The 9th Inning Column: The London Series, Race for NL MVP, and Brendan McKay’s fantastic debut

Welcome back to the 9th Inning. This is the third edition of this in the 2019 MLB season. This is a monthly column on Pro Sports Fandom in which I roundup the month’s biggest happenings in the baseball realm. I’ll discuss what teams are hot and what teams are not. I will also give my personal thoughts on a few notable baseball-related events as well as giving out monthly awards for team of the month, players of the month, and rookies of the month. It’s basically a baseball podcast squeezed into an article that happens near the end of every month. This is the second article of this season and I hope for some immense success with this column. If you’d like, be sure to share with your friends, social media, and family! I’d love my column to reach as big a global outreach as possible.

I’m going to start the 9th Inning Column for June with a few rounded-up thoughts in recap of the biggest stories recently, both on the field and off.

The London Series

What a wild two game series it was in London this weekend between the Red Sox and the Yankees. The two teams combined for 50 runs, a two-game record between the two clubs. It was an offensive showdown on both days, as neither starting pitcher made it out of the first inning in Game 1, and the bullpen for both teams proved to be shaky at times. The Yankees had three innings in the series in which they scored six or more runs, and the Red Sox had two of these innings. When the MLB returns to London next season, hopefully they can give the fans a pitcher’s duel to remember.

The race for NL MVP

Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger are in a tight race for the National League MVP award at the moment. Both of these young outfielders are having fabulous seasons and Yelich is looking to win his second MVP in a row. Both are All-Star starters, so how do we separate them? Bellinger has a better batting average, RBIs, and WAR, while Yelich has more home runs and stolen bases. It’s extremely close at the moment, but Bellinger would be my pick if I had to choose between these two.

McKay’s fantastic debut

The Tampa Bay Rays had an exciting weekend by taking a series with the Texas Rangers, but also with the debut of highly touted prospect Brendan McKay, who came up as a pitcher who still has two-way potential. He was ranked as the 23rd best prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline and he was the second best prospect in the Rays system. He retired the first 16 batters of his MLB career and finished a terrific outing by pitching six innings of one-hit shutout baseball with only one walks and three strikeouts. This is a sign of things to come for McKay, who has an extremely bright future in the big leagues.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

The New York Yankees have been on the hot section of this list for all three columns thus far in 2019, and it seems to be with good reason. Since losing two in a row to the White Sox on June 13th and 14th, the Yankees rattled off eight consecutive victories and have gone 13-1 overall, with series wins over the Rays, Astros, and Red Sox. Chad Green has found success as an opener as he pitched to a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings during the month. The offense was ruthless throughout the month, led by D.J. LeMahieu’s clutch hitting, Gleyber Torres balanced approach, Gary Sánchez’s pop, and the returning Aaron Judge. They are undoubtedly the best team in baseball right now, and they’ve shown no signs of slowing down.

The Oakland Athletics have once again gotten extremely hot near the end of the month, similar to how the month of May concluded. They’ve gone 7-3 in their past 10 games, climbing within a half game of the second AL Wildcard spot. Matt Olson was a big contributor for the A’s, hitting 9 homers and notching 20 RBIs. Ramon Laureano also showed significant increases in his power hitting abilities, hitting 7 home runs in the month. It certainly hurts to lose Frankie Montas to a PED suspension, but the Athletics are still hungry to make the postseason for the second straight season.

The Washington Nationals were struggling to win not too long ago, but recently they’ve found something that’s clicked. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and still find themselves in the thick of the hunt for the NL Wildcard spots. Anthony Rendon continued to prove why he’s going to get paid this fall, as he batted .311 with 9 homers and 24 RBIs in the month. Max Scherzer was also phenomenal in June, but we’ll discuss that later. All this stretch did was prove that the Nats won’t sell and why would they?

The New York Mets were expected to contend in the NL East in 2019, but instead they looked like they’ve built an utter disaster. They just ended a seven game losing streak and have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games. The roster was built to win but it simply has not done that, as they now sit 12 games back of the first place Braves. Barring a massive hot stretch, it doesn’t look like Queens will be able to see their hometown Mets play in October this season.

The Boston Red Sox have simply not looked like a great baseball team this season. The defending champs have serious issues with the bullpen and getting run support for Chris Sale. The London Series was pretty embarrassing to be quite frank with you, as Rick Porcello and the bullpen got slaughtered. They’ve fallen 11 games back of the Yankees in the AL East standings amid a three game losing streak and a 4-6 stretch in their last 10 games.

The Monthly Awards:

Team of the Month is…

The Atlanta Braves (20-8)

Despite losing to the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball in difficult fashion, the Braves had a phenomenal month in June, going 20-8 and building a 5.5 game lead in the NL East Standings over the Philadelphia Phillies. They joined the 50 win club yesterday, becoming the fifth team to do so thus far in 2019. Freddie Freeman is unbelievable, Ronald Acuña Jr. is one of the game’s brightest young stars, and Mike Soroka has been unbelievable in his rookie season. Even if they don’t win the World Series this year, the Braves can rest assured that they have one of the brightest futures of any team in the MLB.

Hitter of the Month is…

New York Yankees 2B D.J. LeMahieu

LeMahieu was an absolute superstar for the unstoppable Yankees offense in June, and he is climbing his way up the AL MVP contenders list because of it. LeMahieu batted .395 in the month with six homers and 29 RBIs with a 1.092 OPS. He continues to be one of the most (if not, the most) valuable signings from the offseason. In fact, he’s been rewarded for his outstanding play by being named as the AL Starter at Second Base in the 2019 All-Star Game. He undoubtedly deserves the hitter of the month award for his performance in June.

Starter of the Month is…

Washington Nationals RHP Max Scherzer

Frequently being talked about as a long shot trade deadline target for a few clubs, Max Scherzer’s dominant month of June has been a huge reason why the Nationals are right back in the NL Wildcard hunt. He broke his nose and pitched a gem against the Phillies the next day. Not to mention, he made 6 starts in the month, getting the victory in all 6, and pitching 45 innings with a 1.00 ERA. He only gave up 25 hits, 5 runs, and had 68 strikeouts against only 5 walks in the month. Opponents were hitting just .156 against him and he had a 0.67 WHIP as a result.

Reliever of the Month is…

Oakland Athletics RHP Liam Hendriks

Used as an opener near the end of the 2018 campaign, Liam Hendriks has reestablished himself as one of the better relief pitchers on the Oakland Athletics roster. He pitched 15 innings of one run baseball in June, good for a 0.60 earned run average. He gave up only 10 hits, struck out 22, and walked four batters. Opposing hitters batted just .192 against him in the month and struggled against him all month long.

Rookie Hitter of the Month is…

New York Mets 1B Pete Alonso

Despite being apart of a struggling Mets ball club, first baseman Pete Alonso coasted his way to his second Rookie Hitter of the Month award for my column. In June, the newly announced NL All-Star batted .309 with 9 home runs, 19 RBIs, and a 1.097 OPS. He also had an impressive on-base percentage of .437, as he walked 17 times compared to striking out 22 times. If he continues to hit like this, he’ll be the unquestioned NL Rookie of the Year.

Rookie Pitcher of the Month is…

Arizona Diamondbacks RHP Merrill Kelly

You might be questioning how a 30 year old can be a successful rookie, but Merrill Kelly fits the bill. An eighth round draft pick of the Rays in the 2010 draft, Kelly pitched in the minors until 2015, when he went to the KBO to play baseball. After three years there, Kelly has made his MLB debut in 2019. He was phenomenal in June, making six starts and pitching 39.1 innings with a 2.75 earned run average. He only walked five batters all month and opponents were hitting .212 with a .238 on-base percentage against him in the month.

Thanks for reading the June edition of the 9th Inning column! I hope you enjoyed! Don’t forget to share with your friends, family, and on social media! Feel free to contact me on my Twitter @TBeckmann24 if you have any questions! I’ll be back next month! Peace!

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The 9th Inning Column: MLB Draft Week, Jose Ramirez’ struggles, and RIP Bill Buckner

Welcome back to the 9th Inning. This is the second edition of this in the 2019 MLB season. This is a monthly column on Pro Sports Fandom in which I roundup the month’s biggest happenings in the baseball realm. I’ll discuss what teams are hot and what teams are not. I will also give my personal thoughts on a few notable baseball-related events as well as giving out monthly awards for team of the month, players of the month, and rookies of the month. It’s basically a baseball podcast squeezed into an article that happens near the end of every month. This is the second article of this season and I hope for some immense success with this column. If you’d like, be sure to share with your friends, social media, and family! I’d love my column to reach as big a global outreach as possible.

I’m going to start the 9th Inning Column for May with a few rounded-up thoughts in recap of the biggest stories recently, both on the field and off.

It is almost time for the MLB Draft!

