Well, a week in and us Blue Jays fans are in a better mood than last year after 7 games! It hasn’t been all sunshine and lollipops for Toronto so far, but getting a split against the Yankees then taking 2 of 3 against the White Sox is quite respectable. As well, we look at the games and see they’re doing some of the things they absolutely must do to compete this year. They’re hitting home runs, as they did last year too, but at times running the bases (see Kevin Pillar’s steal of second, third and even home in one inning against New York!) which was a sore spot last year; the starting pitching has been quite adequate across the board and the bullpen, good. (2.32 ERA in an average of just over 3 innings per game.) Almedys Diaz so far is looking more 2016 All Star rather than 2017 run-of-the-mill (.813 slugging percentage in a very limited sample of 6 games). Pillar and Smoak are hot. All the things are in place for the team to hit the 87 wins I projected and make the playoffs…but let’s remember there’s a lot of baseball to play between now and October.
To finish of the early predictions which I’ve put here the last week or so, let’s take a look at a few more …
AL MVP – Francisco Lindor , Cleveland . if the Indians cruise to their third straight division title, as they should, Lindor stands to win some hardware as voters typically opt for a standout player on a playoff-bound team. At 24,it’s only Lindor’s 4th season and by and large, his trajectory has been nothing but up so far. Although his .273 average last year was off a bit, he hit career highs in doubles (44), homers (33), RBI (89), walks (60) and OPS (.842). He’s hit more balls hard and in the air vs. ground each season, and that trend has continued thus far in the young 2018. Throw in some rather great “D” at short, and he should be obvious. Other playoff teams may have more great players “splitting the vote”.
Runners up – Jose Altuve, Houston , maybe the best player in the game, leading the league’s best team; Mike Trout, LA Angels, because he’s always good and voters like him a whole lot!
AL Cy Young – Chris Sale, Boston two reasons. One he may well be the best pitcher in the AL, if not baseball. Entering his 7th season as a starter, he’s been as dominant as anyone in the past four years, and kept improving over the past three years- 274/233/308 K, ERA of 3.41/3.34/2.90 Last year he averaged almost a striekout and a half an inning, and had his 4th 200 inning year (which a generation ago was nothing but now puts him among the game’s current elite.) His ratio of K’s to BBs was 7:1. So far, although he’s only two starts in, he’s K’d 15 in 11 innings, allowing just one run. If the skinny southpaw stays healthy, don’t be surprised to see a career high of 18 or more wins, an ERA under 2.75 and another Nolan Ryan-like strikeout total. The second reason- as long as he’s in the running, voters may well go the Denzel Washington route. Just like Oscar voters in 2001 gave Washington an Academy award for Training Day, a year most thought he was out-acted and his performance was not one of his greats. Presumably the voters thought he had been overlooked in the past and deserved an award for his body of work. Baseball voters will do the same for Chris if he’s close.
Runners up – Corey Kluber, Cleveland ; Marco Estrada, Toronto (hey, we have to have a dark horse somewhere! I think Marco may have put it all together this year)
and the playoffs-
We already saw I pick LA over Chicago in the National with the Dodgers returning to the World Series therefore.
AL, as we saw in the past two posts, I see Toronto and Boston facing off in the Wild card, then going up against Houston while Cleveland and the Yanks would take on each other in the other ALDS.
Alas, the Sox might beat Toronto at Fenway, especially if they could arrange their pitching to get the aforementioned Sale on the mound for the one game. Either way, the Astros should make short work of eaither team.
I think Cleveland would edge out NY and go on to see Houston. Again, I see the ‘stros being too strong. Therefore…
World Series– once again, Houston vs. LA. And I would think, assuming they’re not suddenly jaded by success, Houston win it all for the second year running.
