As kids growing up as sports fans, we have at one point dreamed of playing in the big leagues. We have also imagined ourselves creating big performances that would attract the attention of the masses. We watched highlights of our favorite teams on TV or online. Our eyes remained glued as players came in clutch to lead their teams to victory. Baseball is no stranger to this scenario.
In the words of Billy Beane (portrayed by Brad Pitt) from the 2011 film MoneyBall, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” Every week of baseball yields opportunity for players to step up and create waves throughout the league. No matter the team, no matter the player, no matter the circumstancesm anyone can create highlights by doing their part.
American League highlights
Arguably, the American League highlight of the week comes to us from the Cleveland Indians.
(Photo by Getty Images)
On April 17, The Indians kicked off a two-game series with AL Central rivals, the Minnesota Twins, in the island of Puerto Rico. For Cleveland shortstop, Francisco Lindor, it was a homecoming game to remember. Born in the city of Caguas, it was there the two-time All-Star began his baseball journey. Lindor also played for the Puerto Rican National Team in last year’s World Baseball Classic.
Returning to his home turf, Lindor lit up the ballpark with a two-run homer. These were also the first two runs scored in the game. Other Indians pitched in, giving the Tribe a 6-1 victory. Cleveland now sits on top of the division.
Elsewhere, Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox is creating highlights of his own. The 25-year-old right fielder has been incredible in the month of April. Facing the Los Angeles Angels, Betts belted three home runs in Boston’s 10-1 victory over Los Angeles. According to NESN, Betts’ performance has put him in the record books. Betts has tied Red Sox legend, Ted Williams, for the most three-homer games in franchise history. Not to mention, the two-time All-Star is only 25 years old.
Currently, the Red Sox have a three-game lead over the rest of the AL East.
National League Highlights
The Miami Marlins are bulling through their rebuilding process, and have had it rough in 2018. Sitting at the bottom of the NL East, Miami visited the Bronx for a two-game series with the Yankees. In addition, this was the first time the Marlins would have to play against Giancarlo Stanton. The Pinstripes blazed the Marlins 12-1 in the first game.
Photo from fishstripes.com
But the Marlins fought back in the final game of the series. Starting on the mound for the fish was left-hander Jarlin Garcia. Through five innings, Garcia blanked the Pinstripes. In addition, run support did more than well for Gracia, with help from Derek Dietrich, Starlin Castro and company. In his 2018 season debut, J.T. Realmuto also joined in with a three-run homer.
Through it all, Garcia cashed his first win of the 2018 campaign. The highlights here are the efforts of the Marlins pitching staff. They finished what Garcia started and suppressed an intimidating batting order. Furthermore, the Marlins split the series with New York after winning 9-1.
The Marlins will once again take on a former Marlin as they travel to Milwaukee to take on Christian Yelich and the Brewers.
Over the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks are continuing their strides. On April 17, left-handed pitcher, Patrick Corbin, remained undaunted, as well as undefeated against the San Francisco Giants. the 28-year-old ace pitched a complete game and cashed his third win for 2018 via a shutout. The Diamondbacks only dished out one run in the game, but it proved to be enough. Furthermore, Arizona remains comfortably at the top of the division. They will also have to keep momentum building as they continue the three-game series with the Giants.
As the season continues, the league will be watching as more players look for chances at stardom. The season is still young, and there will be enough chances for other stars to make highlights. Each team has its own mountain to climb, but a breakthrough performance can help build morale and set the tone for games to come.
Featured image from Cleveland.com
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Andrew Knizner has been making waves in the Arizona Fall League. The seventh-round pick in the 2016 MLB draft for the Cardinals had a solid season in the minors. The 22-year-old catcher managed to rack up 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 95 games between Single and Double-A this past year.
Adding to the Cardinals’ catching core
The Cardinals have had the most reliable guy they could ask for behind the plate since 2004. Yadier Molina has put in more innings and excelled more than any other catcher during that time. He has established himself as a premier catcher and has come close to reaching a Pudge Rodriguez level of excellence.
Molina has been one of the best catchers of this generation (Photo from SI.com)
Not only does St. Louis have Molina through 2020, but they have the best catching prospect in baseball, who is ready for some major league action. Carson Kelly is a converted third basemen, who has adjusted to the catching position very nicely. He has established himself as a potential Gold Glove winner, and has had his bat catch up to his glove the last couple of years.
The only problem is that Kelly is not getting younger. Molina’s contract extension through the 2020 season leaves some doubt as to how Kelly will get playing time in St. Louis. Kelly would soon be turning 27 by the time he could get consistent playing time with the Cardinals. This is what makes his future with the ball club murky.
Andrew Knizner is another name to bring some intrigue behind the plate. He is a converted third baseman, much like Kelly, and is still learning the tricks of the trade. He has not had a lot of flubs behind the plate, but his bat is what garners some attention. Knizner has shown that he can put the ball in play with solid contact, while also showing good plate discipline. Pitch selectivity is always good to see in young guys because it is an important skill to have when dealing with nasty pitching in the big leagues.
What Knizner’s success means for the offseason
It sure is a good thing that Knizner is breaking out in the AFL. He currently has a .358/.403/.537 slash line along with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 67 at-bats. That should give the Cardinals more comfort that they may have another option behind the plate after Molina hangs up his cleats.
The Cardinals are exploring trades before any free-agent signings according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The Cardinals have a lot of prospects they could potentially trade away. Knizner’s performance puts him as well as Kelly in the mix of the names that could be traded away this offseason.
