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This Week in Baseball: AL Underdogs

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Normally for this week in baseball we look the best teams in the league, but I realized I have been neglecting a lot of teams that are nowhere near the top of their divisions.  This week I want to take a look at all the last place teams in the league, see what their issues could be, and discuss if there is hope for a come back this season.  We are looking at the underdogs of the American League for week 12; this is what is going on this week in baseball.  

Since the The Tampa Bay Rays are the home team and happen to be at the bottom of the AL East I want to start with them.  The Rays started out the season with a few very important pieces of the winning puzzle on the DL.  Ace Alex Cobb was (and still is) recovering from Tommy John surgery and closer Brad Boxberger out due to a core injury.  Additionally in true Rays fashion they made some moves in the off season and picked up 4 new players Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Hank Conger.  I mention the the players that were picked up because they were all chosen based on their offensive ability, but there is almost always a transition period for a player when they change teams.  

The beginning of the season was rough for the Rays.  The transitional period of the new players was in full effect; they weren’t hitting well and were committing errors.  In addition to struggling at the plate, the Rays typically dominate pitching was also stifled.  Ace Chris Archer was not the pitcher he was in 2015 and only received one win in the month of April.  The middle relief in the bullpen was also exhausted and showing it.  As if things couldn’t get any worse, May 14 Logan Forsythe went to the DL and a minor shoulder fracture then just 7 days later Platinum Glove winning center fielder Kevin Kiermaier broke his hand when he was attempting a diving catch.  

I know it may not seem like it based on that recap of the woes of the team, but the Rays are actually in a good spot right now.  Of all the teams at the bottoms of their divisions they have the most wins and are only 6.5 games back of the leading Baltimore Orioles.  Pitching is still struggling but offense has stepped up greatly since the beginning of the season and at one point even lead the league in home runs.  I feel like the Rays have the best chance of beating the funk they are currently in and making one of the come backs that they are known for.  This is a team that can never be counted out.  

The Oakland Athletics (or A’s) are the second best losing team in the AL.  They, like the Rays, The A’s are a team with one of the smaller payrolls in the league and that relies heavily on their farm system.  A team with a low payroll relies on a steady stream of young talent coming in since they are unable to pay any heavy hitting free agents and 2016 was supposed to be a rebuilding year but being plagued with injuries has stood in the way.  

The A’s have one of the largest DLs in the MLB and their bench has not been cutting it.  They are ranked 25th offensively and even when their starters have good outings, the bullpen seems to blow it (another similarity they share with the Rays).  Sonny Grey is back from the DL and in 2 of his last 3 starts he had only 1 run scored each outing.  Grey being back in the rotation could help the A’s get back on track.  Additionally, the A’s called up Daniel Mengden to start June 11 and optioned Jesse Hahn to triple A.  Although Mengden hasn’t won either of his first 2 starts, he pitched 12 innings, got 12 strikeouts, and has an ERA of 2.25 so the decision seems to be the right one.

Can the A’s dig themselves out of the hole they are in? At this point I’m thinking no.  They don’t typically make any big move at the trade deadline and they are currently 15.5 games back of the division leading Texas Rangers and 9.5 games back of the wild card.  Their best hope is to salvage what they can of this season and try to make good draft picks next year.  In the meantime, maybe they will get lucky and discover so new talent they have lurking in their minor league system.  

The last team we are going to look at is currently the worst team in the league, the Minnesota Twins.  Right now the Twins record is 20-48 and 17.5 games back from the division leading Cleveland Indians and the wild card.  If they were to com back from this, they may just win the hearts of America.  

Unlike the Rays and the A’s, the Twins have a mid range payroll of just over 84 million a season, so they are not afraid to spend money when they feel it is worth the investment.  A majority of that payroll is being taken up by 2 players, Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco.  Mauer is currently batting .276 and although that is pretty good, I don’t feel meets his 23 million dollar price tag.  Nolasco is mediocre with a 4.91 ERA for 12 million a year.

The Twins could make a move and trade one of their biggest expenses for 2 lower priced offensive players if they could find a buyer.  Will they?  Not likely.  Mauer is their golden boy since 2004 and has never played for any other team.  The likelihood of a trade is very low and the Twin have him on lockdown until 2018.  Nolasco on the other hand is ripe for the trading.  He is in the 3rd year of his 4 year contract and while the Twins have control I could see when dealing him.  
Of these underdogs I’m feeling the Rays have the best bet at a comeback.  Not only are they known for coming back from a deficit, but they have the least loses to overcome.  Between the A’s and Twins, as crazy as it may seem, the Twins seem to have the best chance at not being last in their division; they have a player they could deal and get some offense.  Will they?  I guess we will find out July 31.  

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