Tag Archives: AL East

MLB Weekly: Marte suspension, more injuries

Looking Back

The big story of the week in Major League Baseball was the surprising 80-game PED suspension to a Pirates star and an ace pitcher hitting the disabled list for the first time in his career.

The Pirates announced on Tuesday that OF Starling Marte received an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. Marte, who was named to the National League All-Star team in 2016, reportedly failed the drug test for the use of anabolic steroid nandrolone. He is currently eligible to return to the team on July 18, although that date could be pushed back if the Pirates have any postponed games before then.

Although Marte should be back sometime in July, the suspension could hurt the Pirates in October if they make it to the postseason because players who are suspended during the season for a PED violation are ineligible to play in that year’s postseason. That means one of the Pirates’ best offensive players — Marte hit .311 and stole 47 bases last season — would have to sit on the bench if the team makes it to the playoffs.

Losing Marte for half the year will make Pittsburgh’s path to the postseason even tougher. Joining OFs Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco in the outfield during Marte’s absence are expected to be the likes of OFs John Jaso, Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison — who can’t match the offensive production of Marte. The team already sits in last place in the NL Central, giving them a big hill to climb to make it to the playoffs.

Under MLB’s PED policy, a second positive test would result in a 162-game suspension while a third violation leads to a lifetime ban.

Marte tweeted on Wednesday this statement regarding his suspension

Elsewhere in MLB, the injuries keep piling up for teams around the majors. We told you during the week about SP Madison Bumgarner’s dirt-bike accident that could keep him out of action for a couple of months, though more recent news reports say he is not expected to need shoulder surgery, which is good news for the Giants, who currently sit in last place in the NL West.

The hits keep on coming for the Blue Jays, who hold the worst record in the majors. With 3B Josh Donaldson and SPs J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez already on the DL, the team can add SS Troy Tulowitzki to the list of injured starters. The five-time all-star went on the 10-day DL on Saturday, a day after leaving Friday’s game early with a right hamstring strain. He shouldn’t miss much more than the minimum time, given that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons acknowledged that the new 10-day DL was “definitely a factor” in making the move.

Also hitting the DL this week were Angels closer Cam Bedrosian (right groin strain), Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera (right groin strain), Mets 1B Lucas Duda (hyperextended left elbow) and IF Wilmer Flores (right knee infection), Red Sox OF Brock Holt (vertigo) and Dodgers 2B Logan Forsythe (fractured toe).

Taking a look at the standings, the Twins’ hot start didn’t last long, as they’re already below .500 with a 8-10 record and just 3-7 in their last 10 games. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, are continuing their quick start to the season, competing with the Rockies for the top spot in the NL West. After struggling somewhat out of the gate, the Cubs have risen to first place in the NL Central with a 10-8 record. Will they hold that spot for the rest of the season? The Nationals remain in first place in the NL East. Division leaders in the American League include the Orioles in the AL East, Indians and Tigers tied for first in the AL Central, and the Astros in the AL West — the first team in the majors to 13 wins this season.

The Week Ahead

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In series to look for, the Yankees and Red Sox face each other for the first time in 2017 this week, when the teams start a three-game series Tuesday at Fenway Park. American League playoff contenders have a three-game set when the Astros visit the Indians starting Tuesday. It’ll be a battle of division leaders in Denver when the Rockies host the Nationals Monday through Thursday. And a West Coast rivalry gets underway Monday with the Dodgers and Giants playing four games in San Francisco. The Red Sox get a highly anticipated interleague series starting Friday when the defending World Series champion Cubs come to town for three. The two teams that currently sit atop the NL West begin a series on Friday when the Diamondbacks host the Rockies, while NL East rivals do battle in the nation’s capital when the Mets take on the Nationals.

