2017 MLB Playoffs

Potential Dark Horse Teams for 2017 MLB Playoffs

Just as the leaves change each fall, so do MLB’s playoff teams. Each year there are a number of surprise contenders looking to make a run at the World Series. Whether they come out of the gate strong or turn it on late, you can almost guarantee that one team will fit the Cinderella Story narrative.

So with the season fast approaching, which teams are primed to be this year’s Cinderella? Let’s take a look at four teams who might be able to fit into the glass slipper for the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Colorado Rockies-NL West

Nolan Arenado looks to provide the power in a deep lineup. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP Photo)

The Colorado Rockies finished 2016 at 75-87, good for third in the NL West. While they were 12 games under .500, don’t let last years results fool you. They received strong contributions from home grown starting pitchers Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray. Both were in their first full seasons in the majors, and performed well; Gray struck out 185 batters over 168 innings pitched while Anderson posted a solid 3.54 ERA. With the offseason addition of Ian Desmond to play first base and the continued growth of Gray and Anderson, the Rockies could look to turn some heads in 2017.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- AL West

The Los Angeles Angels have one of, if not the best player on the planet. Automatic playoff berth, right? Not so much. In Mike Trout’s tenure with the Angels, they have only made the playoffs once, while Trout has won two MVPs in that time. The Angels are hoping to provide Trout with more support in 2017. With the acquisition of disgruntled second baseman Danny Espinosa from Washington, the Angels have added more pop to their lineup. Couple Espinosa with prime Trout and past-his-prime-but-still-dangerous Albert Pujols, and you have the core of a pretty good lineup. Couple in the additions of outfield speedster Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin and the Angels have a lineup that can compete with most any in baseball. If Pujols and Espinosa can take some pressure off Trout, the Angels could make a surprise run to the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Miami Marlins- NL East

2017 MLB Playoffs

Giancarlo Stanton looks to send plenty of balls into orbit in 2017.(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the loss of pitcher Jose Fernandez in 2016, the Miami Marlins lost more than an ace; they lost the soul of their team. With heavy hearts, the Marlins were able to go 79-82 in 2016, finishing third in the NL East. It was an inspiring finish to the season, and one I believe will carry over to 2017. The Marlins will look for Giancarlo Stanton to improve on his lackluster 2016 season, in which he posted a slugging percentage of .489, the lowest of his career. Stanton won’t have to carry the Marlin’s offense on his own though. Dynamic second baseman Dee Gordon will be back to start the season and will be joined by steady outfielder Christian Yelich and power hitting Marcell Ozuna. If starting pitcher Adam Conley can build upon his solid 3.85 ERA and Wei-Yin Chen can get back to his career average 3.90 ERA, the Marlins will have two good starting pitchers to build their staff around. If Giancarlo Stanton can deliver on his 40+ homer potential and the pitching staff can stay near league average, this team could mash it’s way to a playoff berth.

Tampa Bay Rays- AL East

Out of the previous three teams, this team will have the most difficult time of making it to the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2016 season at 68-94, 25 games back of first place in the AL East. The AL East is one of the most stacked divisions in baseball, with three out of the five teams making the postseason in 2016. But the Rays have one thing that every team covets; young, good starting pitching. The Rays have one of the deepest and youngest starting rotations in all of baseball, with five starting pitchers logging more than 100 innings pitched, and those same starters averaging 27 years old. With the addition of slugging catcher Wilson Ramos and the resurgence of third baseman Evan Longoria, the Rays will look for their offense to help carry them to the 2017 MLB Postseason.

The MLB season is full of surprises. Players and teams alike will burst onto the national stage, defying expectations. But while players look to their cleats to propel them from base to base, some teams will be looking for more dainty footwear. Maybe a glass slipper?

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NL Regular Season Award Predictions

With the regular season about to come to a close, it’s time to start talking about who deserves the individual awards in the National League for 2016. Sam Auricchio gave his take on the American League awards, as well.

