A Happy Game Haus Thankgiving

We decided a couple of weeks ago that we wanted to do a Thanksgiving piece and give our readers a chance to get to know us a little better! Below are some of the staff members of TGH telling you all what they are thankful for this holiday season. From Our Haus to Yours, have a very happy Game Haus Thanksgiving!

Jared MacAdam- Head of Esports: Well, I’ll go first, being the only Canadian and my Thanksgiving has passed quite some time ago. I’m thankful for the way this site has grown since its inception, how many great writers we’ve had and all the awesome content we’ve produced. I’m also immensely thankful for the way esports has matured in the past year; we’re seeing leaps and strides in key areas like players well being and stability. It’s an exciting thing to experience and to have a little part in. I’m also thankful for all the weirdos in the Front Office who lovingly mock my Canadianisms.

Josh Burris – Editor: I am thankful for sports. I am a proud Cleveland fan and with the exception of the Browns, good things are happening with our teams. I’m thankful I got to see a Cleveland team win a title. I am also thankful for my family and friendships I have at home, school, and from this site.

Ryan Moran – CFO: I am thankful for family, friends, and football. I am also thankful to be working for TGH and to belong to such an exciting community of sports and esports. I am also thankful of the unifying power of sports and their ability to bring anybody together win or lose.

Tim Miller – Vice President: Of course, when talking about being thankful, I have to be thankful for the opportunity to help lead The Game Haus. I’m also thankful to root for the mighty Ohio State Buckeye football team, and that Marvin Lewis should get fired after this year. I’m also thankful for a loving family and loving girlfriend. Finally, I’m thankful to live in a great country with freedoms like no other (no matter how you feel currently), and to go to a solid, christian university in Cedarville University.

Robert Hanes- President: While these last 365 days have been some of the most challenging times in my life, I can say that I have so many things to be grateful for. To start, everyone here at The Game Haus. These people are incredible, as you can read in their paragraphs of what they are thankful for. They have all gone through many things and have worked their butts off while working here. So thank you to all of the Front Office Members, Writers, Podcasters, and League Team Members! I am also very thankful for my friends. They have helped me through some tough times throughout the last year and I do not know where I would be without them. The same can be said for my Father, Mother and Sister. They have been my rocks as I have struggled many times this year. Lastly I am thankful to God and his son, while it sounds cheesy I know they have been with me every step of the way. From Our Haus to Yours, thank you and have a wonderful holiday season!

Terrance Singleton- Social Media Director: I am thankful for the life God has given me. Every time the holiday season comes around I think about how easily I couldn’t be here. My grandfather died on November 19, 2010 right before Thanksgiving. And I was in a pretty bad car accident on December 27, 2012 that broke my neck and cut my scalp open. So every time the holiday season rolls around I always think about how precious life, family, friends, and faith are important in my life and everyone’s life. So on this Thanksgiving when you are watching NFL football games and eating food until you can’t move, tell your loved ones how much you love them because tomorrow is not promised.

Dylan Streibig- NFL Writer: Whether we realize it or not, we all have a lot to be thankful for.  I am no exception this Thanksgiving or any other year. I am thankful to have a roof over my head and a family that loves me. I am grateful for the fantastic sporting events that go on all around the world. They provide me a momentary escape from my life with a physical disability. I am also thankful for my dog and the fact that I am now a published sports writer thanks to The Game Haus. Most of all, I am thankful for the loyalty of my close friends who do not give up on me, even when I give up on myself.

Matthew Hagan- Columnist: I’m thankful for the opportunity The Game Haus has presented me with. Writing about my favorite sport, football, and offering me a column has been one of the best things in my life. I am thankful to have parents, family and friends support while trying to get a degree in college. My mom has been the biggest reason I have made it this far and I am so thankful that I get to fly back to Vegas to spend Thanksgiving with her. I am also thankful I got to see the Cubs win a World Series and attend the victory parade in Chicago. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I am thankful for all the opportunities I have had in this amazing country. I am proud to be an American and this Thanksgiving is going to be one of the best ever. Thank you to everyone who reads my articles, weather you agree or disagree with them. I want to wish anyone who reads this, and anyone who may not, a safe, fun and amazing Thanksgiving.

Alex Keller- Recruitment and Retention: What am I thankful for? Where can I even begin… I guess it would have to be with my family and friends. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if not for their love and support. But it’s so much more than that… the opportunity to even attend an institution like Georgia Tech, let alone graduate from it is an experience I’m incredibly thankful for. And of course, I have to thank everyone who’s been a part of making my experience with TGH so awesome. So, from our haus to yours, have a Happy Game Haus Thanksgiving everybody.

Five Franchises that can be Thankful for 2016

Ah, Thanksgiving. It’s one of the few times of the year when you have permission to eat yourself into a food-induced coma. Or maybe it’s that one time of the year when you get to see that weird uncle from who knows where. For most of us, it’s also a time to reflect and to think about all we have to be thankful for. Some people are thankful for their families, others for opportunities or experiences, and others are thankful for their sports teams. Here is a brief list of some franchises whose fans can be thankful for their 2016 performance. This isn’t to say that these are the only franchises that can be thankful for 2016. These are just a few who stand out in 2016, and heading into 2017.

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Image courtesy of seeklogo.net

Cleveland Cavaliers

We’ll start off with an obvious one. With the Indians heartbreaking loss to the Cubs and the Browns heartbreaking existence over the past several years, the Cavaliers’ championship means that much more to the city of Cleveland. All of the resentment harbored towards LeBron evaporated once the boy from Akron delivered the city its first championship since the Browns won the NFL in 1964. But the team isn’t content with just one championship, and they retained the weapons necessary to make a run at being the first back-to-back NBA Champs since the 2012-13 Miami Heat.

