Tag Archives: A’s

MLB Hot Stove: End-of-year recap, where are Harper and Machado going?

It’s been two months since the Red Sox won the World Series, and MLB has seen quite a bit of player movement in the hot stove. The two biggest pieces available this winter, however, have yet to sign as the calendar turns to 2019 and OF Bryce Harper and SS/3B Manny Machado are still on the market. The biggest names to be moved so far this offseason have come via trades.

Trades

The biggest story of the offseason to date has been the rebuilding of the Mariners, who saw their playoff drought extend this season after a promising first half of the season turned into a disappointing second half that saw the team fail to make the postseason for the first time since 2001. The Mariners’ first trade saw a package highlighted by C Mike Zunino go to the Rays in exchange for OFs Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley. The next trade was their most significant, as they sent veteran SP James Paxton to the Yankees in exchange for several minor leaguers, with the centerpiece of the package being SP Justus Sheffield. They also made two trades on December 3. One sent 2B Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets for four players, including OF Jay Bruce and P Anthony Swarzak. Seattle’s other trade that day included SS Jean Segura and Ps Juan Nicasio and James Pazos going to the Phillies for 1B Carlos Santana and SS J.P. Crawford. The Mariners subsequently flipped Santana to his former team, the Indians, in a three-team deal in which the Mariners acquired DH Edwin Encarnacion. All of that action by GM Jerry DiPoto helped the Mariners shed salary and get younger as part of a rebuild, which is likely to extended the team’s streak of missing the playoffs by at least a couple more years.

The aforementioned three-team trade with the Mariners and Rays wasn’t the only deal the Indians have made, as they also sent 1B Yonder Alonso to the White Sox and extended the contract of SP Carlos Carrasco with a team-friendly three-year, $37.5 million that will keep him under team control through 2022, with a vesting option for 2023. While Carrasco will be with the Indians long-term, there have been rumors that they will trade either SP Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber as they also look to pare down their payroll.

The biggest trade at this point of the offseason occurred a few days before Christmas and involved the team that has lost the World Series in each of the last two seasons. The Dodgers traded OFs Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, SP Alex Wood and C Kyle Farmer to the Reds for SP Homer Bailey and a couple of minor leaguers, SS Jeter Downs and P Josiah Gray. Making those moves helped clear some room on the payroll for the Dodgers, who have been linked to Harper and are believed to be among the teams most likely to land the coveted free agent, who is expected to sign for more than $300 million.

Free-agent signings

As has been the case in recent winters, the free-agent market has been slow to get moving with the biggest names still available heading into January. Some of the bigger names behind the big two — including OFs Marwin Gonzalez and A.J. Pollock , SP Dallas Keuchel, C Yasmani Grandal, DH Evan Gattis and closer Craig Kimbrel — are likely waiting for Harper and Machado to sign before the other dominos begin to fall and we get a better idea of what teams’ rosters will look like heading into spring training and the regular season.

The Red Sox re-signed a couple of their World Series heroes, including inking SP Nathan Eovaldi to a four-deal and bringing back World Series MVP 1B Steve Pearce for another season. The team the Red Sox beat in this year’s ALCS, the Astros, who are likely going to lose Gonzalez and Keuchel, have made a couple signings with C Robinson Chirinos and OF Michael Brantley agreeing with the team to one-year and two-year deals, respectively. Among other playoff teams, the Braves brought back C Brian McCann, who started his career with them, and signed 3B Josh Donaldson each to a one-year deal. The Phillies, hoping to keep pace with the Braves in the NL East, signed veteran OF Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal, and another division rival in the Mets signed C Wilson Ramos for two years and RP Jeurys Familia — who they traded to the A’s during the season — for three years.

The Nationals — in all likelihood preparing to be without Harper starting in 2019 — have signed four free agents so far, with the biggest deal being a six-year, $140 million contract for SP Patrick Corbin, with SP Anibal Sanchez also signing a two-year deal with the team. They also signed C Kurt Suzuki for two years, with a one-year deal going to 1B Matt Adams. The Rays signed Astros 2017 postseason hero SP Charlie Morton to a two-year contract, and the Cardinals’ biggest signing has been RP Andrew Miller, with a two-year contract worth $25 million. The Yankees re-signed SPs J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia.

Other notable players who have come off the board so far in the offseason (with the team that signed them) include: 2B Jonathan Schoop and DH Nelson Cruz (Twins); RP Joe Kelly (Dodgers); SPs Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill, OF Justin Bour (Angels) ; OF Billy Hamilton (Royals); SP Tyson Ross (Tigers); and 2B Daniel Murphy (Rockies).

Likely landing spots for Harper and Machado

With Harper and Machado both reportedly seeking long-term deals in excess of $300 million, the number of teams that could sign them are limited. The Yankees, at times entering the offseason, have been linked to both players but appear to be focusing in on one while some high-profile National League teams appear to be leading the pack for the other.

