Intriguing Opening Day Games

April 2, 2017, is the date all baseball fans are looking forward to. Opening Day is less than two weeks away and fans and players are gearing up for the start of the season.

It may be hard to forget all of the Spring Training “news” and prepare for the regular season, but don’t worry. Here you will find every game you need to watch to start off the 2017 MLB season on the right foot. So dust off that ball cap and bust out those peanuts because the regular season is about to begin.

Opening Day

Zack Greinke will look to lead the Diamondbacks to the post season in 2017 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

The battle for the NL West begins on Sunday, April 2 at 4:10 p.m. (EST). Many aren’t expecting much from the Diamondbacks this season after a disastrous 69-93 record last season.

They will return in 2017 looking to right the ship. The return of a healthy A.J. Pollock and a deep lineup could be something special in Arizona. Zack Greinke should return to form, and the already good pitching staff added Taijuan Walker. The Diamondbacks are slithering into the 2017 season under the radar.

Arizona is probably off the radar due to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants finished second in the division with a 87-75 record before they were ousted by the team of destiny: the Chicago Cubs.

Don’t think the Giants spent much time licking their wounds. They enter the 2017 season with one of the deepest pitching staffs in all of baseball, crowned by Madison Bumgarner. Pair that with a solid offense and the Giants are poised for another playoff run in 2017.

The starters haven’t been announced yet, Greinke and Bumgarner are projected to start. This marquee match up of aces will be energized by the atmosphere of Opening Day. Look for this matchup to be a defining factor in the NL West playoff race late into the season.

Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers

Opening Day

Edwin Encarnacion will bring his power south of the border this season (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports).

The Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers are both projected to be among the elite AL teams in 2017. They both had solid playoff runs, but it’s their offseason moves that help make this a must-watch game.

The Indians wasted no time improving their roster after dropping the World Series to the Chicago Cubs 4-3. The addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to an already potent lineup makes Cleveland an offensive juggernaut. Cleveland’s deep pitching staff also makes them a force to be reckoned with. No team is perfect, and the Texas Rangers will have the first crack at trying to expose the weaknesses in the Indian’s roster.

The Texas Rangers finished the season with a 95-67 record and earned the AL West crown. The Rangers needed to improve their club after being swept by the Blue Jays in the postseason.

Pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross were brought aboard to stabilize the rotation, and fan-favorite Mike Napoli returns to man first base. They are not as flashy as Encarnacion, but they surely boost Texas’ talent level. The Rangers are set to return to the postseason in 2017, and earning an Opening Day victory sure would help.

Cleveland’s Danny Salazar and Texas’ Yu Darvish are projected to square off on on Monday, April 3 at 7 p.m. (EST). A matchup between two of the top teams in the AL is sure to be informative. How will Encarnacion do in the Indian’s stacked line up? Will Mike Napoli be able to recreate his 2016 season? Those questions won’t be answered Opening Day, but we will be given a glimpse of the answers.

Opening Day

Adam Wainwright has been a mainstay atop the Cardinals’ rotation (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports).

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in an odd position after completing their Cinderella season and winning the World Series. Instead of being the hunters, they are now the hunted.

The St. Louis Cardinals will have the first chance to knock off the defending champions on Sunday, April 2 at 8:30 p.m. (EST). The Cardinals finished with 86 wins in 2016, but it wasn’t good enough to earn them a playoff spot. They will look to make the postseason in 2017 with the majority of their roster returning. A deep pitching staff and above average offense will define this team.

The Cubs enter 2017 with sky-high expectations. They boast one of the best cores of young talent in the majors with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez forming the nucleus of the team. Include veterans like pitcher Jon Lester, outfielder Ben Zobrist and a number of other solid players, and you have the monstrosity that is the Chicago Cubs. They will need every ounce of their talent to repeat their 2016 success due to their tough division.

Lester and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright are expected to start the game. Both are grizzled veterans and fierce competitors and will give even more of an edge to this rivalry game. Look for both of these teams to battle for the top spot in the division throughout the season.

 

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World Baseball Classic Bracketology: Predicting the Semi-Finals

After an exhilarating first round in the World Baseball Classic, eight teams move on to the second round. With a few favorites and a few underdogs moving on, there is something for everyone. But as the competition grows more fierce, the cream of the crop will rise to the top. Who will make it out of the second round and make the coveted trip to Los Angeles? Pool E and Pool F have  plenty of talent, but only two teams from each pool will be able to say they are one of the four best national teams in the world. All records and standings are accurate as of March 14th.

Pool E

World Baseball Classic

Aoki brings a WBC championship pedigree to team Japan, winning the WBC championship in 2009 (Brad Mangin).

Japan (5-0 WBC Record)

After mashing their way through Pool B, Japan emerged with a decisive 3-0 record. After scoring 22 runs while giving up only eight in three games, Japan seems to be firing on all cylinders. And they have carried over that momentum into Pool E, running up their winning streak to five games. Supported by Astros outfielder Nori Aoki, NPB slugger Tetsuto Yamata and a 2-0 record in Pool E, Japan should already have their flight booked for Los Angeles.

