Dodgers

Should the Dodgers consider rest instead of 116 wins?

The Los Angeles Dodgers currently sit at a staggering 84-34 record. That puts them 11.5 games ahead on the next best team in all of baseball. They are now on pace to win 114 games when it is all said and done. Don’t expect them to slow down at all though, because they have the ninth easiest schedule remaining in the big leagues.

The Dodgers are currently looking at reaching the major league record of 116 wins in a single season, set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners. The question is: Are they really chasing the record though?

Should Roberts rest his team?

Dodgers

Dave Roberts has a lot to consider going down the stretch (LA Times)

In the end, the most you can ask for in a regular season is to get the best record in the National League. At this point, the Dodgers would have to try to lose the best record. This puts them at an interesting juncture in their season.

Yes, it would be quite the feat to tie or break the single season win record. However, the most important goal for the Dodgers is winning the World Series. This begs the question: Is it really worth it trying to reach 116 wins?

By no means does this imply the Dodgers should just give up on the regular season because it is in the bag. What this means is Dave Roberts might consider resting his players more regularly. The problem that this brings up is that there is such a thing as too much rest.

There are not many statistics on rest this far out of the postseason. However, for the Dodgers’ pitching core, it would be best to give them an extra day or two of rest in between starts. What this will do most importantly is reduce the risk of injury for any of their premier players.

Injuries

Dodgers

Dusty Baker feared the worst when his superstar went down (WTOP)

There have been some major injuries with contenders in the recent weeks. Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Correa, Bryce Harper, and Wilson Contreras all have missed or will miss a significant chunk of time. All of these players are key members of these contending teams, and the last thing anyone wants to happen is for their star player to get hurt at the most important part of the season.

The most notable injury of the bunch was Harper slipping on first base and bruising a bone in his leg. It was a scary moment that could have been prevented. The Nationals are a lock to win the NL East and Dusty Baker had Bryce Harper playing after heavy rainfall.

Now, it is extremely difficult to pull players that want to play because you want to save them. It is still vital to be careful though because Baker would’ve hated to lose his best player in the postseason for something as silly as slipping on a base. They got lucky and he should return in September.

Dave Roberts should look at the Harper injury and realize that the worst things can happen at any given time. He must be careful if he wants the team to be in the best shape it can be in October.

How about those Mariners?

What happened to that Mariners team that won 116 games in 2001? Well, they got knocked out by a solid Yankees team in five games in the ALCS. That is not to say they made a mistake by not giving their players more rest at the end of the season, but it is a reminder that no matter how many games you win in the regular season, anybody can sneak up and knock you out. The Mariners actually finished with a postseason record of 4-6 that year, so the Dodgers should be weary of that.

Will they reach 116?

As I stated earlier, the goal is not to reach the coveted 116-win mark. The goal is to win a World Series title, an accomplishment that has eluded the Dodgers’ organization for 30 years.

Los Angeles is a city with many attractions that fans can go out and see. The Dodgers are one of the best ones out there. Fans are starting to get antsy though as this is the time for the Dodgers to go for it. They have showed they are serious with the acquisition of Yu Darvish, who they traded for specifically for the starts he would make in the playoffs.

Dodgers

Kershaw’s health will play a key role in the Dodgers’ success in October (Baseball Essential)

One-hundred-sixteen wins is in the backseat to the World Series title. Because of this, Dave Roberts should be very cautious with his star players so they don’t run the risk of injury. Clayton Kershaw got hurt out of nowhere, and they are lucky that he is coming back soon.

Since the postseason is the most important thing on their mind right now and they don’t want a repeat occurrence of Kershaw, it is doubtful that the Dodgers will reach 116 wins. Especially considering that the Diamondbacks and Rockies are in a dead heat for the Wild Card with several NL Central teams.

It will be a race to the final day of the season and every team will be doing all they can to get a ticket to 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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Deadline

Dodgers, Cubs, others make big moves at trade deadline

One hour before the 4 P.M. MLB trade deadline, nothing was happening. There were rumors and whispers here and there. Some decent names had been moved but nothing that we have been looking for over the past few weeks. All of a sudden news broke that the Yankees would be acquiring Sonny Gray from the Athletics. Would this be the first domino to fall?

As the hour went on nothing else seemed to be happen. Everyone was expecting the Dodgers to make the big move they needed but nothing was coming. Is Los Angeles really going to stay put with the roster they have? Every World Series champion in recent memory had made moves at the deadline to bolster their team. Are the Dodgers really that good that they don’t have to go out and get anyone?

When 4 P.M. hit it seemed like that was the case. After about 20 minutes the news started to break however. The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers in the blockbuster trade we were expecting. This trade also punctuated a trading season that emphasized pitching and had very little movement with hitters.

This was a very interesting deadline to track. There were some surprises as well as moves that we expected. Here are some of the notable teams that were making moves at the deadline.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquisitions: Yu Darvish, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson

Los Angeles bolstered its bullpen with two solid left-handed relievers in Watson and Cingrani. These guys are a great compliment to Kenley Jansen and it takes a lot of pressure off of the starting rotation, especially seeing that Kershaw will be out for the coming weeks.

Yu Darvish has been expected to go to Los Angeles for the last month. Most were surprised that no news had broke when the 4 P.M. deadline approached. I was ready to criticize the Dodgers for their lack of improvement. When the news was announced, it immediately became World Series or bust for this team.

Darvish provides the same sort of punch to the rotation that Zach Greinke provided when he was in LA with Kershaw. These pitching acquisitions may make the Dodgers the most complete team in the majors now. They filled their pitching needs and left their offense alone which has been fantastic. What might be the one of the biggest upsides from this trade season is that the Dodgers did not give up any of their top three prospects for Yu Darvish.

The Dodgers know that they will be making the postseason. These trades were specifically for October because they know that it is now or never if they want to break their 30-year championship drought.

Houston Astros

Acquisitions: Francisco Liriano

The Astros currently have the best record in the American League. Going into the deadline, it was obvious that Houston needed to bolster its pitching staff. Dallas Keuchel has been dealing with injury issues and may not be the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young. Lance McCullers has also not been consistent. On top of that, the Astros are in much need of bullpen help.

Houston acquired Liriano from Toronto, but this was not the attractive pitcher that many were looking for them to go out and get. They needed a pitcher to fill into a rotation that looks a bit shaky. However, Liriano will not be in the starting rotation and will be filling in the bullpen.

This had to be disappointing for Houston fans because they did not make the improvements that other contenders made. Even though they are sitting comfortably in first place in the West and are a sure thing for the playoffs, they may be sweating a bit.

Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and George Springer are all on the DL right now. The Astros must be comfortable with the injuries since they didn’t make any moves. However, the gap seems to be closing between them and the Yankees and Indians.

New York Yankees

Acquisitions: Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, David Robertson

The Yankees made a big move a couple weeks ago acquiring Todd Frazier and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox. Robertson really helps out a bullpen that needed some help and Frazier is a bat the Yankees needed to fill a hole in the lineup.

Deadline

The Yankees got one of the most valuable pitchers at the deadline in Gray (Getty Images)

The big news from Monday was the Yankees acquiring Sonny Gray from Oakland. This was a trade that made a lot of sense for the Yankees because it helps answer questions in their rotation for 2018 and 2019 as well.

The Yankees may lose the majority of their rotation after this year so getting this deal done is a big deal for New York. For this year though, Gray provides a big punch in the rotation for October seeing that the young pitcher already has postseason experience.

Starting pitching was one of the biggest question marks for the Yankees. Boston made a solid move in getting Addison Reed, but the excellent job at the deadline by Brian Cashman may make the Yankees the better team.

