Baseball Bits #9: Why Mookie Betts Should Still Lead Off

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Although he has missed significant time due to injuries, Mookie Betts has had a phenomenal season.  As of June 18th, he is batting .340/.419/.699 with 18 HR, 38 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. As his stats show, he is a speedy, consistent leadoff hitter who hits home runs.  With stats like his, many have argued that he belongs in the middle of the line-up as he has nearly made the 30-30 club in each of the last two years.

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Despite their speed, most 30-30 hitters of the past did not lead off.  Instead, they have been middle of the line-up threats.  Alex Cora has said time and time again that Betts is his leadoff hitter and I think there is evidence to support the Sox rookie manager’s decision and it goes beyond the Sox best start in years.

Betts has hit 3 leadoff homers just this year (13 in his career).  He also bats in consecutive innings or twice in an inning very often.   And the more at-bats he gets, the more chances to help the Sox potent offense get going whether it is the start of the game or in later innings.  Read below for some more compelling stats that support the decision to keep Betts leading off.

The Research (Note: Data as of June 18th)

Baseball Bits #9_ Mookie Betts Back-2-Back Innings – 2018 At-Bats in Back-To-Back InningsSame Inning (1)

The “Baseball Bits”

  • In the 54 games Betts has played this season, he has batted in consecutive innings (including one time he batted twice in one inning) 36 times over 29 games
    • The Red Sox are 22-7 in these games (.759 winning percentage)
    • To compare, the Sox current overall record is 49-24 (.671)
    • When Betts plays and does not do it, the Red Sox are 15-10 (.600)
    • The Sox are 4-3 when Betts does it twice in one game (.571)
    • They are 1-0 when Betts bats twice in an inning (1.000)
    • The Sox are 3-1 (.750) when Betts comes up to bat in three innings in a row
  • 12 of these 36 (33%) of Betts’ consecutive inning at-bats have started in the 1st inning
  • Betts is batting .468/.533/.887 with a 1.420 OPS for all of the consecutive inning/same inning at bats
    • He has hit 8 HR and drove in 18 runs in these at bats
    • 44% of his home runs this season and 47% of his RBIs this season have been when he has batted in consecutive innings or twice in an inning

The Verdict

As much as the Red Sox would benefit from having Betts batting before J.D. Martinez, creating a 1-2 punch, I think the data shows it’s been plenty beneficial to keep Betts in the leadoff spot.  Even with the bases empty at the start of the game or after our weak end of the lineup struggles, Betts manages to come through. He has hit 13 career leadoff home runs and would not bat in consecutive innings this often if he wasn’t leading off.  33% of his consecutive inning at-bats have started in the 1st inning.

The only major downside of keeping him in the leadoff spot is that with the 7th, 8th, and 9th batters struggling, he has fewer RBI opportunities.  If the Sox find a way to get another bat or the bottom of the order heats up, that will change.  Another option is if Dustin Pedroia can return to his old self, it will help make 1 through 9 stronger like the Yankees potent offense.  Either way, it’s hard to argue with the success the Sox line-up has had with Mookie at the top.

The Sox have plenty of speed in their line-up and super utility man Brock Holt 9th could bat 9th to give them a second lead-off.  Holt has been doing well this season, while the more frequent bottom of the order consisting of Jackie Bradley Jr. (another good 9 option when hitting better), Sandy Leon, and Christian Vazquez have struggled to the point where none of them are batting .250 or higher.  Trying Holt or Pedroia in the nine-hole could potentially get Betts some runners in scoring position when he comes up, which should make him perform even better. Betts is batting .353 with runners in scoring position this year, but only 34 of his 209 at-bats (16.3%) have been with runners in scoring position.  That just shows how desperately Betts needs some end of the lineup support and how Betts’ home runs have helped his RBI total of 38.  The Red Sox have a top-heavy lineup.

They have not shown signs that they are already missing Hanley Ramirez but will they need to add another hitter in order to contend in the playoffs?  If the Sox 7-8-9 hitters keep struggling as we get closer to the July 31st trading deadline, it will be something the Sox will have to consider.  I hope they heat up but if not, expect to see a post from me on potential additions either by trade or internal or both.

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Red Sox Report: Sox Slowing Down, But It’s Understandable

When the Red Sox began the season 17-2, I knew they would not be able to finish the season going at that pace.  So it is understandable that the Red Sox have gone 8-7 in their last 15 games.  It does not mean the Red Sox are a fluke.  They have still shown signs in the last 14 games that they are capable contenders.  But they cannot win every game, and 8 to 10-game winning streaks interrupted by just a loss or two is not realistic for any team to maintain.

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But Mookie Betts is still on fire, and Hanley Ramirez has still put up much better numbers to start 2018.  J.D. Martinez has also begun to heat up.  Betts has gotten to the point in his hot streak where he’s breaking HR records.  We will look at Betts’ records, the cooling off of the Red Sox, and much more in this edition of the Red Sox Report.

Red Sox Beginning to Cool Off, But It’s Not a Major Concern

As I said above, although the Sox have cooled off, the Red Sox have still shown qualities of an elite playoff contender.  I still think they have the potential to make a deep run this year.  What concerns me a little bit is who they have been losing to.  They lost a series to the Rays to start their most recent homestand.  Tampa barely has a starting rotation.  But even a blind squirrel eventually finds an acorn.  They also struggled and got no-hit against the Athletics.  The A’s are not terrible, they have a powerful young lineup and an improving rotation.  But after a 17-2 start, I did not expect A’s SP Sean Manaea to no-hit the Red Sox.  It shows that our lineup is very streaky, feast or famine.

