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).

Chi-Sox Deal For Padres’ Shields

According to SB Nations Chris Cotillo and CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes, the Chicago White Sox have acquired pitcher James Shields via a trade with the San Diego Padres.

Thus far, the Chi-Sox pitching staff has been anchored solely by Chris Sale (9-2/2.58 ERA/78 SO) and Jose Quintana (5-5/2.13ERA/67 SO).

Meanwhile, sophomore starter Carlos Rodon (2-5/4.41 ERA/59 SO), and veteran Mat Latos (6-1/4.02 ERA/31 SO) have struggled of late.

So, the trade for Shields (2-7/4.28 ERA/57 SO) is most likely to bring stability to the rotation.

If nothing else, he’ll eat a ton of innings.

Despite his own recent struggles, Shields has pitched 200-plus innings while earning double-digit wins for nine consecutive seasons (from 2007-2015, with an average ERA of 3.70).

Meaning Shields is durable, and capable of winning his share of games for Chicago.

Considering how close the race for first place in the American League Central has become, Chicago will take any win they can get.

Currently, the White Sox (29-27) are two games behind the Kansas City Royals (30-24), with the Cleveland Indians (29-24) wedged in-between.

(Photo Credit: San Diego Union Tribune/AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

 

It’s also important to note that Chicago will be getting Shields at cost.

Per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale and Bleacher Report’s Adam Wells, the Padres will pay $29 million of the $56 million left of Shields’ four year deal, which dates back to February of 2015.

As for what San Diego received from the deal, per the San Diego Union Tribune’s Dennis Lin, the Padres got minor leaguers Fernando Tatis Jr. and Erik Johnson.

Before this Saturday swap, the 33-year-old veteran was scheduled to start opposite Colorado Rockies pitcher Jon Gray this Sunday.

The White Sox have next Monday off, and Shields could potentially replace Sox pitcher Miguel Gonzalez (scheduled to start Wednesday June 8th), to make his first appearance with Chicago, during the teams interleague series against the Washington Nationals which begins the following Tuesday (June 7th).

Final Thoughts:

All in all, this deal should pan out for the White Sox.

Chicago isn’t investing too much contract wise with Shields, and merely gave up a pair of unproven prospects.

Best case scenario, Shields bounces back to his old form with a new team. Worst case scenario, he fails to reach nine wins this season, and only pitches 175-plus innings of work.

Either way, Shields could be the difference between the Chi-Sox winning their first division crown since 2008, or making the post-season via one of the two AL Wild Card spots.

An Amazing “Story”

If you are an MLB fan and you have not heard about Colorado Rockies short stop Trevor Story yet, I’ll assume you have been on a camping trip this week with no connection to the outside world whatsoever.

Story leads the majors thus far in home runs with an incredible total of six, and has accomplished something that no other player in the history of the game has done.  Earlier this week, Story became the only MLB player to hit at least one home run in each of his first three (now four) career games, and is the first player since Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis in 2013, to homer in his first four games of the season per ESPN’s David Schoenfield.

This incredible feat began when the young short stop slapped a pair of home runs in his MLB debut with Colorado, in the Rockies opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, off pitcher Zack Greinke. Story continued his long-ball streak by blasting a homer each off of D-Backs pitchers Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin.

 

 

(Clip of Trevor Story’s first two career home runs in his MLB debut. Video is Courtesy of MLB.com’s YouTube Account)

 

 

By all accounts, that would have been more than enough for most rookies, but Story isn’t done yet.

The Rockies celebrated Opening Day at hitter friendly Coors Field this afternoon (April 8th) taking on the San Diego Padres, who were coming off a forgettable, yet historical opening series shutout at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And wouldn’t you know it, Story sent San Diego pitcher Colin Rea’s first offer packing in the bottom of the fourth inning, and homered again off of one of the Padres relief pitchers, Ryan Buchter, in the bottom of the ninth inning for his fifth and sixth home run of the year. Rewriting the record books a second time in the same week.

