Tag Archives: Justin Verlander

The Astros Blueprint For Rebuilding

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Six years ago things were looking bleak for the Houston Astros. The Astros were losing money which led to their team owner Drayton McLane selling the team. In 2011, Jim Crane would purchase the Astros for $680 million while also taking on debt as well as accepting the fact that Houston would switch from the National League to the American League in 2013. Crane knew that it would not be a quick turnaround for his Astros as they lost at least 100 games in each season from 2011-2013.

Jeff Luhnow

Upon taking over the Astros, Crane hired Jeff Luhnow to be the team’s general manager. Luhnow understood that the Astros were starting over from scratch and focused on drafting, while also developing those players in Houston’s minor-league system.

Upon taking over in Houston, Luhnow inherited starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel and second baseman Jose Altuve who would develop into cornerstones for the Astros. Keuchel would be drafted by the Astros in 2009, and he’d make his Major League Baseball debut in 2012. By 2015, Keuchel would win 20 games and in the process he would be named as the American League Cy Young Award winner.

For Altuve, he had to work his way onto the big stage through a tougher route. Altuve tried out for the Astros in his native Venezuela, but he didn’t received a contract as he was dubbed to be too short at 5’6″. Altuve would not give up and came back for another tryout with the Astros and this time he was signed by the team in 2007.

Jose Altuve

Like Keuchel, Altuve worked his way up through the Astros system and he was ready for his debut with the big club in 2011. Altuve was the only bright spot for the Astros during their lean years due to his prowess for being a solid contact hitter. In each of Altuve’s full seasons with the Astros, he has led the club hits, while he has exceeded the 200 mark in hits in each of the last four years as he has led the American League in that category.

But Keuchel and Altuve alone could not make the Astros respectable as Luhnow would continue to come away from the Major League Baseball Draft smelling like a rose.

In 2012, Luhnow’s first draft choice was used on shortstop Carlos Correa who rose through the Astros system with outfielder George Springer who was selected in the first round in 2011. Springer would make his debut with the Astros in 2014, while Correa would follow suit in 2015 as things were beginning to come together in Houston.

By 2015, the Astros were playoff bound for the first time since 2005, and in the postseason they fell one victory shy of knocking off the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals in the American League Divisional Series.

The Astros failed to make the playoffs in 2016 as things never came together for them, but with their core set, it was now time to just add a few pieces in order to make a run at a championship in 2017.

After an 84-78 campaign in 2016, Luhnow sought out to get Houston back to the postseason and his big moves last winter were to acquire catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees as well as signing designated hitter Carlos Beltran. McCann became expendable with the Yankees due to the emergence of Gary Sanchez, but he immediately found a home with Houston. Throughout McCann’s 13-year Major League Baseball career he has been known for his ability behind the plate to work with a pitching staff. In comparison to 2016, the Astros team earned run average did slightly increase during the regular season, but their opponents batting average dipped by 16 points. And most importantly, the Astros pitchers felt comfortable with McCann behind the plate.

The 2017 Major League Baseball season was the 20th one for Beltran who is a borderline Hall of Famer. At 40-years of age, Beltran is no longer going to hit 30 homers in a season or steal 25 bases, but what he gave the young Astros this year was a veteran bat off of the bench as well as being a shoulder to lean on in the clubhouse due to his experience.

The Astros began 2017 with the right blend as they finished the month of April with a record of 16-9. Houston would keep that momentum going as by the time that the month of May finished, their record was 38-16, and in the process they were running away with the American League West. The Astros would never look back as by the time that the All-Star break rolled around, their record was 60-29 and it was now time for them to think about the postseason.

As the summer progressed, the Astros maintained their firm grip on first place in the American League West, and now it was time for them to solidify their chances to do some damage in October. This led Luhnow to pull off a huge deal just minutes away from the waiver trade deadline on August 31 when the Astros were able to acquire starting pitcher Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers.

