NL Central face of the franchise

The current face of every NL Central team

One conversation that will never get old is talking about who the cornerstone player of every franchise is. Some teams have an obvious representative, others not so much. Here is a look into the face of the franchise for every team in the NL Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Josh Bell

If we were to have this conversation two weeks ago, then there would be a much more obvious answer for the Bucs. However, the Pirates’ front office thought it was time to do some shuffling. Even though Pittsburgh fans are upset about giving up Andrew McCutchen, who has been an icon in the Steel City for some time, it was a good move to show concern for the future. It just looks especially bad because of what the Marlins have been doing this offseason as well.

NL Central face of the franchise

Josh Bell represents a changing of the guard in Pittsburgh. (Photo from Rumbunter.com)

Some may be wondering why Starling Marte is not in this spot. His 80-game suspension does not help his cause here. He also is an All-Star and two-time gold glove winner who can steal bases with the best of them. However, he does not represent the future for the Pirates. He is 29 years old, and the Pirates are not going to be contending anytime soon.

Josh Bell just finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. If it were any other year, Bell would have had a much better chance of bringing home the award. With Cody Bellinger breaking out in LA though, the race was much more clear cut. Bell has the chance to be a prototypical slugger in Pittsburgh for a while, as he is only 25 years old.

In the future, Bell could be a force in the middle of the lineup with 30 home run potential. He provides more pop than Marte does, and is already a threat in the middle of the lineup. His young age coupled with his power is the reason why he has the opportunity to take the place of Cutch in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

No argument here. If you were to argue faces of the franchise around baseball, this may be one of the easiest.

Joey Votto has been a fixture at first base for the Reds for over a decade. He has won the NL MVP and made it to the All-Star game five times. Not to mention, there may not be anybody better at getting on base than Votto.

Votto also has a set of intangibles that would make any manager salivate. He is the kind of guy that can lead a young group of guys into the big leagues, and that is what he is doing now as the Reds have a wave of young players coming up. His baseball smarts along with his excellent talent make him one of the best hitters in the league.

Another thing about Votto is that he is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is heading into his age-34 season and coming off a year where he could have easily won the MVP. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton had the power numbers that make anybody go nuts. However, if you are looking at the full package, Votto is much more valuable.

If Votto keeps up the pace he is at for another couple of years, there is a solid chance he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein

NL Central face of the franchise

Theo led the charge to break the curse in Chicago. (Photo by John Arguello)

Chicago is still fresh off a World Series title in 2016. It is still crazy to say considering many Chicagoans went a lifetime without seeing their lovable losers make it all the way.

Epstein made his way to the Windy City in 2011, and from the start there were many who were certain that it was their time because of it. After he masterminded the destruction of the Boston curse, this seemed like a doable task for the 44-year-old president of the Cubs.

With apologies to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Epstein is a favorable choice for this title. He is the one who orchestrated the revival of success in Wrigley, and many knew that as they chanted, “In Theo we trust.”

While Rizzo has become a poster boy for the Cubs, and Bryant has won an MVP at third base, it is impossible to not credit Epstein with the Cubs’ success.

As a baseball executive, there is no doubt that Epstein has already earned himself a spot in Cooperstown.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina

NL Central face of the franchise

Yadier Molina has been the most important face in St. Louis since the departure of Albert Pujols (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Ever since the departure of Albert Pujols, Molina has done an excellent job of stepping into the role of leading this storied franchise. While Molina may not be the best player in the league by a long shot, there are things that he does that put him above most.

He has those intangibles that his NL Central counterpart Joey Votto has. Molina’s ability to call a game is second to none, while he also knows exactly how to make a young ballplayer feel comfortable on the mound.

Yadi doesn’t have those offensive stats that pop out on the box score, but Tony La Russa made it clear when he was manager of the Cardinals that it didn’t matter. La Russa once stated that even if Molina hit .000, he would still have a spot in the lineup. Now that says something about a player.

While it is not clear if Molina will make it to Cooperstown, he will certainly be remembered as one of the greats to wear the Cardinals uniform. He stated earlier this offseason that he will not play after his contract with the Cardinals expires in 2020. These three years we have left with him will be pivotal in determining his place among the greats.

Milwaukee Brewers: Bob Uecker

The Brewers have made big moves this offseason for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. They also have their eyes set on locking up Yu Darvish in a long-term contract. As a result, the name on this list may be different in a few years. Despite a great year from Travis Shaw and Jimmy Nelson, it doesn’t come close to the reputation that Bob Uecker has set for himself.

Uecker is getting close to Vin Scully territory with his broadcasting. He is being held back from that status though as he is not in a place like Los Angeles, and also spent a decade playing professional ball in the 50s and 60s. Shortly after his playing days, he joined the Brewers broadcasting booth in 1971.

After many successful years in the booth, Uecker earned an iconic role as the broadcaster in the Major League movie franchise. Many don’t realize that you can still tune into his legendary broadcasts to this day. He also won the Ford C. Frick award in 2003 in recognition for his broadcasting, cementing himself among the legends in the game.

While the Brewers are making moves to compete on the field, Uecker always makes it entertaining to tune into the game. It will be a sad day when the 84 year old will have to hang up the mic and retire from the booth.

 

Featured image by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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Chicago Cubs offseason moves

Have the Cubs done enough to solidify their position?

