Justin Verlander Shines in First Start of 2016

A quick glance at the box score of Tuesday night’s Tigers game versus the Marlins wouldn’t necessarily leave you to believe it, but Justin Verlander was terrific on the evening. Yes, he gave up three earned runs; and no, he didn’t strike out a ton, or receive the win for that matter. But he showed flashes of the old Verlander that the baseball world has come to miss. Verlander

Following a 67 start stretch over the course of 2011 and 2012, in which Verlander went 41-13 with a combined 2.52 ERA, winning a Cy Young and MVP award, he has recorded a 3.84 ERA ever since. Heading into this season, you truly didn’t know what to expect from the six-time All-Star, but he hit the ground running right out of the gate in game one of the year for his 2016 campaign.

Verlander carried a no-hitter all the way into the sixth inning on Tuesday night. But, unfortunately, that’s when things began to fall apart. After surrendering hit number one, in the form of a double to Dee Gordon, Verlander proceeded to give up an RBI-single to Marcell Ozuna and a two-run homer to Giancarlo Stanton, which brought the score up to 5-3, Tigers. However, despite the poor inning, it was just that — one inning. Verlander had already proven in the previous five that he still has a ton of talent remaining.

It’s been quite some time since Justin Verlander performed anywhere near the caliber of pitcher he was just a few seasons ago. However, if his first start of the year is any indication, the old Verlander could be on the verge of breaking out once again. For the Tigers’ sake, they better hope so. Detroit’s lineup is more than good enough to produce a very special season, but their starting rotation has a few question mark; the biggest of which being Verlander heading into this season.

Even so, if Justin Verlander can continue to build upon his outing on Tuesday night, the Tigers could end up surprising quite a few people around the baseball world when all is said and done.

Multiple 100-Game Winners In 2015?

When you think of a magic number for a pitcher in a season the first number that will likely will pop into your head is twenty wins. For a hitter, when you think of a solid season, it likely involves around a .300 average, 20-30 home runs and/or around 100 RBI’s. And when you think of a so called magic number for a team as a whole, the number 100 probably stands as the number that everyone pictures each team shooting for but very few teams hitting.

While a twenty win pitcher occurs seemingly every year, and a player (or several) always reaches the aforementioned magic numbers for a hitter, it is becoming more and more rare for a team to pick up 100 wins in a season. In fact, there hasn’t been a single 100-game winner in all of baseball since the 2011 Phillies. Taking things even deeper, two or more teams haven’t reached the 100-win mark in a single season since 2004, after a streak of multiple 100-game winner from 1998 through 2004 (with the exception of 2000).

It would appear, however, that both droughts could be broken in 2015.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the division winners from 2014 — the teams with the best shot at making a strong run in 2015 — and attempt to project how many, if any, of the teams could potentially obtain 100 wins in 2015:

2014 American League Division Winners

East – Orioles (96-66): The Baltimore Orioles completely blew away all of the competition in the American League EastOrioles last season, winning by a total of twelve games over the second place Yankees. But while they were a terrific ball club last season, things are likely going to take a bit of a downfall in the coming season.

The biggest reason for the fall being that they O’s lost a good chunk of their offense via trades and free agency throughout the past few months. No longer possessing slugger Nelson Cruz, veteran outfielder Nick Markakis or reliever Andrew Miller, things are sort of up in the air for how the Orioles will perform in 2015.

Therefore, even if they surprise some people, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull off the stunning feat of winning 100+ games.

Central – Tigers (90-72): For the Detroit Tigers, they are a particularly intruiging team. For the past couple of years, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have been able to pull off a 100-win season, playing in somewhat of a weaker division, however, the Tigers have disappointed to a degree.

Having a great lineup and pitching staff, the Tigers have recently been in the preseason World Series predictions by a number of people throughout the baseball world. But things just haven’t panned out.