Knizner or Kelly fitting into a Miami trade could make sense, it is whether or not Stanton allows it to happen (Photo by Getty Images)
The team that the Cardinals have been attached to the most is the Miami Marlins. They are looking to lose most of the salary that is guaranteed to Giancarlo Stanton, so it appears evident that they will try to move him by the end of the offseason. If the Cardinals are looking to make that move with the Marlins, either for Stanton or another outfielder, both Kelly and Knizner could be thrown in there as the Cardinals can afford to give one up.
The Marlins already have a young and successful catcher in J.T. Realmuto. Much of Realmuto’s value comes from his performance at the plate though. He has also spent some time at first base.
If the Marlins are really looking to go into rebuild mode, then their current first baseman could be on the move. Justin Bour had a career year and could get a couple solid prospects in return as he has a team-friendly contract.
Kelly’s defensive prowess and young age could play a part in this trade. As the best catching prospect in baseball, it would be hard for the Marlins to turn that away. It would be contingent on Bour being dealt as well as mentioned earlier.
St. Louis is still in very early talks with Miami. Kelly or Knizner could play a role in how things play out as they are showing to be valuable prospects.
In case a Stanton trade doesn’t work out for the Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich may be on the table as well. Not only that, but the Cardinals have showed interest in Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado. Both the Blue Jays and Orioles are in need of younger catching prospects, so Kelly or Knizner would make sense as pieces in a trade like this.
Even if these big name trades don’t happen, the Cardinals are still shopping around to see where they can improve. The front office knows they need to prove they are serious about contending with the Cubs. They have money and lots of prospects. Knizner only helps their bargaining power and gives them more flexibility for the future.
All in all, the reality to take away from his performance and potential is that Carson Kelly may not play a full season in St. Louis. With Yadier Molina blocking him, it would make sense for the Cardinals to move him somewhere else. Then they could look for Knizner to be the successor to Molina.
Featured image by Getty Images
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Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 2nd – April 8th)
In this weekly segment, I intend to inform fantasy owners about who’s hot and who’s cold during a specific week, and whether or not I believe they will continue to trend in that direction.
Veteran Mark Reynolds is taking advantage of every opportunity he gets in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)
Mark Reynolds, First Basemen, Colorado Rockies
9 for 22 with 4 runs scored, 3 HR, and 8 RBI
Reynolds has taken over for an injured Ian Desmond as the Rockies first basemen to start 2017. The 33-year-old veteran has been incredibly productive over the first week, as he is tied with Brandon Belt as the National League home run leader. Reynolds has been a prototypical home run or bust player over the years, as he has hit over 250 career home runs, while also leading the league in strikeouts four consecutive times. On the contrary to Reynolds perennial struggles at the plate, he batted .282 with 14 home runs in 393 at bats during the 2016 season. His playing time is sure to become sparse once Desmond returns, but until then, Reynolds will remain a comfortable source of production as he will continue to be an everyday player in the middle of the Rockies lineup.
Yasiel Puig, Right Fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
7 for 19 with 5 runs scored, 3 HR, 5 RBI, and 1 SB
Puig has been one of the biggest teases in recent fantasy baseball history, as he batted .319 with 66 runs scored, 42 RBI, 19 HR, and 11 SB over a 104-game span in 2013. After dealing with nagging injuries and on and off the field issues in 2015 and 2016, he is finally showing his potential once again. The 26-year-old has begun the year batting in multiple positions in the order including fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth. It is a bit concerning that he is batting .000 in the four and five spots, although on the bright side, he may have found a home at the bottom of the lineup as he is batting over .500 as the seven or eight hitter.
Puig will continue to be a tantalizing fantasy option, but be aware of possible struggles. His plate discipline is league average, as he swings at about 30 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, which could be a cause for concern as he will begin to see more off-speed pitches when batting in the heart of the order.
J.T. Realmuto, Catcher, Miami Marlins
J.T. Realmuto is off to red hot start. (Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel)
10 for 18 with 6 runs scored, 2 HR, and 6 RBI
The Marlins catcher is flat out on fire. Realmuto has begun the year batting primarily in the two-hole, which has worked great so far as he is currently batting over .500. I wasn’t expecting this to type of success to happen to Realmuto, nor am I expecting it to continue.
The 26-year-old has a career ISO of .141, which suggests that his home run totals will not spike any time soon. This paired with his atrocious career walk rate of 4.7 percent makes me uneasy when thinking about Realmuto going forward.
Nomar Mazara, Right Fielder, Texas Rangers
10 for 21 with 5 runs scored, 2 HR, and 9 RBI
The Rangers outfielder is off to a hot start in his second major league season. He has already mustered up nine RBI along with two home runs, all while batting just under .500. The 22-year-old has been a highly touted prospect since he was signed in 2012, and for good reason. He has hit 20 home runs twice, once at the minor-league level, and the other time being last season in 145 at bats in the majors. He is also a career .271 hitter at all levels, which is very respectable. In a full season, Mazara should have no problem hitting 20 bombs and batting .270 plus.
Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros
Dallas Keuchel is looking to return to Cy Young form in 2017 now that he is healthy. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).
1-0 allowing 1 ER, 4 H, and 3 BB over 14 IP with 8 Ks
The 2015 Cy Young struggled last season as he dealt with nagging shoulder and back injuries throughout the year. He has come into 2017 at 100 percent, and is ready for the season, which has shown in his first two appearances. Keuchel’s two starts have resulted in one win, and only one earned run over 14 innings pitched. The Astro’s are beginning to look like one of the American League’s most dangerous teams, which along with Keuchel’s improved health, gives him good chances of becoming the Cy Young once again.
Sam Dyson, Relief Pitcher, Texas Rangers
0-2 allowing 8 ER, 7 H, and 2 BB over 1 IP with 0 Ks
Dyson has gotten shelled in his first two appearances this season, pitching a total of one inning, allowing eight runs, walking two, and striking out none. Of course, his first two outings are disconcerting, but manager Jeff Banister has said he is not ready to move Dyson out of the closer role yet.