And now- drumroll please- our Blue Jays and their competition in the AL East:
Baltimore – it’s hard to know what to make of the Orioles. They’re one of a few teams that seem to neither be “All in” nor “all out” in terms of trying to win this year. As always, they should put runs on the board- Adam Jones, Manny Machado (as long as he stays by the Chesepeake), Jonathan Schoop who surprised all topping 100 RBI last year. Chris Davis on the other hand, has seen a Bautista-like offensive graph through the past three seasons, going 47/38/26 HR, .562/.499/.423 slugging and with walks dropping off as well. Now in his 11th season, it’s unlikely he’s going to be the big bat that protects the others in the lineup again. Regardless of that, while Alex Cobb was a decent (if overpaid) addition and young Dylan Bundy may progress, the rotation is still rather horrible. Brad Brach isn’t too bad, but he’s no Zach Britton – but will have to replace him in the closer’s role for half the year or more while Britton rehabs from surgery. Last but not least- Colby Rasmus. Winners. Don’t seem to go together well, do they? Projection: 70 – 92
Boston – much ado about J.D. Martinez’s signing after months of speculation, is not about nothing. Martinez is a great power hitter who should excel in Fenway and the East division, even if last season was a bit of an outlier. There’s a lot to like here, of course, from Mookie Betts who was a bit disappointing last year but still topped 100 RBI to Chris Sale who’s as likely as anyone to win the Cy Young this year, to Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen. And sophomore Third Baseman, Rafael Devers, who at age 20 last year hit .284 with 10 HR in 58 games, after hitting .311 with 20 more round-trippers in the minors. A .300/30/95 , >850 OPS year wouldn’t surprise. But there are questions still. Like sophomore Third Baseman Devers’ fielding, which has been shaky at best at any level of the game and at 6′, 240, is also a guy who perhaps lacks requisite range for the “hot corner”. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shifted to first, or DH by mid-season and perhaps Manny Machado come in via trade if Baltimore seem out of contention (which they will.) Stephen Wright and Drew Pomeranz start the year on the DL and neither look to be dominant starters when back (and in the former’s case, that will also be after a 15 game suspension for domestic violence.) A scout told Sports Illustrated the biggest challenge for the pitching coach is to get David Price’s head screwed on right; Price has the talent to be a solid #2 starter but has also got quite a chip on his shoulder about his team and city it represents. A few things could trip up new manager Alex Cora, not the least of which is Cora and his inexperience himself. Projection: 88 – 74
New York: Toronto’s already had a look at the behemoth Bronx Bombers, and well- it went better than some expected. Many seem to have already proclaimed the Yanks as the Natural Born Champions, but I’m not so sure. Indeed they have talent to spare. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton may not (likely will not) match their 2017s, but working off each other in the hitter-friendly parks should top 80 homers and 200 ribbies between themselves if they stay mainly healthy. Didi Gregorius is starting to look like a fitting replacement for Derek Jeter after being a regrettable choice having a tough job; the 28 year old has gone from .265/.276/.287 average, 9/20/25 homers through the past 3 seasons, all the while improving his fielding to be now, above-average at short. Neil Walker was a great veteran addition at second. Sonny Gray’s an under-rated starter and a nice followup to power-throwing young Luis Severino who will be in only his second complete season with them after lowering his ERA by better than 2 runs last year to 2.98. CC Sabathia isn’t All Star material anymore, but is a reliable innings-eater who should have his 12th 30-start year and has a chance to make it to 250 career wins (he needs 13 to hit that now lofty plateau.) New manager Aaron Boone has lots to work with, but still has a few potential problems with some aging veterans, a weak bottom end of rotation and Aroldis Chapman as closer. He throws bullets, but never has become the dominant, wily pitcher the Reds, then NY hoped him to be. Projection- 95 – 67
