2019 MLB predictions preview: Player Awards

All week long we have been counting down the days to Opening Day of the 2019 MLB season. This year the season opens up on Thursday, March 2019 with all 30 teams coming out swinging for the fences. We could’ve said that the MLB season has already been underway after the Seattle Mariners swept the Oakland Athletics 2-0 in their two games in Tokyo, Japan a week ago.

But before we get to opening day, Fourth Quarter Sports wants to finish what we started and that is giving you our picks for the awards and playoffs leading all the way to the World Series.

Chris Sale” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We have already given you all our takes on each division and what we think will happen throughout the season. But now it’s time to see who we think will win each of the major awards in the Major Leagues. There are four specific awards that we will be focusing on this season and we will break them up by the league.

Let’s start with the American League awards

 

Rookie of the Year

Dan– OF Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays)

Rahim– OF Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays)

Aman– OF Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays)

Dennis– OF Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays)

Adam– OF Eloy Jimenez (Chicago White Sox)

Mickayeen– OF Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays)

Adam is the only one that didn’t go with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but let’s see if he knows what he’s talking about! Junior is the clear favorite if he can stay healthy, but Jimenez could find himself in a lot of nice positions to drive-in runs.

 

AL Cy Young Winner

Dan Justin Verlander (Houston Astros)

Rahim– Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox)

Aman– Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox)

Dennis– Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox)

Adam– Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox)

Mickayeen– Gerrit Cole (Houston Astros)

Many of us believe that Chris Sale’s new contract will give him the extra boat of confidence this season as he looks to be the best pitcher of all the pitchers in the league. It will also be the first career Cy Young award for Sale as he leads the Red Sox’ back to a possible World Series.

 

AL Manager of the Year

Dan– Brad Asmus (Los Angeles Angels)

Rahim– Brad Asmus (Los Angeles Angels)

Aman– Brad Asmus (Los Angeles Angels)

Dennis– Kevin Cash (Tampa Bay Rays)

Adam– Rocco Baldelli (Minnesota Twins)

Mickayeen– Brad Asmus (Los Angeles Angels)

Could this be the year that Angels finally take back the division? The Angels may not be able to pass the Houston Astros just yet, but Brad Asmus is good for the team and Mike Trout.

 

AL Most Valuable Player

Dan– 3B Alex Bregman (Houston Astros)

Rahim– OF Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)

Aman– OF Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)

Dennis– OF Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)

Adam– OF Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)

Mickayeen– 3B Alex Bregman (Houston Astros)

When I said that Asmus was good for Trout, I meant it! Although, I think that Bregman has finally came along as one of the best players in baseball. Bregman will look to continue off from his strong performance last year.

After deciding between Bregman or Trout in the American League, let’s turn our attention to the National league and see where we differ here.

 

NL Rookie of the Year

Dan- 1B Peter Alonso (New York Mets)

Rahim– OF Victor Robles (Washington Nationals)

Aman– OF Victor Robles (Washington Nationals)

Dennis– OF Victor Robles (Washington Nationals)

Adam– SS Fernando Tatis Jr. (San Diego Padres)

Mickayeen– SS Fernando Tatis Jr. (San Diego Padres)

We all could agree that Robles role with the Nationals will be huge as he’ll be asked to fill the shoes of Bryce Harper. But can he win the rookie of year or will it be Tatis Jr. or Alonso?

 

NL Cy Young Winner

Dan– Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals)

Rahim– Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Aman– Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals)

Dennis– Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals)

Adam– Jack Flaherty (St. Louis Cardinals)

Mickayeen– Noah Syndergard (New York Mets)

This is where things get interesting. Scherzer is a clear favorite to win the award again this year, but we would all like to see how the competition plays out.

 

NL Manager of the Year

Dan– Gabe Kapler (Philadelphia Phillies)

Rahim– Gabe Kapler (Philadelphia Phillies)

Aman– Brian Snitker (Atlanta Braves)

Dennis– Dave Martinez (Washington Nationals)

Adam– Mike Shildt (St. Louis Cardinals)

Mickayeen– Clint Hurdle (Pittsburgh Pirates)

This one also goes several different ways, but I would like to see if Kapler can actually manager the stacked Phillies team to a winning season and a division title.

 

NL Most Valuable Player

Dan– OF Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies)

Rahim– 1B Paul Goldschmidt (St. Louis Cardinals)

Aman– OF Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies)

Dennis– OF Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies)

Adam– 1B Paul Goldschmidt (St. Louis Cardinals)

Mickayeen– 3B Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies)

Will Harper’s move result in a MVP, or maybe Goldschmidt’s trade can get him his first MVP of his career? Can Arenado prove that his contract is worth all the money he’s getting from the extension? Let’s see who the best player in the National League will be!

NL central Preview

2019 MLB predictions preview: NL Central

As if this division wasn’t already tough to decide, the St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest acquisition makes them an easy favorite in the division. However, the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs have led this division for the past three years, and they won’t go out easily.

The Cubs and Brewers both made the playoffs last year, and it’s very likely they’ll make it again. So let’s look at all the transactions these teams have made and predict who wins the division! 

NL Central Preview
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha – 2013 NLDS Game 4, Cardinals at Pirates” by Colleen_S is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1. St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2018 Record – 88-74
  • Postseason result – Missed playoffs

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Acquired first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt in trade from D-backs for pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, infielder Andy Young, and a 2019 first-round round draft pick
  • Signed relief pitcher Andrew Miller (Indians)
  • Signed catcher Matt Wieters (Nationals, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Pitcher Tyson Ross (Tigers)
  • Starting pitcher Luke Weaver (Goldschmidt trade)
  • Closer Bud Norris (Blue Jays, minor)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

In what may be the best division in baseball, the Cardinals are looking to build off of a strong finish in 2018 and will take over in the stacked NL Central in 2019.

The pitching staff is talented, they’re young, and they’re led by 18-game winner and sixth-place Cy Young finisher, Miles Mikolas. Carlos Martinez (27), Jack Flaherty (23), and Michael Wacha (27) are the young guns in the middle of the rotation and combined for 24 wins last year. Future ace Flaherty will have a Cy Young-caliber season, but the health of the rest of the staff (Wacha and Martinez) is worth monitoring. Is this the end for Adam Wainwright?

Andrew Miller had a “down year” in 2018, but at 33 years-old, still struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings. Miller is a perfect veteran addition to lead a talented, young bullpen and will be the set-up man for closer Jordan Hicks. Hicks must cut down his walk totals, and if he does, could become the next great closer with his 100+-mph fastball.

Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt at the top of the lineup is unfair for opposing pitching staffs. Their presence at the top of the lineup will mean big numbers for Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina. Dexter Fowler should have less pressure and have a bounce-back year, and youngster Harrison Bader could blossom into one of the best outfielders in the NL. The Cardinals have a deep bench with Jose Martinez (19 HR, 83 RBI), Jedd Gyorko (11 HR, 47 RBI), and Tyler O’Neill (9 HR). St. Louis committed the most errors in MLB last year and must clean up their defense in order to compete for an NL Central title, but adding Goldy may prove to be the best off-season move by any team.

The big question is, can the starting staff stay healthy enough to help carry an offense that is nearly a lock to produce, and can they clean up their team defense? Pitching and defense win championships, and if they can clean up those areas, this team is ready for a run.

