Best second-half MLB teams of wild-card era

Whether it comes as a strong finish to an already dominant season or an amazing comeback, or it’s a newly emerged contender coming out of nowhere, there have been some remarkable finishes in the recent history of Major League Baseball. The wild-card era has ushered in far more opportunity for the postseason than ever before but also has raised the stakes within the pursuit.

With 2019’s pennant chase preparing to take shape, let’s take a look back some of the great finishes of baseball’s modern postseason era. 1 of 20

Seattle Mariners, 1995

After owning a 34-35 record at the All-Star break, the ’95 Mariners went from last to first place in the season’s second half. Ken Griffey Jr returned from a two-month absence to hit 10 home runs over the final two months, Edgar Martinez won the AL batting title and Randy Johnson won his first Cy Young Award. The Mariners bested the California Angels in a tie-breaker game to claim their first division title in franchise history. They reached the AL Championship Series, led by a legendary performance by Martinez against the Yankees in the ALDS. Seattle lost to Cleveland in the ALCS. 2 of 20

Chicago Cubs, 1998

While the summer of ’98 is best known for the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, it also is known for a tight NL playoff race. Sosa’s Cubs were one of the hottest teams in the game in the middle of the year before cooling off late. Meanwhile, Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants won nine of their last 12 games to catch the Cubs. The teams squared off in one-game playoff in which Bonds nearly hit a ninth-inning grand slam amid a Giants rally that fell short. The Cubs hung on to win, and they reached the playoffs for the first time in nine years. 3 of 20

New York Yankees, 1998

Not all memorable second-half performances included airtight races to the finish. Take the case of one of the greatest teams of all time, the ’98 Yankees. They were dominant from start to finish, winning 20 games in three separate months en route to a record 114-win season. They won the AL East by 22 games, with a breakout season for a young Derek Jeter, who hit .324 with 203 hits. They finished the season 66 games over .500 and set a record for most wins in a season, 125, after sweeping the San Diego Padres in the World Series. 4 of 20

Cleveland Indians, 2001

Aided by Minnesota’s huge collapse, the 2001 Indians staged an incredible comeback to claim an AL Central title. After reaching the All-Star break 23 games over .500, the Twins dropped 15 of their first 20 second-half contests, losing their grip on the division in the process. Meanwhile, behind a 49-homer season from Jim Thome, after being five games back at the All-Star break, the Indians finished six games ahead to win a sixth AL Central title since 1995, going 9-3 against Minnesota in the second half. 5 of 20

Oakland Athletics, 2001

In the wild-card era, no team has had more second-half success than the 2001 A’s. They set a 162-game schedule record by going 63-18 over their final 81 games, which included an incredible 29-4 record over the season’s final month. Led by their hallowed three-ace rotation of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, along with a string of incredible starts from Cory Lidle, who went 11-2 after the break, the A’s set a record for most wins by a wild-card team with 102. It also was the most wins by a second-place club, but they still finished 14 games behind the record-setting 2001 Seattle Mariners.

6 of 20

Seattle Mariners, 2001

Led by an incredible jolt of energy from MVP/Rookie of the Year Ichiro Suzuki, the 2001 Seattle Mariners tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most regular-season wins in history with 116. The team never posted a double-digit loss total in any month and saved the best for last. From Sept. 1 through Oct. 7, they went 20-7, with a 4-3 loss on the season’s final day, costing them a chance to set the outright record for most wins in a season. 7 of 20

Oakland Athletics, 2002

For a second consecutive season, in 2002 Oakland channeled second-half magic, going 24-4 in August, a run that included the bulk of one of the greatest winning streaks in MLB history. Oakland went undefeated from Aug.13 to Sept. 4, embarking on an AL-record 20-game winning streak — which included walk-off wins during the final three victories of the streak. However, taking over the division outright required a second, shorter winning spree, when Oakland won nine of its final 11 games over divisional foes to win the AL West. It was a season that changed the way the sport is perceived and inspired the book and movie”‘Moneyball.” 8 of 20

