MLBRT 6/11: Some 2015 MLB surprises and thoughts…

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Some MLB surprises and thoughts so far in 2015…

Some preseason expert picks
Some preseason expert picks

As of Friday morning (6/5) the following teams are in first place… NY and Tampa Bay in a virtual tie for the AL East; Minnesota in the AL Central; Houston in the AL West; The NY Mets in the NL East albeit by a scant ½ game over preseason favorite Washington…

Not exactly a scenario of the “experts” pre-season predictions.

With a third of the season in the books the MLBRT crew takes a look at some other MLB surprises and other thoughts about the 2015 season so far and opines away…

The crew answers five…

1) The Detroit Tigers recently snapped an 8 game losing streak… they are still in the hunt in the AL Central race but not looking quite like the powerhouse some folks predicted the team to be this year… presently they sit at 3rd in their division 4 games behind 1st place Minnesota (Yes, Minnesota) and 3 game behind 2nd place Kansas City.

What’s your appraisal of what’s “wrong’ with the Tigers right now and how do you see them going forward in the race for a playoff spot?

Archie1

Tigers can still roar...
Tigers can still roar…

Archie: What’s wrong? Really not a thing.

They are 5th in the AL in team ERA. They are 1st in team Batting. They are 2nd in team Fielding %. All of which lead their division rivals Twinkies and Kansas City. So, it is just a matter of winning.

Throughout the long season of 162 games most teams that lead or at the top of their respective division in these categories make the playoffs. So, I do not see a reason for the Tiger Cave dwellers to throw in their towels just yet.  

E.J. 12Earl: I don’t see anything wrong with the Tigers really. The Twins are perfoming well ahead of expectations, the Royals are proving last year was no fluke and the Indians are coming on a bit. It’s a tough division but there’s nothing wrong in Detroit. The Tigers are pitching and hitting well as a team, but, they just have three other teams in the division playing good baseball right now. 

64432_1353574773361_2104488_nJoe: With the Twins outperforming most folks expectations including my own and Kansas City being a real contender to get back into the playoffs and Cleveland staring to turn things around, the simple fact is the AL Central is not going to be a cakewalk for the Tigers any more.

That being said it would behoove the Tigers to get some better performances out of their starters… for the last month or so their ERA has been floating around 4.75. They are scoring just over 4 runs per game for the year.Tigers-Dugout-Bad

Last year the starting rotation had 3 Cy Young Award winners and with one gone to Washington, Max Scherzer, via free agency and another on the DL, Justine Verlander, that leaves  just David Price out of the trio to hold down the fort. He has had help from Alfredo Simon but none from any of the other starters. Verlander looked pretty good in his last rehab start so that will be a big help in the near future but still they need to get some better pitching out of the other starters. If, not then they just might be fighting the White Sox for last place very soon because with their bullpen essentially simply stinking up the place and the team just not scoring runs they are floundering right now.

To be fair this a team that has some injuries… Reliever Joe Nathan is out for the year and Victor Martinez  is on the 15-day disabled list. But, Martinez, even before his DL stint, wasn’t exactly playing like the his MVP caliber self from a year ago.

The prognosis for this team? If, Price and Simon don’t get some help from the other starters and the offensive can’t score runs the Tigers may not make the playoffs. Frankly, I look for GM Dave Dombroski to be active leading up to the trade deadline in an attempt to jumpstart and fortify the Tigers for a strong playoff run.

Steve 01Steve: Okay, let’s dissect this for a moment.

First, The Kansas City Royals are for real. They are the defending American League Champions, and, came ever so close to winning the World Series last season. They are going to be there for sure.

Second, I don’t know what quite to make of the Minnesota Twins. Paul Moliter has done a tremendous job with this group who many, including myself picked them to finish last in the Central.

Finally, we have the Tigers, who on paper should be leading the way in the Central division. I think the loss of Max Scherzer put a whole in the pitching rotation, and, they have a lot to work do with the bullpen.

David Price
David Price

David Price, despite starting on the DL, has pitched lights out for Detroit so far. However, the offense just is not what it used to be. Victor Martinez is having a down year from last year’s MVP type season. Cabrera is still smoking the ball, but, he can’t do it by himself. Detroit needs another quality starter, and, a good bullpen if they want to stick around. Last season they relied to heavily on the offense and the top tier starting pitching to keep them in games despite a horrible bullpen. This is not the case this season as it appears they are needing to click on all cylinders.

They can still turn it around, and, I think they will be competing for the division if not the wild card.  

2) There’s been some discussion lately about how some NL teams are batting pitchers 8th in the batting order instead of their usual 9th place batting order status… what’s your opinion on that strategy? Just a passing fancy or does it have some merit?

