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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Starling Marte 2018

Starling Marte’s outlook for the 2018 MLB season

After quite a controversial 2017 season, let’s assess Starling Marte’s outlook heading into the 2018 MLB season.

Background

Starling Marte 2018

In his 2013 rookie campaign, Marte was impressive, batting .280 with 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases in 135 games. (Photo by USA Today)

In 2007, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed a then 18-year-old Starling Marte for $85,000. He spent two seasons playing in the Dominican Summer League, improving his batting average from .220 to .290 during that timespan. Marte played the majority of his next two seasons in the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues, batting .312 and .315 respectively with a total of 50 stolen bases in 114 games.

In 2011, Marte received the call-up to double-A Altoona, where he batted .332 with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases in 129 games. He then went on to play 30 games in the Dominican Winter League, where he would continue to rake, batting .328.

Marte was first called to the majors in 2012 after a 99 game stint with triple-A Indianapolis, where he batted .286 with 12 home runs and 21 stolen bases. In his first major league action, Marte was fairly mediocre, batting just .257 in his first 47 games. He returned to the Dominican Winter League in 2012-13, where he once again found his stroke, batting .304 in 29 games.

In his 2013 rookie campaign, Marte was impressive, batting .280 with 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases in 135 games. His 2014 season was very similar, as he played an identical 135 games and batted .291 with 13 home runs and stole 30 bases. He continued to find success at the major league level in 2015 when he hit .287 with 19 home runs and stole 30 bases. Marte exemplified his .300 average, 20 home run and 40 stolen base potential.

In 2016, Marte batted .311, hit nine home runs and stole 47 bases in only 129 games. He won his second consecutive Gold Glove while also being voted an All-Star for the first time, showing that if healthy, he is capable of being an MVP candidate.

2017 Season

Starling Marte 2018

Marte’s 2017 campaign got off to a rocky start, as he was suspended 80 games in mid-April after testing positive for Nandrolone. (Photo by USA Today)

Marte’s 2017 campaign got off to a rocky start, as he was suspended 80 games in mid-April after testing positive for Nandrolone, a performance enhancing drug on Major League Baseball’s banned substance list.

Marte then released the following statement:

“I have been informed that I have tested positive in one of the tests that are regularly done in my job. In this very difficult moment I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans, and baseball in general. Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much. With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you.”  

Marte returned to action after the All-Star break on July 18. He would go on to bat .282 with five home runs and 19 stolen bases the rest of the way, putting him on a 162-game pace to hit 13 home runs and steal 50 bases.

2018 Outlook

Starling Marte 2018

In fantasy terms, Marte could be a top-10 player in the majority of formats. (Photo by USA TODAY Sports)

The Pirates may be well out of contention this season, but with their core of Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison, they promise to be a productive offense heading into 2018. Marte will bat at the top half of the lineup next season, either leading off or batting second, which bodes well for fantasy value. He will be 29 years old at the start of next season, placing him within his prime. Marte will be a threat to bat .300 with double-digit home runs, triple-digit runs and fifty stolen bases.

In fantasy terms, Marte could be a top-10 player in the majority of formats, specifically ESPN standard formats, as they tend to value steals heavier than most. Keep your eye on Marte heading into next season, as his price could be discounted on draft day due to his suspension and the Pirates 2017 struggles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image by USA Today

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Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League 2017: Youngest Stars

 

The Arizona Fall League is a rite of passage for the very best of the best MLB prospects. Especially for those “kids” down on the farm.

This veritable “proving ground” for major league talent is one of the true gems of the prospect-to-pro pipeline. Every year, each of the 30 teams that make up Major League Baseball send a handful of their brightest up and comers to the desert for closer inspection versus a higher standard of opponent. So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the youngest stars of the Arizona Fall League. You may not know them now, but you soon will!

 

Glendale Desert Dogs

Feeder Clubs: White Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller, Age 21

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Finishing Level: Altoona Curve (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Mitch Keller has moved three levels in two seasons in the Pirates organization. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The No. 6 RHP prospect in baseball, Mitch Keller, will be turning out for Glendale this fall in Arizona. He boasts above average control as well as three projectable major league pitches in his fastball, curveball and changeup. Keller spent most his time this season (15 games) taking the hill for the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League. Over 15 starts he struck out over three batters for every one that he walked. His numbers only improved after getting called up to (AA) Altoona for his final six starts. Keller uses a blistering fastball that sits low-to-mid-90s with nasty sinking action, and above average 11-5 curve to make hitters look foolish.

Promoted to (AA) Altoona to finish out the season, this 21-year-old is mature beyond his years. Judging by the caliber of his well-advanced arsenal of three plus-pitches, this kid should continue rising through the Pirates system at break neck speed. Thus far, Keller has done all that’s been asked of him at every level and he will be looking to impress again in Arizona. For 2018, Keller should be start the season with (AA) Altoona, but he may not be there long. Should this young man continue to miss an epic number of bats at (AA) level, I would expect Keller to end 2018 in (AAA). He’s getting close Pirates fans!

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Cornelius Randolph, Age 20

Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Randolph, age 20, will be looking to develop his fielding skills even further this fall in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Phillies left fielding prospect Cornelius Randolph is not the biggest of players. What Randolph lacks in size however, he makes up with a good eye at the plate working a (.338) OBP in 122 games at (Advanced A) Clearwater. Randolph is a converted infielder who worked tirelessly in 2017 to improve his fielding ability in left field. Because his focus was on improving as a defender, his batting metrics may have taken a hit, yet he still posted a respectable (.250/.338/.402) for the season.

The key to Randolph making the majors is his bat, without question. Many scouts believe his average defensive ability will be overshadowed by a bat that wants to hit, and hit a ton. Touted as the best pure high school hitter in the 2015 MLB Draft, Randolph has done little to disappoint. His 2016 was largely a throwaway season while he battled injuries that kept him from really capitalizing on an inspiring 2015. However, in his latest campaign he mashed his way to a tie for fifth most homers in the Florida State League.

Considering the tender age of the  Phillies’ No. 12 prospect, it is not likely that he will be rushed up the ladder. He could possibly open the season at (AA) Reading depending on how the Phillies see him defensively. He already has a bat good enough for the level.

