Shohei Ohtani and five other players with surprising starts

Although he entered the season as the number one prospect in baseball, Los Angeles Angels DH/RHP, Shohei Ohtani, had a very disappointing Spring. The two-way Japanese star not only hit just .125 (4-for-32), but he also struggled on the bump, surrendering eight earned runs, including three home runs, in just 2.2 innings of work.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Ohtani has taken the world by storm. In his first career start on the mound, Ohtani earned his first win, after allowing three runs and striking out six over six innings of work. On Sunday, while most were glued to the TV to watch the ending of the Masters, Ohtani was flirting with a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Oakland. His final line, in seven innings of work, one hit allowed, one walk, zero runs, and a total of 12 strikeouts. He got a ridiculous 25 swings and misses, which is the most by a pitcher at this point in the season.

Shohei Ruth? (Business Insider)

Oh, and, by the way, Ohtani has three home runs and is slashing .389/.421/.889. His three home runs aren’t just brazing over the fence either. They are going an average of 415 feet. Ohtani currently ranks second in the MLB in regards to highest average exit velocity (97.3 MPH), and fourth in highest average four-seam fastball velocity (97.1 MPH). He’s got more home runs this season than Aaron Judge, and more strikeouts than Max Scherzer.

Thought we were done with Ohtani facts? He is also the third player to ever homer in three consecutive games, while also recording a double-digit strikeout game in the same year. The other two were Ken Brett (1973) and some guy named Babe Ruth (1916). The last time a player earned two wins and hit three home runs in his team’s first 10 games, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, and the national average price of gasoline was 25 cents per gallon. That’s right, the last person to accomplish this feat was Jim Shaw in 1919.

Obviously, its only April 10, but are you not entertained by this kid’s start? Guys like Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper are also off to hot starts, but that’s expected. Below, we will take a look at some surprising starts, and predict if these guys will stay hot throughout the season.

Didi Gregorius

Being the guy to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop is no easy task, but Gregorius has excelled since stepping foot in New York. He is coming off back-to-back 20HR-202B seasons and set career-highs in batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs, SLG, OPS, and total bases. This season, Gregorius is leading the league in runs (10), RBIs (10), walks (9), OBP, SLG, and OPS. He has also launched three home runs.

Gregorius’ scorching start may have a little to do with the players around him. He is in a lineup surrounded by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez to name a few. In the home opener, the “infield captain”, a nicknamed given to Gregorius by manager Aaron Boone, became the first Yankees shortstop to drive in eight runs in one game.

While he most likely won’t finish atop the leaderboards in the statistics above, Gregorius should continue to have a very solid season, possibly his best as a pro. He may not be mentioned with guys like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Francisco Lindor, but Gregorius might have a legitimate argument to be amongst the best after 2018.

Gregory Polanco

In 2016, Polanco had a breakout year. He played in 144 games and hit 22 home runs, 34 doubles, and swiped 17 bases. A year later, Polanco battled injuries last season and missed a good chunk of time. In his 108 games, The Pittsburgh outfielder slashed just .251/.305/.391.

Now healthy, although he was scratched on Saturday because of right foot discomfort, Polanco is hitting .310, with three home runs, eight runs, and an MLB-leading, 13 RBIs. With no McCutchen, Polanco is thriving in the heart of the Pirates order. While the average may dip, as he is a career .253 hitter, Polanco has a chance to hit 20+ bombs, with 100+ RBIs.

Jameson Taillon

Polanco’s teammate, Jameson Taillon, is poised for a big 2018. After fanning nine in his 2018 regular season debut, Taillon, on Sunday against the Reds, threw a complete game shutout with seven strikeouts and just one hit surrendered. He is 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA, and 0.49 WHIP.

Taillon’s story is tremendous. He underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2014, and last season, was forced to have surgery for testicular cancer in May. The second overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Taillon is the real deal. He stands tall at 6-5, and has a fastball which hovers around 95. At 26, Taillon looks to be the ace of the Pirates for the next five years.

Matt Chapman

A first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Chapman had a tough start to his MLB career. In 2017, in 84 games, Oakland’s third basemen hit just .234 with an OBP of .313. However, he finished seventh in defensive WAR, and hit 14 home runs.

Chapman finished seventh in defensive WAR in 2017(ESPN)

Chapman is currently slashing .375/.444/.675 with three home runs, nine runs scored, and eight RBIs. He has always had power, slugging 36 home runs in 135 games between AA/AAA in 2016, and now Chapman looks real comfortable at the plate. This guy has 35+ HR potential in the bigs, and could turn into one of the best third basemen in the AL. Chapman was a first round pick for a reason, and is thriving in the latter half of the order for Oakland.

Charlie Morton

Let’s be honest, Charlie Morton was a bit of a scrub before joining the Astros. Although he had a few decent seasons in Pittsburgh, Morton was converted to a reliever for the Phillies in 2016. Unfortunately, in April 2016, Morton tore his hamstring and missed the rest of the season. Last season, the Astros brought on Morton, at age-33, as a member of the starting rotation.  Morton went on to have his best regular season, posting a 3.62 ERA, and finishing with a record of 14-7.

Over his last five starts, including Game 7 of the ALCS, and two World Series starts, Morton has thrown 28.1 innings, allowing just two runs, seven walks, and striking out 29. In his first two 2018 starts, Morton is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA. This is a guy, as a 26-year-old, went 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts. Now, a savvy veteran, Morton has found some magic in Houston. Expect the 34-year-old to have another solid season with the Astros.

Featured image by AOL

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2018 Toronto Blue Jays preview

Opening week for the Blue Jays has to start off hot

The Blue Jays kick off the opening week at home, with the much improved New York Yankees. This series is a must-win for the Blue Jays as they need to start off hot. That might be challenging with the Yankees shoring up this past offseason in acquiring one of the best right fielders in the league, Giancarlo Stanton who is batting third in the lineup.

