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 first month of the 2018 MLB season is approaching its final act. The league has seen struggling teams and players trying to find their footing. But on the flip side, we have seen several players dominating right out of the gates. Today, we will be taking a look at some of April’s greatest hits.
These greatest hits are a list of some names starting off red hot in the first few weeks of the season. It seems that the league cannot stop talking about them. Repetitive? Maybe. But these names have grabbed the attention of the entire for good reason.
Here are some of my picks of “Player of the Month,” “Rookie of the Month,” and “Manager of the Month” from both the American and National Leagues.
April’s greatest hits: American League
Player of the Month
The New York Yankees are starting to kick it up a notch, winning their last nine games. With a high-powered batting order, it is no coincidence. Leading the charge from the batter’s box is shortstop, Didi Gregorius.
(Photo from wikipedia.com)
Gregorius has caught fire with his bat in April, tallying 10 home runs and 30 RBIs, along with a .340 batting average. He currently leads the AL in RBIs and is tied for the most home runs. As a team, the Pinstripes lead the AL in home runs and RBIs. No. 18 is most certainly a big part of the Yankees offense, which is why he is my pick for “Player of the Month” for April.
Rookie of the Month
My leading candidate for AL “Rookie of the Month” is Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. I mean, how can it not be him? Ohtani has belted four home runs to go with 12 RBIs this month. On top of that, No. 17 has a 2-1 record on the mound.
Yes, his ERA is over 4.00, but let’s be honest, even the most elite pitchers have a bad day once in a while. To call this an impressive start to Ohtani’s rookie season would be an understatement.
Manager of the Month
Returning to the AL East, the Boston Red Sox remain at the top. The Red Sox have a stingy fielding corps, a relentless batting crew and a formidable pitching rotation.
They also have my pick for “Manager of the Month” for April. In his first as skipper, Alex Cora has played almost every note perfectly in 2018. Cora has found ways to keep winning, and has adapted to most situations. Boston now boasts the best record in the AL, but with the rival Yankees on a tear, Cora will have to keep up the winning ways.
April’s greatest hits: National League
Player of the Month
My pick for “Player of the Month” comes from the pitcher’s mound. It was not an easy decision to make, but Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals takes my vote. The 33-year-old righty has tallied a 5-1 record and a 1.62 ERA. In addition, opposing teams have only managed to scrape up a .156 batting average against him. The three-time Cy Young award winner is eyeing a fourth, and it is not hard to see why.
Rookie of the Month
The San Diego Padres are struggling to find momentum in the NL West. But one Padre has stood as a one bright spot at the batter’s box. Third baseman Christian Villanueva is my pick for the National League “Rookie of the Month.”
(Photo from USA Today)
Villanueva has caught fire with his bat. So far, he has eight home runs and 18 RBIs to his name. He also boasts a .329 batting average.
The rest of the Padres, however, will need to wake up. San Diego, as a team, has put together a .228 batting average, which is 13th out of 15 NL squads.
Manager of the Month
The Arizona Diamondbacks hold a healthy lead in the NL West. Manager Torey Lovullo has steered the team in the right direction since taking over last season. Not to mention he manned the helm and took the team to the Wild Card last season.
Returning to the playoffs may not seem so difficult if Lovullo can keep it up. With the team at 19-8, the best record in the NL, Lovullo and company have substantial momentum to build off of for the next games to come.
a new month approaches
Several great players have struck it big in April. These names a few of April’s greatest hits. As May approaches, some players look to remain hot, while others look to break out of their cold streaks. But like everyone else, I cannot wait to see who kicks it into gear in May.
Featured image from Wikipedia
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Although all 30 MLB teams have played no more than five games, now is a perfect time to overreact to the results of the first weekend in the 2018 season. Below, we have seven early takeaways that may, or may not, matter.
1. Houston does not appear to have any World Series hangover
The Astros kept the momentum going into 2018, as they took three out of four from the Texas Rangers to kick off their season. George Springer led off the season with a home run, and Houston’s offense forced the Rangers starters to average 18.1 pitches per inning. In the four games, Houston scored 22 runs.
Carlos Correa is off to a tremendous start, hitting .438 with four runs, a home run and five RBIs. Correa showed his ability to hit both lefties and righties on Saturday, when he roped a double off Matt Moore and later homered off Jesse Chavez.
Correa’s double-play partner and 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve, is off to a sizzling start as well. After going hitless on Opening Day, Altuve collected two hits in Game 2, four on Saturday and three more on Easter. The second baseman is batting .563 with five runs scored.
