2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees fought to be here

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Didi Gregorius smacked two dingers to lift the Yankees to the ALCS on Wednesday (WKYC)

Didi Gregorius and the New York Yankees stormed back against the Indians to move on to the ALCS on Wednesday. They found themselves in a 2-0 hole without any hope. Joe Girardi’s job even seemed to be on the line. After some questionable decisions early in the series, many were expecting him to have one foot out the door.

Just like they did in the Wild Card game, New York fought its way back to find themselves in the ALCS for the first time since 2012. While there were some offensive heroes such as Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner, the Yankees won in large part thanks to outstanding pitching.

With their backs up against the wall, their starting pitchers in the last three games of the series turned in 18.1 innings with just five earned runs and 25 strikeouts. They made the Cleveland offense look foolish. On top of that, Aroldis Chapman shut down the Indians’ season for the second year in a row.

What already seems to be forgotten is how the Yankees battled their way in the Wild Card game. They were down quick to the Cinderella Twins, giving up three runs in the first 1/3 innings. They quickly responded though and Joe Girardi played a bullpen game for the ages.

Houston has New York’s number

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Altuve has proven why he was the best hitter in baseball in 2017 (Yahoo Sports)

The Astros managed to go an impressive 5-2 against the Yankees during the regular season. What was especially impressive was that they managed to average 6.14 runs per game this season against the Bronx Bombers.

Houston played a great series against Boston and clicked on all cylinders. Their offense looked as good as ever and will be a challenge for New York to slow down. The Yankees’ pitching staff has had to work much harder than Houston’s, so something to look for in the series is fatigue.

Justin Verlander’s presence on the Astros pitching staff makes a significant difference this time of year. This Yankees team does not have a whole lot of experience against Verlander despite him pitching in the American League. This will be the first time that Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will ever see him.

The only starter that the Yankees seem to have success against is Charlie Morton. The team as a collective have a career .327 batting average against him with seven home runs. It will be interesting to see if A.J. Hinch will give Morton the nod this series. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. do have more success against the Yankees, but it is still in limited appearances. Look for the Astors’ starters to have some success in this series.

The main reason Houston is here, however, is their offense, something that went missing for the Indians in the ALDS. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa especially have good resumes against New York. Altuve is also swinging a hot bat after hitting three home runs in the first game of the ALDS.

How the series will play out

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Heroics from Gregorius and Gardner have led to some postseason magic for New York (ABC News)

Despite the Yankees recent success in clutch moments, the Astros are favored to win the ALCS and move on to the World Series according to Vegas odds. It won’t be a cake walk for Houston though.

A large part of the series is going to depend on the Yankees starters keeping up what they were doing against Cleveland. New York had some impressive times at the plate whether it be the two bombs from Gregorius in game five, or the 12-pitch at-bat by Brett Gardner in the ninth that led to insurance runs for the Yankees.

However, the offense as a whole was nothing to write home about.

It is hard to determine whether or not the success of the New York staff came from an Indians offense going cold or an overpowering performance by their starters. They will not be running into a cold Houston offense however. Houston has not been shutout since Aug. 17 and has scored two runs or more in all but four games since that date. Seeing that Houston had the best overall offense in all of baseball in the regular season, it will be tough for Yankees pitching to slow them down.

The postseason is unpredictable of course. Many thought it was all but a lock when the Indians went up 2-0 in the ALDS. New York wasn’t even a favorite coming out of their own division, so anything can happen this time of year.

What has been especially fun to watch with the Yankees is their ability to fight back. Brett Gardner has been a catalyst for New York. His final at-bat on Wednesday was evidence of how badly he wants that second ring. Despite the advantage the Astros have on the offensive side of the ball, the Yankees seem to have that postseason magic that every team is desperate to have.

If the Yankees pitching staff keeps it up then things could get very interesting this series. Nothing will be given in this series because each team knows what is at stake.

ALCS Prediction: Yankees in 7

 

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Kershaw

Will Kershaw prove himself in the NLCS?

Playoff success has eluded Kershaw who is now in his seventh career postseason. Don’t be mistaken, he has not been unreliable by any stretch of the imagination. However, he has shown that he can be prone to blow up in playoff games. In 16 career playoff starts he has given up four or more runs on six occasions. In the 2017 season, Kershaw only allowed four or more runs in 27 starts.

It will be unpredictable

Kershaw

Despite Kershaw’s solid record in regular season play, he struggles to be reliable in October (Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

One way to see how a pitcher may fair in certain match ups is what their history against the opposing team looks like. Kershaw faced the Chicago Cubs in last year’s postseason in two separate starts. Each start garnered two very results.

In game two of the 2016 NLCS Kershaw had the Cubs’ number. He managed to cash in seven innings shut out innings while only holding the Cubs to two hits. One would think he would be able to save the Dodgers season when they were on the hook in game 6 of the series, right?

Wrong.

