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MLB Weekly-ish: Surprising teams, injuries mark the start of the season

Looking Back

We’re a couple weeks into the 2018 MLB season with most teams having played about 15 games thus far and there are a number of teams that are surprising people by their performances — both good and bad — and some star players are dealing with injuries in this season’s first edition of MLB Weekly.

Taking a look at the standings entering Sunday, the Mets — who are coming off a 70-92 season — are coming out of the gate strong with the best record in the National League and leading the NL East at 11-2. The Nationals, who were the favorites to win the division, sit in fourth place with a 7-8 mark. The Mets’ struggles last season were caused by injuries, with the starting rotation hit particularly hard, so they were expected to have a better season this year assuming health. Through two weeks, their pitchers haven’t dealt with injuries, but C Travis d’Arnaud will undergo Tommy John surgery, which will end his season, and backup C Kevin Plawecki is also on the DL with a broken hand that is expected to keep him out of action for a few weeks. Apart from SP Zack Wheeler, who has a 1.29 ERA in his only start, none of the Mets’ starters have a sub-3.00 ERA but only SP Matt Harvey, who has the worst injury history of the group, has posted an ERA above 4.00 with a 3.60 ERA in his first two starts, but that should get better if he can stay healthy for the first time since 2015.

There’s also an unexpected team at the top of the standings in the NL Central, with the 10-4 Pirates 2.5 games ahead of the second-place Cardinals and the improved Brewers. The Cubs — who have won the division each of the last two seasons — are in fourth place at 7-7. After trading their best pitcher (SP Gerrit Cole) and hitter (OF Andrew McCutchen), the Pirates were thought to be in rebuilding mode and not expected to be competitive in the division in 2018. They are getting production, though, from two of the hitters they added this winter: OF Corey Dickerson, who they acquired in a trade with the Rays, is hitting .347 with 10 RBI and a couple of steals while 3B Colin Moran, who came over from the Astros in the Cole trade, is hitting .316 with 8 RBI in his first 11 games with the team. A couple of young pitchers have had terrific starts to their seasons, with SP Jameson Taillon posting a 0.890ERA with 18 strikeouts in his first three starts and SP Trevor Williams with a 1.56 ERA and 10 strikeouts in three starts.

In the American League, the Angels and Red Sox were both expected to be in the playoff picture this season but not many people expected them to get off to the kinds of starts they they have. The 12-2 Red Sox have been getting it done on the mound, with the second-lowest ERA in the American League. They’ve also been getting offensive production out of SS Xander Bogaerts — who is currently on the DL — and OFs Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez, who are all hitting .353 or better. For the Angels, the much-hyped Shohei Ohtani has shown his subpar spring training performance was a fluke and has gotten off to a hot start both at the plate and on the mound. He’s hitting .367 with 3 home runs and 11 games in eight games as a DH and has posted a 2.08 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 13 innings in his first two starts of the season. OF Mike Trout, a perennial MVP candidate, is having the type of season people have come to expect from him with 6 home runs in his first 16 games.

It’s not good news for every team, though. The Cubs are one of the bigger disappointments early in the season at .500. That is due in large part to their pitching. Of their five starters, only SP Kyle Hendricks has a sub-4.00 ERA, and it’s not overly impressive at 3.71. SP Yu Darvish, who the Cubs signed to a big contract this winter despite his struggles in the postseason, has a 6.00 ERA in three starts. The Yankees, who were a game away from making the World Series in 2017, are also 7-7 as they sit in third place in the AL East, but the biggest disappointment early in 2018 is the Dodgers. Coming off their first World Series appearance since 1988, the Dodgers are just 4-9 and 6.5 games out of first in the NL West. Part of that is because 3B Justin Turner started the season on the DL and has yet to play in a game, but they’re not getting much out of SS Corey Seager, who hit .293 last season but is at .196 entering Sunday. The starting pitching is a mixed bag, with Clayton Kershaw sitting at a 1.89 ERA but SP Alex Wood posting a 5.09 ERA and SP Rich Hill at a 6.00 ERA. Closer Kenley Jansen is 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA and a couple of saves in his first six appearances of the season.

