Tag Archives: National League

MLB Spotlight Series: Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers

The top two National League ball clubs in my current MLB Power Ranking are about to clash. The Washington Nationals visit Dodger Stadium this week to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This will be a rematch of last year’s NLDS, won by the Dodgers in the full five games. The Nats held a 2-1 lead in that series, but LA won a pair of taught thrillers to capture the series.
Skipper Dusty Baker‘s Washington squad sits on top of the NL East Division with a 35-20 record, best in the league. Manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers are 35-23, a half-game behind the Colorado Rockies in the NL West Division standings.
The Nats have captured the NL East crown three times in the last five seasons. The Dodgers have won four consecutive NL West titles. Consequently, these have been two of the best teams in baseball for years now.
The pitching matchups for the series are as follows:
Monday – Gio Gonzalez (Was) vs Hyun-Jin Ryu (LA)
Tuesday – Max Scherzer (Was) vs Brandon McCarthy (LA)
The Nationals jumped out to a 21-9 start, then lost eight of 12 games. But coming into this series, Washington has won 10 of 13 to open up a 10.5 game lead in the division.
The Dodgers were struggling to stay above the .500 mark for the first month of the season. But LA has taken 27 of 40 games since April 22, and has spent four days in first place over the last week.

STATISTICAL COMPARISON

Washington leads all of Major League Baseball with 314 runs scored and a cumulative .828 OPS mark. Their 86 home runs are 3rd in the game, tops in the National League. The Nats are also fourth in the NL in stolen bases.
The host Dodgers are no offensive slouches. Their 283 runs scored is tied for sixth in baseball, and their .753 OPS mark is sixth in the National League. While only 15th in baseball in stolen bases, the Dodgers are fifth in stolen base percentage.
On the mound, LA’s .229 cumulative staff Batting Average Against is the best mark in the game. Their 563 strikeouts are second, and tops in the NL. The Dodgers pitchers have walked just 163 batters, second in the National League.
Washington’s staff ERA of .251 is middle of the MLB road at 16th ranked. But that is largely due to the bullpen struggles. The Nationals rotation has 35 Quality Starts, the top mark in MLB to this point. They are sixth in the NL with 476 strikeouts, and their 163 walks are fourth in the National League.

BULLPEN STRUGGLES IN THE NATION’S CAPITAL

The struggles in the Nationals bullpen are well documented. It is perhaps the only weak spot in the overall roster. If Washington wants to finally play deep into October, it is a puzzle that GM Mike Rizzo will have to solve.
The new closer is 24-year old fireballer Koda Glover, who has a 4.58 ERA in 21 games. However, he also has a 16/3 K:BB ratio and has allowed 16 hits over 17.2 innings. The hope is that he can take the role and run with it.
Veterans Shawn KelleyMatt AlbersBlake Treinen, and Joe Blanton (currently on the DL) as well as lefties Enny Romero and Oliver Perez would seem to be a solid support group. But only Albers has had consistent success this season.

INJURY WOES IN HOLLYWOOD

The Dodgers have lost a number of players to various injuries at various points over the first two months. Outfielder Andrew Toles, who was playing well and seizing a starting role, has been lost for the season.
Two starting position players, third baseman Justin Turner and center fielder Joc Pederson, are currently on the DL.
On the mound, Rich Hill has spent time on the DL. Starter Alex Wood and tough lefty reliever Luis Avilan are both currently disabled. McCarthy, a perennial DL candidate, may have just ducked a trip there – for now.
Turner is 32 years old. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is now 35, and second baseman Chase Utley is 38 years old. On the mound, Hill is 37, McCarthy is 33, and reliever Sergio Romo is 34 years old. As a result, health issues could become more problematic as the year moves along.

TWO IMPERFECT BUT TALENTED BALL CLUBS

At Forbes today, Howard Cole handled a number of questions from Dodgers fans in a mailbag piece. There were a number of calls to bench some of the older veterans. Cole also addressed calls for the team to go shopping for another big name starting pitcher.
“The Dodgers are not going to trade for an ‘elite’ starter if Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood and Julio Urias and at least one of Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu are doing their jobs. Hill was acquired last summer to be that second elite SP. “
The Nationals lost Jayson Werth to the DL just as the series is getting underway. He fouled a pitch off his foot on Saturday, and it is believed that Werth will miss just a handful of games. As a result, Ryan Raburn should get most of the action in left field.

Between LA’s offensive inconsistencies and injuries and DC’s bullpen woes, these are a pair of strong teams with slight imperfections. Plenty of stars will be present in Hollywood. Much as in the lineups and on the mound, there will be stars in the stands as well. Most of all, this should be an excellent Spotlight Series!