The reason for the Jays needing a hot start is that every team that was in front of them last year got ten times better. As mentioned the Yankees added to the second-best offense in the league by acquiring Giancarlo Stanton during the offseason. Stanton was the NL MVP last year as well posting a career high in home runs with 59. He also posted a career year in RBIs with 139. With his addition, the Yankees are primed to be the top-ranked offense in the league.

The Red Sox may not have made a big splash in offseason moves but they improved by changing the way things are run. They were not happy with the way things went with John Farrell, so they fired him and replaced him with Alex Cora. This change in management can improve the already deadly Red Sox with a new mind behind the bench ready and willing to what it takes to win.

With these improvements by the two biggest teams in the division, the Blue Jays are in a position where if they don’t start off hot, they will flounder this season. Another reason for the need for a hot start is to convince former American League MVP Josh Donaldson to re-sign. If the Blue Jays start off cold and miss the playoffs for a second straight year it could convince Donaldson that he should take his offense elsewhere, leaving the Jays with not much talent.

This series will be heated as all Jays and Yankee games are with both teams hoping to start off on the right foot. The Blue Jays, who didn’t make as many headlines this offseason, will certainly look much different. For the first time in 10 years, neither Jose Bautista nor Edwin Encarnacion will be on the Blue Jays’ roster.

Opening Week

(Photo: Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports)roster.

But this roster has the potential to do some major damage.The Blue Jays have one of the best rotations in the league. With the addition of Jaime Garcia this past offseason, even if an injury occurs it will still do well.

The outfield will also have new face Randal Grichuk manning it with regulars Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar. The addition of Aledmys Diaz at shortstop will be a welcome sight as Troy Tulowitzski is out with an injury.

Some outstanding news though, Marcus Stroman was cleared to play after suffering an injury in spring training. He isn’t slated to start until the end of the series so that he can stay 100% healthy.

Series preview

The pitchers on the slate to start for the Blue Jays for the opening series in order of starts are J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman. If all four of these pitchers are on their game then it should be an easy road for the Blue Jays. All four need to be on high alert with this Yankee lineup. It could be the deadliest lineup out of all teams in the league. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez alone combined for a total of 144 home runs last year.

The Blue Jays starters can nullify this offensive threat with all four starters only allowing 76 home runs combined last year. They also have a combined ERA of 3.96 last year. While a high number on its own this was during a down year for the main four and will certainly improve with a much better defense behind them this year. With all these stats combined the Blue Jays starters can stop a Yankees offense in its tracks and easily win this series to begin the new season right.

Opening week

Photo courtesy of Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sport

On the Yankee side, they have Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Sonny Gray. These four pitchers are deadly and can all easily shut down any offense. But much like the Jays, Yankees’ pitchers need to be careful.

The Jays may not have the big name fire powers as the Yankees, but they do have Josh Donaldson. Along with some fresh faces ready to prove themselves to the team in Aledmys Diaz and Randal Grichuk. With the two new guys ready to show their worth, and proven home run hitter in Donaldson, the Jays offense should be able to keep up the Yankees.

 

 

 

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2018 MLB preview: Miami Marlins

2017: 77-85 (second place in NL East)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2003

Last World Series Title: 2003

2017 Recap

It’s crazy to think that the two times the Marlins have made the postseason in franchise history, 1997 and 2003, they won the World Series. It’s also wild to think that it’s been 15 years since they played more than 162 games in a season. Miami finished second in the NL East for the first time since 2009, but ultimately finished 20 games back from the Washington Nationals.

If the Marlins had any pitching, they would have absolutely made a run at a spot in the NL Wild Card Game. Unfortunately, they finished with the third most walks in the MLB, as well as 26th in ERA, 27th in strikeouts, 29th in team pitching WAR, and tied with Seattle and Toronto with the most blown saves in the MLB.

The best outfield in 2017 was Stanton, Yelich, and Ozuna. (Grantland)

Aside from the pitching staff, Miami played really good baseball. They had the fourth highest war among position players, and ranked third in hits and batting average, eighth in total bases, and 11th in runs. Defensively, they were the number one ranked fielding team in the league.

Miami was also number one in WAR among outfielders. Without a doubt, they had the best outfield core in the bigs. Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP, slashing .281/.376/.631 with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs.  Marcell Ozuna, a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner, hit .312/.376/.548 with 191 hits, 37 home runs, and 124 RBIs. He finished seventh in total bases. Christian Yelich ranked 10th in times on base, and hit 18 home runs, 36 doubles, while driving in 81 runs.

Clearly, the production from the outfield was absolutely outlandish, but don’t forget about the infielders. Dee Gordon had 201 hits, led the MLB with 60 steals, and finished fifth in runs. Justin Bour who dealt with injuries and played in just 108 games, managed to slash .289/.366/.536 with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs. J.T. Realmuto hit 17 home runs, 31 doubles, and also had the second most steals among catchers. Clearly, he cemented a spot as one of the top-five catchers in the game.

2018: Around the Diamond

In steps Derek Jeter, and out goes Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. While Marlins fans are angry, Jeter, the current Marlins CEO, wants everybody to be patient, and realize that the only way to create success over a long-period of time is to invest in the farm system.

This team has a legitimate shot to lose 100 games. They still have Realmuto and Bour, and received Starlin Castro in the Stanton trade, but the average MLB fan might not know the rest of the players around the field.  Competing at shortstop will be JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas. Riddle, who became the everyday shortstop after the Adeiny Hechavarria trade, hit .250 with 3 home runs before tearing a shoulder labrum in July. He is younger, and a better defender than Rojas, but Rojas hit .290 with a .361 OBP in his 90 games.

Justin Bour could have his first 30-HR season in 2018. (FanRag Sports)

The 12-year-veteran, Martin Prado, will hopefully be good to go for opening day. A lifetime .291 hitter, Prado injured himself during the World Baseball Classic, played 37 regular season games, and eventually needed surgery. In 2016, Prado’s last full-season, he hit .305 with 183 hits and a .359 OBP. If Prado is not good to go, look for Brian Anderson to start the season at third.

