Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

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How Does Ruben Amaro Still Have a Job?

amaroRunning a baseball team is NOT an easy job. I get that. And, to those who are able to do it well, I am more than willing to give credit. But, I don’t believe that holding on to a GM for year after year after year of decline makes any sense. And if I’d written this article about 4-5 years ago, the name in the title might have been Jim Hendry.  But, in 2015, it’s time for a change in Philadelphia.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is now in his 7th season as the GM of the Phillies.  He took over as the GM in November of 2008, after the Phillies had just finished winning a championship. His first three seasons looked promising – winning the division each year. But, this wasn’t a team Amaro built. He inherited a winner. And, each year, the team finished one step further from a championship – losing the World Series, then losing the NLCS, then losing the NLDS.  Since that 2011 season, the team has yet to finish above .500.  And, at the rate they’re playing this season, they’ll be guaranteed a losing record about half-way through August.

But, a few losing seasons isn’t an automatic hook.  Just look at some of the teams that are playing well this season.  The Twins, the Cubs, the Astros – they’ve all endured a few bad seasons of late.  But, if you looked closely at what those clubs were doing, you would have noticed that there was a rebuilding taking place.  Right now, even as all three of those teams are poised to make playoff runs, those are three of the strongest farm systems in the game.  These are three teams that are now primed to succeed in 2015 and beyond.

So, after three consecutive seasons at or below .500, and as they’re well on their way to the worst record in baseball in 2015, what does the future look like for the Phillies?  In a word – bleak.  The farm system feeding the Philadelphia team is generally ranked in the bottom 1/3 of baseball.  Usually somewhere around #21.  They have just 2 prospects in the top 100 in baseball, and their best prospect is still at least a year away from the majors (J.P. Crawford – a SS who has played just 21 games at AA).

The moves (and lack of moves) made by Amaro has turned a team that looked like a perennial contender into a team with no hope on the horizon.  Let’s start with the first big move made by Amaro – acquiring Roy Halladay.  This transpired after the 2009 season.  In December of ’09, he maneuvered a trade that looked promising.  Halladay essentially replaced Cliff Lee (whom they shipped off to Seattle), and they even got a couple top prospects from Seattle in the process.  There were a lot of other moving parts, but let’s keep it simple.  Halladay was given a 3-year extension for $20 million per season, which would carry his contract through the 2013 season.  Four years of Roy Halladay for a sum of just over $75 million.  The story was that the Phillies were worried Cliff Lee was going to want a 6-7 year deal worth over $20 million per season.  So, they were able to get Halladay for 4, at a slightly cheaper rate.

Problem #1 with this logic – Lee is two years younger than Halladay.  The 2010 season was Halladay’s age 33 season.  Yes, Halladay won a Cy Young that year.  But, the wheels came flying off his career in spectacular fashion half-way through his contract with the Phillies.

Problem #2 – Amaro turned around and signed Lee the very next offseason to a 5-year deal worth over $100 million!  That contract, by the way, will pay Lee $50 million over 2014 & 2015 – during which time he has pitched a total of 81 innings (and probably won’t be pitching again until close to August).

Problem #3 – The best prospect the Phillies got back from Seattle (Phillippe Aumont – a 2011 1st round pick), has turned out to be a sub-par relief pitcher, who took his first stab at starting at the major league level last week – 4 IP, 7 BB, 2 HR, 6 ER.

Problem #4 – The best prospect the Phillies sacrificed in this deal (Travis d’Arnaud – a 2007 1st round pick), was 7th in ROY voting last year, and outside of a couple unfortunate injuries this year, has played very well (.873 OPS as a catcher).

Perhaps some of this would have been impossible to predict – but, signing aging pitchers to 4 and 5-year deals doesn’t usually work out.  So, even if you miss on a couple big free agents or a bad trade, good draft picks will keep your farm system healthy.  So, let’s take a look at Amaro’s draft picks that have made a significant impact at the MLB level . . . [crickets].  Well, how about draft picks that have made some contribution at the MLB level? – just one.  Ken Giles, a 7th-round pick in 2011, looks like a good set-up man.  He might even become a quality closer one day, if he can cut down his WHIP a little (currently 1.27).  But, that’s it.  That’s the list.  No one else drafted by Amaro has made anything close to significant contribution at the major-league level – through 6 years of drafts.  I’ll concede the fact that the Phillies’ top 2 prospects are their last two 1st-round picks.  But, those are also the only two they have in the top 100 in baseball.

