Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles team profile

The Baltimore Orioles enter the 2017 offseason with way more questions than answers. A 75-87 season with a last place finish in the AL East will do that to a team. Even so, the Orioles are just one season removed from an 89-73 season and a second place finish in the AL East. How did the Orioles fall off so quickly and where do they go in 2018?

2017 Season

After a second place finish in 2016, the Orioles were primed to make another run at the AL East crown. Through the month of April, it looked like they would do just that. They boasted a 15-8 record and were one of the hottest teams in baseball.

Baltimore Orioles

Manny Machado struggled mightily at the plate in 2017. (Photo by Karen Hill/Houston Chronicle).

However, an absolute collapse of the pitching staff grounded the Orioles’ playoff aspirations. As a staff, Orioles pitching gave up 841 runs on the season, averaging out to a little over five runs per game. That was much too difficult for the eighth ranked offense in the American League to overcome.

It wasn’t just the pitching staff that suffered from inconsistency though. Star third baseman Manny Machado got off to a poor start in 2017, batting .224 in March and April and slumping to a .191 batting average for the month of May. Throughout the whole season, he only slugged over .500 in one full month, slugging .690 in August. Even with Machado’s struggles, the Orioles were able to score 743 runs, only one less than their total last year.

One reason for that was the emergence of Jonathan Schoop. Schoop definitely tapped into his power this year, launching 32 home runs. He also drove in a team high 105 RBIs.

Another factor was the under the radar addition of shortstop Tim Beckham. Beckham is the new poster child for the change of scenery narrative. After posting a paltry 97 OPS+ in Tampa Bay, Beckham hit to the tune of a 131 OPS+ in Baltimore. Both Beckham and Schoop will be relied on next season season.

Team Needs

The Baltimore Orioles are set in the infield, with catching duties likely being split between Caleb Joseph and prospect Chance Sisco. Beckham will take over for the 35-year-old J.J. Hardy, solidifying a strong infield.

Where the questions begin is in the outfield. Nine different players earned time in right field for the Orioles, with 35-year-old Seth Smith playing the most games with 80. Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry and Mark Trumbo all played at least 31 games in right, but none are thought to be long-term options. Rickard, who will turn 27 next season, has a career 77 OPS+. Gentry will be 34 with an 84 OPS+ for his career, and Trumbo was mostly a designated hitter. Either way, right field will be the least of the Orioles’ problems if they can’t find some starting pitching.

When your “staff ace” posts a 4.24 ERA, you know there are bound to be some problems. The Orioles had two starters with ERAs well over 5.00. Wade Miley made 32 starts and posted a 5.61 ERA. Not to be outdone, Ubaldo Jimenez went one step further. The former Rockies ace started 25 games and posted an atrocious 6.81 ERA.

Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman were the only starters to post sub 5.00 ERAs on the season. The Orioles will definitely have to dip into the free agent market to address one of the worst starting staffs in the majors.

Potential Free Agent Signings

One player that the Orioles could target is pitcher Trevor Cahill. While adding a pitcher with a 4.93 ERA this past season may not sound like a good idea, a closer look at the numbers says otherwise.

As a starter with San Diego, Cahill made 11 starts, going 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA. It was when Cahill was shipped to Kansas City that his numbers started to balloon. A change of scenery and a change to the bullpen spelled disaster for the former second-round pick. Cahill will only be 30 years old next year, and should come at a reasonable price.

Baltimore Orioles

Tyler Chatwood has a chance to be an impact arm (Photo from AP Photo/David Zalubowski).

Another option for the Orioles is pitcher Tyler Chatwood. With Chatwood, you have to look even deeper than with Cahill. The former Rockies starter has a chance to be a diamond in the rough. Chatwood is a perfect example of how pitching in Colorado can damage a pitcher’s career.

He has posted a 5.25 ERA in 68 games at Coors Field. But outside of Colorado, Chatwood has posted a 3.31 ERA in 62 games. He has also given up 25 homers on the road compared to 42 at home, and limited batters to a .241 batting average on the road. There is only a 17-inning difference between his 332.1 IP at home compared to his 315.1 IP on the road. While Cahill could be a solid signing, Chatwood has the chance to be an impact arm for the Orioles. And at almost 28 years old, he’s one of the youngest available starters on the market.

The Baltimore Orioles have a chance to turn their organization around in 2018. However, with the Yankees and Red Sox back to powerhouses once again, the best the Orioles can hope for in 2018 is a Wild Card spot.

 

Feature image by cbssports.com 

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Arizona Fall League season awards

Arizona Fall League season awards

The Peoria Javelinas claimed the Arizona Fall League title on Nov. 18. Powered by league MVP and Braves top prospect, Ronald Acuna, Peoria dispatched the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the season finale. For the Javelinas, this marks their sixth AFL title since the league was founded in 1992. But while the AFL recognizes a league MVP, there are no Cy Young award equivalents for the league’s best pitcher. If there were such an award, it would have most likely been a clean sweep for the Braves in the Arizona Fall League season awards in 2017.

League MVP, CF Ronald Acuna

AFL Season slash line: .325/.414/.639/1.053

Arizona Fall League season awards

Seattle prospect Eric Filia won the AFL batting title, but lost out to Ronald Acuna in the MVP race. (Photo: Baseball America)

Much has been written about the season that Ronald Acuna posted in 2017. At 19 years of age, soon to be 20 in December, Acuna has risen through the Braves system this year like a man on fire. Starting the season in Advanced-A with the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna would reach the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, by season’s end. What’s more, his numbers got better at each level he played at this year.

