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2018 Season Preview: AL Central

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The 2018 American League Central picture figures to be pretty similar to last season. Let’s take a look at what to expect from the division that has produced four of the past five American League champions.

Cleveland Indians

The Tribe are overwhelming favorites to be the AL Central champs for the third straight season, a feat the team hasn’t accomplished since its run of five straight from 1995 to 1999. Cleveland was the story of the year in 2017 by way of the team’s 22 straight wins from August 24 to September 15. The aftermath of it, however, was nowhere near as glorious, as the Indians were eliminated from the playoffs for the second straight season after being a game away from advancing. Winning 22 in a row but not being able to win just one when it mattered most is yet another kick in the pants to Cleveland’s beleaguered fans. The Indians have always had the talent, but their lack of clutch ability has always been their Achilles heel.

Biggest asset: Cohesion

It’s obvious to even casual fans that the Cleveland Indians mesh in the dugout. Led by the youthful exuberance of superstar SS Francisco Lindor and the relaxing presence of manager Terry Francona, the Indians are a coherent unit that is always threatening regardless of who’s up to bat. Jose Ramirez didn’t have a chance in the world of winning AL MVP over Aaron Judge or Jose Altuve last season, but it doesn’t take anything away from the sensational breakout performance he delivered. With longtime stalwarts Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley rounding out the offense and the seemingly unflappable Corey Kluber setting the tone on the mound, the Indians are a team driven by reliability, even more so with Cody Allen and Andrew Miller coming out of the bullpen. You can’t ever count them out… or can you?

Image result for francisco lindor

YouTube.

Biggest weakness: “Folditis”

As alluded to earlier, it’s always appeared that the Tribe’s one true flaw is that it can never seem to get the job done when it’s all on the line, and unfortunately for fans at Progressive Field, there’s numerous examples. 1954, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2007, 2016 and now last season too, Cleveland has found itself on the cusp of glory time after time, but always finds a way to fold. The talent has always been there for Cleveland and the team is easily a World Series contender on paper, but they won’t get anywhere until they find a remedy to this issue. However, the Tribe is still your easy favorite in the Central.

2018 prediction: AL Central champs.

Minnesota Twins

Despite not having much to brag about on paper, the Minnesota Twins stunned the MLB in 2017, winning the AL Wild Card one season after finishing 59-103. A Comeback Player of the Year-caliber performance from Ervin Santana and the power of Miguel Sano helped Minnesota make a commendable turn around and won Paul Molitor Manager of the Year for his efforts. The question is: can they do it again?

Biggest asset: Byron Buxton

Image result for byron buxton 2017

Bleacher Report.

It was starting to look as if the hype was false around the former no.1 prospect, but thankfully for Twins fans, 2017 was at long last Byron Buxton’s coming out party.  The 24-year-old showed what he is capable of at the plate and dazzled the league with his sensational center field defense. Still very young, it seems that the kid has finally put it together. Buxton has all the makings of a superstar and franchise cornerstone (which the team badly needs since the Joe Mauer era may soon be ending), and the Twins needs to starting building around him to get the team back to consistent respectability.

Biggest weakness: Shallow pitching

The aforementioned Santana was a revelation for Minnesota last season and was an integral piece of the team’s run to the Wild Card. Molitor’s biggest issue, however, is that the team doesn’t have anyone beyond the 35-year-old Dominican that is truly viable. The team did add Lance Lynn and Jake Odirizzi this offseason, but both are highly enigmatic. Pitching will decide whether or not the Twins can keep the new leaf turned over.

2018 Prediction: second in AL Central- Wild Card winner.

Kansas City Royals

It looks as if the downward trend will continue for the Boys in Blue this year. After 2017 slipped away, two of the team’s biggest stars, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, jumped ship, Hosmer to San Diego and Cain to Milwaukee. Mike Moustakas tried to as well and probably would have succeeded had it not been for Scott Bora’s inability to forget his ego. It will be very interesting to see what Ned Yost does without two of his biggest longtime stars.

Biggest asset: Perez and Gordon

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ESPN.

Though Hosmer and Cain walked away, two other key pieces remain in place for the Royals. Salvador Perez, unquestionably the game’s best defensive catcher, is still as valuable as ever for his instincts and ability to work seamlessly with any pitcher. Alex Gordon continues to patrol the outfield of Kaufmann Stadium with his incredibly underrated defense. Hos and LoCain’s departures mean Perez and Gordon will get much more of the spotlight in KC, and the longtime teammates have proven they can handle it. Expect big things from both men this year.

Biggest weakness: Huge hole at first

Hosmer in many ways was the key to the Royals’ offense. When he was hitting, the team was winning, when he wasn’t..not so much. With their star first baseman headed for the beach, Kansas City has a big, big void to fill. Moustakas, Gordon and Perez will have to double their efforts to compensate. If they don’t, it won’t be a good season for American League fans in Missouri.

2018 predicition: third in AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

They’re so close, but the White Sox still have a little bit to go before they’re ready to be contenders again. But when their day comes, this team is going to be spooky.

