In the game of baseball, no position is as praised or scrutinized as the pitcher. The pitcher has to ward off batter after batter and keep as many off base as possible. The pitcher also has to work with varying amounts of run support in the process. For those few who are the coolest under this kind of pressure, the Cy Young Award awaits.
This watch will highlight some of the early favorites to win the coveted hardware in 2018. Will there be a new, young ace reigning supreme? Will there be a veteran looking to expand his trophy case? These are some notable aces making their cases this season.
Cy Young Award Watch: American League
(Photo from Sports Illustrated)
The Houston Astros house several pitchers off to a great start, as well as the first stop of this Cy Young Award watch. Picking just one from this bunch was difficult, but ultimately, Charlie Morton takes the marginal lead here.
Yes, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole boast lower ERAs than Morton (both below 2.00). However, Morton has more wins and an undefeated record to his name.
Morton has no doubt found his footing in Houston, rocking a 19-7 combined record in his two seasons as an Astro. As a pitching unit, the Astros lead the American League in ERA and batting average surrendered. Morton’s role has become a huge part of this feat.
Over in the AL East, Luis Severino of the New York Yankees has entered the conversation as well. The 24-year-old has tallied a 6-1 record on the mound this season. He has also surrendered a meager 2.14 ERA in his nine starts this season. Severino’s arm has more than helped the Pinstripes as they look to take over the division. If he can remain hot, he will end up in many more All-Star rosters and Cy Young Award conversations to come.
Another AL East arm to keep an eye on for the hardware is Boston’s Rick Porcello. Though Chris Sale holds a better ERA, Porcello remains undefeated this season. Porcello retains a 2.79 ERA, plus a 5-0 record in 51 2/3 innings pitched. Porcello and the rest of the Red Sox rotation will need to stay hot with their archrivals on their tail. As for Porcello, a second Cy Young Award to his name would not hurt.
Cy Young Award Watch: National League
Over in the NL East, The Washington Nationals are now on a tear. In the NL Cy Young conversation, Max Scherzer is among the first names to pop up. It is not very hard to see why.
(Photo from SI.com)
“Mad Max” currently sports a 7-1 record, along with the second lowest ERA in the National League.
But it does not stop there. Scherzer’s ERA has been below 2.00 in each of his starts this season. The 33-year-old ace is now eyeing a third Cy Young Award in a row, which would be the fourth of his career.
Another NL East name has entered the fray, from the Philadelphia Phillies. Meet right-hander Aaron Nola.
The 24-year-old has put together a 6-1 record with a 1.99 ERA this season. Not to mention he is undefeated in the month of May with a 0.89 ERA. Nola has shown significant improvement throughout his career. It is very likely he will be at the All-Star game in D.C. But if Nola can remain this imposing from the mound, the Cy Young Award, and possibly a playoff spot, will be a sight for the sore eyes of the Phillies faithful.
Over in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are fighting for the division with Milwaukee and Pittsburgh (all within only 0.5 games of each other). Pitcher Miles Mikolas of the Cards has done his part to keep the Cards in the race. Mikolas boasts a 5-0 record with a 2.51 ERA this season. He has also yielded a mere .233 batting average in his seven starts. With pitchers like Mikolas on board, the St. Louis pitching staff has become one the most ferocious rotations in the big leagues, with the third lowest ERA in baseball.
As the Seasons continues…
There are plenty of candidates worthy to be mentioned in the Cy Young Award conversation. At any time, unknown faces can become household names, if not take over the spotlight completely. As the season continues, the race for the playoffs, as well as yearly player accolades, will intensify with time.
Featured image from Baseball-Almanac.com
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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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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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2017: 91-71 (second place in AL East, first in Wild Card)
Last postseason appearance: 2017
Last World Series title: 2009
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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With all of the talk surrounding Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani, some free agents have been lost in the mix. Eric Hosmer is an intriguing name on the market and could prove to be helpful for many teams. Here are the top destinations for the All-Star first baseman.
Boston Red Sox
Boston has emerged as a favorite to land Eric Hosmer (Photo by ESPN.com)
First base was not a strong spot for Boston in 2017. Mitch Moreland was serviceable, but not much else. He was able to mash 22 home runs and brought in a 2.0 WAR. He was a plus fielder, however he is a free agent now and it does not look like he will be returning to Boston.
