2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Second Basemen

In this fourth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we are going to take a base from first to second. Second basemen proved to be strong offensive contributors in 2016 as we saw homers, steals and batting averages that rivaled players at any positions.

With second basemen starting to emerge into the spotlight, lets take a look at the top second basemen.

5. Daniel Murphy- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

The Nationals will hope Murphy can continue his offensive dominance in 2017. (Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports).

After Daniel Murphy’s offensive explosion in the 2015 MLB Playoffs, many questioned if he would be able to match his playoff performance over a full season. Those questions were laid to rest early in the 2016 season. Murphy posted the best slash line of his eight year career, batting .347, .390, .595. Those numbers, along with his 25 homers and 104 RBI’s vaulted him to a second place finish in the 2015 NL MVP voting. But as his offensive numbers reached new heights, his defense continued to stay well below league average.

Murphy had a horrendous -9 defensive runs saved at second base in 2016. That was easily the worst defensive performance of any player on this list. Murphy’s saving grace, as it has been throughout his career, is his offense. As the 2017 MLB season approaches, Murphy will try to continue his torrid offensive pace.

4. Brian Dozier- Minnesota Twins

Brian Dozier had a historic year for the Minnesota Twins in 2016. While the Twins fell below expectations, Dozier certainly did his part to try and propel them back to relevancy. He blasted 42 homers, besting the AL record for homers by a second baseman set by Alfonso Soriano in 2002. Just like Murphy, Dozier also put up the best slash line of his career at .268, .340, .546. Dozier was also able to couple his steadily growing power with his ever-present base running prowess. He fell just short of his career high 21 stolen bases in 2014, swiping 18 in 2016.

While Dozier was able to improve his overall offensive game, he also turned his defense around from 2015. Dozier had a respectable 3 defensive runs saved in 2016. After putting up one of the best power seasons of any second baseman in MLB history, it will remain to be seen if Dozier can come close to his historic 2016 season in 2017. Either way, he has cemented his place as one of the top second basemen in baseball.

3. Ian Kinsler- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

With a strong bat and slick glove, Ian Kinsler is the total package for the Tigers. (Leon Halip, Getty Images).

After being traded straight up in 2013 for slugger Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler has provided a steady presence in Detroit for the past three seasons. Kinsler continued a strong career with another stellar offensive season in 2016. While batting .288, .348 and .484, Kinsler also hit 28 bombs to go along with 83 RBI’s. Kinsler wasn’t just a one-trick pony in 2016 either. After stealing 14 bases in 2016, Kinsler will enter 2017 with 211 career stolen bases and 212 career homers. That is plenty of power and speed over his career.

Kinsler has also flashed the leather throughout his time in the majors, and 2016 was no different. After having 12 defensive runs saved last season, Kinsler earned his first Gold Glove. Being one of the most balanced second basemen in all of Major League Baseball has given Kinsler a stellar reputation. The 2017 season is just another opportunity for Kinsler to continue his exceptional career.

2. Robinson Canó- Seattle Mariners

When Canó left New York for Seattle after the 2013 season, it was thought that he would be able to guide the Mariners to their first playoff appearance since 2001. Although that hasn’t come to fruition, it can’t be blamed on Canó. Canó proved why he has been widely considered the top slugger at second base, hitting a career high 39 homers to go along with 103 RBI’s in 2016. He also displayed his overall hitting ability with a slash line of .298, .350, .533. While Canó’s first two seasons in Seattle left much to be desired, he returned to vintage form in 2016. That included his defense as well.

Canó improved on his defense vastly in 2016 compared to his 2015 campaign. He had 11 defensive runs saved this past season after having a poor defensive season in 2015 in which he had -9 defensive runs saved. After struggling his first two years in Seattle, it seemed Canó was finally able to shake his jet lag. 2017 will be a big season for Canó, one in which we will find out if he has truly returned to All-Star form or if Seattle made a $240 million mistake.

1. José Altuve- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

José Altuve has never let his short stature keep him from reaching new offensive heights. (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports).

