Cubs Just One Win Away from the World Series

Any doubt the baseball world had about the Cubs throughout the entirety of the NLDS against the Giants and the first three games of the NLCS against the Dodgers is slowly beginning to fade away. Despite their offense all but shutting down over the javier-baezcourse of the playoffs to this point, the Cubs have been able to post 18 combined runs over their last two games, once again making them the heavy favorites in this postseason.

Sitting now just one win away from their first World Series appearance since 1945, the Cubs are on the verge of a season not seen in over seven decades. With the team to win game five of the NLCS going on to the World Series nine out of the last ten seasons, it’s all but assured — baring another Steve Bartman incident — that the Cubs will be celebrating big time come either Saturday or Sunday night.

But in order to make the World Series and have any amount of success in it, the Cubs will obviously need to continue hitting. Their pitching has been only decent to this point — other than Jon Lester, who has been phenomenal — and their offense has been far worse. Javier Baez has been tremendous to this point, as has Kris Bryant, but their other stars during the season of Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell are all hitting well under .200 thus far.

However, despite their struggles, I am with the majority of baseball fans who still believe in the Cubs and their ability to get the job done. Perhaps the past two games of the NLCS have given them enough confidence to keep the hit-parade going in the next dozen days or so. Although they must face Clayton Kershaw on Saturday, having to win just one of the final two games at home, the Cubs should make the World Series when all is said and done, even if it takes a full seven games.

How far beyond that they go is yet to be seen, but the Cubs have come much too far to stop now. Even if their pitching and offense aren’t on the levels they were over the length of the 162-game season, they still stand a good chance of giving the overachieving Indians a run for their money.

We very well could be just days away from it being 1908 all over again.

Surprisingly Good and Bad Performances from 2016

In baseball — much like in life — surprises can be really good or they can be really bad. A good surprise in baseball might be a player or team having an unpredicted breakout season, while a bad surprise may be defined as a team or player destined for great things having a below average year. The 2016 season has had plenty of both throughout the entire stretch.

With just over a week left until the last games of the season leading up to the playoffs, a lot has taken place that can be deemed as good surprises or bad surprises. Having said that, I wanted to take the time to go over six hitters, six pitchers and six teams who surprised the baseball world in good or bad ways, keeping in mind that it is by no means a record of all the players who fit each category, nor is it the very top options in some cases. It’s simply a broad overview meant to recap the season as a whole.

HITTERS

Surprisingly Good: Brian Dozier, Brad Miller and Adam Duvall

Over the past several seasons, Brian Dozier has been one of the best second basemen in all of baseball. However, this season, he has broken out as arguably the best second baseman in baseball. With a previous career high of 28 home runs coming last year, Dozier has been even better this season, having knocked 42 so far — the most in American League history for a second baseman. Despite the Twins having the worst record in baseball, Dozier has been a huge surprisingly bright spot in Minnesota.miller

On the same theme, Brad Miller has been the biggest standout on the Rays, with the exception of All-Star Evan Longoria. Hitting 30 homers to this point in the year, Miller has blasted more round-trippers this campaign than he had over the past three seasons (343 games) combined. For that reason, Miller has been a great surprise to Tampa Bay. Whether Miller will be this type of player moving forward or is simply having a career-year, there is little argument that he wasn’t expected to be this good when the season began.

The final player on my list is Adam Duvall. After winning a World Series ring with the Giants back in 2014, Duvall has spent the last two years in Cincinnati, where he has turned out to be an extremely productive player. After playing in just 27 games last season, in which Duvall managed to hit just 5 home runs, this season has seen Duvall breaking out to record 31 blasts. It surely was surprising to see Duvall break out in the way he did, but it certainly was of the good surprise variety for the Reds and their fans.