Eric Hosmer would make a lot of sense for the Red Sox. With the hole they have at first base and a need to bolster their lineup, Hosmer could provide a more reliable bat in that lineup. He is a guy Boston could count on to drive in 100 runs and knock 20 home runs along with a .280+ average.
The Red Sox GM, Dave Dombrowski, is also known for bringing in big name free agents. He is currently focused on trading for Giancarlo Stanton, but the first backup he should look at is Hosmer. A splash like Hosmer could really energize Boston and have them competing with the Yankees for AL East supremacy yet again.
The one caveat to signing Hosmer is his price. Hosmer is only 28 years old, so he still has a good amount of time left of being in a batter’s prime. He will be looking to sign a long term contract though, potentially around $100 million. Hosmer has shown he deserves that kind of money, the problem with the Red Sox is that they are only $9 million under the luxury tax. It would be ideal to stay under that figure, but Dombrowski and the Red Sox are serious about competing with the Yankees and Astros. It would not be absurd to see Hosmer in Fenway next year.
Kansas City Royals
Eric Hosmer has called Kansas City home since 2011. He has solidified himself as a above average first baseman there as well. Hosmer won a World Series with the Royals in 2015, so he would have no problem sticking around. The problem is that the old Royals core is starting to fade. Hosmer may be on the move, and Lorenzo Cain may be on the move as well.
The Royals have made it clear they want to bring Hosmer back as they do not have a good replacement for him at first base. He is their number one target, and they are hoping that he may be okay with a discount for the team that drafted him.
Hosmer is still likely to go where he is going to make the most money, but it will be interesting to see how much he would really like to stay in Kansas City. His leadership is forefront in their clubhouse. If the Royals were to go into rebuild mode, Hosmer would have a long enough contract to stick around and play well while leading the young new talent into the majors.
St. Louis Cardinals
Carpenter was solid at first in 2017, but he is capable of playing almost anywhere on the field too (SI.com)
The cross-state rivals of the Royals are looking for a big name bat in the middle of their lineup. They already have Matt Carpenter manning the first base position, but the front office has already approached him about being an “everyday utility man”. This means he will basically be playing a different position everyday. This would free up room for Hosmer hypothetically, as they have been looking for a solidified first baseman since Albert Pujols left in 2011.
St. Louis has plenty of money to spend, so Hosmer would be very affordable compared to trading for Stanton or signing J.D. Martinez. That is why this move would make sense.
The one thing that may be holding them back is that Carpenter can still play first base, but even if he is not there, they can plug in Jose Martinez. Martinez broke out at the end of last year as one of the best rookies in the league. Martinez is already 29 years old, but he was still able to hit 14 home runs and had a .309 average despite only playing in 106 games.
New York Yankees
The Yankees, much like the Red Sox, have a luxury tax problem at the moment. However, first base may be their weakest position in their lineup at the moment. Nobody was able to really solidify themselves as the Yankees first baseman in 2017. Brian Cashman says Greg Bird is the future at fist base, but if they want to compete for a championship, they may have to look elsewhere for help.
New York is not shy to bring in veteran free agents. Not to mention, it is always a perk to keep them from their rival in Boston. Hosmer would serve as an excellent compliment to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, as well as provide stability at first base for the next five to seven years.
The Yankees do have a young core in Severino, Judge, Sanchez, and Gregorius. That is what may make them more likely to wait out for Bryce Harper potentially as he will hit the market next year. 2018 will be an impressive draft class, so it may be worth to wait.
Where will he go?
Hosmer will likely stay in the state of Missouri. The Cardinals would be a likely destination if they are not able to get Martinez or Stanton, so him going there is contingent on those players as well. In all though, it is most likely that he will stay in Kansas City. As stated earlier, it is a top priority for the Royals to keep Hosmer on. They are not close to the luxury tax either, unlike the Yankees and Red Sox.
New York is need for a first baseman the most, but they ought to stick it out with Bird for at least one more year. Brandon Moss would likely take over the roll in KC if Hosmer is to leave, but the Royals don’t necessarily want that. The Royals will have to pay up though as Hosmer may look for this contract to play out for the duration of his career.
