The History of the Game: Chicago Cubs

It’s hard to believe one of the most storied franchises in the game has a recent lovable loser status. After their World Series title in 2016, their status has gone from lovable loser to feared alpha dog. How did the Chicago Cubs go from winning 16 NL Pennants in their first 69 years to waiting 71 years for their 17th NL Pennant?

I will try to answer that question, along with many others in this article. This is the first weekly publication in which we will review the history of every MLB club. What better place to start than with the World Series champion Chicago Cubs?

A Fast Start (1876 to 1918)

History of the Game Cubs

Cap Anson was one of the best hitters of his day, and a star player for Chicago (baseballhall.org).

Owner William Hulbert made the club a charter member of the National League after being founded in 1876. Oddly enough, they were christened the Chicago White Stockings. Stars of the day like pitcher Albert Spalding and first baseman Cap Anson were signed, and the team won the inaugural NL Pennant in 1876. Five more would follow in the next 10 years, and the team began to gain prominence.

After a poor 1897 season, management let player-manager Cap Anson go. Anson’s influence on the club was so great that many journalists began calling the team the Chicago Orphans after his departure. Chicago would be back on top within the next 10 years.

The club officially became the Chicago Cubs in 1903, and followed up with a NL Pennant and World Series appearance in 1906. This was the beginning of a spectacular run by the Cubs, with a roster constructed by former player Albert Spalding.

After losing the 1906 World Series, they captured their first World Series title in 1907. They were 107-45 in the regular season and beat the Detroit Tigers, winning four games and tying one. They repeated as World Series champions in 1908, and made another World Series appearance in 1910.

The Cubs made four World Series appearances from 1906-1910 and won two titles. However, the Cubs would win their last NL Pennant of the decade in 1918. It marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.

Every Three Years… (1919 to 1945)

History of the Game Cubs

Hack Wilson set the record for RBIs in a single season with 191 in 1930, a record that still stands to this day (hackwilson.com)

Before the San Francisco Giants were winning the World Series every even year, the Cubs made a streak of their own. They won the NL Pennant every three years starting in 1929 and ending in 1938 for a total of four NL Pennants.

While they did make four World Series appearances, they were thwarted by their AL opponents each time. Many of the Cubs players found individual success in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field even though the team didn’t find success in the World Series.

Hack Wilson was one of the most potent hitters of the decade. He smashed 56 homers and drove in a record 191 RBIs in 1930. That record still stands to this day as the most RBIs in a single season.

That 1930 team was one that set the groundwork for the three-year stretch. Their last World Series appearance of the era came in 1945. It was so decisive that it impacted the next 71 years of Cubs baseball.

After winning the first two games of the series in Detroit, the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field for games 4-7. The Cubs couldn’t get over the hump, even with a 2-1 series lead and eventually lost the series.

Billy Sianis had bought two tickets to game four of the series, one for him and one for his goat. The Cubs staff kicked Sianis and his stinky goat out of the ballpark. Sianis is rumored to have cursed the team to “win no more.” It seemed to work, as the Cubs lost the World Series and kicked off 71 years of heartache.

The Drought (1946 to 2010)

Ryne Sandberg became a Hall of Famer in his time with the Chicago Cubs (baseballhall.org).

The curse of the billy goat held on for quite some time. The Cubs entered a bleak era, whether it was truly the curse or a mixture of poor performance and poor judgement by management. Star players were hard to come by, and the 1950s and 1960s passed through Chicago without much of a whimper. One player shone bright through that dark era.

He was a superstar shortstop named Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub” played 19 seasons with the Cubs and smashed 512 homers and won two NL MVP awards. Even his Hall of Fame level of play wasn’t enough to help the Cubs return to the World Series.

The Cubs continued to march on through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, earning the moniker “the lovable losers.” Even though the World Series drought would continue, Cubs fans had someone to root for in Ryne Sandberg.

The second baseman would put up Hall of Fame numbers for the Cubbies after coming into the league in 1981. He provided hope for 15 years while in Chicago, but never could make due on his immense talent.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were good times for Cubs fans. With playoff appearances and winning seasons in the books, the Cubs seemed to be back in contention. All of their talent and success in the 1990s and 2000s still wasn’t enough for a World Series appearance.

It wasn’t until a bunch of young guns arrived in the Cubs’ clubhouse that they would return to their century-old winning ways.

Triumphant Return (2010 to …)

History of the Game Cubs

Kris Bryant leads the way into a bright future for the Chicago Cubs (AP Photo/Paul Beaty).

Before the Cubs could return to the mountaintop, they would have to hit rock bottom. Boy did they hit it hard.

After a dismal 2011 season in which the Cubs lost 91 games, new owner Tom Ricketts signed general manager Theo Epstein away from Boston. His spectacular rebuild of the Red Sox earned them the 2004 World Series title, their first since 1918. After breaking the “Curse of the Bambino,” a little old billy goat would be no problem, right? Not so much.

In Epstein’s first season in Chicago, the Cubs lost 101 games. That dismal record was one of promise though, as young players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro continued to get much needed at bats. It wasn’t until 2015 when it all finally came together.

Epstein had a crop of young talent, headlined by phenoms Kris Bryant and Addison Russell. A strong group of veterans, headlined by Jake Arrieta and Dexter Fowler, joined them. Now all he needed was the right man to lead the ship. He wouldn’t have to wait too long before his ideal captain became available.

After manager Joe Maddon was fired from the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season, Epstein was quick to scoop him up. His leadership and analytical approach to the game meshed well with Epstein, and together they helped lead the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series appearance in 71 years in 2016. They didn’t just make the World Series. They won the 2016 World Series in dramatic fashion, besting the Cleveland Indians in seven games.

