2018 Cy Young Award watch

MLB: 2018 Cy Young Award watch

In the game of baseball, no position is as praised or scrutinized as the pitcher. The pitcher has to ward off batter after batter and keep as many off base as possible. The pitcher also has to work with varying amounts of run support in the process. For those few who are the coolest under this kind of pressure, the Cy Young Award awaits.

This watch will highlight some of the early favorites to win the coveted hardware in 2018. Will there be a new, young ace reigning supreme? Will there be a veteran looking to expand his trophy case? These are some notable aces making their cases this season.

Cy Young Award Watch: American League

2018 Cy Young Award watch

(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

The Houston Astros house several pitchers off to a great start, as well as the first stop of this Cy Young Award watch. Picking just one from this bunch was difficult, but ultimately, Charlie Morton takes the marginal lead here.

Yes, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole boast lower ERAs than Morton (both below 2.00). However, Morton has more wins and an undefeated record to his name.

Morton has no doubt found his footing in Houston, rocking a 19-7 combined record in his two seasons as an Astro. As a pitching unit, the Astros lead the American League in ERA and batting average surrendered. Morton’s role has become a huge part of this feat.

Over in the AL East, Luis Severino of the New York Yankees has entered the conversation as well. The 24-year-old has tallied a 6-1 record on the mound this season. He has also surrendered a meager 2.14 ERA in his nine starts this season. Severino’s arm has more than helped the Pinstripes as they look to take over the division. If he can remain hot, he will end up in many more All-Star rosters and Cy Young Award conversations to come.

Another AL East arm to keep an eye on for the hardware is Boston’s Rick Porcello. Though Chris Sale holds a better ERA, Porcello remains undefeated this season. Porcello retains a 2.79 ERA, plus a 5-0 record in 51 2/3 innings pitched. Porcello and the rest of the Red Sox rotation will need to stay hot with their archrivals on their tail. As for Porcello, a second Cy Young Award to his name would not hurt.

Cy Young Award Watch: National League

Over in the NL East, The Washington Nationals are now on a tear. In the NL Cy Young conversation, Max Scherzer is among the first names to pop up. It is not very hard to see why.

2018 Cy Young Award watch

(Photo from SI.com)

“Mad Max” currently sports a 7-1 record, along with the second lowest ERA in the National League.

But it does not stop there. Scherzer’s ERA has been below 2.00 in each of his starts this season. The 33-year-old ace is now eyeing a third Cy Young Award in a row, which would be the fourth of his career.

Another NL East name has entered the fray, from the Philadelphia Phillies. Meet right-hander Aaron Nola.

The 24-year-old has put together a 6-1 record with a 1.99 ERA this season. Not to mention he is undefeated in the month of May with a 0.89 ERA. Nola has shown significant improvement throughout his career. It is very likely he will be at the All-Star game in D.C. But if Nola can remain this imposing from the mound, the Cy Young Award, and possibly a playoff spot, will be a sight for the sore eyes of the Phillies faithful.

Over in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are fighting for the division with Milwaukee and Pittsburgh (all within only 0.5 games of each other). Pitcher Miles Mikolas of the Cards has done his part to keep the Cards in the race. Mikolas boasts a 5-0 record with a 2.51 ERA this season. He has also yielded a mere .233 batting average in his seven starts. With pitchers like Mikolas on board, the St. Louis pitching staff has become one the most ferocious rotations in the big leagues, with the third lowest ERA in baseball.

As the Seasons continues…

There are plenty of candidates worthy to be mentioned in the Cy Young Award conversation. At any time, unknown faces can become household names, if not take over the spotlight completely. As the season continues, the race for the playoffs, as well as yearly player accolades, will intensify with time.

 

Featured image from Baseball-Almanac.com

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MLB players to watch out for

MLB players to watch out for in May

As the month of May rolls onward, the MLB has beheld several players on the diamond looking to get their names out there. While some have picked up where they left off in April, others are eager to strike big this time of year. The season is still young, but already, new and familiar faces are catching fire immediately. These are some to watch out for in April.

This time around, we will not be focusing so much on the household names, such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Jose Altuve. We will be highlighting some players not as popular as the previously mentioned that have been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks. These are some players who we might see in the All-Star Game this July, and potentially more in the future.

pitchers to watch out for

The Tampa Bay Rays are trying to find a consistent winning rhythm, though they have won six of their last 10. One pitcher helping the team stay in the race is Jake Faria.

MLB players to watch out for

Jake Faria of the Tampa Bay Rays  (Photo from Wikipedia)

The 24-year-old currently rocks a 3-1 record in 2018. Though his ERA is a little higher than desired, Faria has shown great improvement throughout this season. If he continues this, Faria can be the next elite arm in the AL.

As for the rest of the Rays’ pitching staff, more work must still be done. But Faria and the rest of the staff will need to keep firing to catch up with the surging Yankees and Red Sox.

Speaking of the Red Sox, Rick Porcello has shown no mercy from the pitcher’s mound. He remains undefeated this season, in addition to a 2.14 ERA. The 29-year-old ace also has an AL CY Young Award under his belt, and is a frontrunner to take the coveted hardware again in 2018.

