Results tagged ‘ Red Sox ’

Red Sox Claim Last Remaining Division Title Spot

Despite losing to the Yankees on Wednesday night via a Mark Teixeira walk-off grand slam, the Red Sox still managed to pick up a major victory. With the Orioles defeating the Blue Jays, Boston has now officially snatched up the final division title slot remaining in baseball, leaving just the Wild Card spots to be decided.MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

Joining the Indians, Rangers, Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers as the other divisional winners from around baseball, the Red Sox have had a somewhat unpredicted fantastic season. Following a last-place finish in the American League East just a year ago, the Red Sox stormed back to take the division crown once again in 2016, picking up a whopping 14 more wins thus far than last year.

One of the most remarkable things about Boston’s ability to take the division title is their doing so within a division that has once again emerged as one of the best in all of baseball — every team except the Rays have been in the postseason race all season long — in addition to having a multitude of injuries and underperformances (namely, David Price) throughout the year.

With all of the top spots in all six divisions out of reach for the other twenty-four teams in baseball, there now remains just six teams still mathematically in contention for one of the two Wild Card spots in the American League, with three doing the same in the National League. Having four games remaining in the season (the days until the postseason can now be counted on one hand), it should be fun to watch how things unfold.

As great as the regular season has been, the best is inevitably yet to come.

The Difficulty of Going Out on Top

Whenever a player who has had an amazing career announces plans to retire after any given season, you inevitably find yourself rooting for their team to go all the way and win the World Series so that the player can retire on top for their career with one final Championship. However, that unfortunately almost never happens.

Over the past several seasons, we’ve seen the retirements of some great players and fan-favorites, such as Torii Hunter (Twins finished 12 games back of the Royals), Derek Jeter (Yankees finished second to the Orioles), Mariano Rivera (Yankees finished in fourth place) and Chipper Jones (Braves made playoffs, but no World Series), just to name a few. But none of those players were on teams capable of going all the way to the World Series.

This season, I feel the Red Sox stand a decent chance of changing that fortune.Ortiz

Announcing his plans to retire after the 2016 season — plans that many are questioning with the superb numbers he is posting — David Ortiz is looking to record one final star season of what is arguably a Hall of Fame career, for a Red Sox team that he has impacted time and time again over the years. It would be fitting if they returned the favor and helped lead Boston to another World Title.

Despite finishing in dead-last in 2015, the Red Sox currently sit tied with the Orioles atop the American League East division standings. Although they’ve been a bit shaky at times, there have been other games that lead you to believe that the Sox could actually pull off the World Series sendoff for Ortiz.

But getting to the World Series is hard, with winning it being even harder. Some great players like Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Craig Biggio, etc., never won a World Series title, even though they had great careers with some good teams. However, Ortiz already knows what it’s like to win it all, having won a World Title with the Red Sox in 2004, 2007 and 2013. He assuredly would love that feeling again in 2016.

Ortiz is certainly doing his part to make that happen. Over the course of 40 games this season, Ortiz is hitting .329 with 11 home runs (giving him 514 for his career) and 37 RBI’s — second to Robinson Cano for most in all of baseball. If he were to keep up that pace, he would wind up with around 35-40 homers and well over 100 RBI’s. Given, there are a lot of games still to be played, but what Ortiz is doing is simply remarkable.

But it’s not just Ortiz fueling the Red Sox and their march towards a fantastic season. Several players are breaking out into becoming stars, such as Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley Jr. (as well as Brock Holt, before his injury), with Hanley Ramirez performing the way he was expected to when he was signed before last season.

Xander Bogaerts leads the team in batting average at .346, and is followed closely behind by Jackie Bradley Jr.’s .342 line, who is currently riding a 27-game hitting streak. In addition, Mookie Betts is second on the team in homers with 9, with Travis Shaw stepping up at third without Pablo Sandoval and making a big impact himself; as well as Hanley Ramirez who has shown some pop and is hitting above .300 on the season. With all of these pieces clicking, their lineup looks to be in good shape.

However, if there would be one thing that would keep the Red Sox from going all the way to a World Title, it would be their pitching. Good hitting can carry a team for awhile (the Red Sox are first in baseball in team batting average and RBI’s), despite a struggling rotation (Boston is 19th in team ERA), but eventually it won’t end up being enough, with those types of teams crumbling more times than not.

Steven Wright and Rick Porcello have been the Red Sox’s most reliable starters, being the only two pitchers of their rotation with an ERA below 4.00. David Price, who was acquired in the offseason to be the ace of the staff, has had aPrice few games where he dominated opposing hitters, but overall he’s been a big disappointment, with an ERA of 5.53 over 9 starts. Clay Buchholz has been even worse, holding a 5.92 ERA, and leaving the Red Sox looking for answers in that department.

