MLB second half performances

Best MLB second half performances of 2016

With the second half of the 2017 MLB season in course, it’s time to assess the best MLB second half performances of 2016. The players are organized in groups according to whether they were an All-Star, veteran, breakout performer or rookie.

All-Stars 

Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 9-4 W-L 3.01 ERA 1.08 WHIP 8.8 K/9 110.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 10-1 W-L 1.76 ERA 0.94 WHIP 8.7 K/9 92 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jon Lester finished second in the NL Cy Young vote after a miraculous second half. (Photo by dailyherald.com)

In his 11th major league season, Lester ended the year with 19 wins and a 2.44 ERA. He finished second in the National League Cy Young vote and was a key part of the Chicago Cubs’ championship run.

In his 14 second half starts, Lester was nearly unhittable. He had a record of 10-1 with a 1.76 ERA and .189 batting average against, or BAA.

His home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, dropped from 16.2 percent in the first half to 6.8 percent in the second. This, along with the fact that his left on base percentage, or LOB%, rose from 83.7 percent to 86.4 percent, made him arguably the most successful pitcher in the second half of the 2016 MLB season.

 

 

 

 

 

Miguel Cabrera, First Baseman, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 86 GS 18 HR 53 RBI 49 R .293/.370/.507 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 70 GS 20 HR 55 RBI 43 R .346/.423/.653 BA/OBP/SLG

The future first ballot Hall of Famer had an incredible second half. Cabrera batted .346 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIs and 43 runs scored in 70 games.

The largest analytical differences between Cabrera’s first and second halves included his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, rose from .314 to .366, as well as his weighted on-base average, or wOBA, rose from .368 to .438.

The 33-year-old’s second half of 2016 is a prime example of why he is one of the greatest hitters of this generation.

Veterans

Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 8-6 W-L 4.07 ERA 1.13 WHIP 9.2 K/9 117.1 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 16 GS 8-3 W-L 1.96 ERA 0.86 WHIP 10.9 K/9 110.1 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Justin Verlander’s 2016 campaign was a success due to his incredible second half. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander managed to finish 2016 as the American League Cy Young runner-up even after failing to make the AL All-Star team. How is this possible you ask? Well, it may have something to do with his poor 4.07 ERA in the first half.

His astonishing second half resulted in a 1.96 ERA, .180 BAA and 134 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. The 33-year-old’s success could be attributed to his ability to limit walks and strand runners on base. His strikeout to walk ratio, or K/BB, was an incredible 5.58, while his LOB% was an astronomical 90.6 percent.

Many people argue that Verlander was snubbed of the 2016 AL Cy Young award, and for good reason, as his mind-blowing second half lead to a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA, .204 BAA and a league leading 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts.

 

 

 

 

Joey Votto, First Baseman, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 84 GS 14 HR 42 RBI 48 R .252/.386/.446 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 71 GS 15 HR 55 RBI 53 R .408/.490/.668 BA/OBP/SLG

Votto managed to continue the lore of being one of the greatest second half hitters of all time, as he slashes .327/.440/.569 on his career after the All-Star break.

His 2016 campaign resulted in a .326 average, 29 home runs and 97 RBIs. In the second half alone, Votto managed to bat .408 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs in 72 games. The major changes in his analytics included his strikeout rate, which decreased from 24.2 percent to 10.2 percent, his BABIP, which rose from .308 to .418 and his wOBA, which rose from .357 to .478.

Votto’s 2016 second half will go down as one of the most dominant in baseball history.

Yadier Molina, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 2 HR 28 RBI 30 R .259/.329/.341 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 65 GS 6 HR 30 RBI 26 R .365/.398/.529 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Yadier Molina batted .365 in the second half of his MVP caliber 2016 campaign. (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the greatest catchers of his era, Molina has been a National League MVP candidate on five separate occasions, while also winning eight Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award. His 2016 second half helped him re-enter the MVP conversation for the first time since 2013, where he finished third in the NL MVP vote.

His first half in 2016 was quite abysmal, as the 33-year-old batted only .259, which was well below his career batting average of .284. Although in the second half, Molina batted a phenomenal .365.

The major analytical difference between Molina first and second half was his BABIP, as it rose from .291 in the first half to .388 in the second.

Molina has always been a more productive player after the break, but he had never taken his production to levels like this.

 

 

 

Breakout performers

Kyle Hendricks, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 16 GS 7-6 W-L 2.55 ERA 1.03 WHIP 7.8 K/9 98.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 9-2 W-L 1.68 ERA 0.92 WHIP 8.3 K/9 91.1 IP

Hendricks finished third in the NL Cy Young vote and 23rd in the NL MVP vote in 2016. The 26-year-old led the league in ERA and ERA+, which exemplifies his utter dominance over the entirety of the season. Although he was great all year, his overall success was majorly due to his impeccable second half.

Hendricks managed to finish the second half with a 9-2 record, 1.68 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. One major analytical difference between halves was his ability to strand runners on base, as his LOB% rose from 74.1 percent in the first half to 90.7 percent in the second.

