Results tagged ‘ Astros ’

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.

American League Predictions for 2016

For the fifth season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I had the Red Sox placing first in 2015 and they finished last), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:

EAST

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Rays

For a team that has finished dead last each of the past two seasons, it’s hard to wrap my head around placing the Red Sox to win the Americna League East division in 2016, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Not everyone has them faring quite as well, but there are a number of factors that have me seeing great things from them this season. First of all, the addition of Craig Kimbrel to their bullpen — along with Carson Smith from the Mariners — to close out games for them will wind up being huge, in my mind. As far as their starters are concerned, placing David Price in the rotation automatically improves their chances of winning every fifth day, even though the rest of their rotation isn’t on Price’s level. The Red Sox don’t have an overly dominant pitching staff, but with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez looking to have bounceback seasons offensively in this being David Ortiz’s last season, I feel big things are ahead for Boston.

What the Yankees lack in offensive thump (besides Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) they make up for in pitching. Their rotation and bullpen aren’t overwhelming at first glance, but they are a group of solid pitching workhorses who will post a ton of innings of good baseball all season long. With that in mind, I have the Yankees finishing second to the Red Sox, as they will likely be very competitive, but I can’t see them winning the whole division. Even so, with Masahiro Tanaka looking to have a fully healthy season, along with Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, combined with a bullpen of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and newly acquired Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees pitching will inevitably carry them when their offense isn’t clicking. They’re basically the opposite of the Red Sox. Bottom line: The Yankees are a team that shouldn’t be overlooked, as they look to make it back to the postseason this year.

The Blue Jays have a true dream-lineup, with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista all providing major power threats at any point in the game. But they’re missing one thing that would lead me to placing them atop the division: a strong pitching staff. Yes, they have guys like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez who look to have big futures ahead, along with veteran R.A. Dickey, but I’m not fully on board with them placing any better than third in the division. If they can find a way to pitch well day in and day out, then there is no stopping the Blue Jays from dominating the division, but there are a lot of “what ifs” with their team. After making it to the postseason for the first time in over twenty years last season, it wouldn’t shock me at all if they make it back again in 2016. But on the flip side, it wouldn’t fully shock me if they don’t make it either.

If history has taught us anything it’s that predicting how any given season will pan out is impossible. However, history has also shown that it takes a good pitching staff to make it much of anywhere in the divisional races, and I don’t see a very deep rotation or bullpen for the Orioles. They have several solid starters, from Chris Tillman to Brian Matusz, as well as newcomer Yovani Gallardo who will help them out tremendously, and their bullpen has a couple of the best relievers in baseball, with Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. But I simply don’t see them as having enough to outplay the Blue Jays, Yankees or Red Sox. Their pitchers would have to be atop their game all season long, and their lineup would also have to perform on an equally high level. But with all of that said, with guys like Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones, it’s not entirely impossible for them to have special year, I just don’t predict it.

Someone unfortunately has to finish last in every division around baseball no matter how good their team is, and I’m placing the Rays in that slot for 2016. Putting them last was extremely hard. I could make a strong case for them outplaying the Orioles, with even somewhat long shot cases of them placing in the top three. They have a team that makes anything possible. Their rotation is better than that of the Orioles and Blue Jays, in my opinion, with guys like Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb (once he returns) and Matt Moore, but I’m not convinced that their offense, other than Evan Longoria and a few others, will be consistent enough to take on the top teams in the division. If they can score runs, they can compete with anyone. It all comes down to execution. That’s what makes them just like the other four teams in the division who I could see coming in first or dead last. It’s truly going to be that close of a race in the division.

CENTRAL

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

This is another very difficult division to decide where to place each team, but I have the Royals winning the division once again. They aren’t a very flashy team, but they do a lot extremely well. In 2015, the Royals were the king of the comeback, constantly coming back from big deficits to win games that ultimately lead to them becoming World Series champions. I feel they will be able to do that again this season. One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Alex Gordon deciding to stay with the Royals, and I feel that him sticking around will help them exponentially. Combined with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, the Royals have a good enough lineup to post a nice amount of runs. What will help the Royals win their way to the division title, however, is their bullpen, with Wade Davis helping to lead the charge. If all goes right, winning the division should be fairly easy.