Their bullpen, on the other hand, has been stellar, for the most part. When the game has gone to closer Craig Kimbrel in a save situation, he has looked like the Kimbrel of old, striking out 31 over 19 innings pitched and saving 12 out of 13 games he’s come in to close. Other guys, such as Junichi Tazawa, Matt Barnes, Tommy Layne and Heath Hembree have also done terrific jobs. But it’s their rotation that has left more to be desired.

Even so, the Red Sox appear to have things figured out enough that they can continue to win on a regular basis, despite their flaws. If their rotation begins to pitch the way it was envisioned to, the Red Sox could absolutely take off and run away with things, keeping in mind that it’s still very early, with over 100 games remaining.

But even if the Red Sox fall apart over the remainder of the season, or make the playoffs and simply can’t go the entire distance, David Ortiz is still on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career . . . at age 40.

If David Ortiz can’t go out on top with a World Title, he’ll certainly still leave with a bang.

Steven Wright: The “New” R. A. Dickey

In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been very few pitchers who have actually succeeded in mastering the knuckleball to the point where they were able to absolutely dominate opposing batters on a consistent basis. For the most part, pitchers who throw the knuckleball are ineffective, and have up-and-down, short-lived careers.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle MarinersHowever, as with anything, there are always a few exceptions — Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, etc. — with the latest example of that being Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox. Through four games started this season, Steven Wright has a 1.37 ERA, with a tick under one strikeout per inning pitched. Following an ERA of 4.09 in 2015, Wright appears to have figured things out.

On Wednesday night alone, Wright went seven strong innings against the Braves (given, Atlanta isn’t exactly a powerhouse team this season), striking out eight and giving up just two runs (only one earned run) in Boston’s 9-4 win. 

Due to his great performance to this point in the season, Wright has subsequently taken over the leading role of most dominant MLB knuckleballer, recently held by R.A. Dickey (the only other active knuckleball thrower).

With Toronto this season, Dickey has recorded a subpar 6.75 ERA, and hasn’t been all that terribly great since he took home the Cy Young award in 2012 with the Mets. That season — the only extremely fantastic season of his career — Dickey posted a 2.73 ERA over 33 starts, while striking out 230 batters, but he’s gone 40-40 with a 4.06 ERA since then.

Steven Wright didn’t actually appear in the big leagues until the season after Dickey had his breakout year, but it appears that Wright is on the verge of having a special season as a knuckleball pitcher much like the one of Dickey in 2012.

Boston could certainly continue to use successful outings from him, as their other starters hold ERA’s above 3.51, with David Price possessing a 5.76 and Joe Kelly unbelievably having a 9.35 ERA over three starts. For that reason, Steven Wright is currently being looked at as the surprising Ace of the staff, and has been a welcome surprise for the Red Sox so far this year.

While I’m not necessarily saying that Steven Wright’s 2016 season will end up being as successful as R.A. Dickey’s 2012 campaign, with him winning the Cy Young, it is definitely a positive sign for Wright of great things to come. I imagine not even Wright himself would have envisioned this good of a start to the season when things began back on April 4th, but every given baseball season is much like the knuckleball pitch itself: You never know where it’s going to wind up.

Sandoval to Start Opening Day . . . On the Bench

When the Boston Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, 95 million dollar contract heading into the 2015 season, all signs pointed towards him continuing to add to his historically good career statistics that he had posted over the previous six seasons in San Francisco.Sandoval

With the Giants, Sandoval hit twelve or more homers, recorded at least 63 RBI’s and notched a batting average in the mid to upper .200’s from 2009 to 2014, before signing with the Red Sox in November of 2014. With that kind of track record, things were looking bright at third base in Boston.

But it all completely fell apart for ‘The Panda’ last season, when he really struggled offensively, hitting just .245 on the year, with career lows of just ten homers and 47 RBI’s. However, it was his poor defense at third, leading to fifteen errors, that really stood out; and that is ultimately going to keep him on the bench to begin 2016.

After two All-Star game selections and three World Series rings with the Giants, Sandoval will be on the outside looking in to begin his eighth full season in the bigs. Instead, it’s standout 2015 rookie, Travis Shaw, who received the nod from manager John Farrell to start Opening Day at the hot corner.

Following a debut season of thirteen home runs over the course of just 65 games, Shaw hit the ground running in Florida’s Grapefruit League this year, recording an average well above .300, and playing a great defense at third — much better Shawthan that of Sandoval.

However, Sandoval seems at peace with the decision for him to not start game one of the year, and fully believes he can turn things around, saying, “It was the right decision to help the team win. I’m going to be ready during the season to do my job out there.”

Nonetheless, there are many people around the baseball world who don’t hold the same level of hope for Sandoval. Showing up at Spring Training around a month ago extremely out of shape, and with rumors flying that Sandoval may wind up being traded in the near future, there is no guarantee that things will ever be the same for Sandoval, at least with the Red Sox.