In his Astros Debut, Gerrit Cole did not disappoint. On Sunday, he pitched seven strong innings and allowed just one run on two hits while striking out 11 batters. The 11 punch-outs is the most for Cole since 2014.
2. Washington probably has the best roster in the NL
Albeit against the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals showed how dominate their arms are, as well as how potent their offense can be. Washington started the season with a 2-0 win, and proceeded to score 19 runs over their next two games, en route to sweeping the Reds. The Nats leads the NL with nine home runs.
Bryce Harper slugged two home runs on Sunday. (Photo from The Washington Post)
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez had a combined 0.98 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. Keep in mind, these were three of the top four pitchers in terms of WAR in 2017.
A healthy Adam Eaton may be the difference maker in Washington’s lineup. Eaton is batting .615 with seven runs scored, two home runs and five RBIs. On Saturday, Eaton went 5-for-5, and became the fourth player since 2010 to have five hits, two doubles, one home run, four runs, and at least three RBIs.
Last season, in the 23 games with Eaton and Trea Turner hitting ahead of him, Bryce Harper batted .405 with 25 RBIs. On Sunday, Harper clubbed a pair of home runs and ended the series batting .400 with three runs scored and four RBIs. If this Nats team can stay healthy, there is no reason for them not to win around 100 games.
3. Are the Braves ready for a playoff run in 2018?
Most people expected Atlanta to continue to improve in 2018, but I don’t think anyone imagined them scoring 27 runs in three games, including a 15-2 romping of the Phillies on Saturday.
Atlanta’s offense was led by Freddie Freeman, who has already drawn seven walks in three games, which is good for most in the league. Freeman has scored at least one run in each of the first three games. Ryan Flaherty, a career .219 hitter, batted .538 with three doubles and five runs scored, while Nick Markakis drove in five runs and walked four times.
Obviously Flaherty will cool off, but if Atlanta can get some production out of their staff, as well as some magic from Ronald Acuna when he is called up, don’t sleep on a Wild Card berth for the Braves.
4. 2018 could be the year in which Boston’s big three all perform
In 2016, Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award, going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. The following season, Porcello lost 17 games and gave up more home runs than anyone, allowed the second most hits and finished fifth in earned runs. After a shaky 2016, David Price was injured almost all of 2017, making just 11 starts. Chris Sale, who was acquired before the start of the 2017 season, was tremendous last season, but had no help.
The lines for Boston’s three starters against Tampa Bay:
Sale – 6 innings, 1 H, 0 ER, 9 SO
Price – 7.0 innings, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BBs, 5 SO
Porcello – 5.1 innings, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO
5. Cain and Yelich look good in Milwaukee
The Brewers, who swept the Padres to start the season, have to be happy about the performance of their two new outfielders, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Cain collected multiple hits in each of the first three games, including two three-hit performances. He is batting .571 with three steals. On Saturday, Yelich went a perfect 5-for-5 and scored four runs with three RBIs in the series.
With Jimmy Nelson out, the Brewers will rely heavily on Chase Anderson to carry the load. He opened the year with a wonderful start, throwing six shutout innings with six strikeouts. The Brewers bullpen, in 15.2 innings of work, posted a 1.72 ERA with a 10.91 K/9.
6. Will Ohtani and the Angels reach the postseason?
Aside from the one bad pitch to Matt Chapman, which resulted in a three-run home run, Shohei Ohtani’s highly anticipated MLB pitching debut was a success. He earned the win and struck out six batters while walking just one in six innings.
Ohtani earned the win in his pitching debut against Oakland. (Photo from The Mercury News)
The Angels, who won three out four in Oakland, have to be ecstatic about their new infielder Zack Cozart. Cozart, through the first four games, hit .368 with four extra-base hits, three runs scored and three RBIs. Despite going 0-for-6 on Opening Day, Mike Trout finished the series batting .300 with five runs scored, one home run, one steal and four RBIs.
Tyler Skaggs looked great in his 2018 debut, tossing 6.1 shutout innings without issuing a walk. Skaggs has never thrown more than 113 innings in a season, but if he can stay healthy and perform, this team could make some noise in October.
7. The Dodgers started off 2-2 with just two runs allowed
Staying in Los Angeles, the Dodgers pitching was tremendous against the Giants. In their 36 innings, LA’s pitching staff posted a 0.50 ERA with a .192 opposing batting average. Unfortunately, it took them until the third game of the season to cross home plate. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager went a combined 3-for-24.
