2018 Pittsburgh Pirates preview

2018 MLB preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017: 75-87 (fourth place in NL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2015

Last World Series title: 1979

2017 Recap

From 2013-15, the Pirates were a nice story. They made the postseason in all three seasons and won over 90 games in 2013 and 2015. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for them to compete in the near future officially closed in 2017.

After winning just 78 games in 2016, Pittsburgh finished 2017 with a record of 75-87. They were one of the worst offensive teams in the league, ranking 26th in hits, 27th in batting average, 28th in runs, 29th in home runs and 30th in total bases.

McCutchen led the Pirates in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, batting average, walks, SLG and OPS. (Photo from SI.com)

Among the 15 NL teams, the Pirates pitching ranked seventh in ERA and 12th in hits and strikeouts. On the bright side, they did finish with the fourth fewest home runs surrendered in the MLB.

Andrew McCutchen, one of the top 15 Pirates of all time in regards to WAR, bounced back after a tough 2016 season. He silenced the doubters by slashing .279/.363/.486 with 28 home runs, 88 RBIs and 11 steals. The 2013 NL MVP led the Pirates in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, batting average, walks, SLG and OPS. Talk about carrying the load.

Josh Harrison was the lone Pirates member of the NL All-Star team. Harrison hit 10 home runs in the first half and ended the season with 16 long balls, 12 steals and a .272 batting average.

A big reason for the lack of offense was Starling Marte’s off-the-field decisions. Marte, who led Pittsburgh in WAR in 2015 and 2016, was suspended 80 games for PED use. In his 77 games, Marte hit seven home runs and stole 21 bases.

One of the feel-good stories of the year was Jameson Taillon, who underwent surgery for testicular cancer in May. He was able to return and make a total of 25 starts. The 26-year-old went 8-7 with a 4.44 ERA.

Felipe Rivero was absolutely fantastic out of the bullpen for the Pirates. He had 21 saves, and was the only pitcher in the MLB to throw at least 75 innings and post an ERA less than 1.70. Gerrit Cole wasn’t great, but he did strike out 196 batters over 203 innings.

2018: Around the Diamond

For the first time since 2008, the Pirates will enter the season without Andrew McCutchen, who was traded to the San Francisco Giants in January. Obviously, he has been the face of the franchise for quite some time and clearly did everything for this offense in 2017. 2018 will be a rebuilding year for the Pirates.

To help mirror the production of McCutchen, Pittsburgh traded for 2017 AL All-Star, Corey Dickerson. The OF/DH hit .282 with 27 home runs and will replace McCutchen in left field.

Joining him in the outfield will be Marte and Gregory Polanco. Last spring, Polanco dealt with shoulder issues, which must have had an effect on his game throughout the season. He only stole eight bases and posted a career-low .305 OBP.

2018 Pittsburgh Pirates preview

Bell hit 26 home runs in 2017. (Photo from Sporting News)

Pittsburgh will showcase one of the weaker infields in regards to production. Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz will split time behind the plate, while David Freese, who led the team with a .368 OBP, will battle Colin Moran for playing time at third. Moran, a former first-round pick, came over from Houston in the Cole trade and is off to a great start this spring. In 23 at-bats, Moran is hitting .304 with three runs scored.

Up the middle will again be Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer. Josh Bell will play first base and is not only a fantasy baseball sleeper, but possibly Pittsburgh’s best offensive player for 2018. In 2017, Bell hit 26 home runs with 90 RBIs. He is only 25 years old and has potential to be a .280, 25 home run player in 2018.

The most likely candidate to start at DH, for when Pittsburgh travels to the American League, is Adam Frazier. He should see time at the middle infield positions also, along with Sean Rodriguez.

On the Bump

No more Gerrit Cole means Pittsburgh is need of an ace. Ivan Nova, who had the fourth-best BB/9 last season, has been named the Opening Day starter.

Following Nova will be Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams, who started 25 games for Pittsburgh in 2017 and went 7-9 with a 4.07 ERA. If you play fantasy baseball, stay away from anyone in this rotation, besides for Taillon, who could turn into a quality starter.

Keep in mind, Pittsburgh also has Tyler Glasnow, who they badly need to develop. It would not be fair to label Glasnow as a bust since he was a fifth-round pick, but he has been dreadful at the MLB level. In 85.1 career innings, Glasnow has a 6.75 ERA and 6.0 BB/9. He excels in the minors, going 9-2 with a 1.93 ERA in Triple-A during 2017, but needs to figure it out at the big-league level. So far this spring, Glasnow has made three starts and has an 11.74 ERA.

Rivero will remain in the closer role, while George Kontos, who came over from San Francisco last season, will most likely serve as the setup man. Kontos was great in his 14.2 innings of work with Pittsburgh in 2017, posting a 1.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts.

The Future

The Pirates have two pitchers, along with outfielder Austin Meadows, who cracked the Top 100 prospects list on MLB.com. Pittsburgh’s top prospect, Mitch Keller (No.15), was a second-round pick back in 2014. The 21-year-old pitched well between A+ and Double-A in 2017. Overall, the righty went 8-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 116 strikeouts over 116 innings of work. Keller hopes to make his MLB debut in 2018.

This Spring, Meadows is hitting .462 with two doubles, a triple, one home run, and 7 RBIs in just 14 plate appearances.(Pirates Prospects)

Pittsburgh’s best non-pitching prospect is outfielder Austin Meadows (No. 45). Last season, Meadows hit just .250 in Triple-A, but he was dealing with hamstring problems throughout the season. The ninth overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft is off to a scorching hot start this spring, hitting .462 with two doubles, a triple, one home run and seven RBIs in just 14 plate appearances.

Shane Baz (No. 67), was the 12th pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. The pitcher was drafted out of high school and is still just 18 years old. His fastball can get up to 98 mph, while his curveball has great movement. The Pirates seem to always develop pitchers, so Baz is in a great situation.

