Tagged: AAA

Hit Parade

Single season records can be reached without the need for a career filled with success. Players only need to have a single magical season to reach these marks. Think Roger Maris in 1961 or even a career year like Mark Fidrych in 1976. The toughest record to beat now may be the single season hits record. Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits in 2004, finally topping George Sisler’s single season record of 257 hits that had stood since 1920. There have been 530 individual efforts where a player collected at least 200 hits in a season. Many players have had multiple 200 hit seasons, with Ichiro and Pete Rose holding the record with ten 200 hit seasons.

200 hits in a single season is not a rare accomplishment. We’ve seen, over the last several seasons, a handful of players collecting 200 hits. However, the Houston Astros have the talent to potentially do something no team has ever done by having four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season. Only three times in Major League history has a team had three teammates collect 200 hits in the same season, but never a fourth. The 1963 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, and the 1991 Texas Rangers had three teammates collect 200 hits. Teammates who are able to consistently hit and get on base does not necessarily translate to success. The 1963 Cardinals finished 2nd in the National League, 6 games behind the Dodgers for the Pennant. The 1982 Brewers lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals. The 1991 Rangers finished 3rd in the American League West, 10 games behind the Twins. Success in baseball is a team effort. Simply having a third or more of your lineup hitting all season does not mean you can be lackluster elsewhere.

Altuve
Jose Altuve is Houston’s best hitter. 200 hits a season is close to automatic. (Elaine Thompson, STF)

The 2017 Houston Astros could be the first team to have four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season thanks to the ABC’S. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. Jose Altuve is a hitting machine, for whom not collecting 200 hits in a season would make it a down year. Altuve has collected at least 200 hits in three out of five full seasons in the Majors. Bregman has hit at every level in college and in the minors and should continue to develop into an outstanding consistent bat in the Houston lineup. Bregman played in only 146 minor league games after being drafted by Houston out of LSU. Starting at A Ball, Bregman batted .259, High A .319, AA .297, and AAA .333. Bregman can hit and he is starting to settle in with the Astros. Correa is a do it all super star in the making. Entering his third full season in the Majors, Correa continues to improve his strikeout to walk rate. Correa is still learning to hit at the Major League level and his strikeout rate should continue to decline. George Springer is an everyday player who can reach 200 hits simply by cutting down on his strikeouts and focusing on hitting singles and doubles instead of swinging for the fences. In 2016, his first full healthy season in the Majors, Springer hit 29 doubles and 29 home runs with 88 walks and 178 strikeouts. If he can combine plate discipline to draw more walks and cutting down on his big swings to strike out less, perhaps down to 125 times a season, that may translate to 50 more balls in play each season. Springer collected 168 hits against those 178 strikeouts. 50 more balls in play could mean collecting 200 hits.

Bregman
Alex Bregman is still getting comfortable in the Majors, but he has shown from college through the minors and in Houstn that he can hit. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The ability to hit and get on base will become slightly easier as opposing teams may prefer to face Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and/or Springer than give up crushing scores to the big bats behind them in the lineup. Carlos Beltran, Evan Gattis, and Brian McCann can all launch a baseball over the fence with cautionary frequency. Every night at least two of the three power bats will be protecting Houston’s hit parade. Every night is a new nightmare for opposing pitchers. They’re faced with either a swift destruction from power or the drowning quicksand from a constant stream of singles here and doubles there.

Astros Manager A.J. Hinch has had George Springer leading off, setting the stage for Jose Altuve batting third and Carlos Correa batting fourth. Once the speed and contact have put the pressure on opposing pitchers Hinch has had Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and/or Evan Gattis batting fourth or fifth in nearly every game. Alex Bregman has most often worked to reset the stage by batting eighth, but he also has the second most at bats in the Astros lineup batting second or sixth. Bregman appears to be the utility batter for Houston as he can help the Astros turn the batting order over or he can fill in to help set the stage for Altuve, Correa, or the power of Beltran, McCann, or Gattis.

Correa
Is there anything Carlos Correa can’t do on the diamond? (Brace Hemmelgam/Getty Images)

There are three major factors that may hamper the quest for four single-season, 200-hit teammates for the 2017 Astros. First is the relative youth of Bregman, Correa, and Springer. Slumps and growing pains are often a matter of when, not if, especially for younger hitters. Every batter struggles at one point in their career in some way, past success does not guarantee future success. Second, injuries. The Major League season is a 162 game grind that breaks down even the strongest and toughest players in the world. The Astros are not immune to injuries and missing even a week or more could put 200 hits out of reach for a player. Third, Houston currently has an 8 game lead in the American League West over the Angels and the Rangers. Any sized lead can disappear over the next four months, but with each passing day the Astros make it a little more difficult to be caught. If the Astros run away with the West, A.J. Hinch could decide to rest his players down the stretch, meaning losing at bats and potential hits to rest them for the playoffs.

George Springer
George Springer can hit plenty of home runs, but his greatest value for the Astros might be getting on base ahead of Houston’s sluggers. (AP Photo/ David J. Phillip)

There are plenty of ifs peppered in the scenario of the Astros having four teammates collect 200 hits in 2017. The Astros’ core is young, the years of tanking have finally provided Houston the draft positioning to get the team they sought all along. A young, dynamic team that is built to win both now and in the future. The quartet of Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and Springer may never collect 200 hits in a season, but 2017 seems to be the first real opportunity for them to make a run at this particular landmark record. The hit parade in Houston is fun to watch and so far has resulted in plenty of wins for the Astros. The hits record would be nice, but the Astros are only concerned with winning their first World Series.

DJ

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Moving Season

Winter is the time for moving in baseball. Players, from the most sought after free agent to career minor leaguers, move from team to team. Most players only make one move over the Winter, but this offseason has been particularly eventful for two players. Tyrell Jenkins and David Rollins have moved multiple times since the end of the baseball season, not through signing new contracts but through trades and waivers. Both players could interpret this as either as multiple teams not seeing their future potential or as multiple teams seeing them as a valuable part of their teams’ success.

