Chicago Cubs Pull Out of Recent Slump

 

The Chicago Cubs have won three straight games as of May 27th. The Cubs beat their NL Central rivals the St. Louis Cardinals in the last two games of that series and won the series opener of against the Philadelphia Phillies on the 27th.

In their series opening win against the Phillies, the Cubs rested Anthony Rizzo and put Kris Bryant in his spot at first base. It was an unusual sight, as Bryant usually plays third base. This is the first time all season that Anthony Rizzo has not played a game for the Cubs.

The Cubs were also beneficiaries of well-timed home runs. Jorge Soler hit a 461-foot bomb that bounced off the Cubs Video Board in left field during the 4th inning. David Ross also hit a home run in the fourth inning. The home run hit by Ross was his 100th career homer.

Also helping the Cubs in their last few games was the return of outfielder Jason Heyward. He was injured during the series against the San Francisco Giants. He was only out for a few days and managed to return in time to play the Cardinals, his former team.

Prior to their current win streak, the Cubs had lost eight of their last twelve games. In that stretch, the Cubs lost games to teams that rank in the bottom half of the league. The Cubs dropped two games to the San Diego Padres and two games to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Despite that rough patch, the Cubs are still listed first in the weekly ESPN power rankings. The Cubs also still have the best record in the MLB. Every team has its slumps and the Cubs seem to have pulled out of theirs.

Going Forward

After their series with the Phillies, the Cubs will start the month of June at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are 25-24 as of May 27th. After that, the Cubs will host the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 3rd before traveling on Philadelphia to play the Phillies again on June 6th.

The Cubs a very favorable stretch of games coming up in the next week and a half. The Dodgers are their most difficult opponents and the Cubs will play at home until June 6th.  The Cubs should be able to take most of their games in that stretch.

Starting June 13th, however, the competition heats up. The Cubs travel to Washington D.C. to play the Nationals and then come home to play the Pittsburg Pirates on June 17th and the St. Louis Cardinals on June 20th.

The Cubs have a 4.5 game lead over the Pirates after their series opening win against the Phillies on May 27th. Prior to their slump, the Cubs had an even bigger lead in the NL Central. Depending on how the Cubs do over the next few series, the division could have a new leader by the time the Pirates and Cubs meet.

The Pirates are no joke and despite the recent dominance the Cubs have had over them, it is still early in the season. Anyone could come out on top of the division. No one expects the Cubs to tank, not with all the talent they have on their roster, but it is still possible.

 

 

 

2016 MLB Draft Predictions

As the season wears on more and more fans begin to look towards the MLB draft as a beacon of hope for the future of their favorite ball clubs. While it is still too early to know for sure where these players will land and who the teams will select, here’s how I feel the first three picks will go when the draft begins June 9th. Check in later for more draft predictions going further along in the first round.

First Overall

The first pick in the June draft is held by the Philadelphia Phillies, a team with obvious needs throughout the organization but, as a surprise to many, a competent team so far this season.

Many believe the Phillies will select arguably the top talent, high school left hander Jason Groome, with the first pick, however that may not actually be the case. High school players are hardly ever selected with the number one pick unless they are seen as a “can’t miss” prospect with superstar potential. Those players include the likes of Ken Griffey Jr, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, and Justin Upton.

Selecting a high school arm at 1-1 is even more unlikely for the Phillies, as there have only been two selected first overall since 1990, and one of them (Brady Aiken, 2014) did not even sign with the team that drafted him.

Teams tend draft safer players when they have the first overall pick, so that is why I expect the Phillies to select Florida left hander AJ Puk. Puk will likely be the safest pick at 1-1 because he possesses the best combination of a high floor and the upside needed to be the first overall pick of any player in the draft, basically saying teams feel like they know what they are going to get from Puk, and that is a solid big league starter with the potential for more.

Second Overall

The team that played their way to the honor of the second overall pick of the MLB Draft is the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are not in the same place as the Phillies, as they do not have a top farm system and they don’t appear to have the big league talent necessary to swap for promising young players.

The Reds should look to go with the player they feel is the best available here. The player who could potentially take more time than the Phillies’ AJ Puk to reach the majors, and thus will inherently have more risk attatched.

I would expect the Reds to select either Kyle Lewis or Riley Pint here. Both players offer tremendous upside but have equally concerning risk. Pint is a high school right hander who has touched 100 miles per hour and has been described as having the best arm in the draft. Lewis on the other hand is a college outfielder from Mercer that is crushing opposition pitching, batting .367 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs so far this season.

I’ll predict for now that the Reds end up going with Riley Pint as his enticing arsenal of top of the line stuff will be too much for an organization desperate for elite talent to pass up.

Third Overall

The 2015 Atlanta Braves finished with just 67 wins, earning them the third pick in the MLB Draft.

Often highly touted here on the site, the Braves have one of the best and deepest farm systems in all of baseball. The only issue with the system is the lack of high upside bats, more specifically the lack of high upside bats closer to the major leagues.

This lack of bats has caused the Braves general manager John Coppolella to speak publicly about the organization’s desire to add a college bat in the upcoming draft, but Coppolella also stated that the team would take the best player available at 1-3.

So who is it for the Braves? Do they take the high upside college bat in Kyle Lewis? Would they rather take the best player available in Jason Groome? Or will they pick the safest player here in Louisville’s Corey Ray?

Lewis, as stated above, is crushing pitching but comes with a lot of risk due to some scouts’ concerns about his swing mechanics, lack of experience, and how he is striking out too much for the level of competition he is currently facing. He also plays centerfield and is viewed as a player who will stick there throughout his professional career.

Groome is considered the top talent in the 2016 draft class. A left handed started out of New Jersey who has already thrown a no hitter this year, across which he racked up 19(!!) strikeouts. He has the upside of a frontline starter at the big league level, but as high school pitchers go, he also presents a big risk. Also, with the Braves bevy of high risk/reward pitchers in the minors, the front office may want to go in a different direction.