 

 

Chicago Cubs

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Image courtesy of MLB.com

The Cubs and their fans have to be grateful for a stellar 2016 season, capped by ending their 108 year World Series drought. Unfortunately for their opponents, the Indians now inherit the MLB’s longest World Series drought, but their fans can still be thankful for the aforementioned Cavs ending their city’s championship drought. This isn’t just about the Cubs breaking the curse, but their ability to retain so much of the talent that won them the World Series. Yes, Aroldis Chapman and Dexter Fowler hit free agency this offseason, but most of the big bats and arms, including MVP Kris Bryant and Cy Young candidate Jon Lester, will be returning next year. As long as guys like Kyle Schwarber can stay healthy (and they did more than fine without him), then this team has the talent to be a serious contender for quite a while.

Dallas Cowboys

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Image courtesy of SportsLogos.net

When Tony Romo went down for the second straight season, I’m sure a lot of Dallas fans were expecting to see a repeat of 2015. Sure there was the potential of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott getting a chance to showcase their abilities, but few people probably predicted they would be doing this well after ten games. The Cowboys current nine-game win streak is the longest in franchise history. Even storied names in Cowboys history like Landry, Staubach, Smith, or Aikman were never able to accomplish such a feat. Elliott, behind the Cowboys’ explosive O-Line, leads the NFL with 1102 rushing yards thus far. Prescott has thrown for 2,640 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions this season. When this kind of success can be seen with rookies at the helm, it’s an auspicious sign of good things to come down the road in Dallas.

 

 

Oakland Raiders

Oakland Raiders

Image courtesy of Sports Team History

First of all, Oakland can be thankful to still have a team. With all of the rumors during the offseason about finding bigger markets, and seeing the Rams head back to Los Angeles, Raiders fans had to be a little concerned over whether the Alameda Coliseum would still be used for more than just baseball. The Raiders and their fans have suffered tremendously since their 2002 Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay, and they’re finally seeing years of suffering vindicated with the emergence of young stars. Derek Carr and Amari Cooper have proven to be a dominant duo on offense, and currently have the Raiders sitting atop the AFC West at 8-2. Their wins haven’t all been pretty, including one that came with over 20+ team penalties. Carr and Cooper have become staples in the Raider offense, and could be so for years to come.
Now of course, none of the above teams are huge surprises. The former two won their respective leagues, and the latter two currently have the two best records in theirs. However, teams and fans can be thankful for more than just their successes. Next is a team that didn’t do particularly well this season, but still have given their fans something to smile about.

 

Atlanta Braves

Yes, the Braves 2016 was a bit of a wash record-wise, but in the final few months, the team really appeared to be coming together. They went 23-14 in their last 37 games, including a 12-2 run to finish out the season. Freddie Freeman and deadline acquisition Matt Kemp performed well at the plate, with Freeman hitting a career high 34 home runs. Dansby Swanson showcased his talent to Atlanta fans, hitting .302 with 3 homers and 17 RBIs over 38 games in 2016. They also recently acquired Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey from free agency, which may not seem like groundbreaking signs, but can certainly pay dividends with their very young staff. Combine all of this with a brand spanking new stadium in SunTrust Park opening next year, and Braves fans have plenty to be happy about this year.

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Image courtesy of MLB.com

NL East: Offseason Needs

With MLB free agency in full swing, it’s time for teams to start diagnosing what positions they need to fill a gap at, and who would be the best fit for that spot. Over the next week, I’ll diagnose the needs of teams throughout the National League, and name a few potential free agents who could fill that role. I’ll begin with the NL East. I’ll work from the bottom of the division upwards. I am not proclaiming that these deals are sure thing. I’m simply suggesting free agent players who fill the role that the team needs.

Atlanta Braves – Catcher

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Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

The Braves are starting to fill a lot of holes on offense. A catcher would be huge for them because he can play a huge part in developing all of the young pitching the Braves have available. They recently signed the two oldest starting pitchers in free agency, R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, to one-year deals. If you combine the experience these two have with an established catcher, it could really help these young arms flourish. We saw A.J. Pierzynski in this role for Atlanta last year, I think they could look for someone around his value this year. While names like Matt Wieters or Wilson Ramos would certainly be tempting, they might be too expensive for Atlanta. They could aim for ex-Angel Geovany Soto, whose injury riddled 2016 might lower his value, or maybe former Rockie Nick Hundley.

 

Philadelphia Phillies – A Big Bat. Anywhere.

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Image courtesy of MLB.com

While the Phillies 2016 went the reverse of Atlanta’s, starting high and finishing low, they share a need for offensive production. The Phillies were in the cellar for almost every offensive category in the MLB, ranking last in the MLB in runs scored and OPS. They also sit in a similar position as the Braves in regards to where they are right now. They have some fresh offensive talent that showed it’s potential in 2016. Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, and Cesar Hernandez are all signs of things to come for the Phils. What they need now is someone to provide protection for these guys at the plate. The Phillies did recently acquire Howie Kendrick from the Dodgers for Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney. While Tommy Joseph showed some potential in his first Big League season at first base, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Phils go after someone like Adam Lind or Mitch Moreland. Both would be cheap options (especially compared to Ryan Howard) who can still provide at the plate.

Miami Marlins – An Ace SP

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Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

The Marlins rotation is going to struggle mightily without Jose Fernandez. Right now it consists of Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley, and Tom Koehler. While Conley did show a lot of improvement throughout the season, he’s not a number one starter. The problem is, there is no established, dominant ace for Miami to pursue in the free agency this offseason. They don’t have the money to pursue Rich Hill, and even if they did he’s 36 years old and spent over two months on the DL in 2016. They could try to roll the dice on someone who has shown spurts of success, like Ivan Nova, but that’s the best they can do. If they really feel like gambling, they could go for Tim Lincecum. To get the big-name ace they need, Miami would have to work a pretty big trade this offseason. The free agency pool is just too shallow heading into 2017.