How about pitching performances of note coming up in the coming week? Reds SP Amir Garrett tries to continue his surprisingly strong start to the season on Monday when he opposes the Brewers and veteran SP Matt Garza. Nationals SP Joe Ross gets his second start of the year Monday in the high elevation of Denver against Rockies SP Tyler Anderson. Astros SP Dallas Keuchel takes the mound in Cleveland Tuesday when he hopes to continue his bounceback season, as he is 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA entering the game. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw gets the ball in San Francisco Tuesday night, opposing Giants SP Ty Blach, who takes Bumgarner’s spot in the rotation. White Sox SP Jose Quintana, who was expected to take over as the team’s ace following the offseason trade of Chris Sale, looks for a good performance against the Royals on Wednesday as he tries to get on track after starting the season 0-4 with a 6.17 ERA; SP Nathan Karns goes for Kansas City. Cubs SP Jon Lester looks to nail down his first win of the season Wednesday against Pirates SP Tyler Glasnow, while Orioles SP Dylan Bundy goes for his fourth win of the 2017 campaign at home against Rays SP Alex Cobb. Coming off his best start of the year, Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka duels with Sale on Wednesday as well. Braves SP Bartolo Colon is slated to face his former team on Thursday when he goes against the Mets and SP Matt Harvey.

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MLB Weekly: Struggling Blue Jays lose Donaldson to the DL

Looking Back

As the second week of the 2017 Major League Baseball season wraps up, this edition of our MLB Weekly column takes a look at a former MVP hitting the DL and teams that continue to surprise — positively or negatively.

The Blue Jays, who are coming off of two straight ALCS appearances, are already struggling this season with a 2-10 record after losing to the Orioles 11-4 on Sunday. Things got worse for the team this week when 3B Josh Donaldson, who won the 2015 American League MVP, was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sore right calf. There is no timetable for his return, but the team is hoping he won’t miss much more than the minimum time. While he’s out, light-hitting infielders Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins are expected to get the bulk of the time at third base, and OF Chris Coghlan was brought up from Triple-A Buffalo to take Donaldson’s roster spot.

In other injury news north of the border, the team placed SP Aaron Sanchez, who led the AL in ERA last season, on the 10-day DL with a blister, and SP J.A. Happ left Sunday’s start with left elbow soreness. Anytime a pitcher’s injury involves an elbow, you can be sure it’s likely to result in a DL stint.

Other notable players who were placed on the DL across the majors this week include Orioles closer Zach Britton, A’s SS Marcus Semien, Reds SP Brandon Finnegan, Rockies SP Jon Gray, Nationals SS Trea Turner (who could return to the team this week), Mariners SS Jean Segura and Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

Taking a look at how teams are doing early in the season, the Rockies lead the majors with nine wins on the season. Four teams currently have eight wins, including the Reds, who finished in last place in the NL Central last season with a 68-94 record. The Astros and Tigers both lead their divisions with 8-4 records, while the Orioles are atop the AL East at 8-3. There’s a tight race going on in the NL East early in the season, with the Marlins and Nationals tied at 7-5 and the Mets right behind them at 7-6.

The Cubs are among the teams who are so far not doing as well as people expected them to do; they are 6-6 and tied with the Pirates for third place in the NL Central. The team they beat in the World Series last year, the Indians, currently sit in the basement of the AL Central with a 5-7 record. The Rangers and Mariners — who finished first and second, respectively, in the AL West last season — each have just four wins so far and sit in fourth and fifth place, respectively. And the Blue Jays’ aforementioned 2-10 record is the worst in the majors, putting them in an early hole as they try to make the playoffs for a third straight season.

The Week Ahead

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The week gets off to an early start on Monday when the Red Sox host the Rays in the final game of their series for Boston’s annual 11am start on Patriots Day. The Indians look to get into the thick of the AL Central race when they start a four-game series at the Twins on Monday. The second-place Brewers get a chance to increase their lead on the Cubs when they start a three-game set at Wrigley that same day. The Dodgers host the Rockies for a quick two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday that could decide the early leader in the NL West. The Rangers visit the Royals for four games starting Thursday in a series involving teams struggling to meet the expectations people had for them in the preseason. The Indians have another divisional battle on the schedule next weekend when they visit the White Sox, while the Tigers and Twins start a series at Target Field on Friday. In other series involving divisional rivals that get underway Friday, the Reds host the Cubs, the Rockies host the Giants, the Diamondbacks host the Dodgers, and the Mets host the Nationals.

