Pirates vs. Cubs: What You Need to Know for the NL Wild Card

(Photo Courtesy of sports mockery.com) 

Two teams. One with 98 wins. One with 97. Yes, believe it or not, this is a Wild Card matchup. At the beginning of this long Major League Baseball season, it may have been a common prediction to see two teams out of the NL Central playing in the Wild Card game. But honestly, who would have thought that these teams would own the 2nd and 3rd best record in all of the majors? Thank the St. Louis Cardinals for that.

In their third straight year in the postseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates are emerging as a regular contender amongst the league after a 20 season drought. This isn’t new to them anymore. Chicago, on the other hand, who regularly competed with Pittsburgh for the bottom spot in the NL Central standings, haven’t been to the dance since 2008, where they were swept in the NLDS by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Back in 2013, this was Pittsburgh. As they emerged into the postseason for the first time since Sid Bream was safe at the plate in the 1992 NLCS, they were the team with young talent ready to make some noise. Now in their third straight do-or-die Wild Card game, this is familiar territory. Now it’s Chicago who is rolling into the postseason on a hot streak with a plethora of young talent.

This game has generated an immaculate amount of anticipation. I know I can’t wait. Pirates Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen took to The Players’ Tribune to ignite energy into the entire city of Pittsburgh on Tuesday. In a heart-throbbing essay, McCutchen explains what it’s like to play in front of a sold out crowd in an MLB Playoff game. This included mention of Russell Martin’s 2013 homer off of Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, after a consenual “CUUEETTTOO” chant that filled PNC Park. He also called upon his fans to fill up the park with energy come tonight:

“It feels like Christmas Eve already. I don’t want to be able to hear myself think, Pittsburgh.”

Talk about a pump up speech.

Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta also pulled something out of his sleeve to give his crowd a boast. He took to Twitter to respond to a Pirates’ parody account, who warned Arrieta of the environment he and the Chicago Cubs were about to enter, engaging in some friendly trash talk. What Arrieta said certainly should have got some Cubs fans excited, and is something he’s earned the right to say.

 

Yeah, he went there.

Currently in a 107 year World Series drought, it only seems fitting that the Chicago Cubs are ready to make a deep run.

What will it take?

What will it take for the Pittsburgh Pirates to avenge last year’s NL Wild Card loss to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, who just so happened to become World Series champions?

The Case for the Cubs

Well, we all know who is on the mount tonight. That’s right, Jake Arrieta. Posting 22 wins and hotter than any pitcher since the All-Star break, he is as good of a CY Young candidate as any. Arrieta will get the rock tonight, as he has posted a 0.75 ERA since the mid-summer classic and 1.77 ERA for the year. Those numbers haven’t changed a bit against the Buccos, as he has gone 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA against them this season. Did I mention the beard too? That thing is in tip top shape.

Alongside Arrieta’s dominance, Chicago has found much success out of its young talent. Kris Bryant, NL ROY candidate, has been nothing short of outstanding since his emergence into the league on Opening Day. Bryant has posted a solid .275 batting average, drove in 99 runs, and has homered 26 times on the season. A stat line like that on your rookie campaign doesn’t get too much better than that. He also has not treated Pittsburgh very kindly, posting a .400 batting average as well as driving in 15 runs and drawing 13 walks in 70 at bats.

Anthony Rizzo, a bit more experienced than Bryant, is also another young talent who has come up big this season. He has hit .278, sent 31 baseballs over the fence, and drove in 101 runs this season (3rd NL). Not too shabby. With this combination of balance and power, the meat of Chicago’s lineup is a force to be reckoned with. Starlin Castro has provided a consistent bat in the Cubs’ lineup, and the maturing rookie Addison Russell has provided stability in the field and at the plate.

As for veteran support, the Cubs don’t have all that much. At the plate, outfielder Dexter Fowler has provided some depth in the Chicago lineup, as he batted .250, hit 29 doubles, while even having stolen 20 bases in the process. On the mound, Jon Lester, who lost the ace role to the great Arrieta, gives veteran leadership to the pitching staff. He fanned 207 batters and posted a solid 3.34 ERA this season.

As most people predict this to be a low scoring game, I feel no differently. If Jake Arrieta is Jake Arrieta, and if Gerrit Cole is Gerrit Cole, this will be a defensive, nail-biting dog fight. For Chicago to take this game, they will need to get ahead and get ahead early, as they will be able to continue their reliance on Arrieta. If they can knock in 3 runs in the first 6 innings on Cole, this should triumph Chicago to victory.

