Tag Archives: Oakland Athletics

2017 American League West Projections

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X-Texas Rangers 90-72

Since 2009, the Texas Rangers have been one of the better teams in Major League Baseball as they have seven winning seasons and a pair of American League Pennants to their credit. But as good as the Rangers have been, the one thing that they’ve been unable to put on their resume is a World Series Championship. The Rangers entered the MLB Playoffs last October with the best record in the A.L. as another trip to the Fall Classic appeared to be in the cards. However the Rangers would not win a game as they were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Divisional Series. And whereas the Rangers fell short of their goal in 2016, the winning culture that has been created in Arlington by general manager Jon Daniels is still in place as this is a team that’ll once again be in contention to win the A.L. West under manager Jeff Banister.

The Rangers had one of the top offenses in 2016 as they were fourth in the American League in runs scored (765) and hits (1,446), while they were fifth in home runs with 215. A big reason for the Rangers success on offense was the emergence of second baseman Rougned Odor. Odor has three years under his belt in Major League Baseball, and in spite of the fact that he is slight in stature at 5’11”, 195 lbs., he led the team in home runs last year with 33. Odor is a legitimate AL MVP candidate as he is rapidly becoming one of the better players in the game.

Adrian Beltre

Third baseman Adrian Beltre continues to defy the odds as he batted .300 last year with 32 home runs and 104 runs batted in. Beltre will be 38-years of age next month, but he still has one of the quickest bats in baseball, while he can also get it done at the hot corner. Beltre continues to provide the Rangers with clubhouse leadership and he’ll once again have an impact on this team.

The Rangers cannot get enough of first baseman Mike Napoli as he has returned for his third stint with the club. Napoli was a key member for Texas when they made the World Series in 2011, and the same can be said about his presence with the Cleveland Indians last year. In 2016 with the Indians, Napoli hit 34 home runs as he had a big hand in the Indians winning the American League Pennant. Napoli is 35-years of age and like Beltre, he’ll provide the Rangers with a leader in their clubhouse.

Outfielder Nomar Mazara is just beginning to scratch the surface as far as how good that he can be. Mazara hit 20 home runs for Texas last year and finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. And if Mazara can work on his plate discipline as he struck out 112 times in 568 plate appearances, along with avoiding the dreaded “sophomore slump” he can be an impact player in the middle of the Rangers lineup.

The speed of shortstop Elvis Andrus will once be key at the top of the Rangers lineup as he continues to re-write the record book for stolen bases in their franchise history, while catcher Jonathan Lucroy should have a big impact as he is now set to begin his first full season with the club. Lucroy was acquired from by the Rangers from the Milwaukee Brewers last year before the trade deadline, and in 47 games with Texas, he batted .276 with 11 homers and 31 runs batted in. But Lucroy’s biggest impact with the Rangers will be behind the plate as he works with the team’s pitching staff.

The Rangers were 13th in the American League last season in team earned run average (4.37), but there should be some improvement with the unit in 2017. The switch from the National League to the American League has not slowed down starting pitcher Cole Hamels who in 44 starts with the Rangers is 22-6 with a 3.42 earned run average. Hamels has been durable during his Major League Baseball career as he has thrown at least 200 innings in eight of the last nine years which should rub off of the rest of the Rangers starting rotation as far as being around a player of his caliber that knows how to get it done at this level.

Yu Darvish

Starting pitcher Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 Major League Baseball season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery and he returned last year to go 7-5 with a 3.41 earned run average in 17 starts. Towards the end of the 2016 campaign, Darvish began to show some of the flashes that made him one of the game’s best power pitchers prior to the injury. And if Darvish is able to give the Rangers 150-180 innings this year, it will be a huge plus.

In relief pitcher Sam Dyson’s first year as the Rangers full-time closer, he saved 38 games, while finishing 53 contests. Dyson only allowed 19 earned runs as he faced 285 batters to become one of the premier closers in the American League. And if Dyson once again flirts with saving close to 40 games for Texas, it will more than likely signal that this team is once again the top team in the A.L. West.

Last year saw the Rangers battle with the Cleveland Indians for most of the year as far as seeing who was the best team in the American League. These two clubs will get it on in Arlington to begin the season before the Rangers begin a 12-game stretch against the A.L. West. The Rangers should once again be the team to beat within the A.L. West and a strong start in April could put them in the catbird’s seat.

Houston Astros 87-75

After the Houston Astros made the postseason in 2015 as a wild card, the expectations for them increased heading into the 2016 Major League Baseball season. The Astros were able to finish last year with a winning record as they won 84 games, but they fell five wins shy of the final playoff spot in the American League. Now a year later, the Astros are a more mature team, and after team general manager Jeff Luhnow made some tweaks to the roster, the postseason could once again become a reality in Houston.

What helped the Astros make the playoffs in 2015 was a hindrance to them in 2016. Houston led the American League in team earned run average in 2015 at 3.57, but that number dipped last season as it was 4.06 which was fifth. And a big part of that slight dip in production was due to the regression of starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel.

Dallas Keuchel

In 2015, Keuchel went 20-8 with a 2.48 earned run average to being named as the American League’s Cy Young Award winner. Keuchel also led the A.L. in innings pitched in 2015 with 232 which led to the theory of him being fatigued last year. In 2016, Keuchel went 9-12 with an earned average of 4.55 has his fastball lacked some zip. And for the Astros to have a chance of making the postseason this year, Keuchel is going to once again have to find the magic from 2015.

