Playing “For real” or “Not for real” with contending MLB teams

Posted: 06/19/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

The long, treacherous baseball season isn’t quite halfway done, but it is by no means “early”. Now it’s time to play “for real” or “not for real” which each of the top contending teams right now.

St. Louis Cardinals (46-25, up 2.5 games in NL Central): For Real

The Cardinals are sitting pretty with the best record in baseball, and it is because of both dynamic hitting and all-star caliber pitching. The Cards, with their +103 run differential, have scored the second most runs in baseball, and have the second best ERA. More than any other team, the Cardinals are well equipped for injuries. Even if one of their productive starters gets hurt, they have a lot of flexibility because of three players in particular. Matt Adams, with his .883 OPS- third on the team, has just 80 at bats, because the positions he is capable of playing (1B, LF, RF) are filled by Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran, and Matt Holliday. If someone goes down, the Cardinals will be able to play Adams. This is also true about Daniel Descalso, who can play every infield position other than first base. Descalso, in 125 at bats, has a .789 OPS, an elite number for a middle infielder. Then there is the farm system, one of the best in the Majors. It is led by outfielder Oscar Taveras, who is almost certainly ready to become an above average every day player.

Bottom Line: This team is deep and star studded, with a perfect combination of young guys and veterans
Guy they can’t afford to lose: Yadier Molina, C
Suggestion: Jon Jay is struggling. Give Taveras a shot in CF

Boston Red Sox (44-29, up 2 games in AL East): Not for real

Listen. The Red Sox are a good baseball team, with a great offense. They just aren’t going to run away with the AL East title. They might (probably will) make the playoffs. But their current pace is unsustainable. I’m worried about their pitching. Clay Buccholtz, he of the sub 2.00 ERA, looks injury prone. Jon Lester, who started off well, has really struggled recently. The rest of the rotation is suspect at best. Their offense is great. David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and Jacoby Ellsbury are great. But I think their top two pitchers need to pitch to their potential if the Sox are going to win the division.

Bottom Line: The offense is great, but they need more from their pitching. Guy they can’t afford to lose: Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Suggestion: Start Jose Iglesias over Stephen Drew or Will Middlebrooks. Drew is hitting .213 with a .671 OPS, and Middlebrooks is hitting .196 with a .629 OPS. Iglesias is at .435 with a 1.035 OPS.

Cincinnati Reds (43-29, behind 2.5 games in NL Central): For real

The Reds would likely be the best team in any other division in baseball. Since they are stuck with the Cardinals, they might have to be happy with a wild card. Their five core hitters (Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Brandon Phillips) are as good as any in baseball. As is their rotation (Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Matt Latos). As is their closer (Aroldis Chapman). This team is legit.

Bottom Line: The Reds are a near playoff lock, because of their starting pitching depth and offensive firepower.
Guy they can’t afford to lose: Joey Votto, 1B
Suggestion: Move Joey Votto into the 2 hole and Jay Bruce into the 3 hole. Zack Cozart can move his .271 OBP from second to eighth.

Pittsburgh Pirates (42-29, behind 3 games in NL Central): Not for real

Three of the four best teams in baseball right now are in the Central? The Central used to be a poor division. Now, they are the best in baseball. I don’t think the Pirates can keep their current pace up, for a variety of reasons. One, their schedule is difficult. Two, they are 24th in the MLB in runs and still don’t have much lineup protection for Andrew McCutchen. Three, their bullpen success is unsustainable. Closer Jason Grilli has 25 saves and a .85 ERA. Setup man Mark Melancon has a 1.02 ERA and 21 holds. Those are insane statlines, and the ERAs will go up, costing the Pirates a few more games.

Bottom Line: The Pirates have a solid team, but don’t have enough talent to stay this far over .500
Guy they can’t afford to lose: Andrew McCutchen, OF
Suggestion: Get Gerrit Cole to rely on his offspeed pitches. This guy has elite stuff, but has just three strikeouts in his first two starts combined. That’s because he only throws fastballs. If he can strike guys out, he can become the staff ace, one they desperately need.

Oakland Athletics (43-30, up 3 games in AL West): For real

The Athletics are really good. I think the Rangers will win the AL West, but barely, and because of a Texas run, not an Oakland slump. I trust Billy Beane, because, even after he gave all of his secrets, he continues to find values. Where did Bartolo Colon come from? How about Josh Donaldson? Their rotation is solid all around, and their offensive is performing well, even with star Yoenis Cespedes struggling. When Cespedes turns it around, watch out.

Bottom line: The Athletics are really good, and will continue to perform well under the radar.
Guy they can’t afford to lose: Josh Donaldson, 3B (and I can’t believe I’m saying this)
Suggestion: Hit Donaldson second or third in the lineup, instead of fifth or sixth. He is their best hitter right now. Against righties, this is the lineup I’d put out there:
John Jaso (C)
Josh Donaldson (3B)
Coco Crisp (CF)
Yoenis Cespedes (LF)
Brandon Moss (1B)
Jed Lowrie (SS)
Seth Smith (DH)
Josh Reddick (RF)
Eric Sogard (2B)

Other teams:
Braves: For Real
Orioles: For Real
Yankees: Not For Real
Tigers: For Real

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