Under-The-Radar Baseball Highlight of June 18, 2015

With low expectations coming into the year, the Phillies haven’t disappointed the seers and prophets of Major League Baseball.  They are 13 games back of the Mets in the NL East and currently own baseball’s worst record.  Outside of the Eagles signing Tim Tebow in April, the most noteworthy news out of Philadelphia in past two and a half months has been the trade rumors surrounding the Phillies, including discussions for Ben Revere, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and, especially, Jonathan Papelbon.

With the possibility of trade looming around Papelbon each day, the 34-year old right-hander has shown no sign of worry.  Papelbon is on pace to put up his best numbers since arriving in Philadelphia before the 2012 season.  While his save total is predictably down (though he has saved 13 of his team’s 23 wins), Papelbon has excelled in other areas.  His 10.5 strikeouts per 9 innings is his highest since 2012, the last time he made an All-Star team.  He hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 18 and his 1.01 ERA ranks 4th in the National League (min. 20 games played).

Papelbon has been the undisputed leader of a bright spot in an otherwise tumultuous season so far.  Phillies’ starters rank 27th in the Majors in ERA at 4.78, while Papelbon has helped the bullpen to 3.34 ERA, 11th best in baseball.

While Papelbon’s contract may be a bit hefty, teams haven’t seemed to be deterred by it.  The Cubs and Blue Jays are known to be scouting the closer, and interest from other teams will undoubtedly come out until a trade finalized.  Papelbon is owed the rest of the $13 million he is due this year, as well as $13 million next year should his vesting option kick in.  Papelbon would need to finish 26 more games this season (for a grand total of 48) for his option to be enforced.  Papelbon hasn’t finished fewer than 49 games since his first full season in Boston in 2006.

Papelbon has long been considered a dominant closer in baseball, and he is showing why this year.  He has a chance to end the year in the top 10 in career saves, and with a trade seeming inevitable at this point, he may be attempting to cement his name in the record book with a contender.

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PEDs in the HOF

With the announcement of which players will be forever immortalized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum coming at roughly 2 p.m. ET, I have decided to share my opinions about players who used Performance Enhancing Drugs getting elected.

To ignore Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and their PED era contemporaries is unfair to the Hall of Fame and to the game of baseball. While this time period was certainly not the proudest in Major League Baseball history, it happened. By not including these players in the Hall of Fame, the BBWAA is making a mockery of the game; a glorified vision of what they believe the game should look like, not what it actually looks like.

To disallow the players that took PEDs is, in my opinion, a travesty, though it is not nearly as wicked as excluding those who are only suspected of using these drugs. Without proof of reason, what is the basis in keeping these players out? Surely, these writers are rejecting these players with the fear of them one day admitting to using steroids. They don’t want their votes to contribute to the inclusion of a Jeff Bagwell or a Mike Piazza in the Hall of Fame if it will look immoral, now or in the future. This is a cowardice practice, a practice that these “journalists” shouldn’t be given the chance to exercise.

By excluding the small majority of Hall of Fame-caliber players that have taken PEDs (or simply those who are suspected of taking them) is to write a false history of the game of baseball. When looking at the 1960s, history textbooks don’t exclude the bad events and just keep the good ones. We write about our John F. Kennedy’s and our Martin Luther King Jr.’s, but we also must include our Fidel Castro’s and our James Earl Ray’s. It isn’t the job of the writer to put in only what they believe is good and dismiss what is not. It is not even the writer’s job to distinguish between two different occurrences. It is their job, however, to include the most important aspects of a certain era so whoever may see their work can have a full, comprehensive knowledge of the chief happenings of that time. Indeed, it is not up to the baseball writer to determine what is right or wrong. Rather, the writer must determine which of these contenders made a large enough impact to deserve enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, whether they may have ties to steroids or not.

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Under-The-Radar Baseball Highlight of June 15, 2014

Since coming into the league with the Reds in 2010, Travis Wood has established himself as one of the most dangerous pitchers at the plate in all of baseball.  He has hit one home run in each of the five seasons he’s played in the Majors, including five singers in his last 91 at-bats over the last two years.  While he didn’t hit a home run in yesterday’s ball game against the Phillies, Wood was able to show just how dangerous he is on the rubber.

After a solid two seasons pitching in Cincinnati, Wood was traded to the Cubs before the 2012 season and quickly demonstrated his value to his new team, starting 26 games that season and another 32 last year.  Though he’s on pace to start another 30-plus games this season, Wood hasn’t looked like the same pitcher he was in 2013.  Hopefully, after completing his best start of the year yesterday, Wood is on track to turn his season around.

