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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Relief Pitchers

In this 10th and final installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we will cover the bullpen. Just a year or two ago, the distinction between relief pitcher and closer was an easy one to identify. But now not so much. With the construction of super bullpens and the line between relief pitcher and closer blurring, let’s take a look at the top five overall relief pitchers in the game.

2017 MLB Season

Mark Melancon was brought over to San Francisco to solidify their bullpen (Keith Srakocic, Associated Press).

5. Mark Melancon- San Francisco Giants

Mark Melancon was a late bloomer, being called up by the New York Yankees at 24 years old and not pitching a full amount of innings until he was 26 with Houston. But he has certainly turned it on in the past few years.

Between Pittsburgh and Washington, Melancon posted one of his best years statistically. He put up a 1.64 ERA as well as a 0.897 WHIP in 2016. He also struck out 64 batters over 71.1 innings pitched, and waled only 12 batters all season.

Melancon has also been a solid fielder when given the chance, with only three errors in eight major league seasons. Melancon will solidify the back end of the bullpen in San Francisco, and just entering his prime, is set to continue is string of dominant late inning performances.

4. Kenley Jansen- Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen was often overlooked when discussing the top relief pitchers in the game, but not anymore. The Dodgers paid a hefty price to keep the 29 year old in their pen, and for good reason.

Jansen struck out 104 batters while only walking 11 over 68.2 innings. His ability to strike out guys at an impressive rate gives Jansen the ability to lower his WHIP. For the 2016 season, Jansen had a 0.670 WHIP. That is far lower than his career 0.893 WHIP, and helped to ensure Jansen would be paid handsomely in the off-season. With a return to the Dodgers, Jansen is poised to have another great season.

3. Aroldis Chapman- New York Yankees

2017 MLB Sports

After being shipped to the Cubs to get a World Series ring, Chapman will look to bring one to the Bronx (Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports).

For Aroldis Chapman, 2016 was a roller coaster season. After being suspended by the Commissioner’s Office for his domestic violence case in last year’s off-season, Chapman was celebrating the Chicago Cubs first World Series Championship in over 100 years.

In between he was able to put up a 1.55 ERA as well as striking out 90 batters over 58 innings pitched. His 0.862 WHIP was one of the best of his career, and he was a shutdown reliever all season long. Chapman returned to the Yankees after being traded at the deadline to the Cubs, and it seems like that trade was a win-win all around. Chapman will be a dominate pitcher in the Bronx for years to come.

2. Andrew Miller- Cleveland Indians

Another Yankee arm that was traded at the deadline to an eventual World Series team, Andrew Miller turned in a remarkable 2016 season. Miller really helped transform the way we see relievers, both closing and pitching like a traditional relief pitcher.

He had a 1.45 ERA between New York and Cleveland. Miller also punched out 123 batters over 74.1 innings. That tied his career high of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Miller also walked only 9 batters on his way to a 0.686 WHIP. With another World Series appearance in reach for the Cleveland Indians, Miller will be as clutch as ever in 2017.

1. Zach Britton- Baltimore Orioles

2017 MLB Season

Zach Britton had a historic season for the Orioles in 2016 (Greg Fiume, Getty Images North America).

When you are in the discussion for the AL Cy Young award as a reliever, you know you’ve had a special season. Britton started his career as a starter. But after three years of poor outings as a starter, he was shifted to the bullpen and flourished.

In 2016 Britton had a 0.54 ERA, an astounding number for a pitcher, even a reliever. He also struck out 74 batters over 67 innings pitched and walked 18 men. With a 0.836 WHIP Britton was able to limit the number of men on base, thus lowering his ERA to a minuscule amount.

After a fourth place finish in the AL Cy Young voting, Britton will be hard pressed to repeat his historic 2016. But if anyone can do it, Britton is the man.

Relief pitchers are usually the last ones to enter the game. And it’s fitting they will wrap up our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season. With a new movement coming over baseball, relief pitchers are starting to be viewed differently. As contracts grow and ERA’s shrink, relief pitchers are becoming some of the most valued players in the game.

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2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

The Game Haus returns with another issue of 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season. This past week has been an emotionally charged roller coaster in the MLB. Hall of Fame inductees and snubs have sparked debates among fans, players and writers. Old PED skeletons have spawned a number of questions about the validity of records and the integrity of players.

Worst of all, tragedy has again struck a young player with the loss of Royals’ pitcher Yordano Ventura.

Part of what makes sports great is the tremendous passion fans have around the game. These instances, while emotional, are part of the history and reality that makes this America’s past time. Fortunately, we can continue to look forward to the upcoming season and many more of the great moments that made us all fans to start.

This week we tackle 10-6 in the rankings. The big guns are coming out. While these teams may be a few pieces short of complete, look for all to compete come October. Many of these organizations were in the hunt last year and we’d expect much of the same this time around. All of these contenders have plenty of fire power on one side of the ball or the other. Time will tell if they can bring enough consistency in some of their weak areas to make a true run at the fall classic.