Clayton Kershaw had four earned runs in five innings pitched, which included two home runs. Usually when dealing with a guy like Kershaw, you can tell when he has a hitter’s number. He is the most dominant pitcher of the past decade and does not look like he is slowing down in his regular season play. The playoffs look to be a whole other story though. If the Cubs push through to the NLCS, they may have a pretty good shot at getting to him. Their recent history against the Dodgers’ ace is much stronger than the Nationals.

Washington has struggled against the lefty during the regular season the past couple of years. In two regular season starts in the past two seasons, Kershaw has held the Nationals to just two runs in 14 innings pitched. This makes it seems like it would be a breeze if they met in the playoffs. However, the Nationals tattooed Kershaw for eight runs in 11.2 innings last postseason.

The Dodgers need him

Los Angeles has been to the NLCS four times since 2008. As you probably know, they haven’t won a single one of those series. Much of that may be because of their ace not showing up when it is needed most. Kershaw has made five NLCS starts in his career, and the Dodgers have only won a single game out of those five.

The Dodgers prided themselves on their pitching this season. It was the best pitching staff in the majors by far, especially after they picked up Yu Darvish. The Kershaw, Darvish, Hill, Wood combo is going to cause fits for any team they face in the postseason. This year may be different for that reason. Los Angeles isn’t nearly as reliant on Kershaw as they have been in the past because of the depth of their rotation in bullpen.

The commonality between all of the NLCS appearances they have lost though are Kershaw’s poor performances. Now is the time for the lefty to prove himself in the postseason.

Kershaw needs it for his legacy

Kershaw

Every great athlete is heavily judged by their postseason performance (Photo by Washington Times)

Clayton Kershaw is already a lock for Cooperstown. Some writers say that even if Kershaw were to retire at the end of this season, he would still get into the Hall of Fame despite only being 29 years old.

What Kershaw doesn’t want to happen is get the Dan Marino reputation. Marino is known as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. However, he is also remembered as one of the greatest to never win a championship. Kershaw has yet to even make it to the World Series. With the team he has around him, the time is now for him to prove himself and propel his team to a championship.

The Dodgers currently have a solid setup. Their team is getting some extra rest as they swept the Diamondbacks out of the postseason while the Cubs and Nationals have battled it out to a fifth game. If the NLCS happens to go to seven games, there is a good chance that Kershaw will get the nod in a decisive seventh game depending on his performance.

Kershaw is already in the mix for one of the greatest pitchers ever. In order to keep him in that top echelon of pitchers, he will need to pitch when it matters most. If he is able to put together the starts we all know he is capable of, the Dodgers will feel good about their chances of ending their 30 year championship drought.

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World Series

Five World Series match ups we want to see

Chicago Cubs vs Cleveland Indians

World Series

Cleveland is looking for redemption after their skid in the 2016 World Series (ABC Chicago)

A rematch of the 2016 World Series is on the eyes of many. Last year was one of the most successful World Series of the century in terms of viewership. The narrative of the two teams and their droughts captured the hearts of America.

The series went to extra innings in game seven, and the Indians are surely looking to redeem themselves after giving the title to the Cubs. Cleveland had a 3-1 game lead and were not able to end their drought.

The Indians look like the better and more complete team this year with all the inconsistencies that Chicago has been dealing with. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor look stronger than ever and would be difficult to stop.

 

New York Yankees vs Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series

Kershaw would love to reverse his postseason woes (Photo Courtesy of: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

We all know the networks are pulling for this one. The two largest markets in the country battling it out in October may be what the league needs to keep the World Series ratings on pace with last year. A rematch between the Cubs and Indians is enticing, but it may not have quite the same sparkle to it as this match up of two iconic teams.
Not only will the markets be battling it out, but the two rookie sensations in Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger would be highlighted. Both of these young stars broke home run records that were thought to be near impossible to break. Both teams have well-rounded hitting and would make for a long series.
The Yankees have had much more success out of these two titans of baseball. The Dodgers have a drought they are looking to break of not going to the World Series in 20 years. A Dodgers-Yankees World Series would make for a great final hurdle for LA to get over in order to win the series.

Houston Astros vs Los Angels Dodgers

Cleveland may have ended up with one more win than Houston, but the Astros and Dodgers were the two teams that had a stronghold as the best two teams in the majors for most of the year. The Astros have the hitting edge with their three headed monster of Correa, Altuve, and Springer. However, the Dodgers have the pitching edge with Kershaw, Wood, and Hill. Not to mention Kenley Jansen, who was one of the best closers in baseball this year.
This would be the superstar match up that many would have predicted in June. Things have changed since then, but they are still 100+ win teams that are not messing around. Both teams are hungry for a World Series title. The TV networks would love this as well as Houston is looking for a win after Hurricane Harvey. A Fall Classic in Houston would bring life to a city that needs it.

Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros

World Series

Bryce Harper is looking to prove the Nationals can play in the postseason (Sports Illustrated)

The last few years we have been talking about World Series droughts. The Cubs broke their 100+ year losing streak last fall, and the Indians are prime candidates to break their drought that goes back to 1948. However, the Astros have never won a Fall Classic, and the Nationals have never even been to one!
The Nationals (formally Montreal Expos) have only been around since 1969, and the Astros were founded in 1962. They reached their first and only World Series in 2005 when they lost to the Chicago White Sox.
So who wouldn’t want to see two teams duke it out for the right to bring the title to their hometown for the first time (excluding the 1924 Washington Senators)?

Cubs vs Red Sox

A rematch of the 1918 World Series, would feature two baseball teams that have the most historic World Series droughts in the game. Both were lead by Theo Epstein, who is probably the best executive we have seen this generation. This match up would be centered around the history behind these two teams as well as the connection with Theo.

Boston and Chicago played at similar levels this season, with a little bit of edge given to Boston. The Red Sox have a solid pitching staff centered around Chris Sale and their stud closer Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox have their own version of Andrew Miller now as well with David Price. It will be interesting to see how he is worked into a World Series.

Another intriguing similarity between the two teams is Jon Lester and John Lackey. That is just one other connection between these two teams that seems to be endless. If these two teams had met in the Fall Classic 15 years ago, it would be a whole other level of excitement. Now that they have both broken their streaks now, it doesn’t have the same pop. However, it would not be surprising for this match up to keep those ratings on par with 2016.

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Cain

Matt Cain retirement: A look back at his career

Matt Cain, a three-time All-Star, has announced that Saturday against the San Diego Padres will be the final start of his impressive career.

Matt Cain Retirement

Cain’s clubhouse presence will be missed (Press Democrat)

While Cain has not been as strong in the past couple of years, it doesn’t take away much from what preceded it. Matt Cain played an integral part of a dynasty in San Francisco. The moment comes bittersweet for Cain. He stated to the press, “This organization has meant so much to me. It’s meant so much to my family. I’m just grateful it’s been a part of my life. I’ve enjoyed it so much”.
Cain has had some injury issues in the last few years and that has been what has slowed him down. Some thought that he would look elsewhere to play if the team did not pick up his contract. He has decided that it was time to hang it up though.
While he he may have struggled, he was easily one of the best pitchers in the league when he was on. During his span of success (2006-2012), he achieved an impressive ERA of 3.30 and ranked sixth among all starters in WAR at 30.1. Cain has left a lasting legacy through many of his achievements during this span.

Three World Series trips

While Cain was injured during the 2014 season and did not pitch in the playoffs for the Giants, he still came up big when it mattered most in 2010 and 2012. In 2012, Cain pitched 21.1 innings in the postseason and did not give up a single run. He also struck out nine in that time and only gave up 13 hits.
In his postseason career, he ended up with a 4-2 record with a stellar 2.10 ERA. Madison Bumgarner gets a lot of credit for his postseason performance, but Cain should not be ignored. His performance along with his clubhouse presence are a large part of this San Francisco dominance from 2010-14.
Cain is one of the most beloved Giants pitchers in recent memory. He spent all 13 years of his career in San Francisco, and had plenty of notable moments.

Perfect Game

Matt Cain Retirement

Cain’s perfect game may be one of the most impressive of the bunch (ESPN)

In 2010, Matt Cain pitched the only perfect game in Giants history in a 10-0 win against the Houston Astros. It was only the 22nd perfect game ever pitched.
Felix Hernandez pitched another perfect game later that summer, but those were the last two in the past five years. Cain actually tied the record for most strikeouts in a perfect game with 14. That mark tied the great Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax.
The game also was marked by great plays by Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco to protect the gem. The 125 pitches thrown that game were also the most in any perfect game ever. In short, it was a memorable one that Giants fans will never forget.

Legacy

Matt Cain was the 25th overall pick for the Giants in 2005. He went to three All Star games in his career, and finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting twice in his career.
Bruce Bochy described Cain as the type of guy that will do anything for the team. This season when Cain was put in the bullpen, he did not question his position once. It is because he put the team before himself whenever he could.
He is going to finish his career with a 3.69 ERA, which is always an impressive mark for a starting pitcher. Although he has been struggling the last few years, fans will not forget all of the winning memories that he was able to provide.
Matt Cain is 32 years old which is typically somewhat young of an age to retire, especially for a pitcher with as much success as him. He may have not have been the typical ace, but San Francisco will miss him.

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Cleveland Indians playoffs

Will anyone stop the Indians?