NL Central has MLB’s tightest divisional race

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and the MLB divisional races are just beginning to take shape. Perhaps surprisingly, the most competitive race to this point has been in the National League Central Division.
The NL Central is home to the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The North Siders were expected by many to run away with the division, much as they did a year ago. The Cubs finished 17.5 games ahead of their nearest divisional rival last year.
But thus far, Chicago appears to be suffering from a Fall Classic hangover. The Cubs are just 25-23 after being shutout by the Los Angeles Dodgers last night. This drops them into the middle of the divisional pack, albeit only a half-game off the lead.
That surprising new NL Central leader this morning would be the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew has not finished on top of the division since the 2011 season.
Last night, the Brewers blasted the Arizona Diamondbacks by a 6-1 score. The victory raised their record to the 26-23 mark.
Tied with the Cubs just a half-game behind Milwaukee are the Saint Louis Cardinals. The Cards began the year by losing nine of their first 12 games. Saint Louis then won 12 of 18 to take over the division lead. However, the Cards had dropped seven of nine before winning last night.
The Cincinnati Reds led the division as recently as three weeks ago. Cincy was a season-best four games over the .500 mark less than a week later. But the Reds have won just four of their last 14, and may be starting to fade.
In Pittsburgh, the Pirates are holding up the bottom of the division with a 23-27 record. But the Bucs are going in the opposite direction from the Reds. The Pirates have won nine of their last 14, moving within 3.5 games of the divisional lead.
That 3.5 game margin from top to bottom in the NL Central Division is by far the tightest in all of Major League Baseball.

In the NL West, the Colorado Rockies, the Dbacks, and the Dodgers are within 1.5 games of one another. However, the bottom two clubs appear already out of the race. The disappointing San Francisco Giants are already 11.5 games out. The San Diego Padres are a distant 14 games back in last place.
In the NL East, the Washington Nationals are running away with things. The Nats at 30-18 hold an 8.5 game lead. None of their divisional rivals have looked capable of making a legitimate run.
Over in the American League, the Houston Astros have similarly built up a huge lead in the AL West Division. The Astros are the owners of baseball’s best record at 34-16, which puts them nine games up.
Perhaps the biggest single surprise on this Memorial Day weekend are the AL Central Division leaders. The Minnesota Twins, with just one winning season in this decade, are on top with a 26-19 mark. A year ago, the Twins lost 103 games and finished 35.5 games back in last place.
This season, Minnesota leads the defending AL Central and American League champion Cleveland Indians by three games. The other three divisional rivals are each at least five games out.
Finally, in the AL East the New York Yankees have surprised some by seizing the division lead. At 28-18, the latest version of the Bronx Bombers have a two-game edge on the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.
Memorial Day weekend has frequently been used as a demarcation line for contenders in Major League Baseball. This year, more than half of the teams in MLB still appear to have a legitimate shot at a playoff berth.
No place is that more true than in the NL Central Division. The five teams there could place anywhere from one to three teams into the postseason. Two months down, four months to go. The “dog days of summer” are about to begin, and those races are about to really heat up.

Surprising Mark Reynolds helps Colorado Rockies to surprising start

At the start of the 2017 season in Major League Baseball, the Colorado Rockies were not considered a favorite in the NL West Division.
Most prognosticators had the four-time defending division champion Los Angeles Dodgers as the favorites once again. 
If someone was going to dethrone LA, it was likely to be their arch-rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
Either the Dodgers or Giants have won eight of the last nine NL West crowns. The Giants have captured three World Series championships during that stretch.
The Rockies joined the division in MLB’s 1993 expansion. They last won the division title, well, never. In fact, the Rox have been to the postseason just three times. They went as the NL Wildcard in 1995, 2007, and 2009. That 2007 team is the only Colorado team to reach the World Series.
Yet here we are, nearly seven weeks into the 2017 season. And there at the top of the National League West Division standings are those Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are 25-15 following a 7-3 inter-league victory over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.
Colorado is not just a Coors Field phenomenon either. The club has a 13-10 record in the Mile High City. They also sport a winning 11-5 mark away from Denver.
As a result, the Rockies are three games up on the Dodgers, against whom Colorado has gone 5-4 in head-to-head matchups this season. They have also taken six of seven games over the Giants. The Arizona Diamondbacks, currently 2.5 games back in second place? Colorado has taken four of six.

ROCKIES OVERCOMING INJURIES

When a team is having as good a start as the Rockies are, there are a number of things going right. Manager Bud Black has gotten great pitching from a pair of rookies, 24-year old Kyle Freeland and 22-year old Antonio Senzatela.
The Rockies has also overcome key injuries and illness issues. Perhaps their best anticipated starting pitcher, 25-year old Jon Gray, has been out for over a month with a broken foot. Gray is not expected back until mid-June at the earliest.
Starting shortstop Trevor Story (shoulder), pitcher Chad Bettis (cancer), catcher Tony Wolters (concussion), catcher Tom Murphy (arm fracture), and outfielder David Dahl (rib) have all missed time. All but Bettis, who just completed chemotherapy treatments, are on their way back.
Third baseman Nolan Arenado and center fielder Charlie Blackmon each won a Silver Slugger Award last season. Arenado was a Gold Glover. Second baseman D.J. LeMahieu won a Gold Glove in 2014 and was a 2015 NL All-Star. They are each off to strong starts.
But the Rockies expect to get solid production from those players. One of the biggest keys to the club getting off to such a hot start has been some relatively unexpected production.

