Results tagged ‘ Braves ’

Surprisingly Good and Bad Performances from 2016

In baseball — much like in life — surprises can be really good or they can be really bad. A good surprise in baseball might be a player or team having an unpredicted breakout season, while a bad surprise may be defined as a team or player destined for great things having a below average year. The 2016 season has had plenty of both throughout the entire stretch.

With just over a week left until the last games of the season leading up to the playoffs, a lot has taken place that can be deemed as good surprises or bad surprises. Having said that, I wanted to take the time to go over six hitters, six pitchers and six teams who surprised the baseball world in good or bad ways, keeping in mind that it is by no means a record of all the players who fit each category, nor is it the very top options in some cases. It’s simply a broad overview meant to recap the season as a whole.


Surprisingly Good: Brian Dozier, Brad Miller and Adam Duvall

Over the past several seasons, Brian Dozier has been one of the best second basemen in all of baseball. However, this season, he has broken out as arguably the best second baseman in baseball. With a previous career high of 28 home runs coming last year, Dozier has been even better this season, having knocked 42 so far — the most in American League history for a second baseman. Despite the Twins having the worst record in baseball, Dozier has been a huge surprisingly bright spot in Minnesota.miller

On the same theme, Brad Miller has been the biggest standout on the Rays, with the exception of All-Star Evan Longoria. Hitting 30 homers to this point in the year, Miller has blasted more round-trippers this campaign than he had over the past three seasons (343 games) combined. For that reason, Miller has been a great surprise to Tampa Bay. Whether Miller will be this type of player moving forward or is simply having a career-year, there is little argument that he wasn’t expected to be this good when the season began.

The final player on my list is Adam Duvall. After winning a World Series ring with the Giants back in 2014, Duvall has spent the last two years in Cincinnati, where he has turned out to be an extremely productive player. After playing in just 27 games last season, in which Duvall managed to hit just 5 home runs, this season has seen Duvall breaking out to record 31 blasts. It surely was surprising to see Duvall break out in the way he did, but it certainly was of the good surprise variety for the Reds and their fans.

Surprisingly Bad: Mark Teixeira, Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper

Mark Teixeira announced earlier this season that 2016 would be his final year, but he’s not going out with a bang as many of baseball’s greats have before him. Unlike his fellow retiree David Ortiz, who has recorded one of the best years in baseball history for a player 40 or older, Teixeira hasn’t been able to hit even a mere .200 and has notched only 13 homers and 38 RBI’s in 2016. Following 2015, in which Tex managed 31 homers, his year has definitely been a bad surprise for the Yankees. Even so, he is still one of the best players in recent baseball history, having hit over 400 homers in his career.heyward

When the Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year, 184 million dollar contract leading up to this season, he was obviously expected to put up All-Star numbers for Chicago. However, he has somewhat surprisingly been pretty horrible, quite frankly. Only managing to record seven home runs and a .230 average, Heyward has yet to get things going, now nearly six months into the season. Given, Heyward can turn things around with the playoffs looming, but it would take a lot for that to happen where things stand now.

Bryce Harper’s 24 home runs and 82 home runs would be a great season for any number of players around Major League Baseball. But by Harper’s standards — set last season with his MVP-earning 42 homers — Harper is having a surprisingly bad year, seeing his batting average drop nearly an entire 100 points from a year ago. There have been rumors that Harper has been playing through an injury all season long, but that’s being denied by Harper. Whether or not it’s true, Harper — who was expected to be in the running for a second straight MVP — is still having a surprisingly down year by all accounts.


Surprisingly Good: Kyle Hendricks, Tanner Roark and Steven Wright

Part of a rotation that includes the likes of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks has surprisingly been the best pitcher of the Cubs’ entire rotation. Over the course of 28 games started for the Cubs, Hendricks has notched a mere 2.06 ERA — the best in all of baseball. By doing so, Hendricks has helped to lead the Cubs to the best record in baseball and what looks to have all the makings of a postseason run. Although it’s yet to be seen whether or not this is actually the year for the Cubs, it has certainly been the year for Kyle Hendricks.roark

Tanner Roark has been an average to above average pitcher for the Nationals over the past few years, but this season Roark has truly broken out. Holding a 2.70 ERA over 200.1 innings pitched, Roark has kept the Nats push towards October strong, despite the loss of Stephen Strasburg for a good chunk of the season, and inevitably the final several weeks. It very well may come down the Roark’s ability to keep his surprisingly good performance going in order to keep the Nationals going deep into the postseason.

