Sunday, July 30, 2017

Phillies winning spurts tempered by lessons of history

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.”

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mike Foltynewicz becomes reliable starter for Braves

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.

Cincinnati Reds collapse could cost manager his job

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.

Friday, July 28, 2017

MLB Spotlight Series: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers

NL Central lead at stake as Cubs visit Brewers
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.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Phillies rebuild reaches difficult transition phase

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.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Rick Porcello turnaround could help Bosox pull away

Embed from Getty Images
Rick Porcello helping the Bosox take charge in AL East

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.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Marlins would make perfect trade partners for Yankees

Marlins 1B Justin Bour is a perfect fit for Yankees
As the 2017 MLB trade deadline draws nearer, the New York Yankees still appear to have a couple of holes to fill. Over in the National League, the Miami Marlins could make for a perfect trade partner.
The Yanks are treading water of late. They sit with a 50-45 record following games of Friday night, July 21. The Bronx Bombers are 3.5 games behind the arch-rival Boston Red Sox in the AL East race. They control an AL Wildcard spot, but have a pair of teams just two games back.
For much of the season, the Yankees have failed to get reliable offensive production from the first base position. Chris Carter received 208 plate appearances over 62 games, but hit for just a .201/.284/.370 slash line and was released.
Greg Bird began the season as the starter at first, and kept that role through May 1 despite hitting for just a .100/.250/.200 slash line. Then Bird was lost to the DL, and after undergoing ankle surgery, he is likely gone until September.
The Yankees completed a big trade this past week, shoring up their bullpen with the additions of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the Chicago White Sox.
Also acquired in that deal was 31-year old veteran third baseman Todd Frazier. With his arrival, Chase Headley has been moved across the diamond to play first base.
However, the 33-year old Headley has managed just four homers. Only once in his career, all the way back in 2012, as he displayed the type of offensive production that contending teams normally like to see from the first base position.
Another area of potential concern is the starting rotation. The loss of Michael Pineda to Tommy John surgery has created an opening that needs to be filled.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jeremy Hellickson can help a number of contenders

For second straight year Hellickson is on the market
A year ago at this time, the Philadelphia Phillies were approaching the MLB trade deadline with starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson available on the market. For whatever reason, general manager Matt Klentak was unable to find a match that he felt was acceptable.
So Hellickson stayed with the Phillies into the off-season, where the club made him a contract offer. This was intended to gain them draft pick compensation once the right-hander signed as a free agent with another team.
That contract offer was for $17.2 million, which Hellickson and his agent found to be the best offer on the market. In somewhat of a surprise move, he signed the one-year deal to return with the Phillies in the 2017 season.
So here we are once again, with the MLB trade deadline approaching, and with the Phillies having Hellickson on the market.
His numbers are down this time around, and he is a year older. The Phillies GM will not get as much of a return as they would have last year. That said, he is more likely to actually be dealt this time around.
Hellickson is 6-5 with a 4.44 ERA and 1.230 WHIP after 19 starts. The now 30-year old has allowed 104 hits over 107.1 innings with a 59/28 K:BB ratio.
He would be a reliable mid-rotation or back-end option for any contending team’s pitching staff. Hellickson has pitched into the 6th inning in 11 of his 19 starts, including seven of his last nine outings. He has gone at least five innings in a dozen straight.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Will the suddenly hot Pittsburgh Pirates be trade deadline buyers or sellers?

Pirates could contend with Cutch, or deal him
On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates rallied from behind for a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
With that win, the Bucs drew to within three games of the .500 mark on the season. 
They also pulled within six games in the NL Central standings of the first place Brew Crew, and within eight of the second NL Wildcard spot.
The Pirates are suddenly hot, winners now in eight of their last 10 games. They are also about to get star left fielder Starling Marte back in the lineup. He has missed the first 80 games of the season due to a PED suspension. As the MLB trade deadline approaches, they appear to be a team on the bubble.
It’s difficult to get a read on exactly where the Pirates are right now, as far as their overall organizational status and ability to contend. Are they buyers or sellers here in July? That is the decision GM Neal Huntingdon and the rest of management will need to make in the coming weeks.
After earning an National League Wildcard playoff spot for three straight years, Pittsburgh regressed last season. The Pirates finished five games below the .500 mark in 2016, and were 8.5 games out of that Wildcard position.

Monday, July 17, 2017

MLB Spotlight Series: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins

Paul Molitor's Twins face key mid-season series vs Yankees
When the 2017 MLB season began, few would have guessed that a mid-July series between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins could be so significant. But here we are, and this is indeed a series that has become important for both clubs.
Led by explosive rookie Aaron Judge, the Yankees took over the AL East Division lead in mid-April. New York held that lead for the most part right up through late June. But a 9-20 mark since June 12 has dropped the Bronx Bombers into third place, 3.5 games behind the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.
The Twins were the biggest surprise team in all of Major League Baseball over the first couple of months. For much of the same time that the Yanks were leading their division, the Twins were on top of the AL Central.
Just as with New York, the Twins have slowed measurably. Since their high-water mark at seven games over .500 on May 24, Minnesota is just 21-27. The Twins have dropped four of their last five games heading into this series.
The American League Wild Card standings after games on Sunday, July 16 show the Yankees still control the second of the two available postseason berths. The Twins are just 1.5 games out, two games behind the Yanks in the loss column.
This week’s clash at Target Field in Minneapolis marks the first meeting of the season between the two teams. They will not meet again until a three-gamer at Yankee Stadium in late September.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cody Bellinger hits for The Cycle to continue special rookie season