The young Venezuelan native played at three levels this year, four if you include his inclusion in the AFL. And, quite frankly, it is reasonable to consider the AFL “another level” on the prospect ladder, to be fair. It is, after all, the proving ground for elite talent in MLB’s prospect pipeline. And Acuna wasn’t just good he was dominant in Arizona this fall, leading Peoria to the AFL championship.

Though Acuna didn’t lead the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging, or even OPS for that matter, he was the league’s best player when you look at the sum of the whole. This young center fielder finished second in OPS, 12th in batting, second in slugging and sixth in on-base percentage, respectively.

This future star was a league leader though, make no mistake about it. Acuna led the AFL in home runs with seven, and total bases with 53. On top of that, he drove in 16 runs, good enough for fifth in the AFL in 2017.

There is no way this kid doesn’t break camp with the big club next spring. Acuna has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready for his call to the big leagues right now.

AFL Cy Young, LHP Max Fried

AFL Season pitching line: (3-1) 1.73 ERA, 26 IP, 32 K’s, 0.88 WHIP

The AFL’s “Cy Young” award, if one were given out, would’ve been a trickier call than league MVP. Four pitchers could’ve easily walked away with this award. In no certain order, the New York Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller, Philadelphia’s J.D. Hammer and Atlanta’s Max Fried all pitched well enough to be considered the best pitcher in Arizona this fall.

Arizona Fall League season awards

Max Fried was the best pitcher in the AFL in 2017. (Photo courtesy of: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

At the end of the day, however, only one can player can take top honors. And this year, Atlanta’s Max Fried would have to be the guy to get the nod. Over his six starts for eventual AFL champions, Peoria, Fried was as dominant as they come. The Braves’ young southpaw was second among all starting pitchers in WHIP (0.88), only bested Yankee’s prospect Justus Sheffield (0.84).

Fried was also the AFL’s strikeout champion for 2017 as well. He finished with 32 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, good enough for an outstanding ratio of 11 K’s per nine innings. Making Fried’s case even better, he also showed good control walking only 2.77 batters per nine innings. Even though Fried wasn’t as efficient as Mitch Keller in this category (1.9 BB/per 9), he outpaced Keller’s (4.9 K/per 9).

In the cases of Hammer and Carroll, however, both pitchers were closers. This isn’t to slight these two future big leaguers, but generally it’s a rarity that a reliever will win an award for league’s best pitcher. It’s happened only nine times at baseball’s top level, with the last occurrence being Eric Gagne’s 2003 Cy Young season. While Hammer and Carroll both had outstanding seasons in Arizona, the volume of work by Fried must be the deciding factor here.

Based on his body of work, Fried is the AFL’s best pitcher of 2017.

Atlanta’s prospects ready to contribute

Both Fried and Acuna progressed along the prospect ladder in leaps this year. The Braves have moved these young men up the ladder quickly, and they have responded by showing a maturity beyond their years. There is little doubt that both players will more than likely be on the opening day roster come 2018.

It is worth noting that Fried has already made the jump to MLB in 2017. His performance in the AFL this year should solidify his place in next year’s Braves rotation. Especially when you look at his performance in his limited exposure at the major league level. While it is a very small sample, it is apparent that the lights aren’t too bright for this future staff ace.

Moving onto Acuna, now, here’s a player that has absolutely no need to take another swing in the minor leagues. The Braves’ top prospect, and fifth ranked prospect in all of MLB, has shown he’s ready for the call. When the Braves break camp next spring, Acuna should be the man roaming center field in Atlanta every day.

This young man, at 20 years old, will most likely become the youngest player in the majors in 2018 and it’s exciting to speculate how he will handle the jump to MLB. If 2017 is anything to go by, we might be talking about the NL Rookie of the Year here. He will almost certainly be a training camp favorite for the award, no doubt about it.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: sportsnewsinstant.com)

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Oakland Raiders fantasy football

Which Raiders can find consistency in fantasy football?

One of the major storylines of this NFL season has been the disappointing Oakland Raiders. Coming in with high hopes after a great 2016 season and a rested Marshawn Lynch, people saw the Raiders going all the way to the AFC championship game. That won’t happen unless the team can start playing its best, and soon.

The more important question to ask, at least for fantasy owners, is which Raiders can find consistency in fantasy football?

Michael Crabtree (Wide receiver)

One of the bright spots for the Raiders has been the play of Michael Crabtree. He’s enjoying another great year under Jack Del Rio. With 42 catches for 502 yards and six touchdowns, Crabtree has emerged as the top target in Oakland. He shows no signs of losing production, and with the upcoming schedule, regression isn’t on the agenda.

In three of the last six matchups of the year, Crabtree plays against the Giants, Cowboys and the Chargers. All these defenses are favorable matchups if Derek Carr can continue his play as of late. The No. 13 wide receiver in standard leagues, averaging 8.8 points per game, has found success recently without finding the end zone.

