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2017 MLB Preview: Part 3

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Welcome to the third and final installment of the Swarthmore Phoenix 2017 MLB Season preview. With three articles devoted to the story, the MLB season preview has become the second-most covered topic by our newspaper, coming in just behind the endless coverage of divestment. There are ten more teams left to preview. Among these ten are guaranteed flops and potential World Series contenders.

Oakland Athletics: The Oakland A’s play in one of the worst stadiums in the MLB. The visitor’s clubhouse is often flooded due to issues with the stadium’s sewage pipelines. The sewage in the clubhouse matched the A’s performance on the field last year, as they finished a disappointing 69-93. The A’s had an unusually busy free-agency period and signed over $30 million in new deals with Santiago Castilla, Matt Joyce, Trevor Plouffe, and Rajai Davis. These signings were especially questionable as they don’t seem to make the team any more competitive, and may block the growth of top prospects such as Third Baseman Ryon Healy. On the mound, the A’s hope that Sonny Gray can return to the dominance he showed in his first three seasons instead of pitching like he did in 2016, where he had a 5.69 ERA. At the plate, the A’s hope that Khris Davis can repeat his output from last year and post another 40 home run season. Like the Yankees, the A’s are caught between rebuilding and competing now. Unlike the Yankees, the A’s do not have a particularly good team or farm system, so their problem is that neither option seems possible for them at the moment. The A’s will probably miss the playoffs once again this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates: If I were writing this preview at the start of the season, I would’ve mentioned how excited I was to see how Starling Marte adjusts to manning center field for the first time in the MLB this season. Going into the season, he was a sleeper MVP candidate, and at the very least, I would’ve expected him to have an All-Star season. However, Marte was suspended 80 games for violating the league’s Performance-Enhancing Drugs policy, so we won’t be seeing too much of him this season. Without Marte, the Pirates will be especially reliant on an Andrew McCutchen rebound year if they hope to make the playoffs this season. McCutchen was third in the MLB in WAR from 2012-2015, but his productivity fell off a cliff last year. He posted a -0.7 WAR last season, which made him a below-replacement level player. On the mound, the Pirates hope for more magic from their pitching coach Ray Searage, who has revitalized many lost careers over the past few years. Their rotation will include Gerrit Cole, who has shown flashes of the potential that once made him the top pitching prospect in baseball. Pittsburgh also has a deep farm system that includes top prospects such as pitcher Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows. Overall, the Marte suspension reduces the slim chances the Pirates had at a Wild Card spot, and it will be a tough road for Pittsburgh if they hope to make the playoffs.

San Diego Padres: The Padres are barely an MLB team. Their opening day roster had a combined payroll of $31 million, which is less than what David Price will make this season. They’re probably going to be the worst team in the MLB this year. However, they have some bright spots. First Baseman Wil Myers is returning from a breakout year where he made his first All-Star team, and outfielder Hunter Renfroe is going to compete with Dansby Swanson for the NL Rookie of the Year award. They provide a solid 3, 4 combination in the lineup, and at 26 and 25 years old respectively, they should make up the Padres core for the foreseeable future. On the mound, Carter Capps will likely anchor the bullpen, throwing 100 mph despite having one of the weirdest deliveries I have ever seen. Perhaps the most interesting thing for the Padres going into next season is the fact that they are planning on using Christian Bethancourt as a backup catcher, outfielder, and relief pitcher this year. Overall, the Padres will likely lose a lot of games, but they will be fun to watch.

San Francisco Giants: It is not an even year, so the Giants will probably miss the playoff this year. So far in the 2010s, the Giants have missed the playoffs in 2011, 2013, and 2015, but won World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. In all reality, the Giants do actually have a good team on paper this year. Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are a good top of the rotation pair. Buster Posey is one of the top catchers in the MLB, and Hunter Pence is a solid player despite looking like a weird mix of a mad scientist and crackhead. However, despite the signing of closer Mark Melancon, the Giants bullpen is still a disaster and will probably cause them to lose the majority of their one and two-run games once again this season. In addition, Bumgarner recently hurt himself riding a dirt bike, and it looks like he will miss the next six to eight starts, which will make the Giants play catch-up for the rest of the season. Overall, a talented roster will probably underperform and the Giants will likely miss the playoffs this year.

Seattle Mariners: The Mariners may be a trendy pick to sneak into the playoffs in the AL this year. They have a solid core of second baseman Robinson Cano, designated hitter Nelson Cruz and third baseman Kyle Seager. Felix Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers in the AL for what seems like forever now, and he finally has found another stud to help him at the top of the rotation in lefty James Paxton. Out of the pen, Edwin Diaz improved his slider and looks like he could be among the best relief pitchers in baseball this season. The Mariners were extremely busy in the offseason acquiring numerous players such as outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who will assume the leadoff spot for Seattle this year. Despite the fact the fair-weather Seattle fans are too busy claiming diehard fandom of the Seahawks to be aware of the fact their city has an MLB team, Seattle may make a run at the second AL Wild Card slot this season.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010. However, they made one of the biggest offseason signings with outfielder Dexter Fowler, who will fill the leadoff slot in the lineup this year. Matt Carpenter made the transition in the offseason from third base to first base, which the Cardinals hope will result in more offensive output from their top hitter. Yadier Molina is still the best defensive catcher and provides a big boost behind the plate to an already deep pitching staff that includes Adam Wainwright’s unhittable curveball and “little Pedro” Carlos Martinez, both of whom are likely All-Star selections. The Cardinals won’t win the NL Central (the Cubs are too good), but they look like they will compete for one of the NL’s Wild Card spots this year.

