MLB Game 162 2011

Remembering baseball’s best night ever: Game 162

It is times like this when the average fan will look back and remember some great moments in baseball history. The hot stove is rather cold, and we are still six weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting in the spring.

One of the greatest moments of the 21st century, if not ever, was the 162nd game of the 2011 regular season. I am not talking about one game in particular. I am talking about four different games that all led to one of the greatest finishes to a regular season ever.

Before we can focus on game 162, we need to know the context of the season.

September 2011

On Sept. 1, 2011, the Boston Red Sox were in first place of the AL East and were nine games ahead of the third place Tampa Bay Rays. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals were 7.5 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and 8.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card. Remember, this was the year before there were two Wild Card teams accepted from each league.

At the beginning of the month, everything was perfectly laid out for teams that looked playoff bound. Boston was a favorite to go to the World Series at the beginning of the year, and they looked poised to make another trip. However, they went 7-18 going into the last game of the season, and the Rays went 16-9 going into game 162. They were tied for the Wild Card with one game left, and everyone knew it would be exciting night just on that front.

The Cardinals were long shots for the postseason at the beginning of September. They were further back in the Wild Card than they were in the division. Luckily for them, the Braves went 8-17 going into game 162, while the Cardinals went a solid 16-10. This also left Atlanta and St. Louis tied for the NL Wild Card, just like the American League.

The hype for these games was there, and luckily for us, they did not disappoint one iota.

What was the situation for game 162?

Where even to start? The Cardinals were playing the Astros in Houston in what would be the last time Minute Maid Park would ever be a part of the National League. The Astros were also the worst team in the league with a lowly 56-105 record.

The Braves, on the other hand, were playing at home. The only problem is that they were playing the best team in the majors, and their bitter rival, the Philadelphia Phillies. Even though the Phillies had clinched the division and home field advantage through the entire postseason long before this game, they still had every intention of keeping their division rival out of the playoffs.

Much like the Cardinals, the Red Sox were on the road and they were playing one of the worst teams in the league in the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore had lost the previous game, but were treating this last one like it was their World Series. Under no circumstances were they going to let Boston have a free ticket into the playoffs.

Down in Tampa, the Rays were playing the New York Yankees, who already clinched the AL East as well as home-field advantage through American League playoffs. The Rays had won five games in a row and had Boston sweating up in Baltimore. A Boston loss and a win against New York would give the Rays their third playoff birth in franchise history.

The National League

MLB Game 162 2011

The Braves collapse will go down as one of the “greatest” ever (Photo from NY Daily News)

The first domino to fall on the historic day was St. Louis beating Houston 8-0. It was a straight forward game that left the Cardinals confident they would have a ticket to the postseason. The problem was that the Phillies were down to the Braves 3-2 going into the ninth inning. It looked like the Braves would hold on amidst their September collapse.

Not so fast. Chase Utley flew out to left field to allow Pete Orr to score and tie the game. They were on the way to extra innings.

The Braves were not able to muster much of anything in extras. The closest they got was in the 12th where they had runners on first and second with two outs. Martin Prado proceeded to ground out, and they went to the 13th.

Hunter Pence came to bat in the 13th and was able to drive in the go-ahead run on an opposite field single. That gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead going into the bottom of the inning where the Braves would fight to stay alive.

Due up in the bottom of the inning were three of the Braves best hitters in Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman. Jones began the inning by striking out, followed by Uggla being walked. It was a runner at first with one out with the young Freeman at the plate. He then grounded to first base, where John Mayberry and Jimmy Rollins were able to turn the double play, and Freeman slammed his helmet on the ground in disgust, finishing off what was an epic collapse to miss the postseason.

The American League

The results of the day are not the only thing that makes these games incredible, but it was in the manner in which it happened. Fangraphs did an excellent piece on the timing and odds that went into the regular season finale in the American League.

To sum up the games, New York had taken a 7-0 lead over Tampa, while Boston had a 3-2 lead over Baltimore. It looked like Tampa had no chance of coming back and that Boston would hold on. The stadium had emptied out as all hopes of the postseason alluded the Tampa faithful. About half the stadium looked emptied out at this point. All those fans forgot the wise words of Lenny Kravitz.

It ain’t over til it’s over.

The Rays burst out for a six-run bottom of the eighth, largely thanks to a three-run home run by Evan Longoria. The only problem was that they were still down 7-6 going into the ninth inning. They were down, but not out.

MLB Game 162 2011

The Rays react to a stunning home run from Dan Johnson (Photo from mlb.com)

The Rays found themselves down to one out in the bottom of the ninth. Joe Maddon used Dan Johnson as a pinch hitter to try and save their season against Cory Wade. Johnson fell behind and eventually reached a 2-2 count. The season was all but lost. Then, something magical happened.

Johnson roped a ball around the right field post for his second home run all season long.

Johnson trotted around the bases taking in what would be one of the greatest moments of the year. Everyone in Tropicana field went nuts, except for the skipper, Joe Maddon, who was stunned beyond belief.

It wasn’t over yet though. Boston and Baltimore had been in a rain delay, and they were just beginning to resume their game with Boston leading 3-2. They went to the bottom of the ninth, and Jonathan Papelbon had retired the first two hitters, and Baltimore was down to their final out.

Chris Davis was at the plate and was able to rope a ball down the right field line and get to second base for a two-out double. Nolan Reimold proceeded to drive a ball into the right-center gap for a ground-rule double to tie the game. Papelbon was just trying to get out of the inning at this point with Robert Andino at the plate. Andino was batting just .262 and was not a big threat at the plate. No problem for Papelbon, right?

