The Obstructed AL West Preview

The American League West one that at times can be tough to figure out on a yearly basis. Right now the Houston Astros are the team to beat in the West and has been that way for the last few years. The other teams, really tough to figure out. You have two teams that look to be a threat, but have holes that are just too much and you have two more teams you don’t know if they are coming or going anymore.

Last year the Astros won 103 games, two more than what they won in their world championship run in 2017. However, a loss to the better Boston Red Sox squad took away their chances of a repeat. The team that surprised many was the Oakland Athletics, winning 97 games and making a Wild Card berth before inexplicably trying to use the Tampa Bay Rays formula of trying to start with a reliever. They made moves to try to eat into the Astros dominance in 2019. The Mariners started off red hot, but could not capitalize on their start coupling in with the A’s and Astros remaining on a torrid pace. The Angels had Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese import who can do it all, but an injury took him back, as did the Angels, despite having the best player in the game in Mike Trout. And the Rangers were a few steps away from starting from scratch.

So will we see similar stories this year? Will Houston continue to thrive? Will Oakland continue to chase after them? Will the Angels get over the hump with Trout? Will the Mariners go into full rebuild? Will the Rangers clear off the final pieces to start fully over?

Verlander will need a Cy Young caliber year to really keep Houston ahead in the division

(1) HOUSTON ASTROS

Last year: 103-59 (defeated Cleveland in ALDS, lost to Boston in ALCS)

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Michael Brantley (FA-Cleveland), C-Robinson Chirinos (FA-Texas), IF-Aledmys Diaz (Trade-Toronto), P-Wade Miley (FA-Milwaukee)

KEY LOSSES: C-Martin Maldonado (FA-Kansas City), C-Brian McCann (FA-Atlanta), OF-Marwin Gonzalez (FA-Minnesota), P-Dallas Keuchel (FA), P-Charlie Morton (FA-Tampa Bay), P-Tony Sipp (FA-Washington), C-Evan Gattis (FA)

The Astros made some moves and also lost some key guys such as Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzalez. However, their farm system will keep them afloat assuming they won’t make a massive trade. The key move was bringing in Michael Brantley from Cleveland, who had a movie story comeback year in 2018. The Astros hope he continues the upward trend and enjoys the hitter friendly Minute Maid Park more than the pitcher-leaning Progressive Field. There will also be a new backstop as Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, and Martin Maldonado are all gone. The Astros brought in Robinson Chirinos to catch the likes of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. Speaking of Cole and Verlander, they will have to pitch like they did in 2018 as Houston said goodbye to former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and the durable Charlie Morton. That means free agent signing Wade Miley, Colin McHugh, and Brad Peacock will all have to step up in a big way. Houston’s bullpen should be relied on again, but if the back three struggle, it may tack on more innings and more energy so this is something to keep an eye on. But the Astros offense should be fine especially if George Springer and Carlos Correa rebound from mediocre years on their end to go along with MVP candidates Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. And if Yuli Gurriel can also rebound from a not-as-good-as-2017 year the Astros should make another threat for the World Series. MY PREDICTION: 96-66

Oakland Athletics’ Khris Davis (2) hits a solo home run against the Texas Rangers in the third inning at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, August 20, 2018. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

(2) OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Last year: 97-65 (Lost to New York Yankees in Wild Card Game)

KEY ADDITIONS: IF-Jurickson Profar (Trade-Texas), C-Nick Hundley (FA-San Francisco), P-Marco Estrada (FA-Toronto), P-Joakim Soria (FA-Milwaukee), P-Jerry Blevins (FA-New York Mets)

KEY LOSSES: P-Emilio Pagan (Trade-Tampa Bay), C-Jonathan Lucroy (FA-Los Angeles Angels), IF-Jed Lowrie (FA-New York Mets), OF-Matt Joyce (Atlanta), P-Trevor Cahill (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Edwin Jackson (FA), P-Jeurys Familia (FA-New York Mets), P-Shawn Kelley (FA-Texas)

