Friday, June 30, 2017

MLB Spotlight Series: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks

Colorado visits Arizona in big NL West series
The weekend series that is about to take place between the host Arizona Diamondbacks and division-rival Colorado Rockies is extremely important.
These have been two of the more surprising contenders of the 2017 season. The Dbacks lead the NL Wildcard race. Arizona has a 9.5 game cushion on one of those postseason berths.
The Rockies currently control the second NL Wildcard berth. Their nearest pursuer for that spot, the defending NL champion Chicago Cubs, are six games back.
But while these have indeed been two successful clubs over the course of the season, each is struggling of late. Colorado has dropped eight straight games. Arizona comes in after dropping the final two of their last series with the Saint Louis Cardinals.
Both teams have fallen behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the NL West Division crown. The Rockies led the division for most of the season until the current losing streak. Arizona has been playing catch-up, spending just one recent day tied atop the division back on June 1.
The desperation factor is clearly a check mark on the Colorado side. Already fully immersed in a losing streak, the team needs to wake up and reverse the skid before losing becomes habitual. No time like a big weekend series with a division rival to do so.

Nick Williams promoted to big leagues by Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies are promoting outfield prospect Nick Williams for his first big league opportunity this weekend.
The promotion for Williams comes as a direct response to left fielder Howie Kendrick being placed on the Disabled List. The hamstring injury disables the nearly 34-year old for a second time already this season. Kendrick previously was out of the lineup from mid-April through the end of May.
The Phillies also recently released outfielder Michael Saunders. A legitimate argument can be made that the additions of Saunders and Kendrick this past off-season were wastes of time and money.
However, others will say that the two signings did the job. The veterans bought a couple of months while prospects such as Williams “percolated” in the minor leagues. That may turn out to be the case in the long run. Time will tell.
For now, extremely frustrated Phillies fans will get to watch one of the hyped prospects perform each night.
Williams came to the Phils from the Texas Rangers as part of the big Cole Hamels trade back in the summer of 2015. He becomes the fifth piece of that trade to reach the big leagues. Alec AsherJerad EickhoffJorge Alfaro, and Jake Thompson have previously made their debut from that deal.
At the time of his promotion, Williams was hitting for a .277/.326/.511 slash line for the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The 23-year old ripped 15 homers and had 33 extra-base hits. He produced 44 rbi, and scored 43 runs in 302 plate appearances this season. Williams also has five stolen bases.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mike Trout plots his return as Angels hang in playoff race

Trout tore left thumb ligaments at the end of May
On Sunday, May 28, in the Los Angeles Angels game at Marlins Park in Miami, something big happened. Something that could have been devastating for the Angels 2017 season.
In the 5th inning of that game, center fielder Mike Trout took off in an attempt to steal second base. He was safe on the play, his 10th stolen base of the year. The successful swipe left Trout with a double-digit steals total on the back of his baseball card in each of his first six full MLB seasons.
However, it became apparent quickly that something was wrong. “When I did it, I knew it was messed up a little bit,” said the superstar in an interview as presented by Josh Mayhood SBNation’s “Halos Heaven” site.
The “it” to which Trout was referring was an injury to his thumb. The left thumb ligament was torn, requiring surgery that would keep him out of the Angels lineup for six-to-eight weeks.
This was a first for Trout. His first major injury. First surgery. First time on the disabled list. At age 25, it has all seemed to come so easy for the player who is now playing already in his seventh big league season.
“I’ve never torn anything or broke anything, ever. It’s frustrating. The rest of my body feels good, it’s just my thumb doesn’t work.”

