Baseball previews get underway today, and first up will be the 2017 Baltimore Orioles. The 2016 season ended in utter frustration for this team. Buck Showalter did his usual rock solid job for 162 games, but really fouled things up in Game 163. That was a killer as Game 163 happened to be a one and done playoff eliminator and Showalter very possibly cost his team a chance to advance by failing to get his stud closer into the game. Assuming there’s no lingering hangover, the 2017 Birds should be a okay entry once again but down some from 2016. There are some holes on the team to be sure, but I don’t see anything to suggest Baltimore will fall apart. The big question will once again be regarding the starting pitching, which is decidedly average. Tillman, Gausman, Bundy, Jimenez and Miley is not exactly a quintet that will generate fear in opposing lineups. But, Game 163 in 2016 notwithstanding, Showalter has shown himself to be very adept at getting the most from his bullpens, and the Orioles have what could be a dominating relief corps. Wellington Castillo takes over from the departed Matt Wieters behind the plate. I really don’t see a big difference between those two. Wieters the better rep, but if you look at the numbers, it’s not easy to tell the two apart. “Beef” has bounced around the majors to be sure, but he’s a guy widely considered to be a terrific teammate and I think he’ll do just fine for the Orioles. The rest of the everyday lineup looks mostly the same as what we’ve seen. Manny Machado is a superstar, and there’s still plenty of supporting cast talent. That’s not to say there aren’t some questions. Adam Jones declined last season and the O’s are hoping that’s not the beginning of a career downturn. Chris Davis is going to hit plenty of bombs, but he’s a poor defender who would probably be better served as a DH. Mark Trumbo might have had an outlier 2016, so don’t be surprised if he regresses a bit this season. Jonathan Schoop should be entering his prime about now, so I expect improvement there. JJ Hardy is already having back issues, so shortstop has to be a concern. Hyun Soo Kim won’t ever win a Gold Glove, but I think he moves forward with the stick in his second season, and he reported to 2017 camp in improved shape. Right field looks to be a problem area. I see the ’17 Orioles as a .500 team, so I don’t expect them to be making a return trip to the post-season. Unfortunately, at least from a wagering standpoint, the oddsmakers have the same opinion. The wins projection total for the Orioles is 81.5 and I see that as an on the money number for what should be an average team.
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Today’s MLB preview is on the Boston Red Sox. Right at the outset, I have to make it clear that there is no bias in this rundown, but make no mistake, I’m a Red Sox fan. However, that’s got nothing to with my optimistic outlook for this year’s team. There isn’t any question management is in got for it mode. Dave Dombrowski has effectively stripped the system of nearly all its top prospects in an effort to capture another World Series title. I’m not generally a fan of this modus operandi, but then again, an opportunity to obtain a pitcher at the level of Chris Sale wasn’t going to happen on a frequent basis. To be honest, I think management might have overpaid for Sale. But I also cannot argue with the win or bust mentality and Sale is the stud that could get Boston back to the World Series once again. Sale heads up what is now a rotation that could be lights out. Rick Porcello is the reigning Cy Young winner. David Price was probably a bit of a disappointment, and he was once again terrible in the post-season, but even in a down year, the lefty managed 17 wins. Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz figure to complete the rotation. That’s a pretty daunting five-man starting corps and that’s not even including Eduardo Rodriguez. The bullpen should be strong. Craig Kimbrel will close with newly acquired Tyler Thornburg in the primary setup role. It’s possible the Red Sox might want another quality arm in the pen, but I’m still of the belief that Joe Kelly has the capability to be an asset, particularly now that he’s done starting. Rodriguez could also be of use in the pen, assuming he’s not needed for starts. The offense will obviously miss the personalty and production of David Ortiz. Big Papi was a larger than life presence both in the lineup and the clubhouse, and there’s really no way to completely replace him. But this attack is still plenty daunting. Mookie Betts has established himself as a superstar and Andrew Benitendi is on his way to that level. Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts up the middle are solid as a rock. Hanley Ramirez can DH or play first base and is a great bet to rack up big production numbers again this season. Jackie Bradley Jr. is a brilliant defender and he’s become a better hitter than I thought he would be. The areas I would identify as questions are behind the plate, third base and maybe first base. Sandy Leon was a revelation last season, but the Red Sox have to hope that wasn’t an outlier. Pablo Sandoval was a bust in 2015 and played only three games in 2016. If Kung Fu Panda is washed up, the Sox have superutility man Brock Holt to plug that hole. Mitch Moreland is set to start at first, but I’m not sure he holds the job. Moreland was not good with Texas last season. If he falters again, prospect Sam Travis is waiting in the wings. I probably won’t get involved with playing the Over/Under prop on Boston, though I lean to the Over. The Red Sox are the rightful favorites to win the AL East and anything less than that would constitute a major disappointment.
