Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I understand, this a little late, as Opening Day was Thursday, and the Red Sox didn’t look so great Thursday even though they are a part of this Top 6.  But I figured I’d finish this series since there’s only one article left.

Welcome to the final article of my 2019 MLB preseason power rankings.  This season, you could argue the Super Seven that was discussed a few years back still exists, except with different teams.  The Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees have remained elite, and despite declines by the Nationals, Indians, and Dodgers (probably) , new powerhouses in this league have arised.  The Braves should be regular contenders now, the Cardinals could make a run with 1B Paul Goldschmidt here for the long run, and the Phillies should be competitive with Bryce Harper.  But Philadelphia isn’t quite on the level of these other teams.  So unless the Dodgers do stay elite after all, I think the Super Seven will become a Super Six.  I will be discussing those six today and pointing out the Achilles Heel of each team. Click the links below for other articles in the series (I will add them as I post them):

 

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2019 MLB Preseason Power Rankings Series:

Ranking The Teams #30-25, My Version: The Bottom of the Barrel

Ranking The Teams #24-19, My Version: Who will have to Wait till Next Year?

Ranking The Teams #18-13, My Version: Who else Misses out on Playoff Contention?

Ranking The Teams #12-7, My Version: Who has Playoff Chances?

Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I also released my 3rd annual preseason Baseball Bits!

 

6. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

The Case for the Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, sure. But the veterans they kept around from their last playoff run, like Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina, are still reliable contributors. They have also boosted the team with younger talent, including SP Jack Flaherty, OFs Harrison Bader and UT Jose Martinez, and SS Paul DeJong. After adding star in Goldy, the Cardinals have the tools they need for contention. But how far can they go in such a tough division? They will have to get past their division rivals that are also contending, the Cubs and Brewers.

The Achilles Heel

The Cards’ rotation looks alright and its young core will keep the rotation elite for a long time.  But right now they lack an ace.  I don’t believe they can be a World Series contender without one.  Whether they need a trade to find an ace or someone steps up as time passes, this could hold them back from serious contention and should be priority #1 for GM Steve Keim.  Maybe Martinez could be a good trade piece now that 1B Paul Goldschmidt is on board.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in NL Central

5. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

The Case for the Red Sox

The defending World Series champions had a relatively quiet off-season. They did retain most of the team from 2018 that won 108 games. But the bullpen has been their biggest issue, even with Craig Kimbrel. Without Craig Kimbrel, there is even more pressure on the rotation to succeed. This is especially true regarding Chris Sale and David Price. After Sale’s extension, both will be expected to to shine every start in order to be worth the money. Each start costs about $1 million dollars. Regardless of this pressure, the Red Sox should at least secure a Wild Card spot if they can’t beat out the Yankees in the AL East. They are still one of several powerhouses in the league.

The Achilles Heel

With Craig Kimbrel on the way out, the closer role is up for grabs.  But if you look at the active pitchers on the roster, it’s hard to imagine any of them as a consistent closer.  If the Red Sox wanted to repeat, they would’ve invested more in this bullpen rather than focusing so much on the rotation.  They need to add a closer unless Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, or someone else steps up soon.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in AL East

 

4. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves

The Case for the Braves

The Braves’ rebuild began to pay off last season as their younger players broke through. This off-season seemed quiet, but they filled a gaping hole at third by adding Josh Donaldson. They also brought back OF Nick Markakis, and they have reportedly been targeting a reunion with CL Craig Kimbrel. This small series of moves could make a big difference in Atlanta. These moves, alongside development of OF Ronald Acuna Jr. and 2B Ozzie Albies among other should transform the Braves from solely a division contender into a World Series contender. The Braves are my World Series winner this year. I expect 1B Freddie Freeman, Albies, Donaldson, and others to combine to make for one of the best lineups in the league.

The Achilles Heel

Health is definitely a concern, especially considering the fact that Atlanta will start the 2019 season with two starting pitchers on the IL.  Donaldson is also injury prone, and if he goes down, Johan Camargo is the next best option at third base.  I don’t trust Camargo as a starter.  If the team stays healthy in the long run, they could be serious contenders.  Otherwise, they could be in a bit of trouble.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 1st in NL East

 

3. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

The Case for the Cubs

The Cubs may have been quiet this off-season, but a healthy Yu Darvish will boost the rotation, the bullpen has plenty of depth despite questions at closer, and the lineup is looking pretty solid. Their decision to move Javier Baez to shortstop full time and put Ben Zobrist at second is very smart, as SS Addison Russell was inconsistent and had some character issues. The Cubs have dominated in the National League ever since their World Series winning year in 2016, but with a health a concern and the division getting tougher, will the Cubs be able to keep up the good work?

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs were unable to do much this off-season, and they could have used another outfielder.  LF Kyle Schwarber and RF Jason Heyward are viable starters, but they are very streaky and inconsistent.  Albert Almora Jr. is the best option in center field.  Chicago should have added another center fielder to start over Almora some days and fill in for Heyward and Schwarber during slumps.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in NL Central

 

2. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

The Case for the Yankees

After pairing new slugger Aaron Judge with Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees underperformed in 2018. Yes, they made the playoffs and won 100 games. But they were overshadowed and eliminated by their bitter rival, the Boston Red Sox. This year, the Red Sox will be without their star closer, while the Yankees fixed up a problematic rotation and built one of the most stacked bullpens in history. This will allow the Yankees to propel past the Red Sox and win the AL East. But in Boston and New York, it’s all about championships, and the Yankees aren’t will have to work for a World Series victory, even with the stacked roster.

