Kansas City Royals Slow Roast Blue Jays To A 3-1 ALCS Lead

The Kansas City Royals bounced back from their 11-8 game three loss to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 12-2 in game four to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.  The matchup on Tuesday pitted knuckleballer R.A. Dickey against 88 MPH fastballer Chris Young of the Royals.  

Young’s last playoff appearance came in game one of the ALDS against Houston when starter Yordano Ventura got himself into trouble, causing Young to come in for relief; “CY” Young tossed four innings of relief and allowed just one run on three hits.

Young came in to pitch in to Tornto’s home run hitting offense in a ballpark that features 328 feet corners, a hitter’s dream.  R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball tossed in game four of the ALDS against Texas; he pitched 4.2 innings and allowed just one run on five hits.  Today was a much different story for Dickey as Young continued to shine.  

The first inning showed no promises for Dickey as he allowed a leadoff bunt single to Alcides Escobar that was followed by a two-run bomb into the right field seats from second baseman Ben Zobrist. A passed ball by Dickey allowed a run to score to increase the lead further to 3-0. Mike Moustakas tacked on one more run on a sac fly to finish out the Royals’ scoring in the first inning.

Chris Young (who struck out seven in his four inning outing against Houston) allowed Josh Donaldson to reach base on a walk in the first inning, but proceeded to strike out the side.  Former Blue Jay Alex Rios landed one in the left-center field seats in the top of the second to increase the Royals lead to 5-0 and ran Dickey out of the game allowing him to toss only 1.2 innings.  

With the hopes of tying the series slowly fading for Blue Jay fans, the Blue Birds were able to cut the deficit to 5-2 in the bottom of the third courtesy of a Josh Donaldson RBI double and a Jose Bautista RBI groundout. What cannot go unsaid is the performance by Liam Hendriks, who took over for Dickey in the second and hurled 4.2 scoreless one-hit innings, keeping the deficit at a reasonable 5-2 for the Jays.  

Chris Young continued to deal despite the short ballpark and his “slow heat;” he was replaced by Luke Hochevar in the bottom of the fifth inning. Young completed his outing with 2 earned runs on 3 hits in 4.2 innings, also striking out 4.

Hochevar pitched the end of the fifth and the entire sixth inning only allowing one hit.  Latroy Hawkins relieved Hendriks for the 7th inning and immediately loaded the bases without recording an out.  Hawkins was replaced by Ryan Tepera in an attempt to keep the Birds in the game.  

Alcides Escobar drove in a run with a sac fly while a seventh run was allowed to score on a wild pitch by Tepera.

 A single by Lorenzo Cain and a sac fly by Eric Hosmer increased the Royals lead to 9-2.  Royals reliever Ryan Madson took over for Hochevar and tossed a one-hit shutout seventh inning.  Apparently, Kansas City was not satisfied with a 9-2 lead as they tacked on 3 in the eighth to take a 12-2 lead over the #2 seeded team in the American League.

 After allowing two baserunners to reach in the top of the ninth, Blue Jay shortstop/second baseman Cliff Pennington emerged from the bullpen to pitch for the Birds; he allowed two hits and two runs to cross the plate, 14-2 Royals.  Franklin Morales tossed a one-hit ninth inning to close things out and secure the Royals a 3-1 series lead.

The Toronto Blue Jays got a taste of their own medicine on Tuesday as the Royals hammered two home runs and scored 14 runs on 15 hits; on Monday, the Blue Jays scored 11 runs on 11 hits to cut the KC series lead to 2-1.  

The Royals game two win last Saturday ensured that Toronto would have to win at least one game at Kauffman Stadium in Missouri, but Tuesday’s win ensures that Toronto will need to win on Wednesday at home as well as two times in Kanasas City in order to win the series.

 Chris Young also continued to be clutch for the Royals ball club, giving quality innings (even though he didn’t pitch 5 innings today) in his last two postseason appearances.  KC’s bullpen proved solid once again as the 4 relievers allowed just 3 hits.

The Blue Jays used 4 relievers and one everyday player to combat the Royals hot bats; combined, their bullpen allowed 9 runs on 11 hits. The Royals offense proved worthy of the “best offense in the AL” title and also breaking a franchise record with the most runs scored in a playoff game with 12 runs scored (previous record was 11 in 1985).  

3 Stars of the Game:

#3- (KC) 2B Ben Zobrist- 2-4, 2 RBI, HR, BB, 2 runs

#2- (KC) CF Lorenzo Cain- 2-3, 3 RBI, 2 BB, run

#1- (KC) SS Alcides Escobar- 2-3, 4 RBI, run

As they take a 3-1 series lead after their 14-2 blowout win on Tuesday, Kansas City can win their second straight American League pennant in game five on Wednesday.  If the Jays pull out a win in game five, the series will return to Kansas City for game six and the “if necessary” game seven.  Right hander Edinson Volquez (game one winner) takes the mound for the Royals against Marco Estrada (game one losing pitcher).

First pitch of game five at 4:07 PM ET, 1:07 PT on Wednesday at Rogers Centre in Toronto.  

Follow @dylanmiles97  on Twitter for MLB updates, news, analysis and commentary. 

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5 Cost-Effective Moves The Detroit Tigers Should Make This Offseason

The 2016 title-hunt begins now for the Detroit Tigers. After nosediving from first to worst in the American League Central, the Tigers now must build a squad that can leapfrog four teams and re-establish themselves as the cream of the division.

Trimming dead wood from the current roster is one part of the process. Purchasing expensive free agents will be another.

However, while the above transactions may elicit the bold typefaces, the more subtle and cost-effective deals could be just as important.

These micro-moves include whether or not Detroit tenders deals to its arbitration-eligible players. The performances of J.D. Martinez and Jose iglesias more than justify them a pay hike. The futures of Al Alburquerque, Neftali Feliz and Andrew Romine will come under much greater scrutiny.

Then there’s the free agents. A handful of those will bid adieu to the Motor City, including—in all likelihood—general manager Al Avila’s son Alex Avila. Outfielder Rajai Davis probably has the best chance of re-signing.

