Deja Vu for RunAway in Game 7 of the Apex Final

Game 7. One game away from realizing a dream or living a nightmare. In RunAway’s case, it’s more like reliving a nightmare. The second heartbreaking Apex finals loss in the last three seasons comes at the hands of a team who had a similar uprising to the story of RunAway’s initial Apex run: GC Busan.

GC Busan after winning Game 7 over RunAway. Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/ogn

GC Busan completes the royal road

GC Busan is the first team to run the gauntlet, or as they say in Korea, complete the “royal road,” to win their first Apex title. What that means is GC Busan entered the season as a brand new team that qualified through OGN’s challenger series and took the berth all the way to a championship. It’s remarkable what GC Busan and the City of Busan were able to accomplish in their first season. However, the success of the upstart GC Busan left one of the biggest Overwatch fan bases in disarray. RunAway started as a team of ringers back in season one. They also qualified through the challenger league. In a similar fashion to GC Busan, they seemingly came out of nowhere to be considered one of the best teams in Overwatch.

Now flashback to season two, a RunAway team still consisting of Stitch, Haksol and Kaiser, who at the time was one of the best Reindhart mains in Korea, took it to the established number one team in the world: Lunatic-Hai. In the finals, RunAway grabbed a 3-1 lead over Lunatic-Hai, a team they’d beaten in group stage two, only to drop the next three and lose on Eichenwald.

Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/ogn

Sound familiar? That’s because it is. It’s deja vu for the talented Korean squad, and it’s going to be a hard pill to swallow moving forward. A dominating 3-1 lead over Lunatic-Hai and a 3-2 lead over GC Busan. Both end in complete heartbreak. Two game 7 losses on Eichenwald is the only thing separating RunAway from being considered the worlds best.

RunAway’s Game 7 losses match up to history’s great choke jobs

So, is this the new version of the Buffalo Bills of the early 90’s? Or the Cleveland Indians surrendering seemingly insurmountable leads to lose in the most depressing way imaginable? It’s similar, but this is a team that’s story is just beginning. If anything, these two losses felt like flukes, but it’s something RunAway will have to focus on moving forward: closing matches.

Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/ogn

Nevertheless, I’m not here to diminish the accomplishments of both GC Busan or Lunatic-Hai, as both are well respected and talented teams, but something has to be said about RunAway squandering leads. Is it a lack of discipline when nearing the finish line? In my eyes, it’s their opponents finding another gear or a strategy that counter-acts everything RunAway is trying to accomplish.

In the case of GC Busan, that’s exactly what happened. The moment Hooreg and Profit switched over to the Tracer and Genji, RunAway had no answer. A team known for its strength in those two characters was surprisingly outplayed in every aspect. It was a complete 180-degree turn and something completely unexpected.

The main focus should be on the excellent team play of GC Busan and they’re decision making. It might feel like a fluke considering where this team started the season, but it was made clear early on that they were a serious contender.

Lastly, the future of Apex is uncertain. The Overwatch League is guaranteed to steal most of the talent, and the world of Overwatch’s focus will shift to North America. As for RunAway, it just a blip in the road. For RunAway players, two losses at the brink of a championship can change a person psychologically. It shakes a players confidence to the core and puts doubt in their minds, but the players on this team will continue to make an impact on the scene and over time the pain of these losses will fade.


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featured image courtesy of twitch.tv/ogn

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Axe Bat leading hitting technology into the future

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

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

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

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

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

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

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

Rookie Hitters

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

“The week he switched, he won the NL

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

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

Player of the Week award,” Peterson said.

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

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

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

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

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

Established Professional Hitters

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

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

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Baseball Prospectus’ study on the Axe Bat here.

Licensing Axe-handle technology

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

 

(Feature image: Sports Illustrated)

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2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees fought to be here

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Didi Gregorius smacked two dingers to lift the Yankees to the ALCS on Wednesday (WKYC)

Didi Gregorius and the New York Yankees stormed back against the Indians to move on to the ALCS on Wednesday. They found themselves in a 2-0 hole without any hope. Joe Girardi’s job even seemed to be on the line. After some questionable decisions early in the series, many were expecting him to have one foot out the door.

Just like they did in the Wild Card game, New York fought its way back to find themselves in the ALCS for the first time since 2012. While there were some offensive heroes such as Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner, the Yankees won in large part thanks to outstanding pitching.