Now we come to the biggest reason the Phillies’ future is grim:  trades – but, primarily, the lack thereof.  During the 2011 season, they made a trade-deadline deal for Hunter Pence, in an effort to boost their offense.  There’s no question Pence had an impact, and was a big part of the Phillies’ run to the playoffs.  But, they still lost the NLDS – and traded away two top-100 prospects to Houston (Jarred Cosart & Jon Singleton).  This move made even less sense a year later.  By the end of June in 2012, the Phillies were 10 games out of 1st, and 8 games below .500.  So, Amaro figures Pence is a good trade chip, as he’s nearing the end of his contract.  Another trade-deadline deal sends Pence to the Giants (who went on to win the World Series), and in return the Phillies get . . . 3 guys who were never once ranked in the top-100 prospects.  Only two have even made it to the majors, and the best of the lot was Nate Schierholtz, a journeyman outfielder who retired with a .253 average in parts of 8 major-league seasons.

Of all the players Amaro could have traded – he gets rid of the only starting position player on the team under the age of 30?  And for essentially nothing of any consequence?  Meanwhile, over the last 3+ seasons he has continued to pay an aging Chase Utley $15 million per year (he was 33 in 2012, and could have been traded at a number of points in the last 3 years for prospects), Ryan Howard is making over $20 million per year (he was 32 in 2012, and even with his steep contract and lagging numbers, if Amaro would have eaten some of that contract, he could have at least received something in return), and Jimmy Rollins continued making $11 million per year until he was finally traded for two mediocre prospects this past offseason (which sadly, are the Phillies’ #4 & #5 prospects in their system).

And, what about Jonathan Papelbon?  Signed after that 2011 season, but the team hasn’t been anywhere near contention since.  Several teams over the years would have given up a quality prospect for Papelbon.  But, here he is, 34 years old, making $13 million per year, doing nothing of significance for the Phillies.  But of all the boneheaded non-moves Amaro has made – the worst has to be his dealing with Cole Hamels.  Hamels is a legit stud ace.  And everyone has been waiting for the Phillies to pull the trigger on that trade for a couple years now.  But, we just keep waiting.  And, the price teams are willing to pay keeps getting lower and lower and lower.  If Hamels and Papelbon are still on the Phillies roster at the end of the 2015 season, Amaro should be looking for employment elsewhere.

The Phillies should have been in “rebuilding” mode 2-3 years ago.  Instead, their fans have suffered through what is going to be 4 seasons of sub-par baseball, while their GM has done nothing to help their future.  Now, they’re stuck looking up at the rest of the NL East, and appear to be poised to remain there for a few more years.  How does Ruben Amaro still have a job?

2015 Predictions: NL East

NL-EastThe NL East has been one of the busier divisions this offseason.  Of course, everyone knows about the Scherzer deal, and the Stanton contract, and all the moves the Marlins have been making.  But, is it really going to make a difference in the playoff picture?  Well, that remains to be seen.  I’ll be revealing my playoff picks after reviewing each division.  If Shields signs with Miami (one of the rumored suitors), then that would likely change things.  But, for now, here is how I see this division playing out:

  1. Washington Nationals (96-66)
  2. Miami Marlins (84-78)
  3. New York Mets (79-83)
  4. Atlanta Braves (76-86)
  5. Philadelphia Phillies (67-95)

I’m not very surprised by these standings.  Even before I did my own statistical analysis, this is about what I would have predicted.  You might could make the argument that the Braves and Mets could be switched.  But, that’s about it.  Here’s where I came down on each team…

Washington

They will finish with the best record in baseball for a number of reasons.  They have the best starting rotation – not just in their division, but also in all of baseball.  They have the best bullpen, offense and defense in the division as well.  And, as if that wasn’t going to make life easy enough, they have possibly the worst team in baseball in their division, and two of the worst offenses in the entire game in their division.  The Nationals will get some competition out of Miami, but the rest of the division pales in comparison.

