MLB Second Half Forecast: The AL East

The Major League Baseball All Star Break is over, and teams are gearing up to begin the second half of the season. Some teams are expecting to make deep pushes to the playoffs, other teams still have hopes of making the postseason, and yet others realize the don’t have a chance.

Today we’ll size up the AL East Division and look at the three contending teams in it. We will look at the Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays and what to expect from them as they begin their playoff runs.

Red Sox

Red Sox – (49-41, 3rd place) The 2018 World Series Champions have struggled from the onset of this season. They began the season with a 3-8 west coast road-trip. Chris Sale, the ace of their starting rotation, was getting shelled regularly, and the Sox didn’t climb above .500 until almost Mid-May. Mookie Betts, last year’s AL MVP, isn’t producing at the same rate (he’s human), but the team is still scoring a lot of runs.

Pitching has been the problem. Beyond Sale, the rotation has been up and down. Rick Porcello has pitched to a 5.33 ERA, the inconsistent Eduardo Rodriguez has been — you guessed it — inconsistent. David Price has pitched well, but at age 33 isn’t giving the length he once did. The Boston bullpen, so good last season, has been incredibly bad after letting Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly leave as free agents. Nathan Eovaldi, who signed a 4 year/68 million dollar deal last off-season to return and be a starter, has been named the closer when he comes back from injury.

What to expect — Team President of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski plans to look for a starting pitcher, according to Ken Rosenthal.

If the Red Sox shore up the bullpen and add a starter, look for them to creep closer in the standings and make things harder for the Yankees and Rays.

yankees

Yankees – (57-31, 1st place) After a sluggish 6-9 start in April, the Yankees have spent the vast majority of the last two months atop the AL East. The team has been riddled with injuries all season, with a whopping 22 different players hitting the injury list. At one point, more than half of the original starting lineup was sidelined at the same time, and a whopping 22 different players have been plagued by injury in 2019. The good news is the Yankees lineup is now mostly healthy. First baseman Luke Voit could be back as soon as tomorrow, and Giancarlo Stanton hopes to return from his second IL stint in August.

It’s not a secret Brian Cashman is looking to add a starting pitcher, and Marcus Stroman, Madison Bumgarner and Trevor Bauer have been the names most often bandied about. Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard from the crosstown Mets are also reportedly being shopped around. The Yankees have to find a way to get deeper into games. The rotation collectively is averaging about five innings per start and the bullpen has been carrying a heavy load. Any of the aforementioned starters would help fill this void. The Yankees also could get the injured Luis Severino back before season’s end, provided he has no further setbacks.

What to expect — If they stay healthy, more home runs and more wins. However, if the rotation doesn’t help out more, it could wear down the pen during the dog days of Summer.

TB Rays

Rays – (52-39, 2nd place) The Tampa Bay Rays are currently 6.5 games behind the Yankees as we head into the second half of the season. These feisty, youthful Rays spent the 39 of the first 41 games of the season in first place before the Bronx Bombers overtook them. Starting pitcher Blake Snell (5-7, 4.70 ERA) has been up and down after his Cy Young Award winning season in 2018. The lineup doesn’t have the flashy names like the Red Sox and Yankees, but there is good young talent. Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe, and Willy Adames are expected to become impact players in the lineup, while starters Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Brandon McKay form a talented nucleus for the rotation.

There is veteran leadership from starter Charlie Morton (10-2, 2.32 ERA), CF Kevin Kiermaier (who’s still only 29) and recently acquired catcher Travis D’Arnaud. Closer Jose Alvarado and starter Glasnow (6-1, 1.86) are out until mid-August, but should make an impact upon return.

McKay made a couple starts and was sent back to Triple-A to continue developing and honing his craft. Tyler Glasnow (forearm) and Jose Alvarado (oblique) being out a while hurts the team, but Brandon Lowe and closer Diego Castillo are expected to be activated from the IL this weekend.

What to expect — It’s hard to tell what the Rays may or may not do, but I wouldn’t expect them to trade away any young talent. Manager Kevin Cash and his coaching staff has done a stellar job getting the most out of his team, and Senior VP/GM Erik Neander also deserves credit. The Rays may fall to 3rd place behind the Yankees and Red Sox, but at the very least, I expect them to scratch and claw all the way to the bitter end.

 


 

I would like to take a minute and thank every person who took the time to read this, and any of my previous work on The Titanium Spine. For the immediate future, I’m mothballing my site and going on hiatus.

Advertisements

Thank you, CC Sabathia!