The Yankees, Phillies and White Sox are the three teams thought to be pursuing the services of Machado, who visited all three cities and met with the teams prior to Christmas. The Phillies and White Sox — especially the former — seem to be willing to spend more money for Machado than the Yankees, but I think if the money is close Machado could still sign with the Yankees due to the perceived prestige of playing for the team. The Yankees are reportedly shopping 3B Miguel Andujar in trade talks, which could be a sign that the Yankees may still sign Machado. Signing him would make Andujar more expendable, as Machado can play either shortstop — where he would likely begin the season while SS Didi Gregorius is out — or third base. In the end, I think Machado signs with the Yankees.

The Dodgers’ biggest intention in making that big trade with the Reds was likely to clear room on the payroll to sign Harper. Other teams that have been connected to Harper are the Cubs — who have 3B Kris Bryant who, like Harper, is a Las Vegas native — Phillies and Nationals, who are likely still in on Harper, even though he reportedly turned down a $300 million team late in the season. Being from Vegas, I think Harper wants to sign with a West Coast team to be closer to home, and why not make it the team that has represented the National League in the World Series each of the last two seasons? I think the Dodgers ultimately sign Harper.

Possible trades still to come

Even though there have already been several trades this offseason, the trade market likely isn’t closed yet. All winter, the Marlins have been trying to shop C J.T. Realmuto, with teams like the Mets, Dodgers, Yankees and Astros reportedly among the teams interested in the backstop. Signing Ramos means the Mets are out. Reports have tabbed the Yankees as wanted a straight swap of Realmuto-for-Gary Sanchez, which the Marlins have seemingly balked at. If the Yankees sign Machado, maybe they’ll be willing to include Andujar in a possible deal. The Dodgers may not have enough trade pieces anymore after the Reds deal, and the Marlins are reportedly asking for one of the Astros’ top prospects — SP Forrest Whitley or OF Kyle Tucker — for Realmuto. Whitey is reportedly untouchable from the Astros’ perspective, but Tucker would likely be the centerpiece of the trade if the Astros are successful in acquiring Realmuto, even though they signed Chirinos earlier this winter. The Marlins may keep Realmuto for now and reconsider trading him near the trade deadline this summer, but if they trade him this offseason — which I think they will — I think he goes to Houston to fill one of the holes on the Astros’ roster.

Another trade to watch out for is the Mariners dealing Encarnacion. They are reportedly shopping him around, and drawing interest from the Rays, White Sox and Astros. The Mariners likely want to get rid of as much of the $25 million remaining on the veteran’s contract as possible because the 1B/DH, who is almost 36, doesn’t fit in with the team’s rebuilding effort. If he is traded, whichever of the Rays, White Sox and Astros doesn’t get him may turn their sites to Cardinals 1B/OF Jose Martinez, who has also been the subject of trade rumors.

With almost two months remaining before the start of spring training, there is still plenty of time left for free agents to sign and teams to make more trades. We’ll be updating the moves that happen as the hot stove continues.

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MLB Postseason Preview: 2018 Predictions

After two Game 163s on Monday, in which the Brewers beat the Cubs to nab the top spot in the NL Central and the No. 1 seed in the National League and the Dodgers beat the Rockies to win the NL West, it’s time for the 2018 postseason to begin.

Image courtesy ESPN

It begins Tuesday night with the Cubs hosting the Dodgers in the NL Wild Card game, then the Yankees host the A’s in the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday. The winner of the NL game faces the Brewers in the National League Division Series, with the AL winner facing the Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

The Cubs have been reeling of late, losing a five-game lead in the division in early September to end up in the Wild Card game. The Rockies, meanwhile, went 19-9 in the month of September. With the teams headed in different directions, the Rockies have positive momentum on their side. It should be a good pitching matchup with SP Kyle Freeland going for the Rockies and SP Jon Lester taking the mound for the Cubs. Despite the game being at Wrigley Field, I don’t think the Cubs are good enough right now and I think the Rockies win the game to advance to the NLDS.

There’s a similar story at Yankee Stadium as the A’s are coming off a 16-10 September while the Yankees were just 15-12 in the month, their worst record in a calendar month this season. Neither team has announced its starter yet, but SP Luis Severino figures to get the ball for the Yankees with the A’s potentially going with a bullpen game. Even though Severino hasn’t pitched well in the second half of the season, the Yankees would probably have the advantage there. And they certainly have the advantage on offense after setting a new MLB record for home runs in a season. If the A’s have a lead after six or seven innings, I trust their bullpen — especially closer Blake Treinen — more than the Yankees’. I don’t think it’ll come down to that, though, and I think the Yankees will win the game to go to the ALDS.

