Here To Stay

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The Miami Marlins have been a Major League Baseball franchise for 24 years and in their existence they have never won a division title. But the Marlins do have a pair of World Series Championships to show for their two postseason appearances. The Marlins have been a tough team for fans to get behind as their ownership has been notorious for relenting to pay players as they typically will rank near the bottom of team payrolls in MLB each year. And each time that the Marlins appear ready to build a powerhouse, the team is dismantled. The most recent occasion where this happened came in 2012 as after spending big in free agency, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria traded the majority of his star players. The Marlins were once again back at square one as they were delicately built and here in 2016, they appear ready to make another run to the playoffs.

Don Mattingly

After Don Mattingly was fired as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers last October, he landed on his feet rather quickly as the Marlins brought him to Miami in the same capacity. In five years as the manager of the Dodgers, Mattingly never had a losing record which included three consecutive National League West Titles. But whereas the expectations were high in Los Angeles, Mattingly was never able to lead the Dodgers to a World Series Title which was his ultimate demise; however he has been a perfect fit so far for the young Marlins.

The outset of the 2016 Major League Baseball season for the Marlins was not an easy one as they began the campaign with a record of 5-11. Then the Marlins were in the midst of a seven-game winning streak when they received the news that second baseman Dee Gordon had failed a drug test and would be suspended by Major League Baseball for 80 games. This was a huge blow for the Marlins as Gordon was their table setter as he led the National League in stolen bases in each of the last two years, while also leading in batting average in 2015 at .333.

But under Mattingly the Marlins have never wavered as after their hiccup to begin the season, they’ve never fallen back under .500 and they completed the first half of the campaign with a record of 47-41. The momentum that the Marlins developed to end the first half has now carried over for the second half as they are now 55-47. The Marlins are five games behind the Washington Nationals for first place in the National League East and they currently tied for the final wild card spot in the N.L.

Balance has been the name of the game for the Marlins as they’ve gotten contributions from their entire lineup, while also getting quality pitching. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, starting pitcher Jose Fernandez is regaining the form that made him the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2013. On the season Fernandez is 12-4 with an earned run average of 2.54 and the Marlins are 4-1 in his last five starts. Relief pitcher A.J. Ramos is 31-of-32 in saves opportunities and he is on pace to become the first pitcher in Marlins franchise history to record at least 40 saves in a season since Todd Jones in 2005.

Christian Yelich

But the Marlins lineup hasn’t skipped a beat without the presence of Gordon as outfielder Christian Yelich is emerging as one of the best contact hitters in the National League, while outfielder Marcell Ozuna is coming into his own as an all-around player. The Marlins team batting average of .272 is tops in the National League which is a credit to their first-year hitting coach in Barry Bonds, but they still need to pick it up in the power category as they are 14th in the N.L. in home runs with (84), and 11th in runs scored (429). After missing 88 games in 2015 as the result of a wrist injury, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is beginning to regain the form that has made him one of the most feared power hitters in baseball as he leads the club in home runs with 22. And when Stanton gets hot, he is one of the rare power hitters that can carry a lineup for a prolonged stretch. First baseman Justin Bour is currently on the disabled list with an ankle injury, but his return to the Marlins lineup will be a welcome sight as he is another power bat that will help them down the stretch as they make a push towards the postseason.

From the dugout Mattingly has provided the Marlins with a calming influence at the managerial position that they have not had since the days of Jack McKeon who led them to their last World Series Championship in 2003. Mattingly has always had a strong attention to detail which dates back to his Major League Baseball playing career when he was the starting first baseman for the New York Yankees for 14 seasons. And that calm along with the attention to detail has the Marlins in the midst of a run to the playoffs.

The Marlins are currently in the middle of a very important four-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals as both of these teams are battling for a wild card spot in the National League. Next week the Marlins will be on the road for a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs who have the best record in the N.L. as this will be opportunity for them to see if they’re indeed for real. And with several series’ against both the Washington Nationals and New York Mets which will more than likely decide the winner of the N.L. East, the young Marlins have the opportunity in front of them to win their first division title in franchise history. But even if the Marlins were to fall short of winning the N.L. East, it won’t hinder them as each time that they won the World Series, they were a wild card team as anything can happen on the baseball diamond in the month of October.

