30 Clubs in 30 Days: Texas Rangers

Former USC quarterback Sam Darnold reportedly had a really good pro day (in the rain, no less), where a significant portion of the Browns’ staff was in attendance. This makes it all the more likely that Darnold will be the top pick in the draft next month. My preference is still former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, however he has publicly stated that he does not want to play for the Browns so I think it’s more likely he ends up with the Jets at number 3 or the Broncos at number 5. Also, the Giants traded defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the Buccaneers for some draft picks, so perhaps North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb may wind up being the second overall pick. But with that, let’s get to today’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, as we begin to wind down with the Texas Rangers.

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2017 Results:

Record: 78-84, 23 games behind Houston Astros, 7 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card spot

Notable Offseason Additions: SP Bartolo Colon, SP Doug Fister, SP Matt Moore, RP Mike Minor, 2B Darwin Barney, 3B Trevor Plouffe, C Curt Casali, RP Shawn Tolleson, SP Tim Lincecum

Notable Offseason Subtractions: CF Carlos Gomez, SP Andrew Cashner, 1B Mike Napoli, SP AJ Griffin, SP Miguel Gonzalez, SP Nick Martinez, SP Tyson Ross, 2B Phil Gosselin

Best Offensive Player: 3B Adrian Beltre

Best Pitcher: Cole Hamels

Depth Chart:

C-Robinson Chirinos, Juan Centeno

1B-Joey Gallo

2B-Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Darwin Barney

3B-Adrian Beltre, Trevor Plouffe

SS-Elvis Andrus

LF-Drew Robinson, Ryan Rua

CF-Delino DeShields

RF-Nomar Mazara, Shin Soo Choo (DH)

SP-Cole Hamels, Doug Fister, Matt Moore, Mike Minor, Martin Perez, Jesse Chavez, Bartolo Colon

Bullpen-Alex Claudio (CP?), Jake Diekman (CP?), Matt Bush (CP?), Keone Kela, Jose LeClerc, Tony Barnette, Tim Lincecum

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Jeff Banister (4th season with Rangers)

Hitting Coach-Anthony Iapoce

Pitching Coach-Doug Brocail

1st Base Coach-Steve Buechele

3rd Base Coach-Tony Beasley

Bench Coach-Don Wakamatsu

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The Rangers had a tough season in 2017. After back-to-back division titles in 2015 and ’16, both of which concluded with unceremonious ALDS exits against the Blue Jays, they fell on hard times and ultimately had to start gutting the team, first by shipping off their ace Yu Darvish and then catcher Jonathan Lucroy. There may be more in store should the team struggle to compete in 2018, which I think they will given how tough the AL West is expected to be this season. Here’s how I’m expecting the Rangers to line up this season.

1. Delino DeShields-CF

2. Elvis Andrus-SS

3. Adrian Beltre-3B

4. Joey Gallo-1B

5. Nomar Mazara-RF

6. Shin Soo Choo-DH

7. Rougned Odor-2B

8. Robinson Chirinos-C

9. Drew Robinson/Ryan Rua-LF

There’s some pop in this lineup that will surely be enhanced by the conditions in Arlington, Texas. Joey Gallo is an interesting case here as he was a huge power threat, hitting 41 home runs and slugging .537. It’s this power that made Gallo worth a very respectable 2.9 WAR despite having the fourth-worst batting average in the majors at .209. Only Baltimore’s Chris Davis struck out at a higher frequency than Gallo’s 36.8%, but again, pretty much all of Gallo’s hits seemed to go for extra bases. In fact, 62 of his 94  hits (66%) were of the extra base variety. He hit more home runs (41) than singles (32). So despite the fact that Gallo doesn’t get a ton of hits, when he does he makes them count. Elvis Andrus quietly had his best season in 2017. He hit .297 with a career high 20 home runs (his previous best had been 8) and drove in 88 RBI while stealing 25 bags. He also played a quality defensive shortstop and had a career best 4.1 WAR. Rougned Odor is a guy I’ve never been a huge fan of (though you have to admit, that was a beautiful right hook on Jose Bautista) and last season he left a lot to be desired. He had the second worst batting average in the Majors at .204, the worst OBP at .252, and was worth -1.0 WAR despite hitting 30 home runs for the second straight season. He also played in all 162 games so it wasn’t like his performance was harmed due to injury. This seems to be more of an approach issue than anything and is something that he has to work on if he hopes to continue to be a part of this lineup. And of course, we can’t forget Adrian Beltre, one of the most underappreciated stars of the last 20 years. In fact, Beltre will be entering his 21st Major League season, which is amazing considering he’s not even 40 yet (he turns 39 in a few weeks). Beltre recorded his 3000th hit last season, a double down the left field line, and despite battling injuries that led him to playing his fewest games in a season since his rookie year, he still managed to hit .312 with 17 home runs and 71 RBI and playing his exceptional third base. His on-field antics are also the stuff of legend and have made him one of my all-time favorite players in this league. It will be a sad day when he finally decides to hang up the cleats. I just hope he can get a World Series win before he’s done.

