The Major League Baseball playoffs are well underway, and sprinkled around the postseason rosters are 7 players who hail from our Commonwealth.
North of the Border, the BlueJays are attempting to capitalize on last year’s success, and joining Toronto this summer in a trade was OF Melvin Upton, Jr. (Chesapeake). Upton had 7 career postseason HRs-all with the 2008 Rays, so he will be counted on to contribute and help the Jays try and bring a championship to Canada for the first time since the 1992-1993 championships.
In the nation’s capital, the Washington Nationals are NL East champions for the 3rd time in 5 years. While each of the playoff teams have had some turnover, one constant remains, the last player left over from the very first Washington Nationals team-1B Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia Beach/UVA). Zimmerman has shifted to 1B in recent years, but still remains a key member of a team that is just a few hours from home.
In the City by the Bay, the San Francisco Giants will attempt to continue their even-year run of championships. They won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Since this 2016, an even year, they will try to win again. They have a solid lineup and decent starting pitching, and a bullpen that includes veteran LH Javier Lopez (Fairfax/UVA). Lopez is the only active major leaguer with 4 World Series rings, having won with the 2007 Red Sox as well as all of the Giants titles this decade.
In Beantown, the Boston Red Sox, the only other team besides SF to win 3 titles since the turn of the century, expect to be competitive in the final playoffs for their longtime franchise player, Big Papi, DH David Ortiz. All of the pieces are there for the Sox to make a run at this, and arguably their best weapon at their disposal is their starting outfield, which includes a guy who had a breakthrough year in 2016, OF Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Prince George). Bradley hit .267 with 26 HRs and 87 RBIs and even stole 9 bases-the last 3 items more than double his career high-so he will be counted on to continue his breakout year in the postseason.
In the Lone Star state, the Texas Rangers fortified themselves at the trading deadline with a couple of key deals and secured their 4th AL West title in this decade. One of the keys to the Rangers late push was Closer Jeremy Jeffress (South Boston). Acquired from the NL’s Brewers, Jeffress posted a 2.70 ERA in 13 games with Texas. While he did not pick up any saves, he will be a key part of the postseason bullpen.
The 2 longest active championship droughts in MLB both made the postseason, and have role players who hail from the Old Dominion. The Chicago Cubs have not won a title in over 100 years, and this year seem poised to break through, with a bullpen that includes RH Justin Grimm (Bristol). In Cleveland, the Indians have not won a title since 1948, and have not won a pennant since winning 2 of them in the 1990s. This year, OF Brandon Guyer (Herndon/UVA) is a key role player on their bench.
We will soon see if one of our Heroes of the Old Dominion can bring home a title.
Well, baseball fans, the 2015 Major League Baseball postseason tournament is underway now. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros survived the Wild Card play-in games, and now there are 8 teams left standing, including the Toronto Blue Jays and aforementioned Astros, both of whom snapped double-digit playoff droughts. By the time the early part of November rolls around, Major League Baseball will have its 3rd World Champion in as many years.
One of those contenders is the New York Mets, who upset the Washington Nationals to take the NL East title, their first title, and in fact their first playoff birth, in 9 years. The keys to the success of the Mets this year were a solid mix of starting pitching (including ’14 NL ROY Jacob DeGrom) and the hitting of players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy. One player who missed roughly half the season due to injury, but returned just in time to be an inspirational morale boost to his teammates was their team captain, 3B David Wright (Chesapeake). Wright, often nicknamed Captain America, is one of the few Mets players to have postseason experience, and his leadership will be counted on when the NLDS gets underway tonight in Los Angeles.
Another Met with playoff experience has graciously accepted his platoon role for the betterment of the team. OF Michael Cuddyer (Chesapeake) signed with the Mets last winter to play closer to home after time in Minnesota and Colorado and to join fellow Hampton Roads-native Wright as well as try to win his first World Series ring. He will be a valuable part of the Mets locker room for the month of October as well-2015 will mark his 7th postseason appearance in his 15-year career. Cuddyer played in the postseason with the Minnesota Twins in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010. He has batted .338 in 22 career postseason games entering the 2015 playoffs.
Also in the postseason-St. Louis Cardinals 3B Mark Reynolds (Virginia Beach/UVA), who played in the playoffs 2007 with Arizona and 2012 with Baltimore; Chicago Cubs reliever Justin Grimm (Bristol), making his first playoff appearance. Also of note, the Cubs left fellow reliever Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) off the playoff roster for the NLDS, but have the option of adding him to the roster later in the postseason should the need arise.
8 teams. 1 Champion. Virginia will be well represented.
When the Texas Rangers decided not to renew their PDC with the Carolina League’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans after the 2014 season, the CL franchise was left looking for a new parent club. It did not take long for the Pelicans to get that new ML affiliate-in fact, they got one of the most storied franchises in ML history, the Chicago Cubs.
Yes, the same Chicago Cubs who are often referred to as the “Lovable Losers”, the same team that has the longest pennant drought in baseball today-no NL pennant since 1945, no World Series championship since 1908.
The Chicago Cubs, a truly iconic franchise, signed a 2-year PDC (through 2016) with a franchise that is based in a rather iconic city itself. Myrtle Beach gets numerous rewards for being a great family vacation destination, and baseball fans and those who flock to the “Grand Strand” for summer vacations will see future Wrigley mainstays.
The inaugural season of the Cubs at the Strand was a smashing success, as the Pelicans won the franchise’s first Mills Cup since 2000. While a slew of Cubs prospects played here, giving the Wrigley faithful hope for the future, leading the charge were a pair of former Virginia Teach Hokies, P Brad Markey and OF Mark Zagunis.