Featured image by The Courier
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Philadelphia made the splash many were waiting for on Sunday by signing Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million deal. While it still is a whole lot of money per year, it isn’t the same sort of commitment that Arrieta and his agents were looking for earlier this offseason.
The Cubs originally offered Arrieta the same money they gave Yu Darvish. Arrieta thought he would be able to do better than that, but seeing how this offseason went, teams don’t want to get into any long-term commitments with older free agents anymore.
On the Phillies’ end of the deal, this is a great move. Seeing as they only locked down the ace for three years, they don’t think they are very far off. With the Marlins and Braves hanging out in the cellar of the NL East, things are looking bright for Philly.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. This team won’t be making the postseason this year.
Spring training hype
Can Jake Arrieta rebound in 2018 after a disappointing 2017? (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
As baseball fans, it is hard not to get excited about your team come March. We have been without baseball since October, and now with all the new moves that have been made, there is all sorts of hype around many teams. The issue with this time of year is that many begin to live in a fantasy world with how things may play out.
Going into Opening Day with a positive mindset is always great, but a lot of that positivity centers around the idea that every player under 32 will progress since they have another year under their built. Many players will improve, but some will regress and maybe not have as good of a year as they did in 2017.
The Phillies are certainly a team that looks like it has a whole lot of possibilities right now. Rhys Hoskins proved his worth last year, and now the Phillies have brought in Carlos Santana and Arrieta on very large deals on a per-year basis. The fact of the matter though is that these two guys are not enough to make that leap the Phillies need.
Arrieta is an ace of course, and Aaron Nola is going to be an excellent second starter to back him up. However, lets not forget that the Phillies finished dead last in the NL East with just 66 wins. With a lot of the excitement built around Hoskins, Arrieta and Santana, it is easy to think they add that much value. Are they worth 25 wins between the three of them? Absolutely not.
Yes, many of the young Phillies’ up-and-coming prospects will arrive and improve things, but remember who their most direct competition is.
Harper and the Nats won’t allow the Phils to sneak up on them (Photo from Sports Illustrated)
The fact that the Phillies are in the same division as the Nationals basically eliminates them from having any chance at winning the division this year. The Nationals are still the Nationals. Despite the fact that they have still basically done nothing in the postseason, they still have been one of the very best regular season teams in baseball the past few years.
They still have Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy just to name a few guys. It would be safe to say the Phillies still aren’t even close to being in the same league as these Nats. This means that the Phillies competition is mainly going to come from other Wild Card contenders.
To name a few contenders for the NL Wild Card, there would be the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants, Diamondbacks and Rockies. Heck, the Mets might even be in the thick of it. Do the additions of Arrieta and Santana really cut down the race that much compared to these teams? No, not at all.
It is worth seeing what the Phillies might accomplish in the next couple of years while some of their young prospects still come up. However, if most of the excitement of the team comes from a 32-year-old pitcher with a 3.53 ERA and 1.9 WAR, there shouldn’t be much to be excited about. Not to mention, Santana just hit a notch below .260 with 23 home runs in 2017.
The Phillies didn’t make enough moves to compete for a playoff spot. They did enough to get them out of last place in the East.
Featured image from freebie supply
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The Houston Astros are off to a blistering start taking the opening two-game leg of their Division Series with Boston, winning both games in lopsided fashion 8-2.The Washington Nationals however, find themselves on the ropes early against the Cubs. Of the teams left in this year’s postseason, only Washington and Houston have never brought home a World Series title. This is the World Series baseball fans need.
Why not the Indians
The Indians are a popular pick this year to take home the hardware. After last night’s 13th inning emotional 9-8 win in which the Indians surged back from six runs down, it’s hard to argue they won’t win it all. At least for the moment, they look unbreakable.
Tris Speaker hit 792 career two-baggers, still the most in MLB history. (Photo courtesy of: Charles Conlon / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
While it is true the Indians have a longer drought of championship seasons than both Houston and Washington,the fans in Cleveland still have Bob Feller and the 1948 series. They still have the glory of 1920 when player/manager Tris Speaker, all-time doubles champ, guided the Indians to the title. Behind Speaker’s steady hand, the Indians beat Brooklyn five games to two in a best of nine series.
Cleveland experienced the bitter taste of Game 7 defeat in last year’s World Series against Chicago. What’s more is that it happened on home soil. Ouch. The Indians came oh so close coming off the deck from three runs down and pushing the game into extra’s. It turned out only a tease however, as the Cleveland faithful watched Chicago exorcise that billy-goat voodoo that had kept them down for so long.