Derek Dietrich, who has spent the last five years with the Marlins, will start in left. Dietrich is a solid utility player who hit 13 home runs in 2017. The other two outfield spots will most likely belong to the prospects received in the trades for Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

Lewis Brinson, the 27th ranked prospect, was the main piece acquired from Milwaukee in the Yelich deal. He struggled in his time with the Brewers last year, but 21 games is not a big enough sample size. In his 76 AAA games in 2017, Brinson hit 13 home runs, with a .331 batting average, 11 steals, and a .400 OBP. He has some nice pop, and above average speed with the potential to be a 20-20 type player. Brinson looks like the next Melvin Upton, who has had four 20-20 seasons in his 12-year-career.

Acquired as part of the Ozuna trade with the Cardinals, right fielder Magneuris Sierra has a legitimate shot to start in the outfield. Sierra is not a power guy, but he hit .317 in 22 games with the Cardinals. He also stole 17 bases in AA. To compete with Sierra for the spot in right, Miami has, Scott Van Slyke, who is 5-for-11 with two home runs and seven RBIs so far this spring, Cameron Maybin, and Braxton Lee. Lee is 3-for-10 this spring with a pair of steals.

For inter-league play, look for Garrett Cooper, first basemen, to get some playing time at DH. Cooper broke out in 2017, hitting .366 with 17 home runs in 75 AAA games.

On the Bump

“I’m glad they’re gone. If they don’t want to be here, good for them.” Wise words from Dan Straily, who was answering a question regarding Stanton, Yelich, and Ozuna. If I was a Marlins fan, I would much rather have that outfield than Straily, who allowed the 10th most home runs last year, and finished with a 4.26 ERA. Sadly, he is most likely the Opening Day starter for Miami.

A true fantasy baseball sleeper, Jose Urena (ESPN)

A fantasy baseball sleeper has to be Jose Urena. Last season, Urena went 14-8 with a 3.82 ERA. Only 26, Urena has shown the ability to succeed at every level. From 2012-2016, in a mix between A/A+/AA/AAA, Urena, in 104 games, went 41-25 with a 3.35 ERA.

In 2016, Adam Conley posted a 3.85 ERA in 133.1 innings, which isn’t terrible, but he greatly regressed the following season. For his sake, he was a little banged up, but in 22 games, Conley had a 1.52 WHIP and a 6.14 ERA.

The most likely candidate for the fourth spot in the rotation is Dillon Peters. Peters didn’t do great in his six starts last year, posting a 5.17 ERA, but this kid has potential. In AA, during the 2017 season, Peters posted a 1.97 ERA in 45.2 innings. The 25-year-old threw 106 innings in his 2016 stint at A+, and posted a 11-6 record with a 2.46 ERA. He is just 5’9”, but we all know that height doesn’t measure heart (Thanks Marcus Stroman). Peters looks a lot like a young Wandy Rodriguez.

The fifth spot will belong to either Wei-Yin Chen, Justin Nicolino, Sandy Alcantara, Jacob Turner, or Odrisamer Despaigne. Alcantara has looked great this spring, giving up just four hits, and one run over five innings of work.

Brad Zielgler, who converted 10 of his 16 save opportunities in 2017, will start the season as the closer. Kyle Barraclough, a career 2.87 ERA in 163 innings, will serve as the set-up man.

The Future

Not counting Brinson, Miami has one other prospect that earned a spot in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. An outfielder, No.71 on the list, Monte Harrison. Harrison is quick, with a great arm in the field. In 122 games between A/A+, he hit 21 home runs with 27 steals. The 2nd round pick in 2014, Harrison’s ceiling is most likely Carlos Gomez.

2018 Prediction: 64-98 

Just like Philadelphia trusted the process with the 76ers, Miami must be patient with Jeter and their Marlins. This will be a very tough year, but you gotta have faith that the future first-ballot Hall of Famer can turn this team into a yearly contender.

Featured image by MLB.com

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AL East

Who is chasing who in the AL East?

The Red Sox finalized a deal on Monday to bring in perhaps the best hitter on the free agent market, J.D Martinez. Martinez provides a much needed punch to a Boston lineup that finished sixth in total runs scored in 2017. It isn’t like the Red Sox struggled to score in 2017, but it will definitely help keep up with an impressive New York Yankees squad.

The Yankees made the biggest splash this offseason by taking on the vast majority of Giancarlo Stanton’s massive contract, and only really giving up second baseman Starlin Castro. The Judge-Stanton-Sanchez trio will be one of the toughest middle of the order bats to get through in the league.

The question here is, who is chasing who? The Yankees may have made it to the ALCS in 2017, but if you ask them, they have some unfinished business with the Red Sox. Despite making it further than them, Brian Cashman and the Yankees feel they have something to prove to Boston. The Red Sox won the AL East in 2017 and the Yankees just made it though the Wild Card.

What do all these moves mean for 2018 though? Is there a clear favorite between the two?

Coaching

This is interesting as both teams are being taken over by new managers. Despite the fact that both teams had relative success in 2017, the front offices felt that it was time for a change. It wasn’t a bad idea either as they both have solid teams, but they just weren’t getting to where they wanted to be.

It is way to early to tell who has the edge here. Aaron Boone is coming off of a job at ESPN to coach the Yankees, while Alex Cora was the bench coach for the team that won the World Series in 2017. Despite that fact, there is not to much to go off of here.

Verdict: Push

Defense

AL East

Betts is among the best right fielders in baseball (ESPN)

Mookie Betts has turned into one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball. Not only that but one of the best defensive players in all of baseball. He finished with a 2.6 WAR on defense which was fourth best in all of baseball.

Neither team finished great defensively in 2017 though. New York finished eighth in total fielding while Boston was at 12th. New York finished with the edge but Gary Sanchez behind the plate is a real liability for the Yankees. His bat is second to none but his inability to block pitches can really hurt them in tight situations. Giancarlo Stanton is another guy with a cannon for an arm, and Brett Gardner has a solid glove.

