The Inning: September 1, 2017

The Inning

Friday, September 1, 2017

 

With the end of the season coming one month from today, I thought it would be time to give final predictions. I could wait until the end of the month, but…

 

Three Up (American League)…

 

  1. Your Divisional Champions are…

 

AL East: Toronto over Baltimore by one game. That’s how it stands now; the Blue Jays lead Baltimore by a game, Tampa by 4.5, and the Yanks by five. I almost switched this twice, because I think the four-game series each team plays in two weeks could swing the race Baltimore’s way. The Blue Jays head to Minnesota, while the O’s go to New York. But the Yanks are still playing solid ball, despite selling off half the team. The Twins are in a race for the top spot in the AL, but it’s one I don’t think they’ll win. By mid-month, their focus could be more about resting starters and getting their rotation ready for October.

 

That said, I like Toronto’s staff more than Baltimore’s, which is a common refrain from me this season. Tadakuni Fujita is the best pitcher not named Nathan Eovaldi, and an offense that has been the league’s best since July 1st.

 

This should go down to the wire. But I will stick with my gut, and stay with Toronto.

 

AL Central: Minnesota by a dozen. The Tigers continue to fade, while the Twins continue to roll. This seems pretty easy to predict. I think the Twins will fall short in the race for the league’s best record…but they’ll win this pretty comfortably.

 

AL West: Los Angeles over Seattle by eight games. The Mariners, I still maintain, are the league’s second-best team. That says a lot about the Angels. They will get healthyish with the return of Masaturo Ohayashi and Mike Trout. Of course, not having Brandon Morrow or Jing-bo Xun will hurt in October. But they should see themselves past that problem.

 

  1. Your Wild Card Game is…

 

Baltimore at Seattle. I do believe Detroit will falter down the stretch. The Orioles have faded slightly, but have been consistent enough throughout the season to overcome the half-game deficit they currently face.

 

I do like Seattle to win this game, and go on to face the Angels in the ALCS. It would be a damn shame to see these two teams face off here…but that’s how it goes. That said, both ALDS matchups will be wonderful to see, regardless of who comes out of the Wild Card game. You’ve got Seattle, a juggernaut built on the fly; Baltimore, the underdog darlings of the AL; or Detroit, the team knocked down several times, but one that keeps answering the call.

 

  1. Your Award Winners are…

 

Most Valuable Player: Nomar Mazara, LA Angels. Mazara has finally overtaken Trout in the WAR race (6.5 to 6.4); Bryce Harper sits a distant third, at 5.5. Mazara leads the league in average, OBP, OPS, and wOBA. He’s fifth in slugging. He has carried the Angels despite the numerous injuries they’ve incurred. With all due respect to Harper, Trout, Tyler Townsend and Corey Gallagher, Mazara is our man.

 

Cy Young Award: Nathan Eovaldi, Seattle. This has been a steady course all year for Eovaldi, the league’s ERA, WHIP, oBA, and WAR leader. His ERA sits nearly four-tenths of a run higher than Jordan Zimmerman. Tadakuni Fujita, who should finish second in this race, leads the league in wins, and has been outright dominant for most of the last three months. But Eovaldi continues to be the league’s best pitcher. This is his award, and nobody else’s.

 

Rookie of the Year: CL Kenneth McDowall, Minnesota. I know, I know…I’m going to hear it from the Baltimore fans on this one. Truth is, they have three different players who could win the award, with James Baldwin, Anthony Hale, and Rafael Luna all quite capable of walking away with the honor. I think they might take each other out (personally, I’d vote Hale out of that contingent. Roddy Shoulders also deserves series consideration. But in the end, the end guy for the eventual AL Central champs should get the nod. McDowall has been downright dominant all season long. He’s 6-3 with 27 saves, along with a 1.89 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. He averages just under a strikeout an inning, and has yielded just three home runs all season long. The 27-year-old has taken a rather circuitous route to get here…but he is The Man in the ninth. He should be the top man on your ballot.

 

Three Down (National League)…

 

  1. Your Division Winners…

 

NL East: NY Mets over Atlanta in game 163. If it comes down to a tie, I like the Mets’ staff more than Atlanta. It’s that simple. The Braves have been confoundingly putrid over the last two months, going 29-24. For a team with this much talent, that record is not good enough. The Braves have, by far, the easier schedule: three against Texas, eight against the Marlins, and six against Washington. The six games the two teams play against one another may come up huge. So, too, may the Mets’ series against the Phillies to end the season.

