Pictured: Khris Davis
Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images North America

Houston Astros

Though their quest to repeat as World Series champions went unfulfilled in 2018, the Astros assembled their greatest starting rotation in franchise history and set a club record for regular-season wins.

In 2019, Houston’s proverbial window remains wide open, even after losing three starting pitchers. Offensive regression from a historic 2017 pace was offset by the incredible pitching the Astros received. Getting the heart of their once-potent lineup back to full health, while relying on their plethora of pitching prospects to fill a noticeable void, will key their quest for a third straight American League West title.

Los Angeles Angels

The Los Angeles Angels are entering a new era: After 19 seasons, Mike Scioscia will no longer be the manager. In 39 years before Scioscia became their manager, the Angels averaged 76.6 wins per full season, had only 12 winning seasons and made the playoffs three times (without winning a series). In 19 seasons under Scioscia, the Angels averaged 86.8 wins, had 12 winning seasons, made the playoffs seven times and won the franchise’s only World Series title (2002). The challenge now shifts to new manager Brad Ausmus to make the most out of a roster that includes baseball’s best player (Mike Trout) and its most unique (Shohei Ohtani) but probably not enough pitching to be more than a fringe contender.

Oakland Athletics

A year ago at this time, the A’s were just another rebuilding team. And then the games were played in earnest, and the team showed muscle and perseverance. A 97-win season and a strong second-place finish got them a Wild Card berth. And now, with the 2019 season upon us, Oakland is a team that still factors strongly in the American League West. 

The A’s are going to have to get their starting rotation together, or maybe not. Manager Bob Melvin looked positively adroit at using an “opener.” Last year it was done because of injuries that crippled the rotation, but in 2019 it will be no surprise if the A’s stay with the opener concept simply because they’ve shown they can make it work. And, yes, many of the same players who were injured last year are injured still, including some of the organization’s best arms.

The A’s will continue to lean on their power and defense. In the cases of third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, they have both qualities. In Khris Davis, they have a year-in, year-out contender for the homer title, and they have depth in power — eight players in double figures for homers last year and five with 20 or more bombs.

Three-quarters of the infield — shortstop Marcus Semien in addition to Chapman and Olson — were in Gold Glove range last year, and the outfield is in good shape, too, with Ramon Laureano and Stephen Piscotty. But there is no answer yet as to a real replacement for catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners’ postseason drought, which dates back to 2001 — the longest active streak without a playoff appearance for any of the four major sports in North America — will likely continue for another season. It’s an outcome they are willing to accept in hopes of more sustained success in the years to come. 

As part of a rebuild — GM Jerry Dipoto is calling it a “stepback” — the Mariners culled the roster of several players in their 30s who had expensive contracts or were in their final years of arbitration and headed for free agency. Beginning in early November, Dipoto made nine trades that removed nine contributing players from the Mariners’ 25-man roster, including top pitcher James Paxton, closer Edwin Diaz, shortstop Jean Segura, catcher Mike Zunino and second baseman Robinson Cano. Dipoto admits the team likely won’t match the 89 wins of last season, but will the Mariners even win 70 games in 2019?

Texas Rangers

Two years of going for it and another with the best intentions — if not the all-in financial expenditures — led the Texas Rangers to a point of no return last season. By June, the decision was made that the Rangers would be rebuilding, and 2019 will be more of the same from the team that won back-to-back American League West titles in 2015-16.

And the Rangers get to do it without Adrian Beltre.

Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

MLB InGame Showdowns

Another two games are set for InGame action.  A maximum of 5 swaps are allowed in this contest with play time of 5 consecutive minutes necessary before a starting player can be benched. Each entry will receive 2 Power Multiplier which can be applied to any starting player to receive 2x points for a duration of 15 minutes respectively. Check out the matchups previews below and play.

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Giants at Nationals Preview

Max Scherzer is bidding to win his third consecutive National League Cy Young Award and is threatening to turn the race into a runaway as he goes for his major league-leading 11th win on Sunday in the finale of a three-game series against the visiting San Francisco Giants. Scherzer has won nine consecutive decisions, including a 10-strikeout effort at San Francisco on April 25.

