ALDS Preview: Orioles vs. Yankees

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Orioles and Yankees have in store for us in the American League Division Series.

The Teams

Baltimore Orioles (93-69) vs. New York Yankees (95-67)

The Matchups

Game 1 Sunday in Baltimore: CC Sabathia vs. Jason Hammel
Game 2 Monday in Baltimore: Andy Pettitte vs. Wei-Yin Chen
Game 3 Wednesday in New York: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Hiroki Kuroda
Game 4 (if necessary) Thursday in New York
Game 5 (if necessary) Friday in New York

Analysis: Everything about this series points to a Yankees sweep, from the pitching matchups to the lineups to the payrolls. Sabathia allowed just four runs over his final 24 regular-season innings and is capable of keeping that run of dominance going throughout the month of October. Hammel, meanwhile, hasn’t appeared in a game since aggravating his surgically-repaired knee on September 11. He was the Orioles’ most reliable starter this summer, but it seems doubtful that he’s back to full health after just four weeks of rest.

Pettitte looked great after returning in mid-September from a leg fracture and has logged 263 career postseason innings. Chen is a 27-year-old rookie from Taiwain who might be in over his head.

The Storylines

  • The teams split their 18 regular-season meetings 9-9. New York was outscored 92-90.
  • Kuroda, the Yankees’ Game 3 starter, hasn’t been given nearly enough credit for his fantastic regular-season performance. He was a rock in that ever-changing starting rotation, posting a solid 3.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 167/51 K/BB ratio across 219 2/3 innings (33 starts) for the AL East champs.
  • Camden Yards should be jamming for the first two games of this five-game set. One of MLB’s most aesthetically-pleasing parks, it hasn’t hosted postseason play since 1997, when the roster included the likes of Brady Anderson, Roberto Alomar and Cal Ripken, Jr. Tickets sold out swiftly last week.
  • Orioles center fielder Adam Jones had a breakout regular season, batting .287 with an .839 OPS and 32 home runs while appearing in all 162 games. He’ll be looking to shine on the big stage.
  • Manny Machado, the Orioles’ 20-year-old third baseman, was promoted to the majors from Double-A Bowie on August 9 and quickly made it known that he’d be up to stay. He showed great awareness on defense down the stretch while slugging seven home runs, eight doubles and three triples in 51 games. The youngster can be a difference-maker. Truth be told, the O’s need him to be.
  • Alex Rodriguez had one of the least productive regular seasons of his 19-year major league career. And he tallied just two hits in 23 plate appearances last October as the Yankees were ousted in the ALDS by the Tigers. If his recent struggles continue, the boo birds will be out at Yankee Stadium.

Prediction

The Yankees have too much hitting and too much pitching for Baltimore to keep up. You could say that about probably every matchup the Orioles faced this summer, but it feels like the magic is finally ready to run out. Look for the Bronx Bombers to advance easily to the ALCS with a clean sweep.

YANKEES WIN THE SERIES 3-0

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.