As mentioned, Betts has become one of the better defenders in baseball. However, the rest of the team leaves some work to be done. Boston’s defense does not look much different than last year with Martinez likely taking up the designated hitter role, so expect more of the same from them.

Verdict: Yankees

Pitching

AL East

Chris Sale had a tremendous 2017 regular season for Boston. (NESN.com)

Boston and New York finished fourth and fifth in team ERA in 2017. Boston is headed up by Chris Sale, who is a favorite to win the Cy Young every year. However, the Yankees have a rising ace of their own in Luis Severino. Severino was not able to keep it together in the Wild Card game, but that should not take away from his breakout year with a 14-6 record and sub 3.00 ERA.

Severino is backed up by Mashiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray who both have had success in New York. Both of them finished with an ERA in the mid threes. The real punch of their pitching comes from the back of their bullpen though, and that is where it can get real challenging for opposing teams. Aroldis Chapman still may have the strongest arm baseball has ever seen, and Dellin Betances could be a closer all on his own.

Top to bottom Boston may have the edge in the rotation though. With two Cy Young winners along with David Price and Drew Pomeranz coming into his own, Boston has an impressive rotation. Outside of Craig Kimbrel though, the bullpen could be better. That is where the Yankees have them beat.

Although the two teams are extremely comparable on the pitching front, Boston has the slightest edge.

Verdict: Red Sox

Hitting

AL East

Expect a lot of big flies in the Bronx (MLB.com)

The addition of J.D Martinez makes the Red Sox a scary one top to bottom. However, it is very difficult to argue against Stanton and Judge taking up the middle of the lineup. They both finished with the most home runs in baseball, and Gary Sanchez has the ability to bash 35 homers on top of that.

Didi Gregorious has also turned into one of the better shortstops in the games at the plate, along with Greg Bird who has a chance to showcase his power for a full season. The Yankees have a couple more holes with Todd Frazier and Starlin Castro out of New York though, but Stanton certainly makes up for that.

Boston is expecting Benintendi and Devers to come into their own as young stars in the majors. Until then though, the Yankees have more certainty on the offensive front and should be able to overpower anything Boston throws their way.

Verdict: Yankees

How will the season play out?

The Yankees have the best chance to run away with the AL East title in 2018. The Blue Jays should also not be ignored as guys who can disrupt any sort of run, but the real race is between Boston and New York.

It will be a close one but the Stanton trade makes the Yankees offense too scary. Barring any injuries, the Red Sox will have a tough time defending their AL East title.

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MLB top 5 catchers

Top 5 catchers heading into 2018

As spring training kicks into full swing, it is as good of a time as ever to consider some of the best catchers in the majors.

The catcher has perhaps an underrated role in today’s baseball world, but nothing they do should be undervalued. Catchers are responsible for working with every pitcher on their staff, calling pitches, keeping base runners in check and hitting on top of all of that.

With that in mind, here are the best catchers in baseball as of right now.

5. Yadier Molina

In terms of running a pitching staff, Molina may be the best of the bunch. The eight-time Gold Glove winner is turning 36 this season, and is in the twilight of his career. In 2017, Molina hit the second most home runs of his career despite missing some time. Molina has not earned a Gold Glove since 2015 either, which was the end of his eight consecutive seasons streak.

Molina still may mean more to his team than many other top players in the league. He may not be the best offensively or defensively, but his work with pitchers is second to none.

The Cardinals have a losing record without Molina behind the plate. He won’t win an MVP, but he is very important to the Cardinals’ success.

4. J.T. Realmuto

MLB top 5 catchers

Realmuto may be the most athletic catcher in baseball. (Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Realmuto has broken out as one of the best catchers in baseball the last couple of years. He finished last season with a 3.6 WAR and has had an average floating around .300 the last two years.

Realmuto finds himself in a precarious situation after this past offseason. Derek Jeter and the new Marlins ownership just sold most of their best players in order to shed salary and build for the future.

Of course, anybody who was ready to win now is not happy about the recent changes. The Marlins had one of the best outfields in baseball and shipped them off all over the country.

Realmuto is one of the last remaining pieces from the old Marlins team. He now finds himself in a sort of limbo, as he still has three years left in Miami.

Despite the shuffling in Miami, Realmuto should be in store for another great year offensively. Part of the success comes from his speed, as he can run with some of the quickest outfielders as well. He is an all around player who can bring many different things to the table.

3. Willson Contreras

MLB top 5 catchers

Contreras looks to get a full season of solid work under his belt. (Photo from The Chicago Tribune)

Contreras turned into perhaps the best hitter on a stacked Chicago team last summer. He was sidetracked by a hamstring injury while running down the first base line, but the 25-year-old still had a solid year after racking up 21 home runs and a .276 batting average. He should be a vital part of the Cubs offense once again in 2018.

Contreras is also known for his cannon of an arm. What may be the strongest arm behind the plate adds another dimension to his game that can shut down base runners. One of his weaknesses though is he is not considered a good framer. However, his ability to throw the ball makes up for it, and his lightning bat certainly puts him above most other catchers.

2. Gary Sanchez

Sanchez is the best hitting catcher in the game without question. He cranked out 33 home runs and had an average approaching .300 last year. With Giancarlo Stanton coming into the picture in New York, Sanchez ought to have a solid cushion in the lineup and may have an even better year offensively.

Sanchez has a solid throwing arm and is considered an above average pitch framer. His downfall is his pitch blocking, and in that category he is one of the worst in all of baseball. If it wasn’t for that downfall, Sanchez may be No. 1 on this list as his offense puts him in a whole other league when talking about catchers.

1. Buster Posey

Coming in at the No. 1 spot is Buster Posey, which should be a surprise to no one. Posey has had continued success throughout his career. With Sanchez coming into the picture, he might not be the best hitting catcher in baseball anymore, but he should still be considered one of the best of all time.

The All-Star catcher has hit over .300 in five separate seasons, winning the batting title once and bringing in the MVP in 2012. The only other catcher to win MVP in the National League is Johnny Bench, so that should say a lot about the league Posey is in.