The interesting thing with the rest of Hendricks’ splits include that his BABIP and hard contact rates both rose from the first half to the second, which would suggest he got luckier in the first half, even though he was more successful in the second.

D.J. LeMahieu, Second Baseman, Colorado Rockies

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 5 HR 32 RBI 53 R 7 SB .334/.398/.490 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 66 GS 6 HR 34 RBI 53 R 4 SB .363/.437/.500 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

D.J. LeMahieu had a fantastic year in 2016, although he was that much more special in the second half. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

After being snubbed in the NL All-Star vote, LeMahieu had an exorbitant second half that landed him 15th in the NL MVP vote.

His BABIP rose from .379 in the first half to an even better .397 in the second, which kept his batting average well above .300. LeMahieu finished the year with a league leading .348 batting average, although it was his .363 batting average in the second half that blew fans away.

The 27-year-old had almost identical contact rates from one half to the other, although the direction of the contact had changed drastically. His pull percentage decreased from 24 percent to 19 percent, while his opposite field percentage rose from 35 percent to 41 percent. LeMahieu was able to spray the ball across the diamond while sustaining contact rates, which makes his 2016 second half even more impressive.

 

 

Rookies

Trea Turner, Second Baseman/Outfielder, Washington Nationals

2016 First Half Stats 3 GS 0 HR 0 RBI 0 R 0 SB .429/.500/.571 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 67 GS 13 HR 40 RBI 53 R 33 SB .340/.367/.567 BA/OBP/SLG

The 13th overall pick in 2014 exploded onto the scene in the second half of last season. Turner batted .340 with 13 home runs, 53 runs, 40 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 67 starts, which resulted in a runner-up finish for the NL Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager).

His second-half success can be attributed to his .387 BABIP, which positively impacted Turner as 44 percent of his batted balls went for ground balls. His contact rates were also great, as he made over 80 percent medium and hard contact on all balls batted in play.

Turner showed glimpses of what could be an elite fantasy asset, as he displayed contact, power, production, speed and consistency atop the Washington Nationals’ star-studded lineup.

Jose Peraza, Shortstop/Second Baseman/Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 15 GS 0 HR 4 RBI 6 R 9 SB .246/.278/.246 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 41 GS 3 HR 21 RBI 19 R 12 SB .355/.380/.477 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jose Peraza exploded onto the scene during the second half of 2016. (Photo by WKRC)

Peraza was called up in May of 2016 for his first extended stint in the majors, as he made his major league debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.

After struggling in his first 15 games last season, he finished the year with a .324 batting average, 25 runs scored, 25 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 56 starts.

The 22-year-old put together an amazing second half, where he batted .355 with 19 runs scored, 21 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 41 starts.

Peraza’s second-half success can be attributed to multiple things, including his .389 BABIP, his ability to make 83 percent medium or hard contact and his ability to spray the ball over 29 percent of the time to each field.

His ability to make solid contact and spray to all fields helped propel him to having one of MLB’s best second halves in 2016.

 

 

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

What is wrong with these 2016 Cy Young candidates?

Winning back-to-back Cy Young awards is quite the feat, as it has only been done by seven different players since the year 1956, most notably in 2013 and 2014 by Clayton Kershaw. Repeating as Cy Young is rarely anticipated, although having severe struggles are the last thing expected.

In 2017, we have seen six individuals suffer a hangover from their 2016 Cy Young-caliber seasons. In this piece, I will discuss why the player is struggling and what to expect from them moving forward.

The statistics below are accurate up to July 8, 2017

Rick Porcello

2016 Stats 33 GS 22-4 W-L 3.15 ERA 1.01 WHIP 7.63 K/9 223 IP
2017 Stats 18 GS 4-10 W-L 5.01 ERA 1.48 WHIP 8.25 K/9 111.1 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Masslive.com)

The reigning American League Cy Young award winner has regressed back to his normal self.

When looking at his pitches, Porcello has generally thrown his change-up at a 12 percent clip, although in 2017 he is only throwing it nine percent of the time, and for good reason.

According to his pitch values on fangraphs.com, where zero represents the average, Porcello’s 2016 change-up measured in at a 10.0, although so far in 2017, his change-up is valued at -2.2. His struggles with the change-up are possibly connected to his fastball woes as well, as in 2016 his fastball was valued at 13.0, although it is currently valued at -10.3.

His career BABIP sits at .312, although during his two most successful seasons in which he posted a 3.15 and 3.43 ERA, his BABIP sat comfortably below .300. Currently in 2017, his BABIP is an astronomical .346, which does scream for positive regression, although it explains part of his struggles.

His career home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, is a respectable 11.4 percent, although in his most successful seasons, he was able to keep it under 9.5.

Clearly, Porcello’s struggles have to do with the fact that he is extremely hittable. You can’t expect too much of a pitcher whose batting average against is almost .300.