Now that Shaw has been given the opportunity to play everyday at third base, I see him thriving there and keeping Sandoval from regaining his role there much at all. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Opening Day for the Red Sox is now less than 100 hours away, set for Monday, April 4th, up in Cleveland against the Indians. But for Pablo Sandoval, the season will begin with him serving a role similar to the 38,000 fans expected to pack the ballpark: a mere spectator.

Q and A With Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly was drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, despite recording a 5.65 ERA his final year at the University of California-Riverside.

Joe KellyFollowing the draft, Kelly performed well in the minors and made a steady progression through the ranks from 2009 to 2012, earning a mid season call up in 2012 to the Cardinals, where he proceeded to post a 3.53 ERA over the course of 107 innings pitched.

Kelly had a terrific following year in 2013 with the Cardinals, recording a 2.69 ERA over 124 innings and looked to be on his way to becoming one of the Cardinals’ top pitching options in their rotation. But after a 4.37 ERA seven game start to the 2014 season, Kelly was traded to the Red Sox where he has remained ever since.

The 2015 season saw Kelly take the mound for the Red Sox 25 times, but his outings varied in consistency and his overall results were subpar. Following the up and down year, Kelly was shut down for the final portion of last season due to shoulder soreness, after a cumulative 4.82 ERA.

Despite the poor year for Kelly in 2015 and subsequent talks that he may be moved to the bullpen full time, many people still feel that he can turn things around to become an effective major league starting pitcher once again. After all, he still owns a decent career ERA of 3.82, and there have been plenty of signs in the past that he has the potential to still pan out.

Joe Kelly — pitcher for the Boston Red Sox — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I became most interested when I was about 5 years old. Growing up, my biggest influences were my parents. They were always so supportive and loving.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite baseball player was Ken Griffey Jr. He was the best player in the league. Everyone loves a winner.

3.) You were drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was an awesome feeling. I was with my family and closest friends at a local pizza parlor. It was also my 21st birthday, and we had a great time celebrating all night.

4.) You made it to the World Series in 2013 with the Cardinals, and started game three. What was that overall experience like for you?

Being in the World Series is a great experience that I will never forget. I can’t wait to hopefully make it back and get a ring.

5.) For the Cardinals, you pitched in around 70 games before being traded to the Red Sox midseason in 2014. What were the biggest differences you noticed about switching to pitching in the American League? How difficult was it to make the transition during the season?

The biggest difference is that you don’t get to face the pitcher hitting. You actually have to focus on the number nine hitter and work for your out. It was hard in the middle of the season, because it was such short notice. I had to live in the hotel for two months in Boston.

6.) Throughout your career in the minors and majors, you’ve made the switch back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation numerous times. How do you enable yourself to thrive in whatever role you are placed in?

I just try to keep pitching simple, whether it’s in the pen or being a starter.

7.) The Red Sox made the major additions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel this past offseason to bolster your rotation and bullpen. How do you feel their presence will impact the overall makeup of the Red Sox in 2016?

I think we have a really good team, and should compete for the top spot in the AL East. Adding those two guys is huge. They are great teammates and leaders. I can’t wait to play with them.

8.) After a somewhat poor start to 2015, you won eight consecutive starts from August through September before being shut down due to shoulder soreness. What do you feel you were doing differently that allowed you so much success?

I just started to locate my fastball with more consistency and mixed my off speed pitches well. I hope that I will pick up right where I left off at last season.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite show is ‘Breaking Bad’, and favorite food is ‘In-N-Out’.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

I would tell kids to just have fun, throw the ball as hard as you can and swing as hard as you can. You can always teach proper mechanics later on in life.

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Big thanks to Joe Kelly for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @JosephKellyJr

American League Predictions for 2016

For the fifth season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I had the Red Sox placing first in 2015 and they finished last), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:

EAST

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Rays

For a team that has finished dead last each of the past two seasons, it’s hard to wrap my head around placing the Red Sox to win the Americna League East division in 2016, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Not everyone has them faring quite as well, but there are a number of factors that have me seeing great things from them this season. First of all, the addition of Craig Kimbrel to their bullpen — along with Carson Smith from the Mariners — to close out games for them will wind up being huge, in my mind. As far as their starters are concerned, placing David Price in the rotation automatically improves their chances of winning every fifth day, even though the rest of their rotation isn’t on Price’s level. The Red Sox don’t have an overly dominant pitching staff, but with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez looking to have bounceback seasons offensively in this being David Ortiz’s last season, I feel big things are ahead for Boston.

What the Yankees lack in offensive thump (besides Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) they make up for in pitching. Their rotation and bullpen aren’t overwhelming at first glance, but they are a group of solid pitching workhorses who will post a ton of innings of good baseball all season long. With that in mind, I have the Yankees finishing second to the Red Sox, as they will likely be very competitive, but I can’t see them winning the whole division. Even so, with Masahiro Tanaka looking to have a fully healthy season, along with Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, combined with a bullpen of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and newly acquired Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees pitching will inevitably carry them when their offense isn’t clicking. They’re basically the opposite of the Red Sox. Bottom line: The Yankees are a team that shouldn’t be overlooked, as they look to make it back to the postseason this year.

