spring training 2018

Spring training 2018 preview

In just three days, a new season of baseball will be upon us. Though Opening Day comes in April, the spring training sessions will become a test run for all 30 franchises in time for the 2018 MLB regular season. These next few practices and exhibition games will showcase how each organization’s adjustments gell and execute.

Some teams will look to build upon success from 2017. Other teams will look to bounce back from past misfortunes. Sure, some teams have a steeper mountain to climb than others, but that is what’s great about baseball. Any team with the right chemistry and momentum can create big waves around the league. On top of that, that hot streak can translate to an October appearance, and maybe even a World Series ring.

Starting Friday, Feb. 23, the states of Arizona and Florida will host the latest and greatest names to hit the diamond.

Cactus League

In Glendale, one team is looking for another shot at the World Series. The other seeks a comeback after a dismal 2017 outing.

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

The Los Angeles Dodgers held baseball’s best regular season record last season at 104-58. The Dodgers seemingly breezed through the National League playoffs, giving up just one game in the NLCS.

With a smoother path to the World Series than that of the Houston Astros, many saw the Dodgers as the favorite to win. But Houston proved to be the hungrier team and beat Los Angeles in a thrilling seven-game series for the hardware.

Now, the blue and white are working to get that ring and end a 30-year drought.

On the other hand, the Chicago White Sox are coming off of a 67-95 season, fourth in the AL Central. The White Sox finished 10th in the American League in batting average and 13th in ERA. On top of that, the White Sox have mustered five straight losing seasons.

Over in Scottsdale, two Wild Card teams will begin to build upon their solid foundations from 2017.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies earned the two National League Wild Card slots last season. The Diamondbacks hosted and beat the Rockies 11-8, but got swept by the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Their game will commence on Friday at 3:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Grapefruit League

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

Down to West Palm Beach, Florida, comes another anticipated matchup to kick off the spring exhibitions.

The Houston Astros are looking to defend their World Series title and bring in another ring in 2018. With a roster stacked with All-Stars, Houston will have a big target on its back come April. The Astros will begin their exhibition rounds against the Washington Nationals.

The Washington Nationals are coming off of a 97-65 season, on top of running away with the NL East Division once again.  However, the Chicago Cubs did not appear intimidated and eliminated Washington in the NLDS. The Nationals will begin their runs with a new skipper, former Chicago Cubs bench coach, Dave Martinez.

In Tampa, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers will hope to start on a high note.

The Yankees ended 2017 with a 91-71 regular season record.  The Pinstripes gave the Astros a run for their money in the ALCS, forcing seven games. But Houston prevailed and took home the AL pennant. Now with Giancarlo Stanton in their ranks, the Bronx Bombers have established a “pitcher’s nightmare” batting order.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have arguably the steepest mountain to climb in the American League. With a dismal 64-98 season in 2017, Detroit has its work cut out for them. The Tigers pitching lineup finished last in the AL in ERA at 5.36. Holding the first pick of the upcoming MLB Draft, a pitcher should grace the stage wearing that Tigers cap.

Thank God It’s Friday

America’s pastime is almost here and ready for business. Whether with a new skipper or new players, all 30 teams will look to work in the new faces for April.  On Friday, Feb 23, baseball fans all over the world will get to hear their favorite two words once again: Play ball!

 

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best first basemen 2018

Top 5 first basemen in 2018

As the painfully slow and boring offseason grinds to a halt, baseball pundits and junkies look to pass the time one way or another.

One of the best ways to do that is to remind fans who the greats of the game are. This series will break down the best of the best at each position, starting with first base.

Just missed the cut

Matt Olson – The A’s rookie phenom put on a show last season in his limited playing time. In just 189 at-bats, Olson blasted 24 home runs with a .651 slugging percentage.

With no more Yonder Alonso, Olson will have full reign at first base with many expecting another huge step forward. Keep your eye on Olson.

Jose Abreu – Unfortunately for Abreu, he’s currently stuck on the tanking White Sox. Because of this, a lot of baseball fans don’t know how good Abreu is. Last season, Abreu put up 33 home runs, 102 RBI and an OPS of .906.

While the White Sox have shown no interest in trading Abreu, a move to a winning club would help give Jose the recognition he deserves.

Eric Hosmer – Eric Hosmer’s stock might be low right now while he holds out for his billion dollar contract, but it should not be forgotten how good he is. Hosmer is a four-time Gold Glove winner with who hit 25 homers with a .318 batting average last season. He’s good, not stupid free agent contract good, but good.

5. Cody Bellinger

On a team full of talent, Cody Bellinger stands out as one of the best and brightest. Under the lights in Los Angeles, Bellinger shined.

In his first season of MLB action, the 22-year-old hit 39 homers. Those are insane numbers. Coupled with his great defense, he stole Adrian Gonzalez’s job like a thief in the night.

While it’s unlikely he’ll repeat that output of home runs, Bellinger will only improve as he gets older. The NL West should be very afraid.

4. Freddie Freeman

best first basemen 2018

Freeman looks to stay healthy in 2018 (Photo by John Bazemore/Associated Press)

This ranking is unfair to Freddie Freeman. Freeman missed 45 games last season due to injury and had to move positions for a little while due to the emergence of Matt Adams.

Freeman will now likely stay back at first and continue to dominate like he has in the past. Last season, Freemen put up 28 home runs and had a .989 OPS.

If Freeman is able to stay healthy next season and use his offensive versatility, he’ll move up this list.

3. Anthony Rizzo 

While the Nationals didn’t respect him (sorry, had to do that), baseball fans across America see Anthony Rizzo as one of the top first basemen in baseball.

Last season, Rizzo had somewhat of a down year, with a slight drop in batting average and OPS. However, he was still able to put up 32 home runs, 109 RBI and a .507 slugging percentage, which is well above the MLB average.

Expect Rizzo to take a step forward as the Cubs look to make another championship run.