American League
Division Series
Red Sox beat Yankees in 4 games
Astros beat Indians in 4 games

Championship Series
Astros beat Red Sox in 6 games

National League
Division Series
Brewers beat Rockies in 5 games
Braves beat Dodgers in 5 games

Championship Series
Braves beat Brewers in 6 games

World Series

beat

in 5 games.

So I think the Astros will become the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to repeat as World Series champions.

We’ll update these predictions, with further analysis, after each round as the postseason progresses.

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Stadium Series: My experience with a Bay Area doubleheader

Visiting all 30 MLB stadiums isn’t an easy task, so trying to visit multiple venues in a single trip makes it easier to accomplish. As someone who eventually wants to complete the accomplishment, I try to visit more than one stadium whenever possible. I went to Nationals Park and Camden Yards on back-to-back days a few years ago, and I got the chance to do it again this year.

Of the stadiums I had not yet visited, AT&T Park was at the top of my list at which to see a game. With the Astros set to play a series there this season, I decided that was going to be the stadium I wanted to travel to this year. With the A’s in close proximity to the Giants, it offers me a chance to double-dip with AT&T Park and the Oakland Coliseum. The teams’ schedules were such that they were both playing at home while the Astros were in San Francisco for a short Monday-Tuesday series with the Giants. There was an early start for Tuesday’s game — 12:45pm PT first pitch — with the A’s starting a two-game series against the Dodgers at 7:05pm PT that night, it gave me plenty of time to get to the Coliseum following the Astros-Giants game to complete the Bay Area doubleheader and see games at both stadiums on the same day.

The three-games-in-24-hours began with the first of two between the Astros and Giants on Monday night, allowing me to get my first in-person experience at AT&T Park, which is always ranked near the top of Best MLB Stadiums lists — and for good reason. It is located in downtown San Francisco but, more importantly, is next to the San Francisco Bay, with a section that is now unofficially known as McCovey Cove, which has become the ballpark’s signature feature. Its location also provides for great views of the landscape surrounding the stadium, including the Bay Bridge beyond left field. In McCovey Cove, there are several people in kayaks who wait for home runs that are hit into the water. That doesn’t happen often, as the the “splash hits” counter that tracks such balls — hit by Giants players — shows that the home team has gotten 78 balls into the Cove since the stadium, originally named Pacific Bell Park, opened in April 2000. And of those 78, 35 were hit by now-retired OF Barry Bonds.

Another notable feature of AT&T Park is the giant Coca-Cola bottle and baseball glove in left field. Those are part of a kids’ section of the park, and on the back of the soda bottle are two slides for kids to play on. Outside the ballpark, the Giants pay homage to the team’s history, dating back to the franchise’s time as the New York Giants. As part of that history is a Wall of Fame, showcasing plaques dedicated to some of the best players in the team’s history, including notables like Willie Mays, Gaylord Perry and Vida Blue, but also less-famous players like Shawn Estes, Marvin Benard and Kirk Rueter, whose contributions to the Giants are more distinct than their overall places in MLB history.

While AT&T Park is known for its beauty, the main attraction is still the games that are played there. On Monday, that meant a pitching matchup of veteran Astros SP Charlie Morton, who is having a career year in his 11th major league season, facing rookie Giants SP Dereck Rodriguez, the son of Hall of Fame C Ivan Rodriguez, who is pitching well as he gets his first taste of the majors. The Astros’ offense was shorthanded for this series with SS Carlos Correa, 2B Jose Altuve and OF George Springer all on the disabled list at the time. And with it being an interleague game in a National League park, DH Evan Gattis — who entered the series with 21 home runs — was limited to pinch-hitting duties. The injuries and lack of a DH meant guys like 1B Tyler White and OF Jake Marisnick, who is a good defender but not much of a hitter, started Monday’s game. For the Giants, after their top four hitters in the lineup — OF Andrew McCutchen, C Buster Posey, 3B Evan Longoria and SS Brandon Crawford — their bottom half of the order also left something to be desired.

The less-than-ideal lineups for both teams and strong pitching by Morton and Rodriguez led to an as-expected low-scoring affair, with the game remaining scoreless through the middle of the sixth inning. The Giants finally broke through on the scoreboard in the bottom of that inning, when Crawford hit a solo home run with two outs to make it 1-0 in favor of the home team. That would remain the score through eight innings, as the starters — who each went seven innings, with Morton striking out eight and Rodriguez getting seven outs via the K — and the first relievers out of the bullpen pitched well. For the Astros, that first player out of the ‘pen in the game was controversial RP Roberto Osuna, who was making his first appearance for the team and first overall after completing his 75-game suspension. He pitched great, needing just five pitches to complete the 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, to ensure the Astros were down just one run entering the ninth.

