Firing Dusty Baker will not solve the Nationals’ woes

Being a Nationals fan has got to be tough. For the fourth time since 2012, Washington has finished the regular season with at least 95 wins. That makes them one of the more successful regular season teams in that span. They have not had a losing season since 2011, so one would think they would have at least won a playoff series by now right? Well, it’s not that simple for Washington apparently.

On Friday the Nationals fired Dusty Baker, making him the third Washington manager to be canned since 2013. What is interesting to note with the two other managers that have been fired (Davey Johnson and Matt Williams), is that each of those managers won the NL Manager of the Year while in Washington. Not only that, but they won the award the year before they each got fired.

Dusty Baker did not win Manager of the Year while in Washington, but that does not mean he should be used as a scapegoat for the Nationals’ failures.

Ownership is addressing the wrong issues

Nationals

Baker is the third Nationals manager to be axed in five years (SI.com)

The only real issue with the managerial position in Washington is its lack of stability. After Dusty Baker was brought in after the 2015 season, Bryce Harper was ecstatic.

After two years, the front office doesn’t seem to think that this All-Star staff is cutting it. Which begs the question: What will? What manager is out there that will be able to change to the culture and play of Washington so much that it will help them win game 5 of the NLDS?

This is what it really comes down to. In 2012, 2016 and 2017, the Nationals got to game 5 of the NLDS. Only one win away on three occasions were the Nationals from winning their first playoff series in franchise history. They obviously have not been able to get it done though.

Washington has built one of the most solid rosters in all of baseball. It is difficult to point out a whole lot of issues at any position. Especially after management traded for some reliable relief pitchers during the summer. That is what makes it difficult for them to blame the players for the inability to follow through in the postseason.

Since 2012, the Nationals are second in the majors in regular season wins. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the one team ahead of them, and it is only by four wins. Thus, it is reasonable to say the Nationals have put together a solid team of players that know how to win. When it comes down to clutch time, the inability to move on in the postseason falls squarely on the shoulders of the players.

Dusty Baker managed under a microscope

By saying the Nationals played under a microscope, what is really meant is that Dusty Baker managed under a microscope. What he had to be thinking in the back of his head during every move in the postseason is whether or not the move would get him fired.

Ownership never necessarily were fans of Baker. Washington originally wanted Bud Black, but when that fell through they hired Dusty Baker. With him getting the Nationals to the postseason twice in two years, it is hard to believe this firing has much to do with performance. Baker probably thought his job was on the line from the moment he started.

Having managers worrying about their jobs at all times is not the way to run an organization. It can lead to impulsive decisions and make a manager do what they think ownership wants them to do.

The Nationals knew this was the year they needed to really prove themselves. They have one of the most well put together teams in baseball, and showed they were during the regular season. A 97-65 record and finishing 20 games in front of the second place in your division is nothing to be taken for granted.

Inability to come through in the clutch

Nationals

The Nationals watched another team advance to the NLCS on their home field (SB Nation)

Teams get defined by their postseason performance. In 2012, the Nationals were favored to beat the Cardinals in the NLDS. The series was pushed to five games where the Nationals had the home field. The Nationals had a 7-5 lead, and Drew Storen blew it in the ninth by giving up four runs and losing the game.

In 2016 the Nationals were pushed to another game 5 where they had home field advantage. Washington had a one-run advantage going into the seventh against the Dodgers, where they then exploded for four runs and eventually won the game 4-3. In that seventh inning, there were five pitchers and none of them faced more than two batters.

This year, the Nationals were down 2-1 to the Cubs. They fought back in order to force (wait for it) another game 5 in Washington. It was another hard-fought game, but the Nationals’ mental errors cost them.

Where the Nationals really got hurt was the defensively play of their catcher, Matt Wieters, who had two errors and a passed ball. He ultimately cost the Nationals three runs in a game where they scored eight.

The players themselves need to be held more accountable for their inability to come through when it matters.

What the Nationals can do

Nationals

2018 will most likely be Harper’s final year in Washington (Sports Illustrated)

It is too late now, but what the Nationals need is stability at the managerial position. The constant coaching carousel in Washington makes it difficult for players to truly get behind their leader.