 

 

Peoria Javelinas

Feeder Clubs: Braves, Red Sox, Padres, Mariners, Blue Jays

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Andres Munoz, Age 18

Parent Club: San Diego Padres

2017 Finishing Level: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Do not be fooled by the baby-faced Andres Munoz, he wants nothing more than to blow you away with the heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Born in 1999, Munoz is easily the youngest player headed to the Arizona Fall League this October. At just 18 years of age, striking out hitters is not the issue for Munoz. No, hitting the strike zone consistently is. Blessed with electric stuff well beyond what is expect from a teenager, he has had a heck of a time reigning in his pitches and throwing consistent strikes. At 18 though, time is smiling on this young hurler.

With a clean easy motion to the plate, Munoz just needs to find his rhythm and learn to repeat his delivery time after time. Munoz has easy gas, with his fastball exploding out of his hand toward the plate with seemingly little effort. If this kid can iron out the kinks in his game, he could become a dominant pitcher in the majors sooner than later. Munoz is the youngest player on any Arizona Fall League roster in 2017 and after watching him throw you can understand why he’s there. Expect Andres to be toeing the rubber for (Low A) Fort Wayne in the Midwest League come spring 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Ronald Acuna, Age 19

Parent Club: Atlanta Braves

2017 Finishing Level: Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

 

Arizona Fall League

If you don’t yet know about Ronald Acuna, you will very soon. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Oh, hot dog! Do I even need to talk about Acuna? I mean, really? Everyone knows this guy by now, right? Look, just the fact he’s on this list should have pitchers everywhere soiling themselves.

Ok, so considering that many of the top ten prospects have mostly graduated to the big leagues (that were ahead of Acuna), this kid should be at the top of the heap come 2018. The No. 5 prospect in all of baseball did everything in his power to make the jump to the majors in 2017. At 19 years of age and with his parent club struggling to win games, the Braves decided to halt his progression at (AAA) Gwinnett. It was a smart move, especially if you regularly attend Gwinnett Braves games. All he did there in 54 games is put up an insane (.344/.393/.548) line, sending baseballs into orbit at a regular pace.

Acuna is just latest Venezuelan to take MLB by storm, well the minors anyway. Acuna’s measurables are out of sight. This is a true 5-tool player by every sense of the word with his blazing speed, howitzer arm, and big bat. Exciting times are afoot in Hot-lanta folks! I mean, this kid did nothing but perform at each level he was at this year. What’s more is that his numbers improved at every stop along the way. Next stop for Acuna in 2018? The Show.

 

 

Scottsdale Scorpions

Feeder Clubs: Reds, Angels, Yankees, Mets, Giants

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Justus Sheffield, Age 21

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Trenton Thunder (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Justus Sheffield is not related to Gary Sheffield. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The first of two LHP on the list of youngest Arizona Fall League stars, Justus Sheffield is also the No. 6 rated prospect down on the farm. Sheffield is another fireballer on this list that can reach back and grab a 96-mph comet, but will usually sit around the 92-93 mph range. Boasting a curbeball and changeup that are projectable big league pitches, the short in stature Sheffield is certainly long on talent. However, he does have work to do in Arizona. This future Yankee needs to learn to consistently get his above average repertoire over the plate for strikes. If he can master his control, the sky’s the limit for Justus.

Sheffield spent the bulk of 2017 in (AA) with the Trenton Thunder except for two rehab starts in (A) ball. In 17 starts for Trenton, the young hurler went 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA over 93.1 innings of ball. His strike out tally is fantastic at 82, and his walks, while still at 3.1 BB/9, have come down dramatically from seasons past. If Sheffield continues to progress, he should arrive in the majors before the turn of the next decade. For now though, he’ll most likely break camp as a member of the (AAA) rotation in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Estevan Florial, Age 19

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Tampa Yankees (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Estevan Florial may strike out a ton, but he’ll happily take you yard in return. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Florial is an intriguing 19-year-old signed from the island nation of Haiti in 2015. This kid could be the center fielder of the future for New York, and it might not be much longer before he stakes his claim to a position once held by Mantle and DiMaggio. Now, this isn’t to say Estevan Florial is in the same mold as those two legendary players, but his talent is undeniable.

At the plate Florial seemingly has all the tools to be an excellent major leaguer. He’s fast, he’s got pop, and he’s not afraid to take a walk. In his first season of Class A baseball, Florial posted a (.298/.372/.479) line across both high and lower levels. While his sample size from (Advanced A) is small at only 19 games, he sported an (.855) OPS over 91 games for (Low A) Charleston. He has some holes in his swing and does whiff a lot, but he also walks a lot (once every 8.4 AB) suggesting that, as he develops, the K’s will come down. At any rate, this young slugging center fielder is poised to start 2018 at (AA) Trenton. Only time will tell if he can grasp the strike zone better as he gets a little older.

 

 

Mesa Solar Sox

Feeder Clubs: Cubs, Tigers, Astros, Athletics, Nationals

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Nolan Blackwood, Age 22

Parent Club: Oakland Athletics

2017 Finishing Level: Stockton Ports (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Nolan Blackwood shuts the light off when he leaves. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Nolan Blackwood is a stopper. I mean, this kid can slam a door. Unlike most of the other pitchers on this list, Blackwood is one thing, a harbinger of death to your team’s chances to win. The 2016 14th round draft selection out of Memphis has a scary frame at 6-foot-5 with plenty of room left to fill it out. Oakland always seems to have a top-notch pitcher or two working their way through the farm, and Blackwood is no exception.

Blackwood spent all of 2017 in (Advanced A) ball, shutting down games for the Stockton Ports. Sure, he had a 1-5 record. Sure, he had a 3.00 ERA, but it’s what he did with the game on the line that matters most. In 20 chances to turn out the lights on the opposition, he did so successfully 19 times. As he learns more and puts on more lean muscle, his K/9 should reflect that, although his 7.58 K/9 in 2017 are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is his 1.05 WHIP. Blackwood is slated to begin 2018 at (AA) Midland, in the Texas League.