Biggest asset: Youth, youth, youth

The White Sox’ rebuilding efforts have been highly impressive and you have to respect the team’s dedication to it. Chris Sale, Todd Frazier, David Robertson and many others were sent packing to bring in promising young returns like Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito. All these guys are still very young and may not have big roles this year, but no one can deny how stacked the South Side’s farm system is after the fire sale.

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NBC Sports.

Biggest weakness: The present

Like most rebuilds, Chicago’s wheeling and dealing for the future has been done at the expense of the present. The team still has a couple talented players, such as Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu, but not much beyond them. As such, don’t expect much from Rick Renteria’s team this year. GM Rick Hahn’s eyes are fixed on the future, and that future has incredible potential. But, in the short term, White Sox fans don’t have too much to root for. They won’t be the worst of their kind, however.

2018 prediction: fourth in AL Central.

Detroit Tigers

Image result for ron gardenhire tigers

Star Tribune.

Despite the hiring of Ron Gardenhire as manager, 2018 doesn’t figure to be much for the sinking ship that is the Detroit Tigers. Long ignoring the need to rebuild despite seeming irrefutable evidence, the prognosis is bleak for fans at Comerica Park this season (barring some act of divine intervention).

Biggest asset: Michael Fulmer

Despite lingering elbow issues all season, 2017 was a solid follow up to Fulmer’s Rookie of the Year 2016. The lumberjack looking righty is just about all the Tigers boast after cornerstone Justin Verlander and slugger JD Martinez were traded at the deadline last season. Fulmer’s elbow surgery at the end of last year won’t stop him from beginning the 2018 campaign on time, as he’s slated to start game number two. Detroit has essentially nothing beyond him, though. Maybe he’ll be traded this year too, GM Al Avila would certainly be wise to.

Biggest weakness: Everyone else

Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes. Detroit simply isn’t the team that went to three straight ALCS from 2011 to 2013. Those days are long gone and it’s taken the team’s management too long to realize it. Longtime weapon Miguel Cabrera’s age is showing more and more each new season and the team can’t rely upon him solely anymore like they did for so many years. Compounding that issue is that Gardenhire doesn’t have a deep roster to fall back on like Jim Leyland always did. As a result, 2018 doesn’t look promising for fans in Motown and Detroit could find itself at the basement of the MLB.

2018 prediction: last in the AL Central.

Who do you have taking it all in the Central this year? Let me know and be sure to check back for other divisional previews as the season approaches! One more week!

 

 

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With Price Healthy, Will Boston Finally Have Its Super Rotation?

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When the Boston Red Sox acquired Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox on December 6, 2016 in exchange for a package headlined by Yoan Moncada, it gave the 2017 Red Sox easily the best starting rotation in baseball on paper. Adding Sale to David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez made it seem like American League batters didn’t have a hope. However, that’s not exactly what happened.

The aforementioned Price, Boston’s 217 million dollar man, suffered an elbow injury in Spring Training 2017 that forced the Red Sox to be hyper-precautionary. Price didn’t debut until May and then was placed back on the DL in July, missing well over half of the season as a result. Though he did perform very well when healthy, including a dynamite run out of the bullpen down the stretch, the team’s hope of a platinum starting five had to be put on hold. Price wasn’t the only obstacle, however.

Rick Porcello was arguably the biggest surprise of the 2016 season, bouncing back from a dreadful 2015 to win the American League Cy Young Award. Just as quickly as the sinkerballer climbed the ranks, however, he fell back off thanks to a particularly nasty case of the Cy Young hangover, a phenomenon that has affected many other pitchers likewise in the past. One year after posting 22 wins and an equally impressive 5.91 K/BB ratio, Porcello went 11-17 with a 4.65 ERA.

Eduardo Rodriguez, on the other hand, was enigmatic in 2017. Throughout the first half of the year, E-Rod looked to be on the way to an All-Star Game appearance. Then the calendar turned to June.

The Red Sox faced the Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore on June 1. Scheduled to start, Rodriguez fell in the bullpen as he was warming up (I stood right there as it happened) and aggravated his knee injury from the previous season. It took a few minutes for the lefty to compose himself, but he made the start nonetheless. It didn’t go well at all, however. Rodriguez was shelled for four homers (three of which landed right in front of us in left field). He was placed on the DL afterwards and the rest of his season was very up-and-down.

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Boston’s anticipated 2018 starting five do drills in Fort Myers, FL. L-R: Pomeranz, Price, Porcello, Sale and (partially blocked) Rodriguez. (The Boston Herald)

Despite three of its five pieces falling out of place, Boston’s starting pitching in 2017 was still very good thanks to the stellar efforts of Sale and Pomeranz. Boston’s high profile acquisition lived up to his billing and finished as the AL Cy Young runner-up, becoming the first Boston pitcher to strike out 300 batters in a season since Pedro Martinez in 1999 in the process.