The Cubs have been busy this winter. They have made it evident that despite the fact they have made the NLCS four consecutive years, they need to do as much as possible to fend off competitors in the Central. Here is a look at their moves this offseason thus far:

Additions: RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Steve Cishek, RHP Brandon Morrow, LHP Drew Smyly

Lost: RHP Hector Rondon, RHP Wade Davis

Free Agents: RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP John Lackey, OF Jon Jay, C Alex Avila, LHP Brian Duensing

The Cubs’ competition is coming

Theo Epstein acknowledged during the winter meetings that the Cardinals have done a lot to improve their roster. He knows that they have lots of prospects to play with and the money to afford the big-name players. Their addition of Marcell Ozuna, along with another probable improvement to the roster, gives them the edge to make things a bit more competitive.

Surprisingly, the Milwaukee Brewers ended up being the Cubs toughest competition in the Central last year. What is tough to believe is that the Brewers had the lowest payroll in baseball last season. They have a young team and could only get better next year. Thus far, they have signed mostly pitchers, just like the Cubs. Chicago shouldn’t think last year was a fluke with the Brewers either. They should still be in the thick of things.

Are the pitching additions enough?

Chicago Cubs offseason moves

Brandon Morrow should fill the void left by Wade Davis (Photo from ChicagoNow)

Cishek and Morrow are good improvements to the bullpen with the departures of Wade Davis and Hector Rondon. According to all of their performances last year, Cishek and Morrow had a better combined WAR than the former Cubs pitchers. The bullpen should be even better than their sixth ranked bullpen last year.

Looking at the Cubs’ lineup, it is hard to find better replacements for their offense than they already have. What they are banking on is a better season from some of their hitters. Chicago still had the fourth most runs in the majors last year, but their team batting average fell down to 16th.

Kyle Schwarber turned out to be a disappointing aspect of the Cubs season last year, despite the fact he hit 30 home runs. We are in an era now though where home run hitters are a dime a dozen.

Schwarber’s average was under .200 for a good amount of the season. This led to his demotion to the minor leagues where he was retooling his game. With the potential he has in his bat, the Cubs are going to look for more from him. If he does not show many improvements, he may be on the move before the end of next year, as there has been interest in him from other teams around the league. This will give them the opportunity to find another bat that may be on the market. Bryce Harper may be a name the Cubs could be interested in come free agency next year.

What will happen in 2018?

Chicago Cubs offseason moves

Lester and Hendricks will have more important roles if Arrieta leaves (Photo from WGN)

It is hard to believe the Cubs will not be able to hold onto their NL Central supremacy. St. Louis has been doing all they can to return to their perennial playoff contenders, as they want to compete right away. While the Brewers have not done as much, the team can still give the Cubs some trouble.

2017 was a year where the Cubs were not able to pull away from the competition nearly as much as they did in 2016. The question is, was that year as good as they are going to get? With how young the Cubs are and the potential they have on the roster, nobody would have told you they would take steps back. It is extremely difficult to repeat as World Series winners two years in a row, so it was not a surprise they were not able to return.

The race for the NL Central should come down to the wire in September. While the Cardinals may be able to pull into a few games of the Cubs, they should be able to repeat and get to the postseason once again.

One improvement the Cubs should make is another pitcher into the rotation. They added Tyler Chatwood, and Drew Smyly won’t be available until 2019. Mike Montgomery also wants to be figured into the rotation in Chicago.

The potential loss of Jake Arrieta could have a big impact on the team though. Watch for Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks to really carry the load to keep Chicago as a World Series contender.

 

Featured image by AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

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NL Central division

New Year’s Resolutions for NL Central teams

2018 is upon us, and that means it is time to look forward to the year ahead. The NL Central division proved to be one of the most lackluster divisions in 2017, with the Cubs not quite hitting their stride until September, and the Cardinals floating around .500.

With that being said, here are New Year’s resolutions for the five teams in the NL Central to make it a more exciting year.

Cincinnati Reds: Get extended work from young starters

The Reds finished in last place with a 68-94 record. That would make you think they are an all around bad team right? Well, not exactly.

The Reds had a pretty good offense. Joey Votto may have won the MVP if the Reds had more wins, and Scooter Gennett had a breakout year at the plate. They ranked 14th in runs and still have the potential to be one of baseball’s better teams.

What the Reds struggled with was pitching. They were second to last in ERA and could not get much of anything from anybody. However, 2018 is the year where many of their young pitchers should be getting a full season worth of work. Their young core is highlighted by Brandon Finnegan, Luis Castillo and Robert Stephenson.

If these three guys can start to put together a full season worth of solid work, the Reds may be closer to competing than most think.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Plan for the future

NL Central division

Andrew McCutchen may be in his final year in Pittsburgh (Photo from Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Andrew McCutchen is entering the final year of his six-year, $51.5 million contract. He finished 2017 with a respectable .279/.363/.486 slash line, along with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs. Those are stats that can help any team in the majors. The reason I say that is because the Pirates ought to seriously consider moving him before he hits free agency next winter.

The Pirates have a couple good players coming up through their system, such as Austin Meadows, who is the the ninth best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. Josh Bell also had a great rookie year, and Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte add to a solid outfield.

The only problem is that this team does not seem to be getting anywhere. Pittsburgh finished at 75-87 and fourth in the Central. Marte being suspended for half the year may have had something to do with that, but his presence for a full season alone won’t help them compete for the NL Central crown.