I’ve been bringing up the name Steven Wright all season long, and for good reason. Despite being a knuckleballer, Wright has been one of the top surprises in terms of pitchers this season for the Red Sox. Although his historic start to the season has slowly dwindled away as the year progressed, Wright’s 3.30 ERA is still good enough to make this list. Although he is currently working to battle his way back from an injury, Wright has still recorded enough innings to prove himself to all of baseball that he is a true weapon moving forward.

Surprisingly Bad: Chris Archer, Shelby Miller and Zack Greinke

Chris Archer broke out in 2015 to be one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, and was set to be the Rays’ ace moving into this season. But after getting off to a poor start to begin the year, Archer hasn’t been able to get much of anything going with only one more start remaining. The strikeouts are still there, as he has produced over ten strikeouts per nine innings on the year; and with the Rays’ poor collective season, Archer’s 19 losses are somewhat deceiving. But his 4.02 ERA can’t be ignored, especially following his Cy Young eligible season last year.miller

Being traded to the Diamondback’s this past offseason in exchange for Dansby Swanson, who has gone from 2015 first overall draft pick to star in the big leagues, Shelby Miller has been one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball this year. Having never recorded a full-season ERA above 3.74 heading into this year, Miller has posted an ERA of 6.47 over 19 starts. Following Miller’s 3.02 ERA with the Braves last season, many expected Miller to help get the Diamondbacks back into the postseason, but he has been virtually no factor whatsoever.

Joining Shelby Miller as part of the D-back’s rotation, Zack Greinke was expected to help make their rotation one of the greatest in the majors. After all, with Greinke posting a historically-low 1.66 ERA with the Dodgers in 2015, he was all but guaranteed to be the number one starter for the D-backs. But this is baseball, where nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen from one year to the next. As such, Greinke has put up his worst ERA since back in 2005, notching a 4.37 ERA for his efforts in 2016.


Surprisingly Good: Marlins, Mariners and Indians

I didn’t know what to make of the Marlins heading into the 2016 season, but they truly surprised me in a big way. Dealing with the losses of star players such as Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton at various points in the season, for drastically different reasons, many expected the Marlins to fade away early on. But they’ve hung in there all season long, sitting five games back of a wild card spot. Inevitably, there aren’t enough games remaining for the Marlins to wind up in the playoffs, but to still be in the discussion at this point in the year is remarkable.mariners

Things are coming down to the wire for the Mariners, and they may not have enough in them to make the postseason for the first time since 2001, but they had a year that shocked a lot of people. With Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager all having great seasons at the right times, Seattle was able to beat a lot of teams around baseball that many felt would give them trouble. As such, they easily made my list. They may or may not make the postseason in 2016, but things are looking positive all of a sudden for them to finally get there in 2017.

Many people felt the Indians would be as good as they have been this year, but I wasn’t as convinced. I simply thought the World Series defending Royals and the always good Detroit Tigers would keep Cleveland from being relevant in the month of September. But to my surprise — as well as the surprise of some people who felt the same way I did — the Indians are sitting atop the American League Central. If they can keep things going into the playoffs, they may not be done surprising people as the postseason plays out.

Surprisingly Bad: Rays, Braves and Twins

A lot of people actually picked the Tampa Bay Rays to win the American League East division this season, with their rotation being the key to that happening. However, with Chris Archer having a rough year along with several untimely injuries, the Rays haven’t been able to come close to realizing their predicted potential. With only a week to go, the Rays are in sole possession of last place in the American League East. With the division strong once again, it remains to be seen if the Rays can turn things around in 2017 and beyond.braves

It took the Braves forever to win a single game this season, and once they finally recorded one in the win column, they still weren’t able to get much of anything going. Losing 91 games to this point in the year, the Braves are promising that 2017 will be the year things turn around, with them getting a shiny new ballpark across town. But if the Braves don’t turn things around next year in a big way from this season, their ballpark could easily turn out to be the bright spot in the entire season when all is said and done.

