year, it took him some time get going as he appeared to be pressing. However Frazier would rebound to hit 40 homers for the first time in his career. But with Frazier’s power surge came an increase in his strikeouts as he struck out 163 times last season which was the eighth most in the American League. An oblique injury has currently sidelined Frazier which could effect him to start the upcoming season; especially in Chicago where the temperature will still be cold in April.
The departure of Sale means that starting pitcher Jose Quintana is now the White Sox best option in their rotation. Quintana has a career earned run average of 3.20, but his career record is only 46-46 as like Sale, he has not always gotten run support. But if Chicago can find a way to score runs for Quintana this season, he has the potential to win 15 games. Starting pitcher James Shields is seeking to redeem himself after going 4-12 with the White Sox last year. Shields posted an earned run average of 6.77 with the Sox and as he is an aging pitcher, the time is now for him to reinvent himself if he wants to stick around.
In two seasons with the White Sox, relief pitcher David Robertson has saved 71 games including 37 last season. Robertson will once again be in the mix to be one of the best closers in baseball, but if the Sox fall out of contention he will become at hot commodity on the trade market.
With not that much expected of the White Sox, they will definitely fly under the radar as the focus in Chicago is on the Cubs. However the last thing that the White Sox can afford to have is another season of losing baseball on the South Side.
Minnesota Twins 60-102
After six postseason appearances over a nine-year span, the Minnesota Twins have fallen on hard times. The Twins have not made the playoffs since 2009, while they’ve only had one winning season since then either. Things went from bad to worse last year for the Twins as they lost 103 games for the first time since 1949 when they were still the Washington Senators. Heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there is only one way to go for the Twins which is up, but how much progress can we realistically expect this team to have?
Paul Molitor is set to begin his third year as the manager of the Twins. And after the Twins overachieved in 2015 by winning 83 games, he was dealt a harsh dose of reality last year.
The biggest issue for the Twins is their lack of pitching. In 2016, the Twins team earned run average of 5.08 and 59 quality starts were each last in the American and they didn’t have one starting pitcher win at least 10 games. There isn’t that much optimism for Minnesota’s pitching staff heading into 2017 as their rotation is comprised of either youngsters such as Tyler Duffey who are trying to make a name for themselves in Major League Baseball, or veterans such as Ervin Santana whose best days are behind them.
And for the Twins, their pitching issues won’t help them in the American League Central where they’ll have to compete against two of the better hitting lineups in baseball in the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.
But if there is one thing that will keep fans in the Twin Cities excited over the summer in regards to Twins baseball, it is the bat of second baseman Brian Dozier. Last season Dozier slugged 42 home runs which was the highest single-season total for a Twins player since Harmon Killebrew hit 49 in 1969. Dozier could be setup to have another big year at the plate, however the bigger question is whether or not that he’ll finish the year in a Twins uniform?
Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey did receive some offers for Dozier over the winter, but there wasn’t anything that was enticing enough for him to pull the trigger on a deal. Dozier is under contract with the Twins through 2018. However being that the Twins are not setup to contend anytime soon, a trade for Dozier could bring back some value for them.
It should be another long summer in the Twin Cities, and the best thing that Minnesota can hope for is that they won’t get the brakes beaten off of them.
As the 2016 Major League Baseball season in winding down, the end cannot get here quick enough for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are limping to the finish line as they are in the midst of one of the worst seasons in franchise history. With just four games remaining in 2016, the Twins have already lost 102 games which is their worst mark since 1982, and they are line for their worst campaign since 1949 when they were still known as the Washington Senators. This is a far cry from a Twins team that only endured one losing season between 2001 and 2010 as they won the American League Central on six occasions over that stretch. But since the Twins won 94 games in 2010, they have been one of the worst teams in baseball.
Including this year the Twins have only had one winning season without an appearance in the postseason since 2010. And of those losing seasons, all of them have seen the Twins lose at least 92 games.
