While “Pitchers and Catchers Report” is the warmest phrase in the English language to a chilled Midwesterner in February, the actual charm of exhibition games and training camp battles can quickly wear thin. There is the strange drama surrounding an unusually large crop of unsigned free agents that is definitely a total coincidence and not at all another step by the owners to further reduce the amount of the games gigantic piles of money that goes to the players.
But once you get past that, most lineups and rotations are pretty well set. Prospect mavens are patrolling the back fields for the next stars but there really isn’t a lot of Major League Baseball to cover until the games start counting in a month. I definitely can’t muster much excitement over the Reds decision between ex-prospect Phil Ervin or the punchless bat of Ben Revere, who may actually be the secret identity of a patriotic superhero from Earth 2.
So instead I thought I’d share some quick thoughts on baseball in general. How I think about This Great Game, where it stands and how I watch and follow the sport.
I admit that I might be a bit biased. A kid growing up in the city Longfellow coined “Queen of the West” in the 1970’s couldn’t help but think that the Great Eight were gods amongst men. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, The Big Dog Tony Perez and manager Sparky Anderson are all in Cooperstown. Pete Rose would be there too if he weren’t such an idiot. And I’ll go to my grave believing Davey Concepcion should be there too.
For the better part of a decade, Cincinnati was the center of the baseball world. And it was glorious.
Second: Greatness is relative
Sure the Reds of the 70’s were awesome. But of course, there are other candidates. The Yankee’s of the Ruth and Gehrig era, or the Dimaggio and Mantle era, or the Jeter and Mariano Rivera era are all pretty good as well. The Dodgers of the 60’s, the Cubs of the right this minute might be in that discussion. But all these teams played in different eras and comparing them can be an apples to oranges to dragonfruit conundrum.
Ruth and Gehrig (Baseball Hall of Fame)
As a basic shorthand I try to compare teams by their peers, what the statheads call the run environment. Teams from the Dead Ball Era played a very different game than anything we would see today, or even the post Black Sox years after Babe Ruth showed you could consistently put the ball over the fence. Advanced stats like WAR can be normalized across time, but even they fall short of closing the gap time cruelly enforces.
The ‘27 Yankees had the Murderers Row, but their league was lily white and their best player was a big fat guy who may very well have been legally blind in one eye. The Machine would have destroyed them. The Reds of the 70’s were great, but they thought weight training was silly and rarely if ever saw a hundred mile an hour fastball, let alone the kind of heat brought by even lousy staffs in this day and age when fastball velocity averages 93 mph. Aroldis Chapman would mow them down like a machine gun.
Third: Greatness doesn’t always mean winning the last game of the year.
I’m happy for the Chicago Cubs and their fans, same for the Astros or the Royals. Winning the World Series is awesome. But it’s also a bit of a crapshoot. The best winning percentage in baseball history was the Tinker to Evers to Chance Cubs of 1904 who lost the Series to a White Sox team 23 wins behind them. The modern record holder for a 162 game season was the best Mariner team ever assembled in 2001. Ichiro and gang won 116 games but lost their lone playoff series to the Yankees.
Ichiro (Seattle PI)
The Reds had one of the most successful runs in recent memory with the Votto, Phillips, Cueto teams led by Dusty Baker. But they never won a postseason series. Meanwhile down the river the hated St Louis Cardinals got to have a big dogpile on the TV in 2006 with an 83 win team that barely even made the playoffs. And the less said about the two flags flying over that monument to graft in Miami the better.
I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the game’s increasing focus on October (and early November.) Baseball is supposed to be a marathon, not a sprint. The ever expanding post season tournament that apes the other Big Three sports feels ill-suited for a game with so much variance. It takes the big sample of 162 games, 500 plate appearances, 200 innings pitched to separate the signal from the noise and tell us who the best teams, the best hitters, the best players are. Too many great seasons are tossed down the memory hole once the playoffs start.
Well, that’s three… I’m out. April needs to hurry up and get here.
Baseball is finally back. With Spring Training games beginning in full swing last Friday, we finally have live, MLB baseball in 2018. And with the return of Spring Training comes it’s plethora of starting position battles. Teams across baseball use this time to determine their starting lineups. And this spring will be no different. These five teams will be watching their players extra close this Spring Training.
If Gleyber Torres can impress skipper Aaron Boone, he could be the Yankees Opening Day second baseman. (Corey Sipken/New York Post)
Yankees: Second Base
The Yankees could have double dipped on this list, but addressed third base by acquiring Brandon Drury from the Diamondbacks. This leaves second base as the only real question mark for the Bronx Bombers entering 2018. The Yankees depth chart on MLB.com lists Ronald Torreyes as the starter, but that can’t be taken too seriously this early in camp. Especially with a young prospect breathing down his neck.
Gleyber Torres is the Yankees top prospect, ranking 3rd on among all prospects according to Baseball America. While he has been primarily a shortstop in the Yankees farm system, Torres has been moonlighting at second base. His limited amount of games at the position (18), may cause some concern, but he is more than capable enough to man the position.
While Ronald Torreyes is an established major league player, his career 82 OPS+ proves him to be a below average one. The Yankees may roll with Torreyes to start the season, but it seems the starting second base job is Torres’ to lose. Barring a trade, Torres should be the Yankees starting second baseman in their stretch run.
Opening Day Starter: Ronald Torreyes
Jake Marisnick could make the move from fourth outfielder to starting left fielder in 2018 (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle).
Astros: Left Field
As the defending World Series champions, it would seem the Astros are set to carry over their 2017 dominance into 2018. But there are still some question marks in the starting lineup. Left field specifically. Last season, the Astros rotated Marwin Gonzalez, Derek Fisher, and Jake Marisnick in left, but that could change this season. Skipper A.J. Hinch could be looking for more stability from the position.
The first option listed on the Astros depth chart is Marwin Gonzalez. But that is only because “Utility” isn’t listed as a position. Gonzalez started at least 20 games at four different positions last season, and the Astros would be wise to not lock him in to just one position. Derek Fisher manned left field for the Astros down the stretch, but struggled to adjust to major league hitting.
That leaves Jake Marisnick. Marisnick has always been a stellar defensive outfielder, evident to his 382 starts in center field, but struggled to hit. That is, until last season. Marisnick finally found his power stroke, mashing 16 home runs to propel his 122 OPS+. But he struggled with injuries last season, playing only 106 games and missing the Astros World Series run. Still, if Marisnick can have a strong Spring Training showing, he could lock down the left field spot.
Opening Day Starter: Jake Marisnick
Jonathan Villar will look to return to his 2016 form this season (Getty Images).
Brewers: Second Base
After acquiring Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain within hours of each other, the Brewers seemed to have one message for the rest of the league; we’re back. The Brewers are likely to compete for an NL Wild Card spot this season, and are a dark horse candidate to win the NL Central. But for a team with high hopes like the Brewers, second base is still a spot the Brewers have yet to address.
Eric Sogard and Neil Walker both split starting time for the Brewers last season. But with Walker still on the open market, that leaves Sogard to battle it out with Jonathan Villar for the starting second base job. Sogard was solid last season, posting a 103 OPS+. But his career high three home runs last season doesn’t inspire much confidence.
That leaves Jonathan Villar as Sogard’s main competition for the job. After having a career year as the Brewers starting short stop in 2016, Villar fell back down to earth in 2017. He hit .241 and posted a 72 OPS+, well below league average. Even so, he’s still just one season removed from hitting 19 home runs and stealing 63 bases. If Villar can find his swing again, he could be the x factor the Brewers would need to exceed expectations.
Opening Day Starter: Jonathan Villar
Joc Pederson will look to ride a strong Spring Training into the Opening Day lineup (John McCoy/LA Daily News).