Archie1Archie: I have seen where it worked at times and I have seen where it did not work out as well.hi-res-6249038_crop_north

I think, the truest measure is in the quality of 8th place hitters the team has on their roster to begin with. There is a lot to be said for a pitcher being a rally killer at the bottom of the lineup but that is going to be the case no matter where he bats at times.

E.J. 12Earl: Just a passing trend.

For this to really work, it would take a pitcher that can really hit. There aren’t too many pitchers who are capable enough hitters to make this gamble really work. I know the Mets have tried it with de Grom but he hits well enough to where it’s an advantage to the bottom/top of the lineup. You can’t do it with Bartolo Colon.

Just saying that unless you have a pitching staff that can hit decently enough, you can’t do this regularly enough for it to become a growing trend. 

64432_1353574773361_2104488_nJoe: I think it’s essentially a passing fancy.

I mean, I kind of see what the intent is to get an extra bat in front of the lead off guy but really for all the times that it would really impact any games, is it really worth it?

Steve 01Steve: It’s kind of “it is what it is.”

Maddon with lineup card...
Maddon with lineup card…

I mean the only real benefit to having the pitcher bat in the 8th spot is to have a decent bat in an attempt to keep an inning going. The Cubs have been notorious for this with Joe Maddon at the helm. He typically bats his pitcher 8th, and, has Addison Russell in the 9th spot. This has worked for him on numerous occasions. It makes the other team think a little bit especially in situations like the pitcher up with 1 out, Sacrafices a runner to 2nd, and, have a good chance to bring that runner in for the 9th spot.

Look at it this way, they have a decent bat with two outs to drive in the run. Or, he gets out and you lead off the next inning with the top of your lineup, which can typically be cause for a good inning. 

3) The Boston Red Sox spent some big bucks to strengthen their lineupin the off-season, notably picking up Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez… neither player has exactly been performing lights out both offensively and defensively up to this point.

Sandoval and Ramirez
Sandoval and Ramirez

If, you’re the Sox’ GM/Front Office at this point in the season are you “don’t worry the ship will right itself” or experiencing some buyer’s remorse?

Archie1Archie: Quite often players realize “slumps” in their offense when they change leagues. On this occasion, you have not one but two guys experiencing the same thing.

Han Ram is not so bad. He is leading the team in RBIs and HRs, while, Sandoval is not swinging as hot of a bat as he is known for.

But, if, I had concerns on the offensive side of the plate then I think I would take a closer look at their old man in Big Papi; follow that investigation up with Napoli, and, then I think you’ll find where the trouble lies.

E.J. 12Earl: I’m sure there is some buyers remorse, but, it also is pretty early.

Hanley Ramirez isn’t perfoming that bad. He actually was doing well until he hurt his shoulder.

Sandoval? Well that might be an issue. He isn’t playing well at all but it is early June.

Sandoval and Ramirez are in their first season with a new team and league. When they start seeing some of these pitchers more often, their hitting should come on. 

64432_1353574773361_2104488_n

Sandoval
Sandoval

Joe: Sandoval is not really hitting and his fielding at 3rd hasn’t exactly been anything to write home about. He’s been pretty much a standup guy with reporters and in the clubhouse according to most reports. That’s nice and a big plus, but, really, that isn’t what the Red Sox went out and got him for when it is all said and done.

Ramirez is having a decent year batting wise but nothing spectacular

Ramirez in left
Ramirez in left

 

As far as playing left field (which, to be fair, is not his natural position) he reminds a lot of folks of another Ramirez who once played out there… Manny. Only some Boston writers are saying he’s actually a worse fielder than Manny was.

Add to this, both players have recently made some bone headed moves on the base paths.

Right now I’d have to say there might be some buyer’s remorse going on in the Sox’ front office.  

Steve 01Steve: I have to say buyer’s remorse here.

Again, I will dissect.

Nobody expected the Yankees to be as good as they are as they found an Ace in Michael Pineda after Tanaka went down. Now, with Tanaka back in the rotation (for how long, we don’t know) all bets are off for what the Yankees can do. With Teixiera having an MVP caliber season so far, the Yankees should be competing for the division.

Then what about the freaking Rays? Losing Zobrist to the A’s, Maddon to the Cubs, did anyone expect them to be as good as they are right now?

The Blue Jays are underperforming yet again with an All Star lineup, despite Josh Donaldson tearing the cover off the ball.

Ramirez
Ramirez

The Orioles are doing about what I expected them to.

