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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Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League 2017: Youngest Stars

 

The Arizona Fall League is a rite of passage for the very best of the best MLB prospects. Especially for those “kids” down on the farm.

This veritable “proving ground” for major league talent is one of the true gems of the prospect-to-pro pipeline. Every year, each of the 30 teams that make up Major League Baseball send a handful of their brightest up and comers to the desert for closer inspection versus a higher standard of opponent. So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the youngest stars of the Arizona Fall League. You may not know them now, but you soon will!

 

Glendale Desert Dogs

Feeder Clubs: White Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller, Age 21

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Finishing Level: Altoona Curve (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Mitch Keller has moved three levels in two seasons in the Pirates organization. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The No. 6 RHP prospect in baseball, Mitch Keller, will be turning out for Glendale this fall in Arizona. He boasts above average control as well as three projectable major league pitches in his fastball, curveball and changeup. Keller spent most his time this season (15 games) taking the hill for the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League. Over 15 starts he struck out over three batters for every one that he walked. His numbers only improved after getting called up to (AA) Altoona for his final six starts. Keller uses a blistering fastball that sits low-to-mid-90s with nasty sinking action, and above average 11-5 curve to make hitters look foolish.

Promoted to (AA) Altoona to finish out the season, this 21-year-old is mature beyond his years. Judging by the caliber of his well-advanced arsenal of three plus-pitches, this kid should continue rising through the Pirates system at break neck speed. Thus far, Keller has done all that’s been asked of him at every level and he will be looking to impress again in Arizona. For 2018, Keller should be start the season with (AA) Altoona, but he may not be there long. Should this young man continue to miss an epic number of bats at (AA) level, I would expect Keller to end 2018 in (AAA). He’s getting close Pirates fans!

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Cornelius Randolph, Age 20

Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Randolph, age 20, will be looking to develop his fielding skills even further this fall in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Phillies left fielding prospect Cornelius Randolph is not the biggest of players. What Randolph lacks in size however, he makes up with a good eye at the plate working a (.338) OBP in 122 games at (Advanced A) Clearwater. Randolph is a converted infielder who worked tirelessly in 2017 to improve his fielding ability in left field. Because his focus was on improving as a defender, his batting metrics may have taken a hit, yet he still posted a respectable (.250/.338/.402) for the season.

The key to Randolph making the majors is his bat, without question. Many scouts believe his average defensive ability will be overshadowed by a bat that wants to hit, and hit a ton. Touted as the best pure high school hitter in the 2015 MLB Draft, Randolph has done little to disappoint. His 2016 was largely a throwaway season while he battled injuries that kept him from really capitalizing on an inspiring 2015. However, in his latest campaign he mashed his way to a tie for fifth most homers in the Florida State League.

Considering the tender age of the  Phillies’ No. 12 prospect, it is not likely that he will be rushed up the ladder. He could possibly open the season at (AA) Reading depending on how the Phillies see him defensively. He already has a bat good enough for the level.

 

 

Peoria Javelinas

Feeder Clubs: Braves, Red Sox, Padres, Mariners, Blue Jays

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Andres Munoz, Age 18

Parent Club: San Diego Padres

2017 Finishing Level: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Do not be fooled by the baby-faced Andres Munoz, he wants nothing more than to blow you away with the heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Born in 1999, Munoz is easily the youngest player headed to the Arizona Fall League this October. At just 18 years of age, striking out hitters is not the issue for Munoz. No, hitting the strike zone consistently is. Blessed with electric stuff well beyond what is expect from a teenager, he has had a heck of a time reigning in his pitches and throwing consistent strikes. At 18 though, time is smiling on this young hurler.

With a clean easy motion to the plate, Munoz just needs to find his rhythm and learn to repeat his delivery time after time. Munoz has easy gas, with his fastball exploding out of his hand toward the plate with seemingly little effort. If this kid can iron out the kinks in his game, he could become a dominant pitcher in the majors sooner than later. Munoz is the youngest player on any Arizona Fall League roster in 2017 and after watching him throw you can understand why he’s there. Expect Andres to be toeing the rubber for (Low A) Fort Wayne in the Midwest League come spring 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Ronald Acuna, Age 19

Parent Club: Atlanta Braves

2017 Finishing Level: Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

 

Arizona Fall League

If you don’t yet know about Ronald Acuna, you will very soon. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Oh, hot dog! Do I even need to talk about Acuna? I mean, really? Everyone knows this guy by now, right? Look, just the fact he’s on this list should have pitchers everywhere soiling themselves.

Ok, so considering that many of the top ten prospects have mostly graduated to the big leagues (that were ahead of Acuna), this kid should be at the top of the heap come 2018. The No. 5 prospect in all of baseball did everything in his power to make the jump to the majors in 2017. At 19 years of age and with his parent club struggling to win games, the Braves decided to halt his progression at (AAA) Gwinnett. It was a smart move, especially if you regularly attend Gwinnett Braves games. All he did there in 54 games is put up an insane (.344/.393/.548) line, sending baseballs into orbit at a regular pace.

Acuna is just latest Venezuelan to take MLB by storm, well the minors anyway. Acuna’s measurables are out of sight. This is a true 5-tool player by every sense of the word with his blazing speed, howitzer arm, and big bat. Exciting times are afoot in Hot-lanta folks! I mean, this kid did nothing but perform at each level he was at this year. What’s more is that his numbers improved at every stop along the way. Next stop for Acuna in 2018? The Show.

