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.

 

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MLB players of the month

2018 MLB: April’s greatest hits

The first month of the 2018 MLB season is approaching its final act. The league has seen struggling teams and players trying to find their footing. But on the flip side, we have seen several players dominating right out of the gates. Today, we will be taking a look at some of April’s greatest hits.

These greatest hits are a list of some names starting off red hot in the first few weeks of the season. It seems that the league cannot stop talking about them. Repetitive? Maybe. But these names have grabbed the attention of the entire for good reason.

Here are some of my picks of “Player of the Month,” “Rookie of the Month,” and “Manager of the Month” from both the American and National Leagues.

April’s greatest hits: American League

Player of the Month

The New York Yankees are starting to kick it up a notch, winning their last nine games. With a high-powered batting order, it is no coincidence. Leading the charge from the batter’s box is shortstop, Didi Gregorius.

MLB players of the month

(Photo from wikipedia.com)

Gregorius has caught fire with his bat in April, tallying 10 home runs and 30 RBIs, along with a .340 batting average. He currently leads the AL in RBIs and is tied for the most home runs. As a team, the Pinstripes lead the AL in home runs and RBIs. No. 18 is most certainly a big part of the Yankees offense, which is why he is my pick for “Player of the Month” for April.

Rookie of the Month

My leading candidate for AL “Rookie of the Month” is Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. I mean, how can it not be him? Ohtani has belted four home runs to go with 12 RBIs this month. On top of that, No. 17 has a 2-1 record on the mound.

Yes, his ERA is over 4.00, but let’s be honest, even the most elite pitchers have a bad day once in a while. To call this an impressive start to Ohtani’s rookie season would be an understatement.

Manager of the Month

Returning to the AL East, the Boston Red Sox remain at the top. The Red Sox have a stingy fielding corps, a relentless batting crew and a formidable pitching rotation.

They also have my pick for “Manager of the Month” for April. In his first as skipper, Alex Cora has played almost every note perfectly in 2018. Cora has found ways to keep winning, and has adapted to most situations. Boston now boasts the best record in the AL, but with the rival Yankees on a tear, Cora will have to keep up the winning ways.

April’s greatest hits: National League

Player of the Month

My pick for “Player of the Month” comes from the pitcher’s mound. It was not an easy decision to make, but Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals takes my vote. The 33-year-old righty has tallied a 5-1 record and a 1.62 ERA. In addition, opposing teams have only managed to scrape up a .156 batting average against him. The three-time Cy Young award winner is eyeing a fourth, and it is not hard to see why.

Rookie of the Month

The San Diego Padres are struggling to find momentum in the NL West. But one Padre has stood as a one bright spot at the batter’s box. Third baseman Christian Villanueva is my pick for the National League “Rookie of the Month.”

MLB players of the month

(Photo from USA Today)

Villanueva has caught fire with his bat. So far, he has eight home runs and 18 RBIs to his name. He also boasts a .329 batting average.

The rest of the Padres, however, will need to wake up. San Diego, as a team, has put together a .228 batting average, which is 13th out of 15 NL squads.

Manager of the Month

The Arizona Diamondbacks hold a healthy lead in the NL West. Manager Torey Lovullo has steered the team in the right direction since taking over last season. Not to mention he manned the helm and took the team to the Wild Card last season.

Returning to the playoffs may not seem so difficult if Lovullo can keep it up. With the team at 19-8, the best record in the NL, Lovullo and company have substantial momentum to build off of for the next games to come.

a new month approaches

Several great players have struck it big in April. These names a few of April’s greatest hits. As May approaches, some players look to remain hot, while others look to break out of their cold streaks. But like everyone else, I cannot wait to see who kicks it into gear in May.

 

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MLB early takeaways

Early takeaways from the first weekend of baseball

Although all 30 MLB teams have played no more than five games, now is a perfect time to overreact to the results of the first weekend in the 2018 season. Below, we have seven early takeaways that may, or may not, matter.

1. Houston does not appear to have any World Series hangover

The Astros kept the momentum going into 2018, as they took three out of four from the Texas Rangers to kick off their season. George Springer led off the season with a home run, and Houston’s offense forced the Rangers starters to average 18.1 pitches per inning. In the four games, Houston scored 22 runs.

Carlos Correa is off to a tremendous start, hitting .438 with four runs, a home run and five RBIs. Correa showed his ability to hit both lefties and righties on Saturday, when he roped a double off Matt Moore and later homered off Jesse Chavez.

Correa’s double-play partner and 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve, is off to a sizzling start as well. After going hitless on Opening Day, Altuve collected two hits in Game 2, four on Saturday and three more on Easter. The second baseman is batting .563 with five runs scored.