Dyson had a very successful 2016, pitching a total of 70 1/3 innings, resulting in a 2.43 ERA and 55 strike outs. I have confidence in Dyson retaining the closer job for the long-term future, as he has had enough success in the past to warrant a longer leash than most closers.
Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees
Masahiro Tanaka is off to a shaky start in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)
0-1 allowing 10 ER, 14 H, and 6 BB over 7 2/3 IP
After allowing 10 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings over his first two starts, Yankees’ ace Tanaka will take the mound Thursday, April 13th, at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. His first two appearances came away against American League East foes, which are commonly the toughest starts this pitcher will make all season. Yes, he has struggled mightily this year, although I’m confident he will turn it around.
The 28-year-old has a career 3.26 ERA over 497 2/3 innings pitched. He has no chance of losing his job, although his injury history is a bit unnerving. A partially torn UCL brought up talks of tommy john surgery last season, although he opted to forgo the surgery in order to avoid a long and tedious recovery process. Tanaka will remain an injury risk all year, but his numbers should return to form.
Byron Buxton, Center Fielder, Minnesota Twins
1 for 22 with 0 runs scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB
Unfortunately for baseball fans, Buxton is off to a brutal start. With only one hit in his first 22 at bats, once touted as the next Mike Trout, Buxton has consistently disappointed. He has batted an underwhelming .214 over 449 at bats at the major-league level.
The 23-year-old still has untapped potential, as he batted .322 with 15 home runs, 119 runs scored, 85 RBI, and 57 steals in 2013 at multiple minor league levels. In keeper leagues, he is definitely worth holding on to. Although, in redraft leagues, it may be time to go in another direction.
D.J. Lemahieu, Second Basemen, Colorado Rockies
D.J. Lemahieu has only one hit in his first 22 at bats, although it is too early to give up on the 2016 NL Batting Champ. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
1 for 23 with 2 runs scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB
The 2016 National League Batting Champion is off to an ice-cold start this season. He has only one hit in his first 23 at bats, which has resulted in him receiving a day off this Sunday. Lemahieu will remain atop the Rockies lineup for the time being, but a move to the bottom half of the order could help rejuvenate the All-Star. The 28-year-old is a career .298 hitter who should have no problem getting back on track.
Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher, Texas Rangers
1 for 15 with 1 run scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB
The Rangers backstop also has only one hit to start this season, although once again, I’m not worried about the future production of All-Star. Lucroy is a career .283 hitter, who hit 24 homers just a year ago. He is also in a contract year, so he has more to prove then most players. There is no reason to worry about arguably the best two-way catcher in baseball.
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Opening Day is 44 days away, and Spring Training is already here. We are going to take a division by division look at each team and try to predict their 2017 season. Let’s take a look at the National League East.
Philadelphia Phillies – Fifth
Odubel Herrera was a Rule 5 Draft steal for the Phillies (Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports).
The 2017 season will be another long one for the Phillies. However, contention is not that far away.
Starting pitcher Aaron Nola will look to make the jump from top prospect to top pitcher. He will be joined by young pitchers Vincent Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff to form a solid pitching core. They will be supplemented by veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz.
The bullpen will rely on closer Jeanmar Gomez and reliever Pat Neshek to provide solid seasons. Starters will need to pitch late into games to cover their bullpen.
In the field, sluggers Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph will be joined by speedster Odubel Herrera to form a core of young players the Phillies are counting on. Outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders add experience to the lineup.
The Phillies are one of the youngest teams in the majors and will rely heavily on their farm system in the coming years. For now their talent level is just not there, and it will be difficult for them to finish better than fifth place in a tough division.
Atlanta Braves – Fourth
R.A. Dickey will move from the AL East to the NL East in 2017 (Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson).
General Manager John Coppolella has been aggressive this past offseason, hoping to draw more fans to their new park. The team has improved all over the diamond, especially on the mound.
Staff Ace Julio Teheran will have some good mentors for the 2017 season with the additions of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Mike Foltynewicz and Jaime Garcia will round out the rotation with something to prove in 2017.
Jim Johnson enters 2017 as the closer for the Braves and headlines a no-name pen. Watch out for youngsters Mauricio Cabrera and Paco Rodriguez. Both players put up a sub 3.00 ERA and should only improve after having gained MLB experience in 2016.
The infield will be bolstered by newcomer Brandon Phillips. He will mentor top prospect Dansby Swanson and mix well with Matt Kemp and Freddie Freeman to form a potent lineup.
While there is talent in Atlanta, their prospects in 2017 of winning the division are slim. A fourth-place finish will be an achievement for the Braves, as they have the building blocks for a bright future.
Miami Marlins – Third
Realmuto is the present and future for the Marlins behind the plate (Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports).
After the Jose Fernandez tragedy at the end of the 2016 season, this year will prove to be a tough one in Miami. While the Marlins can’t replace a personality like Fernandez, they will have to replace him in the rotation. That is a tall task.
The additions of pitchers Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily are a step in the right direction, but they need more. Wei-Yin Chen will be the staff ace, and needs to improve on his 2016 ERA of 4.96. Solid years from Adam Conley and Tom Koehler will stabilize the back of the rotation.
In the pen, closer A.J. Ramos will be joined by a deep supporting cast. Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps and Junichi Tazawa provide plenty of talent and experience to form a solid bullpen.
Dee Gordon will return for a full season, and catcher J.T. Realmuto will look to improve his offense. Led by Giancarlo Stanton, the outfield of Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna will power the Marlins’ offense.
If the Marlins can get solid starts out of their rotation, their bullpen will be able to close out games. With an explosive offense headed by Stanton, the Marlins are a dark horse contender in the NL East. A third place finish seems more likely.
