Do the Mets have enough pitching?

Fresh off back to back trips to the playoffs, the New York Mets entered last season confident they’d be playing into October for the third straight year, something the franchise had never accomplished.

Built on a foundation of quality starting pitching, New York felt their veteran everyday line-up could score enough runs to let their pitchers do the rest, a self-assessment that fell apart seemingly from the get-go in 2017.

Big 2017 Expectations

Entering spring training a year ago the Mets firmly believed that in Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman, and Seth Lugo, they had seven legitimate starters for only five spots, a problem truly every team in the big leagues would sign up for in a heartbeat. Things, however, did not go to plan. Before spring training ended, Matz, the team’s only left-hander, was already on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, and Lugo, after pitching an inordinate amount of innings in March, thanks to Puerto Rico’s WBC team, had been diagnosed with a partially torn UCL and had no immediate timetable for his return. The Mets’ pitching misfortune was only just beginning.

Syndergaard was a Cy Young candidate in 2016, and after a dominant start to his ’17 campaign, a torn lat muscle essentially ended both his, and the Mets’ respective seasons in late April. Harvey and Wheeler had their own problems, as the former struggled in his attempted return from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, pitching to a 6.70 ERA in 92.2 innings while missing significant time himself due to a stress injury in his shoulder.

After missing two consecutive campaigns recovering from a complicated Tommy John procedure, the 27-year-old Wheeler showed flashes during his return, but ultimately finished with an ugly stat line and never threw a pitch for New York after July 22nd due to a variety of new ailments. While Gsellman himself did not spend any time on the disabled list, his 5.19 ERA in 22 starts ultimately led him to being optioned to AAA Las Vegas.  Gsellman was a huge piece of the Mets playoff push in September of 2016, so bigger things were expected from him.

The lone bright spot on New York’s pitching staff last year was deGrom, who was one of the best starters in all of baseball, making all 31 starts in his rotation turn, winning 15 games for team that collectively won only 70, and was firmly in the discussion for the National League’s Cy Young award.

2018’s Rotation Outlook

As the Mets gear up for what they hope will be a return to contender status in 2018, as has been the case in years’ past, their chances are directly tied to a pitching staff that as recently as two seasons ago was the envy of the entire sport, but last year due to injury and poor performance finished with the 3rd worst staff ERA in baseball. As spring training opens this week, New York did nothing to address their rotation, instead, they’re content trusting their current group to rebound, a sentiment met with expected criticism.

In-House Options

While the Mets have the same seven starters for the same five spots they had last February, it is essentially five pitchers for three spots, as the club is entirely confident deGrom and Syndergaard will be arguably the best 1-2 punch in the NL. Those last three spots though are cause for concern, as Harvey hasn’t been good since 2015, Matz has never stayed healthy for a full year, Wheeler has made only 17 for the most part ineffective Major League appearances since 2014, Gsellman is entirely unproven, and Lugo’s elbow is a ticking time bomb ready to blow up in Tommy John Surgery at any time.

Optimistic Free Agent Options

All of those reasons are why you’ve probably heard the Mets connected to free-agents Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb in recent weeks, two legitimate middle-of-the-rotation starters who inexplicably are still on the open market on Valentine’s Day. Both right-handers are coming off seasons with double-digit win totals and close to 3.50 ERA’s, and both would figure to be locks for 180 innings or more. Either one would bring stability to a Mets’ rotation that is frankly just hoping for the best for 60% of their starting five, and at least on paper New York would present themselves as a much greater threat in the National League.

The issue with the Mets, as always, would appear to be payroll flexibility. While the crazy offseason has presented opportunities that could be not have been foreseen months ago (two legit middle-of-the-rotation arms available in mid-February), New York has never shown themselves willing to vastly exceed their projected payroll, something that has infuriated fans for years. The longer Lynn and Cobb sit on the open market you’d have to believe the Mets’ front office will get antsy to take advantage of a unique situation, but whether ownership will sign off on a pursuit is a big question mark.

Realistic Free Agent Options

The most likely situation is one that sees the Mets ink someone like Jeremy Hellickson or Ubaldo Jimenez to a minor league deal to try to improve the club’s depth, something that would fail to excite almost anyone. This could also come back to bite the team if injuries and struggles claim the rotation yet again. New York is confident new manager Mickey Callaway, a former pitching coach, can get the best out of this group and return the Mets’ pitching staff to elite status. However, this is far from a sure thing.

You be the judge yourself. As currently constructed, do you believe the New York Mets have enough pitching to compete in the National League? Only time will tell, but let us know in the comments.

Yelich Gets His Wish, Traded to Brewers

Christian Yelich expressed his desire to be traded several weeks ago after the Miami fire sale which included the trading of Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, and Marcell Ozuna. On Thursday, Yelich’s wish came true as Derek Jeter & Co. shipped him north to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Yelich just might have been the Marlins’ most prized possession as it turns out, as the return for Yelich appears to be the biggest return of the offseason. Heading to the Miami organization will be Milwaukee’s top prospect Lewis Brinson, number six prospect Isan Diaz, number 14 prospect Monte Harrison, and Jordan Yamamoto.

Yelich, one of the most underrated players in all of baseball, will provide a major upgrade to the Brew Crew lineup and a very versatile one at that. The 26-year-old can play each outfield position and has the skills at the plate to hit anywhere in the lineup. He is coming off a year in which he slashed .282/.369/.439/.807 with a 115 wRC+. As impressive offensively as last season was for Yelich, it was actually below average for his standards as he is the owner of a career 121 wRC+ to go along with a 117 OPS+.

The trade marks a new era for baseball in Milwaukee as the team has gone from a major rebuilding mode into playoff contention in less than a year. Their 2017 results were very clearly the trigger for ownership to go all in for this roster. After being picked to finish the season dead last in some publications, the team lead the division for much of the year before falling just six games short of the Cubs in the NL Central. The team will still need to add a few pieces, especially to their rotation, in order to compete for the division crown. With that being said, they are well on their way.

This trade could be the trigger that we have all been waiting for this offseason. With Milwaukee’s newly acquired outfielder and confidence, could Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta be the next to call Miller Park home?

Cardinals Trade Randal Grichuk to Toronto

The St. Louis Cardinals continued their trade-heavy offseason on Friday, trading outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays for reliever Dominic Leone and Minor League starter Conner Greene.

Grichuk is dealt from a once crowded outfield in St. Louis that is appearing to have less depth every single day. Once home to Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Dexter Fowler, Magneuris Sierra, Tommy Pham, and Jose Martinez, now only Fowler, Pham, and Martinez remain. The trade for Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins helps contribute to the depth on the team, but the outfield is not what it once was.

The Blue Jays are getting a guy that slashed his way to a .238/.285/.473/.758 line in 412 at-bats with the Redbirds. That was good for a 94 wRC+ which was the worst of his career since his rookie season. He has shown power potential during his time in St. Louis, putting up 22 home runs in 2017 in response to his 24 bombs in 2016. He will need to prove that his power numbers are here to stay, especially with a strikeout percentage hovering around 30% for the majority of his career.

In return, the Cardinals are getting much needed bullpen help. The 26 year old Dominic Leone had a breakout year in 2017 after struggling with the Diamondbacks in the year prior. In 2017, Leone threw 70.1 innings and accumulated a 2.56 ERA and a 2.94 FIP to go along with his impressive 1.05 WHIP. Opposing hitters batted just .199 off the right hander and he struck out hitters 29% of the time, the highest number of his career.

