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Five Phillies have been named the NL Most Valuable Player

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Klein was the National League MVP in 1932 and finished as runner-up in both 1931 and 1933

 

Major League Baseball will conclude the process of handing out hardware to the 2019 award winners on Thursday with the naming of the National and American League Most Valuable Players.

In a televised announcement on the MLB Network beginning at 6:00 pm EST, the official BBWAA award winners will be announced.

As has been the case all week, the IBWAA (internet writers/bloggers) named their winners during the afternoon.

 

This year’s three finalists for the BBWAA honors in the National League are outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger of the LA Dodgers, third baseman Anthony Rendon of the world champion Washington Nationals, and outfielder Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers, the latter of whom as last year’s winner.

Over in the American League the finalists are third baseman Alex Bregman of the pennant-winning Houston Astros, shortstop Marcus Semien of the Oakland A’s, and outfielder Mike Trout of the LA Angels. Trout is a two-time AL MVP and four-time runner-up for the honors.

My thought is that Bellinger will win the NL MVP honors. But my pick would be Rendon. The Nationals turned their season around after a miserable first seven weeks, put up the NL’s best record over the final four months, and won the first world championship in franchise history. Rendon’s productive bat and outstanding play at the hot corner were keys.

In the American League, there is little doubt that Trout is baseball’s best all-around player. But this is not the “Most Outstanding Player” award, it’s for the most valuable. The Halos finished 18 games below the .500 mark and in fourth place. Bregman is similarly outstanding, and his club won. But he was surrounded by easily the best and deepest lineup in the league.

Semien is nowhere near as well known in wider baseball circles. However, his value to the NL West runners-up in leading the small-market Athletics to the postseason for a second straight year is worthy of the award: 33 homers, 83 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs, 123 runs scored and outstanding defensive play at shortstop helped add up to 8.1 total WAR. He would be my choice.

The origins of a formal Most Valuable Player in baseball can be traced back to the 1911 season, and an early automobile manufacturer by the name of Hugh Chalmers.

Chalmers company presented a vehicle to the player with the highest batting average after the 1910 season. For 1911 he instituted the Chalmers Award, with a baseball writer’s committee formed to select what was described as the “most important and useful player to the club and to the league“.

The Chalmers Award was handed out following the next four seasons from 1911-14, and the winners are a who’s who of Hall of Famers: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, and Eddie Collins. As World War I began and national attention diverted to the effort that summer, the award was discontinued after the 1914 season.

The American League decided to hand out an award beginning in 1922 to “the baseball player who is of the greatest all-around service to his club“. It was voted on by a baseball writer’s committee, and players were only allowed to win one time.

That award lasted for seven seasons. Hall of Famer George Sisler won the first, and Johnson took the honors in 1924. A pair of legendary New York Yankees stars, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, won the award for the 1923 and 1927 seasons. The first Philadelphia ball player, Mickey Cochrane of the Athletics, won the final award in 1928.

The National League followed suit in 1924 with an award that lasted through the 1929 season, but the NL allowed a player to win multiple times. This resulted in Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby winning in both 1925 and 1929.

For the 1931 season, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) began to hand out the honors that have lasted through today.  In the NL, the Phillies’ Chuck Klein won in 1932 and finished as runner-up in the voting in both 1931 and 1933.

Philadelphia Athletics ball players captured the first three AL awards, with pitcher Lefty Grove winning in 1931 and then slugger Jimmie Foxx taking it in 1932 and 1933. The A’s would get one more AL MVP winner before leaving town, with southpaw pitcher Bobby Shantz earning the honors in 1952.

Foxx would win again in 1938 for his performance that season with the Boston Red Sox. He is one of only four three-time winners in the American League, joining Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez. Trout will try to join that list tonight.

In the National League, Barry Bonds captured the award seven times. Next in line are a list of four three-time winners including Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, and Albert Pujols.

The other three-time winner in the NL is the greatest player in Philadelphia Phillies franchise history, Michael Jack Schmidt.

Mike Schmidt won the National League Most Valuable Player award for his performances in the 1980, 1981, and 1986 seasons. Ernie Banks in 1958-59, Joe Morgan in 1975-76, Dale Murphy in 1982-83, Bonds in 1992-93, and Pujols in 2008-09 are the other back-to-back NL winners. Yelich will try to join those ranks tonight. Bonds also had a stretch of four straight wins 2001-04.