 

10. Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 78-83-1

The Buckos has a solid offseason, managing to hold onto Andrew McCutchen and securing Ivan Nova in their rotation. That signing along with Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow’s continued development makes for a sneaky good rotation. If Pittsburgh somehow manages to get a deal done for Jose Quintana, the NL Central may have far more to bargain for than they originally intended. Pitching aside, the Pirates also sport one of the more promising outfields in the MLB. If the Pirates get even moderate contributions from their infield, expect a battle for an NL Wild Card come October.

 

9. San Francisco Giants

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 87-75

The big knock on the Giants last year was a lack of bullpen firepower. San Francisco certainly addressed that with the off-season acquisition of Mark Melancon. Overall, the Giants pitching has never really been their problem. Any rotation anchored by two of the best in Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto give you a great chance come postseason time. The question is whether the offense can sustain production throughout 162 games. The Dodgers and a surprise Rockies team may challenge, but the Giants should be actively contesting the top of the division at year end.

 

8. New York Mets

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 87-75

Widely considered the single best rotation in the majors last year, the Mets’ pitching staff returns near full force. Matt Harvey’s health is perpetually in question and New York did lose Bartolo Colon, but this rotation is outstanding regardless. With Yoenis Céspedes resigning in the off-season and Jay Bruce looking for a bounce back year, the Mets should have plenty of pop to get the job done. With this rotation and dominant closer Jeurys Familia in the bullpen, this club won’t need many runs to win games.

 

7. Texas Rangers

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 95-67

The first of two teams in the AL west we at The Game Haus have affectionately dubbed “The Arms Race”. The Rangers and the Astros wasted little time in securing top tier sluggers across their lineups this offseason. The Rangers have taken that crusade one step further by also bolstering their pitching with the acquisition of Tyson Ross. Assuming Ross can bounce back from his 2016 season-ending injury, he should provide needed depth to the Texas rotation. Generating back-to-back 95 win seasons is a tall order for any organization. That said, one look at the offensive ability of this lineup and you’d have to think a repeat is possible.

 

6. Houston Astos

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Five

2016 record: 84-78

Narrowly inching out its rival in the division, Houston is poised to unseat their “Arms Race” opponent Rangers. The acquisition of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Josh Reddick add veteran power and presence to an already scary lineup. Young stars Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman continue to develop and I haven’t even mentioned perennial MVP candidate Jose Altuve. This lineup is that good. The question for Dallas Keuchel and staff is whether or not they can out-duel their divisional rivals. Both teams have the horses to win the AL West and for fans of baseball everywhere, this is the war to watch in 2017.

Link to Previous Rankings

 

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Shortstop

In this fifth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we will make our way around the horn, landing us at shortstop. Shortstop has seen an influx of young talent in recent seasons.

With the position fluxing with talent, let’s start out our list at number five.

5. Jean Segura- Seattle Mariners

2017 MLB Season

Jean Segura will bring his newfound power to the Pacific Northwest in 2017. (AP Photo, Ross D. Franklin)

Jean Segura will be on his fourth team in six years in the majors when he debuts for the Seattle Mariners this season. Part of a deal that sent Taijuan Walker to the desert, Segura will be paired alongside standout second baseman Robinson Cano. Segura’s 2013 season showed glimpses of what he could be.

This season he slashed .319, .368, and .499, which are all career highs. He also had 20 homers to go along with 64 RBI’s and 33 stolen bases. Segura developed into the total package offensively in 2016, but his defense still leaves something to be desired.

Segura had zero defensive runs saved in 2016, equating to league average on defense. With the offensive numbers he put up in 2016, league average defense is totally acceptable. Segura played second base with the Diamondbacks in 2016, but that was his first season at second base in his six-year career. He should be able to slide back over to his old position seamlessly in 2017.

4. Brandon Crawford- San Francisco Giants

Brandon Crawford has quietly put together a solid career for the San Francisco Giants. After hitting 26 home runs over parts of his first four seasons, he has clubbed 33 in the past two seasons. His growth in power has also been accompanied by an improvement in his batting skill. Last season, Crawford posted a slash line of .275, .342, and .430 with his batting average and OBP being career highs. While Crawford’s bat has continually improved, his glove has always been his calling card.

Crawford had one of his best defensive seasons of his career in 2016. He had 19 defensive runs saved in 2016, which is the second most in his career. With growing prowess in the batters box and a stellar glove, Crawford has quietly ascended into the ranks of the top shortstops in the game.

3. Francisco Lindor- Cleveland Indians

2017 MLB Season

Lindor will bring the total package to Cleveland in 2017. (Jason Miller, Getty Images North America)

After making his major league debut in 2015, Francisco Lindor has made the leap from top prospect to top position player for the Cleveland Indians. Lindor built on his debut 2015 season in which he finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to put up a slash line of .301, .358, .435 in 2016. He also hit 15 homers to go along with 78 RBI’s and 19 stolen bases to help lead the Indians to the World Series. Lindor’s bat has certainly created problems for his opponents, but it’s his glove that has carried him this far in the rankings.

Lindor had 17 defensive runs saved in 155 games played in 2016. His slick fielding was on display all season. He also continued his high level of defense well into the World Series. Lindor was the total package for the Cleveland Indians in 2016. He is primed to lead the Indians back to the playoffs in 2017.