2018 Prediction: 72-90

It’s a rebuilding year for Pittsburgh after trading away its best pitcher and hitter to help plan for the future. They realized they did not have what it takes to get over the hump, so now it will be a tough couple of years for Pirates fans. Hopefully Taillon and Glasnow can develop into big-time arms, while the growth of Josh Bell will be fun to watch this season.

 

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2018 MLB preview: Chicago Cubs

2017: 92-70 (first place in NL Central)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017

Last World Series Title: 2016

2017 Recap

The Chicago Cubs won back-to-back World Series titles from 1907-1908. 108 years later, they finally managed to win another one, but, unfortunately, the 2017 Cubs were unable to repeat. Chicago was eliminated in five games against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. The offense hit just .156 in the series, with their three star hitters, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras, going a combined 9-for-55.

Although they won 11 fewer games than they did in the 2016 season, the Cubs had a great regular season and won the NL Central for the second year in a row. From July-October, the Cubs went 52-30. They entered the postseason hot, but the bats went cold and the pitching struggled against the Dodgers, who were clearly the better all-around team.

Both Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were tremendous in the 2017 regular season (Chicago Tribune)

Much like in their championship season, the offensive success was led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Bryant finished fifth in walks, seventh in runs created and OBP, and eighth in runs and offensive WAR. He hit .325 in the second half and finished the season with 29 home runs. His buddy, Rizzo, drove in 109 runs, which was good for eighth in the MLB. He finished first in HBP, and slashed .273/.392/.507, with 32 home runs and 10 steals. 2017 was the third straight season in which Rizzo had 600 AB’s, 30 home runs, 90 runs, and 100 RBIs.

Among the 15 NL teams, the Cubs ranked third in home runs, and fifth in total bases. In regards to the entire MLB, Chicago finished fourth in runs and OBP, sixth in OPS, and seventh in SLG. The pitching staff ranked fourth in BAA, had the seventh best ERA in the bigs, and finished eighth in strikeouts.

The glaring difference from 2016 to 2017 was the amount of home runs and walks surrendered. After finishing in the NL with the sixth fewest home runs and seventh walks issued, Chicago ranked 10th in walks, and 11th in home runs.

2018: Around the Diamond

The Cubs will enter 2018 with, again, one of the most dynamic lineups in the bigs. Behind the plate is Contreras, who, in 2017, solidified himself as one of the best catchers in the game. He finished with the third highest WAR among catchers and hit 21 home runs with an OBP of .356. Contreras hit .305 in the second half alone, as well as .363 with RISP.

Joining Contreras, Rizzo, and Bryant in the infield are two of the best defenders in the game, Addison Russell and Javy Baez. Russell spent time on the DL in 2017, after suffering a strained right foot, and hit just .239 in his 110 games. However, he finished eighth in defensive WAR, and hit 21 home runs in 2016. Russell is a fantastic defender, and has shown he has pop from the shortstop positon, but is still a lifetime .240 hitter. Keep in mind, he is only 24-years-old and can easily turn into a star.

Javy Baez’ defense is must-see TV (NBC Chicago)

Baez, who is already making highlight reel plays in Spring Training, will play the majority of the games at second base. Baez has a lot of power, 23 home runs last season, but also strikes out a ton. He hit .315 against lefties and was one of five second basemen to hit at least 23 home runs, 10 steals, 25 XBH, and 75 runs (Brian Dozier, Rougned Odor, Jose Ramirez, Jose Altuve).

Heading into the season, Chicago has five outfielders who are all capable of starting. Let’s start with the obvious, which is the 5x-Gold Glove Award winner, Jason Heyward, who will be the starting right fielder. After hitting just .230 in 2016, Heyward improved a little and got the average up to .259. For some odd reason, at just 28, he has lost all his power and speed. Heyward hit just 11 home runs and stole four bases.

The fan favorite, Kyle Schwarber, lost 20 lbs. and worked on his agility during the offseason. Schwarber, who was sent down to AAA last season, crushed 30 home runs in 129 games. He hit just .211, but in the final 65 games, the 25-year-old hit .255. His .244 BABIP means the average is bound to go up in 2017, so look for the skinnier, more agile Schwarber to have a 2018.

Ben Zobrist, Albert Almora Jr., and Ian Happ will battle for the center field spot, as well as playing time at the corner-outfield positions. Almora, in 323 plate appearances, hit .342 against lefties, while Happ crushed 24 home runs in 115 games. Zobrist had a rough 2017, hitting just .232. Almora has to be the favorite to start in center, but Coach Joe Maddon will find a way for all three of these guys to get solid playing time, especially with Zobrist’s ability to play multiple positons.

On the Bump

No Jake Arrieta or John Lackey means the rotation will be looking a little different in 2018. Jon Lester, the Opening Day starter, needs to bounce back after a rough 2017. Last season, Lester posted a 4.33 ERA, which was his worst since 2012. He also had his highest HR/9 since becoming a full-time starter.

Lester’s walks were up, and, quite frankly, his fastball was bad. In 2017, opponents hit .289 against Lester’s four seam, which is a drastic difference compared to 2016, when opponents hit just .200 against it. Still, Lester is about as reliable as it gets, posting 10 straight seasons of at least 180 innings.

Yu Darvish looks to move past his World Series struggles and dominate in 2018. (SI.com)

Chicago’s biggest offseason splash was the signing of Yu Darvish. Darvish, a four-time All-Star, throws eight different pitches, and should excel, as long as he does not tip his pitches. Darvish has a career 3.42 ERA, as well as an 11.0 K/9.

Jose Quintana, who was acquired from the White Sox last July, went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA in 14 starts for the Cubs. He came up short in the NLCS, and overall, struggled last season, career-highs in BB/9 and HR/9, but he has pitched well the last few seasons, and could put up ace-type numbers.