The Achilles Heel

The Yanks have some nice pieces in their infield.  But if Troy Tulowitzki and Greg Bird fail to stay healthy, they are left with D.J. LeMahieu as their best infielder.  Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have not reached their prime yet, and Luke Voit must still prove that 2018 was not a fluke.  So I’m a bit concerned in terms of infield depth for the Yankees.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in AL East

 

1. houston-astros Houston Astros

The Case for the Astros

The Astros are two years removed from their World Series victory, a result of a 5-year rebuild that made the Astros one of the MLB’s worst for a good 2-3 year span. Now, the Astros are still one of the league’s elite teams, but they lost some of their starting rotation depth this off-season, forcing two starter-turned-relievers back into the rotation. They did bring in OF Michael Brantley and UT Aledmys Diaz, filling the hole UT Marwin Gonzalez left. Though Houston took a slight step back this off-season, I still have them as my AL West winners and the team with the best regular season record. Considering the young core they have put together in the last several years, they should be elite for a long, long, time now.

The Achilles Heel

Evan Gattis is no longer on the team, which means Tyler White must be trusted as Houston’s regular DH.  This could be a prove-it situation for White, but if White struggles, what then?  They could bring Gattis back, or they could just put Diaz back there.  They could even call up Kyle Tucker to play DH.  This one’s an easy fix, just something to keep an eye on.

Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in AL West

That’s all for this year’s preseason MLB power rankings.  Come back at the end of April  for my first 2019 set of monthly power rankings.

Baseball Bits #12: Can Sox Repeat like Few Teams have?

Image result for andrew roberts baseball bits

Welcome to my annual preseason Baseball Bits article!

If you were unaware, today marks 5 years since I started my Boston Sports Mania blog!  The Red Sox were just about to begin their regular season when I started, and just like this year, they were coming off a World Series victory.  On my first day, I posted an article titled “MLB 2014 Preview”, which included my predictions for the 2014 MLB season. I still write these prediction articles every year, including this year

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I call March 25th my “blog-a-versary”, and this year is a big milestone.  All of my opportunities are a result of this blog.  Most recently, I delivered a motivational keynote speech about my story so far at the Visions of Community Conference hosted by the Federation for Children with Special Needs at the Boston Seaport World Trade Center (see below):

I started this blog to write about my favorite sports like baseball, which is what today’s post is about.

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Top: After the Red Sox’s 100th win                     Bottom: After the Red Sox’s World Series win

In 2018 the Red Sox became the 16th team in the 162-game era to win over 100 regular season games and then go on to win the World Series.  They were led by new manager Alex Cora and a new star in J.D. Martinez.  But what most Boston sports fans are wondering about now is how the Red Sox will do in 2019 and whether they will repeat.  I did some research on 100+ win World Series winners in the 162-game era and how they did in their next season below.  

The Research

Baseball Bits #12_ 100-Win World Series Winners – Sheet1

The “Baseball Bits”

Note: In the context of this article, a team who repeats for 2 years in a row is counted for 1 repeat, 3 years in a row is counted for 2 repeats, 4 years in a row is counted for 3 repeats, etc

  • Only 23 of 115 (20%) World Series winners have repeated
  • In the 162-game era, only 16 of 57 (28%) 100-win teams have won the World Series, including the 2018 Red Sox
  • In the 162-game era, only 9 of 56 (16%) World Series winners excluding the 2018 Red Sox have repeated, with 4 of the teams repeating after 100-win seasons
  • Of the 15 100 win World Series winners excluding the 2018 Red Sox:9 teams (60%) made the playoffs4 teams (26.67% of the 15) repeated2 of those teams reached 100 wins when they repeated:1976 Cincinnati Reds
    • 1978 New York Yankees
  • 2 of those teams failed to reach 100 wins again when they repeated:1962 New York Yankees
    • 1999 New York Yankees (repeated again in 2000
  • The Red Sox did not win the World Series in an 100 win season in the 162-game era until 2018
  • Another 2 of the 15 (13.33%) lost the World Series:1968 St. Louis Cardinals
    • 1978 Baltimore Orioles
  • 3 of the 15 (20%) lost in the LCS2010 New York Yankees
    • 2017 Chicago Cubs
    • 2018 Houston Astros
  • 6 of the 15 (40%) missed the playoffs entirely1969 Detroit Tigers
    • 1970 New York Mets
    • 1977 Cincinnati Reds
    • 1979 New York Yankees
    • 1985 Detroit Tigers
    • 1987 New York Mets
  • Each of the last 3 100-win World Series winners lost in the LCS the next year

The Verdict

Based on the research, I believe the Red Sox have a 20 to 25% chance to repeat.  I believe that there is still a select group of elite teams that could win the World Series this year.  World Series repeats are less common during the 162-game era as just 9 of 56 (16%) World Series winners repeated.  However, 4 of those teams were 100-win teams. World Series winners who did not reach 100 wins in this time frame only repeated 12.1% of the time since 1961.  That’s more like a 1 in 8 chance.  100-win World Series winners have repeated 26.67% of the time during the same time frame.  I think the significance of being a 100-win team helps improve the Sox chances to repeat. 

However, as much as I hate to admit it as a huge Boston fan, I am sticking with my prediction that the Sox will fail to reverse the trend of World Series winners.  I think they will lose in the ALCS to either the New York Yankees or Houston Astros.  The odds are stacked against the Sox reaching 100 wins as well since only 4 of the 15 100-win World Series winners even reached 100 wins again the next year.  I don’t think the Red Sox will reach the century mark but will come close at somewhere between 92 and 96 games. A bullpen with no proven closer to start the season helps support my prediction  A World Series repeat is unlikely to happen, though you shouldn’t rule it out yet.

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Alex Cora did wonders for this team last year, so maybe he’ll be able to recreate the magic of 2018.  If he can, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be 2019 AL Manager of the Year.

That’s all for today’s Baseball Bits.  After all I have accomplished in the last 5 years, I look forward to creating even better content over the next 5 years.  Stay tuned for more soon, including the next portion of my MLB Preseason Power Rankings.