The Blue Jays have a true dream-lineup, with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista all providing major power threats at any point in the game. But they’re missing one thing that would lead me to placing them atop the division: a strong pitching staff. Yes, they have guys like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez who look to have big futures ahead, along with veteran R.A. Dickey, but I’m not fully on board with them placing any better than third in the division. If they can find a way to pitch well day in and day out, then there is no stopping the Blue Jays from dominating the division, but there are a lot of “what ifs” with their team. After making it to the postseason for the first time in over twenty years last season, it wouldn’t shock me at all if they make it back again in 2016. But on the flip side, it wouldn’t fully shock me if they don’t make it either.

If history has taught us anything it’s that predicting how any given season will pan out is impossible. However, history has also shown that it takes a good pitching staff to make it much of anywhere in the divisional races, and I don’t see a very deep rotation or bullpen for the Orioles. They have several solid starters, from Chris Tillman to Brian Matusz, as well as newcomer Yovani Gallardo who will help them out tremendously, and their bullpen has a couple of the best relievers in baseball, with Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. But I simply don’t see them as having enough to outplay the Blue Jays, Yankees or Red Sox. Their pitchers would have to be atop their game all season long, and their lineup would also have to perform on an equally high level. But with all of that said, with guys like Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones, it’s not entirely impossible for them to have special year, I just don’t predict it.

Someone unfortunately has to finish last in every division around baseball no matter how good their team is, and I’m placing the Rays in that slot for 2016. Putting them last was extremely hard. I could make a strong case for them outplaying the Orioles, with even somewhat long shot cases of them placing in the top three. They have a team that makes anything possible. Their rotation is better than that of the Orioles and Blue Jays, in my opinion, with guys like Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb (once he returns) and Matt Moore, but I’m not convinced that their offense, other than Evan Longoria and a few others, will be consistent enough to take on the top teams in the division. If they can score runs, they can compete with anyone. It all comes down to execution. That’s what makes them just like the other four teams in the division who I could see coming in first or dead last. It’s truly going to be that close of a race in the division.

CENTRAL

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

This is another very difficult division to decide where to place each team, but I have the Royals winning the division once again. They aren’t a very flashy team, but they do a lot extremely well. In 2015, the Royals were the king of the comeback, constantly coming back from big deficits to win games that ultimately lead to them becoming World Series champions. I feel they will be able to do that again this season. One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Alex Gordon deciding to stay with the Royals, and I feel that him sticking around will help them exponentially. Combined with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, the Royals have a good enough lineup to post a nice amount of runs. What will help the Royals win their way to the division title, however, is their bullpen, with Wade Davis helping to lead the charge. If all goes right, winning the division should be fairly easy.

Not a lot of people believe in the Tigers for 2016, but upon looking at their roster, I don’t see a spot where they are weak. Over the past few seasons, their bullpen has been one of their worst spots, but they addressed that nicely with the pickup of Francisco Rodriguez who is a proven closer that can shut down games for them. Beyond that, their rotation got a bit better, as the pickup of under the radar starter Jordan Zimmermann, to go along with Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris, should help them win a lot of games. But while their pitching staff is strong, their roster is even stronger. Miguel Cabrera will put up Cabrera-like numbers, and if Victor Martinez can have a healthy year, along with J.D. Martinez and offseason pickup Justin Upton, Detroit appears to be in good shape. If absolutely everything goes right, the Tigers could win the division. But I’m leaving them finishing in a close second.

With Chris Sale leading the way as the Ace of the staff, along with Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana likely to have solid seasons, the White Sox appear to have a decent enough pitching rotation to win ball games in 2016. However, I don’t see it as being strong enough to overtake either the Tigers or Royals. Furthermore, I’m not fully convinced that their lineup is going to be all that spectacular either. They had one of the worst lineups in baseball last season, and while they picked up Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason, they can only help so much. Guys such as Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton will do their parts throughout the season, but I simply don’t see a way for the White Sox to finish any better than third place in the division. That’s a sharp contrast from some people around the baseball world who actually have the Sox winning the division this coming season, but I can’t place them that high in my mind.

If the Indians can get the fullest potential out of Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar this coming season, the sky is truly the limit for them. However, with that said, I’m not sure what to expect out of the Indians’ starters as a whole. Over the past few seasons, each of the aforementioned names have been dominant, but they have failed to be dominant at the same time, with a lot of inconsistency coming from them all. Additionally, although their lineup contains some big names, I simply don’t think that it will be enough to stack up against the other three teams above them on my list. Yes, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley, among others, are capable of carrying the Indians far in the season, but their overall makeup isn’t going to be consistent enough, in my opinion, to make the coming season that special of a year for the Indians.

