Cardinals Trade Randal Grichuk to Toronto

The St. Louis Cardinals continued their trade-heavy offseason on Friday, trading outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays for reliever Dominic Leone and Minor League starter Conner Greene.

Grichuk is dealt from a once crowded outfield in St. Louis that is appearing to have less depth every single day. Once home to Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Dexter Fowler, Magneuris Sierra, Tommy Pham, and Jose Martinez, now only Fowler, Pham, and Martinez remain. The trade for Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins helps contribute to the depth on the team, but the outfield is not what it once was.

The Blue Jays are getting a guy that slashed his way to a .238/.285/.473/.758 line in 412 at-bats with the Redbirds. That was good for a 94 wRC+ which was the worst of his career since his rookie season. He has shown power potential during his time in St. Louis, putting up 22 home runs in 2017 in response to his 24 bombs in 2016. He will need to prove that his power numbers are here to stay, especially with a strikeout percentage hovering around 30% for the majority of his career.

In return, the Cardinals are getting much needed bullpen help. The 26 year old Dominic Leone had a breakout year in 2017 after struggling with the Diamondbacks in the year prior. In 2017, Leone threw 70.1 innings and accumulated a 2.56 ERA and a 2.94 FIP to go along with his impressive 1.05 WHIP. Opposing hitters batted just .199 off the right hander and he struck out hitters 29% of the time, the highest number of his career.

The Cardinals will also receive Conner Greene, a starting pitcher that spent the entire 2017 season in Double-A. Previously ranked as the 11th best prospect in the Toronto system, Greene struggled mightily on the mound last season. With 5.29/4.49/1.69 ERA/FIP/WHIP slash line, he will look to turn things around with a new organization. The kid is still only 22 years old and will have time to grow in the Cardinals system.

Giants Acquire Andrew McCutchen

After several years of trade rumors surrounding the former MVP Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates finally shipped him away in a package to the San Francisco Giants.

According to several sources, including Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Giants have agreed to acquire the five time All-Star centerfielder who has spent all nine season of his career in Pittsburgh. McCutchen will immediately slot in as the everyday centerfielder in San Francisco, a team who has been in desperate need of someone to fill that position.

Cutch is five years removed from his MVP winning season, but has still put up impressive numbers in the years following. In 156 games last year, he slashed an impressive .279/.363/.486 with a 121 OPS+. While he played centerfield the majority of the season, the Pirates’ original plan was to move McCutchen to right field with Starling Marte taking over his old position. That plan changed once Marte was suspended for his use of PEDs.

This trade comes on the heels of the Giants making a similar move this offseason when they acquired veteran third baseman Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays. The team appears to be determined to swat away any rumblings of a rebuild in the bay as they continue to build a roster to compete in a very tough NL West division.

Is paying for a big-money reliever worth it?

As salaries have climbed for players in the MLB over the last two decades, it makes sense that every position will experience this, including relievers. In 2006, Billy Wagner had the highest per-year salary in MLB history making an average of $10,750,00 from 2006-2009. Fast forward to today, Wagner’s mind-blowing salary in 2006 is now just the 17th highest ever for a reliever.

The Start of the Super Bullpens

A good bullpen has always been important to a team’s success, but it seems to have become paramount in recent years. In 2014 and 2015, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and Kelvin Herrera were a huge part of the Royals World Series runs. In the two seasons combined, Davis (0.97 ERA, 1.72 FIP), Holland (2.44 ERA, 2.43 FIP), and Herrera (2.13 ERA, 3.09 FIP) were nearly untouchable at the back end of the bullpen.

In 2016, the addition of shut-down reliever Andrew Miller (1.55 ERA, 1.53 FIP) to the Indians already good bullpen with Dan Otero (1.53 ERA, 2.33 FIP) and Cody Allen (2.51 ERA, 3.31 FIP) was perhaps the biggest factor in the Indians run-up to game 7 of the World Series. 2017 continued the same way for the Indians with an excellent bullpen, although they could not overcome the Yankees excellent lineup to make it back to the ALCS or World Series.

