Results tagged ‘ Tigers ’
Angels shortstop Erick Aybar was out of the starting lineup, as expected, on Friday, one day after tweaking his left hamstring while running up the first-base line.
Aybar felt just “a pinch” in his leg, and he hopes to return as early as Saturday.
“I woke up feeling better,” Aybar said in Spanish. “I won’t do anything today. Tomorrow, I’ll run. If I’m fine, I’ll just play tomorrow.”
Aybar’s absence prompted young utility infielder Taylor Featherston to start at shortstop and second baseman Johnny Giavotella to move into the leadoff spot.
Aybar, who started each of the Angels’ first 48 games at shortstop, suffered the hamstring injury after executing a squeeze bunt in Thursday’s fifth inning. He jogged back to the dugout gingerly and asked to return to the game, but Featherston took his place the next half-inning. He wanted to start Friday, but the Angels told him to take the day off entirely.
They’ll continue to be cautious.
“He has to get to a level the medical department is comfortable with before we consider working him out to see where he is and getting him into a game,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “… When he pulls up, you’re racing in your mind. ‘Is this something where he’s just going to have to come out for this game, or is it going to be a month?’ You just never know with hamstrings. It seems like we’re in the day-to-day range right now.”
The Angels’ offense – 22nd in the Majors in runs per game and 27th in OPS despite a 12-run output on Thursday – can ill afford to lose Aybar for an extended period. The 31-year-old switch-hitter has been hitting .351 since May 8 and had settled in as the Angels’ leadoff spot over the last 11 days.
Giavotella can continue to lead off in Aybar’s place, though Scioscia brought up the possibility of Kole Calhoun returning to the leadoff spot if the left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce stays hot. Featherston will get the majority of playing time at shortstop while Aybar heals and Grant Green can also fill in.
If Aybar does go on the disabled list, the Angels would call up Josh Rutledge or Ryan Jackson from Triple-A.
Asked about the chances of that happening, Aybar said: “I feel good; I don’t think so. I can’t tell you for sure because it’s a hamstring. But I feel good, thankfully.”
- Matt Shoemaker, undrafted out of Eastern Michigan University seven years ago, had his own bobblehead giveaway at Angel Stadium on Friday. The 28-year-old right-hander called it “an honor. It’s really humbling and an honor at the same time to say, ‘Hey, they wanted to make a bobblehead out of you.’ Pretty special.”
- Right-handed reliever Chad Smith was claimed off waivers by the Marlins on Friday. The Angels signed Smith, 25, on May 8, then designated him for assignment on Wednesday to make room on the 40-man roster for outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
- Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher returned to the team on Friday, after taking a couple days off to be with his daughter while she graduated high school. Triple-A pitching coach Erik Bennett filled for Butcher.
- The organization will host 1,900 at-risk students at Angel Stadium on Monday, as part of an ongoing effort to keep children out of gangs. The kids got the invitation as a reward for improved school attendance and behavior and for staying out of gangs. It represents the largest group ever to attend an Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (OC GRIP) Angels game.
Angels shortstop Erick Aybar felt some tightness in his left hamstring while running down the first-base line in the fifth inning, prompting him to exit Thursday’s 12-2 win early.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he doesn’t expect Aybar to go on the disabled list, “but we will definitely make sure that he’s 100 percent before he gets back in our lineup.”
That could take at least a couple days.
“We can’t stress how important he is to our club,” Scioscia added, “so we have to err on the side of caution with him.”
Aybar, who has started each of the Angels’ first 48 games at shortstop, felt his hamstring grab on him while executing a squeeze bunt in the bottom of the fifth and jogged gingerly back to the dugout, prompting him to get replaced by Taylor Featherston in the top of the sixth.
The 31-year-old switch-hitter was batting .344 since May 3 and had settled into the Angels’ leadoff spot.
If Aybar ultimately has to miss an extended period, the Angels could probably call up Josh Rutledge or Ryan Jackson from Triple-A Salt Lake. One of them would share the position with Featherston, though Grant Green could also get some starts at shortstop, and Johnny Giavotella could be a candidate to bat leadoff.