The Case for the Pirates

Jake Arrieta this. Jake Arrieta that. That has all the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans have been hearing this week. Well, yeah. He’s good. But you know who else is good? You guessed it, Gerrit Cole. Cole has been pitching in Arrieta’s shadow for most of the season, but has been nothing short of incredible, which would certainly be a CY Young contending season in any other year but this one. Cole has posted 19 wins (2nd NL), a 2.60 ERA (5th NL), and 202 strikeouts. With an outstanding fastball-slider combination, Cole has dominated hitters this year. Not to mention, throughout his career, the Pittsburgh Pirates have come out victorious in 8 of the 9 times Cole has started the game against the Cubs.

Ah, what’s next? That’s right, the man who is responsible for almost single handedly saving the Pittsburgh Pirates’ franchise. Andrew McCutchen. In what many saw as a down year for Cutch, he still produced solid numbers. A .292 batting average, 96 RBIs, and 23 home runs is nothing to mince about. This team fuels on McCutchen’s leadership and energy, and the whole city of Pittsburgh, including the teammates, are excited more than ever to play this game due to his article in The Players’ Tribune.

The Pirates have also gained moral support from newly acquired catcher Francisco Cervilli (.295 BA), the speedy Starling Marte, Neil Walker, and mid-season acquisition Aramis Ramirez, who began his career in Pittsburgh. Since the season-ending knee injury to Jung Ho Kang, the Pirates have missed him dearly. Thankfully for the Pirates, the depth in their batting lineup have picked up the slack.

What about the bullpen, you might ask? Well, I figured I’d save the best for last. With a Major League leading and franchise record 51 saves this year, Mark Melancon has led the charge in a Pirates’ bullpen that has been stout all year. In fact, they have posted a major league leading bullpen ERA at 2.67, which compares very favorably to Chicago’s 3.38 reliever ERA.

So yeah, low scoring game. What does that mean for Gerrit Cole? Well, I think it’s going to take 6+ innings with one run or less to get past Arieta, and to then dive into that outstanding bullpen. A lot to ask from your pitcher, isn’t it? Who better though, than Gerrit Cole? Cole thrives in these situations, and if he comes through, so will his team. It may be hard to string together multiple hits against Arrieta, but if Cole can keep his team in the game, the Pirates can get the Cubs’ ace out of the ball game and win it late.

So, Who Wins?

This really is a toss up. There are a lot of experts out there who predict the winner of this game to meet the AL champion in the World Series. A bold call, but certainly fair. I’m going to have to go about half-head, half-heart on this one. My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, will prevail. With 2 previous years under their belt, they know how and how not to win a wild card game. Expect PNC Park to be as rowdy as ever. Gerrit Cole will execute, but so will Arrieta. This comes down to who makes one more mistake, and I think the young, inexperienced Cubs will be that team on the big stage. I think this ball game ends 3-1 in favor of the home team in a game to remember.

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Finish Line

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.

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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

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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

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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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Dear Commissioner: Make The Wild Card Game A Series

Three of the possible ten playoff spots have been clinched. The Cardinals, Pirates and Royals have all punched their ticket to October baseball. The Wild Card race contains some dangerous teams this season. These teams, much like last year, have the potential to go all the way.

The Pirates and Cubs have all but locked up the National League Wild Card Game. Now the only thing to decide is whether the game will be played at Wrigley Field or PNC Park.

On the American League side of things, the Yankees and Astros currently occupy the two spots but it is far from a sure thing. The Angels and Twins lurk just outside at a game and a half. The Astros spent 139 days of this season in first place in the AL West. The Yankees were in first in the AL East for an even 100.

The Wild Card Game needs to be a series. These teams deserve a chance.

The Pirates are the second-best team in major league baseball. We are going to leave their fate to a play-in game after 162 games? The Cubs have the same record as the best team in the American League, but we are going to let their fantastic season come down to one game, quite possibly on the road?

Quite frankly, that would be injustice to what the baseball postseason is all about. Baseball is built around three-game series. All season long, teams play (mostly) three game series to decide who is the better team at that particular moment.

Why should the postseason be any different? This makes a lot of sense. Make the Wild Card Game a three-game series. You could even do it in two days. One day could be a double-header with the team that has home-field advantage.

There are plenty of ways to fix this. Major League Baseball would be selling themselves short if they do not make the play-in game a series.

The Pirates and Cubs are too good to lose after just one game. The Cubs could legitimately break their 107-year curse this year. They have the pitching and the offense to take down any team. They have been one of the most exciting teams to watch all year.

Don’t we want to see at least two games of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, they uber-young dynamic duo? It would be a shame to lose them after one game. They might show up with some butterflies and not play as well in the first few innings of that Wild Card Game. Should we let them get eliminated by just playing one bad game after they have won [by the time the season ends] over 90 games?