Corey Ray leads off and plays centerfield for one of the best college teams in the nation in Louisville. He bats from the left side and provides an intriguing skill set of power and speed. The concerns with Ray stem from teams not feeling he has nearly as much upside as a Lewis and they also feel he will be forced to move over to a corner spot when he reaches the majors.

With the Braves’ history of selecting players in-state and the new front office not being afraid to go after high risk/reward players, I would expect them to select Mercer’s Kyle Lewis. Lewis may be risky, but his upside and athletic profile should be enough to convince the Atlanta brass to select him at third overall.

More MLB draft predictions are set to come your way in the following weeks so stay tuned, and as always, thanks for reading.

Looking Ahead: 2018 MLB Free Agents

Picture this…

It’s the winter of 2018. A few months earlier, the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in 110 years by defeating the Houston Astros (hey it could happen). After jubilant Cubs fans everywhere calm themselves from a long overdue celebration, Chicago and the other 29 MLB teams turn their attention to the off-season.

The Free agency pool looks like the 1992 Olympics “Dream Team”. It features a host of all-stars, gold glovers, silver sluggers, Cy Young and MVP award winners. One major leaguer from this group will become baseballs first half-a-billion dollar man, others will strike deals that far surpass previous contract figures at their respective positions.

Reality Check

Ok, so the bit about the Cubs winning the World Series was purely for fun (though it’s not out of the realm of possibility), however, the rest could actually happen in 2018.

In what promises to be one of the best free agent classes we’ve seen in a long time, the 2018 off-season will be nothing short of astounding. Below are just some of the top names that could be available for hire:

Starting Pitchers

David Price*

Clayton Kershaw*

Matt Harvey

Jose Fernandez

Shelby Miller

Dallas Kuechel

Garrett Richards

Jose Quintana

Jake Arrieta

Closers/Relievers

Craig Kimbrel

Wade Davis

Trevor Rosenthal

Andrew Miller

Luke Gregerson

Jake McGee

Steve Cishek (pending he hasn’t completely combusted by 2018)

Infielders

Josh Donaldson

Manny Machado

Dee Gordon

Eric Hosmer

Mike Moustakas

Jose Iglesias

Outfielders

Bryce Harper

Andrew McCutchen

Jason Heyward*

Michael Brantley

Adam Jones

Lorenzo Cain

A.J. Pollock

(* indicates players who can opt-out of their current contracts in 2018)

Depending upon who ends up where, there could be a tremendous shift of power in both the American and National League. Of, course there are still three seasons to be played between now and the winter of 2018.

This means a number of the individuals listed above could very well be re-signed by way of contract extensions, or stick out their current contracts. Also, a few of these players could decline significantly in performance, suffer career altering injuries, or even become part of a blockbuster trade before 2018 arrives.

Nevertheless, the level of talent available by then will still be plentiful. While it’s difficult to say where these and other free agents will wind up, I will take a shot at projecting where four of the above free agents might land in 2018.

 

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 

Fantastic Four

 

1. Bryce Harper (NYY,WSH,LAD)

Harper will be the most coveted free agent prize in 2018 for a plethora of reasons. At 27-years-old, he’ll be in his prime as a player and will likely command a record setting contract. Per ESPN.com, the gifted outfielder was interviewed recently by 106.7 FM The Fan, and was asked about his thoughts regarding his next contract possibly exceeding the $400 million mark, to which Harper replied

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t really think about that stuff” Harper said. “I just try to play the years out and do everything I can to help my team win. But don’t sell  me short. That’s what you’re doing right now to me, so don’t do that.”(quote per 106.7 FM The Fan interview)

Given that Harper himself expects a big payday, there are only a few teams I feel that can cash his potentially historic check. It’s no secret, or surprise, that the New York Yankees (notorious for big off-season spending sprees) are a likely destination for Harper in 2018.

Many MLB experts believe the Bronx Bombers have been inactive in the off-season recently, in order to cash in on the likes of Harper and others once 2018 arrives.

While there could be some risk involved with the Yankees playing the waiting game, being able to unload hefty contracts such as Alex Rodriguez (free agent in 2018, C.C. Sabathia (free agent in 2018), and Mark Teixeira’ (free agent in 2017) will allow New York to spend freely in the 2018 Free Agency.

Imagine a NYY outfield composed of Bryce Harper, Jacoby Ellsbury, and a still effective Brett Gardner entering the 2019 season. Harper’s home run power coupled with the hitter friendly dimensions of the New Yankee Stadium would be a match made in heaven for New York.

Furthermore, it would be fitting for the Yanks to yet again break the contract record books (as they did with A-Rod before, 10 years at $275 million) by signing Harper to say a 12-year $450 million deal.

Of course, just because the Yankees will have money to spend in 2018, doesn’t mean everyone else is out of the running for Bryce Harper. His current team, the Washington Nationals, could go all-in and up the contract ante to a whopping 15-year $500 million mega deal.

Then again, they could structure the deal to guarantee “x amount” of dollars in a 10-year $400 million deal ($40 million annually) that might appeal more to Harper.

The Nats, however, may not be able to best New York in a bidding war in 2018. Over the next three seasons they will have other key players looking to cash in for their time and services to the team (Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa, etc).

Meaning, even if they manage to keep some of those players around by 2018, there simply may not be enough money in the bank to convince number 34 to stay in D.C.

Finally, another big market team (like the Yanks) that could potentially court Harper…the Los Angeles Dodgers. LA hasn’t been shy in seasons past when it comes to spending big money on top talent, though they have yet to see the desired results from said investments. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say the Dodgers pursuing Harper would surprise no one, and is highly probable.

