MLB early takeaways

Early takeaways from the first weekend of baseball

Although all 30 MLB teams have played no more than five games, now is a perfect time to overreact to the results of the first weekend in the 2018 season. Below, we have seven early takeaways that may, or may not, matter.

1. Houston does not appear to have any World Series hangover

The Astros kept the momentum going into 2018, as they took three out of four from the Texas Rangers to kick off their season. George Springer led off the season with a home run, and Houston’s offense forced the Rangers starters to average 18.1 pitches per inning. In the four games, Houston scored 22 runs.

Carlos Correa is off to a tremendous start, hitting .438 with four runs, a home run and five RBIs. Correa showed his ability to hit both lefties and righties on Saturday, when he roped a double off Matt Moore and later homered off Jesse Chavez.

Correa’s double-play partner and 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve, is off to a sizzling start as well. After going hitless on Opening Day, Altuve collected two hits in Game 2, four on Saturday and three more on Easter. The second baseman is batting .563 with five runs scored.

In his Astros Debut, Gerrit Cole did not disappoint. On Sunday, he pitched seven strong innings and allowed just one run on two hits while striking out 11 batters. The 11 punch-outs is the most for Cole since 2014.

2. Washington probably has the best roster in the NL

Albeit against the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals showed how dominate their arms are, as well as how potent their offense can be. Washington started the season with a 2-0 win, and proceeded to score 19 runs over their next two games, en route to sweeping the Reds. The Nats leads the NL with nine home runs.

MLB early takeaways

Bryce Harper slugged two home runs on Sunday. (Photo from The Washington Post)

Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez had a combined 0.98 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. Keep in mind, these were three of the top four pitchers in terms of WAR in 2017.

A healthy Adam Eaton may be the difference maker in Washington’s lineup. Eaton is batting .615 with seven runs scored, two home runs and five RBIs. On Saturday, Eaton went 5-for-5, and became the fourth player since 2010 to have five hits, two doubles, one home run, four runs, and at least three RBIs.

Last season, in the 23 games with Eaton and Trea Turner hitting ahead of him, Bryce Harper batted .405 with 25 RBIs. On Sunday, Harper clubbed a pair of home runs and ended the series batting .400 with three runs scored and four RBIs. If this Nats team can stay healthy, there is no reason for them not to win around 100 games.

3. Are the Braves ready for a playoff run in 2018?

Most people expected Atlanta to continue to improve in 2018, but I don’t think anyone imagined them scoring 27 runs in three games, including a 15-2 romping of the Phillies on Saturday.

Atlanta’s offense was led by Freddie Freeman, who has already drawn seven walks in three games, which is good for most in the league. Freeman has scored at least one run in each of the first three games. Ryan Flaherty, a career .219 hitter, batted .538 with three doubles and five runs scored, while Nick Markakis drove in five runs and walked four times.

Obviously Flaherty will cool off, but if Atlanta can get some production out of their staff, as well as some magic from Ronald Acuna when he is called up, don’t sleep on a Wild Card berth for the Braves.

4. 2018 could be the year in which Boston’s big three all perform

In 2016, Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award, going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. The following season, Porcello lost 17 games and gave up more home runs than anyone, allowed the second most hits and finished fifth in earned runs. After a shaky 2016, David Price was injured almost all of 2017, making just 11 starts. Chris Sale, who was acquired before the start of the 2017 season, was tremendous last season, but had no help.

The lines for Boston’s three starters against Tampa Bay:

Sale – 6 innings, 1 H, 0 ER, 9 SO

Price – 7.0 innings, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BBs, 5 SO

Porcello – 5.1 innings, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

5. Cain and Yelich look good in Milwaukee

The Brewers, who swept the Padres to start the season, have to be happy about the performance of their two new outfielders, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Cain collected multiple hits in each of the first three games, including two three-hit performances. He is batting .571 with three steals. On Saturday, Yelich went a perfect 5-for-5 and scored four runs with three RBIs in the series.

