MLB Trade Deadline Targets

With a quarter of the season in the books, we are drawing ever closer to the trade deadline. Contenders and pretenders are weeding themselves out, and the trade market is forming. Accordingly, we will analyze four of the top trade targets and their potential landing spots.

SS Zack Cozart – Cincinnati Reds

After hitting a career high 16 home runs last season, Cozart has improved his play in 2017. The 31 year old is batting .352/.433/.602 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has been a key cog in the Red’s offensive attack, but his days in Cincinnati may be numbered. With the Reds slowly fading to the bottom of the NL Central, the Reds may have no choice.

Sitting at 20-22, the Reds are fourth in their division and 4.5 games back of first place. While they have performed well to this point, they are starting to show their true colors. With a 3-7 record in their past 10 games, Cozart may become expendable. Given his age and his potent season, the Reds may sell high and get a crop of young players in return.

Best Fit – Baltimore Orioles: Sitting at 25-16, the Orioles are primed to wrestle control of the division. J.J. Hardy has not had an OPS+ over 100 in the past five seasons, and at 34, it may be time to move Hardy to the bench.

1B Justin Smoak – Toronto Blue Jays

A solid 8.5 games out of first place and a 18-26 record have the Blue Jays as sellers at the trade deadline. And with all the moves the team has made in recent seasons, the organization could use an influx of young prospects. That leaves first baseman Justin Smoak as a prime target at the trade deadline.

His .279/.344/.537 slash line is by far the best of his career, and Toronto could capitalize on his success. And with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs, Smoak has proven to be a consistent contributor in the Blue Jays’ lineup. Given his hot start and his teams struggles, it makes too much sense to hold onto him.

Best Fit – New York Yankees: Even if trades to division rivals are few and far between, this is one that could be the exception. Chris Carter has been absolutely dreadful in pinstripes. And Greg Bird, when healthy, hasn’t been much better. Given the Yankees’ deep farm system, Smoak should be easy to acquire.

SP Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh Pirates

As the season progresses, the fate of Pirates ace Gerrit Cole is becoming all too clear. Sitting in the cellar of the NL Central, it seems the Pirates’ window of opportunity has finally closed. And with star center fielder Starlin Marte out for the season, there is little hope in Pittsburgh. But what hope does exist lies with Gerrit Cole.

The staff ace sports a 2.84 ERA in his nine starts this season, providing a great opportunity for the Pirates to earn a W every time he takes the hill. The 26 year old also has four years of MLB service, and will demand top dollar on the open market. And with the Pirates falling deeper into obscurity, the time is now to capitalize on Cole’s value.

Best Fit – Houston Astros: With a 29-14 record, the Astros have seemingly no holes. But if the team is serious about being top flight contenders, then a player like Gerrit Cole would elevate them to the next level. He would fit in perfectly behind Dallas Keuchel to form one of the best one-two punches in any rotation.

SP Andrew Triggs – Oakland Athletics

Andrew Triggs has been a revelation for the A’s (John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports).

The Oakland Athletics are always one of the more active sellers at the trade deadline. And sitting at nine games back of the Houston Astros for first place in the AL West, this season will be no different. But one of their top trade chips is someone you have probably never heard of – Andrew Triggs.

His 2.12 ERA in eight starts for the A’s has been spectacular. The 28 year old was solid in Oakland last season, but has brought his production to new heights in 2017. Given his age, performance and the A’s willingness to trade away players, he won’t be in green and gold for too much longer.

Best Fit – Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are 27-17 and in first in the NL West, but the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are hot on their heels. Pitching has always been a source of woe for Rockies fans, but Triggs could help stabilize the rotation. With a short track record of success, Triggs shouldn’t demand a king’s ransom on the market. Triggs would be a welcome addition in Denver.

Feature image by Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo.

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Eric Thames

Evaluating Top Performers in MLB

There are players in the majors that far exceed expectations every year. Whether it’s a young rookie blowing away the competition or a veteran player who has finally found “it,” these are the players that draw the most attention.

Let’s look at four of the most surprising performers this season and see if their success can be explained. The numbers never lie, so let’s take an in-depth look at some of the more advanced metrics on these four players and see what they tell us.

1B Yonder Alonso – Oakland Athletics

Surprise MLB Performers

Yonder Alonso has finally found “it” in Oakland (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Yonder Alonso has been a revelation for the A’s this year after a lackluster season last year. He’s put up a .303/.389/.687 slash line in 32 games. He also has 11 home runs and 27 RBIs.

The home runs are more than he has slugged in any of his previous seven seasons. How has Alonso been so productive this season?

Numerous metrics vary widely from the norm for Alonso, and they may just be the reason for his resurgence. Alonso has a fly ball rate of 46.7 percent this season. That is much higher than his 27.5 percent last year.

What does this really mean? It means Alonso is putting the ball in the air almost 50 percent of the time he makes contact. That allows him to utilize his power and drive the ball for more doubles and homers.

He has also lowered his ground ball rate from 44.6 percent last year to 26.7 percent this year, causing him to have more opportunities to turn those hit balls into base knocks.

His improved fly ball rate has caused his home run numbers to increase, and his ability to hit the ball up the middle at a 40 percent clip has helped anchor his average. He is also making hard contact on 41.3 percent of the balls he puts into play, far outperforming his career 31.0 percent.

Alonso is having a career season, and it’s easy to see why. His 41.3 percent hard-contact rate combined with his 46.7 fly ball rate have resulted in Alonso being one of the most productive first basemen in baseball this season. If he keeps it up, don’t expect him to remain in green and gold for long.

SP Jason Vargas – Kansas City Royals

Jason Vargas has had an up and down career, but he has transformed himself into a new player in Kansas City. In his four years in a Royals uniform, he has a 3.35 ERA, a solid mark for any starter.

However, he has taken his play to a whole new level this season. He has a 1.19 ERA in six starts and is striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings. How has Vargas gone from solid to spectacular?