Having lost Max Scherzer — their undeniable ace of the pitching staff — to the Nationals, and with certain players not performing up to their potential, I’d say it’s going to be tough for the Tigers to even hold off the Royals from taking the division crown. A 100-win season was doable over the past few seasons, but the opportunity for them has come and gone.

West – Angels (98-64): The Angels fall into a category much like the Tigers. The slightly more successful version of Detroit, many people saw the Angels winning it all in 2012 after the acquisition of Albert Pujols, but injuries and underperformance in general have caused the Angels to come up short.

AngelsBut falling just two wins shy of the coveted 100-win plateau in 2014, things look promising that the Angels could become the first team in four years to hit triple digits.

Their lineup is there — with the exception of Josh Hamilton, who is a huge question mark — and their pitching is good as well.

The only thing standing in their way are the other teams in the West. The Athletics — despite an offseason deconstruction — always seem to be in the mix, and the Mariners are very good as well. It will be exciting to see what happens.

2014 National League Division Winners

East – Nationals (96-66): Without question, the number one team to watch throughout the 2015 season is the Washington Nationals. After Natsputting together a 96-win season last year — winning the National League East division by a major league best 17 games over the Braves — the Nationals could likely make a run at 100 wins if they put out the exact same roster from 2014. But their roster is better than last season — much better.

Picking up Max Scherzer who has gone 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA over the past two seasons, their pitching staff is the top one or two in all of baseball. If Scherzer can continue to pitch as he has over the recent history of his career, and if supposed phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg can finally put up super star caliber numbers, the sky is truly the limit for what appears to be an extremely dominant Nationals team.

Central – Cardinals (90-72): I am a strong believer that the National League Central Cubs will make a run at the postseason as soon as 2015, but they by no means will win 100 games. The Cardinals, though, stand a chance, however slight it may be. Given, it would have to be a ten win jump from their record in 2014, the Cardinals are one of those teams that could surprise some people.

With a decent rotation that includes the always reliable Adam Wainwright, and a lineup that possesses All-Star catcher Yadier Molina, who can make any pitcher look like a former Cy Young winner, the Red Birds will win a lot of games moving forward. The division isn’t extremely strong, and their track record has proven that the Cardinals can go on a run with the best of them. Still, it won’t likely add up to a 100-win year for them.

West – Dodgers (94-68): A pitching rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw is always sure to be a terrific one. But Dodgersthe Dodgers’ staff doesn’t begin and end with Kershaw. He’s their best pitcher, no doubt, but the addition of Brandon McCarthy to go along with Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu will go a long way in a 2015 quest for 100+ wins.

But the Dodgers will be without on and off superstar Matt Kemp in the outfield — the hope is that Joc Pederson will fill the role there — and the loss of Dee Gordon and Dan Haren will certainly have an impact. The lack of those players could be enough to keep them from winning the division like they were able to do in 2014.

Nonetheless, despite all of the losses, the pickup of veteran infielder Jimmy Rollins in addition to promising backstop Yasmani Grandal should lead to a decent enough lineup. If I had to guess, though, the Giants will be riding them too closely for the Dodgers to break 100 wins.

In conclusion, while every season is unpredictable, this year could see a 100-game winner (or two) for the first time in four seasons. But even if that doesn’t happen, there are teams such as the Cubs, White Sox and Padres who will make legitimate playoff runs after failing to do so in quite some time. That alone is enough to cause any baseball fan to continue counting down the days until Opening Day.

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.

My 2014 Postseason Predictions

For the third straight season I made preseason predictions as to how I felt each division would play out, and for the third straight season I was extremely far off. For one reason or another, I’m not very good at making division predictions before a given season begins. However, with that said, last year when I did playoff predictions for the very first time I correctly predicted the World Series matchup of the Cardinals taking on the Red Sox. Unfortunately, I picked the Cardinals to come out victorious, which ultimately didn’t happen, but I was still thrilled that I successfully picked the final two teams.