With Jimmy Nelson out, the Brewers will rely heavily on Chase Anderson to carry the load. He opened the year with a wonderful start, throwing six shutout innings with six strikeouts. The Brewers bullpen, in 15.2 innings of work, posted a 1.72 ERA with a 10.91 K/9.

6. Will Ohtani and the Angels reach the postseason?

Aside from the one bad pitch to Matt Chapman, which resulted in a three-run home run, Shohei Ohtani’s highly anticipated MLB pitching debut was a success. He earned the win and struck out six batters while walking just one in six innings.

MLB early takeaways

Ohtani earned the win in his pitching debut against Oakland. (Photo from The Mercury News)

The Angels, who won three out four in Oakland, have to be ecstatic about their new infielder Zack Cozart. Cozart, through the first four games, hit .368 with four extra-base hits, three runs scored and three RBIs. Despite going 0-for-6 on Opening Day, Mike Trout finished the series batting .300 with five runs scored, one home run, one steal and four RBIs.

Tyler Skaggs looked great in his 2018 debut, tossing 6.1 shutout innings without issuing a walk. Skaggs has never thrown more than 113 innings in a season, but if he can stay healthy and perform, this team could make some noise in October.

7. The Dodgers started off 2-2 with just two runs allowed

Staying in Los Angeles, the Dodgers pitching was tremendous against the Giants. In their 36 innings, LA’s pitching staff posted a 0.50 ERA with a .192 opposing batting average. Unfortunately, it took them until the third game of the season to cross home plate. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager went a combined 3-for-24.

 

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2018 MLB preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

2017: 104-58 (first place in NL West)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017

Last World Series Title: 1988

2017 Recap

The 2017 Dodgers were a few Yu Darvish tipped pitches away from winning a title.

For the first time since 1988, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL Pennant. Unfortunately for them, the season did not end as they hoped, as they lost to the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series. Their 104 regular season wins was tied for the second-most in the franchise’s history, which dates all the way back to 1884.

Los Angeles was the clear-cut, best team in the National League. Their pitching staff finished first in the NL in ERA, strikeouts, BAA, and walks. Of course, they were led by one of the best left handed pitchers of all-time, Clayton Kershaw. Although he missed time because of back tightness, the 3x Cy Young award winner finished tied for the league-lead in wins with 18. Kershaw also ranked second in ERA and BB/9, sixth in FIP, seventh in H/9, and ninth in SO/9.

Budding superstar, Cody Bellinger (LA Times)

Los Angeles’ bullpen led the NL with a 3.38 ERA, and finished first in the MLB in opponent OBP. Kenley Jansen finished second in the league with 41 saves, while Josh Fields and Pedro Baez each appeared in over 55 games and finished with sub 3.00 ERAs.

The Dodgers offense, which finished third in the NL in OBP, was led by some notable names, but also some surprises. Justin Turner, who was designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles, and hit .265 in 301 games for the Mets, finished eighth in NL MVP voting, and was named to his first All-Star team. Turner finished fourth in OBP, fifth in batting average, and eighth in adjusted OPS+. Since becoming a member of the Dodgers, Turner has turned into a superstar.

Speaking of superstars, the Dodgers have a budding one in Cody Bellinger. Bellinger was called up in Late-April, and finished the season with 39 home runs, which was sixth-best in the MLB. His slugging percentage ranked 10th overall, and he joined Mel Ott and Eddie Matthews as the only players under the age of 22 to hit at least 39 home runs, with a .350 OBP and .580 SLG.

Corey Seager cemented himself as the top shortstop in the NL. In 2017, he joined Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Correa, and Cal Ripken, as the only shortstops, under the age of 24, to hit 22 home runs with a .370 OBP and 5.5 WAR.

Chris Taylor, who did even make the Opening Day roster, led the team in doubles with 34. He slashed .288/.354/.496, and was named NLCS MVP (with Justin Turner) after hitting .316 with a pair of home runs and five runs scored.

