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Houston Astros

Houston, We Don’t Have A Problem: Astros Running Away With AL West As Second Half Kicks Off

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There’s no doubt that the Houston Astros are baseball’s breakout team of 2017 after one half.

With a 60-29 record, only the Los Angeles Dodgers (61-29) have a higher winning percentage in MLB than the Astros entering tonight as play resumes for all 30 teams.

Houston leads the second place Los Angeles Angels by 16.5 games in the AL West—should be safe to say they’ll have no problem wrapping that up.

The last time the Astros won a division title was 2001 when they were in the NL Central (have been in AL West since 2013). They went 93-69 that year, winning the tiebreaker over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Good for the Astros. They’re a club that just endured three straight 100+ loss campaigns (2011-13), and look where they are now a few years later. One of the best teams in baseball, completely running away with their division. Getting it done with a great mix of youth and veterans—and mainly at the plate.

Through the first “half” of the season, Houston leads the majors in runs (527), hits (898), doubles (197), home runs (148), total bases (1,553), individual RBIs (499), batting average (.289), on-base percentage (.355), slugging percentage (.500), and OPS (.855). Minus triples, that’s every major offensive category. They even have 33 sacrifice flies, second most in baseball. I know that’s gotta excite Tim Kurkjian!

Just take a look at the top four slash lines on this Astros team. George Springer- .310/.380/.613. Carlos Correa- .325/.402/.577. Marwin Gonzalez- .308/.391/.576. And Jose Altuve- .347/.417/.551. All hitting .308 or higher with high on-base and slugging percentages. An average of 19 homers and 57 RBIs each. And an average age of 26 years—this is the prime youth of the club getting it done.

Then there’s the veterans. Outfielder Josh Reddick has been a nice addition hitting .313 with 41 RBIs. Evan Gattis and Brian McCann have carried the load nicely behind the plate with solid offensive numbers. And despite hitting just .229, 40-year-old DH Carlos Beltran has 29 XBH and 35 RBIs. Being in his 20th major league season, you have to believe his long-time veteran presence has and continues to make a positive impact on the team.

Concluding the offense are youngsters Alex Bregman and Jake Marisnick who’ve made nice contributions, 33-year-old rookie Yuli Gurriel who’s been on fire since June, and utility outfielder Nori Aoki who’s on his fifth team in as many years.

As for Houston’s pitching, it hasn’t been too shabby either—their 3.93 team ERA is fifth best in baseball. Mike Fiers and Lance McCullers have been solid in the rotation all year, and Brad Peacock has stepped up nicely in ace Dallas Keuchel’s absence, who hasn’t pitched since June 2 (still leads team with nine wins).

Rounding out the current rotation is veteran Charlie Morton (6-3, 3.82 ERA, missed all of June) and Jake Musgrove who’s struggled so far (4-7, 6.04 ERA in 14 starts).

Out in the bullpen, the team’s top-five relievers in appearances (Gregerson, Feliz, Devenski, Giles, Harris; average age of 28), have combined for 15 wins, all 25 team saves, a 3.31 ERA, and 11.54 strikeouts-per-nine.

Talk about getting it done! An insanely good lineup and solid pitching staff—this Astros team led by third-year manager A.J. Hinch have exploded in 2017 and show no signs of slowing down.

A Massachusetts native for life, Seth was born into the love for Boston Sports. He played baseball for eight years growing up and has always been an avid fan of MLB. Other than writing, some of his hobbies include biking, landscaping, dancing, moving furniture, playing basketball, and going to the batting cages. Seth aspires one day to be a PA announcer in the NBA.

Houston Astros

Astros’ Prospect Forrest Whitley Suspended 50 Games

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The Houston Astros can’t be too pleased with their top pitching prospect as Forrest Whitley has been suspended for 50 games for for a violation of minor league baseball’s drug program, Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday.

Whitley, 20, was the Astros’ first-round pick in 2016 and will not be paid as he serves his lengthy suspension.

