The American League West is historically wide open, the second-best team in baseball stays a thriller, Shohei Ohtani’s free company has unofficially begun and the playoff discipline could be missing a dominant ace.
1. Who’s going to win the AL West?
Deesha Thosar: The ultimate stretch for the Astros, Mariners and Rangers is must-watch tv for baseball aficionados. The Mariners and Rangers will conflict seven instances out of their ultimate 10 video games, however Seattle has the hardest street out of this AL West trio as a result of when the M’s aren’t enjoying Texas, they’re enjoying the Astros. Since the Astros have the better schedule out of this bunch and so they’ve gained the division fives instances prior to now six years, I’ll go along with a chilly take right here and provides it to Houston.
Jordan Shusterman: I’ll nonetheless say Houston even with them slipping up a superb bit not too long ago, particularly since Texas and Seattle will possible be beating one another up an excessive amount of to catch the Astros, even with such a slender hole to shut. If Houston cannot maintain enterprise at residence in opposition to Kansas City, although … then it is time to begin sweating in H-Town.
Rowan Kavner: My intestine nonetheless says it is the Astros, although that is primarily based extra on schedule than latest play. The Rangers and Mariners need to beat up on one another over many of the subsequent 10 days. Houston, in the meantime, will get to play Kansas City thrice. Of course, this is identical Astros team that dropped sequence to the Royals and A’s a few weeks in the past. All three groups have had an opportunity to separate themselves and didn’t capitalize, however somebody has to win it. Houston has the very best likelihood.
2. If the Braves are the unanimous reply for which team has demonstrated the very best ceiling this season, who’s subsequent?
Kavner: The Rays began the season 27-6. The Dodgers went 24-5 in August. When enjoying at full power, a type of groups can be my reply. But neither of these groups have the rotation they envisioned. Judging groups by their present state, I’ll go along with the reigning champions. I simply talked about the Astros’ latest uninspiring play, however as up and down as this yr has been for them, they nonetheless boast a top-10 offense and pitching employees and are wholesome on the proper time. They have all of the items crucial for a return journey to the World Series.
Thosar: It’s robust to choose between the Dodgers and Rays, since each golf equipment have overcome a number of accidents and important suspensions to nonetheless find yourself comfortably crossing the 90-win threshold. But I’ll give the sting to the Dodgers as a result of additionally they confronted the challenges of dropping Cody Bellinger, Trea Turner and Justin Turner earlier than they even performed a single minute of the common season but nonetheless clinched the NL West in mid-September. Sometimes, the Dodgers’ successful methods could be monotonous, however this yr’s profitable efficiency was highlighted by their capability to beat obstacles.
Shusterman: Again, sticking with Houston right here particularly contemplating the lineup is lastly wholesome, and the mix of playoff expertise and expertise on the pitching employees remains to be unmatched throughout the league. Their mediocre efficiency at residence throughout the common season has been puzzling, although I wager they begin to decide it up as soon as they’re internet hosting playoff video games.
3. What’s your preliminary guess for Shohei Ohtani‘s subsequent contract (membership, years, cash)?
Shusterman: Even earlier than the UCL damage that is going to maintain him off the mound in 2024, I all the time believed Ohtani could be heading towards not simply one of many extra profitable contracts in MLB historical past but in addition one of many extra artistic. While I do not assume anybody actually is aware of what Ohtani actually desires in his subsequent team, I’m skeptical that the identical man who discovered himself caught on a dropping team for six straight years would totally decide to his subsequent team for the following decade with no flexibility, even when it is with a confirmed winner. So with the caveat that I feel opt-outs will be concerned in some type, I’ll say one thing like eight years, $440 million with the … Rangers. Sure!
Kavner: It would not be utterly absurd for Ohtani to contemplate a short-term, high-AAV deal through which he can set up himself once more as a pitching pressure in 2025 or 2026, then money in whereas nonetheless in his early 30s. But that appears dangerous given the uncertainty that may come after a second elbow process. Even if he’s solely the very best hitter on the planet, and never the two-way pressure of the previous few seasons, that might nonetheless be engaging sufficient for a team to get him to the $500 million vary. I discover that too tough to cross up. My preliminary guess can be 10 years, $500 million — with some kind of opt-out a number of years in — to one of many California groups. Good luck, Oakland!
