Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guest Post: Are the Washington Nationals Legitimate World Series Contenders

Are The Washington Nationals Legitimate World Series Contenders?

Major League Baseball has seen a major shift in the balance of power this year. The Pirates and Orioles are contenders while the Phillies and Red Sox are languishing. However, the Washington Nationals are perhaps the biggest surprise in baseball this year. Could they possibly be a contender to win it all this season?

Is Their Hitting Good Enough?

The Nationals are not exactly a team that hits for a lot of power. On top of that, their hitters tend to strike out a lot. Nationals batters have combined for over 1,000 strikeouts this season. The playoffs are a time when a lot of games are won by a run or two.

It isn't uncommon to see a 1-0 game in the NL playoffs. Washington is ranked 12th or lower in the NL when it comes to stolen bases, triples, home runs and other power statistics. For what it may be worth, the Nationals have a .585 winning percentage of their games that are decided by one run.

What Do They Have Behind Strasburg?

Everyone knows that Stephen Strasburg is the ace of their staff. What most people may not realize is that the Nationals have a couple of pitchers that are putting up numbers that are just as good. Gio Gonzalez is 16-6 with an ERA a shade over 3.20. Jason Zimmerman has a 9-7 record this season. However, that also comes with an ERA of 2.54.

Why is this important? The Nationals plan to shut Strasburg down sometime in September when he reaches 160-180 innings pitched for the year. After his most recent start, he has pitched 145.1 innings. Washington has already ruled him out for Stephen's final 2-3 starts.

Winning it all depends on having a great closer. Someone who can shut down the opposition in the ninth inning is incredibly important. The Nationals have that great closer in Tyler Clippard. He has converted 28 of his 32 save opportunities so far this season. Opponents are batting just .166 against him.

Having The Best Record In Baseball Helps

At the time of this writing, the Nationals have the best record in all of baseball. This means that Washington would have home-field advantage for the playoffs if they finish the season still on top. The ability to play the first and potentially the last game of any series at home is a huge advantage. They will also get home-field advantage in the World Series thanks to the NL winning the All-Star game.

Washington currently sports a .600 home winning percentage so far this season. This is good because any team that is bound to win a championship is going to do so by making its home park a scary place to play. However, if they do have to win a game on the road, they can do that to. With a .641 road winning percentage, there is no doubt that the Nationals can close out a series away from home.

Can the Washington Nationals win the World Series? They certainly have the pitching depth that is needed to make a serious run. Their record away from home indicates that they will be able to handle going on the road. Championship teams have to win at least one road game a series. What it will really come down to is the hitting. If the bats get hot, there may be no stopping the Nationals.

About the Author: Don Phan is an avid baseball fan and recommends FansEdge for the latest MLB gear including MLB team baseball hats for all major league teams.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Max Scherzer's Unusual Season

Max Scherzer is having an unusual season that would put him in exclusive territory.  With another start, he would be one of only a handful of pitchers ever with at least 150 innings pitched in a season and an average of over 11 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. 

7 pitchers have combined for such seasons:
Dwight Gooden (1984)
Nolan Ryan (1987, 1989)
Hideo Nomo (1995)

Randy Johnson (1995, 1997-2002)
Pedro Martinez (1997, 1999-2000)
Curt Schilling (1997)
Kerry Wood (1998, 2001, 2003)
Max Scherzer (2012)

The problem for Max is that he would have by far the highest ERA (4.27) and WHIP (1.37) of them.  The highest ERA in any of the previous 18 seasons was 3.40 (Kerry Wood's rookie season in 1998) and the highest WHIP was 1.26 (Kerry Wood in 2001).  His walk rate isn't terrible (3.2 BB/9), but he is surprisingly hittable for a great strikeout pitcher. 

The league is hitting .265 against him, making him 66th among qualified pitchers, right alongside Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke.   He has also given up 22 home runs, tied for 15th most in the league despite being 55th in innings pitched.  To be fair, he is still being haunted by his terrible April (1-3, 7.77 ERA 24.1 IP, 37 H, 13 BB).  He is not having a bad season (13-6), but a very unusual one that could make him an outlier in a very exclusive club.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Playoff Contenders - Part 1

Playoff Contenders (Non Shoe-Ins) Post All Star Break: Ranking ERA, Runs, Average
Braves # 2 ERA, # 9 Runs = 6.5 (average)
Giants 9, 4 = 6.5
D-Backs 11, 6 = 8.5
A's 10, 8 = 9
Cardinals 3, 18 = 10.5
Dodgers 5, 17 = 11
Rays 1, 22 = 11.5
Tigers 15, 10 = 12.5
White Sox 18, 13 = 15.5
Angels 30, 3 = 16.5
Pirates 19, 14 = 16.5
Orioles 16, 19 = 17.5

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How are the Orioles staying in the race with a negative run differential?

One of the more bizarre things in baseball right now is that the Orioles are in the playoff hunt (tied for Wild Card lead) despite have a run differential of -47.  Of the 16 teams over .500, they are the only one with a negative run differential and it's a pretty high one.  How high?  The closest team to it is San Diego, and they're 14 games under .500 (50-64).

What's going on here?  Part of it could be their extraordinary ability to win extra inning games.  They are 12-2 in extra inning games, and 22-6 in one run games.  They also have gotten blown out a fair amount, which gives them a relatively high team ERA (4.07, 19th) despite decent pitching.  Dig into the numbers a bit, and it's because of their epic struggles against 3 teams: Mets, Rangers, Angels.