Like Keuchel, starting pitcher Collin McHugh had a big campaign in 2015 as he won 19 games. But unlike Keuchel, McHugh benefited from a ton of run support when he took the mound. And once factored in that McHugh wasn’t getting the same run support in 2016, along with the fact that his earned run average was 4.34, the Astros suffered.

Overall no Astros pitcher that started at least 20 games last year had an earned run average below 4.00. Luhnow didn’t upgrade Houston’s starting rotation, but he did the next best thing by acquiring veteran catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees.

McCann has always been a solid contributor to a team’s pitching staff; especially for his ability to frame pitches and call games. And as a pitcher like Keuchel is looking to bounce back, throwing to a veteran such as McCann will make his job on the mound every fifth day a little bit easier.

McCann’s arrival in Houston will also add some depth to the Astros lineup as in each of the last nine years he has hit 20 home runs.

The Astros have a solid blend of power and speed in their lineup that could make them very difficult to deal with. Second baseman Jose Altuve is one of Major League Baseball better contact hitters as he has won the American League’s batting title in two of the last three years, while leading the league in hits in each of the last three seasons. Altuve is also a fantasy baseball owner’s best friend as he has the ability to consistently get on base, while always being a threat on the base paths. Altuve’s ability to get on base for the Astros should pay big dividends for an Astros lineup that has the potential to consistently put the ball over the fence.

In 2015, the Astros were second in the American League in home runs with 230, but they only managed to hit 198 last season with was ninth. The Astros lineup up is littered with power bats which includes utility man Evan Gattis who led the club in home runs last season with 32, and outfielder George Springer who hit 29 homers. The Astros also have shortstop Carlos Correa who is one of Major League Baseball’s young phenoms, and veteran outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran who might not be the player that he was in 2004 when he went on a tear to help Houston reach the playoffs, but his 19 years of MLB experience will definitely come in handy in the clubhouse.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch may once again have to go with a “closer by committee” for 2017 as this could be the one thing that will hold this team back coming out of spring training. But by the summer the Astros will be a force in the American League.

Seattle Mariners 86-76

The past few years have seen the Seattle Mariners come close to breaking their playoff drought, but they’ve been unable to get over the hump. In 2014, the Mariners fell one game short of getting to the playoffs and last year it was three. The M’s have been so close to breaking Major League Baseball’s current longest postseason drought, but will 2017 be the year that they finally give baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest something to cheer about in October?

Jerry Dipoto is in his second year as the Mariners general manager and he’s already begun the process of attempting to improve Seattle’s team when he traded starting pitcher Tijuan Walker to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for infielder Jean Segura. In one year with the Diamondbacks, Seguara led the National League in hits with 203 and his ability to get on base in front of Seattle’s big boppers will be important. Aside from Segura, the M’s also acquired outfielder Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals who has stolen at least 30 bases in four out of the last five years. And just like Segura, the ability of Dyson to get on base will be vital to Seattle’s lineup.

As a unit the M’s were able to blast 223 homers which was second in the American League last season and they have the potential to once again be a prolific offense. Segura will set the table in Seattle for second baseman Robinson Cano and designated hitter Nelson Cruz who last year combined to hit 82 home runs. Cano was able to put his struggles in 2015 behind him as he hit a career-high 39 home runs. But at the age of 34, will Cano be able to replicate this success? Like Cano, Cruz is a veteran hitter as he is 36-years of age. However each of the last three Major League Baseball seasons have seen Cruz belt at least 40 homers as he has turned Safeco Field into his own personal launching pad.

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is getting plenty of fanfare as he is the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, but his older brother Kyle has turned out to be a solid third baseman in Seattle. In each of Seager’s six seasons with the Mariners, his productivity at the plate as increased. Seager is coming off of his first 30-homer campaign as being in a lineup with Cruz and Cano has been beneficial to him. Seager is rapidly becoming one of the better third baseman in the American League and it would not surprise me to see him make his second All-Star Game appearance this summer.

The Mariners team earned run average of 4.00 was third in the American League last year, but in order for them to make the playoffs, they are going to need more from their stud. Last season was a down year for starting pitcher Felix Hernandez who is 25 starts went 11-8 with an earned run average of 3.82. Hernandez failed to reach the 200-inning plateau for the first time since 2007 as injuries got the best of him. Whether it was due to injuries or age, the fastball of “King Felix” lost some zip and it might be time for him to begin locating his pitches more.

Felix Hernandez

But Hernandez and the rest of the Mariners pitching staff should benefit from Dipoto bringing in veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz. The 38-year old Ruiz has never been known for his bat as it more about his ability to call a game behind the plate. And his ability and leadership should be beneficial to the M’s pitching staff this year.

Whereas injuries slowed down Hernandez last year, starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma emerged as a solid contributor in the M’s rotation as he led the club in wins with 16. Iwakuma also benefited from good run support as he has an earned run average of 4.12, but like Hernandez, he should be aided by having Ruiz behind the plate.

Relief pitchers Edwin Diaz and Steve Cishek each have the ability to close games which gives Mariners skipper Scott Servais flexibility as far as the use of his bullpen goes, and this will be important as they look to hang around in the American League West.

Aside from Servais, Seattle’s coaching staff is littered with former Major League Baseball players that includes bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Edgar Martinez, and pitcher coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. And this wealth of experience on the Mariners coaching staff could be the difference in whether or not that they’ll be able to end Major League Baseball’s current longest playoff drought.

