New York Mets team profile

New York Mets team profile

The New York Mets finished in fourth place in the NL East with a 72-90 record. They were a team that dealt with a plethora of injuries, and it ended up costing them its season. David Wright has not been able to get over the injury bug, and the team’s two best hitters, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, saw extended time on the disabled list.

It was not only at the plate, but on the mound the Mets saw its fair share of issues. Matt Harvey has not been able to break out of his rut, and Noah Syndergaard was only able to start seven times. Jacob deGrom was the only one that was able to cross the 25-start threshold in 2017, so the Mets have a fair amount to deal with before being able to compete in the near future.

Offseason moves

New York Mets team profile

Jay Bruce will reunite with the Mets in 2018 (Photo from FanRag Sports)

The New York Mets have taken strides to improve in the near future. It was reported on Wednesday that Jay Bruce would be returning to the Queens with a three-year contract. This is a solid signing that is lighting a mini spark into the hot stove. Since not many other moves have been made, the Mets look serious about improving in 2018.

So far, the only loss for them has been Jose Reyes, who did not have a great 2017 season. It was also reported that the Mets were very close to a deal with the Cleveland Indians for second baseman, Jason Kipnis. While he may not have provided the impact that the Mets need, it would have been a step in the right direction to show they are serious about improvements.

The three-year contract that Bruce signed also shows that the Mets are nowhere near thinking about a rebuilding phase despite its current place in the division. The rest of the NL East is in for some trouble with how successful the Nationals have been during the regular season. This move shows that the Mets want to try their hand though, and they may not be that far off.

The pitching

The New York Mets ranked 28th in pitching in 2017. This is nowhere near the expectations for the players they have on the team at the moment. New York has some of the best young pitching in the league, but due to injuries and underperforming, they took a step in the wrong direction.

The Mets have built a very good base in the rotation with Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. As mentioned, due to injuries and poor performance, it does not look as solid as it once did. The top two in the rotation still look like they have a promising future, but Harvey, Matz and Wheeler will have a pivotal year in 2018. If they don’t show signs of improvement, the Mets will know it will be time to move on.

Anthony Swarzak had the best year of his career in 2017. He may have been one of the better middle relievers in all of baseball. He, along with A.J. Ramos and Addison Reed, should provide a reliable core to the bullpen.

2018 outlook

New York Mets team profile

Matt Harvey needs to get back on track in 2018 (Photo from USA Today)

As stated previously, the Nationals are still at the forefront of the NL East, and the National League as a whole. No team from the East will most likely compete with them for the division.

This is a year for the Mets to build up and see if they are ready to compete by 2019 perhaps. Washington is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, and even the Wild Card is going to be tough to come by as it will take more than 87 wins most likely.

This is a big year for Matt Harvey as well. After stellar seasons between 2012-15, Harvey looks like he has lost his touch. This especially looked to be the case last year after finishing with a -1.1 WAR and 6.70 ERA. Something has to change in order for him to stick around the team. Whether it is mechanical or mental, the Mets can not afford to let him throw games away much longer.

With Noah Syndergaard coming off injury and deGrom looking to improve, there is a lot of room to improve. Their health is key too, as we may see a much better team in 2018 if the Mets are able to keep guys on the field.

 

Featured image by Al Bello/Getty Images

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Atlanta Braves team profile

Atlanta Braves team profile

The Atlanta Braves finished third in the NL East with a record of 72-90. What makes things difficult for them is the current state of the division. The Miami Marlins have decided not to be a competitor anytime soon, so that has opened things up a bit. However, with the Phillies on the rise and nobody playing close to the same level as the Washington Nationals, the Braves don’t look close to competing for NL East supremacy.

Let’s not forget though, the Braves have some pretty solid talent coming up. They have had a pretty eventful offseason as well.

Scandal in Atlanta

Atlanta Braves team profile

John Coppolella is banned from baseball for life (Photo from SI.com)

The sanctions against the Braves came down from the commissioner’s office this offseason. It had been revealed that the Braves had been dodging some international signing bonus rules over the past few years. The league did not take kindly to the Braves reporting less money than they really paid for some of their players. As a result, they punished the organization accordingly.

The Braves were stripped of 12 prospects, and their former general manager, John Coppolella, was banned from baseball. The ban adds Coppolella to a short list of people who have been banned from baseball for life. The 12 prospects that Atlanta was stripped of will be free to sign elsewhere.

Out of the prospects Atlanta lost, 17-year old Kevin Maitan is the most notable. Maitan signed a $4.25 million contract in 2016. He was considered to be one of the best international prospects at the time. Only time will tell how big of a blow the sanctions will be on Atlanta.

The prospects are here

Atlanta Braves team profile

Ronald Acuna is one of the bright stars of the future (Photo from Baseball Reference)

Atlanta has a ripe young crop of players that are about ready to make a major impact. 23-year-old shortstop, Dansby Swanson, has been considered one of the better prospects in all of baseball. That is why the Braves traded for him and sent away the disappointing Shelby Miller. Swanson has still yet to make a big impact at the major league level in his 182 games played, but he still has lots of time to develop.

Ozzie Albies, the 11th overall prospect according to MLB.com in 2017, did make a good impression in the last three months of the season. His slash line was a solid .286/.354/.456. He is proving to be more than a reliable option at second base for the Braves, especially considering he is only 20 years old.

The duo of Swanson and Albies may be a fixture it Atlanta for years to come. 2018 may be the first time that they both get good playing time in the infield, so it is a moment for them to prove that they are as good as everyone thinks they will be.

Swanson and Albies are not all the Braves’ farm system has to offer though. Ronald Acuna, the sixth best prospect, and Kolby Allard, the 22nd best prospect, are anticipated to make their debuts in 2018.

Acuna is only 20 years old and was named the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2017. There is a chance that he could be the next great five-tool player in the majors. He may not be able to reach a 20-20 mark as he does not possess great power, but he could hit over .300 along with 30 stolen bases. One thing he could work on is his strikeout to walk ratio. However, that comes with the territory with any young prospect. It will improve in time.

2018 Outlook

The NL East is still under the Nationals reign, especially with the demise of the Marlins. The Nationals still have the best chance of winning their division in all of Major League Baseball.

2018 is a key year for the Braves as it is a year for their young prospects to learn from the pros already on the team. Several of their best young players will be joining the club in a more permanent position, so guys like Freddie Freeman will play a key role in making these guys true ball players.

Don’t expect the Braves to be buying or selling at the trade deadline. If you are to follow the team, keep an eye on the young players mentioned earlier. Once they reach their potential, they could be a very solid team in the near future.

 

Featured image by Brett Davis-USA Today

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Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies team profile

The Phillies turned in the third worst record in baseball in 2017. However, things don’t feel so lousy in the city of brotherly love. The Eagles are the best team in football, which is what most of the city is focusing on right now, but the Phillies don’t have such a bad outlook either.