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The Houston Astros came from behind in Boston on Monday, becoming the first team to make their way in to a league championship series. They produced some late inning heroics and walked out of Fenway Park 5-4 winners. Avoiding elimination game drama in the division series is one of the most important tasks of any World Series hopeful.
The Los Angeles Dodgers also join the Houston in moving on to the next round of games, sweeping Zack Greinke and Arizona right out of the playoffs. They now await the winner of Chicago versus Washington in the NLCS.
Why it Matters
Elimination games are the proverbial pressure cooker in MLB. There is perhaps nothing that can reduce hardened veterans to looking like a rookie quite like an elimination game. Getting the wins early on in the series is the name of the game.
In all division series that have ever been played, you might think having that deciding game at home would be a big feather in your team’s hat. Surprisingly that’s not the case.
Luis Severino celebrates a huge out against the Cleveland Indians in Game 4. (Photo courtesy of: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports)
In the American league, there have been 17 divisional series elimination games since New York defeated Milwaukee in 1981 at Yankee Stadium. Since that inaugural Game 5, the home team has won nine, whilst the visitors have won eight. It’s a true pick ‘em type of proposition. Nothing could be more disastrous to a 102-win Indians team like losing a pivotal Game Five at home.
This is exactly the position Cleveland now find themselves in after last night’s 7-3 Game Four loss. The season, for both clubs, now rides on a fateful Game 5 showdown on Wednesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
In the National League, the odds are far worse for the home club. There have been 13 Game 5’s in the history of the NL and, get this, the home team has a paltry four wins to the road crew’s nine collective Game 5 triumphs.
When you roll them all together, that’s a cumulative record of 13-17 for the home team in division series elimination games. The games have been played a litter tighter in the AL than in the NL, but those are odds that I’m not at all interested in tempting if it’s my team gunning for the league title.
It would be fair to say this year’s incarnation of the Houston Astros has been brilliant. They pitch, they hit, they hit and they hit. They do a lot of hitting, that would be the main take away here.
Houston has the best team offense in MLB powered by three-time American League batting champion Jose Altuve. The little spark plug had another momentous year taking home the batting title during the regular season. Altuve however, has saved perhaps his best for last in 2017.
Jose Altuve goes deep in ALDS action. (Photo courtesy of: Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)
The slight statured Altuve stands 5-foot-6, but he might have the sweetest stroke in the game this side of Tony Gwynn. The work he’s doing this postseason is shaping up to be legendary. If Altuve continues to hit at the torrid pace he’s thus far established, his could be one of the best performances of all-time in postseason play.
Like, Lloyd McClendon in 1992 good. For the Pirates that year, McClendon set the record for postseason batting average. He hit .727 in 16 plate appearances over five games. Of course, with the difference in the amount of games the playoffs entail post-1994, McClendon’s record is probably safe for all times.
Red Sox pitching finally solved Altuve in Game Four at Fenway Park. As a result, his average plummeted to a “meager” .533. However, the sweet-swinging righty did manage to push across the game’s first run. Albeit he did so by grounding into a double play. Altuve won’t get credit in the box score for an RBI, but that run is no less important in the bigger picture.
Houston has come from off the deck not once, but twice. They’ve showed real resolve for a team with World Series aspirations. The Astros are for real.
What can be said about the Dodgers that hasn’t already been said?
Los Angeles is certainly looking like the team that finished 2017 with the game’s best record. The Dodgers won 104 games during the regular season and has just kept on winning. And they are fresh off the only sweep in division series play this postseason, taking down Arizona 3-1 last night.
Cody Bellinger had a huge Game 3, hitting a his first postseason homer and making this spectacular catch. (Photo courtesy of: fanragsports.com)
The best part of L.A. getting the sweep last night, is they get the extra rest for the pitching staff leading in to the NLCS. This could be the biggest advantage the Dodgers have. With the way Yu Darvish was throwing last night, the Dodgers are going to be a tough out this year. He looked strong.
Also, Count on perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw being ready to rock and roll come Game 1 of the NLCS. Take that to the bank. He’s easily been the most dominant pitcher of the last decade. Kershaw just needs some postseason glory to fully cement his status as living legend. Apparently his evil sorcery on the mound isn’t already enough.
