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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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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Baltimore Orioles

We’re moving on to the AL East in our previews of all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season. We begin the division’s previews with the Baltimore Orioles, who finished in a tie for second place in the division last season.

The Orioles team that begins the 2017 season will look awfully similar to the 89-win team from 2016, with the exception of the loss of C Matt Wieters, who signed with the Nationals; C Welington Castillo, who played for the Diamondbacks last season, is expected to replace him as the starter. The Orioles’ biggest addition this offseason was trading for OF Seth Smith from the Mariners; he is expected to patrol right field for the O’s, joining Hyun Soo Kim and Adam Jones in the outfield. It took a while but the team eventually re-signed free-agent DH Mark Trumbo.

The Orioles’ .256 average was middle of the pack in MLB last season, but they led the majors with 253 home runs, led by Trumbo and 1B Chris Davis, who hit 47 and 38, respectively. To go along with his career-high and MLB-best home run total, Trumbo hit .256 with a .850 OPS. Davis hit just .221 last season, which represents a 41-point drop from 2015. He also had the most strikeouts in the majors with 219. Elsewhere on the diamond, 3B Manny Machado set career highs with a .294 average, 37 home runs and a .876 OPS. His 6.7 WAR ranked seventh in the American League. Jones hit .265 and launched 29 home runs while playing the hot corner. The team’s 4.22 ERA and 1,248 strikeouts ranked in the bottom half of the majors, but the bullpen’s 54 saves was the fourth most. Leading the way in the rotation was SP Kevin Gausman, who posted a 3.61 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 179.2 inning, but he went just 9-12 in his 30 starts. SP Chris Tillman had a 3.77 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 172 innings to go along with a 16-6 record in his 30 games. In the bullpen, RP Zach Britton pitched to an impressive 0.54 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 67 innings. His 47 saves were the most in the AL.

Going from Wieters to Castillo behind the plate should present just a minimal loss on offense — if any — and with the rest of the lineup remaining pretty much intact, the offense shouldn’t take much of a hit this season compared to last year. The problem is the team can’t always rely on the long ball to have a successful season so if the batting average doesn’t improve much, the Orioles won’t be in a much better situation than in 2016. A significant improvement in batting average isn’t likely in the cards, though, with guys like Davis and Trumbo, who can hit the ball out of the park but struggle with making contact if they’re not hitting home runs. The biggest change in the starting rotation is the subtraction of SP Yovani Gallardo — who was sent to Seattle in the Smith trade — and young Dylan Bundy taking on a role as starter after splitting his time between the rotation and bullpen last year in his first season at the major-league level. He wasn’t overly impressive last year, with a 4.02 ERA, but if he can take a step forward in his sophomore season it would be a boon to a pitching staff that could use some help to get better. At the back end of the rotation, SPs Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez have a history of inconsistency. If the starters can get the lead to the bullpen, and the relievers hold the lead until Britton gets into the game, the closer should be able to finish games, although he shouldn’t be expected to finish the year with another sub-1.00 ERA. But with 37, 36 and 47 saves, respectively, in the past three seasons Britton has proven himself to be a reliable closer at the end of games.

The Orioles tied the Blue Jays for second place in the division last season with 89 wins, but I don’t think they’ll do that good this season. The Yankees should be better than they were last season with some of their young prospects finally making it up to the majors. I see the Orioles being more of a .500 team this year that will likely finish third or fourth in the division so I’m not expecting another playoff appearance for the Orioles.

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.orioles.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Washington Nationals

We finish out the first division in our continuing previews of all 30 MLB teams with the Washington Nationals, who  won the NL East last season.

 

The Nationals had a busy offseason, trying to improve a team coming off a division title — its third in the last five seasons — but couldn’t get out of the NLDS. With C Wilson Ramos moving to the Rays in free agency, the Nationals looked to acquire a veteran presence with a proven offensive track record behind the plate rather than relying on light-hitting C Jose Lobaton as the starter. Early in the winter, they acquired C Derek Norris in a trade with the Padres. He will likely serve as a backup, though, because just days before spring training the Nats signed C Matt Wieters, who has spent his entire career in the region as a member of the Orioles. Wieters should get the starting job at catcher. The Nationals also made a trade with the White Sox, getting OF Adam Eaton in exchange for a trio of prospects, led by Lucas Giolito, who saw some time in the majors last season. The Nationals also traded away 2B Danny Espinosa, who didn’t have a starting role in a crowded infield that includes 2B Daniel Murphy and young SS Trea Turner up the middle. And early in spring training, they signed veteran P Joe Blanton, who may compete for a spot at the bottom of the rotation but will likely provide bullpen depth if he doesn’t get a starting role.