Justin Verlander

When you think of Verlander, one of the first words to come to mind is professionalism. Verlander is one of the best pitchers of this era which included him being named as the American League’s MVP in 2011 when he won 24 games as well as leading in earned run average (2.40), strikeouts (250) to win pitching’s version of the Triple Crown. And aside from bringing a wealth of experience with him to Houston, Verlander also provided the Astros with some depth in their starting rotation behind Keuchel.

By the time that the regular season had ended, the Astros had won 101 games for their second best record in franchise history, while it was also a far cry from a team that had just lost 111 games in 2013. The Boston Red Sox may have won the American League East here in 2017, but they proved to be no match for the Astros in the American League Divisional Series as they fell in four games. The Astros would then tango with the Yanks in the American League Championship Series who took the field with house money after they had knocked off the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS after they were expected to reach the World Series for a second consecutive year.

Houston would maintain home-field advantage after winning the first two games of the series at home, but when the series shifted to the Bronx, the Astros offense didn’t make the trip as they were limited to a combined 5 runs in the road games versus the Yankees which were all losses. The Astros would then return home facing elimination, but they would outscore New York over the final two games of the series 11-1 to advance to the World Series for the second time in franchise history, while becoming the only team in Major League Baseball history to appear in the Fall Classic in both the National and American Leagues.

In the World Series, the Astros would meet the Los Angeles Dodgers who like them were faced with an ownership change several years ago which threatened to cripple the franchise’s finances. The Astros and Dodgers were evenly matched which resulted in a back and forth series that was a classic. And like a good boxing match, both the Astros and Dodgers showed that they had what it took to go the distance, but since Houston could not win via the knockout, they had to settle for winning on points.

The Astros defeated the Dodgers for their first World Series Championship and they did it by seizing the moment. Just like it was when the Astros faced the Red Sox and the Yankees, Houston was not fazed by the rich tradition of the Dodgers. The Astros were able to get to the Dodgers bullpen which up until the World Series had been tough to score runs against. But Houston found away to crack the spell and importantly Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen as they would rally for key victories in Games 2 and 5 as each win would be a turning point in the series for the Astros.

The Astros have spent the past few years picking early in the draft and their stars came to the forefront when it mattered the most. In the World Series, Springer batted .379 to go along with 5 home runs and 7 runs batted in to be named as the World Series MVP. And Springer would save his biggest hit for Game 7 when he belted a two-run homer off of Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish in the second inning to put Houston ahead 5-0 which all but made their victory a formality.

Alex Bregman

Third baseman Alex Bregman was the second overall pick of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft and ever since he joined the big club in 2016, he has provided some slick fielding at the hot corner which was on display throughout the World Series as he consistently made key plays with his glove that prevented the Dodgers from scoring runs.

During the regular season Altuve led the American League in batting for the third time in the last four years, but he struggled at the plate during the World Series as he only batted .194. However when it mattered the most Altuve came up with big hits which included a game-tying three-run homer off of Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda in the fifth inning of Game 5.

The Astros bullpen had been shaky in the American League Championship Series versus the Yankees which carried over to the World Series as relief pitcher Ken Giles finished the Fall Classic with an earned run average of 27.00. But for Astros manager A.J. Hinch he was able to lean on a pair of the team’s starting pitchers to be a force coming out of the bullpen in October.

Starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined to win 21 games for the Astros during the regular season, but when the postseason rolls around the philosophy changes as it is simply “whatever it takes”. In Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, Morton limited the Yankees to just a pair of hits over five innings, while McCullers would finish them off by going the final four innings without surrendering a run. In Game 7 of the World Series, McCullers was shaky through 2 1/3 innings as the starter for Astros which led to Hinch pulling him. But it was Morton who sealed the deal by shutting down the Dodgers lineup over the final four innings of the contest. And as the majority of the 56,000 fans that filed into Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night anticipated a championship for the home team, it was the Astros who foiled those plans.

