national league teams regress

Teams likely to regress in the National League

It is always fun speculating about what teams will step up in the upcoming year. After an offseason full of speculation and player movement, we are approaching the promised land that is Opening Day.

Teams like the Brewers and Yankees have reloaded their rosters and will expect great things in 2018. Who will be the ones to take a step back though?

Los Angeles Dodgers

national league teams regress

The Dodgers lost a key starter in Yu Darvish. (Photo from SI.com)

The Dodgers finished 2017 with 104 wins, which almost turned out to be a disappointment as some people thought they would have a shot at the coveted 116 mark. They hit a snag late in the summer though with just one win over a 17-game stretch from late August into September.

Nonetheless, Los Angles picked themselves up by the bootstraps and dominated in October. They only lost five games in the entire postseason, but that was not good enough as they fell one short by falling to the Astros.

Winning the World Series is about as much improvement as this team can make after losing in seven games last year. There isn’t anywhere else to go if they are to improve. That is why they are a prime candidate to regress in 2018.

The only notable move the Dodgers made was a salary dump in which they also acquired former Dodger, Matt Kemp. Some thought that Kemp would immediately be released, but it looks like they are holding onto him and they may even start him. However, the addition of Kemp is not enough for this team.

Yu Darvish is now a Chicago Cub, and even though the Dodgers are still a prime contender, it is still conceivable to see the Nationals, or even the Brewers, outplay them in October.

Miami Marlins

This one is a no-brainer. Ever since Derek Jeter and his ownership group gained control of the Miami Marlins, things have gotten ugly. Miami managed to win 77 games in 2017, which is nothing to write home about, but they didn’t have that bad of a team.

With Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich being one of the best outfield trios in baseball, things looked good in Miami. Jeter and company did not see it that way though. They elected to blow the whole thing up by trading all those guys away along, with Dee Gordon. Now, Miami is one of the least desirable places to play baseball.

Jeter has acknowledged that this process will take time, but the pushback has not been easy. Dan Le Batard lit up Rob Manfred for letting this sale happen, which led to the destruction of the current Marlins. If you were to ask ownership though, the current cast was not going anywhere.

We will look back in six or seven years and have a better grasp on whether or not this was the right call for a floundering organization. For the time being though, it does not look good.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Another team from the NL West will be taking a step back in 2018. The Arizona Diamondbacks put in a solid 2017 season, coming in second place in the West behind Los Angeles. After beating Colorado in the Wild Card, Los Angeles let them know why they were a second place team by sweeping them out of October.

Arizona has not had any key losses by any means, but they could possibly fall victim to the powerful division that is the National League West. Both San Francisco and San Diego saw how their divisional counterparts were doing and decided to make some moves to get more competitive. The Giants especially have shown that they take their even years seriously by acquiring Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria.

The Diamondbacks still have some solid rotational pitching along with great bats like Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. They won’t have the same teams to beat up on in the bottom of the division anymore. On top of that, they still have to deal with the Dodgers, who may regress, but are still a dominant team in the National League.

Pittsburgh Pirates

national league teams regress

The Pirates sent Gerrit Cole off to Houston this offseason. (Photo from USA Today)

The Pirates fall into the same category as the Miami Marlins. Although they did not have the same sort of future potential as the Marlins, they pretty much jumped ship on their current roster.

The two faces of the franchise were Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Neal Huntington did not hesitate to keep them though as he shipped both of them out West. The Pittsburgh faithful were not happy with this decision, as they are pretty much abandoning the coming seasons.

They may have realized that nothing was coming from the current core, or they could have recognized the other teams in the division and seeing what they were looking like.

The entire league looks tough right now, and that is why the Pirates may be looking to invest in their future now. After all, it is not ridiculous to try to pull off the same sort of success achieved by Theo Epstein in Chicago and Jeff Luhnow in Houston.

 

Featured image from ABC15Arizona

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Miami Marlins 2018 Season

Miami Marlins Prepare for 2018 Season

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

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

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

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

Miami’s (EX) Star Slugger

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

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

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

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

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

More Departures

Other notable Marlins will wear different uniforms this upcoming season.

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

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

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

His teammates will include Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.

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

Miami Marlins 2018

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image from miamiherald.com

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New York Mets team profile

New York Mets team profile

The New York Mets finished in fourth place in the NL East with a 72-90 record. They were a team that dealt with a plethora of injuries, and it ended up costing them its season. David Wright has not been able to get over the injury bug, and the team’s two best hitters, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, saw extended time on the disabled list.

It was not only at the plate, but on the mound the Mets saw its fair share of issues. Matt Harvey has not been able to break out of his rut, and Noah Syndergaard was only able to start seven times. Jacob deGrom was the only one that was able to cross the 25-start threshold in 2017, so the Mets have a fair amount to deal with before being able to compete in the near future.

Offseason moves

New York Mets team profile

Jay Bruce will reunite with the Mets in 2018 (Photo from FanRag Sports)

The New York Mets have taken strides to improve in the near future. It was reported on Wednesday that Jay Bruce would be returning to the Queens with a three-year contract. This is a solid signing that is lighting a mini spark into the hot stove. Since not many other moves have been made, the Mets look serious about improving in 2018.

So far, the only loss for them has been Jose Reyes, who did not have a great 2017 season. It was also reported that the Mets were very close to a deal with the Cleveland Indians for second baseman, Jason Kipnis. While he may not have provided the impact that the Mets need, it would have been a step in the right direction to show they are serious about improvements.