Derek Falvey is set to begin his tenure as the Twins new president of baseball operations, and he has a huge chore ahead of him. Falvey is only 33-years of age, but he has nine years of Major League Baseball front office experience under his belt with his most notable post being the assistant general manager of the Cleveland Indians this year as he helped them win the American League Central. Falvey will be evaluating every aspect of the Twins organization which means that you can expect wholesale changes coming down the pike.
Paul Molitor is finishing up his second season with the Twins, but he’s been asked to be a miracle worker. Molitor overachieved last year in Minnesota as the Twins won 83 games and finished just three games short of a wild card spot. However reality set in for him this year as the Twins lack of talent is on full display.
Offensively the Twins are 11th in the American League in batting average (.251) and on-base percentage (316), while only the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros have struck out more than them in the A.L. this year. Pitching wise isn’t that much better for the Twins as their 5.10 is the undisputed worst on the Junior Circuit, while they only have 58 quality starts, 24 saves, and opponents are batting a whopping .283 off of them. And the icing on the cake for the Twins pitching staff is that none of their starters have managed to win 10 games this year.
The Twins are a small-market Major League Baseball franchise and there is no quick fix for them which means that Falvey will need to hit the ground running as far as developing the Twins minor league system in order to once again make this team a contender.
The one good thing for Falvey is due to the Twins putrid record, they will have the first overall pick in next year’s Major League Baseball Draft and it will be imperative for them to hit on this pick. The Twins already have $62 million committed to next year’s payroll, but things could get very interesting depending on which direction that Falvey decides to go in.
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier is having one of the best seasons in franchise history as he has 42 home runs and 99 runs batted in. Dozier is under contract with the Twins through 2018, but a trade to a contending club could net Minnesota the prospects needed for them to speed up their rebuild. However the downside of potentially trading Dozier is that he is one of the few marketable players that the Twins currently employ which would make it even tougher for the folks in Minnesota to get behind them. First baseman Joe Mauer has spent his entire 13-year Major League Baseball career with the Twins. But the last three years have seen his production decline, and you have to wonder if Falvey will want to keep him on the payroll as he is set to earn $23 million in each of the next two seasons?
As for Molitor it will be interesting to see if Falvey wants to keep him, or go in a new direction as the man that will be calling the shots for this organization is into sabremetrics and he may want his kind of manager to lead this club. But Molitor has fought an uphill battle all season long as the Twins dropped their first nine games of the season, and it only got worse from there as by the end of May, they were 15-36. Molitor is very respected in Major League Baseball circles as he is one of only 30 players in league history to record 3,000 career hits, while he has forgotten more about the sport than most people will remember in their lifetimes. However the Twins are not on the brink of a quick turnaround and as the losses mount, you have to wonder if Molitor will be allowed to, or would want to hang around for this.
The Twins have officially hit rock bottom and the only way for them to go is up. One thing that recent history has shown us that the American League Central is home to huge turnarounds. From the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s, the Detroit Tigers were one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball which included them losing 106 games in 2002, and 119 in 2003. But by 2006, the Tigers won their first A.L. Pennant in 22 years, and they’ve gone on to remain as a consistent contender since then. Like the Tigers, the Kansas City Royals struggled in the late 1990’s and their futility extended throughout the 2000’s which saw them produce three consecutive 100-loss campaigns from 2004-2006. However the Royals would steadily improve and by 2014, they made the postseason for the first time since 1985 which was the prelude to them winning it all last year. The Tigers and Royals each became relevant once again by hitting on more of their moves than they missed which is something that the Twins must do now in order to avoid being looked at as a glorified minor-league team.
After the Kansas City Royals lost the 2014 World Series which marked the end of a grueling seven-game struggle against the San Francisco Giants, there was a high level of hunger that fueled this team in 2015. The Royals won 95 games en route to winning the American League Central, while also getting back to the World Series and winning it. But 2016 hasn’t been the same fairy tale for the Royals as after 99 games, they have a record of 48-51. The Royals are in fourth place in the A.L. Central as they are 8.5 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians and seven games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the league’s final wild card spot. The Royals have been able to show flashes of what made them World Series Champions in 2015 which included dominating the eighth and ninth innings, but the magic that was there last year simply hasn’t completely transferred to 2016.