While not excelling on offense in 2016, the Nationals finished in the top half of MLB in most offensive categories, including batting average, home runs and OPS. Leading the offensive attack was Murphy, who had a career year in his first season with the team. He hit .347 with 25 home runs, and he led the National League with 47 doubles, .595 slugging percentage and .985 OPS. Murphy’s offensive WAR of 5.7 was good for third best in the NL. Those numbers helped him finish second in NL MVP voting, behind Cubs 3B Kris Bryant. Murphy’s performance helped pick up the slack for the disappointing year from OF Bryce Harper, the 2015 MVP, who hit .243 with 24 home runs and a .814 OPS — all career lows for a year in which he played in more than 100 games. HIs 1.6 WAR was also the lowest of his career, save for injury-shortened 2014, and a big drop-off from the 9.9 WAR he had in 2015. 3B Anthony Rendon and OF Jayson Werth each hit at least 20 home runs while hitting .270 and .244, respectively. In 73 games after being called up from the minors, Turner hit .342 with 13 home runs and 33 steals in 307 at-bats. With the Orioles last season, Wieters hit .243 with 17 home runs.

On the mound, SP Max Scherzer led a pitching staff that posted a 3.51 ERA, which ranked as the second-best in the majors behind the eventual World Series champion Cubs. The Nationals’ 1,476 strikeouts was also second, and their 155 home runs allowed were the third fewest in the majors. Where the pitching wasn’t as good was in the bullpen, with the Nationals’ 46 saves slotting in near the middle of the pack. In his 34 starts, Scherzer struck out a career-best and NL-leading 284 batters en route to posting a 2.96 ERA over 228.1 innings, earning him the NL Cy Young Award. Scherzer also led the NL with 20 wins, a 0.968 WHIP and a 6.2 WAR for pitchers. Pitching behind Scherzer in the rotation, SP Tanner Roark went 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA and 172 strikeouts and SP Stephen Strasburg won 15 of his 24 starts, posting a 3.60 ERA with 183 strikeouts. RP Jonathan Papelbon — currently a free agent — led the team in saves. RP Shawn Kelley had 7 saves last season to go along with his 2.64 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 67 appearances.

The Nationals should be improved with the additions they made to their roster, but there are some question marks that could hamper expectations for the team that won 95 games last year. One is injury-related, with Scherzer dealing with a hand injury that could cause him to miss the beginning of the regular season. A bigger worry is the bullpen and the Nationals’ lack of a bonafide closer. Kelley looks like he’ll get the first shot at the role, but his limited experience closing games could limit his success at the end of games.

The team also shouldn’t expect to get a repeat performance from Murphy, who played well above the level people have come to expect from him. In his 32-year-old season, he should regress back toward his career averages of .296 batting average and 13 home runs. On the other hand, Harper should bounce back from his down year in 2016. The 24 home runs he hit last year is around what he typically does — 2015’s 42 homers are definitely an outlier in his career stats — but he should be able to raise his .243 average significantly. Turner is a wild card with his limited experience in the majors, but if he can keep up the strong pace he got off to in his rookie season, he could be a 20-homer, 40-steal guy if he can keep up the power and speed he showcased in the second half of last season.

The Nationals look like they have a good chance of winning back-to-back division titles for the first time in franchise history, including the Montreal days. The Mets are still a good team, but the Nationals remain the class of the NL East. It may be hard to win 95 games again but the Nationals appear to be on track for another season of 90-plus victories, which should be enough for another division title. If that happens, the question becomes whether the Nationals can advance out of the NLDS for the first time since moving to D.C.

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.

