Tagged: National League

And The Winner Is…

The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.

Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.

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In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)

Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.

However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.

The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.

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Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer.  (www.mlb.com)

The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.

Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.

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Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)

Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.

After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.

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Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)

DJ

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Grinding Away

The Washington Nationals had a stranglehold on the National League East during Spring Training, at least on paper. The rest of the division was vying for a Wild Card spot at best. When the season started the Nationals turned into a paper tiger, while the Phillies and Braves vaulted to the top of the East as their rebuilding efforts bear fruit. Few people expected either team to play this well into mid-September.

Leading the Braves resurgence is a consummate professional. The breakout season by rookie duo of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña, and another outstanding season from perennial All Star in Freddie Freeman have gotten much of the attention. However, it is the veteran Nick Markakis leading the charge in Atlanta.  

It is past time to appreciate and honor the consistency of Nick Markakis. Markakis is leading baseball in hits, and leading the National League in sacrifice flies and is tied for the National League lead in doubles. He is a compiler, like Craig Biggio. Compilers are rarely given the respect they deserve as they grind, often under the radar. Markakis rarely misses a game, playing an average of 155 games each season. He has played fewer than 147 games in a season only once in his 13 year career.

This season he ranks in the top 10 in baseball in Batting Average, Plate Appearances, At Bats, Games Played, Hits (leads all of baseball), Singles, Doubles, Times of Base, Sacrifice Flies, Intentional Walks, and At Bats per Strikeout.  While these stats do not make him a super star in the eyes of fans, teams know a player like Markakis is critical to their success.

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Nick Markakis consistently puts the ball in play. Could he quietly be grinding his way towards Cooperstown? (Hyosub Shin/ HShin@ajc.com)

2018 is not an outlier for Markakis, he has been a force his entire career. He has eight seasons with 170 or more hits. He averages 182 hits per season, yet has never had a 200 hit season. He will finish close to 200 hits yet again as he has 174 hits with two weeks left to play. Markakis has nine seasons with 30 or more doubles and five seasons with 40 or more doubles. He already has 40 doubles this season, above his 39 doubles in an average season. He has scored 75 runs, hit 14 home runs, and drawn 63 walks which are around an average season for him. His .306 batting average is the best of his career, he will have his third season hitting above .300, yet his career .289 average shows his consistency at the plate. Markakis has struck out 70 times, well below his average of 93 per season. His career 6.8 At Bats per Strikeout is well below the Major League average of 4.6. A career .359 OBP, with .371 this season. He has never been a power bat, but he puts the ball in play and sets the table for the power bats behind him in the line up.

Markakis finished sixth in the crowded 2006 American League Rookie of the Year. He is a two time Gold Glove winner, 2011 and 2014, winning both awards without committing an error in over 1,300 innings in the field each season. He was voted to his first All Star game this season. He played the most games and collected the most hits before playing in his first All Star game in baseball history.

Grinding away, Markakis is quietly sneaking up on 3,000 hits. He currently has 2,226 hits. If he can remain healthy and continue collecting an average of 182 hits every year, Markakis would reach the mystical 3,000 hit mark before his 40th birthday. This would present the baseball writers with an intriguing question. Does collecting 3,000 hits automatically make you are a Hall of Famer? A few more good seasons by Markakis could force the baseball writers to confront this question.

Much of what Markakis provides Atlanta is not found in the stats. His veteran leadership has helped the young Braves rise to the top of the division earlier than expected. Veteran leadership is disappearing as teams are unwilling to pay veteran prices for players past their primes. In Markakis, the Braves have a veteran leader in the clubhouse and on the field. Time will tell how far his leadership can lead Atlanta and how valuable he is on the free agent market after the season.

DJ

Lonely Night in Gotham

It seems like only yesterday the Mets were poised to have a scary starting rotation for years to come. A rotation rivaling the Braves’ rotation in the 1990’s which had three Hall of Fame pitchers coming at you night after night. The future of the Amazings had Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Jacob deGrom. This rotation would dominate the division and baseball for years to come. Yeah…about that. The Dark Knight was banished from Gotham and is now pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, and even the Reds are beginning to discuss trading high on Matt Harvey before he crashes again. Noah Syndergaard has not pitched since before Memorial Day due to injury. Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are having forgettable seasons and rumors are swirling about one or both leaving Queens. Neither would yield a huge return, but the Mets may be more concerned about getting something before their trade value becomes nothing. This leaves only Jacob deGrom on the mound for the Mets.

Even as Jacob deGrom is producing a career year, the Mets are wasting the work of their best pitcher. The Mets are terrible this year, may be time for a rebuild in Queens, even when deGrom is lights out. deGrom is leading all of baseball in ERA, FIP, and ERA+. Regardless what you think about FIP and ERA+, leading MLB in ERA, with a 1.79 ERA is no small feat. In 18 starts this season, deGrom has pitched 115 ⅓ innings, allowing 23 Earned Runs, with 142 strikeouts against only 29 walks. He also has a 0.988 WHIP. He has gone at least seven innings in 11 starts. Yet despite his brilliance, deGrom has a 5-4 record and the Mets are 7-11 when deGrom starts. No team is successful when they struggle to win with their best pitcher on the mound.

