Results tagged ‘ Major League Baseball ’

Wil Myers Returns to Durham for Rehab Stint

Over a year since leaving the Durham Bulls to begin his major league career, Wil Myers is returning to Durham. After injuring his wrist back in late May up at Fenway Park in Boston, Myers is set to serve as the Bull’s designated hitter tonight against the visiting Buffalo Bisons, in game one of his rehabilitation process.

vertical-wil-myers-apWinning the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award by a wide margin, after putting together a season of 13 homers and 53 RBI’s to go along with a .293 batting average, Myers got off to the start that was to be expected out of a top five prospect. At just 23 years of age, Myers is looking to make his way back to Tampa as quickly as possible to continue that great kickoff to his career.

But first, as stated, he’s going to spend a bit of time with the Bulls, which is quite fine with me. After seeing Myers play in half a dozen games in 2013 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, I’m looking forward to seeing him again. As luck would have it, I had already planned to attend tonight’s game around a month ago. It just so happened that Myers is starting his rehab today.

Although I got Myers’ autograph three times while he was with the Bulls last year, after winning the rookie of the year award, and with a bright big league future still ahead, I’m going to be trying again. While the visiting Bisons have a decent team, including manager Rich Hebner, outfielder Kevin Pillar, and pitcher Sean Nolin, no one on the entire team comes close to the talent level that Myers possesses.

Though there have been rumors that Wil Myers could be sticking around in the minors for around two weeks, this is the best chance I’m going to have to once again snag his autograph in the foreseeable future. The Bulls head out of town after this weekend, and when they return the following weekend, despite the fact that Myers could still be a part of the team, the visiting Charlotte Knights are a too good of a team to pass up. Therefore, I’m going to be trying for their players and not Myers. It’s basically tonight or not at all.

Even if I don’t get another Wil Myers autograph, seeing the most recent rookie of the year after the fact is still something of significance that I’m looking forward to. Assuming it doesn’t rain out the game, tonight is going to be a fun night.

Red Sox Down, But Not For Long

No matter how you look at it, the Boston Red Sox are having a poor season. Despite a great deal of anticipation surrounding the team for 2014 after winning the World Series last year, the Sox currently hold the last place position in the American League East division. With a better win-loss record (13 games under .500) than only the Astros and the Rangers in all of the American League, the Red Sox have lost all their hope for the 2014 season being a memorable one — memorable in a good way, that is.Red Sox

Any remaining hope that the Sox did have was diminished last week just before the trade deadline when they made several trades that sent some of their key players off to other teams. Most significantly, Jon Lester being sent out to Oakland in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, who should provide some pop to a struggling Red Sox outfield, was a big blow to the team.

While Cespedes is a fantastic player, and will undoubtedly help the Sox moving forward, Lester was an ace, and aces are extremely valuable. A team simply isn’t the same after loosing such a valuable asset, and it will certainly show.

But Lester wasn’t the only Red Sox pitcher who changed uniforms. Also getting sent packing were John Lackey and Jake Peavy, who brought back Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, and a couple of minor league prospects, respectively.

Though David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and breakout Brock Holt, have been big parts to the Red Sox team this year, coming through big in games, there have been too many injuries to have the Sox make any sort of run towards making the playoffs. Last season everything seemed to go right every single day of the year, but this season things are just the opposite, with players not being able to get on a roll.

With a mere 51 games left to their season, the Red Sox are beginning to look to the future for signs of better things to come. And, fortunately for them, they have an unbelievable amount of young talent set to contribute to the Sox as soon as the 2015 season, leading many to envision big things for them next year.

Consisting of Mookie Betts, Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Garin Cecchini, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Christian Vazquez, all of which are age 24 or younger, the Sox have seven of their top ten prospects currently at Triple-A or in the major leagues, leaving them with numerous options to help improve their ball club shortly down the road.

Two of those multiple options were just recently promoted to Triple-A, in Henry Owens and Blake Swihart, however, they are arguably the most talented of any players in the Red Sox farm system.

052414_6847-MOwens holds a 15-4 record between Double-A and Triple-A this year, with an ERA of 2.47, after an outstanding Triple-A debut on Monday night. Swihart is hitting an even .300, with a career high 12 home runs and 55 RBI’s to this point in the season.