The Nationals leveled the series with a 7-5 victory Saturday, sparked by the return of leadoff hitter Adam Eaton, who scored twice in his first game since April 8. Bryce Harper became the first player in the NL to reach 19 homers, ending a seven-game drought in which he struck out 14 times and failed to register an extra-base hit. The Giants were unable to overcome an early five-run deficit in Saturday’s setback but they have amassed 14 runs and 26 hits in the series. Catcher Nick Hundley had a three-run homer and RBI double as San Francisco lost for only the second time in its last nine games.

TV: 4:05 p.m. ET, NBCS Bay Area (San Francisco), MASN2 (Washington)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Giants LH Derek Holland (3-6, 4.91 ERA) vs. Nationals RH Max Scherzer (10-1, 1.95)

Holland has failed to pitch beyond five innings in seven of his 12 starts and lasted only four innings last time out, settling for a no-decision after giving up two runs and four hits against Arizona. His road ERA (4.50) is a more than a run lower than at AT&T Park (5.55) but he also has served up seven homers in 38 innings away from home. Eaton is 2-for-5 against Holland, who will make his first career start versus Washington.

Scherzer won his third straight start with eight overpowering innings against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, striking out 13 and allowing two runs on five hits. It marked the ninth time he has recorded at least 10 strikeouts, including 12 in eight scoreless innings at Baltimore on May 30. Scherzer has split eight career decisions against the Giants, but he has shackled Andrew McCutchen, who is 4-for-25 with 14 strikeouts.

WALK-OFFS

1. Washington placed RHP Stephen Strasburg on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

2. McCutchen has five two-hit contests during a six-game hitting streak.

3. Nationals RHP Brandon Kintzler will undergo an MRI exam after exiting Saturday’s game due to forearm tightness.

Royals at Athletics Preview

The Oakland Athletics will try to bounce back from a shutout loss and claim another series win over the visiting Kansas City Royals when the teams complete a four-game set Sunday afternoon. Danny Duffy and two relievers combined on a four-hit shutout in the Royals’ 2-0 win in the third game of the set Saturday.

It was Kansas City’s second win in six matchups with Oakland – all of which have taken place in June. Alex Gordon slugged a solo homer to back Duffy’s dominant effort as the Royals snapped a six-game losing streak. They’ll aim for their first winning streak of the month behind right-hander Brad Keller, who opposes Sean Manaea for the Athletics. Matt Chapman had three of Oakland’s four hits in Saturday’s loss and is 10-for-22 in the six matchups with Kansas City this month.

TV: 4:05 p.m. ET, FS Kansas City, NBCS California (Oakland)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Royals RH Brad Keller (1-2, 2.12 ERA) vs. Athletics LH Sean Manaea (5-6, 3.59)

Keller is making the most of his opportunity in the rotation, allowing two runs over 7 1/3 innings over back-to-back starts. That comes after 21 relief appearances in which he posted a 2.01 ERA. The 22-year-old, who is facing Oakland for the first time, has allowed two runs on seven hits in 12 2/3 innings during day games.

Manaea failed to get through six innings in each of his last four starts after doing so in seven of his first nine. He is winless during the four-game slump while sporting an ERA of 7.58 and the 26-year-old gave up at least four runs in three consecutive home starts. Manaea threw five innings and combined with three relievers in a four-hit shutout at Kansas City in their only prior matchup in 2016.

WALK-OFFS

1. Royals RF Jorge Soler (toe) was out of the lineup and is day-to-day.

2. Athletics 2B Jed Lowrie is 0-for-12 with five strikeouts over his last three games.

3. Oakland is 25-18 when the opposition starts a right-hander, compared to 8-14 against lefties.

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Posted in MLB

MLB InGame Showdowns

Another two games are set for InGame action.  A maximum of 5 swaps are allowed in this contest with play time of 5 consecutive minutes necessary before a starting player can be benched. Each entry will receive 2 Power Multiplier which can be applied to any starting player to receive 2x points for a duration of 15 minutes respectively. Check out the matchups previews below and play.

Orioles at Red Sox Preview

J.D. Martinez has been everything the Boston Red Sox hoped for when they signed him to a $110 million deal this offseason, and the slugger will try to stay hot when he leads his team into the opener of a four-game series with the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Thursday. Martinez slugged a two-run homer and scored twice in Wednesday’s 6-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics, giving him seven long balls in the past 14 contests.