“This guy’s as important as you want to talk about on our team,” Scioscia said of Aybar, who’s expected to at the very least miss Friday’s game.
A lot of season remains and a lot can still happen, but if the schedule ended today, the Angels would easily have the second-best record in the Majors – they were five games better than the third-place Tigers when play began Tuesday – and still their season would come down to one game.
It’s the misfortune that comes with playing in the same division as baseball’s best team – the A’s, who the Angels trail by 1 1/2 games – and it’s the bad timing of playing in an era with two Wild Card teams in each league.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has long been a proponent of divisional play, believing teams that win their division should have clear advantages over those that make the playoffs as a Wild Card. And the fact that his club is on the other side of that isn’t making him change his stance.
“I think the weight that is on winning a division is warranted,” Scioscia said prior to the series opener from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “I think that if you’re going to have divisional baseball, you have to really make winning a division the first objective of any team that’s contending. And if you don’t quite reach that goal, and you play well enough, then you have the opportunity to work your way into the playoffs.”
One alternative to a team running into the scenario the Angels are currently in is to extend the Wild Card into a three-game series, but Scioscia said that would penalize the division winners because “you will lose your edge, no doubt about it, with that much time off.”
Another would be to eliminate divisional play, which the Angels’ long-time skipper doesn’t like. And a more unconventional one would be to have four divisions, something Scioscia floated out as a possibility if more expansion takes place.
The ladder isn’t necessarily feasible right now, which makes the current goal pretty simple.
“Win your division,” Scioscia said. “Let’s just put it that way.”
Some notes from today …
- C.J. Wilson gave up two runs in 5 1/3 innings in a rehab start for Double-A Arkansas on Monday, scattering four hits, waling two and striking out seven. His ankle feels good, and he should be lined up to start this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., but Scioscia wants to wait until Wilson gets through his bullpen to make any determinations. Wilson also discovered some tightness in his left hip that was limiting a flexibility, a problem he fixed and an issue he believes will get him back on track.
- Josh Hamilton moved from left field to designated hitter, but it wasn’t injury related. Hamilton didn’t get much sleep while flying to North Carolina to deal with a family emergency in his native North Carolina.
- Grant Green (lower back) and Collin Cowgill (thumb, nose) stayed in Arizona rehabbing.
- Mike Trout is currently in Baltimore, which is about a two-hour drive from his hometown of Millville, N.J., but he doesn’t expect a huge crowd. Trout said he left like 15 tickets.
Kole Calhoun, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Efren Navarro, DH
David Freese, 3B
Hank Conger, C
SP: RH Jered Weaver (11-6, 3.36 ERA)
The only pitchers who have struck out Trout more often are Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and Rangers ace Yu Darvish. Both have fanned him 11 times. But both are division rivals who face him a lot more frequently (Trout has 40 career plate appearances against Darvish and 52 against Hernandez), and Trout has actually hit them well (1.063 OPS against Hernandez, 1.076 OPS against Darvish).
After Thursday’s 4-2 loss against the Tigers, Trout is now 3-for-16 in his career against Scherzer (albeit with a home run). Among the 16 other pitchers who have faced him more than 15 times, only six (Joe Saunders, A.J. Griffin, Matt Harrison, Dallas Keuchel, Tommy Milone and Hisashi Iwakuma) have held the Angels’ phenom to a batting average below .290. And none have come anywhere close to striking him out as frequently as the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
The biggest reason, perhaps: Scherzer is as good as anyone at changing the eye level of hitters, and is particularly dominant in the upper half of the strike zone. Trout’s weakness comes in the upper half of the zone. And though Scherzer hasn’t necessarily attached Trout chest-high, the threat is always there, and it’s hard to hit his fastball-changeup combination when you can’t sit on a particular zone.
Scherzer’s response, when asked about his approach against Trout …
“Attack him. You have to go after him. I absolutely respect everything he does on a baseball field and what he does at the plate. But when you face really good hitters, the elite hitters, like that, you have to be even more aggressive with them. You have to go right after them and make your pitches. He’s hit a home run, he’s had success off me, but when I have success against him is when I take the aggressive approach with him.”