In a matter of minutes, CC Sabathia will take the hill for the New York Yankees, making his first start in the final season of his long career. Him being activated from the injured list couldn’t come at a better time. CC probably won’t pitch too deep into the game since he’s not fully stretched out, but the stability he brings to the rotation and the team will be every bit as important.

When he came into the league back in 2001, Sabathia was the prototypical power pitcher. He flashed a upper-nineties fastball and an upper-eighties slider that chewed hitters up and spit them out. When he came to the Yankees in 2009, he still had that arsenal at his disposal. Things changed a handful of years ago, when age and wear and tear began to show, and CC had to change his style of pitching to stay effective. Yankees legend Andy Pettitte helped teach him the cut-fastball and helped change his approach to get guys out with lesser velocity.

 

Over the past few years, CC Sabathia returned to being a dependable pitcher, often times stopping losing streaks and getting the Yankees back on track. In addition, and just as importantly, he’s been a team leader and a rock for his teammates.

I look forward to watching him pitch this afternoon and the rest of the 2019 season. Let’s hope we’ll be able to see CC hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy one last time.

 

CC Sabathia Commissioners Trophy

 

Thank you CC!

Do the Yankees Need Manny Machado?

As of this writing, Manny Machado is still a free agent.

The shortstop’s name, along with free agent OF Bryce Harper, has been tossed around more than any other MLB free agents than anyone in recent history. Both players have talent that transcends anyone else’s of this generation of baseball players. The fact they are still unsigned as we enter the final weeks before spring training has everyone in baseball talking.

As far as Machado is concerned, the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox appear to be the biggest suitors, with the New York Yankees appearing to have a passive interest. Early on in free agency, it was rumored Manny was seeking a contract as large as 300 million dollars over ten years. With the clock ticking toward spring training, it appears he won’t be getting anywhere near that 300 million price tag.

This past week, ESPN’s Buster Olney and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the White Sox offered Machado a seven year contract worth 175 million dollars, far below what he and his agent are seeking. Manny’s agent, Dan Lozano, released a statement calling out Olney and Nightengale for “inaccurate and reckless” rumors.

The Phillies and White Sox appear to be the better fits for Machado, and are more likely to offer more money than the more fiscally responsible Yankees of recent years. But if it would take “only” 175 million dollars and seven years to bring him to the Bronx (Manny’s reportedly preferred destination), should Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman pull the trigger and put him in Yankee Pinstripes? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

PROS:

  • Manny would be an upgrade in the field over current third baseman Miguel Andújar. This is a fact. He makes a lot of plays most third-basemen can’t make. Even though I am a believer in Andújar, and believe he will be much better, Machado is far and away the better defender right now. It’s not close.
  • Manny’s bat. While Andújar had a great offensive season, finishing 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting (many think he should have won, including myself), Manny had his best offensive season of his career, hitting .297 with 37 HR’s and 107 RBI. He set career highs in almost every category, and figures to get even better.
  • Machado is still only 26 years old. If the Yankees can land him with a deal similar to what the White Sox allegedly offered him, it would be a great deal that ensures the Yankees getting him for his prime years through the duration of the contract.

CONS:

  • If Yankees sign Machado, I will make an assumption that it will be to play 3rd base. Even though Didi Gregorius is going to be a free agent after 2019, I believe the Yankees see Didi as the team’s shortstop now and into the future. If that is the case, will Manny be happy at third? He told then-Orioles skipper Buck Showalter late in 2017 that he wanted to return to his “natural position” of shortstop for the 2018 season, which of course he did. He could fill in at short in New York while Didi recovers from Tommy John surgery, but would certainly play 3rd base after Gregorius comes back (probably around the All Star Break. But will his heart be there?

Of course, Manny would have at least 175 million reasons to not mind playing third-base, and he’s better at third, anyway. That said, the Yankees have already made moves that seem to indicate they aren’t planning on Machado coming to the Bronx. Just after New Year’s Day, they signed veteran Troy Tulowitzki to a one year deal for the league minimum salary. Earlier this week, they added DJ LeMahieu and was told to “bring a lot of gloves” to spring training. And they still have infielder Tyler Wade, who deserves a fair shot with the big club. Wade has 124 career at-bats, and despite what many think, it’s a small sample-size and he is a very good fielder.

Andújar has been working all offseason to improve his glove-work, as he does every winter.

Anything can still happen, but it appears the Yankees have their infield pretty well set and although they did it without the “big splash”, the roster was assembled responsibly.