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Jacob deGrom has had to grin and bear it this year as he watches his great starts wasted by the Mets. (Michael Reaves/ Getty Images)

The Mets have scored 69 runs, 3.83 per game, in games deGrom starts. However, they have given up 70 runs, 3.88 per game. The bullpen is letting the team down, having allowed 46 runs in deGrom starts. Any close game deGrom leaves the bullpen is struggling to hold the lead or keep the game close for the offense. deGrom is 2-2 at Citi Field and 3-2 on the road. The Mets are currently 35-51 and in 4th place in the National League East, ahead of only the disaster in Miami in the standings. Not a great return for the pitching deGrom is delivering every fifth day.

The Amazings cannot expect deGrom to continue putting up these numbers with nothing to show for it. The Mets need to rebuild around deGrom or find a trade while he is hot. A pitcher like deGrom should bring back a slew of prospects that could turn the franchise around. deGrom does not reach free agency until 2021, he would be more than a trade deadline rental. Regardless what the team does, the Mets should not waste deGrom’s brilliance. The Mets are ridiculed for their decision-making, such as Bobby Bonilla and the Wilpons, but at some point the team needs to either act like a small market team that happens to play in New York or responsibility act like a big market team. Stop giving big contracts players at the back-end of their prime like Jason Bay, 4 years $66 million, and Yoenis Cespedes, 4 years $110 million. Spread the money around, spend money on the bullpen, spend money on developing a retaining guys like you did with David Wright, and hope they can avoid injury. Yes, Jacob deGrom is having an amazing season wasted by the Mets, but this is the latest symptom of the Mets inability to capitalize on the talent they draft and develop. The team needs to focus on putting a winning team on the field. Winning baseball will attract the fans and media attention and make New York a two team town.

DJ

Here Comes The Pain!!!

People naturally try to avoid things they know will cause them pain. You only touch a hot stove once to understand it is not something you want to experience again. Getting hit by a baseball is not something people enjoy, it hurts. Baseballs can leave nasty bruises and broken bones if they hit a person just so. A batter’s natural reaction is to jump out of the way of the baseball when they believe the pitch is going to hit them. This is part of the reason most people have difficulty hitting a curveball. Your mind is telling you of the impending danger, yet you also know you need to hit the ball. The vast majority of people are never able to conquer this fear, stay in the box, and drive a curveball.

Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. It takes a toll on your body. Among those who are able to withstand the fear induced by curveballs is an even more select group, these players are those who turn getting hit by a pitch into an art form and a weapon. A run counts the same if you hit a home run or if you get hit by a pitch and then come around to score. These brave souls sacrifice their bodies to get on base. They are sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.

The official rule governing the hit by pitch (HBP), 5.05(b)(2), states:

“(b) The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:

(2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”

It is the second part of the rule, “The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball”, which often leads to heated debates about whether a batter attempted to avoid being hit by the pitch. Ultimately it is a judgement call by the umpire. This has lead to some players becoming creative in an attempt to be hit by the pitch. Some players are not afraid to be hit by a pitch and will subtly go out of their way to get hit.

The hit by pitch king is Hughie Jennings. He was hit by a pitch 287 times during his career. Jennings led the National League in HBP five consecutive seasons, 1894-1898. He was hit 51 times during the 1896 season, which remains the single season record. Jennings followed up his record setting season by being hit 46 times in 1897 and 1898, which are still the third and fourth highest single season HBP totals. Career record require longevity, Jennings played in the majors in 18 seasons, his last was in 1918 at the age of 49. However, he appeared in six or fewer games during his final six seasons, during which he had only one HBP. Jennings averaged 36 HBP per 162 games. All those bruises from being hit raised Jennings’ career OBP from .357 to .391. Was it all worth it? It is hard to judge but Jennings is forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. You be the judge.

The art of the HBP was not a weapon only during the dead ball era, it is alive and well today. Baseball could be in its Golden Age of the HBP. Eight of the top 20 in the career HBP rankings have played in Major League Baseball since 2002. The art and weaponization of the HBP was championed by Craig Biggio and today continues to be carried on by Chase Utley and Anthony Rizzo.