Though it isn’t likely that either one will be a September call up, seeing that the Red Sox are out of things, both could play huge roles in a resurgence for the Red Sox in 2015.

As far as Mookie Betts, Garin Cecchini, and the remaining, previously mentioned prospects go, all have seen some major league time at some point this season, and while none of them blew people away by posting amazing stats, they each are expected to have bright big league futures.

Once the Red Sox’ top prospects begin to reach the big league level and stick, combining their talents with the likes of the always consistent David Ortiz, newcomer Yoenis Cespedes, and star second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, the Sox should begin to see things turn around.

With there being rumors that the Red Sox could potentially resign Jon Lester this coming offseason to a deal for 2015 and beyond, despite 2014 being a down year, next year could wind up being the year the Red Sox begin to see that expected major turn around to their overall team. If all goes as predicted (given, that hardly ever happens), 2015 could turn out to be a very special season.

Latest MLB Leaders (March 22nd – July 31st)

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

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

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

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – HITTING

Most Games Played – Melky Cabrera, Freddie Freeman and Hunter Pence (109).

Most At-Bats – Melky Cabrera (448)

Most Hits – Jose Altuve (151)

Highest Average – Troy Tulowitzki (.340)

Highest OBP – Troy Tulowitzki (.432)

Highest SLG – Jose Abreu (.636)

Most Runs – Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rendon (75).

Most Doubles – Paul Goldschmidt (39)

Most Triples – Dee Gordon (10)

Most Home Runs – Jose Abreu (31)

Most RBI’s – Jose Abreu (83)

Most Base On Balls – Jose Bautista and Carlos Santana (73)

Most Strikeouts – B.J. Upton (135)

Most Stolen Bases – Dee Gordon (48)

Most Caught Stealing – Billy Hamilton (16)

Most Intentional Base On Balls – David Ortiz (18)

Most Hit By Pitch – Russell Martin (13)

Most Sacrifice Flies – Doug Fister and Zack Wheeler (9).

Most Total Bases – Jose Abreu (236)

Most Extra Base Hits – Jose Abreu (60)

Most Grounded Into Double Plays – Casey McGehee (20)

Most Ground Outs – Elvis Andrus (182)

Most Number Of Pitches Faced – Mike Trout (2,112)

Most Plate Appearances – Nick Markakis (492)

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – PITCHING

Most Wins – Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright (13).

Most Losses – Kevin Correia and Eric Stults (13).

Best ERA – Clayton Kershaw (1.71)

Most Games Started – Fourteen players tied for most (23).

Most Games Pitched – Brad Ziegler (56)

Most Saves – Craig Kimbrel and Trevor Rosenthal (32).

Most Innings Pitched – David Price (170.2)

Most Hits Allowed – Brandon McCarthy and James Shields (159)

Most Runs Allowed – Justin Verlander (84)

Most Earned Runs Allowed – Edwin Jackson (77)

Most Home Runs Allowed – Marco Estrada (27)

Most Strikeouts – David Price (189)

Most Walks – A.J. Burnett (64)

Most Complete Games – Clayton Kershaw (5)

Most Shutouts – Henderson Alvarez (3)

Best Opponent Avg. – Johnny Cueto (.183)

Most Games Finished – Francisco Rodriguez (49)

Most Double Plays Achieved – Dallas Keuchel (24)

Most Wild Pitches – Garrett Richards (19)

Most Balks – Roenis Elias (4)

Most Stolen Bases Allowed – Tyson Ross (24)

Most Pickoffs – Madison Bumgarner and Drew Smyly (5).

Most Batters Faced – David Price (689)

Most Pitches Thrown – David Price (2,564)

Home Run Derby Participants Seeing A Hitting Slump

It’s been the topic of discussion for numerous years.

According to the statistics and the players themselves, a good percentage of the sluggers who take part in the annual home run derby tend to see a major plunge in their numbers to begin the second half, with the majority of those poor stats holding at that subpar level for the remainder of the season.JoshHamiltonHomeRunDerby08b_thumb

It’s happened in the past to power hitters David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Chris Davis and many, many other sluggers who have taken part in the derby only to see their pre All-Star break numbers vastly overshadow the statistics they posted in the second half of the year. And once again, it’s happening this season.

