Believe it or not, the 2018 MLB season is at the two month point and the Midsummer Classic is not far off. Each MLB season has its own intrigue for one reason or another, but 2018 in particular has been a wild ride so far for both the National League and the American League. Here are the five biggest stories we’ve seen in baseball thus far this year.
World Series hangover… for the loser?
The proverbial World Series hangover is a unique phenomenon in baseball because it doesn’t occur to the reigning champs every year. The Cubs suffered something similar to it last season, but regained themselves and finished with a third consecutive NLCS appearance. This year, however, it’s the runner-up that’s feeling the so-called affliction. The Los Angeles Dodgers were a force to be reckoned with in 2017 and tore up the NL enroute to 104 wins, but fell to the equally dominant Houston Astros in Game 7 of the Fall Classic.
This year, Houston hasn’t slowed, but the Dodgers certainly have. Thanks in large part to an array of injuries to key players like Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, and a major sophomore slump from reigning Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger, Dave Roberts’ squad is currently 28-30 and sits at third in the NL West behind Arizona and Colorado. The team is by no means out of contention, thanks largely to Matt Kemp, but Los Doyers are scuffling and may continue to do so until their roster finally gets healthy. If it doesn’t sooner or later, the team could be in trouble.
If there is a favorite for National League Manager of the Year at this point, it’s safe to bet that it’s Atlanta’s Brian Snitker. Once thought of as just a fill-in skipper for a rapidly declining franchise, Snitker suddenly finds himself at the helm of a young Braves squad that is turning heads at a rapid rate. Lead by cornerstone Freddie Freeman and a resurgent Nick Markakis, the Braves currently lead the NL East ahead of perennial champ Washington, and their young guns have been the story.
The aforementioned Markakis has been at the crux. Thought of as a castoff since he came to Atlanta in 2015, the aging right fielder has put together a stellar season, batting .328 with 39 RBI and an NL leading 77 hits. Freeman has been doing business as usual and proving further that he may have been MVP last year had he not suffered a fractured hand vs. Toronto in May. One of the game’s most underrated players, Freeman is currently third in the Senior Circuit with a .335 AVG while his .432 OB% is first. 21-year-old Ozzie Albies has also been a spark with a leading 50 runs scored, whilst Ender Inciarte’s 18 stolen bases are tied for the major league lead as well.
It could just be massive overachievement, but the Braves look very good right now and show no signs of slowing.
Red Sox lead the renewed Rivalry
After laying dormant for the better part of the past ten years, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was given new intrigue this past offseason. The Yankees made the biggest trade in the MLB since their own 13 years prior, acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, the game’s most feared power hitter, from the Marlins in a blockbuster deal. Not to be outclassed, the Red Sox responded with the signing of JD Martinez. That set the gears for “The Rivalry” to be renewed, and boy was it. The two hated foes had a major bench clearing fracas in just their second meeting of the season, erupting after Red Sox fireballer Joe Kelly pegged New York’s Tyler Austin after the first basemen hit Brock Holt with a questionable slide at second base. With the bad blood seemingly back, fans cannot wait for the next time the two super heavyweights square off.
Entering the season with Stanton, reigning Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in their lineup, the Yankees were expected by fans and media alike to blow away the AL East this year. However, that has not come to fruition thus far and the Red Sox, somewhat shockingly, have been the better team for the most part. On top of that, also shockingly, Martinez has been better for Boston than Stanton has been for New York. Martinez is tied for the major league lead with 19 homers and was the first player to reach 50 RBI, in addition to a .321 AVG. Stanton on the other hand is batting .248 with just 12 home runs and 31 RBI. It’s still early, but since many believed that New York would be running away with the East by this point, it isn’t entirely unfair to say that Stanton has been a bit of a disappointment thus far.
Ohtani is impressive, not invincible.
MLB media hyped Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani to the moon before he even stepped onto the field at Angel Stadium for the first time. The 23-year-old native of Oshu, Iwate gained legendary status in Nippon Professional Baseball for his ability as both a pitcher and a hitter and garnered lofty comparisons to that of Babe Ruth. No pressure on the kid, right? Through the first two months of his MLB career, Ohtani has certainly impressed. Splitting time between the mound and designated hitter, He’s pitched to a 3.18 ERA and is hitting .291.He has 6 home runs on the season, which is about as many as most NL pitchers hit in one year, and a few have been of the mammoth variety.
However, impressive as he’s been, Ohtani is far from untouchable. The two-way phenom’s career got off a hot start, but the Red Sox gave him a stark reality check on April 17 in Anaheim, forcing him to throw 66 pitches in just a two inning outing whilst tagging him for three runs. The Angels tried to save face by blaming the disaster on a blister on his throwing hand, but it’s safe to say not a lot of people bought that. Ohtani was all over the zone in that game and wasn’t throwing strikes consistently at all, I don’t think a blister is to blame for that.
It was proof that sometimes too much hype can detriment a player as much as it can benefit him because he immediately looks like a bust the first time he gets roughed up. Ohtani has the potential to turn into a legitmate MLB star, ala Ichiro and Yu Darvish, but the fans and media alike need to ease up on the youngster and allow him to transition to the American style of play more naturally.
Ace controversy in Houston?