Florida Marlins, 2003

The 2003 Marlins are the definition of a team that got hot at just the right time. After losing eight of their final nine games in August, Florida entered the final month 13 games back in the NL East and barely in control of a wild-card spot. However, its “team of destiny” run — which included an NLCS victory aided by the “Bartman Game” vs. the Cubs and a stunning upset of the New York Yankees in the World Series — got underway quickly in September. Jack McKeon’s club went 10-2 to start the month and won seven of its last nine to claim the NL wild-card spot. 9 of 20

Minnesota Twins, 2006

In 2006, the Twins pulled off the biggest second-half comeback of the last quarter century, erasing an 11-game deficit in the process. With Johan Santana embarking on a 13-0 second half en route to claiming AL Cy Young Award honors, Justin Morneau capturing AL MVP and Joe Mauer being crowned as AL batting champion, the Twins went 49-27 in the second half. This allowed them to track down the Detroit Tigers, who had posted the game’s top record in the first half but stumbled south of .500 following the All-Star break. Ultimately the Twins won the AL Central on the final day of the season. 10 of 20

Colorado Rockies, 2007

On Sept. 15, Colorado was barely above .500 and 6.5 games back of the San Diego Padres. However, the Rockies soon turned the booster jets on, winning 13 of their final 14 games to incredibly reach 90 wins and force a one-game playoff for the NL wild-card spot. The game featured another incredible comeback, as the Rockies rallied from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the 13th inning, capped by Matt Holliday scoring a still-disputed run on a Jamey Carroll sacrifice fly to send the Rockies back to the postseason for the first time in six seasons.

By: Matt Whitener

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Stargazing: A Baseball Hall of Fame crystal ball

Here are major leaguers with three or fewer service years, minor leaguers, collegiate and high school stars and international prospects who could end up in Cooperstown in the distant future.  1 of 23

Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves OF

After a breakout rookie year as a 20-year-old, Acuna became the youngest $100 million man in baseball history. He etched his name in the history books when he became the youngest player to hit a postseason grand slam, in Game 3 of the 2018 NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. During his Rookie of the Year campaign, Acuna hit 25 home runs and stole 15 bases, becoming the fourth 20-or-younger player to accomplish the feat. (He joined Alex Rodriguez, Orlando Cepeda and Mike Trout.) 2 of 23

Jo Adell, Los Angeles Angels OF prospect

Adell has put on a five-tool talent show early in his professional career, rising to become the top homegrown Angel prospect since Mike Trout. His game is reminiscent of that of his potential future teammate, as Adell is a gifted defender who makes high-quality contact at the plate. He hit 20 home runs across three different levels in his first full pro season as a 19-year-old. 3 of 23

Pete Alonso, New York Mets 1B

Alonso has wasted no time making an impact as rookie. His 26th home run, on June 22, set the National League first-half rookie record. In the process, “Polar Bear” tied Darryl Strawberry’s full-season rookie home run record. He has 31 HRs, more than halfway to Aaron Judge’s 2018 rookie record of 52. 4 of 23

Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers 1B/OF

Bellinger’s career is off to a torrid start. The third-year big-leaguer captured NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2017, after hitting an NL-rookie-record 39 home runs. In 2019, Bellinger set an April record with 97 total bases and tied the record for home runs (14) and runs (32). 5 of 23

Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher

Buehler made an immediate impact upon arrival in L.A., becoming the latest in an increasingly long line of recent Dodger prodigies. In 2018, he capped a terrific rookie year (8-5, 2.62 ERA, 151 strikeouts) with a dominant, seven-shutout-innings performance in Game 3 of the World Series. On June 21, he became the first Dodger pitcher to turn in a 15-plus strikeout outing (16 overall) with no walks. 6 of 23

Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics 3B

A dazzling defender on the hot corner, Chapman has turned into one of the most dependable highlight creators in the game. Chapman’s presence at the plate has continued to grow as well, as he has produced an .870 OPS since 2018. 7 of 23