Dodgers: Left Field
With the World Series loss still fresh in their minds, the Dodgers arrived in Arizona looking to build on last season’s success. They’re also looking for a starting left fielder out in the desert as well. But the Dodgers are in a unique position. One could say they have too much talent in the outfield, leaving left field in particular a question mark. While manager Dave Roberts has plenty of options to pick from, it’s hard to say who will be his answer choice.
The Dodgers depth chart has an unlikely name at the top of the list; Enrique Hernandez. If you just took a quick glance at his stats from last season, you would question why he would be atop that list. But after you consider his three home run, seven RBI performance against the Cubs in the NLCS last season, it’s not so questionable.
Even so, one strong postseason series isn’t enough to earn Hernandez the starting job. That leaves Matt Kemp and Joc Pederson as the remaining options in left field. While Pederson had a similarly strong postseason to Hernandez, Kemp had the better overall season compared to the three. Even so, Kemp only put up a 103 OPS+, barely better than league average. This one seems like a toss up. Pederson has the higher upside, but Kemp has the track record. And as a World Series level team, that could push Kemp over the edge.
Opening Day Starter: Matt Kemp
Feature image by NBC Los Angeles
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When the first pitch of the 2017 World Series is thrown out Oct. 24 at Dodger Stadium, it will mark the 113th installment of baseball’s fall classic. Only one World Series, however, can be dubbed the greatest World Series ever played.
For the fans in Houston and Los Angeles, their focus won’t be on this series being an all-time classic. Their primary focus for the immediate future will be on winning at least four of the possible seven games that remain. Right now, the glory of a championship is first and foremost.
The rest of baseball’s fandom is just looking to be enthralled. We’re looking for hotly contested games that remain up for grabs into the final innings. We’re looking for immaculate pitching, we’re looking for clutch two-out hits and we’re looking for spectacular game saving glove work in the field. In short, we’re looking for the proverbial barn burner.
With 112 World Series already on record, there have been some wild match-ups throughout time. Perhaps no match-up has offered more excitement to baseball fans of all stripes than 1991’s World Series, pitting the Atlanta Braves against the Minnesota Twins.
Minnesotans will remember 1991 for two distinct reasons. First, on Oct. 27, 1991 they saw their Minnesota Twins lift the World Series title after seven games. Second, just four days later, the Twin Cities were buried under almost two-feet of snow from an epic Halloween blizzard.
In Atlanta though, 1991 will always be remembered with mixed emotions. The 1991 Braves improved from last place in 1990, to first in 1991. This was also the first year that a World Series was played in Atlanta since the Braves moved from Milwaukee at the end of 1965.
How they arrived
Braves legend, Tom Glavine, tries to channel a little rally hat magic on the road in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)
Speaking of the Braves’ remarkable turnaround, Minnesota also accomplished the same feat. They too finished the season in last place in 1990, only to become AL champions in 1991. It was the first time in MLB history that any team went from “worst to first” let alone having two teams do it in the same season.
For Minnesota, 1991 was the year of the bat. This isn’t to say they couldn’t pitch, but their offense was magnificent. They led the majors in average (.280) and on-base percentage (.344) that year. They also finished second in both slugging (.420) and OPS (.764) making them one of the toughest lineups for opposing pitchers to navigate.
Atlanta’s forte though, was undoubtedly their pitching. The Braves’ pitching was phenomenal in 1991. Tom Glavine, 1991’s NL Cy Young award winner, was the unquestioned leader of the young Atlanta staff. This Braves rotation was young, hungry and devastatingly good.
For the season, Atlanta finished third in team ERA (3.49), third in fewest hits given up and fourth in total runs surrendered. Any fan can plainly see, scratching runs across the plate against this pitching staff was no small task.
The 1991 World Series was more than just excellent pitching versus excellent hitting. This series was a classic match-up of two evenly matched ball clubs. Something had to give, because we all know there can only be one team left standing. That team left standing, in the end, would be the Minnesota Twins.
Minnesota didn’t get to the summit of baseball’s highest mountain without a fight though, and what a fight it was. Atlanta and Minnesota put together a performance for the ages. Culminating in arguably the greatest World Series ever played. This was a World Series filled with spectacular pitching, clutch hitting and wild defensive plays.
The greatest world series ever played
In the pantheon of World Series match-ups, there are several that stand out. For instance, 1960’s classic Pirates and Yankees showdown featured the only walk-off Game 7 homer ever, by the Pirate’s Bill Mazeroski. Braves versus Twins in 1991 rates right up there with the lot of them.
Bill Mazeroski sinks the Yankees with his dramatic walk-off Game 7 World Series home run. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)
The 1991 World Series offered something for everyone, including one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history. Of course this is referring to Kent Herbek pulling Ron Gant off the bag in the third inning of Game 2. For fans of a certain age in Atlanta, this certainly must still be a sore subject.
The Twins and Braves only played two games decided by more than a single run, Game 1 and 5. Minnesota took Game 1 by a score of 5-2 and Atlanta took Game 5, blowing away the Twins 14-5. All other games in the series were one-run affairs.
Extra innings was also a common thread that tied this series together as well. Game 6 and the pivotal Game 7 were two of the three extra inning games. Minnesota would find themselves on the winning side in both of the aforementioned games. The Twins’ only extra inning loss came on a Mark Lemke 12th inning RBI single in Game 3.
For the Twins, legendary Kirby Puckett was the man of Game 6. Puckett’s glove, and then his bat, cemented the win for Minnesota and pushed the series to Game 7.
Puckett seemed to defy the laws of physics, jumping at the wall in left-center to rob Gant of extra bases. Then, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Puckett sent a Charlie Leibrandt offering into the seats for a solo homer. His clutch hit won the game for Minnesota in walk-off fashion, making Game 7 a necessity.
The deciding game of the 1991 World Series pitted two excellent pitchers at opposite spectrums of their careers. For the Twins, it was 15-year veteran and 1984 World Series champion, Jack Morris. The Braves countered with a future Hall of Famer, 24-year-old, John Smoltz.
1991 World Series MVP and Game 7 winner, Jack Morris, rushes to greet Dan Gladden at home plate. (Photo courtesy of: Pioneer Press/Jean Pieri)
All these two did was lock horns to produce one of the best pitched games in World Series history. Smoltz pitched excellent in Game 7, but wily veteran Jack Morris pitched a magical Game 7. With Morris in command of all his pitches, he put together one of the greatest World Series starts this side of Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Morris went the distance, all 10 innings, to pitch a complete game shutout under immense pressure.
Jack Morris, for his part, swallowed that pressure deep down and used it to breathe fire at the Braves lineup. He gave up seven hits and walked only two hitters in his 10-inning masterpiece. On the back of Morris’ Game 7 exploits, coupled with his Game 1 win and his hard luck no-decision in Game 4, he walked away as World Series MVP.
When Gene Larkin laced a one-out single to left-center in the bottom of the 10th inning, bringing Dan Gladden in for the winning run, it was only fitting that Morris was the first player to welcome him home.
If the showdown between Los Angeles and Houston is half as good as 1991’s World Series, we are in for a treat. Play ball, boys.
(feature photo courtesy of: twinkietown.com)
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The matchup we have all been waiting for has finally arrived. The Fall Classic is upon us, pitting the two best teams in baseball against each other. The Dodgers and Astros took two very different routes to get here, but here they both are.
The Dodgers trounced their way to the World Series, posting a 7-1 record so far. Needless to say, the Astros 7-4 record isn’t bad, but they are coming off an emotional seven game series where they struggled to put away a young Yankees squad. So who do you trust in this clash of sabermetric savants? The rested Dodgers or the battle-hardened Astros?
Jose Altuve looks to launch the Astros to a World Series title (USA Today).