The Pirates as well have so much to offer in October baseball. They have not played in the League Championship Series since 1992 and have not won the World Series since 1979. This may be one of the best, if not the best Pirates team in franchise history. Should we throw it all into one game?

Teams with worse records get to cruise into a division series just because they are in a different division or league. The National League Central has the three best teams in baseball in the same division.

The Astros have been the darlings of baseball this year. Just because they had a mediocre September and sunk to the Wild Card doesn’t mean we should throw them to the wolves on a one-game playoff against the Evil Empire. They deserve better. You deserve better, baseball fans.

There really is no place for a one-game, sudden-death playoff in baseball. If people crave that, there is plenty of it during football season. This ain’t football.

So…Mr. Commissioner, Rob Manfred, Rob, Robby old pal, what do you say? Baseball is America’s pastime and we would be doing it and the rest of America a disservice if we let the Cubs and Pirates’ seasons dangle on one measly game.

Fresh Diet

The Cardinals Become First Team To Clinch A Postseason Birth

On Saturday the St. Louis Cardinals became the first team in Major League Baseball to clinch a postseason birth despite losing to the Chicago Cubs 5-4 because of a loss by the San Francisco Giants.

The Cardinals own a dominant 94-56 record on the season despite injuries to key players such as Adam Wainwright and more recently Yadier Molina, who has a partially torn ligament in his thumb and could miss the last few weeks of the regular season. The Cardinals have banded together and been the best overall team in baseball thanks to great team play and help from a very good starting rotation led by Michael Wacha.

St. Louis has a team ERA on the season of 2.90, which is first in all of baseball, with the next closest team (Pittsburgh Pirates) at 3.20. The Cardinals have the best pitching in all of baseball and their starting pitchers John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia have ERAs of 2.79, 3.28, 3.08, 3.01 and 2.45 respectively.

Barring a major collapse the Cardinals will enter the playoffs with the best record in the National League and will likely end up playing the winner of the Pirates and Chicago Cubs wild card game. Either matchup will be fun to watch and the Cardinals own an 8-8 record against the Pirates and an 11-8 record against the Cubs.

The Cardinals will be a dangerous team to face in the playoffs because any of their starters could start game one and it is likely that at least one of their starters will be used for long relief out of the bullpen if needed. Adam Wainwright is also expected to return to the bullpen for the Cardinals in the playoffs and the last time he was used in that role the red birds won the World Series in 2006.

With the Cardinals likely to enter the playoffs with the best record in the National League it will be the daunting task for teams to beat the red birds on the road. The Cardinals own the best home record in baseball at 51-24 and for a team to advance past the St. Louis ball club they will have to beat them at Busch Stadium.

The two teams that will have a shot at knocking the Cardinals off in the National League Division Series both could clinch playoff spots in the next two days. The Pittsburgh Pirates will clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight and if the Cubs win tomorrow they will also clinch a playoff spot. The Kansas City Royals of the American League are the third team that could clinch a playoff spot if they win tomorrow.

The playoffs are drawing nearer with each day and the Pirates and Cubs will have tough decisions to make when they play each other in the wild card game. For either team to beat the Cardinals in the National League Division Series they will have to win at least one out of the two opening games in St. Louis.

The two teams will have to decide whether they want to use their game one starter in the wild card game, or if they want to gamble and hope that their number two starter can win the wild card game allowing them to use their ace in Game one against the Cardinals. No matter what happens it is set to be a great postseason for baseball and the road to the World Series will lead through St. Louis.

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Can The Pirates Overtake The Cardinals?

For most of the season the St. Louis Cardinals have been considered a lock to win the National League Central. The Red Birds have had a strangle hold on the division and for a long time were running away with the division. On August 12 the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for a second straight game and had a seven game division lead and it seemed obvious to everyone that they would be crowned NL Central champions.

However, over the last month things have not gone as planned for the Red Birds and the Pirates are now only 2.5 games back with 20 games remaining. The Pittsburgh ball club has won 7 out of their last 10, whereas the Cardinals have lost 7 of their last 10 and the Pirates have the momentum down the stretch.

Today the Pirates begin a brutal stretch, playing the Cubs for four games in a home series. This series could make or break it for the Pittsburgh ball club as they hope to knock the Cardinals out of the division lead. After finishing the series with the Cubs it does not get much easier for Pittsburgh, as they travel to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers and then travel to Colorado for three games against the Rockies and finish up their nine game road stand with three games at Wrigley Field.

If the Pirates can hold their own in the next thirteen games they will have a chance to knock out the Cardinals themselves, as they play St. Louis at home September 28-September 30, before finishing the season with a three game home series against the Cincinnati Reds.