Whitley advanced from low-A ball to Double-A last season and posted a combined 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 92⅓ innings, highlighted by a performance in Double-A Corpus Christi in which he posted a 1.84 ERA.

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Detroit Tigers

Houston Proves No-Nonsense With Verlander Blockbuster

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The biggest trade of the 2017 MLB season did not come until a month after the non-waiver deadline. Yesterday, the Detroit Tigers said goodbye to longtime ace Justin Verlander, sending him to the Houston Astros in exchange for three top prospects.

The move is quite impressive given the implications on both sides. The Tigers, whom have ignored the obvious call for a rebuild over the past few seasons, seem to finally be on board with that plan. Fellow stars Justin Upton, JD Martinez and Justin Wilson were also sent on their way this season. GM Al Avila had the difficult task of parting ways with Detroit’s most popular player and franchise cornerstone. Verlander was 2006’s AL Rookie of the Year with Detroit as well as 2011’s Cy Young winner and MVP.

However, the Tigers should benefit greatly with the acquisition of RHP Franklin Perez (MLB Astros no.3 prospect), OF Daz Cameron (Astros no.9) and C Jake Rogers (Astros no.11).

For the Astros, the move is even more monumental. Though they have struggled to find prolonged consistency since the All-Star break because of numerous injuries, AJ Hinch’s squad still has the best chance of winning the World Series of any Junior Circuit team, and their chances just got a heck of a lot better.

Adding Justin Verlander to a rotation that already includes Dallas Keuchel, Brad Peacock and eventually Lance McCullers, Jr. makes the ‘stros that much more terrifying. Still with a .602 W% (the best in the AL), Houston has an 11.5 game lead over the upstart LA Angels and could run away with the division even more considerably now.

Reasonably one has to acknowledge that Verlander has not been his best this year after he somehow in Heaven almost won the Cy Young Award again last season, but it’s not exactly a total reflection of him. The 34-year-old pitched to a 10-8 record and 3.82 ERA with the Tigers this season, which isn’t half bad when you consider that Detroit struggled to perform behind him.

The latter will obviously not be an issue with Houston, who possess the AL’s most electric offense with the likes of Jose Altuve and George Springer. Verlander’s best days of his career are clearly behind him, but there is no reason to believe that he doesn’t have a lot more left in the tank.

If the Astros weren’t the favorite for the American League Pennant already, chances are they probably is now. The Houston metropolitan area has been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, and though sports can’t at all measure up to the importance of helping the people there, citizens can at the very least have some escapism in knowing that their beloved team appears to be bound for glory in 2017.

 

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Detroit Tigers

Outlook on Justin Verlander to the Astros

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My, oh my. The trades just don’t end, and this one is going to hurt. Tigers’ franchise pitcher Justin Verlander is off to the Houston Astros for Houston No. 3 prospect righty Franklin Perez, No. 9 prospect outfielder Daz Cameron, No. 11 prospect catcher Jake Rogers and a player to be named or cash.

Houston will look to use Verlander to provide depth in their starting rotation to chase a World Series. For Detroit, this is apart of a long rebuilding process from GM Al Avila, as Verlander is the fifth Tiger to be traded this season.

But this time it was only a minute before deadline. And when we say the deadline, we actually mean deadline, unlike that silly little July 31 teaser.

Here are the pros and cons of Verlander to the Astros.

Pros

The Astros want a World Series run, and here’s how it’s going to happen. Verlander may fit in Houston’s rotation as a top three pitcher along with Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers. He also has significant playoff experience.

Verlander had a shaky start to the year but has improved each month of 2017, leading up to his 2.36 ERA in the month of August. He re-found his game and continues to grind at 34 years old. He has a 10-8 record and is pitching 3.82 on the season with a 1.28 WHIP and 176 strikeouts.

With this trade, Houston continues to assert themselves as perhaps the best team in the American League. This is their chance to finally win a World Series and Verlander may be the final piece to the puzzle to solidify a truly dominant starting rotation. With McCullers currently rehabbing in the minors, Verlander’s emergence is all the more important.