Even with owner Mike Ilitch’s deep pockets, expenditure will be an issue for Detroit. As noted by Chris Iott of MLive , the franchise already has $130M invested in its players before they acquire any new blood. That gives them roughly another $59M to spend before stepping into luxury-tax territory.

GM Avila has already expressed his desire to bolster the pitching ranks. Spearing a big fish on the free-agent market, such as Jordan Zimmerman, will be his goal. Prudent spending on the smaller pieces will be key.

Ready to go bargain shopping?

 

Sign Rajai Davis To A Cut-Price Deal

Rajai Davis penned a two-year $10M deal with Detroit prior to the 2014 season. Brought in chiefly to provide a running threat, Davis was a constant menace to opponents last year stealing 36 bases (3rd in AL ).

But, injury niggles and the emergence of Anthony Gose halved his tally to 18 in 2015.  Davis turns 35 this month, and he may have only another year or so left before Father Time really catches up with his legs.

On the other hand, Davis’ hitting seems to be getting better with age. A .440 slugging percentage in 2015 was the highest mark of his career.

There is an heir apparent to Davis in the Tiger’s ranks. Wynton Bernard stole 43 bases at Double-A Erie this year and slashed a highly respectable .301/.352/.408 in 135 games. However, Bernard most likely needs another year of seasoning in the minors before earning his ticket to the big leagues.

This means that there is still an opening in the outfield for the Tigers next season. Davis recently intimated his desire to stick around per Matthew B. Mowery of The Oakland Press: “If it was up to me, it would be very, very nice to stay…It could happen. Anything is possible,” he said.

A one-year deal for around $3-4M would be a very respectable offer by Detroit. The number of years, however, could be a sticking point for Davis.

 

Tender J.D. Martinez

Yep, this one’s a no-brainer.

Martinez enters his second year of arbitration eligibility as one of the premier sluggers in the AL. The right-fielder’s 38 home runs (8th ), .535 slugging percentage (8th ), and .879 OPS (9th ) all ranked in the league’s top 10 this season.

With impressive back-to-back campaigns under his belt, Detroit can no longer keep Martinez without significant expense. The website mlbtraderumors.com recently projected that his salary would climb to $7.8M in 2016.

For that, Martinez is a bargain.

 

Non-Tender Al Alburquerque

Alburquerque is eligible for arbitration for the third time this offseason. In previous years, he and Detroit have been able to reach an improved one-year deal. The club may not be so eager this time.

The righty reliever had a poor season in 2015 . Command issues led to Alburquerque issuing too many free passes and consequently a high WHIP (1.55) and ERA (4.21).

Mlbtraderumors.com anticipates Alburquerque’s salary will rise to $2.1M in 2016. This is too much for a pitcher whose manager typically only uses him for mop-up duty.

 

Sign Free-Agent Catcher Brayan Pena

The likely departure of Alex Avila leaves a vacancy at back-up to catcher James McCann. Ex-Tiger Pena would be a snug fit.

The 33-year-old veteran is not a prolific hitter : .273/.334/.324 in 2015. But his 34-29 K-BB ratio in 333 at-bats with Cincinnati shows that he consistently puts the ball in play. His contact rate would be a stark contrast to Avila who struck out 30.1 percent of the time this year. His ability to switch-hit is also attractive to Detroit whose line-up remains righty-heavy.

Pena was a fan favourite in his one season with The Tigers in 2013. His Cheshire-Cat grin would bring a welcome sprinkle of positivity to the clubhouse.

A deal similar to the two-year $2.275M deal he signed with the Reds in 2013 may be enough to lure him back. Cheap and cheerful, indeed.

 

Non-Tender Neftali Feliz

Feliz was given an opportunity by the Tigers this season after being jettisoned mid-year by the Rangers. His time in Motown was a sobering one : 7.62 ERA in 28.1 innings.

Feliz is eligible for arbitration for the final time this offseason before becoming a free agent. As noted by Patrick OKennedy of blessyouboys.com, if the Tigers wish to tender him a deal it must be at least of 80 percent of his previous contract ($4.13M). That equates to Detroit offering him about $3.2M for 2016.

Uh, not likely.

OKennedy suggests an incentivised contract which rewards Feliz for performing. Something unguaranteed that dangles the carrot in front of the veteran right-hander would certainly be in Detroit’s best interests.

 

Stats in this article are courtesy of mlb.com and baseballreference.com

The 7th Inning That Stretched – Blue Jays eliminate Rangers.

Rangers vs Blue Jays…Game 5 from Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

I was listening to a crucial part of this game on the car radio during the top of the seventh inning and after arriving at my final destination I was double-checking my phone during the bottom of that inning. I had some non-baseball related things to do on Wednesday, but a confused Rick Sutcliffe, my Twitter feed and the fruit of the Vines gave me a pretty good idea that the Rangers scored a bizarre run, that their defense collapsed possibly under the pressure of unruly fans in the bottom of the seventh, before Jose Bautista sealed the deal with a dramatic and flashy home run exclamation point.

When I got home I definitely had to go back to the DVR and watch the entire seventh inning to see how what I heard and read felt when watching it on TV. Bautista’s home run ritual looked just as silly on a 46-inch television as it did when viewing Vines on my phone of other people’s 46-inch televisions.

Three things grind my gears from the 7th inning that stretched 53 minutes.

  1. Why does the Rogers Centre sell canned beer to fans?
  2. Why isn’t the crew chief or home plate umpire mic’d so he can explain the call to the crowd with Ed Hochuli type legal detail. See NFL.
  3. Can we please move on from treating the bat like a baton in a high school band halftime show?

Let’s dig deeper on each point.

  1. Why does the Rogers Centre sell canned beer to fans?

Since 2001 I’ve attended baseball games at all California baseball stadiums more than once. My home stadium would be Angels Stadium of Anaheim. I have many memories of the Yankees playing poorly in that place, but I can never remember being served an adult beverage in a can that I could have at my seat. Cans get poured into plastic cups as a safety precaution. Seems pretty logical in what should be a safety conscious environment.

