Tagged: Tampa Bay Rays

The Designated 15: AL Power Rankings – Week 10

Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 10, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 10! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).

  1. Oakland Athletics (5-2 last week, 38-24 overall) Like their Bay Area mates the Giants, Oakland are lapping the field in terms of run differential (their mark of +118 is more than double the next best team, the Blue Jays). Unlike San Francisco however, the rest of their division is looking pretty frisky too, with only the Astros rocking a losing record amongst the other four AL West teams. They might well be the best team in the AL, but the A’s are going to have to be on their game all year long to stay at the summit of their own division with such stellar competition. 
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (5-1, 38-25) As a starter, Marcus Stroman has pitched 12 innings of 1.50 ERA ball, walking two while striking out 13. As a reliever, he was rocked for 9 earned runs in just 6.1 innings, and had a 2.21 WHIP. A small sample size admittedly, but lets keep handing Stroman the ball to start games, rather than finish them, eh Mr. Gibbons? 
  3. Detroit Tigers (2-4, 33-25) Three weeks ago, the Tigers looked like they were pulling away from the rest of the AL Central. Having just swept the Red Sox in a three-game series at Fenway Park, getting some measure of revenge for the 2013 ALCS, they stood seven games clear in the division, at 27-12. Since then however, Detroit has gone 6-13, and seen their division lead cut back down to 4. Surprisingly at the forefront of the Tigers’ struggles is their usually dominant pitching; Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have both been excellent, and Rick Porcello his steady self, but Drew Smyly has failed to live up to expectations since being promoted to the rotation in place of the departed Doug Fister, and Justin Verlander looks to be a shell of his former self. Remember the panic this time last year when the 2011 AL MVP had a 3.71 ERA after 13 starts? Well this year, he’s gotten off to an even worse start – through 13 starts, he has a 4.19 ERA, a heightened walk rate (3.7 BB/9 compared to a career mark of 2.8, and a 2.0 figure in that career 2011 season), and is displaying a diminished strikeout rate (just 6.4 k/9 after averaging 9.0 over the prior four seasons). In return for collecting $20 million in salary this year, Verlander has been distinctly average, as proven by his 101 ERA+. Of course, Verlander rebounded in the second half last season, and might still be getting back into the swing of things after offseason core surgery, but at 31 years old, and owed $28 million per season for the next five years, I’d say there’s significant cause for concern amongst Tigers fans. 
  4. Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 33-28) 
  5. Baltimore Orioles (4-2, 31-29) 
  6. Seattle Mariners (4-1, 32-29) 
  7. New York Yankees (2-5, 31-30)  New York’s record in games in which Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t pitched you ask? 21-28. First on the list of pointers for improvement, stop playing Brendan Ryan at first base while riding with Derek Jeter at shortstop! If you couldn’t tell, this drives me insane. 
  8. Chicago White Sox (3-3, 31-32) Just as I was about ready to gush about how amazing Chris Sale had been of late, Mike Trout happened. Oh well. Prior to the eighth inning last night, Sale had allowed just 5 hits in 31 innings, a mere 7 to the last 107 batters he had faced, and owned a 0.72 ERA over his last four starts. Of course, after 93 pitches and seven scoreless innings last night, aided by an error, he allowed all five Angels he faced in the bottom of the eight to score, as L.A. erased a 5-0 deficit in the blink of an eye. Still, as of right now, I’m of the belief that the man known as ‘The Condor’ is the best pitcher in the AL. Mike Trout is the Most Valuable Horse after all. 
  9. Cleveland Indians (5-1, 31-31) In his second game back off the 7-day concussion DL, Carlos Santana yesterday went 2-2, with 2 walks, a home run and a single, lifting the Tribe to an 8-3 win over the Rangers. No more games behind the plate for Mr. Santana methinks… 
  10. Boston Red Sox (1-5, 27-34)  They lose 10 in a row. They win 7 in a row. They lose 6 in a row. Why Boston, must you make it so incredibly difficult for me to rank you?!
  11. Texas Rangers (3-3, 31-31)  Just hours after Kendrys Morales, you know, a designated hitter/first baseman type, signed with the Twins, Mitch Moreland, you know, Texas’ designated hitter/first baseman type, who had replaced Prince Fielder, you know, the Rangers’ presumed first baseman/designate hitter type after he went down with injury, was announced to be in need of reconstructive ankle surgery, and out for the next three months. The Rangers now have made 19 DL moves this season. No other team has made more than 12.
  12. Kansas City Royals (4-3, 30-32) Eric Hosmer home run alert! I repeat, Eric Hosmer home run alert! 
  13. Minnesota Twins  (4-3, 29-31) The Twins came out of nowhere yesterday to ink Kendrys Morales to a one-year deal, thought to be “in the ballpark” of the $10 million contract that Stephen Drew signed with the Red Sox in May. After the 30-year-old hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs with Seattle last season, he’ll likely slot into the DH spot which has preeminently been manned by Josmil Pinto (19 GP) this year. Jason Kubel was designated for assignment in a corresponding roster move. 
  14. Tampa Bay Rays (1-6, 24-39)  The Rays are holding on to 14th place in these rankings by the skin of their teeth, probably because I still can’t comprehend fully how they are three games back of the Astros. Seriously, I look at the standings and think it’s a mistake. Things have got to a point with the Rays however, where Joe Maddon‘s optimistic tweets, have got about as much baloney to them as the sandwiches he makes in the clubhouse.
  15. Houston Astros (3-3, 27-36)  Not a bad way to get your first hit Jon Singleton