Imagine for a second a Dodgers outfield consisting of Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and Harper. This would give LA one of the scariest 3-4-and-5 hitter combinations in the league, for years to come. Combine that offensive output with a Clayton Kershaw led pitching staff, and the Dodgers would be heavily favored champions entering the 2019 season.

 

(Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

(Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

 

2. Clayton Kershaw (LAD,ATL,PHI)

Speaking of Kershaw, and as previously mentioned in this post, he could very well opt-out of his current contract and seek an even bigger pay-day in 2018. While I think Kershaw will ultimately stay with LA, it is becoming more commonplace to see players using the opt-out clause of their contracts to seek larger contracts elsewhere, rather than stay with a franchise for their career.

Kershaw has been with the Dodgers since 2008, which would bring his tenure with the team to a decade in 2018. By todays standards, that’s a long time playing in one uniform. Given the post-season struggles LA has faced in Kershaw’ time out west, he very well could be ready for a change of scenery.

For the sake of this post at least, lets pretend Kershaw tires of being on the hill in Hollywood and opts out of his contract. One of the teams who I feel will be interested, is the Atlanta Braves. While they may not look like much entering the 2016 season, the Braves can certainly turn things around in 2018 by adding some top tier pitching and other pieces to go along with franchise player and first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Should Kershaw become available, Atlanta would likely try and persuade the three time Cy Young award winner to come to tomahawk chop country. As far as being able to afford Kershaw or outbid the Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks signing of Zack Greinke in 2016 is proof that a deal can always be made.

Lastly, and this team comes in as a total dark-horse for Kershaw, the Philadelphia Phillies could shock the baseball world and strike a deal. The Phillies would not only have the salary cap space to sign Kershaw, but could also add another top-tier free agent like a Josh Donaldson, or Jason Heyward (should he also opt-out). This is because in 2018, the Phils have virtually no money going towards major contractual commitments (per MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince).

Again, Philly may be a bit of a stretch, but like Atlanta, they’ll be rebuilding over the next few seasons. No better way to do so, than going after one of the best arms on the open market.

 

3. Josh Donaldson (TOR,BOS,NYM)

The reigning AL’s most valued player could bring in another MVP award between now and 2018, and will likely convince Toronto to keep him in Canada. The Blue Jays have certainly shown the other large market teams of the AL East that they too can splurge of talent. Of course, like the Dodgers, those dollars spent haven’t yet translated into gold rings.

Nevertheless, Toronto should be in a good position by 2018 to not only keep their multi-talented third baseman, but also compete for a championship. The Jays, will not be alone, however, in trying to talk money with the “Bringer of Rain”.

Another team that may be in need of Donaldson’ services could be the division rival Boston Red Sox. Sure the Sox have current third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval under contract until the year 2021. But, considering that the Panda hasn’t exactly panned out the way Boston originally hoped, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sox trade Sandoval away before the 2018 free agency, thus allowing the pursuit of Donaldson.

Of course, by trading Pablo away, the Bo Sox would have to eat a chunk of his contract. Throw in possibly having to re-bid or restructure a contract for David Price (should he opt-out in 2018) and the Sox might think twice about splurging the way they did back in 2011 (and we all know how that worked out, see 2012 Sox Collapse).

One last possible destination for Donaldson, could be the revamped New York Mets. Seeing as David Wright (who will turn 36 in 2018) could possibly hang up his cleats after an illustrious 14-year MLB career by 2018, Donaldson’ availability could be perfect timing for the Mets. Add Donaldson to an already potent lineup, with a rising, young,  and talented pitching rotation, and the Mets have a championship caliber team for years to come.

 

(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

 

4. Dallas Kuechel (HOU,TEX,PHI)

Last but certainly not least on my brief list of possible 2018 free agents is Dallas Kuechel, currently with the Houston Astros. While Houston standouts such as second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielder George Springer, and short stop Carlos Correa all sound like future Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals members, Kuechel may be one guy that the Astros can hang onto for a while.

Granted those other Astros listed above won’t hit the free agency until a few season after 2018, so Houston may still be able to keep a solid core together out West. If Keuchel plays his cards right, he could command a high dollar contract that rivals other top arms in this class. Whether or not Houston will be willing or able to pay up to keep their ace, will depend on who else throws their hat into ring for the talented lefty.

The in-state and AL West rival Texas Rangers could be one team that challenges Houston for Kuechel’s arm. The Rangers will still have the majority of their current 2016 pitching staff under contract through 2019 and beyond (Yu Darvish 2019, Derek Holland 2019, Cole Hamels 2020, Martin Perez 2021). When you add Dallas Kuechel to the mix, Texas’ rotation could rival other top staffs around the majors.

While multiple other teams could be in need of this lefties pitching power, I feel like no other team will need a left hander to build a team around more than Philadelphia. As previously mentioned about the Phillies in this post, the team will have the capital needed to bring in talent.

Quick Question: What if the Phils pulled off a major off-season sweep and sign Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, and say Manny Machado?

Answer: That would be a great start to rebuilding a franchise that has suffered multiple sub .500 seasons since 2012.

(All contractual information and statistics for this post is courtesy of http://spotrac.com )

 

Final Thoughts:

While the majority of this post is pure speculation, a good number of these players will become free agents in 2018. Contracts will no doubt reach all-time highs, and depending upon how the upcoming collective bargaining agreement goes, teams will likely crush 2016′ $2 billion spending spree by a significant margin.

It will be a class to remember, and could be an off-season that leaves a decade long impact on the majors. Until then, we can only watch, wait, and wonder.

Opening Day 2016: What To Watch For

Ah, Opening Day. The field grass is trimmed up just right, fans from all over the country pack stadiums to see the MLB’s best perform, and another season of America’s favorite past time is underway.

