Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies team profile

The Phillies turned in the third worst record in baseball in 2017. However, things don’t feel so lousy in the city of brotherly love. The Eagles are the best team in football, which is what most of the city is focusing on right now, but the Phillies don’t have such a bad outlook either.

The calvary is coming

After a couple of promising campaigns, Maikel Franco had a disappointing 2017. He still managed to knock 24 home runs, but his slash line of .230/.281/.409 is not what the Phillies wanted to see. There is definitely room to improve for the young third baseman.

Philadelphia Phillies

Maikel Franco will look to bounce back from a lackluster 2017 season. (Photo from Philly.com)

Although Franco was supposed to be breaking out as the face of the Phillies future, another man stepped in to make up for his struggles. Rhys Hoskins did not make his major league debut until August, but he did not waste any time getting acquainted with big league pitching. In 50 games, Hoskins managed to hit 18 home runs. If he kept up that pace through an entire season, he would have hit over 40.

Hoskins is only the beginning of the young prospects coming up in the Phillies system. They have six prospects in the MLB top 100, five of them being hitters. This means that Hoskins really is only the start of an offensive wave that will be coming into Citizens Bank Park. The process of all these hitters coming up will take about three seasons to develop.

What to expect this offseason

Philadelphia has been mentioned as one of the top teams in the race for Giancarlo Stanton, the hottest hitter on the trade market. The Phillies wouldn’t be trading for him for 2018 or 2019, but they would think he could be a big contributor for the 2020 season and beyond. The only catch is that they would have to be willing to give up some of their top prospects of the future.

The Phillies took Mickey Moniak with the first pick in 2016, a young outfielder with impressive plate discipline and can make solid contact. He is still developing as a ballplayer, but he is a very valuable tool for the future. He would be someone that the Phillies may have to give up in order to acquire Stanton.

Rumors have been fading away from the Phillies and Stanton though. Philadelphia does not have the pitching prospects that Miami would be interested in. The Giants, Cardinals and Red Sox have been more in the mix as of late. This makes the Phillies more of an outside contender for Stanton.

The Phillies ought to focus on pitching this offseason. They have been improving as a whole on offense and have some solid names coming up, but the pitching outlook is a little bleak. There are some intriguing names that hit free agency, such as Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb.

One name that could stand out for the Phillies is Tyler Chatwood. He has managed to put up some modest numbers while playing in the mountains, so he may be a plus pitcher if he is in a better suited park. He will come much cheaper than some of the other pitchers on the market, and could be serviceable for the future as he is only 27.

What to expect in 2018

The Phillies are still in the middle of their rebuilding process, so don’t expect them to compete with the Nationals for the NL East crown just yet. However, they are showing signs of not being the bottom dwellers of years past.

Phillies

Scott Kingery may be cementing himself as the second baseman of the future (Photo Courtesy of Yong Kim)

Their No. 3 prospect, Scott Kingery, should be making his debut next year at second base. Kingery had a stellar year in Double and Triple-A. He managed to hit 26 homers and had a slash line of .304/.359/.530. He also possess great speed as he stole 29 bases. Expect for him to make a splash in Philly next year.

 

 

Jorge Alfaro is another name that could make a big impact in 2018. Alfaro is the fifth best prospect in their system, and got some time in the big leagues in 2017. He came from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal, and is showing to be worth it thus far. In 29 games he hit .318 with five home runs. He is looking to fill the hole left at the catchers spot since Carlos Ruiz in 2016.

The Phillies may not be bottom dwellers in the East next year, seeing that the Marlins are looking to go into rebuild mode. Their offense is already looking much better, and will only be getting better as time goes on. They are hoping that Franco looks more like his 2016 self rather than last year. If he does turn things around, it could be a threatening lineup with Hoskins, Franco and Kingery.

 

Featured image by Laurence Kesterson/AP

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Washington Nationals 2018

Washington Nationals team profile

After a successful regular season, the Nationals came up short in the postseason once again. The franchise still has not won a postseason series. This year looked to be their year, as their roster had few holes in it especially after bolstering their bullpen. However, Game 5 in the NLDS slipped through their fingers, and now Washington is in a state of perplexity. What can they possibly do at this point that they have not already done?

The managerial carousal

The Washington Nationals fired another manager at the end of 2017. This time, Dusty Baker was the victim despite winning 192 games in two seasons and winning the NL East both years. He is also the third manager to be fired in five years in Washington.

Washington Nationals 2018

Dusty Baker is the latest example of how Washington is insecure at the manager role (Photo from AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

What makes the situation interesting is that they have still won their division four times in seven years. Not only that, but two of the three managers (Davey Johnson and Matt Williams) have won the NL manager of the year during their tenure in Washington.

Is the management really the problem? It is understandable why the front office points to the skipper role as the issue with their teams. This is apparent in the fact that there are no glaring issues in the roster. The bullpen was by far the weakest aspect of the team at the beginning of the season, but were able to make it an asset through trades.

Replacing the manager will not fix the Nationals’ issues. Dave Martinez has accumulated a lot of experience under the wing of Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago. However, he still has a lot to learn as a manager seeing as this is his first gig. What it is really going to come down to is the Nationals being able to execute in the postseason.

Washington found themselves down 2-1 in the NLDS against the Cubs. They were able to win Game 4 in order to force a fifth and final game, and the offense really showed up when it needed to. The only problem was that Matt Wieters fell apart when it mattered most, and his mistakes cost the Nationals three runs in what ended up being a one run game.

The players need to be held more accountable, rather than thinking that the manager is the problem.

Bryce Harper and free agency

2018 marks the final year on superstar Bryce Harper’s contract, and oh boy will teams be coming out for him this time next year. No matter where he signs, expect for him to surpass Giancarlo Stanton for the largest contract in the sports world.

What has Nationals fans worried is that Harper has been rather aloof when it comes to his status in Washington. Harper asked Washington for a $400 million extension, which the team of course was not able to meet.

This is purely speculative, but it seems Harper made a rather high asking price just to see if the Nationals would meet it. It is hard to think that he expected Washington to pay up that kind of dough. It is very tempting for Harper to test free agency, so why not see if you can get that much?

Harper had to be ecstatic when he heard of Stanton’s record contract. That is because most teams would value Harper over Stanton at this point in time, despite the 59 home runs Stanton hit this year. The precedent of Stanton’s contract may just boost Harper’s value through the roof.

One ridiculous move that will never happen is Washington possibly trading Harper this offseason. Harper has never said out loud that he would like to stay in Washington, so his future there looks murky. With the high possibility of him chasing the money in 2018, why not see what you can get for him this offseason? One season of Harper’s services for a contender could be worth some very valuable prospects in the long run, and Washington should have an eye past 2018. This is especially the case since their current formula can’t seem to get them past the NLDS.

What is in store in 2018 for the Nationals?