Friday, June 23, 2017

Surprising Jason Vargas leads starting rotation of resurgent Royals

Vargas has been a surprise rotation leader for KC
The Kansas City Royals were contenders in the AL Central Division each season from 2013-15. In 2015, the Royals not only captured that division crown, they also won the World Series.
Last year, Kansas City slipped to a third place .500 finish. The club struggled through the first couple months of this season, and as late as June 9 the Royals were still buried at 26-34.
Since that time, the Royals have gotten hot, winning nine of their last 11 games. The winning stretch has pulled the team back within a game of the .500 mark. They are now 3.5 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians, and just two games out in the AL Wildcard race.
One of the key factors in the Royals ability to stay in the race this season has been the strong performance of pitcher Jason Vargas. The 34-year old lefty is 10-3 with a 2.27 ERA and 1.134 WHIP, and has allowed just 79 hits over 87.1 innings.
Vargas 10 victories has him leading the American League in that category, tied with Clayton Kershaw for the MLB lead. The ERA mark is second-best in the AL, his WHIP mark ranks 8th in the league. His .243 Batting Average Against is 12th in the American League.
In short, Vargas has been one of the best pitchers in the AL this season. During this recent hot stretch the Royals have won both of his starts. In fact, Vargas has registered a victory in each of his last five outings. Vargas has allowed just six total runs over his last four starting assignments.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blue Jays in last place, but still a contending team

Gibbons (leaning on dugout rail) has Jays contending again
In each of the last two seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays have played deep into October. The Jays lost in the ALCS both years, defeated in five games a year ago, and in six games by the Kansas City Royals in 2015.
After three consecutive winning campaigns, Toronto is currently struggling along in last place in the AL East Division standings. The Jays 35-36 record has them tied for that distinction with the Baltimore Orioles, five games behind the division-leading New York Yankees.
Despite that last place standing nearly three full months into the season, the Blue Jays are far from out of things. They are just two games off the pace in an extremely crowded race for an AL Wildcard playoff berth.
There are a number of reasons that manager John Gibbons and his team should feel confident. First of all is that recent track record of success. This is a mostly veteran team that knows how to win. If they can stay reasonably healthy, that experience should pay off over the second half of the season.
Toronto has been playing much better in recent weeks. The team fell to a season-worst 11 games below the .500 mark in late April. As recently as May 20 they were still eight games below that break-even mark.
Since that point, the Blue Jays have gone 17-10. The club entered play on Thursday afternoon having won three of their last four games.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Future at first, outfield should be competitive for Phillies

Cozens (L) and Hoskins (R) pushing for a shot with Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies moved yesterday to DFA both reliever Jeanmar Gomez and outfielder Michael Saunders. This should prove to be the beginning of a changeover in the roster and lineup.
The baseball industry has recognized for more than a year now that the Phillies minor league system has greatly improved. Talent is going to begin flowing to the big league team soon, likely at some point this summer.
Once that talent really starts pushing to Philadelphia, there are going to be some interesting decisions for the club to make. That is going to be especially true in the outfield and at first base. Three of those four spots appear taken, at least in the short term.
Center field is currently manned by 25-year old Odubel Herrera. A 2016 NL All-Star, ‘El Torito’ was signed to a contract his past winter that is guaranteed through the 2021 season.
With the Saunders trade, 26-year old Aaron Altherr should begin to see even more regular playing time. He has been perhaps the Phillies best all around player this season. Altherr is hitting for a .278/.352/.531 slash line. He leads the team with a dozen homers and 37 RBI, and his 32 runs scored is second on the club.
At first base, Tommy Joseph is second on the club with 10 home runs. After a slow first month, Joseph has gotten his hitting game together. Since May 1, the 25-year old is hitting .290/.348/.519 with 19 exta-base hits and 25 RBI.
The Phillies are giving time right now to veterans Howie Kendrick and Daniel Nava. They also have a pair of players recently up from the minor leagues. Those two, first baseman Brock Stassi and outfielder Cameron Perkins, are seen more as reserve/role player types.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Phillies DFA Gomez, Saunders as placeholder purge begins

Jeanmar Gomez was DFA'd today by the Phillies
A quick scan of the current 2017 standings reveals that the Philadelphia Phillies are the worst team in Major League Baseball.
The 22-46 record that the club has produced is no fluke. The Phillies are 29th in runs scored, 28th in OPS, 24th in steals. The lineup produces little consistent power or speed, and the overall approach of the hitters remains awful.
For roughly six weeks now, I have been calling for major changes to the Phillies lineup. It has been clear for at least that long that the current crop of placeholder players is simply not good enough to compete in MLB on a consistent basis.
It appears that the Phillies may now be coming to that same realization themselves. This afternoon, the Phillies announced that both reliever Jeanmar Gomez and right fielder Michael Saunders have been DFA (designated for assignment.)
In their place, reliever Hoby Milner and outfielder Cameron Perkins have been promoted from the club’s AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs roster.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Baseball's Boone family has much to celebrate on Father's Day