One way he has improved is his ability to leave runners on base. His 87.4 left-on-base percentage is much higher than his career 73.3 percent. By leaving runners on base, he has drastically lowered his ERA.

Vargas isn’t relying on smoke and mirrors to produce his minuscule ERA. Opposing hitters have a .282 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). While that is lower than the average .300 BABIP experienced by pitchers, he is still relatively close to the norm. Vargas isn’t relying on an unsustainable BABIP to produce, meaning his performance is strong and should carry on throughout the season.

Another indicator of his sustainable success is his fielding-independent pitching (FIP). FIP measures a pitcher’s ERA independent of the fielders behind him, leading to a more accurate measure of the pitchers performance. With a 2.15 FIP this season, Vargas is performing at an elite level.

Don’t expect his 1.19 ERA to last throughout the season, but he will keep putting up spectacular numbers throughout the season.

1B Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals

Ryan Zimmerman has found the fountain of youth in 2017 (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP).

When you’re hitting like Ryan Zimmerman, it seems like luck is on your side. Zimmerman is having a renaissance year in Washington and is currently tied or leading in all three Triple-Crown categories.

His .393 batting average and 34 RBIs lead all of baseball. He is also tied with Aaron Judge and Eric Thames for the lead in home runs with 13. How has a player that hit .218 last season vaulted himself into contention for the Triple Crown?

The metrics are mixed on Ryan Zimmerman’s performance this season. He has an unsustainable .422 BABIP, which has helped loft his batting average to around .400. His BABIP will surely drop as the season continues, and with it his batting average.

Even so, he is getting hard contact on 45.8 percent of the balls he puts into play. He also has a medium-contact rate of 43.8 percent. His hard-contact percentage will surely drop, but it should increase his medium-contact percentage.

Zimmerman’s home-run-per-fly-ball (HR/FB) percentage is also astronomical, hovering around 36.1 percent so far. It will surely regress, but no one is taking away his league leading 13 home runs.

Even with regression imminent, Zimmerman is still performing exceptionally well this season. He has been a key cog in the Nationals lineup, and he shouldn’t experience too much of a drop off in performance.

1B Eric Thames – Milwaukee Brewers

Eric Thames is close to becoming in the U.S. what he was in Korea: a spectacle of epic proportions. His performance this season has been among the best in all of baseball.

His .331 batting average, 13 homers and 25 RBIs are close to the rate of success he experienced in Korea. Surely major league pitching will figure him out soon, right?

If they do, it won’t be any time soon. Thames is tearing the cover off the ball with a 47.1 percent hard-contact rate. His ability to produce solid hits off of the bat has allowed him to increase his batting average as well as his home run total.

However, he may be due for regression in the slugging department. His 36.1 percent HR/FB rate is astoundingly high, and will surely regress as the season moves forward.

His .351 BABIP is also pretty high, and has helped carry his batting average. Even with a regression in BABIP, HR/FB rate and a lower hard-contact percentage, Thames will still be a productive player for the Brewers. Look for Thames to be a key piece in the rebuilding Brewers’ lineup.

 

Featured Image by Sporting News

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MLB Rookies

The Rookie’s Rise to Stardom

In a game with one of the biggest learning curves in sports, rookies have surprisingly been doing well. Baseball has had a number of young players develop into stars in recent seasons.

To fully comprehend this shift in the game, we must first examine how players make it from being a prospect in the minor leagues to making it to the show.

From Prospect to Pro

MLB Rookies

Even top picks like Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers must pay their dues in the minors (GJ Sentinel).

Major League Baseball is vastly different from the NFL and NBA when it comes to rookies. While there is no limit to how long a player must wait to be signed professionally, baseball still averages the oldest rookies of all three of the major sports.

That is due to the way the game is played. To be successful in the majors, most players need to be at their peak of maturation, normally around 24 to 25 years old. Being fully developed allows baseball players to utilize their bodies to the fullest.

Unlike the NFL or NBA where players can rely on physical talent alone, baseball requires a honed set of skills. It doesn’t matter if you can hit a fastball 450 feet. If you can’t handle a breaking ball, you will fail in the majors.

That is why baseball has such an advanced minor league system. The combination of developing a player’s physical and mental capabilities to be successful in the majors takes time. The average rookie last year was 24 years old, giving credence to the time it takes to develop. However, what happens when players start breaking the mold, and advance beyond our wildest dreams?

2012: just the beginning

MLB Rookies

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper transformed the way rookies played in 2012 (nbcsports.com).

The Rookie of the Year award has always been the bar that rookies strive for. However, not all ROY winners are made the same.

From 2007-2011, ROY winners averaged 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR). Baseball Reference rates that as better than an average starter in the majors, proving that the ROY winners were truly something special.

Many have noted the increase of rookie production in the past few years, and the numbers certainly support that. From 2012-2016, ROY winners have averaged 5.4 WAR. That is a staggering jump in production, and evidence of a new age dawning in baseball.

This trend really began in 2012 with a pair of ROY winners: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Both players had been premium draft picks for their respective teams, but it was Harper that was seen as the next big thing in baseball.

Some players fold under such lofty expectations, but Harper flourished. He put up 5.2 WAR in his rookie year, topping all NL ROY winners since 2007 by at least 1.3 WAR. If Harper signaled a shift in the way rookies played, Trout was the zenith of their potential.

No one saw what Trout had in store. At 20 years old in his rookie season, he blew away the competition with a staggering 10.8 WAR. That is MVP type production, and earned him a second place finish in the 2012 AL MVP voting. While it may be unfair to compare Trout to other rookies due to his Hall of Fame trajectory, his fast start should not be diminished. Even so, Trout and Harper were only the beginning, setting the stage for other acts to follow.

continued success

MLB Rookies

Even Nolan Arenado, one of the games best young players, couldn’t take home the ROY award. (The Denver Post).

