Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers: Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers find themselves 3.5 games behind Chicago Cubs in race for the NL Central division crown with 12 to play; also gain on idle Colorado.

In most seasons, it is with little fanfare the weeks of September pass lazily by for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans. But wait! Hold on! To quote the fictitious Lou Brown “We’re contenders now.” Please allow me to gush about a team none of us saw coming.

Hell, I thought the Brewers last meaningful game would be on or around the first of May! I bet you did too.

Millennials Don’t Understand

Milwaukee Brewers

Legendary fictitious manager, Lou Brown. (Photo courtesy of: bloguin.com)

Many of the younger Brewers fans can’t recall how terrible this club has historically performed. They can’t wrap their heads around how brutal the dual division format was. There was a time when winning 100 games and missing the playoffs actually happened. Yes, really. They can’t feel the disappointment of finishing with 91 wins and being shut out of the playoffs.

The American League East was a meat-grinder in the 1980s. Millennials just don’t remember how hard losing out to the Red Sox by 2 games in 1988 was. This youngest generation of Brewers fans has been spoiled in comparison to us who are getting a little long in tooth these days.

I have to just shake my head at those who are overly pessimistic about the prospects of seeing meaningful October baseball in Milwaukee. Look alive out there! The Brewers are still in this thing!

Sure, at 3.5 games back they have their work cut out for them. But with 12 games left to play and with four at home against the Cubbies, all bets are off. Sure, they need to be almost perfect to take the NL Central crown but what would you rather be doing right now? Talking about the postseason? Or having a round table debate on how fast the Brewers will move Keston Hiura through the farm system? I know what I pick.

The Beermakers have had fairly consistent playoff baseball to look forward to since they slump busted their way to the 2008 postseason. Granted, they lost out in five to the Phillies in the NLDS but nobody will ever take away that lone series win for Dave Bush. Put that one in your pocket Dave, it’s yours to keep forever.

Ok, so the Milwaukee Brewers have not exactly been perennial playoff contenders like St. Louis and the New York Yankees. What the Brewers have done in the last decade however, is double their playoff appearances from two to four. This was all a long time coming too, 26 years between postseason berths is far too long.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s were the decade of bad music (disco) and horrendous Brewers baseball. From 1970, the Brewers’ inaugural season in Milwaukee, through 1977 they won an average of 69 ballgames. Over that span they put up an atrocious (.427) win percentage. Yikes!

Milwaukee Brewers

Unlikely playoff winner Dave Bush floats one in there. (Photo courtesy of: NY Daily News)

The only thing golden about this period of Milwaukee Brewers team history is George Scott’s five consecutive gold glove seasons manning first base.

After the 1977 season concluded Harry Dalton was hired as GM. This keen hire would ultimately change the hard luck fortunes of Milwaukee’s annual celebration of futility when Dalton wasted no time in hiring new manager George Bamberger.

The change in Milwaukee was sudden. In 1978 the upstart Brewers would post not only their first winning season, but suddenly found themselves in the thick of the AL East pennant race. They would romp to a franchise high 93 wins. However, Bambi’s Bombers would fail to bring the pennant home, finishing in third place behind Boston and soon to be World Champion New York.

As suddenly as this renaissance had taken place however, it appeared to be over when Bamberger suffered a heart attack at spring training in 1980. Bamberger would return after having surgery to repair his condition but he would not finish the season at the helm, resigning his post September 7, 1980.

Oh No! We Suck Again!

While it must have been a thrilling time in the early 1980s for Milwaukee Brewers fans, the period from 1993-2006 was anything but.

After the Brewers won 92 games in 1992 to finish four games off the pace of eventual world champion Toronto,

Milwaukee Brewers

The inspiring Davy Lopes. (Photo courtesy of: Reuters)

an era of 12 uninterrupted losing seasons ensued.

If you’re too young to remember much of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1990s, you aren’t missing much. Those teams left scars, man.

Perhaps no scar is uglier and more painful than the 2002 season.

This was the era of Davy Lopes. I’m sure Davy is a good guy in person, I wouldn’t know I’ve never met him. But his teams were a dumpster fire and of course, the front office had plenty to do with that too. I swear Davy Lopes was sleeping in the dugout during most games. And why not? After all, Glendon Rusch doesn’t really inspire anyone but the opposing fans dreaming of catching a home run ball. My god, their odds of catching one had to be about 50-50 when he took the hill, the bleacher seats were more like an artillery practice range.

We Brewer fans didn’t bring gloves to those games. Hell no. You wouldn’t dare. You brought your hard hat or didn’t come back. That’s just how it was.

Oh 2002, how I loathe you. It’s like a bad ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The memory always there, haunting you, laughing at you. Reminding you just how bad things were. That’s how it feels to witness a 106-loss season finally cave in on itself, forever buried in the past. No grave marker, no eulogy. Just gone. Dust to dust baby, dust to dust.

Milwaukee Brewers Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers are contenders, so don’t be sad. Definitely don’t be that guy. Nobody thought they would be here right now 3.5 behind the Cubs with a fateful four game series on tap for the weekend but only the most delusional among us (don’t worry we love your foresight). Yet, here we are and you’re going to have to deal with the Brewers if you want the NL Central.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee’s first playoff team stands for the national anthem in 1981. (Photo courtesy of: onmilwaukee.com)

The Brewers right now are surviving in Pittsburgh hoping to keep pace with Chicago after taking two of three from Miami on the “road” at Miller Park. If that is a bone of contention for you, I urge you to please, contact the MLB office. I’m sure you’ll be the first knucklehead they’ve heard from too! Get over it, it’s done. I mean, it’s not like a hurricane was threatening to sink Miami or anything.

Losing Jimmy Nelson has hurt, he was just starting to get locked in and it’s an absolute shame that we’ve lost him. You know this guy wants nothing more than to be on that mound, trusting in his grind. I feel bad for him. But be that as it may the Brewers are not done, they are contenders now.

And you know what? I am not even going to hide my homerism here. How can I? It took 26 years at one point in my life already to suckle the sweet, sweet nectar of glorious October baseball. And let’s get real, postseason baseball is a white unicorn for anyone rocking the hottest gear in sports. The ball and glove logo of the Milwaukee Brewers that is the by far the best logo in MLB for sure, hand down.

And for the love of god, please don’t be like Randy Quaid’s rendition of “angry Indians fan” from Major League II.

