Vincent Velasquez Completely Shuts Down the Padres

If you aren’t already familiar with Vincent Velasquez, you inevitably will be very soon.

On Tuesday afternoon against the Padres, Velasquez absolutely dominated San Diego’s lineup, allowing just three hits and striking out 16 batters over the course of his complete game shutout, in which Velasquez received 27 swings and misses. This following his first outing of the season, where Velasquez struck out nine over six innings, giving up no runs, it would appear that he’s already in midseason form. Phillies

Velasquez has now struck out twenty-five batters in just fifteen innings of work, and subsequently holds the new record for a Phillies pitcher of most combined K’s in their first two starts of the season, previously set at 20 back in 1964.

Originally a product of the Astros, getting drafted by them in the second round of the 2010 draft, Velasquez came to Philadelphia as part of the Ken Giles trade this past offseason. To this point, it would appear to be a great move on the part of Philadelphia (especially with Giles getting off to a slow start with Houston).

But Velasquez’s career hasn’t been a smooth ride to the top.

Back in 2011, Velasquez underwent Tommy John surgery (an all too common procedure at this point), forcing him to miss the entire 2011 season. In addition to the injuries, once Velasquez finally did make it to the major leagues, he didn’t immediately post the type of numbers he has recently, notching a 4.37 ERA over 19 total games pitched and 7 starts in 2015, leaving many to question him moving forward.

However, Velasquez appears ready to take off.

It certainly can’t come soon enough for Philadelphia, who has been fairly pathetic in recent years. While they dominated their opponents for a number of years in a row not too long ago, they have been in the process of rebuilding over the past few Francoseasons But other than Velasquez, the Phillies’ pitching staff merely consists of standouts Aaron Nola and Jeremy Hellickson — nothing close to resembling their rotation of 2011 that included Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay.

Likewise, the Phillies lack a good, intimidating lineup, currently possessing very little power threats within it. With Ryan Howard no longer the slugger he once was, and seemingly on his last stretch with Philly, Maikel Franco is truly the only major power threat available of what was once an efficient offensive machine.

But there is help on the way, with the Phillies holding seven of the top 100 prospects in baseball throughout their farm systems. Pitching-wise, the Phillies have guys such as Jake Thompson and Mark Appel in Triple-A, both of which are ready to help very soon. Hitting-wise, J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams are coming fast, and should be contributing to the run scoring in Philadelphia before too long.

With the win on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have now won three straight, and five of their last six, keeping their overall record for the season at .500 (5-5). Inevitably, however, the Phillies will taper out of contention as the year goes on, and as other teams begin to figure things out, ultimately finishing at or near the bottom of the National League East division.

Even so, once every fifth day, Phillies fans will be reminded by Velasquez that their club is well on their way to transforming back into a contender once again, as it was for so many years not so long ago. Rebuilding is a process that takes time, as well as patience on both the part of the team and the fans.

But as Vincent Velasquez proved on Tuesday, the rebuild is getting closer to completion.

Takeaways as Spring Training Winds Down

As history has shown us, Spring Training virtually means nothing when it comes to projecting how any given team or player will fare when the regular season actually rolls around. Spring

In season’s past, teams that “won” their leagues in the Spring wound up finishing in last place when the games actually mattered, with the opposite holding true for other teams that had poor Spring Trainings. The same applies to players, some of which vastly underperform or overperform in the Spring but return to their expected selves when April begins. For that reason, looking at the standings and stats is useless.

But that doesn’t stop me from checking them out anyhow. With Spring Training nearly over, and regular season games set to begin on April 3rd, I figured I’d share some of the things I took away from a quick glimpse at the standings and stats of teams and players around the baseball world.

The Mets and Cardinals are expected to do big things in their given divisions in 2016, but you wouldn’t reach that conclusion from peering at their Spring record. Each is well below .500, despite individual players on both teams shining at times. But that will inevitably change when the year actually begins.

On the flip side of things, the Phillies have a great record in the Grapefruit League, with the Rockies and Brewers doing well in the Cactus League side of things. But although they are outplaying other teams to this point, none of them are expected to do much of anything this season, with a last place division finish possible for each of them when all is said and done.

Individually, player’s stats can also be somewhat misleading.