October Sports Mania: A Busy Month in Boston Sports

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If you’re a Boston sports fan, you may have noticed an unusual amount of Boston teams playing lately.  Right now, Boston is the only city with an MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL team that are all in season.  From October 16 to October 31, there could be 16 consecutive days of Boston sports (depending on how the Red Sox do in the World Series).  From October 3 to October 31, there could be as many as 39 Boston sports events.  If the Red Sox hadn’t defeated the Astros in 5, all four teams would have played in one weekend.  So far, it’s gone very well, as Boston sports teams have a 16-6-2 win-loss record this October.  I’m calling it October Sports Mania, and today, I will give an update on all 4 teams with my thoughts during this time of madness.

MLB: boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

Regular Season Record: 108-54

Record in October: 7-2

Current Status: Won American League, Made World Series

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Context: For the first time in 5 years, the Red Sox have made the World Series!  They have made it three other times in the 21st century, and they haven’t lost in a 21st century World Series appearance.  This time, they take on the Dodgers in what could be one of the best World Series’ of the 21st century.  Game 1 went down October 23, as Chris Sale faced Clayton Kershaw and the Red Sox won in a surprising slugfest.  Who will win this exciting series?  I’m calling Red Sox in 6 or 7 games.  But considering that I have to get to school at 7:20 AM every day and the games start at 8:00 or 8:15 PM (some on school nights), I may not see every minute live like I would want to.

Note to commissioner: Please make World Series games start earlier.  A 6PM start, like the Super Bowl, would be nice.

October Schedule

Past Games

  • 10/5/2018 vs. new-york-yankees NYY: W, 5-4 (ALDS Game 1, BOS leads 1-0)
  • 10/6/2018 vs. new-york-yankees NYY: L, 6-2 (ALDS Game 2, series tied 1-1)
  • 10/8/2018 @ new-york-yankees NYY: W, 16-1 (ALDS Game 3, BOS leads 2-1)
  • 10/9/2018 @ new-york-yankees NYY: W, 4-3 (ALDS Game 4, BOS wins 3-1)
  • 10/13/2018 vs. houston-astros HOU, L, 7-2 (ALCS Game 1, HOU leads 1-0)
  • 10/14/2018 vs. houston-astros HOU, W, 7-5 (ALCS Game 2, series tied 1-1)
  • 10/16/2018 @ houston-astros HOU, W, 8-2 (ALCS Game 3, BOS leads 2-1)
  • 10/17/2018 @ houston-astros HOU, W, 8-6 (ALCS Game 4, BOS leads 3-1)
  • 10/18/2018 @ houston-astros HOU, W, 4-1 (ALCS Game 5, BOS wins 4-1)
  • 10/23/2018 vs. los-angeles-dodgers LAD, W, 8-4 (World Series Game 1, BOS leads 1-0)

Upcoming Games

  • 10/24/2018 vs. los-angeles-dodgers LAD (World Series Game 2)
  • 10/26/2018 @ los-angeles-dodgers LAD (World Series Game 3)
  • 10/30/2018 vs. los-angeles-dodgers LAD (World Series Game 6, if necessary)
  • 10/31/2018 vs. los-angeles-dodgers LAD (World Series Game 7, if necessary)

My Thoughts on Them So Far This Month

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The Red Sox dominated all season after the addition of star hitter J.D. Martinez and manager Alex Cora.  But in both 2016 and 2017, they choked in the playoffs.  I had confidence in them against the Yankees in the ALDS, but that confidence was weaker due to these chokes and the fact that the Yankees were also a Top 3 MLB team this year.  The Sox also had regressed throughout the month of September.  But when they faced the Yankees in the ALDS, they returned to form.  The bullpen was clutch and the lineup had awoken.  They rode the momentum into the ALCS.  It wasn’t looking good after Game 1, but they easily defeated the stacked, defending champion Houston Astros in the final four games.  They have now advanced into an exciting World Series against the Dodgers.  This series could go either way.  Do you think the Sox take it all?

Predictions for the Rest of the Month

Image result for chris sale red sox-dodgers

This World Series will not be smooth sailing.  I didn’t even expect the ALCS to end in 5 games.  But I have confidence that the Red Sox will win.  As long as Chris Sale is good to go and the lineup keeps making fireworks, we should take this series in 6 or 7 games.

NFL: new_england_patriots New England Patriots

Regular Season Record: 5-2

Record in October: 3-0

Current Status: Riding Four Game Win Streak into MNF Division Duel

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Context: The Pats are riding a 4 game win streak, and they’ve scored at least 30 points in every game since WR Josh Gordon was activated.  They beat the Kansas City Chiefs, who arguably have the best offense in the league, 43-40.  Will they ride the momentum to a Super Bowl victory?  This dominant offensive performance will serve them well, but they nearly lost to the Chicago Bears because of bad defense.  Their defense is going to need to step up their game for a win on the big stage.

October Schedule

Past Games

  • 10/4/2018 vs. indianapolis-colts IND: W, 38-24
  • 10/14/2018 vs. kansas-city-chiefs-logo KC: W, 43-40
  • 10/21/2018 @ chicago-bears-logo CHI: W, 38-31

Upcoming Games

  • 10/29/2018 @ Buffalo_Bills BUF

My Thoughts on Them so far This Month

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I was very impressed by the win against Kansas City.  The Chiefs may have one of the worst defenses in the league.  But the fact that the Pats also scored 30+ against the Chicago Bears and the Miami Dolphins shows that this offense is here to play.  They took down the 5-0 Chiefs, who had averaged 35 points per game and were riding the momentum to dominance.

Predictions for the Rest of the Month

The Patriots should be able to take down the 1-6 Bills easily with QB Josh Allen and RB LeSean McCoy banged-up.  But their next major test will come in Week 9 when they host QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.  They will need their best defense in that game.