Baseball previews continue today with a rundown on the New York Yankees. These aren’t exactly the best of times for the game’s most storied franchise. The Yankees are in what for them is an ultra-rare rebuilding phase. Truth be told, I really like some of the moves this team has made to finally rebuild what was a close to barren farm system. As a Red Sox diehard, I’ll have to reluctantly admit that with the depth the Yankees now have in the system, brighter days are definitely on the horizon. As for the 2017 Yankees, they grade out as average for the most part. There are some clear bright spots but also too many questionable areas to consider the team as a legitimate contender. The new face of the Yankees will be wearing a mask most of the time. Gary Sanchez burst upon the scene in spectacular fashion in 2016. This kid sure looks to be the real deal and I’ll be surprised if Sanchez isn’t a perennial All-Star candidate, and maybe more. Much to my surprise, Didi Gregorius has developed into a solid everyday shortstop. Starlin Castro is a decent enough second baseman. Chase Headley’s insane 2012 season remains a spectacular outlier, but he’s actually a palatable performer at the hot corner. The outfield has seen better days as Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury appear to be declining and I’m not sold on Aaron Judge yet as a full-time right fielder. Matt Holliday has seen better days, but I think he’ll benefit from being more of a DH and he could have a nice season. The pitching is also a bit sketchy. No problem with Masahiro Tanaka, but things get a bit dicey behind him. Michael Pineda ought to be better than he’s been with his stuff, but I’m not sure he ever will be. CC Sabathia is getting by on savvy but his top shelf stuff is a memory. I really don’t know what t make of Luis Severino at this point, although there’s still some expectation he can piece it all together. The #5 slot is probably going to be a revolving door. The back end of the Yankees bullpen is nasty. I thought the team overpaid to get Aroldis Chapman back, but hey, it’s their money, not mine. Dellin Betances is a monster, but there’s always the chance heading back to the setup role rather than closing could create a mental issue. The rest of the bullpen is serviceable and manager Joe Girardi is daily adept at handling a staff. I make this year’s Yankees a .500 team, give or take a game either way. That might not sit well the faithful who are always going to demand more. But this is probably as bad as it’s going to be moving forward and already have the Yankees as a potential buy come 2018. Let me know what you guys think - feedback or questions always welcome and I'll reply right here in this thread!