Giancarlo Stanton

And with Stanton regaining his form, Gordon being eased back into the lineup, and Bour expected to return soon, the Marlins offense could become extremely dangerous as the team’s general manager Michael Hill finds himself in a very different position this July as he can look to be a buyer at next week’s Major League Baseball trade deadline with a team that is beginning to find their form at the right time.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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A Tale Of Two Legends

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This summer has seen dollars handed out at an alarming rate in the NBA. The league’s new television deal has seen role players become multi-millionaires while making some superstar players appearing to be underpaid. We’ve also seen franchise players change addresses in the hopes of winning an NBA Championship and/or more money. After 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, shooting guard Dwyane Wade left as a free agent to join the Chicago Bulls. Wade was seeking $50 million over the next two seasons from the Heat which he didn’t receive and thus he bolted to Chicago. Like Wade, Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki opted out of his contract as he was seeking a pay increase. But unlike Wade, Nowitzki and the Mavericks agreed on a new two-year deal that is worth $50 million as this all but symbolizes that he’ll retire in Dallas. And it is a tale of how two NBA franchises approached their veterans players in different fashions.

Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki was drafted ninth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, and they immediately traded him to the Mavericks. But in Dallas, Nowitzki has gone on to be a rock as he is the best player in Mavericks franchise history. In 18 years with the Mavs, Nowitzki has averaged 22 points per contest while helping Dallas win their only NBA Championship in 2011 as he was named the Finals MVP. Nowitzki is the Mavericks all-time leader in nearly every statistical category, and he is closing in on becoming the first and only player in franchise history to score 30,000 career points.

Wade was the fifth overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Heat and he would make an immediate impact as he averaged 16.2 points as a rookie in helping Miami reach the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In 2006, Wade would team with center Shaquille O’Neal to help the Heat win their first NBA Championship. Wade’s Heat knocked off Nowitzki’s Mavericks, and he would be named NBA Finals MVP that June.

Dwyane Wade

Like Nowitzki, Wade is the Heat’s all-time leader in most statistical categories and he has become a cultural icon in South Florida to the point that some people refer to Dade County as “Wade County”.

In 2010, Wade took a backseat when the Heat signed small forward LeBron James and power forward Chris Bosh to make things work as he was all about winning championships. Like Bosh and James, Wade took less money in order to give the Heat cap flexibility to put a quality team around them which led to four consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals and a pair of championships.

But unlike Nowitzki, Wade has had trouble staying healthy throughout his NBA career as he has never made all 82 regular season starts in the league’s calendar year. This issue was front and center last summer when Wade was seeking a new long-term deal from the Heat which he was never received. Wade who was 33-years of age at the time was unable to persuade Heat president Pat Riley to give him that long-term deal and the two sides came to an agreement on a one-year deal for $20 million.

But this past NBA season it was vintage Wade as he averaged 19 points per game in leading the Heat to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. However when it came time for both sides to talk turkey, Riley simply didn’t see Wade as still being a superstar caliber player which led a disgruntled Wade to taking his talents to the Windy City.

Just like Wade, Nowitzki took less money in order to make things work in Dallas which is what led to an NBA Championship in 2011. Nowitzki has continued to take contracts that were under his market value until now. And unlike Riley in Miami, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t have a problem in backing up the Brinks truck to pay the best player in his franchise’s history in order for him to remain in Dallas.

Pat Riley

This is just another example of the business of professional sports and how two franchises chose to operate differently. Riley was reluctant to pay an aging player superstar money as he felt that he was no longer worth it. But Riley called Wade’s bluff when he was unwilling to offer the shooting guard more than $40 million over the next two years. Wade didn’t get the $50 million that he was seeking from the Bulls, but he received $47 million as Chicago simply made him feel wanted as Riley has publicly expressed regret over allowing Wade to leave South Beach.