 

 

Scottsdale Scorpions

Feeder Clubs: Reds, Angels, Yankees, Mets, Giants

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Justus Sheffield, Age 21

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Trenton Thunder (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Justus Sheffield is not related to Gary Sheffield. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The first of two LHP on the list of youngest Arizona Fall League stars, Justus Sheffield is also the No. 6 rated prospect down on the farm. Sheffield is another fireballer on this list that can reach back and grab a 96-mph comet, but will usually sit around the 92-93 mph range. Boasting a curbeball and changeup that are projectable big league pitches, the short in stature Sheffield is certainly long on talent. However, he does have work to do in Arizona. This future Yankee needs to learn to consistently get his above average repertoire over the plate for strikes. If he can master his control, the sky’s the limit for Justus.

Sheffield spent the bulk of 2017 in (AA) with the Trenton Thunder except for two rehab starts in (A) ball. In 17 starts for Trenton, the young hurler went 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA over 93.1 innings of ball. His strike out tally is fantastic at 82, and his walks, while still at 3.1 BB/9, have come down dramatically from seasons past. If Sheffield continues to progress, he should arrive in the majors before the turn of the next decade. For now though, he’ll most likely break camp as a member of the (AAA) rotation in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Estevan Florial, Age 19

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Tampa Yankees (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Estevan Florial may strike out a ton, but he’ll happily take you yard in return. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Florial is an intriguing 19-year-old signed from the island nation of Haiti in 2015. This kid could be the center fielder of the future for New York, and it might not be much longer before he stakes his claim to a position once held by Mantle and DiMaggio. Now, this isn’t to say Estevan Florial is in the same mold as those two legendary players, but his talent is undeniable.

At the plate Florial seemingly has all the tools to be an excellent major leaguer. He’s fast, he’s got pop, and he’s not afraid to take a walk. In his first season of Class A baseball, Florial posted a (.298/.372/.479) line across both high and lower levels. While his sample size from (Advanced A) is small at only 19 games, he sported an (.855) OPS over 91 games for (Low A) Charleston. He has some holes in his swing and does whiff a lot, but he also walks a lot (once every 8.4 AB) suggesting that, as he develops, the K’s will come down. At any rate, this young slugging center fielder is poised to start 2018 at (AA) Trenton. Only time will tell if he can grasp the strike zone better as he gets a little older.

 

 

Mesa Solar Sox

Feeder Clubs: Cubs, Tigers, Astros, Athletics, Nationals

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Nolan Blackwood, Age 22

Parent Club: Oakland Athletics

2017 Finishing Level: Stockton Ports (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Nolan Blackwood shuts the light off when he leaves. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Nolan Blackwood is a stopper. I mean, this kid can slam a door. Unlike most of the other pitchers on this list, Blackwood is one thing, a harbinger of death to your team’s chances to win. The 2016 14th round draft selection out of Memphis has a scary frame at 6-foot-5 with plenty of room left to fill it out. Oakland always seems to have a top-notch pitcher or two working their way through the farm, and Blackwood is no exception.

Blackwood spent all of 2017 in (Advanced A) ball, shutting down games for the Stockton Ports. Sure, he had a 1-5 record. Sure, he had a 3.00 ERA, but it’s what he did with the game on the line that matters most. In 20 chances to turn out the lights on the opposition, he did so successfully 19 times. As he learns more and puts on more lean muscle, his K/9 should reflect that, although his 7.58 K/9 in 2017 are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is his 1.05 WHIP. Blackwood is slated to begin 2018 at (AA) Midland, in the Texas League.

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: 1B/LF Yordan Alvarez, Age 20

Parent Club: Houston Astros

2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Yordan Alvarez, monstrous young left-handed hitter with jaw dropping pop. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Yordan Alvarez arrived in the Houston farm system via trade with the Dodgers in 2016. Alvarez is a slugger that translates to either left field or first base. While not exceptional with the leather, Alvarez does possess a very good arm in the field. He has been playing in left for much of 2017, but in the Arizona Fall League, he’s penciled in to man first base. At 6-foot-5 225 lbs. the left-handed slugger seems to be destined to play first in the majors.

Alvarez, Houston’s No. 26 ranked prospect has explosive raw power at the plate as shown by his first 32 games at the (Low A) level. Playing for the Quad Cities River Bandits, he mashed (.360/.468/.658) over 111 AB. With nothing left to prove, Houston promoted him to (Advanced A) Buies Creek where his numbers came back to earth with the step up in pitching. Despite only being 20 years old, Alvarez still managed to hack out a (.277/.329/.393) line. Not bad for a player as young as Yordan. Look for Alvarez to be back in the lineup for the Buies Creek Astros at the start of the 2018 campaign.

 

 

Salt River Rafters

Feeder Clubs: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Keegan Akin, Age 22

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Frederick Keys (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

“If you blink, you will miss it.” Is what the baseball cornfield gods say about Akin’s heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Keegan Akin is one half of Baltimore’s contribution to the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. Ryan Mountcastle is the other, but more on him in just a minute.

Akin is a LHP blessed with a fastball that looks more like a vapor trail than it does a ball. The 22-year-old was a second-round pick by Baltimore in 2016 and is coming off his first full professional season at (Advanced A) Frederick. While his numbers might not jump off the page at you right away, there is still a lot to look at. First and foremost being his beastly 10 K/9 stuff. His electric fastball lit up opposing batters while his slider and changeup are both major league projectable pitches. Known for his ability to get nasty, he peppers the strike zone with ease leaving little doubts that the Orioles see him as a starting pitcher for the future.