A pitcher with the 1950 Phillies “Whiz Kids” National League championship club, Jim Konstanty was honored with the NL MVP that season, and remains the only reliever to ever win the Most Valuable Player honors. Konstanty received 18 of 24 first-place votes that year to win comfortably over Musial.

How did a relief pitcher capture the honors? Well, it would be hard to argue against Konstanty’s value to the NL pennant winners. He won 16 games and recorded 22 saves while tossing 152 innings and allowing just 108 hits across 74 games, all out of the bullpen.

With Klein, Konstanty, and the three Schmidt honors, that leaves two more Phillies National League Most Valuable Players. Those two were teammates who captured the honors in back-to-back seasons.

In 2006, first baseman Ryan Howard, who had won the NL Rookie of the Year award the prior season, won in a reasonably close vote over Pujols. Howard received 20 first-place votes while Pujols got the other 12, with Howard winning the overall vote by 388-347.

The following year, shortstop Jimmy Rollins predicted before the season began that the Phillies were “the team to beat” in the NL East Division. The club had fallen short despite contending over the prior half-dozen years, and had not won a division crown in 14 seasons.

JRoll backed up his prediction with an MVP performance. He became the first player in big-league history to record 20+ home runs (30), doubles (38), triples (20), and stolen bases (41) and scored 139 runs. Despite such an outstanding season, Rollins win was tight, edging out Matt Holliday of the Rockies by 353-336. Rollins received 16 first-place votes to 11 for Holliday.

A pair of current Phillies players have National League Most Valuable Player awards in their home trophy case. Andrew McCutchen won the award in 2013 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing third in both 2012 and 2014. Bryce Harper was the unanimous winner in 2015 as a member of the Washington Nationals.

Who will be the next Philadelphia Phillies player to take home the NL Most Valuable Player Award? At just age 27, Harper would seem to be the most logical candidate. If he can do it, he would add his name to a list that includes just 11 players in winning the award multiple times during a career.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

 

 

Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB 2020 free agent market

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Super agent Scott Boras again finds himself in the middle of much of the big Hot Stove season action

 

Welcome to the latest episode of the ‘Ring the Bell‘ podcast. For those simply reading this piece at the website, it doubles as the script for today’s episode.

As I discussed in yesterday’s episode which evaluated the Phillies current roster and payroll situations, the ball club has a number of important needs. General manager Matt Klentak will find himself increasingly under the glare of the spotlight as this Hot Stove season moves along and he attempts to fill those needs.

First, let’s take a minute to run down the list of what I see as those Phillies needs this off-season, in order of importance:

  1. Starting pitching
  2. Starting pitching
  3. Center field
  4. Bench
  5. Bullpen
  6. Third base (?)

That was not a typo in listing ‘Starting Pitching’ twice. It is simply that important, first of all. And also, the club needs two new proven winning veteran starting pitchers, at least one of whom should be an “ace” level rotation arm. Now, let’s take a look at who is available on the free agent market.

STARTING PITCHING

There are two big names here, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. They should and will be the Phillies top two targets in free agency. Principal owner John Middleton has made the addition of top-level starting pitching a priority for the team, and is prepared to spend top dollar to secure such an arm.

The problem is not going to be one of either money or will power. The problem for the Phillies will be that they are not the only team in search of this level of pitching talent, not by a long shot.

The world champion and division rival Washington Nationals and their World Series opponents, the Houston Astros, are not simply going to let Strasburg and Cole respectively walk away from their ball clubs without a major effort to retain them.

Also, it is publicly known that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels will be shopping aggressively for this type of arm as well. Speculation is that the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves are among any number of other teams with the desire and money to land one of these top two starting pitchers.

It’s hard to know what is going through Strasburg’s mind. There has been some speculation that opting out of his contract with the Nationals was purely a strategy to get more money from the only organization he has ever known.

The 31-year-old, 10-year veteran was due to make another $100 million over the next four years in Washington. Some have speculated that he could get another $50 million and another year, at least, on the open market.

While it would not be a surprise to see the Nationals and Strasburg announce a new deal at any point, that is far from a given. The longer he hangs out there on the market, the more clubs are going to his agent, Scott Boras, with interest.

Cole is also represented by the Boras Group. The 29-year-old is the biggest name on the free agent market this winter. I expect to see Boras take him on a tour of interested teams and cities, similar to what we saw happen last year with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Don’t expect to see Cole sign with anyone until February.