The Netherlands (3-2 WBC Record)

As one of the four teams in Pool E, the Netherlands earned their spot with a solid 2-1 record in Pool A. Powered by the Ranger’s Jurickson Profar and Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorious, the Netherlands was able to produce just enough offense to squeak by Chinese Taipei and score five runs against Korea. But with an offensive explosion that has brought them a 1-1 record in Pool E, their offensive woes seem to be long gone.

Israel (4-1 WBC Record)

With one of the deepest grouping of teams in WBC history, Israel stands out among Japan, the Netherlands and Cuba. But they have certainly earned their place in Pool E. They torched their way through Pool A, putting up an impressive 3-0 record. And they have held their own in Pool E, going 1-1. Jason Marquis and Nate Freiman hope to continue their strong play, as they have bolstered Israel up to this point. But with so much deep competition, Israel will need to play above their talent level to move on. And up to this point, they have.

Cuba (2-3 WBC Record)

Cuba has long been a national powerhouse in the baseball world. And after putting up a 2-1 record in Pool B, they earned their spot in the second round. But their performance in Pool B had many questioning Cuba, and it has only gotten worse since second round play has begun. With Cuba barely able to overcome upstart Australia 4-3 in Pool B, the doubt began to creep in. Cuba’s pitching has been their downfall, with Bladimir Banos and Yoennis Yera letting them down. And that has carried over to the second round with Cuba putting up a 0-2 record.

Pool E Representatives in Semis: Japan and Israel

Japan is just stacked across the board, with MLB players and NPB stars carrying the national team. Their 5-0 overall record in WBC play proves their depth, as they have beaten teams with relative ease. Surprise contender Israel is not far behind, with a 4-1 record in WBC play. They have advanced farther and done better than many thought they would. But don’t think their run is over, as Israel has the potential to be this WBC’s Cinderella.

Pool F

Dominican Republic (3-0 WBC Record)

World Baseball Classic

Robinson Cano led the Dominican Republic to the championship in 2013 (Al Bello/Getty Images).

As one of the most stacked squads in the WBC, the Dominican Republic certainly did not disappoint in Pool C. Their undefeated record (3-0) was the best of the Pool C competitors, and landed them a spot in the second round. With MLB stars like Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano, to just name a few, dotting the roster, the Dominican Republic scored 26 runs in round one of the tournament. If they can keep their offense clicking, don’t expect the Dominican Republic to experience a loss anytime soon.

Puerto Rico (3-0 WBC Record)

Another undefeated team, another talent-rich roster. They rode their impressive MLB talent to a perfect 3-0 record in Pool D, besting each team they faced. With the likes of Carlos Beltran. Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa, their talent level is off the charts. They dominated offensively in Pool D, scoring 29 runs. That kind of offensive production is some of the best in the WBC. But don’t think Puerto Rico will run out of gas soon. Their offensive depth drives this club, and they are one of the heavy favorites to move on to the semis.

United States (2-1 WBC Record)

With the top professional baseball league in the world, you would expect the United States to dominate the WBC every year. But with MLB getting so much of it’s talent from all over the world, the United States has to recruit other MLB players to don their nation’s colors. Even so, the talent on the United States roster rivals any other team in the WBC. With Andrew McCutchen, Nolan Arenado and Buster Posey headlining the roster, the United States pummeled north of the border rival Canada 8-0 and eked out a close 3-2 win over Colombia in the first round. Their offense and pitching staff are deep, and they will need every bit of that depth to move on to the next round.

Venezuela (2-2 WBC Record)

After beating Italy 4-3 in the Pool D tiebreaker, Venezuela moved on to the second round. While they have been playing .500 ball in the tournament, they will look to their stars to turn it on in Pool F. With players like Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and Rougned Odor, Venezuela certainly has the talent to compete in the second round. But they will need to tie it all together, as they were outscored 23-24 in Pool F. If Venezuela’s pitching staff can perform well, the offense will be able to power them all the way to the Championship Round.

Pool F Representatives in Semis: Dominican Republic and United States

The talent for the Dominican Republic is undeniable, and it’s that talent that will drive them to the Championship Round. They boast legitimate MLB stars both on the mound and at the plate. This balance in talent gives the Dominican Republic a massive advantage over some of the other teams in the WBC. But one of those teams is not the United States. Their only loss so far was to, you guessed it, the Dominican Republic. Even so, the offensive firepower of the United States lineup is deafening. And with all of the quality arms skipper Jim Leyland has to call on, a Championship Round appearance seems likely for the United States.

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2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

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

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

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

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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2017 National League Preview: National League West

The National League West has two of the most storied franchises in MLB history. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are always in a dog fight for the top spot. In the past 10 seasons, the Dodgers have six division titles, while San Francisco has won two division titles and three World Series titles.

The adage of the wild west certainly fits here, so don’t be surprised to see a major shake up in the division’s top teams.

5th: San Diego Padres

Projected 2017 Record: 64-98

National League West

Hunter Renfroe made a splash in San Diego in 2016 (Credit: Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports).

With six straight losing seasons, the San Diego Padres are one of the worst teams in baseball. However, there is some talent in San Diego.

First basemen Wil Myers was an absolute steal for the Padres. He was acquired in 2015, and flourished in his first full season in the majors, hitting 28 bombs and swiping 28 bags. In addition to Myers, outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe will try to earn starting roles for the club. Both are top prospects and have tons of potential.