Tyrell Jenkins, RHP

Tyrell Jenkins has been a member of four different baseball organizations since he was drafted 50th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He rose to Advanced A ball before he was traded to the Atlanta Braves with Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden on November 17, 2014. Jenkins made his Major League debut on June 22, 2016 for Atlanta. He pitched in 16 games for the 2016 Braves going 2-4 with a 5.88 ERA and 1.692 WHIP.

tyrell-jenkins
Tyrell Jenkins worked his way through the Braves farm system, time will tell if he can contribute to the rebuilding Reds. (www.milb.com)

Jenkins will turn 25 during the 2017 season and could become a valuable asset. This is why beginning on December 8th, Jenkins began his offseason odyssey. He was traded to the Texas Rangers with Brady Feigl for Luke Jackson.  Two weeks later, the Rangers designated Jenkins for assignment. On December 23, 2016 the Cincinnati Reds claimed Jenkins off waivers.

In under a month Jenkins saw his role change several times. He was pitching for a Braves team looking to rebuild then on to the Rangers who will be looking to repeat as the American League West Champions, contending for a World Series. Jenkins’ fortunes turned again as he was claimed off waivers by a Reds team that is rebuilding in the tough National League Central. A new, new home could help Tyrell Jenkins become a main stay in the Majors. Time will tell if Jenkins will find lasting success in Cincinnati.

David Rollins, LHP

When comparing offseasons no one can keep up with David Rollins. Originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 24th round of the 2011 draft, Rollins rose to low A ball in just over a year with the Blue Jays organization before he was on the move. On July 20, 2012, Toronto traded Rollins, Kevin Comer, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joseph Musgrove, Carlos Perez and Asher Wojciechowski to the Houston Astros for David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon. After rising to AAA in a season and a half with the Astros, Rollins changed teams again when he was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Rule 5 Draft.

This brought David Rollins to this offseason. Beginning on November 18th Rollins began his tour through baseball. The Mariners designated Rollins for assignment, and he was selected off waivers by the Chicago Cubs. He lasted with the Cubs for four days before he was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers. Ten days later Rollins left Texas when he was claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies held on to Rollins for almost three weeks. On December 21st, the Rangers again claimed Rollins off of waivers, returning to Texas from the Phillies. Two days later the Rangers again placed Rollins on waivers and the Cubs claimed him off waivers.

david-rollins
David Rollins is a man with many team this off season. (Getty Images/ Rob Leiter)

Rollins was claimed off waived five times in a little over a month. After pitching in just 31 career games in over two seasons, many teams seem to believe Rollins has a future in the Majors. Returning to two teams he was previously claimed off waivers by shows that Rollins’ career 7.60 ERA in the Majors does not reflect the talent that multiple teams believe he has. Putting a player on waivers clearly means a team has other players it values more. However, it does not mean an organization has given up on a player.  

The movement of every player during the offseason is not always front page newsworthy. The signing of Edwin Encarnacion by the Indians made headlines. The rumors of where Mark Trumbo will land makes news even without a signed contract. The trading of Tyrell Jenkins or the claiming of David Rollins off waivers does make news, but only a footnote, not front page headlines. Changing teams has a huge impact upon players and their families, but often it is barely a blip on our collective radar. The offseason can be a time of boredom and loneliness for fans, but for players it can alter their lives and careers. Every line inside the transactions box at the back of the newspaper is someone’s life and career. It might not matter to you, but it matters to them. Winter is moving season in baseball. The action is not on the field, it is in the moving vans.

DJ

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 3.0

The Winning Run is back again with another attempt at predicting the outcome of the upcoming MLB season. The last two seasons we have tried and failed miserably to accurately predict what would happen. We have failed much more than we have found success, much like in real baseball. These predictions are not designed to jinx particular players or teams. These are honest predictions, designed to predict how we collectively see the 2016 season playing out. We can say without a doubt that our only perfect prediction is that reality is better than fiction.

Carnac.jpg
Carnac the Magnificent knew what was going to happen, The Winning Run not so much. (The Tonght Show with Johnny Carson)

Here’s the breakdown of how we each think the divisions and playoffs will end up. Our final standings, based on the average placement between the four of us, will also include a brief scouting report from Bernie, as to what he sees in each team heading into the 2016 MLB season. His personal predictions were close to the collective predictions, and we have noted where they vary greatly.

Let us begin with the Senior Circuit.

*Note* An exclamation point (!) after a team name denotes a Wild Card berth.

National League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 New York Mets New York Mets New York Mets New York Mets
2 Washington Nationals – ! Washington Nationals Washington Nationals Miami Marlins
3 Miami Marlins Miami Marlins Miami Marlins Washington Nationals
4 Atlanta Braves Atlanta Braves Philadelphia Phillies Atlanta Braves
5 Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies Atlanta Braves Philadelphia Phillies
  1. New York Mets:

The Mets shored up their interior defense by getting Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. If you watched last season’s playoff games, the Mets’ rotation always seemed to get beaten up the middle. Those guys will also likely provide a lot more consistent offense than Wilmer Flores or Daniel Murphy. The Mets are looking to play deep into October and I think they could do it.

2. Washington Nationals:

The Nationals are really the team equivalent of their star player, Bryce Harper; supremely talented, but mentally dysfunctional. There is a serious lack of team discipline and I don’t think Dusty Baker is the one to bring it. This is the major hurdle to the Nationals winning the division.

Dusty Baker
The question is will Dusty baker help the Nationals reach their potential. (Logan Bowles- USA Today Sports)

3. Miami Marlins:

Giancarlo Stanton’s contract has me believing that the Marlins are in it to win it now. They’ve always been good at developing talent so Manager Don Mattingly should have something to work with and collect some wins.

