Franco's regression helping hold back Phillies progress
The Philadelphia Phillies are suffering through a fifth consecutive losing season. Once again here in 2017, the club can be found at the bottom of the standings in Major League Baseball.
The team has been making a serious attempt to rebuild with youth over the last three years or so. One of the key pieces in that rebuilding plan is third baseman Maikel Franco.
Franco will turn 25 years old on August 26. He now has roughly 1,500 big league plate appearances on the back of his baseball card. In that time, he has slashed .247/.301/.423, poor numbers by any measure.
It was hoped that this season would mark a step forward for both Franco and the team. In fact, as the season was opening I named him as my Phillies “spotlight hitter”, the biggest key to any improvement by the club.
Contreras (C) has been pivotal to Cubs this season
The Chicago Cubs are the defending World Series champions, and entered the season as prohibitive favorites to repeat in the NL Central Division.
Things haven’t gone as smoothly as the team or their fans in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field had expected. The Cubbies struggled for most of the first half of the season.
Coming out hot after the MLB All-Star break, Chicago re-established themselves at the top of the division. Their most consistently productive player all season has been young catcher Willson Contreras.
The 25-year old backstop is in his first full season as the starter behind the dish on the North Side. He was slashing .274/.342/.519 with 21 homers and 70 RBI following Wednesday night’s game. Those power totals are second on the ball club.
But potential disaster struck in the late innings of that 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants. While running out a routine grounder in the bottom of the eighth inning, Contreras pulled up lame. He needed to be helped from the field with what turns out to be a hamstring injury.
An MRI on Thursday will determine the extent of the injury, as well as the length of time that Contreras is expected to miss. He could be gone for a week or so. He could also be gone for a lot longer. A stint on the Disabled List is a virtual certainty.
“He’s in good spirits,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “He said he’s had it worse than this before [in 2015 in the Arizona Fall League]. He thinks he’ll be fine. Injuries like that, when you see someone grab like that, it’s not very good. So you never know. We’ll see.’’
Brewers and Cardinals two of many teams still alive
It is very possible that we are about to experience one of the greatest stretch runs in MLB history during the month of September, which begins in just three weeks.
A quick glance around the standings in Major League Baseball on Thursday morning, August 10, shows that three of the division races are already virtually over.
The Washington Nationals have a 14-game lead in the National League East Division. In the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers hold a 15.5-game lead. Over the in the American League, the Houston Astros are 13 games up.
With half of the divisional races settled, some might think that it was actually shaping up to be a boring end to the regular season. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you examine the Wildcard races, particularly in the American League, things really look interesting.
The Red Sox and Indians lead the AL East and Central respectively. Each holds a four-game lead, and both clubs appear to be deeper and more talented across their rosters than their nearest pursuers.
The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs are on top of the NL Central. However, this is the one race that is remains extremely tight. The Milwaukee Brewers and Saint Louis Cardinals are just 1.5 games behind, and the Pittsburgh Pirates sit just 3.5 games out.
The Cards are the hot team right now. They’ve won five straight, and have gone 25-16 since falling seven games below .500 on June 24.
“When you have that many guys underachieving individually and collectively, that’s not where we want to be. You’ve got to believe eventually that’s going to change. It looks like it’s happening all at the same time. Which has a chance to be special.”
Whit Merrifield emerges as productive second baseman
When the Kansas City Royals opened play for the 2017 MLB season, very few prognosticators picked them to be a contender.
The Royals captured back-to-back American League pennants in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. And in 2015, they won the second-ever World Series crown in franchise history. That isn’t all that long ago.
But fortunes of big league mini-dynasties can turn around in a hurry these days. The Royals slipped to a .500 finish a year ago. With the Cleveland Indians on the rise in the AL Central Division, and with an aging homegrown core, the Royals looked like yesterday’s news.
Flash forward a few months, and here we are in the Dog Days of summer. Heading into play on Tuesday, August 8, Kansas City is tied for one of the two American League Wildcard playoff berths. The club also sits just three games behind the Indians in the division.
Former Philadelphia Phillies and Florida (now Miami) Marlins player Darren Daulton died on Monday of brain cancer. He was just 55 years old.