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: 1B/LF Yordan Alvarez, Age 20

Parent Club: Houston Astros

2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Yordan Alvarez, monstrous young left-handed hitter with jaw dropping pop. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Yordan Alvarez arrived in the Houston farm system via trade with the Dodgers in 2016. Alvarez is a slugger that translates to either left field or first base. While not exceptional with the leather, Alvarez does possess a very good arm in the field. He has been playing in left for much of 2017, but in the Arizona Fall League, he’s penciled in to man first base. At 6-foot-5 225 lbs. the left-handed slugger seems to be destined to play first in the majors.

Alvarez, Houston’s No. 26 ranked prospect has explosive raw power at the plate as shown by his first 32 games at the (Low A) level. Playing for the Quad Cities River Bandits, he mashed (.360/.468/.658) over 111 AB. With nothing left to prove, Houston promoted him to (Advanced A) Buies Creek where his numbers came back to earth with the step up in pitching. Despite only being 20 years old, Alvarez still managed to hack out a (.277/.329/.393) line. Not bad for a player as young as Yordan. Look for Alvarez to be back in the lineup for the Buies Creek Astros at the start of the 2018 campaign.

 

 

Salt River Rafters

Feeder Clubs: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Keegan Akin, Age 22

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Frederick Keys (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

“If you blink, you will miss it.” Is what the baseball cornfield gods say about Akin’s heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Keegan Akin is one half of Baltimore’s contribution to the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. Ryan Mountcastle is the other, but more on him in just a minute.

Akin is a LHP blessed with a fastball that looks more like a vapor trail than it does a ball. The 22-year-old was a second-round pick by Baltimore in 2016 and is coming off his first full professional season at (Advanced A) Frederick. While his numbers might not jump off the page at you right away, there is still a lot to look at. First and foremost being his beastly 10 K/9 stuff. His electric fastball lit up opposing batters while his slider and changeup are both major league projectable pitches. Known for his ability to get nasty, he peppers the strike zone with ease leaving little doubts that the Orioles see him as a starting pitcher for the future.

Baltimore’s No. 8 ranked prospect is not far off getting the call to the show if he continues to improve his secondary pitches. His inability to fully harness his secondary stuff led to a 4.1 BB/9 rate, but as he learns how to pitch to better hitters his walk totals should begin to come back to earth. Orioles fans should be anxiously awaiting the arrival of this left-handed cannon. What level Akin might start at in 2018 is anyone’s guess, it could depend on how he does in the Arizona Fall League. Frederick or (AA) Bowie are his likely landing spots after camp breaks in March 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 2B Ryan Mountcastle, Age 20

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Bowie Bay Sox (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Baltimore’s 2015 first-round pick, Ryan Mountcastle, has had a meteoric rise through the minors so far. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Mountcastle is currently the No. 3 prospect in Baltimore’s farm system. At the moment, Baltimore is still holding out hope that this young man can overcome his below average arm strength and stick at short stop. While questions remain about Mountcastle in the field, there are little doubts in the scouting community that he will hit for both power and average at the big-league level. Ryan is a tall prospect with room left on his frame for further growth. And that is scary news for American League pitchers.

In 88 games of (Advanced A) baseball he posted an impressive (.314/.343/.542) line, while smashing 15 round trippers along the way. It was precisely this type of production that ultimately won him promotion to (AA) Bowie, finishing the season against much older competition. Though Mountcastle struggled to come to terms with Double-A pitching in his first 39 games for the Bay Sox (.222/.239/.366), he will almost certainly start 2018 there. This kid is truly one for the future. Get out there to the Arizona Fall League games and take a peek.

 

 

 

Surprise Saguaros

Feeder Clubs: Royals, Twins, Cardinals, Rays, Rangers

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Jordan Hicks, Age 21

Parent Club: St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Finishing Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League 2017

Hicks has eye popping velocity, and a heavy sinking action on his fastball. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

At just 21, Jordan Hicks already has a fastball that would likely leave an exit hole the size of Pluto if it hit you.On top of a fastball that sits in the lower 90’s (but can ramp up to 98 mph), this young fireballer also has an above average curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch for him in the bigs. Jordan started 2017 with the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League taking the mound in 14 games and posting a healthy 8-2 record while fanning 63 batters along the way.

He has some control issues to sort out, but upon his promotion to (Advanced A) Palm Beach he saw his BB/9 shrink from (4.5) in Peoria to a respectable (2) in his first 27 innings of Florida State League ball. Though the sample is small, this youngster seems to have found another gear with his step up in competition. The Card’s No. 14 prospect posted 32 strike outs and only 21 hits in eight appearances at the (Advanced A) level. On the back of that performance the Cardinals promoted young Jordan to (AA) Springfield in August, though he didn’t log any innings due to late season injury. Expect Hicks to be a key component to Springfield’s rotation in 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 3B Kevin Padlo, Age 21

Parent Club: Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Kevin Padlo is rated as Tampa Bay’s No. 28 prospect. (photo courtesty of: MiLB.com)

Kevin was originally a fifth-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, the organization he played for in his first two minor league seasons. By January 2016 however, he found himself part of the deal that sent LF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in exchange for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez. Though Padlo struggled some at the plate this year posting (.215/.321/.380) across two levels of minor league ball, there is a lot to like about this young man.

While his batting average might seem low, his (.321) OBP suggests a keen eye, that with more experience should translate to a solid average and 20-homer power. At only 21 years of age, the Rays’ No. 28 prospect already possesses a defensive tool set at the hot corner you would normally expect to find on a player much older. Where he could start 2018 might depend on what he does in Arizona this fall, but as it stands now all signs point to another season in Charlotte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)

 

 

 

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“From our Haus to yours

Tyler Glasnow

Tyler Glasnow needs to be on your radar

Tyler Glasnow is flat out dominating

Tyler Glasnow

Tyler Glasnow can’t watch as Giancarlo Stanton takes him deep for his 16th home run of the year. (Photo by APNews.com)

The former fifth-round draft pick in 2011 began the 2017 season at the major league level with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 12 major league starts, Tyler Glasnow pitched 54.1 innings, allowing 45 earned runs, 75 hits and 29 walks. His struggles prompted a demotion to triple-A Indianapolis, where he has since been baffling hitters with his mid-to-upper 90s fastball, high-80s changeup and devastating sweeping curve.