Milwaukee historically doesn’t play many meaningful games this late in the year, and winter is coming folks. The long frigid winter. It chills my bones just thinking about it because we very rarely get to warm ourselves by the hot stove either. I urge you all to put aside the speculation on who the next Eric Thames-esque signing is going to be next January. That’s seriously about as much fun to think about as getting a root canal by a meth-head dentist who has since graduated to PCP. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Let’s hold on to our boys of summer just a little bit longer! I’m headed over to Milwaukee this Saturday and I don’t even have a ticket yet.

What’s your excuse?

 

(feature photo courtesy of: gorillabaseball.com)

 

 

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“From our Haus to yours!”

Rockies

Can the Rockies hold on to the Wild Card?

The NL West has been wild this year. It seemed as though the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies were all the teams to beat in the National League at one point (apologies to the Nationals).

At the moment, the Dodgers are sliding and the Diamondbacks are rolling. Both of those teams are locks for the playoffs though.

The same thing can’t be said for the Rockies though. On Aug. 5, Colorado found themselves a comfortable 17 games over the .500 mark. Just one month later, the Rockies are nine games over that mark and are only two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.

As stated earlier, the Diamondbacks are rolling and have all but mathematically locked up a playoff spot. The Dodgers, although struggling, are also a lock to reach the postseason. The real race is going to be for that second wild card spot that is currently held by Colorado. Here is a look at the two teams that are threatening the Rockies’ playoff hopes.

St. Louis Cardinals

Colorado Rockies wild card

Paul DeJong has been one of the big names in the Redbird renaissance (Photo by KSDK)

Not many people have been talking about what is going on in St. Louis this season. Yes, the Cardinals have been very inconsistent in many facets of their game. However, there has been a Redbird renaissance going on in St. Louis. That is the Memphis Redbirds to be precise.

The Triple-A affiliate Redbirds finished the season with an impressive 91-50 record, and their success is starting to spill into the big leagues. The list of players that have made an impact on the team this season that would typically be considered Triple-A players is long. Those names include Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, Luke Weaver, Luke Voit, Harrison Bader and many more.

Tommy Pham has played a vast majority of the year in St. Louis and has been their best player, so he doesn’t figure into that crowd. One thing that is worth noticing though is the Cardinals lineup on Tuesday. Seven of the Cardinals starting nine have played significant time down in the minors.

DeJong may even be a favorite for Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Cody Bellinger’s breakout campaign. DeJong has been hitting homers at a very similar rate (given that he has a lot less at bats), and has a much better batting average.

This team has been up and down all season long, but may be hitting a stride with these young players. It is going to be a tough test for them coming up though. All of their remaining games are against NL Central opponents. Their record in their own division is pretty strong in most years.

However, this year they have been getting by with a weak 23-31 record inside of an already weak division. It will be interesting to see though if Mike Matheny will continue to play these young surging talents in the stretch. He is not usually one to pick the young guys over the more experienced veterans. It may be in his best interest though to play the hot-hand this time of year, before other teams start to figure out these new faces.

Milwaukee Brewers

Colorado Rockies wild card

Travis Shaw has led the Brewers to contention in September (Photo by ESPN)

The Brewers controlled the NL Central for much of the the season. The Chicago Cubs were at their heels for a long time, and they finally took over as many expected. Catching the Cubs is still not out of the realm of possibility for the Brewers or the Cardinals, but for the purposes of this, we will talk within the context of the wild card.

Milwaukee is now 2.5 games back of the Rockies for second place in the wild card. They just let the Cardinals surpass them, which of course is not something they wanted to let happen.

Their offense has not been playing as well as of late. Eric Thames has slowed down his production, and the supporting cast has not been keeping up. At the moment, the leader in batting average for the team is Travis Shaw at .276. That is very low for the best on the team and does not bode well if they wish to contend.

The Brewers have still been resilient this season and fight back as long as people keep counting them out. They are playing below .500 baseball since the All-Star break, so it is going to be difficult for them to keep up at this juncture.

One of the key moments that kept them from losing a series to the rival Cardinals was a stellar, literal game saving catch by Keon Broxton. That was a shot in the arm that the Brewers needed. They have since fallen behind the Cardinals in the chase for the playoffs, so they are hoping that some of their key players will show up in the stretch.

Can the Rockies fend off the competition?

Colorado has a tough schedule coming up for them. They are about to play a four-game set against the Dodgers in LA, and then fly to Arizona for a four-game set against the red-hot Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are hoping to prolong the Dodgers’ struggles, because this is an eight-game road trip that the team has probably been keeping an eye on for a long time. They have been 7-13 on the road since the All-Star game, so the time is now for them to pick it up outside of their home in Colorado.

The Rockies have a relatively easy schedule after they finish in Arizona on the 14th, so this eight-game stretch could make or break their season. The Cardinals have a fairly easy schedule during that time span, so the standings could look much different if they capitalize on this.

What the Rockies need to hope for is for the Cardinals to continue their struggles against teams in their own division, and go back to their inconsistent ways.

It is hard to imagine a team with the kind of offensive fire power the Rockies have may not make the playoffs. Their division is just that stacked this year. It has been very difficult for them to pull away from other teams in the National League.

If the Rockies are able to take four of the eight games they have coming up, it will be hard to see them not playing the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card. However, if they get bullied by their division rivals, the Cardinals may make another push for October, much like they did in 2011.

 

Featured image by Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Trade

Post-deadline trade market still buzzing

It has been a month since the non-waiver trade deadline passed but there still have been all sorts of wheeling and dealing. It is much more difficult to complete a trade after July 31st, but it can still happen and make an impact for a team. Here is a look at some of the big trades over the past month and the impact it can have on their respective teams.

Curtis Granderson to the Dodgers

Trade

Granderson has ripped 3 bombs since arriving in LA (NBC Los Angeles)

Granderson had been having a good power year but has been struggling otherwise, much like a lot of hitters this season. He has 23 home runs and a .217/.330/.480 slash line on the year. Since making his way to Los Angeles, he is only hitting .135.

It was an interesting move for the Dodgers to make as they have a well-rounded outfield. However, it is evident that Dodgers managements knows that this is their time to go for the whole thing. Thus, they made the decision to do everything they can to improve their offense. The outfield already consists of Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor and rookie sensation Cody Bellinger. Bellinger was recently on the disabled list though, so the Granderson deal may be precaution just in case something goes wrong. He started most games with Bellinger on the DL and was able to hit three home runs in that time.