We are less than a week away from the 2019 MLB Draft and there’s a lot of speculation swirling about the first few rounds. Firstly, nearly everybody in the business believes that the Orioles have to take Adley Rutschman with the top pick. Rutschman, a catcher for Oregon State, is a switch-hitter with solid power and great defensive skills behind the plate. Secondly, a lot of people believe that the Royals will take Bobby Witt Jr. with the second pick. Witt Jr. is a five-tool shortstop coming out of Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas, and he’s the son of a former big league starter. Overall, we are looking at a draft class that is somewhat weak on quality arms but more than makes it up for it with high potential position players.

What is wrong with Jose Ramirez?

In the past few seasons, Jose Ramirez gave the Cleveland Indians another budding star to put alongside Francisco Lindor. Yet in 2019, Ramírez looks to be well off his game. He doesn’t look like he’ll achieve a three peat of third place AL MVP finishes. In 55 games, the 26 year old third baseman is batting a mere .211 with only 4 home runs and 17 RBIs. He’s striking out more, walking less, and seems to have lost his touch at the plate. A good thing for Ramirez is that he’s been playing well lately, batting .357 in his last three games. Still though, the Indians are struggling as a team and falling way back in the race for the AL Central, and they’ll need Ramírez to start putting up the numbers that he’s capable of if they want to get back in it.

Former batting champ Bill Buckner passes away

An MLB legend passed away on Monday after a battle with dementia. Bill Buckner played in the big leagues for 22 seasons and totaled 2,715 hits on a career .289 batting average. Buckner was a great teammate and was highly valued as a utility player during his time in the MLB. In 1980, he batted .324 and was the National League Batting Champion. In 1981, he made his only All-Star team. Buckner deserves respect across the league for his great career. Rest In Peace, Bill Buckner.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

The New York Yankees were the best team in baseball throughout the month of May and I’ll discuss them later, because they won one of the column’s awards.

The Minnesota Twins were certainly in the mix for the team of the month award in May, but they were just edged out by the Yanks. They’re pulling away from the Indians in the AL Central, as they currently have a 9.5 game cushion. Newfound ace Jake Odorizzi was phenomenal in May, pitching his way to a 0.94 ERA in five starts. First baseman C.J. Cron led the high powered Twins offensive attack in May as he hit eight home runs, batted .301, and tallied 21 RBIs. The Twins continue to surprise folks and they are seriously one of the top five teams in baseball right now, without any doubt.

The Oakland Athletics have recently gotten themselves firmly back in the hunt for the AL West crown with a 10-game winning streak and an 8-2 stretch over their past ten games. They are alone in second place in their division and sit 7.5 games back of the Houston Astros. The Athletics were led by Frankie Montas strong pitching (2.64 ERA in 30.2 IP) and the offense was helped a lot by Josh Phegley (4 HRs and 20 RBI). With franchise cornerstone Matt Chapman and a solid pitching staff, last year’s second AL Wildcard team could be well on their way to another postseason appearance.

If you haven’t heard about Cody Bellinger’s stellar start of a 2019 campaign, then you’ve been living under a rock. Combine that with a dominating pitching staff and you can see why the Los Angeles Dodgers are continuing to build a sizeable lead in the NL West Standings. They either won or split every series in the month of May, proving that they can compete in every single game. Sitting at a 38-19 record, the Dodgers look to be well on their way to another NL West crown.

The St. Louis Cardinals were very good in the first month or so of 2019, but they’ve fallen off to a below .500 record as we turn the calendar to June. They are 4-6 in their last ten games and now sit 4.5 games back of the first place Cubs in the NL Central. The Cardinals play in perhaps the toughest division in all of Major League Baseball, so they’ll need to stop skidding before they find themselves in too big of a hole.

Remember when the Seattle Mariners were hitting all sorts of bombs every day and were in first place in the AL West? Yeah, I do too, and those days are long gone as the Mariners have the worst record in all of Major League Baseball in the month of May at 6-21. They’ve struggled as a pitching staff and had tough offensive nights, leading to their fall to dead last in the AL West standings. It looks like the Mariners have run out of magic.

In last month’s column, I talked extensively about what the San Francisco Giants should do if they didn’t start winning soon. Well, the Giants haven’t done any better and are still in last place in their division as they’ve been extremely cold as of late. They’re in the midst of a 2-8 stretch in their last ten games and they are on their way to being an early seller on the summer trade market.

The Monthly Awards:

Team of the Month is…

The New York Yankees (19-7)

The New York Yankees have surged to the top of the American League East recently due to a continued stretch of dominance. They’ve gone 12-3 since May 12th and that includes series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays (twice) and the San Diego Padres. Masahiro Tanaka had been dominant in May until his start on Tuesday, having a 2.80 earned run average in 35.1 innings of work. Gleyber Torres (.308 AVG and 9 HRs) and Gary Sanchez (.288 AVG and 9 HRs) have carried the load offensively for the Yanks throughout the month. The bullpen is starting to round into form as well, proving it is as good as advertised with Chapman, Britton, Kahnle, and Ottavino all in peak form right now. With so many injuries, the Yankees performance has simply been impressive.

The Hitter of the Month is…

Pittsburgh Pirates 1B Josh Bell

One of the best hitters in all of the majors through the season thus far, Pirates first baseman Josh Bell has been absolutely smoking baseballs left and right. He is undoubtedly the hitter of the month of May, as he hit at a .389 batting average with a .444 on-base percentage and an .814 slugging percentage. He also has hit 12 homers in the month and has racked up 30 RBIs. He’s shown considerable improvements in the 2019 campaign so far, as he’s close to reaching previously career high numbers already. Bell is the unquestioned leader in Pittsburgh and if he continues hitting like this, he will be in Cleveland as an All-Star this summer.

The Starter of the Month is…

Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu

Garnering praise as a “left handed Greg Maddux”, the 32-year old veteran Ryu is off to a Cy Young-esque start in 2019. In May, he was nearly unhittable, going 5-0 and pitching his way to a 0.59 ERA in 45.2 innings on the mound. Opposing hitters had just a .177 batting average against him in his six starts and he continues to provide great outings for the dominating LA Dodgers club. If Ryu continues to control the strike zone and limit walks, I could easily see him being named the Cy Young award winner for the National League in the fall.

The Reliever of the Month is…

New York Yankees RHP Adam Ottavino

Adam Ottavino has started off his 2019 campaign still right in his dominant 2018 form. The veteran reliever was superb in May, appearing in 13 games and not giving up any runs. Since April 21st, Ottavino has not given up a run. Thus far in 2019, the former Rockie has a 2-1 record with 12 holds and a 1.37 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched. He’s been exactly the guy that the Yankees wanted him to be when they signed him in the offseason. He undoubtedly deserves the reliever of the month award for his performance in May.

Rookie Hitter of the Month:

Boston Red Sox 2B Michael Chavis

The third best prospect in the Boston farm system, Chavis has immediately come up into the big leagues and helped provide a stable bat in the lineup. In May, he batted .255 with seven home runs and he’s showing off his advanced hitting tool. With other rookies struggling, Chavis has climbed his way up near the top of the American League Rookie of the Year award race.

Rookie Pitcher of the Month:

Atlanta Braves RHP Mike Soroka

Mike Soroka has been more than just a valuable contributor for the Braves rotation this season. He’s been dominant and looks to be firmly in the mix for the NL Rookie of the Year award. If the award was won in May, Soroka may have just clinched it. He pitched his way to a 0.79 ERA in 34 innings during the month. He only gave up three earned runs and opponents hit just .145 against him in the month. Soroka has been just as good as his prospect evaluation hyped him up to be, and he’s on his way to becoming the ace of the Braves already.

Thanks for reading the May edition of the 9th Inning column! I hope you enjoyed! Don’t forget to share with your friends, family, and on social media! Feel free to contact me on my Twitter @TBeckmann24 if you have any questions! I’ll be back next month! Peace!

The 9th Inning (April): Vlad Jr’s debut, Mize’s Double-A gem, and what’s wrong with the Red Sox?

Welcome to the 9th Inning. This is the first edition of this in the 2019 MLB season. This is going to be a monthly column on Pro Sports Fandom in which I roundup the month’s biggest happenings in the baseball realm. I’ll discuss what teams are hot and what teams are not. I will also give my personal thoughts on a few notable baseball-related events as well as giving out monthly awards for team of the month, players of the month, and rookies of the month. It’s basically a baseball podcast squeezed into an article that will happen near the end of every month. This is the debut article of this season and I hope for some immense success with this column. If you’d like, be sure to share with your friends, social media, and family! I’d love my column to reach as big a global outreach as possible.

I’m going to start the 9th Inning Column for April with a few rounded-up thoughts in recap of the biggest stories recently, both on the field and off.

Vlad Jr’s debut

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his highly anticipated MLB debut this past weekend for the Toronto Blue Jays. MLB Pipeline’s number one prospect may have been the most hyped up debut since Bryce Harper. Guerrero is only batting .250 after his first series is in the books, but part of that is due to him not getting great pitches to hit. MLB.com says that Guerrero had a 37.3% zone rate over his first few games. The Blue Jays are set to take on the Angels in Anaheim in their weekday series, and it’ll be a great series to watch!