With their backs up against the wall, their starting pitchers in the last three games of the series turned in 18.1 innings with just five earned runs and 25 strikeouts. They made the Cleveland offense look foolish. On top of that, Aroldis Chapman shut down the Indians’ season for the second year in a row.

What already seems to be forgotten is how the Yankees battled their way in the Wild Card game. They were down quick to the Cinderella Twins, giving up three runs in the first 1/3 innings. They quickly responded though and Joe Girardi played a bullpen game for the ages.

Houston has New York’s number

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Altuve has proven why he was the best hitter in baseball in 2017 (Yahoo Sports)

The Astros managed to go an impressive 5-2 against the Yankees during the regular season. What was especially impressive was that they managed to average 6.14 runs per game this season against the Bronx Bombers.

Houston played a great series against Boston and clicked on all cylinders. Their offense looked as good as ever and will be a challenge for New York to slow down. The Yankees’ pitching staff has had to work much harder than Houston’s, so something to look for in the series is fatigue.

Justin Verlander’s presence on the Astros pitching staff makes a significant difference this time of year. This Yankees team does not have a whole lot of experience against Verlander despite him pitching in the American League. This will be the first time that Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will ever see him.

The only starter that the Yankees seem to have success against is Charlie Morton. The team as a collective have a career .327 batting average against him with seven home runs. It will be interesting to see if A.J. Hinch will give Morton the nod this series. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. do have more success against the Yankees, but it is still in limited appearances. Look for the Astors’ starters to have some success in this series.

The main reason Houston is here, however, is their offense, something that went missing for the Indians in the ALDS. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa especially have good resumes against New York. Altuve is also swinging a hot bat after hitting three home runs in the first game of the ALDS.

How the series will play out

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Heroics from Gregorius and Gardner have led to some postseason magic for New York (ABC News)

Despite the Yankees recent success in clutch moments, the Astros are favored to win the ALCS and move on to the World Series according to Vegas odds. It won’t be a cake walk for Houston though.

A large part of the series is going to depend on the Yankees starters keeping up what they were doing against Cleveland. New York had some impressive times at the plate whether it be the two bombs from Gregorius in game five, or the 12-pitch at-bat by Brett Gardner in the ninth that led to insurance runs for the Yankees.

However, the offense as a whole was nothing to write home about.

It is hard to determine whether or not the success of the New York staff came from an Indians offense going cold or an overpowering performance by their starters. They will not be running into a cold Houston offense however. Houston has not been shutout since Aug. 17 and has scored two runs or more in all but four games since that date. Seeing that Houston had the best overall offense in all of baseball in the regular season, it will be tough for Yankees pitching to slow them down.

The postseason is unpredictable of course. Many thought it was all but a lock when the Indians went up 2-0 in the ALDS. New York wasn’t even a favorite coming out of their own division, so anything can happen this time of year.

What has been especially fun to watch with the Yankees is their ability to fight back. Brett Gardner has been a catalyst for New York. His final at-bat on Wednesday was evidence of how badly he wants that second ring. Despite the advantage the Astros have on the offensive side of the ball, the Yankees seem to have that postseason magic that every team is desperate to have.

If the Yankees pitching staff keeps it up then things could get very interesting this series. Nothing will be given in this series because each team knows what is at stake.

ALCS Prediction: Yankees in 7

 

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

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

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

Why it Matters

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Astros

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Dodgers

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Field

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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World Series baseball fans need

The World Series baseball fans need

The Houston Astros are off to a blistering start taking the opening two-game leg of their Division Series with Boston, winning both games in lopsided fashion 8-2. The Washington Nationals however, find themselves on the ropes early against the Cubs. Of the teams left in this year’s postseason, only Washington and Houston have never brought home a World Series title. This is the World Series baseball fans need.

Why not the Indians

The Indians are a popular pick this year to take home the hardware. After last night’s 13th inning emotional 9-8 win in which the Indians surged back from six runs down, it’s hard to argue they won’t win it all. At least for the moment, they look unbreakable.

world series

Tris Speaker hit 792 career two-baggers, still the most in MLB history. (Photo courtesy of: Charles Conlon / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

While it is true the Indians have a longer drought of championship seasons than both Houston and Washington,the fans in Cleveland still have Bob Feller and the 1948 series. They still have the glory of 1920 when player/manager Tris Speaker, all-time doubles champ, guided the Indians to the title. Behind Speaker’s steady hand, the Indians beat Brooklyn five games to two in a best of nine series.

