Don’t look now, but the St. Louis Cardinals are alive and well in the National League Central.
At the conclusion of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, the Arizona Diamondbacks were seeking to make a splash in order to once again make them respectable. It would take $206.5 million over six years to lure starting pitcher Zack Greinke away from the Los Angeles Dodgers as he was seen as a piece that would help the Diamondbacks get back to the playoffs. Prior to joining the Diamondbacks, Greinke was a three-time All-Star, while also winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2009 as a member of the Kansas City Royals. In 2015 with the Dodgers, Greinke was 19-3 with an earned run averaged of 1.66 while he also struck out 200 batters. Greinke could have remained with the Dodgers to keep the best one-two starting pitching combinations in Major League Baseball going as he would have been alongside starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. But a big payday along with giving up the spotlight of Los Angeles was too much for Greinke to pass up on.
Greinke’s first season in Arizona was not one to write home about as he failed to live to the massive expectations which were placed on him. In Greinke’s first start with the Diamondbacks, he surrendered 7 earned runs in just 4 innings of work which included giving up three home runs as Arizona fell to the Colorado Rockies at home 10-5. Greinke would never recover as he went 13-7 on the season with an earned run average of 4.37. Greinke also had a stint on the disabled list and he appeared to be another player who succumb to the pressure of signing a big contract.
However 2017 has been a reversal of fortunes for Greinke as he has already matched his win total from last season. Greinke is 13-4 with an earned run average of 3.10, while he is on pace for his third 200-strikeout season in the last four years. Greinke’s turnaround this year has coincided with the turnaround of the Diamondbacks whose record of 63-48 has them currently in possession of the second wild card of the National League.
The Greinke that were seeing this year is what the Diamondbacks envisioned when they brought him in last year as he has now given them a frontline starter. Greinke’s presence has helped the Diamondbacks pitching staff overall as their 3.53 earned run average is second in the National League only trailing his former team in the Dodgers. Arizona is also second in the N.L. in strikeouts with 1018, while their 57 quality starts are fifth.
Greinke might not be on the level of Hall of Fame starting pitcher Randy Johnson who signed a four-year $52.4 million contract with the Diamondbacks in 1999 as he was sought after to help a budding expansion team, but he is still important. And just like Johnson, the folks in the desert are hopeful that Greinke can help them win a World Series.
With the dominance of the Dodgers this season, there is absolutely no way that the Diamondbacks can make up enough ground to catch them for first place in the National League West as they currently trail Los Angeles by 15.5 games. But Arizona’s chances of earning one of the wild card slots in the N.L. is pretty good. Barring injury Greinke would get the baseball for Arizona in that wild card game which would give him a chance to revive his status as a big game pitcher, while also redeeming himself for his last postseason start which resulted in the Dodgers being eliminated by the New York Mets in 2015.
However the fact that the Diamondbacks are even in the hunt for a playoff spot this year comes down to Greinke seeking to put 2016 behind him and show that he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball. Every fifth day that Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo gives Greinke the baseball, he is giving it to an ace that his teammates can rely on, while he also has Arizona smelling the playoffs.
This past Sunday afternoon saw Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre become the 31st player in Major League Baseball history to reach to golden plateau of recording 3,000 career hits. Beltre’s name is now among MLB legends such as Pete Rose, Stan Musial, and Willie Mays who reached the milestone, while he is also the first Dominican born player to achieve the feat.
Beltre’s Major League Baseball journey began as a 16-year old kid who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995 out of the Dominican Republic. By 1998, Beltre was ready to make his MLB debut and in 77 games for the Dodgers that season, he would hit .215 with 7 home runs and 22 runs batted in. In 1999, Beltre would become the Dodgers everyday third baseman as he batted .275 with 15 homers and 67 runs batted in. Beltre’s only playoff appearance with the Dodgers would come in 2004 as he helped them win the National League West for the first time since 1995. Beltre would also finish second in the National League MVP voting that season as he batted .334 with 48 home runs and 121 runs batted in.
Following that season Beltre would leave the Dodgers as a free agent to sign with the Seattle Mariners. In five years with the Mariners, Beltre was never able to help the organization reach the postseason, but his career in the Pacific Northwest would be highlighted by him winning a pair of Gold Glove Awards.
