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 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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Why Bryce Harper is Worth Every Penny For the Phillies

When it was confirmed Bryce Harper agreed a 13 year, $334 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies overall, I wasn’t surprised by it (I had hoped he would have signed with the Giants or Dodgers, but seeing Washington vs. Philadelphia for a while will be very fun-and I still hate the Nationals for those who know me). I was a little taken aback when I saw the 13 year deal and the no opt-outs or fa full no-trade, but I have to applaud Bryce Harper (and his agent) for that because it shows that he is willing and is committed to the team.

Now a buddy of mine thinks I have a pure disdain for the guy. Nah. I think Bryce overall has always been that one where people will give him whatever he wants and/or nobody told him “no” much because he was a great athlete. However, I don’t have an issue with the guy speaking his mind (though I may not agree with what he says) and he is at least trying to attract fans to the game.

So getting off my high horse a bit here, in the Phillies case, I really like the Bryce Harper signing for them.

“But, that’s a lot of money and they failed to look at their history of loaded contracts such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, etc.” Yes, it is A LOT of money. But let’s be clear on something: the contracts Howard and Utley signed that really handcuffed Philadelphia was that both of them were north of 30 of the time and they gave another extension to Utley when the team should have been in full rebuild. Harper is 26 years old. Granted by the time the contract is over, he is probably going to suffer the same fate as the others and have the last couple of years of not being as productive. But this guy is about to be heading into his prime. IF you are gung-ho about advanced metrics then even last year’s season where he hit only .249 was still a successful year given his OPS was .889 and OPS+ was 133. Now had he bottomed out and only hit .200 (like most of the first half), then yeah, it was a poorly paid contract. But Harper is entering that “prime phase” for the career (I like to think it is from 26-33 years old, which by my logic, gives him 8 strong years to put up some amazing Hall of Fame numbers and then a few years after of being pretty solid).

“Well, money changes a person, he will be different in Philadelphia as opposed to Washington.” Yes, money changes people. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t know if Harper knows a different way. And while I remember when Jason Giambi went from rocking party animal in Oakland who spoke his mind to a clean-cut, clean shaven Yes Man in New York when he signed, it is a far different situation. The Phillies haven’t been in contention for a postseason berth in nearly 8 years in a division that has until now not been THAT competitive over that time (Nats-Braves, Nats-Mets has really been the divisional races and mostly it has been the Nats anyway). And when Giambi signed with the Yankees, they were still in that dynasty and the players “knew” what to do and Jeter ran things. And I also think Philadelphia is telling Harper “you better not change on us!” There really isn’t that “captain” in Philadelphia right now. So the Phillies can be Harper’s team starting on Day One.

“But what will happen if Harper gets into another big slump like he had in 2016 and 2018? Philadelphia fans are nowhere near as forgiving as Washington fans.” We all know Philly fans are a crew, but mostly that is with football. When I went and saw a Phillies game last year in Citizen’s Bank Park, they were incredibly supportive of the players, even the ones who were in slumps. Phillies fans are slightly different than Eagles fans though I know many will point to the JD Drew incident (which was because Drew DIDN’T want to play in Philadelphia), but Harper showed he wants to be in Philadelphia. Now, yes, this is one argument I do agree on that if he slumps, how will Harper handle the fans and media about it? The one thing I have about Harper that is a negative is he isn’t one to take criticism really well. So this is something to watch if or when Harper has a prolonged slump.

One of the biggest things why I think this was a great deal for the Phillies is that Harper keeps Philadelphia in contention in now what can be considered a VERY TOUGH NL East. The Nationals, even without Bryce, added more arm depth in the rotation. The Mets added Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz on the back end to close out games and brought back Jeurys Familia (which was a bit surprising) and you still have to figure their rotation with Syndergaard and deGrom is the most lethal combo right now in the Majors. The Braves youngsters took off last year and added Josh Donaldson. So the Phillies are going to be in a dogfight even with Harper and JT Realmuto in the lineup. And poor Miami.

The other thing of why I like this move is that Harper will be playing 81 games at Citizens Bank Park. It is a far more hitter friendly park than Nationals Park. So it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that Harper will put up 40 home runs per season for 8 straight seasons, assuming he remains healthy. Now of course, it may be slightly trickier as now it is no longer just having to face the likes of deGrom and Syndergaard, but now Scherzer and Corbin. And if you are to believe what is coming up through the Braves farm, those arms. But hey, he’s paid the big bucks to hit off of those guys, so the advantage of what he sees in Philadelphia will off-set those pitchers.

I also don’t see Bryce Harper being an outfielder for his entire career. I think at some point he will make the transition to first base. Nobody doubts of his arm. He has a cannon for an arm, but he is really an average outfielder at best. I can see down the road Harper going to first base, which I think will also help his longevity for production.