Jasson Dominguez, Dominican Republic OF

The 16-year-old Dominguez is widely considered the top international amateur prospect. The multiskilled outfielder is a switch-hitter with a strong, 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame and the ability to hit for power from both sides of the plate. He’s also fast. The Yankees gave him a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month. 8 of 23

Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays SS prospect

The game’s next great prodigy, Franco has been sensational in his first year-and-a-half as a pro. As a 17-year-old, he hit .351 with 11 home runs and seven triples to claim MVP of the Appalachian League. He was three years younger than the league average age. He has kept his foot on the gas in Year 2, recently inheriting the mantle of the game’s top prospect despite just turning 18 in March. 9 of 23

MacKenzie Gore, San Diego Padres pitching prospect

Injury plagued last season, Gore has firmly established himself as one the game’s top coming attractions on the mound. The southpaw — who drew comparisons to Clayton Kershaw en route to becoming the third overall pick in 2017 — is dominating minor league foes as a 20-year-old. 10 of 23

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays, 3B

There may be no more naturally talented hitter to emerge in the past 20 years than Vlad Jr. He famously destroyed minor league pitching over the past two years, hitting .323 and .381, respectively, with a number of tape-measure homers mixed in. Few 20-year-olds feel like they are overdue to reach the majors when they did, but Guerrero Jr. fit that bill. On May 14, he became the youngest Blue Jay to homer. For good measure, he hit another one that night.

https://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/stargazing_a_baseball_hall_of_fame_crystal_ball/s1__29546267#slide_1

By: Matt Whitener

Hall of Very Good? Bleh. Let’s make halls of fame great again.

The best part about Hall of Fame debates is that they never end — even after someone gets voted in. No offense to Harold Baines, but really?

I understand why the Veterans Committee decided to put Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates in; and as a Mets fan I totally respect his World Series-ending home run that devastated the Yankees in 1960. But over time, the standards to reach a hall of fame have been lowered in multiple sports. For example, ever since we’ve been watching sports, there have been transcendent athletes who are no-doubt-it, first-ballot hall of famers. And in most cases, all you need to identify them are their first names or nicknames: Magic, Kobe, The Babe, to name a few.

But the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 threw me for a loop. Jack Sikma and Paul Westphal were really good players in their day, but what stunned me was the fact that both of them had the identical career scoring average: 15.6 points. Granted, they played different positions — and Sikma played nearly 300 more regular-season games than Westphal did — but that’s irrelevant. The point is that all halls of fame should not be for really good players; they should house only the greats.

I get that the entire process — and the ongoing debates about candidates — are totally subjective. But when did our definition of all-time great  change along the way? Look at Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, for instance. He more than likely will get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of the precedent that has been set with Mike Mussina’s election earlier this year. 

Sabathia is in his 19th big-league season — Mussina, who will be inducted Sunday, pitched 18 — and both have had exactly one 20-win season. Yet Sabathia will more than likely get a hall call because he is the 17th pitcher to strike out more than 3,000 batters. Fourteen of the pitchers who reached this milestone are in Cooperstown, including fellow lefties Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson. The other two are Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling.

So when evaluating potential HOF candidates, I ask myself the following question: At any point in their careers, were these players ever the best in their sports at their positions? I raise that because in some cases, some recent inductees weren’t even the best pitchers on their particular teams. When Mussina and Clemens were teammates from 2001-03, who was the Yankee ace? Yes, Clemens may have been using PEDs at the time, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Has Sabathia even been the best pitcher of his era? Pedro Martinez and other outstanding hurlers over that span might have something to say about that.

Halls of fame should remain places where no-doubt-about-it, all-time greats end up. I understand why sports halls feel compelled to have an induction class every year; it certainly doesn’t hurt the bottom line to keep this annual tradition going. But it seems as if we’ve reached a point where we have yearly induction classes just for the sake of having them.