Albert Pujols hit his 497th home run, Howie Kendrick went deep twice, five players had multiple extra-base hits and Jered Weaver bounced back with six innings of one-run ball — but John McDonald somehow stole the show, diving to his left and somehow completing a throw while tumbling, then ending the game on a heads-up, unassisted double play.
Here are some other side notes from Friday night’s win, with some numbers courtesy of the Angels’ PR department …
- Pujols still doesn’t want to get into his chase for 500 homers. A reporter tried to ask him post game, and he cut off the question mid-sentence saying, “I’m not talking about it.”
- This was only Kendrick’s 13th career start at designated hitter. He said he hit in the cage twice during the game, but mainly likes to sit in the dugout “because it feels like you’re in the game.”
- Ian Stewart fell a homer shy of the cycle, and was in the hole when the Angels made their last out on offense. And he wanted that at-bat. “Oh, I wanted it as much as any at-bat I’ve ever had,” Stewart said. “I think I would’ve tried for it, I guess. Just being honest. Depending on the score, of course.”
- Josh Wall, the reason Ernesto Frieri even pitched the ninth inning, is the first Angel to be charged with five or more earned runs since Donnie Wall (no relation) on April 22, 2002, against the Mariners. He’s only the 13th pitcher (and first Angel) in the last 100 years to do that in his first game with a team.
- The Angels’ 27 homers are the most through 16 games in team history.
Angels third baseman David Freese was scratched from the Angels’ lineup on Friday, hours before the series opener against the Tigers from Comerica Park. Freese is experiencing tightness in his right quad, an injury Angels manager Mike Scioscia doesn’t deem serious.
The 30-year-old enters the Angels’ nine-game, three-city road trip with the third-lowest OPS among qualifiers (.414) and has struck out 15 times in 13 games.
“We’re going to monitor it and see if he’ll be available today, maybe, to do something, but right now we don’t want to start him,” Scioscia said. “It doesn’t look serious right now.”
Earlier today, the Angels optioned left-hander (and former Tiger) Jose Alvarez to Triple-A Salt Lake and brought up power right-hander Josh Wall. Scioscia said the Angels “want Jose Alvarez to go down there and get stretched out, because he is in our depth chart as a starter, and Josh is throwing the ball well. It’s a nice power right-handed arm and we’ll see where he fits in.”
Here are the lineups …
Collin Cowgill, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Howie Kendrick, DH
Chris Iannetta, C
Erick Aybar, SS
J.B. Shuck, LF
John McDonald, 2B
Ian Stewart, 3B
SP: RH Jered Weaver (0-2, 5.79 ERA)
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Torii Hunter, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Austin Jackson, CF
Don Kelly, 3B
Alex Avila, C
Andrew Romine, SS
Rajai Davis, LF
LH: Drew Smyly (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
A strong belief in one’s roster is usually followed by a phrase like “as long as we stay healthy.”
Well, the American League West is anything but to start the season. The Rangers are littered with injuries, with starter Derek Holland (right knee), second baseman Jurickson Profar (right shoulder) and catcher Geovany Soto (knee) all out until midseason and Yu Darvish (neck) starting the year on the disabled list. A’s Opening Day starter Jarrod Parker will miss all of 2014 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin (right flexor muscle strain) is on the shelf. And the Mariners — in town the next three days — have two starters on the DL in Hisashi Iwakuma (right middle finger) and Taijuan Walker (right shoulder).
The door is wide open for the Angels.
They’ve had the fourth-worst April winning percentage the last two years, crippling any chances they had of reaching the playoffs. But of the Angels’ 27 games through the month of April this year, only nine will come against teams that made the playoffs in 2013. Four will come against an Astros team that has lost 100 games three straight years (though, granted, they won 10 of 19 games against the Angels last year), and three will come against the Mets, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006. But there’s one really tough swing — a three-city trip from April 18-27, which will see the Angels visit the Tigers, Nationals and Yankees.
