The Baltimore Orioles are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and win their division for the first time since 1997.
The O's hold a seven game lead over the second place New York Yankees, as their 75-55 record is third best in the American League, behind the two AL West powerhouses in the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics. Could Baltimore perhaps make a postseason run that takes them to the World Series for the first time since winning it in 1983?
Let's take a look at the Orioles as a team. Their pitching staff has been among the worst in the Major Leagues, as the rotation has contributed the seventh-worst fWAR (6.9) among all the rotations in baseball. The staff has the second-worst xFIP (4.23) to the Texas Rangers, but their ERA (3.86) is middle of the pack, suggesting that they have been susceptible to some very good luck.
Back on July 31st, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Orioles inquired on Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon. Colon has since cleared revocable trade waivers, allowing him to be dealt to any team. The Orioles should make a run for Colon, as his ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all very solid this season. He could definitely add to their rotation that currently includes the likes of Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Kevin Gausman.
The Orioles pitching staff looks like it could be an issue during the playoffs. Acquiring Colon would add more certainty to the rotation, but would Baltimore really be interested in paying him $11 million next season at 42-years-old? It might be the only way to go deep into the playoffs.
If you take a look at some of the rotations of competing teams, you see that the Orioles are at a real liability. The Tigers, Angels, Athletics, Mariners, and Royals all have better rotation ERAs than Baltimore. Those are the teams that have the best chance of keeping the Orioles from going deep into the postseason, let alone making the World Series.
As we have seen in many other cases, pitching is very important to a team, but having a balance may be even more important. On the offensive side, the Angels, Tigers, and Athletics all have a better weighted runs created plus (wRC+) than the Orioles. This stat measures how many runs created a player, or in this case a team, is better above league-average, with each point above 100 equaling a percent. The Orioles have a 102 wRC+ as a team, meaning that they create about two percent more runs than the "league-average" team.
The Orioles offense has been the main cog of their success, but seeing how it stacks up against other teams just makes them look like even more of a long shot in the postseason. They rely on the home run more than any other American League team, and as often as a clutch home run comes, another clutch home run does not happen. Unlike the other teams that are looking to get far, the Orioles are placing their chips on something that is a lot harder to predict. Some days may be your lucky days in terms of home runs, while others just may not. Even if the Orioles do get to October, cool air is not good for home runs. It keeps the ball down and inside the ballpark, which helps pitchers, not their counterparts.
FanGraphs.com gives the Orioles the fourth-best chance (of American League teams) to make the World Series, believing that they have a 17.3% chance of winning the American League Championship Series. FanGraphs says that the Angels (22%), Athletics (21%), and Tigers (20.1%) have a better chance than the Orioles to appear in the World Series. That seems very spot on.
The Orioles seem like a team that is taking too many risks this season. It is hard to see them in the World Series, as their depth, pitching staff, and the fact that they rely on home runs are all issues that other teams just do not have. Baltimore is a very good team and while they do have good chances this year, I just do not believe that they have what it takes to win the American League.
Cuban star outfielder/second baseman Rusney Castillo is closing in on signing with a big league club, reports say. He could get a deal in the five-year, $60 million range, with the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Phillies, and Tigers being the main bidders. I strongly believe that the Detroit Tigers will end up signing Castillo and there are a lot of good reasons as to why.
First, the Tigers are not usually in on international free agents, which makes it even more interesting on why they are in on Castillo. The Tigers are more of a traditional team and have not gone out deep for international free agents. Now that they are making a change, it could possibly mean that they are really interested in Castillo as compared to other free agents similar to him.
The Tigers are falling fast. They are no longer a guarantee to make the playoffs, let alone go deep into them. On August 7th, Detroit had an 89% chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus, including an 82.5% chance of winning the division. Following yesterday's games, the Tigers only have a 60% chance of making the playoffs and a 44% chance of winning the division.
