Atlanta Braves Quietly Becoming Contenders?

After losing their first seven games of the 2016 season and going on to tie for the worst record in all of the National League (losing 93 games in all), no one honestly expected things to be much better in 2017 for the Braves, citing 2018 or later as the arrival of their top prospects and subsequent resurgence. But over the first few weeks of the offseason to this point, Atlanta has been building a decent rotation somewhat under-the-radar.braves

With a strong starting five going a long way in influencing the outcome of any given team’s season, the Braves began to stockpile their rotation with the signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon in the middle of November. Although Dickey hasn’t been the same since winning the Cy Young award in 2012, with a 4.05 ERA over the course of 130 starts since, and despite the fact that Colon is set to turn 44 in May — making neither the dominant type of pitcher who will lead to an immediate turnaround — they are both proven pitchers who will provide the Braves with solid innings all season.

However, it was a pickup the Braves completed on Thursday that made people begin to talk about the legitimacy of their rotation. Acquiring Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals in exchange for a few mid-range prospects, Atlanta added yet another solid piece to their pitching staff. While Garcia fell off towards the end of 2016 after beginning the year in brilliant fashion, Garcia has been a great pitcher over the course of his career to this point, and should fit in nicely with the likes of Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, as well as the aforementioned free agent pickups.

But while the Braves have greatly improved the rotation aspect of their team, and should subsequently improve upon their 4.51 team ERA from last season (especially with there still being rumors that they are pursuing a true ace of the staff), their bullpen remains a bit shaky. Jim Johnson was decent for them last season, and they have a few other pieces such as Mauricio Cabrera and Shae Simmons who will help out, but things haven’t been truly lights out since the loss of Craig freemanKimbrel to the Padres in 2015.

Even so, the Braves should be able to compete on a decent level if their lineup can produce. In 2016, Atlanta was 19th in team batting average and dead last in terms of collective home runs. But Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp (who saw a bounce back season in 2016) will likely be their All-Star selves again in 2017 and greatly contribute, with the Braves possessing a handful of other standout players.

From Dansby Swanson, who is looking to make good upon his stellar late-season campaign in 2016, to Nick Markakis, who has always been a good MLB player over his career, the Braves certainly have the pieces to make 2017 a year to remember.

Now they just have to put them all together.

In the end, the Braves still face a tough path in 2017. With the Nationals and Mets set to battle for who will win the division, leaving the Marlins to likely come in third, all signs point to it being between the Phillies and Braves for who will finish fourth and fifth.

But whether or not the Braves can stun the baseball world and finish any better than fourth in the National League East in 2017, the point is still clear: The Braves aren’t merely sitting around and waiting for their top, game-changing prospects to arrive over the course of the next few seasons.

For the Atlanta Braves, the time to win is right now.

Steven Wright: The “New” R. A. Dickey

In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been very few pitchers who have actually succeeded in mastering the knuckleball to the point where they were able to absolutely dominate opposing batters on a consistent basis. For the most part, pitchers who throw the knuckleball are ineffective, and have up-and-down, short-lived careers.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle MarinersHowever, as with anything, there are always a few exceptions — Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, etc. — with the latest example of that being Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox. Through four games started this season, Steven Wright has a 1.37 ERA, with a tick under one strikeout per inning pitched. Following an ERA of 4.09 in 2015, Wright appears to have figured things out.

On Wednesday night alone, Wright went seven strong innings against the Braves (given, Atlanta isn’t exactly a powerhouse team this season), striking out eight and giving up just two runs (only one earned run) in Boston’s 9-4 win. 

Due to his great performance to this point in the season, Wright has subsequently taken over the leading role of most dominant MLB knuckleballer, recently held by R.A. Dickey (the only other active knuckleball thrower).

With Toronto this season, Dickey has recorded a subpar 6.75 ERA, and hasn’t been all that terribly great since he took home the Cy Young award in 2012 with the Mets. That season — the only extremely fantastic season of his career — Dickey posted a 2.73 ERA over 33 starts, while striking out 230 batters, but he’s gone 40-40 with a 4.06 ERA since then.

Steven Wright didn’t actually appear in the big leagues until the season after Dickey had his breakout year, but it appears that Wright is on the verge of having a special season as a knuckleball pitcher much like the one of Dickey in 2012.