The Ray-Do: Can I get a mulligan on Tampa Bay?

While streaming my awesome-binge-watch show of choice during some downtime yesterday afternoon (I’m now on to season 3 of The Wire after finishing Breaking Bad a couple of weeks ago), one particular internet pop-up caught my eye. This site wasn’t as sinister as it may at first sound – I only noticed it because it pictured Tony Parker hypothetically rising up for a dunk (I know, never going to happen right…). It was in fact, an advert for the Bovada Sportsbook.

Anyhow, this illicit prompt triggered a memory of a gambling-related post I wrote way back in Spring Training whilst March Madness was taking place, ‘Busted Bracket? Try some baseball betting!’, a piece in which I unfortunately expressed the following sentiment:

I love, love, LOVE me some Rays action this year… I’ll be taking them to win the whole darn thing. With David Price still leading a loaded pitching staff, Wil Myers’ mighty presence in the offense all year, and Joe Maddon’s usual defense/matchup innovation, at +1500 on sportsbook.com, Tampa Bay represent a terrific value to go all the way.

Sound logic at the time, but boy… just yikes. With the benefit of hindsight (well, about a third of a seasons worth of results anyway), it’s clear there are plenty of rough calls in that piece (hey Prince Fielder: HR Champ!), but that one truly sticks out. Rather than live up to the hype that infected not just I, but numerous other baseball prognosticators too, the Rays have been truly abysmal so far in 2014, and are showing little signs of turning things around (they’re currently on a 6-game losing streak). What has changed then, for the Rays to so suddenly fall off the wagon?

Jonah Keri did a great job of breaking the Ray’s slow start back on May 14th in a piece asking pretty much the same question, ‘Why Do the Preseason Darling Rays Suddenly Look Like the Devil Rays?’. At that point, they were 16-23, and only 4½ games out of first place in the AL East. In other words, there was still some hope, and Keri managed to find some silver linings (I will not plumb the pun depths for ‘Rays of hope’). Since then however, things have continued on in the wrong direction; the Rays are now 23-34, and 4 games back of fourth place, let alone the 10.5 games behind Toronto in first. Their chances of reaching the playoffs now sit at a paltry 5.3%.

The rash of pitching injuries that Keri cited, decimating the starting rotation, remain the inherent problem. Matt Moore is of course out for the year after undergoing tommy John surgery, while Jeremy Hellickson is still yet to make his debut after starting the season on the disabled list. Alex Cobb, after missing time with an oblique strain, is back at least, but his helpful return (I liked him as a good dark horse at 33/1 to win the AL Cy Young award), hasn’t been enough to offset the combination of bad luck and below-par performance currently afflicted David Price; the nominal ace of the Rays staff has a 4.27 ERA after 12 starts, but a 3.24 FIP.

Price hasn’t been alone in his struggles – young starters Chris Archer (4.00 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) and Jake Odorizzi (5.13 and 1.54 in the same categories) have been remained healthy, but have failed to live up to expectations. Combined with their relative ineffectiveness (Tampa as a whole has only 19 quality starts this year, last in the majors), throw in the lack of stamina of Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos, the other two pitchers to have started for the Rays this year, and the bullpen has been taxed – hard. Grant Balfour and Joel Peralta, previously excellent high-leverage relievers, both sport horrendous numbers. Josh Lueke remains horrid, on and off the field. Only Jake McGee has really excelled in the usual Tampa Bay reliever fashion.

