MLB

MLB storylines to watch: Astros look to continue legendary run, and can anyone deny Ohtani?

By Sports Desk March 30, 2023

Coming off arguably the most entertaining World Baseball Classic ever, the 2023 Major League Baseball season promises to deliver yet again as 30 teams battle it out for two World Series spots.

Reigning champions the Houston Astros wrote themselves into the record books last season by reaching the American League Championship Series for the sixth consecutive year, and while they may have lost their Cy Young Award winner, they have re-tooled and will expect strong development from their cast of young stars.

While they are the deserved favourites, the San Diego Padres and New York Mets have pushed all their chips into the middle and are in World Series-or-bust mode, joining the New York Yankees as the league's three most expensive payrolls.

The World Baseball Classic showed its not only the United States where the talent lies, but Japanese fans in particular will be keeping an extra close eye on proceedings as superstar Shohei Ohtani looks to take home his second AL MVP and Masataka Yoshida and Kodai Senga enter the rookie ranks.

With plenty of interesting storylines to choose from, it only makes sense to start with the kings of the castle.

Astros remain the team to beat

On their way to the 2022 World Series title, the Astros advanced to the final four teams for the sixth consecutive season. 

It is the second-longest streak in MLB history, only bettered by the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s as they did it on eight consecutive tries, although there was a one-year gap in the middle due to the 1994 playoffs being cancelled in the strike season.

This sustained period of excellence has been led by future Hall-of-Famer Jose Altuve and a strong supporting case of Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker, as well as former star Carlos Correa and the future of the franchise Yordan Alvarez, while their starting pitching has been almost unmatched.

In 2022, Houston had two pitchers finish top-five in AL Cy Young Award voting with winner Justin Verlander and fifth-placed Framber Valdez, and while the former has left, they also unearthed high-upside rotation pieces Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia.

Add in their dominant bullpen, led by Ryne Stanek and Ryan Pressly, as well as the best rookie in the last season's playoffs – Jeremy Pena – and the free agent signing of former MVP Jose Abreu, and this Astros team does not figure to be going anywhere.

Will the Padres or Mets be able to spend their way to a title?

The Mets boast the most expensive team in the sport this season, with a combined payroll of $357million – $75m more than their cross-town rivals, the second-placed Yankees ($272m).

They have taken some significant risk by committing a combined $86.6m to their two ageing aces as 38-year-old Max Scherzer and 40-year-old Verlander take home $43.3m each, but with six Cy Young Awards between them, it is likely to be money well-spent.

The Mets will be hurt by losing star closer Edwin Diaz for the season after tearing up his knee celebrating a WBC win with Puerto Rico, but they have 28-year-old slugger Pete Alonso on a bargain deal as he enters his final years of arbitration before an inevitable monstrous extension.

Meanwhile, the Padres come in at the third-most expensive team at $249m, and while they do not have the Hall of Fame-level talent leading their pitching rotation like the Mets, they may have the best batting line-up in the game.

Their four All-Stars leading the way – Xander Bogaerts, Fernando Tatis, Juan Soto and Manny Machado – could all have MVP-calibre seasons, and they give the Padres a real chance at being this season's highest-scoring team.

Can anybody deny Ohtani his second MVP?

If he was not already the biggest star in the sport, Ohtani's brilliant performance in guiding Japan to their third World Baseball Classic cemented his status as the top dog.

An All-Star designated hitter with 80 home runs across the past two seasons – a total that has only been exceeded by Aaron Judge (101) and tied by Vladimir Guerrero Jr (80) – Ohtani also emerged as one of the sport's most dominant pitchers in 2022.

His 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings was just 0.1 behind league-leader Carlos Rodon (12.0), while also posting the sixth-best ERA (2.33) among qualifying starters.

It is the kind of two-way dominance not seen at this level since Babe Ruth, and it took a historic season from Aaron Judge to deny Ohtani his second consecutive MVP.