With a stable of young talent, don’t expect the Cubs to endure another drought anytime soon.

 

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Intriguing Opening Day Games

April 2, 2017, is the date all baseball fans are looking forward to. Opening Day is less than two weeks away and fans and players are gearing up for the start of the season.

It may be hard to forget all of the Spring Training “news” and prepare for the regular season, but don’t worry. Here you will find every game you need to watch to start off the 2017 MLB season on the right foot. So dust off that ball cap and bust out those peanuts because the regular season is about to begin.

Opening Day

Zack Greinke will look to lead the Diamondbacks to the post season in 2017 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

The battle for the NL West begins on Sunday, April 2 at 4:10 p.m. (EST). Many aren’t expecting much from the Diamondbacks this season after a disastrous 69-93 record last season.

They will return in 2017 looking to right the ship. The return of a healthy A.J. Pollock and a deep lineup could be something special in Arizona. Zack Greinke should return to form, and the already good pitching staff added Taijuan Walker. The Diamondbacks are slithering into the 2017 season under the radar.

Arizona is probably off the radar due to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants finished second in the division with a 87-75 record before they were ousted by the team of destiny: the Chicago Cubs.

Don’t think the Giants spent much time licking their wounds. They enter the 2017 season with one of the deepest pitching staffs in all of baseball, crowned by Madison Bumgarner. Pair that with a solid offense and the Giants are poised for another playoff run in 2017.

The starters haven’t been announced yet, Greinke and Bumgarner are projected to start. This marquee match up of aces will be energized by the atmosphere of Opening Day. Look for this matchup to be a defining factor in the NL West playoff race late into the season.

Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers

Opening Day

Edwin Encarnacion will bring his power south of the border this season (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports).

The Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers are both projected to be among the elite AL teams in 2017. They both had solid playoff runs, but it’s their offseason moves that help make this a must-watch game.

The Indians wasted no time improving their roster after dropping the World Series to the Chicago Cubs 4-3. The addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to an already potent lineup makes Cleveland an offensive juggernaut. Cleveland’s deep pitching staff also makes them a force to be reckoned with. No team is perfect, and the Texas Rangers will have the first crack at trying to expose the weaknesses in the Indian’s roster.

The Texas Rangers finished the season with a 95-67 record and earned the AL West crown. The Rangers needed to improve their club after being swept by the Blue Jays in the postseason.

Pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross were brought aboard to stabilize the rotation, and fan-favorite Mike Napoli returns to man first base. They are not as flashy as Encarnacion, but they surely boost Texas’ talent level. The Rangers are set to return to the postseason in 2017, and earning an Opening Day victory sure would help.

Cleveland’s Danny Salazar and Texas’ Yu Darvish are projected to square off on on Monday, April 3 at 7 p.m. (EST). A matchup between two of the top teams in the AL is sure to be informative. How will Encarnacion do in the Indian’s stacked line up? Will Mike Napoli be able to recreate his 2016 season? Those questions won’t be answered Opening Day, but we will be given a glimpse of the answers.

Opening Day

Adam Wainwright has been a mainstay atop the Cardinals’ rotation (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports).

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in an odd position after completing their Cinderella season and winning the World Series. Instead of being the hunters, they are now the hunted.

The St. Louis Cardinals will have the first chance to knock off the defending champions on Sunday, April 2 at 8:30 p.m. (EST). The Cardinals finished with 86 wins in 2016, but it wasn’t good enough to earn them a playoff spot. They will look to make the postseason in 2017 with the majority of their roster returning. A deep pitching staff and above average offense will define this team.

The Cubs enter 2017 with sky-high expectations. They boast one of the best cores of young talent in the majors with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez forming the nucleus of the team. Include veterans like pitcher Jon Lester, outfielder Ben Zobrist and a number of other solid players, and you have the monstrosity that is the Chicago Cubs. They will need every ounce of their talent to repeat their 2016 success due to their tough division.

Lester and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright are expected to start the game. Both are grizzled veterans and fierce competitors and will give even more of an edge to this rivalry game. Look for both of these teams to battle for the top spot in the division throughout the season.

 

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The History of the Game: WBC Semi-Final Nations

Baseball is one of the most played sports on the planet. Its popularity is largely unrivaled next to soccer. How did “America’s pastime” become a global game?

The four semifinal teams represent three continents and millions of baseball fans across the globe. Let’s go nation by nation and examine each country’s unique baseball origins.

The Netherlands

WBC

Bert Blyleven is the only native Dutch player to make the Hall of Fame (Louis Requena/MLB Photos via Getty Images).

The Netherlands has become a baseball powerhouse with one of the top teams in the WBC. It comes from humble beginnings like most empires.

The origins of baseball in the Netherlands can be dated to the early 1900s. J.C.G. Grase is credited with introducing the Netherlands to baseball with his foundation of the Dutch Baseball Union in 1912.

Grase was an English teacher in Amsterdam, and was first introduced to the game on a vacation to the states. His ability to translate the rules from English to Dutch was vital to the growth of baseball in the Netherlands. However, it wasn’t until Emile Bleesing founded the team “Quick Amsterdam” that the game started to grow.

Quick Amsterdam was founded in 1913, and is the longest continually running baseball team in the Netherlands. Bleesing is the most important baseball pioneer in Dutch history. His trips around the Dutch countryside to spread the game planted the seed that sprouted into what baseball in the Netherlands is today.

Dutch baseball goes farther back than just recent history. A longstanding tradition of baseball dominance in Europe has the Netherlands increasing its baseball empire. The Dutch influence continues to grow with multiple Dutch players in the majors.

Japan

WBC

With 3,030 MLB hits, Ichiro Suzuki is the crowning jewel of Japanese baseball (Bill Boyce/AP).

