New Direction- A look at the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020


The Pittsburgh Pirates started out 2019 looking like the breakout team of the season. Josh Bell emerged into an All-Star while Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds both excelled in their first full seasons in the majors.  The Pirates were a trainwreck in the second half going 28-48 while dealing with more turmoil in the clubhouse than a reality TV show about rich guys wives. Suspensions of Kyle Crick, Keone Kela and of course Felipe Vasquez made an already bad bullpen even worse.  The Pirates management made the right decision and moved on from Clint Hurdle. A change of culture was needed, in comes Derek Shelton, a man that knows how to win.

Derek Shelton has a lot to fix in Pittsburgh, the offense may be the one thing he doesn’t.  A projected lineup that will include Josh Bell, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds should be a solid starting point for the organization.  Marte, 31, is the oldest of the aforementioned players has been the mainstay of the organization for years. It’s time for the organization to move onto the Josh Bell ERA.  Bell is the evolution of the modern day player, supplying both power and on-base ability. 

While the offense has the pieces to build around the pitching staff is lackluster to say the least. The rotation has two young starters to begin their rebuild in Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon. Joe Musgrove was a surprise llast year bringing in a 3.3 WAR and solidifying himself as a potential mainstay for years to come.  Pittsburgh still has Mitch Keller at the top of their prospect ranks. His first time in the majors was not great but the talent is still there and can help build a strong core for the future.

The Pirate bullpen has more problems than I can fit onto one blog post. Keone Kela will be projected in the closer role followed behind by Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz and the emergence of Edgar Santana.  Last season’s Pirate bullpen was horrible on most accounts, finishing bottom ten or bottom five in most categories. Pittsburgh had serious issues with putting people on base for free, walking 304 players and allowing a .255 BA.  They not only put people on but they regularly allowed them to score. With no major additions to the bullpen they Pirates are hoping that new Pitching Coach Oscar Marin can find a way to change up the fortunes of the staff. Marin spent last season as the bullpen coach for the Texas Rangers.  Marin was a bargain basement cost but a new face and new appeal could be exactly what the organization is looking for.

Conclusion: 

 Moving Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Starling Marte should be enough to bring back the prospects to take them from bottom ten ranking (#22 according to Bleacher Report).  The Pirates have the assets to help a team that will be in contention. Pittsburgh has to commit to their rebuild by moving their pieces while they still have the value. By moving on from Clint Hurdle they are showing the first step towards a new direction. 

The future for Pittsburgh is on the shoulders of Ke’Bryan Hayes, the 34th ranked prospect according to Baseball America.  Hayes will likely find his way to the majors in 2020 joining their young rotation pieces. A new direction in the steel city has the chance to work if they are willing to follow the same game plan as fellow NL Central foes Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.  Tough times are ahead for Pittsburgh.

Breaking Down the Reds

I was at a Cardinals/Cubs game last year at Busch Stadium when the news broke about Trevor Bauer being traded within the Central Division.  When I first heard that, naturally I would have assumed that it was either the Cubs, Brewers or Cardinals that made the move to put themselves over the top in a competitive division. I found a place with Wifi and realized that it was the cellar dwelling Cincinnati Reds that made the move, shocking most baseball pundits. Cincinnati has continued to improve their team in the offseason with additions that are not being made for the future but for right now.  They are coming for the Central division and it’s time to take notice. 

Offseason Additions: Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley

The Red’s had some holes to fill coming into the offseason.  Most notably was at second base. With their top prospect Nick Senzel becoming firmly planted in center field for most likely many years to come they had to fill that hole.  They were able to add the power hitting Mike Moustakas. Moustakas is coming off a great year with the Milwaukee Brewers hitting 35 homers, .503 slugging percentage, .262 ISO and a 2.8 WAR.  The addition of Moustakas adds power behind Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez. His consistent power gives the Reds a great safety net in case Aristedes Aquino falls into the classic sophomore slump as he enters the full time lineup.  