Bob, Bret, Ray, and Aaron Boone (L-R)
When I was a kid, my hometown MLB team, the Philadelphia Phillies, introduced a young catcher by the name of Bob Boone.
Boone was 24-years old when he made his Phillies debut in September of 1972. It was the start of a full decade stretch as the Fightin’ Phils primary catcher. During that time the club would capture five NL East crowns, counting the first-half of the 1981 split-season.
Boone was the starting catcher for the 1980 World Series champions, receiving the pitch that Tug McGraw would throw past Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals to clinch that first-ever title in franchise history.
Traded to the then California (now Los Angeles) Angels for the 1982 season, Boone would ultimately play into his 40’s.
In 2005, Boone was elected to the Phillies Wall of Fame, the seventh member of that 1980 championship team so honored.
At some point while I was growing up, I learned that Boonie was a second-generation big leaguer. His father, Ray Boone, was an infielder who had spent 13 seasons in Major League Baseball.
The elder Boone came up as a shortstop with the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He would play in 974 of his 1,373 big league games on the left side of the infield. Boone played in 464 games at short and in 510 games at third base. He also appeared in 285 games at first base, and played second base once.
The two Boones were a rarity in the annals of MLB history. They were just the third father-son combination to become big league all-stars. Ray was an AL All-Star in 1954 and 1956 while with the Detroit Tigers. Bob would make the NL All-Star team three times (1976, 78, 79) and was also a 1983 AL All-Star while with the Angels.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Jerad Eickhoff not as bad as the 2017 record looks

Most of the talk surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies these days rightly involves two main topics. First is just how bad the current group of placeholder players is performing.
The other major topic revolves around when the Phillies will begin to promote some of its better minor league prospects. And which of those prospects will get the call first?
Management is evaluating the current players to determine which will be here for the long-term. A look over the active roster shows that there are very few such candidates. Maybe three or four position players at best.
But on the mound, the Phillies developing pitching staff is a different story. A number of the current arms have a chance to stick around for the next few years.
One of those arms is starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff. The soon to be 27-year old right-hander is struggling through a difficult individual season.
Eickhoff enters his start on Saturday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks with an 0-7 record. He carries a 5.09 ERA, 1.528 WHIP, and an ERA+ mark at just 85 through 13 starting assignments. Eickhoff has allowed 81 hits over 70.2 innings with a 63/27 K:BB ratio.
There are a few encouraging signs, however, when you continue glancing at Eickhoff’s 2017 stat line. His 4.20 FIP mark is just a tick higher than the 4.19 he posted last year in what was considered a successful season. After yielding 30 home runs last year, his nine thus far in 2017 leave him on pace to allow a few less this season.
In nine of Eickhoff’s 13 starts he has gotten the Phillies into the sixth inning. He has allowed three or fewer earned runs in eight of those 13 starts.

Friday, June 16, 2017

MLB Spotlight Series: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins

There has been no bigger MLB surprise story this season than the Minnesota Twins. A year ago, the Twins 59-103 mark was the worst in all of Major League Baseball.
Entering this weekend, Minnesota has fashioned a 34-29 record. The Twins have sat atop the AL Central Division standings now for more than a month.
Trying to chase them down are the defending division and American League champions. At 32-31, the Cleveland Indians have been in either first or second place for nearly two months.
Target Field in Minneapolis will be the site of a big four-game divisional spotlight series between the two rivals. They have met a half-dozen times already this season, with the Tribe coming out on top in four of the six games. The all-time series is also tight between the clubs, with Cleveland holding a 324-298 edge.
The Indians swept a series in the Twin Cities back in mid-April, outscoring the hosts by a 20-7 margin. But Terry Francona‘s squad comes in cold, having dropped eight of their last 13 contests.
Hall of Famer Paul Molitor‘s Twins are in the midst of an 11-game home stand. They come into the showdown having won five of eight.
A key player that the Indians need to get going is my preseason AL MVP pick, shortstop Francisco Lindor. The talented 23-year old is hitting for just a .257/.319/.486 slash line thus far in 2017. 
With a dozen homers and 27 RBI, his power production is up. But Lindor has stolen just three bags, and his overall performance has been inconsistent.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Time is now for Nationals to deal for bullpen help