Cleveland experienced the bitter taste of Game 7 defeat in last year’s World Series against Chicago. What’s more is that it happened on home soil. Ouch. The Indians came oh so close coming off the deck from three runs down and pushing the game into extra’s. It turned out only a tease however, as the Cleveland faithful watched Chicago exorcise that billy-goat voodoo that had kept them down for so long.

The novelty of an Indians World Series resonates with many, but this year we have real chance at seeing something none of us has ever seen. A World Series title in a city that’s never had one. Cleveland has had three shots at the title since 1995, let’s see someone else give it a go.

Why not the Yankees

No.

Futility in Washington… or is it Montreal?

Not wanting to put the horse before the carriage, there is still a long road to travel for both Washington and Houston. Reaching that promised land of World Series glory takes a focus and commitment that few realize. On top of that, it can take an incredibly long time to get there.

And some, like Washington, are still waiting to make their first appearance.

The Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, have more combined city swaps and name changes than they do World Series appearances. They’ve never been there a single time in 48 years of existence, though they were close once.

world series baseball fans need

Gary Carter and some his 1981 Expos teammates pose for a photo prior to first pitch. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)

In 1981 the Expos lost a best-of-five NLCS. Due to the lockout occurring during the middle of the season, the playoff format was restructured. What sprang out of it were the first League Division Series’ in MLB history. All credit to Montreal, they dispatched the Phillies in five games.

This led to their first ever appearance in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It might seem unusual to us now, but until 1985 the League Championship Series were only best-of-five. Montreal lost in that 1981 NLCS series deciding Game 5 by a score of 2-1. Their hopes dashed by a ninth inning blast off the bat of Rick Monday.

The Nationals’ fortunes have been changing lately however. It’s amazing what a stable full of pitchers who are capable of winning a Cy Young Award will do for your hopes of taking home a championship. Washington’s nasty mixture of starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer make up a doomsday rotation that uses opposing bats to build a funeral pyre.

The Nationals can hit the lights out too. They are led by the exceptional Bryce Harper and a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman. Sprinkle in a few good breaks on the diamond and Washington might be cooking up some championship stew in 2017.

Houston Strong

Houston has been through a lot this year and that’s putting it lightly. A World Series win would be a welcome distraction from all that has happened, if only for a brief period. It would right the wrong of 2005, when the White Sox were hoisting the trophy before Houston even realized the series was on. The south-siders bounced them in four.

Houston has a spotty playoff history that seems to happen in waves, but this is undoubtedly the best grouping of players since the times of the Killer B’s.

world series baseball fans need

Sweet-swinging Jose Altuve won his third AL batting title this season hitting at a .346 clip. (Photo courtesy of: Baselinetimes.com)

Out is Jeff Bagwell, in is Jose Altuve. The 2017 edition of the Houston Astros is about as complete a team as you will see. If they do have an Achilles’ heel, it will be in the field. This season they rank number 24 of 30 teams in defensive efficiency. If defensive woes are going to be their undoing though, they certainly aren’t showing up right now. This team is playing like a team on a mission.

And it has been a long, hard, cruel road.

Consider this, Houston has had a franchise since their inception as the Colt .45’s in 1962. In the years since, they’ve been renamed as many times as they’ve appeared on baseball’s biggest stage; once. For those scoring at home, that’s 55 years without a title. That’s 55 years yielding only one World Series appearance. It’s time Houston, it’s time.

Should Houston and Cleveland match-up in the ALCS this year, the Indians will make the Astros earn it every step of the way. Unless you count the one-game wild card in 2013 as a sweep, you must go all the way back to 1954 to find the last, and only, time that Cleveland has ever been swept in any playoff series. That year, it was Willie Mays and the Giants who did the damage.

It would also be the first time since the Yankees battled the Royals for the AL pennant in 1977 that two 100+ win teams square off in the ALCS.

The World Series baseball fans need 

Washington versus Houston. Why is this the World Series we need? Because it’s something new. It’s something unique, and it’s something that’s never happened before. Heck, Washington hasn’t even been there before.

We need this World Series because of the match-ups it poses.

world series baseball fans need

Stephen Strasburg is planning a vacation to his favorite locale; Blew Bayou. (Photo courtesy of: AP / Mark J. Terrill)

Washington’s pitching versus Houston’s potent lineup is a story line just waiting to unfold. Who will win the day? Stephen Strasburg and his overpowering stuff? Or will it be the wily three-time American League batting champion, Jose Altuve finding the gap with the game on the line?