 

New York Mets – A Versatile Bat

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Image courtesy of The New York Times.

While there will certainly be questions surrounding the Mets starting rotation in 2017, the bigger concern has to be their bats. Despite being 5th in the MLB in home runs, they ranked 26th in runs scored and total hits. Losing Yoenis Cespedes will be huge for the Mets, as he led the team in home runs and RBIs. Even though they have the big bats of Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Conforto remaining, they lack the ability to consistently hit for average and drive in runs. Not to mention they’re all left-handed. Then there’s the situation in the infield. David Wright remains extremely vulnerable to injury, and second baseman Neil Walker also hit free agency. Assuming he can carry over his success from 2016, Ian Desmond could be a good fit for the Mets. He’s a righty, he has experience in the infield and the outfield, and he was a 20 homer, 20 steal player in 2016. If they’re not willing to try Desmond or Jose Reyes at second base, they might make an attempt at Stephen Drew or even Chase Utley.

 

Washington Nationals – First Baseman

Regardless of whether Trea Turner ends up staying in the outfield, or returning to the infield, the gap still remains at first base. Ryan Zimmerman has been a fan favorite around DC for a long time, but his effectiveness at the plate has been lacking in recent years. He hit just .216 in 2016, with just 15 home runs and 46 RBIs. That is not the kind of numbers you want to see from your first baseman. With that being said, most of the first baseman available in free agency are equally as inconsistent. Ryan Howard has more pop in the bat, but he hit just .196 in 2016. Ex-Indian Mike Napoli is an attractive choice, but Washington will have to fork up a good bit of money to pursue him. They might take an approach similar to the Phillies and look in the Adam Lind or Mitch Moreland spectrum of first basemen. James Loney was solid with the Mets, filling in for the injured Lucas Duda. If the Nats want to give Zimmerman another shot in 2017, they could grab Loney as an insurance policy if Zimmerman continues to struggle.

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Image courtesy of amny.com

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5 NL Pitchers to Watch this Offseason

Here I’ll continue to analyze some of the biggest names to watch in the free agency this offseason. I previously focused on positional players heading into the free agency from National League teams, but this piece will focus on pitchers, both starters and relievers. Again, these players are not ranked in any particular order, as I feel all of them will be highly sought after this offseason.

1. Aroldis Chapman – Closer

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Where will the ex-Cub bring the heat in 2017? Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

While closers tend to find themselves traveling to new cities every few years in the offseason, teams know just how important they are to a successful season. A weak bullpen has been the death of numerous teams, especially come postseason, over the years. Chapman was one of the biggest names to hit the market around the trade deadline, and I don’t expect that to change this offseason. A World Series victory on his resume will definitely help his case. He’s got the fastest stuff in the MLB, averaging 100.88 mph per fastball in 2016. He made 13 appearances in the 2016 playoffs, posting a 2-0 record, recording four saves, and striking out 21 in 15.2 innings of work. It may not have been his most dominant showing, but he still proved that he has what it takes to close on a World Series roster. The experience from doing so certainly boosts his value heading into 2017.

 

2. Kenley Jansen – Closer

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Where will 2016’s NL Reliever of the Year end up in 2017? Image courtesy of CBS Sports.

Jansen is the second of three big closers hitting the free agent market this offseason. He was tied for second in the MLB with 47 saves during the regular season, and was the final piece of the Dodgers’ dominant bullpen in 2016. While he doesn’t offer the same overpowering stuff that Chapman does (and to be fair, I don’t think anybody does), he was still awarded the NL Reliever of the Year honors. The Dodgers were a team plagued with injuries in the starting pitching role, putting even more stress on the bullpen, and yet Jansen and his teammates delivered over and over in 2016. He also furthered his postseason experience, pitching in seven games and nabbing three saves over 11.2 innings. Like Chapman, Jansen will be another highly sought after closer for 2017.

 

 

 

3. Mark Melancon – Closer

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Where will one of the MLB’s most successful journeyman closers end up next? Image courtesy of USA Today.

Rounding out the trio of big-name closers to become free agents is ex-Nationals/Pirates closer Mark Melancon. Melancon stabilized a Washington bullpen that was shaky at best with Jonathan Papelbon in the closing role. He recorded 30 saves in 33 opportunities with the Pirates, before recording another 17 in 18 chances with the Nats. In the postseason he displayed his versatility, even coming into games where the Nationals were trailing, and delivering. Melancon is no stranger to moving, having played on five teams during his eight years in the MLB. He’s a strong closer who has experience acclimating himself to new teams and performing well without drawing unnecessary attention to himself. He’ll certainly warrant some looks from a number of teams looking to build or retain a strong bullpen in 2017.

 

 

 

 

4. Rich Hill – Starter

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Rich Hill has proven that he’s a force on the mound when healthy. Image courtesy of USA Today.

Rich Hill showed us two things in 2016. The first is, he spends a lot of time on the Disabled List. He made two stints on the DL in 2016, both taking place in Oakland, although one of them carried over to when he was traded to LA. He’s now made seven trips to the DL in his 12 years with the MLB (nine if you count two more that occurred while he was rehabbing in the Minors). He’s also 36 years old, which begs the question of how much teams will be willing to give him, and for how long. But all of these things can be offset by the second thing we learned in 2016. He’s really freaking good when he’s healthy. He posted a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts during the regular season, 14 with the A’s and six with the Dodgers. He did have a couple of short, rough postseason outings against the Nationals, but he showed up big time when his team needed him most. Even though the Dodgers lost the NLCS to the Cubs, Hill posted a stellar six shutout innings against one of the best offenses in the MLB to tie the series at two. Hill should get plenty of looks this offseason, it just comes down to which teams are willing to chance his injury-prone past.