The 1997 Major League Baseball season was just the fifth in the history of the expansion Marlins franchise. The team had begun play in 1993 along with the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies fielded winning teams in both 1995 and 1996. But the Fish were taking a bit longer, and were unable to field a winner over their first four seasons
For that fifth year, Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga opened the vault. He signed free agent slugger Bobby Bonilla to play third base, as well as outfielder Moises Alou and starting pitcher Alex Fernandez.
The Marlins brought in a proven winner to manage that 1997 club in Jim Leyland. With all their new blood, the Marlins got out to a blistering 8-1 start. They would eventually level off, but another hot stretch in mid-May pushed the team out to a 27-16 record. Florida spent most of the next two months in second place behind the talented Atlanta Braves.
Dodgers add Yu Darvish to help end 30-year title drought
My first MLB Power Ranking in early June found the Houston Astros of the American League at the top. In early July, the Los Angeles Dodgers of the National League had taken over the top spot.
Now in early August those two ball clubs have clearly established themselves as still the top teams in their respective leagues. They were 1-2 overall a month ago, and they remain in those positions today.
Los Angeles has captured the NL West Division crown in six of the last nine years and the last four straight. But the Dodgers have not fared well in the postseason. The club has not even reached the World Series in nearly three decades, since last winning the Fall Classic back in 1988.
As the July 31 trade deadline approached, GM Farhan Zaidi took steps to give his ball club a better chance this coming October. Zaidi did so by acquiring starting pitcher Yu Darvish and lefty relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani to plug holes in the LA pitching staff.
HOUSTON CONTINUES TO DOMINATE IN AL
Meanwhile over in the AL, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow also brought in some help. He acquired lefty Francisco Liriano, who has been a starting pitcher for much of his career, to bolster the Astros bullpen.
Houston has emerged over the last three seasons as one of the top teams in baseball, but has reached the postseason just once. Still a young team on the upswing, the Astros are looking to capture their first AL West Division crown since the 2001 campaign. They remain one of just eight MLB teams to never win the World Series.
Following games of Saturday, August 6, the Dodgers lead the NL West by 14.5 games. Just 15-14 after the first month of play, manager Dave Roberts‘ squad has fashioned a ridiculous 63-18 records since.
Manager A.J. Hinch and his Astros shuffled out of the gates to a 4-4 start, but have gone 66-36 ever since. Houston also leads their division, the NL West, by that same 14.5 game margin that the Dodgers have built.
Phillies fans dream of Mike Trout in their outfield
It has now been five long, losing seasons for fans of the Philadelphia Phillies. Those years came on suddenly, after nearly a decade of exciting, winning baseball.
In 2012, the Phils fell to the .500 mark after winning a franchise record 102 games the previous year. Since then, the team has never finished with more than 73 wins, or closer than 23 games to first place.
In late April of that 2012 season, the Los Angeles Angels called up a prized prospect from their minor league system. Mike Trout had been the Halos’ first round pick at 25th overall in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft.
Trout was drafted out of Millville Senior High School in Millville, New Jersey. The town of about 30,000 people sits in Cumberland County of South Jersey. It lies just about 30 miles from Sea Isle City at the Jersey shore.
As the Phillies star faded, Trout’s quickly rose. He won the American League Rookie of the Year award in that 2012 season. Trout hit for a .326/.399/.564 slash line with 30 homers. He led the league with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored.
It was the first of what would be six consecutive MVP caliber all-star seasons from Trout. He was the AL’s Most Valuable Player winner in both 2014 and then again last season. In his other three full seasons, Trout finished as runner-up for the award. He has five consecutive Silver Slugger awards.
In short, Trout has become widely acknowledged as the best all around player in Major League Baseball.
The Philadelphia Phillies have cancelled their planned honoring of former star player Pete Rose with a place on the team’s Wall of Fame.
Rose will also no longer participate in activities surrounding the team’s upcoming Alumni Weekend from August 11-14.
The cancellation has nothing to do with past controversies surrounding Rose’s gambling problems. Those well publicized issues got him suspended by Major League Baseball, and have kept him from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Instead, Rose will not be honored by the Phillies – at least not at this time – due to allegations of possible statutory rape and possible pedophilia. The alleged incidents were committed four decades ago during his playing career.