The Athletics surprised many all around baseball in 2018. The Matt boys (Chapman and Olson) were huge for the Athletics, who many were just rolling along until (if) the new ballpark came to fruition. So far, nothing in stone yet, but sounds like more progress has been made (yay!) With that said, Oakland was very busy in the off-season (like they mostly are). Jed Lowrie moves on to greener pastures in New York, but the Athletics hope they can get former top Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar going to go with a lineup that is vastly underrated in all of baseball with the Matts, Stephen Piscotty (who had a huge year) and Khris Davis. The Athletics hope to get some consistency behind the plate bringing in Nick Hundley to help out with a few good veterans including former Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada. However, if the Athletics are in contention at the deadline, which they should be, don’t be surprised if they look for front end help as while Mike Fiers and Estrada are durable, they won’t outduel the likes of Kluber, Verlander, Sale, etc. come October. The bullpen should be strong however with former closer Joakim Soria coming in to go along with Fernando Rodney (better used as a setup guy) with actual closer Blake Treinen. Oakland has gotten off to an 0-2 start with the Japan series, but I doubt it will continue. They should roll once April starts. MY PREDICTION: 92-70

The always happy Mike Trout will be happier if the Angels can see some October baseball

(3) LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Last year: 80-82

KEY ADDITIONS: 1B-Justin Bour (FA-Philadelphia), C-Jonathan Lucroy (FA-Oakland), C-Kevan Smith (Waivers-Chicago White Sox), IF-Tommy La Stella (Trade-Chicago Cubs), OF-Peter Bourjos (FA-San Francisco), P-Trevor Cahill (Oakland), P-Matt Harvey (FA-Cincinnati), P-Cody Allen (FA-Cleveland), P-Dan Jennings (FA-Milwaukee)

KEY LOSSES: OF-Chris Young (FA), OF-Eric Young Jr (FA-Baltimore), P-Garrett Richards (FA-San Diego), P-Matt Shoemaker (FA-Toronto), P-Blake Parker (FA-Minnesota), P-Junichi Tazwa (FA), P-Blake Wood

The Angels went through a bit of an overhaul in the off-season, adding pieces, notably to the pitching (Cahill, Harvey, Allen), and also having a new manager at the helm in Brad Ausmus, but the biggest move was this past week, locking in superstar and Mr. Angel Mike Trout to a 12 year deal north of $400 million. Trout stays, but one thing to take note is that the Angels will also need to add pieces around him to get into October baseball (something Trout has only seen ONE TIME in his career and that was 5 years ago). If they can find a way of eliminating Albert Pujols’s contract (odd to say that) it may be possible, but Pujols still has 3 years after this season…ouch! Trout’s teammates, notably Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons and free agent Justin Bour will have to help Trout out and not go deep streaks of struggling. And Kole Calhoun HAS GOT to step up at some point. Last year was a disaster in nearly every sense for him. Now if sensation Shohei Ohtani gets more at-bats, that will also help tremendously. Ohtani won’t be pitching in 2019 but the Angels added a couple of arms in Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill. Nothing overly wowing but if Harvey notably pitches well (I think he just needed a change of scenery away from New York) the Angels could vie for a Wild Card, but the rotation is pretty thin outside of those two. The bullpen could help keep them in games, but if the rotation struggles, they may be tacked as well. MY PREDICTION: 81-81

Domingo Santana is trying to silence critics that Seattle won’t contend in 2019

(4) SEATTLE MARINERS

Last year: 89-73

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Jay Bruce (Trade-New York Mets), DH-Edwin Encarnacion (Trade-Cleveland), OF-Domingo Santana (Trade-Milwaukee), C-Omar Narvaez (Trade-Chicago White Sox), SS-Tim Beckham (FA-Baltimore), IF-Dylan Moore (FA-Milwaukee), P-Yusei Kikuchi (FA-Japan), P-Hunter Strickland (FA-San Francisco), P-Cory Gearrin (FA-Oakland), P-Zach Rosscup (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Brandon Brennan (Rule 5-Colorado), P-Anthony Swarzak (Trade-New York Mets)