 

 

5. Ivan Nova – Starter

When the Pirates acquired pitcher Ivan Nova from the Yankees at the trade deadline, a lot of people were left scratching their heads as to why. They had already given up closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals, so the team had realistically lost a lot of its talent on the mound to make a serious postseason push. But Nova quickly silenced a lot of doubters, delivering a red hot August, going 4-0 in five starts. While his win-loss cooled off some in September, going just 1-2, his numbers still looked great. In two months with the Pirates, Nova posted a 3.06 ERA over 64.2 innings, with 52 strikeouts. While these numbers certainly aren’t going to blow anybody away, Nova proved himself to be a solid starter, even on a team with a middle-of-the-pack offense like Pittsburgh. I could see him garnering a fair bit of interest on a strong team needing a middle-rotation starter, or a weak staff looking for a potential dark horse ace. Nova is a guy who probably won’t receive as much media attention as the big three closers or Hill this offseason, but is certainly worth keeping tabs on.

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Ivan Nova quietly stood out on the Pirates in August and September. Image courtesy of Rum Bunter.

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5 NL Free Agents to Watch this Offseason

With the season finally over, it is time for teams to focus on the more subtle aspect of baseball: the off-season. Here I’ll take a look at five of the biggest names coming from National League teams, hitting the free agency in the 2017 off-season. These players are not ranked in any particular order.

1. Yoenis Cespedes – OF

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What colors will Yoenis Cespedes be rocking in 2017? Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

Cespedes was a huge part of the Mets’ offense in 2016, especially considering how weak and injury prone it was. Jay Bruce, who the Mets acquired at the Trade Deadline, will ensure the Mets still have one big bat in the outfield regardless of what happens to Cespedes. Bruce has struggled in his brief time in the Big Apple however. This certainly could change after an off-season with the team.  The Mets would certainly love to keep his bat, and cannon of an arm at Citi Field. Cespedes’ numbers weren’t top-tier on offense, but certainly stood out amidst a sputtering Mets offense in 2016. This might bring his value up even higher than he may realistically be worth. He batted .280, with 86 RBIs, and 31 home runs for the Mets in 2016. I think the biggest concern for potential Cespedes buyers would be his age. He is 31 years old, so his most dynamic years might be behind him. This isn’t to say he can’t be productive on a team, just that he is less likely to be a superstar that a team can build an offense around.

 

 

2. Justin Turner – 3B

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Justin Turner and his magnificent beard may be shipping out of LA this off-season. Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

Turner is another player who provided a consistent bat at the plate in 2016. He led the Dodgers in home runs (27) and RBIs (90). What might make Turner more valuable than Cespedes this off-season is his defensive position. Plenty of teams could use a new glove at third base, and Turner’s bat outranks the other third basemen on the market this off-season. Similarly to Cespedes, he isn’t as youthful as he once was. At 31 years old he can certainly still make an impact for a team.  It will be interesting to see how long of a contract teams are willing to offer him. One more thing about Turner is his ability to play anywhere in the infield. While he’s undoubtedly most comfortable at the hot corner, Turner has spent some time in the middle infield (71 starts at 2B with the Mets in 2011), meaning there’s an off-chance that he could fill a multitude of infield holes based on the teams pursuing him.

 

 

3. Dexter Fowler – OF

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Where will Dexter Fowler take his switch-hitting abilities in 2017? Image courtesy of Baseball Hot Corner.

Just days after helping the Cubs win their first World Series in over a century, Fowler declined his $9 million mutual option with Chicago for 2017. Fowler will undoubtedly garner a lot of attention. As a switch-hitting leadoff man who hit .276 in Chicago last year, he’d fit in well with almost any team willing to make him an offer. Some have dubbed him the potential Ben Zobrist of this off-season. One big difference between Fowler in 2017 and Zobrist in 2016 is the age gap. Fowler will be 31 by the time the regular season rolls around, while Zobrist was 35. I know I’ve cautioned against the 30+year old players earlier, but I feel that the versatility Fowler offers at the plate as a switch hitter means he has slightly more long-term value, even if he’s just coming off the bench. He’s also still got a little bit of pop in his bat for a leadoff man, hitting 13 homers in the regular season while batting .276 and scoring 84 runs.

 

 

 

4. Neil Walker – 2B

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Neil Walker showed surprising power from both sides of the plate in 2016. Will he stick with the Mets or look elsewhere for 2017? Image courtesy of the New York Post.

Neil Walker turned a lot of heads with his performance in April of 2016. A guy not usually known for his power, Walker led the Mets squad with nine homers and 19 RBIs that month. But as the season progressed, Walker’s numbers appeared to be on the decline until August, where he again started surprising everyone. He hit a commanding .389 that month, but eventually wound up on the DL for the remainder of the year. He finished with a .282 average, 55 RBIs, and 23 homers in 113 games. While questions surrounding his off-season back surgery will certainly cause some teams to think twice, one pull for Walker, similar to Fowler, is his ability to hit consistently from both sides of the plate. The biggest change coming into 2017 is his potential to hit for power from both batter’s boxes. On Monday he received a qualifying offer from the Mets in an attempt to get him back.  If he declines then we’ll see what kind of attention the switch-hitting second baseman can garner.

 

 

 

5. Wilson Ramos – C

Ramos looked like an entirely new player in 2016 compared to previous seasons. He was hitting the ball more consistently than ever (.307 vs. .258 career  average coming into the season), and had his first season with more than 20 homers. The Nationals declined to make him a qualifying offer, meaning he’s now available for any team looking to nab him this off-season. He was slightly above the middle of the pack on defense, with a 37.25 caught stealing percentage in 2016. With catching being such a demanding position and Ramos being one of the youngest catchers on the free agent market at 29 years old, I think he could draw a lot of attention and be a real asset wherever he goes.