There have already been intense discussions about Gerrit Cole moving to New York. The move does not seem as serious as it once did, but just the fact that there are credible talks out there speaks as to what the Pirates think they can accomplish in 2018. With some of the young talent they have, this is a good opportunity for them to build up for 2019-21.

This coming year looks to be more of a year in limbo for Pittsburgh, so it would be best to get what they can for McCutchen and Cole.

St. Louis Cardinals: Add another bat and a reliever before the regular season

NL Central division

The Ozuna trade shows how serious the Cardinals are about winning now (Photo from Walsh Sports Analytics)

The Cardinals have been the center of multiple rumors this offseason. They were able to land Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins for a fairly reasonable price, so they have that to be happy about. They also signed a pitcher from from the NPB not named Shohei Ohtani in Miles Mikolas. Both acquisitions should make an immediate impact on the ball club.

With Trevor Rosenthal released from the team, the Cardinals are in search for a closer. There are still plenty of names available. Alex Colome has been brought up in multiple trade rumors with the Cardinals, and Greg Holland and Wade Davis are still on the market as well. Any of these three guys would bolster the back of a bullpen that does not have a closer at the moment.

St. Louis should also be in search for one more impact bat. Adding Ozuna was nice, but the front office knows that there is more work to be done.

With the outfield in a comfortable position at the moment, the Cardinals ought to be looking for corner infielders. Ideally, they would like to have Matt Carpenter move around the infield and have Jedd Gyorko as a utility man. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are two free agents that come to mind that fit the mold. The only problem is that these two do not provide any extra pop that the Cardinals don’t already have. It would just clutter the infield more.

The Cardinals are still looking for a team to trade with. Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are both on their radar, but it seems they won’t be traded at least until the All-Star break.

The Cardinals may have to wait until 2018 free agency to add one of these guys, but that should not stop them for looking for a bat this offseason. They are not that far off from competing with the Cubs for the NL Central title in 2018.

Milwaukee Brewers: Build off 2017 success

NL Central division

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

Even though they did not make the playoffs, the Brewers were a pleasant surprise in 2017. Travis Shaw and Eric Thames emerged as above average hitters and made the Brewers a threatening lineup. Jimmy Nelson also broke out as a potential ace in the rotation. They were able to give the Cubs fits and were neck and neck with them until the end.

The organization knows that this is not the time to take any steps back. The Brewers have real potential to make the playoffs, so they are doing what they can to ensure they play at the same type of level they did last year. They have not landed any big name free agents, but the signings of Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo show they are serious about improving their rotation and doing what it takes to stay in the thick of things.

Although it is unlikely, signing an arm like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvsih would be tremendously helpful. The Brewers had the lowest payroll in 2017, so that says a lot about what they were able to accomplish in the NL Central. If they were able to spend a little more money, who knows what they might be able to do.

Chicago Cubs: Stay separated from the rest of the pack

After the Cubs broke their legendary drought in 2016, it looked as if it would be impossible to dethrone the Cubs for the years to come. After 2017, it is evident that is not the case. Kyle Schwarber struggled at the plate greatly and Jason Heyward is not playing up to his contract. Now that Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis have hit free agency, the Cubs look vulnerable.

It is still important to remember the Cubs have the best pieces out of anyone in the Central. There is no reason they can’t make 2018 the fourth consecutive year they make the NLCS. However, the Cardinals look like they have a decent shot at making things more difficult for the Cubs. The Brewers also may be even better next year.

The Cubs have had some solid signings thus far. They signed Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow, who are two excellent pickups for their rotation.

What the Cubs are hoping for is continued growth from the 2016 MVP, Kris Bryant. He still had a great 2017, but he has the potential to be a perennial MVP contender. Along with Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have a lot of pieces in place for success. They just need to make sure it is enough to fend off the Brewers and Cardinals.

Either way, this should be an exciting year in the Central and could lay ground for what happens in the future as well.

 

Featured image from letmebefrankblog.com

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Lewis Brinson's 2018 season outlook

Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook

The Milwaukee Brewers came out of nowhere to finish within striking distance of MLB’s playoffs in 2017. Looking back to the start of the season, there was nobody giving Milwaukee much of a chance. And why should they? There was little to suggest this team would go on to do what it did. The Brewers led the NL Central most of the season’s first half before getting roughed up after the All-Star break. The Brewers, however, to their credit fought back and were in contention for a playoff spot into the final week of 2017. They lost Jimmy Nelson, just as he was finding a dominant form on the mound, and closer Corey Knebel had some uncharacteristic break downs in some of the season’s most important games. General manager David Stearns is looking to reload for another run. Without further ado, here is Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook.

How Brinson was acquired

CF Lewis Brinson was the centerpiece of a trade with Texas. (photo from: tulsaworld.com)

Brinson has done nothing but hit the ground running since coming over in a 2016 trade with the Texas Rangers. The move sent long-time catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers, and in return the Brewers netted Brinson and pitcher Luis Ortiz. It was a heck of a haul for Milwaukee, and a nice feather to stick in GM David Stearns’ cap. The move has set up Milwaukee’s roster nicely for the future. And that future, is about to become the present.

Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook

In 2017, Brinson, who is also billed as the top prospect in the Brewers’ organization put together a monster year at Triple-A Colorado. He put together an incredible slash line .331/.400/.562 as a member of the Sky Sox. It was due to this type of output that he was recalled from Colorado on June 11. His first taste of major league ball, however, didn’t necessarily go to plan.