Not a lot of people believe in the Tigers for 2016, but upon looking at their roster, I don’t see a spot where they are weak. Over the past few seasons, their bullpen has been one of their worst spots, but they addressed that nicely with the pickup of Francisco Rodriguez who is a proven closer that can shut down games for them. Beyond that, their rotation got a bit better, as the pickup of under the radar starter Jordan Zimmermann, to go along with Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris, should help them win a lot of games. But while their pitching staff is strong, their roster is even stronger. Miguel Cabrera will put up Cabrera-like numbers, and if Victor Martinez can have a healthy year, along with J.D. Martinez and offseason pickup Justin Upton, Detroit appears to be in good shape. If absolutely everything goes right, the Tigers could win the division. But I’m leaving them finishing in a close second.

With Chris Sale leading the way as the Ace of the staff, along with Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana likely to have solid seasons, the White Sox appear to have a decent enough pitching rotation to win ball games in 2016. However, I don’t see it as being strong enough to overtake either the Tigers or Royals. Furthermore, I’m not fully convinced that their lineup is going to be all that spectacular either. They had one of the worst lineups in baseball last season, and while they picked up Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason, they can only help so much. Guys such as Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton will do their parts throughout the season, but I simply don’t see a way for the White Sox to finish any better than third place in the division. That’s a sharp contrast from some people around the baseball world who actually have the Sox winning the division this coming season, but I can’t place them that high in my mind.

If the Indians can get the fullest potential out of Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar this coming season, the sky is truly the limit for them. However, with that said, I’m not sure what to expect out of the Indians’ starters as a whole. Over the past few seasons, each of the aforementioned names have been dominant, but they have failed to be dominant at the same time, with a lot of inconsistency coming from them all. Additionally, although their lineup contains some big names, I simply don’t think that it will be enough to stack up against the other three teams above them on my list. Yes, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley, among others, are capable of carrying the Indians far in the season, but their overall makeup isn’t going to be consistent enough, in my opinion, to make the coming season that special of a year for the Indians.

The Minnesota Twins shocked the baseball world last season when they finished in second place in the division. But I see a drastic fall back for them in the coming year. If their rotation was stronger, I could see another good year. However, with Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes being historically inconsistent over their careers, their pitching isn’t exactly their strong suit. Where the Twins thrive is their lineup, which contains a ton of power. Miguel Sano burst onto the scene last year and was absolutely tremendous right out of the gate, with fellow sluggers Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia likely to be the key power sources of their roster. If they can get those guys going, along with Byron Buxton, who was somewhat of a disappointment upon his debut last season, then the Twins very well may prove me wrong and climb their way up the rankings. I just have a hard time seeing a scenario where that happens.

WEST

1. Astros

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Mariners

5. Athletics

After several years in a row of finishing the season with greater than 100 losses on the year, the Astros have finally been heading in the right direction in recent history, with them actually making the playoffs in 2015. With a starting rotation that includes 2015 Cy Young award winner, Dallas Keuchel, along with youngster Lance McCullers and newcomer Doug Fister, I really like Houston’s starters heading into the year. And their bullpen is even better. Picking up Ken Giles from the Phillies in a trade to join Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson in the bullpen, the Astros look ready to mow down opposing teams all season long. On the flip side, they also appear loaded in their lineup. While they lost slugger Chris Carter, they still have reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa who looks headed for superstardom, along with Jose Altuve, Carlos Gomez and George Springer. All things together, the division title is the Astros’ to lose.

The Angels’ lineup is certainly a great mix of both veterans and young, talented players, and I think they will all come together to truly shock some people in 2016. Despite that, I don’t see them taking out the Astros for top spot in the division. Albert Pujols had a solid year last season, and Mike Trout is seemingly getting better and better as each year passes. Look for both of them to power the team towards a lot of wins, along with some help from guys such as Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron and offseason pickup Andrelton Simmons. But while I feel their offense will be okay at best, I predict their pitching to be superb in 2016. Getting a healthy Garrett Richards for this season, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Andrew Heaney all looking to have a bounce back or breakout season, I don’t feel that any of the other three teams below the Angels on my list will be able to challenge them for the full 162-game season.