The Cardinals will also receive Conner Greene, a starting pitcher that spent the entire 2017 season in Double-A. Previously ranked as the 11th best prospect in the Toronto system, Greene struggled mightily on the mound last season. With 5.29/4.49/1.69 ERA/FIP/WHIP slash line, he will look to turn things around with a new organization. The kid is still only 22 years old and will have time to grow in the Cardinals system.

Giants Acquire Andrew McCutchen

After several years of trade rumors surrounding the former MVP Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates finally shipped him away in a package to the San Francisco Giants.

According to several sources, including Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Giants have agreed to acquire the five time All-Star centerfielder who has spent all nine season of his career in Pittsburgh. McCutchen will immediately slot in as the everyday centerfielder in San Francisco, a team who has been in desperate need of someone to fill that position.

Cutch is five years removed from his MVP winning season, but has still put up impressive numbers in the years following. In 156 games last year, he slashed an impressive .279/.363/.486 with a 121 OPS+. While he played centerfield the majority of the season, the Pirates’ original plan was to move McCutchen to right field with Starling Marte taking over his old position. That plan changed once Marte was suspended for his use of PEDs.

This trade comes on the heels of the Giants making a similar move this offseason when they acquired veteran third baseman Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays. The team appears to be determined to swat away any rumblings of a rebuild in the bay as they continue to build a roster to compete in a very tough NL West division.

Is paying for a big-money reliever worth it?

As salaries have climbed for players in the MLB over the last two decades, it makes sense that every position will experience this, including relievers. In 2006, Billy Wagner had the highest per-year salary in MLB history making an average of $10,750,00 from 2006-2009. Fast forward to today, Wagner’s mind-blowing salary in 2006 is now just the 17th highest ever for a reliever.

The Start of the Super Bullpens

A good bullpen has always been important to a team’s success, but it seems to have become paramount in recent years. In 2014 and 2015, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and Kelvin Herrera were a huge part of the Royals World Series runs. In the two seasons combined, Davis (0.97 ERA, 1.72 FIP), Holland (2.44 ERA, 2.43 FIP), and Herrera (2.13 ERA, 3.09 FIP) were nearly untouchable at the back end of the bullpen.

In 2016, the addition of shut-down reliever Andrew Miller (1.55 ERA, 1.53 FIP) to the Indians already good bullpen with Dan Otero (1.53 ERA, 2.33 FIP) and Cody Allen (2.51 ERA, 3.31 FIP) was perhaps the biggest factor in the Indians run-up to game 7 of the World Series. 2017 continued the same way for the Indians with an excellent bullpen, although they could not overcome the Yankees excellent lineup to make it back to the ALCS or World Series.

For those Yankees, 2017 was supposed to be part of their rebuild and they were not supposed to contend. Thanks to an MVP rookie season out of Aaron Judge and one of the most dominant bullpens in MLB history, the Yankees made it just one win from making it to the World Series. Chad Green (1.61 ERA, 1.75 FIP), Ardolis Chapman (3.22 ERA, 2.56 FIP), Dellin Betances (2.87 ERA, 3.22 FIP), Adam Warren (2.35 ERA, 3.02 FIP), Tommy Kahnle (2.70 ERA, 2.30 FIP), and the reunited David Robertson (1.03 ERA, 2.10 FIP) made it so any team facing a deficit after 5 innings would struggle tremendously to attempt any comebacks.

Also in 2017, the Dodgers had their strongest overall bullpen going back to the early 2000s with the likes of Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota, and Paul Quantrill. Kenley Jansen (1.32 ERA, 1.31 FIP) was the top reliever in the MLB, with Brandon Morrow (2.06 ERA, 1.55 FIP) breaking out for the best season of his career going back to 2012 when he was a starter for the Blue Jays. Kenley and Morrow were the backbone of the bullpen but had some 6th and 7th inning help from Luis Avilan (2.93 ERA, 2.96 FIP), Tony Cingrani (2.79 ERA, 1.86 FIP), and Tony Watson (2.70 ERA, 3.86 FIP). Brandon Morrow was used in nearly every game of the 2017 playoffs for the Dodgers, with great success in all but one or two games.

From these clubs, it has become obvious that a shut-down bullpen can carry you through the playoffs, and more teams are looking to strengthen their bullpens any way possible.

Wade Davis signs with the Rockies

 

Today, former Royals and Cubs bullpen ace Wade Davis signed with the Colorado Rockies for $52M over the next 3 seasons. While this was unexpected for most baseball fans, it continues a trend for the Rockies this offseason of giving money to relievers. Per Jeff Passan, in deals to Wade Davis, Jake Mcgee, and Bryan Shaw, the Rockies have given out $106M to just those three relievers alone:

The Rockies have seen the success of the Royals, Indians, Yankees, and Dodgers recently and seem to want to try and emulate it themselves. They had already started this process last year by acquiring Jake Mcgee before the 2016 season, but by adding Davis and Shaw they seem to be doubling their efforts. As well, Wade Davis is now making an average of $17.33M per year from 2018-2020, which just beats Aroldis Chapman at $17.2M per year from 2017-2021, making him the highest paid reliever per year in MLB history.

While the new trend of a shut-down bullpen has been working for some teams, the big question should be: Is paying for big-money for relievers worth it?

Top 15 Paid Multi-Year Relief Contracts Per Average Annual Value and Their Results:

Per Baseball Prospectus, here are the top paid relievers per their AAV. I have replaced single year contracts, as they are arbitration or pre-free agent deals.

1. Wade Davis, $17,333,333 (2018-20) – TBD
2. Aroldis Chapman, $17,200,000 (2017-21) – (1/5 seasons) 1.6 fWAR 3.22 ERA 2.56 FIP 4-3 22 SV in 50.1 IP
3. Kenley Jansen, $16,000,000 (2017-21) – (1/5 seasons) 3.6 fWAR 1.32 ERA 1.31 FIP 5-0 41 SV in 68.1 IP
4. Mark Melancon, $15,500,000 (2017-20) – (1/4 seasons) 0.4 fWAR 4.50 ERA 3.22 FIP 1-2 11 SV in 30 IP
5. Mariano Rivera, $15,000,000 (2008-10) (2011-12) – 9.7 fWAR 1.72 ERA 2.45 FIP 14-14 165 SV in 266.2 IP
6. Rafael Soriano, $14,000,000 (2013-14) – 1.3 fWAR 3.15 ERA 3.38 FIP 7-4 75 SV in 128.2 IP
7. Brad Lidge, $12,500,000 (2009-11) – -0.1 fWAR 4.73 ERA 4.45 FIP 1-11 59 SV in 123.2 IP
8. Jonathan Papelbon, $12,500,000 (2012-15) – 4.8 fWAR 2.38 ERA 3.03 FIP 16-13 130 SV in 261.1 IP
9. Francisco Rodriguez, $12,333,333 (2009-11) – 3.4 fWAR 2.88 ERA 3.14 FIP 13-10 83 SV in 197 IP
10. Joe Nathan, $11,750,000 (2008-11) – 3.5 fWAR 2.49 ERA 3.19 FIP 5-5 100 SV in 181 IP
11. Rafael Soriano, $11,666,667 (2011-13) – (2 seasons, opted out of 3rd) 1.6 fWAR 2.94 ERA 3.56 FIP 4-4 44 SV in 107 IP
12. Francisco Cordero, $11,500,000 (2008-11) – 3.1 fWAR 2.96 ERA 3.71 FIP 18-18 150 SV in 279.1 IP
13. David Robertson, $11,500,000 (2015-18) – 4.7 fWAR 2.88 ERA 2.88 FIP 20-10 85 SV in 194 IP
14. Billy Wagner, $10,750,000 (2006-09) – 5 fWAR 2.35 ERA 2.85 FIP 6-6 101 SV in 203.1 IP
15. Craig Kimbrel, $10,500,000 (2014-17) – 8.3 fWAR 2.19 ERA 2.16 FIP 11-11 152 SV in 243 IP

