Is stealing signs in baseball bad, or is it gamesmanship?
From 1996-2009, the New York Yankees were at the top of the mountain in Major League Baseball. The Yankees won five World Series Championships which was more than any other club over that stretch. And when it was all said and done, the Yankees had 27 World Series Titles which is more than any other MLB club. But since then the Yankees have a taken a step back which includes missing the playoffs in three of the last four years. However in the early stage of the 2017 MLB season, the Yanks are showing that they are once again a force to be reckoned with.
The Yankees record of 21-11 is good enough to lead most divisions in Major League Baseball, but not the American League East as they are 1.5-games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the top spot and they have the second best winning percentage in baseball. After beginning the season with a record of 1-4, New York has gone on to win seven of their last nine series which included sweeps of the Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs. The sweep of the Cubs put the rest of MLB on notice in regards to the Yankees as the Cubbies are the defending World Series Champions, and this occurred at their home ballpark of Wrigley Field. And although that it is only May, the folks in New York City are beginning to envision seeing this team make it to October.
At the request of Yankees owners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, team general manager Brian Cashman has not been as active in free agency over the past few winters as New York has begun to focus on trading veteran players for prospects, while developing them in their system along with the ones whom they drafted.
We’ve begun to see these youngsters take flight for the Yankees and it began late last season with the emergence of catcher Gary Sanchez. Last year in just 53 games, Sanchez batted .299 with 20 home runs and 42 runs batted in to finish second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. This season injuries have limited Sanchez to just 11 games, but he is expected to once again be a force to be reckoned with. Outfielder Aaron Judge made his Major League Baseball debut last year as he was only able to bat .179 in 27 games. However this season Judge has also been the jury and execution for New York as his 13 home runs lead the American League and he is a solid candidate to be named A.L. MVP.
The Yankees also have a surplus of talent in their minor league system that could soon be ready to help the big club. Pitcher Ben Heller outfielder Clint Frazier were a part of the Yankees compensation that they received for sending relief pitcher Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians last year. And like Sanchez and Judge, Frazier and Heller have the potential to be future building blocks for the Yankees. But aside from the youngsters, the Yankees are getting solid contributions from the veterans in their lineup.
After the Yankees signed outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the rival Red Sox, they have not gotten their money’s worth. Ellsbury helped Boston win the World Series in 2013, and he cashed in when he joined the Yanks to the tune of $153 million over seven years immediately following that. Ellsbury was supposed to be a table setter for the Yankees, but his first three years in New York saw him have a batting average of only .265, with an on-base percentage of .328. And this was on the heels of Ellsbury swiping 52 bases in 2013 which led the American League.
However this season Ellsbury is batting .280 to go along with an on-base percentage of .368 which is his best while wearing Yankee pinstripes and he has been a spark for them in their lineup.
Last year the Yankees acquired second baseman Starlin Castro from the Cubs. Castro enjoyed a solid first season with the Yankees as he batted .270 with 21 homers and 70 runs batted in. But here in 2017, Castro is off to a blazing start as his .351 batting average is second in the American League and his presence at the plate has given New York more depth.
Overall the offense of the Yankees is fierce as they are leading the American League in home runs (52), runs (182), and on-base percentage (.356). Cashman has put together a solid offense together, and even though that he wasn’t very active in free agency, he did make a key signing in picking up veteran outfielder Matt Holliday.
Holliday has always been a solid player which has seen him be a seven-time All-Star, while also helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. Holliday is 37-years of age, but he is off to a solid start at the plate as he is batting .286 with 6 home runs and 19 runs batted in. I expect Yankees manager Joe Girardi to give Holliday some time at designated hitter throughout the season in order to keep him fresh as having a veteran like him in the lineup as much as possible will be very beneficial to the club.
Coming into the 2017 Major League Baseball season I expected the Yankees pitching to be either feast of famine, and so far they have feasted. The Yankees team earned run average of 3.56 is third in the American League as they are receiving solid starting pitching.
Starting pitcher Michael Pineda has been the ultimate wild card for the Yankees throughout his career with them. But with Pineda scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season, he has been dialed in on the mound. Pineda is 3-2 this season with an earned run average of 3.27, while striking out 50 batters. The same can be said for starting pitcher Luis Severino who is 2-2 this season with an earned run average of 3.40. This past Sunday, Severino got a no-decision against the Cubs, but he was still able to limit their potent lineup to just a single run over seven innings, while striking out nine batters.
At 36-yeas of age, veteran starting pitcher CC Sabathia might not be in the running to win the American League’s Cy Young Award like he was earlier in his career, but he knows how to pitch. Sabathia is 2-2 this season with an earned run average of 5.77. And whatever that Sabathia can’t do when he takes the mound every fifth day for the Yanks, he can pass on his knowledge of the game to the youngsters.
Arm issues along with Major League Baseball hitters getting adjusted to starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka have meant that he has had to change his approach on the mound. Tanaka does have 5 victories so far this season, be he has benefited from the strong Yankees lineup as he is sporting an earned run average of 4.31.
Prior to trading relief pitchers Miller and Aroldis Chapman last year, the Yankees had the best bullpen in baseball. But after the trade that sent Miller to the Indians, along with the deal which sent Chapman to the Cubs, New York’s bullpen struggled as relief pitcher Dellin Betances was unable to shoulder the load. However with the Yankees bringing Chapman back in free agency, he is once again locking down the ninth inning as Betances is setting things up for him in the eighth. Chapman already has 7 saves this season, while Betances has 6 holds, and this combo will be vital in order for the Yankees to keep doing damage this season.
The Yankees are going to continue to hit this season as they have one of the best lineups in baseball. However it will come down to pitching in order for the Yankees to get back to the postseason. During the off-season Cashman avoided the temptation of giving up prospects to obtain the services of starting pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox as he eventually was traded to the Red Sox. But regardless of whether or not that the Yankees current starting rotation which has had issues in recent years as far as staying healthy and pitching deep into games will be able to hold up, New York is going to need another frontline starter in order to be legitimate contenders for the World Series.