The Minnesota Twins shocked the baseball world last season when they finished in second place in the division. But I see a drastic fall back for them in the coming year. If their rotation was stronger, I could see another good year. However, with Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes being historically inconsistent over their careers, their pitching isn’t exactly their strong suit. Where the Twins thrive is their lineup, which contains a ton of power. Miguel Sano burst onto the scene last year and was absolutely tremendous right out of the gate, with fellow sluggers Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia likely to be the key power sources of their roster. If they can get those guys going, along with Byron Buxton, who was somewhat of a disappointment upon his debut last season, then the Twins very well may prove me wrong and climb their way up the rankings. I just have a hard time seeing a scenario where that happens.

WEST

1. Astros

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Mariners

5. Athletics

After several years in a row of finishing the season with greater than 100 losses on the year, the Astros have finally been heading in the right direction in recent history, with them actually making the playoffs in 2015. With a starting rotation that includes 2015 Cy Young award winner, Dallas Keuchel, along with youngster Lance McCullers and newcomer Doug Fister, I really like Houston’s starters heading into the year. And their bullpen is even better. Picking up Ken Giles from the Phillies in a trade to join Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson in the bullpen, the Astros look ready to mow down opposing teams all season long. On the flip side, they also appear loaded in their lineup. While they lost slugger Chris Carter, they still have reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa who looks headed for superstardom, along with Jose Altuve, Carlos Gomez and George Springer. All things together, the division title is the Astros’ to lose.

The Angels’ lineup is certainly a great mix of both veterans and young, talented players, and I think they will all come together to truly shock some people in 2016. Despite that, I don’t see them taking out the Astros for top spot in the division. Albert Pujols had a solid year last season, and Mike Trout is seemingly getting better and better as each year passes. Look for both of them to power the team towards a lot of wins, along with some help from guys such as Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron and offseason pickup Andrelton Simmons. But while I feel their offense will be okay at best, I predict their pitching to be superb in 2016. Getting a healthy Garrett Richards for this season, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Andrew Heaney all looking to have a bounce back or breakout season, I don’t feel that any of the other three teams below the Angels on my list will be able to challenge them for the full 162-game season.

Third in my divisional standings predictions for the American League West are the Rangers, however, they could easily overtake the Angels if they don’t perform the way I’m expecting them to. For that reason alone, the Rangers are a team to watch very carefully in 2016. Although their lineup is going to be fairly good, with Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder all ready to mash in the coming year, there are too many questions with the remainder of their roster for me to extremely believe in them. Furthermore, the question marks extend beyond their lineup. They lost Yovani Gallardo to the Orioles this offseason, and although they have proven themselves in the past, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish performing at the top of their game after injuries is yet to be seen. Even so, the Rangers should be a very good ball club that may wind up just short when all is said and done.

When I look at the Mariners’ rotation heading into this season, I see a ton of talent but also a ton of question marks, much as I did with the Rangers’ lineup. Beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who will both be great all year long, Seattle’s rotation isn’t really proven enough for me to think without a doubt that they are headed for big things this year. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have a ton of potential, and have shown flashes of greatness before, but they have been too inconsistent to have an idea of what to expect from them in 2016. Beyond their pitching, the Mariners also leave a lot to be desired in their overall lineup, as other than players such as Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, I don’t see a lot of pop in their everyday 1-9. For all of those reasons, I feel that it is going to turn out to be another disappointing season in Seattle.

Finally on my list of picks in the American League divisional races in 2016, I have the Athletics finishing at a dismal last place in the west. While the pickup of Fernando Rodney will go a long way in further improving their already decent bullpen, their starting rotation begins and ends with Sonny Gray, who I see as having another Cy Young conversation season. With the unfortunate loss of Jarrod Parker due to another arm injury, I don’t see a lot of options for their rotation that will be overpowering. More of the same holds true for the offensive side of their roster. To me, although they have a few impact bats such as Billy Butler and Josh Reddick, along with 2015 breakouts Stephen Vogt and Billy Burns, they simply don’t have good enough pitching or hitting for them to perform at a competitive level in the division they are in. Ever since losing Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the A’s just haven’t been the same.

What Can We Expect from the Red Sox In 2016?

When the Red Sox finished in last place in 2012, not many people predicted too much from them the next year, but they went on to win the 2013 World Series. Following their championship, there were a lot of expectations out of the Sox in 2014, but they once again finished dead last in their division. With Boston not faring any better this David Pricepast season, there is little guarantee as to where they will wind up when the 2016 season comes to a close.

But the Red Sox made a big splash in the free agent market on Tuesday evening, acquiring David Price for a record breaking contract. Price was signed to a seven year, 217 million dollar contract, locking him up in Boston through the 2022 season, and possibly for the rest of his career, with him being 30 years old.