Replacing Chris Taylor would also be a tough sell given that he is having a breakout year at the plate with a .305/.375/.532 slash line along with 18 home runs. It would be tough to see Granderson starting in the outfield come October barring injury. He would provide impressive pop off the bench in important situations, so look for him to make his impact there.

Mariners make moves for Mike Leake and Yonder Alonso

The Mike Leake trade news came as a surprise this week. This seemed to be more of a salary dump for the Cardinals as they look to add in free agency this winter or re-sign Lance Lynn. Several sources also reported that Leake was not happy in St. Louis, so that may have contributed in him waiving his no-trade clause. Players in the St. Louis clubhouse were not happy with the deal though, asking if it was a joke even.

Leake has been struggling as of late. He was not contributing much as he has a 8.88 ERA in the month of August. He has shown signs of brilliance though. In April he looked to be one of the best pitchers in the National League as he went 3-1 with a 1.35 ERA. The Mariners may be looking for that Mike Leake for the wild card race at hand, as well as the future with his contract running until 2021.

Yonder Alonso was a big bat that the Mariners were looking for. He has managed to hit 24 this season along with a respectable .267 batting average. It is obvious that Seattle is serious about making a run for the wild card, however they are slumping as of late and will need to turn it around. They are 4.5 games behind the Twins for the second spot in the playoffs. It is going to be especially difficult considering the moves that the Angels are making in Anaheim.

Angels acquire Justin Upton from Detroit

Trade

Upton joins Mike Trout in a star-studded outfield (Sports Illustrated)

The Angels traded for a big name in Justin Upton on Thursday. Upton provides a very strong presence in the middle of the Angels lineup. This acquisition is exactly what the team needs in terms of morale and support. It shows that the Angels are not going to sit idly by when they see there is a chance for the team to do something in the postseason.

Albert Pujols is not the hitter he used to be but he is a great compliment to Justin Upton and Mike Trout. Andrelton Simmons is also having one of his best years at the plate, so there is potential for the offense to take the Angels to the playoffs. Their main issue is pitching though. The performance of their pitching staff is vital in order for the Upton trade to work out this season.

What the Upton trade also shows is that the Tigers are in selling mode. They have now unloaded Alex Avila and their star outfielder Justin Upton. Is there going to be a Verlander-sized domino that falls next? Many teams would love to have an arm with the kind of experience Verlander has at this point in the season. Look for him to be moved soon as multiple sources are reporting that the Tigers want to deal their ace. It is not a sure thing but there are plenty of teams, even the Angels, that are probably calling Al Avila.

Johnathan Lucroy to Colorado

This trade went a tad under the radar, but it has been paying off for Colorado. Lucroy provides solid veteren experience to a relatively inexperienced pitching rotation. He is a good guy to have behind the plate if the Rockies make it to October and have their young pitchers go up against the league’s best.

Lucroy has a solid .299/.415/.448 slash line since being traded to Colorado from Texas. He had a -0.5 WAR in Texas as well but has been looking better with a .4 WAR in his 22 games with the Rockies. He also rounds out one of the better offenses in the league and is making a difference down the line.

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Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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MLB second half performances

Best MLB second half performances of 2016

With the second half of the 2017 MLB season in course, it’s time to assess the best MLB second half performances of 2016. The players are organized in groups according to whether they were an All-Star, veteran, breakout performer or rookie.

All-Stars 

Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 9-4 W-L 3.01 ERA 1.08 WHIP 8.8 K/9 110.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 10-1 W-L 1.76 ERA 0.94 WHIP 8.7 K/9 92 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jon Lester finished second in the NL Cy Young vote after a miraculous second half. (Photo by dailyherald.com)

In his 11th major league season, Lester ended the year with 19 wins and a 2.44 ERA. He finished second in the National League Cy Young vote and was a key part of the Chicago Cubs’ championship run.

In his 14 second half starts, Lester was nearly unhittable. He had a record of 10-1 with a 1.76 ERA and .189 batting average against, or BAA.

His home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, dropped from 16.2 percent in the first half to 6.8 percent in the second. This, along with the fact that his left on base percentage, or LOB%, rose from 83.7 percent to 86.4 percent, made him arguably the most successful pitcher in the second half of the 2016 MLB season.

 

 

 

 

 

Miguel Cabrera, First Baseman, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 86 GS 18 HR 53 RBI 49 R .293/.370/.507 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 70 GS 20 HR 55 RBI 43 R .346/.423/.653 BA/OBP/SLG

The future first ballot Hall of Famer had an incredible second half. Cabrera batted .346 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIs and 43 runs scored in 70 games.

The largest analytical differences between Cabrera’s first and second halves included his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, rose from .314 to .366, as well as his weighted on-base average, or wOBA, rose from .368 to .438.

The 33-year-old’s second half of 2016 is a prime example of why he is one of the greatest hitters of this generation.

Veterans

Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 8-6 W-L 4.07 ERA 1.13 WHIP 9.2 K/9 117.1 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 16 GS 8-3 W-L 1.96 ERA 0.86 WHIP 10.9 K/9 110.1 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Justin Verlander’s 2016 campaign was a success due to his incredible second half. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander managed to finish 2016 as the American League Cy Young runner-up even after failing to make the AL All-Star team. How is this possible you ask? Well, it may have something to do with his poor 4.07 ERA in the first half.

His astonishing second half resulted in a 1.96 ERA, .180 BAA and 134 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. The 33-year-old’s success could be attributed to his ability to limit walks and strand runners on base. His strikeout to walk ratio, or K/BB, was an incredible 5.58, while his LOB% was an astronomical 90.6 percent.

Many people argue that Verlander was snubbed of the 2016 AL Cy Young award, and for good reason, as his mind-blowing second half lead to a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA, .204 BAA and a league leading 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts.

 

 

 

 

Joey Votto, First Baseman, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 84 GS 14 HR 42 RBI 48 R .252/.386/.446 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 71 GS 15 HR 55 RBI 53 R .408/.490/.668 BA/OBP/SLG

Votto managed to continue the lore of being one of the greatest second half hitters of all time, as he slashes .327/.440/.569 on his career after the All-Star break.