Look for the Yankees to separate themselves from Boston and give Houston some trouble in the postseason potentially.

Chicago Cubs

Acquisitions: Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila

The Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed to do in order to finally separate themselves from the rest of the NL Central. They addressed a rotation issue, a bullpen issue and a catching issue.

Deadline

Quintana is the highlight of the deadline for the Cubs (Sporting News)

Quintana was a get for the Cubs that was way ahead of the rest of the field at the deadline. Chicago knew what they needed and got a pitcher in the prime of his career that will be under team control for the future.

The rotation has been underperforming for the most part and Quintana provides a spark that has gotten the rest of the team going. With the potential this team has, they may be one of the best teams built for the postseason after the acquisition of Quintana.

Alex Avila adds experience at the catching position that the Cubs really needed. Miguel Montero was sent to Toronto after he ragged on the pitching staff for the Cubs’ shortcomings. He was the veteran presence that the pitchers need behind the plate.

Wilson Contreras has been very productive with a bat in his hands but he does not have the skills needed to call a good game in the playoffs. He is a converted infielder that is still learning the craft, so Avila provides the presence that the Cubs needed.

Theo Epstein went out and addressed the exact problems that needed addressing. Cubs fans should be happy with how he approached the deadline. The only downside is that the Cubs now have no prospects in the MLB Top 100. Much of their talent is at the big league level so that is a big reason for that. However, their talent has been underperforming this year.

The Cubs are hoping that their players play to their potential. If they do, then they are as good as anybody in the league.

Washington Nationals

Acquisitions: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle

The Nationals’ bullpen has pretty much been a joke this year. It is by far their biggest weakness, so much so that a fan ripped on the bullpen in his obituary.

Deadline

Scherzer got the bullpen help the rotation desperately needed (Getty Images)

Washington has one of the best hitting trios in baseball with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. They also may have the best starting pitcher in the game in Max Scherzer.

However, they were not taken as seriously to compete with the Dodgers in the postseason because of how important relief pitching is these days.

Sean Doolittle has been struggling this year, but he is still a step in the right direction for Washington. However, Ryan Madson has been a very reliable reliever and Brandon Kintzler was an All-Star this year. Kintzler has converted 28 of 32 saves this season and also provides reliability at the back end of the bullpen.

Relievers were a hot commodity at the deadline this year. The Nationals knew that relievers are what they needed in order to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Mike Rizzo did a good job of getting these guys in order to be a threat in October.

Chicago White Sox

Deadline

Jimenez is the 7th ranked prospect in the majors (Baseball America)

Acquisitions: Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Blake Rutherford, AJ Puckett, Andre Davis, Tito Polo, Ian Clarkin, Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, Byrant Flete, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez

As you can tell, the White Sox had a busy trade season. They traded away many major leagues such as Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. Even though it is pretty apparent that you could say the White Sox are tanking, fans have to be happy with general manager Rick Hahn’s job this past month.

The White Sox now have two of the top 10 prospects in MLB, and eight in the top 70 according to MLB.com. Chicago is the only team on this list that are not contenders this season but they may have had one of the best months in the league.

The benefits from the past month will not show this season or next season. In a few years though the success of the front office will be apparent.

This may be a slight overreaction, but there is a possibility that we could see a Cubs-White Sox World Series down the road. That may be a bit dramatic but wouldn’t it be exciting to see a Chicago championship series? The only thing I would be concerned about is whether or not the city would still be standing in the aftermath.

Final thoughts on the deadline

The most glaring detail of this trade deadline was the emphasis of pitching. Outside of J.D Martinez, there were no major position players that were moved this year. Yes, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were moved as well. However, all of the big trades were centered around pitching.

It seems that many teams are content with the hitting they have. It may not be a coincidence that major league players are hitting home runs at one of the highest rates in history. Bullpen and rotation help is the attractive thing these days. Especially considering how difficult it is to close out a game in today’s game.

By no means is the 2017 season decided already. There is still a long way to go in the season and anything can happen in October. Championship teams do look back to the trade deadline though to see what they did right at that time. Monday was a pivotal point in the season, but baseball is a crazy game so it will be fun to see how these moves pan out.

 

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Postseason

National League playoff predictions

The National League has been interesting so far this year. In the Central, there’s a jam-packed division with teams floating around the .500 mark. In the West, the Dodgers have a strong grip on first place but the Rockies and Diamondbacks are also having great years. The East however is pretty much a lock with the Nationals having little competition getting in their way.

Here is a look at who will most likely be making an appearance in October.

Los Angeles Dodgers, National League West

National League playoff predictions

The Dodgers hope Kershaw’s injury will not keep him out for long (nydailynews)

The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball and they have been tough to stop. They had a stretch of winning 30 of 34 games and are playing like they will be able to break their championship drought.

Los Angeles just took a major hit to their rotation. Clayton Kershaw left in the second inning of Sunday’s game with lower back issues. He landed on the 10-day DL and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Kershaw has kept up his typical excellence thus far, so the Dodgers will have a lot to overcome with this injury. They are sitting pretty with a 10.5-game lead on the Rockies, but with how the division is playing this is no time to coast.

It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers will be looking for starting pitching help within the next week with this new injury. If Kershaw misses significant time, they may look for some rotation help to shore things up.

The Dodgers’ pitching staff has the best ERA in the majors, however the Diamondbacks are right behind them in that category. Los Angeles should not take the injury lightly as it is important for them to maintain their strong lead in the West. Otherwise, the Rockies or Diamondbacks could make a run for them.

All around, the Dodgers are still the best team in the National League even without Clayton Kershaw. The young duo of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger have been fantastic this year on top of the stellar season from Justin Turner. The Dodgers have also been in the mix for Orioles closer Zach Britton. If the Dodgers make a move for Britton, it will be nearly impossible to beat them if they have a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Chicago Cubs, National League Central

National League playoff predictions

Jose Quintana has won his first two starts for the Cubs (CBS Sports)

The Cubs have finally started to hit their stride. They are 8-1 since the All-Star break and have caught the Brewers in the Central.

The Brewers however are starting to regress like a lot of people predicted. They are 3-7 since the break with six of those games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Things aren’t getting easier as their next two series are against the Nationals and the Cubs.

Chicago has gotten a spark since the Jose Quintana trade. They gave up their best prospect in Eloy Jimenez, but may have received one of the key pieces they were looking for to fill out their roster.

One more thing they may look for at the deadline though is bullpen help. Wade Davis has been an excellent add this season for the Cubs, but they may need more help to fill out their relief pitching. The Cubs have been linked to Pat Neshak of the Phillies who is having a stellar year. He would make for a great combo of Neshak-Davis in the eighth and ninth.

The offense is also starting to play to its potential as of late. The combo of Bryant-Rizzo-Schwarber was supposed to be one of the most feared cores in the majors. Bryant and Rizzo are playing to expectations while Schwarber is slowly improving from his abysmal first half of the season.

The Cubs are starting to return to their 2016 form though, and if it keeps up then there will be no team in the Central that will be able to keep up with them.

Washington Nationals, National League East

National League playoff predictions

Harper has had an MVP caliber year (Sports Illustrated)

The Nationals may be the surest bet for the postseason at this point. They are not the best team in the league by any means, but they do not have any competition in their division that will come close to threatening them for the title in the East.

As with most teams in the league, the bullpen has the biggest question mark on the team. The Nationals do have some prospects they can deal in order to shore things up, because it will be vital for them to have a more reliable bullpen in the postseason.