Baltimore’s No. 8 ranked prospect is not far off getting the call to the show if he continues to improve his secondary pitches. His inability to fully harness his secondary stuff led to a 4.1 BB/9 rate, but as he learns how to pitch to better hitters his walk totals should begin to come back to earth. Orioles fans should be anxiously awaiting the arrival of this left-handed cannon. What level Akin might start at in 2018 is anyone’s guess, it could depend on how he does in the Arizona Fall League. Frederick or (AA) Bowie are his likely landing spots after camp breaks in March 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 2B Ryan Mountcastle, Age 20

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Bowie Bay Sox (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Baltimore’s 2015 first-round pick, Ryan Mountcastle, has had a meteoric rise through the minors so far. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Mountcastle is currently the No. 3 prospect in Baltimore’s farm system. At the moment, Baltimore is still holding out hope that this young man can overcome his below average arm strength and stick at short stop. While questions remain about Mountcastle in the field, there are little doubts in the scouting community that he will hit for both power and average at the big-league level. Ryan is a tall prospect with room left on his frame for further growth. And that is scary news for American League pitchers.

In 88 games of (Advanced A) baseball he posted an impressive (.314/.343/.542) line, while smashing 15 round trippers along the way. It was precisely this type of production that ultimately won him promotion to (AA) Bowie, finishing the season against much older competition. Though Mountcastle struggled to come to terms with Double-A pitching in his first 39 games for the Bay Sox (.222/.239/.366), he will almost certainly start 2018 there. This kid is truly one for the future. Get out there to the Arizona Fall League games and take a peek.

 

 

 

Surprise Saguaros

Feeder Clubs: Royals, Twins, Cardinals, Rays, Rangers

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Jordan Hicks, Age 21

Parent Club: St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Finishing Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League 2017

Hicks has eye popping velocity, and a heavy sinking action on his fastball. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

At just 21, Jordan Hicks already has a fastball that would likely leave an exit hole the size of Pluto if it hit you.On top of a fastball that sits in the lower 90’s (but can ramp up to 98 mph), this young fireballer also has an above average curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch for him in the bigs. Jordan started 2017 with the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League taking the mound in 14 games and posting a healthy 8-2 record while fanning 63 batters along the way.

He has some control issues to sort out, but upon his promotion to (Advanced A) Palm Beach he saw his BB/9 shrink from (4.5) in Peoria to a respectable (2) in his first 27 innings of Florida State League ball. Though the sample is small, this youngster seems to have found another gear with his step up in competition. The Card’s No. 14 prospect posted 32 strike outs and only 21 hits in eight appearances at the (Advanced A) level. On the back of that performance the Cardinals promoted young Jordan to (AA) Springfield in August, though he didn’t log any innings due to late season injury. Expect Hicks to be a key component to Springfield’s rotation in 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 3B Kevin Padlo, Age 21

Parent Club: Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Kevin Padlo is rated as Tampa Bay’s No. 28 prospect. (photo courtesty of: MiLB.com)

Kevin was originally a fifth-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, the organization he played for in his first two minor league seasons. By January 2016 however, he found himself part of the deal that sent LF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in exchange for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez. Though Padlo struggled some at the plate this year posting (.215/.321/.380) across two levels of minor league ball, there is a lot to like about this young man.

While his batting average might seem low, his (.321) OBP suggests a keen eye, that with more experience should translate to a solid average and 20-homer power. At only 21 years of age, the Rays’ No. 28 prospect already possesses a defensive tool set at the hot corner you would normally expect to find on a player much older. Where he could start 2018 might depend on what he does in Arizona this fall, but as it stands now all signs point to another season in Charlotte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)

 

 

 

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10-year peak WAR

What is 10-Year Peak WAR?

Just when you thought you had enough stats to last a lifetime someone had to come along and muck up the works with 10-year peak WAR.

As the most rabid of baseball stat junkies will tell you, wins above replacement (WAR) is a measure of performance that sets a player against the cumulative league averages to determine how much better or worse that player is compared to the “next best” option. Examining peak WAR as it is used currently, raises questions with about the validity of a player’s “peak” seasons as expressed through the 7-year peak WAR statistic.

My problem with 7-year peak WAR is that it does not give you a player’s peak production. It only tells you what his seven best statistical seasons were regarding wins above replacement. This is wrong for a couple of reasons. Allow me to explain my reasoning.

Peak is Prime

10-year peak WAR

Statistical anomaly, Brett Favre. (Photo courtesy of: The Guardian)

To me, peak is synonymous with a player’s physical prime. I would like to find common ground here because I hate to break it to the hardcore stat guys, peak does not mean seven best seasons. The definition of peak should be the same as talking about a player’s prime years, or when he is at his physical apex.

Settle down and let me finish before you go dusting off those torches. Don’t go thinking problems with peak WAR as it is currently considered is a challenge to WAR itself. Wins above replacement is very useful, especially when gauging a player’s Cooperstown credentials. My problem is with the way it is calculated with respects to a player’s peak.

I have spent countless hours poring over player data and calculating my own version of “peak WAR” and my application isn’t what might be usually expected. It’s hardly an attempt at reinventing the wheel though. Think of it as a minor tweak in how we view a player’s peak production. I must also add; the Cooperstown inductees have nothing to fear.

When looking at the peak of a pro-ballplayer, I don’t need to know what his seven best WAR seasons are, nor do I care. No, what I need to know is how well he performed through his physical peak. Here’s an example showing exactly what’s trying to be conveyed. Brett Favre in 2009 put up the greatest season of his entire career at 40-years old. Now tell me this, is this a guy in his peak? Or, is this an outlier of a season that happened outside of his physical peak? I’m going with the latter folks.