This next stretch is huge for the Pirates and staff ace Gerrit Cole will lead the way getting the start for the Bucs in the first game of today’s doubleheader. Cole has been phenomenal this year and is sporting a 16-8 record and a 2.54 ERA coming in to today’s game. The 25 year old has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the majors league and undoubtedly will start game one for the Pirates in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals will have a much easier end to the season, as they finish the season with 7 games against the Milwaukee Brewers, three games against the Cubs, three against the Reds and three against the Atlanta Braves. For the Pirates to have a chance at winning the division they will have to keep playing very well and be prepared to possibly sweep the Cardinals in their last series against the Red Birds.

Jung Ho Kang will be a key player to watch down the stretch for the Pirates. The 28 year old rookie has filled in admirably at any position he has been asked to play and the third baseman is hitting .290 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs on the season. Kang has been red hot in September and for the month is hitting ..304 with three home runs and 10 RBIs.

The Pirates will have to rely on Kang to keep his hot bat as they enter their most trying stretch of the season. J.A. Happ has been dominant since coming over to the Pirates and is 5-1 in 7 starts with a 1.79 ERA. Pittsburgh will rely on Happ to be the number three starter behind Cole and Francisco Liriano down the stretch.

With the second best record in baseball at 86-56, the Pirates have been great all year, but they will have to reach new heights if they want to catch the Cardinals and take home the NL Central trophy.

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Jake Arrieta: The Unlikely MVP of the Cubs

On Sunday night in Los Angeles, Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs tossed a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out twelve batters and walked only one in the game. It was the second time in two weeks that the Dodgers were no-hit. Right now, the Dodgers and Cubs are both in position to make the playoffs. The Dodgers lead the NL West while the Cubs are currently in control of the second wildcard spot in the NL. The Dodgers making the playoffs wouldn’t surprise anyone, as it would be the third straight year they’ve done so. The Cubs, however, haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. If the Cubs do hang on to the second wildcard spot and make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, Jake Arrieta will be a major reason why.

Arrieta’s no-hitter was the high point of what’s been the best year of his career. The six-foot, four-inch righty hasn’t just been the best pitcher on the Cubs, he’s been their overall team MVP. When the Cubs signed veteran lefty Jon Lester in the offseason, many expected him to take over as the ace of the Cubs pitching staff. However, it’s been Arrieta, not Lester, who’s pitched like an ace.

Lester hasn’t been the ace that the Cubs expected him to be. In 26 starts, he’s 8-10 with an ERA of 3.59. He hasn’t been the same pitcher that he was in Boston for almost a decade. Arrieta has had a much better season than Lester. In 27 starts, Arrieta is 17-6 with a 2.11 ERA. His 17 wins lead the NL, while his ERA is second best in the league. Only Zack Greinke has a better ERA. Greinke is the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award right now, but Arrieta isn’t too far behind him. Looking at his numbers, it’s easy to see why.

Interestingly enough, Arrieta has been a pitcher who emerged later in his career. Originally drafted by the Orioles, he never really had success in Baltimore. Over the course of three-and-a-half seasons with the Orioles, Arrieta went 20-25 while posting an ERA of 5.46. In July of 2013, he was traded to the Cubs along with Pedro Strop in exchange for pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger. Looking back on that trade, it’s pretty safe to say that it worked out better for the Cubs than it did for the Orioles. Arrieta had his breakout year last year when he went 10-5 with a career-best 2.53 ERA. He’s having an even better year this year than he did last year.

The Cubs are currently 75-57. When talking about who’s the MVP of a certain team, one should consider where a team would be without a certain player. As great as young third baseman Kris Bryant has been for the Cubs, the team has other players who have had good offensive years such as Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. The Cubs don’t have another pitcher who’s pitched on the level that Jake Arrieta has. Without him, who knows where they’d be? That’s why he’s the team MVP. The team wouldn’t be in as good of a position as they’re in without him.

It looks like the Cubs are going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. If they do, Arrieta will probably be the pitcher they rely on most. We saw last year how valuable an ace can be in October. If the Cubs are going to make a serious run at winning the World Series, Arrieta will have to be the ace he’s been all season. The Cubs will only go as far as he takes them. We’ll see how he does when the pressure builds. After all, legends are born in October.

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1985 and Back To The Future For MLB’s Best Teams

October 25th, 1985

When Marty McFly prepares to strike his first chord after plugging into the Doc Brown’s amplifier just before 8AM, although the Doc’s clocks were 25 minutes slow, he is in a world where the Kansas City Royals had just won Game 5 of the World Series the night before. The St. Louis Cardinals still had a three games to two lead in the series, but it wouldn’t last.