Surprisingly Bad: Mark Teixeira, Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper

Mark Teixeira announced earlier this season that 2016 would be his final year, but he’s not going out with a bang as many of baseball’s greats have before him. Unlike his fellow retiree David Ortiz, who has recorded one of the best years in baseball history for a player 40 or older, Teixeira hasn’t been able to hit even a mere .200 and has notched only 13 homers and 38 RBI’s in 2016. Following 2015, in which Tex managed 31 homers, his year has definitely been a bad surprise for the Yankees. Even so, he is still one of the best players in recent baseball history, having hit over 400 homers in his career.heyward

When the Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year, 184 million dollar contract leading up to this season, he was obviously expected to put up All-Star numbers for Chicago. However, he has somewhat surprisingly been pretty horrible, quite frankly. Only managing to record seven home runs and a .230 average, Heyward has yet to get things going, now nearly six months into the season. Given, Heyward can turn things around with the playoffs looming, but it would take a lot for that to happen where things stand now.

Bryce Harper’s 24 home runs and 82 home runs would be a great season for any number of players around Major League Baseball. But by Harper’s standards — set last season with his MVP-earning 42 homers — Harper is having a surprisingly bad year, seeing his batting average drop nearly an entire 100 points from a year ago. There have been rumors that Harper has been playing through an injury all season long, but that’s being denied by Harper. Whether or not it’s true, Harper — who was expected to be in the running for a second straight MVP — is still having a surprisingly down year by all accounts.

PITCHERS

Surprisingly Good: Kyle Hendricks, Tanner Roark and Steven Wright

Part of a rotation that includes the likes of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks has surprisingly been the best pitcher of the Cubs’ entire rotation. Over the course of 28 games started for the Cubs, Hendricks has notched a mere 2.06 ERA — the best in all of baseball. By doing so, Hendricks has helped to lead the Cubs to the best record in baseball and what looks to have all the makings of a postseason run. Although it’s yet to be seen whether or not this is actually the year for the Cubs, it has certainly been the year for Kyle Hendricks.roark

Tanner Roark has been an average to above average pitcher for the Nationals over the past few years, but this season Roark has truly broken out. Holding a 2.70 ERA over 200.1 innings pitched, Roark has kept the Nats push towards October strong, despite the loss of Stephen Strasburg for a good chunk of the season, and inevitably the final several weeks. It very well may come down the Roark’s ability to keep his surprisingly good performance going in order to keep the Nationals going deep into the postseason.

I’ve been bringing up the name Steven Wright all season long, and for good reason. Despite being a knuckleballer, Wright has been one of the top surprises in terms of pitchers this season for the Red Sox. Although his historic start to the season has slowly dwindled away as the year progressed, Wright’s 3.30 ERA is still good enough to make this list. Although he is currently working to battle his way back from an injury, Wright has still recorded enough innings to prove himself to all of baseball that he is a true weapon moving forward.

Surprisingly Bad: Chris Archer, Shelby Miller and Zack Greinke

Chris Archer broke out in 2015 to be one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, and was set to be the Rays’ ace moving into this season. But after getting off to a poor start to begin the year, Archer hasn’t been able to get much of anything going with only one more start remaining. The strikeouts are still there, as he has produced over ten strikeouts per nine innings on the year; and with the Rays’ poor collective season, Archer’s 19 losses are somewhat deceiving. But his 4.02 ERA can’t be ignored, especially following his Cy Young eligible season last year.miller

Being traded to the Diamondback’s this past offseason in exchange for Dansby Swanson, who has gone from 2015 first overall draft pick to star in the big leagues, Shelby Miller has been one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball this year. Having never recorded a full-season ERA above 3.74 heading into this year, Miller has posted an ERA of 6.47 over 19 starts. Following Miller’s 3.02 ERA with the Braves last season, many expected Miller to help get the Diamondbacks back into the postseason, but he has been virtually no factor whatsoever.

Joining Shelby Miller as part of the D-back’s rotation, Zack Greinke was expected to help make their rotation one of the greatest in the majors. After all, with Greinke posting a historically-low 1.66 ERA with the Dodgers in 2015, he was all but guaranteed to be the number one starter for the D-backs. But this is baseball, where nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen from one year to the next. As such, Greinke has put up his worst ERA since back in 2005, notching a 4.37 ERA for his efforts in 2016.