Japan will be making yet another WBC semifinals appearance this week. Their championship pedigree has its roots deep in Japanese history.

Americans Horace Wilson and Albert Bates are credited with introducing Japan to baseball. However, it was Hiroshi Hiraoka that helped grow the game.

He became a die-hard Red Sox fan while attending school in the states. This lead Hiraoka to found the Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics in 1878. The evolution of baseball in Japan ended up being much different than that of the Netherlands.

Baseball in Japan began to grow just after the dawn of the 20th century. Amateur ball became the major form of baseball in the country. Baseball was able to take root at a younger age level since the focus was turned away from the pros.

Kids in public schools and universities became players of the sport. This encouraged them to become baseball fans for life, and led to the development of the pro leagues.

The first professional league was founded in 1936. The current highest level of baseball in Japan, Nippon Professional Baseball, was founded in 1949. Japan has come into its own with such a long baseball history.

puerto rico

WBC

Carlos Beltran has represented Puerto Rico in every WBC played (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North Americ).

The previous two countries can be traced to a few individuals, but Puerto Rico is much different.

Baseball was introduced to Puerto Rico by a group of Puerto Ricans and Cubans who had learned the game in the United States. The first impressions by the locals were poor, but the first two teams were founded in 1897.

The Almendares Baseball Club, owned by Francisco Alamo Armas, and the Borinquen Baseball Club, owned by Santos Filippi, were the first two baseball clubs on the island. On January 11, 1898, the first baseball game between the two teams was played. Baseball began to explode in Puerto Rico at the end of the Spanish-American War in the summer of 1898.

Puerto Rico was passed from Spanish possession to U.S. possession with the conclusion of the war. Americans brought baseball with them when the United States began stationing troops in the territory.

The U.S. troops on the island formed their own baseball club. They were beaten in 1900 by the Almendares Baseball Club 32-18.

Baseball began to expand after the war. Towns and schools founded their own teams. Professional ball began in 1938 with the founding of the Puerto Rico Baseball League.

The growth of baseball in both public teams like school and town teams and the development of a professional league really set a firm foundation for baseball in Puerto Rico. The island has grown from that foundation to become one of the leading nations in baseball.

United States

WBC

Alexander Cartwright was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 for his work with the Knickerbockers (baseball.org).

As “America’s pastime,” baseball has a longstanding history in the United States. Accordingly, the game is almost as old as the country itself.

Baseball can be traced back to a Pittsfield, Massachusetts law written in 1792, which prohibited the playing of the game within 80 yards of the town meeting house.  The first team to organize was the New York Knickerbockers, who were founded in 1845 under the leadership of Alexander Cartwright.

The Knickerbockers established the modern rules for baseball. These “Knickerbocker Rules” dealt with laying out the rules of the game, as well as organization. Even with their own rules in place, the Knickerbockers were bested by the New York Nine in the first official game played under the new rules in Hoboken, New Jersey.

A few years later in 1857, the National Association of Base Ball Players was organized. It was the first entity to govern the sport and establish a championship. The game grew in popularity with the outbreak of the Civil War.

Union soldiers introduced their southern counterparts to the game, and it was quickly picked up in the south. The growth of baseball in the south became a uniting factor during Reconstruction. People all over the country were introduced to the game, and its this spread in popularity that lead to it becoming “America’s past time.”

Luckily for us and the rest of the world, it isn’t limited to just the United States.

 

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MLB Prospects Making the Most of Spring Training

As we move closer to Opening Day, many teams are in the process of deciding on the 25 man rosters. But there are some who are on the fringes of the rosters. MLB prospects all over the league are looking to make an impact this spring. Whether they are trying to earn a roster spot or showcase their skills, these prospects have performed above expectations so far. These four prospects are giving their teams something to think about entering the final phases of Spring Training.

MLB Prospects

Ian Happ will start in the minors, but has been impressive in major league camp (Wade Payne/Chicago Tribune).

2B Ian Happ – Chicago Cubs

After being selected ninth overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, the 22 year old is beginning to make due on the promise he showed at the University of Cincinnati. He has been laboring in the Cubs’ minor league system for the past two seasons, ending 2016 at the AA level. With a strong showing in Spring Training, Happ has given the Cubs front office plenty to think about.  But just how well has the Cubs second overall prospect done this Spring Training?

In 34 at-bats, Happ has hit a scorching .441 to give him the third best batting average in all of MLB so far this spring. Couple that with his three homers and nine RBIs, Happ has certainly produced. With a strong performance in Spring Training and his minor league pedigree, Happ could increase the timetable the Cubs have on his MLB debut. But with a loaded major league roster, Happ isn’t expected to make the 25 man roster anytime soon.

OF Bradley Zimmer – Cleveland Indians

As the 21st overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, Bradley Zimmer is showing that his skills are maturing. He provided the University of San Francisco plenty of power and speed. That combination of talent made Zimmer a top player in the draft, and he’s continuing to impress in Spring Training. With a hot start to Spring Training, Zimmer could make the jump from AAA to the majors this season.

Zimmer has torn the cover off the ball this Spring Training, putting up a .359/.405/.641 slash line. He has also hit two homers and driven in 11 RBIs in 39 at-bats. He has seen regular playing time this Spring Training, showing that the Indians are evaluating him heavily. While he isn’t listed on the Indian’s depth chart, he could push Lonnie Chisenhall for playing time in right field if Zimmer continues to stay hot. Zimmer will make his MLB debut this season, give his minor league track record and terrific Spring Training.

OF Mitch Haniger – Seattle Mariners

MLB Prospects

Mitch Haniger has opened some eyes in Mariners’ camp this Spring Training (Getty Images).