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For the first time since 2010, Wilson “The Buffalo” Ramos will not be suiting up in a Nationals uniform. Image courtesy of MLB.com.

 

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Warriors or Indians: Which 3-1 Collapse is Bigger?

If you’ve perused social media at all in the past five months, I’m sure numerous people have reminded you that the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. As of last night, the Warriors are no longer alone among teams in 2016 to blow such a lead in their league finals. The Cleveland Indians suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. So now the question arises… which team’s descent from the brink of a championship to runner up was a more historic collapse?

While the Indians’ collapse was certainly heartbreaking for a team and fan-base that hasn’t won a World Series in 68 years, in my book the Warriors’ NBA Finals flop still holds the title for the bigger collapse in a 2016 final. Here’s why:

The Warriors Regular Season

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Image courtesy of Business Insider


Yes, the 2015-16 Warriors have the record for the best regular season ever in NBA history, but that’s all it will ever be now. They were one game away from immortalizing what would have been the most dominant season ever put together by an NBA team. Their greatness in the regular season will be forever overshadowed by their inability to close out Cleveland in the Finals. Not only that, but the Warriors had Steph Curry, the NBA’s first ever unanimous regular season MVP. While the Indians roster certainly was full of talented players, no player on the team received the same recognition for his play the same way Curry did.

Draymond Green Suspension

There were no issues that prevented the Cubs or the Indians from putting their best starting lineup on the field for all seven games of the World Series. The Warriors, however, saw star Draymond Green suspended from Game 5 of the series for hitting LeBron James in the groin. Whether the suspension was warranted or not, Game 5 provided the turning point for the Cavs to start their run at history.  The impact Green could have had on the game will forever be questioned. Would he have made enough of a difference to win Game 5? All we can do now is speculate.

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Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

There can only be one First Team

The Cavs’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals was the first ever to occur in the NBA Finals. While it doesn’t make it any less painful for the Indians or their fans, they were not the first team to blow a 3-1 lead in the World Series. The 1925 Washington Senators hold the rights to that unfortunate title. The 1968 St. Louis Cardinals were up 3-1 against the Detroit Tigers and were also unable to seal the deal. They did the same thing against the Kansas City Royals in 1985. The Baltimore Orioles shared a similar fate vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979. The point is, while it may not offer too much solace to Cleveland, the Indians were only the most recent team to blow a 3-1 lead in the World Series. At least they share that company with a handful of other teams.

The Warriors, however, are currently the only NBA team to have blown a 3-1 Finals lead. I have no doubt that another team in the future will share a similar fate, but history always remembers two teams: the first to do something, and the most recent to do it. Unfortunately for Golden State, there’s no such thing as a second first.

While the numbers behind the leads appear the same, the Warriors’ 2016 Finals collapse is on a different scale than that of the Indians. Does that mean Cleveland fans should be let off the hook from the 3-1 jokes? That’s up to how vengeful you might be feeling after five months of reading them. And while you can certainly make the case that it’s time Indians fans began reaping what they’ve sown. Is it karma? Who knows, all I know is, I won’t let the Indians blowing a 3-1 lead distract me from the fact that the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead.

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Challenging History: Why the Cubs will Win the World Series

The World Series is finally upon us. After three weeks of fantastic postseason baseball, the MLB is finally down to two teams: the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Neither of these teams are a very familiar face in the Fall Classic. The Indians haven’t been to a World Series in just under two decades, last appearing in 1997 and losing to the Marlins 4-3. The Cubs last made an appearance another 50 years prior: in 1945, when they lost to the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Of course, neither team just goes to the World Series for the sake of going, their goal is to win it all; and while the Cubs’ 108 year drought without a World Series is one of the most famed in all of pro sports, the Indians last won a World Series in 1948. That’s a combined 176 years these two teams have gone without a championship and both are hungry for a title.

But that’s all in the past, one of those World Series droughts will be ended over the next couple weeks in what should be a very entertaining matchup against two of the most dominant teams in the MLB. The Indians coasted through the American League playoffs, only dropping one game throughout the ALDS and ALCS combined. The Cubs didn’t have too much more trouble, losing just three games on their run to the Series. But everything these teams have done to get to this point, all that matters now is how they perform over the next four to seven games. I think the Cubs will emerge as the World Series victor for the first time in over a century, and here’s why:

Superior Starting Pitching

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Jon Lester has been the Cubs’ ace this year, both in the regular season and postseason. Can he continue to step up when it matters most? Image courtesy of grantland.com

The Indians have been renowned throughout the season for their strong pitching staff. But the Cubs pitching staff is certainly no slouch either, actually leading the entire MLB with a 3.15 ERA in the regular season (down to 2.93 in the postseason). While the Indians pitching staff has a lower ERA in the 2016 playoffs, they’ve looked a lot more reliant on their bullpen over that time. Only Corey Kluber threw more than six innings in any of his starts so far this postseason. He accounts for both of the Indians’ quality starts in the 2016 postseason. The Cubs starters, however, have accrued five quality starts so far (albeit with two additional chances to do so). Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have both looked spectacular so far, allowing five combined runs over six starts this postseason.

I think the Indians bullpen looks stronger coming into the Series, but if the Cubs’ starters are able to carry like they have so far, they can limit the time their bullpen spends on the mound. Which allows the Cubs bullpen to be well-rested, especially compared to their Cleveland counterparts. I’m looking for Hendricks and Lester to continue their dominant runs in the postseason, and if they can draw out their starts and keep the Indians off the board, I think they’ll be in good shape throughout the series.

