Finally, Jack Morris is heading to Cooperstown.
With the Miami Marlins having hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game earlier this week for the first time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Rays are now the only MLB franchise to have never hosted the Midsummer Classic. In recently history, hosting the All-Star Game has come down teams getting a new stadium or undergoing heavy renovations to their current facility. And when Marlins Park opened in 2012, the debate began as to when the All-Star Game would be heading to South Florida. And now that the Marlins have had their opportunity to show off their stadium to the baseball world, who should be next in regards to hosting the Midsummer Classic.
Rogers Centre-Toronto, Canada
The first and only time that the Toronto Blue Jays hosted the All-Star Game was in 1991 and it came on the heels of the Rogers Centre (formerly the Toronto SkyDome) opening for business. The SkyDome was ahead of its time as the amenities there included Major League Baseball’s first retractable roof as well as a hotel. Since that time the Montreal Expos left Canada to become the Washington Nationals and being that the Blue Jays are MLB’s only team north of the border, it is time to bring the Midsummer Classic back there in order to further promote the game and keep fan interest intact.
Camden Yards-Baltimore, Maryland
When Oriole Part at Camden Yards opened in 1992, it was the gold standard of what a Major League ball park should be. It didn’t take MLB that long to award the Baltimore Orioles the All-Star Game as they hosted the Midsummer Classic in 1993. And as the park is still a crown jewel, it is high time for the All-Star Game to return to Baltimore.
Citizens Bank Park-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Citizens Bank Park opened for business in 2004 and it quickly became a huge home-field advantage for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2007, the Phillies won the National League East, and by they 2008, they would win their first World Series Championship since 1980. But unlike many of the other new venues around Major League Baseball, Citizens Bank Park has yet to host the All-Star Game. The last time that the Phillies hosted the All-Star Game was in 1996 at Veterans Stadium. The fans in Philadelphia have a uniqueness about them and it would add a special twist to the All-Star Game to have Phillies fans jeering every single player as he is introduced.
Wrigley Field-Chicago, Illinois
Right next to Fenway Park, Wrigley Field is the most historic venue that it currently in use in Major League Baseball. The ivy that covers the outfield walls at Wrigley along with the throng of fans who hang out on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues to catch home run balls is always huge, and we cannot forget about the spectators in the bleachers as well. The Chicago Cubs last hosted the All-Star Game in 1990, and the timing is perfect now for MLB to have the Midsummer Classic return to the Windy City being that it is still buzzing there after the Cubs won the World Series last October. And if the wind is blowing out on a warm summer night at Wrigley, the All-Star Game could resemble the Home Run Derby.
Dodger Stadium-Los Angeles, California
It’s hard to believe but Chavez Ravine has not hosted the All-Star Game since 1980. The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of Major League Baseball’s most iconic franchises and their new ownership group has taken extreme pride in renovating Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are more popular than ever in the City of Angels as they have won four consecutive National League West Titles, and it’s safe to say what the reaction would be when players from the San Francisco Giants would be introduced as there is no love lost between these two iconic franchises.
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
Last year’s American League Divisional Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers was an intense playoff series. After the Blue Jays dropped the first two games of the series at home, they would win the next two games on the road to force a decisive fifth game in Toronto. The game was an intense contest that would ultimately be decided in the bottom of the seventh inning when Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus committed three errors. This would open the door for a four-run inning for the Blue Jays which was capped off when outfielder Jose Bautista launched a three-run homer that brought the folks at the Rogers Centre to their feet. But Bautista’s home run would also bring the Rangers to their feet as they were offended by his initial gesture after hitting the homer.
Before proceeding around the bases, Bautista would stare at the Rangers dugout and then slam his bat down in their direction. This would see both benches clear before cooler heads prevailed. The Blue Jays would go on to win the game, and the series, but Bautista’s gesture would be something that was on the minds of the Rangers heading into 2016.
