Sunday, May 28, 2017

NL Central has MLB's tightest divisional race

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and the MLB divisional races are just beginning to take shape. Perhaps surprisingly, the most competitive race to this point has been in the National League Central Division.
The NL Central is home to the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The North Siders were expected by many to run away with the division, much as they did a year ago. The Cubs finished 17.5 games ahead of their nearest divisional rival last year.
But thus far, Chicago appears to be suffering from a Fall Classic hangover. The Cubs are just 25-23 after being shutout by the Los Angeles Dodgers last night. This drops them into the middle of the divisional pack, albeit only a half-game off the lead.
That surprising new NL Central leader this morning would be the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew has not finished on top of the division since the 2011 season.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning Passes Away

Jim Bunning was one of baseball’s all-time greatest pitchers. The former Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies star passed away today at age 85.
In 1996, Bunning was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. He won 224 games during his big league career, and was the first to win more than 100 games in the National and American Leagues. The right-hander was also the first to strikeout over 1,000 batters in both.
He also pitched a no-hitter in both leagues. With the Phillies in 1964, he tossed the seventh Perfect Game in Major League Baseball history. It came at Shea Stadium against the host New York Mets. He was the father of seven children at the time.
Bunning was born on August 23, 1931 in Southgate, Kentucky. He attended high school in Cincinnati and was a star multi-sport athlete. He then attended Xavier University.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Phillies may need to step back with Vince Velasquez

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez described himself as “clueless” following yet another disappointing outing. 
The young righty took the loss as the Phils dropped a 6-3 decision to the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday afternoon.
Velasquez allowed five earned runs on seven hits over 5.1 innings against the Bucs. As is frequently the case, he started out fast, retiring eight of the first nine Pittsburgh batters that he faced.
With the Phillies leading 1-0, the Pirates finally got to Velasquez with two outs in the bottom of the third inning. A single and a walk put two men on, and then Andrew McCutchen delivered an RBI single to tie things up.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates took the lead thanks to a leadoff home run off the bat of David Freese. That was still the score entering the bottom of the sixth inning, when Velasquez atypically unraveled.
With one out, a walk, a single, and a throwing error on catcher Cameron Rupp on a pick-off play left Pittsburgh runners at second and third. Francisco Cervelli then delivered a two-run single to push the Pirates lead out to a 4-1 margin.
That was the end of the Velasquez’ day, as he was relieved by Mark Leiter Jr, who didn’t help matters any. Leiter walked the first batter he faced, and then surrendered a two-out, two-run single to Adam Frazier to give the Pirates a 6-1 lead.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Streaking Rangers powered by Joey Gallo

On Friday night at Tigers Stadium, the Texas Rangers held off the host Detroit Tigers by a 5-3 score. The victory was a 10th straight for the streaking Rangers.
Now at 23-20, they have slipped to within 6.5 games of their in-state AL West Division rivals, the Houston Astros.
The Rangers have made this move without their future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre in the lineup. Beltre injured his right calf just one week into the 2017 season, and has been on the Disabled List ever since.
Beltre is now on the road to recovery. Earlier this week, Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram reported that his return to the lineup is likely just a couple of weeks away. Wilson quoted Beltre after the Rangers training staff had allowed the now 38-year old to test the calf by running on it at half speed:
“It’s on the right track. I just have to make sure my legs are in shape and not to have any setbacks. So far, the plan the trainers have for me has been working, and I’m trying to follow that plan.”
Stepping into Beltre’s place in the lineup has been the man who is perhaps the future at the Hot Corner in Texas. Joey Gallo is a 23-year old who has been one of the club’s top prospects for years.
Gallo was the Rangers supplemental first round choice at 39th overall in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

Friday, May 19, 2017

2017 MLB Spotlight Series: Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros

The team with the best record over the first month and a half of the 2017 MLB season has been the Houston Astros. The Cleveland Indians are the defending American League champions.
This weekend at Minute Maid Park, the Tribe comes to town for a showdown of two of the game’s top ball clubs in a series that will shine the baseball spotlight on Houston.
The Astros come into the weekend series with a 29-12 record for a .707 winning percentage. That gives manager A.J. Hinch‘s squad a 3.5 game lead over three other teams for the honor of best record in Major League Baseball.
For manager Terry Francona‘s Indians, it has been more of a struggle. Cleveland is just 20-19, sitting in second place in the AL Central Division, a game behind the surprising Minnesota Twins.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Starlin Castro reaching his full potential in the Bronx