Tampa Bay – The Rays had 694 runs last year, one more than Toronto at the bottom of the AL. They responded by getting rid of Franchise Player Evan Longoria, as well as Stephen Souza and Logan Morrison. They brought in Carlos Gomez (who hit just 17 HR with homer-happy texas last season) to replace them. Denard Span and Kevin Kiermaier give them speed and “D” in the outfield, but there’s little to cheer on the field and too few fans in the stands to cheer for them anyway. Pitching-wise, they’re a bit better but the loss of Odorizzi and Cobb will hurt. I personally am not a huge fan of Chris Archer. He’s ok, by all means, but no “Ace”. He’s perceived as a “kid” but will be 30 before season’s end, and is two full seasons removed from what so far is his “Career year”, in which he hit highs in wins (12), innings (212), strikeouts (252) and best in ERA (3.23) On a given day he can look unhittable, but just as likely as not, he’ll struggle to make it through 5 next time to the mound. It’ll be a long summer on the Gulf Coast. Projection: 65 – 97
Toronto – I’ll look at our Jays in a bit more depth next time out. In short, they need more production than they had last year if they want to compete, and while perhaps Solarte and Diaz will do that by improving upon last year’s IF backups Goins and Barney (and are likely to be everyday players like Goins was last year) and with Randal Grichuk seen as a power threat, they’ll really need two more things: Justin Smoak to prove that last year’s April-July weren’t flukes, and a more aggressive approach on the bases. Today’s 2 homers from Justin and incredible three steal inning (including stealing home!) from Kevin Pillar go a ways towards suggesting they will see that happen. I personally think Pillar could be a “breakout” player in 2018, perhaps hitting career highs in average, slugging and steals. the pitching should be very good if the starter’s stay in good health; starting depth isn’t a strength. The bullpen however, is a strength and if any fall down there, Buffalo should be able to provide quick and effective replacements. Projection : 87 – 75
So where does that leave us: With New York, Cleveland and Houston in as division champs and Bosox and our own Blue Jays in the Wild card game. Houston should take on the wild card, New York and Cleveland battle each other. I’d go with Cleveland over the Bronx, and Houston, alas,over either Toronto or Boston.
Here’s what my picks look like with the “panel of experts” from SI, Yahoo and USA Today mentioned in the NL column.
|my pick||top pick of others||second pick||third pick|
|East||New York||New York (11)||Boston (3)|
|AL Champ||Houston||Houston (5)||New York (4)||Cleveland (3)|
Well on Day 2 of the season, we’ll shift our gaze westwards and look at the American League’s Central and West divisions.
The long and short of it, the way I see it:
Cleveland 97 65 —
Minnesota 86 76 -11
Chicago 70 92 -27
Kansas City 69 93 -28
Detroit 66 96 -31
Houston 99 63 —
Seattle 84 78 -15
L.A.Anaheim84 78 -15
Texas 75 87 -24
Oakland 69 93 -30
The skinny: Cleveland could actually over-achieve this year, with a schedule thick on weak opponents. Their top of rotation 1-2 of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco is as good as any in the league and the rest of the rote is better than most as well. Francisco Lindor is quickly becoming recognized as up there with Jose Altuve as the best all-around player in the league; third baseman Jose Ramirez might join the ranks this year . He’s 25 and over past 3 seasons his average has gone .219/.312/.318 and his slugging percentage, from a dismal .340 to a rather stellar .583. A bounceback year from Jason Kipnis wouldn’t be surprising, after missing nearly half of last year with injuries. But, as much as I like EE, I think Encarnacion is following his buddy Jose Bautista on the downward slope.I’ll be surprised if he hits .250 or 32 homers this year.
Minnesota were the surprise of ’17, and congrats to Paul Molitor for turning the team around. The addition of Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi to the rotation improves the team, and I’m not alone in thinking Byron Buxton is about to become the superstar everyone projected him as a few years back. Still, Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier have seen better years, the bottom of the rotation is shaky and Fernando Rodney was a risk as a closer back when he was in his prime- which was long ago. They’re not quite there yet, but are a team going in the right direction.
Likewise, the White Sox. Yoan Moncada signals a movement towards good young players, catcher Wellington Castillo was a great addition at, and behind,the plate but there are a lot of holes to be filled. Six years back, I would’ve liked James Shields as the Opening Day pitcher. By now I’d be wary of having him on the roster, let alone the “Ace.”