In his Astros Debut, Gerrit Cole did not disappoint. On Sunday, he pitched seven strong innings and allowed just one run on two hits while striking out 11 batters. The 11 punch-outs is the most for Cole since 2014.

2. Washington probably has the best roster in the NL

Albeit against the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals showed how dominate their arms are, as well as how potent their offense can be. Washington started the season with a 2-0 win, and proceeded to score 19 runs over their next two games, en route to sweeping the Reds. The Nats leads the NL with nine home runs.

MLB early takeaways

Bryce Harper slugged two home runs on Sunday. (Photo from The Washington Post)

Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez had a combined 0.98 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. Keep in mind, these were three of the top four pitchers in terms of WAR in 2017.

A healthy Adam Eaton may be the difference maker in Washington’s lineup. Eaton is batting .615 with seven runs scored, two home runs and five RBIs. On Saturday, Eaton went 5-for-5, and became the fourth player since 2010 to have five hits, two doubles, one home run, four runs, and at least three RBIs.

Last season, in the 23 games with Eaton and Trea Turner hitting ahead of him, Bryce Harper batted .405 with 25 RBIs. On Sunday, Harper clubbed a pair of home runs and ended the series batting .400 with three runs scored and four RBIs. If this Nats team can stay healthy, there is no reason for them not to win around 100 games.

3. Are the Braves ready for a playoff run in 2018?

Most people expected Atlanta to continue to improve in 2018, but I don’t think anyone imagined them scoring 27 runs in three games, including a 15-2 romping of the Phillies on Saturday.

Atlanta’s offense was led by Freddie Freeman, who has already drawn seven walks in three games, which is good for most in the league. Freeman has scored at least one run in each of the first three games. Ryan Flaherty, a career .219 hitter, batted .538 with three doubles and five runs scored, while Nick Markakis drove in five runs and walked four times.

Obviously Flaherty will cool off, but if Atlanta can get some production out of their staff, as well as some magic from Ronald Acuna when he is called up, don’t sleep on a Wild Card berth for the Braves.

4. 2018 could be the year in which Boston’s big three all perform

In 2016, Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award, going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. The following season, Porcello lost 17 games and gave up more home runs than anyone, allowed the second most hits and finished fifth in earned runs. After a shaky 2016, David Price was injured almost all of 2017, making just 11 starts. Chris Sale, who was acquired before the start of the 2017 season, was tremendous last season, but had no help.

The lines for Boston’s three starters against Tampa Bay:

Sale – 6 innings, 1 H, 0 ER, 9 SO

Price – 7.0 innings, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BBs, 5 SO

Porcello – 5.1 innings, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

5. Cain and Yelich look good in Milwaukee

The Brewers, who swept the Padres to start the season, have to be happy about the performance of their two new outfielders, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Cain collected multiple hits in each of the first three games, including two three-hit performances. He is batting .571 with three steals. On Saturday, Yelich went a perfect 5-for-5 and scored four runs with three RBIs in the series.

With Jimmy Nelson out, the Brewers will rely heavily on Chase Anderson to carry the load. He opened the year with a wonderful start, throwing six shutout innings with six strikeouts. The Brewers bullpen, in 15.2 innings of work, posted a 1.72 ERA with a 10.91 K/9.

6. Will Ohtani and the Angels reach the postseason?

Aside from the one bad pitch to Matt Chapman, which resulted in a three-run home run, Shohei Ohtani’s highly anticipated MLB pitching debut was a success. He earned the win and struck out six batters while walking just one in six innings.

MLB early takeaways

Ohtani earned the win in his pitching debut against Oakland. (Photo from The Mercury News)

The Angels, who won three out four in Oakland, have to be ecstatic about their new infielder Zack Cozart. Cozart, through the first four games, hit .368 with four extra-base hits, three runs scored and three RBIs. Despite going 0-for-6 on Opening Day, Mike Trout finished the series batting .300 with five runs scored, one home run, one steal and four RBIs.

Tyler Skaggs looked great in his 2018 debut, tossing 6.1 shutout innings without issuing a walk. Skaggs has never thrown more than 113 innings in a season, but if he can stay healthy and perform, this team could make some noise in October.

7. The Dodgers started off 2-2 with just two runs allowed

Staying in Los Angeles, the Dodgers pitching was tremendous against the Giants. In their 36 innings, LA’s pitching staff posted a 0.50 ERA with a .192 opposing batting average. Unfortunately, it took them until the third game of the season to cross home plate. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager went a combined 3-for-24.