The rest of Boston, on the other hand, is a well-oiled machine in the pitching department. But the Red Sox must keep their foot on the throttle with the Yankees hot on their tail.

Over in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals have taken the lead in the Central Division. 26-year-old Carlos Martinez has been one of many assets to St. Louis’ success this season. He has chalked up a 3-1 record and 1.40 ERA. The Cardinals boast one of the most dominant rotations in the entire MLB. Martinez is a big reason for that.

batters to watch out for

The Boston Red Sox, as a team, lead the American League in batting average. One of several reasons why is one of the newer Red Sox players this season: J.D. Martinez.

MLB players to watch out for

(Photo from MassLive.com)

This season, Martinez has belted eight home runs and 27 RBIs. He also has a .349 batting average. Although teammate Mookie Betts has garnered more attention, Martinez has become one of the players to watch out for in the batter’s box. Fail to prepare for this left fielder, and he will make you pay dearly.

The next player making splashes at the plate is A.J. Pollock of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his last seven games, Pollock has put up four home runs and eight RBIs, not to mention a .423 batting average.

His season numbers are 10 home runs and 29 RBIs with a .306 batting average. Pollock and the Diamondbacks will need to keep it up if they want to remain at the top of the National League.

Over in the NL East, the race for the top is very tight. One of the teams fighting for the top spot is the Atlanta Braves, where you will find Nick Markakis. The two-time Gold Glove winner is heating up in the batter’s box, with a .344 batting average. His 25 RBIs and six home runs are nothing to sneeze at either. With the NL East race neck-and-neck, Markakis and company will need to take every opportunity possible to get ahead.

Still to come

New weeks and new games await, and every player is looking for a chance to shine under the lights. As we await the upcoming games, we anticipate more players to watch out for on the radars of fans and analysts alike. Whoever it might be, we will be hopeful to see them in the All-Star Game in Washington D.C.

 

Featured image by AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

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MLB top players 2018

MLB spotlight: Impact players

As the 2018 MLB season thunders on, several players are warming up quickly on the diamond. The hot starts from these impact players have already grabbed the attention of the league, as well as fans. Of course, a team’s success cannot rely on one name’s outing alone. But these players have given their clubs plenty of help.

Here is a look at the players starting red hot in 2018. Whether at the plate, on the mound or on the diamond, they have stood out from the rest of the pack. These veterans, rookies and managers have made splashes in less than three weeks of baseball.

From familiar faces to the new kids in town, these are some of the impact players and managers so far.

American League Impact Players

In the AL West, the Oakland Athletics did not start 2018 very well. The A’s sit at 7-10 currently, but one infielder has been dominating in the batter’s box. That would be third baseman, Matt Chapman.

MLB top players 2018

(Photo from ESPN.com)

The 24-year-old has belted five home runs and 12 RBIs to go along with a .317 batting average. Two of those homers and five of those RBIs have come from his last five games. Oakland will have a lot of work to do for their 2018 season, but if Chapman keeps swinging like this, the A’s can find themselves a spark they need to bring in more wins.

Staying in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels are on a tear with a 13-3 record. It seems that the league cannot stop talking about the one-two punch of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and why not? Ohtani has played up to the hype and more.

On the mound, Ohtani has a 2.08 ERA and 2-0 record. On top of that, he has tallied three home runs, 11 RBIs, and a .367 batting average. This is a pitcher we are talking about! Although he has showcased his talents as an outfielder, his cleats on the mound and the batter’s box are where he is the most dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox are blazing through April and the rest of the AL East. Alex Cora seems to have found his footing in his first year as Boston’s skipper. The Red Sox are playing razor sharp on offense and defense. Cora has no doubt found winning formulas, and if this continues, taking the AL East will only be the beginning for Cora and company.

National League Impact Players

Over in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are off to a more than solid start. One of the players helping bring wins is first baseman, José Martínez.

MLB top players 2018

(Photo from St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

The 29-year-old is catching fire in the batter’s box with 15 RBIs, which is the second most in the National League. Not to mention he has belted three home runs and rocks a .364 batting average. In the National League, St. Louis has become a notable force in offensive production. Martínez is one of the biggest reasons why.

In the NL West, the San Diego Padres are still finding their footing. 7-11 is not a terrible start, but San Diego has more work to do to turn this season around. One of the growing number of bright spots for the club is rookie ace, Joey Lucchesi.

Lucchesi stands with a 2-0 record and 1.66 ERA. In addition, teams have only managed to record a .221 batting average against him. If he can keep this up, his name can pop up in the NL Rookie of the Year conversation.

Moving to the NL East, the New York Mets sit comfortably at the top with a 12-3 record. The Mets now have won eight of their last 10 games, with first-year skipper, Mickey Callaway, at the helm. Callaway, a former pitcher, served as the pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians prior to taking the Mets job. Considering that the Indians have improved as a pitching unit while he was there and the Mets have the second best ERA in the league right now, clearly something is working.

