It would be understandable if Bryce Harper felt a twinge of jealously over the Washington Nationals reaching the World Series in the first season since his departure. That is not the case, the Philadelphia Phillies slugger insists.
Harper spent the first seven seasons of his MLB career with the Nationals, and despite how the team was perennially considered legitimate World Series contenders during much of his tenure, success in the postseason was always frustratingly elusive.
Now, with Harper’s first season in Philly ending without a playoff berth despite similar buzz, he has to watch the Nats play in their first Fall Classic. That’s fine by Harper.
“I think it’s about being able to be the person that I am and not saying to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m not a National.’ Or, ‘Oh my gosh, those guys are doing what they’re doing. I can’t believe it. I’m so jealous,’” Harper told The Athletic. “No. I’m so happy for them. You know how hard it is to get into the postseason and win games. For them to be able to put it together this year the way they have, it’s an amazing thing.”
Harper also noted how being envious of the Nationals’ success this postseason would serve little purpose, especially given how it was his decision to sign a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies instead of remaining in D.C.
“I made my decision, and that was my decision,” Harper said. “And it was the final decision that I made. You know, jealousy isn’t good. For me, it’s about having the gratitude to go out and do what I do each day and not having an attitude toward anybody else.”
Nationals fans have thoroughly enjoyed mocking and ridiculing Harper over how the team made it to the World Series without his help. Their antics are not surprising, as things got downright ugly at times whenever Harper returned to D.C. this season.
That said, there seem to be no hard feelings on Harper’s behalf toward the Nats organization or their passionate fans. At least he insists that is the case.
Well, you guys, this is it. The 2019 World Series is finally set in stone with the Houston Astros taking on the Washington Nationals. Houston will be looking to win its second title in three years, while Washington is looking for its first-ever championship.
Now that we know who will be representing both the American and National Leagues, it’s fun to look at the similarities and differences between each squad. The biggest similarity they share is having star-studded and dominant starting rotations.
Official probable starters haven’t yet been announced, but it’s not inconceivable for the first three games to look like this:
Game 1: Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer
Game 2: Justin Verlander vs. Stephen Strasburg
Game 3: Zack Greinke vs. Patrick Corbin
That in itself is just mouthwatering for any baseball fan. When looking at season-long fWAR produced in 2019, each of these six ranked within the top 15 among qualified starters. Corbin was the only one not in the top 10 with his measly 4.8 fWAR. (Insert sarcasm here.) Interestingly enough, both Houston and Washington looked outside their respective organizations to build these fearsome three-headed monsters — Strasburg is the sole homegrown hurler of the bunch.
If we continue using fWAR as the benchmark, the Nationals (21.4) and Astros (19.4) led the National and American League, respectively, with regard to rotation production. The similarities don’t just stop at fWAR, though.
Houston did lead all of baseball with a 125 team wRC+ throughout the regular season. However, Washington did end up in the top 10 on a season-long basis and within the top-five if when considering just second-half production. So they’re not slouches with the bat, either.
The most striking difference between these two Fall Classic opponents, though, is what they did to reach this point. The Astros spent the majority of regular-season play atop the American League West, while the Nationals’ slow start prevented them from being a first-place team at any point in 2019.
The best way to display the difference in expectations for these clubs is to see their odds of winning their respective league pennants throughout the year (via FanGraphs). As the below graph shows, the Astros are supposed to be here, but not many were expecting the Nats to do the same.
For the Astros, the chances of them becoming American League champs started out just above 25.0 percent and didn’t crest below 40.0 percent after the beginning of August. Washington didn’t start the year much worse, but its odds didn’t even reach 20.0 percent until September 30 — the day after the final regular-season games.
This should be a fun series to watch. The Astros likely have the overall advantage when looking at the entirety of their roster, and they’ve also been a little more battle-tested. The Nats have looked impressive while defeating the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. However, sweeping St. Louis has given Washington a full week off before Game 1 of the World Series. That’s probably good for their pitchers, but who knows what kind of rust needs to get kicked off as they take the field again.
Two teams with some similar strengths, but much different roads taken en route to reaching the same place and chasing after the same goal. This is what baseball is all about.
“Sometimes you got to wait for good things,” said Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. His team swept the Cardinals to win the National League.
Patrick Semansky/AP Washington Nationals’ Yan Gomes and Daniel Hudson celebrate after Game 4 of the baseball National League Championship Series Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Washington. The Nationals won 7-4 to win the series 4-0.
As the Washington Nationals moved a party 86 years in the making from their ballpark’s infield to the clubhouse, manager Dave Martinez paused near the dugout and thrust the silver NL Championship Series trophy overhead, to the delight of loud, delirious fans still in the stands.
Who would have thought this was possible five months ago, when the team was flailing, trade talk was swirling around Washington and folks figured Mr. Martinez’s job was in jeopardy?
From 19-31 during a mediocre May to the Fall Classic in an outstanding October – and the city’s first World Series appearance since 1933.
Extending their stunning turnaround, the wild-card Nationals got RBIs from middle-of-the-order stars Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in a seven-run first inning Tuesday night, and Patrick Corbin’s 12-strikeout performance plus a trio of relievers helped hold on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 in Game 4 to complete a sweep in the NLCS.
“Often, bumpy roads lead to beautiful places,” said Mr. Martinez, “and this is a beautiful place.”