Both of these teams put up spectacular numbers in the regular season. The Astros paced all of baseball in team average (.282), were second in team home runs (238), and lead the major leagues in runs scored (896). They also had a decided lead over the Dodgers in those three major categories. The Dodgers were only 19th best in team average during the regular season (.249), 11th in home runs (221), and 12th in runs scored (770).
Even with this decided advantage in the regular season belonging to the Astros, the Dodgers have shined brightest on the biggest of stages. The Dodgers have average six runs per game this postseason, compared to the Astros four runs per game. But in a seven game series like this, one player can carry an offense.
And the best suited for that behemoth task is the diminutive Jose Altuve. The presumed American League MVP has hit a scorching .400 in the postseason and launched five home runs. The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig may have Altuve bested in postseason average at .414, but he has done so in only 14 at bats, a far cry from Altuve’s 40. With the amount of firepower in Houston’s lineup, they should be more than able to keep pace with the Dodgers.
Dodgers co-ace Yu Darvish has the ability to stymie the astros potent offense (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson).
The biggest deciding factor in Los Angeles has also been the biggest presence on the mound. Clayton Kershaw has been one of the best pitchers of his generation, with a 2.36 career ERA and three Cy Young awards to his name. But what you won’t find on the burly left hander’s possession is a World Series ring. There are some players that blossom under the playoff spotlight, but Kershaw hasn’t been one of them. In fact, he’s wilted to the tune of a 4.40 postseason career ERA. Even so, Kershaw does have a steady stable of starters to rely on to help carry the slack.
Fellow lefty Rich Hill and former Rangers ace Yu Darvish are slated to start Games Two and Three respectively, and have pitched well for the Dodgers in this postseason. Hill has pitched to a 3.00 ERA while Darvish has sparkled with a 1.59 ERA. Those types of numbers will give the Dodgers plenty of chances to win. That is, if they can score.
Justin Verlander has been, bar none, the best pitcher in baseball since the Astros acquired him in August. He cruised through the finish of the regular season, going undefeated in an Astros uniform. And he hasn’t let up yet. In 24.2 IP this postseason, he has a 1.46 ERA, a perfect 4-0 record and has struck out 24 batters. Given that he will be preceded by co-ace Dallas Keuchel (2.60 postseason ERA) in Game One, The Astros have the definite advantage at the top of the rotation. But depth will play a key role in this series. With Cy Young caliber pitchers in the form of Kershaw and Darvish, and the depth of Rich Hill, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda all able to start for Dave Roberts, the Dodgers have the advantage.
Kenley Jansen has posted a stunning 0.00 ERA in the postseason (espn.com).
If you’re going to make a run like the Dodgers and Astros have, you must be able to shut teams down in the late innings. The Dodgers have paced baseball in team ERA this postseason with a 2.28 ERA. That is good enough to lead the next best team (Nationals) by almost a half run per game. The Astros have been markedly worse at preventing runs from scoring, with a 3.79 team ERA.
Even with the team advantage, the Dodgers have the individual advantage as well. Kenley Jansen has pitched eight innings of shutout ball this postseason, as fellow reliever Brandon Morrow has posted a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings of work. The Astros flagship ace hasn’t fared nearly as well. Ken Giles has allowed three runs over the past three innings pitched. That does not bode well for an Astros team that may have to rely heavily on him late in critical games.
The wildcard from the mound will be Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. McCullers will start Game Four of the World Series, and could come in as a relief pitcher in Game Seven if needed. He has shown lights-out stuff as of late, and A.J. Hinch could opt to use him in relief after his start. Even so, the Dodgers have the clear advantage in the pen.
This World Series is shaping up to be one for the ages. As the historically dominant Dodgers look to make a return to glory, the Astros are on the hunt for that elusive first title. But the Astros may have to wait just a little bit longer. The Dodgers are on a postseason run unlike any seen in a long time. And that may just be the deciding factor in this series.
Verdict: Dodgers in six
Feature image by Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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After a 162-game marathon, it all comes down to 11 wins (or 12 for wild card participants) for those in the 2017 MLB Playoffs. Baseball’s top eight teams compete to be crowned World Series champions, but only one will prevail. Teams tend to rely on the old adage that defense wins championships.
But offense has been on the rise this postseason. Through 12 postseason games, the average combined score of each game has been over 14 runs per game. That has led some to question the traditional use of starters and relievers to try and stymie this outrageous offensive output.
From starters and relievers to just pitchers
Kenley Jansen posted a 1.32 ERA in the regular season, and could be a huge weapon for the Dodgers (espn.com).
There has been a growing movement among baseball to eliminate starters and relievers and their expected roles. Have the best pitcher start the game, and go from there. And in this postseason, that seems like a sound idea. In the first inning alone, 25 runs have been scored.
Starters like Luis Severino, Ervin Santana, Jon Gray, Taijuan Walker and Doug Fister all gave up three-plus runs in the first inning. That type of performance put their teams at a severe disadvantage, as three of those five lost their teams the game.
These struggling starters eventually gave way to their bullpen counterparts. And in the Twins vs Yankees AL Wild Card game, they came in hot and heavy. Yankees skipper Joe Girardi used four different relievers to bridge the gap between the first and the ninth inning.
But it wasn’t by choice, as starter Luis Severino gave up three runs before handing over the ball in the first inning. Even so, those four relievers (Green, Robertson, Khanle, Chapman) only allowed one run. They also struck out 13 Twins on their way to victory. Even though it wasn’t by design, the Yankees showed how effective bullpenning could be.
Blurring the line between starters and relievers
David Price has found the fountain of youth in the bullpen (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images).
The difficulty accompanying bullpenning is the use of pitchers not accustomed to pitching a high number of innings. Many of these guys pitch 60-70 innings a year, while starters can easily top 200 innings if they stay healthy.
But the playoffs are a whole different animal. Gone are the dog days of summer and the long home stands. With only a handful of games separating teams from immortality and oblivion, managers should utilize their best weapons in the ideal situations. And as previously proven, that would be at the beginning of the game.
But the idea of bullpenning isn’t limited to utilizing those 60-70 innings pitched guys like Chapman and Kimbrel. A new breed of reliever has started to take form: the super reliever. Pitchers like Chris Devenski and David Price have made the move from starting to the bullpen and have had plenty of success.
And with their experience of starting games, they give their respective managers a valuable weapon. They are capable of pitching multiple innings out of the pen. But what if they just skipped straight into starting the game?
How bullpenning could work
Chris Devenski has been a vital option for the Astros, both starting and relieving (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images).
Bullpenning is a new concept for a lot of traditional baseball fans. Many of us grew up watching dominant starters blow the opposing team away, and those types of performances can still be found. But the argument for bullpenning is not one against starters.
It’s main premise is to utilize the best pitchers at the beginning of the game to maximize their potential. This strategy would not work with a 162-game schedule, but in a condensed postseason (around 20 games or so), it could be a huge equalizer for teams lacking starting pitching.
The ideal situation for bullpenning would be to have the team’s best reliever start the game. That way the offense has the opportunity to score early while having the best chance to limit opposing runs. Said reliever would pitch an inning or two to maximize his potential, followed by another reliever and maybe a starter or long reliever.
By using this strategy, teams can essentially shorten the game and put the pressure on the opposing offense. And with the plethora of relievers able to hit 99+ mph and include effective breaking pitches, offenses could see their run totals plummet.
Relievers often enter the game when the score has already gotten out of hand or is precipitously close to doing so. Their ability to prevent runs is what their teams value the most. But what if, instead of trying to stop the bleeding, it never begins in the first place?
Feature image by Frank Franklin II/AP Photo
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Seven years ago, the Minnesota Twins headed in to the 2010 postseason as the 94-win AL Central champions. It was their last playoff appearance.