In his first 21 games with Milwaukee, he struggled to hit major league pitching. In his 47 official at-bats, his slash line .106/.236/.277 leaves a lot to be desired. At the tender age of just 23 though, he has plenty of time to get the ship righted and back on course. Based on his skill set and his minor league track record, Brewers fans should expect a good rookie year from Brinson.

For 2018, Brinson should break camp with as a member of the Brewers’ 25-man roster. It will be interesting to see what happens at the upcoming winter meetings in Orlando. The Brewers find themselves in the position of having a ton of outfielders who are ready to contribute. But with only a handful of spots to go around, one would expect some moves to be forthcoming.

With the emergence of center fielder Brett Phillips in 2017, Brinson’s road has gotten a little tougher. At the end of the day, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the physical tools of Brinson win the day and see him firmly entrenched as Milwaukee’s everyday center fielder by the All-Star break.

 

(feature photo from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

 

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Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers: Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers find themselves 3.5 games behind Chicago Cubs in race for the NL Central division crown with 12 to play; also gain on idle Colorado.

In most seasons, it is with little fanfare the weeks of September pass lazily by for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans. But wait! Hold on! To quote the fictitious Lou Brown “We’re contenders now.” Please allow me to gush about a team none of us saw coming.

Hell, I thought the Brewers last meaningful game would be on or around the first of May! I bet you did too.

Millennials Don’t Understand

Milwaukee Brewers

Legendary fictitious manager, Lou Brown. (Photo courtesy of: bloguin.com)

Many of the younger Brewers fans can’t recall how terrible this club has historically performed. They can’t wrap their heads around how brutal the dual division format was. There was a time when winning 100 games and missing the playoffs actually happened. Yes, really. They can’t feel the disappointment of finishing with 91 wins and being shut out of the playoffs.

The American League East was a meat-grinder in the 1980s. Millennials just don’t remember how hard losing out to the Red Sox by 2 games in 1988 was. This youngest generation of Brewers fans has been spoiled in comparison to us who are getting a little long in tooth these days.

I have to just shake my head at those who are overly pessimistic about the prospects of seeing meaningful October baseball in Milwaukee. Look alive out there! The Brewers are still in this thing!

Sure, at 3.5 games back they have their work cut out for them. But with 12 games left to play and with four at home against the Cubbies, all bets are off. Sure, they need to be almost perfect to take the NL Central crown but what would you rather be doing right now? Talking about the postseason? Or having a round table debate on how fast the Brewers will move Keston Hiura through the farm system? I know what I pick.

The Beermakers have had fairly consistent playoff baseball to look forward to since they slump busted their way to the 2008 postseason. Granted, they lost out in five to the Phillies in the NLDS but nobody will ever take away that lone series win for Dave Bush. Put that one in your pocket Dave, it’s yours to keep forever.

Ok, so the Milwaukee Brewers have not exactly been perennial playoff contenders like St. Louis and the New York Yankees. What the Brewers have done in the last decade however, is double their playoff appearances from two to four. This was all a long time coming too, 26 years between postseason berths is far too long.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s were the decade of bad music (disco) and horrendous Brewers baseball. From 1970, the Brewers’ inaugural season in Milwaukee, through 1977 they won an average of 69 ballgames. Over that span they put up an atrocious (.427) win percentage. Yikes!

Milwaukee Brewers

Unlikely playoff winner Dave Bush floats one in there. (Photo courtesy of: NY Daily News)

The only thing golden about this period of Milwaukee Brewers team history is George Scott’s five consecutive gold glove seasons manning first base.

After the 1977 season concluded Harry Dalton was hired as GM. This keen hire would ultimately change the hard luck fortunes of Milwaukee’s annual celebration of futility when Dalton wasted no time in hiring new manager George Bamberger.

The change in Milwaukee was sudden. In 1978 the upstart Brewers would post not only their first winning season, but suddenly found themselves in the thick of the AL East pennant race. They would romp to a franchise high 93 wins. However, Bambi’s Bombers would fail to bring the pennant home, finishing in third place behind Boston and soon to be World Champion New York.

As suddenly as this renaissance had taken place however, it appeared to be over when Bamberger suffered a heart attack at spring training in 1980. Bamberger would return after having surgery to repair his condition but he would not finish the season at the helm, resigning his post September 7, 1980.

Oh No! We Suck Again!

While it must have been a thrilling time in the early 1980s for Milwaukee Brewers fans, the period from 1993-2006 was anything but.

After the Brewers won 92 games in 1992 to finish four games off the pace of eventual world champion Toronto,

Milwaukee Brewers

The inspiring Davy Lopes. (Photo courtesy of: Reuters)

an era of 12 uninterrupted losing seasons ensued.

If you’re too young to remember much of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1990s, you aren’t missing much. Those teams left scars, man.

Perhaps no scar is uglier and more painful than the 2002 season.

This was the era of Davy Lopes. I’m sure Davy is a good guy in person, I wouldn’t know I’ve never met him. But his teams were a dumpster fire and of course, the front office had plenty to do with that too. I swear Davy Lopes was sleeping in the dugout during most games. And why not? After all, Glendon Rusch doesn’t really inspire anyone but the opposing fans dreaming of catching a home run ball. My god, their odds of catching one had to be about 50-50 when he took the hill, the bleacher seats were more like an artillery practice range.

