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Steve Phillips

TSN Baseball Insider


Cavan Biggio had quite a game on Tuesday night. He hit for the cycle, driving in four runs and scoring three, and stole two bases.  He is now part of the second father-son combo to ever manage the hitting feat (joining Gary and Daryle Ward).

The game showcased Biggio’s abilities in a number of ways. First, he used all three fields. He homered to centre field, singled to right field, doubled to the right-field corner and the tripled to left-centre field.  He showed the ability to hit the ball where it is pitched. He showed hustle as he ran the bases, and speed and instincts with two steals.

Biggio has also shown the ability to make adjustments at the plate. He had been struggling a bit, not hitting for average. He has always a patient hitter, but Biggio realized he was letting too many good pitches go by. He decided he needed to be more aggressive early in the count and then be patient as the at-bats progressed.

On Tuesday night he jumped on a first-pitch fastball for his home run. Then he slapped an 0-1 sinker for a single. At that point the Orioles decided to be a bit more careful with him, so he waited out his at-bat and got a 3-1 fastball he drove for a double. In the ninth inning he ripped a 3-2 pitch for a triple.

Biggio is like a middle child who doesn’t get the same attention that the oldest and youngest siblings get. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are provocative. Your eyes are naturally drawn to them by how they move on the field. Biggio has less flash and pizzazz. He just shows up and grinds out his day like a blue-collar guy. Good teams need both types of players.

His versatility is extraordinarily valuable. He is the answer at a number of positions on any given day. His consistency in performance and demeanour are coveted by an organization. His knack for getting on base and earning walks keeps him out of terrible slumps because he avoids bad timing with the base on balls. Walks take away from outs more than they take away from hits.  Predictability is something that general managers crave because it helps lower the peaks and valleys of the season and reduces the margin for error. Biggio provides consistent professional at-bats.

He doesn’t have the bat-to-ball ability of Guerrero or Bichette, but he’s very good in his own way. There is no doubt that he is part of the solution for the long term. He will be a guy you want up in a situation with the game on the line in the ninth inning. He will give a professional, productive at-bat.

By the way, Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and Dante Bichette both hit for the cycle during their careers.  Guerrero and Bichette are extra-base-hit machines, so don’t be surprised if they join the Wards and Biggios on the list of father and sons who have hit for the cycle. 


Vladdy learns a painful lesson

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In a season full of teaching opportunities, Guerrero gave Jays manager Charlie Montoyo another such opportunity on Wednesday night in the ninth inning.

Guerrero hit a groundball to shortstop but didn’t hustle down the first-base line. The throw from Orioles shortstop Richie Martin was wild and went past first baseman Trey Mancini. Guerrero then tried to turn on the jets to get to second and was barely safe but injured his rib on the slide.

It was a painful lesson for the young third baseman. Playing 162 games in 187 days is a grind. Managers and general managers understand that there are times when it’s acceptable to throttle down a little bit.

But it can’t look like the player doesn’t care. There is a place between fake hustle and jogging that is a reasonable level of hustle. Guerrero needs to find that place because he fell far short of it on Wednesday night.


Trout deserves the AL MVP

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout is having season-ending surgery on a nerve issue in his foot. His season ends with him only playing in 134 games, which is disappointing considering how well he played once again.

The Angels aren’t going to make the playoffs for the eighth time in Trout’s nine seasons. It certainly isn’t his fault as he is once again at, or near the top, of most AL offensive categories.  He will likely finish the season with the best on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, adjusted OPS+, win probability added, fWAR, bWar, and WRC+.  He should without a doubt be the AL MVP this year.

It seems that we look for reasons not to give Trout the award every year. There is a latent desire to spread recognition around rather than just acknowledging that he is the most valuable player in the AL again this year.

Trout was leading the league in home runs and was in the top five in runs scored and RBI when he stopped playing. The injury cost him a shot at 50 homers and a chance at leading the league in home runs for the first time.

There are some who are making a case for Astros third baseman Alex Bregman as the AL MVP.  He is having a great season, sitting second to Trout in OPS (1.083 to 1.004) and is in the top five in home runs, RBI and runs scored. He is also second to Trout in fWAR (8.6 to 7.5) and second in bWAR (8.3 to 7.6).

I believe Bregman is clearly second best. To put in perspective how far apart the two players are I look at adjusted OPS+, which takes into account a player’s OPS adjusted to his ballpark. Trout is at 184 to Bregman at 160. This means Bregman is 60 per cent better than league average (100 OPS +) and Trout, at 184, is 24 per cent better than Bregman.

Sure, Bregman’s value is increased because of his defensive versatility as he has moved between third base and the more critical shortstop position as needed, but Trout plays a premium defensive role in centre field every day. 

There is an argument that is often made that the MVP should be on a team going to the playoffs. I believe a case can be made that Trout’s performance should be held in higher regard because he’s on a bad team without the same supporting cast. 

Consider that Trout drove in 104 runs this season while only having 91 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Bregman has 105 RBI but has had 124 at-bats with runners in scoring position.  Bregman has a much stronger supporting cast around him, giving him more opportunities to be productive.