Whether you are a baseball fan or not, you are bound to have heard about the Indians’ win streak. Cleveland reached 22 wins without a single loss in September, and they have not slowed down since the Royals broke that streak. Since the streak ended, the Indians have still won seven of eight games. This makes it so they only lost two games in the past month.
Cleveland has picked the right time to heat up. Many managers and players will tell you that they will take the team that is the hottest going into the playoffs rather than who had the best record.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Clayton Kershaw is looking to ditch his poor postseason reputation. (USA Today)

Speaking of best record, the Indians really are not far off from it. In the middle of August, it didn’t look like any team in the majors would come close to the Dodgers. The possibility of the Dodgers breaking the single season wins record was even floating around.
Instead, the win streak record was broken. Now the Indians are fighting for home-field advantage in the World Series as they only trail the Dodgers by two games.
Los Angles definitely had more sustained success than the Indians despite falling apart in the dog days of summer. They have been fighting to get back on track just before October and seem to be doing that with Clayton Kershaw back. The Dodgers have a stellar rotation after the acquisition of Yu Darvish and also have the bullpen that can shut down any lineup. Nobody is going to doubt their pitching.
The issue with this team, however, is that it may be just a little bit better than average on offense. That will not be enough to beat Cleveland. The Dodgers rank seventh in the National League in offense. While they have some real stars in Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, it may not be enough to beat the stellar pitching Cleveland has to offer.
With all of the talent the Dodgers have on the mound, the Indians still might beat them out. Their bullpen gained a lot of notoriety last postseason behind Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Corey Kluber would also be a lock for the Cy Young this year if it wasn’t for a man named Chris Sale in Boston.
It looks like Cleveland is the hotter and more well-rounded team out of the two. I wouldn’t count on the Dodgers slowing down the Indians if they were to meet in the Fall Classic.

Houston Astros

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Altuve is almost a sure thing for AL MVP. (MLB.com)

The Astros are the next best team in the American League after the Indians. This would be a fascinating ALCS if it were to happen. Houston was thought to be easily the team to beat in the AL, but Cleveland has taken that title from them in the past month.
Houston prides itself on its strong offense led by Jose Altuve. The veteran second baseman is wrapping up his MVP caliber season while leading the majors in batting average and WAR.
He does not have such a bad supporting cast either. Shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer are both forces at the plate. They will give any pitcher fits. If it was not for their injuries, they would be competing with Altuve for MVP.
The Astros easily have the best offense in the league and have the best shot at stopping Corey Kluber and the Indians. While they only managed to win one of six games against Cleveland this season, the playoffs are a different animal. Houston has been hot and looks to ride that into the playoffs,
Look for this matchup in October because if it happens, it may be the most intriguing one we see.

Boston Red Sox

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Devers has come onto the scene to add some pop to the Boston lineup. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Red Sox may have the best pitcher in the league to go head to head with Corey Kluber. Chris Sale, along with Kluber, is a candidate for the AL Cy Young. Both have impressive strikeout rates and can dominate any lineup in the league.
Corey Kluber has only lost one game since the All-Star break, which was against Boston. While he may not have had a whole lot of run support or help from the bullpen, it still may be a sign that the Red Sox have what it takes to beat the hottest team in baseball.
Boston does not have many sluggers on their team, but they do have a group of young talent that can give any pitcher fits. With the emergence of Andrew Benintendi and call-up Rafael Devers, the Red Sox are sitting pretty for the postseason.
They will have a challenge in order to potentially get to the Indians. They will most likely play Houston in the ALDS in what should be an exciting series.
It will be tough for Boston to get past the Astros. However, if they do manage to play Cleveland, they will look to maximize their pitching efforts as they have the second best pitching staff behind the Indians in the AL.
Featured image from NPR

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Netting

There is no excuse: Baseball needs to extend protective netting

Todd Fraizer’s reaction says it all. It is simply not worth it.

Frazier was batting in the 5th inning when he yanked a ball foul and the ball proceeded to strike a young girl. Play was put on hold for a few moments while the young fan was tended. Many of the Yankees and Twins players knelt with anguished looks of concern and dread. This is not something that needs to happen.

Manfred is reluctant to enforce his authority

Netting

Rob Manfred is not doing enough to ensure fan safety (CBS Sports)

In an interview with the New York Daily News, Rob Manfred stated, “I think the reluctance to do it on a league-wide basis only relates to the difficulty of having a single rule that fits 30 stadiums that obviously are not designed the same way”.

This blatant disregard for safety demonstrates the problems that the league is facing right now. Is the safety of the fans that pay to watch these teams not worth a slightly obscured view? With all of the money that baseball teams put into their stadiums, is it really not worth it to extend the netting past the dugout so there is no risk of a young girl getting struck by a 100 mph baseball?

Anytime you go to a baseball game you will see and hear the stadium warning fans to pay attention when the ball is in play, which is fair. However, a disclaimer on the back of a ticket doesn’t absolve the team from moral responsibility for protecting their fans. There was nothing that could have been done for that little girl to avoid that ball.

There are 10 teams in the major leagues that have realized that balls hurdling at fans at 100 mph is a problem. Because of that, they have extended the netting beyond the dugout in order to protect fans that are so close to home plate they don’t have time to react.