Three down, 27 to go on the 2017 MLB team previews. I’ll stay in the AL East today with a look at the Tampa Bay Rays. Life isn’t easy for the Rays. They simply don’t have the dollars to spend as do their AL East brethren. Moreover, they often end up feeling like visitors in their own ballpark as there are far too many nights when there are more fans pulling for the visitors than the Rays. That said, this team was really bad in 2016, and that’s even in the eyes of those who didn’t think Tampa Bay would be any good. The Rays ended up winning only 68 games and there were too many occasions where they found ways to lose games they probably should have won. I think there’s some basis for guarded optimism in 2017. The lineup should be better than it was a year ago, and the pitching staff has a chance to be quite good. Let’s start with the arms. Chris Archer had a ridiculously awful 2016 ledger but his luck can’t be that bad again, can it? Archer is a #1 starter in my eyes and I expect a big bounce back year from the talented righty. If Alex Cobb is healthy, he’s a definite asset. Jake Odorizzi has already exceeded the expectations I had for him as a prospect and has emerged as a decent mid-rotation hurler. Blake Snell has to fix the command issues, but the stuff is there for the lefty to be a star, and newly acquired Jose DeLeon is a big time prospect. There’s quality depth with Matt Andriese, meaning Tampa has six good arms at its disposal, a rare commodity these days. I’m not as convinced about the bullpen, but Alex Colome proved me wrong for the most part last season and could very well do so again. The best of the rest is probably Brad Boxberger along with Xavier Cedeno. So this is an area where I have some concern overall. Logan Forsythe got dealt to the Dodgers, and he’ll be missed. But this is not the worst lineup I’ve ever seen. Wilson Ramos is a terrific addition behind the plate. Evan Longoria swung for the fences more last season and did do with good results. Brad Miller can’t catch a cold at times, but 30 homers was impressive. Kevin Kiermaier is limited offensively, but he’s an absolutely amazing center fielder, among the best I’ve ever seen. The rest of the lineup is shaky, but probably serviceable. I see the Rays having a legit chance to get back to .500 this year. This is definitely a team I see being in a positive bounce situation. I would give strong consideration to playing the Rays to go Over the 78 win projection. What's your take on the Rays?
Today’s MLB preview will be on the Toronto Blue Jays to finish off the AL East rundowns. Things have changed over the last couple of days as far as Toronto’s chances of winning the division are concerned. The Red Sox were substantial favorites, but Boston appears to have taken a big spring training hit with the injury to David Price. That could open the door for the Blue Jays to take advantage in this division. I don’t see this as the same bombs away entry of the past couple seasons, but if the offense has slipped, the pitching looks to be very solid. I’ll start with Aaron Sanchez. He went from very promising prospect to stud status in 2016. Sanchez should be on the short list of pitchers with Cy Young potential in 2017. There won’t be any more talk about innings limitations this year, and with the leash removed, I expect Sanchez to have a huge year. The rest of the rotation should be adequate at worst, and could be much better than that. JA Happ isn’t likely to go 20-4 again, but the veteran lefty has become a definite asset. Marcus Stroman hasn’t put it all together yet, but if he’s the #3 starter, that’s a pretty good thing. Marco Estrada doesn’t blow anyone away with his stuff, but the guy gets outs. Francisco Liriano is the #5 going in, and while the veteran lefty was not good in 2016, he’s come back from the dead before and could do it again. I wouldn’t call the Toronto bullpen elite by any means, but Roberto Osuna is a rock solid closer and the rest of the relief corps should be adequate. I would not rule out the possibility of the Jays making a move to fortify the late inning personnel if they need to. As for the position players, there’s no question this team will miss Edwin Encarnacion and the lineup is simply not as fearsome as it has been recently. I definitely feel there are some questions here. Jose Bautista and Russell Martin are getting long in the tooth. Troy Tulowitzki just isn’t the same guy he was with the Rockies. I like Devon Travis, but he has had trouble staying on the field. Kendrys Morales should be fine as the primary DH, Kevin Pillar is serviceable as the center fielder. The one sure thing is Josh Donaldson, who remains an elite performer. The two positions with the most uncertainty have to be first base and left field. It appears as though the Jays might have to be going the platoon route at these two spots, and that’s just not ideal. The good news is there’s some quality veteran depth on this big league roster and that should help. I still have Boston as the team to beat in the East even assuming Price is gone for the season. But the Blue Jays look like they’re second best and they should definitely be in the Wild Card hunt at the very least. If the starting rotation is dominant, which I think it has a chance to be, Toronto should be playing baseball come October. But I’ve also got enough questions to pass on playing Over the 86.5 win total.