The three-year contract that Bruce signed also shows that the Mets are nowhere near thinking about a rebuilding phase despite its current place in the division. The rest of the NL East is in for some trouble with how successful the Nationals have been during the regular season. This move shows that the Mets want to try their hand though, and they may not be that far off.

The pitching

The New York Mets ranked 28th in pitching in 2017. This is nowhere near the expectations for the players they have on the team at the moment. New York has some of the best young pitching in the league, but due to injuries and underperforming, they took a step in the wrong direction.

The Mets have built a very good base in the rotation with Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. As mentioned, due to injuries and poor performance, it does not look as solid as it once did. The top two in the rotation still look like they have a promising future, but Harvey, Matz and Wheeler will have a pivotal year in 2018. If they don’t show signs of improvement, the Mets will know it will be time to move on.

Anthony Swarzak had the best year of his career in 2017. He may have been one of the better middle relievers in all of baseball. He, along with A.J. Ramos and Addison Reed, should provide a reliable core to the bullpen.

2018 outlook

New York Mets team profile

Matt Harvey needs to get back on track in 2018 (Photo from USA Today)

As stated previously, the Nationals are still at the forefront of the NL East, and the National League as a whole. No team from the East will most likely compete with them for the division.

This is a year for the Mets to build up and see if they are ready to compete by 2019 perhaps. Washington is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, and even the Wild Card is going to be tough to come by as it will take more than 87 wins most likely.

This is a big year for Matt Harvey as well. After stellar seasons between 2012-15, Harvey looks like he has lost his touch. This especially looked to be the case last year after finishing with a -1.1 WAR and 6.70 ERA. Something has to change in order for him to stick around the team. Whether it is mechanical or mental, the Mets can not afford to let him throw games away much longer.

With Noah Syndergaard coming off injury and deGrom looking to improve, there is a lot of room to improve. Their health is key too, as we may see a much better team in 2018 if the Mets are able to keep guys on the field.

 

Featured image by Al Bello/Getty Images

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Joey Votto

Joey Votto is baseball’s least-recognized star

With baseball’s sudden burst in power, some of the game’s best performers have seemed to slip through the cracks.

Yes, Giancarlo Stanton’s season was impressive. His 59 home runs are the most in baseball since Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 73 back in 2001. The MLB also broke the record for most total home runs in a season this year previously set in 2000.

41 players hit at least 30 home runs this season, which was the most since the 2000 season when 47 reached the mark. The Astros and Dodgers set the record for most total home runs in a World Series as well.

The MLB seems to have gained its power back after only 11 players reached 30 home runs back in 2014. It has captured fans’ attention and made baseball that much more entertaining.

The players this year have done something that hasn’t been done since the start of the century. It makes it easy to forget about players like Joey Votto, who quietly remains consistent.

The numbers

Joey Votto might be the most underrated superstar of the day. When you look at Votto’s numbers, it is hard to believe he has only won one MVP, one Gold Glove and been named an All-Star just five times. He still has not won a Silver Slugger either.

Votto is a career .313 hitter with 257 home runs and 830 RBIs. He also has an incredible .428 on-base percentage.

At .428, Votto ranks 10th all time in that category. The only player ahead of him that is not already in the Hall of Fame is Barry Bonds. Also, the next highest active player on the list is Miguel Cabrera at 68th with a .395 percentage. Votto is getting on base just as often as many all-time greats and more often than any of his peers. 

Perhaps the most impressive performance by Votto this season was when he reached base safely at least twice in 20 straight games, coming up just one game short of the record set by Ted Williams in 1948. Only two other players have done so in 20 straight games. That would be Barry Bonds in 2004 and Pete Rose in 1979.

Unappreciated and underrated

Votto is proving himself to be a future Hall of Famer. However, it is doubtful that many fans outside Cincinnati are aware of this.

Votto turned 34 this year and may have played his best season yet, or at least he believes so.

Joey Votto

Votto with his 2010 MVP award, one of the few honors he has received. (Photo by HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)

“I wanted this to be my work of art,” Votto told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I felt like shrinking strikeouts, keeping the walks, competing on a daily basis, playing every day, improving my defense. I felt this was definitely the best year of my career.”

One common knock on Votto is his “lack of aggression at the plate” because he gets so many walks. But isn’t the point of baseball to score runs? And you score runs by getting men on base. This is about as silly as people bashing James Harden because of how many points he gets from shooting free throws. In basketball, you need to score points to win, and that is what Harden does.

Votto got those runs, finishing 10th in the MLB with 106. Also, here are some numbers to show Votto is a disciplined batter, rather than unaggressive.

Votto may be the disciplined hitter in the game. He swung at the fewest pitches outside the zone at 15.8 percent. Talk about patience. He waits for his pitch and then capitalizes off it. This also works the pitch count and makes pitchers work to get him out. In contrast, Votto swung at 71.4 percent of pitches in the zone, which was the 32nd highest.

Those numbers average out to a 41.9 swing percentage, which was one of the lowest in the league. Don’t question his aggressiveness based on this stat though. Aaron Judge’s swing percentage was even lower at 41.1 percent. Nobody questions Judge’s aggressiveness as he led the American League in home runs and the MLB in strikeouts.

What else is crazy is that Votto received the 14th most pitches in the strike zone, but still led the league in walks. Votto isn’t going to just swing at anythiing. He is going to wait on a pitch he can drive, and if not he will take that free pass to first base.

Accolades

How has a future Hall of Famer like Votto won so few awards? He has just one MVP that he won in 2010 over Albert Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez. He finished third in 2015 behind Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt and second this season.