His 2016 campaign resulted in a .326 average, 29 home runs and 97 RBIs. In the second half alone, Votto managed to bat .408 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs in 72 games. The major changes in his analytics included his strikeout rate, which decreased from 24.2 percent to 10.2 percent, his BABIP, which rose from .308 to .418 and his wOBA, which rose from .357 to .478.

Votto’s 2016 second half will go down as one of the most dominant in baseball history.

Yadier Molina, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 2 HR 28 RBI 30 R .259/.329/.341 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 65 GS 6 HR 30 RBI 26 R .365/.398/.529 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Yadier Molina batted .365 in the second half of his MVP caliber 2016 campaign. (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the greatest catchers of his era, Molina has been a National League MVP candidate on five separate occasions, while also winning eight Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award. His 2016 second half helped him re-enter the MVP conversation for the first time since 2013, where he finished third in the NL MVP vote.

His first half in 2016 was quite abysmal, as the 33-year-old batted only .259, which was well below his career batting average of .284. Although in the second half, Molina batted a phenomenal .365.

The major analytical difference between Molina first and second half was his BABIP, as it rose from .291 in the first half to .388 in the second.

Molina has always been a more productive player after the break, but he had never taken his production to levels like this.

 

 

 

Breakout performers

Kyle Hendricks, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 16 GS 7-6 W-L 2.55 ERA 1.03 WHIP 7.8 K/9 98.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 9-2 W-L 1.68 ERA 0.92 WHIP 8.3 K/9 91.1 IP

Hendricks finished third in the NL Cy Young vote and 23rd in the NL MVP vote in 2016. The 26-year-old led the league in ERA and ERA+, which exemplifies his utter dominance over the entirety of the season. Although he was great all year, his overall success was majorly due to his impeccable second half.

Hendricks managed to finish the second half with a 9-2 record, 1.68 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. One major analytical difference between halves was his ability to strand runners on base, as his LOB% rose from 74.1 percent in the first half to 90.7 percent in the second.

The interesting thing with the rest of Hendricks’ splits include that his BABIP and hard contact rates both rose from the first half to the second, which would suggest he got luckier in the first half, even though he was more successful in the second.

D.J. LeMahieu, Second Baseman, Colorado Rockies

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 5 HR 32 RBI 53 R 7 SB .334/.398/.490 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 66 GS 6 HR 34 RBI 53 R 4 SB .363/.437/.500 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

D.J. LeMahieu had a fantastic year in 2016, although he was that much more special in the second half. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

After being snubbed in the NL All-Star vote, LeMahieu had an exorbitant second half that landed him 15th in the NL MVP vote.

His BABIP rose from .379 in the first half to an even better .397 in the second, which kept his batting average well above .300. LeMahieu finished the year with a league leading .348 batting average, although it was his .363 batting average in the second half that blew fans away.

The 27-year-old had almost identical contact rates from one half to the other, although the direction of the contact had changed drastically. His pull percentage decreased from 24 percent to 19 percent, while his opposite field percentage rose from 35 percent to 41 percent. LeMahieu was able to spray the ball across the diamond while sustaining contact rates, which makes his 2016 second half even more impressive.

 

 

Rookies

Trea Turner, Second Baseman/Outfielder, Washington Nationals

2016 First Half Stats 3 GS 0 HR 0 RBI 0 R 0 SB .429/.500/.571 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 67 GS 13 HR 40 RBI 53 R 33 SB .340/.367/.567 BA/OBP/SLG

The 13th overall pick in 2014 exploded onto the scene in the second half of last season. Turner batted .340 with 13 home runs, 53 runs, 40 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 67 starts, which resulted in a runner-up finish for the NL Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager).

His second-half success can be attributed to his .387 BABIP, which positively impacted Turner as 44 percent of his batted balls went for ground balls. His contact rates were also great, as he made over 80 percent medium and hard contact on all balls batted in play.

Turner showed glimpses of what could be an elite fantasy asset, as he displayed contact, power, production, speed and consistency atop the Washington Nationals’ star-studded lineup.

Jose Peraza, Shortstop/Second Baseman/Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 15 GS 0 HR 4 RBI 6 R 9 SB .246/.278/.246 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 41 GS 3 HR 21 RBI 19 R 12 SB .355/.380/.477 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jose Peraza exploded onto the scene during the second half of 2016. (Photo by WKRC)

Peraza was called up in May of 2016 for his first extended stint in the majors, as he made his major league debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.

After struggling in his first 15 games last season, he finished the year with a .324 batting average, 25 runs scored, 25 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 56 starts.

The 22-year-old put together an amazing second half, where he batted .355 with 19 runs scored, 21 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 41 starts.

Peraza’s second-half success can be attributed to multiple things, including his .389 BABIP, his ability to make 83 percent medium or hard contact and his ability to spray the ball over 29 percent of the time to each field.

His ability to make solid contact and spray to all fields helped propel him to having one of MLB’s best second halves in 2016.

 

 

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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Century

Best MLB Franchises of the 21st century

Methodology

In order to figure out who truly deserves to be one of the best MLB teams of the century, I factored in several aspects to evaluate each team. I am including every game during the regular and postseason from the beginning of the 2000 season up until the 2017 All-Star break. I created a point system that is calculated as follows:

Win-Loss Differential- 1 point per game

Playoff Appearances- 10 points

Division Title- 10 points

League Champions- 30 points

World Series Champions- 50 points

Consistency- 20 points for every three consecutive playoff appearances + 10 bonus points for each consecutive year after that

Teams should get credit for being able to sustain success for an extended period of time, rather than having one year where they played exceptional followed by several bad years. It’s also important to distinguish playoff appearances from division titles.

For example, the Phillies should get more credit for winning their division with 102 wins in 2011 than the Cardinals winning the wild card with 90 wins. It’s also important to reward playoff success, therefore teams received a lot of credit for being able to win their league and/or winning the World Series.

It’s also pivotal to give teams credit for being successful during the regular season even if they have struggled in postseason play.

With the point system out of the way, here are the 10 best MLB teams of the 21st century thus far.

10. Texas Rangers

best mlb teams 21st century

Beltre, Hamilton and Young were at the heart of the Rangers lineup when they made their runs to the World Series (Zimbio)

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,404 (.506) = 35 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2010-2012 = 20 points

Total= 205 points

The Rangers did not start to show up until about a decade into the century. They might have had a World Series championship under their belt if they did not run into hot playoff teams like the Giants and Cardinals. If Nelson Cruz would have been a few steps back and didn’t let a ball go over his head then they would definitely have a championship.