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Pitching for the Rangers could get problematic. Cole Hamels is still an ace-level pitcher, though his 2017 season was a far cry to what he had done in the past. He had an ERA of 4.20 and struck out a career-worst 6.39 batters per 9. He turns 35 just after Christmas so perhaps he may be headed toward a steep decline, which should have Rangers fans nervous because after him there isn’t much to go off of. Doug Fister was a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox last season, but he was their 7th starter and really only joined the rotation because David Price and Steven Wright got hurt. However he did manage a 4.88 ERA, which isn’t good but his FIP was almost an entire run lower at 3.98. However if that’s your #2 starter, you’re in trouble. Matt Moore hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed as a rookie and had the worst ERA in the Majors last season among qualifiers with the Giants at 5.52. Things don’t get any easier as he moves from the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park to the very hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington. I also want to touch on Martin Perez real quick. Perez suffered an elbow injury in December after a bull at his ranch in Venezuela charged at him. How did Perez respond to this? He killed the bull and ate it. It’s unknown whether Perez will be ready to go for Opening Day, however this story is a good way to force hitters to take note of you.

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The Rangers bullpen is interesting. There hasn’t been a declared closer but there are so many options available. Alex Claudio had a strong 2017 with a 2.50 ERA though a low 6.10 K/9. Matt Bush continues to shed the “biggest draft bust of all time” label as he had a 3.78 ERA while striking out almost 10 batters per 9. The team also signed 2-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum to compete for the closer’s role. As of right now, I would say the favorite to land the job is Claudio, given he’s had the most recent success and he’s the reliever manager Jeff Banister went to the most last season and therefore has the most trust in. Though I think the Rangers would benefit in using a closer-by-committee kind of rotation where they have the left-handed Claudio appear in the 9th if the three batters due up are lefty-heavy and the right-handed Bush for when they’re righty-heavy.

Overall, I don’t expect the Rangers to compete too hard in this division. They’re way behind their in-state rival Astros in terms of talent and they didn’t do enough in the offseason to fend off the Angels and Mariners, either. If the Rangers aren’t competitors by the time the trade deadline rolls around, I would expect them to be sellers and begin their rebuild.

Projected Record: 82-80, 4th in AL West

That record could really fluctuate depending on how things go. It’s more of a place-holder, kind of like what I did with the Orioles. I would put more stock in the divisional finish rather than the actual record. That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when we go north of the border with the Toronto Blue Jays who, like the Rangers, are also at kind of a crossroads and will have some real decisions to make at the trade deadline. Let me know what you think of the Rangers’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Baltimore Orioles

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear meeeeee, happy birthday to me. It’s my 22nd birthday, that’s what the song was referencing. But that’s neither here nor there since nobody cares about anybody’s birthday after their 21st so let’s get to some baseball. Not only is today the first day that MLB teams will face other MLB teams in Spring Training, but today we’re talking about the Baltimore Orioles, who I think are the most intriguing team of the 2018 season mainly because they could be a team that could compete for the playoffs but they could also find themselves in the division cellar and that leaves a lot of implications for a certain superstar infielder. So let’s get into the Baltimore Orioles for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days.