Story will have a chance to make it an unbelievable five consecutive games in a row tomorrow evening. The Rockies are scheduled to play their second contest of a three game series against San Diego at 8:10 p.m. EST. Drew Pomeranz is listed as the probable pitcher for the Padres.

 

Final Thoughts:

Eventually, possibly as early as tomorrow night’s game, Story’s home run streak will come to an end. Nevertheless, this has certainly been fun to watch and no doubt has Story on everyone’s early Rookie of the Year Award list (which reminds me, I should probably update mine).

Colorado fans were undoubtedly worried at the beginning of this season concerning the short stop position. What with last seasons drama-filled departure of Troy Tulowitzki to the Toronto Blue Jays, which brought over Jose Reyes as his replacement, and Reyes currently in the midst of a court case regarding a domestic violence incident that occurred earlier this year (though reports indicate the case may soon be settled).

Story has restored a little faith to the fans thus far, and is making one helluva case for coaches to keep himself playing above Reyes, if and when Reyes returns to the team this season.

San Diego Padres Set New Record For Ineptitude

These are not the kind of records you want to be associated with, but the San Diego Padres have set a new record for ineptitude. No MLB squard has ever been as futile in its first three games as the Sand Diego Padres have been.

In fact, with the 7-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, the Padres set the MLB mark with 27 consecutive scoreless innings to open a season. The old mark was 26 by the 1943 St. Louis Browns, according to Stats LLC.

On the flip side the Dodgers became the first team since the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals to post three consecutive shutouts to open a season, outscoring San Diego 25-0 in the series.

“There is still perspective here, not to be lost,” rookie Padres manager Andy Green said. “We still do have 159 games left, and we will score runs this year. And we will win series this year.”

San Diego may have a legit bone to pick with the umps. In the 6th inning, San Diego’s Cory Spangenberg was called out trying to score on a grounder to first which would have scored a run. A replay appeared to show Spangenberg got his foot across the plate before being tagged by Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, but after a 3-minute review the call was upheld.

“The reality is this: We had ample opportunities to score runs, and I’m not going to cry about a call that is made in New York,” Green said, referring to MLB’s replay center in New York. “We had two chances with a guy on third base, and we hit two soft ground balls. That is our opportunity.”

“These guys, to a man, have prepared, and that’s what we talked about in spring training is taking ownership,” Dodgers’ manager Roberts said. “I think that once you start with Clayton Kershaw and setting the tone for the pitching staff, then these guys feed off each other. This is where it gets really fun.”

Los Angeles has benefited from dominant pitching. Kershaw allowed one hit over seven innings on  Monday, Scott Kazmir gave up one hit over six innings on Tuesday and Kenta Maeda made his major league debut Wednesday with five hits allowed over six more scoreless innings while also hitting a homerun.

When asked if his pitching performance or the homerun was more special, Maeda responded by saying:

“That’s a tough one, “I’m just very happy that I got a W in my major league debut.”

“I’m happy for him, and he’s been great all spring training,” Kershaw said of Maeda. “He’s an awesome guy. I know that it probably feels good to get that first one out of the way. He looked great. He did everything we thought he could do and even hit a homer, so that’s going to be tough to match.”

“It was a great moment for him, a great moment for a club and one of those things that can bring a ballclub together,” Ellis said regarding Maeda’s home run. “A lot of us were excited for him, but a lot of us were upset that he hit a home run before us.”

“It will come. It was just three games, three bad games,” Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner said. “But I believe in these guys in the locker room and I believe in myself, and there’s no doubt we will come out of it. It’s tough any time you lose but especially to those guys. I mean, we play 162 games, and it’s one bad series. We just got to play better from here on out.”

Potential Landing Spots For Lincecum

There was a time when current free-agent pitcher Tim Lincecum was referred to as “The Freak”. From 2008 to 2011 Lincecum won two Cy Young awards while posting a 62-36 win loss record, 977 strikeouts, and an average ERA of 2.81.