Being a huge red zone target has been the reason that Crabtree has had fantasy value in recent years. But in the past four weeks, Crabtree has gotten steady volume while producing at a WR2 level. If Crabtree can regain his red zone presence and provide touchdowns, then he will continue to produce consistency and be a valuable fantasy asset.

Derek Carr (Quarterback)

It’s been an up and down season for Derek Carr. He experienced a back injury that kept him sidelined for a week and made him play at a subpar level. Before that happened, the Raiders offense failed to find the chemistry to succeed and win games in the NFL. As of late, Carr has picked it up and produced at a QB1 level.

Oakland Raiders fantasy football

Photo from http://www.sportsworldreport.com

Carr had three straight weeks with over 300 passing yards and at least one touchdown, including an outburst of 417 yards and three touchdowns against the Chiefs. That made fantasy owners realize that he still has something to prove this year, and the Raiders are still fighting to try and win a Wild Card spot in the AFC.

He obviously has the same schedule as Crabtree, which means he has three games against an easier opponent and three games that could give him some matchup problems. Then again, he did go off against Kansas City once this year.

Look for Carr to continue being a QB1 option in fantasy and start him with confidence from here on out.

 

Marshawn Lynch (Running back)

Oakland Raiders fantasy football

Photo from Daily Snark

The return of “Beast Mode” hasn’t been quite like everyone thought it would be. People expected Lynch to come back with a vengeance and take the league by storm behind the Raiders’ stud offensive line.

Actually, quite the opposite has occurred. Lynch has yet to have a 100-yard game and has only eclipsed 52 fantasy points over nine games. The volume has been there for Lynch, with double-digit carries in six of his nine games, but the production isn’t quite there.

Lynch is one of the players on the roster that I don’t see performing quite well in the end of the season. The defensive fronts of the Giants, Chiefs, Chargers, Broncos and Eagles are all above average and may cause Beast Mode to have less than average games to end his season.

Avoid starting Lynch in fantasy from here on out.

 

 

 

Feature image from bleacherreport.com

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Chris Thompson fantasy

Fantasy options to replace Chris Thompson

Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson was carted off with an air cast on his leg after he got rolled up on at an awkward angle against the Saints. It was reported after the game that he suffered a fractured fibula and will miss the rest of the season.

Thompson has emerged as a quality running back this season, especially in fantasy. He was 10th in fantasy points in standard scoring at his position as well as 11th in PPR with his ability to both run and catch out of the backfield.

This comes at a big point of the fantasy season with the playoffs coming up because of his versatility as a fantasy running back. It’s time to look at the next man up for Washington to fill the void for both the Redskins and your fantasy team.

The next man up: Samaje Perine

The Redskins will now be on their third running back due to injuries to Thompson and the original starter Rob Kelley (ankle). They will now run with rookie Samaje Perine.

Chris Thompson fantasy

Samaje Perine (Photo from NFL.com)

Perine becomes a priority pickup after the injury to Thompson. The rookie out of Oklahoma had a lot of hype early in the preseason as a candidate to take the starting job, but struggled early on with fumbles and lack of production.

But he has turned the page in the second half of the season. On Sunday, he had a career day against the Saints in relief, as he ran for 117 yards and a score on 23 carries.

Perine will mostly get his opportunities on the ground as he is more of a power back at 236 pounds, which is his strength. He can be in passing situations, but he will mostly be pounding the ball on the ground, especially on the goal line.

They will also mix in rookie Byron Marshall, who they picked up from the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad.

Flex option: Josh Doctson

From the passing game perspective, Redskins receiver Josh Doctson could be someone to look at to replace both Thompson and Terrelle Pryor.

Chris Thompson fantasy

Josh Doctson (Photo from detroitnews.com)

He is finally showing the production the Redskins had hoped for from their 2016 first-round pick. With Jordan Reed struggling with injuries and Pryor now out for the season, it has led to an increase in targets to Doctson. He tied his career high with seven in each of the past two weeks. This also included a solid game against the Saints as he caught four passes for 81 yards. He brought in several 50-50 balls, and Kirk Cousins seems comfortable passing to him.

Doctson’s upside and big-play ability have expanded his role as a top option in their offense.

Other options

This is a big blow, especially at this point of the fantasy season with a guy like Thompson. With the amount of injuries this season, there aren’t a lot of big names out there that are consistently producing. But there are a couple of options for the playoff push.

Fantasy owners in need of a running back should look to Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers and Danny Woodhead of the Baltimore Ravens. As for the flex position, Corey Coleman has been a big name in the wavier wire as well as Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who could return from his broken foot.

 

Featured image from thecomeback.com.

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Let’s pump the brakes on Shohei Otani

Hideki Matsui, former Yankees star and current special advisor for New York, is expected to play a major role in the pursuit for Shohei Otani. Otani, the Japanese two-way star, is hoping to bring his talents to the MLB, but the Players Association is standing in the way.

Typically, when a player like Otani becomes available to sign, there is a massive bidding war. Because of his age, only 23, the signing will mirror more of a college recruitment process, rather than a typical negotiation for an MLB free agent. The club that ends up signing Otani will be forced to pay a posting fee to his Japan Pacific League team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

CBA

Under the most recent posting system, according to Baseball America, the “fee was capped at $20 million, but there is no current posting agreement between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball.” An agreement needs to be announced before Otani can come to the US. The goal is to lower the costs of the bids, especially after we saw Nippon Ham Fighters receive a $51 million posting fee from the Rangers for Yu Darvish.

