An Ode to Mike Ilitch

News broke over the weekend that Mike Ilitch, longtime owner of the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings, had passed away at the age of 87. He leaves behind a wife, seven children, and millions of people in the Detroit region who will miss him dearly.

Ilitch was more than just another ultra-wealthy professional sports mogul. Yes, he was ultra-wealthy. Yes, he was a professional sports mogul. However, when all is said and done, these accomplishments will pale in comparison to everything else Mr. I managed to accomplish in his 87 years.

IN THE BEGINNING

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Little Caesars Pizza.

Michael Ilitch was born in Detroit in 1929 to Sotir and Sultana Ilitch. The son of two Macedonian immigrants graduated Cooley High School in Detroit and served for four years with the United States Marine Corps.

After his military career came to a close, Ilitch took to professional baseball. He played second base for a handful of teams, including his hometown Tigers.

In 1959, after his playing career had come to a close, Ilitch opened a small pizza franchise. Little Caesars Pizza Treat, a tiny pizzeria in Garden City, Michigan, would eventually grow into the multi-billion dollar, international fast food conglomerate you see today.

Marine, professional ball player, restaurateur – Mike Ilitch was truly a self-made man.

It was here at this junction in Ilitch’s life, that his sports legacy began to take shape.

HIS IMPACT ON PRO SPORTS

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: NHL.com.

After purchasing the Red Wings in 1982, Ilitch turned the fledgling Wings into a team to be reckoned with. Under his ownership, they’ve managed to make the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons, win six Presidents Trophies, and four Stanley Cup championships; including back-to-back titles in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

On the passing of Ilitch, ESPN analyst Craig Custance said, “The Detroit Red Wings franchise was a first-class franchise under Ilitch, one that sacrificed nothing in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup.”

To many in the hockey world, Ilitch was known as an owner who

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch, UPI.

truly loved the game. He would do anything for his club.

He purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992. In a similar fashion, he restored the Tigers to their former glory, reaching the World Series twice and winning four consecutive Central Division titles from 2011 to 2014.

Forget the franchises for a moment, Ilitch would do anything for Detroit.

 

 

A GIVING MAN

What Ilitch did for his franchises was but a drop in the bucket compared to what he did for the Detroit community. While most investors were running as fast as they could out of Detroit, Ilitch never flinched. He purchased property after property in his pursuit of revitalizing the downtown core.

Aside from his financial investments in the city of Detroit, a list of Ilitch’s philanthropic efforts reads longer than most resumes. Apart from the wonderful work his franchises have undertook, his personal contributions have been enormous.

  • In 1985, Ilitch started the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a traveling restaurant equipped to feed the hungry and assist in national disasters.
  • In 1986, he formed the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program, an organization which has helped literally thousands of children to play the sport.
  • In 2000, Ilitch Charities for Children was founded. As a non-profit, the charity was dedicated to improving health, education, and recreating in the lives of children. The charity was renamed Ilitch Charities in 2008 and broadened its focus. Ilitch Charities invests in communities and supports economic development and job growth to address issues like poverty and unemployment.
  • In 2006, Ilitch started the Little Caesars Veterans Program, which provides veterans with business opportunities after their life in the service.

Ilitch has been recognized for his charitable efforts by the likes of former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He received the Secretary’s Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, had the “Mike Ilitch School of Business” at Wayne State University named after him, and in February of 2008 was given the key to the City of Detroit.

In 2003, Ilitch was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and in 2004 he was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame.

HIS LAST CONTRIBUTION

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Olympia Development of Michigan.

Unfortunately, Ilitch passed before he had the opportunity to see his last contribution to the city of Detroit come to fruition. In 2014, it was announced that the Red Wings would soon break ground on the construction of a new arena.

Soon after, construction on the Little Caesars Arena was underway. The Wings are set to move into the new, state-of-the-art complex next season; without their enigmatic owner Mr. I.

For his commitment to the city of Detroit, for his love of sport and his fellow man, Ilitch will undoubtedly be remembered as one of sport’s most endearing franchise owners.

ARRANGEMENTS

The public is invited to share memories and condolences at a public memorial site outside of Comerica Park on Woodward Ave. Also, a public visitation will be held at the Fox Theatre Grand Lobby on Wednesday from noon to 8:00p.m. Ilitch purchased and restored the historic theatre in 1987.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to be made in Ilitch’s memory to:

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Left Field

In this seventh installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will move from the infield to the outfield. Left field has long been known as a place to stash the slugger, but that is changing. With defense and speed changing the way the game is played, let’s see if it has spilled over into the top five left fielders.