Mitch Haniger is on his third team since being drafted by the Brewers 38th overall in 2012. After a strong college career at Cal Poly, Haniger was able to turn his college production into major league promise. But injuries derailed his career, and at 26 years old, it’s now or never for Haniger. As the fourth best prospect in the Mariner’s farm system, he certainly has the talent to succeed. And he’s finally showing it on the field, performing well in Spring Training.

With the fourth best batting average (.425) in Spring Training, Haniger is beginning to show why he was one of the top selections in the 2012 MLB Draft. He has also hit two homers to accompany seven RBIs. In his 40 at-bats, Haniger has only struck out five times. Listed as the starter in right field for the Seattle Mariners, Mitch Haniger will finally be given a shot as a full-time major league starter in 2017.

SS Dixon Machado – Detroit Tigers

After spending the past eight seasons in the Tigers’ minor league system, the 25 year old Dixon Machado is on the doorstep to the majors. He signed with the Tigers in 2008, and has grown in both his offensive and defensive game. And in 2016, Machado made his MLB debut with the Tigers. But he wasn’t able to stick in the majors, and is now fighting to prove himself in major league camp. And so far, Machado is excelling.

With a .324/.366/.378 slash line in 37 at-bats, Machado is hitting at an impressive clip. While he may not offer much in terms of power, what Machado can do is hit. He’s proven to have an innate ability to make contact and put the ball in play. But with the major league club full of talented starters, Machado will have to wait to gain a starting role. He should break camp with the major league club, given the team’s lack of depth. But if he can continue his impressive hitting into the major league season, Machado may work his way into the regular lineup.

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World Baseball Classic Bracketology: Predicting the Semi-Finals

After an exhilarating first round in the World Baseball Classic, eight teams move on to the second round. With a few favorites and a few underdogs moving on, there is something for everyone. But as the competition grows more fierce, the cream of the crop will rise to the top. Who will make it out of the second round and make the coveted trip to Los Angeles? Pool E and Pool F have  plenty of talent, but only two teams from each pool will be able to say they are one of the four best national teams in the world. All records and standings are accurate as of March 14th.

Pool E

World Baseball Classic

Aoki brings a WBC championship pedigree to team Japan, winning the WBC championship in 2009 (Brad Mangin).

Japan (5-0 WBC Record)

After mashing their way through Pool B, Japan emerged with a decisive 3-0 record. After scoring 22 runs while giving up only eight in three games, Japan seems to be firing on all cylinders. And they have carried over that momentum into Pool E, running up their winning streak to five games. Supported by Astros outfielder Nori Aoki, NPB slugger Tetsuto Yamata and a 2-0 record in Pool E, Japan should already have their flight booked for Los Angeles.

The Netherlands (3-2 WBC Record)

As one of the four teams in Pool E, the Netherlands earned their spot with a solid 2-1 record in Pool A. Powered by the Ranger’s Jurickson Profar and Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorious, the Netherlands was able to produce just enough offense to squeak by Chinese Taipei and score five runs against Korea. But with an offensive explosion that has brought them a 1-1 record in Pool E, their offensive woes seem to be long gone.

Israel (4-1 WBC Record)

With one of the deepest grouping of teams in WBC history, Israel stands out among Japan, the Netherlands and Cuba. But they have certainly earned their place in Pool E. They torched their way through Pool A, putting up an impressive 3-0 record. And they have held their own in Pool E, going 1-1. Jason Marquis and Nate Freiman hope to continue their strong play, as they have bolstered Israel up to this point. But with so much deep competition, Israel will need to play above their talent level to move on. And up to this point, they have.

Cuba (2-3 WBC Record)

Cuba has long been a national powerhouse in the baseball world. And after putting up a 2-1 record in Pool B, they earned their spot in the second round. But their performance in Pool B had many questioning Cuba, and it has only gotten worse since second round play has begun. With Cuba barely able to overcome upstart Australia 4-3 in Pool B, the doubt began to creep in. Cuba’s pitching has been their downfall, with Bladimir Banos and Yoennis Yera letting them down. And that has carried over to the second round with Cuba putting up a 0-2 record.

Pool E Representatives in Semis: Japan and Israel

Japan is just stacked across the board, with MLB players and NPB stars carrying the national team. Their 5-0 overall record in WBC play proves their depth, as they have beaten teams with relative ease. Surprise contender Israel is not far behind, with a 4-1 record in WBC play. They have advanced farther and done better than many thought they would. But don’t think their run is over, as Israel has the potential to be this WBC’s Cinderella.

Pool F

Dominican Republic (3-0 WBC Record)

World Baseball Classic

Robinson Cano led the Dominican Republic to the championship in 2013 (Al Bello/Getty Images).

As one of the most stacked squads in the WBC, the Dominican Republic certainly did not disappoint in Pool C. Their undefeated record (3-0) was the best of the Pool C competitors, and landed them a spot in the second round. With MLB stars like Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano, to just name a few, dotting the roster, the Dominican Republic scored 26 runs in round one of the tournament. If they can keep their offense clicking, don’t expect the Dominican Republic to experience a loss anytime soon.

Puerto Rico (3-0 WBC Record)

Another undefeated team, another talent-rich roster. They rode their impressive MLB talent to a perfect 3-0 record in Pool D, besting each team they faced. With the likes of Carlos Beltran. Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa, their talent level is off the charts. They dominated offensively in Pool D, scoring 29 runs. That kind of offensive production is some of the best in the WBC. But don’t think Puerto Rico will run out of gas soon. Their offensive depth drives this club, and they are one of the heavy favorites to move on to the semis.