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2017 Results:

75-87, last in the AL East, 18 games behind Boston Red Sox, 10 games behind Minnesota Twins for final Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: OF Colby Rasmus, OF Alex Presley, RP Josh Edgin, SP Andrew Cashner

Notable Offseason Subtractions: SP Wade Miley, C Welington Castillo, 2B Johnny Giavotella, SS JJ Hardy, IF Pedro Alvarez, 2B Ryan Flaherty, SP Jeremy Hellickson, SP Ubaldo Jimenez

Best Offensive Player: SS Manny Machado

Best Pitcher: CP Zach Britton

Depth Chart

C-Caleb Joseph, Chance Sisco

1B-Chris Davis

2B-Jonathan Schoop

3B-Tim Beckham

SS-Manny Machado, Engelb Vielma

LF-Trey Mancini, Alex Presley

CF-Adam Jones, Colby Rasmus

RF-Joey Rickard, Mark Trumbo (DH)

SP-Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Chris Tillman, Andrew Cashner, Gabriel Ynoa

Bullpen-Zach Britton (CP), Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, Miguel Castro, Josh Edgin, Richard Bleier

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Buck Showalter (8th season with Orioles)

Hitting Coach-Scott Coolbaugh

Pitching Coach-Roger McDowell

1st Base Coach-Wayne Kirby

3rd Base Coach-Bobby Dickerson

Bench Coach-John Russell

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The Orioles may have finished in last place in the AL East last season, but they were tied with the Oakland A’s for best record amongst last place teams last season at 75-87. There’s a lot of talent on this team, particularly on offense. They boast one of the best infielders in the game in Manny Machado, an underrated hitter in Jonathan Schoop, two of the deadliest power bats in Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, and that’s without even mentioning the guy that has been doing it all for the Orioles for the longest time in Adam Jones. However the Orioles did not live up to their offensive ability last season as they finished just 16th in runs scored. Here’s how the team is expected to line up this season.

1. Joey Rickard-RF

2. Adam Jones-CF

3. Manny Machado-SS

4. Chris Davis-1B

5. Jonathan Schoop-2B

6. Trey Mancini-LF

7. Tim Beckham-3B

8. Mark Trumbo-DH

9. Caleb Joseph-C

Now, Trumbo and Davis have been inconsistent over the last couple of years but when they’re on, they’re two of the deadliest bats in the game and can take pretty much any ball out of the yard. Jonathan Schoop is also probably the most underrated second baseman in the game and in 2017 he took his play to new heights, hitting .293 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 2 DRS, and being worth 4.1 WAR. Trey Mancini is another guy teams shouldn’t sleep on. In his first full season in the Majors in 2017, Mancini hit .293 with 24 home runs and 78 RBI as he finished in third place for AL Rookie of the Year behind the better-known Aaron Judge and Andrew Benintendi. Last season’s Trade Deadline acquisition Tim Beckham really came into his own after arriving in Baltimore from Tampa Bay. The former #1 overall pick had been considered a bust for quite some time, but upon joining the Orioles, he appeared to start to realize his potential as he hit .306 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI in 50 games. He’s going to be the everyday third baseman in Baltimore. But wait, you ask, isn’t Manny Machado the third baseman there? Not anymore, as he’s finally moving back to his natural position of shortstop, which is a weird thing to call it considering how good of a third baseman Machado is. Machado has been arguably the most exciting third baseman in baseball since his debut in 2012 but he’s made it very well known that he’s a shortstop by trade. It’ll be interesting to see how the transition goes. Machado’s a good shortstop, as he’s been able to showcase his abilities when JJ Hardy spent time on the DL. But he is so good at third base that most teams wouldn’t dare try and move him away from there. He’s never had a DRS below 6 in his career (it was as high as 35 in 2013) and he’s won two gold gloves and a platinum glove at the position. But as good as Machado is in the field, one could argue he’s even better at the plate. He did have a down season in 2017, hitting a career-low .259, but he was able to keep up his power stroke by hitting 33 home runs and driving in 95 RBI, his third straight season of at least 30 home runs and 85 RBI. Machado is easily Baltimore’s best player, however he’s also their biggest question mark, but I’ll get into that a lot more when I delve into the Orioles’ season outlook at the end of the blog.