Third in my divisional standings predictions for the American League West are the Rangers, however, they could easily overtake the Angels if they don’t perform the way I’m expecting them to. For that reason alone, the Rangers are a team to watch very carefully in 2016. Although their lineup is going to be fairly good, with Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder all ready to mash in the coming year, there are too many questions with the remainder of their roster for me to extremely believe in them. Furthermore, the question marks extend beyond their lineup. They lost Yovani Gallardo to the Orioles this offseason, and although they have proven themselves in the past, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish performing at the top of their game after injuries is yet to be seen. Even so, the Rangers should be a very good ball club that may wind up just short when all is said and done.

When I look at the Mariners’ rotation heading into this season, I see a ton of talent but also a ton of question marks, much as I did with the Rangers’ lineup. Beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who will both be great all year long, Seattle’s rotation isn’t really proven enough for me to think without a doubt that they are headed for big things this year. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have a ton of potential, and have shown flashes of greatness before, but they have been too inconsistent to have an idea of what to expect from them in 2016. Beyond their pitching, the Mariners also leave a lot to be desired in their overall lineup, as other than players such as Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, I don’t see a lot of pop in their everyday 1-9. For all of those reasons, I feel that it is going to turn out to be another disappointing season in Seattle.

Finally on my list of picks in the American League divisional races in 2016, I have the Athletics finishing at a dismal last place in the west. While the pickup of Fernando Rodney will go a long way in further improving their already decent bullpen, their starting rotation begins and ends with Sonny Gray, who I see as having another Cy Young conversation season. With the unfortunate loss of Jarrod Parker due to another arm injury, I don’t see a lot of options for their rotation that will be overpowering. More of the same holds true for the offensive side of their roster. To me, although they have a few impact bats such as Billy Butler and Josh Reddick, along with 2015 breakouts Stephen Vogt and Billy Burns, they simply don’t have good enough pitching or hitting for them to perform at a competitive level in the division they are in. Ever since losing Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the A’s just haven’t been the same.

My 2015 Postseason Predictions

For the fourth straight season, I made preseason predictions as to how I felt each division would play out, and for the fourth straight season I was extremely far off. For one reason or another, I’m not very good at making division predictions before a given season begins.

This year, though, I hope to finally correctly predict how the postseason will play out. While I’ll likely be off, either by a little or a lot, it’s always fun to make predictions. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a perfect prediction of how the postseason will play out. You never can tell what may happen in October.

WILD CARD GAMES (AL October 6th & NL October 7th)

American League: Yankees Vs. Astros

Winner: Yankees

It’s somewhat difficult to pick a winner of this matchup. Neither one of these teams were locks to make the playoffs at all when the season began, and yet here they are. I would have to say that the Astros’ lineup has more thump in it than the Yankees by a bit, but when it comes down to it, I think the bullpen will decide this game. With Masahiro Tanaka going up against Dallas Keuchel, the relievers could very well be the ultimate factor. With that said, I think the Yankees will be able to hold off the Astros and advance to the next round.

National League: Pirates Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cubs

This is another tough one to call. With it being just one game, and with Jake Arrieta going up against Gerrit Cole, you can basically flip a coin to pick which team is more likely to win. Overall, though, I think that the Cubs will have the added motivation of trying to break the century long World Series drought that will help them prevail. Even so, this is sure to be one of the best games of the entire playoffs when all is said and done. Both teams have great lineups, and each has the ability to make this an unforgettable game.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 8th)

Blue Jays Vs. Rangers

Winner: Blue Jays

The Rangers have a good pitching staff as well as a good lineup, but they are quite simply no match for the Blue Jays in my mind. I could easily see this being a three-game sweep by the Blue Jays if Toronto’s pitchers can pitch well. Their roster, consisting of unbelievable power throughout the lineup, is more than enough to dominate the Rangers. Although the Rangers made an impressive run to even make it into the playoffs, their run will likely end in the first true round of the 2015 postseason.