These two teams have unfinished business to attend to as well. In the regular season, Houston and Washington played a three-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Washington took two of the three games, but both losses for Houston were one-run games that could have easily swung the other way. One was an 11 inning affair that slipped through Houston’s fingers in that final frame. Let’s have some more of that please.

An Astros versus Nationals World Series wouldn’t just be another sports novelty. It will be an epic World Series if it does indeed happen. So, if you’re on the fence, let this be your call to action to jump on either the Washington or Houston bandwagon. I’m sure both team’s fan-bases will be happy to have the extra hands on deck.

In a season that has offered us a lot of remarkable firsts, like rookies named Aaron Judge that hit 52 homers in a year. It would only be right to see another first for MLB. A new champion and “Leading City of Baseball” that has never before been crowned.

Let’s crown a champion that none of us has ever seen before in 2017. Let’s go you Astros! Let’s go you Nationals!

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: doin-work.com)

 

 

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How the Yankees can challenge the Indians

The New York Yankees matched up against the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night in the AL Wild Card game. And boy, was it wild. After a slug-fest of a first inning that saw six total runs scored, the Yankees were able to bullpen their way to an 8-4 victory. But even with a rough outing from starter Luis Severino, the Yankees showed why they belong in these playoffs. They also showed something more; the grit and determination to give the Cleveland Indians a run for their money.

Four is better than one

Yankees starter Luis Severino was chased from the AL Wild Card game after just 1/3 IP (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Playoff baseball is different animal, as Luis Severino quickly found out. He couldn’t tame the Twins, allowing three earned runs in 1/3 IP. But after ousting the startled starter, the Minnesota Twins could only muster one run for the remainder of the game. The Yankees sent four different relievers to the mound, and the Twins were baffled by each one. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Khanle, and Aroldis Chapman combined to whiff 13 Twins, en route to a dominate bullpen performance.

This masterful performance by the Yankees bullpen cannot be understated. The Minnesota Twins were one of the highest scoring offenses in the late stages of the season, catching fire at the plate at the beginning of August. But after Severino’s struggles, the Yankees were able to throw out four high-quality relievers to shut the game down. The starting rotation may be the weakest link of this Yankees team, but when Girardi can rely on a bullpen as deep as his, it almost doesn’t matter.

Deeper than the long ball

Matt Holliday will provide the Yankees with clutch ABs off the bench. (sportingnews.com)

After rookie sensation Aaron Judge mashed 52 long balls to take the rookie HR crown, he began his search for a new crown Tuesday night. His quest began in style, taking Twins reliever Jose Berrios on a two-run ride to left field. But it wasn’t just Judge providing the offense, as the Yankees had contributions from the whole lineup. Only three players were held without a hit, as Starlin Castro, Jacoby Ellsbury and Todd Frazier went 0-fer on Tuesday night.

The Yankees offense also extends to it’s bench, as grizzled veterans Matt Holliday and Chase Headley ride the pine. Both players had 60-plus RBIs in the regular season, and have 30-plus homer seasons under their belts as well. With that much power on the bench, the Yankees are one of the deeper offense in the playoffs.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

The former Cy Young winner will look to continue his renaissance season in the playoffs (Kathy Willens/Associated Press).

While the starting rotation may be the weakest link of the team, having a former Cy Young winner in C.C. Sabathia can help strengthen that link. Being able to pair Sabathia with prized trade deadline acquisition Sonny Gray and Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka gives the Yankees a solid starting rotation.

But they may not even need it. With the bullpen showing its mettle in the Wild Card game and the offense being one of the deepest in the playoffs, the Yankees have multiple ways to win. And they will definitely need to employ each one to have a chance against the Cleveland Indians.

With a combination of savvy veteran starters, fire throwing relievers, and a dynamic offense, the Yankees have a collection of talent to rival any other team in these playoffs. Whether its the baby bombers Judge and Sanchez, or the dynamic duo Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, the Yankees can score with anyone and completely shut down everyone. Needless to say, the Indians will have a challenge on their hands. The Yankees are similar to the Indians of the past; a young and hungry team with the talent to match up against anyone.

Feature image from Associated Press. 

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World Series

Five World Series match ups we want to see

Chicago Cubs vs Cleveland Indians

World Series

Cleveland is looking for redemption after their skid in the 2016 World Series (ABC Chicago)

A rematch of the 2016 World Series is on the eyes of many. Last year was one of the most successful World Series of the century in terms of viewership. The narrative of the two teams and their droughts captured the hearts of America.