The triumph allowed the Red Sox to avoid being swept for the first time this year while improving to 13-1 in series finales. The Orioles averaged 8.5 runs during a 5-1 surge before they were limited to four hits in a 4-1 loss to Philadelphia at home Wednesday afternoon. They’ll give the ball to red-hot right-hander Kevin Gausman in the series opener opposite Red Sox lefty David Price. Boston carries a six-game winning streak over Baltimore into Thursday’s contest, which is the makeup for an April 16 rainout.

TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MASN (Baltimore), NESN (Boston)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Orioles RH Kevin Gausman (3-2, 3.18 ERA) vs. Red Sox LH David Price (3-4, 4.89)

Since allowing six runs in four innings of his season debut, Gausman is 3-1 with a 2.30 ERA over a span of seven starts. He followed up nine scoreless frames at Oakland two turns ago with 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball in a win over Tampa Bay on Friday. Mookie Betts is 12-for-29 with three home runs against the former first-round pick, who is 4-6 with a 3.83 ERA in his career versus Boston.

Price had eight days off between his last two starts, during which he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, and then won at Toronto on Saturday with 5 1/3 solid innings. The former Cy Young Award winner gave up 10 runs (nine earned) in 6 2/3 innings over his last two outings at Fenway Park. Danny Valencia is 13-for-22 with five walks against Price, who dominated the Orioles through seven innings in their lone encounter last year and has a 2.81 ERA in 25 career meetings.

WALK-OFFS

1. Boston won the first three meetings in 2018 by a combined score of 20-7.

2. Martinez has reached safely in a career-high 21 straight games.

3. Baltimore CF Adam Jones homered for team’s only run in Wednesday’s loss while extending his hitting streak to 11 games.

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Athletics at Blue Jays Preview

The Toronto Blue Jays hope to build off an offensive explosion last time out when they open a four-game series against the visiting Oakland Athletics on Thursday night. The Blue Jays recorded 15 hits, including seven for extra bases, in a 12-1 victory at the New York Mets on Wednesday afternoon to snap a three-game losing streak and sneak back over the .500 mark (22-21).

Justin Smoak (six RBIs in his last four outings) and Teoscar Hernandez (7-for-20 during his five-game hitting streak) each went deep while Richard Urena launched a three-run blast for Toronto on Wednesday after it managed seven runs the previous three contests. Aaron Sanchez will try to follow up a strong outing from J.A. Happ with another when he takes the mound for the Blue Jays in the series opener and Oakland counters with fellow right-hander Andrew Triggs, who has 42 strikeouts over 39 innings this year. The Athletics started a difficult nine-game stretch by losing five of six against Houston and the New York Yankees before winning two of three at Boston, but dropped the finale 6-4 on Wednesday. Marcus Semien homered in that contest and is 10-for-29 with six RBIs during a six-game hitting streak for Oakland.

TV: 7:07 p.m. ET, MLB Network, Sportsnet (Toronto)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Athletics RH Andrew Triggs (3-1, 5.31 ERA) vs. Blue Jays RH Aaron Sanchez (2-3, 4.08)

Triggs has alternated strong and rough starts over his past six appearances after getting touched up for six runs over 4 1/3 innings at the Yankees last Saturday in a no-decision. The 29-year-old USC product owns two quality starts in his last four trips to the mound and limited opponents to two or fewer runs in five of eight overall. Josh Donaldson is 1-for-1 versus Triggs, who allowed two hits and one unearned run in one inning during his only career outing against Toronto.

Sanchez threw just 60 of 96 pitches for strikes last time out against Boston, permitting three runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks over five innings in a no-decision. The 25-year-old California native had a stretch of four straight quality starts before giving up 11 runs (eight earned) over 14 2/3 innings across his last three appearances. Sanchez, who is 0-1 in four starts at home in 2018, yielded six runs over 6 1/3 innings in three career appearances versus Oakland.

WALK-OFFS

1. The Athletics will place C Bruce Maxwell (legal issues) on the restricted list for the Toronto series and recall C Josh Phegley.

