American League Midsummer Report

Image result for aaron judge chris sale

It’s the middle of July and you know what that means! Sports fans get to watch baseball and only baseball for the next few months! If you’ve been caught up in all of the NBA craziness and haven’t been keeping tabs on the action since my 2017 MLB Predictions, have no fear… I’ll bring you up to speed. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the AL and what chaos lies just around the corner.

AL WestImage result for springer correa altuve

In the AL, the Astros have jumped to an astounding 16.5 game lead in the AL West, and their 60-29 record is just .5 games shy of the Dodgers for the best in the MLB. While I had predicted Houston to win their division, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the dominance that Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer have unleashed across the league. Three of the All-star leading vote-getters, the trio never seems to have an off night (and it’s been great having Correa and Springer on my fantasy team). With the lead the Astros hold, they would literally have to lose for an entire month straight to be in danger of dropping out of the division lead. With that in mind, whether or not they keep up their hot play, consider them a lock for the AL West crown.

The other talking point is whether or not the Rangers and Mariners will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. With these teams only a handful of games out of Wild Card contention, they must quickly decide if they can build a World Series around their current assets, or if they should let them go for top future talent. It’s always a tough spot to be in with only a few weeks left to determine if they have what it takes, but remaining stagnant is never a good option.

In my opinion, I think the Rangers certainly need to be sellers. Their roster has an average age of 29.5 which is good for 26th out of 30 MLB teams. That’s not a recipe for future success, and Texas needs to be honest with themselves here. Even if they pick up controllable bullpen help or the power hitter they’ve been lacking, and it happens to be enough to squeak into the Wild Card, I can’t imagine they’ll get past the division winners in the ALDS. Then, they’ll be in an even worse position in 2018. It’s always tough to give up halfway through the year, but they have to look at the bigger picture.

Unfortunately, both the Rangers and Mariners are currently anticipating buying, and I hope they don’t go through with this huge mistake. Also, keep in mind that they still trail a Trout-less Angels team for second in the division. If Texas and Seattle aren’t better than L.A. now, there is no way they will be after Trout returns… no matter what new bat they could acquire. They better change their tune in the next two weeks before its too late.

AL CentralImage result for twins players

The surprise team of the American League is undoubtedly the Minnesota Twins. In fact, I still don’t know how they’re within a series sweep of 1st place. If you remember, I ripped them apart in my preseason predictions, placing them 4th because the White Sox traded away all of their good players last offseason (and now Jose Quintana). Nonetheless, I must have lit a fire under this gang of misfits as they have showcased a balanced hitting attack night after night, as well as strong outings from their starters. Not to mention, Brandon Kintzler is probably the most underrated closer in the game today right beside Corey Knebel. But seriously- if you want a good laugh, read what I said about the Twins in my AL Central Preview at the beginning of the year. At least I’m proud to say I called Jose Berrios’ rise in the organization!

As I previously mentioned, the last place White Sox traded their ace to the Cubs. Luckily for Quintana, he won’t need to hire a real estate agent as his new home ballpark is 30 minutes away from his old one. I love this move to the “friendly confines.” Quintana has an ERA north of 4.48 this year, but he has seemingly shrugged off a rocky start by avoiding a loss in every appearance since June 11. While it hasn’t been the season Quintana would have liked to this point, the Cubs are showing a great deal of confidence in the 28-year-old to revive their ailing starting rotation.

As for the White Sox, the best farm system in the MLB gets even deeper. Yes, the Yankees have a great one too, but I’m seeing a lot of guys being promoted to the MLB so Chicago will carry the torch. As GM Rick Hahn seems prone to do, after he fleeced the Nationals for most of their prospects, he did the same to the Cubs. CWS picks up MLB top-10 prospect Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease (who is a really strong young arm), as well as two other deep options to load up the minors. Soon enough, the White Sox are going to be MLB’s version of the Celtics… leading the division with all of the chips to help them go all the way.

Finally, the Cleveland Indians. Quietly the reigning AL Champions (just 2 runs away from MLB Champions might I remind you), they find themselves in 1st place again. It took the majority of the first half of the season for Cleveland to overcome the Twins, but now they’re in prime position for another deep playoff run. Assuming the Twins dip off and the Tigers sell at the deadline, the Indians will only have to fend off the Royals to secure back-to-back AL Central titles. Because of recent successes and stability in the organization, I won’t be surprised if you don’t hear Cleveland pop up in any rumors over the coming weeks. As long as they stay the course, they can look ahead to a best-of-5 series in October.

AL EastImage result for aaron judge

At last, you get to hear more about the most-talked-about team of 2017 so far. The Yankees rise and fall back to Earth has been well documented, but hardly surprising in my opinion. New York has long held the most prized farm system in the league, and when it was time for the best young talent in the world to finally showcase their skills in the MLB, there’s no wonder as to why they’ve exploded out of the gate. Of course, the unprecedented success of Aaron Judge is an outlier, and I’m anxious to see just how long he can make a mockery of the MLB.

Anyway, the baseball season is 162 games long for a reason. Sure enough, the Yankees hot streak has fizzled out, and they are now on the bubble for a Wild Card spot. As I said at the beginning of the year, unless GM Brian Cashman makes one more big move at the deadline, New York will be on the outside looking in come October. If that disappoints you, they’re my 2018 World Series favorite so hang in there.

As for the division leader and my World Series champion, the Boston Red Sox are in a great position to finish the season on top. With the rest of the division floundering and the 2nd place Rays losing one of their hottest hitters in Colby Rasmus, there isn’t a lot to get in Boston’s way. Chris Sale has benefited leaving Chicago and is now having perhaps the best year of his career with the Red Sox, and besides David Price, the rest of the staff is following suit.

Furthermore, after a sluggish start by Mookie Betts and Co., the Boston bats have caught fire leading up to the break. Despite not quite having the offensive year fans had anticipated, there are plenty of signs anticipating a solid second half of the season. The only question will be if they have a roster that has what it takes to win in October. I’m looking forward to seeing what depth they might add around July 31 to ensure a deep postseason run.