We Brewer fans didn’t bring gloves to those games. Hell no. You wouldn’t dare. You brought your hard hat or didn’t come back. That’s just how it was.

Oh 2002, how I loathe you. It’s like a bad ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The memory always there, haunting you, laughing at you. Reminding you just how bad things were. That’s how it feels to witness a 106-loss season finally cave in on itself, forever buried in the past. No grave marker, no eulogy. Just gone. Dust to dust baby, dust to dust.

Milwaukee Brewers Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers are contenders, so don’t be sad. Definitely don’t be that guy. Nobody thought they would be here right now 3.5 behind the Cubs with a fateful four game series on tap for the weekend but only the most delusional among us (don’t worry we love your foresight). Yet, here we are and you’re going to have to deal with the Brewers if you want the NL Central.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee’s first playoff team stands for the national anthem in 1981. (Photo courtesy of: onmilwaukee.com)

The Brewers right now are surviving in Pittsburgh hoping to keep pace with Chicago after taking two of three from Miami on the “road” at Miller Park. If that is a bone of contention for you, I urge you to please, contact the MLB office. I’m sure you’ll be the first knucklehead they’ve heard from too! Get over it, it’s done. I mean, it’s not like a hurricane was threatening to sink Miami or anything.

Losing Jimmy Nelson has hurt, he was just starting to get locked in and it’s an absolute shame that we’ve lost him. You know this guy wants nothing more than to be on that mound, trusting in his grind. I feel bad for him. But be that as it may the Brewers are not done, they are contenders now.

And you know what? I am not even going to hide my homerism here. How can I? It took 26 years at one point in my life already to suckle the sweet, sweet nectar of glorious October baseball. And let’s get real, postseason baseball is a white unicorn for anyone rocking the hottest gear in sports. The ball and glove logo of the Milwaukee Brewers is by far the best logo in MLB for sure, hands down.

And for the love of god, please don’t be like Randy Quaid’s rendition of “angry Indians fan” from Major League II.

Milwaukee historically doesn’t play many meaningful games this late in the year, and winter is coming folks. The long frigid winter. It chills my bones just thinking about it because we very rarely get to warm ourselves by the hot stove either. I urge you all to put aside the speculation on who the next Eric Thames-esque signing is going to be next January. That’s seriously about as much fun to think about as getting a root canal by a meth-head dentist who has since graduated to PCP. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Let’s hold on to our boys of summer just a little bit longer! I’m headed over to Milwaukee this Saturday and I don’t even have a ticket yet.

What’s your excuse?

 

(feature photo courtesy of: gorillabaseball.com)

 

 

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National League DH

Why the National League needs a designated hitter

As a classic baseball fan, it is hard to say this, but it is time for the National League to adopt a designated hitter position. This has been a topic of conversation ever since the American League established a DH in 1973. However, many have been resistant to the new position because baseball needs to remain pure.

Pitchers are getting hurt

National League DH

Nelson hurt his shoulder sliding back into first base (Photo from MLB)

Jimmy Nelson is the latest pitcher to go down with a non-pitching injury. This is a huge blow for the Milwaukee Brewers as they just swept the Cubs at Wrigley in a pivotal NL Central showdown. The Brewers were out of the division race after getting swept by the Reds, but they did what they had to do to get two games behind Chicago.

Other big name pitchers have also been getting hurt on the base paths unnecessarily. Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett are all big name pitchers who have been hurt on the base paths. After their injuries, Wainwright and Scherzer both expressed an open mind to a DH in the NL.

The Nelson injury is a tough pill to swallow for Craig Counsell and company. Nelson was in the midst of a career year and was the ace of an otherwise mediocre rotation. He is on the Brewers to shut down opposing offenses, not leg out doubles.

It is easy to say this is a gross overreaction to an injury that just went down over the weekend, and it may be. The first base coach wouldn’t have tried to send him if he knew what was going to happen, but hindsight is 20/20 of course. However, is it really necessary to put pitchers at risk when they are not in the league to hit?

Pitchers can’t hit

National League DH

Pitchers will only continue to get worse as time goes on (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Having pitchers batting can be very exciting at times. One of the best moments in recent memory was when Bartolo Colon mashed his first career home run at the ripe age of 43.

Another show stopper is Madison Bumgarner, who seems to be able to hit the ball as far as most players in the league. However, pitchers like Bumgarner don’t grow on trees.

According to fangraphs.com, the 2014 slash line for pitchers as hitters was .122/.153/.153. Is that entertaining to watch? Can anyone really argue why that is worth keeping in the lineup? That is not just bad, it is atrocious.

The only real purpose that pitchers serve at the plate is bunting runners over. That is when small ball comes into play, and it can be really helpful when moving runners over for the top of the lineup.

The one thing that is always hard to watch is when a team mounts a rally. Imagine a scenario where a team is down 2-0 in the fifth with runners on second and third and one out. The eighth place hitter comes up to the plate with the pitcher on deck. What would any sensible manager do? They would walk to get to the pitcher of course. That way the fans of the offense just hope that the pitcher strikes out so it doesn’t run the risk of grounding into a double play.

The point of the scenario though is that pitchers can be a real rally killer, which is always hard to see. Remember the slash line for pitchers in 2014? Well, the slash line of the worst hitter in the NL that year, Melvin Upton, was a much more respectable .208/.287/.333 comparatively. Who would you rather have in that nine hole when an important opportunity for runs comes up in the middle of the game?

