2016 All-Star Preview

In the coming weeks baseballs brightest stars will descend upon Petco Park in San Diego for this year’s All-Star Week.

So, here’s an update of the top All-Star Game vote leaders and possible Home Run Derby candidates.

(All voting information is accurate per MLB.com as of June,27th,2016.)

American League All-Star Ballot Leaders by Position:

Catcher

  1. Salvador Perez (KC): 3,754,594
  2. Matt Wieters (BAL): 1,033,217
  3. Russell Martin (TOR) 981,618
  4. Brian McCann (NYY) 578,013
  5. Robinson Chirinos (TEX) 511,308

First Base

  1. Eric Hosmer (KC): 2,638,022
  2. Miguel Cabrera (DET): 2,088,920
  3. Chris Davis (BAL): 952,053
  4. Justin Smoak (TOR): 772,948
  5. Hanley Ramirez (BOS): 769,385

Second Base

  1. Jose Altuve (HOU): 2,186,949
  2. Robinson Cano (SEA): 1,276,010
  3. Dustin Pedroia (BOS): 1,081,667
  4. Omar Infante (KC): 949,308
  5. Ryan Goins (TOR): 757,923

Third Base

  1. Manny Machado (BAL): 2,196,732
  2. Josh Donaldson (TOR): 1,590,183
  3. Mike Moustakas (KC): 1,135,431
  4. Adrian Beltre (TEX): 1,099,086
  5. Nick Castellanos (DET): 789,144

Short Stop

  1. Xander Bogaerts (BOS): 2,825,025
  2. Alcides Escobar (KC): 1,478.645
  3. Troy Tulowitzki (TOR): 1,136,479
  4. Elvis Andrus (TEX): 917,112
  5. Carlos Correa (HOU): 694,103

Outfield

  1. Mike Trout (LAA): 2,972,582
  2. Jackie Bradley Jr. (BOS): 2,184,884
  3. Mookie Betts (BOS): 1,915,637
  4. Lorenzo Cain (KC): 1,821,746
  5. Mark Trumbo (BAL): 1,801,969
  6. Jose Bautista (TOR): 1,707,134
  7. Alex Gordon (KC): 1,165,980
  8. Ian Desmond (TEX): 1,133,422
  9. Paulo Orlando (KC): 1,065,647
  10. Carlos Beltran (NYY): 964,473
  11. Kevin Pillar (TOR): 934,982
  12. Michael Saunders (TOR): 903,050
  13. Adam Jones (BAL): 726,916
  14. Melky Cabrera (CWS): 518,476
  15. J.D. Martinez (DET): 497,102

Designated Hitter

  1. David Ortiz (BOS): 3,400,200
  2. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR): 1,131,827
  3. Kendrys Morales (KC): 1,102,349
  4. Victor Martinez (DET): 865,194
  5. Nelson Cruz (SEA): 799,967

As you can see above, certain AL starting positons like catcher (Perez), second (Altuve), and designated hitter (Ortiz) appear to be locked in. But, first base and the last outfield spot could see tight finishes when the final votes are tallied this Thursday.

Betts currently has a slight edge over Cain and Trumbo, meanwhile Cabrera could see his current (tied for the majors longest active streak with Bautista) six game All-Star selection come to end should Hosmer hold his lead.

(Starting pitching, bullpen, and backups will be chosen by AL All-Star manager Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals)

 

(Photo Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

(Photo Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

 

National League All-Star Ballot Leaders by Position:

Catcher

  1. Yadier Molina (STL): 1,568,930
  2. Buster Posey (SF): 1,563,800
  3. Wilson Ramos (WSH): 1,282,287
  4. Miguel Montero (CHC): 854,629
  5. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL): 846,380

First Base

  1. Anthony Rizzo (CHC): 2,630,049
  2. Brandon Belt (SF): 1,233,499
  3. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI): 977,889
  4. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD): 734,448
  5. Brandon Moss (STL): 522,808

Second Base

  1. Ben Zobrist (CHC): 2,474,852
  2. Daniel Murphy (WSH): 2,167,918
  3. Joe Panik (SF): 768,312
  4. Neil Walker (NYM): 500,384
  5. Chase Utley (LAD): 488,170

Third Base

  1. Kris Bryant (CHC): 2,459,852
  2. Nolan Arenado (COL): 2,108,503
  3. Matt Carpenter (STL): 882,135
  4. Matt Duffy (SF): 665,802
  5. Martin Prado (MIA): 396,859