Looking ahead to some scheduled pitching performances of note, Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman looks to continue his strong start to the season when he opposes Red Sox SP Eduardo Rodriguez on Tuesday. Also that day, Mets SP Zack Wheeler looks to right the ship of what hasn’t been a good season so far when he takes on the Phillies for the second straight start, this time at Citi Field. Nationals SP Max Scherzer heads to Atlanta Tuesday to take on the Braves and SP Mike Foltynewicz. On Wednesday, Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks, who had a 2.13 ERA in 2016, gets a chance to improve upon his 5.73 ERA from his first two starts when he takes on the Brewers at Wrigley. Two struggling starters do battle in Toronto on Wednesday with Red Sox SP Rick Porcello, coming off his AL Cy Young-winning season, and Blue Jays SP Francisco Liriano taking the mound. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to get his next start Wednesday, opposing Rockies SP Tyler Anderson, while Red Sox SP Chris Sale and Blue Jays SP Marco Estrada, who are both coming off strong starts, are slated to face each other on Thursday.

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MLB Weekly: Twins strong start, injuries highlight first week of season

Looking Back

This is the start of the second season of our MLB Weekly column, taking a look at Major League Baseball, recapping what went on in the previous week and previewing the week ahead. As we are just one week into the six-month season, a lot of what has happened so far this season in terms of surprising teams and players could easily change in the coming weeks and months.

Probably the most surprising team so far is the Twins, who are off to a 5-1 record out of the gate after winning a MLB-worst 59 games last season. That puts them in first place in the AL Central. In the AL East, the Rays are a better-than-expected 5-1 when many people, including me, thought they would finish in last place in the division again this season. They’re not leading the division, though, as the Orioles hold that position with a 4-1 mark; the Orioles were the last undefeated team in the majors before losing to the Yankees on Sunday. The biggest surprises are out west in the National League, with the Diamondbacks leading the NL West with a MLB-best 6-1 record and the Rockies right behind them at 5-2. I noted in my season previews for the teams that they were on the verge of competing in the division, but I didn’t think it would be this year. We’ll see if they can stick around throughout the long season.

On the negative side of things, the Giants have gotten out of the gate slowly and are in last place in the NL West. The Cardinals are in fourth place in the NL Central with a 2-4 record after losing in a 8-0 shutout to the Reds on Sunday. In the American League, the top two teams in the AL West from last season — the Rangers and Mariners — are currently occupying the final two spots in the division. In the AL East, the Yankees are in fourth place in the division after picking up just their second win of the season on Sunday and the defending division champion Red Sox are in the middle of the division with a 3-2 mark after a week of action. The Blue Jays are at the bottom of the division with a 1-5 record that is among the worst in the majors. Again, it’s still early and these teams have plenty of time to get back into the thick of things if they can get past their early-season struggles and perform at the level people expected of them heading into the season.

As far as player performances in the first week, Astros OF George Springer has had a good week — the lone bright spot on offense for the team. The Astros have played in seven games so far, and Springer has hit leadoff home runs in three of them — the first player in MLB history to accomplish the feat. He also hit a 13th-inning, three-run walk-off homer to beat the Mariners on Wednesday.

On the pitching side, Springer’s Astros teammate SP Dallas Keuchel has made two strong starts, posting a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings. It looks like he may be back to how he pitched in 2015, when he won the AL Cy Young Award, and is having a strong comeback season after last year’s disappointing season in which he had a 4.55 ERA.

Speaking of comebacks, Rockies RP Greg Holland is a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities after missing all of the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has yet to allow a run and has 6 strikeouts while allowing 1 walk and no hits through four innings of work over four appearances. It appears as though he is now fully recovered from the surgery and should be a leading candidate for the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award if he can stay healthy and perform well all season.