Don’t expect a whole lot different in 2018. The NL East is going to be controlled by Washington once again. Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers and Jayson Werth are some notable names leaving, but the core is still in tact. On top of that, Adam Eaton will be returning from his devastating injury he sustained early in the season.

Washington Nationals 2018

Eaton’s return to Washington will have a large impact. (Photo from MLB.com)

The Nationals ought to target an arm or two in order to bolster their bullpen. Other than that and maybe adding an arm like Jaime Garcia to the rotation, they shouldn’t be too active at the winter meetings barring any big news.

Derek Jeter and the Marlins will be taking a step back next season as the front office has expressed a desire to tear things down and build back up. Miami finished second place in the East despite being 20 games back of the Nationals. The Mets may be making moves this offseason in order to get back into their World Series form from a few years ago, but they are still far behind the Nationals.

The main questions is, who will face Washington in the NLDS? Also, will Dave Martinez make the difference that the front office hopes he can make? Either way, all of the 2018 season is already riding on whether or not they will make it past the NLDS.

The ultimate goal is the World Series obviously. However, they first need to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated

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Bounce back candidates for 2018 MLB season

Bounce back candidates for the 2018 MLB season

Baseball fans were lucky to witness an incredible 2017 World Series this October, where bounce back players like Dallas Keuchel and Yasiel Puig were significant contributors. It is officially time to look ahead to the 2018 MLB season, where a new group of bounce back performers are sure to emerge.

The following players are not the only bounce back candidates, but are the ones who I believe are most likely to return to their previous form. Keep an eye out for these players heading into the 2018 season, as their price on draft day may be discounted due to their struggles in 2017.

Honorable mentions: Jose Bautista (FA), Jonathan Villar (MIL), Kyle Schwarber (ChC), Addison Russell (ChC), Ben Zobrist (ChC), Odubel Herrera (Phi), Maikel Franco (Phi), Carlos Gonzalez (FA), Kole Calhoun (LAA), Joc Pederson (LAD), Greg Bird (NYY), and Gregory Polanco (PIT).

Players who EVERYONE anticipates to bounce back, whose cases I do not feel are worth explaining: Noah Syndergaard (NYM), Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Mookie Betts (BOS), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR), A.J. Pollock (ARI), Kyle Seager (SEA), and Jason Kipnis (CLE).

Batters

Hanley Ramirez, Designated Hitter/First Baseman, Boston Red Sox

GamesBA/OBP/SLGRRBIsHRXBHSB
2017 Season133.242/.320/.429586223471
162-game AVG162.291/.362/.49010389266628
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Hanley Ramirez had a career low batting average (.242) in 2017. (Photo by the Boston Herald)

At this stage in Hanley’s career, we obviously aren’t expecting a 20/20 MVP candidate season, but his 2017 campaign was a clear disappointment. His .242 batting average was a career low, while his 21 percent strikeout rate was at a career high.

Ramirez dealt with soreness and inflammation in his left bicep and shoulder throughout the year. According to rotoworld.com, he underwent a “relatively minor” surgery on his left shoulder on Tuesday, Oct. 17, which should allow Ramirez to return healthy for 2018 season.

The Red Sox, who finished 27th in home runs in 2017, will rely heavily on Ramirez to provide power in the heart of their order. If the Sox have any chance of returning to the playoffs next year, Ramirez will have to be a major piece to their puzzle.

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher, Colorado Rockies

GamesBA/OBP/SLGRRBIsHRXBHSB
2017 Season123.265/.345/.37145406301
162-game AVG162.281/.343/.433687616515

Lucroy’s 2017 campaign made people forget that he is only one year removed from being the top ranked catcher in fantasy baseball. Aside from his rookie year where he played only 75 games, he managed to set career lows in home runs, slugging percentage and runs scored.

The 31-year-old was traded for a second time in as many years, this time heading from the Texas Rangers, whose stadium ranks second in terms of runs created by park factors, to the Colorado Rockies, whose stadium ranks first. The difference in scenery may not seem like a significant change, but Lucroy’s slash line in Colorado, .310/.429/.437, was substantially better than in Texas, .242/.297/.338.

Lucroy is currently a free agent, but according to purplerow.com, “there has been a lot of mutual interest expressed by the Rockies and Lucroy in reuniting.”

In Colorado, Lucroy spent the majority of the year batting eighth, which clearly isn’t ideal for your fantasy team. However, any spot in the Rockies’ lineup is fine, as they ranked third in runs scored, fourth in RBIs and second in batting average in 2017.

Whether Lucroy were to re-sign with Colorado or not, he still promises to be a major bounce back candidate in 2018.

Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays

GamesBA/OBP/SLGRRBIsHRXBHSB
2017 Season66.249/.300/.3781626     7170
162-game AVG162.290/.361/.495969828647
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

According to Rotoworld.com, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons expect “Tulowitzki (to) be healthy come spring training in 2018”. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Tulowitzki’s production has been on a steep decline since being traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015. The two-time top-five National League MVP candidate slashed .299/.371/.513 in his 10 years in Colorado, while he has slashed just .250/.313/.414 in his three seasons with Toronto.

Now 33 years old, Tulowitzki was placed on the 60-day disabled list after suffering ligament damage in his right ankle in July. According to Rotoworld.com, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons expect “Tulowitzki (to) be healthy come spring training in 2018.”

According to Alec Gentry of Sportingnews.com, Gibbons also stated that “Tulo is our shortstop,” showing that despite his struggles, the team will continue to deploy him at shortstop for the foreseeable future.

The only real case for Tulowitzki bouncing back is his track record and opportunity. He is signed through 2020 and must be desperate to prove his worth to the city of Toronto.

 

 

 

Adam Eaton, Outfielder, Washington Nationals

GamesBA/OBP/SLGRRBIsHRXBHSB
2017 Season23.297/.393/.4622413     2233
162-game AVG162.284/.358/.41610457115217

There were high expectations for Eaton in 2017, as it would be his first season batting leadoff for his new club, the Washington Nationals, whose star-studded lineup ranked eighth in runs scored, 11th in home runs and seventh in RBIs just a year prior. With Eaton atop their lineup, the Nationals became that much better, as the 28-year-old was coming off of back-to-back seasons with at least a .280 batting average, 175 hits, 90 runs and 14 stolen bases.

Sadly, Eaton’s 2017 campaign was cut short after suffering a torn ACL on April 28. According to Jamal Collier of MLB.com, Eaton stated, “I’m going to work my butt off and give myself the best-case scenario to play. This year would be great, and if that is the case, that means we are playing in October, that is for sure.”

Unfortunately for Eaton, the Nationals failed to make the World Series, which was the earliest Eaton was expected to return. His clear hunger to play and prove doubters wrong inspires me to draft him in 2018. The Nationals lineup improved in 2017, ranking fifth in runs scored, third in RBIs and fourth in batting average.

If Eaton were to bat atop their lineup next season, he would likely return to his top-30 outfielder status.