So now things have come full circle for an Astros organization that just five years ago was an afterthought. The Astros didn’t do it by having press conferences in order to announce the signings of marquee free agents as they simply went under the radar and focused on building from within. Having early picks is one thing, but it comes down to making the most of those selections which is exactly what the Astros did. Each championship team has the support of the respective city that they call home, but it meant a little bit more to the Astros this year as the City of Houston is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey over the summer. And although that there are those who lost their lives as well as those who lost most or all of their personal belongings, the Astros have given the ones who survived something to put a smile on their faces.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

What To Watch For In The 2017 World Series

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

It’s almost time for the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers to get it on in the World Series.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

A Closing Title Window

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

http://images.christianpost.com/full/82129/detroit-tigers.gifSo close, yet so far is the best way to describe the recent history of the Detroit Tigers. After making the playoffs in 1987, the Tigers were dormant for nearly two decades which included them enduring four seasons in which they lost at least 100 games. But in 2006, the Tigers would turn things around and make the playoffs as the American League’s Wild Card team. The Tigers would ride this wave of momentum to a World Series appearance that fall, but there they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games which was a sign of things to come for them as they’ve been close to a title, but simply unable to seize it.

Since 2006, the Tigers have only had one losing season. In 2009, the Tigers were in cruise control for the entire season until a late season swoon saw them caught and ultimately passed by the Minnesota Twins in a one-game playoff for the American League Central Title. In 2012, Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera became the first Major League Baseball player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown as he led the AL in home runs (44), runs batted in (139), and batting average (.330). Cabrera would go on to be named the AL MVP in 2012 which resulted in the Tigers once again making the World Series. But in the 2012 Fall Classic, the Tigers would be swept by the San Francisco Giants. Detroit would go 93-69 in 2013, but their suspect bullpen and a determined Boston Red Sox team would be their undoing in the American League Championship Series. Last year the Tigers had three former AL Cy Young Award winners in their starting rotation in the form of starting pitchers Justin Verlander, David Price, and Max Scherzer, but those three arms were unable to prevent Detroit from being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Divisional Series.

Last off-season the Tigers would lose Scherzer in free agency to the Washington Nationals while injuries and age have taken away from Verlander’s effectiveness this season. Cabrera is currently on the disabled list as he is recovering from a calf injury and the Tigers are searching for answers at the MLB All-Star break.

Detroit is currently 44-44 and they are in third place in the American League Central as they’re 9 games behind the first place Kansas City Royals and 3.5 games behind the Houston Astros for the final wild card spot in the AL. In recent years the Tigers have started out of the gate slow only to find their way in the second half of the season. But 2015 has seen the AL Central become an improved division as both the Royals and Twins appear to be legitimate contenders for the playoffs which could make it tougher for the Tigers coming down the stretch.

http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/360597/23937088/1385060144727/dombrowski_tigers.jpg?token=7DNHMDcpNPIo59Jw6n%2B31DesozQ%3D

Dave Dombrowski

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has never been afraid to pull the trigger in order to improve his team and it will be interesting to see if he can make a deal or two prior to the MLB trade deadline this year that can get Detroit going in the right direction.

Even without Cabrera, the Tigers continue to have one of the top offenses in the American League as they are first in hits (862), batting average (.281), and third in runs (386); but it is their pitching that needs the help. This season Price has a 9-2 record with an earned run average of 2.38. But there is a good possibility that Price could be pitching for another MLB team next year as he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this winter and his asking Price could be too much for the Tigers. Because of this Dombrowski and the Tigers must protect themselves if they lose Price in the same fashion that they lost Scherzer last winter. Starting pitchers such as Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds, Scott Kazmir of the Oakland Athletics, and Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies could all be available before July 31 as one of them could have their bags packed for Detroit being that the Tigers starting pitching is hurting due to the fact that Verlander doesn’t have the same zip on his fastball that he possessed when he won the AL MVP in 2011 when he led the league in wins (24), earned run average (2.40), and strikeouts (250). The Tigers recently signed relief pitcher Neftali Feliz who was released by the Texas Rangers. Feliz was the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year and he totaled 72 saves in his first two MLB seasons as he helped the Rangers record consecutive AL Pennants. But Feliz has not been the same pitcher after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. The Tigers however are counting on him being close to being the pitcher that he was his first two years with the Rangers as opposed to the guy that has been unable to find his groove in the ninth inning which has been a recurring theme in Detroit over the past several years.

