Category Archives: Major League Baseball

Struck While The Iron Was Hot

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After nearly 25 years of futility, the Kansas City Royals broke through to win 86 games in 2013. The Royals won the American League Pennant in 2014 before taking home the World Series Championship in 2015. But immediately following their World Series victory, the Royals would take a step back in 2016 as they went 81-81 and things have gotten worse for them this time around.

The Royals currently are 17-23 which has them in last place in the American League Central as they are 4.5 games behind the first place Minnesota Twins. Even when the Royals won the World Series in 2015, they weren’t a team an offensive juggernaut as they relied on timely clutch hitting to compliment their pitching staff. But as the Royals pitching staff has a team earned run average of 4.24 which is tenth in the A.L., while they are near the bottom of most of the major offensive statistical categories, if has been difficult for them to stay afloat. And although that there is still plenty of time for teams to turn things around for the 2017 Major League Baseball season, that might not be the case for the Royals who are dealing with a harsh reality.

Kauffman Stadium

Kansas City is one of the smaller media markets in Major League Baseball and the Royals team payroll of $155 million on Opening Day this year was 15th in the league. But the foundation of the Royals mini dynasty began to erode immediately after they secured the final out of the World Series in 2015 versus the New York Mets.

Starting pitcher Johnny Cueto and utility man Ben Zobrist were each acquired by the Royals prior to the trade deadline in 2015. Both players were expected to only be rentals once Kansas City’s World Series run came to an end which was the case as Cueto landed a six-year, $130 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, while Zobrist joined the Chicago Cubs to the tune of a four-year deal for $56 million. The exodus continued in Kansas City following the 2016 Major League Baseball season as designated hitter Kendrys Morales would join the Toronto Blue Jays, starting pitcher Edinson Volquez would sign with the Miami Marlins. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson was traded to the Seattle Mariners, while relief pitcher Wade Davis was shipped to the Cubs. But the biggest blow of them all for the Royals came on January 22nd when starting pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in an automobile accident in his native Dominican Republic. And now the only key components that remain from the Royals championship team are first baseman Eric Hosmer, catcher Salvador Perez, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon. But the reality of the Royals being a small market has once again set in as with Cain, Hosmer, Escobar, and Moustakas are all set to become a free agents at the conclusion of this season as the end of the line is near for a team that enjoyed a meteoric rise.

And this is the reality of the current landscape in Major League Baseball as with free agency, it is difficult for teams to keep their core players for a long time; especially in the smaller media markets such as Kansas City. Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane has been the godfather of this as he’s been notorious for trading players prior to them hitting free agency in order to stock pile prospects in his minor-league system. But unlike Beane whose Athletics have not reached the World Series since 1990, Royals general manager Drayton Moore was able to develop his players, while making the right moves to bring Kansas City the World Series Championship in 2015. Of all of the Royals pending free agents, only one will probably still be in Kansas City when 2018 rolls around. And if the Royals continue to struggle this season, Moore will definitely be ready to wave the white flag prior to the trading deadline.

So when the Royals entered the playoffs in 2014 as a Cinderella wild card that got hot en route to defeating division winners in the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles to win the American League Pennant before bowing out to the Giants in seven games in the World Series, the Royals represented the underdog. However when Kansas City won it all in 2015, they were an established team full of players who were hungry to win it all after barely missing out in the previous year. But now it appears that it will be back to the drawing board for Moore as the chemistry and depth that was there for the Royals in 2015 has faded rather quickly.

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We Have Liftoff

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After the Houston Astros made the World Series for the first and only time in franchise history in 2005, they faced a steady decline. The Astros bottomed out by having three consecutive 100-loss seasons from 2011-2013. But by 2015, the Astros found themselves back in the postseason. The Astros would win 84 games last year, but it wasn’t good enough for them to make the playoffs. However a few tweaks to the Astros over the winter by team general manager Jeff Luhnow have them as the team to beat in the American League West here in 2017.

