Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Strasburg’

Wainwright_50

One thing there will always be in the game is a dominant right-hander on the mound. And in the lineage of Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Bob Feller, the best of the best change the course of an entire day from the moment they touch the mound.

Entering into this summer, there are a plethora of hurlers cut from that game defining cloth, and has this list shows, they approach doing so from every possible angle. There’s two sets of teammates included, both whom do it via running up the strikeouts with overwhelming fastballs. While there is a second set that does so in about as divergent ways as possible—one via 95 mph fastballs and cutters, and another with mid-80’s material that never ends up where you’d think it would.

Overall, making the cut here is no easy task today. There is an MVP, four Cy Young winners (including one that is one in the same). There’s two rookies of the year—one former and one reigning—as well as a two-time World Series winner and a phenom that is quietly earning his stripes. Rounding it off, two arms that are in the business of proving that dominance on one side of the ocean can translate just fine to the other. Consider all of this without the inclusion of the injured Matt Harvey as well.

There’s plenty of ways to get the job done, but the ten guys here have found the most dominant ways to go about creating the hardest scenario in sports—squaring up a baseball.

10. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: His record lies about how well he performed last summer. The Nats managed to net him only eight victories, despite him limiting batters to a .207 average against him, and striking out 191 across 30 starts.

9. Jered Weaver, Angels: One of the trickiest pitchers in the game, his ability to throw six pitches at any point, combined with his long delivery and 6’7 frame make him a frustrating presence to get a read on. Injuries limited him 24 starts last summer, but he won 18 and 20 games respectively in 2011-12.

8. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners: The owner of maybe the best splitter in baseball made proved his keep in his second season. In route to finishing third for AL Cy Young honors, he won 14 games, with on a 2.66 ERA, while walking only 42 batters in 219 innings.

7. Zack Greinke, Dodgers: The only thing that sidetracked him from a season that could have potentially rivaled rotation mate Clayton Kershaw was a broken collarbone from an April brawl. Overall, he won 15 games in 28 starts, reaching the victory marker for the fourth time in five years.

yu-darvish-2013-opening-day

6. Yu Darvish, Rangers: He came up short of two no-hitters after the start of the 7th inning, but despite those disappointments, Darvish’s rise to ace status was undeniable. He led all of baseball with 277 strikeouts and finished fourth in the AL with a 2.83 ERA.

5. Jose Fernandez, Marlins: Maybe only Kerry Wood and Doc Gooden made a more immediate impact on their first arrivals in the last 30 years than Fernandez. The NL Rookie of the Year finished second in the league in ERA and allowed the least hits per game of any starter in baseball, at just over five.

4. Max Scherzer, Tigers: It all came together for Scherzer in route to winning the AL Cy Young and pulling rank on par with his more renown rotation mate. Always an overpowering presence, he added a changeup that took him to the next level. The result was a 21-3 record, which led the Majors in wins, while keeping his strikeouts per nine innings mark north of 10.

3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: He not only returned to his pre-Tommy John form of 2010, he set a new personal standard. He won the National League in wins , innings pitched, complete games and shutouts, while setting a personal high and strikeouts and finishing second in the NL Cy Young ballot, along with a Gold Glove to boot.

Felix-Hernandez-Seattle-Mariners-

2. Justin Verlander, Tigers: He had a down year by his own otherworldly standards a year ago, but the ship has far from sailed on JV. In the postseason, he gave up a single run over three starts while striking out 31 against only three walks. He’s averaged 18 wins, 236 innings and nearly a strikeout per inning over the last three seasons.

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: As he has come into his own and made his potential reality, King Felix has made the excellent the norm. He seems to have the rare ability to throw any pitch on demand, regardless of location, speed and count. He topped 200 strikeouts for the fifth consecutive year, and at age 27 he already has 110 wins, a Cy Young win and two other finishes in the top three within the past five years. What’s more is that he is finally pitching for a team that has a few everyday talents that can match his own.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Matt Cain, James Shields, Jordan Zimmermann

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of this year’s ‘Top 10 Today’, and for the real-time read, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Advertisements

Strasburg

The National League East was the most diverse division in all of baseball a year ago. It was home of the a Cy Young winner on a fourth place team, a former middle reliever that inspired a 23-game winning streak as a starter, the greatest teenage season in baseball history, the farewell of Chipper Jones, two different coming of age stores (that went in two different directions), as well as the most expensive collapse in all of baseball. Yes, the NL East was the scene of five very different stories that left the division looking unlike anything that could have been expected.

The newly minted Miami Marlins entered the year with all the expectations that a complete franchise facelift brings. However, by half way point of the first half, they’d begun to fold already, trading their long-time franchise player and languishing at the bottom of the division. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the long-time division champs watched their age and injury come together in the worst possible way. Behind David Wright and RA Dickey, the Mets showed some promise, and the Braves continued to be the absolute best second place team imaginable. A place they inhabited because the Washington Nationals rose to power, and never gave it up.