With just over 40 days left until the MLB regular seasons first pitch is thrown on Sunday April 3rd, 2016, anticipation is mounting for baseball fans everywhere. A total of eight teams will start the season off on that Sunday, 20 more teams will begin play on Monday April 4th. 2016, and the Miami Marlins host the Detroit Tigers in their home opener on Tuesday April 5th.

That’s three days set to be chock-full of home runs, outstanding pitching, “web gems”, and will feature all 10 of last years playoff teams. So, with the regular season right around the corner, I’ll provide you with a rundown of five must see matchups, and some key players to keep an eye on:

 

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (PNC Park on Sunday April 3rd at 1:05 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Adam Wainwright (STL) vs. Gerrit Cole (PIT)

Players to Watch: Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Matt Carpenter (STL), Josh Harrison (PIT), and Matt Holiday (STL)

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Sunday April 3rd at 3:05 p.m. EST on FSW)

Probable Pitchers- Jon Lester (CHC) vs. Garrett Richards (LAA)

Players to Watch: Mike Trout (LAA), Anthony Rizzo (CHC), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Kris Bryant (CHC)

New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals (Kaufmann Stadium on Sunday April 3rd at 8:37 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Jacob DeGrom (NYM) vs. Edison Volquez (KC)

Players to Watch: Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Alex Gordon (KC), Neil Walker (NYM), and Lorenzo Cain (KC)

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium on Monday April 4th at 1:05 p.m. on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Dallas Kuechel (HOU) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)

Players to Watch: Jose Altuve (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY), Carlos Correa (HOU), and Starlin Castro (NYY)

Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians (Progressive Field on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. on Sports Time Ohio)

Probable Pitchers- David Price (BOS) vs. Corey Kluber (CLE)

Players to Watch: Michael Brantley* (CLE), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Francisco Lindor (CLE), Mookie Betts (BOS)

 

Honorable Mention: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds (Great American Ball Park on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. EST)

The Phils and Red Legs game may not be a “must watch”, but growing up 30 miles east of Cincinnati, I felt compelled to recognize the rich history of Opening Day in Cincy.

 

Other Opening Series Players to Watch:

Jason Heyward- After switching National League Central teams this off-season from the Cards to the Cubs, posting a .293/.359./.797 slash line in 2015 with 79 runs, 13 home runs, and 60 RBI, Chicago will hope to see Heyward improve on those stats for 2016 in pursuit of the teams first World Series title since 1908.

Zack Greinke- Posting a 19-3 record, a 1.66 ERA, and 200 strikeouts with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Greinke begins 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Greinke will likely be the D-Backs Opening Day starter against the Colorado Rockies on Monday April 4th.

Daniel Murphy- Despite losing his post-season magic in last years Fall Classic with the Mets, Daniel Murphy still posted a solid .288/.322/.770 slash line with 56 runs, 14 home runs, and 73 RBI  for 2015. Murphy begins 2016 anew with the Washington Nationals, and it will certainly be interesting to see how he affects a clubhouse that could use his positive attitude.

Johnny Cueto- The reunion of former Reds pitchers Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez in last years post-season and World Series with KC was only temporary. After an 11-13 record with 176 strikeouts and a 3.44 ERA in 2015 (split between the Reds and Royals), Cueto will try to better those numbers with his new team, the San Francisco Giants in 2016.

 

(All probable pitchers are based solely off of team depth charts as of February 22nd,2016, and may be subject to change after Spring Training results)

(* Brantley may not be available to the Indians until April or May, as he is still recovering from a right shoulder injury)

(For a complete 2016 regular season schedule, visit MLB.com)

Final Thought:

I’ll simply end with a fitting quote from one of the games all-time greats:

You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.- Joe DiMaggio

 

 

The Three Worst Moves Of The RAJ Era

(Via bleedphilly.com)

Back in 2009, things were rolling for the Phillies. They were fresh off of their World Series win, and would eventually make their way back to the World Series before falling to the Yankees in six games. Even with a World Series loss, their was nothing but optimism from the Phillies’ faithful heading into the 2010 season, and behind all of the optimism in Philadelphia was a man, at the time, that could do no wrong, making moves that shifted the Phillies into what seemed to be perennial contenders for years to come. Ruben Amaro, Jr. was transforming the Phillies from a wild run World Series team into a team that could become a dynasty for the next decade.

Sure, his core was aging a tad as 2011 approached, but nobody was complaining about a team filled with names such as Utley, Howard, Rollins, Hamels, and now, after a great offseason, Placido Polanco. The offense was solid and the pitching staff was called many adjectives that all centered around a common theme: unhittable.

Amaro was able to wheel and deal, bringing in top free agents or high caliber players through trades that, despite emptying out the farm system, had Phillies’ fans awaiting another trip, or three, to the World Series.

Except, those trips never came. After 2008, the Phillies, in almost comical fashion, decreased their playoff appearances in successive years. 2009, a World Series appearance. 2010, NLCS loss. 2011, a very, very painful NLDS loss. By 2012, the Phillies were out of the playoff picture, and have yet to return.

Despite Amaro’s, at the time, at least, highly successful moves to bloster the MLB roster, he forgot one crucial aspect of the game: players get older. It happens to everybody, even the best of players, such as Utley and Howard. By not realizing that his core was not what it used to be, Amaro allowed the farm to suffer, hence the reason why the team has been a laughing stock all season.

Amaro made some pretty bad moves in his time as Phillies GM, but here are the three worst deals that he made that set the Phillies on their b-line course to failure.

#3 Phillies extend Ryan Howard to five-year extension

This doesn’t sound too bad, especially when you look at the production that Ryan Howard had put out in the previous years leading up to the extension. $25 million a year for a guy that’s going to hit somewhere in the ballpark of 40-50 homeruns and drive in 125 runs? I’ll happily pay that.

What doesn’t sit well, however, is the fact that, A) this was a mid-contract extension, and B) Howard’s production had dipped in each of the previous two seasons.