Since then, Lincecum’s numbers have significantly declined as his 2012-2015 win loss record was 39-42 with an average ERA of 4.60. After undergoing hip surgery in September of 2015 and no longer a member of the San Francisco Giants (as his contract expired in 2015), Lincecum is looking for a new home in 2016.

The regular season is fast approaching,  but a showcase date to see what the right hander can still offer has yet to be announced. Lincecum though, has reportedly been pitching in private sessions out west and his agent, Rick Thurman, claims that 20 MLB teams have asked for the 31-year-olds medical information (per Yahoo Sports Israel Fehr).

So, despite a declining stat sheet and injury concerns, it sounds like more than a few teams may be interested in the nine year veteran.  But, instead of guessing who those 20 teams might be, I thought it better to provide a list of ballclubs that are most likely to sign “Big Time Timmy Jim”. Let’s get to it then.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Bucs already have a more than capable starting rotation of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Neise, Jeff Locke, and Ryan Vogelsong entering this season. However, with the National League Central likely being extremely competitive again this year, it wouldn’t hurt the Pirates to take out a flier on Lincecum.

Lincecum could add depth to either the bullpen or rotation, and when the calendar hits August, a playoff hopeful team like Pittsburgh would relish being able to rest a starter or reliever and send Lincecum to the hill instead.

Also, Lincecum would be re-united with his former Giants teammate in Vogelsong. The two pitched together for San Francisco from 2011 to 2015.

 

Miami Marlins

Since former Marlins closer Steve Cishek’s self-destruction in 2015, Miami is left with only A.J. Ramos to take over in the ninth this year. Factor in losing expected set-up man Carter Capps to season ending Tommy John surgery, and the Fins might want to consider adding Lincecum as bullpen insurance.

Like the Pirates above, Lincecum could also be used as a change of pace for the Marlins pitching staff, or even earn the fifth and final starting rotation spot.

 

San Diego Padres

According to MLBTradeRumors.com and the San Diego Tribune’s Dennis Lin, the Padres have been “aggressively pursuing” the right hander for his services. It makes sense for San Diego to be targeting Lincecum, seeing as he is very familiar with the National League West division.

Lincecum could be used not only for pitching depth, but also as someone in the clubhouse who can provide guidance for Padres pitchers like Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.

 

(Photo courtesy of Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

(Photo courtesy of Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

 

Kansas City Royals

You may be wondering why the Kansas City Royals are being mentioned in this post. Remember those private pitching sessions I mentioned earlier? Well, according to MLB.com’ Jon Heyman, the reigning World Series champions discovered Lincecum’s secret throwing spot recently, and were politely escorted out.

So, why would a team with a solid pitching staff and one of the MLB’s best bullpens be looking at Lincecum you ask?

For starters, the Royals have lost reliever Greg Holland for most if not the entire 2016 season, as he underwent Tommy John surgery late last season. Add the departure of short-term starter Johnny Cueto in free agency this off-season, and Kansas City could use an experienced arm for good measure.

Granted, the team still has a great pen in-tact with Wade Davis & Co. and their rotation can no doubt get the job done in 2016. Still, the fact that team scouts are sneaking to see what Lincecum looks like is stimulating enough.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore certainly had an interesting off-season that included signing veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo, thinking they signed and then losing out on free agent Dexter Fowler, and most recently inking former Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez to a deal .

Those moves, would lead me to believe the Orioles are still trying to figure out their 40-man roster, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lincecum become their next target.

If the O’s were to add Lincecum, he could provide Baltimore some breathing room in the event Gallardo doesn’t pan out, or if the Zach Britton lead bullpen suffers a setback.

Also, since the O’s and Giants share a similar uniform color scheme, we already know Tim looks good in orange and black.

 

Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles currently has two of their starting pitchers dealing with injuries this spring, and it could have a significant impact on the regular season rotation. Veterans Jered Weaver (neck) and C.J. Wilson (left shoulder) are listed as questionable to begin pitching by April.