For those Yankees, 2017 was supposed to be part of their rebuild and they were not supposed to contend. Thanks to an MVP rookie season out of Aaron Judge and one of the most dominant bullpens in MLB history, the Yankees made it just one win from making it to the World Series. Chad Green (1.61 ERA, 1.75 FIP), Ardolis Chapman (3.22 ERA, 2.56 FIP), Dellin Betances (2.87 ERA, 3.22 FIP), Adam Warren (2.35 ERA, 3.02 FIP), Tommy Kahnle (2.70 ERA, 2.30 FIP), and the reunited David Robertson (1.03 ERA, 2.10 FIP) made it so any team facing a deficit after 5 innings would struggle tremendously to attempt any comebacks.

Also in 2017, the Dodgers had their strongest overall bullpen going back to the early 2000s with the likes of Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota, and Paul Quantrill. Kenley Jansen (1.32 ERA, 1.31 FIP) was the top reliever in the MLB, with Brandon Morrow (2.06 ERA, 1.55 FIP) breaking out for the best season of his career going back to 2012 when he was a starter for the Blue Jays. Kenley and Morrow were the backbone of the bullpen but had some 6th and 7th inning help from Luis Avilan (2.93 ERA, 2.96 FIP), Tony Cingrani (2.79 ERA, 1.86 FIP), and Tony Watson (2.70 ERA, 3.86 FIP). Brandon Morrow was used in nearly every game of the 2017 playoffs for the Dodgers, with great success in all but one or two games.

From these clubs, it has become obvious that a shut-down bullpen can carry you through the playoffs, and more teams are looking to strengthen their bullpens any way possible.

Wade Davis signs with the Rockies

 

Today, former Royals and Cubs bullpen ace Wade Davis signed with the Colorado Rockies for $52M over the next 3 seasons. While this was unexpected for most baseball fans, it continues a trend for the Rockies this offseason of giving money to relievers. Per Jeff Passan, in deals to Wade Davis, Jake Mcgee, and Bryan Shaw, the Rockies have given out $106M to just those three relievers alone:

The Rockies have seen the success of the Royals, Indians, Yankees, and Dodgers recently and seem to want to try and emulate it themselves. They had already started this process last year by acquiring Jake Mcgee before the 2016 season, but by adding Davis and Shaw they seem to be doubling their efforts. As well, Wade Davis is now making an average of $17.33M per year from 2018-2020, which just beats Aroldis Chapman at $17.2M per year from 2017-2021, making him the highest paid reliever per year in MLB history.

While the new trend of a shut-down bullpen has been working for some teams, the big question should be: Is paying for big-money for relievers worth it?

Top 15 Paid Multi-Year Relief Contracts Per Average Annual Value and Their Results:

Per Baseball Prospectus, here are the top paid relievers per their AAV. I have replaced single year contracts, as they are arbitration or pre-free agent deals.