2018: Around the Diamond 

It’s no surprise that the Dodgers have the best odds out of any NL team to reach the World Series in 2018. Cody Bellinger will be at first for a full season, and Seager is a serious MVP candidate at short. However, they will have to start the season without Justin Turner, after the third basemen was hit by a pitch and broke his wrist on Monday. The most likely candidate to hold down the hot corner while Turner is out would be Logan Forsythe. This means Chase Utley will probably get some starts at second.

The Dodgers will begin the season without star third basemen, Justin Turner (LA Times)

Behind the plate will be Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal. Grandal, a fantastic defensive catcher, hit 22 home runs in 2017, but lost a good chunk of playing time to Austin Barnes during the postseason. Barnes finished 2017 with a .408 OBP.

In 2017, Los Angeles started 12 different players in left field. With Chris Taylor starting in center, Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Trayce Thompson, Andrew Toles, and Alex Verdugo will all battle for that corner outfield spot. Kemp, who spent his first nine seasons with the Dodgers, has hit .317 with four home runs and eight RBIs in 15 Spring games.

One of the most polarized players in the game, right fielder Yasiel Puig, will look to build off his sold 2017. After injuries and demotions derailed his 2015 and 2016 seasons, Puig played 152 games last year, and hit 28 home runs with 15 steals. His 11.2 percent walk rate was the highest of his big-league career.

On the Bump

Both Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow signed as free agents with the Cubs. Still, a rotation led by Kershaw is one that will find ways to thrive. Following Kersh, will be Alex Wood, who finished third in WHIP and 10th in wins, Rich Hill, who posted a 3.32 ERA in 135.2 innings, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. All five of these guys spent time on the DL last season, but are ready to go.

There is no reason to think the Dodgers bullpen will not be among the best in baseball. They traded for Scott Alexander, who was great for Kansas City in 2017, and, of course, they still have guys like Josh Fields, Pedro Baez, Ross Stripling, and Tony Cingrani, to make sure Kenley Jansen comes into the game with a lead.

The Future

Walker Buehler (No.12) is the highest rated Dodgers prospect on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect’s list. Buehler, a right-handed pitcher, pitched a little bit out of the bullpen for the Dodgers in 2017. While his control wasn’t great in 2017, he still looks like a top-of-the-rotation type starter.

Alex Verdugo (No.33), who was mentioned earlier in the left field chatter, is hitting .324 with two home runs and six RBIs so far this spring. He had a solid  2017 season in AAA, hitting .314 with an OPS of .825. However, Matt Kemp and Andrew Toles appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart, so look for Verdugo to develop more in AAA.

Los Angeles also has the third best catching prospect, Keibert Ruiz (N0. 52). Ruiz hits for a good average, hitting .315 in 101 games between A/A+, and has good speed for a catcher. He needs to develop more defensively, but could be the catcher of the future in Los Angeles.

2018 Prediction: 95-67

There is a reason why the Dodgers are the NL favorite to reach the World Series in 2018. When Turner comes back, this will be one of the best teams in baseball. As long as the squad stays healthy down the stretch, Los Angeles should, again, be right in the mix for a World Series title.

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national league rookie of the year candidates

Top candidates for 2018 NL Rookie of the Year

2017 saw many stellar rookies in the National League. Cody Bellinger, Paul DeJong and Josh Bell all broke out as some of the promising faces of the future. Rhys Hoskins was another breakout star who didn’t finish as a top ROY candidate due to his late debut. If it wasn’t for Bellinger’s stellar year at the plate, there may have been a closer race for rookie of the year.

There are many top prospects who are likely to make their debuts in 2018, but who will shine above them all? Here is a look at some likely rookie of the year candidates.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins

national league rookie of the year candidates

Brinson is a key piece in the Marlins rebuild. (Photo from MLB)

Brinson was the centerpiece of the Marlins acquisitions in the Christian Yelich trade. While Yelich has a very team-friendly contract, he did not want to take part in the Marlins rebuild. As a result, Milwaukee traded away its best prospect to the Marlins to acquire Yelich.

Brinson will not be a masher by any means, but he is the kind of guy that could possibly compete for the batting title multiple times. He slashed a stunning .331/.400/.562 in Triple-A last year, but did not impress in September last year. That is nothing to worry about though, as his offensive ceiling is sky high right now.