And, then there’s the Red Sox who many felt were going to compete for the American League title this season. They got Sandoval and Ramirez, and, they are having a “par” type season, not bad, but nothing spectacular. Problem is, David Ortiz is only hitting a mere .220 right now, and seems to be showing his age. The pitching rotation has not been impressive, and, the bullpen seems to give up 4-0 leads on a regular basis. I don’t think the Red Sox are going anywhere this season, and, you may just see them deal some of these players at the before the trade deadline.  

4) Look who’s just a scant 1/2 game out in the NL West… the San Francisco Giants… a lot of “experts” predicted the Giants to have a down year in 2015 saying they didn’t add enough to effectively replace what they lost at some key positions… for example: Casey McGehee and Matt Duffy playing 3rd in place of departed Pablo Sandoval.

Are the Giants positioned to make a move to defend their World Champs title?

Archie1Archie: With the way they have been winning you have to consider them in the race for that division.champs

They swept the Dodgers in mid-April, then, took two of three from LAD the following week. Then, they swept the Dodgers AGAIN in mid-May.

So, in reality, I see they are as close as they are in that division simply for “beating UP” on their own division leader. A split in those 9 games (or 5 – 4) and they would be 3 or more back. However, with 1/3 of the season behind us they are playing well enough to continue their march towards a title defense.

Seems like no one in the NL is making much noise as a true contender other than the Cardinals.   

E.J. 12Earl: The Giants are just like the Cardinals in my opinion. Both franchises are run well, and, they are consistently in contention.

The Giants are a model franchise and despite my thinking that the Dodgers will win the NL West, I’m not surprised at all where the Giants are right now. 

64432_1353574773361_2104488_nJoe: The Giants have a team slash line of .273/.332/.405. And, that ain’t too shabby.

McGehee has sort of crapped the bed, but, Matt Duffy is doing okay and while may not be putting up Sandoval numbers at 3rd, he isn’t hurting the team either. And, if the 2015 numbers are taken into consideration Duffy’s numbers are, right now, better than Sandoval’s’ numbers are in Boston, for what that is worth.

Pitching wise… they got Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum is having a revival of sorts. If the other starters… Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong and Chris Heston… can step it up just a tad… then, yes… they are positioning themselves to make a move to defend their World Series title.   

Steve 01Steve: These “experts” are also the ones who said the Giants only win in even years. This is purely a myth. San-Francisco-Giants

The Giants are a hell of a baseball team, even without Sandoval in the lineup. They have quality players at every position, a solid bullpen, and a really good starting rotation. If, these guys are not championship contenders, then, I challenge anyone to tell me who is?

While, I still have my money on Washington to make a run and eventually run away with the East, and, then eventually win the National League, I think the Giants are going to be right there with the Dodgers in the West all season. 

5 The St Louis Cardinals seem to have a hammerlock on the NL Central… the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs seem to be fighting it out for 2nd place in the division… which team do you favor to make a move to assert itself and can they gain a possible wild card spot in the playoffs?

Archie1

Archie: Going into the season, I would have thought the Cubs would outlast the Pirates. Now that the Cubs are leading the world in Striking Out and only managing a .241 BA for the team I’m not so sure.

Who's better Pirates or...
Who’s better Pirates or…

I watched in vain for the past few seasons as my beloved Braves stayed on the stats charts by striking out with the group of “free swingers” on their roster, and, now, I watch as the Cubs are doing the same thing. And, if, I know one thing for sure, teams that strike out at so many opportunities seem to NEVER win anything.  

E.J. 12Earl: I like the Cubs but they aren’t ready yet. Still too young.

The Pirates have the experience of being in this position and I think they will finish 2nd in the Central and make a run at one of the Wildcard spots. 

64432_1353574773361_2104488_nJoe: Assuming the Cardinals are not going to go into a second half swoon…

The Pirates are playing well enough for run at a wild card berth in the playoffs as are the Cubs. However, when it all come down to the final standings, I think, that the Pirates’ experience and the Cubs’ inexperience… aka youth and their propensity to strikeout A LOT!… will spell the difference, and, the Pirates should take 2nd place in the NL Central along with a probable wild card playoff spot.

Steve 01

... or the Cubs with their young talent
… or the Cubs with their young talent

Steve: Okay, first, I absolutely love watching the Cubs play baseball. Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Dexter Fowler, Starlin Castro, and, their captain, Anthony Rizzo, are a young talented group of guys who are making some serious noise in baseball right now. However, that being said, they lack the experience down the stretch.

I think, the Pirates will end up with a slightly better record than the Cubs as long as Burnett keeps pitching the way he is pitching, Liriano can keep it together, and, the offense with McCutchen, Harrison, and Marte can continue to be a tough combination.

The Cubs will be in this thing until the end, and, will still probably contend for a wild card berth. The Pirates should edge them, but, look out, the Cubs are coming. 

 Extra Innings…

baseball-cartoonhigh

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