Tagged: Jose Altuve

Blackout Rules Apply

The playoffs are when the best from every sport is on full display. The best teams play each other, which often leads to games full of drama that only further entices new fans to continue watching. Unfortunately Major League Baseball has hidden some of the best games of the year from many fans in how it broadcasts the playoffs. Avid fans miss out on great games, but baseball also misses the opportunity to draw in new fans as the majority of games before the World Series are broadcast on cable networks.

The airing of playoff baseball on TBS, Fox Sports 1, the MLB Network, and ESPN has shut out many people from watching great baseball. Yes, plenty of people have access to all or some of these channels to watch the games, but those who do not have to make a choice. They can find a radio station broadcasting the game (personally I love listening to baseball on the radio), go to a restaurant, bar, or friend’s house that is showing the game, or generally miss out except for updates. Going out several nights a week for a few weeks gets expensive quickly, thus pricing many more people out, thus radio or the updates are the most likely options for many people. I am fully aware, as I have stated many times, baseball is a business. Major League Baseball signed contracts with these broadcasters for enormous sums of money for the rights to these games. However, there needs to be a balance between television revenue and making the best weeks on the baseball calendar available to all fans. Broadcasters like ABC (which owns ESPN), NBC, and CBS might have passed on the rights to broadcast playoff baseball. Fox will once again broadcast the World Series, yet it is a shame that for some they will not see a single game of baseball on television from the last day of the regular season until Game 1 of the World Series.

tv-blackout

Major League Baseball continuously stresses the importance of growing the game, reaching a younger and more diverse audience. Reaching out through promotions like Players Weekend, programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), and highlighting some of the best players like Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and Jose Altuve are great, but Major League Baseball hurts its own efforts to reach a larger audience by hiding the playoffs from those who choose to not have cable or satellite television and/or those who cannot afford it. If I can only watch sports on the basic channels and the majority of the games I see are football, why would I wait for weeks to see a few games at the end of October when the NFL season is in full swing? Even during the regular season the availability of baseball games is rather spartan.

Major League Baseball has signed contracts with broadcasters and for now can do little to change how the playoffs are broadcast. However, at the end of these contracts a hard look must be taken at whether only premium channels get the games before the World Series is the best for the future of the sport. Major League Baseball should be paid handsomely for the product it provides to broadcasters, but there could be a middle ground where baseball is paid well, yet does not shut out many fans and potential fans from the best games of the year. Baseball needs to be the sport of everyone, not just those that can afford television packages. No one likes blackout rules.

DJ

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American Dominance

The Houston Astros are rolling through the American League yet it is not a single dominant player that is leading the team, rather it is a full cast. A.J. Hinch is managing an offense that can pound opponents from different angles and a pitching staff that is above average. Put the two together and it is clear why the race for the American League West ended a long time ago.

Offensively the Astros are not a one man show, rather they are a cast of many. A quick rundown of the statistics paints a vivid picture. Houston has:

  • 7 players with 100 or more hits: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 4 players with .300 or better Batting Average:  Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer.
    • Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel are hitting .295.
  • 6 players with at least 50 RBI: Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.
  • 4 players with 40 or more walks: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
    • Marwin Gonzalez has 37 walks.
  • 8 players with 50 or more Runs scored: George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 11 players with 11 or more home runs: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, and Evan Gattis.

Houston can hit for average and power, can get a runner over and then in. The Astros have the fewest strikeouts in the Majors, they put the ball in play and good things are happening. Even with Correa, McCann, and Gattis sporting injuries, this team still has enough firepower to continue rolling along. Not relying on one or two players for their offense should prevent the Astros from running out of steam in October.  

HOUSTON ASTROS AT OAKLAND ATHLETICS MLB
The Astros hope to continue the celebration in October. (Aric Crabb/ Bay Area News Group)

Even if the Astros offense gets hurt and/or all runs cold the pitching staff is capable to keeping the team going. While not as dominant as the offense, it’s a tough act to follow, the Houston pitching staff has a 4.24 team ERA, below the MLB average of 4.34. They lead MLB in strikeouts with 1,201 and are only slightly above average in walks allowed with 397, average is 389. The team WHIP is 1.288 against the MLB average of 1.342. None of these numbers are eye popping. They merely point out that the Astros have a serviceable pitching staff able to keep games close enough on those nights when the offense slows down a step. Despite his own injuries, Dallas Keuchel leads the starting rotation with a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts. Injuries to Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh have meant the linchpin to the pitching staff’s success has been the bullpen. Set up men Chris Devenski and Will Harris have ERAs below 2.86, while closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 2.80 with 23 saves and 40 games finished. The ability to shorten a game to only six or seven innings on a given night means even in close games opposing teams have to get their offense going early otherwise the Houston bullpen can shut them down.

