Why the Nationals Need to Re-Promote Trea Turner

The Washington Nationals are currently in first place in the NL East. Although their offense has been relatively solid thus far, it can still be improved. Re-promoting shortstop Trea Turner  is something that the team can do to achieve this.

Turner, 22, is considered one of the Nationals’ top prospects. Originally selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, Turner was eventually traded to Washington in the three-team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego. He started out in Double-A with the Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League, and immediately impressed people in the organization. After just 10 games, the Nationals promoted him to Triple-A Syracuse. Turner played in 48 games for the Chiefs, hitting .314 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. The Nationals called him up to the Major Leagues on August 21, 2015. In 40 at-bats, Turner hit .225.

Instead of having Turner be their starting shortstop to start the 2016 season, the Nationals optioned him to Syracuse once Spring Training ended. Danny Espinosa was named the team’s starting shortstop. Last Friday, Turner was called-up because Ryan Zimmerman needed to be placed on the paternity list. He started at second base that night when the Nationals were in Cincinnati taking on the Reds. In the game, he went 3-for-3 with a walk. However, he did not start for the rest of the weekend. His only other appearance in the series came as a pinch-runner in Saturday’s game. On Monday, the Nationals announced that Zimmerman was reinstated and Turner had been optioned back to Triple-A.

This move definitely came as a surprise to many people in DC. The Nationals could have optioned another player to Triple-A, but instead they chose Turner. Espinosa really hasn’t had a good year. He’s only batting .203 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. In 57 starts at shortstop, he has committed five errors. Despite the fact that Espinosa is hitting just over .200, Nationals manager Dusty Baker has continued to pencil him into the lineup everyday. Part of the reason for this is that he really doesn’t have many other options. Stephen Drew is considered the team’s backup shortstop. His offensive numbers are less-than-impressive as well. Drew is only hitting .207 in 58 at-bats. Besides these two players, Baker really doesn’t have any other options at shortstop. If the Nationals re-promoted Turner however, then he would.     

It’s not like Turner hasn’t been putting up good numbers in Triple-A this season. He’s had 213 at-bats with the Chiefs and is hitting .310 with three home runs and 24 RBIs. His on-base percentage is .377 while his slugging percentage is up to .460 Additionally, Turner has 19 stolen bases. There’s really no reason for the Nationals to keep waiting. Clearly, he’s ready to be promoted for good.

The Nationals are currently in a tight divisional race in the NL East with the New York Mets. If they want to take down the defending division champions, they’re going to need to put out the best offense they can everyday. For that to happen, Trea Turner needs to be with the team and in the starting lineup. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has been criticized for moves he’s made or hasn’t made in the past. This is an opportunity for him to make the right decision. If he doesn’t soon, Nationals fans will certainly continue to be on his case.

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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.

 

 

 

Week Five In The MLB: Chicago Cubs

It is now week five of the MLB season and The Chicago Cubs are still garnering serious interest across the league. In addition to their recent success, a few developments have recently come out of The North Side.

Recent Results

The Chicago Cubs still lead the overall standings at 25-8 and a .781 winning percentage. The team is still the number one team on ESPN’s weekly power rankings.

At their current pace, the Cubs can win 126 games to go 126-36. According to newsday.com, that record would beat by the next best all-time record, set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs who went 116-36, by ten games.

Despite being the best team in the game, the Chicago Cubs have shown signs of weakness recently. On March 11th, the Cubs lost a doubleheader to the San Diego Padres, a team that most of the baseball world would consider inferior to the star studded Cubs.

The Cubs lost 7-4 in the first game and 1-0 in the second game. Usually the Cubs have no problem putting up runs, but only scored five on Wednesday.

This doubleheader comes on the heels of a four game sweep of the Washington Nationals, one of the best teams in the league.  The Cubs actively avoided Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, walking him repeatedly throughout the four game series, but managed to limit his effectiveness on the bases with solid defense.

