By: Max Klein
Through the first month of the MLB season, most fans are still optimistic, maybe
cautiously so, about their favorite team. Through the next six posts, I will give you a
reason for you to be optimistic and a reason to be concerned about each team. These
reasons will end with a final outlook on each team’s current season and future. Going
along with the east coast bias, I decided to start with the AL East.
Reason to be optimistic: The Baltimore Big Three
The most notable “big three” in recent baseball history was the dominant Oakland rotation made up of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito. The Orioles have a big three of position players that Dan Duquette and the rest of the front office will look to keep together for years to come. The first member of the big three, Adam Jones is hitting at a torrid pace with five home runs, 21 RBIs, and a major league leading .355 batting average. It is unlikely Jones will keep up these video game statistics as he has cooled off of late, but nonetheless he is headed for another good year.
Second, Chris Davis has added seven home runs and 19 RBIs of his own. Davis may not have another 56 home run season, but he will make a run at 25-30. Lastly, the youngest member, Manny Machado has fewer than 30 hits, but has made them count with five home runs and 14 RBIs. With Machado’s defense already at gold glove quality (see link below) and his offense improving, Baltimore has a legitimate big three.
Reason to be concerned: Pitching Problems
The reason the Orioles are 13-15 to start the season is their pitching staff has struggled mightily with a 4.25 staff ERA. When accounting for unearned runs as well, the Orioles are allowing an atrocious 4.5 runs per game. Bud Norris and Chris Tillman have struggled in the rotation and Jason Garcia, Kevin Gausman, and Tommy Hunter have struggled out of the bullpen. That being said, starters Wei-Yin Chen and Ubaldo Jimenez have been fantastic both with sub 3.00 ERAs, while Miguel Gonzalez has collected three wins of his own. Darren O’Day has only allowed one earned run in twelve relief appearances and Zach Britton has converted six of seven save opportunities.
The AL East is the worst pitching division is baseball and the Orioles are no exception. However, moving Kevin Gausman to the starting rotation and putting Bud Norris in the bullpen is a move the Orioles need to make if they want to repeat as division champions this season.
Outlook: Very Optimistic
Boston Red Sox
Reason to be optimistic: Mookie Betts, Future Face of the Franchise
Mookie Betts is a star. The 22 year old has burst into Beantown, exciting fans with spectacular defense, blazing speed (see link below), and surprising power. He won the starting center field job in spring training and it looks like he will be there long term. With his speed and ability to put the bat on the ball, Betts has become the leadoff hitter for this phenomenal Red Sox offense. With the fans already behind him, Betts figures to be the face of the franchise when Big Papi and Dustin Pedroia eventually decide its time to retire. Hanley Ramirez has also been great for the Red Sox, looking like one of the best off-season acquisitions from around the league with 10 home runs and 22 RBIs. Boston has also received solid contributions from Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval.
Reason to be concerned: Second Worst ERA in the Majors
The lowest ERA in the Red Sox rotation is Rick Porcello at 4.38; he is the only member under 5.00. The bullpen has only been shaky with a combined 5 for 10 on save opportunities with Koji Uehara being the only person able to close out a game. The Red Sox rotation has been rough from top to bottom, with the most surprising of these being Wade Miley, who usually eats a lot of innings, throwing only 28 2/3 innings in four starts. Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson, and Clay Buchholz have all been hit around as well. Fenway is definitely a hitter’s park and the new arms in Boston have yet to adjust to those conditions. If the rotation and bullpen do not turn things around, the Red Sox will fail to make the playoffs, leaving Boston fans disappointed.
Outlook: Cautiously Optimistic
New York Yankees
Reason to be optimistic: The Triumphant Return of Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez is rightfully the biggest villain in baseball this year. The Yankees did what they could to distance themselves from Rodriguez last year after he was suspended yet again for steroid use. But this year, the Yankees would be lost without A-Rod at DH. He has delivered with seven home runs, including this 471-foot bomb (see link below), passing Willie Mays and moving into fourth all time with 661. Mark Teixeira has also been absolutely raking this season with ten home runs and 25 RBIs of his own. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have continued their recent success, both hitting over .300 this month and scoring 25 and 22 runs respectively. Chris Young has been one of the biggest surprises for the Yankees in the early season, hitting over .300 with six home runs and 12 RBIs.
The Yankees rotation has been the best in the AL East, but the recent injury to ace Masahiro Tanaka could change that. Chase Whitley will take over in his spot and will look to build upon the success of the Yankees pitching staff thus far.
Didi Gregorious has the impossible task of filling in for Derek Jeter at shortstop. Gregorious is much better than Jeter ever was defensively, with a cannon for an arm and a good glove. However he has been a bit wild this year, with four errors. Gregorious also has continued his struggles hitting against lefties, with a .190 average against them this year. He has not been any better against righties, hitting only .215 against them. If the Yankees want him to be the long-term solution at short, he needs to control his arm and change his approach when he faces lefties.