If the Tigers brought Castillo aboard, they might be able to form a spark that not only brings them into the playoffs, but helps them get hot and dominate the American League in pursuit of their first World Series championship since 1984. We have seen the spark that Yasiel Puig started in Los Angeles, the spark that Jose Abreu created in Chicago (although they will not be a playoff team), who says that Castillo cannot work the magic for Detroit? Or, is it to late? Or, is he not the real deal?
Those questions are for Detroit's management to decide. Bringing Castillo on might not only boost them into the playoffs, but it could fill a big hole in a few years when Torii Hunter and Rajai Davis only under contract through 2014 and 2015, respectively. Instead of the Tigers signing a 30-year-old free agent outfielder in two years, why not sign Castillo, a 27-year-old outfielder with perhaps his best years to come? Their interest in him is beginning to add up.
Castillo is getting closer to signing on with his first major league club. The Tigers make sense for many reasons, but he may be the player they need to save their season.
Follow Devan on Twitter for the latest news and rumors @CoverThoseBases.
There is a new sherif in town. He goes by the name of Robert D. Manfred, who has just been hired to become baseball's 10th commissioner in the sport's history. We say goodbye to Bud Selig, and hello to a whole new realm of possibilities in the sport of baseball. Here are three things that I would like to see Manfred achieve while he is in office.
1. Reinstate Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame
The one thing that always troubled me while Selig was commissioner was the fact that he would not allow Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame. For those unfamiliar with Rose's troubles, he gambled for the Reds to win while he was manager of the team from 1984 to 1989. Rose was banned of Hall of Fame entry by then commissioner Bart Giamatti. He applied for reinstatement during Fay Vincent's (Giamatti's successor) term as commissioner, but he kept Rose banned from the Hall. When Vincent left the position to Bud Selig, Rose again applied for reinstatement, but was once again denied entry to the Hall of Fame.
Enough time has passed to let Rose into the Hall. Rose is the MLB's all-time leader in hits (4,256), at bats (14,053), plate appearances (15,890), and games played (3,562). What he did wrong was while he was manager, not while he was a player. Yes, I do understand that what he did was wrong. But he did it after all the years while he had created a Hall of Fame pedigree. He was "clean" while he was playing, and he deserves to go into the Hall for his playing career. If he had gained a Hall of Fame pedigree as a manger, yes it would be a different story, but he did no wrong while he was playing. I hope Rob Manfred understands that and lets one of the game's greatest into the Baseball Hall of Fane.
2. Improve Pace of Play
Whether it would be to create a pitch clock (where pitchers would have to deliver their next pitch in a specific time period), force hitters to stay in the batter's box in between pitchers, or both, baseball needs to fix something that has hurt the game's popularity with the younger generation for a long time now. In the last issue of my Middle School's newspaper, I wrote that my generation has brushed baseball off its shoulders, and has gotten more interested in higher scoring affairs, or "faster-paced" affairs, such as football, hockey, lacrosse, basketball, and other sports.
While I enjoy the game of baseball as it is, I do want the game to be able to be loved for generations to come. Many of my friends find the game very boring, and do not want to sit in front of their TVs for three hours to watch a ballgame. It is that simple. Going to the game is still fun, but the reason that baseball is no longer registering high TV ratings is because nobody has the time or the attention span to watch a game. Even if the people are at the game, many leave in the seventh or eighth innings, before the game ends, because it is too "late." Manfred has to find a way to keep the sport at its nine inning length (to appeal to the traditionalists), but also has to keep the games under three hours.
3. Add the designated hitter in the National League
The designated hitter needs to be added to the National League. First, with all the interleague play that occurs during the season, the away team is given a huge disadvantage, because either their pitchers are not used to swinging a bat or the manager has to put a bench player in at the DH spot. This really can give the team with home-field advantage in the World Series a big boost, even bigger than the fact that four of the seven games are being played in front of their home crowd.