The next two weeks are crucial for the Tigers as they have seven home games against the Orioles and Seattle Mariners before they take to the road to meet Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Orioles as they look to stay afloat in the playoff picture without Cabrera. But when you’ve been at the doorstep of a championship as much as the Tigers have without tasting victory recently, it simply might not be in the cards for this bunch at all.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

2015 American League Central Projections

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

X-Detroit Tigers 89-73

The Detroit Tigers have won four consecutive American League Central Division Championships, but they have always fell short of the holy grail which is winning their first World Series Championship since 1984. The Tigers were swept last season in the American League Divisional Series by the Baltimore Orioles and they are hopeful that the title window has not closed for them as of yet. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has attempted to build a title contender, but the one thing that has held Detroit back in the past few seasons has been their bullpen. The Tigers bullpen blew 16 games last season and they always appeared to become unglued in the big games.

The Tigers will still have a talented team in 2015, but they are a bit older and they won’t be as deep.

Since last year the Tigers were attempting to lock up starting pitcher Max Scherzer to a long-term deal. But after winning 39 games over the last two seasons and the American League’s Cy Young Award in 2013, Scherzer was looking for a mega deal which he received this off-season from the Washington Nationals. In 2011, Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander was unstoppable as he won the AL’s MVP and Cy Young Award. But last season Verlander was 15-12 with a 4.54 earned run average. Verlander has lost some zip on his fastball, but he has rededicated himself to his craft as he is now 32-years old. Tigers starting pitcher David Price is set to enter free agency next winter and like Scherzer he’ll be looking for a huge payday. It’s not etched in stone that Price will be a member of the Tigers in 2016, but they should get his best effort and then some this season.

Miguel Cabrera

The Tigers still have one of the best lineups in Major League Baseball: it’s just a matter of them staying healthy. Designated hitter Victor Martinez and first baseman Miguel Cabrera are in the process of recovering from injuries. Martinez is 36-years of age while Cabrera will be 32 next month. Cabrera still has one the best swings in baseball, but lower body injuries are beginning to take their toll on him. The Tigers did acquire outfielder Yoenis Cespedes who will be an upgrade offensively and defensively. Cespedes along with his violent and powerful swings will fit right into the middle of the Tigers lineup while he will dare runners to try his strong arm in left field. And if the Tigers are going to make another postseason run you can expect second baseman Ian Kinsler and outfielder J.D. Martinez to have big impacts. Kinsler is the Tigers table setter and with a career .344 on-base percentage he’ll need to get on base in front of Detroit’s big boppers.

Brad Ausmus

In his first season as Tigers manager, Brad Ausmus got his team to the postseason. Ausmus is a former MLB catcher and aside from that he knows that he has a veteran team as he simply stayed out of their way. Ausmus will once again stick to this formula and he is hopeful that this philosophy will lead the Tigers to their fifth consecutive American League Central Title; but more importantly the World Series Championship.

Y-Cleveland Indians 86-76

Terry Francona

The Cleveland Indians have the potential to be a playoff team in 2015, but they would need some breaks while having some things go wrong for other teams in the American League Central. Under manager Terry Francona, the Indians enjoyed a storybook season in 2013 as they were able to make the Major League Baseball Playoffs. The Indians took a step back last season as they finished in third place in the AL Central and they are hopeful to not get lost in the shuffle this season behind the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals.