However, it seems unlikely for that to happen when their next manager (who is yet to be decided on) will probably be on their way out the door before the 2021 season.

Here is a bold statement: The Nationals should trade Bryce Harper. Now, that would never happen in a million years. However, what the front office should think about is what is going to happen this year.

Washington will probably not get the experienced manager they are looking for. If the past is any indication, they will reach the postseason again where they will lose it in the NLDS.

Bryce Harper is in a walk year, and is anticipating a massive haul for his services. Ten years, $400 million is not out of the question for Harper who will be 26 when he hits the market, and has already cemented himself as one of the best hitters in the league.

The Nationals won’t be able to give him that payload, and it doesn’t seem Harper is thrilled about staying in Washington. If the Nationals were to trade one year of Bryce Harper to another contending team, they could get players who could help out immediately as well as good prospects. Now, the chances of succeeding this one year with Harper are slimmer, but it would be much better for their future.

Harper is going to have his fourth manager since he joined the league in 2012. That has to be frustrating for any player. One would think that doesn’t bode well for his opinion on ownership. Especially considering they can’t manage to keep solid leadership in the clubhouse. It also gives off the impression that they don’t necessarily know what they are doing. Either way, Washington has a lot to think about this offseason.

 

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Kershaw

Will Kershaw prove himself in the NLCS?

Playoff success has eluded Kershaw who is now in his seventh career postseason. Don’t be mistaken, he has not been unreliable by any stretch of the imagination. However, he has shown that he can be prone to blow up in playoff games. In 16 career playoff starts he has given up four or more runs on six occasions. In the 2017 season, Kershaw only allowed four or more runs in 27 starts.

It will be unpredictable

Kershaw

Despite Kershaw’s solid record in regular season play, he struggles to be reliable in October (Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

One way to see how a pitcher may fair in certain match ups is what their history against the opposing team looks like. Kershaw faced the Chicago Cubs in last year’s postseason in two separate starts. Each start garnered two very results.

In game two of the 2016 NLCS Kershaw had the Cubs’ number. He managed to cash in seven innings shut out innings while only holding the Cubs to two hits. One would think he would be able to save the Dodgers season when they were on the hook in game 6 of the series, right?

Wrong.

Clayton Kershaw had four earned runs in five innings pitched, which included two home runs. Usually when dealing with a guy like Kershaw, you can tell when he has a hitter’s number. He is the most dominant pitcher of the past decade and does not look like he is slowing down in his regular season play. The playoffs look to be a whole other story though. If the Cubs push through to the NLCS, they may have a pretty good shot at getting to him. Their recent history against the Dodgers’ ace is much stronger than the Nationals.

Washington has struggled against the lefty during the regular season the past couple of years. In two regular season starts in the past two seasons, Kershaw has held the Nationals to just two runs in 14 innings pitched. This makes it seems like it would be a breeze if they met in the playoffs. However, the Nationals tattooed Kershaw for eight runs in 11.2 innings last postseason.

The Dodgers need him

Los Angeles has been to the NLCS four times since 2008. As you probably know, they haven’t won a single one of those series. Much of that may be because of their ace not showing up when it is needed most. Kershaw has made five NLCS starts in his career, and the Dodgers have only won a single game out of those five.

The Dodgers prided themselves on their pitching this season. It was the best pitching staff in the majors by far, especially after they picked up Yu Darvish. The Kershaw, Darvish, Hill, Wood combo is going to cause fits for any team they face in the postseason. This year may be different for that reason. Los Angeles isn’t nearly as reliant on Kershaw as they have been in the past because of the depth of their rotation in bullpen.

The commonality between all of the NLCS appearances they have lost though are Kershaw’s poor performances. Now is the time for the lefty to prove himself in the postseason.

Kershaw needs it for his legacy

Kershaw

Every great athlete is heavily judged by their postseason performance (Photo by Washington Times)

Clayton Kershaw is already a lock for Cooperstown. Some writers say that even if Kershaw were to retire at the end of this season, he would still get into the Hall of Fame despite only being 29 years old.