He has been voted an All-Star just five times.

Votto also has zero silver sluggers. Albert Pujols won during Votto’s first three full seasons in the league, but Pujols was the best player in the league at the time, making it understandable. But it is the players who have finished on top of Votto that are more questionable. Prince Fielder, Adam LaRoche, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo have all won the award over Votto.

Who is supposed to win the Silver Slugger? The Louisville Slugger website explains who is supposed to win the award.

“Coaches and managers of Major League teams vote for the players they feel are the best offensive producers at each position in the field in both the American and National Leagues. They base their selections on a combination of offensive statistics including batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, as well as the coaches’ and managers’ general impressions of a player’s overall offensive value.”

This season, Votto led National League first basemen in batting average and on-base percentage and was third in slugging percentage, tied for second in home runs and fourth in RBIs. Paul Goldschmidt finished behind Votto in all of those stats except RBIs. Anthony Rizzo won last year, but only topped Votto in home runs and RBIs.

Of course Votto missed a lot of time during the 2014 season due to injury, so it makes sense he did not win that season. But on what planet is Adam LaRoche a better hitter than Votto? And how does Votto finish ahead of Goldschmidt in MVP voting, but behind in Silver Slugger?

As for the MVP award this season, Stanton did have a monster season as he led the league in home runs (59) and RBIs (132) while also batting .281. Votto finished just two points behind Stanton, making it the closest vote since 1979 and the fourth-closest of all time. Both received 10 first-place votes, but Stanton finished with one more second and third-place vote.

Both had tremendous seasons. Stanton showed what he is fully capable of when healthy and Votto continued to show his consistency and ability to get on base.

Maybe some day Votto will get the league’s respect the past Reds’ greats like Barry Larkin and Johnny Bench. Maybe Votto will earn another award or two. Even if he does not, Votto probably won’t be too upset when he is sitting in Cooperstown someday.

 

Featured image by JAMIE SABAU/GETTY IMAGES

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Lewis Brinson's 2018 season outlook

Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook

The Milwaukee Brewers came out of nowhere to finish within striking distance of MLB’s playoffs in 2017. Looking back to the start of the season, there was nobody giving Milwaukee much of a chance. And why should they? There was little to suggest this team would go on to do what it did. The Brewers led the NL Central most of the season’s first half before getting roughed up after the All-Star break. The Brewers, however, to their credit fought back and were in contention for a playoff spot into the final week of 2017. They lost Jimmy Nelson, just as he was finding a dominant form on the mound, and closer Corey Knebel had some uncharacteristic break downs in some of the season’s most important games. General manager David Stearns is looking to reload for another run. Without further ado, here is Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook.

How Brinson was acquired

CF Lewis Brinson was the centerpiece of a trade with Texas. (photo from: tulsaworld.com)

Brinson has done nothing but hit the ground running since coming over in a 2016 trade with the Texas Rangers. The move sent long-time catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers, and in return the Brewers netted Brinson and pitcher Luis Ortiz. It was a heck of a haul for Milwaukee, and a nice feather to stick in GM David Stearns’ cap. The move has set up Milwaukee’s roster nicely for the future. And that future, is about to become the present.

Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook

In 2017, Brinson, who is also billed as the top prospect in the Brewers’ organization put together a monster year at Triple-A Colorado. He put together an incredible slash line .331/.400/.562 as a member of the Sky Sox. It was due to this type of output that he was recalled from Colorado on June 11. His first taste of major league ball, however, didn’t necessarily go to plan.

In his first 21 games with Milwaukee, he struggled to hit major league pitching. In his 47 official at-bats, his slash line .106/.236/.277 leaves a lot to be desired. At the tender age of just 23 though, he has plenty of time to get the ship righted and back on course. Based on his skill set and his minor league track record, Brewers fans should expect a good rookie year from Brinson.

For 2018, Brinson should break camp with as a member of the Brewers’ 25-man roster. It will be interesting to see what happens at the upcoming winter meetings in Orlando. The Brewers find themselves in the position of having a ton of outfielders who are ready to contribute. But with only a handful of spots to go around, one would expect some moves to be forthcoming.

With the emergence of center fielder Brett Phillips in 2017, Brinson’s road has gotten a little tougher. At the end of the day, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the physical tools of Brinson win the day and see him firmly entrenched as Milwaukee’s everyday center fielder by the All-Star break.

 

(feature photo from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

 

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Barry Bonds number retired

Baseball’s grudge against the steroid era should end

Another Hall of Fame balloting season is upon us, and the topic of the day should not be who the first ballot selections going to be. No, the question should be how is it that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens still find themselves on the outside looking in.

Forget about the legal troubles and PED issues that Clemens has had. Forget about the notion that Bonds might have used PEDs. Considering some of the more recent selections to Cooperstown, baseball’s grudge against the steroid era should end, and it should end now.

If any fan out there thinks that the Hall of Fame is completely devoid of PED users, they simply don’t understand what they are talking about. Take your pick from players that used “greenies” or the ones that used HGH. So there it is, plain and simple. There are PED users enshrined in Cooperstown already, like it or not. The fact of the matter is that Bonds and Clemens are two of the very best that have ever played this game. Quite frankly, it’s a crime against baseball that they are still seeking entry on their sixth attempt.

What’s more is there’s little numerical hope for them to get in this year. Bonds finished last year’s HOF voting with 53.8 percent of the vote. For Clemens, he finished with 54.1 percent of the vote. This is a total joke. If anyone out there thinks that these players were some type of anomaly, they are fooling only themselves. PEDs were rampant in those years prior to testing, make no mistake about it.