Struggles against the mediocre teams is a problem, but the Red Sox have been pretty good against tough opponents like the Angels and Blue Jays.  What the Red Sox need right now is to be competitive against playoff contenders.  If they continue to prove that they are capable of that, I will be much more confident in their World Series chances.  But if they cannot show up against subpar teams, how will they be able to continue to thrive against contenders?

Sox Lineup Has Been Streaky But Has High Ceiling

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The Red Sox lineup has really struggled at times. They have scored 3 or fewer runs in 4 of their 9 losses so far. But when the lineup is on a good streak, it can carry the team. At its best, this lineup could probably carry the Red Sox all the way to the World Series.  But several guys have failed to come through in recent weeks. Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all batting under .200, and Eduardo Nunez hasn’t looked like the same guy that boosted the Red Sox lineup on the brink of contention.  Everyone in this lineup has struggled at some point this season.

But when on a hot streak, this lineup can take the league by storm.  There were several hot hitters that led us to our amazing start, and a few of our hitters are still on fire.  J.D. Martinez is 21 for his last 47 (.447) and has hit 3 dingers in that span.  Mookie Betts has been on fire all season.  Read more about Betts’ hot streak in the next section.

Mookie Betts Still On Fire, Now He’s Making History

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Betts is batting .352 (5th in the league) with 13 home runs (leading the league) and a 1.257 OPS (leading the league) on the season.  In addition, he’s 12 for his last 23 (.522).   He has hit 11 of the homers in his last 15 games and has had two 3 HR games this season (one soon after Marathon Monday in Anaheim, and another at Fenway this week against the Royals).  It’s only the start of May, and he had these 3 HR games within two weeks of each other.  He also had a pair of 3 HR games back in 2016.  He and Johnny Mize are the only players to ever have a pair of 3 HR games two times in their career.

Betts also passed Ted Williams for the most 3-HR games in team history.  Betts is only 25.  He has plenty of time in his career for more multi-HR games.  Could he become the first person to have two 3-HR games in three different seasons?  Could he eventually break the MLB 3 HR game record?  It is currently held by Mize and Sammy Sosa (6).  Betts is in the Top 10 with 4.  Betts is tied for 2nd with Manny Machado for multi-HR games since 2016 (11).  Betts and Machado are behind just Giancarlo Stanton (14).  Betts is more than just our leadoff hitter.  He is one of baseball’s biggest stars.  But there is an argument for why he should remain our leadoff hitter, and I look at that in my next Baseball Bits.

Injury Report: Thornburg Begins Rehab, Several Activated Over Last Two Weeks

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The Red Sox have continued to be hit by the injury bug.  Brock Holt went on the DL in late April with a hamstring strain.  Mookie Betts was also hurt for a few days in late April with hamstring issues but has since returned and continued to dominate.  He also left today’s game with a wrist injury.  But several of our previously injured players have returned over the last couple of weeks.  Xander Bogaerts was activated last weekend, and he lost his hot streak on the DL, but he went 3-4 in his first game back and has continued to hit well, batting .303 since his return.  Bobby Poyner has also returned from his injury but did not return to the big league roster until May 4th after a stint with the Paw Sox.

Steven Wright has returned from the DL too, but he is currently serving a 15-game domestic violence suspension.  Joe Kelly recently returned from his 6-game suspension after the Sox-Yankees brawl in April.  Eduardo Rodriguez was also out for a few days on a family medical leave but was activated on the 5th to start against the Rangers.  He did not miss a start during his absence.  Tyler Thornburg, Austin Maddox, Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt, and Dustin Pedroia are the players that remain on the DL.  Thornburg has begun his rehab assignment, and Pedroia has been rehabbing at extended spring training.  Pedey is targeting a May 25 big league return.  Brock Holt is expected to return next week.

Sox Have Caught a Break vs. Royals, Rangers, But Round 2 With Flaming Hot Yankees Ahead

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After a tough road trip, the Red Sox have enjoyed a relatively easy schedule over the last week and a half.  They have played the Rays, Royals, and Rangers.  Despite having a tough time against the Rays (who have won 11 of their last 14 on a hot streak), the Red Sox have caught a break against the Royals and Rangers, who they won 5 of 7 against.  But after that, the Red Sox could have another difficult stretch ahead, starting with a 3 game series at Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees have won 14 of their last 15, and this was against playoff contenders.

The Yanks have swept the Twins, Indians, and Angels, and took 3 of 4 in Houston.  If the Yankees continue to thrive against Boston, they will be proven as serious contenders.  But Boston had an impressive 17-2 stretch of their own.  Although it may not have been against as difficult opponents, the Sox did take 2 out of 3 when they hosted the Yankees.  However, the Yankees were without C.C. Sabathia and Aaron Hicks in that series.  They have also called up Gleyber Torres, who has done very well since that series.  They have lost Jordan Montgomery and a couple relievers to the DL since the series though.

That’s all for this edition of the Red Sox Report.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox posts coming soon.

MLB 2018 Predictions: Exciting Season In The Making Despite Slow Off-Season

It is that time of year again.  Although I had to delay this article due to the excruciatingly quiet start to the off-season, my MLB Predictions are here.  Read below to find out my thoughts on who will win the World Series and how they’ll get there.  I will also be predicting who wins the major MLB awards.  Let’s get started with my projected regular season standings.  