Much like the Braves, the Twins’ season was over before it even got started. When the final game has been recorded, the Twins will have more than likely lost 100+ games after finishing four game over .500 last year. Following that breakout performance for the Twins, many people felt that they would be able to keep it going into this year. But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Twins have been one of the worst teams in recent baseball history. Although they could easily turn things around in 2017, all hope is lost for this year.

Shelby Miller: A Tale of Two Seasons

Nothing is guaranteed in baseball. From one season to the next, you never know which teams will go from last to first or first to last, or which players will have a bounce back year or a season far disastrous from the one they posted just a year prior. Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller is a prime example of that.

Last season with the Braves, Miller made himself known as a true star pitcher in baseball, giving Atlanta 205.1 strong innings, totaling up to a 3.02 ERA on the season. For his efforts, Miller received a ton of recognition — so much so that he was the key piece of a huge trade this past offseason.

Sending their top prospect (and first overall draft pick in 2015) Dansby Swanson, along with two other pieces, to the Braves, the Diamondbacks received back Shelby Miller to join Zack Greinke in what looked to be a strong pitching staff; one predicted to be more than capable of competing for the National League West title.

However, things have gone far from perfect in Arizona.

With Greinke being injured at times this season, Paul Goldschmidt not getting off to a hot start, and with 2015 breakout star, A.J. Pollock, being lost for the year in Spring Training, not a lot has gone right to help the D-backs perform the way they had been expected to.

But while it’s not completely Miller’s fault (it’s never fair to point the finger at any one player as the sole reason for a team’s losing season), he certainly has played a big part in their demise.

Going 2-9 with a 7.14 ERA over 14 starts this season, Miller was sent down to Triple-A on Thursday, with the hopes of getting him back on track in the minors. But even if he gets it going again down in Reno, things are too far gone for the Diamondbacks to regain momentum and make something special out of this season.

Sitting in last place in their division, 19 games back of the first-place Giants, the Diamondbacks haven’t had much to be excited about this season. While Miller was supposed to give the D-backs a great shot at a memorable year, he hasn’t been anywhere close to the pitcher he was last season with the Braves. But you truly never can tell how any given trade will pan out.

Even so, with the trade deadline slowly approaching in two weeks, it will be interesting to see which teams will take a gamble and make a trade for a star player. It may pay off, giving them what they need to make it to the postseason. Or it could turn out to make little to no difference, as the Shelby Miller trade has for Arizona.

Fastest and Slowest Starts to the 2016 Season

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

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

Fastest Starts


1 — Orioles (5-0)

2 — Cubs (5-1)

3 — Reds (5-1)

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


1 — Tyler White (.556, 3 HR, 9 RBI)

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

3 — Trevor Story (.333, 7 HR, 12 RBI)

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

Slowest Starts


1 — Twins (0-6)

2 — Braves (0-5)

3 — Marlins (1-3)

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


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

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

3 — Brad Miller (.059, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

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

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

Diamondbacks Land Another Impact Pitcher

The Arizona Diamondbacks rattled the baseball world over the weekend when it was announced that they had signed free agent pitcher Zack Greinke to a 6-year, 206 million dollar contract, coming out to over 34 million a season — the most for any player in baseball history. Greinke

With Greinke coming off an incredibly historic year with a mere 1.66 ERA, he was one of the best players available this offseason, so it was no true shock that he was so highly coveted and thus highly paid.

But while that move was a big one for the Diamondbacks, and is sure to help them out in 2016 and beyond, it was another move they made on Tuesday evening that got people truly looking at the D-backs as potential contenders in 2016.

It was announced that the Diamondbacks have acquired Shelby Miller from the Braves in exchange for Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson. Although they finished third in the division in 2015, the D-backs are ultimately saying they want to break out as frontrunners in 2016.

Miller’s 6-17 win loss record from last season is one of the most deceptive you’ll ever see. Due to a major lack in run support, Miller wasn’t able to pick up a lot of victories, but he was impressive. Posting a 3.02 ERA over 205.1 innings pitched in which he struck out 171 batters, Miller will undoubtedly give the D-backs a nice one-two punch with Greinke.

While picking up Miller means losing Ender Inciarte — a good outfielder –and Aaron Blair — a highly coveted pitching prospect — those players aren’t all that much to lose in the long term. But including Dansby Swanson in the trade is a MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Philliesmove that many people feel they may regret when all is said and done.

