Toronto Blue Jays

Right now, for the Houston Astros, itʼs all about baby steps.

​Sunday afternoon, the Astros beat the Toronto Blue Jays 6-1 on their home turf at Minute Maid Park. They lost the opener, but it was their third win in a four game series. Even more surprising: the Astros dismantled the Blue Jays with seemingly relative ease.

Itʼs been a rough season for Houston, who currently hold the third worst record in the major leagues, as opposed to their previous position in last place overall. But the last two series have been a narrative of improvement for the team, with the Astros finally showing some completeness to their game while winning both decisively.

The Blue Jays are something of a dark horse contender this season, but theyʼre one of the hottest teams in the sport right now. Theyʼre scrappy. Theyʼre hungry. They were perfectly capable of blowing out the shaky Astros.

And on Sunday they staggered out of Houston after being handed three losses in a row.

Hitting the ball well has evidently gotten easier for the Astros in recent weeks, and has finally been happening with some consistency.

This was an area of major concern for Houston; with both George Springer and Dexter Fowler on the disabled list, where the offense and runs were going to come from was a question that needed to be answered quickly.

In spite of their depleted lineup, somehow, the Astros have done a better-than-average job, with at least five runs in six of the last seven games. Even more impressive, this has happened without much help from the home run ball.

For the bulk of the season, Houston only ever seemed to score on homers. Lately, however, theyʼve switched up their strategy, forcing the ball to the other side of the field. This has produced results and helped save the bullpen.

The Astros can also largely thank their pitchers for their recent upswing. In the last week of play, Dallas Keuchel has been consistent, and managed to lower his ERA to under three. On eight hits, Scott Feldman gave up only one run Sunday. And Brett Oberholtzer, recently recalled from the minors, has had both of his starts in the last week end in wins, with an ERA of 3.29.

The final product for the team is still a really long way off. Theyʼre nowhere close to where they want to be, and arenʼt likely to start posting a stellar win percentage anytime soon. But games are beginning to come together for the struggling franchise, things are starting to make sense to the rosterʼs young players.

Theoretically, this trend should continue as time passes and experience is gained. The only place the Astros can go from here is up. Right?

Best under-the-radar moves of the MLB offseason

It is almost time.

With a week to go until pitchers and catchers begin to report to their respective camps in Florida and Arizona, the MLB hot stove is beginning to cool down with teams starting to turn their attention to the upcoming season. There are a few big-name free agents left on the market, including pitcher Kyle Lohse and outfielder Michael Bourn, so there are still options out there for teams to try and improve themselves between now and Opening Day, but for the most part, the flurry of activity is coming to an end as we head toward April.

Everyone took notice of the Brinks truck that the Dodgers backed into Zach Greinke’s driveway over the winter. We all saw the Angels bolster their outfield with the addition of Josh Hamilton.
We all heard about the trades involving Justin Upton and James Shields that have them changing addresses. Here we’re going to analyze the top three moves that mostly flew under the radar this offseason, strengthening each respective team without breaking the monetary or prospect bank.

1. Torii Hunter signs in the Motor City

In one of the very first moves of winter preceding the onslaught of activity, the Detroit Tigers upgraded their outfield by signing aging veteran Torii Hunter. While the prime of Hunter’s
career is in his rearview mirror, he proved this past summer with the Los Angeles Angels that he can still be a cornerstone, batting a career-best .313 while knocking in 92 runs. Hunter had the fifth-best Wins Above Replacement in the American League amongst position players with 5.5, which would essentially make him the second most valuable player on the Tigers roster if he can keep up that production. The Tigers made it all the way to the World Series last fall before falling to the Giants, but the addition of Torii Hunter should provide a nice boost to help
get them over the hump. Even better for the Tigers is the price tag that came with him. While the Angels signed Josh Hamilton for $125 million over five years, the Tigers added the American
League’s second most valuable outfielder last season for only $26 million over two years. He may not be the Torii Hunter of old, flashing the leather in centerfield and robbing home runs, but his
stats prove him to be a valuable asset, and the Tigers hope they can milk the last productive years out of him in the search for a World Series title.

2. The Blue Jays sign outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal

As of today, it certainly seems as though the Toronto Blue Jays were the big winners of the winter. They made a couple of blockbuster trades, including the R.A. Dickey deal, along with the massive trade they made with the Miami Marlins that landed them Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson. While those two trades certainly help the Blue Jays become instant contenders, the signing of Melky Cabrera for two years and $16 million flew mostly under the radar due to the rest of their seismic activity. Cabrera was enjoying an MVP-type season with the Giants last summer, hitting a whopping .346 before he was suspended for performance-enhancing drug use. While Cabrera may not have the type of season with the Blue Jays that he was having with the Giants, he is certainly still a valuable asset, and at $8 million a year, he is an efficient asset. Cabrera’s 2012 was an outlier in statistical terms to the rest of his career, but he’s always been a serviceable piece. If he does replicate the tear he was on in San Francisco, then the Jays may have themselves the steal of the offseason.

3. The New York Mets acquire minor leaguers Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard in exchange for R.A. Dickey

OK, so this trade may have been classified as a blockbuster when it went down, but not because of what the Mets landed. In mid-December, the Mets sent the reigning National League
Cy Young winner to Toronto in exchange for a plethora of highly ranked prospects. While Dickey being dealt did send some shockwaves through Major League Baseball, not many people
took notice of what the Mets got in return for the 38-year-old starter. In the deal, they landed the top catching prospect in all of baseball, Travis d’Arnaud, along with hard-throwing pitching
prospect Noah Syndergaard. While dealing a Cy Young winner is tough, Dickey wasn’t a typical ace. His age makes him a risk to sign long-term, and relies on the often unreliable knuckleball.
While Dickey’s last two seasons were booming successes, the Mets capitalized on his value, and in return landed the type of haul that can change a franchise's future. The Texas Rangers did an about-face when they dealt slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira to the Braves, and it would appear as though the Mets just made a similar type of deal. Yes, this trade wasn’t quite under the radar, but what the Blue Jays acquired was.