But the Rays haven’t been much better on offense either. After securing AL ROY honors last year, Wil Myers was expected to play Robin to Evan Longoria‘s Batman. Instead, Myers has experienced a brutal sophomore slump (not in his bat-flip game mind you), and was hitting only just .227 with a .666 OPS before he was placed on the DL with an ailing wrist over the weekend. Longoria meanwhile, with 5 home runs and a 98 OPS+ mark, has been anonymous as one of the Joker’s masked henchmen, and unable to buoy an offense anchored by the worst catching production in the majors thus far; for all of Jose Molina‘s and Ryan Hanigan‘s framing abilities, a combined .182/.254/.257 triple slash line with terrible base running should be unacceptable.

As Keri pointed out too, there’s not much help on the way; in addition to drafting terribly over the past few years, and graduating a lot of the prospects who did in fact make it (Price, Desmond Jennings, Moore, Myers kind of etc.), the Rays are tapped out financially. Team GM Andrew Friedman acknowledged as such after a winter in which management gave out multiyear deals to the aforementioned Balfour, Hanigan, and James Loney, and then made an expensive mistake on Heath Bell; at over $80 million, this years payroll is a franchise record, and unsustainable in the long-term.

With Toronto streaking away, Baltimore’s free-agency commitment to winning now, Boston turning it around, and New York looking capable of an above .500 season, contending for the AL East in 2014 is already looking out of the question for the Rays. Besot by injuries, bad luck, and bad form, the trades might soon be coming in order to address that depleted talent pool and over-extended budget, David Price being the obvious candidate to be moved. The rebuild could be well and truly on by October, when by my prediction, they should have been playing for a championship.

The Rays are now +3500 to win it all. And it’s no longer even a decent value play.

The Designated 15: AL Power Rankings – Week 9

Throughout the season (minus last week, when I was vacationing at Safeco Field), I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 9, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 9! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).

  1. Oakland Athletics (7-6 over the last fortnight, 33-22 overall)  With a run differential of +112, the A’s are lapping the rest of the American League; the four other teams who can boast a positive differential – Detroit, Toronto, LA, and Seattle (Seattle?!) – when combined, have a +98 mark. I would highlight a single player, Josh Donaldson for example, and point to their individual success as fuel to the team’s fire, but everyone – Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, even Kyle Blanks since being acquired from the Padres – has been getting it done of late. As usual, the A’s are winning without runaway star contributors, and as usual, no one is batting an eyelid. 
  2. Detroit Tigers (5-9, 31-21)  
  3. Toronto Blue Jays (10-3, 33-24)  Speaking of turning heads, I present the Toronto Blue Jays, and most particularly, Edwin Encarnacion, in the month of May. Perhaps inspired by the Raptors’ #WeTheNorth campaign, The Jays turned up in a big way over the past 31 days, going 21-9 in that span, including a 9-game stretch in which they consecutively swept Boston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. Plenty has been made of Encarnacion, who in tying Mickey Mantle for the most home runs in the month of May by an AL player launched balls over a mile and a quarter, and the rest of the powerful Toronto offense (they’ve failed to hit a long ball in just two games over the past fortnight), but it will be pitching that will keep the Jays at the AL East summit. Even with Mark Buehrle continuing to defy the advanced metrics, and top prospect Marcus Stroman living up to the hype in his first start (the diminutive righty held the Royals to one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts over six innings yesterday), the club remain linked to Jeff Samardzija. One of just two teams not to make the postseason this millennium, and considering the current state of the AL East, pushing all their chips into middle by trading for Samardzija, might not be a bad idea for team GM Alex Anthopolous.