Judge finished with 16 more home runs than any other player, breaking the American League and New York Yankees single-season record while also posting a gaudy batting average of .311 as he flirted with a Triple Crown.

If he can replicate that kind of season, he will prove he really is one of the greatest hitters of his generation and will likely earn the recognition again, but the overwhelming likelihood is some regression from the Bronx bomber.

Even with Judge's fine campaign, voters still viewed it as a neck-and-neck race with Ohtani as his combined value as essentially two All-Stars in one roster spot makes his argument almost infallible – especially if his Los Angeles Angels finally make the playoffs.

As long as he can remain healthy, expect Ohtani to lift his second AL MVP as he heads into perhaps the most anticipated free agency in American sports since LeBron James' move to Miami.

Will new Red Sox signing and WBC star Yoshida be the top rookie?

A bevy of super-talented American prospects including Baltimore Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson and Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll are expected to emerge as top talents this season – but no rookie should have higher expectations than Boston Red Sox signing Yoshida.

Yoshida, 29, is a four-time All-Star in Japan's top professional league, and boasts a career batting average of .327 with 133 home runs in his six seasons with the Orix Buffaloes.

The Red Sox ended up the highest bidder for his services, forking out a five-year contract worth $90million, on top of a $15.4m posting fee to the Buffaloes, and they were given a sneak peek at the World Baseball Classic.

En route to Japan's third title – while no other country has more than one – Yoshida earned a spot on the All-Classic team by breaking the RBI record with 13 in seven games, while slashing .409/.531/.727 and hitting a pair of home runs.

He is not the only Japanese veteran trying to make his mark as a rookie this season, as 30-year-old New York Mets starting pitcher Senga will have every opportunity to become a star after signing a five-year, $75m deal with one of the most-watched teams in baseball.

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    Gunnar Henderson hit his 15th home run of the season to back an 11-strikeout effort from Corbin Burnes as the Baltimore Orioles posted a 6-3 win over the Seattle Mariners in Sunday's finale of a three-game series between early American League contenders.

    Ryan O'Hearn also homered while Cedric Mullins went 2 for 4 with two RBIs to help the Orioles take the series with their third win in four games. Colton Cowser added three hits, including a run-scoring single, and scored twice.

    Burnes (4-2) scattered seven hits while holding AL West-leading Seattle to one run over six innings to end a run of four consecutive win-less starts. 

    Henderson, the co-MLB leader in home runs along with Houston's Kyle Tucker, quickly put the Orioles ahead with a lead-off blast off Seattle starter George Kirby in the bottom of the first inning. Jordan Westburg followed with a single and later scored on Cowser's infield hit for a 2-0 advantage.

    Luke Raley doubled off Burnes in the second and crossed the plate on a Luis Urias single to get the Mariners on the board, though the Orioles answered in their half of the inning when James McCann brought home Jorge Mateo with a double.

    O'Hearn's homer to begin the bottom of the third extended Baltimore's lead to 4-1, and Cowser later doubled during the inning and scored on a Mullins single.

    Kirby (4-4) escaped further trouble but was stuck with the loss after allowing five runs and nine hits through six innings.

    Urias' RBI double in the seventh pulled the Mariners within 5-2, and the third baseman was later brought in by Julio Rodriguez's single to close the gap further.

    The Orioles got some insurance in the eighth, however, when consecutive singles by Cowser, Austin Hays and Mullins accounted for their final run. Craig Kimbrel then retired the Mariners in order in the ninth to record his ninth save of the season and first since May 3.

    Raley finished 3 for 4 with a run scored for Seattle.

     

    Tucker's two homers power resurgent Astros past Brewers

    Kyle Tucker tied Henderson for the majors' home run lead by going deep twice in the red-hot Houston Astros' 9-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Tucker had a solo homer in the sixth inning and a three-run shot in the seventh to power Houston to a ninth victory in 11 games following a 12-24 start. The Astros took two of the three meetings in the weekend series with the National League Central-leading Brewers.