Put Bonds in already

Barry Bonds is one of the greatest players that has ever played the game of baseball. No matter what anyone thinks of him, he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown. For the sake of making ourselves laugh, let’s look at his career.

First, Bonds’ WAR (162.4), places him in sole possession of first place all-time among left fielders. The only other left fielders aside from Bonds that ever crested 100 in WAR are Rickey Henderson and Ted Williams. Now you attribute that to steroids if you want to, but Bonds was well on his way to Cooperstown before any of the speculation even began.

If WAR isn’t a good enough measure, then try on his record seven NL MVP awards. Or how about his 14 All-Star appearances. Or his eight gold gloves. How about his 12 silver sluggers? Or, his two batting titles. Or, his being named MLB’s Player of the Year three times. Does that sway you yet? Again, if anyone wants to attribute that output to steroids alone, they are crazy. There’s no getting around it.

The powers that be in the league office, for years, turned a blind eye to PED use among its players. PEDs were good enough to prop up the game after the strike of 1994 that threatened to gut fan support. It’s in this vain that some of the all-time greats, like Bonds, should be allowed to ascend to their rightful place among their peers.

What’s sickening though, is most likely this year is going to be no different than the previous five. Bonds won’t be getting in, and the BBWA has a lot to answer for in this regard. It seems they are more interested in prolonging a “moral” controversy, dven if it means being hypocritical (see 2017 HOF voting).

Make way for Clemens

Here’s the deal with Clemens. He’s the greatest starting pitcher of the modern era, and it’s not even close. Clemens’ career WAR (140.3) is good enough for third all-time among starting pitchers. He sits behind only Cy Young (168.5) and Walter Johnson (165.6) respectively. That’s pretty exclusive company no matter what way you slice it. Going further, Clemens is one of only four starting pitchers in recent memory to record over 100 wins above replacement. The others being Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson.

Baseball steroid era

Roger Clemens is a Hall of Famer, and it doesn’t matter what you think about it. (Photo from Deadspin.com)

Like Bonds, Clemens has had to add on another room to his mansion just for all the league honors he’s won. Clemens was an AL MVP, a seven-time Cy Young winner, a seven-time ERA champion and an 11-time All-Star. Oh, and then there’s the two pitching triple crowns he won for leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Again, like Bonds, people want to believe his numbers were only possible because of steroid use, but they’re flat out nuts.

We all know about the allegations outside of the sport that have surrounded Clemens at various points. But the last time I checked, the HOF isn’t about how good of a person you are, it’s about how good of a ballplayer you are. As far as starting pitchers go, none of us have seen one more dominant. That’s just a fact. Nolan Ryan might be baseball’s strikeout king, but Clemens was a superior starting pitcher.

If the BBWA wants to do something productive, maybe it’s time they call off the grudge against both Bonds and Clemens.

 

Feature image from CBS News

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Arizona Fall League season awards

Arizona Fall League season awards

The Peoria Javelinas claimed the Arizona Fall League title on Nov. 18. Powered by league MVP and Braves top prospect, Ronald Acuna, Peoria dispatched the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the season finale. For the Javelinas, this marks their sixth AFL title since the league was founded in 1992. But while the AFL recognizes a league MVP, there are no Cy Young award equivalents for the league’s best pitcher. If there were such an award, it would have most likely been a clean sweep for the Braves in the Arizona Fall League season awards in 2017.

League MVP, CF Ronald Acuna

AFL Season slash line: .325/.414/.639/1.053

Arizona Fall League season awards

Seattle prospect Eric Filia won the AFL batting title, but lost out to Ronald Acuna in the MVP race. (Photo: Baseball America)

Much has been written about the season that Ronald Acuna posted in 2017. At 19 years of age, soon to be 20 in December, Acuna has risen through the Braves system this year like a man on fire. Starting the season in Advanced-A with the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna would reach the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, by season’s end. What’s more, his numbers got better at each level he played at this year.

The young Venezuelan native played at three levels this year, four if you include his inclusion in the AFL. And, quite frankly, it is reasonable to consider the AFL “another level” on the prospect ladder, to be fair. It is, after all, the proving ground for elite talent in MLB’s prospect pipeline. And Acuna wasn’t just good he was dominant in Arizona this fall, leading Peoria to the AFL championship.

Though Acuna didn’t lead the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging, or even OPS for that matter, he was the league’s best player when you look at the sum of the whole. This young center fielder finished second in OPS, 12th in batting, second in slugging and sixth in on-base percentage, respectively.

This future star was a league leader though, make no mistake about it. Acuna led the AFL in home runs with seven, and total bases with 53. On top of that, he drove in 16 runs, good enough for fifth in the AFL in 2017.

There is no way this kid doesn’t break camp with the big club next spring. Acuna has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready for his call to the big leagues right now.

AFL Cy Young, LHP Max Fried

AFL Season pitching line: (3-1) 1.73 ERA, 26 IP, 32 K’s, 0.88 WHIP

The AFL’s “Cy Young” award, if one were given out, would’ve been a trickier call than league MVP. Four pitchers could’ve easily walked away with this award. In no certain order, the New York Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller, Philadelphia’s J.D. Hammer and Atlanta’s Max Fried all pitched well enough to be considered the best pitcher in Arizona this fall.