As the Season Progresses

More players are looking to strike big and get their names out there in 2018. With plenty of baseball still in store, anyone can rise to the occasion and make an impact under the lights. But with October on everyone’s minds, one man carrying the team will not stand as a winning formula forever. The whole unit must hunker down to remain ahead or turn around their misfortunes.

 

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Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals breakout candidates

The 2018 MLB season is kicking into full gear and teams are taking shape. The St. Louis Cardinals had a rough go of things the first couple days, facing the two-headed monster in Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom. Since then though, St. Louis has begun to show more promise offensively and pitching wise.

What is special about St. Louis is their ability to find guys with that “it” factor. Something about the fairy dust they sprinkle on guys is able to work wonders for them. The only thing is that the Cardinals have now gone two years without reaching the postseason, which is only the second time it has happened since the turn of the century.

With that being said, the Cardinals are due for another postseason appearance. Seeing as they don’t have the same sort of superstars you might see on other teams, their path will be paved by guys who don’t have as big of reputations. Here is a look at some under the radar players who could make that big difference in 2018.

Jose Martinez

Cardinals

Jose Martinez may be one of the best hitters on the Cardinals in 2018 (VivaElBirdos)

Martinez is one of those guys that bounces around minor league systems for years but never is able to quite make it to the majors. That all changed last year when he finally got the chance to show his stuff in St. Louis. The 29-year-old had some sporadic appearances throughout the beginning of the season, where he made his mark as one of the best pinch hitters in the league. He really started to settle in during the summer though. He finished the year with 14 home runs and a .309 batting average. Also, he took home the NL Rookie of the month in September.

Martinez has picked up right where he left off so far this season. He may be one of the best contact hitters the Cardinals have so far, so it will be exciting to see if he is able to continue that trend.

What is also surprising about this 29-year-old sophomore is that the Cardinals already announced that Martinez will be the solidified first baseman going forward. They mentioned at the beginning of the year that Matt Carpenter will more likely be used in a “super utility role”, so you will see him being moved all over the place.

Despite being 6’7″, Martinez does not have the prototypical power you may see from a first baseman. One thing is for sure though, the guy knows how to hit. If the Cardinals are in a 9th inning situation and need a base hit to tie or win the game, Martinez may be that guy for the Redbirds.

Yairo Munoz

Cardinals

Munoz forced his way onto the Cardinals roster (STL Today)

Yairo Munoz was acquired by the Cardinals in the offseason as a part of the heartwarming Stephen Piscotty trade. While the trade certainly looked to be centered around getting Piscotty back home to be closer to his family, the Cardinals may have known what they were doing by getting Munoz.

The 23-year-old infielder made his mark in the Spring, where he may have been the best offensive performer for the Cardinals. He finished the Spring with a slash line of .323/.364/.516, along with three home runs and 10 RBIs. That performance was good enough for him to earn a spot on the Cardinals bench the begin the season.

Two years in a row now the Cardinals have had breakout infielders. In 2016 it was Aledmys Diaz, and in 2017 it was Paul DeJong. While Diaz is gone now, it certainly looks like DeJong is here to stay with his six-year contract. This presents a problem for Munoz who is looking for room in the crowded Cardinals infield.

What should be watched for is any injuries that may arise where Munoz may get an opportunity to play. If this guy gets some extended playing opportunities, he could certainly be this year’s version of Paul DeJong. Even though the power isn’t there, he is another good candidate for bringing in a high batting average.

Jordan Hicks

Similar to Munoz, Hicks performed too well in the Spring to justify the Cardinals leaving him off the opening day roster. Hicks showcased his ability to strike guys out as well as keep the walks down. What Hicks provides is the sort of late-inning power arm you see in closers these days. Many Cardinals fans were calling for him to fill in the closer role, this of course came before the signing of Holland.

With Holland in the picture now, fans shouldn’t expect to see Hicks occupying that closer role anytime soon. Seeing that Holland only signed a one year deal though, it is a good opportunity for Hicks to be groomed as a closer of the future.

What is surprising about Hicks, is that so far in 2018, he is throwing the fastball even harder than Aroldis Chapman. That may sound hard to believe, but FanGraphs breaks down the stats here. Holland is the perfect signing in this situation as he will likely be taking the ball from Hicks after the eighth inning. Either way, the Cardinals have something special in Jordan Hicks.

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Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong is for real

The St. Louis Cardinals have a knack for finding talent where nobody would expect to. They proved that time and time again during their playoff stretch from 2011-15, where they would have no-name talents come up and beat on the big guys.

It seems to be the case once again that the Cardinals have found a surprise talent in Paul DeJong. While it may not be a surprise to some, as he was the runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, it is still strange to see a shortstop with the kind of power he does.

Off to a hot start

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has developed a reliable glove and powerful arm. (Photo from STL Today)

We all need to keep in mind that we are only five games into the 2018 season. That being said, DeJong has gotten off to a fast start by hitting .444 and knocking three balls out of the park already. He is quickly proving the Cardinals were smart for signing him to a very good extension at $26 million over the next six years.