Note: These Predictions are based on potential, but do account for the lack of real FA signings

Record Projections

AL East

  1. new-york-yankees New York Yankees 96-66 (#1 seed AL)
  2. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox 92-70 (#4 seed AL)
  3. Toronto_Blue_Jays Toronto Blue Jays 76-86
  4. Baltimore-Orioles-Logo Baltimore Orioles 73-89
  5. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays 70-92

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The Bronx Bombers are back.  With Giancarlo Stanton on board, the Yankees have last year’s top two home run hitters in their lineup.  They could have a historic home run duo going.  Stanton and Judge will be surrounded by other big hitters, young players full of potential, and a respectable rotation.  

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But the Red Sox will challenge them after signing the #3 HR hitter of 2017 in J.D. Martinez.  After a long game of chicken, they finally agreed to terms on a deal on February 19th.  The Sox also brought back super utility Eduardo Nunez, who will start at second until Dustin Pedroia returns in mid-April.  Martinez, Nunez and the Killer B’s will lead the Sox to be elite contenders and compete with the Yankees.  In addition, ace Chris Sale leads a strong Red Sox rotation, one thing Boston has on the Yankees.  Sale, Pomeranz, and Porcello have led Boston’s rotation to outpitch the Yanks.    I will have an extended spring preview for the Sox coming soon, where I will try and answer some of the team’s biggest questions headed into 2018.

The rest of the division is in rebuild mode, and the Red Sox and Yankees will feed on them, while the two of them compete against each other.  The Blue Jays have revamped their roster with lower tier free agents and younger players who will lead the new era of the team.  Meanwhile, the Orioles have rotation turnover issues after they lost multiple starters to free agency.  They signed two starters, but they still have rotation problems, and their lineup is still good, but it’s no longer All-Star material.  Meanwhile, the Rays have completely remodeled their roster after trading away Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, and Corey Dickerson.  They will be led by young talent on their new look roster. Although the other teams in this division look intriguing, Red Sox and Yankees are the only teams that I would consider playoff contenders in the AL East.

AL Central

  1. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians 92-70 (#3 seed AL)
  2. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins 87-75
  3. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals 73-89
  4. detroit-tigers Detroit Tigers 69-93
  5. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox 66-96

The Indians are still the clear favorite.  They may have lost key pieces in Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce, but they made up for it by signing 1B Yonder Alonso, 1B/DH Mike Napoli, OF Melvin Upton Jr. and OF Rajai Davis.  Young outfielder Bradley Zimmer is also in the running for a starting outfield job.

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That doesn’t mean the Twins won’t contend though.  They upgraded a roster that was already strong this off-season, by signing Logan Morrison and relievers Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed as well as acquiring Jake Odorizzi from Tampa Bay.  They also signed Michael Pineda, who may return from Tommy John surgery later this year.  The Twins are setting themselves up to return to the playoffs, but they’ll have competition in the wild card race, with the Red Sox and Angels also contending.

The rest of this division will fail to contend.  The Royals lost their core players in Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Lorenzo Cain and that has led them to rebuild.  The Tigers are heading into a rebuild of their own after their older team struggled in early 2017.  However, their roster appears to be falling into place, for the most part.  They could use another infielder in the mix.  After trading away J.D. Martinez last year and trading Ian Kinsler in the off-season, the Tigers are headed in the right direction, focusing on their future.  The White Sox will rely on their young talent after rebuilding in 2017.  They are hoping that their top prospects, Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez, can make an impact at the major league level as well as prospects that cracked the majors last year.  The Indians are the clear favorites here, but the Twins could also contend, and do not be surprised if one of the three rebuilding squads in the division begins contending quicker than expected.

AL West

  1. houston-astros Houston Astros 95-67 (#2 seed AL)
  2. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels 88-74 (#5 seed AL)
  3. seattle-mariners-logo Seattle Mariners 83-79
  4. texas-rangers Texas Rangers 74-88
  5. oakland-a's Oakland Athletics 68-94

The Astros are still the clear favorites here.  They’ve only gotten better since last year’s World Series win, so if they have any hangover, it will only affect them early on, and won’t hit them that hard, similar to what happened to the Cubs last season.  A full season of Justin Verlander and the acquisition of Gerrit Cole will make their rotation unstoppable, and their lineup is still just as good, as prospects will fill in for what they lost in Carlos Beltran, who retired.

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The Angels will also compete though.  They arguably have one of the best lineups in the league after adding Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart as well as resigning Justin Upton.  Although the rotation is not dominant, the new two-way Japanese star in Shohei Ohtani will help them improve, and hopefully, the injury bug will not hit them as hard this year.  The Mariners will also have a decent year, but they are relying on Dee Gordon to make a smooth transition to the outfield, and the rest of their outfield doesn’t look great.

In addition, it will be hard to contend with inexperienced players occupying several starting jobs.  The Rangers aren’t going to be terrible either, but some of their best players like Adrian Beltre are getting old, and not all of their younger players will be able to succeed at the major league level this year.  I like their intriguing off-season, but unless they break out with what they have, it might be time for the Rangers to consider a rebuild.  The Athletics are hoping that they can start moving in an upward direction after their own rebuild, but I think their young players need another season or two to develop before the A’s get ready for contention again.  This year will focus on the development of their young guns like Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and Andrew Triggs among others.  In the end, look for the Astros to repeat here and the Angels to make a run at a wild-card spot.