Short Stop

  1. Addison Russell (CHC): 1,741,182
  2. Trevor Story (COL): 1,423,547
  3. Corey Seager (LAD): 1,082,434
  4. Brandon Crawford (SF): 1,002,201
  5. Zack Cozart (CIN): 528,785

Outfield

  1. 1. Dexter Fowler (CHC): 2,230,877
  2. Bryce Harper (WSH): 2,253,083
  3. Yoenis Cespedes (NYM): 2,249,489
  4. Jason Heyward (CHC): 1,485,679
  5. Ryan Braun (MIL): 1,327,209
  6. Carlos Gonzalez (COL): 1,155,982
  7. Jorge Soler (CHC): 992,174
  8. Starling Marte (PIT): 893,952
  9. Andrew McCutchen (PIT): 816,079
  10. Stephen Piscotty (STL): 793,912
  11. Hunter Pence (SF): 764,004
  12. Matt Holiday (STL): 680,416
  13. Charlie Blackmon (COL): 644,191
  14. Marcell Ozuna (MIA): 578,015
  15. Angel Pagan (SF): 561,677

 

(Starting pitching, bullpen, and backups will be chosen by NL All-Star manager Terry Collins of the New York Mets)

 

You might have noticed a slew of Cubs players are currently projected to be All-Star starters this year. Granted at a few of those positions the vote separation margin is thin. As it stands today, though, fans could see Chicago accounting for more than half of NL-All-Stars starters (which would include the ENTIRE infield).

Fans will also want to keep an eye on who is chosen at catcher as it’s neck and neck between Molina and Posey. Meanwhile, those aforementioned cubbies infielders, Rizzo aside, could all be replaced (see Murphy, Arenado, Story/Seager) by the time it’s all said and done.

 

Home Run Derby Contestants (based on current HR leaders in the majors)

The derby has no doubt seen its share of rules and total contestant numbers change since 2013. Nevertheless, the 2016 Home Run Derby should feature eight players competing in a bracketed format with the NL and AL winner squaring off for the championship crown.

Rounds are likely to be timed rather than allotting players “x” number of outs as in years past. For a further history on the derby, and to see past winners, you can check out this link .

Below is a list of likely candidates for this year’s contest:

Mark Trumbo (BAL)-22HR**

Nolan Arendado (COL)-21HR**

Kris Bryant (CHC)-21HR**

Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)-21HR**

Adam Duvall (CIN)-21HR**

Todd Frazier (CWS)-21HR**

Robinson Cano (SEA)-19-HR**

Carlos Beltran (NYY)-19-HR

Nelson Cruz (SEA)-19HR

Trevor Story (COL)-19HR**

Chris Carter (MIL)-19HR

David Ortiz (BOS)-18HR**

Manny Machado (BAL)-18HR

Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)-18HR

Anthony Rizzo (CHC)-18HR**

Evan Longoria (TB)-18HR

Khris Davis (OAK)-18HR

Chris Davis (BAL)-18HR

Carlos Gonzalez (COL)-17HR

Mike Trout (LAA)-17HR

Josh Donaldson (TOR)-17HR

(** indicates a player I believe will likely be selected as a HR Derby participant)

 

Final Thoughts:

In the event you missed it above at any point, All-Star voting will conclude at midnight this Thursday June 30th. Fans can vote at MLB.com or anyone of the 30 MLB team websites and can do so up to 35 times.

This year’s All-Star game could be one of the more memorable ones, it’s Ortiz’s 10th and final outing, Story or Seager might be making a first time appearance, and getting to see Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale pitch on the same night is about as good as it gets.

Also, and this is an understatement, the Home Run Derby (July 11th) will be nothing short of a fireworks show, but with baseballs instead of roman candles.

The All-Star game will be played on July 12 at 8:00pm (EST).

Why the Mets Must Consider a Reunion With José Reyes

It’s been a long time since José Reyes has played for the New York Mets. The once beloved shortstop used to be a fan favorite in Queens. Now, it appears as though he wants a reunion with his old team.

Reyes was designated for assignment by the Colorado Rockies last Wednesday. Yesterday, the team requested waivers on him. If he clears waivers, he’ll be a free agent tomorrow. The 33-year old did not play in a game this year for Colorado. This was due to the fact that he was involved in a domestic violence incident during the offseason while on vacation with his wife. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred decided that Reyes would be placed on administrative leave to start the season. He was officially suspended on May 13. The Rockies eventually decided that he wasn’t worth the trouble, and released him.