2017 MLB Predictions

ny_g_yankee_stadium_d1_576.jpg

With a few games underway this season, it’s as good a time as any to post my predictions for the 2017 season. If you haven’t already, feel free to check out my in-depth previews of every MLB team by clicking on the division listed below. Let me know what you think about my prediction for your favorite team! Without further ado, let’s take a look at what will happen this summer.

x- clinched Wild Card                                                                               y- clinched Division                                                                                 z- clinched Conference

AL East Preview 2017

  1. y- Boston Red Sox
  2. x- Baltimore Orioles
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Tampa Bay Rays

AL Central Preview 2017

  1. z- Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

AL West Preview 2017

  1. y- Houston Astros
  2. x- Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland Athletics

NL East Preview 2017

  1. y- Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Philadelphia Phillies
  4. Miami Marlins
  5. Atlanta Braves

NL Central Preview 2017

  1. z- Chicago Cubs
  2. x- St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Milwaukee Brewers

NL West Preview 2017

  1. y- Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. x- San Francisco Giants
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. Colorado Rockies
  5. San Diego Padres

Playoffs:

AL Wild Card – Orioles at Rangers

The Orioles’ bats outlast Texas pitching, survive and advance.

NL Wild Card – Giants at Cardinals

Madison Bumgarner is too much once again, Giants move on.

AL Division Series

Orioles vs. Indians – Baltimore’s great run ends at the hands of Francona’s dominant rotation, Indians in 4.

Astros vs. Red Sox – In a high scoring 5 game series, Red Sox prevail in Fenway.

NL Division Series

Giants vs. Cubs – In this NLDS rematch, the Cubs fight off Cueto in game 1, lose to Bumgarner in game 3, but have enough to clinch the series on the road in game 4.

Dodgers vs. Nationals – And in this rematch, the Nationals finally pull through and win a hard-fought game 5.

AL Conference Series – Red Sox vs. Indians

In a series I’m already looking forward to, the Red Sox get back to the World Series behind Chris Sale and some clutch rookie performances in 6 games.

NL Conference Series – Nationals vs. Cubs

The Nationals’ dream ends short, Cubs sweep to try to repeat as champions.

World Series Prediction: Red Sox beat Cubs in 6 games.

AL West Preview 2017

al_west_fecrk3wf_56950rx9.jpg

The AL West has some serious work to do. A representative from this division has not lasted past the ALDS since the 3-straight World Series losses from 2010-2012. In fact, the AL West hasn’t claimed a title since the Los Angeles Angels won their franchise’s only crown in 2002. This year’s group will try to end the 14-year drought, but it won’t be easy. With so many teams in the middle of the pack, it’s likely that they will beat each other down throughout the season so that only the division champ will advance to the postseason, rather than allowing a team to get a Wild Card berth as well. As such, the division winner will likely face the champion from the much more experienced AL East or AL Central. But hey, someone is bound to break through and surprise sometime. Let’s take a look at who that could be…

 

Oakland Athletics (2016: 69-93, 5th Place)sonny-gray-3514.jpg

Lineup: The A’s almost certainly won’t be that team. Their outdated lineup is probably highlighted by former All-stars Stephen Vogt and Rajai Davis. I emphasize former because they are nowhere close to All-star caliber anymore. In fact, everyone in their starting lineup is 29 or older except for Marcus Semien and rookie Ryon Healey. So much age makes it incredibly difficult to bring emotion and energy when your team needs it. Semien is a bright spot with a game-changing glove at shortstop, however, he lacks a presence at the dish. All in all, there simply isn’t enough talent to go around, and Oakland finds themselves in a huge hole compared to the rest of the league. Look for the A’s to start investing in their farm system, as they should be quintessential sellers for the next few years.

Pitching: I know it sounds harsh, but the A’s just might have the worst pitching staff in the league, too. With Kendall Graveman as their ace, Oakland is in grave danger. There isn’t much else to say. He’s followed by Sean Manaea and three men who have yet to make themselves known in the MLB. Who knows? Maybe these no-namers will come through and provide some kind of spark for the A’s, but I just don’t see anything to look forward to in Oakland. Also, they don’t even have a clear closer in the bullpen. Instead, they plan to have a true committee approach among three former greats way past their prime: Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, and Santiago Casilla. There couldn’t be more instability in the Athletic organization, and I hope this season doesn’t turn into the disaster that it appears it will be on paper.

2017 Goals: I can’t imagine that the Athletics are looking short term. Their goals are focused on rebuilding and investing in their future. I know general manager Billy Beane desperately wants that elusive World Series title, but unfortunately for him that dream appears to be years down the road. For 2017, I don’t believe any result will change this course of action for better or worse.

My expectations: With such an uneven roster with little to play for, I expect the A’s to finish in last place for the third year in a row. Hopefully the unproven talent in the back of the rotation will provide hope for Oakland, but I don’t imagine it will be fun to watch the A’s in O.Co Coliseum. But hey, at least they’ll have the place to themselves pretty soon…

 

Los Angeles Angels (2016: 74-88, 4th Place)

Mike-Trout4.jpg

Lineup: Last year, the Angels probably had the most disappointing season of any team in the MLB. However, Mike Trout claimed AL MVP honors for the second time in 3 years. Despite the controversy due to his team’s lack of success (how valuable can you be if your team is still one of the worst in the American League?), no one can argue he is one of the most dynamic talents the league has seen in decades. He’s joined in the middle of the lineup by sluggers Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun. These three combined for exactly 50% of the team’s home runs and 43% of L.A.’s RBIs in 2016. Unfortunately, there isn’t much production beyond that. As evidenced by the overwhelming contribution by just three players, the Angels have very little support elsewhere. Los Angeles will hope the acquisitions of Danny Espinosa, Cameron Maybin, and Martin Maldanado can jumpstart this lineup as they try to contend for another division title.

Pitching: The Angels don’t have great pitching, but it’s not bad either. Riddled with injuries last year, L.A. hopes their starters can stay healthy and productive throughout 2017. With many of them being forced to take the year off to heal from various ailments, it’s tough to predict how each will fair when they return to the diamond. For now, Garrett Richards will be the ace, followed by Ricky Nolasco. Richards has been pretty good as of late, averaging a 2.87 ERA over the past 3 seasons. Meanwhile Nolasco has benefitted from a trade away from Minnesota and his ERA jumped to a decent 3.33 in LA. Next up are veterans Matt Shoemaker and Jesse Chavez whose career ERA as starters are about 3.92 each. As you can see, none of these men are too dependable, but they can pitch solid innings without letting up more than 3 or 4 runs. However, the bullpen is virtually nonexistent. With closer Huston Street likely starting the season on the Disabled List, the Angels will struggle to keep games close late in games. While this provides great opportunity for growth by the rest of the bullpen, the current state of the pitching will drag L.A. to another subpar season in 2017.