The Padres are sorely lacking in pitching. Jarred Cosart, Jhoulys Chacin and Trevor Cahill are the top pitchers in the Padres rotation. Top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza is not expected to make it to the big leagues this year.

The Padres are in for another long season, given their inept pitching and developing offense. There is still hope as prospects start to make their way to the majors.

4th: San Francisco Giants

Projected 2017 Record: 82-80

You would think the Giants are one of the top teams in the National League West after coming off a loss in the 2016 NLDS. That is not the case. As the offseason progressed, the teams around them got better, and the Giants stood pat.

They will rely on phenom Buster Posey to provide offense along with Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Those four could be their only main contributors, with a question mark in left field and poor seasons from Joe Panik and Eduardo Nunez in 2016.

The pitching staff will be the strength of the club in 2017. Anchored by perennial Cy Young candidate Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, they boast one of the best rotations in the National League. Pitching has been, and will remain, the focus of the Giants.

An adequate offense will benefit from their stellar pitching staff. If the Giants can find a spark on offense, they could get into the Wild Card.

3rd: Colorado Rockies

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League West

Nolan Arenado looks to provide the power in a deep lineup. (Credit: Ben Margot/AP Photo).

Presently, the Colorado Rockies are a dark-horse candidate to make the playoffs. The additions of Ian Desmond and Greg Holland coupled with the improvements in their rotation have Colorado on the road to success.

Their offense is one of the deepest in the majors, with five players hitting 20 homers or more in 2016. Nolan Arenado is the rainmaker in Colorado’s lineup, posting back to back seasons with at least 40 homers and 130 RBIs. He is joined by Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez to form one of the most powerful lineups in all of baseball.

The thin Colorado air that helps fuel the offense also helps fuel the pitching staff’s ERA. 2016 was still a good year for pitchers in Colorado. If Tyler Chatwood, Chad Bettis, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson can improve from last season, this club could be lethal.

A playoff run is not out of the question for the Rockies in 2017.

2nd: Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected 2017 Record: 85-77

With a busy 2015 offseason, the Diamondbacks were picked by many to be a dark-horse contender in the National League West. After underperforming, the Diamondbacks hope to turn things around in 2017.

Outfielders David Peralta and A.J. Pollock will look to return to form. Both of their seasons got cut short last year due to injuries. Full seasons from Brandon Drury and Jake Lamb helped to soften the blow, and they enter this season as entrenched starters. The offense will be led by Paul Goldschmidt, who hit 24 home runs and stole 32 bases in 2016.

Pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller will need to get back on track if the Diamondbacks are to contend this season. After posting a sparkling 1.66 ERA in 2015, Greinke’s ERA ballooned to 4.37 in 2016. However, a full offseason in Arizona will only help Greinke on his road back to dominance. Miller fared far worse in his first year in the desert. With a 6.15 ERA, Miller can only go up from here.

The talent is there in Arizona’s pitching staff to return them to contention. If they can put it together in 2017, the offense will be more than capable to drive the team to the playoffs.

1st: Los Angeles Dodgers

Projected 2017 Record: 92-70

National League West

Clayton Kershaw looks to return to Cy Young form in 2017 (Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

The Dodgers are looking for their fifth straight division title this season. With the emergence of Corey Seager and steady veterans like Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner, Los Angeles has plenty of fire power to make it back to the playoffs.

Another source of offense will be outfielder Joc Pederson and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Also, don’t leave out veteran acquisition Logan Forsythe, who will solidify second base.

The Dodgers will also rely on some big names on the mound to return them to the playoffs. With a full season from Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, the rotation is one of the deepest in all of baseball. 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias will be playing his first full season in the majors after making 15 starts last season.

Furthermore, the Dodgers boast a talented roster loaded with all-star level players. It is their pitching that steals the show and should be the strength of a deep ball club.

 

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

The catcher position is arguably the toughest and most important position on the diamond. Not only is catcher the most demanding position physically, but mentally as well. Catchers must know everything about everyone at all times.

The most important responsibilities of a catcher are on the defensive side of the ball. They need to block, pick, receive, call pitches and throw out runners, among other things. The importance of defense commonly results in catchers being worse offensively than other positions.

In fantasy terms, the catcher can be compared to the tight end in football. The tight end position is focused on blocking as much as it is receiving, resulting in them having a lower average fantasy value than other skill positions.

The top 25 catchers have been grouped into five tiers. The top and bottom catcher in each tier have been profiled below.

Exceptions include Matt Wieters, who is still an unsigned free agent and Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and should return to the Tampa Bay Rays as a designated hitter at some point in May.

Honorable mentions include: Jorge Alfaro (PHI), Nick Hundley (SF), Miguel Montero (CHC), Roberto Perez (CLE), Jeff Bandy (MIL), Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Carlos Ruiz (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), and Tyler Flowers (ATL).

Tier 1

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings

Buster Posey could retire right now and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of MLBtraderumors.com)

Catchers in this tier are elite fantasy options. They will play every day, whether it is behind the plate or at first base, and have offered consistently great offensive value in the past.