  • Prediction: 97-65

 

NL Central Preview
“Christian Yelich” by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

2. Milwaukee Brewers

  • 2018 record –  96-67
  • Postseason result – Lost to Dodgers in seven games in NLCS

Off-season acquisitions: 

  • Signed catcher Yasmani Grandal (Dodgers)
  • Signed second baseman Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Starting pitcher Wade Miley (Astros)
  • Outfielder Curtis Granderson (Marlins)
  • Relief pitcher Joakim Soria (A’s)
  • Starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (free agent)
  • Second baseman Jonathan Schoop (Twins)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Brewers used a magical September to force a one-game winner-take-all game and defeat the Cubs to win the NL Central in 2018. Fueled by a video game-like run by Christian Yelich – who went on to win the MVP – the Brewers won the Central for the first time since 2011.

For 2019, the Crew will be able to rely on a lineup that, top to bottom, may be one of the best in the NL. Fueled by Lorenzo Cain at the top, Yelich and the rest of the Crew will be able to feast on NL pitching yet again. Yelich had a quiet 2018 postseason compared to his play over the final two months of the year, but the Brewers are built to score runs. Ryan Braun may not be an everyday player anymore, but the lifetime Brewer is still a threat whenever he’s in the lineup.

Reliever Josh Hader became a household name last year, propelling himself into one of the top weapons in the game coming out of the ‘pen. Hader and his 15.8 K/9 was feared by opposing managers, and that will continue for some time, as Hader is only 24-years old. Joined by revivals from flamethrowers Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress, the Brewers have cooked up the bullpen recipe needed for postseason success.

Starting pitching will be interesting to watch, as the Brewers overachieved in that department last year. Is Jhoulys Chacin the real deal, or was his career year just a fluke? And how big will the losses of starters Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley impact the staff? Hader may be a weapon, but if he gets overused and gets hurt, the Brewers lose a huge dimension of their team.

The big question for the Brewers won’t be their offense or loaded bullpen, but their starting pitching. Can the Brewers’ starters prove 2018 wasn’t a fluke and help propel the Crew one step further into October?

  • Prediction: 93-69

 

NL Central Preview
Cubs starter Jon Lester delivers a pitch during the first inning of #NLCS Game 5.” by Arturo Pardavila III is licensed under CC BY 2.0

3. Chicago Cubs

  • 2018 record – 95-68
  • Postseason result – Lost 1-0 to Colorado in Wild Card one-game playoff

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Signed infielder Daniel Descalso (D-backs)
  • Signed relief pitcher Brad Brach (Braves)
  • Signed relief pitcher Xavier Cedeno (Brewers, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Second baseman Daniel Murphy (Rockies)
  • Relief pitcher Justin Wilson (Mets)
  • Relief pitcher Jesse Chavez (Rangers)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Cubs staggered down the stretch in 2018, plagued by a tired pitching staff and ineffective offense, unable to reach the NLCS for the first time under Joe Maddon.

Jon Lester – an 18-game winner in 2018 – is 35 and must continue to defy age as the ace of the pitching staff. Surrounded by Cole Hamels, the oft-injured Yu Darvish, and above average back-end starters Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs need to get back to 2016 numbers if they want to go anywhere this year.

The bullpen, who finished with an NL-best 3.35 ERA, performed well, but was tired at the end of the season. Closer Brandon Morrow returns from injury and gives the Cubs a top-tier option at closer after the Cubs went closer-by-committee much of last year. The big problem for the bullpen was walks, as they surrendered 273 free passes, fifth-most in MLB. The hiring of 37-year old Tommy Hottovy as pitching coach could help spark the entire staff, but he is now the third pitching coach in three years.

After faltering down the stretch, the Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis and hired Anthony Lapoche to hopefully add a spark to an offense that had the third-fewest RBI in MLB with runners in scoring position. Javy Baez is a superstar and finished runner-up in the MVP voting. Anthony Rizzo had another fantastic season after a miserably slow start, and Kris Bryant needs to return to MVP form after battling injuries most of the year. Super-utility player Ben Zobrist continues to defy age, having one of the best seasons of his career at age 37 and will remain a valuable piece to Joe Maddon’s roster chess game. Willson Contreras must be more consistent, but the Cubs did nothing to provide him with a veteran backup at catcher.

The big question for the Cubs is, will a third hitting and pitching coach in as many years affect what the Cubs have built? Is that the answer to propelling them back into World Series contention? Anymore, it’s World Series or bust for Cubs fans. 

  • Prediction: 90-72

 

NL Central Preview
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19)” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

4. Cincinnati Reds

  • 2018 record – 67-95
  • Postseason result – None

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Acquired outfielder Matt Kemp, outfielder Yasiel Puig, starting pitcher Alex Wood, and catcher Kyle Farmer from Dodgers for starting pitcher Homer Bailey and prospects
  • Acquired starting pitcher Tanner Roark in trade with Nationals
  • Acquired starting pitcher Sonny Gray in trade with Yankees
  • Signed relief pitcher Zach Duke (Mariners)

Off-season departures:

  • Starting pitcher Homer Bailey (trade with Dodgers)
  • Outfielder Billy Hamilton (Royals)
  • Starting pitcher Matt Harvey (Angels)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

Wow. What an off-season for the Reds. Trying to keep pace with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers, the Reds made a snowstorm of moves and acquired three starting pitchers and two all-star outfielders.

Wood, Roark, and Gray will now highlight the front-end of a rotation that includes promising youngster Luis Castillo, who led the Reds in innings last year. Alex Wood remains an injury risk, but top to bottom, the Reds rotation is now a formidable one. Pair a solid rotation with some very nice bullpen pieces in Michael Lorenzen (81 inn., 3.11 ERA), Jared Hughes (72 G, 1.94 ERA) and budding superstar closer Raisel Iglesias (30 SV, 2.38 ERA), and the Reds pitching staff could make some noise.

Joey Votto remains one of the best at getting on base in all of baseball, and he’s surrounded by holdover on-base fiends Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, and Jose Peraza. Jesse Winkler will become a household name in 2019 with an opportunity to play a full season. Add in Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to a lineup already littered with talent, and the Reds will surprise people this season. The Reds will have to score runs to keep up with the rest of the NL Central, and they may have made all the right moves to do just that.

The big question for the Reds will be, can the new stable of starting pitching give them an opportunity to compete and not make every game a track meet? Scoring runs won’t be a problem, but consistent pitching may be. 

  • Prediction: 84-78

 

NL central Preview
Starling Marte” by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

  • 2018 record – 82-79
  • Postseason result – None

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Signed outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall (Indians)
  • Signed starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (Tigers, minor)
  • Signed outfielder Melky Cabrera (Indians)

Off-season departures:

  • Second baseman Josh Harrison (Tigers)
  • Shortstop Jordy Mercer (Tigers)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Pirates did little to improve a roster that was middle of the pack in 2018. In fact, they didn’t re-sign middle infielders Josh Harrison or Jordy Mercer, opting to replace the two longtime Pirates with a trio of youngsters in Erik Gonzalez, Kevin Newman, and Adam Frazier. Frazier will likely lead off and had mild success from that spot in 2018, but the Pirates lack firepower behind him, outside of Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. The Pirates ranked 25th in home runs in 2018 with 157, and that number won’t get much better in 2019.