The Cubs will play division rival Pittsburg on Friday. As of May 12th, the Cubs lead the Pirates, who are second in the NL Central, by seven games, the largest gap in the MLB.

Extension for Arrieta?

The contract for Cubs ace Jake Arrieta is set to expire after next year. He will be a free agent after the 2017 season if an agreement between Arrieta and the Cubs front office is met.

Arrieta’s 1.13 ERA is the best in the league and he has entered the discussion for best pitcher in the MLB. If he does manage to become a free agent somehow, it will be difficult to replace his production.

How much it will cost to keep Arrieta at Wrigley field is unknown, but according to several sources, he is not willing to take a discount to stay with the Cubs. For reference, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg recently received a 7-year, 175-million-dollar contract.  Arrieta believes that he is worth more than Strasburg, but how much more?

No Extension For Theo, Yet

The architect behind the Chicago Cubs ascension, Theo Epstein is in the final year his contract. Epstein would be a great pickup for any team’s front office, but he is not expected to leave Chicago anytime soon.

According to CSN Chicago, Epstein believes his contract situation is a nonissue and Patrick Mooney that the players deserve to get paid first. Epstein specifically mentioned Arrieta as someone who should be a new deal before he does.

Cross Town Classic World Series?

The Cubs have the best record in the MLB, but closely behind them is their cross town rival The White Sox. The Sox are currently sitting atop the AL Central at 23-12, the 2nd best overall record in the MLB. The Sox are somewhat of a surprise are finishing 76-86 in 2015.

Just like the Cubs, the Sox have relied on the solid top three pitchers in their rotation. Chris Sale is the team’s ace. He and Jose Quintana have and ERA under 2.00. Signed in the offseason, Mat Latos has been a solid addition to the team posting a 3.40.

While both teams are very good, it is highly improbable that both will make the World Series next fall. If they do both make it, however, it would be the first time that the two teams have played against each other in the World Series since 1906, the year the Cubs posted their 116-36 record. The Sox won the series that year.

Going Forward From Here

The Cubs have only played 32 games. They still have another 130 to go. They must keep winning consistently to have a shot at the postseason. It is far too early to guarantee anyone a playoff spot.

The Cubs biggest free agent addition, Jason Heyward, has .216 average this season. Heyward has started out slow and has done so they past few years. Each time he has been able to get out of the slump. He hasn’t needed to produce superstar numbers yet, but it probably hurt the Cubs if he did.

The Cubs don’t need improvement in any one area on the diamond. They’re the best team in baseball right now and just need to keep winning. More importantly, they need to win come October when the playoffs start.

Strasburg Inks Lucrative Contract Extension With the Nationals

Stephen Strasburg will not be hitting the free agent market anytime soon.

On Tuesday, it was officially announced that Strasburg and the Nationals had agreed on a seven-year, $175 million dollar contract extension. The 27-year old right hander was set to be a free agent this coming offseason, but the Nationals decided to lock him longterm rather than have him test the waters in free agency  Considering the fact that many other teams would have been interested in him, this was definitely a good idea.

Strasburg has certainly earned his new contract. The Nationals selected him back in 2009 with the first overall pick in the MLB draft. A highly touted prospect, he made his MLB debut in June of 2010 and had immediate success, going 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts. However, he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in August, requiring Tommy John surgery. He did not return until the end of the 2011 season.

In his first full season following the surgery, Strasburg was very impressive. He won 15 games and posted an ERA of 3.16 while recording 197 strikeouts. He made 28 starts that season and was shutdown due to precautionary reasons in early September. The Nationals made the playoffs, but Strasburg did not pitch at all and the Nationals lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games in the NLDS. The decision by the Nationals’ front office to shut Strasburg down was certainly controversial among the team’s fans. However, they felt it was the necessary move to ensure that he would be healthy going forward.