The calvary is coming

After a couple of promising campaigns, Maikel Franco had a disappointing 2017. He still managed to knock 24 home runs, but his slash line of .230/.281/.409 is not what the Phillies wanted to see. There is definitely room to improve for the young third baseman.

Philadelphia Phillies

Maikel Franco will look to bounce back from a lackluster 2017 season. (Photo from Philly.com)

Although Franco was supposed to be breaking out as the face of the Phillies future, another man stepped in to make up for his struggles. Rhys Hoskins did not make his major league debut until August, but he did not waste any time getting acquainted with big league pitching. In 50 games, Hoskins managed to hit 18 home runs. If he kept up that pace through an entire season, he would have hit over 40.

Hoskins is only the beginning of the young prospects coming up in the Phillies system. They have six prospects in the MLB top 100, five of them being hitters. This means that Hoskins really is only the start of an offensive wave that will be coming into Citizens Bank Park. The process of all these hitters coming up will take about three seasons to develop.

What to expect this offseason

Philadelphia has been mentioned as one of the top teams in the race for Giancarlo Stanton, the hottest hitter on the trade market. The Phillies wouldn’t be trading for him for 2018 or 2019, but they would think he could be a big contributor for the 2020 season and beyond. The only catch is that they would have to be willing to give up some of their top prospects of the future.

The Phillies took Mickey Moniak with the first pick in 2016, a young outfielder with impressive plate discipline and can make solid contact. He is still developing as a ballplayer, but he is a very valuable tool for the future. He would be someone that the Phillies may have to give up in order to acquire Stanton.

Rumors have been fading away from the Phillies and Stanton though. Philadelphia does not have the pitching prospects that Miami would be interested in. The Giants, Cardinals and Red Sox have been more in the mix as of late. This makes the Phillies more of an outside contender for Stanton.

The Phillies ought to focus on pitching this offseason. They have been improving as a whole on offense and have some solid names coming up, but the pitching outlook is a little bleak. There are some intriguing names that hit free agency, such as Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb.

One name that could stand out for the Phillies is Tyler Chatwood. He has managed to put up some modest numbers while playing in the mountains, so he may be a plus pitcher if he is in a better suited park. He will come much cheaper than some of the other pitchers on the market, and could be serviceable for the future as he is only 27.

What to expect in 2018

The Phillies are still in the middle of their rebuilding process, so don’t expect them to compete with the Nationals for the NL East crown just yet. However, they are showing signs of not being the bottom dwellers of years past.

Phillies

Scott Kingery may be cementing himself as the second baseman of the future (Photo Courtesy of Yong Kim)

Their No. 3 prospect, Scott Kingery, should be making his debut next year at second base. Kingery had a stellar year in Double and Triple-A. He managed to hit 26 homers and had a slash line of .304/.359/.530. He also possess great speed as he stole 29 bases. Expect for him to make a splash in Philly next year.

 

 

Jorge Alfaro is another name that could make a big impact in 2018. Alfaro is the fifth best prospect in their system, and got some time in the big leagues in 2017. He came from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal, and is showing to be worth it thus far. In 29 games he hit .318 with five home runs. He is looking to fill the hole left at the catchers spot since Carlos Ruiz in 2016.

The Phillies may not be bottom dwellers in the East next year, seeing that the Marlins are looking to go into rebuild mode. Their offense is already looking much better, and will only be getting better as time goes on. They are hoping that Franco looks more like his 2016 self rather than last year. If he does turn things around, it could be a threatening lineup with Hoskins, Franco and Kingery.

 

Featured image by Laurence Kesterson/AP

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Washington Nationals 2018

Washington Nationals team profile

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

The managerial carousal

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

Washington Nationals 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryce Harper and free agency

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

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

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

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

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

What is in store in 2018 for the Nationals?

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

Washington Nationals 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated

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Miami Marlins team profile

After a long and arduous process, the Marlins were finally sold to an ownership group that highlights future Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter. The change in ownership is going to have a very large impact on what this team will look like in the coming years. Jeter and company are not messing around, as they want to really push to turn things around. If all goes to plan, they would love to have a similar story as the Houston Astros did over the past few years.

2017 Season

Miami Marlins team profile

Urena was the one bright spot on the Marlins pitching staff in 2017 (Photo from MLB.com)

The Marlins managed to finish second in the NL East, a division where everyone knew the winner on opening day. Even though Miami finished in second place, they still were 20 games behind the Nationals with a 77-85 record.

They did manage to find some success, as they did go on a 16-8 run in August which found them with a winning record and within eye shot of the Wild Card. Those dreams were quickly put to rest however, as they followed that with a 11-16 record in September.

Where the Marlins succeeded is obvious, their outfield was tops in baseball. Miami’s outfield has the best combined WAR out of any outfield combination in baseball. Between Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, they had 16.2 wins above replacement.

Stanton is the name that pops out of this stellar outfield. His 59 home runs were the most since Barry Bonds beat the home run record in 2001 with 73 home runs. Sammy Sosa also had 64 that year. With all of the talk of PEDs and whatnot, some argue that Stanton’s 59 only falls short of Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in 1961. Stanton now finds himself as a candidate for MVP.

Where the Marlins fell short was their pitching staff. They had the third worst staff ERA in the National League, and only had one starter with a sub 4.00 ERA in Jose Urena.

With the tragic death of superstar Jose Fernandez, many of the Marlins’ plans have been shaken up. His infectious personality, along with his excellent game have completely turned the Marlins future around.

One thing is for sure though, the Marlins need to find some young pitching.

The need for pitching

Miami Marlins team profile

Yelich could get the Marlins a big return of pitching prospects (Photo from CBS Sports)

Edison Volquez had the only no-hitter in 2017, which was a big plus for Miami. Other than that though, the pitching staff was one of the very worst in the league.

The pitching staff needs to be addressed because it isn’t good now, and they don’t have anyone on the way. The sad thing is that the Marlins do not have anyone in the MLB Top 100 prospects. This is the offseason where Jeter will let people know he wants to bring in some young guys for the future.

The Marlins will not be able to get a whole lot of pitching prospects for Stanton. The main goal of this offseason is give his contract to someone else, while maybe getting one or two plus prospects in return. Where the real value lies is with their other two outfielders, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich.

Unlike Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna have team-friendly contracts. This makes them much more appealing as trade prospects, and will most likely be able to garner some more young pitching. Ozuna had a breakout year in 2017 and has been serviceable otherwise. Yelich has developed into the kind of guy that will hit around .300 and will drive in runs when he needs to, along with some occasional power.

The Marlins have hinted that they are only looking to trade Stanton and want to hold on to Ozuna and Yelich, but if they want any real return in the form of prospects, they will need to part with one of these guys as well.