To the surprise of some, the New York Yankees are on top of the American League East Division standings
The Yankees current 24-13 record has the club 1.5 games up on the second place Baltimore Orioles.
One of the biggest keys to the surge by the latest incarnation of the Bronx Bombers to the top of the standings has been the play of second baseman Starlin Castro.
Castro was dealt by the Chicago Cubs at the 2015 Winter Meetings to the Yankees. In exchange, New York received pitcher Adam Warren and a player to  be named later. That PTBNL turned out to be infielder Brendan Ryan.
Castro was always seen as having dynamic offensive potential. The Cubs hierarchy simply believed that he had reached the peek of his skills, and that they had better in-house options.
At the time of the trade, the Cubs had both Javier Baez and Addison Russell ready for full big league opportunities. In fact, Russell broke into the starting lineup on the North Side as a second baseman in 2015, as Castro had been established as the Cubs starting shortstop.
Castro was signed out of his native Dominican Republic, and in 2010 made his big league debut. He finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting that season after hitting .300 with 31 doubles, 10 steals, and 41 RBI over 503 plate appearances.
The following year of 2011, Castro led all of Major League Baseball with 207 hits. And in three of the four years between 2011-14, Castro was a National League All-Star.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Surprising Mark Reynolds helps Colorado Rockies to surprising start

At the start of the 2017 season in Major League Baseball, the Colorado Rockies were not considered a favorite in the NL West Division.
Most prognosticators had the four-time defending division champion Los Angeles Dodgers as the favorites once again. 
If someone was going to dethrone LA, it was likely to be their arch-rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
Either the Dodgers or Giants have won eight of the last nine NL West crowns. The Giants have captured three World Series championships during that stretch.
The Rockies joined the division in MLB’s 1993 expansion. They last won the division title, well, never. In fact, the Rox have been to the postseason just three times. They went as the NL Wildcard in 1995, 2007, and 2009. That 2007 team is the only Colorado team to reach the World Series.
Yet here we are, nearly seven weeks into the 2017 season. And there at the top of the National League West Division standings are those Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are 25-15 following a 7-3 inter-league victory over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.
Colorado is not just a Coors Field phenomenon either. The club has a 13-10 record in the Mile High City. They also sport a winning 11-5 mark away from Denver.
As a result, the Rockies are three games up on the Dodgers, against whom Colorado has gone 5-4 in head-to-head matchups this season. They have also taken six of seven games over the Giants. The Arizona Diamondbacks, currently 2.5 games back in second place? Colorado has taken four of six.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Two prospects who could improve the Phillies right now

Now almost seven weeks into the 2017 regular season, the Philadelphia Phillies are once again near the bottom of the NL East Division standings.
As the club looks to improve upon their position, there are varying opinions as to the readiness of the top minor league prospects.
I believe that two prospects now helping the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs succeed can help the big league Phillies improve right now.
Outfielder Roman Quinn just turned 24 years of age this past weekend. He was the Phillies second round selection in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of Port St. Joe High School in Florida.
Quinn is a speed demon who projects as a prototypical leadoff man of the dynamic variety. Now in his sixth minor league season, Quinn has stolen 167 bases and scored 267 runs over 390 games played.
No one, and that includes both Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera, the current Phillies top two baserunning threats, has the kind of game-changing speed that Quinn would bring to the lineup.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Philadelphia Phillies are simply not ready to contend - yet

Much is being written by local scribes who follow the Philadelphia Phillies on a daily basis regarding the increased competitiveness of the club thus far in the 2017 season.