Kyle Hendricks, who spent time on the DL due to a middle finger tendon inflammation in his right hand, is coming in hot for 2018. Over his last 78 innings, Hendricks had a 2.19 ERA, and ultimately finished 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA. He was elite in 2016, and, if he stays healthy, should continue to succeed in 2018. The Cubs also brought in former Colorado Rockies pitcher, Tyler Chatwood, Chatwood had a 3.49 ERA away from Coors last year, but he also had a 4.69 BB/9, which is absolutely atrocious, Still, Chatwood generates a lot of ground balls and will be a solid number five in this rotation.

No Wade Davis means the Cubs will have a new closer in 2018. In December, Chicago signed Brandon Morrow, the 11-year veteran who thrived with the Dodgers in 2017, going 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 43.2 innings. Morrow, who has 18 career saves, will start the season in the closer role. The bullpen will also showcase guys like Carl Edwards Jr, Justin Wilson, and Steve Cishek.

The Future

The Cubs young core will hopefully be around for years to come, because they have traded away the majority of their star prospects. Heading into 2018, they have zero members on the Top 100 Prospects list.  Still, that list is merely just projections, and cannot tell the future.

Chicago’s top pitching prospect, Adbert Alzolay, has top-of-the-rotation potential. Signed out of Venezuela in 2011, Alzolay went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA last season between A+/AA. The Cubs top hitting prospect is shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan is a left handed hitter who had 20 XBH, 7 home runs, and 14 steals in 68 minor league games.

2018 Prediction: 93-69

The Brewers have improved, the Cardinals are always good, and even the Reds are on the rise. However, the Cubs are still clearly the best team in this division, and, for the third year in a row, will win the NL Central. Chicago will be right in the hunt to win the NL Pennant.

Featured image by MLB.com

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2018 MLB sleeper teams

Sleeper teams for the 2018 MLB season

With the offseason wrapping up and Spring Training on the horizon, experts are beginning to make their picks on which teams are contenders and pretenders. Even with the plethora of big name free agents still available, most rosters are set.

Teams like the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees are considered the big favorites right now, and rightfully so. Other teams like the Cubs, Brewers and Red Sox still have their eyes set on October. The thing all these teams have in common is that they are hyped up as playoff teams. Ask any baseball fan who they think is going to win the World Series and those are the teams they’ll list.

Each year, one or two teams blow up on the baseball scene. Last year, it was Minnesota and Arizona. The year before, it was the Texas Rangers.

While I won’t build myself up as a flawless fortune teller, these are two teams baseball fans should keep an eye on.

National League: Philadelphia Phillies

While everyone in Philadelphia is currently focused on winning their first Super Bowl (good luck with that), the Phillies could make a lot of noise in the NL. The Nationals have the East locked up for now baring injury, but Philly could fly in under the radar and possibly sneak into a Wild Card spot.

2018 MLB sleeper teams

Carlos Santana looks to help the Phillies achieve success in his first year with the team. (Photo by Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

One thing the Phillies have in their favor is a weak division outside of Washington. Miami has had a fire sale to end all fire sales. Atlanta still has some rebuilding to do with their roster. The Mets can’t stay healthy past April.

 

Washington is head and shoulders the best team in the division. In the West and Central divisions, no team can truly make that claim. The Dodgers have the Diamondbacks, Rockies and the geriatric Giants to worry about. The Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers are going to fight to the death for that divisional crown. With all these teams beating each other, the Phillies could use their easy path to their advantage.

The Phillies have plenty of young talent. Pitcher Aaron Nola saw significant improvement in his wins and ERA and will continue to blossom into the ace they see him as.

If you are looking for future All-Stars, Rhys Hoskins is the real player to watch in Philly. In his first MLB action, Hoskins hit .259 with 18 homers and had a slugging percentage of .618. Those are great numbers for a young player starting out.

These young players coupled with veterans like first baseman Carlos Santana, who hit 23 homers and had a 3.4 WAR, and relief pitcher Pat Neshek, who had a sub-two ERA last season, have potential to make noise this season.

American League: Oakland Athletics  

After being bottom dwellers for the past three seasons, the Oakland Athletics have to be tired of losing.

The A’s are in a similar position as the Phillies, a losing team with young stars and a juggernaut in the lead of their division. One difference is the rest of the division. The Angels have made huge improvements and the Rangers and Mariners continue to be dangerous.

2018 MLB sleeper teams

Matt Olson looks to continue his offensive onslaught from last season. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports)

If the A’s are to have any success, it’ll be spearheaded by their two young Matts: Matt Olson and Matt Chapman.

 

In his first season with extended playing time, Chapman looked to be one of, if not the best defensive third baseman in baseball. In 84 games, Chapman put up a 3.6 WAR, just ahead of Manny Machado and behind former A Josh Donaldson. While he wasn’t great at the plate, he had a .785 OPS, which is above league average. For a 24-year-old, thats great.

When looking at Olson, the opposite could be said. While Olson’s glove is good, it’s his offensive firepower that makes him a superstar in the making. In just 189 at-bats, Olson hit 24 homers and had an insane OPS of 1.003, which is considered excellent. For reference, NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton had an 1.007 OPS.

These two players are stars in the making. They will be coupled with Khris Davis, who has had back-to-back 40 homer seasons.

The A’s will also have a much improved bullpen and a rotation full of potential. The A’s are set for the short-term and long-term future.

 

Featured image by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

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A look back at Chipper Jones’ incredible numbers

When you think about the steroid era, you think about guys with over 60 home runs in a season like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. You also think of guys like Roger Clemens, who managed to win seven Cy Young Awards, including one at age 41. Yet, a kid born on April 24, 1972, in DeLand, Florida, played during this same time period and absolutely tore it up.

In his first year on the ballot, Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr. is a lock for the Hall of Fame. Although he did not put up numbers as outlandish as his counterparts who used PEDs, Jones’ stats were absolutely remarkable for someone who was completely clean in a time where baseball was filled with corruption. Jones will be the second player in the history of the amateur draft to be selected No. 1 overall and reach the Hall of Fame.