The American League East will once again be fierce as the Yankees are currently battling for the top spot in the division with the Orioles, while the Red Sox are laying in the weeds. The Rays might not have a playoff caliber team on paper, but they always play their divisional foes tough. And although that the Toronto Blue Jays have gotten off to a slow start, they are not out of the mix, while they can also play spoiler.
Coming into this Major League Baseball season, all of the talk in the Big Apple was focused on the New York Mets who have the sizzle, but through nearly six weeks it has been the Yankees who’ve been taking care of business. And although that the youngsters such as Judge and Sanchez are still wet behind the ears, it hasn’t prevented them from becoming household names in New York City as 2017 is setting up to be a very promising year for them and their teammates with the Yankees.
X-Boston Red Sox 96-66
After a pair of last place finishes in the American League East in 2014 and 2015, the Boston Red Sox were able to bounce back in 2016. The Red Sox would win 93 games en route to claiming the A.L. East Title. The Sox appeared ready to make another a run at the World Series Title until they ran into the Cleveland Indians in the postseason. The Indians would sweep the Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series which meant that the career of designated hitter David Ortiz was over. In 14 years with the Red Sox, Oritz hit 483 home runs, while also being a catalyst for three World Series Championship teams. And now as the Red Sox are preparing for life without “Big Papi”, they are hoping not to take a huge step backwards.
Since Dave Dombrowski became the Red Sox president of baseball operations in August 2015, he hasn’t been afraid of making trade. And after Dombrowski’s wheeling and dealing put the Red Sox back into the postseason last October, he didn’t waste anytime this off-season when he acquired starting pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox.
Last year the Red Sox starting rotation produced the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in starting pitcher Rick Porcello who won 22 games in the regular season, along with starting pitcher David Price who won 17 contests. But behind Porcello and Price, Boston’s starting rotation was thin and it showed up in their playoff loss to the Indians. Acquiring Sale gives the Sox more depth in their starting rotation as he’ll more than likely be their ace, while it will push both Porcello and Price down in the pitching order.
Each of the last five Major League Baseball seasons have seen Sale be on the American League’s All-Star team, while he has struck out at least 200 batters in each of the last four years. Sale hurled 6 complete games last year with his quirky delivery for a left-handed pitcher as the ball is released from his 6’6″ frame keeps opposing batters on their toes. And I don’t see Sale being intimidated by playing under the microscope in Boston.
If you watched the Red Sox play in 2017, you know that their bullpen was shaky at times. Dombrowski hopes that he was able to sure up the middle relief when he acquired relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers. In 67 games for the Brewers last season, Thornburg posted a 2.15 earned run average, while striking out 90 batters, and saving 13 games. If Thornburg is on his game, the Red Sox eighth inning issues could be a thing of the past, while he could also be an alternative in the ninth inning as well.
Last year relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel struggled at times as he posted a career-high 3.40 earned run average. What hurt Kimbrel more than anything else was that he walked 30 batters last season which came back to hurt him at times. Kimbrel was still able to save 31 games for the Red Sox, but he’ll need to be closer to the player that led the National League in saves each year from 2011-2014 as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
Even without Big Papi no longer being around, the Red Sox once again have one of the more proficient offenses in the American League. The Red Sox led the A.L. in runs scored last year with 878 as the next closest team was the Indians with 777, while their team batting average of .282, and on-base percentage of .348 also led the way.
Outfielder Mookie Betts is coming off of a breakout season as he batted .318 with 31 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and 42 doubles. Betts finished second in the American League MVP voting and the case could be made that he should have won it. However with Betts possessing the blend of speed and precision, he should once again be in the mix to win the award as he’ll be a coup for anyone that picks him up in fantasy baseball.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. wasn’t that far behind Betts as far as being a breakout player for the Red Sox either. Bradley is coming off of a career-high in home runs with 26. Bradley had an on-base percentage of .349, however he was only able to steal 9 bases which is alarming with his speed. And I see the speed of Bradley being an aspect that Red Sox manager John Farrell will look to utilize more this season.
Along with Betts and Bradley, the Red Sox have another talented young outfielder in Andrew Benintendi as Boston could have their own version of “The Killer B’s”. The Red Sox made Benintendi the seventh overall selection of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft and it hasn’t taken him that long to make an impact on the big club. Last season in just 34 games, Benintendi batted .295 as he was able collect 31 hits, while also displaying tremendous range defensively in the outfield. And if Benintendi is able to build off of his strong showing last year, his name will definitely be in the mix as far as American League Rookie of the Year candidates.
Aside from Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi, the Red Sox have plenty of depth in their outfield with Chris Young and Brock Holt as Farrell has a good problem on his hands.
Now that Ortiz has retired, you can expect second baseman Dustin Pedroia to become more of a leader than he already is. Since Pedroia made his debut with Boston in 2006, he has been a scrappy player that everyone has respected. Pedroia is a lifetime .301 hitter, and it would not surprise me to see him get at least 40 doubles this season as he has been known to spray the baseball off of the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is a star in making as he is fresh off of his first All-Star Game appearance. Bogaerts has the potential to hit more than .300 this season, while belting 25 homers, and it doesn’t hurt that he can flash the leather in the field. Like Bradley, Benintendi, and Betts, I expect the Red Sox utilize the speed of Bogaerts on the bases this season as Boston could be a deadly hit and run team.
As the Red Sox decided to do away with the experiment of having Hanley Ramirez play left field, he had a stellar campaign in 2016. After hitting just .249, with 19 homers and 53 runs batted in for 2015, Ramirez bounced back in a big way last season to hit .286 with 30 home runs, while driving in 111 runs. Ramirez worked on his craft to be a solid first baseman for the Red Sox, and it didn’t hurt him being around Ortiz. However with Ortiz now retired, and with Ramirez’s propensity to play when he wants to, it’ll be interesting to see what version of him that Boston will see this season.