The first couple weeks of the season haven’t been kind to teams in terms of injuries, with the list of players currently on the DL including: Angels SP Matt Shoemaker; Rangers OF Delino Deshields, SS Elvis Andrus and 2B Rougned Odor; Phillies SP Jerad Eickhoff; Blue Jays SS Troy Tulowitzki and 3B Josh Donaldson; Giants SPs Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and RP Mark Melancon; Indians SP Danny Salazar; Royals C Salvador Perez; Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia; Marlins C J.T. Realmuto; Yankees 1B Greg Bird, SP CC Sabathia and 3B Brandon Drury; White Sox SP Carlos Rodon; Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy and OF Adam Eaton; Pirates SP Joe Musgrove; Mariners DH Nelson Cruz; Diamondbacks 3B Jake Lamb; Padres OFs Wil Myers and Manuel Margot; Brewers SP Jimmy Nelson, RP Corey Knebel and OF Christian Yelich; and Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo.

The Week Ahead

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The Angels and Red Sox are the best teams in the American League right now, and they begin a three-game series in Anaheim on Tuesday after the Red Sox host the Orioles Monday in their traditional 11am start on Patriots’ Day. The Astros begin a weeklong road trip on Monday with the first of four at the division-rival Mariners in Seattle. The classic Cubs-Cardinals rivalry gets going for three games at Wrigley starting Monday, and longtime Yankee SS Derek Jeter brings the team he now co-owns, the Marlins, to Yankee Stadium for a two-game interleague series Monday and Tuesday. Over in Queens, the Mets look to keep their hot start going with a three-game series against the Nationals starting Monday. Later in the week, the Cubs visit the Rockies starting Friday in a series between two teams that made the playoffs last season but haven’t begun 2018 the way they would have liked. And the Dodgers look to get things going when they host the Nationals over the weekend.

In some pitching performances to look out for this week, Astros SP Dallas Keuchel looks to lock down his first win of the season Monday when he faces SP James Paxton and the Mariners. Sabathia is scheduled to come off the DL to get the start Tuesday in the Yankees’ second game against the Marlins. Wednesday sees Cole take the mound for his fourth start for the Astros as he looks to continue his streak of double-digit strikeout performances against Mariners SP Mike Leake. And there are aces scheduled to be dueling in Southern California Saturday night with Ohtani scheduled to start for the Angels and a pitching matchup of Stephen Strasburg and Kershaw on the docket for the Nationals-Dodgers game Saturday.

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Over/under and playoff picks

Now that we’ve previewed the 2018 season for 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 make my playoff picks.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: 74.5
The Braves have some young prospects with potential — including OF Ronald Acuna, who is starting the season in the minors. If they can play well this season, the Braves should be able to get to 75 wins, which is only three more than last season. I’ll go Over.

Miami Marlins: 64.5
The Marlins had a fire sale this winter, getting rid of all of their stars save for C J.T. Realmuto, and I think he’ll be dealt at the trade deadline. They should be the worst team in the majors this season. Under.

New York Mets: 81
Last year, I said the health of the starting pitchers is key to how successful the Mets will be this season. The same applies for this year. They have to be healthier than they were last season, so I think the Mets can barely go Over the 81.

Philadelphia Phillies: 75.5
The Phillies won 66 games last season and I think they’ll be better this year after adding guys like 1B Carlos Santana and SP Jake Arrieta to a roster with young guys like 2B Scott Kingery and SS J.P. Crawford, but I don’t think they’ll see 10 games worth of improvement. It’ll be close, but I’ll go Under.