While the Phillies will be in the mix for both, their money and genuine interest making them legitimate contenders, they should not be considered the favorites for either pitcher. Cole, a native of Newport Beach, is said to be interested in either a return to SoCal or a spot at the top of the Yankees rotation. Strasburg, a San Diego native, may also go the SoCal route if he doesn’t return to D.C.

It is going to be curious to watch the Phillies pursuit of a top arm, because as I said, what the rotation really needs is two more experienced, proven, veteran starting pitchers.

The longer that Cole remains unsigned, and Strasburg as well for that matter, and the longer the Phillies genuinely believe that they are in the mix for one or the other, then it becomes a somewhat dangerous game.

There is a large group of talented starting pitchers just below the talent levels of Cole and Strasburg. Most if not all of those pitchers are going to sign somewhere earlier than at least Cole will be signing. The Phillies are going to have to commit to one of the next level of pitchers by Christmas, possibly even within the next few weeks.

The most obvious target would appear to be 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Turning 36 years of age two days after this coming Christmas, Hamels has already said that he would be open to a return to the club with whom he broke into the big-leagues and first became a star.

Judging by social media, Hamels remains popular with the fan base. And judging by his comments, the feeling is mutual.

MLB Phillies insider Todd Zolecki quoted Hamels earlier this week:

I know Philly is finally trying to make that push. They’re building their roster. If I fit on their roster and their plans, I’d love the opportunity to come back. It’s probably more on their end, though, to reach out and see if I actually do fit in their plans. It would be difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there, can you guys make it happen?’ But I’m always willing to play for that team and city and attempt to win a World Series. That’s where I am right now. I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.

Hamels then went on to say, according to Zolecki, that he would even be willing to play on a one-year contract:

I’m not there to handcuff somebody or an organization…I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play. I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around. Obviously, if the Phillies were interested in longer than one, I’d entertain that, too. But I think I want the opportunity to have as many opportunities to get to the postseason and try to win. I’ll go every year. I’ll prove myself. I don’t mind having my back against the wall. I think I perform better like that anyway. It just keeps me more accountable.

This just seems to make too much sense. Hamels is clearly interested in a return to the Phillies. The fans would love to have him back. He has the talent and experience that the club is looking for, and he has something else going for him – Hamels is left-handed. The club has not had a truly effective southpaw in their rotation since, well, since Hamels left in 2015.

No longer in his prime, this could absolutely work on a one-year deal with a club option for another year or two. The Phillies, as long as all the medicals check out, should waste no time with this decision. Klentak should be on the phone with Hamels agent today.

If they just can’t work something out, or don’t want Hamels for some reason, there are other interesting arms.

Available free agent left-handers include 30-year-old, 4x NL All-Star and former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner…32-year-old, 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel…33-year-old Korean native and 2019 NL All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu…29-year-old, 2017 NL All-Star Alex Wood.

Available right-handers would include 29-year-old, former first round MLB Draft pick Zack Wheeler…31-year-old, 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello…30-year-old, 2019 AL All-Star Jake Odorizzi.

There are a few dozen other possibilities as well. But frankly, anyone other than the pitchers mentioned already would be a disappointing addition.

The Phillies would be wise to take Hamels up on this word, and wrap him up to fill the 3-4 slot in their starting rotation for 2020. Then they can concentrate all of their efforts into trying to land one of the really big fish.

CENTER FIELD

There are a lot of Phillies fans who seem to think that the club is okay here with either Scott Kingery or Adam Haseley. Frankly, if you truly want to be a contending team, I think that is just crazy talk.

Kingery has handled himself admirably out there for someone who is not a natural outfielder. Haseley deserves much credit for rising from Double-A to a regular big-league role last season.

But neither is the answer for a contending Phillies ball club.

Kingery needs to be handed his natural second base position and allowed to play it every single day, barring some situational need or emergency. Haseley would be well served getting more everyday plate appearances at Triple-A or serving a fourth outfielder apprenticeship in 2020.

There has been some chatter on social media about the team bringing back free agent outfielder Corey Dickerson, who excelled with the Phillies following his arrival from Pittsburgh at this past season’s trade deadline.

Yes, Dickerson hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances with the Phillies. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and you have something like a 35 homer, 120+ RBI campaign.

However, the 30-year-old Dickerson is a free agent for the first time. He is going to parlay that performance into a nice, well-deserved payday. And he is, unfortunately, not a center fielder. Just 27 of his 571 big-league games in the outfield have been played in center.