2018 top draft pick dominates in first AA Start

Not often will I talk about a player in the Double-A levels of minor league ball in this column, but I feel that this one is well deserved. Casey Mize, the number one overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, made his AA debut with the Detroit Tigers on Monday. The Auburn product dominated and sent a message to the scouts, throwing a nine inning no-hitter in a win for the Erie Seawolves. It was an impressive performance that caught the eyes of many, as Mize only walked one batter and hit another. If he continues to pitch like this, Detroit may soon have a bonafide ace on their big league roster.

What’s wrong with the Red Sox?

The defending champion Boston Red Sox are off to a sour start in the 2019 season, having a 12-17 record to show for it just one month in. They’ve cleaned it up as of late, but there’s still cause for concern with the Beantown squad. Jackie Bradley Jr. has been horrible with the bat, 2018 World Series MVP Steve Pearce is struggling, and Eduardo Rodriguez/Chris Sale both have ERAs over 6. If the pitching staff doesn’t get going soon, Boston may find itself in a hole too big to overcome, but there’s certainly reason to believe in this team. I mean heck, they are the defending World Series Champs after all!

Where do the Giants go from here?

A lot of talk has circulated about how the San Francisco Giants will attack the summer trade deadline. It’s the final season for manager Bruce Bochy, and it is perhaps the final year for longtime franchise ace Madison Bumgarner in the Bay Area. The Giants have built a team of veterans in hopes of competing in 2019, but it’s gone very badly thus far. They are 12-17 in the NL West, which is last in the division. They are not doing well at the plate, and Jeff Samardzija is their only qualified starting pitcher with an ERA below four. As we near June, the Giants are creeping closer and closer to being the first team to sell off their top veterans to buyers.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

The banged-up New York Yankees are the hottest team in baseball right now, as they’ve gone 11-2 since losing a home series to the Chicago White Sox on April 14th. Luke Voit was dominant for the Bronx Bombers last week on their West Coast road trip, winning AL Player of the Week Honors by going 13 for 30 with four home runs and 10 RBIs. In doing so, Voit has continued a ridiculous 39-game on base streak into the Yankees two game series against the Diamondbacks.

The Minnesota Twins have won 8 of their last 10 games and have taken 2.5 game lead in the AL Central over the Cleveland Indians. Eddie Rosario (11 HRs) and Jorge Polanco (.948 OPS) have lead the scorching hot Twins offensive attack and Jose Berrios continues to grow into an ace, leaving the Twins in great position to make a run at the postseason in 2019.

The St. Louis Cardinals have won 8 of their last 10 games as well, en route to taking a three game lead over the Cubs and Brewers in the NL Central Division. Paul DeJong (.342 AVG, 5 HRs) and Marcell Ozuna (.271 AVG, 10 HRs) are leading a Redbirds offense that is still awaiting an inevitable annual hot stretch from All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

After a rough start to the 2019 campaign, the Chicago Cubs have gotten back near the top of the NL Central with a recent hot stretch. They are winners of 7 of their last 10 games, climbing into a tie for second in the division with the Milwaukee Brewers. Javier Baez has been otherworldly thus far, hitting .315 with 9 home runs and 22 RBIs. The Cubs are also getting great contribution from catcher Willson Contreras (1.033 OPS). They can certainly push for the NL Central, and I fully expect them to do so.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were 12-6 after a win over the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, April 20th. Since then? They’ve been one of the worst teams in baseball, losing eight straight and falling to fourth place in the NL Central Division. With competition like the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals, the Pirates cannot have losing streaks like this and expect to stay atop the division. If they don’t figure it out soon, Pittsburgh could be in serious hot water.

The Washington Nationals have also caught a case of the cold as we flip the calendar to May. They’ve lost three series in a row to teams that I’m just not quite sure they should be losing to. On paper, the Nats have one of the best complete rosters in all of Major League Baseball, but they haven’t been able to put it together just yet in 2019. Let’s see what this team does in May before we press the panic button!

The Oakland Athletics are in serious danger of not getting back to the postseason already in 2019, and that’s not because I don’t have faith in their ability to turn it around after a rough start. The AL West is more competitive this year, and the A’s have struggled as of late, getting swept by Toronto twice in two weeks and losing 7 of their last 10. Will Khris Davis and the Oakland crew figure it out before it’s too late?

The Monthly Awards:

Team of the Month is…

The Tampa Bay Rays (19-9)

The Rays definitely were not a lot of experts picks to lead the AL East through one month, but here we are. Tampa Bay holds a 1.5 game lead on the Yankees as we speak, and they’ve had a terrific first month of baseball. A big reason for their success is the pitching staff, as Tyler Glasgow (5 wins, 1.75 ERA), 2018 AL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell (2 wins, 2.54 ERA), and free agent acquisition Charlie Morton (3 wins, 2.76 ERA) lead the MLB’s top pitching staff thus far. Jose Alvarado has been one of baseball’s best relievers (we’ll discuss him later) and the Rays are much deeper than this, but there’s too many people to name. Austin Meadows was absolutely raking before he got injured (.351, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs), and he should be back rather soon. Yandy Diaz (.298, 7 HRs, 18 RBIs) is having a breakout season at the hot corner for Tampa Bay and veteran outfielder Tommy Pham continues to put up productive numbers (.294, 4 HRs, 12 RBIs). They should be taken seriously as one of the premier World Series contenders.

The Hitter of the Month is …

Los Angeles Dodgers OF/1B Cody Bellinger

Cody Bellinger has played at both right field and first base this year, so I’m not sure what to call him with such a small sample size. But I can call him something, and that is an absolutely on-fire baseball player. The third-year superstar has been nothing short of spectacular in 2019, batting .434 with 14 homers and 37 RBIs. His on-base percentage is over .500 and his slugging percentage sits firmly at .906. What’s even more impressive is that Bellinger has increased his base on balls percentage from 10.9% to 14.1%, while also cutting down his strikeout percentage from 23.9% in 2018 to 11.7% through one month of 2019. If he continues to play like this, he will shatter records, and with this hot start, he’s certainly the favorite to win NL MVP!

Starter of the Month is …

Cincinnati Reds RHP Luis Castillo

When called up to the bigs in 2017, Luis Castillo was the tenth best prospect in the Reds farm system. With a lot of patience by Cincinnati’s staff, Castillo looks to be turning the corner into one of the best pitchers in the National League. His first month of 2019 certainly proved such, as the 26 year old rising phenom has made six starts, going 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA in 36.1 innings of work. He’s striking out more batters than he has at any point in his young career, and has reduced his home runs per nine innings rate from a sour 1.49 in 2018 to an impressive 0.25 thus far in 2019. His HR/FB rate sits at a solid 4.5%, showing that Castillo has been stingy in terms of preventing the longball. At this point, batters just haven’t been able to hit his stuff, as hitters are hitting just .165 against him. If he continues to pitch like this, he may just deliver the NL Cy Young Award to Great American Ball Park.

The Reliever of the Month is …

Tampa Bay Rays LHP Jose Alvarado

Dating back to 2018, the 23 year old Alvarado has been one of the best relievers in all of Major League Baseball, and that trend has continued to pick up steam as we turn the calendar to May. Thrust into a big late-inning role in 2019, the lefty has been nothing short of excellent thus far. He’s made four saves in 14 appearances, pitching his way to a 1.38 ERA and a 1.82 FIP, proving his performance is no fluke. Alvarado has not surrendered a home run yet this season, and he’s striking out 13.1 batters per nine innings. The only negative in 2019 is that Alvarado’s walks per nine innings rate has increased a bit from 4.08 to 4.85, but it’s not too severe of a jump.

The Rookie Hitter of the Month is …

New York Mets 1B Peter Alonso

A second round selection by the Mets in the 2016 MLB Draft, Peter Alonso has made a quick transition to the pros. He is a phenomenal hitter and subpar defender at first base, and he showed that in the minor leagues all the way up until earning the Mets starting first baseman job in 2019. Since he earned the job, Alonso has proven why he was one of the Mets untradeable chips as they rebuilt last year. He’s an early frontrunner for the NL Rookie of the Year award, as he’s batting .304 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 2019. He will have to continue to work on balancing his approach and limiting strikeouts, but right now, Alonso is hot and off to the races, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The Rookie Pitcher of the Month is …

San Diego Padres RHP Chris Paddack

Paddack is the 31st best prospect in all of Major League Baseball according to MLB Pipeline, but after one month of him in the bigs, I think he may deserve a huge boost before he loses his eligibility on such lists. He’s 23 years old and has been firing on all cylinders to start his MLB career. He’s made five starts, going 1-1 and pitching 27 innings with a 1.67 ERA, ranking third amongst all National League pitchers with 25 or more innings pitched. He’s just been purely unhittable, as opposing hitters have a .111 batting average against him. He’s striking out 10 batters per nine innings, only walking about 2.6 per nine, and only surrenders 0.6 home runs per nine. If he continues to pitch like this, he’ll be right in the thick of the battle for NL Rookie of the Year with his teammate Fernando Tatis Jr. and Mets slugger Pete Alonso (mentioned above).