What Kershaw doesn’t want to happen is get the Dan Marino reputation. Marino is known as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. However, he is also remembered as one of the greatest to never win a championship. Kershaw has yet to even make it to the World Series. With the team he has around him, the time is now for him to prove himself and propel his team to a championship.

The Dodgers currently have a solid setup. Their team is getting some extra rest as they swept the Diamondbacks out of the postseason while the Cubs and Nationals have battled it out to a fifth game. If the NLCS happens to go to seven games, there is a good chance that Kershaw will get the nod in a decisive seventh game depending on his performance.

Kershaw is already in the mix for one of the greatest pitchers ever. In order to keep him in that top echelon of pitchers, he will need to pitch when it matters most. If he is able to put together the starts we all know he is capable of, the Dodgers will feel good about their chances of ending their 30 year championship drought.

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

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

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

Why it Matters

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Astros

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Dodgers

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

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Field

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

avoiding elimination game drama

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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World Series baseball fans need

The World Series baseball fans need

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

Why not the Indians

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

world series

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

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

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

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

Why not the Yankees

No.

Futility in Washington… or is it Montreal?

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

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

Houston Strong

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World Series baseball fans need 

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

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

world series baseball fans need

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

MLB Postseason 2017 wild card bonanza

As the final chapter of MLB’s regular season comes to a close, a new chapter in baseball’s postseason lore is about to be written. Baseball fans are about to witness the MLB Postseason 2017 wild card bonanza!

The one game “play in” scenario is in its sixth season and there is no shortage of drama. We have an upstart young group in Minnesota heading in to Ruth’s house. Then we have division foes Colorado traveling to the desert to face the Diamondbacks. In the match-ups between slugger and pitcher, something’s got to give.

Before we turn the page to both the ALDS and NLDS however, we must first crown our two fully fledged members of the playoff court. When the dust settles, who will have slain the wild card dragon?

Minnesota @ New York  

Probable starters:

Minnesota: Ervin Santana (16-8) 3.28 ERA 7.1 K/9

New York: Luis Severino (14-6) 2.98 ERA 10.7 K/9

During the regular season the Yankees owned the head to head match up with four wins from six games. Each team bagged the home series as Minnesota took two of three from New York in Minneapolis, while New York swept the Twins right out of Yankee Stadium.

Why Minnesota wins:

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

The Minnesota Twins are hoping to ride another 85-win season to Wold Series glory like in 1987. (Photo courtesy of: sportslogos.net)

Minnesota, while not being world beaters by any stretch of the imagination, are a team that just finds a way to get it done. Finishing in the final wild card spot on the back of an 85-win season is a heck of a turnabout from their diabolical 59-win output a year ago. Included in those 85 wins is a (44-37) road record, which is better than how they fared at Target Field (41-40).

This is the Twins’ saving grace. They have been a slightly better road team this year than they have played at home. In a one game do or die situation on the road they will rely on their best pitcher, Ervin Santana, put together a strong outing. Last time he faced New York, Santana pitched 5.1 innings of two run ball, but the Twins found themselves on the wrong end of the box score losing 2-1.

If the Twins can get to Severino early and Santana can use his veteran guile and steady hand to silence the Yankee bats, they will win this game. The good news for the Twins is that all the pressure is off of them and lies squarely at the feet of New York.

Why New York wins:

Because… well, they are New York. They have a team that is loaded to bear and could do some tremendous damage in the postseason. They have a pitching staff anchored by the amazing young righthander, Luis Severino and a lineup bolstered by baseball bashing phenom, Aaron Judge.

Let’s face it. Most people probably expect the Yankees to walk away with this game and they might be right to think that come Wednesday.The Yankees are better in almost every category, though these teams offensively are much closer than you might expect.

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Luis Severino will challenge any hitter brave enough to dig in against him. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The true difference that separates these clubs is pitching. New York has the fifth ranked pitching staff in all of MLB, and the Twins will get a taste of that when they face Severino on Tuesday. This young hurler is a strikeout artist in the making, and the Twins will most certainly be on their heels (or swinging from them).