The alternative would be allowing a fan the option to possess a twelve dollar 24-ounce aluminum object that they could throw toward the field when a call didn’t go their way. That’s essentially what happened in Toronto on Wednesday night when multiple knuckleheads tossed cans, plastic bottles, and paper products on the field after not understanding an obscure baseball rule that I’m sure every sane Blue Jays fan will now never forget called Rule 6.03(a)(3).

In the top of the seventh inning of a 2-2 game, the Rangers’ Rougned Odor hustled home from third base after Blue Jay catcher Russell Martin’s throw back to the pitcher accidently bounced off Shin-Soo Choo’s bat creating a live ball situation. Choo was still in the batter’s box at the time, but had already stretched out his left arm to prepare for his next swing. It just so happened that’s the area Martin’s throw hit. The Rangers took a 3-2 lead after Dale Scott reversed his initial dead ball call. Confusion and anger ensued with some fans testing how far they could soft toss objects over the fans in front of them, but still toward the field of play that featured their hometown nine.

If Blue Jays fans are going to be all rowdy this postseason then the canned beverages need to be introduced to a plastic cup at the point of sale.

  1. Why isn’t the crew chief or home plate umpire mic’d so he can explain the call to the crowd with Ed Hochuli type legal detail?

I know it’s not the NFL, but can we get the umpire a microphone so he do some explaining on replays. The nonchalant safe/out, fair/foul signal right after he listens to his favorite jam on the replay headset is totally lame.

In this situation a Blue Jays protest and a conference with the other umpires and a rules check with whomever is on the other end of those replay headsets led to Scott’s reversed call being upheld and the Texas run counting. OK, cool, but why?

The problem I have is that on something obscure like this situation the fans didn’t receive any clear verbal declaration as to what had happened. They never do. The communication is basically limited to a P.A. announcer saying “The play is under review” and “The call on the field is upheld/overturned.” Fans never really get the why part of a replay decision, which can be confusing when the call in question isn’t simply a fair/foul, out/safe, HR/No HR call. Even on a basic decision that requires replay it would be nice to get a “replay confirms the runner’s foot was on the bag when the tag was applied, first down!” or something like that.

  1. Can we please move on from treating the bat like a baton in a high school band halftime show?

It was a bad bottom of the 7th for the Rangers Elvis Andrus. He muffed a ground ball to allow Russell Martin a bit of redemption. Andrus then failed to catch Moreland’s poor throw to force Martin at second base. Elvis was then unable to catch Beltre’s throw to third base to force out pinch runner Dalton Pompey. Giving the Blue Jays six outs seems like a bad idea.

An aggressively sliding Pompey was forced out at home on Ben Revere’s groundball to Mitch Moreland. A replay confirmed Pompey was legally aggressively sliding. That’s one out.

The Rangers then turned to Sam Dyson out of the bullpen and he helped set the game on fire. Josh Donaldson hit a pop up that Odor was unable to grab due to some route efficiency issues. A force out was made at second, but a run scored to tie the game at three.

With runners on first and third, Jose Bautista crushed a go ahead 3-run homer to left center field. He stood at the plate to admire his work before releasing what appeared to be some inner rage that led to him throwing his bat out of the way for his home run trot.

The following batter Edwin Encarnacion was forced to get chatty with Sam Dyson because Dyson didn’t understand Encarnacion was not trying to stir up the crowd with his hand gestures following Bautista’s homer. Edwin was allegedly trying to calm the crowd from throwing more objects onto the field in the mayhem that was the seventh inning.

Emotions were running high for both sides. Bautista’s 3-run homer were the final runs scored in the Blue Jays 6-3 game five victory that sends them to the ALCS for the first time since 1993, but can we please tone down the bat gymnastics. The bat flipping and tossing has been over done by several players to the point where it’s not all that funny or cute anymore. I wonder if sportsmanship is even in the job description for professionalism. Get over yourself. We’ve got advanced metrics telling us you’re good, we’ve got writers telling us you’re good, we don’t also always need the player hammering home the point with histrionics.

In an age where marketing your brand seems to be key to so many, it would be nice to see the reaction to accomplishment look organic not contrived, like say the Kansas City Royals. They have had hot heads at times in 2015, but their fans and team seemed to exercise respect and joy during their 7-2 Game 5 ALDS win against the Houston Astros. The celebratory Kansas City Wants It More playoff t-shirts are a little braggy, but they’ll get to show how much they want it when facing the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS which begins Friday in Kansas City. If it turns out the Blue Jays actually want it more, I hope they don’t scare people by going about victory like the angry mob or raging Bautista we saw on Wednesday during the  7th inning that stretched.

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5 Most Meaningful Moments in the Detroit Tigers’ 2015 season

The Detroit Tigers 2015 season has come to its end. With the MLB playoffs now in full swing, it is unusual not to see Detroit among the contenders. Finishing last in the American League Central Division was a steep tumble for the Tigers after four straight years at the division’s summit.

Few, if any, expected this dismal fate. Entering the season, the Tigers maintained a strong nucleus of players including former AL MVP’s Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, as well as last year’s runner up, Victor Martinez. Detroit had been in win-now mode for a while, and intended on resuming normal service.

Things began on a positive note, too. A couple of weeks into the season they stood in familiar territory atop their division with an 11-2 record. Another run at the postseason was seemingly a foregone conclusion. But, things didn’t pan out that way—far from it.

Crushing defeats, big names like David Price and Yoenis Cespedes being traded away, and players being absent due to long-term injuries were among the major happenings that led to the team’s demise this year. These will feature prominently in the list below.

There are, however, silver linings in the dark Detroit skies. The July trades yielded some bright talent who promise to be strong contributors in the years to come. Verlander’s return to dominance during the season’s second half was another positive, as was the blockbuster season for slugger J.D. Martinez. So not everything was bleak.