Boston could certainly continue to use successful outings from him, as their other starters hold ERA’s above 3.51, with David Price possessing a 5.76 and Joe Kelly unbelievably having a 9.35 ERA over three starts. For that reason, Steven Wright is currently being looked at as the surprising Ace of the staff, and has been a welcome surprise for the Red Sox so far this year.

While I’m not necessarily saying that Steven Wright’s 2016 season will end up being as successful as R.A. Dickey’s 2012 campaign, with him winning the Cy Young, it is definitely a positive sign for Wright of great things to come. I imagine not even Wright himself would have envisioned this good of a start to the season when things began back on April 4th, but every given baseball season is much like the knuckleball pitch itself: You never know where it’s going to wind up.

Have the Blue Jays Become the Division Favorites?

The Toronto Blue Jays are red hot.

Extending their winning streak to eight straight games after Tuesday night’s win against the Rays, in which Mark Buehrle was good yet again, picking up his league-leading ninth win, the Jays currently sit atop the American League East division standings. Having now won thirteen of their last fifteen games played, the Jays are seemingly on their way to a somewhat surprising great season.Mark+Buehrle+Toronto+Blue+Jays+v+Kansas+City+Uec8440KSDQl

And therefore, while very few people predicted the Blue Jays to do much of anything in 2014, a lot of people are now beginning to rethink their original projections. Despite the fact that there are still over 100 games remaining in the season, people are starting to believe in the Jays.

But should they? Are the Blue Jays truly the favorites in the division, or are they simply on a hot streak?

Going back to last season when they were chosen by the majority of the baseball world to win the East after the numerous offseason moves they made, the Jays went on an 11-game winning stretch, much like the one they are currently on, only to wind up finishing out the year dead last. Though their overall offense is stronger this year (they are one of only four teams in baseball with thirty or more wins) and they appear to be swinging the bats more as a whole than they did in 2013 (they were 9.5 games back on this date in 2013), with the down spiral that occurred last year, it’s certainly interesting to think about.

While I placed the Blue Jays to finish last this year in my predictions, and still don’t believe that they’ll be able to maintain this amazing pace, they have definitely been impressive to this point. From Mark Buehrle dominating in all but one of his starts — becoming the first Jay since Roy Halladay in 2009 to win nine of their first ten decisions (he appears to be a front runner to start the All-Star game) — to veteran pitcher R.A. Dickey, and the entire Jays lineup clicking, including Jose Bautsista, Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera, they could surprise some people.

As far as their offense goes, as stated, it’s definitely one of the best in baseball. The Jays lead all of the American League in team home runs by a wide margin — fourteen of which have come from Edwin Encarnacion this month alone (tying a franchise record for a month) — and they are finding a way to beat even the best starting pitchers the game has to offer. Picking up the series win over their past five series (something they hadn’t done since 2010) the Jays are setting all types of record that lead one to believe they mean business.

But even so, it’s very unlikely that things will last. As the past has shown, for the most part, you can only ride a stretch so far, and the streak they’re currently on is going to be very difficult to continue. Though it’s not impossible, it’s fairly improbable with the rotation they currently possess. While Buehrle and Dickey have been good, and should continue to be, their other pieces are average at best. A lot of people are in agreement that the Jays need one more pitching piece to truly stand a good shot at being relevant at the end of the season, and if they can pick up even one more pitcher, with the way their offense is firing on all cylinders, it could make all the difference.

The major name being discussed at the moment is the possible acquisition of Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs. Though it’s a long shot, and would likely mean giving up a top prospect such as Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman which the Jays have shown they don’t want to do, it would definitely be a breath of fresh air for Samardzija who is a member of the struggling, last place Cubs. Being beneficial for both Samardzija and the Blue Jays, the trade would be a good one, but it’s one that would appear not likely at the moment.

And thus, while the Blue Jays are looking good for the time being, and very well could run away with things as time goes on, there’s still a lot of season left in which they have to maintain this level of play to stay in first place. Anything can happen, and with a somewhat weaker American League East division compared to year’s past, nearly any team stands a shot at placing first at the end of the season, Blue Jays included.

Kyle Gibson Outstanding In Coldest Ever Twins Game

Kyle Gibson was at one time ranked as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. However, after Tommy John surgery left him sidelined for a good deal of time, and a short 2013 major league stint left more to be desired (going 2-4 with a 6.53 ERA), the hope that Gibson would develop into the future front man for the Twins’ pitching staff began to fade away.20140411__140412GIBSON_300

But so far this season, Gibson has been proving people wrong. Nothing seems to be able to stop his great pitching — not even the coldest game-time temperature in Twins’ baseball history of a bone-chilling 31 degrees.