Chris Archer headlines a decent rotation, but Archer hasn’t displayed the same kind of dominance he showed while with the Rays. Jameson Tallion and Trevor Williams are decent middle-of-the-rotation arms, each finishing with sub-3.20 ERAs. Outside of those three, starting pitching is a big question mark for Pittsburgh, with Nick Kingham and Joe Musgrove rounding out the starting five. Closer Felipe Vasquez may be the best player on the Pirates, as he finished 2018 ranked sixth in MLB and third in the NL with 37 saves. If Pittsburgh falls out of contention, Vasquez, Tallion, Williams, and Archer could be hot names at the trade deadline.

The big question for the Pirates is…is it time to rebuild? Or will the team play carefree with little expectations and play spoiler in the loaded NL Central?

  • Prediction: 70-92

 

NL CENTRAL PREDICTIONS

  1. St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (Wild Card, 93-69)
  3. Chicago Cubs (Wild Card, 90-72)
  4. Cincinnati Reds (84-78)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92)

*Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and ESPN

 

 

The Canton Worthy: Head Coaches

On the eve of the Super Bowl, the National Football League will announce the newest members to its Hall of Fame. There are 15 finalists.

Among those 15 are two head coaches, four offensive linemen, one defensive lineman, three safeties, two corners, one tight end, one wide receiver and one running back.

In a series of four articles, I’m going to break down the candidates based on four categories: Coaches, Linemen, the Secondary and the Playmakers.

In today’s first article, I’m looking at the two head coaches who made the final cut.

Pro Football Hall of Fame” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Tom Flores: Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, 1979-1987 & Seattle Seahawks, 1992-1994

In nine years as the head coach of the Raiders, Tom Flores led the team to two Super Bowl victories. With his Raiders winning Super Bowl XV in 1980, Flores became the first minority head coach to take home the league’s ultimate prize. Another incredible feat is that Flores’ Raiders won the Super Bowl once while in Oakland (Super Bowl XV) and once while in Los Angeles (Super Bowl XVIII). Overall with the Raiders, he went 83-53 and 8-3 in the playoffs, winning the AFC West on three separate occasions to go along with his championship rings.

His success, though, would not continue in his second stop with the Seattle Seahawks. Between 1989-1991, he was the team’s president and general manager. In those three seasons, Seattle never reached the playoffs, going a collective 23-25. Between 1992-1994, Flores was the team’s head coach and general manager, and it got worse. After going 2-14 in 1992, the Seahawks went 6-10 in each of the next two seasons. As Seattle’s head coach, Flores went a horrendous 14-34.

There are 23 head coaches in the National Football League Hall of Fame. Only six of them finished with fewer than 100 career victories. Of those six, four finished their coaching careers before 1951. The two remaining head coaches are Vince Lombardi (who won five championships, including two Super Bowls) and Bill Walsh (who won three Super Bowls). Unfortunately, Flores is not on their level.

 

Don Coryell: St. Louis Cardinals, 1973-1977 & San Diego Chargers, 1978-1986

And, for that matter, neither is Don Coryell, an offensive-mastermind who brought into football a new air with his high-octane offenses. Coryell started off coaching the woeful St. Louis Cardinals for five seasons. He even took them to the playoffs twice, in 1974 and 1975. Both trips were one-and-done. With the Cardinals, Coryell managed to go 42-27-1 with only one losing season.

Then he headed to San Diego, where he made waves in nine years leading the Chargers. Mainly with quarterback Dan Fouts at the helm, between 1978-1986, the Chargers finished in the top five in yards eight times (including leading the league five times) and in points scored five teams (leading the league three times). “Air Coryell,” as his offense came to be known, was critical to the team’s success. But he only took the Chargers to the playoffs four times, winning a collective four playoff games, losing in the AFC Championship game twice. His final years were mediocre with a high being an 8-8 record in 1985. He was fired after a 1-7 start to 1986.

In the end he finished with a 111-83-1 record and went 3-6 in the playoffs with zero championship appearances. For comparison’s sake, there are only three head coaches in the Hall of Fame with zero championships. Two of those coaches, Marv Levy and Bud Grant, took their teams to four Super Bowls. The third, George Allen, reached the Super Bowl once, but finished with a much higher winning percentage (.712) than Coryell (.572).

While Coryell’s offense may have changed the league—for a time, at least—it just isn’t enough to justify enshrining him in Canton.

Buy or Sell: Cowboys vs Colts, AFC North, Goldschmidt trade

In this week’s edition of Buy or Sell, Joel, RahimAli and I take a look at if the Colts can end yet another winning streak this weekend. We also discuss if the Ravens, with only three games left, can overcome the Steelers in the AFC North. Finally, we wrap up talking about the winners and losers of the recent blockbuster trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks.

44632276174_91cd0ac014_k.jpg
Matt Harvey, Paul Goldschmidt” by Hayden Schiff is licensed under CC BY 2.0

RahimAli: After Ending the Texans’ Winning Streak, the Colts Will End the Cowboys’ Winning Streak This Weekend

Cullen: Selling the Colts. The Colts have been inconsistent the past two weeks. Against one highly ranked defense, they were shut out, 6-0. Against another, they won, 24-21.

What will this team do against yet another highly ranked defense? And this team features a potent offense, too, led by the trio of Dak Prescott, Zeke Elliott and Amari Cooper. Neither the Jaguars nor Texans featured as potent of an offense (though Houston’s has the potential).

Thankfully for the Colts, this game will take place in Indianapolis. However, that home-field advantage won’t be enough, and the Cowboys will keep their winning streak going.

Joel: I’m going to sell the Colts ending the Cowboys’ five-game winning streak. And no, it’s not just because I’m a Cowboys fan.

I don’t think this will be an easy game for the Cowboys, as they have to face the No. 8 ranked offense (points per game) of the Colts. Andrew Luck has been playing pretty well lately, but like Cullen said, this offense has been inconsistent over the last two weeks. Dallas currently has the No. 2 defense (points allowed), which will present a challenge for Luck and his offense.

One reason why the Cowboys have been so good defensively this season, is because defensive backs coach Kris Richard has done an outstanding job of taking away the opposing offense’s best weapon. For example, last week against the Eagles, Dallas held TE Zach Ertz to five catches for 38 yards. They held Wentz’ best weapon in check and forced other players to make plays. I feel like they’ll do the same against the Colts, probably focusing on T.Y. Hilton. If they can take away him or whoever their primary target is in this game, things will be a lot more difficult for Luck.

There’s also the fact that the Colts rank 24th in rush offense, while the Cowboys rank third in rush defense. If they can shut down the run game, as they usually do, it will make things even more difficult for Luck. Although I do think the Cowboys will win, I don’t think it’s going to be a blowout. Dallas almost never blows anyone out. They like to let teams hang around right until the very end for whatever reason.

Joel: The Baltimore Ravens, Not the Pittsburgh Steelers, Will Win the AFC North

Cullen: Thanks to their Week One tie against the Browns, the Steelers are currently juuuuust ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North. But the teams have drastically different schedules the rest of the way.