These new and scandalous allegations emerged on Monday from court documents filed as part of a law suit. Rose filed the suit a year ago against John Dowd, an attorney who authored the primary document which resulted in Rose’s banishment from baseball in 1989.
As part of Dowd’s defense against the lawsuit, a sworn statement was given by a woman. Described only as “Jane Doe”, she claims to have engaged in a sexual relationship with Rose. This occurred during the 1970’s, and allegedly began before she had turned age 16.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman made three big deals in July
It has now been almost five years since the New York Yankees last captured an American League East Division crown. There has been just one World Series championship in the Bronx in the last seventeen years.
While the majority of MLB fan bases would be fine with their team having won a division title as recently as five years ago and a world championship just eight years ago, this isn’t most teams.
The New York Yankees are supposed to be the gold standard of Major League Baseball. The franchise has captured 27 World Series titles, sixteen more than the next highest club. They have won 40 American League pennants.
The two decades between 1994 and 2002 were particularly spectacular for the Yankees. The team finished in first place in the AL East in 14 of those 19 seasons. They won the AL pennant and advanced to the Fall Classic seven times, winning the World Series five times.
But over the last four full seasons, the Yanks won between 84 and 87 games. They finished second twice, third once, and then last season had fallen to fourth place in the division.
In those four seasons, there was just one playoff game. The Houston Astros shut the Yankees out 3-0 in the 2015 AL Wildcard Game.
The Phillies have won eight of their last 12 games
The Philadelphia Phillies walked off the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night. The 4-3 victory in eleven innings gave the Fightin’ Phils their eighth win in the last dozen games.
Despite the hot stretch of winning baseball over these last two weeks, the Phillies remain in last place in the NL East Division standings.
The Phillies are 24 games behind the first place Washington Nationals. They sit 20.5 games out in the National League Wildcard race. The Phils are even 10.5 games behind the two teams tied for fourth in the division, the Braves and the New York Mets.
I’ve noticed a pattern with these little winning spurts by the Phillies in recent years. When they start winning, all is right in the world. Not only for the players and manager Pete Mackanin, but also fans and the media who follow the team on a regular basis.
When the Phillies are winning, social media explodes with platitudes for the current players, extolling their skills and feats. Talk begins of players in their mid-upper 20’s who will be part of the “winning future” core.
As someone who has always considered themselves a “glass half-full” personality, it pains me to add the “but” to this piece. It’s something that I learned a long time ago, an old saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Foltynewicz has been the Braves best starter in 2017
In January of 2015, the Atlanta Braves dealt emerging power-hitting catcher Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros along with relief prospect James Hoyt.
In return, Atlanta received a package led by a former Astros first round draft pick. Pitcher Mike Foltynewicz had been Houston’s selection at 19th overall in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft.
Foltynewicz would make his Braves debut on May 1, and would remain a member of the Atlanta starting rotation for most of the summer. However, in mid-August he began to feel sick, and was suffering from chest pain.
It took weeks, but he was finally diagnosed with costochondritis, an inflammation in the cartilage connecting the ribs to the sternum. The condition developed into pneumonia.
He was then further diagnosed with blood clots in the ribs after his arm suddenly swelled overnight. Diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, he was required to undergo a rib removal.
Beginning the 2016 campaign back with AAA Gwinnett, he once again got the call to the big leagues as May began. But in early June, physical issues arose once again. Foltynewicz suffered from a bone spur on his elbow. He would miss nearly the entire month due to that injury.
Reds skipper Bryan Price will find his job on the line
The 2017 Major League Baseball season began well for the Cincinnati Reds. The club got off to a hot start, winning seven of their first nine games.
As late as May 17, the Reds were still in first place in the National League Central Division standings. At that point, the club had a 17-14 record.
Beginning on April 30, the club would win nine of 11 games to reach a high-water mark on the season of four games over the .500 mark.
After a month-long period of struggles, the Reds record had fallen into the red. But then Cincinnati went on a four-game winning streak in early June. The quick spurt got the club back within a game of the break-even mark.
It all began to go wrong for the Reds when they left for a west coast swing out to Los Angeles and San Diego beginning on June 9. Scoring just 20 runs on the trip, Cincinnati lost all six games to the Dodgers and Padres.
