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 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 9th Inning: These Red Sox cannot be stopped and some interesting players of the week

Welcome to the 9th Inning. This is a weekly column each Sunday evening on Pro Sports Fandom in which I roundup the week’s biggest happenings in the baseball realm. I give my personal thoughts on a few events as well as tell you what to look forward to in the following week. I also give out weekly awards for team of the week and player of the week. It’s basically a baseball podcast squeezed into an article that will happen every week. This is the second article of this column 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.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

*Record for the week is in parentheses.

Hot:

The Boston Red Sox (4-1)

The Oakland Athletics (5-1)

The Atlanta Braves (5-1)

The Philadelphia Phillies (5-1)

Not:

The New York Yankees (2-4)

The Seattle Mariners (2-5)

The Tampa Bay Rays (3-3)

The Weekly Awards:

The Team of the Week is the …

The Boston Red Sox (4-1)

There is no doubt in my mind, as a New York Yankees fan, that these Red Sox are the clear best team in baseball as of today. It hurts me to say it but I cannot avoid speaking the truth. Look at what they did to the Yankees over the past weekend, taking three straight and going for the sweep currently as I’m writing this. They also took their only loss of the week (so far) to the Philadelphia Phillies, who have been hot as of late and are certain to be one of the NL’s premier teams. This Boston team is one of the most well-balanced teams in recent MLB history with a powerful offense led by Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, combined with a Cy Young contender in Chris Sale and a Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget about their all-star closer in Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox had a great week and truly deserve this honor.

The Hitter of the Week is …

Arizona Diamondbacks SS Nick Ahmed

This might be a shocking name for the hitter of the week for you guys, but Ahmed is certainly delivering some offense for the Snakes out West. In six games during this week, Ahmed hit .529, hit three home runs, collected six runs and 8 RBIs. The shortstop also had a ridiculous 1.854 OPS this week. He is providing some unexpected offense for a D-Backs team that will certainly need it down the stretch as they are in a tough battle in the NL West.

The Pitcher of the Week is …

New York Mets SP Zack Wheeler

Yes, I know, it is shocking that a New York Met has earned an award of some sort in 2018. Well, it’s based on Wheeler’s individual performance, which was ridiculous over the past week. Wheeler had been frequently talked about in trades with other teams but it’s easy to see why the Mets held onto him. In two starts this week, he was 2-0 in 13 innings, while allowing zero earned runs, and having a 1.16 FIP. He certainly deserves it.

Series to Watch This Week:

Houston Astros @ San Francisco Giants

Atlanta Braves @ Washington Nationals

Philadelphia Phillies @ Arizona D-Backs

LA Dodgers @ Oakland Athletics

This Weekend?:

Seattle Mariners @ Houston Astros

LA Dodgers @ Colorado Rockies

Washington Nationals @ Chicago Cubs

Milwaukee Brewers @ Atlanta Braves

Anyways, thanks for reading the second ever 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 time! Peace!

The 9th Inning: Newcomb’s Tragedy, A Terrific HOF Class, A Rollercoaster Week for the Yankees, and The Tale of DeGrom

Welcome to the 9th Inning. This is going to be a weekly column each Sunday evening on Pro Sports Fandom in which I roundup the week’s biggest happenings in the baseball realm. I also give my personal thoughts on a few events as well as tell you what to look forward to in the following week. I will also be giving out weekly awards for team of the week and player of the week. It’s basically a baseball podcast squeezed into an article that will happen every week. This is the debut article of this column 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 out with a few rounded-up thoughts in recap of this week’s action both on the field and off.

A Truly Deserving Hall of Fame Class of 2018

I know it’s not current baseball talk, but I have to tip my cap to all of the voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Class of 2018 is one of the most deserving ones in years. It was an amazing ceremony and it fulfilled fans in attendance. Perhaps the most deserving inductees were none other than Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero. Jones, the sensational switch-hitting third baseman, more than deserves this recognition, as he truly revitalized the third base position heading into the modern era. Guerrero, whose son is going to make a name for himself in the big leagues soon, also truly deserves this honor, as one of the most iconic players in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Congratulations to all of the six men who were inducted into Cooperstown this year!