Tampa Bay Rays: Last season was the worst year for Tampa Bay since they were called the Devil Rays. This season does not look much better. The Rays will likely once again deal with rumors all season about proposed trades involving third baseman Evan Longoria and pitcher Chris Archer. However, they likely won’t move these two key members of their core, since they’re still signed to relatively cheap contracts and the Rays do not have a lot of money to work with elsewhere. There are a lot of unknowns for Tampa Bay this year, like shortstop Matt Duffy, who has looked good in brief MLB appearances between injuries. In the bullpen, Alex Colome is set at closer, and the rest of the roles are up for grabs. Catcher Wilson Ramos is still rehabbing a knee injury and likely will not return behind the plate this year, instead filling the DH role in the second half of the season. Overall, the Rays look like they’ll be left behind in a tough AL East.

Texas Rangers: The Rangers won 95 games last year, which at first looks like an extremely successful season. However, they only outscored their opponents by a total of 8 runs over the course of the year, which means they heavily overperformed with clutch hitting, an unsustainable statistic. This year’s roster looks to be much improved from the previous season’s team. Yu Darvish has returned from an arm injury, and when he’s healthy, he is among the top arms in the AL. However, he’s been hurt so much recently that he has not pitched enough innings to qualify for a full season since 2013. Martin Perez and Andrew Cashner are also injury-members of the starting rotation, which looks to be the lower-calorie version of the Met’s rotation. At the plate, the Rangers added outfielder Carlos Gomez midseason last year to lead off an already talented lineup that includes underrated future Hall-of-Fame member Adrian Beltre and alternate-universe heavyweight boxing champion Rougned Odor. If the Rangers’ pitching staff can remain healthy, they will be in good shape in the AL West division race.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays somehow accomplish the impossible and make me dislike Canadians, since this team is so obnoxious. Their fanbase is even worse. For the past two years, Blue Jays fans have disrupted playoff games by throwing beer cans on the field while the game is still in action, and two years ago, one of the cans hit a baby. This may be why I thought the best part of last year’s MLB regular season was when Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers clocked Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista and knocked his sunglasses clear off of his face. One redeeming quality for the Blue Jays is the fact that they employ Josh Donaldson, who turned himself into a perennial MVP candidate by following the groundbreaking hitting advice to actually try to hit the ball in the air instead of hitting weak backside ground balls, a philosophy which surely disappoints youth baseball coaches everywhere. The rest of the lineup is solid, with bright spots that include shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, catcher Russell Martin and DH Kendrys Morales. However, they lost a key contributor in Edwin Encarnacion, who led the AL in RBIs in 2016. On the mound, they have World Baseball Classic MVP Marcus Stroman, who hopes to transfer his WBC success into his first ace-level MLB season. The Blue Jays have a good lineup, but a tough AL East will likely not be theirs to win, so their playoff hopes will rest on their ability to get the second Wild Card.

Washington Nationals: If all goes right, the Nationals could be a scary team to face in October this year. Their success will start with outfielder Bryce Harper, whose productivity steeply dropped from his phenomenal 2015 MVP season. Also at the plate, Daniel Murphy continues an odd mid-career resurgence that saw him lead the NL in OPS and finish second in NL MVP voting behind Kris Bryant. The Nationals also have last year’s NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, who is absolutely unhittable when he is on. Sophomore shortstop Trea Turner will look to continue his rookie success as a leadoff hitter for the Nationals. The biggest issue will be the rest of the rotation behind Scherzer. Stephen Strasburg has shown flashes of brilliance but has been on the disabled list eight times in his seven-year career and has only pitched one full season. Another bad sign for Washington is that manager Dusty Baker has lost nine straight potential series-clinching playoff games. If Harper comes back hot and Strasburg can remain relatively injury-free, the Nationals will be one of the few teams able to challenge the Cubs for the NL pennant.

2017 MLB Preview: Part One

in Columns/Sports by

The MLB season kicked off on Sunday with the New York Yankees visiting the Tampa Bay Rays. If you’re a casual fan of baseball, you may have tuned in and asked yourself why the MLB decided to kick off the season in the half empty-janitor’s closet that is Tropicana Field. Don’t be discouraged, as this season will be an exciting one. If you need a team to root for, pick your favorite the list of teams below. If not, wait for one of the next two installments in this three-part series.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks’ fate this year will probably depend on how well Zack Greinke pitches. If he reverts to his 2015 form and posts another 1.66 ERA, his 6-year, $200 million contract will be seen as less of a bust, and Arizona may be able to compete for a Wild Card spot. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best hitters in baseball and will be called on to carry the offensive load. However, the National League West appears to be tough, and the D-Backs just don’t look talented enough to make the postseason this year.