MVP

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Kris Bryant has been incredible in his second year for the Cubs, leading the team on offense to their second straight division title. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Daniel Murphy was the strong candidate for the MVP in the eyes of many heading into the All-Star Break, when he was hitting a monstrous .387 to top the entire MLB. He certainly isn’t out of the running, still hitting .347 with 25 homers and 104 RBIs, but I don’t think he’s atop the list anymore. I think that the Cubs’ Kris Bryant has to be the favorite with the season he’s put together. He sits third in the NL with 39 home runs, sixth in the NL with 102 RBIs and fourth in the NL with a .558 slugging.

A guy who matches up with, and actually beats, Bryant on a number of fronts is Rockies third-baseman, Nolan Arenado, who has had a spectacular year at the plate. He leads the NL with 41 homers and 133 RBIs. There are two major factors at work against him in the MVP race, however. The first of which being he plays 81 games at Coors Field, a notoriously hitter-friendly environment. The second, and larger, difference is that Bryant has helped the Cubs to a 100+ win season and the first seed in the National League. Arenado and the Rockies will not be playing playoff baseball, whatsoever.

 

 

Cy Young

In the eyes of most analysts, the NL Cy Young has narrowed down into a two pitcher race. Clayton Kershaw was certainly very high up on the list before his unfortunate injury prevented him from pitching for most of the second half. The two remaining pitchers are Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.

Lester is the current favorite, according to ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor. Both pitchers lead the National League with 19 wins, but Lester has just four losses opposed to Scherzer’s seven. Lester’s ERA also sits at just 2.28, over half a point lower than Scherzer’s 2.82.

Scherzer is certainly hot on Lester’s tail. Scherzer has 86 more strikeouts than Lester in 2016 in 25.2 more innings pitched in 2016. Opponents hit just .193 off of Scherzer, opposed to .208 off of Lester. Both pitchers’ teams won their division, another factor considered in the Cy Young vote, so neither will gain an edge there. Honestly this could go either way, but I think Scherzer’s slow start (he was 5-4 through May, 14-3 since) may ultimately prove to be the difference here.

Rookie of the Year

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Corey Seager is not only looking like the best rookie in the NL, he’s looking like one of the best shortstops in the MLB. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

I think the race for NL Rookie of the Year is looking very one-sided at this point. Corey Seager has been the far-and-away the best rookie in the League. He leads the Dodgers with a .311 batting average, and has 26 homers, just one behind team leader, Justin Turner. Seager has been an absolutely critical piece in the Dodgers’ run to retake the NL West from the Giants in the second half of this year. Perhaps if Nationals’ rookie Trea Turner had played more games this year (Seager has played 155, Turner just 71) he could have competed with Seager in the race. As it stands, however, I think Seager is far-and-away the favorite.

A couple of other honorable mentions for the award would be: Seager’s teammate, Kenta Maeda, who became the Dodgers’ ace with Clayton Kershaw out with an injury for most of the second half of 2016. Cardinals’ shortstop, Aledmys Diaz, could have been in the running if he hadn’t sustained a thumb injury that put him on the DL from the end of July to September 12.

Mariano Rivera/Rolaids Relief Reward

The NL chase isn’t quite as one-sided as Sam Auricchio sees the AL Race being. Jeurys Familia certainly has to be near the top, if not at the top, for his performances in 2016. He’s the only closer in the MLB who has 50 saves in 55 attempts on the year, perhaps in part due to the Mets averaging just over four runs-per-game.

Familia’s biggest opponent is Dodgers’ closer, Kanley Jansen, who has 47 saves this year in 53 attempts. Jansen held opponents to just a .148 batting average over 67.2 innings, and is tied for the lead among NL closers with 102 strikeouts in that time.

Manager of the Year
This race is between two managers. The obvious one is the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, who has led this talented Cubs team to the MLB’s best record, currently at 102-57, en route to their second straight NL Central title. Expect to see Maddon a lot atop this list a lot in the coming years, as the Cubs show no sign of slowing down with the amount of youth on this team.

The other manager worthy of recognition in this category is the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts. Los Angeles was eight games out of first place on June 26. Clayton Kershaw, who was 11-2 at the time and the obvious ace of this Dodgers staff, ended up on the DL four days later. Despite that, this Dodgers club has gone 41-29 in the second half of the season, and secured the division earlier this month. The Dodgers may not have the best record in the National League, but they have posted the best record in the second half of the year without their Cy Young favorite coming into July. I don’t think Roberts will win the award, but he’s certainly a worthy second place in my book.