St. Louis has faith that they have found their shortstop of the future, a position that has yet to be solidified since the departure of Ozzie Smith, who is one of the best to ever play the position. Ironically, DeJong was not drafted as a shortstop. He was originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 MLB draft and did not have a solid position.

DeJong won’t make the acrobatic play that you might see at the shortstop position. However, he has become a reliable glove with a strong arm that really provides some stability to the infield.

Power bat

DeJong has begun to separate himself as one of the best power-hitting middle infielders in baseball. Last year in the majors, he was able to hit 25 home runs. That does not seem like a lot with the amount of home runs that were hit last year. However, DeJong did not start to see consistent playing time until late June.

Before he started seeing consistent playing time, DeJong also hit 13 home runs at Triple-A. With three home runs already this year, he certainly has the makings of a guy who could hit 40 home runs in 2018.

The Cardinals have been missing the superstar bat in the lineup since Albert Pujols has left. There have been many great players to come through, but St. Louis is still missing that piece. Maybe DeJong is what the Cardinals are looking for.

Marcell Ozuna is certainly supposed to help with the big bat in the middle of the lineup, and that is what he is there to do. DeJong is currently batting behind Yadier Molina at the seven spot though. Before you know it, he may be backing up Ozuna.

Questions about discipline

Paul DeJong

DeJong has a high strikeout rate. (Photo from KSDK)

The downfall in DeJong’s game is similar to many at his point in his career. He is not able to draw as many walks as he should and strikes out a fair amount. The Cardinals shortstop actually only walks in five percent of his at bats, and strikes out in close to 30 percent of them.

Those are not the strikeout to walk numbers you want to see in a long-term major league ball player. However, the Cardinals made some great moves in the offseason in regards to their coaching staff. Jose Oquendo returned to St. Louis, and former NL MVP, Willie McGee, is now an assistant coach with the team. Their expertise certainly will come into play with the 24-year-old shortstop.

What is in store for 2018

At this rate, DeJong looks like he could have a breakout year and solidify himself as a force to be reckoned with. He has a solid lineup around him that should give him some protection, and the Cardinals certainly will continue to give him opportunities to succeed.

While DeJong may not make the All-Star game this year as a starter, it is not out of the realm of possibility for him to make it as a reserve. What should definitely be watched for is the Silver Slugger at the shortstop position. More likely than not, you will either see Corey Seager or Paul DeJong receiving that award in the end.

Home runs may not be as valuable as they once were with the newest surge in power. However, DeJong’s power certainly will provide pop in the bottom of the Cardinals’ lineup, which could keep them in contention for the crown in the NL Central.

 

 Featured image from USA Today 

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MLB monthly progress report

2018 MLB season: New faces in new places

Well, here we are. After months of waiting, a new MLB season is finally here. The teams have finalized their 40-man rosters, and we are about ready to see cleats hit the diamond once again.

Like every year, we are seeing many players and managers making their debuts either for a new team or their first ever season. Starting at 12:30 p.m. today, the very first game of 2018 will commence. The Miami Marlins will host the Chicago Cubs to kick off the new season.

Besides sunny Miami and sweet home Chicago, every other team is eager to take the field. Some teams are working new faces, while others have new skippers behind the wheel. But some are getting more attention than others, and for good reason. These names are the ones that should make big splashes in the 2018 MLB season.

2018 MLB Season: Changes in scenary

This past offseason had no shortage of notable names finding new homes for 2018. As spring training thundered onward, they took time to break in to their new uniforms. Now that the exhibitions are over, these names will have to hunker down and prove why their teams went after them.

MLB new faces in new places

J.D. Martinez (Photo from Arizona Sports)

The first name to note is Boston’s J.D. Martinez. The 30-year old outfielder is coming off of a career year at the plate. He posted season bests in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. The Red Sox were looking for the next big bat to pick up where David Ortiz left off. Considering that they took the AL East crown last season without Big Papi, don’t be surprised to see Boston back in October.

Over on the West Coast, Seattle is working in their new center fielder, Dee Gordon. The former Miami Marlin was always an infielder, prior to becoming a Mariner. But his speed showcased in his base-stealing can give him a razor-sharp edge in defending those line drives and fly balls.

Speaking of former Marlins, St. Louis’ Marcell Ozuna is another name to look out for in 2018. Ozuna is also looking to capitalize off of an epic 2017 season. He finished last season with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .312 batting average, all career highs. His batting will be needed for the St. Louis Cardinals. As a team, St. Louis ranked 14th in batting average (.256), 18th in home runs and 13th in RBIs (728).

If he repeats or exceeds what he did last season, Ozuna can bring substantial boosts in offense for St. Louis, as well as another trip to the All-Star festivities in Washington D.C.

2018 MLB Season: Welcome Back

Sometimes, it does a team good to see a familiar face back in the dugout. They can provide current players who watched them as kids some advice at the plate or on the diamond. These names have had some experience with their old teams in the past. 2018 will prove the strength of these reunions.

