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.
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!
When Major League Baseball returned to Washington for the 2005 season, in the form of the newly named Washington Nationals, fans were ecstatic, but team brass had a big chore to do. They had to, among other things, overhaul player development, which was left in shambles due to MLB ownership of the franchise. It would be a painstaking process, but one that management felt was necessary for the long-term vision of the franchise.
In that first summer in DC, the team had its first draft, the 4th pick overall, as the Washington Nationals, and Nats brass knew exactly who they wanted. The choice was clear-a 20-yr old 3B out of University of Virginia, a Virginia Beach native as well. Nats brass felt that this young player would not only have success in Washington, but could even be the face of the franchise. Just a few months later, when rosters expanded, Ryan Zimmerman made his major league debut with the Nationals.
Fast forward to 2015. Zimmerman has put together quite a resume. He’s been an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and 2-time Silver Slugger. He is also Mr. Clutch, as he has has hit 10 career walk-off homers, just 2 shy of the all-time NL record. One of those even came on March 30, 2008, when his walk-off shot beat the Braves to christen the new Nationals Park. He remains the last player left on the team from that inaugural 2005 season, and by far the longest active tenured player with the team.
The Nationals were expected to contend for a championship in 2015, their big 10th anniversary season, with Zimmerman now moved over to 1B. While that did not even come close to happening, the season was not devoid of highlights anyway, and one of them came on the night of September 2.
The Nationals were in St. Louis to play the Cardinals, and Zimmerman hit 2 homeruns to give the Nats a 4-3 win. These 2 homeruns gave Zimmerman, now 30 yrs old, 200 round-trippers for his career. He would become only the 5th player in franchise history to hit that milestone, joining 4 Expos.
Zimmerman would only play 5 more games after that night before going down for the season with an oblique injury.
Ryan Zimmerman has hit .283 with 200 HR and 783 RBIs in his ML career.
This is an ongoing series where I recount some of the memorable moments of 2015 involving Virginia ballplayers. In this installment, I look at Giants OF Jarrett Parker (Stafford).
Parker, a LF, was a 2nd round pick (74th overall) in the 2010 FY Player Draft. He would spend the 2011-2012 seasons with Single-A San Jose and for 2013-2014 he came back home, sort of. He would play with the Richmond Flying Squirrels of AA, and just 75 minutes from home. Over the course of his first 4 pro seasons, Parker slammed 61 HR, stole 73 bases, and batted .255. His main struggle was his high strikeout total, as he did top 100 in each of the 4 seasons.
While with Richmond in August 2014, the Giants happened to be on the east coast for a series with the Mets, and Parker was called up to the big team and spent one game in the dugout with them. He did not get into the game and flew back to the west coast with the team, who then sent him down to nearby AAA Fresno.
On June 10 of this year, Parker was called back to the big team, but 4 games and one hit in 11 AB later, he was returned to Fresno. He came back on September 11 and got his first ML RBI that night. He was rewarded with a string of games of playing time, and through September 25th, was batting .318. Parker was starting to show a lot, A LOT of promise, as the Giants settled in for a game against their cross-bay rivals, the Oakland As, on the night of Saturday, September 26.
If Parker was showing promise before this game, he made Giants brass stand up and take notice afterwards.
Parker slammed 3 Homeruns, and drove in 7 runs, in a Giants 14-10 win over Oakland. He became the first Giants rookie to ever slam 3 homers in a single game, and the first Giants player with 3 HR and 7 RBIs in a game since……Willie Mays.
This game followed up homers in previous 2 games, giving him 5 HR in 3 games, and this monster game raised his batting average up to .370 and his on-base % to .414.
Parker continued his hot streak the next day, with 2 more hits, raising his average to .400 and his on-base % to .455. He leveled off after that, and when he got 2 hits in the season finale, he finished with a .347 batting average and a .407 on-base %.
From Colonial Forge HS in Stafford to success at UVA, to the major leagues, Jarrett Parker appears to have won himself a permanent spot with the San Francisco Giants. On Opening Day 2016, he will be 27.
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.