Earlier I said that the World Series hangover hasn’t smite reigning champ Houston. Though there’s plenty of reasons for this, the biggest is by far the remarkable performance of a Pittsburgh castoff. Gerrit Cole struggled to sustain himself over the last two seasons after his breakout 2015 campaign and the rebuilding Pirates decided the time was right to move on, trading their former ace to the Astros. People didn’t think so initially, but the change of scenery has proven to be exactly what 2011’s first overall pick needed. Cole has lit up everyone in his path in the first half so far and currently boasts 6 wins, a 2.20 ERA and an AL leading 116 Ks. He is undoubtedly the front runner for AL Comeback Player of the Year right now, and might be for the Cy Young as well if it wasn’t for his teammate.
If Cole’s numbers are eye-popping, then Justin Verlander’s are just plain stupid. The 35-year-old is showing no signs of age and has picked up where he left off last October. If the Baseball Writers’ Association gave out its awards today, Verlander would collect his second career Cy Young. He currently leads the AL in ERA (1.24), WHIP (.72) BAA (.152) and IP (87.1). Just to reiterate, he’s 35.
Cole and Verlander have effectively usurped the title of AJ Hinch’s ace from Dallas Keuchel, who is a comparitve no. 3 starter now (which says a lot about their rotation). The question is, which of these two guys would get the ball in a do-or-die situation? Have fun deciding that one, Astro fans.
Did I leave any out? What narrative or new development has your attention? Be sure to let us know and check back to HR Daily for all your MLB needs.
2018 ALCS: Astros Aiming To Repeat, Red Sox Looking For Revenge
This year’s American League Championship Series won’t be an unfamiliar scenario for baseball fans, because it’s a rematch of last year’s American League Division Series. Defending World Champion Houston will square off with Boston for the second consecutive postseason, this time with one more game and a lot more at stake. Houston wants a second consecutive pennant, Boston wants second blood.
The Astros defeated the Red Sox three games to one in one half of last season’s ALDS. The Red Sox were on the cusp on forcing a decisive Game 5, but questionable managerial decisions from ex-skipper John Farrell ultimately led to the team’s demise. The Astros then defeated the Yankees and then Los Angeles (both in thrilling seven game series) to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy to Texas for the first time ever.
Both teams have different looks this time around in converse ways. Houston traded for superstar RHP Gerrit Cole last offseason while Boston signed slugging free agent OF/DH JD Martinez. What’s interesting is that both moves paid massive dividends. Aside Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, Cole helped make the Astros’ starting rotation the unquestioned best in the game. Martinez, on the other hand, rejuvenated the Red Sox’ previously dormant offense and made it a force to be reckoned with again, coming within inches of the Triple Crown in the process.
What’s even more interesting is the new dynamic the rematch presents. As previously mentioned, the Sox parted ways with John Farrell last fall after his controversial pitching decisions killed the team’s rally and got them bounced from the ALDS for the second straight year. Who did they hire almost immediately after? Houston Bench Coach Alex Cora, who resigned from AJ Hinch’s staff after Game 7. Though there doesn’t appear to be any hard feelings on Houston’s side, it’s safe to bet that it will still serve as motivation.
Boston’s motivation is quite simple, don’t lose to the same team two years in a row. To do this, the team will have to find a way to topple that lethal trio of Verlander, Keuchel and Cole, but also to shut down Houston’s relentless offense, led in the ALDS by Alex Bregman and George Springer. Though he was injured for a majority of the year, Jose Altuve still goes without saying as well.
Don’t get it wrong, though. The Red Sox are no slouches, featuring two MVP front runners in Martinez and Mookie Betts alongside Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts. Chris Sale anchors a rotation that fared quite well against the Yankees in the LDS (with the obvious exception of David Price). Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello were all excellent vs. New York’s powerful core, Cora will be hoping they can replicate that success. He has announced that Price will start Game 2 despite yet another disaster in ALDS Game 2, the reasoning behind this decision is anyone’s guess.
Game 1 is Saturday at 8:09 PM ET on TBS from Fenway Park. Each team will lead off with its ace, Verlander vs. Sale. Don’t miss it!
Orioles Part Ways with Buck Showalter
Showalter, 62, was at the helm for a nightmare 2018 that saw the team trade Mann Machado as they decided to start a massive youth movement, and the O’s went 47-115 to became just the fifth major league team since 1900 to lose 115 games or more in a season.
“Mr. Angelos’ family has been great to me and mine,” Showalter said on Sunday regarding the pending decision of owner Peter Angelos . “So whatever direction they decide to go, I’m at peace with it.”
“It’s about winning the game,” Showalter said at the conclusion of the season. “That’s one of the things I really feel like we need to get back to, the expectations of winning. That’s part of it. You’ve got to have expectations of winning, regardless of if you’re whatever they call it nowadays — building. I don’t believe in rebuild, the word rebuild. The first thing you have to accomplish, and one of the things I tried to do when I got here, is to raise the expectations of winning.”
Per the report, Showalter received official word in a meeting with brothers John and Lou Angelos on Wednesday morning.
White Sox Outright Dustin Garneau
The Chicago White Sox have outrighted catcher Dustin Garneau to Triple-A Charlotte, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen.
With the move the White Sox created an open spot on their 40-man roster.
Garneau posted a dreadful .194/.269/.321 over 280 plate appearances at the major league level, a far drop off from his production at the Triple-A level this season, where he posted a .252/.340/.468 line to go along with seven homeruns.
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