The Rockies and Mets are two teams in very different situations. Colorado is under .500 and in third place in the NL West. They’re not expected to do too much this season. Keeping Reyes just didn’t make much sense.  The Mets are in second place in the NL East and are in a pennant race. However, they’ve been hampered by injuries all season long. Currently, Juan Lagares, Lucas Duda, and David Wright are all on the disabled list. Wright just underwent neck surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. It’s very likely that he’ll be out for the year. Because of all these injuries, the Mets should really consider bringing Wright’s old friend José Reyes back to Flushing.

Reyes could really help the team right now. His bat could be a boost in the Mets mediocre lineup. A player who is very familiar with playing in New York, he’d have no problem adjusting. In fact, his best years came while with the Mets. During his nine seasons with the team, Reyes batted .292. He led the National League in triples four times. Also, he stole 60 or more bases three consecutive years, from 2005-2007. His last year with the Mets was in 2011, a year in which he won the NL Batting Title. He left after that season and signed a six-year, $106 million dollar contract with the Miami Marlins. After just one season, the Marlins traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays. Reyes was with the Blue Jays until last July when he was again traded. That was the deal that sent Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto.

A Reyes reunion with the Mets makes sense for both parties. This week, Reyes reportedly spoke to a baseball official and discussed how he desperately wants to come back to Queens. Apparently, he hasn’t been truly happy since he left in 2011. This isn’t all that surprising, especially considering the success that he had with the Mets. He’s ready to come back, so the Mets must decide if they really want him or not.

Reyes will most likely clear waivers tomorrow, making him a free agent. This gives the Mets a very good opportunity to get him at  a low price. It’s a low-risk, high-reward situation. If they were to sign him, they would probably play him at third base, a position he’s never played before. Asdrubal Cabrera is having a very good season at shortstop for the Mets, and they don’t really want to move him. Reyes certainly isn’t the same player that he was when he left New York in 2011. His offensive numbers have slowly declined. That being said, he still has some speed and a little bit of power. Additionally, his presence alone would be enough to boost the team’s morale. Reyes has always been known for being a good clubhouse guy. The only real reason that the Mets might be hesitant to bring him back is the domestic violence issue. Although he was never convicted in court due to the fact that his wife refused to cooperate as a witness, the whole situation doesn’t look so good. He did not have a history of domestic violence before this incident. It’s definitely something that Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson will need to think about when he decides whether or not to seriously pursue Reyes.

The timing seems right for the Mets to bring back José Reyes. They could really use him right now on the left side of the infield. It seems as though he’d jump at the chance to come back to the Big Apple. We’ll see if the Mets decide to make a move on him this weekend.

Cuban INF Yulieski Gourriel Available For Hire

According to MLB.com, Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel has been cleared to become a free agent and could sign with a team as early as this season. The 32-year-old has primarily played third base over his career (13 in the CNS and two in the JPL). He has also played at second base and short stop.

Gourriel has repeatedly expressed a desire to leave Cuba with permission of the Cuban government. He and his younger brother Lourdes (22-years-old) left Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following its Caribbean Series back in February of this year in search of MLB contracts (per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com).

Gourriel is regarded as the best baseball player in Cuba and it’s easy to see why when you look at his numbers.

Last year with the Industriales, Gourriel slashed a ridiculous .500/.589/.874 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in just 49 games. Throughout his professional career Gourriel has a slash line of .335/.417/.580 with 1,585 hits, 250 HR, 1,018 RBI, and 611 BB.

Given that Gourriel is considered by many to be Major League-ready right now, I thought I would provide a look at one team from each division who could potentially sign him.

 

National League East: New York Mets

According to ESPN, the Mets may pursue Gourriel aggressively (and understandably so).

With perennial third baseman David Wright likely sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a herniated disk, the Mets could use someone with Gourriel’s experience who’s ready to make an impact.

Gourriel would also have a clubhouse friend in countryman Yoenis Cespedes, so this would seem like a match made in heaven on paper for both sides.

 

National League Central: Pittsburgh Pirates

Sitting at third place in the NL Central and two-and-a-half games back for one of the two NL Wild Card spots, the Bucs could use a potential offensive boost and change of pace in their infield.