That Friday was an off day for both the Fall Classic and Marty. The Royals and Cardinals were off because it was a travel day. Both teams were moving back to Kansas City for game six and a potential game seven. Marty’s “off day” meant being tardy for class yet again, which preceded band judge Huey Lewis thinking Marty’s crew was just too darn loud during their after school audition and to make matters worse, Biff wrecked George’s McFly’s car, which was supposed to be available for Marty’s big date with Jennifer.

October 26th, 1985

Things would just get more bizarre for Marty and the Cardinals on that Saturday when time travel and all Don Denkinger broke loose. A 1:16 AM rendezvous at the Twin Pines Malls with Doc Brown ultimately sent McFly back in time to November 5th, 1955. Marty would get a new truck out of the deal from Statler Toyota once he got back to the future. However, that October day was bookended with the Cardinals leading 1-0 in the ninth of Game 6. Their fireman, stopper or whatever they called closers in 1985, Todd Worrell, came in the game to preserve the lead and clinch a World Championship for St. Louis.

Jorge Orta was the leadoff batter for the Royals. Orta hit a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed to Worrell for the out at first base. First base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe, even though television replays clearly showed Orta was out by a half step. There was much arguing by the Cardinals and their manager Whitey Herzog. No call reversal was made.

Blame time travel and plutonium which wasn’t readily available to the masses just yet. MLB’s current instant replay system was also nowhere to be found.

What followed was a Steve Balboni single. Onix Concepcion came on to pinch run, then Jim Sundberg bunted into a force out at 3rd to finally retire Orta. Two batters later, Dane Iorg singled home both Concepcion and Sundberg to win the game in “walk-off” fashion. Back then they would have said something about Iorg getting the game winning RBI with no mention of “walk-off”.

The Royals then blasted the Cardinals 11-0 in Game 7 to win the World Series.

TODAY – August 28th, 2015

We’re less than 2-months away from Back To The Future Day on October 21st, 2015. It’s the day Doc and Marty travel to when they go 30 years into the future during the opening scenes of Back To The Future II. Game 5 of the ALCS and Game 4 of the NLCS are scheduled for that day. Grays Sports Almanac tells us that many of the teams hoping to still be playing baseball on that date were also in the thick of the pennant race in 1985.

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Biff made a fortune off this. Photo courtesy: villians.wikia.com

1985 Kansas City Royals (91-71, Won the World Series) vs 2015 Kansas City Royals (78-49, 13 game lead in AL Central)

Hall of Famer George Brett finished second in the AL MVP race with a league leading .585 SLG and .1022 OPS. 1985 was a 30 homer season where Brett also hit .335 with 103 walks and only 49 strikeouts.

This season the Kansas City Royals have the best record in the AL and enter this weekend barely seeing the Minnesota Twins in their rear view mirror.

1985 St. Louis Cardinals (101-61, Lost the World Series) vs 2015 St. Louis Cardinals (82-44, 4.5 game lead in NL Central)

Willie McGee won the NL MVP for the Cardinals back then with a 216 hit, 18 triple, 10 HR, 56 steal season. Tommy Herr only had 8 HRs, but drove in 110 runs. A .315 BABIP and .333 AVG with RISP helped out as did Vincent Van Go (Coleman) and McGee constantly being on base. This season the St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in MLB and enter this weekend being still being pursued by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs in a three horse race.

1985 AL East vs 2015 AL East 

2015 AL East

The Toronto Blue Jays (71-56) and New York Yankees (69-57) have a very brief history of competing against each other for the divisional crown. 1993 and 2006 come to mind, but these two AL East teams are clearly having their tightest division race against each other since DeLoreans and Don Mattingly were two of the coolest things on the planet. OK, both are still pretty cool.

The Blue Jays (688) and Yankees (589) are the top two scoring teams in baseball. Toronto leads MLB in run differential at +170 and  leads the AL East by 1.5 games over New York. The Blue Jays are in the driver’s seat of the DeLorean following an 18-3 stretch that hit a speed bump with a Thursday loss to the Rangers. Toronto is led by likely AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Trade acquisition Dave Price has helped in the runs allowed column during his first five quality starts as a Blue Jay. Four wins and eight runs allowed over 36.1 IP (1.98 ERA/2.52 FIP).

The Yankees are 8-11 of late including 2-4 against Toronto dating back to August 7th. The most recent Yankee “highlight” was allowing 15 runs to the Houston Astronauts on Tuesday. The Yankees dropped two of three from the Astros this week and scored only four runs. They are now barely 9th best (+50) in the run differential category. The Yankees August can be defined as ARod looking 40, Tex looking gimpy and CC a non-factor with a DL’d knee. You’re free to debate if an injured Sabathia is actually a positive.