The Sad Story That Is Jacob deGrom

Ok, it’s sad, but we have to address it. All jokes aside (including the Mets Franchise), Jacob deGrom is pitching his way to one of the greatest single seasons for a pitcher in recent baseball history. He is defying the shift in the newfound era of the home run ball. But the Mets offense seems to hate him. He won’t be getting traded this summer sadly and I think about every realistic baseball mind knows that. In his last 12 starts, Jacob deGrom has a 1.87 ERA in 87 innings on the mound with 95 strikeouts, 65 hits, and 18 earned runs. His record in those 12 starts? 1-6. The Mets offense doesn’t support him and the bullpen doesn’t finish off the unbelievable outings he has consistently put together. He’s on pace to finish with a 2.23 ERA and a 10-9 record, and because he doesn’t have a pretty record, people are worrying that he’ll be overlooked as a Cy Young candidate. Move aside, if the season ended now, the kid would be a lock to win the award.

The Yankees Rollercoaster Week

If I told you that the Yankees would’ve acquired Zach Britton and J.A. Happ before this week began, would you have been HAPPy? (See what I did there). Most likely you would’ve been ecstatic if you were a Yankees fan. They bolstered their bullpen by trading for the left-handed Britton and then replenished their starting rotation by adding another left hander in veteran J.A. Happ. But why are Yankees fans still acting disappointed and negative after this week? The first reason: their division rival Red Sox do not seem to lose much at all, and they trail them by 5 1/2 games in the AL East. Secondly, they have lost their superstar outfielder Aaron Judge for three weeks due to a chip fracture in his wrist. The negativity seems like it won’t stop coming! But as I said in my article yesterday, RELAX Yankees Fans!

Newcomb’s Tragic Final Out

A few weeks after Josh Hader caught the nation’s heat for some old racist, sexist, and homophobic tweets that were dug up, Atlanta Braves starter Sean Newcomb experienced the exact same issue. This is definitely not a good look for the MLB or baseball as a whole, so let’s hope that this doesn’t start becoming a trend. But what made it even more upsetting was the fact that Newcomb had just thrown his best outing ever in the major leagues, and was at an all-time high before he found out. He dominated the Dodgers lineup on Sunday afternoon, but he also dominated the media. He was one strike away from a no-hitter, which would’ve also set the Internet on fire. But a single from Chris Taylor ended his hopes. Such tragedy happens in the major leagues.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

Hot:

The Boston Red Sox (7-3 in Last Ten)

The Pittsburgh Pirates (7-3 in Last Ten)

The Colorado Rockies (8-2 in Last Ten)

Not:

The San Francisco Giants (3-7 in Last Ten)

The Houston Astros (4-6 in Last Ten)

The San Diego Padres (2-8 in Last Ten)

The Tampa Bay Rays (4-6 in Last Ten)

The Seattle Mariners (4-6 in Last Ten)

The Weekly Awards

The Team of the Week is the …

Colorado Rockies (4-2 record)

The Rockies started off the week with a split two game series against the Houston Astros, but finished the week with an impressive three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics to finish the week with a 4-2 record. Both the Athletics and Astros are playoff contending teams in the AL, so it’s an extremely impressive week for the Rox. They sit just a game out of first place in the NL West as they mark their quest to a postseason berth!

The Hitter of the Week is …

Milwaukee Brewers OF Christian Yelich

Christian Yelich has had an extremely productive 2018 campaign in his first season with the Brew Crew. He continued his excellence this week with a fantastic seven day stretch. He had 30 plate appearances in seven games, hit three home runs, scored eight runs, had 10 RBIs, and maintained a prolific batting average of .536 with a 0.9 WAR for the week. Dating back to July 14th, the outfielder is on a 12-game hitting streak.

The Pitcher of the Week is …

Boston Red Sox LHP Chris Sale

It pains me a bit to say this but Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the American League. He further asserted his dominance with two fantastic outings this week en route to this honor. He pitched 12 innings, surrendered five hits, zero runs, while striking out 19 batters, walking only two, and having a 1-0 record for the week. He seems to be stretching out his cushion on the rest of the American League in terms of the Cy Young award race, but we will see if this continues.