2012 FINISH (*Wild Card winner)

  1. Washington Nationals (98-64)
  2. Atlanta Braves (94-68)*
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (81-81)
  4. New York Mets (74-88)
  5. Miami Marlins (69-93)

Fast forward to now, and things seem a bit more set than they did last summer. Behind a powerhouse lineup and pitching staff, the Nationals have gone from building to win-now status. But the Braves have had as aggressive of an offseason as they’ve had in years to make sure the DC rise isn’t unchallenged. The Phillies, on the other hand, have been in that same “win now” mode for three years, face perhaps the last season where they have a chance to do it. And new eras are coming into play with the Mets and Marlins, and pulling themselves up in a top heavy division will be a challenge of multiple types. But in a division with two teams easily able to represent the NL in October, is the upset even possible?

All Division Team

Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves

First Base: Adam LaRoche, Nationals

Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies

Third Base: David Wright, Mets

Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Nationals

Left Field: Bryce Harper, Nationals

Center Field: BJ Upton, Braves

Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

Stanton's prodigous power -to-age ratio is the reason he's the last man standing in Miami.

Stanton’s prodigous power -to-age ratio (40 home run per year average at 23 years old) is the reason he’s the last man standing in Miami.

Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasberg, Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez, Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Cole Hamels, Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee, Phillies

Righty Relief: Tyler Clippard, Nationals

Lefty Relief: Jonny Venters, Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Braves

Top 10

  1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  2. David Wright, Mets
  3. Stephen Strasberg, Nationals
  4. Cole Hamels, Phillies
  5. Cliff Lee, Phillies
  6. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
  7. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  8. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
  9. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  10. Justin Upton, Braves

Lineup

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

Top to bottom, there’s very few NL lineups that can swing with the Nationals. As you’ll see below, there’s no area they are weak in, but the strength is truly in the numbers. They finished in the top five in runs, total bases, team batting average and home runs in the NL. The Phillies haven’t been able to perform at maximum capacity for the past two years, but Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will both enter the season healthy for the first time in that span as well. Atlanta could very well carry six players that top 20 home runs, but could also lead the NL in strikeouts by a wide margin as well.

Wright carried a heavy load in the Mets lineup well a year ago, topping 40 doubles and driving in 93 runs.

Wright carried a heavy load in the Mets lineup well a year ago, topping 40 doubles and driving in 93 runs.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Nationals (Harper/Zimmerman/LaRoche)
  2. Braves (Upton/Freeman/Upton)
  3. Phillies (Utley/Howard/Young)
  4. Mets (Wright/Davis/Duda)
  5. Marlins (Stanton/Brantly/Ruggiano)

The emergence of the Adam LaRoche (33 HRs/100 RBI) pushed the Nationals lineup to a new level last year. With Zimmerman and Harper, the Nats have a chance to get 75 homers from the middle of their lineup alone. The Braves revamped the team with the addition of the Uptons, and Freddie Freeman’s continue growth will make the heart of the ATL attack formidable for years to come.

Table Setters

  1. Nationals (Span/Werth)
  2. Braves (Simmons/Heyward)
  3. Phillies (Rollins/Revere)
  4. Marlins (Pierre/Polanco)
  5. Mets (Tejada/Murphy)

Denard Span is the table setter Washington has been after for the last few years, and when coupled with the do it all Harper, the Nats will jump on pitchers early and often. Ben Revere is the type of regular on-base threat the Phillies need. His .294 average was a 27 point increase from 2011. Juan Pierre is still a steady hitter at age 35 and his consistent effort will be helpful in the sparse Marlin lineup.

Bench

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The Nationals have the best bench in baseball. Wilson Ramos, Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi start in a lot of other places. The mix of Delmon Young, Lee Mayberry and Freddy Galvis is a promising support group for Charlie Manuel in Philly, as long as they aren’t stretched too thin by being forced into the starting lineup too often due to injury.

Rotation

  1. Nationals
  2. Phillies
  3. Braves
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

The best rotation in the NL got better when Dan Haren joined Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler in DC. This group won a combined (…) games in 2012. Not to be outdone, the Phillies boast two legitimate aces in Lee and Hamels, but the health of Roy Halladay continues to be questionable. The Mets staff is still without Johan Santana, but has several quality young arms in Dillion Gee, Matt Harvey and Jonathan Niese.

1-2 Punch

  1. Nationals (Strasberg/Gonzalez)
  2. Phillies (Hamels/Lee)
  3. Braves (Hudson/Medlen)
  4. Mets (Santana/Niese)
  5. Marlins (Nolasco/LeBlanc)

Strasberg and Gonzalez could become the first teammates to both win 20 games in a season since 2002. In Atlanta, Kris Medlen was unbelievable down the stretch last season, with the Braves winning 23 of his starts, consecutively. Paired with the always reliable Tim Hudson, they have the firepower to match up with the more hallowed top of the line in-division arms.