Right from the first inning Tuesday, most in a sellout crowd of 43,976 rose from their seats to applaud or yell or twirl their red towels, to chant “Let’s go, Nats!” and “M-V-P!” and various players’ names, enjoying every moment of that game-deciding outburst.
And then, a couple of hours and several innings later, as Tanner Rainey, Sean Doolittle, and Daniel Hudson were protecting a shrinking lead, those same spectators stood and shouted and reveled some more.
“I just kept counting down: We’re 12 outs from the World Series. We’re nine outs from the World Series,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “Six. Three.”
Now the Nationals get plenty of time to rest and set up their so-far terrific rotation before beginning the last series of the season against the Houston Astros or New York Yankees in a week. Houston leads the best-of-seven AL Championship Series 2-1 after winning Game 3 at New York 4-1 Tuesday.
The Nationals became the fourth team to reach the World Series after being 12 games under .500.
“We think we can compete with any team, any time,” NLCS MVP Howie Kendrick said. “People always get caught up in the things that are on paper, but the reality of it is you have to go out and play. Once we get out on the field, anything can happen.”
The last time the World Series came to the nation’s capital, more than eight decades ago, the Washington Senators lost to the New York Giants in five games. Have to go even further back, to 1924, for the city’s lone baseball championship, when the Senators defeated the Giants.
The Senators eventually left, and the town didn’t have a major league team at all for more than three decades until the Montreal Expos – who were founded in 1969 and never made it to the World Series – moved to Washington in 2005.
The Nationals had never managed to advance in the postseason since arriving, going 0-4 in the NLDS over the last seven years, including three Game 5 losses at home.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals’ first draft pick in Washington, was there for all of that heartache.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you got to wait for good things.”
This month alone, the Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild-card game after trailing 3-1 heading to the eighth, and eliminated the league-best Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the NL Division Series after trailing 3-1 heading to the eighth again.
Then came this lopsided dismissal of the NL Central champion Cardinals, who were outscored 20-6 in the series.
“Of course, we could’ve played better,” said St. Louis first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who was 1 for 16 with nine strikeouts in the NLCS, “but we didn’t.”
Mr. Corbin, a left-handed pitcher signed with $140 million of the money that became available last offseason when Bryce Harper left town to join the Philadelphia Phillies, was not quite the equal of Washington’s other starters in the series.
Still, he did become the first pitcher to strike out 10 batters in the first four innings of a postseason game and earned the win after allowing four runs in five innings.
Then Mr. Martinez turned to his NL-worst bullpen, such a problem for so much of this season.
After Mr. Rainey got three outs, and Mr. Doolittle got five, Mr. Hudson came in for his fourth save in four chances this postseason. It wasn’t easy, though: After replacing Mr. Doolittle with two outs in the eighth, Mr. Hudson hit his first batter and walked his second, bringing pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter to the plate as the go-ahead run with the bases loaded.
Mr. Carpenter, a career .481 batter with the bases full, grounded out to second baseman Brian Dozier, a defensive replacement who briefly lost the ball before gathering it and throwing to first to end that inning.
Mr. Hudson finished things with a perfect ninth, getting Tommy Edman on a fly ball to center field to end it, and red fireworks went off around the stadium.
Mr. Corbin got this evening started with a 1-2-3 top of the first, striking out all three Cardinals with a high, 95-mph fastball, a real contrast to the off-speed stuff Stephen Strasburg used for his own dozen Ks a night earlier.
In the bottom half, Washington put up those seven runs, all charged to rookie Dakota Hudson, who lasted all of 15 pitches – doing to the Cardinals what they did in the previous round, when they scored 10 to open Game 5 of the NLDS against Atlanta.
All the heartache of playoffs past seemed to dissipate during an evening that only briefly was tense for the home team and its supporters: In the fifth, a juggled Cardinals lineup finally awoke, scoring three runs – one more than the team managed to produce in Games 1-3 combined – to get within 7-4.
With a man on second and the tying run in the on-deck circle, Mr. Corbin came through, striking out St. Louis’ 3-4 hitters, Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna, with sliders.
After becoming comeback specialists, the Nationals never trailed against the Cardinals. And dating to the final week of the regular season, Washington has won 16 of its past 18 games.
“We proved – and this doesn’t require advanced sabermetrics,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said, “you have to get a lead to win a game.”
For every Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Madison Bumgarner or Jack Morris, there are a handful of greats throughout MLB history whose regular-season light fails to shine in October. From some of the most notable shortcomings of today, back to legends who came out short decades ago, here is a look at a handful of baseball’s best regular-season performers…who failed to live up to expectations in the postseason. 1 of 25
Bagwell stands as one of the most decorated Astros of all time, winner of 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and 1994 NL MVP honors. He helped the Astros to the postseason six different times; however he often left his best performances behind by October. Bagwell hit .226 with a .685 OPS over 33 postseason games. In his lone World Series appearance, he went 1-for-8 over 10 plate appearances, only able to DH due to an elbow injury.
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Biggio spent his entire 20-year career with the Astros, becoming the club’s career leader in seven different categories, including hits, runs scored and games played. Alongside Jeff Bagwell as one of the famed “Killer B’s” of Houston, he played in nine postseason series in his career. But like his Hall of Fame teammate, Biggio struggled in October, hitting only .234 overall for his career and failing to drive in a run or steal a base over his first 14 postseason games.