Meanwhile, the softening of standards has apparently reached other HOFs. Look at this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction class. Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, Radiohead and the Zombies are all worthy inductees. But using my earlier argument, were Roxy Music and the Cure ever the best bands of their respective eras? Jann Wenner and that hall’s voters might disagree with me, but that’s totally debatable. And I happen to love both Bryan Ferry and Robert Smith.

So do we really want a Hall of Very Good? 

Let’s keep halls of fame — and those in them — great. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them?

By Stan Chrapowicki  |  Last updated 7/15/19

Report: David Ortiz shot during robbery attempt in Dominican Republic

David Ortiz was shot during a robbery attempt at a bar in the Dominican Republic, according to foreign reports.

News channel CDN 37 reported on Sunday night that Ortiz was injured during a confusing incident at Bar Vial in Santo Domingo.

CDN 37 says Ortiz was wounded in the leg and taken away by an emergency medical team.

Ortiz’s father confirmed to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas that he was told his son was shot in a burglary attempt.

Ortiz, affectionately known as “Big Papi” to baseball fans, was born in Santo Domingo and signed his first professional baseball contract in 1992. He is a club owner in his native country and also became a U.S. citizen in 2008. The 43-year-old is a 10-time All-Star, 3-time World Series champion, former World Series MVP, and one of the most beloved Boston Red Sox ever.

By: Larry Brown

Original Article

Brandon Phillips intends to play in 2019

Veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips is still hoping to continue his playing career, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reports on Twitter. He has not signed with an organization since wrapping up a brief stint with the Red Sox last year.

Now 37, Phillips is well removed from his days as a stalwart performer with the Reds. He topped 120 games for the 12th straight season — and topped 140 for the 11th time in a dozen years — in a 2017 campaign split between the Braves and Angels. But Phillips didn’t sign on with the Boston organization until late last June and ultimately appeared in only nine contests at the game’s highest level last year.

Phillips didn’t exactly thrive in his brief MLB time last year, though a 27-plate-appearance sample isn’t much to go on. He was strong at Triple-A, turning in a .302/.348/.477 slash line with four home runs over 161 plate appearances. And Phillips was still capable of near-average offense in the majors in 2017, posting a .285/.319/.416 slash in 604 trips to the plate.

That ’17 effort wasn’t far off of Phillips’ career mean. Trouble is, he’s no longer an elite defender at second base. Even though UZR graded Phillips as approximately average at the position in his most recent full MLB campaign, DRS assigned a well-below-average -7 score for the second consecutive season. Phillips has also posted some notable negatives in the baserunning game, although he’s still capable of stealing a bag.

Phillips’s low-walk, high-contact skill set could still hold appeal, particularly to a team that still believes in his glovework. The grading systems were neutral to bullish on his 218 innings at third base in 2017, the first time he had ever played there in the majors. Phillips is no shrinking violet; his occasionally brash presence might not be for every team but could be seen as a bonus in the right circumstances.

It isn’t apparent what kind of opportunity Phillips is seeking. He says he’s staying in shape, but there’s no indication of his preferred timeline. Phillips showed last year that he’s willing to undertake an extended run in the minors, although he surely did so knowing there was a chance at an important role for a championship contender. Whether he’ll be able to secure such an opportunity this time around remains to be seen.

 

How MLB players performed in first season after signing massive deals

Giancarlo Stanton: $325 million (2015)

The deal Stanton signed in November 2014 with the Marlins blew away the previous MLB high-water mark by more than $50 million; the 13-year contract also set a standard for length. The first year of the deal was a disappointment for Stanton, who was limited to only 74 games due to a broken bone in his right hand. At the time of the injury in June, he had 27 home runs, four that traveled more than 460 feet.

Alex Rodriguez, $252 and $272 million (2001, 2008)

A-Rod redefined the game’s financial high-water mark not once, but twice, the first time coming when he inked a $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers in 2001. In his first year in Arlington, Rodriguez led the American League with 52 home runs and 393 total bases. He also became the third player in history with 50 homers and 200 hits in a season. He made $20 million more on his second epic deal, this time with the Yankees in 2008. That season he hit 35 home runs, scored 104 runs and led the AL with a .573 slugging percentage.

