Clayton Kershaw and the 7th Inning Threshold

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

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

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

2013

10/3/2013 – NLDS vs Atlanta Braves

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

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

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

10/7/2013 – NLDS vs Atlanta Braves

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

Remainder: NA

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

10/12/2013 – NLCS vs St Louis Cardinals

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

Remainder: NA

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

10/18/2013 – NLCS vs St Louis Cardinals

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

Remainder: NA

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

2014

10/3/2014 – NLDS vs St Louis Cardinals

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

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

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

10/7/2014 – NLDS vs St Louis Cardinals

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

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

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

2015

10/9/2015 – NLDS vs New York Mets

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

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

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

10/13/2015 – NLDS vs New York Mets

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

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

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

2016

10/7/2016 – NLDS vs Washington Nationals

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

Remainder: NA

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

10/11/2016 – NLDS vs Washington Nationals

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

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

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

10/16/2016 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

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

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

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

10/22/2016 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

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

Remainder: NA

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

2017

10/6/2017 – NLDS vs Arizona Dbacks

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

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

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

10/14/2017 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

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

Remainder: NA

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

Kershaw and 6 Innings

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Starts for Kershaw Extending Beyond 6 Innings Pitched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs Houston Astros

ALDS Results

The Houston Astros Defeat the Boston Red Sox in Four Games

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

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

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

The New York Yankees Defeat the Cleveland Indians in Five Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Yankees and Astros Match-Up

wRC+

Astros: 121 (1st)

Yankees: 108 (2nd)

wRC+ vs Left-Handed Pitchers

Astros: 120 (1st)

Yankees: 101 (9th)

wRC+ vs Right-Handed Pitchers

Astros: 122 (1st)

Yankees: 110 (2nd)

Defensive Runs

Yankees: -11.6 (23rd)

Astros: -47.1 (29th)

ERA/FIP

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

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

Reliever ERA/FIP

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

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

 

ERA/FIP vs Left-Handed Hitters

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

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

ERA/FIP vs Right-Handed Hitters

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

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

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

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

Players To Watch In The ALCS

Jose Altuve

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

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

Aaron Judge

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

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

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

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

Aroldis Chapman

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

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

Bobby’s ALCS Series Prediction

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

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

The Houston Astros Defeat The New York Yankees in 6 Games

NLDS Review: Los Angeles Dodgers Sweep Arizona Dbacks

Link to NLDS Preview: Arizona Dbacks vs Los Angeles Dodgers 

Dodgers Defeat Dbacks Three Games To None in NLDS

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

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

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

Game One

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

  • 3-2 single from Chris Taylor

  • 3-2 walk to Corey Seager

  • 2-2 home run allowed to Justin Turner

  • 3-2 single from Cody Bellinger

  • 3-2 RBI double from Yasiel Puig

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

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

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

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

Game Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Three

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

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

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

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

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

Video from @pitchingninja Twitter account

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

NLDS Preview Players to Watch Review

JD Martinez

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

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

Robbie Ray

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

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

Clayton Kershaw

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby’s NLDS Series Reflection

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

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

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

NLDS Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Diamondbacks and Dodgers 2017 Regular Season

Arizona Diamondbacks 93-69 (1st NL Wild Card)

2017 for the Diamondbacks wasn’t quite as drastic of a turnaround as the Minnesota Twins, going from 100 losses to the second AL Wild Card spot, but it was huge none the less. After making one of the worst trades in recent memory for Shelby Miller, and signing Zack Greinke to a monster contract, the Diamondbacks flopped to a 69-93 record in 2016. They had some good players on the roster, but nothing came together for them. That season saw Diamondbacks pitching sport a 5.09 ERA/4.50 FIP, the ERA tied for lowest in the MLB and the FIP 26th overall. Their offense did not fare much better, with the team hitting .2631/.320/.432, good for a 93 wRC+ bringing park factor into play. It was one of the worst seasons in Diamondbacks history. Luckily for them, everything turned around in 2017.

To start with, the pitching for the Diamondbacks went from a near league-worst to top five in the MLB. After tying for the worst ERA in the MLB the season prior, they shot all the down to a 3.67 ERA, third best overall. The same thing happened to their team FIP, going from 4.50 to an excellent 3.80 mark, 4th best overall. A big reason for this turnaround was Zack Greinke returning to form, pitching to a 3.20 ERA/3.31 FIP in 202.1 innings pitched, a stark contrast from the 4.37 ERA/4.12 FIP in 158.2 innings pitched the season before.

Outside of Greinke, the Diamondbacks had breakout seasons from many young pitchers including Zack Godley (2.89 ERA/3.41 FIP in 155 IP), Robbie Ray (2.89 ERA/3.72 FIP in 162 IP), Patrick Corbin (4.03 ERA/4.08 FIP in 189.2 IP), and Taijuan Walker (3.49 ERA/4.04 FIP in 157.1 IP). To cap it off, former top starting pitching prospect Archie Bradley became a bullpen ace this season, pitching a 1.73 ERA/2.61 FIP in 73 innings out of the bullpen, giving them their very own Andrew Miller-type pitcher.

On the offensive side, they were led by perennially underrated MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, putting up a line of .297/.404/.563 and a 142 wRC+. Helping along with him was Jake Lamb (.248/.357/.487 and 111 wRC+), AJ Pollock (.266/.330/.471 and 103 wRC+), David Peralta (.293/.352/.444 and 104 wRC+, and Chris Iannetta (.254/.354/.511 and 120 wRC+). However, the biggest thing for the Diamondbacks was the mid-season trade for outfield slugger, J.D. Martinez.

Martinez, who was acquired for mere peanuts, to the surprise of many, was already hitting very well for the Detroit Tigers before the trade. From his first game on 5/12 until his last game with the Tigers on 7/17, Martinez was hitting .305/.388/.630 with 16 HR and a 160 wRC+. From the point of the trade until the end of the season, Martinez went insane with the bat hitting .302/.366/.741 with 29 HR and a 172 wRC+ in just 257 plate appearance. The addition of Martinez to this Diamondbacks lineup takes them from an average or above average lineup to a real threat every time through.

Los Angeles Dodgers 104-58 (1st NL West)

For the fifth straight season, the Dodgers captured the NL West crown. With their MLB leading 104 wins, they also won the most games of any Dodgers club since moving to Los Angeles in 1958. These are not things many people imagined would be said after a 9-11 start to the season by 4/24. At that point, the Rockies lead the division with a white-hot 14-6 start, with the Diamondbacks just behind at 13-8. Things were just not clicking for the Dodgers to start the season. Their pitching was doing well, but on offense, it seemed that only Corey Seager and Justin Turner were hitting. It was not until the call-up of rookie phenom Cody Bellinger that jump-started the 2017 Dodgers.