2. The Blue Jays won five of the seven meetings in the series last season, including all four in Toronto.

3. Toronto recalled RHP Danny Barnes and optioned RHP Deck McGuire to Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday.

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Posted in MLB

Athletics at Mariners Preview

The Seattle Mariners look to continue their winning ways at the expense of a division rival as they host the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday for the middle contest of their three-game set. Seattle has won three in a row and six of its last seven after posting a 6-3 victory in the series opener.

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Dee Gordon went 5-for-5 with two stolen bases while Nelson Cruz belted a three-run homer for the Mariners, who won two of three against Oakland at home in mid-April. The Athletics registered only four hits en route to their third consecutive defeat, which dropped them to 3-4 on their nine-game road trip. Jed Lowrie hit a solo homer in the setback, giving him at least one RBI in 11 of his last 15 games. Mark Canha has recorded a hit in 11 of his last 12 contests after delivering an RBI single on Tuesday,

TV: 10:10 p.m. ET, NBCS California (Oakland), ROOT Northwest (Seattle)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Athletics LH Brett Anderson (2017: 4-4, 6.34 ERA) vs. Mariners LH James Paxton (1-1, 5.12)

Anderson will be brought up from Triple-A Nashville to make his season debut as he begins the second tour of duty with Oakland. The 30-year-old Texan, who spent his first five years in the majors with the Athletics, split last campaign between Toronto and the Chicago Cubs. Anderson owns an 8-4 record and 1.90 ERA in 15 career starts and one relief appearance against Seattle.

Paxton has not lost since his season debut against Cleveland on March 31, but he has recorded just one victory in five starts during the stretch. The 29-year-old Canadian is coming off a no-decision at Cleveland on Thursday in which he allowed two runs and five hits while registering a career high-tying 10 strikeouts in six innings. Paxton has yet to lose to the Athletics, going 3-0 with a 3.96 ERA in six career starts.

WALK-OFFS

1. Athletics SS Marcus Semien has hit safely in eight of his last nine games.

2. The Mariners placed RHPs Erasmo Ramirez and Dan Altavilla on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder injuries on Tuesday and recalled OF Guillermo Heredia and RHP Casey Lawrence from Triple-A Tacoma.

3. Oakland and Seattle will begin next season with a two-game series in Tokyo, with the Athletics serving as the home team in both contests.

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Posted in MLB

What to cheer for in 2018 for non-Astros fans

Like the gunslingers of generations past, the Houston Astros are a force to be reckoned with out west – specifically, the American League West – and anyone who dares trifle with the reigning champs, emboldened by their first-ever World Series title and trigger-happy one-through-nine, will be swiftly vanquished.

Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ longtime general manager, knows it, too.

“I think we got a better team this year than we did last year,” Luhnow told MLB Network Radio.

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Conservatively, the Astros are going to win 95 games in 2018, and the two most prominent, publicly available projection models – FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus – have pegged them to finish closer to 100. Between Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Alex Bregman, the Astros boast a trove of MVPs, recognized or not, while their ostensible worst starter, Charlie Morton, finished tied for 22nd in the majors in WAR last season, ahead of Robbie Ray and Ervin Santana – both of whom earned All-Star nominations. Tanking may be a contemptible practice, but the Astros’ burgeoning dynasty isn’t exactly a cautionary tale.

So what, then, can the rest of the AL West get up for in 2018, knowing that the Astros’ second straight division title is practically preordained? It’s still March, after all, and hope springs eternal at this time of year, but is there any reason for excitement in Anaheim, Seattle, Oakland, or Arlington? Well, of course there is!

Los Angeles Angels – Sho-time!

For the first time in years, the Angels actually have a pretty decent team behind Mike Trout thanks to a fine offseason of wheeling, dealing, and Shohei Ohtani-reeling from general manager Billy Eppler. It was so good, in fact, that the Angels, even with glaring deficiencies in their rotation, are some observers’ favorite for the second American League wild-card berth (although, in fairness, the league’s glut of non-competitive teams has helped their prospects in a big way, too).

