Phillies Acquisitions Will Make for a Tight NL East Finish

The Phillies had already won the off-season before the fateful day of February 28. That’s when news broke that they acquired the transcendent talent known as Bryce Harper. Signing the right fielder to a mega deal (13 years, $330 million) was a bold move by the Philadelphia brass. However, many other Phillies acquisitions have the club in position to take control of what suddenly has become a very competitive division.

Phillies acquisitions: The outfield

Bryce Harper: Despite a down year in 2018, Harper, along with Manny Machado, were the Phillies Acquisitionsprized possessions on the free market this winter. With talk about nine digit baseball contracts, the Las Vegas native had the chance to break the bank. It didn’t come until Spring training began, but it was worth waiting for. Harper, temporarily, was awarded the largest free agent contract in American sports history. If he can give the Phillies close to his 2015 MVP season production, the deal will pay for itself. If he is pedestrian (if .249/.393/.496 is pedestrian), then it’ll take more than Harper to vaunt the Phillies into first place.

Andrew McCutchen: Once one of the game’s brightest stars, McCutchen’s value has diminshed in recent seasons. However, despite a drop off in runs batted in, the former Pirate posted close to his career averages across many categories in 2018. Standing out among them was a .792 OPS, 30 doubles, and a near-career high 95 walks. However, his strikeout numbers are soaring, he’s on the wrong side of 30, and is relegated to the corner outfield positions. But there’s no doubt his value as a veteran presence around a relatively young Philadelphia team is a welcomed sight.

Phillies Acquisitions: The Infield

J.T. Realmuto: The Phillies acquired arguably the game’s best catcher in 2018, a first-time all-star and silver slugger award winner. Over just 125 games, Realmuto set career highs in runs (74), home runs (21), RBI (74), and OPS (.825). The backstop long ago requested a trade from the Miami Marlins, after team president Derek Jeter decided to fire sale most of the talent off the club. Without Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna, Realmuto was stuck on a hopeless squad. Now, he’s in position to contend.

Jean Segura: Widely considered one of the game’s most underrated talents, Segura, 29, is already on the fifth different team of his career. He previously had time with the Angels, Brewers, Diamondbacks, and most recently, the Mariners. The Dominican-born product has seen success everywhere he has played, and has two all-star appearances under his belt (2013, 2018). While a .766 OPS over the last two seasons is nothing spectacular, he has consistently been above-league average offensively. According to Fangraphs, only four shortstops have posted a higher wRC+ than Segura’s 117 over the past three seasons, and only six have produced more WAR.

Phillies Acquisitions: The Bullpen

David Robertson: A stellar 2017 season put Robertson on the upper echelon of late inning relievers. 2018 slowed down that narrative. A 3.23 ERA is a sizable regression from 1.82. But Robertson has been a rock throughout his 11-year career, logging over 60 innings pitched in each of his last 9 seasons. He brings closing experience to a club with a cavalry of veteran arms. He figures to be a key part of the division’s strongest bullpen.

Given the major talent overhaul in the city of brotherly love, do not be surprised to see the Phillies make a big jump in 2019. But they’ll have to get through talented squads in Washington, Atlanta, and New York to do so.

2019 MLB Top Five Starting Pitchers

Pitchers do not only win Cy Young awards, they win MVPs. Two starting pitchers have been named Most Valuable Player since 2011, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander. Some other starting pitches to win a MVP: Don Newcombe, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Roger Clemens. All of these players were top five starting pitchers for the majority of their respective careers.

Starting pitchers also get paid massive contracts. Both David Price (Red Sox) and ZackTop Five Starting Pitchers Greinke (Diamondbacks) signed free agent contracts in the 2016 off-season worth more than $30 million per year. Nationals ace Max Scherzer signed a 7-yr/$210 million contract a year earlier in 2015.

Starting pitchers also help teams by setting the tone. To begin last season’s World Series, Red Sox ace Chris Sale fired a strikeout on a 2-2 pitch to Dodgers second baseman Brian Dozier. The Sox went on to win the series in five games to capture their 9th World Series championship. Below is a list of 2019 MLB Top Five Starting Pitchers.

 Top Five Starting Pitchers – 5 – Corey Kluber (Cleveland Indians)

Kluber’s strengths are his high strikeout volume and durability. He has recorded at least 222 strikeouts and 203 innings pitched in five consecutive seasons. “Klubot” is a two-time Cy Young award winner and has finished in the top-3 voting of the Cy Young in four of the past five years. He is the ace of the Cleveland Indians and is under team control through 2021. The 32-year-old turns 33 in early April. He is still very much in his prime, as Kluber has won at least 18 games in three straight seasons.