MLB Game 162 2011

Mike Aviles walked off the field watching Baltimore celebrate their improbable victory (Photo from New York Times)

Wrong. Andino hit a line drive to the left fielder, Carl Crawford. Crawford bobbled the ball on the hop as he tried to make a play to catch the ball. That brief moment where he could not gather the ball led Reimold to round third base. Reimold steamrolled into home and just beat the throw. You might have thought that Baltimore had just won the World Series after that play.

Even after the blown save by Papelbon, the Red Sox still had hope. Hope that relied on the dreaded New York Yankees taking an extra-inning lead against the Rays. A moment where the Red Sox and their fan base would pray all they could for the Yankees to win, a true once in a lifetime moment. That moment was short lived.

It was not but three minutes later that those hopes would go down the drain.

Evan Longoria, the cornerstone player of Tampa Bay, perfectly fit a baseball just over the 315-foot marker on the short left field wall. The Rays came back from the grave in the Wild Card race in game 162 to stun the Boston Red Sox, who had just lost a heartbreaker 1,000 miles away.

The Aftermath

Terry Francona left as the Red Sox manager shortly after they blew their postseason chances. The Tampa Bay Rays lost in four games to the Texas Rangers, who eventually went on to the World Series.

The Philadelphia Phillies played the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, the very team they allowed to enter the postseason after they stunned Atlanta. They lost the series to the Cardinals after a stunning performance by Chris Carpenter, outdueling the great Roy Halladay.

St. Louis went on to beat the Texas Rangers in seven games in the World Series in stunning fashion. That story is for another day though.

 

Featured image from the Tampa Bay Times

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Washington Nationals 2018

Washington Nationals team profile

After a successful regular season, the Nationals came up short in the postseason once again. The franchise still has not won a postseason series. This year looked to be their year, as their roster had few holes in it especially after bolstering their bullpen. However, Game 5 in the NLDS slipped through their fingers, and now Washington is in a state of perplexity. What can they possibly do at this point that they have not already done?

The managerial carousal

The Washington Nationals fired another manager at the end of 2017. This time, Dusty Baker was the victim despite winning 192 games in two seasons and winning the NL East both years. He is also the third manager to be fired in five years in Washington.

Washington Nationals 2018

Dusty Baker is the latest example of how Washington is insecure at the manager role (Photo from AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

What makes the situation interesting is that they have still won their division four times in seven years. Not only that, but two of the three managers (Davey Johnson and Matt Williams) have won the NL manager of the year during their tenure in Washington.

Is the management really the problem? It is understandable why the front office points to the skipper role as the issue with their teams. This is apparent in the fact that there are no glaring issues in the roster. The bullpen was by far the weakest aspect of the team at the beginning of the season, but were able to make it an asset through trades.

Replacing the manager will not fix the Nationals’ issues. Dave Martinez has accumulated a lot of experience under the wing of Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago. However, he still has a lot to learn as a manager seeing as this is his first gig. What it is really going to come down to is the Nationals being able to execute in the postseason.

Washington found themselves down 2-1 in the NLDS against the Cubs. They were able to win Game 4 in order to force a fifth and final game, and the offense really showed up when it needed to. The only problem was that Matt Wieters fell apart when it mattered most, and his mistakes cost the Nationals three runs in what ended up being a one run game.

The players need to be held more accountable, rather than thinking that the manager is the problem.

Bryce Harper and free agency

2018 marks the final year on superstar Bryce Harper’s contract, and oh boy will teams be coming out for him this time next year. No matter where he signs, expect for him to surpass Giancarlo Stanton for the largest contract in the sports world.

What has Nationals fans worried is that Harper has been rather aloof when it comes to his status in Washington. Harper asked Washington for a $400 million extension, which the team of course was not able to meet.

This is purely speculative, but it seems Harper made a rather high asking price just to see if the Nationals would meet it. It is hard to think that he expected Washington to pay up that kind of dough. It is very tempting for Harper to test free agency, so why not see if you can get that much?

Harper had to be ecstatic when he heard of Stanton’s record contract. That is because most teams would value Harper over Stanton at this point in time, despite the 59 home runs Stanton hit this year. The precedent of Stanton’s contract may just boost Harper’s value through the roof.

One ridiculous move that will never happen is Washington possibly trading Harper this offseason. Harper has never said out loud that he would like to stay in Washington, so his future there looks murky. With the high possibility of him chasing the money in 2018, why not see what you can get for him this offseason? One season of Harper’s services for a contender could be worth some very valuable prospects in the long run, and Washington should have an eye past 2018. This is especially the case since their current formula can’t seem to get them past the NLDS.

What is in store in 2018 for the Nationals?

Don’t expect a whole lot different in 2018. The NL East is going to be controlled by Washington once again. Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers and Jayson Werth are some notable names leaving, but the core is still in tact. On top of that, Adam Eaton will be returning from his devastating injury he sustained early in the season.

Washington Nationals 2018

Eaton’s return to Washington will have a large impact. (Photo from MLB.com)

The Nationals ought to target an arm or two in order to bolster their bullpen. Other than that and maybe adding an arm like Jaime Garcia to the rotation, they shouldn’t be too active at the winter meetings barring any big news.

Derek Jeter and the Marlins will be taking a step back next season as the front office has expressed a desire to tear things down and build back up. Miami finished second place in the East despite being 20 games back of the Nationals. The Mets may be making moves this offseason in order to get back into their World Series form from a few years ago, but they are still far behind the Nationals.

The main questions is, who will face Washington in the NLDS? Also, will Dave Martinez make the difference that the front office hopes he can make? Either way, all of the 2018 season is already riding on whether or not they will make it past the NLDS.

