Tag Archives: American League

MLB Spotlight Series: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins

Paul Molitor’s Twins face key mid-season series vs Yankees
When the 2017 MLB season began, few would have guessed that a mid-July series between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins could be so significant. But here we are, and this is indeed a series that has become important for both clubs.
Led by explosive rookie Aaron Judge, the Yankees took over the AL East Division lead in mid-April. New York held that lead for the most part right up through late June. But a 9-20 mark since June 12 has dropped the Bronx Bombers into third place, 3.5 games behind the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.
The Twins were the biggest surprise team in all of Major League Baseball over the first couple of months. For much of the same time that the Yanks were leading their division, the Twins were on top of the AL Central.
Just as with New York, the Twins have slowed measurably. Since their high-water mark at seven games over .500 on May 24, Minnesota is just 21-27. The Twins have dropped four of their last five games heading into this series.
The American League Wild Card standings after games on Sunday, July 16 show the Yankees still control the second of the two available postseason berths. The Twins are just 1.5 games out, two games behind the Yanks in the loss column.
This week’s clash at Target Field in Minneapolis marks the first meeting of the season between the two teams. They will not meet again until a three-gamer at Yankee Stadium in late September.

PITCHING MATCH-UPS

The pitching match-ups are as follows:
MONDAYBryan Mitchell (NYY, 1-1, 5.06 ERA) vs Adalberto Mejia (MIN, 4-4, 4.43 ERA)
TUESDAYLuis Cessa (NYY, 0-3, 4.18 ERA) vs Bartolo Colon (MIN, 2-8, 8.14 ERA)
WEDNESDAYJordan Montgomery (NYY, 6-4, 3.78 ERA) vs Jose Berrios (MIN, 8-3, 3.70 ERA)
As you can see, there are no marquee match-ups here. In fact, issues involving the lack of quality starting pitching are the main culprit for both of these teams. If neither one figures it out, it’s possible, perhaps likely, that neither ends up playing October baseball.
Can the ageless wonder Colon get back to the form that made him a fan favorite in both Oakland and with the New York Mets late in his career? If he performs as he did in Atlanta prior to his release last month, he won’t be long for the Twin Cities.
Berrios is a talented rookie who got off hot after first being promoted. He has not officially been announced for the start, but it falls on his day to pitch. Over his last few starts he has been a mess. The Twins need Berrios to regain his form and confidence quickly.

STATISTICAL COMPARISONS

In looking at the two teams’ statistical production, the Yankees would appear to be clearly the better team. New York is third in all of MLB with 488 runs scored, while Minnesota’s total of 415 ranks them 19th in the game.
With a combined .784 OPS, the Yanks rank fourth in baseball, while the Twins’ .736 mark is just 20th in MLB. On the base paths they are about even, with the Yankees holding a 56-52 edge in stolen bases, and a 77.78-77.61 advantage in stolen base percentage.
On the mound, the New York pitching staff has a combined .238 batting average against, the fourth best mark in the game. The Twins staff is at .271, way down at 27th in all of MLB.
Strikeouts (6th – 30th), walks (5th – 18th) and quality starts (10th – 26th) are all easily in favor of the New York Yankees pitching staff. There is a slight fielding edge for the Twins, who have made the fourth-fewest errors in baseball. The Yanks’ 55 errors leave them a middle-of-the-pack 15th.
The Yankees are coming off a split of a four-game series at Boston. It began an 11-game road trip that continues here in Minneapolis, and then moves out to Seattle.
Manager Joe Girardi was quoted by NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty on what would make the trip successful. “I think you try to win every series. We didn’t win this (Boston) series, but we didn’t lose it. You try to win every series and if you do that, good things will happen.”
These are two teams who have had it rough of late, each looking for those good things to happen. For the Twins, playing at home with far less expected of them, it’s a chance to reverse fortunes and prove they really belong in the race. For the Yankees, a chance to separate from their closest pursuer in the overall AL standings.