The Giants called upon closer Will Smith to get the final three outs and secure the victory, but he did not have his best stuff that night. After getting C Max Stassi to pop out, Smith walked SS Alex Bregman, then OF Josh Reddick made the second out of the inning when he flied out to center. That final out proved elusive for Smith to get, though. After Reddick’s at-bat, Smith walked 3B Yuli Gurriel, then gave up the big hit — a three-run homer off the bat of OF Marwin Gonzalez, giving the Astros a 3-1 lead. It was the first home run Smith had allowed in just shy of 55 innings. After the longball, Smith did get the third out when White grounded out to short.

With the Astros having taken the lead in the top of the ninth, manager A.J. Hinch turned to his closer, Hector Rondon, to try to do what Smith could not and earn the save for his team. He got Longoria to strike out leading off the inning, then Crawford singled to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of 1B Austin Slater. He struck out, leaving it up to 2B Joe Panik to extend the game, but he lined out to end the game and give the Astros the come-from-behind victory.

Astros win Game 1

All told, the teams combined for just eight hits — four for his team — with the four combined runs all being scored via home runs. Osuna earned the win in his Astros debut, with Smith suffering the loss and Rondon recording his 12th save of the season.

Tuesday afternoon saw a pitching matchup of Dallas Keuchel going for the Astros and Madison Bumgarner taking the mound for the Giants. It was another low-scoring affair with the Giants scoring first, this time with a RBI single by 2B Chase d’Arnaud to score Crawford in the bottom of the second inning. That 1-0 lead would hold up until the top of the eighth inning, when RP Ray Black relieved Bumgarner, who struck out seven in seven scoreless innings. When Black entered the game, Gonzalez doubled to lead off the inning. Black then got Gurriel to strike out, but in the next at-bat White hit a two-run home run to left-center field, giving the Astros a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom half of the inning, when RP Collin McHugh came into the game and retired both batters he faced before being relieved by RP Ryan Pressly, who got Crawford to line out to end the inning. After an uneventful top of the ninth, Rondon came in to try for his second save in as many nights. He got the job done again, allowing just a walk and closing out the 2-1 victory for the AL West leaders.

After a BART ride to Oakland, I went to the Coliseum to complete the second half of the two-stadium doubleheader. Unlike AT&T Park, the Coliseum is routinely ranked among the worst stadiums in MLB and will need to be replaced soon if Oakland wants to avoid the A’s moving out of the city. That said, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, given what I have heard of it. There’s nothing special or notable about it and is a cavernous structure with many empty sections in the seating bowl because it is — for now — shared with the Raiders, the last stadium that is shared by MLB and NFL teams. There was a bigger-than-expected crowd for a weeknight A’s game, given that the Dodgers were in town and there were a lot of the team’s fans at the game; the attendance of 33,654 was more than 15,000 better than the team’s season average of 18,552.

As for the game, it was a slow-moving game that saw both starters pulled pretty quickly, with A’s SP Sean Manaea lasting only 2.2 innings in which he gave up three earned runs and Dodgers SP Rich Hill going 5.1 innings of two-run ballf, in a game that the Dodgers won 4-2 after the bullpen 3.2 scoreless innings, with closer Kenley Jansen striking out two batters in the ninth inning to close out the game. DH Khris Davis accounted for the home team’s only runs, with a two-run home run in the sixth inning that led to Hill coming out of the game. The Dodgers had a more balanced offense, with OF Kike Hernandez, DH Matt Kemp, 1B Cody Bellinger and C Austin Barnes each driving in a run in the winning effort. Before the game, Oakland native and former A’s batboy M.C. Hammer threw out the first pitch.

With AT&T Park and the Coliseum now crossed off the list, I have visited 14 of the 30 current major-league stadiums. That means I should reach, and possibly pass, the halfway point of my journey to visit all 30 stadiums during the 2019 season.

Ballparks visited map

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MLB All-Star Teams: Altuve leads the pack, Markakis gets his first nod

All the votes have been counted and the 2018 MLB All-Star starters have been announced. Reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve led all players with 4.84 million votes. It is his sixth All-Star selection, including five in a row. The top votegetter in the National League was Braves 1B Freddie Freeman, with more than four million votes cast for him, his third selection. Freeman’s teammate, OF Nick Markakis, is among the notable players selected to start. The veteran will be appearing in his first All-Star Game in his 13th season in the majors.

Here are the full rosters for both leagues, with some analysis:

STARTERS

C Wilson Ramos, Rays: He had a late push to get past the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, which was the right call by the fans. Ramos was my vote.
1B Jose Abreu, White Sox: He’s one of the few bright spots on one of the worst teams in the majors. I voted for Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox, but you can’t argue with Abreu.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros: He’s the best second baseman in baseball and plays for one of the best teams in the league. No-brainer.
SS Manny Machado, Orioles: He may not be on the Orioles by the end of July, but he’s having a season worthy of being on the All-Star team.
3B Jose Ramirez, Indians: He’s putting up good offensive numbers for a team that is likely going to be a division winner.
DH J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: He is one of the keys to the Red Sox success this season. The only real choice at DH.
OF Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Aaron Judge, Yankees; Mike Trout, Angels: No surprises or arguments to be made with these three selections.