Los Angeles Angels 79-83

The 2014 Major League Baseball season saw the Los Angeles Angels finish with the best record in the league as they won 98 games. But since then it has been a steep decline for the Angels as they’ve missed the postseason in each of the last two years which included them managing to only win 74 games in 2016. What has hurt the Angels more than anything else has been issues within their front office. Angels manager Mike Scoiscia has not always been on the same page with the team’s general managers and there is some hope in Anaheim that he and Billy Eppler can be on the same page as this is the only way for this team to have a chance.

Mike Trout

But for Eppler and Scoiscia, life is made easier in knowing that they can build around one of the best players in the game. At times outfielder Mike Trout can make the game of baseball look very easy. Trout is only 25-years of age and already he is a two-time American League MVP in just six Major League Baseball seasons. Trout is coming off of a season where he batted .315 with 29 home runs and 100 runs batted in last year to be named as the A.L. MVP. Trout’s energy is infectious and as you expect to see him bat at least .300 while hitting 30 homers, stealing 30 bases, and driving in 100 runs, how will the team around him fare?

Designated hitter Albert Pujols led the Angels in home runs last year with 31, but at the age of 37, his body is breaking down. The last four years have seen Pujols deal with foot issues which has limited his effectiveness. Pujols won’t be available to begin the season after undergoing foot surgery in December. And although that Pujols still has pop in his bat, he is not the overall player that he was during his prime with the St. Louis Cardinals.

As a team the Angels were sixth in the American League in batting average (.260), but they were tenth in runs scored (717). Outfielder Kole Calhoun is a product of the Angels system, but he is a scrappy player that will give you everything that he has on a nightly basis and the same can be said about first baseman C.J. Cron. Third baseman Yunel Escobar is coming off of consecutive seasons in which he hit at least .300, while he also has one of the best gloves at the hot corner in the American League. And as Escobar is in the final year of his contract with the Angels, I believe that he’ll be locked in this season in each phase of the game.

The Angels also brought in veterans such as outfielders Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin, along with infielders Luis Valbuena and Danny Espinosa as this lineup should have more balance this season.

The Angels lineup will have to keep them in games as their pitching staff will more than likely struggle once more. Last year the Angels team earned run average of 4.28 was 12th in the American League and their 64 quality starts were 14th. Starting pitcher Jered Weaver led the Angels in wins last year with 12, but he is now a member of the San Diego Padres.

Garrett Richards

Starting pitcher Garrett Richards is the best option for the Angels in their rotation when he is healthy; however Richards was shut down last season due to elbow issues and it will be interesting to see how he’ll be able to hold up in 2017. But unfortunately for the Angels after Richards, their rotation is extremely thin.

This season will be interesting to say the least for the Angels who have enough offense to contend for a playoff spot, but they’ll more than likely come up short due to their lack of quality pitching.

Oakland Athletics 71-91

The best way to describe the Oakland Athletics is that they are Major League Baseball’s version of the stock market. The Athletics have been way up and way down in the standings over the past 30 years due to the fact that they play in one of MLB’s smallest markets and without a lucrative television deal, it makes it extremely difficult for them to maintain their roster when quality players are set to become unrestricted free agents. From 2012-2014, the A’s made three consecutive trips to the postseason which included a pair of American League West Championships. But since then it has been a rapid decline in Oakland as Athletics general manager Billy Beane has had another one of his infamous fire sales. The A’s are coming off of consecutive last place finishes in the A.L. West which is the first time that this has occurred since 1998. And as the 2017 MLB campaign is set begin, are the A’s ready to show some improvement?

Bob Melvin has seen the best of times and the worst of times during his tenure as the manager of the Athletics. But if the A’s are going to shock most people and contend in the American League West this year, they will need to get better pitching.

Last year Oakland’s team earned average of 4.51 was 14th in the American League as they were bombarded by injuries and an overall lack of quality starting pitching. Injuries limited starting pitcher Sonny Gray to just 22 starts, while he had an earned run average of 5.69. Gray’s down year threw a wrench into Beane’s plans of trading him and he needs the youngster to have a bounce back season in order to increase his trade value, while starting pitcher Kendall Graverman continues to improve as he could flirt with being a 15-game winner this season in Oakland.

When the Athletics signed relief pitcher Ryan Madson in 2016, it was expected that he would be with the club until the team found a trade partner. But surprisingly Madson stayed with the A’s for the entire season which led to him saving 30 games in Oakland for just the second time in his career. And whereas Beane did not trade Madson in 2016, I don’t see this season ending with him in Oakland as a quality relievers are always en vogue the closer that you get to the trading deadline.

The A’s were a light hitting team as they were 14th in the American League in bating average last season at .246, along with being dead last in on-base percentage at .304. And once you exclude the contributions of outfielder Khris Davis and infielder Marcus Semien, this was an Oakland lineup the struggled immensely to find consistency. Davis emerged as a big time power bat as he hit 42 home runs last season and Semien followed suit with 27. But for Davis, his biggest issue has been ability to bring it consistently as he committed 21 errors in the field last season.

There a huge gap between the talent level of the Athletics and the contenders in the American League West this year, and it won’t take us that long to see it.

X-Division Winner

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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2016 MLB Trade Candidates

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Sonny Gray-Starting Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

I would be extremely surprised to see starting pitcher Sonny Gray finish the 2016 Major League Baseball in an Oakland Athletics uniform. Gray was a first-round pick of the Athletics in 2011, and he has gone on to post a career record of 36-26 to go along with an earned run average of 3.18. The A’s currently find themselves with a record of 29-41 as they are 16 games behind the Texas Rangers for first place in the American League West which finds them in the basement of the division. Oakland is one of the smallest media markets in MLB and Athletics general manager Billy Beane is never one to shy away from making a trade that will restock the team’s minor league system.

