Indians’ Corey Kluber making under the radar case for Cy Young

On May 2, 2017, Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians had finished his No. 6 start of the season, lasting just three innings while allowing 5 ER, bumping his ERA up to an uncharacteristic 5.06.  The next day Kluber was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a back injury.  Since his return on June 1, Kluber has been arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball.

In his 13 starts since returning from the DL, Kluber has been unhittable and has nearly cut his ERA in half to 2.65. Over that same stretch, he has had double-digit strikeouts in 11 starts, including at least 11 Ks in his last five.  Altogether he leads the MLB by a significant margin with 142 Ks in that time frame.

Via Jason Miller/Getty Images

The man closest to Kluber in the K department since his return just so happens to be the same man who has overshadowed his ridiculous season, Chris Sale.  While Kluber was struggling through April and was hurt for basically all of May, Sale was dominating his competition.  Through his first 11 starts, Sale had racked up 110 Ks, a 6-2 record, a 2.77 ERA, and had gone less than seven innings in just two starts.

Sale was a strong, early Cy Young candidate, and has remained the leader in a seemingly one-horse race as his performance has only improved in his last 12 starts.  The problem is that while Sale still deserves to be the leader in the Cy Young race, Corey Kluber has pitched his way into the conversation but is getting limited recognition.

Via Getty Images

Since June 1st, Kluber has outpitched Sale and every other pitcher in the MLB. Kluber leads baseball in strikeouts, IP, OBP against, SLG against, wOBA against and is No. 2 to only Clayton Kershaw with a 1.70 ERA.  He recently passed Kershaw and Max Scherzer into second place behind Sale for pitchers WAR according to FanGraphs with a 4.9.

While Kluber did struggle to start the season, his season long stats still nearly mirror Sale’s.  What helps put Sale ahead of Kluber is the 28.2 extra innings he’s pitched along with his incredible 1.98 FIP.  A couple of the two aces important rate statistics, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, and ERA, are all nearly the same showing that Sale’s strong WAR lead comes down to more playing time.

If not for Kluber’s DL time it would be interesting to see how close the gap would be between the two.  Kluber and Sale are the only two SPs averaging more than seven IP per start this season so it seems to follow that Kluber would have made up the 28-inning gap over his four missed starts.

Last night Sale went eight innings with 13 Ks allowing no runs on two hits and one walk, following up his worst outing of the season in which he allowed seven ER against Kluber’s Indians. Kluber kept pace with Boston’s ace by going the distance for the second game in a row with eerily identical pitching lines. In both games he fanned 11, allowed 1 ER on a solo HR and held the opposing lineup to just three hits.

It’s impossible to correctly answer which guy is pitching better right now but the consistency of Sale rightly keeps him atop the Cy Young and WAR leaderboards. With another 7-8 weeks in the season there is plenty of time for Kluber to gain ground if Sale sputters because despite what the mainstream media has said, this is not a one-horse race.

Corey Kluber pitches during 2016 ALDS at Fenway Park Via Jason Miler/Getty Images

 

For the fans, all we can do is hope that both stay healthy and dominant heading into the postseason.  The AL East leading Red Sox and Central leading Indians are slated to face each other in the ALDS of the 2017 Playoffs and if they hold their division leads we could be in for one of the greatest postseason pitching matchups of All-Time will Kluber and Sale both toeing the rubber for Game 1 and possibly games 4 or 5.

Nationals bullpen boost brings NL Pennant, World Series into contention

When I wrote my trade deadline article last week, there was one major deal that I left out and that’s because I wanted to give it and the Washington Nationals a more in-depth look.

When I first started writing here, I created a list of possible article ideas and one that I was really looking forward to writing was how the disastrous Washington bullpen would let itself down in October if they didn’t make any upgrades. As we sit now, the tone of the article is changed as their recent acquisition gives me and I assume their organization new optimism.

The trade I have alluded to was one in which they acquired relief pitchers Sean Doolittle and a personal favorite of mine, Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics. The Nationals did not give up much to do so. The package they sent to Oakland included RP Blake Treinen and prospects LHP Jesus Luzardo and 3B Sheldon Neuse who prior to the season ranked as the No. 15 and No. 17 best prospects respectively in the Nationals system, according to Baseball America.

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via MLB Trade Rumors

The Nats hold a commanding 12 game lead in the incredibly weak NL East. Every other team in the division looks to be sellers at the deadline, other than maybe the Mets who have been crushed by injuries this season, which means that Washington should waltz to a division title and playoff berth.

With one of the most dominant lineups and starting rotations in baseball, Washington has been a pleasure to watch. Washington’s roster is headlined by superstars Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, but the likes of Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez are all having career years as well.

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via RantSports

The strength and depth the Nationals have at the top of their rotation and lineup is scary.  Harper, Murphy, Zimmerman, and Scherzer all started for the NL while Strasburg was a reserve for the team and Rendon was unwisely left off as he currently leads the NL in WAR according to FanGraphs. All of these guys will be potential MVP and Silver Slugger, or in Scherzer’s case, Cy Young candidates at the end of this year.