The first week of the season has also had its share of injuries to big-name players, with the most recent example being young Yankees C Gary Sanchez, who strained his right biceps in Saturday’s game against the Orioles and was subsequently placed on the 10-day disabled list. A timetable for his return won’t be known until after he meets with team doctors on Monday upon returning to New York after the weekend series in Baltimore. Angels SP Garrett Richards is also dealing with a biceps strain, but he is hopeful he will be able to return to action once he is eligible to come off the DL on Easter Sunday.

Other notable players placed on the disabled list this week include Blue Jays RP Roberto Osuna and Dodgers SP Rich Hill. Both are expected to miss minimal time.

The Week Ahead

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There are more home openers happening in the coming week. The most notable will come on Monday when the Cubs host the Dodgers in the season’s first game at Wrigley Field, which will include a pregame ceremony honoring the first World Series title the team won in 108 years. The other noteworthy home opener comes at the end of the week, when the Braves open up their new stadium, SunTrust Park, with the facility’s first regular-season game following an exhibition game that was played there on March 31, a 8-5 win over the Yankees.

Pitching matchups to look forward to include the second game of the week, a day game on Monday when Red Sox SP Chris Sale faces off against Tigers SP Justin Verlander in Detroit. There aren’t many other matchups of aces scheduled in the first half of the week, but some performances to watch for include Mets SP Zack Wheeler looking to bounce back from a rough first outing when he takes on the Phillies and SP Vince Velasquez, who struck out 10 in four innings in his first start of the season.

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Over/under and playoff picks

Now that we’ve previewed the 2017 season of all 30 MLB teams, let’s take a look at how the season is going to play out. In this post, I’ll be analyzing Vegas over/under totals for each team and pick the teams that will make the playoffs.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: 71.5
The Braves are coming off a 68-win season and should be improved this year, particularly with SS Dansby Swanson finally making it to the majors. I think they can go Over.

Miami Marlins: 77.5
The Marlins may have won 79 games last season, but I don’t think they’re that good. Other than OF Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins don’t have much going for them. Their pitching isn’t good and I have to go Under for them.

New York Mets: 89.5
The health of the starting pitchers is key to how successful the Mets will be this season. It’ll be tough to win 90 games, which they would have to do to beat this number. I think it’ll be close, but I’m going Under.

Philadelphia Phillies: 72.5
In my preview, I said the Phillies are probably about a 70-win team — at best — and I don’t see them winning many more games than that so I’m going Under.

Washington Nationals: 90.5
The Nationals are still the best team in the division. I expect OF Bryce Harper to bounce back from a subpar season last year and put up good numbers in 2017. They won 95 games last year and I don’t think they’re significantly worse heading into this season so even if they finish a few games worse than last year, they have a bit of a cushion to get to 91 wins so I’ll take the Over.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: 84.5
I expect a regression for the Orioles after winning 89 games a year ago. I think they’re about a .500 team, which leads me to go Under.

Boston Red Sox: 90.5
We’re I was more confident in the Red Sox having a big season before the injury to SP David Price that I fear could linger well into the season. Combine that with the absence of DH David Ortiz and an expected improvement from the Yankees and now I have to go Under 90.5. I think it might be a bit of a struggle for the Red Sox to reach 90 wins.

New York Yankees: 83.5
The Yankees are going to be an improved team this year if their young players — such as C Gary Sanchez and 1B Greg Bird — can do well at the plate. Their biggest questions lie with their starting rotation, which may not be very good save for SP Masahiro Tanaka. Regardless, they won 84 games last year and since I think they’ll be better this year, so I think they’ll win at least that many again, so it’ll be Over.

Tampa Bay Rays: 75.5
SP This number is 7.5 more wins than the Rays had last season and I don’t know where that’s coming from. The Rays are clearly the worst team in the AL East and could be one of the worst in Major League Baseball. This is an easy Under for me.

Toronto Blue Jays: 86.5
The Blue Jays should have a fine offense this season, but the pitching may not be so good. I think they’ll be competitive in the AL playoff race, though, and should be able to go Over the 86.5.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: 95.5
The Cubs have the majority of their players coming back from last year’s 103-game winner, including NL MVP Kris Bryant. Barring any major injuries to their stars, they should easily go Over this number.