NBA: Related image Boston Celtics

Regular Season Record: 2-2

October Record: 2-2

Current Status: Off to Slow Start, Hoping to Rebound for Big Year

Image result for celtics-76ers 2018

Context: The Celtics are off to a slow start.  They did take down the 76ers and Knicks, but they fell to the Kawhi Leonard-led Raptors in Toronto and suffered an embarrassing loss when hosting the Orlando Magic on Monday.  Will they pick up the pace and contend for a championship?

October Schedule

Past Games

  • 10/16/2018 vs. Image result for 76ers logo PHI, W, 105-87
  • 10/19/2018 @ Image result for raptors logo TOR, L, 113-101
  • 10/20/2018 @ Image result for knicks logo NYK, W, 103-101
  • 10/22/2018 vs. Image result for orlando magic logo blue ORL, L, 93-90

Upcoming Games

  • 10/25/2018 @ Image result for thunder logo OKC
  • 10/27/2018 @ Related image DET
  • 10/30/2018 vs. Related image DET

My Thoughts on Them so far This Month

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I’m not so worried about the Celtics despite a rough start.  They topped the 76ers (told you they would regress) by almost 20 and got past the Knicks in New York.  Their loss to Toronto is understandable.  The Raptors have only improved after the Kawhi Leonard trade and I did not expect the Celts to come to Toronto and win easily.  As for the loss to Orlando, it was a little disappointing.  But the Magic have a strong young core that could surprise a lot of people this year.  I would not be concerned if they struggle in Oklahoma City and Detroit, both of whom I see contending.  (Note: I’m pretty sure I was right about the Pistons in my NBA Predictions, Blake Griffin put up 50 against the Sixers).

Predictions for the Rest of the Month

Image result for celtics-pistons blake griffin

Expect them to split in two games against an improved Detroit Pistons squad.  I think their next game against Oklahoma City could go either way.  But even if they start 3-4, I think they’ll pull it together and contend for a title in the long run.

NHL: Image result for boston bruins logo yellow background Boston Bruins

Regular Season Record: 5-2-2 (12 PTS)

October Record: 5-2-2 (12 PTS)

Current Status: So-So in Canada, Come Home Thursday

Context: After a shaky four game road trip across Canada, the Bruins come home to face the Flyers and Canadiens.  Montreal has been off to a strong start, and Philly has been alright as well, so wins won’t come easy over these next couple games either.

October Schedule

Past Games

  • 10/3/2018 @ Image result for capitals logo WSH, L, 7-0
  • 10/4/2018 @ Related image BUF, W, 4-0
  • 10/8/2018 vs. Related image OTT, W, 6-3
  • 10/11/2018 vs. Related image EDM, W, 4-1
  • 10/13/2018 vs. Image result for red wings logo DET, W, 8-2
  • 10/17/2018 @ Related image CGY, L, 5-2
  • 10/18/2018 @ Related image EDM, OTL, 3-2
  • 10/20/2018 @ Image result for canucks logo VAN, OTL, 2-1
  • 10/23/2018 @ Related image OTT, W, 4-1

Upcoming Games

  • 10/25/2018 vs. Image result for flyers logo PHI
  • 10/27/2018 vs. Image result for canadiens logo MTL
  • 10/30/2018 @ Related image CAR

My Thoughts on them so far This Month

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The Bruins might not be top Stanley Cup contenders, but it seems that this young, talented team has picked up where they left off last year.  They are still a playoff team for sure and have appeared to be one of the better teams in the league.  I’m a little concerned about their losses to the Oilers and Canucks, but it’s early in the season, and they’ve been doing fine otherwise.

Predictions for the Rest of the Month

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Look for more of the same heading into the end of the month.  I could see them taking down Philly and Montreal in close home games, and I would expect them to give the Hurricanes a wake-up call after their surprisingly strong start.  I had anticipated that the Hurricanes would start like this given their schedule, but trust me, it will not last that much longer.

That’s all for today.  I hope you enjoy the rest of this crazy month in sports, and stay tuned for more articles on all four teams soon.

 

 

 

 

My 2018 MLB Playoff Bracket/Predictions

The MLB Playoff Bracket is set after yesterday’s tiebreaker games, and the MLB playoffs begin tonight at 8:00 PM.  Above is my complete bracket for the MLB Playoff Challenge.  Below is a brief look at each match-up.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

American League

AL Wild Card Game

new-york-yankees (4) New York Yankees over Oakland Athletics (5) oakland-a's

Oakland’s pitching staff has been better this year, but I do not see their rotation as an elite playoff rotation.  The Yankees lineup will tear this pitching staff apart, led by the home run hitting duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

ALDS

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees (4) new-york-yankees, 3-2

The Yankees have given Boston a hard time, so I think this series will be close.  The Yankees have been able to dominate against certain Red Sox starters such as David Price.  But the Red Sox have the home-field advantage, and they have two MVP-caliber players in their lineup, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.  The Sox lineup has the depth and talent to outdo the Yankees pitching staff.

houston-astros (2) Houston Astros over Cleveland Indians (3) cleveland-indians, 3-0

The Astros have most of what they had in last year’s World Series: a stacked lineup filled with youth, power, and speed and a dominant playoff rotation.  They come in to this series with a weaker bullpen though.  Both of these lineups are playoff-caliber, but I see this series as a battle of two of the league’s top rotations, the Astros led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and the Indians led by Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco.  These games will be low scoring, but I see the Astros sweeping as their lineup is able to manage the tough opposing pitching more easily.

ALCS

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over Houston Astros (2) houston-astros, 4-3

The Astros have one of the best rotations in the league plus an amazing lineup.  But the Red Sox have one thing Houston doesn’t.  A strong closer in Craig Kimbrel.  If their rotation can hold up for a good portion of the series and their offense gets going like it has for a lot of the season, I think they can do something they haven’t done much of this year: beating the other elite teams.  The Red Sox have taken advantage of their easy match-ups, but it’s time for them to step it up when it matters.

