American League MVP

American League MVP: Altuve or Judge?

The Astros and Yankees are in the middle of a riveting ALCS. However, this article will not be focusing on the teams involved, but rather the stars that have gotten them to this point.

Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge are both largely responsible for the success of each team. The question though is which star had a bigger impact?

Jose Altuve

American League MVP

Altuve is thirsty for his first career MVP. (Photo from Yahoo Sports)

.346/.410/.547 24 HR 81 RBI 8.3 WAR

For a 5-foot-6 second baseman, Jose Altuve has got some pop. He proved that in Game 1 of the ALDS when he hit three home runs off the Boston Red Sox.

His power is not what separates him from the rest of the game though. What separates Altuve is his ability to excel in the basic fundamentals of the game.

Whether it be on offense or defense, Altuve is who the Astros relied on. Not only that, but he doesn’t spend time off the field. He only missed nine games all season long while some of the other stars on Houston spent some time on the DL. He kept Houston in the thick of things when they were struggling with injuries.

Altuve was also strong on the base paths, stealing 32 bases on 38 attempts. This makes him awfully close to being a 30-30 man while coming up just six homers shy of the feat.

What has not even been mentioned yet is that Altuve led the majors in batting average at .346. He was consistent all year long and did not have any major dips in performance. His best month was in July where he had a stellar .485 batting average. His worst month was in September where he hit .298, the only month where he hit below .300.

This is where Altuve bests Aaron Judge. There were no major slumps in Altuve’s season, unlike Judge, and he was extremely reliable for his team.

Aaron Judge

American League MVP

Aaron Judge quickly made himself one of the most recognizable players in baseball. (Photo from Sporting News)

.284/.422/.627 52 HR 114 RBI 8.1 WAR

Aaron Judge is the story of the season. Coming off a 2016 season where he hit .179 in the 27 games he appeared in, Judge shocked the majors by being one of the most intimidating figures at the plate.

The 25-year-old rookie led the American League with his 52 home runs, which also broke the all-time rookie record for home runs in a season. Not only that, but now that we are in the Statcast era, we love looking at the advanced metrics. Judge led the league with an average exit velocity of 95.6 mph. This shows his ability to make solid contact with the ball along with the pure power he has.

Judge has the ability to change the game with any at-bat. His power was one of the biggest attractions at All-Star weekend, and it left everybody speechless.

Judge did have some negative moments during his season. The month of August was abysmal for Judge. He set the record for most consecutive games with a strikeout and only hit .185 during the month with three home runs. He was able to bounce back though by hitting .311 and and impressive 15 home runs in the month of September.

Don’t let Judge’s high strikeout rate fool you either. He still led the league with 127 walks in 2017. Judge does not have a bad eye, which is always good to see among rookies.

Judge being a rookie should not come into play when talking about the MVP. Yes, Judge is all but a lock for Rookie of the Year in the American League. However, that will not improve his chances in this discussion.

Verdict

Both of these guys had stellar seasons, and there is no taking away from that. The month of September made the race much closer after it looked like Altuve had really separated himself from Judge. However, those 15 home runs really brought Judge back into the conversation.

While Judge is the guy with game-changing ability, Altuve has the reliability that makes any manager or fan base comfortable. Altuve is the guy a team can rely on to make the right decision and minimize mistakes.

Altuve has also led the league in stolen bases twice as well as batting three times. Now that he leads the league in WAR as well, it is time for him to have his MVP.

While it makes sense that “Judge” would win the verdict, Altuve has the edge here.

AL MVP: Jose Altuve

 

Featured image from The Big Lead

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2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees fought to be here

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

Houston has New York’s number

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the series will play out

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALCS Prediction: Yankees in 7

 

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

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

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

Why it Matters

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Astros

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Dodgers

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Field

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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World Series baseball fans need

The World Series baseball fans need

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

Why not the Indians

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

world series

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

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

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

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

Why not the Yankees

No.

Futility in Washington… or is it Montreal?