What is so difficult about that? Who would ever say that architectural design is a reason to not protect fans? That’s right, the commissioner of Major League Baseball would. The game of baseball is so resistant to any sort of change that they will hardly lift a finger to protect a young fan from getting hit by a foul ball.

The players have had enough

Don’t think that the players on the field have any issue with extending the netting. They see on a daily basis how fast these baseballs can go.

Eduardo Escobar of the Minnesota Twins was rattled after yesterday’s incident. He told reporters, “I just saw blood coming out of this girl’s face, a ball like that could have killed a kid…It could have killed her”.

Escobar is right. A ball going that fast can kill someone. Should fans have to worry about that when they buy diamond level seats to a baseball game? Should the players have to worry about striking a fan anytime they hit a ball foul? Absolutely not.

Todd Frazier, the player who hit the foul ball, believes there should be netting up in all stadiums to protect the fans. He emphasized after the game that it is all about safety.

Frazier is right. If the league is concerned about safety enough to put up some simple netting, then why should fans bother to go to the game. Baseballs are flying into the stands every game and in most cases they are good at avoiding the ball. However, one instance of a fan getting hospitalized from a baseball should be enough to warrant netting.

The players have simply had enough. Matt Holliday and Brian Dozier were both in tears when this happened. Dozier called for MLB to extend the netting. There is never going to be a good enough reason to prevent these kind of things from happening.

This is not a new problem

Netting

Fans react to young fan being carried out of the stands (Pioneer Press)

In 2014, Bloomberg did an analysis of foul balls and found that roughly 1,750 fans are struck by foul balls during the regular season. Many of the instances are minor and the fan will usually only walk away with a bruise. It is another story for kids at the ball park though.

According to an article done by the Boston Globe, there was a 2010 incident where a 6-year old girl needed surgery for a shattered skull after being struck at a Braves game by a foul ball. In 2008, a 7-year old needed surgery to relieve brain swelling because of a foul ball.

The same article cites foul ball statistician Edwin Comber, who says 73 percent of all foul balls go into the stands. That may include a pop fly, a long ball down the line, or a grounder that gets scooped up. Every once in a while though there is going to be a scorcher that lines into the stands where you won’t be able to avoid it, no matter how much you are paying attention to the game.

Foul balls aren’t the only problem either. In 2015 a female spectator was carted off due to a broken bat flying into the stands. Bats flying into stands are not nearly as common as the foul balls. However, it is another reason why the netting is necessary.

Hockey is the only other major American sport where projectiles are flying through air at alarming rates. What does the NHL do to protect the fans from these projectiles? They put up boards and netting to ensure their fans safety when attending their events. Simple enough, right? Well, apparently not simple enough for Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball.

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Luke Weaver is quietly dominating

Weaver

Weaver has been one of the best starters down the stretch (SD Union-Tribune)

Nobody is talking about Luke Weaver, and it is about time we should. The St. Louis Cardinals are starting to fade into obscurity after being swept by the Cubs at Wrigley over the weekend. Over the past few weeks however, we have gotten a glimpse into the rotation of the future.

Luke Weaver was the 27th pick in the draft for the Cardinals in 2014. Since then, he has been dominating the minor leagues with a career 25-11 record and 1.99 ERA. He was called up in July and has started seven games while appearing in 10. He now sports a 1.89 ERA on the season and is 6-1 with a 1.8 WAR already despite starting 20 less games than the leader, who has a 3.5 WAR.
For any fantasy baseball players out there, this is a great guy to get on your team at the most crucial time in the season. Players have picked up on that as he is now owned in over 70 percent of ESPN leagues. He has been paying off for them as well as he has been racking up the wins with an average of 8.4 K/9 over these last five wins he has earned.

The one thing that is worth mentioning about Weaver is the quality of teams he has pitched against. Four of five teams he has faced on this win streak have a sub .500 record. The Brewers are the only team that are in the playoff hunt out of the group, but he did strike out 10 in that appearance. The best team that Weaver has faced is the Diamondbacks who teed off him for four runs in five innings.

What he has to offer

Weaver features a 94-96 mph fastball that stays consistent throughout the game. He has an excellent changeup to back it up that has plenty of sink to throw off opposing hitters. Where Weaver excels is his control though. If you are to watch a game where he is pitching you will not see much of a mix up between him and Molina.

Where Weaver can stand to improve is with his breaking ball. He seems to have figured out a better way to control it since reaching the majors, but this is where he struggled in the minors. Look for him to work on that breaking ball because if the 24 year old can reign it in, he will be a force to be reckoned with

What Weaver means for St. Louis

Weaver

Alex Reyes will emerge as a star in the coming years (MLB.com)

With his performance as of late, the Cardinals should be very happy with what their young core looks like in the rotation. Alex Reyes is St. Louis’ best prospect, but he has been sidelined this season due to Tommy John surgery. He is still ranked as the 14th best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com despite the injury. Reyes just turned 23 so the Cardinals should be very hopeful about his future.
Jack Flaherty is another prospect the Cardinals are excited for. He is still adjusting to the big leagues as he currently has an ERA over 6.00, but he is still only 21 years old. Flaherty still has time to get used to the big leagues at such a young age. He has a solid fastball-changeup combo that should play well. The stuff is there, he just needs time to mature.
These three guys are all names that are starting to set in at the big league level. They should give GM Mike Girsch some excitement though knowing they will be joining Michael Wacha and potentially Lance Lynn if they choose to re-sign him.
Weaver fits right into the Cardinals future and potentially dominant rotation. He and Reyes seem to be the ideal candidates for Wainwright to pass the torch to once he retires.