Swanson was the number one overall draft pick in the 2015 draft, and is seen by many people as a future All-Star caliber shortstop. While the D-backs are obviously in a win-now mindset — picking up Miller certainly pushes them towards that — it will be interesting to see whether they come to regret the loss of Swanson down the road.

However, the Diamondbacks are set up nicely. But with them having added some key pieces, they need to make sure they capitalize on them all.

With a rotation that includes Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin as the top three, as well as a lineup with a lot of thump lead by All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the D-backs could be in business in 2016.

But they wouldn’t be the first team in history to have all the pieces only to see things not work out. Only time will tell how 2016 will pan out.

Nationals Lock Up Scherzer; World Series to Follow?

Patience is a virtue — especially in baseball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Sees Two Major Deals & One Big Trade

Monday was certainly a big day in the baseball world.

Not only did one of the game’s biggest stars sign a contract unprecedented in the history of the sport — or any sport anywhere for that matter — but a catcher from the Steel City was locked up by the Blue Jays long term, and the Cardinals and Braves swapped players to help fill each others needs.

It was all very interesting to follow.

Giancarlo Stanton kicked off the news filled day, finally signing the mammoth contract that everyone knew would eventually come. While many Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Philliespeople predicted it would come from a team other than the Marlins, the Marlins were in fact the team that got a deal with Stanton done.

A team that was at the bottom, in terms of team combined payroll, this past season, the Marlins locked up Stanton to a 13-year, 325 million dollar deal (the largest in the history of North American sports).

In addition to being so large, Stanton’s deal comes with a full no-trade clause — previously unheard of for the Marlins’ franchise — as well as an opt-out clause after the 2020 season. Having just turned 25 year old, the Marlins logic behind this major contract to such an impact player, who has legitimate 40+ home run a season potential, can easily be understood.

Despite a season ending injury in September, Stanton posted career numbers this year, batting .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBI’s, and finishing second in National League Most Valuable Player voting.

Tied with Dan Uggla for the most home runs in Marlins’ franchise history, with 154, Stanton will undoubtedly pass that mark early on in 2015, having hit over 20 home runs every single year of his five career seasons. A two-time All-Star, Stanton will surely go on to set numerous records while in a Marlins uniform now that this contract is officially in place, and could go down as one of the best sluggers in baseball history once all is said and done.

But Stanton wasn’t the only player that was locked up to a sizeable contract on Monday. Martin

Also getting signed on the day was veteran catcher, Russell Martin, who agreed to an 82 million dollar contract over the course of the next five years from the Blue Jays.

Playing his last two seasons with the Pirates, after time spent between the Yankees and the Dodgers since his debut in 2006, Martin has been an up and down player over the course of his career, but should be an impact player for the Jays.

A three-time All-Star, Martin had a break out season in 2014, hitting .290 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI’s over 111 games played.

Previously a combined .234 hitter over his past five seasons, including a career low .211 in 2012, Martin truly made a name for himself this past year, and should make the Blue Jays glad they snagged him.

While Giancarlo Stanton and Russell Martin both signed contracts with their given teams, there was a big trade between the Cardinals and Braves that everyone was talking about as well.

The Cardinals received Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden in exchange for Shelby Miller and minor league prospect Tyrell Jenkins, who got sent back to the Braves. Though none of these players can be categorized as major stars, at least as of yet, they all have the ability to be key pieces of each team moving forward, and the trade truly made sense for both sides.546a2e451ce21_image

With their starting rotation being one of their many issues from the 2014 season, the additions of Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins (both former first round draft picks) will likely do wonders for the Braves in the coming years.

Miller, who hasn’t yet been the consistent starter many envision him becoming, was decent in 2014, posting a 3.74 ERA on the season. As was Jenkins, who notched an ERA just above three over 13 minor league starts this year. Each of them have the capability to be standout players.

In the same way that the Braves needed starting pitching, the Cardinals found themselves in need of a good everyday right fielder, after the unexpected loss of their future superstar right fielder, Oscar Taveras. Jason Heyward certainly fills that role, though he hasn’t yet lived up to his superstar potential.

While Heyward has won a couple of Gold Gloves in his career with the Braves, making a lone All-Star appearance in his rookie season, he’s only a career .262 hitter. In addition, since a breakout year in 2012 when Heyward blasted 27 home runs and drove in 82 runs, he hasn’t notched more than 14 homers or upwards of 58 RBI’s in any single season.