Their Hitting – Especially in clutch situations

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Javier Baez has been clutch thus far in the postseason, now we’ll see if he and the Cubs can bring Chicago its first World Series title since 1908. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Regardless of whether their pitching can only go blow-for-blow with the Indians, the Cubs offense certainly looks to be the stronger of the two headed into the series. Chicago’s offense is averaging 4.8 runs per-game this postseason, compared to Cleveland’s 3.4. In particular, I think the Cubs’ offense has looked particularly strong in the late innings of the game and clutch situations. The Cubs trailed coming into the 8th inning on four occasions against the Dodgers. They were able to come away with two wins in those games, scoring five runs in the 8th innings of games one and five. Those opportunities were only available to them after they tied the largest 9th inning comeback in postseason history to finish off the Giants in game four of the NLDS. The Indians, on the other hand, hadn’t gone into any of their seven wins trailing after the 6th inning.

Even not taking the clutch factor into effect, the Cubs offense just appears to have more weapons in general at the plate. Javier Baez leads both teams with a .342 batting average and seven RBIs this postseason. NL MVP candidate, Kris Bryant, is hitting .333 with six RBIs as well. Anthony Rizzo showed improvement through the Dodgers series, after a weak showing against the Giants. He had just one hit in 15 at-bats vs. San Francisco, compared to eight hits in 20 ABs against the Dodgers.

The Indians Extended Break

Cleveland finished their series against Toronto last Wednesday. They won’t have taken the field for six days, compared the Cubs who are coming in on just three days of rest after finishing their series against the Dodgers on Saturday. I know this may seem counter-intuitive: shouldn’t the team with more rest be coming in with an advantage? This isn’t always the case, as we saw in 2012 where the Giants swept the Tigers who had come into the series on a longer break. While one case doesn’t make it a trend, baseball players tend to be creatures of habit. They get into a rhythm of playing games day in and day out over the course of the season. It can be a bit disorienting to come back to the diamond after such a long hiatus. We’ll see if the Indians have the mentality required to avoid that potential disorientation that could cause them to get behind early in the series.

The World Series begins Tuesday, October 25 in Cleveland. First pitch is scheduled for 8 PM Eastern time, and will be broadcast on FOX.

Stats in this piece were taken from baseballreference.com, ESPN.com, and MLB.com

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One Step Closer: NLCS Preview

With the NLDS out of the way, the Cubs and the Dodgers now sit just one series away from the World Series. Both teams showed a flair for late game heroics, with the Cubs tying the largest ninth inning comeback in MLB playoff history to win game four in San Francisco.  The Dodgers scored five runs in the final three innings in games four and five to eke out a series win vs. Washington. During the regular season, the Cubs won the series 4-3, capped by some stellar pitching against some of the Dodgers best bats. Like every series so far, the Cubs vs. Dodgers matchup will pit some of the NL’s best against one another on the mound. Here’s what I think each team will have to do, and who will have to do it to win the series.

Cubs

The Cubs come into the series the favorite, and with good reason. Joe Maddon’s Cinderella Cubs appear to be the team destined to end Chicago’s World Series drought. Jon Lester and the rest of the pitching staff have been fantastic on the mound throughout the year, and Kris Bryant heads a Cubs offense that’s almost unstoppable when it’s running at peak performance.

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Can the NL MVP favorite lead the Cubs to their first World Series since 1945? Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bryant has to be one guy that everybody is looking at coming into this series. He put up fantastic numbers against the Dodgers during the regular season, batting .320 and hitting four homers in seven games against the team. He hit .375 against a stout Giants rotation, and is one of many weapons the Cubs will look to utilize on offense. Another guy who we may not have expected to be looking at coming into the series is Javier Baez. There’s no denying Baez’s talent, but he wasn’t putting up the same gaudy numbers as Bryant or Anthony Rizzo during the regular season. He showed up big against San Francisco, providing the only run for either team in game one of the series. He also batted .375 throughout the series, and scored four runs during that time.

Two guys that Chicago needs to step up at the plate against the Dodgers are Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo. Heyward had a lot of success against LA during the regular season, batting .360 with a homer in seven games. However, he didn’t provide much at the plate in the series vs. the Giants, squeaking out a lone double in game two for his only hit of the series. Anthony Rizzo also only had one hit during the series against the Giants, but also worked his way on base with two walks in the series. The Cubs will definitely need to see more than that against the Dodgers from their regular season leader in RBI’s.

On the mound for the Cubs, Jon Lester is obviously one guy you have to watch. Lester went eight scoreless against an anemic Giants offense. We’ll have to see how he fares against a Dodgers offense that should provide significantly more resistance. Eyes will also be on Kyle Hendricks, who took a line drive off his arm in game two against the Giants. While he’s been cleared to pitch in game two, we’ll have to see how he fares and if his arm has any lingering tenderness that could take him off of his game. We’ll also have to see how the Cubs bullpen as a whole fares. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts showed that he’s not afraid to go to the pen early and often in the NLDS; we’ll see if Joe Maddon responds in similar fashion, and if the Cubs bullpen is up for the additional pressure.

 

Dodgers

The Dodgers willed their way past the Nationals in a gritty five-game series that came down to the wire. While they aren’t sitting on a drought quite as long as the Cubs, the organization hasn’t been to a World Series since 1988, when they won the series 4-1 against the A’s to cap off Orel Hershiser’s monumental season. Hershiser may be long retired, but this Dodgers pitching staff still looks plenty strong, perhaps even more so in the bullpen than the rotation.