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Chase Utley will take a pitch to the shoulder if it means getting on base. (Jenny Goldstick and Gemma Kaneko/ MLB.com)

Craig Biggio made a career out of doing whatever was necessary to win a baseball game. He willingness to transition from catching to the outfield to second base to help the team with his defense skills wherever they were needed on the diamond. When it came to the offensive side of Biggio’s game he understood his job was to get on base ahead of teammates like Jeff Bagwell. Driving the ball and hustling out of the box or using his elbow guard, and the rest of his body, to reach first base did not matter to Biggio. During his 20 year Major League career, Biggio was hit 285 times, just two behind the all time record. He led the National League five times in HBP. He was hit by a pitch 16 times per every 162 games played during his career. This durability and toughness are what helped Biggio be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The same sort of durability and toughness Biggio displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career is seen in Chase Utley. Utley is playing his 16th Major League season and has been hit by a pitch 200 times. He is the active leader in HBP, he ranks eighth all time, and first all time among left handed batters. Utley’s willingness to use hit body to get on base has seen him lead the National League three times in this painful category. Averaging 17 hit by pitches per 162 games played, Utley has put together a career that will get him some serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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It hurts, but Anthony Rizzo uses hit body to get on base. (www.sportsonearth.com)

The old guard of players like Biggio and Utley have shown the younger generation of players the value of using their body to reach first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is positioning himself to make a legitimate run at the upper echelons of the record book. In his eighth Major League season, Rizzo has already been hit by 106 pitches, which ties him with Barry Bonds for 74th all time. He is currently ranked 22nd all time for left handed batters. Rizzo could threaten to break into the top 50 all time by the end of this season. He is averaging 18 hit by pitches per 162 games played, and as he enters his prime Rizzo is demonstrating his durability and toughness. Rizzo will turn 29 in August, he should have many more seasons of practicing this painful art ahead of him.

There is an art to getting hit by a pitch. Sometimes it is unavoidable, other times a batter attempts to avoid a fastball to the head. Some players willingly stick a leg or shoulder out on a hanging curveball to reach first base. No one enjoys unnecessary pain. However, baseball is a hard game played by hard people, at every levels. The willingness to endure pain to help the team win is a skill few possess. There are a select few who are willing and able be hit by a pitch if it means helping the team. Rizzo and the next generation of HBP artists need to remember one thing. Whatever you do, do not rub it.

DJ

The Summer of 1998: 20 Years Later

It has been 20 years since the dawn of the 1998 baseball season. The season would see one of the great teams of all time as the Yankees marched towards the World Series, meanwhile Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing the single season home run record. Knowing what we know now about many of the players who helped revive baseball that summer does diminish some of the fondness. However as Mark McGwire famously said before Congress, “I am not here to talk about the past.”

The 1994 players strike severely damaged baseball. The cancellation of the World Series and the delayed start of the 1995 season saw fans turn their backs on the game. Arguing who is blame, the players or the owners, for this dark time in baseball is for another day, what mattered then was how would the game win back the fans it lost. Some fans still see 1994 as the death of baseball, don’t believe me check out this Facebook group which has more than 22,000 members. Right or wrong baseball needed a season to get its fans back.

File photo of Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. hittng a base hit in the eighth inning of his 2, 131st consecutive game in Baltimore
Cal Ripken Jr. gave baseball a moment it needed to draw fans back to the game. (REUTERS/ Gary Hershorn/Files)

Baseball got a much needed boost when Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, passing Lou Gehrig for most consecutive games played on September 6, 1995. This was a moment baseball desperately needed showing the good of the game. It was however, a moment. Baseball needed more than one night of glory, it needed a season of suspense and wonderment.

The 1998 New York Yankees are one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The Boston Red Sox won 92 games, yet finished 22 games behind the Yankees in the division. The Yankees finished the season 114-48. The Bronx Bombers had eight players with at least 17 home runs, five players with at least 84 RBI, and eight players with 21 or more doubles. The Yankees hit .288 as a team. On the mound, all five Yankee starters had at least 12 wins, a team ERA of 3.82, with the starters averaging 6 ⅔ inning per start, plus Mariano Rivera nailing down 36 saves out of the bullpen. In the Playoffs, the Yankees swept the Texas Rangers in the American League Divisional Series three games to none, allowing only one run. In the American League Championship Series, the Yankees dispatched the Cleveland Indians in six games. In the World Series, New York swept the San Diego Padres in four games. The 98 win Padres were no match for the Yankees. The biggest team in baseball helped put the game back into people’s lives as they rolled through the season and playoffs. Yankee dominance helped, but the primary attraction was in the National League.

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There was little drama as the Yankees swept the World Series. (Jeff Haynes/ AFP/ Getty Images)

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa later became the poster children for what was wrong with baseball, but in the summer of 1998 they were what made baseball relevant again for much of the country. Divisional rivals on two of the most prominent teams in the sport, McGwire and Sosa embarked on a home run race that captured the attention of the country. When Roger Maris broke the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth, there was backlash. People felt Ruth’s record should be left alone. When Maris ultimately hit home run number 61 in 1961 he did it in game 162, which many believe meant his record deserved an asterisk as he took more games than Ruth’s 154 game schedule in 1927. If McGwire, Sosa, or some other slugger could hit 60 home runs fewer than 154 games they would hold the record.