With O'Flaherty, Kimbrel and Venters waiting in the wings, if the Braves aren't beat by the seventh, it's probably not happening.

With O’Flaherty, Kimbrel and Venters waiting in the wings, if the Braves aren’t beat by the seventh, it’s probably not happening.

Bullpen

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

There’s no better bullpen in baseball than Atlanta’s. The late inning gauntlet includes the often untouchable trio of Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel, and added former All-Star Jordan Walden as well. The Nationals added Rafael Soriano to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard to form a formidable late game trio of their own. Mike Adams, who has posted an ERA under 2.00 four of the last five years, was added bridge the gap to Jonathan Papelbon.

Defense

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Mets
  4. Marlins
  5. Phillies

The addition of both Upton brothers to an outfield with Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward makes the Atlanta outfield the best in the game. The Mets infield is strong unit, led by Wright and Ruben Tejada, while Giancarlo Stanton’s bat gets the headlines, but his athleticism and arm both round him out as a one of the best overall players in the game as well.

Speed

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

Once again, it all starts with the outfield in the A. While Michael Bourn is gone, the Braves will get even quicker with the combined efforts of the Uptons (49 steals a year ago), as well as Andrelton Simmons. Revere adds 40 steal speed to the Philly attack, and Span has twice hit 10 triples in a season, as well as topped 20 steals.

Manuel has averaged 90 wins in his eight years in Philly, and his handling could be the x-factor in the Philly year.

Manuel has averaged 90 wins in his eight years in Philly, and his handling could be the x-factor in the Philly year.

Manager

  1. Davey Johnson, Nationals
  2. Charlie Manuel, Phillies
  3. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
  4. Terry Collins, Mets
  5. Mike Redmond, Marlins

It is Johnson’s last go around in DC (he’s retiring after the season), and the 2012 NL Manager of the Year has the tools at his disposal to make it a memorable departure. Collins has kept the Mets surprisingly afloat the last few years despite the constant turmoil surrounding the Mets the last two years. Rookie manager Redmond will be tasked with a tough task pulling along the stripped down Marlins in his debut year.

Finances

  1. Phillies
  2. Braves
  3. Nationals
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The Phillies have the funds to make their usual aggressive additions if they find themselves in the chase late in the season. Despite having three four players due $20 million this season, GM Ruben Amaro has the green light to spend if needed. On the flipside, the Marlins and Mets are two of the biggest financial disasters in sports, despite the substantial $138 million commitment made to Wright this winter.

Impact Additions

  1. Justin Upton (Braves via D’Backs)
  2. BJ Upton (Braves via Rays)
  3. Dan Haren (Nationals via Angels)
  4. Rafael Soriano (Nationals via Yankees)
  5. Ben Revere (Phillies via Twins)

After years of being floated in Arizona, the Justin Upton finally was moved to a place where he can freely play with no rumors hanging off his every move. The Braves re-invented themselves by signing him and his older brother BJ. Meanwhile, the Nationals made several “finishing touch” type moves, highlighted picking up a potential steal in Haren, a 4-time All-Star workhorse who’s averaged 14 wins a season.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  2. Matt Harvey, Mets
  3. Ike Davis, Mets
  4. Julio Teheran, Braves
  5. Ross Detwiler, Nationals

Harper is the easy call, but considering what could be on deck is one of the most exciting things to look forward to in the season. He hit 22 homers and stole 18 bases a year ago, and has a legitimate shot to become the youngest member of the 30 homer/30 steal club this time around. Harvey was at times completely overpowering as a rookie, averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings over 10 starts.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Zach Wheeler (Pitcher-Mets, AAA)
  2. Travis D’Arnaud (Catcher-Mets, AAA)
  3. Anthony Rendon (Third Base-Nationals, AA)
  4. Andrelton Simmons (Shortstop-Braves, MLB)
  5. Adeiny Hechavarria (Shortstop-Marlins, MLB)

The future looks good for the Mets, and it’s most promising of its entire stockpile of young arms. Wheeler has a triple digit fastball, and the stuff to go along with it. Pairing him with D’Arnaud, the former top prospect of the Blue Jays and main return piece for RA Dickey, ensure the Mets will return to relevancy soon enough.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

Last season was the story of anybody having a chance out in the East, this time around will not be more of the same. The Nationals and Braves are both returning very strong team’s that didn’t lose much over the winter, yet made some substantial additions. On the other hand, the Phillies who have a solid core, made some additions as well, but simply can’t keep up with the younger and more well rounded Nationals and Braves. But they are a veteran laden club with more winning experience than any other team ahead of them and a very good manager, if any team in the NL is capable of spring a surprise heist of a Wild Card spot, it’s them.

The Mets are growing, and have made several moves that have put young talent in their system and Major League staff, but after Wright and Davis, there’s nothing else in their lineup and the East is the wrong division not be able to hit in. The Marlins, after their “everything not named Giancarlo must go” dump are more of a factor in the push for the number spot in the Draft than the division.