It’s now time to go back and take a back at those monumental moments which made Detroit’s season. Tiger’s fans will need to take a deep breath or two before stepping into the time machine.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Ready now?

*Note that the moments are chronological and not in order of significance.

 

Justin Verlander Begins The Season On the Disabled List

The first DL stint of Verlander’s career was a lengthy one. Two-and-a-half months of the season had already passed before the veteran made it back to the bump.

Verlander’s absence was deeply felt. In the nine seasons preceding this one, nobody in the majors had as many wins as Verlander’s 152 —an average of 16.8 per season. His time on the DL, in addition to a patchy form upon his return, meant Verlander eked out just five wins in 2015. Yep, five.

A dozen more wins would have produced an average season for Detroit’s former No. 1 pick. With 12 more victories in the bank, the Tigers would definitely not have finished last in the Central. They may have also extended their season for the fifth year in a row.

 

J.D. Martinez hits three home runs at Yankee Stadium

Told you it wasn’t all doom and gloom. This was a career day for Martinez in what was a career season for the Tigers outfielder.

Martinez homered thrice against New York—one each to left, center and right field on June 21 (Father’s Day) in a 12-4 Tigers victory.

“It was just one of those days where you take swings and you’re actually hitting the ball how you want to hit it…There’s not too many of those days, so you’ve just got to take advantage of them,” said Martinez per ESPN.com .

This was the beginning of a long-ball binge for Martinez who swotted 11 big flies in 13 days. That hot stretch led to him being rewarded with his first All-Star Game selection.

It was also a crucial win at the time for Detroit. It put the team back above .500 (35-34) after a dreadful run of 14 defeats in their previous 20 games.

Martinez ended the season with excellent numbers : .282, 38 HR, 102 RBI. Right field looks solid in the Motor City for a good few years to come.

 

Brian Dozier Hits A Walk-Off Homer Against Detroit on July 10

Detroit’s defeat to Minnesota just before the All-Star Break was not just another loss.

Leading 6-0 in the 8th inning and with Justin Verlander in control of the game, the Tigers seemed on the verge of penciling in another W. But the Twins had other ideas. A seven-run ninth inning capped by Dozier’s shot off Joakim Soria sent the Metrodome crowd into delirium, and the Tigers home stunned.

This was the second game of a four-game set preceding the Midsummer Classic. The Tigers came into it on a mini run of five wins in their previous seven. This heartbreaking defeat was then compounded by two more to close out the series. Just when Detroit seemed to be catching fire, Minnesota extinguished their flames with one huge splash.

When reflecting on the Tiger’s season in September, Manager Brad Ausmus told Anthony Fenech  of the Detroit Free Press: “It’s definitely the one loss that stands out in my mind.”

That single defeat felt more like 10.

 

David Price Is Traded to Toronto

The day that Detroit traded their ace Price (July 30), they officially waved the white flag.

Any chance of a Tigers resurrection after a 49-52 start disappeared with this deal, which brought Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt in return.

It had to be done, though. The Tigers were underachieving even with Price and they needed to re-stock a bare prospect cupboard. Boyd and Norris showed enough in the final two months to demonstrate they may offer the club plenty in the future. Free-agent Price was a goner at the end of the season, anyway.

With all their season’s hopes now dissolved, the Tigers then exchanged Cespedes and Soria the following day for a few more prospects. It stung a bit at the time, but the future should vindicate the decisions of since departed Tiger’s president/general manager Dave Dombrowski.

 

Verlander One-Hits the Los Angeles Angels

By late August, the Tigers were already looking ahead to 2016. They got a major positive moving forward on August 26 when Verlander came just three outs shy of twirling the third no-hitter of his career.

This outing was part of a major resurgence for Verlander during the second half of the season. In his final 14 starts he was 5-5 with a 2.27 ERA and an impressive 91-20 K-BB ratio.

Another telling number was his velocity. In his final start of the season, one of his pitches whistled into the catcher’s mitt at 99 miles per hour.

“Things are coming back to me. I’m feeling a lot like my old self,” Verlander told Fenech late in the year.

It had not been pretty upon his initial return from the DL. In his first six starts, Verlander was winless and posted a 6.62 ERA.

The return of a nearly vintage Verlander—beard, tight pants and all—bodes well for the Tigers in 2016.

 

Stats in this article are courtesy of mlb.com and fangraphs.com

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Houston Astros: Dark Horse World Series Contender?

On September 15, the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers began a four game series that started with the Astros a game and a half up on their division rivals and ended with the Rangers sweeping the Houston ball club in four games and the Arlington team taking a 2.5 game lead on their Houston counterpart. The Rangers never looked back from that point on and ended up winning the AL West by two games over the Astros.

As the Astros entered the wild card game Tuesday night, some people were cautious about the Houston ball club and many thought that the season was over as they faced a far more experienced New York Yankee roster. However the Astros had something that the Yankees could not contend with and that was left handed starter Dallas Kuechel. Kuechel did what he has done all year and dominated the Yankees en route to a 3-0 victory for the Astros.

The excitement is not stopping there for the Houston ball club however. Today they open the American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, last year’s World Series runner up and a favorite to make it back to the grand stage again this year. Houston is handing the ball off to right hander Colin McHugh, who is having a fantastic season and enters this game 19-7 on the year with a 3.89 earned run average.

The Royals will counter with young starter Yordano Ventura, a player that has huge upside, but is still a hot head. It will be key for the Astros to try and get in Ventura’s head early and if they can do so they will be able to disrupt the young pitcher and force him to make mistakes.

The Astros have a young lineup led by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and Houston has the firepower to knock out the Royals in the ALDS. After Colin McHugh starts Game 1, the Astros will start Scott Kazmir in Game 2 followed by Kuechel in Game 3. It is key that the Astros split the games in Kansas City because they will be returning to Houston with their number one starter on the mound.

Carlos Gomez is a player that the Astros will look for to step up against the Royals. The vocal 29 year old outfielder is a player that can be a catalyst for a team and showed that in Tuesday’s game against the Yankees as he hit a solo home run to help secure the victory for Houston.