4. Atlanta Braves:

The Braves did some house cleaning, clearing the way for the wealth of talent in the minors. I’ve got to question whether they can generate any more runs this year than they did last year though. But they won’t be in last place.

5. Philadelphia Phillies:

I really shouldn’t have to say anything about this. No real change to expect anything better this year.

Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates
2 Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals – ! Pittsburgh Pirates – ! Chicago Cubs – !
3 St. Louis Cardinals Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
4 Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers Cinncinati Reds Cinncinati Reds
5 Milwaukee Brewers Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers Milwaukee Brewers
  1. Chicago Cubs:

Let’s be honest, they’re the Cubs. If they’re going to win it, it’s as Cinderella (Bernie has them going into the playoffs as a Wild Card). Chicago needs that storyline. I really like their rotation and bullpen but they overworked Jake Arrieta because they didn’t trust enough of their other players. That’s got to change.

  1.      Pittsburgh Pirates – !:

I liked the way AJ Burnett found himself in Pittsburgh and I think Jonathon Niese may very well have the same sort of fortune in the Steel City. Michael Morse was a fun guy to watch in Washington, I’m going out on a limb to say he finds himself again and becomes a solid 1B for the Pirates this season. I’m still puzzled how these guys didn’t win the division last season.

  1.      St. Louis Cardinals:

Last year, El Birdos found the fountain of youth for their stars. If it happens again this year, then the zombie apocalypse has started with Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. Or maybe they need to be checked out for cybernetic implants.

Kris Bryant Cubs.jpg
Kris Bryant is heping lead the strongest Cubs team since those uniforms were not retro. (Jonathan Danil/ Getty Images)
  1.      Cincinnati Reds:

The Cincinnati Reds may have done some house cleaning having traded away Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman. They still have some talent that I wouldn’t count out. What they definitely aren’t doing is wallowing.

  1.      Milwaukee Brewers:

Speaking of wallowing…you’ve got to wonder about the Brewers’ pitching. Like at what point do you ask whether you’d have better luck regularly shuffling up from your AAA squads just to give you opponents less time to scout out your pitchers.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 San Francisco Giants Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers San Francisco Giants
2 Los Angeles Dodgers – ! Arizona Diamondbacks -! Arizona Diamondbacks – ! Arizona Diamondbacks – !
3 Arizona Diamondbacks San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants Los Angeles Dodgers
4 San Diego Padres San Diego Padres San Diego Padres San Diego Padres
5 Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies
  1.      Los Angeles Dodgers:

I’m not sure what the Dodgers were thinking during the off-season. What I am certain of is that letting Zack Greinke go and shuffling the management is not a good thing to do for some of the young guns on the team like Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. If they had kept everything the same, I would have put them in first place for the division. (Bernie predicted the Dodgers to finish 3rd)

  1.      San Francisco Giants – !:

I don’t really think pitching was their weakest issue last season but I think they are going into 2016 with one of the most enviable rotations a manager could ask for. I’m not completely sold on Santiago Casilla and bullpen. If Denard Span can stay healthy, he’s a great addition to a strong lineup that is capable of getting the ball in play and moving around the bases.

  1.      Arizona Diamondbacks:

Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt. Shelby Miller will get the run support he needed in Atlanta. But I don’t see enough depth here to remain consistent through the season. The bullpen can probably step in to help out the back end of the rotation. The lineup is young. Maybe they’re more disciplined and hungry than I think and could be a definite Wild Card contender.

Zack Greinke.jpg
Were the Dodgers Crazy to let Zack Greinke leave Los Angeles? (Rick Scuteri- USA Today Sports)
  1.      San Diego Padres:

The only reason I’m putting the Padres over the Rockies is that they made some interesting pushes last season that indicate to me they could get it together. Doesn’t mean there’s enough talent here to make the playoffs though.

  1.      Colorado Rockies:

The worst team ERA in 2015 and that’s with a pretty talented defensive infield. I’m surprised the fielders have enough gas in the tank to swing a bat when they’ve got to run around chasing hits all the time.

American League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Toronto Blue Jays Toronto Blue Jays New York Yankees Toronto Blue Jays
2 Boston Red Sox – ! Tampa Bay Rays Boston Red Sox Baltimore Orioles – !
3 New York Yankees New York Yankees Toronto Blue Jays Boston Red Sox
4 Tampa Bay Rays Baltimore Orioles Baltimore Orioles New York Yankees
5 Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay Rays

The American League East was the hardest division to predict, as an argument could be made for each team winning the Division. Here are Bernie’s thoughts.

  1.      Toronto Blue Jays:

Biggest run differential of the 2015 season. Picking up Drew Storen was a great move to support their starting rotation. This team has what it takes on paper.

  1.      New York Yankees:

There’s no point in having three of the best relief pitchers in the league when you don’t have a strong enough rotation to have them shortening the games. Lots of experience but not the cohesiveness you see in the Cardinals. But these predictions are supposed to go wildly wrong and, in this case, I sincerely hope I am. (Bernie has the Yankees finishing 4th)

  1.      Boston Red Sox:

Ugh…I feel sick doing this. The Red Sox needed some serious pitching help. Clay Bucholz simply isn’t an ace. So they got one in David Price. They also picked up Craig Kimbrel so they’ve a good bullpen punch with him and Koji Uehara. As David Ortiz will be riding into the sunset this season, the Red Sox will be a good team to watch.

David Ortiz Swing.jpg
Can David Ortiz deliver one last magical run into October? (Elsa/ Getty Images)
  1.      Baltimore Orioles:

There’s a lot of great talent on this team. They’ve got a great rotation and bullpen with two highly competent catchers. I would somewhat question their interior defense but with Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and new addition, Mark Trumbo, the Orioles have got a lot of heavy bats to knock in runs.