RESERVES

C Salvador Perez, Royals
1B Mitch Moreland, Red Sox
2B Gleyber Torres, Yankees
SS Francisco Lindor, Indians
3B Alex Bregman, Astros
OF Michael Brantley, Indians; Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers; Mitch Haniger, Mariners; George Springer, Astros; Nelson Cruz, Mariners

The American League reserves are outfield-heavy. One of the biggest snubs here in my opinion is Astros DH Evan Gattis, who has been crushing the ball since the end of May. Torres is on the DL and isn’t expected back until after the All-Star Game so will likely be replaced on the roster.

PITCHERS

SP Trevor Bauer, Indians; Jose Berrios, Twins; Gerrit Cole, Astros; J.A. Happ, Blue Jays; Corey Kluber, Indians; Chris Sale, Red Sox; Luis Severino, Yankees; Justin Verlander, Astros
RP Aroldis Chapman, Yankees; Edwin Diaz, Mariners; Joe Jimenez, Tigers; Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox; Blake Treinen, A’s

Bauer was chosen as a replacement for Verlander, who is scheduled to pitch Sunday and will be unavailable for the game. Availability may require other pitching replacements to be made as well. Hopefully that includes Rays SP Blake Snell making the team. He’s having a breakout year and is probably the biggest snub in either league. He’s probably more deserving than Berrios or Happ, but those players are both on the team because their teams each needed a representative. There are a few good candidates to start the game. I would lean toward Cole, but it could also be Kluber or Severino.

STARTERS

C Willson Contreras, Cubs: He surpassed the Giants’ Buster Posey in voting and is having a good year, but I voted for the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, who I still think should have gotten the nod here. He’s having a better season than Contreras, but playing for a team with a pretty small fan base obviously hurt Realmuto in the voting.
1B Freddie Freeman, Braves: He got the most votes in the National League, and he is deserving of being selected for the team.
2B Javier Baez, Cubs: Like his teammate, Contreras, he made a late push, overtaking the Braves’ Ozzie Albies in the voting. I voted for the Reds’ Scooter Gennett.
SS Brandon Crawford, Giants: He got my vote, and is the right call at the position.
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: He’s having the type of season people have come to expect from him. Another no-brainer pick.
DH Fans don’t vote for a DH in the National League
OF Bryce Harper, Nationals; Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Nick Markakis, Braves: At the start of the season, only Harper would have been expected to be on the team. Kemp and Markakis are surprises, but are both deserving of the honors. All three (eventually) got my vote.

RESERVES

C Buster Posey, Giants; J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Joey Votto, Reds
2B Ozzie Albies, Braves; Scooter Gennett, Reds
SS Trevor Story, Rockies
3B Eugenio Suarez, Reds
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; Lorenzo Cain, Brewers; Christian Yelich, Brewers

Despite being a last place team, the Reds have three reserves on the team. It’s good to see that Realmuto and Gennett made the team after being snubbed in the voting. Dodgers OF Max Muncy has hit 20 home runs, coming out of nowhere this season, and should be on the team. He is a final vote candidate so still has a chance to make it.

PITCHERS

SP Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks; Jacob deGrom, Mets; Mike Foltynewicz, Braves; Jon Lester, Cubs; Miles Mikolas, Cardinals; Aaron Nola, Phillies; Max Scherzer, Nationals
RP Sean Doolittle, Nationals; Josh Hader, Brewers; Brad Hand, Padres; Kenley Jansen, Dodgers; Felipe Vazquez, Pirates

Scherzer should get the start for the National League, based on the numbers he’s putting up this season and the fact that the game is in his home park this season. DeGrom is among the best pitchers in the majors this season and gets the Mets’ obligatory spot on the roster.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the five final vote candidates in each league and make my selections.

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What does the MLB playoff picture look like on July 4th?

July 4th is typically considered to be the unofficial midway point of the Major League Baseball season, so it’s a good time to take a look at what teams are in a good position to make the playoffs and which teams are likely just playing out the rest of the season before they can begin their offseasons on October 1st.

American League

We’ll begin with the American League, in which five teams may already have the playoff spots clinched. The junior circuit has four teams that are currently on pace to have 100-win seasons and, barring a major second-half collapse, those teams will make it to the playoffs, securing the two AL wild cards in the process. The Red Sox and Yankees hold the top two spots in the AL East, with the Red Sox a game ahead of the Yankees, and the Rays in third place, 15 games out of first. There’s a similarly close race in the AL West, with the Astros holding a half-game lead over the Mariners, with the third-place A’s eight games back of the division lead. With the wild cards likely coming out of the East and West, that means there will only be one playoff team coming out of the Central, and that appears to be the Indians, who are 11 games ahead of the Tigers; the Indians are also the only team in the division with a winning record.

