Fastest and Slowest Starts to the 2016 Season

It’s been said time and time again by myself and other people around baseball, but it’s worth repeating: You can’t always take a team’s or player’s hot or cold start to a season in stone as to how they will perform over the rest of the season.

While it’s easy to overreact and declare that a team predicted to finish last is now World Series bound because they got off to a good start (or the opposite, that your favorite team is doomed because they’re yet to win a game), it’s still very early, with extremely small sample sizes to look at. But despite that, I decided to take a look anyhow at the starts teams and players around baseball have had to kick off 2016:

Fastest Starts

Teams:

1 — Orioles (5-0)

2 — Cubs (5-1)

3 — Reds (5-1)

The Orioles are off to a surprisingly good start (their best since 1970). While their team has the ability to win often, I would never have guessed that they would be the only undefeated team remaining in baseball a week into the season. Chicago, on the other hand, is off to the great start that people around the baseball world predicted, and are well under way to their World Series destiny. Like Baltimore, the Reds are also over performing tremendously. Them kicking off their season 5-1 isn’t how I ever thought things would pan out for them.

Players:

1 — Tyler White (.556, 3 HR, 9 RBI)

2 — Eugenio Suarez (.435, 4 HR, 9 RBI)

3 — Trevor Story (.333, 7 HR, 12 RBI)

None of these three were household names before the season got underway, but they are each posting numbers that would qualify them as such towards the end of the season. Tyler While is absolutely on fire for the Astros, as is Eugenio Suarez for the Reds. Both will look to continue to lead their given teams. However, while they are each off to hot starts, the talk of the baseball world is Trevor Story. Although Story has numerous players ahead of him in the batting average department, I included him on this list because of his historic seven homers over the course of his first six career games.

Slowest Starts

Teams:

1 — Twins (0-6)

2 — Braves (0-5)

3 — Marlins (1-3)

It’s not all that surprising that these three teams are at the very bottom of the pack among the other 27 teams in the baseball standings. Despite an unbelievable season last year, in which the Twins proved many people wrong, they are off to the worst start in their franchises history. The Braves aren’t faring any better, having yet to win a ballgame, with the Marlins having notched one victory, but still not seemingly on the verge of postseason glory when October rolls around.

Players:

1 — Curtis Granderson (.050, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

2 — Logan Morrison (.056, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

3 — Brad Miller (.059, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

Having yet to record a home run isn’t all that rare this time of season, nor is it unheard of to have recorded hits that didn’t result in a single run batted in. But to be hitting below .100 at any point in the year is a clear sign that your bat has gone ice cold. That’s certainly the case for Curtis Granderson, who is hitting just .050 on the year to this point. Logan Morrison is not far behind, with a mere .056 average, with teammate Brad Miller hitting just .059. While they will each inevitably raise their averages as the season goes on, it’s certainly not the start they were hoping to get off to.

As you can see, there are tons of teams and players who are off to amazingly great starts, with others having yet to show up. Over the course of the 162-game season, the majority of teams and players will inevitably wind up close to where they were predicted to end up before the season began (given, there are always a few surprises). But even so, it’s always fun to take a look to see what kind of start players and teams get off to when any given season begins. How long it lasts is the part that will be intriguing to watch.

Justin Verlander Shines in First Start of 2016

A quick glance at the box score of Tuesday night’s Tigers game versus the Marlins wouldn’t necessarily leave you to believe it, but Justin Verlander was terrific on the evening. Yes, he gave up three earned runs; and no, he didn’t strike out a ton, or receive the win for that matter. But he showed flashes of the old Verlander that the baseball world has come to miss. Verlander

Following a 67 start stretch over the course of 2011 and 2012, in which Verlander went 41-13 with a combined 2.52 ERA, winning a Cy Young and MVP award, he has recorded a 3.84 ERA ever since. Heading into this season, you truly didn’t know what to expect from the six-time All-Star, but he hit the ground running right out of the gate in game one of the year for his 2016 campaign.

Verlander carried a no-hitter all the way into the sixth inning on Tuesday night. But, unfortunately, that’s when things began to fall apart. After surrendering hit number one, in the form of a double to Dee Gordon, Verlander proceeded to give up an RBI-single to Marcell Ozuna and a two-run homer to Giancarlo Stanton, which brought the score up to 5-3, Tigers. However, despite the poor inning, it was just that — one inning. Verlander had already proven in the previous five that he still has a ton of talent remaining.