Washington Nationals: 92.5
The Nationals are the best team in the division with SPs Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg on the mound and OF Bryce Harper providing power in the middle of the lineup. They won 97 games last season so I think they could be around 95 this season. Over.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: 73
It won’t be an easy road for the Orioles, who have to face the Yankees and Red Sox nearly 40 times this season. I expect them to win around 70 games, so I’ll go Under.

Boston Red Sox: 91.5
Adding J.D. Martinez this weekend will provide the Red Sox with much-needed power, which should help them stay above 90 wins this season after winning 93 in 2017. I’ll go Over.

New York Yankees: 94.5
Adding OF Giancarlo Stanton to a team that already includes OF Aaron Judge gives the Yankees a duo that could hit 100 home runs between them. Stanton’s health is a concern, though, as last season was us the second time in his career he’s played at least 150 games. I don’t think he’ll get there this year, so I’m going to go slightly Under.

Tampa Bay Rays: 77.5
The Rays won 80 games last year and I think they’ll do worse than that this season. I think who they trade — or don’t — at the deadline could be key to how well they do this season, but I think SP Chris Archer will be dealt. If he is, I think they end up Under 77.5 wins.

Toronto Blue Jays: 81
The Blue Jays aren’t the worst team in the division, but I also don’t think they’re a .500 team. They won 76 games in 2017 and I don’t think they’re five games better this season, so this is a relatively easy Under for me.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: 94.5
NInety-five wins is a lot for a Cubs team that lost Arrieta and replaced him with SP Yu Darvish, who I think is past his prime and will ultimately be a disappointment with his new team. Overall, I think the starting rotation is worse than last year, so I don’t think the Cubs get to 95 wins. They could get to 90, but that would still be Under.

Cincinnati Reds: 73.5
I think the Reds will be hard-pressed to get to 70 wins after winning 68 a year ago. Other than 1B Joey Votto, they don’t have many stars on the team. It’s going to be Under for them.

Milwaukee Brewers: 84.5
The Brewers were one of the most-improved teams this offseason, trading for or signing OFs Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. They won 86 games last season and I don’t think they’ll win fewer than that this year, so this is Over.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 73
The Pirates traded SP Gerrit Cole and OF Andrew McCutchen this winter and got mainly prospects back in return, which doesn’t bode well for their results this season. I’m not sure they get to 70 wins this season, let alone 73 so I’m going Under.

St. Louis Cardinals: 85.5
Like the Brewers, the Cardinals improved their team this offseason, adding OF Marcell Ozuna, who should hit more than 30 home runs again this season to provide more pop for an offense that already includes SS Paul DeJong, who had 25 home runs last year. I’m going Over for the Cardinals.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: 68
The White Sox don’t have much upside this season. I don’t think they’ll lose 100 games, but I think their loss total will be in the 90s, so their win total could be close to 68 but I’m going to go with what I think is the safer pick and go Under.

Cleveland Indians: 94.5
The Indians won 102 games last season, but I don’t think they break 100 again in 2018., They won more than 20 straight games last year, which I think helped inflate their win total. But they’re in a division with four teams that aren’t very good, so I think they can get up to 95 victories. Over.

Detroit Tigers: 68.5
The Tigers won 64 games last year, when they had SP Justin Verlander for most of the season. Without him on the roster in 2018, I don’t see how they beat that total. They could lose 100 games this year, so it’s Under.

Kansas City Royals: 71.5
The Royals lost 1B Eric Hosmer and OF Lorenzo Cain in free agency this winter, which will hurt them at the plate and cause them to fall from their 80-win total a year ago, but 71 wins may be dropping them a little too far. I think they’ll finish with about 75 or so wins, so I’m going Over 71.5.

Minnesota Twins: 82.5
I think the Twins won more games last year than they should have given their talent. They’ll be starting this season with SP Ervin Santana on the DL and SS Jorge Polanco serving an 80-game PED suspension, so they won’t match last year’s 85 wins. But I think they can get 83 or 84 so it doesn’t give me much margin for error, but I’m taking the Over.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: 85.5
The Diamondbacks have a good offense led by 1B Paul Goldschmidt and their pitching can be good if SP Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray continue to pitch well, like they did in 2017. I think the Diamondbacks go Over 85.5.