Pittsburgh hosts New England this Sunday before traveling to New Orleans. Then they’ll be wrapping things up at home against Cincinnati. That is a tough schedule to end the season. In the coming weeks, the Patriots and Saints still have a lot left to fight for, so they won’t be resting starters. Plus, the Steelers are still down James Conner, who apparently won’t play again this week. The Steelers need to win one of their next two, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

Baltimore, meanwhile, has officially moved on to Lamar Jackson, who played solidly against the Chiefs last weekend. No, the Ravens didn’t win, but were that game in Baltimore, they probably would have. To end the season, Baltimore welcomes Tampa Bay before traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers. The team’s final game comes at home versus Cleveland. None of these three are cakewalks, and yet the Ravens should win at least two of them: against the bumbling Bucs and surging Browns. The game against the Chargers is a toss-up.

So, if what I think will happen happens, then the Steelers will finish 8-7-1 and the Ravens will finish 9-7. By winning percentage, the Ravens prevail. So I buy.

RahimAli: I buy into the idea the Ravens will win the AFC North! The Steelers just don’t look like the same Steelers team many people probably had making it to the Super Bowl. At least almost everyone here at Fourth Quarter Sports thought it was going to be the Steelers or Patriots representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. Of course, this was before any of us knew about Le’Veon Bell missing the whole season because of his contract (yes, contract, not an injury or suspension like in the past). To be honest, that is what has hurt the Steelers more.

They have focused all their attention on the Triple B’s over the years and it impacted them earlier in the season. Like Cullen said, thanks to the tie with the Cleveland Browns in the season opener, that will be the biggest difference maker for the Steelers winning the division. The Steelers’ defense isn’t all that great and their offense has been inconsistent. What was once a 7-2-1 team with a two and a half game lead over the Baltimore Ravens is now a half game lead after three straight losses.

In our weekly picks, I really wanted to pick the Steelers to beat the Patriots, but I just don’t think they have what it takes to win. If it’s not Big Ben throwing interceptions in the end zone, it’s Antonio Brown not being the AB we all know. Or it’s the struggling run game, which was pretty nonexistent against Raiders last week. Was it because of the Conner injury? No, I think it’s the lack of effort and intensity the team is giving.

I mean, let’s look at the Ravens and what they have done. Three straight wins with a back-up rookie quarterback and a much easier road ahead of them. I’m sorry to say it  Steelers fans, but your chance at making playoffs is over, especially if you don’t win two of the next three games. I mean, honestly, the record Cullen predicted could actually happen. If it does, the Steelers, a preseason AFC favorite, will miss the playoffs all together. Oh well! Go Ravens!

Cullen: Both the Cardinals and Diamondbacks Won in the Paul Goldschmidt Trade

RahimAli: I buy this! Regardless of the prospects the Diamondbacks received, I love this move for both teams!

For the Diamondbacks, it’s all about the future. They knew their chances of keeping a player like Goldschmidt would be costly. They frankly don’t have the type of money to be tied down to an aging veteran who is still at the top of his game. I mean, the Diamondbacks don’t want to have a terrible contract attached to them like the one the Baltimore Orioles have in their Chris Davis 7-year, $161 million deal. I doubt that Goldschmidt will ever be as bad as Crush has been, but at least they will be able to have more young pieces to add to an already young team and hopefully be able to rebuild for it!

For the Cardinals, it’s about ending their postseason drought and making it back into the playoffs as a Wild Card or knocking off the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. Both the Cubs and Brewers have continuously made moves to make themselves better. Now it’s time for Cardinals to join in. The Cardinals have Goldschmidt and Ozuna together. That gives them the best chance to improve on what was nearly a postseason for them last year.

They also don’t have anything holding them back in terms of wanting to win it all now. For them, it is exactly that! With catcher Yadier Molina nearly at the end of his time with the club, and all these other young players coming through, it’s about the time for the  Cardinals to win it again! And after this season, if they don’t like what they get out of Goldschmidt, or he didn’t work well with what they had planned, they can let him walk into free agency and let another team pay him the money he’s going to earn.

That’s probably what makes this deal so good for both teams. The fact that neither one will really be Impacted by the decision that is made by the end of this time next year. I would really hope that Goldschmidt would cap the 2019 season off with an MVP honors!

Joel: I’m going to sell this trade being a win for both teams.

I do think it’s a win for the Cardinals, but not the Diamondbacks. The Cardinals are getting a spectacular player in Goldschmidt. He’s a consistent player who will help a team that wasn’t too far away from making the playoffs last season. This trade could put them into the playoffs this coming season. They did give up a couple of nice pieces, but I think Goldschmidt’s consistency and big-time playmaking ability outweighs that.

I don’t like it for the Diamondbacks because of what I’ve previously said about them trading Goldschmidt. I would have waited until closer to the trade deadline. Who knows? The Diamondbacks may have been able to really compete for a playoff spot this coming season. It’s not like they were too far away from making the playoffs last season with a record of 82-80. I feel like the Diamondbacks maybe forced themselves into a rebuilding period just because several people thought that’s what was going on.

This definitely isn’t one of the worst trades I’ve seen, but I wouldn’t call the Diamondbacks winners. I think the Cardinals got the better end of the deal on this one.

*************************************************************************************

And there you have it! Now, what do you think?

  • Can the Colts snap the Cowboys’ winning streak like they did against the Titans?
  • In the final three weeks, can the Ravens overcome a half game deficit to win the AFC North?
  • Was the Paul Goldschmidt trade a win-win for all involved?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Mount Rushmore: National League Central

Jenkins_31.JPG
Ferguson Jenkins” by ScottRAnselmo is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Chicago Cubs

  • 1B/SS Ernie Banks, 1953-1971
  • SP Fergie Jenkins, 1966-1973, 1982-1983
  • LF Billy Williams, 1959-1974
  • 3B Ron Santo, 1960-1973

Banks (“Mr. Cub”), Jenkins and Santo were easy picks for me. All three are Hall of Famers. Banks spent his entire career with the Cubs, collecting over 500 home runs and 2,500 hits to go along with consecutive MVP awards in 1958 and 1959.

During his first stint with the Cubs, Jenkins won at least 20 games six different times while earning the 1971 Cy Young Award.

Santo, meanwhile, would spend all but his final year with the Cubs, winning five Gold Gloves at the hot corner while reaching the All-Star Game nine times.

The final spot gave me some pause, as I considered three players for it: Hall of Famer Billy Williams, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa. Sosa will always have a spot in my heart, as I’m a firm believer he and Mark McGwire helped save the game of baseball with their home run chase in 1999. Yet, I also recognize his numbers are tainted.

Ultimately, I went with Williams over Sandberg, as the outfielder had better overall numbers even though Sandberg collected more accolades.

1066px-Pete_Rose_2008.jpg
Pete Rose” by Kjunstorm is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cincinnati Reds

  • OF/1B Pete Rose, 196-3-1978, 1984-1986
  • C Johnny Bench, 1967-1983
  • 2B Joe Morgan, 1972-1979
  • OF Frank Robinson, 1956-1965

Bench, the game’s greatest defensive catcher, was a no-brainer. For the most part, so was Pete Rose. Yes, he’s been banned from the game, but he shouldn’t be. He deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

For Morgan and Robinson, I had a bit of digging to do, mainly because they didn’t spend as much time with the Reds as did the other player I was contemplating: SS Barry Larkin. Morgan’s time in Cincinnati was too dominant to pass, though, as he helped the team to consecutive World Series titles in 1975 and 1976, winning the MVP both of those years.