The novelty of an Indians World Series resonates with many, but this year we have real chance at seeing something none of us has ever seen. A World Series title in a city that’s never had one. Cleveland has had three shots at the title since 1995, let’s see someone else give it a go.
Why not the Yankees
Futility in Washington… or is it Montreal?
Not wanting to put the horse before the carriage, there is still a long road to travel for both Washington and Houston. Reaching that promised land of World Series glory takes a focus and commitment that few realize. On top of that, it can take an incredibly long time to get there.
And some, like Washington, are still waiting to make their first appearance.
The Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, have more combined city swaps and name changes than they do World Series appearances. They’ve never been there a single time in 48 years of existence, though they were close once.
Gary Carter and some his 1981 Expos teammates pose for a photo prior to first pitch. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)
In 1981 the Expos lost a best-of-five NLCS. Due to the lockout occurring during the middle of the season, the playoff format was restructured. What sprang out of it were the first League Division Series’ in MLB history. All credit to Montreal, they dispatched the Phillies in five games.
This led to their first ever appearance in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It might seem unusual to us now, but until 1985 the League Championship Series were only best-of-five. Montreal lost in that 1981 NLCS series deciding Game 5 by a score of 2-1. Their hopes dashed by a ninth inning blast off the bat of Rick Monday.
The Nationals’ fortunes have been changing lately however. It’s amazing what a stable full of pitchers who are capable of winning a Cy Young Award will do for your hopes of taking home a championship. Washington’s nasty mixture of starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer make up a doomsday rotation that uses opposing bats to build a funeral pyre.
The Nationals can hit the lights out too. They are led by the exceptional Bryce Harper and a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman. Sprinkle in a few good breaks on the diamond and Washington might be cooking up some championship stew in 2017.
Houston has been through a lot this year and that’s putting it lightly. A World Series win would be a welcome distraction from all that has happened, if only for a brief period. It would right the wrong of 2005, when the White Sox were hoisting the trophy before Houston even realized the series was on. The south-siders bounced them in four.
Houston has a spotty playoff history that seems to happen in waves, but this is undoubtedly the best grouping of players since the times of the Killer B’s.
Sweet-swinging Jose Altuve won his third AL batting title this season hitting at a .346 clip. (Photo courtesy of: Baselinetimes.com)
Out is Jeff Bagwell, in is Jose Altuve. The 2017 edition of the Houston Astros is about as complete a team as you will see. If they do have an Achilles’ heel, it will be in the field. This season they rank number 24 of 30 teams in defensive efficiency. If defensive woes are going to be their undoing though, they certainly aren’t showing up right now. This team is playing like a team on a mission.
And it has been a long, hard, cruel road.
Consider this, Houston has had a franchise since their inception as the Colt .45’s in 1962. In the years since, they’ve been renamed as many times as they’ve appeared on baseball’s biggest stage; once. For those scoring at home, that’s 55 years without a title. That’s 55 years yielding only one World Series appearance. It’s time Houston, it’s time.
Should Houston and Cleveland match-up in the ALCS this year, the Indians will make the Astros earn it every step of the way. Unless you count the one-game wild card in 2013 as a sweep, you must go all the way back to 1954 to find the last, and only, time that Cleveland has ever been swept in any playoff series. That year, it was Willie Mays and the Giants who did the damage.
It would also be the first time since the Yankees battled the Royals for the AL pennant in 1977 that two 100+ win teams square off in the ALCS.
The World Series baseball fans need
Washington versus Houston. Why is this the World Series we need? Because it’s something new. It’s something unique, and it’s something that’s never happened before. Heck, Washington hasn’t even been there before.
We need this World Series because of the match-ups it poses.
Stephen Strasburg is planning a vacation to his favorite locale; Blew Bayou. (Photo courtesy of: AP / Mark J. Terrill)
Washington’s pitching versus Houston’s potent lineup is a story line just waiting to unfold. Who will win the day? Stephen Strasburg and his overpowering stuff? Or will it be the wily three-time American League batting champion, Jose Altuve finding the gap with the game on the line?
These two teams have unfinished business to attend to as well. In the regular season, Houston and Washington played a three-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Washington took two of the three games, but both losses for Houston were one-run games that could have easily swung the other way. One was an 11 inning affair that slipped through Houston’s fingers in that final frame. Let’s have some more of that please.
An Astros versus Nationals World Series wouldn’t just be another sports novelty. It will be an epic World Series if it does indeed happen. So, if you’re on the fence, let this be your call to action to jump on either the Washington or Houston bandwagon. I’m sure both team’s fan-bases will be happy to have the extra hands on deck.