Jon Lester

2016 Stats 32 GS 19-5 W-L 2.44 ERA 1.10 WHIP 8.75 K/9 202.2 IP
2017 Stats 18 GS 5-5 W-L 3.94 ERA 1.23 WHIP 9.22 K/9 107.1 IP

The 2016 National League Cy Young runner-up has been a serious disappointment this season.

He currently sports a left on base percentage, or LOB, of 71.6, which is much closer to his career average of 75.2 percent than his 2016 mark of 84.9 percent. Similarly, his current batting average against of .249 is also significantly closer to his career mark of .241, although his batting average against in 2016 was an incredible .209.

He is mixing his pitches in an almost identical fashion as he did in 2014, although his results have been quite the opposite. When looking at his pitch values and velocity, his fastball and curveball have both become negative in value while decreasing significantly in velocity.

It is fair to say that this 2017 Lester, opposed to the 2016 Cy Young-caliber Lester, is what we should expect moving forward.

Justin Verlander

2016 Stats 34 GS 16-9 W-L 3.04 ERA 1.00 WHIP 10.04 K/9 227.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 5-5 W-L 4.96 ERA 1.52 WHIP 8.45 K/9 98 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander’s 2017 season has been a serious anomaly. He has posted an ERA above four only twice in his 12-year career, although he seems to be on track to do so again this season.

The 2016 American League Cy Young runner-up won 16 games while posting a 3.04 ERA and an incredible .204 batting average against. Most people would say he was snubbed in the Cy Young vote, as his ratios far outshined Porcello’s, who won the award majorly because of his 22 wins and only four losses.

So far in 2017, Verlander has severely struggled with pitch location, as his career walk rate is 2.76 per nine innings, although his current walk rate is at a career high 4.39. This has caused his WHIP to rise from 1.00 in 2016 to 1.52 this year.

The 34-year-old’s BABIP of .316 suggests that he is due for some positive regression and his velocity has increased from last season, although his struggles seem control induced, which is not a good sign moving ahead.

Johnny Cueto

2016 Stats 32 GS 18-5 W-L 2.79 ERA 1.09 WHIP 8.11 K/9 219.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 6-7 W-L 4.26 ERA 1.33 WHIP 8.18 K/9 105.2 IP

Cueto’s 2016 campaign reminded us of his 2014 Cy Young runner-up season, where at 28 years old, he finished the season with 20 wins and a 2.25 ERA.

In 2016, Cueto was astounding, recording 18 wins and a 2.79 ERA. Now in 2017, Cueto is having his worst career year since his sophomore season with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009.

The 31-year-old is currently allowing 35.4 percent hard contact, which is about seven percent higher than his career mark, and 13 percent higher than in his 2014 season. He seems to be getting a bit unlucky as well, as his HR/FB is very high at 16.8 percent, which is well off his career average of 10.3 percent.

The most notable change to his pitch values are with his change-up, which has been his best complimentary pitch over his career and measures in at 21.7, although in 2017 alone his change-up is valued at -3.5.

An ineffective change-up, mile-high HR/FB rate and excessive amount of hard contact all seem to be the prime causes of Cueto’s 2017 struggles. A turnaround is definitely possible if he can reign in his change-up and begin to limit hard contact.

Masahiro Tanaka

2016 Stats 31 GS 14-4 W-L 3.07 ERA 1.08 WHIP 7.44 K/9 199.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 7-7 W-L 5.25 ERA 1.36 WHIP 9.03 K/9 97.2 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Photo by the Japanese Times)

Tanaka’s 2017 season has been nothing like we’ve ever seen from the Japanese international.

His current walk rate is at 2.40 per nine innings, although he had a walk rate under 1.62 in each of his last three seasons. Also, his BABIP is over .300 for the first time in his major league career, which is a bad sign for a ground ball pitcher like himself.

The major problem for Tanaka seems to be his lack of ability to throw the fastball. His four-seam fastball and cutter both rank in the deep negatives for pitch values. His off-speed pitches remain his bread and butter, although they are much less effective without a successful fastball to work off of.

Without a moderately effective fastball, Tanaka will remain unsuccessful.

Kyle Hendricks

2016 Stats 30 GS 16-8 W-L 2.13 ERA 0.98 WHIP 8.05 K/9 190 IP
2017 Stats 11 GS 4-3 W-L 4.09 ERA 1.20 WHIP 7.44 K/9 61.2 IP

Hendricks is a very interesting pitcher, as he managed to be a Cy Young candidate in 2016 while having on average an 86 mile per hour fastball.

He finished the 2016 season with 16 wins and an incredible 2.13 ERA, although in 2017, his command has decreased significantly. He is walking a full player more per nine innings than in both of his previous years.

The 27-year-old is also allowing 36 percent hard contact, which is over 10 percent higher than he has let up in his last four seasons. He is currently dealing with right middle finger inflammation, although he is scheduled for a rehab start on July 10 at the Double-A level.

