Friday, June 23, 2017

On Deck Circle 6/23/17: Who's Real and Who's Fake?

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

The MLB season is quickly approaching the halfway point, teams are hitting the 70 game mark on the season. Right now, there is still a ton of sorting to be done among the top of the division and it can turn quickly one way or the other for any team. There are even teams out there that may win their division and make the playoffs, but will be overmatched and aren't truly made of championship material.

It's time to predict which current contending teams are actually real and will remain in contention and be considered a World Series team, and which ones are fake and will eventually fall off, whether it's before the end of the season or if they manage to make the playoffs. Here's a breakdown of the division leaders and contenders and if they are here to stay or if they are fool's gold.


New York Yankees - REAL: It took everyone a little while to start believing that this team has staying power but the Yankees seem to be back. Their offense, led by Aaron Judge, is exploding this year and if Judge, along with Gary Sanchez, Starlin Castro and others, can keep this up then they have what it takes to remain the division leaders. Their pitching is also looking real good, Luis Severino and C.C. Sabathia (no, you're not seeing things) are having good seasons and what's scary about their staff is that Masahiro Tanaka has not been good. If he turns it around a bit then there's no telling what this team is capable of. They have hit a little bit of a slump lately, but nothing to worry about long-term as this team is for real.

Boston Red Sox - REAL: This team has it all and may end up being the team to beat in the American League. Betts, Bogaerts and Benintendi make a powerful triple threat on offense that is making up for the loss of David Ortiz and Chris Sale has been worth every little bit of the trade so far as he has been their ace pitcher. In order for the Red Sox to become that team to beat though, they will need David Price to fully return to form as right now they really do not have a solid #2 starter behind Sale. Still though, the Red Sox are a team that will be in contention all season long.

Tampa Bay Rays - FAKE: The Rays are currently hanging on in the wild card hunt, but I don't see it lasting too much longer. With a slew of teams right behind them and if they fall out just a little bit then expect them to be seller's at the deadline. I'm not counting them completely out, their offense may provide enough to keep them in it, but Chris Archer will again be a hot commodity at the trade deadline and the Rays end up dealing him this year.


Cleveland Indians - REAL: I've been saying for a month now that the Indians are just working things out and they will be fine. Sure enough, they have seemingly turned that corner are now in 1st place in the division. Edwin Encarnacion is crushing the ball after a very slow start to the season and after a brief DL stint, Corey Kluber is looking like his Cy Young form. This is the team that made the World Series last season, they are definitely for real.

Minnesota Twins - FAKE: The Twins had the luxury of the Indians starting off sluggish, so they did what they could to gain a lead in the division. While Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano have been bright spots in the lineup and Jose Berrios looks like a future ace, their playoff hopes seem about up. Put it this way, when a team has over -40 run differential and ranks 28th in team ERA, there's no chance to sustain a first place lead or make up ground on the wild card spots. Because of that, I have to call the Twins as fake.


Houston Astros - REAL: I'm honestly not sure how anyone could consider this team to be fake, they are as real of a team as it gets. They have the best record in the entire MLB, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are both legitimate MVP candidates and their pitching is in the top 5 in a majority of stats. There isn't much else to say, this team is for real and the current favorite to win the World Series.


Washington Nationals - REAL: Even though they are going to win their division and have one of the best records in the league, this was tough for me to choose. Don't get me wrong, on paper they are definitely legit and have what it takes to win the NL, but they use their starting pitching so much that there's a decent chance the wear and tear down the stretch could lead to another 1st round exit. But ultimately, I have to go with the Nationals being real, they have everything it takes so can't call them anything but solely based on a hypothetical that their pitching will eventually breakdown. I don't have high hopes for their playoff run, but this team is for real.


Milwaukee Brewers - FAKE: Let me start by saying that the Brewers are fake, for now. They are beginning to prove themselves and win me over, but I'm just not ready to jump all in on them right now. They are just so middle of the road in many team categories, and both batting and pitching and are being led by some unlikely players. While Eric Thames and Chase Anderson have been real good stories, are we 100% sure that they will keep this going all season long? They just have very little margin for error, and while they likely will win the division, it's still too soon to buy them as a real threat.

Chicago Cubs - FAKE: What? The defending World Series champs are fake this season? At first I thought it was just a little lack of motivation after winning it all last year, that they'd shrug it off and turn it up, but this team has some serious holes that do not look fixable. Their offense is just lacking, Anthony Rizzo being the only player that's really living up to his norm this season. They are 29th in batting average, 18th in On Base %, 19th in OPS, 17th in runs and 29th in stolen bases, all the makings of a pretty subpar offense overall. Their pitching isn't much better, with only 1 starting pitcher (Jon Lester) with an ERA under 4. This goes beyond just a "championship hangover" and are real issues that makes this alarming. They need to win the division in order to even make the playoffs thanks to the 3 teams in the NL West and with these problems, don't be surprised if they miss out on the postseason.


Los Angeles Dodgers - REAL: What if I told you at the start of the season that the offensive MVP of the team would be Cody Bellinger and the Cy Young of the team would be Alex Wood? Bellinger started the season in triple A and the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, but sure enough, those two are leading the way for the Dodgers. Bellinger leads the entire NL in home runs despite not being called up until April 25th, add him to a lineup that already has Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez and there's reason why this team is one of the best statistical offenses in the league. Kershaw is still typical Kershaw,(10-2 2.60 ERA, 115 K's) but Alex Wood has just been that much better this season. Wood is 7-0, 1.90 ERA and 72K's in 12 games this season, he's a legitimate 2nd ace on the team. With the offense as good as it is and the pitching being top notch(including Kenley Jansen being 15/15 in saves with 50 K's and zero walks), this team is for real.

Colorado Rockies - REAL: The Rockies having a good offense is nothing new, the friendly atmosphere in Denver will always give them a boost in numbers. But this offense has some serious talent and the offensive numbers can't be blamed on the thin air in Denver. Charlie Blackmon may be the best CF in the NL(McCutcheon isn't ready to give that crown up just yet), Nolan Arenado is a star 3B with ridiculous HR ability and Mark Reynolds is having a career renaissance. Their starting pitching isn't great, but their bullpen has been exceptional this year. Greg Holland leads the league in saves as Adam Ottavino sets the table for him, a top 5 offense with a shut down bullpen is a perfect way to mask any issues with the starting pitching. And we're still a month away from the trade deadline, do not be surprised if the Rockies go for Chris Archer or Jose Quintana to help the starting rotation. Rockies are a playoff team that can contend with any team in the MLB, this team is for real.

Arizona Diamondbacks - REAL: I have been hesitant to call them real all season so far, but can't deny what this team is doing and any team that is circling around +100 in run differential needs to be taken seriously. Paul Goldschmidt leads the way for an offense that is also one of the best in the league(it's an NL West thing), with Jake Lamb, Chris Owings and Brandon Drury also providing a ton of pop off the bat. This team last trade deadline was looking to be sellers and the main guy they were looking to unload was SP Zack Greinke. In his first of a 6 year 205 million dollar deal with the Diamondbacks, Greinke underperformed and the team was looking to give up on him, and it's a good thing for them that they didn't. Greinke has returned to All-Star form, 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, he's also struck out 111 batters while only walking 19. Robbie Ray has also been a solid starter for them and Fernando Rodney has been a perfect 20/20 in save opportunities this season. The NL West will be such a fun race the rest of the season and its a shame that 2 of these 3 teams will have to play in the 1 game wildcard playoff. Not sure who the best of the 3 are, but Arizona has a good of a claim to being the best as any.

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