United States (2-1 WBC Record)

With the top professional baseball league in the world, you would expect the United States to dominate the WBC every year. But with MLB getting so much of it’s talent from all over the world, the United States has to recruit other MLB players to don their nation’s colors. Even so, the talent on the United States roster rivals any other team in the WBC. With Andrew McCutchen, Nolan Arenado and Buster Posey headlining the roster, the United States pummeled north of the border rival Canada 8-0 and eked out a close 3-2 win over Colombia in the first round. Their offense and pitching staff are deep, and they will need every bit of that depth to move on to the next round.

Venezuela (2-2 WBC Record)

After beating Italy 4-3 in the Pool D tiebreaker, Venezuela moved on to the second round. While they have been playing .500 ball in the tournament, they will look to their stars to turn it on in Pool F. With players like Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and Rougned Odor, Venezuela certainly has the talent to compete in the second round. But they will need to tie it all together, as they were outscored 23-24 in Pool F. If Venezuela’s pitching staff can perform well, the offense will be able to power them all the way to the Championship Round.

Pool F Representatives in Semis: Dominican Republic and United States

The talent for the Dominican Republic is undeniable, and it’s that talent that will drive them to the Championship Round. They boast legitimate MLB stars both on the mound and at the plate. This balance in talent gives the Dominican Republic a massive advantage over some of the other teams in the WBC. But one of those teams is not the United States. Their only loss so far was to, you guessed it, the Dominican Republic. Even so, the offensive firepower of the United States lineup is deafening. And with all of the quality arms skipper Jim Leyland has to call on, a Championship Round appearance seems likely for the United States.

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Tools of the Trade: Top 5 Power Hitters

This is the second installment of our Tools of the Trade series. In our first installment, we reviewed the Top 5 Hitters in MLB.

Now we will overview the top five power hitters in MLB by using five statistical categories to evaluate their overall power. Home run total, home runs per season, slugging, isolated power and games per season will be analyzed.

Let’s look at the top five power hitters in the game using the past five seasons. Honorable mentions include Jose Bautista (TOR), Josh Donaldson (TOR), Nolan Arenado (COL), Giancarlo Stanton (MIA), Bryce Harper (WAS) and Miguel Cabrera (DET). All honorable mentions were excluded from the list due to too few games played, dip in performance or short power surges (two years or less).

5. Chris Carter – New York Yankees

Top Power Hitters

Chris Carter has one of the best power bats in the game (Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports).

Chris Carter has played for three teams over his seven-year career and has done nothing but mash year in and year out. Carter has always been known for his power, but he may be known more for his strikeouts.

After striking out over 200 times twice in the past five seasons, Carter had to sit and wait for a contract this past offseason. The Yankees scooped him up for what could be a steal of a deal.

Carter had the second highest isolated power of all the players analyzed for this article. His .254 ISO over the past five seasons is higher than Miguel Cabrera’s (.242 ISO). He has also put up a respectable .474 slugging percentage while smashing 147 homers over that span.

His low .221 batting average has limited his playing time to 130 games per season in the past five years, but his power is elite. He has easy power to all fields. When he does make contact, it usually goes a long ways.

4. Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners

After putting up solid power numbers from 2009-2013, Nelson Cruz exploded with 40 homers in his first season in Baltimore. He moved to Seattle in the 2015 season and has continued his power surge. Cruz has absolutely smashed the baseball despite playing at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. He has increased his power numbers in each of the previous three seasons.

Cruz has hit 178 total home runs in his previous five campaigns to average 36 bombs per season. He also boasts an impressive .524 slugging percentage over that time and has averaged 147 games played per season.

Cruz has turned into a slugger since his move from Texas with a .247 ISO. His previous three seasons have vaulted Cruz into the upper echelon of power hitters, all while moving away from hitter-friendly parks in Baltimore and Texas. He has brought the thunder to the rainy northwest and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

3. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

Top Power Hitters

Mike Trout will launch plenty of balls over the fence this season (Huffington Post)

Again, Mike Trout makes his presence known in this series. The talented center fielder has made his presence known since his first full season in the majors in 2012.

He has averaged 33 homers per season in the past five years. His high point was in 2015 when he launched 41 bombs into orbit. He has hit 163 total home runs since 2012. While that is impressive by itself, a deeper look at his numbers show a pure slugger.

Trout’s slugging percentage has been one of the highest in the game since 2012 at a staggering .564. Even more impressive is his ISO. He is averaging 154 games played per season and has put up a .254 ISO. That is an astronomical number that proves Trout’s power is one of the strongest tools he has.

Trout has been both available and productive, given his number of games played and the numbers he has put up. He could vault up this list in no time at all at his current pace.

2. Chris Davis – Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis is one of the best pure power hitters in the game today. The 6-foot-3 Texas native has been known to go off at any given moment with his ability to launch balls all over the yard seemingly at will.

He has the second most homers in the past five seasons of the players evaluated with 197. That is an average of 39 homers per season and a massive amount of production. Let’s look at his numbers a little closer.

His .518 slugging percentage may not be overwhelming, but his .265 ISO certainly is. He is driving the ball out of the park at an impressive rate while averaging 149 games played every season. Davis has been the power source in Baltimore for years with seasons of 53 and 47 homers. He has also been dependable and given skipper Buck Showalter a reliable source of prodigious power.

At only 30 years old, look for Davis to keep putting up the massive numbers.

1. Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

Top Power Hitters

Edwin Encarnacion’s power will play on either side of the border (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America).

Edwin Encarnacion is the top slugger in the game and will provide the Indians with one of the biggest bats in all of baseball. His 193 total homers since 2012 prove him to be a legitimate power threat. He has also averaged 145 games played per season in that five year time span.

Encarnacion provides power and dependability to an already deep Indians lineup. Just how much power does EE have?

Encarnacion has averaged 39 homers per season since 2012. That insane production is only made even more outrageous by his .544 slugging percentage. With the ability to hit the ball out of the park, it’s no wonder he boasts the best ISO on this list by a fair margin. His .272 ISO bests Chris Davis’ by .07 points. That is a noticeable difference in production.