Based off of ERA and FIP, Brad Lidge is the only member of the group who was a total and complete bust. Mark Melancon had a rough 2017, but still has three years to turn things around and wasn’t awful. Every pitcher on this list, again, outside of Lidge, provided positive value through fWAR, with the minimum being 1.3 fWAR from Rafael Soriano in 2013 and 2014 and then 1.6 fWAR in 2011 and 2012.

Up next we need to take a look at money value compared to the actual value produced by the player to see how many of these contracts were worth giving out.

Fangraphs Dollars Per War

According to Fangraphs.com, each player, based on their fWAR value, is worth a certain amount of real world dollars. The base value changes a bit from year to year, currently worth just under about $8M per win.

1. Wade Davis, $17,333,333 (2018-20) – TBD
2. Aroldis Chapman, $17,200,000 (2017-21) – (1/5 seasons) 1.6 fWAR – $12.5M
3. Kenley Jansen, $16,000,000 (2017-21) – (1/5 seasons) 3.6 fWAR – $28.6M
4. Mark Melancon, $15,500,000 (2017-20) – (1/4 seasons) 0.4 fWAR – $3.6M
5. Mariano Rivera, $15,000,000 (2008-10) (2011-12) – 9.7 fWAR – $63.5M
6. Rafael Soriano, $14,000,000 (2013-14) – 1.3 fWAR – $9.6M
7. Brad Lidge, $12,500,000 (2009-11) – -0.1 fWAR – -$0.5M
8. Jonathan Papelbon, $12,500,000 (2012-15) – 4.8 fWAR – $34.8M
9. Francisco Rodriguez, $12,333,333 (2009-11) – 3.4 fWAR – $22.8M
10. Joe Nathan, $11,750,000 (2008-11) – 3.5 fWAR – $22.7M
11. Rafael Soriano, $11,666,667 (2011-13) – (2 seasons, opted out of 3rd) 1.6 fWAR – $10.4M
12. Francisco Cordero, $11,500,000 (2008-11) – 3.1 fWAR – $19M
13. David Robertson, $11,500,000 (2015-18) – (3/4 seasons) 4.7 fWAR – $37.5M
14. Billy Wagner, $10,750,000 (2006-09) – 5 fWAR – $27.5M
15. Craig Kimbrel, $10,500,000 (2014-17) – 8.3 fWAR – $64.9M

The above numbers are the total Fangraphs Dollars Per War value the players accumulated over the course of their contracts, or to this point in their contracts for those not yet finished. Of the 15 contracts, here are the ones that exceeded their contract value:

Kenley Jansen – $16M AAV with $28.6M Fangraphs Dollars Per WAR through one of five years of his contract. There are still four years left, however Kenley has gotten off to a great start and is already 35% of the way to living up to his contract.

David Robertson – $11.5 AAV with $37.5M Fangraphs Dollars Per WAR through three of four years of his contract. Going by AAV, Robertson has been paid $34.5M of his total contract and has been worth $37.5M. He has got one season left, but if he is worth about 1.5 fWAR next season, he will easily be worth more than the contract he signed, which is a huge win for the White Sox and now Yankees.

Craig Kimbrel – $10.5 AAV with $64.9M Fangraphs Dollars Per WAR. Through his four year contract, Kimbrel was paid $42M, and was worth a staggering $64.9M over that time. This is excellent excess value for a reliever, and the best of anyone on this list having been worth 150% of his contract.

Honorable Mention:

Mariano Rivera – At an AAV of $15M for five seasons, Rivera was paid $75M. Although he put up less Fangraphs Dollars Per WAR value at $63.5M, he missed all but 8.1 IP of the 2012 season, effectively putting up about $60M worth of value being paid $60M to do it. There isn’t an excess value there, but Rivera lived up to the billing of his then-highest ever MLB AAV contract of $15M per season, which is more than you could ask out of many highly paid relievers.

Should teams spend on big-money relievers?

After looking into the 15 biggest multi-year reliever AAV contracts, it does seem that almost all relievers are still quite good after signing the dotted line. One thing to consider about giving big contracts to relievers is that you may only get about half of your actual value back, but the reliever position breeds so many cheap and young players that will help off-set that value. This is why a team like the Yankees can afford to pay Chapman $17.2M a season while getting less production from him back. This is because they have younger and more inexpensive relievers like Warren, Betances, and Green to pick up the slack.

However, for the Rockies in 2018 with nearly a $50M bullpen, they will need their big-money guys to produce at or above the level they are paid because so many spots in the bullpen are so highly paid. Only time will tell if this strategy works out for them, but signing Mcgee, Shaw, and now Davis to long-term contracts does not look like a bad idea.

Whoa, We’re Halfway There: Recapping the MLB Offseason at the Midway Point

Every year, the holidays mark the point in the offseason in Major League Baseball that is smack in the middle of the final out of the World Series and the first day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. During that three month stretch in the winter months, there is plenty of time for teams to sort out their rosters with trades, free agent signings, and other roster moves. These very important changes go a long way in separating the contenders from the pretenders for the upcoming season.

Now that we are seven weeks down and only seven more to go, let’s take a look at the major story lines of the offseason so far.

Booming Reliever Market

This has been one of the slowest moving free agent markets in recent history, with signings virtually non-existent for a multitude of reasons. Some argue it is because of the Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton fiasco. Others think it is being caused by the changes made to the CBA or the shift teams have made to a newer, younger style of baseball. Whatever the reason may be, it has not slowed up the relief pitcher market in the slightest.

High leverage relievers have been flying off the boards in GM rooms across the country, with major contenders looking to upgrade their bullpens in any way possible. A shift to overpowering bullpens have been a major change that baseball has seen over the course of the last few seasons, and 2018 is shaping up to be no different.

A total of 14 of the league’s best relievers have been scooped up so far this offseason, with eight of them going to just four different teams. The World Champion Houston Astros have signed Hector Rondon and Joe Smith to shore up their shaky bullpen that almost let them down in the World Series last year. The previous season’s world champs, the Chicago Cubs, have signed Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to fill the roles of Rondon and Wade Davis. Meanwhile the Rockies picked up former Clevelander Bryan Shaw to go along with the re-signing of lefty Jake McGee. The rebuilding Phillies also added two veterans to their bullpen to assist with their young rotation by signing Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

Six other elite relievers were signed in this bullpen-driven offseason. Fernando Rodney (Twins), Anthony Swarzak (Mets), Luke Gregerson (Cardinals), Mike Minor (Rangers), Brandon Kintzler (Nationals), and Juan Nicasio (Mariners) all found new homes for the 2018 season.