Wilson and Weaver are currently shown as the second and third starters behind Garrett Richards on the depth chart (per MLB.com). In the event either of their injuries linger longer than expected, or should the ailments resurface this season, the Angels could do a lot worse than Tim Lincecum in trying to stabilize the pitching staff.

 

Honorable Mention: The Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, and Colorado Rockies.

 

Final Thought:

Tim Lincecum is far from “The Freak “on the mound that he once was. But after watching the resurgance of Scott Kazmir and Bartolo Colon in 2015, I don’t see why Lincecum can’t be next in line for a comeback.

http://SportsRants.com

Top Ten Current MLB Droughts

It’s been said time and again that “Good things come to those who wait.” and “Patience is a virtue”. While those statements can certainly prove themselves to be true for most people, fans of the teams listed in this post may have a bone to pick with those proverbs. Heck for some fans, their patience has been stretched so thin, you could use it as fishing line.

WARNING: Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, and Rangers fans may not wish to continue reading (and nobody would blame you). For everyone else still reading, I won’t keep you waiting. Lets dive into the top ten MLB droughts:

 

10. Baltimore Orioles

While the O’s were able to end a post-season appearance drought of 17 years back in 2014 (previous appearance was in 1997), they are still enduring a World Series title drought dating back to 1983 (32 years). Couple that with the string of last and fourth place finishes throughout their previous 17 year playoff drought, and the fans of Camden Yards are left clamoring for a championship. If nothing else to finally have some bragging rights over the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who have won four of the last 10 World Series.

Finishing last year at 81-81 (.500 on the dot) and in third place in the AL East, Baltimore’s chances of ending that 32 year drought, in my opinion, is much like last years finish, 50/50.

 

9. Pittsburgh Pirates

Much like the Orioles, the Bucs ended their previous playoff drought of 20 years back in 2013, and just this past season had fans thinking they’d be raising the jolly roger flag in the World Series for the first time since 1979. Pittsburgh won 98 games in 2015, but saw their impressive season end abruptly after a 4-0 loss to the Cubs in the National League Wild Card game. This caused a 35 year old World Series drought to turn 36.

Despite being cellar dwellers in the National League Central during the majority of that previous 20 year playoff drought, the Bucs are now making the playoffs consistently. So maybe, just maybe, their World Series drought is close to being quenched.

 

8. Seattle Mariners

While the Mariners may have recently had another former star enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Ken Griffey Jr., something  you won’t find in Cooperstown is a Mariners World Series trophy. That’s because since entering the league in 1977 (39 years ago), Seattle has never won the fall classic.

The Mariners 2001 season in which they won an MLB record 116 wins, along with the National League West division, is by far the franchises one shining moment amongst a collection of otherwise forgettable seasons. With 2001 being the last time the M’s made the playoffs, they currently have the longest post-season drought at 14 years. Despite some nice off-season acquisitions over past few seasons, and a solid pitching rotation headed by “King” Felix Hernandez, Seattle fans will likely remain sleepless for years to come.

 

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

 

7. San Diego Padres

Padres fans share a similar pain with Seattle in that they too have never experienced their team winning a World Series. Fans of the Fathers have suffered a bit longer though than the folks in Seattle. With the Padres entering the league back in 1969, San Diego’ drought stands at 47 years. To make matters worse, unless the Padres can pull of their best season since 2006 in 2016, it will be 10 years since San Diego last won the NL West.

San Diego can take some solace in knowing that they aren’t the only team to have a 47 year old championship drought. The next two teams on this list also have never won the big one in their franchises existence either.

 

6. Milwaukee Brewers

Like San Diego, Milwaukee has also never won a World Series since entering the MLB in 1969 (47 years). Additionally, the Brewers have never won a National League Pennant since joining the NL in 1998. The last time the Brewers did win a Pennant (1982), they were still in the American League. Bringing the total pennant drought for Milwaukee to 33 years.