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Joe Maddon has led the Cubs to the best record in the MLB. Well-deserving of the Manager of the Year in the NL, if not the whole MLB. Photo courtesy of nbcchicago.com

The Future is Bright for the Colorado Rockies

Despite their latest slump, could the Rockies be one of the best out west in the near future?

Despite their latest slump, could the Rockies be one of the best out west in the near future?

As a fan of small market sports, it sucks when a team who is producing does not get the recognition they deserve. The Rockies fit this bill tremendously as a team who deserves more national hype, even if the team has been slumping lately. The Rockies are back 6.5 games in the wild card race while sitting four games under a .500 winning percentage. Despite the potent offense, the lack of strong pitching, especially in the rotation, has been killing the Rockies’ playoff chances. They are not out of the race yet, as there are still plenty of games to be played, but they are currently trending the wrong way. Even if 2016 isn’t the year, the Colorado Rockies future is certainly bright.

Colorado Rockies future

Arenado getting hyped about the potent offense of the Rockies. Image courtesy of MLB.com

If the 2016 season does not play out in the Rockies’ favor, there is still hope for the future. The Rockies have a good core of young studs on offense that can just flat out hit. Nolan Arenado is the centerpiece, but a healthy Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story are just a few of the other heads of the hydra that make the team so potent. That is not including the latest hotshot rookie craze David Dahl, who started his career with a rookie record 17-game hit streak.

Of course, that is just the squad in the majors; the Rockies still have plenty of firepower waiting in the wings. Brendan Rodgers is #7 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline. Drafted out of high school in 2015, he has been tearing the cover off the ball in Single A, hitting 18 homers with a .288/.353/.491 split this season (splits represent batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage). He still has a couple years before the majors, which will give the Rockies time to figure out where to put him with Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu manning the middle of the Rockies infield.

Rodgers isn’t alone, as other players higher up in the farm system have been producing as well. Names like Raimel Tapia (outfielder), Tom Murphy (catcher), and Jordan Patterson (outfielder/first basemen) are a few others who have been producing at a pretty strong clip this season. These names could be up sooner, rather than later, depending on injuries or the weakness of the position at the MLB level. Patterson has been taking reps already at first base in anticipation for the potential to take over there once September rolls around.

There is a reason, however, that the Rockies are still struggling this season. The lack of quality starting pitching at the MLB level is not for a lack of trying, as the Rockies have spent numerous first round picks the past few years on pitchers. Developing pitching takes time though, and it will be interesting to see how the experiment goes for the Rockies.

Colorado Rockies future

Jon Gray and his lion’s mane could be headlining the Rockies rotation for the next half decade. Photo courtesy of Elise Amendola of the Associated Press.

Some of the first rounders are already at the MLB level and actually pitching pretty decently. Jon Gray was drafted in the first round of 2013 MLB draft. Gray has pitched really well for most of the season, before imploding a bit in August. His 9.4 K/9 has been really strong; his 3.1 BB/9 is very good for a rookie pitcher, and all this despite pitching in the hitter’s haven of Coors Field.

Gray is not alone, as Tyler Anderson has made twelve starts as a rookie this season and has held his own as well. His 3.42 ERA supports his great command of his pitches. He does not have superior strike out stuff, but if he can keep the ball on the ground, he can be successful in Coors.

Riley Pint is the latest pitcher to be drafted by the Rockies in the first round. His upside is immense, but high school pitchers are known for being very risky as the player grows and matures. The Rockies Triple-A team is also in the Pacific Coast League, which is notorious for being very difficult for pitchers and tends to inflate hitters’ numbers a little bit. The challenge will be immense for the Rockies to harness Pint and develop him into the front of the rotation pitcher he has the potential to be.