Top Five Starting Pitchers – 4 – Jacob deGrom (New York Mets)

Baseball’s best pitcher in 2018 was arguably Jacob deGrom. He won his first Cy Young after leading the MLB in ERA (1.70). He also finished in the top-5 in innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP. Ironically deGrom and Kluber both pitched for Stetson University in Central Florida. deGrom is the ace on the Mets starting staff, a rotation that also includes Noah Syndergaard, and is set to become a free agent after next season.

Top Five Starting Pitchers – 3 – Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox)

Sale would be higher on this list had he pitched more starts last season. He finished 2018 with 27 starts, missing time in the second half due to a nagging shoulder injury. His ERA (2.11), WHIP (0.86), and FIP (1.98) were career bests, however, his 158 innings were the fewest since 2012. Sale has also surprisingly never won a Cy Young, even though he has been voted an All-Star in each of the past seven seasons. He has started the past three for the American League. Sale and the Red Sox recently agreed to a five-year extension on March 23rd.

Top Five Starting Pitchers – 2 – Justin Verlander (Houston Astros)

When asked who is the best pitcher of this generation, most fans would argue Clayton Kershaw. The correct answer might actually be Verlander. The right-hander just turned 36 in February and is very much still in his prime. He has thrown at least 200 innings in 11 of the past 12 seasons. JV has finished second in Cy Young voting three times, including last year, when recorded career-highs in strikeouts (290), hits allowed, FIP, WHIP, and strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. Like Sale, Verlander was just awarded a contract extension for 2 years and became official today. Verlander has a plethora of playoff experience. He owns a 13-7 record, 3.19 ERA, and a 1.02 WHIP in 152 postseason innings.

Top Five Starting Pitchers – 1 – Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals)

“Mad Max” has been baseball’s best pitcher for the past six seasons. Since 2013, he has made the All-Star Game each season (started 3), finished in the Cy Young voting top-5 each season (won 3), and has struck out at least 240 batters in each season. In the past three years, Scherzer has led the National League in WHIP and strikeouts. The only slight on Scherzer’s resume is that he has not won a playoff start since the 2013 ALDS.

Honorable mentions: Blake Snell (Tampa Bay Rays), Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies), Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers), Zack Greinke (Arizona Diamondbacks)

2019 MLB Top Five First Basemen

Historically, the best first basemen around the league bat in the middle of the lineup. In the past two decades, players such as Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira have not only been the best hitters on their respective teams, but the best hitters in baseball. In Pujols’s eleven seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, he made the All-Star team nine times, averaged 40 home runs, 120 RBI, a .328 batting average and a 1.037 OPS. He also won Rookie of the Year, three MVPs, and two World Series titles. Though Teixeira’s first seven seasons were split between four teams (TEX, ATL, LAA, NYY), he remained a pitcher’s nightmare, averaging 34 homers, 114 RBI, and a .921 OPS. Both Pujols and Teixeira were, at one point in their prime, Top Five First Basemen.

This season, there were four clear-cut players that made the list. Finding number-five wasTop Five First Basemen difficult. One may have favored Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, who has averaged a .869 OPS in five seasons since being signed as an international free agent out of Cuba. Other candidates were Eric Hosmer (San Diego Padres) and Carlos Santana (Cleveland Indians). The selection, however, goes to up-and-coming star Rhys Hoskins, who slugged an .850 OPS in his first full season in 2018.

Top Five First Basemen – 5 – Rhys Hoskins (Philadelphia Phillies)

Hoskins’s 38 doubles and 34 home runs last season were no fluke. He made his MLB debut in August 2017, and in 50 games, hit 18 home runs, knocked in 48 runs, and posted an OPS of 1.014. Back in 2016, Hoskins spent a full season playing at Double-A Reading. He hit 38 homers and 116 RBI. In 2017, at Triple-A, he played 115 games and set the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs franchise-record in HRs with 29. After eclipsing the 30 home-run-mark in 2018, look for Hoskins to hit closer to 40 this season, if not more.