Riley was looking at the long term for the Heat, but in the short team Miami is not a better team without Wade as they will sorely miss his leadership. And Riley knew that he made a mistake as soon as Wade signed with the Bulls.

Cuban on the other hand feels that he can still win a championship with Nowitzki if the right players are put around him while also making sure that the Future Hall of Famer retires in Dallas. But it was Cuban’s commitment to Nowitzki that has shone brighter than anything else.

Like Tim Duncan who just retired after playing 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Nowitzki has never publicly criticized the Mavericks when it came to money, and you have never heard of any animosity between him and the front office in Dallas which is the exact opposite of Wade and Riley in Miami.

Mark Cuban

From Cuban’s first day as owner of the Mavericks, he has run a top-notch organization and he has treated his employees accordingly. For nearly two decades with the Heat, Riley has built the Heat into a contender, but two of the last three summers have seen him lose James and now Wade in free agency. Cuban didn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of re-signing Nowitzki as he did what was best for business, while Riley will always have to face speculation as to why he let the best player in Heat franchise history as well as on the current roster leave town scot free.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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A Royal Pain

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After the Kansas City Royals lost the 2014 World Series which marked the end of a grueling seven-game struggle against the San Francisco Giants, there was a high level of hunger that fueled this team in 2015. The Royals won 95 games en route to winning the American League Central, while also getting back to the World Series and winning it. But 2016 hasn’t been the same fairy tale for the Royals as after 99 games, they have a record of 48-51. The Royals are in fourth place in the A.L. Central as they are 8.5 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians and seven games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the league’s final wild card spot. The Royals have been able to show flashes of what made them World Series Champions in 2015 which included dominating the eighth and ninth innings, but the magic that was there last year simply hasn’t completely transferred to 2016.

Not to make this an oxymoron, but the Royals issues began as soon as the final out of the World Series was made last October. Rightfully so the Royals had every right to celebrate winning, but that party has carried over to 2016. In the Royals first game of the season, they received their World Series Title rings and there was plenty of pageantry at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Royals have also elected to wear a commemorative patch on their jerseys this year to honor their World Series Championship, while also wearing jerseys with gold lettering and matching hats for every Friday home game during the year. The Royals already had a bulls eye on their back after winning the World Series, and the marketing of it has only made that target larger.

But aside from the self-promotion, the Royals lost some key contributors from last year’s team that they’ve been unable to replace. Last year saw the Royals acquire utility man Ben Zobrist from the Oakland Athletics and starting pitcher Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds. Both Zobrist and Cueto came up huge in the Royals title run. However when Zobrist and Cueto came to the Royals, they were expected to only be rentals as Kansas City wasn’t going to get into a bidding war with the big market teams in free agency and each player bid farewell as Zobrist is now a member of the Chicago Cubs, while Cueto is with the San Francisco Giants.

Pitching wise the Royals team earned run average of 4.36 is eighth in the American League while the starting rotation is lacking an ace. The only Royals starting pitcher that has made at least 10 starts this year and currently possesses an earned run average south of 4.00 is Danny Duffy as Kansas City opponents have made it their business to put this team in early holes which neutralizes their strong bullpen while also minimizing the late-inning comeback by this club.

Lorenzo Cain

The injury bug has also bitten the Royals as key players such as outfielder Lorenzo Cain and third baseman Mike Moustakas are currently on the disabled list which has left first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez to carry the load for Kansas City’s offense.

But things really began to unravel for the Royals this year at the site of their greatest triumph in 2015. On June 21, the Royals traveled to face the New York Mets and they had a record of 38-31. The Mets swept the two-game series from the Royals as they were able to beat Kansas City at their own game which saw them win each contest by just a single run.

Since that time the Royals went on to lose series’ against the Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, and Toronto Blue Jays as they limped into the All-Star break. The second half of the Major League Baseball season has not been any easier for the Royals as they’ve lost each series so far which has been magnified since most of these losses have come against playoff contenders in the Detroit Tigers, Indians, and Texas Rangers, while they’ve also dropped a series at home to the Los Angeles Angels who have been wavering with being in the basement of the American League West.. You have to go back to June 19th to find the last time that Kansas City won three games in a row as they are losing ground in the A.L. Central.