Not to make this an oxymoron, but the Royals issues began as soon as the final out of the World Series was made last October. Rightfully so the Royals had every right to celebrate winning, but that party has carried over to 2016. In the Royals first game of the season, they received their World Series Title rings and there was plenty of pageantry at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Royals have also elected to wear a commemorative patch on their jerseys this year to honor their World Series Championship, while also wearing jerseys with gold lettering and matching hats for every Friday home game during the year. The Royals already had a bulls eye on their back after winning the World Series, and the marketing of it has only made that target larger.
But aside from the self-promotion, the Royals lost some key contributors from last year’s team that they’ve been unable to replace. Last year saw the Royals acquire utility man Ben Zobrist from the Oakland Athletics and starting pitcher Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds. Both Zobrist and Cueto came up huge in the Royals title run. However when Zobrist and Cueto came to the Royals, they were expected to only be rentals as Kansas City wasn’t going to get into a bidding war with the big market teams in free agency and each player bid farewell as Zobrist is now a member of the Chicago Cubs, while Cueto is with the San Francisco Giants.
Pitching wise the Royals team earned run average of 4.36 is eighth in the American League while the starting rotation is lacking an ace. The only Royals starting pitcher that has made at least 10 starts this year and currently possesses an earned run average south of 4.00 is Danny Duffy as Kansas City opponents have made it their business to put this team in early holes which neutralizes their strong bullpen while also minimizing the late-inning comeback by this club.
The injury bug has also bitten the Royals as key players such as outfielder Lorenzo Cain and third baseman Mike Moustakas are currently on the disabled list which has left first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez to carry the load for Kansas City’s offense.
But things really began to unravel for the Royals this year at the site of their greatest triumph in 2015. On June 21, the Royals traveled to face the New York Mets and they had a record of 38-31. The Mets swept the two-game series from the Royals as they were able to beat Kansas City at their own game which saw them win each contest by just a single run.
Since that time the Royals went on to lose series’ against the Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, and Toronto Blue Jays as they limped into the All-Star break. The second half of the Major League Baseball season has not been any easier for the Royals as they’ve lost each series so far which has been magnified since most of these losses have come against playoff contenders in the Detroit Tigers, Indians, and Texas Rangers, while they’ve also dropped a series at home to the Los Angeles Angels who have been wavering with being in the basement of the American League West.. You have to go back to June 19th to find the last time that Kansas City won three games in a row as they are losing ground in the A.L. Central.
Royals manager Ned Yost has his finger on the pulse of his team, but it is now time to push the panic button in Kansas City as their dreams of repeating as World Series Champions are fading away. There is still time for the Royals to get things turned around, but the American League Central has gotten much more competitive this year as the Indians and Tigers are each better teams. And overall in the A.L., the wild card race is heating up between the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros which leaves the Royals little margin for error.
After the Royals finish up their series against the Angels, they will hit the road for eight games against the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays before returning to Kansas City for a three-game series against the Blue Jays. There is still time for the Royals to turn things around, but the heart and determination that was front and center in 2015 must reappear if they are going to make another title run.
As one of the oldest Major League Baseball franchises in existence, the Detroit Tigers have a long and storied history. And even though that the Tigers franchise has been home to some of the game’s most feared sluggers, their pitchers haven’t been too shabby either. Hooks Dauss pitched for the Tigers from 1912-1926 and his 223 victories are still the most in franchise history. In 1968, starting pitcher Denny McLain had a season for the ages as he won 31 games which is still a single-season franchise record. In the 1980’s, starting pitcher Jack Morris was the engine for the Tigers starting rotation which included him helping Detroit win the World Series in 1984. Recent Tigers pitching history has been dominated by starting pitcher Justin Verlander who has won 165 games during his 12-year career in Detroit, which also includes him winning the American League MVP and Cy Young Awards in 2011 with a record of 24-4. And as Verlander is now 33-years of age, he finds himself making way for a new phenomenon in the Tigers rotation.