As seen from last year’s postseason and this year’s regular season, the Royals have the best bullpen in baseball led by new closer Wade Davis and set up man Kelvin Herrera. It is crucial that the Astros get runs early against the Kansas City starters because once it hits the 7th inning it is almost impossible to beat the Royals.

The Royals 7th, 8th and 9th inning pitchers have earned run averages of 2.13, 2.71 and 0.94 in Ryan Madson, Herrera and Davis and the Astros will likely not be able to get to these three pitchers. The key for Houston will be to score runs early and they must do so by stealing bases and hitting home runs. The Astros finished the regular season third in the majors in stolen bases and second in home runs and with duel threat players such as Carlos Correa, the Astros can give the Royals fits.

I believe that the Astros will win the American League Division series against the Royals in five games, but I believe that their postseason run will end as they are handled in six games by the Toronto Blue Jays. The Astros have a lot of young talent, but they are still a year away from getting to the World Series.

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Nick’s MLB Playoff Picks

It is finally here. The Major League Baseball postseason begins this week with some highly anticipated Wild Card games. Here are my picks for this year’s edition of October baseball.

Disclaimer: these opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the rest of the Sports Rants staff.

Cubs

Wild Card Games

American League

Houston Astros @ New York Yankees

It will likely be Dallas Keuchel against Masahiro Tanaka. Keuchel has allowed just four earned runs in his last four outings. Tanaka has allowed 6 runs in his last two starts. The Astros also have the hotter offense right now. Anything can happen in these games so I am just going to go with the hotter team.

Winner: Astros

National League

Chicago Cubs @ Pittsburgh Pirates

Make no mistake, neither of these teams are your typical squeak-into-the-playoffs kind of wild card teams. I would not be surprised at all if the winner of this game goes on to the NLCS or even World Series. The Cubs are the hotter team and have the better ace. Jake Arrieta is a top Cy Young candidate and is the National League’s only 20-game winner.

Winner: Cubs

RoyalsTigers JFS 8-10-15 0271 (2)

Division Series

National League

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets

The Dodgers have home field advantage. This will be an epic battle of top rotations. The problem with the Dodgers is, who will pitch Game 3 after Kershaw and Greinke have had their turn? The Mets have three solid starters they can ride throughout the playoffs.

With the trio of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have the advantage in starting pitching. The Mets also have Yoenis Cespedes who has 7 HRs and 18 RBI in his last 26 games. New York has also had better bats in the last month. Things seem to be tipping the Mets’ way. This could be a 5-game series.

Winner: Mets

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

This rivalry will spill into postseason play and it will be epic. The Cardinals won the season series 11 to 8 and they have home-field advantage. In the last month or so, it has been the Cubs that have played better baseball.

The Cubs will have to deal with a hot batting combo of Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward. They both hit over .300 with 10 home runs combined in the last month. Lucky for the Cubs, Kris Bryant and Starlin Castro have been equally as hot.

This series will come down to pitching. Each team’s bullpens will be tested. The Cardinals had the superior bullpen throughout the season.

Winner: Cardinals

American League

Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Rangers got a late push to win the division and have plenty of momentum. That may die off in their 4 days’ rest. Cole Hamels and David Price can set the tone in this series for their respective teams. Price is 5-0 with a 2.32 ERA in his last five starts. Hamels is 5-0 with a 3.43 ERA in his last 6 starts.

If there is a tie between those two aces, the tiebreaker would be the offense. The Blue Jays have a far superior offense. They were 2nd in the MLB with 43 home runs in September and also were third in batting average in that same span. The Rangers were 14th and 13th in those categories respectively. The Blue Jays also won the season series 4-2.

Winner: Blue Jays

Kansas City Royals vs. Houston Astros

The Royals seemed to be the class of the American League from the word “go” this year. Johnny Cueto was a great addition but he does not have a good track record in the postseason (see the dropped ball incident in Pittsburgh). He finished the year with a 5.50 ERA in his last 6 starts. Yordano Ventura has been their ace all year.

The Astros won the season series 4-2. They have also had the better offense through the last month of the season. It will come down to clutch hitting and the bullpen. Throughout the season, the Royals were in the top 5 for hitting with runners in scoring position. The Astros have been in the bottom ten in that category. The Royals have also had the better bullpen throughout the year.

Winner: Royals

josh-donaldson-mlb-baltimore-orioles-toronto-blue-jays-850x560

League Championship Series

National League

St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Mets

This series could go seven games easily. The Cardinals won the season series 4-3. This series would feature two of the top 5 starting rotations in baseball. The Cardinals actually have slightly better numbers with their top 3: John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha. You can also add a fourth, Carlos Martinez, who as a rookie, posted 14 wins and 181 strikeouts.

The Cardinals have the deeper rotation and the bullpen was more reliable. The Mets offense has come to life recently. Lucas Duda, Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson can hurt you in a lot of ways. The deciding factor in this series is whose bullpen can come through. If recently returned ace Adam Wainwright is effective in the bullpen for St. Louis, they will win the NL Pennant for the third time in the last five years.

Winner: Cardinals

American League

Kansas City Royals vs. Toronto Blue Jays

This series features teams with completely different philosophies. The Royals got here with solid pitching and timely hitting. The Blue Jays with a powerful offense and sufficient pitching. However, in the last month the Blue Jays have had better bats and even better pitching than Kansas City.

Any team that has a lineup featuring Edwin Encarnacion (39 HRs, 111 RBI), Jose Bautista (40 HRs, 114 RBI), Josh Donaldson (41 HRs, 123 RBI) and Troy Tulowitzki, they will be hard to get out.

The Royals have more speedy, on-base guys like Lorenzo Cain (28 SBs, .361 OBP) and Alex Gordon (.377 OBP). When it comes down to it, the Blue Jays have a deeper offense and a true ace in David Price. The Jays will party like it’s 1993.