Top Five First Basemen – 4 – Paul Goldschmidt (St. Louis Cardinals)

Goldschmidt has been an All-Star in each of the past six seasons. His most notable strength is that he is a master at reaching base, averaging a .406 clip since 2013. He is one of the very few at his position to add speed on the base paths (17 per season). Goldy has finished top-3 in the MVP voting three times. He joins a new team in the Cardinals this year after spending his entire career with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals rewarded him with a 5-year contract extension on March 21st. The D-Backs never won a division title in the Goldschmidt era.

Top Five First Basemen – 3 – Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds)

The 2010 NL MVP turns 36 in September and has put together a spectacular career. Besides Pujols and Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, JV is the only other active 1B to win a MVP award. In terms of reaching base, no one else comes close. His career OBP clip is an astounding .427. He has led the league in walks five times and OBP seven times. His slugging percentage, however, took a big dip last year (.419). The three years prior he had averaged .556. That decline, combined with the fact the Reds have won just 2 games in Votto’s career, puts him at 2019 first baseman number-three.

Top Five First Basemen – 2 – Anthony Rizzo (Chicago Cubs)

The only first baseman to put together four straight 100 RBI seasons is Rizzo. He won his second Gold Glove in the past three years in 2018 and was a major contributor to the Cubs 2016 World Series championship. Rizzo is extremely durable, at least 616 plate appearances in each season, and has led Chicago to four straight playoff appearances.

Top Five First Basemen – 1 – Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)

Freeman led all first basemen in hits, doubles, and batting average last year. In his last three seasons he has averaged a slash line of .306/.397/.949. Freeman’s Braves won the NL East in 2018. He won his first Gold Glove last year and enters 2019 as the most feared first baseman.

2019 MLB Top Five Catchers

Baseball’s catcher is arguably the most important position while playing the field. Also called “backstop,” catchers are similar to football’s quarterback, by which they are leaders and call the plays. They also suffer more literal welts than any other position, from regular foul tips to the rare bat to the head. The top five catchers in Major League Baseball are threats to the opposing teams both offensively and defensively.

There are just 18 catchers in baseball history that have been elected to the Hall of Fame.top five catchers
Just two of those 18 have played in this millennium: Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez. Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez has started the last five All-Star games for the American League. He is extremely durable. Since taking over as the Royals primary backstop in 2013, he has been healthy enough to play in no less than 129 games. Unfortunately, a UCL injury will sideline Perez this season. He will not make this list.

Top Five Catchers – 5 – Wilson Ramos (New York Mets) & Yasmani Grandal (Milwaukee Brewers)

Ramos began 2018 as Tampa Bay’s starting backstop. He was named as the American League starting catcher in the All-Star Game, only to miss the game with a hamstring injury. Later that month, the Phillies acquired him at the trade deadline. In 33 games with Philadelphia, Ramos went on a mammoth tear, posting a .396 on-base percentage and a .879 OPS. He is clearly one of the best hitting catchers in the game and will now be calling the signals behind home plate in Queens, New York.

Grandal is a consistent premier starting catcher. He differs from Ramos in that he is more durable and a better defender behind the plate. He has at least 426 plate appearances since being becoming a primary catcher in 2014. Grandal has upped his game in the past two seasons at the plate, eclipsing 100-hit, 50 runs and 20-double-plateaus. In the past three seasons, no other catcher has more home runs than Grandal and only Yadier Molina has more RBIs.

4 – Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants)

Before last year, Posey had started three straight All-Star Games for the National League. Posey is a former MVP, three-time World Series champion, and six-time All-Star. With that said, however, he posted his worst slash line as a pro in 2018, with career lows in nearly all major categories. Albeit, he was still named an All-Star. Posey sneaks into the 2019 edition of Top Five Catchers, but another down season could see him ousted by season’s end.

3 – Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs)

The 26-year-old was a starter for the National League in his first All-Star Game last season. A native of Venezuela, Contreras was signed by Chicago as an international free agent in 2009. He did not blossom quickly, spending seven years in the Cubs farm system. He quickly heated up in the 2015 season for Double-A Tennessee, improving his OPS to .891 from .679 in 2014. Contreras was promoted to Triple-A to begin 2016 and posted a 1.035, which included 43 RBI in 55 games. In June of that year, he was called-up by the Cubs and took over the starting role to begin 2017. In two full seasons, he has hit 31 home runs and knocked in 128 RBI. Contreras is the least established as of the Top Five Catchers, but is viewed as one of Chicago’s most valuable assets and could position himself higher on this list by 2020.

2- Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)

Molina was the only unanimous lock of the Top Five Catchers. He has been an All-Star in 9 of the past 10 seasons and has won a Gold Glove in 9 of the past 11 years, including one in 2018. He is also a two-time World Series champion. Most impressive is Molina’s durability, playing in at least 110 games in every season during his 14-year career. At age-36, he is on his way towards being elected as the 19th catcher in Cooperstown.

1 – J.T. Realmuto (Philadelphia Phillies)

Realmuto was arguably baseball’s best catcher last season with the Marlins. He was named to his first All-Star Game and led all backstops in hits, runs, doubles, batting average, OPS, and WAR. He was traded to Philadelphia in early February for top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, Jorge Alfaro, a once touted catching prospect, another pitching prospect and international pool money. Realmuto’s HR, RBI, and OPS numbers have gone up in each of his four seasons. He is destined to continue that trend in 2019 with help from the best supporting cast he has been partnered with as a pro.

Baseball Season Preview: Who Plays In 2019 Fall Classic?

The magazine Sports Illustrated, also known as SI, publishes an annual baseball season preview. In addition to the MLB, it produces season previews for several other major sports, such as the NBA, NFL, and FIFA World Cup. The cover athlete of the piece is the feature’s most celebrated achievement, and is supposed to symbolize the value of that player and his/her team heading into that particular season. In some years, the publication’s choice strikes luck. In others, their choice becomes almost laughable by season’s end.

In March 2007, the magazine selected Red Sox’s starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka asBaseball Season their cover athlete. The Japanese right-hander had just signed a $52 million, six-year contract and had not yet pitched in the MLB. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting that year. More importantly, the Red Sox won the World Series. With the 2019 regular season set to begin tomorrow in Tokyo, here is a breakdown of each division’s expectations for 2019, followed by playoff predictions.

AL East – The Red Sox are the two-time reigning division champs. Boston’s outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts were featured on SI‘s Baseball Season Preview in 2017. The Yankees have two straight seasons of 90-plus wins. Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were the centerpiece on the SI‘s Baseball Season Preview last year. The Rays have two straight seasons of 80-plus wins. The Blue Jays should win more games than last year’s 73 with a balanced lineup and better starting pitching depth. The Orioles are in a complete rebuild and should finish close to the bottom of the league. Prediction? Yankees win first division title since 2012 and Red Sox finish second to secure Wild Card berth.

AL Central – The Indians have finished on top of the Central for the last three seasons. Their ace Corey Kluber and former outfielder Michael Brantley were highlighted on SI‘s Baseball Season Preview in 2015. The Twins have finished three of the past four seasons with at least 78 wins. The Tigers, White Sox, and Royals are all in flux, rebuilding, and are destined to finish at the bottom of the division again. Prediction? With Minnesota adding Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, Marwin Gonzalez, and Michael Pineda since last season, expect them to be neck and neck with the Indians all the way down to the wire. The Twins will edge out the Indians by a hair.

AL West – This is one of the more underrated divisions in baseball. The Astros have two consecutive 100-win seasons, have played in two consecutive ALCS series, and won the World Series in 2017. The Athletics increased their win total by 22 games last year and made the playoffs as a wild card team. The Mariners won 89 games last season, but missed a postseason berth by eight games. The Angels, who have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, have neither improved nor worsened in the past two years, as their record has stayed locked at 80-82. And the Rangers record has been in decline for three straight seasons. Prediction? Houston finishes the season with their third consecutive division title and 100-win season. The Angels sneak into October baseball for their first playoff appearance since 2014.

Fun fact: the first athlete to appear on the cover of SI‘s Baseball Season Preview was Giants center fielder Willie Mays in 1955.

NL East – The Atlanta Braves surprised nearly everyone last year and won the NL East. It was a down year for the Washington Nationals, as they finished with their worst record since 2011. In opposition, the Phillies exceed expectations by winning 80 games for the first time since 2012. The Mets finished fourth in the division in 2018 and have just two winning seasons in the past ten years. Starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, former starter Matt Harvey, and relief pitcher Jeurys Familia were all chosen to represent SI‘s Baseball Season Preview in 2016. The Marlins have nine consecutive losing seasons. Prediction? The Phillies added five All-Star players this off-season: Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and David Robertson. That should be enough to win the division and secure their first playoff berth in eight years. Both the Braves and Nationals secure Wild Card berths.