As if those stats aren’t sad enough for fans of the Brew Crew, Milwaukee finished last years tumultuous, injury riddled 2015 season at 68-95 in fourth place of the NL Central. What’s ahead for 2016?

All signs point to them battling for who gets top bunk at the bottom of the division, with the Cincinnati Reds this year. My prediction, more of the same pain for the foreseeable future.

 

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

5. Washington Nationals

Entering last year, the Nationals were odds on favorites to win their first World Series in franchise history. As you’ve probably caught on to the theme of this post by now, things went sour for Washington in 2015. By the time the post-season arrived, the Nationals were on the outside looking in.

Like the aforementioned Brewers,  Washington has also never won a National League Pennant. Bringing their drought total to 47 years for both a pennant and a title. Fans of this franchise are used to waiting however.

This is because there was a 33 year absence of the teams existence in our nations capital from 1972-2005 (In 72′ the Washington Senators left DC for Fort Worth to become the Texas Rangers).

2015 aside, I feel that Bryce Harper & Co. can certainly rebound in 2016 and vie for the franchises first championship.

 

4. Houston Astros

After losing to the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series, the Astros started to slip in the standings steadily from 2006-2010. Then from 2011-2013 they managed to finish last in both the NL Central (2011-2012) and American League West divisions (2013, switching from the NL to the AL). In 2014 they avoided a fourth straight last place finish by placing fourth a few games ahead of the Rangers.

When you add that slump to a 54 year World Series drought, it doesn’t exactly cause your fan base to believe it will end anytime soon. However, finishing in last place year after year doesn’t have to be all bad.

The Astros have used their top draft picks and made a few savvy free agent signings over those years, to build a playoff caliber team that surprised many last year. Houston bowed out, however, in the American League Divisional Series to the Kansas City Royals (The Royals would go on to win it all and end their 30 year title drought) .

Only time will tell if the Astros can continue their 2015 success story and possibly put an end to their Texas sized title drought.

 

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers surged last year on their way to edging the Astros in the AL west to claim the division for the third time in five years. Coincidently, they also edge Houston on this list by one year as their drought for a World Series title stands at 55 years.

Although fans have been experiencing a yo-yo affect with Texas’ seasonal outcomes of late (Nearly winning it all in 2011, then finishing last in 2014), the Rangers seem to be only a few pieces of the puzzle away from putting together a championship team.

It will certainly be interesting to see if these Texas teams continue to shine in 2016, as both fan bases could use some reassurance that things are looking up.

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

2. Cleveland Indians

There’s no denying the state of Texas has suffered over the years when it comes to professional baseball, but no sports city in the country has suffered more than Cleveland. Enter the Cleveland Indians, whose fans are apart of a Tribe that’s endured a 67 year long World Series drought. The last time the Indians won a World Series, was way back in 1948.

Despite multiple fall classic appearances in the late 90’s, the Tribe tripped and stumbled each time leading them to an 18 year AL Pennant drought as well. The closest Cleveland has come recently to ending both droughts was in 2007, when they lost a seven game ALCS to the Boston Red Sox.

Hope, however, may be on the horizon for Chief Wahoo and the city of Cleveland. According to another Sports Rants contributor, the Indians  are the AL’s sleeper team in 2016.

 

1. Chicago Cubs

If I had a dollar for every year a Chicago Cubs fan said “This is the year, we’re winning the World Series” I would have $107. When you have to go back farther than an entire century to find your teams last World Series title (1908), superstitions, curses, even supernatural events start to become believable.

To put this into perspective, the last time the Cubs won a title the president was Theodore Roosevelt, gas was 20 cents a gallon, and the number one song was “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (per the Huffington Post).

Chicago like Cleveland, has also suffered playoff collapses and heartache during their drought (see the Steve Bartman Incident from 2003). To make matters worse, as if the drought and playoff fiascos haven’t been enough, the city of Chicago has already seen a drought end. The Cubs longtime rival Chicago White Sox  (mentioned earlier in this post) defeated the Astros in 2005 to end their title drought of 87 years.