    Houston also received a solo homer from Jose Altuve, while Jon Singleton and Jake Meyers each knocked in two runs in the win. Meyers finished 3 for 5.

    Spencer Arrighetti (2-4) earned his second major league win after pitching a career-long 6 1/3 innings while allowing four runs and striking out six.

    Arrighetti was touched for an early run when Brice Turang opened the game with a double and scored on Christian Yelich's single, but the Astros responded with four runs off Colin Rea in the bottom of the first inning.

    Altuve got it started with a lead-off homer before Houston loaded the bases on a Yordan Alvarez double and a pair of walks issued by Rea. After Singleton plated Alvarez with a groundout, Meyers doubled to right to bring in two more for a 4-1 Astros' lead.

    Singleton again brought home Alvarez with a single in the fifth to stretch the margin, and Tucker's first homer of the day put Houston up 6-1 in the sixth.

    Arrighetti cruised along until the seventh, when Milwaukee loaded the bases with one out on a pair of singles and a walk. Turang then greeted reliever Bryan Abreu with a two-run single and Yelich later tacked on another RBI single to cut the lead to 6-4.

    Tucker would put the game out of reach in the bottom of the seventh, however, with a blast to right field off Mitch White with two aboard.

    Turang ended 3 for 5 for Milwaukee, while Rea (3-2) lasted just 4 1/3 innings and surrendered five runs on eight hits.

     

    Judge's homer sparks Yankees to seventh straight win

    Aaron Judge hit a two-run homer and Jon Berti delivered a tie-breaking three-run shot to lift the New York Yankees to their seventh consecutive win, a 7-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

    Jose Trevino added a two-run single and Carlos Rodon tossed six solid innings as the Yankees finished off a three-game sweep of a White Sox team that owns the majors' worst record at 14-33.

    Rodon (5-2), who spent seven seasons with the White Sox from 2015-21, held his former team to two runs on four hits to win his third straight start.

    Berti snapped a 2-2 tie with a drive into the bleachers in right center field off Chris Flexen in the fourth inning. The infielder's first home run as a Yankee came with Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres on base after each reached on singles.

    Judge made it a 7-2 lead an inning later with his 13th home run of the season, an opposite-field shot off Flexen that followed a walk to Juan Soto.

    Rodon's lone trouble came in the second inning, when Corey Julks homered to open the scoring and Korey Lee followed with a walk before coming home on Zach Remillard's triple to left.

    New York quickly drew even in the bottom of the inning, however. Rizzo legged out an infield single and Torres doubled to put two on for Trevino, who laced a single up the middle to score both runners and tie the contest at 2-2.

    Flexen (2-4) surrendered all seven New York runs on eight hits before being removed with none out in the fifth.

    Julks had two of the six hits for Chicago, which had entered the series having won six of eight.

     

     

  • MLB: Gil's 14 strikeouts, Soto's 2 home runs keep Yankees rolling MLB: Gil's 14 strikeouts, Soto's 2 home runs keep Yankees rolling

    Luis Gil set a franchise rookie record with 14 strikeouts and was backed by Juan Soto’s two home runs as the red-hot New York Yankees rolled to their sixth straight win, 6-1 over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.

    Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Trevino also homered for the Yankees, who won for the 12th time in 14 games and improved to an AL-best 32-15.

    New York is 12-2-1 in series, matching 2002 as the only time since 1950 it has won 12 of its first 15 series.

    Gil allowed one run on five hits over six innings to win his fourth straight start. He surpassed Orlando Hernandez’s 13 strikeouts on Aug. 13, 1998. Hernandez threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Saturday.

    Soto hit a 417-foot home run in the first inning, had an RBI single in the second and added another solo shot in the fifth on a 437-foot drive into the right-field bleachers. Soto, who had his 18th career multihomer game and first with the Yankees, went 4 for 4 with a walk and is batting .317 with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs.