Something changed the day that Bellinger got the call to the Dodgers. Adrian Gonzalez had been the Dodgers anchor at 1B since joining the team in August of 2012, but had zero home runs in April and was just not hitting. Through just under two months in the majors, Bellinger became the fastest player to 21 home runs in MLB history.  Bellinger brought a level of power to the Dodgers that had not been seen in years. He eventually broke the NL rookie home run record and ended with 39 home runs, an amount that had not been seen by a Dodger since Matt Kemp’s magical 2011 season. In fact, no other Dodger had eclipsed 30 home runs since then. His effect on the team was undeniable, with the club going 95-47 after his call-up.

Although they once again had a powerful middle of the order slugger in Bellinger, this was a team built on depth. There may be no better example than the Dodgers starting pitching depth, going seven or eight deep to start the season. The Dodgers got another wonderful, yet slightly sub-par season from Clayton Kershaw (2.31 ERA/3.07 FIP in 175 IP), who sadly missed a month and a half due to another back injury. They also got a breakout season from Alex Wood (2.82 ERA/3.36 FIP in 147 IP), along with good although abbreviated seasons from Rich Hill (3.32 ERA/3.72 FIP in 135.2 IP) and Brandon McCarthy (3.84 ERA/3.35 FIP in 86.2 IP). Kenta Maeda (4.35 ERA/4.14 FIP in 126.1 IP) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.89 ERA/4.80 FIP in 122.2 IP) both started out the year very rough, but rebounded to better second half numbers. One of the biggest changes to the rotation was the July 31st addition of Yu Darvish (3.44 ERA/3.38 FIP in 49.2 IP), who helped lengthen the playoff rotation.

Oh, and just a side note, Kenley Jansen was even better than last season, with a 1.32 ERA/1.31 FIP in 68.1 innings pitched. He also did not issue his first walk until striking out 51 batters first.

On the positional player side, the depth shone through just as brightly with the emerge of super-utility-man Chris Taylor (.288/.354/.496 and 126 wRC+) and backup catcher Austin Barnes (.289/.408/.486 and 142 wRC+). The emergence of the pair allowed the Dodgers to make many different lineup combinations as well as resting players more than they were able to in the past. This Dodgers club was not only filled with very good offensive players but defensive as well. While finishing fourth in wRC+ at 104, they also finished third in Fangraphs defensive runs at 62.1 behind just the Cubs and Marlins. A lot of this was thanks to good two-way players such as Corey Seager (.295/.375/.479, 127 wRC+ and 12.6 defensive runs), Justin Turner (.322/.415/.530, 151 wRC+ and 0.6 defensive runs), and Yasiel Puig (.263/.346/.487, 117 wRC+, and 5.9 defensive runs).

Thanks to the depth that the Dodgers front office has been working to build for the last few years, leading the MLB in wins was not just a thought, it was a reality.

Players To Watch In The NLDS

This series between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers may be the most interesting first-round matchup. While the teams don’t have a rivalry like the Dodgers and Giants, there is still some bad blood over the last few seasons. This may have started back in 2013 with a HBP from Ian Kennedy to Yasiel Puig. The next inning Zack Greinke hit catcher Miguel Montero, which cleared both team’s benches. In the bottom of the inning, Kennedy then drilled Greinke with a pitch which incited a brawl between the two teams, kicking off bad feelings between the clubs.

Later in the season, the Dodgers clinched the NL West after a victory in Arizona and celebrated in the Diamonbacks stadium pool. This was the first NL West crown for the Dodgers since 2009, the start of now five straight, while the Diamondbacks hadn’t made the playoffs since 2011 until this season. This incident along with the brawl earlier in the season has given an interesting edge to the two teams series ever since. Zack Greinke leaving the Dodgers in free agency after the 2015 season to go to Arizona is something that only fueled the fires since. This rivalry along with the great players on both teams makes for some intriguing stories in this NLDS.

JD Martinez

JD Martinez has simply been one of the best hitters in the MLB since coming to Arizona. From 7/18 on, Martinez’s 172 OPS is the third best in the MLB with minimum 100 PA behind Matt Olson and Giancarlo Stanton. His 29 home runs in that time were just two behind Stanton’s MLB leading 31, and five ahead of the next closest Josh Donaldson. The pair of NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and JD Martinez is among the best of any pair of hitters in the MLB. Getting through the middle of this lineup is no easy feat, and the Dodgers cannot just walk Goldschmidt anymore because someone just as great is following him.

Robbie Ray

For the second straight season, Robbie Ray put up a 3.0-plus fWAR season. However, this season he dropped his ERA an unbelievable 2 full points, going from a 4.90 ERA to a 2.89 this season. On just his talent and his 2017 season numbers alone (12.11 K/9, 3.94 BB/9, 84.5 LOB%), Ray is a tough pitcher to contend with. When looking at his 2017 season numbers against the Dodgers? Well, he’s on another level. As Eric Stephen at the wonderful Truebluela.com wrote about, Ray dominated the Dodgers this season. In five starts, Ray put up a 2.27 ERA with 53 strikeouts, including 10 or more strikeouts in four of those games. It is clear that Ray has had the Dodgers’ number this season, and although he may not start until game 3 of the series, the Diamondbacks have the ability to use him in a relief role late in the series if necessary.

Clayton Kershaw

Is there any story for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs than Clayton Kershaw? Of course not. Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball in the 2010s, and it’s not particularly close. Thanks to a couple of back injuries in 2016 and 2017, some other pitchers may look to be taking over, but Kershaw is still excellent. But when looking at his playoff history, we know it has not been kind. The narrative of Kershaw failing in the playoffs really started on October 18th, 2013.

The Dodgers were down 3-2 in the NLCS to the St Louis Cardinals, and Kershaw took the mound trying to save the Dodgers season. The first two innings were fine, but the third inning saw Kershaw give up 4 runs. Two innings later, Kershaw gave up another 3 runs while Ronald Belisario gave up another 2 runs of his own. This was the first bad playoff appearance for Kershaw since his age 21 season in 2009 against the Phillies. 2014 gave Kershaw a chance at redemption, starting off with a game 1 NLDS start once again against the Cardinals. This is where the Kershaw playoffs narrative really took shape.

