MLB’s Opening Day is right around the corner, baseball fans. And remember, we’ve got three games going Sunday, April 2. So we thought we’d wrap up the week with some division previews. You’ll get the AL/NL East today, the AL/NL Central on Thursday and the AL/NL West on Saturday.
Then before the action kicks off Sunday, our World Series winner will be revealed. That, along with various award-winners and the 2018 Hall of Fame class. But these won’t simply be predictions from yours truly, no. Instead, we’ll be looking through the lens of Out of the Park Baseball ’18.
You can thank Matt Collinsa��among others, I’m surea��for why you’re about to see this.
First off, have you ever played Out of the Park Baseball? If your answer is ‘No’, go remedy that. Then come back here. Because what you’re about to see is exactly what’s going to happen this season.* They might as well not even bother playing the games.**
*This is actually just for fun. Please enjoy it.
**I don’t really mean this.
The month of April came and went much the same as ever, with several teams relatively close. The East, though, was closest of them all as the calendar flipped. No club was separated by more than three games, and from top to bottom it lined up as follows:
- Toronto Blue Jays (15-11).
- New York Yankees (13-12).
- Tampa Bay Rays (14-13).
- Boston Red Sox (13-13).
- Baltimore Orioles (11-13).
There was certainly no runaway yet. Boston would produce the highest-scoring offense (131 runs) with a mighty impressive team triple-slasha��.275/.343/.464a��to boot, but they’d be middle of the pack in regards to pitching, with a 4.29 team ERA.
But we should be focusing on the Rays, right? Well out of the gates in Tampa Bay, only two were tearing the cover off the ball. And despite his .349 OBP through the month of April, Brad Miller wasn’t one of thema��evident by his .250 batting average and .380 slugging percentage.
No, the Rays top batter in April would be Logana��wait for ita��Morrison. No, really. 7 dingers. 14 runs scored. A triple-slash of .349/.460/.663 (1.123 OPS). He could not be stopped. Steven Souza Jr. wasn’t far behind, adding 6 dingers and 17 runs scored along with a fine line of .337/.400/.529 (.929 OPS). Would these numbers even remotely hold up over the rest of the season? Well…
As for notable pitching performances, A?lex ColomA� got through 9.2 April innings with a 0.93 ERA (and 9.3 K/9). Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer would all finish with an ERA between 2.84 and 3.38. The likes of Brad Boxberger (18.00 ERA over five innings) and Blake Snell (4.88 after five starts) would struggle, but the Rays were set up well early.
The month of May would provide the East with a little more separation, and yet, only 6.5 games were between first- and last-place. Of course, that last-place team was our eventual division winner:
- New York Yankees (32-21).
- Boston Red Sox (29-25).
- Toronto Blue Jays (29-25).
- Baltimore Orioles (25-27).
- Tampa Bay Rays (27-29).
Despite team struggles, Logan Morrison kept swinging a hot bat. He’d add five more dingers and another solid triple-slasha��.290/.365/.505 (.870 OPS). Franchise player Evan Longoria couldn’t get on base consistently in May (.317 OBP), but wouldn’t need to, slugging 10 long balls instead. Hell even Tim Beckham (.333/.407/.431), Mallex Smith (.268/.339/.518) and Nick Franklin (.263/.408/.432) were of great use to varying degrees. What was working for the Rays didn’t make much sense, but they just kept chugging along.
Meanwhile ColomA� (0.84 May ERA) and Archer (3.24) kept doing their thing. Good news, Rays fans: Chris Archer bounces back. (Or gets better results, because he wasn’t that bad last season). Oh yeah, Erasmo RamA�rez was killing it. Following an April in which he struck out 13 over 12.2 innings (9.2 K/9) to the tune of an 2.84 ERA, he surrendered zero runs in May, striking out 18 (13.1 K/9) over 12.1 innings.
Plus, they’d acquire Jeanmar GA?mez near the end of May. He’d end up being pretty important in spurts.
Things started to look very bright for the Rays as June came to a close:
- New York Yankees (49-32).
- Tampa Bay Rays (45-38).
- Boston Red Sox (44-38).
- Toronto Blue Jays (41-38).
- Baltimore Orioles (33-46).
The Orioles had fallen off, but Tampa Bay went 18-9, quickly rising up the standings in the process.