  4. Los Angeles Angels (7-6, 30-25)  Mike Trout is out of the lineup today with back stiffness. Along with his OPS dropping to ‘just’ .929 this year, I’m beginning to think that maybe he isn’t a cyborg solely designed to break baseball records anymore, and might even have some human flaws. 
  5. New York Yankees (7-6, 29-25) 
  6. Baltimore Orioles (5-8, 27-27)  Nelson Cruz is being paid $8 million this year. Nelson Cruz has 20 home runs, a 186 OPS+, and a 2.2 WAR value. It’s the first day of June. 
  7. Seattle Mariners (7-6, 27-28)  After my Memorial Day visit, I officially love Safeco Field, which was made even better by the Mariners soundly beating the Angels. Seeing Chris Young throw five innings of no-hit ball was definitely unexpected, as was my mother taking a liking to Justin Smoak simply because of his name. The Mariners, even slow-footed Robinson Cano, victimizing poor Hank Conger on the basepaths for three stolen bases in one inning was pretty darn entertaining too. 
  8. Boston Red Sox (6-7, 26-29)  After enduring a brutal 10-game losing streak, the Red Sox have now amassed a six-game winning streak. In between a pair of walk-off wins, the continued war of words between David Ortiz and David Price, and Clay Buchholz‘s struggles though, perhaps most notably, some of the kids that Boston placed so much emphasis on prior to the season have finally started coming through; since the start of that dreadful losing streak, Xander Bogaerts has stormed his way to a .397/.465/.603 line, and Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in the Dodgers dump, impressively fired seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball yesterday, striking out 8 Rays along the way. Now, if only the Sox could get Jackie Bradley Jr. to improve his ghastly 66 OPS+ too…
  9. Texas Rangers (8-5, 28-28)  
  10. Chicago White Sox (7-6, 28-29) 
  11. Kansas City Royals (5-8, 26-29)  Reading Rany Jazayerli’s Twitter rants, whether they be concerning Ned Yost‘s latest gaffe, Dayton Moore’s continued incompetence, Kansas City’s punchless offense, another hitting coach being fired, potential James Shields trades, or Mike Moustakasquick demotion/promotion swing, never gets old. Being a fan of the Royals must get stale pretty quickly I’m guessing.
  12. Cleveland Indians (7-6, 26-30)  
  13. Minnesota Twins (4-8, 25-28)  Struggling center fielder Aaron Hicks has abandoned switch-hitting, and will now bat exclusively from the right side. Sounds like a good idea in theory considering his awful offensive production, minus the fact that Hicks has actually been substantially better from the left side so far this year; the 24-year-old has a .250/.400/.325 line as a southpaw in 2014, compared to a brutal .154/.280/.205 line as a righty. The Byron Buxton Era can’t come soon enough up at Target Field. 
  14. Tampa Bay Rays (4-8, 23-33)  Does much more need to be said? I suppose it could be mentioned that Tampa are in the midst of a 5-game tailspin, and Wil Myers is now on the disabled list too. 
  15. Houston Astros (9-5, 24-33)  Naturally, in the time I was on vacation, and thus not paying attention to my fantasy baseball teams, George Springer went off while slotted in one of my bench spots. In that May 24th to 29th span, in 34 plate appearances Springer had 6 home runs, walked more often than he struck out (5BBs to 4Ks), possessed a .417 average, and accrued a ridiculous 1.767 OPS mark. Even more ludicrously, the Astros went 6-0 and are now no longer the worst team (by record anyway) in the American League. Now excuse me while I go light myself on fire…

