Sure, it’s still technically the offseason, but as of last week, spring training is underway. Traditionally, that means one thing: It’s time to hope. It’s time for fans of the best teams to hope for a championship. And it’s time for fans of the worst teams to hope for a surprise — a Cinderella run toward relevance. The regular season can slam shut doors of possibility, but right now, all doors remain open.
Hope is different everywhere, and it’s partly informed and moderated by preseason projections. Teams and fans aren’t going into spring training blind. Once rosters get more or less set, different analytical services use prior data to project what’s likely to happen. Here are the current projected 2018 standings at FanGraphs. There will be shifts between now and Opening Day, but they probably won’t be dramatic. Right there, you can get an informed idea of which teams look solid and which teams look weak.
From the fan perspective, maybe mathematical projections rob us of the fun of the unknowable. It’s clear the White Sox are rebuilding, but the projections also make it clear how far they still have to go. Without the math, it might be easier to dream. But allow me to let you in on a little secret: Projections aren’t destiny. Projections don’t work against hope. They just make clearer what’s being hoped for.
I’m going to talk about three teams I think could be major surprises — in a good way, relative to the projections. Before I get there, I’d like to provide some prior examples. I have a sheet of preseason team projections stretching all the way back to 2005. Over 13 years, several teams, of course, have been projected to be below average or worse. Many of those teams were below average. But some were very successful. Among my favorites:
• The 2005 White Sox were projected to win 79 games. They won 99 games — and the World Series.
• The 2015 Royals were projected to win 79 games. They won 95 games and the World Series.
• The 2012 Orioles were projected to win 70 games. They won 93 games and lost in the American League Division Series.
• And the 2017 Diamondbacks were projected to win 77 games. They won 93 games and lost in the National League Division Series.
Those aren’t the only overachievers. They’re just, shall we say, inspiring ones. Who might overachieve this year among the current below-average ballclubs?
Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Colton Welker gets 80-game drug suspension
NEW YORK — Highly touted Colorado Rockies minor league third baseman Colton Welker was suspended 80 games by the commissioner’s office Thursday after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
The 23-year-old Welker, drafted in 2016 out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is currently on the roster for Triple-A Albuquerque. His suspension goes into immediate effect and will be without pay.
The substance he tested positive for was Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT), which is in violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
In a statement, Welker said: “I want to make it very clear that I have never willingly nor intentionally ingested any substance to enhance my athletic performance. Given the information provided to me by the players’ association and laboratory, the amount detected was so minimal that it would have no effect on enhancing my performance.”
“I understand that a number of other players, like me, have tested positive for this metabolite at microscopic levels, and I intend to join them in seeking answers as to how this is happening in order to clear my name,” he said.
The Rockies said in a statement the organization was “disappointed” to announce the suspension and believes that “Colton will learn from this experience.”
Welker was in the running to take over at third for Nolan Arenado after the eight-time Gold Glove winner was traded to St. Louis in the offseason.
A fourth-round draft pick, Welker is a .313 career hitter at four minor league levels with 34 homers and 204 RBIs. He has played mostly third base but has some appearances at first.
This spring, Welker credited his success with a leaner look. He said he dropped about 10 pounds from the year before by cutting out carbs and mixing in more vegetables.
As a shortstop growing up, Welker helped lead Marjory Stoneman Douglas to the state title in 2016. It was a moment of immense pride for the community, which less than two years later was ravaged by the massacre of 17 students, teachers and staff at that same school. Welker routinely works out with Stoneman Douglas players in the offseason.
Jose Altuve’s birthday home run answers Bronx boos, lifts Houston Astros past New York Yankees
NEW YORK — Jose Altuve responded to jeering fans by marking his 31st birthday with a go-ahead, three-run homer off Chad Green in the eighth inning, and the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 7-4 Thursday to avoid a three-game sweep.
Gleyber Torres made an incredible, daring dash for the Yankees, scoring from first base on an infield single, but New York’s five-game winning streak ended.
Yordan Alvarez hit a pair of solo homers off Gerrit Cole, who turned a 3-2 lead over to Green (0-3) starting the eighth. After Torres pulled the Yankees back within a run in the bottom half, Martin Maldonado hit a two-run homer off Justin Wilson in the ninth, ending a streak of of 75 plate appearances without an RBI.
Green started his own trouble by walking Kyle Tucker leading off. Pinch hitter Aledmys Diaz reached on a single to third baseman Gio Urshela, and Tucker took third when Urshela threw past first for an error
Maldonado struck out to bring up Altuve, booed loudly throughout the series by fans getting to express their anger directly at the Astros since their cheating scandal en route to the 2017 World Series title was exposed. He had been 1-for-11 with no RBIs in the series when he turned on a shoulder-high 96 mph 3-2 pitch and drove it over the left-field scoreboard for a 5-3 lead.
Torres’ sprint came soon after that.
Correa recovered quickly, but Torres saw third uncovered and kept on going. Maldonado left his catcher’s spot and ran to cover third, while reliever Ryan Pressly stayed on the mound.
Correa then made a short toss to third baseman Alex Bregman, who was near second, and Torres raced home ahead of Maldonado and slid headfirst across the plate without a throw.
Andre Scrubb (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh, and Pressly got six outs for his fifth save. Houston climbed back above .500 at 16-15.
Yankees fans held critical signs and booed the Astros throughout the series, anger lingering from the sign-stealing scandal that revealed Houston stole signs with a video camera en route to the title — which include a seven-game win over the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
Giancarlo Stanton crushed a 117.3 mph solo home run off an ad hanging above the Yankees bullpen in right-center in the third inning, and slumping Clint Frazier hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the fourth off Lance McCullers Jr. for a 3-1 lead.
After striking out 62 in his first six outings, Cole fanned just four in seven innings — his fewest since a rain-interrupted outing against Philadelphia last Aug. 3 in his Yankees home debut. He walked none for his fourth start in a row and he allowed five hits.
This was Cole’s first time facing the Astros since leaving them after the 2019 World Series.
Alvarez’s second homer of the game landed in the netting above Monument Park in center field and gave him six career multihomer games.
McCullers had pitched the final four innings of Houston’s Game 7 win over the Yankees in 2017, combining with Charlie Morton on a three-hitter and memorably throwing breaking balls on his final 24 pitches. Now 1½ years removed from Tommy John surgery, McCullers gave up three run, six hits and four walks in six innings.
New York Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco’s return delayed until late May
The 34-year-old right-hander has been sidelined by an injured right hamstring since spring training and had been making progress. He threw a simulated game Tuesday at the Mets’ spring training complex in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and the team said Wednesday that Carrasco was starting a minor league injury rehabilitation assignment this weekend.
Manager Luis Rojas did not mention Carrasco’s status change when he spoke with reporters before Thursday’s game against St. Louis, and the Mets sent a release later announcing the move to the 60-day IL.
Right-hander Jordan Yamamoto was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse, and the Mets selected the contract of right-hander Tommy Hunter from the Triple-A farm team.
Carrasco was acquired in January from Cleveland along with All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor. He was put on the 10-day IL on April 1, a move retroactive to March 29.
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