The Jays and Rangers each entered the 2016 Major League Baseball season as playoff contenders which put more importance on their meetings. After the Blue Jays took three out of four games from the Rangers in Toronto in early May, these two clubs would meet later on that month, but in Arlington.
There was peace between both teams until the eighth inning when of the series finale when Bautista was hit by a pitch from Rangers relief pitcher Matt Bush which was celebrated by the fans in Arlington. Later on in the inning, Bautista found himself trying break up a double play a second place. And when Bautista arrived at second base, he encountered Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor.
Odor let his fist do the talking as he still had last October on his mind. And although that Bautista wasn’t ready to throw down with Odor, this led to a bench-clearing altercation between both clubs.
In Texas, Odor was hailed a hero as fans adored him and a restaurant there even offered him free barbecue for life after he delivered some chin music to Bautista. But Major League Baseball wasn’t thrilled with Odor showing off his boxing skills as they suspended him for eight games. Odor would appeal and his suspension was reduced to seven games, but the Jays wouldn’t get another crack at the Rangers in the regular season.
Coming down the stretch of the regular season, the Rangers separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the American League West as they were seeking their second consecutive division title. Not only did the Rangers win the A.L. West, but they also beat out the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians for the best record on the Junior Circuit which meant home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The Blue Jays on the other hand found themselves in a grueling battle with the Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees for the top spot in the American League East. But coming down the stretch it was the Red Sox who were able to distance themselves from the pack to win the division which left Toronto scrapping for a wild card berth.
In the season’s final weekend, the Blue Jays would secure a wild card berth and they were set to host the Orioles in the American League’s Wild Card Game. And just like the O’s and Jays did all year long, they would engage in an grueling battle that came down to the very end. In the bottom of the eleventh inning, Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion would launch a three-run home run off of Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to send Toronto to the American League Division Series. And the team that would be waiting for the Jays in the ALDS, would be the Rangers.
Most people expected another epic five-game showdown between these two clubs, but it was the Blue Jays that set the tone in Game One as they chased Rangers starting pitcher Cole Hamels in a 10-1 throttling of Texas. After the Blue Jays win, they had taken home-field advantage away from the Rangers, and in the process had won three consecutive road playoff games against them. But Toronto wasn’t satisfied as they beat the Rangers 5-3 in Game 2 which meant that they were headed home just needing to secure one win in order to advance to the American League Championship Series for a second consecutive year.
The Blue Jays headed into bottom of the first inning trailing 1-0, but they would quickly respond as Encarnacion hit a two-run homer, and catcher Russell Martin followed it up as he hit a solo blast. The Jays would build a 5-2 lead before the Rangers would mount a comeback which was led by Odor.
Odor hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning to cut the Texas deficit to one run as he didn’t have a problem playing the role of the villain in front of nearly 50,000 screaming fans in Toronto at the Rogers Centre. The Rangers would then take the lead in the sixth inning after a double by first baseman Mitch Moreland plated a pair of runs. But the Blue Jays would rally in the bottom of the frame when shortstop Troy Tulowitzki scored on a passed ball by catcher Jonathan Lucroy. And just like the Wild Card Game against Baltimore, the Jays once again found themselves heading to extra innings in a game that would send them to the next round if they won.
The game and the series would be decided in the bottom of the tenth when a 6-4-3 double play couldn’t be executed by the Rangers. Andrus’ feed to Odor who was covering second base was off which led to Odor making a bad throw to first base. Moreland couldn’t make the catch at first base as the ball got away from him which resulted in Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson scoring from second base to end the series.
It was poetic justice for the Blue Jays as their victory was the result of the two players in Odor and Andrus that were at the center of the fight this past summer had to eat crow. And although that the Jays threw hands with the Rangers, they got their revenge in the postseason as they ended Texas’ postseason for the second consecutive year in a row.
The Rangers-Blue Jays rivalry doesn’t have the juice around Major League Baseball as those of the Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals, or the Yankees-Red Sox, but over the last two years these two clubs have met when all of the chips have been pushed to the middle of the table.