New York Mets – Second
Walker had a good first season in New York, blasting 23 bombs (Credit: Frank Franklin II/AP).
As the 2017 season approaches, the Mets look to build upon their NLWC loss from last season. With the majority of the roster returning, the Mets are a solid team heading into 2017.
Pitcher Matt Harvey comes into the season trying to rebound from shoulder surgery last season and will be a big boost for their staff. Starters Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz will also try to stick in the rotation. Anchored by Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, the rotation is what drives the Mets success.
The bullpen will be centered around NL All-Star closer Jeurys Familia. Bolstered by Hansel Robles and Addison Reed, the Mets have a pen that should work well in tandem with their star-studded rotation.
Off the mound, the Mets will be led by left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes provides plenty of power in the middle of the lineup. Coupled with veteran Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce, the Mets have a potent lineup. Things could be even better for the Mets if franchise cornerstone David Wright can return from injury.
The story for the Mets this season will be how their star players return from injury. With Harvey and Wright both trying to return to stardom, the Mets can’t count on them for the 2017 season. If they do return, the Mets could go much farther than many think. At this point, the Mets are a good bet to finish second in the division.
Zimmerman will hope to bounce back after a dreadful 2016 (Credit: Alex Brandon/AP Photo).
Washington Nationals – First
With a stacked rotation and lineup, the Nationals have underperformed in the past few seasons. With new additions in the offseason, they should make the playoffs.
The pitching staff remains intact from 2016, headlined by the one-two punch of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Both pitchers have Cy Young capabilities and are set to have terrific seasons. The rotation will be filled out by Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross to form one of the best in the majors.
The bullpen is lacking, with journeyman Shawn Kelley taking over the closer role in D.C. If relievers Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis can repeat their 2016 performances, this weakness may turn into a strength.
The Washington lineup is one of the deepest in the bigs, headlined by Bryce Harper. He will be joined by Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton to form a potent offense. Veterans Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are also solid players that Washington will be counting on.
The Nationals are one of the deepest teams in the league, and their talent level rivals any other team. The 2017 season should be a good one in D.C., as the Nationals have the talent to finish first in the division.
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Another week went by in the East, and it was another week full of surprises, fantastic pitching outings, and Braves win streaks. Alright, the last one is the first time that’s happened, but the Braves season-high five game win streak came at the expense of a divisional rival with a lot more to lose, the New York Mets. The Mets have struggled in back-to-back weeks now, and have dropped into third place in the East for the first time since April.
Meanwhile the Marlins find themselves in second place for the first time in what feels like forever. The Marlins look to complete a four-game sweep of the Rockies tonight that would make them winners of six of their last seven games. The Marlins still have some work to do chasing Washington, who is currently 5.5 games ahead of them, but the Marlins seem to be putting things together, while New York continues to sputter.
And while the Mets may be sputtering, the Phillies are in absolute free fall at this point. They have won just one of their last 11 games, the last five of which have come at home. While a fall from the near-top was to be expected, the dramatic and sudden fashion in which it happened has really taken the wind out of the team’s and fans’ sails.
Then there’s the Nats, who were able to get their revenge on the Cubs for the four-game sweep that was handed to them earlier in the year. Max Scherzer, in particular, had to exact his toll on a Cubs offense that drilled in seven runs off of him in his first outing against the team, and had a perfect game going for over five innings. While they fell short in the final two days against the Padres, the week was still a net positive for Washington, who maintained the comfortable gap between them and second place.
1. Washington Nationals (43-27)
The Nats continued their pursuit of 50 wins last week, and dashed the Cubs hopes of doing so by taking the series against Chicago. After being swept in four games against the Cubs earlier in the year, it was reassuring to see that Nationals bats and arms are plenty capable to contend with the MLB’s best. While Daniel Murphy’s batting average may be falling back down to Earth, he and his team’s run production continues to be an encouraging sign. Murphy, Anthony Rendon, and Bryce Harper all drove in four men apiece last week. Harper was able to get a couple of RBIs on a two-run homer against the Padres on Thursday, his first in 52 at-bats, an encouraging sign for Nats fans. While Harper hasn’t been the machine he was in 2015, or in April of this year he has begun to turn things around, hitting .291 with a homer and eight RBIs in his last 15 games.
Wilson Ramos continues to make his case for the best hitting catcher this season. He has the highest batting average and RBI total of any qualified player at the position, and is second in the MLB among catchers, with 11 homers this year. The guy looks like a shoo-in for the All-Star game at this rate. Michael Taylor continues to make is difficult for Dusty Baker to take him out of the lineup, belting two homers on Sunday against the Padres. Taylor also swiped three bags last week; and while he will continue to swap time with Ben Revere in center, if he continues to produce like this he may see more playtime come his way.
On the mound for the Nats, Max Scherzer continues to dial up the Ks, with 11 against the Cubs and ten against the Padres in two starts last week. He now has 128 strikeouts on the year, second in the MLB behind only Clayton Kershaw. Stephen Strasburg is right behind him, tied for third in the MLB in Ks with 118. Strasburg went seven innings of one run ball against the Cubs on Wednesday, but did not factor in the decision. Strasburg remains one of just two unbeaten starters in the MLB with at least 14 starts. Tanner Roark and Joe Ross both lasted six innings in winning efforts against the Padres on Thursday and Friday, while Gio Gonzalez continues to struggle. Gonzalez has now lost five of his last six starts, and hasn’t won a game since May 18. The bullpen also looks for a suitable replacement for Jonathan Papelbon, who is on the DL for the first time in his career. Shawn Kelly was two-for-two in converting saves, while Yusmeiro Petit was one-for-one. Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez were also given save opportunities, but both were unable to close the game out, and Rivero ended up shouldering a loss.