Let me get to the nuts and bolts. What I mean by physical peak is this: what is the player(s) production over his age 23-33 seasons when he is the strongest, fastest and fittest that he will ever be?

10-Year Peak WAR

10-year peak WAR

Not even Dave “Mr. May” Winfield had a higher 10-year peak than Koufax. (Photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

Why pick 10 years as a sample? Firstly, this examination of peak WAR should only be used as a measure for Hall of Fame standards. The way I apply WAR should never be used on active players, unless you are comparing them with the career trajectory of a legend.

As I look at more and more data, those 10 years (23-33) look to be the general peak ages a player does his most damage. Granted there are players that don’t fit that criteria exactly, but these standards of peak envisioned here don’t care about that. If you enter the game at 24 years of age, like Kirby Puckett did for example, I take that as being a peak season. The reasoning is this, Hall of Fame players generally get to the bigs earlier and they stay longer.

Players should be rewarded for their production in their “non-peak” years as well. In my application of WAR, I generate two classes: 10-year peak WAR and Non-peak WAR. All 11 seasons that fall between a player’s age 23-33 seasons are his 10-year peak, and all other seasons up to age 22, and all seasons post-age 33 are calculated to be his non-peak WAR.

These calculations of 10-year peak WAR vs. Non-peak WAR speaks to one thing. Career Longevity. This is not to say that a player cannot be Hall of Fame worthy after playing a limited number of years, but generally, we all know that you need at least a decade of dominant play on your resume to get in to Cooperstown.

There are exceptions to every rule of course, but how many Sandy Koufax’s are there exactly? Koufax, by my system, had eight seasons of his 10-year prime only, and yet still managed a (50.2) WAR over that stretch.

It only becomes more impressive when you realize that in eight seasons from age 23-30, Koufax still put up better 10-year peak WAR than did Molitor, Stargell, Winfield and Puckett along with many more.

Non-peak WAR

10-year peak WAR

Paul Molitor has the highest non-peak WAR among HOF third basemen. (Photo courtesy of: Star Tribune)

This is where examining peak WAR takes a twist. A player should be rewarded for his length of career. If a player makes it to the bigs at 21 for instance, those first two seasons while he’s developing are tacked on to whatever production he shows from age 34 until retirement. This is what I call Non-peak WAR.

Consider my application of WAR as I have outlined it so far. What I am essentially doing, is saying how good were these guys, and for how long? I am favoring career length as much as I am favoring the player’s overall production and worth to his team. Trust me, the Hall of Famers still stand out. Start doing some calculations if you don’t believe me.

If you are a purest like me, Cooperstown isn’t for those that burn out after five seasons (unless you’re ridiculous like Koufax), Cooperstown is for those that do it better and do it longer. In case you are wondering what Sandy’s Non-peak WAR was, it was (3) and that’s not a typo either. The fact that Koufax made the Hall is a testament to how great he actually was.

Consider Paul Molitor. From 1980 through 1990, Molitor posted a (41.3) WAR. That’s damn good. But it’s also off the pace of Hall of Fame standards for third basemen using this version of 10-year peak WAR by nearly 10-points. It’s what Molitor did in those other 10 of his 21 big league seasons that truly sets him apart. His Non-peak WAR (34.2) is over two-times higher than Hall standard at his position (15.9). Molitor’s Non-peak WAR is so good, it puts him as the best of all time at third base in Non-peak WAR by nearly 9-points over Mike Schmidt’s (25.6) Non-peak WAR.

What it Means

10-year peak WAR

Larry Walker breaks toward first after making contact. (Photo courtesy of: Denver Post)

There really is no solid indicator for career longevity. Especially when you isolate a player’s seven best seasons irrespective of when they occurred in a player’s career chronologically. Those who play a shorter amount of time are going to have to be so good they won’t be denied. Like Koufax.

Falling short on one end of these WAR calculations isn’t scuttling a player’s shot at the Hall. But it is putting them to a higher standard to truly dominate for the brief moments they are playing.

What is harsh though, is Larry Walker only getting 21.9 percent of the vote in the most recent Hall of Fame voting. On his seventh ballot, mind you. Here’s a guy that finished with a 10-year peak WAR of (49.4) and a Non-peak WAR of (23.3). Not bad considering Hall average for RF is (52.6/20.6) by my system.

Walker is off the 10-year peak WAR of right fielders by 3-points, but he’s above Non-peak production by nearly 3-points. How is Walker not getting more than 1 in 5 Hall votes? And please, do not give me that, “He played in Colorado!” crap either. I’m not having it, where a player takes the field for their home games should not be looked upon as a sin. Furthermore, if that’s the standard we’re going by I feel bad for any great player that calls Coors Field home. Let’s not make Larry Walker another snub job that the Veterans Committee is going to have to fix.

Like the Alan Trammell debacle.

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

 

 

 

 

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Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers: Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers find themselves 3.5 games behind Chicago Cubs in race for the NL Central division crown with 12 to play; also gain on idle Colorado.

In most seasons, it is with little fanfare the weeks of September pass lazily by for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans. But wait! Hold on! To quote the fictitious Lou Brown “We’re contenders now.” Please allow me to gush about a team none of us saw coming.

Hell, I thought the Brewers last meaningful game would be on or around the first of May! I bet you did too.