Altuve is one of the reasons why baseball is the best sport in the world. At 5’7″ I am proud to say I am taller than All-Star second baseman José Altuve (5’6″). Even though Altuve’s stature is diminutive, his game has reached astronomical heights. While winning his second AL Batting Title in the past three years, Altuve was able to improve his overall hitting ability. His 2016 slash line of .338, .396, and .531 were career highs in OBP and slugging. Altuve fueled his .531 slugging percentage by blasting 24 homers to go along with 96 RBI’s. His 24 homers were more than his first four seasons combined! Altuve has also shown off his wheels throughout his career, stealing 199 bases over parts of six seasons.

Although Altuve is steadily becoming the top offensive second basemen in the majors, his glove has always trailed his bat. Altuve posted -2 defensive runs saved at second base in 2016, proving to be below league average on defense. While his defense certainly isn’t anything to write home about, Altuve’s offense is more than enough to launch him into the top spot in these rankings. Altuve will only be 26 years old when the 2017 season starts, and will just be entering his prime.

Second base has long been seen as a less than premium position. But with the emergence of some stellar players at second base in the past few seasons, the position is primed to become on of the most talented in Major League Baseball.

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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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NL East: Offseason Needs

With MLB free agency in full swing, it’s time for teams to start diagnosing what positions they need to fill a gap at, and who would be the best fit for that spot. Over the next week, I’ll diagnose the needs of teams throughout the National League, and name a few potential free agents who could fill that role. I’ll begin with the NL East. I’ll work from the bottom of the division upwards. I am not proclaiming that these deals are sure thing. I’m simply suggesting free agent players who fill the role that the team needs.

Atlanta Braves – Catcher

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Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

The Braves are starting to fill a lot of holes on offense. A catcher would be huge for them because he can play a huge part in developing all of the young pitching the Braves have available. They recently signed the two oldest starting pitchers in free agency, R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, to one-year deals. If you combine the experience these two have with an established catcher, it could really help these young arms flourish. We saw A.J. Pierzynski in this role for Atlanta last year, I think they could look for someone around his value this year. While names like Matt Wieters or Wilson Ramos would certainly be tempting, they might be too expensive for Atlanta. They could aim for ex-Angel Geovany Soto, whose injury riddled 2016 might lower his value, or maybe former Rockie Nick Hundley.

 

Philadelphia Phillies – A Big Bat. Anywhere.

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Image courtesy of MLB.com

While the Phillies 2016 went the reverse of Atlanta’s, starting high and finishing low, they share a need for offensive production. The Phillies were in the cellar for almost every offensive category in the MLB, ranking last in the MLB in runs scored and OPS. They also sit in a similar position as the Braves in regards to where they are right now. They have some fresh offensive talent that showed it’s potential in 2016. Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, and Cesar Hernandez are all signs of things to come for the Phils. What they need now is someone to provide protection for these guys at the plate. The Phillies did recently acquire Howie Kendrick from the Dodgers for Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney. While Tommy Joseph showed some potential in his first Big League season at first base, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Phils go after someone like Adam Lind or Mitch Moreland. Both would be cheap options (especially compared to Ryan Howard) who can still provide at the plate.

Miami Marlins – An Ace SP

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Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

The Marlins rotation is going to struggle mightily without Jose Fernandez. Right now it consists of Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley, and Tom Koehler. While Conley did show a lot of improvement throughout the season, he’s not a number one starter. The problem is, there is no established, dominant ace for Miami to pursue in the free agency this offseason. They don’t have the money to pursue Rich Hill, and even if they did he’s 36 years old and spent over two months on the DL in 2016. They could try to roll the dice on someone who has shown spurts of success, like Ivan Nova, but that’s the best they can do. If they really feel like gambling, they could go for Tim Lincecum. To get the big-name ace they need, Miami would have to work a pretty big trade this offseason. The free agency pool is just too shallow heading into 2017.

 

New York Mets – A Versatile Bat

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Image courtesy of The New York Times.

While there will certainly be questions surrounding the Mets starting rotation in 2017, the bigger concern has to be their bats. Despite being 5th in the MLB in home runs, they ranked 26th in runs scored and total hits. Losing Yoenis Cespedes will be huge for the Mets, as he led the team in home runs and RBIs. Even though they have the big bats of Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Conforto remaining, they lack the ability to consistently hit for average and drive in runs. Not to mention they’re all left-handed. Then there’s the situation in the infield. David Wright remains extremely vulnerable to injury, and second baseman Neil Walker also hit free agency. Assuming he can carry over his success from 2016, Ian Desmond could be a good fit for the Mets. He’s a righty, he has experience in the infield and the outfield, and he was a 20 homer, 20 steal player in 2016. If they’re not willing to try Desmond or Jose Reyes at second base, they might make an attempt at Stephen Drew or even Chase Utley.