The ultimate goal is the World Series obviously. However, they first need to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated

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Knizner

Five early predictions for the National League offseason

The 2017 World Series has come to a close, and the Houston Astros are champions for the first time in franchise history. That means it is time to look forward to next season as we will be without baseball until the spring. This ought to be an exciting offseason due to a star studded free agent class, especially in the outfield.

Not only are there a lot of good free agents, but this ought to be an interesting winter on the trade market. There are some big names floating around that could shake up the whole league. With that being said, here are five early predictions for the 2017 offseason.

The Los Angeles Dodgers sign Jake Arrieta

The Dodgers are coming off a tough World Series loss against the Astros. The front office knew that 2017 was a prime year to break their 30-year drought since the start. Now that it didn’t happen and a large part of their roster still in tact, they will look to push even harder next year.

National League offseason

The Dodgers may look elsewhere for help after Darvish’s collapse in the World Series. (Photo from Newsweek)

Yu Darvish is a free agent now (which may be a relief for the Dodgers after his World Series performance), and Los Angeles is looking to bolster their rotation. Jake Arrieta may be the best starting option on the market after his proven track record in the postseason and reliable arm in the regular season.

 

He won’t come cheap though. The Dodgers already have the highest payroll in the league, but Magic Johnson and company are surely not going to remain complacent after falling short this year. The Dodgers’ starting rotation and bullpen are what separated them from the rest of the league this season, but it may have been what costed them a championship.

A Kershaw-Arrieta duo would look to accomplish what a Kershaw-Darvish pair couldn’t. Darvish was successful in the NLDS and NLCS. However, he could not manage to put much together in the World Series. Arrieta has proven himself in those situations, so it would make sense for him to give the Dodgers that final push.

The St. Louis Cardinals get a reliable bat

The Cardinals had a glaring issue all season long, and that was their lack of an impact bat in the middle of their lineup. The problem is that St. Louis already has a crowded outfield full of players that they seem dedicated to, due to their high-value in their homegrown players. However, it is time for them to make a move for a big bat.

National League offseason

Christian Yelich would be tough for the Cardinals to get as Miami highly values him. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins are looking to cut payroll big time under new ownership. The one name that sticks out immediately is Giancarlo Stanton. St. Louis is not known for taking on such large contracts, even though Stanton is exactly what the Cardinals need.

If the Cardinals do end up trading with the Marlins, it would most likely be for Christian Yelich. Yelich is much more affordable and is under team control until 2022, which is very appealing. He also would provide a solid 3.0-4.0 WAR every year out.

What the Cardinals most likely will accomplish though is getting a corner infielder. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are both hitting the free agent market, and both would fit nicely into the lineup. What is important to keep in mind though is the Cardinals have an eye on the 2018 free agent market as well, and Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson will be available then. Expect the Cardinals to especially push for Machado next year, or even look to trade for him this offseason.

The Diamondbacks will retain J.D. Martinez

National League offseason

J.D. Martinez was one of the hottest hitters in the league after being traded. (Photo from Detroit Free Press)

J.D. Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks from the Tigers during the summer. He thrived in Arizona, hitting a monstrous 29 home runs and hitting .302. The Los Angeles Angels have already announced that Justin Upton, another Detroit Tigers outfielder traded at the deadline, will be signed through the 2022 season. Now some are wondering if Martinez will do the same and stay in Arizona, or seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Martinez announced on Wednesday that he is switching to contract negotiator extraordinaire Scott Boras. At first glance, this seems like it is a move to negotiate with other teams, but he can still be very helpful in discussions with Arizona’s front office.

In a conversation with azcentralsports.com, Martinez expressed his desire in staying with Arizona long term. Being next to names like Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock makes him a good fit. Martinez may also feel it is the right place to stay after such a successful two months in the desert.

The Diamondbacks will have to give Martinez a large chunk of change in order for him to stay, but it may be what they have to do in order to compete with the reigning NL Champs in the West.

The Cubs will sign RHP Alex Cobb

With Jake Arrieta most likely leaving Chicago due to his high price tag, Alex Cobb could potentially come in and provide a solid third starter role behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Cobb has spent six years in the league and has had at least 20 starts in four of those years. Other than his 2016 campaign where he was sidelined most of the year for an elbow injury, he has been an extremely reliable pitcher for Tampa Bay.

Cobb is no Arrieta, but Cobb may be one of the better affordable pitchers on the market this offseason. Lance Lynn is a similar pitcher that could fit in Chicago. However, Cobb’s relationship with Joe Maddon and new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey could have a big impact on decisions for both sides.

Out of all the potential offseason moves that could happen, this one makes the most sense.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will trade for Giancarlo Stanton

As mentioned earlier, Derek Jeter and the Marlins are trying to cut payroll as much as possible in order to fully engage in a rebuild. Stanton has come out and said that he does not want to go through that process again. He is ready to win now.

National League offseason

Stanton may be on the Dodgers’ radar, as trading for him would make sense for all parties involved. (Photo from CBS Sports)

The Dodgers, despite having the highest payroll, have some money they can spend. Stanton has the most expensive sports contract in the world, so this would be a whole lot to take on. Even with the high payroll, the Dodgers don’t break the bank on one player too often. They are an organization that likes to spread their payroll out between many good players. However, this player is worth it.

Stanton also has the right to veto any trade he doesn’t like. The perfect fit may be in Los Angeles though. He is a California boy who grew up in the Los Angeles area. He also wants to win, as he has not done that much in his MLB career with the Marlins. It would be unlikely if a deal were to be put in front of him that he could deny such a tempting offer.

