Last but not least, the one we care most about here. I’ll be brief to get this up before we start counting All Star ballots! Will the twin powerhouses in Boston and New York still rev, or will the Rays shine brighter than expected? And of course,how about those nest rebuilding Blue Jays?
TEAM bY TEAM:
Baltimore – last year’s Orioles were appallingly bad, going 47 -115. Funny thing is, they didn’t seem too worried and did little in the off-season leading to the question, “they can’t be as bad as that again…can they?” On paper, the answer is “yes, and then some” but realistically look for them to win a few more due to law of averages, or other teams deciding to have fun and wear blindfolds on the field against them to keep it interesting or something. Still, with Adam Jones gone, they will need a big comeback from Chris Davis who had one of the worst seasons on record last year, hitting .168 with a -2.7 WAR. He’s now 6 years removed from his 50 homer, 138 RBI year, but don’t fret O’s fans. He’s under contract for 4 more years so you’ll have lots of chances to see him rebound… Dylan Bundy is their top starter and last year he served up more homers than any pitcher anywhere in 7 years. Which gives you an idea of the player value of Alex Cobb and Kevin Cashner, the #2 and 3 guys.
Boston – like Baltimore, the Red Sox rather rested on their laurels in the off-season. Unlike the Orioles, the Sox were the best team in baseball last year and won a World Championship, so not doing a whole lot might be the way to go. Big question mark (and no it’s not perennial Cy Young candidate Chris sale, even if he did give up 7 runs on opening day against Seattle) is who takes over from Craig Kimbrel as closer? Seems like Matt Barnes has been appointed that, and he should do OK, although it’s not a slam dunk. While he did stirkeout 96 in just 61 innings last year, he also walked too many (31) and had an ERA of 3.65. He’s only be called on to get 2 saves in the past three years, so how he handles pressure will be a question. But, with the offense the team has, there might not be that many close games for him to save in the 9th anyhow!
New York – the Bronx Bombers are getting tired of not winning World Series, and set out to do something about it, beefing up the rotation in the winter with James Paxton and re-upping late season acquisition JA Happ and aging CC Sabathia. With the power bats of Judge, Stanton, rookie of year near miss Miguel Andujar, the team is loaded. About the only thing that could cloud that October-blue sky for them would be injuries. Ahem… Andujar has a shoulder tear and although he says he won’t need surgery, most are skeptical and don’t see him returning this year. Sabathia’s not back yet from heart surgery last year, super-reliever Dellin Betances is out with a “shoulder impingement” and hopes to be back in May but don’t set your calendar on it… he was topping out at 93MPH in spring, about 7 miles below his usual heat. Didi Gregorious won’t be back from shoulder surgery until the All Star Break, and who knows when Jacoby Ellsbury will get back from hip surgery. Worse yet, wunderkind starter Luis Severino has a rotator cuff injury. When was the last time you saw a starting pitcher return promptly from that? And for good measure, Giancarlo Stanton just hurt his biceps and will miss at least a couple of weeks. Yet, for all that the Yanks sitll look like contenders.
Tampa Bay – glance at the Rays roster and it doesn’t look like much. But you don’t see Kevin Cash’s smoke and mirrors listed. How the Rays won 90 last year, in this divsion, is a total Sherlock Holmes case. But they made their shifts, started bullpen arms and utilized players you never heard of to win and win regularly. It would be arrogant to think they won’t do so again. Still, good as Blake Snell is, it might be tough for him to repeat his Cy performance of ’18 featuring a 1.89 ERA and club record 21 wins. He did after all,allow fewer hits last year in 181 innings than he did in 2017 in just 129 and he got knocked around on opening day by Houston who smacked 3 homers off him. But he’s a qualtiy pitcher for sure, and then players like Kevin Kiermaier (.217, only 29 RBI last year in an injury-shortened season) could bounce back and Tommy Pham looks like the next unknown hero-in-the-making after reveling in his chance to play every day once traded from St. Louis. Career highs in games and at bats last year didn’t harm his performance, and in the tail-end of the year…the tampa end… he hit .343 with a .622 slugging percentage. So how good will the smoke and mirrors be this year?