Although that Gray is only 26-years of age, he is not scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent until 2020 which means that parting with him would give Beane the opportunity to load up on prospects.

Jay Bruce-Outfielder-Cincinnati Reds

With the Cincinnati Reds well on their way to a second consecutive 90-loss season, it is time for the team’s president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty to finish the fire sale that he began over the winter.

Jay Bruce has been a lifer with the Reds as he was the team’s first-round pick in 2005 which was the prelude to him finishing in the top five of the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2008. Bruce is a three-time N.L. All-Star who would provide depth to any potential team that he is traded to, while he is also under contract through next season as he wouldn’t be a rental.

Rich Hill-Starting Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

Rich Hill is a 12-year Major League Baseball veteran that is on pace for the best season of his career. In 11 starts for the Oakland Athletics this year, Hill is 8-3 with an earned run average of 2.25 and 74 strikeouts. The A’s are Hill’s seventh MLB club, and there is a very good possibility that his bags will be packed soon as he is playing for a last place team, but more importantly he is a left-handed pitcher which is something that is always coveted at trade time. Hill only signed a one-year with the Athletics in the off-season which means that a trade for him wouldn’t see Oakland net that much in return as he would merely be a rental. Hill is currently on the disabled list with a groin injury; however as soon as he is healthy, expect the trade rumors around him to heat up.

Andrew Miller-Relief Pitcher-New York Yankees

With a record of 35-36, the New York Yankees will soon need to decide if they want to make a push for their 18th playoff appearance in the last 21 years, or do they want to become sellers before Major League Baseball’s trade deadline. And if the Yankees do decide to become sellers, relief pitcher Andrew Miller will draw a ton of interest.

Last year in Miller’s first season with the Yankees, he saved 36 games for the team. But this year Miller has been used in more of a setup role to relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman, however he has still be extremely effect with his earned run average of 1.21. At 6’7″, Miller has an intimidating presence on the mound, while his delivery as a left-handed pitcher can throw opposing batters off of their game.

Miller’s ability to be a setup guy and a closer, along with the fact that he’s under contract through 2018 would net the Yankees something in a trade, but I doubt that Miller would get shipped out of New York since the team relies on their bullpen more than other clubs.

Ryan Madson-Relief Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

After being out of baseball for three years, relief pitcher Ryan Madson was able to rediscover his groove last year in helping the Kansas City Royals win the World Series. With the Royals, Madson was primarily used as a setup man to closer Wade Davis. But when Madson signed with the Oakland Athletics over the off-season, he went back to being a closer.

Madson hasn’t had that many chances to close games this year for the Athletics as he only has 13 saves, but throughout his Major League Baseball career he has shown the ability to be both a closer and a setup man which increases his value on the trade market. And with the A’s out of playoff contention, along with the fact that Madson is under contract through 2018, there should be contenders that will be lining up to take him.

Alex Colome-Relief Pitcher-Tampa Bay Rays

Alex Colome

Relief pitcher Alex Colome is in his fourth season with the Tampa Bay Rays, and after spending his first three seasons between the starting rotation and middle relief, he is now getting his crack at closing out games for the team. Colome is making the most out of his opportunity with the Rays as he is a perfect 19-for-19 in save chances this year. And as players in the Rays organization know that they won’t be there for the long haul, Colome is simply auditioning for his next big league employer.

Ryan Braun-Outfielder-Milwaukee Brewers

For all of the performance-enhancing drugs issues that have clouded the Major League Baseball career of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, he is still managing to put up solid numbers. Braun finds himself in the midst of one of his best all around years at the plate as he is batting .319 with 12 home runs and 38 runs batted in. The Brewers currently have a record of 31-40 which finds them way out of contention in the National League, and Braun could provide a contending team with a quality bat coming down the stretch.

Aroldis Chapman-Relief Pitcher-New York Yankees

There a flamethrowers and then there is New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. After defecting from his native Cuba in 2009, Chapman signed with the Cincinnati Reds. And in six years with the Reds, Chapman saved 146 games. Over the off-season Chapman was traded to the New York Yankees where he has saved 13 games in 14 opportunities. Chapman can regularly hit 100 mph on the radar gun as his fastball at times is unhittable.

Chapman is in the last year of his contract, and with the Yankees currently possessing a losing record, it would be prudent for them to move him.

Yunel Escobaer-Third Baseman-Los Angeles Angels

After defecting from Cuba in 2004, third baseman Yunel Escobar found his way to Major League Baseball. Escobar was drafted by the Braves in 2005 and he has been a career journeyman. Escobar is currently playing for his fifth MLB team as he is a member of the Los Angeles Angels. Escobar is currently batting .309 with 17 doubles, while he can also provide a contending team with a quality glove at third base.

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Early MLB Trade Candidates

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Scott Kazmir-Starting Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

After winning 88 games last season, things haven’t got started on the right foot this season for the Oakland Athletics who currently have the worst in Major League Baseball. The Athletics could be ready to wave the white flag and with that it might be time for them to make some deals.

A’s starting pitcher Scott Kazmir had a strong 2014 MLB season as he won 15 games for the first time in his career. In 8 starts this season, Kazmir is 2-2 with an earned run average of 3.08. Kazmir provides a quality left-handed arm and if the Athletics would be willing to trade him, he would just be a rental as he is set to become a free agent after the season.