If you are thinking of putting him in left field and having Andrew McCutchen slide over to become the everyday man in center field for the Phillies, you really need to think again.

McCutchen is now 33-years-old and has not played center field regularly in either of his last two seasons. He is coming off major knee surgery as well.

While he can spot-start or slide over temporarily during a situational or emergency need, as he did for 10 starts and 15 total games this past season with the Phillies, he is no longer the player who won a 2012 Gold Glove Award as a center fielder.

Roman Quinn is also not the answer. I love Quinn’s tool set and have been publicly in his corner for a few years now. But even someone who is as big a fan as I am has limits. Quinn has proven that he simply cannot remain healthy long enough to be a reliable starting option.

No, what the Phillies really need is a new center fielder, someone from outside the organization. Unfortunately, there really are not quality options available this year in free agency.

You have a premier defender such as Juan Lagares. There is pure base stealing speed in Billy Hamilton. There is an aging veteran such as 34-year-old, 5x AL All-Star, 4x AL Gold Glove Award winner Adam Jones.

None of those is a realistic option. Jones played just one game in center last year for the Dbacks, and two years ago with Baltimore he was rated as one of the worst regular center fielders in the game defensively by Fangraphs.

Lagares will turn 31-years-old in spring training and has just a .254/.297/.361 career slash line in 2,119 career big-league plate appearances. With a slash of just .242/.297/.326 over 3,089 plate appearances, Hamilton is even worse with a bat in his hands.

There is no answer available in free agency. If the Phillies want to improve in center field, it is going to have to come via trade.

During this past season, I wrote that a worthy trade target could be found in Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He turns 30 years of age early in the 2020 season and can become a free agent after next year.

If I’m Klentak, I’m on the phone looking to see if we can find a reasonable match in trade for the 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and ALCS Most Valuable Player.

THIRD BASE

Don’t count me among those who feel that the Phillies need a third baseman. Again, this is assuming the club does what I think it should do – give second base to Scott Kingery, and cut ties to Maikel Franco by not offering him arbitration.

If I’m running things, top offensive prospect Alec Bohm is starting at third base on Opening Day 2020. I let him know that right now.

When Bohm’s season ends following the conclusion of the Premier 12 tournament, at which he is Team USA’s starter at the hot corner, I tell him to go home and enjoy the holidays. Just keep working out and stay in shape. Don’t report to Clearwater until early February. And be mentally ready for your role as the Phillies starting third baseman.

Now, that’s me. The club could actually go in a number of directions. They could offer a contract to and bring back Franco as the starter, at least to begin the season. Then let him try to hold off Bohm for as long as he can.

Or the club could offer a contract to Cesar Hernandez, cut ties with Franco, give the third base job to Kingery, and fill center field some other way. Once Bohm is deemed ready, they could either slide Kingery back to center if no good option has emerged, or work out some king of position-sharing scheme involving the players. That option seems too messy.

Another option would be to cut ties with Franco and sign a free agent. There are a handful of interesting options if the Phillies try to take this route.

In order of talent, those free agent options would be Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Moustakas.

Rendon will be expensive and would tie up the position for years, meaning that the Phillies would either be banking on the NL getting a DH as soon as the 2021 season, or they would be considering a trade of either Bohm or Rhys Hoskins. I love Rendon as a player, but with Bohm nearly ready, this just doesn’t seem like the right move.

Donaldson just played on a one-year deal with Atlanta at a $23 million salary. He’ll turn 34-years-old a month from today. Perhaps the Phillies could lure him with a similar one-year offer? That would mean Bohm at least starts the season back at Triple-A.

The 31-year-old Moustakas is a bit trickier. He played with Milwaukee this past season at $7 million and received a $1 million buyout of his contract for next year, rather than the Brewers committing to his $11 million mutual option.

Moustakas is going to be seeking a multi-year offer from some team. He is still young enough that someone is likely to make that kind of offer in order to add a 35-homer bat to their lineup. I am betting it won’t be the Phillies.

Again, my choice here is to give the job to Bohm, spend your free agent money on pitching, and move on from the old, losing Franco-Hernandez infield combination.

BENCH

Putting together a bench group that includes at least a few veteran options for new manager Joe Girardi, preferably options that can hit the ball, will be another Klentak challenge.