The Angels will also be off in each of their first six Thursdays. Yes, you’d rather have the days off at the end of the year, but a fast start is crucial this year, and those off days certainly won’t hurt that cause.
In hopes of facilitating a better start, the Angels tweaked their Spring Training program. Position players took more swings and focused more on situational hitting. Starting pitchers were stretched out earlier. Relievers attacked their bullpens more aggressively. Live BP was re-introduced after a one-year hiatus. And more shifting is taking place defensively, after the Angels went from 2nd to 27th in Defensive Runs Saved over the course of one season.
One year after having by far the worst Spring Training record and ERA in the Majors, the Angels had a much better camp. Here’s a look at the numbers …
Record: 19-11-2, 2nd in the Cactus League
Runs: 190, 4th in MLB
OPS: .803, 3rd in MLB
SP ERA: 4.01, 11th in MLB
RP WHIP: 4.20, 4th in MLB
Positives from camp: Albert Pujols looked light on his feet around the bag and on the bases. … Josh Hamilton quickly got his timing back after missing time with a strained left hamstring. … Tyler Skaggs was mostly sitting at 95 mph, after having a hard time touching 90 mph last year. … Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun — batting ninth and first, respectively, and ahead of Mike Trout — drew a combined 21 walks. … C.J. Wilson had a 1.88 ERA in 28 2/3 innings. … Ernesto Frieri didn’t allow a run in 10 outings. … Trout batted .414/.460/.828. … The Angels rid themselves of two potential distractions, releasing Joe Blanton and signing Trout to the much-talked-about extension. … Out-of-options infielder Andrew Romine was turned into much-needed starting-pitching depth in Jose Alvarez.
Negatives from camp: Sean Burnett is still working his way back from August surgery, but he’s expected to face hitters for the first time in a sim game on Tuesday or Wednesday. … Dane De La Rosa is starting the season on the DL with a right forearm strain, but he could be back as soon as the weekend series in Houston. … Brian Moran is working his way back from left elbow inflammation, leaving Nick Maronde (1.89 Cactus League WHIP) as the only lefty in the bullpen to start the year. … Skaggs and Hector Santiago had their occasional long innings, an indication that there will be some growing pains. … Newcomers David Freese (one extra-base hit) and Raul Ibanez (.218 batting average) didn’t have great results at the plate, but both were happy with the way they were driving the ball.
Now, what does all this mean for the regular season?
I have no idea.
The Angels’ depth chart can be found here.
Now, if you’ve followed baseball long enough you know that a team never goes an entire season with the same 25-man roster (or even the same five-man rotation). So, here’s a look at who’s next in line at every position …
Catcher: Luis Martinez
Third base: Luis Jimenez
Shortstop: Tommy Field
Second base: Grant Green
First base: C.J. Cron
Left field: J.B. Shuck
Center field: Matt Long
Right field: Brennan Boesch
Starter: Wade LeBlanc or Alvarez
Reliever: Brandon Lyon
On that Trout contract …
For months, many wondered how much Trout would be worth in the open market and speculated what it would cost to lock up the best all-around player in baseball. They put his three arbitration years at upwards of $60 million, had him pegged as a $35 million free agent and believed he could be baseball’s first $300-million player.
But three are three important things to keep in mind about Trout’s situation …
1. He isn’t in his free-agent years yet. He still needed to get through three arbitration years, which greatly limits how much a player can make.
2. Being a $300-million player would’ve probably required a 10-year, contract, and that wouldn’t have been ideal because Trout wants to cash in on another monster contract by hitting the open market before age 30.
3. There’s just as much incentive for Trout as there is for the Angels, no matter how great he is. Why? Because free agency is a whole four years away, a lot can happen in four years, and it’s hard to turn down that much financial security so early.
So, Trout’s contract is $144.5 million over the course of six seasons, from 2015-20 (with a full no-trade clause, basic incentives and no additional option years or opt-outs). And I think it gives both sides what they want. It gives the Angels three additional years of Trout and some cost-certainty. It gives Trout a chance to be a free agent again at age 29 and makes him the highest-paid player relative to service time at every juncture.