 

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young players best shot at cooperstown

Hitters 25 and under with the best shot at Cooperstown

Francisco Lindor

young players best shot at cooperstown

Lindor has been a leader in the resurgence of the Indians. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Cleveland Indians shortstop has broken out as one of the best young players in baseball. 2017 was a pivotal year for him as he stuck with the trend in baseball and cranked out way more home runs than anyone expected. While his average took a bit of a dip, he was able to show his potential.

What we may see from him in the future is the home runs coming back down to reality after the 33 last year. Some guys may have been sacrificing their batting average for the long ball, and Lindor may have been one of those guys.

While his defensive prowess may have been great last year, it does not mean he won’t be able to turn it back around. He is a solid defender with high offensive potential at this point. He did not come into the league with big expectations at the plate, but seeing that Lindor is only 24, the potential looks great.

Carlos Correa

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft had high expectations the moment he came into the league. Correa has been a big part of the Astros’ road to success. While there are many players and executives who had a whole lot of influence on their championship, Correa got the ball rolling.

Correa has as much raw power as any shortstop in baseball. If it was not for his thumb injury last year, he may have hit 40 home runs.

Where his game shines on the diamond is his rocket arm. While you may not see him make the spectacular plays, his arm certainly can make up for any missteps that may occur in the field.

Correa has serious Cooperstown potential because of his great odds to consistently hit for a .300 average with 35 home runs. There are a lot of big things to look for with this 23-year-old as he has only reached the tip of the iceberg with his potential.

Bryce Harper

young players best shot at cooperstown

Harper has already cemented himself as one of the best in baseball. (Photo from ESPN)

Out of everyone on this list, Bryce Harper is the most obvious and best bet for Cooperstown when he decides to hang his cleats up down the road. He has already cemented himself as one of the new young faces of the league. It may not seem like he is too young anymore because he has enough experience to be a seasoned vet, but he still has at least another decade to go of solid baseball.

Harper was all over the internet before he was drafted for his monstrous power that he has already showcased at the major league level. He has not shown off those skills in the Home Run Derby, but that shows just how serious and dedicated he is to his game.

Harper is also in the last year of his contract with the Washington Nationals. He will be the hottest free agent on the market since Alex Rodriguez. With all the years he has ahead, he could possibly draw a $400 million contract. No matter where he goes, he certainly is on the fast track to the hall.

Mookie Betts

Out of the four players on this list, Betts may be the biggest long shot to make it in the end. He has been in the MVP discussions the past couple of years, but does not have the overwhelming power or averages you might expect to see in a superstar.

Betts is an all-around player that can fit into any lineup. He is an excellent athlete and a natural ballplayer. He is an above average defender who also can steal a few bases. Betts will not light up any particular stat category on the list, but he will put up solid numbers in every one of them.

The 5-foot-9 outfielder does not let his height slow him down at all. Players like Betts and Jose Altuve have proved that you may not need those physical tangibles some scouts think are needed.

What to bank on with Betts is a consistent player who will do what needs to be done. We will see if he puts up the stats needed to make it to Cooperstown, but he certainly has the potential to succeed at the highest level.

 

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2018 MLB postseason predictions

Early 2018 MLB postseason predictions

It is only a matter of time before Opening Day arrives. All 30 franchises will take what they learned from spring training to the big stage. 40-man rosters will showcase what each player brings to the table as they brave through another 162-game season.

Although the regular season hasn’t started yet, some experts and fans have already picked their favorites for the 2018 postseason. Who will take control of their divisions? Will upsets abound? Which two teams will duke it out for the World Series?

Here are some very early predictions for the 2018 MLB season.

National League Early Predictions

Many predict the Los Angeles Dodgers will reign supreme in 2018. ESPN rates them as the best odds to win the World Series this year.

However, the road will not be so easy. As unforgiving as their pitching crew has been to other teams, Los Angeles’ offense needs to catch up. Last season, the Dodgers recorded a .249 batting average, which ranked 22nd out of 30 teams.

2018 MLB postseason predictions

Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports

Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner had solid outings at the plate last year. But more work must still be done.

As for the rest of the NL playoff picture, my early predictions include the Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers in the two Wild Card spots.

Last season, Colorado posted the second-highest team batting average. Although their pitching rotation needs improvement, solutions are sure to be found.

As for Milwaukee, similar to the Dodgers, the Brewers landed in the top 10 last season in ERA. But offensive production couldn’t quite catch up.

Perhaps the additions of one or two more big names will help them get to October.

In addition, I will pick the Chicago Cubs to win the NL Central Division and the Washington Nationals to win the East once again. The Nationals are working in their new skipper, Dave Martinez. Martinez was previously the bench coach under manager Joe Maddon both with the Tampa Bay Rays and the previously mentioned Chicago Cubs.