In 15 starts with the Indianapolis Indians, Glasnow has pitched 93.1 innings, allowing only 57 hits and 32 walks while striking out 140 batters. The 24-year-old has been dominant in the minors throughout his career.

Through 245 innings in triple-A, Glasnow has recorded a 1.95 ERA and 321 strikeouts. He has yet to have a season in the minor leagues where his xFIP, or expected fielding independent pitching, has been above 3.5, which is considered above average by fangraphs.com.

To better understand xFIP, one must under FIP, which according to fangraphs.com “measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing.” I chose to use Glasnow’s xFIP opposed to his FIP because xFIP “removes some of the randomness in the pitcher’s actual performance… [in order] to give you a better view of how well we think a pitcher pitched over a given period of time” (Fangraphs.com).

Major adjustment

Tyler Glasnow

According to CBSSports.com, Tyler Glasnow himself said the change “has allowed him to relax mentally, and [throw] his fastball [in the] high 90s”. (Photo by IndyStar)

The major adjustment Glasnow has made this summer has been to his mechanics, as he is now pitching from the stretch opposed to the windup. This lets the 6-foot-8 hurler simplify his motion, allowing for better repetition of his mechanics. According to CBSSports.com, Glasnow himself said the change “has allowed him to relax mentally, and [throw] his fastball [in the] high 90s”.

According to Rotoballer.com, Glasnow has yet to be called up due to service time issues, although Rotowire.com has reported that Clint Hurdle said he “doesn’t anticipate… making any call-ups at all until the playoff seasons are over for Altoona and Indy,” which are the Pirates double and triple-A affiliates.

This means Glasnow isn’t likely to be promoted until mid-September, although once he receives the call, he promises to be a staple in the Buc’s rotation for years to come. He has been on fantasy radars for years, although because of his major league struggles, he was dropped in a majority of fantasy leagues. If you play in a deep keeper or dynasty league, adding Glasnow now as a flier would be a great move due to his incredible upside.

Featured Image by BCSN.TV

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Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Results of my ten bold predictions for the 2017 MLB season

On April 3, 2017, I published an article recording my ten bold predictions for the 2017 MLB season. With fantasy baseball playoffs rapidly approaching, it is a good time to look back and assess my projections from early April.

 

Jarrett Parker becomes the everyday left fielder for the San Francisco Giants, and finishes as a top-50 outfielder.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Parker suffered a broken collarbone in mid-April and didn’t return to the big leagues until August 3rd. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Well, tough prediction to start to the list. Parker suffered a broken collarbone in mid-April and didn’t return to the big leagues until August 3rd.

Currently the Giants have Brandon Belt, Michael Morse and Austin Slater on the disabled list, allowing Parker to fit in as their everyday left fielder. The 28-year-old has split time in the lineup between batting third and seventh. If he can continue to get at-bats in the three-hole, he will show why I predicted him to be a top-50 outfielder this season.

 

Lance Lynn will win 16 games and finish the season as a top 50 starting pitcher.

Lynn seems to be surpassing my high expectations, as he is currently ranked 15th among starting pitchers in ESPN standard formats. He is currently 10-6 with a 3.05 ERA.

The 30-year-old has eight quality starts in his last eight appearances, making him one of the most consistent and reliable pitchers of the second half.

The former first-round pick in 2008 has career lows in batting average against, or BAA, with .211, batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, with .232 and strikeouts per nine, or K/9, with 7.47.

All of these trends suggest that his luck may be running out, although he has yet to let up all season.

 

Newly acquired Seattle Mariner, Mitch Haniger, will finish the year as a top 25 outfielder.

Although he is far from being a top-25 outfielder, Haniger still has been impressive in 2017. In his first 21 games, Haniger batted .342 with four home runs, 20 runs scored and 16 RBIs. The 26-year-old strained his oblique muscle and missed all of May.

After returning, Haniger was clearly still affected by the oblique, as the former first round pick in 2012 batted a mere .176 in July. Haniger found himself on the disabled list once again in late July after being hit in the face by a 95-MPH Jacob deGrom fastball. Haniger has since returned to the lineup, where on August 19th he went two for four with a home run and four RBIs against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Haniger’s early success was enhanced by the fact that he was batting primarily second in the Mariners order. So, now batting mainly sixth or seventh, Haniger’s fantasy ceiling has dropped significantly. We cannot forget about how successful he was in April, as he will be an integral part to the Mariners success in the future, although his lack of a track record is a bit concerning.

 

Kendall Graveman will become the unquestioned ace of the Oakland Athletics staff, after finishing the season with a sub-4 ERA and over 140 strikeouts.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Kendall Graveman began the season on an incredible tear, posting a 2.25 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his first 24 innings pitched. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Graveman has been another player plagued by injuries in 2017. He began the season on an incredible tear, posting a 2.25 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his first 24 innings pitched.

In the first half combined, he finished with a respectable 3.83 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 47 innings, and besides at-the-time Jesse Hahn, he was the Athletics most consistent and reliable arm. Unfortunately, Graveman was inflicted with a shoulder injury in mid-May which kept him out until early-August, making the 26-year-old completely irrelevant in the fantasy universe.

Next year promises to be bright for Graveman, who was formerly traded for Josh Donaldson, although his health problems are a major issue.

 

David Phelps will finish as a top 20 reliever in standard formats, and a top 10 in formats that include holds.

Phelps began the year as a part of the Miami Marlins, although he was subsequently traded to the Seattle Mariners in mid-July for three minor league prospects.

In the first half of the year, Phelps posted a fair 3.68 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 44 innings. So far in the second half, the 30-year-old has registered a 1.80 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Since being moved to Seattle, Phelps has only let two earned runs in his seven appearances, both coming in the same game against the New York Mets.

Phelps is currently on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, although he is expected to return sometime in late August according to MLB.com. When he returns, he will likely be used primarily in the 8th inning behind closer Edwin Diaz or possibly in the 7th behind set-up man Nick Vincent.