Pitchers

Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees

GamesW-LERAWHIPIPK/9BB/9HR/9
2017 Season3013-124.741.24178.19.82.11.8
162-game AVG3417-93.561.102168.61.71.3
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Tanaka’s 2017 regular season was an absolute disaster. (Photo by the Japanese Times)

Tanaka’s 2017 regular season was an absolute disaster. The 29-year-old once had a reputation for limiting walks, hits and home runs, but that status has officially been revoked. His 1.8 HR/9 ranked third worst among qualified pitchers, while his ERA ranked ninth worst.

One interesting stat for Tanaka is the decline in the frequency of his fastball, as it has been in decline every season since 2014, where he was throwing it about 40 percent of the time, down to 28 percent in 2017.

In turn, the frequency of his off-speed pitches has continuously risen, which may have contributed to the rise of his strikeout rate, as his 2016 strikeout rate of 7.4 increased dramatically to 9.8 this season.

A positive sign for Tanaka moving forward was his 2017 playoff performances. In his 20 innings pitched, Tanaka allowed just two earned runs, 10 hits and three walks. This was the Tanaka baseball fans expected heading into 2017.

Looking ahead to 2018, Tanaka will once again be expected to play a key role atop the Yankees rotation. If he is able to continue his postseason success into 2018, there is no reason he cannot bounce back to his top-20 fantasy starter status that he earned just a year ago.

Felix Hernandez, Starting Pitcher, Seattle Mariners

StartsW-LERAWHIPIPK/9BB/9HR/9
2017 Season166-54.361.2986.28.12.71.8
162-game AVG3415-103.201.182278.42.60.8

Hernandez has been in a downward spiral over the course of his last two seasons. After four straight Cy Young caliber seasons from 2012-15, the 31-year-old has thrown a total of 240 innings while posting a 4.01 ERA. Many factors could be contributing to Hernandez’s struggles, although fatigue and injuries seem to be the main causes.

King Felix has had one of the heaviest workloads among starting pitchers in the last decade, as he has recorded over 190 innings pitched over ten different seasons, most notably in 2010 where he pitched a league high 249.2 innings.

I personally refuse to believe that Hernandez, one of the best pitchers of his generation, is out of gas. Shoulder bursitis and bicep tendinitis cut his 2017 campaign short.

If a healthy Hernandez returns next season, his 2018 campaign will be a very different story.

Aaron Sanchez, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays

StartsW-LERAWHIPIPK/9BB/9HR/9
2017 Season81-34.251.7236.06.05.01.5
162-game AVG2211-63.011.211587.03.50.8
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Aaron Sanchez finished seventh in American League Cy Young voting last year after tossing 192 innings that resulted in a 15-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Sanchez was considered a blossoming star in 2016, as he finished the year seventh in American League Cy Young voting after tossing 192 innings that resulted in a 15-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts. In 2017, his story was quite different.

Lingering blisters on his right middle finger resulted in four separate stints on the disabled list for Sanchez. Although it may seem like this season was a lost cause for the 25-year-old, he thinks otherwise.

According to Sportsnet.com, Sanchez stated that missing the majority of the year was “a benefit for (himself) honestly… (as) it gave (him) a full year to… rest,” as he had thrown over 200 innings in the regular and postseasons combined in 2016.

Sanchez won’t begin throwing until December, so we won’t know the status of his finger until then. What we do know is that Sanchez is one of the top young talents in the game and is sure to be overlooked in fantasy circles due to his “wasted” 2017 season.

 

 

 

Gerrit Cole, Starting Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates

StartsW-LERAWHIPIPK/9BB/9HR/9
2017 Season3312-124.261.252038.72.41.4
162-game AVG3416-113.501.222098.42.30.8

Although Cole started a career high 33 games in 2017, he had career worsts in ERA at 4.26, hits allowed with 199 and HR/9 at 1.4. Cole ranked 10th worst in home runs allowed with 31, which is nerve-racking, although in 2015, Cole ranked fourth best in HR/9 at .48, and home runs allowed at 11.

At only 27-years-old, it is more than realistic for Cole to bounce back to his Cy Young caliber form we saw just two years ago. The former first overall pick in 2011 needs to be on your draft radar next season, as his price is sure to be discounted due to his mediocre 2017 campaign.

 

Featured image by 710 ESPN Seattle

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Wilson Ramos 2018

Wilson Ramos fantasy: Tale of the tape

Background

Wilson Ramos fantasy

Wilson Ramos was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2004. (Photo by Getty Images)

Wilson Ramos was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2004, although he would not make his professional debut until 2006. A then 18-year-old Ramos spent his inaugural season in the Gulf Coast League, where he would bat .286 with 16 extra base hits and 26 RBIs in just 46 games.

In 2007, Ramos would progress to Single-A, where he would bat .291 with 36 extra base hits and 42 RBIs in 73 games. In 2008, Ramos would continue his ascension through the minor leagues, moving to the High-A Florida State League, where he would bat .288 with 38 extra base hits and 78 RBIs in 126 games.

At this point in his career, Ramos was ranked as the third prospect in the Twins farm system and 71st overall prospect among the MLB’s top 100 according to Baseball America.

In 2009, Ramos was promoted to the Double-A Eastern League. His minor league consistency and success would continue, as a then 21-year-old Ramos batted .317 with 20 extra base hits and 29 RBIs in 54 games.

His first struggles came in 2010, where in 71 games with the Twins Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings, Ramos batted only .241 with just 19 base hits and 30 RBIs.

Ramos was subsequently traded to the Washington Nationals in July of 2010 for reliever Matt Capps, as the Twins were 56-46 at the time, and felt as though Capps could be a postseason contributor out of the pen.

In 20 games with the Nationals Triple-A affiliate Syracuse Chiefs, Ramos would begin to thrive once again, batting .316 with 14 runs scored, eight RBIs and seven extra base hits. His first substantial major league action came in 2011, where at 23 years old, Ramos batted .267 with 38 extra base hits and 52 RBIs in 113 games. He was successively chosen by Baseball America to represent as the catcher of the All-Rookie Team.

Ramos’ 2012 campaign was cut short after just 25 games due to a torn ACL that he suffered in May of that year. In 2013, Ramos would play in just 78 games as he was suffering from a lingering hamstring injury, although when on the field he would continue to impress, batting .272 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs.

In 2014, Ramos broke his hand on opening day, causing him to miss almost half of the season. In 88 games, he batted .267 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs.

In what is considered his first full season, Ramos struggled tremendously, batting just .229 in a career high 475 at-bats. The Nationals would sign Ramos to a one-year deal just shy of $5.5 million in order to avoid arbitration.

2016 was Ramos’ breakout year, as in 131 games, he would bat .307 with 22 home runs 80 RBIs. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to another torn ACL, although he still managed win the National League Silver Slugger award.