I’ll be previewing the NL Eastern Division this week, and first up is the 2017 Atlanta Braves. Not much was expected from the 2016 Braves. Not much resulted if you’re going just by the standings. Atlanta ended up finishing dead last in the East and won only 68 games. But a look beyond those numbers revealed plenty of reason for optimism moving forward. The Braves improved as the season progressed, and I expect that momentum to be carried forward into the new season. That’s not to suggest Atlanta is ready to suddenly vault into playoff contention. But they sure appear to be headed in the right direction, and there’s at least a chance they could be one of this season’s surprise teams. The Braves have a terrific horizon thanks to a farm system that has gotten spectacularly better over the past couple of seasons. I don’t think there’s much question that this team should be a serious contender by the time 2019 rolls around. In the meantime, the Braves have added some quality veterans and there’s no doubt things are looking up. The rotation is kind of fascinating, as it’s now loaded with veterans who are probably just short term place holders for the kids on the way. But it’s also a veteran cast that could produce enough quality starts to give the Braves a chance at more wins than most are projecting right now. Julio Teheran is the clear #1, with the supporting cast now including Bartolo Colon, RA Dickey and Jaime Garcia. I guess I should mention that there’s also a realistic chance that old pro trio could go into the tank as well. None are sure things anymore. The likely #5 at this point is Mike Foltynewicz, and the hard throwing righty showed signs of finally getting it all together in 2016. I’d like to see the Braves get Aaron Blair regular starts this season as he’s a pitcher who has a real chance to become an innings eating workhorse in the coming years. The bullpen is a problem area. Truth be told, there’s not a single arm in the pen that I have much faith in, and I think Atlanta could be a team that has trouble holding late inning leads. There’s always a small handful of those teams every season, and the Braves have the look of being one of that type this season. As for the position players, there are lots of recognizable names. As with the starting pitching, this is not the lineup we will be seeing down the road. But I sure have no problem with management putting together a representative veteran lineup in the meantime, thus allowing the prospects to continue to hone their skill in the minors. Dalby Swanson is the first arrival from the prospect pile and he will immediately be a fixture at shortstop. Freddie Freeman is still very solid at first base, old pro Brandon Phillips has arrived to play second, and Adonis Garcia is presently tops on the third base depth chart. I’m not so bullish on the outfield. Matt Kemp will still produce offensively, but he’ll hurt defensively. Nick Markakis is at this point a below average regular high fielder. Ender Inciarte, one of the valuable components snared in the Shelby Miller heist with the Diamondbacks, is a better than most think center fielder. More veteran talent is on hand behind the plate with Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki likely splitting the duties. As is the case elsewhere, this is stopgap talent being counted on to hold the fort until the new blood arrives. The win projection on the Braves is 74, and that really looks just about right to me. There are more positive than negatives as far as the if factors are concerned. If Atlanta can somehow coax last stand big years out of some of the veterans on the roster, a run at .500 could take place. But I’m not all that convinced that’s realistic. I’ve got the Braves battling the Phillies to avoid the NL East cellar. But brighter days are coming.