Miguel Cabrera, $247 million (2014)

On the heels of his third consecutive batting title and second straight AL MVP, Cabrera was signed by the Tigers to a $247 million extension. Although 2014 would be the only year between 2011 and 2015 that Miggy would not top the AL in batting, he still managed to hit .313, drive in more than 100 runs for the seventh consecutive year for the Tigers and lead the league with 52 doubles.

Robinson Cano, $240 million (2014)

The Mariners shocked the baseball world with the deal for Cano’s services, reaching a level the Yankees refused to go for their All-Star second baseman. In Year 1 in the Pacific Northwest, Cano made his fifth consecutive All-Star team and finished fifth in AL MVP voting. However, he posted his lowest power numbers in seven years (14 HRs, 82 RBI) because of a gastrointestinal issue that plagued him late in the year.

Albert Pujols, $240 million (2012)

Angels owner Arte Moreno stunningly lured Pujols from St. Louis with the second-largest contract in MLB history at the time. Although Pujols hit 30 home runs and 50 doubles and drove in 105 runs for the Angels in 2012, his overall performance was well short of the lofty standards he set in St. Louis. He hit at least 40 HRs six times with the Cardinals.

Joey Votto, $225 million (2012)

With an NL MVP, Gold Glove and two on-base crowns already under his belt, the Reds made Votto the highest-paid player in franchise history in April 2012. He led the NL in walks (135) and on-base percentage (.474) and had a career-best .337 batting average. Votto’s torrid 2012 season was interrupted in mid-July because of a meniscus tear in his left knee. He missed 1 1/2 months.

David Price, $217 million (2016)

At the time of his signing, Price’s deal was the richest in history by a pitcher, earning him just under $1 million per start. Although he finished with 17 wins and led the AL in innings pitched with 230, his first year in Boston was an up-and-down affair. His first-half ERA was over 4.00, and he allowed the most hits in the AL that season. His postseason struggles continued as well — he allowed five runs over 3.1 innings in an ALCS defeat.

Clayton Kershaw, $214 million (2014)

Kershaw had arguably the greatest new-money season in MLB history in 2014. The Dodgers’ lefty went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA in a season that also included a 41-inning scoreless streak. He was a unanimous NL Cy Young Award winner and the first hurler named NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968.

Prince Fielder, $212 million (2012)

The Detroit Tigers surprisingly signed the slugging first baseman to a nine-year, $214 million deal. (In 2011, he carried Milwaukee to the NLCS.) In his first of two seasons in Detroit, Fielder hit a career-best .313. slugged  30 home runs, drove in 108 runs and scored 83. He also won his second All-Star Home Run Derby crown, joining Ken Griffey Jr. as the only player with multiple Derby crowns at the time.

Max Scherzer, $210 million (2015)

In his first NL season, Scherzer threw two no-hitters, becoming the sixth player to accomplish the feat twice in a season. At one point, the Nationals’ pitcher retired 52 consecutive batters. He led the league in complete games (4) and shutouts (3).

Full List

By: Matt Whitener

 

 

Watch: Bryce Harper blasts cannon shot against former team

Bryce Harper took to the field as a visitor in Washington D.C. for the first time Tuesday night.

Initially, the new Philadelphia Phillies star was treated with boos from fans who had cheered him on for years . After Harper struck against Max Scherzer early on in the game, the Nationals’ Twitter account decided to troll him.

Well, Harper has had the last laugh. With his Phillies up 6-2 in the top of the eighth, Harper hit a no doubt about it 458-foot blast off Jeremy Hellickson. It was an absolute rocket. Better yet? Harper might have put up the best bat flip of his career after the moon shot.

 

Tuesday night at Nationals Park in D.C. was filled with petty on all sides. For his part, Harper made sure his former team knew he was going to be up for the task. Unfortunately for the home fans, that included Harper taking his frustration out on them.