Toronto – as I write this, I’m seeing the longest-serving Jay, Kevin Pillar was just traded to SF for two minor league pitchers of little note and a backup infielder, Alen Hanson, who Athlon note is a very good left-handed hitter, but not good hitting from the right which he also does. It’s a shame to see Pillar go, especially without winning at least one Gold Glove for Toronto, which he richly deserved, but it’s characteristic of the new Jays. Last week they traded aging DH Kendrys Morales to the other Bay Area Team (Oakland) . Both trades don’t bring back a huge return but freed up roster spots for young talent; Rowdy Tellez in Morales’ case (as backup 1B and part time DH) and presumably,Anthony Alford in this one. Alford was once one of the team’s top prospects and seen as a 5-tool star in the making but his star has dipped, last year hitting a weakly .238 with 5 homers in the minors. He seems to have gottne serious and had a great spring training, so he’s another young buck we’ll have lots of chances to evaluate. Along with outfielders like Billy McKinney, Teoscar Hernandez and any number of infielders who could appear, most notably of course 3B Vladimir Guerrero who’s now rehabbing in Florida and could/should appear in Canada by the end of the month.
there’s a lot to grumble about (even the mayor quickly was commenting on what a loss to the city Pillar would be) , but a lot to be optimistic for the long-term about as well. Oddly, the initial concept was that Jays would be a good-hitting team with a thin pitching staff, but so far the reverse is true. through the first five, they’re hitting an anemic .180 as a team with only 29 hits, but the pitching has been spectacular, with the starters not allowing a run in the first four games, something not done by any team since the 1970s. One is reminded that not too long ago, before blisters, injuries and (on #6’s part) temper tantrums, both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman were among the elite of the young pitching talent in the game.
BOSTON – 104 – 58
NEW YORK – 99 – 63
TAMPA BAY- 80 – 82
TORONTO – 78 – 84
BALTIMORE – 56 – 106
A postscript that NY may struggle to get to 99 if injuries to Andujar and Severino keep them out for the whole year and that Baltimore look to me like a team that will win less than last year… but it’s mindwarping to imagine they could end up with more than 115 losses!
The New York Yankees look more or less unstoppable this season, but that doesn’t necessarily make them altogether happy. In fact at times it seems their complaining is also unstoppable. However, they may have a valid complaint with their latest, namely that the current schedule is rather … crappy.
As USA Today noted, much of the Pinstripers complaint is about the number of Sunday night games they play, a function of their popularity, ironically. ESPN pays big money for a national Sunday night game, and New York is a routine ratings draw, so MLB co-operate and give the network an abundance of Yankees games to air. The New york-Boston pairings are particularly popular. This, they fret, makes it hard when they have a Monday game in a different city. While most teams play early Sunday afternoon and could be en route to the next city, if needed by 5PM, the Yankees often have to wait until the wee hours of the morning to move on. They feel it puts them at a competitive disadvantage. A quick look at the sched shows the Yankees are granted 10 Mondays off this season, a rather large amount, and their record seems to show they’re doing OK with it, but that’s not quite the point. As the article suggests, the current makeup of the sched is decidedly unfair to many teams.
As it stands now, teams play 20 interleague games a year, heavily weighted towards games with the equivalent division (ie, American League East tend to play the National League East teams for the most part), especially the so-called “natural rivals”. These include some obvious pairings like the two Big Apple teams, the two Chicago ones, the Missouri battle between St. Louis and Kansas City… and some not very obvious or real rivalries – Houston v Colorado anyone? Continue reading
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)|
It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas… for Blue Jay fans, that is. Of course, the best Christmas gift for a ball fan would be a World Series to savor and while there’s still a long ways to go, there’s reason for optimism. With today’s win, Toronto become the first team in over 60 years to have two 11-game winning streaks in a single season. The last one to do so, the 1954 Indians, won the AL before losing the World Series. The Blue Jays will hold on to first place no matter what the Yankees do tonight against Cleveland and it’s the latest date on the calendar the Jays have been atop the division since 1993. Get the wrapping paper ready.
One might think this season is a lot like 1992, the first year Toronto won a World Championship. There are similarities. The crew of ’92 was coming off a decent season and went into spring with two big new acquisitions, the previous year’s World Series hero, Jack Morris and the big bat of Dave Winfield. Both were brought in as free agents with hopes that they’d not only produce but instill a winning attitude among the younger players.
This year’s Jays, coming off a decent but disappointing year, were also supplemented by two big acquisitions, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Again, both were brought in in hopes of seeing them not only produce on field but inspire with their attitudes and track record of winning.
As we know, Morris went on to be Toronto’s first-ever 20-game winner in ’92 and Winfield fired up the crowd and drove in over 100 runs, upping the game of the team’s noteworthy power hitter (Joe Carter) as well. Carter’s 34 HR, 119 RBI that season were the catalyst for the team’s offense and were also the second-best in each category for his career. Compare that to this year and how Donaldson is having an MVP-type campaign and is helping Jose Bautista remain among the league’s best in HR and RBI despite the frequent absence of Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup.