While the five playoff teams seem to already be determined, seeding will be important heading into the postseason. The three division winners will secure themselves spots in the two ALDS, while the wild cards will have to play each other in the one-game playoff for the opportunity to play the No. 1 seed in an ALDS.

al-picks

Looking back at my preseason picks, it looks like I’ll have an 80% success rate on the five AL teams I projected to make it to the postseason, with my only miss being picking the Angels over the Mariners for the second wild card. I had the Red Sox and Astros winning their respective divisions, and I’ll stick with that despite the fact that the Yankees and Mariners could easily end up as division winners.

National League

The playoff picture in the National League is much murkier than in the American League, with seven teams currently within a half-dozen games of the league’s two wild cards. Not only are more teams in the race, but there are more surprising teams that weren’t expected to compete for playoff spots this season.

The biggest surprise is probably in the NL East, where the Nationals were the preseason favorites to win the division for the third straight season but find themselves a game under .500 after losing to the Red Sox on Wednesday, their fifth straight loss and giving them a 2-8 record in their last 10 games. Their subpar season has opened the door for the Phillies and Braves, and those teams are taking advantage of the opportunity for a different team to win the East. Despite losing their last series to the Yankees, the Braves remain atop the division, holding a 1.5-game lead over the Phillies. Most people expected both of those teams to start being competitive in a season or two, but they are ahead of schedule in their rebuilding processes and both look like they could be playing meaningful games in October for the first time in several years. The Nationals are seven games behind Atlanta.

Both the Phillies and Braves are getting production out of young guys, with young SPs Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin both recording sub-3.00 ERAs through the first half of the season for Philadelphia. For the Braves, 2B Ozzie Albies leads the teams in home runs and OF Ronald Acuna looks like he is on his way to earning NL Rookie of the Year honors. But it’s not just the rookies helping the Braves get to first place in the East. 1B Freddie Freeman is putting up good numbers and OF Nick Markakis could have a career year at the age of 34. While those teams are overperforming, its a subpar performance from OF Bryce Harper that is hurting the Nationals. The power is still there, with more than 20 home runs, but he’s hitting just .216 on the season.

The top two teams in the NL Central aren’t surprising, but the order may be. The Brewers hold a one-game lead over the Cubs, with the Cardinals seven games back, in third place. And there are four teams with a realistic chance of winning the NL West. The Diamondbacks currently lead the pack, followed by the Dodgers at 1.5 games back. The Giants are in third, 3.5 games out of first, and the Rockies are five games behind the D-backs.

The Cubs and Phillies currently hold the two wild cards in the NL, with the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals and Rockies all within five games of the second wild card; the Nationals are 5.5 games back, while the Pirates still have a shot as they sit 7.5 games behind the Phillies.

nl-picks

Taking a look at the mess that is the NL playoff picture, I’m going to say that four of the five teams that currently hold playoff spots will stay there, with the Cardinals overtaking the Phillies for the second wild card. I think the Phillies will struggle a little in the second half and fall out of the wild card. I think the Cardinals have a run in them and will make the postseason. So my five playoff teams as of today are the Braves, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Cubs and Cardinals. So that is two changes from my preseason picks, above, with the Nationals and Dodgers falling out of my postseason projections.

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The latest MLB All-Star Game voting results: Are the fans getting it right?

Voting for the All-Star Game has been open for a few weeks now and with the game just under a month away, MLB has released has released its second weekly update at where the voting stands in both the American League and National League. The league made some changes to the voting process this season, notably opening the voting later than usual and greatly reducing the number of votes each person can cast, limiting it to 35 votes per email address. And it appears that those changes have led to the voting being more reflective of who actually deserves to get in the starting lineups for the All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., on July 17.

Here are the latest polling numbers, as of Monday (June 18) and Tuesday (June 19) for the National and American leagues, respectively.