Last July saw the Tigers have a fire sale as starting pitcher David Price was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets. In sending Cespedes to the Mets, the Tigers received starting pitcher Michael Fulmer as part of the compensation. Fulmer was a first-round pick of the Mets in 2011 and he was in the process of working his way up in their system. But when former Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski was waving the white towel last July, he was able to get a power arm from a team that was desperate for a power bat.
Fulmer didn’t begin the 2016 Major League Baseball season with the Tigers as he was still in the minors with their Triple-A affiliate the Toledo Mud Hens. But Fulmer was ready to make his MLB debut on April 29 against the Minnesota Twins. And once Fulmer had left Target Field in Minneapolis, he had given up a pair of runs in 5 innings of work as the Tigers defeated the Twins 9-2. Fulmer had his stumbles over his next few starts, but he has gotten into a rhythm since late May which includes him putting together a string of outings where he pitched into the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, and Los Angeles Angels respectively. Since surrendering 5 runs to the Baltimore Orioles on May 15, Fulmer has not given up more than two runs in a contest since then. Fulmer has stepped up when the Tigers have needed it most which includes him going six innings this past Wednesday night while only surrendering a pair of runs to the Cleveland Indians in the Tigers 12-2 victory. The victory was important for the Tigers as they had lost their first 11 games to the Indians this season and it gives them renewed life in the American League Central race where they currently find themselves trailing the first-place Cleveland team by 6.5 games.
In 13 starts with the Tigers, Fulmer is 9-2 with an earned run average of 2.11. And although that Fulmer didn’t begin his year with the Tigers, he is still tied for the club lead in victories. Albeit that Fulmer is a rookie, his number are up there with the top pitchers in the American League, and he made a compelling case to be an All-Star. But as of now Fulmer has been snubbed, even though there is the possibility that he could be a substitute for an injured player, or a pitcher who would be ineligible for the game next Tuesday if he throws on Sunday.
Fulmer’s biggest contribution to the Tigers is that he is becoming the ace of the Tigers staff as Verlander’s star is beginning to fade. Fulmer has an electric fastball that hits 96 miles per hour on the radar gun, and he can mix it up with a slider, sinker, and changeup as well. Fulmer can paint the inside corner on batters, but he also knows how to blow hitters away with his fastball which should make him one of Major League Baseball’s premier pitchers for the coming years.
Verlander has been one of the best power pitchers of this era which includes his 2,058 career strikeouts are second in Tigers franchise history. But Verlander’s power arm is beginning to fade and he is no longer the ace of Detroit’s rotation. Verlander can still be a quality pitcher, but he can pass the torch to Fulmer as far as being the team’s ace.
It isn’t that often that two teams can both come out as winners in the same trade, but that is the case in what the Mets and Tigers did last year. Cespedes was the cleanup hitter that the Mets sorely needed as he helped them win the National League Pennant last October. And although that the Tigers finished 2015 with their first losing season since 2008, they have turned things around this year as they’re in the wild card race in the American League, while also getting themselves a future stud pitcher in Fulmer.
Sources: Baseball-reference.com, Brooksbaseball.net
With the Cleveland Cavaliers having won the NBA Championship last month, there is now a different buzz in the city. The Cavaliers title run marks the city’s first major professional sports title since 1964 when the Cleveland Browns won the National Football League Championship. And the Cavs mojo is rubbing off onto another team in the city which would be the Cleveland Indians. The Indians are the hottest team in Major League Baseball as they have won their last 14 games which has seen them take over first place in the American League Central and in the process they have built a seven-game lead over the second place Kansas City Royals. And now the folks in Cleveland are beginning to think about October baseball as this Indians team is for real.
