The National League and American League Wild Card races are far from over, as teams continue to look to get the last spot into the postseason. Tomorrow is the beginning of September, and the beginning of the heated pennant races. Since last year, there are now two Wild Cards, giving teams an extra opportunity to try and make the postseason. Here are my predictions for the races for when it's all set and done.
The senior circuit's Wild Card race may seem like a done deal, with the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals fighting it out for the top spot or the NL Central crown. The Cincinnati Reds have a six game lead over the Diamondbacks for the second wild card spot. According to Cool Standings, a site devoted to determining each team's probability of making the postseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a minimal 7.5% chance of winning the Wild Card. The Washington Nationals, currently third in the Wild Card Standings, have a 6.3% chance of winning the Wild Card.
Team to Watch in NL:
The Washington Nationals are my "team to watch for" in the National League, as they are beginning to get hot. Coincidentally or not, they have a very favorable schedule ahead of them, as only 10 of their last 28 games are against teams with a .500 or better record. They are playing better baseball then they have all year, making them a threat to pounce in the National League Wild Card. Don't be surprised if we see some postseason baseball with the Nationals in it. After winning 8 of their last 10 games, the Nats could be playing in the Wild Card game this season.
How I Think It'll Turn Out:
The National League race is one that'll come down to the bitter end, but once that end is found, the results will be pretty much the way they are now. The Reds will secure the second Wild Card, considering that they have a 6 game lead on the Diamondbacks already, and that their schedule isn't too hard anyway. And, besides, they've got a great ball club! Here's my top five finishers for the NL Race:
1. St. Louis Cardinals -- +3 GB
2. Cincinnati Reds -- 0 GB
3. Washington Nationals - 3 GB
4. Arizona Diamondbacks - 4 GB
5. Philadelphia Phillies - 9 GB
The American League race is a very different race compared to the National League's. The junior circuit has five teams that are separated by five games, with the Athletics and Rays currently holding the two playoff spots. The Rays and Athletics currently hold the highest percentages in terms of winning the Wild Card, with 57% chance and a 53% chance respectively. The Indians and Orioles follow with Wild Card chances of 15%. Then the Yankees round out the five teams with a 9% chance in this race. Again, all information is provided by Cool Standings.
Team to Watch in AL:
With the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano, I'm thinking that it's quite possible that the Yankees immediately jump into the contention for the Wild Card in September. The Yanks are playing good baseball right now, scoring, pitching, and playing good defense. Don't be surprised if people start talking about the Yankees getting into the Wild Card round. Start watching them now before September.
How I Think It'll Turn Out:
I think the Oakland Athletics secure the top Wild Card when it's all set and done, based on their pitching staff, and how that they are playing pretty consistent baseball in a sense. I think the Yankees and Orioles will come close, but will finish out of the Wild Card spot, due also to the consistency of the Rays, and the inconsistency of their own teams. But, if either of those teams get hot, they could be the teams in line for the Wild Card spot. Here is how I think it'll finish:
1. Oakland Athletics -- +1 GB
2. Tampa Bay Rays -- 0 GB
3. New York Yankees -- 2 GB
4. Cleveland Indians -- 3 GB
5. Baltimore Orioles -- 5 GB
All in all, this September will be a fun one, in terms on how the Wild Card races will finish up. Get ready, get set, and buckle up for an entire month of excitement. And, teams trying to make one last stride into the race for the World Series.
In 2012, Mike Olt was on top of the world. He had just slugged 28 home runs in 95 games for the Frisco Rough Riders (Rangers Double-A), and was called up to play in the MLB, in which he went 5-for-33 (.152 BA), and struck out 13 times. Although he had a poor performance in the majors, Olt was still a great player down in Double-A, and looked to be the Rangers third baseman of the future. Heading into the 2013 season, Olt was ranked 22nd on the MLB's top prospect list, and seemed to be on the way to the MLB. His stock was at its highest point. Until 2013. Where it fell. Dramatically.
From 2009 to 2012, Justin Verlander was unable to be touched. He was just a dominant pitcher that could retire hitters on a 100+ MPH fastball, or a selection of breaking pitches. He had 78 wins over that four year span, and a 2.97 ERA over that stretch. Then, the 2013 season came along. Verlander was picked in many first rounds of many fantasy drafts (he was in mine), and ready to build on a great 2012 season alone (17-8, 2.64 ERA). But then the unimaginable happened. Justin Verlander forgot how to pitch well.
This season, Justin Verlander is 12-10 with a 3.73 ERA. His K/9 (8.5), BB/9 (3.3), K/BB (2.6), HR/9 (0.9), BAA (.255), WHIP (1.36), and BABIP (.314) are all significantly worse than they were in 2009-2012. The oddest numbers of all these is his K/BB ratio. Let's compare his K/BB ratio from 2009 to 2013.
2009 -- 4.3 K/BB
2010 -- 3.1 K/BB
2011 -- 4.4 K/BB
2012 -- 4.0 K/BB
2013 -- 2.6 K/BB
As you can see, his ratio in 2013 is much lower than any of the four years prior to 2013. Analytically, this means that Verlander has lost his control, walking more hitters per every strikeout. This is an issue to say the least, as Verlander is putting more hitters on base via the free pass than ever before. Obviously, the more batters that reach base, the more likely the other team will score. So, this is a problem for Verlander, and needs to be fixed.
Another difference between Verlander's "prime" and this season is that Verlander has only thrown 17 two seam fastballs this season (0.56% of all pitches). In 2012, Verlander threw 226 two seam fastballs (6.01% of all pitches). His two seam fastball is a great pitch, as he has not allowed a hit off his two seamer this year, and had allowed a minimal .238 average off them last year. By not throwing two-seamers, it makes Verlander all that more predictable, which is ultimatley a lot more hittable.
