MLB: National League Playoff Race Getting Lit!

Sports fans love October baseball and the excitement that comes with it. So much history happens during playoff baseball. In the National League right now, it feels like October baseball every single night. One loss can move you from a playoff spot to out of the playoffs. The playoffs are in full effect for about 10 teams still trying to lock up a spot at October baseball. As it stands right now the playoffs would be the Cubs, Phillies, D’Backs are atop the division and the two wildcard teams would be the Milwaukee Brewers and the LA Dodgers. But there are 5 more teams that are a 3 game winning streak away from a playoff spot. First we’re going to get into the WILDCARD teams.

NL Playoffs LABeginning with the 6 seed or the second wildcard team. If the season were to end today. The LA Dodgers are sitting at 61-50, the same exact record as the Diamondbacks in Arizona. The D’Backs owned the Dodgers early on in the season and have the better record head to head against the Dodgers so far this year so they hold the tie breaker. That was then this is now. Playoffs are on the line and the Dodgers and Diamondbacks have 7 games left against each other beginning the end of August. For right now the Dodgers have a very slim grasp on the final spot. The Dodgers went all in on Manny Machado, who is most likely a rental player. They also grabbed Brian Dozier from the Minnesota Twins. With the loss of stud SS Corey Seager, they had to pick up the slack somewhere. Still not a lock to make the playoffs. Hopefully giving up those prospects to secure Machado for half a season comes back to bite them, yeah I am a D’Backs fan stop hating.

NL Playoffs CrewThe number 4 seed, or the 1st wildcard team, are the Milwaukee Brewers. They actually have more wins than the 1st place Cubs but are in second place by 1 game because they have more losses. They’re 64-49 right now and have made a few moves to go all in trading away some pieces and are neck and neck with Chicago. It’s safe to say both of those teams are sitting in the best position right now. The Brewers had 5 representatives in the All-Star game. Jesus Aguilar, Lorenzo Cain, Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffers, and Outfielder Christian Yelich were there 5 All-Stars. The team is balanced offensively and play great defense. Starting Pitching is the only question mark heading into October.

NL Playoffs GOldyMoving out to the Wild, Wild West. The Arizona Diamondbacks hold the slightest of advantages over rival Dodgers. As of right now, the D’Backs and Dodgers have the same record but the D’Backs are 8-4 against the Dodgers this year. The biggest flaw in the D’Backs post season blue print is the bullpen. They were a very aggressive team with a very depleted farm system. The D’Backs had limited top 100 prospects to package in trades but they made it work. Bringing relief pitcher Brad Ziegler back, who has more appearances than any reliever in D’Backs history. Also adding Matt Andriese from the Rays, he’s a relief pitcher that can log multiple innings out of the pen giving the D’Backs a long relief option. D’Backs also brought in Jake Diekman, the hard throwing lefty from the Rangers. Offensively, the D’Backs added two HUGE pieces in John Jay, with world series experience and recently added the switch hitter Eduardo Escobar to play 3rd. The pickup of Escobar turned out to be bigger than expected when Jake Lamb elected to have shoulder surgery shutting down his season. Terry Lovullo is prime to make another run at the post season. This time hopefully they won’t be playing in the stressful wildcard game.

NL Playoffs ArrietaMoving out east to the NL East. The Philadelphia Phillies are sitting in first place at 61-48. So the D’Backs, the Dodgers, and the Phillies all have 61 wins. The Phillies haven’t been relevant since Cliff Lee was throwing scoreless innings in his sleep. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are long gone now. Now they have Jake Arrieta who helped break the Cubs World Series slump. If they make the playoffs having Jake Arrieta is a serious advantage with his experience and toughness. Another huge off-season move was bringing in Carlos Santana from the Indians. Santana also has a lot of post season experience contributing to the Indians World Series Run in 2016. Santana has 16 dingers and 63 RBI’s. Moving to free agency picking up Asdrubal Cabrera from the Mets was a move that helps offensively and defensively. A Web Gem machine and adding 18 homeruns in 2018, Cabrera looks to help Philidalphia secure a playoff spot in the crowded National League.

NL Playoffs CubsFinally, the Chicago Cubs. The team we all used to cheer for because we felt so bad that they have gone so long without a World Series. Well, a lot has happened since that and am now looking for them to get dethroned in the division. None the less, the Cubs can put up runs in a hurry, play very good defense and have good enough pitching to make a deep post season run. The Cubs still have the core nucleus that won a World Series two years ago. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Wilson Contreras. Of course, they also have John Lester, who’s no stranger to big time games and the spotlight. Lester is 9-7 in the post season with a 2.55 ERA. Id be happy to have a pitcher like that on my squad to take the bump game 1 of a playoff series.

NL PlayoffsOk, so now we’ve seen the teams that are in as of now. We still have 2 months to go, but it should be safe to say that this playoff race will come down to the final week of the season. Starting in the NL East, the Atlanta Braves are only .5 games behind the Phillies. Sitting at 3rd place in the NL Central is the Pittsburgh Pirates who are 57-53 and 4 games back in the wildcard, 6 games behind the division leader Cubs. Oh lets not forget the Cardinals who are right behind the Pirates. Last time the Cardinals won the World Series they were 9 games out of the playoffs in early September. Having the Cardinals lingering around is not good for any body. The Giants, currently in the middle of a 4 game set with the D’Backs and 5 games out of 1st place. The team that is the scariest team is the Rockies who are 2 games out of 1st place in the NL West and have probably the best offensive lineup in the National League. Gold Glove 3rd basemen Nolan Arenado leads the team with 28 homeruns followed by Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story with 21 bombs. Ian Desmond is lagging behind with 19 homers. That is a lot of power in one lineup. 