Their bullpen currently ranks as the worst in all of baseball, and that simply will not suffice if the Nationals want to compete in the playoffs.

Although they have the worst ranked bullpen, they have the top ranked offense in the National League. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy have been a deadly combo this year that will throw any pitcher fits. Each one of them could be in the conversation for MVP, but the Dodgers have some serious contenders themselves.

Either way, the offense has been a big reason for their success along with their ace, Max Scherzer. It has been discussed that Scherzer may actually be the best starting pitcher in the league today.

Arizona Diamondacks, National League Wild Card #1

National League playoff predictions

J.D Martinez makes the Diamondbacks lineup much stronger (arizonasports)

The Diamondbacks showed the league that they are serious this year with their acquisition of J.D. Martinez. Martinez makes the Diamondbacks’ lineup strong enough to perhaps be able to compete with the best offenses in the league. The Goldscmidt-Martinez combo along with the other Arizona hitters who are having great years would be tough to stop in a playoff series.

Robbie Ray is having a career year and Zack Greinke has returned to his Cy Young form. It seemed that Greinke may have lost his edge when he went to Arizona. However, he is proving that 2016 was a fluke and he is still an elite pitcher.

The pitching staff has overall been a real plus this year as only the Dodgers have been more successful. With the injury to Kershaw, the Diamondbacks may have a better opportunity to catch up to them.

The Diamondbacks have only won three of their past 10 games. This most likely will not last though. Every team has ups and downs during a season, and Arizona is just in the middle of it right now. Although they probably won’t be able to catch the Dodgers, they have a good enough team to take a wild card spot. In any other division in the NL they would have a much better shot at a title, they just happen to be in the best one in the majors right now.

Colorado Rockies, National League Wild Card #2

National League playoff predictions

Blackmon is having a career year in Colorado (The Denver Post)

The third team that has a good shot of making the playoffs from the National League West is the Rockies are having a breakout year. Colorado has some good young pitching but much of their success comes from their offense. Nolan Arrenado is proving to be an elite third baseman and Charlie Blackmon is having a career year.

Colorado is tied with Washington for the second best offense in the majors. What is interesting about this stat is that one would think that this is because they are hitting a lot of home runs since they are in Colorado. However, the Rockies actually rank 16th in home runs in the majors. They are getting guys in all sorts of different ways.

The Rockies will have a tough time holding their lead in the wild card over the Diamondbacks. Since Arizona has such a stronger pitching staff, it is most likely that they will overrun them.

They are looking for players to bolster their rotation, the only problem is that they are in Colorado. Yu Darvish has already stated that he does not want to be traded to the Rockies. The reason why the Rockies have a such hard time getting good pitching is because of their ballpark. However, Colorado needs a stronger rotation in order to compete in the postseason and stay ahead in the National League.

 

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017: Can the Pirates be contenders?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been on a run as of late. They have won 12 of their last 14 games and stand three games back of the Brewers. There has been talk as to whether or not the Pirates will be sellers at the trade deadline. With how they have been playing lately though, they have to look at why they may be able to make a push for the postseason.

Here are some reasons why the Pirates may find their way to October.

Starling Marte is back

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Marte’s return has ignited a spark in Pittsburgh (Yahoo Sports)

The Pirates found out at the beginning of the season that their best player from a year ago would be serving an 80-game suspension. This was a major blow to the team, and it seemed there would be little hope for them to compete with the world champion Cubs. What was needed was for the team to battle through adversity and try to stay afloat until Marte returned.

Pittsburgh has done a pretty good job of staying in the hunt. They have been lucky with how mediocre the division has been, but they are in the thick of things. With Marte back, they should expect to get a lot production from their outfield.

Last season, Marte led the team with a 4.0 WAR and a .311 batting average. He also has plus speed and was able to swipe 47 bases which was third in all of baseball. His presence complimented by McCutchen’s is one of the most dangerous duos in the National League.

Andrew McCutchen has been on fire

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Cutch may be the best hitter in baseball since June 1st (Sports Illustrated)

Over the past couple years, it appeared that Andrew McCutchen had lost his edge. Last year, he had a career-worst slash line of .256/.336/.430.

The Pirates might have been thinking that they missed their opportunity to get a good return on the center fielder. His first couple months of the season were not evident of the All-Star of the past either. In the months of April and May, he posted a batting average that floated around the Mendoza line and was only had a OBP floating around .300.

In June, McCutchen caught fire. He caught enough fire to make him perhaps the best all-around hitter in the league. He finished with a slash line of .411/.505/.689 in the month. He has not slowed down much in July either, with his batting average still around .400 since the start of June.

Cutch has been almost unstoppable, so right now would be the perfect time to trade him, right? Neal Huntington, the Pirates GM, has to consider the future before trading away the best player the Pirates have seen in a long time. When we talk about the near future, we have to talk about how good the Cubs will be in the coming years.

There is a chance that the Cubs may not be as good as we thought. More than likely though, this is a fluke year and the Cubs may return to their 2016 prestige. With that being the case, Pittsburgh may have to take advantage of the year at hand. They have a chance to take a weak division, so it may be in their best interest to hold on to what they have and see if they can make a run for it with their stellar outfield.

The NL Central is wide open

As I mentioned before, the Cubs are struggling in 2017. They have been showing life since the All-Star break though, recording six consecutive wins. However, the Pirates have been able to keep pace with them during this time. With how weak the division has been, it has been very competitive, and there are four teams that are vying for the division crown.

The Brewers are starting to slide as many people expected. Pittsburgh is the one beating up on them, sweeping Milwaukee in a four-game series. This will probably convince Neal Huntington that this roster has enough to take over first place in the division.

Especially with their recent success against NL Central opponents, the Pirates should be feeling good about where they are right now. Look for Pittsburgh to possibly makes some moves to bolster their rotation at the deadline.

Will Pittsburgh win the division?

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Marte came back at the right time, as the Pirates swept the Brewers in four games (Rum Bunter)

Pittsburgh has been able to deal with a lot of adversity this season. Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games, Andrew McCutchen struggled mightily the first two months of the season and James Tallion had to fight cancer.

The Tallion story is rather inspiring, seeing he had to go under the knife to treat his cancer and then still make it back out on the field not long after.

This is perhaps representative of what the Pirates season may be.

Their ace, Gerrit Cole, also seems to be back on track this season. Since June 8, each start has been a quality one besides one blemish on June 30 in which he gave up seven runs.

With their ace back on track and their stellar outfield back to what the Pirates hoped it would be, there is a good chance that they will be competing for first place in the Central until the last day of the regular season.

Pittsburgh has a real chance to ruffle some feathers in the National League. Even the Dodgers, who seem unstoppable right now, should not take a game for granted against the Pirates. Expect Pittsburgh to be a tough competitor for the rest of the season.

Will what they have be enough to win the Central? Well, that largely depends on whether or not the Cubs have found their stride as many expected. It will be tough to keep pace with Chicago if they are back to their 2016 status. The Pirates may just have a shot if they keep doing what their doing though.

 

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MLB second half performances

Best MLB second half performances of 2016

With the second half of the 2017 MLB season in course, it’s time to assess the best MLB second half performances of 2016. The players are organized in groups according to whether they were an All-Star, veteran, breakout performer or rookie.

All-Stars 

Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 9-4 W-L 3.01 ERA 1.08 WHIP 8.8 K/9 110.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 10-1 W-L 1.76 ERA 0.94 WHIP 8.7 K/9 92 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jon Lester finished second in the NL Cy Young vote after a miraculous second half. (Photo by dailyherald.com)

In his 11th major league season, Lester ended the year with 19 wins and a 2.44 ERA. He finished second in the National League Cy Young vote and was a key part of the Chicago Cubs’ championship run.