Cincinnati Reds: 73.5
The Reds are coming off a last-place finish, and that’s probably what they’re looking at again for this season. I think that’s a high number, so I’m going Under.

Milwaukee Brewers: 72.5
OF Ryan Braun had a good season last year, but not having C Jonathan Lucroy hurts the offense. Without any good pitchers on the roster, they’re not going to be good this year. It could be close, but I’m going Under.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 85.5
I said in the Pirates preview that they’re probably about a .500 team, which is slightly better than they did last season. Based on that prediction, I’m going Under.

St. Louis Cardinals: 87.5
This is a tough one. The Cardinals won 86 games last season and playing the Cubs 19 times doesn’t help their cause, but the Cardinals are a good team. I think SP Carlos Martinez could become an ace this season. If he does, I think they can go Over.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: 73.5
The White Sox are in rebuilding mode. I expect them to be worse than the 78-win team from 2016. I think it’ll be close, but I’m going to take the Under for them.

Cleveland Indians: 92.5
The Indians should reach 90 wins for the second straight season and because they’re in a division with a couple of bad teams in the White Sox and Twins, I think they can make it to 93 so I’m going Over.

Detroit Tigers: 85.5
The Tigers won 86 games last year, which is basically right on the number. If SP Justin Verlander can repeat the performance he had last year, I think he can help the team at least match their win total from a year ago, so I’ll go Over, but just barely.

Kansas City Royals: 80.5
This is another number that I think is right on. The Royals won 81 games last season, and I think they’ll be right there again this year. It’ll be close, but I’m going to take the Under. I think they’ll be around 79 or 80 wins.

Minnesota Twins: 70.5
The Twins could be the worst team in baseball again this year. They won 59 games last year and I don’t see any way that they’ve improved enough to get up to 71 wins, so this is an easy Under for me.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: 78.5
SP Zack Greinke could be a key to how well the Diamondbacks do this year, as well as the health of OFs A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. They’re better than the 69-win team from last year, but probably just improved enough to get up to the 75-win range, so I’ll go Under 78.5.

Colorado Rockies: 79.5
The Rockies could easily go over this number if they get some decent performances out of their pitchers. Otherwise, I think they’ll be right around the 75 wins they tallied last year. So I’ll go Under, but it’s another close one.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 91.5
I expect the Dodgers to be the best team in the division, but they won 91 games last season which will be tough to beat. SP Clayton Kershaw missed time with an injury in 2016 so having him healthy for the full season could get them an extra win over last year, so I’ll take the Over — but just barely.

San Diego Padres: 64.5
The Padres are going to be a bad team this year, but I don’t think they’ll be 64-wins bad. I think they can come close to matching last year’s record of 68 wins, so I’ll take the Over for them.

San Francisco Giants: 87.5
The Giants are right behind the Dodgers in talent, in my opinion. They’re coming off an 87-win season and I don’t think they got much worse this winter, so I’ll take the Over. They could get close to 90 wins.

AL West

Houston Astros: 87.5
With the offense the Astros have, I think they can reach 90 wins if their starting pitching holds up, particularly with better numbers out of SP Dallas Keuchel and if SP Lance McCullers can stay healthy. They’re a good team, I’ll take the Over.

Los Angeles Angels: 76.5
CI don’t think OF Mike Trout is enough for the Angels to be competitive this year. He won the MVP last year, but the team only won 74 games. I don’t think they’re much improved this year, so I’ll take the Under.

Oakland Athletics: 66.5
The A’s are one of the worst teams in baseball, but this is a low number. I’m going to go Over just because they won 69 last year and could finish right around there again in 2017.

Seattle Mariners: 85.5
The Mariners are going to be competitive in the division, especially if SP Felix Hernandez improves upon his disappointing season from a year ago. I think they can get around 86-88 wins, so I’ll take the Over.