The final playoff outcome is going to come down to the final week of the season. There are 10 solid teams scattered throughout the NL. A few winning streaks and losing streaks and these playoff spots will be turned around. A lot of these teams minus the Giants and Rockies made a ton of free-agency moves to get to the playoffs. We’ll see which moves paid off the most and if the patience of the Rockies paid off. Going to be a fun two months in the NL leading up to the REAL October baseball where legends are born.

 

 

MLB: AJ Hinch, Then and Now… Ousted By The D’Backs Becoming A Gem In Houston

A tale of two Cities. Arizona and Houston. Former Diamondbacks GM, Josh Byrnes decided that he wanted to change the current trend of a major league manager. When the D’Backs canned Bob Melvin, Byrnes went straight to AJ Hinch, who had zero managerial experience at the time. At the time he was hired by Byrnes, he was Director of Player Personnel in the farm system. AJ didn’t get much of a chance to succeed being that he was replacing Bob Melvin, who was loved in the clubhouse, and he has never been a skipper before. He went from T-Ball to the Major’s overnight and he wasn’t ready to lead a team at the time. however, he did get invaluable experience that prepared him to be a World Series Manager. He was hired at 35, fired at 36, with a record of 89-123. After he was axed from the D’Backs, he had no idea if he’d ever be given an opportunity like this again.

AJ Trophy

People questioned Josh Byrnes over and over again for the Hire of Hinch in 2009, but in reality, Byrnes was ahead of his time. GM’s are looking for the next AJ Hinch. At the time, the move was a disaster, Hinch and Byrnes were fired 14 months later. Being a Head Coach is one of the most insecure jobs, it is very cutthroat. If you don’t produce early, you’ll be on your way out real quick, and that is what happened for Hinch and Byrnes. Hinch didn’t even get to make it through a full season from start to finish before he was shown the door. At the time, D’Backs fans weren’t upset about it because Hinch was such a no name. Also, D’Backs fans were eager to have Kirk Gibson take over the team. Having Gibson the bench coach for Hinch didn’t seem right, given Gibson’s MLB resume.

He brings unique leadership and perspective to the job… We’re not here to reinvent the wheel, but to change the nature of the job a little bit? OK, we’ll do that. A.J.’s a leader. He connects with people. He gets things done.- Josh Byrnes after Hiring AJ Hinch.

The Astros GM, Jeff Luhnow, couldn’t stop thinking of AJ Hinch when he was doing his managerial search back in 2015. Hinch had a background unlike anyone else on the Astros short list. Hinch was only 40 years old which helps relate to the players in a clubhouse being younger, he also has 20 years of experience in the game. He’s ambitious, relates well to the players and has a psychology degree from Stanford. He’s worked as a catcher for 7 years, he’s worked as a farm director, an instructor, and Front-office executive.

AJ

This was a very bold move for Luhnow, the Astros were averaging 104 losses for the past 4 years prior to the Hinch hire. Astros Fans at the time wanted a big name. They were tired of losing and Hinch wasn’t a huge name, but he was the right name. The Astros were infused with young talent, Jose Altuve was a star, but he was producing all by himself. Carlos Correa was dominating the minors as a teenager and George Springer was a young talent that was a few years away. Luhnow wasn’t phased by Hinch’s win-loss record at the time. When those younger players hit rough patches or slumps, who better than to talk them up than AJ Hinch, “Been there done that,” he says. Hinch’s rough AZ stint only makes him a better manager today.

He’s a great human being… He loves the game. He loves the competition. When things haven’t gone well, he evaluates and tries to get better. I hate to be corny, but it’s his character… People who know him well trust his judgement, character, intentions. Those are important things in a job like that.- Josh Byrnes after Hinch was Hired by the Astros

Since taking over the Houston Astros, Hinch is 338-254 and took them to a 86-76 record his first season, including a post season appearance. The previous 4 seasons before Hinch they were 56-106, 55-107, 51-111, and 70-92 the year before Hinch. Hinch’s ability to connect with young players is what separates him from anyone else. He wanted to change the culture in Houston, and to let the young guys know that it is OK to fail. It’s how you respond to failure that separates a player. 

Why isn’t anyone around here talking about Winning? We’re not doing this just to get better. We’re doing this to win. The talent in this room is good enough to win right now, and it’s not OK to be mediocre anymore. – AJ Hinch addressing the Locker Room after being hired.

World Series Astros Dodgers Baseball

AJ Hinch’s path to the World Series was not easy and was filled with adversity, from his time as a catcher that only hit .200, or his very short time as skipper for the D’Backs. All of those struggles have made him a great leader. The Astros wouldn’t trade AJ Hinch for anybody. They’re a young team hungry to repeat as World Champions. Altuve, Correa, and Springer would run through a brick wall for Hinch, he’s a players coach and gets the most out of whatever lineup he throws out there. Currently, the Astros hold a 5 game cushion over the Mariners for 1st place of the AL West. AJ’s first words to the team have really resonated and sunk in. He said,  “Why doesn’t anybody talk about Winning?” Well, now that is the only thing the Astros talk about.