5. Khris Davis- Oakland Athletics

2017 MLB Season

Khris Davis has mastered the third base high five during his tenure with Oakland. (Ben Margot, AP).

Khris Davis was a force in 2016. After putting up solid power numbers in Milwaukee, Davis was shipped to Oakland in 2015 and was able to tap into his power even more. He slashed .247, .307, .524 in his first season in Oakland. While his average and OBP are nothing to write home about, his .524 slugging percentage, as well as his 42 homers and 102 RBI’s certainly warrant some credence. With a newfound power stroke at the plate, Davis is the big bat the Athletics have been searching for. Although Davis has been a monster at the plate, he was a behemoth in the outfield.

Davis performed below league average on defense in 2016, putting up -1 defensive runs saved. While he was only slightly below average in the field, his bat certainly made up for it in 2016. Davis is only 28 years old and entering the prime of his career. While his defense may not improve, his bat certainly seems here to stay. If Davis can survive another season in Oakland without being traded, he will be relied upon to produce again in 2017.

4. Justin Upton- Detroit Tigers

Tigers fans were ecstatic when Justin Upton moved to Detroit last season. Upton was an established run producer and he was slotted into a deep Tigers lineup. As the season progressed, Upton’s offense stagnated. He was able to turn around an otherwise poor season with a torrid finish in 2016, putting up a slash line of .246, .310, and .465. He also hit 31 homers and drove in 87 RBI’s. Upton fits the traditional mold of a left fielder: a big slugger who will hit tanks and drive in runs. He has also proven to provide more than just power.

Upton posted 1 defensive run saved while playing 146 games in left field for the Detroit Tigers last year. That is solid, but not spectacular glove work. He was also able to swipe nine bags in 2016, a good amount for a slugger like Upton. Upton has always been known as a streaky hitter, but he has always been consistent in one category: putting up above average offensive seasons. That won’t change in 2017 as the Tigers look to regain the AL Central crown.

3. Ryan Braun- Milwaukee Brewers

2017 Season

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong play in 2017. (Jeff Curry, US Presswire).

Ryan Braun has been a star player in Milwaukee for almost the entirety of his time there, but his PED use has but a black mark on an otherwise stellar career. He has admitted to PED use in his NL MVP season in 2011, but has since passed all drug tests from Major League Baseball. Braun is assumed to be clean of any PEDs, and is putting up good numbers for the Brewers. He batted .305, .365, .538 in 2016 and slugged 30 homers to go along with 91 RBI’s. Braun also stole 16 bases, proving to be one of the top speed/power players in the majors.

Braun was also able to utilize his speed in the outfield. His six defensive runs saved in 2016 were second best of his career, proving him to be a more than capable fielder. Braun is the total package in left field. His power and speed make him a premier offensive player, and his defense lifts his overall game to a whole other level. If Braun can put up more clean seasons like he did in 2016, he will certainly climb this list. Until then, he remains one of the best left fielders, just not the best.

2. Starling Marte- Pittsburgh Pirates

Ever since Starling Marte was called up by Pittsburgh in 2012, he has been a spark plug for the Pirates’ lineup. He is one of the new breed of left fielders becoming more prominent in the majors, utilizing his speed and defense to become a game changer. Marte stole 47 bases in only 129 games played in 2016, proving to be an elite base stealer. He also was able to make a huge impact in the field. He also provided elite defense 19 defensive runs save. His offensive game, while trailing his base running and defense, is still better than advertised.

Marte was able to hit .311, .362, and .456 last year, all three being career highs. While his nine homers and 46 RBI’s won’t blow anyone away, it is still solid production for a limited season. Marte will always be known for his glove and base running, but don’t sleep on his bat. If he can put up a full season in 2017, look for Marte to accumulate some monster numbers.

1. Yoenis Cespedes- New York Mets

2017 MLB Season

From flipping bats over and over, to flipping balls over the fence, Yoenis Cespedes can do it all. (Brad Penner USA Today Sports).