It’s been quite some time since Justin Verlander performed anywhere near the caliber of pitcher he was just a few seasons ago. However, if his first start of the year is any indication, the old Verlander could be on the verge of breaking out once again. For the Tigers’ sake, they better hope so. Detroit’s lineup is more than good enough to produce a very special season, but their starting rotation has a few question mark; the biggest of which being Verlander heading into this season.

Even so, if Justin Verlander can continue to build upon his outing on Tuesday night, the Tigers could end up surprising quite a few people around the baseball world when all is said and done.

4/3/15 Greensboro Grasshoppers Vs. Miami Marlins

Exactly three years to the day after the last time I attended a major league exhibition game against one of their minor league affiliates, I was back out at the ballpark on Friday (along with my grandpa) for the first time in nearly seven months. This time, however, it wasn’t the home of the Mudcats or Bulls — the ballparks I normally attend — but rather the home of the Grasshoppers. With the Miami Marlins in town, I made the long trek out to the stadium with the sole purpose of grabbing some autographs from the numerous good players their roster possesses.

With that in mind, my grandpa and I arrived to the ballpark an hour before the gates opened, which allowed me to be one of the first people inside when people were first allowed in at 1:00 on the dot. But despite being through the gates first, due to the long walk to the tunnel where the Marlins would be coming in and out of, there were numerous people already surrounding the area. And thus, I had settle with a spot behind a couple of people — a spot I had to squeeze my way into.

The Marlins were already on the field taking batting practice when I first arrived . . . :

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. . . so I just stood there with everyone else and waited for the Marlins to return back through the tunnel and into the clubhouse.

But the wait certainly wasn’t a boring one. When Giancarlo Stanton — one of the greatest power sluggers currently in baseball — stepped into the cage, all eyes were placed on him, and he didn’t disappoint. Stanton quite simply put on one the most unbelievable batting practice show I’ve ever seen. I had heard a ton about the displays of power he shows off during BP, but actually seeing it in person was amazing.

A few minutes after Stanton concluded his showing off, the Marlins began to wrap up their on field activities and one by one exited the field. As they did so, a great number of the players stopped to sign autographs — with the exception of Michael Morse, who I didn’t see sign a single autograph all day long — but I had an extremely hard time getting them to sign for me. Everything was going wrong — whether it was people blocking me out, the players signing on the opposite side of the tunnel, or them just skipping over me. It was appearing to be one of those days.

With all that went wrong, I only managed to get an autograph from Brett Butler and Donovan Solano before the game. Giancarlo Stanton signed for a lot of people . . . except me. And even Ichiro signed some autographs . . . on the opposite side of the stadium. (Like I said before — it was one of those days.)

Once it became apparent that I wasn’t going to succeed in getting anyone else’s autograph, I reunited with my grandpa back at our ticketed seats to take in the pregame introductions. For the most part, the Grasshoppers didn’t have any extremely noteworthy players, however, they did have the 2014 number two overall draft pick, Tyler Kolek, as part of their roster (on the right below):

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For the Marlins, Ichiro and Stanton by far received the biggest applause when they were announced, but it was equally exciting to see every player on their team in person. (Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Michael Morse, all pictured below, were the ones I enjoyed seeing the most):

DSCN7741Shortly after all of the players were introduced, the game begun.

Starting the game for the Grasshoppers was the Marlins’ A.J. Ramos, who gave up a home run to Giancarlo Stanton on the very first pitch he saw. Coming back from a gruesome injury to end 2014, Stanton crushing one during an actual game setting against a big league caliber pitcher appeared to prove that he will be unaffected during the season as some suggested he may be.

Off to a quick 2-0 lead in the first, thanks to the Stanton blast, the Marlins put out Tom Koehler as their starter on the mound against the Grasshoppers, and he was terrific on the day. It was nice to see the Marlins — both their pitching and lineup — do so well with all of the high expectations placed on them for the 2015 season.

It was also nice to see Ichiro in person once again:

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Going one for three on the day, this was more than likely the last time I’ll ever see the future Hall of Famer in person, and I did my best to take it in. There are very few players that I would pay just to see them play, but Ichiro is definitely one of them — as is Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout.

Once all was said and done, the Marlins pulled out the win (not surprisingly), 9-6. However, I wasn’t around to see the final few innings of the game. After getting removed from the game in the fourth and fifth innings for replacement players, Giancarlo Stanton, Ichiro, Michael Morse and Christian Yelich, among others, made their way to the clubhouse during the seventh inning stretch. With me not wanting to miss the possible chance at getting an autograph from any of them, I made my way out of the ballpark gates and down the corner to where the players’ exit/entrance is located.