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

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

Houston Strong

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World Series baseball fans need 

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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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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Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins playoffs: Nobody saw this coming

Seven years ago, the Minnesota Twins headed in to the 2010 postseason as the 94-win AL Central champions. It was their last playoff appearance.

Even the most optimistic of Minnesota Twins fans could not have foreseen what this season had in store. Sure, there are probably a select few who were predicting the postseason in April, but then again, every year is a World Series year for those people. It’s adorable. And as someone who has spent the better part of 30 years rooting for Milwaukee, I get it. We had our own improbable run this year.

The Manager

Minnesota Twins

Twins Manager Paul Molitor has done a lot more smiling this year than he did in 2016. (Photo courtesy of: KARE TV)

Unlike the upstart Brewers (who cling to just the faintest of life), you have succeeded in stamping your ticket to the postseason. Although, it did require the help of a legendary Milwaukee Brewer “Igniter” piloting that ship and steadying it through turbulent waters. Obviously, this is tongue in cheek, but let’s face it, Paul Molitor has done a heckuva job with this ball club.

I’ve heard grumblings from Twins fans on social media questioning how Molly runs a pitching staff. I find that a lot of the time, however, you can’t please everyone. The differences in this year’s Twins twirlers compared to that 2016 abomination are something you should be celebrating.

Don’t misunderstand, nobody is saying the Twins staff is dominant, but improvements in team pitching are why you’re here. Last season you finished dead last in the American League in pitching and that had to be painful to watch; 59-win seasons do tend to be pretty awful.

This season however, the Twins pitching staff ranks 10th of 15 in American League total team pitching. This team has shaved close to half-a-run off their team ERA (4.63) in 2017, down from a revolting (5.08) ERA in 2016. It must be at least a little depressing to average giving up five-plus runs per game. What am I talking about? It is depressing, I’ve been there and done that with some of those fine collections of soft-tossing beach ball dealers the Brewers have collected over the years. Doug Davis anyone?

Ask yourself one question: Would you rather have another season where you endure giving up 889 runs, or would you rather give up over 100 fewer runs and play October baseball? This is more than enough reason to get behind your club and your manager in my estimation. Forget about the questionable pitching management, you’re in the playoff club!

Byron Buxton

Minnesota Twins

Byron Buxton, at age 23, already makes center field look way too simple. He should win the Gold Glove in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of: Twincities.com)

It doesn’t hurt a team’s fortunes either when one of your top youngsters flips the switch and begins to figure out the Major League game. This is exactly what Byron Buxton has done in 2017 for the Minnesota Twins.

I’m going to say this right now. Minnesota Twins centerfielder Byron Buxton is a Gold Glove winner. Should he not win the award bestowed upon the season’s best fielders in the AL this year, it will be an injustice.

He is just glove-ly. He uses that blazing speed to his advantage to become the predator lying in wait for any unsuspecting line drive looking only for clean grass to nest in. Even the best hitters regularly find the deep pocket of his cavernous glove.

And you can forget about burning this man. You’re not going to. He gets such an unbelievable jump on the ball and his read off the bat is so sharp, balls that would eat up most normal centerfielders find Buxton effortlessly tracking them down.

Long story short, he makes center field look easy. His (dWAR), or defensive wins above replacement, rating of 2.9 is second best in the majors this year to only all-world short stop, Andrelton Simmons who sits at a not too shabby 4.2 dWAR. And I do say that sarcastically by the way. Simmons is a man-god at short for Los Angeles.

Since the beginning of August, Buxton has been absolutely raking. As we have hit the dog days of summer, Buxton seems to be playing his best baseball at the right time stroking a (.303/.349/.556) line. Down the stretch, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a scorching (.380). This suggests he will almost certainly cool off. Twins fans however, hope that happens after the World Series.

It doesn’t matter what way you slice it, Buxton has been  great this year for the Twins. At 23 years old, the best is almost certainly yet to come. But for now, this is a young player on the rise and seemingly coming into his own. Buxton will not be a free agent until 2022, so enjoy your defensive stalwart in centerfield while he’s there.