The first 6 innings of game 1 could not have gone better. The Dodgers scored 6 runs off of Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, and the Dodgers had a 6-2 lead going into the 7th inning. Through 6 innings, Kershaw had 8 K 0 BB 2 H and 2 R allowed. What followed was 6 hits and 6 runs in the 7th inning in a heartbreaking game for Kershaw and Dodger fans. Kershaw’s next start in game 4 of the series started off even better, with another 6 innings of great baseball including 9 K 2 BB 1 H and 0 R. Kershaw was absolutely cruising. In the 7th inning, it started off with a groundball single by Matt Holliday. Next up was a live drive single by Jhonny Peralta that tipped off of Hanley Ramirez’s glove, a play a better SS would have likely made. Next up was the infamous Matt Stairs, I mean Matt Adams home run to break the Dodgers’ back.  The Dodgers lost this game 3-2, and the series was over.

This was now two straight playoff starts with Kershaw going 6 good or great innings with the lead, only to lose everything and not finish the 7th inning. Up next was game 1 of the NLDS against the New York Mets in 2015. This game was a bit different than the three preceding it, as Kershaw went into the 7th inning down 1-0. He was brilliant through 6 IP yet again, with 11 K 1 BB 4 H and 1 R allowed. It didn’t seem to matter, as the dreaded 7th inning struck again with Kershaw losing all control to walk 3 batters and get just 2 outs. Pedro Baez came in to try and contain the mess, but David Wright got his only hit of the series which plated 2 runs and the Dodgers lost 3-1.

These three straight 7th inning meltdowns feel almost otherworldly to Dodger fans, something of an aberration. Since then, Kershaw has had mixed results, throwing some gems and getting some wins, and completely falling apart in game 6 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs last season after not being able to keep the team on his back any longer. While there are many great players, MVP candidates, and Cy Young candidates between the two teams, fans and media alike will be following the results of Clayton Kershaw more closely than anything else in this series.

Bobby’s NLDS Series Prediction

In a season filled with stacked teams that you wouldn’t want to face in the playoffs, the Diamondbacks are pretty high up my list as a Dodger fan. Outside of the Indians, the Diamondbacks may just have the best rotation in the MLB. If not the best, then perhaps the best 3-4-5. Then you consider how many average to above average hitters are surrounding two of the very best in Goldschmidt and Martinez? This is a scary team.

However, it would be foolish to count out the team that won 104 games this season. The Dodgers still have the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, and they have perhaps the best reliever in baseball, Kenley Jansen. Outside of the Astros, the Dodgers may have the deepest lineup as well, with no real holes and a deep bench. This is not going to be an easy series for either team and much like my colleague Greg Huss and his Cubs/Nationals series prediction, I believe this one goes 5 games and comes down to the late innings of game 5. If the Dodgers can contain one or both of Goldschmit and Martinez, they will come out on top.

Los Angeles Dodgers Win NLDS In 5 Games

NLDS Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals

Cubs and Nationals 2017 Regular Season

Chicago Cubs – 92-70 (1st NL Central)

The reigning World Champions are back in the Postseason and they sure didn’t make it look easy. After a slow start to the year, the Cubs put up a very impressive 2nd half of the season to hold off the over-performing Milwaukee Brewers and the Voodoo Magic Cardinals in the central division.

2017 brought more bright spots with young Cubs bats, much like the past two seasons. The offense was the second best in the National League with a 101 wRC+ and .332 wOBA. A total of seven players were above the league average 100 wRC+ mark individually with a minimum of 250 plate appearnaces, with the major contributors being Kris Bryant (146), Anthony Rizzo (133), and Willson Contreras (121).

Speaking of Contreras, the young backstop really busted out in his sophomore season with an impressive slash line of .276/.356/.499 and has really locked down the cleanup spot in the Cubs order, making up for a lackluster season from the once consistent Ben Zobrist.

The Cubbies will trot out a rotation of Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Jake Arrieta in games one through four of the series. The historic rotation from 2016 has come back down to earth this year, even falling on some hard times in the first half of the season. Now heading into the playoffs, each aforementioned starter is throwing the best they have all season with the exception of Lester who has limped to the finish with his 4.33/4.10 ERA/FIP. He will bring his experience and pedigree into his game two match-up and look to put the sub-par regular season behind him.

Even with the loss of Aroldis Chapman going into this season, the Chicago bullpen hasn’t skipped a beat. They added one of the best closers in baseball in Wade Davis (2.30 ERA) as well as Brian Duensing (2.74). The trio of Pedro Strop (2.83), Carl Edwards Jr (2.98), and Mike Montgomery (2.49) have improved off their numbers from last year to round out a bullpen which is expected to be one of the better pens in the Postseason.

 

Washington Nationals – 97-65 (1st NL East)

Regular seasons have yet to be a major problem for the Washington Nationals, as it has proven to be the Postseason that has given them troubles in the past. Going into 2017, the front office and fans both figured they had assembled a team that was built to compete throughout the regular season and contend for a World Series crown in the Postseason.

Injuries were an issue in the nation’s capitol throughout this season with Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Joe Ross all missing significant time. Even still, the team was still able to completely run away with the division crown.

The bats in 2017 were right in line with the numbers the Cubs put up, finishing just behind them in both team wRC+ at 100 and wOBA with .331. The Nats had quite a bit of firepower at the top of their order, with the big boppers carrying a heavy load during the regular season. Those big bats included the likes of Harper (156 wRC+), Anthony Rendon (142), Ryan Zimmerman (138), and Daniel Murphy (136).

While their bats are impressive in themselves, you can’t help but also be in awe of the rotation the Nationals will send out there for games one through three of the series with Stephen Strasburg (2.52 ERA/2.72 FIP), Gio Gonzalez (2.96/3.93), and Max Scherzer (2.51/2.90). All three pitchers will get Cy Young votes this year, with Scherzer being the favorite to win the NL Cy Young award.

Those starters will pass the ball off to a bullpen that is much improved from where they were at during the first few months of the season. The 7th, 8th, and 9th innings are entirely different now with the midseason acquisitions of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle. Those three pitchers will be a lock to pitch every single game they have a lead or are within striking distance of the Cubs and have excelled in their roles as a member of the Nationals.

 

Players to Watch In The NLDS

MVP candidates, Cy Young hopefuls, entertaining managers, and terrific fan bases. This series features many reasons to keep up with each game and you probably don’t need another reason to catch what should be an incredible series. But if you do need a reason to tune in, here are some players and storylines to look out for in this NLDS.

Kris Bryant

In case you weren’t aware, Bryant has had one of the quietest MVP-hopeful seasons in the National League, putting up statistics that are better than the 2016 MVP version of himself almost all across the board. The guy can do it all. With the bat, on the bases, or in the field wherever Joe Maddon decides to put him on any given day. He had a very impressive Postseason last year and he will need to lead the Cubs alongside Anthony Rizzo to compete with the starpower in the middle of the Nationals lineup.

Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman started off the year at a torrid pace OPSing 1.345 through May before coming back down to earth during the middle part of the season. But during September and October, the Nats first baseman has turned it back on again, with an OPS of 1.021. He will need to continue to stay hot during this series to protect the big bat of Bryce Harper. To do that, he will need to turn around what have been awful numbers against the Cubs over the course of this season. In 7 games against the Northsiders, Zimmerman is slashing just .167/.259/.250/.509.

Daniel Murphy

While Zimmerman has struggled against the Cubs, Daniel Murphy has been a known Cubs killer over the course of his career, with his peak coming the last time that he faced the Cubs in the Postseason. In that NLCS which saw Murphy’s Mets sweep Chicago to get to the World Series in 2015, Murphy became Babe Ruth. He hit .529 with 4 bombs in the 4 game series and quickly dashed the Cubs title hopes that season. This series will certainly bring up many opportunities for him to continue his mashing of Chicago pitching.

Greg’s NLDS Series Prediction

On paper this series might be the most even match-up the divisional round has to offer. With the Nationals being favored with a 52% chance of advancing, the projection systems have the series as basically deadlocked. I think that one of these years Mike Rizzo and company will put together a baseball team that has as much success in the Postseason as they do in seemingly every single regular season they play, but I just don’t think that 2017 is that year. This series will come down to timely hits, and I just think that Chicago will come up with more of them. Often times, adjustments are the name of the game in the Postseason and the combination of Joe Maddon and his deep bench will provide the ability to make adjustments that the Nationals and Dusty Baker just won’t be able to make.

Chicago Cubs Win NLDS In 5 Games

ALDS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians

Yankees and Indians 2017 Regular Season

New York Yankees – 91-71 (2nd AL East)

The New York Yankees came into this season with the assumption that they were one or two seasons away from really competing to win a championship. They had several young bats coming up through the ranks of their system and a few unproven pitchers that were expected to continue to develop into better players before they would challenge the Red Sox for the 2018 AL East title.

Well everything has seemed to go the right way for the Bronx Bombers in 2017 and now they find themselves ahead of schedule and smack dab in the middle of the hunt for the AL crown. After beating a less than stellar Minnesota Twins team on Tuesday night in the AL Wild Card game, they now are matched up with the reigning AL champion Cleveland Indians.

It has been the young bats that have carried the Yanks this season and they ended the season with the second best team wRC+ at 108, behind the almighty Houston Astros. You know the middle of the order guys that have helped lead to that high number and for good reason. Aaron Judge (173 wRC+) and Gary Sanchez (130 wRC+) will lead this lineup in the series just like they did all season long.

But don’t forget about the other bats that the Cleveland rotation will have to deal with. Didi Gregorious, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, and Jacoby Ellsbury all finished with wRC+ above 100 and fWAR greater than 1.5. Be on the lookout for all of these powerful bats as the Bombers lived up to their name in 2017, leading all of baseball with 241 home runs.

While the talk of this Yankees team has been the offense, the squad’s pitching staff has been pretty stellar to boot. As a team, they sit at second in the American League with a 3.75 ERA and third in the American League with a 3.88 FIP. The team has announced that Sonny Gray will throw game one, with CC Sabathia in game two, followed by Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino to round out games three and four. Each pitcher has been good, but not great throughout the season, and looks to be over-matched by a very powerful Indians lineup.

The strength really lies in the Yankees bullpen. If the rotation is able to pitch to keep the team in games and within a couple runs, the likes of Chad Green (1.75 FIP), Aroldis Chapman (2.56), Dellin Betances (3.22), David Robertson (2.10), and Tommy Kahnle (2.30) will provide multiple lock-down innings for the club.

 

Cleveland Indians – 102-60 (1st AL Central)

The Indians came into 2017 as the defending American League representative in the World Series. After a very successful season last year, the expectation was for them to be even better this season and they have met and even exceeded those expectations.

Owners of 102 wins and a win streak that went on for an insane 22 games in the second half of the season, an American League record, the Indians come into the Postseason as the favorite to win the World Series at 25% odds.

After being one of the more successful lineups in baseball in 2017, Cleveland added the former Toronto Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion to the batting order to make opposing pitchers’ jobs even more difficult. The Indians sit at third best in baseball with a wRC+ of 107 with Jose Ramirez, Encarnacion, Austin Jackson, Lonnie Chisenhall, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley all with wRC+ above 110.

The Indians have a lineup that is able to compete with the Yankees lineup in terms of power and overall ability. Expect the batting orders to be a bit of a wash, with a slight advantage in favor of the experience and depth of the Indians.

Where there seems to be a very clear advantage is in the starting rotation for Cleveland. Potential Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber is the stud of the rotation, although he will not throw until game two, with Cleveland’s other big man in Carlos Carrasco and his 3.10 FIP going in game three. Game one will be started by drone enthusiast Trevor Bauer, with Josh Tomlin slated for game four of the series.

With the Yankees very strong bullpen, Cleveland will need to counter with an impressive pen of their own and just like last year, they will have a three headed monster coming in to close out ballgames. Andrew Miller will of course be the headliner with his 1.99 FIP, joined by Bryan Shaw (2.96 FIP) and Cody Allen (3.19 FIP).

 

Players to Watch In The ALDS

Both squads have some star power on their rosters and hopefully we get to see some special things from guys on both teams. Here is who to keep an eye on while you watch the ALDS.

Aaron Judge

The soon to be named AL Rookie of the Year and potential AL MVP, the Judge broke the rookie record for most home runs in a season this year with 52 bombs. He tacked on yet another in the Wild Card game when he took Jose Berrios deep in the 4th inning. He will get his first taste of a Postseason series this weekend and will look to prove that he can continue his historic season and become a Postseason hero.

Corey Kluber

Kluber has put together yet another amazing season; one in which he will more than likely come home with a Cy Young award and some MVP votes to boot. He finished the season with 5 complete games, with 3 of them being shutouts and Tito Francona will look for Kluber to continue to go deep into games. Since June 1, Kluber has put up a stat line of 15-2, 1.62 ERA, 224 strikeouts, and 23 walks in 23 games. If he can go 6 or 7 innings of shutout ball like he has proven he can do, he will be able to turn the ball over to the three headed monster of a bullpen.

Francisco Lindor

One of the most entertaining players in Major League Baseball, Lindor will be a key component of the Indians lineup in this series. He hit .310/.355/.466/.820 in the Postseason last year and will really lengthen that Cleveland lineup if he is able to put up stats like that again in 2017. Expect Frankie to show up and perform now that the lights are shining bright.