Yoenis Cespedes was shipped from Detroit to New York at the trade deadline in 2015, and has been an offensive juggernaut for the Mets ever since. He was so good in his first full season with the Mets that he finished eighth in the NL MVP voting. Cespedes achieved this by batting .280, .354, and .530 as well as hitting 31 bombs and driving in 86 RBI’s. He has been the run producer the Mets have sorely needed since the departure of Daniel Murphy and the decline of David Wright. Cespedes has also flashed the leather and his arm during his tenure in New York.

Cespedes had four defensive runs saved while playing left field in 2016. He was helped in large part by the cannon attached to his right shoulder. Video of Cespedes firing the ball to home plate will be played for years to come. His arm strength is already legendary. Cespedes combines stellar offensive production with strong defensive skills to claim the top spot in the left field rankings. He is poised to maintain his perch with 2017 providing another chance for Cespedes to dominate.

Left field is slowly changing. No longer can you have a plodding slugger in the outfield. Players with strong defense and good speed are taking over left, and seem here to stay.

 

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2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

We’re back with the Game Haus’ fourth installment of 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four. In recent news, the Mariners decided to spite my previous ranking by making a plethora of moves and trades to shore up their rotation heading into the season. While Seattle undoubtedly improved it was the Braves and the Rays that both left that exchange with a promising future. In the meantime, teams all across the league continue to avoid arbitration and extend their players with a multitude of contracts being signed. Finally, with less than a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report, several worthy veterans remain on the open market.

The rankings must go on! This week takes a look at teams 15-11. Now we’re talking competition. Each one of these teams has enough pieces for a solid 2017 campaign. While most wouldn’t place these teams in the top tier, any of these organizations could make a wild card run. As we all know, if you are still in the running in October, anything can happen.

 

15. Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

Record: 86-75

Many pegged the Tigers as sellers this offseason, but that sale never really came. Detroit returns in 2017 sporting much of the same core it’s competed with the last several years. Last season, Justin Verlander reclaimed his ace status and Michael Fulmer emerged as an extremely promising second option. Add that to a lineup chalk full of seasoned veterans led by Miguel Cabrera, and you’ve got yourself a shot. The Tigers should find success given the largely depleted AL Central, but will it be enough to match the Indians?

 

14. New York Yankees

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 84-78

No one would accuse Yankees GM Brian Cashman of being dormant this Winter. Not only did the Yanks clean up last trade deadline, but also managed to reclaim star closer Aroldis Chapman. Blue Chip prospects like Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres came over during the Yankees closer sale, but aren’t even part of the young core already on the field.  Didi Gregorious, Aaron Judge, and breakout star catcher Gary Sánchez have already emerged, and are expected in the 2017 lineup. The real question facing the Yankees is whether Masahiro Tanaka and company can bounce back from a tough 2016. Rotation aside, the Yankees may be a bit young for a serious run, but lookout for the pinstripes very soon.

 

13. Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 75-87

Admittedly this feels a bit high up in the rankings for a Rockies team with 87 losses in 2016. That said, one can’t help but be impressed by the lineup Colorado has assembled. The surprise signing of Ian Desmond alone gives the Rocks a sizable infield boost. Pair that with young players like Trevor Story and potential NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, and you’re looking at serious potential. Like many teams, the question mark hangs over a young rotation that did show promise in 2016. Coors Field will never be a pitchers dream, but if just one of those young pitchers can establish themselves as an ace, look for Colorado to do some damage in 2017.

 

12. Toronto Blue Jays

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 89-73

The Blue Jay’s had an AL leading 3.78 ERA in 2016, and that whole rotation will be returning. Tack on a presumably healthy Francisco Liriano, and you have one of the more dangerous rotations in the MLB. The rotation is set, but now Toronto must cope with the loss of star slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Further adding complexity is the loss of Michael Saunders from the lineup. Jose Bautista will be staying in Toronto. However, losing both Encarnacion and Saunders leaves a considerable gap for the Jays to fill. The offseason signing of Kendrys Morales certainly helps soften that blow by adding a solid DH. The Blue Jays may have a different dynamic than in years past, but expect them to be competitive regardless.

 

11. St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 86-76

The Cardinals are just solid. At this point, it’s basically their thing. The team continuously churns out seasons on the better side of 85 wins. Continue packing Busch Stadium with loyal red birds’ fans, and they continue their war against the top team in the MLB. The Cards have great depth and flexibility throughout their lineup bolstered by the poaching of center fielder Dexter Fowler. At this point, this question is the broken record of baseball, but again we’re asking, “What about that rotation?” Adam Wainwright is the perennial staple for this staff, but a slow decline the past few years is concerning. However, if Wainwright reclaims some former glory and Michael Wacha can bounce back from an injury-wrought 2016, the Cards may just have enough in the tank to cause trouble for the Cubs.

