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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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