The Dodgers have a couple of solid prospects in their system with RHP Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo, who rank 10th and 23rd in the MLB’s best prospects rankings. Those two players, along with the Dodgers taking on the daunting contract, should be plenty to acquire the 2017 home run king. The question is if the Dodgers are willing to put that high of an investment into Stanton, who only put in his third full season of work this year.

There is a lot of upside with this player though. He turns 28 next week, which means he is at the beginning of the hitter’s prime (27-32). Acquiring Stanton, along with signing Jake Arrieta, would make the Dodgers an even bigger juggernaut to fear. One thing for sure though is L.A. is hungry for a World Series after watching the Astros win it on their home turf.

 

Featured image by Getty Images  

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TGH First Annual MLB Academy Awards

The best from the film industry were celebrated last night in the 89th Academy Awards ceremony. With the MLB’s spring training beginning this past week, we have come up with a way to honor them both. I’m proud to present The Game Haus’ First Annual MLB Academy Awards. The game’s best and brightest will be awarded for their play on the field.

Categories will include: Best Picture (Best Team), Actor in a Leading Role (Best Player), Actor in a Supporting Role (Best Secondary Player) and Director (Best Manager). Without further ado, we begin our award presentation with Best Picture.

Best Picture: Chicago Cubs

MLB Academy Awards

Kris Bryant headlined a World Series roster for the Cubs (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

After a season that saw them win 103 games and the World Series, the Chicago Cubs are hands-down the choice for Best Picture of 2016. The Cubs are certainly not a one-year wonder.

Chicago is loaded with a roster that will allow them to compete for years to come. The offense is fueled by third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Bryant put up a 149 OPS+ with Rizzo’s 146 OPS+. That is exceptional production, but they weren’t the only contributors.

The pitching staff is rock solid for the Cubs, led by starters Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Even with a “down year” by Arrieta comparatively to his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, he still pitched exceptionally. He earned 18 wins with his 3.10 ERA and surprisingly, his first All-Star appearance in 2016. Jon Lester also earned an All-Star appearance in 2016, the fourth of his career.

The Cubs are one of the best teams in the league, and are sure to be in the running for this award for years to come.

Actor in a Leading Role: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

With a career 48.5 WAR at only 25 years old, Angels center fielder Mike Trout is without a doubt the best all around player in the game. His combination of power and speed are some of the best in the bigs. Trout stole 30 bases to go along with 29 homers and 100 RBIs last season. He was one home run from joining the exclusive 30-30 club, one that hasn’t had a new member since, you guessed it, Trout in 2012.

Any player can be an offensive juggernaut. It takes a truly exceptional player to be a game changer both at the plate and in the field.

Trout played 148 games in center field for the Angels in 2016. In his time at center, he posted six defensive runs saved. While that is not a mind-blowing number, it is solid for one of the more difficult positions to play in the field.

Trout is the best player in the major leagues, and it’s really not even close. He is the leader of the Angels, and in his five years in Anaheim he already has the second best WAR of any player in Angels history.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

MLB Academy Awards

Jason Kipnis provided a solid season for the Indians in 2016 (Credit: Tony Dejak/AP Photo).

Cleveland shows no signs of regressing from their 2016 World Series appearance after landing Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason. Even with considerable contributions from stars such as Encarnacion, Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, it will take solid seasons from players across the roster.

Enter Jason Kipnis. Before the emergence of Lindor and Kluber, Kipnis was one of the most reliable offensive producers for the Indians. That didn’t change in 2016.

Kipnis hit the most homers of his career in 2016, slugging 23 long balls to go along with 82 RBIs. He also continued to showcase his speed, stealing a respectable 15 bases last season. His offensive production was impressive, but his four defensive runs saved proves he is an exceptional all-around player.

Kipnis may not be the best player on the Indians, but the support he provides surely does not go unnoticed.

Director: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

Sticking with Cleveland, Manager Terry Francona did an excellent job directing the Indians in 2016. He brought the Indians to their first World Series appearance since 1997 and will look to do the same in 2017.

Before Francona came to Cleveland in 2013, the Indians last playoff appearance had come in 2007. He quickly turned that around, guiding the Indians to 92 wins and a Wild Card berth. While they weren’t able to get past the Wild Card round, Francona had much more in store for the Tribe.

Entering his fourth year in Cleveland and only one playoff appearance to show for it, Francona was on the hot seat entering the 2016 season. He used that hot seat to light a fire under his team, guiding them all the way to the 2016 World Series. Even with a loss to the Cubs, Francona was able to stretch the series to seven games.

Some may think that the Cubs’ Joe Maddon is more deserving of this award. However, Francona was able to guide his club to one game away from the World Series title with a less talented roster and much lower expectations. Francona should guide the Indians to another deep playoff run in 2017.

 

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Why the Indians Will Be World Series Champions

The Indians have surprised many national MLB pundits due to them being national underdogs coming into the playoffs. Despite having the second best record in the American League, the Indians were not the favorites, according to Vegas, against either the Boston Red Sox or the Toronto Blue Jays. Once again, the Indians will assume the title of underdog, as the Chicago Cubs have been the best team in baseball all season. This may be the toughest challenge yet for the Tribe, but I am here to tell you why the Indians will be victors when the dust settles.