It seems as though an injury has led to a lack of command, which is allowing hitters to make much better contact than in years past. If he can get healthy, there is a chance he can get back on track.

 

Featured image by the Chicago Tribune 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

With only a week until opening day, it is time to revisit my starting pitcher rankings for 2017. My original rankings can be found at Thegamehaus.com, which were done on January 27th, 2017.

The top 120 starting pitchers have been grouped into eight tiers. The average draft position, (ADP), of each player according to FantasyDraftPros.com, are listed adjacent to the player.

Exceptions include: Rasiel Iglesias (CIN) and David Phelps (MIA) who both will be primarily relievers in 2017.  

 

Tier 1

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Clayton Kershaw looks to return to Cy Young form in 2017 (Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

  • Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, (5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

Max Scherzer is looking to add hardware to his cabinet in 2017 (Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals, (13)
  • Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (14)
  • Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets, (18)
  • Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox, (19)
  • Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians, (22)
  • Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers, (39)
  • Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals, (50)

 

 

 

 

Tier 3

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

  • Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs, (34)
  • Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers, (39)
  • Jake Arrieta, Chicago Chicago, (29)
  • Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants, (41)
  • Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays, (52)
  • Jacob deGrom, New York Mets, (58)
  • Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals, (66)
  • Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians, (59)
  • Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs, (64)
  • Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees, (73)
  • Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers, (79)
  • David Price, Boston Red Sox, (73)

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. (Courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today)

  • Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox, (88)
  • Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox, (91)
  • Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, (99)
  • Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians, (111)
  • Felix Hernandez, Seattle Marines, (115)
  • Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays, (106)
  • Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals, (97)
  • Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates, (91)
  • Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers, (98)
  • Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks, (89)
  • Lance McCullers, Houston Astros, (146)
  • Michael Fullmer, Detroit Tigers, (123)

 

Tier 5

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Marcus Stroman anchors teams USA’s rotation in route to a WBC title. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays, (124)
  • Rich Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers, (114)
  • Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals (139)
  • Steven Matz, New York Mets, (142)
  • Dallas Kuechel, Houston Astros, (122)
  • Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles, (130)
  • John Lackey, St. Louis Cardinals, (136)
  • Jared Eickhoff, Philadelphia Phillies, (217)
  • Matt Harvey, New York Mets, (134)
  • Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates, (150)
  • Jonathan Gray, Colorado Rockies, (176)
  • Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox, (177)
  • Vincent Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies, (179)
  • Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics, (167)
  • Julio Jurias, Los Angeles Dodgers, (180)
  • Jake Ordorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays, (171)
  • Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels, (211)
  • Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals, (195)
  • Drew Smyly, Seattle Mariners, (185)

 

Tier 6

(Courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today)

Michael Pineda has untapped potential, can he progress in 2017?(Courtesy of Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Michael Pineda, New York Yankees, (183)
  • Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks, (204)
  • Matt Shoemaker, Los Angeles Angels, (186)
  • James Paxton, Seattle Mariners, (153)
  • Aaron Nola, Philadelphi Phillies, (162)
  • Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants (164)
  • J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays, (168)
  • Matt Moore, San Francisco Giants, (181)
  • Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays, (191)
  • Drew Pomeranz, Boston Red Sox, (208)
  • Taijuan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks, (211)
  • Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics, (212)

 

Tier 7

2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

Anthony Desclafani was named the Ace for 2017, although an injury may cause him to begin the year on the DL. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • Anthony Desclafani, Cincinnati Reds, (242)
  • Junior Guerra, Milwaukee Brewers, (249)
  • Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals, (263)
  • Collin McHugh, Houston Astros, (253)
  • Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals, (256)
  • Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians, (274)
  • Robert Gsellman, New York Mets, (267)
  • Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates, (268)
  • Joe Ross, Washington Nationals, (224)
  • Jharel Cotton, Oakland Athletics, (240)
  • Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins, (256)
  • Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays, (220)
  • Daniel Norris, Detroit Tigers, (272)
  • Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays, (277)
  • Francisco Liriano, Toronto Blue Jays, (282)
  • Zach Davies, Milwaukee Brewers, (285)
  • Mike Montgomery, Chicago Cubs, (274)
  • Jason Hammel, Kansas City Royals, (278)
  • Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners, (235)
  • Jordan Zimmerman, Detroit Tigers, (278)
  • Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh Pirates, (254)
  • Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins, (266)
    2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

    Eduardo Rodriguez has made the necessary corrections to start the year with the big club. (Courtesy of Nancy Lane)

  • Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals, (266)
  • Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles, (268)
  • Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox, (295)
  • Tyler Skaggs, Los Angeles Angels, (303)
  • Joe Musgrove, Houston Astros, (300)
  • Tyler Anderson, Colorado Rockies, (310)
  • Dan Straily, Miami Marlins, (312)
  • Brandon Finnegan, Cincinnati Reds, (336)
  • Shelby Miller, Arizona Diamondbacks, (376)
  • Scott Kazmir, Los Angeles Dodgers, (350)
  • Tyler Chatwood, Colorado Rockies, (361)
  • Adam Conely, Miami Marlins, (321)

