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.
2019 Trade Deadline Highlights
This year’s Trade Deadline in the MLB wasn’t as boisterous as previous seasons and might rank as one of the less-exciting ones in history. There was still a good number of high-profile moves, however, and a few big names went on to new homes. Here’s a look at the more notable acquisitions of July 31, 2019 and how they will impact the teams that got the big returns.
Blue Jays trade RHP Marcus Stroman to Mets in exchange for RHP Anthony Kay, RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson
The move that unofficially kicked off trading season was a bit of a head scratcher. It had long been rumored that Toronto was shopping ace Marcus Stroman, but the team he ended up with isn’t exactly a contender. The Mets are currently four games under .500 and may not be vying for the postseason in 2019. The move is likely another part of the Mets rebuilding process, and since Noah Syndergaard stayed put, New York may have a formidable rotation next season.
Indians acquire LHP Scott Moss, OF Yasiel Puig from Reds and OF Franmil Reyes, LHP Logan Allen and IF Victor Nova from Padres, Padres acquire OF Taylor Trammell from Reds, Indians acquire Reds acquire RHP Trevor Bauer from Indians
The literal biggest trade of the day was a this three-team blockbuster. Trevor Bauer firing the ball over the center field wall on Sunday after he was pulled in the fifth inning ended up being the last pitch he threw in an Indians uniform. A day later the Tribe rid itself of his petulance and pulled off a massive trade with intrastate rival Cincinnati as well as San Diego that saw Bauer go to the Reds and Reds top prospect Taylor Tramell go to the Friars. Cleveland received a host of players from both teams, most namely Yasiel Puig, who is ironically also known as a prima donna.
Though Bauer is undeniably talented when he keeps his act together and bolsters the Reds attempts to trend upward, San Diego may have won the trade with Tramell, MLB’s no. 30 overall prospect.
Rays acquire 1B Jesus Aguilar from Brewers in exchange for RHP Jacob Faria
Milwaukee was certainly brewing before the Deadline and made a commendable effort to improve its pitching. GM David Stearns’ most notable move was a straight swap with the Rays that brought back righty Jacob Faria in exchange for power hitting 1B Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar is having a down year but has proven many times that he can be deadly. He gives the Rays the big bat they’ve been seeking in their hunt for a Wild Card berth.
It’s a good move for both sides because it clears Milwaukee’s infield logjam and gives the team another quality starter. Faria never quite broke out in Tampa Bay but a change of scenery always has potential to pay dividends. After having already gotten Jordan Lyles from Pittsburgh on Monday, the Brewers made another move and got Drew Pomeranz from San Fransisco later on Wednesday. Though none of the returns are big name guys, Milwaukee is serious about making another run after coming so close last year.
Cubs acquire OF Nicholas Castellanos from Tigers in exchange for RHP Alex Lange and RHP Paul Richan.
The Cubs made their chances of taking the NL Central back even better with this move. Nicholas Castellanos has been one of the MLB’s more underrated players in recent years, largely because he was on the Tigers after the team’s glory days of the early 2010s ended. Adding him to a lineup that already includes Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Javier Baez gives the Cubbies even more firepower, especially given Castellanos success vs. lefty pitchers. It’s also a great move for him personally as he gets to join a contending team at last. The Cubs are vying to appear in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, and their chances look pretty good.
Astros acquire RHP Zack Greinke from Diamondbacks in exchange for RHP Corbin Martin, RHP JB Bukauskas, IF Josh Rojas and IF Seth Beer
If Houston was scary good before this trade, they’re terrifyingly good now. The Astros just added Zack Greinke to a rotation that already includes Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in a last-minute deal that wasn’t announced until after the deadline officially passed. Arizona received a package of four minor leaguers in return as the team is now officially in the rebuilding process.
Like Verlander, Greinke is in the second half of his thirties but has not declined at all and owned a 10-4 record with a 2.90 on a sub-par Diamondbacks team at the time of his departure. The six-time All-Star’s presence gives Houston the best rotation in baseball by far and should get the knees of any upcoming opponent knocking. The MLB said it best on Instagram today, “Facing Houston? You have a problem.”
- After being heavily rumored as top targets, Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard and Giants LHP Madison Bumgarner are still members of their longtime teams.
- The Boston Red Sox, whose bullpen has blown 18 saves, made no moves to improve its relief core, to the amazement of the team’s fanbase.
- The New York Yankees were thought to be Syndergaard’s top suitor, but the team did not acquire any starting pitching to aid Aaron Boone’s struggling rotation.
What was the biggest move of the deadline this year? Be sure to let us know on Twitter @HomeRunDaily.
Athletics Acquire Tanner Roark
As part of the deal, outfielder Jamerson Hannah will be heading to Cincinnati, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, the Reds will pick up $2.1 million of Roark’s remaining salary.
Astros Acquire Martin Maldonado
As part of the deal, outfielder/second baseman Tony Kemp will be heading to the Cubs, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome.
Maldonado has posted a .217/.285/.349 slash line this season.
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