Even the most optimistic of Minnesota Twins fans could not have foreseen what this season had in store. Sure, there are probably a select few who were predicting the postseason in April, but then again, every year is a World Series year for those people. It’s adorable. And as someone who has spent the better part of 30 years rooting for Milwaukee, I get it. We had our own improbable run this year.
Twins Manager Paul Molitor has done a lot more smiling this year than he did in 2016. (Photo courtesy of: KARE TV)
Unlike the upstart Brewers (who cling to just the faintest of life), you have succeeded in stamping your ticket to the postseason. Although, it did require the help of a legendary Milwaukee Brewer “Igniter” piloting that ship and steadying it through turbulent waters. Obviously, this is tongue in cheek, but let’s face it, Paul Molitor has done a heckuva job with this ball club.
I’ve heard grumblings from Twins fans on social media questioning how Molly runs a pitching staff. I find that a lot of the time, however, you can’t please everyone. The differences in this year’s Twins twirlers compared to that 2016 abomination are something you should be celebrating.
Don’t misunderstand, nobody is saying the Twins staff is dominant, but improvements in team pitching are why you’re here. Last season you finished dead last in the American League in pitching and that had to be painful to watch; 59-win seasons do tend to be pretty awful.
This season however, the Twins pitching staff ranks 10th of 15 in American League total team pitching. This team has shaved close to half-a-run off their team ERA (4.63) in 2017, down from a revolting (5.08) ERA in 2016. It must be at least a little depressing to average giving up five-plus runs per game. What am I talking about? It is depressing, I’ve been there and done that with some of those fine collections of soft-tossing beach ball dealers the Brewers have collected over the years. Doug Davis anyone?
Ask yourself one question: Would you rather have another season where you endure giving up 889 runs, or would you rather give up over 100 fewer runs and play October baseball? This is more than enough reason to get behind your club and your manager in my estimation. Forget about the questionable pitching management, you’re in the playoff club!
Byron Buxton, at age 23, already makes center field look way too simple. He should win the Gold Glove in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of: Twincities.com)
It doesn’t hurt a team’s fortunes either when one of your top youngsters flips the switch and begins to figure out the Major League game. This is exactly what Byron Buxton has done in 2017 for the Minnesota Twins.
I’m going to say this right now. Minnesota Twins centerfielder Byron Buxton is a Gold Glove winner. Should he not win the award bestowed upon the season’s best fielders in the AL this year, it will be an injustice.
He is just glove-ly. He uses that blazing speed to his advantage to become the predator lying in wait for any unsuspecting line drive looking only for clean grass to nest in. Even the best hitters regularly find the deep pocket of his cavernous glove.
And you can forget about burning this man. You’re not going to. He gets such an unbelievable jump on the ball and his read off the bat is so sharp, balls that would eat up most normal centerfielders find Buxton effortlessly tracking them down.
Long story short, he makes center field look easy. His (dWAR), or defensive wins above replacement, rating of 2.9 is second best in the majors this year to only all-world short stop, Andrelton Simmons who sits at a not too shabby 4.2 dWAR. And I do say that sarcastically by the way. Simmons is a man-god at short for Los Angeles.
Since the beginning of August, Buxton has been absolutely raking. As we have hit the dog days of summer, Buxton seems to be playing his best baseball at the right time stroking a (.303/.349/.556) line. Down the stretch, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a scorching (.380). This suggests he will almost certainly cool off. Twins fans however, hope that happens after the World Series.
It doesn’t matter what way you slice it, Buxton has been great this year for the Twins. At 23 years old, the best is almost certainly yet to come. But for now, this is a young player on the rise and seemingly coming into his own. Buxton will not be a free agent until 2022, so enjoy your defensive stalwart in centerfield while he’s there.
Please, Not New York… Again
With Boston again losing to the Astros last night 3-2 and the Yankees shutting out the Blue Jays 4-0, the AL East is still in play. New York is sitting two back with a pair left to play entering Saturday.
While it is still mathematically possible the Yankees could walk away with the East, they need to win out. They also need Boston to lose out. And then they would need to win a one game playoff at Yankee Stadium to send Boston into the Wild Card matchup with the Twins. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? No.
The Minnesota Twins are most likely going to New York, folks.
The 85-win Minnesota Twins record the final out in the 1987 World Series, overcoming a stacked St. Louis Cardinals team. (Photo courtesy of: Minnpost.com)
If you’re a Twins fan, you don’t need to be reminded of the tough luck in October since the 1991 dream season. The Twins successfully went from dead last in 1990 to champs in 1991. Since that season, which culminated in arguably the best World Series of all time, Minnesota’s fortunes have been much different. The New York Yankees have been a main culprit.
In four of the last seven playoff series the Twins have played, the Yankees have been their opponent. The results have been far from resembling competent baseball. In four Division Series hookups, the Minnesota Twins have played to a (2-12) record. The Twins were also swept out of October in each of the last two playoff series they played (2009 & 2010).
Over those 14 games, the Yankees have regularly out-slugged the Twins. Take Derek Jeter for instance, as he hit at a .351 clip through that stretch while also adding eight RBIs to further his team’s cause.
This type of performance wasn’t limited to just Jeter though, because the Yankees also hit 20 homers to Minnesota’s eight. That’s a lot of runs to be giving up over one swing of a bat, so it’s really not surprising they have only taken two wins in 14 games.
Although Jeter has since ascended in to baseball mythology, the Yankees have a new batch of talented players. Of course, this is including Rookie of the Year shoe-in and notorious baseball abuser Aaron Judge.
Here’s the good news though Twins fans, this is a one-off matchup. We all know that on any given day in MLB literally any team can win. This my friends, is the great equalizer. You don’t need to be consistent over a series of games. You only need one performance to pass your first test.
Granted, it’s a big test going on the road with a pitching staff that can be prone to giving up some runs. On top of that, you are facing a good slugging Yankee team.
But, there is always one of those, right? If you can get to the Yankees early and allow defenders like Byron Buxton to salt the game away in the field, you might just pull this baby out. And you might just start exercising some of those historical demons.
Just remember this, in 1987, the Minnesota Twins went 85-77 and won the whole dang thing. Anything is possible, dreamers!
(feature photo: KMSP TV)
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The Arizona Fall League is a rite of passage for the very best of the best MLB prospects. Especially for those “kids” down on the farm.
This veritable “proving ground” for major league talent is one of the true gems of the prospect-to-pro pipeline. Every year, each of the 30 teams that make up Major League Baseball send a handful of their brightest up and comers to the desert for closer inspection versus a higher standard of opponent. So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the youngest stars of the Arizona Fall League. You may not know them now, but you soon will!
Glendale Desert Dogs
Feeder Clubs: White Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates
Mitch Keller has moved three levels in two seasons in the Pirates organization. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
The No. 6 RHP prospect in baseball, Mitch Keller, will be turning out for Glendale this fall in Arizona. He boasts above average control as well as three projectable major league pitches in his fastball, curveball and changeup. Keller spent most his time this season (15 games) taking the hill for the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League. Over 15 starts he struck out over three batters for every one that he walked. His numbers only improved after getting called up to (AA) Altoona for his final six starts. Keller uses a blistering fastball that sits low-to-mid-90s with nasty sinking action, and above average 11-5 curve to make hitters look foolish.
Promoted to (AA) Altoona to finish out the season, this 21-year-old is mature beyond his years. Judging by the caliber of his well-advanced arsenal of three plus-pitches, this kid should continue rising through the Pirates system at break neck speed. Thus far, Keller has done all that’s been asked of him at every level and he will be looking to impress again in Arizona. For 2018, Keller should be start the season with (AA) Altoona, but he may not be there long. Should this young man continue to miss an epic number of bats at (AA) level, I would expect Keller to end 2018 in (AAA). He’s getting close Pirates fans!