Ned Yost

Royals manager Ned Yost has his finger on the pulse of his team, but it is now time to push the panic button in Kansas City as their dreams of repeating as World Series Champions are fading away. There is still time for the Royals to get things turned around, but the American League Central has gotten much more competitive this year as the Indians and Tigers are each better teams. And overall in the A.L., the wild card race is heating up between the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros which leaves the Royals little margin for error.

After the Royals finish up their series against the Angels, they will hit the road for eight games against the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays before returning to Kansas City for a three-game series against the Blue Jays. There is still time for the Royals to turn things around, but the heart and determination that was front and center in 2015 must reappear if they are going to make another title run.

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Motown’s Miggy

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For Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, he appeared destined for stardom from his first day in Major League Baseball. Cabrera was signed by the Florida Marlins in 1999 as a 16-year old out of his native Venezuela. By 2003, Cabrera was ready for his MLB debut and in 87 games with the Marlins that year, Cabrera batted .268 with 12 home runs and 62 runs batted in as he finished fifth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.

But it was that October where Cabrera would become a household name. In Game 4 of the World Series, the Marlins found themselves trailing the New York Yankees in the series 2-1. Cabrera stepped to the plate in the first inning having to deal with starting pitcher Roger Clemens who was one the most intimidating pitchers in baseball. Clemens threw a “brush back” pitch to Cabrera in the attempt to intimidate the youngster. But Cabrera would immediately respond by launching a two-run homer to give the underdog Marlins an early 2-0 lead in Game 4. The Marlins would go on to win that game and knock off the Yankees in six games for their second World Series Championship in franchise history.

 

In 2004, Cabrera would become a regular in the Marlins lineup as he batted .294 with 33 home runs and 112 runs batted in to earn his first All-Star Game appearance. Cabrera would go on to be a steadying influence in the Marlins lineup as he was putting up MVP numbers on a team that was contending. By 2007, Cabrera would be traded to a contender in the Tigers and since then his career has gone to the next level.

In Cabrera’s first year in Detroit, he batted .292 with 37 home runs and 127 runs batted in as he proved that he could do it in both leagues. By 2011, Cabrera was able to help the Tigers win the American League Central for the first the first time in franchise history as he led the American League in hitting at .344 while slugging 30 homers and driving in 105 runs. But nobody could have expected Cabrera to do what he did in 2012 when he became the first player in either league to hit for the Triple Crown since Carl Yaztrzemski in 1967 as he led the A.L. in batting average (.330), home runs (44), and runs batted in (139). It was a no-brainer that Cabrera would win his first A.L. MVP Award as he helped the Tigers reach the World Series that October. Cabrera would once again be named as the MVP in 2013 as he put up similar numbers by hitting .348 with 44 homers and 137 runs batted in and in the process established himself as one of the best hitters in the history of Major League Baseball.

Even as injuries are beginning to catch up with Cabrera, he is still one of the most feared hitters in baseball as he is one of the toughest guys to strike out. Since joining the Tigers, Cabrera has only had one season in which he struck out at more than 100 times and he is also no stranger to being intentionally walked as he has received 213 free passes for his career.

This year Cabrera finds himself in the middle of a very deep Tigers lineup and he is still batting .297 with 19 homers and 567 runs batted in as Detroit is the midst of the wild card race in the American League. Cabrera made history last week when he became the fastest player in Major League Baseball history to have 400 career home runs and 1,500 runs batted in. To date Cabrera has hit 427 career homers and his 289 home runs with the Tigers are fourth in franchise history.