Colorado Rockies: 82
The Rockies won 87 games last season, but I think they’ll be worse than that this year. They’ll still be better than .500 and I think they could win 84 or 85 games, so I’ll go Over.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 96.5
The Dodgers will be without injured 3B Justin Turner to start the season, which will hurt them early on. They did trade for OF Matt Kemp, who could make up for some of Turner’s lost production. Other teams in the division got better this winter, so the Dodgers probably won’t lead the majors in wins like they did last season, with 104. They should stay above 90, though, and it’ll be close but I’m going Over 96.5. They could hit the 97-win mark.

San Diego Padres: 69.5
For the second straight winter, the Padres spent money to sign a free-agent bat, this time with Hosmer. He’ll help the offense put runs on the board, along with OF Wil Myers, who moves off of first base to make room for Hosmer defensively. The Padres had 71 wins last season, and I think they’ll have at least that many this year so I’m going Over 69.5.

San Francisco Giants: 81.5
The Giants improved their offense this season, trading for McCutchen and 3B Evan Longoria. Their starting rotation took a hit in spring training, though, with SPs Jeff Samardzija and Madison Bumgarner both suffering injuries that will keep them sidelined for a significant length of time. Those injuries will tamper expectations, but I still think they can surpass .500 this year, so I’ll go Over.

AL West

Houston Astros: 96.5
The Astros won 101 games last season and this year have Verlander or the entire season, in addition to Cole, who they acquired from the Pirates. With the offense they have — headlined by 2B Jose Altuve, SS Carlos Correa, 3B Alex Bregman and OF George Springer — and their pitching, the Astros should surpass 100 wins again this season. I’m going Over.

Los Angeles Angels: 84.5
The Angels made one of the biggest signings of the offseason with SP/DH Shohei Ohtani, but he has struggled this spring so he may not do as well as the Angels had hoped he would. I still think they can get to 85 wins behind the bat of OF Mike Trout,so I’ll go Over.

Oakland Athletics: 74.5
The A’s won 75 games last year and I think they may be a little better this season after acquiring OF Stephen PIscotty. I think they can barely get Over 74.5 wins.

Seattle Mariners: 81.5
I think the Mariners are around a .500 team. They won 78 games last year and I think they’ll end up within a couple games of that total this season, so I’m going to go Under 81.5, but it could be close.

Texas Rangers: 77.5
The Rangers are clearly the worst team in the division and I don’t think they’ll come close to the 78 wins they earned last season. I think this is an easy Under pick.

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven

Playoff Picks

National League

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

American League

AL East Champs: Boston Red Sox
AL Central Champs: Cleveland Indians
AL West Champs: Houston Astros
AL Wild Cards: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels

World Series: Astros over Brewers in 6 games

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Texas Rangers

We finish previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season with the Texas Rangers, who finished in fourth place in the AL West; the monthlong series concludes tomorrow with over/under picks and playoff predictions

The Rangers’ 78-64 record last season was 17 games worse than in 2016. They didn’t make any major moves this winter, signing SPs Doug Fister and Mike Minor and trading for SP Matt Moore. They also signed RP Tim Lincecum, but he is going to start the season on the disabled list. SP Cole Hamels remains at the top of the rotation, with 1B Joey Gallo and 2B Rougned Odor leading the charge offensively.