Winner: Blue Jays

World Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Toronto Blue Jays

I was hoping for an All-Missouri World Series a la 1985 but the Blue Jays spoiled that fun. This will be a great series between a solid pitching staff against one of the most powerful lineups in recent years. It will be great to watch John Lackey, Carlos Martinez and Co. face off against Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

The Rogers Centre will rock with an entire country behind the Blue Jays. The Cardinals represent all that is good about baseball (minus a hacking scandal). A deep farm system with classy front office representatives in St. Louis against a spendy, trendy, sexy Blue Jays team. It will come down to this, can the Blue Jays pitching match that of the Cardinals?

The old saying goes “good pitching beats good hitting.” We could see that exemplified here. Adam Wainwright could emerge from the bullpen as this year’s Madison Bumgarner. The Cardinals battled injuries that everyone expected to doom their season and they overcame them all. It will all pay off come early November.

World Series Champion: Cardinals in 6 games.

 
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Cardinals vs Pirates and more to watch this week.

Who: Cardinals at Pirates

When: Monday through Wednesday

Why watch the Cardinals?

Their defense had four interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns against San Francisco on Sunday, but then Trevor Rosenthal took a 3-1 lead in the 9th and imploded by putting three guys on base and serving up a grand slam to Brewers’ pinch hitter Jason Rogers. It was part of 7-run 9th inning for the Brewers as they beat the Cardinals 8-4.

Sticking with the baseball Cardinals, we find they have a 3-game lead over the Pirates in the NL Central heading into a key series against Pittsburgh to start the week. It begins with Lynn-Happ and then Wacha-Morton. Carlos Martinez (14-7, 3.01 ERA) has been shutdown for the rest of the regular and postseason with a strained right shoulder. Tyler Lyons will be called upon to start the final game of the Pirates series against Gerrit Cole.

The Cardinals finish the season this weekend with three games at the Braves.

Why watch the Pirates?

The Pirates only managed a 7th inning Gregory Polanco single on Sunday night in their 4-0 loss to the Cubs Jake Arrieta, whose Cy Young candidacy is full steam ahead like a locomotive. Pittsburgh had won their previous 8-games and because of that they have a chance to catch the Cardinals at the top of the NL Central with a sweep.

The Pirates finish the season this weekend with three game home series against the Reds

Who: The Cubs

When: During that perfect game Jake Arrieta (21-6, 1.82 ERA) had going until the 7th inning last night.

Why watch the Cubs?

To see Arrieta pitch and hit. He homered on Sunday night. The Cubs can’t win the NL Central being 7.5 games back with 7 to play, but they could host the NL Wild Card game. It’s a longshot as they trail the Pirates by 4.5 games. The Cubs have a make-up home game against the Royals on Monday and then a three game series in Cincinnati and in Milwaukee to end the regular season.

Who: Dodgers at Giants

When: On Monday when they can clinch the NL West.

Why watch the Dodgers?

Los Angeles enters the week with a six-game lead over San Francisco, but the Dodgers just lost all three games of a weekend series against the Rockies. Barring a collapse, the Dodgers will take care of business against the Giants on either Monday, Tuesday,  Wednesday or Thursday. If not, then the Dodgers postgame call-in show on Thursday will feature mayhem and chaos and just a 2-game lead with a home series against the Padres meaning something on the final weekend.

Why watch the Giants?

To see if Jarrett Parker can hit three homers in a game again. He did it on Saturday and has 6 career homers in 30 at bats. Also, it will be interesting to see if the Giants are simply out of this world at avoiding the stroke of midnight in the NL West.

Who: Red Sox at Yankees

When: Monday through Thursday

Why watch the Yankees?

The Yankees magic number to clinch an AL wild card spot is 3 after rookie sensation Luis Severino pitched 6-scoreless innings in his win against the White Sox on Sunday. New York has a 4.5 game lead over the Astros as it concerns the top wild card spot. Flags were at half-staff at The Stadium this weekend to honor the late Yogi Berra. Their hall of fame catcher passed away on Wednesday night. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, but luckily for the Yankees that logic may by more appropriate to the situation developing in the AL West.

Why watch the Red Sox?

Rich Hill (2-0, 1.17) has been awesome in his three starts with the Red Sox this September. Last week the 35-year old former Cub, Oriole, Red Sox, Indian won his first game as a starter since 2009. Rick Porcello has also been pretty good since late August. 23-year old Henry Owens, won’t face the Yankees, but he won on Sunday against the Orioles and figures to be a key part of the Red Sox future.

Who: The Blue Jays

When: Any time they are in the batter’s box.

Why watch the Blue Jays?

They have a 4-game lead on the Yankees in the AL West and look a team ready to clinch the division before this weekend. The Blue Jays magic number is 4 following Josh Donaldson’s walk-off homer on Sunday that swept the Rays out of Toronto. The Blue Jays have four games in Baltimore and three games in Tampa to end the season.

Who: Any game involving the Rangers, Astros or Angels

When: All week

Why watch the Astros?

It’s always a good idea to check out Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Sunday, Dallas Keuchel improved to 15-0 at home with a win against the first place Rangers. The struggling Astros won the final two games against Texas and trail the Rangers by 2.5 games in the AL West. Houston plays three at Seattle and then three at Arizona to end the season.

Why watch the Angels?

Because Mike Trout may climb a wall and rob a home run again or maybe Albert’s foot will explode as he guts it out. Somehow the “disappointing” Angels are just 0.5 games behind the Astros for the 2nd AL Wild Card spot. Heck, the Twins are just 1.5 games behind the Astros too. The Angels host the Athletics on Monday through Wednesday. Angels’ closer Huston Street ruined his groin in Saturday’s game so Mike Scioscia gets to play bullpen roulette for as long as the Angels still have chips to gamble.

Why watch the Rangers?

To see how badly they beat down the Tigers who have mailed it in. However, Texas didn’t exactly take care of business against Houston this weekend. A 3-0 first inning lead on Saturday was a 4-4 tie after three innings and ultimately a 9-7 loss. They lost to Keuchel on Sunday, but JV, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd are not Dallas Keuchel. Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland are under the radar performers who are hidden behind the giant shadow cast by Prince Fielder.

