Not all is perfect atop AL East

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It was supposed to be an epic series: Yankees vs. Rays. The two best teams in baseball locking horns in a four-game series with the AL East lead at stake.

And after four games, we’re back where we started, with Tampa Bay’s blowout victory on Thursday preserving a split of the series and keeping the Rays a 1/2-game behind the Yankees in the AL East race.

Both teams are going to the playoffs (sorry Red Sox, but you’re not going to catch ’em), and the only thing left to be decided is which team gets to have home-field advantage against the Texas Rangers in the first round, and which team has to face the Minnesota Twins as the AL wild card team.

If we learned anything from this series, it’s that both the Rays and Yankees are flawed, and it’s time to rethink the idea that the AL East powers are indeed the two best teams in the AL. They still might be, but the argument to include the Twins in the discussion is getting stronger, as Minnesota (16-4 in September) suddenly possesses the best record in the league.

You want reasons for concern? Let’s take a look:

On the Yankees side, pitching appears to be an issue. CC Sabathia, so brilliant last week in a duel with David Price, labored terribly on Thursday, walking three and allowing 10 hits and seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. Price wasn’t much better, as both aces seemed intent on bolstering the unusual Cy Young case of Felix Hernandez, but at least Price was able to wiggle out of danger, allowing just three runs in six innings despite putting 12 runners on base.

While I wouldn’t worry too horribly about Sabathia – or Andy Pettitte for that matter – it is legitimate to be concerned about the rest of the staff, a mix that includes the inexperienced Ivan Nova, recently struggling Phillip Hughes and the enigma that is A.J. Burnett.

And despite having Mariano Rivera anchoring the bullpen, what about the rest of the crew? Aside from Kerry Wood, none of them got through this series unscathed, and Javier Vazquez – who tied a record by hitting three straight batters on Thursday – is hardly reliable. Luckily for the Yankees they have a dangerous collection of bats, because they are probably going to need them.

On the Rays side of things, the concerns are more varied. There is certainly some problems with the starting pitching. James Shields and Wade Davis have compiled mediocre seasons, and the occasionally brilliant Matt Garza, who no-hit Detroit on July 27, has also been frequently horrible. In his last four starts, he has managed to go no further than 5 2/3 innings, and has allowed at least six runs in each of his last three outings.

On the offensive side of things, the Rays face another dilemma, as their feast-or-famine offense has to be driving their small but loyal fan base nuts.

The Rays rank 12th in the AL in batting average and eighth in slugging percentage, lead the league in strikeouts and have been no-hit twice this season. Yet they also lead the AL in walks and are second only to the Yankees in runs per game.

Rays blogger Jason Collette breaks down the situation nicely here. The whole post is worth a read, but the bottom line is that the Rays make up for a lot of deficiencies with their speed, not only stealing bases but also taking the extra base at a higher rate than other AL teams. They also have hit into fewer double plays than anyone, and it’s not even close.

That being said, little slumps are magnified in a short playoff series, and if the hot-and-cold Rays hit a chilly stretch, a playoff stay could be brief.

Both the Yankees and Rays are dangerous without a doubt, but as this week’s series showed, both teams are also flawed. And when you consider that the Twins are 50-18 since the All-Star break (.735), and the Rangers will feature not only a powerful lineup, but Cliff Lee at the top of their rotation, assuming an all-AL East ALCS is a risky proposition.

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Marlins trade David Phelps to the Mariners for four prospects

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The Miami Marlins have sent reliever David Phelps to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for four prospects. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and Ken Rosenthal had rumors of the deal first, Jon Morosi, Jeff Passan and Jon Heyman (among others) all reported the trade at virtually the same time.

Phelps, 30, had a fantastic 2016 season, posting a 2.28 ERA in 64 games while striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings. He’s not been as strong this year, but he’s still been a solid setup man, posting a 3.45 ERA in 44 games while striking out 51 batters and walking 21 in 47 innings. He throws in the mid-90s and induces grounders. The Mariners could probably use rotation help more than bullpen help, but solid innings are solid innings at one point and improving your pen takes some of the pressure off of your rotation. Phelps will help Seattle with that. He’s under team control for next year too, so this is more than a rental.

The top prospect in the deal is Brayan Hernandez, a 19 year-old outfielder from Venezuela, currently playing in low-A ball. Also in the deal: righty Brandon Miller, righty Pablo Lopez and righty Lucas Schiraldi who, yes, is the son of ex-big leaguer Calvin Schiraldi. None of these guys are blue chippers, but you never know what’ll happen. It’s a volume return for the Fish.

We’ve already seen some big bullpen names move, including David Robertson, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Among others who could be moved:  A.J. Ramos (Marlins); Justin Wilson (Tigers); Addison Reed (Mets); Jerry Blevins (Mets); Brad Hand (Padres); Tony Watson (Pirates); Juan Nicasio (Pirates); Brad Brach (Orioles); Drew Storen (Reds); and Raisel Iglesias (Reds).

 

Corey Seager has more homers than any other shortstop in Los Angeles Dodgers history

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Corey Sager homered in the Dodgers’ win over the White Sox last night. It was his 45th career homer, 44 of which have come while playing shortstop. While that’s great given that the guy has only played in 270 games, it’s not a lot of homers in an absolute sense. Thousands of players have more homers than that, obviously. Baseball has been around for a long time!

But it’s enough to set a record. A Los Angeles Dodgers record, specifically, for the most homers from a shortstop. It puts Seager past Rafael Furcal, who hit 43 while wearing Dodger blue. The record for the franchise, including Brooklyn, is Pee Wee Reese, who hit 122.

It seems astounding that no other Dodgers shortstop has hit more than 44 homers in the nearly 60 years since the club has been in Los Angeles, but it’s true. If you had asked me before I saw the factoid mentioned on Twitter I would’ve bet my life that Bill Russell would’ve had more. Not because he had any power — he was, in fact, one of the more punchless players of his era — but because he simply played in L.A. so long, logging 1,746 games at short for Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda. Nope. He only hit 46 in his 18-year career, with a handful of those coming as an outfielder. His season high is seven. Seager has hit seven homers in May of his rookie season.

Oh well, you learn something new every day.