In a season that has offered us a lot of remarkable firsts, like rookies named Aaron Judge that hit 52 homers in a year. It would only be right to see another first for MLB. A new champion and “Leading City of Baseball” that has never before been crowned.
Let’s crown a champion that none of us has ever seen before in 2017. Let’s go you Astros! Let’s go you Nationals!
(feature photo courtesy of: doin-work.com)
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As a classic baseball fan, it is hard to say this, but it is time for the National League to adopt a designated hitter position. This has been a topic of conversation ever since the American League established a DH in 1973. However, many have been resistant to the new position because baseball needs to remain pure.
Pitchers are getting hurt
Nelson hurt his shoulder sliding back into first base (Photo from MLB)
Jimmy Nelson is the latest pitcher to go down with a non-pitching injury. This is a huge blow for the Milwaukee Brewers as they just swept the Cubs at Wrigley in a pivotal NL Central showdown. The Brewers were out of the division race after getting swept by the Reds, but they did what they had to do to get two games behind Chicago.
Other big name pitchers have also been getting hurt on the base paths unnecessarily. Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett are all big name pitchers who have been hurt on the base paths. After their injuries, Wainwright and Scherzer both expressed an open mind to a DH in the NL.
The Nelson injury is a tough pill to swallow for Craig Counsell and company. Nelson was in the midst of a career year and was the ace of an otherwise mediocre rotation. He is on the Brewers to shut down opposing offenses, not leg out doubles.
It is easy to say this is a gross overreaction to an injury that just went down over the weekend, and it may be. The first base coach wouldn’t have tried to send him if he knew what was going to happen, but hindsight is 20/20 of course. However, is it really necessary to put pitchers at risk when they are not in the league to hit?
Pitchers can’t hit
Pitchers will only continue to get worse as time goes on (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Another show stopper is Madison Bumgarner, who seems to be able to hit the ball as far as most players in the league. However, pitchers like Bumgarner don’t grow on trees.
According to fangraphs.com, the 2014 slash line for pitchers as hitters was .122/.153/.153. Is that entertaining to watch? Can anyone really argue why that is worth keeping in the lineup? That is not just bad, it is atrocious.
The only real purpose that pitchers serve at the plate is bunting runners over. That is when small ball comes into play, and it can be really helpful when moving runners over for the top of the lineup.
The one thing that is always hard to watch is when a team mounts a rally. Imagine a scenario where a team is down 2-0 in the fifth with runners on second and third and one out. The eighth place hitter comes up to the plate with the pitcher on deck. What would any sensible manager do? They would walk to get to the pitcher of course. That way the fans of the offense just hope that the pitcher strikes out so it doesn’t run the risk of grounding into a double play.
The point of the scenario though is that pitchers can be a real rally killer, which is always hard to see. Remember the slash line for pitchers in 2014? Well, the slash line of the worst hitter in the NL that year, Melvin Upton, was a much more respectable .208/.287/.333 comparatively. Who would you rather have in that nine hole when an important opportunity for runs comes up in the middle of the game?
The DH leads to more excitement
If it wasn’t for the DH, Big Papi may not mean the same thing as it does now (Photo by John Macki of the Boston Globe)
As someone who has followed the National League for the most part, it is always strange to watch interleague play. Once the NL team gets closer to the end of the lineup, it is easy to write off the the ninth spot as an automatic out. What is refreshing to see is that they never reach that gap in the lineup that pitchers usually provide.
What is also nice to see is players that are not as mobile as they used to be can still provide a pop in the lineup in AL formats. That is why older hitters may look to move to the American League. If you average out all the major stats from qualified designated hitters this season, you will get a slash line of .253/.323/.443 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs.
The DH gives older hitters the chance to focus on what they are good at rather than a hitter that will get one hit every ten at-bats.
There will be resistance
Baseball players as well as fans are very much stubborn when it comes to their beloved game. Baseball is most famous for its unwritten rules and history behind it. That is why many people will be extremely reluctant to the idea of a DH in the National League.
Many baseball purists say that big changes to the game like this are more likely to push away current fans rather than bring in new ones. That is a hard argument to keep up though since viewership didn’t go down after the AL introduced the DH, and replay review has improved correct calls significantly.
It will be a hard adjustment to make, but a designated hitter will lead to a better product on the field.
Featured image from Yahoo Sports
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One hour before the 4 P.M. MLB trade deadline, nothing was happening. There were rumors and whispers here and there. Some decent names had been moved but nothing that we have been looking for over the past few weeks. All of a sudden news broke that the Yankees would be acquiring Sonny Gray from the Athletics. Would this be the first domino to fall?