More than two months into the 2017 MLB regular season, the Washington Nationals are in great shape in the standings. The Nats lead the National League East Division by 8.5 games over their nearest rivals.
The Nationals would appear to be cruising towards a second consecutive postseason appearance. It would be the franchise’s fourth NL East crown, and thus their fourth trip to the playoffs in six years.
But after 36 years as the Montreal Expos and now a dozen full seasons in the U.S. capital city, the franchise has still never even played a single World Series game.
In fact, they have never played in the NLCS either. Washington has been eliminated in the NLDS in all three of the club’s appearances during this decade.
Though the current version of the Nationals appears to be running away with the division, there has been one area of the team that has been a cause of season long concern.
Due to a combination of inconsistency and injury, the Nats bullpen has been a mess. Dusty Baker has tried five different pitchers in the closer role at one time or another over the first 10 1/2 weeks.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

MLB Draft first rounders not guaranteed success

Last night's first round of the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft was full of excitement and anticipation for the teams and families involved. 
However, history shows that most of those selected will prove to be forgettable choices.
As an example, a look back at the draft from exactly a decade ago reveals such varied results. There were a couple of superstars in that 2007 MLB Draft, and a few other star-caliber players. There were also some who carved out a small niche for themselves in the big leagues.
But there were also a bunch of never-weres mixed into the selection process. Each one of those misses was considered to be a strong prospect at the time they were drafted.
The Tampa Bay Rays held the first overall pick in 2007, and there really wasn't much of a choice. Left-handed pitcher David Price from Vanderbilt had been considered a near lock for that top selection for months.
With the second pick, the Kansas City Royals chose a left-side infielder from Chatsworth High School in California. The surprise was that the Royals selection was Mike Moustakas rather than Chris Dominguez. 'Moose' had put on a big time power display that spring to pass his more heavily scouted teammate.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Twins have tough decision with top pick in 2017 MLB Draft

At some point before 7:00pm EDT on Monday night, the Minnesota Twins brain trust will make a difficult decision. 
That decision is likely to have a big impact on the organization during the decade of the 2020’s.
Both general manager Thad Levine and president of baseball operations Derek Falvey are in their first seasons in those roles. The future of the organization is now in their hands. On Monday night, they begin putting their stamp on that future.
After earning the worst record in Major League Baseball a year ago, the Twins hold the top pick in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft.
John Shipley had a Q&A with Falvey published at winonadailynews.com recently. Falvey stated the following in relation to the draft process.
“…the lifeblood of an organization like ours — for any organization, for that matter, but particularly for small and mid-size market teams — is that you need to build through the draft and through development. So, I look at it as, whether we’re picking first, fifth, 10th, 20th doesn’t matter; it’s important for us to get a lot of value out of each draft. It doesn’t just come with Pick 1. We need to be thinking about how we can accumulate as much value as possible.”
The draft will begin tomorrow night, with pre-draft coverage and then the complete first round being broadcast on the MLB Network beginning at 6:00pm EDT.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Chisox plummet as new skipper Rick Renteria struggles

With eight losses in their last nine games, the Chicago White Sox are on more than a losing skid. 
The total collapse over the last week and a half has plummeted the Chisox right out of the race.
Following Friday night’s 7-3 defeat to the division-rival Cleveland Indians, the White Sox are in last place in the AL Central Division
Chicago is now 25-34, and has fallen seven games off the pace being set by the division-leading Minnesota Twins.
The primary culprit has been the pitching staff. While losing eight of their last nine games, the Chisox have surrendered at least seven runs on six separate occasions. Three times they have allowed the opposition to score in double digits.
The collapse is particularly difficult to swallow for fans, as well as for manager Rick Renteria and the team itself. Chicago began the season strong in April.
After winning six straight towards the end of the opening month, the White Sox sat at 13-9. But since reaching 15-12 on May 4, Chicago has gone just 10-22 to fall out of the race.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Owings helping Dbacks overcome injuries to stay in NL West race