Greg’s ALDS Series Prediction

As exciting as the Yankees have been this season and as good as it is for baseball to see them succeed, I think that Cleveland is just too tough of a match-up for New York. This Indians team might just be the most complete team in all of baseball this year and is my favorite to win the American League. I am taking the Indians in games two and three almost strictly based off of the starter match-ups (Kluber and Carrasco) and I think that the bats will carry the team to another win in the series.

Cleveland Indians Win ALDS In 4 Games

ALDS Preview: Boston Red Sox vs Houston Astros

Red Sox and Astros 2017 Regular Season

Astros – 101-61 (1st AL West)

The Houston Astros came into this season as not only the AL West favorite, but as a team many thought could get to the World Series. The Astros did not disappoint, winning a staggering 101 games, the 2nd most in franchise history behind their 1998 102 win club.

While the Astros’ pitching staff was in the top 10 in the MLB overall, it was their elite lineup that got them over the 100 win mark. The Astros led the MLB in wRC+ at 121, 13 points higher than the number two Yankees at 108. Their lineup was so incredibly impressive that of the 11 players with minimum 250 plate appearances, 40-year-old Carlos Beltran was the only one to produce lower than a 105 wRC+. Six players (Jose Altuve – 160, Carlos Correa – 152, Marwin Gonzalez – 144, George Springer – 140, Josh Reddick – 127, Alex Bregman – 122) had over a 120 wRC+ in the lineup as well.

Getting back to the pitching staff, it does include some impressive starting pitchers including a former Cy Young winner with Dallas Keuchel, but overall no one overly dominating this season. One problem for the Astros this season was reliability, as no pitcher in the rotation pitched more than 160 innings pitched. Well, until late August, anyway, once Justin Verlander was acquired before the August 31st waiver trade deadline.

Although Verlander had only 5 starts for the Astros (34.0 IP 1.06 ERA 2.69 FIP), he was as durable as ever pitching to a 3.36 ERA and 3.84 FIP in 206 innings pitched. Verlander was especially dominant in the 2nd half, pitching with a 1.92 ERA and 3.36 FIP in 108 innings pitched from 7/8 to the end of the season. The addition of Verlander to this staff gives them a former Cy Young and MVP winner to go along with their own former Cy Young winner in Keuchel, as well as their young fireballers Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock. The Astros can even go five starting pitchers deep and add in veteran Charlie Morton, who had a very good season with a 3.62 ERA and 3.46 FIP in 146.2 innings pitched.

Red Sox – 93-69 (1st AL East)

The Red Sox had some of the highest expectations of any team entering the 2017 season. This was a team that went 93-69 the year prior, and then they went out and got Chris Sale in the off-season. By adding Sale to the rotation, that gave them two former Cy Young winners and the best active pitcher to have never won a Cy Young. Not only was the Red Sox pitching staff was looking to be monstrous, but their lineup was once again set up to be great.

Even with the departure of David Ortiz due to his retirement, the Red Sox had a potentially great lineup going forward. In 2016, the Red Sox had nine players with a 115 or higher wRC+ and at least 100 plate appearances. Taking out Ortiz and his 164 wRC+, that still left a lot of potential for 2017. So with the potential for both a top-five rotation and top-five lineup, it seemed as if the Red Sox may challenge for a 100 win season. On paper, that is.

In reality, the Red Sox had some very real struggles. The same lineup that finished best in the majors by wRC+ in 2016 at 114, slumped all the way down to 22nd with a 92 wRC+. This was not just the loss of David Ortiz hurting them, it was everyone in the lineup taking a huge step back. Of anyone with over 250 plate appearances, Mookie Betts led in wRC+ at just 108. Andrew Benintendi and Dustin Pedroia were the only others over 250 plate appearances to finish over 100 wRC+, with 103 and 102 respectively. Luckily the mid-season acquisition of Eduardo Nunez paid off nicely hitting .321/.353/.539 and a 133 wRC+ in 173 PA. Red Sox top prospect Rafael Devers also made an impact at 3B hitting .284/.338/.482 and a 111 wRC+ in 240 PA after his mid-season call-up.

Much like the lineup, the pitching staff had its fair share of problems. 2016 AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello slumped to a 4.65 ERA and just 2.0 fWAR in 203.1 innings pitched. David Price managed only 74.2 innings pitched, 66 of those as a starting pitcher. However, the real stories for the Red Sox in 2017 were yet another all-time great season by closer Craig Kimbrel putting up a 3.3 fWAR season in just 69 innings pitched, and more importantly, a 300-plus strikeout season from newcomer Chris Sale. Sale was one of the two best pitchers in the MLB this season, and arguably the very best. He put up a 2.90 ERA, 2.45 FIP, and 308 strikeouts in 214.1 innings pitched and really anchored the rotation. The combination of Sale and Kimbrel more than made up for the regression of Porcello and the time missed by Price.

Players to Watch In The ALDS

It is a surprise to no one, but these two teams are filled with stars. For the Red Sox, some of theirs may have had down years, but they still have tons of talent. Here are some players to watch on both teams:

David Price

David Price has had a rough go of things in the playoffs for his career. In 66.2 innings pitched, he has given up a 5.54 ERA. Although he has only walked 14 and struck out 62 in those innings, he’s given 68 hits, 12 of those home runs, along with 43 runs overall. If you believe Clayton Kershaw has a problem in the playoffs, it appears to be nothing compared to David Price. Interestingly enough, the Red Sox may actually use Price out of the bullpen, where he spent some time late this season for 11 innings. Whether its in the rotation or out of the bullpen, Price will be someone to watch to see if he can reverse the trend.

Justin Verlander

As mentioned above, Verlander has been excellent since being acquired just over a month ago by the Astros. In five games started, Verlander has a 1.06 ERA and 2.69 FIP in 34 innings pitched. He also has been very good in the playoffs in his career, pitching to a 3.39 ERA and 112 Ks in 98.1 innings pitched. His last start was back in 2014 against Baltimore, pitching just 5 innings and giving up 3 runs. However, in his previous 3 starts in 2013, Verlander pitched at least 7 innings with 1 or 0 runs given up and at least 10 strikeouts. It’s been a while since then, but Verlander has proven he can still dominate an opposing lineup like he used to.

