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!

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The Obstructed NL Central Preview

If there is one division from top to bottom that is must-see TV in 2019, this may be it. Five teams will be very competitive in the division where a team, or may be two will be sitting under .500 when all is said and done as opposed to other divisions they could be over .500 and a threat to win the division.

The teams (save one really) upgraded in most aspects and have October visions. So, who will walk away atop the NL Central?

Last year the Brewers, on the account of Christian Yelich in part, won the NL Central on a one-game playoff over the Cubs and then took a run to the NLCS and lost in a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Dodgers. The Cubs, with all the talent and potential on the team, lost out to the Brewers and then lost their Wild Card tilt to the Rockies. The Cardinals after replacing Mike Matheny, went on a torrid pace that finished strong for them. Pittsburgh, after many thought they had mailed in the towel with moves before the season, actually finished above .500 and did more than give teams fits. And Cincinnati, despite the record, showed they can rake with anybody. So what will the season look for these five teams?

Goldschmidt puts the Cardinals ahead of the rest of the NL Central now.

(1) ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Last year: 88-74

KEY ADDITIONS: 1B-Paul Goldschmidt (Trade-Arizona), C-Matt Wieters (FA-Washington), OF Drew Robinson (Trade-Texas), P-Andrew Miller (FA-Cleveland)

KEY LOSSES: P-Luke Weaver (Trade-Arizona), C-Carson Kelly (Trade-Arizona), 1B-Matt Adams (FA-Washington), P-Tyson Ross (FA-Detroit), P-Bud Norris (Toronto)

If this was any other year, the Paul Goldschmidt trade would have been the big off-season news story. But with contract extensions and free agent signings, it gets a tad overlooked, but this is a huge move for the Cardinals. Goldschmidt adds pop to a lineup with Matt Carpenter who was red hot in the second half and Marcell Ozuna, who had a respectable year after such a slow start. But it is going to be Goldschmidt’s new teammates on the infield, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, and Jedd Gyorko that will have to be more consistent. The Cardinals rotation has to be the most underrated rotation in the Majors. Miles Mikolas had a Cy Young caliber year last year and Jack Flaherty was solid. If Michael Wacha can step up and Adam Wainright have any amount of consistency, the Cardinals will be a tough out in the NL without question. The bullpen loses Bud Norris but gained Andrew Miller so it is a key addition. So the Cardinals look to be far stronger than they were in 2018. And that is why I have them leading the NL Central. MY PREDICTION: 95-67

Yelich had a historic stretch for Milwaukee in September

(2) MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Last year: 96-67 (defeated Colorado in NLDS, lost to Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS)

KEY ADDITIONS: C-Yasmani Grandal (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), OF-Ben Gamel (Trade-Seattle), P-Alex Claudio (Trade-Texas), P-Alex Wilson (FA)

KEY LOSSES: OF-Domingo Santana (Trade-Seattle), 2B-Jonathan Schoop (FA-Minnesota), OF-Curtis Granderson (FA-Miami), P-Gio Gonzalez (FA-New York Yankees), P-Wade Miley (FA-Houston), P-Xavier Cedeno (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Jordan Lyles (FA-Pittsburgh), P-Dan Jennings (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Joakim Soria (FA-Oakland). OF-Keon Broxton (Trade-New York Mets)

The Brewers were so close to getting to their first World Series in 36 years losing in 7 to the Dodgers. But despite the heartache, it was still a memorable run for Milwaukee, notably for Christian Yelich who just turned it up ten notches in the second half of the season to win the MVP. Yelich is in a solid lineup that had a big first half from Jesus Aguilar, and also the likes of Travis Shaw, Lorenzo Cain, and Ryan Braun (granted Braun isn’t the MVP caliber player he once was, but still hit 20 HR). They now add more of a solidified backstop in Yasmani Grandal. However, what plagues the Brewers again for the last few years is the starting pitching is lacking a true ace. Milwaukee let Wade Miley go and opted not to bring back Gio Gonzalez, who was excellent for the Brew Crew after his trade from Washington. They are throwing Chase Anderson in the bullpen as well so, there are major questions with the Brewers, as they are hoping Jhoulys Chacin, Freddy Peralta, and Zach Davies can step up. That’s a bit of a task there, which is also a key factor of why I don’t believe in the Brewers to repeat in the Central, despite having a pretty solid lineup through and through and an excellent bullpen. MY PREDICTION: 91-71

Suarez and the Reds could have one of the toughest lineups in all of baseball.