Aces Staying Put

While relievers have been flying off the shelf, ace starting pitchers have not been uprooted in the slightest so far in this offseason market. Heading into the offseason, there were two available top of the rotation starters on the free agency market and two “available” top of the rotation starters on the trade market: Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Chris Archer, and Gerrit Cole.

The rumor mill has been basically silent for the former Cub Jake Arrieta heading into the holiday season. While the Cy Young Award winner seems very unlikely to return back to Chicago, the lack of any other interested teams has come as a surprise. A combination of his inconsistency over the last two seasons and his high asking price as a Scott Boras client lead to him being a tricky signing for any team. (Note: Watch out for the Milwaukee Brewers.)

Yu Darvish has been involved in enough rumors for all the starting pitchers on the market combined. Interested suitors have included the Cubs, Astros, and Rangers, as well as others. There is still no end in sight, but Darvish seems likely to be the first ace to find a new home in the coming weeks.

Both Chris Archer and Gerrit Cole are no strangers to trade rumors as their names have come up in trade talks for the last two seasons. Archer seems like an ace that will likely be on the move due to Tampa Bay’s apparent rebuild with the trade of Evan Longoria recently. His team-friendly contract will net a large return and he will immediately slot in at the top of any contender’s rotation. The same could be said for Cole as he appears to be closer to finding a new home. The likely destination in his scenario seems to be New York as the Yankees have shown tons of interest spanning over the last few weeks.

Angels are Going For It

FINALLY. Mike Trout will head into 2018 with a team around him that should have the Postseason on their minds. The greatest player of our generation and the player who will go down as the greatest baseballer of all time will be hitting in a lineup that will have some firepower this upcoming season. The Angels have put in work this offseason after signing Justin Upton to an extension following his trade from the Tigers at the deadline last year.

We start off with the Japanese Babe Ruth: Shohei Ohtani. The two-way player will look to make an impact on the mound and in the box this season as a 23 year old. He was one of the most impactful and crazy free agent signings in the history of the game for a reason. If you don’t know about this kid yet, use your Google machine to watch some videos and prepare to be amazed.

In addition to the electric factory that is Shohei Ohtani, the Angels also brought in a couple of infielders that will improve their team dramatically. The Halos traded for Ian Kinsler who will likely slot in at the keystone and work up the middle with Andrelton Simmons. Kinsler has been one of the most consistent players in the league throughout the course of his career. He has been drastically underrated for far too long and while he isn’t as good as he once was, he is still a major upgrade at second base. The team also signed free agent Zack Cozart, who will potentially be the every day third baseman. Cozart had been painstakingly average during his career up until 2017 when he seemed to put it all together. He was an All-Star and had a .385 OBP to go along with his 141 OPS+.

Marlins Fire Sale

Before we cover the actual trades that are going down in Miami, let’s first recap the utter stupidity that has gone down in baseball in regards to the Marlins recently.

In September, the franchise was sold from Jeff Loria to a group led by the likes of Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. Yes, THAT Derek Jeter. The team was sold for $1.2 billion and with it, Jeets & Co. got a team that has finished in the bottom four in home attendance numbers for four consecutive seasons and 15 of the last 16 years. In addition, the team has placed in the bottom six in all of baseball in Opening Day salary for their players the last four seasons and 16 of the last 18 years. As CEO, Jeter assumed control of a team with a stacked lineup that finished just ten games out of the NL Wild Card. With any sort of rotation that he could put together, the team would be well on its way to a playoff berth. Instead they got rid of players that the brand new front office could not afford.

So the team has begun a massive fire sale. It began with the trading of second baseman and leadoff man Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners for two prospects. Next in line was a man by the name of Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro and two more prospects. Then came Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals for four prospects. And just like that, the Marlins had traded three of their best players for a grand total of zero prospects that land in the MLB.com Top 100. One more time for the people in the back. ZERO top 100 prospects.

The next two players in line to likely be traded are outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher JT Realmuto. Realmuto has already requested a trade from the team and the versatile Yelich will likely have many suitors. If you are betting the over/under for total wins next season for the Miami Marlins, it may be early, but I’ll do you a favor and recommend you take the under.

You’re halfway there, people! Only seven more weeks until you can start reading stories about how your favorite player has lost weight since last season or revamped his swing and will be poised for a “breakout year!”

Clayton Kershaw and the 7th Inning Threshold

Tonight, Clayton Kershaw starts game 5 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley. With the Dodgers up 3-1 in the series, Kershaw has a chance to send the Dodgers to the World Series for the first time since the 1988 season, and exorcise many demons for not only himself, but Dodger fans everywhere.

The spotlight will be brighter than ever on Kershaw and time will only tell which Kershaw we will see. Will it be the three time NL Cy Young-winning Kershaw who can pitch deep into the game and put the team on his back? Or will it be the playoff narrative Kershaw who will pitch well enough most of the game and then have one big imploding inning?

To get a better idea of how Kershaw should be managed in this game tonight, below are his 14 postseason games started since 2013, excluding anything from 2008 and 2009 before Kershaw was the pitcher he is today.

2013

10/3/2013 – NLDS vs Atlanta Braves

First 6 innings: 6 IP 9 K 2 BB 0 HR 3 H 1 R 1 ER

Remainder: 1 IP 3 K 1 BB 0 HR 0 H 0 R 0 ER

Overall: 7 IP 12 K 3 BB 0 HR 3 H 1 R 1 ER

10/7/2013 – NLDS vs Atlanta Braves

First 6 innings: 6 IP 6 K 1 BB 0 HR 3 H 2 R 0 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 6 IP 6 K 1 BB 0 HR 3 H 2 R 0 ER

10/12/2013 – NLCS vs St Louis Cardinals

First 6 innings: 6 IP 5 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 1 R 0 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 6 IP 5 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 1 R 0 ER

10/18/2013 – NLCS vs St Louis Cardinals

First 6 innings: 4 IP 5 K 2 BB 0 HR 10 H 7 R 7 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 4 IP 5 K 2 BB 0 HR 10 H 7 R 7 ER

2014

10/3/2014 – NLDS vs St Louis Cardinals

First 6 innings: 6 IP 8 K 0 BB 2 HR 2 H 2 R 2 ER

Remainder: 0.2 IP 2 K 0 BB 0 HR 6 H 6 R 6 ER

Overall: 6.2 IP 10 K 0 BB 2 HR 8 H 8 R 8 ER

10/7/2014 – NLDS vs St Louis Cardinals

First 6 innings: 6 IP 9 K 2 BB 0 HR 1 H 0 R 0 ER

Remainder: 0.0 IP 0 K 0 BB 1 HR 3 H 3 R 3 ER

Overall: 6 IP 9 K 2 BB 1 HR 4 H 3 R 3 ER

2015

10/9/2015 – NLDS vs New York Mets

First 6 innings: 6 IP 11 K 1 BB 1 HR 4 H 1 R 1 ER

Remainder: 0.2 IP 0 K 3 BB 0 HR 0 H 2 R 2 ER

Overall: 6.2 IP 11 K 4 BB 1 HR 4 H 3 R 3 ER

10/13/2015 – NLDS vs New York Mets

First 6 innings: 6 IP 8 K 1 BB 1 HR 2 H 1 R 1 ER

Remainder: 1 IP 0 K 0 BB 0 HR 1 H 0 R 0 ER

Overall: 7 IP 8 K 1 BB 1 HR 3 H 1 R 1 ER

2016

10/7/2016 – NLDS vs Washington Nationals

First 6 innings: 5 IP 7 K 1 BB 0 HR 8 H 3 R 3 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 5 IP 7 K 1 BB 0 HR 8 H 3 R 3 ER

