While I’ve of course focussed primarily on the Blue Jays when discussing the upcoming trade deadline this month and the possibility of players moving around, most if not all of the 30 MLB teams will be busy in the next twelve days. some will be adding, others subtracting (albeit, with an eye to adding to their future selves.) Only a few – Oakland, Washington, for instance- are in a place where they’re not clearly buyers or sellers. Which leads us to the first big. blockbuster trade of the July madness- yesterday’s confirmation of a long-rumored deal sending superstar infielder Manny Machado to the LA Dodgers. In return, Baltimore get back 5 minor league players, a pretty hefty payback compared to most July trades. Who’s the winner?
Well, like most good trades the answer is quite probably “both.” the Dodgers greatly enhanced their chances not only of holding onto the NL West division but returning to the World Series this fall whereas the Orioles, who have nothing much to hope for in the 2018 season (at 28-69, even catching Toronto for 4th place in the AL East is a longshot and their only real objective perhaps would be to best their 1988 mark of 54-107, worst in their team history) should win down the road, assuming even one of the 5 young ‘uns turns into a reasonable major leaguer down the road.
There’s a decent chance of that, since the top name they got back was Yusneil Diaz, an outfielder from Cuba the Dodgers had spent over $30 million on so far, between signing bonuses, legal fees to get his immigration from Castro’s island approved and completed and so forth. Athlon sports noted the 21 year old was “talented” and “hit .332 in AA debut last year”. The others are two pitchers, and two infielders, neither considered sure-things but all rated as having adequate potential. A team winning less than 30% of its games is sure to benefit from even ordinary talent into its system.
For the Dodgers, the payoff is obvious. They’ve been heating up of late, finally overtaking Arizona for first in their division after winning 12 of their last 20, but at 53-43 and with only a half game lead, they’re far from a shoo-in to even make the post-season again, let alone make it back to the World Series for a second straight year. Although leading the West, if they dropped one game, they’d be behind Arizona and behind Atlanta for the final Wild Card spot. Where almost any team would benefit from a solid-hitting, smooth-gloved Machado, LA seems especially likely to see it pay off as their regular star shortstop, Corey Seager is on the DL and not likely to even return this year, recovering from elbow surgery. Since he went down, Chris Taylor’s been filling in, with so-so results. He’s hitting .253 with 11 homers and a .786 OPS and has been caught stealing more times than he’s succeeded. All the numbers are down from last year for him. He’s been of decent, but unspectacular glove in 60 games at short.
Machado will therefore keep playing SS, which he says he prefers over his past spot at third, and where he looks quite at home. So far in Baltimore this year, he’s been just a bit shy of Mark Belanger-ish with his glove at the new position, with only 8 errors but a very sharp 54 double plays turned in 91 games. He looks like a Gold Glove veteran in his first year at that spot, but even if he were lead-gloved, his bat alone would be enough for most teams to want him in the lineup every day.
So far in ’18, Machado’s en route to a career year, hitting .315, with a .575 slugging percentage and .963 OPS, all career highs. His 24 homers and 65 RBI put him on a pace to better his 2016 highs of 37 and 96. While there could be a couple of caution signs for LA to watch for ( for instance, he hits far better in hitter-friendly Camden Yard than on the road, with him hitting only .274 on the road this year and only 7 of the longballs coming outside of Baltimore) there are more reasons to be optimistic (for instance, he improves with runners in scoring position, hitting .352 in such at bats. And last year,he improved after the All Star break, hitting 60 points higher and driving in more runs despite that part of the year being 10 fewer games for him.) All things considered, he’s bound to drive in more runs for LA than Taylor … and add a spark.
It’s tough to over-estimate the effect the addition of a star to the lineup can make at the mid-summer break or just after. It shows the players their bosses have confidence in them, brings more cheering fans to the stands and in many cases brings in a new level of work ethic or enthusiasm in the dugout. Last year’s World Series champs knew it, picking up aging Justin Verlander just minutes before the final trade deadline. Justin looked rejuvenated, pitching like the 2011 MVP version of himself, going 5-0 with a microscopic 1.06 ERA in September, then continuing on to be a rock in the playoffs, with a 2.21 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance. (since joining Houston, he’s a cumulative 18-6 with a 2.09 ERA through 31 starts). There’s little doubt the Astros would not be World Champions without his addition late last year. Likewise, the 2016 World Champion Cubs benefitted no small amount by solidifying their bullpen at the end of July by bringing in fireballing Aroldis Chapman who did the best pitching of his career through August-September of that year, picking up 16 saves, striking out 46 in just over 26 innings and boasting an ERA barely over 1. He was a bit iffy for Chicago in the playoffs, but it’s highly doubtful they’d have made it to Game 7 of the Fall Classic without him.
Will the Dodgers benefit similarly come October? Well, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played and surprises always happen, not to mention more players to be traded. But I think they greatly enhanced their chances to win it all and have all but locked up the NL West again this year. I didn’t expect Arizona to hang onto the division before, now they’re going to really have to up their game- and probably their payroll via trades- to have a ghost of a chance. Going into the post-All Star period, I now see LA as being the National’s most likely champion and about on par with Boston as the likeliest to be partying come November.
My current predictions on team’s chances to be World Series champions are like this (number is percentage chance, which I arrive at by chances of winning division or wild card,then of winning the league playoffs)
LA Dodgers , Boston 17%
New York Yankees 12%
Chicago Cubs 10%
Arizona, Atlanta, Washington 4%
Seattle, Philadelphia 3%
Oakland, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Colorado, San Francisco 2%
That of course could easily change with a Cole Hamels going here or Adam Jones there! Bring on the “Second Half”!
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.
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.