Game five

World Series Game 5 perfectly summarizes baseball today

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

Home runs

World Series Game five

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second longest game ever

World Series Game five

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

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

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

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

Top dogs battling it out

World Series Game five

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

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

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

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

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

One for the ages

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

 

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Edge

2017 World Series: Who has the edge going forward?

Coming off of a thrilling game two in Los Angeles, the Astros are going to look to carry their momentum through their time in Houston. An offense that was shut down by Kershaw and the Dodgers in game one really turned things around by exploding for four home runs and taking an epic game away from Los Angeles.

Houston’s offense is back

2017 World Series

Altuve and Correa have kept Houston in the thick of things (LA Daily News)

The Astros offense has had cold stretches this postseason. During the ALCS, Houston was only able to score nine runs in the first five games. There was reason to be worried after game one of the World Series as well, when they only had one run on three hits off of Clayton Kershaw.

Houston was somehow able to prove in game two that Kenley Jansen is touchable after slumping for a bit. Jansen was one of the most successful closers in the regular season, only blowing one save and giving up just five home runs. Marwin Gonzalez’s home run off an 0-2 count against Jansen in the ninth may be a point we look back at and say that is when the Astros took over.

Each of the Astros big three (Springer, Altuve and Correa) proved why they should be feared in game two. They are going to look to ride that feeling in Houston in order to get ahead of Los Angeles. The Dodgers pitching may still be a cause for concern though.

The Dodgers pitching is still dominate

2017 World Series

Kershaw may have had his best postseason performance in game one (Photo by Washington Times)

What Houston still has to look forward to is facing Yu Darvish in game three. This is an interesting matchup considering Darvish pitched in the same division as the Astros since 2012. Darvish has had Houston’s number, as a collective they have a .190 batting average against the Dodgers summer acquisition.

The one hitter to keep an eye on is George Springer. Springer is 6-18 against Darvish in his career, and two of those hits have gone for home runs. Other than Springer though, the Astros have looked lack luster against Darvish.

Game three will be a very important game for the Astros especially. Although Alex Wood is currently tabbed as the starter for the Dodgers in game four, there is still a chance that Kershaw could make the start if they lose game two. Although Kershaw could have probably pitched all the way through game one, Dave Roberts made the right call by pulling him after seven innings. Keeping Kershaw’s pitch count low gives the Dodgers the opportunity to use him in game four if need be. That way, if the series goes to seven games Kershaw can start the final game with decent rest.

Who has the edge?

The Astros will be pitching Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton over the weekend. Both only have limited exposure to the Dodgers, but in that limited exposure the Dodgers have had their number. A.J. Hinch may be looking to go to his bullpen early in games three and four in Houston.

The Los Angeles offense has looked on point this whole postseason. Even without their star shortstop in the NLCS, they still managed to put up some crooked numbers against the Cubs. They weren’t able to beat the Astros on Wednesday night, but that was more on the bullpen rather than any inability by the offense.

After George Springer’s thrilling go-ahead home run in Los Angeles in game two, it is hard to bet against the Astors for the rest of this series. It will be a tough fought battle the whole way through. However, the Dodgers bullpen will most likely not unfoil as much as it did. It is October, so anything can happen. It is hard to see them giving up two leads like that again though.

Based on performance this postseason, the Dodgers have the edge on their pitching staff as well as their offense. On paper Houston may have the sexier lineup with Springer, Altuve and Correa. Los Angeles has remained consistent through the postseason though, and with Kershaw most likely getting two more starts in the World Series it will be difficult for Houston to get past them. The series will most likely go back to California, but the Dodgers should be favored to take home the Commissioner’s trophy in the end.

 

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How the Houston Astros succeeded by tanking

In 2011, the Houston Astros won 56 games. Their last season as a member of the National League, 2012, they won 55. When they moved over to the AL in 2013, Houston regressed even more, going 51-111. In their horrific 2013 season, the Astros ranked dead last in hits, on base percentage, slugging percentage and second-to-last in batting average and runs.