The mega deal makes Price the highest paid pitcher in Major League Baseball history, beating out Clayton Kershaw’s 215 million dollar deal. His annual value of 31 million a season is over four times what Price earned in 2015, so it is undoubtedly a happy day for David Price.

But it’s also a happy day for Boston and their fans. While there are plenty of people who would say the Red Sox vastly overpaid for Price (I could easily see anyone making that case), there is no doubt that Price, who holds a 1.95 career ERA at Fenway Park, will ultimately help the Sox push towards the playoffs after another disappointing season in 2015.

One of the things that held the Red Sox back last season was their lack of good starting pitching. Their collective team ERA of 4.31 was 25th in all of baseball in 2015, with none of their starters having good, consistent years. Price, who spent the first six seasons of his career with Tampa before heading to Detroit in 2014 and the Blue Jays for the second half of 2015, holds a 3.09 ERA and went 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA last season alone. He will definitely prove to be a bettsbogaertsvaluable addition.

On the flip side of things, the Sox offense was somewhat under the radar decent. They were able to post a .265 team average on the year, which tied them for fifth best in all of baseball. If their additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval from last offseason can have bounce back seasons, combined with further contributions from their young stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., as well as veterans Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, they could have a special season.

With David Ortiz already announcing that he will be retiring after the 2016 season, it should be interesting to see how the Red Sox perform next year. They have a few more things that need to be addressed to help their club overall for next season, but I like the signing of Price, as well as the pickup of Craig Kimbrel earlier this offseason, and the general direction that those moves take them.

No matter what happens, acquiring David Price for the next seven years is sure to make for some exciting seasons to come up in Boston.

David Ortiz Launches Home Run Number 500

With one swing of the bat on Saturday night against the Rays, David Ortiz became the 27th player in Major League Baseball history to hit 500 career home runs.Ortiz

The historic homer was his second of the night and came off of Rays’ lefty Matt Moore. In a season that’s destined to wind up with another last place finish for the Red Sox, Ortiz achieving the impressive milestone is one of the few bright spots from the year.

But it didn’t seem as if Ortiz would get there this season with the slow start he began the year with. Through the All-Star break, Ortiz was hitting just .231 with 15 home runs and 43 RBI’s. However, since the Midsummer Classic, Ortiz has been on a tear, blasting 19 home runs while hitting around .340.

Ortiz leads the Red Sox in home runs (his next closest rival is 15 home runs back) as well as RBI’s in 2015, and is just five RBI’s from another 30+ homer, 100+ RBI season — his third straight and ninth overall. Ortiz’s 442 homers with the Red Sox is good enough for third in franchise history, behind just Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.

However, despite tremendous career stats, there still remains the question of whether or not David Ortiz is worthy of the Hall of Fame. In my mind, he absolutely is. Not only is he one of the best Red Sox players in history, he is simply one of the best baseball players in history.

Mookie Betts Does it All Against the Nationals

Red Sox phenom, Mookie Betts, can do it all. He’s a great outfielder, a fast runner, and can even tap into some power every now and then.

But on Monday afternoon in Boston against the Washington Nationals, Betts showed off all of his skills over the course of just two innings.Betts

Things got kicked off for Betts in the very first inning of the game. Bryce Harper cranked a ball deep toward the outfield bullpens, which looked to be gone off the bat. But Betts did a great job getting a jump on the ball, making the leap at the wall and robbing Harper of a home run.

In the bottom half of the inning, Betts continued his great day. After a walk, Betts slid in safely to second on an attempted steal attempt. Wisely noticing that no one was covering third base, due to the shift on the current batter, David Ortiz, Betts took off for third and successfully swiped that bag as well. Two stolen bases on one attempt.

But not to go without showing off all of his tools, Mookie stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second and cranked a three-run homer over the green monster in left field to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead.

All in a day’s work for Betts.

With all of the contributions from Betts — who went 2-4 on the day, with 4 total RBI’s — the Red Sox cruised to a 9-4 win over the Nationals. If things can continue to go the way they did on Monday for both Mookie Betts and the Red Sox, 2015 could end up being special years for both of them.

American League Predictions for 2015

For the fourth season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I had the Angels finishing fourth in their division last year and they made it to the postseason), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:

EAST

1. Red Sox

2. Orioles

3. Yankees

4. Blue Jays

5. Rays

It was somewhat difficult to pick the Red Sox to win the division. For a team that went from last to first to last again, it would only make sense that they would once again be a first place team. But that isn’t why I designated them at the top. Although their pitching staff is somewhat of a question mark, their lineup is really good. With veterans David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli, combined with newcomers Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox are stacked top to bottom with talent; and there’s plenty more on the way in the minors that could make impacts at any moment during the season. Their pitching isn’t the best, but it isn’t the worst either. They still have recently dominant closer, Koji Uehara, and despite losing John Lackey and Jon Lester in 2014, they picked up Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello. Everything combined together, it should lead to a lot of wins.