Right now it appears the pitching for L.A. is getting stronger. Sure-fire Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger is finding his playoff power stroke. And the rest of the lineup just continues to hit. There really is no question that the Dodgers are starting to play excellent baseball at the right time.
Dodgers fans are hoping for better tidings this year in the NLCS. This will mark the fifth appearance in the league championship series for Los Angeles since 2008. Is this the year L.A. takes it home?
The Rest of the Field
The Cubs lead their division series with Washington, two games to one after taking another closely pitched game 2-1. With 2016 playoffs hero Jake Arrieta taking the hill, Chicago has a chance to slam the door on this series at home. Washington and Chicago square off later today (5:30 EST) at Wrigley Field.
Anthony Rizzo is the difference maker as he bloops a vital RBI single for Chicago in the eighth inning of an epic Game 4 showdown. (Photo courtesy of: AP/David Banks)
The division series between Washington and Chicago stands out because of the pitching. While the rest of the league should be considering protective netting around the outfield bleachers, pitchers in this series have been throwing well. The craziest game in the series has been the 6-3 Nationals win in Game 2. Whoa guys, slow down!
Don’t count Washington out yet though! This team has more than enough life in that pitching staff to put the clamps on any offense. The Cubs will be looking to seal the series tonight and stave off a dreaded Game 5. Washington on the other hand, will be looking to force a Game 5 meet-up in Washington D.C. for Thursday.
The Indians meanwhile, are now in a situation where the series comes back to Cleveland for Game 5. The silver lining for Indians fans is that staff ace Corey Kluber is bringing it back on the mound. Kluber will be looking for the win, but it remains to be seen whether that alone will be enough. It’s why they play the games.
There is no discernible trend of good outcomes for hosting an elimination game in the divisional round. In these types of sudden death meetings, home field advantage counts for very little.
(feature photo courtesy of: Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe)
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Before the start of the NFL season, we already knew a few teams that had no shot at winning the Super Bowl, never mind clinching a spot in the postseason. Once the season began, the Bears, 49ers and Browns all had virtually no chance of making the playoffs.
The NBA is even worse. Due to the super teams, only a handful of squads have an opportunity to reach the Finals. According to ESPN’s NBA Basketball Power Index, the Lakers, Kings, Suns, Pacers, Knicks, Nets, Hawks and Bulls have less than a five percent chance to make the postseason. Keep in mind the season has not even started, and eight teams are already considered irrelevant. Another 12 or so teams, who could make the playoffs, have little to no chance at winning the championship.
2016 was a year to forget for Joe Mauer and the Twins (AaronGleeman.com)
In 2016, with a record of 59-103, the Minnesota Twins finished with the worst record in baseball. Today, the Twins will be playing the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. Minnesota became the second team in MLB history to have the number one pick in the MLB Draft and make the playoffs in the same year.
The 2008 Rays, who competed in the World Series, were the only other team to accomplish this outlandish feat. The Twins are also the first team to lose 100 games and then go to the playoffs the next year.
Imagine if the Nets or Browns made the playoffs this year. Except, what the Twins did is even crazier because in the NBA, 53.3 percent of teams make the postseason, and in the NFL, 37.5 percent make it. Only 33 percent of the 30 MLB teams get the chance to compete in October.
A 59-win team just made the playoffs the next year, with essentially the same exact roster. America’s pastime allows all 30 franchises to have a shot at reaching the postseason, while the other major sports can eliminate teams before the first game. So how exactly did the Twins manage to do this?
They learned how to field
At the end of the 2016 MLB season, the Minnesota Twins tallied 126 errors, which was good for worst in the league. In just 80 games on the field, Miguel Sano led the team with 18 errors. In 60 games, Jorge Polanco was right behind Sano, racking up 15.
This season, Minnesota finished first in the AL in fielding percentage. They made 48 less errors than in 2016. In 88 games, Sano cut his errors in half. Max Kepler and Byron Buxton both finished in the top five in total zone runs for their positions. According to Baseball Reference’s definition, total zone runs is “the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made.”
The best defensive centerfielder, Byron Buxton (Star Tribune)
A major factor for the Twins having the opportunity to play the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS is Byron Buxton. Defensively, nobody is better in centerfield than the 23-year-old from Georgia.
