Photo credit: awfulannouncing.com
By: Amaury Pi-Gonzalez
2017 was a great season for Major League Baseball, culminating with the Houston Astros defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers and winning their first-ever World Series.
After another great season in 2017, José Altuve will hang around for at least another seven years with the champs signing a brand-new $163.5 million contract on this month of March.
Many other exciting things happened in the 2017 season like the Minnesota Twins, who finished in last place in 2016, reaching the playoffs. The Cleveland Indians set a new American League record with 22 victories in a row. Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols reached the magical 600 home run mark. Pujols ranks #7 with 614 on the home run list and he is just 32 hits short of 3,000. Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltré reached 3,000 hits. The Los Angeles Dodgers won their fifth consecutive division title.
However, it wasn’t very good overall for our two local Bay Area teams, the Athletics and Giants, as both finished in last place. This was the first time they both finished as cellar-dwellers the same year. In 1995, they both ended up at the bottom with identical records of 67-77, but that season was shortened by a labor dispute.
So this is how I see this 2018 season that is just around the corner…
American League West
1. Houston Astros
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Texas Rangers
5. Oakland Athletics
The World Champion Astros are an easy pick to win this division again as they got even stronger after acquiring Gerrit Cole along with Justin Verlander.
The Angels picked up young Japanese prospect, Shohei Ohtani, considered by many as “The Babe Ruth of Japan.” Ohtani is a right-handed pitcher who hits left-handed with power. Angels also addressed their infield needs as they acquired Ian Kinsler who will play second base and Zack Cozart (shortstop). who will play at third for Mike Scioscia’s ball club. Scioscia will be on his 19th season as manager, at the start of this 2018 season, currently the longest consecutive tenure for a manager. The Angels watched the playoffs pass by them for the third consecutive season after finishing five games behind the Twins in the American League Wild Card race in 2017. They haven’t won a postseason game since 2009, even with the incomparable New Jersey native Mike Trout on their roster for the past six seasons. Trout is arguably the best player in the game. Because of an injury to his left thumb, Trout played in 114 games, hit .306, hit 33 home runs and drove in 72 runs.
For the Halos, their lone playoff appearance with Trout came in 2014, when they were swept by the Royals in the American League Division Series. Trout remains signed through 2020, but the Angels’ window to capitalize on the 26-year-old superstar in his prime is shrinking.
I had the pleasure of covering Trout for the past seven seasons in Anaheim since his rookie year. In my opinion, he is not only the best player in the game, but he is a great man who is talented, dedicated and always joyful to take the field. He is the whole package.
The biggest question mark for the Angels will be: Can their pitchers stay healthy?
They still have a young and talented rotation with Richards, Othani, Shoemaker, Heaney, Skaggs and Ramirez. They could go to a six-man rotation sometimes during the season, like when they have long stretches of consecutive days, without any days off. It will be fascinating to see how the young Ohtani will do and how would he be used.
I believe the Angels are a serious Wild Card contender. The Angel Stadium in Anaheim will be rocking this year, not only because they have Trout, but Pujols will begin the 2018 season with 614 home runs with the titles of only active player with over 600 and #7 on the top 10 all-time home run list. The Dominican is only 32 hits shy from 3,000.
Not to mention they were the team to sign Japanese super prospect, pitcher and hitter, Shohei Ohtani. The Angels will debut the third-largest electronic message board in baseball in Anaheim. All of this could make their owner, Arte Moreno, very happy this year, but most of all, contingent play all the way until October.
Question: Who will play the longest, Colón or Ichiro? My bet is on Colon since the Dominican Republic native will be looking to win at least six more games so he could pass Nicaraguan Dennis “El Presidente”Martinez as the Latin pitcher with most wins in history (245). Dennis Martinez won two more games than Juan Marichal, who ended his Hall of Fame career with 243 wins. But even with Colon, a very-respectable number five pitcher on any rotation, the Rangers are likely going to be the underdogs this season. My guess, if Colón wins those six games, he will consider retirement.