Thosar: I nonetheless assume Ohtani goes to the Dodgers on a long-term deal. My guess is someplace round 9 years within the $450 million vary. It might nonetheless be near the half a billion that many within the trade have predicted he’ll get, however I feel we’ll see some kind of contract markdown following Ohtani’s elbow surgical procedure that limits him to simply hitting subsequent yr. It will be fascinating to see how that contract is structured, together with participant opt-outs and membership choices, on condition that longevity of Ohtani’s profession as a two-way participant is unknown. Regardless, the Dodgers have all the time made essentially the most sense for Ohtani’s subsequent touchdown spot.
4. Among pitchers on groups within the playoffs, or nonetheless within the hunt, who can be your first alternative to start out an elimination recreation this October?
Kavner: I’m tempted to choose the Atlanta ace with the nearly unprecedented strikeout rate, however I’ll go along with a barely extra unconventional route and take the man who earned the win in final yr’s deciding World Series Game 6. After a breakout All-Star season in 2022, Framber Valdez is quietly posting even higher strikeout and stroll charges this yr to go together with the second-best ground-ball fee within the recreation. He will preserve the ball within the yard, he has demonstrated his postseason mettle — the Astros gained all 4 of his playoff begins final yr, and he did not enable greater than two runs in any of them — and he’s enjoying his finest baseball on the proper time with a 1.59 ERA over his previous 5 begins.
Shusterman: Gimme Luis Castillo. If my season is on the road, I would like some mixture of certainty and upside, and Castillo appears like essentially the most dependable alternative. He’s the one beginning pitcher in baseball to go a minimum of 5 innings in each single begin this season, and it isn’t like he is simply munching innings, both — he is seventh in MLB in ERA and sixth in strikeouts.
Thosar: Before his newest clunker in opposition to the Pirates and his incapability to cease the bleeding, I might’ve mentioned Cubs southpaw Justin Steele for his sluggish pulse and strong splits in opposition to right-handed batters. But Steele’s earlier two begins present his workload could be catching as much as him. So, I’m shifting on from Steele and going with Spencer Strider. Though Strider crumbled final yr in his lone postseason look in opposition to the Phillies, he is a more dominant pitcher this season and Atlanta wins when Strider takes the mound. Plus, his major-league main 13.8 strikeouts per 9 innings are precisely what the Braves would wish in the event that they once more discover themselves in an elimination recreation.
5. We’ve seen the brand new guidelines alter the sport in varied methods throughout the common season. Which rule change do you anticipate affecting postseason baseball most?
Shusterman: We’ve seen stolen base numbers explode throughout the common season, and I can not wait to see how a lot the pitch clock, bigger bases, and disengagement guidelines allow groups to run wild when each baserunner feels immensely precious the best way it does in October. Will the upper stakes make groups much less aggressive out of warning? Or will the elevated alternative to place runners in scoring place late in an in depth recreation immediate groups to simply go for it even when the season is on the road? I can not wait to seek out out.
Kavner: In phrases of the fan expertise, it is the pitch clock. Even if gamers are used to it, the strain and build-up between every pitch will be much less dramatic and drawn-out now. But when it comes to the motion itself, I feel it could be the larger bases. I’m actually curious to see how the faster golf equipment, particularly the underdogs, use it to their benefit to place strain on pitchers who’re sluggish to the plate. Teams usually will not threat operating into outs within the playoffs — will they be extra daring now?
Thosar: Definitely the pitch clock. I had hoped MLB would think about eradicating it for the playoffs, granted that will’ve been one other large adjustment for gamers. But lengthy, dramatic at-bats in late, high-intensity moments are, to me, a staple of thrilling postseason matchups. While I’ve appreciated the pitch clock dashing up regular-season video games, imagining a important Game 7 ending on a violation is simply plain infuriating. Let’s hope it would not come to that, however MLB has definitely allowed it to turn into a risk by leaving the pitch clock in impact for October.
Bonus query: What’s the very best factor you have eaten on the ballpark within the final yr?
Thosar: The Phillies’ media eating meals is the place it is at, and the ice cream served by none apart from the legend, Frank, is unmatched. Until somebody comes out with Thai drunken noodles on the ballpark, Citizens Bank Park’s ice cream and media meals choice will all the time be the very best factor I eat on the yard.
Kavner: There’s a motive the skin of Globe Life Field appears like a grill, and that is as a result of Hurtado BBQ is simmering on the within. Texas barbecue for the win, all the time.
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