Oh by the way. The AL West champ and that 2nd AL wild card probably won’t be decided until this weekend. The Angels and Rangers meet in Anaheim this Thursday through Sunday.

Clinch Update:

The Kansas City Royals and New York Mets have clinched division titles so they get a small note here.

The defending AL Champion Royals proved the prognosticators wrong by actually getting better and winning the AL Central for the first time.

The Mets started strong at 13-3 and held strong to win the NL East and make the postseason for the first time since 2006. Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper’s neck put a wrap on what wasn’t for the Nationals in 2015.

The Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs and Blue Jays have clinched playoff berths. Wild Card is the best the Cubs can do at this point.

The Cardinals have clinched home-field advantage in a potential NL Wild Card Game or NLDS.

 

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Kendrys Morales is helping the Royals flush the rest of a wild AL.

Sunday afternoon Kendrys Morales powered the Kansas Royals with three solo home runs and a triple against the Detroit Tigers. He also drew a walk and scored five times in Kansas City’s 10-3 win. Morales set the team record for total bases in a game with 15. He is the first Royal since Danny Tartabull back in 1991 to hit three home runs in a game.

For the record, Yoenis Cespedes had 15 total bases in a game on August 21st. Morales is the 10th player to have a 3-HR game this season.

Most importantly, Morales helped the Royals (87-62) get back to a 2-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays (85-64) for best record on the American League. Kansas City had lost 11 of their last 15 games. They still has an 11-game lead over Minnesota in the AL Central. In a related story,  the Twins lost three of four games to the Angels this weekend.

Kendrys (.293/.355/.490) is up to 21 home runs and 105 RBIs this season and is a top American League Comeback Player of the Year candidate for 2015.

Morales only played in  98 games with the Mariners and Twins during 2014 when he hit 8 HRs and posted a weak .218/.274/.338 slash line.

His production this season is no doubt appreciated by the Royals as he’s complimented Mike Moustakas (20 HR) and Salvador Perez (20 HR) in Kansas City’s modest power department. The Royals are just 22nd in MLB with 130 home runs, but still 4th in runs scored behind the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox.

Hitting the rewind button we see that Morales burst onto the scene with the Angels playing as Kendry (no s) in 2009 with a 34-HR season where he hit .306.

Following a 10th inning walk-off grand slam against the Mariners’ Brandon League on May 29th, 2010, Morales fractured his lower left leg after leaping on to home plate to celebrate. The gruesome ankle injury caused him to miss the rest of that 2010 season all of 2011.

He bounced back to contribute 22 dingers for the Angels in 2012 and hit 23 long balls for the Mariners in 2013. His OPS was in the .780 range both seasons.

Kendrys 2015 performance highlights a wild week in the AL where so many teams are still candidates to represent the league in the postseason. Consider the following:

The Texas Rangers took over first place in the AL West earlier this week thanks to a 4-game sweep of the then first place Houston Astros.

After dropping 3 of 4 to the Blue Jays last weekend, the Yankees had a 4-2 week that was highlighted on Sunday Night Baseball with Matt “Innings Limit” Harvey leaving the game after five innings with the Mets leading 1-0. The Dark Knight of Scott Boras chess board had only allowed one hit and stuck out seven.

The Mets defense and Hansel Robles fell apart in the Yankees 5-run 6th inning where only one run was earned, but they all counted. Dustin Ackley and Greg Bird each hit 3-run HRs during the Yankees 11-2 win where CC Sabathia didn’t stink over

The Blue Jays still lead the Yankees by 2.5 games in the AL East and those two teams will meet for three more games starting on Monday. Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced Masahiro Tanaka will miss his scheduled start on Wednesday because of a hamstring strain. This means Toronto will have an opportunity to blast off against Adam Warren, Luis Severino, and Ivan Nova while the Blue Jays counter with Dave Price, Marco Estrada, and Marcus Stroman.

The Yankees currently have a four game lead over the slumping Houston Astros for the 1st Wild Card position. The Angels and Twins are both 2.5 games behind the Astros for that 2nd Wild Card spot. It will stay interesting because the Angels play the Astros for three games starting on Monday.

The Cleveland Indians are at .500 and just 4-games behind the Astros. Cleveland will play the Twins during the first half of the week on Tuesday through Thursday.

Looking ahead to next weekend the Rangers will play the Astros again. Houston did win the final two games against Oakland this weekend, but had lost 9 of their previous 11 games.

There’s only two weeks left to the regular season. Enjoy the excitement.

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8 Players The Detroit Tigers Will Dump This Offseason

The Detroit Tiger’s disastrous 2015 season will mercifully come to its end soon. For several of this year’s squad it will be their final days sporting the Old English D.

The Tigers have six players whose contracts end on October 4—Rajai Davis, Alfredo Simon, Alex Avila, Joe Nathan, Randy Wolf and Tom Gorzelanny

Most of these free-agents-to-be have not performed up to standard this year and will be quickly cast to the scrap heap.

The Tigers also have players eligible for salary arbitration. J.D. Martinez will certainly be tendered a new deal, but relief pitchers Neftali Feliz and Alburquerque seem headed for the departure lounge.

Chopping their dead wood will be Detroit’s first act in what promises to be an eventful offseason. These players will feel the axe soon.

 

Alex Avila

An All-Star in 2011, catcher Avila was not long ago considered the future behind the plate in Detroit. Shortly, he will be a figure of the past.

Since his breakout campaign four years ago, Avila’s on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) has declined in every season.

Year 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
OPS .895 .736 .693 .686 .586

 

Detroit simply cannot afford to carry such an anaemic offensive player. Being a strong receiver will not be enough to save Avila, and the emergence of his successor James McCann (.272, .308, .406) seals his fate.

 

Alfredo Simon

Simon has had a topsy-turvy year in what’s likely to be his one and only in Detroit.

Since June, the giant right-hander has converted only five of his last 19 outings into quality starts. On his good days he’s been brilliant, but those have not too few and far between.