2017 Goals: It’s evident by the activity during the offseason that the Angels are ready to compete at a high level again. However, due to an inability to stay off the DL and a lack of pitching talent, it’s unclear how soon they can challenge the rest of the league for a playoff spot. While they definitely want to bring some hardware to Los Angeles, I would think they should keep expectations in check about just how soon that might be.

My Expectations: I think the Angels are doing the right thing with regard to moving forward as an organization, but it just takes time. With a couple of down years and injury-plagued seasons, I think the Angels can start to try to come out of the cellar. Their success in the next couple of years will ultimately come down to the pitching staff. Their ability to perform after the season-ending injuries they suffered will make or break the Angels’ season this year. Either way, I expect L.A. to continue moving forward by making trades and building around the superstar that is Mike Trout.

 

Houston Astros (2016: 84-78, 3rd Place) GETTY-Houston-Astros_1444325661400_24959357_ver1.0_640_480.jpg

Lineup: After a season-long battle, the Astros fell just 5 games short of a playoff berth. While disappointing, I believe it sets the stage for one of the best teams Houston has ever fielded. With tons of diverse young talent and a couple of key pieces of veteran leadership, manager A.J. Hinch has all the ingredients of a title contender. Captain Jose Altuve is an on-base machine, leading the AL in hits and batting average. On the left side of the infield, upstart Alex Bregman joins phenom Carlos Correa who are both perfect utility batters that Hinch can place anywhere in the lineup to be effective. George Springer leads an outfield full of pop to balance the contact hitting. Along with Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran, Houston has a perfect combination of hitters getting on-base and then being quickly driven in by the power hitters. No matter how Hinch adjusts the lineup from game-to-game, the Astros will be fun to watch.

Pitching: The pitching isn’t as explosive as the batting. Following the pattern of the rest of the AL, the formula appears to be “great hitting” and “poor pitching”. Dallas Keuchel is the huge question mark in Houston. After winning a Cy Young Award in 2015, his ERA plummeted from 2.48 to an abysmal 4.55. He also dropped 11 wins and his WAR went down a full 6.5 points. Houston will hope Keuchel gets past this hangover and ramps back up to Cy Young caliber before long. Other noteworthy starters are Colin McHugh, Mike Fiers (who threw a no-hitter last year), and Lance McCullers. The back end of the bullpen boasts two hard-throwing right handers in Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles. While Giles has been said to be overrated, there is no doubting that he can put all kinds of heat in his fastball, and Gregerson is as reliable a setup man as they come. Houston is for real.

2017 Goals: After narrowly missing the postseason last year, the Astros want to get over the hump and be back in World Series contention. They certainly don’t have a lack of tools, and whether or not Keuchel returns to MVP form, Houston can make a legitimate run in October. That said, Keuchel’s performance, as well as Hinch’s lineup moves, will be the difference between a Wild Card berth or Division crown.

My Expectations: I think Houston can easily make the jump to division champion. The road will come with adversity, but with direct competition to its rivals, the Astros control their own destiny. Altuve, Correa, and Springer have an innate ability to do all the small things right, and that’s just what you need to win big ball games. Look forward to seeing Houston squarely in the middle of postseason conversation.

 

Seattle Mariners (2016: 86-76, 2nd Place)11.jpg

Lineup:  Speaking of barely missing the playoffs, the Mariners fell just 3 wins shy of snapping the longest postseason drought in the MLB. After 16 years, Seattle believes they’re long overdue to play more than 162 games. Robinson Cano is the obvious standout; he’s known for his ability to get on base and taking opposing pitchers deep. Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are also well-known power hitters who have eclipsed an amazing 70 combined home runs since playing together. However, like the Angels, beyond these studs the Mariners lack support. Jean Segura can provide some speed on the base paths and Jarrod Dyson and Leonys Martin have astounding gloves in the outfield, but no one can contribute anywhere close to Cano, Cruz, and Seager. The lack of depth is probably the reason the Mariners fail to make that final push into October, but they’re definitely right on the cusp of success.

Pitching: King Felix Hernandez is probably the best pitcher in the AL West. However, after finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young vote every year from 2011-2015, his numbers dropped last year. It’ll be interesting to see if he can quell rumors that he has been dethroned. In order to do so, he’ll want to limit hits and adapt the strikeout pitch that his opponents appear to have been able to connect on as of late. The Mariners will fully depend on Hernandez to provide a quality start every 5th day due to a lack of dominant pitchers behind him. Time will tell if he can handle the pressure. Even worse, Seattle has a growing bullpen that won’t be ready to carve through hitters for a while. Edwin Diaz was thrust into the closer position during his rookie year last year, which could prove to be valuable experience. I don’t think he’s ready to be a lock down save yet, but in time he will be a home-grown asset to the Mariners.

2017 Goals: The Mariners will tell you that they’ll settle for nothing less than to end their playoff drought. Well, they better. The Mariners simply don’t have the depth and big-game experience to outlast other AL giants. If they don’t taper their expectations and try to really prepare and lock down a solid lineup from top to bottom, the drought won’t be ending anytime soon.

My Expectations: Unfortunately, Seattle is stuck in the middle of the MLB – they aren’t good enough to make the playoffs and they aren’t bad enough to get a good draft pick. I give them credit for never giving up on the postseason chase, but at some point they’ll need to revamp their roster. If the Mariners are disappointed by the 2017 results, hopefully they’ll take a look in the mirror and formulate a plan to take a small step back so they can surge forward in the playoffs.