Markey, drafted in the 19th round of the 2014 draft out of VT, worked his way up to Myrtle Beack approximately a year later, and he delivered in a huge way. As a Pelican, he went 7-0 with a 1.15 ERA in 9 games (8 starts). In the Mills Cup finals, he started Game 2, and pitched 7 hitless innings. Remember this name, Cubs fans!
Earlier in the same 2014 draft, in the 3rd round, the Cubs drafted a decent bat out of VT, Zagunis. After 57 games with 3 different affiliates in ’14-during which time he batted .288 with a .420 OB%, Zagunis was assigned to Myrtle Beach for 2015, and he came through. In 115 games, Zagunis batted .271 with a .406 OB%. He finished the season in the Top 10 in the Carolina League in OB%, hits, and RBIs. MLBPipeline.com, which ranks the Top 30 prospects in each system, had him at 18th in the Cubs system entering 2015-when the 2015 minor league season ended, he shot up 9 spots to 9th place, essentially forcing himself into the radar of Cubs management!
Brad Markey. Mark Zagunis. 2 former Hokies. 2 future Cubs.
In recent years, the Commonwealth of Virginia had really emerged as a goldmine of baseball talent. Justin Upton, Justin Verlander, Michael Cuddyer, Javier Lopez, Ryan Zimmerman, just some of the top talent in major league baseball today. But these are guys getting older, several of whom are well past the age of 30.
Despite that, some new talent emerged from the Old Dominion in 2014. In the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago, the lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs are still trying to find a winning formula to their first pennant since 1955. They appeared to have found a good, reliable bullpen righty arm in the form of Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach). Ramirez, acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal, made his major league debut on April 25th against the Brewers. He would pitch scoreless ball in his first 4 appearances for the Cubs, and overall in his first 17 appearances allowed only a solo homerun to White Sox 2B Gordon Beckham. This put his ERA at 0.60 before the rest of baseball started to figure him out a bit. He would return to AAA for a respite at the end of July, but was back up for good in August, and finished the season with a 1.44 ERA and 16 holds in 50 appearances for the Cubs. Ramirez will hit Opening Day 2015 at the age of 25.
In Cleveland, the Indians called up a young lefty reliever on May 16th, and after a shuttle back and forth to AAA, Kyle Crockett (Poquoson) emerged as a dependable arm out of the Tribe’s bullpen. In 43 total relief appearances, Crockett posted a 4-1 record, and an outstanding 1.80 ERA. After his first three major league appearances in May, his ERA was 2.08. It climbed them to a high of 2.89 on June 24th. Crockett’s next 17 games were all scoreless relief, and his ERA did not climb above 2 the rest of the season. His work in the Indians pen was a key to the Indians staying in contention for the better part of the season, as they finished 85-77 and only 5 games out of first place in the AL Central division. On Opening Day 2015, Crockett will only be 23.
In the Pacific Northwest, SS Chris Taylor (Virginia Beach) made his major league debut for the Mariners on July 24th at home against the Orioles, and got a base hit in his debut. He would hit safely in his first 12 major league games where he played the entire time. His exploits truly helped put a jolt into the Mariners offense and helped catapult Seattle into playoff contention, where they stayed until the last day of the season. He finished with a .287 batting average, a .347 on base percentage, and 9 RBIs in 47 games. He will hit Opening Day 2015 at the ripe age of 24.
Neil Ramirez. Kyle Crockett. Chris Taylor. The latest in a string of talent to go to the major leagues. The latest heroes that Virginians can call their own.
Better late than never I guess. I did not realize this until I happen to glance at a Cubs box score, but the Cubs brought P Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) back up from Triple-A in early August. When sent down initially, it was said that Cubs just wanted to give him a rest. It turns out that Ramirez was placed on the DL with sore triceps.
Ramirez is back with the big club now. Since his return, he has thrown 7 1/3 innings of 6-hit, 1-run ball, with 9 strikeouts and 3 walks, posting a 1.23 ERA.
For the season, Ramirez is 2-1 with a 1.02 ERA. He has 45 SO in 35 1/3 innings of relief work, and has held opponents to a .176 batting average.
The Cubs have optioned P Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) back to Triple-A Iowa, Cubs management saying it was to give him a rest. Ramirez had a 0.96 ERA.
Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) becoming star in Cubs pen.
The Cubs seem to be experimenting with rookie reliever Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) as a closer, and Ramirez is paying dividends. The Cubs have now won 10 games in a row in games that he has pitched in, and Ramirez has gotten 3 holds and 3 saves in that stretch.
But there were two streaks of his that ended. About a week ago, Ramirez gave up a run for the first time in a month, this at Philadelphia. Also, on June 15th, he had more innings pitched than SO (1-0). As a major leaguer now, he does stand at 26 Strikeouts in 17 innings pitched, allowing only two runs, and an ERA of 1.06.
Cubs rookie reliever Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) continues to be lights out for the Cubs bullpen, literally. Since giving up a homerun to Gordon Beckham of the White Sox on May 6, Ramirez has not been scored upon. In fact, in 16 games totalling 14 innings since making his ML debut in late April, that homerun has been the only run he has allowed in the bigs. He has 23 Strikeouts-in fact, in ever game so far, his SO total has been better than or equal to the number of innings pitched. His ERA, which ballooned to 2.25 when he gave up that homerun in his fifth major league game, has now shrunk all the way to a mind-boggling 0.64.
Cubs rookie reliever Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Memorial Day, a Cubs win, and he has now shaved his ERA further, trimming it to 0.77.
The Cubs have now won 4 straight in games he pitched.