Surprise Performances Around the MLB

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

1B Logan Morrison – Tampa Bay Rays

Surprise Performances

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

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

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

C Jason Castro – Minnesota Twins

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

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

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

1B Mark Reynolds – Colorado Rockies

Surprising Performances

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

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

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

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

2B Jose Altuve – Houston Astros

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

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

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

1B Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs

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

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

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

1B Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

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

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

 

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TGH First Annual MLB Academy Awards

The best from the film industry were celebrated last night in the 89th Academy Awards ceremony. With the MLB’s spring training beginning this past week, we have come up with a way to honor them both. I’m proud to present The Game Haus’ First Annual MLB Academy Awards. The game’s best and brightest will be awarded for their play on the field.

Categories will include: Best Picture (Best Team), Actor in a Leading Role (Best Player), Actor in a Supporting Role (Best Secondary Player) and Director (Best Manager). Without further ado, we begin our award presentation with Best Picture.

Best Picture: Chicago Cubs

MLB Academy Awards

Kris Bryant headlined a World Series roster for the Cubs (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

After a season that saw them win 103 games and the World Series, the Chicago Cubs are hands-down the choice for Best Picture of 2016. The Cubs are certainly not a one-year wonder.

Chicago is loaded with a roster that will allow them to compete for years to come. The offense is fueled by third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Bryant put up a 149 OPS+ with Rizzo’s 146 OPS+. That is exceptional production, but they weren’t the only contributors.

The pitching staff is rock solid for the Cubs, led by starters Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Even with a “down year” by Arrieta comparatively to his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, he still pitched exceptionally. He earned 18 wins with his 3.10 ERA and surprisingly, his first All-Star appearance in 2016. Jon Lester also earned an All-Star appearance in 2016, the fourth of his career.

The Cubs are one of the best teams in the league, and are sure to be in the running for this award for years to come.

Actor in a Leading Role: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

With a career 48.5 WAR at only 25 years old, Angels center fielder Mike Trout is without a doubt the best all around player in the game. His combination of power and speed are some of the best in the bigs. Trout stole 30 bases to go along with 29 homers and 100 RBIs last season. He was one home run from joining the exclusive 30-30 club, one that hasn’t had a new member since, you guessed it, Trout in 2012.

Any player can be an offensive juggernaut. It takes a truly exceptional player to be a game changer both at the plate and in the field.

Trout played 148 games in center field for the Angels in 2016. In his time at center, he posted six defensive runs saved. While that is not a mind-blowing number, it is solid for one of the more difficult positions to play in the field.

Trout is the best player in the major leagues, and it’s really not even close. He is the leader of the Angels, and in his five years in Anaheim he already has the second best WAR of any player in Angels history.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

MLB Academy Awards

Jason Kipnis provided a solid season for the Indians in 2016 (Credit: Tony Dejak/AP Photo).

Cleveland shows no signs of regressing from their 2016 World Series appearance after landing Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason. Even with considerable contributions from stars such as Encarnacion, Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, it will take solid seasons from players across the roster.

Enter Jason Kipnis. Before the emergence of Lindor and Kluber, Kipnis was one of the most reliable offensive producers for the Indians. That didn’t change in 2016.

Kipnis hit the most homers of his career in 2016, slugging 23 long balls to go along with 82 RBIs. He also continued to showcase his speed, stealing a respectable 15 bases last season. His offensive production was impressive, but his four defensive runs saved proves he is an exceptional all-around player.

Kipnis may not be the best player on the Indians, but the support he provides surely does not go unnoticed.

Director: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

Sticking with Cleveland, Manager Terry Francona did an excellent job directing the Indians in 2016. He brought the Indians to their first World Series appearance since 1997 and will look to do the same in 2017.

Before Francona came to Cleveland in 2013, the Indians last playoff appearance had come in 2007. He quickly turned that around, guiding the Indians to 92 wins and a Wild Card berth. While they weren’t able to get past the Wild Card round, Francona had much more in store for the Tribe.

Entering his fourth year in Cleveland and only one playoff appearance to show for it, Francona was on the hot seat entering the 2016 season. He used that hot seat to light a fire under his team, guiding them all the way to the 2016 World Series. Even with a loss to the Cubs, Francona was able to stretch the series to seven games.