On Saturday night at Marlins Park in Miami, Los Angeles Dodgers rookie sensation Cody Bellinger put on a record-setting show.
Bellinger went 4-5, scored twice, and knocked in three runs to help pace the torrid, first place Dodgers to a 7-1 thrashing of the host Miami Marlins.
His night began with a single in the top of the first inning. In the top of the third, Bellinger’s 26th home run of the season opened the scoring, putting LA on top 2-0.
In the top of the fourth, Bellinger lined an RBI double to right field that upped the visitors lead to 6-0. Then in the seventh, he made history.
On the first offering from Marlins reliever Nick Wittgren, Bellinger ripped a ball to right that sailed over the head of Giancarlo Stanton. As the ball rolled to the wall, Bellinger raced around the bases, sliding into third easily ahead of the throw.
With that triple, Bellinger became the first rookie in the long and storied history of Dodgers baseball to hit for ‘The Cycle’ with a single, double, triple, and home run all in the same game.
“Every time he steps on the field,” manager Dave Roberts said per Andy McCullough of the LA Times, “something special can happen.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

MLB Wildcard: losing teams still have legitimate shot

It’s the weekend after the 2017 MLB All-Star Game break. Teams are finally back in action after a four-day layoff for the start of the traditional “second half” of play.
A look at the Major League Baseball standings through games of Friday night, July 14 reveals that 17 teams are either in a playoff position, or are within a handful of games of a postseason berth.
In fact, there are currently at least a half-dozen teams with losing records who must be considered to still have a legitimate shot.
In the National League, at least for now, the list includes just one team. That would be the defending world champion Chicago Cubs.
The Cubbies have struggled along with a serious case of World Series hangover this year. After building and blowing an 8-0 lead on the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night, they managed to pull out a narrow 9-8 victory.
That win left the North Siders with a record of 44-45 on the season. The Cubs sit 5.5 games in back of the surprising Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central Division race. However, they are just four back in the loss column.
In the NL Wildcard race, the Cubs are a more distant 6.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies, who currently control the second wildcard berth. However, the Rockies are in a bit of a free-fall, having lost 14 of their last 19 games.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

It's a great time to be Pat Neshek

On November 4, 2016 the Houston Astros shipped veteran relief pitcher Pat Neshek to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The trade was a simple salary dump for Houston. Neshek had a $6.55 million option due on his contract for the 2017 season. The Astros didn’t want to pay that kind of money for a middle reliever. 
They found a willing trade partner in the Phillies, who were desperately searching for short-term bullpen help, and who had plenty of money available to spend.
On the surface, it appeared a step back competitively for Neshek. The Astros were an up-and-coming contender in the American League. The Phillies were a rebuilding doormat in the National League. It looked as if it could be a long summer for the 36-year old veteran.
But you never know what the future will hold. The year 2017 has turned out to be one of the best of Neshek’s baseball life. And here in the month of July, it may only be getting better.
The great year began all the way back in March. While his new Phillies teammates were preparing for the season ahead at spring training in Clearwater, Neshek was representing the USA in the World Baseball Classic.
He would be a key shutdown reliever, a key to the Americans finally capturing the WBC championship. Neshek allowed no runs and four hits, striking out four and allowing just a single walk in five innings over five games.

Book Review: "So You Think You're A Philadelphia Phillies Fan?"

Like everyone else in Philadelphia during the year 2008, Scott Butler was completely caught up in the exploits of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club.
The Fightin’ Phils were on their way to the club’s second of five consecutive NL East Division crowns that summer. The season would culminate in the Phillies capturing just the second World Series championship in franchise history.
Much more than Phillies trivia
With all that fanfare as a backdrop, the Penn State grad decided to get in on the blogging game. He founded the “Phils Baseball” blog at philsbaseball.com that year.
Those were heady times for a Phillies fan, and it was a joy to keep up the blog for the first few seasons. The last few? Well, as every Phillies fan knows, things have become much more of a chore.
Undeterred by the recent losing seasons, Butler has published his first book through Sports Publishing. “So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan?” comes along with a subtitle advertising it as “stars, stats, records, and memories for true diehards.”
In its 213 easy to read pages, Butler’s book delivers what it promises. Every summer, I look for a couple of baseball themed books that I can read on the beach, or in my backyard. I love it when I can find one relating to my hometown Phillies. This one is perfect.
Butler breaks his book down into four sections. At the start of each, he poses a set of trivia questions. With each section, the questions get increasingly more difficult.
But then during the ensuing chapter he doesn’t simply answer each of the questions. Instead, Butler gives you the stories behind those answers.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Chase Utley continues to add to his Hall of Fame resume