Ryan Howard was given a $125 million contract extension through the 2016 season with two years left on his then current contract. Now I’m a big believer in paying a guy for his services if he deserves it, but when a player who is starting to get up there in age has two years left on his current contract, I think you have to sit pat for the time being.

Howard, however, got his money, and just one year later ruptured his achilles trying to get out of the box on what would become the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Howard would go on to play just 151 combined in the next two seasons and was never the same hitter after his injury. This led to the Phillies being unable to ship Howard to virtually any team for the foreseeable future, as no team would take on a large majority of that contract. Because of this, the Phillies are still stuck with an aging, under-performing Howard who no longer plays at all against left handers.

#2 Phillies trade Cliff Lee to Mariners for prospects

After the 2009 World Series loss, and after watching former World Series MVP Cole Hamels pitch atrociously in that World Series, it was apparent that the Phillies would be seeking another arm in the offseason to aid to Cliff Lee’s efforts in 2009.What wasn’t clear was just who that arm might be.

Then one day in December, rumors began to circulate that the arm the Phillies were seeking wasn’t just any ordinary arm, but instead, a superior pitching ace who would lead the Phillies into the 2010’s. Of course, that arm was Roy Halladay, who the Phillies acquired from the Blue Jays for a handful of prospect, only one of which eventually panned out in the big leagues in Travis D’Arnaud.

It appeared the Phillies had just become the best rotation in baseball, fronted by Halladay, Lee and, what fans hoped, was a rejuvenated Cole Hamels. That never developed, though, as the Phillies, led by Amaro, believed, as they had never done before, that they needed to revamp the farm system, and traded away Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners.

The trade wasn’t necessary, as they could have gotten away with simply trading for Halladay, and putting together one of the best rotations of the decade. Instead, the Phillies received three prospects, all who never had any success in the Phillies’ system, and one, in Phillipe Aumont, whom Phillies fans will resent for the rest of their lives.

#1 Phillies trade for Roy Oswalt from the Astros for J.A. Happ and prospects

This trade, to me, signaled that Amaro had simply gotten greedy at this point. It also marked the downfall of the Phillies, because they a team that was so focused on big names.

Roy Oswalt waived his no-trade clause in Houston to attempt to join a pitching staff that had a solid chance of making a deep playoff, and was traded to the Phillies for J.A. Happ and two prospect, one of which includes current Tiger Anthony Gose.

It just simply wasn’t a necessity. Well, it was for what the Phillies were trying to do in 2010, but backtracking to our last move, it would have been unnecessary to trade for Oswalt in the first place if they hadn’t traded Cliff Lee away (who, by the way, would resign the next year with the Phillies at an exuberant rate)

Oswalt never fit into the what the Phillies were trying to mold. He never fit in as a Phillie, and fans never accepted him like Hamels or Halladay, or even Lee for that matter. And maybe that doesn’t help his case, or in this case, his ranking as the worst move in the Amaro era, but even if he would have been accepted by the people of Philadelphia, he was so unnecessary to the success of the Phillies in 2010 and 2011 that there was no need to make the trade in the first place.

Like I said, it simply got to the point where Amaro had gotten greedy, and was trying to put together the best pitching staff on the planet.

Instead, don’t trade Cliff Lee, then in turn, don’t trade for Roy Oswalt. These two moves, or lack of moves, because hindsight is 20-20, lead to having extra money in the 2010 offseason, because the Phillies wouldn’t have had to resign Lee at such a high price. This extra money, while it still may not have been enough, could have instead gone to Jayson Werth, keeping him out of Washington. By keeping Werth out of Washington, the Phillies still have a right fielder in house, which leads to not having to trade for Hunter Pence later down the road. By not acquiring Pence, the Phillies retain prospects of the likes of Jarred Cosart, Johnathan Singleton and Domingo Santana.

I know it’s alot to take in, but the landslide of moves snowballs into an unstoppable avalanche that led to the downfall of the Phillies in recent years. Amaro made some solid moves, but his poor ones, especially these three, led to his demise in Philadelphia, as he’s been relieved of his duties as GM effective immediately.

 

http://SportsRants.com

Labor Pains for the Marlins, Braves, and Phillies

The Washington Nationals have won five in a row and trail the New York Mets by 4-games in the NL East. The Mets are just 4-5 of late following a seven-game winning streak. Both teams will play each other for three games starting on Labor Day afternoon.

Lucas Duda figures to return from his DL stint to give the Mets some extra power. Jon Niese and Max Scherzer will meet in the lid lifter from our nation’s capital. These two teams will also meet for the final three games of the regular season in October.

Somewhere (The Players’ Tribune) Matt Harvey is writing about pitching in the playoffs. Allegedly there is a 180-inning cap on Harvey’s previously TJ’d elbow and he’s at 166.1 IP.

It’s an all too similar story to Stephen Strasburg in 2012. He got shut down after 159.1 IP that season. The Nats ended up making the postseason, but lost in 5-games to the St. Louis Cardinals in a division series where Strasburg DID NOT pitch.

Be careful Washington. A week ago, the Giants were just 3.5 behind the Dodgers after Jake Arrieta no hit the Boys In The Blue on Sunday Night Baseball. San Francisco then lost three straight to Los Angeles and a week later is 7.5 games out of first in the NL West.

My focus here is not the Nats climbing back into the NL East race, but what the heck happened to the rest of the division this season. Three of baseball’s five 80+ loss teams reside in this division as we hit the Labor Day check point.

Miami Marlins (57-80)

Manager Mike Redmond (16-22) got fired and GM Dan Jennings (49-58) took over. The situation is still kind of comical If anybody still cared. Fans of superstar players do care that Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez came back from injury and then got injured again. Huge bummer.

Stanton (broken wrist) may make it back this season, but to date has only got to terrorize opposing pitchers for 27 homers over 74 games. Jose Fernandez made just seven starts after returning from TJS.