Two key cogsa��Morrison and Snella��would find themselves on the 10-day DL, but the Rays wouldn’t skip a beat. Kevin Kiermaier (.283/.371/.374), Longoria (.278/.328/.481), Miller (.296/.378/.469), Souza Jr. (.266/.343/.383), and Smith (.322/.359/.506) kept hitting. EVERYONE kept hitting. And hell, even though Franklin couldn’t hit worth crap (.221 average in 91 June plate appearances), he got on base 37 percent of the time. Corey Dickerson (.329/.412/.614) came alive. And Casey Gallispie, called up to replace the injured Morrison, picked up where he had left off, slashing .327/.424/.636 with five dingers over just 67 PAs.
It was never-ending. Chris Archer would have his worse month (4.06) thus far and Odorizzi (7.20) would struggle mightily, but Cobb (3.38) and Snell (3.42) would pick up the pieces. And GA?mez, well, he’d post a 0.64 June ERA while Boxberger (2.70, 15Ks; 13.1 IP) would get back on track, ColomA� would continue to roll (2.92, 13Ks; 12.1 IP) and RamA�rez (9Ks, 10.1 IP) would once again surrender zero runs.
By the end of July, the Rays were level with the Yankees thanks to another strong month. At this point, it had become a three-horse race as the Blue Jays sat a distant eight games out of first. And the Orioles, well, 14.5:
- New York Yankees (60-46).
- Tampa Bay Rays (61-47).
- Boston Red Sox (58-50).
And although Rays hitters slowed down across the board, production was still there:
Nick Franklin, folks. He’s an on-base machine (apparently). Then there’s Casey Gillaspie again. Looks like it doesn’t matter who mans first for the Rays this season. And, they had another in their system looming… But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Both Snell and Morrison would be re-activated in July, but that wasn’t the half of it. On July 23, the Rays would assign Tim Beckham to Triple-A Durham. Three days later, they’d option Corey Dickerson to Triple-A, despite his resurgence over the past couple months. Only to recall him just five days later and send Beckham back down. Hmm.
But the biggest move the Rays made? Acquiring Tanner Roark from Washington on July 30, sending Colby Rasmus and 20-year-old minor-league catcher Chris Betts the other way. Betts had been slashing .317/.392/.476 over 141 PAs at low-A Hudson Valley.
Meanwhile Archer, Snell, Odorizzi and Matt Andriese all posted an ERA of under 3.00a��the highest being Odorizzi’s (2.64). To be clear, they all started at least four games that month. Cobb wasn’t far behind, posting a mark of 3.60 over five starts of his own. The Rays just kept going and going. And their bullpen was no exception.
While GA?mez (7.45 ERA, 9.2 IP) and RamA�reza��shockinglya��struggled (10.13 ERA, 5.1 IP), Boxberger (3.12) and ColomA� (2.38) did not. There was always someone to pick up the pieces.
Getting into the business end, Tampa just wouldn’t let up. a 17-11 clip in August gave them a 3.5-game lead over the Yankees in what started looking like a two-horse race:
- Tampa Bay Rays (78-58).
- New York Yankees (74-61).
- Boston Red Sox (70-65).
On August 1, Mallex Smith landed on the 10-day DL but returned by mid-August. Tim Beckham was designated for assignment, ultimately ending up at Triple-A Durham. First baseman Jake Bauersa��ranked as the No. 51 prospect by OOTPa��got the call.
In a month when multiple hitters struggled, Kevin Kiermaier raked. Souza continued his superb season while Casey Gillaspie kept filling in admirably for Logan Morrison. Speaking of, the shine had worn off on the corner man, but it didn’t stop him entirely from producing here and there:
As you can tell, it was boom or bust for catcher Wilson Ramos. But what about pitching? Well, they more or less kept it together. Odorizzi, Cobb and Archer struggled, but Andriese produced another solid month. Roark improved on a pretty bad July. ColomA�, RamA�rez and Jacob Barnesa��who was a stud all season longa��were nails. Which brings us to the end…
By October 1, what had been a fairly hard-fought division battle was no such thing anymore. The Rays ran away with it, going 17-9 in the final month to finish 95-67 while the Yankees stumbled to 11-16 (85-77). Here’s who led the way:
Six different Rays slugged 20 or more home runs. Kiermaier, Souza and Franklin had excellent full seasons. Morrison and Gillaspie were very productive when they had to be. Ramos only provided power upon returning, but did so in a big way. And, don’t sleep on the solid month Jake Bauers had. On offense, things could’ve hardly been better for Tampa. Pitching-wise, it was a similar story.
The Rays finished with a team ERA of 3.84, third-best in the AL. Sixth-best overall. This is how it looked when we sorted Rays pitchers by amount of innings pitched:
So would their journey continue far into the postseason? You’ll have to come back Sunday. In the meantime, the Rays are taking the AL East. And a lot of lesser names (on offense) will be the reason why.