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Starting pitching has been a major issue for the Orioles for a long time. It’s not from a lack of talent, it’s more a lack of overall production. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are two of the most talented pitchers in baseball but they haven’t put together the consistency needed to solidify the pitching staff. Last season, the Orioles finished 27th in the majors in team ERA at 4.97 and it’s not like this has been a one-time problem, it’s seemingly every year that the Orioles rank lowly amongst pitching staffs. For a while, they were trotting out Chris Tillman as their ace, a guy who probably wouldn’t even crack the Red Sox 25-man roster. While you could do a lot worse than Tillman, he is certainly not the guy who should be the best pitcher on your staff. Gausman and Bundy are the two guys the Orioles are going to need to really break out if they’re going to have a chance to reach the postseason in 2018. Gausman has had some success before as he had a pretty solid 2016 season where he pitched to a 3.61 ERA. However that number jumped a whole run in 2017 and he hasn’t been striking out batters the way you’d hope a guy who throws 97 MPH would. He strikes out about 8 batters per 9 innings, which isn’t bad but it’s pretty low for a guy with his repertoire. Bundy had slightly better numbers than Gausman last season, as he pitched to a 4.24 ERA with roughly the same strikeout rate but his talent is similar to that of Gausman’s. If these two guys can reach their potential, the Orioles will have a 2-headed monster that could rival the likes of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling (a bit of a bold statement, but these guys really are extremely talented).

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The bullpen has been a strength for the Orioles over the last few years but they’ve taken a significant blow in regards to their closer, Zach Britton. Britton missed most of last season and will miss the start of this season due to injury after a downright ridiculous 2016 season. How good was Britton in 2016? He allowed 3 earned runs in April. He allowed 1 the rest of the season. That equates to an ERA of 0.54 and quite frankly, if I had a Cy Young vote given the group of guys that the American League was putting out there that season, I think I would’ve voted for Britton to win despite him being a reliever. The Orioles should be in good shape without him, though. It will likely be Brad Brach who takes over the closer role in Baltimore in Britton’s absence and he does have an All Star appearance on his resume. Darren O’Day is another guy who can be really tough to hit. I would know, he’s by far my least favorite pitcher to face when I’m playing MLB the Show. His sinker and slider are deadly and couple that with the fact that he’s a submarine pitcher and you’ll be all out of sorts. Mychal Givens is also a quality arm out of the bullpen for the O’s.

The 2018 season is going to be huge for this front office. The lineup is very talented provided they hit the way they’re capable of but the pitching rotation will cost them many games. This will lead to a very difficult decision if the Orioles are hovering around the brink of a playoff berth because Manny Machado will become a free agent after this season and given his talent and the fact that he’ll be 26 when he hits the market, he’s going to command an INSANE contract that the Orioles simply won’t be able to afford. So if they find themselves sputtering and on the outside-looking-in for the playoff race when the Trade Deadline rolls around, I expect them to blow up the team and it’s going to start by trading Machado for a plethora of prospects. Reportedly the White Sox and Yankees have already contacted the Orioles about Machado and both teams do have the prospects to offer for his services. I’d consider the Yankees a long shot simply because it is widely believed within the Orioles’ organization that they don’t want to trade Machado within the division. However if the Orioles play to their abilities and are in the thick of the playoff race, they may decide to keep Machado with a chance to go on a deep playoff run. But if that’s your plan, you’d have to be World Series-or-bust because there’s very little chance that the O’s will be able to bring him back. So I can already tell you that the most intriguing team when the Trade Deadline rolls around on July 31st will be the O’s.

Projected Finish: 81-81, 3rd in the AL East

That projected record is kind of a place holder because what they do at the Deadline is going to be a huge barometer about how I project this team. If they trade Machado and other players on the roster, that record is going to drop like a ton of bricks. If not and their pitchers pitch to their capability, then we could see that first number in the 90’s. That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I preview the Boston Red Sox, who look to win a third consecutive division title for the first time in franchise history. Let me know what you think of the Orioles’ chances and send me some birthday wishes in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.