A yearly tradition on the MLB Network is the revealing of the top 100 players in MLB today. This is unveiled on the network right at the beginning of spring training. MLB revealed its newest installment this week, and three players from the Commonwealth of Virginia made the list.
Coming in at #84 on the list was Braves OF Justin Upton (Chesapeake). Upton signed with Motown after 9 years in the National League with Arizona, Atlanta, and San Diego, and was a big boost to the Tigers lineup, tying his career high with 31 HR for a Tigers team that fell just short of a Wild Card birth.
Coming in at #73 on the list was a player who broke through in a big way last year, Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Prince George). After a very rocky first 3 years in the big leagues, constantly shuttling back and forth between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket, and with his future in the major leagues very much in jeopardy, Bradley spent the off-season after 2015 working on his game with coaches in Florida. It showed in 2016. JBJ hit 26 HRs, drove in 87 runs, batted .267, and posted his first career 100-hit season (149). All were career highs, and for good measure, he played in his first All-Star game. The dynamo defensive player broke through with his hitting big time, and will be counted on by a Red Sox team that many expect to be a playoff contender in 2017.
After an extremely rocky 2015 season, the #43 player on this list, Tigers P Justin Verlander (Goochland/ODU) got back on track nicely in ’16. Verlander won 16 games and posted a 3.04 ERA. His .640 winning percentage was his highest since 2012, and his 254 strikeouts, which led the AL, were his highest since 2009. Besides his LL SO total, he finished in the Top 10 in the AL in just about every pitching category. It would appear that the Justin Verlander of old is back to his old ways. A Tigers team that expects to contend in 2017 is certainly hoping so.
In recent years, the Commonwealth of Virginia has truly emerged as a goldmine of baseball talent, and certainly the 2016 Major League Baseball season is adding credence to that. A number of the state’s MLB heroes are keying surging teams.
In Detroit, the Tigers had high expectations going into the season. They added free agent SP Jordan Zimmermann and slugging OF Justin Upton (Chesapeake). But the Motor City faithful will certainly tell you that the key to any hopes of a pennant in ’16 rest on the work of incumbent ace SP Justin Verlander (Goochland Co./ODU). When Verlander allowed 7 earned runs on May 3, raising his ERA to a very bloated 6.49, it appeared to be a lost season for the Tigers already.
Boy, has Verlander rebounded!
In 4 starts since, he has a 1.20 ERA, and his mark for the season has gone down in each of his last 4 starts, from 6.49 down to a much better 4.02. In addition, on May 18th, a Wednesday afternoon game against the Twins, Verlander added to his legend, with a 4th inning strikeout of Twins OF Eddie Rosario, the 2000th strikeout of his career. He joins Mickey Lolich as the only Tigers hurlers to ever accomplish that mark, and is less than 700 Ks from matching Lolich.
In Colorado, the Rockies sit at 23-24, 5 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West. While no team is truly out of the playoff picture on Memorial Day weekend, the Rockies have the offense to carry them. The emergence of rookie SS Trevor Story may be the talk of baseball, but one of the keys to any playoff games coming to Denver this year is slugging 1B Mark Reynolds (Va Beach/UVA). Reynolds, who is the only batter in history to post 3 200+ strikeout seasons, has found his discipline at the plate in recent years, and so far in 2016, he is 2nd in the NL among 1B with a .317 BA.
Perhaps the biggest shocker in baseball, certainly in Boston so far, has been the emergence of CF Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Prince George). Bradley, at one time a top prospect in the Red Sox organization, was struggling to hold down an OF job at Fenway due to hitting, lackluster at best. His glovework was the only thing keeping him with the Red Sox. But JBJ, has he is affectionately known as by Red Sox Nation, persevered, working with a hitting coach in Florida during the winter months.
In 2016, that has paid off, and big time!
As of May 27, Bradley is 2nd in the AL with a .341 Batting Average, tied for 4th with 35 RBIs, and tied for the league lead with 4 triples, and has garnered a Player of the Week honor during the month of May. And from April 24th to May 25th, he was unstoppable, literally!