The Designated 15: AL Power Rankings – Week 6

Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 6, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 6! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).

  1. Detroit Tigers (5-2 last week, 22-11 overall)  For the season, Victor Martinez has 8 home runs, 7 intentional walks, and just 5 strikeouts. Before Monday’s game against Houston, he’d gone 154 games without being called out on strikes (his streak went back to May 21st of last year, with Jarred Cosart finally getting him with a 94-mph fastball). That’s ridiculous. AT 35-years-old, V-Mart’s now batting .328/.381/.588, making his free-agency at the end of the year all the more interesting. The Tigers meanwhile, after facing a creampuff schedule last week, will be tested more sternly in the next seven days with trips to first Baltimore, and then Boston on the docket. 
  2. Oakland Athletics (4-3, 22-15) 
  3. Baltimore Orioles (5-1, 20-14)  A great week on the field for the Birds was only marred by the ongoing Matt Wieters injury saga. While it at first appeared they dodged a bullet when it was cleared up that Wieters would not need Tommy John to cure his right elbow ailment (the track history of the surgery on catchers is brutal), just maybe some rest days at DH rather than behind the plate, the 27-year-old was this morning placed on the DL. Perhaps it was due to him going 1-13 in his four games as the DH, a move which forced Nelson Cruz to play the field, but losing Wieters’ production at the dish (.308/.339/.500, 130 OPS+) for any longer than the 15 days his stint mandates will be a huge blow to Baltimore. The return of Chris Davis to the lineup today however (he’d been out with a strained oblique), should go some way to mask the loss of their All-Star catcher.
  4. Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 18-17) 
  5. New York Yankees (3-3, 19-16)  After being taken deep 3 times during his 5.1 innings against his former team Milwaukee yesterday, C.C. Sabathia was today banished to the DL with a mysterious ‘fluid in his right knee’ problem. The injury seems a little odd given how a MRI showed no meniscus tear (and Sabathia’s incredible weight loss), but if some rest gets him back on track, it will be well worth it for New York. In the meantime, their rotation is paper-thin all of a sudden; behind the excellent Masahiro Tanaka, with Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova out, Alfredo Aceves, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno have all been pushed into starting roles. Such rough starting pitching isn’t going to cut it for long in the AL East. 
  6. Boston Red Sox (3-2, 18-18) 
  7. Texas Rangers (3-4, 19-18)  Despite their winning record, Texas have the second worst run differential among Junior circuit teams (-25), and lousy playoff odds (19.1%, 4th worst in the AL). Yu Darvish‘s one hitter was pretty darn impressive mind you, blown call and all. 
  8. Seattle Mariners (6-2, 19-17) 
  9. Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 18-19) ↑ After missing the first six weeks of the season due to a back injury that he originally suffered at the end of spring training, 32-year-old closer Casey Janssen was activated from the DL today. Hopefully for those north of the border, he’ll shore up the Toronto relief corps – entering Sunday, the pull pen had the fourth highest ERA in the majors, with a mark of 4.77.
  10. Kansas City Royals (3-4, 17-19) ↓ That the Royals are even close to .500 speaks to their crappy division and solid pitching, because their offense is truly abysmal. Twice in their last three games, they’ve scratched just four hits, shutout on Thursday by the combination of Hisashi Iwakuma and Fernando Rodney, and limited to just one run by Chris Young yesterday. Chris Young!
  11. Tampa Bay Rays  (2-4, 16-21) For a team that prized itself on its organizational depth, and for years brought up non-heralded pitching prospects who achieved instant success, Tampa Bay are really struggling for decent innings right now.
    With Matt Moore and Alex Cobb out, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer underwhelming, and David Price somewhat languishing, the Rays have only got 12 quality starts so far in 2014 – 28th in the majors. If things don’t pick up soon, which seems unlikely considering their tough upcoming schedule, the Rays are at risk of falling even further down these rankings. 
  12. Cleveland Indians (4-3, 17-20) ↓ John Axford was removed as closer after Friday’s blowup in a move which came about a month later than I originally expected. On the bright side of things, Asdrubal Cabrera had himself an encouraging week, batting .321 over the last week – all nine hits coming in a three-game span. With Francisco Lindor presumably on track to take over the shortstop job next year, would it be a surprise to see Cabrera moved at some point this summer if he keeps on hitting? Does anyone even care about baseball in Cleveland anymore now they have Jonny Football?!
  13. Chicago White Sox (5-5, 19-19) 
  14. Minnesota Twins (3-4, 16-19) In absolutely terrifying news, top prospect Byron Buxton is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on his left wrist in the next few days after reinjuring it on a slide on Thursday. Considering the blah season the Twins are currently enduring, anymore bad news about their vaunted corral of prospects (Miguel Sano is already out having had TJ surgery remember) might just turn Minnesotans off baseball for the rest of the year. 
  15. Houston Astros (1-6, 11-26) → Picking no. 1 overall in the upcoming draft is becoming more of an advantage by the day it seems; what with top amateur prospect Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina RHP) needing Tommy John surgery and UNC working LHP Carlos Rodon to disgusting pitch counts (former Tar Heel Matt Harvey‘s opinion on their ethics might be interesting), the number of potential top picks is dwindling. Unfortunately for fans of the rebuilding Astro’s though, Houston are on pace for their fourth consecutive 100-loss season and worst record yet. Even the promise of the first two #SpringerDingers of the year can’t mask the fact that Jeff Luhnow’s experimental tear-down job is taking a lot longer than originally thought.

The Designated 15: AL Power Rankings – Week 5

Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 5, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 5! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).