He may be one of the few bright spots the Marlins will see in 2018. Although he won’t be playing in front of very large crowds, expect the young Marlins phenom to have one of the higher batting averages among rookies in 2018.

Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves

The 20-year-old Braves phenom will likely reach the majors in 2018. He is currently ranked as the second-best prospect in the majors by MLB.com as well, ranking only behind Shohei Ohtani. He, much like Brinson, has a very high ceiling for his ability to hit at the plate.

What sets Acuna apart from everybody else though is his incredible speed. One could compare him to Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds. However, Hamilton may have the edge on speed, but Acuna will be able to reach base much more than Hamilton, which makes him immensely more valuable.

Although it is just spring training, Acuna, has hit the ground running in Florida. Although it is an extremely small sample size, his eight hits in 19 at-bats is a sign of things to come for the Braves.

Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals

Another young outfielder from the NL East is expected to come onto the scene in 2018. Robles is anticipated to be one of the next great five-tool players in the majors, which will fit nicely next to Bryce Harper. The Nationals will hope to retain Harper after this season so that they could have an outfield that could feature the two young superstars.

Robles is another young player who has a very good future on the base paths, but will be able to reach base enough to make it a large game changer. What has also stood out for Robles is his mature approach to the plate, which is impressive to see in such a young ball player.

The only issue for Robles is his playing time. The Nationals already have a very crowded outfield, meaning he will have to fight his way into the starting lineup.

Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

national league rookie of the year candidates

Senzel is the brightest name in the Reds’ farm. (Photo from Cincinnati Enquirer)

Finally, an infielder is being thrown into the mix. The 22-year-old may be one of the most MLB-ready prospects hitting the scene this year, and that is what makes him a prime contender for rookie of the year.

The second overall pick in the 2016 draft is another all around hitter that will fit nicely into the Reds’ already solid offense. The question with Senzel though is whether or not he will be able to hit that 30 home run mark in his career. It is certainly possible as he grows as a hitter, but it will be exciting to see how much his power develops.

In terms of going after the rookie of the year, he does not have the same type of raw talent and athleticism as the outfielders in the NL East. However, he may be at a more developed point in his career right now, which gives him a decent shot at competing for the award this year.

 

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best first basemen 2018

Top 5 first basemen in 2018

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

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

Just missed the cut

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

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

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

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

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

5. Cody Bellinger

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

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

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

4. Freddie Freeman

best first basemen 2018

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

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

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

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

3. Anthony Rizzo 

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

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

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

2. Paul Goldschmidt 

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

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

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

1. Joey Votto

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

 

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NL Central face of the franchise

The current face of every NL Central team

One conversation that will never get old is talking about who the cornerstone player of every franchise is. Some teams have an obvious representative, others not so much. Here is a look into the face of the franchise for every team in the NL Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Josh Bell

If we were to have this conversation two weeks ago, then there would be a much more obvious answer for the Bucs. However, the Pirates’ front office thought it was time to do some shuffling. Even though Pittsburgh fans are upset about giving up Andrew McCutchen, who has been an icon in the Steel City for some time, it was a good move to show concern for the future. It just looks especially bad because of what the Marlins have been doing this offseason as well.

NL Central face of the franchise

Josh Bell represents a changing of the guard in Pittsburgh. (Photo from Rumbunter.com)

Some may be wondering why Starling Marte is not in this spot. His 80-game suspension does not help his cause here. He also is an All-Star and two-time gold glove winner who can steal bases with the best of them. However, he does not represent the future for the Pirates. He is 29 years old, and the Pirates are not going to be contending anytime soon.

Josh Bell just finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. If it were any other year, Bell would have had a much better chance of bringing home the award. With Cody Bellinger breaking out in LA though, the race was much more clear cut. Bell has the chance to be a prototypical slugger in Pittsburgh for a while, as he is only 25 years old.