Ramirez will split time at first base and being the designated hitter with Boston’s newest acquisition Mitch Moreland as the two of them will attempt to replace some of the contributions by Ortiz. In seven years with the Rangers, Moreland hit 110 home runs, including 45 over the last two seasons. But only time will tell how Moreland will be able to fare under the microscope in Boston.
Then there is the case of third baseman Pablo Sandoval. After Sandoval helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series Championships, he hit free agency following the conclusion of the 2014 Major League Baseball season. The Red Sox scooped up Sandoval to the tune of $90 million over five years, but he has been far from living up to his end of things.
In two seasons with the Red Sox, Sandoval has only played in 129 games, while only batting .242 with 10 home runs and 47 runs batted in. Sandoval was limited to just three games last season due to shoulder surgery. Sandoval’s playing weight has always been an issue, but he showed up to spring training this year in arguably the best shape of his career as he looks to put his struggles with the Red Sox behind him.
As always the American League East will be tough to navigate. But if the Red Sox are able to manage within the division, while taking care of their business with everyone else, they should be able to reach the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Y-New York Yankees 88-74
Three of the last four years have seen the New York Yankees fail to reach the postseason, but things could be ready to change in the Bronx. The Yankees have taken a back seat in the American League East to the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and Baltimore Orioles as they’ve been in the process of trying to get from under some of their huge player contracts. The Yankees bid farewell to aging veterans in designated hitter Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Mark Teixeira who both retired, while they traded catcher Brian McCann to the Houston Astros. Trades last year of relief pitchers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman to the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs respectively netted the Yanks some prospects for the future as they are hopeful to be able to contend with them for years to come.
The emergence of catcher Gary Sanchez made it easy Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to part with McCann. In 53 games last year for the Yankees, Sanchez became an overnight sensation in the Big Apple as he batted .299 with 20 homers and 42 runs batted in. The Yankees brass sees Sanchez as the real deal and not the next Kevin Maas, but it will be interesting to see what he can do as New York’s everyday catcher, while the fans and media alike expect him to build off of what he was able to do in 2016.
The Yankees drafted outfielder Aaron Judge in 2013 and he has worked his way through their minor-league system. Judge has tremendous power as he can hit the baseball onto the Major Deagan Expressway. But for all of Judge’s power he has to work on his plate discipline. Judge struck out 42 times in just 95 plate appearances last year as he was only able to sport a batting average of .179. But the ceiling is still high for Judge who won’t turn 25-years of age until next month and he is a big part of the Yankees future plans.
First baseman Greg Bird showed flashes for the Yankees as he split time with Teixeira in 2015. Bird was expected to have a bigger role for the Yankees in 2016, but he suffered a torn labrum which put him on the shelf for the entire campaign. Now Bird is back and after hitting 11 homers in just 41 games for the Yanks, he is a guy that has the potential to go yard at least 25 times this season.
But aside from the youngsters, the Yankees have some veteran players that have some pop in their bats as well. Last year as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, first baseman Chris Carter led the National League in home runs with 41. At the plate it is either feast or famine for Carter as he has a career batting average of just .218 which is a good indication as to why it only took the Yankees $3.5 million to sign him. But make no mistake about that Carter is able to make contact with the baseball, it goes very far as if nothing else the combination of himself, Judge, and Sanchez will always put on a show in batting practice. Carter will be primarily used a designated hitter as this Yankees team will more than likely live and die by the three-run homer.
Along with Carter, Cashman also signed veteran outfielder Matt Holliday this off-season. For Holliday’s 13-year Major League Baseball career he has averaged 27 home runs and 105 runs batted in per season, while sporting a .303 batting average. At the age of 37, it will be difficult for the Yankees to expect Holliday to put up numbers at the plate like he did earlier in his career. However a veteran such as Holliday who was able to win a World Series Championship with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 will be vital for a young Yankees team.
However aside from the optimism that the Yankees have for their youngsters, there are some question marks on this roster. As the seasons go by outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is becoming less productive. When the Yankees brought Ellsbury on board in 2014, they were hopeful to get the player that led the American League in stolen bases in 2013 with 52 for the Boston Red Sox as he helped them win the World Series. But that has not been the case for Ellsbury’s time with the Yankees as he’s been oft-injured, while not being the lead-off hitter that they expected. In three seasons with the Yankees, Ellsbury’s batting average is 33 points lower than he was with the Red Sox. And if Ellsbury gets off to slow start this season, expect the fans in the Bronx to let him have it.
Outfielder Brett Gardner is as scrappy as they come, and although that his skills are beginning to diminish, the Yankees will find a spot on this team for one of the fan favorites. In the infield the Yankees will miss the contributions of Teixeira who was a five-time Gold Glove winner. The Yankees still have solid defenders in third baseman Chase Headley and shortstop Didi Gregorious. Second baseman Starlin Castro had a solid first season with the Yankees after he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs, and he hit a career-high in home runs with 21, while he cut down on the errors defensively as he only had 12 last year.
And overall the offense will have to carry the Yankees as they won’t be able to consistently rely on their pitching staff. As a team the Yankees team earned run average of 4.16 was seventh in the American League. But manager Joe Girardi had to lean heavily on his bullpen due to the fact that his starting pitchers don’t have the ability to go deep into games.
Last season the Yankees had 70 quality starts which was tenth in the American League, while no starting pitcher was able to throw a complete game. Girardi relies heavily on his bullpen which has seen them wear down as the season progresses.
All signs point to 2017 being the last year that starting pitcher CC Sabathia will be with the Yankees. Sabathia was instrumental in helping the Yanks win the World Series in 2009, but age and injury have caught up to him. Sabathia is 36-years of age and the Yankees would be fortunate to squeeze 12 victories, along with 150 innings out of him this season.
Starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was the only Yankees pitcher to win more than 9 games last season. Tanaka has been with the Yankees for three years and he has yet to reach the 200-inning mark in a single season as he has been bothered by elbow issues in the past. However if Tanaka is able to remain healthy, 15 victories could be in the cards for him this time around.
Starting pitcher Michael Pineda has been extremely up and down during his time with the Yankees as you never know what to expect from him on an inning-to-inning basis as he could look like a Cy Young Award winner in one breath, and a career minor-leaguer in another. However since Pineda is set to become a free agent following this season, the possibility looms that he’ll be able to get his act together for the entire year.
And as the Yankees must once again rely on their bullpen, they made the right move to bring Chapman back to the Bronx. Chapman saved 20 games for the Yankees last season after he was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds. But when the Yankees were ready to wave the white flag, they traded Chapman to the Chicago Cubs. Chapman came up big for the Cubs as they won the World Series, however when he hit free agency his asking price was too high for them.
It took $86 million over the next five years for the Yankees to lure Chapman to the Bronx, but he should be well worth the investment as he’s a dependable flamethrower that can consistently get the job done in the ninth inning.
A big reason why the Yankees brought Chapman back was because they weren’t sold on relief pitcher Dellin Betances being their closer. Betances has been primarily used as a setup man. But when the Yankees traded both Chapman and Miller last season, Betances was thrust into the role as the team’s closer. Betances’ earned run average more than doubled last season from the previous one as it was at 3.08. This was due to the fact that the Yankees over used him since they don’t have starters who can consistently go deep into games.
The situation was compounded this off-season when Betances went to arbitration and as he was seeking $5 million, the Yanks were only willing to give him $3 million. The battle was played out in the media with Yankees team president Randy Levine being critical of Betances’ agent Jim Murray whom he criticized for attempting to have his client compensated like a closer. But either way it would be prudent of Girardi to find a way to better manage Betances’ appearances this season in order to keep him fresh.
As usual the American League East should be one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball. And if the Yankees are able to get enough pitching, the season could end with them once again headed for the playoffs.
Y-Toronto Blue Jays 88-74
The last two years saw the Toronto Blue play a very exciting brand of baseball. The Blue Jays had a lineup that was full of sluggers who were always more than eager to launch homers high and deep into the Toronto sky. This brand of baseball led to the Blue Jays winning the American League East in 2015 for the first time since 1993 and it would also lead to another postseason appearance last October. But things would change for the Blue Jays towards the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season when general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined a five-year contract extension as the result of a power struggle between he and the recently hired Mark Shapiro who was now the team’s president of baseball operations. Shapiro’s philosophy is different from that of Anthopoulos, and when the Blue Jays take the field to begin the 2017 MLB season, they are definitely going to have a different look.
For nearly eight years, first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion captivated baseball fans in Toronto with his power hitting ability and trademark of “walking the bird” each time that he went yard. Encarnacion’s 239 home runs while wearing a Blue Jays uniform are the third most in franchise history and he still had plenty in the tank which was evident by his 42 homers and 127 runs batted in last season. But Shapiro decided to let Encarnacion walk in free agency as he landed with the Cleveland Indians after both sides agreed on a three-year deal that is worth $60 million.
Along with Encarnacion, outfielder Michael Saunders who hit 24 homers last season for the Jays left Toronto as well in free agency as signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. And it seemed that outfielder Jose Bautista was headed for the same fate as Encarnacion and Saunders until he and the Blue Jays came to an agreement on a one-year deal for $18 million late in the free agency period.
Like Encarnacion, Bautista is one of best power hitters in Blue Jays franchise history. Bautista’s 265 career home runs are the second most in franchise history which has also seen him lead the American League in home runs on two separate occasions. However Bautista has done this while always having Encarnacion protecting him. And with Encarnacion now in Cleveland, along with the fact that Bautista is 36-years of age, it’s less of a guarantee that “Joey Bats” will enjoy another vintage year at the plate.
The departure of Saunders means that Melvin Upton Jr. will become an everyday player in Toronto’s outfield. The Jays acquired Upton from the San Diego Padres, and in 57 games with Toronto, he batted .196, while hitting 4 home runs. Throughout Upton’s career he has always been a guy who has been known for his potential, but overall he has failed to live up to it, and I believe that the Blue Jays are set to find that out firsthand.
And whereas that the Blue Jays lost Encarnacion in free agency, Shapiro picked up designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Morales was a valuable bat in the middle of the Kansas City Royals lineup when they won the World Series in 2015, and he should be able to fit in with the Jays as he is coming off of the second 30-homer campaign of his Major League Baseball career.
After being named as the American League MVP in 2015, third baseman Josh Donaldson was right back in the mix last year. Donaldson is one of the best at the hot corner in baseball with his glove and bat alike. In two seasons with Toronto, Donaldson has hit 78 home runs, and he should be in the running to once again hit at least 35. Like Donaldson, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was an addition to the Blue Jays in 2015 as they became a playoff contender. Tulowitzki is not the same player that he was during his time with the Colorado Rockies, but the Jays still need him to remain healthy as he is a player that still has the potential to go yard at least 20 times.
The Blue Jays pitching staff was overshadowed by the team’s potent lineup, but this unit led the American League in team earned run average last season at 3.78. Starting pitcher J.A. Happ became the first Blue Jays pitcher since Roy Halladay in 2008 to win 20 games. In Aaron Sanchez’s first year as a full-time starter for Toronto, he was able to win 15 games. Marcus Stroman was the only Jays starting pitcher to reach the 200-inning plateau last season, but he must become more consistent as he has the potential to win 15-18 games; however he must not only work on getting ahead of batters, but also putting them away.
Veteran starting pitcher Francisco Liriano was picked up from the Pittsburgh Pirates and he has a wealth of experience to pass on to the youngsters in Toronto’s rotation. Liriano is a two-time American League Comeback Player of the Year winner and his ability to work the corners as a left-handed pitcher should be valuable against the power lineups that the A.L. East has.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has two dependable relief pitchers to close out games in Roberto Osuna and Jason Grilli. Osuna has saved 56 games over the last two seasons for Toronto, while Grilli can be either a setup man or a closer which gives Toronto some much needed depth late in contests.