  1. Detroit Tigers (4-0 last week, 16-9 overall)  You can only beat what’s put in front of you, and recently, Detroit have been doing just that. After playing just four games last week, bringing their season total to 25 (Seattle have played the next fewest in the AL, with 28), and handily winning them all, the Tigers finally have a full slate to look forward to over the next seven days. Considering how they’ll face Kansas City (once), Houston, and Minnesota, while being scheduled to send Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer to the mound twice apiece, Brad Ausmus‘ crew stand a good chance of remaining in single-digit losses by this time next Sunday. 
  2. Oakland Athletics (3-3, 18-12)  The A’s sure got their revenge on Texas by outscoring them 25-4 in their three-game sweep, but were comprehensively dealt with by Boston over the past couple of days. Having faced a pretty light schedule so far this season, today’s tilt at Fenway will serve as somewhat of a yardstick; are the A’s actually good enough to beat the cream of the crop, and compete all year with the likes of Boston and Detroit? With Sonny Gray on the bump to face John Lackey, the Oakland have a decent enough chance to prove they belong. 
  3. Los Angeles Angels (4-2, 15-14) Scoring 5.38 runs per game, the Angels have by some distance the best offense in the AL thus far – not that much of a surprise considering Mike Trout‘s continued excellence (he once again leads the AL in WAR), Albert Pujols‘ solid bounce back, and Howie Kendrick‘s nice start at the plate (.314/.391/.441). Where Anaheim have stood out most so far though, has been on the mound, where they have allowed just 4.03 runs per game – the third best mark in the AL. C.J. Wilson, Tyler Skaggs and Jered Weaver have all been solid, but Garrett Richards has been the star so far; the 25-year-old Oklahoma product has struck out 40 and allowed an opponent’s batting average of just .184 in his first 38 innings (6 starts), posting a surprising 2.84 ERA.  If the hard-throwing righty can get the walks under control (18 BB in the early going), the Angels might really have found something here.
  4. Baltimore Orioles (3-2, 15-13)  Manny Machado returns, fielding nerds rejoice everywhere. Including me. 
  5. New York Yankees (2-3, 16-13)  With a -13 run differential, the Yankees are still somewhat getting by with a smoke and mirrors act. Visiting the Angels and Milwaukee for series this week, the Bombers will receive a stern test of their mettle – the Friday return of C.C. Sabathia to Miller Park should see a hero’s welcome from the Brewers fans however. 
  6. Boston Red Sox (3-3, 15-16) 
  7. Texas Rangers (1-5, 16-14)  I must have cursed Texas in this space last week; in likely their healthiest state since the start of the season, the Rangers were simply punted by AL West rivals Oakland and Los Angeles over the past seven days, with Martin Perez and Yu Darvish getting knocked about especially brutally. Things aren’t going to get much easier for the frontline pair this week either; Darvish is slated against the top-ranked Angels offense today, and will face Boston on Friday, whereas Perez will be tasked with stymying Colorado’s explosive offense during the days in between. 
  8. Tampa Bay Rays (3-4, 14-17)  Heath Bell was finally DFA’d, but the equally terrible, yet much more despicable Josh Lueke remains on the team. Urgh.
  9. Kansas City Royals (3-3, 14-15) Fun stat of the day: to start the season, the Royals are winless when scoring 3 or fewer runs (0-15) and unbeaten when scoring at least 4 runs (14-0). Bonus factoid: thanks to Billy Butler‘s first home run of the year on Friday, the Royals as a team are now one jack ahead (12) of Jose Abreu‘s individual bomb total (11). 
  10. Toronto Blue Jays (2-4, 13-17)  Well, Dustin McGowan is starting again today, so I guess my Marcus Stroman love was a tad premature. With Brandon Morrow now out though, it can’t be long until the Jays call up the diminutive righty. 
  11. Cleveland Indians (2-4, 13-17)  It’s probably not an encouraging sign for your team when Michael Brantley has been by far and away your best player. The 26-year-old is having a veritable breakout, hitting .271/.336/.458, while leading the team in HR (5), runs (15), and RBIzzzzz (23), but unless Carlos Santana starts mashing (he did hit .261 with 3 homers last week, though his average remains a ghastly .158), the Indians will be up against it with both Jason Kipnis (strained oblique) and Michael Bourn (hamstring/continued case of NL-to-AL-itis) out for the near future. 
  12. Seattle Mariners (4-1, 13-15) Wouldn’t you know it, the Mariners become a somewhat frisky team when someone else along with Robinson Cano hits. Mike Zunino (1.071 OPS), Michael Saunders (1.033), and Kyle Seager (1.030) have been terrific over the past seven days, helping Seattle to an impressive 4-1 record over that time – the M’s taking two apiece from Texas and the Yankees. With no. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma making his return yesterday against the Astros too, it’s been a good week for Seattle. Shame they have to travel for a 4-game set against Oakland this week really then, a series which will likely set them back down the standings again. 
  13. Minnesota Twins (1-4, 13-15) 
  14. Chicago White Sox (2-4, 14-17)  Adam Eaton‘s hamstring strain lands him on the 15-day DL, and suddenly the offense that has kept the Pale Hose afloat so far becomes a little less potent. The Sox could badly do with their pitching picking up some of the slack – at 5.29 runs allowed per game, they are worst among Junior Circuit teams. 
  15. Houston Astros (2-3, 10-20) Through 66 plate appearances, the George Springer era has not got off to a good start. Known for his prodigious power/speed combination, the 24-year-old has yet to clear the fence, and has a 0 SBN number, all whilst batting just .180/.254/.213 and looking lost at the dish; even before his call-up there were worries about his plate discipline and contact rate – with 23 strikeouts to 5 walks, those concerns have been more than justified. Throw in his 5 errors in fifteen games out in right field, and its little wonder why Bo Porter dropped him from the lineup yesterday. On the bright side though, Collin McHugh!