The Rangers had a feast-or-famine offense last season, with their .244 average tied for the fourth-lowest in Major League Baseball, but their 237 home runs were the third most in the league. They had a .750 OPS, which equaled the MLB average. Gallo’s batting average was just .209, but he hit 41 home runs with an .869 OPS. Odor put up similar numbers, with a .204 average and 30 home runs. SS Elvis Andrus hit .297 with 20 homers and 25 steals, and OF Nomar Mazara added 20 home runs and a team-high 101 RBI with a .253 average. Veteran 3B Adrian Beltre hit .312 with 17 home runs in 94 games. DH Shin-Soo Choo hit 22 homers and OF Delino DeShields stole 29 bases.

The pitchers posted a 4.66 ERA, which was in the bottom half of the majors, and they struck out 1,107 batters, which was the fewest among the 30 pitching staffs. The team recorded 29 saves, which was the second-worst in the league, behind only the White Sox. Hamels posted a 4.20 ERA in 24 starts with 105 strikeouts in 148 innings. SP Martin Perez posted a 4.82 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 185 innings over 32 starts. Fister posted a 4.88 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 90.1 innings for the Red Sox. Minor pitched out of the bullpen for the Royals last season, making 65 appearances with 88 strikeouts in 77.2 innings, and Moore put up a career-worst 5.52 ERA in 32 games — 31 starts — with the Giants; he struck out 148 in 174.1 innings. In the bullpen, RP Alex Claudio recorded 11 saves late in the season. He appeared in 70 games, posting a 2.50 ERA with just 56 strikeouts in 82.2 innings.

The Rangers’ power isn’t in question, but their ability to hit for contact is. They had one of the worst batting averages in the majors last season, and it doesn’t look to be much improved this season with the team not signing any major hitters. Guys like Odor and Gallo need to get their averages up to try to increase the chances of their teammates driving them in if they want to be competitive this season. The starting rotation is full of guys who are on the downsides of their careers, including SP Bartolo Colon, who is starting the season at Triple-A Round Rock. The closer’s role is in flux. Claudio ended 2017 with in that role, but the team is hinting he could be used in high-leverage situations earlier in games. That would leave the closer position up for grabs with LIncecum — who didn’t pitch in the majors last season and doesn’t have a timetable for his return from the DL — and RP Keone Kela among the candidates who could earn the ninth-inning job.

After finishing in fourth place in the division last season, that’s probably the best the Rangers can hope for in 2018. The A’s may have a better team this year, leaving open the possibility that the Rangers could finish the season in last place. They need to get better starting pitchers if they want to be competitive again, especially being in the same division as the Astros, who are coming off their World Series title, and the Angels, who improved their team this offseason.

That’ll do it for all 30 of our team previews — you can see them all here — but there’s one final post in this year’s 30 in 30ish series coming tomorrow; follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the blog to know when it’s posted.

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

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Oakland Athletics

Our previews of the AL West continue, with the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season is the Oakland Athletics, who finished in last place in the division last season

The A’s won 75 games last season, but that was a six-win improvement over 2016 so things appear to be looking up for the young team. Their biggest acquisition this offseason was acquiring OF Stephen Piscotty from the Cardinals. They also signed C Jonathan Lucroy and P Yusmeiro Petit. Back to lead the offense again in 2018 is DH Khris Davis while the team hopes a true No. 1 starter emerges from a rotation that currently lacks such a player.

The hitters hit .246 last season, which put them in the bottom 10 in Major League Baseball, but they were fourth with 234 home runs. They were in the top half of the league with a .755 OPS. Davis hit 43 home runs, which was the fourth-most in the majors, but hit just .247 with an .864 OPS. OF Matthew Joyce hit .243 with 25 home runs, and OF Matt Olson hit .259 with 24 home runs in just 59 games. SS Marcus Semien hit .249 with 10 home runs in 85 games, and 3B Matt Chapman added 14 homers in 84 games. Piscotty hit .235 with 9 home runs in 107 games with St. Louis. Lucroy had one of the worst seasons of his career with the Rangers and Rockies, hitting .265 with 6 home runs.

