Can the Orioles Slug in October?

Posted on October 16th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

No team in all of Major League Baseball hit more home runs in 2014 than the Baltimore Orioles – and it wasn’t particularly close. The Orioles lived and died by the long ball this season, and most of the time they were living right. They finished with the second-best record in the American League and will host the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. Led by Nelson Cruz, the Orioles were able to overpower most of their opponents even while getting a sub-par year (and suspension) from Chris Davis. If the homers keep coming, the Orioles could cause some serious trouble for opponents in October.jones

Power Outage?

But will they? That is the question. Traditionally, teams that are built on power struggle to keep up the pace during the playoffs. The pitching naturally gets better, making it more difficult to hit home runs. The weather usually gets colder, depending on the location of the games. Since most teams don’t end up using their back-end starters, or lesser relievers, during the playoffs, it’s simply tougher to use power to score runs. Generally, teams that are able to create runs with speed and singles are the ones that rise to the top.

Big Home Field Edge

With that said, the cozy confines of Baltimore’s home park could be a big help in terms of getting on the scoreboard. Camden Yards is one of the easiest parks in the league in which to hit homeruns, so the fly balls should still be able to reach the stands even if the weather cools off. The Orioles will have home field advantage over everyone else in the American League other than the Angels, but of course the games in L.A. should still be plenty warm. Thanks to the American League victory in the All-Star game, the Orioles would have home field advantage in the World Series as well, should they advance that far.

The bats of guys like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, and more will have a lot to say about how far the Orioles are able to advance in the playoffs. Baltimore doesn’t have the quality pitching of some of the other teams in the playoffs, so they will have to have the big bats step up if they want to advance. Those bats have proven all season long that they are capable of rising to the occasion, but it is a different kind of game in October. Only time will tell if they are able to keep sending the home runs over the fence as the temperatures drop and the pitchers improve. If they do, the Orioles just may be the team to beat.

Felix Hernandez is King

Posted on October 9th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

One of the biggest stories of last offseason was the Seattle Mariners surprising acquisition of Robinson Cano. The Mariners had been struggling for the better part of a decade, and no one expected for the future Hall-of-Famer Cano to end up taking his game to the Pacific Northwest. It was a high priced gamble for Seattle that has already paid off – the Mariners had their best season in years in 2014 and were just one game short of Wild Card position in the American kingfelixLeague. With Cano locked up for years to come, it seems that the Mariners might be on the right track after all these years.

Already a Star Shining Bright

However, lost in the discussion about Cano coming to Seattle, was the fact that the Mariners already had a legitimate superstar on the roster. Felix Hernandez is a Cy Young winner who is on a very short list of the best pitchers in the world. Most would agree that Hernandez, known as King Felix in Seattle, is the best pitcher in the American League, and is probably the pitcher on the planet not named Kershaw. While a starting pitcher doesn’t play every day like a second baseman does, there is no debating the star status of the King.

Still Getting Better

Amazingly, it would seem that Hernandez actually had his best-ever season in 2014. It didn’t seem possible for him to improve on his previous years, but he managed to take home the ERA title in 2014 and will very likely be the winner of the Cy Young award for the second time in his career. Beyond his on-field statistics, Hernandez has become an institution in Seattle and is easily the most-popular player in the city. He has already signed a long-term contract extension, and he and Cano are poised to be the face of the Mariners for many years to come. Hopefully for Mariners fans, it is a partnership that will lead the team back into October soon enough.

In terms of collectibles, Felix Hernandez is certainly one player you want to have represented in your collection. Rookie cards of the King are highly desirable, as are pieces that relate to his 2012 perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. If you are serious about assembling a collection that represents all of the best players in baseball from each time period, Felix has more than earned his spot for the last several years in Major League Baseball. Be sure to track down a few of your favorite Felix-related pieces and add them to your collection. If the Mariners are able to make it into October and the King adds a ring to his already impressive mantle, your collection will be all the more impressive.

Diminutive Altuve Leading the Way for Astros

Posted on September 1st, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

There hasn’t been much reason to pay attention to the Houston Astros over the last few seasons. They have remained near the bottom of the standings, and have mostly filled out their roster with young, unproven players. While significant help appears to be on the horizon in their farm system, the current crop of major leaguers playing altuvefor the Astros has been nothing to write home about.

