2nd Half AL Preview: Obstructed Questions

We are at the post-All Star Break of the season. The American League and the National Leagues have been varied. The National League is more balanced with really all but three teams (Giants, Marlins, Mets) in the thick of a race to October baseball. The American League? A massive gap between the contenders and the rebuilders. You’re either in contention or you’re done. Probably the lone exception is the Chicago White Sox who seem to have their arrow pointing up as the rebuilding on the Southside is nearly complete, but still sit slightly under .500 and still a nice way back from Minnesota.

So I will preview it with a form of a question for each team in the American League today.

AL EAST

LeMahieu has been the Yankees MVP in 2019 so far.

NEW YORK YANKEES (57-31, 1st place): Can the Yankees continue getting production out of their “not superstars?” Have to credit Aaron Boone for the job he’s done with injuries galore on the Yankees in 2019. Aaron Judge has only played 33 games to this point through injury. Giancarlo Stanton only has played 9. Miguel Andujar has been lost for the year. Didi Gregorius has only played 22. Aaron Hicks has played in 41 but has struggled (though gotten better as of late). But it has been Gary Sanchez, DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres that has really carried the team. Can they continue it through the second half is the key question. My guess is yes as Judge, Hicks, and Gregorius should be healthy down the stretch. The other question will be can the Yankees pick up another starter whether that is Bumgarner, Stroman, Boyd, or even Noah Syndergaard? Pitching could sting them down the stretch if the bats don’t continue.

TAMPA BAY RAYS (52-39, 2nd place, 6.5 GB): Can Austin Meadows get out of his slump? The Rays and the youngsters they have in Tampa are getting the job done. Pitching is fine, whether it is starters or relievers (or however you want to say it), but do they have the hitting to back it up? When the Rays held the top spot in the AL East early in the season, Austin Meadows was raking big time and was an MVP candidate. But since June Meadows has slumped in a big way. He has only hit .214 with a meager .584 OPS since the start of June. Maybe he has been figured out by pitchers and/or he has adjusted poorly? Who knows, but Meadows decline also mirrored Tampa Bay’s slip in the standings somewhat where they are a healthy distance behind the Yankees. He needs to step up or else Boston is the next team to jump ahead.

BOSTON RED SOX (49-41, 3rd place 9 GB): Can the Red Sox get Porcello and Sale back on track? One key reason why the Red Sox have not been in contention in the AL East has been the starting pitching outside of David Price. Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Rick Porcello have been awful this year for Boston. Worse, the Red Sox once rich farm system is pretty much depleted with the trades made over the past few seasons so if Dave Dombrowski is to make a move to get a front end starter he will have to work his magic (my guess a three-team deal like he did with Detroit in getting Price in 2014), but given the contenders that have better farm systems and prospects to offer (Braves, Yankees, Twins, Brewers, etc.) Boston will be handicapped. That means Porcello, Sale, and Rodriguez better step up their game. They had a nice win streak entering the break, but the Red Sox are done playing Detroit.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS: (34-57, 4th place, 24.5 GB): How much can the Blue Jays get for Marcus Stroman? Not many people penned Toronto to be in any race this year, but one bright spot has been Marcus Stroman. After the disastrous 2018 season where he had a 5.54 ERA, he returned more to his 2017 season and is pretty parallel off of it. He’ll be under control a few more years which helps the value, but he won’t be confused with a Justin Verlander here. WHIP is okay (1.24) and the K/9 isn’t wowing. But he can be of good use to a team that needs to add that middle starter (Braves? Twins?) so Toronto could really make a nice deal for him and honestly the Blue Jays future looks pretty exciting with Vlad Guerrero Jr. there and a few more prospects we will hear about down the road.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES (27-62, 5th place 30.5 GB): Can the Orioles get a nice return for Andrew Cashner? A good friend of mine and I like to poke fun at Cashner a bit, but his numbers have been overall solid in 2019 (9-3, 3.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 6.2 K/9). Honestly this is the best he’s pitched in 6-7 years when he was in San Diego and had a nice run in that spacious park. Cashner is doing it in Baltimore when he has to face the Yankees and Red Sox. And there is a team option on Cashner so the Orioles could net something for Cashner. They did for Gausman so it’s very possible a team who loses out on Stroman/Bumgarner/Boyd could get Cashner to which the Orioles desperately need help before another 110+ loss season happens again.