Royals Vs. Yankees

Winner: Royals

After making it all the way to the World Series in 2014 — they lost to the Giants in game seven — I think the Royals will easily overtake the Yankees. The Royals have a strong team in every single aspect. From their pitching staff to their bullpen to their extremely diverse lineup, the Royals are a very formidable club. Although I’m not sure they will make it to the World Series as they did in 2014, I think they will have no problem overtaking the Yankees, despite the Yankees being a good team as well.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 9th)

Dodgers Vs. Mets

Winner: Dodgers

This is going to be a series for the ages. The Dodgers have one of the best one-two pitching staff punches in baseball history, with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and their offense is one that can score a lot of runs. Likewise, the Mets have a deep pitching staff that starts with phenom Matt Harvey, and they can score runs with the best of them as well. I could see this series going down to a game five, with the team that scores first being the team that holds on to advance to the Championship series.

Cardinals Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cardinals

Unfortunately, this is where I see the Cubs’ hopes for a 2015 World Championship coming to an end. They are a good team, as I previously stated, but I don’t think they can withstand the team with the best record from the regular season. The Cardinals are a great team, and they know how to win. I think they will continue their winning ways and push on to the next round of the playoffs. Despite that, it should be fun to watch the Cubs put up a fight to take out the Cardinals. If absolutely everything goes perfect, they could do it, but I just don’t see that happening.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 16th)

Blue Jays Vs. Royals

Winner: Blue Jays

What a series this would be. Both teams are dynamic, and both teams are very talented. However, both teams can’t win. With that said, I think it will be back and forth series in every sense of the word. I think this series will take six or seven games to decide, and it will be extremely exciting to watch. In the end, however, the Jays have an extremely good team, and I see them knocking the Royals out of contention. Although the Blue Jays haven’t been to the World Series since 1993, I have them making it there this year.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 17th)

Cardinals Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Dodgers

Another sure to be great series against two great teams, this is yet again a nearly impossible matchup to predict (as many of them are). It could honestly go either way, depending on an exponential number of factors. It will all come down to who is hot at the right times and which team comes up with the clutch hits. But if Kershaw can hold up against the Cardinals (something history has shown he’s had a difficulty doing), I would bet my money on the Dodgers. They have the ability to make it into the World Series.

WORLD SERIES (Begins October 27th)

Blue Jays Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Dodgers

If the Blue Jays can’t score runs they can’t win games. That’s the logic I’m using for trying to predict the World Series. Going up against the Dodgers’ unbelievable pitching staff, it may be difficult for Toronto to come out on top. The Blue Jays’ strength is undoubtedly their power bats, which the Dodgers don’t have as much of. But the Dodgers have more than their share of good pitching, which is what usually has the edge. When all is said and done, and the season has completely come to an end, I see the Dodgers as the only team remaining, as World Series Champions.

Leave a comment with who you have winning the World Series. I’d love to hear your picks.

Excitement Building With First Place Races

From one year to the next, you never truly know what to expect in any given division race around baseball. Sometimes one team will completely blow away the rest of the teams in their division and run away with the first place spot, while other cases see multiple teams within a few games of each other down to the last game of the season. This year is more of the latter.

Of the six divisions, four of them have the second place team within three games of the first place squad (the Royals and Cardinals lead their divisions by a good margin). Furthermore, some of the teams closing in on first — or in some cases leading the division — haven’t been doing so well in quite a long time. Astros

The biggest example of that being the Astros and Mets. Each are leading their given divisions at the current moment, and each are making their push towards the playoffs years earlier than many people thought they would.

With the Angels a mere one game back of the Astros and the Nationals a game and a half removed from the Mets, the remaining games of the season should be exciting as we find out which teams can hold on to their hot seasons.

Although not in first place (at least not yet), the Blue Jays are another team that is making things very interesting in the race for first place. The Yankees, somewhat surprisingly, lead the American League East at the moment, but the surging Jays are right on their tail, at just one and a half games back. With the lineup they have, Toronto has the ability to overthrow the Yankees as the season progresses.

The Dodgers are also in the mix as far as exciting division races are concerned, despite still holding a two and a half game lead over the Giants for first. Even so, the Dodgers have been in somewhat of a slump lately (as have the Giants) and things could quickly switch around in the NL West.