Either way, it is valid to roster him in leagues that count holds, especially due to his starting and relief pitcher eligibilities.

 

Yangervis Solarte hits 20 home runs for the first time in his professional career, and finishes as a top 100 hitter.  

Solarte missed nearly all of July as he was plagued by an oblique injury. He has batted primarily in the clean-up spot in the San Diego Padres order, giving him extra RBI and run scoring opportunities.

The 30-year-old has batted .268 and .269 respectively in each half of the year so far, so you can essentially pencil him in for a .270 average, especially as his BABIP is a career low .270.

Also, Solarte has seen a decline in his strikeout rate, as it has dropped from 14.2 percent in 2016 to 11.1 percent in 2017, which shows his progression from years past.

Over the course of a 162-game season, Solarte would be on pace for 23 home runs and 84 RBIs, which would comfortably make him a top-100 player. He has recently gained shortstop eligibility on top of his second and third base eligibilities, making him a very versatile fantasy asset.

 

Gerrit Cole will be a top-5 Cy Young candidate behind a sub-three ERA and 200 strike outs.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Since the All-Star break, Gerrit Cole has recorded a 3.13 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 innings. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Cole hasn’t been the same since his 2015 campaign where he finished fourth in the National League Cy Young vote.

His first half was a mess, as he recorded a 4.43 ERA and 7.86 K/9 over 107.2 innings. Although since the All-Star break, Cole has recorded a 3.13 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 innings.

The former first overall pick in 2011 has had serious issues giving up home runs, as his home run to fly ball rate is an astronomical 16.8 percent.

His second half so far has given fantasy owners a new-found hope that Cole can return to his 2015 form, although clearly 2017 was not the year for his resurgence.

 

Christian Yelich will put together a 25 home run/25 stolen base campaign for the first time in his career.

Myself and many others anticipated Miami Marlins star to take the next step in 2017, although we were wrong.

In 2016, the former first round pick in 2010 batted .298 with 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. There was a general assumption that Yelich would continue to progress, although he is currently on a 162-game pace to bat only .277 with 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases.

The 25-year-old has a career BABIP of .356, although this season it sits at only .328, which suggests he is getting a bit unlucky.

Yelich continues to bat third for the mighty Marlins, which bodes well for his fantasy value moving forward. He still has a very promising future, although 2017 was clearly not his MVP caliber breakout season.

 

Clayton Kershaw has the best year of his career, winning the NL Cy Young and MVP behind a sub-2 ERA and 300 plus strike outs.

This one is simple, a back injury slowed down Kershaw from continuing his domination as greatest pitcher of his generation.

Before the injury, Kershaw had thrown 141.1 innings while recording a 15-2 record with a 2.04 ERA and 168 strikeouts. The 29-year-old was on pace for 260 plus strikeouts over 220 innings pitched, which would have only been the second time in which he reached this feat.

When healthy, he remains the most reliable and elite pitcher in fantasy baseball.

 

Andrew Benintendi will not only win the Rookie of the Year, but will also be a top 25 finalist in the MVP race.

If Aaron Judge didn’t exist, Benintendi would be the favorite to win American League Rookie of the Year. He is currently batting .276 with 17 home runs, 68 RBIs, 63 runs scored and 14 stolen bases over 113 games.

The seventh overall pick in 2015 has met his expectations head on, as he is on a 162-game pace to hit 24 home runs and 97 RBIs. He has decreased his strikeout rate from 21.2 percent to 16.6 percent, while also raising his walk rate a full two percent.

Benintendi is a lock to finish top three in AL ROY, while also having a strong possibility of finishing within the top-25 in AL MVP voting.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017: Can the Pirates be contenders?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been on a run as of late. They have won 12 of their last 14 games and stand three games back of the Brewers. There has been talk as to whether or not the Pirates will be sellers at the trade deadline. With how they have been playing lately though, they have to look at why they may be able to make a push for the postseason.

Here are some reasons why the Pirates may find their way to October.

Starling Marte is back

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Marte’s return has ignited a spark in Pittsburgh (Yahoo Sports)

The Pirates found out at the beginning of the season that their best player from a year ago would be serving an 80-game suspension. This was a major blow to the team, and it seemed there would be little hope for them to compete with the world champion Cubs. What was needed was for the team to battle through adversity and try to stay afloat until Marte returned.

Pittsburgh has done a pretty good job of staying in the hunt. They have been lucky with how mediocre the division has been, but they are in the thick of things. With Marte back, they should expect to get a lot production from their outfield.

Last season, Marte led the team with a 4.0 WAR and a .311 batting average. He also has plus speed and was able to swipe 47 bases which was third in all of baseball. His presence complimented by McCutchen’s is one of the most dangerous duos in the National League.

Andrew McCutchen has been on fire

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Cutch may be the best hitter in baseball since June 1st (Sports Illustrated)

Over the past couple years, it appeared that Andrew McCutchen had lost his edge. Last year, he had a career-worst slash line of .256/.336/.430.

The Pirates might have been thinking that they missed their opportunity to get a good return on the center fielder. His first couple months of the season were not evident of the All-Star of the past either. In the months of April and May, he posted a batting average that floated around the Mendoza line and was only had a OBP floating around .300.

In June, McCutchen caught fire. He caught enough fire to make him perhaps the best all-around hitter in the league. He finished with a slash line of .411/.505/.689 in the month. He has not slowed down much in July either, with his batting average still around .400 since the start of June.

Cutch has been almost unstoppable, so right now would be the perfect time to trade him, right? Neal Huntington, the Pirates GM, has to consider the future before trading away the best player the Pirates have seen in a long time. When we talk about the near future, we have to talk about how good the Cubs will be in the coming years.

There is a chance that the Cubs may not be as good as we thought. More than likely though, this is a fluke year and the Cubs may return to their 2016 prestige. With that being the case, Pittsburgh may have to take advantage of the year at hand. They have a chance to take a weak division, so it may be in their best interest to hold on to what they have and see if they can make a run for it with their stellar outfield.