MLB new faces in new places

Aaron Boone (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

For Yankees fans, there is much to be excited for with the arrival of their newest manager, Aaron Boone. Boone rocked the pinstripes himself in 2003 as a third baseman. He is widely known for his walk-off home run in the ALCS against Boston that would put the Yankees in the World Series against the Florida Marlins.

Boone has not hit the field since 2009, but Yankees fans and the front office are confident that he can lead a stacked Yankees team to take over the AL East and more.

Another name entering old stomping grounds is the newest Boston Red Sox skipper, Alex Cora. As a player, Cora called Fenway Park home for four seasons. He was a member of the Red Sox team that won the 2007 World Series.

Last season, Cora was the bench coach for the Houston Astros during their World Series run and victory. Cora’s knowledge of the Red Sox can be a valuable tool in leading them back to October.

Though more teams are working in new managers, Boone and Cora inherited playoff-ready teams. Will these two repeat playoff appearances for their squads? Wait and see.

Play Ball!

Spring training is now done and over. The stage is now set for the regular season. America’s pastime will now start a new chapter in its long history, and all 30 teams will look to hit the ground running.

This afternoon, the 2018 MLB season will begin. The league, the locals and the world will get that famous two-word command once again: Play ball!

 

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Philadelphia Phillies playoffs

The Phillies will not make the playoffs

Philadelphia made the splash many were waiting for on Sunday by signing Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million deal. While it still is a whole lot of money per year, it isn’t the same sort of commitment that Arrieta and his agents were looking for earlier this offseason.

The Cubs originally offered Arrieta the same money they gave Yu Darvish. Arrieta thought he would be able to do better than that, but seeing how this offseason went, teams don’t want to get into any long-term commitments with older free agents anymore.

On the Phillies’ end of the deal, this is a great move. Seeing as they only locked down the ace for three years, they don’t think they are very far off. With the Marlins and Braves hanging out in the cellar of the NL East, things are looking bright for Philly.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. This team won’t be making the postseason this year.

Spring training hype

Philadelphia Phillies playoffs

Can Jake Arrieta rebound in 2018 after a disappointing 2017? (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

As baseball fans, it is hard not to get excited about your team come March. We have been without baseball since October, and now with all the new moves that have been made, there is all sorts of hype around many teams. The issue with this time of year is that many begin to live in a fantasy world with how things may play out.

Going into Opening Day with a positive mindset is always great, but a lot of that positivity centers around the idea that every player under 32 will progress since they have another year under their built. Many players will improve, but some will regress and maybe not have as good of a year as they did in 2017.

The Phillies are certainly a team that looks like it has a whole lot of possibilities right now. Rhys Hoskins proved his worth last year, and now the Phillies have brought in Carlos Santana and Arrieta on very large deals on a per-year basis. The fact of the matter though is that these two guys are not enough to make that leap the Phillies need.

Arrieta is an ace of course, and Aaron Nola is going to be an excellent second starter to back him up. However, lets not forget that the Phillies finished dead last in the NL East with just 66 wins. With a lot of the excitement built around Hoskins, Arrieta and Santana, it is easy to think they add that much value. Are they worth 25 wins between the three of them? Absolutely not.

Yes, many of the young Phillies’ up-and-coming prospects will arrive and improve things, but remember who their most direct competition is.

The Nats

Philadelphia Phillies playoffs

Harper and the Nats won’t allow the Phils to sneak up on them (Photo from Sports Illustrated)

The fact that the Phillies are in the same division as the Nationals basically eliminates them from having any chance at winning the division this year. The Nationals are still the Nationals. Despite the fact that they have still basically done nothing in the postseason, they still have been one of the very best regular season teams in baseball the past few years.

They still have Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy just to name a few guys. It would be safe to say the Phillies still aren’t even close to being in the same league as these Nats. This means that the Phillies competition is mainly going to come from other Wild Card contenders.

To name a few contenders for the NL Wild Card, there would be the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants, Diamondbacks and Rockies. Heck, the Mets might even be in the thick of it. Do the additions of Arrieta and Santana really cut down the race that much compared to these teams? No, not at all.

It is worth seeing what the Phillies might accomplish in the next couple of years while some of their young prospects still come up. However, if most of the excitement of the team comes from a 32-year-old pitcher with a 3.53 ERA and 1.9 WAR, there shouldn’t be much to be excited about. Not to mention, Santana just hit a notch below .260 with 23 home runs in 2017.

The Phillies didn’t make enough moves to compete for a playoff spot. They did enough to get them out of last place in the East.

 

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2018 MLB preview: St. Louis Cardinals

2017: 83-79 (third place in NL Central)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2015

Last World Series Title: 2011

 

2017 Recap

After winning the World Series in 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals, from 2012-2015, proceeded to make four straight postseason appearances. Since 2000, the Red Birds have made the postseason 12 times, and finished with a losing record just once, which was back in 2007.  Unfortunately, the Cubs have gotten really good, and St. Louis is now forced to look up to them in the division.

The 2017 Cardinals won 83 games, which is decent, but not good enough for a spot in the NL Wild Card Game. St. Louis was flat-out just too average at everything. Among the 15 NL teams, the Cardinals finished sixth in hits, seventh in runs, and eighth in home runs and SLG. The pitching finished sixth in the NL in ERA, hits, and strikeouts.