In the future, Bell could be a force in the middle of the lineup with 30 home run potential. He provides more pop than Marte does, and is already a threat in the middle of the lineup. His young age coupled with his power is the reason why he has the opportunity to take the place of Cutch in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

No argument here. If you were to argue faces of the franchise around baseball, this may be one of the easiest.

Joey Votto has been a fixture at first base for the Reds for over a decade. He has won the NL MVP and made it to the All-Star game five times. Not to mention, there may not be anybody better at getting on base than Votto.

Votto also has a set of intangibles that would make any manager salivate. He is the kind of guy that can lead a young group of guys into the big leagues, and that is what he is doing now as the Reds have a wave of young players coming up. His baseball smarts along with his excellent talent make him one of the best hitters in the league.

Another thing about Votto is that he is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is heading into his age-34 season and coming off a year where he could have easily won the MVP. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton had the power numbers that make anybody go nuts. However, if you are looking at the full package, Votto is much more valuable.

If Votto keeps up the pace he is at for another couple of years, there is a solid chance he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein

NL Central face of the franchise

Theo led the charge to break the curse in Chicago. (Photo by John Arguello)

Chicago is still fresh off a World Series title in 2016. It is still crazy to say considering many Chicagoans went a lifetime without seeing their lovable losers make it all the way.

Epstein made his way to the Windy City in 2011, and from the start there were many who were certain that it was their time because of it. After he masterminded the destruction of the Boston curse, this seemed like a doable task for the 44-year-old president of the Cubs.

With apologies to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Epstein is a favorable choice for this title. He is the one who orchestrated the revival of success in Wrigley, and many knew that as they chanted, “In Theo we trust.”

While Rizzo has become a poster boy for the Cubs, and Bryant has won an MVP at third base, it is impossible to not credit Epstein with the Cubs’ success.

As a baseball executive, there is no doubt that Epstein has already earned himself a spot in Cooperstown.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina

NL Central face of the franchise

Yadier Molina has been the most important face in St. Louis since the departure of Albert Pujols (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Ever since the departure of Albert Pujols, Molina has done an excellent job of stepping into the role of leading this storied franchise. While Molina may not be the best player in the league by a long shot, there are things that he does that put him above most.

He has those intangibles that his NL Central counterpart Joey Votto has. Molina’s ability to call a game is second to none, while he also knows exactly how to make a young ballplayer feel comfortable on the mound.

Yadi doesn’t have those offensive stats that pop out on the box score, but Tony La Russa made it clear when he was manager of the Cardinals that it didn’t matter. La Russa once stated that even if Molina hit .000, he would still have a spot in the lineup. Now that says something about a player.

While it is not clear if Molina will make it to Cooperstown, he will certainly be remembered as one of the greats to wear the Cardinals uniform. He stated earlier this offseason that he will not play after his contract with the Cardinals expires in 2020. These three years we have left with him will be pivotal in determining his place among the greats.

Milwaukee Brewers: Bob Uecker

The Brewers have made big moves this offseason for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. They also have their eyes set on locking up Yu Darvish in a long-term contract. As a result, the name on this list may be different in a few years. Despite a great year from Travis Shaw and Jimmy Nelson, it doesn’t come close to the reputation that Bob Uecker has set for himself.

Uecker is getting close to Vin Scully territory with his broadcasting. He is being held back from that status though as he is not in a place like Los Angeles, and also spent a decade playing professional ball in the 50s and 60s. Shortly after his playing days, he joined the Brewers broadcasting booth in 1971.

After many successful years in the booth, Uecker earned an iconic role as the broadcaster in the Major League movie franchise. Many don’t realize that you can still tune into his legendary broadcasts to this day. He also won the Ford C. Frick award in 2003 in recognition for his broadcasting, cementing himself among the legends in the game.

While the Brewers are making moves to compete on the field, Uecker always makes it entertaining to tune into the game. It will be a sad day when the 84 year old will have to hang up the mic and retire from the booth.

 

Featured image by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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Game five

World Series Game 5 perfectly summarizes baseball today

Something special happened on Sunday night in Houston. Game five of the World Series was one of the most memorable sporting events in recent memory. After game two in Los Angeles, many thought that it would be the pinnacle of the series. In the year of the home run though, nothing is safe.