10/11/2016 – NLDS vs Washington Nationals

First 6 innings: 6 IP 10 K 1 BB 0 HR 5 H 2 R 2 ER

Remainder: 0.2 IP 1 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 3 R 3 ER

Overall: 6.2 IP 11 K 2 BB 0 HR 7 H 5 R 5 ER

10/16/2016 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

First 6 innings: 7 IP 5 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 0 R 0 ER

Remainder: 1 IP 1 K 0 BB 0 HR 0 H 0 R 0 ER

Overall: 7 IP 6 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 0 R 0 ER

10/22/2016 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

First 6 innings: 5 IP 4 K 0 BB 2 HR 7 H 5 R 4 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 5 IP 4 K 0 BB 2 HR 7 H 5 R 4 ER

2017

10/6/2017 – NLDS vs Arizona Dbacks

First 6 innings: 6 IP 7 K 3 BB 2 HR 3 H 2 R 2 ER

Remainder: 0.1 IP 0 K 0 BB 2 HR 2 H 2 R 2 ER

Overall: 6.1 IP 7 K 3 BB 4 HR 5 H 4 R 4 ER

10/14/2017 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

First 6 innings: 5 IP 4 K 1 BB 1 HR 4 H 2 R 2 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 5 IP 4 K 1 BB 1 HR 4 H 2 R 2 ER

Kershaw and 6 Innings

 

Specifically here I have focused on Kershaw’s results through 6 innings pitched, and then his results beyond 6 innings. Firstly, of his 14 postseason starts since 2013, 10 of those starts Kershaw has reached at least 6 innings pitched. Of those 10, eight times has Kershaw been brought back out for the 7th inning to continue his start.

The chart below shows Kershaw’s six starts 2013-2017 that went no longer than 6 innings pitched:

Starts at 6 IP or less
Date IP K BB HR H R ER
10/7/2013 6 6 1 0 3 2 0
10/12/2013 6 5 1 0 2 1 0
10/18/2013 4 5 2 0 10 7 7
10/7/2016 5 7 1 0 8 3 3
10/22/2016 5 4 0 2 7 5 4
10/14/2017 5 4 1 1 4 2 2
31 31 6 3 34 20 16

 

It is obvious that Kershaw has had some struggles in games going 6 innings pitched or less, but a lot of that can be attributed to his 10/18/2013 NLCS blowup against the Cardinals where he gave up 7 runs overall. With all six games combined, Kershaw’s ERA sits at 4.64 with a WHIP of 1.29. He does sit at 9 K/9 with just 1.74 BB/9 and 0.87 HR/9, which is still pretty special.

When taking out the 10/18/2013 start, that changes to a flat 3.00 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Of course, this game DID happen and cannot just be removed, but this goes to show just how much one terrible game can influence a pitcher’s numbers.

Starts for Kershaw Extending Beyond 6 Innings Pitched

First 6 Innings
Date IP K BB HR H R ER
10/3/2013 6 9 2 0 3 1 1
10/3/2014 6 8 0 2 2 2 2
10/7/2014 6 9 2 0 1 0 0
10/9/2015 6 11 1 1 4 1 1
10/13/2015 6 8 1 1 2 1 1
10/11/2016 6 10 1 0 5 2 2
10/16/2016 6 5 1 0 2 0 0
10/6/2017 6 7 3 2 3 2 2
48 67 11 6 22 9 9

Looking at Kershaw through 6 innings pitched in these starts, he looks exactly how you would expect Clayton Kershaw to pitch. Here is how he fared in those 48 innings pitched:

1.69 ERA 0.69 WHIP 12.56 K/9 2.06 BB/9 1.13 HR/9

In the first 6 innings pitched of these starts, Clayton Kershaw is the Hall of Famer we know.

Going Out After 6 Innings
Date IP K BB HR H R ER
10/3/2013 1 3 1 0 0 0 0
10/3/2014 0.2 2 0 0 6 6 6
10/7/2014 0 0 0 1 3 3 3
10/9/2015 0.2 0 3 0 0 2 2
10/13/2015 1 0 0 0 1 0 0
10/11/2016 0.2 1 1 0 2 3 3
10/16/2016 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
10/6/2017 0.1 0 0 2 2 2 2
5.1 7 5 3 14 16 16

Now we look at what happened in those same games once he passed into the 7th inning threshold. Something to note here as well is that Kershaw has never pitched past the 7th inning in any postseason start in his career. In the chart just above, all of these numbers occured in the 7th inning of the respective games.

28.24 ERA 3.73 WHIP 12.35 K/9 8.82 BB/9 5.29 HR/9

What a different one inning makes for Kershaw’s last 5 postseasons. If Don Mattingley and Dave Roberts had decided to take him out earlier in these games, not only was there a chance the Dodgers could have won some of those three losses (The Dodgers lost 10/3/2014, 10/7/2014, and 10/9/2015) and changed the dynamic of those series, but Kershaw’s playoff legacy could be entirely different.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is that changes Kershaw from a pitcher able to go 7-8 strong innings on any given day to someone who can fall apart after 6 innings pitched. It could be that he gets so amped and uses his energy much quicker than in a regular season start. It could be that the competition is obviously tougher going against playoff teams rather than any old MLB team. It could be that nerves may get the best of him at some point. Maybe it’s all of these things.

What I do know is that if Kershaw gives the Dodgers 5 or 6 strong innings, Dave Roberts should not hesitate to lean on the strongest bullpen the Dodgers have had in over a decade and take him out if necessary. Taking Kershaw out in the 5th or 6th inning is not saying that Roberts does not have faith in Kershaw, but it would be showing that he pays attention to trends and doesn’t just rely on the reputation of Kershaw as the best pitcher baseball.

If the Dodgers want to make it to the World Series for the first time in 29 years, everyone is going to have to be a team player, including the best pitcher of our generation.

Rounding Third Podcast – Episode 12: Cubs vs. Dodgers NLCS Thoughts and Musings

In this episode of the Rounding Third Podcast, Greg and Bobby cover the ins and outs of the NLCS between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers, a series in which the Dodgers have gotten out to a quick 2-0 start.

 

ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs Houston Astros

ALDS Results

The Houston Astros Defeat the Boston Red Sox in Four Games

In a result that shocked very few, the Houston Astros soundly defeated the Boston Red Sox three games to one in their first-round matchup. After two straight 8-2 whompings in games one and two, the Red Sox tried to make a series out of it with a 10-3 drubbing of their own. Sadly for members of the Red Sox Nation everywhere, they fell in game four to the Astros with a score of 5-4. Even an inside-the-park home run by rookie Rafael Devers could not lift the team enough for a comeback, and the Astros advanced to the ALCS.

This is a bit of a brief review of the series, and that is more due to the lopsided nature of the first three games rather than the quality of the series. Offense was on full display and was the story of the series. Jose Altuve looked like the MVP finalist he will end up being this season, and the Astros overall looked like the force they were all season. Pitching took a back seat, which will sometimes take away from of the drama from it. Apologies to fans of either club, but this series may have had the least tension of all four ALDS matchups.