However, so far in 2014, there has been one very notable exception to that rule. Jose Altuve, originally known mostly for his small stature, is surprising everyone by leading the league in hitting as well as stolen bases. He was selected for the All-Star team this season, and appears to be the first piece of the puzzle for a rebuilding Astros squad. With Altuve already in place as a blossoming star, the Astros can work on filling in the pieces around their second baseman to put together a contending team.

Altuve is listed at a height of 5’6’’, but even that seems like it might be a little bit generous. He is among the shortest players to ever reach the major leagues, yet that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a challenging opponent to face. Not surprisingly, he has only hit 18 homeruns in his 4-year major league career, but has already produced more than 100 doubles – thanks in large part to his speed. That speed, along with talent running the bases, has allowed him steal over 40 bases so far this season, before the month of July is even over.

Just 24 years old, Altuve seems to be positioned well to remain at the top of his game for many years to come. For baseball collectors, adding some pieces that represent this young man’s growing career would be a wise choice – especially considering how unique it is to have someone of such short stature doing big things in a game dominated by men six feet and above. His size makes him a crowd favorite, as does the exciting way in which he plays the game.

It is not hard to envision the Astros returning to near the top of the standings with Altuve leading the way in the leadoff spot in the order. If they are able to assemble some more young hitters behind him – such as George Springer and Jonathan Singleton – brighter days might not be far off. The Astros are considered to have one of the better farm systems in all of baseball, thanks in large part to all of the high draft picks they have had in recent years. As long as those players develop on schedule through the minor leagues, the Astros could very well be a force to be reckoned with in the very near future.

Will Troy Tulowitzki Remain a Rocky?

Posted on August 25th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

By almost any measure, Troy Tulowitzki is one of the very best players in baseball. The shortstop for the Colorado Rockies plays great defense, hits for average, hits for power, draws walks…and on and on. It is rare to find a shortstop that offers the complete package of skills on both sides of the game that Tulo brings to the table, which is why he is recognized as one of the truly elite players in either league.

With a long term contract in place through 2021, it would seem like Tulo isn’t leaving Denver anytime soon. After all, why would a team that possesses one of the best players in major league baseball be looking to get rid of him? Well, for the Rockies, Tulo is one of the only things they have moving in the right direction. The team is out of contention again this year, and there have been rumors that Tulowitzki might prefer to be traded away to a team that has a better chance of contending while he is still in his prime. With a certain Yankee shortstop retiring at the end of the season (Jeter, Derek), the rumors practically write themselves.

The question the Rockies face is one that many teams have run into over the years – do you trade away your best player and risk angering your fans in the hopes that you can bring back enough young talent to turn around the fortunes of tuloyour team? It is a gamble to be sure, but it is one that needs to at least be considered. At age 29, Tulowitzki is right in the middle of his prime, and would be sure to command an impressive return in any trade negotiations.

There is, however, one ongoing issue regarding Tulo that put a hamper on the offers that the Rockies would receive in trade negotiations. Tulowitzki has had something of a problem staying healthy throughout his career, missing most of the 2012 season, playing in 126 games in 2013, and already having missed some time in 2014. While he certainly isn’t old at 29, players with injury problems tend to have more injury problems as they age – raising red flags for teams that might want to trade for the star shortstop.

Does that mean that the Rockies would be unable to trade him for a nice package of players in return? Of course not. However, it might make it hard for them to find the mega-deal that would make it worth trading away a fan favorite and one of the best players in the game. It stands to reason that the Rockies would have to be overwhelmed by a trade offer in order to move their star player, and it remains to be seen whether or not that will happen given the off-and-on injury history that Tulowitzki has demonstrated over the past few seasons.

The Time is Now for Michael Brantley

Posted on August 18th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Not all major league players develop at the same pace, if they develop at all. There were high hopes for Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians when he broke into the majors at just 22, but he largely struggled for the first few years of his career. He made his debut in the 2009 season, and by the end of the 2012 season he had only 16 career homeruns to his credit. In 2013 he did hit 10 homeruns and drive in 73, but his OPS was just .728.