The Oakland Athletics finished last for the third consecutive season in 2017 with a 75-87 record, but manager Bob Melvin was always an optimist with an abundance of hope. One of the best home run hitting teams in baseball that plays in one of most difficult home run parks, Khris Davis returns for at least another year, as he signed for 2018, for $10.5 million. Davis hit 43 home runs and drove in 110 runs last season and is the highest paid player in the roster. Davis became the fifth A’s player to hit 40 home runs in a season, alongside Reginaldo Martinez “Reggie” Jackson, José Canseco, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi.
Strong in the infield with a young, talented Matt Chapman at third and Matt Olson at first, at the corners–“The Matt Boys” supply lots of power. Marcus Semien will enter his sixth major league season and third with the A’s at shortstop. Veteran Jed Lowrie, who gives them an all-around performance at second base.
The A’s picked up Stephen Piscotty of the Cardinals to play in the outfield. He returns to the Bay Area after spending three years in St. Louis. He attended Stanford University.
The A’s also addressed their catching situation shortly after they signed veteran Jonathan Lucroy.
The A’s bullpen improved as they acquired left-handed pitcher Ryan Buchter, signed Yusmeiro Petit as a free agent and acquired right-handed pitcher and young hardthrower Emilio Pagán early after his season ended from Seattle on the trade that sent the talented Ryon Healy to the M’s.
Melvin will have a young pitching staff. The A’s are starting off as pitching challenged. Jharel Cotton will be out for the entire season with Tommy John surgery, To replace Cotton, they signed Trevor Cahill for this season. Yes, the same Cahill who began his career with the A’s in 2009 and was an 2010 All-Star in Arizona.
Another familiar face in Oakland is returning, lefty Brett Anderson who pitched with the A’s from 2009 to 2013. Kendall Graveman will be their Opening Day starter for the second year in a row also against the Angels, followed by Sean Manaea, and then guys like Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn will all be in the mix.
This year, it could be a challenge for Bob Melvin as well as pitching coach Scott Emerson when it comes to pitching and looking for the winning combination.
Sure, the A’s could surprise us. After all, it is baseball, and there are always surprises each season. Some say, “What excitement these young guys will bring!” and that could be true as the sky is the limit especially for guys like Davis,Chapman,Olson. But at the end of the day, it will probably be another tough season for the Green and Gold.
Note: There’s a new attraction at the Coliseum called “The Treehouse,” which is a new destination area above the left field bleachers in the Oakland Coliseum that is set to debut during the 2018 season. The Treehouse will be open to all fans and will feature two full-service bars, standing-room and lounge seating, numerous televisions and pre and post game entertainment. In good conscience, I had to pick the A’s to finish last again, but I would love it if they were to prove me wrong.
Significant A’s note: Celebrating their 50th Anniversary in Oakland. On April 17, the A’s game vs. Chicago White Sox will provide free admission for everybody. During every Wednesday home game in the regular season, fans can pick the price they pay for their tickets. In addition, there will be more Fireworks at the Coliseum this season.
National League West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
5. San Diego Padres
I do not see anybody better here than the Dodgers. Although, they will begin their season without their top clutch hitter and third baseman, Justin Turner, who was hit by a pitch in Spring Training on his left wrist, causing a fracture, but no surgery was necessary. He will begin 2018 on the DL.
I think the Dodgers will shoot for a sixth consecutive division title this year. 2018 is the last year on the contract for the best pitcher in the game Clayton Kershaw. With a solid offense, good defense, great bullpen, they should be able win the west.
Arizona is a serious candidate for a wild card as well as Colorado. Arizona signed Japanese right-handed reliever Yoshihisa Hirano as well as veteran catcher Alex Avila. This season, they should take advantage of a window of opportunity since outfielder A.J Pollock, and left-handed pitcher, Patrick Corbin, are eligible for free agency after the season. Their superstar first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, is just two years away from the same situation.
The Rockies have a good young rotation, but lack a #1 pitcher, a stopper to halt losing streaks. Well-balanced, all-around players like Nolan Arenado–an MVP contender every year–are hard to come by. He finished 2017 with a .309 average, 37 home runs and 130 RBI. He became the first and only third baseman in history to win five Gold Gloves in his first five years in the majors.