The Blue Jays pitching staff has the benefit of working with catcher Russell Martin who is one of the best in the business behind the plate. Martin knows how to call a game, while he can frame pitches like now other. And the cherry on top is that Martin is a solid contributor as each of his two seasons with the Blue Jays has seen him hit at least 20 home runs.
As previously mentioned the American League East will more than likely once again be the toughest division in baseball. The Blue Jays should hold their own as it will just be a matter of how long that it will take them to gel.
Baltimore Orioles 85-77
The 2016 Major League Baseball season saw the Baltimore Orioles possess one of the best teams in Major League Baseball, but they played in the league’s toughest division. The American League East saw four of their teams in contention for the postseason with three teams getting there. The Orioles were one of those A.L. East teams that were able to reach the postseason, but since they were unable to win the division, they had to begin the playoffs in the Wild Card Game. And as the O’s went back and forth with the Toronto Blue Jays, they were ultimately done in by their bullpen in extra innings. It was a bitter ending to a solid season for the Orioles, but as a new season is to begin, along with the fact that manager Buck Showalter is once again leading the way in Baltimore, this squad will once again be a tough out.
The Orioles have allowed some quality sluggers such as designated hitter Nelson Cruz to leave in free agency over the past few years, but they continue to fins a way to trudge along. Third baseman Manny Machado is one of the treasures of Major League Baseball. Machado continues to improve at the hot corner with his glove as well as hit bat. Machado’s numbers at the plate have increased in each of his five years with the O’s. And after Machado batted .294 with 37 home runs and 96 runs batted in last season, he will once again be in the running to win the American League MVP Award.
As a team the Orioles led the American League in homers last season with 253 and the long ball will once again be en vogue at Camden Yards. After outfielder/first baseman Mark Trumbo led the the A.L. in homers last season with 47, there was a huge possibility that he would leave Baltimore in free agency like other sluggers have recently. However there weren’t any teams that were willing to break the bank for Trumbo’s services which resulted in him returning to the Orioles. It’s not a guarantee that Trumbo will once again be the top power hitter in the A.L., but he should benefit from being in a solid O’s lineup.
First baseman Chris Davis has led the American League in strikeouts, but the caveat to that is his power. The past five years have seen Davis belt 197 home runs and “Crush” should continue to climb up Baltimore’s all-time home runs list. For nearly a decade outfielder Adam Jones has been the face of the Orioles franchise. Jones is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner as he has plenty of range in center field, while he continues to provide Baltimore with a consistent bat at the plate being that you can always count on him to hit at least 25 homers.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop is quickly becoming one of the better second baseman in the American League. Schoop hit a career-high 25 home runs last season, but he needs to work on his plate discipline. Schoop struck out 137 times last season, while he was only able to draw 21 walks. And if Schoop can cut down on the strikeouts, while drawing more walks and picking up his batting average, he could be in line for his first All-Star Game appearance this summer.
It will be up to veteran catchers Welington Castillo and Caleb Joseph to replace the contributions of Matt Wieters behind the plate as he joined the Washington Nationals. And the combination of Castillo and Joseph will have their hands full with an Orioles pitching staff that is far from stellar.
The Orioles team earned run average of 4.22 was tenth in the American League, while their 69 quality starts were 11th. And aside from starting pitcher Chris Tillman who won 16 games last season, there isn’t a ton of optimism for this rotation in Baltimore.
However Showalter will have to rely on his rock solid bullpen that features relief pitchers Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. Britton led the American League in saves last season with 47, while he posted an earned run average of just 0.54. It’ll be hard for Britton to top his performance from last season. But Showalter will once again lean on him.
24 of Baltimore’s first 27 games will come against the American League East. And although that I don’t anticipate anyone running away with the division, it will still be important for Baltimore to get off to a solid start.
Tampa Bay Rays 68-94
After the Tampa Bay Rays were a thorn in the side of the baseball world for seven years, it is safe to say that the thrill is gone. Each of the last three Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Rays finish with a losing record with the bottom officially falling out in 2016 as they lost 94 games for the first time since 2007. And by the way that things are shaping up in Tampa, it won’t be getting better anytime soon.
Matthew Silverman is in his fourth year as the Rays president of baseball operations and he needs to get into gear as far as redeveloping Tampa’s minor-league system which was the backbone of their success from 2008-2013.
One of the positives for the Rays heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season is that they still have third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria is hands down the best player in the franchise history of the Rays and he is coming off one of his best seasons as he hit a career-high 36 home runs. Longoria is 31-years of age, and with the Rays not expected to contend for a playoff spot this year, will he be trade bait?
But if the Rays decide to keep Longoria, he would be a part of a lineup that had plenty of pop in 2016. The Rays hit 216 home runs which was fourth in the American League, and they had four players hit at least 20 homers. But whereas the Rays know a thing or two about going yard, many were of the solo variety as they were 14th in the A.L. in runs scored. The Rays need a table setter in their lineup who could be outfielder Desmond Jennings who has only appeared in 93 games over the last two years, while utility man Brad Miller will look to make it consecutive years where he hits 30 home runs.
The pitching staff of the Rays is looking to bounce back; especially starting pitcher Chris Archer whose 19 losses were the worst in American League. However Archer does have electric stuff, but he appeared to be over pitching at times last year due to the fact that there wasn’t a ton of talent around him. And if Archer is able to put it all together, winning 15 games isn’t out of the question for him this season.
Relief pitcher Alex Colome saved 37 games last year in his first season as a closer, but he flew under the radar since the Rays were not a good team. But being that Colome was able to strike out 71 batters in just 56.2 innings pitched, the other teams in the American League will need to pay closer attention to him this time around.