Wade Miley had a great 2019 with the Houston Astros.  The basic numbers are solid 14 wins, 3.98 ERA and holding lefties to a .207 batting average.  Miley faded down the stretch as his cutter seemed to lose its zip. While Miley’s August- October cost him a spot in the playoff rotation, he still did what was needed for the Astros. Miley is realistic a league average pitcher with upside.  Putting him at the end of the Reds rotation behind Sonny Gray, Anthony DeScalfani, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer makes their rotation arguably the best in the National League and for sure the Central Division.

What else do they need?

The Red’s continued their offseason additions by adding 31-year old Shogo Akiyama.  The addition of Akiyama could end the reported interest in Marcell Ozuna. Cincinnati’s outfield consists of Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Aristedes Aquino with the reserves being Phillip Irvin and Travis Janikowski.  Aquino provides power, Senzel speed and Winker…well he is ok.   

Akiyama projects to bat leadoff for the Reds which is the biggest need going into the 2020 season.  Votto, Suarez, Aquino and Moustakas provide a middle of the order that can match up with any lineup.  It also helps that Great American Ballpark should provide even more pop for a lineup with already legit power.  If Akiyama can provide any kind of on-base statistics, this team should be set for a huge offensive season. 

Conclusion

The Red’s farm system lacks the depth ranking at the bottom ten of the league.  Last season they entered ranking 20th overall. Adding established major league talent has pushed the Reds into contention entering 2020.  Last season the bullpen established themselves as a force. Ending with Raisel Iglesias, who has established himself as one of the best closers in all of baseball.  The Reds now have more flexibility with the addition of Miley. Amir Garrett. Michael Lorenzen and Lucas Sims have all become valued middle relievers. Cincinnati has made the moves necessary to be a problem in the Central Division.

Worst Trades last Twenty Years

On December 26th 1919 the Boston Red Sox traded sold the rights to Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.  Thus began one of the longest and most miserable championship droughts in the history of any organization.  In honor of this and the coming of a new year, I wanted to talk about some of the worst trades over the last twenty years.  I am going to try and pick one from each sport. These will be trades, not free agent signings and most will be bad but maybe not the worst on all lists.  I would also like to note that these trades won’t have the impact of Babe Ruth to the Yankees but what really would?

NBA: OKC ships James Harden to the Rockets

Fresh off a Sixth Man of the Year award James Harden was entering the 2012-2013 season with high hopes for himself and his team built around young stars.  Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Harden were going to be the core of a future championship team. Unfortunately management saw the writing on the wall.  They knew resigning all four players was not realistic to a smaller market team. While the Thunder did reportedly offer Harden a contract worth about $55 million it was never signed and the team decided to move on. 

They trade Harden and a handful of players that names are worth typing for Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin and two draft picks (one became Steven Adams).  At the time this seemed like a decent return for a player that had primarily played a bench role, they were soon to find out that it may have taken a future championship away from OKC.  Harden developed into the MVP, multi-time All-Star and franchise player Rockets GM Darryl Morey thought he saw while no players outside of Adams are active for the Thunder. Anyone and everyone will always question what could have been if Westbrook, Durant and Harden had stayed together.  We will never know.  

Honorable Mention: Brooklyn Nets trade everything for KG and Paul Pierce

MLB: Indians steal Corey Kluber from Padres

In 2010 the St. Louis Cardinals were in need of a proven starter.  The San Diego Padres were looking for a power bat. The Cleveland Indians started the season 30-47 and were looking to unload some veterans to bring in prospects.  This culminated in St. Louis getting veteran Jake Westbrook, the Padres getting slugger Ryan Ludwick and the Indians acquiring a 24-year old rightie in Double-A named Corey Kluber.  

Kluber was a bit older for a pitcher in Double-A but possessed strikeout potential.  The Indians projected him as a potential middle of the rotation innings eater down the line.  The Padres and Indians had little idea that Kluber would discover a pitch that would end up changing his career.  Kluber was none for a low 90’s fastball and trouble with command, until he found the sinker. Becoming a mainstay in the rotation in 2013 Kluber would go on to win 98 games in total for the indians over his 8 full seasons including three All-Star appearances and two Cy Young Awards.  