Despite all of this, the 2016 Cubs actually appear to be in a position to finally put that old Billy goat to bed. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see, but at least fans of this franchise have some hope again.

 

Final Thought:

While these droughts have no doubt been daunting for each respective franchise, we’ve seen a number of teams end their  post-season and World Series woes over the last 15 seasons. So, whether it’s been a few decades or over a century, just remember, there’s always next year.

 

The Wild Wild West: The NL West is Having One Crazy Offseason

The MLB winter meetings kicked off monday in Nashville, and the teams in the NL west did not waste any time wheeling and dealing, with tons of newsworthy deal made by these teams, and they probably were not the last.

It all started with Zack Greinke. Greinke had a career year in 2015, finishing with a 1.66 ERA and a 19-3 record. Greinke knew that he was going to have a good payday this offseason, and for all intents and purposes it seemed like he was going to go back to the Dodgers. Dodgers Minority owner Magic Johnson said that re-signing Greinke was the Dodgers “number one priority.”  But the Diamondbacks shocked the baseball world with their eleventh hour push and signed Greinke for a six year-$206 million dollar megadeal . The Diamondbacks were considered the longest of long shots by many, as it was reported that the Diamondbacks offered Johnny Cueto a six year-$160 million deal that he turned down.

The Dodgers have responded with some moves of their own this offseason. They started off by penning Dave Roberts as their new manager, and they also made some key personal decisions. They resigned second baseman Chase Utley and catcher A.J Ellis to respective one year deals, and pitcher Brett Anderson accepted his $15.8 million qualifying offer . They also went out and got some pitching talent, as they signed free agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, and then thought that they had Aroldis Chapman.

And for all intents and purposes, the Dodgers did have Chapman. Apparently both the Dodgers and Reds had worked out a deal for Chapman, but then the trade was held up once word of a domestic violence incident involving Chapman got out. Chapman allegedly fired eight shots in his Miami-area home during an argument with his girlfriend, and then choked her. This obviously is a problem that is bigger than Baseball, and the Commissioner office needs to take a good hard look at the situation, and see if these accusations against Chapman are true, and if they are, they need to punish him accordingly.

(John Minchillo, AP Photo)

(John Minchillo, AP Photo)

Iwakuma was not the only pitcher who was brought onto an NL West team. The Giants shored up their pitching rotation by signing Jeff Samardzija to a five year-$90 deal . Samardzija had a down year last year, finishing with an 11-13 record and a 1.96 E.R.A. But the Giants are betting on the fact that he will replicate his 2014 campaign, where he finished with a 7-9 record but a stellar 2.99 E.R.A. The Giants also resigned Brandon Crawford to a six year-$75 million deal to compliment their young core of Crawford, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Joe Panik.

(Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY)

(Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY)

The Padres are having a relatively quiet offseason this year, compared to the absolute fire sale that they had last season. They dealt Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for a package of four prospects that could prove to a win-win trade for both teams. They also sent reliever Marc Rzepczynski and 1B Yonder Alonso to Oakland. They could also end up dealing Matt Kemp by the time that the offseason is said and done.

The Rockies have had a quiet offseason as well, but are “open minded” to dealing away outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon.

Now the Diamondbacks have really made their push for the NL West crown. The Diamondbacks already have baseballs most underrated star in Paul Goldschmidt, and  compliment him with a very good core of A.J Pollock, Aaron Hill, and Chris Owings.

Last year the Diamondbacks were an ace away from contending for the NL West crown. They have killed two birds with one stone this offseason, as they added one of the best pitchers in baseball,and took him away from the Dodgers. It’s going to be another interesting ride on the West Coast this year, and the baseball world can not wait.