Since that fateful 2012 season, the way we view rookies has never been the same. That’s not just Trout and Harper’s doing either.

The rookies that have followed have helped carry their success into new seasons. Seemingly gone are the days when players like Dustin Pedroia could put up 3.9 WAR in 2007 and bring home the ROY award. Pedroia’s 2007 season would have been good enough for the third most WAR by a rookie in 2016. A new type of player is taking over the majors, and they are raising the bar of rookie performance.

Never before have we seen such young players perform so well so quickly. The NL has had two ROY winners in a row post seasons of 6.0 WAR or higher: Kris Bryant in 2015 (6.1 WAR) and Corey Seager in 2016 (6.0 WAR).

From 2007-2011, five of the 10 ROY winners posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. From 2012-2016, eight of the 10 ROY winners have posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. ROY of course is not the be all end all of the story of growing rookie dominance.

We saw 11 rookies post seasons of 2.5 WAR or higher last year, compared to the 2007 season in which only six rookies reached the 2.5 WAR milestone. Players like Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor and Gary Sanchez all had rookie seasons of at least 3.0 WAR, and still weren’t able to bring home the ROY award. It will only become more difficult to bring home the ROY award with the rise in production of rookies.

The way the game is being played is changing. Younger, less-experienced players are taking over the game. Don’t let their lack of experience fool you. These young studs will dominate the game for years to come. The youth movement in baseball is upon us, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon.

 

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Reviewing the National League so Far

The season is well underway and teams are starting to show who they really are. Fast starts and slow starts are beginning to even out as we begin to see separation in the standings.

If you’ve missed any of the action, don’t worry. We will go division-by-division and hit all of the high points so far in the National League.

NL East

National League Review

We haven’t seen much of this from Ryan Zimmerman this season (Alex Brandon/AP Photo).

The NL East is beginning to take form, with the Nationals (13-5) having a 3 game lead over the Marlins (10-8) for the division lead.

Leading the way for the Nationals is none other than Bryce Harper. Harper is hitting .393 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 61 at bats this season. He seems to be showing no signs of what ailed him last season and is producing at a higher level than he did in his MVP season.

He’s not alone in driving the Nationals to the top of the division. Longtime face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman is having a renaissance year in Washington. He has blasted five homers to go along with 14 RBIs and a .373 batting average. Zimmerman is only 32, so this could be a return to form for him.

Don’t count out the second place Marlins. They’ve relied on production from an unlikely source with catcher J.T. Realmuto leading the team in batting average (.344). Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have also gotten off to good starts, with both posting over 10 RBIs already on the year. Even so, another NL East rival is not far behind.

Cesar Hernandez has been a revelation for Philly (9-9) so far. His .338 batting average has been a pleasant surprise for Philadelphia, as well as his four homers and three steals. He could be an interesting trade chip for the Phillies if he keeps it up.

Rounding out the division standings are the Mets (8-11) and Atlanta (6-12). The Mets are off to a rough start this season, but still two games back of Miami for the second spot in the division.

Their offense has failed to deliver this season with a team batting average of .211. The pitching staff has carried the Mets, with three starters having an ERA under 3.00. If the Mets can continue to get strong outings from Matt Harvey (2.84 ERA) and have their offense catch fire, they should overtake Miami with ease.

The Braves’ management and fans alike are hoping Dansby Swanson’s slow start (.139 batting average) is just a blip on the radar. He has struggled this season, and has been a hole in Atlanta’s lineup.

NL Central

National League Review

Amir Garrett has been a revelation for Cincinnati this season (Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

After a surprising start from Cincinnati, the Red (10-9) have been unseated atop the division by the World Series champion Chicago Cubs (10-8). The division is still a five-team race, with St. Louis (9-10) third in the division, but only 1.5 games back of first place. This division has started out a tight one, but only time will tell if it remains so.

The Cubs haven’t been world beaters recently, going 5-5 in their last 10 games. It was still good enough to earn them the top spot in the division.

Jason Heyward is finally showing signs of the player Chicago thought they were getting. He’s batting .297 with two homers and 12 RBIs. With such a stacked lineup, if Heyward can keep his production even close to what he’s done this season, Chicago could reach another offensive level.

Cincinnati has been a pleasant surprise this season. After being predicted to sink to the bottom of the division, the Reds have battled all season long.

The pitching staff has been the biggest boon for the club, lead by the young lefty Amir Garrett. He’s started three games for the Reds and posted a 1.83 ERA while striking out 21 batters over 19.2 innings pitched. Veteran Scott Feldman has also thrown well, pitching to a 2.38 ERA. Even in the midst of a rebuild, the Reds have remained competitive.

St. Louis has experienced a power outage of late, but is still third in the division at 9-10. Their 6-4 record in the past 10 games has lifted them out of the cellar of the division.

Milwaukee has also opened some eyes this season. Sitting at 9-11 on the year, the Brewers have blown away preseason predictions. That is due in large part to the hot start put up by Eric Thames. Thames leads the majors with eight home runs and also has a .359 batting average. Needless to say, the Korean import has paid off.

That leaves the Pirates (8-10) as the last team in the division. After losing Starling Marte to an 80-game PED suspension earlier in the week, the outlook is bleak for the Buccos.

NL West

National League Review

The electric rookie has provided a strong presence for the Rockies (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports).

The NL West has truly been wild this season. Colorado (13-6) has gotten off to a hot start this season and sits atop the division, followed by Arizona (12-8) who are 1.5 games back. The Dodgers (9-10) are four games back of the division lead, followed by San Diego (8-12) and San Francisco (6-13) at the bottom of the division.

Colorado has relied on an unexpected source of offense this season. Mark Reynolds has performed exceptionally well in Ian Desmond’s absence, hitting five homers and driving in 16 RBIs.

However, Antonio Senzatela has stolen the show in Colorado. The 22-year-old has won all three of his starts with a 2.08 ERA. Colorado has surprised everyone this season with a strong starting rotation and an exceptional offense.