The Cardinals and Padres got what they needed out of the veteran pickups but neither would be near the impact of Corey Kluber,  sometimes things just workout.

Honorable Mention: Cubs trade Josh Donaldson (2008)

NFL: Raiders trade Randy Moss to Patriots

Randy Moss as a Raider seemed like it would make sense.  Until it didn’t. The Raiders picked up the troubled wide receiver in hopes that they would be able to give a premier target to their young quarterbacks.  Two years and mediocre production along with some other issues, forced the Raiders to move on from Moss. In 2007, the Raiders found a suitor, the New England Patriots. The Patriots traded a fourth round selection for the future hall of famer.     

The Patriots had already established themselves as top of the league organization but had not really shown the offensive force that most dynasties had.  The combination of Tom Brady and Randy Moss was almost unfair to the league. Their first season together the Patriots raddled off 18 straight victories before being upset in the Super Bowl by David Tyree’s helmet.  Still the combination was lethal almost immediately. Moss, was reenergized by the move to New England. His 2007 season was something you would see when you play easy mode on Madden football, 98 catches, 1493 yards and 23 touchdowns.  That is not a typo. Randy Moss had 23 touchdowns in 2007! Moss would go on to have three stellar seasons with the Patriots while the Raiders would fall on hard times trying to replace the weapon they had basically handed away.

Honorable Mention:  Bills trade Marshawn Lynch (2010)

NHL: Bruins trade Joe Thornton to Sharks

In 2005 the Bruins started slowly.  Before the lockout of the previous year they had exited the playoffs in the first round three consecutive seasons.  They decided to shake things up. The decision was made to move their star Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks for a few afterthoughts and some players I guess.  

Thornton went on to continue a hall of fame career in San Jose, currently leading the franchise in most offensive categories.  The Sharks may have not gotten the championship they were looking for in picking Thornton but they did become a force in the NHL for years to come.  The Bruins floundered for a bit but in the long run they were ok. Still when you trade a star in their prime you have to get something in return….they didn’t.

Klub and MadBum

The title to this blog would make for a great CBS sitcom.  I could see the commercials now, an odd couple of sorts changing cities in order to change their lives…maybe for the better?  Madison Bumgarner and Corey Kluber are two potential aces that have switched teams in the offseason. The theme of the 2019 Winter meeting seems to center around pitching.  With Strasburg and Cole signing massive contracts they have overshadowed the mometus moves by both the Diamondbacks and Rangers in order to bolster their staffs. The question I have is who really made the better move??

Bumgarner helps in more ways than one.

The Diamondbacks agreed to a five-year $85 million contract over the weekend.  Bumgarner will join a rotation that features Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver, Mike Leake, Zac Gallen, Alex Young and Robbie Ray.  With Madbum that makes for seven names for five spots. MLB trade rumors is suggesting that the pickup of Bumgarner means that Robbie Ray will be on his way out in Arizona.  If that happens, did the Diamondbacks really improve themselves? Surprisingly to most Bumgarner just turned 30 years old in August, a five year deal will not have him pitching into the twilight of his career. Bumgarner’s 3.2 WAR immediately puts him at the top of the starting pitchers for the D-Backs.  

Rotation WAR

Robbie Ray 2.0

Luke Weaver 1.8

Merrill Kelly 1.5

Zac Gallen .8

Alex Young .4

The Diamondbacks now have a proven starter at the top of their rotation. They addition of Bumgarner makes the trade market for Robbie Ray a lot better.   The impending free agent has the upside to miss bats that most contending teams are going to want to acquire. Arizona has pitching depth in the minor league system so moving Ray with the addition of Bumgarner will allow Arizona to get the depth the need at first base or the outfield.  The signing of Bumgarner has opened up the possibilities for Arizona, they improved their #1 starter and opened up the market for to continue improving their roster.  