Although his fastball's average velocity is at 94 MPH, which is low for Verlander (normally around 95 or 96), I don't think that is Justin Verlander's problem for being ineffective. Verlander needs to mix his pitches better, something he's had trouble doing this year.
I don't really know what is Justin Verlander's problem this year, but I have noticed a difference in the number of pitches he throws than normal, which is a sign that something is changed. But, for the Tigers, if Verlander can turn it around, they may be able to make a long run into the post-season. But, he needs to turn it around. I think Verlander is the Tigers x-factor of the season.
The National League MVP is definitely not a clear race, there are plenty of great players in the league, I believe Clayton Kershaw is the Most Valuable Player in the NL. I know many people are against pitchers winning the MVP, but Kershaw isn't having your average Cy Young season, he's been the best pitcher arguably since Greg Maddux in 1995! Maddux is the last pitcher to post lower ERA and WHIP numbers than Kershaw over a full season. That is some impressive company. Still unimpressed? Let's continue to take a look.
Kershaw's BABIP against is .231. BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. This means that, on every ball put in play, only 23% of them are hits. That means that Kershaw doesn't just rely on the strikeout to get outs as well. Kershaw's fastball velocity has been "only" at 92 on the season, but he does such a great job mixing in other pitches, such as the slider, curveball, and change up, that hitters are fooled when he's pitching. Kershaw actually is throwing less fastballs then he has ever in his career, showing that he's not afraid to challenge hitters with the off-speed stuff early in the count.
But, the overall numbers are fantastic. 23 of Kershaw's 27 starts have been quality starts. The 25 year old averages 7.3 innings per start, a whopping number that gives the Dodgers a huge chance to win while he is on the hill. He has a 7.1 WAR, which is unheard of for pitchers. Adam Wainwright is second in the MLB to Kershaw with a 6.0 WAR. A 13-7 record with a 1.72 ERA and a 0.4 HR/9 is dominance in it's purest form, and Kershaw is definitely that.
Why not McCutchen, Goldschmidt, or Votto? If you go strictly by Wins Above Replacement, Kershaw's is much higher than all three. McCutchen's is a 5.9, Votto's at a 4.9, and Goldschmidt is a 4.6. Only Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout have higher WARs than Clayton Kershaw. They both play in the American League.
Clayton Kershaw is not only the best pitcher in the National League this season, I think he's been the best overall player. Although people are against naming a pitcher to be MVP, Kershaw has truly been the Most Valuable Player this season in the National League. Kershaw is unbelievable, and baseball needs to understand that. Nobody has been nearly as good as Kershaw, so why shouldn't he be MVP? That's my point and that's why Clayton Kershaw should be voted in as the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player.
Daisuke Matsuzaka went from star, to middle of the road, to scrub in seven years. He has been a completely different pitcher over time, and has been a question ever since he had left the "stardom " class. Matsuzaka is an "average Triple-A starter" according to Indians manager Terry Francona. The Indians had signed the 32 year old to a minor league deal, in which he posted a 3.92 ERA in 19 starts. Matsuzaka was a former 18 game winner! So, what happened to Dice-K?
According to fangraphs.com, Matsuzaka has lost nearly 4 MPH on his fastball, dropping it to below 90 MPH, which, in a lot of cases, is a warning flag to pitchers that they are on the decline and cannot get batters out. When Dice-K entered the MLB, he was able to throw a heater up to 97.4 MPH. In his first start for the Mets against the Tigers, Matsuzaka's fastball topped out at 91 MPH. Dice-K has lost something in his MPH, and hasn't been able to change his style of pitching.
Also according to fangraphs.com, Matsuzaka pitches way too much in the white on white, when he should be living on the black, especially due to the loss of velocity in his fastball. When Matsuzaka entered the MLB in 2007, he could throw hard, so although he pitched in the hitters' "sweet spot," he was able to escape, due to his high velocity. But, now, pitching with his current velocity, hitters are able to "tee off" of Matsuzaka's pitching. The numbers show it too.
In 2007, Matsuzaka had a 4.40 ERA and threw an average 92 MPH fastball (97 high).
In 2008, Matsuzaka had a 2.90 ERA and threw an average 92 MPH fastball (96 high).
In 2009, Matsuzaka had a 5.76 ERA and threw an average 91 MPH fastball (95 high).
In 2010, Matsuzaka had a 4.69 ERA and threw an average 92 MPH fastball (95 high).
In 2011, Matsuzaka had a 5.30 ERA and threw an average 90 MPH fastball (93 high).
In 2012, Matsuzaka had an 8.28 ERA and threw an average 90 MPH fastball (95 high).
In 2013, Matsuzaka has a 9.00 ERA and throws an average 88 MPH fastball (91 high).
Although it seems like his velocity numbers are the same, every MPH lost is another split second for the hitters to hit. Dice-K hasn't been able to evolve his game, so the hitters can practically guess what pitch is coming in a certain count. Matsuzaka should watch some film of Tom Glavine, a 300 game winner who only could throw in the high 80s. Dice-K needs to learn how to live on the black, paint corners, and be able to attack hitters with something besides a fastball.
The question is, can Matsuzaka become an effective pitcher again? I believe that if he is able to detect a problem in his mindset when pitching. Matsuzaka still has MLB-caliber stuff, and can have a successful comeback. The Mets took a low risk signing in Matsuzaka, which in my opinion, could be a great bargain, if he can replenish his career. The problem is that he hasn't been able to do that for a long time.