In his 14 second half starts, Lester was nearly unhittable. He had a record of 10-1 with a 1.76 ERA and .189 batting average against, or BAA.

His home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, dropped from 16.2 percent in the first half to 6.8 percent in the second. This, along with the fact that his left on base percentage, or LOB%, rose from 83.7 percent to 86.4 percent, made him arguably the most successful pitcher in the second half of the 2016 MLB season.

 

 

 

 

 

Miguel Cabrera, First Baseman, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 86 GS 18 HR 53 RBI 49 R .293/.370/.507 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 70 GS 20 HR 55 RBI 43 R .346/.423/.653 BA/OBP/SLG

The future first ballot Hall of Famer had an incredible second half. Cabrera batted .346 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIs and 43 runs scored in 70 games.

The largest analytical differences between Cabrera’s first and second halves included his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, rose from .314 to .366, as well as his weighted on-base average, or wOBA, rose from .368 to .438.

The 33-year-old’s second half of 2016 is a prime example of why he is one of the greatest hitters of this generation.

Veterans

Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 8-6 W-L 4.07 ERA 1.13 WHIP 9.2 K/9 117.1 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 16 GS 8-3 W-L 1.96 ERA 0.86 WHIP 10.9 K/9 110.1 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Justin Verlander’s 2016 campaign was a success due to his incredible second half. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander managed to finish 2016 as the American League Cy Young runner-up even after failing to make the AL All-Star team. How is this possible you ask? Well, it may have something to do with his poor 4.07 ERA in the first half.

His astonishing second half resulted in a 1.96 ERA, .180 BAA and 134 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. The 33-year-old’s success could be attributed to his ability to limit walks and strand runners on base. His strikeout to walk ratio, or K/BB, was an incredible 5.58, while his LOB% was an astronomical 90.6 percent.

Many people argue that Verlander was snubbed of the 2016 AL Cy Young award, and for good reason, as his mind-blowing second half lead to a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA, .204 BAA and a league leading 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts.

 

 

 

 

Joey Votto, First Baseman, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 84 GS 14 HR 42 RBI 48 R .252/.386/.446 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 71 GS 15 HR 55 RBI 53 R .408/.490/.668 BA/OBP/SLG

Votto managed to continue the lore of being one of the greatest second half hitters of all time, as he slashes .327/.440/.569 on his career after the All-Star break.

His 2016 campaign resulted in a .326 average, 29 home runs and 97 RBIs. In the second half alone, Votto managed to bat .408 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs in 72 games. The major changes in his analytics included his strikeout rate, which decreased from 24.2 percent to 10.2 percent, his BABIP, which rose from .308 to .418 and his wOBA, which rose from .357 to .478.

Votto’s 2016 second half will go down as one of the most dominant in baseball history.

Yadier Molina, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 2 HR 28 RBI 30 R .259/.329/.341 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 65 GS 6 HR 30 RBI 26 R .365/.398/.529 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Yadier Molina batted .365 in the second half of his MVP caliber 2016 campaign. (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the greatest catchers of his era, Molina has been a National League MVP candidate on five separate occasions, while also winning eight Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award. His 2016 second half helped him re-enter the MVP conversation for the first time since 2013, where he finished third in the NL MVP vote.

His first half in 2016 was quite abysmal, as the 33-year-old batted only .259, which was well below his career batting average of .284. Although in the second half, Molina batted a phenomenal .365.

The major analytical difference between Molina first and second half was his BABIP, as it rose from .291 in the first half to .388 in the second.

Molina has always been a more productive player after the break, but he had never taken his production to levels like this.

 

 

 

Breakout performers

Kyle Hendricks, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 16 GS 7-6 W-L 2.55 ERA 1.03 WHIP 7.8 K/9 98.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 9-2 W-L 1.68 ERA 0.92 WHIP 8.3 K/9 91.1 IP

Hendricks finished third in the NL Cy Young vote and 23rd in the NL MVP vote in 2016. The 26-year-old led the league in ERA and ERA+, which exemplifies his utter dominance over the entirety of the season. Although he was great all year, his overall success was majorly due to his impeccable second half.

Hendricks managed to finish the second half with a 9-2 record, 1.68 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. One major analytical difference between halves was his ability to strand runners on base, as his LOB% rose from 74.1 percent in the first half to 90.7 percent in the second.

The interesting thing with the rest of Hendricks’ splits include that his BABIP and hard contact rates both rose from the first half to the second, which would suggest he got luckier in the first half, even though he was more successful in the second.

D.J. LeMahieu, Second Baseman, Colorado Rockies

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 5 HR 32 RBI 53 R 7 SB .334/.398/.490 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 66 GS 6 HR 34 RBI 53 R 4 SB .363/.437/.500 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

D.J. LeMahieu had a fantastic year in 2016, although he was that much more special in the second half. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

After being snubbed in the NL All-Star vote, LeMahieu had an exorbitant second half that landed him 15th in the NL MVP vote.

His BABIP rose from .379 in the first half to an even better .397 in the second, which kept his batting average well above .300. LeMahieu finished the year with a league leading .348 batting average, although it was his .363 batting average in the second half that blew fans away.

The 27-year-old had almost identical contact rates from one half to the other, although the direction of the contact had changed drastically. His pull percentage decreased from 24 percent to 19 percent, while his opposite field percentage rose from 35 percent to 41 percent. LeMahieu was able to spray the ball across the diamond while sustaining contact rates, which makes his 2016 second half even more impressive.

 

 

Rookies

Trea Turner, Second Baseman/Outfielder, Washington Nationals

2016 First Half Stats 3 GS 0 HR 0 RBI 0 R 0 SB .429/.500/.571 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 67 GS 13 HR 40 RBI 53 R 33 SB .340/.367/.567 BA/OBP/SLG

The 13th overall pick in 2014 exploded onto the scene in the second half of last season. Turner batted .340 with 13 home runs, 53 runs, 40 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 67 starts, which resulted in a runner-up finish for the NL Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager).

His second-half success can be attributed to his .387 BABIP, which positively impacted Turner as 44 percent of his batted balls went for ground balls. His contact rates were also great, as he made over 80 percent medium and hard contact on all balls batted in play.

Turner showed glimpses of what could be an elite fantasy asset, as he displayed contact, power, production, speed and consistency atop the Washington Nationals’ star-studded lineup.

Jose Peraza, Shortstop/Second Baseman/Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 15 GS 0 HR 4 RBI 6 R 9 SB .246/.278/.246 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 41 GS 3 HR 21 RBI 19 R 12 SB .355/.380/.477 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jose Peraza exploded onto the scene during the second half of 2016. (Photo by WKRC)

Peraza was called up in May of 2016 for his first extended stint in the majors, as he made his major league debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.

After struggling in his first 15 games last season, he finished the year with a .324 batting average, 25 runs scored, 25 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 56 starts.

The 22-year-old put together an amazing second half, where he batted .355 with 19 runs scored, 21 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 41 starts.

Peraza’s second-half success can be attributed to multiple things, including his .389 BABIP, his ability to make 83 percent medium or hard contact and his ability to spray the ball over 29 percent of the time to each field.

His ability to make solid contact and spray to all fields helped propel him to having one of MLB’s best second halves in 2016.

 

 

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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Big Three

Which Team has the Big 3 of Baseball?

With all the talk in the NBA about big threes and super teams, I got to wondering if there are any teams like that in baseball. Now, it is a bit different in the MLB as you don’t have as many superstars moving teams to create these unstoppable forces.