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The most decorated player to never capture a championship in his career, Bonds lived on the brink of postseason greatness throughout his career. He reached the National League Championship Series on four different occasions but hit only .203 (16-for-79) once there. He did thrive once finally breaking through to the World Series, hitting .471 with four home runs in 2002, but subpar overall play caused his teams to come up short too many times.
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Campy was a three-time MVP and helped the Brooklyn Dodgers reach the World Series five times between 1949 and 1956. But after owning a career split of .276/.360/.500 in regular-season play, the Dodger catcher’s performance tailed off in the Fall Classic. Campanella hit .237 with four home runs in 32 World Series games. However, two of those homers came in the 1955 Series, which the Dodgers won.
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Cano reached the postseason in seven of his nine seasons with the Yankees and even assisted on the final out of the 2009 World Series. Otherwise, his postseason career has featured some craterous performances, including a .133 mark in 2006 and .136 in the 2009 Series. In his most recent postseason appearances to date, Cano hit a combined .075 (3-for-40) over two rounds in 2012 playoff action.
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Fielder was one of the premier sluggers of his era, averaging 35 homers a season between 2006 and 2015. Yet during that same time span, he suffered some significant power outages by the fall. Fielder hit just five homers over 185 postseason at-bats while hitting just .189. This was lowlighted by three series of averages of .150 or worst.
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At his best, Glavine produced one of the dominant postseason performances of all time, allowing one hit over eight shutout innings to close out the 1995 World Series. His excellent World Series career — a 2.16 ERA, 4-3 record over eight starts — masks some significant struggles in others. In 1992, he allowed 13 hits and 10 runs over seven innings in two NLCS starts. In four other series, Glavine had an ERA of over 5.00. Overall, his 87 career walks are the most in postseason history.
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The “Doctor” was out by the time October rolled around. Over 12 appearances and 59 innings, Gooden went winless in his postseason career, going 0-4. He posted an 8.22 ERA over three ALDS appearances, which came later in his bumpy career, but he didn’t fare much better before his problems with substance abuse derailed his career. At his peak form in 1986, Gooden went 0-2 with a 8.00 ERA against the Red Sox in World Series play, allowing 17 hits and walking four.
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Kershaw has played an irreplaceable role in the Dodgers’ run of success over the decade but has often been at the center of their postseason letdowns as well. He owns a sub-.500 (9-10) postseason record despite owning the third-best winning percentage in regular-season history. He has allowed five or more runs eight times in his playoff career, the most in history, and is also one of two players ever to allow seven runs in consecutive postseason starts (2013-2014).
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Mays made five trips to the postseason during his dazzling career and left without a memorable moment to his credit. He hit just one home run during 99 plate appearances and contributed just six extra-base hits. In 1951, he hit into a record three double plays in Game 4 of the World Series while hitting just .182 in a losing effort against the Yankees.
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McGwire staked his reputation by hitting tape measure homers for the A’s and Cardinals. However, he didn’t test the dimensions of many ballparks in October, hitting just five postseason homers in 42 games. After hitting .389 in the 1989 ALCS, McGwire hit just .189 over his next seven playoff series (79 at-bats).
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Morgan was a central part of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s, helping the club to consecutive World Series wins in 1975 and ’76. However, he was often missing in action by the time the playoffs had come around. The two-time MVP hit just .182 over 50 postseason games. In the Cincinnati’s World Series loss in 1972, Morgan hit .125 (3-for-24) and hit underneath .200 in six of his 11 career playoff series.
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The 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner stands as one of the most horrid postseason hurlers of all time. Over nine playoff starts, Peavy was owned to the tone of a 7.98 ERA and 1-5 record. He worked to a 1.82 WHIP, letting up 53 hits over 38 innings and walking 17 in the process. Over three World Series starts, Peavy had a 9.58 ERA, including a 12.79 showing amid two losses in the 2014 Series with the Giants.
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One of the most feared run producers in history, Perez surprisingly contributed little to the scoreboard in postseason play. Over 47 career playoff games, he drove in 25 runs, most of which came during a three home run, seven RBI effort during 1975 series (in which he still hit just .179). Take away that ’75 showing, and Perez never homered in 26 other World Series games and hit underneath .100 in two separate NLCS appearances.
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Baseball’s first $30 million per year pitcher, Price has performed well south of that in postseason value. Although he won a pair of games in relief, it took Price 10 years to win his first postseason start, which came in the 2018 ALCS. Up to that point, Price had routinely been shellacked in October, owning a 5.44 ERA between 2010 and 2017, offset by a 1-8 record and 11 home runs over 12 games.
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Posada played in a whopping 125 postseason games in his career, the second most in history. While he played in six World Series and won five, Posada’s playoff performances weren’t particularly memorable on an individual level. Over 492 trips to the plate, he hit just .248 and contributed a -2.33 win probability added. Posada’s average in ALCS play sat at .224 before lowering to .219 lifetime in the World Series.
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The Dodgers reached the World Series in six of Robinson’s 10 years with the club, an outcome that was far from happenstance. But while Jackie’s dynamic play regularly launched Brooklyn to the top of the National League, his playoff struggles often were an Achilles’ heel between more titles coming to Ebbets Field. Robinson hit under .200 in three of his six Series appearances and managed just six stolen bases in the process.