The Nats stay on the road with three games in LA against the Dodgers before a three game set against the Brewers over the weekend.
2. Miami Marlins (37-32) 5.5 GB
The Marlins have continued their slow climb up the NL East ladder. From fourth in April to second in June, the Marlins have been the beneficiaries of some of the better hitting in the division. J.T. Realmuto and Christian Yelich led the way for Miami this week, with six RBIs apiece. Yelich seems to be taking a San Francisco Giant approach to batting, turning in big numbers every other week.
Giancarlo Stanton, while only driving in two RBIs, finally started seeing the ball again amidst a horrible slump, batting .438 last week. Justin Bour, now swapping time with Chris Johnson at first base, made the most of his now limited ABs, driving in four runs and batting .538. Derek Dietrich returned to the lineup, after missing time with a bone bruise on his foot sustained Monday, and put up a quality .412 average on the week. Dietrich has been a magnet for baseballs this year, but has continued to miraculously avoid any major injuries. Marcell Ozuna and Martin Prado both had four RBIs and a big fly last week, with Ozuna’s three-run shot being the only runs in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Rockies.
Tom Koehler was effectively wild on Sunday, shutting out the Mets through six innings despite walking six batters. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com
Tom Koehler went 2-0 on the mound for Miami this week, despite walking six batters in Sunday’s win. Koehler, after a 1-3 May, is 3-1 to start June, with Sunday’s start being the only start where he walked multiple hitters. Despite the control issues, Koehler turned in a scoreless six innings, and allowed just two runs in Tuesday’s win against the Padres. Adam Conley also struggled with control in an otherwise good outing. Conley surrendered just one hit, a solo homer, on Friday against the Rockies, but walked five men over 5.2 innings.
Jose Fernandez saw his start skipped this week. Manager Don Mattingly says the skip was just a part of Miami’s plan for Fernandez this year, and this will not be the only time it happens this year. Wei-Yin Chen was the other arm who had to make multiple starts for Miami this week due to Fernandez being skipped. Chen continues to struggle a decent bit, he surrendered four runs in six innings against the Padres on Monday before getting shelled on Saturday against the Rockies, lasting just 2.1 innings and surrendering six runs. Despite a couple of poor outings, Chen went 1-0 on the week. Justin Nicolino again struggled last week, and has been optioned to triple-A. Paul Clemens was brought up to replace Nicolino, who is 2-4 with a 5.17 ERA in ten starts. He’s 0-4 with a 6.44 ERA in his last seven outings.
Miami is home all week this week. They finish up their series against the Rockies tonight, looking for the sweep. The Braves then come to town for two games, before the Cubs arrive for a four-game set, beginning on Thursday.
3. New York Mets (36-32) 6 GB
The Mets continue to struggle to find their form in June, getting swept by the Braves over the weekend. While manager Terry Collins says he isn’t concerned with the current gap between New York and Washington in the division, I think the Mets definitely want to nip whatever this current issue is in the bud before things get too out of hand as the All-Star break approaches.
The Mets must have used up all of their runs for the week in Wednesday’s 11-2 win against the Pirates. They scored just ten runs in the other five games, being shutout in two of them. Wilmer Flores drove in five of those 21 runs last week with a couple of homers. Yoenis Cespedes also had a homer and totaled three RBIs on the week, just like teammate Neil Walker. James Loney continues to get on base, with a .333 average, but the Mets still have to be missing Lucas Duda’s pop and run production at the plate: Loney had just a lone RBI.
Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon were the only starters to pick up wins this week. Syndergaard fanned 11 men in 8.1 innings on Wednesday, while Colon lasted a surprising 7.2 innings and only surrendered two runs. Colon may have just 56 strikeouts in 13 starts, but the 42 year old is still 6-3 on the year and continues to stick it to Father Time in the most entertaining of fashions.
Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom continued to struggle this year. DeGrom lasted six innings in both outings, and turned in a quality start against the Pirates, giving up just two runs and striking out nine, but took the loss in both appearances. He surrendered four runs in six innings on Sunday against Atlanta. Harvey, after inspiring some hope with his previous starts, gave up four runs in six innings on Friday against the Braves. He’s now 0-2 in June, but his last start was the first this month where he had surrendered multiple runs.
The Mets host the second two-game set of the World Series rematch against the Royals on Tuesday and Wednesday, before looking to get some payback in Atlanta, with a four game series starting on Thursday.
4. Philadelphia Phillies (30-40) 13 GB
The Phillies continued their downward spiral, having now lost six straight. While the lack of offense continues to stand out, the pitching has also looked a lot more worrisome as of late. The Phils never managed more than three runs after beating the Blue Jays 7-0 in the series opener on Monday.
Odubel Herrera drove in three of those runs on Monday, along with a couple more throughout the week to lead the team with five RBIs last week. No other Philly hitter managed more than two RBIs on the week. A couple of guys who had performed in weeks past had abysmal times at the plate last week; Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis combined for just one hit. Cody Asche and Cesar Hernandez both had a homer and a couple of RBIs on the week, but the Phillies bats as a whole were as silent last week as they have been all season.
On the mound is where things have really turned sour for Phildelphia in recent weeks. The same squad that had the Phillies sitting above .500 in May yielded 50 runs in seven games last week. Jerad Eickhoff was responsible for holding a very potent Jays offense to no runs over six innings on Monday, but that’s where the good news ends. Eickhoff didn’t do so well in his second start on the week, giving up three runs on nine hits in 5.2 against the D-Backs on Saturday. Zach Eflin made his first two professional starts last week, neither of which will be memorable in the way he would have liked them to be. Eflin gave up eight runs in just 2.2 innings against the Jays on Tuesday. Although he had a more reasonable 5.2 innings of two run ball against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, he ultimately took the loss in that performance as well.