It starts with the manager. The Indians have Terry Francona, one of the best managers in the business. Francona has two World Series rings under his belt already from his time managing the Red Sox. He knows what it takes to succeed in the postseason, as seen by his bullpen management in the previous series. Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, may be one of the top managers as well, but Maddon has never had to manage a World Series game. Any sort of edge helps in the World Series, and Francona’s experience puts him at a higher level than Maddon.

coco-crisp

Coco Crisp has been hot for the Indians this postseason. Considered nothing more than a veteran addition at the waiver deadline, can he keep up the momentum going into the final series? Photo courtesy of cleveland.com

The Indians lineup has been so successful this postseason because the lineup is so balanced. Coco Crisp, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez all provide hitting from both sides of the plate. Switch hitting is important because that means these four hitters cannot be manipulated so the pitcher’s breaking balls break away from the hitter. These four hitters are match-up proof. The Indians have also received home runs from all parts of the lineup this postseason. Coco Crisp, who was picked up at the waiver deadline, had only 2 HR’s in 20 games with the Tribe during the regular season. He has already matched that this postseason, stepping up at key moments to put the Indians ahead in games.

Most important, however, may be the Indians bullpen this postseason. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen have combined this postseason to produce amazing results while being inserted into the game anywhere from the 5th inning to the 9th. Francona has shown that he is not afraid to lean on Miller at the first sign of trouble from one of his young starters. It is a move that is surprising, especially so early in games, but also proven effective this postseason. Miller and Allen have shown that if the Indians’ starter can get through five innings, the dynamic duo can get the Indians through the last four unscathed.

danny-salazar

Danny Salazar had the best k/9 ratio of any of the Indians starters this regular season. He could provide some valuable work in a tired bullpen or potentially start Game 4 for the Tribe. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

All the talk this Pre-World Series has been that the Cubs have added Kyle Schwarber (shoutout Middletown, Ohio) to the 25 man roster to be the designated hitter when at Progressive Field.  The media has not been discussing the return of Yan Gomes and Danny Salazar to the Indians 25 man roster. Yan Gomes will strengthen the weakest position in the lineup, as Roberto Perez has only amassed .174 avg this postseason. Even as just a pinch hit situation, Gomes could provide a lift much like Schwarber can for the Cubs. Salazar’s limit has been set at 60 or 70 pitches, but it could prove vital in either a long relief role or a potential game 4 start.

Finally, the Indians will have home field advantage during the series due to the American League winning the All-Star Game. This may be just something minor, but it gives the Indians the opportunity to establish momentum through the first two games, before being able to play the last two at home (if necessary). It may be just something small, but any edge helps come World Series time.

The Chicago Cubs may have the better team on paper, but the same could be said of the Red Sox and Blue Jays in prior series. The Indians have thrived in their underdog role this postseason and will rely on the experience Terry Francona provides to pull out another championship for Cleveland. The bullpen will be used early and often these upcoming games, so it will be interesting to see how Francona utilizes Miller and Allen as the series unfolds. Combine that bullpen with a lineup that does not rely on one single guy to carry the team, and we could see one last upset this season as the Indians beat the Cubs in six games.

One Step Closer: NLCS Preview

With the NLDS out of the way, the Cubs and the Dodgers now sit just one series away from the World Series. Both teams showed a flair for late game heroics, with the Cubs tying the largest ninth inning comeback in MLB playoff history to win game four in San Francisco.  The Dodgers scored five runs in the final three innings in games four and five to eke out a series win vs. Washington. During the regular season, the Cubs won the series 4-3, capped by some stellar pitching against some of the Dodgers best bats. Like every series so far, the Cubs vs. Dodgers matchup will pit some of the NL’s best against one another on the mound. Here’s what I think each team will have to do, and who will have to do it to win the series.

Cubs

The Cubs come into the series the favorite, and with good reason. Joe Maddon’s Cinderella Cubs appear to be the team destined to end Chicago’s World Series drought. Jon Lester and the rest of the pitching staff have been fantastic on the mound throughout the year, and Kris Bryant heads a Cubs offense that’s almost unstoppable when it’s running at peak performance.

Image result for kris bryant

Can the NL MVP favorite lead the Cubs to their first World Series since 1945? Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bryant has to be one guy that everybody is looking at coming into this series. He put up fantastic numbers against the Dodgers during the regular season, batting .320 and hitting four homers in seven games against the team. He hit .375 against a stout Giants rotation, and is one of many weapons the Cubs will look to utilize on offense. Another guy who we may not have expected to be looking at coming into the series is Javier Baez. There’s no denying Baez’s talent, but he wasn’t putting up the same gaudy numbers as Bryant or Anthony Rizzo during the regular season. He showed up big against San Francisco, providing the only run for either team in game one of the series. He also batted .375 throughout the series, and scored four runs during that time.

Two guys that Chicago needs to step up at the plate against the Dodgers are Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo. Heyward had a lot of success against LA during the regular season, batting .360 with a homer in seven games. However, he didn’t provide much at the plate in the series vs. the Giants, squeaking out a lone double in game two for his only hit of the series. Anthony Rizzo also only had one hit during the series against the Giants, but also worked his way on base with two walks in the series. The Cubs will definitely need to see more than that against the Dodgers from their regular season leader in RBI’s.

On the mound for the Cubs, Jon Lester is obviously one guy you have to watch. Lester went eight scoreless against an anemic Giants offense. We’ll have to see how he fares against a Dodgers offense that should provide significantly more resistance. Eyes will also be on Kyle Hendricks, who took a line drive off his arm in game two against the Giants. While he’s been cleared to pitch in game two, we’ll have to see how he fares and if his arm has any lingering tenderness that could take him off of his game. We’ll also have to see how the Cubs bullpen as a whole fares. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts showed that he’s not afraid to go to the pen early and often in the NLDS; we’ll see if Joe Maddon responds in similar fashion, and if the Cubs bullpen is up for the additional pressure.

 

Dodgers

The Dodgers willed their way past the Nationals in a gritty five-game series that came down to the wire. While they aren’t sitting on a drought quite as long as the Cubs, the organization hasn’t been to a World Series since 1988, when they won the series 4-1 against the A’s to cap off Orel Hershiser’s monumental season. Hershiser may be long retired, but this Dodgers pitching staff still looks plenty strong, perhaps even more so in the bullpen than the rotation.