1. Wade Davis, $17,333,333 (2018-20) – TBD
2. Aroldis Chapman, $17,200,000 (2017-21) – (1/5 seasons) 1.6 fWAR 3.22 ERA 2.56 FIP 4-3 22 SV in 50.1 IP
3. Kenley Jansen, $16,000,000 (2017-21) – (1/5 seasons) 3.6 fWAR 1.32 ERA 1.31 FIP 5-0 41 SV in 68.1 IP
4. Mark Melancon, $15,500,000 (2017-20) – (1/4 seasons) 0.4 fWAR 4.50 ERA 3.22 FIP 1-2 11 SV in 30 IP
5. Mariano Rivera, $15,000,000 (2008-10) (2011-12) – 9.7 fWAR 1.72 ERA 2.45 FIP 14-14 165 SV in 266.2 IP
6. Rafael Soriano, $14,000,000 (2013-14) – 1.3 fWAR 3.15 ERA 3.38 FIP 7-4 75 SV in 128.2 IP
7. Brad Lidge, $12,500,000 (2009-11) – -0.1 fWAR 4.73 ERA 4.45 FIP 1-11 59 SV in 123.2 IP
8. Jonathan Papelbon, $12,500,000 (2012-15) – 4.8 fWAR 2.38 ERA 3.03 FIP 16-13 130 SV in 261.1 IP
9. Francisco Rodriguez, $12,333,333 (2009-11) – 3.4 fWAR 2.88 ERA 3.14 FIP 13-10 83 SV in 197 IP
10. Joe Nathan, $11,750,000 (2008-11) – 3.5 fWAR 2.49 ERA 3.19 FIP 5-5 100 SV in 181 IP
11. Rafael Soriano, $11,666,667 (2011-13) – (2 seasons, opted out of 3rd) 1.6 fWAR 2.94 ERA 3.56 FIP 4-4 44 SV in 107 IP
12. Francisco Cordero, $11,500,000 (2008-11) – 3.1 fWAR 2.96 ERA 3.71 FIP 18-18 150 SV in 279.1 IP
13. David Robertson, $11,500,000 (2015-18) – 4.7 fWAR 2.88 ERA 2.88 FIP 20-10 85 SV in 194 IP
14. Billy Wagner, $10,750,000 (2006-09) – 5 fWAR 2.35 ERA 2.85 FIP 6-6 101 SV in 203.1 IP
15. Craig Kimbrel, $10,500,000 (2014-17) – 8.3 fWAR 2.19 ERA 2.16 FIP 11-11 152 SV in 243 IP

Based off of ERA and FIP, Brad Lidge is the only member of the group who was a total and complete bust. Mark Melancon had a rough 2017, but still has three years to turn things around and wasn’t awful. Every pitcher on this list, again, outside of Lidge, provided positive value through fWAR, with the minimum being 1.3 fWAR from Rafael Soriano in 2013 and 2014 and then 1.6 fWAR in 2011 and 2012.

Up next we need to take a look at money value compared to the actual value produced by the player to see how many of these contracts were worth giving out.

Fangraphs Dollars Per War

According to Fangraphs.com, each player, based on their fWAR value, is worth a certain amount of real world dollars. The base value changes a bit from year to year, currently worth just under about $8M per win.

1. Wade Davis, $17,333,333 (2018-20) – TBD
2. Aroldis Chapman, $17,200,000 (2017-21) – (1/5 seasons) 1.6 fWAR – $12.5M
3. Kenley Jansen, $16,000,000 (2017-21) – (1/5 seasons) 3.6 fWAR – $28.6M
4. Mark Melancon, $15,500,000 (2017-20) – (1/4 seasons) 0.4 fWAR – $3.6M
5. Mariano Rivera, $15,000,000 (2008-10) (2011-12) – 9.7 fWAR – $63.5M
6. Rafael Soriano, $14,000,000 (2013-14) – 1.3 fWAR – $9.6M
7. Brad Lidge, $12,500,000 (2009-11) – -0.1 fWAR – -$0.5M
8. Jonathan Papelbon, $12,500,000 (2012-15) – 4.8 fWAR – $34.8M
9. Francisco Rodriguez, $12,333,333 (2009-11) – 3.4 fWAR – $22.8M
10. Joe Nathan, $11,750,000 (2008-11) – 3.5 fWAR – $22.7M
11. Rafael Soriano, $11,666,667 (2011-13) – (2 seasons, opted out of 3rd) 1.6 fWAR – $10.4M
12. Francisco Cordero, $11,500,000 (2008-11) – 3.1 fWAR – $19M
13. David Robertson, $11,500,000 (2015-18) – (3/4 seasons) 4.7 fWAR – $37.5M
14. Billy Wagner, $10,750,000 (2006-09) – 5 fWAR – $27.5M
15. Craig Kimbrel, $10,500,000 (2014-17) – 8.3 fWAR – $64.9M

The above numbers are the total Fangraphs Dollars Per War value the players accumulated over the course of their contracts, or to this point in their contracts for those not yet finished. Of the 15 contracts, here are the ones that exceeded their contract value:

Kenley Jansen – $16M AAV with $28.6M Fangraphs Dollars Per WAR through one of five years of his contract. There are still four years left, however Kenley has gotten off to a great start and is already 35% of the way to living up to his contract.