All that’s left in Miami is hoping 14-year old looking Christian Yelich, he’s 23, or Dee Gordon, he’s still hitting .325, can help you in the fantasy baseball playoffs.

Atlanta Braves (54-83)

In their last 20 games the Atlanta Braves are 1-19. During that stretch they’ve lose 15-4 and 20-6 to the Yankees, and 15-1 to the Nationals. The Nats Bryce Harper now has 34 home runs after he went deep in all three games of the Nats-Braves series. He was part of the reason Atlanta lost their 10th, 11th and 12th straight games over the weekend.

It didn’t always smell that bad.The Braves were once 5-0 a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far from Labor Day. On June 1st they were still a game over .500 at 26-25. It was a time where Shelby Miller (5-2, 1.48 ERA) was awesome and Alex Wood (4-2, 3.19) was winning games too. Freddie Freeman (.297/.363/.865) was hitting. Jim Johnson was also setting up plenty of save opportunities for Jason Grilli (15 SV) to lock down.

Then the Tomahawk lost its chop.

Shelby Miller is still pitching to an ERA below 3.00 with a FIP at 3.35. He was 5-2 to start June, he’s currently 5-13.

Freddie Freeman missed June 18th-July 24th (right oblique strain), but is still the Braves best offensive player because his only competition is A.J. Pierzynski.

Jason Grilli ruptured his achilles on July 11th which ended his season.

Free agent infield acquisitions Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson were kind of hitting, but were expendable and tossed aside in a July 24th trade to the Mets for a couple minor leaguers.

Alex Wood, Jim Johnson, Jose Peraza, Bronson Arroyo and Luis Avilan were dealt to the Dodgers on July 30th in a three-team trade that also involved the Marlins. The Braves netted highly touted infielder Hector Olivera. He’s 2 for his first 15 as a big leaguer.

The Braves and Phillies get to celebrate Labor Day by playing the first of six games remaining between the two teams. They are the only two teams in MLB with over 80 losses at Labor Day. The Rockies and Marlins have 80. This isn’t a compliment.

Philadelphia Phillies (53-84)

The Phillies were once 4-0. However, while Fredi Gonzalez is still somehow managing the Braves, Ryne Sandberg called it quits with the Phillies after a 26-48 start. The Pete Mackanin error is 27-36, but it includes a successful 16-5 run following the all star break.

The Phillies said goodbye to Jimmy Rollins and eventually Chase Utley in 2015 and said hello to rookie third baseman Maikel Franco (13 HR in 77 games) and rookie starting pitcher Aaron Nola. Nola got roughed up for six runs against the Mets his last time out, but has been successful through his first nine starts with a 5-2 record, 1.16 WHIP, 4.02 ERA.

Unfortunately for Franco he suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left wrist on August 11th. Back then the 22-year old, was battling the Cubs Kris Bryant in NL Rookie of the Year discussions.

Add a few letters to Franco’s last name and we get one of 2015’s feel good stories about bouncing back. Jeff Francoeur is third on the Phillies with 12 HRs. It’s his most since 2012 with the Royals. Frenchy had only 25 at bats with the Padres in 2014.

23-year old centerfielder Odubel Herrera (.302) leads the Phillies in hits, but that’s enough about the Phillies.

Happy Labor Day. Don’t work too hard.

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Predicting The 2015 World Series

Prior to playing the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, July 29, the Toronto Blue Jays had a mediocre record of 50-51. People questioned whether Toronto would go for it this season, or try and build their farm system up for the next few seasons.

Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos rolled the dice and traded for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price and the gamble paid off immediately. On July 29 Troy Tulowitzki played his first game for the Blue Jays and hit a home run. Since then Toronto has not looked back and the club is a ridiculous 23-5 with Tulo on the team.

In 27 games with Toronto, Tulo has hit an underwhelming .227 with four home runs and 11 RBIs, but having the shortstop at the top of the lineup to go along with his solid defense has sparked the Blue Jays. The Canadian ball club now has Tulowitzki leading off followed by AL MVP Candidate Josh Donaldson batting second, Jose Bautista batting third and Edwin Encarnacion batting fourth.

That is an insane combination of hitters that can kill you in almost any way and Encarnacion has been red hot for the Blue Jays of late. Yesterday Encarnacion hit three home runs and knocked in 9 runs and now has 29 home runs on the season to go along with 90 runs batted in.

The Blue Jays have no doubt the best offense in baseball and with their starting pitching heating up, led by staff ace David Price, this team is primed for a postseason run. In five starts with Toronto David Price is 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 36.1 innings pitched.

The ball club has gotten decent starting pitching as of late and with their incredible offense, that could be all the team needs. The Blue Jays are 3-1 against the Kansas City Royals in the second half and are now a game and a half up on the division in the AL East.

Toronto will enter the playoffs having won over 90 games and will dispatch of the Houston Astros in four games in the ALDS. The Blue Jays will then play the Royals in the ALCS and though it will be a great series, Toronto will win in six games thanks to their great offense and their pitching led by David Price.

The X-factor for the Blue Jays in the playoffs will be Marcus Stroman, who will likely come out of the bullpen for the Jays and will catalyze the pitching staff.

On the National League side the World Series favorite is the St. Louis Cardinals, but once October comes around they will not be the team in the World Series. The National League will be represented by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have arguably the two best pitchers in baseball with Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke.

Greinke leads the league in ERA on the season at 1.61 and Clayton Kershaw has been lights out in the second half. In 8 starts since the all-star break Kershaw is 5-0 with a 1.o2 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 62 innings pitched. To go along with the two aces are Brett Anderson, who has a 3.36 ERA on the year, Mat Latos and Alex Wood.