Some may think that the Cubs’ Joe Maddon is more deserving of this award. However, Francona was able to guide his club to one game away from the World Series title with a less talented roster and much lower expectations. Francona should guide the Indians to another deep playoff run in 2017.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

The Game Haus presents our 2017 fantasy baseball first base rankings.

The first base position is among the deepest in fantasy baseball. Nine first basemen had at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs last season. 23 had at least 20 home runs, and 19 had at least 80 RBIs. First base continues to offer plenty of power and production for your fantasy team.

With the start of spring training games upon us, it is time to rank the top 25 first basemen for 2017. Players have been grouped into three tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions: Joe Mauer (MIN), Lucas Duda (NYM), Chris Carter (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), and Dan Vogelbach (SEA).

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Paul Goldschmidt ARI
  2. Miguel Cabrera DET
  3. Joey Votto CIN
  4. Anthony Rizzo CHC
  5. Freddie Freeman ATL
  6. Edwin Encarnacion CLE

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base in 2017. He has completed four consecutive All-Star seasons, finishing as runner up for MVP in 2013 and 2015. He offers five-category production and will bat third for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit for average and power, and will steal plenty of bases.

The addition of A.J. Pollock and David Peralta to the lineup should increase his value as well. Goldy was without both of them for the majority of 2016. Also, he has 99 career stolen bases with a success rate of 81 percent, which is outstanding. His floor of about 15 steals gives him an edge over other superstar first basemen.

Edwin Encarnacion will make the move from the hitter friendly Rogers Centre to one of the toughest for right handed hitters. However, he remains in the top tier of elite first basemen. He will bat clean-up for a hungry Cleveland Indians team featuring Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana.

Encarnacion remains an elite fantasy option. He has hit at least 30 home runs with 98 or more RBIs. He also has batted at least .260 in his last five seasons. Expect more of the same out of the 34-year-old.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Wil Myers expects a 40/40 season from himself in 2017. (Courtesy of gaslampbell.com)

  1. Wil Myers SD
  2. Jose Abreu CWS
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Desmond COL
  5. Chris Davis BAL
  6. Hanley Ramirez BOS
  7. Matt Carpenter STL
  8. Carlos Santana CLE
  9. Eric Hosmer KC
  10. Adrian Gonzalez LAD

Wil Myers’ 2016 season resembled the likes of a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt. He finished with 28 home runs and 28 stolen bases. His atrocious second half led to his batting average dipping to an underwhelming .259, causing his value in 2017 to be fairly low. His 20/20 upside should not be overlooked, as he was among only nine players to accomplish this feat last season.

The former rookie of the year completed his first full campaign in 2016, amounting 155 hits in 676 plate appearances. Myers will continue to be a horse in the middle of the San Diego Padres lineup for many years to come.

Adrian Gonzalez has been a consistent fantasy contributor his entire career. He has amassed 600 plus plate appearances in his last 11 seasons, while sporting a career .290 average. His power numbers have dwindled, as he tied a career low of 18 home runs in 2016. However, his production has not faltered, as he has had at least 90 RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons.

The 34-year-old will bat clean-up for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, giving him ample RBI opportunities once again. Gonzalez looks to be a safe fantasy pick once again for the twelfth consecutive season.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Brandon Belt, under or over rated? (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Brandon Belt SF
  2. Mike Napoli TEX
  3. Tommy Joseph PHI
  4. C.J. Cron LAA
  5. Justin Bour MIA
  6. Greg Bird NYY
  7. Josh Bell PIT
  8. Mitch Moreland BOS
  9. Eric Thames MIL

Brandon Belt is another consistent fantasy performer. However, he has limited value as he has yet to surpass the 20-home run mark in his six-year career. The career .272 hitter did have a career high 82 RBIs in 2016, which was due to him batting primarily fifth.

The 28-year-old stole zero bases last season but has managed to steal 32 bases from 2011 to 2015. There is a chance that he adds some steals back to his stat line. Belt has a higher floor than most first basemen, although his ceiling is limited.