Please, Not New York… Again

With Boston again losing to the Astros last night 3-2 and the Yankees shutting out the Blue Jays 4-0, the AL East is still in play. New York is sitting two back with a pair left to play entering Saturday.

While it is still mathematically possible the Yankees could walk away with the East, they need to win out. They also need Boston to lose out. And then they would need to win a one game playoff at Yankee Stadium to send Boston into the Wild Card matchup with the Twins. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? No.

The Minnesota Twins are most likely going to New York, folks.

Minnesota Twins playoffs

The 85-win Minnesota Twins record the final out in the 1987 World Series, overcoming a stacked St. Louis Cardinals team. (Photo courtesy of: Minnpost.com)

If you’re a Twins fan, you don’t need to be reminded of the tough luck in October since the 1991 dream season. The Twins successfully went from dead last in 1990 to champs in 1991. Since that season, which culminated in arguably the best World Series of all time, Minnesota’s fortunes have been much different. The New York Yankees have been a main culprit.

In four of the last seven playoff series the Twins have played, the Yankees have been their opponent. The results have been far from resembling competent baseball. In four Division Series hookups, the Minnesota Twins have played to a (2-12) record. The Twins were also swept out of October in each of the last two playoff series they played (2009 & 2010).

Over those 14 games, the Yankees have regularly out-slugged the Twins. Take Derek Jeter for instance, as he hit at a .351 clip through that stretch while also adding eight RBIs to further his team’s cause.

This type of performance wasn’t limited to just Jeter though, because the Yankees also hit 20 homers to Minnesota’s eight. That’s a lot of runs to be giving up over one swing of a bat, so it’s really not surprising they have only taken two wins in 14 games.

Although Jeter has since ascended in to baseball mythology, the Yankees have a new batch of talented players. Of course, this is including Rookie of the Year shoe-in and notorious baseball abuser Aaron Judge.

Here’s the good news though Twins fans, this is a one-off matchup. We all know that on any given day in MLB literally any team can win. This my friends, is the great equalizer. You don’t need to be consistent over a series of games. You only need one performance to pass your first test.

Granted, it’s a big test going on the road with a pitching staff that can be prone to giving up some runs. On top of that, you are facing a good slugging Yankee team.

But, there is always one of those, right? If you can get to the Yankees early and allow defenders like Byron Buxton to salt the game away in the field, you might just pull this baby out. And you might just start exercising some of those historical demons.

Just remember this, in 1987, the Minnesota Twins went 85-77 and won the whole dang thing. Anything is possible, dreamers!

 

(feature photo: KMSP TV)

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Cleveland Indians playoffs

Will anyone stop the Indians?

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

Los Angeles Dodgers

Cleveland Indians playoffs

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

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

Houston Astros

Cleveland Indians playoffs

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

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

Boston Red Sox

Cleveland Indians playoffs

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

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

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Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League 2017: Youngest Stars

 

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

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

 

Glendale Desert Dogs

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller, Age 21

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Finishing Level: Altoona Curve (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Cornelius Randolph, Age 20

Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

 

Peoria Javelinas

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Andres Munoz, Age 18

Parent Club: San Diego Padres

2017 Finishing Level: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Ronald Acuna, Age 19

Parent Club: Atlanta Braves

2017 Finishing Level: Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

 

Scottsdale Scorpions

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Justus Sheffield, Age 21

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Trenton Thunder (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Estevan Florial, Age 19

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Tampa Yankees (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

Mesa Solar Sox

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Nolan Blackwood, Age 22

Parent Club: Oakland Athletics

2017 Finishing Level: Stockton Ports (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Parent Club: Houston Astros

2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

Salt River Rafters

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Keegan Akin, Age 22

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Frederick Keys (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

Youngest Position Player: 2B Ryan Mountcastle, Age 20

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Bowie Bay Sox (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Surprise Saguaros

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Jordan Hicks, Age 21

Parent Club: St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Finishing Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League 2017

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

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

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

 

Youngest Position Player: 3B Kevin Padlo, Age 21

Parent Club: Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)

 

 

 

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“From our Haus to yours

Have the Red Sox taken AL supremacy from the Astros?