The Dodgers have also gotten help from their closer Kenley Jansen, who has been great this year posting 27 saves in 29 opportunities to go along with a 2.39 ERA on the season. The Dodger lineup, led by Adrian Gonzalez who has 24 home runs and 75 RBIs, is full of veterans that have played in the spotlight before.

Gonzalez is joined by Howie Kendrick, who is hitting .296 on the season, along with Andre Ethier and ultra utility man Justin Turner who has been phenomenal this year. Turner on the season is hitting .295 with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs and has been a big part of the team’s success.

To go along with those players the Dodgers have all-star catcher Yasmani Grandal, and veteran leaders Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley who have played many big games in their careers. The time is now for the Los Angeles Dodgers and with a 72-56 record on the year they will likely end up playing the New York Mets in what will be a great NLDS matchup.

The Mets young pitching will give the Dodgers hitters fits, but with Kershaw and Greinke leading the way the Dodgers will dispose of the New York ball club in five games. In the NLCS the Dodgers will have to find a way to get past the St. Louis Cardinals.

This series will be tough for the Dodgers, but Kershaw will come in fired up as he has struggled against the Cardinals in the past. Kershaw will lead the Dodgers to a NLCS victory in six games and the Dodgers will meet the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2015 World Series.

The X-factor in the playoffs for the Dodgers will be Yasiel Puig. The young player is immensely talented, but has not had a very good year for the Los Angeles ball club. Puig is going to figure it out down the stretch and in October will help carry the team to the World Series.

In one of the best World Series match ups in years Clayton Kershaw will face David Price in game one of the World Series. Kershaw will dominate the Blue Jays free swingers and will win game one for the Dodgers. The Blue Jays will make it a good series, but ultimately the Dodgers will win the World Series in seven games with Clayton Kershaw winning the World Series MVP.

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Teams That Could Land Chase Utley

On Tuesday night, Chase Utley cleared waivers, making him trade-eligible. The Philadelphia Phillies second baseman may find himself on a new team pretty soon. The Phillies aren’t in contention and have no reason to keep him. They are rebuilding and would really benefit from getting rid of his lucrative contract. It’s very likely that he’ll be traded within the next week or so. The question is, what teams make sense for Utley?

One team that’s reportedly shown interest in Utley is the New York Yankees. On Wednesday, the New York Post reported that the Yankees have Utley on their radar. This makes sense, considering Stephen Drew has really struggled offensively this year for the Yankees. Despite having 15 home runs, Drew is hitting under .200. Utley has also struggled this year, batting under .200 with only four home runs and 28 RBIs. He’s also only played in 70 games this year because of injuries. If the Yankees were to trade for Utley however, it could be viewed as a desperation move. After all, Utley makes $11.027 million this year. He’s a veteran player past his prime. Although he would be an upgrade over Drew, he certainly wouldn’t be the answer to the Yankees’ offensive struggles right now. Even though the Yankees are one of the teams that might land Utley, there are other teams that make more sense for him.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have also reportedly expressed interest in trading for Utley. The Dodgers have certainly shown that they’re not afraid to take on big contracts, especially over the last couple of years. They’re always a very active team in free agency and at the trade deadline. With starting second baseman Howie Kendrick being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring on Monday, the Dodgers could use a starting second baseman. Kendrick might be out until mid-September. Even though Utley’s not having a great year, he’d be an upgrade from what the Dodgers have right now. He may be past his prime, but he does have plenty of postseason experience. If Utley was traded to the Dodgers, he’d be reunited with his former Phillie teammate Jimmy Rollins. A change of scenery and being reunited with his old teammate might be just what Utley needs.

Another team that could be a good fit for Utley is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs recently moved Addison Russell from second base to shortstop. Starlin Castro was benched when this switch happened. Castro played his first career game at second base on Tuesday night. There’s no guarantee that Castro will continue to play second base every night. He’s having a rough season at the plate and isn’t used to playing second base. The Cubs could use Utley as an alternative solution at that position. Many of the players on the Cubs have never experienced postseason baseball. Utley could provide veteran leadership, something that could be very valuable come playoff time. The Cubs have a good chance at making the playoffs this year. It seems like they’re going for it all. With Castro struggling, trading for Utley would definitely make sense.

It would be very surprising if the Phillies don’t trade Chase Utley. He’s been a lifetime Phillie, but sometimes you just have to trade players when the time comes. That’s what happened to Rollins last year. There wouldn’t really a benefit to keeping him. The Phillies are a rebuilding team who have to work on building up their farm system. For Utley, it would be more exciting for him to be playing for a team in contention. He’d have more motivation and might actually perform better. The Chase Utley era in Philadelphia is seemingly coming to a close. We’ll see where his next stop is.

 

James Shields, Francisco Rodriguez And Chase Utley Could Be Waiver Wire Options

Now that the trade deadline has come to pass teams will now look to scour the waiver wire to add assets for the stretch run.

While they may not be able to land a game-changing type of player, there are teams that could fill needs or add depth by looking at two potential names that could potentially end up available on the waiver wire. Take a look at 2 likely players and the teams that may be monitoring their status.

James Shields

It’s safe to say that the sentiment in San Diego regarding James Shields is that there aren’t any warm and fuzzy feelings over his performance.

After signing a hefty contract in the offseason and starting off fairly strong, Shields has been an overwhelming disappointment for an underwhelming Padres team that spent big in a failed effort to contend. Shields’ name was floated around in the rumor mill during the frantic last week of the trade deadline but was not moved.

Although Shields has been registering impressive strikeout numbers (144 in 126.2 innings) his walks have dramatically rose this year and for a player San Diego is paying to be an ace, Shields 3.77 ERA and 1.32 WHIP aren’t indicative of an ace.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal   reported that other general managers believe Shields could go unclaimed on waivers mostly due to a contract that will pay him $21 million for each of the next three seasons before a $16 million club option in 2019.