Rangers get an Ace

The Texas Rangers have made their counter move in the stacked AL West adding former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber for basically some guys on a spreadsheet.  This deal seemed like a recreation of the Moneyball scene where Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt just threw out a few names to pick up a reliever.  

The Cleveland Indians picked up Delino Deshields Jr. and Emmanuel Clase. Clase is the player that brings the most interest in this trade. Clase is a 21 years old and possesses potential dominant stuff including a 100 MPH cutter.  Clase projects as a future relief option for the Indians. He still has only reached the High A level but immediately jumps into the top 30 prospect list for Cleveland. 

Now let’s talk about what the Rangers got in Corey Kluber.  The Rangers had starting pitching issues all season in 2019 and they were set on reworking their rotation.  Kluber has become the marquee name along with Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson. Those three will join Mike Minor and Lance Lynn making a rotation that can immediately make an impact in the loaded AL West. Kluber is coming off a lost season, dealing with multiple stints on the injured list but the upside he brings is well worth what is ultimate cost was.  While the Indians found him expendable the Rangers have a chance to push themselves into the playoff hunt with a healthy new ace of the staff. We tend to forget that 2018 Kluber won 20 games and added a 5.5WAR.  

Who did better?

Arizona and Texas both have tough divisions to deal with.  The NL West is still the Dodgers and the AL West is still the Astros until further notice.  Both teams were able to add impact starters for little cost. I am going to call Diamondbacks the winner of these two trades  Bumgarner allows the flexibilty to fill in any and all needs they may have. Kluber is a huge move for the Rangers but they still have a lot of work to do to contend for even a wild card spot in the American League.  If the D-Backs decide to hold on to Ray or move Ray they should have the rotational pieces that will make them a force to contend with in the National League.

How the Cole signing helps the Cardinals.

Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals agreeing to a 7-year $245 million dollar contract smashing David Price’s $217 million contract signed in 2016.  Strasburg now has the largest contract ever signed by a pitcher.

Gerrit Cole…hold my beer.

Cole signing a 9-year $324 million contract to join the New York Yankees on Tuesday immediately surpassing Strasburg’s deal.  The Yankees have planted their flag in the American League East for years to come. The Yanks will have a rotation that now includes James Paxton, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, JA Happ along with the aforementioned Cole.  The Yankees will have a rotation that will match their powerful lineup and lockdown bullpen. 

Why does this help the St. Louis Cardinals?  

The Boston Red Sox have openly stated that they are looking to cut down salary heading into the 2020 season.  David Price, being the obvious salary to try and dump. Price has had a connection to the Redbirds since he signed his mega deal in 2016.  St. Louis has a need for another impact starter to place behind Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson. Injuries to Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez have changed the future of the rotation.  Price, has had a few injury concerns throughout his career but his numbers when healthy have not tailed off to a point of major concern. David Price’s SIERRA if eligible last season would rank in the top 13 right behind Jack Flaherty. Price is owed $32 million each year for the next three.  Pricey (ha pun intended), but acceptable if the Red Sox can throw in a kicker. 

The signing of Gerrit Cole has put the Red Sox even further behind in the AL East. Boston has to make a decision on their future.  By moving Mookie Betts or Andrew Benintendi along with Price would be enough for St. Louis to include one of their young rising outfielders, Tyler O’Neil, Randy Arozerena or Adolis Garcia. 

The Cardinals have to go out and take advantage of a Red Sox right now, while the iron is hot.  Boston sees the writing on the wall. They have to do some remodeling before they can make a run at the division title.  They also see teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay continuing to emerge. They are desperate, throw them a name like Carlos Martinez and a prospect and you can not only get a solid piece to your rotation but a potential proven outfield commodity.  

St. Louis Cardinals Outfield – What will they do?

With Marcel Ozuna most likely gone for the 2020 season, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in a tough situation.  Currently on their 40 man roster your options for replacements are somewhat limited or at the very least unproven at the major league level. What should the Cardinals do?  Let’s break it down. 