For those that read our ALDS series preview, you may note that Houston in four games was the correct prediction here.

The New York Yankees Defeat the Cleveland Indians in Five Games

Here is the one almost no one saw coming. The Cleveland Indians were a second-half juggernaut. They finished the season on a 31-4 tear, ending up second in wins with 102. Everyone was picking them to steam-roll through whichever of the Minnesota Twins or New York Yankees won the AL Wild Card game. Of 30 ‘experts’ from ESPN, all 30 chose the Indians to win their ALDS matchup.

Sure the Yankees have the Rookie of the Year/MVP finalist Aaron Judge, and one of the best bullpens we’ve seen in years, but the Indians had the most valuable pitching of any team in MLB history by fWAR. They also had a lineup on par with the Yankees. So what happened?

Game one started off on the wrong foot for the Yankees, being shut out 4-0, managing just three hits overall. Game two looked much better for the Yankees, taking a strong 8-3 lead by just the 5th inning. However, in the bottom of the 6th, things took a turn.

Lonnie Chisenhall was batting with 2 outs and two runners on, and with 2 strikes appeared to be hit on the on the hand by the pitch. Chisenhall was award first base, and there was no intervention on the part of Joe Girardi. The next batter, Francisco Lindor, turned on a pitch hitting a grand slam off of the foul pole, making it an 8-7 game. As it turned out, the ball did not hit the hand of Chisenhall, but hit the butt of the bat and was caught for what should have ended the inning. Due to the lack of a challenge by Joe Girardi, the Indians were able to get back into the game, eventually tying it in the 8th, and taking the game to 13 innings until a Yan Gomes single won it for the Tribe.

At this point, things were looking very dire for the Yankees. Not only did they just blow a 5 run lead in game two, but they were now down 2-0 in the series facing elimination with a loss. However, this seemed to have sparked a fire under the Yankees, with a masterful performance by Masahiro Tanaka in game three pitching seven innings and only allowing 3 hits with no runs scored. The Yankees won game 3 1-0. Game four had the Yankees offense going off early with four runs in the 2nd inning and 1 run in the 3rd. The Yankees took game four relatively unscathed by the score of 7-3.

After going down 2-0 in the series, and painfully so after Girardi’s blunder in game two, the Yankees had brought the series back from the brink and it was now a winner-take-all in game five. This would be a matchup of CC Sabathia vs Corey Kluber. Although Sabathia went just 4.1 IP, he struck out 9 and allowed just 2 runs. The more shocking thing was Kluber pitching just 3.2 innings and allowing 3 runs with 2 home runs. After a 3-0 lead by the 3rd inning, Cleveland managed just 2 runs and the underdog (is this even allowed to be said?) Yankees upset the 102 win Indians.

Understandably so, in Baseline Times Greg Huss’ ALDS preview, he believed the Indians would win the series in four games. It’s safe to say Greg was in the majority here, ending up on the wrong side of this one. Crazy enough, if Girardi had challenged the HBP of Chisenhall in game two, this could have been a four-game series win for the Yankees. What a sport baseball is.

How the Yankees and Astros Match-Up

wRC+

Astros: 121 (1st)

Yankees: 108 (2nd)

wRC+ vs Left-Handed Pitchers

Astros: 120 (1st)

Yankees: 101 (9th)

wRC+ vs Right-Handed Pitchers

Astros: 122 (1st)

Yankees: 110 (2nd)

Defensive Runs

Yankees: -11.6 (23rd)

Astros: -47.1 (29th)

ERA/FIP

Yankees: 3.75 (5th)/3.88 (5th)

Astros : 4.12 (11th)/3.91 (6th)

Reliever ERA/FIP

Yankees: 3.34 (3rd)/3.37 (2nd)

Astros: 4.27 (17th)/3.84 (6th)

 

ERA/FIP vs Left-Handed Hitters

Yankees: 3.71 (6th)/3.68 (2nd)

Astros: 4.05 (11th)/3.73 (3rd)

ERA/FIP vs Right-Handed Hitters

Yankees: 3.77 (5th)/3.99 (6th)

Astros: 4.17 (12th)/4.05 (9th)

While both clubs are fairly close in overall pitching, the real divide starts to appear when looking at the team’s bullpens. The Yankees ERA/FIP are near the just about tops in the MLB at 3.34 ERA/3.37 FIP, while the Astros are a good amount lower with 4.27 ERA/3.84 FIP. This advantage will be key if the Yankees have a hope in this series, as the Astros offense is just the absolute best in the MLB, no questions asked.

The divide between the best (Astros) and the second best (Yankees) is 13 points in wRC+ from 121-108. A bulk of the Yankees offensive firepower is shared between Aaron Judge (173 wRC+) and Gary Sanchez (130 wRC+), while the Astros have four batters at 140 wRC+ or higher (Jose Altuve – 160, Carlos Correa – 152, Marwin Gonzalez – 144, George Springer – 140). Overall, the Astros have 10 potential starting players with a 103 wRC+ or higher, which is just pure insanity.

Players To Watch In The ALCS

Jose Altuve

In a series with the two leading MVP candidates, one on both teams, Altuve is easily the most unlikely. He is a 5’6” 2nd baseman with no right to put up a season line of .346/.410/.547, but he did it anyway. In the ALDS against Boston, Altuve started off game one with a 3 home run barrage, followed up by a 2 hit and 2 walk performance, following that with a  game three with a 3 hit and 1 walk effort. It took until game four to go hitless, but he still managed a walk. Overall, he hit .533/.632/1.133 going 8 for 15 with 3 home runs and 4 walks in the series.

Altuve is the heart of the Astros, and if he is hitting, it’s likely he will be sparking the Astros around him to hit. If Yankees pitching cannot get Altuve out, not only do they have a nearly impossible lineup surrounding him, but he could change the dynamic of every at-bat with his base-running ability. Altuve stole 32 bases this year, which marks the sixth straight year he has done so. A big key for New York will be to try and keep Altuve off of the bases.

Aaron Judge

Shifting to the other side of the coin, we take a look at the without-a-doubt 2017 AL Rookie of the Year and top two 2017 AL MVP candidate Aaron Judge. As important as Jose Altuve is to the Astros, Judge is likely just that much more important to the Yankees. Without Altuve, the Astros would still be the top offense in the MLB, just not as far ahead. Without Judge on the Yankees, I believe they would have been right there with the Angels, Royals, Mariners, and Rangers just under .500. Judge was just that incredible this season.

Unlike Altuve who batted mostly 3rd this season, Judge has been spending a lot of time recently in the number two spot. However, much like Altuve, it’s hard to just pitch around him, because Gary Sanchez is hitting just behind him. In three games against the Indians, Sanchez hit 3rd just behind Judge. In 2 games, both against right-handed starters, righty-masher Didi Gregorious slotted into the 3rd spot to protect Judge while Sanchez moved to 4th in the lineup. As mentioned, the Yankees are just simply not as deep or great of a lineup as the Astros, but they are as good or better than every other squad in the MLB, so it will not be a cake-walk.