Arizona Fall League season awards

Max Fried was the best pitcher in the AFL in 2017. (Photo courtesy of: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

At the end of the day, however, only one can player can take top honors. And this year, Atlanta’s Max Fried would have to be the guy to get the nod. Over his six starts for eventual AFL champions, Peoria, Fried was as dominant as they come. The Braves’ young southpaw was second among all starting pitchers in WHIP (0.88), only bested Yankee’s prospect Justus Sheffield (0.84).

Fried was also the AFL’s strikeout champion for 2017 as well. He finished with 32 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, good enough for an outstanding ratio of 11 K’s per nine innings. Making Fried’s case even better, he also showed good control walking only 2.77 batters per nine innings. Even though Fried wasn’t as efficient as Mitch Keller in this category (1.9 BB/per 9), he outpaced Keller’s (4.9 K/per 9).

In the cases of Hammer and Carroll, however, both pitchers were closers. This isn’t to slight these two future big leaguers, but generally it’s a rarity that a reliever will win an award for league’s best pitcher. It’s happened only nine times at baseball’s top level, with the last occurrence being Eric Gagne’s 2003 Cy Young season. While Hammer and Carroll both had outstanding seasons in Arizona, the volume of work by Fried must be the deciding factor here.

Based on his body of work, Fried is the AFL’s best pitcher of 2017.

Atlanta’s prospects ready to contribute

Both Fried and Acuna progressed along the prospect ladder in leaps this year. The Braves have moved these young men up the ladder quickly, and they have responded by showing a maturity beyond their years. There is little doubt that both players will more than likely be on the opening day roster come 2018.

It is worth noting that Fried has already made the jump to MLB in 2017. His performance in the AFL this year should solidify his place in next year’s Braves rotation. Especially when you look at his performance in his limited exposure at the major league level. While it is a very small sample, it is apparent that the lights aren’t too bright for this future staff ace.

Moving onto Acuna, now, here’s a player that has absolutely no need to take another swing in the minor leagues. The Braves’ top prospect, and fifth ranked prospect in all of MLB, has shown he’s ready for the call. When the Braves break camp next spring, Acuna should be the man roaming center field in Atlanta every day.

This young man, at 20 years old, will most likely become the youngest player in the majors in 2018 and it’s exciting to speculate how he will handle the jump to MLB. If 2017 is anything to go by, we might be talking about the NL Rookie of the Year here. He will almost certainly be a training camp favorite for the award, no doubt about it.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: sportsnewsinstant.com)

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Honoring baseball's military veterans

Honoring baseball’s military veterans

Veteran’s Day is upon us once more, so it is only fitting to honor baseball’s military veterans today. From the Civil War, our nation’s greatest struggle, to the rice paddies of Vietnam, there have been dozens of baseball men that have fought alongside the “common Joe”.

Some of the names of the men who’ve served our nation in its greatest time of need you will know, others you will not. The list of names is too exhaustive to name them all, but we tip our caps all the same. Here are five men who’ve served with distinction.

Morgan Bulkeley – Civil War

Honoring baseball's military veterans

First president of the NL and Civil War veteran, Morgan Bulkeley. (Photo courtesy of: National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Morgan Bulkeley never played in a game, but the Hartford-based businessman was the first president of the National League. Bulkeley would only hold the National League’s presidency for one season in 1876. Not wanting to make baseball his life’s work, he walked away from the post.

In 1937, Bulkeley was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Ban Johnson, the first president of the American League.

Bulkeley has the distinction of being the only Baseball Hall of Fame member to serve during the American Civil War. Even though he came from money, Morgan Bulkeley and his brother Charles both enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. An unusual choice given these were the sons of Aetna Insurance co-founder, Eliphalet Bulkeley.

For those that aren’t up to date on their Civil War history, the unusual nature of the Bulkeley boys’ enlistment lies in money. During the Civil War, a person could buy their way out of the draft and pay for another person to serve in their place. The Bulkeley boys choosing to enlist was the exception to the rule, make no doubts about it. For Morgan Bulkeley’s brother Charles, this decision would seal his fate. He would not survive the war.

For Morgan Bulkeley though, he spent his time under the command of Gen. George McClellan in the 13th New York Regiment. It must have been a shock to go from a life of extravagance, to marching around the dirty, dusty countryside in pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This is exactly the life Bulkeley lived from the years 1861-1865.

Grover Alexander – WWI

Alexander is a name that rests among the greatest names in the history of pitching. What you might not have known, however, is Alexander also saw live combat in World War I.

Prior to the war, Grover Alexander broke into the big leagues in 1911 with Philadelphia. From that time on, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. He led the NL in wins five times between the years 1911-1917, posting three consecutive 30+ win seasons from 1915-1917. On top of those 30-win seasons, he also posted sub 2.00 ERA in each of those three years as well. He did all of this while war threatened to consume the entire world.

The United States had managed to keep a “veneer” of neutrality for most of WWI, but in the spring of 1917, peacetime was over. The U.S. was now on a war footing with Germany, and with an army that had been drastically reduced in strength over time, needed fresh recruits.

In 1917, and for the first time since the Civil War, the nation’s men were subject to conscription into the armed forces. This is the avenue by which Grover Alexander found his way into the Army.

Three games into the 1918 season, Alexander, at the rank of Sergeant found himself among the killing fields in France. A member of the 342nd Field Artillery Battalion. It was at his post, while under an enemy artillery barrage, that Alexander suffered severe hearing damage from a nearby shell explosion. This explosion also left Alexander with epilepsy.

It was 99 years ago today, that peace was reached between the belligerents of WWI, and by the spring of 1919 Alexander was back at his old post. On the hill, toeing the rubber as a member of the Chicago Cubs.