How much of this apparent trend is actually a pattern and how much is due to a player’s career law of average just showing up (for example, a 30 home run player who hits 20 home runs before the All-star break only to fall into a “slump” and hit 10 after the break is still holding to their average) is vastly debated.

Some people claim that there is a major impact to a player’s swing after they do nothing but aim for the fences when crushing balls in the home run derby. For that very reason, Ortiz and Hamilton have declined any derby invitations they’ve received since their initial derby appearances, with the most recent example being Jose Abreu, who didn’t want to show off his power up at Target Field this year for fear that it would mess up his swing.

But that’s just one side of the coin.

On the other side, people seem to believe that the second half numbers a player produces after a derby are just a player returning to the previously mentioned law of averages — after all, every player goes through a slump at some point every season. However, now that two weeks have passed since the derby, with multiple players who were in the 2014 home run derby currently struggling, I’d have to go with the theory that a player’s swing is affected by the derby, at least in the short term.

Justin Morneau was a participant in this year’s derby, but he’s yet to play in any games since that point, so there are no numbers to go by, though he was batting .312 with 13 home runs and 60 runs driven in before the derby. Fellow derby and Rockies teammate, Troy Tulowitzki, is also currently injured, however he took part in two games before hitting the disabled list, recording no hits in 5 at-bats, after batting .345 with 21 homers and 52 RBI’s over the first half.

While there are no true numbers to look at for either Morneau or Tulowitzki, and thus no way to know how each player would be performing, a couple of injuries after the derby isn’t exactly a positive thing.

Of the players who aren’t on the disabled list at the moment, Brian Dozier has seen the biggest fall in numbers of them all. After getting off to a career season to get the year started, with 18 homers and 45 RBI’s, the lone hometown player to take part in the derby is now batting a mere .125 with two RBI’s on a single home run since the second half began. Also joining him with a .100’s batting average since the derby is Todd Frazier (batting .154), who has hit just one home run after slugging 19 throughout the first half.

Adam Jones and Giancarlo Stanton 53c4b41cbd0b5_preview-300are also sharing in the same fate, with both batting in the .200’s since the All-Star break.

Jones posted a .301 batting average with 16 home runs and 54 RBI’s to begin the year, and despite having fallen a bit in batting average since, he’s launched 3 homers and amassed 10 RBI’s since the break — not jaw dropping, but also not terrible.

Stanton on the other hand is doing much worse, having slugged just two home runs since the derby — a derby he lost, even though he was the heavy favorite to win — despite hitting 21 before the All-Star break.

But as has held true throughout derby history, not all players are seeing a slump.

Although he hasn’t found his power swing since the derby, Yasiel Puig is still hitting for average, having batted .333 in the past couple of weeks. However, with no home runs and just two runs batted in, after blasting 12 before the break and driving in 52 runs, he’s still not the Puig everyone has come to know.

Jose Bautista has fared fairly well since the derby, batting .333 with 3 home runs and 7 RBI’s, after batting .292 with 17 homers and 54 RBI’s in the first half, which holds fairly steady with his average pace over his career. Hitting .324 since the derby, Josh Donaldson is also holding his own, having hit a couple of homers in the second half after batting .238 with 20 homers over the first portion of the season.

The player who seems to have experienced the least amount of problems with his swing is the winner of the derby, Yoenis Cespedes, who actually looks to have improved. After batting just .254 to begin the year, Cespedes is batting .324 over the course of nearly 40 at-bats since the derby (admittedly, a small sample size). In addition, Cespedes has slugged 3 homers and driven in 10 runs in this second half, however, seeing an increase in stats after winning the home run derby in 2013, it would seem that Yoenis Cespedes is the exception to the overall derby rule.

Rays’ Winning Streak Makes David Price Trade Difficult

Back on June 10th, the Tampa Bay Rays were sitting 15 games back of first place in the American League East. Thanks to a losing streak of 14 out of the previous 15 games played prior to that point — putting them at 18 games under .500 (24-42) — the Rays’ season appeared to be all but over, with things looking dismal for anything better than a last place season, especially with injuries to some of their key players. Price

With what appeared to be a lost season, rumors began to fly that the Rays were looking into trading their ace, David Price, to the team that offered them the most in return for the southpaw, which would theoretically allow the Rays to make the most out of a bad situation.