 

Tier 8 (The Rest)

  • Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles, (308)
    2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

    Chris Tillman looks to recover from his disastrous second half of 2016. (Courtesy of csnmidatlantic.com)

  • Mike Leake, St. Louis Cardinals, (341)
  • Edinson Volquez, Miami Marlins, (390)
  • Michael Foltynewicz, Atlanta Braves, (298)
  • Jamie Garcia, Atlanta Braves, (338)
  • Steven Wright, Boston Red Sox, (321)
  • Wie-Yin Chen, Miami Marlins, (332)
  • C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees, (361)
  • Clay Buchholz, Philadelphia Phillies, (355)
  • Charlie Morton, Houston Astros, (386)
  • Tyson Ross, Texas Rangers, (314)
  • Andrew Triggs, Oakland Athletics, (358)
  • Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox, (331)
  • Chris Devenski, Houston Astros, (336)
  • Luke Weaver, St. Louis Cardinals, (341)
  • Luis Severino, New York Yankees, (344)
  • Jose De Leon, Tampa Bay Rays, (350)
  • Zack Wheeler, New York Mets, (361)
  • Mike Fiers, Houston Astros, (384)
  • Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers, (414)
  • Nathan Karns, Kansas City Royals, (420)
  • Ricky Nolasco, Minnesota Twins, (432)
  • Seth Lugo, New York Mets, (412)

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Intriguing Opening Day Games

April 2, 2017, is the date all baseball fans are looking forward to. Opening Day is less than two weeks away and fans and players are gearing up for the start of the season.

It may be hard to forget all of the Spring Training “news” and prepare for the regular season, but don’t worry. Here you will find every game you need to watch to start off the 2017 MLB season on the right foot. So dust off that ball cap and bust out those peanuts because the regular season is about to begin.

Opening Day

Zack Greinke will look to lead the Diamondbacks to the post season in 2017 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

The battle for the NL West begins on Sunday, April 2 at 4:10 p.m. (EST). Many aren’t expecting much from the Diamondbacks this season after a disastrous 69-93 record last season.

They will return in 2017 looking to right the ship. The return of a healthy A.J. Pollock and a deep lineup could be something special in Arizona. Zack Greinke should return to form, and the already good pitching staff added Taijuan Walker. The Diamondbacks are slithering into the 2017 season under the radar.

Arizona is probably off the radar due to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants finished second in the division with a 87-75 record before they were ousted by the team of destiny: the Chicago Cubs.

Don’t think the Giants spent much time licking their wounds. They enter the 2017 season with one of the deepest pitching staffs in all of baseball, crowned by Madison Bumgarner. Pair that with a solid offense and the Giants are poised for another playoff run in 2017.

The starters haven’t been announced yet, Greinke and Bumgarner are projected to start. This marquee match up of aces will be energized by the atmosphere of Opening Day. Look for this matchup to be a defining factor in the NL West playoff race late into the season.

Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers

Opening Day

Edwin Encarnacion will bring his power south of the border this season (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports).

The Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers are both projected to be among the elite AL teams in 2017. They both had solid playoff runs, but it’s their offseason moves that help make this a must-watch game.

The Indians wasted no time improving their roster after dropping the World Series to the Chicago Cubs 4-3. The addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to an already potent lineup makes Cleveland an offensive juggernaut. Cleveland’s deep pitching staff also makes them a force to be reckoned with. No team is perfect, and the Texas Rangers will have the first crack at trying to expose the weaknesses in the Indian’s roster.

The Texas Rangers finished the season with a 95-67 record and earned the AL West crown. The Rangers needed to improve their club after being swept by the Blue Jays in the postseason.

Pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross were brought aboard to stabilize the rotation, and fan-favorite Mike Napoli returns to man first base. They are not as flashy as Encarnacion, but they surely boost Texas’ talent level. The Rangers are set to return to the postseason in 2017, and earning an Opening Day victory sure would help.

Cleveland’s Danny Salazar and Texas’ Yu Darvish are projected to square off on on Monday, April 3 at 7 p.m. (EST). A matchup between two of the top teams in the AL is sure to be informative. How will Encarnacion do in the Indian’s stacked line up? Will Mike Napoli be able to recreate his 2016 season? Those questions won’t be answered Opening Day, but we will be given a glimpse of the answers.

Opening Day

Adam Wainwright has been a mainstay atop the Cardinals’ rotation (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports).

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in an odd position after completing their Cinderella season and winning the World Series. Instead of being the hunters, they are now the hunted.

The St. Louis Cardinals will have the first chance to knock off the defending champions on Sunday, April 2 at 8:30 p.m. (EST). The Cardinals finished with 86 wins in 2016, but it wasn’t good enough to earn them a playoff spot. They will look to make the postseason in 2017 with the majority of their roster returning. A deep pitching staff and above average offense will define this team.