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

WILD CARD GAMES (AL September 30th & NL October 1st)

American League: Royals Vs. Athletics

Winner: Royals

Both the Royals and Athletics have had their share of ups and downs throughout the 2014 season. Neither one has a group of players that makes them definitively better than the other, and that makes it hard to predict the winner of the one game, win or go home matchup. Even so, I’m picking the Royals to pull out the win over the visiting A’s. While their offense has struggled at times, their bullpen is one of the best in baseball. If the Royals can go into the late innings with a lead, it’s as close to a sure thing as you can get.

National League: Pirates Vs. Giants

Winner: Giants

The Pirates made it to the postseason in 2013 for the fist time since 1992, winning the Wild Card game against the Reds and moving on to the division series only to be beaten out by the Cardinals. This time around, however, I don’t even have them making it that far. The Giants are looking to come into town and pick up the win that will ensure a five game series against the Nationals, and I feel that their pitching, as well as their overall offense, outranks the Pirates’ team in a one game situation.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 2nd)

Angels Vs. Royals

Winner: Angels

Although I have the Royals winning the Wild Card game against the Athletics, I don’t see their first playoff run since 1985 lasting past the division series. Going up against a really good offensive Angels team, the Royals will certainly be in for a challenge if they want to prove me wrong. The only question mark for the Angels that would give the Royals a true chance is their starting pitching. With no true ace that you can count on, you never know how the Angels will fare. But I think they will hit just enough to win the series.

Orioles Vs. Tigers

Winner: Tigers

This is going to be a very good series matchup, and I can’t really say for sure who will win. But I’m going with my gut that the Tigers will find a way to get the job done, despite their flaws. While the Orioles have one of the best hitting clubs in baseball, with major threats up and down the lineup, their pitching isn’t nearly as deep as the Tigers. If they want to make things hard on the Tigers, they’ll have to post some great pitching performances. But although that could happen, I see the Tigers moving on to the championship series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 3rd)

Nationals Vs. Giants

Winner: Nationals

The Nationals taking on the Giants would be a good series, but I don’t think it will be too difficult for the Nationals to move on. Taking nothing away from the Giants, who are certainly a good team of players, I don’t feel they stack up against the Nationals very well at all. The Nationals have very few holes from top to bottom in both their offense and pitching. With five good starters that can go out and win big games when you need them to, it would take nothing short of a disaster for the Nats to get beaten out by the Giants.

Dodgers Vs. Cardinals

Winner: Dodgers

Pairing two of the best teams in the National League against one another, this is by far the best guaranteed-to-happen matchup of the postseason, in my mind. While the other games are sure to be exciting, this series could easily come down to a game five, with either team taking the division series title. With the Cardinals and Dodgers both having amazing teams, it’s basically a coin flip for which one will move on. But I have to give a slight edge to the Dodgers — however slight an edge it may be.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 10th)

Angels Vs. Tigers

Winner: Angels

As good as the Tigers pitching staff can be, and as bad as the Angels staff can be, it was difficult for me to select the Angels as the winners of the series. But I feel the Angels have a good enough team to beat out the Tigers, should they have any sort of issues scoring runs or pitching well, which I envision them having. Though many people are picking the Tigers to make it to the World Series, with some going as bold with their predictions as to giving them the World Series title, I have that spot reserved for the Angels.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 11th)

Nationals Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Dodgers

Another sure to be great series against two great teams, this is yet again a nearly impossible matchup to predict (as many of them are). If the Nationals end up taking on the Dodgers in the National League Championship series as I’m predicting, the baseball world could be in for some extremely thrilling games. Both teams have good pitching staffs and offenses that can seemingly score at will at times. What it will come down to is which of the teams is hot at the right time. For me, I’m putting my money on the Dodgers.