The Stanton conundrum

Miami Marlins team profile

Miami has made it clear that they want to move Stanton this offseason (CBS Sports)

Derek Jeter has stated that he intends to cut payroll significantly this offseason. The first thing that comes to mind in this case is the largest player contract in the world, which belongs to Giancarlo Stanton. The contract was originally signed in 2014, and was 13 years for $325 million. Much of the money is back loaded, so he is still owed $295 million.

If the Marlins do want to move Stanton, they shouldn’t expect to get a heap of prospects in return without being willing to pay a portion of Stanton’s contract. The Marlins may still be able to get one good prospect in return for giving Stanton’s contract to another team.

The Cardinals are a prime candidate as they need an impact bat and have some money to spend, while they also have attractive pitching prospects in Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver.

Stanton has also been tied to the Giants and Phillies. His one caveat to being traded (because he can veto any trade he doesn’t like), and that is he wants to play for a winner. Stanton has never played for a winning team, so there is no way he would want to endure a Astros-esque rebuild at this point. That is why a team like the Dodgers or the Cardinals make the most sense.

The Dodgers do have talented outfielders and more on the way in Alex Verdugo and Jeren Kendall. The Cardinals are also famous for not taking on large contracts with one player. That is what will make it difficult for Jeter move the 2017 home run king. They will still have to eat a good chunk of his contract in order to get this to work.

How it will play out

Although the Marlins are shopping Stanton heavily, it is going to be difficult for them to move him and his contract anywhere. There isn’t a perfect suitor out there that wants to pay all of the $295 million that is owed to Stanton, so Miami is really going to have to incentivize a team to take him. Unless the Marlins move at least one of their outfielders, they will be stuck in a state of mediocrity next season as well.

There is too much work to be done on the mound in order to have the Marlins compete for an NL East title with the Nationals. As mentioned before, Miami is going to look to do an Astros style rebuild in order to get back into the thick of it. It would be ideal to hold onto Christian Yelich, but the Marlins just don’t have that many other appealing players.

Once the winter meetings come around, Miami will realize that they will have to part with players they don’t want to part with. I see it happening if Jeter is really serious about acquiring some young talent for the future.

 

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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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NL East Weekly: 6/13-6/19

Another week went by in the East, and it was another week full of surprises, fantastic pitching outings, and Braves win streaks. Alright, the last one is the first time that’s happened, but the Braves season-high five game win streak came at the expense of a divisional rival with a lot more to lose, the New York Mets. The Mets have struggled in back-to-back weeks now, and have dropped into third place in the East for the first time since April.

Meanwhile the Marlins find themselves in second place for the first time in what feels like forever. The Marlins look to complete a four-game sweep of the Rockies tonight that would make them winners of six of their last seven games. The Marlins still have some work to do chasing Washington, who is currently 5.5 games ahead of them, but the Marlins seem to be putting things together, while New York continues to sputter.

And while the Mets may be sputtering, the Phillies are in absolute free fall at this point. They have won just one of their last 11 games, the last five of which have come at home. While a fall from the near-top was to be expected, the dramatic and sudden fashion in which it happened has really taken the wind out of the team’s and fans’ sails.

Then there’s the Nats, who were able to get their revenge on the Cubs for the four-game sweep that was handed to them earlier in the year. Max Scherzer, in particular, had to exact his toll on a Cubs offense that drilled in seven runs off of him in his first outing against the team, and had a perfect game going for over five innings. While they fell short in the final two days against the Padres, the week was still a net positive for Washington, who maintained the comfortable gap between them and second place.

1. Washington Nationals (43-27)

The Nats continued their pursuit of 50 wins last week, and dashed the Cubs hopes of doing so by taking the series against Chicago. After being swept in four games against the Cubs earlier in the year, it was reassuring to see that Nationals bats and arms are plenty capable to contend with the MLB’s best. While Daniel Murphy’s batting average may be falling back down to Earth, he and his team’s run production continues to be an encouraging sign. Murphy, Anthony Rendon, and Bryce Harper all drove in four men apiece last week. Harper was able to get a couple of RBIs on a two-run homer against the Padres on Thursday, his first in 52 at-bats, an encouraging sign for Nats fans. While Harper hasn’t been the machine he was in 2015, or in April of this year he has begun to turn things around, hitting .291 with a homer and eight RBIs in his last 15 games.

Wilson Ramos continues to make his case for the best hitting catcher this season. He has the highest batting average and RBI total of any qualified player at the position, and is second in the MLB among catchers, with 11 homers this year. The guy looks like a shoo-in for the All-Star game at this rate. Michael Taylor continues to make is difficult for Dusty Baker to take him out of the lineup, belting two homers on Sunday against the Padres. Taylor also swiped three bags last week; and while he will continue to swap time with Ben Revere in center, if he continues to produce like this he may see more playtime come his way.

On the mound for the Nats, Max Scherzer continues to dial up the Ks, with 11 against the Cubs and ten against the Padres in two starts last week. He now has 128 strikeouts on the year, second in the MLB behind only Clayton Kershaw. Stephen Strasburg is right behind him, tied for third in the MLB in Ks with 118. Strasburg went seven innings of one run ball against the Cubs on Wednesday, but did not factor in the decision. Strasburg remains one of just two unbeaten starters in the MLB with at least 14 starts. Tanner Roark and Joe Ross both lasted six innings in winning efforts against the Padres on Thursday and Friday, while Gio Gonzalez continues to struggle. Gonzalez has now lost five of his last six starts, and hasn’t won a game since May 18. The bullpen also looks for a suitable replacement for Jonathan Papelbon, who is on the DL for the first time in his career. Shawn Kelly was two-for-two in converting saves, while Yusmeiro Petit was one-for-one. Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez were also given save opportunities, but both were unable to close the game out, and Rivero ended up shouldering a loss.

The Nats stay on the road with three games in LA against the Dodgers before a three game set against the Brewers over the weekend.

2. Miami Marlins (37-32) 5.5 GB

The Marlins have continued their slow climb up the NL East ladder. From fourth in April to second in June, the Marlins have been the beneficiaries of some of the better hitting in the division. J.T. Realmuto and Christian Yelich led the way for Miami this week, with six RBIs apiece. Yelich seems to be taking a San Francisco Giant approach to batting, turning in big numbers every other week.

Giancarlo Stanton, while only driving in two RBIs, finally started seeing the ball again amidst a horrible slump, batting .438 last week. Justin Bour, now swapping time with Chris Johnson at first base, made the most of his now limited ABs, driving in four runs and batting .538. Derek Dietrich returned to the lineup, after missing time with a bone bruise on his foot sustained Monday, and put up a quality .412 average on the week. Dietrich has been a magnet for baseballs this year, but has continued to miraculously avoid any major injuries. Marcell Ozuna and Martin Prado both had four RBIs and a big fly last week, with Ozuna’s three-run shot being the only runs in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Rockies.