Currently Pittsburgh is comfortable at third base with David Freese and Jung Ho Kang. They also seem comfortable at second base with Josh Harrison, but Gourriel could possibly platoon at short stop with Jordy Mercer.

If nothing else, Gourriel would be welcomed infield depth and could add some needed pop into the Pirates’ lineup.

 

National League West: San Francisco Giants

I’ll admit, the Gigantes are a bit of a stretch here when you consider their more than serviceable starting infield comprised of Matt Duffy (3B), Brandon Crawford (SS), Joe Panik (2B), and Brandon Belt (1B).

However, it wouldn’t hurt to have Gourriel behind any of those guys or allowing them to rest come the dog days of August.

With Hunter Pence possibly out of the everyday lineup until after the All-Star break with a torn hamstring, San-Fran could use a batter of Gourriel’s caliber.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

 

 

American League East: Baltimore Orioles

The O’s aren’t exactly in dire need for an infielder either (see Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Jonathon Schoop, and JJ Hardy).

Nevertheless, with JJ Hardy still out and rehabbing a fractured left foot and the flexibility of the DH position, Baltimore could use Gourriel as infield depth in a platoon with Alvarez. The O’s could also put him at the hot corner over current starter Ryan Flaherty (while Machado covers at SS in Hardy’s absence).

As you can see, Baltimore would have options by signing Gourriel. And when you are trying to stay atop the AL East, having options is quite the luxury.

 

American League Central: Cleveland Indians

The Tribe, in my opinion, is the AL team who would benefit most by signing Gourriel now. Cleveland currently has a solid middle-infield with short stop sensation Francisco Lindor and veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis. However, the corners of their infield are getting a bit old (Mike Napoli, 34) and worn out (Juan Uribe, 37).

At 32 with 15 seasons under his belt, Gourriel isn’t young either but would seem more serviceable than Uribe at third. Though the Indians do have another promising young talent in Jose Ramirez (currently starting in left field but a third baseman by trade), the addition of Gourriel would give the Tribe more flexibility.

Cleveland is on top of the AL Central by a thin margin and Gourriel could offer assistance in helping distance that lead (you’re probably sensing an AL pattern by now).

 

American League West: Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been red hot lately and have a seven-and-a-half game first place lead in the AL West over the Seattle Mariners. A large part of that success stems from one of the more crowded infields in the majors (see Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Jurickson Profar).

However, they could make room for Gourriel at first base by rotating with Mitch Moreland.

At the very least, Gourriel could share DH responsibilities with Prince Fielder while also acting as infield insurance.

 

Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees

 

Final Thoughts:

While I feel the Mets or Indians will make the most aggressive run at Gourriel, you never know who might throw their hat in the ring.

This development will be one to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. It would be surprising not to see Gourriel on a Major League roster by the All-Star break.

Chase Utley Gets the Last Laugh Against the Mets…. For Now

Perhaps no player in all of baseball is hated more by the fan base of a team than Chase Utley is loathed by the New York Mets fans. On Saturday night, the hatred was out in full force when the Los Angeles Dodgers were at Citi Field taking on the Mets.

Utley has been a thorn in the Mets side for years. Ever since his days with the Philadelphia Phillies, the 37-year old second baseman has always put up good numbers against them. In his career, Utley has hit 38 home runs against the Mets, the most he’s hit against any team. Especially when he was in Philadelphia, he had a knack for getting big hits when he played the Mets. However, this is only part of the reason that their fans dislike him so much.

In mid-August of last season, the Phillies traded Utley to the Dodgers in exchange for Darnell Sweeney and John Richy. This marked the end of his 13-year career in Philadelphia, but it certainly didn’t mean that his rivalry with the Mets was over. Sure enough, the Dodgers and Mets both won their respective divisions and ended up playing each other in the 2015 NLDS. Utley only had three at-bats in the entire series, which included one hit. His most memorable moment in the series came during the seventh inning of Game 2, following that hit. In an attempt to break up what possibly could have been an inning-ending double play, Utley slid into Mets shortstop Rubén Tejada. Not only was he ruled safe at second base after a video review, but Tejada had to leave the game due to a fractured right fibula. The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the game at that point, but they rallied and went on to win 5-2. Utley was originally suspended two games by Major League Baseball for the slide, but because he appealed the suspension, he was allowed to play the remainder of the NLDS.  The  Mets were able to win the series in five games, but Tejada did not return. He missed the remainder of the postseason, and the Mets eventually lost in the World Series to the Kansas City Royals.

