Red Sox @ Yankees May 8-10 2018: Series Preview

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The Red Sox have had it easy in terms of their schedule over the last week and a half.  They played the Rays, Rangers, and Royals, taking 7 of 10 during that stretch.  But now they face the Yankees, who have won 15 of 16 against some of the AL’s best.  They swept the Twins, Indians, and Angels, and nearly swept Houston.  They have been boosted by the emergence of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, and are doing fine without 1B Greg Bird.  How will they fare against Boston, the only AL team that still has a better record than the Yankees?  They will fight for not just the AL East crown, but the American League crown in this series.  They are arguably the two best teams in baseball right now, which makes this intense rivalry even better.

Previous 2018 Results

The Red Sox have already played the Yankees once this season at Fenway Park.  The Yankees had even more injury problems and did not have Gleyber in the majors back in mid-April when this series occurred.  Despite losing Xander Bogaerts to the DL shortly before the series, the Red Sox, who had started 8-1 due to spotless pitching and an easy schedule, took advantage.  They took 2 of 3 in the series.  The Red Sox lineup had dominated in Game 1 to bring the Sox a 14-1 win.  David Price had a rough Game 2 and left early with an injury.  But the Red Sox attempted to come back, and after Tyler Austin spiked the infielder sliding into 2nd, Joe Kelly got revenge when he hit Austin.  It ended in a bench-clearing brawl that got Kelly and Austin suspended.  Porcello continued a strong start in the 3rd game as the Red Sox won, 6-3.  I did a recap of that game when the Sox and Bruins won important games on the same night.

Big Night For Boston: Sox, Bruins Win On Big Stage

 

How They Line-Up Now

Both teams have powerful, home-run hitting lineups.  But both of these lineups have a weak spot.  The Yankees have seen several hitters who are usually pretty good slump.  Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez all have a batting average under .230.  Sanchez is batting .198.  It is balanced out by strong seasons from Didi Gregorius and Aaron Judge, as well as early success out of Andujar and Torres.  I was never too high on Gregorius, but he has really proven himself this year.   The Red Sox do not have reliable hitters at the end of the lineup.  Both regular catchers and JBJ are batting under .200, and Eduardo Nunez has also struggled.  But J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Xander Bogaerts have all thrived and led this team.

The Red Sox have the starting pitching advantage, but not all of the pitching match-ups in this series are favorable for the Red Sox.  The Red Sox don’t have too much of a bullpen to rely on, either.  Craig Kimbrel has been flawless, but the rest of the bullpen has not always stepped it up when the starter struggles.  The Red Sox have to rely on either an offensive explosion or a spotless, long-lasting starter to win quality games.

Pitching Match-Ups

Game 1 (5/8): BOS: Image result for drew pomeranzDrew Pomeranz (1-1, 6.14 ERA)

vs. NYY: Image result for luis severinoLuis Severino (5-1, 2.11)

By no means is Severino going to be easy to face but I could see Pomeranz stepping it up on the big stage here.  Once Severino leaves, it will be the offense’s turn to make an impact.

Note: Price has been scratched from his Wednesday start due to hand numbness.  I’m beginning to agree with that 98.5 caller who talked about the stress disorder with David Price.  Can he handle the pressure of a Red Sox-Yankees game?

Game 2 (5/9): BOS: Image result for rick porcello Rick Porcello (5-0, 2.14 ERA)

NYY: Image result for MASAHIRO TANAKAMasahiro Tanaka (4-2, 4.39 ERA)

Tanaka has been pretty good this year, but Porcello has been flawless this year.  Moving him a day up brings this pitching match-up into our favor.

Game 3 (5/10): BOS: Image result for Eduardo Rodriguez Eduardo Rodriguez (3-0, 5.29 ERA)

NYY: Image result for C.C. Sabathia C.C. Sabathia (2-0, 1.39 ERA)

I like Eduardo Rodriguez.  He has very high potential, but C.C. Sabathia has been great when healthy, and I’m wondering how E-Rod will perform under the pressure of Yankee Stadium.

My Prediction: Red Sox Take 2 of 3

 

 

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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.