Tom Koehler was effectively wild on Sunday, shutting out the Mets through six innings despite walking six batters. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

Tom Koehler went 2-0 on the mound for Miami this week, despite walking six batters in Sunday’s win. Koehler, after a 1-3 May, is 3-1 to start June, with Sunday’s start being the only start where he walked multiple hitters. Despite the control issues, Koehler turned in a scoreless six innings, and allowed just two runs in Tuesday’s win against the Padres. Adam Conley also struggled with control in an otherwise good outing. Conley surrendered just one hit, a solo homer, on Friday against the Rockies, but walked five men over 5.2 innings.

Jose Fernandez saw his start skipped this week. Manager Don Mattingly says the skip was just a part of Miami’s plan for Fernandez this year, and this will not be the only time it happens this year. Wei-Yin Chen was the other arm who had to make multiple starts for Miami this week due to Fernandez being skipped. Chen continues to struggle a decent bit, he surrendered four runs in six innings against the Padres on Monday before getting shelled on Saturday against the Rockies, lasting just 2.1 innings and surrendering six runs. Despite a couple of poor outings, Chen went 1-0 on the week. Justin Nicolino again struggled last week, and has been optioned to triple-A. Paul Clemens was brought up to replace Nicolino, who is 2-4 with a 5.17 ERA in ten starts. He’s 0-4 with a 6.44 ERA in his last seven outings.

Miami is home all week this week. They finish up their series against the Rockies tonight, looking for the sweep. The Braves then come to town for two games, before the Cubs arrive for a four-game set, beginning on Thursday.

3. New York Mets (36-32) 6 GB

The Mets continue to struggle to find their form in June, getting swept by the Braves over the weekend. While manager Terry Collins says he isn’t concerned with the current gap between New York and Washington in the division, I think the Mets definitely want to nip whatever this current issue is in the bud before things get too out of hand as the All-Star break approaches.

The Mets must have used up all of their runs for the week in Wednesday’s 11-2 win against the Pirates. They scored just ten runs in the other five games, being shutout in two of them. Wilmer Flores drove in five of those 21 runs last week with a couple of homers. Yoenis Cespedes also had a homer and totaled three RBIs on the week, just like teammate Neil Walker. James Loney continues to get on base, with a .333 average, but the Mets still have to be missing Lucas Duda’s pop and run production at the plate: Loney had just a lone RBI.

Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon were the only starters to pick up wins this week. Syndergaard fanned 11 men in 8.1 innings on Wednesday, while Colon lasted a surprising 7.2 innings and only surrendered two runs. Colon may have just 56 strikeouts in 13 starts, but the 42 year old is still 6-3 on the year and continues to stick it to Father Time in the most entertaining of fashions.

Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom continued to struggle this year. DeGrom lasted six innings in both outings, and turned in a quality start against the Pirates, giving up just two runs and striking out nine, but took the loss in both appearances. He surrendered four runs in six innings on Sunday against Atlanta. Harvey, after inspiring some hope with his previous starts, gave up four runs in six innings on Friday against the Braves. He’s now 0-2 in June, but his last start was the first this month where he had surrendered multiple runs.

The Mets host the second two-game set of the World Series rematch against the Royals on Tuesday and Wednesday, before looking to get some payback in Atlanta, with a four game series starting on Thursday.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (30-40) 13 GB

The Phillies continued their downward spiral, having now lost six straight. While the lack of offense continues to stand out, the pitching has also looked a lot more worrisome as of late. The Phils never managed more than three runs after beating the Blue Jays 7-0 in the series opener on Monday.

Odubel Herrera drove in three of those runs on Monday, along with a couple more throughout the week to lead the team with five RBIs last week. No other Philly hitter managed more than two RBIs on the week. A couple of guys who had performed in weeks past had abysmal times at the plate last week; Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis combined for just one hit. Cody Asche and Cesar Hernandez both had a homer and a couple of RBIs on the week, but the Phillies bats as a whole were as silent last week as they have been all season.

On the mound is where things have really turned sour for Phildelphia in recent weeks. The same squad that had the Phillies sitting above .500 in May yielded 50 runs in seven games last week. Jerad Eickhoff was responsible for holding a very potent Jays offense to no runs over six innings on Monday, but that’s where the good news ends. Eickhoff didn’t do so well in his second start on the week, giving up three runs on nine hits in 5.2 against the D-Backs on Saturday. Zach Eflin made his first two professional starts last week, neither of which will be memorable in the way he would have liked them to be. Eflin gave up eight runs in just 2.2 innings against the Jays on Tuesday. Although he had a more reasonable 5.2 innings of two run ball against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, he ultimately took the loss in that performance as well.

Jeremy Hellickson also pitched a losing effort last week, and even Aaron Nola, who had been the Phils beacon of consistency in May, had a very poor June continue in his last start. Hellickson managed to last six innings, giving up four runs to Toronto on Wednesday. Nola lasted just three innings and gave up six runs. He’s now lasted just 6.2 innings and given up ten earned runs in his past two starts, after starting June off with a shutout against the Brewers.

The Phillies finish off their series at home against the Diamondbacks on Monday, before heading to Minnesota for a three game series starting Tuesday. They then head further west for three games against the Giants over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (23-46) 19.5 GB

Freddie Freeman hit for the cycle against the Reds last week. Photo courtesy of espn.com

In some sort of upside-down universe, the Braves go undefeated this year. We’re not in that one, but it definitely feels strange to see Atlanta currently holding the division’s current longest win streak, having won their last five games. I guess that just goes to show what can happen when your franchise player has, arguably, the best week of any batter in the NL. Freddie Freeman hit .538, homered twice, drove in five runs, stole a base, and hit for the cycle against the Reds last week. It doesn’t matter that the game went into extras, getting four hits in a Big League game is a feat within itself, especially with the pitching talent prevalent in the MLB.

Nick Markakis also drove in five runs last week, including one on a solo homer: just his second bomb of the season. Erick Aybar and Jace Peterson had three RBIs apiece, Peterson also stole a base while hitting .286 on the week.

On a more somber note for Braves fans, rookie outfield talent Mallex Smith wound up with a broken thumb over the weekend, when he was hit by an Antonio Bastardo pitch. He will be further evalutated on Monday, but all time he loses hurts the Braves. Smith is hitting .237 this year, and while he hasn’t homered since his two home run game against the Pirates on May 17, he still has 21 RBIs and leads the team with 14 stolen bases this year. The Braves second-place base stealer, Ender Inciarte had a couple of swiped bags last week. His season total now sits at five on the year.