He has a straight shot into Cooperstown and has not shown any decline in production. Expect Posey to have continued success for the coming years.

 

Featured image from SI.com

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spring training 2018

Spring training 2018 preview

In just three days, a new season of baseball will be upon us. Though Opening Day comes in April, the spring training sessions will become a test run for all 30 franchises in time for the 2018 MLB regular season. These next few practices and exhibition games will showcase how each organization’s adjustments gell and execute.

Some teams will look to build upon success from 2017. Other teams will look to bounce back from past misfortunes. Sure, some teams have a steeper mountain to climb than others, but that is what’s great about baseball. Any team with the right chemistry and momentum can create big waves around the league. On top of that, that hot streak can translate to an October appearance, and maybe even a World Series ring.

Starting Friday, Feb. 23, the states of Arizona and Florida will host the latest and greatest names to hit the diamond.

Cactus League

In Glendale, one team is looking for another shot at the World Series. The other seeks a comeback after a dismal 2017 outing.

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

The Los Angeles Dodgers held baseball’s best regular season record last season at 104-58. The Dodgers seemingly breezed through the National League playoffs, giving up just one game in the NLCS.

With a smoother path to the World Series than that of the Houston Astros, many saw the Dodgers as the favorite to win. But Houston proved to be the hungrier team and beat Los Angeles in a thrilling seven-game series for the hardware.

Now, the blue and white are working to get that ring and end a 30-year drought.

On the other hand, the Chicago White Sox are coming off of a 67-95 season, fourth in the AL Central. The White Sox finished 10th in the American League in batting average and 13th in ERA. On top of that, the White Sox have mustered five straight losing seasons.

Over in Scottsdale, two Wild Card teams will begin to build upon their solid foundations from 2017.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies earned the two National League Wild Card slots last season. The Diamondbacks hosted and beat the Rockies 11-8, but got swept by the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Their game will commence on Friday at 3:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Grapefruit League

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

Down to West Palm Beach, Florida, comes another anticipated matchup to kick off the spring exhibitions.

The Houston Astros are looking to defend their World Series title and bring in another ring in 2018. With a roster stacked with All-Stars, Houston will have a big target on its back come April. The Astros will begin their exhibition rounds against the Washington Nationals.

The Washington Nationals are coming off of a 97-65 season, on top of running away with the NL East Division once again.  However, the Chicago Cubs did not appear intimidated and eliminated Washington in the NLDS. The Nationals will begin their runs with a new skipper, former Chicago Cubs bench coach, Dave Martinez.

In Tampa, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers will hope to start on a high note.

The Yankees ended 2017 with a 91-71 regular season record.  The Pinstripes gave the Astros a run for their money in the ALCS, forcing seven games. But Houston prevailed and took home the AL pennant. Now with Giancarlo Stanton in their ranks, the Bronx Bombers have established a “pitcher’s nightmare” batting order.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have arguably the steepest mountain to climb in the American League. With a dismal 64-98 season in 2017, Detroit has its work cut out for them. The Tigers pitching lineup finished last in the AL in ERA at 5.36. Holding the first pick of the upcoming MLB Draft, a pitcher should grace the stage wearing that Tigers cap.

Thank God It’s Friday

America’s pastime is almost here and ready for business. Whether with a new skipper or new players, all 30 teams will look to work in the new faces for April.  On Friday, Feb 23, baseball fans all over the world will get to hear their favorite two words once again: Play ball!

 

Featured image by Pioneer Press: John Autey

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Miami Marlins 2018 Season

Miami Marlins Prepare for 2018 Season

After finishing last season 77-85, The Miami Marlins began a major overhaul in preparation for the 2018 season. It all began when Jeffrey Loria sold the Marlins for $1.2 billion to Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter.  Many Marlins fans were relieved when they heard that Loria will no longer own the team after 15 seasons being in charge.

During Loria’s first year as the owner (back when they were the FLORIDA Marlins), the Marlins beat the New York Yankees in six games to win the 2003 World Series. It was their first title since 1997, and like then, they won as a Wild Card team.

That, however, would be the last time the fish got to play in October.

Now, as one might expect with the new ownership, big changes would come for the 25-year-old franchise. The roster saw arguably the biggest change of all.

Miami’s (EX) Star Slugger

The trading of outfielder, Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees (speaking of which), caught several baseball fans off guard. The former Marlins slugger became the league leader in home runs during the 2017 season with 59, (Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge was runner-up with 52), setting a franchise record in the process.

In that season, he also lead the league in RBIs (132) and became the first Marlin to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. All of this came after manager, Don Mattingly, moved Stanton from the cleanup spot to second after Dee Gordon.

The 13-year $325 million contract Stanton signed with Miami was not helping the organization’s piling financial woes, so it came with little surprise that it landed on the chopping block. But where he ended up shocked several people.

In their defense, the Yankees are among a small handful of teams that could afford Stanton’s salary. Not many experts, however, saw the Pinstripes as the top team for Stanton. The Yankees are coming into the 2018 season as the runner-ups of the American League. Their roster includes Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and CC Sabathia.

This time, the Bronx Bombers are working in their new manager, former Yankee third baseman Aaron Boone.  Boone, fortunately will have plenty of firepower to work with in the batting order with Stanton now on board.

More Departures

Other notable Marlins will wear different uniforms this upcoming season.

All-Star outfielder, Marcell Ozuna, had arguably the best season of his career. He posted career highs in batting average (.312), home runs (37) and RBIs (124). Ozuna also received his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards in the same season. The 27-year old will play for the St. Louis Cardinals this season.

Outfielder Christian Yelich earned Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards during his time with Miami as well. He also played for Team USA during the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Yelich now has Miller Park as his new home and will be playing for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Speedy second baseman, Dee Gordon, will have a new home in Seattle, Washington. MLB.com indicated that the Mariners have moved Gordon to center field. Gordon has led the big leagues in stolen bases in three of the last four seasons, including last season when he stole 60 bases.

His teammates will include Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.