2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)
Randolph, age 20, will be looking to develop his fielding skills even further this fall in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Phillies left fielding prospect Cornelius Randolph is not the biggest of players. What Randolph lacks in size however, he makes up with a good eye at the plate working a (.338) OBP in 122 games at (Advanced A) Clearwater. Randolph is a converted infielder who worked tirelessly in 2017 to improve his fielding ability in left field. Because his focus was on improving as a defender, his batting metrics may have taken a hit, yet he still posted a respectable (.250/.338/.402) for the season.
The key to Randolph making the majors is his bat, without question. Many scouts believe his average defensive ability will be overshadowed by a bat that wants to hit, and hit a ton. Touted as the best pure high school hitter in the 2015 MLB Draft, Randolph has done little to disappoint. His 2016 was largely a throwaway season while he battled injuries that kept him from really capitalizing on an inspiring 2015. However, in his latest campaign he mashed his way to a tie for fifth most homers in the Florida State League.
Considering the tender age of the Phillies’ No. 12 prospect, it is not likely that he will be rushed up the ladder. He could possibly open the season at (AA) Reading depending on how the Phillies see him defensively. He already has a bat good enough for the level.
Feeder Clubs: Braves, Red Sox, Padres, Mariners, Blue Jays
Do not be fooled by the baby-faced Andres Munoz, he wants nothing more than to blow you away with the heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Born in 1999, Munoz is easily the youngest player headed to the Arizona Fall League this October. At just 18 years of age, striking out hitters is not the issue for Munoz. No, hitting the strike zone consistently is. Blessed with electric stuff well beyond what is expect from a teenager, he has had a heck of a time reigning in his pitches and throwing consistent strikes. At 18 though, time is smiling on this young hurler.
With a clean easy motion to the plate, Munoz just needs to find his rhythm and learn to repeat his delivery time after time. Munoz has easy gas, with his fastball exploding out of his hand toward the plate with seemingly little effort. If this kid can iron out the kinks in his game, he could become a dominant pitcher in the majors sooner than later. Munoz is the youngest player on any Arizona Fall League roster in 2017 and after watching him throw you can understand why he’s there. Expect Andres to be toeing the rubber for (Low A) Fort Wayne in the Midwest League come spring 2018.
If you don’t yet know about Ronald Acuna, you will very soon. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Oh, hot dog! Do I even need to talk about Acuna? I mean, really? Everyone knows this guy by now, right? Look, just the fact he’s on this list should have pitchers everywhere soiling themselves.
Ok, so considering that many of the top ten prospects have mostly graduated to the big leagues (that were ahead of Acuna), this kid should be at the top of the heap come 2018. The No. 5 prospect in all of baseball did everything in his power to make the jump to the majors in 2017. At 19 years of age and with his parent club struggling to win games, the Braves decided to halt his progression at (AAA) Gwinnett. It was a smart move, especially if you regularly attend Gwinnett Braves games. All he did there in 54 games is put up an insane (.344/.393/.548) line, sending baseballs into orbit at a regular pace.
Acuna is just latest Venezuelan to take MLB by storm, well the minors anyway. Acuna’s measurables are out of sight. This is a true 5-tool player by every sense of the word with his blazing speed, howitzer arm, and big bat. Exciting times are afoot in Hot-lanta folks! I mean, this kid did nothing but perform at each level he was at this year. What’s more is that his numbers improved at every stop along the way. Next stop for Acuna in 2018? The Show.
Justus Sheffield is not related to Gary Sheffield. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
The first of two LHP on the list of youngest Arizona Fall League stars, Justus Sheffield is also the No. 6 rated prospect down on the farm. Sheffield is another fireballer on this list that can reach back and grab a 96-mph comet, but will usually sit around the 92-93 mph range. Boasting a curbeball and changeup that are projectable big league pitches, the short in stature Sheffield is certainly long on talent. However, he does have work to do in Arizona. This future Yankee needs to learn to consistently get his above average repertoire over the plate for strikes. If he can master his control, the sky’s the limit for Justus.
Sheffield spent the bulk of 2017 in (AA) with the Trenton Thunder except for two rehab starts in (A) ball. In 17 starts for Trenton, the young hurler went 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA over 93.1 innings of ball. His strike out tally is fantastic at 82, and his walks, while still at 3.1 BB/9, have come down dramatically from seasons past. If Sheffield continues to progress, he should arrive in the majors before the turn of the next decade. For now though, he’ll most likely break camp as a member of the (AAA) rotation in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Estevan Florial may strike out a ton, but he’ll happily take you yard in return. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Florial is an intriguing 19-year-old signed from the island nation of Haiti in 2015. This kid could be the center fielder of the future for New York, and it might not be much longer before he stakes his claim to a position once held by Mantle and DiMaggio. Now, this isn’t to say Estevan Florial is in the same mold as those two legendary players, but his talent is undeniable.
At the plate Florial seemingly has all the tools to be an excellent major leaguer. He’s fast, he’s got pop, and he’s not afraid to take a walk. In his first season of Class A baseball, Florial posted a (.298/.372/.479) line across both high and lower levels. While his sample size from (Advanced A) is small at only 19 games, he sported an (.855) OPS over 91 games for (Low A) Charleston. He has some holes in his swing and does whiff a lot, but he also walks a lot (once every 8.4 AB) suggesting that, as he develops, the K’s will come down. At any rate, this young slugging center fielder is poised to start 2018 at (AA) Trenton. Only time will tell if he can grasp the strike zone better as he gets a little older.
Nolan Blackwood shuts the light off when he leaves. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Nolan Blackwood is a stopper. I mean, this kid can slam a door. Unlike most of the other pitchers on this list, Blackwood is one thing, a harbinger of death to your team’s chances to win. The 2016 14th round draft selection out of Memphis has a scary frame at 6-foot-5 with plenty of room left to fill it out. Oakland always seems to have a top-notch pitcher or two working their way through the farm, and Blackwood is no exception.
Blackwood spent all of 2017 in (Advanced A) ball, shutting down games for the Stockton Ports. Sure, he had a 1-5 record. Sure, he had a 3.00 ERA, but it’s what he did with the game on the line that matters most. In 20 chances to turn out the lights on the opposition, he did so successfully 19 times. As he learns more and puts on more lean muscle, his K/9 should reflect that, although his 7.58 K/9 in 2017 are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is his 1.05 WHIP. Blackwood is slated to begin 2018 at (AA) Midland, in the Texas League.
2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)
Yordan Alvarez, monstrous young left-handed hitter with jaw dropping pop. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Yordan Alvarez arrived in the Houston farm system via trade with the Dodgers in 2016. Alvarez is a slugger that translates to either left field or first base. While not exceptional with the leather, Alvarez does possess a very good arm in the field. He has been playing in left for much of 2017, but in the Arizona Fall League, he’s penciled in to man first base. At 6-foot-5 225 lbs. the left-handed slugger seems to be destined to play first in the majors.
Alvarez, Houston’s No. 26 ranked prospect has explosive raw power at the plate as shown by his first 32 games at the (Low A) level. Playing for the Quad Cities River Bandits, he mashed (.360/.468/.658) over 111 AB. With nothing left to prove, Houston promoted him to (Advanced A) Buies Creek where his numbers came back to earth with the step up in pitching. Despite only being 20 years old, Alvarez still managed to hack out a (.277/.329/.393) line. Not bad for a player as young as Yordan. Look for Alvarez to be back in the lineup for the Buies Creek Astros at the start of the 2018 campaign.
“If you blink, you will miss it.” Is what the baseball cornfield gods say about Akin’s heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Keegan Akin is one half of Baltimore’s contribution to the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. Ryan Mountcastle is the other, but more on him in just a minute.