According to the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, “Otani would have been eligible to be a true free agent if posted this offseason, not subject to any bonus restrictions” (Baseball America). Unfortunately, under the current CBA, the age cutoff to become exempt from the bonus pools was altered to 25, after it was previously 23.

Because of this, Otani would have to sign a minor league deal. Otani could earn some extra cash in his signing bonus, but this only allots to a few million because teams do not have a lot lying around in their 2017-18 international bonus allotments.

If Otani decided to come after the 2019 season, he would have a chance to sign as a true free agent, and receive a contract that is north of $150 million. There is even a chance that his signing bonus will be less than the money he would earn if he stayed in Japan for the upcoming season. All in all, teams will have to sell Otani on why he should come play in their city, rather than flaunting money in his face.

Just how good is he?

In 2017, as a member of the Fighters, Otani in 231 plate appearances, hit .332 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. As a pitcher, he posted a 3-2 record with a 3.20 ERA. In 2016, while starting 20 games, Otani went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, and struck out 174 batters in just 140 innings of work. As a hitter, he hit .322 with 22 home runs in 323 at-bats.

Shohei Otani

In 2016, Otani hit .322 with 22 home runs (NBC Sports)

Otani hopes to hit and pitch in the MLB, but will be able to pull it off?

“It’s difficult,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in an interview. “It depends on the quality of both skill sets. The usage and the expectations of it will really come into play. It’s going to take a special player to do both. It’s hard enough to do one or the other.”

That is a polite way of saying Otani will not be able to do both. There is no shot someone would be able to put up numbers as both a hitter and a pitcher. The whole “Japan’s Babe Ruth” talks need to stop.

First off, there are only six teams in the league that Otani plays in. Six, which means that there are far less players to game plan for. Also, if we are looking at Otani as a pitcher, the guy has never thrown over 200 innings. If you think he is just going to come over here and dominate, then you are mistaken my friend. At least Yu Darvish had four seasons of 200+ innings before making the move to the MLB.

The most innings Otani has ever thrown was 160, back in 2015. He has totaled 543 innings in his five seasons. Before jumping to the MLB, Daisuke Matsuzaka had thrown over 1,400 innings. Hiroki Kuroda had over 2,000 under his belt before signing with the Dodgers. Both were unable to make an All-Star team and did not sustain consistent success in the states.

In 2008, Hisashi Iwakuma, a member of the Golden Eagles, went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 201.2 innings. Iwakuma has had a solid couple of years in the states, but nothing special. This is a guy who logged over 1500 innings in Japan, yet is an average pitcher at best.

Offense

Shohei Otani

Yakult Swallows legend, Akinori Imamura (The Trading Card Database)

Sure, his 2016 offensive stats were really good, but he had less than 330 at-bats. Does anyone remember Kosuke Fukudome? Before signing with the Cubs, Fukudome had some monster seasons in the same league that Otani plays in. In 2003, Fukudome hit .313 with 34 home runs and 96 RBIs. The year before, he hit .343 in over 600 plate appearances. In five MLB seasons, Fukudome was a career .258 hitter and hit a total of 42 home runs. Translation, even a full-time hitter, who mashed in Japan, struggled to hit over .250 in the MLB.

What about Akinori Iwamura? As a member of the Yakult Swallows in 2004, Iwamura hit 44 home runs with 103 RBIs. The following season, he hit 30 more home runs and drove in 102. In 2006, Iwamura hit .311 with 32 home runs. In his four MLB seasons, Iwamura hit .267 with 16 total home runs. I think it’s fair to say that the competition is a tad different.

Conclusion

If Otani comes to the MLB for the 2018 season, he will be one of the most over-hyped busts of all-time. He does not have the experience as a pitcher to perform over the course of an MLB season and his offensive stats do not even resemble guys like Iwamura and Fukudome, two boarder line scrubs in the MLB.

If Otani was smart, he would stay in Japan and focus on his game. He should pitch two more seasons in Japan, throw at least 200 innings in both of them, and then receive a monster $100-million-dollar contract from an MLB team if he performs. Instead, he is going to come over to the MLB, prove he is not elite at pitching or hitting, and miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Featured image by SI.com

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Al Horford: The Celtics’ most important piece right now

The Boston Celtics have now successfully rattled off 15 straight wins. They are without one of their best players in Gordon Hayward and have had injuries to many rotation guys along the way. They just held the NBA’s best offensive team to 88 points in a 92-88 win over the Golden State Warriors and seem to be meshing well as a team.

The Boston Celtics have the longest win streak after a 0-2 start and are looking to extend it with each passing game.

Balanced play

Al Horford

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, (Thesource.com).

The Boston Celtics have had a balanced attack nearly every night. They have seven players averaging 9.1 points per game or above. They have only had one player score over 30 points in a game and that was Kyrie Irving against the Hawks on Saturday night. The Celtics continue to have a rotation of players who have all led the team in scoring this season.

The most important turn around for the Boston Celtics have been solving their rebounding woes. Last season the Celtics were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. This season they are tied for second in the NBA in rebounding and average nearly 48 per game. The difference is drastic.