It is somewhat surprising to find the Rangers this high on the list. They did not crack 90 wins or make the playoffs in the 21st century until 2010. They did have playoff success starting that year and that is what gets them to No. 10.

9. Philadelphia Phillies

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,401 (.506) = 38 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 5= 50 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2011= 40 points

Total= 288 points

best mlb teams 21st century

The Phillies rotation was advertised to be unstoppable in 2011 (USA Today)

The Phillies seemed to be a juggernaut around the same time the Rangers were taking off. They have had some of the most talented players in the past 20 years like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. On top of that, they had what was thought to be the best pitching rotation in a generation.

When Philadelphia signed Cliff Lee in 2011, they were described as the best rotation in baseball hands down. This was after they had been to two consecutive World Series in 2008 and 2009.

The Lee signing made the top four in their rotation Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Especially with their core hitters still intact, it was hard to imagine anyone stopping them given they had an ace pitching almost every game.

Even with 102 wins in 2011, the Phillies were expecting to win more games in that season.

They ended up getting knocked out by St. Louis in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2011. They have yet to reach the playoffs again since that year largely because of their aging core. Philadelphia appeared to be close to having an uptick with some of their young prospects recently, but they have backslid as they are the worst team in baseball in 2017.

8. Oakland Athletics

Win-Loss: 1,499-1,342 (.542) = 157 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions= 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2003, 2012-2014= 50 points

Total= 347 points

Thanks to Billy Beane, the Athletics were dominating baseball for the first few years of the 21st century. He found a way to revolutionize the game using “moneyball”. Through his sabermetrics and smaller salary cap, he built a rotation that rivals the Phillies one I mentioned earlier.

Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito made up a powerful rotation that led the team to 392 wins in the four-year stretch that they made the playoffs from 2000-03. They have been a great regular season team most seasons since 2000, but they have yet to translate that to playoff success. They have not made it to the World Series since 1990.

While they showed promise of possibly making a run a few years ago, they have regressed once again. It looks like it may be a while before the Athletics return to the postseason especially considering the juggernaut that is rising in Houston.

7. Atlanta Braves

Win-Loss: 1,518-1,320 (.534) = 198 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 9= 90 points

Division Titles: 7= 70 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2005= 50 points

Total= 408 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Freeman has taken the reigns from Jones in Atlanta (MLB)

If we included the 1990s, the Braves would shoot up this list in a hurry. Atlanta went to the playoffs 10 consecutive years that included three National League championships and one World Series championship. However, half of those seasons are not going to count towards this list. Despite that, many of their successful players carried over into the 21st century and still dominated.

While the Braves have yet to make a World Series since 2000, they still have had a good run of making the postseason and doing well in the East. Their nine playoff appearances are second most in the National League behind the Cardinals.

Bobby Cox led the club until 2010 with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz. These players made up a Braves core that rivaled the best.

Their lack of postseason success is what keeps them from moving up the rankings. However, they are showing signs of improving as they have proven to be a team that will fight with the best of them.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

Win-Loss: 1,540-1,303 (.541)= 237 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 8= 80 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2013-2016= 30 points

Total= 427 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Kershaw is making a case to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time (Baseball Essential)

The Dodgers have had a similar story to the Braves. They have managed to have regular season success and have been reaching the playoffs, however they have trouble getting past the league championship. It is still surprising to see them this high on the list, but that goes to show just how good they have been in the regular season as opposed to the postseason.

Clayton Kershaw already seems to be able to get into the Hall-of-Fame before reaching the age of 30. However, he has been part of the problem in the postseason. Kershaw is 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 14 starts in postseason play.

Especially with how much the Dodgers rely on him to be the ace that he is known to be, it is difficult for them to be able to make it very far in the playoffs.

This year may rewrite the script in terms of the Dodgers postseason woes. Their young lineup mixed with a spectacular pitching staff makes the Dodgers a force to be feared. If the article was to be written a year or two from now, the Dodgers may be moved up a couple spots on this list.

5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Win-Loss: 1,535-1,311 (.539)= 224 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions: 1= 30 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2009= 20 points

Total= 454 points

Since 2009 the Angels have only made the playoffs once. They were successful in the regular season leading up to that, but have not been able to reach the World Series since winning it in 2002.

Anaheim currently may have the best baseball player since Willie Mays in Mike Trout. However, they have not been able to do much with him on the team despite also signing Albert Pujols. The Pujols contract may be what is keeping them back though. The amount of money they have invested in him may prevent them from being able to resign Mike Trout when that time comes. These big contracts are showing why they don’t work since it is difficult to build a good team around these mega deals.

Even with some of the legendary players on the Angels it seems that their future is at an interesting juncture. I expect them to move down this list in a few years while others rise.

4. San Francisco Giants

Win-Loss: 1,496-1,345 (.526)= 151 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: No consecutive playoff appearances three years in a row= 0 points

Total= 531 points

The Giants managed to gain the reputation of winning the World Series only in even years, as they won in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They have not been as good of regualr season teams as others on this list. San Francisco has only one four division titles since 2000 which is low compared to others on this list. However, there may not be much debate in saying they have had the most playoff success out of all these teams.

One of the biggest names for San Francisco since the turn of the century is Barry Bonds, who even though is tainted by the steroid era could still be one of the best hitters of all time. Much of their success has come from their pitching staff though. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and at one time Tim Lincecum have all been big contributes to the Giants success in the playoffs. Overall though, during their stretch of winning championships they were able to work well as a team. There were not a whole lot of big names outside of Bumgarner or Posey, but they had a supporting cast that did what they had to do and took them all the way.

Things are different this year. The Giants are currently in the midst of one of their worst years in the history of their franchise. Which is really saying a lot seeing as they are one of the oldest organizations in baseball. It is hard to see what is in store in the future for the Giants, but knowing them they will find away to make it back to the playoffs soon.

3. Boston Red Sox

Win-Loss: 1,557-1,285 (.547)= 272 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 3= 30 points

League Champions: 3= 90 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: 2003-2005, 2007-2009= 40 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Boston broke their World Series drought by sweeping St. Louis in 2004 (Boston Globe)

Total: 662 points

In 2004 the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Since then, they have won another two championships. They also had perhaps the greatest comeback in playoff history, coming back from 3-0 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

The Red Sox have also been playing in the toughest division in baseball since 2000. If you look at their division titles they only have three, which is as many World Series wins they have. This is largely because of who they have been competing with, rather than their lack of ability to perform in the regular season. It is odd to see the third place team on this list only with three AL East titles but it is the way the game goes.