Even so, Heyward is the type of player that can instantly improve any club he’s on. Gaining him (along with Jordan Walden, who posted a 2.88 ERA in 2014) can only help the Cardinals as they look to make another playoff run in 2015.

Brewers’ Downhill Fall Continues Into September

After 150 days spent this season with at least a share of the first place spot in the National League central division, the Milwaukee Brewers are experiencing their first big struggle of the year. In fact, having lost a National League best nine straight games — the most for them since 2010 — the Brewers not only find themselves fighting for the division title, but more importantly they’re struggling to keep their playoff hopes alive.

With Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Cardinals — a team that is a must beat for the Brewers — Milwaukee is currently tied with the Braves for090414_cardinals_600 the second Wild Card spot, but they could quickly lose it to the Braves if they don’t begin to play any better than they have lately.

The Brewers kicked off 2014 with one of the best starts in franchise history, posting a five game lead in the division after the first month of the season. Things looked to be headed in the right direction in Milwaukee, however, although the Brewers were able to play decent baseball through the All-Star break as well as much of August, the Brewers finally collapsed to the surging Cardinals on September 1st, when the Cards took a one game lead in the division and haven’t looked back since.

With a four game lead over the now second place Brewers, the Cardinals have gone from 1 and 1/2 games back of first to four games up on the Brewers in the span of a week, having won six games in a row.

To put into perspective how quickly things have gone south for the Brewers, back on August 19th they held their best chance of making the playoffs according to of a great 94 percent chance, with a 63 percent chance of holding on to win the division. Now, after struggling for so long, the Brewers hold around a 50 percent chance of making it to the playoffs, with a mere 16 percent chance of coming back to take the division title. A near 50 percent drop in their chances of winning the division in the matter of a few weeks is pretty remarkable.

With the start of the 2014 postseason quickly approaching on September 30th, this four game series against the Cardinals is absolutely crucial for the Brewers. With three games remaining in the series, the Brewers could either finish things out against the Cardinals seven games back of first place — taking away 04ec5432c8f60918580f6a7067003e57most of the remaining hope of them making the playoffs — or they could find themselves back in contention just a single game out of first. It all depends on how well they can play.

Being one of the worst teams in the National League since the All-Star break, sitting in 11th place for runs scored, and near the middle of the pack in runs allowed by their pitchers, the Brewers are facing a major battle if they want to keep their postseason dreams alive.

What they need is a player or two to step up and begin to transform this team back into the group it was before the All-Star break.

The only problem being that Ryan Braun, who has been out for a bit of time but is respected to return soon, and Carlos Gomez, who is out with an injury, haven’t been doing too well as of late even when they were in the lineup. In addition, Jonathan Lucroy, who at one point in time was on people’s radar for a possible National League MVP, has been performing poorly over the past couple of weeks. Without those player carrying the team, it can be very difficult to get an offense going, not to mention a sinking pitching staff. But, as history has shown, nothing is impossible.

With 22 games left in the Brewers’ regular season, they still have time to turn things around. However, they have to start the turnaround now. After they finish out this series against their division rival Cardinals, the Brewers go on to play the Marlins and Reds, both of which can always make things difficult to pick up a win.

Following that, the Brewers head on the road to face the Cardinals, in what could once again be pivotal games, as well as the Pirates and Reds, before returning home to finish out the year with a three-game series against the Cubs.

Depending on how the Brewers fare between now and their final home series, the fans in Milwaukee could either be cheering on a playoff bound team in the final days of September, or they could be watching on television from afar, with aspirations of postseason glory in 2015.

Bryce Harper Beginning to Turn Things Around

The Washington Nationals are somehow finding a way to win, despite the fact that some of their key players are posting disappointing numbers due to either injuries or a long stretch of struggles. Currently riding a four game winning streak, the Nats amazingly find themselves in first place for the National League East division, six games in front of the second place Braves, who were on top less than a month ago.Harper

Ryan Zimmerman, who has been dealing with injuries all season long, is out until at least September, which is obviously a big blow to the team, seeing how much of an affect he’s had over the course of his career. In addition, Stephen Strasburg, while he’s been healthy, still hasn’t been that over dominant pitcher that he has been hyped to be, currently possessing a mid 3.00 ERA, though he’s been showing signs of a turn around. Those two players alone not playing to the best of their ability would understandably be enough to make the Nationals under perform.