Encarnacion will look to continue his power surge on the other side of the border in 2017 with one of the strongest swings in the game today.

 

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World Baseball Classic Review: Pool A

We now know two of the four teams in the World Baseball Classic who will compete in Pool E with the conclusion of Pool A play. If you have missed any of the action, The Game Haus has you covered.

We will be reviewing each round of WBC play, beginning with Pool A in Seoul, South Korea. Each of the four teams put up a valiant effort, but only two could move on. Let’s go team by team and see how each fared in WBC play.

Israel

World Baseball Classic

Jason Marquis helped propel Israel to a perfect 3-0 record in Pool A play (Alex Trautwig/Getty Images).

Israel was one of the biggest underdogs in Pool A and blew away the competition. They had a strong opening day with a double header and upset powerhouse Korea 2-1.

Jason Marquis started the game for Israel and held Korea to two hits and one walk in three innings. Won-Jun Chang started for Korea and gave up one run in four innings pitched. Israeli pitcher Josh Zeid closed it out for Israel to earn the win.

Israel crushed Chinese Taipei in the second game of its double header. Israel exploded for 15 runs in the game to win 15-7. They were fueled by Ike Davis and Nate Freiman, who each had three hits in the game.

Israel then pulled off another upset victory on Wednesday over the heavily favored Dutch team 4-2. The Netherlands was limited to two runs on five hits by nine different Israeli pitchers.

Even with a resounding tour through Pool A, Israel still has its toughest test awaiting them. Don’t expect them to go undefeated in Pool E.

Netherlands

The Dutch team is littered with MLB players, and their talent showed through in Pool A play. The Netherlands had a resounding opening to the WBC by shutting out Korea. The Netherlands only needed three pitchers for the shutout and relied on their offense to deliver the 5-0 win. Jurickson Profar fueled the offense by hitting a homer and driving in two runs.

The Netherlands then split their doubleheader on Wednesday. They won the first game but dropped the second. Chinese Taipei gave the Netherlands all they could handle in the opener on Wednesday. The Dutch were able to pull out a tough 6-5 win.

Didi Gregorius paced the offense by hitting three doubles to driving in three runs. Mike Bolsenbroek and Shairon Martis picked up Jair Jurrjens to pitch four shutout innings to finish the game.

They then dropped their second game of the doubleheader to Israel with a 4-2 loss. The Netherlands will move on to Pool E with Israel with a 2-1 record in Pool A play.

Korea

World Baseball Classic

Kyumin Woo struggled in his start against against the Netherlands (Ahn Young-joon/AP).

Korea struggled in WBC play after being considered one of the heavy favorites to move on from Pool A. They opened the tournament against Israel and lost a close contest 2-1.

The game went into extra innings after the game was tied 1-1 after nine innings. Israel came through in the clutch to score the eventual game-winning run on an RBI ground out.

Korea then was matched up against a deep Netherlands team on Tuesday. Korea scuffled offensively in the game with only six hits. They also found themselves in a hole early on after starting pitcher Kyu-min Woo gave up three earned runs in three and two thirds innings. With the offense going 0-6 with runners in scoring position, Korea was not able to overcome their rough start and lost 5-0.

Korea was able to earn a WBC win with an 11-8 slugfest against Chinese Taipei. Although Korea was able to win their final game, they have to consider their 1-2 performance in the WBC a huge letdown.

Chinese Taipei

Chinese Taipei came into the tournament as one of the biggest underdogs in the WBC, and it showed from the start of Pool A play. They began the tournament on Monday against Israel. This may have been their best chance to earn a win with Israel coming into the second game of their double header that day.

However, Chinese Taipei’s pitching couldn’t perform. They gave up 14 runs on 20 hits to Israel and lost the game 14-7. While the offense did perform well, their pitching staff would continue to haunt them.

They came into their matchup with the Netherlands with some confidence offensively, but that couldn’t cure their pitching woes. Starter Chia-Hao Sung gave up four runs in three and one third innings pitched. It again put Chinese Taipei in an early hole. Even though they only gave up two runs after that point, they couldn’t overcome the deficit. The Netherlands came out victorious 6-5.

After dropping their last game to Korea 11-8, Chinese Taipei leaves WBC play without a win. While their offense did score 20 runs in three games, their pitching staff limited their hopes of moving on to the next round.

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top Five in Hitting

Major League Baseball is one of the most heavily scouted games in sports. Whether it be at the high school, college or the major league level, players are always under a microscope. But what do scouts use to grade these players? They are evaluated based on the five basic tools of baseball; hitting, power, speed and base running, fielding and arm strength. In this first installment of our Tools of the Trade series, we will be analyzing the top five players at each tool.

Using the last five seasons for analysis, players will be evaluated and ranked. Sticking with the traditional 20-80 scales, players have been assigned a grade and then ranked accordingly. When a tie grade is encountered, number of games played, total hits within the five year span, and batting average will be used as a tie breaker.

Hitting Tool

Joey Votto has done nothing but rake since his first day in Cincinnati (David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports).

5. 1B Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

Hit Tool: 75

Joey Votto has been a mainstay in Cincinnati since his call up in 2007. He wasn’t considered the top player in his draft, going in the second round to Cincinnati, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. Votto has long been known for his ability to get on base, evident by his astounding career .425 OBP. But it’s his ability to put the ball on the bat that earns him the fifth spot in these rankings.

From 2012-2016, Votto put up a .312 batting average. He also amassed 711 hits across those five seasons. Votto’s ability to put the ball in play is bolstered by is impeccable batting eye. By being able to pick and choose the perfect pitch to hit, Votto has become a premium hitter for Cincinnati. But his recent injury history hurts him in these rankings, as he has been limited to 130 games per season in the last five years. Even so, Votto is one of the top hitters in all of baseball.