Archer, Colome, and the rest of the Rays pitching staff should benefit from the team signing veteran catcher Wilson Ramos. Ramos was in the midst of having the best season of his career last year as a member of the Washington Nationals until he suffered a torn ACL. Ramos is expected to be healthy by July and he should be able to provide the Rays a veteran backstop to work with this pitching staff.
For Rays manager Kevin Cash, his team doesn’t have the talent or financial stability that their rivals in the American League East have. And thus Tampa Bay needs to get back to what made them which is to scrap and claw for 162 games.
Y-Wild Card Berth
The Tampa Bay Rays are in their 19th year as a Major League Baseball franchise and the best term that can describe their existence is hot and cold. In the Rays first decade in MLB, they never won more than 70 games in a season while they lost at least 100 games in a year on three occasions. The Rays fortunes began to change with the arrival of Andrew Friedman as the team’s general manager and Joe Maddon as the club’s manager. In 2008, the Rays would see a 31-game improvement in the win column en route to winning the American League East for the first time in franchise history. The Rays would ride that wave of momentum to their first and only trip to the World Series. Since then the Rays have enjoyed three more trips to the postseason with four, 90-win seasons to their credit. But now the thrill appears to be gone for Rays baseball.
After the 2014 Major League Baseball season, Friedman left the Rays to become the president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers, while Maddon departed to become the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Last year under the guidance of general manager Matthew Silverman and manager Kevin Cash, the Rays hung tough in the American League West as they went 80-82. But the bottom appears to have fallen out for the Rays here in 2016.
The Rays are currently 31-43 as they are bringing up the rear in the American League East. Tampa Bay hasn’t been above .500 since May 20 when they were 20-19 as they have gone 11-24 ever since which includes losing their last 11 games. The Rays are 13.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East, while they are also 8.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the final wild card spot in the A.L. And although that Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is still two weeks away, the Rays appear ready to throw in the towel as they are going nowhere fast.
The Rays play in one of the smallest media markets in Major League Baseball which restricts them from being big spenders. The Rays typically have one of the smallest team payroll’s in MLB which means that they must concentrate on drafting and developing their players. That was something that the Rays excelled in under Friedman as he was responsible for bringing in players such as third baseman Evan Longoria, along with starting pitchers David Price and Matt Garza to Tampa Bay with each player being integral in the team winning the American League Pennant in 2008, while also remaining in contention afterwards.
But the issue with of drafting and developing quality players is that they will eventually reach the level of becoming unrestricted free agents, and that is where the Rays get into a bind. The Rays have allowed the likes of outfielder Carl Crawford leave Tampa Bay as free agents, while others such as Price and utility man Ben Zobrist were traded. And in the case of Price who was the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, he should have commanded more return value via the trade market. However the Rays only received journeymen when they shipped Price to the Detroit Tigers in 2014 which unofficially marked the beginning of the end for Tampa Bay. Now that majority of the quality talent has left West Florida with the exception of Longoria who has become the face of this fledgling franchise, you have to wonder how much longer that he will play the role of being the good soldier before he asks to be traded?
Offensively the Rays are near the bottom of the majority of the categories in the American League this year which includes runs (290), hits (581), and batting average (.236) as they are dead last in each one. The Rays pitching staff that was once the backbone of this franchise isn’t fairing that much better as they are 10th in team earned average at 4.26. And once you add all of this up, it puts the Rays at a huge disadvantage in the A.L. East which features the potent lineups of the Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays.
With the exception of Longoria, along with starting pitchers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, there aren’t that many players that are currently on the Rays roster that are recognizable which is a good sign that they are lacking star power and something must be done to improve this franchise before they return to purgatory.
Just as Rays owner Stuart Sternberg cannot afford to keep his players when they hit free agency, he couldn’t afford Friedman and Maddon when big market teams such as the Dodgers and Cubs came calling. For the longest time the Rays have been attempting to get out of their lease to play at Tropicana Field which runs through 2027 in the hopes of obtaining a more lucrative playing facility. Tropicana Field served its purpose when the Rays first came to town in 1998, but the facility is inadequate as far as the amenities that professional sports owners are seeking in a stadium which includes luxury boxes and the proximity to the downtown area. The Rays are looking to move into the downtown area which would make their games more accessible to Tampa fans and visitors alike which would be a shot in the arm for them as far as revenue.
And when you take a long look at the Rays, this is an organization that needs a jolt as every aspect of the club must be reassessed. Before 2008, the Rays were a laughing stock as teams knew that coming to Tampa would result in an easy win. And the last thing that the Rays want to do is revert to once again being a glorified minor-league team as it was indeed a long journey for them to get to respectability.
The Toronto Blue Jays have been a Major League Baseball franchise for 40 years and they have had their fare share of feared sluggers that have suited up for them. The Blue Jays rose to prominence in the 1980’s with the power bats of Jesse Barfield and George Bell being a big part of it. The Blue Jays would win consecutive World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993 with Joe Carter providing the pop in the middle of their lineup. Since then the Blue Jays have had sluggers such as Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado who is the franchise’s all-time leader in home runs with 336, but none of these solid power hitters were able to do what is currently going on north of the border.
The Jays have one of the most feared lineups in Major League Baseball as it is the modern day murderers row for power hitters. For years the Blue Jays lineup was paced by outfielder Jose Baustista and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion as they have been regular participants at MLB’s All-Star Game. But to duo of Encarnacion and Bautista wasn’t enough to get the Jays to the postseason.
Prior to the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, former Blue Jays general Alex Anthopoulos executed a trade that saw Toronto acquire All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics. And in the Donaldson’s first year in Toronto, he became a household name along with becoming one of the most popular athletes in Canada as he became the first Blue Jays player since Bell in 1987 to be named as the American League MVP by hitting 41 homers while driving in 123 runs.