Tyler Clippard-Relief Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics acquired relief pitcher Tyler Clippard from the Washington Nationals this past off-season in the hopes of having him close out games in the ninth inning for them. But being that the Athletics currently have the worst record in Major League Baseball, Clippard hasn’t had that many chances to save ball games. And when teams are pushing for a postseason spot, you can never have enough quality arms coming out of the bullpen. Clippard is a two-time MLB All-Star that is versatile as he can be a long reliever, setup guy, and a closer coming out of the bullpen.

Martin Prado-Utility Man-Miami Marlins

Earlier this week the Miami Marlins parted ways with manager Mike Redmond and he was replaced by general manager Dan Jennings. The Marlins have lost their last eight games and they are in last place in the National League East. Martin Prado primarily plays third base for the Marlins, but he can play second base and first base along with both corner outfield positions. So far this season at the plate, Prado is batting .267 with a pair of home runs and 15 runs batted in and he could provide tremendous depth to team that is in contention.

Francisco Rodriguez-Relief Pitcher-Milwaukee Brewers

Relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez saved 44 games in 2014 for the Milwaukee Brewers. But with the Brewers currently being in the basement of the National League Central, Rodriguez might not have as many chances to close ball games in 2015. Rodriguez is under contract through 2016 with a $6 million team option for 2017. And just like I mentioned with Clippard, you can never have enough arms coming out of the bullpen.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

 

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2015 American League West Projections

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X-Los Angeles Angels 89-73

Last season was a tremendous one for the Los Angeles Angels. The Halos won 98 games in the regular season which was tops in Major League Baseball, but they had an October to forget as they were swept in the American League Divisional Series by the Kansas City Royals. Now the Angels are ready to put the playoffs behind them with an eye on bigger things in 2015.

Mike Trout

The expectations for the Angels start and end with their outfielder Mike Trout. Trout is only 23-years of age and he is set to embark on his fourth full MLB season. Trout will begin 2015 as the reigning AL MVP and I anticipate him improving on his numbers from a year ago where he batted .287 with 36 home runs and 111 runs batted in. There are some tremendous five-tool players in MLB currently and Trout is just a step above all of them. Trout’s emergence for the Angels has somewhat been able to offset the disappoint of outfielder Josh Hamilton. After receiving a five-year deal worth $125 million from the Angels, Hamilton has been a box office flop in the shadows of Hollywood. In two seasons with the Angels, Hamilton has only batted .255 with 31 home runs and 123 runs batted in. This a far cry from the player that Hamilton was when he won the AL MVP Award in 2010 as a member of the Texas Rangers. The Angels have proven that they can win in the regular season without big contributions from Hamilton, and baseball is secondary for him now as he had another relapse in his problems with drug and alcohol addictions which makes his status for this season uncertain.

At 35-years of age, Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is no longer going to hit for average like he did when he won three National League MVP Awards as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. But Pujols who has hit 520 home runs during his MLB career still has thunder in his bat and that alone can provide protection in the Angels lineup for Trout. In a surprise move this off-season, the Angels traded longtime second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kendrick was a slick fielder who’s absence will leave a void at second base that Angels manager Mike Scioscia is hopeful that youngster Josh Rutledge can fill.

The Angels pitching staff was a middle of the pack unit in the American League last season. Starting pitcher Jered Weaver will once again be in the mix to win the AL Cy Young Award this season as he has won at least 18 games in three of the last four seasons, but there are questions behind him in the Halos starting rotation. After suffering a torn patella tendon last August, the Angels are hopeful that starting pitcher Garrett Richards will not miss too much of the upcoming season, but they are not holding their breath on the matter while starting pitcher C.J. Wilson has been a bit of a disappoint as he is set to enter his fourth season with the Halos.

Angels relief pitcher Huston Street saved a career-high 41 games last season as he split time between Los Angeles and with the San Diego Padres. More that ever Street appears to be comfortable with the Angels which should make the ninth inning a little bit easier for Scioscia.

19 of the Angels first 22 games this season are within the division and like everyone else they will be looking for a quick start.

Y-Seattle Mariners 88-74

It’s hard to believe that 2001 was the last time that the Seattle Mariners were in the Major League Baseball Playoffs, but that is the case. The Mariners will enter the upcoming Major League Baseball season very optimistic as they won 87 games last season for the first time since 2003. The M’s missed the playoffs by one game last season and they were left to ponder this off-season what could have been as another wild card team in the Kansas City Royals were within one game of winning the World Series last fall. But it has been awhile since the Mariners have had the kind of expectations that they will have going into 2015.

Robinson Cano

Things changed in Seattle last season when Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik signed second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano batted .314 last season, but his power numbers were down as he only hit 14 homers while having 82 runs batted in. That was to be expected from Cano since he now calls Safeco Field home which is not a dynamic hitters park. The Mariners lineup around Cano wasn’t the best which is something that has been addressed this off-season. Zduriencik has put some more pop behind Cano in the Mariners lineup as he signed designated hitter Nelson Cruz this off-season. After leading Major League Baseball in home runs last season with 40 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, the M’s signed Cruz to a four-year contract worth $57 million. Cruz is 34-years old and the Mariners are hopeful that he’ll be able to hit at least 30 homers while protecting Cano in their lineup and giving Seattle a spark as they were 10th in the American League in home runs last season with 136 and 11th in runs batted in with 600. Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison has yet to come close to the production that he had in 2011 with the Florida Marlins when he hit 23 home runs and for Seattle to think about the postseason this year, he will need to have a bigger impact. Center fielder Austin Jackson was acquired from the Detroit Tigers last season and he has the ability to be a good leadoff hitter for the M’s if he is able to cut down on his strikeouts. In five MLB seasons, Jackson is averaging 170 strikeouts per year and in 54 games with the Mariners in 2014, he only managed to have a .267 on-base percentage.