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Carrying all of the substantial expectations that come with being $250 million superstar with the New York Yankees, the spotlight was especially bright on A-Rod by October. However more often than not, it was for the wrong reasons. Rodriguez hit under .200 in eight separate Series with the Yankees, tallying 33 strikeouts against just five RBI in those series.
Joe Maddon’s tenure as manager of the Chicago Cubs is coming to an unsurprising end.
The Cubs announced the move Sunday ahead of the final game of the season, following a meeting between Maddon and team president Theo Epstein on Saturday evening.
Maddon will always be remembered as the manager who helped deliver the Cubs’ first World Series in 108 years. He’s 471-338 as the team’s skipper in a tenure that included four postseason appearances. In the final year of his contract, however, the Cubs collapsed down the stretch and will miss the playoffs, which gave Epstein little choice.
As late as August, Maddon believed he’d get a new contract. Things changed in September, though, and given how the team’s season finished, this will not come as a shocker. Maddon should not be out of work for very long.
The 2019 MLB season has been a year filled with great baseball. These 25 stories were the biggest of the regular season.
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Home runs galore
The “juiced ball” has impacted the game in recent seasons but not close to what we saw in 2019. MLB had a record number of home runs, and there were similar results at Triple-A, which also adopted the same juiced ball. More than half of MLB teams could set their own franchise records this season, and the Twins became the first team in history with five 30 home run hitters.
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Continued strategic evolution
The game continues to change shape with more defensive shifts, bullpen moves and quick hooks for starting pitchers. More teams than ever are also employing “openers” and bullpen starts.
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Christian Yelich’s encore
Yelich’s season ended in September due to a knee injury, but up to that point he proved his 2018 NL MVP season was no fluke. He raised his OPS by 100 points and had a career-high 44 home runs, 30 stolen bases and a .329 batting average in only 130 games. Yelich’s main competition for the MVP Award this year is Dodgers star Cody Bellinger.
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Mike Trout’s excellence
Trout’s season ended early with a foot injury, but the Angels star is the clear favorite to win the AL MVP, which would be his third. He led the AL in on-base and slugging as of mid-September, with a 1.083 OPS and 45 home runs.
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Injuries no problem for Yankees
The amount of star power the Yankees lost to injuries this season was remarkable, but even more remarkable was their response. The team lost stars Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Miguel Andujar, Luis Severino and Dellin Betances for significant periods, but several role players and veteran minor leaguers emerged to help the team easily win the AL East. 6 of 25
The reigning World Champs had a season they’d like to forget. While they’re likely to finish above .500, the pitching staff held them back from returning to the playoffs in 2019. The starting rotation had a 4.88 ERA as of Sept. 17, 20th in MLB, and lost high-priced starters Chris Sale and David Price for significant portions of the season. Front office decision head Dave Dombrowski was fired in September, and the team could be set for big moves this offseason. 7 of 25
Tyler Skaggs’ tragic death
The beginning of July brought tragedy to MLB, as Angels starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs passed away on July 1. The cause of death was later found to be opioids, and MLB is contemplating opioid drug testing, as a result. 8 of 25
No stopping Justin Verlander
Verlander has aged like a fine wine and is well on his way to winning his second Cy Young Award this year. At age 36, he leads the AL in wins (19), ERA (2.50) and innings pitched (212). Houston should feel good about the two years remaining on his contract.
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New trade deadline rules
MLB ended the Aug. 31 waiver deadline this year, resulting in a wild July 31 trade deadline. Among the headliners were Zack Greinke getting traded to Houston and Nicholas Castellanos moving onto the Cubs. If the league wanted to create more buzz with a single deadline, it accomplished its goal. 10 of 25
Mets offseason moves backfire
New Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen was an unorthodox hire, and he had an unorthodox approach with the team in his first offseason while many were calling for a rebuild. Instead, the team took on money and traded some of its top prospects to Seattle for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano. Both of those players floundered in 2019, and free agent acquisitions Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie were also major disappointments. 11 of 25
Young players continue to drive the game, and 2019 saw another terrific rookie class. Among the stars to emerge were Pete Alonso, Fernando Tatis Jr., Yordan Alvarez, Bo Bichette, Bryan Reynolds and Chris Paddack. 12 of 25
The recent success of the Astros and Cubs has driven many other teams to follow the same rebuild plan, which means stripping down to nothing at the major league level. That’s probably the smartest way to build a champion, but it’s been rough for fans of Baltimore, Detroit and Miami, among others. As a result, league attendance continues to decline with those teams being major culprits.
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The injury bug is inescapable, but the numbers of stars lost this year was particularly disappointing. Identifiable players like Giancarlo Stanton, Corey Kluber and Carlos Correa missed large portions of the season, and September featured the losses of Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Javier Baez. 14 of 25
More free agent drama
The 2017-18 offseason was a rough one for veteran free agents, and it was arguably worse this past offseason. For the second straight year, multiple second-tier stars were without contracts come opening day. Dallas Keuchel eventually found a one-year deal in Atlanta, and Craig Kimbrel signed a three-year agreement with the Cubs, but the recent issues are publicly impacting the relationship between the owners and players. 15 of 25
Bruce Bochy’s swan song
Giants manager Bruce Bochy is wrapping up his career this season, as he continues to be honored for his 25 years of service between the Padres and Giants. San Francisco’s season is ending in disappointment for the third straight year, but Bochy is rightfully getting plenty of recognition.