Thanks for reading the season debut of the 9th Inning column! I hope you enjoyed! Don’t forget to share with your friends, family, and on social media! Feel free to contact me on my Twitter @TBeckmann24 if you have any questions! I’ll be back next month! Peace!

The Braves Bullpen Woes Unsurprisingly Continue in 2019

Atlanta Braves fans have heard the recurring story over the past 6 months:

“We have an unlimited supply of money now! We can shop at any aisle that we need to improve our team!”

I’m pretty much paraphrasing the Braves front office as the 2018 season ended with their first division title in 5 years and after a three year run of a relatively painful rebuild.

Of course, the comment excited Braves fans on the idea of netting one, maybe two big name free agent stars, including Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and others. If not the big name stars, key free agents to bolster a solid, yet somewhat inexperienced rotation with no bulldog grinding pitcher (or a legit #1 ace) and most notably a massive upgrade to the bullpen.

Then the free agency period began. The Braves jumped on it early, signing former MVP Josh Donaldson on a 1 year, $22 million contract and bringing home former Braves star Brian McCann to split time with Tyler Flowers and end his great career to where he started. People went, “okay…the Donaldson move pretty much took out the idea of Harper and Machado, but if he’s healthy, he can rake. And yay, McCann is home! Maybe we can get a key reliever or two now and focus our money on that, or maybe a starter.”

Patrick Corbin…gone to Washington. JA Happ, stuck with the Yankees. Dallas Keuchel had a high salary demand which pretty much eliminated the Braves. “Okay, makes sense, we do have great arms all over the farm so I guess investing in a bulldog/ace guy is not THAT important. Let’s focus on the bullpen now. Hey, Craig Kimbrel is available! Bring him home like we did with McCann!”

Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, etc. were on the market. Kelly goes to the Dodgers. Ottavino, Yankees. Miller, Cardinals. Wilson, Nationals (yes, I’m grasping at straws for this one, but is Wilson any worse than what the Braves have now in the bullpen?).

Kimbrel….due to either high salary demand, a loss of a draft pick to the team who signs him, north of 30, or how he had some struggles in October, hadn’t been signed. In February/March, rumors were sky high of Kimbrel and the Braves being very close to a deal. Fans, who were frustrated after the Donaldson/McCann signings as Atlanta passed on everyone, were excited on the hopes Kimbrel would be wearing that Tomahawk once more. And….nope. Fans went from being excited to mad. Listen to the sports talk radios in Atlanta and hear the arguing of them saying they lacked to go after bullpen arms after the promise of making a big splash in the hot stove market. The majority of the personalities were in agreement too. Even when former Braves great John Smoltz got on the local station to talk about Atlanta’s off-season, he was stunned the Braves hadn’t made key moves to improve the pen as well and probably set the team back from the rest of the NL East not named the Marlins.

Then the regular season began…the Braves get swept by the Phillies and the bullpen crashed and burned badly. The fans were livid, furious, and constantly barking about the bullpen. Of course, the Braves had the argument of “well, it’s only 3 games. R.E.L.A.X.” Then Atlanta rolls off a nice run of going 9-3. Of course, the Braves argument? “Hey, our bullpen did fine…no Kimbrel or otherwise needed!”

Then a sweep by the Diamondbacks at home where Atlanta surrendered late leads in the first two games while the last game the bullpen kept the team from getting into the game late…and we are back to square one. Adding on, their best reliever, the closer Arodys Vizcaino, is out for the season due to shoulder surgery. Fans who are pretty much donating their paycheck to SunTrust Park for a night are booing late in the games. Fans on social media and sports talk show hosts are constantly saying “bring in Kimbrel! We don’t care if it costs us a draft pick! You say you have the money! You have to overspend on players in baseball anyway!” (though the Braves probably made highway robbery on extending Ozzie Albies, but that’s another story)

The response from the organization about Kimbrel has been simple: “We are NOT going to give up our draft pick! We are not going to overspend on one guy! We like what we have for arms in our farm and we don’t need to make a trade! It’s a rough patch, but we will recover and compete in 2019!”

Fool me once…..

The Braves last year won the division with the offense and solid starting pitching. However, it wasn’t a dominant run from the starters and given how the NL East was last season with the Mets being injury plagued, the Nationals massively underachieving for all their talent, and the Phillies being a young bunch, it was really theirs because of the fewer gaping holes compared to the rest of the division.

Some said they were a year ahead of their target for contending thus spoiling Braves fans and that the “plan was in order.” Ironically those comments of “spending on whomever” were really made before the 2018 season.

There has always been a disconnect or at least for a while with the Braves organization and the fans. The front office has always had a “holier than thou” attitude towards the fans and that the Braves fan base should never question their decisions. Even with the bullpen woes this year, it has been “we are really feeling it will be fine and you shouldn’t worry-we have the arms” and as Braves announcer Chip Caray (who has no choice but to defend what the Braves do) said a few nights back that “if you look all over the Majors right now, bullpen woes are a constant all over.” That said, we hear from everybody how Atlanta has a bevvy of arms in the farm system and many are in Gwinnett, so why aren’t they here? One argument is that the arms they have are mostly starters. Is it too much to move a few as relievers? Or use it for a quality reliever in a trade?

One semi-fix is that Brian Snitker needs to extend some of his starting rotation arms. Part of the bullpen woes is because of they are constantly worked and at times overworked. Only twice so far Atlanta has sent a starter past the 6th inning and a handful of times the Braves starters have made it to the 6th, even if they have been pitching well before they got the handshake. Snitker may be playing the “third time around” and/or “the last guy got a good at-bat” bit and is trigger happy to go to the bullpen. In that case, then it has be on Snitker. He needs to give some of these players a rest.

The issue for the Braves remains and that is the bullpen. If the people who run the team either are too proud or just really are blind to it then it is going to be the downfall in 2019. There is not much margin for error as the Mets, Phillies, and Nationals made vast improvements in the off-season where the Braves made little. But if the Braves fail in 2019, the issue is not going to be the bullpen, but the inability to be proactive with making the right moves.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed NL East Preview

No division in baseball upgraded so much over the off-season than the NL East.

Last year, the Nationals, who were supposed to run through the division failed with flying colors. A slump by Bryce Harper and issues with Stephen Strasburg kept them from getting off to a good start. Instead, the Braves and Phillies spent most of the year fighting it out for the division. Atlanta saw some of the prospects in their farm make a big splash and with a few key moves down the stretch, ran away with the division while Philadelphia fell apart. Washington never recovered from their slow start and didn’t really figure into the NL East race. The Mets battled injuries badly (again) and inconsistencies and weren’t much of a factor either despite having one of the best years for a pitcher in Jacob deGrom. The Marlins went through year one under new ownership in Derek Jeter. They have an uphill battle to climb not just with the other four teams but a city with a very depleted fan base who feel screwed for the xth time.

The Mets, Nationals, and Phillies all made major moves to take aim at the youthful Braves squad, who really was very quiet compared to those teams and failed to address key needs. The Marlins made moves, but just more of stop-gap fillers as Miami is in full rebuild mode….again.

So let’s look who will reign supreme in a tough-as-nails NL East

deGrom gets a newly signed contract, and could repeat his performance in 2019

(1) NEW YORK METS

Last year: 77-85

KEY ADDITIONS: 2B-Robinson Cano (Trade-Seattle), C-Wilson Ramos (FA-Philadelphia), OF-JD Davis (Trade-Houston) OF-Keon Broxton (Trade-Milwaukee), P-Edwin Diaz (Trade-Seattle), P-Juerys Familia (FA-Oakland), P-Justin Wilson (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Luis Avilan (FA-Philadelphia)

KEY LOSSES: OF-Jay Bruce (Trade-Seattle), P-Anthony Swarzak (Trade-Seattle), C-Jose Lobaton (FA-Seattle), IF-Wilmer Flores (FA-Arizona), IF-Jose Reyes (FA), OF-Austin Jackson (FA), P-AJ Ramos (FA), P-Jerry Blevins (FA-Oakland)

“Do the Mets have enough offense to win the NL East?” Well, yes after the trade to get Robinson Cano, bringing up top prospect Peter Alonso, signing Wilson Ramos, and even Jed Lowrie can add some hitting pop as well. If Michael Conforto finally figured it out the Mets have a formidable lineup to go with that sick rotation with the deGrom/Syndergaard duo in front and then for added measure bring in Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz. How fair is that???? The Mets bring in stud closer in Edwin Diaz and bring back former closer Jeurys Familia to set up for him (also unfair). The Mets added Justin Wilson, a reliable reliever that didn’t have the best of runs in Chicago after being lights out with Detroit. And the likes of Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo will just add to that pen. This team, just watch out for them to make noise in the season, and October. MY PREDICTION: 94-68

Harper brings a lot of hope to the Philly faithful.