TEAMS

Surprisingly Good: Marlins, Mariners and Indians

I didn’t know what to make of the Marlins heading into the 2016 season, but they truly surprised me in a big way. Dealing with the losses of star players such as Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton at various points in the season, for drastically different reasons, many expected the Marlins to fade away early on. But they’ve hung in there all season long, sitting five games back of a wild card spot. Inevitably, there aren’t enough games remaining for the Marlins to wind up in the playoffs, but to still be in the discussion at this point in the year is remarkable.mariners

Things are coming down to the wire for the Mariners, and they may not have enough in them to make the postseason for the first time since 2001, but they had a year that shocked a lot of people. With Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager all having great seasons at the right times, Seattle was able to beat a lot of teams around baseball that many felt would give them trouble. As such, they easily made my list. They may or may not make the postseason in 2016, but things are looking positive all of a sudden for them to finally get there in 2017.

Many people felt the Indians would be as good as they have been this year, but I wasn’t as convinced. I simply thought the World Series defending Royals and the always good Detroit Tigers would keep Cleveland from being relevant in the month of September. But to my surprise — as well as the surprise of some people who felt the same way I did — the Indians are sitting atop the American League Central. If they can keep things going into the playoffs, they may not be done surprising people as the postseason plays out.

Surprisingly Bad: Rays, Braves and Twins

A lot of people actually picked the Tampa Bay Rays to win the American League East division this season, with their rotation being the key to that happening. However, with Chris Archer having a rough year along with several untimely injuries, the Rays haven’t been able to come close to realizing their predicted potential. With only a week to go, the Rays are in sole possession of last place in the American League East. With the division strong once again, it remains to be seen if the Rays can turn things around in 2017 and beyond.braves

It took the Braves forever to win a single game this season, and once they finally recorded one in the win column, they still weren’t able to get much of anything going. Losing 91 games to this point in the year, the Braves are promising that 2017 will be the year things turn around, with them getting a shiny new ballpark across town. But if the Braves don’t turn things around next year in a big way from this season, their ballpark could easily turn out to be the bright spot in the entire season when all is said and done.

Much like the Braves, the Twins’ season was over before it even got started. When the final game has been recorded, the Twins will have more than likely lost 100+ games after finishing four game over .500 last year. Following that breakout performance for the Twins, many people felt that they would be able to keep it going into this year. But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Twins have been one of the worst teams in recent baseball history. Although they could easily turn things around in 2017, all hope is lost for this year.

First for Cubs: World Series or All-Star Game?

It was reported recently that Wrigley Field will be the site of the Major League Baseball All-Star game sometime in the very near future. Logic would point to them being the hosts in 2019, after the All-Star game has been on display in San Diego this season, Miami in 2017 and Washington D.C. two years down the road. However, no official announcement has been made as to the exact year the midsummer classic will be held up in Chicago.Cubs

The last time the Cubs hosted the All-Star game was back in 1990, with standout players such as Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr. and Rickey Henderson, among many others, leading the American League to a 2-0 win over the National League. With such a long drought, it would seem only right that the Cubs receive another All-Star game.

Even so, as everyone around the baseball world knows, it’s not the 26-year All-Star game drought that the Cubs are famous for; it’s their 71-year World Series appearance drought (108 years since their last World Series title). But despite the fact that the Titanic sinking is more recent history than the last World Series Championship for the Cubs, there are many people who believe that 2016 could finally (this time for sure) be the Cubs’ year.

Currently possessing an unbelievable roster — even better than the one that took them to the postseason in 2015 — the Cubs appear to be in good shape headed into this year. They added veteran John Lackey this offseason to their already good rotation of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Combine that with the pickup of Jason Heyward to man the outfield, and young stars Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo looking to build on great 2015 campaigns, the Cubs are definitely a team to watch closely this coming season.

With all of their talent, however, comes the question of which is more probable to come first: a World Series Championship for the Cubs or an All-Star game at Wrigley Field?

Given that Chicago (as previously stated) won’t be able to host the All-Star game until at least 2019, the Cubs have three full seasons to realize the dream that has been used as a trivia question for decades. But just getting to the Fall Classic is extremely difficult, as has been proven in the past, so your guess for which comes first is just as good as mine.