According to MLB.com, Marlins catcher, J.T. Realmuto might be the next one off the roster. Realmuto lost his arbitration case with Miami and will receive less money than he proposed. His exit is not official at this time, but the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks appear to be potential suitors for the 26-year-old.

Miami Marlins 2018

As the 2018 season approaches, the Miami Marlins will have new prospects looking to fill in the ranks, including 23-year-old Lewis Brinson. MLB.com reported that Brinson met former Marlins outfielder, Juan Pierre, at a workout. Brinson looked up to Pierre as an idol.

Pierre knows very well both extremes playing for the Marlins, including winning the World Series in 2003 and enduring a 100-loss season in 2013.

The Miami Marlins will have a lot on their plate in the next few stages of their rebuilding process. Several challenges await Sherman, Jeter and company. These include justifying the fire sale of notable players and improving the pitching roster. Last season, Miami ranked 26th out of 30 teams in ERA (4.82).

Rebuilding teams is never easy, and does not usually create immediate improvement.  On top of it all, Marlins Park have had among the lowest attendance ratings in each of the last five seasons.  But the new ownership will have to step up if they wish to avoid being called “Jeffrey Loria 2.0.”

 

Featured image from miamiherald.com

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2018 New York Yankees preview

2018 MLB preview: New York Yankees

2017: 91-71 (second place in AL East, first in Wild Card)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 2009

2017 Recap

To say a team that hovers around the top one or two in payroll every year actually exceeded expectations would sound a bit odd. But that is exactly the case with the 2017 New York Yankees. On Opening Day, New York opened as 30-1 odds to win the World Series. When October came around, they were one win shy of a World Series berth.

The Yankees started the season hot and entered the postseason flaming. They went 15-8 in April and 20-9 over the last 29 regular season games. Against the first place Red Sox and third place Rays, New York went a combined 23-15. They also dominated Interleague play, going 15-5.

2018 New York Yankees preview

All Rise. (Photo from The New York Times)

So how did New York surpass expectations? Two names stand out heavily: Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. Judge, a physical freak at 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, struggled during his first stint at the big league level in 2016. In 27 games, Judge struck out 42 times, hit just four home runs and batted .179 with an OBP of .263. A year later and Mr. Judge was the runner-up to Jose Altuve for AL MVP and was named AL Rookie of the Year.

Judge led the AL in runs (128), home runs (52) and walks (127). Overall, he finished second in WAR, OPS and at-bats per home run, third in OBP, slugging percentage, runs created and time on base, sixth in total bases and RBIs and seventh in extra-base hits. When an at-bat started out with a ball, Judge hit .357.

Luis Severino, who in 2016, spent time in the minors and made a handful of appearances out of the bullpen for New York, was one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball in 2017. Severino finished sixth in strikeouts, WHIP and K/9, seventh in ERA+ and FIP and 10th in WAR among pitchers. He was absolutely outstanding on the road, ending the season with a 2.24 road ERA.

As a team, New York finished with the second best run differential in the MLB. Among the 15 AL teams, they ranked first in home runs and walks, second in runs, total bases and OBP and third in hits and slugging percentage. The pitching was also impeccable, finishing with the fewest amount of hits allowed and the third best ERA.

The Yankees had a tremendous season, yet not everyone in New York was happy with the team’s performance. After 10 years as manager, New York decided to relieve Joe Girardi of his duties with the team and hire Aaron Boone to run the team.

2018: Around the Diamond

The biggest splash of the offseason was of course, the Yankees trading for the 2017 NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. A team that ranked first in home runs now has Stanton, who hit more home runs than anyone in 2017. He also finished first in RBIs and slugging percentage, second in total bases, third in runs and WAR and fourth in OPS. Quite frankly, there wasn’t much any team could do to stop this man. Against lefties, he hit .323, and against righties, Stanton clubbed 44 home runs.

Stanton looks to be the DH while Judge will hold down right field, but these players could flip-flop at any moment. Joining them in the outfield will be Brett Gardner, who is coming off his first 20-20 season of his 10-year career, and Aaron Hicks, who hit 15 home runs in just 88 games. Keep in mind, the Yankees will probably also be forced to play Jacoby Ellsbury, who has three years left on his deal and is owed $64 million.

Starlin Castro, an All-Star for New York in 2017, was sent to Miami in the Stanton trade, and Chase Headley returned to the San Diego Padres in free agency after three and a half seasons with New York. This means the Yankees have some holes to fill in the infield. Unless they make a move, Miguel Andujar, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, will start at third, and Ronald Torreyes will man second.

2018 New York Yankees preview

Expect a lot of big flies in the Bronx. (Photo from Twitter)

It still feels weird to not see Derek Jeter at shortstop, but Didi Gregorius has been terrific in the Bronx. Gregorius is coming off back-to-back 20-home-run seasons and hit .321 on the road in 2017. With the addition of Stanton, as well as Greg Bird being healthy, Gregorius will slide down the order, which is actually where he thrives. Last year, when batting seventh, Didi hit .333, and in the eighth-spot, he hit .563.

Bird, whose 2017 was spoiled because of a foot injury, could bounce back and have a really solid season. He will most likely be hitting behind Judge and Stanton and in front of Gary Sanchez, which means pitchers will be forced to go after him. Although he hasn’t had the success at the big league level that he is hoped for, 2018 could be a nice breakout year.

Speaking of Sanchez, the Yankees catcher is one of the best offensive players at his position. In 2017, he led all catchers in home runs (33), RBIs (90) and runs scored (79). All that is terrific, but he also finished first in errors for catchers and first in past balls. He needs to clean it up behind the plate, but this man is a problem with a bat in his hand.

On The Bump

New York will continue to be led by Severino, and it will be interesting to see what Sonny Gray can do in a full season with the Yankees. Although he settled down the second half, Masahiro Tanaka needs to be better if this teams wants to win a title.

