2017 National League Preview: National League West

The National League West has two of the most storied franchises in MLB history. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are always in a dog fight for the top spot. In the past 10 seasons, the Dodgers have six division titles, while San Francisco has won two division titles and three World Series titles.

The adage of the wild west certainly fits here, so don’t be surprised to see a major shake up in the division’s top teams.

5th: San Diego Padres

Projected 2017 Record: 64-98

National League West

Hunter Renfroe made a splash in San Diego in 2016 (Credit: Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports).

With six straight losing seasons, the San Diego Padres are one of the worst teams in baseball. However, there is some talent in San Diego.

First basemen Wil Myers was an absolute steal for the Padres. He was acquired in 2015, and flourished in his first full season in the majors, hitting 28 bombs and swiping 28 bags. In addition to Myers, outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe will try to earn starting roles for the club. Both are top prospects and have tons of potential.

The Padres are sorely lacking in pitching. Jarred Cosart, Jhoulys Chacin and Trevor Cahill are the top pitchers in the Padres rotation. Top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza is not expected to make it to the big leagues this year.

The Padres are in for another long season, given their inept pitching and developing offense. There is still hope as prospects start to make their way to the majors.

4th: San Francisco Giants

Projected 2017 Record: 82-80

You would think the Giants are one of the top teams in the National League West after coming off a loss in the 2016 NLDS. That is not the case. As the offseason progressed, the teams around them got better, and the Giants stood pat.

They will rely on phenom Buster Posey to provide offense along with Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Those four could be their only main contributors, with a question mark in left field and poor seasons from Joe Panik and Eduardo Nunez in 2016.

The pitching staff will be the strength of the club in 2017. Anchored by perennial Cy Young candidate Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, they boast one of the best rotations in the National League. Pitching has been, and will remain, the focus of the Giants.

An adequate offense will benefit from their stellar pitching staff. If the Giants can find a spark on offense, they could get into the Wild Card.

3rd: Colorado Rockies

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League West

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

Presently, the Colorado Rockies are a dark-horse candidate to make the playoffs. The additions of Ian Desmond and Greg Holland coupled with the improvements in their rotation have Colorado on the road to success.

Their offense is one of the deepest in the majors, with five players hitting 20 homers or more in 2016. Nolan Arenado is the rainmaker in Colorado’s lineup, posting back to back seasons with at least 40 homers and 130 RBIs. He is joined by Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez to form one of the most powerful lineups in all of baseball.

The thin Colorado air that helps fuel the offense also helps fuel the pitching staff’s ERA. 2016 was still a good year for pitchers in Colorado. If Tyler Chatwood, Chad Bettis, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson can improve from last season, this club could be lethal.

A playoff run is not out of the question for the Rockies in 2017.

2nd: Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected 2017 Record: 85-77

With a busy 2015 offseason, the Diamondbacks were picked by many to be a dark-horse contender in the National League West. After underperforming, the Diamondbacks hope to turn things around in 2017.

Outfielders David Peralta and A.J. Pollock will look to return to form. Both of their seasons got cut short last year due to injuries. Full seasons from Brandon Drury and Jake Lamb helped to soften the blow, and they enter this season as entrenched starters. The offense will be led by Paul Goldschmidt, who hit 24 home runs and stole 32 bases in 2016.

Pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller will need to get back on track if the Diamondbacks are to contend this season. After posting a sparkling 1.66 ERA in 2015, Greinke’s ERA ballooned to 4.37 in 2016. However, a full offseason in Arizona will only help Greinke on his road back to dominance. Miller fared far worse in his first year in the desert. With a 6.15 ERA, Miller can only go up from here.

The talent is there in Arizona’s pitching staff to return them to contention. If they can put it together in 2017, the offense will be more than capable to drive the team to the playoffs.

1st: Los Angeles Dodgers

Projected 2017 Record: 92-70

National League West

Clayton Kershaw looks to return to Cy Young form in 2017 (Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

The Dodgers are looking for their fifth straight division title this season. With the emergence of Corey Seager and steady veterans like Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner, Los Angeles has plenty of fire power to make it back to the playoffs.

Another source of offense will be outfielder Joc Pederson and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Also, don’t leave out veteran acquisition Logan Forsythe, who will solidify second base.

The Dodgers will also rely on some big names on the mound to return them to the playoffs. With a full season from Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, the rotation is one of the deepest in all of baseball. 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias will be playing his first full season in the majors after making 15 starts last season.

Furthermore, the Dodgers boast a talented roster loaded with all-star level players. It is their pitching that steals the show and should be the strength of a deep ball club.

 

 

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Fantasy Baseball Scoring: What is the Perfect Scoring Format

A common debate arises when arguing which fantasy baseball scoring format is best. One of the premier websites for fantasy baseball is ESPN.com. They offer a multitude of scoring options, including three standard scoring formats: rotisserie, season points, and head to head.

Rotisserie

In rotisserie scoring, “teams are ranked from first to last in each statistical category. Points are awarded to the order in each category, then totaled to determine an overall score and league rank” (ESPN.com). This scoring is best suited for leagues who look to avoid the flukes of head-to-head matchups. In head-to-head, you can score the second most points in a week, and lose to the team who scored the most. Rotisserie scoring creates a free for all, where all teams battle for the most total statistics in each category.

