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American League

2018 Season Preview: AL West

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Houston Astros
2017 record: 101-61, first in AL West

It’s only appropriate to begin with the champions. Fresh off their first ever World Series win, the Astros are an energetic, young team with a phenomenal lineup and solid pitching. Their 101 regular season wins last year beat the second-place Angels by 21 games as Houston remained largely unthreatened for most of the season. For these reasons, the Astros are the overwhelming favorites to run away with the West once again in 2018. As for the other four teams competing against Houston, they finished within five games of each other in 2017. Those look to be close races once again; however, they’re no match against the Astros as they look to repeat in 2018.

Biggest asset: Offense

In 2017, the Astros led MLB in runs (896), batting average (.282), OBP (.346), and SLG % (.478) en route to their first title, as they promise to put up huge numbers once again this year. Their dynamic offense will once again be led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer- all home-grown talent, and all between 24-28 years old. The Astros have come a long way since three straight 100+ loss seasons (2011-13), but it’s their offense that has rebuilt them into a contender, and it starts with the three I mentioned- all developed by the organization. With solid offensive contributors surrounding them, there’s no telling how many runs the Astros will plate this year.

Biggest weakness: Bullpen

During Houston’s postseason run, the Astros used starters Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton, and Brad Peacock in extended bullpen roles more often as October progressed. This was due to the ineffectiveness of Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, and Joe Musgrove- the three of whom finished with a combined 9.26 ERA in 24 postseason games out of the pen. The Astros have since improved their bullpen after adding relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon; but if there’s one thing holding the Astros back, it’s the pen. They’ve acquired Gerrit Cole as a starter, so they’re in good shape there as far as the rotation goes- the pen is ultimately Houston’s biggest question.

2018 prediction: AL West champs

Los Angeles Angels
2017 record: 80-82, second in AL West

Mike Trout missed 48 games in 2017, so you know had he stayed healthy, the Angels would’ve finished above .500. The team had a busy offseason, acquiring infielders Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler; however, there was nothing bigger than the signing of two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani. The Angels have a new-look lineup with potential; still, their rotation remains questionable come 2018.

Biggest asset: Mike Trout

When healthy, Trout is the best player in the game- the type of player any team wants to build around. A thumb injury forced Trout out of the lineup for nearly two months in 2017, his first ever trip to the disabled list. When he was healthy though, he performed; and he’s healthy now. With some new-look offense surrounding Trout (in addition to Albert Pujols and Justin Upton), expect him to rake as usual and be the best overall hitter on the Angels in 2018 assuming he remains healthy.

Biggest weakness: Rotation

You just don’t know with the Angels’ rotation in my opinion. Six pitchers made at least four starts in spring training, and only one pitched well (Garrett Richards). Even Ohtani, who made two starts in March, looked awful- he will take some time to adjust to facing Major League hitters. So there’s several questions surrounding the staff- again, mainly the rotation. To me, it’s filled with several pitchers who haven’t proven themselves yet, or have shown an inability to remain consistent and healthy.

2018 prediction: second in AL West

Seattle Mariners
2017 record: 78-84, third in AL West

With a solid lineup heading into 2018, the Mariners have plenty to be excited about. Ichiro is back with the club (his presence should make positive differences), Ryon Healy and Dee Gordon were added over the offseason, and slugging youngster Daniel Vogelbach made the Opening Day roster after a monster spring. So there’s promise as far as the lineup goes. The rotation does have its questions though, as ace Felix Hernandez looks to come back strong after an injury-plagued 2017.

Biggest asset: Offense

Before their busy offseason, the Mariners already had a solid core of hitters- Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager. Catcher Mike Zunino had his best overall year in 2017 and followed it up with a huge spring, so add him to that core. Seattle finished 15th in MLB with 750 runs scored in 2017; and this year, I think they’ll score at least 775.

Biggest weakness: Rotation

Seattle’s bullpen looks promising, as several have impressed in the spring- including newcoming veteran Juan Nicasio. The rotation though doesn’t have much depth. Felix Hernandez has struggled to stay healthy the last two years while seeing a rise in ERA. He’s the team’s most important starter; and if he goes down, that’s a huge blow to the rest of the rotation. Mike Leake, James Paxton, Ariel Miranda, and Marco Gonzales (2.08 ERA in seven spring starts) look to round out the Opening Day rotation. Beyond them and King Felix, there’s not many trusted options, which makes Hernandez remaining healthy that much more important for the Mariners.

2018 prediction: third in AL West

Texas Rangers
2017 record: 78-84, fourth in AL West

After two straight postseason appearances (and ALDS defeats), the Rangers missed out on the playoffs in 2017. This offseason, they’ve added Doug Fister, Matt Moore, and Mike Minor to their rotation. Minus the departures of Mike Napoli and Carlos Gomez, Texas’s lineup looks very familiar approaching the season.