Streaking Rangers powered by Joey Gallo

On Friday night at Tigers Stadium, the Texas Rangers held off the host Detroit Tigers by a 5-3 score. The victory was a 10th straight for the streaking Rangers.
Now at 23-20, they have slipped to within 6.5 games of their in-state AL West Division rivals, the Houston Astros.
The Rangers have made this move without their future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre in the lineup. Beltre injured his right calf just one week into the 2017 season, and has been on the Disabled List ever since.
Beltre is now on the road to recovery. Earlier this week, Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram reported that his return to the lineup is likely just a couple of weeks away. Wilson quoted Beltre after the Rangers training staff had allowed the now 38-year old to test the calf by running on it at half speed:
“It’s on the right track. I just have to make sure my legs are in shape and not to have any setbacks. So far, the plan the trainers have for me has been working, and I’m trying to follow that plan.”
Stepping into Beltre’s place in the lineup has been the man who is perhaps the future at the Hot Corner in Texas. Joey Gallo is a 23-year old who has been one of the club’s top prospects for years.
Gallo was the Rangers supplemental first round choice at 39th overall in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

YOUNG SLUGGER STEPPING UP

Gallo’s game is power. He crushed 22 home runs in his first minor league season as an 18-year old after signing during that summer of 2012. He followed that up by bombing 40 and 42 homers the following two seasons as he advanced through the Rangers minor league season.
Called up for the first time in early June of the 2015 season, Gallo has not been able to stick in Arlington. The big holes in his power swing have been exposed by big league pitching to this point.
However, with Beltre out this season, and with the Rangers lineup struggling for a good portion of his absence, Gallo’s power has fully emerged.
With 13 home runs, Gallo is tied for second in Major League Baseball with big names like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, just one off the game’s leaders. His 29 RBI have Gallo tied for fifth in the American League.
Gallo has also been aggressive on the base paths. His four stolen bases are as many bags as he swiped in the last two full minor league campaigns combined.
A big moment in last night’s victory over the host Tigers was yet another Gallo blast. With the Rangers clinging to a narrow 3-1 lead in the top of the sixth, the lefty hitter drove a Daniel Norris fastball deep into the right field seats. The two-run homer provided Texas with their ultimate margin of victory.

UPS OUTWEIGH DOWNS FOR NOW

It hasn’t been all rosy for Gallo. His 63 strikeouts are tops in the American League, and he is hitting just .188 with a .304 on-base percentage.
Prior to last night, Gallo hit .091 with just one home in his previous 29 plate appearances over eight games. But as Mike Heika with SportsDay at DallasNews.com reported, both Gallo and the Rangers believe that this recent slump was different.
“There’s some patience there. He’s not chasing,” Heika quoted Rangers manager Jeff Banister.
Rangers
“I still think there are going to be times when pitchers are making good pitches on him, but the other night he put the ball in play four consecutive times and didn’t come away with a hit.”
If Gallo keeps up his power pace, it will be difficult for Banister to remove him from the lineup once Beltre returns. The dilemma will then be what to do with the youngster.

DIFFICULT LINEUP DECISIONS AHEAD

First base is manned by Mike Napoli. The 35-year old is a similar player, but from the right side of the plate. Napoli is second on the Rangers with nine long balls. However, the veteran is hitting just .182 with 50 strikeouts.
At the Designated Hitter spot, the Rangers have mostly gone with 34-year old veteran Shin-Soo Choo. The Korean native is hitting just .258 at this point. But Choo’s .377 OBP reflects a far greater level of consistency than either Napoli or Gallo provide.
If everyone is healthy, there remains a chance that Gallo could find himself back in the Pacific Coast League with AAA Round Rock. That would become a greater likelihood should his power slack off.
But what if Gallo does keep ripping balls into the night? What if he keeps helping power the club to victories as he did last night? That is when the aging veterans better have their games together. Otherwise, this time it may be one of them scraping for playing time.

Tim Beckham Making Most of Latest Opportunity

Former top MLB draft pick Tim Beckham finally producing in Tampa
The Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant in 2008, reaching the World Series for the only time in their history.
The excitement of that 2008 Fall Classic came just one year after the Rays had finished with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball.
As a result of that poor 2007 finish, Tampa Bay held the rights to the top overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft in June of 2008. With that selection, the Rays chose shortstop Tim Beckham out of Griffin High School in Georgia.
Also selected in that first round included first baseman Eric Hosmer at third overall by the Kansas City Royals. The San Francisco Giants chose catcher Buster Posey with the fifth overall pick.
It was a third consecutive year in which the Rays were selecting within the top three overall picks of the draft. The previous year, the club chose pitcher David Price with the top overall pick. In 2006, the Rays took third baseman Evan Longoria at third overall.