Outfield options on roster:

Harrison Bader

Lane Thomas

Dexter Fowler

Randy Arozarena

Tyler O’Neil

Jose Martinez

Justin Williams

Adolis Garcia

Tommy Edman

Yairo Munoz

I am going to eliminate the unrealistic options:

Justin Williams will not make the team without a ridiculous spring, he’s out.  

Adolis Garcia has power, 31 homers along with a .517 slugging percentage in AAA definitely stands out, but he has found himself behind Lane Thomas and Randy A, he’s out.

Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz will be utility players on the roster.  Projected them as starters in the outfield is not an option (yet). They are out.

Jose Martinez is not a starter for any team in the National League.  You can only ignore his defense for small periods of time. He’s out.

Who has a chance:

Dexter Fowler has right field likely locked down.  While he wasn’t good in the playoffs Fowler was able to raise every offensive statistic.  He still sucked but the money is too much for him to not be slotted into the lineup going into spring training.  

Tyler O’Neil should be given the first chance to be the left fielder, you know what he brings to the table.  He is going to strikeout and he is going to hit dingers. O’Neil’s 40% k-rate is alarming to say the least but with O’Neil there is still major upside.  His hard hit rate from 2018-2019 ranks fifth in baseball behind guys like Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge, Alex Avila, Matt Olson and his most comparable player Joey Gallo.  O’Neil’s plate discipline is a problem, but his upside is undeniable. He should get the first chance but its not set in stone.

Center field for the 2019 Cardinals is going to be a competition of similar attributes.  Randy A, Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas are all viable candidates.  

Harrison Bader brings the most experience which is laughable as he doesn’t really bring much.  Bader’s defense is elite but a 29% strikeout rate in during 2019 with little power upside and an OBP of just .301 is not something the Cardinals can afford with a team that already has been deprived of offense with the potential loss of Ozuna.  

Lane Thomas played well when given the chance at the major league level last season.  His surprising power numbers over the last two seasons in triple A and the major league level is what garnered the attention of the front office.  Increasing his slugging percentage by nearly 100 points from 2017 to 2018 is a huge positive regression. Thomas will need a solid spring to win the job but he is a guy that has to be taken into consideration.

Randy Arozarena’s .453 OBP last season is the highest of the three potential candidates. Randy A has the lowest walk percentage of the three, while it’s not a huge difference it still shows that he is more reliant on putting the ball in play rather than taking pitches.  The Cardinals are in need of a leadoff hitter currently and Randy seems to be the likely option because, well he can hit. If he is able to make the roster, it would hopefully be in a starting capacity. There is no need to force him to the majors if he is not going to play.

Free Agent Options:

The Cardinals are never likely to make a free agent move of any prestige so I want to take out candidates like Yasiel Puig and Nick Castellanos  So what is left…nothing. The Cardinals will most likely go after a guy past his prime to compete for a spot on the roster. Names that come to mind are Cameron Maybin (33, 1.6WAR), Corey Dickerson (31, 1.0WAR) and Kole Calhoun (32, 2.5WAR).  All three of the aforementioned players would be nice bench assets but with a bench full of younger higher upside players it doesn’t make sense to reach for an outfielder with little upside. 

Conclusion:

As the roster stands right now I would like to see Fowler, Randy A and O’Neil in the outfield.  The Cardinals could be bold and make a move to add one of the premiere offensive free agents at third base (Anthony Rendon, Josh Donadlson) and put Tommy Edman in the outfield but that would not meet with the history of this franchise.  The Cardinals have questions in their outfield, it’s obvious they need to make a move. Dylan Carlson is coming so they are going to be patient and hope that one of their young players takes the next step.

The Cardinals should have moved on from Waino

Comeback stories are awesome.  Seeing a player that everyone had given up on overcoming their struggles to be successful is what makes for great sports stories.  Adam Wainwright was the feel-good story of the year for the St. Louis Cardinals. The ending of this story has been written and it’s time to move on.  