National League

NL Wild Card Game

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Colorado Rockies (5) colorado-rockies 

The Rockies lineup is very talented, but despite improvement in 2018 that got them here, I don’t see their pitching holding up on the road against a well-rounded Cubs team.  Chicago will take advantage of the Rockies’ weak pitching staff, get out to an early lead, and their pitching staff will be able to help the Cubs hold it easily.

NLDS

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Milwaukee Brewers (1) milwaukee-brewers, 3-1

The Brewers rode their momentum to a division title.  They have a young, talented lineup that’s mostly a product of the 2017-18 off-season and a huge MLB Trade Deadline.  But I think this Brewers lineup is containable, and if there’s any pitching staff in the National League that can contain them, it’s the Cubs.  The Cubs should also thrive offensively against a young Brewers rotation that’s still developing.

los-angeles-dodgers (2) Los Angeles Dodgers over Atlanta Braves (3) atlanta-braves, 3-1

Led by young talent, the Braves pulled out an NL East victory.  However, I think they rode easy division competition to this victory.  Their rotation is okay, but I don’t see their lineup as playoff caliber. The Nationals would likely be here if they weren’t so hampered by injuries this season.  They may have won it all.  But the Dodgers can contain a young, developing team like the Braves.  Led by Trade Deadline acquisition Manny Machado, Their lineup has the power and talent to give this Atlanta rotation trouble, and their deep pitching staff will benefit them significantly.  I see this series as an easy win for the Dodgers.

NLCS

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Los Angeles Dodgers (2) los-angeles-dodgers, 4-3

This will be a very interesting series.  The 2016 World Series champion against the 2017 World Series runner-up.  The Dodgers still have a World Series-caliber roster.  Their rotation is more than capable, and they come in with a stronger offensive attack this year.  But the Cubs have a deep, young lineup, and although they might struggle against this solid Dodgers rotation, I could see them taking advantage of a weak Dodger bullpen.  The Dodgers will put up a serious fight, but I think the Cubs pitching staff can contain them for a good portion of the series.

World Series

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over Chicago Cubs (4) Chicago_Cubs, 4-3

I think this is the year for the Red Sox.  Two of Boston’s last three World Series titles were partially due to momentum.  The Cubs have a World Series caliber roster.  They haven’t seen the Red Sox yet, and they may very well be a better team.  The NL was a very competitive league, while the AL was a league of extremes.  Chicago’s record may very well be an NL equivalent of the Red Sox’s record.  

But I think the Red Sox will ride the momentum they gather in the ALDS and ALCS to win the World Series. Their pitching will need to finally hold it together, but I think they are capable, as long as they can rely on the momentum this talented lineup gathers.  It won’t be easy against a strong, well-rounded Cubs team, but I don’t think Red Sox Nation should give up hope.

That’s all for my MLB Playoff Predictions.  Stay tuned for more baseball articles.

 

Live on Boston Herald’s “The Rundown”, My First Sports Talk Radio Experience

On July 10th had the opportunity to co-host a Boston Herald radio show called “The Rundown” with John Sapochetti and Jet Striar.  I was invited by the Herald editor-in-chief, Joe Sciacca, who has been so generous to me these last few years, giving me an incredible tour back in 2015 and also inviting me back twice to do mini internships for the last two summers.

I had first met John Sapochetti in 2015 when I did my first mini internship at the Herald.  He is one of their most well-known sports talk radio personalities so I was really excited to learn that I would be his guest co-host.

We arrived at the Herald about 45 minutes before the show to discuss the on-air topics we would cover.  John greeted us in the Herald lobby and we sat in a break room near the newsroom and the radio studio.  I told him about my recent experiences covering the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle and my experience at the Red Sox game I attended the night before.  I had taken some notes at the game that I used on the air later on.  I also met his intern, Will Finley, who is also a huge Boston sports fan and specializes in sports research.  He had an impressive amount of stats that I found inspiring.  Shortly before we went on the air, I met John’s co-host, Jet Striar, an NBA guru and also a Boston sports fan.

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In the studio with John Sapochetti (left) and Jet Striar (right), my co-hosts for the day.

As I walked into the studio, I also met the show’s producer, Christian Burgoyne.  You may hear him make comments in the highlights from the show that I put in this blog post.  Moments later we put our headsets on and the show began.

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In the first segment, John introduced me to his audience and we talked about some things I noticed at the Red Sox game the night before.  After that, I took a quick break while John and Jet hosted a political guest, Luke Vargas.  It gave me a breather and a chance to reflect on how I did early on in the show.

When I returned, we talked about the All-Star Final Vote and how David Price has not met the expectations of the Red Sox fan base after receiving a 7 year, $217 million dollar contract.  Towards the end of the first hour,  we discussed J.D. Martinez.  He did not have a lot of suitors and he was underrated during the off-season.  I think that made it easier for Boston to sign him and so far the signing looks like the best Sox signing/acquisition since Chris Sale.

Below are some of the highlights from the first hour of the show:

In the second hour, we started with a continuation of our earlier baseball discussions.  We talked about what the Red Sox and Yankees might do at the trade deadline and how despite the fact that the Sox may catch a break with their easy schedule ahead, their next big test comes August 2nd against the Yanks.  The Yankees could upgrade their roster by then but the same could occur with the rest of the AL’s top teams, making the American League even more of a league of extremes as I mentioned later in the segment.

During our final segment we discussed some trending NBA off-season news like the Marcus Smart to Sacramento rumor.  We also talked about LeBron James’ signing with the Lakers, Portland’s need for another guy up front, Carmelo Anthony, and Kawhi Leonard.  At the end of the show, John thanked me for being on then I told him it was an honor.