 

Texas Rangers (2016: 95-67, 1st Place)

aptopix_rays_rangers_baseball_c0-237-2360-1613_s885x516.jpeg

Lineup: Not only did the Rangers have the most wins in the division, they were able to claim the overall #1 seed in the playoffs last year. However, they failed to win a game in October as they were swept by their postseason rival Toronto Blue Jays. Now, Texas is motivated more than ever to 3-peat as AL West champs and get back to the World Series. They also have the tools to do it with a loaded roster full of big-name players. Longtime Rangers and best friends Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus have developed excellent chemistry with young second baseman Rougned Odor. Though Odor has a fiery temper, his passion for the game is undeniable. At the trade deadline last year, the Rangers also acquired one of the best catchers in the country in Johnathon Lucroy, as well as an awesome reliever in Jeremy Jeffress. Furthermore, Texas signed Carlos Gomez and Mike Napoli to complete their roster. Napoli is especially interesting because he played a key roll in the Cleveland Indians run at the American League pennant. With so much power up and down the lineup, opposing teams will want to pitch carefully to the Rangers, which can spell disaster.

Pitching: The Rangers pitching staff is led by Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Both are not well known for getting punch outs, but they do pitch to contact and rely on easy ground balls or pop-ups to get their outs. That said, they also both surprised last year when their strikeout tallies nearly reached career highs. Darvish has his vast repertoire firing on all cylinders after Tommy John surgery set him back in 2014 and 2015. Now these aces have their sights locked on the title. With a talented bullpen to back them up, the only weakness appear to be the back end of the rotation. The casual fan has probably never heard of names like A.J. Griffin or Chi Chi Gonzalez, and with good reason. Both had ERAs through the roof last year at 5.07 and 8.71 respectively. Yikes. Winning 2/5th of games obviously won’t cut it, but luckily their All-star lineup should bail out some bad pitching here and there.

2017 Goals: The Rangers are firmly in title contention. As back-to-back division champs, their postseason woes continue, failing to advance to the Conference Championship both years. This, of course, comes on the heels of two MLB runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. Always the bridesmaid, Texas wants to finally earn its spot in the lime light.

My Expectations: Not so fast. I believe they can make the playoffs, but they face stiff opposition. Their in-state rival Astros are vying for the division crown, and the AL East has plenty of serious contenders for the Wild Card spot. So, even if the Rangers make the playoffs again, they may not get a favorable seed, and then they might be packing their bags early once again. It’ll also be crucial to get some help from the back of the rotation. If they want another chance at the World Series, this team will need to stay focused all season long.

AL Central Preview 2017

9600461-mlb-alds-cleveland-indians-boston-red-sox-850x560.jpg

The AL Central seems to always be the underdog. First, the Kansas City Royals made an improbable run from 2013-2015 when they came out of nowhere, and went to contenders-to champions. Then, last year the Cleveland Indians shocked the world by going from .500 to Game 7 of the World Series. Meanwhile, both the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox seem to be in constant rebuilding mode, and the Detroit Tigers continue to deal with postseason heartbreak. Let’s take a look at how they can turn it around.

Minnesota Twins (2016: 59- 103, 5th Place)blog-0928281001412727967.jpg

Lineup: Not only was this atrocious record the worst in the AL Central, it was the worst in the entire MLB by a full 9 games. Ouch. Except for that stud Brian Dozier at second base and a future superstar in Byron Buxton at center, the Twins don’t have a lot going for them. The good news is that they easily clinched the first overall pick in the draft in June. But with a lot of their prospects being prematurely forced to move t0 the MLB due to the scarcity of talent, they can’t even say they have an eye to the future. Thirty-three-year-old Joe Mauer is the team leader, a lifetime Twin. Minnesota finds some power from Miguel Sano, but really, Dozier carries the team by leading in almost every hitting stat except OBP for which he is second best to Mauer. It’s stunning to see just how much Minnesota needs Dozier, and it’s a shame that they’re stuck with a major problem over the coming years. They can’t trade Dozier for a couple of other players, because Dozier is the entire offense. They can’t trade anybody else (besides Buxton, but he’s not going anywhere), because they’re not good enough to get anyone in return. So, unfortunately, the Twins have nowhere to go. Stuck in the basement, only time and hope of breakout performances can rescue this squad. Well, until the 2018 offseason that is…

Pitching: I wish I could say that the Twins at least have a good pitching staff. Their “ace” is 12-year veteran Ervin Santana, who is far past his prime. I would say the only bright spot is the potential of rookie Jose Berrios. A first round pick in 2012, Berrios is tearing up the minor leagues. After cashing in a few games at the end of 2016, it’ll be interesting to see how his skill translates to the Majors when he earns a role as a full-time starter. The Twins could desperately use his talents at the back of the rotation. As for the bullpen, some more young and potential starters down the road will put the work in. Their specific roles will remain to be seen, as manager Paul Molitor will have to find out where each arm fits best. For now, as the most experienced member of the bullpen, Brandon Kintzler will have the closing duties. At least he did okay in 2016… when he took over the role midseason and closed out 17 games. With so much unknown, time will tell just how this season will play out.

2017 Goals: The Twins only goal should be to avoid getting last place. Finishing 30th place by 9 games is a little embarrassing, and I’m sure Minnesota wants nothing more than to surpass at least one team in 2017. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for, but Brian Dozier can’t win 65 games by himself.

My Expectations: Honestly, I don’t know what to expect from this team. I believe they are better than their atrocious record shows, but not much better. With each year of team experience, chemistry should build and hopefully that will amount to wins. It’ll take “all hands on deck”, and more than a lot of patience to ride through the storm that Minnesota has created. Hopefully a few years down the road they can become a winning franchise again, but for now, I don’t expect much to change.

Chicago White Sox (2016: 78-84, 4th Place)Five Chicago White Sox players have agreed to play in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Lineup: The White Sox have officially hit the reset button. Letting star players like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton leave for a multitude of top prospects leaves no doubt on where the mindset in Chicago is moving forward. Watching their cross-town Chicago rivals break their World Series drought last year has forced a massive overhaul on the South Side. The Sox will heavily rely on first baseman Jose Abreu. His stellar rookie season was followed by an above average sophomore year, and in 2017 he’ll have the full weight of the White Sox depending on him to keep the explosive power coming. He’ll get help from the veteran slugger Todd Frazier. Probably batting 4-5 in the lineup, these two will have to use their big bats to put up the majority of the runs Chicago will score this season. That’s a lot of pressure. Luckily, as one of the best farm systems in the MLB grows and matures, Abreu and Frazier will be joined by some of the best young talent of the next generation by 2018 or even sooner.