Harper finished the night with three hits in five at-bats while scoring a run and knocking in three.

By: Vincent Frank

Original Article

Top storylines heading into MLB Opening Day

After a long winter, MLB Opening Day is upon us. Now that the games are here, our attention shifts from a brutally slow offseason to the season itself.

With the 2019 season set to begin, these are the top storylines to follow on Opening Day and the early months of the season.

Who will sign Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel?

Dallas Keuchel may not be the pitcher he once was, and Craig Kimbrel’s shaky postseason didn’t help his cause. Still, it’s ridiculous that these two remain unsigned. The addition of Keuchel would improve the top end of most rotations and there are few better closers in the game than Kimbrel.

How will the revamped Phillies look?

The Philadelphia Phillies were the talk of the offseason thanks to the signing of Bryce Harper and the additions of Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto and David Robertson.
On paper, Philadelphia should be one of the best teams in the National League, but it won’t be easy. The NL East is one of MLB’s best divisions, and we count nine NL teams that should be in the postseason mix. This team should play well, but nothing is guaranteed in baseball.

What does the Red Sox bullpen look like?

The defending champs have few weaknesses. The biggest concern for Boston entering 2019 is its bullpen. Red Sox relievers consistently made their fans nervous in 2018, and there are certainly more questions now on that front than before.

Kimbrel is gone (though he could still be re-signed), and last year’s bullpen stabilizer, Nathan Eovaldi, has moved to the starting rotation. Make no mistake, the Red Sox are well-positioned to make another championship run, but few things can sink a team like a bad bullpen. This will be something to watch closely in the early weeks of the season.

The encore performance of 2018’s top rookies

Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto and Gleyber Torres turned the heads of baseball fans everywhere last year. Now it’s time for an encore.

Ohtani won’t pitch this year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and we probably won’t see him hitting at the MLB level until May. The other three are ready to roll. They won’t catch anyone off-guard this time around, however. The scouting reports are out; now it’s time to see how last year’s rookie stars adjust.

Clayton Kershaw’s rehab and health 

Kershaw will start the year on the injured list as he deals with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Any setbacks would be troubling for the 31-year-old pitcher, especially considering his recent injury history.

Unlike past seasons, the Dodgers rotation depth will allow the team to be patient with Kershaw’s recovery, but they’ll need him back healthy and pitching at a high level if this squad is finally going to get over the hump and win the World Series.

Is this Joe Maddon’s last run in Chicago? 

The 2019 season is the last on Maddon’s contract with the Chicago Cubs. He’s helped the Cubs win a World Series (the first for the team in 108 years, no less) and has been to four straight postseasons.

Chicago could try to extend his contract. If not, teams around the league are going to give a long look at making room for the highly regarded manager. Chances are that Maddon’s status beyond 2019 won’t be known in the early weeks of the season, but how the Cubs perform early on can and will drive a lot of speculation.

How soon other top prospects join Eloy Jimenez in MLB 

The Chicago White Sox deemed Eloy Jimenez MLB-ready right after he signed a contract extension. Whiich top-tier prospects will soon join him?

The two that come immediately to mind are Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladmir Guerrero Jr. (who is currently out with an injury) and San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Others who can make a big impact include Houston’s Forrest Whitley, Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers, Toronto’s Bo Bichette and Chicago’s Dylan Cease, just to name a few. After such an impactful rookie class of 2018, we can’t wait to see what 2019’s group will offer.

Full Storyline List

By: Michael Dixon

Ichiro Suzuki to retire

Ichiro Suzuki will announce his retirement following the completion of Thursday morning’s game between the Mariners and Athletics in Tokyo, Jim Allen of the Kyodo News reports (Twitter link). Ichiro has already informed the Mariners about his decision. The 45-year-old outfielder is in Thursday’s lineup, starting in right field in the 2,653rd game of his MLB career.