David Robertson – $11.5 AAV with $37.5M Fangraphs Dollars Per WAR through three of four years of his contract. Going by AAV, Robertson has been paid $34.5M of his total contract and has been worth $37.5M. He has got one season left, but if he is worth about 1.5 fWAR next season, he will easily be worth more than the contract he signed, which is a huge win for the White Sox and now Yankees.

Craig Kimbrel – $10.5 AAV with $64.9M Fangraphs Dollars Per WAR. Through his four year contract, Kimbrel was paid $42M, and was worth a staggering $64.9M over that time. This is excellent excess value for a reliever, and the best of anyone on this list having been worth 150% of his contract.

Honorable Mention:

Mariano Rivera – At an AAV of $15M for five seasons, Rivera was paid $75M. Although he put up less Fangraphs Dollars Per WAR value at $63.5M, he missed all but 8.1 IP of the 2012 season, effectively putting up about $60M worth of value being paid $60M to do it. There isn’t an excess value there, but Rivera lived up to the billing of his then-highest ever MLB AAV contract of $15M per season, which is more than you could ask out of many highly paid relievers.

Should teams spend on big-money relievers?

After looking into the 15 biggest multi-year reliever AAV contracts, it does seem that almost all relievers are still quite good after signing the dotted line. One thing to consider about giving big contracts to relievers is that you may only get about half of your actual value back, but the reliever position breeds so many cheap and young players that will help off-set that value. This is why a team like the Yankees can afford to pay Chapman $17.2M a season while getting less production from him back. This is because they have younger and more inexpensive relievers like Warren, Betances, and Green to pick up the slack.

However, for the Rockies in 2018 with nearly a $50M bullpen, they will need their big-money guys to produce at or above the level they are paid because so many spots in the bullpen are so highly paid. Only time will tell if this strategy works out for them, but signing Mcgee, Shaw, and now Davis to long-term contracts does not look like a bad idea.

Whoa, We’re Halfway There: Recapping the MLB Offseason at the Midway Point

Every year, the holidays mark the point in the offseason in Major League Baseball that is smack in the middle of the final out of the World Series and the first day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. During that three month stretch in the winter months, there is plenty of time for teams to sort out their rosters with trades, free agent signings, and other roster moves. These very important changes go a long way in separating the contenders from the pretenders for the upcoming season.

Now that we are seven weeks down and only seven more to go, let’s take a look at the major story lines of the offseason so far.

Booming Reliever Market

This has been one of the slowest moving free agent markets in recent history, with signings virtually non-existent for a multitude of reasons. Some argue it is because of the Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton fiasco. Others think it is being caused by the changes made to the CBA or the shift teams have made to a newer, younger style of baseball. Whatever the reason may be, it has not slowed up the relief pitcher market in the slightest.

High leverage relievers have been flying off the boards in GM rooms across the country, with major contenders looking to upgrade their bullpens in any way possible. A shift to overpowering bullpens have been a major change that baseball has seen over the course of the last few seasons, and 2018 is shaping up to be no different.

A total of 14 of the league’s best relievers have been scooped up so far this offseason, with eight of them going to just four different teams. The World Champion Houston Astros have signed Hector Rondon and Joe Smith to shore up their shaky bullpen that almost let them down in the World Series last year. The previous season’s world champs, the Chicago Cubs, have signed Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to fill the roles of Rondon and Wade Davis. Meanwhile the Rockies picked up former Clevelander Bryan Shaw to go along with the re-signing of lefty Jake McGee. The rebuilding Phillies also added two veterans to their bullpen to assist with their young rotation by signing Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

Six other elite relievers were signed in this bullpen-driven offseason. Fernando Rodney (Twins), Anthony Swarzak (Mets), Luke Gregerson (Cardinals), Mike Minor (Rangers), Brandon Kintzler (Nationals), and Juan Nicasio (Mariners) all found new homes for the 2018 season.

Aces Staying Put

While relievers have been flying off the shelf, ace starting pitchers have not been uprooted in the slightest so far in this offseason market. Heading into the offseason, there were two available top of the rotation starters on the free agency market and two “available” top of the rotation starters on the trade market: Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Chris Archer, and Gerrit Cole.