Pitching: Along with trading their ace Chris Sale, the White Sox have been shopping Jose Quintana and David Robertson on the trade market. If they are successful in letting their best remaining pitchers go before the season starts, it’ll be a scary year for the pitching staff. Of course, by trading away their franchise players, it’s clear that the White Sox are looking far past 2017. Luckily, by trading Eaton to the Washington Nationals, the Sox scored big by acquiring pitchers Lucas Gioloto and Reynaldo Lopez. These hard-throwing righties are on the verge of entering the Majors and catapulting the White Sox into a new era. The amount of talented prospects about to join the team in Chicago cannot be understated, and to think that they could acquire even more for the expensive Robertson is scary. With ample cap room and a multitude of young stars, the White Sox could be the next dominant force in the MLB before long.

2017 Goals: I don’t think the White Sox have many goals for this year. I imagine they’ll be very happy if everyone stays healthy and they don’t finish the seasons worse than the Twins. No matter what, they will scrupulously track their minor leaguers as they prepare to become the new champions of Chicago.

My Expectations: It’s anybody’s guess how things will shake out this season. Their current roster has two huge power hitters among an otherwise lackluster lineup. Currently, Quintana stands alone as the only reliable pitcher, and he is only above average. Time will tell if he stays with Chicago, but it might be better for everyone if he has a change of scenery. The collapse of James Shields was well-documented last year; a renaissance for him can salvage the Sox’s 2017 season. But again, as long as they don’t finish worse than Minnesota, this season is just a formality as they are ready to contend in 2018 and beyond.

 

Kansas City Royals (2016: 81-81, 3rd Place)bal-kansas-city-royals-pitcher-yordano-ventura-dies-in-car-crash-in-dominican-republic-20170122.jpg

Lineup: After exploding on the scene in 2015 to win the World Series, the Royals have been fairly quiet. Once coming from the cellar to the top of the world, now Kansas City finds itself in the middle of the pack, finishing at exactly .500 in 2016. Until this past offseason, the Royals have been reluctant to break up the lineup that got them to their first trophy since 1985. This includes Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakes, and the ever-reliable Salavdor Perez. In the outfield, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain will have a new face to work with this summer. The speedy Jorge Soler was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for the hard-throwing closer Wade Davis. There isn’t much to say about these men. They’re all veterans of the game with big game experience, and the coaching staff knows exactly what they’ll bring to the team. Of course, their past success together speaks for itself. With All-star potential abound, the Royals have a solid team. The problem is that they don’t appear to play as hungrily as they did during their miraculous 2015 season. Without that drive to succeed, it’ll be hard for the Royals to break into the postseason again.

Pitching: Unfortunately, tragedy struck for the Royals this offseason. On January 22, Yordano Ventura passed away following a car accident in his home country, the Dominican Republic. Much like José Fernandez, Ventura was a fiery young pitcher whose energy sent waves through the entire MLB. The Royals will greatly miss their ace, Ventura. With the unexpected passing of this great, there is a lot of pressure on the back end of the rotation to step up. Danny Duffy is thrust into the #1 role, while Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas, and former Cub Jason Hammel take on the added competition. As for the bullpen, the loss of Wade Davis hurts them greatly. The shutdown bullpen of 2014-2015 is now gone, and the Royals can no longer rely on just getting the lead after the 6th inning. Working through the late inning will be a struggle, and you can expect many leads to get blown by the unproven relievers. The new closer should be Kelvin Herrera. While he can fire his fastball, he is known to lack control. As high0pressure situations affect him, things may get out of hand for KC in the 9th. Pitching is the obvious weakness for the Royals.

2017 Goals: The Royals want to get back to the playoffs. The success of 2014 and 2015 was definitely like catching lightning in a bottle, and they would love to rejuvenate their team to enjoy that type of run again. They have the experience and a batting order that can hit to all sides of the field, but the pitching needs to back it up.

My Expectations: While Kansas City has the ability to provide some pop, it’s still no match for the run support of the AL East or even the Cleveland Indians. I say this because teams like the Baltimore Orioles have the luxury of sacrificing their pitching ability because they can hit so well. The Royals are a good hitting team, just not up to that caliber, and poor pitching can easily put them out of games they could otherwise win. I expect another average season around .500.

 

Detroit Tigers (2016: 86-75, 2nd Place)

cabrerajd-3

Lineup: Last season Detroit fans were probably disappointed when their team narrowly missed out on a wild card bid to the playoffs.  In 2017 the organization hopes to reward its fan base with its first post-season victory since 2013.  As for the hitting, the Tigers don’t lack in power.  First baseman Miguel Cabrera leads a group of sluggers that contains the likes of J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez.  The Tigers rank in the top 10 in every hitting statistic in the MLB.  With tons of combined experience, Detroit has more than enough talent to make a legitimate playoff contender.  In his fourth year with the team, manager Brad Ausmus has continued a winning tradition set forth by previous manager and Hall of Famer Jim Leyland.  Despite a slight decline between the shift in power, the Tigers have the potential to become a dominant force in the MLB once again.  Thanks to a break-out performance in 2016 by Nick Castellanos, the Tigers have a diverse group of men which is always a benefit in the MLB.  With so many big hitters, the sky’s the limit for Detroit.

Pitching:  The Tigers have arguably one of the best rotations in baseball.  Justin Verlander is the star of the group, but don’t underestimate Michael Fulmer or Jordan Zimmermann.  After a stellar campaign in 2016, Verlander fell just a few votes shy of claiming his second Cy Young Award.  Fullmer came out of nowhere after a sub-par beginning of his career to surprise the AL Central with his command, despite a lack of velocity.  A long-time Washington National, Zimmermann has compiled nearly 1,000 strikeouts in his career.  Although perhaps just past his prime, he averages an impressive 1.177 WHIP and 14 wins per year.  In the bullpen, closer Francisco Rodriquez, commonly known as K-Rod, has a naturally ability to throw strikes.  The veteran ranks 4th all time in saves with 430.  However, he doesn’t have much help for the rest of the relievers often fail to keep the game close until the 9th when given the ball.   Luckily they don’t need to because the starters often go deep anyway.  It’s a lot to ask to have starters go 7 to 8 innings a night, as surely they will wear down by September.  If Detroit can lessen the pressure for the starters to continue to perform at such a high clip, they should have a spot in the postseason.