  1.      Tampa Bay Rays:

This is a well-balanced pitching and defensive team but nothing exciting enough to write home about on the offensive side.

Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Kansas City Royals Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins Kansas City Royals
2 Detroit Tigers – ! Cleveland Indians – ! Kansas City Royals – ! Cleveland Indians – !
3 Cleveland Indians Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers
4 Chicago White Sox Detroit Tigers Cleveland Indians Minnesota Twins
5 Minnesota Twins Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox
  1.      Kansas City Royals:

They’re the champs so it’s sort of needed to give them the nod for their division. Plus, the 2015 squad wasn’t made up of veterans in the twilight of their careers reaching deep down for that extra something to win it all. They’re young and agile. They get on base. They aggressively move around the bases. No one’s yet figured out how to stop them or slow them down.

  1.      Cleveland Indians – !:

These guys have a surprisingly good rotation with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Cody Anderson. When I say surprisingly, I’m saying that how did they not win more? Francisco Lindor is young and if he’s coming into form, then we could be seeing a Wild Card contender here.

Francisco Lindor
Francisco Lindor could help the Indians win a tough American League Central.  (www.cleveland.com)
  1.      Detroit Tigers:

Jordan Zimmermann is not David Price and I’ll let you figure out whether that’s a good or bad thing. I actually think Justin Upton was a good pick up for the Tigers but I’m not convinced they can make the jump from bottom of the division to much higher.

  1.      Minnesota Twins:

I want to put this team higher but I think their second place divisional finish last season was more due to mishaps from other teams than their own solid play. Don’t get me wrong though, they’re on the right track. Just not this season.

  1.      Chicago White Sox:

The addition of Todd Frazier will help them generate some more offense. But is the increased offense a wash after losing the veteran leadership of Adam LaRoche to early retirement (more on that later)? Whenever issues involving a front-office exec doing something about the locker room make the news, you just know there’s some serious dysfunction going on.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Houston Astros Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Houston Astros Houston Astros
2 Texas Rangers Houston Astros – ! Texas Rangers – ! Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3 Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Texas Rangers
4 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics
5 Oakland Athletics Texas Rangers Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners
  1.      Houston Astros:

I was really impressed by how the Houston Astros finished off the 2015 season. Something clicked and I think they’re going to ride this wave. Adding Ken Giles to the backend of the bullpen already featuring Luke Gregerson makes up a dangerous one-two punch to shorten games.

  1.      Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – !:

I think the bigger reason I’m putting the Angels here instead of the Rangers is more on Rangers. I think Albert Pujols will still be remarkably dangerous in the batter’s box. Something about the balance on this team with Mike Trout’s hustle gives me a good feeling.

MVP
Can any one challenge Mike Trout for AL MVP? (www.nbcsports.com)
  1.      Texas Rangers:

The Rangers are not going to take the proper steps to recover. I’m calling that they’re going to try starting the season hot and aggressive. By the All-Star break, this team will be on life support and need some serious therapy. But in reality, they look a better version on the Angels and since this prediction will be wildly off, they may very well win the division again.

  1.      Seattle Mariners:

Nori Aoki was a good pick up to strengthen their outfield and improve getting on base. They’re going to rely too heavily on their rotation to go deep to win games and that’s not good for Felix Hernandez nor Hisashi Iwakuma.

  1.      Oakland Athletics:

If Marcus Semien were a better fielder, I’d have more faith in this infield. On paper, this team would be a solid 2nd place team in the division. I just can’t make that call.

Playoffs

October is special, as the best baseball is on display and tensions continually grow throughout the month. The playoffs begin with the Wild Card games, which are a one game winner take all showdown. Wild Card teams better bring everything they have, or they will be on vacation.

Wild Card

NL Winner NL Loser AL Winner AL Loser
Derek Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers Boston Red Sox Detroit Tigers
Jesse Arizona Diamondback St. Louis Cardinals Cleveland Indians Houston Astros
John Pittsburgh Pirates Arizona Diamondbacks Kansas City Royals Texas Rangers
Bernie Chicago Cubs Arizona Diamondbacks Cleveland Indians Baltimore Orioles
The Winning Run Pittsburgh Pirates San Francisco Giants Cleveland Indians Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

In the National League, the Pirates will finally get out of the Wild Card round. Gerrit Cole will have carried the pitching staff throughout the season, so why not one more game. In the American League, the Indians strong starting rotation will have saved the Cleveland bullpen and allow fresh arms to come out of the pen and dominate the Angels hitters when the pressure is on.

Garrit Cole.jpg
Garrit Cole will lead the Pirates charge into the playoffs. (Peter Diana- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Divisional Series

American League Divisional Series

ALDS 1/4 Winner ALDS 1/4 Loser ALDS 2/3  Winner ALDS 2/3 Loser
Derek Houston Astros Boston Red Sox Toronto Blue Jays Kansas City Royals
Jesse Kansas City Royals Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
John Minnesota Twins Kansas City Royals Houston Astros New York Yankees
Bernie Cleveland Indians Kansas City Royals Houston Astros Toronto Blue Jays
The Winning Run Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians Houston Astros Kansas City Royals

National League Divisional Series

NLDS 1/4 Winner NLDS 1/4 Loser NLDS 2/3  Winner NLDS 2/3 Loser
Derek San Francisco Giants Washington Nationals Chicago Cubs New York Mets
Jesse New York Mets Arizona Diamondbacks Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers
John New York Mets Pittsburgh Pirates Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers
Bernie San Francisco Giants New York Mets Pittsburgh Pirates Chicago Cubs
The Winning Run Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates New York Mets Los Angeles Dodgers

In the National League, the Pirates will not be able to overtake the Cubs. The Pirates are a great team, but they have the misfortune of playing in the NL Central where the best team in baseball, the Cubs, also plays. The young arms from Queens and a more predictable offense will lead the Mets past the Dodgers who will miss Zack Greinke more in October than during the regular season. In the American League, the Astros will continue to play complete baseball and overcome the Royals, who after back to back trips to the World Series will finally run out of gas. While Cleveland’s pitching led them to the playoffs, it will be no match for the offensive power of the Blue Jays. Josh Donaldson is the reigning AL MVP, and yet he is most likely not the chief offensive threat for Toronto, as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista can launch a baseball with the best in the game.