While cold days arguably lead to a disadvantage for hitters, with the ball not carrying as well as it usually does, cool temperatures also typically lead to poorer pitching performances. But on this day, Kyle Gibson was terrific, despite the cold weather that usually plays havoc on a pitcher’s effectiveness.

Controlling all his pitches on both sides of the plate, Gibson was able to keep the opposing hitters off balance the entire game. No one was able to figure him out throughout his eight inning shutout, earning him win number three on the year to go along with an impressive 0.93 ERA.

Things didn’t go as smoothly for Blue Jays’ starter R.A. Dickey, however.

Throwing a knuckleball the majority of the time, as he always does, Dickey didn’t have much break on any of his pitches throughout the game. Giving up five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning before being removed from the game, Dickey was far from his former Cy Young self, as has been the case for much of this season. Hopefully he can turn things around, as he can be fun to watch when things are going well.

With their pitchers beginning to click behind Kyle Gibson, and their offense running fairly efficiently, the Twins are beginning to slowly make the turn towards becoming a better team. While it will likely be another year or two before they’re making a ton of noise, with more top prospects yet to come, in Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer, among others, things are looking up for the Twins as an organization.

2013 Gold Glove Awards

The 2013 Major League Baseball Gold Glove award winners were announced last night on ESPN2. There were multiple first-time winners, but everyone that won was extremely deserving — though I might not agree with them all.

The Gold Glove Award is an award given out each year to the players that are judged to have exhibited superior individual fielding performances at each fielding position in both the National League and the American League, as voted by the managers and coaches in each league. (Managers can not vote for their own players.)

This marks the 56th annual Gold Glove Awards, which began back in 1957.

Here’s a recap of the winners, with my thoughts on each:

CATCHER

AL Nominees– Joe Mauer, Salvador Perez and Matt Wieters

AL Winner– Salvador Perez (1st career)

NL Nominees– A.J. Ellis, Russell Martin and Yadier Molina

NL Winner– Yadier Molina (6th career)

Salvador Perez was the most deserving of this award, among the nominees. While they’re all great players, Perez had the overall better year; becoming the first Royals’ catcher to receive the award since 1989. On the National League side, Yadier Molina winning was an obvious choice. He picks up his sixth career Gold Glove.

PITCHER

AL NomineesMark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Doug Fister

AL Winner– R.A. Dickey (1st career)

NL Nominees– Patrick Corbin, Zack Greinke and Adam Wainwright

NL Winner– Adam Wainwright (2nd career)

After winning his first career Cy Young award last season, R.A. Dickey picks up his first career Gold Glove. Though he had his share of rough games, he had an overall decent season. But I would’ve liked to have seen Mark Buehrle win. Of the nominees, it was a rather difficult choice for NL, but Adam Wainwright ended up getting the accolade.

LEFT FIELDER

AL Nominees– Yoenis Cespedes, Andy Dirks and Alex Gordon

AL Winner– Alex Gordon (3rd career)

NL Nominees– Carlos Gonzalez, Starling Marte and Eric Young Jr.

NL Winner– Carlos Gonzalez (3rd career)

Alex Gordon picks up his third straight Gold Glove, beating out Andy Dirks and Yoenis Cespedes in the AL. Carlos Gonzalez, like Gordon, received his third career Gold Glove award. Both were deserving, in my mind, and both have the potential to win several more before all is said and done.

CENTER FIELDER

AL Nominees– Lorenzo Cain, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adam Jones

AL Winner– Adam Jones (3rd career)

NL Nominees– Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen and Denard Span

NL Winner– Carlos Gomez (1st career)

After winning a Gold Glove in 2012 — many feel Mike Trout got snubbed — Adam Jones picks up his third career award, as he had another really great year. Carlos Gomez picks up his first career Gold Glove award, for the National League, having a deserving season for the Brewers.

RIGHT FIELDER

AL Nominees– Nick Markakis, Josh Reddick and Shane Victorino

AL Winner– Shane Victorino (4th career)

NL Nominees– Jay Bruce, Jason Heyward and Gerardo Parra

NL Winner– Gerardo Parra (2nd career)

Both Shane Victorino and Gerardo Parra aren’t really acknowledged all that often for their gloves, however, both are really good right fielders for their respective teams. This is Victorino’s fourth Gold Glove, and Parra’s second. Both have the potential to win more down the road.