Crazy 8th for Sox 8th Win

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After a 7-1 start to the season for the Red Sox, things were not looking good for them today.  They were down 7-2 heading into the 8th inning, as the Rays had scored at least one run in six straight innings.  Eduardo Rodriguez had been knocked out of the game after 3.2 innings, forcing the Red Sox to use numerous relievers to finish off the game.  The bullpen struggled as Hector Velazquez, Bobby Poyner, and Brian Johnson gave up four runs in 3 1/3 innings But the Red Sox came all the way back to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7 and extend their winning streak to eight games.  Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts extended their hitting streaks to 7 games each, as they led the Sox offense.

The Red Sox started off strong with a leadoff double by Mookie Betts, and Betts was driven in by Hanley Ramirez’s groundout.  But the Rays struck back quickly, with DH C.J. Cron hitting a solo homer.  Early on, Eduardo Rodriguez was doing well, striking out five batters, including the side in the 1st inning.  But the Rays were working the count and and E-Rod’s was over 70 after three innings.

While the Rays were not crushing the ball after Cron’s home run, they scored one run every inning from the 2nd all the way to the 7th. In the 3rd inning, E-Rod gave up a walk followed by a infield single that was originally ruled an out. Matt Duffy was clearly safe, so it was a smart challenge by the Rays.  The run scored on a double by Carlos Gomez.

In the 4th inning, Daniel Robertson reached on another infield single for the Rays.  3B Rafael Devers could not make the throw in time.  That was followed by a Brad Miller walk, and Adeiny Hechavarria drove in the run with a bloop single that Andrew Benintendi couldn’t quite get to.  The Rays were trying to continue the rally, as Matt Duffy singled again after E-Rod left the game, but Hector Velazquez came in to get the last out.

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Velazquez gave up a run in the next inning, as Daniel Robertson singled, stole second, and came home on Brad Miller’s base hit.  The Sox chipped away in the bottom of that inning.  They loaded the bases after a walk, a Christian Vazquez single, and another walk.  Rays reliever Ryan Yarbrough had come in to replace Andrew Kittredge after two innings. Today, the Rays reliever combo to start was game was able to hold the Sox to just two runs through six innings, but it was not easy.

With two outs in the fifth, Hanley Ramirez ripped an infield single that Adeiny Hechavarria snagged to save more runs from scoring.  J.D. Martinez followed, but struck out with the bases loaded. Martinez was the only Sox starter without a hit, but that did not keep the Sox from winning.

The Rays scored again in the 6th after Kevin Kiermaier hit a triple off the Green Monster to drive in Matt Duffy, who had walked.  Kiermaier hit the triple off of Bobby Poyner, but Velazquez was charged with the run as he had walked Duffy before leaving the game.  Brian Johnson came in in the 7th and struggled, giving up two more runs.  Daniel Robertson walked, and came home on a triple by pinch hitter Joey Wendle.  On that play, Xander Bogaerts hurt his ankle as he had to chase the ball into the Rays dugout after throwing to third before Devers was there.  He will be evaluated further on Monday, but his timetable is currently unknown. Bogaerts was helped off the field, and it was really concerning when he couldn’t leave without assistance because he has been Boston’s best hitter so far this season.  Brock Holt came in to replace him.

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Tampa scored their second run of the inning off Johnson after a sac fly drove in Wendle.  The Sox failed to get things going in the bottom of the 7th, but after Carson Smith came into the game, the Rays failed to score another run.  They loaded the bases after a walk, a Carlos Gomez single, and a walk.  But Smith escaped the inning by striking out Daniel Robertson.

This looked like it was going to be a Rays win, as after Hanley Ramirez led things off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch, the next two batters struck out and flew out.

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But with two outs, Mitch Moreland, who was a doubles machine last year, hit his first double (and hit) of 2018, driving in Ramirez to make it 7-3 Rays.  Eduardo Nunez singled and Moreland advanced to third.  Rafael Devers then knocked a ball down the third base line that bounced off the left field garage, allowing both Moreland and Nunez to score.

With that, Rays reliever Matt Andriese was done, and Rays closer Alex Colome came in, hoping to secure the 7-5 lead the Rays were still holding on to. The Red Sox had done well against Colome in the home opener. Just in case the rally continued, Cora got star closer Craig Kimbrel warming up in the bullpen next to Joe Kelly.