The Cubs enter 2017 with sky-high expectations. They boast one of the best cores of young talent in the majors with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez forming the nucleus of the team. Include veterans like pitcher Jon Lester, outfielder Ben Zobrist and a number of other solid players, and you have the monstrosity that is the Chicago Cubs. They will need every ounce of their talent to repeat their 2016 success due to their tough division.

Lester and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright are expected to start the game. Both are grizzled veterans and fierce competitors and will give even more of an edge to this rivalry game. Look for both of these teams to battle for the top spot in the division throughout the season.

 

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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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X-factors For Each World Series Team

Two games down and the series is split 1-1. The teams alternated who would dominate each game, as the Tribe took Game 1 with a masterful pitching performance from Corey Kluber and a couple of bombs from Roberto Perez. The Cubs took Game 2 with Jake Arrieta pitching well in his 5 2/3 innings and the Cubs playing some small ball to get their win. This article will analyze some of the players that may not be superstars, but will be relied upon nevertheless by both teams.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs showed Game 2 why their lineup is one of the most feared in baseball. The team constantly worked the count and strung plenty of hits together to produce a lead that would not be surrendered. One player who has been producing all playoffs, only sputter out in the World Series so far is Javier Baez.

Baez was the best hitter for the Cubs all postseason before the World Series. The man has accumulated 22 TB’s (Total Bases) and a .316 avg so far this playoffs, but only 2 of his 15 hits have come from Games 1 and 2 this World Series. Baez is in an important position of the lineup, hitting behind Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist, who have been the hottest hitters for the Cubs between the first two games. Baez needs to hit like he did in the ALCS and ALDS to knock in the hot hitters in front of him and maximize the run support for the rotation, especially since The Cubs Official Twitter Page has already come out and said Schwarber has not been medically cleared to play the field. Baez has always had high K totals, but has been able to hit at a well enough clip to still be included in the Cubs lineup, now is the time to prove he belongs.

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Kyle Hendricks is one of the many young Cubs players that have stepped up all playoffs. How will he pitch in one of the biggest games in Wrigley Field history? Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The rotation is the one part of the team the Cubs have been able to truly rely upon all season. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester were expected to produce, but it is Kyle Hendricks who has seemingly come out of nowhere to be the best pitcher for the Cubs this season. Hendricks was a little rocky his first start in the NLDS, but rebounded big time in the NLCS.

Hendricks made two starts in the NLCS, putting together a stat line that nobody could frown upon. in 12 2/3 innings, Hendricks only gave up one run (0.71 ERA) and managed a WHIP of 0.71 as well, amassing 11 k’s in the process. The fact he did not get two wins in the NLCS just goes to show why wins is not a good stat for comparing pitchers. His biggest stage is still yet to come, however, as he will pitch the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945. Hendricks will also be relied upon to pitch either Game 6 or 7 if the series reaches that point. A Cubs team that relies so much on the rotation pitching well, it will be fun to watch to see if Hendricks is up to the task.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians dominated Game 1 of the World Series. Corey Kluber twirled a pitching gem before getting pulled early for one of the best 1-2 relief punches in baseball of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Game 2 saw the opposite, as Trevor Bauer constantly put his teams into jams and the hitting seemingly disappeared. The Indians only run Game 2 came from a wild pitch. Now the Indians go to Wrigley for three games, hoping to pull out at least one win to give themselves a chance at home.

In order to pull the win, however, the Tribe needs their star to step up. Jason Kipnis may not be as big a name as he should, but he is worshipped in Cleveland (maybe not after his two errors in Game 2). 2016 was a rebound season for the man who has always had double digit stolen bases, but finally put up more than 20 home runs in a season (23, which cannot be a coincidence right?). All postseason, however, Kipnis’ has been putrid, only putting together 6 hits in 39 AB’s (.154 BA). Hitting second in the lineup, he needs to get on base in front of Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli. Kipnis is no slouch on the basepaths either, which leads to Lindor and Napoli seeing more fastballs and hopefully jumpstarting the Indians offense. The Indians offense is going to need somebody to get the lineup going, as playing a World Series game at Wrigley is a very difficult experience.

The second X-factor for the Indians is a big name player, their best pitcher, Corey Kluber. The truth is, Kluber may have to start three games in a seven game series, potentially pitching games 4 and 7 to go with his game 1 start. The man is a machine (or Klubot), who despite a rough April, put together a potential Cy Young season to lead a young rotation through much of the season.

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Kluber has been lights out all postseason. Can he carry that momentum into Games 4 and 7 this World Series? Picture courtesy of the USA Today

Kluber has carried that momentum into the postseason, where he has been unrelenting to opposing hitters. The man has made 4 starts this postseason, giving up only 2 ER’s the whole time. He has a K/9 of 10.73, which is comparable to a stud reliever, but done with a sample size almost five times larger. Indians manager Terry Francona knows he needs Kluber to win this series, which is partially why Kluber was only pulled 88 pitches into Game 1, despite not giving up  a run through 6 innings. Kluber gives the Indians the best chance to win, so having him pitch potentially three games this series will be an interesting experiment for the Tribe, but one that should pay dividends for the team if history is anything to go by for Kluber.