A check of the National League West Division standings this morning shows the Arizona Diamondbacks right in the thick of things. 
The Snakes are now 36-25, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers in second place, two games behind the Colorado Rockies.
The Dbacks dropped three straight games in Miami last weekend. But now back home at Chase Field, Arizona has gotten back on track with a pair of wins over the division-rival San Diego Padres. A key performer in these two games has been utility player Chris Owings.
On Tuesday, Owings cracked his seventh home run of the season. The three-run shot in the second inning blew the game open early, giving Arizona a 7-0 lead en route to a 10-2 rout.
Last night, Owings went 1-3, scoring a run and driving home another. His seventh inning sacrifice fly brought home Paul Goldschmidt with a run to open up a 7-3 lead. Arizona would eventually win the game by a 7-4 margin.
In both games, he was the starting shortstop in new manager Torey Lovullo‘s lineup. Owings has started 30 of the Dbacks’ 61 games this year at the position. He evenly splits time there with Nick Ahmed, who has started the other 31 games at shortstop.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Top Ten MLB active starting pitchers based on career WHIP

There are many ways to evaluate the top MLB players of recent years, as well as down through the history of the game.
The statistic of WHIP, or "Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched", has become one of the more popular tools to make such evaluations. It is one of my personal favorites.
WHIP is fairly simply to calculate. You simply add the number of hits and walks that a pitcher allows, then divide that total by the number of innings pitched by the hurler.
This afternoon out in Los Angeles, two of the best current starting pitchers in baseball will be facing off. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw takes the mound for the host Los Angeles Dodgers. For the visiting Washington Nationals, it will be right-hander Stephen Strasburg who toes the rubber.
This premier matchup got me to thinking, who exactly are the best starting pitchers of recent vintage? I have my opinion, but what do the stats show?

Mike Schmidt embroiled in controversy over Odubel Herrera comments

Herrera (L) and Schmidt (R), photo from Sports Illustrated
Michael Jack Schmidt is the greatest player in the 134-year history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise. You will get few arguments to that statement.
The Baseball Hall of Famer and Phillies Wall of Famer is also widely considered to be the greatest all-around third baseman in the history of the game. Some might still argue for Brooks Robinson, but most of the arguments end there.
Neither of those statements is particularly controversial. But the living legend did utter some statements himself on a local sports radio program today which have become controversial.
On Tuesday, Schmidt made an appearance on Philadelphia’s influential SportsRadio 94 WIP. He joined the station’s morning program crew, known around town for their sometimes irreverent, sometimes controversial statements and opinions.
Schmidt has never been shy about speaking his mind either. It is one of the reasons that he was hired to do color commentary for local Comcast TV broadcasts during Phillies weekend home games.

MLB 2017 All-Surprise Team

We are now more than two full months into the 2017 MLB regular season. At this point, sustained success can usually be considered more than a simple hot streak.
A look across the statistical leader boards of Major League Baseball reveals some surprising names. 
As fans vote for their favorites to appear in the starting lineups at the 2017 MLB All-Star Game, few of these players have a shot to win.
However, if they can keep up their strong performances of these first two months, some will undoubtedly find their way on to the rosters of the NL and AL squads at the mid-summer classic.
Surprises don’t stop with individual player performances. A look at the current standings reveals a number of surprise teams across the Major League Baseball landscape.
For instance, who would have predicted back in March that the Minnesota Twins would be leading the AL Central Division at this point? Or that the Angels and Rays would still be squarely in the AL Wildcard race this late?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mariners sail back into early contention

Not since the 2003 season have the Seattle Mariners been a consistent contending ball club. 
The Mariners won 93 games that season. It was a fourth consecutive year above the 90 victory mark for the team at that time.
But in the 13 full seasons since then, Seattle has not reached that 90 victory mark even once. In fact, a half-dozen times since then, the Mariners have lost more than 90 games. Twice they sank past the century mark in defeats.
There has been some hope in recent years. Seattle won 87 games in 2014. Then last season, their 86 victories left manager Scott Servais and the Mariners just three games shy of an AL Wildcard playoff berth.
Seattle began 2017 with hopes of reaching the MLB postseason for the first time since losing back-to-back in the ALCS in 2000 and 2001.
But a 2-8 start buried the team early. When they began the Memorial Day weekend by getting shut out in back-to-back games at Fenway Park, the M’s had fallen to 21-29 on the season.