In 2013, Strasburg was even more dominant. His record was only 8-9, but his ERA was 3.00. He finished ninth in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2014 after a season in which he went 14-11 with a 3.14 ERA, while recording an NL-best 242 strikeouts. He also started 34 games that year, which also led the league. Last season, Strasburg had somewhat of an off year. He won 11 games, but his ERA 3.46. That was the highest ERA he’s ever finished with in a season. Additionally, he battled through injuries and only made 23 starts.

This season, Strasburg has gotten off to a very good start. He’s made seven starts, and is 5-0 with an ERA of 2.76. His strikeout numbers have been impressive as well, as he has 58 of them in 49 innings pitched. So far, he’s pitched better than Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

Judging by the numbers, Strasburg is definitely deserving of his new contract extension. Starting next year, he’ll be making an average of $25 million per season. This contract could be the one that sets the precedent for pitchers going forward. Chicago Cubs ace and 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta has one year left of arbitration. He is set to be a free agent following the 2017 season. Earlier this week, he hinted to reporters that he’ll be asking for more money than Strasburg. In terms of years, he’s probably going to want seven as well. New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey will be a free agent following the 2018 season. Like Strasburg, Harvey has had success after having Tommy John surgery. There’s no doubt that Harvey will cash in when he finally hits the market. It’ll be interesting to see if the Cubs and Mets lock up these two aces longterm before they reach free agency.

Stephen Strasburg will not be leaving DC anytime soon. He now has am extensive lucrative contract to live up to. The Nationals and their fans are really hoping that he does.

Nationals’ Max Scherzer Joins the 20-Strikeout Club

Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer struck out 20 Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night, tying the MLB record for a nine-inning game and put him in an exclusive club with Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens.

Wood took notice and also took to Twitter to acknowledge Scherzer’s performance on the mound.

The accomplishment against his former team, Detroit, was extra special especially when you sprinkle in the fact that prior to last night’s game Scherzer had never beaten them. It also comes directly off Scherzer’s last performance, which was one of the worst of his career.

“To be able to punch out 20,” Scherzer said, “it’s sexy.”

Scherzer is the pitcher to accomplish this feat since Hall of Fame pitcher (Randy) Johnson, who did it in 2001. Scherzer also become the 4th pitcher to hit that strikeout mark in league history joining an exclusive club that includes Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson. Coincidently all of whom struck out exactly 20 hitters as well. Scherzer joined John Lackey as the only other active major league pitches to have beaten ever team in the majors.

“That’s some serious company,” said Scherzer

“Because 20 is just an unbelievable number” Scherzer stated. There’s something about 20 in this game. Twenty strikeouts, 20 wins — those are huge numbers. To be able to go out there tonight and be able to accomplish one of those, that’s a huge feat.”

Scherzer also spoke about the intensity of putting on a performance like he did.

“Tonight was an emotional game,” said Scherzer. “Facing a former team and all those guys I have so much respect for and how they play the game and how they compete. I really think the world [of] how they go out there and play the game, and so to have a game like this against that caliber of hitters on their side, that really puts a feather in my cap.”

Rookie Watch 2.0

 

Before the season began, you might recall, I offered a glimpse at possible rookie of the year candidates. Since then, a few relatively unknown rookies have burst onto the MLB scene. One has already made MLB history and the others have some fans asking “Who the heck is (insert player name here)?”.

So, without further ado, allow me to provide you with an updated ROY candidate list:

 

 

5. Kenta Maeda (Los Angeles Dodgers P)

Prior to this season, Maeda spent eight years pitching in the Japanese Central League for the Hiroshima Carp. Nevertheless, this being his first season in the majors with the Dodgers, Maeda is ROY eligible per MLB ruling, and has began his rookie campaign rather nicely.

In his first two starts this season, Maeda has thrown a total of 12 scoreless innings with a 1-0 record and eight strikeouts. Maeda also managed to hit a solo-shot home run in his major league debut, adding to his early success out west. Maeda will be someone to keep your eye on as the season unfolds.