The Phillies are already slated to have Jay Bruce return. He should help out as a pinch-hitter, on the outfield corners, and could even turn out to be a lefty-hitting backup first base option, giving Hoskins a blow against a few tougher right-handed pitchers. Girardi should be able to get him plenty of at-bats to keep him sharp and happy.

Assuming the Phillies move on from both Franco and Hernandez, as well as Odubel Herrera, that leaves other outfield depth options as Roman Quinn and Nick Williams. The infield would need help. There are a bunch of interesting options who could fit the bill:

The club could try to re-sign 30-year-old Brad Miller, who appeared in 66 games with the Phillies this past season. Miller played four different positions, mostly at third base and in left field, and produced a dozen homers in just 130 plate appearances.

38-year-old Ben Zobrist can play second base and an outfield corner. He even covered shortstop for one game last season with the Cubs.

Starlin Castro turns 30 at the end of spring training. He played both second and third this past year with the Marlins, and even held down shortstop, where he was a former starter, in three games.

At age 36, Howie Kendrick showed just how valuable he can be in a part-time role while helping the Nationals win their World Series. Kendrick, who played in 39 games with the 2017 Phillies, saw time at first, second, and third this year in Washington.

30-year-old Derek Dietrich ripped 19 homers in 306 plate appearances while covering first, second, and left field this year in Cincinnati. He even appeared in one game at the hot corner, and has played in 146 career games there.

33-year-old Eric Sogard hit .290 while playing five different positions between stops in Toronto and Tampa Bay this past season.

Former popular Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence turns 37 in April, and enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in which he was named to the American League All-Star team. His bat, outfield glove, and infectious enthusiasm could be a perfect mix for this team’s bench group.

The Phillies could use a reliable backup catching option, and yesterday I mentioned one of their former prospects as a possibility. That would be 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, who finally stayed healthy this past season and showed off his fine combination of offensive and defensive skills.

More veteran backstop options who could add an alternative to Andrew Knapp include 37-year-old Russell Martin, 34-year-old Matt Wieters, 32-year-old Bryan Holaday, 36-year-old Robinson Chirinos, 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy and a half-dozen or so others.

These are just a representative sample of the dozens of names who could fill out a veteran bench for the Phillies.

BULLPEN

As I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, assembling a bullpen is a tricky proposition from year to year. The Phillies pen was decimated by injuries this past season, but most of those arms should be back in 2020.

They could do nothing, and still end up with an effective group. However, adding someone as a strong, veteran back-end option couldn’t hurt. Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Steve Cishek, Will Harris, and Pedro Strop are just a few of the couple dozen veteran relievers available.

And how about this possibility: lefty Jake Diekman? Wouldn’t it be sort of ironic if the Phillies brought back both Hamels and Diekman, who they traded away together in 2015, in the same off-season? Diekman turns 33 in January, and struck out 84 batters over 62 innings this past season as a southpaw out of the pen.

Again, as with third base, I don’t feel this is an area of desperate need. But if the Phillies want another bullpen arm, there are plenty from which to choose.

WRAPPING IT UP

Well, that’s a look at the free agent market. The Hot Stove season is officially underway. Free agents can sign with any team at this point, though signings of the bigger names are likely to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

And those free agent ranks are only going to swell when the December 2 deadline passes for teams to offer arbitration, which is the decision that the Phillies will need to make on Franco and Hernandez.

As we move through the off-season, this podcast will focus occasionally on rumors regarding the club, and I’ll certainly be talking and writing about any big signings.

I hope you’ll come back tomorrow, when I’ll be talking about the MLB Award winners to this point, as well as the nominees for the major awards to be handed out next week, including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in each league.

Remember, you can follow any written pieces or podcast episodes through links at the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds @philliesbell. I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy. Until next time, God bless you and yours.

Matt Veasey: Podcast guest appearances

The following are links to my guest appearances on various Phillies related podcast shows. They are listed in reverse chronological order along with the name and host of the show:

If you would like me to appear as a guest on your podcast, feel free to contact me via email at matthew.veasey@verizon.net, or you can slide into my DM’s on Twitter @MatthewVeasey.

 

J.T. Realmuto wins 2019 NL Gold Glove Award

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J.T. Realmuto becomes the first Phillies catcher in 20 years to win an NL Gold Glove Award

 

The winners of the 2019 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced on Monday evening, with J.T. Realmuto of the Philadelphia Phillies earning the hardward at the National League catcher position.