NL East

  1. washington-nats Washington Nationals 97-65 (#1 seed NL)
  2. new-york-mets New York Mets 86-76
  3. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves 78-84
  4. philadelphia.phillies Philadelphia Phillies 71-91
  5. miami-marlins Miami Marlins 64-98

After the Nationals cruised into the NLDS in a weak NL East in 2017, I do expect Washington to repeat.  But other teams in the division will start to make strides toward contention.  At one point, I thought this might be the year that the Marlins pounce to the top of the division, but instead, they decided to rebuild early, dealing away all three of their starting outfielders (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna) plus 2B Dee Gordon.  Now they might very well be the MLB’s worst team on paper.

But the Mets, Braves, and Phillies are moving in an upward direction.  If they can stay healthy, the Mets added several key pieces that could lead them back to contention.  I think they are close to playoff material, but not quite there yet.  The Braves look ready to break out at any moment, but I don’t know if their breakthrough will come in 2018.  But I definitely think they will improve this season.  The Phillies may not be ready for contention yet, but this young team is setting themselves up for success.  If they continue to boost their young roster with veterans over the next couple years, we may see them return to the playoffs.

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Despite the rest of the division’s effort to contend, the Nats are still the #1 team here, and they are a World Series contender.  In his contract year, Bryce Harper will lead a powerful Nationals lineup, and their rotation might just need one more strong starter such as Jake Arrieta to lead the Nats deeper into the playoffs.  With many of their stars hitting the open market soon, it will be World Series or bust in 2018 for Washington.

NL Central

  1. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs 92-70 (#3 seed NL)
  2. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals 90-72 (#4 seed NL)
  3. milwaukee-brewers Milwaukee Brewers 87-75
  4. Image result for cincinnati reds Cincinnati Reds 79-83
  5. pittsburgh-pirates Pittsburgh Pirates 67-95

If I had to name one division that improved the most this off-season, I would say the NL Central without hesitation.  Despite losing SP John Lackey to free agency, the Cubs continued to improve this off-season with the signing of pitchers Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, and Drew Smyly (may return late in 2018).  They are a significant World Series contender.  But the division will not be easy to win as the Cardinals and Brewers have also improved.

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St. Louis signed Miles Mikolas in his return to the MLB but may need to add another starter for rotational depth.  They may even try and snag closer Greg Holland or 3B Mike Moustakas before Opening Day.  They also acquired OF Marcell Ozuna from Miami.  They will contend this year, and so will the Brewers, who despite the desperate need for a #1 starter, will be significantly better in 2018 after signing Lorenzo Cain and acquiring Christian Yelich to improve their outfield and make it dominant.  They may want to resign Neil Walker before Opening Day if they really care about winning now.  Unless they sign a pitcher or a middle infielder, I don’t see them as a lock for the playoffs, but they will contend.

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The Reds could also contend soon, but it will take another year or so for the lineup to become playoff material and the young rotation to improve.  Meanwhile, the Pirates have begun rebuilding after trading away OF Andrew McCutchen and SP Gerrit Cole.  They will not contend this year due to their rebuilding intentions as well as a serious depth problem and lack of a leader in their starting rotation.  Although Cincy and Pittsburgh won’t be in the playoff race, this strong division will be competitive as its top three teams battle for playoff berths.

NL West

  1. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers 95-67 (#2 seed NL)
  2. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies 88-74 (#5 seed NL)
  3. arizona-dbacks Arizona Diamondbacks 87-75
  4. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants 85-77
  5. san diego-padres San Diego Padres 69-93

Although the NL Central improved the most this off-season, the NL West is still the MLB’s strongest division.  This year, I think that four teams in this division will finish with a winning record, and two will make the playoffs.  The Dodgers will stay on top here.  They have managed to keep most of the players that helped them succeed in 2017, although their rotation doesn’t have the same kind of depth that it used to.  They didn’t need 7-8 viable starters on the roster though.  No team in this division has gained significantly on the Dodgers, but other teams in the division have improved.

This could be the year for the Rockies.  Their lineup will dominate, and their young rotation should continue to improve.  The rotation is also aided by a strong bullpen that will be led by new closer Wade Davis.  The D-Backs have added outfield depth after J.D. Martinez’s departure for Boston, and they will continue to contend in 2018, although I don’t think they will quite make it this time around, as the Cardinals and Brewers have gotten better and could grab a wild card.

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The Giants have also improved after acquiring Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, but after a 64-98 season, I find it hard to believe that even year luck alone will lead them back to the playoffs.  They still have rotation depth problems behind their top three starters and aside from Cutch, Longo, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence, this lineup isn’t overly intriguing.  Even the Padres will improve.  Some of their top prospects have cracked the majors, and they have brought back Chase Headley and Tyson Ross in addition to acquiring Freddy Galvis.  Their biggest move of the off-season was signing 1B Eric Hosmer.  He will be a veteran mentor for this young team and allows Wil Myers to assist the young outfield.  The Dodgers are the clear favorites here, but this division is hard to predict beyond that.

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Now for my playoff predictions.