Being on a live sports talk radio show was so surreal, which is why I’m so glad Christian gave me a copy of the whole show to listen to again and create highlights from the unbelievable experience.  I was on air for so much of the show that I had to break up the highlights into two 15-minute segments.

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Check out the second segment below.

I’d like to thank Joe Sciacca, John Sapochetti, Jet Striar, Christian Burgoyne, and Will Finley for making this experience possible.  Stay tuned for a more baseball posts coming soon including Bravehearts-Rox game experience from the press box.  For now, I’ll be taking a week off as I have more broadcasting training at Play-By-Play Sports Broadcasting Camp.

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

 

 

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.

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

Boston sports fans needed 2 TVs on Thursday night as the Red Sox battled the Yankees in the series rubber match and the Bruins kicked off their 2018 playoff hockey against a tough Toronto squad.  Most fans likely flipped back and forth and if they were lucky didn’t miss a run or goal and both teams dominated.  The Sox have now won three in a row after more dominance today and the Bruins are on tonight so no flipping is needed.

The Red Sox topped the Yankees 6-3, winning their first series of 2018 against New York.  The Sox looked very good throughout the series.  Although both teams are suffering numerous injuries, I think this is a good sign that the Red Sox may be ready to contend for a World Series title.  Some people believed the opposite before this series, as the Red Sox had faced only rebuilding teams before their series against the Yanks.  If they can do well against the 12-3 Los Angeles Angels and start next week’s west coast road trip off right, that will continue to solidify the Red Sox position as a true contender to win the AL East again and maybe go further.

While the Bruins limped into the playoffs losing 4 of their last 5 to miss a chance to lock down the #1 seed, they returned to midseason form Thursday and dominated in Game 1.  They blew out Toronto 5-1.  The Bruins refused to let injuries hold them back, and the depth of their roster helped them.  If the Bruins can bring the same intensity for the rest of the series, the Maple Leafs may struggle to win a game, let alone the series.  The top line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak played extremely well and their play really shined on the power play as the Bruins were 3 for 6, scoring one PP goal in each period.

Please read on for a few more details on the big night for the Sox and B’s.

Porcello Dominant, Red Sox Cruise to Victory 

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The Red Sox came out aggressive fearing a rain-shortened game and put up 6 runs over the first 3 innings on their way to victory over the Yankees, 6-3.  Rick Porcello was dominant on the mound and had a no-hitter through six and finished with seven scoreless innings, giving up just two hits.  Porcello stayed warm waiting out a rain delay after five innings but Rick came back into the game showing no ill effects from the delay.  His no-hitter came to an end in the 7th inning when Yankees star hitter Aaron Judge doubled to break it up.

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The Red Sox grabbed hold of a lead early in the game.  Hanley Ramirez, who has been on fire of late, left the game in the 1st after being hit in the hand by Sonny Gray but that did not stop the Red Sox.  Eduardo Nunez led off in the next inning with a base hit.  The cold was giving him knee discomfort as he raced down the first base line but he decided to keep on playing.  JBJ walked to make it 1st and 2nd, and Sandy Leon drove in the run with a single.  Brock Holt got on base with another walk to load the bases, and all three runners advanced one base when Mookie Betts hit a deep sac fly, making it 2-0 Red Sox with men on 2nd and 3rd.  Andrew Benintendi then grounded to second base with the infield in.  The Yankees chose to throw home but the throw bounced in by Sanchez and allowed Leon to score.  Holt advanced to 3rd and Benny had time to advance to 2nd. Mitch Moreland, in off the bench for Hanley, drove in the fourth run with a single despite limited playing time this year.

The Sox scored again the 3rd.  Eduardo Nunez doubled to right, and JBJ hit a ground rule double to knock him in.  Sandy Leon struck out on a pitch in the dirt that got away.  Another bad defensive choice by the Yankees allowed Leon to reach as Gary Sanchez fired to 3rd but JBJ slid in safely.  Mookie Betts knocked him in with a ground ball to the right side, 6-0 Boston.  Betts ended up going 0 for 4 but he had 2 RBI on the night.

The Yankees did not score until the top of the 9th when reliever Marcus Walden gave up a bases-clearing double to Gary Sanchez with the bases loaded.  Craig Kimbrel came in to finish the job, and the Red Sox won 6-3.

Injury Update: Hanley Ramirez did suffer a wrist contusion but avoided a more serious injury.  He was out of the lineup Friday against Baltimore but returned today with a Home Run.

What’s Next: The Red Sox have taken the first 2 games against the Orioles in a 4-game Fenway series as Eduardo Rodriguez dominated again against his former team as he has struck out more batters against the Orioles than any other opponent in his career.  The Sox won easily 7-3.  Velazquez gave up just 2 runs in 5 strong innings as the Sox cruised to a 10-3 victory and weather permitting hope Sale can keep the strong pitching streak for Sox starters going.

Bruins Dominate vs. Leafs, Led By Power Play success

  

The Bruins dominated in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  They topped a strong Toronto Maple Leafs squad, 5-1, with David Backes scoring one goal and being robbed of a second.  Rick Nash also made an impact returning after a long absence.  The Bruins dominated in their power plays, scoring a power-play goal in every period.  One PP goal was during a 5-minute major power play due to a gruesome hit Nazem Kadri put on Tommy Wingels, knocking him out of the game.  Kadri is suspended for the next 3 games of the series, and if the Bruins continue to dominate, he may not play another game this season.

Zach Hyman scored the only goal for Toronto when the Leafs tied it up in the 1st period. After that, the Leafs fell out of it due to 4 unanswered Bruins goals.

Injury Update: Wingels is out for Game 2 after being hit by Kadri. Riley Nash is doubtful with an ear laceration.  Donato is playing for Wingels.

What’s Next: The Bruins take on the Leafs at the TD Garden again tonight.  It is being aired on prime time on NBC.  The Bruins have jumped out to a 5-2 lead early in the 2nd period, going 2 for 2 on the power play and scoring another 4 unanswered goals to begin the game.