1985 AL East

Back in time, the Yankees won 11 straight games from Aug 31st-Sept 10th, but then lost nine of ten games including three of four to Toronto to find themselves 6.5 games back in the AL East. The Yankees won nine of the next eleven to pull within three games of the lead as they headed north of the border to play Toronto for the final three games of the season.

The Yankees won the Friday night series opener 4-3 with a 9th inning, 2 Out, 2-run homer by Butch Wynegar off Tom Henke.  The lead was cut to two games with two to play. Toronto clichéd the division the following day with a 5-1 win. Erine Whitt, Lloyd Moseby, and Willie Upshaw homered against Yankees starter Joe Cowley. Doyle Alexander won his 17th game of the season with a complete game 5-hitter. The final game was a non-factor with New York winning 8-0 to finish two game back.

Don Mattingly was the American League MVP for the Bronx Bombers with a .324/.371/.567 slash line. 35 HRs and only 41 strikeouts. Leadoff man Rickey Henderson (146 runs, 24 HR, 80 SB) finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting.

Toronto was led offensively by Jesse Barfield (.905 OPS) and George Bell (.807 OPS) who both exceeded 25 homers and 20 steals. The Blue Jays lost the ALCS in seven games to the Royals.

 1985 Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67) vs 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers (70-56, 2.5 game lead in NL West)

The Dodgers lost to the Cardinals four games to two in the 1985 NLCS, but isn’t losing to the Cardinals in the postseason what they do? See 2004, 2013, and 2014.

1985 San Francisco Giants (62-100) vs 2015 San Francisco Giants (68-59, 5.5 games back in NL Wild Card)

30 years ago the 100-loss Giants were last place bad, but turned it around to be participants in the 1987 NLCS and 1989 World Series. This season the defending champion Giants are closer to catching the NL West leading Dodgers (-.2.5 GB) than winning one of this year’s NL Wild Card spots (5.5 GB).

1985 Pittsburgh Pirates (57-104) vs 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates (77-49, 4 game lead for 1st NL Wild Card)

30 years ago the Bucs were a 104-loss last place team in the NL East. They would get better and reach the NLCS in 1990-1992 thanks to the future of Barry Bonds who debuted in 1986. The Pirates are much better now. A playoff team in 2014 and looking good to return to the postseason in 2015.

1985 New York Mets (98-64) vs 2015 New York Mets (71-56, 6.5 game lead in NL East)

The Mets had three more wins than the NL West winning Dodgers, but three less victories than the Cardinals so New York didn’t make the postseason in 1985. The Mets would win the World Series in 1986.

The 2015 Mets were quite a deal this week when hitting eight home runs on Monday against the Phillies. Thursday they added three more long balls to set the franchise monthly home run record at 43 with five games left in the month of August. A 4-run 13th inning against Philadelphia helped New York win their seventh straight game. They’ve scored 73 runs during the streak which is another franchise record for a seven game span. Remember the second place Washington Nationals? They would have been the Expos in 1985.

1985 Houston Astros (83-79) vs 2015 Houston Astros (71-57, 5 game lead in AL West)

The third place Astros finished 12 games behind the Dodgers in 1985 and would lose to the Mets in the 1986 NLCS. This season the Astros are still leading the AL West with the Rangers and Angels lagging behind. 

1985 Texas Rangers (62-99) vs 2015 Texas Rangers (65-61, 0.5 games lead for 2nd AL Wild Card)

Like the Giants and Pirates noted earlier the Rangers are not a good comp when comparing their 1985 AL West debacle to this season. If the 2015 season ended today the Rangers would be in the postseason.

1985 California Angels (90-72) vs 2015 Los Angeles Angels (65-62, 0.5 games back for 2nd AL Wild Card)

The California Angels finished one game behind the Royals in 1985 and 30-years later they are supposed to be a playoff contender. They were barely playing their part after getting swept by the Blue Jays last weekend. Matt Shoemaker came to the rescue on Thursday with 7.1 scoreless innings in a 2-0 Angels win against Detroit. This came just one day after a Chris Iannetta double in the ninth prevented the Angels from getting no-hit by Justin Verlander.

1985 Minnesota Twins (77-85) vs 2015 Minnesota Twins (65-62, 0.5 games back for 2nd AL Wild Card)

Mediocre in 1985, but remember the Twins would win it all in 1987 and 1991. This season they are in striking distance of the playoffs even if lacking far behind the AL Central leading Royals

Ok, so 7 out of the 12 teams mentioned can easily be considered contenders in both 1985 and 2015. Not bad, but we’re forgetting the team that ties all this together.