(2) PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Last year: 80-82

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Andrew McCutchen (FA-New York Yankees), SS-Jean Segura (Trade-Seattle), OF-Bryce Harper (FA-Washington), C-JT Realmuto (Trade-Miami), P-David Robertson (FA-New York Yankees), P-Jose Alvarez (Trade-Los Angeles Angels), P-Juan Nicasio (Trade-Seattle)

KEY LOSSES: C-Wilson Ramos (FA-New York Mets), 1B-Justin Bour (FA-Los Angeles Angels), IF-Asdrubal Cabrera (FA-Texas), P-Luis Avilan (P-New York Mets), P-Aaron Loup (FA-San Diego), C-Jorge Alfaro (Trade-Miami), SS-JP Crawford (Trade-Seattle) 1B-Carlos Santana (Trade)

Had early March never arrived, the Phillies off-season could be responded into one word: “wow!” They brought in Andrew McCutchen. They traded for underrated yet excellent hitting shortstop Jean Segura. They brought in the best catcher when Buster Posey isn’t injured in JT Realmuto. They added bullpen depth. They signed quality reliever David Robertson. And they added Bryce Harper just for good measure. With it, the lineup with Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera, they are going to be stacked top to bottom. And they may have the best lineup in the east by far. Th question will be if the rotation can get it together behind Aaron Nola. That is Jake Arrieta, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, etc. But the bullpen will get better with Robertson, and the improvement of Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, and a under the radar move in Jose Alvarez. It should be enough to fend off Washington, but will it be enough to win the division? MY PREDICTION: 93-69

With Harper gone, the Nationals are Scherzer’s team

(3) WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Last year: 82-80

KEY ADDITIONS: 2B-Brian Dozier (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), C-Yan Gomes (Trade-Cleveland), C-Kurt Suzuki (FA-Atlanta), 1B-Matt Adams (FA-St. Louis), P-Patrick Corbin (FA-Arizona), P-Anibal Sanchez (P-Atlanta), P-Trevor Rosenthal (FA-St. Louis), P-Kyle Barraclough (Trade-Miami), P-Tony Sipp (FA-Houston)

KEY LOSSES: C-Matt Wieters (FA-St. Louis), 1B-Mark Reynolds (FA-Colorado), OF-Bryce Harper (FA-Philadelphia), P-Tim Collins (FA-Minnesota), P-Kelvin Herrera (FA-Chicago White Sox), P-Greg Holland (FA-Arizona), P-Tanner Roark (Trade-Cincinnati)

You lose your best player through free agency and you may end up being BETTER than last year? It’s possible in Washington. Bryce Harper is one of the most gifted baseball players in this era, but it seems like whether or not he wanted it, there was a circus under Harper in Washington. It *could* have worn thin on his teammates. With Harper out of the way, there may be a stress reliever for his former teammates in DC. The Nationals lineup is pretty legit with young gun Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman. If Adam Eaton can stay healthy and Victor Robles is up to the hype, the Nationals could have one of the best lineups in all of baseball. The Nationals pitching is legit with Mad Max Scherzer, prized free agent signing Patrick Corbin, and the reborn Anibal Sanchez, and if his head is on straight, Stephen Strasburg. However, it will come back to the bullpen which wasn’t as bad as advertised in years’ past but with a better lineup but a better division, they need to make sure there are no letdowns. It really is going to be down to which team’s bullpen has the most consistent group. Washington is getting better, but compared to the Mets and even the Phillies, they will have to be more consistent. MY PREDICTION: 92-70

Adding Donaldson to Atlanta’s offense helped, but the Braves inability to get relievers set them back this off-season.

(4) ATLANTA BRAVES

Last year: 90-72 (Lost to Los Angeles Dodgers in NLDS)

KEY ADDITIONS: 3B-Josh Donaldson (FA-Cleveland), C-Brian McCann (FA-Houston), OF-Matt Joyce (Trade), P-Josh Tomlin (FA)

KEY LOSSES: C-Rene Rivera (FA-San Francisco), C-Kurt Suzuki (FA-Washington), 1B-Lucas Duda (FA), IF-Ryan Flaherty (FA), P-Brandon McCarthy (Retired), P-Anibal Sanchez (FA-Washington), P-Brad Brach (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Peter Moylan (Retired)

Perhaps outside of maybe the Marlins, not team is at odds with their own fan base than the Atlanta Braves and their fans. After saying they had a massive amount of money to spend in the off-season to get an impact player and make the needed upgrades to get over that hump and get far in October with the youthful players such as Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies, the Braves pretty much stood pat. Yes, they brought in Josh Donaldson when healthy is an offensive juggernaut. However, while Donaldson adds pop to a strong lineup with Acuna, Albies, and Freeman, the need for relievers went unanswered. Braves front office is relying and hoping that the young arms will solidify the bullpen, which was plagued. Fans had also hoped Atlanta made a push to get a starter to eat innings. The rotation did well, but was “guarded” and didn’t go far like many hoped. And in the division where pitching consists of Scherzer, deGrom, Syndergaard, Nola, etc. you need that guy. And the Braves are now lagging behind those teams. That is why I am giving Atlanta a 4th place finish. Their rivals made massive jumps in the off-season and the Braves didn’t and that is a problem. The hope is these pitchers get off to excellent starts and these other young arms that are starting in Gwinnett comes through. Right now, they need that one closer and go-to guy. They will lag this year because of it. MY PREDICTION: 84-78

Granderson’s role in Miami is more of mentor right now.

(5) MIAMI MARLINS

Last year: 63-98

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Curtis Granderson (FA-Milwaukee), 1B-Neil Walker (FA-New York Yankees), C-Jorge Alfaro (Trade-Philadelphia), OF-Rosell Herrera (Waivers-Kansas City), P-Sergio Romo (FA-Tampa Bay), P-Nick Anderson (Trade-Minnesota), P-Austin Brice (Waivers-Baltimore)

KEY LOSSES: C-JT Realmuto (Trade-Philadelphia), IF-Derek Dietrich (FA-Cincinnati)

The Marlins enter the second full year of the Derek Jeter era. And well, it hasn’t gone too well. Now the Marlins made a splash in the international pool signing Victor Victor Mesa. But it may take another year or two. And yikes until then as the NL East looks to be a tough competition among the other four hated rivals. They brought in veterans Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker while bringing in relief help in Sergio Romo. It wouldn’t be surprising if any of those three are moved by July as the Marlins aren’t expected to compete in the 2019 NL East race as they said good-bye to JT Realmuto. Right now given how Yelich, Stanton, and Ozuna did with their new teams, it’s good for Realmuto to go because he could create some massive damage with the Phillies. But Jeter better hope these players he is getting back are going to be equal or better. If not, it will be a very long time before Miami competes. Right now, the Marlins lineup resembles that of those late 90’s teams in the fire sale. And that’s not good. The pitching staff after Jose Urena looks very problematic as well. Sandy Alcantara is a top prospect for the Marlins (as he was a part of the Ozuna deal) but aside from that, there will be issues when they have to face, deGrom, Syndergaard, Scherzer, Corbin, Foltynewicz, and Nola. It may be another long year in Miami before we see anything legitimately look positive. MY PREDICTION: 64-98

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Braves Off-Season: The Good and the Bad

Before the 2018 season, Braves President Terry McGuirk made an interesting statement:

“There will be very few teams that have as much to spend in the marketplace next winter as the Atlanta Braves.”

Interesting to say as the Braves were still in a relative rebuild at the time and from a franchise since the fingerprints of Ted Turner are no longer there and the team stopped spending on the same level as the Yankees. It also gave hope for the Braves fans that the end of the rebuild was near. And in an upcoming off-season for the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, etc. it gave fans some excitement.

And then the 2018 season happened. The Braves youth movement paid off with bringing in Ronald Acuña off the farm, Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb (at least for the first half of the season), and Johan Camargo while Freddie Freeman had an MVP caliber year and a big year from Nick Markakis and clutch moments from Charlie Culberson. The result was a 90-win season and their first NL East title in 5 years. It really spiked up hope for the Braves fan base for the off-season. A fan base that a large number of fans felt angry for the fire sale of players starting after the 2014 season and the stunning move from Turner Field to Cobb County. A fan base that also felt like the Braves front office hadn’t been truthful or honest with them over the years as well as telling them to not question their moves or motives.

When the off-season began, the Braves wasted no time in using that money, signing Josh Donaldson to a 1-year, $22 million contract and bringing back former Braves great Brian McCann to help shoulder the load with veteran Tyler Flowers as well as help the young pitching staff. People (myself included) questioned the Donaldson move for the times he is oft-injured the last couple of seasons and for that price. It frustrated others as many hoped for a chance of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado to wear the tomahawk instead. However, the Braves had holes to fill with the arms, notably in the bullpen, where they struggled tremendously.

Which meant hope for another possible reunion with a former Brave, Craig Kimbrel, has pretty much gone silent (though a rumor last week was that Kimbrel and the Braves were close to a deal, but that’s what it was: a rumor). Relievers such as Joe Kelly, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, etc. would have helped Atlanta’s bullpen tremendously and made them the favorites in 2019 in the NL East (which right now many feel it is Washington even without Bryce Harper). Adding an arm to the rotation was also discussed and Dallas Keuchel has been brought up on a few instances, as was Patrick Corbin before he went to Washington. However, the Braves front office did something different: they stood pat.