2017 Goals:  As I stated before, the Tigers would likely be dissatisfied if they weren’t playing in October.  The batting order has all the pieces to churn out runs, and the pitchers can throw strong innings if they don’t get tired.  It’s reasonable to think that the Tigers can continue to improve, but the question will be if they can unseat the defending AL Champions.

My Expectations:   One could argue that the new “Death Row” is in Detroit.  There is no doubt that the veteran rotation has plenty of skill to compete with anybody.  However this drive to succeed and push the limits could be their undoing.  If they force themselves through too many innings in early summer, they can run out of gas before they make it to the playoffs.  I expect the Tigers offense to continue to roll year after year, but like the Royals, without pitching to support, they may fall just short of their aspirations.

 

Cleveland Indians (2016: 94-67, 1st Place)michael-brantley-jason-kipnis-francisco-lindor-mlb-cleveland-indians-milwaukee-brewers.jpg

Lineup:  Believeland is alive and well in northeastern Ohio!  Although famously blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series, the Indians are not short on hope.  With the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland’s dangerous roster got even more scary.  Encarnacion will follow up the best season of his career by working with infielders Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor.  Lindor might be the future of the MLB.  His outstanding speed and ability to make contact make him a very tough “out,” not to mention, his quickness at shortstop can lead him to multiple Gold Gloves in his career.  Long-time Indians Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley have waited a long time for Cleveland to rise to the top.  They hope to better their performance from last year and prove that they are here to win for seasons to come.

Pitching:  Speaking of becoming more dangerous, injured players Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar rejoin the rotation for 2017.  Had they been healthy, we might be calling the Indians the “defending World Champions.”  So this year, with plenty of rest over the off-season, they are ready to make an impact on the team.  The pitching rotation also boasts Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, and All-Star Corey Kluber.  Last year they were the best in OBP in the AL, and 2nd in wins and ERA.  This mean that not only do their opponents rarely get on base, but if they do, they hardly score.  With a batting order as stacked as theirs is, Indians fans rest easy.  After a trade with the New York Yankees bringing in Andrew Miller, Cleveland has a nearly unstoppable bullpen.  Miller and Bryan Shaw can dominate long innings to allow closer Cody Allen a comfortable lead in the ninth.  Though the starters can go deep as well, having the comfort of knowing that they have a reliable bullpen to back them up can definitely ease the burden of these pitchers.

2017 Goals:  The Indians should settle for nothing less than the Commissioner’s Trophy.  They clearly have all the ingredients to make it back to the World Series, and they have no excuse for any lack of drive or motivation.  Adding Encarnacion and controlling Miller with a long-term contract shows that the Indians are ready to win sooner rather than later.

My Expectations:  I fully believe that the Indians can win the division again, the first time they will go back-to-back since 1998 and 1999.  Furthermore, they should match up well with any opponent they face in the playoffs, and they have the depth to succeed in a long series should it come down to that.  I don’t see anything holding the Indians back apart from unforeseen injury.  Expect to see Cleveland playing in the ALCS once again.

AL East Preview 2017

preview_aleast030716.jpg

With football season behind us, it’s time to turn our attention to baseball. As players report for Spring Training, I’ll tell you who to keep an eye on in each division. Let’s take a look at the American league East, perhaps the most dominant division in baseball. An MLB high (and maximum) 3 teams made the postseason last year from this division, and a representative from the AL East has gone on to the ALCS every year since the Wild Card round was introduced in 2012. The Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Orioles look to make it back to the postseason and contend for a World Series title, while the Yankees and Rays will try to unseat their rivals and make a run of their own.

 

Tampa Bay Rays (2016: 68-94, 5th Place)

evan-longoria-desmond-jennings-mlb-new-york-yankees-tampa-bay-rays2.jpg

Lineup: The Rays have one of the youngest rosters in baseball, and it’s full of power. Anchored by longtime 3rd baseman Evan Longoria, the budding stars will look to the veteran for leadership. Outfielders Colby Rasmus, Kevin Kiermaier, and Steven Souza can take anybody deep and should all surpass 15 home runs in 2017, assuming they stay healthy. However, while not known for his glove, DH Corey Dickerson can play the field in a pinch. The most intriguing roster move was a mutually beneficial trade with the San Fransisco Giants at the end of 2016 in which the Rays sent pitcher Matt Moore in exchange for a sure-handed shortstop in Matt Duffy. Duffy is sure to be a solid contributor at the bottom of the lineup who can get on base and provide a little speed. With an overwhelming amount of power and youth, complimented by some contact hitting, the Rays have a bright future in the coming years after they gain some experience in the Majors for their prospects.

Pitching: The Rays’ pitching staff is led by one of the leagues best… Chris Archer. While his numbers dipped in 2016, he looks to bounce back this year. Given some run support, Archer can be a dominant force that contends for the Cy Young Award. Behind him it gets a little questionable. Jake Odorozzi, Alex Cobb, and Blake Snell have shown flashes of brilliance, but more often than not they are average pitchers that go 6 innings and give up 3 or 4 runs per game. Matt Andriese rounds out the rotation as an unproven starter. He’ll look to make his mark this year as he was primarily used in the bullpen in 2015 and 2016. If he continues to play at a high clip with the extra work load, it can really boost this pitching staff. Despite these shortcomings, if the starters can keep the game close into the 7th and 8th innings, Shawn Tolleson, Brad Boxberger, and Alex Colome have shutdown mentality. Well in their 20s, the young arms have plenty of fire to perform. The problem will be trying to keep their emotions in check during close games and not allowing small errors like walks and singles affect their approach.

2017 Goals: Tampa Bay’s main goal should be to get playing time for its youth. It’s clear that they have invested in their future, and it’s years like these in which they need to remind themselves of the long-term expectations. No matter how things go this year, I don’t expect any drastic changes to the lineup or any big acquisitions. The Rays have talent, but in 2017, all they need to do is surpass what they did in 2016 as they look ahead.