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Los Angeles claimed its seventh straight division title and is hoping that its last game of the year is a win for the first time in that stretch. The Dodgers are well on their way to another 100-win season, but anything short of a World Series win will be a disappointment.
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Phillies can’t spend Into the playoffs
The Phillies were one of the winners of the offseason, signing Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson and trading for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto. An incredible string of bullpen injuries and a struggling starting rotation doomed them, however, and the team is all but eliminated from the playoffs for the eighth straight year. 18 of 25
Twins emerge again
Minnesota was a surprise wild-card team in 2017 before regression last year. A big offseason and the hiring of manager Rocco Baldelli has spurred the Twins to a likely AL Central title for the first time since 2010, with a record five 30-plus home run hitters. 19 of 25
Billy Beane outsmarts again
While Oakland lost in the wild-card game last year, not much was expected of the A’s this year with major losses in their starting rotation. Yet the team has a great shot to win a wild-card spot for the second straight season, getting great years out of the likes of Mike Fiers, Chris Bassitt and Brett Anderson, as well as breakouts from Marcus Semien and Ramon Laureano. 20 of 25
Pittsburgh entered the All-Star break still contending in the NL Central, just one game under .500 and 2.5 games back in the division. The Pirates went 21-41 over their next 62 games and imploded in every way imaginable. Injuries, suspensions, clubhouse fights and the arrest of closer Felipe Vazquez for statutory sexual assault mired a season that couldn’t end soon enough for the team. 21 of 25
Mariners making moves
Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto earned a reputation as a willing trader before this season but took it to a new level this season. Through trades, transactions and promotions, the rebuilding squad used more players than any team in baseball history during 2019 as the M’s sit in the cellar of the AL West. 22 of 25
Cleveland withstands pitching setbacks
Cleveland entered the year with a scary rotation led by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. The team got a combined 43 starts out of that trio, with Kluber suffering an arm injury, Carrasco missing time with leukemia and Bauer getting traded to Cincinnati at the deadline. Somehow, the team has still managed to pitch well, led by Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber, as it fights for a playoff spot in the final weeks of the season. 23 of 25
Rays continue doing it differently
ampa Bay continues to make revolutionary, strategic changes to the game as it fights in a high-powered division with minimal resources. After winning 90 games last season, the team is set to do even better this year and could win an AL wild-card spot despite losing Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow for significant portions of the season. Manager Kevin Cash continues to work wonders.
It’s fair to say the 2019 MLB season has been the year of the rookie. All around the league, first-year players have burst onto the scene to make immediate impacts, and in some cases have become instant stars. Just look at what some of these guys have done:
The Mets’ Pete Alonso currently leads the majors with 47 home runs.
Before he got hurt, San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. was hitting .317 with 22 homers and 53 RBI in only 84 games.
Houston’s Yordan Alvarez has crushed 22 long balls in only 240 at-bats.
Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hasn’t quite dominated the way he did in AAA, but he’s shown immense power and potential, and the show he put on at the Home Run Derby will be talked about for years.
Atlanta’s Mike Soroka is a legitimate NL Cy Young candidate.
The Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds is hitting .328 and could well win the batting title.
The list goes on and on. Keston Hiura, Christian Walker, Eloy Jimenez, Austin Riley, among others look like cornerstone everyday players in the big leagues.
This unprecedented wave of talented players making their debuts all around the same time got us thinking. Let’s take a look at 10 players who could make a similar rookie impact in 2020.
1. Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox system has been strong for several years now, and while Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and the above-mentioned Jimenez have already thrived in the big leagues, Robert figures to join them in the near future. The native Cuban dominated three separate minor league levels in 2019, hitting .328 with 32 homers and 92 RBI while stealing 36 bases and adding 31 doubles and 11 triples. He was recently named the minor league Player of the Year by USA Today, and it’s a reasonable assumption that he’ll be patrolling center field at Guaranteed Rate Field very early next spring.
2. Gavin Lux, IF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Lux’s status on this list is a bit tenuous, as he was just promoted to the big leagues this week, and it’s likely going to be close whether or not he accumulates 130 at-bats and loses his 2020 rookie status. Provided he doesn’t, he should be the hands-down favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year next season. In the minor leagues this season the 21-year-old slashed an astounding .347/.421/.607 while crushing 26 homers and driving in 76 runs. He’s a natural shortstop who has played second in his early exposure in the big leagues, a position that may become his ultimate home given the presence of Corey Seager. Regardless at what side of the second base bag he lines up defensively, Lux can flat out hit, and it’s no surprise the Dodgers wanted to give him a look down the stretch to see if he can make a push for a postseason roster spot. 3. Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros
Houston has been waiting for the talented left-handed slugger to go from dominant minor leaguer to dangerous middle-of-the-order bat in the big leagues, and it seems fair to assume that transition will finally occur next season. With AAA Round Rock in 2019, Tucker hit .266 with 34 homers and 97 RBI — the third consecutive minor league season he drove in over 90 runs. Perhaps even more impressive is the 30 stolen bases he racked up, as no matter what level you’re playing in, it’s incredibly difficult to produce 30/30 seasons. Tucker’s blend of power and speed have long made him desirable to other teams in trade discussions, but the Astros have consistently hung up the phone before talks could get off the ground. His organization’s belief in him hasn’t been deterred, however, and it’s time for the 22-year-old to reward its patience.