Stay tuned for more Red Sox and Bruins coverage soon, including my latest Red Sox Report.

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.

Ranking The Teams 6-1: My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up

Welcome to the 5th and final part of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Although the season has started, I am still finishing this series.  I will also have my first Red Sox Report article of 2018 coming soon, as well as coverage on NFL free agency and the upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.

Last time, I covered the teams that are true contenders but are not quite on the level of the MLB’s best.  That consisted of 5 wild card competitors and the Indians, the lowest ranked of what is known as the MLB Super Seven.  They just missed the Top 6, at #7.  I looked at how they did this off-season, how they’ll do this season, and what’s holding them back.  I also discussed best and worst case scenarios for each team and projected their records and division placements.  Today I will do the same for the for the Top 6 teams in the league.  What are their chances of winning it all, and what are their Achilles Heels?  Read below to find out how the best of the best line up.  Every team on this part of the list is part of the Super Seven I have been mentioning.

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, April 2: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Thursday, April 5: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*My pre-season Baseball Bits are also up.

6. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

Off-Season Review

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The Red Sox were pretty quiet for much of the off-season despite the rumors that they were the front-runners to sign OF J.D. Martinez, and that it was near inevitable that the Red Sox signed him.  They did bring back 1B Mitch Moreland and 2B Eduardo Nunez.  With that, they had a pretty good roster.  But they had no home run hitter, which was crucial after the Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton and formed what has the potential to be a historic HR duo between Stanton and Aaron Judge.  Eventually, they did sign Martinez despite a lack of a position for him to play.  If there was an open position called “designated home run hitter (DHH)”, it might be fitting, but now he has to split his time between left field and DH, with Moreland, Hanley Ramirez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. losing at-bats to him.

The Case for the Red Sox

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If the Red Sox are meeting their expectations, they will make the playoffs, and they will make it to at least the ALDS.  Red Sox reporter Tony Massarotti thinks we are a good team but can do a lot better, and I agree.  Sure, the Yankees had a great off-season and are now favorites to beat us out in the AL East.  But the Sox are capable of winning the division, and if they cannot win the division, they are definitely capable of making the playoffs.  Hopefully, Chris Sale and David Price will be able to lead the rotation together after Sale’s strong 2017 and Price’s strong Spring Training, and I’m hoping J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts can lead the lineup (with the help of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, who are off to a great start).

But if they cannot, we need someone else to step up their game.  In fact, no matter what, we need someone else to step it up.  Whether Bogey keeps going and breaks out, or Devers builds on his late 2017 success, or Andrew Benintendi has the season he was supposed to have one year ago, I will be satisfied.  They just need one more player to build on the consistency they have had and turn it into dominance.

The Achilles Heel

Like I said, the Red Sox have an ace, and they have a pretty strong lineup. But they just need some of their good players to achieve greatness. It would be nice if they could have the beastly rotation people were expecting of them, and so far, it’s looked pretty good. It would also be nice if the Red Sox had a couple more players who broke through and joined Betts and Martinez as the All-Stars of the lineup. World Series contenders aren’t led by a couple superstars and a bunch of other good, but not great players. They are led by a group of star players that work well and fit well together.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates, several players in the lineup breakout and the Red Sox go on to win the World Series, which you will notice is the Best Case Scenario for all 6 of the top teams.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation continues to be inconsistent, the lineup is no more than good, and the Red Sox lose out to other teams like the Twins and Angels in the Wild Card race.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 2nd in AL East

 

5. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

Off-Season Review

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The Cubs lost star pitcher Jake Arrieta, but they made up for it by signing SP Yu Darvish and SP Tyler Chatwood.  They also added Brandon Morrow to a strong bullpen.  The Cubs appear to be pretty confident in their lineup, but does their lineup need an upgrade if the Cubs want to win another World Series ring?

The Case for the Cubs

About a year ago, the Cubs were viewed as the best team in the MLB.  But the competition has caught up with them, and the Cubs experienced a World Series hangover early in 2017.  The Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros have all caught up, and the Indians, Nationals, and Red Sox are close.  They have a nice young roster with a dominant rotation, and their lineup is great but could use a bit of a boost in the power department.

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs have a lot of good, consistent, hitters.  But they were hoping that they could get some power out of guys like Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo that they have signed/kept around.  Bryant and Rizzo have done well at the plate, but are good hitters for average, not good hitters for power.  Heyward was signed to add some power to the lineup, and it would have been nice to see some power out of Ben Zobrist.  Who will emerge as a home run hitter for the Cubs?  If they cannot find one, then that means the league’s elite teams are one step ahead of them.

Best Case Scenario: The Cubs go on to win a World Series after Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward have dominant years at the plate and get help from Chicago’s younger players.  The rotation also continues to dominate.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation underperforms, the lineup cannot find their power hitter, and the Cubs just barely snag a Wild Card after losing their division to the Cardinals or Brewers.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in NL Central\

 

4. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers

Off-Season Review

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The Dodgers kept their roster at World Series level.  They did lose some of their starting pitchers, but they had at least eight viable starters on their World Series roster.  They added Tom Koehler to the bullpen, and he could even start in the case of an injury to another starter.  They also brought back Chase Utley and acquired Matt Kemp from the Braves in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez and a couple extra starters they had.  Gonzalez was no longer needed with Cody Bellinger ready to start at first base full time.

The Case for the Dodgers

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The Dodgers could still be a World Series contender, but other teams may beat them out.  The Astros are looking even better this year, the Nats have extra motivation to do well with many star players in contract years, and the Yankees have more power in their lineup than any other team in the league.  Their lineup and rotation still look great.  Clayton Kershaw has continued to dominate the league, and the lineup has done well despite the lack of a true leader.