Last season they were getting out-rebounded by 2.3 rebounds per game. This season they are +5.6 on the boards. They average 7.9 more rebounds than their opponents this season compared to last. They clean up the highest defensive rebound percentage in the NBA at nearly 82 percent of all shots. The difference this season hasn’t necessarily been Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis like many thought. The rebounding battle has been Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford’s battle to win every night.

The three of them combine for 44 percent of the Celtics rebounds on average. Horford has increased his rebounding from 6.8 a game to 8.8 a game from last season to this one. Jaylen Brown in his increased role has jumped from 2.8 rebounds a game to 6.6 this season. There has been a continuous effort to cut down on giving teams extra possessions on offense. The Celtics have capitalized and in turn it is helping the Celtics win games.

Al Horford: The glue guy

Al Horford has had a career season this season and he has done it efficiently. Horford is averaging 14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds. He is also chipping in 4.5 assists and has a 20.1 player efficiency rating. Horford is shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. He is doing all this on just over 10 field goal attempts a game.

Every one of the statistics that was previously listed was either slightly or well above his career average. The most impressive statistic for to signify Horford’s importance is when he’s off the floor. The Boston Celtics are just a shade under 12 points per 100 possessions worse when Horford is off the floor. For comparison, when Kyrie Irving is off the floor the Celtics are three points worse when he is off the floor on average.

Al Horford is the most valuable Celtic on offense because he affects the game more than just scoring. Horford is involved more in the offense and is benefiting from touching the ball more on a possession to possession basis. Horford is one of the longest tenured Celtics and is both a vocal leader as well as a guy who can lead by example.

 

Featured Image from Sportingnews.com.

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MLB unanimous rookie of the years

A look back at the MLB’s unanimous Rookie of the Year winners

On Nov. 13, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger were both unanimously selected as the 2017 American and National League Rookies of the Year respectively, a feat that has only been done on three other occasions. Judge set an MLB record for most home runs in a season by a rookie with 52, while Bellinger set a Los Angeles Dodger record with 39. Both finished in the top 10 in their respective MVP votes, with Judge finishing second and Bellinger ninth.

Baseball fans should consider themselves lucky to witness such incredible seasons by two rookies, as we may not see dual performances like this for another decade. With this in mind, let us take a look at the past pairs of unanimous Rookie of the Year winners.

1997: Scott Rolen (PHI) & Nomar Garciaparra (BOS)

MLB unanimous rookie of the years

Scott Rolen went on to play 17 seasons in the MLB, making seven All-Star teams, winning eight Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger and one World Series. (Photo from DickAllen15.com)

A second-round pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993, Scott Rolen was a young hulking third baseman who possessed power and premier defense. In 81 games in double-A, Rolen batted .343 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs.

Rolen made his MLB debut in 1996, although his first full season didn’t come until 1997 when he batted .283 with 21 home runs, 92 RBIs, 93 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.

Other National League rookies in his class included Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones and Livan Hernandez, but Rolen still managed to be unanimously selected NL Rookie of the Year. His 1997 campaign was a sign of things to come, as he went on to play 17 seasons in the MLB, making seven All-Star teams, winning eight Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger and one World Series.

You could say expectations out of the gate were high for Nomar Garciaparra, as the Boston Red Sox selected him with the twelfth overall pick in 1994. He had a cup of coffee in the MLB in 1996, although his first full season wasn’t until 1997. A then 23-year-old Garciaprra batted .306 with 30 home runs, 98 RBIs, 122 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. He not only was unanimously selected AL Rookie of the Year, but he placed eighth in the AL MVP vote and was voted an All-Star and Silver Slugger.

Aside from Garciaparra, the American League’s underwhelming 1997 rookie class was headlined by Jose Cruz and Deivi Cruz, Jason Dickson and Mike Cameron. Garciaparra’s career was majorly affected by injuries, although he still managed to bat .313 with 229 home runs and 936 RBIs in his 14-year-career. He most notably won back-to-back AL batting titles, batting .357 and .372 in 1999 and 2000 respectively.

1993: Mike Piazza (LAD) & Tim Salmon (CAL)

MLB unanimous rookie of the years

Piazza would go down as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, batting a career .308 with 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs. (Photo from Pintrest.com)

Mike Piazza, whose Los Angeles Dodgers rookie home run record of 35 was broken by Bellinger this season, was taken by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB draft. It has been said that Piazza was only selected because of head coach Tommy Lasorda’s personal relationship with Piazza’s father, Vince. Whatever the case may be, Piazza is arguably the biggest draft steal in MLB history.

Piazza’s rookie season in 1993 was incredible, as he batted .318 with 35 home runs and 112 RBIs. The 24-year-old finished ninth in the NL MVP vote and was voted an All-Star and Silver Slugger to boot.

No rookies from the NL class of 1993 had a season that could compare with Piazza, although his fellow teammate and rookie, Pedro Martinez, also had a Hall of Fame career. Piazza would go down as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, batting a career .308 with 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs.

Tim Salmon, a California born kid, was drafted in the third round of the 1989 draft by the then California Angels. Salmon won the American Minor League Player of the Year Award in 1992, which was also the same season he made his major league debut.

In his official rookie year, Salmon batted .283 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs, which was good enough to be selected AL Rookie of the Year. Other rookies from his class include Aaron Sele, Jason Bere and Wayne Kirby, so it’s no surprise why Salmon dominated the AL ROY vote.