My boldest prediction for the National League is the Miami Marlins going over .500 in 2018. Yes, I said it. They have young players hungry to make a name for themselves, and manager Don Mattingly will find a way to turn the team around despite the offseason drama of the rebuilding process.

American League Early Predictions

In the American League, the Houston Astros reign as not only kings of the AL, but also all of Major League Baseball. One of many questions is can they win back-to-back rings? According to ESPN, the Astros and the Cleveland Indians both have the second best odds to win the title. Given how well Houston has been doing in spring training, it’s easy to see why their opening odds are 6-1.

2018 MLB postseason predictions

Photo from MLB.com

There is no doubt the Astros will have stubborn obstacles on the road to repeat as champions. The first among which are the New York Yankees. With the addition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Pinstripes are a pitcher’s nightmare. However, their success this coming season will depend on how well new skipper, Aaron Boone, can manage this team.

If spring training is showing us anything, Boone is capable of doing well. But I do not see a round two between Houston and the Pinstripes. I predict that Houston will defend their AL title, but against the Cleveland Indians.

Here is why. Manager Terry Francona no doubt has seen this situation before. Francona will find a way to adapt against the more imposing foes in the AL. Last season, statically, the Indians were among the best in the MLB in hitting, pitching and fielding. I say how Cleveland’s defense backs up the pitcher will be the big factor for their success.

For the rest of the AL playoff picture, I see the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox in the Wild Card spots. The Red Sox will be taking the field with a new manager, former Astros bench coach, Alex Cora. In addition, slugger J.D. Martinez will call Fenway Park his home in 2018

Looking Ahead

As predictions are made, many do not stand understandably. If professional sports has taught us anything, it’s that anyone can beat anyone at any time. However, baseball is among the most stats-driven of all North American sports. It could very well be that Wild Card teams surprise us all and end up winning the league pennants.

Come March 29, each team will begin new chapters in it’s own story. Come Opening Day, the race for October begins.

 

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national league rookie of the year candidates

Top candidates for 2018 NL Rookie of the Year

2017 saw many stellar rookies in the National League. Cody Bellinger, Paul DeJong and Josh Bell all broke out as some of the promising faces of the future. Rhys Hoskins was another breakout star who didn’t finish as a top ROY candidate due to his late debut. If it wasn’t for Bellinger’s stellar year at the plate, there may have been a closer race for rookie of the year.

There are many top prospects who are likely to make their debuts in 2018, but who will shine above them all? Here is a look at some likely rookie of the year candidates.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins

national league rookie of the year candidates

Brinson is a key piece in the Marlins rebuild. (Photo from MLB)

Brinson was the centerpiece of the Marlins acquisitions in the Christian Yelich trade. While Yelich has a very team-friendly contract, he did not want to take part in the Marlins rebuild. As a result, Milwaukee traded away its best prospect to the Marlins to acquire Yelich.

Brinson will not be a masher by any means, but he is the kind of guy that could possibly compete for the batting title multiple times. He slashed a stunning .331/.400/.562 in Triple-A last year, but did not impress in September last year. That is nothing to worry about though, as his offensive ceiling is sky high right now.

He may be one of the few bright spots the Marlins will see in 2018. Although he won’t be playing in front of very large crowds, expect the young Marlins phenom to have one of the higher batting averages among rookies in 2018.

Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves

The 20-year-old Braves phenom will likely reach the majors in 2018. He is currently ranked as the second-best prospect in the majors by MLB.com as well, ranking only behind Shohei Ohtani. He, much like Brinson, has a very high ceiling for his ability to hit at the plate.

What sets Acuna apart from everybody else though is his incredible speed. One could compare him to Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds. However, Hamilton may have the edge on speed, but Acuna will be able to reach base much more than Hamilton, which makes him immensely more valuable.

Although it is just spring training, Acuna, has hit the ground running in Florida. Although it is an extremely small sample size, his eight hits in 19 at-bats is a sign of things to come for the Braves.

Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals

Another young outfielder from the NL East is expected to come onto the scene in 2018. Robles is anticipated to be one of the next great five-tool players in the majors, which will fit nicely next to Bryce Harper. The Nationals will hope to retain Harper after this season so that they could have an outfield that could feature the two young superstars.

Robles is another young player who has a very good future on the base paths, but will be able to reach base enough to make it a large game changer. What has also stood out for Robles is his mature approach to the plate, which is impressive to see in such a young ball player.

The only issue for Robles is his playing time. The Nationals already have a very crowded outfield, meaning he will have to fight his way into the starting lineup.

Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

national league rookie of the year candidates

Senzel is the brightest name in the Reds’ farm. (Photo from Cincinnati Enquirer)

Finally, an infielder is being thrown into the mix. The 22-year-old may be one of the most MLB-ready prospects hitting the scene this year, and that is what makes him a prime contender for rookie of the year.

The second overall pick in the 2016 draft is another all around hitter that will fit nicely into the Reds’ already solid offense. The question with Senzel though is whether or not he will be able to hit that 30 home run mark in his career. It is certainly possible as he grows as a hitter, but it will be exciting to see how much his power develops.

In terms of going after the rookie of the year, he does not have the same type of raw talent and athleticism as the outfielders in the NL East. However, he may be at a more developed point in his career right now, which gives him a decent shot at competing for the award this year.

 

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2018 Washington Nationals preview

2018 MLB preview: Washington Nationals

2017: 97-65 (first place in NL East)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: Never won a World Series title

2017 Recap

Just like in 2016, the Nationals had a fantastic regular season, won the NL East and proceeded to lose in the NLDS. In the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs, Washington hit just .186. Although it was not the outcome they hoped for, there was still a lot to smile about.

First off, the Nats overcame serious adversity, as the injury bug plagued them all season. Adam Eaton, who Washington acquired from the White Sox for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, tore his ACL in late-April while running to first base. Trea Turner spent two stints on the DL and played in just 98 games. Turner went on to finish third in steals with 46 and hit .284 with 11 home runs and 75 runs scored.

2018 Washington Nationals preview

Ryan Zimmerman led the Nats in home runs (36) and RBIs (108) in 2017. (Photo from SI.com)

2015 NL MVP, Bryce Harper, suffered a significant bone bruise in August and ultimately played in just 111 games. Harper received the most All-Star votes and most likely would have won his second MVP had he not gotten injured. He finished the season slashing .319/.413/.595 with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs.

For the first time since 2013, Ryan Zimmerman played in at least 140 games, and boy was it a season to remember. In his age-32 season, the lifetime National led the team in home runs (career-high 36) and RBIs (108), which was 10th in the MLB. Zimmerman also set a career high in SLG at .573.

Anthony Rendon finished sixth in NL MVP voting, hitting .301/403/.533 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. He ranked 10th in offensive WAR and ninth in OBP.

Daniel Murphy had another fantastic season, hitting .322 (fourth in the MLB) with 23 home runs, 43 doubles (seventh in the MLB) and led the Nationals with 172 hits.

As a team, Washington finished second in SLG and batting average with RISP, fourth in hits, batting average and OPS and fifth in runs, doubles and steals.

The pitching was basically unfair the whole season. Among the top four pitchers in terms of WAR, Washington had three of them. Here is a graph that shows the Nationals big three: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

PLAYER W-L RECORD ERA RANK H/9 RANK PITCHING WAR RANK CY YOUNG VOTING
MAX SCHERZER 16-6 3rd 1st 2nd 1st
STEPHEN STRASBURG 15-4 4th 4th 4th 3rd
GIO GONZALEZ 15-9 7th 8th 3rd 6th

Washington’s staff finished fourth in WHIP, fifth in opposing batting average, sixth in ERA and seventh in strikeouts.

2018: Around the Diamond

With Adam Eaton and Trea Turner back at the top of this lineup, Washington is one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Last season, in the 23 games with Eaton and Turner hitting ahead of him, Bryce Harper batted .405 with 25 RBIs. Following these three studs in the lineup will be Rendon, Murphy and Zimmerman. Talk about a lethal start to the order.

To split time with Matt Wieters, Washington signed Miguel Montero as a free agent. They also brought in Matt Adams, who will serve as the DH in interleague play and get some action at first.

Joining Eaton and Harper in the outfield is Michael Taylor. Taylor was drafted by the Nationals in 2009 and hit .271, 19 home runs and stole 17 bases in 2017. Taylor does strike out a bit much, but his speed and sneaky power off-sets it, especially as a seven or eight hitter in the lineup.

On the Bump

Scherzer won the NL Cy Young, but Strasburg is probably the hottest pitcher in baseball going into the 2018 season. In the second half, over 62.2 innings, he posted a 0.86 ERA with 76 strikeouts. Strasburg allowed the fewest HR/9 and finished third in FIP, fifth in WHIP and eighth in K/9.

2018 Washington Nationals preview

Max Scherzer is arguably the best pitcher in the MLB. (Photo from SI.com)

In all likelihood, Gonzalez will not mirror his fantastic 2017, but he should still win a ton of games with the run support that he will receive. He also needs to get his walks down, as he finished second in the MLB in walks issued.