National League

C Despite not having the type of season we’ve come to expect from him, with just four home runs so far in 2018, Buster Posey is leading NL catchers, with about a 90,000-vote lead over the Cubs’ Willson Contreras. I voted for J.T. Realmuto of the Marlins, who has a higher average than Posey and has hit more than twice as many home runs as the Giants’ backstop in fewer at-bats. Playing for a bad team like the Marlins, though, Realmuto isn’t getting the recognition he deserves and isn’t even in the top five in the voting.
1B The Braves’ Freddie Freeman is running away with the voting here, earning nearly 900,000 more votes than Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs. You can’t argue with the fans here, as Freeman is putting up MVP-type numbers for a first-place team that is exceeding expectations. Freeman got my vote.
2B Another Brave is getting the nod here; this time it’s Ozzie Albies, who isn’t hitting for average but does have 16 home runs on the season. It was Albies’ relatively low average that kept me from voting with him. I went with the Reds’ Scooter Gennett, who sits at third in the voting with nearly 150,000 votes to make up and Javier Baez of the Cubs sitting between him and Albies.
SS Brandon Crawford is playing for a sub-.500 Giants team, but his .315 average and eight home runs are enough for him to get enough votes to hold about a 550,000-vote lead over another Brave, Dansby Swanson, at shortstop. Crawford was my pick on my ballot.
3B Nolan Arenado of the Rockies has over a million votes, giving him a lead of nearly 450,000 votes over his closest competitor, 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant of the Cubs. I think the voting could be closer than that, but Arenado deserves to win the vote, and he was on my ballot, edging out Bryant.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Not only is Braves veteran Nick Markakis in the top three of outfield voting, but he is the leading votegetter at the position and second to only Freeman in the National League. He is joined atop the outfield voting by the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp in second and third place, respectively. Markakis leads the National League with 92 hits, giving him a .327 average that puts him on pace to set a career high. It’s Markakis’ 13th major-league season and it looks like he’ll make his first All-Star appearance, and it’s deserved based on the season he had. Having said that of the top three in voting, only Kemp got a vote on my ballot. I had the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon and A.J. Pollock of the Diamondbacks, who is currently on the DL, on my ballot. Blackmon is currently fourth in the voting and Pollock isn’t in the top 15. I have no argument with Kemp being in the top three, but Harper isn’t deserving of it. He has 19 home runs, but he’s hitting just .212. The game is in his home ballpark, though, and he’s one of the bigger names in the sport so he’s getting votes, for better or worse. If I were to redo my vote now, I’d replace Pollock with Markakis.

American League

C This is probably the most surprising result to me — in a good way. Yankees C Gary Sanchez led the voting at the time of the first update last week, despite a sub-.200 average, but he has now been overtaken by the Rays’ Wilson Ramos, who is hitting .286 with nine homers. Ramos, who leads by about 60,000 votes, got my vote and will hopefully hang on to the lead throughout the balloting.
1B Jose Abreu of the White Sox sits atop the voting at first base, with about 160,000 more votes than Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox. They have very similar numbers at this point of the season. Abreu has a slightly better average and one more home run. I think he has a more recognizable name than Moreland, which helps him in the voting, but I put Moreland on my ballot.
2B The Astros’ Jose Altuve in this second voting update has taken over the overall lead in both leagues, with more than 1.5 million votes. The reigning AL MVP is more than a million votes ahead of the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres. While Altuve’s power numbers are down this year, he is the only player in the majors to surpass 100 hits so far this season, with 102. And his .342 average is the best in MLB. He got my vote.
SS The Orioles have the worst record in the majors, but that isn’t stopping people from voting for Manny Machado at shortstop. And that is understandable with a .310 average and 18 home runs for a player who could be traded before the trade deadline. The Astros’ Carlos Correa is behind Machado in voting, almost 145,000 votes back. It’s surprising that Correa is ahead of the Indians’ Francisco Lindor, who’s in third place. Machado got my vote.
3B The Indians’ Jose Ramirez leads the voting at third base, which isn’t surprising since he’s hitting .289 with 21 home runs, but the player in second place is surprising. The Yankees’ Miguel Andujar is ahead of the Astros’ Alex Bregman. It doesn’t matter, though, since Ramirez has a lead of nearly 400,000 votes and should end up as the starter. He was on my ballot.
DH There’s no surprise here, with Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez leading the voting. He’s having a terrific first season in Boston, hitting .315 with 22 homers. He got my vote, and he’s really the only viable choice at DH.
OF There are three big names in the top three outfield spots, and they’re not very surprising. Mookie Betts of the Red Sox is leading at the position, fewer than 4,000 votes behind Altuve for the overall lead, with the Angels’ Mike Trout and Yankees’ Aaron Judge also in position to start in the All-Star Game alongside Betts. They are the only three outfielders in the AL with more than a million votes. The Indians’ Michael Brantley and the Astros’ George Springer round out the top five, but they’re both about half-a-million votes behind Judge. The three outfielders who currently lead the voting are also the three who I had on my ballot a couple weeks ago.

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I’m sticking with the matchup of the Astros’ Justin Verlander and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer that I chose in the post that I revealed my ballot.

The only real issue I have is Posey over Realmuto at NL catcher and the other positions where I disagree with the voting, an argument can be made for the current leader. And the fans are getting it right at AL catcher, with Ramos taking the lead away from Sanchez.

The next voting update is scheduled for next week, with voting running through July 5.

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My 3rd annual way-too-early MLB All-Star Game ballot

Over the last couple of years, I’ve written about some things I don’t like about the balloting for the MLB All-Star Game, and the league has made some changes this year that improve the process, in my opinion. First, the ballot was released on Friday, nearly a month later than voting has started in the past, and there are fewer votes allowed per email address. My big beef the last two years was the league allowing people to vote up to 35 times per day per email address. This year, they’ve changed the voting to allow for five ballots per day per email address, with a total of 35 ballots cast per email address throughout the voting period. This change will hopefully allow for less ballot-box stuffing and increase the likelihood of deserving players getting voted into the starting slots.