*Logos courtesy of MLB.com*

Link to Previous Rankings

Part 1: Here

Part 2: Here

Part 3: Here

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Second Basemen

In this fourth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we are going to take a base from first to second. Second basemen proved to be strong offensive contributors in 2016 as we saw homers, steals and batting averages that rivaled players at any positions.

With second basemen starting to emerge into the spotlight, lets take a look at the top second basemen.

5. Daniel Murphy- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

The Nationals will hope Murphy can continue his offensive dominance in 2017. (Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports).

After Daniel Murphy’s offensive explosion in the 2015 MLB Playoffs, many questioned if he would be able to match his playoff performance over a full season. Those questions were laid to rest early in the 2016 season. Murphy posted the best slash line of his eight year career, batting .347, .390, .595. Those numbers, along with his 25 homers and 104 RBI’s vaulted him to a second place finish in the 2015 NL MVP voting. But as his offensive numbers reached new heights, his defense continued to stay well below league average.

Murphy had a horrendous -9 defensive runs saved at second base in 2016. That was easily the worst defensive performance of any player on this list. Murphy’s saving grace, as it has been throughout his career, is his offense. As the 2017 MLB season approaches, Murphy will try to continue his torrid offensive pace.

4. Brian Dozier- Minnesota Twins

Brian Dozier had a historic year for the Minnesota Twins in 2016. While the Twins fell below expectations, Dozier certainly did his part to try and propel them back to relevancy. He blasted 42 homers, besting the AL record for homers by a second baseman set by Alfonso Soriano in 2002. Just like Murphy, Dozier also put up the best slash line of his career at .268, .340, .546. Dozier was also able to couple his steadily growing power with his ever-present base running prowess. He fell just short of his career high 21 stolen bases in 2014, swiping 18 in 2016.

While Dozier was able to improve his overall offensive game, he also turned his defense around from 2015. Dozier had a respectable 3 defensive runs saved in 2016. After putting up one of the best power seasons of any second baseman in MLB history, it will remain to be seen if Dozier can come close to his historic 2016 season in 2017. Either way, he has cemented his place as one of the top second basemen in baseball.

3. Ian Kinsler- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

With a strong bat and slick glove, Ian Kinsler is the total package for the Tigers. (Leon Halip, Getty Images).

After being traded straight up in 2013 for slugger Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler has provided a steady presence in Detroit for the past three seasons. Kinsler continued a strong career with another stellar offensive season in 2016. While batting .288, .348 and .484, Kinsler also hit 28 bombs to go along with 83 RBI’s. Kinsler wasn’t just a one-trick pony in 2016 either. After stealing 14 bases in 2016, Kinsler will enter 2017 with 211 career stolen bases and 212 career homers. That is plenty of power and speed over his career.

Kinsler has also flashed the leather throughout his time in the majors, and 2016 was no different. After having 12 defensive runs saved last season, Kinsler earned his first Gold Glove. Being one of the most balanced second basemen in all of Major League Baseball has given Kinsler a stellar reputation. The 2017 season is just another opportunity for Kinsler to continue his exceptional career.

2. Robinson Canó- Seattle Mariners

When Canó left New York for Seattle after the 2013 season, it was thought that he would be able to guide the Mariners to their first playoff appearance since 2001. Although that hasn’t come to fruition, it can’t be blamed on Canó. Canó proved why he has been widely considered the top slugger at second base, hitting a career high 39 homers to go along with 103 RBI’s in 2016. He also displayed his overall hitting ability with a slash line of .298, .350, .533. While Canó’s first two seasons in Seattle left much to be desired, he returned to vintage form in 2016. That included his defense as well.

Canó improved on his defense vastly in 2016 compared to his 2015 campaign. He had 11 defensive runs saved this past season after having a poor defensive season in 2015 in which he had -9 defensive runs saved. After struggling his first two years in Seattle, it seemed Canó was finally able to shake his jet lag. 2017 will be a big season for Canó, one in which we will find out if he has truly returned to All-Star form or if Seattle made a $240 million mistake.

1. José Altuve- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

José Altuve has never let his short stature keep him from reaching new offensive heights. (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports).