Those writers are echoing the comments of Phillies team officials. In signing manager Pete Mackanin to a contract extension, GM Matt Klentak had this to say per Ryan Lawrence of Philly Voice:
“I think the effort level of this team – we can see progress in what’s happening right now. Pete can see it, we all can see it’s happening before our very eyes. Obviously, it’s not reflected in our win-loss record yet, but we can see the progress happening.”
25 of the Phillies first 35 games in 2017 have been decided by either one or two runs. That includes both games of Sunday’s split doubleheader with the division rival Washington Nationals. Unfortunately, the Phils are just 9-16 in those tight games.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Astros threaten to make a mockery of AL West race

The rampaging Houston Astros are threatening to make a mockery of the American League West Division race, and we're only six weeks into the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season.
The Astros have jumped out to a 25-11 record through games of Friday, May 13. That is the best record in baseball, and leaves the club eight games in front of their nearest divisional rivals.
Since their Saturday afternoon matchup with the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium was rained out, Houston will take that mark into a makeup day-night doubleheader on Sunday.
Part of the equation in building such a huge lead has been that their chief expected challenger for the AL West crown, the in-state rival Texas Rangers, have been decimated by key injuries.
However, that takes nothing away from what Houston has been able to accomplish of their own accord. With 173 runs scored, the Astros are third in the American League. The cumulative pitching staff Batting Average Against is just .226, the best mark in all of baseball.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Book Review: The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox

For younger fans of the Boston Red Sox, and Major League Baseball in general for that matter, this might be hard to believe. But for a long stretch of my lifetime, those Bosox were considered to be jinxed at best, chokers at worst.
The Red Sox have captured three recent World Series crowns in 2004, 2007, and in 2013. They have reached the postseason four other times as well in this century. They are considered one of the leading AL contenders once again this season.
But from 1908 until 2004, just short of a full century, the Red Sox could not manage to win a single World Series championship. In fact, during that stretch, the Sox captured just two American League Pennants.
The first of those came in 1946, when Ted Williams and company were edged out by the Saint Louis Cardinals thanks famously to the “Mad Dash” of Enos Slaughter in Game Seven.
I began following baseball in 1971, and distinctly recall rooting for Boston in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. One of the attractions for me to the Red Sox cause was that lengthy frustration, attributed to the “Curse of the Bambino” by more superstitious fans.
Famed Boston baseball historian Herb Crehan has a fairly new book out, published by Summer Game Books last year. The book is based on the other AL Pennant won by the Red Sox during that 95-year stretch.
The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation“, was released in 2016, written by Crehan. His bostonbaseballhistory.com website is the definitive stop for all things Red Sox. The book includes a forward by pitcher Jim Lonborg, who played a pivotal role for Boston in that 1967 season.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Philadelphia Phillies Spring 2017 top ten prospects

Rhys Hoskins slugs way onto the Phillies Spring 2017 Top 10 Prospects list
Back in November of 2016, I provided my Philadelphia Phillies Top 10 Prospects ranking. At that time, I broke down each player with an individual scouting report.
While my Fall prospect list is more detailed, in the Spring the ranking usually will provide a much simpler straight-up ranking list. However, I will add some general commentary if there are major updates.
First, let’s take a look back at the Phillies Top 10 Prospects from the Fall of 2016:
9.   Kevin Gowdy
I also provided a listing of “near misses”, naming several prospects who fell just outside of the top ten. That included a link to each of the individual Top 10 Prospects ranking pieces.

Carlos Ruiz enjoys a Philly homecoming with Mariners

The beloved 'Chooch' returned to a rousing ovation from the Philly fans
For parts of 11 seasons, Seattle Mariners catcher Carlos Ruiz was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. He would grow to become one of the most beloved athletes in recent decades among the rabid sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love.
As part of the Phillies rebuilding program, Ruiz was dealt away last August 25 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phils received catcher A.J. Ellis in what was essentially a swap of veteran backup catchers.
After being eliminated from the playoffs, the Dodgers swapped Ruiz out to the Mariners in early November in exchange for pitcher Vidal Nuno.
This week, Ruiz returned to Philadelphia for the first time as an opposing player. As anticipated, the now 38-year old was greeted with affection by both his former teammates and by the Philly fans.
Prior to the start of what is a quick two-game stop for Seattle at Citizens Bank Park, Ruiz hosted a few of those former teammates in a get-together at his home in South Jersey.