Baseball is also much more of a team game. One or two players in the NBA can carry a team far into the playoffs. In baseball, the entire team needs to be carrying their weight because each player doesn’t have the same opportunity to make a big play throughout the game.

On that note, let’s take a look and see who might have the best “big three” in their lineup in the 2017 season. This is referring to what three players contribute the most to their team as a collective.

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa

Combined WAR: 12.1

Altuve: .347/.417/.551 13 HR 50 RBI | Springer: .310/.380/.613 27 HR 65 RBI | Correa: .325/.402/.577 20 HR 65 RBI

Baseball super teams

Correa might be the best shortstop since Jeter (Bleacher Report)

The Houston Astros are proving to be one of the greatest teams in recent memory largely thanks to the work of the core hitters in their lineup. It seems though that their years with high draft picks are finally starting to pay off.

Houston has the best record in the American League and second-best in the majors behind the Dodgers, and they’re putting in a bid to win their first world series in franchise history.

All three of these young hitters are All-Stars in 2017 and it is well deserved. Correa may be the front-runner for MVP over Trout, seeing that Trout has been on the DL for the past few weeks. Not to mention, Correa is only 22 years old.

It is also hard to recall a middle infield combination that has been so threatening in recent years. The first one that comes to mind is Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano for the Yankees. Seeing how young Altuve and Correa are now, they may end up being more effective of a duo than Jeter and Cano ever were.

Springer is also really starting to come into his own now. Everyone always knew that he had some serious punch in his bat. At the All-Star break, he is already two home runs away from his single-season record. On top of that, he is hitting the ball much more effectively as his slugging percentage is at an all-time high.

Seeing as none of of these three players are going to be unrestricted free agents for another two full seasons, this powerhouse doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Even though the best player in baseball is in the same division, it seems that the Astros will be running the division for the coming years largely because of this hitting core.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy

Combined WAR: 8.4

Harper: .325/.431/.590 20 HR 65 RBI | Zimmerman: .330/.373/.596 19 HR 63 RBI | Murphy: .342/.393/.572 14 HR 64 RBI

Baseball super teams

Harper has continued to live up to his high expectations (Sports Illustrated)

Despite the fact that these three hitters are leading the National League in batting average, I had to think about who belonged in this big three. Anthony Rendon had a pretty good bid into this but it was just too difficult to leave the other three out.

Zimmerman has reignited his career and may be having his best year. He has only batted over .300 in his career once but now he is competing with his teammates for the best in the NL.

Harper has continued his rise to super-stardom and nobody seems to be getting in his way. After a somewhat slow 2016 he has reached new levels in 2017. He is currently on pace to break 100 RBIs for the first time in his career and could also reach 40 home runs for the second time.

Thanks to his teammates also hitting the long ball, it is not as easy to pitch around Harper either. Because of Murphy’s success with the Nationals thus far, it is giving Harper more opportunities do excel.

Daniel Murphy has far exceeded the expectations of the Nationals in his first two years with the club. He has become a power threat which he had never been before. We all know how valuable power-hitting second basemen are too. Murphy is also running for the hitting title for the second year in a row. The bottom line is that there is no break from this Nationals lineup. Every batter will be a battle, but these three especially will drive any pitcher nuts.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto, Zach Cozart, Adam Duvall

Combined WAR: 8.8

Votto: .315/.427/.631 26 HR 68 RBI | Cozart: .316/.394/.547 9 HR 35 RBI | Duvall: .278/.321/.557 20 HR 61 RBI

Baseball super teams

Votto, Duvall,and Cozart have continued to be the only bright spot for the Reds (USA Today)

The Reds have not been great this year. As I mentioned in the introduction, three players cannot carry a team to greatness. The Reds are a perfect example of that.

Votto and Cozart are both All-Stars this year and along with Duvall they have been a bright spot for Cincinnati. However, their abysmal pitching keeps them in last place in perhaps the worst division in baseball. We are not here to talk about poor pitching however.

Votto has continued a spectacular career despite him being on one of the worst teams in baseball in the past few years. He leads a club that currently ranks in the top 10 in hitting in the majors.

What makes Votto so difficult to pitch against is his smarts at the plate. He is not easy to fool, as he currently has 62 walks on the season compared to 42 strikeouts. With players that hit home runs as much as he does, it is more typical to have a higher rate of strikeouts. That is something that you can see with Votto’s teammate, Duvall.

Adam Duvall broke out as a serious power threat last season. However, he is striking out in 25 percent of his at bats and only walking in five percent of them. In order for him to be an even bigger threat, he is going to take after Votto. He has improved as an overall hitter though as he is on pace to have the highest average and OPS of his career.

Cozart may be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. He has still been hitting on all cylinders despite his injury issues. He provides good pop at the top of the lineup and is a good setup man for whoever follows him. Knowing the Reds’ need for young pitching, they may deal him because of his current value. Because of this, the Cincinnati big three may not be in tact much longer.

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorious

Combined WAR: 9.3

Judge: .329/.448/.691 30 HR 66 RBI | Sanchez: .276/.360/.491 13 HR 40 RBI | Gregorius: .291/.346.458 10 HR 38 RBI

Baseball super teams

Judge has already passed Dimaggio for most home runs by a Yankees rookie (Sporting News)

Aaron Judge has come onto the scene and is already one of the best hitters in baseball. He largely carries this big three due to his ability to hit the ball out of the park as well as hit for average.

There is no getting around him and his surrounding hitters have made is especially difficult. While the Yankees are fairly banged up at the moment, his supporting cast has been coming through.

Gregorious is not typically known for his bat but rather his glove. He came onto the scene at the plate last season with 20 home runs. This year, he is picking back up where he left off and is nearly a .300 hitter. While he is just an above average hitter on the moment, he is proving to be a key part of the lineup.

Gary Sanchez is proving to be one of the better power-hitting catchers in the league. Despite only playing in 57 games at the midway point in the season, he has 13 home runs. He and Judge are bringing back the Bronx Bombers, and they will be hard to stop for the coming years.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner

Combined WAR: 10.0

Seager: .298/.395/.502 13 HR 45 RBI | Bellinger: .261/.342/.619 25 HR 58 RBI | Turner: .377/.473/.583 10 HR 37 RBI

Baseball super teams

Bellinger is the latest Dodgers rookie to make a splash in the bigs (Sports Illustrated)

These three All-Stars have led the best team in baseball to a 61-win season at the break. They are the best team in the National League while being in perhaps the best division in baseball. Cody Bellinger is a big reason for that with his breakout season at the plate.

Justin Turner won the final vote to get into his first All-Star game. The only reason he probably didn’t get in originally was because of the time he has missed. Once he gets enough at-bats to be eligible for the batting title, he may run with it.

Corey Seager is showing that he deserved to be ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball. After his Rookie of the Year campaign last year, it looks like he wants to pass the torch along to his teammate. With Turner coming onto the scene in Los Angeles at the right time, these young players are showing how the Dodgers can win their first championship in almost 30 years.

The Final Rankings

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Washington Nationals
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Cincinnati Reds

Honorable Mentions:

Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado, Mark Renyolds, Charlie Blackmon: Each of these guys have some serious pop.

Tampa Bay Rays: Corey Dickerson, Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison: Dickerson and Morrison are having big years while Longoria continues his stellar career.

Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber: If this was any other year, they might be at the top of the list.

 

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2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

What is wrong with these 2016 Cy Young candidates?