 

UPDATE: Apparently Machado’s dad let out word of a potential mystery team. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the Washington Nationals. If they are losing Bryce Harper as anticipated, they need to replace his bat. They could potentially shift Trea Turner to second base, making room in the infield for Manny.

 

Jack Morris: The Definition of an Ace

Jack Morris has had a busy summer. The former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, and this afternoon he had his number 47 retired by the Tigers, ensuring that no Tiger player will ever wear the 254 game winner’s number ever again.

I began watching baseball regularly in 1983, about the same time Morris’ name began to be associated with other top starting pitchers of the day. I watched every game pitched, as long as the game was televised. He became more of a strikeout pitcher under the tutelage of then-Tigers pitching coach Roger Craig, who taught his pitchers how to throw a split-finger fastball. This pitch, which became known as a “splitter”, has the same action as a fastball coming out of the hand, but drops suddenly just before reaching the plate. A properly thrown splitter will cause the hitter to swing over top of the ball, and Morris perfected this pitch to his advantage.

Morris won 20 games for the first time in his career in ’83, and started 1984 off with a bang. In his second start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. At the time, the White Sox were no slouches, having come off a 99 win season in ’83, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in that year’s ALCS.

 

Morris’ no-hitter was the first one I ever saw on TV, and it was so exciting to watch. I was barely a teenager watching NBC’s “Saturday Game of the Week” , with legendary broadcasters Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola making the call. Not many games were shown on TV in those days the way they are today. NBC chose to cover this game in advance, as future Hall of Famer and new White Sox starter Tom Seaver was originally slated to make his debut with the team. However, a rain-out changed things, bumping all Chicago starters back a day.

The Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 games, and they ran away with the AL East Division in 1984. They went on to win the World Series, beating the San Diego Padres four games to one. Morris went on to win 198 games in a Tigers uniform, starting 34 or more games in six of his last seven seasons in Detroit. However, 1984 was the only year he won a ring with the Tigers.

Jack became a free agent after the 1990 season. On February 5, 1991, he signed a one year deal with the Minnesota Twins, getting an opportunity to play for his hometown team, having been born and raised in St. Paul. 1991 would prove to be memorable for the Twins and Morris. They won 95 games that year, and Jack did his part, winning 18 games, logging almost 250 innings en route to the playoffs. He made five starts in the postseason, winning four of them. Morris started Game 7 of the ’91 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, matching zeroes with future fellow Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The Twins’ workhorse threw 126 pitches over 10 innings, when Minnesota pinch hitter Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden, ending the game and the World Series. Morris’ 10 inning shutout became his defining moment and cemented his legacy forever.

 

 

But his career in Minnesota would prove to be “one and done”, as Morris again became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Benefiting in large part to Toronto’s generous offense, Morris would win 21 games in 1992, marking the first time any Blue Jays starter would win 20 games or more. Despite a relatively high ERA of 4.04, he would come in fifth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Morris did pitch 240.2 innings, the 11th season he would reach that threshold in his career.

The Blue Jays would reach the postseason in ’92 and eventually went on to win the World Series four games to two over Atlanta. To help get them there, Toronto rode Morris hard in the second half of the season. He threw 127 innings over his last 18 starts of 1992, an average of just over seven innings/start, which would be unheard of today. But the 37 year old workhorse seemed to wear down, as he allowed 19 runs in 23 postseason innings. Still, Morris had another World Series Championship.

 

Jack Morris Boomer Wells.jpeg

In 1993, he would earn yet another ring as the Blue Jays won 95 games and the AL East, going on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games. Joe Carter became Toronto’s Game 7 hero as he hit a walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays back to back championships. Personally, Morris had the worst season of his career, going 7-12 with an ERA of 6.19. Age and injury seemed to catch up to him.

The Blue Jays released Morris from his contract on November 5, 1993, making him a free agent. He would pitch one more season, going 10-6 for the Cleveland Indians with a ERA of 5.60 in 1994 before being released on August 9, a mere three days before a player’s strike wiped out the rest of that season. Morris went to spring training in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds in a final attempt to catch on with a MLB team, but retired shortly afterward.

This writer believes the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee made the right call by inducting Jack Morris into the Hall (along with former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell). He didn’t have the gaudiest of numbers, but he won ballgames and gave his teams a lot of innings. He just seemed to WIN. Morris pitched 3,824 innings over his career, over 549 appearances. That’s an average of 6.97 innings every time he took the mound. He’s the guy I would want standing on the mound in a “must win game”.