As it stands, the Red Sox are 4.5 games back of Houston for the best record in the AL. Boston has been making a push for power as of late. In August thus far, Boston has racked up an impressive 11-2 record while the Astros have been slipping. Houston has a 5-11 record in that same time span.

Failure to launch in Houston?

Red Sox

Correa’s injury has proven to be costly in Houston (Sports Illustrated)

This playoff race shows just how unpredictable baseball can be. If it was June and you were to ask the average baseball fan who the best team in the American League was, they would say without a doubt the Astros.

Fortune has been swaying as of late though. The Astros have dealt with some injury issues as Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers have been hurt. Their lineup has also been bitten by the injury bug as George Springer and Carlos Correa have seen DL time.

It is not the time to say Houston can not come back from their issues. However, the team has shown vulnerability the last couple of weeks.

They also seem to be proving the fans right, as their inability to make a deal at the deadline would come back to bite them. The only trade of significance the Astros made was acquiring Francisco Liriano, which was not the kind of name they or the fans were looking for.

The Astros did make a move after the deadline and acquired Tyler Clippard, who is a two-time All-Star from the Chicago White Sox. There have still been rumors that they are in the mix for Justin Verlander. However, Jeff Luhnow has stated that expectations are “very low” in terms of trading for a starting pitcher.

Carlos Correa should be coming off the DL in the coming weeks. Houston still should feel good about their spot in the postseason, but they should be concerned with their current performance as well. This may serve as a wake up call for Houston for them to realize it is not a given that they will reach the World Series.

The Red Sox are red hot

Red Sox

Devers is the latest rookie to make a big splash in the show (Boston Herald)

Boston is 4.5 games up on the rival New York Yankees, who have been picking up the pace since their four game losing streak. Winning the division will be key for either team, as not playing in that dreaded wild-card game has a lot of upside for division winners.

Much of the team’s success has been coming from their pitching. Boston is second in the AL in ERA behind the Indians, and have the most quality starts from their starting rotation led by Chris Sale.

Last December, the Red Sox traded a couple of their best prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech for the side-armed lefty. Sale is tied in the AL for most wins with 14, and has the lowest ERA with an impressive 2.51. He also leads American League pitchers with a 5.6 WAR.

Boston has also received a shot in the arm from their new rookie sensation, Rafael Devers. In a season full of star-studded rookies, Devers has been able to make a name for himself at the young age of 20 years old.

Since being called up to Boston on July 23, Devers has hit six home runs and has a slash line of .348/.416/.667. His performance has been one of the best on the team besides their newly acquired infielder, Eduardo Nunez.

Nunez was traded to Boston at the deadline, and it showed they are not kidding around the season. Unlike Houston, Boston was able to solve some needs going into the trade deadline and it has paid off. Nunez has a slash line of .321/.348/.455. It is apparent that these moves have been working out for the Red Sox and they will be tough to beat coming down the stretch.

Will Boston prevail?

Since the Red Sox have taken off they have played some good teams as well as some lowly ones in the American Leauge. Four of their wins in August have come from the Chicago White Sox, but they have also won against the Rays, Cardinals, Yankees and Indians. This says that Boston will be able to match up with anybody down the stretch.

Boston will most likely keep pace and make sure the Yankees stay in second in the division. As I said earlier though, anything can happen. The Red Sox have a good amount of reliable players on their team though in order to ensure they stay on track.

Barring any injury setbacks that may come Houston’s way, the Astros should have Correa and McCullers back on the field in the coming weeks. Since they should be healthy for the postseason, they will prove to be a tough test for anyone that comes their way. If the standings hold as they do today, then there is a chance we could see the Astros and Red Sox face off in the ALCS.