4. Carter Kieboom, IF, Washington Nationals
The Nationals took Kieboom in the first round out of high school three years ago, and he’s done nothing but shoot through their system since. In 412 at-bats in AAA this year, the young infielder hit an impressive .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBI while also tallying 24 doubles and 203 total bases. Injuries necessitated a brief big league promotion in late April, and while he did hit his first two big league homers during that 39 at-bat stint, Washington shipped him back to Fresno when it got some veterans back. Next season, however, the Nats figure to have an opening at second base, as Brian Dozier signed only a one-year free agent pact last winter, and his performance has not warranted Washington doubling down, especially given the presence of Kieboom, who conceivably will team with shortstop Trea Turner to form this team’s long-term double play combination.
5. Casey Mize, SP, Detroit Tigers
Mountcastle is far from a perfect prospect, but his power potential is simply hard to ignore. In a little over 500 at-bats for Baltimore’s AAA affiliate in Norfolk, the 22-year-old hit .312 with 25 long balls and 35 doubles. His .527 SLG percentage finished sixth in the International League, and it’s easy to see why the Orioles are high on his bat. That said, Mountcastle does have things to work on. For starters, he doesn’t really have a defensive position. He played third base in 2018 and predominantly first this season while also mixing in some work in left field. A future as a big league DH could very well be in the cards. Plate discipline is also of some concern as the big right-handed slugger walked only 24 times all year, making his .344 OBP simply remarkable. All told, while Mountcastle is raw, the O’s are in no position to not take a flier, and if he gets consistent at-bats in 2020 it may just become too difficult to get him out of the line-up.
8. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
The son of longtime major league third baseman Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan has blossomed into quite the hot corner prospect. In 110 games in AAA this season the Pittsburgh’s first-round pick from back in 2015 hit .261 with 10 homers and 55 RBI, but those numbers only tell some of the story. His 31 doubles, 13 steals and renowned defense at an important position help paint the picture of a solid player who can do just about everything on a baseball diamond. The Bucs have started Colin Moran or Jung-Ho Kang most nights at third base this season, and while Kang is no longer in Pittsburgh, Moran is not someone who should block the team’s best position player prospect. Hayes doesn’t profile as a can’t-miss star, but he should be an above-average everyday third baseman for a long time, potentially beginning as soon as next opening day.
9. Justin Dunn, SP, Seattle Mariners
Dunn came to Seattle in the much-discussed winter trade with the Mets that netted the Mariners outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, and while that alone would seem to make the deal a heist for the M’s, the righty has the potential to make this one of the most one-sided trades of all time. In 25 starts in AA in ’19, the Boston College product worked to a strong 3.55 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP while punching out 158 hitters in 131.1 innings and limiting the opposition to a .236 batting average. Scouts don’t look at Dunn as a future big league ace or even a No. 2, but a strong showing in spring training would put him in discussion for a rotation spot, and it’s certainly feasible he could become a key cog in Seattle’s starting five sometime in 2020.
10. Nate Pearson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto is a team to buy stock in, as with youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio already contributing to the parent club, the organization’s farm system has more talent coming. Pearson paces that group. In 25 minor league starts this season the right-hander posted a 2.30 ERA in 101.2 innings while delivering an 0.89 WHIP and a .176 batting average against. He struck out well over a batter/frame while issuing only 27 free passes all season. And on a team with little to be excited about on the mound, particularly after Marcus Stroman was traded for New York, Pearson is quickly going to become a name to know among baseball fans in Canada.
Baseball’s stretch run is in full swing, and while a handful of clubs — the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers and Braves — are locks to be playing in October, the remaining playoff spots are very much up for grabs. Every team in the hunt has legitimate stars aiming to lead it to the game’s biggest stage, but here at Yardbarker we’re focusing on guys who are not quite household names but will still have a big impact on the season’s final six weeks.
1. Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Hiura had long been the crown jewel in the Brewers system, and since arriving in the big league’s to stay in late June, he’s done nothing but impress. Since July 1, the former first-round pick has hit .307 with 14 home runs, and his emergence has allowed Milwaukee to shift veteran Mike Moustakas back to his natural position of third base and send struggling Travis Shaw to AAA. The Brewers were a trendy pick to dethrone the Dodgers in the National League this season, and while the year has not gone entirely to plan, they’re still right in the thick of not one but two heated races. Entering play tonight, Milwaukee sits just one game back of both the Cardinals and Cubs in the NL Central and one game out of an invitation to the NL wild-card game. If they do ultimately get to participate in the postseason, Hiura may well be the primary reason why, as while the rookie has thrived toward the top of the Brewers lineup, several veterans on this team have underperformed.