It was assumed that the Mets were going to try and get revenge on Utley sometime during the 2016 season. Major League Baseball officially dropped his suspension on March 6, meaning there would be no punishment at all for the slide. Unsurprisingly, Mets fans were not happy. Although Tejada was released by the team on March 16, fans still expected the Mets to try and do something to send a message to Utley when they played the Dodgers. The two teams played a four-game series at Dodger Stadium in early May, but nothing happened. Last weekend, the Dodgers came to Citi Field for three games. This time, plenty happened.

As expected, Utley was booed vigorously by the Mets fans every time he came to bat. He was not thrown at on Friday night. Instead, he had a huge hit in the top of the ninth inning. Facing Mets closer Jeurys Familia with the bases loaded and two outs and his team trailing 5-2, Utley hit a game-tying three-run double. The Mets went on to win the game in the bottom of the inning after Curtis Granderson hit a walk-off home run.

When Utley’s name was announced during Saturday night’s game, he was booed even louder than the night before. With Mets ace Noah Syndergaard on the mound, he struck out looking during his first at-bat. He next came to bat in the top of the third inning. With one out and nobody on base, Syndergaard threw a fastball behind Utley. It didn’t him, but Syndergaard was ejected by home plate umpire Adam Hamari. This led to Mets manager Terry Collins getting thrown out of the game as well. Collins was clearly upset because no warnings were issued before the game. Clearly, Hamari knew Utley’s history with the Mets. He was not hesitant at all to eject Syndergaard for trying to send a message to Utley.

The Mets fans were more outraged than ever. Not only did Utley not even get hit by the pitch, but Syndergaard had been tossed from the game for trying to send a message to him. To make matters even worse for them, Utley hit a solo home run off of Logan Verrett in the top of the sixth inning. But he wasn’t finished yet. Just when you thought he couldn’t become any more villainous to Mets fans, Utley hit a grand slam off of Hansel Robles the next inning. This put the Dodgers ahead 6-0. They went on to win the game 9-1.  

For Utley, it was a very successful weekend in Flushing. The Mets failed to adequately get revenge on him for the slide into Tejada. He hit two big home runs to help the Dodgers crush the Mets. It seems as though Utley has gotten the last laugh against the Mets and their fans. The two teams do not play each other for the remainder of the season. However, there’s always the chance that they meet in the postseason again. If that happens, the series will definitely be must-watch television. The Mets would then have one last chance to get the last laugh against Chase Utley.

Why James Loney Makes Sense for the Mets

It’s no secret that the New York Mets are having issues at first base right now. Lucas Duda was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with a stress fracture in his lower back. It’s estimated that he’ll be sidelined for about four to six weeks. Eric Campbell has started at the position since Duda’s injury. However, Campbell is not meant to be an everyday player. The Mets need to consider other options.

One option that the team has reportedly been inquiring about is James Loney. Currently with the San Diego Padres organization, Loney has spent the year in Triple-A with the El Paso Chihuahuas. In 154 at-bats, he’s hitting .344 with two home runs and 28 RBIs. His on-base percentage is up to .376. Given that Loney’s currently playing in the minor leagues, the Padres would probably be willing to part with him should the Mets attempt to acquire him.

Joel Sherman of The New York Post reported on Tuesday that the Mets “have some curiosity” about Loney. There’s certainly no reason why they shouldn’t. The reality of the situation is that the team needs a first baseman. Eric Campbell just has not hit enough to justify putting him out there everyday. He can field the position well, but that’s not enough. He’s only batting .192 in 52 at-bats this season, and has just one home run and five RBIs. The Mets don’t really have too many other internal options at first base. Wilmer Flores is expected to be activated from the disabled list later today. He’ll get a chance to be the starting first baseman for the time being. Before he was placed on the disabled list on May 12 with a hamstring injury, Flores was Duda’s primary backup. However, he wasn’t exactly having the best season offensively prior to the injury. Flores is hitting just .180 in 50 at-bats this year, and has a home run and two RBIs. His numbers aren’t really much better than Campbell’s.