While Sale did business as usual, 2017 proved to be Pomeranz’ coming out party. Delivering what was arguably the breakout of the year, the herky-jerky lefty shed the “deer in the headlights” look and for the first time looked comfortable pitching in Boston, proving to the Red Sox that he was worth the investment the team made in him. Establishing himself as a more-than reliable no.2, Pomeranz went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA, displaying better control and smarter selection of his pitches. If he can pick up where he left off this season, the sky is the limit.

Entering 2018, it seems as if the Red Sox could get their super rotation after all. With Price healthy and throwing well in Grapefruit play, it appears his elbow issues of last year are no more and he should start the season on time. That is obviously great news. Any team that can give you Chris Sale one day and David Price the next has a pretty big chance of success.

There are, of course, a few question marks. The biggest being if Porcello can bounce back and be that guy from 2016 again. There is hope that he can, seeing as previous AL winners Corey Kluber and Dallas Keuchel each rebounded strongly the year after theirs. Also, Rodriguez needs to prove that injuries have been his hindrance so far. The potential has always been there for him, but seemingly neverending knee issues have been a thorn in his side. The former top prospect needs to show that he can stay healthy and consistent for a full season.

Will the Red Sox have the titanic pitching to foil the New York Yankees equally titanic power this season? Or things not go according to plan once again? We can only wait and see.

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Rafael Palmeiro Looks To Return To The Majors At Age 53

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He’s 53 and hasn’t appeared in a Major League game since 2005.

But for disgraced slugger Rafael Palmeiro, he still believes he can play at the highest level.

According to a Wednesday report on the Athletic by senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal, Palmeiro’s confident he can still help a big-league club.

“There’s no doubt in my mind I can do it,” said Palmeiro. “I’ve taken care of myself really well. I’ve been working out for years. Everything feels better than when I played.”

Speaking under anonymous conditions, one general manager said he “would not even look” at Palmeiro. Dan Duquette of the Baltimore Orioles, however, didn’t rule out giving him a chance: “It’s like tying your shoes… If you can hit, then you can hit.” The Orioles are the last big-league team Palmeiro played for.

Palmeiro’s two sons, Patrick (27) and Preston (22)- who both play baseball professionally- chimed in about their father’s quest: “He is in the gym every day working out,” said Patrick. “He has less body fat than me and my brother. He sees me and my brother working hard, getting ourselves ready. He wants to try and keep up with us. He’s still motivated, somehow. I wish I had the amount of motivation he has.” Preston, on the other hand, described his dad’s quest as “a long shot, probably the longest shot of all time.”

There’s no doubt the odds are totally against Palmeiro given his age and how long it’s been since he’s made an at-bat in the majors. Especially with the way it ended. But he truly still believes he has what it takes.

After testing positive for a common steroid known as Winstrol in August 2005, Palmeiro denied knowingly taking the drug, insisting it came from a “tainted B-12 vitamin vial.” Palmeiro served his 10-game suspension, and returned by going 2 for 26 before the Orioles released him on September 5. It came just a few months after Palmeiro famously said during a Congressional hearing: “My name is Rafael Palmeiro, and I am a professional baseball player. Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period.”

Palmeiro fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2014- his fourth year of eligibility- after failing to receive more than 5% of the required votes, and is one of five players to record 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

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Jose Altuve Named 2017 Sportsperson Of The Year Along With NFL’s J.J. Watt

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It’s been an eventful couple months for Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.

Not only did the 5’6” second baseman help lead the Astros to their first ever World Series championship on November 1, but also won a plethora of awards for his regular season efforts in 2017. Let’s recap in order:

-American League Hank Aaron Award (10/26)
-American League Most Outstanding Player (11/8)
-Major League Player of the Year (11/8)
-American League Silver Slugger (11/9)
-American League Most Valuable Player (11/16)

On Monday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Altuve collected yet another piece of hardware, earning the Sportsperson of the Year Award courtesy of Sports Illustrated, sharing the honor with J.J. Watt of the National Football League’s Houston Texans.

Watt, 28, helped raise more than $37 million for relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey that plagued Houston in late August. Speaking to the Associated Press, Watt said: “It was incredible to see how people from all over the country, people from all over the world, people from all different backgrounds, all different communities came together to support a city and a people that were having the toughest time of their life.”

Altuve, 27, wore a Houston Strong patch on his jersey along with the rest of his teammates following the aftermath of Harvey. “I know for a fact that our city is really strong because after the hurricane they tried to come back and they tried to get better every, single day and that’s what strong people do. That’s why I feel like the strong patch and the Houston Strong was a good name for the people of Houston,” said Altuve.

“I think the World Series gave the people a big smile and hope during the tough time they were getting through. And I feel really happy that we did it because they really deserved it,” added Altuve.

The Sportsperson of the Year Award has been issued each year since 1954 “to honor a player, coach or team who has best exhibited athletic achievement and sportsmanship on and off the field.”

Extremely well deserved for both individuals. The city of Houston was hit and hit hard; but Altuve and Watt used their platform as professional athletes to make things a little better within the community. If them sharing the award isn’t fitting, what is?

#HoustonStrong!

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