1. Buster Posey SF

2. Jonathan Lucroy TEX

Buster Posey has been the standard of excellence at catcher for the past five seasons. The former MVP is coming off of his worst career season (disregarding his 2011 campaign). An off year for Posey included batting .288 with 14 home runs and 80 RBIs. He managed to be top-15 MVP finalist, win his first Gold Glove and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

The 29-year-old will remain the three-hole hitter for the always competitive San Francisco Giants, and should be selected as the first catcher off the board in 2017.

A two time All-Star, Jonathan Lucroy, will play his first full season for the Texas Rangers in 2017. He projects to bat sixth in a deep Rangers lineup that features young stud stars Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, as well as veterans Carlos Gomez, Adrain Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and recently acquired Mike Napoli.

Lucroy led the league in doubles while finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2014. His 2015 season was cut short to a broken toe and concussion. In 2016, Lucroy rebounded, reaching career high in home runs, walks and slugging percentage. After being traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Rangers in 2016, He managed to mash 11 home runs in 47 games. Lucroy is guaranteed to be a top catcher in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings.

Gary Sanchez is no longer the future of the New York Yankees, but rather the present. (Courtesy of NJ.com)

This tier consists of catchers who will play nearly every day, hit in the heart of the order, and offer great offensive value.

3. Gary Sanchez NYY

4. Willson Contreras CHC

5. Yasmani Grandal LAD

Everybody remembers Gary Sanchez for hitting 20 home runs in 53 games in 2016, but they forget that he batted .225 in September and October. Sanchez has huge upside as he will bat third for a sneaky talented Yankees lineup featuring veteran speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

With the 24-year-old batting third, Sanchez is in a prime spot to rack up RBIs if he can continue to put the bat on the ball. The Sanchise should not be overlooked because of his great opportunity in 2017.

Yasmani Grandal had his best career year in 2016, finishing 22nd in MVP voting. He hit 27 bombs while slashing .228/.339/.477 in 126 games. The Dodger’s everyday catcher will bat fifth behind Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Corey Seager, which will give him ample RBI opportunities.

Grandal will be a great fantasy asset in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

Russell Martin’s continued success is remarkable at 34-years-old. (Courtesy of www.whatproswear.com)

Catchers in this tier offer above average fantasy value as they will play nearly every day, hit in productive spots in the order, and have proven their worth in the past.

6. Russell Martin

7. Brian McCann

8. Salvador Perez

9. Yadier Molina

10. Wellington Castillo

11. Stephen Vogt

Russell Martin, the MLB’s journey man, has found success everywhere he goes. He has reached the 20 home run, 60 run, 70 RBI plateau in his last two consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will be entering his 12th season as the everyday catcher and six hitter of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He will have the same opportunity he has had in the past two seasons to be a key contributor in the Blue Jays offense.

Stephen Vogt has finished his second consecutive season of 500 plate appearances and over a .250 average. He has hit a total of 32 home runs in his last two seasons, suggesting that he has above average power for a catcher. The 32-year-old will be the Oakland Athletics primary catcher and two-hitter in 2017, which will give him plenty of opportunities to produce runs.

The two-time All-Star will continue to have the chance to shine as a key part of the Athletics roster.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Where does Evan Gattis fit into the Houston Astros puzzle? (Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle)

Players in this tier will come at a cheap price, but will provide above average value.

12. Evan Gattis

13. J.T. Realmuto

14. Mike Zunino

15. Austin Hedges

16. Francisco Cervelli

17. Derek Norris

Evan Gattis, the former janitor, has managed to amass 20 or more home runs in all four of his MLB seasons while averaging only 122 games per season. Gattis will play a utility role for the Houston Astros in 2017, who have signed Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann this offseason.

Gattis will find time behind home plate when veteran McCann’s legs need a rest, at designated hitter when Beltran starts in the outfield or is out of the lineup, and at first base when Yulieski Gurriel sits or struggles.

The 30-year-old has too much talent to not be in the lineup, and will be a cheap source of power in the middle or late rounds of your draft.

Derek Norris, who batted .186 in 2016, was traded to the Washington Nationals in December of 2016 for a minor-league pitcher. He will hold the primary catchers position relinquishing the occasional at bat to Jose Lobaton. The 28-year-old will bat at the bottom of a loaded Nationals lineup, giving him more RBI opportunities than the average eight hitter. A lot of people forget that Derek Norris batted .250 in 2015, and .270 in 2014, showing that he has the potential to be a valuable fantasy asset for a cheap price.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Travis d’Arnaud looks forward to a healthy 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

These catchers all offer average levels of production but will be playing in platoon roles, so playing time may be staggered until injuries or performance dictate otherwise.

18. Travis d’Arnaud

19. Sandy Leon

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Yan Gomes

22. Cameron Rupp

23. Tony Wolters

24. James McCann

25. Jason Castro

Travis d’Arnaud will be the primary catcher for the New York Mets, occasionally relinquishing at-bats to backups Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki. Although he has only totaled 100 games played once in his career (108 games played in 2014), he is healthy and confident heading into 2017.

The Mets have also hired Glenn Sherlock as their new third base coach and catching instructor which will help d’Arnaud maintain his confidence behind the plate and at the dish. He offers average value for low cost, as he is commonly going undrafted.