Miami

The Marlins’ front office has done a nice job this off-season, in putting together their major-league team.  Granted, I do believe that it was at the expense of their farm system, which may come back to bite them in a couple years.  But, they have put together a very competitive team at the major league level.  While the Nationals are running away with the best . . . well, everything . . . the Marlins are right behind them in this division with a very nice starting rotation (Fernandez, Alvarez, Cosart & Latos).  That alone would lead to a lot of wins.  But, even though they have probably the second best offense in the division, once you get past Stanton, it isn’t exactly going to make pitchers nervous.  Morse was a nice addition, but he’s getting older, and you’re counting on his out of the ordinary production from last year (his highest OPS since 2011, and one of only two seasons he has remained healthy his entire career).  Beyond that, the lineup has some above-average hitters (Ozuna & Yellich), but it’s certainly not a dominant offense.  And, what concerns me even more is the fact that the bullpen in Miami is not stellar.  It isn’t ugly.  But, it is going to allow a decent number of hits and walks (average WHIP among the best relievers is 1.21). In a different division, I’m not sure how well Miami would do.

New York

Mets fans should be excited about the future – just, not 2015.  They have some very nice young pitching (Harvey, DeGrom, Wheeler) that’s likely to get even better when prospects like Noah Syndergaard make their way to the majors.  But, that’s about the extent of what there is to be excited about in New York.  The bullpen might be the second best in the division (Parnell, Familia & Edgin are very good), but it’s still not exactly elite.  And, the offense, which was middle-of-the-pack in the NL last year, isn’t getting any better.  The addition of Michael Cuddyer sounds nice.  But, closer inspection reveals that he’s going into his age 36 season, only played 49 games last year, and has had inflated stats from playing in Colorado.  Until they can bring in (or up) some quality offensive production outside of Duda, this team won’t get very far.

Atlanta

2017.  I believe that’s the target.  That’s when the Braves will move into their new stadium north of Atlanta, and that’s likely the next time they will field a competitive team.  I think the Braves have made some good moves that have provided some quality prospects (3 of their top 6 prospects have come as a part of the Gattis & Upton trades).  But, it has left an already weak offense with just one batter to be excited about – Freddie Freeman.  So, here’s my question:  how close do you think Freeman gets to a .400 OBP this season?  He’s going to be pitched around so often that, if he can be patient, he’ll draw well over 100 walks.  But, don’t be surprised if his power numbers drop even more from last year.  Because he is the Atlanta offense, and even an aging Nick Markakis can’t help.  Kimbrel is phenomenal, and Teheran, Wood & Hale look to make a decent rotation.  But, those guys are likely going to lose a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games with this offense.

Philadelphia

If it wasn’t for Atlanta’s putrid offense, the Phillies would be the worst in the division in every single category.  Once you get past Hamels, you may not have even an average pitcher left in the entire rotation.  Other than Papelbon, the bullpen is littered with guys whose WHIPs are 1.34, 1.40, 1.42.  And, the only reason I rank their offense a notch above Atlanta’s is because they have some young guys that played decently last year, and who look like they may improve to be above average batters (Ben Revere & Cody Asche).  The Phillies’ farm system isn’t terrible, but it could use a boost.  Why a team headed toward almost 100 losses is trying to hang on to Papelbon and Hamels, I do not know.  Those two could net the quality and volume of prospects that could have this team competing again in just 2-3 years.  If this team loses less than 90 games – Sandberg should be manager of the year.

All-Time Greatest: Philadelphia Phillies

The Philadelphia franchise is one of the oldest in all of baseball.  Established in 1883 as the Philadelphia Quakers, they have remained a part of the National League for 131 seasons.  The team was often referred to as the “Philadelphias” in their early years, and that was soon shortened to the “Phillies.”  The team adopted the nickname officially for the 1890 season.  Aside from being one of the oldest teams in all professional sports, the Phillies also have the dubious distinction of having lost more games than any other team in any professional sport (10,462).  Only 23 times in the history of baseball has a team finished the season with a win percentage at or below .300 – the Phillies have done it 6 times, including 5 times from 1938-1945!  No other team in baseball has played that poorly more than 3 times in their history.  They have finished in last place more than twice as many times as they have made it into the playoffs (31-14, respectively), and they own the modern Major League record for most consecutive losses – 23 in 1961.  The Phillies were also the last of the 16 teams that comprised the major leagues from 1901-1961 to win a World Series – something they didn’t accomplish until 1980.