No matter what happens over the coming several weeks as teams push towards October, the fact that so many teams that weren’t expected to make the playoffs in 2015 are currently on their way to doing just that is exciting. If the season ended today, the Yankees, Royals, Astros, Blue Jays, Angels, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates and Cubs would all be headed to the postseason.

With the Astros not having made the playoffs since 2005, the Mets since 2006, Cubs since 2008 and the Blue Jays since way back in 1993, this could turn out to be the season a lot of droughts could be broken for a lot of teams. That’s worth looking forward to.

Jose Altuve Records His 200th Hit of 2014

With a sharply hit ground ball that bounced its way into left field, Jose Altuve notched his name into the record books on Wednesday night, recording his 200th hit of the 2014 season. Just the second Astros player to ever reach that mark, and the first player in Major League Baseball to do so since 2009, Altuve is undeniably having a career season that many players only dream about.

Altuve leads all of the majors in hits (27 more hits than the next closest player), batting average (.336) and multi hit games. In addition, with his 52nd stolen base on Wednesday, Altuve also leads the American League in steals, and joins a rather elite group of players to have recorded 200 or more hits to go along with 50 or more stolen bases in a season, with Jose Reyes being the last to accomplish that feat back in 2008.

Although the Astros’ playoff drought continues, having not made the playoffs since 2005, Altuve has been one of the many bright spots on the team, with several players having standout years. While Altuve is having the best all around season of them all, players such as Chris Carter and George Springer are also having great years for the Astros, despite holding low batting averages.

However, low batting average is a major issue with the entire Astros team, with only two other players besides Altuve batting over .250 on the season. That’s something that will need to be addressed for next year, but with this being the first year since 2010 that the Astros are going to finish with a record of fewer than 100 losses, things are definitely moving in the right direction.

Jose Altuve reflected that in his comments on Wednesday, stating, “We win this game and get 200 hits and the momentum we’re having right now, it’s pretty special for me. The team is playing great. I couldn’t ask for more. We’re going outside, playing hard, we’re winning, and I think that makes me feel really good.”

While I don’t see a playoff push anytime soon for the Astros — playing in the difficult American League west division that includes a good Mariners, Angels, Athletics, and Rangers team (once they return to full health) — they could definitely make things interesting next season. With their offense clicking fairly efficiently, and their pitching doing terrific (Astros starters are now 6-0 with a 1.95 ERA in the team’s past 10 games), the Astros are certainly a team to watch.

Having won eight of their last ten games, over which Altuve has recorded 16 hits to make for a .390 average, the Astros are giving their fans something to get excited about for the first time in quite awhile. With Jose Altuve approaching the Astros’ all-time hit leader for a season, Craig Biggio, who recorded 210 hits in 1998, Astros fans should be excited about where this team is headed.

Though they may not be raising a World Series trophy anytime soon, they’re slowly but surely finding a way to win games against good teams. That’s something to look forward to seeing more and more as the seasons go on, with Jose Altuve leading the way.

Heading into the Final Month of the 2014 MLB Season

It’s hard to believe, but the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season is almost over. Today marks exactly one month until the final games of the season, on September 28th, and teams are making their final push towards the postseason, with every player doing their best to finish out the season strong. With all of this going on, I thought I’d post an entry on the five main storylines I plan to watch throughout the final stretch.

200 Hits for Jose Altuve

7848827Leading all of baseball in batting average (.332) and with 14 more hits on the season than the player with the second most hits, Jose Altuve is well on his way to recording his first 200 hit season of his career. With 181 hits this year, Altuve should easily make it to what has become a somewhat rare achievement.

The last time any player recorded 200 or more hits in a season was back in 2009, when Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Ryan Braun and Robinson Cano all did it. For Altuve, he’s set to become only the second Astros player to ever record 200 hits in a season, with Craig Biggio, doing so in 1998, being the other.

Though Altuve is too far back to break Ichiro Suzuki’s all-time hit record for a season of 262 hits, it should be interesting to see how many hits he can amass in this final month.

Race for Stolen Base Lead

After Billy Hamilton set the all-time single season stolen base record for the minor leagues back in 2012, stealing 155 bases that year, many people began to proclaim Hamilton as the next Rickey Henderson. Those are some lofty expectations that Hamilton hasn’t quite been able to live up to, with Hamilton sitting on 50 stolen bases (the youngest Reds player to ever reach 50 stolen bases in a season) for the season and Rickey Henderson having stolen 100 bags in his first full year.