Altuve is one of the reasons why baseball is the best sport in the world. At 5’7″ I am proud to say I am taller than All-Star second baseman José Altuve (5’6″). Even though Altuve’s stature is diminutive, his game has reached astronomical heights. While winning his second AL Batting Title in the past three years, Altuve was able to improve his overall hitting ability. His 2016 slash line of .338, .396, and .531 were career highs in OBP and slugging. Altuve fueled his .531 slugging percentage by blasting 24 homers to go along with 96 RBI’s. His 24 homers were more than his first four seasons combined! Altuve has also shown off his wheels throughout his career, stealing 199 bases over parts of six seasons.

Although Altuve is steadily becoming the top offensive second basemen in the majors, his glove has always trailed his bat. Altuve posted -2 defensive runs saved at second base in 2016, proving to be below league average on defense. While his defense certainly isn’t anything to write home about, Altuve’s offense is more than enough to launch him into the top spot in these rankings. Altuve will only be 26 years old when the 2017 season starts, and will just be entering his prime.

Second base has long been seen as a less than premium position. But with the emergence of some stellar players at second base in the past few seasons, the position is primed to become on of the most talented in Major League Baseball.

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: First Basemen

In this third installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will examine the top five first basemen in Major League Baseball. First base is the most heavily relied on position for offense, so defensive metrics will not factor in as much as with catchers.

Let’s take a look at the top first basemen around the league.

5. Freddie Freeman- Atlanta Braves

2017 MLB Season

Freeman will look to bring the Braves back to relevancy in 2017. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Freddie Freeman has developed into the franchise cornerstone the Atlanta Braves have been coveting since the retirement of Chipper Jones. Freeman finally delivered on his power potential last season, launching 34 bombs to go along with 91 RBI’s. He also provided the Braves with a consistent bat in the middle of the line up with a .302 batting average. At only 27 years old, Freeman is poised to be the next franchise great. Freeman will lead the Braves into SunTrust Park in 2017 and beyond.

4. Anthony Rizzo- Chicago Cubs

Chicago was able to claim the 2016 World Series. Since they are led by Anthony Rizzo and other stars, it shouldn’t be their last. Garnering his third All-Star game appearance of the past three seasons, Rizzo was a vital cog to the Cubs championship machine. His 32 homers and 109 RBI’s were fueled by the best slash line of his career. Rizzo batted .292, had an OBP of .385, and a slugging percentage of .544. It’s easily the best of his five-year career. When he wasn’t providing big hits for the Cubs, Rizzo flashed the leather. He had 11 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving Rizzo to be one of the better overall first basemen in the majors.

3. Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

2017 MLB Season

Joey Votto hopes his glove will mat h his bat in 2017. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

With the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of a long rebuilding process, Joey Votto has proven to be their cornerstone. Votto does not fit the typical slugging first basemen prototype, but he still provides plenty of pop in an extremely disciplined bat. Votto hit 29 home runs last season to go along with 97 RBI’s. That’s plenty of production from a middle of the order bat.

What Votto excels at most is getting on base. Votto posted an OBP of .434 last season, one of the highest of all first basemen in the majors. While Votto did have a solid year with the bat, his glove tailed off some from his career averages. Votto had -14 defensive runs saved last season, the worst of his stellar career. What Votto lacks in defense, he more than makes up for in offense. Look for Votto to bring the Reds back towards respectability in 2017.

2. Paul Goldschmidt- Arizona Diamondbacks

When Paul Goldschmidt was taken by the Diamondbacks in the eighth round of the 2009 Amateur Draft, all 30 MLB teams had passed on him multiple times. What they wouldn’t give to have a chance at him again. All Goldschmidt has done is rake since being called up to the majors in 2011. With 24 long balls and 95 RBI’s, Goldschmidt provided Arizona with another solid offensive season.

One thing Goldschmidt brings to the table that other first basemen lack is speed. Goldschmidt stole 32 bases last season! The second most stolen bases by a first baseman last season was Wil Myers with 28 and the third guy on that list had 12. It’s safe to say Goldschmidt can fly on the base paths. Couple that speed with power and the ability to hit for average, and you have a gem of a first baseman.

1. Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

Miguel Cabrera is launching balls out of the park at historic rates. (Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Until Miguel Cabrera proves he isn’t the top first basemen in the majors, atop this list he will stay. At 33 years old, Cabrera is still in the prime of his career. He provided the Tigers with 38 homers and 108 RBI’s, good to earn him his 11th All-Star game appearance in 2016. While he did post a negative defensive runs saved last season of -6, the offensive firepower he provides more than makes up for a few gaffes down at first base. Cabrera is the prototypical slugging first baseman. His career slash line of .321 average, .399 OBP, and .562 slugging are enough evidence to prove Cabrera is the top first basemen of 2017, if not the past 14 years.

For these five aforementioned first basemen, they will look for 2017 to bring 2016-like results. They are all fairly young or in their prime, so this list should be set for some time.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Starting Pitchers

With the start of the 2017 MLB season still about three months away (85 days, six minutes, and 43 seconds, but who’s counting?), players and teams are beginning to gear up for the first pitch on April 2.

Let’s take a look at the top five starting pitchers for Opening Day 2017.

5. Justin Verlander- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

Justin Verlander will hope his 2016 success carries over to 2017. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander turned in a renaissance season for the Detroit Tigers in 2016. At age 33, he had his most innings pitched since 2012, posting a solid 227.2 innings. He coupled a full season with a return of his strikeout ability. Verlander struck out 254 batters and limited base runners with a WHIP of 1.00. The former Cy Young winner will look to continue his success into 2017.

4. Corey Kluber- Cleveland Indians

Corey Kluber bounced back in 2016 from a disappointing 2015 when he posted a record of 9-16. He matched his win-loss record from his Cy Young Award winning season in 2014 of 18-6. Kluber posted a solid ERA of 3.14 as well as striking out 227 batters over 215 innings pitched. He helped anchor a staff that would be a key component in the Indians run to the World Series. A surprise contender in 2016, the Indians won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season, led by staff ace Corey Kluber.

3. Madison Bumgarner- San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner is coming off of a season in which he posted career highs in strike outs (251), innings pitched (226.2), and ERA (2.77). All of that was good enough for him to garner his fourth straight All-Star game appearance, as well as a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Bumgarner led San Francisco to the NL Division Series, but the Giants were beaten soundly 3-1 by the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Surrounded by a strong pitching staff, Bumgarner will anchor the Giants starting rotation for 2017.

2. Clayton Kershaw- Los Angeles Dodgers

Even the casual baseball fan knows of the legendary dominance of lefty Clayton Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is only going to be 29 years old when the season starts, leaving his already stellar career all the more impressive. All this lauding may lead you to wonder why he is only second on this list. That is because of all the pitchers in contention for this list, Kershaw had by far the lowest number of innings pitched with only 149. He had his 2016 season cut short by injuries. Before he got hurt, he was on his way to posting an ERA below two (1.69) for the third time in four seasons! If it wasn’t for injuries, Kershaw would have been the runaway NL Cy Young winner as well as number one on this list. Kershaw is on track to to start Opening Day for the Dodgers.

1. Max Scherzer- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

Max Scherzer will dominate the NL in 2017. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

Max Scherzer won the NL Cy Young Award in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. He posted an ERA of 2.96, but it was his peripheral numbers that vaulted him to the Cy Young Award. He struck out an astounding 284 batters over 228.1 innings pitched. Scherzer also got batters out with ground balls and fly outs, supported by his WHIP of .097. By limiting opponents to an average of less than one baserunner per inning, and striking out batters at an astronomical rate, Scherzer was able to claim the NL Cy Young Award in 2016. In his prime, he is poised to add to his trophy case in 2017.

As the 2017 season draws nearer, look for these top five starting pitchers to dominate in 2017. Also watch out for some other names that just missed the cut. Pitchers like Chris Sale, David Price, Jake Arrieta and Noah Syndergaard will all be looking to make the cut next season.

 

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Players of the Week in the AL Central: 5/23-5/29

The American League Central really started to get competitive this week. The White Sox are currently on a six game skid to move from first place to third. Kansas City has won their last three games to claim the top spot. The rest of the division held serve, with the Indians staying in second and the Tigers and Twins rounding out the bottom of the division. Here are five position players and five pitchers who did the most for each team in the division:

  1. Kansas City Royals (27-22)

    Wade Davis has proven again that he is a premier closer in baseball. Photo courtesy kansascity.com.

Pitcher: Wade Davis

The Royals played six games on the week and Davis managed to pick up three saves to get them to first place. He had five strike outs and no earned runs allowed, to add to his impressive season. With 14 saves and a 0.92 ERA, Davis is in great position to win the Reliever of the Year Award.