Neither Robinson nor Larkin won a World Series with the Reds, though both were on pennant-winning clubs. But Robinson’s numbers surpassed Larkin’s. Sure, the two were completely different players in completely different eras, but I’m giving the edge to Robinson, who averaged a higher WAR per season while with the Reds than Larkin.

1280px-Robin_Yount.jpg
Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount.” by Scott Ableman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Milwaukee Brewers

  • SS/CF Robin Yount, 1974-1993
  • 3B/DH Paul Molitor, 1978-1992

Here’s the thing about the Milwaukee Brewers: last season and 1982 withstanding, they have not been a good franchise. Hence, only half of Milwaukee’s Mount Rushmore has been filled in. Granted, Young and Molitor–both Hall of Famers, both in the 3,000-hit club–were spectacular. But after them you’ve got…Rob Deer? Ryan Braun? Prince Fielder?

And as far as pitchers go–yikes. CC Sabathia had a memorable stint with the Brewers in 2008 that lasted all of 18 games. Zack Greinke got out of there as quickly as he could. Would-be Hall of Fame pitchers Rollie Fingers, Don Sutton and Trevor Hoffman all played for the Brewers as their careers were winding down.

For that matter, so did the (former? rightful?) Home Run King, Henry Aaron.

Maybe someday Christian Yelich’s face will be up there with Yount’s and Molitor’s.

1280px-Wilver_(Willie)_Stargell_Statue_(9370434395).jpg
Wilver (Willie) Stargell Statue” by David Brossard is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • RF Roberto Clemente, 1955-1972
  • SS Honus Wagner, 1900-1917
  • LF/1B Willie Stargell, 1962-1982
  • RF Paul Waner, 1926-1940

The first spot undoubtedly goes to Clemente, who died in a plane crash after the 1972 season and who collected exactly 3,000 hits during his Hall of Fame career.

Wagner gets the nod, too, as he’s the one exception to my rule of not picking anyone who played the majority or entirety of his career during the Dead-Ball Era. His numbers are too good and he’s too much of an influential figure in baseball’s history to put on the sidelines.

Stargell finished just shy of 500 career home runs, but he led the Pirates to multiple World Series titles during his career, the entirety of which he spent in Pittsburgh. Making seven All-Star squads, he also helped keep the franchise afloat after Clemente’s death.

With Paul Waner, I once and for all settle the greatest Pittsburgh debate: Paul or Lloyd? Paul. It’s always been Paul.

246301261_b63935f5c3_b.jpg
Wide Stance” by Dave Herholz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2B Rogers Hornsby, 1915-1926, 1933
  • SP Bob Gibson, 1959-1975
  • 1B/LF Stan Musial, 1941-1963
  • 1B/LF/3B Albert Pujols, 2001-2011

Really, an embarrassment of riches for the St. Louis franchise, from the Gashouse Gang through a dominant 1960’s squad, through a 1980’s team that reached three World Series, to Tony La Russa’s tenure, which stretched from 1996-2011 and included three trips to the World Series with two titles. The other four I considered for spots were shortstop Ozzie Smith, starting pitcher Dizzy Dean, third baseman Ken Boyer and left-fielder Lou Brock.

Much like Wagner with the Pirates, Hornsby is one of the key figures in baseball’s formative years, and he played the bulk of his career with the Cardinals. His numbers for that time-period are astounding.

Gibson led staffs that played in three World Series in the 1960’s, winning two. In the year they lost, 1968, he had one of the greatest years ever by a starting pitcher, going 22-9, completing 28 of the 35 games he started and leading the league in strikeouts with 268. He won not only the Cy Young, but also the MVP. Oh, and his ERA? 1.12.

Pujols is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he decides to hang ’em up. (Which may be sooner than later.) During his first 11 seasons, all with the Cardinals, he slashed .302/.382/.554 to go with 445 home runs, 455 doubles, 1,291 runs and 1,329 RBI. He made the All-Star team nine times, won Rookie of the Year in 2001 before collecting three MVP awards, and also won the World Series twice, in 2006 and 2011.

But the best Cardinal of them all was Stan “the Man” Musial, who missed all of the 1945 season due to Military Service. He would finish his Hall of Fame career with 475 career home runs, 725 doubles, 1,949 runs scored and 3,630 hits. He won three MVP awards to go with three World Series titles (he was also the general manager of the World Series-winning 1967 squad), seven batting titles, and 24 (!)* All-Star Game appearances.

*MLB played two All-Star Games from 1959-1962.

All in 22 seasons. Each and every single one of them with St. Louis.

Potential Landing Spots for Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals” by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

While the World Series rages on, it’s never too early to look toward the offseason. This offseason appears to be much more entertaining than last year. In the 2017 offseason, 1B Eric Hosmer (!) got the biggest deal from the San Diego Padres (!!) when they agreed to an eight-year, $144 million deal.

The 2018 offseason will feature two, and possibly three, premiere players hitting the market. Two of the them currently play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a squad looking for its first World Series title in thirty years–3B/SS Manny Machado, and, should he choose to opt-out, SP Clayton Kershaw.

But without a doubt, the biggest fish on the market is OF Bryce Harper. Harper, a former number one overall pick by the Washington Nationals, who will be only 26 years-old at the start of the 2019 campaign, could have as many as half of the league’s 30 teams make pitches to him, if not more.

Here, I’m going to look at a dozen of those teams who have at least a shot at signing him. I break down those twelve teams into four categories, starting with a quintet of teams who don’t exactly need Harper, but will nonetheless chase him.

 

Group 1: The Lottery Ticket

Chicago Cubs

It looked sunny on the north side of Chicago after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. A young core of players under club control buoyed by a solid group of veterans made it look like the Cubs would contend for championship after championship.

Instead, the Cubs lost the 2017 NLCS in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This year they lost the N.L. Central tiebreaker game to the Milwaukee Brewers before getting bounced in the Wild Card by the Colorado Rockies. Both losses happening at Wrigley.

Adding Harper would boost an offense that slacked in the final month of the season. Bryce Harper, mainly a rightfielder, would supplant the disappointing Jason Heyward, whom the Cubs would try trade, bench, or outright release. The latter move would be quite the admission of mistake by the front office, but it would only happen if Bryce Harper were signed.

The Cubs lineup would then feature right-handed batters Javier Baez, Albert Amora, Wilson Contreras, Addison Russell (after his suspension), and Kris Bryant alongside lefties Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Bryce Harper, whose .889 OPS would have led the Cubs in 2018.

N.L. Central pitchers: beware.

Adding Bryce Harper would not only make the Cubs a favorite to re-take the Central, but would also make them one of the two favorites to represent in the Senior Circuit in the 2019 World Series. The other favorite would be the…

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Adding Bryce Harper won’t be–or, at least, shouldn’t be–the top priority for the Dodgers in the upcoming offseason. Instead, the Dodgers should instead focus on re-signing Machado and, should he opt out, Kershaw.

Could the Dodgers keep those two and add Bryce Harper? Of course. Ownership will be motivated to do so, especially if they fall short of winning the World Series this year. Their current crop of outfielders–Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, Cody Bellinger, and Matt Kemp–will have to be re-shuffled in order to bring aboard Bryce Harper, but that won’t be a detriment to President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman.