UNEXPECTED PRODUCTION FROM A JOURNEYMAN

Mark Reynolds is the club’s 33-year old first baseman. The Rockies are the journeyman slugger’s seventh MLB organization. This is his second season with Colorado, the 11th of his big league career, and that he is even with the ball club is a bit of an upset.
Rockies
As spring training was wrapping up, Brad Faber here at FanSided wrote that the Rockies had decided to bring back Reynolds, mostly due to an injury to big free agent signing Ian Desmond.
Reynolds had been signed to a minor league deal at the start of spring training. In 2016, he hit for a .282/.356/.450 slash line over 441 plate appearances with Colorado. He contributed 14 home runs and 24 doubles ,knocking in 53 runs and scoring 61 times.
At that time, Faber noted that Desmond “was signed to a five-year, $70 million deal over the offseason, is expected to reclaim first base upon his return. Desmond is currently out with a broken hand.”
Well, Desmond has been back since for three weeks. And yet there is Reynolds, still manning first base for the Rockies. Desmond has instead been pushed out to left field, where he has played in a dozen of his 13 games since returning to the lineup.

REYNOLDS HITS WAY TO STARTING JOB

Reynolds has simply refused to allow Black to even consider removing his bat from the Rockies lineup. Through Tuesday night he has a .326/.399/.630 slash line. Reynolds leads Colorado hitters with a dozen homers and 33 RBI, and is second on the club with 26 runs scored.
Since Desmond’s return, Reynolds has upped the ante a bit, hitting .356/.453/.622 with four homers and 10 RBI.
“He’s been playing phenomenal,” said Desmond per an AP report carried by the New York Times.
“He’s been a huge part of us…carrying us. It doesn’t seem like there is any signs of slowing down, which is awesome.” ~ Desmond
Furthermore, that phenomenal play has helped the team overcome an unusual slow start from star Carlos Gonzalez. The right fielder, a three-time NL All-Star and Gold Glover, is hitting just .213/.282/.315 thus far with two homers and 11 RBI.
Following a streak earlier this month in which he homered in three straight games, Reynolds was quoted by Nick Groke for The Denver Post:
“I want to keep playing. If you want to play, you have to produce — especially in my situation. I’m just trying to produce every night and hopefully be in there the next day.”
Reynolds has been playing and producing all season, and the Rockies are at the top of the NL West pile in part because of that production. If he can continue at even a reasonable fraction of this pace, Reynolds may help Colorado end a season at the top of the mountain for the first time.

The Philadelphia Phillies are simply not ready to contend – yet

Much is being written by local scribes who follow the Philadelphia Phillies on a daily basis regarding the increased competitiveness of the club thus far in the 2017 season.

Those writers are echoing the comments of Phillies team officials. In signing manager Pete Mackanin to a contract extension, GM Matt Klentak had this to say per Ryan Lawrence of Philly Voice:
“I think the effort level of this team – we can see progress in what’s happening right now. Pete can see it, we all can see it’s happening before our very eyes. Obviously, it’s not reflected in our win-loss record yet, but we can see the progress happening.”
25 of the Phillies first 35 games in 2017 have been decided by either one or two runs. That includes both games of Sunday’s split doubleheader with the division rival Washington Nationals. Unfortunately, the Phils are just 9-16 in those tight games.
Much is also being made of the competition in this early part of the schedule. The Phillies have played those Nationals a dozen times already this year. At 24-13, the Nats have the best record in the National League.
The Phillies have also played seven total games against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, both leading contenders this season. They went 1-6 in those games.
So in 19 of the club’s first 35 games, they have been up against some of the best teams in the league. Their record in those contests is 6-13.

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR

There is the rub. While the Phillies may indeed be more competitive, they are still nowhere near a contending ball club. Even in the rest of their games, the Phils have only an 8-8 record.
They cannot beat the good teams, and they only break even against the mediocre clubs. This team is simply not good enough to win, let alone contend – yet.
Offensively, the Phillies are 18th in Runs scored and 9th in OPS in all of Major League Baseball. They finished last, 30th of 30 teams, in each of those categories last season.
Still holding the team back is their overall approach at the plate. The Phillies are fourth in the National League in striking out. They are just 19th in MLB in drawing walks.
On the mound, their Batting Average Against of .264 is tied for 26th in baseball. The pitchers don’t overpower anyone, as the staff’s cumulative total of 248 strikeouts is next-to-last in the National League, 28th in all of baseball.
The writers who cover the Phillies and the management of the team can talk about close results and consistent effort all they want. But the 14-21 record, 5th worst in the NL, has been earned.
The Phillies have now lost 12 of their last 15 games. And now 18 of their next 28 games on the road, where they are just 6-13 so far on the season.