The Braves performances on the mound this week were highlighted by a Julio Teheran gem on Sunday against the Mets. Teheran took the loss earlier in the week, going six innings against the Reds and giving up three runs. But he went the full nine on Sunday against a struggling Mets offense, and gave up just one hit. Teheran became the first Braves pitcher to allow one hit or less in a road start since Kent Mercker in 1994, when he no-hit the Dodgers.

Matt Wisler rebounded from a series of unfortunate outings to nab his first win in his last five starts. Wisler held the Reds to a pair of runs over 6.2 innings on Thursday, despite Cincy scattering in eight hits on him. Rookie start John Gant picked up his first Major League win last week, as well, holding the Mets to one run in 6.2 innings on Friday. Aaron Blair and Bud Norris didn’t have great starts, but benefited from the Braves outpouring of offense last week to wind up with no decisions.

The Braves head to Miami for a two-game series beginning on Tuesday before heading home for a four game series against the Mets. They have the potential to help the Nats and Marlins further bury the struggling Mets, already having swept the Mets this past weekend.

 

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Deadline Approaching: NL East Trade Thoughts

As the trade deadline approaches, the picture of who could be making a playoff push and who should be preparing for next season is beginning to take form. Lower teams on the totem pole should begin looking to see what they can do to make the most of the remaining season, while the higher teams begin thinking about what areas they can shore up in to further their playoff hopes and dreams. The NL East trade situation is beginning to take shape.

In the East, I’d argue that it’s beginning to look like the two teams everyone expected to be at the bottom fall into the first category, while the two everyone thought would be at the top fall into the latter. The Marlins remain in limbo, because while they’re just a game back of the second place Mets, they’re still a full six behind the Nats at the moment and, in my opinion, are unlikely to solve all of their needs (mainly in the pitching category) within the next few weeks and make a serious run.

With that in mind, we’ll take a look who the potential buyers and sellers, as well as what may be on the table, as we near the 2016 trade deadline (August 1).

Buyers: Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Miami Marlins

Papelbon’s DL visit and his rather lackluster stuff on the mound could make the Nats willing to shop for another closer as the deadline approaches. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

Nationals: The Nationals are in a pretty good spot compared to the rest of these teams right now. While the other four teams in the division all have offenses in the bottom ten of the MLB in runs, Washington sits in the top ten. But with recent performances bringing questions, Washington may be looking for some new arms to toss in the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon hasn’t been as crisp at the closing role, surrendering runs in two of his three in June. On the season, he’s allowed baserunners in 17 of 25 appearances, and multiple runners in ten of those games. Papelbon has been having one of the most underwhelming seasons of his career, so even when he returns, the Nats might be looking for, at the very least, a plan B at closer. Former setup man Shawn Kelly struck out four of the five Cubs he faced, grabbing his first save of 2016 on Tuesday against the Cubs.

So who will the Nats look for out of the bullpen? It’s difficult to tell, if they go for anyone at all, since Papelbon is quite a pricey guy to not have at closer, and limits the money available to give to new guys. Aroldis Chapman, currently with the Yankees, is a closer who is up on the market, and would definitely provide the heat and power that Papelbon has been lacking this year. Another guy from New York who sits deep in the bullpen, Andrew Miller, could also garner some attention from the Nationals. With closers always being a hot commodity with playoff contending teams, Chapman’s destination could come down to who makes the offer that most tempts the Yankees organization.

Mets: The Mets are a team that might find themselves forced to make some moves at the deadline in order to stay in the fight in the East. They’ve currently dropped three straight games, and while a lot of things can change in the next month and a half, injuries are currently a noticeable problem for New York. Captain David Wright, first baseman Lucas Duda, and catcher Travis D’Arnaud are all currently on the DL; Neil Walker and Michael Conforto are still active, but also battling injuries. The offense has been the major weakness of this Mets team anyways. Sure some of their starters have struggled this year, but I don’t think New York sees itself in a selling position at this point in the season, and definitely has faith that its young rotation will fix itself in time. Currently, the Mets don’t have any big name guys to fill the voids left at the various positions littered with injuries. James Loney is currently filling in for first base, and while he’s not a bad player, I don’t think he’s going to carry this Mets team to another shot at the World Series. The same goes for Rene Rivera at catcher.

Jonathan Lucroy is a player who is projected to find himself in another jersey by the trade deadline. It might just be a Mets jersey. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

So who will the Mets look for? As a team that seems to love power, the Mets might find themselves reuniting with long-time Met, Carlos Beltran, who is currently playing with the Yankees. Beltran, despite his age, has hit 16 homers so far this year, which ties with the Mets’ homer leader Yoenis Cespedes. Beltran certainly wouldn’t be a long-term fix, but if the Mets moves from last year are any indication (when they acquired Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes) the organization is willing to take on players for only a brief time, so long as they feel it will help them make a playoff run. Of the five players they acquired last year, only Cespedes and Reed still wear a Mets jersey. Another guy who the Mets may look for is Jonathan Lucroy. While Travis D’Arnaud is slated to return from the DL next week, it never hurts to have multiple catchers on standby, especially when Lucroy is one of them. Lucroy currently has ten homers are 31 RBIs this year.

Marlins: I currently have the Marlins as a buyer, although by the time August rolls around they could very well end up being a seller. So I’ll try my best to run through both scenarios as best as I can. If the Marlins are able to begin making headway in the division or wildcard picture, then they will want some more starting pitching. Jose Fernandez cannot single-handedly carry this team to the postseason, and the rest of the arms in the rotation are struggling to provide much support. I personally don’t believe that the Marlins will have enough of a shot in the playoff race to deem making a big trade, but I don’t think they will be in the market to sell anything either (unless a team is willing to break the bank for Jose Fernandez, I give it a 1% chance of happening).

Rich Hill is one of the bigger starting pitchers currently on the trade market, will the Marlins buy? Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

But let’s say the Marlins do hang around, and they’re in the thick of the playoff race: who would they look for on the mound? I think the biggest name circling around the MLB currently is the A’s Rich Hill.  This does depend a lot on how Hill recovers from his current visit to the DL, but he’s 8-3 with 74 strikeouts and a 2.25 ERA so far in 2016. Another guy who could be on the market, depending on how the Braves are feeling, is starter Julio Teheran. Teheran doesn’t have the same flashy record as Hill, but he has been impressive with Atlanta despite the pitiful amount of offense around him. Teheran is just 2-7, but has a 2.93 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 14 starts this year.

As a final bit regarding the Marlins and Mets: Cuban defector Yulieski Gourriel has been granted free agency by the MLB. Gourriel is considered a potentially valuable infielder for any team that is willing to take a risk on him. Mets GM Sandy Alderson told ESPN’s Adam Rubin in a report that the Mets are hesitant to take a chance on Gourriel because he did not regularly see quality pitching in the Cuban League, and it’s a lot harder to scout guys in Cuba, especially give the United States’ relationship with the country over the years. With that said, both the Mets and the Marlins might find themselves needing to take a chance on an infielder with a bat like Gourriel.