1985 Chicago Cubs (77-84) vs 2015 Chicago Cubs (73-53, 5.5 game lead for 2nd NL Wild Card)

The Chicago Cubs are director Robert Zemeckis’ pick to win the 2015 World Series. Fast forward to 21:57 of Back To The Future II. 30 years after a lame 77 win season they are poised to make the postseason as an NL Wild Card team. There’s no chance the Cubs will beat Miami in the World Series like they did in futuristic 2015, but with Jack Arrieta on the mound, rookie Kris Bryant heating up and the summer blockbuster called Kyle Schwarber it could be a three team NL Central postseason for the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs.

What does any of this mean? I’ll let Huey Lewis and The News explain:

“Don’t bet your future on the roll of the dice. Better remember, lightning never strikes twice.”

Great Scott! The tremendous success of the Royals and Cardinals, the revived AL East duel between the Yankees and Blue Jays and the combined efforts of the contending Angels and division leading Mets and Dodgers is taking us back to 1985 in a baseball pennant race sense. We even see that the Cubs are trying to make good on the future. If they do indeed win the World Series in 2015, well the future will never be the same.

 

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Making The Case For Anthony Rizzo As NL MVP

Yesterday Anthony Rizzo launched his 24th home run of the season for the Chicago Cubs, helping the team win 7-1 over the Atlanta Braves. After the game Anthony Rizzo was sitting at 24 home runs and 73 runs batted in, both of which are top ten in the National League.

The Chicago Cubs are 68-51 on the season and are well on their way to making the playoffs and Rizzo has been the biggest reason for their success. At only 26 years old Rizzo is the leader of the Cubs offense and has done a magnificent job of guiding an extremely young team.

Once a top prospect for the Boston Red Sox, Rizzo was traded to the San Diego Padres as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade in 2010. The Padres quickly gave up on the lefty hitter after the 2011 season and Rizzo was shipped to the Cubs, where he got the opportunity that he needed. Rizzo has gotten better each year and is having his best season as a pro, primed to set career highs in hits, RBIs, batting average, walks, on base percentage and slugging percentage.

Rizzo has also stolen 15 bases on the season for the Cubs, something that is impressive considering that he is a first baseman. His 5.7 Wins Above Replacement ranks him fifth in the National League and in a year where no player has stood out as a popular candidate for MVP, Rizzo is making himself be heard.

The Cubs first baseman has quietly become one of the best in baseball at his position and is one of the most valuable players to his team in all of baseball. Earlier in the season many wanted to give the MVP to Bryce Harper, who has 30 home runs this year, but the Nationals are likely to miss the playoffs. The Cubs however are primed to make the postseason for the first time since 2008 and look to win the World Series for the first time since 1908.

Looking at the Cubs roster, the team would not be very good without Rizzo and with him leading the way the Cubs are 17 games above .500 and have the fifth best record in all of baseball. The Cubs would be division leaders in four other divisions in baseball and their success has been because of their star player.

If the Cubs do indeed continue to play well and make the postseason, Rizzo should win the MVP award as he has been key to his team’s success. Very few players in baseball have been more important to their team than Rizzo has to the Cubs and Rizzo is on his way to winning what could be the first of multiple MVP awards for the lefty.

The Youth Movement Taking Baseball By Storm

In the midst of a division race Friday night Bryce Harper hit his 30th home run of the season for the Washington Nationals, becoming one of seven players in the major leagues with 30 this year. Harper is only 22 and has not reached his ceiling yet, and is quickly already becoming one of the best players in baseball and a legitimate MVP candidate.

Joined by Bryce Harper at the top is 24 year old Mike Trout, who has hit 33 home runs this year. Trout has been off the chart for the Los Angeles Angels and is likely on his way to winning his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award. The Trout vs Harper debate will be around for years to come, but there are many other young superstars in the game that should be getting fans’ attention during this exciting season.

Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies is only 24 years old, but leads the National League with 86 runs batted in and has hitting 29 home runs on the season. The 24 year old third baseman might not even be the best young player at that position, with 23 year old Manny Machado also having a prolific year and Kris Bryant learning the ropes for the Chicago Cubs.

The 2015 season has been taken over by young players led by Trout, Harper, Machado and Arenado and baseball is seeing a movement that will make the game more exciting for years to come. In the national league 24 years olds Shelby Miller, Gerritt Cole and Michael Wacha have all put up great years and all have ERAs under 3 for the season. Wacha’s teammate for the Cardinals, Carlos Martinez, is only 23 years old and has a 2.59 ERA on the season for the St. Louis ball club.

Over in the American League Sonny Gray has dominated hitters and is leading the league in ERA at 2.06. At 25 years old he has a good shot at winning his first CY Young award for the Oakland Athletics. Gray has been overpowering and leads the league in ERA, WHIP and BAA.