Jeremy Hellickson also pitched a losing effort last week, and even Aaron Nola, who had been the Phils beacon of consistency in May, had a very poor June continue in his last start. Hellickson managed to last six innings, giving up four runs to Toronto on Wednesday. Nola lasted just three innings and gave up six runs. He’s now lasted just 6.2 innings and given up ten earned runs in his past two starts, after starting June off with a shutout against the Brewers.
The Phillies finish off their series at home against the Diamondbacks on Monday, before heading to Minnesota for a three game series starting Tuesday. They then head further west for three games against the Giants over the weekend.
5. Atlanta Braves (23-46) 19.5 GB
Freddie Freeman hit for the cycle against the Reds last week. Photo courtesy of espn.com
In some sort of upside-down universe, the Braves go undefeated this year. We’re not in that one, but it definitely feels strange to see Atlanta currently holding the division’s current longest win streak, having won their last five games. I guess that just goes to show what can happen when your franchise player has, arguably, the best week of any batter in the NL. Freddie Freeman hit .538, homered twice, drove in five runs, stole a base, and hit for the cycle against the Reds last week. It doesn’t matter that the game went into extras, getting four hits in a Big League game is a feat within itself, especially with the pitching talent prevalent in the MLB.
Nick Markakis also drove in five runs last week, including one on a solo homer: just his second bomb of the season. Erick Aybar and Jace Peterson had three RBIs apiece, Peterson also stole a base while hitting .286 on the week.
On a more somber note for Braves fans, rookie outfield talent Mallex Smith wound up with a broken thumb over the weekend, when he was hit by an Antonio Bastardo pitch. He will be further evalutated on Monday, but all time he loses hurts the Braves. Smith is hitting .237 this year, and while he hasn’t homered since his two home run game against the Pirates on May 17, he still has 21 RBIs and leads the team with 14 stolen bases this year. The Braves second-place base stealer, Ender Inciarte had a couple of swiped bags last week. His season total now sits at five on the year.
The Braves performances on the mound this week were highlighted by a Julio Teheran gem on Sunday against the Mets. Teheran took the loss earlier in the week, going six innings against the Reds and giving up three runs. But he went the full nine on Sunday against a struggling Mets offense, and gave up just one hit. Teheran became the first Braves pitcher to allow one hit or less in a road start since Kent Mercker in 1994, when he no-hit the Dodgers.
Matt Wisler rebounded from a series of unfortunate outings to nab his first win in his last five starts. Wisler held the Reds to a pair of runs over 6.2 innings on Thursday, despite Cincy scattering in eight hits on him. Rookie start John Gant picked up his first Major League win last week, as well, holding the Mets to one run in 6.2 innings on Friday. Aaron Blair and Bud Norris didn’t have great starts, but benefited from the Braves outpouring of offense last week to wind up with no decisions.
The Braves head to Miami for a two-game series beginning on Tuesday before heading home for a four game series against the Mets. They have the potential to help the Nats and Marlins further bury the struggling Mets, already having swept the Mets this past weekend.
The NL East continues to heat up with four teams within 2.5 games of the division lead. While the East may not have a bench clearing brawl last week, it did see some dominant pitching (namely Max Scherzer), and is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in the long run of division races. Aside from arguably the NL West, the NL East is probably the tightest division race throughout the bulk of its teams.
The Mets showed that the Nationals aren’t the only team that can lose the division due to a bad week of play; the really surprising consequence of the Mets’ 2-5 trip out west, however, is that the Phillies are now not just hanging around in the divisional race, they’re right in the thick of it in the #2 spot. The Phils admittedly had one of the easier schedules this week, getting to enjoy beating up on poor Atlanta just like every other team in the division has up to this point.
While offenses in the division continue to be below average in the runs category, the pitching continues to be leaned on as the real workhorse in the division. While none of the staffs were as dominant as we’ve come to expect, there were some surprising starts (both good and bad) for a lot of guys in the division.
Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at each team in the NL East.
1. Washington Nationals (23-15)
The Nationals finally find themselves on the positive side of a divisional lead change. Washington found themselves on both ends of some bizarre fielding in their game against Miami on Sunday, but Washington ended up on the losing end of the trade, resulting in the four game set being split at two wins apiece. Ryan Zimmerman was the beneficiary of one of those Sunday plays, notching himself an inside the park home run when Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna collided in the outfield. Both Ozuna and Stanton appear to be fine despite being shaken up on the play. That homer was one of Zimmerman’s surprising three home runs last week, which led the team. Unforfunately for the Nats, Stephen Drew, who started in place of a sick Daniel Murphy on Sunday, gifted the Marlins two runs earlier in the game when he lost a pop up in the sun in the Nats 5-1 loss.
Zimmerman may have led the team in homers last week because their usual suspect at the dish, Bryce Harper, continues to adhere to the lyrics of Unk and Walk it Out. Harper hit just .267 last week with four hits, one of them a homer, but he walked 11 times, giving his OBP a .310 point boost on the week to .577. At this rate, according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield, Harper is on par for being the second most-walked player in a season, only behind Barry Bonds. What Harper is doing more than Bonds is starting controversies with home plate umpires. Harper game two of Washington’s doubleheader against Miami on Saturday due to a one-game suspension for his actions towards the home plate umpire in game one of the Detroit series on Monday. Harper continues to let his emotions dominate his play, and manager Dusty Baker continues to acknowledge that, but I feel brief episodes like this will continue for Harper. So long as he doesn’t put himself at risk by inducing an all-out brawl on the diamond, I think the Nationals are not going to force Harper to undergo any dramatic changes behaviorally.