 

Corey Seager Is The Real Deal

On Thursday, September third, Corey Seager made his highly anticipated debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seager, a 21 year old shortstop, is widely considered a top five prospect in baseball and the consensus number one prospect for the Dodgers. In his first game Seager did not disappoint, and finished 2-4 with a double, two runs scored and two runs batted in, while batting in the eighth spot in the lineup.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers lost that night to the San Diego Padres 10-7, but the next night they rebounded as Seager went 2-5 with an RBI in the fifth spot in the lineup and the Dodgers won the game 8-4. Seager helped propel the Dodgers to a five game winning streak and the Dodgers have gone 8-4 with Seager in the lineup. The Dodgers now lead the second place San Francisco Giants by 7.5 games and their young shortstop has been a catalyst for the ball club.

Seager has the tools to hit at any spot in the lineup and he fits perfectly in the number five hole behind Adrian Gonzalez. Inserting Seager into the fifth spot behind Gonzalez has given the clean up hitter good plate protection. The Dodgers should stick with him batting in the fifth spot moving forward, as catchers Yasmani Grandal and AJ Ellis are better suited batting in the sixth or seventh spots because Seager is a better contact hitter.

In his twelve games with the Dodgers, Seager has been on fire at the plate and is hitting .419 in 43 at bats with one home run, seven runs batted in and a .628 slugging percentage. The shortstop is yet another great young player that has been as good as advertised and will be a big part of the Dodgers post season run this year.

Seager is 6 foot 4 inches and weighs 205 pounds. The left handed hitter is tall, but slim with room to bulk up and Seager has the potential to hit thirty home runs a year with his powerful swing. Seager has good plate discipline and has already walked 9 times in 12 games and has only struck out four times.

The Dodgers are set with a potential perennial all-star at the shortstop position and with Julio Urias, a fellow top five prospect in baseball and a flame throwing lefty, a year away from the major leagues there is no reason to expect the Los Angeles ball club to falter in the next few seasons. Los Angeles has a strong chance to make the World Series in 2015, but they have just as good of a shot in the seasons beyond.

In the next few years the Dodgers will be led by a core centered around Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias. That is a team that has veteran leadership combined with talented youth and Seager has all of the tools to be the centerpiece of the Dodgers lineup. Even though it is early, there is no doubt in my mind that Corey Seager is headed for a long, successful all-star career.

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The Perils Of Preseason Predictions

We do it every year. It’s March or early April and we are excited about the upcoming season of our favorite baseball team. We read any article we can get our hands on about playoff predictions, hoping our team will be considered by the experts around the baseball universe as playoff-worthy. We get excited when we read that multiple experts pick our team to win the division and make a playoff run. Our expectations rise and rise as the season approaches.

As someone who has been a lifelong San Diego Padres fan, I say…”never again.”

Things have not gone according to plan so far in the MLB season. The New York Mets are on the brink of winning the NL East, Yasiel Puig has missed about 50 games and is hitting under .250 and the Boston Red Sox are in dead last.

According to an ESPN article in April , almost half of the writers picked the Washington Nationals to win the World Series. They are .500 and at risk of missing the playoffs altogether. The Yankees and Blue Jays were picked third and fourth most likely to win the AL East and now it looks like a two-horse race between those two teams.

Jun 13, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon (3) and third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) collide while trying to catch a foul ball during the third inning of game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-215208 ORIG FILE ID: 20150613_blue_jays_vs_red_sox_066.jpg

Jun 13, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon (3) and third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) collide while trying to catch a foul ball during the third inning of game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-215208 ORIG FILE ID: 20150613_blue_jays_vs_red_sox_066.jpg

Boston Red Sox

The team that everyone was picking to win the division was the Boston Red Sox. With the additions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, they looked to be in for another worst-to-first season. Things have not worked out. Sandoval has been hovering around .250 and finally hit his 10th home run.

Ramirez has been nothing short of a liability defensively in left field and is hitting .200 without a home run since the All-Star break. The Red Sox are also dead last in the AL in pitching with a 4.75 ERA with one of the worst starting rotations.

