New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2017 Major League Baseball season.
1. Boston Red Sox
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Texas Rangers
4. New York Yankees
5. Toronto Blue Jays
American League Wild Card Game: Toronto Blue Jays vs. New York Yankees
Unlike when the Yankees made the Wild Card Game in 2015, there is a different buzz around this team now.
American League Divisional Series
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox (Red Sox wins series 3-2)
This is only the fourth time that the Yankees and Red Sox will meet in the postseason, and like the previous three, this one will be worth the price of admission.
Texas Rangers vs. Cleveland Indians (Indians win series 3-1)
The Rangers have been one of the best teams in this era, but they’ve simply been unable to get over the hump.
American League Championship Series
Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox (Red Sox win series 4-2)
In a rematch from last year’s divisional round, the Red Sox will be able to reverse the tide and get back to the Fall Classic.
2. Washington Nationals
3. San Francisco Giants
4. New York Mets
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
National League Wild Card Game: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets
There’s no love lost between the Dodgers and Mets which should make for a very interesting and intense contest.
National League Divisional Series
New York Mets vs. Chicago Cubs (Cubs win series 3-1)
The Cubs have exercised their demons from the past and the Mets won’t be able to stop them.
San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals (Giants win series 3-2)
As talented as the Nationals are, they still can’t get over the hump in the playoffs.
National League Championship Series San Francisco Giants (Cubs win series 4-2)
Just like last year in the playoffs, the superiority of the Cubs will take over and allow them to get past the Giants.
2017 World Series: Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago Cubs (Cubs win 4-3)
In the Theo Epstein Classic, his new team in the Cubs will get the best of his old team.
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
Manny Machado-Third Baseman-Baltimore Orioles
Make no mistake about the fact that Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is worth the price of admission and then some. Machado was the third overall pick of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft and by 2012, he was ready for his debut. Machado came into his own last year when he batted .286 with 35 home runs, and 86 runs batted in as he finished fourth in the American League MVP voting. But here in 2016, Machado has picked up right where he left off from last year as he is batting .318 with 19 home runs and 53 runs batted in. Machado just made his third All-Star Game appearance, and with the O’s in the hunt to win the A.L. East for the second time in the last three years, Machado should garner plenty of interest from the voters for the award.
Mark Trumbo-Outfielder-Baltimore Orioles
A big reason why it isn’t cut and dry for Machado to be the American League MVP is due to the season that one of his teammates is having. During the off-season Baltimore Orioles general manager Dan Duquette decided to take a flyer on first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo when he acquired him from the Seattle Mariners. Trumbo burst onto the scene in 2011 with the Los Angeles Angels when he hit 29 home runs while driving in 87 runs. Trumbo would finish second in the American League’s Rookie of the Year that year and he appeared ready to become a centerpiece of the Angels lineup. But Trumbo would be traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013 where he would struggle. Trumbo’s one year with the Mariners wasn’t that much better as they sent him to Baltimore over the winter.
But as Trumbo is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he is having the best year of his career. At the All-Star break, Trumbo is leading Major League Baseball in home runs with 28, and he is well on his way to hitting 40 homers this year. And with the year’s that both Machado and Trumbo are having for the O’s, they might end up taking votes away from each other in the MVP vote.
David Ortiz-Designated Hitter-Boston Red Sox
Hands down Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz has been one of the most important Major League Baseball players of this era. Ortiz is a three-time World Series Champion as he helped the Red Sox reverse the “Curse of the Bambino”. Ortiz has gone on to become one of the most iconic and legendary figures in the history of the Red Sox as his 467 career home runs while wearing the Boston uniform are second in franchise history to the great Ted Williams.
Ortiz has announced that the 2016 Major League Baseball season will be his last and even at the age of 40, he is batting .332 with an on-base percentage of .426, to go along with 22 home runs and 72 runs batted in. After a two-year hiatus from the postseason, the Red Sox are once again in playoff contention with Ortiz being a big part of it.
Mookie Betts-Outfielder-Boston Red Sox
Just like Machado and Trumbo could potentially take votes away from each other, it could be the same for another pair of American League East teammates. Ortiz is going out in style for the Boston Red Sox, but he is one of four current Boston Red Sox players that is currently batting over .300, with one of those guys being outfielder Mookie Betts. Betts was a fifth round pick of the Red Sox in 2011 and he was ready for his debut with the club in 2014. Betts has continued to improve in each year the Red Sox as he has gotten more playing time.
On the season Betts is batting .304 with 18 home runs and 59 runs batted in, while he also has 7 outfield assists. Betts is developing into a five-tool player as at the age of 23, he is the future of Red Sox baseball.
Josh Donaldson-Third Baseman-Toronto Blue Jays
2015 saw Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson become a household name when he was acquired from the Oakland Athletics. Donaldson was a big reason why the Blue Jays were able to win the American League East as he became the first player in franchise history to be named as the A.L. MVP since George Bell in 1987. Donaldson would bat .297 while hitting 41 homers and driving in 123 runs.
Donaldson hasn’t slowed down here in 2016 as he is currently hitting .304 with 23 home runs and 63 runs batted in. Donaldson is showing that 2015 wasn’t a fluke and as the Jays are once again in contention to win the American League MVP, and so is he as far as being named as the A.L. MVP.