Pham joined Jose Altuve and Mike Trout as the only three players to hit 20 home runs, steal 20 bases, and post a .300 batting average with a .400 OBP (USA Today)

The Cardinals offensive MVP was Tommy Pham, who had never played more than 80 games in a season before 2017. In his age-29 season, Pham finished fifth in OBP, and 10th in WAR among position players. He joined Jose Altuve and Mike Trout as the only three players to hit 20 home runs, steal 20 bases, and post a .300 batting average with a .400 OBP. Pham finished 11th in NL MVP voting.

If Cody Bellinger hadn’t exploded for 39 home runs and 97 RBIs in his rookie season, then Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong would have won NL Rookie of the Year. DeJong, the runner-up in the voting, hit .285 with 25 home runs, while slugging .532 in 108 games.

On the mound, Carlos Martinez threw the fifth most innings in the MLB (205), while ranking 10th in strikeouts with 217. He finished 2017 with a record of 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA. Lance Lynn had the ninth best H/9, while Michael Wacha finished with the 5th best HR/9. Luke Weaver, the former 2014 first round pick, went 7-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 60.1 innings of work.

2018: Around the Diamond

To help generate more runs, power, and hits, the Cardinals traded for Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna, a 2017 Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner, hit .312/.376/.548 with 191 hits, 37 home runs, and 124 RBIs. He finished seventh in total bases. Ozuna is a complete player who should excel in this Cardinals lineup. Joining him in the outfield will be Pham, and Dexter Fowler, who finished fourth in triples, and had career-highs in home runs (18) and RBIs (64) in 2017. For depth, St. Louis also has utility man Jose Martinez, who slashed .309/.379/.518 with 14 home runs in 106 games.

Will Paul DeJong avoid a sophomore slump? (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Yadier Molina, arguably the best catcher in Cardinals’ history (maybe behind Ted Simmons), will be back behind the plate for his 15th season. The 8x All-Star, 4x Platinum Glove Award winner led the team in hits during his 2017 campaign. Molina is one of the best catchers of this generation, and continues to play at an elite level.

Matt Carpenter will again start at first, with Kolten Wong at second, and DeJong at short. Carpenter led the Cards in doubles, drew the third most walks in the MLB, hit 23 home runs, and posted a .384 OBP. He hit just .241, and is now more of a fly ball hitter, but Carpenter is still one of the better players in the game. Wong posted a .376 OBP last season, and has always had great patience at the plate, but dealt with arm injuries last season.

DeJong had a .349 BABIP, which means he may be due for a sophomore slump, but he has always put up solid numbers at the professional level, so we will have to wait and see. Jedd Gyorko, who has hit 50 home runs since the start of the 2016 season, will start at third.

Along with Martinez and Greg Garcia, Luke Voit will see some time in the field and at DH. Voit stepped in for Carpenter last season and hit 4 home runs in 62 games at the MLB level. The Red Birds also have Harrison Bader, who is competing for a reserve outfield spot this Spring. So far, Bader is slashing .348/.375/.853 with five runs scored, two steals, and three doubles.

On the Bump

The Cardinals, who always seem to pitch well, seem to have a set rotation, despite losing Mike Leake and Lance Lynn. Behind Carlos Martinez, St. Louis will showcase the three W’s: Wacha, Weaver, and Wainwright, followed by Miles Mikolas. Wacha showed glimpses of his former self last season, which is not something we can say for Adam Wainwright.

Let’s just call it how it is. Wainwright, who will be pitching in his last season with St. Louis, is washed up, but has an incredible career, posting a 3.29 ERA over 12 seasons. Weaver’s slim frame reminds me of Tim Lincecum, and don’t be surprised if Weaver puts up “Lincecum-esque” numbers in 2018.

After struggling with the Rangers in 2014, Mikolas, 29, spent three seasons in Japan. In his three years as a member of the Yomuri Giants, Mikolas went a combined 31-13 with a 2.19 ERA. He is a free-agent bargain who may turn out to be very solid for St. Louis.

Originally drafted by the Cardinals in 2006, Luke Gregerson is back and in line to start the season as the closer. Gregerson had 31 saves as a member of the Oakland Athletics in 2015. If Gregerson struggles, look for Tyler Lyons to step in.

The Future

Let’s hope 2018 is the year for Cardinals number one prospect, Alex Reyes. In 2015, Reyes dealt with shoulder issues, and the following season, he was suspended for a drug violation. Last February, Reyes underwent Tommy John Surgery and missed all of 2017.

How will Alex Reyes fare when he returns from Tommy John Surgery? (USA Today)

He probably won’t make his season debut until May, but if he comes back strong, Reyes has the opportunity to make a difference at the MLB level in 2018. In 2016, we got a taste of what Reyes brings. In his 46 MLB innings, Reyes went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA, while striking out 52. He is just 23 years of age, and has a fastball that hovers around triple digits.