Manager Dave Roberts went to the bullpen early and often against the Nationals. Only one starter made it past the fifth inning, Clayton Kershaw, who went five innings in game one and 6.2 in game four. Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill combined for just ten innings of work in their three starts. The Dodgers bullpen looked very strong for most of the series, just as it had during the regular season. The Dodgers had six of its arms combine for no runs allowed in 14.2 innings over those five games, with only Kanley Jansen and Grant Dayton surrendering runs from the pen during the NLDS. Joe Blanton saw the most work during that time, aside from Jansen, allowing just one hit in five innings of work over four appearances. On the mound, I’ll be watching for him to bridge the gap between Dodgers starters and the back of the bullpen if Roberts continues his current bullpen-centered pitching style.

Of course, I’ll also be looking for the Dodgers starters to step up in this series, to ease the stress of a potential seven-game series on the pen’s arms. Kershaw surrendered eight runs combined in his two starts against the Nationals, and the Cubs offense has a lot more weapons than Washington did. Rich Hill surrendered five runs over seven innings in two starts as well. The Dodgers rotation will have to step up to the postseason pressure to keep the game within striking distance for their offense.

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Justin Turner showed up big vs. the Nationals, can he continue his hot hitting against the Cubs? Image courtesy of Fox Sports.

Speaking of their offense, they’ll have to turn in a stronger performance against the Cubs in the postseason than they did during the regular season. I’m looking at Justin Turner specifically, who was just 2-for-24 with eight strikeouts in seven games against Chicago in the regular season. Turner was a huge performer in the NLDS, batting .400 and driving in 5 RBI’s, including the deciding two-run triple in the seventh inning of game five against Washington. Corey Seager is another guy who will have to step his game up in the NLCS. He had just three hits in the NLDS, including two solo homers, all coming in the first inning of the game. Outside of the first inning, he was 0-for-18. While it’s great to get your team started on the right foot, Seager will have to provide more support at the plate later in the game to give his team a chance. Joc Pederson is the last guy I’m looking at in this series. He, also had an abysmal time against Chicago in the regular season, going 0-for-20 with eight strikeouts. Pederson hit .333 in the NLDS, and provided the catalyst for their game-winning seventh inning in game five with a solo shot on the first pitch from Max Scherzer. He’ll have to continue to come up clutch to help his team overcome the juggernaut that is the Cubs.

And then there were Four: NLDS Preview

With the Giants defeating the Mets 3-0 on Wednesday night, the National League playoff picture is set to begin on Friday night. Each of the four teams comes into the playoffs with very different stories: the Giants are looking to solidify themselves as the even-year juggernaut, the Cubs are looking to end a 100 year drought, and we’ll finally get to see either the Dodgers or the Nationals get into the NLCS.

Cubs vs. Giants

The Giants come into the NLDS riding yet another stellar postseason performance by Madison Bumgarner, who might be one of the most clutch starters in MLB playoff history. He’s the first pitcher to record multiple shutouts in sudden-death postseason games, his third postseason shutout gives him the second most in MLB history (Christy Matthewson had four). But, Bumgarner won’t be the only guy pitching this series, and this Giants staff will be going against arguably the best team in baseball. The Cubs ranked third in total offense in the entire MLB, and ranked first in team ERA. While the Giants pitching staff should be able to match up, it’s their offense that looks very outmatched on paper. The Cubs have one of the most talented, young offensive units in the MLB, led by MVP candidate Kris Bryant.

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Cueto and Lester have both been great in 2016, and look to start off this series on the right foot. Image courtesy of ESPN.com

Even in their game against the Mets, the Giants offense was dormant until a clutch three-run homer from Conor Gillaspie broke the stalemate in the top of the ninth inning. This series could very well open with a similar pitching duel, with Johnny Cueto squaring off against Cy Young Candidate, Jon Lester. It will be up to Cueto, who posted a 5.40 ERA last year with the Royals on their postseason run, to set the tone for this series if the Giants want to have a shot. If San Fran wants to continue their even-year magic in the postseason, they’ll either have to step up their offensive game, or have their pitching bring the Cubs down a few pegs at the plate.

Realistically, the pitching scenario seems to be their best bet, so we’ll have to see if the rest of their rotation is up to the task. The Giants bullpen also offers some areas of concern, it didn’t see any action on Wednesday, so everybody should be fresh heading into the series; but they don’t have the same dominant staff that the Cubs have. The Giants blew 29 saves in the regular season, and they’ll have to avoid that level of inconsistency if they want to have a shot in this series.

I’ve picked against the Giants twice already this postseason, and been proven wrong both times. Maybe the third time, and a much stronger team, is the charm I need. I think the Cubs will take the series 3-1 because the Giants won’t be able to muster the same level of offense that the Cubs will when Cueto/Bumgarner aren’t on the mound.

Nationals vs. Dodgers

This matchup features two teams plagued by playoff failures in the past. The Dodgers haven’t made it past the NLDS since 2013, where they lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nationals have only been to the playoffs twice since moving to the nation’s capitol, losing in the Divisional Round both times. The franchise itself hasn’t made it to the NLCS since 1981, when they were still in Montreal, where they lost to (guess who?) the Dodgers 3-2. The Dodgers handled the Nationals in the regular season, winning five of the six games between the two teams.

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Kershaw and Scherzer have both had stellar seasons, all that matters now is how they perform in October. Image courtesy of newsreportcenter.com

This series starts off with a titanic pitching clash between Cy Young candidate, Max Scherzer, and Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw could have very easily been apart of the Cy Young talk in the National League if he hadn’t missed two months on the DL. This series appears much more even on paper than the SF vs. Chicago Cubs series. Both teams had top-five pitching staffs during the regular season, and both teams were in the top half of the NL in terms of offense. I think the Dodgers actually come in as the series favorite, despite being the lower seed (57% chance that the Dodgers make the NLCS according to fivethirtyeight.com).