Manager Dave Roberts went to the bullpen early and often against the Nationals. Only one starter made it past the fifth inning, Clayton Kershaw, who went five innings in game one and 6.2 in game four. Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill combined for just ten innings of work in their three starts. The Dodgers bullpen looked very strong for most of the series, just as it had during the regular season. The Dodgers had six of its arms combine for no runs allowed in 14.2 innings over those five games, with only Kanley Jansen and Grant Dayton surrendering runs from the pen during the NLDS. Joe Blanton saw the most work during that time, aside from Jansen, allowing just one hit in five innings of work over four appearances. On the mound, I’ll be watching for him to bridge the gap between Dodgers starters and the back of the bullpen if Roberts continues his current bullpen-centered pitching style.

Of course, I’ll also be looking for the Dodgers starters to step up in this series, to ease the stress of a potential seven-game series on the pen’s arms. Kershaw surrendered eight runs combined in his two starts against the Nationals, and the Cubs offense has a lot more weapons than Washington did. Rich Hill surrendered five runs over seven innings in two starts as well. The Dodgers rotation will have to step up to the postseason pressure to keep the game within striking distance for their offense.

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Justin Turner showed up big vs. the Nationals, can he continue his hot hitting against the Cubs? Image courtesy of Fox Sports.

Speaking of their offense, they’ll have to turn in a stronger performance against the Cubs in the postseason than they did during the regular season. I’m looking at Justin Turner specifically, who was just 2-for-24 with eight strikeouts in seven games against Chicago in the regular season. Turner was a huge performer in the NLDS, batting .400 and driving in 5 RBI’s, including the deciding two-run triple in the seventh inning of game five against Washington. Corey Seager is another guy who will have to step his game up in the NLCS. He had just three hits in the NLDS, including two solo homers, all coming in the first inning of the game. Outside of the first inning, he was 0-for-18. While it’s great to get your team started on the right foot, Seager will have to provide more support at the plate later in the game to give his team a chance. Joc Pederson is the last guy I’m looking at in this series. He, also had an abysmal time against Chicago in the regular season, going 0-for-20 with eight strikeouts. Pederson hit .333 in the NLDS, and provided the catalyst for their game-winning seventh inning in game five with a solo shot on the first pitch from Max Scherzer. He’ll have to continue to come up clutch to help his team overcome the juggernaut that is the Cubs.

NL Regular Season Award Predictions

With the regular season about to come to a close, it’s time to start talking about who deserves the individual awards in the National League for 2016. Sam Auricchio gave his take on the American League awards, as well.

MVP

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Kris Bryant has been incredible in his second year for the Cubs, leading the team on offense to their second straight division title. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Daniel Murphy was the strong candidate for the MVP in the eyes of many heading into the All-Star Break, when he was hitting a monstrous .387 to top the entire MLB. He certainly isn’t out of the running, still hitting .347 with 25 homers and 104 RBIs, but I don’t think he’s atop the list anymore. I think that the Cubs’ Kris Bryant has to be the favorite with the season he’s put together. He sits third in the NL with 39 home runs, sixth in the NL with 102 RBIs and fourth in the NL with a .558 slugging.

A guy who matches up with, and actually beats, Bryant on a number of fronts is Rockies third-baseman, Nolan Arenado, who has had a spectacular year at the plate. He leads the NL with 41 homers and 133 RBIs. There are two major factors at work against him in the MVP race, however. The first of which being he plays 81 games at Coors Field, a notoriously hitter-friendly environment. The second, and larger, difference is that Bryant has helped the Cubs to a 100+ win season and the first seed in the National League. Arenado and the Rockies will not be playing playoff baseball, whatsoever.

 

 

Cy Young

In the eyes of most analysts, the NL Cy Young has narrowed down into a two pitcher race. Clayton Kershaw was certainly very high up on the list before his unfortunate injury prevented him from pitching for most of the second half. The two remaining pitchers are Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.

Lester is the current favorite, according to ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor. Both pitchers lead the National League with 19 wins, but Lester has just four losses opposed to Scherzer’s seven. Lester’s ERA also sits at just 2.28, over half a point lower than Scherzer’s 2.82.

Scherzer is certainly hot on Lester’s tail. Scherzer has 86 more strikeouts than Lester in 2016 in 25.2 more innings pitched in 2016. Opponents hit just .193 off of Scherzer, opposed to .208 off of Lester. Both pitchers’ teams won their division, another factor considered in the Cy Young vote, so neither will gain an edge there. Honestly this could go either way, but I think Scherzer’s slow start (he was 5-4 through May, 14-3 since) may ultimately prove to be the difference here.

Rookie of the Year

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Corey Seager is not only looking like the best rookie in the NL, he’s looking like one of the best shortstops in the MLB. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

I think the race for NL Rookie of the Year is looking very one-sided at this point. Corey Seager has been the far-and-away the best rookie in the League. He leads the Dodgers with a .311 batting average, and has 26 homers, just one behind team leader, Justin Turner. Seager has been an absolutely critical piece in the Dodgers’ run to retake the NL West from the Giants in the second half of this year. Perhaps if Nationals’ rookie Trea Turner had played more games this year (Seager has played 155, Turner just 71) he could have competed with Seager in the race. As it stands, however, I think Seager is far-and-away the favorite.

A couple of other honorable mentions for the award would be: Seager’s teammate, Kenta Maeda, who became the Dodgers’ ace with Clayton Kershaw out with an injury for most of the second half of 2016. Cardinals’ shortstop, Aledmys Diaz, could have been in the running if he hadn’t sustained a thumb injury that put him on the DL from the end of July to September 12.