PeraltaDavid Peralta and Christian Yelich — each of which were terrific in 2015 and have the ability to hit for a very high average — are ice cold thus far in Spring Training. However, they should easily turn things around when the true games begin. Likewise, as far as pitchers are concerned, veterans Jake Peavy and Jeff Samardzija haven’t faired much better than Peralta or Yelich, as each is doing horrible this Spring. But fortunately for them, the likelihood that all of these players continue to perform at such a low level is extremely low.

So if your favorite team or player is having a terrible Spring Training, don’t panic — at least not just yet. Theses things always seem to find a way of working out. But all the same, don’t set your hopes too high on a player or team who is putting up stellar numbers but is expected to do poorly this year. It likely won’t be able to last over the long 162-game year.

But then again, that’s why the games are played. Anything is truly possible from one year to the next.

Darwin Barney Shines In Spring Training Kickoff

The first game of the 2016 Major League Baseball Spring Training month of March saw the Philadelphia Phillies taking on the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon. While these games don’t count in the standings and show no definite signs of how any team will fare in the regular season, you have to figure that the Blue Jays (they won 5-2) are headed for another postseason run,Barney with Philadelhia on the flip side still in the process of rebuilding.

Even so, if it wasn’t for one player in Toronto’s lineup, things may have turned out quite differently on the day. Darwin Barney is currently still batting a thousand in the books, after going 3-3 with five total RBI’s for the game. Although you can’t take such a quick start as a sign of things to come, especially with pitchers not at the top of their game yet, it is certainly nice to see for Barney.

After being a regular player for the Cubs from 2011 through 2013, Barney hasn’t been able to stay consistent in the majors since being traded to the Dodgers in 2014. Spending nearly 100 games in the minors last season before being traded to the Blue Jays, Barney wasn’t with Toronto long enough to be eligable for their postseason push, which was obviously disappointing for him.

But if game one of Spring Training is any inclination, Darwin Barney looks to be on a mission to become an everyday player again in the big leagues, with ultimate hopes of still playing big time games come October.

Q and A With J.P. Crawford

J.P. Crawford was drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, after batting .452 his senior year at Lakewood High SchoolCrawford.

Since the draft, Crawford has made quick work of the minor leagues, thanks to his all around great gameplay that includes fantastic defense at shortstop.

Making it all the way up to Double-A in his second full professional season, Crawford recorded 6 homers and 42 RBI’s in 2015 to go along with a .380 OBP, and could very well make it to the big leagues in the very near future.

Crawford has already played in two futures games and is the bright spot at the top of a loaded Phillies farm system that looks to get them back into contention within the next few years.

J.P. Crawford — the number five prospect in all of baseball — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I became interested in baseball when I was about 4-5. My older sister was my biggest influence. We would always push each other to do better.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

[Derek] Jeter and [Jimmy] Rollins were my favorites growing up because I played shortstop and my dad told me to watch how they respect the game.

3.) You were drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that moment like for you?

That moment was great. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Hearing your name called by the commissioner, and knowing your life is about to change. That moment really changed my life.

4.) You were selected to play in the Future’s Game in both 2014 and 2015. What was the experience like each time? 

It was such an honor to be there to partake in those events; to play with future all-stars, future hall of famers. It was great.

5.) In 2015, you were promoted to Reading after 21 games due to a superb start of a .392 average. Following your promotion, what kind of adjustments did you find yourself having to make with the transition to Double-A?

In AA, the main thing was just staying with your plan, and not trying to do too much. [Also], the pitchers knew how to pitch a lot better.

6.) With the Phillies having struggled for the past few years, how confident are you that the crop of talent (yourself included) making their way towards the big leagues will help transform the Phillies back into a competitive club?

I think we’re going to make a huge impact in a couple years if all this goes as planned. We have a great group of guys who are really close and play great team ball.

7.) Striking out a mere 54 times in 430 at-bats last season, what type of approach do you take at the plate that enables you to make contact so consistently over the course of any given season?

It’s just staying with my plan. If the pitch is a pitch you don’t wanna hit, then I take it. With two strikes, [I] shorten up and put it in play.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

I think everything went well last year just fell one game short [of the Championship]. But next year [my goals are] to just stay consistent and healthy, and whatever level I reach I’ll be happy and ready to help my team win.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

The ‘Walking Dead’; my dad’s BBQ.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice would be to want to win — but have fun doing it!