The former number two overall pick in the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft, Buxton led all centerfielders in total zone runs, and finished third in defensive runs saved (DRS), which is, “how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position” (Fangraphs). Buxton’s 24 DRS was the most among centerfielders. The Twins 2016 leader in DRS was Joe Mauer, with six.
Nobody covers more ground than this kid. Buxton’s .951 Revised Zone Rating, or “the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out” was the best in the majors (Hardball Times). He also ranked top five in out of zone plays, OOZ, which measure the number of plays a fielder makes on balls that were considered out of his zone.
Byron Buxton’s 2017 Defensive Ranks
RANK AMONG CF’S
1ST (3RD OVERALL)
DEFENSIVE RUNS SAVED
1ST (3RD OVERALL)
REVIZED ZONE RATING
1ST (1ST OVERALL)
OUT OF ZONE PLAYS
2ND (5TH OVERALL)
1ST (2ND OVERALL)
PLUS MINUS RUNS SAVED
1ST (3RD OVERALL)
TOTAL ZONE RUNS
1ST (1ST OVERALL)
They hit for a better averagE
Last year’s Twins team really wasn’t that bad on offense. For all AL teams, they finished fifth in steals, fifth in walks, fourth in doubles, eighth in homers and first in triples. The problems stemmed from their averages, as well as an inability to score with runners on.
Minnesota finished 11th in batting average in and 11th in on base percentage in 2016. In 2017, the Twins finished fourth in both of those categories. Miguel Sano, who finished last year with a .236 batting average, ended the year at .264. The legend, Joe Mauer, had a rough 2016 and only hit .261. This year, Mauer led Minnesota with a .305 batting average. Buxton’s average also rose nearly 30 points.
Eddie Rosario took the biggest leap of all the Twins. In 2016, Rosario hit .269 with only 10 home runs and 32 RBIs. His breakout 2017 stat line included a .290 average, 27 home runs and 78 RBIs.
2016-2017 Minnesota Twins Offensive Ranks
2016 AL RANK
2017 AL RANK
RUNS WITH MEN IN SCORING POSITION AND TWO OUTS
BATTING AVERAGE WITH RUNNERS ON
BATTING AVERAGE WITH BASED LOADED
The Pitching improved
The 2016 Twins finished dead last in the AL in hits allowed, runs allowed, home runs allowed, earned runs, shutouts and saves. In regards to saves, the Twins only had 26 of them, and converted a save 56.6 percent of the time. It’s pretty hard to be worse than that.
5 complete games, 3 shoutouts for Ervin Santana (Sporting News)
This year’s Twins pitchers weren’t great, but they were much better. After posting a 5.08 ERA in 2016, they bounced back with a 4.59 ERA, which isn’t great, but they were able to knock off about half a run per game. The bullpen racked up 40 saves, and converted 66.7 percent of them.
Ervin Santana was the Twins’ best pitcher in 2017. He finished the year 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA. He was the only Twins pitcher to throw over 200 innings. The Twins finished second in the AL in complete games and shutouts. Santana ranked first in the league with five complete games, and also first in shutouts with three.
The Magical Run continues
With virtually the same roster, the Minnesota Twins were able to win 27 more games than they did in 2016. The MLB is the only sport in which the worst team of the previous year can make a run at the postseason with the same players. In a power surge year, the Twins only hit six more home runs this year than in 2016. The pitching was pretty similar both years, and the only thing that changed offensively was timely hitting.
Minnesota, who started the year 22nd in payroll, have a tough task going up against the New York Yankees, who currently rank second in payroll. Fortunately, this is the MLB, and anything can happen in a one game playoff. Ervin Santana will be on the bump, facing Luis Severino. Whether Minnesota wins or loses, their season was an absolute success, and proved that every team has a shot in the MLB. It is fair to say that coach Paul Molitor will be earning a few votes for AL Manager of the Year.
Featured image by MPR News
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As the final chapter of MLB’s regular season comes to a close, a new chapter in baseball’s postseason lore is about to be written. Baseball fans are about to witness the MLB Postseason 2017 wild card bonanza!
The one game “play in” scenario is in its sixth season and there is no shortage of drama. We have an upstart young group in Minnesota heading in to Ruth’s house. Then we have division foes Colorado traveling to the desert to face the Diamondbacks. In the match-ups between slugger and pitcher, something’s got to give.
