Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

2014 Triple-A All-Star Game

While Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run derby was extremely exciting, with Minor League Baseball’s top sluggers putting on a home run hitting show, Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star game was the event that everyone had been waiting for. With the stars of tomorrow from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League set to take on each other in what was sure to be a thrilling game, many people (myself included) showed up to the ballpark fairly early.

Normally I’d be getting to the ballpark early because I was going to try for autographs. But thanks to an autograph session that was held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday afternoon, I was able to get an auto from every player that I wanted, and thus, it wasn’t a top priority at this game. Even so, I still arrived to the ballpark right before the gates opened, getting inside in time to watch the last portion of the Pacific Coast League’s batting practice:

DSCN7230Down on the field (as seen in the picture) was Stephen Piscotty (in the batting cage), Andrew Susac and Max Stassi, among others, with numerous players in the outfield shagging balls. With me not trying that hard for autographs, I wasn’t down near the dugout at this point, but after seeing arguably the best player of both teams, Joc Pederson, gesturing that he’d sign autographs after he came back out of the clubhouse, I decided to head down to the field anyway.

Despite having gotten Pederson’s autograph the day before, with him being listed as the number 30 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, it was worth another shot. Unfortunately, although he kept his promise of signing autographs once he came back out, Pederson signed for everyone but me. Skipping over me twice, apparently he remembered me from the day before; at least, that’s all I can think of. But that was okay.

Although I would’ve liked to have gotten his auto again, seeing the future Dodgers’ star outfielder (assuming they can figure their outfield situation) up close was cool in itself:

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After failing to get an autograph from Pederson, I made my way to my ticketed seat (the same one I had for the home run derby) to watch the pre game introductions. While every player seemed thrilled to be there and honored to have been selected to participate, no other player seemed quite as happy to be taking part in the All-Star game as the Clippers’ first baseman, Jesus Aguilar:

DSCN7256If that’s not pure excitement by Aguilar, I don’t know what is.

Shortly after all of the players had been introduced from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League, and after a flyover during the National Anthem, . . . . :

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. . . . the 2014 Triple-A All-Star game got underway.

The starting pitcher for the International League, Liam Hendriks, had been fantastic heading into Wednesday’s game. Having gone 7-1 with a 2.19 ERA so far this season for the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays), Hendriks picked up right where he left off, keeping the Pacific Coast League off the board in the top of the first inning.

On the mound for the opposing Pacific Coast League was Elih Villanueva, who didn’t fare nearly as well. In the bottom half of the first inning, Wilson Betemit drove in a pair of runs, taking the score up to a quick 2-0 International League lead. Then, in the very next inning of swings for the International League, Jhonatan Solano (with a man on base) blasted an impressive shot over the left field blue monster, bringing the score up to 4-0:

DSCN7277Not surprisingly, that’s as far as Villanueva was allowed to go, being replaced by Spencer Patton after 1.2 innings pitched:

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Patton would finish out the inning, with the Pacific Coast League once again bringing in another pitcher for the third, in Kyle Hendricks, who was finally able to keep the International League off the board, after they had scored a couple of runs in each of the previous two innings.

Neither team would score for the next few innings, with the first run of the game for the Pacific Coast League, and the first run of the game since the bottom of the second inning, coming in the top of the sixth inning thanks to a Joc Pederson home run. Pederson, who had struck out in his first two at-bats of the game, took out some of his frustration, absolutely demolishing a ball deep into the right field stands:

Having attended dozens of Bulls games, I’ve never seen a ball hit that well to right field. For that matter, I’m not sure any of the participants in the home run derby a couple of nights prior hit a ball quite that deep. Though I’d heard a lot about the extreme power that Pederson possesses, I was still amazed at how far the ball traveled.

Getting back to the All-Star game, which, on a side note, was being broadcasted live on MLB Network with Darryl Hamilton and Paul Severino doing the play-by-play, . . . . :

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. . . . despite Pederson finally getting the Pacific Coast League on the board and bringing the score to within three runs, the International League would ultimately put the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth. A two-run triple by Felix Perez, followed by a double from Steven Souza Jr. that scored Perez from third, took the score up to 7-1 in favor of the International League.

Though the Pacific Coast League would attempt a comeback, scoring a run in the top of the eighth as well as the top of the ninth, Merrill Kelly was able to record the final out of the game to secure the 7-3 win for the International League, which has now won seven of the last ten Triple-A All-Star games:

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For their contributions to the game, Liam Hendriks of the International League and Chris Taylor of the Pacific Coast League were named the “top stars” of the game. Hendriks’ two shutout, one hit innings, in which he struck out four, got the International League off to a great start, which they were able to continue. Taylor, going 3-4 with a couple of doubles, was one of the few bright spots for the Pacific Coast League (other than Joc Pederson), being one of only three players from either side (Jose Pirela and Ivan De Jesus were the others) to record more than one hit.