Of course, the mentality changed from the year before. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos went back on what his boss McGuirk said in the off-season, somewhat.

“Did we promise we were going to spend more money, or did we promise we were going to have more flexibility? Nobody is ever going to say, “We have to spend ‘X’ amount.”-Anthopoulos

And McGuirk “clarified” himself after.

“Spending now is about winning. It’s not about building as much. Alex’s mandate is to advance the ball from where we were last year in the playoffs. I read where all of the prognosticators have us winning 82 or 84 games. I love being the underdog. The fact that we can take that $126 million and put it on the field, plus an appreciable move beyond that, is unprecedented for us. We’ve been a bottom-10 payroll team for a couple of years. We’ve messaged that we want to get to the middle, and I think this year begins to get us to that neighborhood. I expect that we push beyond that in the coming five years.”-McGuirk

From an off-season standpoint, I think the Braves did okay. After re-visiting the Donaldson signing, I like the move especially if Donaldson is healthy. He could net 30 HR with ease and propel Atlanta back to another division title. And that they are “trusting the process” with their farm. They are obviously high on the farm with likes of Austin Riley (third base prospect), Christian Pache, Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, Joey Wentz, etc. A reason why the Braves didn’t get involved with getting JT Realmuto or Corey Kluber is the high value these prospects have. Now, it feels like these guys are can’t miss prospects. I’m fine with that. But if it backfires, people will point out the lack of major moves, notably for relief help.

The debate will always be about prospects is if you hold on to the wrong ones for the hope of the prospects panning out. We saw it with the Braves 20 years ago when the Braves would not include a package of George Lombard and Bruce Chen to Seattle for Randy Johnson. It may have solidified the Braves in the World Series against the Yankees in 1998 which could have been one of the best ever. But again in Atlanta, a near miss.

However, I believe the Braves did right by standing pat. I think these guys are going to be something else for Atlanta and the likes of the current starters could be the ones on the move, not really the prospects.

But what bothers me is once again, the Braves front office constantly treating the fan base wrong. And comments by Alex Anthopoulos in The Athletic came off once again as brash, arrogant, and pretty much poo-pooing in essence “fans knowing nothing” about what the Braves are doing and what the Braves aren’t doing. And it has been parallel for the longest time of how the Atlanta fans should be “happy” with all the Braves success over the last 30 years despite the one world championship.

While Atlanta fans get that bad rep for being a bandwagon sports town, the Braves fans are a passionate bunch and have been sick and tired of being jerked around by the front office for too long. They are tired of hearing that how the process should be trusted, how the fans should react, and how they should not be criticized for the moves (or in this case, lack thereof). And quite honestly, after being in this town for 25 years, I’m tired of hearing it from the Braves front office.

Look, I get I’m a fan and I don’t know more than the front office. But I also don’t like the fact that how they are treating the rest of the fan base like bumpkins and saying they in essence are better than us and want to shoulder no responsibility for their issues.

So this off-season for the Atlanta Braves to some many figure it is a failing off-season for a team that has a lot going on their plate. But for me, I would give them about a B- for their efforts. They did makes moves of signing Donaldson, McCann and brought back Markakis, but failing to at least upgrading the bullpen stings. But how they handled the off-season has been the same old same old Braves management of telling the fans “well, what we really meant to say this….but you should get over it because we know what is best and you don’t. But hey, keep coming to our new ballpark we forced taxpayers into paying and cheer for us!”

Sadly, I can’t get mad anymore given the fact this is how they have been for a long period of time. I’m always going to cheer for the Braves, but I am just hoping that at some point that some of these higher ups decide to just ride off into the sunset and install people that are more personable and at least has more of a transparent mindset with their own fan base.

But I guess I will have to wait that out.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Top Targets the Braves Should Go After

The Atlanta Braves enjoyed a mighty fine year in 2018, winning their first division title in 5 years.  It was somewhat unexpected as many felt like this team was a year ahead.  Given how the Nationals fell apart midway through the season and the Phillies crashed at the end, it was somewhat of an easy stroll for the team in Hot-lanta in 2018.

With SunTrust Park opening and the area around it enjoying the fruits of the labor, the Braves have money to spend this off-season.  Questions are abound how much will they spend as the wallet-tight group of Liberty Media doesn’t really make a massive push.  However, many feel like the Braves will be major players in the off-season.  The questions are how much will they spend on a free agent or what will they give up via trade?

So let’s look at the targets the Braves should take a look at.

FREE AGENTS

BRYCE HARPER-OF:  This seems like a no-brainer.  Atlanta has said time after time that perhaps a guy like Harper or Manny Machado may be too rich for the Braves blood to spend.  However, from the reports of what is going on, the three favorite landing spots for Harper (Dodgers, Yankees, and Cubs) doesn’t seem to add more payroll, which would eliminate all three from getting him.  So honestly, it may be down to the NL East foes of the Braves, Phillies, and Nationals for Harper’s services.  Freddie Freeman (whom what has been said that he and Harper get along great) has really pushed the Braves to go after Harper this off-season.  And I mentioned it earlier this year the reasons why Atlanta would be a perfect fit for Bryce.  Now GM Alex Anthopoulos has said that he wasn’t interested in investing in a massive long-term contract that would meet the demands of Harper, but given how players are now utilizing the opt-out (Greinke, Upton, Cespedes), it may be a good idea to put in an opt-out after 3 years so if Harper does play great, it won’t eat up the Braves salary for other stars like Albies, Acuna, Swanson, etc.

DALLAS KEUCHEL-SP: Keuchel would fit well as an ace for the Braves, something they have lacked since really the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz days (an argument can be made for Tim Hudson, I know).  But the Braves have some good young arms with Foltynewicz, Gausman, Toussaint, and even Fried.  Atlanta may offer to pass on the idea of a starter because of the arm depth they have currently and on the farm, but are any of them going to be that “it” guy?  Keuchel would be a good veteran presence the Braves would also need.

CRAIG KIMBREL-CLOSER:  This has been often with the Braves and Kimbrel as a reunion.  Would it work?  Perhaps and the Braves are in better shape than when Kimbrel was last in Atlanta.  Or will he harbor ill feelings for the trade?  But it is a new regime at GM so who knows.  But Kimbrel would really solidify probably the weakest link from last season.

DAVID ROBERTSON-RP:  Dating back to the Braves great run in the 90’s through the early 2000’s many felt like the Atlanta bullpen for the most part always came up short.  Bringing Kimbrel back would be a great addition for the Braves, but there needs to be a bridge between Kimbrel and the starters.  The Braves lacked that badly last year.  While David Robertson is probably preferring to get a closer role, the Braves should go in on him to set up Kimbrel (if he signed) or make him the closer.  Either way the Braves really need to look at this guy.

ANDREW MILLER-RP:  Notice a trend here? They need relievers.  Miller has been arguably the best set-up man in baseball for a while now.  The question will be does Miller want a closing gig?  It’s possible.  Would he fare well with it?  Probable, but the Braves should still try to find a way to get this guy locked up for either spot.  Heck, have a Cleveland reunion and get Cody Allen while you’re at it.

TRADE TARGETS:

COREY KLUBER-SP:  Cleveland is listening to offers.  I think it is more smoke and mirrors but it seems like they want to re-tool and getting top-tier prospects for Kluber is one way to go.  The Braves getting a year-in, year-out Cy Young winner in Kluber would be the biggest move they’ve made since getting Greg Maddux.  And it solidifies the rotation big time and quite possibly give them a leg up in the NL overall.

JON LESTER-SP:  Much like Cleveland, Chicago is pretty much at a standstill.  They really can’t afford key pieces due to flirting with the Luxury Tax (which eliminates Bryce Harper from the equation unless they free up A LOT of money) and adding pieces via trade is very tricky as Chicago has pretty much burned their farm over the past 3 seasons so they can get that world championship.  Lester would be an ideal fit for Atlanta as he is a front end guy if not an ace. He also lives in the Atlanta area (not that it means much, but he is on the back end of his career and maybe it works to Atlanta’s advantage) and the Braves really would love to get another arm.  Adding on, even when the Braves were in their fire sale mode from 2014-2016, they made a strong push to get Lester to come home, but the Cubs were more enticing for the lefty.  The Braves could send a few quality prospects for a guy with plenty of World Series experiences and really make them a front-runner as well.

NICK CASTELLANOS-OF:  Even with Lester and Kluber on the market, this move may be more costly than those guys in part because of Castellanos’s youth (26 years old) and Detroit is in the midst of a lengthy rebuild.  But he would fill in admirably well for Markakis (it doesn’t sound like he is returning to Atlanta) though the fielding numbers are problematic (where as Markakis is pretty darn good in RF).  But he could really thrive in Atlanta as he wouldn’t be as much of a focal point as he was in Detroit with Cabrera injured and Victor Martinez declined.  It would be a nice option if the Braves don’t get a key outfielder in the free agent market and there are plenty.  But my mentality is, Bryce at all costs.