With Donaldson in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup with Bautista and Encarnacion, they were more potent as they began to get into contention. And the cherry on top for the Blue Jays was just prior to the Major League Baseball trade deadline last year when they acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies. With the Rockies, Tulowitzki was a five-time All-Star, along with hitting at least 20 home runs in a season six times and he fit right into the Toronto lineup.
The Blue Jays would hit 232 home runs which was tops in the American League in 2015 with Encarnacion, Bautista, and Donaldson all hitting at least 39 home runs which was a big part of Toronto winning the A.L. East for the first time since 1993. And after falling short of the World Series last October by two games, the Blue Jays have picked up right where they left off in the power department here in 2016.
Bautista and Donaldson are each on the verge of reaching the 20-homer plateau and the calendar has yet to hit July. And as Bautista and Tulowitzki have yet to get it going like they have in year’s past, there’s is a new power bat that is emerging for Toronto.
As outfielder Michael Saunders is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he is enjoying the finest year of his Major League Baseball career. So far this year Saunders has hit 15 home runs to go along with 32 runs batted in which has been highlighted by hitting 3 homers while driving in 8 runs last Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles. And Saunders has joined the law firm of Donaldson, Encarnacion, Bautista, and Tulowitzki which has kept the Blue Jays afloat in playoff contention in the American League.
After a 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox on May 29, the Blue Jays found themselves with a record of 26-26. But since then Toronto is 14-8 with series wins over the Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees who happen to be their primary competition in the American League East. The bats have led the way here in June for the Blue Jays as they have seven games in which they’ve scored at least 7 runs, while they are third in the A.L. in home runs (107), and fifth in slugging percentage (.435)
The Blue Jays record of 40-34 currently has them in third place in the American League East behind the Orioles and Red Sox, but they are just 2.5 games out of first place while also possessing the second wild card spot in the A.L. And with a potent offense like Toronto has, it gives Blue Jays president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro more flexibility in seeking to make a trade to boost the team’s postseason chances as they are not lacking in the power category.
It’s nearly two hours that separates Toronto from Niagara Falls. But you wouldn’t know that when you see the Blue Jays offense clicking on all cylinders as they could be the Ontario Power Generation since they provide the electricity that can light up the city’s skyline.
Buck Showalter has been the manager of the Baltimore Orioles since 2010, and he has definitely changed the culture around the team. Prior to Showalter’s arrival in 2010, the Orioles has 12 straight losing seasons. But since 2012, the O’s have never finished with a losing record, while they have two postseason appearances to their credit along with winning the American League East Title in 2014. After missing the playoffs last year by five games, the Orioles have started off strong here in 2016 as through 67 games, their record of 39-28 has them in first place in the tough A.L. East.
The Orioles got off to a fast start by winning their first seven games of the year and they’ve never looked back. Baltimore has never been under .500 in 2016, while here in the month of June, they are 11-6. To the Orioles credit, they completed a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals who are the defending World Series Champions. And after getting swept on the road by the Toronto Blue Jays last weekend, the O’s were able to rebound by taking two out of three games from the Boston Red Sox this week at Fenway Park to maintain their spot in first place in the American League East. The O’s who are now in the midst of a series against the Blue Jays where they’ve split the first two games, have proven that they can compete and make the playoffs under Showalter, but this year’s squad has the look of a team that could win it all.
So far this year the offense has really clicked for the Orioles as they are near the top of most major offensive categories in the American League. After being the third overall pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is really coming into his own. Machado hit 35 home runs last last year which was 10th in the American League, and he has picked up right where he left off from as he is batting .317 with 17 home runs and 42 runs batted in. Machado is becoming one of the best third basemen in baseball, and he now finds himself in the A.L. MVP conversation. After leading the A.L. in home runs in last year with 47, Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis is picking up right where he left off from as he has 16 home runs to go along with 40 runs batted in. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop continues to come into his own as he is on pace for the best season of his brief four-year career. And as the O’s are waiting for outfielder Adam Jones to get it going at the plate, they have to be pleased with the season that right fielder Mark Trumbo is having.
After hitting 95 home runs in three years with the Los Angeles Angels, Trumbo was never able to replicate that success during his time with the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Seattle Mariners. But as Trumbo is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, the O’s are benefiting. Trumbo’s 20 home runs this year are tops in the American League as he is on pace for his best season at the plate, while he is also in line for the second All-Star Game nod of his career.
But all isn’t well with Showalter’s Orioles in 2016 as their starting pitching leaves something to be desired. The Orioles pitching staff this year has an earned run average of 4.23 and quality starts (27) are each is 10th in the American League. Outside of starting pitcher Chris Tillman who is 9-1, Baltimore starting pitchers have a combined record of 13-21 with the worst of the bunch being Ubaldo Jimenez who checks in with a record of 3-7 and his earned run average of 7.34. Jimenez has only lasted past the sixth inning twice this year, and he was roughed up last night against the Blue Jays as he surrendered 5 runs in 2.1 innings which brought out the boo birds at Camden Yards.
The O’s do have a solid bullpen which is led by relief pitcher Zach Britton who has 21 saves which is tops in the American League, but for this team to go where they ultimately want to go which is to the World Series, they are going to need to get at least one more starting pitcher via the trade market.
After dealing with several quality teams over the last month such as the Red Sox, Mariners, Blue Jays, Royals, and Cleveland Indians, the O’s are set to have a bit of a lull where they can potentially tack on some wins. After a makeup game with the Texas Rangers this Monday who are currently the top team in the American League West, the Orioles will host the San Diego Padres for a pair of games before beginning a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays next weekend. But it goes right back to the difficult side of the ledger for the Orioles as just before the All-Star break, they will have a seven-game West Coast trip which will see them meet the Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers. And whereas this doesn’t sound easy, it is just right for the Orioles as a Showalter led team wouldn’t like it any other way than to be battle tested for the stretch run of the regular season which could once again propel them to the postseason.