 

Washington Nationals – First Baseman

Regardless of whether Trea Turner ends up staying in the outfield, or returning to the infield, the gap still remains at first base. Ryan Zimmerman has been a fan favorite around DC for a long time, but his effectiveness at the plate has been lacking in recent years. He hit just .216 in 2016, with just 15 home runs and 46 RBIs. That is not the kind of numbers you want to see from your first baseman. With that being said, most of the first baseman available in free agency are equally as inconsistent. Ryan Howard has more pop in the bat, but he hit just .196 in 2016. Ex-Indian Mike Napoli is an attractive choice, but Washington will have to fork up a good bit of money to pursue him. They might take an approach similar to the Phillies and look in the Adam Lind or Mitch Moreland spectrum of first basemen. James Loney was solid with the Mets, filling in for the injured Lucas Duda. If the Nats want to give Zimmerman another shot in 2017, they could grab Loney as an insurance policy if Zimmerman continues to struggle.

Image result for james loney mets

Image courtesy of amny.com

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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.

Image result for johnny cueto vs. jon lester

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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Tracking the Transactions: Rating NL Deadline Trades for Contenders

Earlier this week, I evaluated how all of the trade deadline moves made by contending American League teams panned out. Now, I’ll give my take on how National League trades fared.

Chicago Cubs – Aroldis Chapman/Mike Montgomery: 5/3

The Cubs came in to the deadline with plenty of offensive firepower, so they made some deals to acquire some lefty relievers to diversify a right-hander flooded bullpen. Chapman has looked fantastic in Chicago, to nobody’s surprise, he’s 13 for 14 in save conversion in 18 appearances. He’s surrendered just three runs in 17 innings, and hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances this September. With the Cubs having clinched the NL Central on Thursday, I doubt Chapman will see as much play as he did in August, in an attempt to preserve him for the playoffs. They’re still looking to solidify home-field advantage, however, so he certainly won’t be shut down entirely.

Montgomery was originally brought in as another southpaw in the pen. He now sits apart of the Cubs rotation, and frankly, he’s looked better there than he did starting off in the pen for the Cubs. He allowed runs in three consecutive outings, two of them lasting just one-third of an inning, while in the pen. Since his relocation to the rotation, he’s looked better on the mound, even if his starts don’t last particularly long. He averages just under five innings per start, and has only thrown over 90 pitches on one occasion. Recently his starts have improved, and he even notched his first quality start in their division-clinching victory vs. the Brewers. Since becoming a starter, Montgomery has posted a 3.33 ERA. We’ll see what Joe Maddon has planned for him over these next two weeks heading into playoffs.

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LA hopes Rich Hill can stay healthy for the playoffs. Photo courtesy of todaysknuckleball.com

LA Dodgers – Josh Reddick/Rich Hill: 2/4

The Reddick plus Hill deal was seen as the Dodgers’ power play to take control of the NL West. Reddick has certainly struggled since the deal, however, batting just .225 since heading to LA. He’s only hit one homer, driven in three RBIs, and stolen one base. His August numbers (.161 BA, .172 slugging) are certainly not what a team wants to see from their deadline acquisition. Things are beginning to look up for Reddick at the plate this month, he’s hitting .394 and slugging .576. He’s still not producing runs, though, with just a lone homer and two RBIs to show. We’ll see if he can get back on the up-and-up in time for playoffs, however, let’s not forget he had a spectacular May following a sub-par August. Maybe the Dodgers just need him to have a good month at the right time.

The only reason Rich Hill doesn’t get a five here is because he’s only made four starts since the Dodgers acquired him at the beginning of August. With that said, three of those four starts have been spectacular, including a flirt with perfection against the Marlins. The Dodgers are playing it smart, not allowing him to hit triple-digit pitch counts while still working off his injury. Thursday’s start against the D-Backs was a return to Earth for Hill, who was riding a 24 inning scoreless streak, spanning back to July, coming into the game. With a four game lead over the Giants in the heart of the home stretch, we’ll see if Hill and Kenta Maeda can continue to make life miserable for batters and secure the division for the Dodgers.

