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 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.
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.
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!!!!!!!!
10 years ago, Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia Beach) made his debut with the Washington Nationals, just a few months after being drafted in the first round out of UVA, the first draft choice ever made by the Nationals. Needless to say, it has worked out well for the franchise.
Zimmerman has had quite a stellar career resume in DC. In 2009 alone he was an all-star and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and won the Silver Slugger award again in 2010. He holds the franchise record with a 30-game hitting streak. His 10 career walk-off homers are tied for 3rd best in NL history. He is the last player left on the team from the 2005 inaugural season.
This past week, Zimmerman added to his DC legend when he hit his 200th career HR.
Here are some splits with regards to his career HRs:
Most HRs vs a single team:
- 25, Miami Marlins
- 20, Atlanta Braves
- 20, Philadelphia Phillies
- 17, New York Mets
- 15, San Diego Padres
- 20 of his HR are vs. Inter-League opponents.
- He has homered against all NL opponents, but never against 4 AL teams: Royals, White Sox, Mariners, Tigers.
- One of his most famous walk-off HRs came on March 30, 2008, when his walk-off homer beat the Braves to christen the new Nationals park, He is one of only 3 players to ever hit a walk-off in a team’s debut in a new stadium.
- He knows how to get things started for the Nationals. 38 of his career HRs have come in the first inning, the most he has in any single inning. Second place on that list is the 3rd inning with 30 HRs.
- When the Nationals get into the dog days of summer and the playoff race starts to heat up, they can count on Zimmerman to step up his game. There are two months in which he has more than 40 career HRs-August (43) and September/October (40).
- The only opposing ballpark in which he has hit double-digits in HRs is Yankee stadium, 10.