Travis Wood threw a season-high eight innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Cubs 3-0 win on Sunday, allowing no runs, three hits, and three walks while striking out six.  The 112 pitches that Wood threw matched a season high and the start marked the first time all year that Wood didn’t allowed a single run in a game.  Neil Ramirez was able to help Wood earn his seventh victory of the season, the most on the Cubs, by throwing a flawless 9th inning.

After throwing a career-high 200 innings for the Cubs last year at age 26 (which led to a career-best 3.11 ERA), Wood has been largely ineffective in his starts this season.  After not having thrown more than 156 innings in any other season, it’s possible that Wood was just suffering from fatigue after getting off to a hot start.  Wood had a 3.52 ERA at the end of April, but compiled a 6.62 ERA during the month of May.  Wood has looked much better in June, amassing a 3.86 ERA in the month.  In yesterday’s start alone, he was able to lower his season ERA from 4.95 to 4.48.

With several teams already talking to the Cubs about the possibility of trading for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, Travis Wood could throw his name into that ring with a few more good performances.  The trade deadline is just a month and a half away, and Wood will have to hope that yesterday was the start of a turnaround in his game.  Whether he’s traded or not, Travis Wood clearly has the ability to be a dependable starter for any team in the Major Leagues.  He proved his worth with his best outing of the season in yesterday’s victory over the Phillies.

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Under-The-Radar Baseball Highlight of June 12, 2014

With the World Cup, U.S. Open, and NBA Finals all going on at different times on Thursday, baseball might have been temporarily forgotten.  Even so, yesterday was a Thursday in the middle of June, which means there was baseball to be played.  In a game between the top two teams in the American League East, it was an unlikely hero who helped the home team inch a bit closer to the head of the division.

With a star-studded cast around him (including, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz, and Manny Machado, among others) Delmon Young was the offensive hero for the Baltimore Orioles last night against the Toronto Blue Jays.  Facing one of the best pitchers in the game through two months in Mark Buehrle, Young helped the Orioles get going early.  After a Nick Markakis single to leadoff the 1st, Young belted Buehrle’s eighth pitch of the game over the left field wall for quick 2-0 lead.  The Orioles wouldn’t look back, never surrendering their lead in their 4-2 victory to cut the Blue Jays’ lead in the AL East to 3.5 games.  Young also added a single in the 5th inning to improve his batting average to .295.  

Though he doesn’t play the 150 games he once did, Delmon Young has proved to Buck Showalter and the Orioles that he can be a productive sporadic player.  Though he has only played in 31 games (21 starts), Young has hit .295 with two home runs and nine RBIs. He’s been most productive this year when hitting in the 2-hole in Showalter’s lineup where he has the protection of Jones, Davis, and Cruz.  As the 2-hitter, Young is hitting .387 with both of his home runs, five of his nine RBIs, and two of his four doubles.  Although only about 35% of his at-bats have come in the position, Young has flourished there.  He has proven that he can provide a spark for this incredibly dangerous Baltimore lineup.

Since the career of Delmon Young has felt like a long one, it might be hard to believe that he’s still only 28 years old.  Drafted first overall by the Rays in 2003 when he was just 17, Young hasn’t been one to shy away from controversy.  While the former-top prospect never developed into the All-Star he was supposed to be, Young has been able to be productive over the course of a few full seasons.  Now on the fifth team of his career (after a second stint with the Rays), Young has proved yet again that he is not over-the-hill or ready to give up on baseball.  If he can continue to play every other day and hit like he has through June 12th, Young will win a few more games for his ball club.

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Under-The-Radar Baseball Highlight of June 9, 2014

The Atlanta Braves beat the Colorado Rockies last night to keep pace with the Washington Nationals, who beat the red-hot San Francisco Giants, in the race for the NL East.  Although they had lost 4 of their last 5 games, the Braves were able to take the first game of their series against the Rockies behind a splendid pitching performance from Gavin Floyd. 

Gavin Floyd joined the Atlanta Braves in the 2013-14 offseason after pitching for the White Sox for seven seasons.  Despite starting at least 29 games from 2008-2012, Floyd was only able to crack a 4.00 ERA once.  When his durable faltered and he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in May of 2013, the White Sox opted not to resign the 31 year-old right-hander.

This decision has worked out quite well for Floyd so far.  Floyd returned to the majors one day before his one year anniversary of Tommy John surgery, throwing 7 innings of one-run baseball against the reigning NL champion St. Louis Cardinals.  Through seven starts in 2014, he has a 2.57 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 42.0 innings.  Though he hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a single start this season, Floyd was finally able to pick up his first victory as a Brave last night.

Facing the best hitting team in the majors and the highest scoring team in the National League, Gavin Floyd threw 6.2 innings while allowing only one run, a solo homer by Corey Dickerson to lead off the 7th inning.  Floyd allowed just three hits and walked three, needing just 95 pitches to get his 20 outs.  