Heading in the opposite direction, KC. Little remains of their 2015 championship team, and the parts that are there (like Kevin Herrera) are largely on the downward slope. Mike Moustakas is back, of course, and probably disgruntled. I expect him to be moved on elsewhere by the end of July.It’s gonna be a long ninth season on the bench for Ned Yost.
The best new addition to the Tigers is aging manager Ron Gardenhire. No Justin Verlander, no Ian Kinsler. Miggy’s still there, but the future Hall of famer is a very old 34 as he heads into his 16th season. His .249 average and .399 slugging last year were career lows – they’re not going to go up anytime soon (but he doubtless ads a maturity to the young clubhouse.) The Blue Jays look pretty smart with the David Price trade of ’15… neither Daniel Norris nor Matt Boyd look like they’re amounting to much so far but both are in the rotation.
Westwards, hello Harris County! The reigning World Champions look like World Champion repeaters on paper at least. They’ll have timeless workhorse Justin Verlander for the whole season, added a rising star in Gerritt Cole and already had a good rotation. Brad Peacock is bumped to the bullpen, which shows how strong the pitching is. Then there’s multi-time batting champ Jose Altuve, and the likes of Carlos Correa (23) and Alex Bregman (24) who are young still and improving, believe it or not. Even Yuli Gurriel, 33, is possibly not at his peak , given that he’s only had two MLB seasons behind him. The only reason I project Houston to win “just”99 is the possibility of a bit of complacency setting in, or injuries.
Seattle have in recent years always seemed better on paper than on the field, which is why I don’t see them hitting the post-season in 2018. A big comeback from 3B Kyle Seager and one-time superstar “King Felix” could change that. Canadian James Paxton could take over the Hernandez “crown” as king of the mound, if he can stay healthy all year and go past 180 innings.
The Angels may be the most interesting team to watch this year, with their additions and of course, the Japanese sensation, Shohei Ohtani. He’s really the key to the team’s success. He can throw very hard (past 100mph) but was hit hard in spring and may not be just a hurler rather than a real “pitcher” at his young age. Will the power hitters catch up to his speed ? We’ll have to watch and see. Even more of a question, can he hit? Spring training suggested “No”, but he did score a single in the opener. If he’s a flop at the plate, the Angels are in a hard place. He picked their team essentially on a promise of being a regular DH, but what happens if his bat costs them games? There are other problems Anaheim way anyway; although they should score runs, they’ll give up plenty too. whether they opt for a normal 5-man rotation or a new 6-man, the pitching is mediocre at best.
Texas do things big,and with the likes of Nomar Mazara, Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo, they’ll hit a lot of big flies. But the fielding looks questionable and beyond Cole Hamels…there’s a whole lot of “ifs” on their mound. “If” Mike Minor can come back from all those surgeries, “if” Martin Perez can become more consistent, “if” Tim Lincecum can return to 2011 form (the last time he had an ERA below 4 or limited runners to less than 1.25 per inning) and convert to the bullpen, maybe they won’t be so bad.
Little hope of that inOakland. Jonathan Lucroy was a great addition both in his veteran stature and as an above-average catcher but there’s not a whole lot there to turn one’s head. Not a terrible team, but one that doesn’t stand out in any way at all.
So, later this weekend we’ll look to what we Jays fans care about- the AL East!
Woo hoo! Opening day is here again! With our Blue Jays only hours away from taking the field (and honoring the late great Roy Halladay beforehand) it’s time to look ahead and predict what might happen this season…although the unexpected is really half the fun of the long, 162-game summer!
Today I’ll start with the league we have a little less interest in, the National.