In the end, baseball is a team game, where anything can happen and anybody can step up and elevate the team. That being said, the aforementioned players elevating their game for the rest of the World Series will be a large step forward for either team who are looking to go home World Champs.

 

Challenging History: Why the Cubs will Win the World Series

The World Series is finally upon us. After three weeks of fantastic postseason baseball, the MLB is finally down to two teams: the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Neither of these teams are a very familiar face in the Fall Classic. The Indians haven’t been to a World Series in just under two decades, last appearing in 1997 and losing to the Marlins 4-3. The Cubs last made an appearance another 50 years prior: in 1945, when they lost to the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Of course, neither team just goes to the World Series for the sake of going, their goal is to win it all; and while the Cubs’ 108 year drought without a World Series is one of the most famed in all of pro sports, the Indians last won a World Series in 1948. That’s a combined 176 years these two teams have gone without a championship and both are hungry for a title.

But that’s all in the past, one of those World Series droughts will be ended over the next couple weeks in what should be a very entertaining matchup against two of the most dominant teams in the MLB. The Indians coasted through the American League playoffs, only dropping one game throughout the ALDS and ALCS combined. The Cubs didn’t have too much more trouble, losing just three games on their run to the Series. But everything these teams have done to get to this point, all that matters now is how they perform over the next four to seven games. I think the Cubs will emerge as the World Series victor for the first time in over a century, and here’s why:

Superior Starting Pitching

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Jon Lester has been the Cubs’ ace this year, both in the regular season and postseason. Can he continue to step up when it matters most? Image courtesy of grantland.com

The Indians have been renowned throughout the season for their strong pitching staff. But the Cubs pitching staff is certainly no slouch either, actually leading the entire MLB with a 3.15 ERA in the regular season (down to 2.93 in the postseason). While the Indians pitching staff has a lower ERA in the 2016 playoffs, they’ve looked a lot more reliant on their bullpen over that time. Only Corey Kluber threw more than six innings in any of his starts so far this postseason. He accounts for both of the Indians’ quality starts in the 2016 postseason. The Cubs starters, however, have accrued five quality starts so far (albeit with two additional chances to do so). Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have both looked spectacular so far, allowing five combined runs over six starts this postseason.

I think the Indians bullpen looks stronger coming into the Series, but if the Cubs’ starters are able to carry like they have so far, they can limit the time their bullpen spends on the mound. Which allows the Cubs bullpen to be well-rested, especially compared to their Cleveland counterparts. I’m looking for Hendricks and Lester to continue their dominant runs in the postseason, and if they can draw out their starts and keep the Indians off the board, I think they’ll be in good shape throughout the series.

Their Hitting – Especially in clutch situations

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Javier Baez has been clutch thus far in the postseason, now we’ll see if he and the Cubs can bring Chicago its first World Series title since 1908. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Regardless of whether their pitching can only go blow-for-blow with the Indians, the Cubs offense certainly looks to be the stronger of the two headed into the series. Chicago’s offense is averaging 4.8 runs per-game this postseason, compared to Cleveland’s 3.4. In particular, I think the Cubs’ offense has looked particularly strong in the late innings of the game and clutch situations. The Cubs trailed coming into the 8th inning on four occasions against the Dodgers. They were able to come away with two wins in those games, scoring five runs in the 8th innings of games one and five. Those opportunities were only available to them after they tied the largest 9th inning comeback in postseason history to finish off the Giants in game four of the NLDS. The Indians, on the other hand, hadn’t gone into any of their seven wins trailing after the 6th inning.

Even not taking the clutch factor into effect, the Cubs offense just appears to have more weapons in general at the plate. Javier Baez leads both teams with a .342 batting average and seven RBIs this postseason. NL MVP candidate, Kris Bryant, is hitting .333 with six RBIs as well. Anthony Rizzo showed improvement through the Dodgers series, after a weak showing against the Giants. He had just one hit in 15 at-bats vs. San Francisco, compared to eight hits in 20 ABs against the Dodgers.

The Indians Extended Break

Cleveland finished their series against Toronto last Wednesday. They won’t have taken the field for six days, compared the Cubs who are coming in on just three days of rest after finishing their series against the Dodgers on Saturday. I know this may seem counter-intuitive: shouldn’t the team with more rest be coming in with an advantage? This isn’t always the case, as we saw in 2012 where the Giants swept the Tigers who had come into the series on a longer break. While one case doesn’t make it a trend, baseball players tend to be creatures of habit. They get into a rhythm of playing games day in and day out over the course of the season. It can be a bit disorienting to come back to the diamond after such a long hiatus. We’ll see if the Indians have the mentality required to avoid that potential disorientation that could cause them to get behind early in the series.