But, in spite of their woeful history, there have been some bright spots for the Phillies.  World Series champions in 1980 and 2008.  Three consecutive division championships from ’76-’78.  And, 5 consecutive division championships from 2007-2011.  They’ve had 5 different players win 7 MVP awards, 4 different players win 7 Cy Young wards, and 4 Rookie of the Year winners.  They have retired 5 players’ jerseys, and there are 10 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who spent their primary careers with the Phillies.  I also find it intriguing that a team with so much turmoil, could have in their history 2 of the greatest to ever play their position (LHP & 3B).  Well, without further ado, here are, in my opinion, the 5 greatest Philadelphia Phillies of all time:

robin-roberts-hof-25. Robin Roberts (’48-’61) – elected to seven consecutive All-Star games, Roberts was the National League’s starting pitcher in five Mid-Summer Classics – tied for the most in the history of the game.  He was a workhorse the first half of his career – starting 37+ games seven consecutive years, leading the league in starts six of those years, and complete games five times.  In 1950, he became the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games in a season since 1917 (see #3 below).  He went on to 20-win seasons in 6 consecutive years from ’50-’55 – leading the league in wins every year from ’52-’55.  He also finished in the top-7 in MVP voting five times from ’50-’55.  After he was sold to the Yankees after the ’61 season, the Phillies announced that they would retire his jersey #36 in a ceremony prior to a Spring Training game between the two clubs.  Roberts’ jersey was the first one ever retired by the franchise.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.  On the Phillies’ all-time lists, among pitchers with at least 1000 IP, he ranks 2nd in wins (234), 7th in WHIP (1.17), 2nd in strikeouts (1871), 4th in K/BB ratio (2.61), and 10th in ERA+ (114).

ChuckKlein_display_image4. Ed Delahanty (1888-89; 1891-1901) – one of the best hitters of his era, Delahanty was the first major league player to bat over .400 in three different seasons.  To this day, he ranks 5th all-time with his career .346 batting average.  In 1896, he hit four home runs in a single game, becoming just the second player in baseball history to accomplish such a feat.  But, what makes his feat stand out, is that he is still the only one to ever do so by hitting four inside-the-park home runs.  During his years with the Phillies, Delahanty led the league in doubles 4 times, triples once, HR twice, RBI 3 times, stolen bases once, batting once, OBP once, SLG 4 times, and OPS 4 times.  He came within .012 batting points of winning the triple crown in 1893, and .013 of the same in 1896.  He ranks 2nd on the Phillies’ all-time batting list (.348), 5th in OBP (.414), 10th in SLG (.508), 5th in OPS (.922), 2nd in runs scored (1368), 3rd in hits (2214), 2nd in doubles (442 – surpassed just this past season by Jimmy Rollins), 1st in triples (158), 2nd in RBI (1288), 3rd in stolen bases (411 – also just passed this last year by Rollins), 3rd in OPS+ (153 – including 3 of the top 4 single seasons in Phillies history), and 2nd in runs created (1351).  Delahanty was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.  His career was cut short by one of the more mysterious deaths in baseball.  In the midst of the 1903 season (just one season after leading the league in batting), he was kicked off of a train for what the conductor described as drunk and disorderly behavior.  Delahanty then tried to walk across the International Bridge between Buffalo, NY and Fort Erie, near Niagara Falls.  There are various theories and stories about how it happened, but Delahanty fell/dove/was pushed off the bridge, into the river, and swept over the falls.  A tragic end to a magnificent career.

Grover_Cleveland_Alexander3. Grover Cleveland Alexander (1911-1917, 1930) – Old Pete Alexander may have spent more time with the Cubs organization, but his best years were unquestionably in Philadelphia.  His rookie season, he led the league in wins, shutouts, and innings pitched, finishing 3rd in MVP voting.  He would go on to lead the league in wins 4 more times (4 of the top 7 win totals in Phillies history), ERA 3 times (all 3 of which rank in the top 7 ERA’s in Phillies history), strikeouts 5 times, and WHIP twice (including the best season in Phillies history – 0.842 in 1915), in 7 full seasons with the Phillies (he only pitched in 9 games in 1930, at the age of 43 – his final season in the majors).  He won back-to-back-to-back pitching Triple Crowns in 1915, 1916 & 1917.  In 1915, Alexander was instrumental in leading the Phillies to their first ever pennant.  He ranks 3rd on the Phillies’ all-time ERA list among pitchers with at least 1000 IP (2.18), 3rd in wins (190), 1st in win pct. (.676), 3rd in WHIP (1.075), 6th in K’s (1409), 5th in K/BB ratio (2.51), 1st in shutouts (61), and 1st in ERA+ (140).  Alexander was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.  Had he spent more of his career with the Phillies, he likely would be even further up this list.  As it is, the 40% of his career he spent in Philadelphia was spectacular.