Texas Rangers: 86.5
The Rangers are coming off a 95-win season, so I have a hard time thinking they’ll be nine games worse this year so I’ll go Over, but I think they’ll be closer to 90 wins than 95 this year.

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Playoff Picks

National League

NL East Champs: Washington Nationals
NL Central Champs: Chicago Cubs
NL West Champs: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants

American League

AL East Champs: Boston Red Sox
AL Central Champs: Cleveland Indians
AL West Champs: Houston Astros
AL Wild Cards: Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays

World Series: Indians over Nationals in 6 games

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Toronto Blue Jays

Our AL East team previews, part of previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, conclude with a look at the Toronto Blue Jays, who came in third place in the division last season.

Coming off two straight ALCS appearances, both ending in losses, the Blue Jays are looking to take the next step and make it to their first World Series since winning back-to-back titles in 1992-93. Perhaps their biggest free-agent signing toward achieving that goal was re-signing one of their own players in inking OF Jose Bautista to a new deal in free agency. The team also signed veteran DH Kendrys Morales, who is essentially replacing 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who signed with the Indians in January. The team also lost OF Michael Saunders, who signed with the Phillies. Other than those changes, the roster looks pretty similar to what it was last season, with 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson manning third base, SS Troy Tulowitzki up the middle of the infield and SP Aaron Sanchez leading the starting rotation.

The Blue Jays ranked in the bottom 10 in Major League Baseball with a .248 batting average in 2016, but they hit the fourth most home runs, with 221, which helped finish in the top 10 with a .755 OPS. That home run total was helped in part by Encarnacion, whose 42 home runs led the team. Donaldson had the next highest homer total on the squad, with 37 to go along with a .284 batting average and .953 OPS; his 7.4 WAR was the fifth-best in the majors. Bautista had a below-average year last season, hitting 22 home runs with a .234 average and .817 OPS. 2B Devon Travis led the team with a .300 average to go along with 11 home runs on the season, while Tulowitzki smashed 24 homers. With the Royals last season, Morales hit .263 with 30 home runs.

The pitching staff posted a 3.78 ERA, which ranked as No. 6 in the league, but was near the league average with 1,314 strikeouts. The bullpen matched the MLB average with 43 saves, 36 of them from young RP Roberto Osuna, who had a 2.68 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 74 innings. In his first full season as a starter, Sanchez posted a 3.00 ERA and notched 161 strikeouts in 192 innings en route to a 15-2 record in 30 starts. SP Marcus Stroman, who was coming off a 2015 season in which an injury limited him to just four appearances, didn’t meet expectations coming back from the injury. He posted a 4.37 ERA and struck out 166 batters in 204 innings over 32 starts. SP J.A. Happ had a surprisingly strong season, becoming a 20-game winner for the first time in his career as he pitched to a 3.18 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 195 innings.

Losing Encarnacion and his 42 home runs is a blow to the offense, but Morales will make up the slack for most of those, and if Bautista can return to his 25-30+ home run totals he would also help the Blue Jays make up for those lost home runs, but at 36 years old 20-25 home runs may be the new normal for him as he gets older. On the mound, Stroman needs to bounce back from his subpar 2016 to help give the team a good 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation because Happ likely can’t be counted on to repeat the success he had last season as he will likely regress back toward his 3.98 career ERA. Slotting in toward the back of the rotation is SP Francisco Liriano, who has been too inconsistent in his career to be relied upon as a strong option in the rotation. Outside of Osuna, the bullpen consists of mainly mediocre relievers who have had moderate success in the majors.

The offense should continue to do well at the plate this season, but the pitching staff has some concerns. Even if Stroman is able to bounce back this year, which I expect him to, I don’t trust the rotation beyond him and Sanchez. I think the team is going to have to trade for starting pitching before the deadline to solidify the middle of the rotation to have a real shot to compete in an AL East that will likely be led by the Red Sox, with the Orioles and Yankees also looking to contend for the playoffs. Likewise, a lack of quality depth in the bullpen will cause problems for the Blue Jays if Osuna suffers an injury during the season. I still think the Blue Jays have a shot at securing a wild card in the American League, but questions on the mound should concern the team.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.bluejays.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Tampa Bay Rays

Our previews of the AL East teams, part of our look at all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, continue with the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished in last place in the division last season.