Here’s a look at the year-by-year breakdown, and who Trout surpasses …
2014: $1M (Pujols in 2003 and Ryan Howard in ’07 with $900K for a pre-arbitration player)*
2015: $10.25M (Howard, $10M in ’08 for first-year arbitration)**
2016: $15.25M (Howard, $15M in ’09 for second-year arbitration)
2017: $19.25M (Howard, $19M in ’10 for third-year arbitration)
2018-20: $33.25M (Miguel Cabrera, $31M AAV in ’14 for a free agent)
* the $1M compensation was done before the contract
** $5M of that will be paid to Trout in 2014, as part of a signing bonus
Can the Angels stay competitive for the next seven seasons to keep Trout’s interest in the team? (@ryanwjsmyth)
One of the reasons Trout felt comfortable staying with the Angels long term is because he knows the owner, Arte Moreno, isn’t afraid to put his money into making this team competitive. One thing is for sure: The Angels will not be in rebuild mode over the life of Trout’s contract, or even while Moreno is around. But it’ll be harder and harder to stay below the luxury tax and put a World Series-contending product on the field as Hamilton and Pujols naturally decline. Jerry Dipoto has a tough task at hand — continue to build a contending team while also developing young pitching. Getting Santiago and Skaggs is a good start, though. Also, keep in mind: Trout’s decision to stay will be based more on how good the Angels can be after 2020, not necessarily what they’ve done leading up to it.
Will Albert Pujols hit 30+ home runs this season? (@adreamersview)
If healthy, I think you can bank on that. He hit 30 in 2012 even though he went a month and a half without hitting his first (and I don’t expect that to happen again). Plantar fasciitis didn’t just limit his defense and baserunning. It made his right knee, surgically repaired the previous offseason, swell up. And it sapped his power because a hitter is nothing without a healthy base. I’m never going to doubt Pujols’ ability to hit. He’s proven it long enough.
If the Angels make a run for the postseason what do you see them doing at the trade deadline? (@gizmosol)
Trying to get their hands on more starting pitching. Justin Masterson and Max Scherzer are heading into their final seasons before free agency, Cliff Lee and David Price may get shopped, and all sorts of other starters could become available in July. The Angels still have roughly $15 million below the luxury-tax threshold that they’re willing to use. Yes, the farm system is still pretty barren. But the list of teams in the market for a starting-pitching rental in July is usually very short, and the Angels could dangle Cron or Taylor Lindsey or Kaleb Cowart or some of their (few) good pitching prospects if they feel they’re close (and hope for a better result than the 2012 trade for Zack Greinke).
Here are some links to our Opening Day coverage …
Some feature stories from earlier in the spring, in case you missed them …
Weaver leads rotation’s quest for redemption
Pujols, Hamilton facing more doubt than ever
Mike Scioscia eager to reclaim winning formula
John McDonald “a magician” with the glove
The odyssey of De La Rosa, and a lesson in never giving up
Trout can’t believe how fast this is all happening
The Angels traded infielder Andrew Romine to the Tigers in exchange for left-hander Jose Alvarez on Friday.
Romine was competing for the backup infield spot and was out of options. By sending him to a Tigers club that was in need of infield help with shortstop Jose Iglesias potentially missing the entire season with a stress fracture in both legs, veteran John McDonald – acquired on a Minor League contract – is pretty mush assured of making the team as a utility infielder.
Alvarez, 24, appeared in 14 games (six starts) in the Majors last year, posting a 5.82 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP and a 1.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 2/3 innings. Alvarez was originally signed by the Red Sox out of Venezuela in 2005, was acquired by the Tigers in exchange for Jeremy Hermida in 2009 and posted a 2.80 ERA while starting 20 of his 21 games in Triple-A last season.
Alvarez could provide the Angels with additional starting pitching depth, or potentially became a left-handed-relief option.
Romine is a switch-hitter with good speed, who’s solid defensively at third base, shortstop and second base but has struggled offensively throughout his pro career. Last year, Romine – a fifth-round Draft pick in 2007 – appeared in a career-high 47 Major League games, posting a .259/.308/.287 slash line.