The official announcement ends months of speculation that Ichiro would hang up his spikes at the conclusion of the two-game series, giving the legendary hitter the opportunity to take a final bow in his home country. Last May, Ichiro moved from the Mariners’ active roster into a front office role, and while he didn’t play again in 2018, both sides made it clear that he intended to continue his on-field career.

With these two games, Ichiro has now appeared in parts of the last 28 seasons in both Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, completing one of the most remarkable careers in the history of the sport. Over 951 games with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan and then 2,653 games with the Mariners, Yankees and Marlins in North America, Ichiro recorded more professional hits than any player ever.

Heading into Thursday’s action, Ichiro had an incredible 4,367 career hits — 1,278 in NPB, and 3,089 in MLB, reaching the 3,000-hit club in the majors despite not playing his first North American game until he was already 27 years old.

After nine years as a star in Japan, Ichiro made a heavily-anticipated jump to the majors prior to the 2001 season after the Mariners won a posting bid to acquire his services. The transition was more than just seamless — Ichiro’s debut in the Show saw him hit .350/.381/.457 over a league-high 738 plate appearances for a 116-win Mariners team. He became just the second player to win both the Rookie Of The Year and MVP Awards in the same year, also winning the first of three Silver Slugger Awards and the first of 10 Gold Gloves.

Ichiro’s smooth left-handed hitting stroke and quick acceleration out of the box made him a threat to reach base every time he made contact. Perhaps the most notable of his many achievements was setting a new single-season hits record in 2004, as his 262 hits broke the 84-year-old mark formerly held by Hall-of-Famer George Sisler.

Ichiro’s defense and baserunning were perhaps just as impressive as his exploits at the plate. He stole a league-best 56 bases in 2001, and finished his career with 509 steals, tied for 35th-most in Major League history. As a right fielder, Ichiro unleashed a throwing arm that instantly drew comparisons to Roberto Clemente in terms of both power and accuracy.

While his skills inevitably declined with age, Ichiro did his best to stave off Father Time, playing past his 45th birthday due to a near-mythic fitness regime and nonstop preparation. This work ethic helped make Ichiro one of the most respected players of recent times, idolized by both fans and teammates alike all over the world.

We at MLB Trade Rumors congratulate Ichiro on an incredible career, and wish him all the best in his post-playing days.

Original Article

By: Mark Polishuk

11 MLB players in contract years who will crush it in 2019

Athletes in any sport wants to perform at their best the year before they’re eligible to hit free agency, and baseball players are certainly no different. This winter alone has shown how much money can be gained or lost in a contract year, with high-profile names standing out on both sides of the spectrum. Manny Machado used the best season of his career to secure a $300 million long-term guarantee from the Padres, while longtime Astros’ lefty Dallas Keuchel struggled in his walk year and finds himself still unsigned with two weeks to go until Opening Day.

Impending free agents on losing teams always deal with a degree of uneasiness around the trade deadline, when clubs hope to bring back something before letting a player leave for nothing, and it takes a certain level of professionalism to block out the noise and perform. In 2019 several players jump off the page as candidates to enjoy a big walk year. Let’s examine the list.

1. Justin Smoak 1B Toronto Blue Jays

Two years ago the switch-hitting Smoak hit .270 with 38 home runs and 90 RBI while adding 29 doubles and making the All-Star Team. Unfortunately he was unable to come close to replicating that success a year ago. In 505 at-bats, the veteran watched his stat line dip to .242 with 25 homers and 77 RBI, still a solid season but not nearly as eye-opening as his prior campaign. Entering 2019 both the Blue Jays and Smoak would benefit from a renaissance, as Toronto is exceedingly unlikely to be in the mix in a difficult AL East and would love to move him to a bat-needy team at the deadline. Smoak understands the monetary difference between his ’17 and ’18 seasons is massive.