And then there is Aaron Judge. What hasn’t already been said about this guy? He’s probably put together the greatest (arguably!) rookie season in the history of baseball. He will be looking to double down on his already growing reputation by stamping his name on Yankee postseason history like the greats that came before him.

My pick:

Look, I love an underdog and Minnesota is just that. New York will be heavy favorites but I’m taking Minnesota to win 5-4. On the back of a big day for the returning Miguel Sano, the Twins will find enough juice to do the unthinkable; break the Yankee Mystique.

 

Colorado @ Arizona

Probable Starters:

Colorado: Jon Gray (10-4) 3.67 ERA 9.1 K/9

Arizona: Zack Greinke (17-7) 3.20 ERA 9.6 K/9

Colorado edged out the Milwaukee Brewers by a slim margin to set up a fateful meeting between two teamsthat see each other often. Arizona leads the 19-game season series (11-8), but the teams split the season in Arizona winning five games each. The Rockies will be looking to turn the tables on Cy Young candidate Zack Grienke and his Diamondbacks teammates.

Why Colorado wins:

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Charlie Blackmon runs the bases in his spare time… probably. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Their offense. Colorado has some nice young pitchers who may well bloom in to a fine staff, but the name of the game for the Rockies is scoring runs and they do it well.

It’s not often you will see a lineup that boasts not one but two candidates for league MVP, but this is exactly what Colorado has in 3B Nolan Arenado and CF Charlie Blackmon. Arenado (.309/.373/.586) mashed 37 long balls and drove in 130 runs to keep with the tradition of strong seasons he’s already compiled. While Blackmon (.331/.399/.601) sent his own set of 37 baseballs into the lucky arms of those ball-wanting bleacher bums in the outfield cheap seats.

Jon Gray has been the best pitcher in Colorado’s (shaky at times) rotation. This 25-year-old hurler is the best chance they have at beating Arizona in a one-off game at Chase Field. In his last 11 starts, Gray is (7-2) with a 2.44 ERA.

Why Arizona wins:

Zack Greinke. If Greinke has his best stuff, it’s going to take a Harvey Haddix-esque fluke to derail Arizona’s hopes in this game. Greinke dominates with a heavy heater and a knee buckling curve that, year after year, make the best look weak. Over his last 11 starts though, he’s been a tad shaky at (4-3) with a 3.95 ERA. Of course, when those competitive juices get going though, Greinke should be able to get dialed right in.

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Few are as overpowering as the hard throwing Zack Greinke, but hey batter,
watch out for the hammer. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Also in Arizona, you will find an offense that can score at will. If they are feeling the groove at the plate, look out. Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldshchmidt has put together a MVP caliber (.297/.404/.563) season in the arid climes of Phoenix. In a crowded field though, Goldschmidt is a dark horse contender for the NL MVP. He likely won’t take home that hardware, but it doesn’t make his 120 RBI any less valuable to the fans or his team.

For those that don’t know, Arizona won it all in 2001. Backed by a pitching staff bolstered by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Diamondback fans will be hoping to catch a little of that lightning in a bottle once again in 2017.

My pick:

Greinke is too tough to solve for the Rockies. Zack’s recent run of performances haven’t looked that great, but giving up eight runs in a four inning outing will tend to do that. At any rate, Greinke rebounds with a dominant seven innings and the Diamnondbacks win 6-3 on a late Goldschmidt three-run tater.

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Boston CBS)

 

 

 

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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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Everything You Need to Know About the AL Playoffs

As the one game wild card playoffs are finishing up, now is a good time to look at each American League team and determine what will push them to win it all, or what could end up being each team’s downfall. The Boston Red Sox start their series against the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers will faceoff against the Toronto Blue Jays, who won the wildcard one game playoff against the Baltimore Orioles this past Tuesday. Both series commence on Thursday, October 6th, with the Jays vs. Rangers series at 4:30pm and the Red Sox vs. Indians series at 8pm on TBS.