Jason Castro, also going undrafted, will be the starting catcher for the Minnesota Twins after signing a three year, $24.5 million contract. He will bat at the bottom of a young Twins lineup that is sure to produce its fair share of runs in 2017. Castro batted .210 with 11 home runs in 2016, although it was only four seasons ago when the 29-year-old was an All-Star who batted .270 with 18 home runs. Castro is a good sleeper for deep or two catcher leagues.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Catchers

This is the second installment of the 2017 MLB Season Position Rankings. In this installment, we will be focusing on catchers. Catchers will be weighed by their offensive as well as defensive stats.

Lets start our list of backstops at number five.

5. Yasmani Grandal- Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Season

Yasmani Grandal will be a steady presence behind the plate for the Dodgers in 2017. (Kevin Sullivan, Dodgers Staff Photographer)

Yasmani Grandal has proven to be a steadying presence behind the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After being acquired from the Padres in the 2014 Matt Kemp trade, he has come into his own. He has provided a solid bat with some good power, knocking 27 long balls to go along with 72 RBI’s in 2016.

Grandal also has good control over the opposing team’s running game. In 2016, Grandal threw out would-be base stealers at an above average 29 percent. Grandal also had 13 defensive runs saved in 2016, providing elite defense behind the plate.

While Grandal does hit for a relatively low average (career .238 hitter), he makes up for it with good power and exceptional defensive skills. Look for Grandal to contend for his second career NL All-Star appearance in 2017.

4. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays

Wilson Ramos turned into an offensive force for the Washington Nationals in 2016. With the decline of Bryce Harper from his 2015 MVP form, Ramos was able to pick up some of the slack and help Washington to their third NL Division Series in the last five years. However, the Nationals were unable to get over the hump.

Ramos posted career highs in all major offensive categories. He batted .307 and launched 22 bombs to go with 80 RBI’s. While putting up career highs in offensive numbers, Ramos also exhibited a strong control over the base paths. Ramos was well above league average (27 percent) in throwing out baserunners, limiting opposing teams to 37 percent.

While Ramos did provide ample control of the run game, his overall defense left something to be desired. He posted -1 defensive runs saved in 2016. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged the slugging catcher this off season, and will value him more for his bat than his glove in 2016.

3. Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

2017 MLB Season

The base paths are on lock down with Salvador Perez behind the dish. (John Rieger, USA Today Sports)

Salvador Perez has been one of the top catchers in all of baseball since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. In that time, Perez has garnered four AL All-Star appearances to go along with four Gold Gloves. He has provided a steady presence for the Royals and helped fuel their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015.

While his bat did slip some from his career averages (career .272, .247 in 2016), his power was ever present. Perez slammed 22 home runs, the most of his career to go along with 64 RBI’s.

He also continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers of the game. Perez threw out opposing baserunners at an astounding 48 percent, easily tops for the catchers in contention for this list. He also provided solid overall defense with 3 defensive runs saved. Perez is set to continue his run as top defensive catcher in all of baseball for years to come.

2. Jonathan Lucroy- Texas Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy saw his season be split between the NL and the AL as the top catcher available was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline. Lucroy posted solid numbers in both leagues in 2016, batting .292 while providing exceptional power evident from his .500 slugging percentage. He used his 24 home runs to pad his slugging percentage while pairing them with 81 RBI’s.

Lucroy was a force for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, both behind the plate as well as in the batters box. He threw out runners at a 39 percent clip, more than 10 percent better than the league average. Lucroy also had 4 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving he is one of the top overall catchers in baseball. A change of scenery seemed to fuel Lucroy in 2016. Look for him to continue his ascent while helping lead the World Series contending Texas Rangers in 2017.

1. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey has proven to be the total package for the San Francisco Giants. He has four career NL All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and an NL MVP Trophy to go along with his NL ROY award. Posey easily gained the top spot in these rankings, but not just by his trophy case. He posted a batting average of .288 to go along with 14 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

Posey was able to couple his solid offense with his stellar defense to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance and earn his first Gold Glove. Posey posted stellar defensive numbers, providing 23 defensive runs saved in 2016, easily tops on this list. Combine that with his ability to limit the running game by throwing out 37 percent of baserunners, and you have the best defensive catcher of the 2016 season. Posey will give the Giants a strong glove and bat in 2017.

Catchers play a vital role in the offense and defense of a team. While catchers are more heavily weighed on their defensive stats, in the next installment of this series we will be looking at some of the biggest bats in the game. Stay tuned!

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How Rob Manfred Can Build on the Game 7 Hype

Game 7 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians was the most viewed game in the past twenty-five years. The storyline was too good to be true for Rob Manfred, the commissioner of the MLB. The big market Cubs and the beloved Indians were facing the longest World Series droughts in the MLB. Either way, one team was going to break their curse. It was the series that everybody was talking about as the series was unorthodox, but still emotionally gripping. In the end, it was the Cubs that survived victorious.

The hype surrounding the game had even the most casual of sports fans watching. Baseball is a sport often seen as stagnating with the young audience. One of Rob Manfred’s biggest issues is how to help grow a sport often seen as stale and slow. Often referred to as America’s pastime, the game truly does not feel like it has done everything it can to keep up with modern times to help reach an audience that will need to be captivated in order for baseball to flourish over the next couple of decades. This article will provide just a couple things that could be done to help modernize the game.