Steve Carlton 19802. Steve Carlton (’72-’86) – what a difficult decision it was to try and figure out how to rank the top 2 Phillies in history.  I don’t think I’ll get much argument from anyone regarding who the top 2 are – but, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone’s split 50/50 on how to rank them.  4 Cy Young awards (first to ever accomplish such a feat), two more top-5 finishes, five top-10 MVP finishes, 10 All-Star games, and one Gold Glove.  He won the pitching triple crown in 1972, his first year with the Phillies, which was an amazing feat, considering his 27 wins that season accounted for 46% of his team’s 59 wins that season – an all-time record.  He led the league in wins four times, and strikeouts five times – leading to his rank with the second most K’s all-time by a LHP, and the second most wins all-time by a LHP.  On the Phillies’ all-time lists, among pitchers with at least 1,000 IP, he ranks 10th in ERA (3.09), 1st in wins (241), 4th in win pct. (.600), 9th in WHIP (1.21), 5th in K/9 (7.38 – including 4 of the top 25 single seasons in Phillies history), 1st in K’s (3031 – including 4 of the top 6 single seasons in Phillies history), 8th in K/BB ratio (2.42), and 7th in ERA+ (120).  Carlton was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994 on his first ballot.

20.mike-schmidt1. Mike Schmidt (’72-’89) – back-to-back MVP’s (’80 & ’81), plus a 3rd MVP at the age of 36; 5 more top-10 MVP finishes; 12 All-Star games; 9 consecutive Gold Gloves, and a 10th one also at the age of 36 – all at one of the most difficult positions on the field; 6 Silver Sluggers (an award they didn’t start giving out until 1980, when he was already 30 years old); 1980 NLCS & World Series MVP.  Okay, I think that might be just about all the awards he won.  As for other achievements, he also led the league in HR eight times, RBI four times, OBP three times, SLG five times, OPS five times, and OPS+ six times.  He is, in my opinion, the greatest all around third baseman of all time.  There’s a reason he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995 on his first ballot with what was then the 4th highest percentage ever (96.52% – which is still the 7th highest ever).  He ranks 5th all-time on the Phillies’ SLG list (.527), 6th in OPS (.908), 1st in runs scored (1506), 1st in hits (2234), 1st in total bases (4404), 1st in HR (548), 1st in RBI (1595), 6th in OPS+ (147 – including the best season in Phillies history, when his was 198 in ’81), and 1st in runs created (1757).  Schmidt’s #20 jersey was retired in 1990, the season immediately after he retired.

2013 NL Cy Young

There was a lot of great pitching in the NL this season.  And, if you have any doubts about that, just go take a look at the stats of guys like Jordan Zimmerman, Mat Latos, Hyun-jin Ryu and Julio Teheran.  None of those guys cracked my top-5, but they all had very good seasons on the mound.  So, without further ado, here are my top 5, culminating in this year’s winner.

craig-kimbrel-pitching#5 – Craig Kimbrel (ATL).  It’s not every year that you see someone rack up 50 saves.  It’s only been done 13 other times in history, and Kimbrel became the youngest reliever ever to achieve that mark this year.  The rest of his numbers aren’t quite as staggering as they were a year ago, when he finished 5th in Cy Young voting.  But, they’re still good enough to make my list: 1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and a 4.90 K/BB ratio.

#4 – Zack Greinke (LAD).  He only started 28 games this season, and his strikeout total is fairly low (148), but Greinke still had a great year in LA.  He won 15 games, while only losing 4, giving him the best win pct. in the NL.  He had a 2.63 ERA (4th), 1.11 WHIP (10th), 3.23 FIP (10th), and held opponents to an impressive .229 avg. (10th).

Cliff Lee - Phillies#3 – Cliff Lee (PHI).  Lee has to have had the worst luck of any pitcher I know.  Even when pitching for good teams like the Rangers or Phillies, he just can’t seem to get the wins he deserves.  A 3.16 ERA and 1.11 WHIP a year ago netted him all of 6 wins!  It went a little better for him this year, though he still didn’t have the record you would expect, based on the rest of his numbers.  He had a 14-8 record in 31 starts, a 2.87 ERA (6th), 1.01 WHIP (4th), 2.82 FIP (6th), 222 K’s (2nd), held opponents to a .230 avg., and he led the league with a 6.94 K/BB ratio.