Atlanta Braves: The Braves have shortstop Dansby Swanson, who has one of the best names in the MLB and is my pick for NL Rookie of the Year. They signed 40-plus-year-old pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey this offseason to beef up their rotation. Colon has been surprisingly effective despite being 43 years old and looking like he couldn’t pass the PACER test. Dickey continues to fill the important role as the MLB’s only current knuckleball pitcher. Atlanta will be fun to watch, but they will probably not be any good. Also, they moved out of Atlanta this offseason and into Cobb County, also known as the home of every overbearing baseball dad in the country.

Baltimore Orioles: One of the players to remember on the Orioles is closer Zach Britton, who posted an absurdly low ERA of 0.54 last season. Unfortunately for Baltimore fans, manager Buck Showalter did not remember Britton in last year’s Wild Card play-in game, as he left Britton in the bullpen despite being on in a tied, extra-innings, winner-takes-all game, which eventually ended the Orioles’ season. The Orioles also hit a lot of home runs, which make them fun to watch. Showalter’s teams usually perform above expectations, so it would not be surprising to see the Orioles claim one of the AL Wild Card slots.

Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox made the biggest move of the offseason in acquiring pitcher Chris Sale, who will join a loaded starting rotation that includes two other Cy Young candidates in David Price and last-year’s winner Rick Porcello. Outfielder Mookie Betts will be an MVP candidate and leads a lineup that looks to be stacked. The Red Sox should be World Series contenders, which means that Chris Sale will likely be another big offseason signing that turns out to be a bust (see Pablo Sandoval, Price, Carl Crawford, etc). This may or may not just be my attempt not to jinx my favorite team.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs broke the Curse of the Billy Goat last year and won their first World Series in 108 years, so we can all get ready for their fans to be insufferable as they transition from being lovable losers to cocky bandwagoners. Unfortunately, they look primed to repeat as champions this year. Swarthmore students can look to fellow nerd and Dartmouth grad Kyle Hendricks as a potential favorite player. He led the NL in ERA last year, but the Cubs are so stacked that he is their third starter, behind Cy Young candidates Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Outfielder Jason Heyward rebuilt his swing over the offseason, and looks to improve on his absolutely terrible season at the plate last year that made some fans question his $180 million contract.

Chicago White Sox: Southside Chicago’s team looks to be in the midst of rebuilding, as evidenced by their Chris Sale trade. They were able to acquire top prospect Yoan Moncada in return, whom I’ll likely get to watch back home over the summer as he plays for their Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights. Pitcher Jose Quintana will likely follow Sale and be traded at some point this summer in return for more young prospects. It’s probably not the best time right now for White Sox fans, as they have to suffer through another losing season while their cross-town rivals will likely make another deep postseason run. However, the White Sox’s time will come in the next few years, as their young prospects arrive at the MLB level.

Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have the fastest player in baseball in outfielder Billy Hamilton. He was second in the MLB in steals last year despite only having 460 plate appearances, and if he plays a full season, he will likely take the stolen bases crown. Joey Votto is still good and still plays for the Reds. Otherwise, they really do not have a lot of big names and will be riding young pitching this year, including Rookie Davis, who is another promising prospect with a great name. If the youngsters perform well, the Reds can pull off a winning season, but it’s very unlikely that they’ll be able to grab a Wild Card slot.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians hope to replicate their 2016 success this year as they chase their first World Series title since 1948. Manager Terry Francona made shockwaves through the baseball world last year, when he made the controversial decision of having his best pitcher, Andrew Miller, pitch the most important outs of a game, instead of saving him for the 9th inning. Francona’s masterful use of Miller and Cody Allen out of the bullpen brought them within one rain delay of winning a championship last year, and it will be interesting to see how Francona will use Miller and Allen over the course of a 162 game season. Cleveland’s pitching will make them a tough team to beat in the postseason, and it would not surprise me to see them make another run to the World Series this year.

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies will be really good (in two or three years). They have an outstanding amount of young talent, and they flashed some bits of greatness last year. Third Baseman Nolan Arenado will compete for the NL MVP and probably win another Gold Glove. Shortstop Trevor Story will hope to have a full season that matches his debut last April, where he hit seven home runs in his first six games. Jon Gray will lead the rotation, hoping to continue his success from last year, where he finished with the highest wins above replacement (WAR) among rookie pitchers. Pitching will determine Colorado’s success this year and the years to come, and it just does not look like they will have a strong enough rotation this year to make the postseason.

Detroit Tigers: The Tigers failed to reach the postseason for the second consecutive year last season, so many fans expected to see the front office unload some of their $200 million in contracts over the offseason. However, Detroit decided to give this roster one last shot, and the core of the team has remained relatively the same. As always, Justin Verlander will compete for an AL Cy Young award, and Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler will produce at the plate. If the core stays healthy, Detroit will be in a good spot for the Wild Card. If they have to deal with injuries to Verlander and Cabrera, they’re going to fall behind too quickly to keep up in the AL Central.

Next week, I will continue the MLB preview with ten more teams. This season is shaping up to be an exciting one, and I am looking forward to what it brings.

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