2. J.D. Davis, IF/OF, New York Mets
The January trade the Mets made with the Astros to bring utility man J.D. Davis to Queens drew few headlines. The right-handed hitter had always crushed minor league pitching during his tenure with Houston but had failed multiple times at the game’s highest level. New York, though, was undeterred, as it felt his struggles with the Astros were a direct result of sporadic at-bats because of a logjam of talented players at the positions he could play. Fast forward seven months, and that bet is paying huge dividends. In the early portion of 2019, Davis was mostly a power threat off the bench for the Mets. But after injuries opened up regular playing time for him, the 26-year-old has become impossible to take out of the lineup. Since the beginning of July, he’s hit an incredible .367 while reaching base at an absurd .428 clip. He’s begun to hit for a little more power in August, as he’s already blasted four homers this month and driven in 11 runs, and his somewhat surprising production is one of the biggest reasons the Mets have been able to climb back into the pennant race.
3. Paul DeJong, SS, St. Louis Cardinals
DeJong is now in his third big league season, but he’s yet to generate much fanfare outside of St. Louis. That’s probably a little bit of an oversight, as while he’s far from being the best shortstop in the league, he’s been a productive and consistent right-handed bat for the duration of his career. After a red-hot start to this season, DeJong went into a terrible slump, but he’s broken out of it big time since the All-Star break. A recent surge that included a three home run game in Pittsburgh has put him in position to set new career highs in homers and RBI, and the Cardinals are certainly hopeful he can continue producing at a high level. Similar to Milwaukee, St. Louis is locked in heated races for both the NL Central crown and a wild-card spot, and DeJong’s bat in the bottom half of the lineup is crucial, as opposing teams are unlikely to let fellow right-handed sluggers Paul Goldschmidt or Marcell Ozuna beat them in a big spot.
4. Zach Plesac, SP, Cleveland Indians
The nephew of longtime big leaguer Dan Plesac, the young right-hander was not considered much of a prospect entering this season. A dominant 10-start beginning to his minor league season opened eyes, however, and with the Indians in need of a starter at Fenway in late May, it was Plesac who got the call. Since then he has been an absolute godsend for a Cleveland rotation that has sustained injuries to Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar as well as a trade of outspoken Trevor Bauer. In 14 starts for the Tribe, Plesac has worked to a 3.27 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP in 77 innings, bringing a level of consistency to a pitching staff that desperately needed it. His performance has helped Cleveland erase an 11.5 game deficit in the AL Central, as earlier this week it caught Minnesota, and the club is counting on him for continued success as this race is likely headed for a photo finish.
5. Scott Kingery, IF/OF, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies made headlines in spring training a year ago when they inked Kingery to a long-term pact before he’d ever played in a major league game. The organization obviously believed immensely in the University of Arizona product’s potential, and while it’s hard to call his rookie season much of a success (.226/.267/.338), Kingery has become a much more important Phillie in 2019. Playing all over the diamond, the 25-year-old has hit .275 with 14 homers and 27 doubles in 324 at-bats while serving as an offensive table setter for Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto for most of the season. Philadelphia has underwhelmed following a massive importation of star power last winter, but the Phils are still right in the thick of a chaotic NL wild-card race. Having Kingery on base and wreaking havoc down the stretch will drastically help their chances of reaching October.
6. Austin Meadows, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-run major league baseball operation than the Tampa Bay Rays. Year after year Tampa Bay finds a way to not only compete but also to often triumph over behemoth division rivals in Boston and New York all while operating in one of the smallest markets in the game. The 2019 season has been no different, as despite the Yankees having the AL East all but sewn up, the Rays are positioned to make the postseason as a wild card. Their young right fielder is a huge reason why. Meadows was acquired in the ’18 deal that sent Chris Archer to Pittsburgh, and he has absolutely thrived in his first full season in the big leagues. In just short of 400 at-bats thus far, the left handed slugger has hit .283 with 20 home runs and 25 additional extra-base hits. He was even named an All-Star last month. Moving down the stretch, Tampa will continue riding the young 24-year-old, as he’s already become arguably the focal point of the offense.
7. Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics
Oakland is eerily similar to the aforementioned Rays, as it deals with a lot of the same market challenges but still finds a way to remain a force to be reckoned with. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance the two clubs square off head to head in the AL wild-card game in just a few weeks. The Athletics left-handed-swinging first baseman has flown by under the radar in recent seasons, but his production is soon going to render that impossible. After missing a month-and-a-half early in the season, Olson has rallied to crush 25 home runs since Mother’s Day, putting him just four short of his previous career high. With Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha and most importantly a healthy Khris Davis, the A’s are exceedingly right-handed heavy, making Olson’s left-handed bat imperative to the middle of their lineup.
8. Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals
Robles was supposed to be the next big outfielder to come out of the Nationals system last season, but injuries prevented him from making an impact and ultimately contributed to Juan Soto coming up and making a bid for last year’s NL Rookie of the Year. While his young teammate has blossomed into a star, Robles breakout rookie season has not been discussed as much as it should. Yet he’s become a critical player on a team looking to return to October. Playing in almost all of Washington’s games, Robles has launched 15 long balls from the bottom part of the lineup while swiping 18 bases and playing tremendous defense at the premium position of center field. He does strike out too much, as his 110 punch outs in just 397 at-bats are unsightly, but he’s obviously immensely talented. If he can turn it up just a little, Washington should have the inside track on a playoff berth.