Without further ado, here’s my best guess for the standings come Sep. 30:
Washington 92 70 —
New York 86 76 -6
Atlanta 77 85 -15
Philadelphia 73 89 -19
Miami 63 99 -29
Chicago 91 71 —
St. Louis 86 76 -5
Milwaukee 84 78 -7
Cincinnati 72 90 -19
Pittsburgh 67 95 -24
L.A. 95 67 —
Colorado 87 75 -8
Arizona 86 76 -9
San Fran. 78 84 -17
San Diego 67 95 -28
Clearly this would result in Colorado being in the Wild Card, hosting either St.Louis, New York or Arizona (wouldn’t that make for an interesting final weekend of the regular season!) Winner would ten play L.A. while Washington would host Chicago in the other NLDS. I tend to think whichever of the three wild card opponents face Colorado, they’d win. So here’s how I see that playing out:
wild card: St. Louis over Colorado
NLDS: LA over St. Louis Chicago over Washington
NLCS: LA over Chicago
so, there you have it. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I see the Dodgers making another run at the World Series.
Now to see how my predictions stack up against others, I’ve looked at USA Today, Yahoo and Sports Illustrated. The former put forward 7 experts,Yahoo, 6., making for a total of 14 opinions besides my own. Here’s how they see things. The top, second and third picks are from the 14 other sources cited with number behind the number of “votes”:
|Category||My Pick||Top Pick||Second Pick||Third Pick|
|West||L.A.||L.A. 13||Col. 1||–|
|NL champ||L.A.||Wash. 6||Chicago 5||L.A. 3|
Clearly there’s not much variation in picks until we get to the Championship series, so it could be a good year for a Dark Horse! By the way, the only “dissenting” vote was one USA Today writer who saw the Rockies winning the West.
A few thoughts before we go: I call it the “Curse of Strasburg”. Or “curse of cockiness”. The Nationals have clearly been the best team in the NL East this decade, and still are, but have yet to even make it to the NLCS. In fact, for all their stars and glory, they’ve won a grand total of 7 playoff games in their history. Deciding to shelve their top pitcher, Stephen Strasburg back in 2012 seemed to start their run of October bad luck, and whether it’s an angry Magic 8 Ball, too much over-confidence from the clubhouse to Owner’s box or perhaps just the fact that beyond their top three starters, they’re not that good, it seems like a Washington characteristic – ease to a division championship then tank. With the team one of the older ones around, I don’t see that changing this year- but i see a change next year with Atlanta and Philly both on the ascent and Bryce Harper likely as not gone to greener pastures. This might be the last year in the near future the window is open for D.C.’s team to do anything much.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the Marlins. They were surprisingly good last year but as we know Derek Jeter and his cohorts have cleaned house there to the dismay of soith Florida fans. I almost think my prediction of 99 losses for them conservative. For one thing, chances of them finishing the year with the roster they have now are slim. Catcher J.T. Realmuto and infielder Starlin Castro both want out and will probably be accomodated. Meanwhile, there’s already strife in the clubhouse between the few veterans like Dan Straily who say they’re happy to stick it out and those demanding a trade. A tumultous clubhouse is seldom good in a winning environment. In a bad setting, it can be disastrous.
I see the Cards have signed reliever Greg Holland today. I think that will solidify their chances to finish ahead of Milwaukee, a team with a good field but rather shaky starting pitching.
Out west, boy- if you could combine the Rockies position players and D’backs pitchers, you’d have a World Series team. But you can’t, so I see the money and talent of L.A. holding them both at bay easily. I do,for the record, think Colorado has the best hitting team in the game and that Carlos Gonzalez is going to have a comeback year and Nolan Arenado should take home the MVP if his team make the playoffs in any capacity.
The Giants tried, bringing in aging stars Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria but it looks like their year’s over before it begins with ty Blach their opening game pitcher. Madison Bumgarner has a broken hand and Jeff Samadzjia is out with a pec strain and by the time they’re both back, the Giants could already be buried 10 games out. They should however, be better than last year’s mystifying 64-98.
Well, this weekend I tackle the real fun – the American League.