Seller: Atlanta Braves

Braves: The Braves have claimed that they’ll be willing to discuss trading anybody on their roster not named Freddie Freeman. With Jason Grilli gone to Toronto, Julio Teheran is now their most lucrative piece on the table. Teheran will pull a fair price, though, and if the Braves’ recent moves have been any indication, the teams willing to talk Teheran better have a lot of young pitching prospects to offer.

Teheran is probably the guy who is most likely to be a headline trade offer come late July, but some young bats like Mallex Smith or Chase D’Arnaud might find their ways to other teams as pieces of a deal if they continue to perform at the plate.

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NL East Weekly: 6/6-6/12

In the East, it was a good week to be a Nats fan… and that’s about it. The rest of the teams had a rough go of things last week, as the Nationals were able to extend their division lead to 4.5 games over the Mets. Washington saw its offense drive in runs at a breakneck pace, while the rest of the division still continues to struggle with their consistency in the runs department.

The Mets saw their game on Monday at Pittsburgh rained out, and when it rained it poured for New York, who were only able to snag one game of the remaining three. As Matt Harvey slowly makes his way out of the danger zone with another respectable outing last week, Steven Matz has garnered a bit more attention, losing two consecutive starts for the first time in his career.

The Marlins found themselves dropping two series to teams they, on paper, should have been able to rack up some wins against in Arizona and Minnesota. The story around the Marlins clubhouse continues to be the mid-season slump of slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who continued his skid at the plate last week, despite breaking his own record for the hardest hit ball professionally.

And then there’s the Phillies and Braves. I think it’s safe to officially write off the Phils as a potential x-factor in the MLB now, as they have dropped 13 of their last 16 games, and are now 10 games back of the Nats. Atlanta had a lot of expectations coming into the week, having to play three games against the Cubs, but they also had to play another one of the worst teams in baseball, the Padres. That series didn’t give Braves fans a lot to celebrate about either, as their Braves continue to have the worst record in the MLB.

Now let’s jump in to get a closer look around the NL East.

1. Washington Nationals (39-24) 

Jayson Werth had another big week for the Nats, including a walk-off double on Sunday. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

The Nationals remain atop the East, and actually doubled their lead this week thanks to a rough week by New York. The Nats offense was out in force this week, and is still the main reason I favor the Nats over the rest of this division. The Nationals saw a lot of production from several different guys this week, surprisingly, Jayson Werth found himself atop that list with eight RBIs, a homer, and a .500 batting average last week. Werth continues to be a guy who has hot weeks out of nowhere that really help the Nationals in the offense category. Despite some questions concerning his effectiveness at 37 years old at the start of the year, Werth has put together a solid year so far. He’s got ten homers, 35 RBIs, and is hitting .245. While it’s far from a star-studded season, it’s a great step up from last year’s 12-homer, .221 season (albeit he only played in 88 games).

Another bat with a surprisingly good week was Danny Espinosa, who hit three homers, four RBIs, and batted .429 last week. Espinosa is still hitting below-average on the year with a .220 batting average on the year, but his power has begun to become a factor as of late, hitting eight of his 11 season homers in the last 15 games. Daniel Murphy, while having a surprisingly low .227 batting average last week, continues to be a RBI machine, driving in five more runs last week, and taking the team lead with 42 on the year. Meanwhile, both Ben Revere and Michael Taylor had strong weeks at the plate, making manager Dusty Baker’s job of deciding between the two at center field increasingly harder. Revere hit .400 with two RBIs, while Taylor hit .389 with three RBIs. I think it’s a good problem for Baker to have, however, especially looking at how some of the other offenses in the division are doing.

On the mound, Stephen Strasburg became the first NL pitcher since Andy Hawkins in 1985 to start a season 10-0. He has a chance to tie Hawkins’ 11-0 record for the best opening record for a NL starting pitcher since the start of the live ball era (in the 1920s). Strasburg’s 10-0 start deserves a lot of credit, yes, but his win was certainly not the prettiest of Strasburg’s career, surrendering four runs in seven innings to the Phillies on Friday. Strasburg has statistically been the greatest beneficiary of the Nationals’ offense this year, with Washington averaging 7.53 runs per nine innings in Strasburg starts.

Tanner Roark had another excellent start against the Phillies on Saturday, not allowing a run in seven innings. While Roark doesn’t draw as much attention as some of his fellow Nats starters, he currently has four starts that have gone seven or more innings with no runs allowed. This puts him in some pretty elite company, as Clayton Kershaw also has four of these starts, and Jake Arietta leads the MLB with five. The rest of the Washington staff has four of those starts combined. Max Scherzer had one of those four starts on Wednesday, where he also went seven innings of scoreless baseball against the White Sox. Jonathan Papelbon continues to slightly struggle in the bullpen, surrendering the go-ahead homer to Maikel Franco on Sunday night in what was a tied game in the ninth inning. Luckily for Papelbon, the Nats offense came through with a two-run, walk-off double from Jayson Werth to win in the bottom half of the inning.

The Nationals get a second chance against the Cubs this week, who swept them the first time the teams met. They then play four games in San Diego against the Padres.

2. New York Mets (34-28) 4.5 GB

The Mets lost ground this week, despite winning three games in a row in the middle of the week, and now sit over twice as far back as they did last week. Injuries are not a friend to the Mets right now, who are already down first baseman Lucas Duda and third baseman David Wright. Michael Conforto is currently battling wrist soreness as well, which would further hinder a Mets offense that is already struggling with consistency. Wrist problems would explain Conforto’s current woes at the plate; he went just .105 at the plate last week, but did knock a three-run homer against the Pirates on Wednesday.

Curtis Granderson led the way for the Mets this week, slugging another three homers to boost his season total to 12. Granderson is still not putting up typical leadoff-hitter numbers, batting just .218 this season,  but he’s been effective in the power department and has drawn his fair share of walks, with a .316 OBP this year. Yoenis Cespedes continues to be the Mets most productive hitter, hitting another homer and driving in three men this week. He’s got a team-high 16 homers on the year and 40 RBIs to boot, both of which are top 10 in the NL.

The Mets’ affinity for the long ball has cost them as of late, however. They led the league in homers in mid-May, but now rank 7th in the MLB, and as their homer production has fallen, so has their runs. The Mets are 28th in the MLB in total runs scored, which is unheard of for a team that so many teams saw making a playoff push.

The best starts on the mound last week came from the two guys you’d least expect them to come from this year, Matt Harvey and Bartolo Colon. Harvey threw six innings of one-run ball on Friday, giving him just two earned runs allowed in his past three starts. Colon, meanwhile, went seven innings with just one run allowed against the Brewers on Thursday, and was the only Mets starter to get himself a win last week.

Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom both suffered losses last week, Matz suffering a pair of losses against the Pirates and the Brewers. DeGrom went six innings and allowed three runs and took the loss, despite striking out nine on Tuesday against the Pirates. The loss was deGrom’s first decision in his past six starts (the prior decision also being a loss against the Padres on May 5th. Matz lost two consecutive starts for the first time in his career last week. He allowed two earned runs in five innings against the Pirates, and four earned runs in six innings against the Brewers. Those six earned runs eclipse his total for all of May (5) in just his first two June starts. We’ll see how Matz rebounds since, even though every pitcher drops a couple of games here and there, it can still have an impact on a very young Matz’s confidence.

The Mets are at home all week this week, starting with a three game rematch against the Pirates before the Braves come to town for the weekend.

3. Miami Marlins (32-31) 7 GB

The Marlins also had a rough week on the road last week, only scraping together a couple of wins against the Twins and the D-Backs. Despite that, Marcell Ozuna continues to hit fire, driving in eight runs and tying Giancarlo Stanton for the team lead in homers with 12. Ozuna has hit a very impressive .345 in his past 30 games, with 20 RBI and slugging a strong .595.

And while young Ozuna continues to be a boon to the Marlins offense, a couple of seasoned vets are proving that they can also hang with the young whippersnappers of the team as well. Martin Prado reclaimed the team’s highest batting average last week, after hitting .480 with a couple of RBIs. His season average now sits just a few ticks above Ozuna at .323. Ichiro also continues to take advantage of his newfound starting time, hitting .471  and driving in three as well. Justin Bour also deserves an honorable mention, as he became just the sixth player in Marlins history to belt a pinch-hit grand slam. Bour’s slam highlighted a seven run seventh inning on Friday against the Diamondbacks.

Jose Fernandez’s perfect run is finally over, as he suffered his first loss in a month and a half on Saturday against Arizona. Fernandez surrendered four runs in six innings, but kept the season K count high with another eight punch outs. Tom Koehler turned in the best outing of any Marlins starter on Thursday, going six innings and surrendering two runs.

The rest of the Marlins arms continue their struggle however, as Justin Nicolino and Wei-Yin Chen both yielded five runs in their starts last week. Chen mustered just 5.1 and only struck out two Twins on Wednesday while Nicolino struck out six through 5.2 against the D-Backs on Friday. Despite their rough starts, neither pitcher was given the loss. Adam Conley was the only other Marlins starter to lose a game last week. Conley went a cumulative 11.2 innings and gave up eight runs in his two starts last week. He suffered the loss on the back of his five inning, five run start against Arizona on Saturday.

The Marlins finish their road trip with three games in San Diego before coming home and hosting the Rockies over the weekend.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (29-34) 10 GB

Tommy Joseph continues to hit well since being brought up from the Minors this year. Photo courtesy of metro.us.

Someone apparently threw a beer bottle at Ryan Howard earlier this month. That pretty much sums up how this month has gone so far for the Phillies. Or maybe it just shows that Phillies fans are done with Howard, because his replacement, Tommy Joseph, turned in another impressive week at the office last week. Joseph led the team with three more home runs and five RBIs, a welcome sight at the plate for fans who were used to seeing unproductive at-bats from their cleanup man for the past few years.

Cody Asche saw starting time in left field this week, returning from a rehab assignment in Reading, and delivered his first homer of the year. Asche returned from the DL last week, with Philly sending David Lough back for assignment. Asche is another young outfielder the Phillies are hoping to develop down the road, as the team further matures. Freddy Galvis continues to show that he’s another young stud Phils fans can hope to see a lot more of in the future, with four more RBIs this week. Maikel Franco also hit a homer this week, to give the Phils a one-run lead in the top of the 9th inning on Sunday against the Nationals. Unfortunately, the bullpen was unable to seal the deal.

Bad news on the pitching front, as starter Vince Velazquez ended up on the DL last week with a bicep strain. Velazquez left his start against the Cubs after just two pitches, and was placed on the 15-day DL on Friday. Luis Garcia has been recalled from triple-A Lehigh Valley. To further the bad news, everyone else on the Phillies staff had a rough go of things as well last week. Aaron Nola lasted just 3.2 on Saturday against the Nats, yielding four runs. Meanwhile Jeremy Hellickson made it six innings on Friday, but he gave up seven runs against Washington. Even Jeanmar Gomez struggled over the weekend, blowing just his second save on the year on Sunday.

I’ll end it for Phillies on a high note, however, Jerad Eickhoff. Eickhoff went seven innings and surrendered just one run on two hits against the Cubs on Tuesday, in the Phils’ only win last week.

The Phillies play Toronto for four games, two on the road followed by two at home, before playing the Diamondbacks over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (18-44) 20.5 GB

Actually, I’ll start this segment off with some more good news for the Phillies fans. Your rebuilding season hasn’t been as rough as Atlanta’s. The Braves swiped a couple of games last week, one in San Diego and one from the Cubs. Nick Markakis is turning things around in June, after a slow end of May, with another three RBIs last week. Ender Inciarte also delivered with three RBIs and a .400 mark on the week, although he wasn’t able to swipe any bags. Chase D’Arnaud was able to nab a couple, however, as he continues to prove himself as a promising speed prospect for the Braves. Adonis Garcia and Tyler Flowers were the only Braves hitters who left the yard last week, still showing how little power this Braves team has.  The offense just continues to show how much help it needs, and as the trade deadline approaches, it’ll be interesting to see if Atlanta makes any moves in hopes of securing some potential hitting prospects.

On the mound, both Bud Norris and Julio Teheran got wins for Atlanta. Norris has had a couple of good starts since returning from the bullpen, surrendering just one run in each of them. He went seven innings against the Cubs and allowed just one run during that time to get the Braves their only win of the series against Chicago. Teheran, who had had a couple of iffy starts after a stellar May, surrendered just two runs in eight innings against the Padres to help Atlanta avoid the sweep.

Aside from Teheran and Norris, it wasn’t pretty for Braves starters. Matt Wisler continues to be in a funk, surrendering five runs in just four innings. Williams Perez, who hasn’t been great but has at least been solid so far this year, was roughed up on Monday in San Diego. John Gant became another young pitcher to start for the Braves this season, but it wasn’t the most memorable of starts on Sunday against the Cubs. Gant mustered just 4.1 innings, surrendering two runs during that time.

The Braves trudge on in 2016, hosting the Reds for four games before heading to the Big Apple for a three game set against the Mets over the weekend.