From 2003-2008, the Boston Red Sox enjoyed their best run in franchise history since winning four World Series Titles from 1912-1918. The Red Sox would win a pair of World Series Titles in five playoff appearances as they were one of the top teams in Major League Baseball. The Red Sox would again make the playoffs in 2009, but they would be swept in the American League Division Series by the Los Angeles Angels. Boston wouldn’t qualify for the postseason in 2010, while they would have an epic collapse coming down the stretch in 2011 which resulted in no trip to the playoffs. 2012 would see the bottom officially fall out for the Sox when they stumbled to their first, last place finish since 1992. And after one year as the manager of the Red Sox, Bobby Valentine would be fired and replaced by John Farrell.
In Farrell’s first year in Boston, he led a complete turnaround as the Red Sox won the World Series. But the past two years were a struggle for the Red Sox as they finished in the basement of the American League East in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history, while Farrell had to step away from his managerial duties in order to be treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
There would be a change of philosophies for the Red Sox last August when Dave Dombrowski would be named as the team’s new president of baseball operations. Dombrowski brought with him a ton of front office experience as he was previously the general manager of the Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins, and Detroit Tigers. And Dombrowski went to work in getting things turned around in Boston.
Dombrowski began by parting with longtime Red Sox players such as infielder Mike Napoli who were aging. After former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington had signed infielder Hanley Ramirez prior to the 2015 Major League Baseball season with the intent of him playing left field, Dombrowski put him back in the infield, but at first base which was still a new position for him as he spent the majority of his MLB career at either shortstop or third base. Dombrowski got the green light from Red Sox owner John Henry to spend money over the winter in free agency which he did on starting pitcher David Price as the two sides agreed to a seven-year contract that is worth $217 million. Over the off-season, the Red Sox would also acquire relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres. And the additions of Price and Kimbrel to a veteran Red Sox team have become an interesting mix.
After going 14-10 in the month of April, the Red Sox surged in May. Boston finished the month of May with a record of 18-10 to bring their overall record to 33-23. And now the Red Sox find themselves in first place in the American League East which was something that they were unable to do in 2015.
Like other teams, Boston has had to deal with their fair share of ups and downs in 2016. Like Ramirez, third baseman Pablo Sandoval was a big signing for the Red Sox in free agency following the 2014 Major League Baseball season. But the Sandoval signing hasn’t worked out for the Red Sox as weight issues, along with a shoulder injury have abruptly ended his 2016 campaign. But whereas the services of Sandoval are unavailable, it has given a player such as Travis Shaw the opportunity to become the Red Sox everyday third baseman. Shaw is giving the Sox more than what they expected as he’s batting .289 with 7 home runs and 36 runs batted in. But most importantly Shaw is healthy and he wants to play. The Red Sox have dealt with several mini slumps this year as a team, however each time they’ve found a way to get out of their funk rather quickly.
One of the most recent incident like this came for the Red Sox on Memorial Day Weekend when they lost the first two games of a road series against the Toronto Blue Jays, which included blowing a four-run lead in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon. The Sox would respond by taking the final game of the series which was the prelude of what was to come during their showdown last week against the Baltimore Orioles.
This Monday marked the beginning of an important four-game series between the Red Sox and Orioles with first place in the American League East on the line. And under manager Buck Showalter, the O’s have been a thorn in the side of the Sox which included eliminating Boston from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season in 2011. But this series saw each team win twice, but for the Red Sox they got contributions from their entire lineup, and through it all Boston now find themselves with a one-game lead over Baltimore in the AL East.
Young Red Sox players such as outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts are coming of age as each player has enjoyed a lengthy hitter streak this year. Second basemen Dustin Pedroia is once again healthy, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts is becoming one of the best players in the game at his position. But make no mistake about that the Red Sox have once again rallied around designated hitter David Ortiz.
Since 2003, Ortiz has become the heart and soul of the Red Sox team. Ortiz is arguably the best designated hitter in Major League Baseball history while his 459 home runs are second in Red Sox franchise history. Ortiz has had a wealth of iconic moments while wearing a Red Sox uniform which has been highlighted by his game winning hit in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series which turned the team’s fortunes around en route to winning their first World Series Title since 1918, his grand slam in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS against the Tigers, and a laundry list of walk-off hits. In the 2013 World Series, Ortiz batted .688 en route to being named as the MVP of the series, while earlier that year, he spoke on behalf of the organization after the bombing which took place at the Boston Marathon.
Ortiz has announced that this will be his final year with the Red Sox as he is set to retire, and he is going out with a bang. Ortiz is batting .342 with 16 home runs and 53 runs batted in. Ortiz’s 53 RBI’s lead the American League as some people are clamoring for the 40-year old to not retire since he is off to such a fabulous start.
Including Ortiz, the Red Sox currently have four players that are batting above .300, with Bogaerts leading the American League at .350. The Red Sox have best offense in the AL as they are first in runs (326), batting average (.294), on-base percentage (.359), slugging percentage (.490), hits (579), doubles (140) and triples (17).
The Red Sox are near the bottom of the American League in most pitching categories, but after a slow start, both Price and starting pitcher Rick Porcello are improving, while knuckleballer Steven Wright has been a pleasant surprise with a record of 6-4, to go along with an earned run average of 2.53, and a pair of complete games.
These Red Sox might not be the “idiots” that won the World Series in 2004 to reverse the curse, but this motley crew does have a good vibe to them as each man is playing for the guy that is next to him. Ramirez has accepted his role at first base, which has included him having a bounce back year at the plate, while also flashing the leather there. The Red Sox have tremendous speed in the outfielder with Betts, Bradley, Rusney Castillo, and Brock Holt, while they have solid defense on the infield.
Prior to the start of the season I felt that if the Sox were able to stay in contention that Dombrowski would be active on the trade market in order to obtain another starting pitcher. And with the way that things are going in Boston, you can expect Dombrowski to get a deal done to acquire at least one arm between now and the next 6-8 weeks. But make no mistake about there is once again a positive buzz around the Red Sox.