The NL Central is wide open

As I mentioned before, the Cubs are struggling in 2017. They have been showing life since the All-Star break though, recording six consecutive wins. However, the Pirates have been able to keep pace with them during this time. With how weak the division has been, it has been very competitive, and there are four teams that are vying for the division crown.

The Brewers are starting to slide as many people expected. Pittsburgh is the one beating up on them, sweeping Milwaukee in a four-game series. This will probably convince Neal Huntington that this roster has enough to take over first place in the division.

Especially with their recent success against NL Central opponents, the Pirates should be feeling good about where they are right now. Look for Pittsburgh to possibly makes some moves to bolster their rotation at the deadline.

Will Pittsburgh win the division?

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Marte came back at the right time, as the Pirates swept the Brewers in four games (Rum Bunter)

Pittsburgh has been able to deal with a lot of adversity this season. Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games, Andrew McCutchen struggled mightily the first two months of the season and James Tallion had to fight cancer.

The Tallion story is rather inspiring, seeing he had to go under the knife to treat his cancer and then still make it back out on the field not long after.

This is perhaps representative of what the Pirates season may be.

Their ace, Gerrit Cole, also seems to be back on track this season. Since June 8, each start has been a quality one besides one blemish on June 30 in which he gave up seven runs.

With their ace back on track and their stellar outfield back to what the Pirates hoped it would be, there is a good chance that they will be competing for first place in the Central until the last day of the regular season.

Pittsburgh has a real chance to ruffle some feathers in the National League. Even the Dodgers, who seem unstoppable right now, should not take a game for granted against the Pirates. Expect Pittsburgh to be a tough competitor for the rest of the season.

Will what they have be enough to win the Central? Well, that largely depends on whether or not the Cubs have found their stride as many expected. It will be tough to keep pace with Chicago if they are back to their 2016 status. The Pirates may just have a shot if they keep doing what their doing though.

 

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Biggest disappointments of the 2017 MLB season

Fantasy baseball is always full of disappointments. Below are five players who were expected to have big years, but have fallen well short of their expectations.

Rick Porcello, Starting Pitcher, Boston Red Sox

Biggest Disappointments 2017 MLB Season

Rick Porcello is having one of the worst campaigns after winning the AL Cy young just a year ago. (Masslive.com)

The 2016 American League Cy Young winner has been a serious disappointment in 2017. Just a year ago, Porcello had won a career-high 22 games while sporting a 3.15 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.

2017 has been quite the opposite for the 28-year-old, as he currently has a 4-10 record with a 5.06 ERA. His BABIP is about .100 points higher than it was in 2016, which has resulted in a batting average against of .312, which is about .080 points off of his 2016 marks.

Porcello’s struggles have been severe and imminent, as he is giving up 12 percent more hard contact than he did a year ago. Batters have adjusted, while Porcello has not, and if this were to continue, Porcello would be in line to have one of the worst seasons by a reigning Cy Young Winner since Bartolo Colon’s 2006 campaign.

Jonathan Villar, Second Base/Shortstop/Third Base, Milwaukee Brewers

Villar finished as a top-five fantasy player in standard ESPN formats in 2016. His 19 home runs and 62 steals along with a very respectable .285 average made him a top-40 selection in 2017.

So far this season, Villar is batting a mere .216 with eight home runs and 15 stolen bases. His strikeout rate has risen five percent while his walk rate has decreased by four percent, showing that the 26-year-old is trending in the wrong direction. He has fallen from playing an everyday role at the top of the lineup, to being a platoon mate with Eric Sogard and Orlando Arcia while batting at the bottom-half of the order.

Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

Biggest Disappointments 2017 MLB Season

Justin Verlander may be a future Hall of Famer, but his 2017 campaign is far from Hall of Fame caliber. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

The future Hall of Famer has taken a huge step back in 2017. His 2016 campaign ended with a runner-up finish in the American League Cy Young race, as he logged a 16-9 record with a 3.04 ERA and 10.04 K/9.

In 2017, Verlander’s performance has been quite abysmal. His ERA sits at 4.47 and WHIP sits at 1.45, which is due to his drastically increased walk rate that is currently at 4.18 per nine innings. He is allowing about 10 percent more hard contact than last season, which has caused his BAA to rise from .207 in 2016 to .253 this season. The 34-year-old can still be fantasy relevant, although up to this point, he has been a clear disappointment.

Starling Marte, Outfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates

Marte finished the 2016 season as the 25th overall fantasy player in standard ESPN scoring formats. The expectations were high for the 28-year-old, as he had just hit nine home runs and stole 47 bases while batting .311 in only 129 games. With hopes of drafting a player who can bat over .300, hit 15 home runs and steal over 50 bases, Marte was being selected within the top-30 picks in all leagues.

He was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance in April. Even in the 13 games in which he played this season, Marte’s strikeout rate has risen by 10 percent while his batting average has dropped .070 points from the season before. I understand this sample size is too small to matter, to it’s worth mentioning.

Marte’s suspension will end on July 18, so look for the star outfielder to return to the Pirates outfield sometime in late July.

Mark Melancon, Relief Pitcher, San Francisco Giants

Biggest Disappointments 2017 MLB Season

Mark Melancon was brought over to San Francisco to solidify their bullpen, although he has been quite the disappointment in 2017. (Keith Srakocic, Associated Press)

Melancon was an All-Star and finished the season with a 1.64 ERA and 47 saves while playing for both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals in 2016. This offseason, Melancon signed a four-year deal with the Giants, who may be regretting their decision.

The 32-year-old currently has a 4.35 ERA and a BABIP of .355, which is a about .100 points higher than his previous season. Bad luck may be a big part of Melancon’s struggles, as his strikeout and walk rates have improved from 2016.

He is currently experiencing a right pronator strain, which he has received a PRP injection for. Since there is no structural damage, Melancon should return sooner rather than later, although the Giants have picked up struggling reliever Sam Dyson to fill the void for the time being.

 

Featured image by Sports Illustrated

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The Lackluster National League Central

Just a short two years ago the National League Central was the cream of the crop in baseball.  The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs all finished with 97 or more wins.  This gave them the top three records in baseball, which had never been done before.  The only other division to have three teams with more than 95 wins was the 1977 AL East.  So it would be easy to say the 2015 National League Central may be the best division in baseball history.