Millennials Don’t Understand

Milwaukee Brewers

Legendary fictitious manager, Lou Brown. (Photo courtesy of: bloguin.com)

Many of the younger Brewers fans can’t recall how terrible this club has historically performed. They can’t wrap their heads around how brutal the dual division format was. There was a time when winning 100 games and missing the playoffs actually happened. Yes, really. They can’t feel the disappointment of finishing with 91 wins and being shut out of the playoffs.

The American League East was a meat-grinder in the 1980s. Millennials just don’t remember how hard losing out to the Red Sox by 2 games in 1988 was. This youngest generation of Brewers fans has been spoiled in comparison to us who are getting a little long in tooth these days.

I have to just shake my head at those who are overly pessimistic about the prospects of seeing meaningful October baseball in Milwaukee. Look alive out there! The Brewers are still in this thing!

Sure, at 3.5 games back they have their work cut out for them. But with 12 games left to play and with four at home against the Cubbies, all bets are off. Sure, they need to be almost perfect to take the NL Central crown but what would you rather be doing right now? Talking about the postseason? Or having a round table debate on how fast the Brewers will move Keston Hiura through the farm system? I know what I pick.

The Beermakers have had fairly consistent playoff baseball to look forward to since they slump busted their way to the 2008 postseason. Granted, they lost out in five to the Phillies in the NLDS but nobody will ever take away that lone series win for Dave Bush. Put that one in your pocket Dave, it’s yours to keep forever.

Ok, so the Milwaukee Brewers have not exactly been perennial playoff contenders like St. Louis and the New York Yankees. What the Brewers have done in the last decade however, is double their playoff appearances from two to four. This was all a long time coming too, 26 years between postseason berths is far too long.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s were the decade of bad music (disco) and horrendous Brewers baseball. From 1970, the Brewers’ inaugural season in Milwaukee, through 1977 they won an average of 69 ballgames. Over that span they put up an atrocious (.427) win percentage. Yikes!

Milwaukee Brewers

Unlikely playoff winner Dave Bush floats one in there. (Photo courtesy of: NY Daily News)

The only thing golden about this period of Milwaukee Brewers team history is George Scott’s five consecutive gold glove seasons manning first base.

After the 1977 season concluded Harry Dalton was hired as GM. This keen hire would ultimately change the hard luck fortunes of Milwaukee’s annual celebration of futility when Dalton wasted no time in hiring new manager George Bamberger.

The change in Milwaukee was sudden. In 1978 the upstart Brewers would post not only their first winning season, but suddenly found themselves in the thick of the AL East pennant race. They would romp to a franchise high 93 wins. However, Bambi’s Bombers would fail to bring the pennant home, finishing in third place behind Boston and soon to be World Champion New York.

As suddenly as this renaissance had taken place however, it appeared to be over when Bamberger suffered a heart attack at spring training in 1980. Bamberger would return after having surgery to repair his condition but he would not finish the season at the helm, resigning his post September 7, 1980.

Oh No! We Suck Again!

While it must have been a thrilling time in the early 1980s for Milwaukee Brewers fans, the period from 1993-2006 was anything but.

After the Brewers won 92 games in 1992 to finish four games off the pace of eventual world champion Toronto,

Milwaukee Brewers

The inspiring Davy Lopes. (Photo courtesy of: Reuters)

an era of 12 uninterrupted losing seasons ensued.

If you’re too young to remember much of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1990s, you aren’t missing much. Those teams left scars, man.

Perhaps no scar is uglier and more painful than the 2002 season.

This was the era of Davy Lopes. I’m sure Davy is a good guy in person, I wouldn’t know I’ve never met him. But his teams were a dumpster fire and of course, the front office had plenty to do with that too. I swear Davy Lopes was sleeping in the dugout during most games. And why not? After all, Glendon Rusch doesn’t really inspire anyone but the opposing fans dreaming of catching a home run ball. My god, their odds of catching one had to be about 50-50 when he took the hill, the bleacher seats were more like an artillery practice range.

We Brewer fans didn’t bring gloves to those games. Hell no. You wouldn’t dare. You brought your hard hat or didn’t come back. That’s just how it was.

Oh 2002, how I loathe you. It’s like a bad ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The memory always there, haunting you, laughing at you. Reminding you just how bad things were. That’s how it feels to witness a 106-loss season finally cave in on itself, forever buried in the past. No grave marker, no eulogy. Just gone. Dust to dust baby, dust to dust.

Milwaukee Brewers Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers are contenders, so don’t be sad. Definitely don’t be that guy. Nobody thought they would be here right now 3.5 behind the Cubs with a fateful four game series on tap for the weekend but only the most delusional among us (don’t worry we love your foresight). Yet, here we are and you’re going to have to deal with the Brewers if you want the NL Central.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee’s first playoff team stands for the national anthem in 1981. (Photo courtesy of: onmilwaukee.com)

The Brewers right now are surviving in Pittsburgh hoping to keep pace with Chicago after taking two of three from Miami on the “road” at Miller Park. If that is a bone of contention for you, I urge you to please, contact the MLB office. I’m sure you’ll be the first knucklehead they’ve heard from too! Get over it, it’s done. I mean, it’s not like a hurricane was threatening to sink Miami or anything.

Losing Jimmy Nelson has hurt, he was just starting to get locked in and it’s an absolute shame that we’ve lost him. You know this guy wants nothing more than to be on that mound, trusting in his grind. I feel bad for him. But be that as it may the Brewers are not done, they are contenders now.

And you know what? I am not even going to hide my homerism here. How can I? It took 26 years at one point in my life already to suckle the sweet, sweet nectar of glorious October baseball. And let’s get real, postseason baseball is a white unicorn for anyone rocking the hottest gear in sports. The ball and glove logo of the Milwaukee Brewers is by far the best logo in MLB for sure, hands down.