Even if the Dodgers come back to win the World Series, they’ll take a look at the most recent two champions, the Cubs and Houston Astros. They’ll realize how hard it is to stay atop the majors, and seek out Harper, luxury tax be damned. Harper’s addition would then give them serious odds at defending their (potential) title, a feat that hasn’t been done since the 1998-2000 edition of the…

 

New York Yankees

Recently, the Bronx Bombers haven’t sat pat during an offseason, but they haven’t spent an earth-shattering amount of money luring superstars away from other teams, either. That could change this year, as it’s expected the Yankees will try to land Machado, Kershaw (if available), and BryceHarper.

Championships aren’t won during the offseason, it’s said, but this would certainly help.

Setting aside Machado for the moment, the Yankees could actually use Kershaw. It was the pitching that doomed New York in the playoffs. The Yanks don’t have an ace on the roster, though Luis Severino is looking like he could become one. Yet, outside of the maybe-available Kershaw, the pitching market isn’t looking too hot. Arizona Diamondbacks’ SP Patrick Corbin leads pitchers looking for rich deals, followed by Houston Astros’ SP Dallas Keuchel.

The Yankees should primarily focus on adding starting pitching. Whether it’s by adding Corbin and Keuchel on free-agent deals or by trading for one. But this being the Yankees, they won’t stop there. Bryce Harper is a generational talent, and though he’d have to shave, imagining him in pinstripes isn’t that questionable.

What would be questioned, though, is what to do with all of those rightfielders.

Adding Harper would give them three everyday rightfielders/designated hitters in Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Bryce Harper can play a little center, too, but it’s not his primary position.

In order to get those three bats in the lineup–and keeping Bryce Harper out of center–one of them could move to left, effectively replacing veteran Brett Gardner, who has a $2 million buyout on his $12.5 million team option for 2019. Losing Gardner would mean losing leadership and depth, but he slashed a mere .236/.322/.368 in 2018. Plus, he’s 35.

Adding Bryce Harper would make the team younger; insert into the lineup a hitter whose OPS would have ranked second on the team in 2018; and keep him away from joining the…

 

Boston Red Sox

Yet another team who doesn’t exactly need Bryce Harper, the Red Sox would certainly join the fray if they lose the World Series. Like the Yankees, adding Bryce Harper would create a logjam in the outfield. Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox don’t have an easy solution, as their current group of outfielders are all young, cost-controllable, and relatively good.

The weakest link is in center with Jackie Bradley Jr., who slashed .234/.314/.403 in 144 games. The Red Sox can’t move Harper or their current RF Mookie Betts to DH, because they’ve got J.D. Martinez there for another four years.

If the Red Sox truly covet Bryce Harper, they’ll make it work. That means trading at least one of the quartet of Bradley Jr., Betts, Martinez, or current leftfielder Andrew Benintendi. Expect the team’s President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, to take a good long look at this scenario if the Sox drop the Fall Classic after defeating the…

 

Houston Astros

Houston won the World Series last year and followed that up with a 103-win regular season. But they got pounded in the American League Championship Series by Boston, losing four straight games to end the series. Still, no merely good team wins 103 games.

And yet Bryce Harper would be an instant upgrade over every single one of their outfielders– and their DH.

What should be noted here is this: Bryce Harper signing with an American League team makes more sense than if he signed with a National League team. Because, as he ages, he won’t be able to play the field anymore. He’ll have to become a designated hitter. And which league has the DH?

The Astros seem like the most analytical team out there, or at least they have that perception. I can see them making an investment in a player, but also protecting that investment better than any other team. Here, the best way to protect that asset is to give that player breaks every so often, to not run him into the ground. If you want that bat in the lineup, you don’t bench the guy: you have him DH.

Right now, the Astros have their rightfielder, Josh Reddick, signed through 2021, but their everyday designated hitter, Evan Gattis, who has underperformed this season, is a free agent this winter. It would be the perfect move for Houston to let Gattis walk (or keep him around to replace Brian McCann as the team’s primary back-up catcher) and replace him with Bryce Harper. They could have Bryce Harper and Reddick split time between playing the field and DH’ing.

Group 2: The Next Step

Philadelphia Phillies

2018 was supposed to be the year for the Phillies, for them to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The National League East was there for the taking, especially with the Nationals faltering.

Yet, under new manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies under-performed, too, ending the season 80-82 and third in the East. The 80 wins, though, represents the team’s most since 2012 and an increase of 14 wins from 2017.

What the Phillies need now is a superstar who can not only help the team even the stakes with the Atlanta Braves in the East, but challenge the Cubs and Dodgers for the National League title.

Heck, adding Bryce Harper would mean the 26-year-old wouldn’t even have to change divisions. In Philadelphia, Harper would join young hitters Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera in the outfield. He’d be replacing another young guy, Nick Williams, but Harper is in a different class than the promising rightfielder.

With Harper’s addition and a solid season from the team’s starting pitchers, the Phillies could return to the top of the East for years.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are another team looking to re-group after missing out on October baseball. While the season came down to the last week for St. Louis, a miss is a miss, and the team has now missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. It was the first time that has happened since 1997-1999. El Birdos would then go on to make the playoffs in 12 of the 16 seasons, winning the World Series in 2006 and 2011.

One thing those World Series winning squads had that the 1997-1999 clubs lacked? A superstar–namely, Albert Pujols. While the team continued its winning ways after Pujols left for Los Angeles Angels, making the playoffs for the first four seasons after his departure, the Cardinals have consistently failed to lure big names to St. Louis.

Signing Bryce Harper would change all that, and would finally solve the Cardinals’ recent rightfield troubles. St. Louis played six different rightfielders in 2018, from the struggling Dexter Fowler (75 games) to (the tripping) rookie Adolis Garcia (seven games). Adding Harper would enable Mike Shildt to play an everyday outfield of Marcell Ozuna in left, Harrison Bader in center, and Harper in right.

Then, hopefully, the Cardinals can get back to their annual playoff trips.

 

Group 3: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Los Angeles Angels

Speaking of Pujols’ Angels, they’ve only reached the playoffs one time since signing him (and C.J. Wilson) back before the 2012 season. In their lone appearance, which came after leading the Majors in wins with 98 in 2014, they got swept by the Kansas City Royals in the divisional round.

That certainly isn’t what the team’s owner, Art Moreno, was expecting when he wrote those big checks to Pujols and Wilson.

Last year, Moreno opened up his wallet yet again, this time to entice DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani to sign from Japan. Yet, the team finished with another losing record, the team’s third straight. Then the team moved on from long-time manager Mike Scioscia, who had been around since 2000 and led the team to a World Series Championship in 2002.

The Angels are more than a player away from contending in the American League, or even the American League West. The Astros, despite getting bounced in the ALCS, look like a strong team for years to come. The Oakland Athletics surprised the hell out of everyone, yet look built for at least a couple of years of sustained success. Even the Seattle Mariners finished above L.A. in the standings.

But with Trout secured for only two more seasons, look for the Angels to have another aggressive offseason. That means going after Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper could slot in the outfield beside Trout and Justin Upton while splitting time DH’ing with Ohtani.

Regardless where new manager Brad Ausmus decides to play him, a lineup consisting of Trout, Ohtani, Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Harper, and, to a lesser extent, Pujols, would be able to put up some runs and challenge the A’s and Mariners for second place in the west and a possible Wild Card berth.

 

San Francisco Giants

The Giants, too, are a team that should strongly consider taking a step (or two) back. That is considering the Major League squad isn’t nearly close to what it looked like between 2010-2014 when San Francisco brought home three World Series titles.