Hamilton currently sits eight stolen bases back of the leader, Dee Gordon, so he definitely has some work to do if he wants to finish out the year on top. But despite not running away in the stolen bases category like many people initially believed he would, Hamilton has done a phenomenal job of making adjustments this year. After a horrid start to the season, Hamilton has really turned things around, and if he can continue to get on base, he has the potential to rack up a ton of stolen bases in a short period of time.

How Jose Abreu Finishes the Year

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City RoyalsProving to have been one of the most valuable offseason pickups, Jose Abreu is posting one of the best rookie seasons we’ve seen in years.

Currently sitting on 33 home runs (he has a good shot at winning the home run crown, tied with Chris Carter and Giancarlo Stanton, and one back of only Nelson Cruz), 96 RBI’s and a .312 batting average, Abreu has done nothing but produce all season long, leading many to believe that he has the American League Rookie of the Year award completely locked up.

At one point in time, there was a good chance that Abreu would break the all-time home run record for a rookie, set by Mark McGwire back in 1987, when he blasted 49 home runs. But Abreu will inevitably come up just short of that mark, due in part to a brief stint on the disabled list earlier in the year.

Even so, Abeu will likely wind up with around 40 home runs for the season, and will be a major asset for the White Sox for years to come.

American League West Division

It can’t much tighter than it currently is in the American League West, as the Angels lead the Athletics by a mere game in the standings. With just a few more weeks of games, this is undoubtedly the division to watch most closely throughout the rest of the season. However, the wild card spots are looking to be just as intriguing, in both leagues.

On the American League side of things, whichever team doesn’t win the AL west between the Angels and A’s will end up taking the first wild card spot, but the Mariners, Tigers and even the Yankees are going to be fighting hard for that second wild card spot. In the National League, the Cardinals hold a slight lead for the first wild card, but the second one is anyone’s for the taking between the Giants, Braves, Pirates and Marlins, if they can keep pace through the month of September. It should be interesting to see which teams get the job done.

Derek Jeter’s Final Month of His Career

Derek JeterAfter having a disastrous 2013 season, in which he was injured and posted measly stats, Derek Jeter announced at the beginning of the year that 2014 would be his last. Therefore, all eyes are on Jeter to see how he performs in the final month of his farewell season. So far, Jeter isn’t doing terrible, but he’s not doing all that great either, batting just .267 with 3 home runs and 36 RBI’s.

But although Jeter isn’t producing all that much, he will still go down as one of baseball’s all-time greats, with over 3,400 career hits.

The one thing on everyone’s mind, however, is whether or not the Yankees can make the playoffs to give Jeter the chance at a sixth career World Series title.

Sitting 2.5 games back of the second wild card, there’s still a shot that the Yankees make it in, but it’s going to take a good amount of terrific play for them to reach the postseason.

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.

Gregory Polanco Headed to the Pirates

The wait is finally over for Pirates fans.

Gregory Polanco — the 12th overall ranked prospect in all of baseball, and one of the highest praised young outfielders in years — is set to make his MLB debut later tonight against the Cubs, receiving the call after second baseman, Neil Walker, was placed on the disabled list.8396068

Set to play right field for the Buccos, Polanco is joining an already talented outfield of Starling Marte (left) and Andrew McCutchen (center), taking over for Josh Harrison, who has done a fantastic job this year in right field, hitting near .300 and making numerous spectacular catches. Nonetheless, replacing Harrison with Polanco instantly makes the Pirates outfield one of the best in baseball.

And that’s why, in the minds of many baseball fans, the arrival of Polanco is long overdue. After getting off to such a great start to the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, the idea of a big league call up for Polanco began to gain mention (several rumors were started just in the past week regarding a promotion), but when he continued to stay hot, making it up to seven home runs and 49 RBI’s, to go along with a .347 batting average before his call up, Polanco truly left the Pirates no other choice.

With the Pirates struggling somewhat so far this season, the hope is that the young, talented Polanco will arrive on the scene and help turn things around.