Led by Manager Bo Porter, the Houston Astros won 51 games in 2013. (Sports Illustrated)

From 2011-2014, Houston’s opening day starters, in order by year, were Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and Scott Feldman. Minute Maid Park was empty, as no fans wanted to see this abomination.

In 2017, the Houston Astros won 101 games and are playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. The Astros finished first in the AL in runs, hits, batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage

Wait what? Yeah, tanking in baseball actually works.

 

Started from the bottom

So how exactly did the Astros pull this off? In 2013, the Astros threw a team on the field worth $22 million, which was good for dead last in terms of MLB payrolls. To put this into perspective, the Tampa Bay Rays, who ranked 28th that year, had a payroll of close to $58 million. The only player on the Astros roster earning more than $1 million was the 34-year-old lefty, Erik Bedard.

Carlos Correa and Bud Selig, moments after being selected first overall in the 2012 June Draft (MLB.com)

The obvious keys to building a championship team are good draft picks, smart trades, players performing, and a little luck. After their disastrous 2011 season, Houston received the number one pick in the June Draft in 2012. With this pick, the ‘Stros selected a 17-year-old shortstop from Puerto Rico, Carlos Correa. In the history of the MLB, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Correa are the only two shortstops to have at least 390 hits, 80 doubles, 60 home runs, 200 runs and 240 RBIs before turning 23. I think they made the right choice.

The next season, Houston again wound up with the first pick in the draft. The Astros selected Mark Appel, a pitcher from Stanford, who would end up getting traded in a deal for, current Astros closer, Ken Giles.

In 2014, for the third year in a row drafting first, Houston selected Brady Aiken, a top ranked, left-handed, pitching prospect. Due to injuries and contract disputes, Aiken became the first number one overall pick, since 1983, to go unsigned when the July 18th deadline came around. Originally, Aiken was offered a $6.5 million signing bonus, pending his physical.

 

Trust the Process

Once Houston saw his physical, which showed a smaller than normal UCL, they ended up offering Aiken $3.1 million. This was the minimum they could offer and still be granted a replacement pick if Aiken declined. Thankfully, Aiken declined their final offer, which rose to $5 million, and enrolled into a postgraduate school.

Houston was now set up with the second and fifth overall picks for the 2015 draft. With the second overall pick, Houston selected Alex Bregman, who in case you didn’t know, hit a home run off Clayton Kershaw in Game one of the World Series. In the regular season, Bregman hit .284 with 19 home runs and 71 RBIs. The Astros used the fifth overall pick on Kyle Tucker, who, at 20 years old, hit 25 home runs, stole 21 bases, and knocked in 90, while playing a mix of High-A and AA baseball.

Also in 2015, Houston had a later first round pick, 37th overall, and selected outfielder Daz Cameron. Cameron, along with a pair of other minor league players, was later sent to the Detroit Tigers for Justin Verlander. Since joining Houston, the former Cy Young and MVP winner is 9-0 with a 1.23 ERA.

 

Luck mixed with Skill

It should also be noted that former Houston GM, Ed Wade, acquired Jose Altuve, George Springer and Dallas Keuchel. Altuve was originally cut by the Astros after his tryout in Venezuela, mostly due to his height, or lack of. He would attend the next tryout session, and, in 2007, Houston signed him as an undrafted free agent for a $15,000 signing bonus. Altuve has been to five All-Star games, and just became the first player ever to lead to AL or NL in hits for four straight seasons.

George Springer and Jose Altuve. 5 Tool Players. (Zimbio.com)

Dallas Keuchel, who was drafted by the Astros in the 7th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft, was actually on the pitiful 2012 and 2013 Houston squads. In 2012, Keuchel went 3-8 with a 5.27 ERA, and the following year, at age 25, went 6-10 with a 5.15 ERA. Since then, Keuchel has been to two All-Star games, and won the AL CY Young Award in 2015.

In 2011, with the 11th overall pick, Houston selected an outfielder from Connecticut, George Chelston Springer. In 2016, while playing all 162 games, Springer hit 29 home runs and scored 116 runs. This past July, Springer was named a starter for the AL in the 2017 MLB All-Star Game. He would finish the regular season hitting .283, with career highs in home runs (35), and RBIs (85).