Byron Buxton.jpg
Byron Buxton and the Twins could make some noise, potentially even make the playoffs. (Scott Kane- Associated Press)

Championship Series

American League Championship Series

ALCS Winner ALCS Loser
Derek Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros
Jesse Toronto Blue Jays Kansas City Royals
John Houston Astros Minnesota Twins
Bernie Houston Astros Cleveland Indians
The Winning Run Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros

National League Championship Series

NLCS Winner NLCS Loser
Derek Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants
Jesse New York Mets Chicago Cubs
John Chicago Cubs New York Mets
Bernie San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Pirates
The Winning Run Chicago Cubs New York Mets

A rematch of the 2015 NLCS. Two great teams, but the Cubs finally get over the hump and return to the World Series for the first time since 1945. The Cubs are a year older and wiser and have extraordinary talent at bat and on the mound. The Mets are a great team, but they lack the offensive prowess to overcome the Cubs. In the American League, Toronto will find out that teams cannot rely on power to guide them to a championship, there has to be a backup plan. The Blue Jays are not flexible enough to meet this challenge. The Astros have built a potential juggernaut in Houston, which relies on power, pitching, speed, defense, and hustle. Houston wins by the sum of its parts.

World Series

World Series Winner World Series Loser
Derek Toronto Blue Jays Chicago Cubs
Jesse Toronto Blue Jays New York Mets
John Chicago Cubs Houston Astros
Bernie San Francisco Giants Houston Astros
The Winning Run Houston Astros Chicago Cubs

Sorry Cub fans, you will have to wait until next year…again. The Astros win it all in 2016. The speed of Jose Altuve, the power of Evan Gattis, the starting pitching of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the bullpen of Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson, the all-around ability of Carlos Correa, not to mention George Springer and Carlos Gomez puts Houston over the top. The Cubs have everything to win. The young core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, plus Javier Baez all can continue to grow with a solid rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and John Lackey. However, the Cubs are missing that it factor. Joe Madden will get the Cubs o click eventually, but in 2016 they will come one game short of that ever elusive World Series Championship.

Jose Altuve.jpg
It will be time to celebrate in Houston this October. (Houston Chronicle)

So there they are, the 2016 predictions by The Winning Run. Are we right about all our predictions, doubtful. Only time will tell how right or wrong we were with these predictions. Welcome to the 2016 MLB season, enjoy another great season of baseball.

DJ, JJ, JB, & BL

Nothing Minor

Mike Hessman has retired with a career that is among the most important in recent years. Hessman played 109 games over five seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, and New York Mets. Closing out his career with a .188 BA, 42 H, 29 R, 14 HR, 33 RBI, 21 BB, 79 SO, .272 OBP, .422 SLG, and .694 OPS, he did not have Hall of Fame or even All Star caliber statistics. What is important and worth celebrating, is his determination. He began his career in 1996 in Rookie Ball with the Gulf Coast League Braves. He finished his career in 2015 at AAA with the Toledo Mud Hens.

20 years of professional baseball. Hessman spent 19 seasons in the Minor Leagues, 13 of them at AAA, and played one year in Japan. Hessman finishes his career in the Minors having played 2,095 games (1,437 games at AAA), a .233 BA, 1,758 H, 1,085 R, 402 2B, 433 HR, 1,207 RBI, 815 BB, 2,374 SO, .316 OBP, .466 SLG, and .782 OPS. His 433 HR are the most in Minor League history, one more than Buzz Arlett. He played for 18 different teams: 15 minor league teams, the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League, the Tigres de Aragua of the Venezuelan Winter League, and the Tomateros de Culiacan of the Mexican Pacific Winter League. Mike Hessman played seven seasons before making his Major League debut and played five seasons after his final appearance in the Majors.

Mike Hessman Mets

Mike Hessman made it to the Majors. He reached the pinacle of baseball. (Chang W. Lee/ The New York Times)

Mike Hessman is part of what makes baseball great. Effort and dedication allowed Hessman to create a 20-year professional baseball career (19 seasons in the Minors and Majors and one in Japan). It takes dedication and desire to spend 13 seasons just a step away from reaching your goal and only getting a few tastes of it. No one could have faulted Hessman if he decided to walk away after the 2011 season. Hessman had played 32 games for the Mets in 2010 and then went to Japan to play for the Orix Buffaloes in 2011. He had a good career but not many teams were looking to sign a 34-year-old Minor Leaguer.

Mike Hessman kept playing the game he loves. His years playing on the diamond allowed him to mentor countless young players whom he would see move on to the Majors while he remained behind. Mike Hessman got the most out of his abilities on the baseball diamond. His accomplishments might have occurred just short of the highest level of baseball in the world, but this does not diminish his accomplishments. Baseball demands the best effort from every player who steps on the field. The majority of people see their best efforts peak playing in the sandlot or in high school. A small minority of us may play baseball in college, play independent baseball, or get drafted. An even smaller minority makes it to the higher tiers of the Minor Leagues. Only a gifted few make it all the way to the Major Leagues. Even then, only a small pittance of those players are fortunate enough to have a long and successful career.

