The 2017 MLB Season in Review Part 2
The 2017 American League Regular Season may not have been as shocking as the National League’s, but there were a couple of surprises and the playoffs were much more shocking. However, nothing tops the 2017 World Series.
American League West “The Runaway Division”: Last year from worst to first: Athletics, Angels, Astros, Mariners, Rangers. This year’s standings: Athletics, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Astros. I was just writing how terrible the A’s were, but they actually did manage to win 75 games, which is not absolutely awful. That is somewhat surprising. Wow, it is also easy to forget that the Rangers won this division just last year. I predicted them to be worse this year, but they were even worse than I thought. This “era” of Ranger baseball ended just as it began — out of nowhere. The Mariners were also disappointing and both missed the playoffs, which wasn’t too shocking even though I put them both in through the wildcard. The Angels were better as I expected and managed to keep their head above water when they lost Mike Trout. That made me think that they were going to go on a run once he got back, but that never happened. Still, there is some hope with the Angels going forward if they can just get some pitching because Mike Trout just keeps getting better. The dominance of the Houston Astros right off the bat, while not shocking, still has to surprise people. In the current era of baseball, winning 101 games, despite taking the second half of the year easy because this division was won very early on, is incredibly difficult to do. But their lineup from top to bottom was great with both a lot of power and a lot of speed including the MVP Jose Altuve. They also got a bounce back year from Dallas Keuchel as well as strong years from Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh. Overall, they were dominant and won their division by the largest margin in baseball.
American League Central “The Division of Change”: Last year’s standings: Twins, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Indians. This year’s standings: Tigers, White Sox, Royals, Twins, Indians. The only team in this division that did not experience a big change from last year to this year or is not at a crossroads heading into this offseason is the White Sox. They were worse this year, which is to be expected after trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. However, they got so many prospects from all their trades, including David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier later in the season, that it seems like they will inevitably be good. The Royals had a very similar season as last year where they kept faking contention and then pulling back out of contention. Basically their only accomplishment was not getting all their free agents traded away, which may set their franchise back years as Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas are likely walking out the door. The Indians also may have a couple of free agents leave the franchise as recent acquisition Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana hit the market. The difference is they had an awesome regular season and looked like the most complete team in baseball during the regular season. Now, they do have some decisions to make as those are just the first two of many players who may leave in the coming years. There is going to be immense pressure in the coming year in Clevelandville, but I offer an unsatisfactory congratulations on this past regular season. Now a relatively big surprise was how bad the Detroit Tigers were and how they fell apart in the middle of the season. I predicted their decline, but I did not say they would fall off the cliff. They simply had two decent pitchers in Michael Fulmer and Justin Verlander, before he became unbelievable and was traded, and absolutely nothing else. They finished with an unbelievably bad 5.39 team ERA. You’re not going to win many games like that. Now for the biggest surprise of the American League: the Minnesota Twins. In my predictions post, I asked if they could possibly be as bad as they were last year. Instead, I should have been asking: can they be good enough to make the playoffs. The answer is yes. Young teams can sometimes surprise people and that is exactly what the Twins did. Their pitching did hold them back from being a good, 90-win team however. Still the future is bright with that offense.
American League East “The Old Guard is Back”: Last year’s standings: Rays, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox. This year’s standings: Orioles, Blue Jays, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox. The American League East was actually the calmest it has been in years because the Orioles and Blue Jays were simply not good. They feigned contention for that second wild card at times, but they were really out of it all year long. The Rays were better than last year, winning 12 more games, which is really not that surprising because they frequently have young players who perform better than expected. This year it was a little different because it was journeyman players Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson who had breakout seasons. I say the old guard is back because the American League East is known as the division of the Yankees and the Red Sox. They dominated the division from 1996 through 2007, but have been inconsistent over the last 10 years with the Orioles, Rays and Blue Jays each winning at least one division title. However, both teams had strong years with young players that are only going to get better. I was way off with this division and the prediction about the Red Sox was my biggest mistake. I questioned their starting pitching because of injuries and not trusting Rick Porcello, but Chris Sale lived up to the hype and Drew Pomeranz put together a second solid season. Their bullpen was solid as well with another great season from Craig Kimbrel, who by the way has the lowest ERA in the history of baseball. Their offense was also solid, which made them an overall solid team that had an almost identical season to last year’s. The one-year-away Yankees turned out to be a big surprise as they were not one year away. They won 7 games more than last year and the main reason for that was Aaron Judge who was absolutely ridiculous for the first half of the season. Yet they also were stable for when he struggled with a good bullpen, a repeat good season from Gary Sanchez and a lot of clutch hits from Didi Gregorious. But is anyone really surprised when the Yankees contend for a World Series title.