Before we turn the page to both the ALDS and NLDS however, we must first crown our two fully fledged members of the playoff court. When the dust settles, who will have slain the wild card dragon?
During the regular season the Yankees owned the head to head match up with four wins from six games. Each team bagged the home series as Minnesota took two of three from New York in Minneapolis, while New York swept the Twins right out of Yankee Stadium.
Why Minnesota wins:
The Minnesota Twins are hoping to ride another 85-win season to Wold Series glory like in 1987. (Photo courtesy of: sportslogos.net)
Minnesota, while not being world beaters by any stretch of the imagination, are a team that just finds a way to get it done. Finishing in the final wild card spot on the back of an 85-win season is a heck of a turnabout from their diabolical 59-win output a year ago. Included in those 85 wins is a (44-37) road record, which is better than how they fared at Target Field (41-40).
This is the Twins’ saving grace. They have been a slightly better road team this year than they have played at home. In a one game do or die situation on the road they will rely on their best pitcher, Ervin Santana, put together a strong outing. Last time he faced New York, Santana pitched 5.1 innings of two run ball, but the Twins found themselves on the wrong end of the box score losing 2-1.
If the Twins can get to Severino early and Santana can use his veteran guile and steady hand to silence the Yankee bats, they will win this game. The good news for the Twins is that all the pressure is off of them and lies squarely at the feet of New York.
Why New York wins:
Because… well, they are New York. They have a team that is loaded to bear and could do some tremendous damage in the postseason. They have a pitching staff anchored by the amazing young righthander, Luis Severino and a lineup bolstered by baseball bashing phenom, Aaron Judge.
Let’s face it. Most people probably expect the Yankees to walk away with this game and they might be right to think that come Wednesday.The Yankees are better in almost every category, though these teams offensively are much closer than you might expect.
Luis Severino will challenge any hitter brave enough to dig in against him. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
The true difference that separates these clubs is pitching. New York has the fifth ranked pitching staff in all of MLB, and the Twins will get a taste of that when they face Severino on Tuesday. This young hurler is a strikeout artist in the making, and the Twins will most certainly be on their heels (or swinging from them).
And then there is Aaron Judge. What hasn’t already been said about this guy? He’s probably put together the greatest (arguably!) rookie season in the history of baseball. He will be looking to double down on his already growing reputation by stamping his name on Yankee postseason history like the greats that came before him.
Look, I love an underdog and Minnesota is just that. New York will be heavy favorites but I’m taking Minnesota to win 5-4. On the back of a big day for the returning Miguel Sano, the Twins will find enough juice to do the unthinkable; break the Yankee Mystique.
Colorado edged out the Milwaukee Brewers by a slim margin to set up a fateful meeting between two teamsthat see each other often. Arizona leads the 19-game season series (11-8), but the teams split the season in Arizona winning five games each. The Rockies will be looking to turn the tables on Cy Young candidate Zack Grienke and his Diamondbacks teammates.
Why Colorado wins:
Charlie Blackmon runs the bases in his spare time… probably. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Their offense. Colorado has some nice young pitchers who may well bloom in to a fine staff, but the name of the game for the Rockies is scoring runs and they do it well.
It’s not often you will see a lineup that boasts not one but two candidates for league MVP, but this is exactly what Colorado has in 3B Nolan Arenado and CF Charlie Blackmon. Arenado (.309/.373/.586) mashed 37 long balls and drove in 130 runs to keep with the tradition of strong seasons he’s already compiled. While Blackmon (.331/.399/.601) sent his own set of 37 baseballs into the lucky arms of those ball-wanting bleacher bums in the outfield cheap seats.
Jon Gray has been the best pitcher in Colorado’s (shaky at times) rotation. This 25-year-old hurler is the best chance they have at beating Arizona in a one-off game at Chase Field. In his last 11 starts, Gray is (7-2) with a 2.44 ERA.
Why Arizona wins:
Zack Greinke. If Greinke has his best stuff, it’s going to take a Harvey Haddix-esque fluke to derail Arizona’s hopes in this game. Greinke dominates with a heavy heater and a knee buckling curve that, year after year, make the best look weak. Over his last 11 starts though, he’s been a tad shaky at (4-3) with a 3.95 ERA. Of course, when those competitive juices get going though, Greinke should be able to get dialed right in.