2008 RAYS DRAFT: BECKHAM OR POSEY?

There was much debate in the Rays draft “war room” as they whittled the final decision down to Beckham and Posey. In the aftermath of the Beckham choice, an Associated Press report quoted EVP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman:
“It was an active debate, but I think at the end of the day when push came to shove and we were racing time, I think it was pretty clear to everybody that Beckham was the guy at the top of our board. We feel like he’s got an advanced approach to the game, a genuine enthusiasm for what he does, and we feel like he’s got a great chance to be an impact player in the major leagues.”
Friedman and the Rays could not have gotten the pick more wrong.
Price and Longoria would quickly rise to become key cogs for a Rays team that finally became a consistent contender. Beckham would take much longer to develop. Meanwhile, Posey was becoming a superstar.

PERSONAL AND INJURY TROUBLES IN MINORS

In the 2009 season, Beckham would hit .275, drove in 63 runs, and steal 13 bases at Low-A Bowling Green. The following year with High-A Charlotte, he hit just .256, but stole 22 bags.
In 2011, Beckham split the year between the AA and AAA levels. He posted professional career highs with a dozen homers, 44 extra-base hits, 70 RBI, and 94 runs scored. Beckham was just 21 years old at that point, and all signs were continuing to point up.
However, trouble would surface in the 2012 season. In May of that year, Beckham tested positive for the second time for a “drug of abuse’, and was suspended for 50 games.
Back at AAA in the 2013 season, Beckham hit .276 with a .342 on-base percentage. He appeared to possibly be back on track, and even got his first cup of coffee in the big leagues during late September.
It seemed as if the former top overall pick was finally on the cusp of a regular role with the Rays. But then, more disaster struck. This time it was in the form of a torn ACL while working out in preparation for the 2014 season. He was quoted at the time for MLB.com by Bill Chastain:
“Just training; it was supposed to be my day off. While doing a drill at the end of the workout, my tennis shoe hit the ground and I tried to cross over into a sprint. I was sprinting out of the drill and when my foot hit the ground, my foot slipped and my knee gave.”
Beckham would subsequently miss most of that 2014 season. He would receive just 95 at-bats across three levels of the minor leagues that year.

MORE DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS IN THE BIGS

In coming out for the 2015 campaign, the shortstop was simply looking to re-establish himself and show that he was healthy. After hitting .294 over his first 51 at-bats, Beckham was back in the bigs.
In Miami on April 11, 2015, Beckham cranked his first big league home run. The blast off Marlins lefty reliever Mike Dunn helped the Rays to a 2-0 victory. It would prove to be an outlier, not the sign of a long-awaited breakout.
Over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Beckham failed to establish himself as a regular in the Rays lineup. In fact, he was demoted at the start of September of last season due to a series of base-running gaffes and a perceived lack of hustle.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

All of Beckham’s struggles have been exacerbated by thoughts of what might have been for Tampa Bay. What might have happened had they only chosen Posey on that June day back in 2008?
The catcher would go on to become one of the great team leaders in the game, and one of its best players as well. Posey was the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year. He was the 2012 National League Most Valuable Player.
Posey has captured three Silver Slugger Awards, a Gold Glove, and has been a 4x NL All-Star. Oh yes, and he helped lead the Giants to three World Series championships.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF NEW OPPORTUNITY

But perhaps now in 2017, something is finally clicking for Beckham. He was provided with an opportunity to play regularly thanks to starting shortstop Matt Duffy‘s slow recovery from off-season heel surgery. Beckham has thus far been making the most of that chance.
Through five weeks of the 2017 season, Beckham is hitting for a .275/.306/.520 slash line. He has driven six homers and has 11 extra-base hits over 109 plate appearances in his first 28 games.
His production is part of the reason that the Rays are off to a surprising start in the standings. The club was at the .500 mark prior to a Friday night loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
After a Rays victory earlier this week, Tampabay.com’s Roger Mooney quoted manager Kevin Cash on his shortstop’s performance this season:
“Beck’s having a good time out there. He’s obviously gotten some consistency. He’s got into that everyday routine, that everyday role. You know, he probably hasn’t had too many of those opportunities up here at the big-league level, and he’s making the most of it right now. He’s helping us win games, and that’s probably the most important thing.”
Talent has never been the question with Beckham. His problems have more to do with discipline, personal responsibility, and injuries. Still early in his prime at just age 27, if he can continue to produce, it could make for an interesting and exciting season for both Beckham and the Rays. Finally.