Charlie Blackmon is arguably one of the best players in the game. The center fielder enjoyed a tremendous 2017 where he hit .331 with 37 homers and 104 batted in.
Ian Desmond and Carlos González were held back due to injuries, but are two solid players that could easily bounce back. The Rockies appear to hope to improve on the wild card finish they had last season. This Rockies team can hit anyplace, not only in Coors Field.
In 2017, the San Francisco Giants finished 64-98. This offseason, the Giants acquired veterans Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen to play in the outfield, while trying to complete revamping their outfield by picking up veteran Austin Jackson.
Madison Bumgarner was struck in his pitching hand by a line drive hit by Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield in the third inning of a game on March 23 and was diagnosed with a left hand fracture, so he will begin 2018 on the DL. Also, Jeff Samardzija will begin this season on the DL with strained pectoral muscles. That being said, the Giants need a healthy closer in Mark Melancon, who was on the DL three times in 2017.
Brandon Crawford and Brandon Bell, also known as “The Brandon Boys,” will need better years offensively. Longoria and McCutchen provide much-needed power to a team that finished last in both leagues last season with a puny 128 home runs and last in runs batted in with 612.
Although Buster Posey hit a solid .320, he only hit 12 home runs and drove in 67 runs. During his nine-year career with the Giants, only once has Posey drove in over 100 runs in 2012. Despite all that, Posey remains the face of this franchise.
Pablo Sandoval is looking for some at-bats to regain the magic he had during the Giants’ three World Championships. Every projected starting position player with the Giants, with the exception of second baseman Joe Panik, is in his 30’s.
At the beginning of Spring Training, the Giants signed left-handed reliever Tony Watson for two years, with a third year option. He is 32, so he fits right in with the Giants over 30 crowd.
It’s hard to believe that AT&T, once SBC and PAC Bell Park is 18 years old! I remember calling their first game there. The San Diego Padres, who finished in the cellar in 2016, passed them last year. The Friars’ big deal this offseason was signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer to a sweet eight-year, $144 million contract.
I would place the Giants on top of the Padres this season because they seem to have a deeper club, and they shall start the season with a healthy Madison Bumgarner, unlike 2017. The Padres deserve a lot of respect, they are an overall young club that’s continuing to improve.
The Giants will have to win 17 more games this year to reach the .500 mark with 81 wins. It will not be easy. But if they do, a wild card for Bruce Bochy’s Giants could be in sight.
In today’s game, it doesn’t matter if you win 100 games during the regular season as many teams have won just over 80 games and won the World Series.
Case and point: Last World Series they won in 2014, they ended season with 88-74.
Significant Giants note: On August 11, Barry Bonds’ #25 will be retired at AT&T Park, in a series against his first team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
East: The Boston Red Sox have to win this division, just because they have more pitching than the Yankees plus they also improved their offense signing free agent J.D. Martinez. The Yankees have a serious and perhaps the best bullpen in the world. However, the Red Sox’s starting rotation is much more superior, so I see the Yanks good for a Wild Card berth.
The Twins did great last year. This offseason, they signed underrated starter Lance Lynn, and they be back as a wild card. Look for their young-powerful third baseman Miguel Sanó to have a monster year. Also, Paul Molitor is an excellent skipper.
West: Houston Astros are going to win the division again. Angels, Yankees, Twins and Toronto will be among wild card contenders.
Duo to watch? Yankees’ Judge and Stanton. Together, they both could produce over 100 home runs.
East: Washington Nationals on a class of their own, should win by 10 games, they won it by 20 last year. There is nobody close to them.
Mets would need two more Céspedes in their lineup, but their pitching should be good.
Atlanta and Philadelphia should be better, fighting for .500 record.
Athletics in Spanish – Oakland A’S Baseball on KIQI 1010AM and KATD 990AM Spanish Language Radio, covering the Bay Area, Oakland,San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Stockton. Broadcast of 74 live A’s homes games.including three on the road from San Francisco. SAP in Spanish on TV.