Sources: http://www.nationals.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

 

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The 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame class: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez

Due to a rule change several years ago, a player only has 10 years on the writers’ ballot to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame before having to wait to potentially get inducted by the veterans’ committee. Since this was LF Tim Raines’ final year on the ballot, it was a make-or-break election for him. With 86% of the 442 ballots cast — well over the 75% needed — Raines was finally elected in the Hall of Fame this year with 380 votes. Also voted in by the writers this week are 1B Jeff Bagwell — who led all candidates with 86.2% of the vote, with his 381 votes edging Raines by one — and C Ivan Rodriguez, who netted 76% (336 votes) in his first year of eligibility. P Trevor Hoffman and RF Vladimir Guerrero fell just short of election, with 74% and 71.7% respectively. With those numbers, both are virtual locks to be elected in 2018. For comparison, Bagwell garnered 71.6% of the vote last year before vaulting up nearly 15% this year and Raines had 69.8% in 2016.

Jeff Bagwell spent his entire 15-year MLB career with the Astros after being traded to Houston in 1990 (for veteran P Larry Andersen) as a minor-leaguer while he was in the Red Sox organization. He earned National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1991 with a .294 batting average, 15 home runs and 82 RBI in 156 games. That marked the lowest full-season home-run total of his career as his power numbers increased throughout his time in the league, peaking at a career-high 47 home runs in 2000. He was voted NL MVP in the strike-shortened 1994 season, when he hit a career-best .368 with 39 home runs and a career-high 116 RBI in 400 at-bats over 110 games. His 116 RBI and 104 runs scored both led the National League that season. He was named to the NL All-Star team in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1999. Although he continued to put up decent home-run totals, his batting average started to decrease starting in 2001 as he started dealing with an arthritic right shoulder that eventually ended his career following the 2005 season.

Bagwell wasn’t just a power hitter — he could also steal bases, entering the 30-30 club in ’97, when he swiped a career-high 31 bases, and ’99. With 43 and 42 home runs, respectively, those years he actually was in even more rarified air in the 40-30 club. When his career ended, he had a .297 average and set Astros records with 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI in 2,150 regular-season games. He also had 202 steals and 1,401 walks by the time he called it a career. Before he hung up the cleats for good, though, he finally got to play in a World Series, playing in all four games of the Fall Classic when the White Sox swept the Astros.

Other honors Bagwell received during his career include a Gold Glove in ’94 and Silver Slugger awards in ’94, ’97 and ’99.

Tim Raines is most often associated with the Expos, with whom he spent the first 12 seasons of his career. He later spent five seasons with the White Sox, three with the Yankees and one in Oakland. After taking a year off in 2000, he returned in 2001, spending time with the Expos and Orioles (for four games) before joining the Marlins for his final season in 2002. He is known as a base-stealer, and for good reason; he is the most successful base-stealer — by percentage — in MLB history (min. 400 steals). He didn’t waste any time showing off his speed, notching 71 steals in his first full season of 1981, being caught just 11 times. He led the National League in steals for four straight seasons, from 1981-84, with a career-high 90 steals in 1983. He made the NL All-Star team in each of his first seven full seasons from 1981-87. His best offensive season came in 1986 when he led the NL with a .334 average and .413 OBP. The height of his power came the following year, when he swatted 18 home runs.

Raines earned a World Series ring in 1996, when he was part of the Yankees team that swept the Braves in the Fall Classic, the only time in his career that Raines made it to the World Series. He won a Silver Slugger award in 1986.

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is a rare catcher who excelled both at the plate and behind the plate. Rodriguez spent most of his 21-year career with the Rangers, also playing for the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros and Nationals for various lengths of time. Of the 2,543 games he played in his career, 2,427 were as a catcher — the most games behind the plate of any player in major-league history. His 14 all-star selections (1992-2001, 2004-07) and 13 Gold Gloves (1992-2001, 2004, 2006-07) also are the most all-time for the position.

Rodriguez was voted American League MVP in 1999, the best offensive season of his career when he hit .332 with 35 home runs, drove in 113 RBI and stole 25 bases. His 199 hits fell just shy of the 200-hit milestone. Defensively that season, he threw out 55% of potential base-stealers — that number topped the majors, one of nine seasons in which he led the majors in caught-stealing percentage. His best season in that category came in 2001, when he threw out 60% of runners who tried to steal a base against him. Back to the offense, he finished his career with 2,844 hits, which is the most in history for a major-leaguer who played at least 50% of his games as a catcher. HIs career batting average is .296, with 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI. He also stole 127 bases, which puts him near the top of the career list among catchers.