What to Look Forward To:

In this upcoming week, there is a lot of baseball to look forward to! But the most notable even going on in the baseball realm is the trade deadline on Tuesday, July 31st. Everybody should be excited to see who is on the move on deadline day! Look forward to an action-packed Tuesday of moves!

There are plenty of series between great teams to start the week but I’ll name a few, such as the Brewers-Dodgers, Astros-Mariners, Phillies-Red Sox, and Cubs-Pirates. To close out the week, we will get to see four games of the Yankees-Red Sox at Fenway, three games of a World Series rematch between the Astros and Dodgers, and a three game stretch between playoff contending teams in the Rockies and Brewers.

Thanks for reading the 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 time! Peace!

Ultimate MLB Second Half Guide: Analysis and Predictions for Trade Deadline, Standings, Awards, and the Playoffs

We are one week away from the MLB All-Star break and inching ever closer to the July 31st league-wide non-waiver trade deadline. We have watched more than one half of the season and we are starting to get a good idea of the playoff picture, trade fits, standings, and award candidates. That’s why I felt that it was the perfect time to release a massive guide to the second half of the baseball season. My guide is here, complete with predictions and analysis on the trade deadline, final standings, playoffs, and season awards.

Table of Contents:

Trade Deadline Predictions- PG. 2

Standings Predictions- PG. 3

AL Playoff Predictions- PG. 4

NL Playoff Predictions- PG. 5

World Series Predictions- PG. 6

Season Awards Predictions- PG. 7

Concluding Thoughts- PG. 8

Make or Break Time: Washington Nationals

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Washington.

It was supposed to be win the NL East and win 100 games for it with their starting pitching of Max Scherzer,  Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and Jeremy Hellickson.  They were supposed to win 100 games with the likes of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, and Trea Turner on offense with Daniel Murphy coming back a little later than normal because of his microfracture surgery.  They were supposed to win 100 games because the bullpen wasn’t as bad as it was in years past with Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler.  They were supposed to win 100 games with the brain-trust of Dave Martinez, who replaced Dusty Baker because Martinez was new age and also a Joe Maddon disciple from 2008-2017 (both in Tampa Bay & Chicago).  They were supposed to win 100 games because the NL East had three teams rebuilding (Braves, Phillies, Marlins) and a fourth team stuck in neutral (Mets).

So how did it get somewhere like this?

The starting pitching has been fine.  Scherzer has been dealing and is probably in line for his third straight Cy Young.  But Strasburg is hurt, again.  Gonzalez has times of inconsistency.  Roark has been hard to watch and while Hellickson has been a very pleasant surprise, he’s missed a few starts due to injury.

Bryce

The hitting has stung.  Despite Harper’s hot stretch to start the year, he’s fallen off a cliff (despite 21 HR so far this season), as his average is under .220 while he’s on pace to strike out almost 160 times this year, on  a contract year where he is looking for $400 million.  Zimmerman has been hurt (again) and when he has been in the lineup hasn’t done much.  Turner has just done “okay” while Rendon has held his own.  Of course, the one guy that has completely kept them from being in the tank has been rookie sensation Juan Soto, who is hitting over .300 and has an OPS well over .900.  Had it not been for Soto, who knows where the Nationals would be now.

The bullpen is back to being the bullpen, at least in some aspects of both Madson and Kintzler underachieving so far (both have ERA’s over 4 and WHIP average around 1.40).  It was enough however for the Nationals to trade for Royals closer Kelvin Herrera, though his early start with Washington hasn’t been a good one (3 ER in 6.2 IP as opposed to 3 ER in 25.2 IP in Kansas City before the trade).

Dave

And Dave Martinez looks like he’s in over his head.

Adding onto it, the Braves and Phillies have been winning.  A lot.  And are ahead of the Nationals.  Currently, the Nationals are 7 back of Atlanta for first in the NL East and 5.5 games behind Philadelphia for second.

And here’s the stunner of it all: Washington is 42-43 right now.  1 under .500 for a roster expected to win at least 95 games and be built for a World Series.