2. Corey Seager- Los Angeles Dodgers

Seager had been tabbed as the NL Rookie of the Year in 2016 long before the season began. All that hype can sometimes go to a player’s head, but not Corey Seager’s. He performed far beyond even the most lofty expectations in 2016, batting .308, .365, and .512. He also blasted 26 bombs to accompany 72 RBI’s. Those numbers were not only good enough for NL ROY, but also a third place finish for NL MVP voting.

While his bat was at an MVP type level, his glove work was anything but. While he wasn’t spectacular with the glove, he was league average with zero defensive runs saved in 2016. He proved to be a driving force for the Dodgers in 2016, helping lead them to the NLCS where they were ousted by the eventual World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Seager will look to build on his impressive rookie season in 2017.

1. Carlos Correa- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

Carlos Correa will lead a stacked Astros team in 2017. (Troy Taormina, USA Today)

When Carlos Correa made his major league debut at the ripe old age of 20 in 2015, many wondered if he would be able to hack it in the majors. Well, hack it he did. Correa has knocked 42 balls into orbit since being called up by the Astros. In his first full season of play he hit .274, .361, and .451 to go along with 20 homers, 96 RBI’s and 13 steals. Correa has shown maturity beyond his years in the batters box. With a good eye and powerful stroke, Correa is already one of the elite offensive players in the game. The jump from elite prospect to elite player doesn’t just include hitting.

Correa has proved to be less than stellar in the field in parts of two major league season. While he has made some spectacular throws, he posted a defensive runs saved of -3 in 2016. While it was a regression from his 0 defensive runs saved in 2015, it was Correa’s first full season. The 2017 season will be a big one for both Carlos Correa and his Houston Astros.

Shortstop is in good hands for 2017 and far beyond. With so much youth at the position, shortstop will prove to be one of the more difficult positions to rank for years to come. Watch for these players to move up and down the list in the coming years.

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Catchers

This is the second installment of the 2017 MLB Season Position Rankings. In this installment, we will be focusing on catchers. Catchers will be weighed by their offensive as well as defensive stats.

Lets start our list of backstops at number five.

5. Yasmani Grandal- Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Season

Yasmani Grandal will be a steady presence behind the plate for the Dodgers in 2017. (Kevin Sullivan, Dodgers Staff Photographer)

Yasmani Grandal has proven to be a steadying presence behind the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After being acquired from the Padres in the 2014 Matt Kemp trade, he has come into his own. He has provided a solid bat with some good power, knocking 27 long balls to go along with 72 RBI’s in 2016.

Grandal also has good control over the opposing team’s running game. In 2016, Grandal threw out would-be base stealers at an above average 29 percent. Grandal also had 13 defensive runs saved in 2016, providing elite defense behind the plate.

While Grandal does hit for a relatively low average (career .238 hitter), he makes up for it with good power and exceptional defensive skills. Look for Grandal to contend for his second career NL All-Star appearance in 2017.

4. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays

Wilson Ramos turned into an offensive force for the Washington Nationals in 2016. With the decline of Bryce Harper from his 2015 MVP form, Ramos was able to pick up some of the slack and help Washington to their third NL Division Series in the last five years. However, the Nationals were unable to get over the hump.

Ramos posted career highs in all major offensive categories. He batted .307 and launched 22 bombs to go with 80 RBI’s. While putting up career highs in offensive numbers, Ramos also exhibited a strong control over the base paths. Ramos was well above league average (27 percent) in throwing out baserunners, limiting opposing teams to 37 percent.

While Ramos did provide ample control of the run game, his overall defense left something to be desired. He posted -1 defensive runs saved in 2016. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged the slugging catcher this off season, and will value him more for his bat than his glove in 2016.

3. Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

2017 MLB Season

The base paths are on lock down with Salvador Perez behind the dish. (John Rieger, USA Today Sports)

Salvador Perez has been one of the top catchers in all of baseball since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. In that time, Perez has garnered four AL All-Star appearances to go along with four Gold Gloves. He has provided a steady presence for the Royals and helped fuel their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015.

While his bat did slip some from his career averages (career .272, .247 in 2016), his power was ever present. Perez slammed 22 home runs, the most of his career to go along with 64 RBI’s.

He also continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers of the game. Perez threw out opposing baserunners at an astounding 48 percent, easily tops for the catchers in contention for this list. He also provided solid overall defense with 3 defensive runs saved. Perez is set to continue his run as top defensive catcher in all of baseball for years to come.

2. Jonathan Lucroy- Texas Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy saw his season be split between the NL and the AL as the top catcher available was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline. Lucroy posted solid numbers in both leagues in 2016, batting .292 while providing exceptional power evident from his .500 slugging percentage. He used his 24 home runs to pad his slugging percentage while pairing them with 81 RBI’s.

Lucroy was a force for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, both behind the plate as well as in the batters box. He threw out runners at a 39 percent clip, more than 10 percent better than the league average. Lucroy also had 4 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving he is one of the top overall catchers in baseball. A change of scenery seemed to fuel Lucroy in 2016. Look for him to continue his ascent while helping lead the World Series contending Texas Rangers in 2017.

1. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey has proven to be the total package for the San Francisco Giants. He has four career NL All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and an NL MVP Trophy to go along with his NL ROY award. Posey easily gained the top spot in these rankings, but not just by his trophy case. He posted a batting average of .288 to go along with 14 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

Posey was able to couple his solid offense with his stellar defense to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance and earn his first Gold Glove. Posey posted stellar defensive numbers, providing 23 defensive runs saved in 2016, easily tops on this list. Combine that with his ability to limit the running game by throwing out 37 percent of baserunners, and you have the best defensive catcher of the 2016 season. Posey will give the Giants a strong glove and bat in 2017.

Catchers play a vital role in the offense and defense of a team. While catchers are more heavily weighed on their defensive stats, in the next installment of this series we will be looking at some of the biggest bats in the game. Stay tuned!

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Starting Pitchers

With the start of the 2017 MLB season still about three months away (85 days, six minutes, and 43 seconds, but who’s counting?), players and teams are beginning to gear up for the first pitch on April 2.

Let’s take a look at the top five starting pitchers for Opening Day 2017.

5. Justin Verlander- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

Justin Verlander will hope his 2016 success carries over to 2017. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander turned in a renaissance season for the Detroit Tigers in 2016. At age 33, he had his most innings pitched since 2012, posting a solid 227.2 innings. He coupled a full season with a return of his strikeout ability. Verlander struck out 254 batters and limited base runners with a WHIP of 1.00. The former Cy Young winner will look to continue his success into 2017.

4. Corey Kluber- Cleveland Indians

Corey Kluber bounced back in 2016 from a disappointing 2015 when he posted a record of 9-16. He matched his win-loss record from his Cy Young Award winning season in 2014 of 18-6. Kluber posted a solid ERA of 3.14 as well as striking out 227 batters over 215 innings pitched. He helped anchor a staff that would be a key component in the Indians run to the World Series. A surprise contender in 2016, the Indians won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season, led by staff ace Corey Kluber.

3. Madison Bumgarner- San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner is coming off of a season in which he posted career highs in strike outs (251), innings pitched (226.2), and ERA (2.77). All of that was good enough for him to garner his fourth straight All-Star game appearance, as well as a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Bumgarner led San Francisco to the NL Division Series, but the Giants were beaten soundly 3-1 by the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Surrounded by a strong pitching staff, Bumgarner will anchor the Giants starting rotation for 2017.

2. Clayton Kershaw- Los Angeles Dodgers

Even the casual baseball fan knows of the legendary dominance of lefty Clayton Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is only going to be 29 years old when the season starts, leaving his already stellar career all the more impressive. All this lauding may lead you to wonder why he is only second on this list. That is because of all the pitchers in contention for this list, Kershaw had by far the lowest number of innings pitched with only 149. He had his 2016 season cut short by injuries. Before he got hurt, he was on his way to posting an ERA below two (1.69) for the third time in four seasons! If it wasn’t for injuries, Kershaw would have been the runaway NL Cy Young winner as well as number one on this list. Kershaw is on track to to start Opening Day for the Dodgers.

1. Max Scherzer- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

Max Scherzer will dominate the NL in 2017. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

Max Scherzer won the NL Cy Young Award in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. He posted an ERA of 2.96, but it was his peripheral numbers that vaulted him to the Cy Young Award. He struck out an astounding 284 batters over 228.1 innings pitched. Scherzer also got batters out with ground balls and fly outs, supported by his WHIP of .097. By limiting opponents to an average of less than one baserunner per inning, and striking out batters at an astronomical rate, Scherzer was able to claim the NL Cy Young Award in 2016. In his prime, he is poised to add to his trophy case in 2017.

As the 2017 season draws nearer, look for these top five starting pitchers to dominate in 2017. Also watch out for some other names that just missed the cut. Pitchers like Chris Sale, David Price, Jake Arrieta and Noah Syndergaard will all be looking to make the cut next season.

 

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Why Baseball is the Greatest Sport

Baseball has been dying. America’s pastime is not as popular as it once was. Football and Basketball have risen above it because they are faster and “more” exciting sports. The faster pace is definitely true and nobody would argue that. However, baseball is definitely exciting. In fact, baseball is the best sport.

No Clock

In football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and basically every sport, you have a clock. This allows fans to know how much time is left in the game and when they can expect it to be over. With the clock, teams can also manage it to their advantage. Teams with a small lead can kill the clock to help them win.

SCOREBOARD

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, there is no clock. Baseball has innings. Fans and teams have no idea how long a game can last. It could last two and a half hours, or it could last four hours. Baseball does not let a clock dictate how much time is left in a game. As a result, teams can’t kill clock. Baseball teams can’t take the easy way out. They have to play hard all the way through. They can’t let up and take it easy.

All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star game is better than any other All-Star game in sports. The league that wins the MLB’s All-Star game gets to host the World Series. This gives both teams a reason to play hard.

The NFL’s All-Star game, which is the Pro Bowl, is a joke. The best players rarely play. They are worried about getting hurt. The Super Bowl is also the week after, meaning no one from the two best teams in football will be playing.