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Christian Vazquez kept the rally alive with a base hit.  Devers scored, making it 7-6 Red Sox.  Vazquez advanced to second on another wild pitch.  Mookie Betts tied it up with a line single to left as Vazquez came in to score with a nifty slide to avoid the tag.  Andrew Benintendi kept the rally alive by doubling to the left field gap to drive in Betts.  The outfielders were playing shallow as Benny’s double did not reach the Green Monster. It was now 8-7 Red Sox.

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Kimbrel came in and quickly retired the side, as the Red Sox locked up their comeback victory, 8-7.  This was by far their most exciting game of the season.  The Sox faced easy opponents, but the Red Sox are now 8-1 to start the season, their best record ever after nine games. They had not even started 7-1 since 1904, a World Series-winning year.

The Red Sox head into their three-game series against the Yankees on fire.  Will they win their first series against their archrivals?  The Yankees have been depleted by injuries, and are just 5-5 after losing to Baltimore today in a 12 inning game.  With Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Brandon Drury, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, C.C. Sabathia, and Billy McKinney all injured, the Sox should certainly have the edge.

Baseball Bits #7: Will Martinez Meet HR Expectations for the Sox?

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This off-season was pretty quiet for the Red Sox.  They did hire a new manager, but besides resigning Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Nunez, the Red Sox did not make a big move until late February.  The Red Sox appeared confident in their roster until they signed J.D. Martinez on February 26th.  But there was a clear need for a home run hitter, something the Red Sox have lacked since David Ortiz retired.  The need grew larger after the Yankees acquired OF Giancarlo Stanton.

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But with Martinez on board, the Red Sox may be able to compete with the Yankees in the AL East, a feat that appeared impossible after the Sox lost out on Stanton to their archrivals.  This year, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is back and better than ever.  Despite the fact that the Yankees have the Top 2 home run hitters of 2017 on board, the Red Sox have #3 in Martinez and he can help them compete along with a strong rotation.  That’s assuming that J.D. continues to hit dingers with the best of them.

Switching teams, especially to a big baseball city like Boston, adds pressure that can often impact results as it did for David Price.  Like I did last year on top pitchers who switched teams to make predictions for Chris Sale, I researched how MLB Top 5 home run hitters perform after changing teams the following season.  I only evaluated players traded or signed to start on a new team the season after they were a top 5 HR hitter.  This research could provide intel on what to expect for both Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez.  Since Stanton is a little younger than Martinez, could it show that he is more likely to remain elite?  Although it is hard to predict the age at which a player will decline, history has shown that for many players, performance begins to decline in their mid to early 30’s.

The Research

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The “Baseball Bits”

  • In the last 100 years, only 33 players have changed teams the year after completing a season as an MLB Top 5 home run hitter
    • Only 6 players (18.1%; these guys are highlighted green on the spreadsheet) have remained in the Top 5 in the following season
      • This has not happened since 2003 when Jim Thome did it after going from the Indians to the Phillies
    • 15 players (45.5%) remained in the Top 20 but fell out of the Top 5 (these guys are highlighted yellow on the spreadsheet).
      • In total, 21 of the 33 players (63.6%) have remained in the Top 20
    • 5 of the 33 players (15.1%) remained in the Top 50 but did not make the Top 20 (these guys are highlighted in orange on the spreadsheet), meaning that 26 of the 33 remained in the Top 50 (78.8%).
  • Only once before has an MLB Top 5 home run hitter come to the Red Sox (Jimmie Foxx came to the Red Sox in 1936) the year after achieving the feat the year before, He remained in the Top 5 in Year 1 with the Sox.  However, this was back in the 1930s when there were less big home run hitters who could surpass him.
  • Prior to Stanton, the Yankees had acquired two MLB Top 5 home run hitters who achieved the feat the year before on another team.  Babe Ruth, who came in 1920 as the Curse of the Bambino began, stayed in 1st place with the Yankees, hitting 25 more dingers than he had when he finished first with the Red Sox in 1919 (he had 115 more at bats in 1920).  Alex Rodriguez, who came from the Rangers in 2004, stayed in the Top 20 despite dropping out of the Top 5.
  • Prior to 1970, big home run hitters were less common, keeping the same guys on top year after year.  In addition, switching teams was less common for a superstar back then and the off-season was not anything like what it is now.  Of the 9 top 5 home run hitters who switched teams the next year before 1970, 3 remained in the Top 5 but all 9 remained in the Top 20.
  • Only 4 players have switched teams after a Top 5 home run hitting season more than once.  They are:
    • Adam Dunn: He remained in the Top 20 the first time he did it, but after heading to the White Sox, he declined, falling out of the Top 100 and hitting just 11 home runs.
    • Greg Vaughn: He stayed in the Top 5 after the first time, but after switching teams again the next year, just made the league’s Top 50 in home runs.
    • Albert Belle: He did this twice in the span of three years, and he placed between 15th and 30th in each of his first years after.  However, it only took one year for him to adjust the first time.  After a second time, he declined and decided to retire.
    • Rocky Colavito: He did this twice.  In his first year after, he stayed in the Top 20 both times, but did not make the Top 5 either time.  However, he took just one year to adjust in both cases.