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Photo courtesy of miamiherald.com

Miami Marlins – Andrew Cashner: 1 

Oh Miami, when are you going to catch a break? I guess losing the other half of the deal, Colin Rea, to injury after his first start should have been a sign of things to come. Cashner only recently picked up his first win with the Marlins against the Phillies, making him 1-4 in eight starts with the team. His stat line as a starter since the move isn’t much prettier, a 6.18 ERA through 39.1 innings of work, a 32/22 K/BB ratio and opponents batting .303 off of him. Cashner was supposed to provide a solid arm, replacing injured Wei-Yin Chen, in a rotation that has been cluttered with inconsistency for Miami from the get-go. Needless to say he hasn’t lived up to the expectations set for him. Combine that with Marcell Ozuna’s massive second-half slump and the loss of Giancarlo Stanton and you can see why Miami currently sits four games out of the Wildcard.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of nypost.com

New York Mets – Jay Bruce: 2

If it’s true that, prior to the deadline, Bruce explicitly said that he didn’t want to go to the Mets, then maybe we can attribute his stats since coming to New York to spite instead of an actual drop in his caliber of play.  Regardless of why the numbers have dropped, they certainly aren’t what the Mets wanted from their deadline acquisition. He was supposed to provide a shot in the arm for a Mets offense that had sputtered all year, and only really saw (limited) success via the long ball at various points throughout the season. Bruce, who had 25 homers on the year with Cincinnati, seemed like the perfect candidate for the offense’s playstyle. He’s hitting just .192 since coming to New York, with four homers and 11 RBIs in 36 games. He looked like he might be heating up at the end of August, piecing together a five-game hit streak from August 30 to September 4, but he’s now hit just .120 and notched a lone RBI in his past seven games. The Mets have, against my predictions, remained in the hunt for the Wildcard and even hold the last spot in, currently, but Bruce’s contributions have been below average at best.

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Ivan Nova has been hot since coming to Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of rumbunter.com

Pittsburgh Pirates – Ivan Nova/Antonio Bastardo: 5/4

Why the Pirates made acquisitions at the deadline after selling closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals boggled my mind at the time. But the Pirates have at least remained in contention for a Wildcard spot, currently 5.5 games behind the Mets, in no small part due to the efforts of Ivan Nova. He’s looked spectacular since coming to Pittsburgh, posting a 5-0 record alongside a 2.41 ERA in eight starts for the Pirates with a stellar 43/3 K/BB ratio. Nova came in from New York with a 7-6 record, a 4.90 ERA, and a 75/25 K/BB ratio in his seventh season with the Yankees. I don’t know what pitching coach Ray Searage does to these guys in Pittsburgh, but you can’t argue with his results. At this rate, Nova will be one of the more interesting pitchers to hit the free-agency after the season.

Antonio Bastardo is also showing marked improvement from his performance in New York. Bastardo was acquired in a deal that brought him back to Pittsburgh, after half a season with the Mets, and returned Jonathon Niese to New York. Bastardo posted a 4.74 ERA in 43.2 innings with the Mets; since returning to Pittsburgh, his ERA sits at 2.41 and he’s got a 2-0 record to show for it. Stats-wise, I’d definitely say Pittsburgh came out ahead of their awkward pitcher exchange program with the Mets.

San Francisco Giants – Matt Moore/Eduardo Nunez: 3/4

The Giants stayed true to their pitcher-first, small ball mentality with the acquisition of Matt Moore. It should be noted that Moore wasn’t brought in to provide the same level of performance as guys like Johnny Cueto or Madison Bumgarner at the front of the rotation. Moore’s job is to be a guy who holds things down and keeps things close at the back of the rotation. I would say been hit-or-miss in that department. His production with the Giants sits almost exactly where it did in Tampa, a record around .500 (3-4), and an ERA in the low 4s (4.08). He’s had a mix of really good starts with really bad starts almost at random; I think if he’s able to begin to build momentum with a string of good starts heading into the postseason, then he could be in good shape.

Eduardo Nunez fits the typical depiction of a Giants position player. He’ll help the team manufacture runs via small ball, work his way on base, and make productive at-bats. Nunez is sitting with a .329 OBP, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored, and nine stolen bases. None of these numbers are going to blow people away, but then again I think that can be said for anybody on this Giants offense. He seems to be getting more and more consistent at the plate, as well. He’s currently on a nine-game hitting streak, spanning back to September 3.