The Mets have floated around other internal possibilities, including playing young outfielder Michael Conforto at first base. This would allow center fielder Juan Lagares to get more playing time. This could be a good idea, except for the fact that Conforto has never played first base professionally. Neil Walker sliding over to first base has also been discussed. Although these other options might work, Loney is still the Mets’ best bet.

Loney is a proven major league first baseman who has always put up good offensive numbers. Over the course of his 10-year career, he’s had stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays. He’s only batted under .250 in a season once. Last year with the Rays, he batted .280 with four home runs and 32 RBIs. He could definitely provide some stability at first base until Duda is able to return. Given that he’s a left-handed hitter with some power, Loney would fit right into the Mets lineup. When Duda is ready to return, Loney could serve as his main backup, adding more depth to the bench. Depth on the bench is something the Mets have definitely lacked this season.

If the Mets are smart, they’ll try and acquire James Loney as soon as possible. He’s a solid short-term option at first base. There’s no reason not to go out there and get him.

New York Baseball Role Reversal

The New York Mets and the New York Yankees have always been compared to each other when it comes to which New York team is better. Over time the conversation has been sliding more toward the side of the Mets.

The reason this is happening is because the team has been consistently improving over the past few years, and the Yankees have been rapidly declining in team productivity.

Yankee fans can always point to the 27 championships that the team has accumulated, but that seems like a distant memory. Here are a few reasons the Mets have taken the role as New York’s best baseball team.

Pitching Staff

A big part of the Mets success has been their pitchers. Say what you want about their nicknames or the way they look at the plate, but they get the job done. In the National League they are making the number nine hole of the batting order a problem for their opponents.

Bartolo Colon hit his first career homerun against the San Diego Padres in a 6-3 win. Odds are he is not going to hit one every start he makes this season, but he is an example of how dangerous this team has become.

Run Support

Having a high powered offense helps when you are pitching well, but being part of that offense and producing is a deadly one-two punch.

Another pitcher in the Mets starting rotation Noah Syndergaard or “Thor” as he is referred to by Mets fans showed his batting talents by hitting two homeruns in a game and capturing a win.

Players Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto are keeping carrying the team with hot hitting. Things have looked good in Queens, but in the Bronx it has been a different story. The Yankees have not been getting runners across the plate and the pitchers have been suffering.

Veteran Leadership

David Wright and Curtis Granderson are player that have been in the league for a while and they know the importance of winning. They show the younger players that they mean business when they play. They run hard and make plays on defense to help the team.

The Yankee veterans Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez are only trying to help with their bats when healthy. One veteran that has been the best player on the field for the Yankees is first baseman Mark Teixeira.

At 36 years old he is the type of player that can spark the Yankees when he needs too.

Who’s Better?

The Yankees will have an opportunity to bounce back and become one of baseball’s better teams again in years to come. They are in desperate need of young talent, and need to let go of some older players.

The days of core four are gone and the only way to get back to the glory days for the team is to get better younger and more talented players.

For now the Mets are at the top and they look like they are on a path straight back to the World Series. If the Kansas City Royals can make it back to back years the Mets have the same plan in mind with a better outcome this time around.

D’Arnaud’s Injury Opens the Door for Kevin Plawecki

On Tuesday, the New York Mets placed starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud on the 15-day disabled list. D’Arnaud has a right rotator cuff strain, an injury he obtained on Monday night in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. Although the injury is unfortunate, it gives Kevin Plawecki a chance to show everyone what he can do.

Plawecki, 25, was considered the backup catcher going into this season. A former first-round draft pick, he made his Major League debut on April 21, 2015, just over a year ago. Ironically, the reason he was called up then was because d’Arnaud was placed on the disabled list after suffering a broken hand. The Mets were not planning on promoting Plawecki until later on in the year, but they needed an everyday catcher.

He did an adequate job serving as the Mets starting catcher until d’Arnaud returned on June 10. D’Arnaud’s return was short-lived however, as he suffered another injury ten days later. He was placed on the disabled list again, this time with a sprained left elbow. He did not return until July 30. Because of all of these injuries to d’Arnaud, Plawecki got a chance to start 66 games in 2015. In 233 at-bats, he collected 51 hits while batting .219 with three home runs and 21 RBIs. Defensively, he only committed one error and threw out 11 baserunners attempting to steal. He allowed 32 stolen bases while behind the plate.