Though I’ve never attended a Triple-A All-Star game at any other ballpark, it’s hard to imagine that it could’ve been done any better than the one on Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina. The entire week — from the home run derby, to the autograph session, to the All-Star game itself — seemed as though it was planned out specifically with the fans in mind. While it will likely be a long time before Durham ever hosts these events again, after the experience from this week, whenever it returns to the Bull City, I’ll certainly be sure to make the trip.

American League Wins the 85th MLB All-Star Game

With a 5-3 win over the National League, the American League achieved the All-Star game victory on Tuesday night, and, more significantly, secured the all important home field advantage for this year’s World Series. Though home field advantage is considered by some to be meaningless, with the home team having gone 18-18 in the history of World Series game sevens, given the fact that the past five World Series 402-1gCL7O_AuSt_55winners have had home field advantage, it’s proven to give a slight advantage when the Fall Classic rolls around, at least as of late.

But while each and every All-Star game brings it’s share of superstar players who are looking to take home a win, this particular game was noticeably more special than it has been in a long time.

Derek Jeter, who announced back in February that he had planned to retire following the season, was the focus of everyone’s attention. After playing in just 17 games all of last year with an ankle injury, coming back for one final season gave fans all around the country the opportunity to show their appreciation to the captain.

In his fourteenth and final Major League Baseball Midsummer Classic, the entire ballpark took the time to acknowledge the brilliance of Jeter’s two decade career in pinstripes, giving him a loud cheer upon his introduction and a long standing ovation for his first at-bat of the game.

On cue, Jeter drove the second pitch from Adam Wainwright down the right field line, pulling into second base with a double — good old-fashioned Derek Jeter baseball. With a triple off the outfield wall, Mike Trout drove in Jeter for the game’s first run, and was promptly driven in by Miguel Cabrera, who blasted a home run to left field to give the American League a quick 3-0 lead.

The National League would answer back in the top of the second, with an Aramis Ramirez single, followed by a pair of doubles from Chase Utley and Jonathan Lucroy, which brought the score to within one run, to 3-2.

Jeter came up to the plate in his second and final at-bat of the game (his final All-Star at-bat of his career) in the third, and he once again found a way to bloop a hit out into right field — something he’s done numerous times in his career. With that hit, Jeter raised his career All-Star game average up to a staggering .481 average (just a few back of the best career Midsummer Classic average of all time) and became the oldest player in history to record a multi hit All-Star game.

Taking to the field in the top of the fourth, Derek Jeter was replaced by Alexei Ramirez before the inning got going, and exited the game to a standing ovation. After giving the crowd a curtain call, Jeter returned to the dugout where he would take in the remainder of the game, which saw many great plays, and tons of excitement.

In the very inning that Jeter was removed, the National League, with the help of a Jonthan Lucroy double that scored the speedy Dee Gordon from first (Gordon had just replaced Chase Utley) tied the game at three aside. But it wouldn’t last long. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Mike Trout and Alexei Ramirez each drove in a run after a few hits put players on the bases, taking the score up to 5-3 in favor of the American League.

Things would stay right there through the ninth inning, when hometown guy, Glen Perkins, came in to close out the game. Going down 1-2-3, the National League didn’t have a comeback in them on Tuesday night, and the American League won the game, thanks to a save by Perkins Untitledwho is one of the most underrated closers in the game.

Although it was Jeter’s final All-Star game, Mike Trout ended up taking home the Most Valuable Player award, having gone 2-3 with a couple of RBI’s on a triple and a double. Though many people felt it would’ve been story book for Jeter to win the MVP, Trout was certainly deserving of the honor.

In his third All-Star game, Trout becomes the second youngest player to win the game’s Most Valuable Player (Ken Griffey Jr. was the only player younger), and there’s no doubt that Trout will play in numerous more Midsummer Classics, with a good shot that he will pick up a few more MVP’s in the process.

In the end, while it was a competitive All-Star game that went back and forth, there’s one thing from the entire event that will forever stand out in people’s mind. Sure, people may remember the great pitching performances by the American League; they’ll probably remember the great MVP caliber game that Mike Trout put together. But the one thing that everyone will remember the most is Derek Jeter and the final All-Star memory he instilled upon all who witnessed it.

That will stick with people for a lifetime.

2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby

After over a year of anticipation, the day finally arrived. Taking place last night in Durham, North Carolina, and showcasing some of the minor league’s premier power hitters, the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby is something that I’d been looking forward to witnessing for a long time. As always, I made the decision to show up to the ballpark early to try for a few autographs. Thus, despite a gate opening time of 5:30 for the 6:35 derby, I made my way to the All-Star themed Durham Bulls Athletic Park at around 4:50:

DSCN7169Even though I still had a good amount of time until I could go inside, I went ahead and jumped in line. The extremely hot sun was beating down on myself and the fans around me, but I was glad I made the choice to get my place in the line, as it wasn’t long afterwards that it became fairly long. Thankfully, the time in the heat passed fairly quickly, and upon the opening of the gates, I took off for the Pacific Coast League’s dugout.