Despite all of that, I have to find myself believing in the Cubs and their chances of finally winning the World Series in the next three seasons. Sure, some of that belief may just be me as a baseball fan hoping for the Cubs to break their century-long World Series drought, but I honestly think they have a group of guys that can pull it off. Only time will tell if they win a title before they once again host an All-Star game, but after 108 years of disappointment, why can’t 2016 (or 2017 . . . or 2018) be their year?

Orioles Losing Pieces As the Offseason Rolls Along

After around a dozen Baltimore Orioles players from the 2014 season declared free agency, you knew it was only a matter of time before the O’s began to lose at least a few of those players to other teams. Nelson+Cruz+Texas+Rangers+v+Baltimore+Orioles+sPqX6mLlElhl

However, that doesn’t make things any easier for the Orioles or their fans, as after losing breakout slugger Nelson Cruz to the Mariners they are now losing long time Oriole Nick Markakis to the Braves.

Cruz officially departed the team a few days ago, when he signed a four-year contract with the Mariners worth 58 million dollars, choosing to head to Seattle after a mega-breakout season with the Orioles in 2014.

Coming off a performance enhancing drug scandal in 2013, Cruz proceeded to dominate last season, blasting a major league leading 40 home runs while driving in 108 runs and hitting a solid .271.

While those numbers came at Camden Yards, Cruz should still have a good deal of power at Safeco Field — a place known to not be a very hitter friendly ballpark. Combined with a lineup of Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, who just recently signed a seven-year extension worth 100 million dollars, the Mariners look to be in good shape for 2015.

Another team that would appear to be improving and shaping up for a good 2015 season is the Atlanta Braves. Picking up Nick Markakis — the second big free agent loss for the Orioles thus far — to fill the right field spot left vacant by the trade of Jason Heyward, the Braves found themselves a nice replacement in the outfield.

MarkakisMarkakis continued a string of solid statistical seasons last year, hitting .276 while blasting 14 homers and recording 50 RBI’s. Getting a four-year, 44 million dollar deal from the Braves, Markakis should provide them with a good leadoff option beginning in 2015.

By also adding former Orioles pitcher Jim Johnson to their bullpen for a mere 1.6 million dollars, the Braves should see some improvement in 2015 if all goes as planned.

But while the loss of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis are sure to have an affect on the Orioles moving forward, things seemingly aren’t over yet.

Dominant free agent reliever Andrew Miller is also going to be on the move following a 62.1 inning season in which he posted a 2.02 ERA while striking out 103 and limiting opponents to a .153 batting average, after coming over from the Red Sox midseason. He will undoubtedly be a valuable pickup for whichever team signs him.

With the key losses that have already occurred for the Orioles, and with there soon to be even more triming to their overall roster, many people are wondering where it all will cause the Orioles to fall in 2015. In my opinion, that’s a very good question.

The Orioles still have a solid depth of starting pitching, including Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Kevin Gausman, as well as a decent bullpen, consisting of pitchers such as Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day. However, while they could get by with the pitchers they have, you can never have too much pitching.Miller

In my mind, the Orioles need to add a bit more depth to their bullpen. With the looming loss of Andrew Miller, the Orioles have a hole or two to fill in the back end of games. But they still have plenty of time to do so and plenty of options to choose from.

What the Orioles currently have none of, however, is outfield depth, after the loss of Markakis. With Adam Jones performing at an All-Star level being a given, the rest of their outfield options, including Steve Pearce, who had a career high 21 homers in 2014, remain a question mark. (Reportedly, there have been talks of a trade to bring Matt Kemp over from the Dodgers, but that’s yet to take off.)

Coming off a 96-win season, the Orioles very well could play to that level if the season began tomorrow, especially with the return of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, who both experienced some health issues last season. However, in the more likely scenario, they would take a bit of a fall in the standings, which is why some changes need to be made.