Verlander is also hungry for a World Series. He was reluctant to leave Detroit, who drafted him way back in 2004. According to the 10-and-5 rights, Verlander could have denied this trade if he wanted to stay in Detroit.

But his decision to depart was probably based on winning a ring Detroit could never give him. Nobody in the MLB wants to win a World Series more than Verlander which makes him a great fit for any World Series contending club.

For the Tigers, what more can you ask for? Three huge prospects from arguably a top-five farm system are coming their way. Franklin Perez, 19, is a right-handed relief pitcher. He played in AA Corpus Christi and A+ Buies Creek where he racked up a 6-3 record with a 3.02 ERA and three saves. He is a top 50 world prospect and is easily the Tigers’ best pitching prospect.

Daz Cameron, 20, found mild success all over the place in A Quad Cities. He’s hitting .271 with a slugging percentage of .467, 73 RBI’s, 29 doubles and 32 stolen bases. He’s a better than average centerfielder as well. Cameron is having a great second half to 2017 after a sluggish start and is projected to be at least a solid backup outfielder.

Jake Rogers, 22, has played both catcher and designated hitter in A Quad Cities and A+ Buies Creek with a .265 average and .476 slugging percentage. He also has 70 RBI’s, 25 doubles, 18 homers, 14 stolen bases and 52 base on balls. He’s also a better than average defender and could end up being an everyday starter in the majors.

The Tigers got three very good young prospects who improve on speed, defense and relief pitching all while disposing of a huge Verlander contract in one fell swoop. Take a bow, Al Avila.

Cons

As you could probably imagine, Verlander isn’t exactly cheap. He’s owed $28 million in 2018 and 2019 and $22 million in 2020 if he is a top five Cy Young candidate the previous year.

Further, anytime you trade three top 11 prospects for a 34-year-old pitcher, there will always be a few question marks. Verlander has playoff experience, but that doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable in the postseason. In fact, he’s 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA in the World Series.

As for the Tigers, the biggest blow from this trade just might be the emotional pain that comes from giving up arguably the face of Detroit sports. Even more bittersweet, he wanted to go. Again, Verlander could veto any trade he was proposed in. But he didn’t.

Of course, one can’t blame Verlander for chasing that coveted World Series, and emotion should never get in the way of doing what is truly the right move for a program. That said, the Detroit will have to pay off a portion of JV’s contract, at least $10 million, so the Tigers still have financial concerns.

Further, you just never know on prospects. Each of these three men are well-ranked, but who can say for sure how they’ll turn out. Perez will enter a Tigers coaching staff that never seems to do well with relievers. Cameron looks to be good, but not necessarily fantastic. The same argument could be made for Rogers.

Outlook

The Astros just need to win a World Series already. So does Verlander. The two sides are desperate for a championship. It’s always risky betting on the future, After all, if the Astros still cannot win a World Series, then this is all for nothing. But if they are serious about winning it all, then they need to be risk-takers.

The Astros look like the best team in the AL, but August has not been kind to them. To get back on track and build an ideal trio of starters for the postseason, a deal needed to happen.

For the Tigers, the goal is simple: trade the house. Detroit already dealt JD Martinez, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila before the July 31 deadline. But the word “deadline” in that sentence is meaningless, as two more massive trades came today, one with Justin Upton and the other with Verlander.

Even though the Tigers will end up paying at least $10 million in Verlander’s contract, this is very little in the grand scheme of things. They substantially addressed their huge payroll and stocked up on prospects.

All three prospects are solid pickups, but Perez is the real gem of this deal. The Tigers are in dire need of long-term bullpen stability and Perez can do just that.

The outlook for Houston is that this trade will unquestionably favor them if they get that ring, but in no other case. If not, it’s a loss for both Houston and JV.

For Detroit, it’s a painful victory. Nobody wants to see Verlander leave. It truly is the end of an era. But this is exactly how a rebuilding team is supposed to look. It’s how the Astros became an American League powerhouse in the first place.

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