Early Days

Larry Jr. was given the nickname “Chipper” at a young age by his family. They saw the boy as a “chip off the old block” and the name stuck. His dad, Larry Sr., who idolized Mickey Mantle, taught Chipper to switch hit just like the Yankee legend. In high school, he was a star pitcher, shortstop and outfielder.

As an 18-year-old kid, the Atlanta Braves selected Jones with the first overall pick in the 1990 MLB June Amateur Draft. He was drafted as a shortstop, but as he worked his way up the ladder in the Braves farm system, it was clear that third base was a better fit.

Here is an excerpt from SI’s article, “Chipper Jones is a lock for First-Ballot Hall of Fame election.

Ahead of the 1990 draft, he met with agent Scott Boras, whom he found “brash, abrasive, smug and cocky,” according to his description of their brief meeting in his 2017 memoir, Ballplayer. Instead, he hired childhood friend B.B. Abbott. A day before the draft, Jones ditched his prom weekend to meet with the Braves, who owned the No. 1 overall pick; Cox, then the team’s general manager, had scouted him. Over dinner at an Olive Garden in Daytona Beach, Jones agreed to a bonus of $275,000 with incentives that pushed the total package of $400,000.

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

Young Chipper. (Photo from Online Athens)

In late 1993, Jones debuted as the youngest player in the league. The following season, after starting left fielder Ron Gant broke his leg in a dirt bike accident, it appeared Jones would have a legitimate shot to start. That was until Jones suffered an ACL tear in the spring of 1994. Jones missed the entire strike-shortened season in 1994.

 

As a rookie in 1995, he became just the fifth qualified rookie to get at least 23 home runs, 85 RBIs, 135 hits and 73 walks. That list includes Ted Williams, Al Rosen, Alvin Davis and Tim Salmon. Recently, both Aaron Judge and Kris Bryant eclipsed these numbers during their rookie seasons.

1995 was also the year that the Atlanta Braves won their third championship, and first since moving to Atlanta. In the NLCS, Jones hit .438. During the entirety of the 1995 postseason, the 23-year-old Jones hit .364 with 10 runs, three home runs and eight RBIs.

In 19 years, all with the Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones had a career average of .303, along with 2,726 hits, including 468 home runs.

 

Players to hit at least: 460 HR, 2,700 H, .300 BA, .400 OBP
BABE RUTH
MEL OTT
LOU GEHRIG
STAN MUSIAL
CHIPPER JONES

 

Numbers

Jones had five seasons in which he finished in the top 10 for batting average, and seven seasons in the top 10 for on-base percentage. He joined Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial as the only retired players to have a career batting average above .300, hit at least 465 home runs and a minimum of 2,700 hits and 1,600 runs.

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

Eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger (Photo from CBS News)

Jones had five seasons in which he had 180 hits, 30 home runs, 110 runs and a slugging percentage above .530. Players who also had five seasons with these numbers include Stan Musial and Ted Williams. The only players with more than five of these monster seasons are Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

From 1995-2008, Jones had 14 straight seasons of at least 20 doubles and 21 home runs. Fourteen straight. His 162-game average, over a span of 19 seasons, was .303, 30 home runs, 177 hits and 105 runs.

In 1999, Jones won the NL MVP award. He hit .319 with 45 home runs and 181 hits. Jones also had a .441 on-base percentage, .633 slugging percentage, and an OPS+ of 169. The AL MVP, Ivan Rodriguez, had an on-base percentage of .356, slugging percentage of .558, and an OPS+ of 125. All stats lower than Jones, who was arguably the best player in the league in 1999.

PLAYERS WITH SEASONS OF AT LEAST 21 HOME RUNS, 20 DOUBLES, .390 OBP, .295 BA # OF SEASONS
TED WILLIAMS 15
BABE RUTH 13
LOU GEHRIG 12
CHIPPER JONES 11
MANNY RAMIREZ 11
ALBERT PUJOLS 10
BARRY BONDS 10
JIMMIE FOXX 10
MEL OTT 10
JIMMIE FOXX 10
STAN MUSIAL 9

During his career (1993-2012), Jones had the fourth most WAR behind Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. He is currently 23rd in offensive WAR, which has him ahead of George Brett, Robin Yount, Pete Rose, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Carl Yastrzemski.

According to the baseball gurus, an All-Star type season means at least 5 WAR. Chipper Jones had eight seasons with 5.5 WAR. His 468 home runs are the most in the NL by a switch-hitter. Jones is arguably the second best switch-hitter of all-time, behind his dad’s idol, Mickey Mantle.

The Hot Corner

Jones spent the majority of his career at the hot corner, but also played left field in 2002 and 2003. He had seven seasons in which he finished in the top three for third basemen in WAR, including first in 1998, 1999 and 2008. From 1996-2001, Chipper Jones was the best third baseman in baseball. During this time, he led all qualified third basemen in WAR with 35.6. The second place finisher, Jeff Cirillo, had only 28.4.

A serious argument could be made for Jones as the best third baseman of all time. He is third all time in home runs for third basemen who played at least 1,500 games at the hot corner. When compared to Mike Schmidt, Jones has a higher batting average, more hits, more runs, higher OBP, higher SLG and a higher OPS. Chipper also has more home runs and higher OBP, SLG, and OPS than the great George Brett.

Jones is also one of the best postseason players of all time. He has played the ninth most games and ranks fifth in runs scored, fifth in hits, seventh in total bases, eighth in RBIs, seventh in singles and tied for first in walks.

Later Days

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

A true legend. (Photo from The Sports Fan Journal)

Once he got a little older, Jones did not slow down. After turning 34, he had three seasons in which he hit .320 with 20 home runs and 20 doubles. The only other players with more seasons, at 34 years or older, are Ted Williams, Barry Bonds and Edgar Martinez.