Lastly, I think the Harper signing tells the Phillies fans is that “look, the Phillies are ready to contend now and it is the perfect timing.” The NL East is going to be tooth and nails with the Braves, Mets, and Nationals. Philadelphia made prior moves to keep in contention, but hoping that Aaron Nola keeps on track of being that likely ace with Jake Arrieta being that veteran presence, puts them in the thick of things. Had the Phillies stood pat with Harper and let him go to Los Angeles or San Francisco, given how the NL East is, they would not be a massive factor in 2019. But now with Harper there and keeping the farm system in tact, it makes the Phillies a constant threat alongside at least the Braves and Nationals (and maybe the Marlins down the road). So while that money is a lot for the Phillies to give Harper, it is worth it, especially if he can carry a world championship right by the Liberty Bell.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed Preview of the NL East-2018

This is the last of the installments of my divisional previews.  I will put out my ultimate predictions later on in the week before the first pitch happens.  Anyway, we venture to the NL East, where on paper the Washington Nationals should be the runaway favorites once more.  Of course, the knock on the Nats is the fact they have epic fails in postseason (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017) and some wonder with Bryce Harper’s impending free agency after the season if Washington’s window is starting to shrink a little bit.  So the Nationals are thinking this is their last GREAT year of a world championship.

The other teams, well, there is hope, but moreso in the future.  However, I do believe the Phillies will make strides in 2018 while the Braves will continue to get better with their youth movement, barring any front office/managerial mishaps.  The Mets brought in some veterans and are hoping the injury riddled 2017 is past them.  And the Marlins……oh boy.

Teams are going by where I pick them to place.

1ST PLACE: WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Bryce.jpg

2017: 97-65, 1st place (Lost to Chicago Cubs in NLDS

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: C-Miguel Montero (FA-Toronto), 1B-Matt Adams (FA-Atlanta), P-Joaquin Benoit (FA-Pittsburgh); SUBTRACTS: C-Jose Lobaton (FA-New York Mets), 1B-Adam Lind (FA-New York Yankees), P-Matt Albers (FA-Milwaukee), P-Oliver Perez (FA-Cincinnati), IF-Stephen Drew (FA), OF-Jayson Werth (FA), P-Joe Blanton (FA)

Outlook:  The Nationals on paper without question are the best team in the NL East by a wide margin.  While all the focus is on Bryce Harper, you still have a crew of a great lineup with the likes of Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, and when healthy Daniel Murphy.  It may be only trumped by their starting rotation with Max Scherzer leading the way.  Behind him is Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, both of whom could be aces anywhere else.  Of course questions will be about if Tanner Roark and AJ Cole can round out the staff which is why they added Jeremy Hellickson to a Minor League contract.  The bullpen may not be a major issue as it has been after the Nats made key trades at the deadline of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler while they added Joaquin Benoit as well.  Washington should be fine in that category and with the NL East really their playground right now, it is not too hard to think the Nationals could hold the NL’s best record.

MY PROJECTION: 103-59.  Barring injuries to key players, the Nationals should hold baseball’s best record in 2018.

 

2ND PLACE: PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Hoskins.jpg

2017: 66-96, 5th place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: 1B-Carlos Santana (FA-Cleveland), P-Jake Arrieta (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Tommy Hunter (FA-Tampa Bay), P-Pat Neshek (FA-Colorado), P-Drew Hutchison (FA-Pittsburgh); SUBTRACTS: OF-Daniel Nava (FA-Pittsburgh), P-Clay Buchholz (FA-Kansas City), SS-Freddy Galvis (Trade-San Diego)

Outlook: Yes, I’m pretty high on the Phillies this year.  Maybe I’m drinking the Rhys Hoskins Kool-Aid and believe he is the next great Phillie and I loved the signings of Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta.  I also think the youngsters of JP Crawford and Nick Williams will also step up in 2018 to give the Phillies a very strong squad, thus ending their painful rebuild since 2013.  The question will be even with Arrieta and Aaron Nola, who are both great starters, do they have enough pitching to compete for the Wild Card?  But overall, I like where the Phillies are heading and maybe they are still a year away of being a SERIOUS threat, but baseball in Philadelphia is back.

MY PROJECTION: 82-80.  Phillies will be a team nobody wants to see down the stretch.