So that Yordano Ventura kid’s pretty good huh?

Heading into yesterday’s game against Tampa Bay, I would have imagined not too many Royals fans would have been pleased with the how the young season had to that point played out. Tipped by many for at least a Wild-Card berth – if not more – the early returns hadn’t exactly been encouraging (Salvador Perez‘s performance excluded – the guy is incredible); the normally-dominant bullpen, already weakened by the loss of Luke Hochevar, was all of a sudden looking shaky – Greg Holland and the gang yielding walk-off wins to the Detroit Tigers in the first two games of the season, and leaking runs since. Ned Yost was still driving the diehards crazy with his lineup construction and in-game decision making – #Yosted and #smrtbaseball routinely appearing together on my Twitter feed. New second baseman Omar Infante was sidelined by a beaning – a loss made all the worse by KC management decided having a backup middle infielder on the 25-man roster was unnecessary. Emilio Bonifacio – their infield utility man from last year – was raking with his new team, the Cubs. The team was yet to hit a home run, ranking last in the ML with a .307 slugging percentage. The last thing Royals fans needed then, was to see reigning AL ROY Wil Myers and the Rays to come to town and serve as a reminder of how they likely only have 31 more starts of James Shields, and thus what might have been.

It’s amazing what a 102.9mph fastball will do however, to wipe a discouraging early season slate clean.

After having his first scheduled start of the season against the Detroit Tigers (perhaps fortuitously) rained out, the diminutive Yordano Ventura finally got his chance to shine yesterday – and boy, did he show out; as Michael Baumann put it on Grantland earlier today “my goodness gracious, was Kansas City’s Happy Meal–size top pitching prospect as good as advertised.” Yeah… that about sums Ventura’s performance up.

In six innings of work, the 22-year old allowed only two hits and walked none, striking out six batters and flashing incredible stuff – quite simply dominating the poor Rays hitters. His well-renowned four-seam fastball (Ventura already owned the fastest regular season pitch by a starting pitcher during the PitchFX era, a 102.8mph offering that Yan Gomes somehow hit for a single last September) was just as advertised, the righty throwing his trademark heat 45 times out of his 98 pitches at an average velocity of 99.5mph. And no, that average is not a misprint – per Brook’s Baseball, his top velocity last night was actually 102.9mph, therefore giving him both the first and second fastest regular season pitches by a starting pitcher during the PitchFX era.

The Dominican Republic native also flashed a 96mph cutter (which he threw 10 times), a 97mph sinker (2) and a 83mph curve (19 times) that on one occasion just froze Evan Longoria. But it was perhaps his changeup that was the star of the Ventura show; coming in at an average of 89.51 mph (and thus quicker than both fellow rotation mates Jason Vargas‘ and Bruce Chen‘s four seam fastball offerings), the pitch generated 4 swings and misses, and befuddled Wil Myers more than once (Myers would endure a particularly horrific evening, striking out 3 times – much to the glee of Royals fans). 

All in all, it would be a highly impressive showing from the young flamethrower, his dominant outing serving to not only dispel fears that his 5’11 frame might only limit him to bullpen duty and justify the spring decision to include him in the starting rotation, but alleviate the fan’s fears of losing Shields for nothing at the end of the year (especially given how the once-vaunted crop of young arms on the KC farm – Danny Duffy, Aaron Crow, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi etc. – have either failed to develop or been traded away).

With Ventura in tow, there’s significant cause for optimism in Kansas City – the season is yet young, and the team simply too good (and the AL Central too weak) to continue slumping the way it has; the bullpen issue will resolve itself eventually. Infante will come back. Bonifacio won’t hit all season-long in Chicago. The team have already (finally) called up Johnny Giavotella to resolve the infield issue. Yost even employed a decent-ish lineup in today’s game! Things should turn around soon enough. But even if the Royals’ season does continue down the disappointing path it has initially taken, in Ventura, there will at least be a must-see pitcher on the bump every fifth day, pumping 100mph fastball after 100mph fastball for six innings at a time.

If Tuesday was anything to go by, that’s not a bad consolation prize.

Choosing Cy Young winners – it’s not that hard!