McGwire hit 11 home runs by the end of April, only to hit 16 in May to bring his season total to 27 as the calendar turned to June. On May 22nd, Sosa had only 9 home runs against McGwire’s 24. Over the next six weeks Sosa got red hot, hitting 24 home runs. Heading into the All Star Break, McGwire lead Sosa 37 home runs to 33. The race for 62 was on. McGwire hit his 50th home run of the season on August 20th, Sosa followed with his 50th three days later on August 23rd. However in between a whirlwind began on August 22nd regarding McGwire’s use of Androstenedione. McGwire maintained his use of Andro was legal and it did not give him any added benefits on the field. This is perhaps the clearest beginning of the steroid era entering public knowledge. The use of Andro did little to distract the public from the frenzy of the home run chase. September 8th saw McGwire hit his shortest home run of the season, 341 feet, just clearing the left field wall in Busch Stadium. McGwire and the Cardinals were hosting Sosa and the Cubs that night. After initially missing first base in the midst of his joy, quickly retreating to touch the missed base, McGwire rounded the bases to officially set the new single season home run mark at 62. Sosa would tie McGwire at 62 home runs on September 13th. As the 1998 season wound down the question turned to how high McGwire and Sosa would push the home run record. For the only time all season Sosa took the lead on September 25th, when he hit his 66th and final home run of the season. McGwire would finish with a flurry, hitting five home runs in the last three games of the season to finish with 70 home runs.

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The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped revive baseball one home run at a time. (AP Photo/ Beth A. Keiser)

There was no doubt both McGwire and Sosa broke the single season home run record, Ruth’s and Maris’. Sosa would be named the National League Most Valuable Player, while McGwire got his name in the record books. The summer of chasing Ruth and Maris brought baseball the excitement back it lost in the 1994 players strike. The chase between McGwire and Sosa, coupled with the total dominance of the Yankees gave baseball the season it needed to win back fans and rebuild trust.

20 years have passed since the summer of 1998. We have learned so much about the men who played that summer. Far too many had their abilities aided by steroids and other performance enhancers. The steroid era was on full display, we just did not know it yet. The revival of baseball was both helped and hurt by the steroid era, many players have since fallen from grace. The game continues to grow and much of the magic I remember as a kid has returned. The summer of 1998 helped revive baseball, and yet my most vivid memory from that summer is having no interest in any of it. 1998 was my last season playing organized baseball. I had a coach who took the fun out of the game. He would scream and yell when the players, myself included, did not get a hit. He changed my batting stance over and over again. I came to dread going to baseball practice and games. The joy of playing baseball was gone. A year or so later I wanted to play for a travel team, but I was late to the tryout we did not get out of the car. This is how my baseball career ended. I am under no illusion I was good enough to play professionally, maybe not even in high school. However, one person ruined baseball, it took years for my love of the game to return. I hope he still remembers how great those handful of victories were for our Spring 11/12U rec league team 20 years ago.

DJ

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 5.0

A new season is here and despite a lukewarm stove during the offseason, there are some interesting changes that should make our predictions even more misguided than before. Here’s a breakdown of how we see the final standings and playoffs going down. Bernie’s providing a “scouting report” based on our averaged predictions this time around.

National League

NL East Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Nationals* Follies* Nationals* Nationals* Nats* Nationals *
2 Braves Gnats Phillies Phillies Marlins* Phillies
3 Mets Braves Braves Marlins Braves Braves
4 Phillies Mets Mets Braves Mets Mets
5 Marlins Fish Marlins Mets Phillies Marlins

 

1st Place- Washington Nationals

The  Nationals seem to be suffering from the curse of most Washington sports teams with their inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. After last season, this led to a hasty change in management. Any moron with a working foot and hands can drive a Ferrari fast. That’s what this team is and why they’ll win the division.

2nd Place- Philadelphia Phillies

We rag on them a lot. It’s been ten head-scratching years since they won the World Series looking like they could have been contenders for several years. So it’s well-deserved. This time, they cleaned house a bit with a lot of cash-in-hand to build a team on the fly.

3rd Place- Atlanta Braves

They’re rebuilding too but the rebuild has had some setbacks. Shelby Miller and Alex Wood floundered. Wood may not have been comfortable in Atlanta but Miller was left out to dry without run support far too often. The front office traded away the pitching staff (giving up Kimbrel for what!?) to get hitters but also gave up one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors – Andrelton Simmons. Nothing has worked yet but they’re still not the head case that are the Mets.

4th Place- New York Mets

They still have formidable pitching if they can stay healthy. Their lineup isn’t drastically different than the one that made a World Series appearance in 2015. In some ways, this lineup has some serious slugging potential. But they’re the Mets. As long as there’s a lurking sideshow like Tim Tebow, you can bet these guys can’t stay out of their own heads long enough to hold it together for a season.

5th Place- Miami Marlins

Part of me would like to call this karmic retribution for ruining perfectly good World Series championship teams from the past. That part is because I don’t want to disparage Jeter but, to be fair, this also feels like certain teams flexing some influence to manufacture winners and losers. Or this could be a genius move to truly build from the ground up…I’m not holding my breath.

