Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Giving Some Much Needed Love to the Most Underrated Team in the AL and NL
Since Spring Training started for many teams yesterday and today with Pitchers and Catchers reporting to their respective camps, the amount of love this time of year tends to be abundant and sometimes over exaggerated. However, here are two teams, one in the American League and the other in the National League, that deserve more love from the entire baseball industry and two that certainly don't experience an over exaggerated amount of love from anyone.
1. American League: Toronto Blue Jays
Alright back to baseball now, the Blue Jays are basically the underdogs going into this season and that is probably right where they want to be considering the pressure that the Yankees and Red Sox face from the media and their fan bases alike. While Toronto is certainly the underdog, there is a ton to like about their squad and the talent on the roster even if it still seems like their missing that one power bat to go along with Josh Donaldson. Last year was an absolute nightmare for the Blue Jays riddled with one injury after another, it seemed like, and you have to figure that this season is going to go a lot better for them in that regard.
One of the biggest things to like about the Blue Jays roster is their starting rotation, which ranked as the best in the American League, just two years ago. Unfortunately, Toronto was without their star pitcher, Aaron Sanchez, for much of last season, besides 8 games, due to a nagging blister on his throwing hand and that put a huge dent in the rotation's overall performance. With a healthy Sanchez combined with a healthy Marcus Stroman, Toronto has a dominant 1-2 punch at the front of it's rotation that can certainly compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. In addition, you can't overlook J.A. Happ either, who has recorded a 3.82 ERA over 631.1 IP, since being acquired by the Blue Jays two years ago either.
Another reason why the Blue Jays deserve more love is because of , Roberto Osuna, who easily can compete with Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees and Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox. Sure, Osuna is only 23 years of age and doesn't come with as much stardom as Chapman and Kimbrel, but he is a huge weapon for the Blue Jays. Dating back to the 2015 season, when Osuna made his MLB debut, he has a 2.86 ERA over 207.2 IP with 240 strikeouts and has recorded 95 saves in 114 save opportunities. What's not to like about that stat line especially the number of strikeouts that he has racked up over that time?
Finally, another reason why the Blue Jays deserve more love is because of third baseman, Josh Donaldson, who is the face of the franchise and draws fans to the Rogers Centre on a nightly basis during the summer months. Donaldson, who is set to hit free agency after this season, continues to be a potential extension candidate for Toronto and considering how valuable he's been, since being acquired by the Blue Jays in November 2014, he's definitely worth every penny and should be the number one priority on Toronto's front office to-do list. Since 2015, Donaldson ranks second among third baseman behind Nolan Arenado with 111 home runs over 1,907 plate appearances. In addition, he's got a .387 OBP, good enough for 2nd best among third baseman, and leads third baseman in wRC+ at 153 over that span. All of those stats are tremendous yet it seems as though everyone is sleeping on Donaldson right now.
Although Toronto missed out on the playoffs last season, there's still a ton to like about their squad and the talent that comes with it. Yes, some of the names aren't the biggest names in the game, but they have tremendous ability and can certainly compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox in the AL East. Some might consider the Blue Jays to be a middle of the pack team, but for those that think that, look no farther than Toronto's starting rotation, Roberto Osuna, and Josh Donaldson, and you will see why they're still in win-now mode heading into this season.
2. National League: Arizona Diamondbacks
Part of the success of last year's Diamondbacks team was thanks in part to a new vision set by skipper, Torey Lovullo and his coaching staff, as well as General Manager, Mike Hazen, and his entire front office staff. The entire culture of the Diamondbacks team was changed with the new regime and it certainly worked both on the field and off the field in the clubhouse. Not only was Arizona successful by winning 93 games and finishing 6 games ahead of the Colorado Rockies, they also had a tremendous blend of veteran leadership and young athleticism throughout the roster.
As is the case with Toronto, many people often overlook the success of the Diamondbacks pitching staff especially their starting rotation which was a big reason why Arizona was able to make a postseason run last season. Zack Greinke, who finished last season with a 3.20 ERA over 202.1 IP, locked down a 9.6 strikeouts-per-9 ratio, which was the 2nd highest of his 14-year big league career, and recorded a career high 215 strikeouts. In addition, Robbie Ray, took a huge step forward last season and really demonstrated how much of a strikeout machine he can be by recording 218 strikeouts over 162 IP and nailing down a career high, 12.1 strikeouts-per-9 ratio, good enough for first place in the National League.
Besides the Diamondbacks starting rotation and the depth it has, you also have to give some love to the potential that the bullpen has heading into this season. After finishing last season with a 3.78 ERA over 499.2 IP, which ranked second in the National League behind only the rival Dodgers, the Diamondbacks look to build off of that success heading into this season and have added even more weaponry to compliment last year's staff. Arizona not only has the talented Archie Bradley still in the back end of it's bullpen, but also Brad Boxberger, who recorded 41 saves in 47 save opportunities just three years ago, and Yoshihisa Hirano who was signed out of Japan this winter. One thing that Mike Hazen and his staff have done tremendously is built up the Diamondbacks bullpen by signing lesser known relievers who look like potential bounce back candidates. That formula worked last season and looks like it will work again this season.
Finally, another reason to give the Diamondbacks more love is because of the tremendous amount of offense that their roster provides. Paul Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks biggest star, finished last season with 94 walks over 665 plate appearances, good enough for third place among first baseman. Jake Lamb finished last season with 105 RBI over 635 plate appearances to put him second among second baseman and don't forget about AJ Pollock who continues to be a star centerfielder. Lastly, what about David Peralta and the 31 doubles, 43 walks, and .352 OBP he provided last season? Peralta is another huge component of the Dbacks lineup and a player that makes the Diamondbacks an exciting team to watch.
While Diamondback fans wait around anxiously awaiting word on whether or not they will be able to resign JD Martinez, they can look forward to another well built team heading into this season and a team that has a lot of potential, but one that doesn't get nearly enough love. While the entire industry thinks the Dodgers are the slam dunk favorite to win the NL West, you can't overlook the potential of the Diamondbacks whose roster still includes the likes of offensive weapons Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, AJ Pollock, and David Peralta on it. Hopefully Arizona can find a way to sign JD which will only amplify their chances of playing deep into the postseason.