And for the love of god, please don’t be like Randy Quaid’s rendition of “angry Indians fan” from Major League II.

Milwaukee historically doesn’t play many meaningful games this late in the year, and winter is coming folks. The long frigid winter. It chills my bones just thinking about it because we very rarely get to warm ourselves by the hot stove either. I urge you all to put aside the speculation on who the next Eric Thames-esque signing is going to be next January. That’s seriously about as much fun to think about as getting a root canal by a meth-head dentist who has since graduated to PCP. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Let’s hold on to our boys of summer just a little bit longer! I’m headed over to Milwaukee this Saturday and I don’t even have a ticket yet.

What’s your excuse?

 

(feature photo courtesy of: gorillabaseball.com)

 

 

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National League DH

Why the National League needs a designated hitter

As a classic baseball fan, it is hard to say this, but it is time for the National League to adopt a designated hitter position. This has been a topic of conversation ever since the American League established a DH in 1973. However, many have been resistant to the new position because baseball needs to remain pure.

Pitchers are getting hurt

National League DH

Nelson hurt his shoulder sliding back into first base (Photo from MLB)

Jimmy Nelson is the latest pitcher to go down with a non-pitching injury. This is a huge blow for the Milwaukee Brewers as they just swept the Cubs at Wrigley in a pivotal NL Central showdown. The Brewers were out of the division race after getting swept by the Reds, but they did what they had to do to get two games behind Chicago.

Other big name pitchers have also been getting hurt on the base paths unnecessarily. Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett are all big name pitchers who have been hurt on the base paths. After their injuries, Wainwright and Scherzer both expressed an open mind to a DH in the NL.

The Nelson injury is a tough pill to swallow for Craig Counsell and company. Nelson was in the midst of a career year and was the ace of an otherwise mediocre rotation. He is on the Brewers to shut down opposing offenses, not leg out doubles.

It is easy to say this is a gross overreaction to an injury that just went down over the weekend, and it may be. The first base coach wouldn’t have tried to send him if he knew what was going to happen, but hindsight is 20/20 of course. However, is it really necessary to put pitchers at risk when they are not in the league to hit?

Pitchers can’t hit

National League DH

Pitchers will only continue to get worse as time goes on (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Having pitchers batting can be very exciting at times. One of the best moments in recent memory was when Bartolo Colon mashed his first career home run at the ripe age of 43.

Another show stopper is Madison Bumgarner, who seems to be able to hit the ball as far as most players in the league. However, pitchers like Bumgarner don’t grow on trees.

According to fangraphs.com, the 2014 slash line for pitchers as hitters was .122/.153/.153. Is that entertaining to watch? Can anyone really argue why that is worth keeping in the lineup? That is not just bad, it is atrocious.

The only real purpose that pitchers serve at the plate is bunting runners over. That is when small ball comes into play, and it can be really helpful when moving runners over for the top of the lineup.

The one thing that is always hard to watch is when a team mounts a rally. Imagine a scenario where a team is down 2-0 in the fifth with runners on second and third and one out. The eighth place hitter comes up to the plate with the pitcher on deck. What would any sensible manager do? They would walk to get to the pitcher of course. That way the fans of the offense just hope that the pitcher strikes out so it doesn’t run the risk of grounding into a double play.

The point of the scenario though is that pitchers can be a real rally killer, which is always hard to see. Remember the slash line for pitchers in 2014? Well, the slash line of the worst hitter in the NL that year, Melvin Upton, was a much more respectable .208/.287/.333 comparatively. Who would you rather have in that nine hole when an important opportunity for runs comes up in the middle of the game?

The DH leads to more excitement

National League DH

If it wasn’t for the DH, Big Papi may not mean the same thing as it does now
(Photo by John Macki of the Boston Globe)

As someone who has followed the National League for the most part, it is always strange to watch interleague play. Once the NL team gets closer to the end of the lineup, it is easy to write off the the ninth spot as an automatic out. What is refreshing to see is that they never reach that gap in the lineup that pitchers usually provide.

What is also nice to see is players that are not as mobile as they used to be can still provide a pop in the lineup in AL formats. That is why older hitters may look to move to the American League. If you average out all the major stats from qualified designated hitters this season, you will get a slash line of .253/.323/.443 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs.

The DH gives older hitters the chance to focus on what they are good at rather than a hitter that will get one hit every ten at-bats.

There will be resistance

Baseball players as well as fans are very much stubborn when it comes to their beloved game. Baseball is most famous for its unwritten rules and history behind it. That is why many people will be extremely reluctant to the idea of a DH in the National League.

Many baseball purists say that big changes to the game like this are more likely to push away current fans rather than bring in new ones. That is a hard argument to keep up though since viewership didn’t go down after the AL introduced the DH, and replay review has improved correct calls significantly.

It will be a hard adjustment to make, but a designated hitter will lead to a better product on the field.

 

Featured image from Yahoo Sports

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Dodgers

What NL team has the best shot at dethroning the Dodgers?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the creme of the crop in baseball right now. No other team looks remotely close to reaching their level of dominance. However, we have seen teams like this before. The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, but lost in five to the Yankees who only had 95 wins in the playoffs. That means these regular season super teams can be touched.

The Dodgers are only 4-4 in their last eight games. This may be because Cody Bellinger has been on the DL, but he will be coming back on Wednesday. The 4-4 “skid” may also be a sign that the Dodgers are not as untouchable as we all thought. While they are still the highlight of baseball this year, here is a look at National League teams that could have a shot of keeping the Dodgers away from the World Series for the 29th consecutive season.