 

NL Central

Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Cubs* Reds* Cubs* Cardinals* Cubbies* Cubs*
2 Brewers* Cubbies* Cardinals* Brewers* Brewers Brewers*
3 Cardinals Brewers Brewers Cubs Reds Cardinals
4 Reds Pirates Reds Reds Cardinals Reds
5 Pirates Cardinals Pirates Pirates Pirates Pirates

 

1st Place- Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana are in. Jake Arrieta is out. Kyle Schwarber looks like he was stranded on a desert island during the off-season but in a good way. There’s far too much young hitting and defensive talent on this roster to think that turnover in the rotation is going to do much of anything. Heck, if Schwarber can run down a fly ball better, Cubs fans should be rejoicing because he showed in Spring Training that he can hit for power just from his shoulder rotation.

2nd Place- Milwaukee Brewers

These guys were knocking on the door to the playoffs. I think they added some solid improvements to both sides of the ball with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jhoulys Chacin.

3rd Place- St. Louis Cardinals

These guys are like the San Antonio Spurs. They capitalize on their experience and reload. However, the reloading hasn’t quite been adapting to the rapid changes going on in other places. Molina is still a machine but that’s relative to his age. Same goes for Carpenter, Fowler, and Wainwright (who’s currently hurt). Tommy Pham has a lot of hustle and if Wacha, Gyorko, Wong, and DeJong can find an extra gear to raise their game, third place is going to be off.

4th Place- Cincinnati Reds

One guy north of 30 on the top of their depth chart for fielding but a whole lot of questions about their rotation. If this team could gel together this season, the NL Central will probably be the most exciting division to watch this season.

5th Place- Pittsburgh Pirates

Heart doesn’t win games if you can’t keep them close. There isn’t enough depth here to contend with the rest of the division. Doubt they’ll come in last in the National League but they rest of the Central provides a big obstacle to move forward.

NL West Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Dodgers* Dodgers* Dodgers* D-backs* Dodgers* Dodgers*
2 Rockies* D-backs* Rockies* Dodgers* D-backs* D-backs*
3 Giants Giants D-backs Rockies Rockies Rockies
4 D-backs Padres Giants Giants Giants Giants
5 Padres Rockies Padres Padres Padres Padres

 

1st Place- Los Angeles Dodgers

Let’s give the 2017 National League Pennant winners their due. There’s little else to that’s necessary to mention.

2nd Place- Arizona Diamondbacks

I think Zack Greinke is ready to crush it this season. Taijuan Walker is a solid pick up to round out the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are a powerful one-two punch in a pretty formidable lineup. A healthy A.J. Pollock and an added bat with Steven Souza Jr. gives them a credible threat to unseat the Dodgers this year.

3rd Place- Colorado Rockies

The Rockies didn’t do a whole lot to solidify the impressive season they had last year. Blackmon has been on a steady increase over the last four seasons so he may regress this season. Their rotation is really well balanced without an elite ace.

4th Place- San Francisco Giants

The Giants added Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria to the lineup. Two guys whom many would have expected to be one-team guys for their HoF contending careers. Not sure if that’s a solution or snake oil for their woes that now include an injured (again) Madison Bumgarner.

5th Place- San Diego Padres

There are some shining examples of talent on this team with Brad Hand, Dinelson Lamet, Eric Hosmer, and Hunter Renfroe. Yeah…that’s about it.

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Paul Goldschmidt and the Diamondbacks have been waiting in the wings, could 2018 be there time to win the National League West. (Justin K. Aller/ Getty Images)

American League

 

AL East Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Red Sox* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees*
2 Yankees* Jays* Blue Jays Red Sox* Red Sox* Red Sox*
3 Blue Jays Orioles Red Sox Orioles Jays Blue Jays
4 Orioles Sox Orioles Blue Jays Orioles Orioles
5 Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays

 

1st Place- New York Yankees

Luis Severino made the case for being an elite ace to lead the Yankees’ rotation. They had one of most formidable bullpens in the Majors and they didn’t lose it. They dropped a Todd Frazier and picked up a Giancarlo Stanton. Can Aaron Boone lose with this team? It’s New York and odd things happen when you have that kind of pressure.

2nd Place- Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale is probably grinding his teeth a little bit about Corey Kluber getting the Cy Young. There’s also a healthy David Price. Rick Porcello is an enviable 3rd man in the rotation. Mookie Betts might be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors. They won the division last year and lost to the eventual World Series Champs.

3rd Place- Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays retooled their lineup a bit but they’ll have to do a lot in order to take any attention away from the Yankees or the Red Sox.

4th Place- Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are losing depth on both sides of the ball as Chris Davis and Adam Jones have become the elder statesmen of the team. Having one of the best closers in the game being stuck on the DL again shouldn’t be a concern if they’re going to struggle to keep games close going into the later innings. Manager Buck Showalter is a crafty guy though and somehow gets his teams through a lot more than expected. But this is a pretty stacked division.