 

4. Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers SS)

In just 27 games and 98 at bats last season with the Dodgers, Seager hit four home runs, 17RBI, and slashed an impressive .337/.425/.561. In 11 games this season the 21-year-old shortstop is off to a solid start with one home run, six RBI, and is slashing .267/.292/.714.

Seager appears to be Los Angeles’ shortstop of the future and will likely be battling with a few of these candidates for the National League ROY award at seasons end.

 

3. Jeremy Hazelbaker (St. Louis Cardinals OF)

Called up by the Cardinals on April 2nd, Hazelbaker has been on a tear to begin the season. In 11 games Hazelbaker is 13 of 32 hitting with three home runs, seven RBI, and a nasty slash line of .406/.432/.844.

If the 28-year-old can keep this pace up, or even produce at half of his current hitting rate, St. Louis will have one of the stronger outfields in the majors this year.

 

2. Tyler White (Houston Astros 1B)

Just when you thought the ‘Stros had all of their young talent on the field and they couldn’t possibly have room for more, enter first baseman Tyler White.

White has hit four home runs with 11RBI, and is slashing .395/.467/.789 through 12 games this season. White appears poised to become the Astros everyday first baseman for 2016, barring any type of major setback.

White may also run away with the American League ROY award as well, unless Minnesota Twins rookie center fielder Bryce Buxton can climb out of his current hitting slump.

 

1. Trevor Story (Colorado Rockies SS)

Story has been nothing short of sensational so far this season. The young Rockies shortstop made MLB history by becoming the only player to hit at least one home run in each of his first four career games, as well as hitting the most home runs in a teams first six games with seven.

Along with his seven dingers, Story has 13RBI and has posted a respectable .292/.314/.833 slash line in 11 games.

Story has undoubtedly caused some Colorado fans to forget about former shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and will likely edge Jose Reyes for playing time if and when Reyes returns to baseball this season.

 

Honorable Mention: Trea Turner (Washington Nationals SS/2B), Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers 3B/OF), Stephen Matz (New York Mets P),  and Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins P).

 

Final Thoughts:

Sure most, if not all, of these players will regress at some point this season.  But until then, enjoy the highlights while they’re still hot.

I’ll have another rookie revision coming your way once the calendar flips to July, and the season reaches its half way mark at the All-Star Break.

 

Bat Flip Crazy

 

In baseball, as with most sports, there are unwritten rules of the game.

 

For instance, you should never talk to a pitcher when he is throwing a no-hitter, or don’t hit-and-run when the count is 0-2. When it comes to sportsmanship, there are debates galore on what is considered to be appropriate or inappropriate. One in particular that seems to have current and former players buzzing is the art, or disgrace for some, of bat flipping.

 

While bat flipping is not new to the sport, it has become more prominent in recent years among some of the sports rising stars à la outfielder Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

 

In case you are not familiar with the action of which I’m referencing, allow me to provide you with a clip of Puig and one of his signature bat flips:

 

 

 

 (video courtesy of TBS Sports/YouTube User “LilCee354”)

As you can see in the video above, fans for the most part seem to enjoy it, as usually a bat flip follows when a batter knows the hit is a home run. But as fun as bat flipping can be, there have been instances where the action has caused quite the opposite effect.

A perfect example of this would be Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s “Bat Flip Heard ‘Round the World”. I’ll set the stage for you.

It was game five of the American League Divisional Series between the Jays and the Texas Rangers last year. With the score tied in the seventh inning at 3-3, Bautitsta launched a three-run rocket to take the lead, and the rest is, as they say, is history.

 

 

 

(Full clip of Bautista’s bat flip, and the craziness that followed. Video Courtesy of Fox Sports/YouTube User “Captain Canada”)

Flipping Out

Since then, there has been somewhat of a line in the sand drawn between players.

Speaking out against Bautista’s bat flip, Hall of Fame and former New York Yankees relief pitcher “Goose” Gossage was quoted by ESPN’s Andrew Marchand as saying:

Bautista is a —-ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes , same thing.