 

At age 36, Jones won the batting title with a batting average of .364. He joined Tris Speaker, Ted Williams, Zach Wheat, Babe Ruth, Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds and Eddie Collins as the only players 36 years or older to finish a season hitting at least .360. Jones finished his career with six seasons in the top ten for MVP voting and finished in the top 25 for nine straight seasons (1995-2003).

 

PLAYERS AFTER TURNING 35 WHO HIT .300, 110 HR, 160 2B
BARRY BONDS
STAN MUSIAL
EDGAR MARTINEZ
CHIPPER JONES

 

The 1999 NL MVP, 2008 NL Batting Title Champion, eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and 1995 World Series Champion is an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer, whose numbers show that he is among the best players in the history of the sport.

 

Featured image from USA Today

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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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Miami Marlins team profile

After a long and arduous process, the Marlins were finally sold to an ownership group that highlights future Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter. The change in ownership is going to have a very large impact on what this team will look like in the coming years. Jeter and company are not messing around, as they want to really push to turn things around. If all goes to plan, they would love to have a similar story as the Houston Astros did over the past few years.

2017 Season

Miami Marlins team profile

Urena was the one bright spot on the Marlins pitching staff in 2017 (Photo from MLB.com)

The Marlins managed to finish second in the NL East, a division where everyone knew the winner on opening day. Even though Miami finished in second place, they still were 20 games behind the Nationals with a 77-85 record.

They did manage to find some success, as they did go on a 16-8 run in August which found them with a winning record and within eye shot of the Wild Card. Those dreams were quickly put to rest however, as they followed that with a 11-16 record in September.

Where the Marlins succeeded is obvious, their outfield was tops in baseball. Miami’s outfield has the best combined WAR out of any outfield combination in baseball. Between Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, they had 16.2 wins above replacement.

Stanton is the name that pops out of this stellar outfield. His 59 home runs were the most since Barry Bonds beat the home run record in 2001 with 73 home runs. Sammy Sosa also had 64 that year. With all of the talk of PEDs and whatnot, some argue that Stanton’s 59 only falls short of Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in 1961. Stanton now finds himself as a candidate for MVP.

Where the Marlins fell short was their pitching staff. They had the third worst staff ERA in the National League, and only had one starter with a sub 4.00 ERA in Jose Urena.

With the tragic death of superstar Jose Fernandez, many of the Marlins’ plans have been shaken up. His infectious personality, along with his excellent game have completely turned the Marlins future around.

One thing is for sure though, the Marlins need to find some young pitching.

The need for pitching

Miami Marlins team profile

Yelich could get the Marlins a big return of pitching prospects (Photo from CBS Sports)

Edison Volquez had the only no-hitter in 2017, which was a big plus for Miami. Other than that though, the pitching staff was one of the very worst in the league.

The pitching staff needs to be addressed because it isn’t good now, and they don’t have anyone on the way. The sad thing is that the Marlins do not have anyone in the MLB Top 100 prospects. This is the offseason where Jeter will let people know he wants to bring in some young guys for the future.

The Marlins will not be able to get a whole lot of pitching prospects for Stanton. The main goal of this offseason is give his contract to someone else, while maybe getting one or two plus prospects in return. Where the real value lies is with their other two outfielders, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich.

Unlike Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna have team-friendly contracts. This makes them much more appealing as trade prospects, and will most likely be able to garner some more young pitching. Ozuna had a breakout year in 2017 and has been serviceable otherwise. Yelich has developed into the kind of guy that will hit around .300 and will drive in runs when he needs to, along with some occasional power.

The Marlins have hinted that they are only looking to trade Stanton and want to hold on to Ozuna and Yelich, but if they want any real return in the form of prospects, they will need to part with one of these guys as well.

The Stanton conundrum

Miami Marlins team profile

Miami has made it clear that they want to move Stanton this offseason (CBS Sports)

Derek Jeter has stated that he intends to cut payroll significantly this offseason. The first thing that comes to mind in this case is the largest player contract in the world, which belongs to Giancarlo Stanton. The contract was originally signed in 2014, and was 13 years for $325 million. Much of the money is back loaded, so he is still owed $295 million.

If the Marlins do want to move Stanton, they shouldn’t expect to get a heap of prospects in return without being willing to pay a portion of Stanton’s contract. The Marlins may still be able to get one good prospect in return for giving Stanton’s contract to another team.

The Cardinals are a prime candidate as they need an impact bat and have some money to spend, while they also have attractive pitching prospects in Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver.

Stanton has also been tied to the Giants and Phillies. His one caveat to being traded (because he can veto any trade he doesn’t like), and that is he wants to play for a winner. Stanton has never played for a winning team, so there is no way he would want to endure a Astros-esque rebuild at this point. That is why a team like the Dodgers or the Cardinals make the most sense.

The Dodgers do have talented outfielders and more on the way in Alex Verdugo and Jeren Kendall. The Cardinals are also famous for not taking on large contracts with one player. That is what will make it difficult for Jeter move the 2017 home run king. They will still have to eat a good chunk of his contract in order to get this to work.

How it will play out

Although the Marlins are shopping Stanton heavily, it is going to be difficult for them to move him and his contract anywhere. There isn’t a perfect suitor out there that wants to pay all of the $295 million that is owed to Stanton, so Miami is really going to have to incentivize a team to take him. Unless the Marlins move at least one of their outfielders, they will be stuck in a state of mediocrity next season as well.

There is too much work to be done on the mound in order to have the Marlins compete for an NL East title with the Nationals. As mentioned before, Miami is going to look to do an Astros style rebuild in order to get back into the thick of it. It would be ideal to hold onto Christian Yelich, but the Marlins just don’t have that many other appealing players.

Once the winter meetings come around, Miami will realize that they will have to part with players they don’t want to part with. I see it happening if Jeter is really serious about acquiring some young talent for the future.