 

Patience

Houston rolled the dice on a 5’6” teenager, and stuck with a pitcher who posted a 5.20 ERA in his first two seasons. This past offseason, Houston signed Charlie Morton, who had never had a winning season in his career and was used as a reliever in 2016. Miraculously, Morton went 14-7 for Houston, and was lights out in Game 7 of the ALCS. Marwin Gonzalez, whose previous top WAR season was an abysmal 1.2, hit .303 with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs in 2017.

While they may appear flawless in their rebuild, don’t forget that this is the same Houston Astros team that released JD Martinez in 2014. Anyone that says this was just luck is ignorant. Luck is part of life. Just look at the opposing dugout in the World Series. Justin Turner is a superstar who was designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles, and hit .265 in 301 games for the Mets. Chris Taylor did not even make the Dodgers Opening Day roster in 2017.

 

Current Tank Jobs

A team similar to the Astros is the Chicago White Sox. In 2013, they ranked top-10 in payroll, but now sit at 28th. They have not eclipsed 78 wins since 2012, but have traded big name players in order to receive top prospects. Chicago traded Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, which got them young studs like Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, Eloy Jimenez, and Blake Rutherford.

Kopech, Moncada, Giolito (Youtube)

In the 2017 Draft, Chicago drafted third basemen Jake Burger, who scouts believe has serious potential. They have Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon locked up for years to come. In May they signed Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, who hit .310 in the 2017 Dominican Summer League. Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia are both free agents after 2019, but could easily resign. I don’t mean to pull a Sports Illustrated or anything, but the Chicago White Sox will win the 2020 World Series.

Nonetheless, you have to tip your cap to the Houston Astros for proving that tanking really works.

Featured image by ABC13 Houston

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10 reasons to be excited for the 2017 World Series

1. Game 1 is a beautiful pitching matchup 

2017 World Series

Possibly the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, Clayton Kershaw (CBSSports)

Game 1 will feature two former Cy Young winners, Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel has looked extremely solid this postseason, striking out 25 in 18.1 innings.

Kershaw, who is notoriously known to be a subpar postseason pitcher, has possibly ended that narrative. In his two starts against the Cubs, Kershaw had a 2.45 ERA and struck out nine.

In Kershaw’s career vs. Houston, he is 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA. Keuchel has never faced the Dodgers.

2. Justin Verlander is really good right now

Verlander, who was named ALCS MVP after two magnificent starts, has been lights out since putting on an Astros uniform. Since joining Houston, the former Cy Young and MVP winner is 9-0 with a 1.23 ERA. In his two previous World Series trips, both with Detroit, Verlander is 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA.

3. Kate Upton will be in attendance

Not only is Justin Verlander’s soon-to-be wife genetically gifted, but Ms. Upton also has no problem with attacking the MLB. When Verlander finished second behind Rick Porcello for the 2016 AL Cy Young Award, Upton took to Twitter to express her thoughts. She took multiple shots at the MLB, in particular, the voting system. If the Astros somehow get screwed over, make sure to check up on Upton’s social media accounts.

4. Is Sports Illustrated psychic?

2017 World Series

2014 SI Cover (SI.com)

In 2014, a Sports Illustrated cover declared the Houston Astros would be World Series Champs in 2017. The cover includes a picture of George Springer and a headline that reads, “An Unprecedented Look at How a Franchise Is Going Beyond Moneyball To Build the Game’s NEXT BIG THING.” Anytime a prediction from years back is on the line, it makes the spectacle that much more exciting.

5. The Dodgers Bullpen is unhittable

Quick recap of the Dodgers bullpen in the NLCS: 58 batters were faced. Of those 58 Cubs, only four were able to get hits. One player walked, and no one was able to cross home plate. Seriously, they did not give up a run the entire series.

Los Angeles led the NL in bullpen ERA, and finished second in saves in the 2017 MLB regular season. While finishing top five in the NL in bullpen innings pitched, the Dodgers pen had the fifth fewest walks in the MLB.