From what we’ve seen so far, it seems as though Plawecki is a better defensive catcher than d’Arnaud. Last season, d’Arnaud started 64 games, two less than Plawecki. He allowed 29 stolen bases and committed three errors, while throwing out 14 baserunners trying to steal. Before landing on the disabled list this year, he had already allowed 14 stolen bases. Plawecki has only allowed four. Runners clearly do not hesitate to run on Travis d’Arnaud.

We’ve seen a lot more of d’Arnaud than Plawecki. That being said, the former has put up better offensive numbers than the latter. D’Arnaud batted .268 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs last season. He also did well in the postseason, starting every game the Mets played. Plawecki just hasn’t gotten the opportunity to really prove himself however. While it’s true that he got plenty of starts in 2015, he was basically just acting as the placeholder for d’Arnaud. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

If Plawecki can put up decent offensive numbers over the next couple of weeks, he has a chance to overtake d’Arnaud as the Mets starting catcher. Especially considering that he was struggling before being placed on the disabled list, d’Arnaud’s job could be in serious jeopardy. He was only batting .196 with no homers and just one RBI. There are certain players who are guaranteed their job back after spending time on the disabled list. However, d’Arnaud just hasn’t hit enough to earn that status. He hasn’t been consistent enough. Additionally, he isn’t the best defensive catcher in the world.

Kevin Plawecki has a real chance to prove himself. Opportunities like this don’t come around all the time. We’ll see if he can capitalize on this situation.

Syndergaard Shows the Royals He’s Not Intimidated

A lot has been made this past week about the feud between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. It goes back to Game 3 of last year’s World Series, when Syndergaard threw a pitch up and inside to Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to begin the game. The Mets would go on to win that game, but they ended up losing the series in five games. The two teams played each other to open up the 2016 season earlier in the week. Last month, Newsday reported that Kansas City was planing on getting revenge for the pitch in the opening series against the Mets. However, they did not retaliate in either of the two games. In the end, the one who ended up making a statement was Syndergaard.

The Mets and Royals played on Sunday night and Tuesday afternoon. On Sunday, the Royals raised their World Series Championship banner in a pregame ceremony while the Mets stood on the the third baseline. The team tagged Mets starter Matt Harvey for three earned runs, and they went on to beat New York 4-3. They continued the festivities on Tuesday with a pregame ring ceremony. When Syndergaard took the mound for the Mets in the bottom of the first inning, he was heavily booed by the Royals fans. As he warmed up, the song “American Woman” played throughout Kauffman Stadium. The boos of the fans quickly turned to cheers when Alcides Escobar led off the game with a triple. Unfortunately for the fans, that was the last time in the game that Syndergaard gave them something to cheer about.

Syndergaard did not let the leadoff triple get to him. He proceeded to strike out Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer to escape the inning. Syndergaard looked very much in control for the remainder of the game. He was able to throw his fastball in the high-nineties consistently. He was also able to throw his nasty curveball effectively. What’s more, he also threw his slider in the mid-nineties. This is a pitch that he really didn’t throw that often when the Mets first called him up in May of last season. However, Syndergaard really worked on his slider in the offseason, and it showed on Tuesday. The Royals could not hit it.

The only other major rally Kansas City was able to muster against him came in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the Mets leading 2-0, the Royals had runners on second and third with two outs. Syndergaard walked Hosmer to load the bases. This sent Kendrys Morales to the plate with a chance to tie the game, or even take the lead. Syndergaard stayed calm however, and he got Morales to swing and miss at three straight sliders. That ended the inning, and the Royals’ chances of making a comeback in the game.

Mets manager Terry Collins decided to pull Syndergaard after that sixth inning, as his pitch count was at 92. Over the six innings of work, he allowed only three hits and one walk, while collecting nine strikeouts. The Royals do not strikeout very often, but Tuesday was an exception. The Mets bullpen held up, and they won the game 2-0 to earn a split in the series.

The Mets and Royals will see each other again for a two-game series at Citi Field in June. Syndergaard is one of the few Mets pitchers that has actually had success against the Royals, in the World Series or this season. When June comes around, he certainly won’t mind facing the Royals again.

New York Bans Smokeless Tobacco at Yankees Stadium & Citi Field

When the Houston Astros and New York Yankees took the field on Wednesday night they were the first players to be prohibited by law from using smokeless tobacco for a regular-season game, a ban covers every person (not just players) in the ballpark as well. New York mayor Bill de Blasio signed the ban into law just before 5:00 pm, a ban that immediately went into effect as soon as the ink was dried.

