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Steve Phillips

TSN Baseball Insider

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This past week in an interview, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. said, “I've never worked out at the gym before; I’ve never lifted weights before.”

Of course, he has since clarified what he meant and obviously has done some conditioning work before; he just hasn’t lifted weights in the off-season while working out in the Dominican Republic. His past workouts have included some strength work with flipping big tires and swinging a sledge hammer.

What I was happy to hear is some acceptance that his conditioning needs to improve. It is clear Guerrero wants to be the best player possible and that his natural raw talent is extraordinary. But it sounds like he’s willing to really work at it and not just rely upon that natural ability.

This is such a sensitive topic. Like most things, it’s always better when it’s the player’s idea instead of something being legislated by the organization. I’ve seen situations where teams have fined players for being overweight. I’ve seen clubs try to reward players for meeting certain numbers at weigh-ins during the season. Those attempts ultimately fail in the long run.

What does work is a when a player makes the commitment to himself, with the understanding that it is in his best interest to make a lifestyle change, and has the people around him support the process. The fact that Guerrero said this out loud took courage and acceptance that is refreshing and offers hope. I’m excited for him. He has no idea how good he’ll feel and how his mobility will improve as he really works on his body.

Although Guerrero didn’t have the monster rookie season many hoped and some expected, he did make his mark. Overall, it was an excellent start to his major-league career. He realizes his defence needs to improve if he is going to stay at third base. He sounds committed to working on that, and his improved physical condition will help make him better. I actually have a lot of hope that he can make third base work.

Offensively, he showed patience and aggressiveness at the plate. He turned it up in the second half of the season and has really shown the knack for driving in runs. He will learn to look for certain pitches in hitter’s counts where he can hunt more launch angle and drive the ball deep. That will come in his natural development as a hitter.

Some are disappointed in his home run totals because everyone else is hitting homers at a record pace. I’m not even a little bit concerned about this. I’ve written in the past about his launch angle and how it is significantly below average. That doesn’t matter. He showed in the Home Run Derby that he will have launch angle when he wants it. I like that he is trying to be a good hitter first and a power hitter later. I like that he wants to hit for average, too. He doesn’t swing for the fences on every pitch. He makes adjustments and understands contact can drive in runs.

Just be patient with Guerrero. The power is coming. 

Guerrero has also shown himself to be a good teammate and a positive spirit on the team. He loves the game and enjoys playing. He celebrates his teammates more than he celebrates himself.

Overall, it has been a very successful start to his career.

 

Alford facing make-or-break season

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On Monday, Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Alford became just the second player ever to have a walk-off home run as his first homer in the majors.

Alford is a phenomenal athlete. He has always shown that athleticism since being drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft.

The Jays have been patient with him, letting him the two-sport star get the football bug out of his system. He played quarterback at University of Southern Mississippi and then at the University of Mississippi.

For a while he split time between sports, which stunted his overall baseball growth. He fully committed to baseball to start the 2015 season and has made some improvements over the years. This year, he made an adjustment in opening up his stance to better be able to handle the inside pitches. 

At the age of 25, and with no options left, the 2020 season is make or break for Alford. His minor-league performance has never forced the Jays to give him a full shot in the majors.

I see him as more of an extra outfielder who can fill in at all three outfield spots. I just don’t see enough of a hit tool to be an everyday impact player. There is a potential supporting role for him, but not much more than that.

 

A PED punishment proposal

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The Oakland Athletics got starting pitcher Frankie Montas (9-2, 2.61 ERA) back in their rotation on Wednesday after he served an 80-game suspension for PED usage. He threw six innings and only gave up one run in a 3-2 win over the Angels.

Although he isn’t eligible for the postseason because of his suspension, he certainly helped get Oakland there with his performance when he was active. The A’s record was 12-4 in his starts this season.

Montas pitched against the Cleveland Indians twice this season, going 1-0 and giving up only two runs in 12 innings pitched. The A’s won both games he started against Cleveland. He also threw eight solid innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a win just before his suspension.

I fully support the 80-game suspension handed down to Montas for using PEDs. The problem is that the A’s benefited from his cheating. A system that benefits a team when one of its players cheats is flawed. I believe that when a team loses a player to a PED suspension it should have to vacate a set number of wins.

The Athletics may beat out the Indians or Rays by one or two games, meaning that Montas’ cheating was actually the difference for them in making the playoffs.

In the same vein, the Minnesota Twins lost one of their most effective starters, Michael Pineda, to a PED suspension on Sept 7. But before his suspension he went 11-5 with a 4.01 ERA and the Twins were 16-10 in his 26 starts.