Rodriguez played in two World Series — winning it in 2003, his only season with the Marlins when they beat the Yankees in six games, and making it there again in 2006 with the Tigers, who lost to the Cardinals in five games. In addition to his MVP and 13 Gold Glove awards, Pudge won seven Silver Slugger awards (1994-99, 2004).

Also being inducted this year, who were voted in by the Today’s Game Era committee, are former team executive John Schuerholz and former commissioner and Brewers owner Bud Selig.

Percentages for other notable players on this year’s ballot include: DH Edgar Martinez, 58.6%; P Roger Clemens, 54.1%; LF Barry Bonds, 53.8%; P Mike Mussina, 51.8%; P Curt Schilling, 45.0%; OF Manny Ramirez, 23.8%

Players set to appear on the ballot for the first time in 2017 include P Chris Carpenter, OF Johnny Damon, P Livan Hernandez, CF Andruw Jones, 3B Chipper Jones, P Brad Lidge, OF Hideki Matsui, P Jamie Moyer, 3B Scott Rolen, P Johan Santana, 1B/DH Jim Thome and SS Omar Vizquel.

The 2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony is scheduled for July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

MLB Postseason Preview: American League Wild Card game — Orioles at Blue Jays

With another MLB regular season in the books, it’s time for the postseason to begin, with the first game being the American League Wild Card game, taking place Tuesday at Rogers Centre in Toronto, with the Toronto Blue Jays (89-73) hosting the Baltimore Orioles (89-73) in a battle of AL East teams. SP Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.77 ERA) is slated to get the start for the Orioles and SP Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37 ERA) is set to take the mound for the home team.

The Orioles were only three games under .500 on the road this season, which isn’t that bad, so having to play in Toronto may not be a big disadvantage for them despite the Blue Jays being nine games over .500 at home.

I’ve got to give the advantage in starting pitching to Tillman, as Stroman didn’t live up to the expectations that some people had for him this season. Tillman hasn’t been going deep into games as of late, however. The last time he pitched more than 6 innings in a game was on August 11 when he went 7 innings at Oakland, allowing 5 hits and 2 earned runs. He didn’t last more than 6 innings in any of his four starts against the Blue Jays this season. Stroman, on the other hand, went 7 innings in each of his last two starts of the regular season, going 7 scoreless against the Yankees on September 24 and giving up 4 earned runs against the Orioles on September 29. In four starts against the Orioles, Stroman went 7 innings twice, but went just 3.2 innings and 5.1 innings in the other starts.

Given those stats, you can’t expect either starter to go deep into the game, so the bullpens will likely have an impact on the outcome. The Orioles have the definite advantage there, as their relievers finished the year with the third-lowest bullpen ERA in the majors at 3.40, and the Blue Jays’ 4.11 bullpen ERA was the 22nd best in the majors. Orioles closer Zach Britton led the American League with 47 saves, which was tied for the second-most in the majors. He did not have a blown save all year. RP Roberto Osuna served as Toronto’s closer for most of the season, notching 36 saves in 42 opportunities.

Offensively, the teams are pretty evenly matched, with both set up as power teams that don’t necessarily hit for a high average. The Orioles led the majors with 253 home runs, but the Blues Jays can also hit the long ball, as their 221 home runs were good for fourth in MLB. Orioles OF Mark Trumbo was the major league leader with 47 home runs while Blue Jays DH Edwin Encarnacion was tied for third with 42 home runs.

Stroman will have to keep the Orioles’ bats quiet early in the game so Baltimore can’t get a lead to hand off to Britton in the latter innings of the ballgame because of he comes into the game in a save situation, that’ll be trouble for the Blue Jays if Britton’s season stats hold true in this game. It’ll be a close game, but I’ll pick the Blue Jays to win it.

The winning team moves on to play the AL West champion Texas Rangers in one ALDS on Thursday; the AL Central champion Indians play the AL East champion Red Sox in the other ALDS, which also begins Thursday.

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