The series went to extra innings in game seven, and the Indians are surely looking to redeem themselves after giving the title to the Cubs. Cleveland had a 3-1 game lead and were not able to end their drought.

The Indians look like the better and more complete team this year with all the inconsistencies that Chicago has been dealing with. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor look stronger than ever and would be difficult to stop.

 

New York Yankees vs Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series

Kershaw would love to reverse his postseason woes (Photo Courtesy of: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

We all know the networks are pulling for this one. The two largest markets in the country battling it out in October may be what the league needs to keep the World Series ratings on pace with last year. A rematch between the Cubs and Indians is enticing, but it may not have quite the same sparkle to it as this match up of two iconic teams.
Not only will the markets be battling it out, but the two rookie sensations in Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger would be highlighted. Both of these young stars broke home run records that were thought to be near impossible to break. Both teams have well-rounded hitting and would make for a long series.
The Yankees have had much more success out of these two titans of baseball. The Dodgers have a drought they are looking to break of not going to the World Series in 20 years. A Dodgers-Yankees World Series would make for a great final hurdle for LA to get over in order to win the series.

Houston Astros vs Los Angels Dodgers

Cleveland may have ended up with one more win than Houston, but the Astros and Dodgers were the two teams that had a stronghold as the best two teams in the majors for most of the year. The Astros have the hitting edge with their three headed monster of Correa, Altuve, and Springer. However, the Dodgers have the pitching edge with Kershaw, Wood, and Hill. Not to mention Kenley Jansen, who was one of the best closers in baseball this year.
This would be the superstar match up that many would have predicted in June. Things have changed since then, but they are still 100+ win teams that are not messing around. Both teams are hungry for a World Series title. The TV networks would love this as well as Houston is looking for a win after Hurricane Harvey. A Fall Classic in Houston would bring life to a city that needs it.

Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros

World Series

Bryce Harper is looking to prove the Nationals can play in the postseason (Sports Illustrated)

The last few years we have been talking about World Series droughts. The Cubs broke their 100+ year losing streak last fall, and the Indians are prime candidates to break their drought that goes back to 1948. However, the Astros have never won a Fall Classic, and the Nationals have never even been to one!
The Nationals (formally Montreal Expos) have only been around since 1969, and the Astros were founded in 1962. They reached their first and only World Series in 2005 when they lost to the Chicago White Sox.
So who wouldn’t want to see two teams duke it out for the right to bring the title to their hometown for the first time (excluding the 1924 Washington Senators)?

Cubs vs Red Sox

A rematch of the 1918 World Series, would feature two baseball teams that have the most historic World Series droughts in the game. Both were lead by Theo Epstein, who is probably the best executive we have seen this generation. This match up would be centered around the history behind these two teams as well as the connection with Theo.

Boston and Chicago played at similar levels this season, with a little bit of edge given to Boston. The Red Sox have a solid pitching staff centered around Chris Sale and their stud closer Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox have their own version of Andrew Miller now as well with David Price. It will be interesting to see how he is worked into a World Series.

Another intriguing similarity between the two teams is Jon Lester and John Lackey. That is just one other connection between these two teams that seems to be endless. If these two teams had met in the Fall Classic 15 years ago, it would be a whole other level of excitement. Now that they have both broken their streaks now, it doesn’t have the same pop. However, it would not be surprising for this match up to keep those ratings on par with 2016.

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Cleveland Indians playoffs

Will anyone stop the Indians?

Whether you are a baseball fan or not, you are bound to have heard about the Indians’ win streak. Cleveland reached 22 wins without a single loss in September, and they have not slowed down since the Royals broke that streak. Since the streak ended, the Indians have still won seven of eight games. This makes it so they only lost two games in the past month.
Cleveland has picked the right time to heat up. Many managers and players will tell you that they will take the team that is the hottest going into the playoffs rather than who had the best record.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Clayton Kershaw is looking to ditch his poor postseason reputation. (USA Today)