Last year, the six quarterbacks on the rosters were Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, and Tyrod Taylor. Those guys are decent quarterbacks, but they are nowhere near the best in the NFL. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers were all absent.

allstar_chicagotribune

Photo: Chicago Tribune

The NBA’s All-Star game is filled with entertainment. There is a lot of exciting offense, but that is mostly because zero defense is played. It just becomes guys shooting wide-open threes and throwing alley-oops from all across the court. The best players play, but it is not a hard fought game and the guys mess around more than anything else.

In the MLB’s All-Star game, the best players play. They play hard and they play to win. Home field advantage for the World Series is on the line. Baseball is also not a violent game and no one is worried about getting injured.

Player Rings

NFL players, quarterbacks specifically, and NBA stars get overrated and underrated based on the amount of championships they have won. Dan Marino is hardly ever talked about as a top 5 all-time quarterback, but John Elway is. Fans say Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning because he has more Super Bowls. Bill Russell is actually considered an all-time great because he won 11 championships in an era where the NBA was small and slow. Elgin Baylor doesn’t get the credit he deserves because his NBA finals record is 0-8.

Seattle Mariners

Photo: Huffington Post

Championships are team accomplishments, and baseball fans seem to understand that better than any other sports fans. No one thinks less of Ken Griffey Jr. or Tony Gwynn for never winning a ring. Griffey and Gwynn were some of the greatest hitters of all time and they get that credit despite not winning a title. Nobody thinks Yogi Berra is the greatest player of all-time due to the fact he has won more World Series than any other player. In baseball, players put up the numbers and get the credit they deserve.

Team Sport

Baseball is more of a team sport than any other. Lebron James lead the 2007 Cavs to the NBA Finals with his best teammates being Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel Gibson. In basketball, one player can lead a team a long way, even to the championship like Lebron. There is no way they are going to win it all though. That season the Spurs swept the Cavs in the Finals 4-0.

Football is more of a team sport. You need a lot more than one star player to lead a team to the championship. Both the offense and defense need to do well. Tom Brady couldn’t save the Cleveland Browns’ season with how bad their team has been.

unpredictability_espn

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, you don’t really need a superstar to win the World Series. Take a look at the 2010 San Francisco Giants. Buster Posey was their only 300 hitter. No one on their team hit 30 home runs. They didn’t even have a batter get 90 RBI’s. They didn’t have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 3. Tim Lincecum lead the starters in wins with 16.

This Giants team beat the star-powered Texas Rangers. Josh Hamilton was the best hitter in the league with a 359 batting average, 32 home runs, and 100 RBI’s. Vladimir Guerrero hit 300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI’s. Nelson Cruz joined the team late, but hit 318 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI’s. They had two great starting pitchers in CJ Wilson and Cliff Lee and the hottest closer in the league in Neftali Feliz.

The Giants victory over the Rangers proved that baseball is a team game. Championships are a team accomplishment and every position is important.

Unpredictability

clay_bostonglobe

Photo: Boston Globe

The Giants 2010 World Series proves just how unpredictable baseball can be. Last place teams can beat first place teams in the regular season. The Cubs overcame a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series. The 2004 Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second career start. Josh Hamilton, Lou Gehrig, and 14 others once hit four home runs in a single game. You never know what is going to happen. No lead is safe in baseball either. Baseball may be low scoring, but it just takes one swing to put one run on the board.

It is difficult to predict the playoff teams in the MLB at the beginning of the season. Almost everyone can predict most of the NBA playoff teams and almost everyone predicted a Cavs/Warriors rematch in the finals. In the NFL, it is also not too difficult to predict playoff teams. In baseball, it is much more challenging. The season is long. Teams can go hot and cold so quickly. There are always teams that breakout.

Playoffs

padres_sportslogos-net

Photo: SportsLogos.net

You won’t see any team below 500 in the MLB playoffs. The worst team to make the playoffs in baseball was the 2005 San Diego Padres, who finished with an 82-80 record. The 1981 Kansas City Royals made it with a 50-53 record in a strike-shortened season and different system. The bottom line is only the best teams in baseball make the playoffs.

Each league now allows five postseason teams. There are three division winners and two wildcards. The NFL allows six teams from each conference and the NBA allows eight. Teams below 500 have also made the playoffs in these leagues. It is fairly common to happen in the NBA. The Carolina Panthers recently won their division with a 7-8-1 record and the Seattle Seahawks won with a 7-9 record. You would never see this in baseball and you should never see it in any sport.

Contracts

In baseball, there are no max-contracts or even a salary cap. Max contracts put a maximum on how much players can make based on their years of experience in the league. Max contracts have allowed the NBA to form the “super team” culture that traditional basketball fans hate because teams don’t have to necessarily break the bank to sign a top free agent. For example, Lebron James could have signed with any team he wanted to in free agency. The offer he received from each team would be essentially the same because each team could only offer him a certain maximum amount of money to come play for their team. Money does not talk in situations like this. Instead, the team’s success and location does.