Significantly as well, the same as this year, Jays didn’t stand pat mid-season in 1992. At the trade deadline, they reacquired durable reliever Mark Eichorn to boost the mediocre middle-relief. More importantly, Aug. 27 they looked ahead to the playoffs and boosted their rotation by getting an established front-line starter, David Cone. It’s worth noting that after that trade, they sailed along at a 24-11 pace.
This year of course, they were much more active at the July trade deadline but also supplemented their dismal middle-relief with LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe. But they also added a star infielder and got their front-line starter a month earlier. Since the two big trades, they’ve been cruising along, losing only once and gaining some 7 games on New York in the standings.
There are of course, significant differences between the two years. The ’92 team had lacklustre middle-relievers (Bob MacDonald for instance, and future Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen who sported a 5.36 ERA out of the ‘pen) much like this year’s edition. However, the ’92 bullpen was anchored by the best 1-2 tandem in the league in Henke and Ward. The latter was the “Set-up” guy and still saved 12 with a sub-2 ERA in 79 games. That’s a little more than we’re getting out of Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil this year.
No worries though, this season’s regular lineup is better though. The Jays , 1992-style, were good hitting but hardly world-beaters. it was a team, after all, with Manny Lee and a slumping Kelly Gruber (.229, 11 homers) playing everyday and a centerfielder kept more for his outstanding D than his hitting (and as much as I didn’t think I’d ever be saying this, in that Kevin Pillar is much like Devon White.) They didn’t have the horsepower to rack up double-digit tallies almost any night at will.
While this year’s team has had the two 11-game win streaks, the ’92s “only” managed a streak of 8 wins in a row. Both teams dominated at home; this year’s .650 winning pct at Rogers’ Centre is almost identical to the 53-28 final record of the 1992. The difference though is on the road, where the championship team managed to be just over .500; this year’s version currently sits at 25-31 on the road. More than anything else, if the 2015 Jays are to compete, they’ll have to be significantly better on their final 25 away games than they were up to now.
Not to be negative though; the ’92s topped second-place Milwaukee (there’s a trip for younger readers- yep, the Brewers were AL East rivals at one time) by 4 games. They’d have had an easier time of it had they played better against Milwaukee, but they actually went just 5-8 head-to-head. Contrast that to this year’s games against second-place New York in which Toronto is 7-2 including five wins in six games in the Bronx. Taking 7 of the remaining 10 games against the Pinstripes should all but guarantee the division win.
In retrospect, the 1992 Blue Jays weren’t all that much like this year’s. But they were the same in the things that mattered: a winning attitude, management that filled holes mid-season and a couple of hundred RBI men in the middle of the lineup. most of all, an ability to electrify and excite the whole city. Most of all, just like the 1992 Blue Jays, this year’s are turning Toronto into a baseball city again. From the covers of the Toronto Star to excited tweets from TV talking head George Stroumbolulous to crowds of 46 000 turning out on a Thursday afternoon to watch them take on Oakland, the team is the toast of the town. If this year’s can duplicate the ’92 season 19-9 rrecord after August, they will be playing post-season ball and David Price, Josh Donaldson and “Joey Bats” are going to own the city in a way no athletes have since Alomar, Carter and Winfield.
The playoffs might be two months away still, but tonight’s game at Yankee Stadium should have the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Game 1 of a championship series as our Blue Jays take on the Pinstripes. The three game series won’t decide the season one way or another, nor even topple New York from the divisional lead but it will go a long ways to figuring out how the AL East will play out. The series is of paramount importance for Toronto, as will be all of the incredible 13 games they have remaining against the Bronx. However, the real pressure may just be on the home team, seeing as how the Jays are the hottest team in baseball over the past ten days and trounced the Yankees in upgrading their team at the trade deadline.
I expect the Jays to have the best record in the division from here on in, but the question is whether that will be enough to catch, let alone overtake the suprising ol’ Yanks.
We know about what Toronto bats are doing this year, how Josh Donaldson leads the majors in RBI and has already set a career high for homers; how Jose Bautista is having a “down year” but still is on pace for 110 RBI ; the hot streak Edwin Encarnacion is on and so on. Likewise, we know about the Yankees who’ve found the Fountain of Youth apparently; A-Rod’s .281 average, 24 homers and .924 OPS; how Mark Teixeira’s 29 dingers are the most he’s hit in a season since ’11 and if he holds onto his .944 OPS, that will be his best in six years. We know about their acquisition of Dustin Ackley and the respectable year Brian McCann is having.