Playoff Predictions

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As you all know, I am an avid Boston sports fan.  But as an unbiased reporter, I don’t think the Red Sox have the edge on the Yankees this year.  The Bronx Bombers just have too powerful of a lineup, and despite the fact that Boston has one of the best rotations in the MLB and signed a home run hitter of their own in J.D. Martinez, it’s just not enough to compete with the “Evil Empire” in New York.  The Sox will win over the Angels in the Wild Card round though.  The Angels may have a powerful lineup, but they are nothing like the Yankees, and rotation problems will hold them back.  I have the Yankees advancing to the World Series, but only to be defeated by the motivated Washington Nationals.  Like I said, it’s World Series or bust in Washington, and I think this year’s Nats are legitimate contenders.

In the AL, the Astros will come close to a World Series return, but even their dominant rotation will struggle against the Yankees lineup.  The Astros will top a well rounded Indians team.  The Indians look good this year but will have a hard time competing with this strong Astros team.  Jose Altuve (who I could see having another MVP caliber year), George Springer, and Justin Verlander among others will lead Houston to the ALCS.

In the NL, the Dodgers will also come close to a World Series return after beating the Cubs somewhat easily in the NLDS.  But they will struggle against a strong Nats rotation, and even Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw could have a hard time against Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and the improved Nats lineup.  The Cardinals will also fall to the Nats.  Their younger rotation will struggle on the big stage, and their lineup isn’t fierce enough this year to stop the strong Nats rotation, despite the powerful pieces they have in Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna, and Matt Carpenter among others.

The Cards do have the edge in the Wild Card round though, as their lineup will overwhelm young Rockies ace Jon Gray.  In the end, the Nats will dominate this side of the bracket and go on to win the World Series.  The window is closing for the Nats to win a title with Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and company.  But 2018 is their final shot at a World Series win in this era, and they will be driven by this fact.

To much to take in?  My video summary of this post will be on YouTube soon.  I will post the link on my blog when it is up.

Award Predictions

Below I have listed my Top 3 picks for each major MLB award.  

AL MVP

  1. Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU – After winning this award last year, I could see Altuve repeating his 2017 dominance.  He is one of my favorite non-Red Sox players and he has emerged as a star and leader on the Astros.
  2. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, NYY – On his new team, not only will Stanton pair up with Aaron Judge to create one of the best HR duos of all time, but also put up a strong average and hit not only for power but also for consistency
  3. Mike Trout, OF, LAA – Trout is always a candidate for this award, and although injuries held him back a bit in 2017, he will remain an elite contender for this award in 2018

Honorable Mention: Justin Upton, OF, LAA

NL MVP

  1. Bryce Harper, OF, WSH – Another one of my non-Red Sox favorites.  In a contract year, Harper will go from elite player to future Hall Of Famer in an all-around dominant season
  2. Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL – With the Rockies back in playoff contention, Arenado will play at MVP level in 2018, leading the strong Rockies lineup to continued success
  3. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN – I think Votto will also emerge as an MVP caliber player this year as he continues to put up great numbers despite the fact that he is older than many other all-star level players.

Honorable Mention: Eric Hosmer, 1B, SD

AL Cy Young

  1. Chris Sale, BOS – I think Sale will repeat the success he had early in 2017 with the Red Sox, and he is my pick to win the Cy Young.
  2. Justin Verlander, HOU – Verlander will emerge as a leader in the strong Astros rotation in another deep playoff run for the Astros.  He will be Sale’s #1 competitor for the Cy Young in 2018.
  3. Carlos Carrasco, CLE – I could see Carrasco returning to his dominant 2015 form this year and creating a dynamic duo in the rotation alongside Corey Kluber.

Honorable Mention: Corey Kluber, CLE

NL Cy Young

  1. Stephen Strasburg, WSH – Strasburg already returned to the ace level last year with an ERA around 2.50, and I think he could keep it up in 2018 and make a significant run at a Cy Young award.
  2. Yu Darvish, CHC – Chicago is a great fit for Darvish, and I could see him thriving in Chicago and running at a Cy Young.
  3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD – Kershaw is always a candidate for this award much like Trout is for the MVP.  He will continue to succeed in 2018.

Honorable Mention: Max Scherzer, WSH*

* For those of you who read my latest free agency article, you would know I think Alex Cobb is going to the Brewers.  If he signs in Milwaukee, he could be a significant candidate to battle for a Cy Young award.

AL Rookie of the Year

  1. Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, LAA – Who else would I put at the top of this list?  This two-way phenom is practically a lock to make the Angels roster despite the fact that he is a rookie non-roster invitee.
  2. Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU – I think Tucker could have a significant role at the major league level in 2018. He will compete for a starting outfield job when he comes up.  He is the brother of former Astros outfielder Preston Tucker.
  3. Hunter Dozier, 3B, KC – I think Dozier can make an impact at the major league level, even with Lucas Duda in line to start at first.  I see Dozier as Kansas City’s starting third baseman as long as he is successful early in the season, and I see potential in him.

Honorable Mention: Christian Arroyo, 3B, TB

NL Rookie of the Year

  1. Jesse Winker, OF, CIN – I think Winker will breakout this year as he establishes himself as a starter at the major league level.  He will compete for the Rookie of the Year award.
  2. Ronald Acuna, OF, ATL – Once Acuna cracks the majors, he has the chance to become a starter in left field, and once that happens, I see the potential for him to be great.
  3. Ryan McMahon, 1B, COL – With Ian Desmond headed back to the outfield and Mark Reynolds in the open market, there’s an open spot for McMahon at first base.  If they resign Reynolds, they could work out some sort of platoon, but either way, I think McMahon has the potential for success in the majors this year.