As the hour went on nothing else seemed to be happen. Everyone was expecting the Dodgers to make the big move they needed but nothing was coming. Is Los Angeles really going to stay put with the roster they have? Every World Series champion in recent memory had made moves at the deadline to bolster their team. Are the Dodgers really that good that they don’t have to go out and get anyone?
When 4 P.M. hit it seemed like that was the case. After about 20 minutes the news started to break however. The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers in the blockbuster trade we were expecting. This trade also punctuated a trading season that emphasized pitching and had very little movement with hitters.
This was a very interesting deadline to track. There were some surprises as well as moves that we expected. Here are some of the notable teams that were making moves at the deadline.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Acquisitions: Yu Darvish, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson
Los Angeles bolstered its bullpen with two solid left-handed relievers in Watson and Cingrani. These guys are a great compliment to Kenley Jansen and it takes a lot of pressure off of the starting rotation, especially seeing that Kershaw will be out for the coming weeks.
Yu Darvish has been expected to go to Los Angeles for the last month. Most were surprised that no news had broke when the 4 P.M. deadline approached. I was ready to criticize the Dodgers for their lack of improvement. When the news was announced, it immediately became World Series or bust for this team.
Darvish provides the same sort of punch to the rotation that Zach Greinke provided when he was in LA with Kershaw. These pitching acquisitions may make the Dodgers the most complete team in the majors now. They filled their pitching needs and left their offense alone which has been fantastic. What might be the one of the biggest upsides from this trade season is that the Dodgers did not give up any of their top three prospects for Yu Darvish.
The Dodgers know that they will be making the postseason. These trades were specifically for October because they know that it is now or never if they want to break their 30-year championship drought.
Acquisitions: Francisco Liriano
The Astros currently have the best record in the American League. Going into the deadline, it was obvious that Houston needed to bolster its pitching staff. Dallas Keuchel has been dealing with injury issues and may not be the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young. Lance McCullers has also not been consistent. On top of that, the Astros are in much need of bullpen help.
Houston acquired Liriano from Toronto, but this was not the attractive pitcher that many were looking for them to go out and get. They needed a pitcher to fill into a rotation that looks a bit shaky. However, Liriano will not be in the starting rotation and will be filling in the bullpen.
This had to be disappointing for Houston fans because they did not make the improvements that other contenders made. Even though they are sitting comfortably in first place in the West and are a sure thing for the playoffs, they may be sweating a bit.
Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and George Springer are all on the DL right now. The Astros must be comfortable with the injuries since they didn’t make any moves. However, the gap seems to be closing between them and the Yankees and Indians.
New York Yankees
Acquisitions: Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, David Robertson
The Yankees made a big move a couple weeks ago acquiring Todd Frazier and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox. Robertson really helps out a bullpen that needed some help and Frazier is a bat the Yankees needed to fill a hole in the lineup.
The Yankees got one of the most valuable pitchers at the deadline in Gray (Getty Images)
The big news from Monday was the Yankees acquiring Sonny Gray from Oakland. This was a trade that made a lot of sense for the Yankees because it helps answer questions in their rotation for 2018 and 2019 as well.
The Yankees may lose the majority of their rotation after this year so getting this deal done is a big deal for New York. For this year though, Gray provides a big punch in the rotation for October seeing that the young pitcher already has postseason experience.
Starting pitching was one of the biggest question marks for the Yankees. Boston made a solid move in getting Addison Reed, but the excellent job at the deadline by Brian Cashman may make the Yankees the better team.
Look for the Yankees to separate themselves from Boston and give Houston some trouble in the postseason potentially.
Acquisitions: Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila
The Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed to do in order to finally separate themselves from the rest of the NL Central. They addressed a rotation issue, a bullpen issue and a catching issue.
Quintana is the highlight of the deadline for the Cubs (Sporting News)
Quintana was a get for the Cubs that was way ahead of the rest of the field at the deadline. Chicago knew what they needed and got a pitcher in the prime of his career that will be under team control for the future.
The rotation has been underperforming for the most part and Quintana provides a spark that has gotten the rest of the team going. With the potential this team has, they may be one of the best teams built for the postseason after the acquisition of Quintana.
Alex Avila adds experience at the catching position that the Cubs really needed. Miguel Montero was sent to Toronto after he ragged on the pitching staff for the Cubs’ shortcomings. He was the veteran presence that the pitchers need behind the plate.