However, with the team retaining manager Bruce Bochy (despite firing general manager Bobby Evans, whose replacement has yet to be named), it looks like the Giants plan on fighting for a playoff spot in 2019.

Now, there were signs of improvement as the Giants went from 64-98 in 2017 to 73-89 in 2018, but even that nine-game jump left the team in fourth place in the National League West.

If the Giants decide to go after Bryce Harper and land him, they can’t stop there. No regular fielder sported an OPS higher than first-baseman Brandon Belt’s .756. The team has next-to-zero pop: 32-year-old third baseman Evan Longoria led the team with 16 home runs, and catcher Buster Posey hit only five.

The Giants also greatly need pitching, as Madison Bumgarner was limited to 21 starts last year. Only one starting pitcher finished with a winning record: Dereck Rodriguez went 6-4 in 19 starts. The staff will get Johnny Cueto back after his season was cut short, but he’ll be 33 at the start of 2019 coming off Tommy John surgery. Not exactly a promising situation.

With Bochy at the helm, expect this team to compete. To compete, they’ll need to bring in great players. This isn’t a small-market team, so ownership will definitely not shy away from trying to nab Bryce Harper.

 

Group 4: The Dark Horse Candidates

New York Mets

Under first-year manager Mickey Callaway, the Mets finished only above the woeful Miami Marlins in the East in 2018. For Callaway to have a third year with New York’s Senior Circuit team, they’ve got some jumping to do.

Unlike previous teams on this list, offense really is the Mets’ biggest problem. The team has excellent pitching led by Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Thor himself, Noah Syndergaard.

While the offense stinks, adding Bryce Harper, would give the Mets three excellent young outfielders around which to build a contender. Michael Conforto, 25, finally got the at-bats in 2018 to show what he can do. He responded by hitting 28 home runs alongside 82 RBI’s and a slash line of .243/.350/.448. Then there’s Brandon Nimmo, also 25, who hit .263/.404/.483 with 17 home runs and 47 RBI’s.

Both Conforto and Nimmo played all three outfield positions last season, so each can play left or center. That would, of course, enable Bryce Harper to play right.

The Mets really shouldn’t stop with adding Bryce Harper, as the rest of the offense is an utter mess. His addition, though, would bring excitement to a rather dull franchise while stealing him away from a divisional rival and keeping him away from the Evil Empire.

This seems like a no-brainer, so of course the Wilpons won’t even consider it.

 

Cleveland Indians

A small-market club that consistently contends, but usually bows out early in the playoffs. Somehow, in 2016, they came just short of the franchise’s first World Series title since 1954: your Cleveland Indians.

The Tribe won 91 games this year, winning the AL Central by a smooth 13 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins. This was the third straight year the Indians won the Central. It was the second straight year they got their you-know-what handed to them in the divisional round of the playoffs.

How much time do the Indians have left? Not a lot, I’d say. To extend that time and/or capitalize on it, they need to bring in someone who can do some damage. After all, during the trading deadline, the one team rumored most to be considering acquiring Harper was the Cleveland Indians. While that move didn’t materialize, it does go to show that the Indians are serious about bringing in a superstar.

Now, I’m not sure the Indians will be able to stomach a Bryce Harper deal. He’s probably going to get something in the range of $25-$30 million per year for a decade. That may be the ultimate sticking point with the Indians. Adding him to a lineup that already boasts Francisco Lindor, José Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion? Dang, the Indians would have little trouble winning a fourth consecutive Central title.

Bryce Harper’s signing would also rejuvenate a team that seemed to coast through 2018. Bringing him aboard would put the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros on notice not to take the Central’s leading team too lightly come 2019.

 

Washington Nationals

This is probably the least likely scenario of them all. Bryce Harper and the Nationals have been through a lot since he debuted back in 2012. (Interestingly, Harper has only led the team in WAR once, back in 2015).

Since 2012, the Nationals have reached the playoffs four times. They have never won a playoff series, losing in the Divisional Series in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. They’ve gone through four managers since Bryce Harper’s arrival. Even Max Scherzer’s signing in 2015 (and his subsequent dominance) hasn’t changed the fact that the Nationals are not a team built to win.

Though the Nationals may not be ready to move on, Bryce Harper is, and most likely will.

***

What do you think? Where do you think Bryce Harper will land? Where do you want him to land? Let us know in the comments!

The Fade Away: Witnessing the Sad, Slow Decline of Albert Pujols

17609367198_0f71db343d_o.jpg
Albert Pujols” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Cullen Jekel

Back on July 15, 2005, I attended my last St. Louis Cardinals game at the old Busch Stadium (or, if you remember Sportsman Park, Busch II).

The Cardinals, who in the previous year won the pennant for the first time in manager Tony La Russa‘s tenure, were battling the Houston Astros. Andy Pettitte, a future Hall of Famer, was on the mound for Houston against the Cardinals’ Mark Mulder.

This battle of southpaws went into the ninth inning with the Cardinals up 2-1. Closer Jason Isringhausen–like La Russa and Mulder, an ex-Athletic–promptly blew the save. On to extra innings.

And then for the first time in my life, I witnessed what is one of the most exciting plays in baseball: the walk-off home run.

In the 12th inning, suddenly down 3-2, against Chad Harville (I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember him), Cardinals 1B and resident superstar Albert Pujols came to bat with David Eckstein on first. Pujols launched a high fly ball to deep left-center. Houston’s left fielder, Orlando Palmeiro, and center fielder, Willy Taveras, converged on it. Taveras jumped, seemed to have snagged…

but came down empty.

Ball game. Cardinals win, 4-3.

***

Flash-forward a bit over four years. On August 28, 2009, I’m at the new Busch Stadium with my girlfriend, my father, my sister, and her husband.

Since that July 2005 game, the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, and Pujols has added to his lore. The man appears unstoppable (hence his nickname, The Machine), and is in the midst of his third MVP-year of his career, including his second straight.

Against the Washington Nationals that night, the Cardinals saved a solid outing by SP John Smoltz by tying the game at 2 apiece with a Khalil Greene solo home run in the 8th inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Pujols led off the inning against Nationals reliever Jason Bergmann.

And absolutely destroyed a pitch to left. Unlike in 2005, there was no doubt about this one.

Ball game. Cardinals win, 3-2.

***

Albert Pujols played eleven seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting 10 walk-off home runs, including the two described above. He won three Most Valuable Player Awards, made nine All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves, won three pennants, and won two World Series championships.

The second of those World Series championships came in 2011 when the Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers in seven games. After the series, La Russa announced his retirement.

And then Pujols left, signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

***

On August 29, 2018, the Angels announced that Pujols would miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his left leg. He still has three years left on his contact with the Angels, with $28 million due in 2019, $29 million in 2020, and $30 million in 2021, when Pujols will be 41 years old.

To say things have not gone according to plan since he joined the Angels would be an understatement. He’s made the All-Star team just once, and despite playing alongside the game’s best player, Mike Trout, has reached the playoffs just once. That was in 2014, when the Angels had the best record in baseball. They were promptly swept in the divisional round by the Kansas City Royals.

After slashing .328/.420/.617 for eleven years in St. Louis, he’s slashed a mere .260/.315/.453 with L.A.