In Houston we are seeing the emergence of a 20 year old shortstop that might already be the best at his position in baseball. Carlos Correa has been on fire since being called up by Houston this year and has 14 home runs in 227 at bats, good for a .537 Slugging percentage on the year. Correa has been a catalyst for the Houston ball club and is a big reason why the Astros are winning the AL West.

In Minnesota 22 year old slugging third baseman Miguel Sano has hit seven home runs and ten doubles in 125 at bats and is hitting .280 for the season. He is joined by 21 year old center fielder Byron Buxton, who when healthy, is one of the most exciting players in baseball and is a top prospect.

Giancarlo Stanton has not played since June 26, but is still tied for fourth in the National League with 27 home runs on the year. Stanton at 25 years old has more power than any player in the big leagues, and is joined by Jose Fernandez as two of the most exciting players in the game.

Over in Chicago the Cubs have a team stocked with young talent headed by 23 year olds Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler. At the age of 23 Bryant is already tenth in the majors in walks and has been as good as advertised. However as good as Bryant has been, he is not even the best young player on his team with the way that Kyle Schwarber has been swinging the bat since being called up.

Schwarber is a 22 year old catcher that is hitting .313 with 8 home runs in 112 at bats for the Cubs. He has been phenomenal and with Schwarber, Bryant, Soler and 21 year old Addison Russell the Cubs have their own young all-star roster.

In Los Angeles 23 year old Joc Pederson has had an impressive rookie campaign, hitting 23 long balls on the year for the first place Dodgers. Pederson is joined by 24 year old Yasiel Puig, who has had a down year, but still has managed to hit 10 home runs and when he is in the zone is one of the most dangerous hitters.

All around baseball young players are stepping up and making an impact for teams and the tide is changing in the major leagues. A game that was once dominated by veterans is being pushed aside as the exciting young superstars get their chance at glory and with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper at the helm, baseball is in great shape for years to come.

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The Cubs Secret Super Hero

(Via www.chicagonow.com)

It’s no secret that the Cubs have been really enjoyable to watch this season. From running out four rookies, to benching Starlin Castro, a player who was thought to be the centerpiece of everything in Chicago for a long time, in favor of young Addison Russell, to the absolutely phenomenal job that Joe Maddon has done with this young squad, the Cubs have been much better than I ever anticipated. (Check out my article from the beginning of the year claiming the Cubs wouldn’t be THAT good) Granted, I still don’t know if the Cubs are World Series ready, but they have highly impressed me over the span of the 2015 season.

With everything that has gone on with the thrill of the Cubbies emergence this season, one man has been the best player on the team, despite only playing once every five days.

It’s strange to think that the best player for the Cubs this season could be a starting pitcher, but that, in my opinion, has been the case. This mystery man (who, at this point, isn’t so much of a mystery anymore) happens to be none other than starting pitcher, Jake Arrieta, a man since joining the Cubs pitching staff after three plus uneventful years with the Baltimore Orioles, has been more than sensational for the Cubs over the last two seasons.

Last year, Arrieta broke onto the scene in a big way, winning ten games for a Chicago team that really wasn’t very good. He finished with a 10-5 record, a record that could have seen a much higher win total reached had the Cubs been a better team last season. Seemingly out of nowhere, Arrieta posted a 2.53 ERA last season to go along with a solid 167 strikeouts.

This season, however, has been one for the ages for the 29-year-old right hander from Plano, Texas.

Through his first 24 starts in the 2015 campaign, Arrieta holds a spot among the top pitchers in baseball in several categories, including a tie for first in victories, as the righty has picked up 14 wins thus far.

Along with his 14 wins this season, Arrieta also sits in the top ten in all of baseball in ERA, WAR for pitchers, WHIP and hits per nine innings. What I find possibly the most amazing stat of Arrieta’s season is his 2.39 ERA, which is good enough for sixth in all of MLB. His 162 innings pitched is also good enough for eighth this season, along with his 163 strikeouts to put him in that spot.

So where does that put Arrieta this season? He’s been pretty good thus far, but is he Cy Young worthy? You could argue against it with the likes of Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom pitching in the National League as well.

It will be a battle for Arrieta to gain votes, maybe even on the simple fact that he’s not the flashy, household name such as Greinke, but in his defense, Jake has been possibly the nicest surprise of this season. That’s not to that I didn’t expect him to pitch well after the season he turned in last year, but it is to say that I wasn’t sure if he’d have similar success in terms of ERA. However, he’s been even better this season, lowering his ERA by nearly .2 points.

Do I think Jake Arrieta will be the eventual Cy Young winner? Probably not. Do I think Jake Arrieta is the newest ace in MLB? Absolutely. If he continues to pitch with the pin point control of his last two seasons, he’ll be a star for years to come.

 

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