Francona and the Indians can hang their heads on the fact that they’ll have the reigning American League Cy Young Award winning taking the mound every fifth start for them this season in starting pitcher Corey Kluber. Kluber went 18-9 last season with a 2.44 earned run average and for the Tribe to contend this season he will more than likely need to improve off of those numbers. The main reason that Kluber has to put the Indians pitching staff on his back is due to the fact that there isn’t that much depth behind him which will hinder their chances of contending for the postseason.

Michael Brantley

Offensively the Indians do have talent in their lineup. Outfielder Michael Brantley would be a household name if he played in a bigger market. Brantley hit a career-high 20 home runs last season along with finishing third in the American League in batting average (.321) and second in hits (200). Brantley is in the prime of his career and he should once again put up numbers this season that resemble his production from 2014. Last season was an injury filled one for Indians outfielder Michael Bourn who needs to have a bounce back year for Cleveland. Bourn is expected to be the Indians everyday center fielder while his presence on the base paths is of equal importance as he is always a threat to steal bases. Like Bourn, Indians designated hitter Nick Swisher was limited last year due to injuries. And even at the age of 34, Swisher can still be vital to the Indians due to his overall experience. Indians first baseman Carlos Santana has the potential to be one of the better power hitters in the AL, provided that he comes to the plate with men on base in order for him to be afforded the chance to drive them home.

The Indians have have soft schedule to begin the season and a quick start for them could be just what the doctor ordered as far as them hanging around in the American League Central.

Kansas City Royals 86-76

Last season the Kansas City Royals won 89 games in the regular season and they earned a postseason trip for the first time since 1985. But the real fun began for the Royals in October when they captivated all of Major League Baseball and were one victory away from winning the World Series. The Royals got hot down the stretch in 2014, but what will they be able to do for an encore in 2015 when the other 14 teams in the American League will be gunning for them?

Ned Yost

The Royals weren’t an offensive juggernaut in 2014 as they were near the bottom of most offensive categories in the American League. For Royals manager Ned Yost, the name of the game for his club is speed as they were tops in the AL last season in stolen bases with 153. And that speed will once again be vital in 2015 if Kansas City is going to make it back to the playoffs. Led by second baseman Alcides Escobar, along with outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson, the Royals have speed up and down their lineup. But they will once again have to manufacture runs as they lack power bats.

As stagnant as the Royals offense was last season, their pitching more than picked up the slack. The Royals team earned run average of 3.51 was fourth in the AL and it kept them in ballgames. Starting pitcher James Shields led the Royals pitching staff last season in strikeouts with 180 while also tying for the team lead in wins with 14. But Shields became a free agent over the winter and he signed on with the highest bidder for his services as he is now a member of the San Diego Padres. Shields departure means that more responsibility will be thrust upon the youngster Yordano Ventura in the Royals starting rotation. Ventura is only 23-years of age, but he tied Shields last season in Kansas City for the team lead in victories while finishing sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Last season Ventura flirted with the 200-inning threshold so Yost can trust the youngster and his electric fastball to be there every fifth day.

Led by relief pitchers Greg Holland and Brandon Finnegan, the Royals have a solid bullpen as the folks in Kansas City have their own version of the “Nasty Boys”. Yost knows that he has a strong bullpen as they can and will consistently be able to get the Royals out of jams.

Kauffman Stadium

The Royals will spend the majority of the month of April away from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. And even if the Royals get off to a slow start, nobody is expected to run away with the AL Central which means that they’ll have a puncher’s chance to get back to the postseason.

Chicago White Sox 82-80

The Chicago White Sox have been a team in transition over the past few years and they are hopeful for an upswing this season. The White Sox lost 99 games last season for the first time since 1970 and thus there have been some changes made. The White Sox bid farewell to longtime first baseman Paul Konerko who retired and thus the South Siders are a team that is in the process of getting younger while also trying to compete in the American League Central.