Brewers pitcher Chase Anderson is now the hunter

Anderson has gone from being the hunted to the hunter in Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Brewers haven’t fielded a winning team since the 2014 season. It has been six years since the 2011 Brew Crew won 96 games and the NL Central Division crown. That was the most recent contending seasons for the club.
Thus far in the 2017 season, the Brewers are off to a .500 start at 16-16. They are still hanging around in the division race, a game and a half out of first place as we move through the second week of May.
Much of the credit for the Brewers’ more competitive start has rightly gone to surprising slugger Eric Thames. The first baseman signed as a free agent this past offseason after four years away from Major League Baseball, the last three of those playing in Korea.
Thames has given Milwaukee an offensive threat to team with Ryan Braun, the likes of which haven’t been seen on the banks of Lake Michigan since Prince Fielder left following that 2011 campaign.
But as any baseball fan knows, you can have all the hitting in the world, and your team will not win if it cannot compete on the mound.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Jerad Eickhoff should be a long term workhorse in Phillies rotation

The surprising Eickhoff looks like a long term mid-rotation starter
At the 2015 MLB trade deadline, the Philadelphia Phillies shipped their ace starting pitcher Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers.
It was a crucial deal for the Phillies rebuilding program, coming as the team was dismantling the 2008 world champions and moving on from a core that had captured five straight NL East crowns.
In return for Hamels and hard-throwing reliever Jake Diekman, the Phillies received a package of five prospects. The Phils also agreed to take on the contract of injured pitcher Matt Harrison.
Those five prospects were the key to the deal for the Phillies. Those players were catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Nick Williams, and pitchers Jake ThompsonAlec Asher, and Jerad Eickhoff.
No disrespect at all to Eickhoff, but he was easily the least well-known of the prospects. But having turned 25 years old just weeks prior to the deal, he was also the closest to being ready to help the Phillies in the short term.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Tim Beckham Making Most of Latest Opportunity

Former top MLB draft pick Tim Beckham finally producing in Tampa
The Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant in 2008, reaching the World Series for the only time in their history.
The excitement of that 2008 Fall Classic came just one year after the Rays had finished with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball.
As a result of that poor 2007 finish, Tampa Bay held the rights to the top overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft in June of 2008. With that selection, the Rays chose shortstop Tim Beckham out of Griffin High School in Georgia.
Also selected in that first round included first baseman Eric Hosmer at third overall by the Kansas City Royals. The San Francisco Giants chose catcher Buster Posey with the fifth overall pick.
It was a third consecutive year in which the Rays were selecting within the top three overall picks of the draft. The previous year, the club chose pitcher David Price with the top overall pick. In 2006, the Rays took third baseman Evan Longoria at third overall.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Day of Reckoning Draws Near for Placeholder Phillies

Time is running out for Rupp, Galvis and the current placeholder Phillies
As management and ownership of the Philadelphia Phillies moved through their own transition period over the last couple of seasons, the roster has also been turned over.
Gone now are the last vestiges of the first decade of play at Citizens Bank Park. Heck, a few of those individuals – Charlie Manuel, Pat Burrell, Jim Thome – have already been enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
As the front office and playing roster changes have taken place, a group of ballplayers has taken over on the field over the last few seasons. This core group was always meant to be placeholders, while the real, serious talent was developing in the minor leagues.
That core has consisted of infielders Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis and catcher Cameron Rupp. I would also put 3B/OF Cody Asche, 1B/OF Darin Ruf, and outfielder Domonic Brown into the group.
Each of those players has been given an opportunity at one time or another to seize a starting role with the Phillies, to show that they can be a big league regular.
Only Hernandez has shown any consistent ability to successfully compete on both sides of the ball. Galvis has been strong defensively, but aside from some unexpected power has been an extremely inconsistent offensive performer. Rupp is inconsistent in every facet of the game.
This group began to really take over in the 2015 season. The Phillies bottomed out that year, finishing with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball.
A year ago, their 71 wins was an eight-game improvement. But that record was still two games worse than the disheartening 2013 and 2014 teams had finished.
Just one week ago today, the Phillies took an 11-9 record and a six-game winning streak out on the road to visit a pair of anticipated contending teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.
After dropping six of the seven games at Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field, the limitation of this group are becoming more and more apparent.