Arizona has also blown away expectations this season. The offense has been the driving force behind their surge, with seven starters hitting over .250. The pitching staff has also been good for the Diamondbacks, with Zack Greinke posting a 3.28 ERA so far this season. The Diamondbacks have the opportunity to be in the thick of it all season long with a solid offense and pitching staff.

The same could be said of the Dodgers, but their slow start has them looking up at the Rockies and Diamondbacks in the division. The pitching staff has let them down, with Kenta Maeda posting a 8.05 ERA this season. The Dodgers will need to have more support for Clayton Kershaw in the rotation, or it could be a long season for the Dodgers.

San Diego is fourth in the division with a 8-12 record, besting their preseason predictions. Wil Myers has led the way so far with a .354 average and four homers to go along with 11 RBIs. Clayton Richard has also been a surprise contributor for the Padres. His 3.04 ERA is good for first in the starting rotation, and has been the ace of the starting staff.

San Francisco recently lost their staff ace to an off-the-field injury. Madison Bumgarner will be out an unknown amount of time after a dirt bike accident. That only worsens the Giants chances, as their 6-13 record already has them behind.

 

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Where does Marte’s Suspension Leave the Pirates?

Starling Marte will be out 80 games for the Pirates this season after failing a PED test. This is a crushing blow for a franchise that has been struggling in the NL Central since the rise of the Chicago Cubs.

Losing Marte has a much bigger impact than just this season. A full season from Marte may have been just what the Pirates needed. Instead, they must fill the hole left by their star center fielder.

Who will Take his Place?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen will have the first shot at the center field job (Jim Mcisaac/Getty Images).

The two-time Gold Glover was making the transition to starting full-time in center field after playing the corner outfield spots for the majority of his career. That move was brought on in part by the decline of Andrew McCutchen last season.

The veteran may make a return to center field, given the lack of major league talent. Gregory Polanco is assumed to be the incumbent in center field, but he’s been out with a groin pull.

Even when Polanco comes back, it will leave an empty outfield spot. Former top prospect Josh Bell has been the presumed incumbent at first base for a while, but could return to his natural position. He played the corner outfield spots well in the minors and has flashed good pop.

Adam Frazier could also be in line for some playing time. The 25-year-old has 185 major league at bats and a .303 career average. Even with Bell and Frazier, the Pirates may be tempted to call on their farm system to fill the hole.

Austin Meadows is ranked as baseball’s sixth best prospect according to Baseball America. He is a natural center fielder with good range and solid power, but still raw at 21 years old. If Bell and Frazier can’t carry the load, he will surely see the major leagues.

Are the Pirates sellers?

Gerrit Cole could net the Pirates a treasure trove of talent in a trade (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images).

The Pirates had a down 2016 season after making the playoffs three straight years from 2013-2015. The team went 78-83 last year and many wondered in the offseason if they would start rebuilding. This question will be brought to the forefront now with the loss of Marte for 80 games.

Marte is arguably the best player on the Pirates roster, and his loss may be too much for the Buccos to overcome. If the Pirates do enter sell mode, who do they move, and at what price?

The first choice would be McCutchen. The outfielder struggled in 2016 and was the talk of trade rumors in the offseason, so expect those to start ramping up again. He’s still a solid player and would be a valuable addition to a playoff contender.

Another trade chip in the Pirates’ possession is Gerrit Cole. The 26-year-old pitcher is one of the best young arms in the majors and would net a major haul for the Pirates if they moved him.

The Pirates very well could move both McCutchen and Cole, or neither one. The roster in Pittsburgh is talented, but the competition in the NL Central is fierce. With a roster devoid of Starling Marte for 80 games, it may be in the Pirates best interest to start moving towards a rebuild.

 

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History Los Angeles Dodgers

History of the Game: Los Angeles Dodgers

As one of the most storied franchises in MLB history, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a staple of American culture. But their history in Los Angeles is relatively short, moving to the city in 1957. To understand the impact the Dodgers have had on the fabric of America, we first must understand their storied history. We begin in 1884 in Brooklyn, New York.

Same Place, Different Name (1884-1920)

What would become the Los Angeles Dodgers began as the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1884. They took their name from the defunct baseball club before them, but the name didn’t stick for long. In their first 36 years of existence, the club went through nine name changes. For a club that has had such a storied history, this inconsistency is surprising to see. But nonetheless, the team’s winning ways began in Brooklyn.

They started off with a bang, winning the NL Championship in their first year in the league. They were able to capture five NL Pennants in their first 36 years in Brooklyn, but were unable to win the World Series. The team faced the Cleveland Indians in the 1920 World Series, but were bested in seven games. That loss would mark the beginning of a 20+ year playoff drought in Brooklyn.  Even so, the popularity of the ball club grew, and established a strong fan base in Brooklyn and the surrounding area.

One for Brooklyn (1921-1957)

History Los Angeles Dodgers

Dazzy Vance was one of the best players in Dodgers’ history (baseballhall.org).

The years after their 1920 World Series appearance were lean times for Brooklyn fans. From 1921 to 1939, Brooklyn finished better than third in their division only once, coming in second place in 1924. But fans still had a reason to pack the seats in Ebbets Field. And that was none other than Dazzy Vance. Vance first pitched for the rival Yankees in 1915 before coming to Brooklyn in 1922. The 31 year old would spend 10 memorable seasons in Brooklyn before moving on to St. Louis in 1933. Vance won the NL MVP in 1924 and posted two seasons of 10+ WAR in his 10 years in Brooklyn. Dazzy Vance is the 6th best player in Dodgers’ history in terms of WAR.