The Nationals decided to let the injured Ramos walk in free agency, so the 29-year-old Ramos chose to sign a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

2017 season

Ramos’ 2017 campaign didn’t begin until June 24, as he was still rehabbing from his second torn ACL. In 64 games, Ramos would bat .260 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs. Over a 162-game sample size, Ramos would have been on pace to hit 27 home runs with 88 RBIs. I understand he has never, and may never, play in more than 135 games, although it is important to understand his offensive potential when healthy.

2018 outlook

Wilson Ramos fantasy

Wilson Ramos is a top-10 catcher offensively, and I would love to have him on my roster in 2018.  (Photo: Getty Images)

Ramos spent the majority of the season batting fifth, sixth and seventh in the Rays lineup, so we can assume he will bat primarily in the second third of the lineup in 2018. The Rays lineup is interesting, as they ranked sixth in home runs with 226 and sixth to last in batting average at .245. The Rays were also the only team in the MLB to have more home runs than doubles.

It is clear that a healthy Ramos can help balance this offense out. I expect Ramos to play in no more than 135 games, although I do anticipate him to bat above .270 with at least 40 extra base hits. When healthy, Ramos is a top-10 catcher offensively, and I would love to have him on my roster in 2018.

 

 

Featured image by RaysColoredGlasses.com

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Firing Dusty Baker will not solve the Nationals’ woes

Being a Nationals fan has got to be tough. For the fourth time since 2012, Washington has finished the regular season with at least 95 wins. That makes them one of the more successful regular season teams in that span. They have not had a losing season since 2011, so one would think they would have at least won a playoff series by now right? Well, it’s not that simple for Washington apparently.

On Friday the Nationals fired Dusty Baker, making him the third Washington manager to be canned since 2013. What is interesting to note with the two other managers that have been fired (Davey Johnson and Matt Williams), is that each of those managers won the NL Manager of the Year while in Washington. Not only that, but they won the award the year before they each got fired.

Dusty Baker did not win Manager of the Year while in Washington, but that does not mean he should be used as a scapegoat for the Nationals’ failures.

Ownership is addressing the wrong issues

Nationals

Baker is the third Nationals manager to be axed in five years (SI.com)

The only real issue with the managerial position in Washington is its lack of stability. After Dusty Baker was brought in after the 2015 season, Bryce Harper was ecstatic.

After two years, the front office doesn’t seem to think that this All-Star staff is cutting it. Which begs the question: What will? What manager is out there that will be able to change to the culture and play of Washington so much that it will help them win game 5 of the NLDS?

This is what it really comes down to. In 2012, 2016 and 2017, the Nationals got to game 5 of the NLDS. Only one win away on three occasions were the Nationals from winning their first playoff series in franchise history. They obviously have not been able to get it done though.

Washington has built one of the most solid rosters in all of baseball. It is difficult to point out a whole lot of issues at any position. Especially after management traded for some reliable relief pitchers during the summer. That is what makes it difficult for them to blame the players for the inability to follow through in the postseason.

Since 2012, the Nationals are second in the majors in regular season wins. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the one team ahead of them, and it is only by four wins. Thus, it is reasonable to say the Nationals have put together a solid team of players that know how to win. When it comes down to clutch time, the inability to move on in the postseason falls squarely on the shoulders of the players.

Dusty Baker managed under a microscope

By saying the Nationals played under a microscope, what is really meant is that Dusty Baker managed under a microscope. What he had to be thinking in the back of his head during every move in the postseason is whether or not the move would get him fired.

Ownership never necessarily were fans of Baker. Washington originally wanted Bud Black, but when that fell through they hired Dusty Baker. With him getting the Nationals to the postseason twice in two years, it is hard to believe this firing has much to do with performance. Baker probably thought his job was on the line from the moment he started.

Having managers worrying about their jobs at all times is not the way to run an organization. It can lead to impulsive decisions and make a manager do what they think ownership wants them to do.

The Nationals knew this was the year they needed to really prove themselves. They have one of the most well put together teams in baseball, and showed they were during the regular season. A 97-65 record and finishing 20 games in front of the second place in your division is nothing to be taken for granted.

Inability to come through in the clutch

Nationals

The Nationals watched another team advance to the NLCS on their home field (SB Nation)

Teams get defined by their postseason performance. In 2012, the Nationals were favored to beat the Cardinals in the NLDS. The series was pushed to five games where the Nationals had the home field. The Nationals had a 7-5 lead, and Drew Storen blew it in the ninth by giving up four runs and losing the game.

In 2016 the Nationals were pushed to another game 5 where they had home field advantage. Washington had a one-run advantage going into the seventh against the Dodgers, where they then exploded for four runs and eventually won the game 4-3. In that seventh inning, there were five pitchers and none of them faced more than two batters.

This year, the Nationals were down 2-1 to the Cubs. They fought back in order to force (wait for it) another game 5 in Washington. It was another hard-fought game, but the Nationals’ mental errors cost them.

Where the Nationals really got hurt was the defensively play of their catcher, Matt Wieters, who had two errors and a passed ball. He ultimately cost the Nationals three runs in a game where they scored eight.

The players themselves need to be held more accountable for their inability to come through when it matters.

What the Nationals can do

Nationals

2018 will most likely be Harper’s final year in Washington (Sports Illustrated)

It is too late now, but what the Nationals need is stability at the managerial position. The constant coaching carousel in Washington makes it difficult for players to truly get behind their leader.

However, it seems unlikely for that to happen when their next manager (who is yet to be decided on) will probably be on their way out the door before the 2021 season.

Here is a bold statement: The Nationals should trade Bryce Harper. Now, that would never happen in a million years. However, what the front office should think about is what is going to happen this year.

Washington will probably not get the experienced manager they are looking for. If the past is any indication, they will reach the postseason again where they will lose it in the NLDS.

Bryce Harper is in a walk year, and is anticipating a massive haul for his services. Ten years, $400 million is not out of the question for Harper who will be 26 when he hits the market, and has already cemented himself as one of the best hitters in the league.

The Nationals won’t be able to give him that payload, and it doesn’t seem Harper is thrilled about staying in Washington. If the Nationals were to trade one year of Bryce Harper to another contending team, they could get players who could help out immediately as well as good prospects. Now, the chances of succeeding this one year with Harper are slimmer, but it would be much better for their future.

Harper is going to have his fourth manager since he joined the league in 2012. That has to be frustrating for any player. One would think that doesn’t bode well for his opinion on ownership. Especially considering they can’t manage to keep solid leadership in the clubhouse. It also gives off the impression that they don’t necessarily know what they are doing. Either way, Washington has a lot to think about this offseason.

 

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Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Axe Bat leading hitting technology into the future

There’s a new bat poised to take Major League Baseball by storm. The Axe Bat, developed by Baden Sports, is proof that what’s old can become new again. If you aren’t familiar, the latest development in hitting technology is the Axe-handled baseball bat.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

A lineup of Victus’ Axe-handle bats before being shipped to Miami Marlins slugger, Giancarlo Stanton.
(Photo courtesy of: whatproswear.com)

The early results by those that have swung them competitively at the game’s top level are remarkable. Axe Bat’s Director of Communications, Matt Peterson, spoke about this revolutionary new bat design in greater detail.