Winning back-to-back Cy Young awards is quite the feat, as it has only been done by seven different players since the year 1956, most notably in 2013 and 2014 by Clayton Kershaw. Repeating as Cy Young is rarely anticipated, although having severe struggles are the last thing expected.

In 2017, we have seen six individuals suffer a hangover from their 2016 Cy Young-caliber seasons. In this piece, I will discuss why the player is struggling and what to expect from them moving forward.

The statistics below are accurate up to July 8, 2017

Rick Porcello

2016 Stats 33 GS 22-4 W-L 3.15 ERA 1.01 WHIP 7.63 K/9 223 IP
2017 Stats 18 GS 4-10 W-L 5.01 ERA 1.48 WHIP 8.25 K/9 111.1 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Masslive.com)

The reigning American League Cy Young award winner has regressed back to his normal self.

When looking at his pitches, Porcello has generally thrown his change-up at a 12 percent clip, although in 2017 he is only throwing it nine percent of the time, and for good reason.

According to his pitch values on fangraphs.com, where zero represents the average, Porcello’s 2016 change-up measured in at a 10.0, although so far in 2017, his change-up is valued at -2.2. His struggles with the change-up are possibly connected to his fastball woes as well, as in 2016 his fastball was valued at 13.0, although it is currently valued at -10.3.

His career BABIP sits at .312, although during his two most successful seasons in which he posted a 3.15 and 3.43 ERA, his BABIP sat comfortably below .300. Currently in 2017, his BABIP is an astronomical .346, which does scream for positive regression, although it explains part of his struggles.

His career home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, is a respectable 11.4 percent, although in his most successful seasons, he was able to keep it under 9.5.

Clearly, Porcello’s struggles have to do with the fact that he is extremely hittable. You can’t expect too much of a pitcher whose batting average against is almost .300.

Jon Lester

2016 Stats 32 GS 19-5 W-L 2.44 ERA 1.10 WHIP 8.75 K/9 202.2 IP
2017 Stats 18 GS 5-5 W-L 3.94 ERA 1.23 WHIP 9.22 K/9 107.1 IP

The 2016 National League Cy Young runner-up has been a serious disappointment this season.

He currently sports a left on base percentage, or LOB, of 71.6, which is much closer to his career average of 75.2 percent than his 2016 mark of 84.9 percent. Similarly, his current batting average against of .249 is also significantly closer to his career mark of .241, although his batting average against in 2016 was an incredible .209.

He is mixing his pitches in an almost identical fashion as he did in 2014, although his results have been quite the opposite. When looking at his pitch values and velocity, his fastball and curveball have both become negative in value while decreasing significantly in velocity.

It is fair to say that this 2017 Lester, opposed to the 2016 Cy Young-caliber Lester, is what we should expect moving forward.

Justin Verlander

2016 Stats 34 GS 16-9 W-L 3.04 ERA 1.00 WHIP 10.04 K/9 227.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 5-5 W-L 4.96 ERA 1.52 WHIP 8.45 K/9 98 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander’s 2017 season has been a serious anomaly. He has posted an ERA above four only twice in his 12-year career, although he seems to be on track to do so again this season.

The 2016 American League Cy Young runner-up won 16 games while posting a 3.04 ERA and an incredible .204 batting average against. Most people would say he was snubbed in the Cy Young vote, as his ratios far outshined Porcello’s, who won the award majorly because of his 22 wins and only four losses.

So far in 2017, Verlander has severely struggled with pitch location, as his career walk rate is 2.76 per nine innings, although his current walk rate is at a career high 4.39. This has caused his WHIP to rise from 1.00 in 2016 to 1.52 this year.

The 34-year-old’s BABIP of .316 suggests that he is due for some positive regression and his velocity has increased from last season, although his struggles seem control induced, which is not a good sign moving ahead.

Johnny Cueto

2016 Stats 32 GS 18-5 W-L 2.79 ERA 1.09 WHIP 8.11 K/9 219.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 6-7 W-L 4.26 ERA 1.33 WHIP 8.18 K/9 105.2 IP

Cueto’s 2016 campaign reminded us of his 2014 Cy Young runner-up season, where at 28 years old, he finished the season with 20 wins and a 2.25 ERA.

In 2016, Cueto was astounding, recording 18 wins and a 2.79 ERA. Now in 2017, Cueto is having his worst career year since his sophomore season with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009.

The 31-year-old is currently allowing 35.4 percent hard contact, which is about seven percent higher than his career mark, and 13 percent higher than in his 2014 season. He seems to be getting a bit unlucky as well, as his HR/FB is very high at 16.8 percent, which is well off his career average of 10.3 percent.

The most notable change to his pitch values are with his change-up, which has been his best complimentary pitch over his career and measures in at 21.7, although in 2017 alone his change-up is valued at -3.5.

An ineffective change-up, mile-high HR/FB rate and excessive amount of hard contact all seem to be the prime causes of Cueto’s 2017 struggles. A turnaround is definitely possible if he can reign in his change-up and begin to limit hard contact.

Masahiro Tanaka

2016 Stats 31 GS 14-4 W-L 3.07 ERA 1.08 WHIP 7.44 K/9 199.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 7-7 W-L 5.25 ERA 1.36 WHIP 9.03 K/9 97.2 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Photo by the Japanese Times)

Tanaka’s 2017 season has been nothing like we’ve ever seen from the Japanese international.

His current walk rate is at 2.40 per nine innings, although he had a walk rate under 1.62 in each of his last three seasons. Also, his BABIP is over .300 for the first time in his major league career, which is a bad sign for a ground ball pitcher like himself.

The major problem for Tanaka seems to be his lack of ability to throw the fastball. His four-seam fastball and cutter both rank in the deep negatives for pitch values. His off-speed pitches remain his bread and butter, although they are much less effective without a successful fastball to work off of.

Without a moderately effective fastball, Tanaka will remain unsuccessful.

Kyle Hendricks

2016 Stats 30 GS 16-8 W-L 2.13 ERA 0.98 WHIP 8.05 K/9 190 IP
2017 Stats 11 GS 4-3 W-L 4.09 ERA 1.20 WHIP 7.44 K/9 61.2 IP

Hendricks is a very interesting pitcher, as he managed to be a Cy Young candidate in 2016 while having on average an 86 mile per hour fastball.

He finished the 2016 season with 16 wins and an incredible 2.13 ERA, although in 2017, his command has decreased significantly. He is walking a full player more per nine innings than in both of his previous years.

The 27-year-old is also allowing 36 percent hard contact, which is over 10 percent higher than he has let up in his last four seasons. He is currently dealing with right middle finger inflammation, although he is scheduled for a rehab start on July 10 at the Double-A level.

It seems as though an injury has led to a lack of command, which is allowing hitters to make much better contact than in years past. If he can get healthy, there is a chance he can get back on track.

 

Featured image by the Chicago Tribune 

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One hit wonder MLB seasons

One-hit wonder MLB seasons since 2000

In Major League Baseball, players often breakout seemingly out of nowhere. The question then follows: Will their production continue, or will they simply fade away back to obscurity?

Methodology

In music, the term “one-hit wonder” refers to an artist who creates a song that ranks on the Billboard’s national top 40 list, while failing to recreate another with the same level of success. In baseball, we can label a player as a “one-hit wonder” if they experience a breakout season and are unable to recreate anywhere near the same level of success. In this case, success can be measured in accolades and wins above replacement player, or WAR.

For hitters, we will look at statistics like offensive WAR and accolades like MVP candidacy, Silver Slugger awards and All-Star appearances. For pitchers, we will assess the same group of statistics and awards, while also looking at Cy Young candidacies.