Alex Bregman struggling thus far with the Houston Astros

Scouts have mixed opinions on upside of Alex Bregman
The Houston Astros are off to a red hot start to the 2017 MLB regular season. After games of May 1, the Astros have carved out a 17-9 record. 
That mark is the third-best in all of baseball, and has the club sitting three and a half games up in the AL West Division.
For the most part, it has been pitching that has put Houston on top. The Astros staff has a .227 cumulative Batting Average Against, tied for the top mark in the game. Their 3.33 ERA is second to only the surprising Chicago White Sox pitching staff.
Meanwhile, the Houston offense has left room to grow. Despite the second-best OPS in the American League, the club is just fifth in runs scored and eighth in home runs.
Those aren’t marks that leave the Astros struggling. Remember, they’re in first place comfortably at the moment. But there is one spot in the lineup that has been a bit troublesome.
At third base, 23-year old Alex Bregman was expected to play a big role this year. Bregman was the Astros’ first round pick at second overall in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft out of LSU.

DEBUT COINCIDES WITH HOUSTON FADE

Bregman made his big league debut in late July of last season, and has been the club’s starting third baseman most of the time since that promotion.
Over 217 plate appearances over 49 games during that rookie campaign, Bregman hit for a .264/.313/.478 slash. He contributed eight homers, scored 31 times, and drove in 34 runs.
Bregman’s presence didn’t help Houston in the standings a year ago. When he was called up, the Astros were nine games over .500 in second place, just three and a half off the division lead. With him in the lineup, the club staggered home to a 30-34 finish, falling to third place, and were 11 games back at the end.
That collapse can hardly be laid at the feet of the rookie. And by the same token, little of the hot start to the 2017 season by the team is due to his contributions.

SLOW TO PRODUCE IN 2017

This spring, the 23-year old Bregman was the youngest player on the roster for the American team that finally captured a World Baseball Classic title. He appeared in just two games for Team USA.
Back at spring training with the Astros, Bregman hit just .261 with no home runs, three runs scored, and just a single RBI in 46 at-bats over 14 games.
Thus far in 2017, Bregman is hitting for a .253/.347/.310 slash line with no…that’s zero…home runs. He has produced just five doubles, scored just seven times, and knocked in just six runs over the first four weeks of the season.

SOCIAL MEDIA ROOKIE MISTAKE

Prior to the start of a series with the heated rival Texas Rangers this week, Bregman took some heat himself over a Twitter posting on Sunday evening.
The hashtag supposedly stands for “Beat The Snot Out Of The Rangers”, which he later called a “rookie mistake” according to a piece by for MLB.com by T.R. Sullivan and Brian McTaggart.
“I made a rookie mistake. I shouldn’t have tweeted that out. It was more of just trying to fire up our team. I shouldn’t have put it on social media at all. They have a great team over there. I didn’t mean to offend anybody over there….They had our number last year. This year is a new year. Just a rookie mistake. I didn’t mean to offend anybody over there. It was more of just trying to motivate our team. Poorly-worded, obviously. I misspelled a word — another rookie mistake there.”
The Astros would defeat the Rangers in the series opener on Monday night by a 6-2 score. But the game deteriorated into a bit of a beanball war, as Houston appeared determined to send a further message to the Rangers that this season will be different than a year ago.

TRYING TO OVERCOME RECENT RANGERS DOMINANCE

In 2016, Texas rolled up a 15-4 head-to-head record on their divisional and in-state rivals. The Rangers won the AL West for a second straight season, their fourth division crown in seven years.
The Astros, a preseason favorite of many prognosticators after nearly knocking off the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals in the 2015 playoffs, missed out on the postseason entirely.
Houston can probably stay on top of the division, even if Bregman continues to struggle. But it’s a long, hot summer to come. The Rangers are struggling right now, but remain a dangerous team.
The chances of manager A.J. Hinch‘s club maintaining their early lead and bringing home the franchise’ first division crown since 2001 will be greatly improved if Bregman begins to finally heat up.
Right now, most things are going the Astros’ way. But Houston has a problem at third base in Bregman. That problem needs to get resolved if the Astros want to reach their potential as a dominating American League powerhouse and World Series contender.

Rays of Hope During Hot Spring in Tampa Bay

To say that the 2016 season was rough for the Tampa Bay Rays and their fans would be an understatement. The club’s 68-94 last place finish in the AL East was their worst in nearly a decade.
From 2008, the year that a talented, young Rays club won the franchise lone American League pennant, through 2013, Tampa Bay won 90 or more games in five of six seasons.
But it has now been three straight losing campaigns in west-central Florida. And most prognosticators had the team again finishing at the bottom of the standings.
But the Rays are off to an encouraging 9-9 start here in the early weeks of the 2017 season. It hasn’t been any one particular thing either.
Under third year manager Kevin Cash, there has been real improvement across all facets of the game. Those improvements added up to a winning record after the Rays swept the Detroit Tigers earlier this week for the first time since 2010. A loss last night to Houston dropped the club back to the .500 mark.