WORLD SERIES (Begins October 21st)

Angels Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Angels

A World Series matchup between the Angels and Dodgers would be incredible for baseball fans everywhere around the country. Not only are the two ballparks a mere thirty miles apart, but this would also be a Fall Classic matchup of two of the best teams in their given divisions. With both the Dodgers and Angels having good lineups, this could be a back and forth series. But regardless of their pitching being an issue, I feel the Angels will find a way to go the distance, coming out on top over the Dodgers.

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

Are the Tigers On the Verge of Disaster?

Heading into the 2014 Major League Baseball season, there weren’t very many people around the baseball world who didn’t have the Tigers winning the American League Central division. Citing the fact that the Tigers have one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, in addition to a really good lineup that includes, arguably, the best hitter in all of baseball, Miguel Cabrera, a lot of pre season predictions had the Tigers completely running away with the division. But with around five weeks of games remaining in the season, the Tigers finishing in first place isn’t a lock, as it was once viewed.20140805krjag90020

A game and a half back of the division leading Royals, the Tigers have some work to do to retake their lead in the Central.

Back on July 31st, the Tigers made a move that seemed certain to help them pull away from the Royals. In a three team trade with the Rays and Mariners, the Tigers sent Austin Jackson to Seattle, who in return sent Nick Franklin to the Rays, with the Tigers sending Drew Smyly and a prospect to the Rays in exchange for David Price.

Though Price hadn’t been overly dominant before the trade went down, a team with David Price is much better off than a team without David Price. And that has proven to be true in his few starts since the trade.

In Price’s most recent outing at his long time home, Tropicana Field, Price had one of his best games of the season. Going eight innings, giving up just a single hit, Price was fantastic on Thursday afternoon. However, Alex Cobb, who was on the mound for the opposing team, was just as good. In the end, despite the amazing pitching performance by Price, he was handed the loss, as the Tigers failed to provide any run support whatsoever.

If the Tigers want to win the division and not be faced with a one-game playoff that comes with a Wild Card spot — a spot that isn’t guaranteed by any means, as the Mariners currently sit just a half game back of the second Wild Card — they’re, obviously, going to have to start playing better as a team than they have been recently.

The day the David Price trade occurred, the Tigers were in a great spot. Sitting in first place, four games ahead of the Royals, the acquisition of Price looked to only improve their team, which was already seemingly on the way to another division title.

Detroit Tigers v Texas RangersBut while Price has done his job for the most part, as has the always terrific Max Scherzer, the remainder of the pitching staff, along with the lineup, has been hit and miss from one night to the next, with their entire bullpen being subpar at best.

Justin Verlander hasn’t been the same caliber pitcher he once was in quite some time; Joe Nathan, who they acquired to strengthen their bullpen, hasn’t been that great; and although Miguel Cabrera is having a good year, he’s currently on pace to finish out the season around 20 home runs and 30 RBI’s shy of the unbelievable numbers of 44 home runs and 137 RBI’s he posted in 2013.

Those three players are going to have to catch fire for the Tigers to take off in any major way.

With the entire Tigers team underperforming for the most part at the moment, and with the Mariners right behind them, threatening to overtake their playoff chances, the Tigers are experiencing quite a bit of struggles. Though they’ll likely find some sort of groove at some point in September, the Tigers are doing extremely poor in comparison to where they should be with the talent they have. If, somehow, the Tigers miss the postseason altogether, it would be nothing short of a disastrous season on their part.

Royals Playing Better Than They Have In A Decade

When Max Scherzer allowed a mere three hits over nine shutout innings in his first career complete game last week, I made the statement that, despite a dismal start to the season by the Tigers, the great outing by Scherzer could be the starting point in a turn around for the team.Untitled

But it appears I was wrong.

Lasting just four innings against the Royals on Tuesday, giving up a total of ten runs, and raising his ERA up to 3.84 on the season, Scherzer joins the long list of Tigers players who’ve struggled at some point this year.

More importantly, however, the Royals 11-4 rout of Scherzer after an 11-8 win against Justin Verlander the night before (the first time since 2011 that they’ve posted a double digit score in back-to-back games) helped them swap places with the Tigers, moving them into first place in the American League Central by a half game.