In 2010, Beltre would join the Boston Red Sox on a one-year deal. And it appeared to be a solid signing as Beltre would be in the middle of the Red Sox lineup with another Dominican born player in designated hitter David Ortiz. That season Beltre batted .321 with 28 homers and 102, but Boston would fall short of making the playoffs. But after one season in Boston, Beltre would find something that he never had during his career which was a home.
In 2011, Beltre would join the Rangers and it has been a marriage made in heaven. That season Beltre batted .296 with 32 home runs and 105 runs batted. Beltre would help the Rangers win the American League Pennant for the second consecutive year, and in the World Series he would bat .300 while hitting a pair of home runs.
Since Beltre has been with the Rangers, they have only had one losing season, while they have made four trips to the postseason. And for Beltre he has simply continued to be the model of consistency.
For Beltre’s career he has averaged 175 hits per year, while he is a career. 286 hitter. Beltre’s career batting average with the Rangers is .308 which is tied with Will Clark for the second most in franchise history and he is only 24 homers shy of becoming the fifth player in the club’s history to hit 200 career home runs. And as Beltre reached the milestone with his fourth-inning double off of Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Wade Miley this past Sunday, he punched his ticket to Cooperstown, New York and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
When Beltre collected his 3,000th hit on Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t just him who was rounding first base to mark this magical moment, but it was entire nation which was on his back. The Dominican Republic has a proud baseball tradition that includes the likes of Pedro Guerrero, Vladimir Guerrero, and Ortiz, but it was Beltre who was the first from this nation to get to 3,000. And it is amazing that when Pedro Martinez was enshrined in Cooperstown last summer, he was only the second player from the Dominican Republic who received the honor. However that will be changing as Vladimir Guerrero should be a lock next year after barely missing out this time around and the same can be said about Ortiz in 2022. Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols in the next Dominican born player on the list as he is 86 hits shy of 3,000, while he already has 607 home runs, and when his playing career is over he will be Cooperstown bound as well.
But right now it is all about Beltre who was able to enjoy his moment with his family as well as the home fans at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. And even though that Beltre has an intense hatred for people who attempt to touch his head, there isn’t a person who is associated with Major League Baseball that didn’t take joy in seeing him collect his 3,000th, while he also solidified his Cooperstown resume.
The 2010 Major League Baseball Draft could go down as one of the best in baseball history as it has produced plenty of studs. Some of the names from this draft include Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale. And one name in that mix as well is Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado.
Machado was the third overall pick of that draft and in playing third base has been compared to former New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez for his size, speed, and power. Machado began to show his potential when the Orioles called him up from the minors in 2012. That season Machado would appear in 51 games for the O’s as he batted .262 with 7 homers and 26 runs batted in. In 2013, Machado was selected to his first All-Star team, however things would take a turn for the worse for him on September 23, 2013 when he suffered a knee injury against the Tampa Bay Rays. Machado was jogging to first base when his knee gave out. Machado would undergo reconstructive surgery with the initial diagnosis calling for him to be sidelined for four-six months.
Because of the injury Machado was only be able to appear in 82 games for Baltimore in 2014, but he was still able to help the Orioles win their first American League East Title in 17 years. By 2015, Machado was finally healthy as he was able to appear in all 162 games for the O’s. For the season Machado batted .286 with 35 home runs, 86 runs batted in, and 20 stolen bases and in the process he finished fourth in the American League MVP voting. Machado would keep that trend going in 2016 by hitting .294 with 37 homers and 96 runs batted in to help Baltimore once again make the postseason. And even though that the Orioles lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Toronto Blue Jays last October in the A.L. Wild Card Game, there was still optimism around this club heading into 2017 due to Machado. However this season has been a struggle for the Orioles and Machado alike.
This year Machado is only batting .241 with 18 homers and 53 runs batted in. Baltimore is currently 48-53 as they are 7 games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East and 5.5 games behind the Kansas City Royals for the final wild card spot. Machado cannot be blamed for all of the Orioles problems this year, but the fact that he is having a subpar season cannot be overlooked.
Machado’s timing at the plate simply has not been there for the majority of the year. After two months Machado was only batting .191 which was very surprising. And although that Machado has gotten his batting average up to .241, he just has not had the impact that was anticipated when the season began.