I was one of the first 50 people down there, but before too long, there were around 200 people, I would estimate, trying for autographs from the players as they left. It took around an hour of standing around for the players to begin emerging from the ballpark, but before long they began coming out in bunches.

Michael Morse and Christian Yelich were the first two out, with both briskly walking past everyone without stopping. Next out was Marcell Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Ichiro, who simply waved before making his way onto the bus.

It began to seem as if every player was going to make a nonstop trek to the bus. However, when Giancarlo Stanton came through the doors, he became the first to decide to stop and sign autographs. But before I had the chance to blink, things went from two deep to a cluster of 50 or so people pushing and bumping into each other all surrounding Stanton and making it virtually impossible for me to get within arms distance of him. So with all hope lost for an autograph, I settled for a picture of him instead, which I had to take by raising my camera high above my head:

DSCN7763After Stanton boarded the bus, things settled down again, and I was finally able to get to the front row. By doing so, I succeeded in getting an autograph from Tom Koehler, as well as Steve Cishek, who I got a better picture of than Stanton due to the quieted crowd:

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In the end, I didn’t walk away with an autograph from Ichiro or Stanton (I truly didn’t expect to when the day began), but I did walk away with yet another memory of a great time out at the ballpark. Every time I go to a ballgame, I always have a different, but special, experience.

My sights are now set on the 2015 minor league season, which begins on Thursday.

Marlins Awarded the 2017 All-Star Game

After a busy offseason of moves that included trading for speedy Dee Gordon, signing free agent outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, and locking up slugger Giancarlo Stanton on the biggest contract in sports history, the Marlins have officially been named as the hosts of the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star game.

Marlins

Set to come in the 25th year of the Marlins’ existence, this is the first time in their franchises history that they have been awarded the Midsummer Classic — they were supposed to host the game in 2000, but it was given to the Braves instead — making it sure to be a game full of excitement for the fans in the area.

But there is one thing on everyone’s mind that a lot of people are posing issue with.

Generally, the All-Star game has alternated between American League and National League hosts each year, with the host team having home field advantage. With the All-Star game holding a lot of value, in that the winning league receives home field advantage during the World Series, the stakes have become very high. However, with the Cincinnati Reds set to hold the surrounding festivities this year, the Padres in line to do the same in 2016 and now with the Marlins getting named the site for 2017, that makes for three straight years in a National League teams ballpark.

However, there is a solution to the problem that new commissioner, Rob Manfred, has put into place. “We will alternate years, in terms of who bats last,” said Manfred on Friday. “We will be making that change going forward.” Meaning, in 2016, when in San Diego, the American League team will be the “home” team and bat in the bottom half of the order to make things a bit more fair.

As far as the Marlins are concerned, after spending 19 seasons in a football stadium — they shared a venue with the Miami Dolphins, finally receiving a park of their own in 2012 — they are extremely deserving of the All-Star game. Although attendance has been up and down (mainly down) over the course of time since, they will undoubtedly do a great job of hosting the event.

But before Marlins fans get too excited about the looming All-Star game, they need to enjoy focusing on the season at hand. Their team is really, really good, and they stand a shot at doing some big things in the National League this coming season. While getting the All-Star game for 2017 is a big story, the Marlins could be making plenty of headlines throughout the season as 2015 rolls along.

Nationals Lock Up Scherzer; World Series to Follow?

Patience is a virtue — especially in baseball.

Max Scherzer proved that on Wednesday afternoon by officially inking a seven-year, 210 million dollar contract with the Nationals that’s set to keep him in D.C. through the 2021 season. Coming after Scherzer took the gamble of turning down a six-year, 144 million dollar offer from the Tigers last year, waiting things out until free agency, and betting on his abilities, paid off extremely well for him, with Scherzer netting a total of 66 million extra dollars.Scherzer

But the money is well deserved, as Scherzer has quickly become one of the most feared pitchers in baseball. While Scherzer didn’t start off his career with fantastic pitching performances — posting a 4.43 ERA over 33 starts with the Tigers in 2011 — over the past two seasons he’s been one of the best. Going a combined 39-8 with a 3.04 ERA between 2013 and 2014, it’s no mystery why the Nationals wanted Scherzer so badly.

Heading to D.C. after five years in Detroit, Scherzer’s mega contract sits second all-time in amount given out to a pitcher, behind only Clayton Kershaw’s 215 million dollar deal with the Dodgers. (Kershaw, however, is in a class all his own.)

Choosing to receive his contract over the next 14 years, coming out to 15 million a year, the structure of Scherzer’s contract allows the Nats to use the money saved per season to lock up other talented players around him, making this an even better deal in the end.