Home runs

World Series Game five

Altuve has been leading the way in power this postseason despite his size (USA Today).

What has been heavily talked about this year is all of the balls that have been leaving the park in 2017. The MLB set the record for most home runs hit in a season this year. They didn’t just break it though, they demolished it.

The previous record for home runs in a year was set in 2000 when there were 5,693 home runs hit. 2000 was also around the time of peak steroid use in baseball, and it was facing an epidemic. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez were all crushing bombs.

What is different about this season is that there were only five players who hit more than 40 home runs. In 2000, there were 16 players who hit more than 40.

What does this mean? Well it shows that there has been a league-wide surge in homers in 2017, rather than a handful of players getting more home runs. We are not here to speculate as to why this is happening though, we are here to talk about the intense fifth game of the World Series.

There were two big records broken in game five. The Dodgers and the Astros already broke the record for most homers hit in a series with 22, and they also broke the record for most hit in a single game with seven.

Second longest game ever

World Series Game five

It will be interesting to see what Manfred will do when it comes to pace of play (CBS Sports)

Game five was the second longest World Series game ever, trailing only game three of the 2005 World Series, which also included the Houston Astros. Game three of the 2005 World Series lasted 14 innings though, while game five this year was only 24 minutes shorter in four less innings. Meaning, game five averaged 31 minutes per inning while the longest World Series game ever averaged 24 minutes per inning. This shows the issue with pace of play facing baseball today.

Personally, I did not want the game on Sunday to be over though. When Brian McCann pulled a ball that looked to have walk-off distance foul, I was almost disappointed to think the game would be over. Alex Bregman ended up finishing the game two at bats later in stellar fashion which was great to see, but I was still hungry for more.

This puts Rob Manfred and the MLB in an awkward position. Manfred has expressed interest in installing new ways to shorten baseball games. However, we are getting some of the most exciting games we have seen in awhile this year thanks to the long ball and surge in offense. This is a classic case of not being able to have your cake and eat it too.

Top dogs battling it out

World Series Game five

This is the first time in a long time we have seen the two best teams from the regular season in the Fall Classic (MLB)

Besides the Minnesota Twins, there were not a whole lot of underdogs this season. Every division winner was the team that most experts picked to win at the beginning of the year, so there were not many surprises.

What this series has shown though is that there is no clear better team between the two best. Houston and Los Angeles cemented their title as the best teams in baseball with 100+ win seasons and making to the Fall Classic. If you were to ask most experts at the halfway point of the season, the most common answer you would get for who would be playing in the World Series would be these two teams.

Game five demonstrated that both teams are fighting tooth and nail for the championship, and that they are very evenly matched. Houston was down 4-0 to Clayton Kershaw in the fourth inning, a pitcher that dominated them in the first game of the series. Things were already starting to look bleak for them.

Yuli Gurriel and the Astros battled back though, tying the game at four in the bottom of the fourth. The fun didn’t last for long though as Cody Bellinger hit a three-run home run of his own in the top of the fifth. The future was looking bleak for the Astros again, but in the bottom of the inning, Altuve smashed another three-run home run. When it was all said and done there were nine lead changes/ties, which made for a heart stopping game.

One for the ages

Fivethirtyeight.com did an article about the most exciting World Series games ever based on change in win probability. The only game that tops this one is game six of the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals. Games like this don’t come around nearly that often though, so don’t expect for your heart to race as much as it did on Sunday for sometime.

 

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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

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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Rhys Hoskins MLB

Why Rhys Hoskins stands out among young MLB sluggers

The 2017 Major League Baseball season has been nothing short of astounding. On Tuesday, September 19th, the collective single season home run record was broken, as Kansas City Royal Alex Gordon mashed home run number 5,694 of the MLB season. On top of this amazing feat, the MLB has seen a rapid immergence of young power hitters, like Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Matt Olson, Joey Gallo and Rhys Hoskins, who would all on pace for over 45 home runs if they played a complete 162 game season. I’m here to tell you why Hoskins has been the most impressive of the bunch in 2017.

