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Striplv Magazine - The Sexiest Magazine on the Planet, Issue 0417

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AL East While the Tampa Bay Rays finished their 2016 campaign strong, they still finished 25 games out, and they’re going to need more than a good defense led by shortstop Matt Duffy and a decent but questionable pitching staff that includes Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, and Blake Snell. They’re going to need some oomph in their lineup. Unfortunately, perennial All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria and the ever-improving outfielder Kevin Kiermaier just aren’t enough. For the first time in several seasons, youth will be the name of the game in the Bronx as catcher Gary Sanchez, and outfielder Aaron Judge are two of the question marks for the New York Yankees. Starlin Castro at second base and Didi Gregorius at shortstop give the Yanks a solid tandem up the middle, but pitching remains the biggest question mark for the Yankees, and if they are going to have any chance at all of making the playoff, they need more than Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Chad Green. Much more. While some are picking the Toronto Blue Jays to return to championship form, they will be hard pressed to do so. Heading into spring training it was thought Joe Biagini could be a strong starter for the Jays to go along with their projected rotation of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Marco Estrada, but a strong spring by Mat Latos could change that. With Edwin Encarnación going to the Cleveland Indians and Michael Saunders going to the Philadelphia Phillies via free agency, the Blue Jays lose a lot of run production, although they still have former AL MVP Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. If third baseman Manny Machado, first baseman Chris Davis, and designated hitter Mark Trumbo provide as much power this year as they did in 2016 – they all hit over 30 homers – the Baltimore Orioles will once again make a run for the AL East title. However, their big question mark is pitching. While they may have Zach Britton as their closer, their starting pitching is nothing to write home about as Kevin Gausman is their only potential starter who had an ERA last year under 4. Baseball being the game it is, 2017 could easily see the O’s go from a potential Wild Card spot to the AL East cellar. Expect the Boston Red Sox to repeat as AL East champs. In addition to a pitching staff that includes starters David Price, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and closer Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox return with a balanced offense that includes outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, designated hitter Hanley Ramirez, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. AL Central Last year the Minnesota Twins had the worst record in the Major Leagues. With a team whose 40-man roster with just one pitcher who had an ERA under 3 (Buddy Boshers 2.65 in just 34 innings) and not one hitter with a batting average over .300 last year, despite some potential home run power behind second baseman Brian Dozier and third baseman Miguel Sano Twins fans can expect to see more of the same in 2017. For the most part, the Chicago White Sox played a lot better last year than their stats would lead you to believe. And while they seemed to have made some improvements over 2016, they only have one bona fide winning starter on their pitching staff with Jose Quintana, a decent closer in David Robertson, and two above average bats in the lineup with first baseman Jose Abreu and third baseman Todd Frazier. Perhaps if outfielder Melky Cabrera has a stellar year, the best the South Siders can hope for is a third place finish in the AL Central. Like most teams in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers don’t seem to have the pitching to make a playoff run. Justin Verlander was the only starter with a winning record (13-9) on the team, and while closer Francisco Rodriguez may have had 33 saves in 2016, his ERA was 3.76. Only Detroit setup reliever Justin Wilson had an ERA under 3 (2.95). So as much as Tigers fans are hoping for a playoff spot in 2017, you simply can’t win a championship by giving up nearly four runs a game. That leaves the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals and the defending American League Champion Cleveland Indians to fight for the AL Central title. The Royals went from winning back-to-back league championships in 2014 and 2015 to playing .500 ball last year. The Indians were just the opposite. They went from playing one game over .500 in 2015 to winning the Central Division by eight games over the Tigers in 2016. While there’s no reason to believe the Indians will falter— because if anything their team has gotten stronger with the addition of Edwin Encarnacion to their lineup— many Vegas odds makers have picked Cleveland to win the AL crown. We believe the Royals will bounce back to give the Indians a run for their money. Although the team looks nothing like it did in 2015, the Royals have consistently put a competitive team on the field the last four seasons. However, if their pitching, which is questionable, does not get the job done, they can easily return to the form we saw them a few years ago when they would finish 20 or more games out. At the end of the day look for the Indians to repeat their division title while the Royals just miss a Wild Card spot. AL West While the Seattle Mariners finished nine games out last year behind the Texas Rangers, unfortunately they will not have enough steam to battle for first in the AL West. This is despite a batting lineup that includes designated hitter Nelson Cruz, second baseman Robinson Cano, and third baseman Kyle Seager, as well as a pitching staff led by starter James Paxton and closer Edwin Diaz. Relievers Steve Cishek and Tony Zych are coming off injuries, and they put two big question marks in the Mariners’ roster. Both the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are in the rebuilding process and and are probably a year or two from making a serious run at the playoffs. Of the two, the A’s have no chance whatsoever. Aside from outfielder Khris David, who slugged 39 home runs last year, the team lacks players who hit for average or who have decent on-base percentages. Their pitching is abysmal. On the other hand, if the Angels can find some pitching, their bats could carry them toward a Wild Card spot. Any lineup that has outfielder Mike Trout and designated hitter Albert Pujols (even if he is in the latter part of his career) is a dangerous one, and they would certainly need to get another bat aside from third baseman Yunel Escobar to hit over .300. Instead expect the Houston Astros to step up and challenge their cross-state rivals, the Texas Rangers. The Rangers will be tough to beat behind starters Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, setup men Matt Bush and Jeremy Jeffress, closer Sam Dyson and a starting lineup that includes first baseman Mike Napoli, second baseman Rougned Odor, third baseman Adrian Beltre and outfielder Norman Mazara. Starting pitcher, Tyson Ross is expected back from rib surgery sometime before the All-Star Game, and shortstop Elvis Andrus might or might not be ready for the start of the season. However, the Astros are poised to take down the Rangers. The Astros pitching staff is solid with starters Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, and Dallas Keuchel, reliever David Paulino, setup men Luke Gregerson and Will Harris, and closer Ken Giles. There is also a lot of talk about pitching prospect Brady Rodgers cracking into the starting rotation, but pitching isn’t their only strength. The Astros have a great balanced offense led by shortstop Carlos Correa, outfielders George Springer and Josh Reddick, catcher Brian McCann, second baseman Jose Altuve and designated hitters Evan Gattis and Carlos Beltran, who split the 2016 season between the Yankees and Rangers and last played for the Astros in 2004. Not only will the Astros challenge the Rangers, but they will take the AL West title, while the team from Arlington takes the Wild Card spot.

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