The Verdict

It is hard to come up with a verdict based on this research alone.  But based on what I think and the research I have conducted, J.D. Martinez will fail to make the Top 5 again but will hit at least 30-35 home runs and make the Top 20.  Some people believe that he could turn out like Jason Bay did for the Sox, but I don’t think that is the case.  Based on the research, I think Martinez is a better player (Bay never made the Top 5).

Since 2014, Martinez has been a consistent HR hitter and I find it hard to believe that he will decline too severely after joining the Red Sox.  He’s not 35, he’s still just 30 years old.  If he does struggle, I think he could easily bounce back in Year 2 or 3.  As for Stanton, I think he will stay in the Top 10 if not the Top 5 with at least 40 dingers.  He is only 28 and people are talking about him and Aaron Judge as having the potential to become a historic home run hitting duo.

Speaking of rebounding in Year 2 or 3, I think that after a strong Spring Training, David Price could bounce back.  He won’t be quite what he used to be but he will at least put up a strong season that will put him back in the conversation when it comes to elite starters.  With Opening Day tomorrow, comment with your Red Sox thoughts.

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.

Image result for andrew mccutchen evan longoria giants

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.

Image result for eric hosmer padres

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.

 

 

Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Mediocre

Welcome to Day 3 of my preseason power rankings.  Yesterday, we had a look at more bad teams.  However, these teams had strong points that lifted them higher in my rankings.  Well, today we made it to the middle of the pack.  Each of these teams have some pros and some cons.  We’ll take a look at that.  Let’s start off with #18.

Missed a previous article?  Check below:

Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: The Ugly

Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: The Bad

 

18. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals

Off-season Review

Image result for jason hammel welcome to royals

The Royals were somewhat active this off-season.  The core of their lineup is still made up of the same six guys.  But they added Brandon Moss, Jorge Soler and some prospects to it.  In the process of a rebuild, younger players on this team will have a bigger impact.  Their rotation has been given a boost.  Despite the death of Yordano Ventura, and the loss of Edinson Volquez, they got Nathan Karns, Jason Hammel, and Travis Wood.  However, between trades and free agency, they lost Wade Davis, Kendrys Morales, and Jarrod Dyson.

The Case for the Royals

The Royals do have a strong core in the lineup, and the rotation is okay, but the bullpen is falling apart, and depth is a major problem.  The veterans added to the bullpen aren’t enough for the depth they need.  The younger players are being forced into holes, and some of them are not quite ready.  If it weren’t for the hole at second, Whit Merrifield would be in the minors.  Before this off-season, the Royals also had a hole in the outfield, and they still have some depth problems there although their starting positions are filled.  I just can’t see the Royals doing much better than this with all these holes and problems, and I can’t see them beating the Indians in the division.

The Pros and Cons

Like I said, the Royals’ strengths are the core of the lineup, which consists of six long-time Royals teammates, and the rebuilt rotation.  However, depth is a major problem, and the Royals have holes in several places.  Second base is a big problem.  The bullpen is a pretty big problem, too.  The Royals haven’t found a legitimate designated hitter since Kendrys Morales left either, which they would have if they had enough good hitters to fill out the lineup.