The pitchers’ 4.67 ERA was in the bottom half of the league, as were their 1,202 strikeouts and 35 saves. SP Kendall Graveman posted the best ERA in the rotation at 4.19. He had 70 strikeouts in 105.1 innings over 19 starts. SP Sean Manaea made 29 starts, posting a 4.37 ERA and striking out 140 batters in 158.2 innings. SP Daniel Mengden showed some promising signs in seven starts, posting a 3.14 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 43 innings. In 35 games after being acquired from the Nationals at the trade deadline, RP Blake Treinen recorded 13 saves with a 2.13 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 38 innings. With the Angels, Petit put up a 2.76 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 91.1 innings over 60 appearances.

The A’s have a young team, which could be good if they are able to take the next step in their careers and get the team to where it needs to be in order to be a legit playoff contender. Olson, in particular, showed promising signs, with 24 home runs in 59 games. He probably won’t be able to keep that pace up for a full season, but 35-40 home runs isn’t out of the question based on what he did with his limited playing time last season. Davis has proven he is a 40-homer hitter, so they could provide some nice power output in the middle of the lineup. There isn’t is much of an obvious leader in the starting rotation. Lucroy has to bounce back from his disappointing season and get back to the double-digit home-run totals he usually has if he wants to help the team. Graveman has been named the Opening Day starter, but he has not yet proven himself to be an ace in the first three seasons of his career. SP Jharel Cotton will miss the entire season after recently undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The A’s may have improved this offseason, but if they did it wasn’t by much, and they’re still behind division foes like the Astros, Angels and Mariners. They may be able to pass the Rangers to avoid another last place finish this season, but the A’s can’t expect much more than that because they’re still at least a couple years away from competing, especially with the rotation they have.

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

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: San Francisco Giants

Finishing up the NL West, the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season is the San Francisco Giants, who finished in last place in the division last season

The Giants had a disappointing showing last season, going 64-98 a year after making the playoffs as an 87-win team. Looking to get back to their winning ways, the Giants added some veterans with playoff experience to  the team this offseason. At the plate, they traded for 3B Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, giving up players like SS Christian Arroyo, OF Denard Span and P Kyle Crick in those two deals. They also signed free-agent RP Tony Watson and OF Austin Jackson. The newest additions to the squad join the likes of C Buster Posey, 1B Brandon Belt and SPs Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto as the Giants hope to make a push to return to the postseason in what should be a competitive NL West.

The Giants hit .249 last season, which was in the bottom 10 of Major League Baseball, and their 128 home runs were the fewest in the majors. Their .689 OPS was also the worst in the league. Posey’s .320 average led the team, but his 12 home runs were a career low; he had an .861 OPS. Belt led the team with 18 home runs, which tied his career high, but he hit just .241, which was well below his .268 career average. OF Hunter Pence hit .260 with 13 home runs, and 2B Joe Panik hit .288 with 10 homers while SS Brandon Crawford hit .253 with 14 home runs. McCutchen hit .279 with 28 home runs for the Pirates, but Longoria had a down year with the Rays, hitting .261 with 20 home ruhs, 16 fewer than in 2016.

The pitchers posted a 4.50 ERA,which was in the bottom half of the league, as were their 1,234 strikeouts. The bullpen recorded 32 saves, which was the fewest in the National League and tied for the third-worst in the majors. Bumgarner missed much of the season with injury, making only 17 starts. He did well when he pitched, though, putting up a 3.32 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 111 innings. Cueto posted a disappointing 4.52 ERA in 25 starts, with 136 strikeouts in 147.1 innings. SP Jeff Samardzija put up a 4.42 ERA with 205 strikeouts in 207.2 innings over 32 starts. RP Sam Dyson led the team with 14 saves in 38 games after being traded by the Rangers in June. RP Mark Melancon added 11 saves with a 4.50 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 30 innings over 32 appearances. With the Pirates and Dodgers, Watson posted a 3.38 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 66.2 innings, and he recorded 10 saves in 71 games.