This Eric Thames is not the same guy we saw in 2011 or 2012. He returns to the U.S. after mashing 124 home runs in three seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Thames will have to re-adjust to life in the MLB, but was rewarded a three-year $15 million contract with a player option for a fourth. This shows that the Brewers are fully invested in Thames being their current and future first basemen.

The 30-year-old will bat clean-up in an aggressive and youthful Milwaukee Brewers lineup that looks to do damage in 2017. Thames will be a great value pick as his current average draft position according to fantasypros.com is 231.

 

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National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

The National League Central is one of the most top-heavy divisions in the majors. With the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, perennial playoff contenders St. Louis Cardinals, and the ever competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, this division is one of the toughest in the National League. The top team in the National League Central is a no-brainer, but 2-5 are another story all together.

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

Joey Votto headlines a rebuilding Cincinnati club . (Credit: Al Behrman/ AP Photo).

The Cincinnati Reds seem to be on the tail end of a long rebuild with three straight losing seasons. Reds stalwart Brandon Phillips was traded in the offseason. Accordingly, infielder Jose Peraza will be the Opening Day starter at second base. He will join Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton to form a solid young core for the Reds.

Veterans Joey Votto and Adam Duvall will support the offense while the younger players come along. Those two won’t be enough to carry a weak offense and a developing pitching staff.

The Reds will use 2017 as a tryout year and will be putting out lineups that will not be competitive. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but the sun should come up soon in Cincinnati.

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

Its been half a decade since the Brewers tasted postseason baseball. Three of the team’s top 12 players by WAR in 2016 are gone, and their roles will need to be filled. Gone are solid relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress, as well as catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers will rely on a mix of veterans and prospects to lead them.

Up the middle, shortstop Orlando Arcia will pair with second baseman Jonathan Villar to form a young infield tandem that should provide a spark at the top of the order. They will rely on Ryan Braun and former KBO star Eric Thames to drive them in.

Veterans Junior Guerra and Matt Garza bookend a young rotation. Zach Davies, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson all need to improve. The offense should be around league average, but the pitching staff will need to make solid improvements to make 2017 anything more than a rebuilding year.

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

Andrew McCutchen should return to form in 2017 (Credit: Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

The Pirates are coming off a dramatic offseason in which they almost traded away their franchise player Andrew McCutchen. He will enter the 2017 season in a new frame of mind and at a new position. He will move from center to right field, accompanying a reshuffle of the outfield.

Even with a realignment in the outfield, it remains the team’s strength. McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco form a robust top of the lineup. Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli also add to Pittsburgh’s solid offense.

The rotation is filled with former top prospects. Ivan Nova is the only non-home grown starter. Gerrit Cole is the ace, and it remains to be seen if the rest of the rotation can turn its promise into prosperity.

With a solid club all around, the Pirates could finish anywhere in the top two of the National League Central.

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

After two World Series appearances in the previous five seasons, the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason in 2016. This year’s team is full of talent and NL All-Stars all over the diamond.

On the mound, 25-year-old Carlos Martinez will lead the rotation. He will be backed by Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and veteran Adam Wainwright. All five have at least one NL-All Star appearance.

Nevertheless, the talent isn’t limited to just the mound. Matt Carpenter headlines the lineup. The addition of Dexter Fowler provides speed St. Louis has been lacking. He will be joined by outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to give the Cardinals an excellent outfield trio. Stalwart catcher Yadier Molina will be behind the plate for his 14th season in St. Louis.

A deep pitching staff is the strength of the Cardinals, but their offense is not far behind. They will compete for one of the two National League Wild Cards in 2017.

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

Kris Bryant and the Cubs should easily win the National League Central (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

Coming off a dramatic World Series victory, the Cubs are the de facto favorite in the National League Central, if not a favorite to repeat as World Series Champions. It’s easy to see why.

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester sit atop of a solid rotation. Young starters Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery will be joined by grizzled veteran John Lackey to round it out. The talent on the mound is good, but it’s what’s off the mound that has Cubs fans drooling.

Former top prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez form one of the elite shortstop-second base tandems in the National League. In the corners of the infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant are some of the top producers at their respective positions.