5th Place- Tampa Bay Rays

Carlos Gomez was a surprisingly good pickup to replace Steven Souza Jr (especially since Souza’s starting the season on the DL). The Rays have a solid rotation with Archer, Snell, Faria, and Eovaldi but there’s an extreme of old journeyman and hopeful prospect talent on the other side that doesn’t bode well for a good season.

 

AL Central Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Indians* Indians* Indians* Twins* Cleveland* Indians*
2 Twins Royals* Twins* Indians* Twins* Twins
3 White Sox White Sox Royals Royals White Sox Royals
4 Royals Tigers Tigers White Sox Royals White Sox
5 Tigers Twins White Sox Tigers Tigers Tigers

 

1st Place- Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were a game and a series away from being right back in the action everyone thought they were going to coast into. They were stopped a team on an ascendant run while battling some tough late season injuries. 2017 Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, leads a strong rotation that should hold things down for a bevy of young talent in Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer to really break out while hustlers like Jason Kipnis and Yonder Alonso keep the wheels on track.

2nd Place- Minnesota Twins

Paul Molitor managed the Minnesota Twins like a Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn shore up a strong rotation with Ervin Santana looking more like he did eight years ago and a young firestarter in Jose Berrios who just needs to bring his home game focus on the road. Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano have some devastating bats that will keep the pressure on opposing pitchers.  

3rd Place- Kansas City Royals

This team is rebuilding and it seems like they’ve got a plan. They’ve got some cash to pull in some talent later but only if they think they can make a run. It’s unlikely so third is an optimistic place that’s based more on their divisional opponents’ savvy and struggle.

4th Place- Chicago White Sox

Yoan Moncada has a lot of promise but it hasn’t been cashed in yet. Jose Abreu is either stuck or coasting. The White Sox rotation is patchier than a 12-year old’s security blanket.

5th Place- Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers are at least trying to hold it together and present some semblance of a team. I’m still sore about the way they let go of Dave Dombrowski and I hope they’re kicking themselves repeatedly for it.

AL West Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin

The Winning Run

1 Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros*
2 Angels* Angels Angels* Mariners Angels Angels*
3 Mariners A’s Mariners Angels Mariners Mariners
4 Athletics Rangers Rangers Athletics Rangers Athletics
5 Rangers Mariners Athletics Rangers A’s Rangers

 

1st Place- Houston Astros

They’re the champs. Let’s give them their due. They reloaded this offseason because there really wasn’t anything to rebuild.

2nd Place- Los Angeles Angels

The Angels probably aren’t putting all of their eggs into the Shohei Ohtani basket. They got Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler to add some firepower to the lineup. The rotation looks awful to me but maybe they think Garrett Richards is finally due to bounce back into his 2014 form. They’ll still need to tweak that bullpen.

3rd Place- Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners resigned Ichiro Suzuki. I really hope he can mentor some of their young talent. What I would love to see is that they ask him to start hitting for the fences instead of leading off so we can see some of his fabled home run hitting ability. There are some solid elements in Jean Segura and Robinson Cano, speed in the outfield with Dee Gordon, and if they can keep things close an excited closer in Edwin Diaz.

4th Place- Oakland Athletics

Moneyball doesn’t work when everyone else has the analytics you have now.

5th Place- Texas Rangers

The Rangers sold the farm and now they’re using some of their prize bulls to till the field for the next team to come in.

miguel-cabrera-d778d3f66afa5458.jpg
Will one of the best right handed hitters of all time, Miguel Cabrera, play for a last place Tigers team in 2018? (AP Photo/ Carlos Osorio)

Wild Card

NL WC Winner Rockies Cubbies Rockies Dodgers Dbacks Brewers
NL WC Loser Brewers D-backs Cardinals Brewers Marlins D-backs
AL WC Winner Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Red Sox Angels
AL WC Loser Angels Jays Angels Indians Twins Red Sox

 

Divisional Series

NLDS 1-4 Winner Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NLDS 1-4 Loser Rockies Cubbies Rockies Nationals Dbacks Brewers
NLDS 2-3 Winner Nationals Follies Cubs D-backs Cubs Cubs
NLDS 2-3 Loser Cubs Reds Nationals Cardinals Nats Nationals
ALDS 1-4 Winner Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
ALDS 1-4 Loser Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Astros Angels
ALDS 2-3 Winner Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
ALDS 2-3 Winner Red Sox Yankees Indians Twins Cleveland Indians

 

Championship Series

NLCS Winner Nationals Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NLCS Loser Dodgers Follies Dodgers D-backs Cubs Cubs
ALCS Winner Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
ALCS Loser Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
01Sox1.jpg
Red Sox fans should be excited. The Winning Run picked the Yankees to win the World Series. We all know that means the Yankees have no chance for another ring. (AP Photo)

World Series

World Series Champ Nationals Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
World Series Runner Up Astros Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers

 

Sorry in advance to the New York Yankees because this means they’re probably not going to win the World Series this year.

