01 Jun MLB Weekend Series To Watch
By: Lou Landers – @RealSportsCrew
New York Yankees @ Toronto Blue Jays
Three weeks ago this matchup on paper looked to be a battle between teams headed in opposite directions. After a great month of May by the Blue Jays in which they have the 2nd best record in the American League, this 4-game weekend set in Toronto is shaping up to be a highly anticipated and competitive series. The Yankees are still atop the AL East and the Blue Jays still sit in the basement, however the deficit for Toronto is no longer double digits. I expect these 2 teams to split this weekend series which would put them in the same positions that they’re currently in, but what if one team wins 3 or 4 of the games?
It could either mean the end of the Blue Jays season or be exactly what they need to get themselves right back into the division race. Jose Bautista has started to heat up, Tulo and Donaldson are back from the DL and Justin Smoak has finally started to show why he was once a highly touted prospect. J.A Happ came back this week and Liriano is expected to come off the DL to make a start in this weekend series. They’re still missing Aaron Sanchez which is a big loss to their rotation, yet this month it hasn’t seemed to slow them down.
With the Yankees, they’ve gotten more than they expected out of Michael Pineda and Luis Severino this season, both of which will be pitching in this series. The Yankees have also dealt with their fair share of injuries though. Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aroldis Chapman have all spent extended periods of time on the DL this season. The offense has been led by young slugger Aaron Judge who currently is the AL Rookie Of The Year favorite and a serious early season contender for AL MVP.
St. Louis Cardinals @ Chicago Cubs
Coming into 2017, these two teams were expected to be 1 and 2 in the NL Central division and playoff contenders. They’re not too far off the top of their division but this is more so because they play in one of the weakest divisions in baseball this season, better than only the NL East. The Brewers have surprised a lot of people thus far but how long can their success really last? One of these teams will still likely win this division and perhaps this weekend’s series can provide us some insight on who it might be.
The Cubs had incredibly high expectation on them coming into this year, especially after winning a World Series and having a roster that is very similar to last season’s. The offense hasn’t been great, yet without the production they’ve gotten, this team would be far worse. In 2016 the starting rotation ranked in the top 5 in practically every pitching category, this season they in the middle of the pack or towards the bottom. You can have one of the best offenses in MLB but without starting pitching it can and will be incredibly difficult to win with any consistency. It is of course still relatively early, however the Cubs are off to the 3rd worst start by a reigning World Champion in the last 15 years. The two teams who started worse failed to make the postseason after their horrible start, so the question to ask yourself is; Do you believe more in the talent on the roster or what history suggests?
The Cardinals started this season terribly. Through the first 2 weeks of the season they had the 2nd worst record in MLB, only ahead of the Blue Jays. Since then there has been a lot of ups and downs. The rotation outside of Mike Leake hasn’t been reliable, specifically Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. We somewhat expected this from their rotation based on last season and the loss of Alex Reyes before the season. The lineup that was very deep last year, great at hitting with RISP and highly competitive has found themselves struggling. They have a very low team batting average, have not hit in the clutch and they lack thump in the middle of their lineup.
Boston Red Sox @ Baltimore Orioles
These are two teams heading in completely different directions. The Orioles were one of the best teams in baseball in April, in first place in the AL East and they were silencing all their critics. Since then, they’ve been one of the worst teams in baseball and over the last 2 weeks they’ve been in a complete downfall. The Red Sox on the other hand started slowly, there were rumors of manager John Farrell being fired and everyone was wondering if the loss of David Ortiz was going to sink them.
The Orioles lineup hasn’t been nearly as good as last year’s ball club that went to the AL Wild Card game and lost in extra innings to the Blue Jays. Mark Trumbo hasn’t shown off the same power swing, Adam Jones has battled minor injuries, Chris Davis strikes out too much and the biggest disappointment has been their super-star Manny Machado. Machado is having the worst season of his career, hitting under .220 and looks to be trying to pull everything. Machado is known for being a line to line hitter, who can hit the gaps and hit for a high average and so far in 2017 we haven’t seen anything that resembles that hitter. If not for Dylan Bundy, their starting rotation would be a complete mess and the loss of closer Zach Britton has certainly set them back as well. I expect the Red Sox to tee off on this rotation all weekend long.
The Red Sox may be lacking power this season and lack the run production they had in 2017 but that doesn’t mean that they’re not a World Series contender. Their starting rotation is healthy and all pitching together for the first time all season long and closer Craig Kimbrel has re-established himself as one of if not the best RP in the game. Even without Dustin Pedroia who was placed on the DL this week, the lineup is starting to come together. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are showing why they’re two of the best hitters in the American League and their super rookie Andrew Benintendi is no slouch either. This team will be contenders all season long and will make trades to improve their team as the deadline approaches. They are in win now mode and they showed it this past offseason when they traded away top prospects to acquire ace Chris Sale.
Houston Astros @ Texas Rangers
Not only are these ball clubs inner state rivals, they’re also the two best teams in the AL West. Although the Angels are playing as well as Texas right now, they just lost Mike Trout and will fall in the standings very quickly. Texas started the season terrible, they were in the basement of the West and thanks to a 9 game winning streak this month, they’re back in the playoff conversation. The problem for them is that the Astros are currently the best team in baseball and have a double digit lead in the division over Texas. One thing the Rangers may be able to hang their hat on is that they’ve dominated the Astros the past 2 seasons, something they will have to do again in 2017 if they want any chance of getting back into the division race.
Houston has gotten tremendous production from their entire ball club and have also been one of the healthier teams so far in 2017. Their 1-2 punch in the starting rotation of Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. has made them a very tough team to beat. The additions of veterans Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran has not only provided them with production, but also has helped lead this young and unheralded Astros ball club. Youngsters Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jose Altuve and even Alex Bregman as of late have all been benefiting from the added veteran leadership and it’s showing in their production day in and day out.
Texas has been without Adrian Beltre all season long and it has shown in their play. Yes, Beltre is old, yes Joey Gallo has filled in nicely, but the void in that lineup is undeniable. He is an irreplaceable presence. The offense started slowly, especially when you consider all the talent they have in it with Odor, Lucroy, Napoli, Mazara, Choo, Andrus, etc. Lately they have been swinging it better, yet they still find themselves struggling to win ball games. They lost ole reliable Cole Hamels early in the season and it has drastically affected their starting rotation. The bullpen which was such a weakness in April has been much better in May and will be a major factor in determining how well they finish the season.