Friday, August 8, 2014

The Home Stretch: 2014 American League

With just under two months left in the season we can clearly separate teams that are legitimate contenders from the teams that are playing out the string. We can also start to see that some players we expected to be difference makers are having an average, below average or just horrible season. Here is a review of where we stand so far this year in the American League as well as a mid season report card on how my original predictions have helped prepare you for the season and how I have led you astray:

American League East:
Heading into this season it appeared that any team had a chance to win this division and that this was the closest division in baseball.  My final predictions from top to bottom were Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays.  Here is where my predictions stand:

Red Sox:
The Red Sox were my first half pick to repeat as AL Champions.  That clearly is not going to happen.  David Ortiz got off to a slow start but has been strong since.  Injuries have greatly hurt this team. A.J. Pierzynski reportedly made himself a club house nuisance to the point that the team released him at the All Star Break and the pitching, which was so strong last year, has been poor this season.  At the All Star Break they were 9.5 behind division leading Baltimore and 8 behind the second All Star spot. Since then they have traded Lester, Lackey, Gomes and Drew. This season is a failure but their trades have set them up well for the future.
First Half Grade: F

My original preview had the Rays second behind Boston but this year has not gone nearly the way they had planned.  Rumors of a big David Price trade began swirling  at the start of the season and as the Rays dropped in the standings the likelihood of Price moving became stronger.  A strong winning streak coming out of the All Star Break nearly changed Price's availability but the Rays finally pulled the trigger and sent Price to Detroit.  The lack of power by the offense has hurt.  While James Loney had a strong year in 2013, his power numbers are down this year.  Wil Meyers, last year's rookie of the year, has struggled with injuries.  The Rays may finish in last place for the first time since the start of their magical post season run back in 2008.
First Half Grade: D

This has been a tough year for the Yankees.  The team spent big on the free agent market to bring in Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Tanaka.  Beltran and McCann have struggled.  Tanaka was impressive but an injury has now put him on the shelf.  The team has no one hitting over .300.  Sabathia is on the DL and likely done for the year and Kuroda has been average. Still, the Yankees are within striking distance.  With Jeter on his farewell tour don't underestimate the emotional infusion that could add to the team,
First Half Grade: B+

The Orioles entered the season with a question of who would close. What would their rotation look like? Would Manny Machado be able to play?  Was Nelson Cruz a waste of money?  So far they have seen Machado excel, although he did get into some troubles with the A's.  Cruz has been the batting star of the team and despite the loss of Matt Weiters and a less than spectacular rotation, this team is winning.  They were in first place by 4 games at the All Star Break.  With the loss of Wieters, a surprising loss of power from J.J. Hardy and a poor rotation don't expect this team to push too deep into the playoffs but they will likely be in the post season.
First Half Grade:  A

Blue Jays:
The Blue Jays are still in this thing. At the All Star Break they were only 4 games behind division leading Baltimore and hanging around in the Wild Card race.  A team that many felt would have a bigger fall off after last year's disaster has done the opposite and could make a push for the playoffs.  The rebirth of Mark Buehrle has been a great story.
First Half Grade: A

American League Central
In the preseason preview I told you that the division would look this way at the end of the season:  Tigers, Royals, Indians, Twins, White Sox.  I also told you that the Royals could put a serious scare into the Tigers if Verlander struggled returning from off season surgery. Here is where my predictions stand:

Justin Verlander has not been the dominant pitcher of the past, short stop has been an issue all year and Miguel Cabrera has hinted that he is not 100%.  Still, with all the problems  the Tigers are starting to pull away.  The team could have some issues as the season progresses, but this team was again aggressive at the trade deadline to fill their holes.  The addition of Price and Soria will help improve the team.  Look for them to be fighting deep into October.
First Half  Grade:  B+

The Royals are fighting for their first playoff apearance since 1985.  They avoided the poor start of last year and even held first place well into the season.  They fell off just after the All Star Break while the Tigers have gotten hot.  The Royals did not make any trade deadline moves but they are definitely right there.  They will need better offensive production from Moustakis and Butler to make the post season.  The lack of power in the offense has been startling and, if they do not make the post season the lack of power could be the reason.
First Half Grade: B-

Cleveland won last year with good pitching from Masterson, Kazmir and Jimenez.  Kazmir and Jimenez left and Masterson (4-6) struggled.  The only Cleveland Starter with a winning record is Corey Kluber (12-6, 2.55).  Carlos Santana has good power numbers and has driven in 37 runs but his average his just above .200.The offense is being driven by Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley, who is having a career year.  This the team is only 4 out of the Wild Card but it is not likely that they will stay in the fight, especially after trading Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera.
First Half Grade: C

White Sox: 
This is a team in transition but a team with tremendous young talent.  As Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko enter the twilight of their career, the young stars Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu and Dayan Viciedo are set to step in.  The highlight of the White Sox season to this point has been Jose Abreu.  He is the obvious choice for Rookie of the Year.  Alexei Ramirez and Connor Gillespie have had great seasons to this point.  Chris Sale is having another stellar year.  The problem is the rest of the pitching staff.  This is not a contending team but the future seems very bright.
First Half Grade: F