2. Paul Goldschmidt 

Paul Goldschmidt has been one of the most underrated players in the MLB. Maybe it’s the fact he had only played in the postseason once before last season. Maybe it’s the small(ish) market or maybe it’s the fact players like Giancarlo Stanton and the aforementioned Rizzo stole the spotlight.

Regardless, Goldschmidt has arrived as one of the most well known and best first basemen. Last season, Goldschmidt had 36 homers, 120 RBIs and a OPS of .966.

If Arizona is able to put together another playoff run, Goldschmidt could finally capture the MVP trophy that has alluded him throughout out his career.

1. Joey Votto

Joey Votto could be one of the greatest hitters of all time. Last season, Votto had 36 home runs, drew a league high 134 walks and had an OPS of 1.032. Those are insane numbers. That can’t be stated enough. While NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton was the more flashier candidate, one could argue Votto was the much more complete player. in 2017 Votto had an OBP of .454, Stanton had a OBP of .376. Votto is going to continue to rot on a Cincinnati team that has been rebuilding for what feels like 500 years but when it’s all said and done, Votto will likely be looked at as one of the greatest ever.

 

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MLB free agency destinations

Potential landing spots for remaining MLB free agents

With pitchers and catchers reporting in little over a week, many are surprised at the plethora of high end free agents still available on the market. Former Cy Young winners and World Series champions are currently sitting at home watching TV waiting for the call.

While we all wait on the ice cold stove to heat up, here are some potential landing spots for the remaining free agents that make sense for both the players and the teams.

Jake Arrieta

Realistic landing spot: Chicago Cubs

Dark horse landing spot: San Fransisco Giants

Ever since Jake Arrieta dominantly won the Cy Young in 2015, things have gone downhill. His ERA rose from 1.77 to 3.10 to 3.53, and his wins have gone down from 22 to 18 to 14.

Last season was his worst since he first joined the Chicago Cubs in 2013. His innings have gone down, and his H/9, HR/9, BB/9 and SO/9 have all gotten worse. This isn’t good.

MLB free agency destinations

Can Jake Arrieta rebound in 2018 after a disappointing 2017? (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

If I was trying to sell Arrieta, I would have done an awful job so far. Lucky for me, you’re probably not an MLB general manager.

Regardless of his recent struggles, Arrieta is still a second or third man in a rotation and still has miles left on his arm.

Arrieta returning to the Cubs makes the most sense. He can slot in right behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks and return to a ballpark he’s familiar with. If Arrieta is willing to take less years, he could get a reasonable amount of money from the Cubs.

After an extremely disappointing 2017 season, the Giants reloaded with the additions of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. San Fransisco has a strong rotation at the top with Madison Bumgarner (When not riding dirt bikes), Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.

After that, its pretty bad.

Signing Arrieta would give the Giants a great rotation for the playoff push they are making in 2018.

Yu Darvish

Realistic landing spot: Los Angeles Dodgers

Dark horse landing spot: Milwaukee Brewers

Yu Darvish had a rough end to 2017. In the biggest game of his life, Game 7 of the World Series, Darvish gave up four earned runs, including a homer in just one and two-thirds innings. That is about as rough as it gets.

Darvish’s numbers last season were still fairly good. In nine games with the Dodgers, Darvish had a 3.44 ERA, which led to a 122 ERA+ and averaged approximately seven strikeouts per game.

Darvish has the same issue as Arrieta. While both are good right now, teams have to wonder how good they’ll be in three years. Or four or five years.

Regardless of how last season ended for Darvish and the Dodgers, they’re still a perfect match for each other. Darvish gives the Dodgers a great right-handed pitcher to go along with Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, while the Dodgers give Darvish a chance at a ring and retribution for last season.

Milwaukee might not be as talented as LA, or as lofty, but they still have a great team. The additions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich give the Brewers an elite outfield. The one area they could improve is their starting rotation.

Enter Yu Darvish.

The addition of Darvish would make the Brewers legit playoff contenders.

J.D. Martinez

Realistic landing spot: Boston Red Sox

Dark horse landing spot: No where really

There isn’t a more perfect fit in this offseason than J.D. Martinez and the Boston Red Sox. Martinez is coming off of a career year where he hit a career-high 45 homers, slugged .690 and put up a 4.1 WAR.

The Red Sox are coming off of another first-round playoff bounce and could desperately use power hitting. The Red Sox also give Martinez an opportunity to DH, keeping him out of the outfield where he struggles.

This is a no-brainer. Martinez, Red Sox, I now pronounce you together. Good luck.

Eric Hosmer

Realistic landing spot: Kansas City Royals

Other realistic landing spot: San Diego Padres

Eric Hosmer has all the traits of a face of a franchise: Hits well, won a World Series and has great hair. He’s perfect. Hosmer has been attached to the Kansas City Royals and the San Diego Padres this offseason.

MLB free agency destinations

Eric Hosmer has the ring, now he’s going to rake in the money. (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

For the Royals, they are likely about to embark on a franchise rebuild just two years removed from their World Series championship. Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis are gone, Mike Moustakas has his foot out of the door and Salvador Perez is on his last leg.

This leaves Hosmer as the face of that World Series team. While fans may want him, there is no reason to give Hosmer a $210 million contract over seven years, which is the contract that has been leaked to the public. The first rule of rebuilding is to get rid of all the big unnecessary contracts.

For the Padres, they are already knee deep in a rebuild. Last season, 71 wins was a pleasant surprise.

That should tell you about the state of the franchise.

Hosmer would give the Padres a face and a piece to build around in the potential future. The Padres would give Hosmer the ridiculous contract he wants due to their open cap situation. It’s really a win-win.

 

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San Francisco Giants offseason

Have the Giants done enough to reach the postseason?

The San Francisco Giants finished 2017 with an abysmal 64-98 record, which tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in all of baseball. Funny enough, the Giants and Tigers met in the World Series in 2012, so it goes to show how quickly things can turn around. San Francisco thinks they can turn its losing ways around even quicker in 2018 though.