He went on to play 14 seasons in the MLB, driving in over 1,000 runs along the way, unfortunately falling just one home run short of 300.

1987: Benito Santiago (SD) & Mark McGwire (OAK)

Benito Santiago was signed as an amateur free agent by the San Diego Padres in 1982. His major league debut came in 1986, but his official rookie season came a year later. In 1997, Santiago batted .300 with 18 home runs and 79 RBIs. Pitchers Mike Dunne and Joe Magrane both had very respectable rookie campaigns, but Santiago was the clear choice for ROY in 1987.

MLB unanimous rookie of the years

McGwire, whose rookie home run record of 49 was broken by Judge, was the 10th overall selection in the 1984 draft by the Oakland Athletics. (Photo from TheGreedyPinstripes.com)

His rookie season was the beginning of a 20-year MLB career in which he was considered one of the premier catchers in the National League for nearly a decade. He would go on to make five All-Star appearances, win four Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves and one NLCS MVP.

Mark McGwire, whose rookie home run record of 49 was broken by Judge, was the 10th overall selection in the 1984 draft by the Oakland Athletics. His rookie season came in 1987, where a then 23-year-old McGwire put on a show for the ages, batting .289 with 49 home runs and 118 RBIs. McGwire finished sixth in the American League MVP vote and was selected an All-Star for the first time.

Fellow rookies Kevin Seitzer and Matt Nokes had solid rookie seasons, but McGwire’s was arguably the greatest rookie campaign of all-time up until that point. He went on to have a Hall of Fame caliber career, mashing 583 home runs and 1,414 RBIs. His admitted steroid use will likely keep him out Cooperstown, although the impact he left on the game will never be forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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Five things to watch for in college football week 13

Rivalry week is now upon us, which means good football games are back. While not everyone is playing a rival, week 13 is going to be crazy for all college football fans. Here are five things to watch for in college football week 13:

1. The Iron Bowl

Alabama and Auburn is a great rivalry that has gotten even better over the last ten years. A lot of times at least one team has national title aspirations by the time the game comes around and some times both teams are in that position. This year both teams control their own destiny in terms of making the College Football Playoff.

The Crimson Tide are undefeated and haven’t even really been challenged too many times. This will definitely be a test for Alabama. Nick Saban has tried to get his team away from “rat poison” this season, but the Crimson Tide average the seventh most points per game and allow the least. They are ridiculously good.

Auburn has two losses, one to Clemson and one to LSU. Their season has been so great because of their defense and running game. They have a top ten defense and average 244 yards per game. The Tigers are tough to beat and have really come on the last few weeks.

The winner of this game will come as a result of better quarterback play. Jalen Hurts and Jarrett Stidham will need to make throws in key situations in order to get the win. The running games will be slowed due to the good defenses, so keeping the defense honest will win the game.

2. The Game

College football week 13 preview

Curtis Samuel in 2016 (photo by usatoday.com)

Ohio State and Michigan meet up for their annual game this weekend. The Buckeyes still have a feint hope of making the College Football Playoff and need to win. For Michigan, they don’t have too much to play for, but in this game, they don’t need much.

J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes have been one of the most inconsistent teams in college football, yet they still only have two losses. When the offense is clicking, the team is one of the best in the country. If Barrett and the offense can limit turnovers they will be in a good position to win the game.

Michigan’s strength is its defense. They allow the 11th fewest points per game in the country and are especially tough against the run. They slowed down Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor for most of the game before wearing down in the second half. If Ohio State’s offense shows up, Michigan’s defense will need to have its best game of the season.

3. Running backs in Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick has decided that one of Notre Dame’s biggest rivals is Stanford. He decided wrong, but it is still a good game. The Fighting Irish still have a very slim chance to make the College Football Playoff, but should be thinking more about a New Year’s Six bowl game.

A week after beating Navy, Notre Dame gets a chance to finish the season with 10 wins. They have a good ground game and are great at causing turnovers. Their running back, Josh Adams, has had a great season behind a great offensive line. He will highlight a matchup of elite college running games.

Bryce Love is the other quality running back in this game. Love actually still has a chance to win the Heisman with his great statistical season. The offense runs through Love and if the Cardinal have any chance of winning, he will need to have a great game.

4. The Apple Cup

College football week 13 preview

(Photo by mercurynews.com)

One of the better emerging rivalries is the Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State. This year the Pac-12 Championship Game is on the line for the Cougars and both teams are ranked to make it a very appealing game.

Mike Leach has turned Washington State’s program completely around. This season they only have two losses and are knocking on the door for the Pac-12 Championship Game. That is something a lot of people would have never expected. A thing most people expect is how much Washington State throws the ball, as they have one of the best passing attacks in the country.

Washington had College Football Playoff hopes entering the season after making it last season. They are out of that picture now due to having two losses and a weak non-conference schedule. The Huskies are still a talented team that could sneak into a New Year’s Six bowl game with a win and some help.

The big matchup to watch is the Cougars’ passing attack against the Washington pass defense. If the Huskies can shut down the passing attack they can win.

5. UCF vs. USF

A couple weeks ago the thought was that this could be a matchup of undefeated teams. Unfortunately USF lost to Houston to ruin that. The Florida teams in the AAC still have a lot to play for. The winner of this game will get to play in the AAC Championship Game and could make a New Year’s Six bowl game.