So this brings it all back to the same two postseason reps from a year ago. The Braves are getting better in a hurry, and with their entire core under 30, their best days are yet to come. A return to the playoffs should be expected, and not just a one and done this year either. But the Nationals better days are here now. The difference comes down the arms: the Braves have a very good pitching staff; the Nationals have a devastating staff, which has four Cy Young capable starters and three relievers with 30 save capability. Add on the prime of Zimmerman, LaRoche and Werth with the rise of Harper and Ian Desmond all happening at once, and the Nationals aren’t just the best in the East. They’re among the two or three best period.

For more on the upcoming MLB campaign along the East coast in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

David-Price

Here it is: the top 25 players in the game. If a true dream team of baseball was to be put together (not those watered-down versions they run out for the World Baseball Classic), this is what it would most likely look like. To be at this point, you’ve got to be in your prime and playing the best ball of your life. But what exactly is a prime? As this list has shown so far, you can play elite level baseball at age 20 all the way up to 43, so narrowing that down where the best baseball is played is a bit of a task in today’s game.

Of the Top 100 players in baseball today, the breakdown of where the best of the best baseball is played by age, it looks like this:

Age 20-25: 15

26-30: 54

31-35: 26

36 & up: 5

Late 20’s to early 30’s prime is still in control in a major way, and there are a few old veterans that are hanging on as well. But there is a real surge of impact players that are making their presence known in a major way early on. The youth movement produced an MVP last season, the game’s most dominant reliever and potentially a DC-based sensation that will do the same at the beginning of the game as well. Experience always plays, but the youth will be served…as the climb to #1 will show very clearly.

 

25. CC Sabathia-Pitcher-New York Yankees: Nobody carries more of load for a rotation than CC. He’s topped 200 innings for the last six seasons, while averaging 18 wins a year along the way. He also continued his big game flare in 2012, winning both the opening and closing games of the ALDS versus the Orioles last year.

24. Troy Tulowitzki-Shortstop-Colorado Rockies: When he makes it to the field (which he only managed to do 47 times last year), he’s by far the best overall shortstop in the game. He’s a two-time Gold Glove winner that’s topped 27 homers three times. Numbers like these are what make the Rockies refuse offers for him. Risk can kill the reward.

23. Prince Fielder-First Base-Detroit Tigers: He’s become baseball’s most consistent pure power hitter. 2012 marked his sixth consecutive year topping 30 home runs, and he rounded it out by hitting for a career-best .313 average as well. For good measure, he took home a second Home Run Derby championship as well.

22. Adrian Beltre-Third Base-Texas Rangers: He played the best baseball of his life a year ago, hitting .321, with 36 home runs and continued his reign has arguably the best infield defender in baseball. He finished in third in AL MVP voting and is a huge reason why the Rangers will still be strong, post-Josh Hamilton.

21. Stephen Strasburg-Pitcher-Washington Nationals: Before the much-debated early ending to his year was put in place, he was every bit the sensation he has been billed as being. In only 28 starts, he won 15 games and struck out 197 to the tone of an 11.1 average per nine innings. Now with his first true full season upon him, the sky is the limit….

 

How’s this going to end up? It’s close to the time to crown who’s number one, and follow along the rest of the past at The Sports Fan Journal here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/the-2013-top-100-players-in-baseball-part-4/

 

And for the real time word and rundown, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

 

So far this year in the CHEAP SEATS, the focus has been on breaking down the best units in baseball.  When we last left off, the best pitching units at the back end of games were broken down, but now it’s time to move to front end and the spotlight arms of the game. As last year’s World Series match up proved, a great starting rotation is the difference between night and day in a season. And to make this list, it takes more than just a great number one; having a great 2-4 is huge, and even a fifth arm can make all the difference.

Lee Hamels Halladay

Here is the difference between the cream, and the crop…the best starting staffs in 2013’s upcoming baseball offering. And remember, pitchers and catcher report a month from today. Spring’s saving mercy gets underway in the winter.

 

 

1. Washington Nationals: Top to bottom there’s none better, because even their bottom is better than half the team’s baseball’s top. Stephen Strasberg is on the verge of being the league’s best and is good enough to make a 20-game winner in Gio Gonzalez to second billing. Add in a potentially resurgent Dan Haren, along with two of the most underrated arms in either league in Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, and you’ve got a problem everyday of the week in DC.

2. Detroit Tigers: There’s a lot more to the Tigers than Justin Verlander (who’s averaged 20 wins the last four seasons). None of their starters have seen their 30th birthday yet. Max Scherzer actually struck out two more batters per nine innings than Verlander. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are tremendous options to be 3rd and 4th arms, while Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello are only 23 years old. This will be a strong collection for years to come.