Though Price wasn’t having a season at that point in the year anything like the Cy Young season he put together a couple of years ago, he was still holding his own. Regardless of a few rough patches at given times this year, as one of the game’s top pitchers, Price was sure to bring the Rays a lot in return, should they have decided to cash in.

However, the Rays held out on making an impulsive trade. David Price is still a Ray. And since that low point in the season, the Rays have shifted things into another gear, making the decision to continue trade talks regarding Price a very hard one.

Going on a streak of 26-11 since June 10th, the Rays have quickly found themselves pulling into contention. With a current 8-game winning streak — having yet to lose a game since the All-Star break — the Rays sit just 7 games back of first, and 4.5 games back of an American League wild card spot.

In addition to the Rays’ great play as a whole recently, also seeing a resurgence in numbers is David Price himself, who made the start on Friday night against the division rival Red Sox. With games within your own division being extra important, Price was dominant, winning his sixth straight game started (a 1.31 ERA over that span), and striking out ten over eight strong innings.

With his record on the season now at 11-7 with a 3.08 ERA and a league leading 183 strikeouts, Price is seemingly more valuable than anything the Rays could get in return for him. And therefore, with the chance that the Rays make the playoffs going up more and more by the day, the chances that David Price gets dealt before the July 31st trade deadline are only go down.

Before the season even began, a lot of people had the Rays as the favorites to win the division, with some going as far as to predict a World Series title for the club. Although those predictions have been way off to this point in the season, now that David Price, Evan Longoria and some of the Rays’ other, lesser star players are beginning to heat up — and with 2013 Rookie of the Year, Wil Myers, set to return from the disabled list by mid August — the Rays could wind up turning an amazing run into an amazing finish to the season.

Active MLB Players With Hall of Fame In Their Future

The biggest honor a Major League Baseball player can receive for their hard work and consistent numbers throughout their career is an induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux will all be awarded that honor this coming Sunday (along with Tony La Rusa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre for their managerial careers), as they will be officially inducted after earning the necessary 75 percent of the vote back in January.

With the 2014 MLB Hall of Fame induction ceremony coming up this weekend, I wanted to go over the active major leaguers who are either sure things, likely to make it, or well on their way to a HOF career. Keep in mind, the players listed in each category below are by no means all of the players that fit each category, and some players that I feel are Hall worthy may not be in your mind; while players you think have the numbers didn’t make the cut in my mind. It’s just the top three per category, as far as I’m viewing things.

First Ballot Players

With nearly 3,500 hits, over 250 home runs, around 400 stolen bases and an average above .300 for his career, Derek Jeter is no doubt a future albertpujolsfirst ballot HOFer. Set to retire after this season, Jeter is one of the all time great players the game of baseball has ever seen, and the career he put together both on the field and off makes him all the more impressive.

Nearly as close of a lock as Jeter is Albert Pujols, who hit his 500th career home run earlier this season. In addition to the homers, Pujols has 2,000 other hits to go along with them, equaling out to a .300 career average to show for it. Going on a record setting start to his career, with twelve straight seasons of 30+ home runs, Pujols should certainly get in his first time around on the ballot.

Though there are people who argue against David Ortiz because he’s a designated hitter, a career of over 450 homers, nearly 1500 RBI’s, and an upper .200’s batting average makes it in my book. Coming through in the clutch in seemingly every situation for the Red Sox throughout his career, Ortiz is going to make it in, even if it’s not the first time.

Likely to Make It

While the stats don’t count, when combined from his numbers in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki has over 4,000 professional hits. As far as the record books show, here in the States, Ichiro has nearly 3,000 hits, a .300’s 12449263average and almost 500 career stolen bases. Therefore, despite missing the beginning of his pro career due to time spent in Japan, Ichiro will inevitably wind up with the stats to get in the Hall.

Adrian Beltre continues to put together the type of numbers that gets a player elected to the Hall of Fame. With over 2,500 career hits and almost 400 home runs, to go along with an upper .200’s average, Beltre is one of the best third basemen the game has ever seen. Given the fact that he will likely play a few more seasons, Beltre should only continue to improve his case.

Argued as the best hitter in baseball today, Miguel Cabrera’s stats are unbelievable at this point in his career. At just 31 years old, Cabrera may not get into the Hall if he quit tomorrow, but it would definitely be close. Holding the highest active average of any player, to go along with over 2,000 hits and around 400 home runs, Cabrera will ultimately find himself in Cooperstown when all is said and done.