—————————————————

Big thanks to J.P. Crawford for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jp_crawford

Max Scherzer Pitching Like It’s 1938

The only time in baseball history that a pitcher has ever thrown back-to-back no-hitters was in 1938, when Johnny Vander Meer did so for the Reds.Scherzer

But with Max Scherzer coming off of a no-hitter in his last start, in which he was one plunked batter in the ninth away from a perfect game, many people began to wonder if Scherzer could become the second pitcher to accomplish the amazing feat.

Going up against a subpar Phillies roster, Scherzer appeared to have everything going in his favor, having allowed a mere one hit — a bloop single back on June 14th that kept him from a no-hitter then — over his last 18 innings pitched.

As predicted, Scherzer was dominant to start the game, carrying a perfect game through five full innings for the third straight start, helping to extend his hitless innings streak to an amazing 16 innings.

But it wasn’t meant to be, as Freddy Galvis of the Phillies rocketed a double down the line in the sixth innings to stop Scherzer’s bid at history. Even so, Scherzer didn’t let the hit shake him that much, as although he would allow four more hits in the game, as well as two runs — ending the National’s starters streak of 48 innings without an earned run — he still picked up his third straight start with a win, giving him 100 career victories altogether.

Not a bad night at all.

With his terrific string of starts as of late — six hits and two runs over his last 26 innings pitched — Max Scherzer now sits with a 9-5 record and a 1.79 ERA on the year. If he can keep pitching the way he has been lately, the Cy Young award is nearly a lock.

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.

Jimmy Rollins Hits His Way Into Phillies History

As the saying goes, records are made to be broken. And with a strongly hit single to right field off of Edwin Jackson on Saturday afternoon, Phillies’ shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, broke a record that had stood for the past twenty-five years; notching his 2,235th career hit, surpassing the franchise’s all-time hit mark of 2,234, set by Mike Schmidt back in 1989.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies

Accomplishing the milestone hit in three fewer seasons than Schmidt, Rollins gave Phillies fans something to be cheerful about, after a dismal start to the season has left them wishing for something worth applauding. Sitting in last place in the National League East division — a division that they once dominated — the Phillies are seemingly on their way to a poor overall year, but Rollins’ historic moment in the Phillies 7-4 win against the Cubs helped briefly give excitement to an otherwise dull team.

But as is to be expected when a player such as Rollins breaks an all-time record — especially a record held by a Hall of Fame player — many people are beginning to ask the question: Just because you pass a Hall of Famer on a franchise’s hit list, does that automatically make you Hall of Fame worthy?

As far as the answer goes, there seem to be three different views. The first view writes off the idea altogether, saying that Rollins’ numbers are simply nowhere close to Hall of Fame caliber; the second group doesn’t feel that Rollins is quite yet Hall of Fame worthy, but could become so if he plays well long enough; and the final portion of people (mainly Phillies fans) see him as a Hall of Fame shortstop right now.

For me, I side with the second set of people.

On one hand, I don’t think Rollins has a zero percent chance of the Hall of Fame down the road. He’s been far too good of a player for far too long for me to completely dismiss the possibility. But on the other hand, I don’t think Rollins currently has the numbers to stand up against some of the games all-time greats. However, given a few more productive seasons, I could definitely see a good case begin to be made for Rollins.

At 35 years old, Rollins still has a few good seasons left in his career, and seeing that he’s always been fairly consistent, Rollins should continue to pad his already good numbers, which aren’t as far off from Hall of Fame level as you might initially think upon a glance.

Of the twenty-two shortstops in the Hall, ten of them have fewer career hits than Rollins currently possesses, showing that there truly is no magic number of hits needed to earn election. In addition, assuming Rollins plays for another five seasons, based off of his average yearly totals, he would finish his career with around 240 homers, 1,100 RBI’s, 2,900 hits, 500 doubles, and 500 stolen bases. Given, that’s all purely speculative, but it’s interesting to note, nonetheless.

The bottom line, whether or not you’re a Phillies fan, and whether or not you feel Jimmy Rollins is going to get into the Hall of Fame eventually, you have to recognize the amazing career Rollins has put together. Even if he doesn’t go down in the record books as one of the all-time greats in baseball history, he will absolutely go down as one of the all-time greats in Phillies history. With all the fantastic players who have come through the Phillies organization over its 131-year existence, that speaks volumes by itself.