Akin is a LHP blessed with a fastball that looks more like a vapor trail than it does a ball. The 22-year-old was a second-round pick by Baltimore in 2016 and is coming off his first full professional season at (Advanced A) Frederick. While his numbers might not jump off the page at you right away, there is still a lot to look at. First and foremost being his beastly 10 K/9 stuff. His electric fastball lit up opposing batters while his slider and changeup are both major league projectable pitches. Known for his ability to get nasty, he peppers the strike zone with ease leaving little doubts that the Orioles see him as a starting pitcher for the future.
Baltimore’s No. 8 ranked prospect is not far off getting the call to the show if he continues to improve his secondary pitches. His inability to fully harness his secondary stuff led to a 4.1 BB/9 rate, but as he learns how to pitch to better hitters his walk totals should begin to come back to earth. Orioles fans should be anxiously awaiting the arrival of this left-handed cannon. What level Akin might start at in 2018 is anyone’s guess, it could depend on how he does in the Arizona Fall League. Frederick or (AA) Bowie are his likely landing spots after camp breaks in March 2018.
Baltimore’s 2015 first-round pick, Ryan Mountcastle, has had a meteoric rise through the minors so far. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Mountcastle is currently the No. 3 prospect in Baltimore’s farm system. At the moment, Baltimore is still holding out hope that this young man can overcome his below average arm strength and stick at short stop. While questions remain about Mountcastle in the field, there are little doubts in the scouting community that he will hit for both power and average at the big-league level. Ryan is a tall prospect with room left on his frame for further growth. And that is scary news for American League pitchers.
In 88 games of (Advanced A) baseball he posted an impressive (.314/.343/.542) line, while smashing 15 round trippers along the way. It was precisely this type of production that ultimately won him promotion to (AA) Bowie, finishing the season against much older competition. Though Mountcastle struggled to come to terms with Double-A pitching in his first 39 games for the Bay Sox (.222/.239/.366), he will almost certainly start 2018 there. This kid is truly one for the future. Get out there to the Arizona Fall League games and take a peek.
Hicks has eye popping velocity, and a heavy sinking action on his fastball. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
At just 21, Jordan Hicks already has a fastball that would likely leave an exit hole the size of Pluto if it hit you.On top of a fastball that sits in the lower 90’s (but can ramp up to 98 mph), this young fireballer also has an above average curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch for him in the bigs. Jordan started 2017 with the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League taking the mound in 14 games and posting a healthy 8-2 record while fanning 63 batters along the way.
He has some control issues to sort out, but upon his promotion to (Advanced A) Palm Beach he saw his BB/9 shrink from (4.5) in Peoria to a respectable (2) in his first 27 innings of Florida State League ball. Though the sample is small, this youngster seems to have found another gear with his step up in competition. The Card’s No. 14 prospect posted 32 strike outs and only 21 hits in eight appearances at the (Advanced A) level. On the back of that performance the Cardinals promoted young Jordan to (AA) Springfield in August, though he didn’t log any innings due to late season injury. Expect Hicks to be a key component to Springfield’s rotation in 2018.
2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)
Kevin Padlo is rated as Tampa Bay’s No. 28 prospect. (photo courtesty of: MiLB.com)
Kevin was originally a fifth-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, the organization he played for in his first two minor league seasons. By January 2016 however, he found himself part of the deal that sent LF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in exchange for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez. Though Padlo struggled some at the plate this year posting (.215/.321/.380) across two levels of minor league ball, there is a lot to like about this young man.
While his batting average might seem low, his (.321) OBP suggests a keen eye, that with more experience should translate to a solid average and 20-homer power. At only 21 years of age, the Rays’ No. 28 prospect already possesses a defensive tool set at the hot corner you would normally expect to find on a player much older. Where he could start 2018 might depend on what he does in Arizona this fall, but as it stands now all signs point to another season in Charlotte.
(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)
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Baseball is back and the second half push to the playoffs begins. The MLB trade deadline comes in the second half as well and is Christmas in July for baseball fans. Strategy, money and moves galore (hopefully).
This period is a chance for teams to either sell off parts in order to rebuild or make the trades necessary to help their squad make it to the playoffs and an eventual push for the World Series. These are the moves the teams currently in first place for their respective divisions need to make to remain in first by July 31.
Boston Red Sox
If you follow baseball or this team at all, then you know their weakest position currently is at third base. Pablo Sandoval has been anything but useful or even available and has been designated for assignment. Also they traded away Travis Shaw who is having an excellent season for another first place team.
While everyone believes Todd Frazier is the best and only option available for trade, I would like to look at another in Nick Castellanos.
Courtesy of: Bleacherreport.com
The Detroit Tigers are having a very disappointing season and will most likely be sellers during the trade deadline for the first time in a long time. They also have arguably one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Most of their top players are in Double-A ball and below which means they have a long time to wait to see if they develop.
To speed up the process of their inevitable rebuild, they could and should be looking to trade away as many players as possible.
Castellanos is only 25 and is under team control until 2020 which means Detroit could ask a decent return. So why would the Red Sox make this trade?
To start, they would get a solid everyday third baseman that could grow with the young players they are building around now like Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and more. Rafael Devers is still at least one or two years away and wont be able to help them win now. It is unlikely they would have to part with him to get Castellanos as well.
Castellanos has been in the league for four full years now. You know what you are going to get out of him, whereas you never truly know with a prospect. He has experience, making playoff runs with the Tigers and still has room to grow.
The Red Sox would most likely only have to give up two of their top 25 prospects, most likely ones in the teens and below. They may also throw in a PTBNL or just an extra pitcher to sweeten the deal.
Nick Castellanos would solidify the Red Sox third base problem not only for now but also for the future. Todd Frazier on the other hand may cost only one top 25 prospect but he would also be a free agent at the end of this year and has seemed to have trouble batting for average ever since he was traded to the White Sox.
It took the Indians awhile to catch up to the Twins, but they have taken hold of first and wont let it go for the rest of the season. This team can hit and is being led by its young superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor while getting help from players like Edwin Encarnacion who struggled mightily to start the season but has figured it out.
Another strength of the World Series runner-ups is their bullpen. Their weakness? Outside of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and surprisingly Mike Clevinger, this team’s starters have struggled. Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and Josh Tomlin all have ERAs over 5.
There are many attractive options on the market for the Indians. The question will be how much are they willing to give up in order to get the starting pitching help they need?
Last year, they traded away Clint Frazier and a multitude of other prospects in order to get their stalwart setup man, Andrew Miller. That being said the Indians still have some pieces that they could trade. I highly doubt they will trade Bradley Zimmer as he is with the club now and making a solid contribution.
There are a multitude of options for the Indians to help make their second World Series run in as many years. I like Sonny Gray, but I think his asking price will be too high considering how he has pitched in the last two seasons. This leaves two options: Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto.
Both the Pirates and Giants respectively have been under-performing and it looks like they will have to be sellers. While Gerrit Cole is better, he and Sonny Gray have a similar problem. They are going to cost more than the Indians are willing to give.
That is why they could trade for Cueto. He has won a World Series and has been in Cy Young contention, but the Indians could get him for a bargain. He has not pitched extremely well this season and the Giants are desperate (or should be) for prospects as they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.
The Indians could give up one top 25 prospect not named Zimmer or Mejia and two others right outside their top 25 for Cueto. He would be a great pickup and if he could find his form again, he could be a top of the rotation guy to help the Indians try to make it back to the World Series.
The Astros were my World Series pick back in January and I am glad that they have yet to let me down. Their lineup can hit from 1 to 8 and Keuchel and McCullers make up an amazing top of the rotation.
Brad Peacock is finally living up to his potential, whether he is in the bullpen or the rotation. While most are looking at the rotation, and they could improve there, Peacock may actually be a legitimate option that will help them keep their first-place standing. Also, Colin McHugh should be coming off the DL soon and can help to solidify the rotation.