The Nats arms have plenty of stories surrounding them as well. We’ll start with the good: Max Scherzer struck out 20 against his former team on Wednesday. Scherzer joins Kerry Wood, Roger Clemens, Tom Cheney, and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to strike out 20 or more players in a game. What’s almost more impressive is that he did it without walking a single Tiger in the appearance. Scherzer actually threw the least amount of balls in any 20+ K performance (119 pitches, 93 strikes, 26 balls). Scherzer still has some room to go if he wants to put up numbers similar to last season, his ERA is currently 4.15, and his walk total through his first eight starts (15) is nearly half of what it was through all of 2015 (34). Scherzer will start on game one of the series against New York starting Tuesday against Noah Syndergaard. Scherzer struggled the last time he faced a projected playoff team, giving up seven runs in five innings against the Cubs. While New York’s offense isn’t quite as explosive, they have shown an affinity for the long ball this year, and Scherzer will have to avoid missing his spots.
Stephen Strasburg received a huge seven-year, $175 million contract last week. He’s currently 6-0 for the Nats in 2016. Photo courtesy of finance.yahoo.com
Stephen Strasburg signed a $175 million extension, and he rewarded the Nationals with his 6th win on the season against Miami. Strasburg now sits at 6-0 on the year with a 2.95 ERA. His start is the second-best in franchise history through eight games, only behind Pedro Martinez’s 8-0 start in 1997. If Strasburg is able to remain healthy throughout the majority of his new 7-year, $175 million deal and continue to deal like this, then GM Mike Rizzo will show that he earned the extension he received shortly after Strasburg this week.
The bad news is, Tanner Roark continues to struggle against the Marins, and Joe Ross is now 0-3 in the month of May. Roark is currently 2-3 on the year, with all three of his losses coming against the Marlins. Roark’s season ERA sits at just 3.10, but is 8.40 in his three starts against the Marlins. Whatever the cause is for his woes, the good news for Roark is that the Nats only play Miami once more before the All-Star Break. Meanwhile, Ross had an ERA of 0.79 in four April starts. In three May starts, his ERA is sitting just below five at 4.91. This may be due, in part, to Washington’s tougher schedule in May, but the Nationals still need to see Ross recover from the slump he’s in right now.
The Nationals begin their long-awaited, three game set with the Mets on Tuesday, before playing Miami for three games.
2. Philadelphia Phillies (22-16) 1 GB
Every week, we’ve been waiting for the Phillies to fall to where they were expected to be in the NL East, and every week we’ve seen the opposite, with Philadelphia moving closer and closer to a top two spot in the division. Well, now it’s finally happened. The Phillies took advantage of the Mets bad week to jump to #2 in the standings and are just a game back of Washington.
While pitching has been the catalyst of the Phils successes, the young guys at the plate continue to step up for Philadelphia. Odubel Herrera is proving to be a very effective leadoff hitter, hitting .333 on the season with six stolen bases and four homers. He also leads the team in walks by a wide margin, with 29. Maikel Franco is shaping up to be a very strong three-hole hitter, with 22 RBI on the year and seven HRs, just one behind Ryan Howard, who leads the team. According to ESPN’s Doug Mittler, the Phillies may be considering moving up Minor League first baseman, Tommy Joseph, in hopes of yielding more consistent results from their first baseman. Joseph is currently hitting .368 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. With the way some of these other young guys have hit for the Phillies, Joseph could make this offense even more promising for the future.
Pitching was more of the same in Philadelphia, Aaron Nola allowed just one earned run in a seven inning win against the Reds. Nola tied his career high in that start, with nine punch outs. Nola ranks 3rd in the NL in WHIP, sitting at 0.85. Nola has really blossomed this season after a rough opening three starts. He’s turned in quality starts in four of his last five appearances, and averages just one walk per start in the month of May.
Jeanmar Gomez now leads the MLB in saves with 14. While having a weak offense that wins a lot of close games helps inflate this number, there’s no denying that Gomez has been key to a lot of Philadelphia’s success this year. The Phils are now 14-3 on the year in one-run ballgames, a team can’t have numbers like that without a great closer. The rest of the Phils bullpen is no slouch either, four set-up men allowed no runs over 11.1 innings of work. The highlights there being Brett Oberholtzer, who threw five scoreless innings of relief in two outings, and Hector Nerris, who had three shutout innings over three games last week.
The Phillies have a real shot to move into first place this week with three game sets at home against both Miami and Atlanta.
3. New York Mets (21-16) 1.5 GB
The Mets had a pretty rough trip out west, scraping together just two wins in seven games. Both the offense and the pitching looked a little more docile than it had over the past few weeks. The good news is that catcher Kevin Plawecki is beginning to look sharper at the plate, driving in a team high five runs last week. While the Mets were victim to some controversial calls over the course of the week, they also have fallen victim to some mistakes in areas they have control over. Curtis Granderson is having a rough time in the leadoff spot this month, and when the leadoff man is struggling to get on base, runs are that much harder to get. Granderson has just a .179 OBP with a .132 batting average this month. He’s also struck out 18 times through the first half of May; he had just 19 Ks throughout all of April.
Perhaps the most interesting story in New York was Noah Syndergaard, and not just because of his performance on the mound. Thor may as well have been hitting with his hammer, hitting two thunderous homers, and providing himself with all of his run support on the day. It’s pretty rare to see a pitcher hit one homer in a game, let alone two. Syndergaard became the first pitcher to hit two dingers in a game since Micah Owings in 2007, and the first Mets pitcher to do so since Walt Terrell in 1983. Syndergaard’s four RBI were the second most for any Met last week.