Warren Spahn – WWII

Honoring baseball's military veterans

All of Warren Spahn’s 363 career wins came after he won the Purple Heart in WWII. (Photo courtesy of: Dailydsports.com)

Spahn, a fresh-faced rookie in 1942, got his first taste of big league ball with the Boston Braves. He made two starts over four appearances in 1942, and by December he would be finding himself in Army green.

Spahn was one of the “luckier” baseball players of his generation in that his career was interrupted at the beginning, rather than during his prime years. Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio are just a few players that lost some of their peak years.

It was in December of 1944 that Warren Spahn would find himself fighting for his life during the Battle of the Bulge. This was the last gasp offensive of by the German war machine. Spahn, a combat engineer, was part of the under-equipped troops that were left to face the onslaught.

Spahn did several interviews after the war, in which he would recall the bitter cold and terrible conditions in which they fought. He has also recounted how fierce the fighting was while his unit tried to break free from the German forces that had surrounded them.

When the 1944 German winter offensive was stopped cold, Spahn’s unit was sent to Remagen. It was here, while working on the Ludendorff Bridge in March 1945, Spahn would get hit in the foot with shrapnel. This would be the end of the line for his time at the front.

It earned him a Purple Heart, but it was an incredible twist of good fortune for Spahn. The following day, the entire bridge collapsed into the river below taking over 30 men to their untimely demise. For his actions at Remagen, Spahn earned a battle-field commission of 2nd Lieutenant.

Ted Williams – Korean War

Ted Williams is all legend. This man was the game’s best hitter when he was called away to service during WWII like so many others.

Williams was drafted into service in 1941, but was exempted due to having a dependent mother, but he would later enlist in the Marines in 1942. After completion of his triple-crown season in ’42, Williams was off to training. It was during the years 1943-1945 that Williams would earn his pilot’s wings. The war would end before he would see any active combat.

However, the 1950’s brought with it a new fight. The Korean War.

Of the 1.8 million soldiers that fought in Korea, Ted Williams was one. Immediately Williams was back at flight school learning the controls of the F9F Grumman jet fighter. His involvement in the conflict would consume the majority of his 1952 and 1953 season’s.

In Korea, Williams was the wing man of future space traveler, John Glenn. In Glenn’s estimation, the pair flew together on about half of Williams’ 39 combat flights. Glenn would later recall that Williams was a very active pilot, and an excellent one at that.

Ted Williams was right in the line of fire taking on enemies in the air, and he almost was a goner on a few occasions. On one of those occasions, Williams’ plane was on fire after being badly hit. The landing gear on his smoking wreck was inoperable. The only option left was to attempt a belly landing. In true Ted Williams fashion, he did what he always did. He stayed calm, and he stuck the landing. Williams escaped the cockpit just moments before his mangled plane was engulfed in flames.

Al Bumbry – Vietnam War

Honoring baseball's military veterans

Al Bumbry never lost a man during his time leading troops in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)

Bumbry has the distinction of being one of only 10 major league players to fight in the Vietnam War. He would win the Bronze Star for his actions under fire as a platoon commander.

The most remarkable thing about Bumbry’s time in combat, is that he never lost a man under his command. This takes on even more significance when you realize the amount of responsibility on the young lieutenant’s plate. In an interview with The Washington Times, Bumbry said, “I was a tank platoon leader in Vietnam for a year. It was all very stressful. I had nine vehicles and 45 men in my platoon, and I was responsible for all of our activities.”

Bumbry, like the millions of others like him, returned home a changed man. He also returned a better ballplayer, to which he credits an accelerated maturing process forged in the fires of Vietnam. Though Bumbry floundered in his first 35 minor league games before being called to active duty in the Army, when he finally returned, he went on a tear through the minor leagues.

In 1972, Al Bumbry was called up to the big club in Baltimore where he played in nine games. The following year, 1973, Bumbry would solidify a spot in the Orioles lineup, and win the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Following his RoY campaign in 1973, Bumbry would firmly entrench himself as the everyday center fielder in Baltimore. From the years 1973-1985, Al Bumbry would put together a respectable career in MLB. He was a 1980 All-Star, a (.281) lifetime hitter and a key member of the Orioles’ 1983 World Series championship team.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: fadeawaypodcast.com)

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Knizner

Five early predictions for the National League offseason

The 2017 World Series has come to a close, and the Houston Astros are champions for the first time in franchise history. That means it is time to look forward to next season as we will be without baseball until the spring. This ought to be an exciting offseason due to a star studded free agent class, especially in the outfield.

Not only are there a lot of good free agents, but this ought to be an interesting winter on the trade market. There are some big names floating around that could shake up the whole league. With that being said, here are five early predictions for the 2017 offseason.

The Los Angeles Dodgers sign Jake Arrieta

The Dodgers are coming off a tough World Series loss against the Astros. The front office knew that 2017 was a prime year to break their 30-year drought since the start. Now that it didn’t happen and a large part of their roster still in tact, they will look to push even harder next year.

National League offseason

The Dodgers may look elsewhere for help after Darvish’s collapse in the World Series. (Photo from Newsweek)

Yu Darvish is a free agent now (which may be a relief for the Dodgers after his World Series performance), and Los Angeles is looking to bolster their rotation. Jake Arrieta may be the best starting option on the market after his proven track record in the postseason and reliable arm in the regular season.

 

He won’t come cheap though. The Dodgers already have the highest payroll in the league, but Magic Johnson and company are surely not going to remain complacent after falling short this year. The Dodgers’ starting rotation and bullpen are what separated them from the rest of the league this season, but it may have been what costed them a championship.