UCF has had a tremendous turnaround under Scott Frost. The year before he got there, they were 0-12. Last season, Frost’s first year, UCF went 6-6. Now they have a chance to turn it all the way around and finish with a 12-0 regular season record. The Golden Knights will make an exciting game out of this one way or another, as they have the highest scoring offense in the country.

The Bulls were the team that were thought to be undefeated at this point in the season. They had an easy schedule and a lot of players returning from a successful team last year. While they do have a loss, they can still reach a great bowl game, something that was likely their ceiling this year anyways. With Quinton Flowers at quarterback and a good defense, they can spoil UCF’s perfect season.

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Five things we learned from college football week 12

College football week 12 didn’t offer much, but more can still be learned. Here are five things we learned from the games in week 12:

1. USC the much better team, Rosen the better quarterback

college football week 12

Sam Darnold (Photo by nydailynews.com)

USC beat UCLA 28-23 to finish off a 10-2 regular season. The Trojans are in the Pac-12 Championship and are likely at least going to be in a New Year’s Six bowl game. There is no doubt that USC is the better football team, but this game was marketed as a duel between top quarterback prospects, and probably rightfully so.

Josh Rosen had a great game that saw him throw for 421 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He literally had to carry his team to keep them close, something he is very used to. He showed in this game that he is the much more polished quarterback.

Sam Darnold threw for 264 yards and an interception. The most impressive thing he showed off was his scrambling and athletic ability. He may have a higher ceiling than Rosen, but he showed that he has a lot of developing to do before he gets to that point.

2. Jonathan Taylor can produce against good competition

Taylor had a tall task this week going up against the Michigan defense. He started off slowly, but ended up thriving. The freshman finished with 132 rushing yards. He did have a 56 yard run, but in the second half he started running more consistently.

For Wisconsin to have any shot to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, Taylor has to produce. Taylor should be able to get near 2,000 yards on the season and is a serious Heisman contender, but he had yet to prove it on the big stage. Now, Wisconsin knows they can lean on him in tough games.

3. UCF will a chance to prove themselves

College football week 12

McKenzie Milton (Photo by hawaiiprepworld.com)

The UCF Golden Knights have been snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee with their rankings so far. They are undefeated and actually, up through last week, had a better strength of record than Wisconsin. While they will not make the CFP, they should be getting more serious attention.

For UCF, it all comes down to the last two games of their season. First they get to play their rival USF, who has just one loss on the season. If they win that game, they get to play what will likely be a one loss Memphis team in the AAC Championship Game. Memphis is ranked currently and moving up. This gives UCF two great opportunities to show the world what they’ve got. If they win both, they are going to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

4. Bill Snyder is going bowling again

Kansas State got a big upset win over Oklahoma State this week. Oklahoma State will likely not be in the Big 12 Championship Game because of the loss. Just when everyone starts to doubt Snyder, he gets his team ready to go and they pull off the upset win.

Snyder is now going to his 19th bowl game as the head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats. This is an impressive feat, given that Kansas State was atrocious before he got there and he is in his second stint as head coach for the university at age 78. This year will help him into 12th place all by himself for bowl game appearances by a coach.

5. Late season cupcake games need to end

Yes, playing FCS teams funds their athletic department, but the games are not fun to watch.  College football is in the heat of a great playoff race and it is all interrupted to play FCS teams. The drama that has built up for weeks, just took a pause in week 12 and is expected to pick back up for rivalry week. There should be a way around this, whether it’s hosting the games at another time (early in the season), or just as an exhibition.

All teams in the top ten won this weekend and it has nothing to do with the quality of the teams, it has to do with the quality of the competition. If college football wants to really draw in the most viewers, it can do so by not having its best teams schedule cupcake games in November, a time when fans are supposed to be getting ready for bowl and playoff season. While it likely won’t be fixed for a while, if at all, it made week 12 very mundane and should be corrected for the future.

 

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College Football Playoff bracketology 11/19/17

This week of the season was not very eventful with a bunch of cupcakes on the schedule. The bad games this week will prep college football fans for a great rivalry week that has a lot of good matchups. Here are how the teams rank before the big weekend:

Playoff teams

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-0)

College football bracketology

Jalen Hurts (Photo by gridironnow.com)

Alabama won big over Mercer (FCS) this weekend. It was an easy game, in which Alabama even held out some of their players as a precaution. Hopefully they are at their best for rivalry week.

The wins over LSU, Mississippi State and Texas A&M are solid, but Alabama lacks a big win. Still though, with the undefeated record, the Crimson Tide will stay in the top spot in the rankings.

Rivalry week is here and Alabama has a chance for a great win over Auburn.

This week: at 6 Auburn Tigers

2. Clemson Tigers (10-1)

The Tigers didn’t have a problem with The Citadel (FCS). Clemson rolled 61-3. They look primed for big things in the next few weeks.

Clemson has some of the most impressive wins in college football, especially their win over Auburn. Their victories over Louisville, Virginia Tech and N.C. State also add to their good resume and help them stay in the second spot.

They will have a small test against South Carolina on rivalry week.

