17 May MLB Mail Bag: Team Reports: Week 7
By: Lou Landers – thesportscrew.com – @realsportscrew
For this weeks article I decided to do something a little different. Rather than answer specific questions, I have decided to discuss specific teams that I have been asked about. I chose the 5 teams that I have been asked about most frequently and each of the teams has a unique story line.
1) Toronto Blue Jays:
The Jays got off to one of their worst starts in franchise history in 2017 after going to the American League Championship series the past 2 seasons. After losing Edwin Encarnacion to free agency, who was arguably the heart and soul of their lineup over the past few seasons, the lineup looked lost. Through April, the Jays had one of the league’s worst offenses and saw 3/5 of their starting rotation go down with injuries. Their SP was one of baseball’s best in 2016 and although they were due to regress a little in 2017, no one could have predicted that they’d have so many injuries all at once. They recently got Aaron Sanchez back into their rotation but still have the likes of Joe Biagini and Mike Bollsinger in their rotation rather than J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano.
The lineup is still missing star 3B Josh Donaldson and SS Troy Tulowitzki but they have gotten surprise production from OF Kevin Pillar and 1B Justin Smoak in their absence. Jose Bautista is starting to hit the ball well for them and it’s only a matter of time before DH Kendrys Morales starts to find his groove as well. The Jays have been one of the better teams in the league over the last 10 days but still find themselves in 5th place in the AL East and well below a .500 record. They will need to finish the month very strongly and get back to around the .500 mark if they want any chance of getting back into the race. They will need to get their injured starting pitchers back as well as the 2 key cogs they’re missing in their lineup if they want to have a chance at getting back to the post season for a 3rd straight season.
2) Houston Astros:
The high flying Astros are currently baseball’s best team which should not come to the surprise of many who truly follow the game. After a great season in 2015, they took a step back in 2016 and some experts wondered if they had simply overachieved in 2015 or drastically underachieved in 2016. They are loaded with young talent throughout their lineup and pitching staff in 2017 and have the depth in their farm system to make a move to improve even more as the trade deadline approaches. This is a team that knows they are elite and will let nothing stand in their way. They are this season’s version of the Chicago Cubs; young, talented and hungry. 2015 Cy Young award winner Dallas Kuechel has regained his star status this season and the emergence of both Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton have solidified their rotation as one of the better ones in the American League.
In my opinion, the biggest factor in their success this season has been the mix of their youngsters with 3 veterans they acquired this offseason. Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick have all been a part of winning organizations before, have been around for years and were the missing pieces from this lineup. Beltrans presence in their lineup is one that cannot be taught, it’s just the way he goes about his business every day that appears to be rubbing off on the rest of these young hitters. McCann and Reddick don’t have the same pedigree as Beltran who is a future hall of famer, however, they provide the lineup with established LH bats in a lineup that before they arrived in Houston was young, unheralded and RH heavy. Look out for this Astros team, not just in 2017, but over the next 4-6 years as players like Correa, Bregman and Springer develop into superstars.
3) New York Yankees:
How about them baby bombers? They currently sit atop the AL East which nobody could have predicted at this point in the season. Their lineup has proven to be one of the best in baseball this season, specifically at Yankee Stadium where it seems like no matter the score, the Yankees have a chance to win. Young slugger Aaron Judge has been the most impressive thus far, leading the American League in homers and showing plate discipline that wasn’t there a year ago. With Gary Sanchez fully back from his injury as Starlin Castro finally starting to look like the player he was in his early days in Chicago, the Yankees have what could be a very formidable middle of the lineup for years to come.
Not all is good in the Bronx however. Masahiro Tanaka has been less than stellar so far this season and veteran LHP CC Sabathia has been atrocious in his previous 4 starts. If not for the emergence of Luis Severino and the top of the rotation type pitching that Michael Pineda has provided so far, this Yankees team would be in trouble. Rookie Jordan Montgomery has been a pleasant surprise for the team but it is hard to rely on any rookie pitcher throughout an entire season. The bullpen has been one of, if not the best in all of baseball this season, yet the recent injury to CL Aroldis Chapman is expected to set them back quite a bit. Chapman is expected to miss 4 weeks which will force Dellin Betances into the closer role and therefore shorten the bullpen. The next 3-5 weeks of the season will be very telling in whether or not the Yankees are contenders or pretenders.
4) Colorado Rockies
Many people are wondering; are the Rockies for real? I am here to tell you that they absolutely are. This has been a team in the past that could hit but their rotation wasn’t established yet and their bullpen was atrocious. Just last season, the Rockies ranked 28th in MLB in save percentage and this season they currently sit 2nd. The bullpen has been a bright spot for them, specifically Greg Holland who has yet to blow a save this season. They have a number of veteran arms in the pen, who all have closer experience which is vital to this team’s success, especially when playing in Coors field. They’ve been without their ace Jon Gray for most of the season and it hasn’t seemed to slow them down one bit. They have gotten more than they could have hoped for from SP like Chatswood, Anderson, Senzatela and Freeland and when Gray does come back, this rotation will look even better. This Rockies team can be successful even with just adequate SP, as long as their bullpen continues to pitch strongly.
The lineup can carry them and it happens to be one of the best in baseball. SS Trevor Story is currently on the DL but he is expected to be back soon and they recently activated their big free agent signing Ian Desmond from the DL. One of their most steady contributors at the plate this season has been veteran slugger Mark Reynolds who is not only hitting home runs (12 on the season) but also has 33 RBI to go with his surprising .326 batting average. Reynolds is a career .237 hitter so I don’t expect the .326 batting average to stay where it is, however, over a long 162 game schedule, the playoff caliber teams typically get contributions from everyone on their roster and Reynolds has definitely been one of their MVP’s so far.
5) Milwaukee Brewers
Two words for you; Eric Thames! Well, he isn’t the only reason why the Brewers are off to a surprisingly good start in 2017, yet he is definitely the most interesting story. Thames has played overseas for the past 3 seasons and the Brewers decided to take a chance on him after he hit 40+ HR last season. So far their “Gamble” has paid off because Thames has 13 HR this season and is hitting for a .315 batting average and 25 RBI entering play on Tuesday. He has helped to improve the entire lineup around him, getting them more pitches to hit because opposing pitchers don’t want to face Thames with runners on base. Another bright spot for this Brewers lineup has been 3B Travis Shaw who they acquired this past offseason from the Red Sox. Shaw had what many consider to be a down year in 2016 which led to his eventual trade to Milwaukee. Shaw has rewarded the Brewers faith in him by hitting .283 with 8 HR and 31 RBI this season, providing the Brewers with another middle of the order type bat.
The issue here in Milwaukee and what will likely keep them from contending this season is their mediocre pitching staff. Outside of Jimmy Nelson and maybe Chase Anderson, the starting rotation is unreliable and ineffective. Their bullpen may be even worse with the struggles of closer Neftali Feliz who currently has an ERA of over 6.00. There has been rumors of the Brewers being open to trading for a SP as the deadline approaches but I’m not sure that would be a good idea for them. They’re currently in a rebuilding situation and it would go against everything they’ve done over the last couple seasons if they traded away prospects to acquire an expensive and big name pitcher at this point. At some point this season, I expect the Cubs to overtake them in the standings and then their decision to stand pat and continue to rebuild will be an easier one.