2.  Jose Abreu 1B Chicago White Sox

Abreu has spent his entire career in the Windy City after defecting from Cuba prior to the 2014 campaign, and during his first four years in the big leagues he was one of the best run producers in the entire sport. From 2014-17 the right-handed slugger hit over .290 with 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI in each season, but last year didn’t go nearly as swimmingly. A lower abdominal injury limited the 32-year-old to a career-low 128 games, and his .265 average, 22 homers and 78 RBI were evidence of just how bothered he was by the discomfort. Now back and healthy, Abreu is a prime candidate for a huge year, as he is a proud man who fancies himself as one of the most productive hitters in the American League. A big winter payday is quite the carrot at the end of the proverbial stick.

3. Zack Wheeler SP New York Mets

After spending the majority of his career taking two steps forward and one step back, the right-hander finally arrived in a big way in 2018. In 29 starts, Wheeler dominated for much of the year, turning in a 3.31 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP in 182.1 innings while striking out 179 men and holding the opposition to just a .225 batting average. There had been some minor chatter of New York trying to extend the 28-year-old during camp, but Wheeler spoke candidly about understanding he and Gerrit Cole are the top two free agents to be starting pitchers, and it’s clear he has his eyes on the prize heading into the new season.

4. Gerrit Cole SP Houston Astros

Speaking of Cole, the former Pirates first-round pick landed in Houston as part of an offseason trade prior to last year, and while he often found himself overshadowed by teammate Justin Verlander, he was one of the best pitchers in the American League in his own right. In 32 outings the veteran turned in a 2.88 ERA with a career best 1.03 WHIP while holding the opposition to a sub .200 batting average for the first time and eclipsing the 200 innings pitched plateau for the third time in four years. His 276 strikeouts finished second to only Verlander in the AL, and the UCLA product earned a selection to his second All-Star Team. Entering 2019 Wheeler was 100 percent right that he and Cole will be the two most sought-after pitchers next winter, and provided Cole avoids serious injuries moving forward, his bank account can expect to expand by several zeroes.

5. Josh Donaldson 3B Atlanta Braves

Perhaps no offensive player is more motivated at the outset of 2019 than the 2015 AL MVP, who struggled through a miserable injury-plagued 2018 season and ultimately settled for a high value one-year, prove-it deal in Atlanta. The Braves could be getting themselves a steal as they attempt to win their second consecutive division crown, as from 2015-17 Donaldson launched 111 homers and drove in 300 runs while consistently hitting around .280 and getting on base at close to a .385 clip. Taking the pillow contract was a strategic play for the veteran, as he understood he would be overshadowed by Machado and Bryce Harper on the free-agent market this season. And if he can re-establish himself as a premier run producer in 2019, he just may break the bank next winter.

6. Scooter Gennett 2B Cincinnati Reds

In just two seasons in western Ohio, Gennett has transformed himself from a solid role player in Milwaukee to one of the best offensive second basemen in the league. Last year the 28-year-old hit .310 with 23 homers and 92 RBI while setting a new career high with a .357 OBP and eclipsing 30 doubles for the third time in his career. By all accounts the veteran is someone the Reds should want to keep around for the long haul, but in mid-February he expressed frustration over not receiving a contract extension, a potential rift to pay attention to as the summer unfolds.

7. Marcell Ozuna OF St. Louis Cardinals

When the Marlins were selling off everyone and everything that wasn’t nailed down prior to last season, the Cardinals were happy to swoop in and take the right-handed-hitting Ozuna off their hands. The Dominican Republic native had just completed a season that had watched him hit .313 with 37 homers and 124 RBI while earning a trip to his second straight All-Star Game, taking home his first Silver Slugger award and even winning his first Gold Glove. St. Louis fantasized about adding that type of production to the middle of its lineup, but unfortunately it took the veteran some time to get used to his new surroundings. When all was said and done, Ozuna’s numbers slid to .280 with 23 homers and 88 RBI, still solid but not what the Cardinals were expecting. Entering Year 2 in Missouri, this lineup is now home to slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who will take pressure off Ozuna to be the premier right-handed bat and, in theory, add a substantial amount of RBI opportunities. It should come as no surprise if the 28-year-old delivers a monster season.