Houston lost a lot of games for several years to rebuild into a contender. The plan has worked. The Astros are one of, if not, the best team in baseball. The discomfort of losing season after season should result in winning season after season for the foreseeable future. A.J. Hinch’s team shows no sign of slowing down. The offense is carrying the team, yet the pitching staff is good enough to keep the success going once playoff baseball arrives. Time will tell, but for now Houston looks almost unstoppable.

DJ

The Only Rule Is It Has To Work

What if everything you thought you knew about the game of baseball was wrong. What if we have been playing baseball wrong since the beginning? Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller attempt to use the data that has emerged in baseball to lead the Sonoma Stompers in the next baseball revolution. Their seemingly crazy attempt is chronicled in The Only Rule Is It Has To Work.

The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball is one of the bottom rungs of independent professional baseball. The players are playing the game more for the love of the game and one last shot than for the paycheck, which is rather small. Despite being so far from the Major Leagues, it is still baseball. The fastballs might not be as fast, the fielding might not be as crisp, and the fields might not be as pristine, but the same data approach can be applied. Lindbergh and Miller set out to see if their data can give the Sonoma Stompers an advantage over the other three teams in the Pacific Association. Deploying a five man infield or a four man outfield against a batter regardless of game situation, crazy right? The numbers don’t think so. Why wait until the 9th inning to use your best relief pitcher, the closer, when the most critical moment in the game occurs in the 7th inning. If a team can’t hold the lead in the 7th, there may not be a game to save in the 9th.

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Baseball can be a game of habits that is slow to change, because “we’ve always done it this way.” The Only Rule is a real life experiment to see if all the data is nothing more than noise or if it can change the way managers manage and players play. The experiment did not take place within a controlled setting. Lindbergh and Miller run into issues with players and the manager about implementing their approach. Baseball does not change quickly, and the people who live and work inside of it are not always willing to change because they believe their experience and understanding provide insights toward make the best decisions rather than fully acquiescing to the data.

The Only Rule is a fantastic book that a baseball stat nerd and a casual baseball fan can both enjoy. The book makes you rethink many of the basic assumptions we have all held regarding the game.  The Sonoma Stompers, at least for one season, are on the cutting edge of baseball because their General Manager, Theo Fightmaster, decided he would allow two men who worked at Baseball Prospectus to indirectly manage his team. As you read you learn that baseball does not have to be set in stone and you begin to ask yourself, “if baseball was different, how different would it be?” What if the best hitter always batted at the top of the line up, what if a pitcher was pulled before he went through the lineup for the third time, and the what ifs go on forever.

Stompers
My wife and I stopped by the Stompers stadium on our honeymoon, too bad it was their day off. (The Winning Run)

Looking at baseball on a personal level through Lindbergh and Miller expose how much work is put into achieving every victory in professional baseball. It is much easier to lose than it is to win and, even when you are doing everything possible to win, success is never guaranteed. Baseball is a daily grind that lasts for months on end. In many ways, today’s success is built upon the work of yesterday, yet at the same time yesterday’s success has little impact upon achieving success today. Much like the best battle plans do not survive the first contact with the enemy, the best scouting and data information are no match for the abilities and reactions of players on the field. A five man infield should all but ensure if the ball is hit on the ground that an out is recorded. However, the player must still field and throw the ball, the nature of the game leaves room for human error. No plan is perfect but you still must have a plan to be successful.

I first heard of Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller while working an office job fresh out of graduate school. Their daily podcast Effectively Wild was different. They sought to find the fun and the weird in baseball and to see if they could uncover something else. Why go on and on about last night’s Yankees-Red Sox game when instead you could spend an hour looking at how Jose Altuve’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was through the roof. Searching for and finding the oddities of baseball can help to uncover players before they burst into stardom, or it can help you appreciate how a team keeps winning when they seemingly should be losing non-stop. Listening to the Effectively Wild podcast got me through that summer and when I heard Ben and Sam were going to write a book about their wild real life baseball experiment I knew I wanted to read it. The Only Rule Is It Has To Work did not disappoint me, even with so much internal build up. Baseball is a crazy game, so why not use crazy tactics to win?