FIRST BASE

AL Nominees– Chris Davis, Eric Hosmer and James Loney

AL Winner– Eric Hosmer (1st career)

NL Nominees– Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo

NL Winner– Paul Goldschmidt (1st career)

Both the National League Gold Glove winner, Paul Goldschmidt, and American League Gold Glove winner, Eric Hosmer, had great seasons, earning them their first career Gold Gloves. Goldschmidt is a top candidate for National League Most Valuable Player — leading the NL in RBI’s and home runs — with Hosmer becoming the first Royals first baseman to win the award.

SECOND BASE

AL NomineesRobinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist

AL Winner– Dustin Pedroia (3rd career)

NL Nominees– Darwin Barney, Mark Ellis and Brandon Phillips

NL Winner– Brandon Phillips (4th career)

For me, it came down to Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano, as both had great seasons and always seem to flash their gloves at some point during nearly every game. Pedroia ended up receiving the Gold Glove, which I’m completely fine with. Brandon Phillips winning his fourth career Gold Glove award is another one I’m fine with. Amazingly talented players on both the AL and NL sides.

SHORT STOP

AL Nominees- Yunel Escobar, Alcides Escobar and J.J. Hardy

AL Winner- J.J. Hardy (2nd career)  

NL Nominees- Ian Desmond, Andrelton Simmons and Troy Tulowitzki  

NL Winner- Andrelton Simmons (1st career)

I was a bit surprised with J.J. Hardy winning, however, I don’t really have a problem with it. He was deserving of the award. Andrelton Simmons was also deserving of the award, as he made some amazing plays this past season and is worthy of his first Gold Glove. Simmons is a player to keep an eye on to win several more in his future.

THIRD BASE

AL Nominees- Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and Manny Machado

AL Winner- Manny Machado (1st career)

NL Nominees- Nolan Arenado, Juan Uribe and David Wright 

NL Winner- Nolan Arenado (1st career)

When you’re having to pick between Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and Manny Machado for the third base Gold Glove award you run into a problem: They’re all very deserving. But I have to agree with Manny Machado winning, as he had an incredible year, slightly greater than Longoria or Beltre. Nolan Arenado picks up his first career Gold Glove, for the NL, but it’s likely to be just one of many in his career.

2013 GOLD GLOVE AWARDS FAST FACTS

  • There were eight first-time Gold Glove winners.
  • The Royals and Orioles had the most Gold Glove winners, with three apiece.
  • This was the first year that sabermetrics were used as a voting component.
  • Nolan Arenado is just the tenth rookie to ever win a Gold Glove.

R.A. Dickey and David Price On Pace for Rare Feat

Normally when you’re talking about a couple of former Cy Young award winners having a rare season, it’s a good thing, but in this case, it’s just the opposite. Both R.A. Dickey and David Price, who won the Cy Young last year, are off to poor starts this season, putting them with in line to join elite company.

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Just five times since 1967, when the Cy Young award began to be given out to a pitcher in each league, have two first-time winners in the same season gone on to have poor seasons the next year–the award originated in 1956, but was given out to just one pitcher each season until 1967.

The select group of players who won their first Cy Young awards only to go on to have poor next seasons include: Jim Lonborg and Mike McCormick, in 1967; Hall of Famers, Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry, in 1972; John Denny and LaMarr Hoyt, in 1983; Willie Hernandez and Rick Sutcliffe, in 1984; as well as Bob Welsh and Doug Drabek, in 1990.

While it’s looking like Price and Dickey may join them, it’s still far too early to count them out just yet. They’ve proven to be too good of pitchers. But it’s something worth looking at, nonetheless.

R.A. Dickey became the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young award, last year, when he went 20-6, with a 2.73 ERA, however, so far this season he’s experiencing far less success, going 2-5, with a 5.06 ERA, through his first eight games pitched. The one thing that’s most noticeable for Dickey this season is that his knuckleball doesn’t have the late, drastic movement it had last year. Unless he finds a way to get back on track, I don’t see Dickey having a very good season, as the knuckleball doesn’t leave much room for error.