This would be a very entertaining series as both clubs have the tools to win a World Series. Perhaps Houston will be able to break out of their slump and fend Boston off. If the Astros are able to break out of their funk and prove that their performance earlier in the season was not a fluke, then they will be a force to be reckoned with in October.

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2017 MLB breakout performers

The following MLB hitters have officially broken out in 2017. This piece intends to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these breakout performers will continue to achieve, or if their level of success is unsustainable.

Honorable mentions include: Whit Merrifield (KAN), Domingo Santana (MIL), Yonder Alonso (OAK), Alex Bregman (HOU), Paul DeJong (STL) and Andrelton Simmons (LAA).

Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .300/.426/.627 .389 34 75 83 30.7 %
July .230/.364/.483 .310 7 13 13 36.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Judge has become the best power hitter in baseball in 2017. (Photo by The New York Daily News)

The Yankee slugger has officially broken out in 2017. Judge is the heavy front runner to win American League Rookie of the Year, as he has mashed 34 home runs and 75 RBIs while batting .300 so far this season.

According to the New York Daily News, Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred described Judge’s performance as “phenomenal”, and added that Judge is “the kind of player that can become the face of the game.”

While this comment may be justified, Judge’s performance has significantly cooled off since it was made in mid-June.

In July, Judge batted merely .230 while striking out at an atrocious 36.4 percent clip. Also, his 39 strikeouts were the most by any player in July.

On June 17, his BABIP was .433, although inevitably it has dropped .44 points to .389 in less than two months. I documented my opinion in mid-June, exclaiming that it was time to sell Judge, as his value was clearly at its peak.

Selling Judge now may not be the best decision, as his value has declined in the last month. His fantasy value should be similar to that of fellow sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Marcel Ozuna. His value would be closer to that of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout if it wasn’t for his lack of experience and elevated BABIP and strikeout rates, which all raise questions about his consistency.

Cody Bellinger, Outfielder/ First Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .264/.344/.599 .284 30 71 58 26.9 %
July .263/.372/.463 .298 4 13 9 20.2 %

Bellinger has been quite the producer since being called up in late April. In only 89 games, he has recorded 30 home runs and 71 RBIs, which puts him on pace to hit over 50 home runs and 129 RBIs over the course of a 162-game season.

The 22-year-old has noticeably changed his approach at the plate since the All-Star break, as his strikeout rate has dropped from 29.1 percent in the first half to 18.8 percent in the second. Bellinger slots into to the clean-up spot in the lineup behind the National League leader in batting average, Justin Turner, and 2016 NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager.

Bellinger has joined the ranks of elite young sluggers and should be valued similarly to Aaron Judge moving forward.

Justin Smoak, First Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .301/.380/.597 .313 31 74 64 19.7 %
July .310/.410/.610 .354 8 19 17 23.1 %

Despite the Blue Jays’ struggles this season, Justin Smoak has emerged as a silver lining. He was voted an All-Star for the first time and is currently batting .301 with 31 home runs and 74 RBIs.

The 30-year-old has set career highs in all major hitting categories, while also dropping his strikeout rate from 32.8 last season to 19.7 percent in 2017.

In July, Smoak’s success continued, although it seems majorly due to his BABIP as he sported a .354 BABIP. Also, his strikeout rate has risen up to 23.1 percent which is a bit concerning.

Smoak should finish the year batting under .300, although chances that he hits 40 bombs and drives in 100 are very likely. He is firmly entrenched within the top 10 first baseman right now, although his value in keeper and dynasty formats is weaker than in standard re-draft due to lack of sample size and consistency.

Travis Shaw, First Baseman/ Third Baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .288/.361/.555 .329 24 74 61 23.1 %
July .305/.400/.622 .367 7 17 19 27.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017. (Photo by Pintrest)

Shaw came over to the Brewers this offseason in a deal that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox. Thornburg has yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox, whereas Shaw has become an All-Star.

The 27-year-old has found a home batting clean-up for Milwaukee, as he has hit a career-high 24 home runs while driving in a career-high 74 RBIs.