McCutchen and Longoria should provide the Giants with much needed power at the plate, but Posey’s consistent downward trend in home runs over the past few seasons is troubling. He’s still hitting for average but isn’t as prolific of a power hitter. While the Giants helped improve the offense, they didn’t do the same with their pitching. The rotation is sure to be improved just with a full season from Bumgarner, but the rest of the starters have question marks. Cueto’s ERA went up  nearly two runs last season, and it would help the team if it could get his ERA back under 3.00. In the bullpen, the Giants have yet to name a closer and have several possible candidates to fill the role. I would expect Melancon to get the first shot at closing out games in the ninth.

The NL West could be one of the most competitive divisions in the majors this season, but I don’t think the Giants will be among the top teams in the division. Even though they got better this winter, the Dodgers are still the class of the division and the Rockies and Diamondbacks are both probably still better than the Giants, who don’t have enough pitching to make a serious run for a Wild Card. The Giants should avoid last place this season, but I don’t think they’ll do much better than that.

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

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Chicago White Sox

The AL Central teams are up next in our monthlong series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season, with the Chicago White Sox, who came in fourth place in the division last season, up first.

The White Sox are going to rely on young players to get them out of the rut they’re in — they’re coming off of five straight losing seasons and haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. Despite such a streak, they just made a couple of minor moves this offseason, adding RP Joakim Soria in a three-team trade and signing C Welington Castillo to help guide a young rotation. They also signed free-agent P Miguel Gonzalez, who played for the Sox in 2016 and 2017 before they traded him to the Rangers late last season. 1B Jose Abreu is the centerpiece of their offense, and young SPs Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer are looking to prove themselves in what could be, depending on their performance, their first full seasons in Major League Baseball.

The White Sox finished in the top half of the majors last season with a .256 average, but they were near the bottom of the league with 186 home runs and a .731 OPS. Abreu hit .304 with 33 home runs, 102 RBI and a .906 OPS last season. OF Avisail Garcia had a career year, hitting .330 with 18 home runs and an .885 OPS in 136 games, while 3B Matt Davidson hit 26 homers in 118 games in his rookie season, but his average was just .220. OF Nick Delmonico hit .262 with 9 home runs in 43 games, and much-hyped Cuban prospect 2B Yoan Moncada disappointed with a .231 average and 8 home runs in 54 games. With the Orioles, Castillo hit .282 with 20 home runs in 96 games.

The pitchers posted a 4.78 ERA, which was the sixth-worst in the majors, with their 1,193 ranking as the third-fewest in the majors. The bullpen ranked last in MLB with just 25 saves. SP James Shields, who is the projected No. 1 starter for the White Sox this year, pitched 21 games last season with a 5.23 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 117 innings. In 22 starts with the White Sox, Gonzalez posted a 4.31 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 133.2 innings. Giolito showed some promising signs, posting a 2.38 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 45.1 innings over seven starts. Things weren’t so bright for Fulmer, who appeared in seven games — five starts — and put up a 3.86 ERA while striking out 17 batters in 23.1 innings. SP Reynaldo Lopez posted a 4.72 ERA in eight games. Soria posted a 3.70 ERA in 59 appearances with the Royals last season; he struck out 64 batters in 56 innings.

The young players are going to have to step up their game if the White Sox want to improve upon their 67-win season of last year. Moncada, in particular, needs to take his game to the next level. He was part of the package the White Sox got when they traded ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox in December 2016, and hitting .231 like he did last year won’t give the White Sox the production they expected when they acquired him. Castillo gives the offense a boost, but it won’t be enough if enough of his teammates struggle at the plate. P Michael Kopech, who was also part of the haul the team got for Sale, will start the season at Triple-A but may see time in the majors at some point in 2018 if his performance warrants the call-up. SP Carlos Rodon, who underwent shoulder surgery in September, may be able to rejoin the team as soon as June.

