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MLBRank roundtable — Answering the biggest questions for Nos. 100-51

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We’re starting out 2018 MLBRank with Nos. 100-51. Which young stars will rocket up the rankings? Who deserved a spot in the top 100? We asked our experts to give their thoughts on some of the biggest questions that came out of the bottom 50.

Who are the biggest snubs?

I don’t know if there are any obvious snubs, though there are probably too many relievers in general near the bottom of the top 100. I’ll go with one player who always seems underrated in Brett Gardner. He can beat you in a lot of ways. He might not match the 21 home runs he hit last year, and he’s now 34, but he’s coming off a 4.9 WAR season and has been above 3 WAR after each full season of his career. — David Schoenfield

If I could build a team around any player outside the top 100, it’d be Oakland’s Matt Chapman. He’s the best defensive third baseman in the American League, has a history of big power numbers in the minors, and in the first few weeks of this year has shown big improvements in plate discipline and contact. He debuted in Oakland last June, and in his first 99 games as a big leaguer he has produced 5.0 WAR at Baseball-Reference. Only 26 big-league hitters had 5 WAR in full seasons last year. He’s a star. — Sam Miller

There are two starting pitchers who are also among the 60 top players in baseball but were omitted from this list of 100: Lance McCullers and Masahiro Tanaka. — Bradford Doolittle

Put on your way-too-early prediction hat — where will Shohei Ohtani be next preseason when we do these rankings again?

I’ll say somewhere around 25 to 30. The thing to keep in mind is to accurately assess the value he’s creating away from the amazing aspect of what he’s doing. His pitching value is going to be limited somewhat by pitching just once a week and DH duty means he has to hit at a high level to produce added value. Obviously, there are still unknowns: How he adjusts (especially at the plate), how he deals with the more difficult travel schedule than in Japan, staying healthy, etc. — Schoenfield

He’ll be in the mid-20s by proving he’s legit on both sides of the ball, but it might be hard for him to get higher. To go higher still, the interesting problem he’ll present is the lack of playing time in each role — he probably can’t surpass the top starting pitchers if he can’t make 30 starts in a season. Or can he? Whenever we think we know what to expect, he keeps taking it up a notch. — Christina Kahrl

I am going to say No. 8. The furor should subside some but we’ll see what he has done this first month as a kind of ceiling for his potential. He’s only 23, so whatever equilibrium his numbers eventually reach will be augmented by a projection for improvement. — Doolittle

Byron Buxton (55), Alex Bregman (56), Andrew Benintendi (60): Who is higher next year? Which one would you take if you were building a team?

This is a good one. I’ll gamble on Buxton’s upside, even if Bregman and Benintendi have higher floors with the bat. We already know about Buxton’s Gold Glove defense at a premium position. Even though he hit just .253/.314/.413 last season, his defense and baserunning were so valuable that Buxton was worth 5.2 WAR. The bat came alive in the second half, however, when he hit .300/.347/.546. As I’ve written, if he hits that over a full season, he’s an MVP candidate. — Schoenfield

Put it this way: If you ran 1,000 versions of the universe, Buxton is the only one of these three who is a top-five player in at least one universe. He’s probably also the one I’d take if I were building a team, partly because I’d be greedy and partly because the elite center-field defense is something you can build the rest of a roster around. But Bregman is more likely to win the vote next year; I’d bet that after a 20/20, .300, 5-WAR season this year, he’s in the low 40s next year. — Miller

They’ll all be higher next year, but Bregman would be my guy. Great clubhouse presence (he learned Spanish to better communicate with his Latin teammates) and terrific all-around skill set. Plus, while he’s a third baseman in Houston because of Carlos Correa, he could be an everyday shortstop for quite a few big league clubs. — Doolittle

Give us one guy in the 51-100 range (other than Madison Bumgarner and Shohei Ohtani) who is most likely to be in the top 20 next year.