In 2017, at least 35 different big-leaguers swung the Axe-handled bat. Peterson said that together, those players totaled nearly 4,800 plate appearances and more than 1,100 hits.

All time, at least 57 players have used an Axe-handled bat during an official MLB game. It’s this type of growth that is turning more and more hitters onto this innovative design.

It also doesn’t hurt when you compare the hitting lines of those using it, to those still using traditional round-knobbed bats. Over the past two seasons, players swinging the Axe-handled bat design hit a collective slash line of (.273/.463/.805). In comparison, hitters using the traditional round-knobbed bat design put together a collective (.255/.422/.745).

Rookie Hitters

The early returns on performance seem to be paying huge dividends for players who decide to incorporate this new tool into their game. Take San Diego Padres rookie center fielder Manny Margot for instance. He converted to the Axe-handled bat for the majority of the season’s second half in 2017.

“The week he switched, he won the NL

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

San Diego rookie, Manny Margot, before he started realizing the benefits of the Axe-handled bat. (Photo courtesy of: Sporting News)

Player of the Week award,” Peterson said.

What a week it was for the young rookie with stars in his eyes too. Margot slapped Mets and Pirates pitching around the park all week (July 30), going 12-24 at the dish. But wait, there’s more to it than that.

In the first half of 2017 from Opening Day to July 23, before Margot switched bats, he hit (.258/.373/.677) with five homers and nine doubles in 281 plate appearances. After the switch to an Axe-handled bat, however, the difference is amazing.

From July 24 through the final game of the season, the young Margot posted a much improved (.269/.449/.772) over 248 plate appearances. During the final few months of the season, Margot matched his first half output in doubles with nine and hit eight home runs. If you’re keeping score, that’s three more homers in 33 fewer plate appearances. Margot loves hitting with the Axe-handled design it would appear.

Margot isn’t the only Padres youngster swinging an Axe-handled bat though.

“His teammate, Allen Cordoba, another rookie, also swung the bat most of this season,” Peterson said.

Established Professional Hitters

The rookies, however, aren’t the only players in MLB that have had their head turned by the Axe Bat. Established pro hitters are also getting in on the action as well.

Several of this year’s hitters in MLB’s postseason are among those switching from the classic round-knobbed handle to the Axe-handle. In 2017’s playoff field, George Springer, Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Chris Owings, Lonnie Chisenhall, Greg Allen and Mookie Betts all swung the Axe Bat 100 percent of the time in 2017 Peterson said.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Dustin Pedrioa steps into the batter’s box brandishing his Axe-handle bat. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

There were also several other players on the rosters of playoff teams who used the Axe-handled bat in 2017.

“Other players on playoff teams who used it in a significant number of at-bats included Dustin Pedroia, Joc Pederson and Matt Wieters,” Peterson said.

Growth within the game is happening rapidly as more players are encountering the Axe Bat.

“Several others experimented with it for a handful of at-bats this year and might be candidates for Spring Training 2018,” Peterson said.

“We anticipate the growth trend to continue as Axe-handled bats become more available, as more performance benefits of the handle are confirmed,” Peterson said. “And we begin showing players some of the new designs and customization options that will soon be available to them.”

One significant performance benefit of an Axe-handled bat is an increase in bat speed. It has been studied by Baseball Prospectus. They confirmed that Axe Bat’s claim to improve bat speed does, in fact, hold water.

Read Baseball Prospectus’ study on the Axe Bat here.

Licensing Axe-handle technology

There’s a good reason many fans haven’t realized this bat has found its way into several big leaguer’s hands. That reason is licensing.

Axe Bat’s patented Axe-handle technology has been licensed to Major League Baseball’s approved wood bat makers. The first of these companies to purchase the right to use the Axe-handled design is Victus Sports.

“That’s why you see Victus’ logo on the barrel of Axe-handled bats.” Peterson said. “Victus Sports was our first licensee. They make a great bat and were instrumental in getting the Axe-handle in players’ hands around the league.”

As more players realize the benefits of this revolutionary bat handle design, more bat makers are sure to be purchasing the rights to make this bat for their customers. Couple this with high profile players like Dustin Pedrioa and Mookie Betts, and swinging an Axe-handled bat and it is sure to find its way into other players’ hands too.

Baseball players are some of the most superstitious people in the universe. One solid hit during a slump and a player can get hooked forever. As more research is done (like the study by Baseball Prospectus) on the Axe Bat, more players are sure to start incorporating it into their game.

Final Thoughts

Since the moment it was created, Axe-handle design has seen significant growth in MLB. The idea for the Axe Bat was conceptualized in 2009 by Bruce Leinert. As a result, by 2017 there were already 35 players who tested it in live competition. Some, like Mookie Betts, have even made it their primary bat. That’s darn impressive growth in the span of eight years.

From a fan’s perspective, is will be interesting to see what impact this bat will have on the game. It’ll be interesting to see the statistical comparison between both Axe and traditional bat designs going forward, especially as more players incorporate the Axe-handle bat into their game.

This should make for some fascinating conversations in the future, no doubts about it!

 

(Feature image: Sports Illustrated)

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Injuries 2018 MLB season

Injuries to keep an eye on heading into the 2018 MLB season

With the ALCS and NLCS around the corner and the 2017 fantasy baseball season officially in the books, it is time to assess the 2018 outlook for the following four players. They are all currently injured with fairly loose time tables for return, but also could be impact players next season.

Jimmy Nelson, Starting Pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers

Injuries 2018 MLB season

Jimmy Nelson’s 2017 WAR of 4.9 ranks fourth in the MLB, only behind Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer. (Photo by The News and Observer)

Nelson quietly emerged as one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball this season.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Jimmy Nelson. His 2017 WAR of 4.9 ranked eighth in the MLB. Nelson also finished in the top 10 in K/9 (10.21) and xFIP (3.15) to go with a 3.49 ERA. In 175.1 innings, Nelson fell only one strikeout short of 200, which was a huge improvement from his prior career high of 148 in 177.1 innings.

According to fangraphs.com, Nelson’s curveball in 2017 was valued at 9.2, where a value of zero represents average, a positive value represents above average and a negative value represents below. To put this in better perspective, Clayton Kershaw’s curveball has been valued at a total of 63.8 over the course of his career, with a high of 16.5 and a yearly average of 7.2, although his curveball is currently valued at 6.4 in 2017. This shows that Nelson’s stuff is similarly effective to the likes of Kershaw.

The 28-year-old suffered a partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff after sliding back head-first into first base on September 8. He underwent surgery on September 19, which will undoubtedly set him back at the start of the 2018 season. According to MLB.com, Nelson shouldn’t be expected to return until midseason.