But the one player who is hyped the most of anyone on the team, and arguably is the one player that the Nats need the most in order to be the best their team can be, is their 21 year old, Bryce Harper, who has also been struggling, after coming off the disabled list due to a thumb injury.

Putting up numbers so bad that there were rumors that Harper could be sent down to the minors — rumors that were quickly set straight by Nationals’ manager, Matt Williams –, Harper hadn’t been able to find his overall groove through a couple of weeks since his return.

Having struggled in 2013 after a knee injury, and threatened with bench time, Harper stated that the Nationals should “play [him] or trade [him]”. By pressuring the Nationals to keep him in the lineup, Harper worked that slump out, and he’s beginning to show signs that he’s working out of this one as well.

Following a two RBI night on Thursday, coming off of a home run, Harper went 2-4 with a couple more RBI’s on Friday. Batting .282 with 3 homers and 9 RBI’s in his last ten games, Harper’s stats for the season now stand at 6 home runs and 23 RBI’s with a .259 average. Though that’s not very good, with this set to be the first season in his young career without 20 homers, the two-time All-Star is recently startingplayoffs to contribute like he’s expected to.

And the Nationals are going need Harper’s bat to continue to stay hot if they hope to make any sort of deep playoff push with the talent level that October baseball brings. After reaching the postseason in 2012 for the first time since 1933, the Nationals were quickly eliminated, and failed to reach the postseason at all in 2013.

Though they’re on track to make it once again this year, whether or not Harper produces in the clutch will likely make a big difference in how they fare down the stretch.

Two years removed from his rookie of the year season, in which everything seemed to go right, Bryce Harper has definitely seen his fair share of trying situations. From injuries to slumps, Harper has been scrutinized in the headlines of nearly every major publication across the country for not playing in a consistent manner.

But despite all of that negativity coming his way, there are signs that the Nationals are once again getting the type of player that was anticipated when they drafted Harper number one overall back in 2010. If Harper can get things clicking, the Nats could be in for a strong final month and a half to the season.

Who I’d Like to See In the 2014 Home Run Derby

Due to the fact that the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star ballots are asking fans to once again vote for who they’d like to see participate in the home run derby (unfortunately, the votes are only a poll, and don’t actually count towards anything), it hasn’t yet been announced who the derby captains will be, as it had been by now each of the past several years. And therefore, not knowing when it will be revealed, I didn’t want to wait until then to give my take on who I’d most like to see in the derby, along with my reasoning for each pick.

While there are some players that I left off, for one reason or another, I feel the players I selected would make for a great 2014 home run derby, as they all have to ability to hit a good amount of home runs as well as doing so for big power. With the 2014 home run derby now around three weeks away, here are the players I’d most enjoy seeing take part:

American League

Nelson Cruz: One of the game’s most underrated power hitters, Nelson Cruz would be a fantastic pick for the home run derby next month. Currently leading all of Major League Baseball in home runs, Cruz would likely make it deep into the derby, possibly even reaching the final round. His ability to hit home runs seemingly at will and the overall power he possesses would make things very interesting in the derby.

Edwin Encarnacion: After breaking out back in 2012, hitting 42 home runs that season, Edwin Encarnacion has been in a groove ever since. Going on an absolute tear in May, Encarnacion has cooled down a bit as of late, but he would definitely thrive in a home run derby atmosphere. Though Target Field isn’t necessarily a hitter’s park, Encarnacion could easily make it one.

Jose Abreu: Although Jose Abreu is a rookie, he’s already done more than enough to prove that he belongs at the big league level. Coming over from Cuba to the White Sox, Abreu set a rookie record for home runs in his first month, and despite a minor setback due to an injury, Abreu hasn’t let up. If Abreu is in the derby, along with his phenom status and incredible power, he will be someone to watch closely.

Yoenis Cespedes: Winning the home run derby last season, Yoenis Cespedes is somewhat overlooked, playing for the Athletics, but he’s truly a major power threat every time he steps to the plate. Although I don’t feel he will win two years in a row, especially if the other players on my list are going up against him, Cespedes could very well surprise me, as he did in 2013.