The team would officially become the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932, the year that Vance left for St. Louis. The Dodgers were entering new territory without their staff ace, but it wouldn’t be long before they were back to their winning ways. Entering the 1941 season, the Dodgers were one of the favorites in the NL. They had won 88 games in 1940 and were looking to build on their success. And build they did, racking up 100 wins and an NL Pennant. While the Dodgers did lose the World Series to the Yankees, they had made it back to their winning ways. They would have one losing season in their next 10 years. But even with all of their wins, one player made an impact so great, it changed the nation.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson, better known as Jackie, made his MLB debut with the Dodgers on April 15th, 1947. It may have gone down as a footnote in history, but there was one defining factor; Robinson was African-American. He was the first African-American to play in the majors, breaking the color barrier in MLB. He also went on to have a Hall of Fame career, winning the NL ROY in 1947 and NL MVP in 1949. Robinson helped change the fabric of America, but he also helped give Brooklyn a gift they will never forget.

After back to back World Series appearances in 1952 and 1953, the Dodgers failed to make the playoffs in 1954. But in 1955, the Dodgers would come out on top. Driven by Hall of Fame center fielder Duke Snider, the Dodgers bested the New York Yankees in seven games. It was the only World Series title won in Brooklyn, with the franchise moving to Los Angeles in 1957.

A Dynasty is Born (1958-1996)

The Brooklyn Dodgers were in the middle of a strong run, making the playoffs six times between 1947-1957. But when

History Los Angeles Dodgers

Fernando Valenzuela rode Fernandomania all the way to the 1981 World Series (alchetron.com).

majority owner Walter O’Malley wanted to build a new stadium for the team, New York officials were hesitant. After multiple failed attempts to find suitable land in New York for a stadium, O’Malley reached out to officials in Los Angeles. They were looking for a team, and O’Malley was happy to give them one. The Dodgers officially moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, changing the course of the franchise forever.

After moving across the country, the Dodgers spent the 1958 season trying to establish themselves. But a 71-83 record was just a blip on the Dodgers’ radar. The 1959 season would signal the beginning of a spectacular run of dominance for the Dodgers. They captured the World Series title, besting the Chicago White Sox in six games. It was a great boon for the Dodgers, and helped establish themselves as a cornerstone in Los Angeles. But it was just the beginning.

From 1959-1966, the Dodgers made four World Series appearances, winning three titles. Two of the greatest pitchers in Dodgers’ history were the driving force behind their run of dominance. Don Drysdale became a Dodgers legend, winning a Cy Young award and making the Hall of Fame. He retired with a sparkling 2.95 ERA and 2486 strikeouts. But Drysdale wasn’t alone in dominating for the Dodgers.

Sandy Koufax was one of the best pitchers of his era, winning three Cy Young Awards and one MVP in his 12 year career. He helped drive the Dodgers to three World Series titles in his career, and retired with a 2.76 ERA. Koufax also became a Hall of Famer, credit to his illustrious career. But the Dodgers would not make the World Series again until the 1974 season.

The Dodgers were able to capture two more World Series titles in the next 30 years, anchored by two other great pitchers. The 1981 season was one of magic in Los Angeles, as Fernandomania swept over the metro area. The 20 year old won the NL Cy Young that season, and led the Dodgers to the World Series title. Another Dodger Cy Young winner anchored the 1988 World Series title team. Orel Hershiser won the NL Cy Young in 1988, and led a Dodger team that won 94 games. They easily won the World Series that season, winning in five games.

Winning became the order of the era for the Dodgers, consistently making the playoffs. But as the turn of the century neared, the Dodgers found themselves on the edge of a new era.

A new age (1997-Present)

After the 1996 season, the Dodgers didn’t make the playoffs again until 2004. The consistently won, but weren’t able to break through to the playoffs. From 2004-2011, the Dodgers made the playoffs four times. But consistent playoff appearances still didn’t lead to a World Series appearance, causing management to overhaul the roster. The overhaul netted the team current stars like Adrian Gonzalez and Clayton Kershaw, and landed them in first place in the NL West from 2013-2016.

With perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw anchoring one of the deepest staffs in the majors, the Dodgers are set to contend in the NL for years to come. Corey Seager will join Kershaw in leading the Dodgers’ dominance, as the young shortstop is just beginning his career in Los Angeles. The future is bright in L.A., with young stars and established veterans leading the way. As one of the most successful teams in baseball history, they’re set to add to their trophy case and hopefully bring a World Series title back to Los Angeles.

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Surprise Performances Around the MLB

The MLB season is still in its infancy with just one full week in the books. However, there are multiple players who are opening some eyes around the league. Whether it’s just a hot start or a cold spell, players and fans alike take notice. Who is making the most of the opening week of the season, and who could use a mulligan?

1B Logan Morrison – Tampa Bay Rays

Surprise Performances

Logan Morrison has been a bright spot in Tampa’s lineup (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times).

The 29-year-old first baseman has turned it around so far this season after struggling last year with a .238 batting average. He has helped the Rays to a 5-3 record and been a driving force in their offense. Morrison is currently batting .333 with two homers and six RBIs through eight games.

While it is a small sample size, the Rays don’t seem to mind. The Rays could be in playoff contention if Morrison can come close to continuing this type of production throughout the season.

C Jason Castro – Minnesota Twins

Jason Castro was acquired by the Twins in the offseason as a defensive specialist. He put up uninspiring numbers in Houston and left the city with a .232 career batting average.

It seems Castro may have found something in Minnesota, evident by his hot start. He is currently batting .353 with one homer and six RBIs through six games this season. However, it’s his OBP that draws the most attention. This season’s .542 is astounding compared to his career OBP of .311. Supported by the seven walks he has already drawn, Castro is looking like a steal of a signing for Minnesota.

If he can play close to what he’s shown already, the Twins will have made one of the shrewdest moves of the offseason.

1B Mark Reynolds – Colorado Rockies

Surprising Performances

Mark Reynolds has performed exceptionally well in Ian Desmond’s stead (Denis Poroy/Getty Images).