Few are as overpowering as the hard throwing Zack Greinke, but hey batter, watch out for the hammer. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Also in Arizona, you will find an offense that can score at will. If they are feeling the groove at the plate, look out. Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldshchmidt has put together a MVP caliber (.297/.404/.563) season in the arid climes of Phoenix. In a crowded field though, Goldschmidt is a dark horse contender for the NL MVP. He likely won’t take home that hardware, but it doesn’t make his 120 RBI any less valuable to the fans or his team.
For those that don’t know, Arizona won it all in 2001. Backed by a pitching staff bolstered by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Diamondback fans will be hoping to catch a little of that lightning in a bottle once again in 2017.
Greinke is too tough to solve for the Rockies. Zack’s recent run of performances haven’t looked that great, but giving up eight runs in a four inning outing will tend to do that. At any rate, Greinke rebounds with a dominant seven innings and the Diamnondbacks win 6-3 on a late Goldschmidt three-run tater.
(feature photo courtesy of: Boston CBS)
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In week four of our fantasy baseball 2017 update, we will continue to notify owners about which players are hot, or cold, and whether they will continue to trend in that direction. The previous weekly updates can be found at thegamehaus.com/fantasy.
Trea Turner, Shortstop, Washington Nationals
14 for 33 with 13 runs scored, two home runs, 11 RBI, and one stolen base.
Trea Turner has a bright future, but what is his ceiling? (Courtesy of Federal Baseball)
Turner is off to a torrid pace after recovering from a hamstring injury that landed him on the 10-day disabled list. The 23-year-old is currently batting .333 with 14 runs scored, two home runs, 13 RBI, and four stolen bases in only 14 games. His elite production can not only be attributed to his innate athletic ability, but also to the Nationals star studded lineup, as teammates Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy are all top three in National League RBI totals.
The first-round pick in 2014 is a massive part of Washington’s future, and according to manager Dusty Baker, looks like “Ricky Henderson”, as he has an incredible combination of power and speed. He has 16 home runs and 39 stolen bases in only 428 major-league plate appearances. The potential to be a top 10 fantasy player is real for Turner, who will be a staple atop the Nationals’ order for the next decade.
Ivan Nova, Starting Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
2-0, allowing one earned run on seven hits and one walk, with 14 strikeouts, in 16 innings pitched.
Nova came over to Pittsburgh from the New York Yankees in 2016. Prior to becoming a Pirate, he had a career 4.41 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 729 innings pitched. After joining Pittsburgh, Nova managed to decline his ERA to 2.50 and WHIP to 0.97 in 100 2/3 innings. The Pirates coaching staff, more specifically pitching coach Ray Searage, are famous for turning average pitchers into All-Stars, as average arms like A.J. Burnett, Zach Duke, Kevin Correia, and Jeff Locke found their way to All-Stars games while in the Pirates uniform.
The 30-year-old is coming off a “Greg Maddux” performance, which is a baseball term used to describe a complete game shutout consisting of 99 pitches or less. Nova has gotten off to an incredible start in 2017, sporting a 1.50 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. He will continue to find success, as his next start is at home against the struggling Cincinnati Reds.
Matt Kemp is healthy and ready to make an impact in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors)
Matt Kemp, Outfielder, Atlanta Braves
8 for 23 with five runs scored, four home runs, and 11 RBI.
Kemp has finally returned after being placed on the 10-day DL with a right hamstring strain on April 11th. He has been a consistent producer of 89 RBI or more since 2014, and looks to continue that trend this season. Kemp, along with Freddie Freeman, will be high-level producers as they anchor the Braves lineup.
Since 2014, the 32-year-old has a .273 batting average, 246 runs scored, 83 home runs, and 297 RBI in 472 games. Kemp’s hot start in 2017 will continue as long as he can stay on the field. He has played over 150 games in each of the last three seasons, so injury concerns should not be too disconcerting either.
Luis Severino, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees
1-0, allowing zero earned runs on three hits and two walks, with six strikeouts, in seven innings pitched.
Severino started 11 games in 2016, resulting in an atrocious 5.83 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 71 innings pitched. After being demoted to AAA, he started 13 games and finished the year with a 3.36 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, putting him back on track, as he had a career minor-league ERA of 2.51 and WHIP of 1.06.