The DH leads to more excitement

National League DH

If it wasn’t for the DH, Big Papi may not mean the same thing as it does now
(Photo by John Macki of the Boston Globe)

As someone who has followed the National League for the most part, it is always strange to watch interleague play. Once the NL team gets closer to the end of the lineup, it is easy to write off the the ninth spot as an automatic out. What is refreshing to see is that they never reach that gap in the lineup that pitchers usually provide.

What is also nice to see is players that are not as mobile as they used to be can still provide a pop in the lineup in AL formats. That is why older hitters may look to move to the American League. If you average out all the major stats from qualified designated hitters this season, you will get a slash line of .253/.323/.443 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs.

The DH gives older hitters the chance to focus on what they are good at rather than a hitter that will get one hit every ten at-bats.

There will be resistance

Baseball players as well as fans are very much stubborn when it comes to their beloved game. Baseball is most famous for its unwritten rules and history behind it. That is why many people will be extremely reluctant to the idea of a DH in the National League.

Many baseball purists say that big changes to the game like this are more likely to push away current fans rather than bring in new ones. That is a hard argument to keep up though since viewership didn’t go down after the AL introduced the DH, and replay review has improved correct calls significantly.

It will be a hard adjustment to make, but a designated hitter will lead to a better product on the field.

 

Featured image from Yahoo Sports

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Rockies

Can the Rockies hold on to the Wild Card?

The NL West has been wild this year. It seemed as though the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies were all the teams to beat in the National League at one point (apologies to the Nationals).

At the moment, the Dodgers are sliding and the Diamondbacks are rolling. Both of those teams are locks for the playoffs though.

The same thing can’t be said for the Rockies though. On Aug. 5, Colorado found themselves a comfortable 17 games over the .500 mark. Just one month later, the Rockies are nine games over that mark and are only two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.

As stated earlier, the Diamondbacks are rolling and have all but mathematically locked up a playoff spot. The Dodgers, although struggling, are also a lock to reach the postseason. The real race is going to be for that second wild card spot that is currently held by Colorado. Here is a look at the two teams that are threatening the Rockies’ playoff hopes.

St. Louis Cardinals

Colorado Rockies wild card

Paul DeJong has been one of the big names in the Redbird renaissance (Photo by KSDK)

Not many people have been talking about what is going on in St. Louis this season. Yes, the Cardinals have been very inconsistent in many facets of their game. However, there has been a Redbird renaissance going on in St. Louis. That is the Memphis Redbirds to be precise.

The Triple-A affiliate Redbirds finished the season with an impressive 91-50 record, and their success is starting to spill into the big leagues. The list of players that have made an impact on the team this season that would typically be considered Triple-A players is long. Those names include Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, Luke Weaver, Luke Voit, Harrison Bader and many more.

Tommy Pham has played a vast majority of the year in St. Louis and has been their best player, so he doesn’t figure into that crowd. One thing that is worth noticing though is the Cardinals lineup on Tuesday. Seven of the Cardinals starting nine have played significant time down in the minors.

DeJong may even be a favorite for Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Cody Bellinger’s breakout campaign. DeJong has been hitting homers at a very similar rate (given that he has a lot less at bats), and has a much better batting average.

This team has been up and down all season long, but may be hitting a stride with these young players. It is going to be a tough test for them coming up though. All of their remaining games are against NL Central opponents. Their record in their own division is pretty strong in most years.

However, this year they have been getting by with a weak 23-31 record inside of an already weak division. It will be interesting to see though if Mike Matheny will continue to play these young surging talents in the stretch. He is not usually one to pick the young guys over the more experienced veterans. It may be in his best interest though to play the hot-hand this time of year, before other teams start to figure out these new faces.

Milwaukee Brewers

Colorado Rockies wild card

Travis Shaw has led the Brewers to contention in September (Photo by ESPN)

The Brewers controlled the NL Central for much of the the season. The Chicago Cubs were at their heels for a long time, and they finally took over as many expected. Catching the Cubs is still not out of the realm of possibility for the Brewers or the Cardinals, but for the purposes of this, we will talk within the context of the wild card.

Milwaukee is now 2.5 games back of the Rockies for second place in the wild card. They just let the Cardinals surpass them, which of course is not something they wanted to let happen.

Their offense has not been playing as well as of late. Eric Thames has slowed down his production, and the supporting cast has not been keeping up. At the moment, the leader in batting average for the team is Travis Shaw at .276. That is very low for the best on the team and does not bode well if they wish to contend.

The Brewers have still been resilient this season and fight back as long as people keep counting them out. They are playing below .500 baseball since the All-Star break, so it is going to be difficult for them to keep up at this juncture.

One of the key moments that kept them from losing a series to the rival Cardinals was a stellar, literal game saving catch by Keon Broxton. That was a shot in the arm that the Brewers needed. They have since fallen behind the Cardinals in the chase for the playoffs, so they are hoping that some of their key players will show up in the stretch.

Can the Rockies fend off the competition?

Colorado has a tough schedule coming up for them. They are about to play a four-game set against the Dodgers in LA, and then fly to Arizona for a four-game set against the red-hot Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are hoping to prolong the Dodgers’ struggles, because this is an eight-game road trip that the team has probably been keeping an eye on for a long time. They have been 7-13 on the road since the All-Star game, so the time is now for them to pick it up outside of their home in Colorado.