Washington Nationals

Dodgers

Harper’s absence has not slowed the Nationals down (USA Today)

The Nationals have been without their star since the 12th of August. However, Washington has managed to stay more than afloat with an 8-5 record. They are a lock for October at this point as they are 12 games up on the second place Marlins.

Washington has proved that they have the depth that is needed in order to do well in the postseason, unlike in the past. Part of the reason for that is because of their acquisitions at the trade deadline.

Howie Kendrick has been spectacular since joining the Nats as he has slashed .341/.374/.600 slugging percentage since being traded and has five home runs.

Sean Doolittle has also been bolstering the previously struggling bullpen. Other than a three-run blemish against the Brewers, he has been all the Nationals could have asked for. The team has also won in every appearance he has made.

How can the Nationals beat the Dodgers? Well if these teams were to meet in the postseason, it would be in a must-see NLCS showdown. The Nationals have the second best rotation in the NL after the Dodgers. The return of Max Scherzer also gives Washington some hope in that category. Clayton Kershaw historically is not nearly as good in the postseason as he is during the regular season. The Nats may have the edge in a Kershaw vs Scherzer matchup.

The Nationals also have their shortstop, Trea Turner, returning from injury. Once he is back to the mix along with Harper, the Nationals ought to give the Dodgers a run for their money if they meet in October.

Chicago Cubs

Dodgers

Lester has the postseason poise to give the Dodgers a run for their money (Photo by dailyherald.com)

The boys from the north side have been having a relatively rough year. Last season they managed to win the NL Central handily with a 103-58 record. Chicago looked to be the team to beat this year as well. There was no reason to think Joe Maddon’s ball club would regress at all. It did however.

Much of the regression can be credited to a weak starting rotation and an underperforming offense. The Cubs have the fifth worst rotation in the National League despite the fact they have Lester and Arrieta.

They addressed the rotation problem by trading their best prospect, Eloy Jiminez, to the cross-town rivals for Jose Quintana. Quintana looked very promising as he pitched a scoreless seven innings with 12 strikeouts in his first start. Things were looking up for the Cubs, but Quintana has gone back up to a 4.50 ERA since joining the Cubs.

Kyle Schwarber did not play for Chicago for most of last year. However, they were relying on him big time this year to be the big bat they know he could be. It would round out their stud hitters in Bryant and Rizzo. He has not lived up to expectations though as he was sent down for a Triple-A stint in June.

Wilson Contreras was a nice surprise for them as he was the best hitter on the team since the All-Star break before going down with a hamstring injury. He should be back by the end of September though.

The Cubs are on this list because they have the potential to beat the Dodgers in October. However, they are no guarantee to reach the postseason. They are only 2.5 games in front of the Brewers at the moment, so they still have a division race to be concerned with. The thing is that if the Brewers win the division, it will be highly unlikely they would be able to beat the Dodgers or even face them.

The reason why the Cubs are here is because they have the kind of talent that could breakout at any time. They have one of the most threatening lineups top to bottom when healthy. If the hitters show up, then they have a shot.

The rotation is also in good shape for the postseason. Lackey and Lester are both experienced playoff pitchers, and Lester may be one of the best in recent memory. Thus, we know they have the potential to go head-to-head with the Dodgers rotation if they do meet.

Arizona Diamondbacks

It’s difficult to believe that a team that is 19 games out of first place in their division in August is going to make the playoffs. At the moment though, Arizona has the best bet to take the first wild card spot.

Arizona would feasibly meet with the Dodgers in the NLDS. Zack Greinke would hypothetically start the Wild Card game, so they would not be able to get two starts out of him if need be against the Dodgers.

Arizona has been able to match up with the Dodgers okay this season. They are 5-8 against the best team in the league but three of those losses came in the last series they played. Arizona has also been an excellent home team so if they can manage to win one in Los Angeles if they play in the NLDS, then they have a shot at doing something.

The Diamondbacks do not have the same kind of firepower as the Dodgers do of course. They do have Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke who can put up a fight against Los Angeles. They also have Paul Goldschmidt who is a perennial MVP candidate at this point who can take the Dodgers for a ride. However, it is unlikely that they could prevent the Dodgers from moving on especially with the Wild Card game being played.

The reason the Diamondbacks made it on the list is because they have not been pushed around by the Dodgers nearly as much as other teams have. Arizona also has the capability of going on a role at any time, so if they can manage to get hot in late September then the Dodgers ought to be on the lookout.

Will the Dodgers win the NL?

Oddsmakers would give a heavy advantage to Los Angeles moving onto the Fall Classic. However, with the history there is in dominate regular season teams and their performance in the postseason, it could be easy to see the Dodgers losing in the NLCS.

The Cubs and the Nationals have the talent that can match up with the Dodgers pretty well, so the Dodgers should not coast into the playoffs for any reason. Either way, these matchups ought to be must-see come October.

 

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Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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MLB trade deadline: NL contenders moves to stay in first

The trade deadline is only five days away. After diving into what AL contenders must do to stay in first place, let’s jump into what NL contenders need to do.

Washington Nationals

This team could do exactly what it has been doing and it would stay in first place. The Nationals have a 11.5-game lead going into Tuesday night’s games and Hotlanta would need a miracle to catch up.

The problem in our nation’s capital has not been getting to the playoffs, but getting to the World Series. With that in mind they still desperately need bullpen help.