Nelson is well worth a flyer in fantasy drafts next season, as his price is sure to be discounted due to his long-awaited return.

Adam Eaton, Outfielder, Washington Nationals

Injuries 2018 MLB season

Adam Eaton tore his ACL and meniscus on April 28, causing him to miss the remainder of the 2017 MLB season. (Photo by the Cincinnati Enquirer)

In his first season in Washington after being traded for prospect pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, Eaton had found himself in a fantasy friendly leadoff role. It was undeniable that he could score triple-digit runs and steal double-digit bases atop a loaded Nationals lineup.

Unfortunately, he tore his ACL and meniscus on April 28, causing him to miss the remainder of the 2017 season.

Eaton was batting .297 with two home runs, three stolen bases and 14 walks through 23 games this season. His combination of speed, plate discipline, contact hitting and opportunity in the Nationals’ lineup push me to compare him to the likes of his former teammate A.J. Pollock.

Pollock is a career .286 hitter with a 162-game average of 16 home runs and 28 stolen bases. Eaton’s 162-game average is .284, 11 home runs and 17 stolen bases, showing that he offers similar value to Pollack a much cheaper price.

Early reports this season suggested that there would be a possibility for Eaton to return at the end of the 2017 season if the Nationals were to make a deep postseason run. However, the Nationals were eliminated in the NLDS and Eaton did not enter a game. This indicates that Eaton should be ready to go by the start of 2018, and by his own account according to the Washington Post, he plans to return “a better player for sure.”

Eaton’s confidence in himself is reassuring for his fantasy value moving forward, although the current outfield situation in Washington is not. Superstar Bryce Harper is locked into right field as long as he remains a National. Michael Taylor has emerged as much more than a depth outfielder after batting .271 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases in Eaton’s absence. Veteran slugger Jayson Werth was on pace for 23 home runs through 162-games, but was plagued with injuries. Top prospect Victor Robles has also shown that he is deserving of MLB at-bats.

It is uncertain if and to what extent Eaton will play in 2018. If he returns to an everyday role, he will reemerge to fantasy relevance once again.

Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays

Injuries 2018 MLB Season

Troy Tulowitzki is only three seasons removed from when he batted .340 with 21 home runs in 91 games with the Colorado Rockies. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Tulowitzki was placed on the 60-day disabled list on August 6 after suffering ligament damage in his ankle. The 33-year-old played in only 66 games, slashing a career worst .249/.300/.378. Despite his clear struggles and lack of durability, manager John Gibbons told MLB Network Radio that they are committed to Tulowitzki as their starting shortstop in 2018.

He is only three seasons removed from when he batted .340 with 21 home runs in 91 games with the Colorado Rockies. The once perennial National League MVP candidate has been reduced to a shell of his former self. In his three seasons as a Blue Jay, he has a combined .250 batting average and just 36 home runs in 238 games.

He spent the majority of the season batting either fifth or sixth. With the anticipated departure of Jose Bautista and the Josh Donaldson trade rumors, it is hard to identify where Tulowitzki will fit in the order or how productive the Blue Jays’ lineup can be.

His fantasy value moving forward is a conundrum, as no one knows what to expect at this point in his career. Will he resurrect his MVP form? Or will his skills and durability continue to diminish? Only time will tell, but his price on draft day in 2018 is sure to be a bargain.

Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets

Injuries 2018 MLB season

Prior to the injury, Michael Conforto was slashing .279/.384/.55 with 27 home runs and 68 RBIs through 109 games. (Photo by NY Daily News)

Conforto underwent season ending surgery on September 6 to repair a torn posterior capsule in his left shoulder. His anticipated return is around early March, although this only gives him a month to ramp up baseball activities before the start of the season in April, suggesting that he will miss the beginning of the 2018 regular season.

Prior to the injury, Conforto was slashing .279/.384/.555 with 27 home runs and 68 RBIs through 109 games. This rate of production put Conforto on pace to hit 40 home runs and drive in 101 RBIs.

Whether he is in left, right or center field, Corforto is a lock to be in the Mets’ lineup. He has proven that he is not just a left-handed side of a platoon, but yet a budding superstar, as he was playing nearly everyday in July and August. However, he still only bats a career .180 against lefties, so be weary.

The soon-to-be 25-year-old is sure to be undervalued in fantasy circles next season. He is obviously coming off of an injury, but more importantly, he plays for the Mets, whose offense ranked in the bottom half of the league in runs, RBIs and batting average in 2017. With a healthy Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets could easily become a top-15 offense in 2018, making Conforto’s fantasy value rise immensely.

 

Featured image by NJ.com

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Kershaw

Will Kershaw prove himself in the NLCS?

Playoff success has eluded Kershaw who is now in his seventh career postseason. Don’t be mistaken, he has not been unreliable by any stretch of the imagination. However, he has shown that he can be prone to blow up in playoff games. In 16 career playoff starts he has given up four or more runs on six occasions. In the 2017 season, Kershaw only allowed four or more runs in 27 starts.

It will be unpredictable

Kershaw

Despite Kershaw’s solid record in regular season play, he struggles to be reliable in October (Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

One way to see how a pitcher may fair in certain match ups is what their history against the opposing team looks like. Kershaw faced the Chicago Cubs in last year’s postseason in two separate starts. Each start garnered two very results.

In game two of the 2016 NLCS Kershaw had the Cubs’ number. He managed to cash in seven innings shut out innings while only holding the Cubs to two hits. One would think he would be able to save the Dodgers season when they were on the hook in game 6 of the series, right?

Wrong.

Clayton Kershaw had four earned runs in five innings pitched, which included two home runs. Usually when dealing with a guy like Kershaw, you can tell when he has a hitter’s number. He is the most dominant pitcher of the past decade and does not look like he is slowing down in his regular season play. The playoffs look to be a whole other story though. If the Cubs push through to the NLCS, they may have a pretty good shot at getting to him. Their recent history against the Dodgers’ ace is much stronger than the Nationals.

Washington has struggled against the lefty during the regular season the past couple of years. In two regular season starts in the past two seasons, Kershaw has held the Nationals to just two runs in 14 innings pitched. This makes it seems like it would be a breeze if they met in the playoffs. However, the Nationals tattooed Kershaw for eight runs in 11.2 innings last postseason.

The Dodgers need him

Los Angeles has been to the NLCS four times since 2008. As you probably know, they haven’t won a single one of those series. Much of that may be because of their ace not showing up when it is needed most. Kershaw has made five NLCS starts in his career, and the Dodgers have only won a single game out of those five.

The Dodgers prided themselves on their pitching this season. It was the best pitching staff in the majors by far, especially after they picked up Yu Darvish. The Kershaw, Darvish, Hill, Wood combo is going to cause fits for any team they face in the postseason. This year may be different for that reason. Los Angeles isn’t nearly as reliant on Kershaw as they have been in the past because of the depth of their rotation in bullpen.