Bautista took the higher road in response to Gossage’ criticism:

He’s a great ambassador for the game,” Bautista told ESPN after being informed of Gossage’s comments. “I don’t agree with him. I’m disappointed that he made those comments, but I’m not going to get into it with him. I would never say anything about him, no matter what he said about me. I have too much good stuff to worry about his comments. Today is my first game [of the spring], getting ready for a new season; hopefully, we will whoop some more a**.

Gossage was later quoted as stating

Everything is good,” Gossage told reporters. “I lost my mind for a minute.

Goose isn’t the only Hall of Famer who has an issue with this “new fangled” celebration. Per Mike Axisa of MLB.com, former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench spoke out earlier this spring in regards to Bryce Harper flipping his bat, as well as Harper’s comments on how baseball has become a “tired sport”.

Below is a transcript courtesy of Randy Miller (NJ.com) and the Rich Eisen Show where Bench made the following statements:

You can flip your bat. We had guys do that … and the next time up there was chin music. And if you want to play that way, that’s fine.

“Bring back the excitement? OK, we’ll bring back the brushback pitch, the knockdown pitch. That’s all part of the excitement.”

“I know a lot of the old-timers and a lot of people who watched baseball forever would love to see somebody have a little chin music (as retaliation),” Bench said. “If you want to do that, fine. Flip the bat, run around any way you want, but just expect the next time you come up to the plate, you better watching how much you dig into that batter’s box.

 

It is not just players from the past who are commenting, though, as Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout was recently qouted saying “you will never catch him flipping his bat”.

 

This of course, is not to assume that Trout agrees with either Gossage or Bench, though the Halo’s outfielder is probably the poster boy for baseball purists.

 

On the other side of that previously mentioned line in the sand are veteran sluggers like Boston Red Sox designated hitter David “Big Papi” Oritz. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe’s own Alex Speier, Papi had this to say on the matter:

 

People want to talk about old school. I am old school,” said Ortiz. “How many [expletives] are in the game right now who played in 1997 in the big leagues?

“This game is competition. This ain’t no baby-sitting. There ain’t no crying. When somebody strikes me out, I’m not up there crying, like, ‘Boo-hoo . . . this guy’ . . . No, no, no. There’s none of that. There’s no babysitting in baseball. There’s no babysitting. If you’re going to take it like a baby, I’m going to take [you] deep again. How about that? Take it like a man and make better, quality pitches the next time I face you, and then you get [me] out, and then you do whatever the h— you want. This is competition.”

“Respect? Respect my [expletive]. I don’t have to respect nobody when I’m between those two lines. I’m trying to beat everybody when I’m between those two lines. This ain’t no crying. There’s no, ‘Let me be concerned about taking you deep.’ No.

 

As you can see, there are two schools of thought when it comes to bat flipping. This is certainly something worth keeping track of in 2016, as it will be intriguing to see who does or does not flip their bat.

 

Final Thoughts:

I personally have no issues with athletes celebrating such things as home runs, slam dunks, slap shots, or touch downs. Of course, practicing humility every once and a while is good too.

That being said, I could not resist closing this post with a walk-off bat flip clip…Korean style:

 

(Video courtesy of YouTube User “mybonet”/www.mykbo.net)

 

 

 

 

http://SportsRants.com

Can the Nationals Rebound in 2016?

The Washington Nationals were one of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball last season. They were one the favorites to win the World Series this time last year. Shockingly, the team finished 83-79 and missed the postseason completely. Now, they’re looking ahead to 2016 with the hope of a better result.