Again, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Max Scherzer

Washington went 42-43 after a 3-game sweep by the Red Sox where they were outplayed in nearly every aspect (pitching, hitting, bullpen, managing, etc.) and though the game was in Washington it felt like Boston fans packed it in Nationals Park.  Anyway, the sweep triggered the famed players-only meeting where it has been reported Max Scherzer yelled at pretty much everybody in the locker room for not living up to their potential.  To be fair, Scherzer’s right.  They haven’t.  And given the fact that the Nationals have lost 4 of their last 5 outings for Scherzer, he is obvious frustrated as well.

The players-only meeting comes at a unique time besides the 1 game under .500 and being 7 out.  The Nationals schedule up until the All-Star Break has Miami at home for four games, then 3 at Pittsburgh and 4 at the Mets.  This stretch, the Nationals don’t need to go 6-5.  They don’t need to go 7-4.  But they need to win 8 or more games. It’s hard, but not unrealistic.

To me, even in this nice stretch for Washington since 2012 it always has that feel or that vibe that their talent, notably because of having Harper in the lineup, will carry them through and that each year if they don’t get it, the window is still wide open for next year and we see this team go through the motions again.  Some point even to Harper thinking that one of the reasons why he hasn’t fully lived up to his potential and why he isn’t doing what Mike Trout is doing is because he’s relying too much on his talent and not enough of utilizing what he can do.  I don’t buy that, but sometimes it does look like his head is elsewhere, especially when he is struggling.

The fortunate part for the Nationals to me was that Max Scherzer was the RIGHT GUY to speak up and out to the teammates.  Zimmerman, Harper, Rendon, Turner, Strasburg, etc. are all Nationals products.  Scherzer came into his own in Detroit after he got traded there in 2009.  He’s seen firsthand of a team with talent all over the place fail to win a world championship (and I do compare the Nationals teams of the last few years to those Tigers teams from 2011-2014 where they should have won 100 and hold a world championship).

People snicker about players-only meetings and how they don’t work and such.  However, sometimes it is needed and I think the Nationals needed it.  They are expecting to be there at the end, but it has the vibe that they are JUST expecting it and having it handed to them.  Well, no world championship has been given ever just because a team is talented.  No division title has ever been handed to a team because they had talent alone.

These next 11 games are huge for the Nationals.  They should be at the worst 7-4 in this run.  But if they fall the other way go 5-6 or 4-7, we may see a team change their mode from buying to selling.  And that means maybe, just maybe, the biggest trade target comes into play in the name of Bryce Harper.  But let’s see how these 11 games first play out before we have any talk of that.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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What’s Wrong With Bryce Harper?

Many fans of baseball have been excited not for just what this season will bring, but what the off-season will bring after.  It is one of the best seasons in free agency.  The likes of Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Josh Donaldson, etc. are all available this off-season.  But until recently, the major one has been Bryce Harper.

For the last year, baseball analysts believe Harper would be baseball’s first $400 million man.  And Harper himself while not saying it outright has said he believes he should be paid what he is worth (meaning, “yes, I am worth $400 million).  It probably meant that three teams were possibly involved that could give that kind of contract: the Yankees, Cubs, and Nationals.

And then this season happened.  And right now, Harper may be lucky to get half of that from somebody.  He’s hitting .209 on an average and an OPS of .810 and has 19 HR.  The 19 HR still leads the NL and the OPS is still higher than the league average, but that is dropping as fast as is his average (it was .917 on June 1, despite a .234 average then; since then a 107-point drop).  Currently as of June 20th, Harper has gone 2 for 32 with no home runs, 1 RBI, 5 BB (1 IBB), and 9 K’s.

So what is happening with Bryce Harper?

The oddity of it was, I read that his exit velocity and his launch angles are actually better than it was before this season.  So his swing cannot be the issue.  So it is back to square one: it is where pitchers are pitching Bryce Harper.

Harper’s major decline can be attributed to pitchers painting the outside corner on Bryce.  He has struggled dealing with the outside pitch.  And Bryce is one of those guys that loves to pull the ball too.  When that happens, you get disastrous results.

Bryce

A MENTAL BLOCK?