With Scherzer joining a rotation that already consisted of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, the Nationals now have one of the best — if not THE best — rotations in baseball. (The Nationals also have a couple promising pitching prospects in A.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito in the minors who will be making major impacts over the coming years, so they will have additional pitching options for years to come.)

Although their bullpen could use some work after the loss of closer Rafael Soriano — there’s still plenty of time to improve that aspect of the team — the Nationals’ lineup is equally as talented as their pitching staff. From Ian HarperRendonDesmond and Anthony Rendon to Jayson Werth and Denard Span, along with a hopefully healthy Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, the Nationals are going to score a lot of runs.

With the Nats likely setting themselves up to produce runs night after night, and a rotation filled with pitchers capable of giving up a few mere runs a game, the Nationals have a nice combination that should lead them to a ton of wins in 2015.

After going 96-66 last year — good enough to earn Nats’ skipper, Matt Williams, the National League Manager of the Year award — there is truly no reason they couldn’t post a 100-win season this year. If that happens, it will make them the first team since the Phillies in 2011 to win 100+ games in a season.

And therefore, after winning the National League East division by a staggering 17 games a year ago, the Nationals could be looking at the same type of dominance in the foreseeable future. The Braves, who finished in second place for 2014, are in the process of rebuilding and currently seem to be out of the postseason picture for 2015, as do the Phillies who are theoretically trying to find their new identity. That leaves just the Marlins and the Mets to challenge the Nationals for the divisional title — though both teams, especially the Marlins, could make a big push towards the playoffs this year.

Even so, the Nationals are nearly a lock to make the postseason for the third time in four seasons, with an aforementioned 100-win season not completely out of the question. They have all the talent in the world, with great pitching and a good mix of young and veteran star players. But in the end, making the playoffs is only part of the goal. The one question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the Nationals have enough with the addition of Max Scherzer to lead them to the World Series and a subsequent World Title? Winning

The unfortunate truth is, only time will tell. All too often does a team expected to dominate fall into a slump and not do much of anything for the season, while a team that was predicted to go nowhere exceeds expectations and makes a playoff push. That’s baseball. That’s what makes things fun each and every season.

But regardless, I have to agree with the majority of people that the Nationals are going to be terrific, and therefore anything short of a World Series appearance for them would be a disappointment with all the promise they have of putting out an effective winning machine this season.

After all, it’s that very expectation of winning (I’m sure the money was a factor as well) that ultimately led Scherzer to sign a deal with the Nationals, saying, “I think this team is capable of winning and winning a lot. When you look at near term and long term, this is an organization you want to be a part of . . . . I want to win and that’s why I’m here.”

With Max Scherzer now on board, it looks to be an exciting season in D.C.

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.

Several Teams On the Outside Looking In

Inevitably each and every Major League Baseball season a handful of teams fail to live up to expectations placed on them at the start of the year. Whether a team simply doesn’t play to the best of their ability, or if it’s injuries that keeps them from performing well, a few teams always end up short of where they were projected to finish the year.

The Diamondback’s, Rangers, Red Sox and Rays are all examples of that from the 2014 season. People from all over the baseball world selected theRangers majority of those teams to make solid pushes at the postseason, but all of them but the Rays are going to finish dead last in their division (the Rays will finish fourth in the American League east). Truly disappointing endings for what were supposed to be promising teams.

On the flip side, a few teams that no one saw coming always go on a major run in any given year, passing big time teams, and leaving many people scratching their heads as to how they’re doing it.

But while the winning streaks of underdog teams are always exciting, a lot of those type of teams can’t keep up their torrid runs for an extended period of time, subsequently falling back down to their normal levels, and missing the playoffs.

For the Marlins, Brewers and Yankees, they were those type of teams this season. No one saw them doing much of anything with the rosters they had going into the season, but they each went on runs at one point or another this season, proving a bunch of people wrong. None more so than the Brewers, who ended up being one of the biggest rise and fall team in years.

After leading the National League central division for 150 days of the season, the Brewers went into a major, major slump. A slump that caused them to plummet through the standings, currently sitting five games back of the second Wild Card spot. With under a one percent chance of making the postseason according to MLB.com, the Brewers’ year is all but over, despite their great efforts.

The Indians and Mariners are a couple of teams that are still in the race for the second Wild Card but are likely going to miss out, even after great runs this year gave their fans something to get excited about. Given under an eight percent chance of the postseason, it’s going to take an unprecedented string of events for either of them to make it in. But as has been proven time and time again with baseball, anything can happen.