Two years can make a big difference in sports, which is evident in this division alone.  As of June 26th the Brewers sit in first place at an underwhelming 41-37.  Even the defending World Champion Cubs are a mediocre one game above .500.  On top of that, the Cardinals who always seem to be at the top of the league are struggling with a 34-40 record.

What could have possibly led to this steep decline?  Well when it comes down to it, the key players in the Central just aren’t performing up to expectations.  Other than Joey Votto and Zach Cozart, not a single qualifying hitter has above a .300 batting average in the division.  This is surprising considering the talent in the Central such as Kris Bryant, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Carpenter.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Schwarber, one of the heroes for the Cubs last October, got sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday.  He is supposed to be part of the core for the Cubs but he was not pulling his weight with his splits showing .171/.295/.378.  He is in a sense the poster boy for the failure of many players in the division this year.  If things don’t start to turn around soon, jobs will be on the line.

The Cubs are 14th in the National League in hitting at the moment, but that will turn around.  Jason Heyward is currently on the DL, but he showed signs of improvement from last year at the plate and is doing a decent job of filling the hole in outfield production left by Fowler.

Once the trade deadline comes, Theo and company could be going after Sonny Gray or Ervin Santana to bolster their struggling rotation.  At that point they could go steam-rolling like they were just one year ago.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are at a critical spot for their organization.  The next four weeks will determine what will happen in the coming years for them.  Whether that be sell some of their key players, or maybe even decide to push Mike Matheny out the door.  The bottom line is that John Mozeliak may have over-valued some of his pieces and put stock in the wrong players for the future.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

 

Over the course of the year the Cardinals have been streaky. It is a common struggle for a lot of teams when they can’t get their pitching and hitting to go on hot streaks at the same time, but it has been a glaring issue for them this year.  At this point, Carlos Martinez is the only starter that can be relied on and the middle of their lineup has been missing that spark to get them going.

The National League West has already pretty much determined the wild card race.  So the only thing giving the Cardinals hope is how lackluster the division has been.  If they don’t string together some wins in the coming weeks then we will possibly start to see some pieces moving elsewhere and the Cardinals will be planning for the coming years.

Milwaukee Brewers

There have been several instances where it appeared that the Cubs would take over the Brewers.  However, that day has yet to come.  Eric Thames has been a great surprise for Milwaukee thus far–powering the club with 20 home runs. Travis Shaw is also proving himself to be a legitimate threat in the lineup.  They don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, however, the question for Milwaukee is whether or not their pitching is going to hold up.

So far the Milwaukee has been serviceable but nothing special.  They do not have a bonafide ace but have been relying on Chase Anderson who has been pulling the rotation so far this season.  If he is able to keep this pace along with Jimmy Nelson then the Brewers may have a chance to hang in there come the race for October.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have the best hitter in the division in Joey Votto.  On top of that, Scott Schebler and Zach Cozart have been pushing the offense to be perhaps the best in the division.  The problem has been their lack of pitching.  They are just now getting some of their top pitchers back in Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan.  However, their 30th ranked pitching also doesn’t bode well despite their return.  So look to see the Reds possibly moving some pieces at the deadline.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh has been getting back into the mix of things thanks to the improvement of Andrew McCutchen.  Despite the rough start, he has comeback with a line of .380/.462/.671 in the month of June.  The suspension of Starling Marte has not helped however, as they have sorely missed his bat in the lineup.  The Pirates have showed some signs of life but they will also need some help from their pitching staff.  Their -33 run differential will not translate to any improvements.

Taking two of three games in St. Louis this past weekend could possibly give the Pirates a spark they needed.  Marte is also nearing the end of his suspension.  His bat being back in the lineup could also give them a boost in morale and keep them tight with the Brewers and Cubs.

What to look for in the coming months?

It is hard to see the Cubs not making any big moves at the deadline as they still have a lot of their pieces from their championship team.  So look for them to be aggressive.  Schwarber’s demotion should also serve as a notice to the rest of the team that they are under-performing.  It is doubtful to see the Cubs trailing the Brewers for much longer with all the talent they have.  If the Cubs do not start pulling away soon though, then the division is up for grabs for any of these teams.

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The best position group in the MLB

The sport of baseball is unlike any other in that you can compare all position players’ offensive stats equally. Each position group in football does a different task. You can’t compare a guard to a center in basketball because their jobs are different.

Using the same stats for any sport other than baseball doesn’t paint an accurate picture when comparing two players.

That in mind, we can interpret baseball players’ performance better than any other sport. You can compare a short stop’s average to a second baseman’s equally, and you can compare a third baseman’s home run tally to a first baseman’s without fault as well.

So, I took the liberty of tallying up all qualifying players’ averages, home runs and RBIs at each position in order to find which position produces the most at the plate. Believe it or not, one position dominated, leading in all three categories.

The best position group in the MLB

Led by league-leading hitter Ryan Zimmerman (.368), the first baseman position leads the MLB in not only the power numbers, but also average. Among qualified players, the position group leads the MLB in average, hitting at a clip of .268.

Best position group MLB

Joey Votto’s precise eye at the plate helps the position thrive. (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

Five players are hitting above .300 for the position, but what’s special is that there’s only one player hitting below .200 (Mike Napoli at .197). Everyone else at the position hits .220 or better. No other position does that.

In terms of power, everyone knows that first basemen generally smack more dingers than any other position, but the margin is what’s insane. With 248 home runs, first basemen crush the competition. The next best position is right field, as 209 home runs have been clubbed by right fielders this season.

First basemen have driven in 749 runs, which again is first among all positions. Yet again, right fielders knock in the second-most runs, while still being well behind first basemen with 665 RBIs.

What’s more, according to The Game Haus columnist Avery Seltzer, 12 of the top 50 players in the MLB are first basemen. According to TOVAR (total offensive value above replacement) which takes into account nine offensive stats (R, XBH, SB, HR, RBI, BA, BB, TB and OPS), four of the top ten players in the MLB are first basemen (Goldschmidt, Zimmerman, Freeman and Votto).