Biggest asset: Joey Gallo

Don’t let his .209 batting average last year fool you, Joey Gallo still slugged .537, and was on base nearly one-third of the time in 2017. Gallo emerged as a big-time slugger with his 41 homers, so expect more power in 2018 from the 6’5’’ first baseman. Also, expect that average to climb. The more Gallo transitions and gets used to the majors, the better an overall hitter he will become. Texas has a good lineup (799 runs last year, ninth in MLB) and Gallo’s right in the middle of it, and he should produce this year.

Biggest weakness: Bullpen

Texas finished with a 4.76 bullpen ERA in 2017, the third worst mark in MLB.

2018 prediction: fourth in AL West

Oakland Athletics
2017 record: 75-87, last in AL West

Biggest asset: Farm System

Biggest weakness: Inexperience

2018 prediction: last in AL West

American League

2018 ALCS: Astros Aiming To Repeat, Red Sox Looking For Revenge

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NBC.

This year’s American League Championship Series won’t be an unfamiliar scenario for baseball fans, because it’s a rematch of last year’s American League Division Series. Defending World Champion Houston will square off with Boston for the second consecutive postseason, this time with one more game and a lot more at stake. Houston wants a second consecutive pennant, Boston wants second blood.

The Astros defeated the Red Sox three games to one in one half of last season’s ALDS. The Red Sox were on the cusp on forcing a decisive Game 5, but questionable managerial decisions from ex-skipper John Farrell ultimately led to the team’s demise. The Astros then defeated the Yankees and then Los Angeles (both in thrilling seven game series) to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy to Texas for the first time ever.

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Postseason homer machine George Springer will look to send his team to another Fall Classic (The Houston Chronicle).

Both teams have different looks this time around in converse ways. Houston traded for superstar RHP Gerrit Cole last offseason while Boston signed slugging free agent OF/DH JD Martinez. What’s interesting is that both moves paid massive dividends. Aside Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, Cole helped make the Astros’ starting rotation the unquestioned best in the game. Martinez, on the other hand, rejuvenated the Red Sox’ previously dormant offense and made it a force to be reckoned with again, coming within inches of the Triple Crown in the process.

What’s even more interesting is the new dynamic the rematch presents. As previously mentioned, the Sox parted ways with John Farrell last fall after his controversial pitching decisions killed the team’s rally and got them bounced from the ALDS for the second straight year. Who did they hire almost immediately after?  Houston Bench Coach Alex Cora, who resigned from AJ Hinch’s staff after Game 7.  Though there doesn’t appear to be any hard feelings on Houston’s side, it’s safe to bet that it will still serve as motivation.

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Red Sox rookie manager Alex Cora finds himself opposite the team he helped lead win it all last season (The Boston Globe).

Boston’s motivation is quite simple, don’t lose to the same team two years in a row. To do this, the team will have to find a way to topple that lethal trio of Verlander, Keuchel and Cole, but also to shut down Houston’s relentless offense, led in the ALDS by Alex Bregman and George Springer. Though he was injured for a majority of the year, Jose Altuve still goes without saying as well.

Don’t get it wrong, though. The Red Sox are no slouches, featuring two MVP front runners in Martinez and Mookie Betts alongside Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts. Chris Sale anchors a rotation that fared quite well against the Yankees in the LDS (with the obvious exception of David Price). Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello were all excellent vs. New York’s powerful core, Cora will be hoping they can replicate that success. He has announced that Price will start Game 2 despite yet another disaster in ALDS Game 2, the reasoning behind this decision is anyone’s guess.

Game 1 is Saturday at 8:09 PM ET on TBS from Fenway Park. Each team will lead off with its ace, Verlander vs. Sale. Don’t miss it!

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American League

Orioles Part Ways with Buck Showalter

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The Baltimore Orioles will be in search for a new manager as Buck Showalter will not return to his manager post in 2019 following a 9 year run with the organization, according to ESPN.

Showalter, 62, was at the helm for a nightmare 2018 that saw the team trade Mann Machado as they decided to start a massive youth movement, and the O’s went 47-115 to became just the fifth major league team since 1900 to lose 115 games or more in a season.

“Mr. Angelos’ family has been great to me and mine,” Showalter said on Sunday regarding the pending decision of owner Peter Angelos . “So whatever direction they decide to go, I’m at peace with it.”

“It’s about winning the game,” Showalter said at the conclusion of the season. “That’s one of the things I really feel like we need to get back to, the expectations of winning. That’s part of it. You’ve got to have expectations of winning, regardless of if you’re whatever they call it nowadays — building. I don’t believe in rebuild, the word rebuild. The first thing you have to accomplish, and one of the things I tried to do when I got here, is to raise the expectations of winning.”

Per the report, Showalter received official word in a meeting with brothers John and Lou Angelos on Wednesday morning.

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American League

White Sox Outright Dustin Garneau

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The Chicago White Sox have outrighted catcher Dustin Garneau to Triple-A Charlotte, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen.

With the move the White Sox created an open spot on their 40-man roster.

Garneau posted a dreadful .194/.269/.321 over 280 plate appearances at the major league level, a far drop off from his production at the Triple-A level this season, where he posted a .252/.340/.468 line to go along with seven homeruns.

 

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