The rumor mill has been basically silent for the former Cub Jake Arrieta heading into the holiday season. While the Cy Young Award winner seems very unlikely to return back to Chicago, the lack of any other interested teams has come as a surprise. A combination of his inconsistency over the last two seasons and his high asking price as a Scott Boras client lead to him being a tricky signing for any team. (Note: Watch out for the Milwaukee Brewers.)

Yu Darvish has been involved in enough rumors for all the starting pitchers on the market combined. Interested suitors have included the Cubs, Astros, and Rangers, as well as others. There is still no end in sight, but Darvish seems likely to be the first ace to find a new home in the coming weeks.

Both Chris Archer and Gerrit Cole are no strangers to trade rumors as their names have come up in trade talks for the last two seasons. Archer seems like an ace that will likely be on the move due to Tampa Bay’s apparent rebuild with the trade of Evan Longoria recently. His team-friendly contract will net a large return and he will immediately slot in at the top of any contender’s rotation. The same could be said for Cole as he appears to be closer to finding a new home. The likely destination in his scenario seems to be New York as the Yankees have shown tons of interest spanning over the last few weeks.

Angels are Going For It

FINALLY. Mike Trout will head into 2018 with a team around him that should have the Postseason on their minds. The greatest player of our generation and the player who will go down as the greatest baseballer of all time will be hitting in a lineup that will have some firepower this upcoming season. The Angels have put in work this offseason after signing Justin Upton to an extension following his trade from the Tigers at the deadline last year.

We start off with the Japanese Babe Ruth: Shohei Ohtani. The two-way player will look to make an impact on the mound and in the box this season as a 23 year old. He was one of the most impactful and crazy free agent signings in the history of the game for a reason. If you don’t know about this kid yet, use your Google machine to watch some videos and prepare to be amazed.

In addition to the electric factory that is Shohei Ohtani, the Angels also brought in a couple of infielders that will improve their team dramatically. The Halos traded for Ian Kinsler who will likely slot in at the keystone and work up the middle with Andrelton Simmons. Kinsler has been one of the most consistent players in the league throughout the course of his career. He has been drastically underrated for far too long and while he isn’t as good as he once was, he is still a major upgrade at second base. The team also signed free agent Zack Cozart, who will potentially be the every day third baseman. Cozart had been painstakingly average during his career up until 2017 when he seemed to put it all together. He was an All-Star and had a .385 OBP to go along with his 141 OPS+.

Marlins Fire Sale

Before we cover the actual trades that are going down in Miami, let’s first recap the utter stupidity that has gone down in baseball in regards to the Marlins recently.

In September, the franchise was sold from Jeff Loria to a group led by the likes of Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. Yes, THAT Derek Jeter. The team was sold for $1.2 billion and with it, Jeets & Co. got a team that has finished in the bottom four in home attendance numbers for four consecutive seasons and 15 of the last 16 years. In addition, the team has placed in the bottom six in all of baseball in Opening Day salary for their players the last four seasons and 16 of the last 18 years. As CEO, Jeter assumed control of a team with a stacked lineup that finished just ten games out of the NL Wild Card. With any sort of rotation that he could put together, the team would be well on its way to a playoff berth. Instead they got rid of players that the brand new front office could not afford.

So the team has begun a massive fire sale. It began with the trading of second baseman and leadoff man Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners for two prospects. Next in line was a man by the name of Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro and two more prospects. Then came Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals for four prospects. And just like that, the Marlins had traded three of their best players for a grand total of zero prospects that land in the MLB.com Top 100. One more time for the people in the back. ZERO top 100 prospects.

The next two players in line to likely be traded are outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher JT Realmuto. Realmuto has already requested a trade from the team and the versatile Yelich will likely have many suitors. If you are betting the over/under for total wins next season for the Miami Marlins, it may be early, but I’ll do you a favor and recommend you take the under.

You’re halfway there, people! Only seven more weeks until you can start reading stories about how your favorite player has lost weight since last season or revamped his swing and will be poised for a “breakout year!”

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