The Astros are missing another reliable bullpen arm. We saw how important they were in last year’s playoffs and right now the Astros have a pretty good bullpen. But if they are going to want to make a real run, they need a great bullpen.
They won’t give up what teams gave up to get pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last season. Instead, they will go for options that are a small step down.
In steps another Giants player and someone who has been a crucial piece in their bullpen for a long time, George Kontos.
Kontos has a career ERA under 3 and he has been in many high-pressure situations, including helping the Giants win multiple World Series. While he is not a flashy pickup, he is a reliable one, and should be relatively cheap, as he’s still under team control until 2020.
The Astros would not have to part with any of their major prospects. They could easily throw the Giants one of their lower top 25 prospects and some cash or another lower level prospect with high potential.
Kontos would solidify the bullpen as the Astros head into October. His experience would help the younger Astros team and again he would cost a lot less than someone like Sonny Gray or David Robertson.
The trade deadline is an unpredictable time and has a major affect on the way the rest of the season and future seasons will play out. Look out for what first place NL teams needs to do in order to stay in first place.
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The Texas Rangers were the best team in the AL West last year. The Rangers had a solid offense with good enough pitching to back it up. They had some vets like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre who really helped them push their way to a division title. However, they were not the team everyone talked about. That team, was the Houston Astros. They came out of nowhere and almost won the division and were good enough to make it to the Wild Card round.
The Astros finished second last year but, were a major surprise to baseball as they had been picked by many to not contend at all. Their young players stepped up and shinned. Carlos Correa has the talent and the ability to be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.
The Angels finished third last year and played well throughout the season, just barely missing the playoffs. They had the offense coming from their superstar Mike Trout and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Their problem was, and still is, pitching.
The Seattle Mariners finished fourth last year in a disappointing 2015 campaign. They struggled in hitting as they finished in the bottom three for both runs scored, strikeouts, and batting average. Their pitching was also nothing to write home about as they finished the year with a 4.16 ERA.
Last were the Athletics who were expected to have a down year. They traded away many of the pieces they had brought in for the 2014 playoff run. Billy Beane decided it was time to rebuild. They brought in some interesting players through trades and Sonny Gray was spectacular.
That was last year though, lets move on to what should be an exciting 2016 for the AL West. I will start by giving which place I believe the team will finish in, then I will go through almost every position and tell you all what I see and lastly I will name my player or players to watch.
1st Place: Houston Astros
Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com
Last year the American League West had a surprise team, the Astros. While they did not win the division they had everyone talking. This was because they were well ahead of schedule. The Astros were a young team that many thought wouldn’t be contending this soon after they had blown everything up years before. Everything is finally coming together for a team that was the worst in the majors for almost 3 years. Their loyal fanbase will have to opportunity to watch a team that has unbelievable talent.
The outfield rotation of Rasmus, Gomez, Marisnick, Tucker and especially Springer are all solid. They can play defense well and carry some impressive bats. Springer and Gomez should have excellent seasons this year. Gomez will finally be able to play a full season with a winning team. Springer will look to continue to improve on what was a spectacular 2015 season. As long as the injury bug does not get to him he should have a monster year.
The infield, particularly the middle of it, will be amazing as well. Jose Altuve was one of the only good players on the team during their rebuilding process. His patience has paid off. With him and Carlos Correa manning the middle of the field the Astros may have the best middle infield in baseball. Correa has shown that he can be a major force. He can hit for average, power, bat with runners in scoring position, steal bases and play defense. The kid was a number one overall pick for the Astros and he has not disappointed. Look for him to have an amazing year and look for his name on the MVP ballot at the end of the year.
The starting rotation added Doug Fister to the mix which is a solid pickup. Keuchel, the reigning Cy Young Winner, McHugh, Fiers, and Feldman make up the rest of what should be a solid rotation. They have their ace and a great number 2 in McHugh. Those two should make the top of this rotation deadly. The back of their rotation is also made up of solid overall pitchers. Many of them are innings eaters who will keep you in a ballgame and give you a good chance of winning once you get to the bullpen.
The bullpen has the potential to be great. Ken Giles who was the Phillies closer was traded to Houston this offseason. He did not win the closing job, it was announced that Luke Gregerson would have that job, but, I can see Giles eventually winning it back. Pat Nesheck and Tony Sipps will also round out what will be an older but, effective bullpen.
The Astros should win this division barring any terrible injuries. Look for them to make some trade deadline deals to improve their corner infield positions and maybe add one more starter if they have the money to. They are one of my picks to make it to the World Series this year.
Player to Watch: Carlos Correa
2nd Place: Texas Rangers
Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net
This Rangers team came out and won the division last year, yet they were not the talk of the division. Many people outside of Texas had forgotten that they were the Division Champions, not the Astros. They will be looking to improve on their performance last year as they will have Yu Darvish back this year and an interesting piece in Ian Desmond patrolling left field. Ultimately they will finish 2nd behind an up and coming Astros team because their age will start to show and I do not think they will end the season with a healthy enough team to win the division.
The outfield will have Ian Desmond who to an extent is an experiment out in left field. He has been an infielder for his entire career but, he looked serviceable during Spring Training. They brought him in for his bat and they got him cheap. They are hoping this move will pay off. The rest of their outfield is much less exciting. Delino Deshields Jr. will be playing center field and while he is solid on defense he has a lackluster bat. Shin-Soo Choo will be playing right field and is a solid, but not all that exciting, player. He had a great season last year but, has been known to be injury prone throughout his career. Lastly is Josh Hamilton who should be back sometime in May. He has always had the potential to be a star but, his past and his age are starting to catch up to him. Sadly I do not see him playing all that well this year.
The Rangers infield will be solid. Adrian Beltre will playing solid defense and swing a mean bat. People are wondering if he is a Hall of Famer, I think he is and I think he will continue to prove that this season. Elvis Andrus will continue to bat for a decent average, steal bases, and playing great defense. Rougned Odor won the starting job at Second for now. Jurickson Profar will be called up if Odor starts to struggle at all. Mitch Moreland will be manning first base and will continue to hit. The big man has finally come into his own and deserves to be their starter. Prince Fielder will also play some first but, will mostly be their big bopper at DH. He will continue to do what he always has done, hit.
The most exciting part about this team is their starting rotation. Lets get the 3, 4, and 5 pitchers out of the way to start. Martin Perez is young and has good stuff but, he will need to prove that he deserves to stay in this rotation. Colby Lewis has been the Opening Day starter in the past and he has also dealt with health issues. If he can stay healthy he will be a solid back of the rotation guy. Derek Holland is in the exact same situation as Lewis. Now we get to the fun part, Yu Darvish who will be back in May and Cole Hamels. These two are both Aces and have been top 3 in Cy Young Voting. They are one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. Their only problem is staying healthy. If either of these two are down for too long a time the entire rotation gets significantly worse. If they are healthy for the entire year they will be fun to watch.
Here is most likely the biggest weakness for the Rangers, their bullpen. Look at these names and tell me what average fan will know them? Not one. Shawn Tolleson will be their closer and he has been solid the last two years with ERA’s of 2.76 and 2.99 respectively. He is not flashy but, he should get the job done. After him is a mix of many no name players. This will be an area they will need to improve drastically if they want a chance at winning the division.
Overall this Rangers team will be solid if they improve the bullpen and if they stay healthy. That is two too many ifs for me. I doubt they will stay healthy and I don’t think they will be able to improve the bullpen enough. I do think they will have a good year and have a chance at the wild card.
Player(s) to Watch: Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels
3rd Place: Seattle Mariners
Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net
This team has consistently under-performed. Robinson Cano, King Felix, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are their best players. These four are great but, they have never been enough to push them over the top. There are just too many holes. They will play some good baseball but, they will not be anything spectacular this year. This team outside of a few players is boring.