In many ways, 2014 could be viewed as a make or break season for Brantley, and he is sure making the most of it to this point. He has already surpassed his best ever homerun season by hitting 15, and there are still a couple months of baseball to be played. His OPS is way above his career average, as are almost all of the rest of his numbers. Brantley made his first all-star team in 2014, and seems poised to finally make good on all of that potential and claim his place among some of the best outfielders in the game.

Even better news for the Indians and their fans is that Brantley is already signed to a very team-friendly contract for the next several seasons. He is signed through 2017 at least, with a team option for 2018. He is due to make 5 million in 2015, 6.5 million in 2016, and 7.5 million in 2017. While those are impressive salaries for anyone to take home, they brantleyalso represent a significant discount over his true market value if he is to keep performing at his current all-star level.

Baseball runs in the family for Brantley, who is the son of former major leaguer Mickey Brantley, who played in parts of four seasons for the Seattle Mariners in the mid-80’s. At 6’2’’ with good speed, he has the prototypical build and athleticism for an outfielder. So far in 2014, the Indians are hanging right around .500 and trying to contend for the second wild card position. If the Indians are able to improve their pitching to go along with the offense led by Brantley, they just may be able to hang in the race and grab a playoff spot for the second year in a row.

It has only been four months of excellent play so far in 2014, so Brantley likely has a little further to go before he is commonly thought of as one of the games top players. However, with the impressive skills that he possesses, and the numbers he has put up so far this year, very few will be surprised to see him continue at or near this pace.

Down Years Ahead for Red Sox and Yankees?

Posted on August 11th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

If there is one thing that seems like a constant in baseball, it is that the Red Sox and Yankees are contenders year after year. Even in years where neither team makes it to the World Series, it is rare that a season goes by where both teams are near the bottom of the standings. This season, the Red Sox have followed up their World Championship by returning to last place in the A.L. East, a position they also held in 2012. The Yankees, while still in contention, have hovered around the .500 mark for most of the season.

Looking ahead to the next few years, it has actually become easy to picture a scenario in which neither team is a significant player in the playoff picture. Both teams have aging star players, specifically the soon-to-be-retired Derek Jeter for the Yankees, and David Ortiz for the Red Sox. Even with big budgets to spend on new free agent acquisitions, it jetermight be tough for either team to assemble enough talent to overcome the shortcomings on their roster.

In the case of the Yankees, the offense has really struggled throughout the 2014 season. The loss of Robinson Cano has certainly hurt their productivity, as Jeter is no longer an elite level hitter or defender. Mark Teixeira has struggled with injuries yet again, and starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia are both hurt as well. Over the years, the Yankees have thrived by paying aging star players to come to the Bronx, but it seems as though that strategy is backfiring on them currently.

On the Red Sox side of the coin, the offense is also largely to blame for their problems. Jon Lester and John Lackey have been solid in the rotation, although Clay Bucholz has struggled. Other than Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox offense has been severely lacking and help doesn’t appear to be close at hand. With Lester’s future in Boston up in the air after this season, the Sox could soon find themselves scrambling for an identity.

So, does baseball need strong seasons from the Yankees and Red Sox in order to stay relevant and keep ratings high? No – it doesn’t. There are strong fan bases all around the league, and a few down years from two of the more prominent organizations in the game won’t have a significant impact on revenues overall. Baseball, like all other sports, goes in cycles, and we just might be heading into a cycle where the vaunted Red Sox and Yankees aren’t the dominant teams that they have been in recent years.

Can the Oakland A’s Win in October?

Posted on August 4th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

The Oakland A’s under Billy Beane have had a very specific – and well-known – strategy for building teams without having a large payroll. The A’s have found players that could fill specific roles on their team who have been cast-off from other places, as well as developing players from within their own system. Rather than having a few star players on their roster, the A’s have focused more on quality depth from 1-25, and it has paid off. Despite spending less than most teams each year, Oakland consistently finds themselves at or near the top of the standings, and often in the playoffs. Since 2000, the A’s have made the playoffs an impressive seven times.