BL, DJ, JJ, & JB

Predictions That Did Go Wrong 4.0

After four seasons of attempting to predict how the Major League season will play out, one would think we would improve. Instead we were pitiful once again. The only consistency continues to be we are individually and collectively terrible at predicting the baseball future. Below is all the proof you need.

National League

National League East

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Washington Nationals Washington Nationals New York Muttz Washington Nationals Washington Nationals
2nd Miami Marlins New York Mets* Washington Gnats Atlanta Braves New York Mets
3rd Atlanta Braves Miami Marlins Atlanta Bravos New York Mets Miami Marlins
4th New York Mets Atlanta Braves Miami Fish Miami Marlins Atlanta Braves
5th Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Follies Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies

 

National League Central

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs Chicago Harry Caray’s Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
2nd Milwaukee Brewers Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Buckos* St. Louis Cardinals* St. Louis Cardinals*
3rd St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals Cincinnati Fighting Vottos Pittsburgh Pirates Milwaukee Brewers
4th Pittsburgh Pirates Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Deadbirds Milwaukee Brewers Pittsburgh Pirates
5th Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewniversity Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds

 

National League West

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers Colorado Silver Bullets Los Angeles Dodgers San Francisco Giants
2nd Arizona Diamondbacks San Francisco Giants* Los Angeles Vin Scullys* Colorado Rockies* Los Angeles Dodgers*
3rd Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies San Padres Big Macs San Francisco Giants Colorado Rockies
4th San Diego Padres Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Trouser Snakes Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Diamondbacks
5th San Francisco Giants San Diego Padres San Francisco Gigantors San Diego Padres San Diego Padres
Turner.jpg
Justin Turner and the Dodgers won the National League Pennant, we didn’t see that coming for some reason. (Richard Mackson- USA TODAY Sports)

American League

American League East

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox
2nd New York Yankees Toronto Blue Jays* New York Spankees New York Yankees* New York Yankees*
3rd Tampa Bay Rays New York Yankees Baltimore Riots Toronto Blue Jays Baltimore Orioles
4th Toronto Blue Jays Baltimore Orioles Steve Irwin Killers Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays
5th Baltimore Orioles Tampa Bay Rays Boston Dead Sux Baltimore Orioles Tampa Bay Rays

 

American League Central

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Cleveland Indians Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians Cleveland Indians
2nd Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers Cleveland Up Three Games To None* Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals
3rd Kansas City Royals Kansas City Royals Chicago Black Sox Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers
4th Chicago White Sox Minnesota Twins Minnesota Twinkies Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins
5th Detroit Tigers Chicago White Sox Detroit Militarized Zone Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox

 

American League West

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Houston Astros Houston Astros The Acute Angels of Anaheim Seattle Mariners Houston Astros
2nd Los Angeles Angels Seattle Mariners* Houston Colt 45s* Houston Astros* Seattle Mariners
3rd Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers Oakland White Elephants Texas Rangers Texas Rangers
4th Texas Rangers Los Angeles Angels Texas Dangers Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Angels
5th Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics Seattle Seamen Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics
Yankees.jpg
The Yankees were a surprise in 2017, which seems weird to say now. (Ben Solomon- New York Times)

The Playoffs

National League Wild Card

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Arizona Diamondbacks San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Los Angeles Dodgers
Loser Colorado Rockies New York Mets Los Angeles Vin Scullys St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

 

American League Wild Card

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner New York Yankees Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros New York Yankees
Loser Minnesota Twins Toronto Blue Jays Houston Colt 45s New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles

 

National League Divisional Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers
Loser Arizona Diamondbacks San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Chicago Cubs
Winner Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants
Loser Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers Chicago Harry Caray’s Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals

 

American League Divisional Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner New York Yankees Boston Red Sox Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians New York Yankees
Loser Cleveland Indians Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros Cleveland Indians
Winner Houston Astros Cleveland Indians The Acute Angels of Anaheim Seattle Mariners Boston Red Sox
Loser Boston Red Sox Houston Astros Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Houston Astros

 

National League Championship Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals San Francisco Giants
Loser Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers

 

American League Championship Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Houston Astros Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Seattle Mariners New York Yankees
Loser New York Yankees Boston Red Sox The Acute Angels of Anaheim Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox

 

World Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Houston Astros Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Seattle Mariners New York Yankees
Loser Los Angeles Dodgers Boston Red Sox Kansas City Monarchs Washington Nationals San Francisco Giants
Bregman.jpg
Some how none of us had the Astros in the World Series, much less winning it. WHY???!!!! (Eugene Garcia/ European Pressphoto Agency)

Breaking down how we did individually shows some bright spots here and there, but overall we were terrible. Here is a breakdown of everything we correctly predicted before last season began.