Season Points

“Standings are based on the accumulation of points covering all statistical categories and combined into one total points column” (ESPN.com). Season points leagues give point values to individual statistics. A home run may be worth four fantasy points, where a double may be worth two. The team with the most overall points at the end of the season wins.

Head-to-Head: Each Category (H2H)

Head-to-head: scoring each category individually allows the league manager “to select “X” number of statistical categories. For each scoring period, team totals are accumulated, and a win, loss, or tie is credited in each category based on the matchup results” (ESPN.com). The results of an ESPN standard H2H category matchup can look like 5-4-1, indicating that you won five categories, lost four, and tied one. This scoring system creates one on one matchups, where teams fight to cover more categories than their opponent. I believe this is the best scoring format, although the number of categories must be altered in order to be perfect.

What is the perfect scoring system?

Major league teams are split into divisions and play head-to-head matchups, so why should fantasy be any other way? I believe H2H is the best scoring format as it adds realism to fantasy leagues. Rivalries are created as teams match up against each other two to three times a season. The creation of divisions affect trades, rivalries, and the playoffs. Also, this scoring format requires more strategy than points than rotisserie leagues. It forces owners to consider a multitude of categories when drafting their team, opposed to blindly drafting the best player available.

The standard H2H scoring comprises ten categories, five hitting and five pitching. Hitting categories include runs, homeruns, runs batted in, stolen bases, and batting average. Pitching categories include strikeouts, wins, earned run average, and walk/hits per inning pitched. After researching the results of the 2016 season, I found a severe flaw in the standard five by five (5X5) format.

At first glance, you can see that Jonathan Villar and Jean Segura finished above Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado on the player rater. Although Villar and Segura impressed in 2016, Goldschmidt and Arenado finished as the eleventh and fifth respectively in the MVP voting. That was the first red flag. As I continue to scroll, the next name that jumps out is Eduardo Nunez, who finished ahead of Robinson Cano, Ryan Braun, Wil Myers, and Freddie Freeman. Nunez was an all-star for the first time in 2016, but did not have close to a better season than any of the previous names. This was strike two. Finally, I made my way to the forty-fifth overall player and sixth best shortstop, Manny Machado. Seeing a top five most valuable player candidate get disrespected like that was the last straw.

The following are the stat lines for the aforementioned batters in order from highest to lowest on the 5X5 player rater.

You be the judge on whether or not this order is correct.

Villar looks to retain steal title in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

 

4. Jonathan Villar MIL .285 92 19 63 62

5. Jean Segura ARI .319 102 20 64 33

6. Paul Goldschmidt ARI .297 106 24 95 32

8. Nolan Arenado COL .294 116 41 133 2

17. Eduardo Nunez MIN/SFG .288 73 16 67 40

18. Robinson Cano SEA .298 107 39 103 0

19. Ryan Braun MIL .305 80 30 90 16

21. Wil Myers SD .259 99 28 94 28

Segura looks to make smooth transition to Seattle in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

22. Freddie Freeman ATL .302 102 34 91 6

27. Manny Machado BAL .294 105 37 96 0

Clearly the 5X5 format is flawed, so what is the solution?

The solution is to dilute the steals category. In order to do this, the league manager will have to add more categories focused around batting statistics. Steals are the most overrated stat in fantasy baseball. In the 5X5 format, steals harshly inflate a player’s value. The ideal number of categories is eighteen, which is a nine by nine (9X9) format.

The added hitting categories include extra base hits, total bases, walks, and on base plus slugging percentage. The added hitting categories enhance value to players who get on base and hit with power. It weakens the worth of players who primarily get their value from steals.

Since hitting categories were added, pitching must be added as well. The new pitching categories include quality starts, batting average against, and strike outs per nine. The additional categories add value to pitchers who eat innings, strike out batters, and keep guys off base.

How the 9X9 format affects the Player Rater

Villar and Segura finished as top 5 overall hitters in 5X5, but in 9X9 they finished at eleven and sixteen respectively.

Goldschmidt looks to continue his search for an MVP in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Eduardo Nunez moves from seventeen in the 5X5 format, to fifty-five.

The 9X9 player rater for hitters looks as follows.

6. Paul Goldschmidt ARI .297 106 24 95 32

8. Nolan Arenado COL .294 116 41 133 2

9. Freddie Freeman ATL .302 102 34 91 6

11. Jonathan Villar MIL .285 92 19 63 62

16. Jean Segura ARI .319 102 20 64 33

20. Robinson Cano SEA .298 107 39 103 0

21. Manny Machado BAL .294 105 37 96 0

Is Arenado the games best hitter? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

24. Ryan Braun MIL .305 80 30 90 16

27. Wil Myers SD .259 99 28 94 28

55. Eduardo Nunez SFG .288 73 16 67 40

I believe the format of H2H category leagues must be 9×9 in order to have a player rater that accurately represents the best players in the game. The more categories you add, the more diluted the steals category will become. This enhances the value of MVP caliber players whose value is lessened due to lack of steals.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Third Basemen

The sixth installment of our position rankings lands us at the 2017 third basemen rankings. Third base is one of the most top-heavy positions in all of baseball. With steady veterans and young studs all around the league, let’s start our list with number five.

5. Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Like a fine wine, Beltre just seems to get better with age. By the way Beltre has been playing, you wouldn’t know he’s entering his 20th season in the majors. He bested his career averages in 2016 batting (.300/.358/.521.) And while he didn’t earn an All-Star selection in 2016, Beltre was still able to finish seventh in the AL MVP voting by hitting 32 home runs with 104 RBIs. But it wasn’t just his offense that vaulted him into the MVP conversation.

Beltre’s defense has been spectacular throughout his time in Texas, and it continued in 2016. He posted 15 defensive runs saved and was a wizard with the glove down at third base. That fancy glove work and powerful offensive production makes Beltre a solid pick to make the top five. Although he will be entering 2017 in his late 30’s, don’t expect Father Time to catch up with him anytime soon.

4. Manny Machado- Baltimore Orioles

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Many Machado will try to carry the Orioles to the playoffs in 2017. (Rob Carr, Getty Images).

At 24 years old and entering his fifth season in the majors, Manny Machado will be a mainstay on this list for years to come. Machado really came into his own in 2016, putting up career highs in batting average (.294), slugging (.533) and posting a OBP of .343. Machado was also able to continue to utilize his power in 2016, mashing 37 homers and driving in 96 RBIs.

Like Beltre, Machado was also in the 2016 AL MVP conversation, finishing fifth. Machado also proved to be pretty steady with the glove as well.

Coming up as a shortstop with the Baltimore Orioles, Machado has always been a great fielder. He has been able to utilize his defensive skills at the hot corner, posting 13 defensive runs saved in 2016.

Machado has found his power, and coupled that with an excellent ability to make contact, good batting eye, and stellar defense to up his game even more in 2016. The 2017 season should prove no different for Machado.

3. Josh Donaldson- Toronto Blue Jays

While Josh Donaldson was a great player in 2013 and 2014 with Oakland, he blossomed into a legit MVP player when he was shipped north of the border in 2015. He continued his offensive onslaught in the 2016 season, slashing .284, .404, .549 and launched 37 homers to go along with 99 RBIs.

While Donaldson did have a drop off from his 2015 MVP season to his 2016 season, it is extremely hard to improve on an MVP season. Donaldson also experienced a sight drop off in his defense as well in 2016.

Donaldson had 2 defensive runs saved in 2016, not spectacular, but solid nonetheless. As Donaldson enters the 2017 season, he will look to continue what he accomplished in 2015 and 2016. His glove and his bat are one of the best in all of the majors, and Donaldson has a chance to prove it in 2017.

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Nolan Arenado has launched 80 plus homers in the past two seasons. (Ben Margot, AP Photo).

2. Nolan Arenado- Colorado Rockies

After two seasons of 40 plus homers, Nolan Arenado has officially cemented himself as one of the best players in the league. He put up a slash line of .294, .362, .570, career bests in average and OBP in 2016. He also earned an NL All-Star appearance, Gold Glove award and Silver Slugger award for the second year in a row.

Arenado has produced at a ridiculous rate in the past two seasons, hitting 83 homers to go along with 263 RBIs. He has certainly found his swing at the plate, but he has always had a stellar glove.

Arenado has been a Gold Glover for his entire major league career, earning the award each season he has been in the majors. And 2016 was no different. He had 20 defensive runs saved in 2016, an amazing number for a third baseman. He is without a doubt one of the best overall defenders in all of baseball, and 2017 will be no different. If Arenado can continue his torrid offensive pace and spectacular defense, he will be a perennial MVP candidate.

1. Kris Bryant- Chicago Cubs

With just two seasons in the majors under his belt, Kris Bryant has done things that many thought would never be done. He helped bring the Cubs a World Series title in 2016 and won the NL MVP in 2016 after winning the NL ROY award in 2015.

Bryant has put up monster numbers since being called up in 2015, batting .284, .377, .522 as well as blasting 65 bombs to go along with 201 RBIs in his career. He has also stole 21 bases in his time in Chicago, exceptional for a slugger like Bryant.

Bryant has also made his name with the glove. Coming up as a third baseman with the Cubs, Bryant was always a solid fielder. But his defensive prowess has grown since being called up to Chicago. He posted 4 defensive runs saved at third base in 2016, providing a solid glove at the hot corner.

But Bryant has also proven to be a solid defender all over the field. Logging time at third, the outfield and first base in 2016, Bryant has become one of the game’s most versatile player. Bryant is a once in a generation talent, and is just beginning his young career.

It is a golden age for third basemen, with multiple young players performing at a high level. From Gold Glovers to Silver Sluggers, the major league landscape is dotted with players who are set to put up monster numbers in 2017.

 

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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

Image result for kris bryant

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

Image result for corey seager

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.

Image result for joe maddon

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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