At the age of 33, lower body injuries are beginning to take away from some of Cabrera’s mobility, but he is still one of the best hitters in baseball. Cabrera signed an extension with the Tigers in 2014 that will more than likely keep him in Detroit for the remainder of his career as he pursues some individual milestones. Cabrera is sitting on 2,440 career hits, 427 home runs, and 1,502 runs batted in as he could join Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez as the only players in Major League Baseball history with 3,000 career hits, 500 home runs, and 2,000 runs batted in before it is all said and done. Cabrera has never been linked to any performance-enhancing drugs which means that he is line to one day join Luis Aparicio as the only Venezuelan born players to make the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Typically when you watch a person play a respective sport, you know whether or not that they are Hall of Fame worthy. And although that Cabrera doesn’t appear ready to hang them up anytime soon, we are witnessing one of the best hitters that the game of baseball has ever seen who will one day take his rightful place in Cooperstown.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The Baby Blues

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2015 marked the third consecutive year in which the Los Angeles Dodgers made the postseason, but they’ve still been unable to reach the World Series since they won it all in 1988. Last October, the Dodgers lost to the New York Mets in the National League Divisional Series and it set the tone for some wholesale changes. After five years as the manager of the Dodgers, Don Mattingly was fired. Mattingly’s departure would give Dave Roberts the opportunity to become the Dodgers skipper as he is on the same page with the team’s president of baseball operations in Andrew Friedman, along with general manager Farhan Zaidi as far as sabremetrics go. Roberts has given the Dodgers a new voice in their clubhouse, but it is an old formula that is time tested for this organization which is why they are once again in playoff contention.

In Major League Baseball, the Dodgers have always been at the forefront as far as developing young talent. The Dodgers organization has been home to some of the greatest baseball players of all-time who have come through their system which includes the likes of Sandy Koufax and Duke Snider. In the 1990′s, the Dodgers had five players win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award in consecutive years with one of those in Mike Piazza set for enshrinement into Baseball’s Hall of Fame this Sunday. Even around MLB, there are quality players that got their start with the Dodgers which includes Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre and Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. The current Dodgers team has a good mixture of rookies and veterans that has them in first place for the N.L.’s Wild Card, and just 4.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants for the top spot in the N.L. West.

Corey Seager

In 2012, the Dodgers made shortstop Corey Seager the 18th overall pick of the Major League Baseball Draft. Seager spent nearly four years tearing it up in the minor leagues until he was called up by the Dodgers last September. In 27 games with the Dodgers last year, Seager hit .337 and he is showing that his brief stint wasn’t a fluke as he is batting .301 with 17 home runs and 43 runs batted in here in 2016. Seager was selected to the All-Star team earlier this month and he is the front runner to be the National League’s Rookie of the Year.

This time last year saw Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson as Major League Baseball’s flavor of the month. Pederson burst onto the scene in 2015 as a rookie which saw him make the All-Star team after he hit 20 home runs during the first three months of the season. Pederson hit 26 homers as a rookie, but he only batted .210 as word got around the league as far as his inability to lay off of breaking pitches in the dirt. This season Pederson is batting .231, but he has an on-base percentage of .321 with 13 homers as the future is still bright for him.

Trayce Thompson

This past off-season saw the Dodgers engage in a three-team trade with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox which resulted in Los Angeles receiving outfielder Trayce Thompson. In 44 games last year with the White Sox, Thompson batted .295 with 5 home runs and 16 runs batted in. This year with the Dodgers, Thompson is batting .225 with 13 homers and 32 runs batted in as he has appeared in 80 games. Thompson has also provided the Dodgers with quality defense in the outfield as he has the ability to play all three outfield positions. But unfortunately for Thompson, he is currently on the disabled list as he is dealing with a back injury.

Overall this year the Dodgers have overachieved a bit, but they are right in the mix to make the postseason for a fourth consecutive year. Aside from the youngsters, the Dodgers are enjoying contributions from veteran players such as infielders Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley, Justin Turner, and Adrian Gonzalez. Catcher Yasmani Grandal has been solid in his ability to call games for the Dodgers pitching staff behind the plate, while Los Angeles still has the enigmatic one in Yasiel Puig roaming right field.

Joc Pederson

The Dodgers have been hit with the injury bug as there are currently 11 players on the disabled list with the most noticeable one being starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. But the Dodgers have made it this far with their blend of vets and youngsters. And as far as the young Dodgers go, Seager has shown that he is a star in the making as he will one day put this lineup on his back, while Pederson and Thompson aren’t bad options to shoulder the load with him.

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