Image result for zach duke cardinals

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

St. Louis Cardinals – Zach Duke: 4

Duke has been quietly performing since the Cardinals nabbed him to help out their bullpen. While his record is 0-1, he’s allowed just three runs in 18.1 innings over 20 appearances with St. Louis. His biggest concern comes in the control department. Since coming to St. Louis, he’s walked 11 men and fanned 20. 11 walks in 18.1 innings isn’t the most optimal way to operate as a reliever, but he’s been able to play damage control thus far.

 

Washington Nationals – Mark Melancon: 4

The Nationals bullpen has been the bane of their existence in September/October for seemingly years now. As of right now, Melancon appears to have aided those bullpen woes in Washington. He hasn’t blown a save opportunity yet, although September has looked rockier than August. Last month he allowed just one run over 13.2 innings, posting a 0.66 ERA. This month, his ERA sits at 4.50 with four runs surrendered in eight innings. Luckily for Washington, the Nats sit ten games ahead of the Mets with 16 games to play, so if there was a time for Melancon to get the bad mojo out, it would be now.

NL Playoffs: Priority Players Entering September

As the MLB regular season nears its conclusion, injuries become more frequent and more costly for teams looking to make a postseason run. Here, I’ll identify players that teams simply cannot afford to lose as they make the race to October. I’ll start with the division leaders and then go by wildcard standings.

Chicago Cubs – Kris Bryant

The Cubs don’t really have one guy that will sink the team if he’s lost. They have so much depth and talent that it’s actually not fair. If I had to pick just one guy, I would say Kris Bryant. Even though Anthony Rizzo leads the team with 93 RBIs, Bryant is right behind him with 91 and leads the team in every other major hitting category. He’s tied for second in the MLB with 36 home runs, and his 91 RBIs are fourth in the NL. Losing any guy in the heart of your lineup can be a huge detriment, but Bryant has been a catalyst for the Cubs, and losing him could do some serious damage to their power game.

Washington Nationals – Max Scherzer

It was a really tough pick between Scherzer and Murphy for Washington, but I decided that pitching ultimately wins out on a team that’s already lost Stephen Strasburg. Scherzer has made a strong case for the NL Cy Young this year, posting a 15-7 record with a 2.89 ERA and an MLB leading 238 strikeouts. He’s really turned it on since the All-Star Break, going 6-2 with 90 strikeouts in 11 starts. With Stephen Strasburg ending up on the DL on August 22, the Nats now have two of five Opening Day rotation members on the DL. Tanner Roark has had moments of brilliance on the mound this year, but it will ultimately be up to Scherzer’s consistency to guide this ailing Nats pitching staff to the playoffs.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Corey Seager

The Dodgers lost the obvious bid for this pick, Clayton Kershaw, at the end of June. Despite that, the pitching staff has still done remarkably well, with Kenta Maeda stepping up big time in his absence. The Dodgers have struggled more on the offensive side of things this year, and Corey Seager has been a big part of this team’s offensive production. He’s having a standout first full season in the MLB, posting a .315 average and a .375 OBP. His consistency in getting on base has allowed the Dodgers to get ahead and let their pitchers work. While he may not be the most experienced player in October, losing him would certainly affect the team’s ability to manufacture runs.

San Francisco Giants – Madison Bumgarner/Johnny Cueto

The Giants don’t have a supercharged offense coming into September. The Giants are often a small ball team that relies heavily on their pitchers to keep games close while they produce runs. Both Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner have been stellar on the mound for San Fran this year, and losing either of them would put a significant damper on their ability to compete in September. The Giants made it very clear they’re a pitching-oriented team with their moves at the end of July, shoring up the back of the rotation with Matt Moore. With Brandon Belt leading the team with just 14 homers this year, I think it’s safe to assume that this dynamic won’t dramatically change in September, and that any disruption of it could be disastrous for the Giants.

St. Louis Cardinals – Stephen Piscotty

The DL in St. Louis is already looking pretty long, so any injury to this Cards team would be a tough loss. Piscotty has been a breath of fresh air on a Cards team that consists of a lot of older veterans. He leads the team with 73 RBIs and has played a big part in the Cardinals offensive success this year. That offense will have to step it up even more with the addition of two rookies into the Cardinal rotation, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes. While both of these guys look like stud prospects, Weaver showed that he can be rattled on the mound, and strong run support could do wonders for his composure on the mound, especially in these high pressure games.