First off, it is hard for millennials to watch their favorite team play without having to go to a bar. The MLB has been making strides to make the games more accessible for cord-cutters, but truthfully, their efforts have not been enough. MLB.TV was a good first step to providing the entertainment, as $85 to have the ability to watch all or your team’s 162 games is a bargain. Local blackouts, however, hinder the fans who are in their team’s regional TV coverage. For example, if a fan of Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh lives in Columbus, Ohio, they would not be able to watch their team play on MLB.TV due to these blackout rules unless they had a cable subscription (defeating the purpose of buying MLB.TV).

 

 

mlb_blackout_areas

Above is the blackout map for each state. Poor Iowans have up to six teams in their blackout zone, hurting cord cutters in the state. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.

Now, the reason why these blackout rules exist is because cable companies know the only chance to survive the cord cutting trend is to save their sports channels. Of course, their are ways to circumvent the blackout rules through shady means, but truthfully, the casual viewer does not want to go to that length just to watch their local team.  Team owners, Manfred, and cable companies need to come to some agreement to avoid these blackouts. Sadly, this may never be the case, as baseball owners make a ton of money off all these regional sports channel agreements . Oftentimes, these agreements make up a significant portion of the money used to fund the roster of many small market teams. If Manfred is serious about making baseball more appealing to the millennials, he needs to find a way to make baseball more accessible to the fans. He also needs to find a way for an individual to stream their local team.

The second step revolves around a debate that has been surrounding baseball for years now. On one side of the aisle is the viewpoint of baseball as a gentleman’s game, where celebrations are mild and respect is shown by a player to the opposing team. More recently, however, has been a slowly growing movement of players that are not afraid to step out of that zone and celebrate a big hit. Jose Bautista may have received the most venom for his 2015 ALCS Game 6 bat flip, but it is moments like that that resonate with the young fans. Obviously there should be limits to the celebration. I’m not talking about letting a man break dance on home plate after hitting a monster home run, but let the hitter slowly walk out of the box as he hits his moonshot. Maybe, just maybe, let the hitter flip his bat back to his dugout in excitement without being afraid of getting belted by a fastball his next time up to bat.

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Dodgers

Jose Bautista is not the only player with a legitimate bat flip. Yasiel Puig, often mired in controversy, has been flipping bats after home runs ever since he started in the majors. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

It does not stop with the hitters. Pitchers have their fair share of celebrating already. Fist bumps are very common among relievers and closers who pitch out of a jam. The issue is that pitchers normally go unpunished for celebrating, unlike the hitters who may have to go up later in the game and get hit on purpose for celebrating a little too much. Baseball should be promoting these moments of personality, not letting hitters get crushed by both opposing pitchers and media pundits that are stuck in the “old ways” of baseball. Baseball needs personality out on the field, not robots.

Last, but not least, surrounds the World Baseball Classic. The hype machine needs to start today on getting America prepared for it. A rather new tradition, the WBC is the World Cup of Baseball, which is played every four years. Players should be honored to represent their teams, especially as the sport is strong in not just America, but Asia and the Caribbean as well. Most importantly, however, is that baseball needs the best Americans representing the United States. Manfred then needs to get the WBC accessible to all kinds of fans and not try to make people watch the games on FS1 or other weird channels very few people actually utilize.

The last WBC Team USA squad in 2013 definitely had some recognizable names, featuring a young Giancarlo Stanton, prime Ryan Braun and Adam Jones, and Captain America himself, David Wright. Frankly, the rest of the roster was full of players adored in their personal market and team fandom, but often unrecognized on the bigger stages. Think of an infield of Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Manny Machado, and Kris Bryant. Now couple that infield with an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper. Not only does that give you one of the best teams truly ever assembled in baseball (better than most fan voted all-star teams even), but also gives plenty of young personalities from many different markets all across the US that can get each area to rally around the team.

The downside of the WBC has always been the fear of overuse on the players before the season starts. An understandable fear, and one faced by many sports who have the same international competition. Injuries are avoided as much as possible, but they are also natural and going to occur regardless of players participating in this tournament, or in just regular spring training. Have MLB promote this as truly a world tournament and get people interested, even if it is 1/10th as popular as the FIFA World Cup, and that momentum could carry over into the regular season.

In the end, baseball is such a different sport for viewers than many of the other popular sports. Football, Hockey, and Basketball are all fast paced and timed. Baseball is both untimed and slower moving, with each pitch taking as long as a football play. Josh Burris outlined here why baseball is a fun sport to watch, as many casual fans experienced this World Series. Making local teams more accessible for cord-cutters in the team’s region would be a valuable first step to let younger fans enjoy the sport. Letting the players exhibit more flair and style into their play can make the game more fun and exciting for a group of fans that spend their time watching vines and memes on the internet daily. Finally, sell the crap out of the World Baseball Classic to not only expose the brand on an international market, but also help casual and new American fans meet the biggest American players on a competitive squad. Rob Manfred has a lot on his plate for the future. Only time will tell how baseball’s popularity will transition from here.

 

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Why Baseball is the Greatest Sport

Baseball has been dying. America’s pastime is not as popular as it once was. Football and Basketball have risen above it because they are faster and “more” exciting sports. The faster pace is definitely true and nobody would argue that. However, baseball is definitely exciting. In fact, baseball is the best sport.