#2 – Adam Wainwright (STL).  I’m not sure how many Cardinals fans still consider Chris Carpenter their ace, but it’s high time they moved on.  Wainwright is clearly the linchpin of that rotation.  He had a fantastic year, leading the league in wins (19), while accumulating some other very impressive numbers:  2.94 ERA (7th), 1.07 WHIP (7th – in spite of leading the league in hits allowed), 2.55 FIP (3rd), 219 K’s (3rd), and a 6.26 K/BB ratio (2nd).  All very good numbers.  But, all just a notch below this year’s winner . . .

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Pittsburgh Pirates#1 – Clayton Kershaw (LAD).  Kershaw led the league in ERA (1.83), WHIP (0.92), and strikeouts (232).  He also had a 4.46 K/BB ratio (5th), held batters to a .192 avg. (2nd), and had a 2.39 FIP (2nd).  He may have only finished with a 16-9 record, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Kershaw was the best pitcher in the NL this season.  If he wins the award, then at the ripe old age of 25, he will have 2 Cy Young awards already under his belt, along with a 2nd-place finish in the year between his wins.  We could be seeing something very special brewing in LA.

Overshadowed

Yasiel Puig is getting the lion’s share of rookie exposure from the media.  And, I’m not going to say he doesn’t deserve credit for what he’s doing (1.024 OPS in his first 54 games).  But, because the media is so infatuated with the Dodgers’ rookie, we are missing out on some of the other rookies around the league that are playing exceptional baseball.  Take a look at these young players who might not be on your radar – but should be:

  • Wil Myers (TB) – he was called up to Tampa in mid-June.  In 39 games he has 8 HR, 30 RBI, is batting .329 with a .912 OPS, and has yet to commit an error in 300+ innings in right field.  He’s a legit contender for AL ROY.
  • Matt Adams (STL) – when Lance Berkman went on the DL for the second time, the Cardinals called up the left-handed hitter for his second stint with the team this year.  He started out primarily as a pinch-hitter who would occasionally give a regular starter the day off.  But, since late June, he has been St. Louis’ near-everyday first baseman (while Craig has played a lot in LF).  His numbers have slipped since he started playing every day, but overall, he has done well this season: .286, 8 HR, 32 RBI, .832 OPS, 134 wRC+.
  • Yan Gomes (CLE) – since being called up in early April, he has forced the Indians to find ways to get him in the game.  Starting catcher Carlos Santana has played several games at 1B and DH this year, allowing Gomes to play behind the plate.  In 47 games, Gomes has a .310 avg. with 7 HR, 26 RBI, an .874 OPS (which includes a massive .529 SLG), and 142 wRC+.
  • Jose Fernandez (MIA) – the Marlins’ lone representative in the All-Star game continues to pitch very well.  In 21 starts this season, he has dominated NL hitters to the tune of a 2.54 ERA, and a measly 1.01 WHIP.  Meanwhile, he’s striking out batters at a rate of 9.73 K/9.  He’s only 8-5, but that has more to do with his pitiful 3.67 RS – one of the worst in the NL.
  • Jim Henderson (MIL) – the Brewers’ “new” closer (he turns 31 in October) has done very well for them.  He has 15 saves in 18 save opportunities, along with a minuscule 1.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.  He also carries a very impressive 10.37 K/9 rate.

On the Horizon

There also are a number of young players who have been performing very well in the brief amount of time they’ve been playing thus far.  Keep an eye on these guys, because if they keep playing as well as they are, they will be a force to be reckoned with by the end of the season.

  • Darin Ruf (PHI) – 23 games; .299/.413/.494/.907, 3 HR, 154 wRC+
  • Junior Lake (CHC) – 18 games; .333/.351/.533/.884, 4 HR, 142 wRC+
  • Alex Torres (TB) – 34.1 IP; 0.26 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, 11.01 K/9, .088 BAA
  • Jarred Cosart (HOU) – 4 starts; 1-0, 0.96 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .194 BAA

2013 Preview: NL East

Much like the American League, the teams in the National League are strong on the coasts, and soft in the middle.  Kind of like an Oreo.  The NL East is a tough division.  You have three teams that could legitimately win the division, without anyone calling it a huge surprise.  Granted, the two teams at the bottom aren’t great (one, I wouldn’t even call “sort of good”), but it’s still a division that looks to be very competitive in 2013.  Here are my predictions:

  1. Atlanta Braves (93-69)142475251_crop_650x440
  2. Washington Nationals (92-70)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)
  4. New York Mets (69-93)
  5. Miami Marlins (58-104)