In fact, six different Astros (Bregman, Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel, George Springer, Josh Reddick and Robinson Chirinos) have more at-bats than Trout with runners in scoring position. That number will be eight by the end of the season as Yordan Alvarez (89 at-bats) and Jose Altuve (87 at-bats) are also both close to passing Trout. 

Bregman is great, Trout is better.


Spitting Seeds

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- The Yankees are a great team. They have a shot at the best record in baseball and gaining home-field advantage throughout the postseason. They are currently a half game behind the Astros, who are 100-53. The Astros own the tie breaker, so the Yankees will have to finish with one more win than Houston to earn the advantage

This has been a remarkable season for the Bronx Bombers not only because of the win total but because they have overcome a myriad of injuries that would have crippled most teams. The ‘next-man-up’ mentality has been the theme all season long. Now, with the end of the regular season near, they are getting healthier with some impact talent returning to the lineup.

Ace starter Luis Severino returned to the mound to make his first start of the season on Tuesday.  He tossed four solid innings, allowing two hits but no runs. He walked two batters while striking out four. He threw 67 pitches with his fastball registering as high as 98 mph and averaging 96.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has suggested that he will likely only use lefty James Paxton as a conventional starter, using the rest of the rotation in a piggyback fashion where they throw three or four innings at a time with easy access to the rest of his deep bullpen. Severino’s outing may change Boone’s mind, especially if he can get him stretched out to 90-100 pitches in his next two outings before the playoffs begin. Either way, whether as a starter or reliever, Severino is a weapon for the Yankees.

Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton returned to the Yankee’s lineup on Wednesday and had a double in his first at-bat. Stanton has had a series of injuries, which have limited the former NL MVP to just 10 games on the season. But his return adds a big bat to the Yankees lineup and makes them that much more potent in the postseason.

The Yankees were equally excited about the return of Dellin Betances who has been one of the best relievers in the game over the last several years. He had missed the entire season to this point with injuries, but was able to record two strikeouts in his first outing on Sunday in Toronto. Unfortunately, after his second strikeout he awkwardly jumped up and partially tore his Achilles. He’s done for the season and will likely suffer from it in his free agency this winter. Having Betances would have been a nice addition to the bullpen, but they still have the deepest and best pen in baseball without him. If the Yankees don’t win the World Series it won’t be because they didn’t have the righty.

The Yankees are a very deep and powerful team and will be a tough matchup throughout the playoffs.  

- Just when you think you have seen it all, baseball happens. I’ve seen home fans acknowledge former players with cheers and standing ovations. I’ve seen home fans acknowledge a great play by an opposing defender with some polite claps. But I’ve never seen home fans give a standing ovation to an opposing player for hitting a homer – until Tuesday.

I’ve also never seen the home fans give a standing ovation to the opposing manager after his team beat theirs – until Wednesday.

San Francisco Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of Red Sox Hall of Fame Carl Yastrzemski, hit a home run at Fenway Park on Tuesday and Red Sox fans stood and cheered the left fielder. The standing ovation was prompted by the 29-year-old’s swing of the bat but was really directed toward his 80-year-old grandfather who is part of the Mount Rushmore of Red Sox history. The respect for the young Yaz was actually about respect for the old Yaz. 

On Wednesday, the first pitch at Fenway included a member of the visiting team. When Carl came out of the dugout, the crowd went crazy for the franchise icon. The cheers got even louder when Mike came from the Giants’ dugout to catch the first pitch from grandpa.

Then after the game on Wednesday, which was an 11-3 Giants victory, the remaining fans in the ballpark gave a standing ovation to San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy. The fans were even chanting Bochy’s name. It was Bochy’s 2,000th career win as a skipper. He has won three World Series with the Giants and lost one while managing the Padres. He is the 11th manager in baseball history to accumulate that many wins. The 10 others are all in the Hall of Fame. Bochy, who is stepping down after this season, will be headed to Cooperstown in the future. 

The Red Sox fans and their organization could not have been classier in how they handled the moments this week. 

- We head to the final 10 days of the season. The AL and NL wild-card races look as though they are going to come down the last weekend and a potential game No. 163 tiebreaker. 

The AL division races are about over with the Yankees, Twins and Astros advancing. Presently, the Astros would play the wild-card winner while the Yankees would host the Twins in the division series. The wild-card game looks like it will be in Oakland as the A’s host either the Rays or Indians, who are currently tied.

The Dodgers have clinched the NL West title for the seventh straight season and the Braves have clinched a playoff spot and need one win or a Nationals’ loss to lock up their second consecutive NL East tile.

In the NL Central, the Cardinals are four games ahead of the Cubs and three ahead of the Brewers. The Brewers hold a one-game advantage over the Cubs for the second wild-card spot and are a game behind the Nationals for the first spot.

Strength of schedule may be a big factor in deciding the NL playoff picture. The Cubs and Cardinals play each other seven of the last 10 games, which could open the door for the red-hot Brewers who have a rather easy schedule remaining. The Nationals face the Marlins over the weekend, but then play five games in four days against the Phillies before finishing with the Indians for three games. The Phillies and Indians are still alive in the playoff chase, which will make them tough competition. 

I’m predicting tiebreaker games in both at AL (Rays vs. Indians) and NL (Cubs vs. Brewers).