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.
In the latest installment of this series where we look at ballplayers inducted in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, we turn to a 2-sport star, OF Brian Jordan.
Jordan grew up in Baltimore, MD, but came to Virginia to play his college ball, choosing Virginia’s capital city, the University of Richmond Spiders. After graduating from Richmond, he was selected in the first round of the 1988 MLB draft by the Cardinals, a year before he was a 7th round draft pick of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. (The Bills would cut him during training camp.)
Jordan started out his baseball career in the Cardinals system, climbing the ranks while at the same time playing for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL. In 1991, he even led the Falcons in tackles and was voted as an alternate to the Pro Bowl squad. That, however, would be the end of his football career, as in 1992 he signed a new contract with the St. Louis Cardinals that included a signing bonus of $1.7 million to focus on baseball exclusively and end his football career.
Jordan made his major league debut in 1992, and for those first three seasons he was a utility outfielder. In 1995, he became an everyday outfielder for the Cardinals, and delivered big time, batting .296 with 22 HR and 81 RBIs in 135 games, and even posted a respectable .339 on base percentage. In 1996, he continued to excel, batting .310 with 104 RBIs, and his .422 batting average with Runners in Scoring Position held up as a new Cardinals record until it was surpassed in 2013. He also hit a major league leading .684 with the bases loaded.
Jordan had a horrendous 1997 season, batting .234 in 47 games with ho homers and only 10 RBIs, but bounced right back in 1998, batting .316 with 25 HR and 91 RBIs. This power surge landed him a huge contract with the Atlanta Braves. In 1999, his first season with Atlanta, he would bat .283 with 23 HR and a career high 115 RBIs, and made his first and only all-star game. (Also appearing on the NL squad that year was fellow Richmond Spider and fellow Virginia Sports HOF inductee Sean Casey, ’14.) Jordan’s exploits would be a key factor in the Braves going to the playoffs, and he even keyed the Braves NLDS win over Houston, batting .471 with 7 RBIs, including a 12th inning GWer in Game 3. He hit 2 HR in the NLCS but was held to only one hit in the World Series.
Jordan’s numbers leveled off in 2000, but in 2001 he got himself back on track, hitting .295 with 25 HR and 97 RBIs in helping the Braves hold off the Phillies and Mets to win their 10th straight division title. The following winter he was traded to the Dodgers in the blockbuster deal that brought Gary Sheffield to Atlanta.
He hit .285 with the Dodgers in 2002, but injuries started to catch up with him. He left and signed a 1-year deal with the Texas Rangers, but hit a paltry .222, and again was hampered by injuries. He returned to Atlanta for 2005 and 2006, but could not shake the injury bug, and retired from playing baseball after that 2006 season. He finished his MLB playing career with a .282 batting average, 184 HR, and 821 RBIs.
Brian Jordan was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in the Class of 2009.
Justin Upton (Chesapeake) trade rumors heating up, 5 teams reportedly interested.
Is there any doubt now that the Atlanta Braves are rebuilding and basically starting over from scratch? With a new head baseball guy in charge of player personnel moves (John Hart), the Braves began retooling this winter by trading Jason Heyward. Now, they reportedly are not done.
CBS Sports.com and Yahoo Sports are reporting that the Braves intend to trade slugger OF Justin Upton (Chesapeake), and one executive even says that it will not be if, but a matter of time before he is moved. If the Cardinals think they got Heyward for a cheap price, any team that wants Upton will not be so lucky. The Braves reportedly will ask for a huge return, in fact bigger than the one they got for Heyward.
Where could Upton land? Several teams have inquired about Upton, including the Astros and Rangers, but I am predicting that he will end up in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Mariners tried to pry him from Arizona before he got shipped to Atlanta, and they have the depth in pitching prospects that the Braves really covet as they begin rebuilding and planning for their scheduled move to their new stadium in suburban Cobb County in 2017.
Last year, Upton hit .270 with 29 HR and 102 RBIs. He is a 2-time all-star and 2-time Silver Slugger.
Rangers designate LHP Joe Saunders (0-5, 6.13 ERA) for assignment, recall RHP Miles Mikolas -via SportsCenter
Joe Saunders (Springfield) dropped by Rangers. End of his career?