Will he be able to sustain his success?

There is not much to suggest Weaver won’t be able to become a successful major league pitcher. He has had an easy schedule, but it is tough to take much away from a young pitcher who is having his first extended look at the majors. His impeccable control is what suggests he will be able to continue his dominance through the season.

He should become a fixture in the rotation next season, especially if Lance Lynn does not return. It will be interesting to see how the rotation will turn out with Weaver and Reyes potentially leading the way in the young rotation.

 

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National League DH

Why the National League needs a designated hitter

As a classic baseball fan, it is hard to say this, but it is time for the National League to adopt a designated hitter position. This has been a topic of conversation ever since the American League established a DH in 1973. However, many have been resistant to the new position because baseball needs to remain pure.

Pitchers are getting hurt

National League DH

Nelson hurt his shoulder sliding back into first base (Photo from MLB)

Jimmy Nelson is the latest pitcher to go down with a non-pitching injury. This is a huge blow for the Milwaukee Brewers as they just swept the Cubs at Wrigley in a pivotal NL Central showdown. The Brewers were out of the division race after getting swept by the Reds, but they did what they had to do to get two games behind Chicago.

Other big name pitchers have also been getting hurt on the base paths unnecessarily. Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett are all big name pitchers who have been hurt on the base paths. After their injuries, Wainwright and Scherzer both expressed an open mind to a DH in the NL.

The Nelson injury is a tough pill to swallow for Craig Counsell and company. Nelson was in the midst of a career year and was the ace of an otherwise mediocre rotation. He is on the Brewers to shut down opposing offenses, not leg out doubles.

It is easy to say this is a gross overreaction to an injury that just went down over the weekend, and it may be. The first base coach wouldn’t have tried to send him if he knew what was going to happen, but hindsight is 20/20 of course. However, is it really necessary to put pitchers at risk when they are not in the league to hit?

Pitchers can’t hit

National League DH

Pitchers will only continue to get worse as time goes on (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Having pitchers batting can be very exciting at times. One of the best moments in recent memory was when Bartolo Colon mashed his first career home run at the ripe age of 43.

Another show stopper is Madison Bumgarner, who seems to be able to hit the ball as far as most players in the league. However, pitchers like Bumgarner don’t grow on trees.

According to fangraphs.com, the 2014 slash line for pitchers as hitters was .122/.153/.153. Is that entertaining to watch? Can anyone really argue why that is worth keeping in the lineup? That is not just bad, it is atrocious.

The only real purpose that pitchers serve at the plate is bunting runners over. That is when small ball comes into play, and it can be really helpful when moving runners over for the top of the lineup.

The one thing that is always hard to watch is when a team mounts a rally. Imagine a scenario where a team is down 2-0 in the fifth with runners on second and third and one out. The eighth place hitter comes up to the plate with the pitcher on deck. What would any sensible manager do? They would walk to get to the pitcher of course. That way the fans of the offense just hope that the pitcher strikes out so it doesn’t run the risk of grounding into a double play.

The point of the scenario though is that pitchers can be a real rally killer, which is always hard to see. Remember the slash line for pitchers in 2014? Well, the slash line of the worst hitter in the NL that year, Melvin Upton, was a much more respectable .208/.287/.333 comparatively. Who would you rather have in that nine hole when an important opportunity for runs comes up in the middle of the game?

The DH leads to more excitement

National League DH

If it wasn’t for the DH, Big Papi may not mean the same thing as it does now
(Photo by John Macki of the Boston Globe)

As someone who has followed the National League for the most part, it is always strange to watch interleague play. Once the NL team gets closer to the end of the lineup, it is easy to write off the the ninth spot as an automatic out. What is refreshing to see is that they never reach that gap in the lineup that pitchers usually provide.

What is also nice to see is players that are not as mobile as they used to be can still provide a pop in the lineup in AL formats. That is why older hitters may look to move to the American League. If you average out all the major stats from qualified designated hitters this season, you will get a slash line of .253/.323/.443 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs.

The DH gives older hitters the chance to focus on what they are good at rather than a hitter that will get one hit every ten at-bats.

There will be resistance

Baseball players as well as fans are very much stubborn when it comes to their beloved game. Baseball is most famous for its unwritten rules and history behind it. That is why many people will be extremely reluctant to the idea of a DH in the National League.