Other than Reyes, St. Louis has three more prospects on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. Jack Flaherty (No.38), like Reyes, is a RHP with great potential. A first round pick in 2014, Flaherty went 14-4 with a 2.18 ERA in 25 starts between AA/AAA. He was called up to the Majors last season and struggled, but he is just 22-years-old and just needs more experience. Flaherty is a better built version of Jason Schmidt.

The Cardinals top hitting prospect is catcher Carson Kelly (No. 46). Kelly is the second-ranked catcher on the list, and has shown some power and with a good average in the minors. He didn’t fare too well in his 34 big league games last season, but he will continue to grow under Yadier Molina.

Tyler O’Neill (No. 94), who is currently dealing with an oblique injury, started the Spring 2-for-9 before being sidelined. O’Neill, a corner outfielder, has good power and, as far as comparisons go, reminds me of Kevin Mench.

2018 Prediction: 85-77

The Cardinals, like every year, will be right in the mix for a spot in the postseason. The Ozuna signing was massive, but St. Louis goes into 2018 as the third best team in their division. However, they could easily exceed expectations and make the postseason if the bats come alive and guys like Luke Weaver and Michael Wacha step up big on the mound.

 

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MLB top 5 catchers

Top 5 catchers heading into 2018

As spring training kicks into full swing, it is as good of a time as ever to consider some of the best catchers in the majors.

The catcher has perhaps an underrated role in today’s baseball world, but nothing they do should be undervalued. Catchers are responsible for working with every pitcher on their staff, calling pitches, keeping base runners in check and hitting on top of all of that.

With that in mind, here are the best catchers in baseball as of right now.

5. Yadier Molina

In terms of running a pitching staff, Molina may be the best of the bunch. The eight-time Gold Glove winner is turning 36 this season, and is in the twilight of his career. In 2017, Molina hit the second most home runs of his career despite missing some time. Molina has not earned a Gold Glove since 2015 either, which was the end of his eight consecutive seasons streak.

Molina still may mean more to his team than many other top players in the league. He may not be the best offensively or defensively, but his work with pitchers is second to none.

The Cardinals have a losing record without Molina behind the plate. He won’t win an MVP, but he is very important to the Cardinals’ success.

4. J.T. Realmuto

MLB top 5 catchers

Realmuto may be the most athletic catcher in baseball. (Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Realmuto has broken out as one of the best catchers in baseball the last couple of years. He finished last season with a 3.6 WAR and has had an average floating around .300 the last two years.

Realmuto finds himself in a precarious situation after this past offseason. Derek Jeter and the new Marlins ownership just sold most of their best players in order to shed salary and build for the future.

Of course, anybody who was ready to win now is not happy about the recent changes. The Marlins had one of the best outfields in baseball and shipped them off all over the country.

Realmuto is one of the last remaining pieces from the old Marlins team. He now finds himself in a sort of limbo, as he still has three years left in Miami.

Despite the shuffling in Miami, Realmuto should be in store for another great year offensively. Part of the success comes from his speed, as he can run with some of the quickest outfielders as well. He is an all around player who can bring many different things to the table.

3. Willson Contreras

MLB top 5 catchers

Contreras looks to get a full season of solid work under his belt. (Photo from The Chicago Tribune)

Contreras turned into perhaps the best hitter on a stacked Chicago team last summer. He was sidetracked by a hamstring injury while running down the first base line, but the 25-year-old still had a solid year after racking up 21 home runs and a .276 batting average. He should be a vital part of the Cubs offense once again in 2018.

Contreras is also known for his cannon of an arm. What may be the strongest arm behind the plate adds another dimension to his game that can shut down base runners. One of his weaknesses though is he is not considered a good framer. However, his ability to throw the ball makes up for it, and his lightning bat certainly puts him above most other catchers.

2. Gary Sanchez

Sanchez is the best hitting catcher in the game without question. He cranked out 33 home runs and had an average approaching .300 last year. With Giancarlo Stanton coming into the picture in New York, Sanchez ought to have a solid cushion in the lineup and may have an even better year offensively.

Sanchez has a solid throwing arm and is considered an above average pitch framer. His downfall is his pitch blocking, and in that category he is one of the worst in all of baseball. If it wasn’t for that downfall, Sanchez may be No. 1 on this list as his offense puts him in a whole other league when talking about catchers.

1. Buster Posey

Coming in at the No. 1 spot is Buster Posey, which should be a surprise to no one. Posey has had continued success throughout his career. With Sanchez coming into the picture, he might not be the best hitting catcher in baseball anymore, but he should still be considered one of the best of all time.

The All-Star catcher has hit over .300 in five separate seasons, winning the batting title once and bringing in the MVP in 2012. The only other catcher to win MVP in the National League is Johnny Bench, so that should say a lot about the league Posey is in.

He has a straight shot into Cooperstown and has not shown any decline in production. Expect Posey to have continued success for the coming years.