Mike_hessman

Mike Hessman finished his historic career with the Toledo Mud Hens. (www.MiLB.com)

Mike Hessman accomplished things that nearly none of us even will. He played baseball professionally for 20 years. Almost all of us would love to be so lucky. He made it to the Major Leagues and was able to fulfill the dream held by nearly everyone as a child. Mike Hessman lived the dream for 20 years, even if that dream was a little different than he had originally imagined. Hessman has said he wants to coach baseball now that he has retired as a player. The Detroit Tigers were smart in hiring Hessman to be the hitting coach for their Class A team, the Connecticut Tigers. Any team who wanted to sign him would be making a smart decision. No one could have any doubt about whether Hessman would give up on a player. Often in life, the easiest person to give up on is yourself. Mike Hessman has proven he believes in himself and does not know how to give up. There is nothing minor about that.

DJ

The Four Corners of Frank Wren’s Braves

The Playoffs began yesterday for ten teams, but for the other 20 teams today is the first day of the off-season.  It is time for some teams to make changes, while others stay the course.  The Astros, Rangers, Twins, and Diamondbacks have said good-bye to their managers.  The Diamondbacks and Braves have fired their General Managers.  Firing season has begun.  One firing in particular stands out; the firing of Braves General Manager Frank Wren.

Wren’s dismissal did not come as a surprise to anyone considering his track record.  Wren took over as GM with John Schuerholz promoted to Team President in October 2007.  Following in the steps of a legendary figure is never easy, but this was Wren’s task.  During Wren’s tenure as GM for the Braves the team compiled a 604-523 record, a .535 winning percentage.  The Braves won the National League East in 2013 and were Wild Card teams twice, in 2010 and 2012.  The team never advanced beyond the Divisional Series in the play offs.  The lack of post season success however was not Wren’s undoing.  Rather his track record with signing or trading for free agents.  The four major moves during Wren’s reign were, all individually to say the least, disappointing.  Collectively they were disastrous, and eventually cost him his job.

Frank Wren never made it to the promised land. (http://losthatsportsblog.com/)

Frank Wren never made it to the promised land. (http://losthatsportsblog.com/)

On the mound, Wren signed Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami to a three year, $23 million contract before the 2009 season.  During Kawakami’s two seasons in Atlanta he posted the following line:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
8-22 243.2 251 130 117 25 89 164 1.395 4.32

Kawakami spent his final season of his contract in the minors pitching in Rookie ball, for the Gulf Coast League Braves, and in AA, for the Mississippi Braves.  Kawakami never lived up the expectations Wren set after signing him from the Chunichi Dragons of the Nippon Professional Baseball league.  After his contract ended, Kawakami returned to Japan and to the Chunichi Dragons.

Kenshin Kawakawi never found success in Atlanta. (nj.com)

Kenshin Kawakawi never found success in Atlanta. (nj.com)

Wren also signed Derek Lowe to a four year, $60 million contract prior to the 2009 season.  Lowe lasted three seasons in Atlanta and posted this uninspiring line:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
40-39 575.1 648 307 292 48 194 384 1.463 4.57

After the third year of the contract, Lowe was traded to the Cleveland Indians with cash for minor leaguer Chris Jones, who is currently pitching at AAA Norfolk Tides in the Baltimore Orioles system.  While a serviceable starter in Atlanta, Lowe was unable to sustain the success he had had with the Red Sox and the Dodgers.  Lowe had become an overpriced luxury the Braves could not afford.  The Braves were willing to pay for Lowe to leave and took Jones to get something as a return on their investment in Lowe.

Derek Lowe was not worth the money. (nj.com)

Derek Lowe was not worth the money. (nj.com)

Starting in the 2010 offseason Wren attempted to bolster the Braves offense through trade and signings.  Wren pulled off a trade with the Florida Marlins which sent Mike Dunn and Omar Infante to Florida in exchange for Second Baseman Dan Uggla.  Uggla and the Braves then agreed to a five year, $62 million contract.  The trade and contract were a disaster.  Uggla spent three and a half seasons with the Braves, seeing his production and playing time dwindled to almost nothing before he was released.  He was able to post a line of:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
499 247 356 64 79 225 7 243 535 .209 .317 .391 .708

One of the few bright spots during his tenure with the Braves was his 33 game hitting streak in 2011.  Despite the hitting streak Uggla hit .233, which would be his highest batting average as a Brave.  His play at second was not much better; he posted a Defensive WAR of -2.1 with the Braves.  In 2014, the Braves released Uggla and were willing to pay the remainder of the contract, which was at least $ 15 million.  Uggla was reducing the Braves to a 24 man roster, and had to be moved if the Braves were to compete on any level, which ended one of the worst experiences in Braves history.

OH NO UGGLA!!! (http://rotoprofessor.com/)

OH NO UGGLA!!! (http://rotoprofessor.com/)

In November 2012, B.J. Upton landed in Atlanta as a free agent after eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays.  Upton signed a five year, $75.25 million contract.  The Braves made a major splash with the signing, but they had almost immediate buyer’s remorse.  Upton is closing out the second year of his contract and has amassed this line:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
267 97 180 33 21 61 32 101 324 .198 .279 .314 .593

Upton has been better on defense than Uggla, but it has not been enough to counteract his offensive struggles.  Upton has a Definsive WAR of -0.4 with the Braves.  As improbable as it might seem, Braves fans are already beginning to wish Dan Uggla would come back in place of Upton.  The rumor mill has already begun about how Atlanta can get out of the contract without having to pay out all the remaining money of the contract.  It does not look promising for Upton to finish the contract as a member of the Braves.