I do not want to remove the DH from the American League for two reasons. First of all, this generation like scoring, and while that would slow down the game, seeing more extra base hits and runs being scored is something that appeals to many of the younger fans, even more than a fast-paced game. Second, removing the DH from the American League would cause full-time designated hitters, like David Ortiz, to lose their jobs, and perhaps be forced to retire. I hope Mr. Manfred does see that adding a DH to the NL would make the game better, in a sense.
While there are many more issues that I would like Rob Manfred to work on, these three things are on the top of my priority list in being changed as the 10th commissioner of baseball steps into office in January 2015. The new sherif needs to make a positive impact on the sport with the changing world around him. It would really improve the modernness of the game of baseball.
The Detroit Tigers are leading the American League Central division by a mere 1 1/2 games over the Kansas City Royals. The Royals have not been to the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985, and after already spending time atop the AL Central, they are ready to get back to October. While the Tigers no longer have a strong hold on the division, I still believe that they will be back in the World Series.
Prior to the season, I picked the Washington Nationals to defeat the Detroit Tigers in seven games. I still hold true to that prediction. Even though the Tigers are on pace to finish with the fewest wins since they went 81-81 in 2010, I believe that this team still has something special inside of them.
Just look at Detroit's rotation. They have three former Cy Young award winners in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price, along with very formidable number four and five starters in Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez, respectively. Believe it or not, the Tigers' rotation has been susceptible to some bad luck. Their rotation has a higher ERA (3.71) than FIP (3.49). Even though the difference is minimal, over a long period of time the difference can really make a big difference.
There are four teams in the American League with a higher winning percentage than the Tigers, the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, and Baltimore Orioles, in that order. Two of those three of teams starting rotations have had better luck than expected. The Athletics' have a 3.34 ERA and a 3.86 FIP. The Orioles have a 3.89 ERA and a 4.41 FIP. Everyone ahead of them is bound to regress sometime this year.
While regular season statistics do not mean much towards a team's postseason chances, how "hot" or "cold" the team is plays a large factor. If the Tigers can really get it together and get rolling, while the teams ahead of them cool off, it could be a huge benefit.
One real issue for Detroit is their bullpen. Joakim Soria, their new acquisition via Texas, has a 10.38 ERA and a 9.83 FIP in 4 1/3 innings pitched. He was tagged with the loss on July 31st against the White Sox. Since then, however, Soria has thrown 2 2/3 shutout innings. Overall, the Tigers relief corps have the third-highest ERA (4.49) and sixth-highest FIP (3.97) in the majors. The Orioles, Athletics, and Angels all rank in the top 12 in ERA; while ranking in the top 16 in FIP.
If the Tigers want to go far into the postseason, their bullpen needs to remain stable. With that said, however, I have complete faith that they will be able to rebound. Of the four pitchers with over 40 innings pitched out of the bullpen, only Al Alburquerque has a worse FIP than his ERA, and he has the best ERA out of the bullpen. That includes Joe Nathan, who's 4.06 FIP is much better than his 5.36 FIP. Sure the bullpen has been terrible, but there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel.
The Tigers' defense also hurts. The Tigers have the fourth-worst UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) in the majors, which does not mean they make the most errors, but that they are among the worst in the major leagues in range, arm, and other defensive metrics in the league. In terms of defensive runs saved, the Tigers rank second-worst in the MLB with a -45 runs below average.
Sometimes you have to substitute defense for offense. That is exactly what the Tigers are doing. The Tigers lineup includes the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, and Ian Kinsler. Although their defensive skills are not the best, their offense is superb. As a team, the Tigers have the second-highest OPS (.756), sixth-highest on-base percentage (.327) and fourth-highest wRC+ (107) in the majors.
World Series caliber teams sometimes have to substitute one area of their game to make themselves better in another. The Tigers rotation and hitting will take them deep into the playoffs, and while their bullpen and defense can been seen as liabilities, they made the substitutions necessary to put them in contention to win an American League title. And that is what the Tigers might just do this year.