I felt a couple of years ago that when Harper was in a slump in 2016 it was in part that an early season tilt vs. the Cubs where Joe Maddon did nothing but walked Harper every time almost took a negative effect on him.  Harper is one of those guys that WANTS to swing at the ball, and who can blame him?  But what it did was somewhat give him this mentality that he has to swing at a pitch to do damage.  And when he wasn’t doing that, it sunk him for most of the season.  Yes he still took walks, but there were times were he was so jumpy to hit a pitch, it cost him.  He wasn’t Barry Bonds where Bonds didn’t care he walked.  He would still smile and say “okay, but the minute you mess up I will make you pay.”  Harper’s mentality I think has been “you’re a chicken for walking me and the next time I get up, you will pay and I don’t care if you give me your best pitch.”

Last year Harper had an MVP year going until he injured his knee and missed pretty much the final month of the season.  He took the walks in stride and really was cool, calm, and collected.  This year it seems like he’s regressed back to 2016.

This year it isn’t really happening where pitchers are afraid to the point of walking him.  They paint the outside corner, frustrating Harper from hitting it as well as being frustrated by the umpires where they are calling those pitches strikes as maybe opposed to when he had his MVP year in 2015 or his MVP caliber year in 2017 when they may have been called balls.  To his credit, Harper hasn’t lost his cool on the pitches like we are accustomed to him doing so at times.

The one thing we still have to remind ourselves about Harper is that he is still young in the baseball world at 25 years old.  That’s good and in a way bad with a guy in a slump who really hasn’t been in a horrible prolonged slump before like Harper.  He has always been a polarizing figure where you have people who love his cocky, arrogant attitude and you rally behind him or you have people who hate that cocky, arrogant attitude and wish he continues this prolonged slump.  I’m somewhat in that rare minority of being in the middle.  I think when he’s on his game, he is fun to watch, but I also think that some of the stuff he does isn’t necessary, but that’s just me.  But I think for Harper, he has grown up with a god-given talent and people around him see that and just feed Bryce this constant garbage over & over and it has carried with him throughout his MLB career.  If you listen to MLB Network or ESPN or any major media outlet, they can’t get enough of this guy and the controversial actions or comments (such as shouting at the umpire after a walk-off win after he was tossed) they defended the guy through and through.  Had that been Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, or even some of today’s players such as Machado, Puig, or Judge, they would be ridiculed by doing that.   And I do think that plays into Bryce’s psyche of an invincibility, which I think is very bad for him right now.

Somebody, whether it is within the Nationals organization or wherever, needs to set him down and tell him like it is.  What I see it is not as much of a mechanical issue as I see it more of a between-the-ears issue. Again, I think too many people are saying stuff Bryce WANTS to hear and not needs to hear.  Somebody has to say “hey look man, don’t listen to MLB Network  saying that you will be okay and you deserve a huge contract still; don’t listen to your pals saying that everything is good.  Don’t be worried about your next contract because you can forget that dream of being the first $400 million man right now.  You need to focus on what you need to improve yourself now or else that $400 million contract will be given to somebody else.”

I don’t see Bryce Harper continue to hit .200 and unable to find first base on four balls for long.  It is a slump, but he will have to find a way of getting back to his MVP caliber yeas of 2015 and 2017.  But the first thing he needs to do is just tune out what the media is saying and what the future holds and think what he needs to do in 2018 or else his perhaps final year in Washington will be another year of a failed season amid high hopes.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Tuesday Trade Market: Looking at the Kelvin Herrera Trade

Yesterday we saw the first major trade of the baseball season in 2018 go down (sorry, I’m not counting Matt Harvey to Cincinnati as a major trade at this point).  The Nationals and Royals made an agreement as Kansas City closer Kelvin Herrera was traded to Washington for three prospects.  More of that information can be found here.

Today I will look at the impact at the trade from all angles such as the Nationals, Royals, the National League, and the teams who now may be in a bind of getting a closer to help down the stretch.