Boston has had some stellar hitters including David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. They also have had some of the greatest pitchers of all-time in Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Their success can also be largely attributed to the supporting cast of their team. Players like Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury are the less well known players on these teams that are able to have a significant impact.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Win-Loss: 1,593-1,248 (.560)= 345 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 12= 120 points

Division Titles: 9= 90 points

League Champions: 4= 40 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2011-2015= 80 points

Total= 775 points

The Cardinals have been called the Yankees of the National League. Since 2000, they have been one of the most consistently great organizations in baseball. This is because they have had a great mix of star performers and supporting players.

best mlb teams 21st century

Known as “MV3”, this legendary trio led the Cardinals to be one of the best teams of the 21st century (InsideSTL)

Albert Pujols came from the Cardinals system and had the best 10 year start to career in the history of the game. After he left the Cardinals in 2011, they have yet to figure out a way to fill the void that Pujols left in 2013. Despite the fact that they made it to the World Series in 2013, they have still been missing that spark in the lineup. Yadier Molina has been the best catcher since Ivan Rodriguez and is also a product of the Cardinals’ farm system, however he was never entrenched at the three spot in the lineup quite like Pujols was. Pujols provided the intimidation factor that has been missing and may contribute to why the Cardinals are struggling in 2017.

The 2004 Cardinals won a monstrous 105 games. This is largely thanks to the stellar middle of their lineup in Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. There hasn’t quite been a trio as good as them for a long time. Each one of them was the full package with offense as well as defense. They are a big reason why the Cardinals were so successful from 2004-2006.

With the combination of Hall of Fame managing in Tony La Russa as well as great upper management, the Cardinals have some of the best sustained success since the turn of the century.

1. New York Yankees

Win-Loss: 1,637-1,199 (.577)= 438 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 13= 130 points

Division Titles: 10= 100 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2007, 2009-2012 = 100 points

Total= 988 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Not many would debate Derek Jeter being the face of the Yankees success (MLB)

The Yankees had a reputation for a long time for spending big money to get the best players in baseball. They did this with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texiera, and C.C Sabathia. However, that culture has been starting to get phased out and New York has been growing their own players in their farm system. The best example of this is Aaron Judge who is busting onto the scene and may be one of the greatest rookies ever. Other homegrown players such as Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Bernie Williams made a big impact this century as well. I haven’t even mentioned that the best closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, racked up more saves than anyone during this time and came from the Yankees system.

Just by naming all of these players who have played in New York tells the story of how successful they have been. They have won 2 World Series titles since the turn of the century, which is low for them considering they have won 27 all together. Their heated rivals, the Red Sox, have won more championships since 2000. However, the Yankees continued success coupled with their excellent ability to get top-notch players in a variety of ways, makes them the best franchise of the 21st century…so far.

 

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5 Players to Watch in the MLB Futures Game

The Futures game is set to be played this Sunday July 9th at Marlins Park in Miami. Last year’s game featured some big names including the now All-Star, Gary Sanchez. Here are some names to look for that could make an impact in the big leagues in the near future.

Yoan Moncada

Moncada has proven to be a threat on the base paths (Yahoo Sports)

Moncada made an appearance in last year’s game and left his mark winning the MVP of the game. He also made his way up to the big leagues with the Red Sox netting only four hits in 19 at bats. Over the off-season he was the cornerstone piece of the Chris Sale trade with the White Sox. He has been at the AAA level so far this season and is having a good stint with a .282/.380/.455 line. On top of that, MLB.com ranks him as the number one prospect in baseball.

Watch out for Moncada’s speed because he has the chance to be one of the next big threats on the base paths. He is not on Billy Hamilton level but he can be a threat anytime he reaches base. He also features a well-rounded bat that will grow with his experience as a pro. While his glove at second still has some work to be done, he has drawn comparisons to Robinson Cano.

Moncada is still a work in progress. However, he is ahead of schedule in terms of when he may be able to provide full-time service in Chicago. His second futures game may provide a lens to look through as to what he may be in the future.

Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers may add a big punch for the Rockies (The Daily Sentinel)

Taken 3rd overall by the Rockies in 2015, Rodgers has the opportunity to become the true heir to Troy Tulowitzki in the middle of the infield for the Rockies. MLB.com ranks him as the 10th best prospect in baseball.

While his range is something to work on, he possess a very strong arm that could make him serviceable in the majors. What makes him valuable though is his power for a middle infielder coupled with his ability to find gaps in the defense. In 48 games at A ball he recorded a .400/.419/.700 line which is eye popping. What stands out though is his lack of walks. Rodgers only recorded six walks in those 48 games, so it is important for him to develop some patience.

Look for Rodgers to make an appearance on the 40-man roster in September for Colorado. Being in the rocky mountains could really make the ball fly off his bat and show his potential. He may not be able to stay in the majors past September but it could give him some valuable experience as to what he needs to look for. Although he does not have the same glove Tulo did while he was in Colorado, he could add that same punch to the lineup.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr

The youngest star in the futures game is the son of the notorious Vladimir Guerrero. Although they are related, they are not quite the same ball players.  Guerrero Jr possesses a more bulky frame than his father. His age also suggests that he may get even bulkier. Because of this, he may have to move over to first base if his mobility slows.

Guerrero has a chance to be one of the better hitters in the league largely thanks to his eye. It is not so often that you see a young bat rack up more walks than strikeouts, but that is what you have in Guerrero. He also shows signs of being able to hit the long ball but that has yet to translate in A ball. It will be great to see what potential he has being the son of a future hall-of-famer as well as being so young.

Just like his father, he has a great ability to make contact. He also shows the maturity of a seasoned vet by spraying hits all around the field and not just swinging for the fences. It will be interesting to see if he is able to keep that maturity and sit back to wait for the right pitch, seeing that Guerrero will be on a big stage for the first time in his career. If so, we might be looking at one of the better all-around hitters of the future.