A Kershaw-Arrieta duo would look to accomplish what a Kershaw-Darvish pair couldn’t. Darvish was successful in the NLDS and NLCS. However, he could not manage to put much together in the World Series. Arrieta has proven himself in those situations, so it would make sense for him to give the Dodgers that final push.

The St. Louis Cardinals get a reliable bat

The Cardinals had a glaring issue all season long, and that was their lack of an impact bat in the middle of their lineup. The problem is that St. Louis already has a crowded outfield full of players that they seem dedicated to, due to their high-value in their homegrown players. However, it is time for them to make a move for a big bat.

National League offseason

Christian Yelich would be tough for the Cardinals to get as Miami highly values him. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins are looking to cut payroll big time under new ownership. The one name that sticks out immediately is Giancarlo Stanton. St. Louis is not known for taking on such large contracts, even though Stanton is exactly what the Cardinals need.

If the Cardinals do end up trading with the Marlins, it would most likely be for Christian Yelich. Yelich is much more affordable and is under team control until 2022, which is very appealing. He also would provide a solid 3.0-4.0 WAR every year out.

What the Cardinals most likely will accomplish though is getting a corner infielder. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are both hitting the free agent market, and both would fit nicely into the lineup. What is important to keep in mind though is the Cardinals have an eye on the 2018 free agent market as well, and Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson will be available then. Expect the Cardinals to especially push for Machado next year, or even look to trade for him this offseason.

The Diamondbacks will retain J.D. Martinez

National League offseason

J.D. Martinez was one of the hottest hitters in the league after being traded. (Photo from Detroit Free Press)

J.D. Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks from the Tigers during the summer. He thrived in Arizona, hitting a monstrous 29 home runs and hitting .302. The Los Angeles Angels have already announced that Justin Upton, another Detroit Tigers outfielder traded at the deadline, will be signed through the 2022 season. Now some are wondering if Martinez will do the same and stay in Arizona, or seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Martinez announced on Wednesday that he is switching to contract negotiator extraordinaire Scott Boras. At first glance, this seems like it is a move to negotiate with other teams, but he can still be very helpful in discussions with Arizona’s front office.

In a conversation with azcentralsports.com, Martinez expressed his desire in staying with Arizona long term. Being next to names like Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock makes him a good fit. Martinez may also feel it is the right place to stay after such a successful two months in the desert.

The Diamondbacks will have to give Martinez a large chunk of change in order for him to stay, but it may be what they have to do in order to compete with the reigning NL Champs in the West.

The Cubs will sign RHP Alex Cobb

With Jake Arrieta most likely leaving Chicago due to his high price tag, Alex Cobb could potentially come in and provide a solid third starter role behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Cobb has spent six years in the league and has had at least 20 starts in four of those years. Other than his 2016 campaign where he was sidelined most of the year for an elbow injury, he has been an extremely reliable pitcher for Tampa Bay.

Cobb is no Arrieta, but Cobb may be one of the better affordable pitchers on the market this offseason. Lance Lynn is a similar pitcher that could fit in Chicago. However, Cobb’s relationship with Joe Maddon and new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey could have a big impact on decisions for both sides.

Out of all the potential offseason moves that could happen, this one makes the most sense.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will trade for Giancarlo Stanton

As mentioned earlier, Derek Jeter and the Marlins are trying to cut payroll as much as possible in order to fully engage in a rebuild. Stanton has come out and said that he does not want to go through that process again. He is ready to win now.

National League offseason

Stanton may be on the Dodgers’ radar, as trading for him would make sense for all parties involved. (Photo from CBS Sports)

The Dodgers, despite having the highest payroll, have some money they can spend. Stanton has the most expensive sports contract in the world, so this would be a whole lot to take on. Even with the high payroll, the Dodgers don’t break the bank on one player too often. They are an organization that likes to spread their payroll out between many good players. However, this player is worth it.

Stanton also has the right to veto any trade he doesn’t like. The perfect fit may be in Los Angeles though. He is a California boy who grew up in the Los Angeles area. He also wants to win, as he has not done that much in his MLB career with the Marlins. It would be unlikely if a deal were to be put in front of him that he could deny such a tempting offer.

The Dodgers have a couple of solid prospects in their system with RHP Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo, who rank 10th and 23rd in the MLB’s best prospects rankings. Those two players, along with the Dodgers taking on the daunting contract, should be plenty to acquire the 2017 home run king. The question is if the Dodgers are willing to put that high of an investment into Stanton, who only put in his third full season of work this year.

There is a lot of upside with this player though. He turns 28 next week, which means he is at the beginning of the hitter’s prime (27-32). Acquiring Stanton, along with signing Jake Arrieta, would make the Dodgers an even bigger juggernaut to fear. One thing for sure though is L.A. is hungry for a World Series after watching the Astros win it on their home turf.

 

Featured image by Getty Images  

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greatest world series ever played

Greatest World Series ever played

When the first pitch of the 2017 World Series is thrown out Oct. 24 at Dodger Stadium, it will mark the 113th installment of baseball’s fall classic. Only one World Series, however, can be dubbed the greatest World Series ever played.

For the fans in Houston and Los Angeles, their focus won’t be on this series being an all-time classic. Their primary focus for the immediate future will be on winning at least four of the possible seven games that remain. Right now, the glory of a championship is first and foremost.

The rest of baseball’s fandom is just looking to be enthralled. We’re looking for hotly contested games that remain up for grabs into the final innings. We’re looking for immaculate pitching, we’re looking for clutch two-out hits and we’re looking for spectacular game saving glove work in the field. In short, we’re looking for the proverbial barn burner.