A waiver wire trade could allow San Diego to dump Shields and pick up a few assets in return (at least it’s something) but it’s unlikely teams will give up much value to acquire the veteran.

A team that could really utilize Shields is the New York Yankees who are rather thin in the rotation. With Michael Pineda heading to the DL and New York failing to make any big moves at the deadline, Shields could be an attractive option for the Bronx Bombers.

What will be appealing to the Yankees will be Shields’ playoff experience and AL East prowess.

It also makes sense for New York to chase Shields as it allows the team to lure in a starting pitcher without having to give up any prized prospects, which is something that Yankees refused to do this year.

 

Chase Utley

At this point in his career, Utley may be just a name at this point with his best days far behind him. Before shutting down in June, Utley tried to play through a high ankle sprain which effected his swing and contributed to a lowly .179 batting average and .532 OPS.

Philadelphia has been undergoing a youth movement after a dreadful season, highlighted by the trade of Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers, and with Utley slated to return from the disabled list later this month he very will could be a candidate for a waiver trade.

Utley’s return won’t come with any heavy financial implications as he will fall well short of the 500 plate appearances he needs to make a $15 million vesting option for 2016, which would make a trade for Utley more attractive for interested teams.

With Cesar Hernandez clearly slated as the team’s future at second base the writing could be on the wall for an Utley departure.

Expect the Los Angeles Angels and the New York Yankees to be interested if Utley is healthy and available.

 

Francisco Rodriguez

The rumor mill when it came to relievers was headlined by San Diego’s Craig Kimbrel and Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman, but neither player was moved at the deadline which leaves the waiver wire ripe for the picking for bullpen-needy teams.

One name that could potentially be available is Milwaukee Brewers’ Francisco Rodriguez who is signed for $7.5 million in 2016, with a club option of $6 million in 2017. Ken Rosenthal listed Rodriguez’s contract as a concern among potentially interested teams.

Milwaukee may be motivated to move mostly due to some trouble numbers regarding what could be a decline in his fastball. Rodriguez who once averaged between 94-95 mph on a fastball has now been clocking an average of 89.6 mph.

What is of interest is Rodriguez’s production. Sporting a 1.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and with a strikeout to walk ratio of 40-9, the 33-year old could be a big pickup for a team looking to bolster their bullpen or in need of a closer.

The Houston Astros have been linked to Rodriguez and could be a team to watch.

Two Words, Cole: Thank You

(Via ISportsWeb.com)

I’ve done some serious ripping of the Phillies this entire season, and probably for good reason. They’ve been downright atrocious all season long, and even this short, and unsustainable winning pattern they’ve demonstrated since the All-Star break shall too pass, and we’ll find, once again, the Phillies struggling to succeed.

That struggle will probably become even more realistic now that the only pitcher of any kind of merit (sorry Aaron Nola, not quite yet) has been traded. The Phillies have finally officially announced today the trade that everybody knew was eminent for the past few days now. Cole Hamels, along with hard throwing reliever Jake Diekman, have been traded to the Texas Rangers for a handful of young, and hopefully, talented prospects.

But while the rest of this season, and probably all of next season, for that matter, will be a struggle to watch, I don’t want to dwell on the negatives for too long. I’ve simply done that far too much the last three years as a Philadelphia sports fan. Heck, who am I kidding, I’ve done that my whole life as a Philadelphia sports fan. It’s how we’re raised.

No, I want to take a look back on the illustrious Phillies career of Cole Hamels, which officially comes to an end today after the better part of 10 seasons.

Sure, you can look back on the last few seasons for Hamels and his team, and realize that they were nothing spectacular, due, in large part, to the fact that the players surrounding Hamels have been sub par. You also, however, have to take a look at exactly what Hamels did for the city of Philadelphia, a city that had been championship starved for decades before 2008.

The offense was terrific, with a core of prime-aged players in Utley, Howard, Rollins, Victorino and Werth. The pitching staff, however, was somewhat of a question mark at the beginning of the 2008 season. Behind Cole, it was a serious case of the unknown, with names such as Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer, and, get this, Adam Eaton. That’s not quite World Series caliber pitching.

But Hamels held the staff together, through Myers being sent down to the minors to straighten up and Adam Eaton being cast away like yesterday’s news. He had, to that point, his best statistical season, going 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA, as the Phillies clinched their second straight NL East division crown.

That October, they weren’t just content with a playoff appearance. After being swept out of the divisional round by the Rockies the year prior, the Phils were looking for some playoff magic of their own. Nobody, however, knew just how good Cole Hamels was going to be. Hamels would take the mound five times in the playoffs, going 4-0 with an ERA of 1.80, earning NLCS and World Series MVP honors. When Philadelphia needed Cole Hamels most, he showed up.

As a Phillie, Hamels has won 114 ball games, posting a career 3.35 ERA, a very respectable number. He’ll leave Philly with the sixth most wins in franchise history, and fourth among lefties. Cole was a part of what may be considered the greatest stretch in Phillies’ history. From 2007-2011, the Phillies won five consecutive NL East titles, appeared in three straight NLCS rounds from 2008-2010, including two trips to the World Series in 2008 and 2009, of course winning it all in 2008.

Cole Hamels was drafted by the Phillies with the 17th pick in the 2002 amateur draft, and took just three years and some days to make it to the big leagues. Hamels, a native of San Diego, California arrived on the scene with the long, flowing hair, surfer dude attitude and a likeability factor that was very hard to find. He departs Philadelphia as, in the words of Andrew Porter of CBSPhilly.com, “the epitome of it(Philadelphia), and an all-time favorite”. Porter hit the nail right on the head with that one. The once flamboyant young lefty, toughened through his years in one of the hardest cities to play for in the country, will leave a man with much praise from Philadelphians, something that is very difficult to obtain. One final time, as you embark on the newest chapter of your playing career, from myself, and all of Philadelphia, we salute you Cole. Thank you for 2008.