With the signing of Ian Desmond to play first base in Denver, many thought Mark Reynolds would see few at bats this season. However, a spring training injury to Desmond opened the door for Reynolds, and he’s taking full advantage of it.

Reynolds has always been known as a slugger with 255 career home runs. This season, he has been doing so much more. He’s posted a .345 batting average to go along with four home runs and 10 RBIs. That astounding offense has also been paired with some stellar defense, as Reynolds has made some great plays at first this season.

Reynolds will be going back to the bench when Ian Desmond returns, but if he can keep it up, he just may become a top trade deadline target.

2B Jose Altuve – Houston Astros

Jose Altuve is one of the best players in the game today. His third place finish in the 2016 AL MVP voting only supports that claim. However, he certainly hasn’t shown it to start this season.

The diminutive second baseman has posted a lowly .188 batting average through his first eight games. His poor performance is seemingly out of the blue given he led the AL in hitting with a .338 batting average last season.

With a player of Altuve’s status, it’s only a matter of time before he turns it around.

1B Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs

After winning the World Series in 2016, the Chicago Cubs were consensus favorites to repeat in 2017. One of the main forces for that projected repeat was first baseman Anthony Rizzo, but he has fallen far short of expectations this season.

He is batting .172 to start the year. He has struggled at the plate, but luckily it hasn’t impacted his team. With the Cubs sitting at 5-2 and atop the NL Central, the Cubs should have no worries.

Rizzo will turn it around eventually and should help carry the club back to the playoffs.

1B Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were contenders in 2016 and were favorites by many entering the 2017 season. With the offseason acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion, many believed it would push the Indians over the top. However, seven games into the season, the Indians are 4-3, and Encarnacion is batting .185.

It’s not the kind of start Indians fans were hoping for. Even so, the Indians are still over .500 and treading water. When Encarnacion turns it on (not if), the Indians will be prime contenders in the AL Central. They’ll need to hurry with surprise performer Minnesota and the Tigers in front of them for the lead in the division.

 

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History of the Game: Cleveland Indians

While the Cleveland Indians were within striking distance of winning the 2016 World Series, it was all for naught. The first entry into the History of the Game series covered the Chicago Cubs. And what better place to continue our series than with the Cleveland Indians. They put up a strong 2016 season and are off to a great start in 2017. But how did they get here? Let’s take an in-depth look at the history of the Indians, starting in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Cleveland Indians History

Nap Lajoie was a star for the Cleveland Indians (baseballhall.org).

From Humble Beginnings (1900-1920)

Baseball had long been a tradition in Cleveland since the mid 1850s. But the origins of the Cleveland Indians date much later, beginning at the turn of the century. After the Grand Rapids Rustlers moved to Cleveland in 1900, the changed their name to the Cleveland Lake Shores. Soon after their league changed it’s name from the Western League to the American League and established itself as a competing Major League, and the Lake Shores became the Cleveland Blue Birds. But baseball in Cleveland was in its infancy, and was already facing dire financial troubles.

But after acquiring Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie from the A’s in 1902, the Blue Birds began to see record crowds. Lajoie anchored some strong Blue Bird lineups until he was sold back to the A’s in 1915, signaling a major shift in the organization. Shoeless Joe Jackson was also shown the door in 1915, being traded halfway through the season to compensate for owner Charles Somers’ poor business ventures. But the moves never paid off for Somers, and he sold the team in 1916 to James C. Dunn. Under new ownership, manager Lee Fohl would make some moves that would drastically impact the Indians fortunes.

It was Fohl who acquired pitchers Stan Coveleski and Jim Bagby to go along with outfielder Tris Speaker in 1915 to form the nucleus of Cleveland’s first championship roster. Speaker took the reigns as player-manager in 1919 and quickly led the Indians to glory. The 1920 season would be the banner year for the young ball club, reaching their first World Series. But to get there, the Indians had to rely on one of the most infamous scandals in baseball history.

With Cleveland and Chicago neck and neck for first place, the Chicago Black Sox scandal came to the forefront. With eight Black Sox players benched for the season, Cleveland cruised to the playoffs. They handled the Brooklyn Robins soundly in the World Series, claiming the title 5-2.

Valleys and a Mountain (1921-1949)

Cleveland Indians History

Larry Doby made history for the Indians as the first African American to play in the AL (letsgotribe.com)

Even with the Indians dominance in the 1920 World Series, it would be short lived. The Yankees were on the rise, led by slugger Babe Ruth. The Indians would fall to the bottom of the pack, and by the 1930s were a perennial bottom feeder. But 1936 brought new hope to a disheartened fan base. A 17 year old from Iowa would carry the hopes of a franchise on his shoulders. Bob Feller came to the Indians with a dominant fastball, and put it to good use. Feller would lead the league in strikeouts from 1938-1941, providing Cleveland with a true ace. He would combine with Ken Keltner, Mel Harder and Lou Boudreau to lead the Indians to one game of the pennant in 1940. But dissension in the clubhouse led to the Indians downfall.

Change would come under the ownership of Bill Veek. Veek headed an investment group that would purchase the Indians in 1946. He would quickly change the fortunes of the franchise, moving them to Cleveland Municipal Stadium to take advantage of a massive fan base. Veek would also make baseball history, signing the first African American player in the American League. Larry Doby was signed in 1947 amid much controversy. But Doby would be vital to the Indians in 1948, posting a .301 batting average that season. He would also be joined by another Negro League player that season, Satchel Paige.

The 42 year old Page dominated in his time with the Indians that season, going 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA. Doby and Page helped lead Cleveland back to the World Series, beating the Boston Red Sox in a one game playoff to reach the World Series. They would best the Boston Braves 4-2 in the series to win their first World Series title since 1920. But after Veek sold the team in 1949, the Indians would again find themselves out of the playoff picture for years to come.