After finally finding some success from 2008-2013, the Rays are coming off of three straight seasons of sub-.500 baseball; last season’s 68-94 mark is the team’s worst record since winning 66 games in 2007. Entering 2017, it doesn’t seem like the team will right the ship anytime soon. The biggest free-agent acquisitions this offseason were OF Colby Rasmus and C Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from ACL surgery and won’t be ready to play until sometime in the May to July timeframe, with the date varying by different reports. Among the team’s losses are SP Drew Smyly and 2B Logan Forsythe, who were traded to the Mariners and Dodgers, respectively, for mainly minor-leaguers. In the deals, the Rays did acquire P Jose De Leon, who should get a chance to compete for the fifth slot in the rotation, and OF Mallex Smith, who will provide some depth in the outfield as a backup and spot starter. 3B Evan Longoria remains the one offensive star on the team. Top-of-the-rotation SP Chris Archer is also still with the team despite being mentioned as part of trade speculation this winter.

The Rays’ .243 batting average was the third-worst in Major League Baseball, but they were closer to the middle of the pack with a .733 OPS thanks to their 216 home runs ranking sixth in the majors. Longoria’s .273 batting average led the team’s starters, while his 36 home runs also led the team. He also had a .840 OPS, and his 41 doubles ranked as No. 6 in the American League while his 330 total bases were eighth most in the AL. SS Brad Miller was second on the team with 30 home runs — a vast improvement from the 11 he hit in 2015 — but hit just .243, which was a 15-point drop-off from the year before. OF/DH Corey Dickerson added  another 24 home runs. The team’s 4.20 ERA was just below the MLB-average 4.18 ERA and the team’s 1,357 strikeouts finished in the top 10. The bullpen’s 42 saves put the team near the bottom of the league. Archer had a disappointing year after three strong seasons; he posted a 4.02 ERA but still totaled 233 strikeouts over 201.1 innings that resulted in a 9-19 record in 33 starts. SP Jake Odorizzi put up a 3.69 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 187.2 innings. He made 33 starts and posted a 10-6 record, the only starter to finish the season with double-digit wins and a record above .500. After getting the call-up around midseason, rookie SP Blake Snell made 19 starts and put up decent numbers: a 3.54 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 89 innings. RP Alex Colome led the bullpen with 37 saves to go along with a 1.91 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 57 appearances.

Rasmus could add some more power to the offense — he’s hit a total of 40 home runs in the last two seasons — but he hasn’t hit better than .238 in the last three seasons so he likely won’t help the team’s batting average, which is where they need to see improvement on offense. The concern with pitching lies with Archer, whose ERA last season was about a half-point worse than his career average. And there’s a question if he’ll be even be with the team by the time the season ends in early October. With trade talk surrounding him during the offseason, it seems inevitable that the chatter will pick up again around the time of the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, but he still has several years left on a team-friendly contract so the Rays could choose to hold on to him. If Odorizzi can maintain the numbers he put up last season and if Snell can keep his performance up for an entire season, they could see an uptick in performance if Archer can get back to the performances he put up from 2013-2015 rather than the lackluster stats he had last season.

The Rays were a last-place team last season, and that’s likely where they’ll finish again this season. As mentioned in previous previews, the AL East is a tough division and the Rays are the worst team in it. The Red Sox are looking to be one of the best teams in the league, and the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles all appear to be playoff contenders, leaving the Rays in the basement of the division. They don’t have the hitting to keep up with the strong offenses in the division.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.tampabayrays.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: New York Yankees

Our previews of the AL East teams, part of looking at all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, continue with the New York Yankees, who finished in fourth place in the division last season.