2018 is an even year, so you don’t know what might happen.

What went wrong in 2017?

San Francisco Giants offseason

Madison Bumgarner’s shoulder injury in April was a sign for things to come in the Bay. (Photo from MLB.com)

Not many people saw this epic collapse of a successful franchise coming. The Giants have been one of the best teams in recent memory, and nobody could have seen them finishing as one of the worst teams in all of baseball in 2017. The Giants themselves didn’t expect it as they had made the playoffs just the year before.

San Francisco had a slew of injuries in 2017. There is no doubt that the health of the team significantly impacted its performance. Madison Bumgarner hurt himself in a dirt bike accident and missed most of the season. Other players such as Brandon Belt and Michael Morse missed a lot of time due to head injuries, which are not things you want to mess around with.

The rotation underperformed as a whole with the loss of Bumgarner. Johnny Cueto did not play up to his contract, and Jeff Samardzija was nothing to write home about.

The pitching was not the main issue though. They finished middle in the road in pitching at eighth in the National League. The problem was the offense, which finished second to last in runs scored in all of baseball.

What have they done this offseason?

San Francisco Giants offseason

Andrew McCutchen is a sign that the Giants expect big things in 2018. (Photo from Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Bobby Evans and the Giants have not been shy about addressing the offensive issues they faced in 2017. San Francisco has been at the forefront of all trade rumors and have been wildly aggressive on all fronts. They have garnered results by being aggressive, as they have nabbed two cornerstone players from teams on the East coast.

Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen are now a part of the Giants organization. Both of them fill up needs on the Giants offense and create a much more threatening lineup. Although both of these players are on the wrong side of 30 and have played their prime, they can still do some serious damage.

The two combined for a 6.1 WAR last year, along with 48 home runs and 174 RBIs, so there is no doubt they add some punch to the lineup. If you look at the team as a whole now, they look like a team that can compete. They reassured the outfield this week as well by adding the veteran services of Austin Jackson. Now the outfield consists of Jackson, McCutchen and Hunter Pence.

Top to bottom, the Giants look solid, which bolsters an NL West division that is going to look to brawl. The question is, can the Giants really make a run for it in the loaded West?

The NL West: Best division in baseball?

If the Giants just happened to be in any other division in baseball, they may have a better shot of returning to the postseason. However, the NL West sent three teams to the postseason last year, and none were from the Bay area, which is unusual. With the Dodgers being the best team in the National League, it is hard to imagine them making a run for the division. Do they have a shot at the Wild Card though?

With the Nationals and Cubs likely holding onto its division title spots in 2018, the main competition for the Wild Card will likely be coming from Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado and St. Louis. The real question here is whether or not the Giants are better than three of the teams mentioned on this list.

Arizona and Colorado are both in the West, so the Giants will have a chance to prove that they can go toe to toe with postseason teams from last year. It will be an interesting race out West as San Francisco has done enough to show that they can compete. The question is whether or not it is enough to make it to October.

Only time will tell if this wild offseason for the Giants is enough for them to return to its past success. Then again, it is an even year, so is there anything to really worry about?

 

Featured image from SF Chronicle

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MLB free agency 2018

Turning up the heat on the hot stove

As is tradition in baseball, the long winter months are kept warm by the hot stove. But that stove has been running cold this winter. So we’re gonna turn up the heat and predict where some of the top MLB free agents will play in 2018.

Jake Arrieta

MLB free agency 2018

Jake Arrieta will look to join another World Series contender. (Photo from sportingnews.com)

The former Baltimore Oriole and World Series Champion Cub is a free agent this offseason and is testing the waters. Att 31 years old, not many fish are biting.

That can’t be blamed on Arrieta though. The burly right-hander went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA last season. Any team would take that kind of production out of a starter. That is, any team that already had him.

While the Astros, Rangers, Twins, Blue Jays, Rockies, Brewers and Cardinals have all been linked to Arrieta, no deals have been offered. Arrieta is an ace-caliber pitcher and will have significant contract demands. Deals of 4-6 years and upwards of $180 million have been rumored to be what Arrieta is searching for. But in the prime of his career, it will be interesting to see what Arrieta values more: financial security or World Series aspirations. Look for Arrieta to have his cake and eat it too.

Prediction: Twins

Yu Darvish

After making 31 starts last season, Yu Darvish is out to prove he’s worth an ace’s salary and workload. He pitched to a 4.01 ERA with the Rangers in 2017, but pitched well for the Dodgers after being moved at the trade deadline.

But all of that work in the regular season won’t be able to change what Darvish did in the postseason. After two solid starts against the Diamondbacks and the Cubs, Darvish imploded on the biggest stage in baseball; the World Series.

In two starts against the Astros, Darvish posted a 21.60 ERA in only 3.1 innings pitched. Even in those limited innings, it’s the last impression the baseball world has of Darvish. He has been rumored to make a return to Los Angeles, but with the reacquisition of Matt Kemp, those rumors may be put to rest.

The Astros, Yankees, Cubs and Twins seem to be his remaining suitors. After bludgeoning him in the World Series, the Astros don’t seem like a good fit. The Cubs could really use a replacement for Arrieta though.

Prediction: Cubs

J.D. Martinez

MLB free agency 2018

J.D. Martinez is still looking for a long-term deal. (Photo from Arizona Sports)

The failed Astro and successful Tiger and Diamondback is looking to cash in coming off one of the best seasons of his career. After being sent from Detroit to Arizona, Martinez proceeded to tear the cover off of the ball for the remainder of the season. In 62 games with the Diamondbacks, Martinez blasted 29 bombs and slugged .741. Those are eye-popping numbers and are good enough to earn him a big pay day. At least, they seem to be.

Martinez has also been slow on receiving long term offers, with the Boston Red Sox five-year deal being the only one reported. Granted, there are other teams interested, like the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and Giants, but they have yet to make a concerted effort to acquire Martinez.