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NL East: Draft Needs and Potential Picks

As the season nears the halfway point and many players continue to get more experience under their belts, Thursday’s MLB Draft brings in a new class of young guys, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, just starting what they hope to be long and storied professional baseball careers. Of course, the stories about these guys will differ dramatically based on where they end up, and where they end up relies a lot on what they bring to the table, along with what a specific team needs. Here, I’ll try to diagnose what the teams in the National League East should be looking for, based on what they’ve displayed thus far in 2016, and try to make some predictions on who they’ll end up taking in the first round. We’ll look at the teams in the order they’re drafting on Thursday.

Philadelphia Phillies (#1 Overall)

As we’ve seen from the offense this year, a few young hitters with some more pop in the bat could, theoretically, be great for the Phillies organization. However, some of the younger guys on this team: namely Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera, have shown that the Phillies do have some of the pieces they seem to need on offense already. Joseph is proving to be a more consistent hitter than his comrade at first base, Ryan Howard, has been in recent years, while Maikel Franco is providing good pop at the plate with ten homers on the year so far. Herrera has hit well, with a .319 average, and shows good potential as a leadoff hitter. They aren’t the only young guys who have hit well, but they’re an example of the offense to come in the Phils organization.

A.J. Puk is currently the favorite to go first overall in the 2016 draft. Photo courtesy of desmoinesregister.com

With that said, and with the way many other experts see it, the Phillies may very well be looking to grab a pitcher with the first overall pick this year. While there isn’t a clear favorite in the draft this year, like in years past with Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg, Florida’s A.J. Puk is currently the name being thrown around the most as the favorite to go first overall. While it may seem strange for the Phillies to be looking for starting pitching, as the pitching is what kept them competitive in the MLB for so long this year, strong starters are always a hot commodity in today’s MLB. Just look at the Atlanta Braves farm system, considered to be the best in the MLB. The Phillies rotation has also looked a lot more human as of late, especially with Vince Velazquez leaving his latest start after just two pitches with bicep soreness, and Puk could hopefully be another rock in that rotation, similar to what Aaron Nola has been so far. Puk also has the vitals to draw the attention of Big League scouts, at 6’7″ 230 lbs. with a high-90s fastball and a nasty breaking slider, Puk looks to have the stuff for the MLB too.

 

Atlanta Braves (#3 Overall)

The Braves are having an off year in the MLB, yes, but that doesn’t take away from the enviable talent they have down on the farm. The Braves have a plethora of young pitching talent, along with two of the better young middle-infield duos in the Minor Leagues. This year has made it even more evident that what the team really needs is power, and a lot of it. Freddie Freeman and Mallex Smith are the only guys on the team with at least three home runs on the year. Austin Riley currently seems to be the Braves best bet at a potential slugger in the current system, but he still needs some work on his approach at the plate to avoid becoming the next incarnation of Adam Dunn.

With a lot of current mock drafts listing Nick Senzel, the third-basemen out of Tennessee as the projected number two pick by the Reds, a lot of people see the Braves taking a chance on the southpaw straight out of Barnegat high school in New Jersey, Jason Groome. There is a lot of talk about Groome being arguably the most talented player in the draft, with a killer arsenal of pitches at his disposal. With the unpredictable nature of pitchers coming straight out of high school, a this pick is considered a gamble the Braves would be willing to take, given their willingness

Kyle Lewis, out of Mercer, may be the draft’s top power prospect this year. Photo courtesy of d1baseball.com

to spend money on more picks and abundance of available pitching prospects if he doesn’t pan out.

If the Braves do end up going for a batter, and Senzel is taken by the Reds at #2, then Mercer Bears outfielder, Kyle Lewis, is another guy the Braves may lean towards. Lewis has some of the best power of all hitters in the draft, hitting 20 homers this year with Mercer, and 39 in his three-year baseball career there. Corey Ray is another tempting batter, as he offers a little less power than Lewis, but a lot of speed to compensate. The Louisville outfielder hit 15 homers this year, but also swiped 44 bags, for career totals of 27 homers and 82 steals.

 

Miami Marlins (#7 Overall)

Matt Manning could be the Marlins’ newest draft pick. Photo courtesy of perfectgame.org

 

Aside from Jose Fernandez, the Marlins are still lacking in the arms department. They’ve shown with Fernandez, however, that their system has the ability to develop some of the best pitching in the MLB. Given that and the team’s ability to hit this year, we should see Miami chase the best available pitching prospect still available by the time their number is called.

Following the thought processes of other mock drafts, the best available pitching prospect by that time will most likely be Matt Manning, out of Sheldon High School in California. Manning is another kid who is a bit of a risk, since he’s coming straight out of high school, but has a lot of upside given the stuff he throws. His breaking ball already looks like it’s ready for The Bigs, whenever it’s on, and you can’t argue with mid-to-high 90s on a fastball either. If, by some travesty, Groome is still on the board when the Marlins come up, he’s also a potential pickup for Miami, but realistically we’ll see Manning headed to Miami (and no, we’re not talking about the NFL).

 

New York Mets (#19 Overall) 

Will Craig hit 37 homers and drove in 160 RBIs during his career at Wake Forest. Photo courtesy of baseballamerica.com

The Mets don’t need pitching, I think that’s abundantly obvious to everybody who follows baseball at this point. Their rotation is still considered one of the best in baseball, so the offense is where they’ll look to improve in the draft.

The Mets have apparently voiced a lot of interest in Wake Forest third-baseman, Will Craig, who will probably be the best bat left on the board by this point. The Mets interest in Craig has become quite apparent to the baseball public, whether intentional or not, so barring something mind boggling happening earlier on in the draft, expect to hear Craig’s name called when the Mets’ time to pick finally rolls around. He hit 16 homers this year, in a very strong Atlantic Coast Conference, to bring his career total to 37.

 

Washington Nationals (#28 and #29 Overall)

The Nationals don’t get an official first-round pick in this year’s draft, as they expended it to sign Daniel Murphy in the offseason, (which appears to have paid off nicely) but they do receive two compensatory picks for losing Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond to the Tigers and Rangers respectively. With that said, by this point in the draft all of the big names will have been taken, especially with the apparent lack of them in this year’s draft, so the Nationals will just look to fill the gaps where they see them, and acquire the best talent still available to them.

With that in mind, the Nats may look to grab guys like Matt Thaiss, a catcher out of Virginia, and TJ Zeuch, a pitcher from Pittsburgh, according to mock draft sites. I think Thaiss is a guy who is very similar to Wilson Ramos at the plate, a consistent hitter with some potential power to boot and a solid glove behind the plate. He has a career .986 fielding percentage and a .387 caught stealing percentage behind the plate for Virgina. Zeuch, meanwhile has the vitals of an MLB pitcher, at 6’7″ 225 lbs. and a career 205 strikeouts in 213 innings.

 

Information from ESPN.com and CBSsports.com were used in this report.