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.
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.
“To be a Virginian is a tremendous responsibility. So much is expected of us.”
-Nancy Astor, first woman seated to British House of Commons
In the last 15 years or so, the Commonwealth of Virginia has emerged as a goldmine of baseball talent, and while it is impressive what they have done on the field, it is also noteworthy that they have given tremendously off the field as well. The Roberto Clemente award is given every year to a player who demonstrates tremendous civic support with charitable causes.
This year’s award finalists includes 2 from our state.
Nationals 1B Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia Beach/UVA) is up for this award for his Zimm foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Multiple sclerosis, which has stricken his mother.
A’s closer Sean Dolittle (UVA) is a leading figure in supporting military families and plays a leading role in working with MLB as LGBT allies. In addition, he and his girlfriend have hosted Syrian refugees for Thanksgiving dinner at their home in Chicago.
Winner will be announced this fall.
As the world just finished remembering the tragedy of Sept 11, 2001, numerous stories of twists of fate are out there involving people who could have been on one of the doomed flights. Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane was supposed to be on AA 11, but was given the wrong departure time by his travel agent. Actor Mark Wahlberg changed his plans a week before, otherwise he was supposed to be on one of the flights.
And then there is the story of former ML outfielder Michael Cuddyer (Chesapeake), who was in the minor leagues in 2001, and how his late inning heroics prevented a teammate from being on AA 11.
Arguable around baseball, and definitely in the confines of Boston and Red Sox nation, the talk of the season so far has been the emergence of Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (Prince George). His season so far has been a career year, to say the least.
Now, he has more to add to it, thanks to the events that happened on June 2.
JBJ, as he is now affectionately known in Red Sox nation, was named the AL Player of the Month for the month of May. He is the first Red Sox player in 5 years to get such an honor. For the month, he batted .381 with a .474 OB%, 7 doubles, 8 homeruns, 24 RBIs, and 17 walks, and that includes his hitting streak that reached 29 games before ending. He recorded a hit in 25 of the Red Sox 27 games, and the team went 17-10 in those games.
However, his accomplishments on the field might be considered an afterthought to what happened off the field on 6/2.
His wife Erin gave birth to a healthy baby girl, the first child for the couple. Mom and daughter are doing fine.
Bradley is currently batting .331 on the season, tied for 4th in the AL, and when first voting totals were released for the all-star game, Bradley was a close 4th among OFers.
Things are clearly looking up for the 26-yr from Prince George.
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!