The biggest move that the Astros made in the off-season was to acquire veteran catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees for his ability to call a game behind the plate. And McCann’s presence in Houston is paying off.

Dallas Keuchel

After posting 20 victories in 2015 en route to winning the American League Cy Young Award, Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel took a step back last year. Keuchel was coming off of leading the A.L. in innings with 232 and was never able to get on track. However with McCann calling games for Keuchel this season, he has resumed his post as one of the better pitchers in Major League Baseball. In eight starts Keuchel is 7-0 with an earned run average of 1.84 which has been highlighted by a complete game performance versus the Cleveland Indians on April 25 where he surrendered a pair of runs. And in each start that Keuchel has made this year, he has given Astros manager A.J. Hinch at least six innings.

Journeyman starting pitcher Charlie Morton is in his first year with Houston and he has been another hurler who has benefited from McCann calling games as well as the as the Astros potent offense. Morton’s single-season career-high for victories came in 2011 when he won 10 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But here in 2017, Morton is already halfway to matching that total as he is 5-2 with an earned run average of 3.97. And if having to deal with the Astros starting pitchers isn’t enough for opponents, they then have to face relief pitcher Ken Giles whose 10 saves so far in 2017 are tied for the second most in the American League.

Offensively the Astros are one of the best units in baseball as they are first in the American League in batting average (.275), hits (377), and runs batted in (198), while they are second in home runs (53), and runs scored (196). Second baseman Jose Altuve has lead the A.L. in hits for each of the last three years and he’ll once again be in the running. Altuve is batting .295, and he’ll pick it up soon to get his average back above .300 where it has been in each of the last three years. Shortstop Carlos Correa continues to build off of winning the A.L.’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 as he is off to a hot start this season by batting .294 with 5 home runs and 23 runs batted in. And just as important that it was for the Astros to acquire McCann, picking up a pair of veterans in outfielder Josh Reddick and designated hitter Carlos Beltran for their lineup has been huge.

Reddick and the Astros agreed to a four-year deal for $52 million in the off-season as he has given Houston a true professional in every sense of the term in their lineup. Reddick is going to show up ready to play each day and that mindset blends in nicely with a team that simply keeps finding a way to win games. And as for Beltran, he was the guy who got away from Houston in 2004, but he has found his way back there.

In 2004, the Astros acquired Beltran from the Kansas City Royals and he went on a tear to help Houston make the playoffs. In 90 games with the Astros in 2004, Beltran hit 23 home runs, but he turned it up to another level in the postseason where he hit 8 homers in just 12 games. This production led Beltran to being a very sought after free agent as he would agree to a seven-year deal for $119 million with the New York Mets. Beltran has contributed to each team that he has played for during his Major League Baseball career, and with a career batting average of .281 to go along with 424 career home runs, he is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. And even though Beltran’s physical skills have diminished now at the age of 40, his two decades of Major League Baseball experience is coming in handy for the Astros.

Reddick and Beltran have joined a solid lineup that includes utility man Evan Gattis, infielder Yuli Gurriel who recently defected from Cuba, and infielder Marwin Gonzalez to give the Astros their best hitting lineup since the days of the “Killer B’s” which featured Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, and Derek Bell.

At 29-12, the Astros have the best record in Major League Baseball. The Astros currently have an 8.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers for second place in the American League West as they are 17-6 within their division. Houston served notice this past weekend when they took three out of four games on the road versus the New York Yankees who had been the hottest team in baseball.

The Astros hot start has put Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch in a good position as even though it still might be too early for them to think about it, but they could be buyers in order to enhance their team.

In 2015, the Astros pushed the eventual World Series Champion Royals to the limit before bowing out in five games in the American League Divisional Series. This time around the Astros can build off of that as youngsters such as Correa, Keuchel, and outfielder George Springer have more experience.

The 2017 Major League Baseball season is far from over, but things are shaping up to be very good for the Astros.