The World Series begins Tuesday, October 25 in Cleveland. First pitch is scheduled for 8 PM Eastern time, and will be broadcast on FOX.

Stats in this piece were taken from baseballreference.com, ESPN.com, and MLB.com

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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.

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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.

And then there were Four: NLDS Preview

With the Giants defeating the Mets 3-0 on Wednesday night, the National League playoff picture is set to begin on Friday night. Each of the four teams comes into the playoffs with very different stories: the Giants are looking to solidify themselves as the even-year juggernaut, the Cubs are looking to end a 100 year drought, and we’ll finally get to see either the Dodgers or the Nationals get into the NLCS.

Cubs vs. Giants

The Giants come into the NLDS riding yet another stellar postseason performance by Madison Bumgarner, who might be one of the most clutch starters in MLB playoff history. He’s the first pitcher to record multiple shutouts in sudden-death postseason games, his third postseason shutout gives him the second most in MLB history (Christy Matthewson had four). But, Bumgarner won’t be the only guy pitching this series, and this Giants staff will be going against arguably the best team in baseball. The Cubs ranked third in total offense in the entire MLB, and ranked first in team ERA. While the Giants pitching staff should be able to match up, it’s their offense that looks very outmatched on paper. The Cubs have one of the most talented, young offensive units in the MLB, led by MVP candidate Kris Bryant.

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Cueto and Lester have both been great in 2016, and look to start off this series on the right foot. Image courtesy of ESPN.com

Even in their game against the Mets, the Giants offense was dormant until a clutch three-run homer from Conor Gillaspie broke the stalemate in the top of the ninth inning. This series could very well open with a similar pitching duel, with Johnny Cueto squaring off against Cy Young Candidate, Jon Lester. It will be up to Cueto, who posted a 5.40 ERA last year with the Royals on their postseason run, to set the tone for this series if the Giants want to have a shot. If San Fran wants to continue their even-year magic in the postseason, they’ll either have to step up their offensive game, or have their pitching bring the Cubs down a few pegs at the plate.

Realistically, the pitching scenario seems to be their best bet, so we’ll have to see if the rest of their rotation is up to the task. The Giants bullpen also offers some areas of concern, it didn’t see any action on Wednesday, so everybody should be fresh heading into the series; but they don’t have the same dominant staff that the Cubs have. The Giants blew 29 saves in the regular season, and they’ll have to avoid that level of inconsistency if they want to have a shot in this series.

I’ve picked against the Giants twice already this postseason, and been proven wrong both times. Maybe the third time, and a much stronger team, is the charm I need. I think the Cubs will take the series 3-1 because the Giants won’t be able to muster the same level of offense that the Cubs will when Cueto/Bumgarner aren’t on the mound.

Nationals vs. Dodgers

This matchup features two teams plagued by playoff failures in the past. The Dodgers haven’t made it past the NLDS since 2013, where they lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nationals have only been to the playoffs twice since moving to the nation’s capitol, losing in the Divisional Round both times. The franchise itself hasn’t made it to the NLCS since 1981, when they were still in Montreal, where they lost to (guess who?) the Dodgers 3-2. The Dodgers handled the Nationals in the regular season, winning five of the six games between the two teams.

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Kershaw and Scherzer have both had stellar seasons, all that matters now is how they perform in October. Image courtesy of newsreportcenter.com

This series starts off with a titanic pitching clash between Cy Young candidate, Max Scherzer, and Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw could have very easily been apart of the Cy Young talk in the National League if he hadn’t missed two months on the DL. This series appears much more even on paper than the SF vs. Chicago Cubs series. Both teams had top-five pitching staffs during the regular season, and both teams were in the top half of the NL in terms of offense. I think the Dodgers actually come in as the series favorite, despite being the lower seed (57% chance that the Dodgers make the NLCS according to fivethirtyeight.com).

I think the one X-factor for the Nationals coming into the playoffs has to be Daniel Murphy. He led the MLB in batting average for a significant portion of 2016, and put together one of the most clutch hitting performances throughout the 2015 playoffs with New York. Murphy has been the catalyst for the Nationals offense all season, with Bryce Harper slumping throughout the middle of the year. Both Murphy and Harper missed playing time late in September with injuries. Since Washington had secured its place in the playoffs, it wasn’t too surprising to see them get extra time off. While they are on the roster and appear to be fine, we’ll see if these injuries affects their performance at the plate.

I also think that the Dodgers have the edge in this series. While Scherzer is great on the mound, and can definitely go toe-to-toe with Kershaw, the rest of the Nationals rotation has been inconsistent throughout the year. Gio Gonzalez looked underwhelming throughout 2016, and while Tanner Roark isn’t facing the Marlins, he was just 2-3 in six starts from September to October 1. I think that it will be a very tight series, but in the end I think the Dodgers have looked stronger and more consistent in the second half, and that will carry over into their postseason play. LA wins, 3-2.

 

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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

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