The Rockies have a relatively easy schedule after they finish in Arizona on the 14th, so this eight-game stretch could make or break their season. The Cardinals have a fairly easy schedule during that time span, so the standings could look much different if they capitalize on this.

What the Rockies need to hope for is for the Cardinals to continue their struggles against teams in their own division, and go back to their inconsistent ways.

It is hard to imagine a team with the kind of offensive fire power the Rockies have may not make the playoffs. Their division is just that stacked this year. It has been very difficult for them to pull away from other teams in the National League.

If the Rockies are able to take four of the eight games they have coming up, it will be hard to see them not playing the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card. However, if they get bullied by their division rivals, the Cardinals may make another push for October, much like they did in 2011.

 

Featured image by Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

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Dodgers

Should the Dodgers consider rest instead of 116 wins?

The Los Angeles Dodgers currently sit at a staggering 84-34 record. That puts them 11.5 games ahead on the next best team in all of baseball. They are now on pace to win 114 games when it is all said and done. Don’t expect them to slow down at all though, because they have the ninth easiest schedule remaining in the big leagues.

The Dodgers are currently looking at reaching the major league record of 116 wins in a single season, set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners. The question is: Are they really chasing the record though?

Should Roberts rest his team?

Dodgers

Dave Roberts has a lot to consider going down the stretch (LA Times)

In the end, the most you can ask for in a regular season is to get the best record in the National League. At this point, the Dodgers would have to try to lose the best record. This puts them at an interesting juncture in their season.

Yes, it would be quite the feat to tie or break the single season win record. However, the most important goal for the Dodgers is winning the World Series. This begs the question: Is it really worth it trying to reach 116 wins?

By no means does this imply the Dodgers should just give up on the regular season because it is in the bag. What this means is Dave Roberts might consider resting his players more regularly. The problem that this brings up is that there is such a thing as too much rest.

There are not many statistics on rest this far out of the postseason. However, for the Dodgers’ pitching core, it would be best to give them an extra day or two of rest in between starts. What this will do most importantly is reduce the risk of injury for any of their premier players.

Injuries

Dodgers

Dusty Baker feared the worst when his superstar went down (WTOP)

There have been some major injuries with contenders in the recent weeks. Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Correa, Bryce Harper, and Wilson Contreras all have missed or will miss a significant chunk of time. All of these players are key members of these contending teams, and the last thing anyone wants to happen is for their star player to get hurt at the most important part of the season.

The most notable injury of the bunch was Harper slipping on first base and bruising a bone in his leg. It was a scary moment that could have been prevented. The Nationals are a lock to win the NL East and Dusty Baker had Bryce Harper playing after heavy rainfall.

Now, it is extremely difficult to pull players that want to play because you want to save them. It is still vital to be careful though because Baker would’ve hated to lose his best player in the postseason for something as silly as slipping on a base. They got lucky and he should return in September.

Dave Roberts should look at the Harper injury and realize that the worst things can happen at any given time. He must be careful if he wants the team to be in the best shape it can be in October.

How about those Mariners?

What happened to that Mariners team that won 116 games in 2001? Well, they got knocked out by a solid Yankees team in five games in the ALCS. That is not to say they made a mistake by not giving their players more rest at the end of the season, but it is a reminder that no matter how many games you win in the regular season, anybody can sneak up and knock you out. The Mariners actually finished with a postseason record of 4-6 that year, so the Dodgers should be weary of that.

Will they reach 116?

As I stated earlier, the goal is not to reach the coveted 116-win mark. The goal is to win a World Series title, an accomplishment that has eluded the Dodgers’ organization for 30 years.

Los Angeles is a city with many attractions that fans can go out and see. The Dodgers are one of the best ones out there. Fans are starting to get antsy though as this is the time for the Dodgers to go for it. They have showed they are serious with the acquisition of Yu Darvish, who they traded for specifically for the starts he would make in the playoffs.

Dodgers

Kershaw’s health will play a key role in the Dodgers’ success in October (Baseball Essential)

One-hundred-sixteen wins is in the backseat to the World Series title. Because of this, Dave Roberts should be very cautious with his star players so they don’t run the risk of injury. Clayton Kershaw got hurt out of nowhere, and they are lucky that he is coming back soon.

Since the postseason is the most important thing on their mind right now and they don’t want a repeat occurrence of Kershaw, it is doubtful that the Dodgers will reach 116 wins. Especially considering that the Diamondbacks and Rockies are in a dead heat for the Wild Card with several NL Central teams.

It will be a race to the final day of the season and every team will be doing all they can to get a ticket to October.

 

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Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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Postseason

National League playoff predictions

The National League has been interesting so far this year. In the Central, there’s a jam-packed division with teams floating around the .500 mark. In the West, the Dodgers have a strong grip on first place but the Rockies and Diamondbacks are also having great years. The East however is pretty much a lock with the Nationals having little competition getting in their way.

Here is a look at who will most likely be making an appearance in October.

Los Angeles Dodgers, National League West

National League playoff predictions

The Dodgers hope Kershaw’s injury will not keep him out for long (nydailynews)

The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball and they have been tough to stop. They had a stretch of winning 30 of 34 games and are playing like they will be able to break their championship drought.