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Start Spreading The News

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From 1996-2009, the New York Yankees were at the top of the mountain in Major League Baseball. The Yankees won five World Series Championships which was more than any other club over that stretch. And when it was all said and done, the Yankees had 27 World Series Titles which is more than any other MLB club. But since then the Yankees have a taken a step back which includes missing the playoffs in three of the last four years. However in the early stage of the 2017 MLB season, the Yanks are showing that they are once again a force to be reckoned with.

Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge

The Yankees record of 21-11 is good enough to lead most divisions in Major League Baseball, but not the American League East as they are 1.5-games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the top spot and they have the second best winning percentage in baseball. After beginning the season with a record of 1-4, New York has gone on to win seven of their last nine series which included sweeps of the Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs. The sweep of the Cubs put the rest of MLB on notice in regards to the Yankees as the Cubbies are the defending World Series Champions, and this occurred at their home ballpark of Wrigley Field. And although that it is only May, the folks in New York City are beginning to envision seeing this team make it to October.

Brian Cashman

At the request of Yankees owners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, team general manager Brian Cashman has not been as active in free agency over the past few winters as New York has begun to focus on trading veteran players for prospects, while developing them in their system along with the ones whom they drafted.

We’ve begun to see these youngsters take flight for the Yankees and it began late last season with the emergence of catcher Gary Sanchez. Last year in just 53 games, Sanchez batted .299 with 20 home runs and 42 runs batted in to finish second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. This season injuries have limited Sanchez to just 11 games, but he is expected to once again be a force to be reckoned with. Outfielder Aaron Judge made his Major League Baseball debut last year as he was only able to bat .179 in 27 games. However this season Judge has also been the jury and execution for New York as his 13 home runs lead the American League and he is a solid candidate to be named A.L. MVP.

The Yankees also have a surplus of talent in their minor league system that could soon be ready to help the big club. Pitcher Ben Heller outfielder Clint Frazier were a part of the Yankees compensation that they received for sending relief pitcher Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians last year. And like Sanchez and Judge, Frazier and Heller have the potential to be future building blocks for the Yankees. But aside from the youngsters, the Yankees are getting solid contributions from the veterans in their lineup.

Jacoby Ellsbury

After the Yankees signed outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the rival Red Sox, they have not gotten their money’s worth. Ellsbury helped Boston win the World Series in 2013, and he cashed in when he joined the Yanks to the tune of $153 million over seven years immediately following that. Ellsbury was supposed to be a table setter for the Yankees, but his first three years in New York saw him have a batting average of only .265, with an on-base percentage of .328. And this was on the heels of Ellsbury swiping 52 bases in 2013 which led the American League.

However this season Ellsbury is batting .280 to go along with an on-base percentage of .368 which is his best while wearing Yankee pinstripes and he has been a spark for them in their lineup.

Last year the Yankees acquired second baseman Starlin Castro from the Cubs. Castro enjoyed a solid first season with the Yankees as he batted .270 with 21 homers and 70 runs batted in. But here in 2017, Castro is off to a blazing start as his .351 batting average is second in the American League and his presence at the plate has given New York more depth.

Overall the offense of the Yankees is fierce as they are leading the American League in home runs (52), runs (182), and on-base percentage (.356). Cashman has put together a solid offense together, and even though that he wasn’t very active in free agency, he did make a key signing in picking up veteran outfielder Matt Holliday.

Holliday has always been a solid player which has seen him be a seven-time All-Star, while also helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. Holliday is 37-years of age, but he is off to a solid start at the plate as he is batting .286 with 6 home runs and 19 runs batted in. I expect Yankees manager Joe Girardi to give Holliday some time at designated hitter throughout the season in order to keep him fresh as having a veteran like him in the lineup as much as possible will be very beneficial to the club.

Coming into the 2017 Major League Baseball season I expected the Yankees pitching to be either feast of famine, and so far they have feasted. The Yankees team earned run average of 3.56 is third in the American League as they are receiving solid starting pitching.