Arguably the most dominant closer in baseball, Kenley Jansen is virtually unstoppable. A former Trevor Hoffman Reliever of the Year, Jansen went 5-0 with a 1.32 ERA and led the league with 41 saves. Dating back to the 2016 NLDS, Jansen has not allowed an earned run in his last 14.1 postseason innings. During that span, he has 22 strikeouts and four saves.

6. Corey Seager is expected to be available

The Dodgers wiped out the defending champion Cubs, and didn’t even have one of their best players. Seager has been sidelined due to a back injury, but will hopefully be able to play. Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Seager hit .295 with 22 homers in 145 games for the Dodgers in 2017.  Only six shortstops had at least 385 hits, 50 home runs, and 80 doubles before turning 24: Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Vern Stephens, Carlos Correa (Houston’s SS), Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager.

Speaking of Correa, Houston’s stud shortstop is on pace to be one of the best players in the game. In the history of the MLB, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Correa are the only two shortstops to have at least 390 hits, 80 doubles, 60 home runs, 200 runs and 240 RBIs before turning 23.

7. Jose Altuve is 5’6” and is arguably the best hitter in baseball

2017 World Series

Tuve. (SI.com)

Jose Altuve will be this year’s AL MVP. Altuve hit .346 with 24 home runs, 81 RBIs, 32 steals and a league-leading 204 hits. For the fourth year in a row, Altuve eclipsed 200 hits. The only other players to accomplish this were Kirby Puckett, Ichiro, Wade Boggs and Michael Young. The shortest active player in the MLB, Altuve became the first player ever to lead to AL or NL in hits for four straight seasons. This guy isn’t just decent, he is historically amazing.

Let’s not forget this guy had to plead his case to Houston as to why he should receive a try-out for the ball club. So far in this year’s postseason, Altuve, through 11 games, is hitting .400 with five home runs and eight RBIs. He is the heart and soul of this Astros team, and is a joy to watch on the field.

8. Will elite pitching beat elite hitting?

The Dodgers pitching finished first in the NL in ERA, shutouts, strikeouts and had fewer walks than anyone. The Astros finished first in the AL in runs, hits, batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. Houston also loves the long ball, and ended up second in the league in home runs.

9. Yasiel Puig is on TV

2017 World Series

Puig being Puig (SportingNews)

Baseball needs more personalities like Puig. Puig licks his bat. He flips his bat and is known as the “high-energy guy” according to teammate Chris Taylor. For a traditional baseball fan, he may not be loved, but for someone who watches baseball for entertainment purposes, Puig is perfect.

This season Puig hit 28 home runs and had 74 RBIs, which were both career highs. In the eight postseason games, Puig is on fire, hitting .414 with four extra-base hits. Puig’s love for the game will be evident on the biggest stage, and I absolutely cannot wait.

10. Will a pitcher go deep in the Fall Classic?

Since the addition of the DH in 1973, only two pitchers Ken Holtzman (1974) and Joe Blanton (2008) have hit home runs in the World Series. Will someone do it this year? Both Kenta Maeda and Clayton Kershaw have hit one home run in their careers, and none of the Astros probable starters have left the yard yet.

 

Featured image by Fan Rag Sports

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Dodgers Astros World Series

Astros vs Dodgers: Who has the edge?

The matchup we have all been waiting for has finally arrived. The Fall Classic is upon us, pitting the two best teams in baseball against each other. The Dodgers and Astros took two very different routes to get here, but here they both are.

The Dodgers trounced their way to the World Series, posting a 7-1 record so far. Needless to say, the Astros 7-4 record isn’t bad, but they are coming off an emotional seven game series where they struggled to put away a young Yankees squad. So who do you trust in this clash of sabermetric savants? The rested Dodgers or the battle-hardened Astros?

avoiding elimination game drama

Jose Altuve looks to launch the Astros to a World Series title (USA Today).

Lineup

Both of these teams put up spectacular numbers in the regular season. The Astros paced all of baseball in team average (.282), were second in team home runs (238), and lead the major leagues in runs scored (896). They also had a decided lead over the Dodgers in those three major categories. The Dodgers were only 19th best in team average during the regular season (.249), 11th in home runs (221), and 12th in runs scored (770).