DJ

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

Masters of Our Own Destiny

Fantasy sports have been in the news plenty in the last few months. The debate continues over whether Daily Fantasy is gambling, and if so how to regulate it. I personally have never partaken in Daily Fantasy or gambling in general just because I have no real interest. However, playing season long fantasy baseball is great, as it allows me to follow players and teams outside of my normal fandom. The league I play in, Infield Lies, along with the rest of The Winning Run, and others does not play for money. We play for something far more important than money, bragging rights.

This year we did an in-person live draft, except that Bernie couldn’t attend because of a tiny obstacle – a 10-hour one-way drive. Having previously done the draft online, the live draft was a much different experience. Our draft is fairly early for most people who play fantasy baseball, most people seem to get distracted by College Basketball in March. This year, however we held our draft in mid-March, later than usual as we had to work around people’s schedules. Typically, our league tries to hold the draft before Spring Training games begin. Blind drafting in a way, you do not get the advantage of watching who is hot and healthy through Spring Training. Researching and reading what experts are saying about the players poised to have breakout seasons shape who you draft and when. You cannot avoid a player who gets injured before the season either. Constantly reinventing your team separates people and gives the league more competition as it reduces the dumb luck factor.

Draft Board
The completed draft board. Somewhere on here is a championship team. (The Winning Run)

The live draft was different though. We still followed the same process as previous years, but with much more screaming and yelling in person. My perfect team was ruined by the other people, because they are spiteful and decided they wanted good players too. Among the many strange occurrences during the draft, the most odd was Jesse’s 7th Round pick of Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. Schwarber is an excellent pick, especially when healthy, however Jesse failed to realize that Schwarber had been picked in the 4th Round. As he verbalized his displeasure, it turned to laughter as we had to tell Jesse that in the 4th Round he, Jesse, had picked Kyle Schwarber. Special.

The later into the draft you get the more cross over you have between teams, in terms of who you want. In the early rounds you are basically grabbing the best player available. The middle rounds are about grabbing the remaining stars. My own moment in the sun occurred in the 14th Round when I selected Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles. A solid closer, but there was a tiny problem, it was not my turn. I had not only skipped ahead of one person, but two. Britton was gone when my turn came, though I did get Glen Perkins so I cannot complain. Oops.

Phillies Draft Room
The Phillies draft room looks much more composed and formal than our draft room. (www.grantland.com)

The late rounds are reserved for grabbing players to fill a void and for taking a gamble on a hot prospect or veteran. Bernie selected Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees in the final round. A player Jesse had seen play only a day earlier when he was in Tampa. The Yankees sent Judge to their minor league camp the day after our draft. Sometimes you strike gold, and sometimes you hit the waiver wire. It is worth the gamble to grab the hot prospect if you can/and know to. Last year Jesse grabbed Kris Bryant. He had an undermanned team for a few weeks, but having Bryant around definitely helped Jesse throughout the season.

Then there is John’s 11th Round selection of J.P. Arencibia. A fine player with the Blue Jays for several years. However, before we allowed John to select him we had to double check he was on a major league roster, which he is. John made a clever pick with the backup catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. Later when it was time to enter our draft selections into the online league program, it would not recognize Arencibia as a major league player. Sorry about your luck and wasted draft pick, John.

I love fantasy baseball for what it is, a game that gives me an additional excuse to talk baseball with my friends all season long. Every one of us wants to beat the others, but ultimately our league is about having fun and gaining a more holistic view of the Majors. The rise of Charlie Blackmon, John alerted us to that a few years back. Jesse alerted us to Billy Hamilton as he made his way through the minors. Bernie brought us to Andrew Miller well before the media. I found Jose Altuve’s speed while looking for a good contact hitter. Fantasy baseball can help put you ahead of the curve before the media starts talking about a player. Why not enjoy an extra season or two of a potential future superstar?

Trophy
The Infield Lies tropy, the prize at the end of each fantasy season. (The Winning Run)

Fantasy baseball is a fun game that makes the game of baseball more than just your local team. It allows those who want to learn about the game to access the game like nothing else. I love playing with my friends, and each of us will do everything we can to beat each other each week and to win the championship. As the season is has just begun I will say a final good luck to everyone playing fantasy baseball, especially Jesse, John, and Bernie as I attempt to turn my back to back championships into a three-peat championship. It is good to be the king.