The main criteria used to compile the following list includes a blatant discrepancy between a player’s total career WAR and their WAR over a specific breakout season. Yearly awards are also taken into consideration, as a player can be considered a one-hit wonder if they finish within the top-25 voting for most valuable player, or MVP, while failing to ever do so again.

The following players combined make up the all “one-hit wonder” MLB team of the 2000’s. Note that being on this list does not mean the player had a bad career, but means they had a season that was a blatant anomaly.

Honorable mentions include: Angel Berroa (2003), Morgan Ensberg (2005) and Dontrelle Willis (2005)

Paul Lo Duca, Catcher, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2001

2001 Stats 125 G 25 HR 90 RBI 71 R .320/.374/.548
162 Game Avg. 162 G 12 HR 72 RBI 72 R .286/.337/.409
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Paul Lo Duca may be a three time All-Star from 2003-2006, but his most productive season came in 2001. (Photo by Getty Images)

Lo Duca was a 25th round draft pick by the Dodgers in 1993. He grinded through the minors, playing a total of 718 games at three different minor league levels.

He expected to get a shot at the everyday catcher’s job in 1998 after the Dodgers traded away arguably the greatest hitting catcher of all time, Mike Piazza, to the Florida Marlins.

Although this was not the case, as the Dodgers received catcher Charles Johnson in return. This delayed Lo Duca’s first full MLB season until 2001.

In 2001, Lo Duca showed out, batting .320 while hitting a career-high 25 home runs with 90 RBIs in only 125 games. His offensive WAR measured 4.2, which was considerably higher than any other season, as his second-highest offensive WAR came the following season at 2.9.

Although Lo Duca made four consecutive All-Star appearances from 2003-2006, 2001 was the only season where he ranked within the top-25 in National League MVP voting at 19.

 

Darin Erstad, First Baseman, Anaheim Angels, 2000

2000 Stats 157 G 25 HR 100 RBI 121 R 28 SB .355/.409/.541
162 Game Avg. 162 G 12 HR 68 RBI 89 R 18 SB .282/.336/.407

Erstad may be one of the most obvious MLB players to have a one-hit wonder season. After being selected as the first overall pick in the 1995 draft by the California Angels, Erstad made a quick jump to the majors in 1996 after playing in only 143 games at four different minor league levels.

Erstad’s breakout came in 2000, as he managed to bat a miraculous .355 while hitting 25 home runs, scoring 121 runs and setting an MLB-record for most RBIs by a leadoff hitter with 100. It looks as if this record will be shattered by either the Houston Astros George Springer or the Colorado Rockies Charlie Blackmon this season, although it remains incredible feat either way.

In his 26-year-old season, Erstad ranked eighth in American League MVP voting while also being named an AL All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner. His offensive WAR during this season totaled 5.6, which accounted for over 30 percent of his total offensive WAR over his 14-year career.

Junior Spivey, Second Baseman, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2002 

2002 Stats 143 G 16 HR 78 RBI 103 R 11 SB .301/.389/.476
162 Game Avg. 162 G 17 HR 71 RBI 91 R 11 SB .270/.354/.436
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Junior Spivey’s career was short but was in MVP conversation in 2002. (Photo by Getty Images)

Spivey’s 2002 season matches up fairly evenly with his 162-game average, although he only managed to play in over 100 games in a season twice, as he only tallied 457 career games played in the major leagues.

 

In 2002, Spivey set career-highs across the board in home runs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, stolen bases, walks and runs scored.

He managed to make his first and only All-Star team while also finishing the year 14th in National League MVP voting. His offensive WAR totaled 4.3, which is over 50 percent of his total career offensive WAR, which totals 7.3.

 

Chase Headley, Third Baseman, San Diego Padres, 2012

2012 Stats 161 G 31 HR 115 RBI 95 R 17 SB .286/.376/.498
162 Game Avg. 162 G 15 HR 69 RBI 72 R 4 SB .263/.343/.399

The current New York Yankee has been an above-average player for his entire career, as in each of his ten seasons, he has tallied an offensive WAR above one. It was Headley’s 2012 season that makes him one of MLB’s one-hit wonders of the 2000’s.

In his fourth season as a full-time starter, the former second-round pick flourished, batting .286 with 31 home runs, 115 RBI, 95 runs and 17 stolen bases. Headley managed to win a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, while also finishing fifth in the National League MVP vote. His offensive WAR of 6.5 in 2012 makes up for over 25 percent of his total career offensive WAR of 24.2.

Rich Aurilia, Shortstop, San Francisco Giants, 2001 

2001 Stats 156 G 37 HR 97 RBI 114 R .324/.369/.572
162 Game Avg. 162 G 18 HR 74 RBI 73 R .275/.328/.433
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Rich Aurilia’s 2001 season remains a massive anomaly compared to the rest of his career. (Photo by Getty Images)

Aurilia mustered up some productive years, but nothing like his 2001 campaign. In his lone All-Star season, Aurilia led the league in hits with 206, 37 of which went for home runs. In 2001, he batted .324 with 114 runs scores and 97 RBIs.

At 29 years old, Aurilia managed to earn a Silver Slugger while also being voted 12th in the National League MVP race. His offensive WAR in 2001 totaled 6.3, which is 33 percent of his 15-year career total offensive WAR of 18.9. His second most productive offensive season came the year before in 2000, where he totaled an offensive WAR of 2.2.

 

Lew Ford, Left Fielder, Minnesota Twins, 2004

2004 Stats 154 G 15 HR 72 RBI 89 R 20 SB .299/.381/.446
162 Game Avg. 162 G 11 HR 55 RBI 73 R 15 SB .268/.345/.399

Former 12th round pick by the Boston Red Sox, Ford was traded to the Twins in 2000 for a veteran reliever. Ford played 230 games in the minors for Minnesota, batting .297 with 24 home runs and 124 RBI before being called up in 2003.

It was Ford’s 2004 campaign that puts him on the map of one-hit wonder seasons. Ford batted .299 with 15 home runs, 72 RBIs, 89 runs and 20 stolen bases in 154 games.

In his first full major league season, the 27-year-old finished 24th in the American League MVP vote. His offensive WAR in 2004 was 3.3, which is about 64 percent of his career offensive production, as his total career offensive WAR is 4.9.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Fielder, Boston Red Sox, 2011

2011 Stats 158 G 32 HR 105 RBI 119 R 39 SB .321/.376/.552
162 Game Avg. 162 G 14 HR 68 RBI 98 R 46 SB .285/.341/.418
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011 campaign resulted in a second place finish in the AL MVP race. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Before joining the “Evil Empire”, Ellsbury enjoyed plenty of success as a part of the Boston Red Sox, winning two championships in 2007 and 2013. However, many tend to forget how outlandish his lone All-Star season was in 2011.

At 27 years old, Ellsbury batted .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, 119 runs scored and 39 stolen bases. He won a Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and finished second in the American League MVP vote behind the Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander.

There was one occasion in 2013 in which Ellsbury finished within the top-25 in MVP voting, although the numbers he was putting up were nowhere close to his 2011 campaign. His offensive WAR in 2011 registered at 7.4, which accounts for 28 percent of his total offensive production over his 11-year career, whereas his offensive WAR in 2013 measured in at only 4.1.

Carlos Quentin, Right Fielder, Chicago White Sox, 2008 

2008 Stats 130 G 36 HR 100 RBI 96 R 7 SB .288/.394/.571
162 Game Avg. 162 G 30 HR 95 RBI 81 R 2 SB .252/.347/.484

Quentin’s 162 game average is very respectable, although due to the fact that he only played in at least 130 games in a season twice, he finds himself as the starting right fielder of the one-hit wonder team of the 2000’s. The former first-round pick managed to hit 154 home runs and 491 RBIs over his nine-year career, although the majority of his offensive production came in 2008.