Washington’s No. 4 starter, Tanner Roark, should feel slighted for having not yet been mentioned, but the 31-year-old had a poor 2017. After finishing 10th in NL CY Young voting in 2016, Roark followed that up with a 4.67 ERA, and a career-high 1.335 WHIP.

The only question leading up to 2018 is who will grab the last spot in the rotation. The two young starters, A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde, are the frontrunners, but Washington also has veterans Edwin Jackson and Tommy Milone.

Cole had a rough 2017 season at Triple-A, but pitched well at the big league level. In his last seven appearances, including four as a starter, Cole posted a 2.70 ERA. Barring an epic collapse in the spring, Cole will earn this spot.

Washington’s 2017 bullpen finished 23rd in ERA, but it is full of quality names that have succeeded at the MLB level. Sean Doolittle, after converting 21 of his 22 save opportunities with Washington in 2017, will remain the closer. Ryan Madson, who, in 59 innings, posted a 1.83 ERA and struck out 67, will serve as the setup man. The pen also includes Brandon Kintzler and Joaquin Benoit.

The Future

The Nationals have three prospects, including two in the top-30, cracking MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list for 2018. Among them is 20-year-old, Victor Robles (No. 6). The young outfielder is regarded as the best defender among all prospects. He made his MLB debut last season, and is on track to be an everyday player at some point in the very near future. In 114 games between A+ and Double-A, Robles hit .300 with a .382 OBP, 10 home runs and 27 steals. He is seen as a future All-Star, and possible MVP candidate.

At No. 29 is another outfielder, 19-year-old Juan Soto. A true lefty, Soto battled injuries last season, but was elite when on the field. Between Rookie and A-Ball, Soto, in 32 games, hit .351/.415/.505. Scouts see him panning out to be a middle of the order type guy, with serious potential to win a batting title.

Checking in at No. 90 is shortstop Carter Kieboom. Kieboom was the team’s first-round pick in 2016 and hit .296 with eight home runs in 48 games at Class-A Hagerstown.

2018 Prediction: 100-62

If everyone stays healthy, this is the year for Washington to win the World Series. The lineup is too deep, and the staff is just too talented. Dave Martinez, who worked under Joe Maddon in both Chicago and Tampa Bay, will bring plenty of wisdom and will avoid the mistakes that Dusty Baker made.

As one of the best all-around teams in baseball, Washington will secure its first World Series title in 2018.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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spring training 2018

Spring training 2018 preview

In just three days, a new season of baseball will be upon us. Though Opening Day comes in April, the spring training sessions will become a test run for all 30 franchises in time for the 2018 MLB regular season. These next few practices and exhibition games will showcase how each organization’s adjustments gell and execute.

Some teams will look to build upon success from 2017. Other teams will look to bounce back from past misfortunes. Sure, some teams have a steeper mountain to climb than others, but that is what’s great about baseball. Any team with the right chemistry and momentum can create big waves around the league. On top of that, that hot streak can translate to an October appearance, and maybe even a World Series ring.

Starting Friday, Feb. 23, the states of Arizona and Florida will host the latest and greatest names to hit the diamond.

Cactus League

In Glendale, one team is looking for another shot at the World Series. The other seeks a comeback after a dismal 2017 outing.

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

The Los Angeles Dodgers held baseball’s best regular season record last season at 104-58. The Dodgers seemingly breezed through the National League playoffs, giving up just one game in the NLCS.

With a smoother path to the World Series than that of the Houston Astros, many saw the Dodgers as the favorite to win. But Houston proved to be the hungrier team and beat Los Angeles in a thrilling seven-game series for the hardware.

Now, the blue and white are working to get that ring and end a 30-year drought.

On the other hand, the Chicago White Sox are coming off of a 67-95 season, fourth in the AL Central. The White Sox finished 10th in the American League in batting average and 13th in ERA. On top of that, the White Sox have mustered five straight losing seasons.

Over in Scottsdale, two Wild Card teams will begin to build upon their solid foundations from 2017.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies earned the two National League Wild Card slots last season. The Diamondbacks hosted and beat the Rockies 11-8, but got swept by the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Their game will commence on Friday at 3:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Grapefruit League

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

Down to West Palm Beach, Florida, comes another anticipated matchup to kick off the spring exhibitions.

The Houston Astros are looking to defend their World Series title and bring in another ring in 2018. With a roster stacked with All-Stars, Houston will have a big target on its back come April. The Astros will begin their exhibition rounds against the Washington Nationals.

The Washington Nationals are coming off of a 97-65 season, on top of running away with the NL East Division once again.  However, the Chicago Cubs did not appear intimidated and eliminated Washington in the NLDS. The Nationals will begin their runs with a new skipper, former Chicago Cubs bench coach, Dave Martinez.