With their roster, it’s going to be another bad season for the White Sox. They haven’t finished higher than fourth place in the division since 2012, and that streak should continue this season. They’ll probably be competing with the Tigers to avoid finishing in last place because they should be significantly worse than the other three teams 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.whitesox.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Chicago Cubs

The NL Central is the next division in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season, with the Chicago Cubs — who won the division last season — up first

The Cubs followed their 2016 championship season with a 92-win campaign last year but couldn’t get past the Dodgers in the NLCS for a second straight World Series appearance. They focused on adding pitching this offseason, signing SPs Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood, along with RPs Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek. They also signed SP Drew Smyly, who continues to recover from Tommy John surgery in July so if he plays this season it won’t be until late, and that signing was geared more toward 2019 than 2018. Part of the reason for focusing on pitching this winter is the departure of SP Jake Arrieta and closer Wade Davis. The offense remains largely intact, however, with 3B Kris Bryant and 1B Anthony Rizzo leading a lineup that includes less experienced players like OFs Albert Almora Jr. and newly svelte Kyle Schwarber.

The hitters combined for a .255 average last season, which matched the MLB average. Their 223 home runs were in the top 10 in the majors, and their .775 OPS was the sixth highest in MLB. Bryant hit .295 last season with 29 home runs and a .946 OPS. Rizzo’s 32 home runs, which tied  his career high, led the team. He also matched his career mark with 109 RBI, with a .273 average and .899 OPS. 2B Javier Baez hit .273 with 23 home runs, and C Willson Contreras added 21 homers on a .276 average. Schwarber mashed 30  home runs in 129 games, but he hit just .211. Utilityman Ian Happ showed some promising signs in his rookie year, hitting .253 with 24 homers in 115 games. In 132 games, Almora hit .298 with 8 home runs.

The pitchers posted a 3.95 ERA and recorded 1,439 strikeouts last year, both of which ranked in the top 10 in the majors, but their 38 saves were in the bottom half of the league. SP Kyle Hendricks posted a 3.03 ERA in 24 starts, with 123 strikeouts in 129.1 innings. SP Jon Lester made 32 starts, with a 4.33 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 180.2 innings. SP Jose Quintana made 14 starts for the Cubs after they acquired him at the trade deadline, going 7-3 in those games with a 3.74 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 84.1 innings. With the Rangers and Dodgers last season, Darvish started 31 games and put up a 3.86 ERA with 209 strikeouts over 186.2 innings and Chatwood posted a 4.69 ERA in 33 games — 25 starts — with the Rockies. Morrow, who is expected to start the season as the closer, is coming off of a season in which he posted a 2.06 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 43.2 innings over 45 appearances with the Dodgers.

The Cubs’ offense should put up similar numbers as last year, if not slightly better as the younger players gain more experience and come into their own. There is a question about whether Schwarber’s weight loss could hurt his power hitting, which would not be good if he continues to hit in the low .200s. There are some concerns with the starting rotation, including Lester. He is now 34 years old and coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. Can he rebound from that and get back to a sub-4.00 ERA or are the stats he put up last season what can be expected from him going forward? And when Darvish last pitched in meaningful games, he started two World Series games against the Astros, lasting just 3.1 innings total in the games with a 21.60 ERA, having allowed 9 hits, 8 earned runs and 2 walks. Can he recover from those well-publicized disastrous outings and move forward this season to live up to the long-term contract he signed with the Cubs? On the positive side, you would think Chatwood should do better this season now that is won’t be pitching roughly half his games at hitter-friendly Cors Field.

The Cubs have won the NL Central each of the last two seasons and are still the best team in the division, but the Cardinals and Brewers added significant pieces to their teams this offseason. That means it should be a tighter race in the division that it was the last couple of years and the Cubs have a smaller margin of error for injuries or underperforming. They should still win the division again, but it’ll be a pretty close race between the three teams.

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

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