Phil Hughes has shown in the first half that he is a much better pitcher than his record in 2013 but it has not been enough to put this team in contention.  While Hughes (10-5) is having a decent season, the rest of the pitching staff is a mess.  Add to this a weak offense and you have the makings of a last place team.  Joe Mauer's offense is well below his normal pace (.271, 2 HR, 28RBI) and the only player having a great season is Brian Dozier.  Unfortunately his offense is not enough to carry this team.
First Half Grade:  F

American League West
This division has had some major surprises and some major disappointments.  While the Mariners are surprising everyone by hanging around in the Wild Card race, the Rangers have stunned everyone with their drop off  :

The Angels have suffered injuries to Josh Hamilton, Colin Cowgill and C.J. Wilson.  Jeff Weaver left a July start with back stiffness and has not looked as sharp since.  The Angels dumped their closer, Ernesto Frieri.  This all sounds like it would be a recipe for a disastrous season.  Instead, the Angels are the second best team in the AL and in a solid Wild Card position.  The Angels have a chance to achieve their ultimate goal this year.  To do that they will need to have Wilson and Weaver healthy and Richards to continue his strong season.  They will also need more production from David Freese.  The biggest thing they need to do is to find a way to win against Oakland.  They are only 3-6 against their direct competition.
First Half Grade: A

The A's, just like last year, are the story of the American League.  Somehow they seem to always find a way to win.  Their planned ace was injured before the season started, their veteran pitcher (Bartolo Colon) from the last few years left during the off season and so did their closer.  Still, this team has the best record in baseball.  Scott Kazmir (11-3, 2.38) is having an amazing season and the offense is clicking along like a machine.  Only time will tell if the A's can advance in the playoffs this season.  They greatly improved themselves by adding Lester at the deadline but did they give up too much in Cespedes to get him?
First Half Grade: A (just like last year they are just finding a way to win)

It would be hard to think that things could get worse for Texas.  They lost Derek Holland before the season started.  Yu Darvish has struggled with injury.  Fielder, Profar and Mitch Moreland have been hurt.  It is an almost nameless lineup being sent out each day.  The Rangers have plummeted and are likely too far out of the race to make any noise.
First Half Grade:  F

Robinson Cano is hitting .334 but no other player is hitting .300.  Justin Smoak is hitting just over .200, in fact 5 members of the starting lineup are hitting under .250.  Hisashi Iwakuma and Taiwan Walker started the season with injuries.  The A's and Angels are the top two teams in the league.  Despite all these issues, the Seattle Mariners are in the playoff hunt.  It has been a nice story but the lack of offense will likely mean a fall out of contention in the next few weeks.
First Half Grade: A

The Astros have reason to be excited.  They have a strong minor league system and have climbed their way ahead of Texas, out of the basement.  Their pitching still has a long way to go before they are competitive but the team is improving. The story of the year is Jose Altuve.  He is leading the league in hits and could challenge for the batting title.
First Half Grade: C

Updated postseason picks:
AL East:  Orioles
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Angels
Wild Cards: Athletics, Royals

Wild Card Round:  Athletics over Royals
ALDS: Tigers over Athletics
ALDS: Angels over Royals
ALCS:  Tigers over Angels

World Series: Dodgers over Tigers

This week's question is similar to last week's.  The Red Sox and White Sox recently ended long World Series droughts.  What three teams in the American League have the longest World Series droughts?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
The Giants won the World Series most recently in 2012, they had ended a long drought (since  1954) a few years earlier in 2010.  The Cardinals won it all in 2011 and had ended a drought (since 1982) in 2006.  In 2008 the Phillies ended a drought that had lasted since 1980.  So what teams have waited the longest since their last World Series wins?  The Nationals (since 1969), Brewers (since 1969), Padres (since 1969) and Rockies (1992) have never won the World Series.  

That puts the Nationals/Expos, Brewers/Seattle Pilots and San Diego Padres at 44 years each and the Rockies are at 21 years. The rest of the teams in the league have won at least one World Series in their history.  Here is the longest droughts for the NL Teams:
Giants (Last title 2012: 1 year)
Cardinals (Last Title 2011:2 years)
Phillies (Last Title 2008: 5 years)
Marlins (Last Title 2003: 10 Years)
Diamondbacks (Last title 2001: 12 years)
Braves (Last Title 1995: 18 years)
Rockies (since 1992 No titles: 21 years)
Reds (Last Title 1990: 23 years)
Dodgers (Last Title 1988: 25 years)
Mets (Last Title 1986: 27 years)
Pirates (Last Title 1979: 34 years)
Nationals/Expos (since 1969 No titles: 44 years)
Brewers/Pilots (since 1969 No titles: 44 years)
Padres (since 1969 No titles: 44 years)
Cubs (Last Title 1908: 105 years)


  1. Being the ever pessimist ( The glass is completely empty) I am concerned about the Tigers. The bull pen is still in trouble. Soria is hurt. Nobody is hitting. They are playing decent over the past 2 weeks but with the talent they have they should be leading by 14 games.
    The Red Sox are a complete surprise. I think I had them going to the WS. I think they will be in the Max Scherzer sweepstakes. With their young talent look out next year.
    Joe Girardi is a great manager. To have them in contention for 2 years with all the injuries is amazing.
    Still trying to figure out why Cozart was traded by Houston.
    My prediction for WS; A's and Dodgers.

    Trivia; Texas, Cleveland and Houston.


  2. Even more F grades this week? WOW! Anyway, Dodgers vs Tigers would be cool to watch.


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