The Nationals made a deal to get Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the A’s about a week ago. This has obviously been a great upgrade for them but they still could use at least one more rock solid piece to give them the best chance in October.

In steps, no not Brad Hand (Padres want way too much for him), A.J. Ramos. The Marlins have not been able to put it together for the last two years and their team is up for sale in two different ways (let us pray that the baseball gods will rid the MLB of Jeffery Loria).

MLB Trade Deadline: nl contenders

Courtesy of: Faketeams.com

A.J. Ramos is a hot target, but from it sounds like he is not as expensive as other relievers like Hand and the Reds’ Raisel Iglesias are. He is also having a down year compared to his normal for his career, so he may end up costing even less than he would have last year.

As far as his contract goes, he is still owed some of his $6.5 million and is arbitration eligible next year. So, he has some team control but would could cost a bit more next year.

Taking this all into consideration, the Nationals need to try to make this deal. Their farm system is weaker due to the deals they have already done in the last year. But most people are hearing that they will not give up top prospect Victor Robles.

Right now most of the top Marlins top prospects are pitchers and outfielders so it is likely that they would like some infielders to go along with them or just more pitching.

I can see the trade being A.J. Ramos to the Nationals for Carter Kieboom (SS), Drew Ward (3B) and a hard throwing pitching prospect outside of the Nationals top 30 prospects. While this may seem like a lot, let’s look back at what Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman cost last year. Relievers are valued very highly (overpriced in my opinion) but at least three prospects seems to be the standard for closers and other top tier bullpen pieces.

Milwaukee Brewers

MLB Trade Deadline: nl contenders

Courtesy of: Nolanwritin.com

Raise your hand if you picked the Brewers to be in first place in July. No one? Yeah, me neither. This team has played well and some of their pieces are melding together very well. Some players may be a bit of a fluke, but overall their young players are really looking solid. The problem is that they are in the same division as the Cubs.

The Brewers should actually sell. It sounds crazy, but they are doing well and have an amazing farm system to boot. They won’t go far in the playoffs this year so it doesn’t make sense to trade away strong assets for rentals.

That said, this is a piece about staying in first place and if they want any chance at holding off the Cubs, then they will have to make a move.

Their biggest weakness is their starting pitching. While some of them have good records such as Zach Davies at 11-4, only Chase Andreson has an ERA below 3.45. There are some good options out there, and if the Brewers can get someone for the right price, then they will make the trade. This means staying out of what will probably be a bidding war for Sonny Gray.

While his ERA might not be exactly what they are looking for, he does provide experience and a lively arm. Andrew Cashner would be a relatively cheap rental and a player that most have forgotten was a big trading chip for the last few years. It also helps that everyone else will be focused on Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray.

Marcos Diplan (RHP) and a player to be named later would get this deal done. The Brewers would take on the rest of his salary which is not cheap, but they would not be giving up much in terms of prospects. Cashner would appease those who want the Brewers to make a move and would slot in well as another solid veteran along side Matt Garza.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs may not be in first place, but they are just a half game out.

MLB Trade Deadline: nl contenders

Photo: Athelticsnation.com

The Cubs are the defending World Series champs and until recently they have not been playing like it. Luckily they are in a very weak central division (sorry Brewers fans). They also already made a big trade getting Jose Quintana and at this point their farm system is depleted.

Considering all of that it, seems like the Cubs will do whatever they have to do to make it back to the Series. Their bats are coming back to life and Jose Quintana was the shot in the arm the rotation needed.

But if they had to make a move, it might be worth going back to the rotation. John Lackey has been a great pitcher for a long time, but age is catching up to him. His ERA is the second highest it has ever been and his strikeouts are down. While he has said he would not move to the bullpen, it may end up being that or getting let go.

The Cubs have one prospect in the top 100, Jeimer Candelario (3B/1B). Would they be willing to give him up? From the looks of things, they could. He plays two positions that are taken up by the two biggest stars in Bryant and Rizzo. With that in mind, Sonny Gray will be the guy they go for.

The A’s are selling everyone, again. Thus, they will take the best prospects they can get and see who pans out. The trade will be Sonny Gray to the Cubs for Candelario, Oscar De La Cruz (RHP), Justin Steele (LHP) and a prospect outside of the Cubs’ top 30.

Los Angeles Dodgers

MLB Trade Deadline: nl contenders

Courtesy of: Outsidepitchmlb.com

This team has been on an unreal tear. They look primed for October and we still have around 62 games left. They are up by 12.5 games and even with the injury to Clayton Kershaw, they will still keep that big lead.

One thing that has hurt the Dodgers has been injuries. Scott Kazmir, Branden McCarthy and Clayton Kershaw are all missing from the rotation. They need someone to fill this hole now. The great thing for Dodgers fans is unlike the Cubs, they still have plenty of prospects to trade. That is why they will get Yu Darvish.

If you are a team in a five-game series and you have to go up against Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood, then you are most likely sitting in a corner crying.

Even going to a seven-game series like the World Series you might think, phew we got through those three, now we get a break– nope. Rich Hill, a healthy (hopefully) Scott Kazmir or Kenta Maeda could all come in for at least one game.

Yu Darvish to the Dodgers for Walker Buehler (RHP), Willie Calhoun (2B/OF), Mitchell White (RHP) and DJ Peters (OF) could be a trade the Dodgers make. While the Dodgers are giving up a ton, they are also giving themselves a great chance at a World Series run.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed my take on the trade deadline. The trade deadline is a very interesting time for baseball. Hopefully this year will produce the craziness we have seen in the past.

 

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