I understand it is difficult to quantify the exact impact of a player’s cheating on his performance and the benefit to his club. But there should be an adjustment made to account for the advantage gained by his team. I’m open to suggestion, but here is my idea:

Role                                 Penalty to team

Pitcher                             One win vacated for every month pitched prior to positive test

Position player                One win vacated for every 100 plate appearances prior to positive test

* March/April is one month. The teams with the cheaters vacate wins but no other team recovers a victory.

Under this system, the A’s would have to vacate three wins since Montas’ positive test was in June. The Twins would have to vacate six wins because Pineda tested positive in early September. This would affect the standings as it would put the Indians in first place in the AL Central and it would place the A’s and Twins behind the Rays, battling it out for the second wild card. But fair is fair.

I would hope this could serve as an additional deterrent to players from cheating. Players don’t like to disappoint their teammates. Causing wins to be taken off the board may deter them from taking such a risk. 

 

Spitting Seeds

- We’ve seen some unbelievable performances over the course of the season but none more remarkable than third baseman Jose Ramirez’s return to the lineup on Tuesday with the Cleveland Indians. He was activated from the injured list just a month after having surgery on the broken hamate bone in his right wrist.

Ramirez hit a grand slam while batting left-handed in his first at-bat, and then he crushed a three-run homer batting right-handed in his second at-bat. His return was going to be an emotional and inspirational boost, but I had no idea he would have that much immediate impact on the field. In his second game back, he had a solo homer. Pretty amazing.

- We head into the final weekend of the season with the AL wild-card race still to be determined between the A’s, Rays and Indians. The best overall record in the AL is also still up for grabs between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, which will determine who gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Astros have a two-game lead over the Yankees, which means they would play the winner of the AL wild-card game.

- The Yankees would face the Minnesota Twins, which isn’t great news for the Twins as the Yankees have dominated them for years. The Twins haven’t won the regular-season series against the Yankees since 2001. Over the past five seasons, Minnesota is 9-24 against New York. The last three times the Twins were in the playoffs they faced the Yankees and lost those series. You have to believe that the Twins are rooting for the Yankees to sweep the Rangers over the weekend and the Astros to lose to the Angels – just so they have a shot of avoiding the Bronx Bombers.

- The A’s finish the season with the lowly Seattle Mariners, while the Blue Jays get to play the Rays at the Rogers Centre. This is a real chance for the Mariners and Jays to have a lasting impact on the 2019 postseason in the role of spoiler. The Indians would appreciate it since they are trailing both teams (three games behind Oakland and two games behind Tampa Bay) and are stuck playing the Washington Nationals in D.C. under National League rules. The Nationals are playing the season out to the end, motivated to get home field in the wild-card game against either the Brewers or Cardinals. It’s a pretty tough scheduling quirk for the Indians. 

- The NL playoff teams are determined but the NL Central title is still a battle between the Cardinals and Brewers. The second-place finisher will be a wild-card winner and play the Washington Nationals. It’s already determined that the Dodgers are the No. 1 seed and will play the wild-card winner, while the Braves will be the No. 2 seed and will have home-field advantage over the NL Central Division winner.

- The Brewers have been on one of the most amazing runs I have ever seen. They’ve gone 18-2 in September, including going 13-2 since they lost reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich to injury for the rest of the year. On Sept. 3, the Brewers were seven games behind the Cardinals in the division and four games out of the second wild-card spot held by the Cubs with the Diamondbacks and Phillies in front of them. Now they are just one game behind the Cardinals for the NL Central lead and they are 5.5 games ahead of the Mets and 6.5 games ahead of the Cubs, having clinched a playoff spot. 

Brewers manager Craig Counsell has done a masterful job leading his team, particularly his pitching staff. Milwaukee has a 2.77 ERA in September, by far the best in baseball. Counsell has manipulated the expanded rosters in September, working matchups and situations to maximize the additional arms available to him. Their bullpen has thrown the most innings of any NL club, which is usually a recipe for disaster. It normally means that your starting pitchers are getting knocked around and you are searching for help. In the Brewers case, it is more about Counsell managing his assets to maximize the results.

- This postseason has a chance to be absolutely amazing. We have some mega-talented teams and clubs who are looking for a storybook ending to a dramatic season. The regular season is a marathon. The playoffs are a series of sprints. The 10 teams that make it to October baseball will have certainly earned it. They all have their own story. History has shown that it is not always the best team that wins, but rather, the team playing the best. I can’t wait.