    The White Sox struck out a season-high 16 times and fell to a major league-worst 4-18 on the road and 14-32 overall.

     

    Marlins stun Mets with late rally

    Josh Bell hit a tying three-homer to cap a four-run ninth off Edwin Diaz and the Miami Marlins pulled out an improbable 10-9 win over the struggling New York Mets.

    Diaz was called on to protect a 9-5 lead in the ninth but Jazz Chisholm Jr. singled home a run and Bryan De La Cruz reached on an infield single with one out before Bell belted Diaz’s first-pitch slider 428 feet to center field for the tying runs.

    After Tanner Scott pitched a scoreless top of the 10th, Otto Lopez singled home automatic runner Christian Bethancourt in the bottom half to give the Marlins a fourth straight win.

    Diaz has allowed seven earned runs, seven hits, three walks and two homers over 2 1/3 innings in his past three appearances.

    The Mets have lost seven of nine and dropped five games under .500 (20-25) for the first time since an 0-5 start.

     

    Royals’ Lugo gets AL-best 7th win

    Seth Lugo struck out 10 to earn his American League-leading seventh victory and Salvador Perez drove in a pair of runs in a 5-3 win over the Oakland Athletics.

    Lugo allowed two runs and six hits with a walk in 5 2/3 innings. He notched his second straight double-digit strikeout game.

    James McArthur struck out two in the ninth for his 11th save.

    Ross Stripling was saddled with his league-leading eighth loss and Oakland dropped its season-high seventh in a row.

  • MLB: Pirates' Skenes strikes out 11 in 6 no-hit innings for first major league win MLB: Pirates' Skenes strikes out 11 in 6 no-hit innings for first major league win

    Paul Skenes struck out the first seven batters and finished with 11 as part of six no-hit innings in his second major league start, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 9-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

    Skenes allowed just one baserunner – Michael Busch’s full-count walk in the fifth – in a dominant performance to earn his first victory. He struck out the side in the first and fanned Mike Tauchman on a 100-mph fastball on his 100th and final pitch – his 12th to reach triple digits.

    The No. 1 pick in the 2023 amateur draft became the third rookie with seven strikeouts to start a game, joining Jacob deGrom on Sept. 15, 2014, and Jim Deshaies on Sept. 23, 1986. He also became the first rookie with an outing of at least six no-hit innings and 10-plus strikeouts since Chris Heston threw a no-hitter for San Francisco against the Mets on June 9, 2015.

    The Cubs didn’t get their first hit until Christopher Morel singled against Carmen Mlodzinski with two outs in the seventh.

    Andrew McCutchen and Jared Triolo homered for the Pirates, who have won the first two games of this series after losing seven of nine.

    Kyle Hendricks allowed season highs of eight runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings in his second start since returning from a lower back strain.

     

    Rays’ Alexander flirts with perfection

    Tyler Alexander took a perfect game into the 8th inning before Danny Jansen blooped an opposite-field, one-out single and the Tampa Bay Rays held on for a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Alexander retired his first 22 batters, but Jansen dropped a 1-0 changeup between right fielder Josh Lowe and second baseman Richie Palacios.

    Davis Schneider homered two pitches later to draw the Blue Jays within 4-2.

    Alexander allowed three runs on three hits without a walk and struck out four. He threw 105 pitches, three more than his previous career high.

    Pete Fairbanks pitched a perfect ninth for his fourth save in five chances.

    Palacios hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning off Chris Bassitt as Tampa Bay won for the 10th time in 14 games.

     

    Streaking Astros edge Brewers

    Jake Meyers hit a two-run homer and Jeremy Pena added a three-run shot to lift the Houston Astros to their sixth consecutive win, 5-4 over the Milwaukee Brewers.

    It was the eighth win in nine games for the Astros, who moved into third place in the AL West.

    Jake Bauers homered and Joey Ortiz added three hits, including a three-run home run for the Brewers, who went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

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