The commonality between all of the NLCS appearances they have lost though are Kershaw’s poor performances. Now is the time for the lefty to prove himself in the postseason.

Kershaw needs it for his legacy

Kershaw

Every great athlete is heavily judged by their postseason performance (Photo by Washington Times)

Clayton Kershaw is already a lock for Cooperstown. Some writers say that even if Kershaw were to retire at the end of this season, he would still get into the Hall of Fame despite only being 29 years old.

What Kershaw doesn’t want to happen is get the Dan Marino reputation. Marino is known as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. However, he is also remembered as one of the greatest to never win a championship. Kershaw has yet to even make it to the World Series. With the team he has around him, the time is now for him to prove himself and propel his team to a championship.

The Dodgers currently have a solid setup. Their team is getting some extra rest as they swept the Diamondbacks out of the postseason while the Cubs and Nationals have battled it out to a fifth game. If the NLCS happens to go to seven games, there is a good chance that Kershaw will get the nod in a decisive seventh game depending on his performance.

Kershaw is already in the mix for one of the greatest pitchers ever. In order to keep him in that top echelon of pitchers, he will need to pitch when it matters most. If he is able to put together the starts we all know he is capable of, the Dodgers will feel good about their chances of ending their 30 year championship drought.

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

The Houston Astros came from behind in Boston on Monday, becoming the first team to make their way in to a league championship series. They produced some late inning heroics and walked out of Fenway Park 5-4 winners. Avoiding elimination game drama in the division series is one of the most important tasks of any World Series hopeful.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also join the Houston in moving on to the next round of games, sweeping Zack Greinke and Arizona right out of the playoffs. They now await the winner of Chicago versus Washington in the NLCS.

Why it Matters

Elimination games are the proverbial pressure cooker in MLB. There is perhaps nothing that can reduce hardened veterans to looking like a rookie quite like an elimination game. Getting the wins early on in the series is the name of the game.

In all division series that have ever been played, you might think having that deciding game at home would be a big feather in your team’s hat. Surprisingly that’s not the case.

avoiding elimination game drama

Luis Severino celebrates a huge out against the Cleveland Indians in Game 4. (Photo courtesy of: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports)

In the American league, there have been 17 divisional series elimination games since New York defeated Milwaukee in 1981 at Yankee Stadium. Since that inaugural Game 5, the home team has won nine, whilst the visitors have won eight. It’s a true pick ‘em type of proposition. Nothing could be more disastrous to a 102-win Indians team like losing a pivotal Game Five at home.

This is exactly the position Cleveland now find themselves in after last night’s 7-3 Game Four loss. The season, for both clubs, now rides on a fateful Game 5 showdown on Wednesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

In the National League, the odds are far worse for the home club. There have been 13 Game 5’s in the history of the NL and, get this, the home team has a paltry four wins to the road crew’s nine collective Game 5 triumphs.

When you roll them all together, that’s a cumulative record of 13-17 for the home team in division series elimination games. The games have been played a litter tighter in the AL than in the NL, but those are odds that I’m not at all interested in tempting if it’s my team gunning for the league title.

The Astros

It would be fair to say this year’s incarnation of the Houston Astros has been brilliant. They pitch, they hit, they hit and they hit. They do a lot of hitting, that would be the main take away here.

Houston has the best team offense in MLB  powered by three-time American League batting champion Jose Altuve. The little spark plug had another momentous year taking home the batting title during the regular season. Altuve however, has saved perhaps his best for last in 2017.

avoiding elimination game drama

Jose Altuve goes deep in ALDS action. (Photo courtesy of: Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)

The slight statured Altuve stands 5-foot-6, but he might have the sweetest stroke in the game this side of Tony Gwynn. The work he’s doing this postseason is shaping up to be legendary. If Altuve continues to hit at the torrid pace he’s thus far established, his could be one of the best performances of all-time in postseason play.

Like, Lloyd McClendon in 1992 good. For the Pirates that year, McClendon set the record for postseason batting average. He hit .727 in 16 plate appearances over five games. Of course, with the difference in the amount of games the playoffs entail post-1994, McClendon’s record is probably safe for all times.

Red Sox pitching finally solved Altuve in Game Four at Fenway Park. As a result, his average plummeted to a “meager” .533.  However, the sweet-swinging righty did manage to push across the game’s first run. Albeit he did so by grounding into a double play. Altuve won’t get credit in the box score for an RBI, but that run is no less important in the bigger picture.

Houston has come from off the deck not once, but twice. They’ve showed real resolve for a team with World Series aspirations. The Astros are for real.

The Dodgers

What can be said about the Dodgers that hasn’t already been said?

Los Angeles is certainly looking like the team that finished 2017 with the game’s best record. The Dodgers won 104 games during the regular season and has just kept on winning. And they are fresh off the only sweep in division series play this postseason, taking down Arizona 3-1 last night.

avoiding elimination game drama

Cody Bellinger had a huge Game 3, hitting a his first postseason homer and making this spectacular catch. (Photo courtesy of: fanragsports.com)

The best part of L.A. getting the sweep last night, is they get the extra rest for the pitching staff leading in to the NLCS. This could be the biggest advantage the Dodgers have. With the way Yu Darvish was throwing last night, the Dodgers are going to be a tough out this year. He looked strong.

Also, Count on perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw being ready to rock and roll come Game 1 of the NLCS. Take that to the bank. He’s easily been the most dominant pitcher of the last decade. Kershaw just needs some postseason glory to fully cement his status as living legend. Apparently his evil sorcery on the mound isn’t already enough.

Right now it appears the pitching for L.A. is getting stronger. Sure-fire Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger is finding his playoff power stroke. And the rest of the lineup just continues to hit. There really is no question that the Dodgers are starting to play excellent baseball at the right time.

Dodgers fans are hoping for better tidings this year in the NLCS. This will mark the fifth appearance in the league championship series for Los Angeles since 2008. Is this the year L.A. takes it home?

The Rest of the Field

The Cubs lead their division series with Washington, two games to one after taking another closely pitched game 2-1. With 2016 playoffs hero Jake Arrieta taking the hill, Chicago has a chance to slam the door on this series at home. Washington and Chicago square off later today (5:30 EST) at Wrigley Field.

avoiding elimination game drama

Anthony Rizzo is the difference maker as he bloops a vital RBI single for Chicago in the eighth inning of an epic Game 4 showdown. (Photo courtesy of: AP/David Banks)

The division series between Washington and Chicago stands out because of the pitching. While the rest of the league should be considering protective netting around the outfield bleachers, pitchers in this series have been throwing well. The craziest game in the series has been the 6-3 Nationals win in Game 2. Whoa guys, slow down!

Don’t count Washington out yet though! This team has more than enough life in that pitching staff to put the clamps on any offense. The Cubs will be looking to seal the series tonight and stave off a dreaded Game 5. Washington on the other hand, will be looking to force a Game 5 meet-up in Washington D.C. for Thursday.