As hard as it was for me to put the Red Sox at number one, it was equally as difficult for me to place the Orioles in second. I was one of the people ranting when they lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller that the Orioles would do badly in 2015. But with careful consideration to their roster, and looking at the ball clubs of the other teams in the division, I placed them near the top. With Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris, among others, the Orioles rotation is fairly decent. And despite the loss of Miller, their bullpen is pretty good as well, so the run prevention should be there. The question mark is what kind of impact will losing Cruz have on their offense. The subtraction of 40 home runs is sure to have an impact, but they still have Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado to put together runs. While it won’t lead to a division title, a second place finish isn’t impossible.

The Yankees could wind up being really good or really bad, all depending on the production and health of each player on their team. So I feel confident with placing them in the third place slot. They have the ability to finish higher, with several above average players on their squad, but I’m not confident that it will happen. Still, with a rotation that consists of players such as CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, and a bullpen that ends with Dellin Betances slamming the door in the ninth, their pitchers alone could win them a good amount of games. But pitching isn’t any good if your offense can’t score runs. Brian McCann needs to step things up after a below average season, as do Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Beyond that, the return of Alex Rodriguez should be . . . well . . . interesting. With so much uncertainty, the Yankees’ season will be one of the most intriguing to watch.

I might could see the Blue Jays edging out the Yankees, but I’m placing them at four in the division anyway. With the pickups of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson to help strengthen their overall lineup — a lineup that already had star hitters Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion — the Jays will be good enough to score a lot of runs. But the question is whether or not their pitching staff will be able to prevent them on a consistent basis. Mark Buehrle will likely have another great year, with R.A. Dickey having a mix of good and bad starts throughout the season. What it comes down to for me is Daniel Norris. With Marcus Stroman now out for the season, it’ll take a great year from Norris to overcome Stroman’s loss. He has the potential to do so, but it will take him living up to expectations. That is going to be the difference maker in a fourth place team and a team that makes a few good runs at the second wild card spot.

The Rays won the American League East division as recently as 2009, however, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull out anything over a last place finish in 2015. Like the Blue Jays, the Rays could easily make a jump in the division rankings, but a lot of things can go wrong to keep them from getting there. First off, while their pitching staff still consists of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, the loss of David Price last season and having Matt Moore out until midseason while rehabbing his Tommy John surgery will have an impact on their ability to shutout opposing teams. On the flip side, their lineup is merely decent, as with the exception of Evan Longoria, they have no proven big time bats at all. The Rays have James Loney, Asdrubal Cabrera and Kevin Kiermaier, among others, who can help the club out significantly, but no one on the team can carry it by themselves. It will take a team effort for the Rays to have any big success in 2015.

CENTRAL

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

The Royals may or may not actually outplay the Tigers in the upcoming season, but it sure will be fun to watch them go back and forth in the division rankings. The Royals proved to everyone in 2014 that they weren’t messing around anymore, making it to the World Series and putting up a good fight against the Giants. In 2015, expect them to perform close to the same. While I’m not guaranteeing a World Series appearance, they still have a rotation that consists of Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, among others. And if their rotation can get to the sixth inning, it’s basically a lock for a win, as their bullpen, with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and dominant closer, Greg Holland. Their lineup is still strong, despite the loss of All-Star designated hitter, Billy Butler, with Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain to lead the way. They should be a great team this season.

As far as the Tigers are concerned, they could turn out to be the winners of the division when all is said and done, but I’m placing them in second, nonetheless. For me, their pitching will be the key in where they place in the division. Their downfall in the 2014 postseason, their bullpen, isn’t any better than it was back then. In addition, their starting rotation is somewhat of a question mark now with Doug Fister and Max Scherzer both in Washington. But what they lack in pitching they more than make up for in offense. That’s why they’re as high as they are. Consisting of J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Yoenis Cespedes, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez (once he returns from injury), the Tigers are loaded from top to bottom in their lineup. But if their pitching doesn’t come through, offense can only go so far. Even so, I believe the Tigers will win far more than their far share of games in 2015, making yet another return to the playoffs.

The White Sox did more than their share to get better throughout this offseason. Picking up Jeff Samardzija to go along with an already decent rotation that includes Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others, and adding David Robertson to their bullpen, the Sox pitching staff is good enough to compete in 2015. What things will come down to is if their offense can perform. Jose Abreu will likely have another year close to that of his impressive rookie debut in 2015, and that alone will go a long way in making the Whit Sox competitive. But in addition, the White Sox picked up Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera to go along with Alexei Ramirez, Emilio Bonifacio and Adam Eaton. If everything goes as planned, it could turn out to be an exciting season in Chicago. But even so, I don’t think they are a good enough team to win the division. They’ll have to battle it out for a Wild Card spot at best.