Terry Francona is in his fourth year as the Indians manager and he has gotten this club back on track. In 2013, Francona was able to get the Indians to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, but they lost in the American League Wild Card Game to the Tampa Bay Rays. The last two years have seen the Indians finish with winning records, but they were unable to make it back to the postseason.
What has helped the Indians here in 2016 is that they didn’t get off to an extremely slow start like they did in each of the last two years. This April saw the Indians go 10-11 as compared to being 11-17 over that same stretch in 2014, and 7-14 at that point last season. By mid-May, the Indians found themselves above .500 and they have not looked back. The Indians have defeated the teams that they’ve needed to which is reflected in their 24-10 record against the American League Central. The Tribe has only lost three series within the A.L. Central this year which includes them going 9-0 against the Detroit Tigers, and 7-4 versus the Kansas City Royals who are the defending World Series Champions as this is a squad that appears ready to hang around in the divisional race until the end of the season.
Two more things that have hurt the Indians over the past two years have been injuries and a lack of quality starting pitching which has not been the case here in 2016.
The Indians team earned run average of 3.34 is tops in the American League and they are getting contributions from their entire pitching staff. Each Indians starting pitcher currently has a winning record and the rotation is led by pitcher Danny Salazar who has a record of 10-3 with an earned run average of 2.22. This run by Salazar also includes him throwing 7 innings of shutout baseball this past Wednesday in Cleveland’s 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Starting pitcher Josh Tomlin is 9-1 with an earned run average of 3.32, while Corey Kluber who was the 2014 A.L. Cy Young Award winner is bouncing back after losing 16 games in 2015. On the season Kluber in 8-7 with an earned average of 3.50. In Kluber’s last four starts, he has thrown a pair of complete games, along with hurling 8 innings of two-run baseball this past Tuesday night in the Indians 5-3 victory over the Braves.
But the best pitching performance by the Indians pitching staff was saved for yesterday when they only allowed one run during their 2-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. The contest lasted 19 innings and it even required starting pitcher Trevor Bauer who was scheduled to start today to pitch the final five innings in relief. However it showed the Indians resiliency as they never gave in to a Blue Jays lineup that is one of the best offensive unit in Major League Baseball.
Cleveland is also getting contributions in middle relief through relief pitchers Bryan Shaw, Zach MacAllister, and Dan Otero who then give the baseball to Cody Allen to close out games in the ninth inning as his 17 saves are seventh in the American League.
It’s been a workman like approach for the Indians offense all year long as they are not equipped with stars, but each night it is a different guy that is stepping up to get the big hit. Designated hitter Carlos Santana is currently leading the club in home runs with 17, and it was his home run in the 19th inning yesterday that broke the 1-1 tie. Veteran first baseman Mike Napoli is in his first year with Cleveland and he is second on the Indians in home runs with 16. But it is Napoli’s veteran presence that Francona covets as he knows what it takes to win as he was a member of the Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team in 2013, while also appearing in the Fall Classic with the Texas Rangers in 2011. The same can be said for veteran third baseman Juan Uribe who has won the World Series with both the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants, while also helping the New York Mets get there last October. And in spite of the adversity that the Indians lineup has faced this year which includes them not having a healthy Michael Brantley in the outfield, or the news that they won’t have the services of outfielder Marlon Byrd for the rest of the year after he failed his second drug test, this lineup just continues to find a way.
With the first half of the Major League Baseball season winding down, the Indians have the opportunity to finish strong and distance themselves from the pack. After the Blue Jays this weekend, Cleveland has a seven-game home stand which will see them host the Tigers and New York Yankees. And if the Indians aren’t careful they could find themselves easily 20 games above .500 heading into the All-Star break which will make things much easier for the team’s president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti as he looks to solidify Cleveland’s chances of being a World Series contender here in 2016.
The Cavaliers run to the NBA Championship has given the City of Cleveland a new life, and the Indians are definitely looking to bask in it as well.