Speaking of best record, the Indians really are not far off from it. In the middle of August, it didn’t look like any team in the majors would come close to the Dodgers. The possibility of the Dodgers breaking the single season wins record was even floating around.
Instead, the win streak record was broken. Now the Indians are fighting for home-field advantage in the World Series as they only trail the Dodgers by two games.
Los Angles definitely had more sustained success than the Indians despite falling apart in the dog days of summer. They have been fighting to get back on track just before October and seem to be doing that with Clayton Kershaw back. The Dodgers have a stellar rotation after the acquisition of Yu Darvish and also have the bullpen that can shut down any lineup. Nobody is going to doubt their pitching.
The issue with this team, however, is that it may be just a little bit better than average on offense. That will not be enough to beat Cleveland. The Dodgers rank seventh in the National League in offense. While they have some real stars in Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, it may not be enough to beat the stellar pitching Cleveland has to offer.
With all of the talent the Dodgers have on the mound, the Indians still might beat them out. Their bullpen gained a lot of notoriety last postseason behind Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Corey Kluber would also be a lock for the Cy Young this year if it wasn’t for a man named Chris Sale in Boston.
It looks like Cleveland is the hotter and more well-rounded team out of the two. I wouldn’t count on the Dodgers slowing down the Indians if they were to meet in the Fall Classic.

Houston Astros

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Altuve is almost a sure thing for AL MVP. (MLB.com)

The Astros are the next best team in the American League after the Indians. This would be a fascinating ALCS if it were to happen. Houston was thought to be easily the team to beat in the AL, but Cleveland has taken that title from them in the past month.
Houston prides itself on its strong offense led by Jose Altuve. The veteran second baseman is wrapping up his MVP caliber season while leading the majors in batting average and WAR.
He does not have such a bad supporting cast either. Shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer are both forces at the plate. They will give any pitcher fits. If it was not for their injuries, they would be competing with Altuve for MVP.
The Astros easily have the best offense in the league and have the best shot at stopping Corey Kluber and the Indians. While they only managed to win one of six games against Cleveland this season, the playoffs are a different animal. Houston has been hot and looks to ride that into the playoffs,
Look for this matchup in October because if it happens, it may be the most intriguing one we see.

Boston Red Sox

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Devers has come onto the scene to add some pop to the Boston lineup. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Red Sox may have the best pitcher in the league to go head to head with Corey Kluber. Chris Sale, along with Kluber, is a candidate for the AL Cy Young. Both have impressive strikeout rates and can dominate any lineup in the league.
Corey Kluber has only lost one game since the All-Star break, which was against Boston. While he may not have had a whole lot of run support or help from the bullpen, it still may be a sign that the Red Sox have what it takes to beat the hottest team in baseball.
Boston does not have many sluggers on their team, but they do have a group of young talent that can give any pitcher fits. With the emergence of Andrew Benintendi and call-up Rafael Devers, the Red Sox are sitting pretty for the postseason.
They will have a challenge in order to potentially get to the Indians. They will most likely play Houston in the ALDS in what should be an exciting series.
It will be tough for Boston to get past the Astros. However, if they do manage to play Cleveland, they will look to maximize their pitching efforts as they have the second best pitching staff behind the Indians in the AL.
Featured image from NPR

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Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League 2017: Youngest Stars

 

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

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

 

Glendale Desert Dogs

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller, Age 21

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Finishing Level: Altoona Curve (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Cornelius Randolph, Age 20

Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

 

Peoria Javelinas

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Andres Munoz, Age 18

Parent Club: San Diego Padres

2017 Finishing Level: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Ronald Acuna, Age 19

Parent Club: Atlanta Braves

2017 Finishing Level: Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

 

Scottsdale Scorpions

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Justus Sheffield, Age 21

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Trenton Thunder (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Estevan Florial, Age 19

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Tampa Yankees (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

Mesa Solar Sox

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Nolan Blackwood, Age 22

Parent Club: Oakland Athletics

2017 Finishing Level: Stockton Ports (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Parent Club: Houston Astros

2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

Salt River Rafters

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Keegan Akin, Age 22

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Frederick Keys (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

Youngest Position Player: 2B Ryan Mountcastle, Age 20

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Bowie Bay Sox (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Surprise Saguaros

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Jordan Hicks, Age 21

Parent Club: St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Finishing Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League 2017

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

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

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

 

Youngest Position Player: 3B Kevin Padlo, Age 21

Parent Club: Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)

 

 

 

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Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers: Contenders Now

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

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

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

Millennials Don’t Understand

Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1970’s

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

Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

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

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

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

Oh No! We Suck Again!

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

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

Milwaukee Brewers

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

an era of 12 uninterrupted losing seasons ensued.

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

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

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

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

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

Milwaukee Brewers Contenders Now

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

Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your excuse?

 

(feature photo courtesy of: gorillabaseball.com)

 

 

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