 

The Phillies, still in contention for the wild card, may hang around…but I don’t expect them to seriously challenge. They’re another team that, for as much talent as they have, consistency issues have destroyed them.

 

If this doesn’t come down to a tie, then I like Atlanta, just because I think they have a chance to gain a cushion. But if it comes down to one game? Give me the Mets and that staff.

 

NL Central: Cincinnati by seven over Milwaukee, nine over Chicago. The Brewers have become the talk of the NL. They were behind the second Wild Card spot by 6.5 games ten days ago. Now, they hold a tie with San Diego. They caught the Phillies and Padres at the right time.

 

If this were July, I’d say they caught the Reds at the right time, too. Injuries have clouded the Reds’ future somewhat. That said, the Reds hare two games ahead of the Mets for the NL’s best record. The Braves are 5.5 games ahead of the Brewers and Padres. Even if the Reds were to utterly collapse, which I cannot see happening, I believe their playoff tickets are punched. I also think they’ll get their house in order for October. They have been the best story in the entire league this year; they’ll get to celebrate early, and get focused for the Wild Card winner.

 

NL West: LA Dodgers over San Diego by three games. The Dodgers have a relatively easy schedule, with six games against the Giants, six against Colorado, and three against the Diamondbacks. They do have six against the Padres, with an important three-game set starting in San Diego tonight. Each team has their three best starters going in the series, with Jarred Cosart going against Michael Mantuella tomorrow, and Tommy Hanson against Broderick Wilson on Sunday.

 

Where I think the Dodgers will be helped immensely is the return of Brady Rodgers. He should be back in two weeks. Adding him in place of Steven Inch, who can buoy the bullpen, is a godsend for Los Angeles. The Padres continue to get bad news about Jonathan Arias (who had yet another setback), and their offense is still anemic.

 

That said, if the Padres can sweep the Dodgers…their schedule is very favorable going forward. These three games will settle a lot going forward.

 

  1. Your Wild Card game is…

 

San Diego at Atlanta. The Brewers and Cubs have difficult schedules in September. The Phillies have it a bit easier…except they cannot beat the Marlins to save their playoff life. Six more games against them might very well sink them.

 

That sets things up for the Padres, who have better pitching than any team in this race, and have a somewhat punchier offense with Prince Fielder and all-or-nothing Giancarlo Stanton. Really, the three-headed monster of Mantuella, Wilson and Reyes, and the return of Jonathan Arias, should put the Padres over the top.

 

That said, give me the Braves to win this one. The Padres are dreadful on the road (28-39), and the Braves do have a couple solid starters to put into this game opposite Mantuella or Wilson.

 

This would set up very interesting series: Cincinnati/Atlanta, and Los Angeles/New York. You really couldn’t ask for anything better.

 

  1. Your Award Winners are…

 

Most Valuable Player: Armando Cabanas, Atlanta. Go ahead. Make an argument for any other player in the National League. Any single player. Can you? No? Okay.

 

Cabanas has an excellent chance at the Triple Crown, by the way. Just wanted to point that out.

 

Cy Young: Chris Sale, Cincinnati. But enough about Sale. Do you know how good Zack Greinke has been in San Francisco? He’s 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA, along with a 1.09 WHIP (which is, amazingly, worse than it was in Atlanta (1.00).

 

I get the forward thought the Braves had. But don’t you think they might want to take that one back right now?

 

This might be the most heated battle among any award. Sale, Greinke, Cosart, Manutella, Matt HarveyBroderick Wilson has forced his way into the conversation, as has Mat Latos to a very peripheral degree…there are 5-6 solid candidates. Right now, I couldn’t tell you what my ballot would look like. Probably…

 

  1. Sale
  2. Greinke
  3. Manutella
  4. Wilson
  5. Harvey

 

Who knows what it’ll look like in a month. Gerrit Cole is another guy who deserves mention. He probably won’t get any votes, but he would be the best pitcher this year who won’t receive any.

 

Rookie of the Year: Michael Mantuella, San Diego. This was Jose Gonzalez’ to win, and maybe it still will. The Brewers’ rookie leads the NL with a .341 average. He’s also second in WAR. But Mantuella has earned his way to the top. This is another crowded grouping, with San Diego’s Wilson, Jefry Marte of New York, Logan Moore of Philadelphia, and Colorado’s Jed McKinley all deserving of serious consideration. And don’t forget about Cincinnati’s Nobuhisa Koyama. He’s fallen off slightly, but holy cow, he’s still been very good.

 

There are two really great award races in the NL…and one non-race.