LONGO GETTING HELP ACROSS THE LINEUP

During their glory years, the most important player in the everyday lineup was third baseman Evan Longoria. Now a 31-year old veteran, Longo is still on board, and still a major offensive threat. The three-time AL All-Star has a half-dozen extra-base hits, including three home runs, and has driven in 10 runs.
Right fielder Steven Souza also has three homers. The 28-year old leads the club with 15 RBI and a .343/.429/.582 slash line.
The other two outfield positions feature speed to burn. In left field, Mallex Smith has taken over. The 24-year old was flipped back in January from the Atlanta Braves to the Seattle Mariners, who then shipped him to Tampa for lefty pitcher Drew Smyly.
Smith has gotten off solidly with a .273 average and .360 on-base percentage. He is second on the club with three stolen bases, but has missed the last eight games with a hamstring strain. He has been running lightly, and the club hopes to get him back soon.
Leading the Rays in swipes is Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who has four. The 27-year old is hitting .294 with a .385 OBP thus far in 2017.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the everyday lineup has been first baseman Logan Morrison. Once a highly rated prospect in the Marlins organization, Morrison has mostly disappointed over his first seven seasons.
But now in his second year in Tampa, the 29-year old is tied with DH Corey Dickerson for the team lead with four home runs. Morrison is also second on the team with a dozen RBI. For his part, Dickerson is hitting for a .317/.358/.603 slash.

RAYS PITCHING HAS ALSO BEEN STRONG

On the mound, 28-year old Chris Archer has stepped up to become a legitimate ace after helping lead the U.S. to a World Baseball Classic championship in March.
Archer is 2-0 with a 1.71 FIP and 117 ERA+ mark. Over his first four starts, Archer has allowed 25 hits in 25.1 innings with a 27/8 K:BB mark.
Alex Cobb appears to finally be all the way back from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2015 season and most of last year. Cobb has an 18/4 K:BB across his first 24 innings, and three of his four starts have been encouraging.
24-year old Blake Snell had a strong rookie campaign a year ago, and the lefty is off to another solid start. He has allowed just 12 hits over his first 16.1 innings across three starts.
Matt Andriese was supposed to be the big question mark in the rotation as the fifth starter. But thus far, the 27-year old has done his part. Andriese has a 14/5 K:BB in allowing 16 hits over 16 innings in his three starts.
Jake Odorizzi was supposed to be the breakout pitcher in the rotation. But the 27-year old is currently wrapping up a stint on the 10-day DL with a hamstring issue.
Odorizzi is due to throw a bullpen session on Saturday, and the Rays hope to have the talented right-hander back soon. he did get on the mound for three starts in which he allowed just 10 hits over 13 innings.
Alex Colome took over as the closer a year ago. The now 28-year old is off to a strong start as well. He has allowed just two hits over six innings thus far. He also has not walked a batter across his first half-dozen appearances, and has registered three saves.
The bullpen setting up Colome has been mostly effective as well. Erasmo RamirezTommy Hunter, and Jumbo Diaz have led the way, with Ramirez stepping into the rotation to fill-in while Odorizzi recovers.

RETURNING PLAYERS COULD BOOST CLUB FURTHER

Management likes what it sees of the renewed fight in their ball club. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times recently quoted general manager Erik Neander:
“The makeup and chemistry is showing signs of being a real strength. There is a chip, an edge, a selflessness, a greater purpose behind how these guys compete together. … It’s an easy group to root for.”
Tampa should get better in the coming weeks. Odorizzi could be back on the mound and Smith back in the lineup soon. The Rays are also looking forward to the return of shortstop Matt Duffy, who had off-season surgery on his left heel. Duffy is slowly progressing, and should be back in May.
The Rays have fashioned their .500 start thanks largely to a strong home mark. The team is 8-3 at the sparsely populate Trop, while just 1-6 on the road. They’ll have to figure those road woes out in a hurry if they expect to stay competitive, as the club heads out on an eight-game road trip next week.
While it is way too early to get overly excited about the team possibly contending this season, the start has been fun. Tampa is showing that they can beat you a number of ways. Now it’s up to Cash and his players to keep things moving forward as the warm feelings of spring turn into a long, hot summer.