Syndergaard also got it done on the bump in his start against the Dodgers. He tied a career high with eight innings of work, in which he gave up six hits, two of them solo homers, and picked up his 3rd win of the year. Steven Matz was the other Met to get a win last week, although he did miss his second start on Saturday with forearm soreness. It is unknown yet if Matz will remain in the Mets rotation or end up on the DL, but he did throw long toss on Thursday and has a doctor’s exam upcoming.
Matz’s replacement in the rotation, Logan Verrett got roughed up by Colorado. He lasted just 2.2 innings and gave up seven runs on 10 hits in that timespan. Verrett is the same guy who filled in for Jacob deGrom when he was out of the rotation earlier this season, however. During that time Verrett went 2-0 in two starts, so the ability is there. Speaking of deGrom, he claims he still doesn’t feel as comfortable on the mound as he did in 2015. He did not factor into the decision in either of his two starts last week, despite turning in a quality seven innings of two run ball against the Dodgers on Tuesday. Matt Harvey also continues to have a rough run at returning to form, giving up five runs on 11 hits through 5.2 against the Rockies on Friday. Colorado hit .407 off of the Mets ace.
New York looks to end their four game skid at home on Tuesday against the Nationals, before squaring off with the Brewers on Friday for a second three game set at home.
4. Miami Marlins
Miami went 4-3 last week to remain in the thick of the action in the East. Their batting averages continue to be sky high, with four starters hitting .300 or above last week. They have four starters on the season hitting at that same level, with Derek Dietrich, Dee Gordon’s replacement, hitting .298. With Giancarlo Stanton having an off week, hitting just .154, some other Marlins bats came out to help the offense last week. Justin Bour had two homers and three RBI, while J.T. Realmuto hit .348 and led the team with four RBI. Marcell Ozuna hit .500 last week and provides a strong bridge between the middle and the bottom of this Marlins lineup. While the offense did not look quite as impressive with Yelich and Stanton both having off weeks, it still proved last week that it has the talent and the potential to get wins, especially when its pitchers deliver like they did last week.
Jose Fernandez went seven innings with 11 strikeouts in both of his starts last week. Thumbs up, Photo courtesy of gardygoesyardy.com
Jose Fernandez showed last week why he’s still considered a fantastic starter for the Marlins. He allowed just one run in his two starts combined, a total of 14 innings, and struck out 22 batters, 11 in each start. Fernandez’s lines were nearly identical in each start, surrendering four hits over seven innings and striking out 11 men. One thing he’ll still want to improve on is his accuracy, as he also issued seven free passes over those two starts.
Wei-Yin Chen also put up some impressive numbers in the K column, fanning 12 hitters in 6.1 innings Wednesday against Milwaukee. Chen is 3-0 in his last four starts, and hasn’t suffered a loss since April 20 against Washington. Tom Koehler was stiffed a decision despite providing a strong 5.2 innings of one run ball against Washington. Koehler’s biggest problem remains to be control, he walked five Nats hitters and struck out just four. He has 27 Ks to 20 BBs on the year, but has looked strong in his last two starts. The Marlins biggest concern on the mound continues to be walks, they’re 3rd in the NL with 154 free passes issued. If they can cut down on the free base runners, they might save themselves a few runs here and there, which can add up at the end of a ballgame.
Miami plays three games in Philly starting Monday before hosting Washington for the final time before the All-Star Break over the weekend.
5. Atlanta Braves (9-27) 13 GB
The Braves now have the only rotation in baseball made up entirely of players 25 years old or younger. They traded Jhoulys Chacin to the Angels on Wednesday and will now be showing off nothing but young guns from this point onward in the rotation. Atlanta got two wins over the week, which, all things considered, isn’t terrible for them. At this point it really isn’t about wins and losses either, it’s about getting experience to the now entirely young pitching staff. Whether this experience will be used for the Braves or to establish trade pieces as the deadline approaches is yet to be seen.
While Freddie Freeman might be one of the most tantalizing pieces of trade bait the Braves have, the organization has repeatedly announced that they have no interest in trading their staple at first base. That may due, in part, to the fact that he’s providing more power for that team than the rest of the players combined. Then doubled. Freeman’s two homers last week moves his season total up to six. The rest of the Atlanta bats had an off week, even by their standards. Nick Markakis hit just .087 on the week. Recently activated Gordon Beckham did well; he tied for a team best three RBI last week and hit .316.
The pitching should be the main focus for Atlanta right now, and not just because they’re in a division that’s been so reliant on it this season. With nothing but young guys starting for the foreseeable future, the team has the potential to weed out those they want to keep and those they want to trade. The bulk of the rotation did look stronger last week: Mike Foltynewicz turned in his best outing of the season, and notched his first win of the year last week. He went eight shutout innings in Kansas City against the Royals. After a rough first start against the Mets, Foltynewicz’s last two starts have both been quality outings, and have looked impressive.
Williams Perez made his first start in nearly a month against the Phillies on Wednesday, and it was by far his best. He went eight innings and allowed just two hits, one of them a solo homer. Julio Teheran picked up another loss on Friday at Kansas City, but it was due to both a lack of offense, and an error by the right fielder Jeff Francoeur. With Freeman supposedly off the table, Teheran may be the Braves most valuable trade piece right now. While his record is an ugly 0-4, he’s looked very good in the month of May, allowing just two earned runs in three starts, including a shutout seven innings against the World Series favorite Cubs.
Matt Wisler continued to look strong, despite going 0-1 in two starts last week. He went eight innings in a losing effort to the Phillies and another 7.1 of two run ball against the Royals on Sunday, but didn’t factor in the decision. Aaron Blair is still experiencing some growing pains in his first year in The Bigs, lasting just 3.2 against the Phillies on Thursday. This rotation is young, however, and even the most veteran of pitchers have rough outings every now and then, so as long as the Braves are able to turn these outings into quality learning experiences for their young starters, then the results don’t hurt quite as much.