Even with this decided advantage in the regular season belonging to the Astros, the Dodgers have shined brightest on the biggest of stages. The Dodgers have average six runs per game this postseason, compared to the Astros four runs per game. But in a seven game series like this, one player can carry an offense.

And the best suited for that behemoth task is the diminutive Jose Altuve. The presumed American League MVP has hit a scorching .400 in the postseason and launched five home runs. The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig may have Altuve bested in postseason average at .414, but he has done so in only 14 at bats, a far cry from Altuve’s 40. With the amount of firepower in Houston’s lineup, they should be more than able to keep pace with the Dodgers.

Verdict: Astros

Starting Rotation

Dodgers Astros World Series

Dodgers co-ace Yu Darvish has the ability to stymie the astros potent offense (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson).

The biggest deciding factor in Los Angeles has also been the biggest presence on the mound. Clayton Kershaw has been one of the best pitchers of his generation, with a 2.36 career ERA and three Cy Young awards to his name. But what you won’t find on the burly left hander’s possession is a World Series ring. There are some players that blossom under the playoff spotlight, but Kershaw hasn’t been one of them. In fact, he’s wilted to the tune of a 4.40 postseason career ERA. Even so, Kershaw does have a steady stable of starters to rely on to help carry the slack.

Fellow lefty Rich Hill and former Rangers ace Yu Darvish are slated to start Games Two and Three respectively, and have pitched well for the Dodgers in this postseason. Hill has pitched to a 3.00 ERA while Darvish has sparkled with a 1.59 ERA. Those types of numbers will give the Dodgers plenty of chances to win. That is, if they can score.

Justin Verlander has been, bar none, the best pitcher in baseball since the Astros acquired him in August. He cruised through the finish of the regular season, going undefeated in an Astros uniform. And he hasn’t let up yet. In 24.2 IP this postseason, he has a 1.46 ERA, a perfect 4-0 record and has struck out 24 batters. Given that he will be preceded by co-ace Dallas Keuchel (2.60 postseason ERA) in Game One, The Astros have the definite advantage at the top of the rotation. But depth will play a key role in this series. With Cy Young caliber pitchers in the form of Kershaw and Darvish, and the depth of Rich Hill, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda all able to start for Dave Roberts, the Dodgers have the advantage.

Verdict: Dodgers

Dodgers Astros World Series

Kenley Jansen has posted a stunning 0.00 ERA in the postseason (espn.com).

Bullpen

If you’re going to make a run like the Dodgers and Astros have, you must be able to shut teams down in the late innings. The Dodgers have paced baseball in team ERA this postseason with a 2.28 ERA. That is good enough to lead the next best team (Nationals) by almost a half run per game. The Astros have been markedly worse at preventing runs from scoring, with a 3.79 team ERA.

Even with the team advantage, the Dodgers have the individual advantage as well. Kenley Jansen has pitched eight innings of shutout ball this postseason, as fellow reliever Brandon Morrow has posted a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings of work. The Astros flagship ace hasn’t fared nearly as well. Ken Giles has allowed three runs over the past three innings pitched. That does not bode well for an Astros team that may have to rely heavily on him late in critical games.

The wildcard from the mound will be Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. McCullers will start Game Four of the World Series, and could come in as a relief pitcher in Game Seven if needed. He has shown lights-out stuff as of late, and A.J. Hinch could opt to use him in relief after his start. Even so, the Dodgers have the clear advantage in the pen.

Verdict: Dodgers

Prediction

This World Series is shaping up to be one for the ages. As the historically dominant Dodgers look to make a return to glory, the Astros are on the hunt for that elusive first title. But the Astros may have to wait just a little bit longer. The Dodgers are on a postseason run unlike any seen in a long time. And that may just be the deciding factor in this series.

Verdict: Dodgers in six

Feature image by Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

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American League MVP

American League MVP: Altuve or Judge?