DJ

2X defending Infield Lies Champion

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

Missed Opportunity

Growing up around Atlanta in the 1990’s there was plenty of great baseball games and players to watch.  Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones were all Hall of Fame players.  Andruw Jones, Otis Nixon, Javy Lopez, and so many more were great players to watch.  These riches on the diamond were amazing, but as time has gone by the realization of how great it was to watch these players night after night has set in.  Fans across the country might only have a few chances each season to see these players and they understood that you should take the time to slow down and appreciate them.

The understanding that I need to slow down and watch when a great player passes through town has sunk in more as I get older.  Appreciating the greatest of a player goes beyond the highlight reel plays.  It is watching how they approach each pitch throughout a game, both at the plate and in the field.  There are only a select few players in baseball that can capture my attention even when they are not making great plays.  Players who make me stop and watch just in case they do something amazing.

Derek Jeter  was the definition of New York style cool and class. (www.jenhoffer.sportsblog.com)

Derek Jeter was the definition of New York style cool and class. (www.jenhoffer.sportsblog.com)

These stop what you are doing and watch players are the elite few.  Some I have had the pleasure of watching in person, others I missed my opportunity to watch their greatness.  When I was living in New York for graduate school and the few years after, I was lucky enough to see Derek Jeter play on a few occasions.  Jeter was never the best hitter, but he was good one.  He did not have the most power, the biggest arm, or greatest fielding range, but he commanded everything inside Yankee Stadium.  While only getting to see Jeter in the later part of his career, it was still special to see one of the few players who was respected across baseball without exception.  It takes a special player to be respected by Red Sox fans even though he was a lifelong Yankee that broke Boston’s heart on so many occasions.  Watching Jeter play consumed a majority of my time at Yankee Stadium.  I watched how he moved with every pitch and how he was the man on the field and yet everyone knew in their heart that he was never the most talented.  Derek Jeter could do everything on a baseball diamond, but it was what did not show up in the box score, which set him apart from everyone else.

I usually went to Mets games simply because the tickets were cheaper, however when I did venture up to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium it was special.  Even inside the new Yankee Stadium the history of the Yankees resonates.  Watching two players who will and should be first ballot Hall of Famers, Jeter and Ichiro, plus my favorite player in Andruw Jones meant the 2012 Yankees were the best for me.  Watching Jones patrol the outfield with the Braves growing up spoiled me.  If it was catchable, he seemed to always catch it.  The 2012 Yankees meant I got to relieve a bit of my childhood with Andruw Jones, watch the coolest man in baseball in Derek Jeter, and watch one of the greatest pure hitters of all time in Ichiro.

Ichiro continues to be a magician with a bat in hit hands. (www.metsmerizedonline.com)

Ichiro continues to be a magician with a bat in hit hands. (www.metsmerizedonline.com)

The beauty of Ichiro’s swing and his athleticism at the plate are what always caught my eye.  He seemed, and still seems, like a magician at the plate.  He never seems to be fooled on a pitch; he might swing and miss but never look awful in doing it.  Ichiro is to me what a baseball player ought to be.  He can beat you with power, though he rarely displays it.  He can put the ball in play and then beat you with his speed.  Then on defense, he can chase down fly balls with the best of them.  If runners are on base they advance at their own risk, as Ichiro is blessed with a cannon for an arm.  Ichiro has all five tools, though he keeps his power hidden until it is absolutely necessary.  Watching Ichiro hit is the closest I will ever come to watching a hitter on the same level like a Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, or Honus Wagner.  Watching Ichiro and Jeter play were and are a return to my childhood.  A return to when baseball was simple and the players were larger than life; the baseball that was and forever will be my first love.

I have not gotten to see every player I wanted to see play in person, though I did on television.  The two biggest players that I did not get to see play in person that I will forever be sad about are Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero.  Yes, I saw both players on television, but not in person.  There is a big difference in appreciating how great a player is when you see them not through a camera lens, but with your own eyes.

Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest man on the diamond plus he had the sweetest swing in the game. (www.tapiture.com)

Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest man on the diamond plus he had the sweetest swing in the game. (www.tapiture.com)

The two most obvious reasons I never saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in person are that he played in Seattle and Cincinnati and I lived in Atlanta.  This meant at best his team would come to Atlanta once a year.  Interleague play did not start until 1997.  This meant seven seasons of Griffey’s 22-year career were already gone.  Then there were the last three years in Seattle before he moved on to the Cincinnati Reds.  There were some opportunities to see Griffey play in Atlanta during interleague at some point with the Mariners, but I went to only two or three games a year growing up.  So not great odds, plus we usually went to the less popular games with the slightly cheaper tickets and the smaller crowds.  I loved going to games, but looking back, I wish I had seen Griffey.  His time with the Reds meant he only came to town one time a season, and sadly there were several lost seasons in Cincinnati due to injuries.  Griffey was, and remains, the prototype for what it means to be cool on a baseball field.  Jeter was New York cool, suave.  Griffey was fun, exciting, and electric.  His wiggling batting stance is still mimicked by people today, though admittedly no one else, even in softball leagues can ever hope to hit a ball like he did.  Griffey could amaze you and do things that just did not make sense for a player his size.  You expected Frank Thomas and Albert Belle to hit the ball a mile, but Griffey at worst hit the ball as far as they did, plus he could run like the wind.  Ken Griffey Jr. was a once every few generations type player and I missed him.  As great as his highlight reel is, I can only imagine how great it would have been to see him play in person.

Missing several opportunities to see Ken Griffey Jr. makes sense, not seeing Vladimir Guerrero play does not.  Guerrero spent 8 of his 16 seasons with the Montreal Expos.  Playing in the National League East with the Braves meant I had plenty of opportunities to watch him play, but for whatever reason I never did.  It was not from a lack of interest, I just never seemed to go to Turner Field when the Expos were in town.  Not sure why, just the way it worked out.  Guerrero was a lot like Andruw Jones, great power and speed and a howitzer for an arm.  The main difference between Guerrero and Jones was that Guerrero was a more complete hitter and Jones played for Atlanta, not against them.  Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit.  It reminded me of playing baseball in the street with my brother and friends.  If it was within reach, you swung, partly so you did not have to go pick it up and partly because it may be the best pitch you will see.  Guerrero never seemed to care if the pitch was a foot outside and head high, he could serve it into the outfield.  He could also bloop a ball into short left field after the pitch bounced in front of the plate.  Ichiro is a magician in the batter’s box in the sense that he can almost place where he hits the ball.  Guerrero is a difference sort of magician as he can hit nearly everything thrown towards the plate, and hit it well.  The other thing I missed was seeing Guerrero unleash his arm.  There are few players with arms that stop the opponent from even attempting to take an extra base; Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francoeur are the players in recent years that come to mind regarding the fear their arms put into the minds of opposing base runners.  Perhaps Vladimir Guerrero was not the best player in terms of doing the conventional things on a diamond the best, though he did them extremely well.  What I missed the most in not seeing Guerrero play in person is his ability to leave fans speechless.  He could hit or throw a baseball a mile, or single on a pitch that most players could not even reach.  Vladimir Guerrero took the sort of baseball that I grew up playing to the Major Leagues and still made it look as amazing as it felt.

Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit or a runner he could not throw out. (www.prosportsblogging.com)

Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit or a runner he could not throw out. (www.prosportsblogging.com)

The opportunity to see something unique and amazing at a baseball game exists every time the gates open.  You could see Matt Cain throw a Perfect Game (as Jesse did in San Francisco), watch the final game at old Yankee Stadium (as John, Jesse, and I did in 2008), or just see a fun game like I have on so many occasions.  Baseball is a team sport played by individuals.  These individuals are what make the game great.  Players of all size can find success on a baseball diamond, whether they are Jose Altuve at 5’6”, Randy Johnson at 6’10”, or Jonathan Broxton at 300 lbs.  Great players come in every physical form possible and they are all capable to doing something amazing.  Most of us do not have the financial ability to go to every game, but we should all make the time when these elite, once in a generation type players come to town.  Continuing to put off going to see Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Aroldis Chapman, and others will be a sad memory.  There is no guarantee they will do something amazing at the game you attend, but you will still be able to say you saw them play.  No one cares if the one game you saw Sandy Koufax pitch he did not win the game, you still got to see Koufax pitch.  Do not miss your opportunity to see great players in person.  We can all watch highlight reels, but watching in person is always special and you will remember it better than any video.

DJ