Quentin finished his 25-year-old season with a career-best .288 batting average, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 96 runs scored. His offensive WAR of 5.3 accounts for exactly one third of his total career offensive production. If Quentin could stay healthy, he doesn’t end up on this list.

Mark Prior, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs, 2003

2003 Stats 30 GS 18-6 W-L 2.43 ERA 1.10 WHIP 245 K 211.1 IP
162 Game Avg. 34 GS 13-9 W-L 3.51 ERA 1.23 WHIP 243 K 211 IP
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Mark Prior’s career was cut tragically short due to a slew of injuries. (Photo by ESPN.com)

Prior was drafted 43rd overall by the Yankees in 1998, but decided to forgo and attend the University of Southern California instead. Three years later, he was selected second overall by the Cubs in the 2001 draft.

He made his major league debut in May of 2002, and finished the season with a 6-6 record, 3.32 ERA and 147 Ks in 116.2 innings pitched. In 2003, Prior officially broke out, recording an 18-6 record with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts.

He was voted an All-Star for the first and only time, while finishing third in the National League Cy Young and ninth in the NL MVP vote.

Prior’s career was derailed by multiple injuries including a broken ankle, broken elbow, torn labrum and torn rotator cuff, which caused him to retire at just 25 years of age in 2006.

His career WAR over five seasons is 15.7, although a good bit of his production occurred in 2003, where his WAR totaled 7.4.

John Axford, Closer, Milwaukee Brewers, 2011 

2011 Stats 74 G 46 SV 1.95 ERA 1.14 WHIP 86 K 73 IP
162 Game Avg. 68 G 20 SV 3.68 ERA 1.41 WHIP 74 K 65 IP

After being drafted in the seventh round in 2001, Axford decided to forgo the draft and attend the University of Notre Dame. He was then selected in the 42nd round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2005, although he did not sign. After spending a season with the Yankees, Axford made a move to Milwaukee where he would be until 2013.

Axford spent three full seasons as the Brewers’ primary closer, although his 2011 campaign was unparalleled to any other. He recorded 46 saves, a 1.95 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 73 innings pitched. His WAR in 2011 totaled 2.3, which accounts for over 50 percent of his nine-year career WAR of 4.2.

 

Featured image by Ed Betz of MLB.com

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5 Players to Watch in the MLB Futures Game

The Futures game is set to be played this Sunday July 9th at Marlins Park in Miami. Last year’s game featured some big names including the now All-Star, Gary Sanchez. Here are some names to look for that could make an impact in the big leagues in the near future.

Yoan Moncada

Moncada has proven to be a threat on the base paths (Yahoo Sports)

Moncada made an appearance in last year’s game and left his mark winning the MVP of the game. He also made his way up to the big leagues with the Red Sox netting only four hits in 19 at bats. Over the off-season he was the cornerstone piece of the Chris Sale trade with the White Sox. He has been at the AAA level so far this season and is having a good stint with a .282/.380/.455 line. On top of that, MLB.com ranks him as the number one prospect in baseball.

Watch out for Moncada’s speed because he has the chance to be one of the next big threats on the base paths. He is not on Billy Hamilton level but he can be a threat anytime he reaches base. He also features a well-rounded bat that will grow with his experience as a pro. While his glove at second still has some work to be done, he has drawn comparisons to Robinson Cano.

Moncada is still a work in progress. However, he is ahead of schedule in terms of when he may be able to provide full-time service in Chicago. His second futures game may provide a lens to look through as to what he may be in the future.

Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers may add a big punch for the Rockies (The Daily Sentinel)

Taken 3rd overall by the Rockies in 2015, Rodgers has the opportunity to become the true heir to Troy Tulowitzki in the middle of the infield for the Rockies. MLB.com ranks him as the 10th best prospect in baseball.

While his range is something to work on, he possess a very strong arm that could make him serviceable in the majors. What makes him valuable though is his power for a middle infielder coupled with his ability to find gaps in the defense. In 48 games at A ball he recorded a .400/.419/.700 line which is eye popping. What stands out though is his lack of walks. Rodgers only recorded six walks in those 48 games, so it is important for him to develop some patience.

Look for Rodgers to make an appearance on the 40-man roster in September for Colorado. Being in the rocky mountains could really make the ball fly off his bat and show his potential. He may not be able to stay in the majors past September but it could give him some valuable experience as to what he needs to look for. Although he does not have the same glove Tulo did while he was in Colorado, he could add that same punch to the lineup.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr

The youngest star in the futures game is the son of the notorious Vladimir Guerrero. Although they are related, they are not quite the same ball players.  Guerrero Jr possesses a more bulky frame than his father. His age also suggests that he may get even bulkier. Because of this, he may have to move over to first base if his mobility slows.

Guerrero has a chance to be one of the better hitters in the league largely thanks to his eye. It is not so often that you see a young bat rack up more walks than strikeouts, but that is what you have in Guerrero. He also shows signs of being able to hit the long ball but that has yet to translate in A ball. It will be great to see what potential he has being the son of a future hall-of-famer as well as being so young.

Just like his father, he has a great ability to make contact. He also shows the maturity of a seasoned vet by spraying hits all around the field and not just swinging for the fences. It will be interesting to see if he is able to keep that maturity and sit back to wait for the right pitch, seeing that Guerrero will be on a big stage for the first time in his career. If so, we might be looking at one of the better all-around hitters of the future.

Eloy Jimenez

Jimenez has drawn comparisons to All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton (Baseball America)

Despite all of the young talent the Cubs have recently brought up to the big league club, they still have some studs in their farm system. MLB.com ranks Eloy Jimenez as the 8th overall prospect and the 3rd overall outfielder in the minors. He was also ranked as the number one international prospect when he signed with Chicago in 2013.

Jimenez had a very productive 2016 season. He finished with a line of .329/.369/.532. He has shown the potential to hit for extra bases while also struggling to take pitches. Jimenez also struck out 3.76 times for every walk which makes it evident that he still has some room to grow in the minors. However, he is still expected to make it to the big league club within the next couple of years.

It will be interesting to see how Jimenez fits into the Chicago organization with how crowded their roster is at the moment. There are a lot of young studs that Chicago will probably have to move around in order to make room for Jimenez, if they feel he is worth it.

 

Jack Flaherty

Futures Game

Flaherty has the tools to be a reliable major league starter (Springfield News-Leader)

Flaherty was the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft. MLB.com ranks him as the 96th overall prospect, which may be because of his less than stellar stuff. Flaherty does not light up the gun or blow hitters away. What he is though is effective. In 10 starts in AA ball he recorded seven wins and 62 strikeouts. He also only let in 10 runs which gave him a stellar ERA of 1.42.

Don’t expect Flaherty to dazzle you in the Futures game. Do expect him to keep hitters guessing and not let any situation get taken out of control.

Flaherty has been in the Cardinals organization for three years now. It may not be another couple of years until he makes it to St. Louis though. Despite his quality performance in AA Springfield this year, he has had a rough go of things in AAA. In 6 starts he has given up 14 earned runs. However, he has given up seven long balls. What this shows is that he is still adjusting to a new environment. He will make mistakes here and there but overall, he can still control a ball game. Hitters are still missing as they only have a .237 batting average against him in AAA. It will take time for him to mature, but once he gets there he could be a solid 3rd starter in the rotation for St. Louis.

 

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