Likiewise, we know if the Yankees are going to be beaten, a team needs to get to them early on. The bullpen duo of Bettances and Miller are close to Davis and Holland in Kansas City and they, my blue-feathered friends, are every bit the equal of Henke and Ward back in the day. Collectively, the pair have allowed only 15 ER in 93 innings and are 31 for 34 in save opportunities. LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe make the Jays ‘pen better but still not in the same category as New York’s…
Which isn’t that bad, considering that there are usually seven innings before Bettances is trotted out for the Bombers. And Toronto’s starting rotation, dare I say it, blows the Yanks away. It was better even before the Detroit deal, now it’s night and day.
I’m amazed that in a year when Cueto, Price and Kazmir changed hands and all evidence suggested that Shields and Samardzjia were there for the taking that the Yankees decided to stand pat and look towards October with a rotation anchored by Nathan Eovaldi.
Eovaldi is the Big Apple’s Drew Hutchison- his 11-2 record looks dazzling, but dig deeper and his 4.30 ERA is only middling and deeper still, note that opponents are teeing off on his pitching with a .300 average and he doesn’t look too ace-like. Neither does big CC; Sabathia apparently didn’t dip his toe in A-Rod and Tex’s Time-reversing waters. The large lefty does lead the team in innings with 123, but too many of those have been rough ones, as shown by his 4-8 record, his 5.34 ERA and the two dozen homers he’s allowed. Tanaka and Pineda are better but marginally so; Ivan Nova could end up being their best but seven games is a pretty small sample to base it on.
Contrast that with the Jays. As surprises go, Toronto’s starting pitching of late is up there with Donald Trump saying something good about Mexicans. It’s unexpected!! But it has been very solid this summer. Mark Buehrle, Mr. Reliable is destined to increase his streak of double-digit win / 200-inning seasons. With 12 W, he’s already half way there, and he only needs 52 innings more over the remaining two months. In his last 6 outings, he’s 3-1 with a tidy 2.53 ERA…which is bested by RA Dickey!
The knuckleballer’s had to deal with his share of detractors this year, and a strange lack of run support from a team leading the world in runs. His 6-10, 4.06 ERA isn’t putting him in the discussion for another Cy Young but it’s decent. More importantly, of late he’s been in top form, lowering his ERA by almost a full run in his last five games. In that span he’s been 3-1 with only 5 earned runs given up in over 36 innings. Tonight he looks to make it three starts in a row without a run allowed.
Marco Estrada has rounded into form very nicely with a couple of near no-nos and more than two ER allowed in only one of his past 9 games; a 3.40 ERA and measly .216 opponents average are the results.
If the team lacked a true #1 Starter before, they have it now in David Price. What more can you say about him that his 10-4 record, 2.45 ERA and 149K to 31 BB, his 154 innings pitched already (third best in the league) don’t? Well, there’s always that throwing out a clunker of an outing on July 28, when he was doubtless packing up his locker and wondering which direction he’d be driving, and he’s had a 1.18 ERA since the beginning of July and is averaging almost 8 innings a start.
Which leaves Drew Hutchison. Preferably in Buffalo, if i had my way. After opening day, Drew’s never really had it together but of late he’s worse. In his last 6 starts, he hasn’t pitched past 6 innings at all, and has surrendered 43 hits in just under 30 innings. His ERA of 6.67 in that period would be even worse if some of the questionable errors called against the Jays didn’t mean 6 runs he’s given up in that period have been unearned. The good news for Toronto is that with seven off days left in the sched, they may be able to skip Hutch’s spot in the rotation several times.
What’s it all mean? Well, it means that all other things been equal, Toronto should be significantly better than NY down the stretch.
Unfortunately, all things are not equal. Both teams are much better at home than on the road; New York have 31 of their final 55 games in the Bronx. The Jays have only 24 of 52 games left in the Rogers Centre. Toronto have five interleague games left on the road, New York three. Five games with EE either out of the lineup, or playing first base, is significant. Both teams have a number of games left to play against lacklustre teams, but the Jays face the other pesky birds, the Orioles, 7 times compared to New York’s three. Bottom line- the schedule favors New York.
Schedule notwithstanding, the Jays can still win it all. They have the momentum, they have the post-trade euphoric confidence, they have better hitting and starting pitching than New York. But for that to happen, they will need to deliver a decisive message in the remaining bakers’ dozen games against NY.
If the Blue Jays “time is now”, the time to start proving it is now. The post season starts in two months. The real fun begins tonight.