In Tampa, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers will hope to start on a high note.

The Yankees ended 2017 with a 91-71 regular season record.  The Pinstripes gave the Astros a run for their money in the ALCS, forcing seven games. But Houston prevailed and took home the AL pennant. Now with Giancarlo Stanton in their ranks, the Bronx Bombers have established a “pitcher’s nightmare” batting order.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have arguably the steepest mountain to climb in the American League. With a dismal 64-98 season in 2017, Detroit has its work cut out for them. The Tigers pitching lineup finished last in the AL in ERA at 5.36. Holding the first pick of the upcoming MLB Draft, a pitcher should grace the stage wearing that Tigers cap.

Thank God It’s Friday

America’s pastime is almost here and ready for business. Whether with a new skipper or new players, all 30 teams will look to work in the new faces for April.  On Friday, Feb 23, baseball fans all over the world will get to hear their favorite two words once again: Play ball!

 

Featured image by Pioneer Press: John Autey

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Top 5 third basemen

Top 5 third basemen in 2018

Pitchers and catchers have reported. This is not a drill. We are so close to baseball.

As we inch closer to actual baseball, we continue our top-five lists, going with third basemen this time. This was the hardest list so far as this position is ripe with talent.

Just missed the cut

Matt Chapman: Ever since the A’s traded perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson for pennies on the dollar, the hot corner has been an infuriating thought for Oakland fans. Not anymore, as Matt Chapman brings some of the best defense in the AL at just 24 years old.

In just 84 games last season, Chapman had a 3.6 WAR, which was second highest on the team for the entire season. Some may question his bat, but last season, Chapman had a .785 OPS and a 110 OPS+, all above average numbers.

He has solid pop with amazing defense. If Chapman can stay consistent, he’ll find his way on this list.

Anthony Rendon: Anthony Rendon had one of the most underrated seasons in 2017. He finished the year sixth in MVP voting with 25 homers, 100 RBIs and an OPS of .937. He wasn’t even selected as an All-Star. Ask Mets’ fans if they think Rendon is an All-Star.

If Rendon is able to keep these stats up, somebody will have to put respect on his name.

Manny Machado: This is a fairly notable omission, but has to be done for two reasons.

First, Machado had a really down year last season, particularly at the plate. He had the worst batting average of his career as well as his second worst OBP. Second, he has been moved to shortstop in the hopes that the O’s will get a better deal once they inevitably trade him.

5. Adrian Beltre

Top 5 third basemen

Two legs? One leg? No legs? Beltre is still gonna hit bombs. (Photo by Eric Risberg/AP Photo)

For what seems like the past 1,000 years, Adrian Beltre has played third base at a very elite level. Last season, while the Rangers struggled, Beltre had one of his best seasons yet, posting his highest OPS since 2012.

In 2018, Beltre will be 39 years old. While he continues to chug the fountain of youth, father time is still undefeated. It’s all a question of when for Beltre, but after last season, it’s hard to say that it will happen soon.

For now, Beltre continues to dominate the AL.

4. Justin Turner

This is where the list gets really hard. Honestly, No. 1-4 are interchangeable.

Justin Turner is unfairly put at No. 4 despite his great offensive numbers and being the MVP of a team that won over 100 games. While Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager are flashier, Turner is the most consistent Dodger.

Turner had a great season at the plate, with 21 home runs and an OBP of .415. Turner’s on the field play coupled with his leadership and great beard make him a phenomenal player for LA.

Close your eyes Mets fans. Turner is the one who got away.

3. Nolan Arenado

Making this list is brutal. Nolan Arenado is a legit MVP-level player, and he’s still third on this list.

Arenado’s numbers are loud and flashy. Last season he hit 37 homers and 130 RBIs while slugging for .586. Those are amazing stats.

But what truly sets Arenado from the rest is his fantastic glove. He has won five straight Gold Gloves. His 7.2 WAR shows that he is not only a top player in the NL, but the entire MLB.

2. Josh Donaldson

A’s fans can only hope Franklin Barreto is worth something because Josh Donaldson isn’t going anywhere.

Donaldson had what some would consider a down year. He only played in 113 games, but was still able to hit 33 home runs. If you want to know how good Donaldson is, watch his 2015 MVP season. You will see one of the most transcendent hitters in all of baseball.

While his time with the Jays may be coming to an end, Donaldson will dominate anywhere he goes.

1. Kris Bryant

Ask any Cubs fan if the drought was worth getting a player like Kris Bryant and consistent shots at a World Series victory and they’ll probably tell you no. Bryant is a great consolation prize though.