Reaching the playoffs in 2014, only to be swept by the Royals in the American League Championship Series, the Orioles certainly have to make some moves to help counteract the missing production of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Lucklily for them, we’re just 36 days removed from the World Series, leaving around four months until the start of the 2015 season for the Orioles to throw together another championship-caliber team.

Monday Sees Two Major Deals & One Big Trade

Monday was certainly a big day in the baseball world.

Not only did one of the game’s biggest stars sign a contract unprecedented in the history of the sport — or any sport anywhere for that matter — but a catcher from the Steel City was locked up by the Blue Jays long term, and the Cardinals and Braves swapped players to help fill each others needs.

It was all very interesting to follow.

Giancarlo Stanton kicked off the news filled day, finally signing the mammoth contract that everyone knew would eventually come. While many Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Philliespeople predicted it would come from a team other than the Marlins, the Marlins were in fact the team that got a deal with Stanton done.

A team that was at the bottom, in terms of team combined payroll, this past season, the Marlins locked up Stanton to a 13-year, 325 million dollar deal (the largest in the history of North American sports).

In addition to being so large, Stanton’s deal comes with a full no-trade clause — previously unheard of for the Marlins’ franchise — as well as an opt-out clause after the 2020 season. Having just turned 25 year old, the Marlins logic behind this major contract to such an impact player, who has legitimate 40+ home run a season potential, can easily be understood.

Despite a season ending injury in September, Stanton posted career numbers this year, batting .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBI’s, and finishing second in National League Most Valuable Player voting.

Tied with Dan Uggla for the most home runs in Marlins’ franchise history, with 154, Stanton will undoubtedly pass that mark early on in 2015, having hit over 20 home runs every single year of his five career seasons. A two-time All-Star, Stanton will surely go on to set numerous records while in a Marlins uniform now that this contract is officially in place, and could go down as one of the best sluggers in baseball history once all is said and done.

But Stanton wasn’t the only player that was locked up to a sizeable contract on Monday. Martin

Also getting signed on the day was veteran catcher, Russell Martin, who agreed to an 82 million dollar contract over the course of the next five years from the Blue Jays.

Playing his last two seasons with the Pirates, after time spent between the Yankees and the Dodgers since his debut in 2006, Martin has been an up and down player over the course of his career, but should be an impact player for the Jays.

A three-time All-Star, Martin had a break out season in 2014, hitting .290 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI’s over 111 games played.

Previously a combined .234 hitter over his past five seasons, including a career low .211 in 2012, Martin truly made a name for himself this past year, and should make the Blue Jays glad they snagged him.

While Giancarlo Stanton and Russell Martin both signed contracts with their given teams, there was a big trade between the Cardinals and Braves that everyone was talking about as well.

The Cardinals received Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden in exchange for Shelby Miller and minor league prospect Tyrell Jenkins, who got sent back to the Braves. Though none of these players can be categorized as major stars, at least as of yet, they all have the ability to be key pieces of each team moving forward, and the trade truly made sense for both sides.546a2e451ce21_image

With their starting rotation being one of their many issues from the 2014 season, the additions of Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins (both former first round draft picks) will likely do wonders for the Braves in the coming years.

Miller, who hasn’t yet been the consistent starter many envision him becoming, was decent in 2014, posting a 3.74 ERA on the season. As was Jenkins, who notched an ERA just above three over 13 minor league starts this year. Each of them have the capability to be standout players.

In the same way that the Braves needed starting pitching, the Cardinals found themselves in need of a good everyday right fielder, after the unexpected loss of their future superstar right fielder, Oscar Taveras. Jason Heyward certainly fills that role, though he hasn’t yet lived up to his superstar potential.

While Heyward has won a couple of Gold Gloves in his career with the Braves, making a lone All-Star appearance in his rookie season, he’s only a career .262 hitter. In addition, since a breakout year in 2012 when Heyward blasted 27 home runs and drove in 82 runs, he hasn’t notched more than 14 homers or upwards of 58 RBI’s in any single season.

Even so, Heyward is the type of player that can instantly improve any club he’s on. Gaining him (along with Jordan Walden, who posted a 2.88 ERA in 2014) can only help the Cardinals as they look to make another playoff run in 2015.