3. Philadelphia Phllies: For everything that the rotation didn’t do last year, there’s still so much potential here. Cole Hamels has become a perennial Cy Young candidate, and nobody pitched to more tough luck than Cliff Lee did last year (30 starts, 3.16 ERA, but first win on July 4th). Add back a healthy Doc Halladay to the mix and this is as devastating of a top end rotation as there is, still.

4. San Francisco Giants: The strength of the World Champions is based in just how many arms can step up to be the top dog at any time. Matt Cain came into his own as an elite hurler last year, while Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgartner both sported 3.37 ERAs, while winning a combined 30 games. Barry Zito showed a renaissance in the NLCS and World Series, and if Tim Lincecum can manage a similar effort during his contract push this summer, no reason to not at least pencil them back into another October.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers: With the Zack Greinke signing, the Dodgers locked up the toughest 1-2 punch in all of baseball. Kershaw has 35 wins and a 2.40 ERA over the last two years, and Josh Beckett should serve to be an important veteran axis in the middle of the rotation. And they currently have quality options abound for the bottom of the mix, with Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley and Korean star Ryu Hyun-jin all options to round out a suddenly uber-talented mix.

Landing a reigning Cy Young winner is huge (and rare), but there's a lot more to the new Jays rotation than just RA's knuckler.

Landing a reigning Cy Young winner is huge (and rare), but there’s a lot more to the new Jays rotation than just RA’s knuckler.

6. Toronto Blue Jays: Of all the moves the Jays made to try to climb out of the bottom of the AL East, their aggressiveness to finally fix their horrible starting pitching should pay out the most. They put together a diverse group in finesse workhorses R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle, while Josh Johnson has one of the livest arms in the game, and Ricky Romero become a huge bounce back candidate as a fifth starter.

7. Oakland A’s: Billy Beane outdid himself putting together a group that came to age in a hurry last summer, and hijacked the AL West. Jarrod Parker and Tom Millone (both acquired in offseason trades) both won 13 games, and long with AJ Griffin (7-1, 3.05 ERA in 15 starts) all could make a claim to best rookie arm in the baseball, and if Brett Anderson can stay healthy to anchor the group, they’ll be a force once again.

8. Cincinnati Reds: It’s all about balance on the Reds understatedly good rotation. Cuerto has been among the NL ERA leaders the last two seasons, and Latos found recaptured his old form in his first year in Cincy. And if they hold true to their plan, and can successfully convert Arodis Chapman into a starter, this will be a very potent group.

9. Tampa Bay Rays: Not many teams could lose Matt Garza and James Shields in back to back years and stay relevant, but there’s also no other team with the young arms of the Rays. Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and the quietly good Alex Cobb make up the meat of the group, but it really doesn’t hurt to have 2012’s Cy Young winner David Price entering his prime atop it all.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks: A gut of rich young pitching gives the D’Backs is impressive. Ian Kennedy has won 35 games since the start of 2011, and Wade Miley reached All-Star level as a rookie. Add in the potential return of Daniel Hudson from Tommy John Surgery by mid-summer, and the addition of Brandon McCarthy as well, and this is a rotation that will cause a lot of trouble.

Just A Bit Outside: Yankees, Braves, White Sox

 

For more in real-time on these starters starting up their year, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Super Bowl’s over, so that means its baseball season again. With a week until pitchers and catchers are due in Florida & Arizona, it’s like a holiday around here in the CHEAP SEATS. I can’t wait. So, in order to ring in the year right, I’m ringing it in with the best, 100 best at that. This is pretty straight forward, no?  This is a rundown of the top 100 players in the game for 2012. This breaks down as one part best player/another part biggest impact. It’s going down in four parts over the next week, all leading into the big preview-diction of each division coming into next year.

So no delay, this will explain itself. Here’s numbers 100 down to 76 of the best players in baseball, according to CHEAP.SEATS.PLEASE. Any debate, agreements, oversights, undersights (that can be a word for now), hit the comment box below, let’s get this as “right” as a subjective blog listing can be.

 

100. Stephen Strasberg, Nationals: Probably no player has a chance to appear higher on this same list year as the returning phenom in DC (and not just because the list caps at 100, you know what I mean). The skill to be not just among the best (116 strikeouts in 92 career innings), but THE best is there. He just has to stay on the field now.

A full season of Strasburgmania could be the last step to the Nationals becoming a big deal in the standings as well.

99. Andre Ethier, Dodgers: Last year was a roller coaster for the Dodgers’ right fielder. In the first half, he knocked around a 27-game hitting streak & an All-Star nod. In the second half, he was slowed by a controversial knee injury in the second half, only to still grab his first Gold Glove.

98. Tyler Clippard, Nationals: Perhaps the most versatile pitcher in baseball; he can be an effective starter, a shutdown middle reliever and a late inning door slammer as well. (Numbers)

97. Nick Markakis, Orioles:  His arm gets most of the press, but he top 180 hits for the 5th straight year, and gathered in his first Gold Glove as well.