That west coast shutout was the start of a nine-game losing streak. The Reds have never recovered. Since leaving for that trip, Cincy has collapsed with a 12-30 record.
The Reds are now in last place in the division, buried 13.5 games out. They’re even further back, 17 games, in the NL Wildcard race.
Cincinnati is tied for 18th in MLB in runs scored heading into Saturday action. The pitching staff is 24th in Batting Average Against. Those statistical positions have been on the decline, propped up by the performances of the first two months.
The most competitive division race in the 2017 MLB regular season thus far is taking place in the National League Central Division.
After appearing to sleepwalk through much of the first half, the defending champion Chicago Cubs are on top once again. However, three teams are within just 4.5 games of the lead.
This weekend, the Cubbies travel just about two hours up I-94 to Miller Park in Milwaukee. Waiting for them will be the NL Central’s second place team, the host Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers actually led the division for much of the season. The Brew Crew jumped into first place on May 17, and until this past Wednesday had spent just two days out of the top spot ever since.
The Cubs, meanwhile, were suffering from a serious World Series victory hangover. By the end of May they were two games under .500 and sitting in third place. As late as July 9, the Cubs were still those same two games below the break-even mark.
However, something clicked for Chicago coming out of the MLB All-Star Game break. The Cubs have won 11 of 13 games since taking those four days off. Conversely, Milwaukee has lost nine of their last 11 contests.
Headed into the weekend, the Cubs hold a 1.5 game lead on the second place Brewers in the division standings. That lead is three games in the loss column. There is no doubt that this series in front of their home crowd is of vital importance to manager Craig Counsell and his ball club.
Milwaukee needs to get back on track, and fast. This is a perfect opportunity to let the Cubs know that they intend to stay in the race for the long haul.
For the Cubs, it’s a chance to stay hot and begin to put Milwaukee further back in the rear view mirror. The champs are looking to make a statement: we’re back, and now we’re going to pull away.
Hernandez, Herrera, Galvis part of recent losing core
For a fifth consecutive year, the Philadelphia Phillies are in the midst of a miserable season.
The glorious winning decade of success from 2001-2011 reclaimed old fans and captivated a new generation of younger fans. All of that glory and excitement is now, sadly, a faded memory.
The collapse of that Phillies era came shockingly fast. Age, injuries, and poor decisions by the previous management regime conspired to erase any hope of a seemless transition into another generation of similar success.
For a couple of years, the Phillies went through a necessary transformation. There were purges everywhere, from the roster to the front office, even up to control of the ownership group.
The new regime took over where the old had ended, completing the job of turning the page from that faded former glory. As new prospects were brought in via trade and the MLB Amateur Draft, the farm system gradually regained respect from the wider baseball industry.
During the transitional period, a group of players has been taking the field for a few years now as the core of the Phillies lineup. That core group has not experienced very much success.
Porcello returning to 2016 form could help Bosox pull away
As late as June 2, the Boston Red Sox were just four games over the .500 mark. At that point, the team sat in third place in the AL East race, three games behind the arch-rival New York Yankees.
Flash forward a little more than seven weeks, and the Bosox have taken charge. They went 26-19 to flip the standings position, now leading the Yanks by 3.5 after the games of Saturday, July 22.
For the second straight season, Boston has an AL Cy Young Award front-runner. This time around, that top starting pitcher is lefty Chris Sale.
But last season’s top starter has struggled for much of the 2017 season. Rick Porcello won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award following the best season by far of his then eight-year big league career.
Porcello went 22-4 a year ago with a 3.15 ERA and 1.009 WHIP. He allowed just 193 hits over 223 innings with a 189/32 K:BB ratio.
Flash forward to this season, and Porcello’s numbers are nowhere near that level. The 28-year old righty has gone 4-12 with a 4.60 ERA and 1.436 WHIP. He has allowed 156 hits over 125.1 innings with a 115/24 K:BB mark.
Porcello has regressed to the type of pitcher he had been in his first seven seasons. That would be a nice, reliable, mid-rotation innings eater as opposed to a top of the rotation ace-caliber starter.
However, his recent starts have begun to signal what could be a turnaround towards numbers closer in line to last season.