The American League Playoffs “The Bats Go Silently Into the Night”
Wildcard game: Twins at Yankees
Ervin Santana has always struggled at Yankee Stadium, but he vowed that things would be different this time. They weren’t. He was spotted a 3-0 lead as the young Yankee ace Luis Severino struggled in his first ever postseason start and did not make it out of the first inning. But the Yankees went to work against Santana as Gregorious hit another big homerun to turn this game around. It was a back-and-forth affair for a couple off innings before the Yankee bullpen brought stability. The Twins bats were silenced, although Joe Mauer just missed a late-inning homerun that could have turned the game back around that many people forget about, and the Yankees slugged their way to an 8-4 victory.
Yankees at Indians:
No series shocked me more than this one. The Indians were better than the Yankees at basically everything except the Yankees may have had a deeper bullpen. But a terrible series from the Indians’ best starting pitcher, a bad series from their two best hitters and a mediocre one from their reliever allowed the Yankees to turn a 2-0 series deficit to a series win. Ultimately, the change in the series occurred when the Tanaka, Sabbathia and the Yankees bullpen shutdown the Indians’ offense.
Red Sox at Astros:
The Astros were virtually unbeatable at home this postseason. Their offense could not be stopped and the Red Sox were their first victim. The two games in Houston were not close, while the two games in Boston were very close. Ultimately, Chris Sale was left in the game a little too long and the Astros won the series in 4.
ALCS: Yankees at Astros
This series was unbelievable and the only consistency was the home team won every game. The Astros actually did not hit well — the only two home games all postseason where they did not. However, great performances from Keuchel and Verlander gave them the 2-0 lead. That did not last when they went to Yankee Stadium where Tanaka was great once again and the Astros bullpen could not stop the Yankee bullpen. So the series went back to Houston with the Yankees having a 3-2 series lead. But again it was mid-season acquisition Verlander on the mound who found the fountain of youth somewhere (or just remembered how to throw a good slider) and dominated the Yankees for 7 innings. Then, the Astros bats finally woke up in the 8th to make the game a 7-1 decisive victory. That lead to game 7, which featured the Astros trying to hold onto a 4-0 lead when no one knew who they would go to to try and seal the deal. Ultimately, AJ Hinch decided on Lance McCullers who basically only threw curveballs and the Yankee bats went silently into the night.
World Series: Astros at Dodgers (Wild, Wild, Calm)
This matchup was a heavyweight battle between two great teams. It was tough to envision though how the Astros would hold onto a lead this series with their rough bullpen compared to the Dodgers’ impenetrable bullpen. Yet both teams would struggle holding onto leads as there would be four blown leads. It was crazy comeback after crazy comeback with the two high points in game 2 and game 5. It was clear that both team’s relievers were exhausted from being used so aggressively all postseason. All teams planning on doing this during the regular season should take note of that, and I actually think the Astros’ use of starters out of the bullpen may be the way of the future. I say that because, once again, Astros’s starters shutdown the opposing offense out of the bullpen to win games 3 and 7. This time it was Peacock and Morton, meanwhile Dodger starters Darvish and Kershaw let their team down. This was a crazy, crazy series until game 7 when everything settled down in a repeat of game 7 of the ALCS. Congratulations, Astros you are the World Champions of Baseball.