Floyd, who went 0-4 in five starts last year, earned his first win since October 3, 2012.  

If not for injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd might not be starting for the Braves this season.  However, with his resurgence (as well as the resurgence of Aaron Harang and the emergence of Julio Teheran), the Braves own the best team ERA in the National League.  

Gavin Floyd has played no small part in the Braves success this season.  He will have to continue to pitch like he did last night if the Braves hope to keep up with the scalding-hot Washington Nationals and make the postseason for the third consecutive year. 

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Under-The-Radar Baseball Highlight of June 7, 2014

After finishing 30 games under .500 for the second year in a row in 2013, the Twins have made huge strides to improve their ball club this season.  After a big win last night, the Twins are 29-31 and just 5 games behind the Tigers for the division league.  

Yesterday afternoon, the Twins beat the suddenly-dangerous Houston Astros 8-0 behind the arm of one-time top prospect Kyle Gibson, who threw 7 shutout innings.  Perhaps the biggest story of the night wasn’t Gibson, but rather the performance of current prospect Danny Santana.

With Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano waiting in the wings to their shot in the big leagues, Danny Santana has proven that you don’t need to be revered in the minor leagues to succeed in the majors.  Santana (rated the 10th best prospect in the Twins organization), has gotten his career off to a hot start.  Hitting .373 in his first 67 at-bats, Santana, who has played both center field and shortstop for Minnesota this season, has proven to be a jack-of-all-trades for the Twins.

In yesterday’s ball game, Santana lead-off for the Twins and played DH.  He went 4-5, his first career four-hit game, with a double, four singles, and 5 runs batted in.  Santana had three separate RBI hits in the game, two of which came with two outs in the inning.

Now just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, the Twins need their young players to continue (or, in some cases start) to produce.  While veterans like Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham are expected to play well, Ron Gardenhire needs his newcomers, like Santana, Gibson, Brian Dozier, and Aaron Hicks, to carry most of the load for this young team.

With the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers coming up on the schedule for the Twins, each player must put his best foot forward.  If Santana can continue to hit like he did last night, the fans will be rejoicing in the Twin Cities.

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Under-The-Radar Baseball Highlight of June 5, 2014

On a night where the future of Major League Baseball was on display and every fan could revel in the optimistic atmosphere surrounding their respective team, there was still baseball to be played.

A few days ago, I wrote about the Tampa Bay Rays’ struggle and wondered why they’re playing so poorly.  Since then, the Rays have lost five more games to bring their current losing streak to ten games.  At 23-38 (.377 winning percentage), they have the worst record in baseball, just a year after finishing 21 games over .500 and making the playoffs.  Although they lost again last night, the Rays were able to see some tremendous baseball by one of their rising prospects.  

Perhaps even more discouraging than the Rays’ ten-game losing streak is the loss of reigning AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, who is expected to miss two months with a stress fracture in his wrist.  Last night, the man called up to replace Myers in the lineup put on the best performance of his career.

Kevin Kiermaier is in his third stint of the year on the major league ball club, and this one looks a bit more promising than the first two.  With Myers out, Kiermaier, a 24 year-old, former 31st-round pick, will get the chance to play nearly everyday in right field.  Known for his outstanding defensive abilities (he was put on the Rays’ 2013 postseason roster despite not having a single big league at-bat), Kiermaier has already played in each outfield position this year.  Now, he will get the opportunity to remain in one spot and show the Rays what he can do while playing on a consistent basis.

If last night’s performance is any indication, Kiermaier will be a great addition to the ball club.  Hitting 8th in the lineup, Kiermaier went 3 for 3 with a walk.  His hits included a single, a double, and the 3rd home run of his career, a solo shot in the 5th inning.  It was Kiermaier’s first career three-hit game and he now has 11 hits in 29 major league at-bats, a .379 batting average.  Although the Rays lost to their in-state rival Miami Marlins 11-6, the emergence of Kevin Kiermaier brings a sense of optimism to the dismal Tampa Bay Rays organization.

While best known for his defensive prowess, Kiermaier hasn’t been a slouch offensively at any level this year.  in between his call-ups, Kiermaier was hitting .305 with 28 runs and 11 stolen bases in 34 games for the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

Unless Kiermaier can perform at an extremely high level in the big leagues, he will most likely be relegated to bench when Myers comes back from his wrist injury.  That doesn’t mean that Kiermaier can’t be a productive player as the fourth outfielder on this team.  A young player, there is no doubt that Joe Maddon and the Rays will want to see what Kiermaier can do in the majors to see what kind of role he will play on the club next year.

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