KEY LOSSES: P-Edwin Diaz (Trade-New York Mets), 2B-Robinson Cano (Trade-New York Mets), SS-Jean Segura (Trade-Philadelphia), OF-Ben Gamel (Trade-Milwaukee), P-Alex Colome (Trade-Chicago White Sox), P-James Paxton (Trade-New York Yankees), IF-Gordon Beckham (FA-Detroit), IF-Andrew Romine (FA-Philadelphia), DH-Nelson Cruz (FA-Minnesota), OF-Cameron Maybin (FA-San Francisco), OF-Denard Span (FA), P-Zach Duke (FA-Cincinnati), P-David Phelps (FA-Toronto), P-Adam Warren (FA-San Diego), C-Mike Zunino (Trade-Tampa Bay)

Before I begin, yes, the Mariners are 2-0 in Japan. However, do I expect Seattle to hold up? No. So why? Seattle was 89-73 last year with players who were doing their part especially with Robinson Cano on the suspended list for PED’s. Pretty much any other division, they are going to win the division (save AL East) and likely a Wild Card if they were in the NL. The last thing a franchise that has the longest playoff drought in baseball needs to do is blow up a team that was in the mix of the playoffs and have to “start over.” “But but they brought in veterans in the trades like Encarnacion, Bruce, and Santana!” So let guys who can hit the ball well all over the place, not whiff a billion times, have good averages and a power hitter who can obliterate the ball in any park including Yellowstone for guys who can really only benefit from being in hitter’s parks and go anemic in the larger ballparks such as Seattle’s T-Mobile Field (hard for me to say that one after years of saying Safeco) and in a division where there are a couple of large parks in their own right (Angel Stadium, Oakland Coliseum)? Brilliant. Add in for good measure trade away a lights-out closer and a solid set-up man as well as your most consistent starter in 2018, and you are going to get a contending team? That said, the moves made are obviously not set up for a 2018 run. However, we are talking about this year. I can see the Mariners for a while being competitive, but at some point, the rotation will fall back (Felix Hernandez will not be going back to a time machine to 2010), and there will be some frustrations for the power hitters to see home runs that would suffice in Toronto and Cincinnati be warning track outs in Seattle….and plenty of whiffs. I don’t see the need for the Mariners to rebuild after the season they had and you can see the likes of Encarnacion and Bruce get dealt again before the July deadline. MY PREDICTION: 73-89

Mazara will be in front and center of the Rangers season in 2019

(5) TEXAS RANGERS

Last year: 67-95

KEY ADDITIONS: 3B-Asdrubal Cabrera (FA-Philadelphia), C-Jeff Mathis (FA-Arizona), IF-Logan Forsythe (FA-Minnesota), OF-Hunter Pence (FA-San Francisco), P-Lance Lynn (FA-New York Yankees), P-Drew Smyly (Trade-Chicago Cubs), P-Shelby Miller (FA-Arizona), P-Jessie Chavez (FA-Chicago Cubs) P-Shawn Kelley (FA-Oakland), P-Zach McAllister (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Jeanmar Gomez (FA-Chicago White Sox)

KEY LOSSES: C-Robinson Chirinos (FA-Houston), 3B-Adrian Beltre (Retired), P-Bartolo Colon (FA), P-Doug Fister (Retired), P-Yovani Gallardo (FA), P-Matt Moore (FA-Detroit), P-Martin Perez (FA-Minnesota), P-Tony Barnette (FA-Chicago Cubs)

The Rangers are really in the midst of a rebuild, and probably the early stages. Adrian Beltre is gone. Yu Darvish has been gone and Cole Hamels is gone. It means that despite a few interesting starting pitching signings, the Rangers have that vibe of fielding a team to pass the time until the Dallas Cowboys play. They could end up making a few trades to improve the system (Elvis Andrus perhaps?) but really the talent isn’t there. It is not the best way to go into the new ballpark in 2020, but it may be different in 2020 and time will tell if Texas can move Sin-Soo Choo’s contract to help out. But they will fight in my eyes, but just get over-matched. Nomar Mazara may be a bright spot and we can see some ticker-tape blasts from Joey Gallo, but overall, I think the Rangers, like the Mariners will be moving pieces to contenders in July. MY PREDICTION: 67-95

That’s it for this blog.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The 2017-18 Moves That Got the Teams to the Postseason

We are sitting on the end of the 2018 MLB regular season.  And 11 teams are still alive (maybe 10 assuming the Rockies and Dodgers win either today or tomorrow OR if St. Louis loses one of the next two days).  So for argument’s sake, we will look at the teams that are in plus the Rockies and Dodgers.  How did this come to be for the teams this year?

