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.
To say the Indians bullpen got a workout Saturday night would be an understatement, and it can be called Exhibit A for why its a very good thing rosters expand to 40 in September.
The Indians pulled off a 1-0, 10-inning walk-off win over Justin Verlander and the Tigers Sat night, a win that reduced their magic number to 7 to clinch the division, but the story of this game was the Tribe bullpen.
Starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco exited the game before he could even record an out, as his second pitch of the game caught his right hand and caused a fracture. Manager Terry Francona was forced to go the pen a lot earlier that intended, and he went to it often.
Counting Carrasco, the Indians used a total of 9 pitchers, including LH Kyle Crockett (Poquoson/UVA), to complete the game, setting a record for a shutout. Crockett and his seven fellow relievers combined to hold the Tigers to 3 hits with 3 walks, striking out 10, over the rest of the game, and the Indians won the game in the bottom of the 10th.
For years, even decades, the University of Virginia has been known as a hotbed of talent for the sport of football. (Every NFL draft since the early 1980s has seen at least one NFL player get drafted out of UVA.) But make way, football, Major League Baseball is gaining steam.
As of Tuesday, September 15th, when the Orioles recalled P Tyler Wilson (Midlothian) from Triple-A Norfolk, a record 10 Wahoos appear on major league rosters. Here is the rundown of the UVA-to-MLB pipeline:
San Francisco Giants reliever Javier Lopez (Fairfax) played at Virginia from 1996-1998. He currently leads all active major league players with 4 World Series rings. (2007 with the Red Sox and the three SF titles of the 2010s.)
St Louis Cardinals IF Mark Reynolds (Va Beach) played at Virginia from 2001-2004. His 236 career homers are 23rd among active major league players.
Washington Nationals IF Ryan Zimmerman (Va Beach) played at Virginia from 2003-2005. In the 2005 draft, he was selected in the first round by Washington, the very first draft choice in the history of the Washington Nationals, who had just moved to DC from Montreal. Zimmerman is the last player left from the team’s inaugural season in Washington, and has clearly become the face of the franchise. His 10 career Walk-off homers are 2 short of the NL record). On March 30th, 2008, he christened the new Nationals Park with a walk-off HR to beat the Braves. In the summer of 2015, he cracked the 200 HR milestone. In his time as a National, his resume also includes an all-star game, a Gold Glove, and 2 Silver Sluggers.
Oakland Athletics P Sean Dolittle played at Virginia from 2005-2007. In 2014 he was 10th in the AL with 22 saves, and made his first all-star game.
Also currently on Major League rosters: Cleveland Indians P Kyle Crockett (Poquoson), Arizona Diamondbacks IF Phil Gosselin, Tampa Bay Rays OF Brandon Guyer (Herndon), Seattle Mariners C John Hicks (Richmond), San Francisco Giants OF Jarrett Parker (Stafford), and Wilson.
Major League Baseball, Wahoo strong!!!!!!!!
Norfolk notched 11 hits, but only two were for extra bases. Columbus scored all its runs in the first and third innings and Columbus pitcher Will Lamb (Salem/UVA) pitched 5 dominating innings to put Norfolk on the brink of elimination.
The 2015 Carolina League postseason begins this week, and the first round will include the Lynchburg Hillcats (Indians) taking on the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Should Lynchburg advance, they will play for the Mills Cup, the Carolina League’s version of the World Series. A win would not only give the Hillcats their 3rd title in 7 years, but it would extend Virginia’s dominance in the Carolina League.
Dominance, you ask? There are three VA teams in the league-the Woodbridge-based Potomac Nationals (Nationals), Salem Red Sox (Red Sox), and the aforementioned Hillcats. Since 2008, not only have all 3 teams won a title, but they have combined to win 6 of the last 7 Mills Cup titles. In 2007, the then-Salem Avalanche went to the Mills Cup finals and lost, but since then:
CAROLINA LEAGUE CHAMPIONS SINCE 2008:
All Virginia based teams! For good measure, the 2009 runner-up was Salem, and the 2013 runner-up was Potomac.
Let’s see if the Hillcats can continue our state’s dominance and make it 7 of 8 champions this time around.
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.
Continuing this series spotlighting ballplayers inducted in the Commonwealth’s Hall of Fame, we turn to 1B Sean Casey.
Casey was born in New Jersey and grew up in Pittsburgh, but when it came time to go to college, he chose to come to Virginia, playing for the Richmond Spiders. In 1995, he batted .461 to lead all Division I batters, and was subsequently drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Indians, but was traded to the Reds 3 seasons later. He would go on to a 12-year career in the bigs with 5 teams, but had his greatest success with the Reds. He made 3 NL all-star teams with the Reds (1999, 2001. 2004), and batted over .300 in 5 of his 8 years in Cincinnati. Casey did help the 2006 Tigers get to the World Series, and did his part, batting .529 with 5 RBIs, albeit in a losing effort. He also spent time with Pittsburgh and Boston before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. He batted .302 in 1405 career games, and was in the Top 10 in the league in batting 3 times as a Reds player. In 2012 he was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame.
Sean Casey was a member of the Class of 2014 for the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. He is now a commentator on the MLB Network.