My Expectations: I fully expect the Rays to win more than 68 games. They will continue to move forward and stay the course. GM Matt Silverman is a young executive who will learn with his team. It’s reasonable to expect Tampa Bay to continue to rebuild over the coming years before expectations of the postseason become more realistic. It’s also important to remember that they are a part of the most competitive division in the MLB, and it won’t be easy to make their way to the top. So for now, they should be content with simply improving from years past and preparing for the future.

 

New York Yankees (2016: 84-78, 4th Place)

new-york-yankees-players-hi-res-154118151-crop-north-1.jpg

Lineup: The Yankees have only missed the postseason 3 times since 1995. While that’s impressive, all three times were in the past 4 years. The greatest franchise in baseball history knew it was time to make some changes. At the trade deadline and throughout the offseason, the Yankees revamped their lineup. Already with the best farm system in the league, additions of 6 top prospects, including Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, and Justus Sheffield, will make the Yankees a force in the next few years. As for 2017, the major league roster will not differ much from 2016. A veteran outfield with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury look to contribute at the top of the batting order with their speed and allow the powerful infielders to accumulate RBIs. Star middle-infielders Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorious have a perfect balance of power and quickness, and will continue to contend for Gold Gloves on defense. Meanwhile, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge look to build off explosive breakout performances last year. New York brings a little bit of everything to their organization in 2017. The question will be, can the extraordinary balance (while young) translate to wins? Or will the Yankees have to ride out another not-quite-good-enough year?

Pitching: New York’s pitching is among the most talented in baseball. An inspired rotation is anchored by a lockdown bullpen. Starters Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Luis Severino are the clear standouts. With a few years under their belts, together they can improve upon the already-impressive ERAs they posted last season. Best of all, by reacquiring the league’s best closer, Aroldis Chapman, the bullpen is nearly unstoppable. Tyler Clippard is a cool-headed veteran and Dellin Betances is a perfect set up man, pitching more innings than any reliever in the past 3 years. If the Yankees have the lead late, it’ll be lights out after the 7th inning stretch. Any team should fear this pitching staff. More balance of youth and leadership is sure to lead to success far beyond 2017. Trouble will come if the teams that New York frequently plays get accustomed to the staff’s pitching style. When they play their divisional rivals 18 times in a season, it’s easy for opposing hitters to catch on to the Yankees’ repertoire.

2017 Goals: The Yankees always want to make the playoffs. That’s why it was so surprising when they were sellers at the trade deadline in 2016. Surprisingly, they still continued to pull out wins and finished above .500, narrowly missing the postseason despite trading away the best parts of their bullpen for prospects. GM Brian Cashman appears to be a genius for not only acquiring these future All-stars, but remaining competitive right now. New York wants to kick-start the new era of the Yankees with a playoff appearance followed by the assumed, repeated success of the brand.

My Expectations: It’s fair to expect these goals will come to fruition. Constantly containing the highest payroll in the MLB, the Yankees are the epitome of MLB prowess. While New York has “suffered” through a couple down years, I believe the dominance of the 1990s and 2000s will return sooner rather than later. However, just how soon is yet to be seen. The balance of Yankee talent is almost incomprehensible. Following this business model, it seems Cashman’s Yankees can accomplish anything they set out to do. As for making the playoffs this year, I believe New York is missing a true star to hang their hats on. With so much balance, there is no true player to depend on. Unless they can make one more blockbuster deal at the trade deadline in July, I believe they could fall just short of the postseason in 2017. Normally I don’t recommend too many lineup changes, but Cashman has proven his brilliance in this field. Regardless, make no mistake, they will be a force to be reckoned with in October come 2018.

 

Toronto Blue Jays (2016: 89-73 T-2nd Place)donaldson.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x737.jpg

Lineup: Toronto has the oldest team in the MLB averaging 28.6 years per player. But with age comes valuable experience. The Jays were locked in a season-long battle with the Orioles for a playoff spot, and in the end they tied. After outlasting them in the Wild Card round, the Blue Jays made it to the ALCS before being ousted by the Cleveland Indians. That same team returns for 2017… except for one person. Cleanup man Edwin Encarnacion was not re-signed, and instead Toronto picked up former Kansas City Royal Kendrys Morales. While a downgrade, it saves the Blue Jays a huge chunk of change, and the disparity in talent is not that great. Morales may not have the firepower Encarnacion has, but he can hold his own in the middle of the lineup. Regardless, the Blue Jays had one of the best offenses in the league last year, and will continue to score in 2017. They are led by perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson and power-hitter Jose Bautista. Also, defensive stars Kevin Pillar and Troy Tulowitzki are sure to spark the Blue Jays as they try to make it back to the playoffs and avenge their exit in the Conference Championship.

Pitching: One of the more intriguing storylines last year was how the entire Toronto pitching staff appeared to hit their stride all at once. Without a firm ace, all 5 starters had to step up and pitch valuable innings. J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez even finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting last year. Together, the Blue Jays’ 3.78 ERA was best in the American League. I’m truly blown-away by that fact as none of the starters are household names. You’d be hard-pressed to find people outside of Canada that are familiar with the talent of Happ and Sanchez, not to mention other starters of equal value, Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman. These men will hope to continue to defy explanation as they go for the divisional title in 2017. The issue will be the lack of support from the bullpen. Apart from Roberto Osuna pitching the 9th, the Jays don’t have anyone to rely on. The starting rotation will have a lot of pressure to avoid slumping and getting the ball to their trusted closer.

2017 Goals: The Blue Jays will tell you their goal is to get back to the ALCS and go on to win the World Series. Realistically, I don’t think they’ll be the same team they were last year. While they have a dominant offense and an inexplicably good pitching staff, I’m not convinced they can win like they did in 2016. I think the Jays should be content at setting their goals a little lower; I’d be impressed if they even made the playoffs.