Three nominees at each of the nine positions on the diamond in both the National and American Leagues had previously been announced. The Phillies had three NL nominees: Realmuto at catcher, Bryce Harper in right field, and Aaron Nola at pitcher.

The Phillies would go one-for-three as the winners were announced in a special program on ESPN2, with the 28-year-old Realmuto capturing the first Gold Glove Award of his six-year career in Major League Baseball.

After spending the first five seasons of his career with the Miami Marlins, Realmuto came to the Phillies in a February 7, 2019 trade in exchange for catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart.

During his first year with the Phillies, Realmuto made his second consecutive National League All-Star team and enjoyed his finest all-around season as a big leaguer.

Realmuto becomes the first Phillies player to win a Gold Glove Award since Jimmy Rollins took home the honors at shortstop back in 2012. He is the third Phillies catcher to ever win the award, following Wall of Famers Bob Boone (1978-79) and Mike Lieberthal (1999).

On Thursday, winners of the Silver Slugger Award will be announced. Realmuto is the leading contender to win that award at the National League catcher position for the second year in a row.

Chase Utley, who won the Silver Slugger as an NL second baseman from 2006-09 is the most recent Phillies player to capture that award. The only Phillies catcher to ever win a Silver Slugger was the late Wall of Famer Darren Daulton all the way back in 1992.

When considering all aspects of the game, Realmuto is clearly the best all-around catcher in baseball at this time. He is in the prime of his career, and was arguably the Phillies most valuable player this past season.

The catcher was extremely inexpensive in modern baseball terms after having made just $5.9 million this past season. Eligible for salary arbitration this winter, the Phillies will certainly not allow the situation to ever get that far. Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer has speculated that a new deal could be at $110 million over five years.

Realmuto is due to become a free agent following the 2020 season. Having given up one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in Sanchez in order to obtain him, the Phillies certainly do not want to lose Realmuto on the open market.

In addition to all of the work that general manager Matt Klentak needs to get done this off-season in order to push the Phillies from their current status as a .500 team to contending status, working out a contract extension with Realmuto also needs to be high on his agenda.

NOTE: Featured Photo Courtesy of Mark Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography (Twitter: @MarkKrajnak)

 

More on the Philadelphia Phillies and Major League Baseball:

2019 World Series preview and prediction

 

In their 51st season of existence, the Washington Nationals franchise has reached the World Series. They will face-off against the Houston Astros, who have been to the Fall Classic twice previously (2005, 2017) and just two years ago captured their first world championship.

This should be a fascinating match-up, featuring perhaps the best teams in both the National and American Leagues by the time the 2019 regular season came to an end.

Strong starting pitching. Deep bullpens. Exciting stars. Future Hall of Famers. It will all be on display over the next week or so in Houston, Texas and the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C.

Over the course of this exciting October of 2019 MLB Postseason play, I provided previews and predictions for all four Division Series, and each League Championship Series after going 1-1 in the Wildcard games. If you followed my advice, you are doing pretty well, as my predictions have gone 6-2 to this point.

Also, prior to the season in my 2019 MLB preview, I gave you the Nationals as my National League champions. A pretty bold prediction, given that many saw the defection of Bryce Harper in free agency as signaling their franchise decline.

While I would like to say that I was also prescient enough to have picked Houston in the American League, I did not. Close, however. I had the Astros eliminated by the New York Yankees in the playoffs. Instead, the reverse happened.

HEAD TO HEAD RESULTS

These two ball clubs have met just twice in Interleague play. During the 2017 MLB regular season go-around, the Nationals captured the first and third games of a three-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston, winning each by a single run by scores of 4-3 and 5-4. The host Astros won the middle affair by a 6-1 score.

Back in 2014, Washington swept a four game series between the two teams at Nationals Park, taking three of the four by a single run each.

From the inception of the Nationals franchise in 1969 as the old Montreal Expos through their move to Washington in 2005, and then on through the 2012 season, the two teams were each part of the National League. So for 44 years, they met frequently.

The Nationals/Expos franchise holds a 244-207 all-time regular season record over the Astros, for a .541 win percentage. The two clubs have never previously met in postseason play.

HOW NATIONALS GOT HERE

The Nationals got off to a horrendous start. Sitting at just 19-31 on May 23, they were in fourth place in the NL East Division. With rumors swirling that manager Dave Martinez‘ job was in jeopardy, their odds of reaching the World Series were less than 1%.

From that point onward, Washington was a completely different ball club. The Nats went 74-38 over the balance of the regular season, finishing in second place and easily claiming an NL Wildcard playoff berth.