AL CENTRAL

Minnesota Twins’ Nelson Cruz (23) and Eddie Rosario celebrate scoring their runs on C.J. Cron’s RBI double during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Monday, April 22, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

MINNESOTA TWINS (56-33, 1st place): Can the Twins offense keep rolling? Here’s the scary part about the Twins: they are probably the best all-around team not named the Dodgers in the Majors right now. I can’t really find a major hole to them, and that includes their pitching (starters and bullpen). But if there is one thing that would concern me is, can the offense continue their slugging ways? Nelson Cruz aside, the players haven’t strung together this kind offense for a full season yet. My take is some will fall back, but others will continue (I think Buxton will have a great second half). They may need to if Cleveland is going to make one last strong push for the division.

CLEVELAND INDIANS (50-38, 2nd place, 5.5 GB): Will the Indians make a blockbuster move go get a needed bat? For a while (and even some rumors say even now) the Indians may look to sell a piece or two from their starting pitching as maybe the Tribe’s window has closed with this group. Twelve games over and having to see the Royals and Tigers a good deal will keep the Indians in the race with the Twins. The offense isn’t near the contenders despite an MVP caliber year from Carlos Santana and another great year from Francisco Lindor and Roberto Perez has been great. But the rest of the lineup is a giant mess. Jose Ramirez has struggled terribly and Jason Kipnis has been missing since 2016. Talk of the Tribe moving the ever quotable Trevor Bauer continues. An ideal match maybe San Diego who has a jammed up outfield though the Padres may be hesitant to move Renfroe or Reyes. But the Indians either need to rely on Ramirez getting hot and Santana staying hot to overtake Minnesota right now.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX (42-44, 3rd place, 12.5 GB): Can the White Sox finish over .500 in 2019? The White Sox rebuilding is nearly done. The prospects are coming up and making that impact (Moncada, Anderson, Giolito), and a few more are ready to make that splash (Jimenez, Cease). They will probably “sell” or stand pat at the deadline and the hope is Chicago can bust out for 81 wins. My concern is there isn’t much starting pitching outside of Giolito and unless we see more of Cease so I think 79-83 will be where the ChiSox are by the end of the season.

DETROIT TIGERS (28-57, 4th place, 26 GB): Can Al Avila hit a home run at the trade deadline? Tigers fans (casual or diehards) have developed a hatred for Al Avila. Casual fans are irked because he has pretty much thrown in the towel at Spring Training with his “we aren’t really going to contend at all this year” comments. Diehards (where I fall into this category as a Tigers fan) are mad for his so far very underwhelming trades (JD Martinez trade, the Justin Wilson trade where the prospects haven’t panned out, the Verlander trade, etc.). To be fair, Avila has drafted well since taking over and has gotten the farm system from horrible to at least average. However, the molasses slow rebuilding process in Detroit is getting fans angrier. Avila will have two trade chips in Shane Greene and Matt Boyd. Greene is a closer that a team in contention would need badly or a set-up man for a team to really shut down games by the 7th or 8th innings. And Boyd is having a great year and would be much needed for a contender looking to bolster the rotation (Braves, Brewers, Phillies, Yankees). Now the talk is the asking price of Boyd is high. Well…Avila needs to have a home run hit on Boyd because the trades he’s made so far has not panned out to this point (jury is out on Isaac Paredes, Jake Rogers, and Willi Castro-which may have been his best trade, trading Leonys Martin for him). So Avila got his extension. Now he needs to earn it with a quality Boyd and/or Greene trade.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS (30-61, 5th place, 27 GB): Can the Royals make any worthy moves at the deadline? The Royals are in a grim situation. Alex Gordon is a corner outfielder so the value for him may not be too high. Ian Kennedy is probably the best bet. Kennedy is starting to close games out in Kansas City so there may even be a buyer beware on him for a team looking to play in October. The only pieces the Royals could net would be if they moved Whit Merrifield and/or Hunter Dozier. But you’d have a major uprising in Kansas City if you did that and honestly would set the team back another year as those two guys are two to build around.