Honorable Mentions: Alex Reyes, SP, STL and Victor Robles, OF, WSH

 

That’s all for my MLB 2018 Predictions.  Stay tuned for more baseball articles including my spring power rankings, my Red Sox 2018 season preview, and my 2nd annual preseason Baseball Bits article.

 

 

Red Sox Shutout Mariners, Streak Extends to 6 Games

3-0 Red Sox.  The Mariners’ best hitter, Robinson Cano, was up.  He hits a high fly ball to deep center.  It nearly hits the wall for a huge double, but Jackie Bradley Jr. jumps up to save it!  The next inning, Bradley crushed a dinger to center.  Good defense led to good offense.

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Brian Johnson also pitched a complete game shutout, striking out 8 and giving up no walks and just 5 hits.

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The Red Sox started to score in the bottom of the 1st.  Betts walked, and Pedroia was hit on the arm.  Mariners pitcher Rob Whalen was out of control in his first start of 2017.  Xander Bogaerts knocked Betts in on a RBI single, but Pedroia was out at third.  Whalen continued to struggle as Benintendi hit a single to knock in Bogaerts.  Hanley Ramirez was also hit, and Whalen looked exhausted after walking one, hitting two and giving up two hits.  Ramirez stole second as Whalen walked JBJ.  It was 2-0 Red Sox, and they weren’t done.  Sandy Leon hit a single to drive in Benintendi.  However, Ramirez tried to score and was ruled out.  3-0 after 1 inning.

Meanwhile, Brian Johnson was on fire, and he was being backed up by good defense.  Mookie Betts saved a home run ball in the 4th, and JBJ made a leaping catch in the 6th.   In the bottom of that inning, Mitch Moreland singled to right, and JBJ hit a two-run shot to left.  5-0 Red Sox.  Brian Johnson continued to do well.  He finished his 4th 1-2-3 inning of the game in the 8th and the Red Sox scored one more run in the bottom of the inning.  Hanley Ramirez drove the ball to left for a base hit, and after a wild pitch got Hanley to second, Mitch Moreland hit the RBI single to drive him in.  The Red Sox led 6-0 through 8.

In the top of the 9th, Johnson was still in the game.  He struck out one, and then defense backed him up to end the inning.  JBJ caught Nelson Cruz’s line drive on a diving catch, and he made the catch of the game to wrap it up.  Seager hit another line drive, and JBJ leaped up for another big catch.  The Red Sox won 6-0.  Johnson tossed a complete game, and JBJ and Betts combined for 4 great catches.

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The Red Sox now have a 6 game winning streak and Porcello starts today.  Can the streak live on in the series finale against the Mariners?

Red Sox Stay Hot, Crush Tigers

The Red Sox got a big win over the Detroit Tigers last night, blowing them out 10-2.  Rick Porcello went 7 strong innings while Hanley and Pedey stayed hot and David Ortiz and JBJ jacked homers.

The Red Sox started off the game with a 4 run, 2 dinger 1st inning.  Xander Bogaerts showed signs of overcoming his slump as he started off the game with a base hit after Pedroia grounded out to second.  Then David Ortiz crushed the ball high into right field.  It was long gone, a no-doubter.  Then after Betts flew out to right, Hanley Ramirez stayed hot since returning to the club  with another base hit.  JBJ then blasted one in the same direction as Ortiz’s for the 2nd HR of the inning.   Red Sox took a 4-0 lead to start the game, very assuring after collapsing in the first game of the series.

But the Tigers struck back in the 2nd and took advantage of Porcello’s weakness from 2015, giving up home runs.  It would’ve been a solo shot but Porcello could not hang on to the throw to 1st and J.D. Martinez had himself a 2-run dinger.  Later in the game J.D. Martinez lined a hit through Xander Bogaerts’ broken glove.  J. D. would go 2 for 3 on the day but he would account for half the hits Porcello gave up in 7 stellar innings.

This was Porcello’s first start in Detroit since being traded for Yoenis Cespedes and he showed he was comfortable at Comerica after all those years with the Tigers, who also have a lot of former Red Sox on their roster.  The Tigers threatened only one more time and had 1st and 2nd in the 4th but former Sox’ catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia failed to extend a potential 2-out rally.

Bogaerts got another hit in the 5th and after an Ortiz walk, the Red Sox had a scoring opportunity of their own.  But Mookie Betts grounded into a force out.  I don’t think Betts was at fault though.  Miguel Cabrera robbed what could have been a nice hit for Andrew Benintendi, who has already been electric in Boston.  It was 4-2 Red Sox.  Would they hold on?  Oh yeah they did!  They dropped 6 more runs on the board!  Three innings in a row they scored a pair of runs.

In the 6th, the middle of the Sox lineup was shut down.  But with two outs in the inning and the bases empty, Sandy Leon came up to bat.  With four dingers in the 10 games prior to this, Leon was in good shape for a clutch hit.  He cracked an infield single on a low pitch.  Then up came Brock Holt.  Holt hit another one up the middle.  The Sox had first and second with Andrew Benintendi up, looking for revenge after Miguel Cabrera robbed his first potential hit.  He came through with a bloop single up the middle to score the inning’s 1st run.  Then Pedey came up with 1st and 3rd.  Ian Kinsler was covering second as Benintendi ran with the pitch, opening a whole for Pedroia to knock one between first and second right where Kinsler had been positioned.  That allowed another Sox run and knocked Michael Fulmer out of the game!  He was fresh off a complete game against the AL leading Rangers but today he gave up 6 runs in 5.2 innings against the feisty Sox lineup!