(3) CINCINNATI REDS

Last year: 67-95

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Yasiel Puig (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), OF-Matt Kemp (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), SS-Jose Iglesias (FA-Detroit), C-Kyle Farmer (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), C-Derek Dietrich (FA-Miami), P-Sonny Gray (Trade-New York Yankees), P-Alex Wood (Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Tanner Roark (Trade-Washington) P-Zach Duke (FA-Seattle)

KEY LOSSES: OF-Billy Hamilton (FA-Kansas City), P-Matt Harvey (Los Angeles Angels), P-Homer Bailey (Trade)

Cincinnati picked a year to make some moves. They added pop to the outfield with getting Dodgers stars Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. And just think adding them to the Great American Ballpark? Yikes. But what was more interesting was the Reds upgrading their rotation of getting Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, and Sonny Gray. Gray, if in the right situation, can be a true front-end starter that really could shut down some opposing offenses. Wood has shown he can be a front end guy as well as we have seen in Los Angeles and even at times in Atlanta. Roark is reliable, though goes through consistency issues. They all can help out the young fireballer Luis Castillo so I really am thinking the Reds will have an excellent season. The Reds bullpen is a slight issue but Raisel Iglesias can be a lights out guy while having veteran leadership helps. I think with a more formidable rotation will also keep the Reds bullpen more rested and in better situations. MY PREDICTION: 85-77

Rizzo, when driven, is one of the top hitters in baseball

(4) CHICAGO CUBS

Last year: 95-68 (Lost to Colorado in Wild Card)

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Daniel Descalso (FA-Arizona), P-Brad Brach (FA-Atlanta), P-Tony Barnette (FA-Texas), P-Xavier Cedeno (FA-Milwaukee)

KEY LOSSES: C-Bobby Wilson (FA-Detroit), 2B-Daniel Murphy (FA-Colorado), P-Jesse Chavez (FA-Texas), P-Jorge de la Rosa (FA), P-Jaime Garcia (Retired), P-Justin Wilson (FA-New York Mets), P-Drew Smyly (Trade-Texas), IF-Tommy La Stella (Trade-Los Angeles Angels)

Don’t. Just don’t. Everybody is going to scream at why I am downplaying the Cubs in 2019 or “dissing” them. Yes, Chicago is VERY talented in the lineup 1-9 with the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, etc. But the minute you get past them or they start to miss time with injuries, the depth issues really start to show now. And worse, the Cubs farm system, which was lights out just a few years ago, is in the bottom portion of farm systems now. The rotation of the Cubs is very veteran, but oddly very streaky for a veteran group. You can see Jon Lester one outing look like the Cy Young frontrunner he was in Boston and then the next outing look like a pitcher for home run derby. You can say the same thing for Darvish, Quintana, and to a lesser extent Cole Hamels. But for how much that group has been paid, they better get better results than being a middle-of-the-road squad. The bullpen is similar to the rotation. Some stretches they are tough to hit off of. Other times, it’s a struggle. That has to change and in a division now with having to face the likes of Goldschmidt, Yelich, Puig, etc. the Cubs can’t afford any consistency issues. The biggest issue for the Cubs and honestly, it has plagued the Northsiders since their World Series win is that drive, passion, attitude they had in 2016 has gone AWOL the last two seasons. Odd given how much of a veteran presence they have. It has even been looked on by Astros players who before the last season said “we do not want to Cubs it up on our title defense” (I know those weren’t the words and I’m paraphrasing. Boston I also has mentioned something similar to it this season. It seems like when the Cubs go in a funk, the drive isn’t there. When the Cubs are winning, all is well, but after a while it gets too easy for them again. Cubs players are upset that some publications have them marked third or fourth in the division. If it is the case, great. But when you are needing an outside factor to “motivate” you, it isn’t a good thing really. MY PREDICTION: 84-78

Marte is one of the few offensive leaders the Pirates have

(5) PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Last year: 82-79

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Lonnie Chisenhall (FA-Cleveland) SS-Erik Gonzalez (Trade-Cleveland) OF-Melky Cabrera (FA-Cleveland), P-Francisco Liriano (FA-Detroit)

KEY LOSSES: SS-Jordy Mercer (FA-Detroit), IF-Josh Harrison (FA-Detroit)

Pittsburgh made a big move before last year’s trade deadline getting Chris Archer. Surprisingly top prospect Austin Meadows went in that deal. Add on the likes of Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, you have a formidable front end of the rotation. Coupled with a good young closer in Felipe Vazquez, and you are going to have difficulty getting much in the way of runs. Of course, if you look at Pittsburgh’s lineup compared to the rest of the division, they are a step behind the others. Starling Marte is a great player, but hasn’t really gotten to that next level as a hitter. Adam Frazier can be a player for the Pirates as well. However, if Pittsburgh wants to be a serious threat, Corey Dickerson and Josh Bell need to be better than they produced last year. And Gregory Polanco needs to get better as well. So in regards to the Pirates lineup, it is very thin compared and that is why they will struggle to get footing in the super-competitive NL Central. MY PREDICTION: 75-87