The Giants seem like the best fit, with them in win-now mode after trading for Evan Longoria. But something special is brewing in the desert, and the Diamondbacks don’t want to change that recipe.

Prediction: Diamondbacks

Eric Hosmer

For Eric Hosmer and the Kansas City Royals, the World Series parade of 2015 seems long ago. Hosmer is now a free agent, and the Royals face one of the toughest rebuilds in the majors.

Even so, it is because of Hosmer. The 2017 season was arguably the best in Hosmer’s career, as he posted career highs in batting average (.318) and OPS+ (132). Coming off a career year like that, Hosmer will look to get paid this offseason.

But even coming off the best year of his career isn’t enough to move the market on Hosmer. Just like every other major free agent, Hosmer still sits unsigned as Spring Training inches ever closer. He does have one advantage over his contemporaries though; multiple long term offers.

Both the Padres and Royals are rumored to have offered the first baseman seven-year deals of more than $140 million. While the Royals offer seems to be chasing what they already had, the Padres offer seems like a chase of what could be.

With the Padres on the rise (one of the best farms systems in baseball) and the Royals on the decline (one of the worst farm systems in baseball), Hosmer will have to decide on where his loyalties lie.

Prediction: Royals

 

Feature image by Julie Jacobson/AP Photo. 

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Manny Machado top destinations

Top destinations for Manny Machado

The dust from the Giancarlo Stanton hot stove has settled, but the rumor mill is not slowing down. It seemed like Stanton would be the biggest name on the trade block, but Manny Machado is a name of similar star power with only one year remaining on his contract.

Baltimore would be wise to move Machado as their AL East rivals are pulling away from the competition. With the acquisition of Stanton, the Yankees are all in for October this year. It has become evident that the Orioles do not have what it takes to compete with them or the Red Sox at this point. With only one year of control over Adam Jones and Zach Britton as well, it is time to see what haul of prospects they can bring in for the future.

Any contending team could use Machado’s services in 2018. General Manager Dan Duquette has stated there will be no open window for teams to discuss a contract with Machado, so odds are he will hit the free agent market next winter. With that being said, here are the most likely destinations to land his services.

5. New York Yankees

Manny Machado top destinations

Even after the Stanton acquisition, the Yankees are still hungry for more (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

The Yankees have emerged as suitors for Machado in 2018. However, the Orioles do not believe it is in their best interest to trade their cornerstone player to their division rival. Even if they are to trade him elsewhere, they believe there is a possibility he could still be flipped to New York.

Baltimore is in the market for some young arms, and New York has that in their farm system. That has to be attractive for them as New York is always the team to go after the big name players. Landing Machado would immediately make them World Series favorites for 2018.

The largest hurdle they will have to jump is the Orioles’ reluctance to hand him over within the division. The Yankees would have to give up a serious haul to get them on board.

4. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are not a conventional team to find on this list. There is no real chance for them to even win their division in AL Central. Reports have emerged, however, that they have the most intriguing offer for the Orioles. Even if that is the case, it still does not make sense.

The guys from the south side have been wheeling and dealing to the point where people fear they will be one of the most dangerous teams in baseball come 2021. They have six prospects in the MLB Top 100, and that doesn’t include former No. 1 prospect, Yoan Moncada.

Since Machado is only under contract for one year, there is no guarantee he will stick with the team long term. It is hard to believe that he won’t test the free agent market, so it does not make sense for the White Sox to give up more than one of these Top 100 prospects. The only way this will work is if they are confident that he will sign with them after 2018.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona lines up well with Baltimore in the sense that they have the arms Baltimore wants. One name that has popped up onto the market is Zack Greinke. He is owed a salary of $34 million each of the next four years and is already 34 years old, so it is not exactly what Baltimore may want. However, he is still proving to be a viable option in the rotation.

The Diamondbacks are not far off from competing either. While they may have been swept in the divisional series by the Dodgers, they still have what it takes to do well in October. Again, this may come down to whether or not the Diamondbacks feel they can keep Machado past 2018.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Manny Machado top destinations

It will take a lot for the Cardinals to part with their top pitching prospect,
Alex Reyes (Photo from ESPN)

The Cardinals are back into the mix in the rumor mill. Although they did not land the 2017 NL MVP, they did land his outfield counterpart, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna provides a good punch to the lineup, but General Manager John Mozeliak has expressed that he is not done adding pieces to his lineup.

The Cardinals are thought to be the perfect fit for the young superstar. They have the most attractive pitching prospects for the Orioles and have a place for him at shortstop, which is where he would like to move. St. Louis had a surprise from their rookie shortstop last year, but he is able to play third base as well.

St. Louis knows that if they add Machado, then they will have enough to compete with the Cubs in 2018. However, the prospect cost may be too much for the Cardinals to go for. It will be difficult for the Orioles to get Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty without any guarantee that he will stay past 2018. What happens in the next few weeks may determine how much the Cardinals, or other teams value one year of a superstar player.

1. Baltimore Orioles

Even with all of the rumors floating around, the Orioles are still the most likely place Machado will play. Between the Orioles not wanting to trade with the Yankees and the high asking price for Machado, it is doubtful that anything will be able to get done. If the Orioles realize that it will be hard for them to get a trade done with the current asking price and lower it, then it will be more likely for him to go St. Louis or Arizona.

If the Orioles can settle with two higher-end pitching prospects, then something will be done. Only time will tell if the Orioles bargain for the 25-year-old free agent to be.

 

Featured image from Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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Knizner

Five early predictions for the National League offseason

The 2017 World Series has come to a close, and the Houston Astros are champions for the first time in franchise history. That means it is time to look forward to next season as we will be without baseball until the spring. This ought to be an exciting offseason due to a star studded free agent class, especially in the outfield.

Not only are there a lot of good free agents, but this ought to be an interesting winter on the trade market. There are some big names floating around that could shake up the whole league. With that being said, here are five early predictions for the 2017 offseason.