Braves:  Find a hole.  Go ahead.  Just try to find a significant hole in this team’s makeup.  They have easily the best defensive outfield in the game, and could challenge the Angels offensively as well.  Their overall lineup is loaded:  Upton #1, Upton #2, Heyward, McCann, Freeman, Uggla.  Their bullpen is possibly the best in the NL, with a lights-out closer (Kimbrel), and multiple guys who finished 2012 with an ERA below 2.50 (O’Flaherty, Avilan, Gearrin).  No, they don’t have the starting pitching of Washington (who does??), but they don’t have anyone in the rotation that I would consider a glaring weakness either.  They hit a rough patch early in the season last year, and were never able to catch back up with the Nats.  I don’t see that happening again.

Nationals:  Everyone seems to think that with a full season of Strasburg and Harper on the roster, this team is a lock to win the division.  But, I’m not convinced this team is going to be any better than last year.  In fact, I see a few things happening that will cause them to slip back just a little.  1) Adam LaRoche was a 20-25 homerun guy for 5 years leading up to 2012.  I think that’s more of an accurate picture of him than the 33 HR, 100 RBI performance he had in 2012.  2) Sophomore slump for Bryce Harper – it happens to nearly every player, so why wouldn’t we expect it here?  3) Gio Gonzalez – with questions arising regarding possible PED use, could it be that his performance in 2012 was a bit more dominant than he normally would have been?  Either way, I expect a slight step backwards, closer to the 16-18 game winner we saw in Oakland.  All that being said, with the additions of Dan Haren to the rotation and Rafael Soriano as their closer, the Nats will still win a lot of games. But, I think they’re in for a dog fight in this division.

Phillies:  Like I said from the beginning, I think 3 teams have a legit chance of winning this division.  And, you better not snooze on the Phils.  Let’s not forget that their pitching rotation has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the top.  Let’s not forget that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley both missed half of 2012 with injury.  Let’s not forget that with several things not working out in their favor last year, they still finished with a .500 record.  So, with a healthy lineup (which also includes a very nice addition in Michael Young), a nice starting rotation, an improved bullpen (thanks to the additions of guys like Mike Adams and Chad Durbin), the Phillies could make a run at winning this division.  I think, in the end, they won’t be able to overtake Washington or Atlanta.  But, if they do, I won’t be shocked.

Mets:  Go ahead.  Try to find a . . . strength?  I guess the middle of the lineup isn’t awful with David Wright & Ike Davis (even though Davis’ 32 HR last year are deceiving since his OPS was just .771), but they’re the only guys on the team that finished with an OPS over .750 last year.  And, if they finished 2012 ranked 11th in the NL in team ERA with Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, where does that leave them in 2013 now that he’s in Toronto?  And, closer-by-committee because no one on the team had more than 7 saves at the major league level last year? Eek.  I see a team that got off to a hot start last year, and then rode their Cy Young winning ace to all of 74 wins in 2012.  If they didn’t get to play the Marlins 19 times, I’d drop their record even lower.

Marlins:  Soooo, the “lets-outspend-everyone-on-free-agents-and-win-a-championship-now” plan didn’t quite work out, huh?  Instead, it led to their second consecutive last-place finish.  Now, how could that be?  Could it possibly be because they overspent on the wrong kind of free agents (a lead-off hitter, and a guy that wouldn’t be an “ace” on half the teams in baseball)?  Could it possibly be because they brought in an arrogant, overrated sound bite, instead of an actual quality manager?  I say yes to all of the above.  So, the 1-year experiment ended in futility, and they disassembled the team faster than a Marine field stripping his weapon.  And, where does that leave the 2013 Marlins?  Well, let’s just say that I give Giancarlo Stanton this year’s “Best Player on a Really, Really, Really Bad Team” award.  Their offense might be able to put together some runs here and there, but I expect them to slide even further back than their NL-3rd-worst .690 OPS from a year ago.  And, the bigger issue is their pitching.  Their “ace” now is a guy that has averaged about 12-13 wins and a 4.50 ERA over a 7-year career (Ricky Nolasco).  Their closer is okay (Cishek), as he saved 15 of 19 opportunities in 2012, with an ERA of 2.69.  However, he’s the only guy in the bullpen who finished 2012 with an ERA under 3.50!  Good thing they have that new ballpark – or else no one would come to see the Marlins play.  Oh, wait…