The Achilles Heel

The Dodgers do not have any major holes.  But they need two smaller things.  The first thing is some bullpen help.  They need to find a reliable set up man for Kenley Jansen, and even Jansen has struggled so far.  They also need a leader for the lineup.  They have a lot of great hitters, but who is their true star?  Kershaw is the rotation leader.  Who will be the Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers lineup?

Best Case Scenario: Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner will lead the Dodgers lineup to dominance, the rotation continues to thrive, and Kenley Jansen gets back on track as the Dodgers win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: Kershaw, along with the rest of the rotation regresses, the lack of depth hurts them, and the lineup cannot quite dominate without a leader.  Jansen and the bullpen continue to struggle too, and the Dodgers are left to compete for a Wild Card.

Projected Finish: 95-67, 1st in NL West

 

3. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

Off-Season Review

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The Yankees already had a strong lineup, and they made a splash this off-season by adding to that.  They acquired Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, and with that, they had the top two home run hitters in the league in Stanton and Aaron Judge.  They also added 2B Neil Walker late in the off-season to help out while Gleyber Torres recovers from his injury and continues to develop.  They acquired Brandon Drury to help out Miguel Andujar at third too.

The Case for the Yankees

The Yanks have a lineup that is stacked with home run hitters, but they are lacking depth, especially in the infield.  Judge and Stanton will balance things out though, making the lineup look dominant.  The rotation also looks good but is the one portion of their roster that does not quite match up with the Red Sox, who can rely on the combo of Chris Sale and David Price.  The good thing is, the rotation will be backed up by a strong bullpen, much stronger than the Red Sox bullpen.

The Achilles Heel

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The Yankees do have a bit of an infield depth problem, but their real depth problem is in the rotation.  Jordan Montgomery has been forced into the #5 starter role, while the Sox will have E-Rod and Steven Wright once everyone is healthy.  The Yankees have a nice group of starters, but they lack depth, and they lack a true ace.  Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino are great but are not quite ace material.  The Red Sox have Chris Sale to lead their rotation, so they are ahead of the Yankees in that department.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates the league with multiple #1 level starters, the bullpen backs them up, and the lineup hits the most home runs in the MLB by a long shot as the Yanks win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: Depth problems come back to bite the Yankees, the Yanks must depend on their bullpen after rotation struggles, and the lineup cannot find much talent around Gary Sanchez, Stanton and Judge.  The Yankees are left with a Wild Card spot and do not make the ALDS.

Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in AL East

 

2. houston-astros Houston Astros

Off-Season Review

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After winning the World Series (as I predicted) in 2017, the Astros only got better.  They acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pirates, and now they will have Justin Verlander for a full season.  They arguably have seven viable starters, and their first three starters were all #1 starters on different teams before this season.  They also added Joe Smith to a strong bullpen.

The Case for the Astros

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The Astros are coming off a World Series title, and I do not expect much of a hangover.  They have a dominant rotation, and a strong lineup led by Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and AL MVP Jose Altuve.  I don’t see much of a chance for them to regress.  But will they be beaten out by a motivated contender who was not won in recent years?

The Achilles Heel

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The Astros do not have any major weaknesses, but with DH Carlos Beltran gone, and 1B Yulieski Gurriel suspended, they will have some depth problems in the lineup.  They will have to rely on Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick, Derek Fisher, and J.D. Davis more this season.  Other than that, they do not have any other problems, at least major problems.  That will likely resolve itself as the season progresses.

Best Case Scenario: The stacked lineup dominates, the rotation is led by three aces, and the Astros dominate the league for the second consecutive year, winning the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation underperforms and struggles, depth and World Series hangover problems affect the lineup, and the Astros fail to make the ALCS after losing the division to the Angels surprisingly.

Projected Finish: 95-67, 1st in AL West

 

1. washington-nats Washington Nationals

Off-Season Review

The Nats did not make any big moves this off-season besides resigning Howie Kendrick, and I think their roster looks good as it is, although it could have used one more starting pitcher.  They should sign somebody who’s still available if A.J. Cole struggles in the rotation.  But the Nats have many star players, including Bryce Harper in contract years, so the Nationals are in win now mode, and for that reason, they are my favorite to win the World Series.

The Case for the Nationals

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Like I said, the Nats are in win-now mode.  The window is closing for this team to win a World Series with this era of players, but I think this could be the year.  With a great roster flooded with young talent and led by superstars in Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are in good position to take advantage of the fact that they have one more year to win it all before they lose Bryce Harper and other strong players on the roster to free agency.  But will they be motivated enough to lead themselves past other dominant teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees?

The Achilles Heel

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The Nationals have a nice lineup that is still doing well early on, even with Daniel Murphy starting on the DL.  Later in the season, Murphy will help lead them.  But the rotation has a depth problem.  If A.J. Cole struggles, the Nationals have nobody to replace him with Joe Ross injured. There is no guarantee that any free agent pitcher will willingly sign here, but if Cole struggles, they will need to try, or it may hold them back from winning now like they are hoping to.

Best Case Scenario: Motivated to win it all before losing Harper, the Nats lineup dominates, carried by an MVP season by Bryce Harper where he nearly wins the Triple Crown.  The rotation also dominates as A.J. Cole does well and Strasburg and Scherzer dominate all year.  The Nationals win the World Series triumphantly.

Worst Case Scenario: Depth problems cause rotation struggles and injury problems add to it, Bryce Harper cannot carry the lineup alone in a contract year, and the Nats just edge out a division win and struggle in the NLDS.

Projected Finish: 97-65, 1st in NL East

 

That’s all for my MLB pre-season power rankings.  My next power rankings update will come at the end of April as I begin my Monthly Power Ranking series.  I will also have Red Sox recaps, more Baseball Bits, and my first Red Sox Report of 2018 coming soon (The Red Sox Report article will be up tomorrow and I will try to post them every Friday from here on out.)