Mariano Rivera/Rolaids Relief Reward

The NL chase isn’t quite as one-sided as Sam Auricchio sees the AL Race being. Jeurys Familia certainly has to be near the top, if not at the top, for his performances in 2016. He’s the only closer in the MLB who has 50 saves in 55 attempts on the year, perhaps in part due to the Mets averaging just over four runs-per-game.

Familia’s biggest opponent is Dodgers’ closer, Kanley Jansen, who has 47 saves this year in 53 attempts. Jansen held opponents to just a .148 batting average over 67.2 innings, and is tied for the lead among NL closers with 102 strikeouts in that time.

Manager of the Year
This race is between two managers. The obvious one is the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, who has led this talented Cubs team to the MLB’s best record, currently at 102-57, en route to their second straight NL Central title. Expect to see Maddon a lot atop this list a lot in the coming years, as the Cubs show no sign of slowing down with the amount of youth on this team.

The other manager worthy of recognition in this category is the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts. Los Angeles was eight games out of first place on June 26. Clayton Kershaw, who was 11-2 at the time and the obvious ace of this Dodgers staff, ended up on the DL four days later. Despite that, this Dodgers club has gone 41-29 in the second half of the season, and secured the division earlier this month. The Dodgers may not have the best record in the National League, but they have posted the best record in the second half of the year without their Cy Young favorite coming into July. I don’t think Roberts will win the award, but he’s certainly a worthy second place in my book.

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Joe Maddon has led the Cubs to the best record in the MLB. Well-deserving of the Manager of the Year in the NL, if not the whole MLB. Photo courtesy of nbcchicago.com

What IF The Cubs Win It All?

(Photo Credit: Matt Marton AP)

(Photo Credit: Matt Marton AP)

Baseball fans are keeping a close eye on the Cubs this year. For good reason too, because the Cubs are good. 108 years ago was the last time the Cubs won the World Series. The year was 1908. A lot has changed since the last time the Cubs won. The average life expectancy was only 47 years. The average wage was 22 cents per hour and people only made 200 to 400 dollars a year. 95 percent of all people were born at home. Basically, it was a different planet, understand what I am getting at? It leads me to ask, what would happen IF the Cubs were to win the world series?

Where are they now?

The Cubs started off the season extremely hot but recently they have cooled off. They are only 2-8 in their last 10 games. Overall they sit at 53-35 which is still good enough to sit atop of the NL Central Division. June has typically been a rough month for the Cubs throughout their history, and so has leading into the all-star game. Meaning, it isn’t much to worry about.

Over the last five years ,or so, they usually become the hottest team in baseball after the all star break. If that trend continues they will hit their stride at the right time of the season. I believe it is good that they have had some struggles because they want to play their best baseball heading into the playoffs. Having adversity can help to prepare them for October. They are extremely talented and gained valuable experience last season. This could be the year they end the drought.

The Pressure

The Cubs have enormous pressure on them. Their hot start didn’t make things easier. After last year’s surprise trip to the NLCS the Cubs proved they have the talent to be one of the best teams. The problem and the pressure comes from the drought. There is so much pressure on them to end the curse of the Billy Goat. Theo Epstein promised he would put together a team capable of winning a World Series. He has done a tremendous job. He has made the right trades and drafted the right players. He hired a great manager that had experience in getting a team to the World Series. It is now on the players to deliver.

More pressure was added to the Cubs when their entire infield was selected for the all star game. They are only the second group of infielders from the same team to all be selected to start an all star game. The first ever was the St. Louis Cardinals in 1963. The Cubs have proven to be one of the best teams in baseball this year. Once the playoffs start they will be expected to win it all. If they can deal with the pressure the Cubs could be in for one of the greatest parties the earth has ever seen.

The Party

I am sure by now you have seen the parade and celebration from the Cavaliers who won the first championship for the city of Cleveland in over 50 years. It looked amazing for the fans of Cleveland. The party was big but, I guarantee it would not hold a candle to the party the city of Chicago is going to throw when the Cubs finally break through and win a World Series.

The party and celebration will be rivaled by none. Imagine a party like the one in the movie Project X. Now imagine the party in the movie Animal House. Now picture those two movies coming together but at the size of the entire city of Chicago. It will be the event of the century. No of the millennium. The city will shut down, hopefully it doesn’t burn down. I will go to the parade. I won’t miss it for the world. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Cubs you could go to the parade and have more than a good time. We know that it is a once in a lifetime event.

(Photo Credit: John Arguello)

(Photo Credit: John Arguello)

Legacy

If the Cubs do win it all there will be a lot of legacy talk. First the legacy of Joe Madden. Joe Madden would become a darling in Chicago. He would cement his legacy as one of the greatest managers ever for leading the Cubs to a title. He would have a great chance of staying as the manager as long as he wanted. He could retire when he wanted. He would never have to manager another team. They would build a statue outside of Wrigley.

The players would become rockstars. They would get to eat for free for the rest of their lives in the city. Everywhere they go they would be remembered as the team that ended the drought. The team that ended the curse. The team to end the pain. The suffering. They would no longer be the lovable losers. They wouldn’t be losers. They would finally be winners.

The biggest legacy that needs to be talked about is Theo Epstein’s. No person has more to benefit from the Cubs winning the World Series than Epstein. He will go down as one of baseballs greatest minds. His resume would stack up with the best of any in baseball history. He orchestrated the end of the 86 year Red Sox drought. That already is a major accomplishment. Already enough to whisper about the Hall of Fame. If he were to add the end of the Cubs drought to his resume the legacy speaks for itself. He could retire and ride off into the sunset as the greatest team builder ever.