NL Central – This is another division that gets overlooked. The Milwaukee Brewers won 96 wins in 2018 and captured the National League’s best record. They came within one game of a trip to the World Series. The Cubs were a playoff team for the fourth successive season. St. Louis finished with their eleventh winning season in a row, however, missed the postseason for the third straight time. Pittsburgh went 82-79 and missed the playoffs, even after acquiring All-Star starting pitcher Chris Archer at the Trade Deadline. And the Reds finished with less than 70 wins for the fourth go around in a row. Prediction? The Cubbies take back the division and win the NL Central for the third time in four years.

NL West – L.A. has held down the West for six years running. They are also the only team to have made it to the Fall Classic in each of the past two seasons. The Rockies have been sneaky good, making the postseason in both 2017 and 2018. The Diamondbacks begin a new era after trading away six-time All-Star Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. Seems to make sense after Arizona won just a single playoff game since Goldschmidt became an everyday player in 2012. After winning it all in 2010, 2012, and 2014, San Francisco has won just two playoff games since. San Diego came away with arguably the franchise’s best signing this off-season, Manny Machado, but still face an upward climb. They have not made the postseason since 2006. Prediction? Colorado surprises everyone and wins their first ever NL West title since the team’s inception in 1993.

AL Wild Card Game: Angels @ Red Sox

NL Wild Card Game: Nationals @ Braves

ALDS: Red Sox – Astros; Twins – Yankees

NLDS: Nationals – Cubs; Rockies – Phillies

ALCS: Yankees – Astros

NLCS: Phillies – Cubs

World Series: Cubs – Astros

 

The MVP Race In the American League

It is mid August, usually around now we are talking about the division races. However, this season it looks like in the American League, the Red Sox, Indians and Astros will win their respected divisions easily. With the second wild card the only A.L. race. The big question this season, the historic competition of the potential American League MVP battle.

We have a potential triple-crown winner in J.D. Martinez and he isn’t even the favoriteMVP on his own team. Most experts alike would say that the Red Sox favorite is Mookie Betts. Betts leads the league in average, hovering around that .350 mark, while playing gold-glove defense in the outfield. Cleveland Indians Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, can easily make a viable case for the award as well. As they have anchored the juggernaut Indians infield with their gloves and bat. Those two dynamic tandems could actually cancel out votes and give way to the perennial MVP favorite Mike Trout. There is a stigma around Trout that suggests he shouldn’t be MVP because the Angels never truly become a playoff threat. However, his statistics with the modern day WAR stat, wins-above-replacement, have him again a potential choice.

The MVP Case For Red Sox’

As of August 12th, the Red Sox record is an absolute absurd 50 games over .500. This could very well be the greatest Red Sox team in history, as it could contend to break the 116 win mark last held by the Seattle Mariners in 2001. The leaders of this Red Sox team are certainly Betts and free-agent acquisition J.D. Martinez. Martinez now stands at .333, 37 home-runs, and 104 RBI. And again, it is August 12th! Meanwhile, Betts, the everyday center/right-fielder, who even has played a game at second base, is setting the tone atop the A.L., with a .350 average, 26 home-runs and 99 runs scored. Betts leads the A.L. in overall WAR at 8.1, due to his five-tool play. He also just recently hit for the cycle against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The MVP Case For Indians’

There is not a better left-side of the infield in baseball than Cleveland’s Ramirez and Lindor. They have been staples on Terry Francona’s team now for the last four seasons. The Indians have been dominant in the central for three years now and lead the division by 12 games. Along with a tremendous pitching staff led by Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, it is Lindor and Ramirez who set the pace for the offense and defense. Lindor is hitting .292, 29, 74, while Ramirez’ line sits at an impressive .298, 34, 84. Ramirez also is fourth in the league in WAR. Their sub .300 averages, could hinder the Indian’s chances.

The MVP Case For Trout

Ahh the wonderful stat of wins-above-replacement. This should be considered the “Mike Trout statistic” as it always seems to help his MVP case. The Angels made headlines early in the season, as this looked like their year to cause havoc in the West, especially with the two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. Well that has since faltered, as it looks like another season where LA will miss the playoffs. Trout usually gets consideration, even when the team does not make playoffs, when other playoff team’s players aren’t having incredible statistical years.  That’s not the case this season. However, Trout still has a league leading offensive WAR of 7.2, while hitting .309, 30, 60.

The baseball purists usually tend to the best overall player on the best team. While the modern statistic experts tend to favor the wins-above-replacement stat. Right now, you have to like Betts’ chances.