Many baseball purists say that big changes to the game like this are more likely to push away current fans rather than bring in new ones. That is a hard argument to keep up though since viewership didn’t go down after the AL introduced the DH, and replay review has improved correct calls significantly.

It will be a hard adjustment to make, but a designated hitter will lead to a better product on the field.

 

Featured image from Yahoo Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Rockies

Can the Rockies hold on to the Wild Card?

The NL West has been wild this year. It seemed as though the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies were all the teams to beat in the National League at one point (apologies to the Nationals).

At the moment, the Dodgers are sliding and the Diamondbacks are rolling. Both of those teams are locks for the playoffs though.

The same thing can’t be said for the Rockies though. On Aug. 5, Colorado found themselves a comfortable 17 games over the .500 mark. Just one month later, the Rockies are nine games over that mark and are only two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.

As stated earlier, the Diamondbacks are rolling and have all but mathematically locked up a playoff spot. The Dodgers, although struggling, are also a lock to reach the postseason. The real race is going to be for that second wild card spot that is currently held by Colorado. Here is a look at the two teams that are threatening the Rockies’ playoff hopes.

St. Louis Cardinals

Colorado Rockies wild card

Paul DeJong has been one of the big names in the Redbird renaissance (Photo by KSDK)

Not many people have been talking about what is going on in St. Louis this season. Yes, the Cardinals have been very inconsistent in many facets of their game. However, there has been a Redbird renaissance going on in St. Louis. That is the Memphis Redbirds to be precise.

The Triple-A affiliate Redbirds finished the season with an impressive 91-50 record, and their success is starting to spill into the big leagues. The list of players that have made an impact on the team this season that would typically be considered Triple-A players is long. Those names include Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, Luke Weaver, Luke Voit, Harrison Bader and many more.

Tommy Pham has played a vast majority of the year in St. Louis and has been their best player, so he doesn’t figure into that crowd. One thing that is worth noticing though is the Cardinals lineup on Tuesday. Seven of the Cardinals starting nine have played significant time down in the minors.

DeJong may even be a favorite for Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Cody Bellinger’s breakout campaign. DeJong has been hitting homers at a very similar rate (given that he has a lot less at bats), and has a much better batting average.

This team has been up and down all season long, but may be hitting a stride with these young players. It is going to be a tough test for them coming up though. All of their remaining games are against NL Central opponents. Their record in their own division is pretty strong in most years.

However, this year they have been getting by with a weak 23-31 record inside of an already weak division. It will be interesting to see though if Mike Matheny will continue to play these young surging talents in the stretch. He is not usually one to pick the young guys over the more experienced veterans. It may be in his best interest though to play the hot-hand this time of year, before other teams start to figure out these new faces.

Milwaukee Brewers

Colorado Rockies wild card

Travis Shaw has led the Brewers to contention in September (Photo by ESPN)

The Brewers controlled the NL Central for much of the the season. The Chicago Cubs were at their heels for a long time, and they finally took over as many expected. Catching the Cubs is still not out of the realm of possibility for the Brewers or the Cardinals, but for the purposes of this, we will talk within the context of the wild card.

Milwaukee is now 2.5 games back of the Rockies for second place in the wild card. They just let the Cardinals surpass them, which of course is not something they wanted to let happen.

Their offense has not been playing as well as of late. Eric Thames has slowed down his production, and the supporting cast has not been keeping up. At the moment, the leader in batting average for the team is Travis Shaw at .276. That is very low for the best on the team and does not bode well if they wish to contend.

The Brewers have still been resilient this season and fight back as long as people keep counting them out. They are playing below .500 baseball since the All-Star break, so it is going to be difficult for them to keep up at this juncture.

One of the key moments that kept them from losing a series to the rival Cardinals was a stellar, literal game saving catch by Keon Broxton. That was a shot in the arm that the Brewers needed. They have since fallen behind the Cardinals in the chase for the playoffs, so they are hoping that some of their key players will show up in the stretch.

Can the Rockies fend off the competition?

Colorado has a tough schedule coming up for them. They are about to play a four-game set against the Dodgers in LA, and then fly to Arizona for a four-game set against the red-hot Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are hoping to prolong the Dodgers’ struggles, because this is an eight-game road trip that the team has probably been keeping an eye on for a long time. They have been 7-13 on the road since the All-Star game, so the time is now for them to pick it up outside of their home in Colorado.

The Rockies have a relatively easy schedule after they finish in Arizona on the 14th, so this eight-game stretch could make or break their season. The Cardinals have a fairly easy schedule during that time span, so the standings could look much different if they capitalize on this.

What the Rockies need to hope for is for the Cardinals to continue their struggles against teams in their own division, and go back to their inconsistent ways.

It is hard to imagine a team with the kind of offensive fire power the Rockies have may not make the playoffs. Their division is just that stacked this year. It has been very difficult for them to pull away from other teams in the National League.