 

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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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Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Axe Bat leading hitting technology into the future

There’s a new bat poised to take Major League Baseball by storm. The Axe Bat, developed by Baden Sports, is proof that what’s old can become new again. If you aren’t familiar, the latest development in hitting technology is the Axe-handled baseball bat.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

A lineup of Victus’ Axe-handle bats before being shipped to Miami Marlins slugger, Giancarlo Stanton.
(Photo courtesy of: whatproswear.com)

The early results by those that have swung them competitively at the game’s top level are remarkable. Axe Bat’s Director of Communications, Matt Peterson, spoke about this revolutionary new bat design in greater detail.

In 2017, at least 35 different big-leaguers swung the Axe-handled bat. Peterson said that together, those players totaled nearly 4,800 plate appearances and more than 1,100 hits.

All time, at least 57 players have used an Axe-handled bat during an official MLB game. It’s this type of growth that is turning more and more hitters onto this innovative design.

It also doesn’t hurt when you compare the hitting lines of those using it, to those still using traditional round-knobbed bats. Over the past two seasons, players swinging the Axe-handled bat design hit a collective slash line of (.273/.463/.805). In comparison, hitters using the traditional round-knobbed bat design put together a collective (.255/.422/.745).

Rookie Hitters

The early returns on performance seem to be paying huge dividends for players who decide to incorporate this new tool into their game. Take San Diego Padres rookie center fielder Manny Margot for instance. He converted to the Axe-handled bat for the majority of the season’s second half in 2017.

“The week he switched, he won the NL

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

San Diego rookie, Manny Margot, before he started realizing the benefits of the Axe-handled bat. (Photo courtesy of: Sporting News)

Player of the Week award,” Peterson said.

What a week it was for the young rookie with stars in his eyes too. Margot slapped Mets and Pirates pitching around the park all week (July 30), going 12-24 at the dish. But wait, there’s more to it than that.

In the first half of 2017 from Opening Day to July 23, before Margot switched bats, he hit (.258/.373/.677) with five homers and nine doubles in 281 plate appearances. After the switch to an Axe-handled bat, however, the difference is amazing.

From July 24 through the final game of the season, the young Margot posted a much improved (.269/.449/.772) over 248 plate appearances. During the final few months of the season, Margot matched his first half output in doubles with nine and hit eight home runs. If you’re keeping score, that’s three more homers in 33 fewer plate appearances. Margot loves hitting with the Axe-handled design it would appear.

Margot isn’t the only Padres youngster swinging an Axe-handled bat though.

“His teammate, Allen Cordoba, another rookie, also swung the bat most of this season,” Peterson said.

Established Professional Hitters

The rookies, however, aren’t the only players in MLB that have had their head turned by the Axe Bat. Established pro hitters are also getting in on the action as well.

Several of this year’s hitters in MLB’s postseason are among those switching from the classic round-knobbed handle to the Axe-handle. In 2017’s playoff field, George Springer, Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Chris Owings, Lonnie Chisenhall, Greg Allen and Mookie Betts all swung the Axe Bat 100 percent of the time in 2017 Peterson said.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Dustin Pedrioa steps into the batter’s box brandishing his Axe-handle bat. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

There were also several other players on the rosters of playoff teams who used the Axe-handled bat in 2017.

“Other players on playoff teams who used it in a significant number of at-bats included Dustin Pedroia, Joc Pederson and Matt Wieters,” Peterson said.

Growth within the game is happening rapidly as more players are encountering the Axe Bat.

“Several others experimented with it for a handful of at-bats this year and might be candidates for Spring Training 2018,” Peterson said.

“We anticipate the growth trend to continue as Axe-handled bats become more available, as more performance benefits of the handle are confirmed,” Peterson said. “And we begin showing players some of the new designs and customization options that will soon be available to them.”

One significant performance benefit of an Axe-handled bat is an increase in bat speed. It has been studied by Baseball Prospectus. They confirmed that Axe Bat’s claim to improve bat speed does, in fact, hold water.

Read Baseball Prospectus’ study on the Axe Bat here.

Licensing Axe-handle technology

There’s a good reason many fans haven’t realized this bat has found its way into several big leaguer’s hands. That reason is licensing.

Axe Bat’s patented Axe-handle technology has been licensed to Major League Baseball’s approved wood bat makers. The first of these companies to purchase the right to use the Axe-handled design is Victus Sports.

“That’s why you see Victus’ logo on the barrel of Axe-handled bats.” Peterson said. “Victus Sports was our first licensee. They make a great bat and were instrumental in getting the Axe-handle in players’ hands around the league.”

As more players realize the benefits of this revolutionary bat handle design, more bat makers are sure to be purchasing the rights to make this bat for their customers. Couple this with high profile players like Dustin Pedrioa and Mookie Betts, and swinging an Axe-handled bat and it is sure to find its way into other players’ hands too.

Baseball players are some of the most superstitious people in the universe. One solid hit during a slump and a player can get hooked forever. As more research is done (like the study by Baseball Prospectus) on the Axe Bat, more players are sure to start incorporating it into their game.

Final Thoughts

Since the moment it was created, Axe-handle design has seen significant growth in MLB. The idea for the Axe Bat was conceptualized in 2009 by Bruce Leinert. As a result, by 2017 there were already 35 players who tested it in live competition. Some, like Mookie Betts, have even made it their primary bat. That’s darn impressive growth in the span of eight years.

From a fan’s perspective, is will be interesting to see what impact this bat will have on the game. It’ll be interesting to see the statistical comparison between both Axe and traditional bat designs going forward, especially as more players incorporate the Axe-handle bat into their game.

This should make for some fascinating conversations in the future, no doubts about it!

 

(Feature image: Sports Illustrated)

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three times pitchers went deep

Three times pitchers went deep in the World Series

Pitchers hitting home runs is something we don’t see a great deal of these days. One of the greatest plays that fans could ever hope to witness during a game is dying out. Being that we rarely talk about pitchers hitting the long ball, here are three times pitchers went deep in the World Series.