No Clock

In football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and basically every sport, you have a clock. This allows fans to know how much time is left in the game and when they can expect it to be over. With the clock, teams can also manage it to their advantage. Teams with a small lead can kill the clock to help them win.

SCOREBOARD

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, there is no clock. Baseball has innings. Fans and teams have no idea how long a game can last. It could last two and a half hours, or it could last four hours. Baseball does not let a clock dictate how much time is left in a game. As a result, teams can’t kill clock. Baseball teams can’t take the easy way out. They have to play hard all the way through. They can’t let up and take it easy.

All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star game is better than any other All-Star game in sports. The league that wins the MLB’s All-Star game gets to host the World Series. This gives both teams a reason to play hard.

The NFL’s All-Star game, which is the Pro Bowl, is a joke. The best players rarely play. They are worried about getting hurt. The Super Bowl is also the week after, meaning no one from the two best teams in football will be playing.

Last year, the six quarterbacks on the rosters were Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, and Tyrod Taylor. Those guys are decent quarterbacks, but they are nowhere near the best in the NFL. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers were all absent.

allstar_chicagotribune

Photo: Chicago Tribune

The NBA’s All-Star game is filled with entertainment. There is a lot of exciting offense, but that is mostly because zero defense is played. It just becomes guys shooting wide-open threes and throwing alley-oops from all across the court. The best players play, but it is not a hard fought game and the guys mess around more than anything else.

In the MLB’s All-Star game, the best players play. They play hard and they play to win. Home field advantage for the World Series is on the line. Baseball is also not a violent game and no one is worried about getting injured.

Player Rings

NFL players, quarterbacks specifically, and NBA stars get overrated and underrated based on the amount of championships they have won. Dan Marino is hardly ever talked about as a top 5 all-time quarterback, but John Elway is. Fans say Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning because he has more Super Bowls. Bill Russell is actually considered an all-time great because he won 11 championships in an era where the NBA was small and slow. Elgin Baylor doesn’t get the credit he deserves because his NBA finals record is 0-8.

Seattle Mariners

Photo: Huffington Post

Championships are team accomplishments, and baseball fans seem to understand that better than any other sports fans. No one thinks less of Ken Griffey Jr. or Tony Gwynn for never winning a ring. Griffey and Gwynn were some of the greatest hitters of all time and they get that credit despite not winning a title. Nobody thinks Yogi Berra is the greatest player of all-time due to the fact he has won more World Series than any other player. In baseball, players put up the numbers and get the credit they deserve.

Team Sport

Baseball is more of a team sport than any other. Lebron James lead the 2007 Cavs to the NBA Finals with his best teammates being Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel Gibson. In basketball, one player can lead a team a long way, even to the championship like Lebron. There is no way they are going to win it all though. That season the Spurs swept the Cavs in the Finals 4-0.

Football is more of a team sport. You need a lot more than one star player to lead a team to the championship. Both the offense and defense need to do well. Tom Brady couldn’t save the Cleveland Browns’ season with how bad their team has been.

unpredictability_espn

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, you don’t really need a superstar to win the World Series. Take a look at the 2010 San Francisco Giants. Buster Posey was their only 300 hitter. No one on their team hit 30 home runs. They didn’t even have a batter get 90 RBI’s. They didn’t have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 3. Tim Lincecum lead the starters in wins with 16.

This Giants team beat the star-powered Texas Rangers. Josh Hamilton was the best hitter in the league with a 359 batting average, 32 home runs, and 100 RBI’s. Vladimir Guerrero hit 300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI’s. Nelson Cruz joined the team late, but hit 318 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI’s. They had two great starting pitchers in CJ Wilson and Cliff Lee and the hottest closer in the league in Neftali Feliz.

The Giants victory over the Rangers proved that baseball is a team game. Championships are a team accomplishment and every position is important.

Unpredictability

clay_bostonglobe

Photo: Boston Globe

The Giants 2010 World Series proves just how unpredictable baseball can be. Last place teams can beat first place teams in the regular season. The Cubs overcame a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series. The 2004 Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second career start. Josh Hamilton, Lou Gehrig, and 14 others once hit four home runs in a single game. You never know what is going to happen. No lead is safe in baseball either. Baseball may be low scoring, but it just takes one swing to put one run on the board.

It is difficult to predict the playoff teams in the MLB at the beginning of the season. Almost everyone can predict most of the NBA playoff teams and almost everyone predicted a Cavs/Warriors rematch in the finals. In the NFL, it is also not too difficult to predict playoff teams. In baseball, it is much more challenging. The season is long. Teams can go hot and cold so quickly. There are always teams that breakout.

Playoffs

padres_sportslogos-net

Photo: SportsLogos.net

You won’t see any team below 500 in the MLB playoffs. The worst team to make the playoffs in baseball was the 2005 San Diego Padres, who finished with an 82-80 record. The 1981 Kansas City Royals made it with a 50-53 record in a strike-shortened season and different system. The bottom line is only the best teams in baseball make the playoffs.