Of course we have a couple of new faces in postseason (Braves, Brewers, Athletics) that we haven’t seen before and we have teams who hope to get over the top while the defending champion Astros keep their title for one more season.  So let’s look at how things changed for these teams and what moves they made to get them there.

Atlanta

ATLANTA BRAVES:  Calling up Ronald Acuña and trading for Kevin Gausman.  We know about the Braves rebuild and many believe the moves that were made were the ones that got them over the top.  In reality, Acuña (and Ozzie Albies) were actually Frank Wren signings before Atlanta used him as the fall guy at the end of the 2014 season.  And the major impact guy in all those fire sale trades this year was Mike Foltynewicz (part of the Evan Gattis deal).  The two trades made with San Diego (Uptons, Kimbrel), nobody has made an impact (and most of them are gone), and the Simmons-Newcomb trade has been mixed at best for Atlanta.  The Braves were on the up until they called up Acuña and he tore the cover off the ball.  He got injured but when he came back he remained a monster for the Braves and many in the Atlanta area believe not only should he get Rookie of the Year but an MVP.  The Braves all season up through July were either in the lead of the NL East or never more than 2.5 games back of Philadelphia in the division.  With Newcomb struggling and unease with Teheran as well as questions if Anibal Sanchez (a great pickup too) reverting back to more of his last years with the Tigers instead of 2013 Sanchez pushed Atlanta to trade for Kevin Gausman.  Gausman had been a flop for Baltimore (who isn’t right now?) and the Braves may have bought him low.  But many felt Gausman would improve with a change of scenery out of the rough AL East.  And he has.  Since joining Atlanta Gausman has gone 5-2 with a 2.86 ERA and a WHIP of 1.09.  Needless to say, all of that have been the best he’s pitched to this point.  The K/9 rate is slightly concerning (only 6.3) but he’s been everything the Braves needed.  And it also improved the rotation’s morale as Julio Teheran has been pitching far better since Gausman’s arrival.  After the trade, the Braves have gone 33-23 and went up 9.5 games on the division that was originally close with them and the Phillies (also helped with Philadelphia collapsing down the stretch).  But these two moves catapulted the Braves into October.

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BOSTON RED SOX: Signing JD Martinez.  Boston last year made the playoffs but the offense was stagnant and lacked any power ever since David Ortiz retired.  Martinez came on a contract that would net him over $100 million (and some believed the Sox overpaid him because he was a liability in the outfield).   But comparing Martinez to what Giancarlo Stanton that the Yankees did, the signing looks like a bargain compared to what the Yankees have to pay Stanton.  Boston’s offense clicked and everybody started hitting in Beantown.  Mookie Betts is also an MVP candidate and the likes of Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts stepped up in a big way.  With the starting pitching capable of going against anybody (assuming if they are healthy), Boston is considered a favorite and are well north of 100 wins this year.  Martinez was obviously the best free agent signing in the off-season.  And it has paid dividends for Boston.

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CHICAGO CUBS: Signing Steve Cishek and trading for Cole Hamels.  Over the past year and a half, the Cubs moves were in question with the overpaying of prospects for Jose Quintana (who has not lived up to the expectations), the trade for Justin Wilson, and the Yu Darvish signing.  However, the Cubs made an under the radar move of getting Steve Cishek and he has helped keep the bullpen pretty strong for them.  And then the Cubs traded for Cole Hamels (as Chicago had been tapped out of prospects with the Quintana and Wilson trades) to take on his salary.  He has pitched great, going 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA and a WHIP of 1.14.  Hamels and Cishek are two major reasons why the Cubs are still slightly ahead of Milwaukee in the NL Central race.