96. Josh Beckett, Red Sox: The Sox bulldog ace toughed out a train wreck of a season, and he still posted his best ERA of his career and stands to still be the lone dependable starter on the staff again.

95. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year pitches with the maturity of a man much more seasoned. As a 24 year old, he kept his ERA south of 3.00 over 190 innings, and is a big part of what could be the league’s best rotation.

94. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies: After playing in free agency for a while, he landed back in Philadelphia and with a much bigger role. With Ryan Howard out for most of the season & Chase Utley still rounding back into form, his production and consistency will be crucial to Phils staying in the mix in the new look NL East.

93. Josh Johnson, Marlins: The stuff is all there, the team is forming around him and now all the Marlins’ ace needs is his health to rejoin the party as well. He was lights out the first nine starts last year, posting a 1.64 ERA before a shoulder injury took him down.

92. BJ Upton, Rays: All the tools (23 homers, 36 steals), but just as many lows (.243 avg/161 strikeouts) as highs. He’s at the age (26) where it could all come together, and this promise is what keeps Tampa’s faith in him so strong. If he finds a way to put it all together, he could have a vintage Alfonso Soriano-type run.

It's no secret that Upton has the tools. He's at the age where the mental could match them.

91. Heath Bell, Marlins: Had yet another 40 save year in his last summer in San Diego, reaching 43 a year ago. The Marlins are hoping he can be an anchor for a team that is gear towards competing right away, and that he extends a prime that has seen him be an All-Star the last three years a bit longer.

90. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians: Injuries kept Choo from ever really making a huge impact in the Indians’ revival last summer, but if he can regain his 2009-10 form, which he averaged a .300 average and 20 homers with 21 steals, the Indians may close the gap.

89. Joakim Soria, Royals: His ERA rocketed up over two runs from the year before, but I’m taking that as an anomaly and that Soria will be back to his usual dominant self this season. That would mean a 38 save year with a 1.86 ERA, his three-year average before last year.

88. Jay Bruce, Reds:  Votto & Phillips get the headlines, but Bruce is making history in right field in Cincinnati. He became the 3rd fastest player in MLB history to reach 100 home runs in September.

87. Pablo Sandoval, Giants: The Panda got his kick back last year, and is back on pace to become one of the truly complete hitters in the game again. He rebounded from a rough 2010 & a broken hand early in 2011 to hit .315 and a first trip to the All-Star game.

86. Derek Jeter, Yankees: He isn’t what he used to be, but he’s far from washed up as well. The Captain made his biggest headlines for his 3,000th hit, but in the midst of it all he still swung the stick at a .297 pace for the other 161 hits he got last year.

He's not the same Derek Jeter that built the legend he is now, but this incarnation isn't too bad either.

85. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: As a new Phillie, Pap will take on the job of cleaning up any mess that baseball’s best rotation may leave on the table for him. Having the fastest pitcher to ever reach 200 saves is a bonus to any club.

84. David Ortiz, Red Sox: Big Papi followed up his renaissance season by both hitting over .300 and topping 100 RBI for the first time since ’07. He’s another guy that’s playing for both a contract and even a bit of respect this year after settling on a one year deal to hang around Boston.

83. Hunter Pence, Phillies: Steady does it here: he hit exactly 25 homers for three consecutive years before dipping to 22 last year. To pick up the difference, he hit a four year high of .314 and cut down 11 runners, showing off one of the best arms in the business.

82. Carlos Beltran, Cardinals: He’s lost some speed, but at the plate he’s still an all-around (and balanced) threat. He’s found new life as a right fielder, and will be yet another weapon to the World Champions in St. Louis.

81. Jonny Venters, Braves: In his first two years in Atlanta: a 1.89 ERA & an average of 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings are his resume. And he’s doing this with maximum exposure: his 85 appearances led the Majors in 2010.

80. Alex Gordon, Royals: The long wait for the coming of age of Gordon finally ended in 2010. In first full year in leftfield, he led the MLB in outfield assists with 20 and brought home a Gold Glove. At the plate, he raked in 45 doubles, 23 homers and picked his batting average up 88 points to .303.

In the course of one summer, Gordon went from near bust prospect, to all-world. At a new position no less.

79. John Axford, Brewers: He proved he was no fluke, and led the NL in saves with 46 in first full season. Overall, he’s locked down 71 of his 76 save chances over his first two years, and will bring a streak of 43 consecutive closed into 2012.

78. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals: Mike Rizzo traded a boatload of prospects to Oakland for the young lefty, and for good reason. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged 16 wins and 201 innings despite not yet turning 26 and playing for some subpar A’s teams.

77. Matt Cain, Giants: No premier pitcher gets less support than Cain does annually (just over 3 runs a night last year), but he still turned in his second year of a ERA under 3.00 in the last three years. Yet still could only net 13 wins out of 33 starts.