David Price became the first Rays pitcher to win the Cy Young award, in 2012, going 20-5, with a 2.56 ERA, but he’s been struggling this year, having gone 1-3, with a 4.78 ERA, over his first eight games of the season. Price had a decent start his last time out, but his command just doesn’t seem to be there this season, for one reason or another. I could see Price having a better overall season than Dickey, however, if he doesn’t figure things out, Price is likely to still have a disappointing 2013.

Whether or not R.A. Dickey and David Price can turn things around is something that only time will tell. If the first month of the season is any indication, it’s not looking all that promising, but these kind of things are unpredictable; part of what makes baseball such a great sport.

Fastest & Slowest Starts to the 2013 MLB Season

We’re just over a week into the 2013 MLB regular season, and I wanted to post a blog, just like last year, on the fastest and slowest starts to the season for both entire teams and individual players. While it’s a small sample size, the list gives you an idea of what’s been taking place so far this season. Some of the players and teams are performing nearly as well as expected, but others are putting on performances that I never would’ve predicted them to begin the season with.

FASTEST STARTS TO THE SEASON

Teams:

1) Braves (6-1)

2) Diamondbacks (5-2)

3) Rockies (5-2)

4) Red Sox (5-2)

5) Athletics (5-2)

6) Rangers (5-2)

7) Reds (5-2)

8) Mets (5-2)

The Braves currently lead all of baseball with a win percentage of .857. Justin Upton has been making a major impact, hitting six home runs in the first seven games, and I fully expected the Braves to have a season long performance like the one they’re currently starting out with. The Diamondbacks, Rockies, Red Sox and Mets are all surprising me, so far, as I expected them to all have poor seasons, and while it’s still very early, at the moment, they’re making things interesting. As far as the Athletics, Rangers and Reds go, it’s not a shock that they’re doing so well. Though I thought the Rangers would have a bit of a struggle this season, without Josh Hamilton, they seem to be doing just fine. It should be interesting to see if they can keep it up.

Players:

1) Adam Jones (.500)

2) Jed Lowrie (.500)

3) Carlos Santana (.500)

4) Michael Cuddyer (.478)

5) Carl Crawford (.450)

6) Jean Segura (.450)

*Minimum of 20 AB’s

Adam Jones is the only player on the list of fastest start players that I’m not surprised with. Having recorded a 32 homer, 82 RBI season, in 2012, Jones is in the prime of his career, and is set to have another fantastic season. For Jed Lowrie, Carlos Santana, Michael Cuddyer, Carl Crawford and Jean Segura, they better enjoy the hot start while it lasts, because I don’t see any of them having an all that spectacular year. But as with anything in baseball, there’s always the chance for me to be proven wrong.

SLOWEST STARTS TO THE SEASON

Teams:

1) Astros (1-6)

2) Marlins (1-6)

3) Padres (1-5)

4) Pirates (2-5)

5) Brewers (2-5)

6) Phillies (2-5)

7) Cubs (2-5)

After beating the Rangers, 8-2, on Opening Night, the Astros have done nothing but go down hill, ever since. With 155 games left to play, and just 94 losses away from 100, it’s likely the Astros’ season will end with yet another year of 100+ losses. The Marlins, Padres and Pirates are all teams that have the potential to win now, but it’s likely to be a year or two before they start to become big time contenders in their divisions. The Brewers and Phillies are the only teams that surprise me, somewhat, on this list, but they just haven’t performed well so far this year. And as for the Cubs, they’re just being themselves; destined to make it 105 seasons without a World Series title.

Players:

1) Jeff Keppinger (.048)

2) Ryan Hanigan (.050)

3) Aaron Hicks (.067)

4) Pedro Alvarez (.080)

5) Neil Walker (.083)

*Minimum of 20 AB’s

No one on this list surprises me, other than Neil Walker. Walker is arguably the best player on the list, but he hasn’t been able to find his groove so far this season. I look for him to get things going, however, and record another season like he has the past few years–10-15 homers and 65-80 RBI’s, with a high 200’s batting average. For Jeff Keppinger, Ryan Hanigan, Aaron Hicks and Pedro Alvarez, it will be interesting to see if they get their acts together, or if this is a sign of things to come for them this season, as things can certainly only go up.

Keep in mind, while those are the players and teams with the fastest and slowest starts to the season, there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played, and anything can happen. Only time will tell if the current trends will last; that’s why they play 162 games.