AL WEST

A healthy Springer (with a healthy Altuve and a healthy Correa) could give the Astros their second world championship in three years.

HOUSTON ASTROS (57-33, 1st place): Will the Astros flex their muscle if/when everybody is healthy? The Yankees won a lot of games with their big names out. Houston did the same too. Altuve has been hurt and really hasn’t been Altuve-ish even before his injury. George Springer has been raking this year when healthy. Carlos Correa had a nice bounce-back year before he got dinged. Correa is still out, but if the the Astros can keep healthy and have Yuli Gurriel continue his hot streak, they should overtake the Yankees for the best record in the American League given how strong their pitching is. But they just need to keep healthy.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS (50-41, 2nd place, 7.5 GB): Will we see a 2nd half run by Oakland? The Athletics always seem to turn up the heat in second half of seasons. This year is interesting. Yes, they will be in contention, but having Frankie Montas suspended stings badly. But they also need a closer desperately as Blake Treinen is not really getting the job done. With Houston, Texas, and the Angels being competitive, Oakland needs to upgrade their pitching (notably the back end of the rotation as the Bassitt/Mengden duo aren’t really getting it done) in order for them to be considered for an October spot.

TEXAS RANGERS (48-42, 3rd place, 9 GB): Will the clock strike midnight? Texas for a while was holding the Wild Card lead. The Rangers were getting major contributions from guys who were cast-offs (Danny Santana, Hunter Pence) and jolts from some of their mainstays (Joey Gallo, Elvis Andrus, Sin-Soo Choo) while the front end of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn has been beyond overachieving. However, is the foundation shaking a bit as Texas limped into the Break with injuries to Pence and Choo and lost 6 of 8 and behind Oakland, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Boston in the Wild Card. As much as I want the Rangers to keep surprising, I think teams will get to Texas and at some point Santana and Pence will go back to their old ways as will Lynn and Minor. But I hope they don’t.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS (45-46, 4th place, 12.5 GB): What will the Angels do at the deadline? They are too far from making a run for a Wild Card, but they are not in an epic disaster mode like Baltimore, Kansas City, Detroit, Toronto, or Seattle are. It is frustrating as a baseball fan to see a team with the best player in this era in the form of Mike Trout to be sitting in that limbo mode. They can’t go into rebuild (which in a way they need to), but they can’t really overly compete and couple that Tommy La Stella who was having an All-Star year out for pretty much the season and the untimely loss of Tyler Skaggs (who was really their best starter in 2019) and you have a team that is pretty much not good enough to be a threat but with guys like Trout and Ohtani, not bad enough to blow up the team. They may stand pat largely because unless the Angels offer Trout or Ohtani (they won’t), nobody would really want the rest of what the Angels have.

SEATTLE MARINERS (39-55, 5th place, 20 GB): What next? In April, the Mariners were world champions. Since then, they are no different than the Tigers, Royals, Blue Jays, and Orioles, maybe even worse than those teams. The two veterans they acquired in the off-season, Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion are gone. And now the Mariners don’t have much in the way of pieces to keep their rebuild (Haniger is out past the deadline). There are veterans of Mike Leake, Dee Gordon, Tim Beckham, and Kyle Seager, but no team will pony up key prospects for any of those guys (Leake might net something given he is a pitcher and a team who may lose out on one of the key available pitchers might look into him, but not a top prospect from anybody). Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto wanted a rebuild, but the way he’s doing it doesn’t seem like the rebuild will be a quick one at all and he is just stuck with what he has.

That’s it for the AL. NL tomorrow.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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