As previously detailed in my ROY cases for Noah Syndergaard and Xander Bogaerts, and MVP picks of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, I’ll occasionally be interspersing my usual content with my (probably misguided) award predictions for the upcoming season. Today marks the next installment pertaining to my poor judgement – it’s time to choose some Cy Young award winners. Fair warning, I’m not exactly going out on a limb with my picks.

Entering last season, you could make a justifiable case that either Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher in baseball, marginally ahead of Clayton Kershaw. 12 months later though, there’s no disputing the Dodgers’ ace is the best in the game.

Still just 26 (his birthday was last Wednesday), Kershaw has already racked up two Cy Young awards and three consecutive ERA titles, while his numbers over the last four years – 2.37 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP – all rank as best in the league. Coming off a 2013 season in which he went 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, and had 17 games of at least 6.2 innings pitched and allowing one or fewer earned runs, the Texas native is somehow getting even better too; his walk rate has decreased from the 9-13% range he put up earlier in his career to an extremely frugal 5-7% during the past couple of seasons, and whilst doing so, the southpaw with the hammer curve has also maintained at least a 25.0% strikeout rate. Given that he furthermore possesses the power to re-write the BABIP laws (his .270 average is significantly below the typical league-wide .290-.300 range), the seven year, $215 million extension that Los Angeles signed their stud to this past winter could end up being a bargain should Kershaw keep up his current rate of performance – as speculated by Grantland’s Jonah Keri.

After providing yet another example of how Spring Training statistics don’t matter (he had a 9.20 ERA across 14.2 IP), Kershaw is already off to another dominant start – fanning 7 Arizona batters with his typically filthy array of curveballs and sliders over 6.2 innings in the opening game of the 2014 season. Though he finally gave up his first Opening Day earned run in his fourth such start, it’s shaping up to be yet another season in which the normally-charitable Kershaw makes even the sport’s best hitters look helpless – stranding them alone on an unforgiving island of pitching cruelty up in the batter’s box.

Unfortunately for the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez, barring voter fatigue, or God help us all, injury, the NL Cy Young hardware should be Kershaw’s for years to come should he simply stay on track. Get ready to clear some more room on the mantelpiece Clayton, you’ve got my (unrecognized) vote already.

The field of possible contenders among the American League is much wider; Yu Darvish, King Felix, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander all figure to be in the mix, but, as mentioned in yesterday’s gambling related post (when I wasn’t making fun Fernando Rodney actually having odds for the award), I’m picking David Price – he who has averaged 208 innings and a 78 ERA- over the past four years – to pick up his second Cy.

Having won the award in 2012, Price’s offseason regiment back at his alma mater Vanderbilt was disrupted by the bump in publicity he subsequently received. Unable to work out fully with his old Commodores Coach Tim Corbin, the Rays’ ace came out the gate slowly in 2013, allowing eight home runs and an opponent’s triple slash line of .294/.340/.471 in his first 55 innings pitched. By the time he came out of May 15 outing against the Boston Red Sox (in which lasted just 2.1 innings, allowing four runs) with a triceps injury, Price was sitting on a 5.24 ERA with a 1-4 record. He’d be out for six weeks, but would return with a vengeance.

Making 18 starts over the rest of the season (including Game 163 in Texas), Price would author a 2.53 ERA (37 ER/131.2 IP), allowing only 113 hits en route to a 9-4 record. Even more impressive though, was his immaculate control; after returning, the lefty’s velocity was down, but he still struck out 102 batters while only issuing 13 walks. By seasons end, Price paced the Junior Circuit in complete games (4), fewest walks per nine innings (1.3 BB/9), and also had the highest strikeout to walk ratio (5.59) – officially returning to the form that captured him the 2012 award, even despite a velocity drop (he didn’t throw one pitch of at least 97mph in 2013, after throwing more than 250 such pitches in 2012, though his average still sat at a very respectable 93.5mph).

At only 28, manager Joe Maddon believes his no. 1 to be entering “that era of five or six years of the best pitching” of his career, but 2014 will almost certainly be the last year Price spends in a Rays uniform; it was quite the industry surprise that Tampa didn’t move him during December’s Winter Meetings, and instead picked up his arbitration tab for the upcoming year. Consider this season the ultimate trade showcase then, as I expect Price to pick up exactly where he left off in 2013 and then, trophy in hand, be moved next winter in exchange for a veritable bounty. It might be another two years until he’s paid like the ace he is then, but hopefully a second Cy Young for the meantime will be sufficient consolation for Price.