Adam Wainwright is a future Cardinals Hall of Famer. He will be fondly remembered by all that were able to watch his amazing career.  Closing out the World Series striking out Brandon Inge or maybe even more memorable his nasty curveball that finished off future teammate Carlos Beltran to get to that World Series will be embedded into Cardinals fans forever.  Memories are great but right now the Cardinals have to be looking to the future.  

Let’s go over his 2019 season.  Wainwright was one of the most effective pitchers down the stretch for the St. Louis Cardinals.  His 2.97 ERA in the months of September and October helped St. Louis win the division and perhaps overachieve by making it to the NLCS.  Wainwright’s overall numbers were solid, 14 wins, 2.2 WAR, 4.39 xFIP and 171 innings pitched. The Cardinal’s veteran pitched well enough to reach all of his incentives, making his contract worth $10 million.  His numbers at the end of the season paid for his price tag. 

The Cardinals need to add more pitching depth.  You have two young guys at the top of the rotation in Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson along with Miles Mikolas.  The rest of the rotation is a question mark. Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes are both having a problem staying healthy their entire careers.  Daniel Ponce De Leon seems to never be a part of the conversation. Austin Gomber had an injury derail his season. Jake Woodford and Genesis Cabrera are both not ready to be full time.  

I don’t believe the Cardinals will go all in on Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg there are a number of affordable arms that can bring upside for multiple years while you discover what you have with your young starters. Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Zack Wheeler Hyun-Jin Ryu, Michael Pineda and Dallas Keuchel are just a few of the names that will be available at a moderately affordable price.  

Let’s say the Cardinals don’t like the idea of giving up a compensatory pick.  That would eliminate Wheeler and Odorizzi. Let’s also say Dallas Keuchel still wants that big contract that he couldn’t find last offseason, the Cardinals won’t want to do that.  Why not make a call to Hyun-Jin Ryu. Just 33 years old, Ryu has a much bigger upside.  

The price for Wainwright’s return is fair.  All of the aforementioned free agent pitchers will cost you more than $5-million plus incentives.  I am not upset about the price, I am upset because we have seen the highest upside we will see from Wainwright and where did that get the Cardinals.  Making it to the NLCS is great, personally I think they overachieved based on the full season performance. The Cardinals have to focus on a new direction.  They have to move on from the players that have peaked. Adam Wainwright peaked in 2019. To expect Wainwright to not go through negative regression is overly optimistic.  You are giving away a rotation spot to a 38 year old that depends on location. It’s time to try something new, it’s time for the organization to make a move to change the consistency of mediocrity. The emotions of Wainwrights 2019 success have masked management’s eyes.  They are not seeing that it is time to focus on the future. Keeping Wainwright around to be a “mentor” to the young staff will stunt the progression of leadership that you need from a guy like Jack Flaherty.  

Wainwright will be back in 2020.  He may have a great season. When you look at the rotation though he will be at the top of the question marks.  Can he be what he was in 2019? Is that really what the fanbase wants? Isn’t it time to be better? I am not rooting against Wainwright. I am just ready to move on from his era.  

AL Wild Card Game- Rays win with depth.

Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay Rays) at Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics)

Starting Pitcher: Advantage…..

Every part of me wants to say the Rays have the advantage with veteran Charlie Morton on the mound. Morton has the most experience of any pitcher on either staff, spending the last two seasons with the Houston Astros, most notably his performance in the 2017 World Series.  Morton came out of the bullpen, dominating his 10+ innings. Morton has found success in his curveball even more in 2019, throwing it as a much higher rate.  Opposing batter are hitting just .151 against old Uncle Charlie. 

Sean Manaea has returned from injury, immediately regaining his form has the A’s frontline starter(1.21 ERA with with a 30-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio). Manaea lack of experience is a big deal under the pressure of what the Wild Card game brings.  He has a great future ahead of him.  This game will be what allows us to find out what and who he is.