The development of the Rockies’ starters, both in the rotation now and also in the minors, will be the key to the Rockies future. Offense will draw in the fans, but every team needs an elite pitcher in the rotation to take their team all the way. The Rockies have the farm system to potentially trade for one, but the team may want to keep those pieces if the team can believe that the team can turn the prospects into gold. The team has the offensive pieces already in place to succeed in the playoffs, and will have those pieces for the next couple years. Only time will tell whether the front office can find the supplements needed to fill out the rotation and bullpen to help make the Rockies playoff bound in the near future.

Sizing up the NL Wild Card Race

As we near the home stretch of the regular season in 2016, the NL wild card race continues to heat up, with some of the divisional races beginning to look out of reach for some teams. The NL Central appears to be all but secured for Chicago, who currently sit 12 games above second place St. Louis in the division. The Nationals in the East, while not holding quite as large of a lead, are comfortably ahead of Miami by 6.5 games. The NL West is the only division that, barring a late season meltdown by a current division leader, looks like it will be a dogfight for first place between the Giants and the Dodgers.

Here, I’ll give my opinions on the teams currently in the thick of the Wildcard race in the National League. Since the NL West is currently a deadlock, I’ll look at both the Giants and the Dodgers, since they will both be competing for that wildcard spot while trying to nab the division crown. Teams are listed in the order they currently sit in the Wildcard standings, not where I think they will end up.

San Francisco Giants (64-49) +4 GB

Luckily for both the Giants and the Dodgers, they’re currently sitting pretty in the wild card standings. San Francisco had held sole position of the NL West since May 14, appearing to be in typical Giants even year form. The Dodgers have finally caught up, however, and that can be attributed primarily to a complete lack of offense from the Giants since the All-Star Break. The run production has looked bleak for them, averaging just 3.4 runs-per-game, leading to a 8-16 record in 24 games. Brandon Crawford is trying his best to carry the offense, pounding out seven hits against the Marlins on Monday and hitting a solo homer for the only run of the game on Wednesday, but he can’t be expected to keep up this performance for the rest of the season.

Their deadline acquisition of Matt Moore to replace Jake Peavy has looked like an improvement thus far (not saying a whole lot, frankly), but it’s hard to leap to any massive conclusions after just two starts. He does need to find his control on the mound again, though, as his 11 walks in two starts is just one less than he had in all of July. I’m sure he’ll look more composed as he acclimates, but my biggest concern with this team is still the offense. They didn’t go out and get a big bat at the deadline, so they’re gonna have to continue to rely on what they’ve always done and play small ball, relying heavily on pitching and defense. With that said, even small ball requires you to score some runs.

Los Angeles Dodgers (64-49) +4 GB

The Dodgers have to hope veteran pitchers Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw can return from injuries sooner than later. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Even if the Giants still had a lead over the Dodgers in the division, I’d still like their odds of making the postseason with how they have looked lately.

Clayton Kershaw’s return has been further delayed, being moved to the 60-day DL a week ago, and this team already has a laundry list of players on the DL, but they’re still finding ways to win games. The Dodgers actually have the best record in baseball since losing Clayton Kershaw (23-13 since June 27), according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield. They’re still waiting to see what deadline acquisition Rich Hill can do on the mound, as blisters on his hand will prevent him from making his would-be debut with the Dodgers on Friday.

The Dodgers other big-name deadline pickup, Josh Reddick, is having some serious troubles at the plate since coming to LA, batting .074, but the rest of the offense is performing well enough to help Reddick through his slump. While averaging 4.4 runs-per-game on the year, the Dodgers are up an entire point from that since the All-Star Break. Corey Seager continues to have a special second year in the Bigs, leading the team with 21 homers and batting .310 in his last 30 games.

So long as the Dodgers don’t let the Yasiel Puig sideshow get out of hand, and can keep up the offensive production, I like the direction they’re headed down the home stretch, especially when they start getting more of their veteran starters healthy.

Miami Marlins (60-53) 

The Marlins would currently be the last man (fish?) into the postseason, a pleasant surprise given the struggles this team has had in past years. This team can attribute a large part of its successes to its offense, which seems to be consistent regardless of who is currently going through a slump at the plate. Marcell Ozuna has had some woes since the All-Star break, but the rest of the offense has been hot, driving in the fourth most runs in the MLB since the Break (116), and averaging 4.6 runs-per-game.