Background

Rhys Hoskins MLB

Hoskins’ standout season came in 2016, where in 135 triple-A games, he batted .281 with 38 home runs, 116 RBIs and 95 runs scored. (Photo by Yahoo Sports)

Expectations weren’t immediately set high for Hoskins, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. In low-A, he batted just .237, while striking out almost 20 percent of the time. Hoskins progressed in 2015, batting a combined .319 in 135 games in single and high-A.

His standout season came in 2016, where in 135 triple-A games, Hoskins batted .281 with 38 home runs, 116 RBIs and 95 runs scored. Previous to this season, Hoskins was ranked the 11th best prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system by Baseball America, after, he was ranked sixth, behind only J.P. Crawford, Mickey Moniak, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams and Sixto Sanchez.

2017 Season

Rhys Hoskins MLB

Hoskins has been astonishing, batting .293 with 18 home runs, a record 11 coming in his first 64 at bats. (Photo by Rotoprofessor)

Hoskins began 2017 in triple-A, where he continued his minor league dominance, batting .284 with 29 home runs and 91 RBIs in 115 games. One of the most important attributes Hoskins possesses is plate discipline, as he had walked (64) nearly as many times (75) as he struck out in triple-A. His minor league success, along with Tommy Joseph’s struggles made a call-up for Hoskins inevitable.

So far in the big leagues, Hoskins has been astonishing. Through 41 games, he is batting .293 with 18 home runs, a record 11 coming in his first 64 at bats, 45 RBIs and 34 runs scored. He is penciled into the clean-up spot of a young Phillies lineup is trending in the right direction.

What separates Hoskins from the rest

Rhys Hoskins MLB

In terms of contact rates, Hoskins’ 48 percent hard contact would rank him first among MLB hitters, ahead of Gallo (46 percent), Judge (44 percent), Bellinger (43 percent) and Olson (42 percent). (Photo by Theintelligence.com)

An interesting analytic to look at this season is Hoskins’ BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, which represents how often a ball hit into play results in a hit. For hitters, this stat can be used to identify trends in performance. More specifically for Hoskins, his .264 BABIP suggests that he is getting very unlucky at the dish, as his BABIP in the past has consistently been above .280, most notably above .360 in 2015. To compare, New York Yankees star Aaron Judge is batting .277, although his BABIP is currently an exorbitant .355, suggesting that his batting average is fairly unsustainable. I understand that other factors like exit velocity need to be taken into consideration with BABIP, although Judge’s BABIP has been falling since June.

In terms of strikeout rate, Hoskins sits at a very respectable 20 percent compared to other young stars like Judge (31 percent), Bellinger (26 percent), Gallo (37 percent) and Olson (28 percent), who clearly struggle mightily with striking out. In counts were there is one ball and two strikes, Hoskins is batting an impressive .293, compared to Judge (.190), Bellinger (.188), Gallo (.112) and Olson (.144), exemplifying Hoskins’ pure ability, resilience, plate discipline and overarching mentality of not wanting to strikeout.

Getting on base is an integral part of baseball, and Hoskins is doing it better than almost anyone. He currently has a .425 on base percentage, putting him behind only Joey Votto in this category. Another impressive stat for Hoskins is his walk rate, as although he is not qualified due to a lack of at-bats, he would be ranked third in the MLB in walk rate behind only Votto and Judge. In terms of contact rates, Hoskins’ 48 percent hard contact would rank him first among MLB hitters, ahead of Gallo (46 percent), Judge (44 percent), Bellinger (43 percent) and Olson (42 percent).

I understand he does not qualify due to a lack of major league at-bats, although his 41-game sample size is nothing to scoff at. Calling him the next Paul Golschmidt or Joey Votto may sound crazy to some, but not to me. His stats are incredible and his analytics support growth and sustainability. If not already, Hoskins is bound to become a household name in major league baseball.

Featured image by The Ringer

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