With names like the aforementioned Zimmerman, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and a resurgent year from Mark Reynolds, the first baseman position is in as good of shape as ever.

Right Field Sweeps Second PLace

Best position group MLB

Aaron Judge’s incredible rookie campaign helps surge the right field position to second. (Photo: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

With players like Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper, many wonder how the right field position isn’t in first. Because the position is top-heavy, many of the bottom-performing players drag the position down.

Of the players with the top 11 most at bats among the position, only one is hitting above .300, while seven are hitting below .270. This causes the entire potion’s composite average to be brought down enough points to trail first base.

Even if you were to break this down to home runs per qualifying player, right field trails first base by 2.02 home runs. First basemen average 10.72 home runs per player, while right fielders average 8.70.

In terms of blunt star power, right field isn’t getting the production it usually gets. Carlos Gonzalez is hitting just .237 this season and has just four home runs. Yasiel Puig is still yet to find a stroke from his rookie campaign, hitting .229. Andrew McCutchen’s fall from the grace of the baseball gods has been well documented, and he’s the third-worst right fielder in terms of average this season.

Barring Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman position is seeing all of its stars produce in the top ten of qualifying players which helps carry the position.

So, who’s the worst?

After documenting the top two positions, it just feels right to tell which position is the worst in offensive production. It would be obvious to point out the catcher position, but only eight players qualify right now, so we’ll spare them.

In terms of average, third basemen are by far the worst hitters, batting at a clip of .251. However, the position known traditionally for producing power has done that, as it has produced 195 home runs, and could overtake right field for the No. 2 spot as the season grinds on.

Second basemen and short stops are never known for power, and rightfully so. They are neck-and-neck at the celler of the home run standings, as second basemen have produced 116 home runs compared to short stop’s 117 long balls.

In terms of total star power, short stop should definitely be thrown into the conversation with how well the top players have played this season, especially in the A.L. However, the lack of consistency within the position really hurts it.

Although many people may believe first basemen are around the top of offensive production every season, the position is dominating every other position this season.

 

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Andrew McCutchen

The fall of Andrew McCutchen

Four top-five N.L. MVP seasons, one N.L. MVP award, five-time N.L. All-Star, four Silver Slugger awards and one Gold Glove. The accomplishments read as almost a prerequisite for greatness in the majors. But even though it was as little as two years ago that he garnered an All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger, Andrew McCutchen is far removed from his glory days.

Gone are the All-Star appearances, the Silver Sluggers, the MVP discussions. In their place are trade rumors and position changes, as a former star tries to adjust to his diminished skillset.

But how did the man who resurrected baseball in Pittsburgh become expendable?

An up and down 2016

Andrew McCutchen

The 2016 season was a roller coaster ride for Andrew McCutchen (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Many look at Andrew McCutchen’s 2016 season, compare it to his career, and call it a “down season”. And while that may be true, when you look closer, the numbers tell a different story.

Andrew McCutchen is a notoriously slow starter, and 2016 was no different. But even with a .226 batting average at the end of April, his 115 OPS+ was still respectable.

He seemed to be finally turning it on in May, when he hit .284 and posted a 119 OPS+. All signs pointed to McCutchen getting hot, that is until the calendar turned to June.

McCutchen hit a miserable .202 in June with a paltry 52 OPS+. The month of June is really what brought McCutchen’s numbers down.

Whether it was fatigue or an undisclosed injury or just the randomness of baseball, June 2016 was the worst we had ever seen Andrew McCutchen play.

Even so, he picked it up after June, hitting .247 in July and posting a 91 OPS+. While still a low number, it was a stark improvement from June.

And once July ended, the Andrew McCutchen of old seemed to return. A .280 batting average in August helped him earn a 119 OPS+, and set him up for a monster end of the season.

In September and October, McCutchen hit .287 with six home runs, 22 RBIs and a 141 OPS+. Gong by the last few months of the season, it seemed McCutchen had returned to form, and gave some glimmer of hope for the 2017 season.

But an offseason of trade rumors and a position change left McCutchen in flux, and the doubts of his performance again began to crop up. Any tempered optimism that fans had in regards to McCutchen’s 2017 season were dashed once the games began to rack up.

Rock bottom: The 2017 season

While the calendar has just turned to June, the performance of Andrew McCutchen so far has left much to be desired. Those who called his 2016 season a downfall have only had their points enforced by his play this season.

In 52 games, McCutchen has hit .223 and posted an 86 OPS+. Some thought that a return to center field would provide a spark for McCutchen. But in his 38 games played in center field for the suspended Starling Marte, McCutchen has done little to show a return to form.

Many have speculated the cause for McCutchen’s decline, and I will add to that speculation. When looking at the advanced metrics, one thing stood out to me more than any other: a sign of declining speed. McCutchen had always been known for his blend of power and speed, and even though he hit .256 last season, he still hit 24 home runs.

That is right in line with his 162 game average of 24 per year. But his legs seem to be giving out on him, causing his overall performance to decline.

Explaining McCutchen’s decline

Andrew McCutchen

A decline in speed may be the culprit behind McCutchen’s decline (Dylan Buell/Getty Images).

One statistic I saw a major drop in was his BABIP. With a career .328 BABIP, the .247 mark posted this season by McCutchen is well below his usual performance.

BABIP can be impacted by a number of factors, one being the speed of a player. It can be reasoned that the faster a player, the better chance he has at beating out a throw to first for a base hit. And that was something that McCutchen excelled at.

With a 9.2 percent infield hit rate, McCutchen was able to beat out ground balls for base hits. But this season, McCutchen’s 3.1 percent infield hit rate is vastly lower than his career mark.

With a lower infield hit percentage this season compared to his career, it seems that his speed has sorely diminished. And when you take into account his stolen base numbers, it becomes even more evident.

From 2009-2015, McCutchen averaged 22 stolen bases per season. In 2016, that number dropped to six stolen bases. He was also caught stealing seven times last season. The decline in stolen bases was a precipitous one, but only part of the decline of Andrew McCutchen’s game.

But at only 30 years old, it remains to be seen if the former MVP can adjust to playing the game with a diminished skill set.

 

Feature image by Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images.

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