Chase Utley continues adding to his Hall of Fame resume
In the bottom of the 8th inning on Friday night at Dodgers Stadium, Chase Utley added yet another milestone to his growing Baseball Hall of Fame resume.
Utley drove a 91 mph fastball from Kansas City Royals reliever Neftali Feliz off the base of the center field wall. As Utley hustled to second base with a double, Joc Pederson rounded third and scored a run to put the Dodgers on top by a 3-1 score.
As Pederson crossed the plate, Utley officially reached a milestone. He became the ninth active player in Major League Baseball to reach the 1,000 career RBI mark.
Utley is now 38 years old and appearing in his 15th season in the big leagues. In 13 of those seasons he became a legend with the Philadelphia Phillies.
His first career hit was a grand slam homer at Veteran’s Stadium. The first runner to cross the plate with Utley’s first career RBI on that blast was none other than Jim Thome.
Now as Utley winds down his career in Los Angeles, his career statistics and reputation continue to pile up, adding to what should one day be a relatively easy decision for Hall of Fame voters.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Braves send hot R.A. Dickey to mound in D.C. series opener

Veteran knuckleballer Dickey has been red-hot for Braves
A year ago, the Atlanta Braves finished in last place in the 2016 National League East Division race. The Washington Nationals captured the division crown, finishing 26.5 games ahead of Atlanta.
This season was not expected to go much differently. The Nationals were considered the favorites to win the division once again. Most prognosticators felt that the Braves would do well to again avoid the basement.
As recently as three weeks ago, the Braves sat 11.5 games behind the Nats and in fourth place. But a glance at the NL East standings on July 7 shows that Atlanta has slowly crept to within two games of the .500 mark. They are now just eight games behind Washington.
By winning 12 of their last 18 games, the Braves have moved up the standings and into second place. The improved stretch of play sets up at least a bit of drama as they head to the nation’s capital to open a three-game weekend series at Nationals Park.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Phillies need to be bold at the trade deadline

NL All-Star reliever Neshek will be dealt by end of July
The Philadelphia Phillies are barreling down streak towards the July 31 MLB trade deadline with numerous rumors beginning to swirl around the team.
Most of the speculation revolves around the obvious players. Anyone 30+ years of age who is a pending free agent is likely to move.
The list includes starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, relievers Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit, and outfielders Howie Kendrick and Daniel Nava.
Another possibility to move is catcher Cameron Rupp,  already losing playing time to Andrew Knapp behind the dish. If Rupp is dealt, the Phils could call up Logan Moorefrom AAA Lehigh Valley to serve as the backup while Jorge Alfaro continues to start with the IronPigs.
Can Phillies fans expect their team to receive anything of any substance in exchange for any of these players in any trade? The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding “no” to that question.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Anthony Rendon deserves NL All-Star 'Final Vote'

Nat's Anthony Rendon deserves NL All-Star Final Vote 
The Washington Nationals have led the National League East Division for all but three days this season. 
To the victors traditionally go the spoils, and one of those spoils is that a number of Nationals players have been selected for the NL All-Star team.
In fan voting, three Washington stars have already been selected. Outfielder Bryce Harper will start in the NL outfield. The 24-year old superstar finished with over 3.6 million votes, more than any other player in Major League Baseball.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy will be appearing in his second consecutive All-Star Game. It will be the third career all-star honors for last year’s NL MVP runner-up.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is enjoying the best season of his 13-year big league career. He was voted to his second All-Star team. His only previous honor came way back in the 2009.
The Nationals also had two pitchers named to the NL roster, starters Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
Even with that fine representation, there is still one more member of the Nationals lineup also deserving of the honor, third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Rendon has been named as one of five candidates for what MLB promotes as a “Final Vote” process. Fans can go online and vote for their choice until Thursday, July 6 at 4:00pm EDT.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Dodgers sit atop the July 2017 MLB power ranking

The LA Dodgers were scorching hot in June
One month ago, the Houston Astros sat atop my June MLB Power Ranking, my first of the 2017 season. 
My personal policy has always been to make sure we get two full months behind us before making such evaluations, other than a preseason list.
Back at the start of June, the Los Angeles Dodgers were third in the Power Ranking. The Dodgers were also the second-ranked team in the National League at that time behind only the Washington Nationals.
Now as July opens, those Dodgers have romped their way to the very top. The month of July began in exactly the way that June had ended for the club, with an impressive performance.
The Dodgers shut out the San Diego Padres on Saturday night by an 8-0 score. Los Angeles won for the third straight time. It also marked the club’s 20th victory in their last 23 games.
That 20-3 stretch has pushed Los Angeles out to a 3.5 game lead in the NL West. The hot three-week stretch also gives them the best overall record in the National League standings with a 55-28 mark.
The Dodgers are fourth in baseball with 436 runs scored. A combined .790 team OPS is also the fourth-best in the game. Their 344 walks is the highest total of free passes drawn in all of MLB.
On the mound, Dave Roberts‘ pitching staff is the best in all of Major League Baseball statistically. The Dodgers pitchers have a cumulative 3.20 ERA and .224 Batting Average Against. Both of those are the best marks in baseball by a wide margin.