Position Player: Salvador Perez, C

Perez only played five games on the week, but still managed to pick up ten hits. His .526 average led the team, and he added four RBI. His power numbers were solid, as he hit two doubles, a triple and a home run.

2. Cleveland Indians (26-22)

Pitcher: Corey Kluber

Kluber had one start this week, going seven and one third innings against the White Sox and picking up a win. He only allowed one run and struck out 9 batters.

Mike Napoli had a great all-around week for Cleveland. Photo courtesy cleveland.com.

Position Player: Mike Napoli, 1B

Napoli hit .318 on the week, but the amazing thing was his power numbers. His three home runs and nine RBI generated some much needed offense for the Tribe. The two stolen bases for Napoli were the lone ones of the season.

3. Chicago White Sox (27-24)

Pitcher: Zach Putnam

Putnam appeared in three games, without allowing a run. His five innings pitched and .125 batting average against made him the most impressive pitcher of the week for the White Sox.

Austin Jackson was the only bat who produced for the White Sox this week. Photo courtesy southsideshowdown.com.

Position Player: Austin Jackson, CF

The bats went cold for the White Sox this week, but Jackson tried his best to keep them hot. He hit .462 with 4 RBI. His 12 hits for the team were four more than the next highest player on the team.

4. Detroit Tigers (24-25)

Justin Verlander had a great start this week for the Tigers. Photo courtesy stack.com.

Pitcher: Justin Verlander

There were plenty of pitchers who could’ve been the pitcher of the week for the Tigers, but Verlander led them all with ten strike outs. He only gave up three hits in eight innings against the Phillies. His two walks allowed showed how precise he was with the ball this week.

Position Player: Victor Martinez, DH

Martinez had a blistering-hot week by hitting .500 with 11 hits. He didn’t draw any walks, but did add six RBI to help the Tigers stay in the race for the American League Central.

5. Minnesota Twins (15-34)

Pitcher: Fernando Abad

Abad threw 3.1 innings in four relief appearances on the week. His two hits allowed and .167 batting average against helped the Twins win four games this week.

Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano couldn’t stop hitting home runs if they tried this week. Photo courtesy twincities.com.

Position Player(s): Joe Mauer, C and Miguel Sano, RF

Both Mauer and Sano crushed the ball this week. They both finished with four home runs and seven RBI and hit home runs in three straight games. Without their offensive output, the Twins wouldn’t have won four out of six games on the week.

AL Central Weekly: 5/16-5/22

  1. Chicago White Sox, 26-18

    Tyler Saladino started to heat up this week. Photo courtesy mlb.com.

The White Sox remain at the top of the AL Central, despite losing four out of six games on the week. They dropped two games to the Astros and two more to the Royals to finish off their worst week of the season. Tyler Saladino was the most impressive hitter of the week, with a .400 batting average and two RBI. The power numbers weren’t there for Chicago this week, as they hit just two home runs and had 16 RBI. Chris Sale had a complete game, four-hitter to secure one of the two wins for the White Sox this week. The bullpen had a few solid performers as three different pitchers didn’t allow a run.

Upcoming games: vs. Cleveland (4 games), at Kansas City (4 games)

Cody Allen was the best pitcher in a very good bullpen. Photo courtesy cleveland.com.

2. Cleveland Indians, 22-19

Cleveland swept the Reds over four games, before losing two out of three to the Red Sox. Rajai Davis really heated up this week, tallying two home runs and nine RBI on the week. The Indians proved that they have one of the best bullpens in baseball, with five pitchers not allowing an earned run. Cody Allen was the most impressive, giving up no hits in four innings of relief.

Upcoming games: at Chicago White Sox (4 games), vs. Baltimore (3 games)

Paulo Orlando is an unsung hero for the Royals. Photo courtesy alchetron.com.

3. Kansas City Royals, 22-21

The Royals won four out of their six games against the White Sox and Red Sox on the week. Paulo Orlando had the week of his life, collecting nine hits in 14 at-bats. His 7 RBI led the team, even though he only played in four games. The Indians and the White Sox had great bullpen performances this week, but the Royals had great performances from plenty of pitchers. Eight of the 14 pitchers who pitched this week for Kansas City didn’t allow an earned run. Seven of the eight were relief pitchers.