Sitting three games back of .500, and 7.5 games back of first place, it’s still too early to count out the Pirates, especially now that Polanco is going to get some time for the club. Despite lofty predictions being made for this year after the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in twenty years last season, at this point in 2013 they were eleven games above .500, which is allowing understandable concern to come into play.

But could Gregory Polanco’s mere presence truly be enough to turn around the Pirates?

Well, though it’s going to take the entire team playing better for the Pirates to go on a run, we’ve seen big time players make big time impacts before. Take Yasiel Puig for example. The Dodgers were doing terribly last season before his call up, and after Puig’s arrival, the Dodgers went on a record-breaking streak that ultimately led them to the playoffs. Sure, the entire team began playing well, but the initial spark undeniably came from Puig.

However, while it’s certainly possible that Polanco will kick start the Pirates, it’s not all that likely. The biggest difference between the Dodgers’ team, and the Pirates’ 2013 team for that matter, is pitching — bother the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Last season, the Pirates had a magical year, where nearly every one of their pitchers from top to bottom was superb. But the loss of A.J. Burnett this offseason, the recent injury to Gerrit Cole, and the terrible performance by 2013 ace Francisco Liriano, has hurt the chances of an already poor team.

And thus, it will certainly be interesting to see just what type of impact Polanco has for the Bucs. Asking him to put the whole team on his back and carry them to the playoffs for the second straight year is an awful lot to expect from Polanco, but with young phenom prospects, you never truly know what they can do.

But one thing’s for sure: Gregory Polanco is just as excited as Pirates’ fans to finally be making his way to the Steel City, regardless of the current struggles; saying in a tweet on Monday night, “Pirates fans, thanks for being patient with me . . . The wait is over. My dream has officially come true.”

2014 MLB Draft: Aiken, Kolek & Rodon As Top Three

Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek and Carlos Rodon (all pitchers) were ranked as the number one, two and three draft prospects going into Thursday’s 2014 first-year player draft, and that turned out to be dead-on. Each of the three went exactly where they were predicted to go, and going so high in the draft, all of them are expected to be future stars at the major league level.

Brady Aiken went first overall, getting drafted by the Houston Astros.

695ea1fa-7419-e311-99e4-002655e6c126_originalJust the third high school lefty to ever be drafted first overall — the first since 1991 — Brady Aiken didn’t start off the season as the clear cut favorite to be taken as the first pick, but after the year he put together at Cathedral Catholic high school, it became more and more probable. Going 7-0 with a 1.06 ERA, striking out 111 batters in 59.2 innings this season, Aiken could take a little longer to develop than a college player, but he has a ton of upside, and is truly one of the most polished high school pitchers to come along in years. Drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw, Aiken becomes the third straight Astros first overall pick, and joins a loaded farm system of talented young players.

Tyler Kolek went second overall, getting drafted by the Miami Marlins.

Tyler_Kolek_3oo81xz0_z6hw0oazOne of the hardest throwing pitchers to ever be drafted out of high school, Tyler Kolek averages 96-98 on his fastball, but reportedly has been clocked as high as 102. Using his fastball to completely blow away the competition this past season at Shepherd high school, Kolek posted a 0.35 ERA over 60.1 innings, striking out a staggering 126 batters. While a pitcher who throws as hard as Kolek is always a concern, especially to an organization that just lost their electric flame thrower Jose Fernandez to Tommy John surgery, the Marlins are adding yet another dominant pitcher to their organization. Having already shown signs of improvement in 2014, the Marlins seem to be heading in the right direction.

Carlos Rodon went third overall, getting drafted by the Chicago White Sox.

1371431357000-USP-NCAA-Baseball-College-World-Series-North-Caro-004-1306162110_4_3At one point in time Carlos Rodon was viewed as the overwhelming favorite to be the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, but a slight downfall in his stats from the previous two seasons left him on the board until pick number three. Though Rodon’s velocity dropped a few miles per hour this year, it’s his terrific slider that has many people excited to see what he can do at the next level. Using all of his pitches effectively this season, posting a mere 2.01 ERA and striking out an average of just over ten batters per nine innings, Rodon is still what you look for in a front of the rotation starter. Though Chris Sale will remain the White Sox’ ace, Rodon will eventually become a close second.

