Memorial weekend Pennant race update

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, May 25th, 2019

 

BY DIC HUMPHREY
DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL.COM
Member United States Basketball Writers Association

Memorial Day Weekend is the traditional time for Major League
general managers to decide what kind of team they have.  The season is
almost one-third over, and GMs have the second third of the season
(until the July 31 trade deadline) to do something about it.

In the American League West, the Houston Astros were regarded as
the best team going into the season. They are, and they may be, the
best team in the American League. They go into the weekend with a
33-18 record and have already put together two 10-game winning
streaks. The Astros hold a seven game lead over second place Texas,
and look to be the A. L. team most assured of making the playoffs.

Houston started slowly, but have played through injuries and
ineffectiveness. The front end of their rotation is gold plated with
Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole but the back end of their rotation
was suspect.  Wade Miley (4-2, 3.51) and Brad Peacock (5-2, 3.59) have
done well. Colin McHugh has not done as well…he was shuttled first
to the bullpen, and now to the injured list.

Corbin Martin, the Astros number four prospect, got the first
shot to replace McHugh. He is 1-1 with one good start and two not so
good starts. Forrest Whitley, the Astros’ top prospect is struggling
at AAA, and J. B. Bukauskas, their number five prospect is struggling
at AA.  The talent is there though to fix the rotation despite their
struggles.

The bullpen has been rock solid with Ryan Pressly as the eighth
inning guy and Roberto Osuna as the closer. They have collectively
converted 14 of 15 save opportunities.  Will Harris and Hector Rendon
have also been lights out, making this one of the best bullpens in
baseball.

George Springer has really been the offensive MVP on this club.
He’s hitting .313 with 17 home runs and 42 RBIs. The RBI total is
especially impressive and telling about what an offensive juggernaut
the Astros are.  Springer bats first. The seven, eight and nine
batters in Houston’s order have to be on base with frequency for
Springer to rack up the team leading RBI total.

Michael Brantley has been a nice addition to the club, and Carlos
Correa is back from the injuries that limited his play last year.
Jose Altuve is on the injured list now, but he’s another top of the
batting order weapon.  It’s an impressive offense from top to bottom.
For most of the last month, the rest of the division has had
records under .500.  The Rangers crept back over .500 this week, but
the Astros appear to have no serious challenger for the division
championship.

Texas goes into the weekend in second place. That presents a
conundrum for the Rangers.  Are they really good enough to challenge
for a Wild Card playoff berth, or should they be looking to trade
veterans for prospects?  They have veterans with varying amounts of
appeal to contenders which includes Hunter Pence, Logan Forsythe,
Asdrubal Cabrera, and perhaps their top two starting pitchers – Mike
Minor and Lance Lynn.

The offense has rounded into form as they lead the A.L. with 5.8
runs per game.  The bullpen is settling into a nice groove but the
problem is the starting pitching after Minor and Lynn.
Oakland started slowly, but is back to .500.  They could become a
factor in the chase for a Wild Card berth too.

The East was supposed to be the strongest division, and it is.
Defending World Series champion Boston was the favorite to repeat, but
they got off to an awful start. They have finally crawled back over
.500 and are in the race 5.5 games out of first place.

New York has been hit big time with the injury bug.  Almost 20
players have spent time on the injured list, which has hovered around
a dozen players at any point in time. It’s amazing that the Yanks
have played through the injuries to lead the division with a 32-17
record.

Tampa Bay’s no-name roster is solid everywhere. They have
starting pitching, a good bullpen, a strong offense, and a top farm
system to fill in any holes later in the season. The Rays are two
games behind the Yankees, and the leader for the top Wild Card berth.
These three teams also get to play rebuilding Toronto and
Baltimore 19 times.  It’s extremely likely that at least one Wild Card
team comes out of the East and perhaps both.

The surprising division is the Central.  Cleveland was supposed
to win, but Minnesota is the front runner now.  The Twins are for
real, as they have the best record in the A.L (33-16) and lead
Cleveland by eight games. The Twins have three top starters in Jose
Berrios, Martin Perez and Jake Odorizzi.  That trio has combined to go
19-5 so far this year.

The actual MVP (most valuable person) of this team may be Wes
Johnson, the pitching coach. GM Thad Levine made the bold move of
plucking Johnson from the University of Arkansas. Most Major League
players are leery of coaches that didn’t play in the Major Leagues,
and such coaches usually need to work their way up through the minor
leagues to be effective at the Major League level. Johnson has moved
straight from the college ranks to the Major Leagues.

Under Johnson’s tutelage, Perez has made an amazing turnaround.
He is 7-1, 2.95 with the Twins after going 2-7, 6.22 with the Rangers
last year.  Obviously, Johnson’s message is getting through to the
players.
Minnesota has a powerful offense led by three guys in the middle
of their batting order that are gang busters – Jorge Polanco, Nelson
Cruz and Eddie Rosario – four hitters with at least 10 home runs, and
seven players with at least 20 RBIs.
As for the bottom line, Houston is in.  Minnesota is probably in.
If the Yankees get healthy, they may be the best team in the American
League, if not all of baseball.  The Red Sox, Rays, Indians, Rangers
and Athletics will fight over the final two playoff spots.
NOTABLE:
• The Rangers have just three off days between now and the All-Star
Break (July 8, 9 & 10).
• Joey Gallo leads the American League in OPS (on base percentage
plus slugging percentage) at 1.113. That makes him a legitimate
candidate for the A.L. MVP Award.

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