76. Mike Napoli, Rangers: Few players turned it up like Napoli did last year. He went from afterthought trade piece to perhaps the best hitter in the World Series. Overall, he hit .320 and knocked out 30 homers. He’s arguably the best hitting catcher in the game now.

75……

 

I’m back with #75 thru 50 bright and early next week, so get your debating minds together and get ready to walk it down to #1 right here. Follow me on Twitter in the meantime if you just can’t wait at @CheapSeatFan.

Welcome back to the CHEAP SEATS week that was around the MLB. The lineup is the same as the weeks before, so if you’re familiar stay comfortable. If you’re not, start getting warmed up, because this is everything that baseball was and is headed into the second week of August.

 

Some distance is getting made from the pack in a few cases such as in Philly, Boston, Atlanta and New York. The East on both sides of the game looks pretty safe to have two reps in the Playoffs this year once more. However, the other four division’s races are just heating up, especially in the National League Central where a 3 game difference will be brought into three game series in St. Louis this week.

 

This top 1o could look quite different this time next week, but for now here’s how it shakes and the division leaders are in bold and wild card reps get the “+”.

 

Cano and the Yanks have bettered nearly every AL squad so far, except the one directly above them

1. Philadelphia Phillies (same)

2. Boston Red Sox (same)

3. + New York Yankees (same) +

4. Milwaukee Brewers (6)

5. + Atlanta Braves (same)

6. Texas Rangers (4)

7. San Francisco Giants (same)

8. Arizona D’Backs (9)

9. Detroit Tigers (10)

10. St. Louis Cardinals (11)

11. Los Angeles Angels (8)

12. Tampa Bay Rays (same)

13. Cleveland Indians (16)

14. Toronto Blue Jays (same)

15. Chicago White Sox (19)

16. New York Mets (13)

17. Cincinnati Reds (same)

18. Florida Marlins (same)

19. Washington Nationals (21)

20. Pittsburgh Pirates (15)

21. Colorado Rockies (20)

22. Los Angeles Dodgers (23)

23. San Diego Padres (25)

24. Minnesota Twins (22)

25. Oakland A’s (24)

26. Chicago Cubs (27)

27. Kansas City Royals (26)

28. Seattle Mariners (29)

29. Baltimore Orioles (28)

30. Houston Astros (same)

THREE UP

 1. The Prodigal Son Has Returned: Last summer all that was heard was the in-depth word on every single pitch the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg tossed. He was popping the gun at 100 miles per hour with little effort, and there were times when it seemed like batter were fortunate to just make contact over getting hits (92 strikeouts in his first 68 big league innings). He was on an unstoppable train of momentum until he shredded his elbow up and Tommy John surgery effectively killed all buzz for at least a year.

 

Arm injuries are scary, especially to top pick, once in a generation-level talent, but now the crisis seems to be averted, as Stras made his first trip to a mound in over a  year, although that mound was in Hagerstown, Maryland and only consisted of 31 pitches over not even two full innings. But he was back up to 98 mph and is showing form to make a few starts in Washington this year a reality.

 

Young could be on the way to becoming the most understated member of a prestigious group.

2. Quiet 2K: Very few hitters in the game have put together a more quietly impressive resume than Michael Young. The amicable Rangers’ DH topped the 2000 hit mark in his 10th season, and could be a very real candidate to be the most surprising member of the 3,000 hit club eventually. He has five seasons of at least 200 hits, and his only year under 150 was his rookie year. He doesn’t miss time; he’s suited up in at least 150 games in all but two seasons. Remember when Craig Biggio somehow just ran up on 3,000 hits out of nowhere and is now Hall-bound in a few summers? This could easily be a remix of that song right here happening in Texas.

 

3. Brave’s New World: Dan Uggla was looking like the biggest bust of any move made to boost a contender this season consistently throughout the first half. However, the only thing that resembles him from then to now is the name on the jersey, because he’s on another planet right now. While the 28 game hitting streak he’s on is getting the headlines, his overall production is what is really driving the Braves towards locking up the Wild Card berth with little competition. Coming into Monday he’s hitting .352 in the 2nd half, after heading into the All-Star break at .185. Add in his 9 home runs and 21 RBI in the last 3 weeks and it doesn’t take many fingers to name the guys that have been as good as him recently.

THREE DOWN

 

1. Clipped: Cinderella has broke the glass slipper and stepped in the glass. After holding down first place for their own just a bit over two weeks ago, the Bucs have slid all the way into fourth place in the National League Central and are approaching Mariner-levels in the losing streak world. Sunday marked their 10th straight L and dropped them 10 games out the picture for what would’ve been one of the most surprising division wins in many, many years.

 

2. Watch the Throne: Pittsburgh has stumbled in their attempt to go from the outhouse to the penthouse, but out West the dream still lives due to the champs potentially falling victim to their own tricks. The Giants pulled a hijacking of sorts when they came back from behind to take the NL West and riding that momentum all way to October. By dropping eight of their last ten games with the Diamondbacks sitting in great shape just a half game behind them.