MLB previews continue today with a look at the 2017 Miami Marlins. Don Mattingly has his work cut out this season. The skipper of the Marlins is going to have to find a way to overcome the incredibly devastating loss of Jose Fernandez. The remarkably talented pitcher was the face of the franchise on and off the field. Time has passed since his tragic death and I’m sure the players will maintain a back to business attitude. But this is still a very tough deal psychologically and there’s simply no way to replace the physical talents of Fernandez. The Marlins have some decent position player talent. The outfield has a chance to be outstanding with Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton. I don’t have a problem with the infield either. Justin Bour, Dee Gordon, Adelny Hechavarria and Martin Prado, plus Derek Dietrich as a solid utility piece, are decent enough. JT Realmuto is a talented young receiver with a pretty good stick and as he gains experience could develop into a high end catcher. Realmuto also figures to play some first base as a righty hitting semi-platoon piece against tougher lefties. The problem is going to be the pitching. The projected rotation as of now is Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley, Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily and Tom Koehler. The rotation depth looks like Jeff Locke, Jose Urena and Justin Nicolino. That’s a really sketchy group, to put it mildly. As for the bullpen, AJ Ramos is the current closer. I think he’ll get pushed by Kyle Barraclough and Brad Ziegler is also in the mix. David Phelps has done quite well as a reliever, and the Marlins are hoping they can keep him in the pen, although given their rotation issues, that could change by necessity. One glaring issue is the complete lack of lefty relief help, and that could be a big deal from a situational standpoint. The bottom line is that this team has problems. Miami will hit the baseball reasonably well but the pitching could be pretty mediocre. Also, there’s very little organizational depth as the Marlins have a mostly barren farm system. With the Mets and Nationals now light years ahead and the Braves and Phillies on the rise, I see this as a bleak scenario. I’ll also add in the uncertainty upstairs as far as who’s going to own this team down the road. The O/U prop on the Marlins is 77.5 and at this point, I’d have to be looking at the Under as a potential play. What do you guys think - Over or Under 77.5?And who would you nominate for your fantasy sleeper and fantasy bust for the Marlins?
Baseball team previews resume today with a look at the 2017 New York Mets. Last year at this time, the baseball world was buzzing about the spectacular starting rotation owned by the Mets. Fast forward to today, and that star-studded rotation is a huge question mark. Noah Syndergaard is the one sure thing on the Mets staff. He might well be the best pitcher on the planet not named Clayton Kershaw. But beyond Thor, there are question marks galore. Jacob deGrom was shut down last September and his velocity was down throughout the entire season. I’m not buying for one second that this was by design. The good news is that deGrom touched 97 mph in his spring debut, and that has to be a big relief to those worried about his elbow. Steven Matz appears to be fine, but the talented lefty was also shut down early last season. Matz has yet to work more than 140 innings in one season as a pro, and concern he could wear down again aren’t unrealistic. As for Matt Harvey, I don’t know and I don’t think anyone else does, either. There’s no real book yet on guys coming back from thoracic syndrome outlet surgeries. Bartolo Colon is no longer with the Mets, having moved south to Atlanta for his 117th season in the majors (yeah, I know it’s not really 117, but it seems that way). That leaves the fifth spot open for either Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo. Actually, I would suspect we will see both guys making plenty of starts. As for Zack Wheeler, he’s probably going to have to start the season in extended spring training. I think anything the Mets get from Wheeler anytime soon is a bonus. The bullpen is presently uncertain to start the season with the possible suspension of Jeurys Familia looming. Addison Reed enjoyed a phenomenal rebound year in 2016, and he’s definitely capable of closing if need be. Hansel Robles has occasional command lapses but I can see him stepping forward and becoming a dominant setup man with his stuff. The rest of the relievers are serviceable enough. I have some reservations about the Mets everyday lineup. Yoenis Cespedes is the outfield star and is the main man as far as the offense goes. The middle infield is okay with Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Travis d’Arnaud needs to hit as I don’t think he’ll ever be a great catcher. Lucas Duda is just a guy at first base, and Jose Reyes is always a bit of a health risk at the hot corner, plus he’s not a good defender. I don’t see any way the Mets can count on anything from David Wright, which is a shame as he’s one of the game’s really good people. Jay Bruce was a bust after arriving from Cincinnati. I continue to maintain he’s a DH in the league that doesn’t have a DH. Curtis Granderson should not be patrolling center field anymore, and Juan Lagares doesn’t hit enough to play everyday. Michael Conforto had a bad 2016, and at least for now is a platoon player as he has not shown any ability to hit lefties. If everything breaks right in terms of pitching health I can see the Mets making a strong run at a playoff spot. But there are too many question marks on this team for me to be bullish on this entry. I have not played the O/U prop on the Mets, but I’m at least leaning toward Under 87.5.