The outfield will consist of Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, and Franklin Gutierrez. All of these players are good, but none are great. Aoki will hit for a good average, Martin has not hit well, Smith was once a solid player but, age has caught up to him, and Gutierrez is the definition of OK. This outfield will be boring, not much more to say than that.
The infield is similar. Kyle Seager is fun but, will most likely be forgotten as his brother Corey takes over in Los Angeles. Ketel Marte is 22 and could be a fine major league player. The only problem is that he wont be a star. He, like most of this team will be good but, not great. Robinson Cano has been solid but not the Superstar Seattle wanted. His power numbers have dropped off a cliff seemingly and age is not on his side. He will be good like every year but, unless he regains that power stroke he will not be the Superstar Seattle desperately needs. Adding Adam Lind to play first adds power and stability to the position. He is again like the rest of this team, solid, but nothing amazing. He will play well and hit 20+ homeruns this year. Nelson Cruz was a great addition to the team. He was the only really exciting hitter last year for this squad. For a time it seemed like he alone could carry this team on his back along with his 44 homeruns. Sadly that was not the case. Cruz is 35 this year and he should start slowing down, right? Chris Iannetta will be the catcher this year. He is a good defender with no bat. They are all solid but, will any of them bring the necessary boost that the Mariners need? I do not believe so.
The starting rotation is a little more interesting. Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns are like the rest of this team, solid but nothing great. King Felix is well the King of Seattle. He is always in the talk for Cy Young and has been the backbone for this lackluster pitching staff. I am sure he will be in talks for the Cy Young again this year. Iwakuma won 15 games last year and proved he could be the number 2 behind the King. This was something Seattle has needed for a long time. The only problem is that he is heading into his age 35 season and will most likely not be able to put up the numbers as he has been for much longer.
The bullpen has some intriguing players but again none of them are great. Steve Cishek will be trying to get back into form as he once was in Miami. Joaquin Benoit has always been a good option in the pen and will most likely continue to be just that. Lastly the addition of Nick Vincent from the Padres is a move that will go under the radar but, should prove to be a great one for the Mariners.
The Mariners are a good team, do not get me wrong. The problem is they are boring. They do not have what it takes to push for the division or a playoff spot. Some people are picking them as a dark horse team but, until there is a spark from one of their players I do not foresee them being anything more than a .500 team.
Player to Watch: King Felix
4th Place: Oakland Athletics
Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org
Billy Beane has been doing Billy Beane things. He has brought together a cheap but, intriguing roster. I do have them finishing 4th just to be safe but, I think this team could make a charge at the wild card if certain things can go their way.
Their outfield consists of Khris Davis, Billy Burns, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Chris Coghlan. These 5 could be a great rotation. Davis and Reddick bring power. They could each hit 25+ homeruns this year. Burns and Crisp bring the speed and Coghlan is just solid all around. They could do great things as a group. If Davis can reach his full potential watch out, he could be a monster hitter. Billy Burns is probably the most exciting player you have never heard about. He is the typical Billy Beane player.
The infield should be interesting as well. Marcus Semien could be very good if he can bring down the strikeout numbers. The A’s received him in a trade with the White Sox last year and he has been pegged as their Shortstop of the Future. Jed Lowrie is always a solid veteran to have on your team. He is manning second because age is starting to catch up with him but, his bat should still provide solid at-bats. Yonder Alonso, Mark Cahna, and Billy Butler will all be splitting time at DH and first base. Alonso was picked up from the Padres last year and has been a solid everyday player. He can hit for contact and has gap power. If he can hit with runner is scoring position and add some more power, Alonso could finally reach the potential many thought he had. Steven Vogt was a suprise player last year. He hit 18 homeruns and drove in 71. He is a solid bat and even better behind the plate.
The rotation will be where this team will need to improve. They have a lot of injuries to deal with and not much talent to speak of. They will be the reason this team does not make the playoffs and they are why I have them fourth. Of course their is one Superstar, Sonny Gray. Everything I said before only talks about the rest of the rotation. I think Gray could win the Cy Young away this year. He has amazing stuff and is very collected for how young he is. People need to start paying attention to him. The only problem is that knowing Billy Beane he could get traded if the season completely implodes.
The bullpen will be a major strength for this team. They have the potential to be one of the best ones in the game. Sean Doolittle will be closing this year and doing his normal thing of getting outs as long as he is healthy. They brought in Ryan Madson and John Axford who were both previously All-Star type closers. If they can get back into form, watch out. These three could be what they Pirates had a few years ago with Grilli, Melancon, and Watson. Liam Hendricks and Mark Rzepczynski also have a track record of getting the job done. This bullpen could be amazing and if the starters can keep the game close and give it over to the pen the A’s could win many more games than people are predicting, including myself.
This team has potential if the moves they have made pay off. They could make the playoffs as a wild card. Sadly it is more likely that they will finish right around .500 because not every move can always pay off.
Player(s) to Watch: Sonny Gray and Billy Burns
5th Place: Los Angeles Angels
Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org
I know many of you have been wondering where this team would be. I can tell you right now that this team is vastly overrated because of two players, Mike Trout (he is not overrated, just the team) and Albert Pujols (he is overrated). They will have a bad year for many reasons, one being money and two being the lack of any prospects. This is normally any team’s nightmare. When you have all your money sunk into just a few players and no prospects that means rough years are heading your way and I think that starts this year.
The outfield of Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun is just not good. Left Field will be platooned by Nava and Gentry and neither of them are all that great. Trout is obviously one of the best players in baseball so no matter what else I say, much of it does not apply to him. Calhoun is solid but, it seems as though he has already reached his best. I think that last year will be the best year he ever has which again is not bad but, left much to be desired.
The infield is a train wreck outside of Andrelton Simmons. Yunel Escobar is decent but, nothing great. Johnny Giavotella is serviceable at best. CJ Cron is a similar player to Calhoun except he plays first base. Albert Pujols is one of the best players ever and he hit 40 bombs last year but, he is still a huge chunk of their payroll and he can’t carry teams like he used to. Simmons is a wizard on the field and is improving at the plate. The problem is that the Angels gave up so much to get him and for what reason? They will not be good this year. These kinds of moves are made by GM’s and Front Offices who are afraid to lose their jobs. Lastly Carlos Perez and Giovanni Soto are behind the plate and are decent at best. Perez is young and has some potential but, I would not count on him for much.
The rotation is not terrible but, there are many questions left unanswered. CJ Wilson is having shoulder problems which means it is just swollen and he isn’t out for very long or, it means surgery and he is out for quite awhile. Garret Richards has the potential to be solid but, I just do not know if he has what it takes to be the Ace for a team. 2014 was a great year for him but, 2015 was average. Alex Heaney was a top prospect for the Marlins and has been traded around a bit. If, and I really do mean if, he can pull it all together he could be a nice young player. I just have not seen enough of him to be convinced that he will be able to. Santiago and Shoemaker are not bad but, they are not playoff caliber players and Jared Weaver is in the twilight of his career.
The bullpen has even more questions than the rotation. How much longer can Street be this good? He and Joe Smith are the only good players in a very average bullpen. Will anyone step up? Does their depleted farm system have a diamond in the rough? They do not have the money to go out and get anyone and their farm system is atrocious.
The Angels are heading into what could be a long string of bad years. They will need to try and dump contracts near the trade deadline to try and revamp this team. They have no money and a bad farm system. All of this spells impending doom for a once great franchise. They may be in the hunt near the beginning of the year but, eventually I think it will all fall apart. The worst part about this is that they cannot blame it on injuries. As of now Wilson is their only injury problem. This could be the year the Angels start to fall apart.