 

The Boston Red Sox (93-69)

big-papi

David Ortiz has had a phenomenal last season. Will he be able to finish his career with another World Series champions celebration? Photo courtesy of John Tlu Macki of the Boston Globe

The Red Sox come into the playoffs as the AL team with the third best record. Do not let that fool you, however, as the Sox may be the most complete team in the AL. The lineup, top to bottom, may not have as much true power as the Blue Jays, but still contains three hitters with over 30 hr’s during the season (Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and David Ortiz). Betts is a potential regular season MVP (As outlined in one of my articles from last week) and David Ortiz has been Mr. Clutch during the Red Sox last three World Series runs. The true question mark around the lineup is whether the youth that powered the team, aka the Killer B’s (Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., and Benintendi) will be able to handle the added pressure surrounding the MLB Postseason.

The Red Sox’s biggest question mark entering the season surrounded the pitching rotation. As the season progressed, however, the rotation became one of the Sox’s biggest strengths. Rick Porcello, often considered nothing more than a middle of the rotation starter, has pitched a potential Cy Young season, finishing with 22 wins on the year. David Price is the big money man, brought in to be the ace, may not have lived up to the expectations of years past, but is still a strong number two. The bullpen was a bit of a question mark during much of the season, but the Sox brought in Brad Ziegler from the Diamondbacks. Since about mid-August, the bullpen has stepped up and dominated competition, turning a concern into a strength as well.

The Red Sox have the pleasure of matching up against the Cleveland Indians in the NLDS, who will provide a difficult matchup for the Sox as the series progresses.

 

Cleveland Indians (94-68)

corey-kluber

Corey Kluber has put together a Cy Young worthy season. Can he rally the injury riddled rotation and carry the Tribe past the Red Sox? Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

The Indians came into a season as a favorite only if you were an Ohioan. The Kansas City Royals were coming off a World Series and the Detroit Tigers had seemingly upgraded their lineup by signing Justin Upton in the offseason. It was the Indians, however who ended up with the division crown on the back of one of the best young pitching rotations in the majors (maybe even better than the New York Mets’ young staff).

Yet, as the final months rolled around, half of the young core hit the disabled list, and leaves question marks as to how the Indians’ three man rotation will matchup with the Red Sox. Corey Kluber put together a ridiculous season pitching, putting himself in line for a potential Cy Young by finishing near the top of every pitching category in the American League. Inconsistency is Trevor Bauer’s, the Indians Game 1 starter, middle name. Josh Tomlin has not given up more than 2 runs in any of his last five starts, but was rather inconsistent leading up to September. The bullpen, much like the rotation, has been pretty strong through the season. Cody Allen is one of the more underrated closers in baseball, as he has just accumulated saves consistently while maintaining an ERA around 2.5. Andrew Miller was brought over at the deadline to give the Indians the best setup man in baseball.

The rotation may be questionable, but the lineup is not. A healthy mix of youngsters and seasoned veterans fill the squad as postseason looms. Mike Napoli, a postseason regular with the Red Sox previously, fills the veteran role for the team and will power the Indians through the series. Tyler Naquin has put together a surprising rookie campaign for the Tribe and just gets on base regularly for a team that is less about hitting homeruns and more about small ball baseball. One of the most underrated trades of the deadline saw Brandon Guyer go to the Indians who just rakes as well, scraping together an OBP of .438 since the deadline for the Tribe. All this talk surrounding the lineup does not even include the stud middle infielders the Tribe have built around of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis who have Indians fans excited for the team’s postseason potential.

The Indians will put up a good fight against the Red Sox, but despite owning home field advantage, will fall to the Red Sox in 6 games, as Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin do not inspire much hope for the Tribe. If the Tribe had Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar healthy, this would be an entirely different conversation.

 

Texas Rangers (95-67)

The Rangers came into the regular season as the favorites in a weak AL West division. The Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners put up a fight for awhile, but the Rangers kept winning and slowly gained ground on both teams as the season progressed. By the time the Rangers were officially crowned division champs, it was a mere formality, as the chance was slim since the beginning of September for either team to challenge the Rangers for the crown. Having the best record in the American League will give the Rangers home field advantage throughout both the ALDS and ALCS rounds, but that is not the only thing the Rangers have going for them.