Today’s MLB preview is on the Philadelphia Phillies. The dry spell will continue in 2017 as far as the playoff are concerned, but there’s definitely now light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for the Phils. The strength of this year’s team should be its starting rotation. The projected 1-5 right now looks to be Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Vince Velasquez, Jared Eickhoff and newly acquired Clay Buchholz. Nola, Velasquez and Eickhoff are young hurlers with upside, Hellickson is off a really solid 2016 and there’s a lot worse than Buchholz as the #5. The bullpen should be reasonably well manned with Hector Neris the main asset among the relievers. Jeanmar Gomez was a surprise of sorts last season and old pro Joaquin Benoit is now in the mix for late inning work. Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos complete the main quintet of bullpen arms. The Phillies might be hurting for a good lefty specialist, but they’re sure not alone on that count. I’m not as bullish on the position players, at least not at this time. Odubel Herrera is a budding star in CF, I like 2B Cesar Hernandez and 3B Mikael Franco is developing into a plus component if perhaps not a big star. The mix at the rest of the positions is fair at best. The big hope is that top prospect JP Crawford gets it together to the point where he has together called up and takes over as the everyday shortstop. Right now, it’s more about maintaining forward progress for the Phillies while continuing to build the farm system. I thought the Phils perhaps overachieved a bit last season, so I would certainly be hesitant to be backing the Over on the wins prop. This team is still a couple of years away and figures to endure another losing season. But there’s finally reason for some legit optimism as to what the future holds for the Phillies.
The NL East 2017 preview conclude today with a look at the Washington Nationals. The Nats will enter the new season as the team to beat in this division, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some red flags on the scene. The potential problems for Washington would seem to be in the pitching department. I’m not sold on the back of the rotation and there have to be some concerns with the bullpen. Max Scherzer is as legit as it gets as the ace of the rotation, and if healthy, Stephen Strasburg is a daunting #2. Of course, the injury status of Strasburg has to always be be monitored as he hasn’t exactly been the model of durability. Tanner Roark is a quality middle of the rotation workhorse. The last two slots are where I apparently have a disagreement with the metrics and therefore the projections. I know I’ll catch some heat from the analytics experts on this opinion, but I’m also not one who just puts blind faith in those numbers. I should also probably admit that I’ve had all kinds of trouble winning wagers on or against Gio Gonzalez, and there’s probably some bias, but I just don’t trust the veteran lefty. The #5 is Joe Ross, and again, I’m at odds with some of the analytics. Those numbers say he’s solid. My eyes keep telling me his stuff is average. Some people love his slider, I don’t think it’s that good and I’m not in love with his fastball. Hey, everyone has his or her own opinion, and those are mine. The Washington pen is more legitimately worrisome. The Nats have some pretty good arms in the relief corps, but someone will have to step forward as a closer. Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen are vying for the ninth inning.I like the signing of Joe Blanton, and the Nats have veteran lefties on hand for situational usage. If a closer emerges, this bullpen will be strong. If not, there could be a domino effect that impacts the entire bullpen. The lineup looks good. Most everyone expects a big rebound season from Bryce Harper. Adam Eaton is better served as a right fielder, but he’ll be adequate in center, and Eaton is underrated offensively. Daniel Murphy is a hit machine who’s offense is so good it more than compensates for his shaky defense. Trev Turner has a chance to be a superstar. As for Anthony Rendon, I still believe in this guy’s bat and maybe this is the season he puts it all together. Matt Wieters is now the catcher, and I don’t think he’s at the same level as Wilson Ramos, but I sure have no problem with Wieters. My main areas of concern for the Nats as far as position players go would be first base and left field. Ryan Zimmerman has declined due to all his injury problems, but the Nats also now have Adam Lind available. Jayson Werth really hasn’t been more than adequate for two years running and he’ll be 38 in May, so I doubt there’s a return to star status on the horizon. I don’t think there’s any question Washington is the rightful favorite in the NL East. They’re simply the best team in the sector on paper and they should be bound for the post-season once again. I’d say that 90-92 wins is about right, so no opinion of any substance on the O/U prop.