Los Angeles just took a major hit to their rotation. Clayton Kershaw left in the second inning of Sunday’s game with lower back issues. He landed on the 10-day DL and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Kershaw has kept up his typical excellence thus far, so the Dodgers will have a lot to overcome with this injury. They are sitting pretty with a 10.5-game lead on the Rockies, but with how the division is playing this is no time to coast.

It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers will be looking for starting pitching help within the next week with this new injury. If Kershaw misses significant time, they may look for some rotation help to shore things up.

The Dodgers’ pitching staff has the best ERA in the majors, however the Diamondbacks are right behind them in that category. Los Angeles should not take the injury lightly as it is important for them to maintain their strong lead in the West. Otherwise, the Rockies or Diamondbacks could make a run for them.

All around, the Dodgers are still the best team in the National League even without Clayton Kershaw. The young duo of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger have been fantastic this year on top of the stellar season from Justin Turner. The Dodgers have also been in the mix for Orioles closer Zach Britton. If the Dodgers make a move for Britton, it will be nearly impossible to beat them if they have a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Chicago Cubs, National League Central

National League playoff predictions

Jose Quintana has won his first two starts for the Cubs (CBS Sports)

The Cubs have finally started to hit their stride. They are 8-1 since the All-Star break and have caught the Brewers in the Central.

The Brewers however are starting to regress like a lot of people predicted. They are 3-7 since the break with six of those games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Things aren’t getting easier as their next two series are against the Nationals and the Cubs.

Chicago has gotten a spark since the Jose Quintana trade. They gave up their best prospect in Eloy Jimenez, but may have received one of the key pieces they were looking for to fill out their roster.

One more thing they may look for at the deadline though is bullpen help. Wade Davis has been an excellent add this season for the Cubs, but they may need more help to fill out their relief pitching. The Cubs have been linked to Pat Neshak of the Phillies who is having a stellar year. He would make for a great combo of Neshak-Davis in the eighth and ninth.

The offense is also starting to play to its potential as of late. The combo of Bryant-Rizzo-Schwarber was supposed to be one of the most feared cores in the majors. Bryant and Rizzo are playing to expectations while Schwarber is slowly improving from his abysmal first half of the season.

The Cubs are starting to return to their 2016 form though, and if it keeps up then there will be no team in the Central that will be able to keep up with them.

Washington Nationals, National League East

National League playoff predictions

Harper has had an MVP caliber year (Sports Illustrated)

The Nationals may be the surest bet for the postseason at this point. They are not the best team in the league by any means, but they do not have any competition in their division that will come close to threatening them for the title in the East.

As with most teams in the league, the bullpen has the biggest question mark on the team. The Nationals do have some prospects they can deal in order to shore things up, because it will be vital for them to have a more reliable bullpen in the postseason.

Their bullpen currently ranks as the worst in all of baseball, and that simply will not suffice if the Nationals want to compete in the playoffs.

Although they have the worst ranked bullpen, they have the top ranked offense in the National League. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy have been a deadly combo this year that will throw any pitcher fits. Each one of them could be in the conversation for MVP, but the Dodgers have some serious contenders themselves.

Either way, the offense has been a big reason for their success along with their ace, Max Scherzer. It has been discussed that Scherzer may actually be the best starting pitcher in the league today.

Arizona Diamondacks, National League Wild Card #1

National League playoff predictions

J.D Martinez makes the Diamondbacks lineup much stronger (arizonasports)

The Diamondbacks showed the league that they are serious this year with their acquisition of J.D. Martinez. Martinez makes the Diamondbacks’ lineup strong enough to perhaps be able to compete with the best offenses in the league. The Goldscmidt-Martinez combo along with the other Arizona hitters who are having great years would be tough to stop in a playoff series.

Robbie Ray is having a career year and Zack Greinke has returned to his Cy Young form. It seemed that Greinke may have lost his edge when he went to Arizona. However, he is proving that 2016 was a fluke and he is still an elite pitcher.

The pitching staff has overall been a real plus this year as only the Dodgers have been more successful. With the injury to Kershaw, the Diamondbacks may have a better opportunity to catch up to them.

The Diamondbacks have only won three of their past 10 games. This most likely will not last though. Every team has ups and downs during a season, and Arizona is just in the middle of it right now. Although they probably won’t be able to catch the Dodgers, they have a good enough team to take a wild card spot. In any other division in the NL they would have a much better shot at a title, they just happen to be in the best one in the majors right now.

Colorado Rockies, National League Wild Card #2

National League playoff predictions

Blackmon is having a career year in Colorado (The Denver Post)

The third team that has a good shot of making the playoffs from the National League West is the Rockies are having a breakout year. Colorado has some good young pitching but much of their success comes from their offense. Nolan Arrenado is proving to be an elite third baseman and Charlie Blackmon is having a career year.

Colorado is tied with Washington for the second best offense in the majors. What is interesting about this stat is that one would think that this is because they are hitting a lot of home runs since they are in Colorado. However, the Rockies actually rank 16th in home runs in the majors. They are getting guys in all sorts of different ways.

The Rockies will have a tough time holding their lead in the wild card over the Diamondbacks. Since Arizona has such a stronger pitching staff, it is most likely that they will overrun them.

They are looking for players to bolster their rotation, the only problem is that they are in Colorado. Yu Darvish has already stated that he does not want to be traded to the Rockies. The reason why the Rockies have a such hard time getting good pitching is because of their ballpark. However, Colorado needs a stronger rotation in order to compete in the postseason and stay ahead in the National League.

 

 

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