Each league now allows five postseason teams. There are three division winners and two wildcards. The NFL allows six teams from each conference and the NBA allows eight. Teams below 500 have also made the playoffs in these leagues. It is fairly common to happen in the NBA. The Carolina Panthers recently won their division with a 7-8-1 record and the Seattle Seahawks won with a 7-9 record. You would never see this in baseball and you should never see it in any sport.

Contracts

In baseball, there are no max-contracts or even a salary cap. Max contracts put a maximum on how much players can make based on their years of experience in the league. Max contracts have allowed the NBA to form the “super team” culture that traditional basketball fans hate because teams don’t have to necessarily break the bank to sign a top free agent. For example, Lebron James could have signed with any team he wanted to in free agency. The offer he received from each team would be essentially the same because each team could only offer him a certain maximum amount of money to come play for their team. Money does not talk in situations like this. Instead, the team’s success and location does.

Giancarlo Stanton recently signed a 13-year contract with the Marlins for $325,000,000. This is the largest in baseball history. Before him, Alex Rodriguez had the richest contract of 10 years for $275,000,000. The free market determined the value of these players and not a max-contract. The free market allows talent to be distributed evenly among baseball teams. It is difficult to build a super team in baseball.

stanton_cbssports

Photo: CBS Sports

The NBA, along with the NFL, has a salary cap. A salary cap puts a limit on the amount a team can spend to put together its roster. The MLB does not have a salary cap. This forces teams to make money so they can afford to buy players. Some people may argue and say it is unfair that only the rich can win. This is not always the case. Big-name free agent signings don’t always work out. The 2016 champion Cubs were 14th in payroll. The 2015 champion Kansas City Royals were 16th. The Dodgers and Yankees, who were the top paying teams in both of those seasons, were no where to be found in the World Series. Spending money can make a roster look good on paper, but it does not always guarantee success.

Some fans will say that a salary cap is necessary because it will keep competitive balance. Well, lets look at the NBA as an example. Since the NBA implemented the salary cap for the 1984-85 season, only ten different teams have won the NBA Finals. That is just ten teams in 32 years. Three of those teams, the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Mavericks, have only won the Finals once. Then there are teams like the Lakers, who have won eight. The Bulls have won six. The Spurs have won five. If you are going to make the competitive balance argument, the NBA is not the league to look at. 

Baseball, which does not have a salary cap, has had a much more even spread of world champions. Since 1985 (the same year the NBA added their salary cap), 18 different teams have been crowned world champs. Compare that to the 10 in the NBA. Only eight of those teams have won more than once. The MLB proves that a salary cap does not bring competitive balance.

 

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5 Reasons the San Francisco Giants will win the 2016 World Series

Spring training has started and it is now time to make predictions for the upcoming baseball season. 2016 has plenty of capable teams that can win the championship, making it an exciting season to look forward to.  The San Francisco Giants will win their fourth World Series since 2010. Here are five reasons why:

Manager Bruce Bochy is a future Hall of Famer. Photo courtesy zimbio.com.

  1. Bruce Bochy

Bruce Bochy is the greatest manager of this era. He is entering his tenth year as manager of the Giants, and he has won three World Series Championships as their manager. Bochy even took the Padres to the World Series during his stint as their manager in 1998. He is very good with the strategy side of baseball and gets the most out of his players. Bochy also knows how to manage a pitching staff, which has paid off in multiple postseason games.

Madison Bumgarner is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com.

2. Starting Pitching

The Giants will have one of the best rotations in the history of baseball this season. Their number one starter is Madison Bumgarner, who has already proven he is one of the best pitchers in baseball, with a career ERA of 3.04. This off-season the Giants acquired Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, both of whom are top of the rotation starters. Cueto has an ERA below 3 since 2011, while pitching for a National League team, making him an ace. He did struggle after being traded to the Royals last season, but should regain his form this season. Samardzija is a former great pitcher, who will also have to regain his form. Rounding out the rotation are Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, both of whom are former aces, who have some good pitching left.

Buster Posey will be in the Baseball Hall of Fame along with his manager. Photo courtesy of usatoday.com.

3. Buster Posey

Many players have come and gone since San Francisco’s first World Series win in 2010, but Buster Posey has been a constant. He has a career batting average of .310 and will be in the Baseball Hall of Fame when his career ends. Posey is a solid defensive catcher, but is also capable of playing first base, which gives the Giants more options during the season. Posey is just entering his prime, as he will be 29 when this season starts.

4. It is an even year

The Giants have won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They failed to make the playoffs in the years in between. There is really no rhyme or reason to make this a legitimate reason of why the Giants will win the World Series, but baseball is a sport in which players are superstitious and weird things happen.

Hunter Pence is a player fans love to pick on, but he produces. Photo courtesy city-data.com.

5. Hunter Pence

Hunter Pence is the most unique player in all of baseball. When he played for the Houston Astros, his walk-up music was “California Girls” by Katy Perry. People hold up signs of him saying he does awkward things, like play Marv in the Home Alone movies or wear crocs. What is missed when people think about Hunter Pence is his effort and play style. He isn’t afraid to dive for balls or get pumped after getting a big hit. His energy is something that Bochy says leads the team and raises the level of play of his teammates. If that isn’t enough to convince people that Hunter Pence is a key to the Giants’ success this season, look no further than his .284 career batting average and his 729 career RBI.

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