Home runs by a pitcher in the World Series is a feat that has been accomplished on 15 occasions in MLB history, by 13 players. Here are three such notable instances.

Where have all the homers gone?

Hitting a home run is the epitome of a pitcher helping his own cause. Before 1973 and the advent of the designated hitter, pitchers of both leagues were expected to hit for themselves. It’s no great coincidence that home runs by a pitcher would be more of a common occurrence in those days.

three times pitchers went deep

Warren Spahn, a veteran of 21 MLB seasons, was no stranger to knocking a few out of the park himself. (Photo Courtesy of: Atlanta Braves)

Take Warren Spahn for example. In his 21 seasons of big league ball, he went deep an astounding 35 times, good enough for third place all-time for a pitcher. Spahn, the Braves’ left-handed ace, sits behind leader Wes Ferrell’s 38 and Bob Lemon’s 37. Remarkably though, Spahn does hold the record for number of seasons (17) with a home run as a pitcher.

Pitchers certainly don’t clear the fence in 2017 at the rate they used to in those bygone eras. Admittedly, this downward trend in homers is relative to the sample size, meaning pitchers just don’t hit as often as they used to.

There is still one pitcher who hits his share of taters, and his name is Madison Bumgarner. In his nine seasons taking the hill for San Francisco, he’s also added 17 career homers to back his excellent pitching efforts. Bumgarner might not have had the 2017 season that many envisioned for him, but he became the first pitcher in MLB history to smash a pair of homers on opening day.

Bumgarner is the exception to the rule these days however. There are few pitchers going right now who even look like they have a clue at the dish. What’s more is that a lot of pitchers aren’t getting the at-bats they once did either.

With many rotations now going to the bullpens earlier and with greater frequency than ever before, the home run by a pitcher is only going to become rarer. This begs the question: is the designated hitter coming to the National League soon?

Three times pitchers went deep

Jack Bentley, 1924 World Series

New York Giants vs. Washington Senators (Game 5) off Walter Johnson

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bentley’s homer in 1924 isn’t merely the fact he went deep. It’s noteworthy anytime a pitcher does a little yard work. To Bentley’s credit though, he’s the only pitcher to ever homer off Walter Johnson in October. This is a monumental feat no matter which way you slice it.

three times pitchers went deep

Dave McNally (left) is photographed with teammate and baseball Hall of Famer, Jim Palmer. (Photo courtesy of: classickicks.com)

In the fifth inning of Game 5 in 1924’s World Series, the Giants and Senators found themselves knotted at one apiece. Heading to the home half of the inning with both pitchers throwing well, nobody in the Polo Grounds that day could have expected what happened next.

Walter Johnson, the hard-throwing 1924 pitching triple crown winner, awaited Jack Bentley’s presence in the batter’s box. He was most likely thinking Bentley would be an easy out. He was dead wrong.

The Giants lefthander did the unthinkable. Bentley banished Johnson’s offering to the right field seats, breaking the one-run deadlock in Game 5 and powering the Giants to a 6-2 win.

This remarkable homer was not a sign of good things to come though. Washington would ultimately prevail in the series four games to three with Johnson picking up the deciding win.

Though Johnson and his Senators teammates had the last laugh, Bentley walked away with a unique bragging right no other pitcher could ever contend with.

Dave McNally, 1970 World Series

Baltimore Orioles vs. Cincinnati Reds (Game 3) off Wayne Granger

Unlike Jack Bentley before him, Dave McNally had the good fortune to both homer and walk away a champion. In 1970, the Orioles were baseball’s best team, finishing the season with a record of 108-54. Dave McNally, was one of their best pitchers.

McNally finished second in Cy Young voting in 1970, posting a league leading 24 wins.

While putting up an impressive showing in 1970, McNally also has the distinction of being one of two pitchers (Bob Gibson) with multiple World Series homers. He accomplished this in both 1969’s ill-fated matchup with the Miracle Mets and 1970’s dismantling of Cincinnati’s not-yet-completed Red Machine.

McNally’s home run in the 1970 World Series is special because it’s the only grand slam by a pitcher in the postseason. Not just the World Series, but in the entirety of MLB’s postseason.

Baltimore’s McNally started Game 3 matched by the Reds’ Tony Cloninger. In fine fashion and like he did all year, McNally pitched all nine frames, scattering nine hits and three runs. In the sixth inning with the bases jacked, McNally sent a deep drive to left field and unjacked the bases. All it took was one mighty swing of that solid ash bat.

Baltimore won Game 3 after McNally kicked the door wide open in the sixth by a score of 9-3. Ending the year on a high note, Baltimore went on to win the World Series against Cincinnati in five games. Their first ever championship.

Joe Blanton, 2008 World Series

Joe Blanton turns on an inside heater from Edwin Jackson for a solo home run. (Photo courtesy of: Boston.com)

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Tampa Bay Rays (Game 4) off Edwin Jackson

Joe Blanton’s 2008 homer isn’t the flashiest of home runs, nor was it hit by the flashiest of players. It stands out for another reason. It currently stands as the last occurrence of a pitcher going yard on the biggest stage in the sport.

Prior to Blanton, Oakland’s Ken Holtzman was the last player to homer in a World Series. He did so in 1974 and still remains the last American League pitcher to accomplish the feat.

There is nothing that will get the crowd on its feet faster than watching the pitcher go yard. Especially in a World Series game.

The Phillies faithful watched as that day’s starter, Joe Blanton, came to the plate with a 5-2 lead. With nobody on and two out, Edwin Jackson uncorked a fastball over the inner half of the plate. Blanton attacked with authority, launching a deep drive to left-center field for the 6-2 lead.

For the Rays, their fate was all but sealed. Coming in to Game 4, they were already behind the proverbial 8-ball, trailing the series two games to one. After the dust settled and the final outs were recorded in Philadelphia that night, the Rays found themselves 10-2 losers in Game 4.