Mets: 0-3, -11
Rangers: 1-3, -21
Angels: 2-7, -31

vs. Mets, Rangers, Angels: 3-13, -63
vs. Everyone Else: 58-39, +16

The one series against Texas (May 7-10) looks bad because they gave up a combined 24 runs over the first 2 games, but only 12 over the next 2. 

The good news is that they are done with the Mets and Angels and only have 3 games left against the Rangers (in Texas, August 20-22). Aside from losing 13-1 on June 27, their main problem against the Angels has been scoring runs (only 23 in 9 games).

Their schedule is not going to be easy.  They have series coming up against the Tigers, Yankees, Rays and A's.  The fact that they are nearly finished with the Rangers, and have nothing left against the Angels or Mets, doesn't mean that all their problems go away.  It does seem, though, that they were unusually weak against those opponents and it might help them get to a positive run differential before the season is over.

Friday, August 3, 2012

One Reason the Dodgers are in Trouble

Lowest Slugging %
2000: Devil Rays (69-92)
2001: Orioles (63-98)
2002: Tigers (55-106)
2003: Dodgers (85-77)
2004: Brewers (67-94)
2005: Nationals (81-81)
2006: Pirates (67-95)
2007: Giants (71-91)
2008: A's (75-86)
2009: Padres (75-87)
2010: Mariners (61-101)
2011: Mariners (67-95)
2012: Dodgers (57-50)

The Dodgers are in contention, in part because the Giants haven't been able to pull away.  Los Angeles was 30-13 on May 22 and 42-25 on June 17th, have slipped all the way to 57-50.  They lost Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to injuries for some time, and while they have returned, the power has not.  They don't have any other legitimate power threats in the lineup, although they're hoping that Hanley Ramirez can return to form (he hit 33 HR in 2008). 

As you can see (and as common sense would dictate), having the lowest slugging percentage is a serious problem.  The Dodgers aren't in danger of losing 90 games, but none of these teams made the playoffs (the 2003 Dodgers had the best ERA and scored the fewest runs, and missed the playoffs). 

If Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier start hitting some home runs (or someone else like AJ Ellis, who hit 2 tonight), then they should be in decent shape.  If they continue to have the lowest slugging percentage, they'll have to defy history to make the playoffs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guest Post - Three MLB Teams That Could Become This Year's Cardinals

Three MLB Teams That Could Become This Year's Cardinals

By now, everyone knows the story of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. A team that was virtually out of the playoff race, they went on an amazing run via a combination of skill and good timing to eventually win the World Series. Few people had the team even making the playoffs at this time last year.

Although what the Cardinals did isn't necessarily likely to be replicated anytime soon, that doesn't mean an underdog can't rise up and make some noise this season. This may be truer than ever, considering the new format of the Wild Card games. Two teams will now face off in a one-game Wild Card playoff, and the winner of that team will get a chance to make a run for the ages. Again, it's unlikely that another heavy underdog will make that leap, but a few teams right now have that look.

The first team that has to be on a lot of fans' radars is the Los Angeles Angels. Although July was a relatively ho-hum month for the Angels, there are several reasons to be optimistic. Most notably, the team just acquired right-handed pitcher Zach Greinke. In trading for the former Brewer, the Angels have strengthened their bullpen significantly. Between Greinke, Weaver and the rest of their stable of pitchers, the Angels appear well-positioned to take on any team in the postseason.

On top of this acquisition, the Angels also just had Vernon Wells come off of the DL. Although Wells has essentially lost his job to the sudden superstar Mike Trout, his presence is still going to be beneficial to the team. He'll be used sparingly, but will provide good insurance in case a player in front of him in the lineup should go down with an injury. Add in the fact that the team also has slugger Albert Pujols, who led that 2011 Cardinals team to the championship, and no one should be writing off the Angels just yet.

However, the Angels catching fire in the postseason would be contingent on the team winning their Wild Card game. That's no short order, considering that right now the team is scheduled to face the Oakland Athletics - a team that may be gearing up for a memorable run of its own. Some of the team's best baseball came during the month of July, as the A's went an impressive 19-5, knocking off the Yankees four times in a row and winning two of three contests against the Texas Rangers. They've gotten consistent pitching from Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, but the production in the batter's box from Josh Reddick and others also shouldn't be overlooked.

Finally, moving away from the American League, the Braves might be the National League team that looks best suited to surprise. The club had a setback when rising star Brandon Beachy went down with an injury requiring Tommy John surgery, but they've managed to continue to rack up victories in his absence. The team was looking to acquire former Cub Ryan Dempster to fill the his void, as well as the make up for the lack of production from struggling pitcher Jair Jurrjens, but the proposed trade ultimately fell short. Despite questions about how well their bullpen can hold up its end of the deal, the Braves managed to put together an impressive July where the team went 18-8 and won their last 7 ball games.

Surprise successes aren't always the case in sports, but Major League Baseball has certainly made the prospect of one more enticing with the new Wild Card format. An extra team in each league has a chance in the playoffs now, and that can only be seen as a positive. Incumbents like the Yankees and Rangers are fun to watch, but if one of these Wild Card teams manages to keep it together in the postseason, the whole baseball world will be on notice.

About the Author: Don Phan is an avid baseball fan and maintains a growing collection of sports collectibles as a hobby. His top baseball moment is sitting in the PNC Suites at Wrigley Field in 2012 with free food and drinks all game long.
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