Felix Hernandez

But the aspect of the of the Mariners team that will give them the best opportunity to participate in October baseball this fall will be their starting pitching. Last season the Mariners team earned run average of 3.17 was tops in the AL as they are led by one of the best starting pitchers in MLB. Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez is coming off of a season in which he led the AL in earned run average (2.14). Hernandez has thrown at least 200 innings and struck out at least 200 batters in each of the last six seasons as he defines the term ace. Since coming over from Japan, starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma has accumulated 38 wins in three seasons with the M’s and he gives the team a serviceable number two in the starting rotation behind Hernandez. The Mariners are also high on their young 22-year old starting pitcher Taijuan Walker. Walker was the M’s first-round selection in 2010 and the sky is the limit for him and his nasty curve ball.

Mariners relief pitcher Fernando Rodney set a club record in saves last season with 48. Rodney can keep fans on the edge of their seats because he can be erratic at times, but he still has the skills to get the job done.

Lloyd McClendon

For Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, he knows that he has a team that can contend for a postseason spot this season; it’ll just be a matter of them doing it for 162 games this spring and summer. With 25 of the Mariners first 31 games against their brethren in the American League West, it’s the perfect chance for them to put everyone else in the division into chase mode as they look to end their playoff drought.

Oakland Athletics 82-80

In the world of sports, momentum can be cruel as it can turn on you faster than you can bat your eye. Last summer the Oakland Athletics had the team that was ready for a deep postseason run. The A’s had a record of 72-44 which was the best in Major League Baseball. But the A’s would stumble down the stretch which culminated in them losing in the American League Wild Card Game to the Kansas City Royals. And the 2015 Athletics will look totally different from the that we saw exit the playoffs last October.

The Athletics acquired starting pitcher Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox just prior to last season’s trade deadline. Heading into the off-season Lester would be the most sought after starting pitcher. The small-market Athletics would not be able to afford him as he signed with the Chicago Cubs on a six-year, $155 million deal. Last season Athletics general manager Billy Beane acquired starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs. In 16 starts with the A’s last season, Samardzija was 5-6 with a 3.14 earned run average. With Samardzija set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, the A’s traded him back to the Windy City as he is now a member of the Chicago White Sox. The past two seasons saw third baseman Josh Donaldson emerge as one the leaders of the A’s, but he was surprisingly traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during the winter. And just like it is with a college team after a few years, the Athletics have a new look squad as they are prepared for an uphill battle this season in the AL West.

Recently the A’s bread has been buttered by their starting pitching and for them to hang around in the division race this season they will need more of the same. A’s starting pitcher Sonny Gray won 14 games last season and he is trying to emerge as the team’s ace. After arm injuries derailed his Major League Baseball career, Scott Kazmir once again found his groove last season with the Athletics as he won 15 games. Kazmir is only 30-years of age, but he has learned how to reinvent himself on the pitching mound as he has become more of a location pitcher.

Over the past four seasons, Tyler Clippard developed into one of the best relief pitchers in baseball as a member of the Washington Nationals. The Athletics acquired Clippard from the Nats this off-season and what they got was a two-time National League All-Star that has had an earned run average under 2.50 over the last two seasons while striking out 155 batters during that span as well.

When Beane traded Donaldson to the Blue Jays, he gave up a player that led the team in home runs (29), runs batted in (94), hits (155), and on-base percentage (342). The Donaldson trade sent third baseman Brett Lawrie back to Oakland. Lawrie is nowhere to being the offensive threat that Donaldson has been, but he is serviceable which is something that Beane covets. After hitting 32 home runs in 2012 as a member of the New York Mets, first baseman Ike Davis has only hit 20 long balls since. The A’s acquired Davis from the Pittsburgh Pirates as they are hopeful that he can rekindle some of his magic from 2012. But Beane’s best acquisition off the winter was getting utility man Ben Zobrist from the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have been wheeling and dealing as much as the A’s and what Oakland gets in Zobrist is a player that is an excellent defender at multiple positions along with having a career on-base percentage of .354.

The Athletics will more than likely stumble out of the gate, but under manager Bob Melvin they will scrap and claw for the entire season.

Houston Astros 70-92

The Houston Astros had a break thorugh of sorts last season as it marked the first time since 2010 that they didn’t lose 100 games. The Astros will once again have one of the youngest teams in Major League Baseball as the rebuilding continues for them.

A.J. Hinch

In a surprise move, Bo Porter was fired as the manager late last season as he appeared to be getting the most out of the talent that he had. For 2015, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has decided to go with former Arizona Diamondbacks skipper A.J. Hinch to be the manager in Houston. Hinch is the sixth manager that Luhnow has employed ever since he became the Astros general manager in 2011. In parts of two seasons with the Diamondbacks, Hinch’s record was 89-123 which doesn’t spark a ton of optimism.

George Springer

The Astros have high hopes for outfielder George Springer in 2015. Last year as a rookie, Springer didn’t disappoint by hitting 20 home runs and 51 runs batted in just 78 games. The Astros will look to get a full season from Springer in 2015 while designated hitter Chris Carter could flirt with becoming the first Astros player since Lance Berkman in 2006 to hit 40 home runs in a season. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is coming off of a season in which he led Major League Baseball in batting average (.341) and if he were on a better team he would be a household name while the acquisition of utility man Evan Gattis will make Houston tougher as a team.

Last season the Astros pitching staff had an earned run average of 4.11 which was 12 in the American League and they will more than likely once again be one of the bottom feeders in the category for 2015 as the talent simply isn’t there.