Wilson Contreras has been very productive with a bat in his hands but he does not have the skills needed to call a good game in the playoffs. He is a converted infielder that is still learning the craft, so Avila provides the presence that the Cubs needed.
Theo Epstein went out and addressed the exact problems that needed addressing. Cubs fans should be happy with how he approached the deadline. The only downside is that the Cubs now have no prospects in the MLB Top 100. Much of their talent is at the big league level so that is a big reason for that. However, their talent has been underperforming this year.
The Cubs are hoping that their players play to their potential. If they do, then they are as good as anybody in the league.
Acquisitions: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle
Scherzer got the bullpen help the rotation desperately needed (Getty Images)
Washington has one of the best hitting trios in baseball with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. They also may have the best starting pitcher in the game in Max Scherzer.
However, they were not taken as seriously to compete with the Dodgers in the postseason because of how important relief pitching is these days.
Sean Doolittle has been struggling this year, but he is still a step in the right direction for Washington. However, Ryan Madson has been a very reliable reliever and Brandon Kintzler was an All-Star this year. Kintzler has converted 28 of 32 saves this season and also provides reliability at the back end of the bullpen.
Relievers were a hot commodity at the deadline this year. The Nationals knew that relievers are what they needed in order to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Mike Rizzo did a good job of getting these guys in order to be a threat in October.
Chicago White Sox
Jimenez is the 7th ranked prospect in the majors (Baseball America)
Acquisitions: Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Blake Rutherford, AJ Puckett, Andre Davis, Tito Polo, Ian Clarkin, Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, Byrant Flete, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez
As you can tell, the White Sox had a busy trade season. They traded away many major leagues such as Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. Even though it is pretty apparent that you could say the White Sox are tanking, fans have to be happy with general manager Rick Hahn’s job this past month.
The White Sox now have two of the top 10 prospects in MLB, and eight in the top 70 according to MLB.com. Chicago is the only team on this list that are not contenders this season but they may have had one of the best months in the league.
The benefits from the past month will not show this season or next season. In a few years though the success of the front office will be apparent.
This may be a slight overreaction, but there is a possibility that we could see a Cubs-White Sox World Series down the road. That may be a bit dramatic but wouldn’t it be exciting to see a Chicago championship series? The only thing I would be concerned about is whether or not the city would still be standing in the aftermath.
Final thoughts on the deadline
The most glaring detail of this trade deadline was the emphasis of pitching. Outside of J.D Martinez, there were no major position players that were moved this year. Yes, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were moved as well. However, all of the big trades were centered around pitching.
It seems that many teams are content with the hitting they have. It may not be a coincidence that major league players are hitting home runs at one of the highest rates in history. Bullpen and rotation help is the attractive thing these days. Especially considering how difficult it is to close out a game in today’s game.
By no means is the 2017 season decided already. There is still a long way to go in the season and anything can happen in October. Championship teams do look back to the trade deadline though to see what they did right at that time. Monday was a pivotal point in the season, but baseball is a crazy game so it will be fun to see how these moves pan out.
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The National League has been interesting so far this year. In the Central, there’s a jam-packed division with teams floating around the .500 mark. In the West, the Dodgers have a strong grip on first place but the Rockies and Diamondbacks are also having great years. The East however is pretty much a lock with the Nationals having little competition getting in their way.
Here is a look at who will most likely be making an appearance in October.
Los Angeles Dodgers, National League West
The Dodgers hope Kershaw’s injury will not keep him out for long (nydailynews)
The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball and they have been tough to stop. They had a stretch of winning 30 of 34 games and are playing like they will be able to break their championship drought.
Los Angeles just took a major hit to their rotation. Clayton Kershaw left in the second inning of Sunday’s game with lower back issues. He landed on the 10-day DL and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
Kershaw has kept up his typical excellence thus far, so the Dodgers will have a lot to overcome with this injury. They are sitting pretty with a 10.5-game lead on the Rockies, but with how the division is playing this is no time to coast.
It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers will be looking for starting pitching help within the next week with this new injury. If Kershaw misses significant time, they may look for some rotation help to shore things up.
The Dodgers’ pitching staff has the best ERA in the majors, however the Diamondbacks are right behind them in that category. Los Angeles should not take the injury lightly as it is important for them to maintain their strong lead in the West. Otherwise, the Rockies or Diamondbacks could make a run for them.
All around, the Dodgers are still the best team in the National League even without Clayton Kershaw. The young duo of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger have been fantastic this year on top of the stellar season from Justin Turner. The Dodgers have also been in the mix for Orioles closer Zach Britton. If the Dodgers make a move for Britton, it will be nearly impossible to beat them if they have a lead in the seventh inning or later.