Bautista might not have been willing to get it on with Odor that afternoon, but his teammates had his back this October as the Rangers pitching staff never had an answer for Encarnacion who batted .417, or the Toronto bullpen that shut down their lineup which had been one of the best in baseball.
Toronto has now won six consecutive playoff games against the Rangers, and as they are prepping to face the Indians in the American League Championship Series, the Rangers are once again pondering what could have been as they won’t pick up the baseballs again to February when the Cactus League rolls around. And as Bautista will still be looked at as a villain in North Texas, he won’t have a problem wearing the black hat if it leads to a World Series Title.
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.
The Toronto Blue Jays have been a Major League Baseball franchise for 40 years and they have had their fare share of feared sluggers that have suited up for them. The Blue Jays rose to prominence in the 1980’s with the power bats of Jesse Barfield and George Bell being a big part of it. The Blue Jays would win consecutive World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993 with Joe Carter providing the pop in the middle of their lineup. Since then the Blue Jays have had sluggers such as Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado who is the franchise’s all-time leader in home runs with 336, but none of these solid power hitters were able to do what is currently going on north of the border.
The Jays have one of the most feared lineups in Major League Baseball as it is the modern day murderers row for power hitters. For years the Blue Jays lineup was paced by outfielder Jose Baustista and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion as they have been regular participants at MLB’s All-Star Game. But to duo of Encarnacion and Bautista wasn’t enough to get the Jays to the postseason.
Prior to the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, former Blue Jays general Alex Anthopoulos executed a trade that saw Toronto acquire All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics. And in the Donaldson’s first year in Toronto, he became a household name along with becoming one of the most popular athletes in Canada as he became the first Blue Jays player since Bell in 1987 to be named as the American League MVP by hitting 41 homers while driving in 123 runs.
With Donaldson in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup with Bautista and Encarnacion, they were more potent as they began to get into contention. And the cherry on top for the Blue Jays was just prior to the Major League Baseball trade deadline last year when they acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies. With the Rockies, Tulowitzki was a five-time All-Star, along with hitting at least 20 home runs in a season six times and he fit right into the Toronto lineup.
The Blue Jays would hit 232 home runs which was tops in the American League in 2015 with Encarnacion, Bautista, and Donaldson all hitting at least 39 home runs which was a big part of Toronto winning the A.L. East for the first time since 1993. And after falling short of the World Series last October by two games, the Blue Jays have picked up right where they left off in the power department here in 2016.
Bautista and Donaldson are each on the verge of reaching the 20-homer plateau and the calendar has yet to hit July. And as Bautista and Tulowitzki have yet to get it going like they have in year’s past, there’s is a new power bat that is emerging for Toronto.
As outfielder Michael Saunders is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he is enjoying the finest year of his Major League Baseball career. So far this year Saunders has hit 15 home runs to go along with 32 runs batted in which has been highlighted by hitting 3 homers while driving in 8 runs last Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles. And Saunders has joined the law firm of Donaldson, Encarnacion, Bautista, and Tulowitzki which has kept the Blue Jays afloat in playoff contention in the American League.
After a 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox on May 29, the Blue Jays found themselves with a record of 26-26. But since then Toronto is 14-8 with series wins over the Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees who happen to be their primary competition in the American League East. The bats have led the way here in June for the Blue Jays as they have seven games in which they’ve scored at least 7 runs, while they are third in the A.L. in home runs (107), and fifth in slugging percentage (.435)
The Blue Jays record of 40-34 currently has them in third place in the American League East behind the Orioles and Red Sox, but they are just 2.5 games out of first place while also possessing the second wild card spot in the A.L. And with a potent offense like Toronto has, it gives Blue Jays president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro more flexibility in seeking to make a trade to boost the team’s postseason chances as they are not lacking in the power category.
It’s nearly two hours that separates Toronto from Niagara Falls. But you wouldn’t know that when you see the Blue Jays offense clicking on all cylinders as they could be the Ontario Power Generation since they provide the electricity that can light up the city’s skyline.