So, as noted in last post, I’m fearlessly predicting a Blue Jays repeat as division champs, along with Texas in the West and Cleveland in the Central, with Detroit and either New York or Houston making the wild card. Which will lead many to ask why not KC?
The Royals have done a great job of maximizing results from their “blue collar” lineup and perhaps set off a new trend in baseball, namely putting less emphasis on the starting rotation and more on the tail-end of games, aka the bullpen, and on defense. I give them props, but don’t see the magic continuing on this season. Asking Kendrys Morales at an old 32 to repeat his 106RBI production might be a bit much– and then there’s the bullpen.
The Royals magic in their championship seasons has largely been the amazing bullpen, as we know. Now, I have no problem with Wade Davis taking over the closer’s role that he inherited last season when Greg Holland got injured. Davis is as good, if not better, than Holland was at his peak – how many pitchers could post a season with an ERA of 1-even and then improve? Exactly what Wade did last year, lowering his ERA to a microscopic .94 and allowing only 33 hits through 67 innings. Davis will be lights out. problem is, who takes over for him as a “set up”? Kevin Herrera is quite decent, but not below-one ERA good, and besides who then takes over Herrera’s spot, or (new Blue Jay) Franklin Morales? The pair combined for 139 appearances in the middle innings last year, something the R’s haven’t been able to replace with this year’s roster.
Last but not least, the Royals now have the proverbial bullseye on their backs. As reigning World Series champs and two-time AL winners, they are now the team to beat; the team other teams shake up their rotation for to make sure the “ace” pitches against them, the team the kids of the other teams want to beat for bragging rights. A KC lead in the sixth will no longer be an automatic win this year, and with a rotation of the likes of Volquez and Duffy et al, the leads may be scarcer than a year back.
As for the Astros, the trendy pick to win this season… maybe. You have to admire a team that can go from 51 wins to 86 in just two years as Houston did; you have to love tiny Jose Altuve and the intensity plus skill he plays with. Altuve’s always a decent shot to win the batting title and should notch yet another 200 hit season; Carlos Correa has a lot of pressure on his young shoulders given how high projections for him are but might measure up. He’s off to a red-hot start and could easily be the best shortstop in the league by the mid-season classic. The pitching is fine, but not legendary; no AL Cy Young winner in the past six years has matched let alone bettered his Cy season (Felix Hernandez did up his win total from 13 to 14 but did so while having his ERA jump by over a run. If I was a Houston fan, I’d be plenty happy if Keuchel could finish with 16-10, 3.20.
Moreover, it’s tough to imagine them cutting down from their AL-worst 1392 strikeouts at the plate, opposition pitchers are going to be more wise to their free-swinging ways and capitalize on it more. Or maybe it’s just me- can we really envision a championship team with “senior statesman” Colby Rasmus??
We’ll look at the road ahead for Toronto next time…