As far as the playoffs go, Judge started off on the right foot with a 2 hit performance in the Wild Card game against the Twins, including a home run and 3 runs scored. Since that point, however, Judge has 1 hit in 24 plate appearances with a record 16 strikeouts. According to The Ace Of Spaeder Twitter account, Judge’s 16 strikeouts in this postseason (all in the ALDS against the Indians) eclipse Joe Dimaggio’s 1941 and Tony Gwynn’s 1995 strikeout totals respectively.

Still, the Indians were quite possibly the best pitching staff in MLB history, and the Astros are no Indians on the pitching side. I would look for Judge to turn around the way his postseason is going and start hitting a few more home runs in big spots. I think we see 3 or 4 home runs with a .900-plus OPS from Judge this series.

Aroldis Chapman

In a season that was a bit of a struggle for Chapman, he had a 3.22 ERA/2.56 FIP in 50.1 innings pitched. For most relievers, this would be an excellent season. For Chapman, with a career 2.21 ERA/1.96 FIP, it was a rough go. After saving minimum 33 games for each of the previous 5 seasons, Chapman saved just 22 games in 2017. This followed a heavy use postseason run with the Chicago Cubs in 2016, where he was again good, but not great, with a 3.45 ERA, 4 saves, and 3 blown saves in 15.2 innings pitched.

Although the Yankees have several good relievers, Chapman is supposed to be THE guy in the pen. He is the one that they should be able to bring in to any late-game situation and have him shut the door. In a series against the best offense in baseball, Chapman’s success will be one of the few most important things to the Yankees. Luckily for them, Chapman was brilliant against the Indians in the ALDS. He pitched in four of the five games in the series, not giving up a single run in 6.2 innings pitched while striking out 13 with just 2 walks and 5 hits allowed. This is the Aroldis Chapman the Yankees will need if they want to make it back to the World Series.

Bobby’s ALCS Series Prediction

All season I have believed that the Astros are the best team in the MLB. Their offense is just too much of a powerhouse for most teams to overcome. However, their pitching, although good, is certainly able to be touched up. The Yankees have enough good hitters to open up on the Astros pitching staff and have the ability to win some games here. The biggest strength of the Yankees is going to be their bullpen, but with a lineup like the Astros have, no lead will be safe. The Yankees are going to have to score score score to stand a real chance here.

Overall, I think Judge will rebound and help the Yankees contend for a while, but the Astros offense will just be too much them and the Astros will take the ALCS in 6 games.

The Houston Astros Defeat The New York Yankees in 6 Games

NLDS Review: Los Angeles Dodgers Sweep Arizona Dbacks

Link to NLDS Preview: Arizona Dbacks vs Los Angeles Dodgers 

Dodgers Defeat Dbacks Three Games To None in NLDS

How important is momentum? By the end of August 25th, the Dodgers were 91-36, the Dbacks were 71-58, and the Indians were 71-56. All three teams had won two straight games at this point. From that date on, the Dodgers went 13-22, the Dbacks went 22-11, and the Indians went an absurd 31-4 to end the season. By most accounts, the Dodgers were in trouble, the Dbacks looked like a serious contender, and the Indians were unstoppable.

As we found out last night, the Indians were not unbeatable, as the Yankees came back from down 2-0 in the ALDS for a massive upset. A pre-playoffs poll of 30 “experts” at ESPN showed 30 votes for the Indians winning their first-round matchup. Not one person believed either the Twins or the Yankees had a prayer to win three of five games here. However, as we saw, timely hitting and an excellent bullpen changed everything, and the momentum did not matter.

In the same pre-playoffs poll, in a somewhat surprising result, the Dodgers got 20 of the 30 votes to win their first-round matchup. For those looking at the overall picture, you might think that is still a low number for a team that led the MLB in wins at 104. For those looking at recent trends and the momentum, you might believe it’s too many votes. After all, Arizona had an MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt. They had Cy Young candidates in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray potentially. They had the hottest trade acquisition in the second half, JD Martinez. But as it turned out, the Dodgers had a deeper overall team and were able to put away the surging Dbacks in just three games.

Game One

Due to Zack Greinke starting the Wild Card game against the Rockies, and Robbie Ray coming in to relieve, that left Taijuan Walker to start game 1 of the NLDS. Walker had a pretty good season, pitching a 3.49 ERA/4.04 FIP combo in 157.1 innings in 2017. Starting him in this game seemed like the best move at the time and not a bad one at that. Walker’s results, however, were devastating for the Dbacks:

  • 3-2 single from Chris Taylor

  • 3-2 walk to Corey Seager

  • 2-2 home run allowed to Justin Turner

  • 3-2 single from Cody Bellinger

  • 3-2 RBI double from Yasiel Puig

Through just five batters, Walker had allowed 4 runs and had not gotten a single out. As well, he was going deep into counts before allowed these base runners, driving up his pitch count. Thankfully for Walker, he got outs on three of the next four batter. He ended up with 3 strikeouts in the inning, but finished with a whopping 48 1st inning pitches, and was replaced by Zack Godley in the 2nd inning of the game.

Luckily for the Dbacks, Godley came in and was much sharper than Walker. Although he allowed a four-pitch walk to Turner, he got through the 2nd inning unscathed. The 3rd inning was even better, with three up and three down. The 4th inning started off poorly with a single allowed to Forsythe, followed by a sac-bunt from Kershaw. From there he allowed a walk, RBI single, and another RBI single. Godley did himself no favors to the next batter with an error in Bellinger’s at-bat that loaded the bases. Next up, he got Puig to ground out, but Seager scored moving the score to 7-1.

Now staring at a 7-1 deficit, Dbacks hitters started smashing some home runs. AJ Pollock had already homered earlier in the game to put the Dbacks first run on the board in the 3rd inning. JD Martinez hit a solo bomb in the 6th inning, followed by back-to-back identical solo home runs from Ketel Marte and Jeff Mathis, of all people, in the 7th inning. This cut the lead to 7-4, with the Dodger’s bullpen taking over after the Mathis HR.

The following inning Seager tripled in a run, then Turner singled him in putting the game out of reach. Even a 9th inning run scored off of Kenley Jansen did not amount to anything, and the Dodgers won game one 9-5.

Game Two

Game two featured a starting pitcher battle of Robbie Ray vs Rich Hill. As talked about in the series preview, Robbie Ray had dominated the Dodgers in 2017:

In five starts, Ray put up a 2.27 ERA with 53 strikeouts, including 10 or more strikeouts in four of those games.

After going down 4-0 to start game one, the Dbacks needed Ray to be sharp as he had been all season against the Dodgers.

On the offensive side, things started off very well for the Dbacks in the 1st inning. After a quick out to David Peralta to start the game, Hill walked Pollock on a 3-2 count and then allowed a monster home run to Paul Goldschmidt the very next at-bat.

The Dodgers struck back with a run the next inning to cut the lead to 2-1 after a Yasiel Puig RBI groundout.

It remained a 2-1 Dbacks lead until the 4th inning when three straight one-out Dodger singles loaded the bases for Rich Hill. Although Hill settled down after a rough 1st inning, he allowed just 2 hits and 2 walked the next three innings with still just 2 runs allowed. Rookie catcher Kyle Farmer pinch hit for Hill to see if they could take advantage of the bases loaded, 1 out situation.

In this at-bat Farmer swung at a breaking ball in the dirt and looked quite fooled. From there, Farmer was not biting on the pitch, though Ray kept trying. This resulted in a wild pitch that scored Forsythe as the tying run. Farmer ended up striking out, but a Taylor RBI single followed and the Dodgers took a 3-2 lead.