Angels lineup …
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Raul Ibanez, DH
David Freese, 3B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C
J.B. Shuck, LF
SP: LH Tyler Skaggs
Rangers lineup …
Shin-Soo Choo, LF
Josh Wilson, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B
Jurickson Profar, DH
Robinson Chirinos, C
Luis Sardinas, SS
Leonys Martin, CF
SP: RH Yu Darvish
- Josh Hamilton wasn’t surprised to hear about Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler‘s comments, saying he hopes his ex-team, the Rangers, go 0-162 and calling general manager Jon Daniels a “sleazeball.” “At least I won’t be the only villain in Texas now,” Hamilton said, smiling. The two were close in Texas, and Hamilton said he wasn’t very surprised to find out about Kinsler’s comments. “He’s very competitive.”
- Hamilton entered the clubhouse drenched in sweat after taking some batting practice and playing catch. Hamilton, who strained his left calf one week from today, no longer requires crutches and doesn’t have to do those baseball activities off one knee. But he has yet to run. “Even if I felt good today, they wouldn’t let me, so I can’t really put a time frame on it.”
- Ian Stewart was scratched from Monday’s lineup after Mike Scioscia said he was “messing around with his daughter and got hit in the nose.” Stewart’s daughter, 4, was lying on the bed stomach first watching TV, and when Stewart went to lunge at her playfully, she sat up and the two collided heads. “She just kind of looked at me and laid back down, watched the movie, and I thought I had a broken nose, because I heard like a crunching sound,” Stewart said. Stewart was fine on Tuesday, though. No concussion and no broken nose. He’ll get back to baseball activities on Wednesday.
- The Angels are playing a “B” game in Goodyear, Ariz., on Tuesday morning. Hunter Green is pitching in it, and Scioscia is attending both contests.
- Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, Michael Kohn, Brandon Lyon and Clay Rapada are also slated to pitch against the Rangers on Tuesday.
Leading up to Spring Training, I’ll take a look at each of the six divisions in hopes of providing an overview for what to expect this coming season. Next up, the AL Central.
Last year’s record: 92-70, 2nd place (lost to Rays in AL Wild Card game)
Key additions: OF David Murphy, RP John Axford, RP Josh Outman, 1B David Cooper, INF Elliot Johnson, OF Nyjer Morgan, RF Jeff Francoeur, C Matt Treanor, SP Shaun Marcum
Key subtractions: SP Ubaldo Jimenez, SP Scott Kazmir, OF Drew Stubbs, CL Chris Perez, OF Jason Kubel, RP Matt Albers, RP Rich Hill, RP Joe Smith, C Kelly Shoppach
Biggest strength: Offense. The Indians ranked sixth in the Majors in runs scored last year, despite down years from Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera, and have replaced the strikeout-prone Drew Stubbs with righty masher David Murphy.
Biggest question: Pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Kazmir signed with the A’s and it doesn’t look like Jimenez is coming back, so it’ll be up to young guys like Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Carlos Carrasco to fill the void as starters. The bullpen no longer has Perez, Hill and Smith, so the likes of Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Vinnie Pestano have to step up.
Most important player: Salazar. The 24-year-old right-hander has the makings of a front-of-the-rotation starter and needs to emerge as one for the Indians to take the next step.
In 25 words or less: The Indians let a lot of veteran pitchers go, and now their playoff fate will rest on an assortment of young, albeit-talented arms.
Last year’s record: 86-76, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Jason Vargas, OF Norichika Aoki, 2B Omar Infante, INF Danny Valencia, SP Brad Penny, RP Jon Rauch, OF Carlos Peguero,
Key subtractions: SP Ervin Santana, 1B Carlos Pena, INF Miguel Tejada, INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, RP Will Smith
Biggest strength: Relief pitching. Greg Holland was one of baseball’s best closers last year, with Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow helping to make up arguably the game’s best bullpen.
Biggest question: Youth in the starting lineup. If the Royals are going to make the playoffs for the first time since winning it all in 1985, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will have to finally come into their own.