Dynasty?

Picture the Cubs winning. They could become dominant. Would this be the start of a dynasty? It very well could be. The core of the Cubs is extremely young.  The team has an average age of 28.8 but if you take away David Ross and a few of the other older players the age drops significantly. Winning the World Series would take away all the pressure. The players wouldn’t be stuck with the drought. Taking off that much pressure could allow the players to play more freely and naturally. IF the Cubs win one, they could win multiple and a dynasty is very possible. Before they worry about the possibility of a dynasty though, they need the one to end the curse and the drought.

As a Cubs fan since birth there is nothing more I want from sports than to see the Cubs win the World Series. It is a big IF, but IF they do win the World Series, Chicago will show the world the biggest party of all time.

 

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NL Central Preview

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Chicago Cubs won 97 games last year, good for only 3rd place in the National League Central. The Cubbies’ 97 wins was not only the 3rd highest total in the NL Central, it was also the 3rd highest win total in all of MLB.

The NL Central was without a doubt the best division in all of baseball last year. With the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the aforementioned Cubs all making the playoffs.

With a big offseason for the Cubs, the Pirates relatively standing pat, and the Cardinals being the Cardinals, the NL Central is once again set to be one of the better divisions in all of baseball.

Here’s how this interesting division will shake up, with a player to watch for each club included.

1st Place: Chicago Cubs 100-62

The Cubs are looking for their first World Series title in over a century and are coming over an impact offseason. With sabermetric superstar Jason Heyward and the dependable and versatile Ben Zobrist infused into a lineup already dripping with young talent, the north siders look poised to have one of the better lineups in the NL. Manager Joe Madden will be able to keep the clubhouse together and help the team live up to expectations, something winners of the offseason have had trouble doing in recent years.

Player to Watch: John Lackey

With all the young talent oozing from the Cubs roster it seems odd to pick a 37 year old right handed starting pitcher who isn’t even the ace of the staff. However, if Lackey can fight off father time in 2016 and repeat his 2015 season that saw him post a 2.77 ERA in 218 innings, it could result in the Cubs having the best starting rotation in the NL Central.

2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals 95-67, 1st NL Wild Card Spot

On paper the Cardinals got worse over the offseason, losing Heyward and Lackey to their division foes. Still, the Cardinals will find a way in 2016 as they always do. Mike Leake was brought in to solidify a strong and deep rotation. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist anchor a bullpen that is the best in the division. An injury to everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta in spring training definitely hurts, but, the Cardinals still have a good mix of dependable veteran performers and high upside youngsters rounding out their lineup.

Player to Watch: Randal Grichuk

Grichuk is slotted to be the Cardinals every day center fielder in 2016. In 2015 he posted one of the highest average exit velocities in all of baseball in 2015 at 92.2 mph, a testament to how often he makes hard contact. If Grichuk can continue this trend and be a respected top or middle of the lineup bat, it would go a long way toward the Cardinals having one of the better lineup in the National League to go along with their always solid pitching.

3rd Place: Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74, miss the playoffs

The Pirates will fight for a playoff spot all season long, but, come up just short in the end due to stiffened competition across the National League. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco make up the most athletically talented outfield in all of baseball. Meanwhile, Fransisco Liriano and Gerit Cole anchor a rotation that is good enough to keep the Pirates contending. At the end of the day the talent of the Cardinals and the Cubs along with an improvement from the NL East and West will result in the Pirates coming up just short of another trip to the NL Wild Card game.

Player to Watch: Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow could be the piece that puts the Pirates over the top and into the playoffs. His 6’8’’, 225 lb frame is hard to miss and his upper 90’s fastball jumps off the page at you. Best case scenario: Glasnow harnesses his potential in the Major Leagues early and joins Cole among the elite young starters in the game. If that’s the case it would give the Pirates an impressive trio atop the rotation. Glasnow could also possibly join Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the bullpen to form a terrific back end of the ‘Pen.

4th Place: Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

While the top of the NL Central is talented, the bottom two teams in the division are more likely to be contenders for the no. 1 overall pick next June than a playoff spot. The Brewers get a slight edge over the Reds in this prediction because of a better bullpen and a more experienced starting rotation. Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith form a nice duo at the back of a bullpen that will be better than your typical 90 loss team. Meanwhile Ryan Braun will be his regular self and Jonathan Lucroy will return to form after an inconsistent showing in 2015.

Player to Watch: Orlando Arcia

As anyone who has ever followed a rebuilding team knows, sometimes tracking the minor league box scores can provide more excitement than actually watching the Major League club. Jonathan Villar is around to keep SS warm until the organization deems Arcia ready (or until after the club delays his service clock another year). Arcia is the brightest prospect in the Brewers system and the 21 year old should be the Brewers’ everyday shortstop sooner rather than later.

5th place: Cincinnati Reds 65-97

The Reds should be fun for their fans to watch this year, but, it won’t result in much on field success. They will have plenty of young talent in the rotation, but, the young arms will most likely come with supreme inconsistency. Devin Mesoraco will look to rebound from a hip injury that kept him out the majority of the 2015 season and fan favorite Joey Votto will remain the anchor of what has become a feeble looking lineup.

Player to Watch: Rasiel Iglesias

The Reds will have plenty of young guns in the rotation that will be fun to watch grow as a group. Of the bunch, Rasiel Iglesias appears to be the most likely to be successful in the 2016 campaign. The 26 year old Cuban native posted 9.8 K/9 over the course of 18 appearances (16 starts) last year to go along with a 3.55 FIP. The Reds will entrust Iglesias with the Opening Day start and hope he hits the ground running as the staff ace in 2016.