The Indians meanwhile, are now in a situation where the series comes back to Cleveland for Game 5. The silver lining for Indians fans is that staff ace Corey Kluber is bringing it back on the mound. Kluber will be looking for the win, but it remains to be seen whether that alone will be enough. It’s why they play the games.

There is no discernible trend of good outcomes for hosting an elimination game in the divisional round. In these types of sudden death meetings, home field advantage counts for very little.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe)

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World Series baseball fans need

The World Series baseball fans need

The Houston Astros are off to a blistering start taking the opening two-game leg of their Division Series with Boston, winning both games in lopsided fashion 8-2. The Washington Nationals however, find themselves on the ropes early against the Cubs. Of the teams left in this year’s postseason, only Washington and Houston have never brought home a World Series title. This is the World Series baseball fans need.

Why not the Indians

The Indians are a popular pick this year to take home the hardware. After last night’s 13th inning emotional 9-8 win in which the Indians surged back from six runs down, it’s hard to argue they won’t win it all. At least for the moment, they look unbreakable.

world series

Tris Speaker hit 792 career two-baggers, still the most in MLB history. (Photo courtesy of: Charles Conlon / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

While it is true the Indians have a longer drought of championship seasons than both Houston and Washington,the fans in Cleveland still have Bob Feller and the 1948 series. They still have the glory of 1920 when player/manager Tris Speaker, all-time doubles champ, guided the Indians to the title. Behind Speaker’s steady hand, the Indians beat Brooklyn five games to two in a best of nine series.

Cleveland experienced the bitter taste of Game 7 defeat in last year’s World Series against Chicago. What’s more is that it happened on home soil. Ouch. The Indians came oh so close coming off the deck from three runs down and pushing the game into extra’s. It turned out only a tease however, as the Cleveland faithful watched Chicago exorcise that billy-goat voodoo that had kept them down for so long.

The novelty of an Indians World Series resonates with many, but this year we have real chance at seeing something none of us has ever seen. A World Series title in a city that’s never had one. Cleveland has had three shots at the title since 1995, let’s see someone else give it a go.

Why not the Yankees

No.

Futility in Washington… or is it Montreal?

Not wanting to put the horse before the carriage, there is still a long road to travel for both Washington and Houston. Reaching that promised land of World Series glory takes a focus and commitment that few realize. On top of that, it can take an incredibly long time to get there.

And some, like Washington, are still waiting to make their first appearance.

The Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, have more combined city swaps and name changes than they do World Series appearances. They’ve never been there a single time in 48 years of existence, though they were close once.

world series baseball fans need

Gary Carter and some his 1981 Expos teammates pose for a photo prior to first pitch. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)

In 1981 the Expos lost a best-of-five NLCS. Due to the lockout occurring during the middle of the season, the playoff format was restructured. What sprang out of it were the first League Division Series’ in MLB history. All credit to Montreal, they dispatched the Phillies in five games.

This led to their first ever appearance in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It might seem unusual to us now, but until 1985 the League Championship Series were only best-of-five. Montreal lost in that 1981 NLCS series deciding Game 5 by a score of 2-1. Their hopes dashed by a ninth inning blast off the bat of Rick Monday.

The Nationals’ fortunes have been changing lately however. It’s amazing what a stable full of pitchers who are capable of winning a Cy Young Award will do for your hopes of taking home a championship. Washington’s nasty mixture of starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer make up a doomsday rotation that uses opposing bats to build a funeral pyre.

The Nationals can hit the lights out too. They are led by the exceptional Bryce Harper and a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman. Sprinkle in a few good breaks on the diamond and Washington might be cooking up some championship stew in 2017.

Houston Strong

Houston has been through a lot this year and that’s putting it lightly. A World Series win would be a welcome distraction from all that has happened, if only for a brief period. It would right the wrong of 2005, when the White Sox were hoisting the trophy before Houston even realized the series was on. The south-siders bounced them in four.

Houston has a spotty playoff history that seems to happen in waves, but this is undoubtedly the best grouping of players since the times of the Killer B’s.

world series baseball fans need

Sweet-swinging Jose Altuve won his third AL batting title this season hitting at a .346 clip. (Photo courtesy of: Baselinetimes.com)

Out is Jeff Bagwell, in is Jose Altuve. The 2017 edition of the Houston Astros is about as complete a team as you will see. If they do have an Achilles’ heel, it will be in the field. This season they rank number 24 of 30 teams in defensive efficiency. If defensive woes are going to be their undoing though, they certainly aren’t showing up right now. This team is playing like a team on a mission.

And it has been a long, hard, cruel road.

Consider this, Houston has had a franchise since their inception as the Colt .45’s in 1962. In the years since, they’ve been renamed as many times as they’ve appeared on baseball’s biggest stage; once. For those scoring at home, that’s 55 years without a title. That’s 55 years yielding only one World Series appearance. It’s time Houston, it’s time.

Should Houston and Cleveland match-up in the ALCS this year, the Indians will make the Astros earn it every step of the way. Unless you count the one-game wild card in 2013 as a sweep, you must go all the way back to 1954 to find the last, and only, time that Cleveland has ever been swept in any playoff series. That year, it was Willie Mays and the Giants who did the damage.

It would also be the first time since the Yankees battled the Royals for the AL pennant in 1977 that two 100+ win teams square off in the ALCS.

The World Series baseball fans need 

Washington versus Houston. Why is this the World Series we need? Because it’s something new. It’s something unique, and it’s something that’s never happened before. Heck, Washington hasn’t even been there before.

We need this World Series because of the match-ups it poses.

world series baseball fans need

Stephen Strasburg is planning a vacation to his favorite locale; Blew Bayou. (Photo courtesy of: AP / Mark J. Terrill)

Washington’s pitching versus Houston’s potent lineup is a story line just waiting to unfold. Who will win the day? Stephen Strasburg and his overpowering stuff? Or will it be the wily three-time American League batting champion, Jose Altuve finding the gap with the game on the line?

These two teams have unfinished business to attend to as well. In the regular season, Houston and Washington played a three-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Washington took two of the three games, but both losses for Houston were one-run games that could have easily swung the other way. One was an 11 inning affair that slipped through Houston’s fingers in that final frame. Let’s have some more of that please.

An Astros versus Nationals World Series wouldn’t just be another sports novelty. It will be an epic World Series if it does indeed happen. So, if you’re on the fence, let this be your call to action to jump on either the Washington or Houston bandwagon. I’m sure both team’s fan-bases will be happy to have the extra hands on deck.

In a season that has offered us a lot of remarkable firsts, like rookies named Aaron Judge that hit 52 homers in a year. It would only be right to see another first for MLB. A new champion and “Leading City of Baseball” that has never before been crowned.

Let’s crown a champion that none of us has ever seen before in 2017. Let’s go you Astros! Let’s go you Nationals!

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: doin-work.com)

 

 

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