Shaw’s BABIP of .329 is significantly higher than last season’s .299 mark, although this may be due to an increase in hard contact, as he has raised his hard contact rate from 29 percent in 2015, to 33 percent in 2016 and now 37 percent this season.

His improved approach has allowed him to become an elite fantasy producer in 2017. His value moving forward is similar to the likes of Jake Lamb and Mike Moustakas, as his batting average is still extremely BABIP driven and his strikeout rates are high and continuously rising.

Chris Taylor, Outfielder/ Second Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .316/.383/.545 .419 14 52 60 27.7 %
July .394/.412/.660 .523 3 15 15 26.8 %

Taylor was a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade that sent prospect pitcher Zach Lee to Seattle in 2016.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, Taylor has stumbled upon some newfound success, as he has hit more home runs in 91 games this season than he did in 249 games at the AAA-level.

The 26-year-old has become the everyday lead-off hitter for the Dodgers, which bodes well for his fantasy value, although his rising strikeout rate and inflated BABIP are cause for concern.

Taylor, whose BABIP in July measured .523, has an unsustainable BABIP of .419 on the year. Also, his home run to fly ball rate of 18.7 percent is unsustainable, as that would put him the same conversation as Paul Goldschmidt and Logan Morrison in terms of HR/FB rates.

Taylor’s fantasy value seems to be at its peak, which makes this a prime time to sell high. He will continue to be a valuable asset as he bats lead-off for arguably the best team in baseball, although his BABIP and home run to fly ball rate are sure to plummet.

Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .296/.399/.566 .355 21 56 62 25.0 %
July .301/.363/.658 .313 7 14 12 22.5 %

Conforto has been the lone bright spot for the Mets during thier abysmal 2017 season. He has batted primarily in the lead-off spot for New York, although due to a lack of talent around him, he has only scored 62 runs in his 91 games. His BABIP of .355 is very high, although his BABIP in July of .313 and batting average of .301 suggest that his .300 batting average may be sustainable over the course of a full season.

The 24-year-old is not in the upper echelon of outfielders just yet. It is fair to value him similarly to Corey Dickerson or Domingo Santana moving forward due to his lineup potential, production, upside and age.

Jonathan Schoop, Second Baseman, Baltimore Orioles

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .302/.352/.550 .337 24 79 68 21.5 %
July .343/.377/.638 .355 9 28 21 19.3 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Jonathan Schoop has emerged as a center piece of the Orioles future. (Photo by Alchetron)

Schoop had a successful 2016 campaign, although he has taken his talents to the next level this season. He is a lock to set career bests in all major hitting categories, as he is on pace to hit 36 home runs and drive in 119 RBIs.

He has found a fantasy friendly spot in the three-hole of a dangerous Baltimore lineup and promises to be a big part of their future moving forward.

His BABIP of .337 suggests that his batting average is in line for a small amount of regression, although his improved strikeout rate and incredible July totals insinuate that he is trending upward.

He ranks just below Jose Ramirez in terms of value due to a lack of steals and batting average, although his production puts him firmly in the top tier of second basemen, well behind Jose Altuve of course.

 

Marwin Gonzalez, First Baseman/ Third Baseman/ Shortstop/ Outfielder, Houston Astros

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .311/.388/.578 .346 20 65 50 20.5 %
July .307/.378/.591 .344 7 18 17 21.4 %

Marwin Gonzalez, once known as a backup utility player, has officially broken out. Many didn’t expect Gonzalez to receive everyday at-bats due to the Astros having such a deep roster, although due to injuries and his hot bat he has found himself in an everyday role.

The 28-year-old has set career highs in home runs and RBIs, while being on pace to set a career-high in batting average. Gonzalez is a great fantasy asset, as he has a multitude of position eligibilities and bats in the heart of the Astros’ dangerous lineup.

His BABIP is high, which does cause concern regarding his .300-plus average, although his production and power seem to be sustainable. His playing time shouldn’t falter even when stars Carlos Correa and George Springer return from the disabled list, as his production has been arguably the team’s best of late.

 

Featured image by SBNation

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