Giancarlo Stanton recently signed a 13-year contract with the Marlins for $325,000,000. This is the largest in baseball history. Before him, Alex Rodriguez had the richest contract of 10 years for $275,000,000. The free market determined the value of these players and not a max-contract. The free market allows talent to be distributed evenly among baseball teams. It is difficult to build a super team in baseball.

stanton_cbssports

Photo: CBS Sports

The NBA, along with the NFL, has a salary cap. A salary cap puts a limit on the amount a team can spend to put together its roster. The MLB does not have a salary cap. This forces teams to make money so they can afford to buy players. Some people may argue and say it is unfair that only the rich can win. This is not always the case. Big-name free agent signings don’t always work out. The 2016 champion Cubs were 14th in payroll. The 2015 champion Kansas City Royals were 16th. The Dodgers and Yankees, who were the top paying teams in both of those seasons, were no where to be found in the World Series. Spending money can make a roster look good on paper, but it does not always guarantee success.

Some fans will say that a salary cap is necessary because it will keep competitive balance. Well, lets look at the NBA as an example. Since the NBA implemented the salary cap for the 1984-85 season, only ten different teams have won the NBA Finals. That is just ten teams in 32 years. Three of those teams, the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Mavericks, have only won the Finals once. Then there are teams like the Lakers, who have won eight. The Bulls have won six. The Spurs have won five. If you are going to make the competitive balance argument, the NBA is not the league to look at. 

Baseball, which does not have a salary cap, has had a much more even spread of world champions. Since 1985 (the same year the NBA added their salary cap), 18 different teams have been crowned world champs. Compare that to the 10 in the NBA. Only eight of those teams have won more than once. The MLB proves that a salary cap does not bring competitive balance.

 

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Dusty Baker: Is He to Blame For Nationals’ Game 5 Loss?

As Game 5 ended with heartbreak for Nationals fans, Baker moved into the media spotlight after throwing shade at Dave Roberts for overworking his ace Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw had pitched Game 4 on 3 day’s rest, but was then brought in to close out Game 5 and earn his first career save. Cubs fans will be quick to point out the hypocrisy in those words, as Baker is often criticized or overworking Cubs starters Kerry Wood and Mark Prior while managing there.

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2 stud pitchers that both had injuries end promising careers. Dusty Baker is often who receives the criticism for their ruined careers for overworking their arms. Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

The overworked pitchers is just one criticism of many that have plagued Dusty Baker throughout his managerial career. In Chicago, Dusty claimed that On Base Percentage is meaningless if you cannot knock in the runners. A true statement, if it just ended there. Baker went on to say, “Clogging up the bases isn’t that great to me.”. This concept was scoffed and laughed at by modern baseball analysts, especially when Baker brought in Corey Patterson and Willy Taveras to leadoff for the Cincinnati Reds, despite neither managing an OBP above .280 in their seasons in Cincinnati.

Baker is often criticized for never winning a World Series, despite only signing to manage teams that were at their peak or, in the Reds case, the farm was just starting to graduate to the MLB. His first management stint with the Giants saw him lead teams that included Barry Bonds in his prime, a Hall of Fame worthy player, until the perjury trial and steroid use dominated the media. The Cubs had studs like Sammy Sosa (who hit 40 hr’s that season despite being injured and suspended for his corked bat incident), Moises Alou, and the pitching triumvirate of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. The Reds may have been in the cellar when Baker started there, but players like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey were just getting their first tastes of the MLB when he signed on there. The Reds would go on to make the playoffs three of his final four seasons with the team, never making it out of the NLDS.

It has been established that Baker is a very controversial manager, who uses old-school logic in a new era of baseball to ultimately fall short of playoff success. The problem with blaming the manager of any baseball team, however, is that hindsight is 20/20 and teams can overcome some manager deficiencies if the team executes when necessary.

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The play at the plate was not even close as all momentum was killed for Nationals after this. What went through third base coach Bob Henley’s head to send Werth here? Photo courtesy of MLB.com

The Nationals lost by one run in Game 5. The Nationals stranded 11 baserunners throughout the game. The Nationals best hitter, Daniel Murphy, went up against Clayton Kershaw, who had pitched almost 7 innings the game before, and could not convert with two men on base. Jayson Werth got thrown out at home in the 6th on a play that was nowhere near close (The full video in case you missed it). Had he been held, who knows what kind of inning that could have turned into against a rookie pitcher.

What can be blamed on Baker then? For starters, leaving in Scherzer too long with a one run lead. Terry Francona has been praised all week for his handling of the bullpen throughout the Indians sweep, bringing in Andrew Miller as early as the 5th inning to secure a lead through the middle of the games. Scherzer is one of the top pitchers in baseball, there is no denying that, but come playoff times, the manager has to be able to step up and make that decision. Scherzer was already at 90+ pitches going into the inning, it only makes sense to bring in a reliever, especially with the increase in home runs Scherzer has given up this year compared to past seasons.

Yet, when Dusty finally does bring in the bullpen shortly after, all they do is give up three more runs in the inning. Dusty goes on and uses five relievers just for that one inning, being a big fan of playing the splits (have lefties pitch to lefties is an example). Half of the bullpen utilized in one inning that amounts to three earned runs given up. The reliever choice and usage can only fall on Dusty’s shoulders.