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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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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The Obstructed NL Central Preview-2017

The National League Central has always been an odd division.  Save for the Cardinals, the other teams that make up the division go through highs and lows.  This year, save for the Cubs, the rest of the division is somewhat clouded in between the highs and lows.  The Brewers made some surprising moves in the off-season as they re-tooled their outfield, but failed their chance at improving their rotation that is desperately need of an improvement.  The Cardinals made a key move, but had really sent a few other pieces elsewhere and they too you have to wonder if their rotation didn’t get the improvement needed.  The Reds are hoping their young arms and bats will take a step up and surprise a few teams as their improvements were made from within.  And the Pirates, nobody knows if they are coming and going after saying “bye” to two of their key pieces of the franchise since 2013.  So overall, it is going to be the most interesting division in all of baseball in 2017, at least to me.  Let’s begin.

 

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1ST PLACE: CHICAGO CUBS

2017: 92-70 (1st place, defeated Washington in NLDS, lost to Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS)

OFF-SEASON: ADDS:  P-Yu Darvish (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Tyler Chatwood (FA-Colorado), P-Brandon Morrow (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Steve Cishek (FA-Tampa Bay), P-Drew Smyly (FA-Seattle), C-Chris Gimenez (FA-Minnesota); SUBTRACTS: C-Alex Avila (FA-Arizona), C-Rene Rivera (FA-Los Angeles Angels), OF-Jon Jay (FA-Kansas City), P-Wade Davis (FA-Colorado), P-Koji Uehara (FA-Japan), P-Justin Grimm (released), P-Hector Rondon (FA-Houston)

OUTLOOK:  The 2017 Cubs definitely had a World Series hangover, though I think some of that had to involve some experience issues among the young stars they have of Bryant, Baez, and Contreras, so it is very understandable from that aspect.  However, what doomed the Cubs in 2017 was what netted their first World Championship in 108 years was the pitching.  The group of Arrieta, Lackey, Lester, Hammel, and Hendricks were either gone (Hammel), injured (Lackey), and/or underachieved (Arrieta, Lester).  They were outdueled by the Dodgers in the NLCS last year so the Cubs knew what they had to do was improve the rotation.  After a trade that brought Jose Quintana from the Southside, they picked up Yu Darvish to replace Arrieta and Tyler Chatwood to replace Lackey.  The bullpen was also addressed as the Cubs let go of Wade Davis and picked up Brandon Morrow to close out games while adding Steve Cishek to replace Hector Rondon.   So, the Cubs made the improvements needed on the pitching front and if all goes well with the hitting, there was no major need for improvements as Chicago may have one of the most well-balanced lineups in the Majors.  But after the Cubs 2017 season, a re-focus for the youngsters is probably the key here as they should win the NL Central.

MY PROJECTION: 96-66 (Cubs should have their heads cleared after last season)

 

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2ND PLACE: MILWAUKEE BREWERS

2017: 86-76, 2nd place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Christian Yelich (Trade-Miami), OF-Lorenzo Cain (FA-Kansas City), P-Jhoulys Chacin (FA-San Diego), P-Matt Albers (FA-Washington), P-Boone Logan (FA-Cleveland), P-JJ Hoover (FA-Arizona), P-Yovanni Gallardo (FA-Seattle); SUBTRACTS: 2B-Neil Walker (FA-New York Yankees), P-Anthony Swarzak (FA-New York Mets), OF-Lewis Brinson (Trade-Miami), P-Jared Hughes (FA-Cincinnati)

OUTLOOK:  The Brewers in 2017 surprised many by leading the NL Central for a good portion of the season thanks to the Cubs 1st half woes.  However, Milwaukee failed to act on improving their starting rotation after the deadline when Chase Anderson went down.  With it the Brewers fell behind Chicago and came up short for a Wild Card.  With a solid lineup and a deep one, many were stunned that the Brewers invested heavily in signing Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.  While both are great in the outfield, it was stunning as the Brewers still didn’t address their need for starting pitching, failing in getting Darvish and Arrieta.  Now, Milwaukee SHOULD compete with the lineup they have in 2018 and while Jimmy Nelson should return in June to help the rotation, the Brewers cannot go through the season with the rotation they have.  I would expect Milwaukee to kick the tires on a pitcher like Michael Fulmer or Chris Archer at the deadline if they are to contend.  If they do get that needed starter to go with a re-vamped bullpen, then the Brewers can be playing October baseball.

