Three Things to Watch for in the NLCS

1) Aces Wild. The #1 starters set the tone for the series and often are instrumental in the overall outcome. In this matchup of Wainwright vs. Bumgarner, we may be seeing a changing of the guard. Wainwright has cemented his reputation as an outstanding postseason pitcher over the years and had a postseason ERA of just over 2.5 entering this season. A tough start against the Dodgers in the NLDS and the fact that the Giants roughed him up for seven earned runs earlier this year, coupled with the excellent innings from Bumgarner in the Wild Card game, point to the possibility of an advantage for the Giants.

2) Under the Radar. The past four NLCS MVPs were Cody Ross, David Freese, Marco Scutaro and Michael Wacha – not exactly a who’s who of perennial MVP candidates. At this time of year an under the radar player tends to step into the limelight with an outstanding series. Who could it be this year? A hot-hitting Brandon Crawford, confident Kolton Wong or even an unheralded youngster like Randal Grichuk could emerge as the hero.

3) The Better Backstop. The Giants and Cardinals are two very similar teams, both with outstanding leaders at the catching position. While Posey vs. Molina is a virtual stalemate on paper, the one who has the better series swinging the bat, throwing out runners, blocking balls in the dirt or putting down the right fingers may well lead his team to the World Series.

Three Things to Watch for in the ALCS

1.) First to the Plate! Which team will score first in each game? In the seven head-to-head match-ups between the Royals and Orioles this season, the team that scored first won all seven games. Similarly, in the ALDS the team to score first won five of the six contests.

2.) Can the “H’s” Produce? Will the Royals’ Eric Hosmer and Orioles’ JJ Hardy continue to driveJJHardy in runs as they have this postseason? Hosmer is red-hot and his ability to change the game with one swing makes opposing pitchers attack the Royals line-up more cautiously. He’s had success against some of the O’s LHPs, hitting .412 with 2 HRs vs. Chen and .444 with a 2B against Miller. JJ Hardy is a difference-maker in the Orioles current line-up, hitting from the 6th spot. With less experience and lighter hitting players occupying the 7-9 slots, Hardy’s ability to capitalize on RBI situations is key to the Orioles’ offensive success.

3.) Front of the Rotation Royalty. James Shields and Yordy Ventura are the top two starters for the Royals and enjoyed success against the Orioles earlier this year. The duo started two games each, with Shields going 2-0 while pitching 7-innings in both contests and Ventura going 1-1 with 8-shutout innings in his victory and 6 1/3 innings allowing just two earned runs in a 2-1 loss. Yordy struck out a combined 17 over his 14 1/3 innings. Similar outings from these two starters in the ALCS could make it very difficult on the Orioles’ hitters.

Baseball Factory Alumni in the Postseason

See below for a complete list of Baseball Factory alumni in the Postseason:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Angels

Brennan Boesch
Tony Campana
CJ Cron
Josh Hamilton
Chris Iannetta
Kevin Jepsen
Cory Rasmus
Michael Roth
Huston Street
Joe Thatcher

Athletics

Josh Donaldson
Brandon Moss
Jed Lowrie
Eric Sogard
Sam Fuld
Stephen Vogt
Sean Doolittle
Dan Otero

Orioles

Steve Clevenger
Kevin Gausman
JJ Hardy
Steve Johnson
Steve Lombardozzi
Bud Norris
Ryan Webb
Delmon Young

Royals

Eric Hosmer
Christian Colon
Wade Davis
James Shields
Jason Vargas

Tigers

Nick Castellanos
Ian Kinsler
Ian Krol
Rick Porcello
Justin Verlander

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Cardinals

AJ Pierzynski
Peter Bourjos

Dodgers

AJ Ellis
Zack Greinke
JP Howell
Jarret Martin
Chris Perez
Paco Rodriguez

Giants

Brandon Belt
Brandon Crawford

Nationals

Bryce Harper
Scott Hairston
Denard Span
Jayson Werth
Ryan Zimmerman

Pirates

Jeff Decker

Postseason Opener Put the WILD in Wild Card

The 2014 MLB Playoffs opened with a bang last night when the Kansas City Royals, in their first playoff berth in 28 years, rallied from a 7-3 deficit to defeat the Oakland Athletics 9-8 and advance to the American League Division Series. Several Baseball Factory alumni were in the Wild Card mix including Kansas City’s 12th-inning hero Eric Hosmer. The Royals will look to continue their postseason run against the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday.

Baseball Factory alumni represented both squads in the AL Wild Card matchup, including Oakland’s Josh Donaldson (Premium Video Program), who went 2-for-5 with a walk and a run scored. Fellow alumnus Stephen Vogt (Exclusive College Recruiting Program) went 0-for-3 but reached base on a walk. And although he took the loss, Danny Otero (Exclusive College Recruiting Program) had a great season and gave it his all in 1 & 1/3 innings pitched with one strikeout.