The Nationals hired a controversial manager, who made a couple of questionable decisions in a playoff elimination game, that ultimately ended in a heartbreaking loss for his team. The truth of the matter is, Baker can share some of the blame, yet the Nationals players and assistant coaches execution throughout the game deserve most of the blame. The questionable send of Jayson Werth killed the momentum that had been brewing in the 6th for the Nationals, Harper getting picked off in the 5th amidst cries of a balk left a sour taste in fan’s mouths, and Kershaw getting out of the 9th inning jam to earn his first save are all moments that could have helped the game play out in the Nationals favor had those plays been executed differently. It is fun and easy to blame Dusty, especially with the history of postseason failure that looms over his head, but this time around, there are actually valid excuses that can be made to defend his performance this Game 5.

 

And then there were Four: NLDS Preview

With the Giants defeating the Mets 3-0 on Wednesday night, the National League playoff picture is set to begin on Friday night. Each of the four teams comes into the playoffs with very different stories: the Giants are looking to solidify themselves as the even-year juggernaut, the Cubs are looking to end a 100 year drought, and we’ll finally get to see either the Dodgers or the Nationals get into the NLCS.

Cubs vs. Giants

The Giants come into the NLDS riding yet another stellar postseason performance by Madison Bumgarner, who might be one of the most clutch starters in MLB playoff history. He’s the first pitcher to record multiple shutouts in sudden-death postseason games, his third postseason shutout gives him the second most in MLB history (Christy Matthewson had four). But, Bumgarner won’t be the only guy pitching this series, and this Giants staff will be going against arguably the best team in baseball. The Cubs ranked third in total offense in the entire MLB, and ranked first in team ERA. While the Giants pitching staff should be able to match up, it’s their offense that looks very outmatched on paper. The Cubs have one of the most talented, young offensive units in the MLB, led by MVP candidate Kris Bryant.

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Cueto and Lester have both been great in 2016, and look to start off this series on the right foot. Image courtesy of ESPN.com

Even in their game against the Mets, the Giants offense was dormant until a clutch three-run homer from Conor Gillaspie broke the stalemate in the top of the ninth inning. This series could very well open with a similar pitching duel, with Johnny Cueto squaring off against Cy Young Candidate, Jon Lester. It will be up to Cueto, who posted a 5.40 ERA last year with the Royals on their postseason run, to set the tone for this series if the Giants want to have a shot. If San Fran wants to continue their even-year magic in the postseason, they’ll either have to step up their offensive game, or have their pitching bring the Cubs down a few pegs at the plate.

Realistically, the pitching scenario seems to be their best bet, so we’ll have to see if the rest of their rotation is up to the task. The Giants bullpen also offers some areas of concern, it didn’t see any action on Wednesday, so everybody should be fresh heading into the series; but they don’t have the same dominant staff that the Cubs have. The Giants blew 29 saves in the regular season, and they’ll have to avoid that level of inconsistency if they want to have a shot in this series.

I’ve picked against the Giants twice already this postseason, and been proven wrong both times. Maybe the third time, and a much stronger team, is the charm I need. I think the Cubs will take the series 3-1 because the Giants won’t be able to muster the same level of offense that the Cubs will when Cueto/Bumgarner aren’t on the mound.

Nationals vs. Dodgers

This matchup features two teams plagued by playoff failures in the past. The Dodgers haven’t made it past the NLDS since 2013, where they lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nationals have only been to the playoffs twice since moving to the nation’s capitol, losing in the Divisional Round both times. The franchise itself hasn’t made it to the NLCS since 1981, when they were still in Montreal, where they lost to (guess who?) the Dodgers 3-2. The Dodgers handled the Nationals in the regular season, winning five of the six games between the two teams.

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Kershaw and Scherzer have both had stellar seasons, all that matters now is how they perform in October. Image courtesy of newsreportcenter.com

This series starts off with a titanic pitching clash between Cy Young candidate, Max Scherzer, and Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw could have very easily been apart of the Cy Young talk in the National League if he hadn’t missed two months on the DL. This series appears much more even on paper than the SF vs. Chicago Cubs series. Both teams had top-five pitching staffs during the regular season, and both teams were in the top half of the NL in terms of offense. I think the Dodgers actually come in as the series favorite, despite being the lower seed (57% chance that the Dodgers make the NLCS according to fivethirtyeight.com).

I think the one X-factor for the Nationals coming into the playoffs has to be Daniel Murphy. He led the MLB in batting average for a significant portion of 2016, and put together one of the most clutch hitting performances throughout the 2015 playoffs with New York. Murphy has been the catalyst for the Nationals offense all season, with Bryce Harper slumping throughout the middle of the year. Both Murphy and Harper missed playing time late in September with injuries. Since Washington had secured its place in the playoffs, it wasn’t too surprising to see them get extra time off. While they are on the roster and appear to be fine, we’ll see if these injuries affects their performance at the plate.