The Los Angeles Dodgers sign Jake Arrieta

The Dodgers are coming off a tough World Series loss against the Astros. The front office knew that 2017 was a prime year to break their 30-year drought since the start. Now that it didn’t happen and a large part of their roster still in tact, they will look to push even harder next year.

National League offseason

The Dodgers may look elsewhere for help after Darvish’s collapse in the World Series. (Photo from Newsweek)

Yu Darvish is a free agent now (which may be a relief for the Dodgers after his World Series performance), and Los Angeles is looking to bolster their rotation. Jake Arrieta may be the best starting option on the market after his proven track record in the postseason and reliable arm in the regular season.

 

He won’t come cheap though. The Dodgers already have the highest payroll in the league, but Magic Johnson and company are surely not going to remain complacent after falling short this year. The Dodgers’ starting rotation and bullpen are what separated them from the rest of the league this season, but it may have been what costed them a championship.

A Kershaw-Arrieta duo would look to accomplish what a Kershaw-Darvish pair couldn’t. Darvish was successful in the NLDS and NLCS. However, he could not manage to put much together in the World Series. Arrieta has proven himself in those situations, so it would make sense for him to give the Dodgers that final push.

The St. Louis Cardinals get a reliable bat

The Cardinals had a glaring issue all season long, and that was their lack of an impact bat in the middle of their lineup. The problem is that St. Louis already has a crowded outfield full of players that they seem dedicated to, due to their high-value in their homegrown players. However, it is time for them to make a move for a big bat.

National League offseason

Christian Yelich would be tough for the Cardinals to get as Miami highly values him. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins are looking to cut payroll big time under new ownership. The one name that sticks out immediately is Giancarlo Stanton. St. Louis is not known for taking on such large contracts, even though Stanton is exactly what the Cardinals need.

If the Cardinals do end up trading with the Marlins, it would most likely be for Christian Yelich. Yelich is much more affordable and is under team control until 2022, which is very appealing. He also would provide a solid 3.0-4.0 WAR every year out.

What the Cardinals most likely will accomplish though is getting a corner infielder. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are both hitting the free agent market, and both would fit nicely into the lineup. What is important to keep in mind though is the Cardinals have an eye on the 2018 free agent market as well, and Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson will be available then. Expect the Cardinals to especially push for Machado next year, or even look to trade for him this offseason.

The Diamondbacks will retain J.D. Martinez

National League offseason

J.D. Martinez was one of the hottest hitters in the league after being traded. (Photo from Detroit Free Press)

J.D. Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks from the Tigers during the summer. He thrived in Arizona, hitting a monstrous 29 home runs and hitting .302. The Los Angeles Angels have already announced that Justin Upton, another Detroit Tigers outfielder traded at the deadline, will be signed through the 2022 season. Now some are wondering if Martinez will do the same and stay in Arizona, or seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Martinez announced on Wednesday that he is switching to contract negotiator extraordinaire Scott Boras. At first glance, this seems like it is a move to negotiate with other teams, but he can still be very helpful in discussions with Arizona’s front office.

In a conversation with azcentralsports.com, Martinez expressed his desire in staying with Arizona long term. Being next to names like Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock makes him a good fit. Martinez may also feel it is the right place to stay after such a successful two months in the desert.

The Diamondbacks will have to give Martinez a large chunk of change in order for him to stay, but it may be what they have to do in order to compete with the reigning NL Champs in the West.

The Cubs will sign RHP Alex Cobb

With Jake Arrieta most likely leaving Chicago due to his high price tag, Alex Cobb could potentially come in and provide a solid third starter role behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Cobb has spent six years in the league and has had at least 20 starts in four of those years. Other than his 2016 campaign where he was sidelined most of the year for an elbow injury, he has been an extremely reliable pitcher for Tampa Bay.

Cobb is no Arrieta, but Cobb may be one of the better affordable pitchers on the market this offseason. Lance Lynn is a similar pitcher that could fit in Chicago. However, Cobb’s relationship with Joe Maddon and new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey could have a big impact on decisions for both sides.

Out of all the potential offseason moves that could happen, this one makes the most sense.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will trade for Giancarlo Stanton

As mentioned earlier, Derek Jeter and the Marlins are trying to cut payroll as much as possible in order to fully engage in a rebuild. Stanton has come out and said that he does not want to go through that process again. He is ready to win now.

National League offseason

Stanton may be on the Dodgers’ radar, as trading for him would make sense for all parties involved. (Photo from CBS Sports)

The Dodgers, despite having the highest payroll, have some money they can spend. Stanton has the most expensive sports contract in the world, so this would be a whole lot to take on. Even with the high payroll, the Dodgers don’t break the bank on one player too often. They are an organization that likes to spread their payroll out between many good players. However, this player is worth it.

Stanton also has the right to veto any trade he doesn’t like. The perfect fit may be in Los Angeles though. He is a California boy who grew up in the Los Angeles area. He also wants to win, as he has not done that much in his MLB career with the Marlins. It would be unlikely if a deal were to be put in front of him that he could deny such a tempting offer.

The Dodgers have a couple of solid prospects in their system with RHP Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo, who rank 10th and 23rd in the MLB’s best prospects rankings. Those two players, along with the Dodgers taking on the daunting contract, should be plenty to acquire the 2017 home run king. The question is if the Dodgers are willing to put that high of an investment into Stanton, who only put in his third full season of work this year.

There is a lot of upside with this player though. He turns 28 next week, which means he is at the beginning of the hitter’s prime (27-32). Acquiring Stanton, along with signing Jake Arrieta, would make the Dodgers an even bigger juggernaut to fear. One thing for sure though is L.A. is hungry for a World Series after watching the Astros win it on their home turf.