The 5th inning was no kinder to Ray, as the Dodgers piled on 4 more runs to take a 7-2 lead. Despite continued success all season against the Dodgers, Ray only went 4.1 IP with 4 H 6 K 4 BB and 4 R allowed. Reliever Jimmie Sherfy took over for Ray, not getting a single out and allowing 3 runs on 3 hits in the same inning.

Just as things were looking hopeless in the game for the Dbacks, Jake Lamb and Marte hit back-to-back singles off of Tony Watson to start off the 7th inning. Flame-throwing righty Brandon Morrow was brought in to shut down the rally. Morrow was a great choice here, as not only had he been one of the best set-up men in the MLB this season with a sub 2.00 FIP, but had not allowed a single HR all year. So as post-season baseball likes to do, it made sure that was no longer the case: On his first pitch in the game, Morrow allowed a huge HR to Brandon Drury to cut the lead to 7-5.

Morrow settled down after this, getting the next three outs. Josh Fields took over in the 8th inning, striking out JD Martinez and then allowing a double off of the right-field wall. That is when Kenley Jansen got the call for a 1.2 inning save, which he did without allowing a single base runner. The Dodgers won game two 8-5.

Game Three

After two highly disappointing games for the Dbacks in Los Angeles, they were hoping for some home-brewed magic in Arizona. This time they would have their ace Zack Greinke on the mound to take on Yu Darvish. Although Greinke was not great in the Wild Card game against the Rockies, he was their best pitcher all season, a top-five pitcher in the NL to boot. For Greinke, the 1st inning was not ideal, however.

After a 3-2 leadoff double from Chris Taylor, a soft RBI groundout to Paul Goldschmidt ended up plating him three batters later. Through the first three innings of the game, Greinke’s pitch count was sky high, although he was limiting runs as best as he could. Through four innings, the game was still just 1-0 with Darvish rolling while Greinke was struggling at times to keep it a 1 run game.

Going back to the 3rd inning, Greinke had gotten outs on six of the last seven batters, allowing a walk to Chase Utley in the middle. This was, of course, until facing a slumping Cody Bellinger, who had not had a hit since the first inning of game one. On a 3-1 pitch, Bellinger crushed an opposite-field home run giving the Dodgers a 2 run lead in the 5th inning. By the end of the inning, Greinke had 105 pitches and would not go out for the 6th.

Arizona answered right back to Bellinger’s home run with a Daniel Descalso 5th inning home run of their own to cut the lead back to 2-1. However, not to be out-done, ‘back-up’ catcher Austin Barnes hit his own home run the next inning to once again give the Dodgers a 2 run cushion.

That is where the scoring ended. Dodgers relievers Tony Cingrani, Brandon Morrow, Kenta Maeda, and Kenley Jansen combined to pitch four innings while striking out 4 batters, allowing just 1 baserunner, and zero runs to score. The game and the series ended on one of the nastiest cutters you will ever see:

Video from @pitchingninja Twitter account

The Dodgers won game three 3-1 and the NLDS 3 games to none.

NLDS Preview Players to Watch Review

JD Martinez

In the Dbacks/Dodgers NLDS Preview article, I wrote about how from 7/18 on, JD Martinez was the third best hitter in the MLB behind Matt Olson and Giancarlo Stanton. JD Martinez was a player to watch to see if the Dodgers could get through the pair of he and Goldschmidt.

Outside of the home run in game one, Martinez did very little of note. Although he had a 1.000 OPS flat, hitting .364/.364/.636 with a home run, he had just the 1 run and 1 RBI in the three-game sweep, not changing much for the team.

Robbie Ray

You may have heard, Robbie Ray was excellent against the Dodgers in 2017. With a 2.27 ERA and 53 Ks in just five games started, everyone was wondering if he could keep it up in the playoffs.

As it turned out, he just didn’t have the same control and power he did in the regular season, walking too many batters in the worst possible spots. In his first career playoff start, Ray did not make it out of the 5th inning, allowing 4 runs on 4 hits and 4 BB with 6 Ks. His game score of 41 reflects his box score quite well.

Clayton Kershaw

In perhaps the biggest story of this playoff series and any playoff series that involves him, Clayton Kershaw was going to make one or two playoff starts. If you are a fan of the MLB, you know all about Clayton Kershaw and the playoffs. I wrote fairly extensively about it in my NLDS Preview, and that the 7th inning was the magic inning for Kershaw. With so much trouble in the 7th inning going back to 2013, fans of the game are all interested to see if he can break the spell or fall victim to it yet again.

Through 6 innings of game one, Kershaw was not his sharpest but he had limited the Dbacks to just 2 runs on 3 hits. Overall, he had 6 IP, 7 K, 3 BB, 3 H, 2 HR, 2 R allowed. The two runs were solo home runs from AJ Pollock and JD Martinez, so it wasn’t exactly a cause for alarm.

The Dodgers left Kershaw in the game for the 7th inning with a 7-2 cushion and in the low 90s in pitches. What followed next was more of the same recent history, with Kershaw allowed extremely similar line-drive home runs to Ketel Marte, and then Jeff Mathis. Kershaw’s night was done at this point, being taken out for a reliever.

While his results were not exactly what Dodger fans were looking for, as allowing 4 home runs is usually back-breaking, all 4 home runs were solo and the Dodgers supplied enough offense for Kershaw to get the win. Surprisingly enough, this was Kershaw’s first career playoff win at Dodger Stadium, a place where Kershaw usually owns opposing players.

So Kershaw did end up winning the only game he pitched in, he was not his sharpest and allowed 4 home runs in the process. The pressure will still be on him for game 1 of the NLCS and any subsequent appearance he makes, and people will still be talking about the playoff narrative for him. After Corey Kluber and Chris Sale’s terrible 2017 postseasons, Kershaw may have some company, however.

Bobby’s NLDS Series Reflection

I originally thought this would be a very tough series, something that would come down to 5 games. I believed that Goldschmidt and Martinez would be a bigger force, but with the pair combining for 5 hits in 22 at bats with 2 home runs, 3 RBI, and just 2 runs scored, the Dbacks were going to need some unlikely heroes, and they did not get enough. The Dbacks rotation also faltered in the series, not living up to any of the expectations set for them.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers looked exactly like the 104 win team they were in the regular season, with Justin Turner continuing to hit out of his mind, going off for a line of .462/.553/.692 with a HR and 5 RBI, and their vaunted depth coming through as they did pretty much all season. The very underrated Austin Barnes started the final two games of the series, as well with a pinch-hit single in game one, with a line of .500/.556/1.000 in 9 plate appearances. Cody Bellinger struggled with his bat for much of the series, hitting just .214/.267/.429 overall, but had some key at-bats as well as some spectacular defensive plays in game 3. This is all without mentioning the amazing series from Yasiel Puig, hitting .455/.538/.727 and helping spark some big rallies.

In the end, all of the positive momentum the Dbacks had in the final month and a half of the season and all of the negative momentum the Dodgers had meant very little to nothing. When it comes time for the playoffs, it comes down to the players skills and timing. In this NLDS matchup, the Dodgers out-skilled the Dbacks and had better timing in almost every way. It will be very interesting to see what the Dodgers can do against a team with higher end talent in the Washington Nationals or the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.