The remainder of the draft saw many surprises. A lot of players went higher than anyone expected, while others stuck around longer than many thought they would. But that usually happens every year with the draft.

The rest of the 1st round of the 2014 draft, following the first three picks, went as follows:

4. Cubs: Kyle Schwarber

5. Twins: Nick Gordon

6. Mariners: Alex Jackson

7. Phillies: Aaron Nola

8. Rockies: Kyle Freeland

9. Blue Jays: Jeff Hoffman

10. Mets: Michael Conforto

11. Blue Jays: Max Pentecost

12. Brewers: Kodi Medeiros

13. Padres: Trea Turner

14. Giants: Tyler Beede

15. Angels: Sean Newcomb

16. Diamondbacks: Touki Toussaint

17. Royals: Brandon Finnegan

18. Nationals: Erick Fedde

19. Reds: Nick Howard

20. Rays: Casey Gillaspie

21. Indians: Bradley Zimmer

22. Dodgers: Grant Holmes

23. Tigers: Derek Hill

24. Pirates: Cole Tucker

25. Athletics: Matt Chapman

26. Red Sox: Michael Chavis

27. Cardinals: Luke Weaver

28. Royals: Foster Griffin

29. Reds: Alex Blandino

30. Rangers: Luis Ortiz

31. Indians: Justus Sheffield

32. Braves: Braxton Davidson

33. Red Sox: Michael Kopech

34. Cardinals: Jack Flaherty

Competitive Balance Round A

35. Rockies: Forrest Wall

36. Marlins: Blake Anderson

37. Astros: Derek Fisher

38. Indians: Mike Papi

39. Pirates: Connor Joe

40. Royals: Chase Vallot

41. Brewers: Jacob Gatewood

Make sure to follow the list of players above as the majority of them begin their professional careers. Odds are at least a few of those names will become MLB All-Stars, with the possibility that some may become a future Hall of Famer. You never know what can happen when you have so much young talent entering their given MLB organizations, and that’s reason enough to pay close attention to them all.

Singleton, Springer A Sign of the Astros’ Bright Future

For the past several years, the Houston Astros have been somewhat of a laughingstock among Major League Baseball, with some people going as far as calling them a Triple-A caliber team at best. Losing over 100 games each of the past two seasons, things weren’t looking any more promising for this season, as many people predicted that the Astros could lose another 100 games in 2014. mlb_a_singleton_b1_400x600

However, while the Astros are likely to still finish last in their division, and still might reach 100 losses, they appear to be slowly turning the corner.

The biggest reason for that turn has been two of their many top prospects getting the call up to the big leagues.

First it was George Springer, who blasted 10 homers in his first month, and now it’s Jonathan Singleton, who was signed to a controversial five year, ten million dollar deal, worth a potential thirty-five million, before he ever had an at-bat on the major league level.

Hitting .267 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI’s at Triple-A before his call up, Singleton didn’t disappoint in his debut on Tuesday night against the Angels. Going 1-3 for the game, Singleton drew a bases loaded walk and blasted his first career home run — just the fourth Astros player to ever hit a home run in their first game — providing a couple of runs in the Astros’ 7-2 win over the Angels.

Overall, Singleton looked really comfortable at the plate, and along with Springer and the rest of the players currently on the Astros, they’re already becoming a good team. But even with these talented prospects now beginning to produce for the big league team — the only true power hitters for the Astros besides Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez — it’s still going to be awhile before the Astros are making any sort of playoff run. But, thankfully, the Astros have a ton of help on the way that should transform them into a competitive team.

Making their way to Houston include prospects Carlos Correa, the first overall draft pick in 2012, Mark Appel, the first overall pick in 2013, along with Delino De Shields, Lance McCullers and Mike Foltynewicz. Each of them are part of the top 100 prospects list, and with the majority of them being future game changers, it should be interesting to see how good the Astros can become within the next few years.

With the Astros set to add yet another potential star player to their organization on Thursday night, when they receive their third straight first overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft, their prospect list continues to grow and grow. And thus, it should all spell success at some point down the road, once their key prospects reach the major leagues and begin to contribute to the recently struggling club.

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