In that National League Wildcard Game, the Nationals trailed the Milwaukee Brewers by 3-1 with two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning.

With their season on the brink, the Nats loaded the bases. Juan Soto then delivered a base hit which skipped past Brewers rookie right fielder Trent Grisham for an error and a scoreboard-changing three-run play. When the dust settled, Washington had an improbable 4-3 victory.

Advancing on to a National League Division Series, the Nationals were matched up against the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of seven straight NL West crowns and back-to-back National League pennants.

The Dodgers captured two of the first three games and appeared on the verge of a third straight trip to the NLCS.

However, the resilient Nationals rallied once again, tying the series up with a win at Nationals Park, and then getting a 10th inning grand slam home run from Howie Kendrick to win the decisive Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.

Four times the Nationals had reached the playoffs in this decade. All four times they had lost in the Division Series, three of those in excruciating fashion.

But now they had advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time in franchise history. Waiting for them were the Saint Louis Cardinals, whose 11 World Series crowns are the most in National League history.

This one was never really a contest. The Nationals got tremendous pitching over the first three games, their offense exploded in the final two, and in the end they swept out the Cardinals in four straight, out-scoring Saint Louis by 20-6 over the four games.

HOW ASTROS GOT HERE

The Astros were one of the favorites to win the World Series when the season opened. They struggled over the season’s first week, dropping five of their first seven games.

But then Houston rolled off 10 straight victories to take over the AL West Division lead. On April 28, they moved back into first place in the division and never relinquished that perch, capturing their third consecutive division title.

In their American League Division Series, the Astros were matched up with the always tough Tampa Bay Rays ball club. Houston took a quick 2-0 lead in the series and appeared ready for a sweep.

However, anyone who underestimates the Rays is asking for trouble. Tampa roared back with two big wins in front of their home fans at Tropicana Field to even up the series.

The Astros restored sanity back in front of their own home fans in the decisive Game 5 at Minute Maid Park. They scored four times in the 1st inning and then coasted to a 6-1 victory, advancing to the ALCS for the second time in three years.

In that American League Championship Series, the Astros were matched up with the powerful New York Yankees, champions of the AL East Division.

On their way to the 2017 World Series championship, the Astros had edged out the Yankees in ALCS, rallying to win the final two contests and taking the series in a full seven games.

This one nearly went the same full distance. The Bronx Bombers took the opener in Houston, but then the Astros rolled to three straight wins and a commanding lead.

The Yanks fought back, winning Game 5 and then rallying for a pair of runs in the top of the 9th inning to tie up Game 6.

Then in the bottom of the 9th, the smallest player on the field delivered the biggest hit of the entire American League season. Jose Altuve ripped a two-out, two-run home run to walkoff the series in front of the delirious Houston home crowd.

SCHEDULE (all games televised on the FOX Network with 8:07 PM first pitch)

Games 1 & 2: Tuesday-Wednesday 10/22-23, Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas

Games 3 & 4 (and Game 5 if needed): Friday-Saturday (possibly Sunday as well), Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Games 6 & 7 (if either/both needed): 10/22-23, Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas

STARTING PITCHING PROBABLES

Game 1: Justin Verlander (HOU) vs Max Scherzer (WAS)

Game 2: Gerrit Cole (HOU) vs Stephen Strasburg (WAS)

Game 3: Zack Greinke (HOU) vs Patrick Corbin (WAS)

Game 4: Brad Peacock (HOU) vs Anibal Sanchez (WAS) – for the Astros, this would be a bullpen game, with the hope that Peacock could get them to, even through, the 4th inning

Games 5-7: if needed, expect the Games 1-3 match-ups to repeat

STARTERS POSITION BY POSITION EDGE

First Base – Yuli Gurriel (HOU), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS) – advantage Houston

Second Base: Jose Altuve (HOU), Brian Dozier (WAS) – advantage Houston

Shortstop: Carlos Correa (HOU), Trea Turner (WAS) – even

Third Base: Alex Bregman (HOU), Anthony Rendon (WAS) – even

Catcher: Robinson Chirinos (HOU), Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki (WAS) – advantage Washington

Left Field: Michael Brantley (HOU), Juan Soto (WAS) – even

Center Field: George Springer (HOU), Victor Robles/Michael A. Taylor (WAS) – advantage Houston

Right Field: Josh Reddick (HOU), Adam Eaton (WAS) – even

I gave the Astros the advantage at three of the usual eight starting positions, with four rated as an even push. In that regard, this would seem a pretty tight match-up.