With the Pacific Coast League being such a loaded team of top prospects and former big leaguers, there were already a lot of people down by the dugout when I got there, making it difficult for me to get down to autographing level. But when Nick Franklin (the first player to emerge from the dugout) popped out . . . . :

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. . . . I was able to (with a little help from fellow auto seekers) get him to sign a couple of cards for me.

Soon afterwards, tons of players began to flood out of the dugout, and items to get autographed were passing by me right and left. The next player I got to sign a few cards for me was Wednesday night’s All-Star game starting pitcher, Elih Villanueva. But autos from Franklin and Villanueva was all I was able to acquire before the game, as the ushers made us all go back to our assigned seats to clear out the aisle.

Before the derby got underway, the well known softball slugging long haul bombers, who have been known to hit softballs up to 500 feet, took to the field to show off their amazing hitting skills:

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There were three total sluggers, each of which were impressive. Though I had seen the long haul bombers last season up in Seattle, they were just as good this time, slamming two total home runs onto the roof of a four story building, some 450+ feet away. But while they were great, the event that everyone came to see was the Triple-A home run derby, which began shortly after.

Despite losing Mike Hessman (the all-time International League home run leader) and Dan Johnson from the derby roster due to an injury to Hessman and a big league callup for Johnson, the lineup was still decent. Consisting of Francisco Pena, Matt Hague, Allan Dykstra, Jesus Aguilar, Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook, there were sure to be a good amount of homers hit, and after the participants posed for a group photo down around home plate . . . . :

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. . . . the derby got underway.

The famous bull sign (“hit bull, win steak”) down the left field line at the DBAP was originally predicted to play a big role in the derby, with the incentive to hit it being that if it was hit 15 times one lucky fan would take home $15,000. But unfortunately, the Bull was hit only once (everyone in attendance received a free steak taco as a result), with the low number of bull-hitting home runs coming thanks in part to a pair of zeros posted in the first round of the derby by Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook — each of which were eliminated.

The second round of the derby saw a cut to four players, as well as a change in my location. For this round, I made my way out to the outfield, with the slight hope of catching a home run ball, but mainly with the reasoning to see a few batters take their turns from a different perspective:

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A few balls were lofted in my general direction, but nothing came too terribly close. While I was in the outfield, Matt Hague and Jesus Aguilar posted rounds that didn’t hold up in the end (though Aguilar did nearly drill me with a foul ball, had it not have been for fans who knocked it down). Meaning, the final round of the derby was going to be between Francisco Pena and Allan Dykstra.

Clay Counsil — the BP pitcher who threw to Josh Hamilton in his historic 28 home run first round of the 2008 derby up at Yankee Stadium — was on hand to throw the final round of the derby to both of the remaining players, and the crowd seemed excited to see him:

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In Francisco Pena’s set of swings to kick off the championship round, he failed to hit a single home run, leaving Allan Dykstra with just one homer needed to take home the title of 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby champion. And he did just that. Slugging a home run to right field, Allan Dykstra wound up winning the derby in front of the sold out crowd:

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After the derby had concluded, there was still a multitude of players hanging around on the field, so I once again took off for the dugout with the hopes of getting some more autographs. I was able to get one more player to sign for me before I left the ballpark, being Andrew Susac, bringing my total number of player autographs to three for the game.

Although not everything went my way on Monday night, it was still a very enjoyable time. It’s likely going to be decades before the Bull City hosts these events again, and it’s one of those things you may only witness once or twice in your lifetime.

For the second half of the events, I’m planning to head out to the All-Star game on Wednesday, where I hope to do better in terms of autographs, but no matter what, I’m going to have a great time, no doubt about it.

MLB Award Frontrunners At the All-Star Break

Sunday marked the last day of MLB games until after the All-Star break, and although the baseball world is looking forward to seeing Giancarlo Stanton put on a show in tonight’s home run derby (he’s the favorite to win), I wanted to focus my attention on the players who have posted amazing performances throughout the first half of the season.

For this post, I’m covering the players who I feel stand the best chance right now (given, it’s still early) of winning the three major awards of Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Cy Young. All three awards have multiple players who can be argued as being deserving, but I have my own opinion as to who deserves each award the most at this point in the season.

Most Valuable Player Award

American League: This is finally the year that Mike Trout wins the American League Most Valuable Player award. At least, that’s what many Mike-Troutpeople are hoping. After posting amazing stats each of the past two seasons (25+ HR’s, 30+ SB’s) many felt Trout deserves to have already won an MVP or two in his career (each year the MVP went to Miguel Cabrera).

Even so, while there are a few other players being Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion and the always consistent Miguel Cabrera in the conversation, the Angels are nearing the top of the division thanks to another great season from Trout, who’s at the top of his game.