4. 3B Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Hit Tool: 75

Entering his age 38 season, many believed Adrian Beltre would have been on the decline long ago. But he seems to just get better with age. He was signed as an international free agent by the Dodgers and made his MLB debut way back in 1998. And ever since he has done nothing but hit. But even with a solid career .286 batting average, Beltre has somehow stepped up his game in the past five seasons.

With a .310 batting average from 2012-2016, Beltre has bested his career average by almost 30 points. And to make it even more impressive, Beltre has done all of that at 33 years old and over. He has also been a mainstay in the Rangers lineup, playing an average of 152 games per season over the previous five campaigns. In that time he has accumulated 909 hits, averaging almost 200 hits per season. Even at age 38, Beltre still possesses an elite hit tool, good enough to place him among the games best.

3. CF Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

Hitting Tool

Mike Trout has been locked in for years (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Hit Tool: 75

Mike Trout is one of the few true “five tool” players in the game, so don’t be surprised to see his name in our other installments of the Tools of the Trade series. Even as a first round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, Trout is considered one of the greatest steals in draft history. After being selected 25th overall, Trout tore through the Angels minor league system to make his MLB debut at 19 years old. And ever since, all Trout has done is rake.

When looking at Trout’s stats from the past five seasons, they put him among some of the best pure hitters in the game. He boasts a .310 batting average from 2012-2016. Trout also has 890 hits to his credit, far surpassing Votto in that regard. And while Votto does boast a better batting average, Trout has been more reliable. Trout has averaged 154 games per season in the past five years. While Votto does have Trout beat in average, it’s not enough to make up for his lack of playing time. Trout is a mainstay in the Angels lineup that will be a top hitter in the game for years to come.

2. 2B Jose Altuve- Houston Astros

Hit Tool: 75

Jose Altuve is one of the most diminutive players in the majors. Listed at a generous five feet six inches tall, one would believe that Altuve would have no place in major league baseball. But just like some scouts, Altuve has proven them wrong as well. After debuting for the Astros in 2011, he quickly became the team’s building block. And Altuve has done some building of his own, elevating himself to elite status.

With a .314 batting average from 2012-2016 and two AL Batting Titles thrown in for good measure, Altuve has been an elite hitter for an up and coming Astros organization. During that time he has clubbed 985 hits, by far the most for players in contention for this list. He has also played in about 154 games a season since 2012, providing a reliable spark to the Astros lineup. And at only 26 years old, look for Altuve to add to his already impressive trophy case.

Hit Tool

Expect to see a ton of this from Miguel Cabrera this season (Duane Burleson/Getty Images North America).

1. 1B Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

Hit Tool: 80

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best pure hitters of his generation. After being acquired by the Tigers in a steal of a trade from the Florida Marlins, Cabrera has been terrorizing opposing pitchers. The two time AL MVP has won seven Silver Slugger awards in his career, and put up a .321 career batting average. His career average would be good enough for tops on this list, but of course, Cabrera has done even better than that in his past five seasons.

From 2012-2016, Cabrera has punished pitchers to a .328 batting average. That is insane production, and easily paces the majors in average over the past five seasons. He has also amassed 922 hits, driving the ball to all fields. While he has average 149 games per season over the past five years, that’s the second lowest amount of games on this list. Even so, that type of insane production can not go unrewarded, making Miguel Cabrera the best pure hitter in all of baseball.

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Spring Training Spotlight

Spring Training Spotlight: Hot and Cold Starts

With Spring Training in full swing, players and fans are starting to get into the groove of things. Players are hitting their strides at the plate and on the mound. But there are some who are struggling in the early going. Even though Spring Training is just that, training in the spring, players still strive to succeed. Which players are reaching that goal and which need to put in a little more work?

Hot

1B/DH Chris Colabello- Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Spotlight

Chris Colabello is hoping a strong Spring Training will mean a return to his 2015 form (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo).

After a 2016 season that saw Colabello only play 10 major league games for the Blue Jays, he needs a strong showing in Spring Training to shake loose of his PED suspension. But luckily for him, he has made the most of Spring Training so far with the Cleveland Indians, flashing his 2015 form. Colabello slashed .321/.367/.520 good for a 138 OPS+ over 101 games in 2015. And he’s showing signs of resurgence in Spring Training, slashing .333/.474/.667. But even with a hot start, it may be all for naught.

The Cleveland Indians have two top performers at Colabello’s primary positions: first base and DH. And no matter how hot Colabello gets, there is no way he is unseating Carlos Santana at first base or Edwin Encarnacion at DH. The best he can hope for is a spot on the bench, and at worst starting in the minors if he wants to stay with the Indians. But if Colabello continues his torrid pace, don’t be surprised to see him latch onto a new club.

OF Keon Broxton- Milwaukee Brewers

Keon Broxton was somewhat of a surprise last year after coming over from division rival Pittsburgh. While batting .242/.354/.430, he was able to hit nine homers, drive in 19 RBIs and steal 23 bases in 75 games. And at only 26 years old, Broxton is trying to build off his solid 2016 to cement himself in Milwaukee’s rebuild. He’s off to a good start so far, showing off at the plate in Spring Training.

So far, Broxton is batting .412/.444/.941 in Spring Training action. Those are some absurd numbers, even in limited time. At this point in Spring Training, batters usually start catching up to pitchers in terms of preparation and performance, but Broxton is putting others to shame. Broxton certainly came to camp ready to hit the ground running, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He’s in line to start in center, and at this rate his Opening Day job is securely in the bag.