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

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

Jose Altuve

American League MVP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Judge

American League MVP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

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

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

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

AL MVP: Jose Altuve

 

Featured image from The Big Lead

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2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees fought to be here

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

Houston has New York’s number

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the series will play out

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALCS Prediction: Yankees in 7

 

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

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

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

Why it Matters

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Astros

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Dodgers

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Field

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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World Series baseball fans need

The World Series baseball fans need

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

Why not the Indians

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

world series

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

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

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

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

Why not the Yankees

No.

Futility in Washington… or is it Montreal?

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

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

Houston Strong

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World Series baseball fans need 

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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World Series

Five World Series match ups we want to see

Chicago Cubs vs Cleveland Indians

World Series

Cleveland is looking for redemption after their skid in the 2016 World Series (ABC Chicago)

A rematch of the 2016 World Series is on the eyes of many. Last year was one of the most successful World Series of the century in terms of viewership. The narrative of the two teams and their droughts captured the hearts of America.

The series went to extra innings in game seven, and the Indians are surely looking to redeem themselves after giving the title to the Cubs. Cleveland had a 3-1 game lead and were not able to end their drought.

The Indians look like the better and more complete team this year with all the inconsistencies that Chicago has been dealing with. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor look stronger than ever and would be difficult to stop.

 

New York Yankees vs Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series

Kershaw would love to reverse his postseason woes (Photo Courtesy of: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

We all know the networks are pulling for this one. The two largest markets in the country battling it out in October may be what the league needs to keep the World Series ratings on pace with last year. A rematch between the Cubs and Indians is enticing, but it may not have quite the same sparkle to it as this match up of two iconic teams.
Not only will the markets be battling it out, but the two rookie sensations in Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger would be highlighted. Both of these young stars broke home run records that were thought to be near impossible to break. Both teams have well-rounded hitting and would make for a long series.
The Yankees have had much more success out of these two titans of baseball. The Dodgers have a drought they are looking to break of not going to the World Series in 20 years. A Dodgers-Yankees World Series would make for a great final hurdle for LA to get over in order to win the series.

Houston Astros vs Los Angels Dodgers

Cleveland may have ended up with one more win than Houston, but the Astros and Dodgers were the two teams that had a stronghold as the best two teams in the majors for most of the year. The Astros have the hitting edge with their three headed monster of Correa, Altuve, and Springer. However, the Dodgers have the pitching edge with Kershaw, Wood, and Hill. Not to mention Kenley Jansen, who was one of the best closers in baseball this year.
This would be the superstar match up that many would have predicted in June. Things have changed since then, but they are still 100+ win teams that are not messing around. Both teams are hungry for a World Series title. The TV networks would love this as well as Houston is looking for a win after Hurricane Harvey. A Fall Classic in Houston would bring life to a city that needs it.

Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros

World Series

Bryce Harper is looking to prove the Nationals can play in the postseason (Sports Illustrated)

The last few years we have been talking about World Series droughts. The Cubs broke their 100+ year losing streak last fall, and the Indians are prime candidates to break their drought that goes back to 1948. However, the Astros have never won a Fall Classic, and the Nationals have never even been to one!
The Nationals (formally Montreal Expos) have only been around since 1969, and the Astros were founded in 1962. They reached their first and only World Series in 2005 when they lost to the Chicago White Sox.
So who wouldn’t want to see two teams duke it out for the right to bring the title to their hometown for the first time (excluding the 1924 Washington Senators)?

Cubs vs Red Sox

A rematch of the 1918 World Series, would feature two baseball teams that have the most historic World Series droughts in the game. Both were lead by Theo Epstein, who is probably the best executive we have seen this generation. This match up would be centered around the history behind these two teams as well as the connection with Theo.

Boston and Chicago played at similar levels this season, with a little bit of edge given to Boston. The Red Sox have a solid pitching staff centered around Chris Sale and their stud closer Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox have their own version of Andrew Miller now as well with David Price. It will be interesting to see how he is worked into a World Series.

Another intriguing similarity between the two teams is Jon Lester and John Lackey. That is just one other connection between these two teams that seems to be endless. If these two teams had met in the Fall Classic 15 years ago, it would be a whole other level of excitement. Now that they have both broken their streaks now, it doesn’t have the same pop. However, it would not be surprising for this match up to keep those ratings on par with 2016.

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