MY PROJECTION: 89-73 (Milwaukee WILL get another front-end starter at the deadline)

 

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3RD PLACE: ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

2017: 83-79, 3rd Place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Marcell Ozuna (Trade-Miami), P-Miles Mikolas (FA-Japan), P-Luke Gregerson (FA-Houston), P-Dominic Leone (Trade-Toronto), P-Bud Norris (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Jason Motte (FA-Atlanta); SUBTRACTS: P-Lance Lynn (FA-Minnesota), P-Zach Duke (FA-Minnesota), P-Juan Nicasio (FA-Seattle), P-Seung-Hwan Oh (FA-Toronto), P-Trevor Rosenthal (released), SS-Aledmys Diaz (Trade-Toronto), OF-Stephen Piscotty (Trade-Oakland), OF-Randall Grichuk (Trade-Toronto);

OUTLOOK:  For the first time in a long time, nothing is really certain in St. Louis in a while.  The Cardinals made a splash getting slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna from Miami and they made moves to improve the bullpen, but questions still abound on the Cardinals pitching as well as some questions of certain spots if Tommy Pham can repeat his performance from 2017 or Paul DeJong can still show he is worth the extension and if Matt Carpenter can rebound from a strange 2017 season.  So right now, there may be more questions than answers in St. Louis especially with the rotation as they are either battling injuries and inconsistencies while letting Lance Lynn walk.  It may be something to ponder, but there could be a possibility the Cardinals could get near the trade deadline as sellers because they just don’t have the pitching like they’ve had in the past.

MY PROJECTION: 78-84 (not sold on the Cardinals pitching….at all)

 

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4TH PLACE: CINCINNATI REDS: 

2017: 68-94, 5th place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: IF-Cliff Pennington (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-David Hernandez (FA-Arizona), P-Jared Hughes (FA-Milwaukee), P-Oliver Perez (FA-Washington); SUBTRACTS: SS-Zack Cozart (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Scott Feldman (FA), P-Drew Storen (FA)

OUTLOOK:  The Reds have resided near the bottom of the NL in part because of the pitching.  We know they can hit, thanks to being in a very pitcher friendly ballpark, but the rotation has been a mess ever since Johnny Cueto was there.  The Reds do have some hope coming in the likes of Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle so there are some bright spots coming.  The offense will still be strong with Joey Votto leading the way along with Eugenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler while the Reds hope rookie Jesse Winker comes into his own this year.  It could be a fun year in Cincinnati, even if the Reds aren’t in contention.

MY PROJECTION: 75-87 (Reds will be in a lot of games, but watch out in 2019)

 

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5TH PLACE: PITTSBURGH PIRATES

2017: 75-87, 4th place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS:  OF-Corey Dickerson (Trade-Tampa Bay), 3B-Colin Moran (Trade-Houston), OF-Bryce Brentz (Trade-Boston), P-Joe Musgrove (Trade-Houston), P-Michael Feliz (Trade-Houston), P-Josh Smoker (Trade-New York Mets), SUBTRACTS: P-Gerrit Cole (Trade-Houston), OF-Andrew McCutchen (Trade-San Francisco), P-Daniel Hudson (Trade-Tampa Bay), C-Chris Stewart (FA-Atlanta), 1B/OF-John Jaso (Retired), P-Joaquin Benoit (FA-Washington)

OUTLOOK: It’s never a good look when you trade two of your cornerstones of your franchise before and after you come out and say that you were still expecting to contend for the season.  But that’s what the Pirates did in trading Cole and McCutchen.  Granted, Cole hasn’t been the ace many had hoped in Pittsburgh and McCutchen hasn’t really been off-the charts either, but he has still been a solid piece.  It also had Pirates players wondering such as Josh Harrison as to where the team was going.  Yes, the Pirates have a good outfield even with McCutchen gone in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but both of them need to step up big while Corey Dickerson is an admirable replacement.  But the infield aside from Josh Bell right now is a major work in progress.  The rotation with no Cole has also got to step up with Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, and Chad Kuhl having to be relied on as well as Joe Musgrove.  So there are plenty of holes and a high demand for these players to step up, which I don’t think Pittsburgh can in 2018.

MY PROJECTION: 68-94 (Pittsburgh may have to entertain some other pieces right now because this Pirates team is very thin).

That’s it this week.

Next week is the AL Central

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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