9. Josh Taylor, RP, Boston Red Sox
The underlying narrative surrounding the 2019 Red Sox nationally has been a horrific bullpen that consistently blows leads and lets winnable games get out of hand. That’s accurate, but it’s also why few fans outside of New England have been privy to what Taylor, a 26-year-old rookie, has been doing. In 33 contests the southpaw has worked to a strong 3.27 ERA in 33 innings while delivering a 1.18 WHIP and striking out well over a batter/inning. The Arizona native has delivered six scoreless outings in consecutive appearances while becoming the closest thing the Red Sox have had to a reliable relief pitcher. That will have to continue moving forward for Boston to have any chance to make a late surge, as barring a serious run, the defending champs will find themselves on the outside looking in come October.
A last-place finish in the American League East in 2017 convinced Baltimore Orioles management the team needed to jettison veterans and start over with younger, cheaper talent. The results of the new organizational philosophy have been disastrous: Baltimore finished 47-115 in 2018, an astounding 61 games behind first-place Boston, and this season’s team again has MLB’s worst record (41-86).
Only three teams in the modern era (since 1900) have lost more than the Orioles did last season: the 1962 New York Mets (40-120), 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119) and 1916 Philadelphia Athletics (36-117). Baltimore’s home attendance has plummeted, too. In 2018, Camden Yards often has looked like a ghost town. The Orioles drew only 1,564,192 fans last season, their lowest recorded home attendance in a non-strike shortened season since 1978. This season they are on pace to draw even fewer fans.
So what’s the plan for Baltimore to pull out of its dreadful spiral?
Two of the prospects Baltimore received from the Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade last summer — outfielder Yusniel Diaz and pitcher Dean Kremer — are expected to become centerpieces of this organization’s next contender. The Orioles hope right-hander Kremer can join first-round picks from 2017 and 2018 (southpaw DL Hall and righty Grayson Rodriguez) to form 60 percent of the club’s long-term rotation. They think Diaz can be a dangerous right-handed hitter — they better be right. Baltimore once held similar hopes for outfielder Austin Hays, a third-round pick in 2016, but he has underwhelmed. The Orioles believe the switch-hitting catcher they took first overall this past June, Adley Rutschman, will be a superstar. Baltimore likely will have the No. 1 overall pick in the next draft, too.
But even if those players develop the way the organization hopes, none will help the Orioles soon. And none of them can change the fact that before Memorial Day most Baltimore sports fans were focused on NFL season.
The remainder of this season must be spent determining the long-term keepers on the roster. First baseman Trey Mancini is Baltimore’s best offensive player, and while he’s on pace to hit more than 35 homers, he’ll be 28 before opening day next year. Is he more useful to the Orioles in the middle of their lineup or as trade bait for talented young minor leaguers? The answer is almost certainly the latter. Switch-hitting second baseman Jonathan Villar’s case is similar. With a breakout offensive performance, 25-year-old third baseman Renato Nunez is firmly in Baltimore’s plans. The Orioles were thrilled to add shortstop Richie Martin, the No. 1 pick in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but he has looked overmatched in the majors. Baltimore must decide this winter if the 24-year-old deserves an extended look .
With the exception of lefty John Means, the team’s lone All-Star, the Orioles don’t have another pitcher we could make a reasonable case for inclusion on the team in two years. Closer Mychal Givens is the team’s most talented pitcher, and while he has struggled this season, it’s stunning the club didn’t attempt to move him at the trade deadline. He could still be traded in the offseason.
Baltimore also must resolve what to do at first base. Chris Davis hit 53 homers for the O’s in 2013 and nearly won MVP, but the massive contract he received in 2016 is an albatross. Davis’ batting average again is well below .200, and the club owes him $17 million a year through 2022. Baltimore couldn’t get a rosin bag for him in a trade now. Eating more than $50 million in salary doesn’t seem like a good option, but it wouldn’t be stunning if he were released in the winter.
Baltimore’s plan to rise from the depths mirrors efforts by the Astros and Cubs. San Diego’s rebuilding effort is another good example for the Orioles.
From 2011-2013, the Astros never won more than 56 games in a season. In all, Houston endured six straight losing seasons. But extended futility led to high draft picks that turned into George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. The Astros missed in the draft on pitchers Mark Appel and Brady Aiken, but the organization had built up enough depth to overcome that.
When Houston’s young core matured, the team became attractive for veteran free agents. In one winter, the Astros supplemented youth with the likes of Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann. The result was the team’s first World Series title in 2017. Now Houston may be MLB’s model franchise.
The Cubs’ story is similar. Baseball’s once-lovable losers suffered through losing seasons from 2010-2014. But they used their high picks to draft Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant. Chicago traded for a young, unheralded first baseman named Anthony Rizzo. Because the core developed into one of the NL’s best and the Cubs continued to draft well, Chicago could afford to deal immensely talented minor league infielder Gleyber Torres to the Yankees at the 2016 trade deadline for closer Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs finally won the World Series that season, breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat and sending the Windy City into delirium.
There are risks to a full re-build rather than a retooling. Until Baltimore wins consistently attendance will continue to suffer. Casual fans won’t attend games or watch on TV. A generation of young fans could become turned off by the game. Franchise marketability will take a hit. Nobody expected Baltimore to be good in 2019. But few expected them to lose games 23-2, as the Orioles did recently against the Astros.
Bottom line: Orioles fans must be patient. This re-construction is going to take awhile.