Dan's Dugout: Can Yanks Dethrone Astros? • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Can Yanks Dethrone Astros?


George Steinbrenner may be gone but his spirit is alive and well.

The New York Yankees spent the winter spending – and obtaining enough talent to pave a path directly to their first World Series berth since 2009.

All the team has to do is get past the defending champion Houston Astros, the free-spending Los Angeles Angels, and the always-dangerous Boston Red Sox.

Here’s how the American League standings should look at the end of the 162-game schedule:

Eastern Division

Giancarlo Stanton brings his righthanded power to the Yankees

1. New York Yankees – Gioncarlo Stanton, whose 59-homer season yielded the National League’s MVP award, comes to the Yankees as a farewell gift from Derek Jeter, the new Marlins owner. Joining a lineup that also features Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird gives the Yanks a chance to set a new team record for home runs. The pitching is potent too, with Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and CC Sabathia starting and Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, and Dellin Betances relieving. The chief potential problems are at second and third, both manned by rookies, and in the dugout, where manager Aaron Boone is a rookie too.

2. Boston Red Sox – With Fenway Park as their home field, the Red Sox spent the winter trying to sign expensive but elusive free agent J.D. Martinez. The team never filled the David Ortiz vacuum, relying instead on a mix of Mookie Betts, Xavier Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. The Sox have the best lefty in Chris Sale and the best closer is Craig Kimbrel but need more from David Price, Rick Porcello, and knuckleballer Steven Wright. Rookie pilot Alex Cora might be walking into a minefield.

3. Toronto Blue Jays – After reaching the playoffs in both 2015 and 2016, Toronto fell victim to injuries last summer and finished 10 games under .500. With Josh Donaldson in his walk year and strong support from fellow sluggers Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales, that won’t happen again – especially if Troy Tulowitzki plays more than half the schedule. The Blue Jays bank on Marcus Stroman to lead a rotation that also features J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, and ex-Marvin Tom Koehler, backed by quality closer Roberto Osuna (39 saves).

4. Baltimore Orioles – Like their fellow birds from the north, the O’s have better batters than pitchers. Five men, led by Manny Machado, hit at least two-dozen homers last year and could improve their numbers in hitter-friendly Oriole Park. But the pitching is thin after Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, increasing the urgency that talented lefty closer Zach Britton recapture his historic form of 2016, when he should have won the American League’s Cy Young Award.

Manny Machado is Baltimore’s best player

5. Tampa Bay Rays – Cursed by a bad ballpark and payroll limitations, the Rays joined the downstate Marlins in selling stars this winter. Losing Evan Longoria, the long-time face of the franchise, could be the fatal blow that returns the Rays to the AL East cellar they last occupied in 2016. Tampa Bay posted a weak .245 team batting average last year and could do even worse, though Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson provide middle-of-the-order power behind Kevin Kiermaier and blue-chip rookie third baseman Christian Arroyo. The team expects more of Brad Miller and Wilson Ramos and would be crazy to trade closer Alex Colome (47 saves). Ditto Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, the only returning starters who reached 10 wins.

Central Division

1. Cleveland Indians – After winning 102 games last year but bowing to the Yankees in the ALCS, the Indians know this season could be their last hurrah. Free agency is nipping at their heels, with ace-of-all-trades Andrew Miller among those who could be lost. Manager Terry Francona, who lost his dad Tito this week, won’t be losing many games with the deepest rotation in the league: Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin. Miller and Cody Allen head a strong and versatile relief corps. These aren’t the 1995 Indians but they’ll have a strong offense led by Edwin Encarnacion, newcomer Yonder Alonso, and potential MVPs Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.

Cleveland manager Terry Francona has a good team again

2. Minnesota Twins – The good news is Bartolo Colon is out. The bad news is that returning rotation leader Ervin Santana is out too – possibly until the All-Star break. The Twins won’t lose 103 games, as they did in 2016, but they will be lucky to break even after going 85-77 last year. Brian Dozier, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Eduardo Escobar need to keep the power mill churning and manager Paul Molitor expects more from veteran Joe Mauer, who turned into a singles hitter, and rising star Byron Buxton, a potential 30/30 guy. Pitching, however, is a problem, especially if free agent signee Fernando Rodney (39 saves at Arizona) is called too often at age 41. With Santana out, the starting burden rests with Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson.