 

3RD PLACE: ATLANTA BRAVES

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2017: 72-90, 3rd place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Preston Tucker (Trade-Houston), 3B-Charlie Culberson (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), OF-Ezequiel Carrera (FA-Toronto), P-Brandon McCarthy (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Peter Moylan (FA-Kansas City), P-Anibal Sanchez (FA-Minnesota); SUBTRACTS: OF-Matt Kemp (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), 1B-Matt Adams (non-tendered-Washington), P-Jason Motte (P-St. Louis), RA Dickey (Free Agent)

Outlook: The Braves are a wild card team in the sense of, you don’t know where you are going to get from them this year.  The farm is stacked and we are seeing the likes of Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson (who must get better in 2018), and whenever Ronald Acuna gets called up from Gwinnett (which has become a hot topic in the Atlanta area as Braves fans are upset they sent him down despite a torrid Spring Training), but the pitching rotation is still rough and in the new SunTrust Park (AKA Coors Field East), it is a problem.  Atlanta got the likes of Sean Newcomb, Mike Soroka, and Koby Allard in the farm as well for arms, but nothing ready to this point.  Adding on, the front office was maligned this off-season as the Braves were caught red-handed doing illegal signings and GM John Coppolella and VP John Hart were gone (Coppy was banned from baseball because of it) but also the Braves had a tough time getting their fans back who many feel screwed by the team in numerous ways.  The question will be is can the Braves young players can turn it on and make some noise in the NL and the pitching staff improves or will the rookies struggle and the arms still struggle at SunTrust Park?  I think there will be signs of growth, but Atlanta is still a year off and probably better off with a new manager besides Brian Snitker.

MY PROJECTION: 76-86.  Braves will get growth from Albies, Acuna, and Swanson, but the pitching is still in question.

 

4TH PLACE: NEW YORK METS

deGrom

2017: 70-92, 4th Place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Jay Bruce (FA-Cleveland), 3B-Todd Frazier (New York Yankees), 1B-Adrian Gonzalez (FA-Atlanta), P-Anthony Swarzak (FA-Milwaukee), P-Jason Vargas (FA-Kansas City); SUBTRACTS: Nothing major

Outlook: As high as I am on the Phillies, I am equally as low on the Mets.  Yes, I think the injuries to the rotation stung notably with Syndergaard and Harvey, but at some point you have to wonder, at least in Harvey’s case and Steven Matz’s case if they can rebound.  Harvey hasn’t been healthy for a full season since really his rookie year, and you wonder if he will ever return to the high hopes.  And right now the answer is no.  And the Mets, with their farm being somewhat sketchy, may have needed to have gone through a small rebuild, but instead they kept their veterans of Jose Reyes, brought back Jay Bruce,  signed Todd Frazier (a guy who I think is more beneficial to a bandbox than the spacious ballparks such as Citi Field), and brought in Adrian Gonzalez, who has seen far better days.  I think the Mets are just not the same team as they were just two years ago, with the arms, bats and they may have missed the boat to do a rebuild.  Does that mean they need to trade somebody like DeGrom or Syndergaard?  No, but I don’t see a promising future for New York like I see for their NL East rivals not named Miami.

MY PROJECTION:  69-93.  Mets finish the same as last year, but they may be strong sellers at the deadline.

 

5TH PLACE: MIAMI MARLINS

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2017: 77-85, 2nd place, NL East

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Lewis Brinson (Trade-Milwaukee), 2B-Starlin Castro (Trade-New York Yankees), OF-Cameron Maybin (FA-Houston), C-Chad Wallach (Waivers-Cincinnati), IF-Garrett Cooper (Trade-New York Yankees), OF-JB Shuck (FA-Minnesota), OF-Scott Van Slyke (FA-Cincinnati), P-Jacob Turner (FA-Washington), Elieser Hernandez (Rule 5-Houston), P-Caleb Smith (Trade-New York Yankees), P-Brett Graves (Rule 5-Oakland): SUBTRACTS: OF-Marcell Ozuna (Trade-St. Louis), OF-Giancarlo Stanton (Trade-New York Yankees), OF-Christian Yelich (Trade-Milwaukee), 2B-Dee Gordon (Trade-Seattle),  C-AJ Ellis (FA-San Diego), OF-Ichiro (FA-Seattle), P-Dustin McGowan (FA-Tampa Bay)

Outlook: Jeez.  If you combine the fire sale after the 1997 World Championship season, and then after the 2012 season where the Marlins shipped off everyone to Toronto for nearly nothing, this is its love child.  The Marlins traded Stanton for nearly nothing (yes, the Yankees assumed his heavy contract so it freed up payroll in Miami), and then made questionable trades with Gordon and Ozuna where they could have gotten a better package in my eyes.  Adding on to all of it, just employee upheaval in Miami since Derek Jeter took over and many are going “wow, I miss Jeffrey Loria.”  Yes, there are prospects on the farm for the Marlins, but it isn’t similar to what we see with the White Sox, Padres, Phillies, or Braves and the moves that were made.  It will be another long haul for Miami as they could probably sell a few pieces at the deadline as well (Castro, Realmuto).  But if Jeter believes attendance will be better in 2018, he’s kidding himself.

MY PROJECTION:  58-104.  Miami is just going to be very, very, very bad.

 

That’s it for the previews.  Later on, the October picks come in.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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