Most important player: Danny Duffy. The 25-year-old lefty missed almost 14 months due to Tommy John surgery, then posted a 1.85 ERA in five starts down the stretch. He still has upside, and could provide a huge boost to the rotation if he takes a step forward.
In 25 words or less: Aoki, Infante and Vargas could very well be the moves that push the Royals over the top and end a brutal, 28-year playoff drought.
Last year’s record: 93-69, 1st place (lost to Red Sox in ALCS)
Key additions: MGR Brad Ausmus, CL Joe Nathan, 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Rajai Davis, INF Steve Lombardozzi, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Ian Krol
Key subtractions: MGR Jim Leyland, SP Doug Fister, 1B Prince Fielder, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Omar Infante, INF Ramon Santiago, C Brayan Pena, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Jeremy Bonderman, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Jose Veras
Biggest strength: Starting pitching. Even without Fister, the Tigers’ staff looks like the best in baseball, with the reigning Cy Young Award winner (Max Scherzer), a former MVP (Justin Verlander) and the guy with the lowest ERA in 2013 (Anibal Sanchez). And don’t forget about ground ball machine Rick Porcello pitching with a better defense behind him.
Biggest question: Ausmus, because it’s always tough for a rookie manager to take on a veteran team with World Series expectations, especially while filling the shoes of a legend (though Mike Matheny seemed to do OK). Everything else about this club is solid.
Most important player: Victor Martinez. With Fielder in Texas, it’ll probably be his job to protect Miguel Cabrera as the new cleanup hitter and get pitchers to throw the two-time MVP a strike every once in a while.
In 25 words or less: The defense is a lot better with Cabrera at first and the ninth is finally locked up with Nathan. If healthy, they’ll contend once again.
Last year’s record: 66-96, 4th place
Key additions: SP Ricky Nolasco, SP Phil Hughes, OF Jason Kubel, C Kurt Suzuki, SS Jason Bartlett, RP Matt Guerrier
Key subtractions: C/OF Ryan Doumit, SP Liam Hendriks
Biggest strength: Their farm system. Keith Law ranked them second, behind only the Astros, while center fielder Byron Buxton (first) and third baseman Miguel Sano (third) rank among MLB.com’s top three prospects.
Biggest question: Starting pitching. The Twins had by far the worst rotation in the Majors last year, with a 30th-ranked 5.26 ERA, then spent a combined $84 million to bring in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and resign Mike Pelfrey. They’ll be better, but they’ll still be bad.
Most important player: Joe Mauer, of course. He’s signed through 2018 and is making the transition from catcher to first base in hopes of staying as healthy as possible during that time. How will he handle it defensively, and will he produce the power numbers required for that position? These are crucial questions for the Twins’ future.
In 25 words or less: They’ll take their lumps again this season, but the rotation will be better (how can it be worse?) and some very talented prospects arrive soon.
Last year’s record: 63-99, 5th place
Key additions: CF Adam Eaton, 1B Jose Abreu, 3B Matt Davidson, SP Felipe Paulino, RP Ronald Belisario, RP Scott Downs
Key subtractions: SP Gavin Floyd, CL Addison Reed, OF Brandon Jacobs, SP/RP Hector Santiago, SP Dylan Axelrod
Biggest strength: The front of the rotation. Chris Sale is up there among the best pitchers in the game, and 25-year-old Jose Quintana (3.51 ERA in 33 starts last year) has emerged as a solid No. 2.
Biggest question: The lineup. It could be solid; it could also be very bad. Eaton, Abreu, Davidson, Dayan Viciedo, Avisail Garcia, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, Tyler Flowers and Alexei Ramirez all bring varying degrees of questions.
Most important player: Abreu. He was given the largest ever contract for an international free agent ($68 million over six years) and has supplanted Paul Konerko as the everyday first baseman. Now we’ll see how the Cuban slugger’s power translates to the States.
In 25 words or less: The White Sox can’t contend this year, but GM Rick Hahn is doing a nice job rebuilding in hopes of getting them there soon.
Predicted order of finish …
- White Sox