Although they finished six games over .500 last season, the Yankees finished in fourth place in the division for the first time since 1992. They’re in the middle of a youth movement, though, following the retirements of DH Alex Rodriguez and 1B Mark Teixeira. Also gone from the team are veteran OF Carlos Beltran and C Brian McCann — who both went to the Astros, Beltran in free agency and McCann in exchange for a couple of minor-leaguers. One reason the Yankees traded McCann is because one of the first of the young Yankees to come up to the majors back on August 3 was C Gary Sanchez, who got the call-up and performed well at the plate. Sanchez is expected to be joined by a couple more rookies this season, with 1B Greg Bird and OF Aaron Judge looking likely to begin the season as starters at their positions. They’ll be joining veterans like OF Jacoby Ellsbury, 3B Chase Headley, and new Yankee Matt Holliday, who is likely to spend a lot of time as a DH after signing a one-year deal with the team this winter. The other notable free-agent acquisition made by the Yankees this offseason is RP Aroldis Chapman, who is returning to the Bronx after being traded to the Cubs at the trade deadline last season; the closer signed a five-year deal.

The Yankees’ .252 batting average was slightly below the MLB average of .255 and their .720 OPS ranked in the bottom 10 as a result of hitting just 183 home runs, which put them in the bottom half of the majors. After coming up in early August, Sanchez hit .299 with 20 home runs and a 1.032 OPS with a 3.0 WAR. Those 20 home runs were the third most on the team, putting him just two behind team leader Beltran and one behind 2B Starlin Castro. Ellsbury hit .260 with 9 home runs and 20 steals for the year while OF Brett Gardner hit .261 with 7 home runs.

The Yankees’ 4.16 ERA finished barely better than the league average of 4.18, helped by a strong performance by the bullpen. In his 31 games with the Yankees before being traded, Chapman posted a 2.01 ERA with 20 saves and 44 strikeouts in 31.1 innings (including his time in Chicago, he notched 36 saves on the season with a 1.55 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 58 innings). RP Dellin Betances, who got some time in the closer’s role after the team traded both Chapman and RP Andrew Miller, struck out an impressive 126 batters — which led all relievers in the majors — in 73 innings with a 3.08 ERA in 12 saves. The rotation didn’t do as well, beset by injuries and subpar performances. SP Masahiro Tanaka was the best of the bunch, and his numbers aren’t what you want to see from your ace. He posted a 3.07 ERA with 165 strikeouts in 199.2 innings. SP CC Sabathia had one of his best seasons in a while, but that resulted in a 3.91 ERA with 152 strikeouts in 179.2 innings. It just gets worse from there with SP Michael Pineda going 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA in 175.2 innings over 32 starts. Pineda did rack up strikeouts, with 207 of them on the season.

The offense will look pretty different from last season with guys like Sanchez and Bird replacing the likes of Beltran and Teixeira. One problem you have with young hitters is you don’t know how they’ll adjust to major-league pitching. Sanchez did well for the two months he was in the majors last season and if he can replicate that, it will give the Yankees strong production out of a position that doesn’t usually feature a lot of offensive ability. As long as the rookies don’t entirely flame out, the Yankees should at least increase their home run totals this year, and potentially their overall offense. The pitching, however, is a different story. Without acquiring any starting pitching, the rotation is likely to struggle again this season. The best shot at improvement could be with P Luis Severino, who split time between the rotation and bullpen but is expected to be a full-time starter in 2017. Chapman and Betances should be able to anchor the bullpen well this year, whenever they get a lead handed over to them.

The Yankees are in a tough division — as evidenced by a fourth-place finish despite winning 84 games — so, while the team should be improved this season, it’ll be hard to make the playoffs coming out of the division. They’ll likely be fighting with the Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays for positioning, but I think the Yankees are — at best — the third-best team in the division, behind Boston and Toronto. Without a strong rotation, I can’t see them winning many more games than they did last year. If they can trade for a top-of-the-rotation guy by the deadline, maybe they’ll compete for a wild card in the American League, but without that I don’t see it happening. Still a year or two away from returning to the postseason.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.yankees.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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