The Sox kept it up in the 7th.  David Ortiz got on for the third time as he punched a big single to right.  Mookie Betts got his first hit, a line drive single into left just above Erick Aybar.  1st and 2nd for Hanley Ramirez.  Ramirez knocked a double high up into right.  The opposite-field hit was in the gap allowing both Ortiz and Betts  to score and it was 8-2 Red Sox.

The Red Sox struck again in the 8th!  Andrew Benintendi drove a change-up into right for a stand-up double to start the inning.  Pedroia followed with an infield single, his second hit of the day.  He stayed hot riding a 10-game hitting streak.  He may not like hitting lead off but he sure is good at it.  1st and 2nd for Bogaerts, who was heading in the opposite direction until a multi-hit game tonight.  The center fielder caught his fly ball but Benintendi advanced to third.  Up came Travis Shaw who was hitting for David Ortiz and he walked.  Later Hanley Ramirez did it again, ripping a 2-run double to left.

The Red Sox were on a roll.  They were up 10-2 as the lineup was explosive, Porcello was dominant, and they even had a nice double play ball to end the 7th.  It was Fireworks Night at Comerica but they might as well have canceled it  because the Red Sox bats took care of that.  The bullpen was even good.  Fernando Abad pitched a 15 pitch inning in 9th inning garbage time.  They shut the Tigers down and 10-2 was the final score.

The Red Sox have two more crucial games against the Tigers.  They will face Daniel Norris and Justin Verlander with Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez pitching for Boston.  Will they win their way into playoff contention, or flop in the 2nd half of the trip?  They are now only a half game out from Toronto.  The Jays lost to Cleveland by late back to back homers, one outside the park and one for the first walk-off inside the park winning HR ever in MLB!

The Red Sox are in good shape and I think they might surprise a lot of fans after 2 last place seasons.  Stay tuned!

 

 

Sox Lineup Delivers After Slow Start

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Pedroia on first.  Bogaerts at the plate.  He hits it high into left, will it be enough?  GONE!!!! Xander Bogaerts nails a homer over the Green Monster and the Red Sox are on the board!  

The Red Sox got the job done, beating the Rays 4-1.  Rick Porcello pitched 7 strong innings, giving up just 1 run.  He is now 11-2 on the season!  I was at the game, starting a new winning streak as a fan at Fenway.  I am now 8-3 when I go, the 3 losses all coming last season.  

I’d like to give a shout-out to David Gagne for giving us the tickets with a great view in the right field box near Pesky Pole!  

The Red Sox couldn’t find their groove in the first three innings.  Porcello’s home run issues continued as he gave up a moonshot over the monster to Brad Miller in the first. Porcello gave up 3 hits and let one batter into scoring position in the next 3 innings.   There was also a throwing error by Xander Bogaerts on a routine ground ball in the 4th but Souza Jr. was caught stealing to end the inning.

The Sox offense was quiet in the first 3 innings other than a Mookie Betts blooper robbed by Oswaldo Arcia with a miraculous sliding catch.

Things changed for the Sox in the bottom of the 4th.  For the first three innings Moore was efficient with his pitches and only faced 10 Sox batters.  Matt Moore had less than 40 pitches through 3 innings.  But Pedroia led off the inning by working an 8 pitch walk.  That was the turning point of the game.  Moore struggled terribly after that.  Bogaerts launched a badly located 2 strike fastball for a 2-run HR over the monster seats.  Moore escaped the inning but not before walking Ortiz and giving up a single to new Sox Aaron Hill.

It looked like Porcello would fail to hold to the lead as he missed location on a 3-2 fastball to Nick Franklin.  The Rays left fielder started the inning with a double off the wall.  According to quora.com, 60% of the time at least one run scores after a leadoff double!

But Porcello got what he needed to get out of the inning without letting Franklin score.  He struck out the 8th and 9th batters, Arcia and Casali.  Then Bogaerts flashed his glove with a diving stop of a Forsythe one hop liner.  Shaw helped finish the play with a nice scoop of Xander’s 1 bounce throw.  And the Sox and Porcello escaped the top of the 5th still holding a 2-1 lead.

And the Sox kept their momentum going in the next inning.  Sandy Leon got things started with an infield single.  Mookie Betts then lined a shot to the center field gap that Souza Jr ran down but he took his eye off it as he almost ran into the wall.  He dropped it! A costly error put Betts and Leon into scoring position.  Pedroia made the Rays pay with a hard base hit to left and just like that it was 4-1 Red Sox.  Pedroia hit it so hard but Betts’ aggressive base running helped him beat the off-line throw and Pedroia took second.  The Sox would not score again but the damage was done.  

The next inning, Porcello got in another jam.  He gave up back to back singles with one out.  But Steven Souza Jr’s bad day continued as he grounded into a routine double play to short.   

Things settled down after that.  Matt Moore was pulled after 6 innings as the Sox got his pitch count up to 107 pitches after rough 4th and 5th innings.  Porcello went for one more inning before calling it a day, giving up only 1 earned run through 7 innings, doing what he needed to do to earn a victory.

Both bullpens shut down the sides through the 7th and 8th.  Dylan Floro did get in a bit of a pickle in the 8th when JBJ doubled and the Sox had 1st and 2nd after an intentional walk to Shaw.  Then Forsythe bobbled what should have been an inning ending double play ball hit by Bryce Brentz.  Brentz was called out on a fielder’s choice.  John Farrell challenged the play because replays showed what appeared to be a tie to the runner.  But the call was too close to overrule and then Sandy Leon struck out to end the inning.