Chicago Cubs, National League Central
Jose Quintana has won his first two starts for the Cubs (CBS Sports)
The Cubs have finally started to hit their stride. They are 8-1 since the All-Star break and have caught the Brewers in the Central.
The Brewers however are starting to regress like a lot of people predicted. They are 3-7 since the break with six of those games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Things aren’t getting easier as their next two series are against the Nationals and the Cubs.
Chicago has gotten a spark since the Jose Quintana trade. They gave up their best prospect in Eloy Jimenez, but may have received one of the key pieces they were looking for to fill out their roster.
One more thing they may look for at the deadline though is bullpen help. Wade Davis has been an excellent add this season for the Cubs, but they may need more help to fill out their relief pitching. The Cubs have been linked to Pat Neshak of the Phillies who is having a stellar year. He would make for a great combo of Neshak-Davis in the eighth and ninth.
The offense is also starting to play to its potential as of late. The combo of Bryant-Rizzo-Schwarber was supposed to be one of the most feared cores in the majors. Bryant and Rizzo are playing to expectations while Schwarber is slowly improving from his abysmal first half of the season.
The Cubs are starting to return to their 2016 form though, and if it keeps up then there will be no team in the Central that will be able to keep up with them.
Washington Nationals, National League East
Harper has had an MVP caliber year (Sports Illustrated)
The Nationals may be the surest bet for the postseason at this point. They are not the best team in the league by any means, but they do not have any competition in their division that will come close to threatening them for the title in the East.
As with most teams in the league, the bullpen has the biggest question mark on the team. The Nationals do have some prospects they can deal in order to shore things up, because it will be vital for them to have a more reliable bullpen in the postseason.
Their bullpen currently ranks as the worst in all of baseball, and that simply will not suffice if the Nationals want to compete in the playoffs.
Although they have the worst ranked bullpen, they have the top ranked offense in the National League. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy have been a deadly combo this year that will throw any pitcher fits. Each one of them could be in the conversation for MVP, but the Dodgers have some serious contenders themselves.
Either way, the offense has been a big reason for their success along with their ace, Max Scherzer. It has been discussed that Scherzer may actually be the best starting pitcher in the league today.
Arizona Diamondacks, National League Wild Card #1
J.D Martinez makes the Diamondbacks lineup much stronger (arizonasports)
The Diamondbacks showed the league that they are serious this year with their acquisition of J.D. Martinez. Martinez makes the Diamondbacks’ lineup strong enough to perhaps be able to compete with the best offenses in the league. The Goldscmidt-Martinez combo along with the other Arizona hitters who are having great years would be tough to stop in a playoff series.
Robbie Ray is having a career year and Zack Greinke has returned to his Cy Young form. It seemed that Greinke may have lost his edge when he went to Arizona. However, he is proving that 2016 was a fluke and he is still an elite pitcher.
The pitching staff has overall been a real plus this year as only the Dodgers have been more successful. With the injury to Kershaw, the Diamondbacks may have a better opportunity to catch up to them.
The Diamondbacks have only won three of their past 10 games. This most likely will not last though. Every team has ups and downs during a season, and Arizona is just in the middle of it right now. Although they probably won’t be able to catch the Dodgers, they have a good enough team to take a wild card spot. In any other division in the NL they would have a much better shot at a title, they just happen to be in the best one in the majors right now.
Colorado Rockies, National League Wild Card #2
Blackmon is having a career year in Colorado (The Denver Post)
The third team that has a good shot of making the playoffs from the National League West is the Rockies are having a breakout year. Colorado has some good young pitching but much of their success comes from their offense. Nolan Arrenado is proving to be an elite third baseman and Charlie Blackmon is having a career year.
Colorado is tied with Washington for the second best offense in the majors. What is interesting about this stat is that one would think that this is because they are hitting a lot of home runs since they are in Colorado. However, the Rockies actually rank 16th in home runs in the majors. They are getting guys in all sorts of different ways.
The Rockies will have a tough time holding their lead in the wild card over the Diamondbacks. Since Arizona has such a stronger pitching staff, it is most likely that they will overrun them.
They are looking for players to bolster their rotation, the only problem is that they are in Colorado. Yu Darvish has already stated that he does not want to be traded to the Rockies. The reason why the Rockies have a such hard time getting good pitching is because of their ballpark. However, Colorado needs a stronger rotation in order to compete in the postseason and stay ahead in the National League.
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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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