For the victorious Royals, former Factory standout Eric Hosmer (Premium Video Program, All-America Pre-Season Tournament) was the spark Kansas City’s offense needed to rally. He finished the game 3-for-4, with two runs scored, one RBI and two walks. His lead off triple in the 12th inning would become the tying run when fellow Factory alumnus Christian Colon (Baseball Factory’s Team One National) came through with an infield single. Colon went on steal second before scoring the winning run on a Perez walk-off hit.

Eric Hosmer at Baseball Factory’s All-America Pre-Season Tournament

If this Wild Card game is any indication of the 2014 MLB Playoffs, baseball fans are in for a wild ride!

 

2014 MLB Postseason Preview: American League

The sleeper pick in this year’s postseason is the Kansas City Royals; led by four Baseball Factory alumni including Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, James Shields and Jason Vargas. Ace pitcher James Shields leads the team in wins (14), innings pitched and strikeouts. Not to be overshadowed by the hard throwing right hander Wade Davis, who leads the team with a stellar 0.89 ERA and 106 strikeouts through only 71 innings coming out of the bullpen. Eric Hosmer has made his name known as well, leading the team in doubles. All four will play a vital role in the Royals playoff run!

After a fast start, the Oakland Athletics faltered down the stretch. But despite their struggles as of late, they are looking to make a push into October. Nine former Baseball Factory players, including star hitters Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, currently suit up for the Athletics. Donaldson and Moss finished first and second on the team in homeruns and RBI’s, as well as top five in both slugging and on-base percentage. Other utility players including Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard, Sam Fuld and Stephen Vogt also made valuable contributions to the Athletics’ breakout season. Sean Doolittle and Dan Otero bolstered an already strong bullpen, bringing a pair of sub-three ERA’s and expected to pitch some very crucial innings as the Athletics look to take the Wild Card spot.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been undoubtedly the best team heading into the postseason. Nine Baseball Factory players, including star outfielder Josh Hamilton, lead the Angels strong offense. The bullpen includes four Factory alumni, none better than closer Huston Street who has posted a stellar 1.71 ERA through 28 outings. Kevin Jepsen, Joe Thatcher, Michael Roth, and Cory Rasmus have also made valuable contributions along the way to help the Angels into October. Starting catcher Chris Iannetta had a solid season along with the utility play of CJ Cron and Brennan Boesch.

Star-studded Detroit heads into the postseason with high expectations following a couple of second-half trades. David Price joined the Tigers alongside Baseball Factory alumni Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander, to make for an intimating starting rotation. Second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman Nick Castellanos have also become key assets to the championship contending team.

The Baltimore Orioles took their first division title in 17 years from the aging New York Yankees and are catching fire at just the right time. Former Baseball Factory star JJ Hardy has helped lead the O’s offense. Other Factory alumni include backup catcher Steve Clevenger, starting pitchers Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman, as well as relief pitcher Ryan Webb. After the injury to star catcher Matt Weiters, Clevenger has done a great job filling in for the O’s who look to continue their strong play in October.

2014 MLB Postseason Preview: National League

The injury plagued St. Louis Cardinals were coasting through the better part of the regular season before spotting the Pirates in their rearview mirror. The 2013 National League Champions held on to clinch the Central Division and will look to repeat this October. Baseball Factory alumni include AJ Pierzynski and Peter Bourjos, who will play vital utility roles for the Cardinals this postseason.

The power hitting Los Angeles Dodgers were locked in a heated race with the San Francisco Giants before pulling away late to take the NL West crown. Baseball Factory alumnus and Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke helps to lead a spectacular starting rotation. Greinke posted an impressive 2.74 ERA with 16 wins during the regular season. Fellow Factory alumni AJ Ellis, JP Howell and Chris Perez will look to contribute as well this postseason.

The San Francisco Giants head into the postseason with high hopes. Baseball Factory alumnus Brandon Belt is back in the line up from an injury-plagued season and poised to get hot in October. Additionally, shortstop Brandon Crawford has put together a solid season anchoring the Giants’ infield and is ready for another playoff run in only his fourth MLB season.

The Washington Nationals didn’t even break a sweat this regular season, winning the NL East by a convincing 16.5 games. Baseball Factory alumnus Bryce Harper is the face of this young, erratic Nationals team. Despite having a disappointing regular season and missing substantial time due to injury, Harper has the potential to get hot at a moment’s notice. Fellow alumni Ryan Zimmerman, Scott Hairston and Denard Span will also look to make their mark in October. During the regular season Span posted his best numbers thus far as a big leaguer, batting over .300 as well as ranking second on the team in runs scored and leading the team in stolen bases. Look for the Nationals to make a strong bid for the National League pennant.

After a memorable 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates are optimistic they can make a run deep into the postseason. Former Baseball Factory athletes Josh Harrison, Gaby Sanchez and Andrew Lambo have played important roles throughout the season. Harrison has been one of the Pirates most valuable players, chasing a batting title with a .319 batting average, 75 runs scored and 17 stolen bases in his breakout season. Sanchez received more than 250 at bats at 1B/C and is expected to see some time this postseason.