Buxton is certainly a candidate, but how about Cubs catcher Willson Contreras? He could be ready to take over the title of best catcher in the game from Buster Posey. He hit .276/.356/.499 with 21 home runs in just 428 plate appearances, so one way to add to his value is simply for Joe Maddon to play him more and get him another 100 PAs. This will be just his second full season, so there’s a chance he improves the plate discipline and draws a few more walks to boost that OBP. On defense, he has a strong arm behind the plate, but he needs to improve his pitch framing. At the minimum, look for him to make his first All-Star appearance. — Schoenfield

Part of me wants to say Andrelton Simmons because I think if he shows that last year’s improvement at the plate is legit, you’re getting a historically excellent defender with good offense. But by that same criterion, you have to go with Buxton because between his similarly game-changing value on defense and his second-half improvement at the plate last year (.893 OPS), he’s turning into a legitimate MVP candidate right before our eyes. — Kahrl

Bregman probably should have been a good 20 spots higher this year, and he’s still ascending, production-wise. A number of top-20 rankings lie ahead for him. — Doolittle

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Oakland A’s clinch third straight playoff berth, but ‘a lot bigger goals’ remain

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OAKLAND, Calif. — An AL West title will mean so much more than simply clinching a playoff berth given how the past two seasons have gone for the Oakland Athletics.

Then, the A’s might let loose and celebrate a little. But not just yet.

They secured a third straight playoff berth with Seattle’s loss to San Diego and a 6-0 win against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night, highlighted by Matt Olson‘s three-run homer.

“Clinching the playoffs is the goal every single year. Exciting, but winning the division I think is going to be a lot better for us,” winning pitcher Chris Bassitt said. “It was literally another win. We have a lot bigger goals.”

The A’s scoreboard read “Postseason Bound” high above the cardboard cutouts of fans filling the Oakland Coliseum.

Oakland is in the playoffs for the sixth time in nine seasons and now shifts its attention to the division title, which could be locked up Saturday. The A’s haven’t won the West since 2013, winning 97 games each of the past two seasons to finish in second place behind Houston and before losing the AL wild-card game both years.

Olson connected in the third inning of a balanced offensive attack for the A’s in the opener of the second round of the 2020 Bay Bridge Series.

Jake Lamb‘s RBI single in the first staked Bassitt to a quick lead. The right-hander struck out seven over 6 2/3 innings to win his third straight start.

“He’s been absolutely terrific,” manager Bob Melvin said, “probably as consistent as we’ve had all year.”

Tommy La Stella and Marcus Semien also singled in runs for the A’s, who finally got a day off Thursday following a grueling stretch with 16 games in 13 days with three doubleheaders.

San Francisco hardly had to travel far to continue its road trip. The Giants were scheduled for games in Seattle earlier this week but smoke from all the West Coast wildfires created dangerous air quality and the clubs instead played at Oracle Park in San Francisco on Wednesday and Thursday. `

The A’s played a Monday doubleheader in Seattle, and players expressed concern about the air.

“The air quality is much better than we last saw it here, it certainly is better than Seattle, too,” Melvin said.

Right fielder Stephen Piscotty missed his fourth straight game with a sprained right knee. The A’s were going to put him through batting practice to determine his status for Saturday.

Also, right-hander Daniel Mengden was medically cleared from a positive COVID-19 test Aug. 28. He has been asymptomatic throughout and resumed throwing off the mound at the club’s San Jose alternate site Friday. He is slated for a simulated game Saturday.

Left-hander Jesus Luzardo starts for the A’s on Saturday afternoon, looking to end a four-start winless stretch in which he is 0-2.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols passes Willie Mays on all-time home run list

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols passed Willie Mays for fifth place on the career home run list, hitting No. 661 on Friday night against Texas.

The 40-year-old Pujols connected for a solo homer with one out in the fifth inning. He sent Wes Benjamin‘s fastball on a 1-2 count over the wall in left field.

Pujols has hit five homers this season. He tied Mays last Sunday at Colorado.

It is only Pujols’ second home run since Aug. 4. He now trails only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Alex Rodriguez (696).

The Angels quickly congratulated Pujols on Twitter.

Pujols has one more season left on his contract with the Angels after this year.

Benjamin was the 428th different pitcher Pujols homered against in his career. Only Bonds has homered against more (449).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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St. Louis Cardinals put pitcher Dakota Hudson on IL with forearm strain

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The St. Louis Cardinals have placed right-hander Dakota Hudson on the 10-day injured list with a strained right forearm.

Hudson left his start Thursday night after two innings due to what he described as discomfort in his right arm.

The 26-year-old is 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts this season.

St. Louis added right-handed reliever Nabil Crismatt to take Hudson’s roster spot. Crismatt has a 3.24 ERA in 8 1/3 innings over six appearances this season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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