Cleveland Indians History

Ricky Colavito is still remembered in Cleveland, but not for what he did on the field (wahoosonfirst.com)

Treading Water (1950-1993)

After several changes in ownership, the Indians would put it all together in 1954. Doby and Feller were still effective players in 1954, and were supported by players like Minnie Minoso, Bobby Avila and Earl Wynn. The talented core would make baseball history, posting a 111-43 record in 1954. Their .721 winning percentage is still the best ever in the American League. But a record season wasn’t enough to bring Cleveland its third championship. The New York Giants would make quick work of the Indians in the World Series, supported by Willie Mays’ over the shoulder catch in Game 1 of the series. The team would hold onto most of it’s talent until the 1960s, when time would eventually catch up to the Indians star players.

The 1960s-1990s were lean years for Indians fans, able to finish only fourth or better seven times in a span of over 30 years. The 1960s would be defined by one trade, a curse that would follow them for years. Skipper Frank Lane earned a reputation for pulling off numerous trades, but none so defining like his trade of Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers. The Curse of Rocky Colavito would haunt the Indians for years, long after both Lane and Colavito moved on from the Indians. But the 1960s did provide some bright spots for fans, with Indians pitchers setting new strikeout records in the decade.

The 1970s would prove to be about the same for the Indians. Poor trades continued, with future stars like Dennis Eckersley and Graig Nettles all making the trip out of Cleveland. But there were two moments that defined the 1970s for the Indians. Frank Robinson was brought on to be the first African American manager in Major League Baseball history in 1975, and Cleveland experienced a night unlike any other. In an attempt to drum up more fans, the Indians implemented the ill-fated 10 Cent Beer Night. The Indians had to forfeit their contest against the Texas Rangers that night, but gained one of the most memorable events in sports history.

The 1980s brought more hardships for Indians fans, but little did they know, brighter times were just ahead.

A Triumphant Return (1994-Present)

Cleveland Indians History

Francisco Lindor leads the Indians resurgence (Jason Miller, Getty Images North America)

The return to glory began in the early 1990s with, oddly enough, a series of trades. After numerous horrible trades, the Indians pulled of some excellent trades. Sandy Alomar Jr., Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga were brought in to Cleveland, and made an immediate impact. After not winning the AL Pennant since 1954, the Indians made it back to the World Series, but were bested by the Atlanta Braves. Their success continued for the remainder of the 1990s and into the 2000s. But after Mark Shapiro took over in 2001, the Indians began to rebuild.

After trading away aging veterans, the Indians moves began to pay off in 2005 as they bested everyone’s expectations and finished the season 93-69. They were lead by C.C. Sabathia and Grady Sizemore. But after competing in 2006 and 2007, the Indians began to fall out of contention in 2008. Shapiro would again begin to rebuild, landing the Indians future starters like Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco. But the Indians would have to wait until 2013 for their rebuild to start showing dividends. Terry Francona was named the manager for the 2013 season, and the Indians began to return to their dominant form.

The Indians made it to the 2013 AL Wild Card game, but were ousted by the Tampa Bay Rays. It wouldn’t be until 2016 when they would return to the playoffs. But as many Indians fans can tell you, it was worth the wait. The Indians lost the 2016 World Series to the Chicago Cubs, but are set for the foreseeable future. With young stars like Francisco Lindor supported by Corey Kluber, Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians will be in contention for years to come.

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Draftmas Colts

Indianapolis Colts 2017 NFL Draft Profile

Day 14 of TGH’s Draftmas takes us to the Indianapolis Colts. What will the Colts do in the 2017 NFL Draft?

Summary

After posting another 8-8 season, frustrations in Indianapolis are beginning to boil. With a legitimate franchise quarterback in place, the Colts still couldn’t make the leap with Andrew Luck in 2016. Plagued by inconsistency, the Colts could never get things going in 2016, winning back to back games only once.

But fans have hope for 2017 with the firing of General Manager Ryan Grigson. He will be replaced by former Kansas City Director of Football Operations Chris Ballard. After seeing the success of the Chiefs, fans are hopeful Jim Irsay made the right hire. And Chris Ballard has certainly given Colts fans hope.

Ballard has signed 10 free agents since he became the GM of the Colts. That is the most in team history, and certainly shows he’s willing to do whatever necessary to return the Colts to contention. But with most of the signings being more about depth and less about immediate impact, Ballard will have to make some savvy moves come draft day.

Colts Picks and Needs

The Colts have seven picks in April’s draft. With the opportunity to find some solid players throughout the draft, Indianapolis will need to make good use of each of the following picks.

1st Round: 15th Overall

2nd Round: 46th Overall

3rd Round: 80th Overall

4th Round: 122th Overall

4th Round: 137th Overall

4th Round: 144th Overall

5th Round: 158th Overall

The Colts have a solid offense, finishing 10th in the NFL in yards per game in 2016. But the offensive line is one of the glaring weaknesses of the Colts offense. After the offensive line gave up 40 sacks in the first 13 games of the 2016 season, they could use an influx of talent. But after finishing 30th in the NFL in yards per game allowed, the defense definitely needs some attention in the 2017 NFL Draft. Here are the needs for both offense and defense.

Offense

Right Guard

Right Tackle

Running Back

Defense

Defensive End

Defensive Tackle

Inside Linebacker

 

Cornerback

Colts Targets and Thoughts

As with the previous Draftmas profiles, we will examine the first three rounds and there will be no trades.

Draftmas Colts

We will be seeing a lot of this from Derek Barnett in the NFL (Larry McCormack/The Tennessean).

First Round:

15th pick: Derek Barnett DE, Tennessee

After starting three years at Tennessee, Derek Barnett would be an excellent pick for the Colts at 14th overall. He would give Head Coach Chuck Pagano a legitimate pass rusher on the outside, one that could put his hand in the dirt and also play standing up. Pro Football Focus had Barnett pressuring the quarterback on 20% of his rushes in 2016, so he is a more than able pass rusher. Barnett was also a solid run stopper in his time at Tennessee, giving him an edge over other outside pass rushers. If Barnett lasts to the 14th pick, the Colts would be wise to grab him.