My Expectations: I know I’m contradicting myself, and here’s why. I was a believer in Toronto last season. They had a stacked lineup from top to bottom, and no matter how many runs the pitchers gave up, they were still dangerous at the plate. In 2017, while still dangerous, losing their key #4 hitter, Encarnacion, for Morales is a step down. That said, it was a smart decision to let Encarnacion walk as a free agent because the Jays couldn’t afford his asking price. Morales is a great value, but he just isn’t the same caliber as their former cleanup man. Also, last year the pitching was great, but in the end the perfect storm only resulted in a Wild Card berth. With my expectation of a couple pitchers to slump (or at least not perform at the level they did last season) I would be prepared for Toronto to take a small step back rather than forward. But hey, they’ve surprised us before.

 

Baltimore Orioles (2016: 89-73 T-2nd Place)orioles.jpg

Lineup: The key to the Orioles’ success in recent years has been their dominance at the plate. They play a similar game to the Blue Jays, and it’s fitting they tied at the end of 2016. Both teams can threaten double-digit runs any day, but Baltimore fails to secure large margins of victory due to inconsistent pitching. But who needs pitching when over half their starting lineup hits 25+ home runs each? Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis lead the team with a combined 145 home runs over the past two seasons. Along with that astronomical number, Manny Machado and Adam Jones are no slouches at the plate either. Regulars at the All Star Game, their ability to routinely get on base helps boost the Orioles’ .443 slugging percentage to 2nd best in the AL. With the variety of skill sets all over the lineup, opposing pitchers don’t relish the chance to play Baltimore.

Pitching: As for pitching, the Orioles are firmly subpar. Ranking in the bottom half of the league in ERA, strikeouts, and BAA, Baltimore struggles to find strong pitchers to turn to. Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman are the best of their starters while Dylan Bundy is trying to learn the ropes. Ubaldo Jimenez is an interesting case, as he was dominate when he was with the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians for most of his career. However, since moving to pitch in Maryland, his numbers have taken a turn for the worse. His ERA has never fallen below 4.11 and he continues to be burned by the long ball. In fact, most of the Orioles struggle to avoid giving up home runs, surrendering at least 1 per game. While lacking in starting pitching, veteran manager Buck Showalter has one of the most experienced bullpens in the MLB. As evidenced by their playoff appearance last year, it’s clear they can go deep into extra innings and bail out poor starts. Also, closer Zach Britton is a huge weapon as he has only blown 8 saves in his entire career… not to mention he has been near the top of the leaderboard in total saves since becoming the closer in 2014. With this unbelievable save percentage, if the Orioles provide him the lead… it’s game over.

2017 Goals: The Orioles plan on making the playoffs and extending their run. Last year, Showalter’s questionable decision to keep Britton on the bench late in the Wild Card game may have cost his team their season in heartbreaking fashion. Re-signing their stars and effectively replacing long-time catcher Matt Weiters with Wellington Castillo this offseason gives Baltimore a good chance to avenge that lost opportunity. With a breakout pitching performance or timely trade to improve that weakness, the Orioles definitely have a chance to reach the ALDS for just the third time since 1997.

My Expectations: As one-sided as the Orioles were last season with astounding offense and ugly pitching, they still cranked out almost 90 wins. Hoping that the starting pitching can provide some more support for their bullpen, a playoff berth is attainable. Showalter is one of the best and most well-liked managers in the league; if anyone can continue to inspire the team… it’s him. Knowing that the Orioles want to return a winning culture to their organization, I expect them to make changes to their roster if things start to go south. The front office has been traditional and tentative to make moves in the past, but come the trade deadline in July, they should be ready to seek a huge deal to put the Orioles in World Series contention.

 

Boston Red Sox (2016: 93-69, 1st Place)CkdAv4EWUAA1qvp.jpg

Lineup: The Red Sox are a force with the bat, leading the league in batting average, runs, hits, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OBP among others. Phew. How is it possible that Boston can be first in the MLB in nearly every batting category? Answer: A diverse young lineup that is stacked with talent, leadership, and they always have fun and love to play together as a team. MVP finalist Mookie Betts is accompanied by a contact machine in Jackie Bradley Jr. and rookie Andrew Benintendi in the outfield. Two proven All-star talents look to have an even bigger impact this year if it’s possible, and Benintendi is sure to make his mark on the MLB and be a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year. In the infield, shortstop Xander Bogaerts can flash the leather with beloved teammate Dustin Pedroia and a much lighter Pablo Sandoval at third. Before addressing the only glaring weakness in this lineup, take a moment to remember these names. All but Sandoval could easily hit over .300, and each have an amazing combination of speed and power. It’s easy to picture two or three of these superstars capturing Gold Gloves by the season’s end. Now, the DH spot is missing one of the greatest Red Sox players in history. Slugger David Ortiz hung up the cleats after last season, and left huge shoes to fill. I’m sorry, but there is no way Mitch Moreland is up to the task. He’ll play first base and Hanley Ramirez will probably be the DH because of his poor fielding ability, but regardless, the team takes an undeniable loss without Ortiz’s age-defying prowess. 

Pitching: As if the Red Sox couldn’t get any better, the reigning Cy Young winner is only the third best pitcher in the rotation. An excellent offseason trade with the White Sox sent a couple of A+ prospects to Chicago in exchange for Chris Sale. Sale is arguably one of the best players in the league, but was unable to accumulate wins due to the lack of support from his old team. Now in Boston, his blazing fastball and excellent command will barrel through the AL East. And let’s not forget about one the best lefties to ever play, David Price. He never disappoints during the regular season, but the playoffs have been an entirely different story. The Red Sox will have to overcome Price’s October woes if they want to get over the hump and get back to the World Series.

2017 Goals: Speaking of World Series, I don’t think the people of Boston will be satisfied with anything less than a championship. Following the Patriots’ Super Bowl title, New England fans would love to see their team capture another crown. It’s clear the management is putting their faith in its team, as they traded the best prospect in the league for Sale. This show of support and confidence by the front office can motivate the Red Sox to the top.

My Expectations: Despite the loss of Ortiz, the growing potential and talent from the rest of the roster is astounding. Besides the holes at first base and catcher, the Sox have 7 potential franchise players all on one team. Stacked with All-stars and good defense, combined with shutdown pitching, the only team that can truly beat the Red Sox is themselves. With so much leadership and hunger to return to the Fall Classic, Boston is a legitimate title contender.