Koji Uehara, the acting closer, came in to pitch for the 2nd straight day a go for his 2nd straight save.  A difficult task for a pitcher Koji’s age.  

Farrell had no choice but to use Koji as Craig Kimbrel is having knee surgery and will be out 3-6 weeks.  Dombrowski traded 2 prospects to Arizona for their closer Brad Ziegler but Ziegler couldn’t make it in time for the game as the trade was made just before midnight in San Francisco where Arizona was playing.  

So Koji Uehara took the closer role and got the job done anyway.  He gave up a lead-off single but settled down to strike out the last two batters, the 1st looking on a questionable call and the last batter on a splitter in the dirt.

The Red Sox got the job done as they begin to gain in the division.  Can they lock up the sweep before the All Star Break despite the Orioles winning?  Can David Price pitch the way he’s supposed to and will the Red Sox go into the break in good shape and come out of it as playoff hungry buyers?  Today’s 1:30 game decides it all and a 7-2 homestand before the break would feel much better than 6-3.  Go Sox!

Explosive Lineup Leads Red Sox to Rout Twins

Yes, the lineup helped, but in a way, the Twins beat themselves up.  Throughout the game, especially in the late innings, the Red Sox scored some cheap runs because the Twins were doing what they do best, absolutely blowing the game for themselves.  The Red Sox started the game by scoring 4 first inning runs.  Mookie Betts reached on an infield single, and was driven all the way home by a Xander Bogaerts double.  That was the first of four hits Bogaerts had on the game.  Hanley Ramirez walked, and JBJ knocked both Bogaerts and Hanley in by smashing a home run to right.  The Killer B’s struck again!

E-Rod started the game smoothly, but things got ugly starting in the 3rd inning.  With Byron Buxton on first, Eduardo Nunez hit a single off the right field wall.  Nunez started for second, but Betts made an amazing throw to Bogaerts to get him out!  Basically, the Killer B’s did it once again, and this time they saved Eduardo Rodriguez from an inning he would regret.  However, the next inning E-Rod lost control again.  He gave up a walk followed by a single, and after that he really screwed up.

Kurt Suzuki hit a three run bomb off of him!  It looked like a batting practice pitch!  It was right down the middle and easy to smash.  The next inning, E-Rod gave up another run!  Two singles made it first and third, and Trevor Plouffe drove in the run on a sac fly.  He gave up yet another single after that!  That was the end of it for him!

The Red Sox struck back in the 6th though, and in a strange way.  It was the Twins fault.  Xander Bogaerts got a base hit, and with Big Papi up, the Twins were on heavy shift.  Ortiz hit a ground ball to second, and they tried for a double play, but couldn’t get Bogaerts.  Bogaerts kept running to third, and there was nobody there to cover!  They had no way to get Bogaerts out!  He scored on a fly ball by Hanley Ramirez.  That knocked out the Twins starter, too!  It was shaping up to be a tight slug fest, but things changed.

The 6th inning was a little rough, but the Sox bullpen kept control the next couple innings.  The Red Sox kept their 5-4 lead!  Then came the 8th inning.  With Dustin Pedroia on second due to an outfield error, Xander Bogaerts hit in a two run homer.  That was just the start of it.  Some of their runs came because of good hitting, others by bad fielding.  The Red Sox got 1st and 2nd, Big Papi got a base hit and Chris Young walked.  Then came another costly error.  Travis Shaw grounded it to Buddy Boshers, the pitcher.  He made a terrible throw to Max Kepler, who’s typically an outfielder.  It went into foul territory, and a run was in.  Two more runners were in scoring position, and they were knocked in by Sandy Leon’s single.   The Red Sox ended the inning with a 6 run lead.

That wasn’t even the end.  The rally continued an inning later.  After Dustin Pedroia missed another chance to extend his hitting streak, the new pitcher gave up two straight base hits.  Hanley Ramirez advanced the runners on his ground ball, and Jackie Bradley Jr. was hit by the pitch to load up the bases.  Another mistake by the Twins!  Chris Young drove in 2 runs on a single, and it was still 1st and 2nd!  The bases were loaded once again on Travis Shaw’s walk, and the Twins made a 4th mistake!  A wild pitch advanced all runners one base, scoring the 13th run!

Then the craziest thing yet happened!  The Twins bullpen was so worn out, that Twins young closer Brandon Kintzler came in, and he gave up another 2 run single!    They left the inning with a 15-4 lead!  What a blowout!   Clay Buchholz came in for the bottom of the inning.  He gave up two walks, but who cares?  The Red Sox had an 11 run lead!  In the end, Buchholz didn’t even give up a run!

The Red Sox have really messed with the worst team in the league this weekend, and it’s worked!  Pedroia may have lost his hitting streak, but the Sox lead the series 2-0!  Can they do it again?  Watch the series finale of Red Sox @ Twins today at 2:00.

Stat Wrap

  • Sandy Leon had his first four hit game with the Red Sox
  • Xander Bogaerts now has two straight 4-hit games, can he start a four hit game streak?
  • Dustin Pedroia may have gone 0-6, but he reached on an error and scored a run
  • The Red Sox have four players in the league’s top 15 for RBIs.  Mookie Betts is just shy of Top 5 and David Ortiz leads the league still
  • Until today, the Red Sox have had a player that led the league in hitting streaks since the start of May