Starting pitcher Michael Pineda has been the ultimate wild card for the Yankees throughout his career with them. But with Pineda scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season, he has been dialed in on the mound. Pineda is 3-2 this season with an earned run average of 3.27, while striking out 50 batters. The same can be said for starting pitcher Luis Severino who is 2-2 this season with an earned run average of 3.40. This past Sunday, Severino got a no-decision against the Cubs, but he was still able to limit their potent lineup to just a single run over seven innings, while striking out nine batters.

At 36-yeas of age, veteran starting pitcher CC Sabathia might not be in the running to win the American League’s Cy Young Award like he was earlier in his career, but he knows how to pitch. Sabathia is 2-2 this season with an earned run average of 5.77. And whatever that Sabathia can’t do when he takes the mound every fifth day for the Yanks, he can pass on his knowledge of the game to the youngsters.

Arm issues along with Major League Baseball hitters getting adjusted to starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka have meant that he has had to change his approach on the mound. Tanaka does have 5 victories so far this season, be he has benefited from the strong Yankees lineup as he is sporting an earned run average of 4.31.

Prior to trading relief pitchers Miller and Aroldis Chapman last year, the Yankees had the best bullpen in baseball. But after the trade that sent Miller to the Indians, along with the deal which sent Chapman to the Cubs, New York’s bullpen struggled as relief pitcher Dellin Betances was unable to shoulder the load. However with the Yankees bringing Chapman back in free agency, he is once again locking down the ninth inning as Betances is setting things up for him in the eighth. Chapman already has 7 saves this season, while Betances has 6 holds, and this combo will be vital in order for the Yankees to keep doing damage this season.

The Yankees are going to continue to hit this season as they have one of the best lineups in baseball. However it will come down to pitching in order for the Yankees to get back to the postseason. During the off-season Cashman avoided the temptation of giving up prospects to obtain the services of starting pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox as he eventually was traded to the Red Sox. But regardless of whether or not that the Yankees current starting rotation which has had issues in recent years as far as staying healthy and pitching deep into games will be able to hold up, New York is going to need another frontline starter in order to be legitimate contenders for the World Series.

The American League East will once again be fierce as the Yankees are currently battling for the top spot in the division with the Orioles, while the Red Sox are laying in the weeds. The Rays might not have a playoff caliber team on paper, but they always play their divisional foes tough. And although that the Toronto Blue Jays have gotten off to a slow start, they are not out of the mix, while they can also play spoiler.

Coming into this Major League Baseball season, all of the talk in the Big Apple was focused on the New York Mets who have the sizzle, but through nearly six weeks it has been the Yankees who’ve been taking care of business. And although that the youngsters such as Judge and Sanchez are still wet behind the ears, it hasn’t prevented them from becoming household names in New York City as 2017 is setting up to be a very promising year for them and their teammates with the Yankees.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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From The Hardwood To The Diamond

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As the 2017 Major League Baseball season is less than a month old, Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Amir Garrett is an early candidate to be the National League’s Rookie of the Year. In three starts for the Reds, Garrett is 2-1 with an earned run average of 1.83, while he has also recorded 21 strikeouts. Garrett is 24-years old and even though that his journey to MLB isn’t unique, it still is quite different.

After being drafted by the Reds in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2011, Garrett played two years of college basketball for the St. John’s Red Storm. And after Garrett announced that he was initially transferring from St. John’s to attend Cal-State Northridge in 2013, he would ultimately quit school and focus on playing baseball. That would turn out to be a good move for Garrett who would spend the next three years working his way up through the Reds minor-league system which was highlighted by him appearing the Futures Game in 2016.

At 6’5″, Garrett has an imposing presence on the mound and he is a guy that is playing like he has nothing to lose as there weren’t high expectations for the Reds heading into this season. But with the potential of Garrett, the Reds could be set to overachieve which is reflected in their 9-8 mark that currently has them in the mix for the top spot in the National League Central.