 

Featured image by Getty Images  

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Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Axe Bat leading hitting technology into the future

There’s a new bat poised to take Major League Baseball by storm. The Axe Bat, developed by Baden Sports, is proof that what’s old can become new again. If you aren’t familiar, the latest development in hitting technology is the Axe-handled baseball bat.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

A lineup of Victus’ Axe-handle bats before being shipped to Miami Marlins slugger, Giancarlo Stanton.
(Photo courtesy of: whatproswear.com)

The early results by those that have swung them competitively at the game’s top level are remarkable. Axe Bat’s Director of Communications, Matt Peterson, spoke about this revolutionary new bat design in greater detail.

In 2017, at least 35 different big-leaguers swung the Axe-handled bat. Peterson said that together, those players totaled nearly 4,800 plate appearances and more than 1,100 hits.

All time, at least 57 players have used an Axe-handled bat during an official MLB game. It’s this type of growth that is turning more and more hitters onto this innovative design.

It also doesn’t hurt when you compare the hitting lines of those using it, to those still using traditional round-knobbed bats. Over the past two seasons, players swinging the Axe-handled bat design hit a collective slash line of (.273/.463/.805). In comparison, hitters using the traditional round-knobbed bat design put together a collective (.255/.422/.745).

Rookie Hitters

The early returns on performance seem to be paying huge dividends for players who decide to incorporate this new tool into their game. Take San Diego Padres rookie center fielder Manny Margot for instance. He converted to the Axe-handled bat for the majority of the season’s second half in 2017.

“The week he switched, he won the NL

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

San Diego rookie, Manny Margot, before he started realizing the benefits of the Axe-handled bat. (Photo courtesy of: Sporting News)

Player of the Week award,” Peterson said.

What a week it was for the young rookie with stars in his eyes too. Margot slapped Mets and Pirates pitching around the park all week (July 30), going 12-24 at the dish. But wait, there’s more to it than that.

In the first half of 2017 from Opening Day to July 23, before Margot switched bats, he hit (.258/.373/.677) with five homers and nine doubles in 281 plate appearances. After the switch to an Axe-handled bat, however, the difference is amazing.

From July 24 through the final game of the season, the young Margot posted a much improved (.269/.449/.772) over 248 plate appearances. During the final few months of the season, Margot matched his first half output in doubles with nine and hit eight home runs. If you’re keeping score, that’s three more homers in 33 fewer plate appearances. Margot loves hitting with the Axe-handled design it would appear.

Margot isn’t the only Padres youngster swinging an Axe-handled bat though.

“His teammate, Allen Cordoba, another rookie, also swung the bat most of this season,” Peterson said.

Established Professional Hitters

The rookies, however, aren’t the only players in MLB that have had their head turned by the Axe Bat. Established pro hitters are also getting in on the action as well.

Several of this year’s hitters in MLB’s postseason are among those switching from the classic round-knobbed handle to the Axe-handle. In 2017’s playoff field, George Springer, Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Chris Owings, Lonnie Chisenhall, Greg Allen and Mookie Betts all swung the Axe Bat 100 percent of the time in 2017 Peterson said.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Dustin Pedrioa steps into the batter’s box brandishing his Axe-handle bat. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

There were also several other players on the rosters of playoff teams who used the Axe-handled bat in 2017.

“Other players on playoff teams who used it in a significant number of at-bats included Dustin Pedroia, Joc Pederson and Matt Wieters,” Peterson said.

Growth within the game is happening rapidly as more players are encountering the Axe Bat.

“Several others experimented with it for a handful of at-bats this year and might be candidates for Spring Training 2018,” Peterson said.

“We anticipate the growth trend to continue as Axe-handled bats become more available, as more performance benefits of the handle are confirmed,” Peterson said. “And we begin showing players some of the new designs and customization options that will soon be available to them.”

One significant performance benefit of an Axe-handled bat is an increase in bat speed. It has been studied by Baseball Prospectus. They confirmed that Axe Bat’s claim to improve bat speed does, in fact, hold water.

Read Baseball Prospectus’ study on the Axe Bat here.

Licensing Axe-handle technology

There’s a good reason many fans haven’t realized this bat has found its way into several big leaguer’s hands. That reason is licensing.

Axe Bat’s patented Axe-handle technology has been licensed to Major League Baseball’s approved wood bat makers. The first of these companies to purchase the right to use the Axe-handled design is Victus Sports.

“That’s why you see Victus’ logo on the barrel of Axe-handled bats.” Peterson said. “Victus Sports was our first licensee. They make a great bat and were instrumental in getting the Axe-handle in players’ hands around the league.”

As more players realize the benefits of this revolutionary bat handle design, more bat makers are sure to be purchasing the rights to make this bat for their customers. Couple this with high profile players like Dustin Pedrioa and Mookie Betts, and swinging an Axe-handled bat and it is sure to find its way into other players’ hands too.

Baseball players are some of the most superstitious people in the universe. One solid hit during a slump and a player can get hooked forever. As more research is done (like the study by Baseball Prospectus) on the Axe Bat, more players are sure to start incorporating it into their game.

Final Thoughts

Since the moment it was created, Axe-handle design has seen significant growth in MLB. The idea for the Axe Bat was conceptualized in 2009 by Bruce Leinert. As a result, by 2017 there were already 35 players who tested it in live competition. Some, like Mookie Betts, have even made it their primary bat. That’s darn impressive growth in the span of eight years.

From a fan’s perspective, is will be interesting to see what impact this bat will have on the game. It’ll be interesting to see the statistical comparison between both Axe and traditional bat designs going forward, especially as more players incorporate the Axe-handle bat into their game.

This should make for some fascinating conversations in the future, no doubts about it!

 

(Feature image: Sports Illustrated)

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

The Houston Astros came from behind in Boston on Monday, becoming the first team to make their way in to a league championship series. They produced some late inning heroics and walked out of Fenway Park 5-4 winners. Avoiding elimination game drama in the division series is one of the most important tasks of any World Series hopeful.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also join the Houston in moving on to the next round of games, sweeping Zack Greinke and Arizona right out of the playoffs. They now await the winner of Chicago versus Washington in the NLCS.