I think the one X-factor for the Nationals coming into the playoffs has to be Daniel Murphy. He led the MLB in batting average for a significant portion of 2016, and put together one of the most clutch hitting performances throughout the 2015 playoffs with New York. Murphy has been the catalyst for the Nationals offense all season, with Bryce Harper slumping throughout the middle of the year. Both Murphy and Harper missed playing time late in September with injuries. Since Washington had secured its place in the playoffs, it wasn’t too surprising to see them get extra time off. While they are on the roster and appear to be fine, we’ll see if these injuries affects their performance at the plate.

I also think that the Dodgers have the edge in this series. While Scherzer is great on the mound, and can definitely go toe-to-toe with Kershaw, the rest of the Nationals rotation has been inconsistent throughout the year. Gio Gonzalez looked underwhelming throughout 2016, and while Tanner Roark isn’t facing the Marlins, he was just 2-3 in six starts from September to October 1. I think that it will be a very tight series, but in the end I think the Dodgers have looked stronger and more consistent in the second half, and that will carry over into their postseason play. LA wins, 3-2.

 

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“From Our House to Yours”

One Game to Rule them All: The NL Wildcard

It’s finally here, October baseball. After 162 games, only five teams remain standing in the National League. For the Mets and the Giants, who square off Wednesday, game 163 will be the most intense game for either team up to this point. Their reward if they prevail? A chance to play the Chicago Cubs: certainly not the best thing ever, but definitely better than the alternative.

The Stories

Since the one-game wildcard playoff was added in 2012, it has delivered some of the most thrilling moments in baseball. This particular match-up takes place between the two previous National League champions, both limping across the finish line in the regular season (quite literally for some Mets). The Giants come into this series under familiar circumstances, in 2014 they were also a part of the wildcard game, and became the only wildcard team to win the World Series since 2012. They looked primed to avoid this game altogether, finishing the first half of the season 6.5 games ahead of their division rival, the Dodgers. They lost control of the division and didn’t end up securing their playoff berth until their final regular season game, beating the Dodgers 7-1.

The Mets came into 2016 with one of the most anticipated rotations of 2016, but a combination of offensive struggles and injuries kept the team from achieving its full potential. Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon are the only two pitchers from the Opening Day rotation who aren’t on the DL coming into the postseason. The offense took its fair share of hits as well, losing first baseman Lucas Duda and catcher Travis D’Arnaud to the DL for multiple months, along with losing captain David Wright and second baseman, Neil Walker for the year. The catalysts for their late-season surge, Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera, also had DL stints. Despite this, the Mets stuck around against all odds, and are just one game away from returning to defend their National League pennant. They have the advantage of hosting this game at Citi Field, a site for so much of the Mets’ magical 2015 run.

The Pitching: Noah Syndergaard (14-9) 2.60 ERA vs. Madison Bumgarner (15-9) 2.74 ERA

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Sergio Romo looks to provide stability as a closer now on the Giants. Image courtesy of outsidepitchmlb.com

The Mets and the Giants both sported fantastic pitching throughout 2016, ranking third and fourth in National League ERA respectively (funny enough, Syndergaard and Bumgarner also rank third and fourth in ERA in the NL). It’s only fitting that the teams send their biggest arms to face-off in this winner-takes-all game. Thor and MadBum squared off once in the regular season, all the way back in May. San Francisco ended up getting the win 6-1, but Syndergaard would exact his revenge on the Giants offense in August, tossing eight shutout innings at AT&T Park. While Syndergaard has the advantage between the two in terms of raw velocity, (averaging 98.29 mph per fastball vs. Bumgarner’s 90.95 according to MLB.com) Bumgarner has one of the most deceptive deliveries in baseball at his disposal. Both pitchers also aren’t afraid to swing away at the plate, hitting three home runs apiece during the regular season.

Given how tight this starting match-up is, the game may ultimately be decided by some clutch bullpen action. The Mets appear to have the advantage in this category this year. New York closer, Jeurys Familia led the entire MLB with 51 saves during the regular season, while set up man Addison Reed had 11 more holds than any other reliever in baseball. On the other side, the Giants bullpen blew 29 save opportunities throughout the regular season, which played a big part in their near collapse. Sergio Romo appears to be the Giants’ new closer heading into the postseason (they seem to have a thing for closers with beards in the postseason) and he’s slightly allayed the fears of Giants fans, converting four of four save opportunities since getting the position.

The Hitting

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Despite time on the DL, Yoenis Cespedes led the way for the Mets offense in 2016. Image courtesy of mlbtraderumors.com

With how good the pitching is, batters on both sides will have their work cut out for them putting up any kind of production. Luckily, neither team is a stranger to close games, with the Giants going 28-27 in games decided by one run. The Mets were 25-22 in that department. Both teams had fairly weak offenses throughout the regular season, averaging slightly above four runs per game.

The real variance comes in how these teams produce their runs. The Giants take a much more cerebral approach to the game, playing small ball and manufacturing runs. They rank 4th in the National League in hits, despite ranking 9th in runs. They didn’t really have much of a power game whatsoever, ranking 13th in the NL in homers, with 130. Brandon Belt led the team with 17 big flies in the regular season.

The Mets have relied heavily on the long ball throughout the year. They ranked second in the National League with 218 home runs, 31 by team leader, Yoenis Cespedes. This reliance on the home run has led the Mets offense to be incredibly streaky throughout the season, but it can be a real menace to face this offense when it’s firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately for the Giants, it has been coming into this game. The Mets scored the second most runs of any NL team in September, and hit the second most home runs. The Giants offense was 12th in runs scored this month, and 14th in home runs.

My Pick

Right now the Mets are my favorite to win this game. They’ve got the advantage of playing at home, and their offense has been worlds better as of late than the Giants. With that said, it is an even year, so it’s hard to really ever count the Giants out. I think that viewers will be in for a spectacular pitching duel, regardless of the outcome and it’ll definitely be a game worth watching.

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