However, a healthy Springer joining Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and Gurriel gives Houston five major impact bats for the talented Nationals pitching staff to contend with each night.

Rendon, Turner, and Soto must produce for the Nationals to have any chance. And they’re likely going to need at least one surprise run-producer, perhaps some like their top bench option below.

OFF THE BENCH

Howie Kendrick, whose dramatic grand slam won the Division Series, appeared in 121 games this season for the Nationals and made starts at first, second, and third base. The 35-year-old veteran is a dangerous pinch-hit bat and a versatile infield substitute.

The Nationals other top bench options are usually whichever catcher, Gomes or Suzuki, and center fielder, Robles or Taylor, is not starting. Also look for a trio of veterans in outfielder Gerardo Parra and infielders Matt Adams and Asdrubal Cabrera to make contributions.

For the Astros, rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez will be the Designated Hitter for the games in Houston. He’ll be a pinch-hitter in the games played in Washington.

The other leading bench options will be outfielder Jake Marisnick, infielder Aledmys Diaz, and catcher Martin Maldonado. Rookie outfielder Kyle Tucker also saw action in both the ALDS and ALCS.

Advantage: Nationals

BULLPEN ARMS

While much of the talk entering this series is justifiably centered on the talented starting pitching for each club, the fact remains that both bullpens are going to have to produce in significant, pressure-filled spots to ensure individual game victories.

The Astros will try to get to controversial closer Roberto Osuna with an all-righty bullpen of Joe Smith, Will Harris, Josh James, Jose Urquidy, Ryan Pressly, Hector Rondon, and long man Brad Peacock.

In his 13th big-league season, Smith has appeared in 782 games. That is the most by any relief pitcher in MLB history who has never appeared in a World Series, a streak likely to end this week.

For Washington, you could see lefty Sean Doolittle or either of a pair of right-handers, Daniel Hudson or Fernando Rodney, on the mound trying to close out a game. Righty Tanner Rainey and lefty Mike Grace are most likely to get any other innings.

Advantage: Houston

MANAGERS

Dave Martinez, Washington: Turning 55 years of age just a month ago, Martinez has guided the Nationals to an overall 175-149 record over two seasons at the helm, finishing in second place in the NL East Division each season.

Back in mid-September, Martinez suffered a health scare when he was forced to leave a game after he began to experience chest pains. He was hospitalized and underwent a cardiac catheterization, and was eventually cleared to return after missing a series in Saint Louis.

A native New Yorker, Martinez was the third round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 1983 MLB Draft. He played in 16 big-league seasons with nine different clubs, including a four-year stint 1988-91 with the Nationals predecessors, the Montreal Expos.

AJ Hinch, Houston: At just 45 years of age, Hinch has gone 481-329 as the Astros skipper. His clubs have taken three straight AL West Division crowns, winning 101, 103, and 107 games in those seasons. He also led the club to the only World Series championship in franchise history back in 2017.

Hinch was previously the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks over parts of two seasons 2009-10, fashioning an 89-123 mark in the desert.

An Iowa native, Hinch was the Oakland A’s pick in the third round of the 1996 MLB Draft out of Stanford University. He appeared in seven big-league seasons, mostly as a platoon or backup catcher, from 1998-2004.

PREDICTION

The Houston Astros are battle-tested after a five-game ALDS with Tampa and a tough six-game ALCS with the Yankees. They have everything talent-wise that a championship team needs. They won 107 games during the regular season, most in Major League Baseball. And they have now had a couple of days to rest prior to the World Series.

The Washington Nationals have enjoyed, if that is the right world, a week-long rest after capturing the first National League pennant in franchise history. They have not lost a game since Game 3 of the NLDS back on October 6.

The Nationals biggest strength is the big three at the front of their starting rotation. For me, the Nats best chance would come from at least two of the three turning in dominating, winning performances.

My head is telling me to pick the Astros. But my gut is telling me to go with the Nationals. Back in the preseason, I picked Washington to win it all. Why not just stick with that since they’ve gotten this far?

Let’s make it Washington in seven games. Sure, it will be hard for many of my fellow Phillies fans to swallow a Nationals victory parade. But hey, they are one of just six current MLB teams to have never enjoyed the thrill of a World Series championship. It’s time.

 

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