ONLY TALENT INFLUX WILL IMPROVE RESULTS

Meanwhile down on the farm, the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs are in first place in the International League North Division standings. The Pigs record of 23-13 has them 3.5 games in front, tied for the most victories in the league.
If the current Phillies continue on their current losing path, it is only a matter of time before some of the players find some of those IronPigs AAA prospects pushing for a big league role.
That is the only thing that will push the Phillies forward, an influx of better talent. That talent seems to be nearly ready in the minor leagues at a number of positions.
When the season began, I predicted a 72-90 last place finish for the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies. Serious followers of the team should refer back to that piece, linked in the previous sentence. My realistic review of the team is playing out before our eyes.
The good news is that the turnaround has begun. There are some pieces in Philly who should be able to help the team contend in the next couple of years. More talent is coming soon from the minor leagues. And the team has tons of money to lavish on the strong free agent classes coming over the next couple years.
But for now, and until real changes are made in the talent level on the field, the Phillies will remain what their record says they are – a scrappy team that battles tough, but is simply not talented enough to win on a consistent basis.

Brewers pitcher Chase Anderson is now the hunter

Anderson has gone from being the hunted to the hunter in Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Brewers haven’t fielded a winning team since the 2014 season. It has been six years since the 2011 Brew Crew won 96 games and the NL Central Division crown. That was the most recent contending seasons for the club.
Thus far in the 2017 season, the Brewers are off to a .500 start at 16-16. They are still hanging around in the division race, a game and a half out of first place as we move through the second week of May.
Much of the credit for the Brewers’ more competitive start has rightly gone to surprising slugger Eric Thames. The first baseman signed as a free agent this past offseason after four years away from Major League Baseball, the last three of those playing in Korea.
Thames has given Milwaukee an offensive threat to team with Ryan Braun, the likes of which haven’t been seen on the banks of Lake Michigan since Prince Fielder left following that 2011 campaign.
But as any baseball fan knows, you can have all the hitting in the world, and your team will not win if it cannot compete on the mound.

FOURTH YEAR STARTER EMERGING

Right-hander Chase Anderson has emerged early on this season as Thames’ surprise counterpart among the pitching staff.
A Texas native, Anderson was a fourth round choice of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Oklahoma. He came to Milwaukee in a January 2016 trade along with Aaron Hill and prospect Isan Diaz in exchange for Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner.
Now in his fourth big league season, the 29-year-old Anderson entered this year with a career mark of 24-24 over his first 79 starts in the major leagues. His typical ERA has been north of the 4.00 mark.
Thus far in the 2017 season, Anderson is 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.212 WHIP mark. He has allowed 30 hits over 34.2 innings with a 30/12 K:BB ratio.
Anderson’s K/BB ratio of 2.50, his K/9 rate of 7.8 and his BB/9 rate of 3.1 are all right along with his career marks to this point. Sometimes a nice ERA can be deceptive. But Anderson also has a fine 2.77 FIP mark and a 153 ERA+ on his stat line. So what has been the difference?
One bugaboo for Anderson in the past has been a propensity to surrender home runs on a far too frequent basis. He served up 62 long balls in 418.2 innings over his first three seasons.
But to this point, Anderson has yielded just one homer. After giving up 25 bombs a year ago, he is on a pace to allow just five this season.

MORE AGGRESSIVE MENTALITY

In late April, Anderson was quoted by Todd Rosiak with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on an improved mental aspect of his approach to the game:

“I think it goes back to the mentality of being the hunter and not the hunted,” Rosiak quotes the pitcher. 

“(Pitching coach Derek Johnson) harps on that a lot. He tells me to just go out there and attack the strike zone and that my stuff’s good enough, and that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.”

The lone homer that he has surrendered thus far in 2017 came in his very first start of the year. On April 6, Mark Reynolds of the Colorado Rockies tagged him in the third inning at Miller Park.
Since that time, Anderson is working on a streak of 27 consecutive innings without allowing a ball to leave the yard. It has clearly been a key to the overall improvement in his results.
Things haven’t been all rosy for Anderson. His last two starts have been less than stellar, as he allowed four earned runs to both the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. Against the division-rival Cards, Anderson lasted just 4.2 innings, his shortest outing of the season thus far.
The improvement that Anderson showed on the mound over his first handful of starts was noticeable. If he simply continues to keep the ball in the park, he will enjoy many more of those types of outings as the year moves along. Maintaining that “hunter” attitude will be the key.