Best Case Scenario: The lineup is killer again, the rotation gets better, and the Royals win the AL Central.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is a bust, depth problems really bite back hard, and the Royals get knocked out of the postseason race.

Projected Finish: 81-81, 3rd in AL Central

 

17. pittsburgh-pirates Pittsburgh Pirates

Off-season Review

The Pirates were very quiet this off-season, probably too quiet. They only signed one major free agent, and it was resigning Ivan Nova.  The Pirates are pretty situated where they are.  They have a good lineup and a decent bullpen.  The rotation is a bit of a problem, but they’re trying to resolve that.  However, in the position they’re in, they’re not going to win the Wolrd Series.  Is it time to rebuild?  Could it be time for a blockbuster trade?  After being very active in the trade market in the 2015-16 off-season, they haven’t done much about that this off-season.

The Case For Pirates

If you’re looking for the most mediocre team in the league, it’s the Pirates right now.  They are stuck in the middle.  What exactly does that mean?  Like I said, they are not in World Series contender mode.  But they’re not exactly rebuilding either.  Maybe rebuilding is the answer.  I wouldn’t make that decision right now, but don’t be surprised if Andrew McCutchen is traded away, or the Pirates sell somebody else.  There is no team that is as stuck in this endless loophole as the Pirates are.

The Pros and Cons

The Pirates may have one of the best lineups in the league, but face it, the rotation is not living up to the expectations, not for the Pirates or for a contender.  Until the rotation improves, the lineup will not lead this team to another postseason run.  The question remains: is it time to rebuild or try and go for it?  Is the rotation going to be as easy a fix as it seems?

Best Case Scenario: The rotation gets better, allowing a powerful lineup to lead Pittsburgh back to the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation completely flops and the Pirates are forced to sell and rebuild, in hopes of winning in the future.

Projected Finish: 85-77, 3rd in NL Central

 

16. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies

Off-season Review

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The Rockies had big plans this off-season.  Signing utility player Ian Desmond was a smart move, as he can fill the hole at first base.  The Rockies also signed Alexi Amarista for depth and signed Mike Dunn and Greg Holland to fill the spot that Boone Logan left.  The rotation is also looking better and younger after some changes this off-season.  Could the Rockies finally be a contender?

The Case for the Rockies

The Rockies are back in business.  Their lineup is looking better than ever in a hitter friendly ballpark, and although the rotation has not been the focus, this young rotation at least looks good enough to contend.  The bullpen is also loaded in case the rotation doesn’t do its job.  Adam Ottavino and Greg Holland should compete for an important closer job.  The Rockies are starting to look a lot better, and I think they finally have a chance.

The Pros and Cons

The lineup and the bullpen are both overpowered and are really lifting up this team.  Although the rotation is holding this team back a little bit, they are at least good enough that the Rockies won’t completely suck.  There’s not much holding this team back.  They just have a tough environment to compete in.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation improves, and the loaded lineup leads the Rockies through the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation flops and the Rockies fail to do well in the NL West.

Projected Finish: 85-77, 3rd in NL West

 

15. seattle-mariners-logo Seattle Mariners

Off-season Review

Image result for jean segura welcome to mariners

As always, Jerry Dipoto was active in the trade market.  So active that he traded for and traded away Mallex Smith within 77 minutes.  They traded for three pitchers, Drew Smyly, Yovani Gallardo and Chris Heston.  They also traded Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura and acquired Jarrod Dyson.  That’s just the beginning!  The Mariners were active as always, but will these moves pay off, or not?

The Case for the Mariners

Okay, I understand that last section is very overwhelming.  But to sum it all up, the rotation now has a lot of depth and will be very good.  The rotation is top notch, with a powerful ace, and a lot of options after that.  The lineup is good but has some holes.  The Mariners don’t have many options in the outfield, and they’re left with a gaping hole at first base.  Hopefully, new utility Danny Valencia can fill one of those spots.  That brings us to our next section.