Last season, Tanaka allowed the fourth most home runs and finished eighth in walks per nine innings. He had a 5.47 ERA in the first half, and, when it comes to road ERA, the 29-year-old is still probably in disgust. Tanaka finished 2017 with a 6.48 ERA when away from Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia is back for another year, which is great for the clubhouse and pretty solid for the product on the field. Rounding out the rotation will be Jordan Montgomery, who had a solid rookie season in 2017, winning nine games with a 3.88 ERA.

The bullpen, which finished third in the MLB in ERA, should without a doubt sustain its previous success. A bullpen that consists of Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson and Dellin Betances is flat-out scary. However, a crazy stat from last year is Betances finishing seventh in hit batters despite being a reliever. He literally tied with Max Scherzer, who threw 140 more innings than him.

The Future

Yankees infielder, Gleyber Torres, is regarded as one of the five best prospects in the MLB. Torres, who was acquired from the Cubs in 2016 when the Yankees let them borrow Aroldis Chapman, became the youngest player to win MVP of the Arizona Fall League in 2016. He was off to a great 2017 before getting injured during a play at the plate, which required Tommy John surgery. Still, in 55 games between Double and Triple A, Torres hit .287 and had a .383 OBP. The 21-year-old should see some big league action in 2018.

2018 New York Yankees preview

Gleyber Torres will be playing in the MLB at some point in 2018 (Barstool Sports)

The other infielder on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list is Miguel Andujar, who, like mentioned earlier, could be starting at third base for the MLB club come Opening Day. Andujar hit .315 with 16 home runs between Double and Triple A in 2017, while also going 4-7 in the bigs.

Joining Torres and Andujar on the top prospects list are four other Yankees. This is without counting Clint Frazier, who played in 39 games for the Yanks, but could possibly be traded since their outfield is so stacked.

Speaking of outfielders, Estevan Florial, ranks 44th on the prospects list. In 110 games between A and A+, Florial hit .298, stole 23 bases, had seven triples, and had an OBP of .372. He has potential to become a 30-30 player, but needs to kick back on the strikeouts.

The Yankees top pitching prospect, Justus Sheffield, who was acquired with Frazier in the Andrew Miller trade in 2014, had a solid 2017 in Double A. In 17 starts, the lefty had a 3.18 ERA and struck out 82 batters. The Yankees also have two more pitching prospects in the top 100, as Albert Abreu (No. 74) and Chance Adams (No. 75) could both blossom into something special.

 

2018 Prediction: 90-72

This offense will be good, but there are questions in terms of production from the corner infield positions. Also, on paper, Boston’s starting pitching is better than New York’s. Severino had a fantastic 2017, but we will see if he can replicate that. Sonny Gray did not look great with New York, and Tanaka clearly cannot be trusted away from New York. However, the roster is too talented, and the Yankees will again, win the Wild Card and make a run at a World Series title.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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Yu Darvish free agency

Why Darvish to the Brewers makes sense

As we all know, the hot stove has been rather cold this offseason. Scott Boras, agent extraordinaire, stated that this free agent market is about six weeks behind schedule. Almost all the big name free agents are still on the market as we have now entered February. We once thought that Giancarlo Stanton was holding teams up as they waited for him to move, but that does not seem to be the case as he was traded over six weeks ago.

Yu Darvish is one of the top three free agents still on the market, and he is expecting a big payday despite his World Series collapse. He has been connected to several teams, Milwaukee included. Here is a look as to why the Brewers may make sense for Darvish more than any other team.

The Brewers are hunting

Yu Darvish free agency

The Brewers made an aggressive move for Christian Yelich. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Milwaukee had a very exciting season last year despite not making the postseason. The Cubs were coming off a historic World Series and were primed to continue their dominance. Nobody saw what was coming from the team just north of the north-siders from Chicago.

The Brewers had the lowest payroll in baseball in 2017, yet competed with the Cubs until the very end. Now that they know they have what it takes to compete, it is time to build up and go for it.

The Brewers showed last week just how serious they are about competing. The signing of Lorenzo Cain was one of the biggest free agent moves of the offseason thus far. Not but on the same night, they also traded for the last Marlins outfielder left, Christian Yelich.

The move for Yelich was a good one. Yelich had the most team-friendly contract in that Marlins outfield from 2017, and he shows signs of getting even better. The only thing is that the Brewers gave up their top prospect, and the No. 13 overall prospect in baseball, Lewis Brinson. On top of that, they gave up three other young talents from their system. This move shows just how serious they are about competing now.

The need for pitching

Yu Darvish free agency

Jimmy Nelson had a breakout year in 2017. (Photo from The News and Observer)

One of Milwaukee’s biggest surprises of last season was the performance of Jimmy Nelson. Nelson has solidified himself at the top of the rotation in along with Chase Anderson.

The only thing is that he damaged his shoulder last September. Nelson is apparently ahead of schedule, but it is unknown when he will be ready to rejoin the rotation.

The Brewers offense looks like a strong one at the moment. With the emergence of Eric Thames and Travis Shaw, coupled with the new improvements to the outfield, Milwaukee has an offense to be feared. An addition to the rotation could compliment these improvements very well.

This is where Darvish comes in. The 31-year-old would fit perfectly into the team and could slide them right into a neck-and-neck competition with the Cubs. The addition of Jhoulys Chacin certainly helps, but Darvish would really solidify their position and make their rotation a strength as well.

Will Darvish go for it?

Darvish has not been afraid to address rumors on Twitter. There have been several instances of him responding to reports of him talking to teams and alluding to who he may be interested in. Many reports suggest that he is still very interested in returning to the Rangers or the Dodgers. The Yankees have also been mentioned, along with the Chicago Cubs.

Yu Darvish free agency

The baseball world has its eyes on Darvish to make a decision (Photo from the Star-Telegram)

None of these teams come as a surprise as they are going to be contending in 2017. This race is a big deal in the National League especially though. With how tight the NL Central race will be, along with the desire to catch the Dodgers, teams are desperately trying to do whatever they can to not allow the Dodgers to run away with anything once again.