Bullpen: Advantage Rays

The Athletics have a premier closer in Liam Hendricks as well as a “secret weapon” Jesus Luzardo. The Athletics don’t have the depth of the Rays, but they do have two guys that can be impactful if the they get the lead.  

The Rays finished first in the MLB with a 3.71 bullpen ERA and in September the ERA was a staggering 2.87. Tampa Bay has multiple assets that can be called upon at any moment.  Chaz Roe, Emilio Pagan, Oliver Drake and Diego Castillo could all be called upon as soon as the first sign of trouble comes. In a one game scenario the matchups will be the difference.

Lineup + Bench: Advantage Rays

Tampa Bay doesn’t have the premier big bats that Oakland brings to the table.  They don’t have a Matt Olson, Marcus Semien or Matt Chapman. The Rays will utilize their matchups Tommy Pham, Travis d’Arnaud, Avi Garcia and the returning Yandy Diaz all have great numbers versus lefties on the season.

Oakland will need the middle of the order to step up and make things happen. Marcus Semien and Matt Olson bring the power and name recognition that the Rays don’t have.  The bottom of their order doesn’t have the same pop.  The Rays will carry more depth into this matchup. Whi

Prediction

I want to go with the Athletics.  Every part of me says they are going to utilize their power.  I have a tough time backing Sean Manaea in this situation.  While his ERA is very appealing there seems to be a regression on the way for the Oakland lefty.  Of his five starts only one was against a winning team.  Charlie Morton’s experience and Kevin Cash’s ability to play the matchup game will be too much for the Athletics. I am rolling with the Rays.

NL Wild Card Game Prediction

Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee Brewers) vs Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals)

Offense: Advantage Nationals

The Nationals will enter this game with their MVP candidate Anthony Rendon while the Brewers will still be without Christian Yelich. Depth is the difference in these lineups.  The Nationals bring power and speed in nearly every part of their lineup.  

Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Adam Eaton and the aforementioned Anthony Rendon all have the ability to make an impact on the game early.  The Nationals speed is going to be the key to jumping the on top early.  Yasmani Grandal’s defense came into question last season during the Dodgers playoff run, his ability to help manage the run game. Grandal’s offense has overshadowed his defensive struggles this season, throwing out 27% of would be base stealers is solid, but his -.04  defensive WAR is a cause for concern. 

The Brewers miss Yelich, but they have found solid replacements for a short period of time.  Trent Grisham, Ben Gamel and a hot Ryan Braun has helped the offense.  Braun’s questionable status for Tuesday’s contest could be a crushing blow to an already limping offense.  

Bullpen: Advantage Brewers

The Nationals bullpen troubles have been well documented during the last few seasons.  Finding some stability towards the latter end of the season, Sean Doolittle moving into a set-up role as Daniel Hudson cemented himself in the back end. The Nationals may have found their answer at the end they still are playing from behind in the bullpen.  

The Brewers have shown that they are deep with bullpen depth.  The emergence of Drew Pomeranz as a weapon against either side of the plate gives them a pitcher that can cover multiple innings.   I would look to see Josh Hader enter the game in as early as possible if the Brewers are able to grab a lead.   Milwaukee has played this game before and will not hesitate to make a move when necessary. 

Starter: Advantage Nationals

Keeping this simple. Max Scherzer, when healthy, is the best pitcher in baseball.  Brandon Woodruff All-Star first half but was hampered by injuries in the second half. Both pitchers have great strikeout stuff, it’s Scherzer who will be looked on to take control of the game.  The leash for Woodruff will be very small, if the Nationals jump out to an early lead the rug will be pulled out from under Woodruff.  

The debate between whether Scherzer or Strasburg should start the game could be pointless, reports are saying that Stephen Strasburg will be one of the first to make an appearance out of the bullpen. Scherzer hasn’t been perfect this season but he will give them hard innings, lasting until the 7thwhere Washington will utilize their new bullpen pieces and strategy.