No one expected the Nationals to fall flat last season. In 2014 they finished with the best record in the National League, but lost in the NLDS to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants. Many people around baseball were optimistic that they would get further in 2015, especially after they signed 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Offensively, guys like Bryce HarperRyan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond were expected to have big years. Things didn’t go as planned however. Scherzer and Harper had to carry the team for the entire season. No one else really lived up to their potential, and the team was plagued by injuries. Even though they missed the playoffs, Harper was still names the 2015 NL MVP. Manager Matt Williams was fired just days after the regular season ended.

On November 3, the team hired Dusty Baker as their new manager. Bake has had previous managerial stints with the Giants, Cubs, and Reds. Many praised the hiring, saying that it was a step in the right direction for the Nationals. The rest of the offseason saw the team losing some of their key players. They lost one of their best pitchers, Jordan Zimmermann, in free agency to the Detroit Tigers. Ian Desmond left Washington and recently signed with the Texas Rangers. The team traded relief pitcher Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere.

The only major player the Nationals signed this offseason was second baseman Daniel Murphy. The two sides agreed on a three-year, $37.5 million deal back in January. Murphy was a major factor for the New York Mets in the playoffs last season.

Given that they didn’t make many acquisitions, it’ll be interesting to see if the Nationals can rebound this season. It would be untrue to say that they’ve gotten any better. The one player that they should have gotten rid of they didn’t. Closer Jonathan Papelbon is still on the team’s roster. Papelbon infamously choked Bryce Harper in the Nationals’ dugout during a game back on September 27. He was upset over Harper’s lack of hustle. The Nationals later suspended him four games. However, they did not release him, nor did they trade him. Papelbon and Harper are apparently on decent terms for now, but that could change quickly.

If Washington hopes to give the Mets a run for their money in the NL East in 2016, they definitely need to stay healthy. Injuries to guys like Werth, Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon really hurt the team last year. All three need to perform well if the National are going to make the playoffs. They can’t do that unless they stay on the field. Additionally, Harper is going to need to have another MVP-type season. In 2015, he batted .330 with 42 home runs and 99 RBIs. He needs to continue this success, and also needs to be a leader in the clubhouse. The team is also going to need Scherzer to pitch like he did last season. He won 14 games last year and posted a 2.79 ERA in 33 starts.

Dusty Baker needs to unify the Nationals. Obviously, he doesn’t have an easy task. His old-school style of managing might be just what the team needs. We probably won’t be seeing another dugout fight in Washington with Baker at the helm. He has to get the most out of his players. The team has a lot of talent, but it’s how they use that talent that will determine how far they go.

The Nationals have a chip on their shoulder going into the 2016 season. The Mets got all the way to the World Series last year while they underachieved and finished in second place in the division. We’ll see if they can turn last season’s failure into motivation for this upcoming season.

Rookie Watch 2016

In 2015 Major League Baseball saw a surplus of young talent emerge that included Kris Bryant (NL ROY), Carlos Correa (AL ROY), Francisco Lindor, Matt Duffy, Roberto Osuna, and that’s just to name a few.

Now that those young stars are entering their sophomore season, lets turn our attention to this years rookie class. Listed below are my top five new guys to keep an eye on in 2016.

 

Young Guns:

 

5. Trea Turner (Washington Nationals)

 

With only 40-at-bats with the Nationals last season, Turner and Washington had a very small sample of what he can do at the next level. In those at bats Turner slashed for .225/.295/.325 with a solo shot home run. While those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, his Triple-A stats from 2015 sure do.

Last season in 116 minor league games Turner had a slash line of .322/.370/.458 with eight home runs, 56 RBI, and 29 steals. Those numbers were good enough to give Turner a chance to compete for playing time this year in Spring Training.

Danny Espinosa is currently slated to start the season at shortstop for Washington, with Turner listed as second on the depth chart ahead of  MLB journeyman Stephen Drew (per MLB.com).

Espinosa, however, is being pulled from his usual position of second base to cover at shortstop for Washington.  This could lead team manager Dusty Baker to try Turner out at shortstop this season, to sure up the infield and shake up the batting order. It will of course be entirely up to Turner what happens next, if given such an opportunity.