Despite the later start to the voting, I’m continuing with the tradition of calling my first ballot “way-too-early” with additional updates during the voting period, which ends on July 5, which is 10 days before the game is set to be played in Washington, D.C., on July 17.

American League

1B Mitch Moreland, Red Sox: Moreland is getting a chance at regular playing time and is doing well enough that the Red Sox were willing to release DH Hanley Ramirez, who had been platooning with Moreland. With an average around .300 and nine home runs, I’m giving Moreland the nod over a guy like Jose Abreu, of the White Sox, who is putting up comparable numbers.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros: Altuve’s power numbers are down compared to last season, but he’s still near the top of the American League with a .332 batting average. The only other AL second baseman who’s hitting better than .300 is Yankees rookie Gleyber Torres. An argument can be made for either player, but the reigning MVP — who leads the AL in hits — gets my vote.
SS Manny Machado, Orioles: Machado and the Indians’ Francisco Lindor are both having great seasons, but Machado is hitting about 20 points better, with more homers and RBI on the season so he’s the choice to make here. Lindor would still make the team as a backup, but Machado is having the better season and gets my vote.
3B Jose Ramirez, Indians: A Cleveland infielder is getting my vote here as Ramirez is the only player at the hot corner in the AL who’s hitting both for average and power. He’s hitting around .300 and is leading the position in home runs and RBI, making him an easy choice for my ballot.
C Wilson Ramos, Rays: The veteran catcher is hovering around a career-high with a .301 batting average entering Sunday with seven homers. There are other catchers — including the Royals’ Salvador Perez and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, who have more home runs but aren’t close to Ramos in average, making him the AL’s best overall catcher in terms of offensive stats.
DH J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: The biggest offensive hole the Red Sox had last season was hitting the fewest home runs in the AL. Martinez, who signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in the offseason, is helping to change that with a MLB-best 19 home runs to go along with 50 RBI, which also leads the majors. He’s easily the best choice to make at DH.
OF Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Aaron Judge, Yankees; Mike Trout, Angels: Betts just went on the DL this weekend, but he is having one of the best seasons of all hitters in the American League, leading the league with a .359 average, in addition to 17 home runs and 37 RBI. I expect him to be back in action in time for the All-Star Game, but even if he’s not he gets my vote. There’s no sophomore slump for Judge, who is putting up similar numbers to what he did last year, when he finished as the runner-up to Altuve in AL MVP voting. And Trout is having a typical Mike Trout season, hitting .313 with 19 home runs — tied with Martinez for the major league lead — here in early June.

My first AL all-star ballot of 2018

National League

1B Freddie Freeman, Braves: Some rookies have helped the Braves get out to a surprisingly strong start in the NL East this season, but the veteran Freeman is doing his part as well, hitting .335 with nine home runs and 40 RBI.
2B Scooter Gennett, Reds: Gennett is one of the few bright spots for a Reds team that has the second-worst record in the National League. His .340 average and 11 home runs gets my vote over the Braves’ Ozzie Albies and Cubs’ Javier Baez, who are also having good seasons thus far.
SS Brandon Crawford, Giants: There’s not a standout candidate among NL shortstops, so I’ll give it to Crawford, who is hitting over .300 with six home runs.
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: Arenado is always in contention to get a start in the All-Star Game, and this year is no different with a .325 average and 12 homers entering Sunday. He edges out the Cubs’ Kris Bryant to get my vote at the position.
C J.T. Realmuto, Marlins: Realmuto began the season on the DL, but he has put up good numbers since taking the field, hitting over .300 with six home runs at a position where offense isn’t easy to come by. The Giants’ Buster Posey is having a bit of a disappointing season, by his standards, giving Realmuto a chance to get a vote on my ballot.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks; Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Two of the three choices here are the same as on my way-too-early ballot last season, with the Nationals’ Bryce Harper the one who didn’t get the repeat vote. He has 18 home runs, but is hitting just .233 — a far cry from his .319 average in 2017 — which kept him off my ballot. Pollock, who is hitting .293 with 11 homers, gets my third outfield vote instead. Kemp currently has the highest average of this threesome, at .347, and Blackmon is hitting .285 with 12 home runs.

My first NL all-star ballot of 2018

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I like to choose them, too. In the American League, the only choice is the Astros’ Justin Verlander, who has an impressive 1.24 ERA and 104 strikeouts through 13 starts, with the Nationals’ Max Scherzer getting my vote in the National League. Scherzer is 9-1 with a 1.92 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 12 starts.

I’ll be updating the ballot as the All-Star Game approaches, so keep checking back in for updates.

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