My Prediction

The NL Wild Card game has ultimately favored the road team since its inception.  Only two home teams have found their way into the next round. While history favors the road team the Nationals have been terrific at home in 2019 with a 50-31 record. The Nationals also come in hot winning eight straight games at home to end the season. 

Brewers Manager Craig Counsell has become the poster boy for utilizing every advantage his bullpen brings. While Woodruff is the starter, it would not be surprising to see Milwaukee make an early change to play the matchups against the dynamic Washington offense.

The Brewers went on an unbelievable run just to get to where they are, but they face a team that is simply better.  Max Scherzer will dominate an offense that is missing way too many key pieces.  Anthony Rendon will cement himself as the league MVP. The Brewers had a nice run and they are a nice story, I’m not betting against Mad Max in this situation.  Give me the Nationals 6-2.  

Put up or Shut up. Previewing the Nationals/Cardinals Series

The Cardinals had a chance to bury their division rivals, the Christian Yelich-less Milwaukee Brewers. They found themselves in a position to establish themselves as the true frontrunner for the National League Central race. The Cardinals hopes for dominance were crushed by Ryan Braun’s ninth inning grand slam off of rookie Junior Fernandez.

St. Louis was bit by the hand that had been feeding them all of 2019.  Their young bullpen arms were not able to handle the late inning situations as they had previously the entire season. The Cardinals still sit two games up on the second place Chicago Cubs and three games up on the aforementioned Milwaukee Brewers. The redbirds have a very interesting clash in front of them against the uber talented and desperate Washington Nationals.  

Oh, they also get to face the murderer’s row of starting pitching Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer.

St. Louis will counter Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright.  Comparing the overall starting pitching is an obvious advantage to the Nationals. Washington comes into this series with a 6-8 record in September including getting smashed by the Atlanta Braves which has all but ended their chances at the eastern division crown. Both teams are in a must win situation the rest of the season.  The Cubs and Brewers are both hot on their heels ready to take over their positions at the top.  

The Cardinals will have the advantage in the bullpen which in a playoff like atmosphere Mike Schildt will have to be ready to make the move before it is too late.  The Nationals have a powerful offense that can turn a one run lead into a four-run lead before you know it.  Schildt will have his first real playoff like atmosphere at Busch, Cardinals fans will find out if he is the one that will take them to the next step. 

The Nationals have the superior depth in their lineup with bench players like Howie Kendrick, Gerardo Parra and Matt Adams.  They can put out multiple lineups that will be tough to matchup against over a three games series.  The key for St. Louis will be to get ahead early and force the Nationals to utilize their subpar bullpen.  If the Cardinals can get a lead it will also allow Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright to attack the zone.  They are pitch to contact pitchers, it can be an advantage for them to have the freedom to throw in the zone and not worry about one long ball putting them behind. 

Who has the advantage?

Starters- Advantage Nationals

Bullpen- Advantage Cardinals

Offense- Advantage Nationals

My series prediction.

In game one St. Louis will need to a strong performance in game one from Dakota Hudson, if he can give them a solid six innings and keep the ball in the ballpark it can set them up for the rest of the series.  Strasburg is a vaunting task for any offense but is hittable when off, it is going to be hot for game one so the ball should be taking off and the usual pitcher friendly Busch Stadium.  Cardinals take game one 4-3. 

Game two is a much more even matchup with Mile Mikolas taking on Patrick Corbin. Corbin’s one start versus St. Louis he was erratic in the strike zone, walking four over his six innings. Corbin has the stuff to shut down the Cardinals but with St. Louis’s heavy right-handed lineup they should have the advantage.  Mikolas on the other hand found himself at home against the Nationals, giving up seven hits over six innings but only one run.  This game will come down to who is the first to fold.  Cardinals take game two by getting to Corbin early, Cardinals win 7-3.

Game three is simple. Scherzer in St. Louis will dominate. Cardinals will scratch across a run early, but it won’t be enough.  Soto and Rendon will punish Wainwright in the first and the third.  Nationals win the game but lose the series.  Nationals 8-2.