Off To Great Starts

With the future unknown, I could’ve put dozens of players in this category, but these three are the ones most off to Hall of Fame careers. Having not played for too terribly long, they don’t currently hold the stats to make it in, but if they can each continue their average season for years to come, they’ll definitely finish out their careers with numbers equaling a Hall of Fame career.

Clayton Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher currently in baseball. With two Cy Young awards before the age of 26, Kershaw has posted an ERA Craig+Kimbrel+Arizona+Diamondbacks+v+Atlanta+L7qIMlcwQqRlunder 3.00 each of his first six years in the big leagues; the exception of his career being his inaugural season. Kershaw has also put together over 200 strikeouts each of the past four seasons, and, if he can keep the success going, will likely be on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Seen as the best closer since Mariano Rivera, Craig Kimbrel is as dominant of a relief pitcher as you’ll find. Recording over 40 saves each of the past three years, over which his highest season ERA was a whopping 2.10, Kimbrel is nearly a sure bet in the ninth inning. Holding a career strikeouts per nine innings pitched of over 15, Kimbrel is on his way to sharing in Rivera’s fate — making it to Cooperstown.

Though Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter currently in the Majors, Mike Trout is viewed as the best all around player. A true five tool outfielder, Trout has shown the ability to hit for power — 25+ home runs and 80+ RBI’s each of his first two seasons — as well as the ability to hit for average — over .320 in those two seasons. While the future is unpredictable, at just 22, Trout’s future surely holds an induction into the Hall.

As for the players being inducted into the Hall of Fame this Sunday as part of the 2014 class, you can watch the live induction ceremony at 1:30 on MLB Network.

Stage Set for Exciting Second Half of 2014 Season

After a four-day break in baseball action due to the All-Star game and its surrounding festivities up at Target Field, baseball returns tonight. With a full, fifteen game slate set to get the second half of the season going, there are a ton of story lines that are sure to make this portion of the season one of the most captivating in years.

With that in mind, I wanted to go over just a few of the topics worth keeping an eye on in the two and a half months before the postseason rolls around, with my prediction/thoughts on what will take place.

- Which players will be traded before the trade deadline on July 31st?

As of right now — though the likes of Chase Utley, Huston Street and Adrian Beltre have been tossed around — the two players in the spotlight the most when it comes to trade discussion are David Price and Matt Kemp. Both Price and Kemp have been apart of trade talks for awhile, but neither has gone anywhere as of yet. But many people are expecting that to change fairly soon. Price hasn’t been having the type of season that he had a couple of years ago, but he’s still one of the top pitchers in the game today, who will likely bring the Rays a good amount in return, should they decide to deal him.

Kemp is in slightly a different situation that Price, as Price has noted that he doesn’t necessarily want to leave, but Kemp is open to a trade, seeing that he’s currently not being used as an everyday player. Though Kemp has been struggling for a good bit of time due to injuries, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the top superstars in all of baseball. With the outfield situation the Dodgers currently hold — five outfielders for three spots — Kemp will likely be heading somewhere soon.

- Will Jose Abreu break Mark McGwire’s rookie home run mark?Untitled

When Jose Abreu came to the White Sox from Cuba, no one knew fully what to expect from him. But after his first month in the big leagues, everyone knew he was going to be a star for years to come. The first year All-Star set a new rookie home run record for a player’s first month in the majors, and is on the verge of breaking an even bigger record — the most home runs in a season by a rookie.

Mark McGwire set the bar high back in 1987 when he slugged 49 home runs for the Athletics, but Abreu is currently on pace to hit 50 in this his rookie campaign. Even if he doesn’t quite reach that amazing milestone, Abreu is nearly a lock to do what McGwire achieved — win the American League Rookie of the Year award.

- Of the players with poor first halves, which will have a breakout second half?

No player carries the hype that the Nationals’ Bryce Harper does. Coming up back in 2012 and winning the National League Rookie of the Year award, Harper hasn’t yet been able to have the monster season that people had predicted him to put together. Thanks to an injury this season, Harper has played in a mere 34 games to this point, but with him finally healthy, Harper is looking to turn things around and have a breakout second half to the season. With the Nationals tied with the Braves for first place in the division, they could really use a surge from Harper, who has clearly made known that he loves the spotlight. This is his chance to shine.