National League: Troy Tulowitzki is having an amazing year. Andrew McCutchen is having an even better season than the MVP one he put together last year. But Giancarlo Stanton is doing something extremely special.

No, he doesn’t have the astronomical batting average that Tulo possesses (mid .300’s), but Stanton’s power bat is keeping a counted out Marlins team in the running, despite some rough patches as of late.

Whether or not the Marlins turn things around is yet to be seen, but even if they don’t, Stanton is doing enough for him to pick up the NL MVP, in my mind.

Rookie of the Year Award

American League: It’s very likely that the running for the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year award is going to come down to two players once all is said Billy+Hamilton+Pittsburgh+Pirates+v+Cincinnati+-mQdzhL5gT4land done — Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka. On the offensive side, Abreu’s closest rival is George Springer, who’s been one of the few bright spots for the Astros, but is batting in the low .200’s.

Abreu leads all rookies in hits, homers, slugging percentage and RBI’s, and while Masahiro Tanaka has been the pitching equivalent of Abreu — leading rookies in wins — a recent UCL injury to Tanaka will likely push Abreu over the top.

National League: Despite getting off to a slow start to his rookie campaign, speedster Billy Hamilton has made adjustments that have enabled him to succeed on the major league level.

Although thought of as mainly a speed threat — having stolen 38 bases so far this year — Hamilton has also proven to many that he can handle the bat.

Showing a little power, blasting six home runs, and coming through big, leading all National League rookies in RBI’s, with 38, Hamilton is truly the only current above average NL candidate for the Rookie of the Year award.

Cy Young Award

American League: Scott Kazmir and Masahiro Tanaka (and even Garrett Richards) are arguably in the running for American League Cy Felix HernandezYoung, but as of right now, Felix Hernandez is the front runner. Finally receiving some run support, Hernandez holds an 11-2 record to go along with a dismal 2.12 ERA over twenty games started this year.

Striking out nearly ten batters per nine innings pitched, the Mariners’ ace has proven why he’s been coined “The King” in Seattle. Hernandez could very well be crowned with the Cy Young award when the end of the season arrives.

National League: In my opinion, the NL Cy Young is Adam Wainwright’s to lose at this point. Though the runner up to Wainwright in ERA, Johnny Cueto (Kershaw doesn’t yet qualify due to innings pitched), has a legitimate case for the Cy Young, Wainwright has been unbelievable this season.

Holding opponents to a mere 1.83 ERA, Wainwright has played a big part in keeping the Cardinals near the top of the division, sitting just one game back of the first place Brewers. If Wainwright can keep up the amazing pitching, he could receive his first career Cy Young award for his 2014 campaign.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with my picks for who deserves each award at this point in the season, one thing is for sure: there is still a lot of season left where any player can have anything happen. With 17 of the 30 teams at .500 or better, in terms of win-losses go, regardless of the award races, the games following the mid-summer classic are sure to make for one of the most exciting second halves in years.

Bautista & Tulowitzki Select Their Derby Teammates

The players who are planning to blast long balls in the 2014 home run derby were fully announced on Thursday, and, for the most part, I’m not extremely shocked with any of them. My original picks only included three of the selected players I wanted to see in the derby, but the new format for the home run derby (ten players instead of eight) threw me off when it came to making my selections.

My initial list included eight players, being Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes (Jose Bautista hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the American League, with Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Gattis, Carlos Gomez and Yasiel Puig (Troy Tulowitzki hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the National League.

In the end, American League captain, Bautista, selected Brian Dozier, Adam Jones, Josh Donaldson, and defending derby champion, Yoenis Cespedes. On the National League side of things, their captain, Tulowitzki, added Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier, Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Morneau to the mix.

All in all, a very solid group of players; though I would’ve liked to have seen rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, compete (he expressed that he wasn’t interested in participating).

As stated, the home run derby is set to see a major change in rules for the first time since match play was first introduced back in 2000. Therefore, I wanted to give a brief overview for those of you who may not have heard about the changes. The new rules are as follows:

Round 1: Five players from the American League and five players from National League compete to see who can hit the most home runs, receiving seven outs instead of the previous ten (they receive the same number of outs in every following round). The top slugging player from each individual league receives a bye, jumping automatically ahead to the third round, and subsequently giving them added rest that they’ve never been rewarded with before. The second and third place hitters in the round from each league will then move onto round two, with the bottom two pairs of players being eliminated (four total).

Round 2: With the top home run hitter from the American League and the top player from the National League in the first round skipping round two, this round sees two American League hitters and two National League hitters (the second and third place finishers from round one) squaring off. The two winners will subsequently move on to round three to take on the round one winners.

Round 3: The sole winner from the American League and National League in round two of the derby is set to take on their respective league’s winner from the first round. The player from the AL who hits the most home runs in this round will move on to the final round where they will compete against the round winner from the NL.