BJ Upton just can't get it together in Atlanta. (bit.ly)

BJ Upton just can’t get it together in Atlanta. (bit.ly)

Frank Wren gave seven years and $83 million to Kawakami and Lowe.  In return, during five seasons the Braves received:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
48-21 819 899 437 409 73 283 548 1.443 4.49

Neither pitcher lasted the full length of their contract with the Atlanta Braves.  Wren also gave ten years and $134.25 million to Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton.  In return, the Braves received:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
766 344 536 97 100 286 39 344 859 .205 .303 .364 .667

In five and a half combined seasons, Uggla and Upton have not produced a single season worthy of an average Major League player.  Kawakami and Lowe were serviceable on the mound but not respectable based upon their salary and expectations.  Kawakami finished his Braves career in the minors, Lowe was traded away with cash for a minor leaguer who at the time was in High A ball, and Dan Uggla was released because the Braves could not find another team to take him nor were they willing to take away playing time from their minor leaguers. Three of the four major acquisitions made by Frank Wren did not finish their contracts as a member of the Atlanta Braves.  The fourth, B.J Upton, seems destined to be the worst signing of the bunch, and at the present it does not seem too difficult to imagine a situation where the Braves get rid of him either through trade, demotion, or release.

Ultimately Frank Wren sealed his own fate through his inability to successfully acquire players who could remotely live up to their large contracts.  While not entirely his fault, Wren was highly involved in altering how the Braves play on the field.  He sought out the pricey talent from other teams.  The Braves have been highly successful in developing talent through the draft or through trades for minor leaguers or young players.  The Braves continue to have excellent pitching; it is the offense which is lacking.  While Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz were all Hall of Fame caliper players, the offense was balanced.  Atlanta had the power from Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, and Brian McCann.  The team also had the players who could get on base ahead of these power hitters, like Otis Nixon, Jeff Blauser, Mark Lemke, and Marquis Grissom.  The Braves forgot how to play same ball.

Braves fans were left scratching their heads after many of Frank Wren's moves.(www.mbird.com)

Braves fans were left scratching their heads after many of Frank Wren’s moves.(www.mbird.com)

Times change, but in baseball generally the winning formula stays the same.  Good pitching, which the Braves generally had during Wren’s tenure despite the signing of Kawakami and Lowe, and a balanced offense, which seemed to be forgotten.  Atlanta has plenty of offense to be competitive; however with a lineup full of high strikeout batters who are swinging for the fences, the difference between success and failure becomes razor thin.  Success in baseball is about scoring runs and preventing runs.  Atlanta forgot what brought them success and appeared to value highlight reel worthy home runs more than fielding a balanced team which could compete on a yearly basis.

The Braves lost their way and fell in love with both the long ball and with making a splash with high profile free agent signings or big trades.  The long term ramifications for these ill-advised signings by Frank Wren are still being felt.  B.J. Upton needs to return to hitting .240 before fans can at least say the Uggla trade was worse than the Upton signing.  The situation in Atlanta with Derek Lowe was not good.  A mediocre to serviceable pitcher at best, being paid based upon past performance and hopes.  The situation with Kawakami was sad.  He seemingly never got the run support from the Braves offense, before he began to struggle, and eventually disappeared into the minors for his final season of baseball in America.  The situation with Dan Uggla was ugly.  A guy who worked hard but most likely should have never made it beyond AA except for the Marlins thrusting him to the Majors and then the Braves believing his power was worth the lack of hitting ability.  Uggla eventually got into a standoff with Manager Fredi Gonzalez and the Front Office as he saw his playing time dwindle to nothing.  The Uggla situation became so bad the Braves, who do not have a big market payroll, were willing to pay Uggla at least $15 million to leave.

The beginning of Frank Wren's last mistake. (http://www.gazettenet.com/)

The beginning of Frank Wren’s last mistake. (http://www.gazettenet.com/)

The situation with B.J. Upton looks like it could be worse than it ever was with Uggla.  Less than two years into his contract the Braves sought to trade him to the Chicago Cubs for Edwin Jackson at this year’s trading deadline.  Jackson has a worse career ERA and WHIP than Kawakami and Lowe during their time with Atlanta, and is still owed $24 million through the 2016 season.  The trade however was rejected by the Cubs.  Try as they might Atlanta will have a tough time moving Upton through a combination of poor play and over $45 million due to him during the final three seasons of this contract.  Do not be surprised if the Braves have to eat more money, this time from B.J. Upton to get out from under the last of Frank Wren’s disastrous major moves.

Frank Wren understands baseball.  You do not become the General Manager of two teams by accident.  Nor do you last seven years in a place which is used to winning and expect to win.  What went wrong for Wren is not the day to day operations of the Braves, rather it was his attempt to go out and sign priced talented players.  The signing of Kawakami, Lowe, Uggla (after trading for him), and Upton have not helped the Braves to continue winning.  It is fair to argue these signings actually hurt the team both based on their on-field performance and the money they tied up, which could not be used to go out and sign other players.  These four moves eventually caught up with Frank Wren and cost him his job.  The Braves should return to the formula which led them to over a decade of success, while integrating advances in scouting and sabermetrics to get the best out of their players and to fully understand the capabilities of the players they are looking to add to their roster.

The Braves in some ways lost their way when they fell in love with the home run and over looked the high number of strikeouts they deemed acceptable by their lineup.  The men who led the way to the Braves success, John Scherholtz and Bobby Cox, have been tasked with leading the Braves back to their winning ways and steady baseball.  Along with John Hart, Scherholtz and Cox are not trying to rediscover “The Braves Way”; rather they should aim to return to playing sound baseball.  The Frank Wren tenure is over.  B.J. Upton has some major work to do if he wants to avoid being one of the worst, if not the worst, free agents signings by the Braves ever.  Time with tell with B.J. Upton.  It is time for the Braves to return to what they know and for a long time did so well, winning through great pitching and a balanced offense, while on a budget.