 

4. Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers)

 

For a brief moment in 2015 it appeared that the Texas Rangers top prospect, Gallo, was going to be another rookie sensation vying for a ROY award at seasons end. But, while Gallo displayed his power hitting potential with six home runs in just 36 games for Texas, his .204 batting average ultimately led to him being sent back down to the minors (where he polished off  his minor league stats: a .240AVG, 23HR, 41R, and 63 RBI).

Gallo is currently stuck behind both Josh Hamilton in left field, Adrian Beltre at third (Gallo’s more natural position), and even Shin-Soo Choo in right field. But, if he can improve his batting average by making solid contact to go with his power ability, I don’t see why he couldn’t earn a few reps at any of those previously mentioned positions.

Especially when you consider the age of Hamilton (34), Beltre (36), and Choo (33), Gallo (22) can try to capitalize during those starters periods of rest. Much like Turner, Gallo will have to make the most of any opportunities given in 2016.

 

3.  Steven Matz (New York Mets)

 

The New York Mets had a  successful pitching staff last year, that was quite young in terms of major league mound time. A small portion of that success can be credited to Steven Matz. The lefty went 4-0 in his six regular season starts in 2015, posting a  2.27 ERA with 34 strikeouts over a total of 35 innings.

Matz notched three post-season starts as well, and despite an 0-1 post-season pitching record with a 3.64 ERA and 13 strikeouts, the 24-year-old has earned himself the number four spot in the Metz 2016 rotation.

With more chances to start on a regular basis, we should see Matz improve upon last years stats. Making the Mets’ rotation potentially one of baseball’s best in 2016, and possibly for years to come.

 

2. Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins)

 

Before his call-up by Minnesota in late August last season, Buxton slashed a successful .305/.367/.500 line with 22 stolen bases and 45 RBI in 72 minor league games.  Those numbers didn’t exactly transfer over for the remainder of the Twins 2015 schedule, however.

Buxton closed out the 2015 season with a .205/.250/.326 line in 129 major league at bats (just under the at bat requirements to still be considered a rookie this year).

Nonetheless, the Twins believe heavily in Buxton and have named him as the teams starting centerfielder for 2016.  Since Buxton gets a second chance at first impressions with Minnesota, barring a major setback, I think he has the tools, talent, and potential to become the 2016 rookie of the year in the American League.

 

1. Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers)

 

After putting up solid minor league stats in 2015 (.293/.344/.487 with 18HR and 76RBI) , the Dodgers dialed up their top prospect late last season. Seager made the most of his September call-up with Los Angeles , slashing for .337/.425/.561 (also posting an impressive .986 OPS) with four home runs and  17 RBI in just 27 games (98-total-at-bats).

Seager was so impressive, the Dodgers decided to include him on their post-season roster as well. Despite struggling similarly to the way Matz did with the Mets in the playoffs, Seager’s September showing was enough to earn him the starting job at shortstop entering 2016.

Given his short success from last year, it seems only logical to slot Seager as the National League rookie of the year favorite for 2016. With a full season in the majors ahead, it will be interesting to see what his final stat line looks like.

 

While the players listed above made their MLB debut in 2015, they are still rookies entering 2016 per the following MLB rule which states:

“A player will be considered a rookie unless A) he has exceeded 130 at bats, or pitched more than 50 innings in the majors; or B) accumulated more than 45 days on an active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit.”

Because they all fall below the aforementioned statistics, they are all eligible as ROY candidates this season.

 

Final Thoughts:

It’s possible Turner and Gallo may begin the season back in the minors, but baseball is a marathon not a sprint. Meaning over the course of 2016, either may be called upon to fill in for the guy playing just above them. As to whether or not they will make it count when given the opportunity, only time will tell.

Meanwhile for Matz, Buxton, and Seager, the mission is to prove they belong in the big leagues.

Here’s hoping the 2016 rookie race, is an exciting one to watch.

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.