The Red Sox have failed to meet expectations this season after winning the World Series last year, sitting tied for last place in the American League east with the Rays. Part of the reason for the subpar year to this point has been the subpar performances by many of the players who made big impacts last year, including Xander Bogaerts.

Bogaerts came up for the very last portion of the 2013 season, but he flipped a switch in the postseason, getting important hits in big spots and helping to lead the Red Sox to the championship title. With such a great showing, many people made the prediction that he would make the run for Rookie of the Year this season. Though that’s not going to happen, look for Bogaerts to begin to find George+Springer+Kansas+City+Royals+v+Houston+tKo8zZGt9m9lhis groove in the remainder of the Sox’ games. He’s extremely talented and will surely be able to get things going.

George Springer is having a great season for the Astros, leading the team in RBI’s and tied for the lead in home runs. The only knock to what would be a promising Rookie of the Year campaign is his low .200’s batting average. That’s the one thing that Springer needs to turn around to become the all around star player that people feel he can become.

His power has been evident this year, as has the ability to come through in big spots; and his defense has been impressive as well. With so much talent, having hit .303 with 37 homers last season in the minors, Springer is one of those players that can make the necessary adjustments to get better and better. With the second half of the season beginning, Springer is arguably the players who needs the most watching, as he could have an extremely impressive final few months.

- How many teams can make a solid push at the playoffs?

Probably the most anticipation surrounds the division races, where there are numerous teams that still stand a theoretical shot at one of the ten playoff spots (six division winners, and four wild cards). The Orioles, Tigers, and Athletics currently stand atop their given American League division, with the Nationals and Braves (tied), Brewers and Dodgers holding the first place slot for their National League division. But there are multiple teams that could be in their place once the end of the season rolls around.

The Orioles currently hold a four game lead in the American League East, however, the Blue Jays and Yankees are going to do their part to make the O’s feel pressure in the coming months. While the Blue Jays held the top spot for a long time before falling down a bit, and although the Yankees are struggling to stay in the race, anything can happen, and that’s reason enough to watch the race in the east.

Detroit has a rather big lead over the second place Royals, but after losing the spot to the Royals earlier in the year, they need to keep an eye on Kansas City. It has been “the Royals’ year” for the past several years, with people predicting season after season that they would finally reach their full potential. And therefore, while they won’t likely find themselves beating out the Tigers, they very well could capture one of the wild cards.

One of the most impressive teams for the past few years has been the Athletics. Consisting of players who wouldn’t appear to have much of a troutshot against the rest of the division on paper, the A’s are once again surprising many. Not far behind them are the Angels, who, led by Mike Trout, have finally been able to see all of their key players make full contributions. Less than two games back of first, the Angels are on the verge of a special season.

The National League East division has the Nationals and the Braves at the top, with both standing a good shot at being there at the end of the season. The only question that remains is which one of the two will finish in second. The Nationals are a better team as a whole, and if Bryce Harper can post superstar caliber numbers, they could run away with things. However, if the Nat’s fail to capitalize, the Braves could once again win the division.

But while the National League East has the closest teams, the NL Central is arguably the most competitive, as three of the four teams chasing the first place Brewers are less than four games back. Those three teams being the Reds, Cardinals and Pirates, any of the three stand a good shot at finishing in first. It will come down to who plays better baseball and finishes out the year on a strong note.

It’s basically a two-team race between the Giants and Dodgers for the first place spot in the National League West. Though it’s not as competitive of a division as most of the others in baseball, it’s going to be exciting to see who goes on a hot streak to take the first place spot. As of right now, the favorites are the Dodgers, who were predicted at the beginning of the year to make the playoffs fairly easily, but the Giants aren’t too far removed from their 2012 World Series title, and could potentially make things interesting.

But the only thing that’s for sure in baseball is that you never know what to expect. Teams that you never thought had a shot can go on a historic streak and shock everyone. And thus, with less than three months to go, the baseball world is in for an action packed finish to the season.

2014 Triple-A All-Star Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American League Wins the 85th MLB All-Star Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That will stick with people for a lifetime.

2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. . . . the derby got underway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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