WHY NOT LEFT SIDE OF THE INFIELD?  Simple: no need.  Dansby Swanson hasn’t peaked yet at the plate (.238, 14 HR and a .699 OPS), but he has shown great improvement in his time in Atlanta and willing to do whatever it takes.  On defense he is showing more and more growth at shortstop and he is a guy that you should keep.  Don’t ask me why, but he reminds me of what Brandon Crawford is for the Giants.  Nothing flashy at the plate, but stellar with the glove.  I can see Dansby that way.  Adding Manny Machado there honestly doesn’t make sense especially with his “I’ll run when I feel like it” approach to the game (and honestly Manny does not fit with the Braves).  Kris Bryant ESPN jumped on the article of “Cubs will listen to all players for trade” has been brought up but that to me is not a possibility.  And the one 3B that has been linked has been Josh Donaldson.  Donaldson was traded to Toronto by now current Braves GM Alex Anthopuolos so there has been that link.  But Donaldson is almost in his mid 30’s and hasn’t been healthy in over two seasons, which would draw some major concerns if he can go at it for 162 games especially in a town where in June/July/August can tip the scales over 100 degrees in heat index.  Adding on, Johan Camargo has been a solid third baseman (.272, 19 HR, 76 last year, OPS over .800) and a fan favorite in Atlanta.  Trying to sell even a guy like Donaldson’s caliber to the Braves fans over a fan favorite like Camargo, will be tough.  But this is the Braves and listening to the fans………well, just not their thing.  I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but the Braves finally started to get the fans back after many have felt betrayed by how they left downtown Atlanta and then started what was a 2-year fire sale that really angered the base.

I think one, maybe two players I mentioned will come to Atlanta.  I honestly believe that they will be in the mix for Harper (though I’m not sure if he will sign), but Kimbrel and maybe a starter to help the rotation will be a great fix.  And if not Harper, there are plenty of outfielders out there, but I think Atlanta will have a good off-season soon.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Tristan Beckmann’s Ultimate MLB Playoff Preview: Predictions, Analysis, and more

Its the best time of year for baseball fans across the globe. Playoff baseball will commence tonight when the Colorado Rockies head to Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wildcard Game. There’s so much more to come from there though. 10 teams will be dueling it out in the American League and National League. Only one team will survive the grueling grind and be crowned the 2018 MLB World Series Champions. Whether it’s a J.D. Martinez grand slam, a nine strikeout game from Justin Verlander, or epic playoff atmospheres, there’s something for everybody when it comes to the biggest stage in all of baseball.

I’ve watched a lot of baseball this season and I know a good enough amount of baseball that I’m putting my predictions and analysis out there for the world to see. I’m going to provide a Team by Team breakdown complete with their strengths, weaknesses, and one X-factor. Then I’ll take the deep dive into my full playoff predictions, before letting you leave after reading a few of my colleagues playoff predictions. I know I’m ready, but are you?

Table of Contents:

Introduction, pg. 1

AL Team By Team Analysis, pg. 2

NL Team By Team Analysis, pg. 3

Power Rankings, pg. 4

Wildcard Round Analysis, pg. 5

Divisional Series Analysis, pg. 6

Championship Series Analysis, pg. 7

World Series Analysis, pg. 8

Other Writers Predictions, pg. 9

The 2017-18 Moves That Got the Teams to the Postseason

We are sitting on the end of the 2018 MLB regular season.  And 11 teams are still alive (maybe 10 assuming the Rockies and Dodgers win either today or tomorrow OR if St. Louis loses one of the next two days).  So for argument’s sake, we will look at the teams that are in plus the Rockies and Dodgers.  How did this come to be for the teams this year?

Of course we have a couple of new faces in postseason (Braves, Brewers, Athletics) that we haven’t seen before and we have teams who hope to get over the top while the defending champion Astros keep their title for one more season.  So let’s look at how things changed for these teams and what moves they made to get them there.

Atlanta

ATLANTA BRAVES:  Calling up Ronald Acuña and trading for Kevin Gausman.  We know about the Braves rebuild and many believe the moves that were made were the ones that got them over the top.  In reality, Acuña (and Ozzie Albies) were actually Frank Wren signings before Atlanta used him as the fall guy at the end of the 2014 season.  And the major impact guy in all those fire sale trades this year was Mike Foltynewicz (part of the Evan Gattis deal).  The two trades made with San Diego (Uptons, Kimbrel), nobody has made an impact (and most of them are gone), and the Simmons-Newcomb trade has been mixed at best for Atlanta.  The Braves were on the up until they called up Acuña and he tore the cover off the ball.  He got injured but when he came back he remained a monster for the Braves and many in the Atlanta area believe not only should he get Rookie of the Year but an MVP.  The Braves all season up through July were either in the lead of the NL East or never more than 2.5 games back of Philadelphia in the division.  With Newcomb struggling and unease with Teheran as well as questions if Anibal Sanchez (a great pickup too) reverting back to more of his last years with the Tigers instead of 2013 Sanchez pushed Atlanta to trade for Kevin Gausman.  Gausman had been a flop for Baltimore (who isn’t right now?) and the Braves may have bought him low.  But many felt Gausman would improve with a change of scenery out of the rough AL East.  And he has.  Since joining Atlanta Gausman has gone 5-2 with a 2.86 ERA and a WHIP of 1.09.  Needless to say, all of that have been the best he’s pitched to this point.  The K/9 rate is slightly concerning (only 6.3) but he’s been everything the Braves needed.  And it also improved the rotation’s morale as Julio Teheran has been pitching far better since Gausman’s arrival.  After the trade, the Braves have gone 33-23 and went up 9.5 games on the division that was originally close with them and the Phillies (also helped with Philadelphia collapsing down the stretch).  But these two moves catapulted the Braves into October.

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BOSTON RED SOX: Signing JD Martinez.  Boston last year made the playoffs but the offense was stagnant and lacked any power ever since David Ortiz retired.  Martinez came on a contract that would net him over $100 million (and some believed the Sox overpaid him because he was a liability in the outfield).   But comparing Martinez to what Giancarlo Stanton that the Yankees did, the signing looks like a bargain compared to what the Yankees have to pay Stanton.  Boston’s offense clicked and everybody started hitting in Beantown.  Mookie Betts is also an MVP candidate and the likes of Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts stepped up in a big way.  With the starting pitching capable of going against anybody (assuming if they are healthy), Boston is considered a favorite and are well north of 100 wins this year.  Martinez was obviously the best free agent signing in the off-season.  And it has paid dividends for Boston.

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CHICAGO CUBS: Signing Steve Cishek and trading for Cole Hamels.  Over the past year and a half, the Cubs moves were in question with the overpaying of prospects for Jose Quintana (who has not lived up to the expectations), the trade for Justin Wilson, and the Yu Darvish signing.  However, the Cubs made an under the radar move of getting Steve Cishek and he has helped keep the bullpen pretty strong for them.  And then the Cubs traded for Cole Hamels (as Chicago had been tapped out of prospects with the Quintana and Wilson trades) to take on his salary.  He has pitched great, going 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA and a WHIP of 1.14.  Hamels and Cishek are two major reasons why the Cubs are still slightly ahead of Milwaukee in the NL Central race.

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COLORADO ROCKIES: Signing Chris Iannetta.  The Rockies made no massive moves outside of Iannetta.  While his WAR according to Baseball Reference has him at a -0.6, I don’t think you can put a value to what he means to the Rockies starting rotation that is actually not bad.  While he obviously won’t win the Cy Young, Kyle Freeland will get a couple of Cy Young votes with his record (17-7, 2.85 ERA and the ability to not give up home runs).  Geman Marquez is a strikeout machine and has strong numbers across the board.  And Jon Gray since his return from Albuquerque has been more like the Jon Gray Rockies fans and “live arm” fans have hoped he would be.  And it was needed this year as save for Trevor Story’s MVP push and Nolan Arenado, Colorado’s offense is not a massive juggernaut like we have come to known.

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CLEVELAND INDIANS: Trading for Brad Hand.  Well, Cleveland pretty much sleepwalked to the AL Central title this year given the problems of the other four teams in that division.  And they played like it at times.  They lost a lot in the way of their bullpen from a year ago, which was so dominant and when you factor in Andrew Miller’s injury, the Indians weren’t the same squad at all.  Getting Brad Hand at the price was a bit risky, but he’s been solid for them and has re-established Cleveland as a team to watch in October.

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HOUSTON ASTROS: Trading for Gerrit Cole.  Houston may have robbed the Yankees in getting this guy as before the Astros got him it looked all but finished that New York was going to get him and in that aspect, kept the Yankees from REALLY dominating.  And at the same time it also kept the Astros afloat in picture.  Houston’s pitching is very stout with Verlander, Keuchel, and Morton, but needed Cole especially as the offense is not the same strong offense like their championship run last year.  Altuve is still Altuve but his numbers are well down.  Even when he’s been on the field Carlos Correa has been WAY down.  Adding on, the outfield hasn’t produced either.  So the move for Cole was big for them this year especially with how the Athletics came on.