Second Round:

46th pick: Dan Feeney G, Indiana

While Dan Feeney isn’t the top rated guard in the 2017 draft class, he would be a good pick up for Chris Ballard. Feeney had an up and down 2016 at Indiana, missing some games due to injury. But when he has been on the field, Feeney has been a wall in pass protection. Over 1,239 pass block attempts in the past three seasons, Feeney has only allowed two sacks and four hits on Indiana quarterbacks. He has also logged some time at right tackle, giving him the ability to play at right tackle if need be. But with his innate pass blocking skills on the inside of the offensive line, Feeney could help put Andrew Luck’s mind at ease.

Third Round:

80th pick: Sidney Jones CB, Washington

After tearing his Achilles at Washington’s Pro Day, Sidney Jones has seen his draft stock plummet. Once a first round talent, many are predicting him outside the first three rounds. But if Chris Ballard and Chuck Pagano are willing to wait to let Jones heal, he could be a major steal in the third round. Jones didn’t allow a single touchdown in 2016, and Pro Football Focus gave him an impressive 86.1 coverage grade. He would be an excellent addition to a depleted secondary, and would play well across the field from Vontae Davis. The Colts could get a potential top flight corner back in the third round, but Ballard and Pagano will have to be comfortable with using an early round pick on a player who might not play in 2017.

Conclusion

The Colts have some major holes to fill on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. If they can land some solid players in the early rounds, don’t sleep on the Colts to make some noise in 2017. And with a franchise quarterback already in place, all the Colts need are the pieces to help carry Andrew Luck and the Colts back to the playoffs.

Click here for all completed Draftmas Profiles!

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Best Opening Day Performances

Opening Day in Major League Baseball is one of the best times of the year. America’s past time makes it’s return from hibernation to roaring fans and players hungry to play ball. They say everyone is in first place on Opening Day, but that only applies to teams, and not players. These players made the most of the Opening Day spotlight, and put themselves in first place to start the season.

Madison Bumgarner – San Francisco Giants

While the Giants and Diamondbacks game was included in my Opening Day Games to Watch article, even I wasn’t expecting the performance we got out of Madison Bumgarner. The Giants ace opened up the season on a high note, and lead a valiant effort. He dominated on the bump, giving the Giants seven strong innings. While he did give up three earned runs, they only came on six hits. Bumgarner also struck out 11 in his first outing of the season, and kept the Giants in the game. But it wasn’t just his pitching that kept the game close.

Bumgarner has always been keen with the bat, but never like he was on Opening Day. He mashed two long home runs, one off Diamondbacks ace Zach Greinke. That was the first time a pitcher has hit two home runs on Opening Day in MLB history, furthering the legend of MadBum. And after one full day of games, Bumgarner leads all of baseball in batting average (1.000), on base percentage (1.000), slugging percentage (4.000) and OPS (5.000). Needless to say, Bumgarner got off to a pretty good start on Opening Day.

Opening Day

Joc Pederson provided plenty of pop in their Opening Day match up against the Padres. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports).

Joc Pederson – Los Angeles Dodgers

Batting in a deep Dodgers lineup, no one expected the type of performance Joc Pederson put up on Monday. The Dodgers were matched up against the lowly San Diego Padres. And Pederson and the Dodgers took advantage of their juicy match up with San Diego’s “ace”, Jhoulys Chacin. The Dodgers lineup combined to put up 14 runs on the Padres, punishing their pitching staff. But it was the performance of Joc Pederson that drove the offensive explosion for the Dodgers.

Pederson was off to a fast start, blasting a home run off of Padres starter Chacin. He utilized the massive power he has to mash the ball out of the park, giving the Dodgers hope for what could be throughout the season. Pederson utilized the long ball in the perfect situation, unloading the bases to break open a Dodgers lead over the Padres. And while he did only have one hit on the day, his five RBI performance was more than enough to pace the Dodgers impressive offense. Pederson has gotten of to a fast start, one that Dodger fans will carry him through the season.

Dallas Keuchel – Houston Astros

After a lackluster 2016 season, the Astros ace was looking to return to his 2015 Cy Young form. Dallas Keuchel put up a 4.55 ERA in 2016, far removed from his Cy Young campaign 2.48 ERA in 2015. But on Opening Night in Houston, the Dallas Keuchel of old seemed to return. He blanked the Seattle Mariners, scattering two hits and four strikeouts over seven dominant innings. But it wasn’t just Keuchel’s work on the mound that earned him his spot on this list.

Keuchel has long been known for his defense, winning three Gold Gloves in the past three seasons. And Monday night, he showed why he’s already in contention for a fourth straight Gold Glove. Keuchel showed off his arm and athleticism, taking two bunt hits away from the Mariners. He also started a double play on a come backer, helping his own cause in the field as well as on the mound. If Keuchel can string together a couple of strong starts, look for him to start generating some Cy Young buzz.

Noah Syndergaard – New York Mets

Opening Day

Noah Syndergaard continued over his 2016 dominance to 2017 Opening Day (Jeff Roberson/AP).

Noah Syndergaard got the Mets 2017 season off against division rival Atlanta. And while the Braves are still in rebuilding mode, that doesn’t mean they lack legitimate hitters in their lineup. With emerging star Freddie Freeman, veteran Matt Kemp and former top prospect Dansby Swanson, the Braves have a solid offense. But that didn’t matter on Opening Day. With Noah Syndergaard on the bump for the Mets, the Braves had no chance.

Syndergaard gave the Braves more than they could handle on Monday. Debuting a simplified delivery, Syndergaard was able to blow past the Braves hitters. Delivering six solid innings, Syndergaard scattered five hits while racking up seven strikeouts. After finishing eight in the NL Cy Young voting last season, Syndergaard is primed to pick up where he left off in 2017. And he’s already off to a great start.

 

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