Stephen Drew has hit four home runs this season on only 16 hits. For the most part, Drew has struggled in the box and in the field, with three errors. He is not the Yankees long-term solution at second base; that is likely Rob Refsnyder. Refsnyder hit .364 in 44 at-bats this spring, and was sent to Triple A because of his defense. If the Yankees are concerned about defense so much, Stephen Drew should not be starting at second. Brian Cashman and the front office are better off calling up Refsnyder and giving him time to adjust to major league pitching.
Outlook: Cautiously Optimistic
Tampa Bay Rays
Reason to be optimistic: Under 30 Outfield
The Rays starting outfielders are all under 30 and just entering the prime years for position players (27-33). Desmond Jennings (28), Kevin Kiermaier (25), and Steven Souza Jr. (26) make up one of the best young outfields in baseball. Jennings has struggled a bit at the onset of the season, but he has never been a high average guy. He provides consistent offense with some pop and the ability to hit 15 home runs and 60 RBIs in a season. Kevin Kiermaier is an unreasonably good defender, easily one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. Aside from making web gems every night (see link below), Kiermaier has seen his offense improve with 12 extra base hits so far this season. The Rays traded for Steven Souza Jr. in December, which has turned out very well for them so far, as Souza has five home runs and 14 RBIs to start the season. Brandon Guyer and David DeJesus (both over 30) also provide the Rays with veteran options in the outfield, playing well in the time they have seen this year.
Also worth mentioning, first overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft, Tim Beckham, was all but written off as a major bust. Don’t look now, but at just 25-years-old, Beckham has broken into the majors with three home runs and twelve RBIs. The Rays have a lot of players just entering their prime years and will build off this for the next couple seasons.
Reason to be concerned: Injury Problems in the Rotation
The Rays bullpen has started out terrible this season, but has changed that tune lately, cutting their ERA down to 3.42. Ernesto Frieri has started to pitch better, but Grant Balfour has yet to show his best stuff this season. Trading Joel Peralta to the Dodgers and losing Jake McGee to injury has left the Rays bullpen a little depleted, but Kevin Jepsen (one save) and Brad Boxberger (eight saves) have done their best to anchor the Ray’s bullpen this season. Chris Archer, as the ace of the rotation, has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season with a 2.59 ERA this season. Alex Colome and Jake Odorizzi also give the Rays pieces to make up one of the best rotations in baseball. Nate Karns, Erasmo Ramirez, and Matt Andriese have been knocked around in their starts, leaving the Rays with a big question mark for the back end of rotation until Matt Moore and Alex Cobb are eventually able to return from injury. Drew Smyly, who had also been fantastic so far this season, will have season-ending shoulder surgery. Injury problems have plagued the Rays rotation for a few years now, and with Cobb and Smyly not returning until next season, this problem will continue for yet another year.
Outlook: Concerned, but Optimistic about the Future
Toronto Blue Jays
Reason to be optimistic: Devon Travis is for REAL
The Blue Jays have a great offense. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnación, and Josh Donaldson make up possibly the scariest middle of the order in the American League. Trading for Josh Donaldson was definitely an upgrade at third base over Brett Lawrie, at least from a power stance. However, the best Blue Jays player in the first month of the season has easily been Devon Travis. The second base job seemed like it was Ryan Goins’ for the taking until Devon Travis exploded in the spring with 31 hits in only 85 at bats. Manager John Gibbons tabbed Travis as the Toronto second basemen, which has proven to be the right call. The 24-year-old already has been a pleasant surprise for the team up North launching seven home runs, and 24. Travis has never been a big home run hitter through his time in the minors, so the early power has been unexpected. However, it is important to remember that there was an American League leading 2.30 home runs per game hit at the Rogers Centre last season. Regardless of whether his power is here to stay, Devon Travis is a good hitter and he is for real (see link below).
Reason to be concerned: Pitching Staff Struggles
The Blue Jays rotation has a lot of potential, but has been poor to start the season. The unpredictable knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has been the best, with three quality starts although he is rolling with a 4.384 ERA. Mark Buehrle struggled in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, but the veteran lefty, has faced rough patches before and should be able to turn his season around. The rest of the rotation is made of three of the best young starting pitchers in baseball: Drew Hutchinson (24), Daniel Norris (22), and Aaron Sanchez (22). They have all struggled out of the gate, but they each have the tools to be successful in the majors. Miguel Castro has been decent in the closer role, succeeding in four of six opportunities while appearing in thirteen games. Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil, both an integral part of the Blue Jays bullpen, have struggled mightily in the first month. That being said Steve Delabar, Roberto Osuna and Marco Estrada have been able to help anchor the pen in the wake of their teammates’ struggles. The Blue Jays have the talent to push for the division title both offensively and defensively. If the starting rotation and bullpen can reach their expectations, the Blue Jays will be playing in October.
Outlook: Very Optimistic