National League

Giancarlo Stanton: If Giancarlo Stanton is one of the sluggers in the 2014 derby, I truly don’t think any other hitter stands even a slight chance. The guy is simply amazing, with arguably the most power in all of baseball. When Stanton hits a home run — which is often for him — you immediately know it’s gone. Stanton would put on an unbelievable show in the derby in a few weeks.

Evan Gattis: The true definition of a natural power hitter, Evan Gattis has raw power and can absolutely crush a ball when he squares it up. Although he likely wouldn’t make it terribly deep, with the immense talent that’s in the derby each year, he would hit his share of amazing blasts. Gattis isn’t necessarily a top pick for the derby, but I’d love to see him participate, just to see what he can do.

Carlos Gomez: While some of Carlos Gomez’s on field antics have rubbed people the wrong way, it’s a fact that he’s super-talented. Gomez isn’t a guy who hits an extremely high amount of home runs each year, but put in an environment where the only goal is to hit a homer, I think Gomez would do well. Given the underlying power that he has, Gomez might actually make it deep into the derby.

Yasiel Puig: As with Carlos Gomez, not everyone appreciates the flair that Yasiel Puig shows on a daily basis, but he’s undeniably one of the most exciting young players on the big league level today. Coming up as a rookie from Cuba in 2013, Puig helped to turn around a struggling Dodgers team, and I feel he’d put on a show in the derby (as long as he doesn’t do a bat flip after every home run).

So, those are my picks for who I’d like to see in the 2014 home run derby, up at Target Field, on July 14th. Odds are that not all of them will be selected, but I truly hoped the majority of them are in the derby. Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Who would you like to see participate? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Should A Bat Flip Warrant A Flip Out?

Carlos Gomez is in the news once again, and once again it’s not on a high note.

If you recall back to September 25th of last season, Gomez, after blasting a homer against the Braves and admiring it as it soared into the seats, had a few choice words for Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson as he rounded the bases. Brian McCann, the Braves’ catcher at the time, didn’t approve of Gomez’s actions and blocked his path to home plate, causing both Gomez and McCann to flare up and both benches to clear.

On Sunday afternoon, it was deja vu for Gomez.

While it involved the Pirates this time instead of the Braves, Gomez launched what he thought was a home run and proceeded to flip his bat before jogging down towards first. The ball didn’t have as much behind it as originally thought, however, causing it to hit off the top of the wall and roll away from the centerfielder, Andrew McCutchen. With his speed, Gomez still wound up at third base, where pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was backing up the base, let his feelings be known regarding Gomez’s jog.

Gomez didn’t like what was said by Cole, causing him to flip out, having to be withheld by the umpire from charging Cole. While Cole’s exact words aren’t known (if they were, I’m certain I couldn’t publish them here), he claims to have said nothing more than “if you’re going to hit a home run, you can watch it. If you’re going to hit a fly ball to center field, don’t watch it.” That, however, was apparently enough to create an all-out brawl:

Due to their involvement in the altercation, Martin Maldonado (arguably the player who had the most involvement, punching Travis Snider square in the face) received a five game suspension, with Gomez getting three, Travis Snider having two sit out two, and Russell Martin being forced to be benched for a game. (All received undisclosed fines.)

As happens with most fights on the field, one side has their own opinion to what happened and who was at fault, with the other side having just the opposite to say. Gomez remains adamant that he did nothing wrong, saying, “I’m not apologizing for nothing I did. This is my job; I’ve been doing it for eight years like that. They know I play like that. It’s not to disrespect nobody.” But not everyone agrees with that.

What it comes down to is your definition of what “showing up” the opposing team means.

In this particular instance with Gomez, I feel this is in fact the way he plays, and therefore it shouldn’t have caused such a big fuss. Gomez is well known for his playing style, and the bat flip should’ve been expected from him. However, with that said, Gomez is, in my mind, the one to blame for the fight. Sure, if Cole hadn’t said anything to Gomez, all would’ve been well. But Cole was just letting his thoughts be known. He has the same right to show emotion as Gomez does.

Carlos Gomez is a great player, and like some players, it takes a mentality such as his to succeed at the big league level, and therefore I’m not saying he’s a bad guy or that he needs to tone down his antics. I enjoy his “celebrations”, as some have coined them, and don’t really want them to stop, as that’s who he is. However, he needs to realize that with his bat flips and slow trots comes trash talk from the opposing team, and he can’t let that get the better of him.

It’s all just part of the game.