Round 4: For the first time ever, there is going to be a round four added to the mix. This round will see the winners from round three (one from the AL and one from the NL) going head-to-head for the title of 2014 MLB Home Run Derby champion. With the number of great power hitters that are always in the mix at this point in every derby, it’s sure to be an entertaining round.

Overall, I like the changes to the derby format. Allowing the winners from the first round to skip the following round finally gives them an advantage and motivation to try and put on a show. In the past, a lot of players have hit their stride in a round (Josh Hamilton slugged a record 28 home runs in the first round back in 2008 only to tire out and lose the derby) that ended up costing them the derby due to fatigue. A break to give them a chance to regain their energy should make things more entertaining for the players and the fans.

With the field for the home run derby set with its full slate of ten players, and with the new format for this year’s derby fully explained, I wanted to take a second to give my thoughts on how I feel the derby will go.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Round one is going to be a very interesting round. Basically being unpredictable, just about any of the players on the American League side of things has the ability to get hot and win the round. With that said, however, I feel that it’s most likely going to be Jose Bautista. Though he doesn’t have the most power of the group, he has a good combination of an ability to hit for power and total homers to do well. Coming in second and third I see it being Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Jones, meaning Josh Donaldson and Brian Dozier would be eliminated.

With Jose Bautista having won round one in my mind, this round would have Yoenis Cespedes going up against Adam Jones. Though Adam Jones can hit with the best of them, I’m sticking with last year’s winner, Yoenis Cespedes. Next to Giancarlo Stanton in the National League, Cespedes has arguably the best power in the derby, and should be able to make it to round three, with Jones getting knocked out.

The final round for the American League portion of the derby would then see Yoenis Cespedes hitting off against round one winner Jose Bautista. Though somewhat difficult to predict, between these two, I’d have to move Cespedes to the championship round, just beating out Bautista.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Likely to be the more impressive round one show between the two leagues is the National League. With Giancarlo Stanton in the mix, I truly don’t see anyone as having a chance at beating him out in this round. That leaves Troy Tulowitzki, Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau, and I feel that of those, Tulowitzki and Frazier stand the best shot at advancing, even with the always entertaining Yasiel Puig in the running. That would leave Puig and Morneau as the players to be out hit in the first round.

With there a good chance that Giancarlo Stanton will have destroyed the completion in the initial round, the second round would include NL captain, Troy Tulowitzki, taking on Todd Frazier. Though Frazier has hit his share of tape measure home runs over the course of his career, I don’t think he will have enough to overtake Tulo. And thus, it’s likely that Tulowitzki will move on to face Stanton in the next round.

After skipping the second round, Giancarlo Stanton would be taking on the previous round’s winner, Troy Tulowitzki. While anything can happen in a home run derby, and certainly has in the past numerous years, I don’t think Stanton will stumble in his quest for the championship round.

Final Round

If the final, championship round of this year’s home run derby is in fact Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton squaring off, it’s sure to be one of the best final rounds ever. Both Cespedes and Stanton have unbelievable power, and both have the strength and ability to put on long, amazing displays of power. Honestly, the final round could easily go either way, but to stick with my gut, your 2014 Major League Baseball home run derby champion will be Giancarlo Stanton, as many are already predicting.

2014 MLB All-Star Game Rosters Unvieled

The American League and National League rosters for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star game, set to be held up at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on July 15th (you can watch it on FOX at 8:00 Eastern) were released on Sunday evening.

As always, the baseball world is hard at work discussing the rosters, debating over which players were snubbed from the teams of 34, which players didn’t necessarily (in their eyes) deserve to make the cut, and (most importantly) which team they think will win. But that comes with each and every year.

Before I give my take on the matter, here are the official All-Star rosters:

American League

Starters

C: Salvador Perez

1B: Miguel Cabrera

2B: Robinson Cano

SS: Derek Jeter

3B: Josh Donaldson

OF: Jose Bautista, Mike Trout, Adam Jones

DH: Nelson Cruz

Pitchers

RHP: Dellin Betances

LHP: Mark Buehrle

RHP: Yu Darvish

LHP: Sean Doolittle

RHP: Felix Hernandez

RHP: Greg Holland

LHP: Scott Kazmir

LHP: Jon Lester

LHP: Glen Perkins

LHP: David Price

RHP: Max Scherzer

RHP: Masahiro Tanaka

Reserves

C: Derek Norris, Salvador Perez, Kurt Suzuki

1B: Jose Abreu, Brandon Moss

2B: Jose Altuve

SS: Alexei Ramirez

3B: Adrian Beltre

OF: Michael Brantley, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon

DH: Edwin Encarnacion, Victor Martinez

National League

Starters

C: Yadier Molina

1B: Paul Goldschmidt

2B: Chase Utley

SS: Troy Tulowitzki

3B: Aramis Ramirez

OF: Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gomez, Yasiel Puig

Pitchers

LHP: Madison Bumgarner

LHP: Aroldis Chapman

RHP: Johnny Cueto

RHP: Zack Greinke

LHP: Clayton Kershaw

RHP: Craig Kimbrel

RHP: Pat Neshek

RHP: Francisco Rodriguez

RHP: Tyson Ross

RHP: Jeff Samardzija

RHP: Julio Teheran

RHP: Adam Wainwright

LHP: Tony Watson

RHP: Jordan Zimmermann

Reserves

C: Jonathan Lucroy, Devin Mesoraco

1B: Freddie Freeman

2B: Dee Gordon, Daniel Murphy

SS: Starlin Castro

3B: Matt Carpenter, Todd Frazier

OF: Charlie Blackmon, Josh Harrison, Hunter Pence, Giancarlo Stanton

While both rosters have their share of superstar players, as well as young first time standouts, I have to go with the National League as far as a prediction of who will win the mid-summer classic. Overall, I feel their starting lineup, as well as pitching staff and reserve players, is a touch stronger than that of the American League, and that should inevitable gain them the victory — and, subsequently, home field advantage for the World Series.

FINAL VOTE

But the rosters aren’t completely finished just yet. There is still one spot left for each league, and the fans get to decide who gets the final spot.

For the American League, the final vote candidates are Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, Rick Porcello, Garrett Richards and Chris Sale. Of the five, I voted for Chris Sale, as he’s consistently been one of the most dominating pitchers over the course of the past few seasons. For the National League side of things, the final vote candidates are Casey McGehee, Justin Morneau, Anthony Rendon, Anthony Rizzo and Justin Upton. Though a strong group, I went with Casey McGehee, as despite very little display of power, he’s been a driving force in the Marlins’ great season thus far.

(You have until Thursday, July 10th, at 4:00 p.m. to vote.)

MLB Rookies With All-Star Worthy Numbers

With the 2014 Major League Baseball rosters for the All-Star game set to be announced on Sunday night, it leaves just enough time for fans such as myself to give their takes on who is deserving of the mid-summer classic. While the voting has officially ended, and although I’ve already given my take on who I feel would be the most worthy candidates in a post I did back in April, I wanted to take the time to discuss the rookies who are posting the stats of an All-Star caliber player.

The two rookies who are near locks for the game are Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka.

Jose Abreu came to the White Sox this past offseason as the prized international slugger from Cuba. Though he displayed some of his amazing power back in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, and although there were numerous stories of his incredible hitting performances, no one truly knew what the Sox were getting when they signed Abreu to a 6-year, 68 million dollar contract. But he’s done nothing but deliver on the gamble.

Currently riding an 18-game hitting streak, and with his .280 batting average on the year to go along with his 27 home runs and 69 RBI’s (all despite an injury which would’ve led to even larger stats), Abreu is a favorite to make the All-Star roster for the American League.

Masahiro Tanaka & Jose AbreuAs with Abreu, Masahiro Tanaka was an extremely hyped international player who was a major sign this past offseason. Finding a home with the Yankees, on a 7-year, 155 million dollar deal, Tanaka has kept an otherwise dismal Yankees team in the race for the American League eastern title.

Without him and his overpowering splitter, there’s no telling where the Bronx Bombers would be at. Over the course of 17 starts, Tanaka has posted a 12-3 record to go along with a 2.27 ERA, and that should be enough for the All-Star game, with the possibility of Tanaka receiving a number of different awards come the end of the season.

But while Abreu and Tanaka are likely to find themselves up in Minnesota in just over a week, there are a few other rookies who have a decent case to join them but may fall just short of making the cut.

Dellin Betances is probably the biggest example of that, as he arguably has the stats to join the other great players, but perhaps isn’t quite over the line. Through 37 games of relief for the Yankees, Betances, with his 1.61 ERA, has blown away the opposition, striking out a total of 78 batters.

That’s the one thing that hc-george-springer-homers-astros-0525-20140525-001separates Betances from the rest of the talented rookie pitchers, as though a couple of other rookie pitchers have great ERA’s — Jake Petricka with 1.94 and Jeurys Familia with 2.22 — no other reliever has a strikeout ratio close to that of Betances. Even so, while his stats are impressive, they may not be impressive enough for him to pitch up at Target Field next week.

On the offensive side of things, not likely making the cut is newcomer George Springer, who has been one of the main reasons behind what has turned out to be a better-than-expected season for the Astros so far this year. Though not making the team out of Spring Training (an extremely talked about story line), Springer’s 17 homers and 46 RBI’s are note worthy, nonetheless.

The biggest problem with Springer’s All-Star case is a mere .242 batting average. That’s the one thing that will keep him from making the All-Star team this year, and the one thing Springer will have to improve upon if he wants to make the cut in 2015.