If the Astros are somehow able to find a way to win 75 games in 2015 it would be a huge shot in the arm for their organization.

Texas Rangers 68-94

After four straight 90-plus win seasons, the Texas Rangers took a huge step backwards as they only won 67 games in 2014 for their first last place finish in the American League West since 2007. The Rangers were hit heavily by the injury bug as well last season along with the departure of manager Ron Washington who was the most successful skipper in franchise history. For Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, he must put his thinking cap on in order for his team to contend once again this season.

After spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jeff Banister is now the skipper for the Rangers and he will bring with him some fresh ideas that he is hopeful will once again make Texas a contender. Banister’s first order of business must be to make the Rangers more competitive in 2015 as they were outscored last year by 136 runs which was the worst in Major League Baseball.

Yu Darvish

The Rangers organization has always had hitting, but a quick turnaround for them will rely on their starting pitching. Last season the Rangers only had 62 quality starts which was last in the AL and starting pitchers Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish combined to lead the club in wins last season with just 10. Lewis was returning from an injury in 2014 while Darvish spent some of the season on the disabled list. Lewis is 35-years of age and the Rangers should be thankful if they are able to get 150 quality innings from him this season. Darvish on the other hand was expected to be the Rangers ace, but that won’t be the case in 2015. Darvish was shut down last season due to inflammation in his pitching elbow and the Rangers will be without him as he has elected to undergo Tommy John surgery. During spring training the Rangers were thrown a curveball as there is a big possibility that Darvish could require Tommy John surgery which will cripple the chances for Texas to make the playoffs before the season even starts. The Rangers were able to acquire starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo this off-season from the Milwaukee Brewers. Gallardo grew up in the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex and the Rangers are hopeful that some home cooking will be just what the doctor ordered for him and their starting rotation. After missing the majority of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, relief pitcher Neftali Feliz returned last season to save 13 ballgames for the Rangers. The Rangers are hopeful that Feliz will be able to turn it loose this season and regain the form that saw him save 40 games in 2010.

Prince Fielder

A change of address and a new uniform didn’t help first baseman Prince Fielder last season with the Rangers. Fielder’s first season with the Rangers was cut short as a bulging disk in his neck limited him to just 42 games and like the Texas pitching staff, Fielder must get back to the form that has made him a five-time Major League Baseball All-Star. Like Fielder, Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was disappointing in his first season with the Rangers as he needs to be one of the table setters for this club at the top of their lineup. And the same can be said for Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus who has not been the same player since signing an eight-year extension with Texas in 2013.

This should be a year of transition for the Rangers as they will be finding their footing under Banister.

X-Division Champion

Y-Wild Card

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Things Have Changed For Billy Beane

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One month ago the Oakland Athletics were sitting on top of the baseball world. The A’s owned a record of 72-44 which was the best in Major League Baseball and they appeared to be a lock for the postseason. But in a matter of a month things have changed drastically. The Athletics are 9-20 in their last 29 games and the team that has been in first place in the American League West for the majority of the season is now in second place and they’re nine games behind the Los Angeles Angels. The A’s are currently holding onto the top wild card spot in the AL, but even that is tentative as they are only mere percentage points ahead of the Detroit Tigers and two games ahead of the Seattle Mariners.

Jon Lester

Oakland had been cruising along, but in a surprise move just prior to the MLB trade deadline, A’s general manager Billy Beane acquired starting pitcher Jon Lester and utility man Jonny Gomes from the Boston Red Sox. In exchange for Lester and Gomes, Beane sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox. Cespedes was vital in the middle of the Athletics batting order has he had 17 home runs and 67 runs batted in to go along with him making his American League All-Star team this year. Cespedes’ arm was also stellar in the outfield as he dared runners to advance on him as he has a howitzer for an arm.

Beane gave up a valuable piece to his team for a player in Lester that is a rental. Lester is set to become an unrestricted free agent this winter and the small market A’s are not going to be able to afford his services. Beane has also tinkered with something that is extremely valuable in the world of sports which is team chemistry.

Since August 10, Oakland has only won two series and they are fading fast. In a key four-game series against the Angels at the end of August, the A’s were swept. The A’s followed this up by losing two of three games to the M’s while doing the same over the weekend against the lowly Houston Astros. The Athletics got their seven-game road trip started on the wrong foot last night when they lost in extra innings to the Chicago White Sox. In their last 13 games Oakland is 3-10 and they have only managed to score 40 runs which is not going to cut it. Offensively the Athletics are 12th in the AL in batting average at .247 which is not going to get it done either. This team lives and dies by the three-run homer as they are tied for fourth on the Junior Circuit in home runs with 139. But if players are not getting on base, the home run is not as powerful.

A’s outfielder and leadoff hitter Coco Crisp has a six-game hitting streak, but he has only scored two runs over that stretch. The onus is now on the heart of the A’s lineup that includes third baseman Josh Donaldson and first baseman Brandon Moss to bring Crisp home. But since the Athletics traded Cespedes no one has been able to replace his contributions in the Oakland lineup.

Pitching was expected to carry the Athletics to the postseason and ultimately to a World Series Championship this season which has not been the case lately. Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija was acquired from the Chicago Cubs earlier this season, but he left his 2.83 earned run average in the Windy City. Since joining the A’s, Samardzija is 4-5 with a 3.41 earned run average. A’s manager Bob Melvin now enters the ninth inning and he doesn’t have the same assurance that he once did being that relief pitcher Sean Doolittle has been on the disabled list since August 24 with an oblique injury as he has 20 saves in 23 opportunities.