This week: at South Carolina Gamecocks

3. Miami Hurricanes (10-0)

Miami is one of the few teams that played a decent team this week. Although they trailed Virginia for much of the game, they scored 30 unanswered points to run away with the game. They played like they did before the last two weeks, which is up and down with the level of their competition, for most of the time against Virginia.

The Hurricanes have jumped up to this spot in the rankings and will stay here because of their performances in recent weeks. Wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame aren’t quite as impressive as the wins Clemson has overall. They should still feel confident though, as they will get to play Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Unfortunately Miami doesn’t play one of its biggest rivals this week, but they should be able to get the win to stay undefeated.

This week: at Pittsburgh Panthers

4. Oklahoma Sooners (10-1)

Oklahoma had a conference game this week, but it was still an easy game, as they played Kansas. While there was a lot of extra-curricular activity, the important thing is that Oklahoma won 41-3.

With good wins over Ohio State, Oklahoma State and TCU, Oklahoma is in a good position. They are already in the Big 12 Championship Game and if they win out, they will be in the CFP.

The Sooners will get a tough game this week, albeit not against a rival.

This week: vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

First four out

5. Wisconsin Badgers (11-0)

The committee decided to put the Badgers at number five last week, so they will likely be ranked at five again. This week Wisconsin got a win over a decent Michigan team. Michigan has a good defense, but really shouldn’t have been ranked in the top 25.

Beating Michigan still gives Wisconsin another solid win, but it won’t be enough to get into the top four, yet. The wins over Iowa and Northwestern are nice, but if Wisconsin wants to make the CFP, they will need to beat a really good team.

The Badgers’ rival is Minnesota, so they will likely go into the Big Ten Championship undefeated.

This week: at Minnesota Golden Gophers

6. Auburn Tigers (9-2)

College football playoff bracketology

Kerryon Johnson (Photo by al.com)

Auburn started slow against UL Monroe, but picked it up and ended up winning 42-14. This sets up another great Iron Bowl that will have CFP implications.

The Tigers have big wins over Georgia and Mississippi State. Their losses to LSU and Clemson aren’t that bad either. If Auburn wins out, they will be a CFP team.

If the Tigers can win this week, they will be rewarded with a chance to play Georgia again in the SEC Championship.

This week: vs. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide

7. Georgia Bulldogs (10-1)

The Bulldogs bounced back from their loss to Auburn very well by beating Kentucky 42-13. Kentucky is a solid win for Georgia, but ultimately the important thing is that they won, as they still control their own destiny.

Georgia’s wins over Notre Dame and Mississippi State are both good. The loss to Auburn is something they will want to avenge if possible. If they win their rivalry game and the SEC Championship Game, they are in the CFP.

Can Georgia shut down Georgia Tech’s triple option this week?

This week: at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-2)

Notre Dame won a tough game over Navy this week to stay in the top ten. While it was one of the tougher games that a top ten team faced, the Fighting Irish should’ve played better.

Wins over Michigan State, USC and N.C. State have kept Notre Dame this high in the rankings. It will be hard for the Fighting Irish to make the CFP, but not totally impossible.

Bryce Love and Stanford are on the schedule for the last week of the season, so Notre Dame better be ready for a physical game.

This week: at 22 Stanford Cardinal

Next four out

9. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-2)

College football playoff bracketology

Urban Meyer (Photo by newsok.com)

It has been an up and down season for Ohio State, but this week they destroyed Illinois. With the win they kept their small CFP hopes alive.

The Buckeyes have beaten Michigan State and Penn State for some really good wins. The two losses are holding them back. If they can win out, which includes a victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, Ohio State will be very close to the cutting line, one way or another.

The big game is this weekend for Ohio State. Throw records aside for how big of a rivalry game this is. Ohio State hasn’t struggled with Michigan much in the 21st century, but anything can happen.

This week: at 24 Michigan Wolverines

10. Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2)

Penn State beat Nebraska pretty easily this weekend. The Nittany Lions are pretty much out of the CFP picture, but getting another ten win season is nice.

James Franklin has to hope for absolute disaster and chaos to happen to make the CFP. It would take some upsets in the final week of the regular season and some during conference championship week to make it even slightly possible. All Penn State can do is win this week and then wait and see where the chips fall.

Ten wins should be the expectation when they take on Maryland this weekend.

This week: at Maryland Terrapins

11. USC Trojans (10-2)

The Trojans finished off their regular season with a win over rival UCLA. They get a nice week off to prepare for the Pac-12 Championship Game.

USC probably has a better chance of making the CFP than some teams ahead of them (Notre Dame, Penn State). It all depends on how they play in the Pac-12 Championship Game and if the teams above them hold to form. They are rooting for Washington State to win the Apple Cup, so they can play them in the Pac-12 Championship for another solid win.

A week off before a conference championship is unique, but can USC make the most of it and win the Pac-12?

This week: Bye

12. TCU Horned Frogs (9-2)

TCU was able to beat Texas Tech pretty easily, despite not having quarterback Kenny Hill. If they can beat Baylor in the final week, they will get a chance to play in the Big 12 Championship Game.

The Horned Frogs need some help to make it into the CFP. Beating Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game would be a nice start, but it will not be enough on its own. It will likely take: USC losing in the Pac-12 Championship, Ohio State winning the Big 10 and much more to go their way.

They should be focusing on what they can control and winning the Big 12 would be a great feat for TCU.

This week: vs. Baylor Bears

 

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