Eloy Jimenez

Jimenez has drawn comparisons to All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton (Baseball America)

Despite all of the young talent the Cubs have recently brought up to the big league club, they still have some studs in their farm system. MLB.com ranks Eloy Jimenez as the 8th overall prospect and the 3rd overall outfielder in the minors. He was also ranked as the number one international prospect when he signed with Chicago in 2013.

Jimenez had a very productive 2016 season. He finished with a line of .329/.369/.532. He has shown the potential to hit for extra bases while also struggling to take pitches. Jimenez also struck out 3.76 times for every walk which makes it evident that he still has some room to grow in the minors. However, he is still expected to make it to the big league club within the next couple of years.

It will be interesting to see how Jimenez fits into the Chicago organization with how crowded their roster is at the moment. There are a lot of young studs that Chicago will probably have to move around in order to make room for Jimenez, if they feel he is worth it.

 

Jack Flaherty

Futures Game

Flaherty has the tools to be a reliable major league starter (Springfield News-Leader)

Flaherty was the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft. MLB.com ranks him as the 96th overall prospect, which may be because of his less than stellar stuff. Flaherty does not light up the gun or blow hitters away. What he is though is effective. In 10 starts in AA ball he recorded seven wins and 62 strikeouts. He also only let in 10 runs which gave him a stellar ERA of 1.42.

Don’t expect Flaherty to dazzle you in the Futures game. Do expect him to keep hitters guessing and not let any situation get taken out of control.

Flaherty has been in the Cardinals organization for three years now. It may not be another couple of years until he makes it to St. Louis though. Despite his quality performance in AA Springfield this year, he has had a rough go of things in AAA. In 6 starts he has given up 14 earned runs. However, he has given up seven long balls. What this shows is that he is still adjusting to a new environment. He will make mistakes here and there but overall, he can still control a ball game. Hitters are still missing as they only have a .237 batting average against him in AAA. It will take time for him to mature, but once he gets there he could be a solid 3rd starter in the rotation for St. Louis.

 

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St Louis Cardinals

How the St. Louis Cardinals will win the NL Central

In one of my previous articles, I mentioned that the weeks leading up to the trade deadline will determine the Cardinals’ future. Thus far, they have seemed to turn things around a bit. They have won eight of their last 12 games which includes a couple of tough matchups against the Diamondbacks and Nationals. Because of those two series, they may just have shown what it takes to win an underwhelming division.

In 2006, the Cardinals won the Central with only 83 wins. It looks like someone may win just by nudging over a .500 record this year as well. The year they only won 83 games the Cardinals made a run to win the World Series despite going into the postseason slow. It can be done, so it is important not to discount any of the teams in this division. Here are some ways the Cardinals will make it to the postseason once again.

Move Dexter Fowler to right field

The Cardinals signed Fowler to a hefty five-year, $82.5 million contract this past offseason. While he had a rough go of things in the first month of the season, he began to pick it up before landing on the DL in late June. He has also had one of his best power hitting years so far with 13 homers, while his career-best is 17 in a season. Fowler has performed better than the Cardinals would have hoped so far. Now that he is off the DL, St. Louis should consider moving him to right field.

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Pham has been one of the best hitters on the Cardinals this year (MLB.com)

Why move a guy out of center field that has been playing there for a decade and is having a great year? Well, frankly he has never been that great of a center fielder. Bernie Miklasz of 101.1 ESPN in St. Louis noted that Fowler has always had his fair share of struggles commanding the outfield.

While he has not committed any errors so far his year, he is sitting at -9 defensive runs saved. This means that his fielding has cost the Cardinals nine runs so far. It does not look any better in the past either. In his career he has actually cost his team 64 runs.

It is apparent that he is not doing many favors for the Cardinals in center field, so who could replace the $82 million man? The answer is actually already manning center for the Cardinals in Tommy Pham. It is difficult to keep his bat out of the lineup as it is, so being in the National League, the Cardinals have to find a place for him in the field. He currently has a slash line of .289/.377/.492 which is one of the best on the Cardinals.

Pham also has shown that he can be more productive in center field. He has started 18 games at the position and has a total of six defensive runs saved. Knowing Fowler’s defensive performance in the field over the past decade, it is hard to argue why Fowler should keep his spot in center.

Some people may argue that because of his contract. he should be able to play where he is comfortable. In order for the Cardinals to maximize their chances of winning though, they will need to move Fowler over to right field and keep Pham in center.

Stephen Piscotty has also been having a rough go of things as of late. His hitting numbers are down, and someone is going to have to make room for Fowler. Randal Grichuk has been much better since returning from the minors, however he has still been very streaky. He should be given the chance to display his skills.

The one downside to this move is putting Piscotty aside. However, he will need to show signs of turning around in order to stay in the lineup during this critical time for the Cardinals’ season.

Don’t make any big moves at the trade deadline

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Matheny and Mozeliak have some tough decisions to make to get the Cardinals to the postseason (101 Sports)

The Cardinals are coming pretty close to being a healthy ball club. Kolten Wong will be returning to the field after the All-Star break along with veteran reliever Zach Duke.

St. Louis has a lot of good pieces still on the team from last year, a club that won 86 games. Eighty-six games may be just enough to win the division this year as well. What is important for them to remember, which they have done in the past, is to trust the players in the system and not jeopardize the future.

One glaring hole the team has is in the closing role. Both Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal have the potential to be reliable closers. However, Rosenthal has been wild recently and Oh fails to remain reliable.

If the Cardinals do anything, it should be to find a decent reliever that they can get on the cheap. It does not have to be any eye-popping names, but it needs to be someone who is consistent. If all else fails, the Cardinals could potentially give Brett Cecil a couple of opportunities to prove himself in the closing role as he has picked it up from his slow start this season.

Some small changes made by the Cardinals can fix problems they have been facing. John Mozeliak evaluated the talent in his system well.

However, many of their issues come from the lack of ability to execute simple plays on the field. The Cardinals are among the worst in fielding in the league, and make silly outs on the basepaths that can end up costing them games. The answers to some of these problems are within the organization and decent coaching should be able to remedy some of these issues.

remove Adam wainwright from the rotation

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Wainwright has had one of the most difficult years of his career (MLB.com)

It is one of the hardest things to watch in baseball, but it happens often. Adam Wainwright used to be one of the premier starting pitchers in the major leagues. Despite finishing in the top three of the Cy Young voting four times, the prestigious award eluded him.