But if the A’s are going to get out of their rut, now is the time. 11 of Oakland’s final 17 games are against teams that currently have losing records including a game today against the White Sox whom they have struggled against and seven games against the Texas Rangers who are the worst team in Major League Baseball this season. With 17 games left in the regular season and an nine-game deficit in the AL West, Oakland is not going to catch the Angels for the division crown. But what Melvin and his bunch can do is get back to the timely hitting and effective starting pitching that made them so dominant for most of the year. The Athletics are staring at playing in the Wild Card Game which means that they’ll have their hands full. If the A’s face the Mariners then you can bet that they’ll face starting pitcher Felix Hernandez who is a candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award this season. The Tigers have knocked the Athletics out of the postseason the past two years and the thought of Oakland having to meet either starting pitcher David Price or Max Scherzer of Detroit in a one-game playoff is not promising for the green and gold. The Athletics must find a way to get back to being the rambunctious bunch of players that has captivated Northern California or they won’t have an October to remember.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Why The Oakland Athletics Are Good For Major League Baseball

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Billy Bean

Billy Bean

Every year you can count on big-market teams in Major League Baseball such as the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Boston Red Sox to be at the top of MLB’s list for the highest team payrolls. A high payroll doesn’t always guarantee success on the baseball diamond which brings me to the Oakland Athletics. The A’s began this season with a payroll of $83.4 million which was the 25th highest in Major League Baseball. But for the majority of the season Oakland has been in first place in the American League West and currently they have the best record in MLB.¬†The A’s have won the AL West in the last two years and since 2000 they have had eight seasons in which they have won at least 90 games. But the Athletics tend to get lost in the shuffle.

Since moving to Oakland in 1968, the Athletics have won four World Series Championships including three consecutive titles from 1972-1974. But there is a huge financial divide in the Bay Area between the A’s and the San Francisco Giants. ¬†Whereas the Athletics began the season with a payroll of $83.4 million, the Giants began the season with a payroll of $154 million which was seventh highest in Major League Baseball. The Giants enjoy more financial security as they have the territorial rights to Northern California’s Silicon Valley which is literally a gold mine. In spite of all of their trips to the postseason since 2000, Oakland has only advanced to the American League Championship Series once without making any appearances in the World Series. The Giants on the other hand have had five trips to the postseason since 2000 and they have claimed a pair of World Series Championships.

When Billy Beane took over as Athletics general manager in 1997 he took the tools that he learned from his predecessor Sandy Alderson of sabermetrics which concentrated on walks and on-base percentage as opposed to just batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. The formula became known as “Moneyball” which was turned into an award winning book by author Michael Lewis. Sabermetrics have worked for the A’s in the regular season, but not in the playoffs which could change this season.

Aside from the sabermetrics, small-market general managers like Beane have concentrated on developing talent in their minor-league systems. In the past teams such as the Yankees and Dodgers that have lucrative television deals could swoop in at any time with a bag of money and poach the best players from teams like the A’s. Beane is savvy in developing players and trading them when their stock is high. Beane’s system led the A’s to their run in the early to mid-2000’s. From 2007-2011, the Athletics had four losing seasons, but Beane re-tooled Oakland’s minor-league system and he is reaping the benefits now.

The name of the game in baseball is pitching. The old adage is that good pitching will trump good hitting any day of the week and twice on Sunday. With a current team earned run average of 3.10, the A’s have the best staff in MLB. The Athletics are set to hit the All-Star break with three of their starting pitchers (Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, and Jesse Chavez) all with at least 7 victories this season. Beane pulled off the shocker of the baseball season so far last week when he made a trade with the Chicago Cubs to acquire starting pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. In 17 starts with the Cubs this season Samardzija was only 2-7, but he had an earned run average of 2.83. Samardzija made his first start with the Athletics last Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays and in seven innings of work he struck out five batters while only allowing one run.

With Samardzija and Hammel in the fold for the Athletics, their pitching staff is so deep right now that Beane actually had to demote starting pitcher Tommy Milone who is 6-3 with a 3.55 earned run average this season to the minors. Milone will eventually rejoin the big club, but with Gray and Samardzija, the A’s have power arms that can carry them deep into October.

Moneyball is the name of the game for the A’s, but they have some big boppers in their lineup as well. Infielders Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss are tied for the club lead in home runs with 19 while outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has 14 and all three players are on pace to hit 30 homers this season.

Donaldson was drafted by the Cubs in 2007, but he was traded to the A’s in 2008. Donaldson has developed into a fine Major League Baseball player. Last season Donaldson finished fourth in the American League MVP voting and this season he has been selected to his first All-Star team.

After stints with the Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Philadelphia Phillies, the A’s brought Moss in off of the scrap heap in 2012 and he has finally found a home. In two-plus seasons in Oakland, Moss has 70 homers and 202 runs batted in.

When Cespedes defected from Cuba he was a relative unknown when the Athletics signed him in 2011, but he is making a name for himself with his bat and his defense as well. On the season Cespedes is batting .257 with 14 homers and 56 runs batted in while defensively he is daring runners to try his cannon of a right arm.

This Athletics team is littered with guys that were castoffs and afterthoughts by other baseball teams. Once you sprinkle that in with Beane’s ability to draft and develop talent, the A’s have a great formula that is proving to once again be successful.

As a team that A’s play baseball like they are in the backyards having fun as kids and the same passion is illustrated by their fan base when they come to the Oakland Coliseum. The A’s appear to be a team of destiny and this time around they have their eyes on a deep postseason in October.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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