In 2017, the 23-year-old broke spring training with the Yankees, and hasn’t looked back. He is currently 2-1, allowing only nine earned runs, with 33 strikeouts, in 27 innings pitched. Severino had similar success in 2015, and looks to be the long-term answer for a questionable Yankees rotation.
Ryan Zimmerman, First Baseman, Washington Nationals
Ryan Zimmerman is off to a torrid start in 2017 (Alex Brandon/AP Photo).
12 for 24 with nine runs scored, six home runs, and 13 RBI.
Zimmerman, a three time MVP candidate, two-time Silver Slugger, and runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year, is on pace to have the best season of his career. The 32-year-old has a league-leading .410 batting average, 34 hits, 11 home runs, and 27 RBI.
He has completely healed from his 2016 wrist injury, which may be the first time he is fully healthy since 2013. The sky is the limit for Zimmerman, who is batting behind former MVP Bryce Harper, and All-Star Daniel Murphy.
Jason Kipnis, Second Baseman, Cleveland Indians
3 for 20 with one run scored, zero home runs, and zero RBI.
Kipnis has finally returned from an early-April rehab assignment, which was extended until late-April after he was hit by a pitch. He has been off to a slow start, as he only has four hits in his first 27 at-bats.
The 30-year-old has been a stable producer at the top half of the Indians order for years, and should pick things up sooner than later. He is a career .271 hitter, who had set a career high in home runs just a year ago, with 23. Do not give up on Kipnis, as he is a proven producer in one of the league’s top lineups.
Tyler Anderson is a young stud off to a rough start in 2017. (Courtesy of Purple Row)
0-0, allowing 10 earned runs on 13 hits and four walks, with seven strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings pitched.
Anderson has struggled in all six of his starts so far in 2017, although I believe it is too early to give up on the 27-year-old. He has a career minor-league ERA of 2.38, WHIP of 1.10, and K/9 of 7.4. Clearly the potential is there, but his early struggles have caused owners to drop him at alarming rates.
The first-round pick in 2011 has faced the Dodgers twice, the Nationals, Giants, Brewers, and Diamondbacks so far in 2017. Four of these five teams have top 12 scoring offenses, while three of them are ranked one, two, and three consecutively. Anderson will find success in 2017 as he battles lesser talented lineups and adjusts to his first full big-league season.
Chris Davis, First Baseman, Baltimore Orioles
3 for 19 with two runs scored, zero home runs, and one RBI.
The two-time league leader in home runs has gotten off to a cold start in 2017. He has only three home runs and five RBI in 22 games played. Davis, as a career .238 hitter, often has hot and cold streaks, so his lack of production should not be too worrisome.
The 31-year-old has hit a total of 200 home runs in 765 games over the last five seasons, which makes him one of a handful of 40 home run potential players in Major League Baseball.
Adam Conley, Starting Pitcher, Miami Marlins
0-1, allowing nine earned runs on five hits and three walks, with two strikeouts, in 1 2/3 innings pitched.
Can Conely improve his ratios enough to become fantasy relevant in 2017? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)
Conley, someone who I was very high on entering 2017, has gotten off to a shaky start. He is currently 1-2, after allowing 15 earned runs, with 16 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings pitched.
The 26-year-old has a minor-league career ERA of 3.52, which earned him the right of 25 major league starts in 2016, where he managed to have a sub-four ERA, with 124 strikeouts in 133 1/3 innings pitched.
The strikeout potential is there, although his control remains an issue, as he has a career K/9 of 8.1 and WHIP of 1.37. Conley makes his next start on Wednesday in Tampa Bay, where he should get back on track after pitching only 1 1/3 innings against the Pirates in his last start.
Stephen Vogt, Catcher, Oakland Athletics
3 for 19 with zero runs scored, zero home runs, and zero RBI.
Vogt, a career .253 hitter, is off to a horrendous start in 2017, batting .210 with only one home run and three RBI. The Athletics catcher has seen the majority share of playing time over the last two seasons, as he has played in at least 135 games each year.
The 32-year-old has been an important piece of Oakland’s lineup, as he has mustered up 33 home runs and 130 RBI in his last 291 games. As long as Vogt is healthy, he should continue to see the majority of starts behind the plate in 2017.
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