The concern for Miami in these last seven weeks will be the same as it has all year, will their pitchers not named Jose Fernandez be able to contribute enough to help this team win? The Marlins tried to get some help in that department, acquiring Andrew Cashner at the deadline, who replaces an injured Wei-Yin Chen. I wasn’t sold with his stuff in San Diego, but I won’t judge him on just two starts with the Marlins. What I will say is that Adam Conley has shown dramatic improvement from where he was at the start of the year; if the rest of the staff can hold it down for this offense, I think Miami will be a wildcard contender down to the wire.


St. Louis Cardinals (59-54) 1 GB

The Cards are the last team that I think will be hanging around in the wild card hunt through the remainder of the year. Starter Michael Wacha has ended up on the DL with shoulder inflammation, meaning Alex Reyes and potentially Luke Weaver, two of the organization’s most promising pitching prospects, will be coming to the Bigs. If they can make a splash upon arrival, it might give this pitching staff the kick in the pants it needs to get back into gear.

St. Louis is bottom-five in ERA since the All-Star Break, but they’ve made up for it in the power game, cranking 34 homers, the second most in the MLB, during that time as well. The situation in St. Louis really hasn’t changed all that much, they’ve got a respectable offense with solid enough pitching to hang in most games. If they’re able to keep that up, and maybe see an improvement in their pitching with Reyes and Weaver coming up, I think the Cardinals are in a decent spot as we near the end of the season.


Pittsburgh Pirates (56-54) 2.5 GB

I don’t like the Pirates’ odds in this wildcard race. Sure, they’re only down 2.5 games right now, and they could prove me wrong, but I think they should have just fully committed to rebuilding for next year when they traded Mark Melancon. I’m not saying that Melancon was the make-or-break guy for Pittsburgh this season, but their trying to play both sides of the buyer/seller card really just leaves them in limbo here down the stretch.

If they wanted to buy, they should have at least looked at their offense, too. Pittsburgh has the least runs scored since the All-Star Break, 76, averaging just 3.8 runs-per-game. Andrew McCutchen says he isn’t in a slump, but the numbers don’t lie, he’s hitting below the Mendoza line in his last 15 games. And now with Gregory Polanco struggling this month, the Pirates don’t have anybody to consistently look to for run support. To top it all off, the rotation lacks a real ace starter; the Buccos traded Jonathon Niese (not that he was an ace, himself) who led the team’s starters in wins (8) and ERA (4.91). I think the Pirates gave it a good run, but they’re not in an enviable position in these final two months.

New York Mets (57-55) 2.5 GB

The Mets are in the same state offensively as the Pirates, although they can contribute the bulk of those woes to a massive list of offensive players on the DL. Three quarters of the team’s Opening Day starting infield is on the DL, not to mention their offensive leader in almost every category, Yoenis Cespedes. The Mets offense saw success (relatively speaking) during the year via home runs. Now that they’ve lost the bulk of their power bats, despite adding Jay Bruce at the deadline, they just continue to struggle to bring in runs, averaging just 3.4 runs-per-game.

NL Wild Card Race

Photo: sportsinformationtraders.com

The one thing the Mets have that the Pirates don’t is pitching, but it’s incredibly difficult to win games with this little offense. I think the Mets caught several strokes of bad luck this season, which leaves them in a really bad spot as we near the home stretch. I think it would take nothing short of a small miracle to get the offense in workable enough condition to contend for this wilcard spot.

Colorado Rockies (55-58) 5.5 GB

The Rockies are trying to will themselves into wildcard contention on the back of one of the MLB’s best offenses, statistically. Colorado is top three in all major batting categories in the MLB, and they’re continuing the hot hitting in the second half of the season, averaging 5.32 runs-per-game thus far. Their pitching was looking better too, but they’re now in the midst of a three-game skid that’s proving you have to succeed in more than one category to secure these key victories late in the season. I don’t think they’ll make it, though, because their pitching still isn’t good enough, and because they’re already a bit behind in the race. I think Nolan Arenado will continue to crank in the runs, and the Rockies can still give their fans something to look forward to down the road, but they won’t be making the postseason in 2016.

 

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