Wainwright has severely regressed over the last two years. Last season, he finished with a 4.62 ERA which was the highest of his career. This year he has not shown many signs of improvement.

Wainwright currently has a 5.48 ERA this year and he is not showing signs of getting better. He had an excellent month of May in which he looked like his old self with a 3-0 record and 2.64 ERA.

Since then, he has given up 30 runs in 34 innings. His nine wins can be credited to his large run support this season, getting 6.1 runs a game which ranks 10th in all of baseball.

It isn’t easy to watch some of the league’s best players regress, especially when it is such an important leader and personality in the clubhouse. However, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals have to keep in mind what is best for the team. It is obvious that Wainwright is not getting the job done at the level he needs to.

Matheny is a player’s manager though and has a rough time making these kinds of decisions when he needs to. What would be best is to potentially move Wainwright to the bullpen and then move young prospect Luke Weaver to the rotation.

It may be a different story if one of the league’s best prospects, Alex Reyes, was not hurt. Because he is most likely out for the season, the Cardinals are faced with the dilemma of having to replace their most notable pitcher of the past decade with one of their new arms.

Final thoughts

The theme of the NL Central this year has been underperforming. Many of the clubs in the division have players that are better than they have been playing. Even the Reds have one of the more daunting offenses in the league, yet they are in last place in the division.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs have come out and said that the answer to their problems are in house. This may be true with all the teams in the division. The Brewers are starting to roll and may be a tough team to catch. They stuck with their guns though and it has been paying off.

The NL Central has the potential to be a much more powerful division with its given pieces. It has just yet to show up this late in the season.

St. Louis has begun to show signs of life this summer. Their rotation is still proving to be one of their strengths, led by All-Star Carlos Martinez. Michael Wacha has also started to get back on track which means a lot for the team.

If Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak can find the right formula of where each of their pieces fits into the lineup, they can compete and make it a fun race for October.

 

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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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Pujols

Albert Pujols Appreciation Piece

Last Saturday night, Los Angeles Angels first basemen, Albert Pujols, hit his 600th career home run in style, a no doubt Grand Slam. Pujols is no stranger to Grand Slams, as this one, off Twins ace Ervin Santana, was his 14th of his career. Behind in the count 1-2, Pujols became the ninth member of the 600 club, and fourth youngest of those nine. Now, a week later, it is weird that Pujols did not nearly receive the amount of love from the media like he should have. All in all, it is time to acknowledge one thing, Albert Pujols is one of the best MLB players of all time.

THE FACTS

Let’s just start out with the facts. After being drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB June Amateur Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols quickly found success and never looked back. In 2001, as a 21-year-old kid, Albert won the NL Rookie of the Year award. His ridiculous .329/37/130 stat line put him in the conversation for MVP. From 2001-2010, Albert Pujols had one of the greatest ten year stretches in the history of the sport. In each of the first ten years of his career, Pujols was able to maintain above a .300 average, hit 30 or more homers, and drive in over 100 RBI.

The only other player to put up those numbers for more than 10 seasons was Babe Ruth, who played in a time where one pitcher threw the whole game and there were only 8 teams in the league, but that is a story for a different day. Only three players in the history of the game maintained a career .300 average or better, hit 600 + home runs, and drove in over 1850 runs: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and assuming he keeps his .308 career average up, Jose Alberto Pujols will become the fourth.

Pujols celebrating after Game 7 of the 2011 World Series (NewsOK)

The three time MVP is also an extremely clutch player. In 77 career playoff games, “The Machine” has posted a batting average of .323, launched 19 home runs (4th all time), and driven in 54 runs (6th all time), including an unforgettable three home run game in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series. Because of his elite play, Albert helped his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, win two World Series Championships (2006, 2011). On top of the clutch factor, Pujols is also a two-time Gold Glove award winner.

The GOAT at 1B?

I could even go as far to say that Albert Pujols is the best first basemen this league has ever seen. The only other players in contention would be Lou Gehrig, who played in Ruth’s era, and Stan Musial, who some would consider primarily an outfielder. Gehrig, as great as he was, only finished in the top 3 MVP voting four times. Pujols, who played in the heart of the steroid era, has eight top 3 finishes. Musial, who is one of the greatest Cardinals to ever play, had six seasons in which he hit 30 or more home runs. “The Machine” has 14 and counting.

 Off the Diamond

Off the field, Pujols has been nothing short of spectacular.  Before meeting Albert, Deidre, now Mrs. Pujols, had  given birth to a daughter named Isabella. At a young age, Isabella was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. In 2005, with the help of Deidre, Albert created the Pujols Family Foundation. While the main focus of the foundation is to raise money in implementing awareness and hope for those families affected by Down Syndrome, the Pujols family has also shifted their focus in assisting in the education, living, and medical fields for the less fortunate citizens of the Dominican Republic. Every year tons of families get their children dressed up and head off to the Pujols Family Foundation’s annual prom for Down Syndrome kids. Surprisingly, Albert is also a great dancer, and someone who will always show off his moves at the prom.

Pujols during the annual Pujols Family Foundation prom. (Stltoday.com)

Where is the Love?

So why do we, as a society, not acknowledge Albert Pujols’ greatness? A class act on and off the field, who has consistently dominated arguably the most difficult professional sport. What is there not to love? Recently, ESPN came out with the “World Fame 100”, which is a list of the world’s 100 most famous athletes. The order was based off endorsements with social media following and amount of searches on the internet. Shockingly, not one professional baseball player made the list. Why?

There is a list of reasons as to why baseball players are not as popular as they should be. The obvious one being the fact that the game is not intense enough, compared to other major sports. The game is too boring for kids, and can often be expensive for parents. It is not a sport where it is acceptable to show some flash, like you see with Odell Beckham Jr, or Stephen Curry. The season is so long that people often lose interest in April and will start watching again in October. Not only are there less viewers, but of the people who do watch, half of them are over the age of 50.

Whether you like baseball or not, one thing to realize is this, what Albert Pujols has done over his career is absolutely astonishing. A sure first ballot Hall of Famer, Pujols has defined what it means to be consistent, while acting like a true professional, on and off the diamond. When asked about chasing Barry Bonds’ home run record, Pujols said “I hope I get the opportunity. It would be so special.” (USA TODAY Sports) As a fan of the game, I would love to see him play for a couple more years and chase 762. No one would deserve it more than Albert Pujols.

Featured image by SI.com

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