Cold

OF Giancarlo Stanton-Miami Marlins

Spring Training Spotlight

Giancarlo Stanton hopes a poor Spring Training start is just a fluke (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

With as much power as Giancarlo Stanton has, you would think he would never run out. But Stanton is currently experiencing a power outage. The slugging outfielder is currently batting .176/.300/.412 in Spring Training, having a difficult time getting into rhythm. But skipper Don Mattingly is hoping that the mammoth Stanton can get back on track.

Stanton has proven to be an offensive force for the Marlins in his seen years in Miami, sending 208 homers into orbit. But he has also been limited by injuries, only playing 145 games or more twice in his career. In those two seasons, he hit a combined 71 homers and drove in 192 RBIs. But at 27 years old when the season starts, Stanton needs to become a more dependable player. Hopefully he’s just scuffling at the plate, and not feeling the impact of years of multiple injuries on his body.

LF/3B Joey Gallo- Texas Rangers

Joey Gallo is a player in the same vein as Giancarlo Stanton; a massive slugger with tremendous power. Unfortunately for Gallo, he is also struggling at the plate. Gallo is batting .111/.304/.278 in Spring Training. But as bad as that sounds, it’s an improvement over his 2016 season when he slashed a horrendous .040/.200/.160 in 17 games for the Rangers. After spending years as the Rangers top prospect, Gallo finally exhausted his rookie status in 2016. It’s now or never for him to show his minor league production wasn’t his high water point.

Gallo entered the Rangers farm system with massive power, grading out on the 20-80 scale with 80 raw power. He has always been a pure slugger, never hitting over .272 in a minor league season, but also posting two seasons with at least 40 homers. It was thought with Adrian Beltre at third base that Gallo would take over left field, but he is not even listen in left field in the Rangers’ depth chart. If Gallo can turn his Spring Training performance around, he may be able to get his career back it’s former trajectory.

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Making the Cut: Non-Roster Invitees Who Could Make an Impact in 2017

Teams are always trying to gain an edge over their opponents. Whether its installing nutrition plans or the Red Sox building a nap room at Fenway, teams are always looking for an advantage. That is what non-roster invitees present to a club: an edge. Many non-roster invitees are players who are past their prime or prospects whose time hasn’t come yet.

Some are able to stick after a strong spring training, and this season is no different. Who could emerge from spring training with a major league roster spot?

OF Michael Bourn- Baltimore Orioles

Michael Bourn enters spring training with 11 years of major league experience. After spending the tail end of the 2016 season in Baltimore, he has a good feel for the organization. He performed well for the Orioles, slashing .283/.358/.435 in 24 games after coming over from Arizona. Bourn also brings speed as he swiped 15 bases in 113 games. Bourn still has ability, but it may be opportunity that allows him to break camp with the Orioles.

Joey Rickard is listed as the back up at all three outfield positions. The 25-year-old played in 85 games for Baltimore in 2016, slashing .268/.319/.377. Rickard has age, while Bourn has experience.

If Bourn is able to outplay Rickard in spring training, don’t be surprised to see Baltimore keep Bourn for the regular season. With a team looking to compete in a deep AL East, manager Buck Showalter may go with the veteran Bourn as the fourth outfielder.

OF Anthony Gose- Detroit Tigers

Non-roster Invitees

Anthony Gose will need to flash with the bat and glove to make the Tigers roster (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America).

Anthony Gose was once the second overall prospect in the Blue Jays system but failed to live up to the billing north of the border. He was shipped south to Detroit for the 2015 season and played 140 games for the Tigers. That was the best offensive season of his career, albeit with a paltry 90 OPS+.

After only playing 30 games in 2016, Gose enters Tigers’ camp as a non-roster invitee this spring. He has an excellent chance to make the 25-man roster.

Center field is already a question mark, and the corner outfield spots are backed up by 6-foot-7 behemoth Steven Moya. With his immense size at 260 pounds, Moya is better served as a DH than an outfielder. That gives Gose an opportunity to swipe the backup job from Moya, and maybe even compete to start in center field.

If Gose can turn it on this spring training, he will be a key reserve in an outfield devoid of depth.

IF Omar Infante- Detroit Tigers

Omar Infante broke into the league with the Detroit Tigers in 2002. After three seasons in Kansas City, Infante is back home in the Tigers’ spring training camp. Even though he has transformed from young prospect to grizzled veteran, the goal is still the same: make the major league roster. Infante will have plenty of chances to prove he still has it in spring training.

Infante played 39 games for the Royals in 2016 and put up poor numbers. His slash line of .239/.279/.321 earned him a 60 OPS+. At age 35, Infante’s days of starting may well be behind him. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute. Detroit has almost no depth at any position, slotting Andrew Romine as the backup at second base, third base and shortstop.

If Infante can put together a good spring training, he should be able to wrestle the utility infield position from Romine.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia- Toronto Blue Jays

Non-roster Invitees MLB

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is almost a given to make the Blue Jays roster (Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports).

Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be on his fourth team in the past three years entering spring training. He has largely been a starter for the majority of his career, but will be vying for the back up catcher role in Toronto this season.

Saltalamacchia has the inside track to the job, with almost no competition to speak of. The Blue Jays have so much confidence in him that he has already been listed as the backup catcher to Russel Martin.

Over the past four seasons, Saltalamacchia has averaged 12 homers and 43 RBIs in 104 games played per season. He has a career slash line of .234/.309/.413. While those numbers certainly aren’t eye popping, they are solid for a back up catcher. He will be able to provide a solid option in Toronto whenever Martin needs a day off. Saltalamacchia can also fill in at DH when needed, given his solid power.

Saltalamacchia is a solid, if not spectacular, catcher who benefits greatly from the lack of catcher depth in Toronto. He will make the 25-man roster for the Blue Jays.

 

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