3. Kansas City Royals – This will be another lean year for the Royals, who simply can’t afford to keep up with bigger-market teams. Eight players, including sluggers Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, declared free agency last fall and most migrated elsewhere or threatened to do so. The leaves manager Ned Yost with a club likely to lose more than it wins. Although this teamhas depended upon pitching and defense, 2018 could be an exception. Slugging catcher Sal Perez leads a lineup that also includes comeback candidates Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler plus rising stars Jorge Bonifacio and Whit Merrifield. Lefty Danny Duffy is the best starter on a staff that features ex-Brewer swingman Willy Peralta and closer Kelvin Herrera.

4. Chicago White Sox – They lost 95 games last year but the Sox have stopped unraveling. They have strong bats in Jose Abreu, Matt Davidson, and Avisail Garcia plus a fine all-around catcher in Wellington Castro (20 homers last year). Minus erstwhile aces Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, however, the team needs pitching help. Nobody won or saves as many as 10 games last year, though veteran James Shields and former Nationals prospect Lucas Giolito could do that. At this point at least, it seems the Sox are lucky the paper Tigers are in the same division.

5. Detroit Tigers – After winning successive AL Central crowns in 2013 and 2014, the Bengal bubble burst, with high-priced veterans shipped elsewhere with conveyor-belt speed. The result is a team virtually certain to lose more than 100 games for recycled manager Ron Gardenhire. Only Michael Fulmer won 10 games last year and nobody saved that many. Comebacks by starters Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Fiers are critical. Unsung Michael Castellanos led the team in homers and RBI last summer but can he repeat? The team also needs better work from Leonys Martin, Victor Martinez, and four-time batting king Miguel Cabrera, winner of the league’s last Triple Crown.

Miggy Cabrera is far from his Triple Crown form

Western Division

1. Houston Astros – Though winners rarely repeat, the ‘stros are too strong to ignore. A well-tuned blend of young stars and veterans, the defending world champions could be even better now that Justin Verlander will be there all season. He heads a rotation that also includes southpaw Dallas Keuchel, also a former Cy Young winner, and holdovers Lance McCullers, Jr. and Charlie Morton. Closer Ken Giles, however, was a postseason bust after a 34-save regular season. There’s no weakness in a lineup that starts with World Series MVP George Springer, who hit a record-tying five home runs against the Dodgers, and ends with Brian McCann, who shares the catching with fellow ex-Brave Evan Gattis. In between are defending MVP Jose Altuve and future MVPs Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Like Dolly Parton, this team is stacked.

2. Los Angeles Angels – Out of the postseason hunt since 2014, Angels owner Arte Moreno made more shrewd moves than any of his colleagues. New arrivals range from Japanese import Shohei Ohtani, a pitcher-outfielder with two-way power; Zack Cozart, a slick-fielding shortstop scheduled to play third; and slugging second baseman Ian Kinsler, an All-Star four times. They’ll join a lineup anchored by perennial MVP Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, plus Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Even with Ohtani, shaky pitching should keep Los Angeles behind Houston but last year’s 21-game gap should be much smaller.

Success in Seattle will depend on Robby Cano.
Credit: Bill Menzel

3. Seattle Mariners – General manager Jerry Dipoto, never afraid to stir the stew, acquired Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Nick Rumbelow, and Andrew Romine before spring training started and figured to make more moves. But the team’s 2018 fortunes will turn on the health of erstwhile ace Felix Hernandez, coming off an injury-riddled season (16 starts) at age 32. No one reached double digits in wins last year, placing a huge load on closer Edwin Diaz. Maybe the M’s can overpower opponents with a battering order anchored by Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. Their RBI count will rise with the arrival of leadoff man Dee Gordon from Miami and the continued improvement of Jean Segura, who bats behind him.

4. Texas Rangers – Any team that signs Bartolo Colon must be in trouble. Fortunately for manager Jeff Banister, the Rangers also added veterans Doug Fister, Mike Minor, and Matt Moore to balance a rotation led by Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. The bullpen is uncertain, however. That means the team must get lots of runs from its 20-homer quintet of a year ago: Joey Gallo (41), Roughned Odor (30), Shin-Soo Choo (22), and Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara (20 each). Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre could join them if he stays healthy.

5. Oakland Athletics – Can this club avoid its fourth consecutive cellar finish? The A’s will get power from 43-homer man Khris Davis, veteran Matt Joyce, and sophomore Matt Olson, who hit 24 homers in 59 games. A kid named Matt Chapman showed long-ball potential too. But beleaguered manager Bob Melvin could get gray prematurely while he watches his pitchers blasted night after night. Beyond Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman, there’s not much.

WILD CARDS: Red Sox, Angels
PENNANT: Yankees

5. Oakland Athletics –

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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