July 31st, the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, has come and gone. After two days of digesting one of the busiest deadlines in recent memory, it is not only time to think about who made the right turns in either improving their team for a postseason run or retooled for the future, but it is also time to think about who whiffed at those opportunities. Ladies and gentlemen, here are Cover Those Bases' winners and losers of the 2014 trade deadline.
The Oakland Athletics acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs on July 4th. Their rotation took a huge step forward, although they did have to give up top prospect Addison Russell in return. When we thought the A's had made their one move, they proved us wrong. On the day of the deadline, the Athletics made the first move of the day, a big one, acquiring Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes from the Boston Red Sox. They did have to send Yoenis Cespedes to Boston, but pitching wins championships, and Billy Beane and company did their job.
Boston Red Sox
At the beginning of July, the Red Sox' trade deadline status was in question. Going into July 1st, the Red Sox were only 6.5 games out of first, and a hot month could have made them buyers. However, they went 11-16 in July, and ended the month 12.5 games out. What really makes them winners, however, is that they were able to deal every single major trade piece they had that only had one year left on their contract. The Sox dealt Jon Lester to Oakland, John Lackey to St. Louis, and Andrew Miller to Baltimore. Not to mention, they also dealt Stephen Drew to New York and Jake Peavy to San Francisco. In return, the Red Sox did not just get prospects that will be in the show in five years. They got Yoenis Cespedes, Joe Kelly, and Allen Craig, three proven major leaguers. That was absolutely fantastic. This deadline could make Boston contenders again next year.
The Cubs did exactly what everyone wanted them to do at the trade deadline, sell. They dealt Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, getting one of the best prospects in baseball in Addison Russell, while also receiving Billy McKinney and Dan Straily. They also were able to take Felix Doubront of the Red Sox' hands, who might be able to be shaped into a pretty good pitcher. However, he is a big work in progress. And right at the deadline at 4 pm, Chicago dealt James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio to Atlanta, getting a former second round pick in Victor Caratini in return. The Cubs continue to build up young players and could be contenders as soon as next year.
During the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, the question was, "How many players are the Phillies going to sell?" This was different than prior years, when the question was, "Will the Phillies sell?" I guess people should have been asking the second question again, because the Phillies did not deal one single player at the trade deadline. Let me tell you again: they did not trade a single player. With all they talent they had in Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, and Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies still could not make a deal. The person to blame is general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who blamed the other GMs for not being aggressive enough for his players. Unless they make some serious noise during the waiver-trade period in August, Amaro, along with the rest of the Phillies front office, failed epically. He needs to go before anything worse happens to this team.
San Francisco Giants
I really believed that the Giants were going to go out and get a bat at the deadline, particularly at second base. However, the only deal they made was getting a shaky Jake Peavy from Boston for two minor league pitchers that I feel highly about. They were not able to make the deals that they should have, especially going after either Ben Zobrist or Chase Utley. Even after the Rays decided they were going to deal David Price, they should have gone out and shopped Zobrist. The Giants were not able to get anything done, even after showing a lot of interest in him. They are competing with the Dodgers in the National League West, and when you need to be deep at every position to best them, they whiffed really badly in going out and getting a second baseman. That is why they are a loser.
Tampa Bay Rays
As soon as the Rays decided they were going to deal David Price, Ben Zobrist should have been the next guy to be moved. The Rays got a subpar return for a Cy Young award winner in David Price, only drawing Nick Franklin from Seattle and Drew Smyly from Detroit, along with a minor league shortstop. I really thought that the Rays were only going to deal Price in a fantastic deal, especially since they still can contend this season. However, that was not the case, as I believe the Red Sox got more for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes than the Rays got for David Price. That should be the complete opposite. The Rays could have easily held on to the lefty as well, as he still has another season on his contract. Tampa Bay made a head-scratcher this deadline season.