Craig Kimbrel

Although Kimbrel has been in the MLB since 2010, he has just 8 innings of post-season experience. That may be due to situations just not coming up for him to be used, or Fredi Gonzalez mistakenly not bringing Kimbrel into the 8th inning of the 2013 NLDS against the Dodgers. What happened next was Juan Uribe hitting the game and series winning home run while Kimbrel stood in the bullpen. But now, as ace relievers like Andrew Miller and Kenley Jansen are being used in non-traditional situations, Kimbrel may see more action than he ever has in the playoffs. This combined with the uncertainty of the Red Sox rotation after Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz could lead to seeing Kimbrel much earlier than the 9th inning if the Red Sox follow the trend of the 2016 playoffs.

Bobby’s ALDS Series Prediction

While the Red Sox have the best starting pitcher and best reliever of the two teams, the Astros have a much deeper starting pitching staff and the best lineup in the MLB. I believe any game that Chris Sale starts automatically favors the Red Sox, he can only start two games in the series. I even believe one of those games the Astros will beat up on him and give Sale the loss. The Red Sox just don’t have the bats this year to overcome, and the Astros are just too overwhelming. The Red Sox would need players like Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts to step up, and if the second half of the season is any indication, that seems unlikely.

Houston Astros Win ALDS In 4 Games

Clayton Kershaw’s Four Years of Dominance

It’s hard to believe we are already here, but the 2017 regular season has come to a close. Opening day feels like it was just a couple of months ago, and the All-Star break feels like just last week. Still, the season is over for 20 teams, with just the 10 playoff teams remaining. With another regular season in the books, it’s now the best time to look at player stats and see just how this season shaped up. Below are some of the bigger stories of 2017 in the MLB:

  • Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger breaking rookie records, with Judge hitting 52 and Bellinger hitting 39 home runs
  • The Cleveland Indians 22 game winning streak
  • Mike Trout missing 48 games but still finished tied for 3rd in fWAR
  • The Los Angeles Dodgers being the best team in baseball and winning a Los Angeles record 104 games
  • Chris Sale striking out 300-plus batters
  • Giancarlo Stanton chasing Roger Maris’ 61 home runs (though well shy of Barry Bonds’ 73), falling just short at 59

Of course, there is far more to talk about, but these were the stories that dominated the day to day for MLB fans around the world. However, while perusing the Fangraphs leaderboard pages, there is someone noticeably missing from the top of the pitcher’s section for the first time in five seasons: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017. This player is widely considered as the best pitcher of this generation, Clayton Kershaw.

The Start of the Kershaw Era

In 2011, with a result that was even a surprise to some Dodger fans, Clayton Kershaw beat out Roy Halladay for the 2011 NL Cy Young. Despite this being the season that really started the Kershaw Era in the MLB, Kershaw did not lead the MLB in fWAR, but finished second to Halladay at 7.1, 1.2 behind Doc. On the surface, the pitchers were very comparable in ERA, FIP, and xFIP, with the big difference in fWAR appearing to be Halladay pitching in hitter’s park rather than a neutral park as Kershaw did.

The next season was a bit different. By the end of 2012, Halladay had started his decline and was no longer a top pitcher. Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez stepped up to take his spot, pushing Kershaw down with his 5.9 fWAR down to third in the MLB in fWAR. However, this means that Kershaw was the most valuable pitcher in the NL, almost a full win higher than Cliff Lee, Gio Gonzalez and 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey at 5.0 fWAR.

This was the last time before 2017 that Clayton Kershaw did not lead the MLB in fWAR.

Kershaw’s Four Years of Dominance

2013

By the end of 2012, everyone knew how great Clayton Kershaw was, but there were a lot of great high-end pitchers around that time. From 2009-2012, the competition for top pitcher in the game was extremely competitive. Verlander led the pack with 27.2 fWAR, but Lee was just behind at 25.1, Halladay close by at 23.9, Felix at 23, Zack Greinke at 22.2, Kershaw and CC Sabathia at 22.1. Safe to say, jumping into the clear lead would be no easy feat. It’s almost if that was a challenge to Kershaw based on what he started to do next.

Before 2013, everyone knew that Clayton Kershaw was an excellent pitcher. Going into that season, he was just 25 years old, the 7th overall draft pick in the 2006 draft, and had won a Cy Young. The things that Kershaw was great at to that point were striking batters out, severely limiting hits and home runs, and not allowing many runs to score. Had he kept pitching like that, he still would have been one of the few best pitchers in the MLB for a long time.

However, one of Kershaw’s problems early on was his control. He went from 4.35 BB/9 to 4.79 BB/9 to 3.57 BB/9 in his first three seasons. It was in 2011 when he finally gained control on his pitches and went all the way down to a 2.08 BB/9, then 2.49 BB/9 the following season. Through the first five seasons of his career, these were his numbers:

61-37 2.79 ERA 3.01 FIP 3.42 xFIP 9.29 K/9 3.25 BB/9 0.59 HR/9 in 944 IP

Now here is what Kershaw did taking a huge leap forward in 2013:

16-9 1.83 ERA 2.39 FIP 2.88 xFIP 8.85 K/9 1.98 BB/9 0.42 HR/9 in 236 IP

Essentially, Kershaw went from a top 5 pitcher in the league to the absolute best in just one year’s time. This came with more change at and near the top with Felix, Lee, and Verlander sliding down lower in the top 10, and new blood at the top. Kershaw led the MLB for the first time in fWAR at 7.1, followed by Adam Wainwright at 6.6, Matt Harvey at 6.5, and Max Scherzer at 6.1. Kershaw’s 1.83 ERA was the first sub-2.00 ERA since Roger Clemens had a 1.87 ERA with the Houston Astros in 2005. Kershaw won his second Cy Young in that 2013 season.

2014

Going into 2014, Clayton Kershaw was widely regarded as the best pitcher in the MLB, with few in real competition with him. Of those that were, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander were right up there with him. Unfortunately for Verlander, he fell to a 4.54 ERA in 2014 ending his reign near the top of the leaderboards. Felix, however, had an elite 2014 season pitching to a 2.14 ERA, 2.56 FIP, and 6.1 fWAR season in 236 innings pitched.

Interestingly enough, not only was this not enough to best Kershaw, but Corey Kluber emerged seemingly out of nowhere to win his first career Cy Young award with a 2.44 ERA, 2.35 FIP, and 7.4 fWAR in 235.2 IP that season. Despite the greatness from the pair of Felix and Kluber, Kershaw doubled down on his historic 2013 season with the following numbers:

21-3 1.77 ERA 1.81 FIP 2.08 xFIP 10.85 K/9 1.41 BB/9 0.41 HR/9 in 198.1 IP

Not only did Kershaw improve upon his insane 1.83 ERA from the previous season, he upped his K/9 by a massive 2 per 9 innings while cutting his walks down by more than 25%, all while keeping his already very low HR/9 down to the same level. The one hiccup he encountered was a trip to the disabled list to start the season, not truly starting his season until 5/6, outside of a March start in Australia against the Diamondbacks.