Three more trips to the bump then it’ll be sayonara Simon.

 

Joe Nathan

Brought in to bolster the back-end of the Tiger’s leaky bullpen prior to the 2014 season, Nathan never got on track in the Motor City.

The 40-year-old veteran closer was jeered by the Detroit faithful on several occasions last year after some botched performances. Nathan ended the 2014 campaign with seven blown saves and an unwieldy 4.81 ERA.

Unpopular, and owed $10M in 2015, Nathan contributed just one-third of an inning this season after an elbow injury led to Tommy John surgery in early April.

This has amicable split written all over it.

 

Randy Wolf

Wolf’s fate will be another easy decision for Detroit’s front office. The lefty starter was brought in as an emergency fill-in late this season when Daniel Norris and Anibal Sanchez both hit the disabled list on August 20.

After pitching the entire season with Buffalo in the International League, Wolf was inserted into the Tiger’s rotation on August 22. In five starts, he has not offered much: 0-3, 6.48 ERA and 1.72 WHIP.

Not only will Wolf be done in Detroit, he may be completely finished as a big-league player.

 

Rajai Davis

The 34-year-old outfielder has hit pretty well during two seasons in Detroit (.721 OPS in 2014 and 2015). But his signature speed has been less of a factor this year than in the past.

Davis was a constant pest for the opposition last year when he swiped 36 bags. A combination of injury niggles and cut playing time has halved his tally to just 18 this season.

The Tigers will probably seek a younger and cheaper alternative to Davis ($5M in 2015) to fill the outfield void.

 

Tom Gorzelanny

Gorzelanny was signed earlier this year to provide a much-needed boost to Detroit’s beleaguered bullpen. This never eventuated.

Entering the season as Detroit’s No. 1 lefty reliever, Gorzelanny has now been reduced to mop-up duty in the waning weeks of the season.

Gorzelanny’s ERA currently sits at an unflattering 6.75 through 44 appearances. It’ll be one-and-done for him in the Motor City.

 

Al Alburquerque

Alburquerque will be eligible for salary arbitration for the third time this offseason. The righty reliever earned $1.725M in 2015, which figures to increase to over $2M next season.

Is he worth this kind of coin?

That’s a tough call for Detroit. Even with $2M not constituting a fortune in modern baseball, Alburquerque is struggling to justify this level of remuneration.

The righty has been plagued by command issues during his career despite being dominant at times. Alburquerque has now walked 122 batters in 220.1 lifetime innings.

The Tigers have been patient with the slider-specialist but it’s now time to sever ties.

 

Neftali Feliz

Another arbitration-eligible player, Feliz will cause far less vexation for Detroit than the aforementioned Alburquerque.

The Dominican right-hander has been little more than batting practice for opponents since landing in Motown back in July. In 23 outings, hitters have cracked .325 off him, and his season ERA now sits at an unseemly 9.00.

If it wasn’t for the paucity of other options, Feliz would have been jettisoned by Detroit weeks ago.

 

Stats in the this article are courtesy of mlb.com

All stats were correct before the commencement of play on September 18.

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Where Did The Rangers Come From?

The Texas Rangers are on the verge of ruining the Cinderella party of the Houston Astros. The Astros had sole possession of first place in the AL West from July 29th to September 14th. They spent 127 days in first place. They have never been more than two games out of first place, until now.

Thanks to the Rangers winning the last six meetings, the gap closed more and more until the Rangers finally overthrew the 2015 darlings of baseball for the top spot. The Rangers have won 7 of their last 10 and the Astros have dropped 8 of their last 10. Let’s take a look at how this happened.

July 31st

Cole Hamels becomes a Texas Ranger as he is acquired in a trade as the Rangers shipped six prospects to Philadelphia in exchange for the ace. He has a 4.04 ERA with a 3-1 record in 8 starts, putting them in a position to win every time he toes the rubber.

There were some who scoffed the idea, as the Rangers were 7 games out of the AL West race and the Astros were showing no signs of slowing down.

August 7th

The Rangers claimed Mike Napoli off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox. In his 98 games with Boston this year, he limped along to a .207 average and 99 strikeouts. All he has done since returning to his team from 2011-2012 is hit .294 with a key go-ahead home run earlier this month.

August 13th

The Rangers fell behind to the Minnesota Twins 4-0 and rallied for a big win on the road. They went on to win 5 straight after that, gaining two games in the division and setting themselves up for a run at first place.

September 14th

The Rangers and Astros got together for a huge series. In the bottom of the 8th, Prince Fielder hit a go-ahead two-run bomb to give the Rangers the win and lessening the Astros’ lead to a half game.

September 15th

The Rangers and Astros had another dramatic game, a walk-off win for  the Rangers thanks to a sac fly by Mitch Moreland and that officially gave the Rangers the first place spot in the AL West.

September 17th

The Rangers completed a four-game sweep of the now second place Houston Astros by winning 8-2 and extending their lead to 2 1/2 games in the division.

The Rangers are the 5th-best hitting team since the All-Star break. Thanks to the renaissance of Prince Fielder (.314, 21 HRs, 83 RBIs) and Yovani Gallardo (12 wins, 3.35 ERA), the Rangers are poised for a playoff run no one saw coming. Everyone had picked either the Mariners or Angels to win the division.

Who knew that the race would come down to the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros?

Now, is the division race over? Not remotely. The Astros have plenty of time to get things together. However, they are 24th in ERA at 5.44 in the month of September. They are not trending in the right direction.

Dallas Keuchel has allowed 12 runs, 9 of them earned in his last two starts. Carlos Gomez is hitting .143 in the last week.  Chris Carter, who is only good for hitting home runs, has only hit one in his last 26 games.

Things have turned south in a hurry in Houston. There is still time to right the ship, but the Rangers are not going away. The Rangers are determined to make their first playoff appearance since 2012 and their first division crown since 2011, which was also the last year they went to the World Series.

Another question comes to mind…why did it take over 40 years for these two teams to be in the same division?

 

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