For any team in the World Series, being down three games to one is like the kiss of death. Amazingly, 35 teams in history have held this lead in the World Series. In only six instances though, did the trailing team come back to win the series. The Rays were not one of those six.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Deadspin.com)

 

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Mid Season Invitational Power Rankings

MSI will officially begin Wednesday as TSM, Flash Wolves, and Gigabyte Marines have earned their spots through the play-in stage. TSM looked shaky, needing a reverse sweep to take down Gigabyte Marines. It will definitely be interesting to see how the teams come out. Will G2 finally play well on the international stage? Can TSM bounce back from their poor performance? Can Gigabyte Marines make a Cinderella Run? Here are my power rankings of the teams heading into the Midseason Inviational.

1.SK Telecom T1 (Korea)

This should come to no surprise to fans and analysts. Korea as a region and SKT as a team have dominated the LoL scene for quite some time now. They’ll be looking to assert their dominance even more if they can go through MSI undefeated. SKT holds some of the best players in the world at each of their position.

Their most infamous has to be their mid laner, the GOAT, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. As long as Faker is on this team, you can bet on them being World contenders for awhile. Alongside Faker, has been his head coach since the beginning Kim kkOma Jung-gyun. Kkoma has been praised for being the best coach in League of Legends, having led SKT to all their World Championships. He’ll look to add a back to back MSI title to that list.

2. Flash Wolves (Taiwan)

Photo by: Riot Games

Flash Wolves may play in a top heavy region, but despite this, they’ve showed consistently time and time again that they cannot be underestimated. Coming off a successful IEM win at Katowice, Flash Wolves will look to surprise spectators and continue their reign as the “Korean Slayers”.

Flash Wolves play an aggressive style, often making plays in the early game with jungler  Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie looking to make plays. Not only can they build big gold leads in the early game, they know how to properly finish games as well.

Flash Wolves came into the season sporting a new ADC in Lu “Betty” Yuhung who looks to get better and better every time we see him. Betty finished their series against SuperMassive with a monstrous KDA of 36, only dying once the whole series. Their longtime jungle/mid duo of Karsa and Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang have not shown any signs of slowing down. They had a phenomenal performance against SuperMassive, dominating their opponents. Flash Wolves have the best shot at upsetting SKT here at MSI.

3. G2 Esports (Europe)

Despite G2 having not played a game at MSI yet, they definitely showed a dominant run in playoffs en route to their third European championship. Everyone from G2 are ready to finally prove that they can perform well on the international stage. Maybe with the help of sports psychologist, Weldon Green, they can finally get that monkey off their back of choking internationally.

Mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perković in particular will have lots of pressure as he’s become known for not playing well in international competitions. If he plays well, G2 can definitely make a decent MSI run. G2’s bot lane of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez will be one of G2’s power positions. With the meta shifting back to “carry style” ADC’s, G2’s bot lane can definitely have a major impact in games.

What’s worrying is how long their games tend to go. Against some of the best teams in the world G2 will need to have the ability to close out games or risk failing in international play once again

4. Team we (China)

Team WE is a name that’s been around professional LoL for some time now. Once a powerhouse in their region, they’ve returned to take the throne as the number one team in China. After years of mixing rosters, they finally found success dropping only a single game en route to their 3-0 sweep of Royal Never Give Up in the LPL finals. They don’t play the stereotypical play style of all aggressive early game teams we’ve seen in the past from China.

WE plays much more controlled and teamfight well in the mid/late game. Jungler Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie is an absolute monster and will be essential in WE’s success. In the mid lane, Hanwei “xiye” Su, has a deep champion pool and has shown good performances on both control mages and assassins. He had the 2nd best KDA in the LPL for at 4.7.

China has since fallen off from being the heralded “2nd best region”, but WE will look to prove that they are still one of the best.

5. Team SoloMid (North America)

Photo By: Riot Games

TSM looked shaky in their play-in series vs. Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines. It felt like they were heavily disrespecting their opponents going for questionable invades and teamfights almost expecting the other team not to be prepared. This caused them to go down 2-0 in the series, before reverse sweeping their way to victory.

That series had many North American fans breathing sighs of relief. TSM will be heavy underdogs now at this point of the tournament if they struggled that heavily against a wild card region.

Even in the reverse sweep, their last two wins were not clean by any means. Gigabyte Marines showed the capability to gain early leads off some poor play out of TSM. Gigabyte Marines nearly had the series in game four, before overstaying in TSM’s base which ultimately led to TSM’s victory.

In particular TSM’s adc, Jason “Wildturtle” Tran had an awful series, dying in a winning 2v2 and often getting caught out of position while only having a 52.9 kill participation percentage. He’ll need to step up big time if TSM wants to finish in the top four of the group stage.

6. Gigabyte Marines (Vietnam)

Although they are the wildcard representative of MSI, their play-in stage performance was amazing in terms of Wildcard performances in international tournaments. Gigabyte Marines gave North America’s TSM a run for their money, nearly taking the series. Maybe some nerves and lack of experience, forced a bad call to try to end the game that resulted in a throw, but nonetheless this team has impressed.

Đỗ “Levi” Duy Khánh has been an absolute monster this whole tournament. He’s currently 2nd in KDA and first in DMG% among junglers who have played at MSI so far. Gigabyte Marines rely heavily on him to setup plays in the early game to snowball leads. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against the likes of SKT’s Peanut or Flash Wolves’ Karsa.

One of their weak points will definitely be in top laner Phan “Stark” Công Minh. Stark showed some great performances on Gragas during their series against TSM, but was non existent if not on that particular champion. In game three, he was constantly solo killed by Hauntzer’s Gragas and never seemed to comeback from it throughout the series.

Despite losing a close series to TSM, the group stage will be best of 1. Don’t be surprised to find Gigabyte Marines apart of the top four once the group stages conclude at MSI.

Cover photo by: Riot Games

Tune in Wednesday for the opening ceremonies of MSI on May 10

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