These stars are the main reason why Washington sits in second behind the Houston Astros in basically every offensive category including runs (540), total bases (1611), RBI (526), AVG (.278) and OPS (.817). Their starting rotation is No. 3 in ERA (3.58) and IP (595.2), and No. 1 in BAA (.229) and SO (626).

Despite the fact that this team sports the most dangerous lineup and consistently effective starting rotation in baseball, just two weeks ago I believed the Nats were going to have an early exit in the postseason. Their bullpen has been a nightmare all season and surely would have let them down in October.

The addition of Doolittle and Madson, however, gives this bullpen new life for the last 60 or so games of the season. Doolittle and Madson aren’t the most dominant bullpen arms in baseball, but they’ve both had solid seasons in Oakland so far and more importantly are massive upgrades over what Washington was trotting out to the mound on a nightly basis.

Prior to the trade, the Washington bullpen ranked last in baseball with a 5.34 ERA, .810 OPS against, and -0.9 WAR. The 36-year-old Madson comes to Washington with an impressive 1.2 WAR, 1.91 ERA and 2.37 FIP over 42.1 innings while Doolittle sports a 0.7 WAR, 3.33 ERA and 2.66 FIP in just 24.1 innings after spending some time on the DL.

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via Baseball Stadium Reviews

The two have quickly slotted in to the No. 8 and No. 9 inning roles for the Nationals. Both players have closer experience but it is unclear who will be the closer going forward and there’s a chance they split time depending on matchups. Regardless of what inning they throw in, they bring a new shutdown feel to the Nationals pen that has surrendered countless leads this year.

It is to be seen if Washington will go out and make another addition to further solidify their pen but the trio of Matt Albers, a journeyman having a career year of his own, Madson and Doolittle should be good enough to hold most leads.

The National’s bullpen still does not stack up to the likes of the Indians, Yankees, or Dodgers and it will be really interesting to see if it will be able to hold its own in the postseason.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, when looking at the top of the bullpen rankings in baseball, the list is crowded with playoff teams like the three aforementioned, as well as the Red Sox, Astros, and Diamondbacks. The fact that the Nationals have been so successful this season in spite of having one of the worst pens is a true testament to just how talented and impressive the rest of the team has been.

Washington is primed for a deep and competitive playoff run. If they’re able to get the same kind of production from their staff and lineup that they have in the regular season, they could easily run away from the competition and breeze to the first World Series title in Washington since 1924.

MLB: The Fourth of July provides exciting baseball

Photo via Sandlot (1993)


Although it’s not technically the fourth of July yet, or even July for that matter, everyone around the country is celebrating this weekend as if it is the fourth of July weekend – and rightfully so.

The fourth is a time to celebrate, reflect on and enjoy all the great things we are blessed with as Americans.  So we load up our coolers, fire up the grills and head for the beach to enjoy the fruits of our labor for a couple days.

In between the boozing, the fun in sun, the endless burgers, and the malicious hangovers, we’re all going to find some down time slumped on a couch in front of the television.

That’s where baseball comes in.  America’s favorite pastime and the fourth go together like Busch Light and more Busch Light.

The MLB has also played along nicely with the holiday and scheduled a bevy of afternoon ballgames as well as a couple nationally televised games in the evening.

A quick check of my TV listings shows that on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET ESPN will be showing PBA bowling while the MLB Network offers us an undisclosed game. My best guess for this one would be the Red Sox @ the Blue Jays.

This game should be an easy one to sell to a fan because the man on the mound for the Red Sox is the strikeout machine, Chris Sale.  Sale’s numbers speak for themselves and every time this guy steps on the mound it’s an absolute treat for viewers around the world as the man is almost a guarantee to K 10+ batters a night and will probably start the All-Star game for the AL this year.

Red Sox Pitcherr.jpg
Photo via Getty Images

The craziest number about Sale is his WAR (wins above replacement). Through 16 starts, Sale has a 4.7 WAR, almost a full win better than the second place Max Scherzer (3.8).

Amazingly, there are just FOUR pitchers with above a 3.0 WAR.  Sale has been so much better than not just opposing batters, but basically every other hurler to step on the hill this year.

Sunday offers another Nationally televised on MLBN starting at 2 p.m ET, which is expected to feature the New York Yankees visiting the AL-leading Houston Astros in a matchup of two probably playoff teams. The game will showcase one of the best young arms in the game in Luis Severino, who has come back after an awful 2016 campaign and has been the ace of the Yankees’ staff while Masahiro Tanaka has struggled.

The Astros’ lineup puts fear into opposing pitchers’ every night no matter who they are.  One of the deepest lineups in baseball is throttled by the three-headed monster of Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. All three are in their early 20s, and all three will be in MVP discussions at the end of the season unless Aaron Judge and Mike Trout don’t come back down to earth.

Houston
Photo via Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Lastly, don’t forget the luscious fourth of July inspired uniforms the boys will be sporting over the next few days (I saw the beauties the Nationals were wearing last night and almost bought one on the spot).

Enjoy the beers, boats, burgers and may everyone have a Happy 4th of July!