Jeff Samardzija

Before being traded to the Oakland Athletics last summer, starting pitcher Jeff Samardzjia spent the first six-plus years of his Major League Baseball career with the Chicago Cubs. Samardzija didn’t dazzle with the A’s as he went 5-6 with a 3.14 earned run average in 16 starts. Now Samardzija is back in Chicago, but this time with the White Sox whom acquired him from the Athletics this off-season. In seven MLB seasons, Samardzija has a career record of 36-48 with a 3.85 earned run average, but Ventura and White Sox president of baseball operations Kenny Williams are hopeful that he can provide some depth in Chicago’s starting rotation behind Chris Sale. At 6’6″, Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he’ll be going for his third straight season in which he has struck out at least 200 batters. If Sale is able to get enough run support behind him he’ll definitely garner some interest in winning the AL Cy Young Award this year.

After trading relief pitcher Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the White Sox were tied for 11th in the American League last season in saves with just 36. By himself relief pitcher David Robertson saved 39 games last season for the New York Yankees. And when the Yankees failed to make Robertson an offer this winter, the White Sox signed him to a four-year deal worth $46 million to solidify their ninth inning situation.

Jose Abreu

The White Sox will definitely have some pop in their lineup. First baseman Jose Abreu burst onto the scene last year by hitting 36 home runs, 107 runs batted in and a .317 batting average to be named as the American League’s Rookie of the Year and I don’t expect the native of Cuba to have a sophomore slump in 2015. The Sox signed first baseman Adam LaRoche who will spend the majority of his time in the Windy City being a designated hitter. In 11 MLB seasons, LaRoche has averaged hitting 27 home runs per year, but he has done all of his damage in the National League. Williams also signed outfielder Melky Cabrera who is expected to give the White Sox more offense near the top of their batting order as he has a career .339 on-base percentage.

With the exception of a four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles, the White Sox schedule for the month of April will be exclusively against their brethren in the American League Central. April won’t be a make or break month the White Sox as barring any significant setbacks they’ll hang around the hunt in the AL Central race until the very end.

Minnesota Twins 68-94

Paul Molitor

The last four Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Minnesota Twins endure losing seasons and in three of those years they finished in the basement of the American League Central. The Twins futility cost longtime manager Ron Gardenhire his job and he has been replaced by one of Minnesota’s favorite sons. Before embarking on a Hall of Fame playing career, Paul Molitor was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. Molitor attended the University of Minnesota before being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1977. Molitor spent the majority of his MLB playing career with the Brewers, but he played his final three seasons with the Twins where he collected his 3,000 hit. Molitor was a coach with the Twins last season, but his duties have now shifted as he will be the team’s skipper for 2015.

Phil Hughes

The first order of business for both Molitor and Twins pitching coach Neil Allen will be to improve a Twins pitching staff that had a 4.57 earned run average which was last in the American League in 2014. Twins starting pitcher Phil Hughes did win 16 games last season and he’ll be asked to once be the ace of the pitching staff in Minnesota, but behind him there are a ton of question marks. The Twins will mark the fourth different team in as many years for starting pitcher Ervin Santana who has lost at least 10 games in each of those campaigns. Starting pitcher Kyle Gibson won 12 games for the Twins last season while this could be the last opportunity for starting pitchers Mike Pelfrey and Ricky Nolasco to show what they can do in Major League Baseball. If the Twins starting pitching and middle relievers are able to take care of business through the first eight innings, then Molitor will be able to give the baseball to relief pitcher Glen Perkins in the ninth inning who was one of the top relievers in baseball last season with 34 saves.

Trevor Plouffe

Led by third baseman Trevor Plouffe and second baseman Brian Dozier, the Twins did have one of the top offenses in the AL last season. But for the Twins to really have a chance of contending in 2015, they’ll need first baseman Joe Mauer to regain the form that made him the AL MVP back in 2009. At 39-years of age, outfielder Torii Hunter is returning to the Twins where he began his career and he’ll look to be an additional coach on the field.

If nothing else the Twins will play hard for Molitor in 2015, but the lack of talent there will have them on the outside looking in when the postseason rolls around.

X-Division Champion

Y-Wild Card

Source: Baseball-reference.com

facebooktwittergoogle_plus