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COLORADO ROCKIES: Signing Chris Iannetta.  The Rockies made no massive moves outside of Iannetta.  While his WAR according to Baseball Reference has him at a -0.6, I don’t think you can put a value to what he means to the Rockies starting rotation that is actually not bad.  While he obviously won’t win the Cy Young, Kyle Freeland will get a couple of Cy Young votes with his record (17-7, 2.85 ERA and the ability to not give up home runs).  Geman Marquez is a strikeout machine and has strong numbers across the board.  And Jon Gray since his return from Albuquerque has been more like the Jon Gray Rockies fans and “live arm” fans have hoped he would be.  And it was needed this year as save for Trevor Story’s MVP push and Nolan Arenado, Colorado’s offense is not a massive juggernaut like we have come to known.

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CLEVELAND INDIANS: Trading for Brad Hand.  Well, Cleveland pretty much sleepwalked to the AL Central title this year given the problems of the other four teams in that division.  And they played like it at times.  They lost a lot in the way of their bullpen from a year ago, which was so dominant and when you factor in Andrew Miller’s injury, the Indians weren’t the same squad at all.  Getting Brad Hand at the price was a bit risky, but he’s been solid for them and has re-established Cleveland as a team to watch in October.

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HOUSTON ASTROS: Trading for Gerrit Cole.  Houston may have robbed the Yankees in getting this guy as before the Astros got him it looked all but finished that New York was going to get him and in that aspect, kept the Yankees from REALLY dominating.  And at the same time it also kept the Astros afloat in picture.  Houston’s pitching is very stout with Verlander, Keuchel, and Morton, but needed Cole especially as the offense is not the same strong offense like their championship run last year.  Altuve is still Altuve but his numbers are well down.  Even when he’s been on the field Carlos Correa has been WAY down.  Adding on, the outfield hasn’t produced either.  So the move for Cole was big for them this year especially with how the Athletics came on.

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LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Calling up Walker Buehler & Max Muncy.  Los Angeles was plagued by injuries early on in the season and widespread panic hit Dodgertown.  However, things started to look up when the Dodgers called up Walker Buehler to start and he has been nothing short of stout.  He has a 7-5 record with a 2.86 ERA and a WHIP of under 1 and has ace written all over him.  He should garner some Rookie of the Year votes too.  But Max Muncy came out of nowhere and was that guy that just could rocket bombs into the outfield seats for Los Angeles as the Dodgers offense needed when Seager, Turner, and Puig were on the DL.  It is surprising that Manny Machado, who is a key add at the deadline obviously isn’t here, and he has been strong, but the average hasn’t been as high.

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MILWAUKEE BREWERS: Trading for Christian Yelich.  Yelich may have the inside track for MVP given how he has terrorized pitching in the past month.  The move was pretty big at the time, but it is huge now given that Milwaukee is chasing down the hated Cubs for the division lead.  The numbers speak volumes but what he’s done in the 2nd half alone reminds me of what Chipper Jones did down the stretch for the Braves in 1999, always stepping up in that key moment.  In the second half, Yelich is hitting .363 with 22 HR and an OPS of an astounding 1.193.  Wow.

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NEW YORK YANKEES: Trading for Giancarlo Stanton and calling up Gleyber Torres & Miguel Andujar.  While I think the Yankees are going to pay a steep price for Stanton in terms of money, Stanton stepped up when it mattered the most: when Aaron Judge was injured.  Stanton’s numbers aren’t the MVP ones he had last year in Miami, but still has 37 HR to his credit.  And for Torres/Andujar, 50 HR total from the rookies and the Yankees remained well ahead of the rest of the AL save Boston and Houston.

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OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Trading for Stephen Piscotty.  This move when it was made and you found out why the move was made seemed like it was a move that was more personal than a professional move.  Piscotty wanted to remain close to home near his mother with ALS.  Understandable as there are more things to life than sports.  But Piscotty’s value to the team should not be overlooked as he was a great veteran presence and he had a career year with 26 HR.  He alongside Jed Lowrie provided that winning veteran presence while keeping that Athletics brand of baseball going of just having fun and playing until the last out.

Later on I will put my playoff power rankings of the teams that are in, once I know which teams are in.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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