 

Featured image from SI.com

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NL Central face of the franchise

The current face of every NL Central team

One conversation that will never get old is talking about who the cornerstone player of every franchise is. Some teams have an obvious representative, others not so much. Here is a look into the face of the franchise for every team in the NL Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Josh Bell

If we were to have this conversation two weeks ago, then there would be a much more obvious answer for the Bucs. However, the Pirates’ front office thought it was time to do some shuffling. Even though Pittsburgh fans are upset about giving up Andrew McCutchen, who has been an icon in the Steel City for some time, it was a good move to show concern for the future. It just looks especially bad because of what the Marlins have been doing this offseason as well.

NL Central face of the franchise

Josh Bell represents a changing of the guard in Pittsburgh. (Photo from Rumbunter.com)

Some may be wondering why Starling Marte is not in this spot. His 80-game suspension does not help his cause here. He also is an All-Star and two-time gold glove winner who can steal bases with the best of them. However, he does not represent the future for the Pirates. He is 29 years old, and the Pirates are not going to be contending anytime soon.

Josh Bell just finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. If it were any other year, Bell would have had a much better chance of bringing home the award. With Cody Bellinger breaking out in LA though, the race was much more clear cut. Bell has the chance to be a prototypical slugger in Pittsburgh for a while, as he is only 25 years old.

In the future, Bell could be a force in the middle of the lineup with 30 home run potential. He provides more pop than Marte does, and is already a threat in the middle of the lineup. His young age coupled with his power is the reason why he has the opportunity to take the place of Cutch in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

No argument here. If you were to argue faces of the franchise around baseball, this may be one of the easiest.

Joey Votto has been a fixture at first base for the Reds for over a decade. He has won the NL MVP and made it to the All-Star game five times. Not to mention, there may not be anybody better at getting on base than Votto.

Votto also has a set of intangibles that would make any manager salivate. He is the kind of guy that can lead a young group of guys into the big leagues, and that is what he is doing now as the Reds have a wave of young players coming up. His baseball smarts along with his excellent talent make him one of the best hitters in the league.

Another thing about Votto is that he is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is heading into his age-34 season and coming off a year where he could have easily won the MVP. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton had the power numbers that make anybody go nuts. However, if you are looking at the full package, Votto is much more valuable.

If Votto keeps up the pace he is at for another couple of years, there is a solid chance he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein

NL Central face of the franchise

Theo led the charge to break the curse in Chicago. (Photo by John Arguello)

Chicago is still fresh off a World Series title in 2016. It is still crazy to say considering many Chicagoans went a lifetime without seeing their lovable losers make it all the way.

Epstein made his way to the Windy City in 2011, and from the start there were many who were certain that it was their time because of it. After he masterminded the destruction of the Boston curse, this seemed like a doable task for the 44-year-old president of the Cubs.

With apologies to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Epstein is a favorable choice for this title. He is the one who orchestrated the revival of success in Wrigley, and many knew that as they chanted, “In Theo we trust.”

While Rizzo has become a poster boy for the Cubs, and Bryant has won an MVP at third base, it is impossible to not credit Epstein with the Cubs’ success.

As a baseball executive, there is no doubt that Epstein has already earned himself a spot in Cooperstown.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina

NL Central face of the franchise

Yadier Molina has been the most important face in St. Louis since the departure of Albert Pujols (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Ever since the departure of Albert Pujols, Molina has done an excellent job of stepping into the role of leading this storied franchise. While Molina may not be the best player in the league by a long shot, there are things that he does that put him above most.

He has those intangibles that his NL Central counterpart Joey Votto has. Molina’s ability to call a game is second to none, while he also knows exactly how to make a young ballplayer feel comfortable on the mound.

Yadi doesn’t have those offensive stats that pop out on the box score, but Tony La Russa made it clear when he was manager of the Cardinals that it didn’t matter. La Russa once stated that even if Molina hit .000, he would still have a spot in the lineup. Now that says something about a player.

While it is not clear if Molina will make it to Cooperstown, he will certainly be remembered as one of the greats to wear the Cardinals uniform. He stated earlier this offseason that he will not play after his contract with the Cardinals expires in 2020. These three years we have left with him will be pivotal in determining his place among the greats.

Milwaukee Brewers: Bob Uecker

The Brewers have made big moves this offseason for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. They also have their eyes set on locking up Yu Darvish in a long-term contract. As a result, the name on this list may be different in a few years. Despite a great year from Travis Shaw and Jimmy Nelson, it doesn’t come close to the reputation that Bob Uecker has set for himself.

Uecker is getting close to Vin Scully territory with his broadcasting. He is being held back from that status though as he is not in a place like Los Angeles, and also spent a decade playing professional ball in the 50s and 60s. Shortly after his playing days, he joined the Brewers broadcasting booth in 1971.

After many successful years in the booth, Uecker earned an iconic role as the broadcaster in the Major League movie franchise. Many don’t realize that you can still tune into his legendary broadcasts to this day. He also won the Ford C. Frick award in 2003 in recognition for his broadcasting, cementing himself among the legends in the game.

While the Brewers are making moves to compete on the field, Uecker always makes it entertaining to tune into the game. It will be a sad day when the 84 year old will have to hang up the mic and retire from the booth.

 

Featured image by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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