The new law applies to all sports and recreational areas that issue tickets. New York joins San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles in enacting such laws but the Yankees became the first team to exercise it as they were the first team to have a home game among the group.

“We don’t want our young people to think smokeless tobacco is a cool thing,” de Blasio said.

A ban approved by Chicago’s City Council is expected to take effect by midseason while California has enacted a ban effective in 2017. By that time, 10 of 30 MLB stadiums and teams will have the bans in place. Legislators in Washington and Toronto are also considering the same.

“The bill sends a clear message: Tobacco has no place in New York City professional sports” said New York bill’s sponsor, Councilman Corey Johnson.

The MLB Players Association has resisted a league-wide ban despite an estimated 30% of MLB players using, an issue that will certainly be a major debate topic during negotiations with owners over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,  said his expectation is that MLB players and others will voluntarily comply with the regulations, as have most people when smoking bans have become law at athletic venues.

Johnson, who chairs the New York City Council’s Committee on Health, cited the late Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and former All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling as prime examples of the dangers of smokeless tobacco and the long-term effects it can have. Gwynn and Schilling attributed their cases of oral cancer to smokeless tobacco.

Major League Baseball and the teams in cities with the new laws have expressed support for the legislation.

 

Mets and Royals Set for World Series Rematch on Opening Night

This Sunday night, the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals will play in Kansas City to open up the 2016 MLB season. The game will be the last of four games being played on Sunday as part of Opening Day 2016. Both teams are very familiar with each other, as they faced off last October in the 2015 World Series.

The Royals will raise their World Series Championship Banner on Sunday night. It was just five months ago that they defeated the Mets in five games to capture their second championship in franchise history. As good as the Mets were, they could not handle the relentlessness of the Royals’ hitters. Kansas City’s shortstop Alcides Escobar especially hurt the Mets at the top of the lineup with his first-pitch aggressiveness. New York clearly had the better pitching in the World Series, but the Royals’  explosive offense overcame them.

Tensions will certainly be high on Sunday. For the Mets, the memory of the Royals celebrating after winning Game 5 at Citi Field is still fresh in their minds. The Royals are apparently seeking revenge as well, but for a much different reason. Game 3 of the World Series last year opened up with Noah Syndergaard throwing a pitch high and inside to Alcides Escobar. Clearly, this was meant to intimidate Escobar and to make sure he didn’t swing at the first pitch. The Royals didn’t take too kindly to this. They obviously didn’t retaliate right away, but reports came out this week that they’re planning on getting revenge. It’s unclear whether or not they will, but it’s definitely something worth watching for.   

It’ll be interesting to see if either team can get back to the World Series this year. The Mets boast one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball with Matt HarveyJacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Bartolo ColonZack Wheeler will join this stellar rotation later in the year, as he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Additionally, the team had a decent offseason, as they re-signed slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The also signed shortstop Asdrúbal Cabrera and traded for power-hitting second baseman Neil Walker. With this team, the Mets have a good chance to get back to the World Series.

The Royals are in a similar situation. Their team is not that much different than the one that won it all in October. The only thing that has really changed at all is the starting rotation. Johnny Cueto left Kansas City this offseason and signed with the San Francisco Giants. Cueto basically became the team’s ace after he was traded to them from the Cincinnati Reds back in July. He had a stellar start in Game 2 of the World Series, helping the Royals jump out to a 2-0 series lead. To replace Cueto, the Royals signed Ian Kennedy. Their starting pitching really isn’t their strength anyway. Probably their biggest strength is their fantastic bullpen, which includes Kelvin HerreraLuke Hochevar, and Wade Davis. These three pitchers make up a very dangerous 7-8-9 combo. All three were vital during the Royals’ playoff run last season. Their offense will also be a major factor again this year. In addition to Escobar, guys like Alex GordonLorenzo CainSalvador PerezMike MoustakasEric Hosmer, and Kendrys Morales are all poised to have good years. This Royals team is just as dangerous as they were last season. It would be a surprise to no one if they reached the World Series for the third consecutive year.

When both teams take the field on Sunday night, there will certainly be a lot of excitement in the air. Opening Night of the baseball season is always a great night in the sports world. Matt Harvey will start for the Mets, while Edinson Volquez will go for the Royals. The 2016 MLB season is finally ready to commence. It’s time to get it started.