Supported by super utility man Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward, the Cubs are stacked in the field. That doesn’t even include uber-prospect catcher Willson Contreras, who will play his first full season in the majors in 2017.

Chicago Cubs fans have plenty to be excited about in 2017, as a repeat title is well within reach.

 

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: First Basemen

In this third installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will examine the top five first basemen in Major League Baseball. First base is the most heavily relied on position for offense, so defensive metrics will not factor in as much as with catchers.

Let’s take a look at the top first basemen around the league.

5. Freddie Freeman- Atlanta Braves

2017 MLB Season

Freeman will look to bring the Braves back to relevancy in 2017. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Freddie Freeman has developed into the franchise cornerstone the Atlanta Braves have been coveting since the retirement of Chipper Jones. Freeman finally delivered on his power potential last season, launching 34 bombs to go along with 91 RBI’s. He also provided the Braves with a consistent bat in the middle of the line up with a .302 batting average. At only 27 years old, Freeman is poised to be the next franchise great. Freeman will lead the Braves into SunTrust Park in 2017 and beyond.

4. Anthony Rizzo- Chicago Cubs

Chicago was able to claim the 2016 World Series. Since they are led by Anthony Rizzo and other stars, it shouldn’t be their last. Garnering his third All-Star game appearance of the past three seasons, Rizzo was a vital cog to the Cubs championship machine. His 32 homers and 109 RBI’s were fueled by the best slash line of his career. Rizzo batted .292, had an OBP of .385, and a slugging percentage of .544. It’s easily the best of his five-year career. When he wasn’t providing big hits for the Cubs, Rizzo flashed the leather. He had 11 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving Rizzo to be one of the better overall first basemen in the majors.

3. Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

2017 MLB Season

Joey Votto hopes his glove will mat h his bat in 2017. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

With the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of a long rebuilding process, Joey Votto has proven to be their cornerstone. Votto does not fit the typical slugging first basemen prototype, but he still provides plenty of pop in an extremely disciplined bat. Votto hit 29 home runs last season to go along with 97 RBI’s. That’s plenty of production from a middle of the order bat.

What Votto excels at most is getting on base. Votto posted an OBP of .434 last season, one of the highest of all first basemen in the majors. While Votto did have a solid year with the bat, his glove tailed off some from his career averages. Votto had -14 defensive runs saved last season, the worst of his stellar career. What Votto lacks in defense, he more than makes up for in offense. Look for Votto to bring the Reds back towards respectability in 2017.

2. Paul Goldschmidt- Arizona Diamondbacks

When Paul Goldschmidt was taken by the Diamondbacks in the eighth round of the 2009 Amateur Draft, all 30 MLB teams had passed on him multiple times. What they wouldn’t give to have a chance at him again. All Goldschmidt has done is rake since being called up to the majors in 2011. With 24 long balls and 95 RBI’s, Goldschmidt provided Arizona with another solid offensive season.

One thing Goldschmidt brings to the table that other first basemen lack is speed. Goldschmidt stole 32 bases last season! The second most stolen bases by a first baseman last season was Wil Myers with 28 and the third guy on that list had 12. It’s safe to say Goldschmidt can fly on the base paths. Couple that speed with power and the ability to hit for average, and you have a gem of a first baseman.

1. Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

Miguel Cabrera is launching balls out of the park at historic rates. (Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Until Miguel Cabrera proves he isn’t the top first basemen in the majors, atop this list he will stay. At 33 years old, Cabrera is still in the prime of his career. He provided the Tigers with 38 homers and 108 RBI’s, good to earn him his 11th All-Star game appearance in 2016. While he did post a negative defensive runs saved last season of -6, the offensive firepower he provides more than makes up for a few gaffes down at first base. Cabrera is the prototypical slugging first baseman. His career slash line of .321 average, .399 OBP, and .562 slugging are enough evidence to prove Cabrera is the top first basemen of 2017, if not the past 14 years.

For these five aforementioned first basemen, they will look for 2017 to bring 2016-like results. They are all fairly young or in their prime, so this list should be set for some time.

 

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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

Image result for jon lester

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

Image result for javier baez

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.

Image result for kris bryant

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.

Image result for justin turner dodgers

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.