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.
After winning the World Series in 2013, the Boston Red Sox took a huge step backwards in 2014 as they finished in last place in the American League East. The Red Sox wanted to immediately return to contention which led team general manager Ben Cherington to dip into free agency. Cherington’s journey would lead him to finding a pair of infielders who played for rival teams, but he saw their upside in helping the Sox turn things around. Cherington took the Red Sox big bag of money as he sought out a pair of third baseman in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.
In seven years as a member of the San Francisco Giants, Sandoval helped the organization win three World Series Titles over a five-year span which was highlighted by him being named as World Series MVP in 2012. Ramirez was originally signed by the Red Sox in 2000 from his native Dominican Republic and he was groomed in their system to eventually become a franchise player for them. However in 2006, the Red Sox were all in on winning the World Series which led to them trading Ramirez to the Florida Marlins as part of a deal that saw Boston receive starting pitcher Josh Beckett, and third baseman Mike Lowell. Ramirez would go on to shine with the Marlins where was named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2006, while also being a three-time Major League Baseball All-Star. In 2012, the Marlins would trade Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers after he became disgruntled with the direction of the franchise in South Florida. Ramirez would have success in Los Angeles as he became a member of a deep lineup that helped the Dodgers win consecutive National League West Titles in 2013 and 2014. Like Sandoval, Ramirez would become a free agent after the 2014 MLB season, and he became somebody that was on the Red Sox radar.
The Sox would sign Sandoval to a five-year contract that was worth $90 million and Ramirez to a four-year deal for $88 million. Both men were third basemen which meant that someone was going to have to learn a new position.
Ramirez wound up being the player that had to adjust to new position as the Red Sox would make him their everyday left fielder. Ramirez was a fish out of water as he struggled to navigate the Green Monster at Fenway Park. Ramirez’s struggles in the field carried over to the plate as he batted a career low .249 with 19 home runs and 53 runs batted in. Sandoval didn’t do that much better in his first season with the Red Sox as he batted a career-low .245 with 10 home runs and 45 runs batted in. Both Sandoval and Ramirez would draw the ire of the baseball fans in Boston as they were a big reason why 2015 marked the Red Sox third last place finish in the last four years.
But there would be a changing of the guard in the Red Sox front office when former Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski became the team’s new president of baseball operations last August which marked the end of Cherington’s run with the club. And after the Red Sox went 78-84 last year, Dombrowski would begin to put his stamp on things.
The Ramirez experiment in left field was over, and the Red Sox gave him a first baseman’s glove over the winter in order for him to once again learn a new position. Sandoval would still be at third base, but the team wanted him to take more control of his weight which has been an issue throughout his Major League Baseball career. In spring training, Ramirez arrived ready to go as the Red Sox new first baseman, while Sandoval was in need of the salad bar which didn’t go over well with Dombrowski or team manager John Farrell as the problems with the “Kung-Fu Panda” haven’t stopped there.
Sandoval spent spring training attempting to get into shape, and now that the regular season has rolled around, he has only appeared in 3 games for the Red Sox as he has failed to get a hit while he is sporting an on-base percentage of just .143. Sandoval now finds himself on the disabled-list with what the Red Sox are describing a shoulder strain. However the real strain is between the Red Sox front office and Sandoval. Ramirez on the other hand is batting .306 on the season while also displaying some slick fielding at first base as the fans in Boston are warming up to him.
Two years ago Sandoval hit free agency in search of a big pay day which he received, but he doesn’t want to live up to the expectations that come with him signing that big contract as the Red Sox were also relying on him to be a leader. But the struggles of Sandoval in Boston should be another example of buyer beware for the Red Sox.
During Sandoval’s time with the Giants, the organization was always conscious about his weight issues which included the team not allowing him to order room service on the road because they felt that he could not be trusted. And when Sandoval hit free agency in 2014, the Giants weren’t ready to break the bank as far as keeping him.
Even though that Sandoval has three-plus years remaining on his contract, it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for him to be bought out by the Red Sox in order for him to simply go away. In Sandoval’s absence, the Red Sox are getting solid production out of Travis Shaw at third base as he is batting .342 with a home run and 7 runs batted in as they are not missing him.
For Dombrowski and Farrell it is rather simple as they are only interested in putting nine guys on the field each day that are going to give the Red Sox a chance to win. Ramirez has fallen in line with what the Red Sox want while I doubt that Sandoval will ever get adjusted.
It’s still relatively early in the 2016 Major League Baseball season, and whereas the Red Sox currently have a record of 6-6, they have to like their chances in the American League East where no team is expected to run away with the division.
Ramirez’s solid start has to be a ray of hope to the Red Sox as it was not set in stone that he would be able to smoothly adjust to once again learning a new position. And in the case of Sandoval, he simply appears to be a sinking ship that is taking on too much water to bail out.
For Sandoval’s Major League Baseball career, he is a lifetime .287 hitter that has made a name for himself as far as being he a cog in the wheel for the Giants who haven’t missed a beat in his absence as they are once again in contention to win the World Series this year.
But the struggles of Sandoval and the adjustments by Ramirez in Boston are simply another cautionary tale of free agency in Major League Baseball where teams are simply rolling the dice on a wing and a prayer when it comes to signing players.