Garrett isn’t the first multi-sport athlete to give Major League Baseball a shot, and he also isn’t the only player to participate in both baseball and basketball. Current Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge enjoyed a 14-year playing career that saw him win a pair of NBA Titles. But before joining the Celtics, Ainge was a second baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays as he had a career batting average of .220. Pitcher Mark Hendrickson was a second round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996 as he played four years in the NBA. Hendrickson would then return to baseball as from 2002-2011, he played for the Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, and Baltimore Orioles. Current Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Pat Connaughton was a standout athlete during his collegiate days for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Like Garrett, Connaughton was a pitching prospect and in 2014, he was a fourth-round selection of the Orioles. Connaughton decided to keep his hoop dreams alive as he was a second-round choice of the Brooklyn Nets during the 2015 NBA Draft which led to him being traded to the Trail Blazers. Connaughton has participated in the O’s minor-league system and there is still a possibility that he could return to the baseball diamond.

But for Garrett he is making the most of his athletic prowess which has allowed him to pitch in Major League Baseball. The jury is still out on him as far as 2017 goes, however it is still a unique journey that he has taken, and it also doesn’t hurt that he has plenty of potential in his left arm.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Adding To His Cooperstown Resume

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As the 2017 Major League Baseball season is in its infant stage, it is clear that Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols is no longer the player that he once was. Pujols is 37-years of age and through 14 games he is batting .204 with a pair of home runs and 11 runs batted in. And as Pujols is in the twilight of his career being that he is no longer an MVP candidate, or in the running to hit .300, it is not stopping him from closing in on making some history.

With 593 career home runs, Pujols is closing in on becoming just the ninth player in Major League Baseball history to hit 600 career home runs and only the second Dominican-born player to do so. Pujols has 603 career doubles and by season’s end he could be in the top ten of that category. Pujols is currently 19th all-time in runs batted in with 1,928 as he is 4 away from surpassing Manny Ramirez for 18th place. And just like it is in regards to doubles, Pujols could be in the top ten of runs batted in by the end of the season. With 2,836 career hits, Pujols could flirt with reaching that magical milestone of 3,000 hits. But if and when Pujols is able reach 3,000 hits and 600 home runs, he would join Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, and Willie Mays as the only players in MLB history to do so.

When you think of Pujols one of the first words that comes to mind is fear. Ever since Pujols made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001, he has done nothing but strike fear into the hearts of opponents. Pujols won the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2001 as he batted .329 with 37 homers and 130 runs batted in. Pujols followed that up by winning three NL MVP Awards while donning a Cardinals uniform, along with leading the league in homers twice, taking home a batting title, and we cannot overlook him helping St. Louis win a pair of World Series Championships. In each of Pujols’ first ten Major League Baseball seasons he hit at least 32 home runs runs and driving 103 home runs as when he reaches the 600-homer mark later this season, he’ll join Aaron as the only two men to reach the mark, but never hit 50 home runs in a season which has made him the model of consistency in the modern game.

Pujols has not hit too many home runs of the cheap variety as they are typically of the tape measure variety. Some of Pujols classic moments at the plate include his massive shot off of Houston Astros relief pitcher Brad Lidge during the 2005 National League Championship Series, and his three homer performance in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series as he became the first player since Reggie Jackson in 1977 to do so. However Pujols has not been your prototypical power hitter being that he has never struck out 100 times or more in a season, while he is also a career .309 hitter.

Pujols’ time with the Angels have seen his production dip which includes him no longer being an everyday first baseman as injuries to his feet have slowed him down. But that hasn’t prevented Pujols from passing his professionalism and knowledge of the game to Angels outfielder Mike Trout who himself is already a two-time American League MVP and at the age of 25 is already being compared to baseball greats such as Mickey Mantle.

However for Pujols, he is capping off stellar resume that will see him one day enshrined in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Currently Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez are the only Dominican-born players that are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but that will be changing in the coming years with the likes of Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz on the cusp of it, and Mr. Pujols isn’t that far behind them.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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