Not only was this good enough to lead the MLB in fWAR for the second straight season, or to win his third Cy Young award in just four seasons, but it won him the 2014 NL MVP award to boot. This was a truly special season, and there was no way he could improve upon that…right?

2015

It’s hard to believe, but in 2015, and for the third straight season, Kershaw was better than the previous season. His BB/9 and HR/9 both went up a tiny bit while his ERA went skyrocketing all the way up to…2.13. But the big thing here was getting back up to 232.2 innings pitched after pitching just under 200 the season before. At the same time he upped his K/9 to an absurd 11.64, striking out 301 batters in the process. Kershaw’s 301 strikeout season was the first 300 strikeout season since both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling accomplished the feat in 2002.

Even with a 300 strikeout season, Kershaw had some serious competition. Jake Arrieta continued his great pitching from midway through the 2014 season, en route to a 1.77 ERA himself with a 7.3 fWAR season. As well, Kershaw’s Dodger teammate Zack Greinke put up one of the best seasons ever when going by ERA with a 1.66 ERA. Although his ERA was one of the best we have ever seen, his peripherals did not quite match, with ‘only’ a 2.76 FIP, and had a 5.8 fWAR for the season.

The Cy Young discussion that fall was one of the greatest in my lifetime. Many people were split on how to vote. Do you vote for the guy who put up 300 strikeouts, something that is about as rare as a sub-2.00 ERA, while still putting up a low 2.00 ERA? Do you vote for the pitcher with the best ERA since mid-90s Greg Maddux, despite much lower strikeout numbers? Or do you split the difference and go with the guy with the great strikeout totals and an ERA in the middle of the other two?

Kershaw – 16-7 2.13 ERA 1.99 FIP 2.09 xFIP 11.64 K/9 301 K 1.62 BB/9 0.58 HR/9 in 232.2 IP

Greinke – 19-3 1.66 ERA 2.76 FIP 3.22 xFIP 8.08 K/9 200 K 1.62 BB/9 0.57 HR/9 in 222.2 IP

Arrieta – 22-6 1.77 ERA 2.35 FIP 2.61 xFIP 9.28 K/9 236 K 1.89 BB/9 0.39 HR/9 in 229 IP

As it turned out, the majority of voters went with the last option, splitting the difference between Kershaw and Greinke and award Jake Arrieta his first career Cy Young Award. This was the first time since 2011 that Clayton Kershaw did not either win the NL Cy Young award or finish second in the voting.

After such a dominant year, the question was asked yet again of “Can he improve upon his previous greatness once again?” In 2016, he answered with a resounding “Yes!”, but in an abbreviated manner.

2016

After losing out on the NL Cy Young for the second time in four years while putting up arguably better overall numbers than the winner, Kershaw took yet another huge step forward. Whereas his last couple of steps forward were to cut his walks in half and then add a couple of strikeouts per 9 innings, this time he decided he didn’t want to walk anybody anymore.

In 2016, Kershaw broke the record for best K/BB in the history of the MLB with an absolutely mind-blowing 15.64 K/BB. That means for every 1 walk he gave up in 2016, he struck out more than 15 and a half batters. His BB/9 was a laughable 0.66. His WHIP was one of the best ever down to 0.72. To put it plainly, 1999 and 2000 Pedro Martinez was going to be looking over his shoulder as the best pitched seasons ever.

Sadly, a mid-season back injury cost him the months of July and August and ended up with just 149 innings pitched. Although the injury cost him any real chance at the Cy Young, something like 70 or 80 missing innings pitched wasn’t going to stop Clayton Kershaw from being the best pitcher by fWAR in 2016:

12-4 1.69 ERA 1.80 FIP 2.28 xFIP 10.39 K/9 0.66 BB/9 0.48 HR/9 in 149 IP

It’s not as if 2016 was a bad year for pitchers, as there were actually many great pitchers during the season. There were just a few, if not any others as flat-out dominant as Kershaw. Unfortunately, he did not qualify for the ERA title, being 13 innings short.  Though with a 140 innings qualifier, he still led the MLB by over 0.50 points by ERA. His lead in FIP was nearly just as high, 0.49 points better than Noah Syndergaard. His 6.5 fWAR just edged out Syndergaard at 6.4 in second place in the MLB, who pitched 183.2 innings himself, a good 34 innings more than Kershaw.

Even when Kershaw pitched 30-70 fewer innings than his competition in the MLB, he was so unbelievably excellent in 2016 that he managed to lead the league yet again in fWAR.

2017 Ends the Streak at the Top

After four seasons straight of Clayton Kershaw at the very top of the league, fighting off new contender after new contender trying to take his crown, 2017 finally sees him taken down. In part, this is due to missing a month and a half due to another back injury, but he was just not his usual dominant self this season:

18-4 2.31 ERA 3.07 FIP 2.84 xFIP 10.39 K/9 1.54 BB/9 1.18 HR/9 in 175 IP

When looking at these numbers, the only thing that is really different from any season of the last five years is the HR/9. Much like the rest of the MLB, Kershaw’s home run numbers spiked. Kershaw gave up about twice his career average this season, and it is going to be the difference between winning the NL Cy Young and finishing second or third most likely. The home run problem was so bad for Kershaw that he actually gave up the first grand slam of his career recently.

It is still quite funny that a 2.31 ERA and 3.07 FIP from Kershaw is considered a disappointment. The 2.31 ERA is the highest he’s had since a 2.53 ERA in 2012, and the 3.07 FIP is the highest he’s put up since a 3.12 FIP in 2010. It really shows just how all-time elite Kershaw has been over the last five-plus years to put up these numbers and have so many people think he could have done so much better.

2018 and Beyond

What does Kershaw’s 2017 mean for the future? 2018 will be the first season Clayton Kershaw does not pitch in the majors as a 20-something-year-old, as he turns 30 in March. Outside of a few freak-of-nature Hall of Fame pitchers like Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux, most pitchers don’t stay at this level as they get older. The wear and tear on a pitcher’s arm can burn them out at an unfair rate.

Just looking at Felix Hernandez, only 31 himself currently, has 2500 innings pitched and his last three seasons have seen a severe decline from his former self. Before 2015, Felix regularly put up 230 innings with little to no problem. From there he’s gone to 201.2, 153.1, and now just 86.2 this season. For a starting pitcher, it’s incredibly hard to stay healthy enough to stay on top for so long.