Irrespective of their postseason chances, though, the Angels are going to be an unbelievably fun team to follow this year, seeing as they now have the game’s best player (Trout) and its most compelling attraction (Ohtani). Trout, the two-time MVP who managed a career-best 1.071 OPS (187 OPS+) in 2017, is never not entertaining, after all, and it should be both fascinating and frustrating watching manager Mike Scioscia try to incorporate Ohtani into the offense on his non-pitching days; his starts, meanwhile, at least at the outset of the campaign, will be appointment viewing, his unimpressive spring notwithstanding.

Seattle Mariners – Ichiro’s return

Typically, at this time of year, pundits are heaping praise on Jerry Dipoto for the 742 marginal moves he brokered over the preceding winter months and picking the Mariners’ as a wild-card team. This year, however, while only the most optimistic prognosticators have the Mariners sneaking into the postseason, Dipoto should be anointed Executive of the Year for repatriating Ichiro Suzuki, the 44-year-old legend who, following an extended sojourn in Miami (via New York), has returned to Seattle on a one-year deal.

Now, is there a quantitative argument to be made that Ichiro’s roster spot should go to someone who can actually improve the Mariners’ remote playoff chances? I mean, sure. But do you want to be the person who craps all over his long-awaited return to the Mariners, the club that brought him over from Japan back in 2001 and watched him bloom into an eventual first-ballot Hall of Famer? Don’t be that person. And to you, Mariners fans, rather than bemoan another middling season and the continuation of the longest playoff drought in the majors, just relish this final summer with Ichiro. Head down to Safeco early to watch him smack BP homers. Give him a standing ovation before every at-bat. Shower him with praise after every spectacular catch. Because he’ll be gone before you know it, and this time for good.

Oakland Athletics – Prospects, prospects, prospects!

Languishing in a perpetual rebuild is no way to live, and while the A’s are once again poised to field one of the worst teams in the majors in 2018, at least a few of their most prized prospects are expected to spend considerable time with the big-league club this year.

Of the three A’s prospects on the recent Top 100 list at MLB.com, for example, the most highly regarded position player, 22-year-old Franklin Barreto, has already made his big-league debut and is expected to be Oakland’s everyday shortstop this year after hitting .290/.339/.456 with 15 homers and 15 stolen bases at Triple-A in 2017. A.J. Puk, meanwhile, received at least semi-serious consideration for a rotation spot this spring despite making just 13 starts above High-A in 2017, his first full professional season, in which he struck out a whopping 34.5 percent of opposing hitters; if all goes well, the 6-foot-7 left-hander will make his A’s debut in June, after the club has manipulated his service time to the point that he won’t be eligible for a fourth year of salary arbitration. Finally, Jorge Mateo, a speedy shortstop acquired from the New York Yankees in the Sonny Gray trade, could also find himself in Oakland come July, as the 22-year-old hit .296/.357/.521 with eight homers, 14 doubles, and 10 triples with 24 stolen bases in 60 games at Double-A last season. (Honorable mention goes to roster hopeful Dustin Fowler, another gem acquired in the Gray deal, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in his MLB debut with the Yankees before getting shipped to Oakland.) It’s easy to be cynical in Oakland, of course, given the club’s track record, but the wealth of impact talent on the horizon is reason for optimism.

Texas Rangers – Beltre’s potential swan song

When it comes to the venerable elder statesmen of the AL West, Ichiro is definitely the straight man, all austere and regimented, and Adrian Beltre is his zany foil, a Cooperstown-bound goofball whose talents are (almost) as compelling as his hilarious antics. Sadly, not unlike Ichiro, Beltre’s future beyond 2018 remains murky, as he turns 39 in a few weeks and his contract expires at season’s end. If he wants to keep playing, he probably will – last year, though he played only 94 games, Beltre still managed a .915 OPS (135 OPS+) – but it’d be presumptuous to think the four-time All-Star will definitely be back in Arlington next year, swatting home runs from down on one knee and horsing around with Elvis Andrus.

As such, while Rangers fans can invest their emotional currency, if they so choose, in what’s likely to be an unrealized wild-card run, they would probably be better served just coming out to the ballpark to enjoy the terrific theater that is Beltre, a walking GIF who messes with anybody and everybody on the diamond (umpires included) and happens to have 3,048 hits and 462 home runs on his resume. And, for at least one more season, he’s all yours, Rangers fans. Cherish him.

Posted in MLB