If the Rockies are able to take four of the eight games they have coming up, it will be hard to see them not playing the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card. However, if they get bullied by their division rivals, the Cardinals may make another push for October, much like they did in 2011.

 

Featured image by Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Judge

What in the world has happened to Aaron Judge?

Aaron Judge has hit a wall since coming off the All-Star break. His slash line before the break was an impressive .329/.448/.691. That line was a big compliment to his 30 home runs and 66 RBIs in that span.

Since the break, his line reads as an underwhelming .182/.349/.358 along with eight home runs and 19 RBIs. The most alarming stat out of all of this though is his MLB leading 181 strikeouts on the season, 72 of them coming since the break.

The streak

Judge

Judge leads the majors in strikeouts this season (SB Nation)

Usually when talking about in a streak in baseball, it has a positive connotation. For example, the Oakland Athletics had a 20-game winning streak in 2002. Joe DiMaggio also had one of the most famous streaks ever, hitting in 56 consecutive games which is believed to be unbeatable.

Aaron Judge has a streak of his own that has given him some notoriety this season. He broke Adam Dunn’s record with 37 consecutive games with a strikeout this season. Now that isn’t the sole reason for his struggles. Judge had been big on strikeouts all season long, so it was not a surprise when they started to catch up to him.

One of the problems that Judge has been facing during these struggles is his BABIP. This stat can be used to measure how lucky or unlucky a hitter can be. It stands for batting average on balls in play, and it excludes home runs. This helps people who evaluate a player’s performance determine whether or not they find holes in the defense or maybe defenders pull off great plays against him.

In the first half of the season Judge had a .426 BABIP which was tops in the league. In the second half he has a .256 BABIP, which ranks 142nd in all of baseball. This shows that his strikeout streak is not the sole reason why he is struggling, rather the defense opposing him has been playing better.

That is not to say the strikeouts have been getting worse. He has been striking out in 43 percent of his at-bats in the second half which is a very alarming rate. It is especially alarming for a young hitter still trying to learn the game at the big league level.

Home run derby hangover?

One reason that we may not have seen Bryce Harper in the derby yet is because he is more concerned with his play during the season. Many people have wondered if the derby is detracting players from participating because it messes with their regular swing too much.

Brandon Inge participated in the derby in 2009 and even though he regressed significantly in the second half, with only six home runs compared to 21 in the first half, he still stated that he did not believe the derby had any impact on it. He would say that baseball players are professionals, and one night of changing their swing should not do significant damage down the road.

In Judge’s case, he took many more swings during the derby than Inge did in 2009. Inge did not hit a single home run while Judge hit a staggering 47 (which will probably be more than he ends with this season). Therefore, his performance may have a more lasting effect on his season.

It is also worth noting that Miguel Sano, who reached the derby final counter to Judge, has also struggled since the event in comparison to his first half. Although, he has missed time with a shin injury. Other than Sano though, all the other participants have been having as good if not better seasons since the derby (other than Justin Bour who only has 31 at-bats in the second half).

Charlie Blackmon and Giancarlo Stanton both come some home run swings in at the derby, and they are both tearing up the league in the second half. This makes it difficult to blame the derby for Judge’s struggles.

He is still a rookie

Judge

Judge stole the show during All-Star Weekend (The Courier)

Judge got caught up in talks for MVP when he was at his peak this season. It seemed like nobody was able to stop him. At the All-Star festivities in Miami, he looked to be the face of baseball. With Mike Trout injured and not participating, there was a void that Judge was able to fill.

At that point it would be easy to consider Judge the best player in baseball. There was one simple thing we were all forgetting though, and that is he is still a rookie. Rookies do not put up 50 home run years with a .330 batting average to go along with it. Judge showed us that it was still not going to happen with him even though he was on pace to do so.

The thing with rookies is they are also new to the league, so teams are still learning more about them just like how the rookie is learning more about the league. Once Judge got enough exposure at the big league level, teams learned to exploit his weaknesses.

What does this mean for his future?

There is one classic saying in sports and that is, “The one thing you can’t teach is speed”. This statement is true, to an extent. A coach can teach a hitter power, but only so much. What they can’t teach is how to hit a ball as far as Aaron Judge.

Judge has the top four highest exit velocity hits this season along with the longest home run in the majors at 495 feet. That kind of power is not going to just go away. What may go away is his ability to hit to all fields and get good solid hits at clutch times. Those are qualities of some of the best hitters ever, and much like some other hitters in the league today such as Joey Votto and Mike Trout.

What may become of Judge may be similar to the guy whose record Judge broke this year, Adam Dunn. In coming seasons, Judge could take the Dunn approach and crank 40 homers a year while batting .220 and striking out 180 times.

Aaron Judge is still only 25 years old and has a career in the majors that should last for a while. He may have looked like the best player in baseball this year at times, but that may not be what his future holds. That does not mean that he will not be a quality player for the Yankees, but it may mean that fans should maybe bring him a notch down from legend potential.

 

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