However, if we believe that Kershaw can rebound to another 200-plus inning season, I see no reason not to include him as someone to compete for the top fWAR spot next season. The competition looks as stiff as ever, with Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, and Max Scherzer all pitching at the best levels of their careers, but outside of huge outlier season by HR/9, Kershaw was exactly who he’s been for over half a decade. If we are lucky enough to see him healthy next season and after, we are very likely to see a similar level of production that we are used to…though maybe no more 300 K or sub 2.00-FIP seasons.

All-Time Significance

What I really wanted to do with this article was give Kershaw recognition for something that is just so hard to accomplish. There has not been another pitcher to lead in fWAR in back to back seasons since 2005 and 2006 with Johan Santana. Before that, in 2000 and 2001 by Randy Johnson.

The last pitcher to lead in fWAR for three straight seasons was Roger Clemens in 1990, 1991, and 1992. Clemens also led in 1987 and 1988 with Brett Saberhagen sandwiched between in 1989, giving him the fWAR in five out of six seasons from 1987-1992. Steve Carlton was the last pitcher to lead the MLB in fWAR for four straight years, doing so from 1980-1983 (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983). Before him, Lefty Grove led from 1929-1932 (1929, 1930, 1931, 1932), also having led in 1926 and 1927 and other scattered years in the 30s.

When looking at the players mentioned here, they are all absolutely Hall of Fame talents. Some of them may not be in due to a P.E.D. controversy as with Clemens, or they were burnt out too earlier after a decade of Hall of Fame pitching like Santana, who will be eligible for the first time next year. Whether they all end up in the Hall of Fame or not, these are some all-time great starting pitchers, and Clayton Kershaw has done something that 99.99% of other starting pitchers in MLB history have never done. The stretch of time from 2013-2016 from Kershaw is something we may not see again for decades from another pitcher, and should very much be cherished.

 

 

Don’t Look Now, Kris Bryant is Making a Push for NL MVP

What an incredible year for bats throughout all of Major League Baseball. Giancarlo Stanton is producing one of the best home run hitting seasons of all time in his chase for 61 bombs. Aaron Judge just set the record for most round trippers in a season by a rookie, surpassing Mark McGwire’s record when he hit his 50th of the year on Monday. Cody Bellinger set the same record for National League players when he hit his 39th dinger. Joey Votto is yet again putting up absurd walk numbers, sitting at 19.1% on the season.

All of those players are making history, but in the meantime another player is making his case for the National League MVP award for a second consecutive season: Kris Bryant.

While I just received more than a few epic eye-rolls from you folks that are going to point at his 72 RBI and his “mere” 28 home runs, let’s first take a look at his numbers in 2017 compared to his 2016 MVP season as well as this season compared to his top competitors making their own bid for the award.

2016 Kris Bryant vs. 2017 Kris Bryant

I have already lost some of the believers in RBI from the beginning of this piece, so I will start off this comparison by throwing that same group a bone by using batting average. Bryant has nearly an identical batting average this year compared to last, up two points to .294, and sits nearly at the .300 threshold that the old-school crowd still uses to this day.

After moving on to other more important statistics, there is even more growth all across the board for KB. He is walking 14.4% of the time in 2017, compared to his 10.7% rate from 2016, which has contributed to his higher on-base percentage this year. He finds himself at sixth in the league with a .405 OBP. On top of his improved walk-rate, he has also improved his strikeout-rate. Don’t look now but Bryant is officially better than league average when it comes to how often he strikes out. Just two short years ago, he was striking out in more than 30% of his at-bats. Now he has worked that number down to 19%, which is just a bit better than the league-average number of 19.4%.

The argument that Mr. KBoom himself no longer has the power that he had last year doesn’t really work either. While he has seen a decrease in the home runs from last year from 39 to his current 28, his doubles and triples have both increased which puts him at a slugging percentage just 18 points lower than his 2016 slugging.

By simply taking a look at his more impressive plate discipline numbers, his improved OPS (.939 vs .944), and his wRC+ that sits nearly identical to 2016 (146 vs 148), it is pretty clear that Kris Bryant is putting up numbers that warrant the serious MVP thought. 2017 Bryant would beat out 2016 Bryant for an MVP, so why is he not being discussed more seriously this year?

It might be that his competition this year is a little tougher, but there is still a compelling argument that he is even better than the Stantons and Vottos of the world this season.

Kris Bryant vs. The Field

The first statistic to take a look at when generally comparing Bryant to other players in the league should be his 6.5 fWAR which currently sits as tied for third in the league behind Anthony Rendon (6.7) and Giancarlo Stanton (6.6) and tied with Joey Votto. In addition, Bryant has a 146 wRC+, which measures his offensive production as better than several MVP competitors including Rendon (141), Charlie Blackmon (140), and Nolan Arenado (127).

While many of his offensive numbers stack up against the top bats in the National League, it is that pesky RBI number that people just can’t seem to overlook. While he currently sits at 72 RBI, which is a significant amount lower than nearly all of the other MVP candidates, Bryant does not have the control over RBI that you would think sluggers would have. Bryant does not get to decide where he hits in the lineup, who bats in front of him, or how many guys there are on base each time he strolls to the plate. That is why RBI just should not be a statistic used to compare these ultra-impressive athletes. If you don’t believe me, check out what John Edwards has to say about it over at Sporting News.

Where KB really shows how worthy he is of another MVP award is in his defensive and baserunning metrics. Fangraphs values him at a 1.9 defensive rating, which is not much above average, but compared to the elite bats also vying for the MVP, he rates as one of the better defensive options. He is considered a more impressive fielder than Stanton (-2.3), Votto (-5.1), Paul Goldschmidt (-7.0), and Justin Turner (1.3) while sitting just behind Blackmon (2.4). This is due to his much improved ability at third base and his versatility to play all over the diamond.

Bryant is better than we expect defensively, but he really blows away the competition is his baserunning ability, which he has proven to be one of the best in all of baseball. After putting up the lowest GIDP rate in baseball history last season, he has put up a 4.7 BsR in 2017, which is better than every other MVP candidate, with the next closest player being Goldschmidt with a 3.2 rating. Bryant proves that you can help your team win games day in and day out on the base paths without stealing many bags.

The writers that vote for MVP after the season is over might get distracted by the flashy home run totals of Stanton or fall in love with the incredibly high walk-rate of Joey Votto. I am telling you that you need to look no further than the reigning MVP. Kris Bryant has put up numbers that are more impressive than the 2016 version of himself and stats that rival each and every one of your “favorites” in 2017. Just make sure that you don’t cause an uproar when he wins the award with less RBI than what you would like to see.