I also think that the Dodgers have the edge in this series. While Scherzer is great on the mound, and can definitely go toe-to-toe with Kershaw, the rest of the Nationals rotation has been inconsistent throughout the year. Gio Gonzalez looked underwhelming throughout 2016, and while Tanner Roark isn’t facing the Marlins, he was just 2-3 in six starts from September to October 1. I think that it will be a very tight series, but in the end I think the Dodgers have looked stronger and more consistent in the second half, and that will carry over into their postseason play. LA wins, 3-2.

 

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One Game to Rule them All: The NL Wildcard

It’s finally here, October baseball. After 162 games, only five teams remain standing in the National League. For the Mets and the Giants, who square off Wednesday, game 163 will be the most intense game for either team up to this point. Their reward if they prevail? A chance to play the Chicago Cubs: certainly not the best thing ever, but definitely better than the alternative.

The Stories

Since the one-game wildcard playoff was added in 2012, it has delivered some of the most thrilling moments in baseball. This particular match-up takes place between the two previous National League champions, both limping across the finish line in the regular season (quite literally for some Mets). The Giants come into this series under familiar circumstances, in 2014 they were also a part of the wildcard game, and became the only wildcard team to win the World Series since 2012. They looked primed to avoid this game altogether, finishing the first half of the season 6.5 games ahead of their division rival, the Dodgers. They lost control of the division and didn’t end up securing their playoff berth until their final regular season game, beating the Dodgers 7-1.

The Mets came into 2016 with one of the most anticipated rotations of 2016, but a combination of offensive struggles and injuries kept the team from achieving its full potential. Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon are the only two pitchers from the Opening Day rotation who aren’t on the DL coming into the postseason. The offense took its fair share of hits as well, losing first baseman Lucas Duda and catcher Travis D’Arnaud to the DL for multiple months, along with losing captain David Wright and second baseman, Neil Walker for the year. The catalysts for their late-season surge, Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera, also had DL stints. Despite this, the Mets stuck around against all odds, and are just one game away from returning to defend their National League pennant. They have the advantage of hosting this game at Citi Field, a site for so much of the Mets’ magical 2015 run.

The Pitching: Noah Syndergaard (14-9) 2.60 ERA vs. Madison Bumgarner (15-9) 2.74 ERA

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Sergio Romo looks to provide stability as a closer now on the Giants. Image courtesy of outsidepitchmlb.com

The Mets and the Giants both sported fantastic pitching throughout 2016, ranking third and fourth in National League ERA respectively (funny enough, Syndergaard and Bumgarner also rank third and fourth in ERA in the NL). It’s only fitting that the teams send their biggest arms to face-off in this winner-takes-all game. Thor and MadBum squared off once in the regular season, all the way back in May. San Francisco ended up getting the win 6-1, but Syndergaard would exact his revenge on the Giants offense in August, tossing eight shutout innings at AT&T Park. While Syndergaard has the advantage between the two in terms of raw velocity, (averaging 98.29 mph per fastball vs. Bumgarner’s 90.95 according to MLB.com) Bumgarner has one of the most deceptive deliveries in baseball at his disposal. Both pitchers also aren’t afraid to swing away at the plate, hitting three home runs apiece during the regular season.

Given how tight this starting match-up is, the game may ultimately be decided by some clutch bullpen action. The Mets appear to have the advantage in this category this year. New York closer, Jeurys Familia led the entire MLB with 51 saves during the regular season, while set up man Addison Reed had 11 more holds than any other reliever in baseball. On the other side, the Giants bullpen blew 29 save opportunities throughout the regular season, which played a big part in their near collapse. Sergio Romo appears to be the Giants’ new closer heading into the postseason (they seem to have a thing for closers with beards in the postseason) and he’s slightly allayed the fears of Giants fans, converting four of four save opportunities since getting the position.

The Hitting

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Despite time on the DL, Yoenis Cespedes led the way for the Mets offense in 2016. Image courtesy of mlbtraderumors.com

With how good the pitching is, batters on both sides will have their work cut out for them putting up any kind of production. Luckily, neither team is a stranger to close games, with the Giants going 28-27 in games decided by one run. The Mets were 25-22 in that department. Both teams had fairly weak offenses throughout the regular season, averaging slightly above four runs per game.

The real variance comes in how these teams produce their runs. The Giants take a much more cerebral approach to the game, playing small ball and manufacturing runs. They rank 4th in the National League in hits, despite ranking 9th in runs. They didn’t really have much of a power game whatsoever, ranking 13th in the NL in homers, with 130. Brandon Belt led the team with 17 big flies in the regular season.

The Mets have relied heavily on the long ball throughout the year. They ranked second in the National League with 218 home runs, 31 by team leader, Yoenis Cespedes. This reliance on the home run has led the Mets offense to be incredibly streaky throughout the season, but it can be a real menace to face this offense when it’s firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately for the Giants, it has been coming into this game. The Mets scored the second most runs of any NL team in September, and hit the second most home runs. The Giants offense was 12th in runs scored this month, and 14th in home runs.

My Pick

Right now the Mets are my favorite to win this game. They’ve got the advantage of playing at home, and their offense has been worlds better as of late than the Giants. With that said, it is an even year, so it’s hard to really ever count the Giants out. I think that viewers will be in for a spectacular pitching duel, regardless of the outcome and it’ll definitely be a game worth watching.

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