The first time the Royals have been in first place in their division this late into a season (70 games or beyond) since 2003, and the first time the Tigers haven’t held the first place spot in over a year, the great run by the Royals as of late should help to get their fan base excited, at least for the time being.

With a slow start to the year leading many people to once again assume that what was supposed to “finally” be the Royals’ year was yet again another bust, the Royals have gone from seven games back of first a month ago to leading the division. Thanks to a nine game winning streak (the longest winning streak for the Royals since July of last year) and to a struggling Tigers team, the Royals are seemingly in good shape to make the playoffs for the first time since 1985 (the longest drought in all of baseball).

It’s important to remember, however, that the AL Central is a very close division.

As I touched upon in a previous post, the Royals aren’t the only threat to the Tigers. Every single team in the entire division stands a legitimate chance at being at the top when the end of the year rolls around. Though the Tigers should be running away with things, struggles by most of their offense and the majority of their pitching staff has left more to be desired, giving every other team room to make a run.

The Twins are playing decent baseball (with the exception of a slow stretch lately); Jose Abreu and the White Sox are hanging in the mix; and the Indians are looking to pass the Tigers in a matter of days if the Tigers’ struggles continue. And thus, the Tigers need to turn things around fast.

With just under a month remaining until the All-Star break in mid-July — though teams will undoubtedly move up and down in the standings between now and then — things are setting up for an extremely exciting second half of an already eventful season.

Scherzer’s First Complete Game Stops Tigers’ Skid

After winning over 20 games last season and picking up the 2013 American League Cy Young Award, it’s hard to believe that Max Scherzer had never thrown a complete game over the course of his seven-year career heading into Thursday night’s start against the White Sox.

Max ScherzerBut after 178 previous starts without achieving the feat (the longest streak of any active pitcher without their first complete game), Scherzer was finally able to go the distance against the Sox, outpitching the equally dominant Chris Sale, throwing 113 total pitches over his nine innings of three hit, shutout baseball (it was Scherzer’s first career shutout as well) on the mound.

Moving to 8-2 on the year, with an ERA of 3.05, Scherzer’s great start helped to stop the Tigers’ three game loosing streak as well as put a little more room between them and the White Sox in the American League Central standings. When playing a division rival it becomes even more important to pickup the victory, and Scherzer made sure that happened.

One of only two divisions in all of baseball with less than ten games separating the first and last place teams (a mere four games separate the Twins at the bottom from the Tigers at the top), the Tigers are looking to begin turning around a somewhat disappointing year by their standards.

With the team the Tigers possess (Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez on the offensive side; Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer on the pitching side) many people agree that they should be running away with the division as they had been predicted to do. But despite their strong team on paper, not a lot has been going well for the Tigers this season.

Justin Verlander — once one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball — and Joe Nathan — once one of the most dominant closers in all of baseball — are both trying to figure things out, along with the majority of the Tigers’ pitching roster. With their lineup being hit or miss on any given night (except for Miguel Cabrera, who’s having a great year despite a slow start, and Victor Martinez, who’s having a career season), it’s still going to take a lot for the Tigers to begin increasing their current lead.

Although the Tigers currently sit atop the division, they hold only a two game lead over the Royals. With the Royals on a four game winning streak, and the White Sox, Indians and Twins all within a few games of first place, the Tigers shouldn’t be panicking quite yet, as there’s still plenty of season remaining. However, they need to pay close attention before things get too far out of hand.

With such a small margin separating the Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Indians and Twins in the division, no matter how you look at it, any team in the American League Central currently has a chance at finishing in first place at the end of the season. While it’s a long shot at best for a couple of the teams, if the Tigers want to be the division winners, they’re obviously going to have to start playing better.

But if Max Scherzer’s dominant outing was any sort of sign of what’s to come, the Tigers could easily begin to pull away from the rest of the pack in the upcoming weeks before the All-Star break.