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LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Calling up Walker Buehler & Max Muncy.  Los Angeles was plagued by injuries early on in the season and widespread panic hit Dodgertown.  However, things started to look up when the Dodgers called up Walker Buehler to start and he has been nothing short of stout.  He has a 7-5 record with a 2.86 ERA and a WHIP of under 1 and has ace written all over him.  He should garner some Rookie of the Year votes too.  But Max Muncy came out of nowhere and was that guy that just could rocket bombs into the outfield seats for Los Angeles as the Dodgers offense needed when Seager, Turner, and Puig were on the DL.  It is surprising that Manny Machado, who is a key add at the deadline obviously isn’t here, and he has been strong, but the average hasn’t been as high.

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MILWAUKEE BREWERS: Trading for Christian Yelich.  Yelich may have the inside track for MVP given how he has terrorized pitching in the past month.  The move was pretty big at the time, but it is huge now given that Milwaukee is chasing down the hated Cubs for the division lead.  The numbers speak volumes but what he’s done in the 2nd half alone reminds me of what Chipper Jones did down the stretch for the Braves in 1999, always stepping up in that key moment.  In the second half, Yelich is hitting .363 with 22 HR and an OPS of an astounding 1.193.  Wow.

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NEW YORK YANKEES: Trading for Giancarlo Stanton and calling up Gleyber Torres & Miguel Andujar.  While I think the Yankees are going to pay a steep price for Stanton in terms of money, Stanton stepped up when it mattered the most: when Aaron Judge was injured.  Stanton’s numbers aren’t the MVP ones he had last year in Miami, but still has 37 HR to his credit.  And for Torres/Andujar, 50 HR total from the rookies and the Yankees remained well ahead of the rest of the AL save Boston and Houston.

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OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Trading for Stephen Piscotty.  This move when it was made and you found out why the move was made seemed like it was a move that was more personal than a professional move.  Piscotty wanted to remain close to home near his mother with ALS.  Understandable as there are more things to life than sports.  But Piscotty’s value to the team should not be overlooked as he was a great veteran presence and he had a career year with 26 HR.  He alongside Jed Lowrie provided that winning veteran presence while keeping that Athletics brand of baseball going of just having fun and playing until the last out.

Later on I will put my playoff power rankings of the teams that are in, once I know which teams are in.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Why the Braves Are the Best Fit for Bryce Harper

I know we are in baseball season still and we are about 2-3 months away from the free agent market heating up.  However, I figured it would be a a good time with the Washington Nationals making their final trip to Atlanta in 2018 (very more than likely the final trip unless the Nationals practically win 20 in a row, which is very doubtful).  That means Atlanta fans could very well be seeing Bryce Harper in his final games in a Nationals jersey.

But would it be the last time Atlanta fans see Harper roaming the outfield at SunTrust Park?

Of course, Harper is a free agent after this season and he will be the #1 free agent on the market.  We hear the big contenders of the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs are lining up to pursue the talented, yet quite possibly “hasn’t-lived-up-to-the-great-expectations” Harper to this point.  And of course, they have the deep pockets to get him.  And of course, the Nationals will probably make a push to keep their franchise player put.

So why do I think the Braves would be the best fit for a guy who will likely be commanding a contract north of $300 million?

A few reasons honestly.

Braves

The Braves have a talent-rich farm system.  You’re talking one of the top 3 farms in the Majors.  Yes, the Yankees and Dodgers both have the same talent on theirs so it really doesn’t really pan out.  The Nationals are in the middle of the pack.  And the Cubs with all their moves the last few years, their farm system now ranks in the bottom third.  But why does this matter?  Simple: The Braves (as well as the Dodgers and Yankees) can either have more stars come out of the farm to play (Austin Riley, Joey Wentz, Ian Anderson, etc.) or if needed can make a trade here & there to get that established ace.  But if a player moves on the Braves could use that guy for a call-up.  In Washington and now what you might see in Chicago, the call-ups won’t be as effective and you could get comments of what Harper said this year about his team of that the Nationals were more like the Syracuse Chiefs, a bunch of “okay” guys that really can’t play at a consistent MLB level.

The Braves could still likely be able to keep the core in tact despite the heavy contract Harper would have.  Albies, Acuña, Foltynewicz, etc. would be under control for years and with some money shifting around, they could keep a lot of those guys in tact for the large sum of Harper’s contract.  The Cubs can’t do that with Bryant, Baez, Schwarber, Contreras, etc. as they will have a hard time doing that with them as it is without Harper.  The Yankees may have a problem as they took on Stanton’s contract and will have to find ways to keep Judge around too and the possibility of him having a $300 million contract as well.  The Dodgers would have to make some decisions as well with the likes of their players such as Bellinger, Pederson, Turner, and possibly Machado.

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SunTrust Park is very favorable to left-handed hitters.  Moreso than Nationals Park and Dodger Stadium.  Playing in Yankee Stadium and the other spots in the AL East would probably spike Bryce’s home run totals by far so this isn’t necessarily a major advantage the Braves have over others.  However, he could still see his offensive numbers spike in a place like SunTrust Park.

The Braves lineup is far stronger than the Nationals lineup.  Of course, again, the Yankees lineup would be stronger.  However, Bryce wouldn’t be as much as a focal point to the lineup and somewhat “hidden” with Acuña, Albies, and Freeman around.  Pile it on with Johan Camargo, and if Dansby Swanson can improve in the lineup, you have a pretty strong lineup.  You could have Harper in front of Freeman, hitting behind Acuña and/or Albies, and then you would be able to find a way to have Austin Riley up to play third, and move Camargo at short and trade Swanson or keep Swanson and trade Camargo.  Either way, Harper would not be a major focal point to the Braves lineup like he is with the Nationals lineup.

The Braves organization would hold Harper probably more accountable than the Nationals.  It always seems like whatever Harper has wanted in Washington, Harper got.  He was the franchise and he made no qualms about it.  He wouldn’t be that in Atlanta, which I think may take some pressure off of him as well.  And he would also be under “The Braves Way” and while I’ve ripped on how the Braves have done business over the years (notably in how they were able to build SunTrust Park), they have kept the same pattern with their professional baseball players in the farm.  While Harper may not like it, again, it could be something HE needs.

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Harper could be more laid back in Atlanta.  One of the things I’ve noticed is the Harper at times looks aloof in Washington around his teammates.  He also seems like he is distant towards teammates.  I’m not saying it is a negative, but I also think he feels a lot of pressure whether he is thinking about his next contract or he is trying to be that superstar in baseball.  However, the one thing I’ve also noticed is his interactions notably with Freddie Freeman when the Nationals and Braves play each other.  He is laughing, cutting around, and somewhat playing with the Braves star first baseman while Freeman is responding in kind.  And the one thing that we saw at the Home Run Derby was that Harper was letting loose and having a great time.  I think he would be in a great situation when the pressure isn’t sky high on him and he can be himself, not having to apply added pressure.

Braves fans would be very supportive of him.  Harper has given Atlanta a backhanded compliment (at least I think it is) that the Braves fans are the rudest fans to him.  This is over the Mets fans and Phillies fans, who religiously are known for riding opposing players (and their own).  To me, it’s a comment saying “Yeah, they pretty much love their team here and care about baseball.”  It is a far cry from the actual “label” of Atlanta being a bandwagon town.  And he said this when the Braves were in the midst of rebuilding, not what it is now, or when he first started and the Braves were decent then.  As for the Braves fans, they look at Bryce as public enemy #1 in baseball right now and maybe only Jim Leyritz is loathed more than Harper in the Braves fans system.  But we’ve seen when the jerseys change and the public enemy of a certain team joins that team (in any sport), they give them a standing O the minute they step out to the field/court/arena, etc. The Braves fans would do the same on his first at-bat.  “But but, the Yankees would too!” Unless he goes 0-for-20 with 13 K’s.  And also, think about when ARod was in New York and spent over 10 years there.  He was never really considered one of “their own” like Jeter, Bernie, Rivera, etc. Braves fans didn’t have that problem when Maddux arrived in Atlanta in 1993 he was one of “their own” the minute he stepped foot.  And for a guy that portrays that image, I think that is very big for a guy like Harper and you would have to wonder though if the Yankees fans give him the boo-birds and if he retaliates towards them.

The monster question is will Liberty Media (the “owners” of the Braves) open up the wallet and give Harper a contract to his liking?  With the new park, you would figure bringing a superstar of Harper’s caliber would put the Braves as a major draw and a front-runner for the next 5 years.  I may be biased on it, but I think going to a place like New York where the pressure is always going to be on him, wouldn’t be the best of fits.  I think after what has gone on in Washington this year and the possibility of trading Harper before the non-waiver deadline could have opened up some (more) rifts among the Nationals and Harper (and to be fair, Harper’s comments a few times this year didn’t sit well with Washington either) has eliminated Bryce from coming back. The Cubs would have a hard time fitting Harper for his contract demands especially with everybody else looking for huge paydays on that team down the road as well and in 4 years, Chicago would be what we are seeing out of Washington this year.

Maybe Bryce Harper fulfills his dream of being a Yankee or get close back home to Los Angeles and maybe he doesn’t even bother considering the Braves.  But I think if the price is right, this would be his best bet and something to think about.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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