By USA Today

By USA Today

Cleveland Indians

The Indians were the majority pick to overthrow the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. They were also picked by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series.  They currently sit dead last in the division, seven games below .500. Their pitching has been almost as expected but the offense just has not been there.

They have not been able to hit when it counts (.239 avg w/ RISP, 26th in MLB and at .185 w/ RISP and two outs, dead last in AL). Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes have been disappointing, both hitting below .230. They are 16 games back of a Royals team that is over 12 games better than anyone else in the division.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners were picked by many, including ESPN and Sports Illustrated to win the AL West. The Houston Astros didn’t even receive a single vote. Houston currently holds a 3 1/2 game lead over the Angels and the Mariners are all about out of it sitting 11 1/2 games back and 11 games below .500.

They put Nelson Cruz on a team that was nearly fully intact after missing the playoffs by one game. Surely this meant they would get over the hump and make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Not so. However, it  isn’t Cruz’s fault who leads the universe with 37 home runs and is hitting .322, a rare combo of power and average.

It has been the rest of the lineup and the pitching that has sunk the Mariners (pun intended). For the majority of the season their $200 million second baseman Robinson Cano was hovering around .240 with hardly any power to show for it. He finally has snapped out of it but it’s too little too late.

Felix Hernandez has had a good season but he has been absolutely shellacked on multiple outings. Most recently, he allowed 10 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings against the lowly Red Sox. That is how 2015 has gone for the Mariners.

By Associated Press

By Associated Press

Miami Marlins

This is not the first time the Marlins have flirted with us. They acquired Mike Morse, Mat Latos, Dee Gordon among others for a big playoff push. Only the latter remains on the team as they other two have been shipped off. They fired their manager after 38 games.

Dan Jennings is 34-50 after replacing Mike Redmond. Miami is 26th in runs scored this season. They also rank 21st in starting rotation ERA. The Fish received multiple votes to win the division and many votes to win a Wild Card spot. However, things have not clicked at that circus of a ballpark in South Beach.

(By USA TODAY)

(By USA TODAY)

San Diego Padres

As a native San Diegan, this one hurts. We all saw the offseason shopping spree that GM A.J. Preller went on, acquiring five All-Stars and a former Rookie of the Year. A year after having one of the worst offenses in major league history, the Padres finally had a lineup that would make opposing pitchers sweat a bit. They were picked to challenge the Dodgers in the NL West and more than likely win a Wild Card spot.

That lineup has delivered, at least better than last year’s dumpster fire. They have already surpassed their home run total from last year (109 last year, 111 in 2015). This year they are in the middle of the pack in many offensive categories as opposed to last.

The lineup has not been the issue. Oddly, it has been the pitching. They are 21st in bullpen ERA, a rare sight for a team normally in the top 10. Craig Kimbrel had a rough start but has settled down and now is third in the MLB in saves with 35. Bud Black was the casualty of a mediocre season and Pat Murphy has taken over for the recently fired Padres skipper.

(By USA TODAY)

(By USA TODAY)

Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper asked for his World Series ring after the Nationals acquired starting pitcher Max Scherzer. They may not even win the division much less make the playoffs now. Bryce Harper has been playing out of his mind (.329 avg, 31  HRs) and Max Scherzer has been pitching lights out (no-hitter, 201 Ks, 2.79 ERA). That’s about it. They have not gotten much help.

They are at risk of losing the division to the Mets. They are shockingly struggling to be at .500 and look up to the Mets with a gap of 5 games. If this team can’t gel in the next 6 weeks, this could be one of the biggest disappointments in recent memory.

If I have learned one thing this year, it is that preseason predictions mean nothing and we should not get ourselves all worked up if our team is picked to win the division or more. The expectations only get higher and the disappointments that much more bitter when things don’t go according to  the experts’ picks.

So, let’s all apply what we have learned this season. If you have a favorite NFL team or college football team about to start their respective seasons in the coming weeks, this applies to you as well. Preseason hype believers beware.

 

 

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Making The Case For Anthony Rizzo As NL MVP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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