Why it Matters

Elimination games are the proverbial pressure cooker in MLB. There is perhaps nothing that can reduce hardened veterans to looking like a rookie quite like an elimination game. Getting the wins early on in the series is the name of the game.

In all division series that have ever been played, you might think having that deciding game at home would be a big feather in your team’s hat. Surprisingly that’s not the case.

avoiding elimination game drama

Luis Severino celebrates a huge out against the Cleveland Indians in Game 4. (Photo courtesy of: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports)

In the American league, there have been 17 divisional series elimination games since New York defeated Milwaukee in 1981 at Yankee Stadium. Since that inaugural Game 5, the home team has won nine, whilst the visitors have won eight. It’s a true pick ‘em type of proposition. Nothing could be more disastrous to a 102-win Indians team like losing a pivotal Game Five at home.

This is exactly the position Cleveland now find themselves in after last night’s 7-3 Game Four loss. The season, for both clubs, now rides on a fateful Game 5 showdown on Wednesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

In the National League, the odds are far worse for the home club. There have been 13 Game 5’s in the history of the NL and, get this, the home team has a paltry four wins to the road crew’s nine collective Game 5 triumphs.

When you roll them all together, that’s a cumulative record of 13-17 for the home team in division series elimination games. The games have been played a litter tighter in the AL than in the NL, but those are odds that I’m not at all interested in tempting if it’s my team gunning for the league title.

The Astros

It would be fair to say this year’s incarnation of the Houston Astros has been brilliant. They pitch, they hit, they hit and they hit. They do a lot of hitting, that would be the main take away here.

Houston has the best team offense in MLB  powered by three-time American League batting champion Jose Altuve. The little spark plug had another momentous year taking home the batting title during the regular season. Altuve however, has saved perhaps his best for last in 2017.

avoiding elimination game drama

Jose Altuve goes deep in ALDS action. (Photo courtesy of: Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)

The slight statured Altuve stands 5-foot-6, but he might have the sweetest stroke in the game this side of Tony Gwynn. The work he’s doing this postseason is shaping up to be legendary. If Altuve continues to hit at the torrid pace he’s thus far established, his could be one of the best performances of all-time in postseason play.

Like, Lloyd McClendon in 1992 good. For the Pirates that year, McClendon set the record for postseason batting average. He hit .727 in 16 plate appearances over five games. Of course, with the difference in the amount of games the playoffs entail post-1994, McClendon’s record is probably safe for all times.

Red Sox pitching finally solved Altuve in Game Four at Fenway Park. As a result, his average plummeted to a “meager” .533.  However, the sweet-swinging righty did manage to push across the game’s first run. Albeit he did so by grounding into a double play. Altuve won’t get credit in the box score for an RBI, but that run is no less important in the bigger picture.

Houston has come from off the deck not once, but twice. They’ve showed real resolve for a team with World Series aspirations. The Astros are for real.

The Dodgers

What can be said about the Dodgers that hasn’t already been said?

Los Angeles is certainly looking like the team that finished 2017 with the game’s best record. The Dodgers won 104 games during the regular season and has just kept on winning. And they are fresh off the only sweep in division series play this postseason, taking down Arizona 3-1 last night.

avoiding elimination game drama

Cody Bellinger had a huge Game 3, hitting a his first postseason homer and making this spectacular catch. (Photo courtesy of: fanragsports.com)

The best part of L.A. getting the sweep last night, is they get the extra rest for the pitching staff leading in to the NLCS. This could be the biggest advantage the Dodgers have. With the way Yu Darvish was throwing last night, the Dodgers are going to be a tough out this year. He looked strong.

Also, Count on perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw being ready to rock and roll come Game 1 of the NLCS. Take that to the bank. He’s easily been the most dominant pitcher of the last decade. Kershaw just needs some postseason glory to fully cement his status as living legend. Apparently his evil sorcery on the mound isn’t already enough.

Right now it appears the pitching for L.A. is getting stronger. Sure-fire Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger is finding his playoff power stroke. And the rest of the lineup just continues to hit. There really is no question that the Dodgers are starting to play excellent baseball at the right time.

Dodgers fans are hoping for better tidings this year in the NLCS. This will mark the fifth appearance in the league championship series for Los Angeles since 2008. Is this the year L.A. takes it home?

The Rest of the Field

The Cubs lead their division series with Washington, two games to one after taking another closely pitched game 2-1. With 2016 playoffs hero Jake Arrieta taking the hill, Chicago has a chance to slam the door on this series at home. Washington and Chicago square off later today (5:30 EST) at Wrigley Field.

avoiding elimination game drama

Anthony Rizzo is the difference maker as he bloops a vital RBI single for Chicago in the eighth inning of an epic Game 4 showdown. (Photo courtesy of: AP/David Banks)

The division series between Washington and Chicago stands out because of the pitching. While the rest of the league should be considering protective netting around the outfield bleachers, pitchers in this series have been throwing well. The craziest game in the series has been the 6-3 Nationals win in Game 2. Whoa guys, slow down!

Don’t count Washington out yet though! This team has more than enough life in that pitching staff to put the clamps on any offense. The Cubs will be looking to seal the series tonight and stave off a dreaded Game 5. Washington on the other hand, will be looking to force a Game 5 meet-up in Washington D.C. for Thursday.

The Indians meanwhile, are now in a situation where the series comes back to Cleveland for Game 5. The silver lining for Indians fans is that staff ace Corey Kluber is bringing it back on the mound. Kluber will be looking for the win, but it remains to be seen whether that alone will be enough. It’s why they play the games.

There is no discernible trend of good outcomes for hosting an elimination game in the divisional round. In these types of sudden death meetings, home field advantage counts for very little.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe)

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MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

MLB Postseason 2017 wild card bonanza

As the final chapter of MLB’s regular season comes to a close, a new chapter in baseball’s postseason lore is about to be written. Baseball fans are about to witness the MLB Postseason 2017 wild card bonanza!