Playing in such a strong division, I don’t feel the Indians can finish any better than fourth, despite being a good team. Their lineup is strong, with Yan Gomes set to have a breakout year, along with Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley as well as established veterans Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. With players like that set to take the field each and every day, the Indians should be able to score their fair share of runs. However, while they can score runs, they may not be able to consistently prevent the opposition from scoring them. Beyond Corey Kluber, who is undeniably their ace after he won the Cy Young award in 2014, the Indians have Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and Gavin Floyd, but none of them have been able to prove they can be good in the majority of their outings. Whether or not their pitching can come through will tell the tale for how their season turns out.

Unfortunately, the Twins are likely facing a last place finish, yet again. Minnesota has tons of pitchers who have shown flashes of greatness at times over the course of their career, but they currently rest as a huge question mark. Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone and Ricky Nolasco all have great potential to have a good 2015, but none are a slam dunk by any means. On the flip side of the coin, their lineup could be either good or bad this season, all depending on numerous factors. With guys like Joe Mauer to lead the way, along with Torii Hunter, Brian Dozier and Aaron Hicks, there is always the chance that the Twins make some sort of run during the season and wind up doing better than I am expecting. However, it would take nearly everything going right for them, and with so much unpredictability, I just don’t see that happening for them — at least in 2015.

WEST

1. Mariners

2. Angels

3. Athletics

4. Rangers

5. Astros

When all is said and done, the Mariners could turn out to be the best team in all of the American League. From top to bottom, they are an extremely solid team, and will win a ton of games in 2015. For starters, their rotation is terrific. With Felix Hernandez leading the pack, and Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton also in the mix from one night to the next, any team facing the Mariners will inevitably have a battle on their hands to score runs each and every night. But Seattle should have no problem with that. Just missing the playoffs last season, the Mariners proceeded to get better in the offseason, picking up Nelson Cruz to go along with fellow slugger, Robinson Cano. Also possessing Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, etc., the Mariners have very few holes in their entire roster. For me, if they fail to win the division in 2015 they didn’t live up to their full potential.

But with all of that said for the Mariners, the Angels will certainly do their part in giving them a run for their money in the American League West. After posting a near 100 win season in 2014, the Angels are looking to have another postseason push this time around. I think C.J. Cron is going to have a breakout season, with David Freese having a bounce back year. In addition, the Angels got a bit stronger by adding long time Ray, Matt Joyce, to go along with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, both of which will have another star year. It’s their pitching, though, that controls how they do in 2015. Last season, Garrett Richards truly made a name for himself, and he should have another good season this year. But after that, things are truly unpredictable. C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Jered Weaver all have a lot of potential to be good, but whether or not they actually do will determine how the Angels finish 2015.

A lot of people — myself included — gave the Athletics a hard time this offseason when they made several moves that seemed to weaken their team. However, now that the dust has settled, and people have been given the chance to look at those moves, they truly didn’t hurt them that bad. Even so, a finish any better than third in 2015 would truly stun me. The Angels and Mariners are simply too good. Nonetheless, with Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Jarrod Parker leading the pitching staff, the A’s will still be able to find a way to hang in the mix. I liked the offseason pick up of Josh Phegley to go behind the plate, as well as the acquisitions of Brett Lawrie, Billy Butler, and Marcus Semien. All are good players, and each will give a little something to the club. But despite the amazing ability of the A’s in recent years to have an average team on paper that blew away the competition, I don’t think that will happen this season.

The Rangers are somewhat of a disappointing team. A recent powerhouse team in the division, the Rangers aren’t likely to do much better this season than they did in 2014. But they could end up surprising a lot of people if everything happens just right. After all, they have several players looking to redeem themselves from a down 2014 season. Prince Fielder being the biggest example of that, as he came over from the Tigers to the Rangers only to play in 42 games all year. I look for him to have a much needed bounce back season, however. But while Fielder may have another star caliber year, the Rangers took a true hit this past week, with Yu Darvish undergoing Tommy John surgery, meaning he will miss the entire 2015 season. That is a true blow to the Rangers, even with Derek Holland and Yovani Gallardo to fall back on. I don’t think things will turn out well enough for them to finish very high in the standings.

Year after year, the Astros have been promising to have a great team that can compete with all of the other teams in the division. But despite visible improvement in 2014, I don’t feel that they stand a chance at taking on the Mariners, Angels or Athletics. If anything, they may compete for fourth place with the Rangers, but that’s as good as I could possibly see them doing. But it’s not for a lack of talent. The Astros have a good lineup, with sluggers Chris Carter and George Springer, along with Jon Singleton, Jose Altuve and pickup Evan Gattis, but their pitching will likely be too below average for them to post any big win numbers. Beyond Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the Astros truly don’t have much pitching to speak of. The Astros as a whole will likely have their moments, with some great games coming here and there, but the Astros postseason bound season will have to wait at least one more year.

Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.