The Pros and Cons

First things first, I want to make it clear that this rotation is spotless.  So spotless that the bullpen depth problems won’t be a major factor.  The Mariners do have a strong core of the lineup but have some problems at the bottom of the lineup.  Those problems also show up in the field.  You can’t take give a team with two legitimate outfielders and a gaping hole at first base and put them in your playoff predictions.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates and the lineup holes don’t affect the Mariners, as Seattle grabs a wild card.

Worst Case Scenario: The holes and depth problems cause the Mariners to finish 4th in the AL West.

Projected Finish: 86-76, 3rd in AL West

 

14. miami-marlins Miami Marlins

Off-season Review

Image result for edinson volquez welcome to marlins

The Marlins have a pretty situated lineup but really bolstered their pitching this off-season.  They signed Brad Ziegler among others to upgrade the bullpen, and Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke along with Kyle Lobstein to upgrade the rotation.  This should really pay off, but did they pick the right guys to fill out the rotation?  Without Jose Fernandez, it’s pretty hard to fill the rotation right, and pretty hard to find a new ace.

The Case for the Marlins

Image result for justin bour and adeiny hechavarria

 

The Marlins already had a pretty good, young lineup.  The holes they had in the infield in previous years are now filled by young guns like Justin Bour and Adeiny Hechavarria.  Led by Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton, this lineup will be able to kick butt.  The rotation is also looking better for 2017 but doesn’t match up to rotations around the league.  They don’t have an ace anymore, and that will hurt.  The bullpen is better but they don’t have the depth they need to back up the rotation. Rest in peace Jose Fernandez, you’ll really be missed in 2017.

The Pros and Cons

There’s good news and bad news for the Marlins.  The good news is, the lineup is all set, and the pitching looks a whole lot better after this off-season’s acquisitions and moves.  The bad news is, the rotation may not be good enough, especially without a clear cut ace.   They don’t have many pitchers that will be good enough to pitch more than 6 or 7 innings on average.  The bullpen is looking better but doesn’t have the depth that they need be able to backup tired starters without getting tired after multiple days straight of relief innings themselves.  They have a lot of options in the bullpen, but besides a few good late inning guys, there aren’t many strong relievers, which they need when they are missing top of the rotation guys.

Best Case Scenario: The off-season rotation boosters pay off, the lineup does better than ever, and the Marlins make the playoffs easily.

Worst Case Scenario: The absence of Jose Fernandez truly hurts, the lineup doesn’t do much better than in previous years, and the Marlins finish below .500.

Projected Finish: 87-75, 3rd in NL East

 

13. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

Off-season Review

Image result for matt holliday yankees

The Yankees had a pretty quiet off-season.  However, they did boost a young rotation by signing Jon Niese, and they got star closer Aroldis Chapman back.  The Yankees were also able to snag Matt Holliday on a one-year deal.  After many of their older guys retired or looked for careers elsewhere, the Yankees really began to season some of their younger players.  Now, those players are good enough that it’s worth signing power hitters to help contend.  Holliday will help out in the outfield and play DH.

The Case for the Yankees

The Yankees are seasoning their deep farm system in the majors, and the prospects are good enough to help the veterans on the team contend.  There aren’t many small market teams who can do that, and the Yankees have the biggest market in the league.  Could that have something to do with why the Yankees never have a terrible season?  Those damn Yankees are always in the picture, you can never count them out.  This season, they must hope that their young rotation succeeds, and the strong bullpen can back them up.  They also must hope that their young guns have the same kind of success at the plate.

The Pros and Cons

The Yankees are another one of those good news/bad news teams.  Well, the good news is, the lineup succeeded without A-Rod and Teixeira last season, and the bullpen is powerful enough to provide good relief for young starters.  The bad news is, you can’t always trust young guns to help you contend, especially consistently.  That’s why these young teams are so unpredictable.  Inexperienced players can be very inconsistent.

Best Case Scenario: All the prospects live up to their expectations, and they lead the Yankees to their first playoff berth in 5 years.

Worst Case Scenario: The young talent is inconsistent and the Yankees completely flop, finishing below .500.

Projected Finish: 87-75, 3rd in AL East

 

That’s all for Day 3 of my preseason ranks.  Part 4 will look at teams 12-7 and is coming between today and tomorrow.