That, however, is where it starts to get complicated. Of those seven series, the A’s have won just one. That one series win, in 2006, was followed by a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. In their six ALDS series losses over that span, the A’s have made it to a fifth and deciding game each time – and lost them all. That includes four seasons in a row from 2000 – 2003. While there is always some level of random chance involved in playoff baseball, the A’s certainly don’t have a good track record of carrying over there success from the regular season.

As the A’s continue on a path to again qualify for the playoffs in 2014, the obvious question remains – what will be different this time around? Are they going to be able to get out of the first round, or is this October issue one that is here to stay? There are really two schools of thought when it comes to the problems the A’s have had in the playoffs. The first way of thinking is that the A’s have just be the victims of bad luck and poor timing. After all, they made it to a fifth game mossin those six first round losses, so the season basically came down to nine innings. Anything can happen in one game, and it is just coincidence that they keep coming up short.

The other way of thinking believes that the problem lies in the way the A’s construct their roster. By favoring depth over star power, Oakland seems to be perfectly suited to playing well in the regular season. They can withstand injury, and replace players who are underperforming with someone else on their deep roster. However, when October comes around, that depth doesn’t really have a chance to show itself. The series are short, and the games are often won and lost by the star players on either side. For example, the last two seasons have seen Oakland lose out to the Tigers led by Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera – star players who Oakland simply can’t match.

Only time will tell of the A’s are able to break this trend and achieve success in the playoffs. They appear to be a sure thing to have another chance in 2014, although they may have to go through a one-game playoff if they are unable to better the Angels for the American League West crown.

The Miami Marlins are Surprise Contenders

Posted on July 28th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

Coming into the 2014 season – just like the past couple of seasons – the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals were expected to compete for the N.L. East title. And, so far, that has been the case – Atlanta and Washington are closely linked in the standings, and will probably be battling for most of the summer to decide who comes out ahead.

However, there is a surprise third entrant into that tight East race who stands poised to put a wrinkle in all of the predictions. The Miami Marlins are right there with the Nationals and Braves, despite losing their star pitcher Jose Fernandez to season-ending Tommy John surgery. With a pitching staff that has been solid, and a deep lineup that has been doing enough to win so far, the Marlins seem like a teamstanton that could stick around into September. While they are down one star player, it is the presence of another that gives reason for optimism in Miami.

Stanton is a Star

Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton is a young star outfielder for the Miami Marlins, and one of the strongest hitters in all of baseball. Stanton’s homeruns are frequently highlight reel material, either for their overall distance or the sheer speed at which they leave the park. Currently, he leads the league with 20 homeruns and 57 RBI’s, and has an OPS of .979. Considering that he is just 24 years old this season, the future is bright for Giancarlo and the Marlins.

As a testament to his power, Stanton owns three of the eleven longest homeruns hit so far in 2014, including the longest, measured at 484 feet. He has also registered the homerun with the fastest speed off the bat, with a ridiculous 119.9 MPH. It doesn’t matter which measurements you decide to use, Stanton has power that is unmatched in the game today.

More than Just Strength

Beyond his impressive power, Stanton is a good overall hitter. He has struck out 77 times already this season, but still manages to carry a .394 on base percentage, which is among the league leaders. Not surprising, he also leads the league with 14 intential walks, as teams decide they would rather have other Marlins hitters try to beat them. It has worked out for Miami to this point, as they are a couple games over .500 and right in the middle of a crowded N.L. East race.

Get Your Collectibles Now

Giancarlo Stanton is already a great player, and only seems poised to further establish himself as one of the best in the game. A Hall-of-Fame career is not out of the question for Stanton, which is why now is the time to grab some collectibles from his early years. Most likely, his career will continue on an upward trajectory and the value of his baseball cards and other items will continue to grow along with his status in baseball. Find a few rookie cards to put into your collection and watch as his career develops over the coming seasons.

Kyle Seager – Quiet Star

Posted on July 21st, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

If you look at the offensive statistics among A.L third baseman so far in the 2014 season, you will find some things that aren’t surprising at all. Sorted by OPS, Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson are 1-2 in the rankings. No surprise there at all – both are considered to be among the best in the game, and for good reason. Donaldson already has 17 homeruns on the season, while Beltre has been a perennial standout throughout his long career.