Jesse was the worst at predicting the season. He correctly predicted the final regular season standings of just seven teams, a sad showing at 23%. His correct predictions focused primarily on which teams would not contend. He was correct twice in the National League East, his best division, predicting the Braves would finish third and the Phillies would finish last. In the National League Central, he found his only correct prediction with the Cubs winning the division. Jesse looked into his crystal ball and saw the Giants finishing last in the National League West long before the rest of us. Moving over to the American League, the Yankees produced the second place finish he foresaw last April. In the Central, the Tigers followed through by finishing last. Finally, in the American League West, Jesse nailed it with his prediction of the Rangers finishing in fourth place. None of his playoff predictions were correct, and thus Jesse finished last in The Winning Run’s prediction standings.

Derek managed to finish with the bronze medal based on his predictions for the 2017 season. He predicted the final regular season standings for 12 teams, an impressive 40%, tied for the most. His predictions included picking every division winner before the season started. Consistency is the key to success in playing and predicting baseball. Derek was correct on the Nationals winning and the Phillies finishing last in the National League East. In the Central, Derek showed his prediction prowess as he was spot on with the Cubs winning, the Cardinals finishing third, and the Reds finishing last in the division. In the National League West, the Dodgers and Rockies came through finishing first and third respectively. The American League East was the weakest division for Derek, as he was correct only in predicting the Red Sox would win the division. The Indians and the Royals made Derek’s predictions true by finishing first and third in the American League Central. He was correct that the Astros would dominate and the Athletics would be left behind in the American League West. Success during the regular season is great, but as any Nationals fan know, success in the playoffs is what matters. Derek managed only two correct predictions in the playoffs, both concerned the Cubs. He was correct in predicting the Cubs would win their matchup in the National League Divisional Series and would lose in the National League Championship Series. Success in the playoffs is what matters, he will have to wait until next year to see if he climb higher on the podium.

Coming in second place, just missing the gold medal was John. While John managed only 10 correct regular season predictions, a respectable 33%, against Derek’s 12, his success in the playoffs earned him the silver medal. John got off to a good start with the Nationals winning and the Phillies finishing last in the National League East. His success continued in the Central as he again bookended the division with the Cubs and the Reds. The National League West saw him only predict the Dodgers winning the division. Moving over to the American League East we found John’s strength. He correctly predicting the Red Sox winning the division, the Yankees finishing second, and the Orioles finishing last. The rest of the American League was not as easy. In the Central, John managed to only predict the Indians winning. In the West he only correct prediction was the Athletics finishing last. However, once the calendar rolled over to October John made up for last time. He was correct, like Derek, in predicting the Cubs would win their matchup in the National League Divisional Series only to lose in the National League Championship Series. However, John predicted the Red Sox would be kicked out of the playoffs by losing in the American League Divisional Series. While his regular season predictions were a step behind, John was able to make up for his mistakes and use his predicting power to take silver with a solid playoff showing.

SI cover.jpeg
All four of us missed the most obvious sign to pick the Astros to win the World Series last season. (Sports Illustrated)

This leaves Bernie alone at the top of the podium. His success in the regular season and the playoffs earned Bernie the gold medal in predicting the 2017 Major League season. Bernie tied with Derek by correctly predicting the final regular season standings for 12 teams, 40%. In the National League East he had the Nationals winning with the Phillies bringing up the rear. The Central was his strength in the National League, as Bernie was spot on with the Cubs winning, the Pirates finishing fourth, and the Reds finishing last in the division. In the West Bernie found success with the Rockies finishing third. Once again the American League East was a source of strength, as Bernie had the Red Sox winning, the Yankees second, and the Blue Jays finishing fourth in the division. The Central was an easy pick at the top with the Indians, but below Cleveland his predictions missed. In the American League West, the Astros and Athletics finished as predicted first and last for Bernie. A strong regular season only gave way to an even strong playoff run. Bernie was correct in predicting the Yankees would win the American League Wild Card game. He was also correct in picking the Dodgers to win and the Nationals to lose in the National League Divisional Series. The gold medal winning push came in the American League Divisional Series. Bernie was perfect in predicting the four teams who would meet. He predicted the Yankees winning and the Indians losing in this round. If Bernie had only flipped his prediction to have the Astros winning over the Red Sox, he would have been perfect. Bernie found success in the playoffs while the rest of us faltered. The irony is Bernie lives in Washington D.C. and his local team is the Nationals, who are known for failing in the playoffs after a great regular season.

Collectively The Winning Run showed once again the more you know about baseball the less you know. Each of us love baseball and follow it religiously, yet we are terrible at these predictions. We all had the Cubs winning the National League Central and the Phillies finishing last in the National League West. Collectively, we failed at everything else. We failed to predict either the Dodgers or Astros would play in the World Series, even though we recognized both teams would be a force in 2017. We fail at predicting the baseball season every year, so why should this past season be any different?

DJ, JJ, JB, & BL