D

Tony Gwynn- Gone Too Soon

Arguably the best hitter of the last 30 years has left us far too soon.  Tony Gwynn passed away at 54 from cancer.  For 20 seasons, Tony Gwynn put on a clinic for what it meant to be a professional hitter.  He always had the ear-to-ear smile that many, including myself, fell in love with from the first time you saw him play.  Gwynn hit .289 in 1982, after he was called up from AAA in July.  This was the only season in which he would bat below .300 in his 20 year career.  A career .338 hitter, Gwynn won the National League Batting Title eight times.  He flirted with .400 in 1994, when he finished the strike shortened season with a .394 average.  Gwynn collected 200 or more hits five times.  It would have been seven if not for the 1994 players strike.  He has 165 hits through 110 games in 1994 and finished the shortened 1995 season with 197 hits in 135 games.  There could have been more if not for injuries which reduced his playing time during his 30’s.

Mr. Padre at work (http://thunderbird37.com/)

Mr. Padre at work (http://thunderbird37.com/)

What Gwynn lacked in power he made up with always being on base.  He hit 135 career home runs, topping out at 17 in 1997.  He walked 790 times against 434 strike outs in his career.  His career 1.82 walks per strike out is unimaginable today.  In 1987, Gwynn struck out a career high 82 times; both Upton brothers, BJ and Justin, of the Atlanta Braves have already surpassed this make this season.  This “high number of strike outs” for Gwynn was an aberration, he would not strike out more than 59 times in any other season in his career.  Despite his “high” strike out total, the 1987 season was not a down year for Gwynn, he still hit .370.  during his career, Gwynn won seven Silver Slugger Awards, five Gold Gloves, elected to 15 All Star games, was the recipient of the 1995 Branch Rickey Award (in recognition for his exceptional community service), the 1998 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (awarded to the player who best exhibits the character of Lou Gehrig both on and off the field), the 1999 Roberto Clemente Award (player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team), and was elected by the BBWAA to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with the seventh highest vote total ever (97.61%) in his first year of eligibility.

Captain Video at his finest. (latimesblogs.latimes.com)

Captain Video at his finest.
(latimesblogs.latimes.com)

Michael Young, who holds the record for most hits for the Texas Rangers, reacted to the sudden and sad news of Tony Gwynn’s death simply, “Ted Williams gets to talk hitting again.”  This sums up the relationship between Williams and Gwynn perfectly.  Listening to both men discuss their approach to and the science of hitting are both legendary and a fascinating listen.  Both possessed the skills which went well beyond simply see the ball, hit the ball.  They were students of the game who worked hard at their craft.  The 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park was a showcase for Ted Williams, and through the entire memorable evening Tony Gwynn was his trusty sidekick.  When the rest of the All Stars crowded around the golf cart Williams rode around Fenway in, the camera seemed to always have both Williams and Gwynn in the frame together.  The ceremonial first pitch left these two Hall of Fame hitters and friends in front of the pitcher’s mound together and alone.  When Ted Williams asked “where’s he at?” referring to the catcher, Gwynn pointed and showed his friend and mentor the way while flashing his famous boyish smile.

Forever a San Diego man, Tony Gwynn returned to his alma mater San Diego State in 2002 as a volunteer coach and in 2003 as the Head Baseball Coach for the Aztecs.  Gwynn remained the Head Coach of the Aztecs until his death.  Even when his playing career was over, Gwynn was not through with baseball.  Under Gwynn the Aztecs won one regular season Mountain West title, two Mountain West Tournament Championships, and made three appearances in the NCAA Tournament.  The transition from playing to coaching is often difficult for the greats, but Gwynn seemed to thrive on the challenge and was building a successful program.  Unfortunately we will never see what he could have built with more seasons as a Head Coach either at San Diego State or even with the Padres.

Gwynn with his friend and mentor Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game. (www.nytimes.com)

Gwynn with his friend and mentor Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game. (www.nytimes.com)

Tony Gwynn lived a full baseball life.  He was and always will be Mr. Padre and Captain Video.  Despite the hours of hard work looking to get every last once of talent out of his body, Gwynn never stopped smiling.  That smile we all fell in love with, the smile that exuded the boyish pleasure Gwynn got from playing the game.  That smile is gone too soon due to cancer.  Cancer which Gwynn himself admits was caused by decades of using chewing tobacco, usually more than a can a day.  All the smiles and laughter that made Tony Gwynn also had a protruding lip stuffed with dip.

Gone too soon.  Thank you Tony Gwynn for reminding us all that you can be a contact hitter, trying to go through the 5.5 hole, one of the true legends in the history of the game all without the power to hit 500 foot home runs which became so common place during his career.  Tony Gwynn was a great hitter, a great all around baseball player, but he was an even better person.  Mr. Padre will be missed in San Diego and anywhere people play baseball.

D

And So It Begins

Spring Training is officially under way. We are inching closer and closer to actual games. While Spring Training does not necessarily tell you whether or not your favorite team is going to be a surprise contender or a massive disappointment, it does mean it is time to find your glove.  Before too much longer we will all be sitting in the stands tanning under the hot summer sun, engulfed in the sights and sounds that is professional baseball.  Spring Training games do not have your favorite players in the line up for very long. I personally prefer if I do not recognize anyone because it means the line up is set and they are getting a good look at who is going to be the 25th player and who goes to AAA and who goes to AA.  Baseball is almost here. Hang on just a little longer. The Cactus League and the Grapefruit League will bring back the boys of summer as they prepare for another year of amazing catches, beautiful swings, brilliant pitching, in your face arguments, hilarious bloopers, and enough memories to last a life time.  Spring Training is back and life is about to get so much better.

The Boys of Summer

The Boys of Summer

You can find your favorite team from the Cactus League here and from the Grapefruit League here.  Lets get this season going.  It has been an extremely long winter, and I for one and tired of the snow and ice and am ready for the sun, the fresh-cut grass, the crack of the bat, and the pop of the glove. Baseball is back and life is good.

D