The one game “play in” scenario is in its sixth season and there is no shortage of drama. We have an upstart young group in Minnesota heading in to Ruth’s house. Then we have division foes Colorado traveling to the desert to face the Diamondbacks. In the match-ups between slugger and pitcher, something’s got to give.

Before we turn the page to both the ALDS and NLDS however, we must first crown our two fully fledged members of the playoff court. When the dust settles, who will have slain the wild card dragon?

Minnesota @ New York  

Probable starters:

Minnesota: Ervin Santana (16-8) 3.28 ERA 7.1 K/9

New York: Luis Severino (14-6) 2.98 ERA 10.7 K/9

During the regular season the Yankees owned the head to head match up with four wins from six games. Each team bagged the home series as Minnesota took two of three from New York in Minneapolis, while New York swept the Twins right out of Yankee Stadium.

Why Minnesota wins:

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

The Minnesota Twins are hoping to ride another 85-win season to Wold Series glory like in 1987. (Photo courtesy of: sportslogos.net)

Minnesota, while not being world beaters by any stretch of the imagination, are a team that just finds a way to get it done. Finishing in the final wild card spot on the back of an 85-win season is a heck of a turnabout from their diabolical 59-win output a year ago. Included in those 85 wins is a (44-37) road record, which is better than how they fared at Target Field (41-40).

This is the Twins’ saving grace. They have been a slightly better road team this year than they have played at home. In a one game do or die situation on the road they will rely on their best pitcher, Ervin Santana, put together a strong outing. Last time he faced New York, Santana pitched 5.1 innings of two run ball, but the Twins found themselves on the wrong end of the box score losing 2-1.

If the Twins can get to Severino early and Santana can use his veteran guile and steady hand to silence the Yankee bats, they will win this game. The good news for the Twins is that all the pressure is off of them and lies squarely at the feet of New York.

Why New York wins:

Because… well, they are New York. They have a team that is loaded to bear and could do some tremendous damage in the postseason. They have a pitching staff anchored by the amazing young righthander, Luis Severino and a lineup bolstered by baseball bashing phenom, Aaron Judge.

Let’s face it. Most people probably expect the Yankees to walk away with this game and they might be right to think that come Wednesday.The Yankees are better in almost every category, though these teams offensively are much closer than you might expect.

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Luis Severino will challenge any hitter brave enough to dig in against him. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The true difference that separates these clubs is pitching. New York has the fifth ranked pitching staff in all of MLB, and the Twins will get a taste of that when they face Severino on Tuesday. This young hurler is a strikeout artist in the making, and the Twins will most certainly be on their heels (or swinging from them).

And then there is Aaron Judge. What hasn’t already been said about this guy? He’s probably put together the greatest (arguably!) rookie season in the history of baseball. He will be looking to double down on his already growing reputation by stamping his name on Yankee postseason history like the greats that came before him.

My pick:

Look, I love an underdog and Minnesota is just that. New York will be heavy favorites but I’m taking Minnesota to win 5-4. On the back of a big day for the returning Miguel Sano, the Twins will find enough juice to do the unthinkable; break the Yankee Mystique.

 

Colorado @ Arizona

Probable Starters:

Colorado: Jon Gray (10-4) 3.67 ERA 9.1 K/9

Arizona: Zack Greinke (17-7) 3.20 ERA 9.6 K/9

Colorado edged out the Milwaukee Brewers by a slim margin to set up a fateful meeting between two teamsthat see each other often. Arizona leads the 19-game season series (11-8), but the teams split the season in Arizona winning five games each. The Rockies will be looking to turn the tables on Cy Young candidate Zack Grienke and his Diamondbacks teammates.

Why Colorado wins:

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Charlie Blackmon runs the bases in his spare time… probably. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Their offense. Colorado has some nice young pitchers who may well bloom in to a fine staff, but the name of the game for the Rockies is scoring runs and they do it well.

It’s not often you will see a lineup that boasts not one but two candidates for league MVP, but this is exactly what Colorado has in 3B Nolan Arenado and CF Charlie Blackmon. Arenado (.309/.373/.586) mashed 37 long balls and drove in 130 runs to keep with the tradition of strong seasons he’s already compiled. While Blackmon (.331/.399/.601) sent his own set of 37 baseballs into the lucky arms of those ball-wanting bleacher bums in the outfield cheap seats.

Jon Gray has been the best pitcher in Colorado’s (shaky at times) rotation. This 25-year-old hurler is the best chance they have at beating Arizona in a one-off game at Chase Field. In his last 11 starts, Gray is (7-2) with a 2.44 ERA.

Why Arizona wins:

Zack Greinke. If Greinke has his best stuff, it’s going to take a Harvey Haddix-esque fluke to derail Arizona’s hopes in this game. Greinke dominates with a heavy heater and a knee buckling curve that, year after year, make the best look weak. Over his last 11 starts though, he’s been a tad shaky at (4-3) with a 3.95 ERA. Of course, when those competitive juices get going though, Greinke should be able to get dialed right in.

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Few are as overpowering as the hard throwing Zack Greinke, but hey batter,
watch out for the hammer. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Also in Arizona, you will find an offense that can score at will. If they are feeling the groove at the plate, look out. Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldshchmidt has put together a MVP caliber (.297/.404/.563) season in the arid climes of Phoenix. In a crowded field though, Goldschmidt is a dark horse contender for the NL MVP. He likely won’t take home that hardware, but it doesn’t make his 120 RBI any less valuable to the fans or his team.

For those that don’t know, Arizona won it all in 2001. Backed by a pitching staff bolstered by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Diamondback fans will be hoping to catch a little of that lightning in a bottle once again in 2017.

My pick:

Greinke is too tough to solve for the Rockies. Zack’s recent run of performances haven’t looked that great, but giving up eight runs in a four inning outing will tend to do that. At any rate, Greinke rebounds with a dominant seven innings and the Diamnondbacks win 6-3 on a late Goldschmidt three-run tater.

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Boston CBS)

 

 

 

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