MEMORIAL DAY PENNANT RACE UPDATE

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, May 26th, 2018

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BY: Dic Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – Before the 2018 season began baseball experts predicted that seven teams were sure to make the 2018 playoffs. Those were the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East, the Indians and Astros in the American League Central and West, and National League teams Dodgers (West), Cubs (Central) and Nationals (East). The Los Angeles Angels were also a strong candidate to become the eighth playoff team.

The one-third mark of the schedule is upon us. The American League has gone largely as predicted, but reality differs considerably in the Senior Circuit. Here’s where the races stand going into Memorial Day weekend.

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  1. A.L. West: Houston is in the lead, but they haven’t dominated yet. Their offense hasn’t clicked to the historic proportions that it did last year, but the starting rotation of Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Garrett Cole, and Lance McCullers, Jr. may be the best rotation ever assembled. Verlander leads the Majors with a 1.08 ERA after 11 starts. Cole is second (1.86 in 10 starts) and Morton is third (2.04 in 10 starts) in the American League. Their collective record is 18-3.

Houston’s offense ranks fourth in batting average and third in runs scored. They have a plus 116 run differential. The offense will be all right.                                     Los Angeles is joined by Seattle to strongly challenge the Astros. The Angels look energized by their two way player, the remarkable Shohei Ohtani. On the offensive side, Ohtani has a .991 OPS, which includes a .319 batting average and six home runs. On the pitching side, he’s 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA in seven starts. He’s allowed fewer home runs (five) than he has hit. He is clearly one of the biggest stories of the season.                                                                                                                      Seattle’s offense is better. They are sixth in batting average, but they have lost their best hitter – Robinson Cano – to an 80 game suspension for PED use. Mitch Haniger is perhaps their next best hitter, and Nelson Cruz supplies the power. James Paxton has taken over for Felix Hernandez as their best starter. They have a pitcher friendly ballpark, but they are still only sixth in ERA among A. L. teams. It would seem unlikely that they can seriously challenge the Astros, though they are currently in second place ahead of Los Angeles.                                       Oakland is no longer a pushover. Their young players are coming of age. They may not challenge the Astros this year; but if not, they will soon. They are over .500, eight games ahead of Texas in the loss column for last place.                           Texas split their first two games of the season and haven’t sniffed .500 since. They have lost their best two hitters to injury in Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. Rougned Odor spent considerable time on the disabled list too. The injuries have opened the door for younger players. At this point, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Jurickson Profar and Ronald Guzman are showing considerable progress.     Numerically, the pitching has been about average, which is far better than the disaster that was feared. The offense is the real problem. They lead the Major Leagues in strikeouts on pace to set an all-time record for a season. The Rangers are also a bad defensive team. They lead the Majors with 48 errors, and it’s not close. San Francisco is next with 38.                                                                                                             In summation, they are solidly in last place and likely will be next October. The team will surely make some veterans for prospects trades and continue to play younger players to assess what they have going forward. The only question about their record is whether they’ll reach the 100 loss plateau.

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  1. A. L. Central: Nobody looks good. Cleveland sits atop the worse division in baseball. Their offense has been slow to wake up. Their bullpen has been a huge asset in recent years, but it’s struggling. The Tribe is the only team in the division with a record over .500, and in recent days, their record was under .500, and they still were in first place.                                                          As for the rest of the division, Minnesota appears to be the only team that realistically can challenge Cleveland. The Twins snuck into the playoffs last year, but they got off to a slow start. They have battled back into second place. The Royals and White Sox are on track to lose more than 100 games. Detroit looks to be no threat. It’s either a one or two team race.