With 112 World Series already on record, there have been some wild match-ups throughout time. Perhaps no match-up has offered more excitement to baseball fans of all stripes than 1991’s World Series, pitting the Atlanta Braves against the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesotans will remember 1991 for two distinct reasons. First, on Oct. 27, 1991 they saw their Minnesota Twins lift the World Series title after seven games. Second, just four days later, the Twin Cities were buried under almost two-feet of snow from an epic Halloween blizzard.

In Atlanta though, 1991 will always be remembered with mixed emotions. The 1991 Braves improved from last place in 1990, to first in 1991. This was also the first year that a World Series was played in Atlanta since the Braves moved from Milwaukee at the end of 1965.

How they arrived

greatest world series ever played

Braves legend, Tom Glavine, tries to channel a little rally hat magic on the road in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)

Speaking of the Braves’ remarkable turnaround, Minnesota also accomplished the same feat. They too finished the season in last place in 1990, only to become AL champions in 1991. It was the first time in MLB history that any team went from “worst to first” let alone having two teams do it in the same season.

For Minnesota, 1991 was the year of the bat. This isn’t to say they couldn’t pitch, but their offense was magnificent. They led the majors in average (.280) and on-base percentage (.344) that year. They also finished second in both slugging (.420) and OPS (.764) making them one of the toughest lineups for opposing pitchers to navigate.

Atlanta’s forte though, was undoubtedly their pitching. The Braves’ pitching was phenomenal in 1991. Tom Glavine, 1991’s NL Cy Young award winner, was the unquestioned leader of the young Atlanta staff. This Braves rotation was young, hungry and devastatingly good.

For the season, Atlanta finished third in team ERA (3.49), third in fewest hits given up and fourth in total runs surrendered. Any fan can plainly see, scratching runs across the plate against this pitching staff was no small task.

The 1991 World Series was more than just excellent pitching versus excellent hitting. This series was a classic match-up of two evenly matched ball clubs. Something had to give, because we all know there can only be one team left standing. That team left standing, in the end, would be the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesota didn’t get to the summit of baseball’s highest mountain without a fight though, and what a fight it was. Atlanta and Minnesota put together a performance for the ages. Culminating in arguably the greatest World Series ever played. This was a World Series filled with spectacular pitching, clutch hitting and wild defensive plays.

The greatest world series ever played

In the pantheon of World Series match-ups, there are several that stand out. For instance, 1960’s classic Pirates and Yankees showdown featured the only walk-off Game 7 homer ever, by the Pirate’s Bill Mazeroski. Braves versus Twins in 1991 rates right up there with the lot of them.

greatest world series ever played

Bill Mazeroski sinks the Yankees with his dramatic walk-off Game 7 World Series home run. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)

The 1991 World Series offered something for everyone, including one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history. Of course this is referring to Kent Herbek pulling Ron Gant off the bag in the third inning of Game 2. For fans of a certain age in Atlanta, this certainly must still be a sore subject.

Watch the play here!

The Twins and Braves only played two games decided by more than a single run, Game 1 and 5. Minnesota took Game 1 by a score of 5-2 and Atlanta took Game 5, blowing away the Twins 14-5. All other games in the series were one-run affairs.

Extra innings was also a common thread that tied this series together as well. Game 6 and the pivotal Game 7 were two of the three extra inning games. Minnesota would find themselves on the winning side in both of the aforementioned games. The Twins’ only extra inning loss came on a Mark Lemke 12th inning RBI single in Game 3.

For the Twins, legendary Kirby Puckett was the man of Game 6. Puckett’s glove, and then his bat, cemented the win for Minnesota and pushed the series to Game 7.

Puckett seemed to defy the laws of physics, jumping at the wall in left-center to rob Gant of extra bases. Then, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Puckett sent a Charlie Leibrandt offering into the seats for a solo homer. His clutch hit won the game for Minnesota in walk-off fashion, making Game 7 a necessity.

Watch Puckett’s series saving homer here!

Game 7

The deciding game of the 1991 World Series pitted two excellent pitchers at opposite spectrums of their careers. For the Twins, it was 15-year veteran and 1984 World Series champion, Jack Morris. The Braves countered with a future Hall of Famer, 24-year-old, John Smoltz.

greatest world series ever played

1991 World Series MVP and Game 7 winner, Jack Morris, rushes to greet Dan Gladden at home plate. (Photo courtesy of: Pioneer Press/Jean Pieri)

All these two did was lock horns to produce one of the best pitched games in World Series history. Smoltz pitched excellent in Game 7, but wily veteran Jack Morris pitched a magical Game 7. With Morris in command of all his pitches, he put together one of the greatest World Series starts this side of Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Morris went the distance, all 10 innings, to pitch a complete game shutout under immense pressure.

Jack Morris, for his part, swallowed that pressure deep down and used it to breathe fire at the Braves lineup. He gave up seven hits and walked only two hitters in his 10-inning masterpiece. On the back of Morris’ Game 7 exploits, coupled with his Game 1 win and his hard luck no-decision in Game 4, he walked away as World Series MVP.

When Gene Larkin laced a one-out single to left-center in the bottom of the 10th inning, bringing Dan Gladden in for the winning run, it was only fitting that Morris was the first player to welcome him home.

If the showdown between Los Angeles and Houston is half as good as 1991’s World Series, we are in for a treat. Play ball, boys.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: twinkietown.com)

 

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