New York Mets – Yoenis Cespedes

It’s hard to pick any one Met, since basically every guy on the team seems to have an injury of some sort. The offense has been the problem for the Mets all year, and Cespedes has been the guy to try and lead this team at the plate. With Jay Bruce underperforming, whether due to his injured calf or otherwise, the pressure on Cespedes’ shoulders is even greater than ever. His quad injury from July seems to still be bothering him, however, so the Mets will have to be sure to use him with caution as they continue to hang on in the wildcard race.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Starling Marte

The Pirates continue to hang around in the NL wildcard race, and Marte’s offense is a big reason why. He leads the team with a .306 batting average and a .360 OBP, along with 46 stolen bases on the year, which ranks third in the MLB. Marte is a big part of the heart of Pittsburgh’s lineup, and losing either him, Gregory Polanco or Andrew McCutchen could severely hamper Pittsburgh’s run production.

Miami Marlins – Christian Yelich

You thought I was going to say Jose Fernandez, didn’t you? While it would be catastrophic to lose Fernandez, the Marlins are in desperate need of bats with Giancarlo Stanton out for the remainder of the year. Yelich had been the most consistent of the trio of Ozuna, Yelich and Stanton, but Marcell Ozuna has struggled mightily since the All-Star Break (and left Wednesday’s game with a wrist injury himself), leaving a lot of the weight on Yelich’s shoulders. He delivered with a homer against the Mets last night, and while he probably won’t put up Stanton-like power numbers, we saw back in April that he can be a menace to face at the plate.

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Nationals: Strasburg Heads to DL

The injury bug continues to run rampant throughout the teams atop the NL East, now claiming Nationals’ star Stephen Strasburg. Washington placed him on the DL today with a sore elbow. This is his second stint on the DL in 2016, suffering a back strain that took him out of the lineup from mid-June to early July.

Strasburg had been struggling on the mound as of late. While he started the season 15-1, he’s 0-3 in his past three starts with a 14.66 ERA and a BAA of over .414. While this loss hurts the Nationals and their rotation, they sit a comfortable 8.5 games ahead of the second place Marlins in the division, so the situation certainly isn’t dire. With that said, this could also have implications for the Nationals in the long-term: both for this year’s postseason and beyond. First off, it is unknown just how long Strasburg will remain out of the rotation. Hopefully, it’s just a 15-day DL stint that could actually prove beneficial to Strasburg’s mentality amid a rough August. But it’s unknown how long it will take for Strasburg to return to his full potential, and with the postseason a little over a month away, the Nationals can’t afford to put Strasburg on the mound if he can’t pitch his best.

This also has implications for the Nationals organization well beyond the 2016 season. The Nationals took a risk with Strasburg earlier this season, giving him a seven-year, $175 million contract. While Strasburg certainly has the talent to justify such a hefty contract, he hasn’t yet displayed the longevity of some top of the line pitchers. Strasburg made just 23 starts in 2015, and has already matched that total in 2016. This specific injury isn’t going to doom Strasburg or the Nationals, but will be Strasburg’s sixth appearance on the DL in as many years in the MLB. His only full season came in 2014. He even skipped this year’s All-Star Game in order to avoid any unfortunate injuries.

Monday’s start will be A.J. Cole’s fourth MLB appearance and his first of 2016. Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com

The Nationals now have two of their five Opening Day rotation starters on the DL, with Joe Ross still rehabbing in Syracuse. A.J. Cole will come up to make his first Big League appearance of 2016 on Monday against Baltimore. The start will be the second of Cole’s career, the first coming against the Braves in 2015. With Syracuse in 2016, he’s 8-8 with a 4.26 ERA in 22 starts.

With the division looking fairly secure at this point in the season, I don’t expect to see Ross or Strasburg rushed back into the rotation before both the organization and the pitchers feel like they’re back to full form. The only potential implication I see could come from playoff seeding. The Nationals are currently the second seed in the NL, five games behind the Cubs and five games ahead of the Dodgers. I don’t think there was a realistic chance of Washington catching the Cubs even with a healthy roster, but the Dodgers might be able to move within striking distance while the Nats’ rotation is weakened.

This report used information from ESPN.com

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