In the third position, however, is a name that many would not have expected to find. Kyle Seager, third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, has an .810 OPS for the season – easily good for third among qualified players in the A.L. Evan Longoria, star player for the Tampa Bay Rays, for example, is fifth at .732. In addition to hitting well for Seattle, Seager also plays excellent defense and takes the field almost seagerevery day. He certainly isn’t a superstar, but he is teaming with Robinson Cano to form a formidable punch in the middle of the usually meek Seattle offense.

Not a Surprise

While Seager isn’t well known across the country, his performance shouldn’t be seen as that big of a surprise. He has hit 20 homeruns in both of the last two seasons, and has been improving his on base percentage year after year as well. Seager wasn’t as heralded out of college as other draft picks within the Mariners organization, but he has become possibly the best player they have developed from within since Felix Hernandez – and the best home-grown hitter since well before that.

Contract Talks Soon?

Kyle Seager isn’t due to be a free agent until the 2018 season, but he is arbitration eligible next year. For the Mariners, the time might be right to start talking about a contract extension that locks up Seager for the foreseeable future at a fair rate to both sides. As hard as it has been for the Mariners to develop hitting talent, getting Seager under contract at a controlled rate is something that is likely high on their priority list. With Cano in place for the next decade, locking up Seager could shore up half of the infield spots with quality hitting and defense.

A Potential Collectible Target

Outside of the Seattle-area, there likely aren’t many baseball collectors with Kyle Seager pieces in their collection. However, that could be due to change in short order, so you might want to get ahead of the curve and start picking up a couple items when you get the chance. It is not a stretch to see Seager as a future All-Star third baseman in the American League – especially after Adrian Beltre decides to hang it up. With the ability to hit for power in terms of both doubles and homeruns, and to drive in runs in the middle of the Seattle order, Seager could stack up the kinds of numbers over the next few years that finally get him the recognition he deserves.

Not So Fast for Albert Pujols

Posted on July 14th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

It’s no secret that Albert Pujols has seen a steady decline in his performance since moving west from St. Louis to Anaheim. The slugger is among the best right-handed hitters of all-time, however, his performance over the last couple of seasons has many wondering if the Angels made a huge mistake in committing as much payroll as they did to Pujols. His first year in L.A. was 2012, during which he put up good-but-not-great numbers. Last season, he struggled with injury and had the worst season of his career by far.

Coming in to 2014, the thinking around the Angels was that Albert was fully recovered from his injuries and was ready to return to form. pujolsThrough the first month of the season, that looked to be exactly the case. Pujols had a .927 OPS in April, with nine home runs and 23 RBI’s. The power was back, the production was back, and it looked like the Angels had the player they hoped to get when they signed him a couple years ago.

Not So Fast

Unfortunately for the Angels and their fans, that production has not lasted. In May, Pujols hit only .234 with a .732 OPS and just nine RBI’s. So far in June, his numbers have dipped even further, with just a .689 OPS to his credit in 14 games. For a lumbering first baseman who doesn’t offer anything in terms of speed or other contributions, the Angels need Pujols to hit if he is going to be a valuable contributor to their success. At least at the moment, that isn’t happening.

Could They Have Seen This Coming?

Every player, no matter how great, eventually declines due to age. It is inevitable, and only a matter of when, not if. Pujols is in his age-34 season, and has amassed over 2,000 games in his Major League career. For a big guy who relies on strength and power to get his numbers, this is something the Angels possibly should have been concerned with. Big players don’t often age well, with David Ortiz being something of an exception to the rule. Considering the fact that the Angels owe Pujols $30 million in the 2021 season, it is safe to say they are worried about his sudden decline in production and what it might mean for the rest of his contract.

Still A Hall-of-Famer

As with other players who begin to decline, all of this doesn’t mean that Albert Pujols is suddenly a bad player who doesn’t deserve a place in your baseball collection. He still is, and will remain, one of the best right-handed hitters of all time, no matter how the rest of his career plays out. The numbers he put up for the Cardinals will not be taken away, and Pujols is sure to be headed to Cooperstown when his career comes to an end. Of course, none of that makes the Angels feel much better at the moment. For Angels fans, a return to the hitter that Albert used to be is what they are counting on in order to challenge the A’s at the top of the American League West.