While the rookies listed above may or may not make the 2014 MLB All-Star team rosters (you can find out on Sunday at 7:00 on ESPN), there’s no doubt that they will all be making huge impacts on their given teams for years to come. And therefore, it would come as little surprise if they each make their fair share of All-Star rosters.

They’re all truly big impact players.

Latest MLB Leaders (March 22nd – June 30th)

With the first three months of the 2014 MLB season in the books, I thought I’d take the first day of the new month to recap the season thus far. It’s been exciting, as well as disappointing — depending on how you look at it, and who you’re rooting for.

But instead of talking about the events that have taken place so far this year, I decided to make a list of different categories and beside them name the player(s) that leads that particular category. I’ve done this for the past two seasons and it was well received, so I wanted to continue to do it for this season as well.

The following lists are categorized into hitting and pitching, but not AL or NL:

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – HITTING

Most Games Played – Evan Longoria (85)

Most At-Bats – Miguel Cabrera (344)

Most Hits – Jose Altuve (116)

Highest Average – Troy Tulowitzki (.353)

Highest OBP – Troy Tulowitzki (.445)

Highest SLG – Jose Abreu (.625)

Most Runs – Troy Tulowitzki (65)

Most Doubles – Miguel Cabrera (29)

Most Triples – Dee Gordon (9)

Most Home Runs – Jose Abreu, Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion (25).

Most RBI’s – Nelson Cruz (66)

Most Base On Balls – Jose Bautista (59)

Most Strikeouts – Ryan Howard (101)

Most Stolen Bases – Dee Gordon (40)

Most Caught Stealing – Billy Hamilton (12)

Most Intentional Base On Balls – David Ortiz and Giancarlo Stanton (15).

Most Hit By Pitch – Neil Walker (11)

Most Sacrifice Flies – Four players tied for most (7).

Most Total Bases – Edwin Encarnacion (186)

Most Extra Base Hits – Edwin Encarnacion (47)

Most Grounded Into Double Plays – Alex Rios (16)

Most Ground Outs – Elvis Andrus (145)

Most Number Of Pitches Faced – Matt Carpenter (1,560)

Most Plate Appearances – Nick Markakis (379)

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – PITCHING

Most Wins – Masahiro Tanaka (11)

Most Losses – Eric Stults (11)

Best ERA – Johnny Cueto (1.88)

Most Games Started – Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber (18).

Most Games Pitched – Will Smith and Brad Ziegler (44).

Most Saves – Francisco Rodriguez (27)

Most Innings Pitched – Felix Hernandez (128.1)

Most Hits Allowed – Ricky Nolasco (125)

Most Runs Allowed – Justin Verlander (67)

Most Earned Runs Allowed – Ricky Nolasco (61)

Most Home Runs Allowed – Marco Estrada (24)

Most Strikeouts – David Price (144)

Most Walks – Ubaldo Jimenez (54)

Most Complete Games – Five players tied for most (3).

Most Shutouts – Henderson Alvarez (3)

Best Opponent Avg. – Johnny Cueto (.171)

Most Games Finished – Francisco Rodriguez (40)

Most Double Plays Achieved – Dallas Keuchel (17)

Most Wild Pitches – Garrett Richards (14)

Most Balks – Samuel Deduno, Roenis Elias and Franklin Morales (3).

Most Stolen Bases Allowed – Tyson Ross (21)

Most Pickoffs – Madison Bumgarner, Edwin Jackson and Drew Smyly (4).

Most Batters Faced – David Price (507)

Most Pitches Thrown – David Price (1,880)

Brewers Still Surprising Many With Formidable Play

It was a rather intriguing story line when the Brewers were leading the National League central division after the first full month of the season. It was somewhat of an impressive feat when they were still leading the division after the first two months had passed. But now that we’re just a couple of weeks away from the All-Star break and the Brewers are still on top, it’s beginning to become one of the most discussed topics in all of baseball.

Ryan-Braun--Milwaukee-Brewers--2014-season-opener-jpg

Predicted by many to do poorly this season (I had them finishing fourth), with the seemingly average team the Brewers have and the difficult division in which they play, the fact that the Brewers currently sit 5.5 games ahead of the second place Cardinals is incredible — especially after the Cardinals won the division fairly easily last year, with the Brewers ending up 23 games back.

But while most of the baseball world counted out the Brewers for 2014, their players felt they had just as good of a shot as anyone, which is proving to be true. “We felt good about our situation,” said Brewers’ second baseman, Rickie Weeks, on Thursday. “Obviously, a lot of the media didn’t. That’s one of the things that keeps us together in this clubhouse.”

Having achieved the most wins in all of baseball (only the Athletics have a better winning percentage), and holding the largest division lead of any other team over the second place opponent, the Brewers making the playoffs is no longer a long shot as it appeared to be at the beginning of the year. It has now become a really good possibility.