2014 UA Game Recap (Innings 7-9)

Through six innings of play, the Nationals held tight to a one run lead. After a slow start, Josh Naylor and Ryan Mountcastle got the National offense going with back to back two out doubles to scratch the first run of the game. The Americans had a runner reach third base in both the first and fourth innings, but they were unable to plate the run in either case.

Things appear to be trending the Americans way, even though they are down going into the seventh. They’ve only struck out four times in eighteen outs, while the Nationals have fallen victim to the strikeout twice in every inning except the fourth – the inning in which they scored.

7th Inning

Cole McKay

Cole McKay (Mike Janes)

6-foot-5 Texan Cole McKay took the mound to begin the seventh inning of play. The big right hander worked 88-91 mph with his fastball, and featured a curve and change both in the upper 70s. Like large framed lefty Justin Hooper, McKay (pronounced MICK-EYE) worked from an angle a little lower and more deceiving than often seen. His delivery and arm stroke were both on the compact side, but served him well to generate a solid three pitch mix.

LT Tolbert entered for Ke’Bryan Hayes in the fifth defensively, with his first plate appearance coming to lead off the seventh. He blooped a single to left, and made an aggressive turn around the bag at first. A very brief hesitation upon making the read would cost him (one of the mnemonic devices we use for Baseball Factory base running rule #3 – and hopefully those that have been to one of our Player Development events know this – is “HESITATE and you’re too late”), as Ryan Mountcastle was able to spin and throw him out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double. Continue reading

2014 UA Game Recap (Innings 4-6)

Through the first three innings of play, each team had one runner get into scoring position, but neither team was able to get the first run across the plate. The American pitchers were more dominant early, recording six of nine outs via the strikeout, allowing no hits or free bases, and facing only one above the minimum number of hitters – and that was only because of an error. So, beginning the middle innings the game was still 0-0 and the National team was still looking for their first hit.

4th Inning

Austin Riley

Austin Riley (Mike Janes)

Two-way player Austin Riley took the mound to start the fourth. Even in a short outing in which he faced four hitters, he showed feel for pitching and was consistently around the plate with his fastball and curve. He worked between 88 and 90, and spun a mid to upper 70s breaking ball.

Chris Betts lead off the inning with a scorched line drive double directly over the head of Starling Heredia in center field. He made a great pass on an 87 mph fastball to get into scoring position with nobody out. Ke’Bryan Hayes followed with a great situational at bat, advancing Betts to third base with a firm grounder to Kody Clemens at second base. The at bat was indicative of his advanced and instinctual feel for hitting. He got a pitch away and went with it to move the runner – textbook winning baseball. Continue reading

2014 UA Game Recap (Innings 1-3)

The first pitch was thrown out by former Cub Lee Smith. His Major League career spanned 18 seasons and eight different teams, with most of his big league service time in a Cub uniform. He was a seven time All-Star, appeared in 1022 Major League games, and recorded 478 saves. He currently stands in third place on the All-Time Saves list, behind only Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. Fittingly, he fired a strike to American team catcher Justin Cohen to get things started at the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

1st Inning

Wyatt Cross

Wyatt Cross (Mike Janes)

Corey Zangari took the mound first for the home National team. He delivered a 92 mph fastball for ball one to start the game. A couple of pitches later, Mitchell Hansen laced an 81 mph slider to left center field for a line drive double. Kyle Tucker walked, and then Dazmon Cameron took a fastball between the shoulder blades for a free trip to first base.

After seeing the first three hitters reach base, National team skipper Sean Casey came out for a quick chat with Zangari. Whatever he said worked, as the next three hitters would be retired in order.

With the bases loaded, Chris Betts struck out looking on a 92 mph fastball on the outside corner. The infield fly rule was signaled by the umpires on a Ke’Bryan Hayes popup to Kody Clemens at second base, bringing Demi Orimoloye to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. He hit a firm grounder right to Ryan Mountcastle at third base, who calmly stepped on the bag to end the inning. Continue reading

2014 UA Game Peak Fastball Velocities

Contrary to popular belief, the stadium gun in many cases was actually a tick slower than the gun we had behind the plate.

Based on our best available reading for each arm, three pitchers topped at 95, two topped at 94, and everyone at least touched 90.

Mike Nikorak was among three pitchers to touch 95 mph at the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Inning National American
1st Corey Zangari – 94 Mike Nikorak – 95
2nd Corey Zangari Ashe Russell – 95
3rd Beau Burrows – 94 Luken Baker – 93
4th Austin Riley – 90 Hunter Bowling – 90
5th Justin Hooper – 95 Juan Hillman – 90
6th Sati Santa Cruz – 92 Cole Sands – 91
7th Cole McKay – 91 Bryan Hoeing – 91
8th Anthony Molina – 92 Gray Fenter – 92
9th Kyle Molnar – 92 Gray Fenter