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  1. A.L. East: The Yankees and Red Sox are the dominant teams, as predicted in the spring. Toronto is winning enough to hang around, but they don’t have the firepower to stay with New York and Boston.                         Baltimore has faded from contention and is on pace to lose 100 plus games. They are expected to be big sellers at the trade deadline. Tampa Bay got off to an awful start, but has somewhat rebounded to actually pass Toronto for third place. This division is a two team race.                                           New York had a great offense last year, and has added Giancarlo Stanton, and rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. It’s a gold plated offense, one of the best ever. The bullpen is one of baseball’s best. If they add a quality starter or even two, this could be one of the all-time great teams.  The Yankees got off to a slow start, hovering around .500 in the early going, while Boston got off to a red hot smoking start. The Yanks however rallied to win 17 of 18. They are neck and neck with Boston, and probably will be all summer.                                                                                             While the American League has gone pretty well according to form, the National League hardly looks like the predictions at all. None of the predicted division winners are in first place.


nl-westN. L. West: The most disappointing team in baseball is the Dodgers. They have been hit hard by injuries, and they may not be able to recover even with two-thirds of the season left to play. Third baseman and clean-up hitter Justin Turner started the season on the disabled list with a fractured left wrist and wasn’t activated until May 15. Shortstop Corey Seager was subsequently lost for the season. Logan Forsythe spent a month on the shelf, and outfielder Yasiel Puig has also spent time on the DL. The injury bug hit their pitching staff too. Starters Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Julio Urias are on the disabled list.   The Dodgers are five games under .500 and are scrapping with the Padres for fourth and fifth place for the division. They have been swept in two series already this year, including a four game series at home to the lowly Cincinnati Reds.                                                                                                                                                    Arizona got off to a strong start winning their first nine series. However, they have struggled in May, and now have a record barely over .500, a losing streak that has bounced them into second place. They, like the Dodgers, have lost key starting pitchers, but their pristine bullpen wins the games with late leads. They’ve gotten some good starting efforts from their farm system, and at this point, the offense is the biggest problem.                                                                                     Colorado has taken the lead. They are getting good pitching performances in the thin Denver air, and their offense is clicking at home and on the road. The Rockies could easily win the division. The Giants are surprisingly near the .500 mark and have stayed relevant without their ace Madison Bumgarner. When he returns, the Giants could be a factor in the pennant race. Even if the Dodgers don’t get back into the race, the West looks to be very entertaining.

screenshot-2018-03-13-at-8-34-10-amN.L. Central: This is the best division in the National League. Milwaukee just missed the playoffs last year, and made good trades this winter to get better. They lead the division with the most wins in the National League.  Not far behind are the St. Louis Cardinals. The Red Birds have bounced back from a couple of sub-par seasons to be solidly in the race. Miles Mikolas, a former Ranger that joined the Cardinals from Japanese baseball, has been a revelation. His 6-0, 2.24 record has been a shot in the arm.                                                                     The Cubs, World Series winners just two years ago, struggled early and are neck and neck with the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates for third and fourth place. Both are solidly in the race. The woeful Cincinnati Reds are the only team that isn’t contending at this point. They are in the race with the Orioles and White Sox for the worst record in baseball.

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N.L. East:   Expected winner Washington got off to an awful start. They have righted the ship though and go into the weekend four games over .500 and solidly in the race.              The Mets started off as the hot team in the division, but they have dropped to third place just ahead of Washington. Amazingly, it’s the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies that sit atop the division.                                                                                               The Braves have been rebuilding for years. They have some exciting young players, most notably rookies Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, Jr. They may not be able to stay in the race all season, but they have a nucleus that should only get better. They look poised to make another run as a playoff team for years.                         Philadelphia is much like the Braves. They have also developed a young nucleus much of which came from the Rangers. Outfielders Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff and reliever Tommy Hunter are key contributors. Another former Ranger Gabe Kapler is their manager. He has made some mistakes, but he has the team playing hard. They look like they can stay in the race for a while.                                                                           The rebuilding Miami Marlins are solidly in last place challenging Cincinnati as the worst team in the National League, if not all of baseball. Derek Jeter was the toast of New York as the Yankees’ shortstop. He has quickly become the most disliked man in Miami after trading away such stars as Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yellich. Miami could also easily lose 100 games.

The old adage is that teams use the first third of the season to figure what they’ve got. Most teams now know. The middle third of the season is the time to do something about it. Right now, the main emphasis of teams is the amateur draft scheduled for the week after next. Once that’s done and the players are signed, the full focus goes to in season trades up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. For many fans, the in-season deck shuffling is one of the most exciting aspects of the season. It’s about to begin.

 

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