Off to the best start halfway through the season (81 games) in their franchise’s history, the Brewers not only have momentum on their side, they also have statistics. Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, 69 percent of teams (82 out of 118) in first place at the halfway point have made the playoffs, with 61 percent (72 out of 118) holding on to win their division.

One of the biggest reasons for the surprising performance by the Brewers as a whole has been their consistent game play by their individual players. Jonathan Lucroy, one of the game’s most underrated catchers, has done a fantastic job both defensively behind the plate as well as offensively. And despite a slightly down season for Ryan Braun (he’s still making a good contribution), Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, and Scooter Gennett are all doing their share, with Khris Davis and Mark Reynolds providing a good deal of power, regardless of their low batting averages.

On the pitching side of things, Kyle Lohse has really stepped up his game this year, doing a great job of giving the Brewers opportunities to win ballgames, and with the exception of a couple of rough starts, Yovani Gallardo has been a valuable asset as well. With a closer like Francisco Rodriguez, who currently leads baseball in saves, coming on in the ninth inning to shut down games, the Brewers have a really solid team no matter how you look at it.

With just 14 games remaining until the All-Star break, the Brewers find themselves on the verge of making some more history by surpassing the old franchise record of 54 wins at the break. That would certainly be an amazing feat. But I’m sure the majority of the Brewers would tell you, having made the World Series just once back in 1982 (they lost), their main focus is on making it deep into October.

6/22/14 Tennessee Smokies Vs. Chattanooga Lookouts

When the plan to visit the Tennessee Smokies (Double-A affiliate of the Cubs) was originally being put into place back in early April, I was really looking forward to seeing what was sure to be an extremely talented team. With names such as Kris Bryant, Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler, C.J. Edwards, and many other top prospects and above average players, I just knew that this game was going to be an exciting one.

That was, however, until everything went wrong.

Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler, and C.J. Edwards all hit the disable list earlier in the year, keeping them from being at the game, and my optimism that Kris Bryant would still be a part of the team after blasting over 20 home runs in the first half of the season fell just short, as he was called up to Triple-A mere days before my arrival. And thus, Bryant joined the long list of great players who I wouldn’t have a chance of getting an autograph from.

But despite all the bad luck, my dad, grandpa and I made our way out to Kodak, Tennessee yesterday afternoon to take in the early two p.m. game against the Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate, which also didn’t have too many good players). After a quick stop for lunch, we made our way over to the Smokies’ ballpark, bought tickets, and headed inside the stadium:

Smokies 002All I could think about upon first glance of the field was that Kris Bryant had been playing on that very surface not all that long ago  (a number of great players have played there in recent years, including Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Chris Archer, etc.) but I tried not to dwell on it for too long. To help get my mind off of Bryant’s absence, I swung by the gift shop for a few minutes, where I browsed the wide variety of items before heading down to field level (in the extremely hot sun) with the hopes of snagging a few autographs:

Smokies 003As I stated earlier, the Smokies aren’t all that fantastic of a team at the moment, with so many star players hurt, but I still wanted an auto from Dustin Geiger, Christian Villanueva, Corey Black, and former big league pitcher, Storm Davis. While I was successful in getting Geiger to sign my ticket, I didn’t snag an auto from Villanueva, and never actually spotted Davis or Black.

But regardless of the subpar pregame autographing, the game itself was much more exciting. Though not ranked very highly, the one player that really stood out to me was the Lookouts’ Darnell Sweeney:

Smokies 005Sweeney isn’t ever going to hit for much power according to a lot of people, but he was impressive on the day, picking up a couple of hits, making some great defensive plays, and showing off his speed (he stole nearly 50 bases last season). And therefore, Sweeney is a player I’ll be keeping an eye on.

As far as the game goes, heading into the day, both starting pitchers had an ERA above six for the season, which would lead you to believe it was likely going to be a high scoring game. But things started out rather slowly, with neither team scoring through five innings played, and the most entertaining moment being the traditional chicken run that takes place every home game:

Smokies 008

(Everyone loves a good chicken run.)

However, as the temperature began to heat up, reaching a high of 91 degrees, the game quickly heated up as well. With two out and a man on in the sixth, Christian Villanueva blasted a home run out onto the outfield grass berm, putting the Smokies up 2-0. Then, in the very next inning, Dustin Geiger copied Villanueva with a two-run dinger of his own . . . . :

Smokies 011

. . . . moving the score up to 4-0, which is where things would end.

Upon the final out, I went back down around the dugout to try once more for an autograph, but my main target — the only other key player I had seen before the game — ,Villanueva, bolted down the dugout tunnel. Thankfully, although I never saw him prior to the first pitch, Corey Black popped out of the dugout and began to sign autos for the many people who wanted him. I was the last one he signed for, and was able to leave the game with two autographs.

Though two autographs isn’t very many, the time spent out at the game more than made up for it. Any time I can combine baseball, traveling and time spent with family, it’s sure to be a fantastic time all around.

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