And whereas this season appears to be a wash for the Orioles as their current record is 48-53, it is not that far-fetched to believe that the Orioles can begin to prepare for next season which starts with Machado seeking to improve his game.
I don’t believe that it would take too much for Machado to get back on track as making and adjustment in his batting stance could do wonders. Machado has also found himself fishing for pitches that in the past he would lay off of. Machado has been chasing too many breaking pitches this year, while he has been missing fastballs that are right in his wheelhouse over the plate. There is also the possibility that Machado could be the victim of Major League Baseball changing its strike zone which has thrown several players off this season.
But whereas the Orioles have made the playoffs in all of the even numbered years since 2012, while missing out during the odd numbered years, all signs point to them turning it around next year. And if that is the case, Machado will need to be a big part of it which means that he’ll have to regain the form that has made him a three-time All-Star.
From 2011-2013, the Houston Astros were hands down the worst team in Major League Baseball. In each of those years the Astros lost at least 106 games as they were in the midst of an ownership change, while they also shifted from playing in the National League to the American League. But even as bad as things were for the Astros, they had one bright spot in second baseman Jose Altuve.
The Astros signed Altuve in 2007 at the age of 16 out of his native Venezuela. Altuve would spend the next four years progressing in the Astros minor-league system which paved the way for his debut with the big club in 2011.
In 57 games with the Astros in 2011, Altuve batted .276. And the following season would see Altuve bat .290 while earning his first bid to the All-Star Game as he led Houston in hits with 167. The hits just kept coming for Altuve and by 2014, he set a single-season record for the Astros with 225 hits. Each of the last three years has seen Altuve produced at least 200 hits and coincidentally he has led the American League in that category for each of those seasons.
This has been a typical season for Altuve who after one month into the campaign was batting .326 with a .402 on-base percentage. On the season Altuve is batting .365 which leads the American League and the same can be said about his 138 hits. Altuve is on pace to win the A.L.’s batting title for the third time in the last four years, while this would also be the fourth consecutive season in which he led the way in hits. This month Altuve is batting a phenomenal .507 as he has gotten at least one hit in all but one game for the Astros in July.
A few years ago Altuve was the lone bright spot for a fledgling franchise, but now he is a key cog. The Astros record of 66-33 has folks thinking about them making the World Series for just the second time in franchise history as they are running away with the American League West. The next closest team to the Astros in the A.L. West are the Seattle Mariners who are 17 games behind them. And at the pace that the Astros are going, they should put a bow around their first A.L. West Title in early September.
Altuve is a very big part of what a championship teams need as he is a a contact hitter at the top of the Astros lineup who consistently gets on base which allows him to generate offense. And when Altuve gets on base, his speed is an asset as well. Altuve has led the American League in stolen bases twice in his career which included swiping 56 bags in 2014. Altuve’s ability on the bases is an important element for the Astros as this creates opportunities for the team’s power hitters behind him such as catcher Brian McCann and utility man Evan Gattis to get better pitches to swing at.
Altuve is the total package as he also has one Gold Glove Award to his credit, but this season he is a legit candidate to be the American League’s MVP. Altuve finished third in the voting last year, but once Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout suffered a thumb injury which put him out of action for nearly six weeks, it has opened things up for players such as Altuve this year. Altuve is making the most of this and he is garnering serious consideration in spite of the season that New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is having as he is hitting baseballs to kingdom come.
Altuve is adding to the Astros reputation of having quality second basemen. Before Joe Morgan helped the Cincinnati Reds win a pair of World Series Championships in the 1970’s, he began his Hall of Fame career with the Astros where he earned two All-Star Game appearances. For 20 years Craig Biggio was a constant at second base for the Astros. Biggio was vital to the success of the Astros in the 1990’s and 2000’s which included helping the organization make the World Series in 2005. Like Morgan, Biggio is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame and his 3,060 hits are the most in franchise history. Now Altuve is adding his name to this select group, but he has a chance to help the Astros do something that neither Morgan or Biggio could not do which is to make Houston World Series Champions.
Once upon a time Major League Baseball scouts thought that Altuve was too short to play this game as he only stands in at 5’6″. However Altuve is getting the last laugh as he carries a big bat which has helped him get his fair share or respect around the league. And as Altuve has collected some hardware for his mantle, an MVP Award might be in the very near future for him as well.