Pujols missing the rest of the year is no big blow to the Angels. While not mathematically eliminated, they are well out of contention yet again, below .500 once more. Pujols finishes 2018 slashing .245/.289/.411 with 19 home runs and 64 runs batted in. For only the second time in his career (the first being 2013, his second year in L.A.), he’ll finish with below 500 plate appearances.

While undoubtedly a first-ballot, should-be-unanimous future Hall-of-Famer, he’s gone from superstar to below-average player. The Angels may be better off making him ride the pine.

***

That’s what happens when athletes age. It’s unnerving and uncomfortable to watch. Instead of gracefully exiting, they fade out–usually with a different team, usually not on their own terms.

With superstars/future Hall of Famers, it’s worse, because teams will keep giving these guys chances. This happens in all sports. It’s painful to watch a center fielder who can no longer field, a running back who lacks quickness, a quarterback with flailing arm strength or accuracy, or a basketball player with diminished skill.

Think of these guys:

Those guys had little-to-nothing left to give, but because of their statute, they didn’t go quietly in the night. Rather they went gradually, cruelly fading before fans’ eyes as they limped off into the sunset.

Heroes no more.

***

For me, Albert Pujols’ slow fade away out of greatness and into retirement hits closer to home than that of Smith, Mays, Unitas, or Shaq.

I didn’t grow up a Dallas Cowboys fan, so while seeing Smith suiting up for Arizona was shocking, it didn’t sadden me. Same goes with The Big Aristotle–rather a vagabond if you think about it–playing out his days with the Celtics.

Seeing pictures of The Say-Hey Kid worn down with the Mets is jolting, but he last played in 1973, well before I was born. Same with Unitas under center with the Chargers–that also took place in 1973.

With Pujols, it’s different, closer to home. He played for my favorite team. He debuted while I was in middle school. I watched him during my high school years, then college years, then post-graduate years, into adulthood.

It is saddening to watch old highlights of him with the Cardinals followed by current ones with him in a different shade of red.

It hurts watching him limp around the bases and being banished to a DH* role. After all, he started his career as a third baseman before moving to left field. He moved to first base full-time in his fourth season and won two Gold Gloves there. But that was all in St. Louis.

*This year he played more games at 1B than DH–this may have had something to do with his season-ending injury.

For whatever reason, Pujols has faded from the public eye. Overall, it’s disheartening watching him fade while he plays on a noncompetitive team. There is already talk that the Angels may notshould not–bring him back for an eighth season with the team.

If Pujols and the Angels agree to part ways, it would be best for him to hang it up, but there’s going to be some team that will want to bring him on. He’s no longer a threat to break the all-time home run record, yet he would provide leadership to a team and the threat of some pop off the bench.

And so, he’ll retire as an Angel, or a member of some other team–not a member of the team with which he is best known.

He’ll retire on his last legs, fading as we watch him–not a superstar, not the best player on his team. Probably not even a starter.

And he’ll retire, I’m guessing, not after an October playoff push, but rather on a team eliminated, or out of contention, by the beginning of September.

Worst of all, like Willie Mays with the Mets*, not a hero, but the shell of a former one.

*Though Mays indeed retired after playing in the World Series. His Mets lost in seven to the Athletics. Mays appeared in only three games, going 2-for-7.

***

The schedule for the 2019 MLB season was released a couple of weeks ago.

After not visiting St. Louis as a member of the Angels for the last seven years, Albert Pujols will make his return to the Gateway to the West for a series next June.

Here’s to the Cardinals organization properly recognizing him.

Here’s to the Cardinals fans warmly welcoming him back.

Here’s to Albert Pujols bucking the trend, defeating the odds, and gracefully exiting from Major League Baseball.

 

Predicting the Five National League Playoff Teams

35910587386_274d192bdc_o.jpg
Chicago Cubs” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Mickayeen Farner 

With roughly 40 games remaining for each team in Major League Baseball, races for playoff spots are heating up, which sets up perfectly for a little bit of prediction action. If you missed it, you can catch my American League Predictions here. As easy as the American League was to predict, the National League is just as hard with so many close races. With that in mind, let’s get to the predictions!

NL East Champs: Atlanta Braves

This is such an interesting race between two young teams that are probably a year ahead of where they planned on being. RahimAli Merchant wrote a good piece about the Braves and Ronald Acuna Jr. two days ago (which you can see here), and I agree with him. The thing that puts the Braves over the Phillies here is runs scored. The Braves have scored 60 more runs than the Phillies over the year, and they are close enough with most every other statistic (they are only separated by 0.05 team ERA, for example) that the runs scored differential is enough to put the Braves over the top. They also have MVP candidate and leader in NL WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in Freddie Freeman. That, combined with Ronald Acuna Jr. tearing it up, gives the Braves enough to win the division for the first time since 2013.

NL Central Champs: Chicago Cubs

This one is the easiest to predict. As good as the Brewers and Cardinals have been this year, the Cubs have won the division two years in a row and there’s no reason to think that streak will end. They were the first team in the NL to reach 70 wins and they’ve done it without arguably their best player in Kris Bryant, who hasn’t played in about a month. They’ve had enough experience in the pennant race that the heat of a division race shouldn’t make them sweat.

NL West Champs: Colorado Rockies

You can say this is the homer in me, but just as I mentioned in yesterday’s piece about the Oakland Athletics, these Rockies seem to have that inexplicable magic to them. They have the odds-on favorite to win the NL MVP (according to bovada) in Nolan Arenado, and they have two pitchers (Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland) who are top nine in the National League in FanGraphs WAR. Their weakness is clearly their bullpen, which they spent over $100 million on in the offseason. Wade Davis still leads the NL in saves, and Adam Ottovino only has a 1.70 ERA. If those two can continue to anchor the bullpen, the Rockies will win their first division crown in franchise history.

First Wildcard: Arizona Diamondbacks

After losing the division by one game, the Diamondbacks will host the wildcard game for the second year in a row. Paul Goldschmidt is an absolute monster, their pitching staff is great, and their bullpen ERA is second in the league. The only reason I don’t see them winning the division is because I think they peaked at the beginning of the year, whereas the Rockies have yet to peak. They’ll still make it in though.

Second Wildcard: Milwaukee Brewers

This one was another tough call, but the Brewers have simply been playing so great all year that I can’t see them not making it in. After making moves in the offseason for Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, and having Jesús Aguilar play out of his mind, they have the team to punch their ticket to Phoenix for the wildcard playoff game. The only thing that may hold them back is their starting pitching not being stellar. Again, I think they’ve played too great all season to not make it in.

Just Missing Out: Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies 

The Dodgers added some major firepower with Brian Dozier and Manny Machado, but this last week has revealed what I believe will be their downfall: their lack of bullpen depth.

The Cardinals have been on a run lately, and I almost put them ahead of the Brewers, but they haven’t shown the consistency of the Brewers, and that’s why they’ll be on the outside looking in.

Usually I’m very confident in my predictions, but you wouldn’t have to twist my arm to take Philadelphia over Atlanta in the east, and the reason is because they have a bona fide ace in Aaron Nola. Nola is third in the NL in ERA and second in WAR among NL pitchers—just barely behind Max Scherzer. They just aren’t as good as the Brewers or Diamondbacks overall, and they will finish one or two games behind Atlanta. They certainly have a bright future though.

There’s your scorching hot take article. I’m excited to see what your thoughts are!