 

3. The Soprano Life: Apparently, Alex Rodriguez won’t be disciplined by Major League Baseball for his participation in some high stakes poker games, with some potentially questionable figures/activities going on. Which is good, because with the Yanks not engaging in the trade deadline to boost their production they need the rehabbing A-Rod to be back in pinstripes much sooner than later if they intend to finish their recent rise back to challenging the Red Sox for beast of the East.

 

The safe money is that this isn't the game face the Yankees want A-Rod to return with.

HITS AND RUNS – August 8, 2011

Biggest Lead: Phillies – 8.5 games, NL East

Smallest Lead: Giants – .5 game, NL West

Biggest Bats by side: Adrian Gonzalez – Red Sox (.348), Jose Reyes – Mets (.336)

Top 3 Yard Workers: Jose Bautista – Blue Jays (33), Mark Teixeira – Yankees (32), Curtis Granderson – Yankees/Lance Berkman – Cardinals (28)

Big Winners: CC Sabathia – Yankees/Justin Verlander – Tigers (16)

Top Stoppers: Brian Wilson – Giants/Craig Kimbrel – Braves (34)

Biggest Debut: Brett Lawrie – Blue Jays

 

 

For more on the day to day race around the sack (take that as you will), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

I’m back! Here’s my view from the Cheap Seats yesterday (aka the couch):

The Chosen One has arrived....and the Wise Men fanned 14 times

1. StrasMas Season: The most awaited debut in Major League history was made yesterday when Stephen Strasberg took the mound and instantly made the lowly Washington Nationals the biggest attraction in the league. Anybody who makes an early June contest between the Nats and the Pittsburgh Pirates (who combined to finish with a 121-202 record in 2009 & the top 2 picks in the 2010 Draft), is something to see. A standing room only crowd and 200 media members were on hand to see Strasberg’s debut, one that had the subtly of thunderstorm. StrasbergMania was justified immediately and seven innings, four hits and an incredible 14 strikeouts later, the hype was more than justified. Actually, it’s probably been raised. Expectations for Strasberg are off the charts and 94 pitches later, he lifted the sky even higher. What’s even more remarkable is that during the historic debut, he made history as well, becoming the first pitcher EVER to strikeout at least 11 batters while issuing no walks. Forget the sky, maybe  space isn’t even the limit here.

2. The Raiding of the Big 12: In the last few weeks it seems that every team in the Big 12 has been courted like a swing state in the Civil War. The rumors have included the South heading west to the Pac 10, with select North Division schools being courted to the Big 10’s media grasp on the northern midwest. Now boards of directors and curators are meeting to assess their own futures, with other universities pleading with others to stay. Even the Big 12 Conference directors (who are as unpowered as a neutered dog) have somehow laid down a “final decision date” of this Friday to know where their schools are headed. The bottom line is that money will talk here, and very loudly. The Big 10 has a nearly guaranteed $20 million in media revenue waiting through their private network deal and Fox evidently is will to do a similar deal for an expanded Pac 10. The only thing holding the Big 12 together is loyalty and this is business, so I wouldn’t hold my breath on that winning out considering how “money” and “loyalty” are the “oil” and “water” of business.

3. As the Cavs Turn: In the never-ending saga of the Cleveland Cavaliers offseason, a new piece has entered the mix: Tom Izzo. Apparently Izzo has been offered a big contract to leave his program at Michigan State that pays out $6

Get used to this look in your potential padded room in Cleveland, Tommy.

 million annually over 5 years, which doubles his current take home at MSU. This sounds great, however (show of hands please): Who would take double their pay to ride into a potential train wreck? The situation in Cleveland is plain awful right now and it is all in the hands of a guy who intends to stretch it out as long as possible, LeBron James. Even when discussing his offer to Izzo, as well as the removal of GM Danny Ferry, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert had to justify that he was not making decision in accordance with LBJ’s demands. This is seems as likely to me as the sun not coming up. If you are attempting to keep the 25-year-old, 2-time MVP, greatest player in the history of your franchise, it would be ridiculous to make move he has to react to. If Izzo leaves his Top 10 program and coaches LeBron, he wins. If he leaves just coach Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, he should be committed to the nearest Asylum. At least he could afford an extended stay.

**Hit and Run Section**

 The San Francisco 49ers got approval for a new stadium today…..Amare Stoudemire says he will opt out if Suns don’t re-up him……Derek Fisher step up big in a way for Lakers last night…..Issac Bruce will retire as a member of the St. Louis Rams today…….Top pick Bryce Harper will move to the outfield from catcher once signed, the great Boras will be pleased…….Darrelle Revis ends his holdout to join the Jets offseason training sessions……Top prospect Michael Stanton debuted for the Marlins last night with a 3 for 5 night hitting seventh……2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke fell to 1-8 with yesterday’s loss and his ERA rose to 4.05.