At just 26 years old, Bryant put up 29 homers and an OBP of .409. He was responsible for a 6.1 WAR in 2017.

There are a thousand ways to say it, but Kris Bryant is amazing. He’s only going to get better.

 

Featured image by Getty Images

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Top second basemen 2018

Top 5 second basemen in 2018

With the off-season fading and the sweet light of baseball brightening up, we continue our countdown of the Major League Baseball’s best players. Last week, we looked at the top First Basemen, now we shift in the infield to the top five Second Basemen in baseball.

Just missed the cut

DJ LeMahieu: If there were ever a player who would be the poster child of the “Coors Field Effect,” it would be DJ LeMahieu. His home-away splits are pretty telling. Away from home, LeMahieu’s OBP droped 44 points (.396 to .352), his OPS dropped 60 points (.813 vs .753) and his strikeouts increased (39 vs 51).

LeMahieu is still a very good player with his solid hitting and defense, but it’s hard to rank him in the top five with these splits.

Javier Baez: If you like defense from your second basemen, then Javier Baez is your guy. He has incredible skill and range, making impossible throws look easy. He’s basically the Giancarlo Stanton of fielding grounders.

Where Baez struggles is in his consistency, particularly with his hitting. Baez has flashed some serious power with his bat, especially last season with his career-high 23 home runs. However, his OBP is still fairly below average at .317. His approach at the plate is still very poor, given his 144 strikeouts last season.

Baez needs to clean up his hitting and remain consistent if he’s going to take the step forward the Cubs are expecting.

Dustin Pedroia: Pedroia is typically a mainstay on top second basemen lists. But Pedroia struggled last season, particularly with injuries.

In 2017 Pedroia missed 57 games. He also took a step back last season offensively. His home run total was cut in half from 2016 and his OBP and OPS both dropped.

If Pedroia is able to stay healthy and improve his offensive numbers while still being the defensive stable for the Sox, he’ll move back into this list.

5. Cesar Hernandez

Top second basemen 2018

Cesar Hernandez has been underrated his whole career, but not for much longer.
(Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Cesar Hernandez has flown under the radar as a player for most of his career. It’s probably due to the fact that the Phillies have been pretty awful his entire tenure.

Regardless, he has been an extremely solid player for the team. He has seen consistent growth offensively, particularly using his speed, evidenced by his 26 doubles and six triples. He gets on base well, with an OBP of .373. His defense is very good as well.

Once the Phillies move from tanking to actually participating, maybe Hernandez will get the attention he deserves.

4. Daniel Murphy

Above Hernandez is another player from the NL East, Daniel Murphy. Murphy is one of the most gifted hitters in the MLB today. Murphy’s 2015 postseason was some of the greatest hitting ever.

His time for Nationals has been very good, with him falling just shy of a MVP in 2016. His offense has been incredible for the Nationals, knocking in at least doubles in back-to-back years, coupled with at least 20 homers both years. In 2017, he had a .384 OBP and a .543 slugging percentage.

So why the low ranking? Murphy plays pretty bad defense. Murphy will never be a good defender, and he’s not even an average defender. While his offensive stats are impressive, his defense hurts him overall.

3. Robinson Cano

When Robinson Cano signed that staggering 10-year $240 million contract in 2013, many thought there was no way Cano would be able to keep up his production by the end. Well, we are not exactly at the end, but we are getting there, and he’s still putting up the numbers.

Last season, Cano was an All-Star. His numbers were 23 homers, .338 OBP and .453 slugging percentage, and it was a down year. If he’s able to put up a season like 2016, where he finished eighth in the MVP race, he’ll put those doubters completely to rest.

2. Brian Dozier

Top second basemen 2018

You may not be able to tell by this picture, but Dozier is a great hitter. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The Twins shocked many in the baseball world last season by making it into the last Wild Card spot only one year after finishing with over 100 loses. Many will point to the defense of Byron Buxton and the revival of Ervin Santana.

However, Brian Dozier deserves a lot of credit as well. Coming off a season with 42 homers, Dozier hit 34 more with an OBP of .359. Dozier was the heart of the offense for the Twins last season and will be for many seasons to come.

1. Jose Altuve

There’s no way this could be a surprise. Altuve is the reigning AL MVP with a ridiculous 8.3 WAR. In 2017, Altuve had a batting average of .346, which earned him the batting title. His OBP was .410, which is insane. He hit 24 homers, leading to a slugging percentage of .547 and an OPS of .957. This is all coupled with excellent speed (32 stolen bases) and defense.

It’s not even close. Sorry Dozier, Cano, Murphy and Hernandez.

 

 

Featured image by Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

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