Milwaukee does not provide the same sort of big market draw that Chicago and Los Angeles offer. However, the Brewers may have the leg up in terms of payroll. At the moment, Milwaukee is under the $100 million threshold for payroll in 2018. They have not been afraid to go over that number in the past, so they ought to have the budget to do so.

Chicago and Los Angeles do not have the same sort of flexibility. The Dodgers already had the highest payroll in baseball in 2017. The Cubs, while having a large payroll already, still need to save some money for when their players need to be paid. Chicago has also been heavily tied to Bryce Harper for free agency next year. If they are seriously interested in signing him, it is unlikely they will give a six-year contract to Darvish.

Only time will tell if the Brewers will be able to bring in the Japanese ace. These dominos ought to be falling soon though, as we are just a couple of weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. Darvish has to have that in mind, as he just so happens to be a pitcher himself.

 

Featured image from Newsweek

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NL Central face of the franchise

The current face of every NL Central team

One conversation that will never get old is talking about who the cornerstone player of every franchise is. Some teams have an obvious representative, others not so much. Here is a look into the face of the franchise for every team in the NL Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Josh Bell

If we were to have this conversation two weeks ago, then there would be a much more obvious answer for the Bucs. However, the Pirates’ front office thought it was time to do some shuffling. Even though Pittsburgh fans are upset about giving up Andrew McCutchen, who has been an icon in the Steel City for some time, it was a good move to show concern for the future. It just looks especially bad because of what the Marlins have been doing this offseason as well.

NL Central face of the franchise

Josh Bell represents a changing of the guard in Pittsburgh. (Photo from Rumbunter.com)

Some may be wondering why Starling Marte is not in this spot. His 80-game suspension does not help his cause here. He also is an All-Star and two-time gold glove winner who can steal bases with the best of them. However, he does not represent the future for the Pirates. He is 29 years old, and the Pirates are not going to be contending anytime soon.

Josh Bell just finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. If it were any other year, Bell would have had a much better chance of bringing home the award. With Cody Bellinger breaking out in LA though, the race was much more clear cut. Bell has the chance to be a prototypical slugger in Pittsburgh for a while, as he is only 25 years old.

In the future, Bell could be a force in the middle of the lineup with 30 home run potential. He provides more pop than Marte does, and is already a threat in the middle of the lineup. His young age coupled with his power is the reason why he has the opportunity to take the place of Cutch in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

No argument here. If you were to argue faces of the franchise around baseball, this may be one of the easiest.

Joey Votto has been a fixture at first base for the Reds for over a decade. He has won the NL MVP and made it to the All-Star game five times. Not to mention, there may not be anybody better at getting on base than Votto.

Votto also has a set of intangibles that would make any manager salivate. He is the kind of guy that can lead a young group of guys into the big leagues, and that is what he is doing now as the Reds have a wave of young players coming up. His baseball smarts along with his excellent talent make him one of the best hitters in the league.

Another thing about Votto is that he is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is heading into his age-34 season and coming off a year where he could have easily won the MVP. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton had the power numbers that make anybody go nuts. However, if you are looking at the full package, Votto is much more valuable.

If Votto keeps up the pace he is at for another couple of years, there is a solid chance he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein

NL Central face of the franchise

Theo led the charge to break the curse in Chicago. (Photo by John Arguello)

Chicago is still fresh off a World Series title in 2016. It is still crazy to say considering many Chicagoans went a lifetime without seeing their lovable losers make it all the way.

Epstein made his way to the Windy City in 2011, and from the start there were many who were certain that it was their time because of it. After he masterminded the destruction of the Boston curse, this seemed like a doable task for the 44-year-old president of the Cubs.

With apologies to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Epstein is a favorable choice for this title. He is the one who orchestrated the revival of success in Wrigley, and many knew that as they chanted, “In Theo we trust.”

While Rizzo has become a poster boy for the Cubs, and Bryant has won an MVP at third base, it is impossible to not credit Epstein with the Cubs’ success.

As a baseball executive, there is no doubt that Epstein has already earned himself a spot in Cooperstown.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina

NL Central face of the franchise

Yadier Molina has been the most important face in St. Louis since the departure of Albert Pujols (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Ever since the departure of Albert Pujols, Molina has done an excellent job of stepping into the role of leading this storied franchise. While Molina may not be the best player in the league by a long shot, there are things that he does that put him above most.

He has those intangibles that his NL Central counterpart Joey Votto has. Molina’s ability to call a game is second to none, while he also knows exactly how to make a young ballplayer feel comfortable on the mound.

Yadi doesn’t have those offensive stats that pop out on the box score, but Tony La Russa made it clear when he was manager of the Cardinals that it didn’t matter. La Russa once stated that even if Molina hit .000, he would still have a spot in the lineup. Now that says something about a player.

While it is not clear if Molina will make it to Cooperstown, he will certainly be remembered as one of the greats to wear the Cardinals uniform. He stated earlier this offseason that he will not play after his contract with the Cardinals expires in 2020. These three years we have left with him will be pivotal in determining his place among the greats.

Milwaukee Brewers: Bob Uecker

The Brewers have made big moves this offseason for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. They also have their eyes set on locking up Yu Darvish in a long-term contract. As a result, the name on this list may be different in a few years. Despite a great year from Travis Shaw and Jimmy Nelson, it doesn’t come close to the reputation that Bob Uecker has set for himself.

Uecker is getting close to Vin Scully territory with his broadcasting. He is being held back from that status though as he is not in a place like Los Angeles, and also spent a decade playing professional ball in the 50s and 60s. Shortly after his playing days, he joined the Brewers broadcasting booth in 1971.

After many successful years in the booth, Uecker earned an iconic role as the broadcaster in the Major League movie franchise. Many don’t realize that you can still tune into his legendary broadcasts to this day. He also won the Ford C. Frick award in 2003 in recognition for his broadcasting, cementing himself among the legends in the game.

While the Brewers are making moves to compete on the field, Uecker always makes it entertaining to tune into the game. It will be a sad day when the 84 year old will have to hang up the mic and retire from the booth.

 

Featured image by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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