Upcoming games: at Minnesota (3 games), vs. Chicago White Sox (4 games)

Jordan Zimmermann’s injury is going to be tough to deal with for the Tigers. Photo courtesy Freep.com.

4. Detroit Tigers, 21-22

Detroit won five out of six to get back in the thick of things in the Central race. Cameron Maybin returned from injury with a bang. He hit .600, with five RBI and four stolen bases. Jordan Zimmermann has the fifth best ERA in the American League and won his two starts this week, but had to leave his latest start with a groin injury. This along with Miguel Cabrera’s banged up knee may cause problems for the Tigers in the future.

Upcoming games: vs. Philadelphia (3 games), at Oakland (3 games)

Danny Santana has been one of the few bright spots for the Twins this season. Photo courtesy startribune.com.

5. Minnesota Twins, 11-32

The Twins had another miserable week, picking up just one win against the Blue Jays. Danny Santana had eight hits and four RBI on the week. Fernando Abad picked up the only win for the Twins and didn’t allow a run in two appearances.

Upcoming games: vs. Kansas City (3 games), at Seattle (3 games)

Cameron Maybin has no apparent setbacks from his injury. Photo courtesy gettyimages.com.

Player of the Week: Cameron Maybin

Maybin hit .600 in his first week off of the disabled list to help the Tigers have their best week yet.

AL Central Weekly: 5/9-5/15

Todd Frazier had big power numbers this week. Photo courtesy mlb.com.

  1. Chicago White Sox, 24-14

The White Sox only had two wins on the week, by dropping two out of three games to both the Yankees and the Rangers. They are still tied for the most wins in the American League with 24 wins and only behind the Orioles in win percentage. Todd Frazier heated up by hitting .333, with four home runs and 12 RBI. He also had an unfortunate injury by diving into the stands while going after a foul ball. Frazier is fine, but it was a scary moment nonetheless. Chris Sale was the best pitcher of the week once again for the White Sox, picking up another win with a 1.00 ERA.

Upcoming games: vs. Houston (3 games), vs. Kansas City (3 games)

Kipnis has started to heat up. Photo courtesy cbssports.com.

2. Cleveland Indians, 17-17

Cleveland also had a tough week by losing two out of three games to the Astros and Twins. Jason Kipnis got off to a cold start to the season, but really turned it on this week by getting eight hits and three RBI. The offense needs Kipnis to keep on producing if they want to stay in the AL Central race. Joba Chamberlain pitched well this week, giving up no earned runs in three appearances, while holding opposing hitters to a .100 average.

Upcoming games: vs. Cincinnati (2 games), at Cincinnati (2 games), at Boston (3 games)

Lorenzo Cain has been a bright spot for the Royals’ offense. Photo courtesy kansascity.com.

3. Kansas City Royals, 18-19

The defending World Series Champions are struggling to get above .500. Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer are both carrying the offense lately, as they both hit over .300 on the week. Cain added 8 RBI to lead the Royals. The pitching needs to get better, but three bullpen pitchers did well. Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar and Peter Moylan all didn’t allow an earned run.

Upcoming games: vs. Boston (3 games), at Chicago White Sox (3 games)

Kyle Ryan had a great week in relief for the tigers. Photo courtesy of mlb.com.

4. Detroit Tigers, 16-21

Detroit is slowly slipping further below .500. They lost five of their seven games to the Orioles and Nationals, making it another forgettable week. Victor Martinez hit over .500 on the week, with 13 hits, but only 3 RBI. This is mostly a factor of the rest of the offense not doing so well. Kyle Ryan had four appearances this week and gave up no earned runs, while picking up a save.

Upcoming games: vs. Minnesota (3 games), vs. Tampa Bay (3 games)

Plouffe is one of the few players stepping up for the Twins. Photo courtesy cbssports.com.

5. Minnesota Twins, 10-26

The Twins lost three out of their five games on the week, with one game against the Orioles postponed due to rain. Trevor Plouffe and Danny Santana both hit over .300, but Joe Mauer had a down week, hitting .250. Tyler Duffey threw seven scoreless innings and picked up a win in his only start of the week.

Upcoming games: at Detroit (3 games), at Toronto (4 games)

Victor Martinez has put the Tigers’ offense on his back. Photo courtesy washingtontimes.com.

Player of the Week: Victor Martinez

Martinez hit over .500 on the week, and could have had better numbers if the rest of the team had stepped up.

 

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