Herrera

FOR THE NATIONALS:  Compared to years’ past, the Washington bullpen hasn’t been a complete disaster.  Sammy Solis has been serviceable as has Justin Miller.  And Sean Doolittle is having a great year closing games out (18 saves and a 1.47 ERA with a 0.55 WHIP).  But Ryan Madson is about to have his arm fall off and is having a horrid year while Brandon Kintzler hasn’t amounted to much.  So this was a trade the Nationals need to make.  The funny part is though, Washington’s offense is a problem.  Many are still going “oh well, when Daniel Murphy gets back to the swing of things and Ryan Zimmerman gets healthy and it will wake up Bryce Harper and the Nats will roll.”  Hasn’t been the case.  Zimmerman when healthy hasn’t done much.  Harper has been on a massive downhill run as he’s gone 1 for his last 24 with only 3 walks and 9 K’s in that span (and until last game had a 2-K streak of four games).  He’s also only hit 1 homer in June.  So the Nationals may need to think of adding a bat whether it is at CF in getting somebody like Starling Marte.  As honestly, the weak spot of Washington really hasn’t been the pitching but the hitting.  But their hope is relying on two guys who have been injury-prone lately and one wonders if Bryce Harper’s mind is elsewhere right now.  As for what they gave up, they gave up 3 prospects on the fringe of being in the top 10 of their farm, which is a decent farm, but not world-beating.

Gutierrez

FOR THE ROYALS:  Well, shocker here, they’re selling.  Everybody knew it since the Royals are 22-50 and only a game ahead of Baltimore of being the worst team in baseball.  But stunning this early, as many figured that the Royals could have gotten more in return than what they actually had.  It means that Mike Moustakas is definitely next on the trade market (my guess is Cardinals or Yankees) and that one is definitely one they can get value in.  I’m not sure if anybody wants the likes of Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, or Danny Duffy at this point since all are working on train-wreck seasons.  At this point the Royals would be lucky to net anything for any of them.  But the trade itself helps their farm system which is very much barren.  So Kelvin Gutierrez, who plays 3B probably wouldn’t have cracked the Nationals lineup with Anthony Rendon there has a good shot now with the Royals, though his numbers in the Minors are so/so (.285 average but only a .732 OPS and doesn’t have a whole lot of power).  Perkins hasn’t really panned out since being a 2nd rounder for the Nationals in 2015 (.655 OPS in the Minors), but had a good start this season with Harrisburg before being sent back down to High-A with Potomac.  Again, probably a new start with a team that will have a lot of open spots down the road will help out.  And Yohanse Morel is only 17 as there isn’t much to talk about though his ceiling may be very high right now.

FOR THE REST OF THE NL:  The only team that the Nationals may have really stung was their NL East rivals of the Phillies, who also need a closer and have the resources to get one.  The Braves, Cubs, Brewers, and Dodgers are all set at the closer spot and most of them have quality set-up guys.  Does it tip the scale in Washington’s favor on the Braves right now?  No.  The Braves have needs (a veteran pitcher & another reliever would help and an upgrade at third) but I don’t think it does much in the way of scaring Atlanta to this point.

Hand.jpg

THE MARKET FOR CLOSER NOW:  Herrera was the best available closer on the market.  The question will be who is out there now that could be labeled as the best available?  Hard to tell.  Zach Britton just came back and if he pitches well, could help a contender (Phillies?).  Shane Greene’s name has been talked about a couple of times (though Detroit is only sitting 3 back of Cleveland surprisingly and may hold off on selling).  If Minnesota is more out than in, Fernando Rodney would be available as he’s had a “decent” season with the Twins while Joakim Soria is with the White Sox, also having a decent season.  But maybe the best available is Brad Hand, if the Padres were willing to move him.  He may be the best one as the others may be “buyer beware” notably with Rodney and Soria. They both have been closers for years but they’ve also been closers that have imploded on more than a few occasions throughout their career (hence why they’re journeymen closers).

WINNER: Nationals.  They added another arm in the pen and if the Nats get their act together can really make it into 7 inning games with the likes of Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez.  But right now it means nothing if the offense can’t get their act together.

LOSER:  Royals and Phillies.  The only reason why I put the Royals here is because they may have gone knee-jerk on this trade as they could have gotten more and perhaps drove the price up between teams like Washington, Philadelphia, and maybe Cleveland.  But maybe Dayton Moore has a lot of faith in his scouts they are doing the right thing.  So who am I to say?  As for the Phillies, I had thought Philadelphia would make a big push for Herrera.  The Nationals keep them from getting the closer that they need to make the jump ahead and get closer to the Braves.  They may shift their attention to Brad Hand, who may cost a little bit more, assuming they go that route.  But time will tell as with every trade made.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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