The Texas Rangers lineup have five players with at least 20 hr’s and most the team have been in the playoffs together multiple times. Adrian Beltre, the ageless wonder at third base, leads the lineup as he has 32 hr’s and a.300 batting average this season. Rougned Odor, the young stud second basemen, has chipped in 33 hr’s of his own (a rare sign for a middle infielder) and has double digit stolen bases as well. He does not walk much, but if Odor puts wood on the ball, he is going for extra bases. Jonathan Lucroy was picked up at the deadline (after Lucroy spurned the Indians) and has provided consistency at the single position the Rangers had issues with throughout the season. The Rangers lineup is in their peak right now, so they will be exciting to watch as the series progresses.

The Rangers also have the pitching to provide support to the lineup. The two headed monster of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish provide two aces at the top of the rotation. Darvish has been pitching better of late, so he will probably get the ball Game 1. The third spot in the playoff rotation leaves the rotation a little shaky, but if Hamels and Darvish can pitch on shortened rest, they may only need Martin Perez to pitch a single game for them in the NLDS. The bullpen is solid, with Sam Dyson closing down games with great success lately, only giving up one earned run in the last ten innings. Dyson was inconsistent midseason, but has come around and looked the part of a closer, despite a lower than usual K rate for a closer. Matt Bush may be one of the best free agency pickups as the former top pick has redeemed his life and career in Texas, performing well in the setup role for the Rangers.

rougned-odor

The animosity is strong between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. Will the hate carry over into the ALCS and hurt the Rangers’ chance at a World Series run? Photo courtesy of Richard Rodriguez of the AP.

The Texas Rangers have the best record in the AL because of just how complete the team is. The lineup and rotation have playoff experience and stability throughout. The bullpen, though inexperienced, has looked good of late. If there is one thing holding the Rangers back, it will be the animosity (The link leads to the brawl from earlier in the season between these two teams) between them and the Blue Jays from previous series hurting the team during the series.

 

Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)

The Blue Jays were a playoff favorite going into the season. It was unexpected that three AL East teams would be battling for the two wild card spots, along with the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros, but the Blue Jays came out on top of the pile. The Blue Jays knocked off the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff on the back of Edwin Encarnacion’s three run walkoff homerun in the bottom of the 11th.

Homeruns are what you are going to see when watching this lineup. The Blue Jays have four players in their lineups who could hit 30 homeruns a season if healthy, three of which who could reach forty homers. Jose Bautista, the batflip champion, has provided playoff homerun heroics in the past, but does not have to shoulder the power alone. Bautista, Josh Donaldson (another potential 2016 MVP), and Edwin Encarnacion give the Jays the best 3-4-5 hitter trio in all of baseball. Troy Tulowitzki, though often in the background behind the big three, is still one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball when healthy, along with very strong defense up the middle. Michael Saunders was an underrated pickup from the Mariners as he has hit 24 hr’s from the outfield and as many doubles as Josh Donaldson (32).

The Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Atlanta Braves 9-3.

Encarnacion has already hit more than 40 homeruns this season. Does he have enough power in the tank to hit a few more for the Jays this postseason? Photo courtesy of Carlos Osorio of the Toronto Star.

The downside of the Jays revolves around the pitching. Aaron Sanchez has pitched phenomenal all season for the Jays and Liriano has been pitching well since coming over from the deadline. The Blue Jays have  actually gotten a couple of strong seasons from journeymen J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, but there is a reason they are journeymen. Marcus Stroman was supposed to be the ace of the rotation by the end of the season, but remained inconsistent through most of it. If the rotation can make it to the bullpen, though, then the Jays have a good shot. Joaquin Benoit came over at the deadline as well, and has only given up one run since the beginning of August (that is a 24 inning span).

The Blue Jays lineup is definitely the strongest in the AL, as the power potential is truly real. The pitching will be the X-factor for the Jays as the Rangers are the more complete team on paper. In the end, the Rangers are the favorite for a reason, and  will prevail over the Blue Jays.