JBJ put together a 29-game hitting streak, during which time his batting average skyrocketed 117 points! His streak included 11 multi-hit games, including, at one point, six straight!
Justin Verlander. Mark Reynolds. Jackie Bradley Jr. Proving that the Virginia-MLB pipeline is alive. And strong!
At the 2004 MLB player draft, the Padres had the first pick, and choose P Matt Bush, who got into all kinds of legal trouble and has served prison time. The Detroit Tigers had the second pick, and chose a flame-throwing hurler out of Old Dominion University in Virginia. To this day, do you think the Padres are regretting not choosing Justin Verlander (Goochland Co.)?
Verlander made his major league debut on Independence Day, 2005, and 11 years later, his mantle is filled to the brim with accomplishments, awards, and accolades. 6-time all-star, ROY, Cy Young Award, MVP, 2 no-hitters, established himself as one of the greatest Tigers pitchers of all-time, in the Top 10 in just about every pitching category in Detroit history.
Yesterday, he accomplished another major career milestone.
On a warm afternoon at Comerica Park in Detroit, the Tigers faced the Minnesota Twins. Verlander threw 7 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts in a win for the home club. However, its what happened in the fourth inning that was the milestone. He struck out Twins LF Eddie Rosario for his 2000th career K.
Verlander became the 76th pitcher in ML history to reach that mark, and joined the great Mickey Lolich as the only Tigers hurlers to do so.
New Tigers slugger OF Justin Upton (Chesapeake) is heating up just in time for the new season.
Continuing this series, unveiling my collection of baseball memorabilia of ball players from Virginia, here is #2.
Detroit Tigers P Justin Verlander (Goochland Co.) is one of 30+ ML pitchers all time to throw 2 no-hitters, and one of 6 active pitchers to do so. Verlander threw his first no-hitter on June 12, 2007, a home game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The following season, in mid April, Tigers fans got to take home a souvenir of that memorable night, as Tigers brass gave away a DVD of that game.
Just a few weeks from Spring Training, Justin Upton (Chesapeake) finally has a home.
Having won four consecutive AL-Central division titles, expectations were high in the Motor City entering 2015. The Detroit Tigers had the pieces in place to contend, as their ace Justin Verlander (Manakin-Sabot) would lead the Tigers staff. Hopes for a repeat were dealt a setback, however, when Verlander suffered a triceps strain during Spring Training and opened the season on the DL. He was initially expected to be out a week, but that turned into two months, as the Tigers did not want to rush his rehab, despite the criticism of Tigers fans, who felt he was not serious about wanting to get back ASAP.
Verlander finally made his season debut on June 13 and pitched 5 innings of 2-run ball in a no decision. His subsequent starts were not as kind. On 2 occasions, he would allow 7 earned runs, and his ERA soared to a high of 6.62 at one point, clearly not endearing himself to the Tigers faithful. He allowed 5 earned runs on Aug 4, putting his ERA at 5.05, but then he finally put together some solid outings. He was carrying a 1-6 record, but with a respectable 3.86 ERA, into his start on the night of August 26, a home start against the Los Angeles Angels.
It would be the night that showed the Tigers den, and the rest of the baseball world, that Justin Verlander was back.
Verlander threw 8 innings of no-hit ball, before finally allowing a leadoff double in the ninth, a ball that just barely stayed fair. (Where the ball landed on the foul line, had it landed 2 inched to the left, it would have been a foul ball!) Verlander was just inches away from his 3rd career no-hitter, but shook it off to finish off a complete game shutout, a 5-0 win for Detroit. Verlander finished that night allowing 2 walks, that one hit, and 9 strikeouts.
Verlander would go on to post some solid outings afterwards, and finished the season with a 5-8 record, a 3.38 ERA, and 113 strikeouts.
With the retirements of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and A.J. Burnett, Verlander is now 4th among active pitchers with 157 career wins.