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  1. Minnesota locked up Byron Buxton to a long-term deal this winter, and it looks like the Twins made a brilliant investment. After a torrid start to the season, is he in the conversation to be baseball's best player? Fans have seen this game changing ability before from Byron Buxton. Last April, he started hot in the season's first month as he hit .427/.466/.897 (1.363) with eight doubles and eight home runs in 18 games. MLB named Buxton the American League Player of the Month, and he had arguably the best offensive month in team history. It was hard to imagine him playing at a higher level, and then the 2022 season began. Over the weekend, Buxton showed his value across multiple games, including some dramatic moments. On Saturday, he went 4-for-4 and reached base in all five plate appearances as the Twins won a blowout. Sunday's game was a nail-biter, and Buxton left the fans happy as he tied the game with a home run in the 7th before a massive three-run walk-off shot in extra-innings. One weekend series doesn't qualify someone to be baseball's best player, but plenty of other signs point to Buxton's greatness. His six home runs tie him for the MLB lead, and he has over 20 fewer at-bats than the other players at the top. His 1.361 OPS would lead all of baseball by close to 200 points, but he doesn't have enough plate appearances to appear on the leaderboard. Baseball's leaders in slugging percentage are tied at .727, but Buxton's OPS is .946 through Sunday's game. At the season's start, MLB Network counted down baseball's top-100 players right now. Buxton ranked as baseball's 39th best player on that countdown, a 52-spot jump from the beginning of the 2021 season. At that time, he was directly behind players like Nick Castellanos, Shane Bieber, and Brandon Woodruff. With his start to the season, he has to move up the list, but would it be enough to get to the top? Players at the top of the list include multiple former MVPs and other budding superstars. Shohei Ohtani, the reigning AL MVP, is coming off a season where he did amazing things as a two-way player. Mike Trout is widely considered the best player of this generation and a perennial MVP candidate. Bryce Harper is the reigning NL MVP, and he continues to live up to the hype surrounding him as an amateur. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto are two of the other highly ranked players that have achieved a lot at a young age. So far this season, many of these top players haven't been able to do what Buxton has done on the field. Ohtani is hitting .206/.265/.397 (.662), and he's posted a 4.40 ERA in three starts. Trout was limited to 36 games last season, but he is back to his old ways so far in 2022. Out of qualified players, he leads the AL in OPS and SLG. Harper has posted an OPS of over 1.000 in his two MVP seasons, but this year he has a .766 OPS while still leading the NL in runs. As expected, Soto leads baseball in walks and gets on base nearly 43% of the time. All of these players are great, but none may be able to impact the game quite like Buxton. At this early juncture, Trout is the lone top player producing at his expected level. Other players off to hot starts include Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, and Wander Franco. There is a lot of season left to separate one player from another, but it's clear that Buxton is playing at an otherworldly level. Do you think he is baseball's best player? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. View full article
  2. Fans have seen this game changing ability before from Byron Buxton. Last April, he started hot in the season's first month as he hit .427/.466/.897 (1.363) with eight doubles and eight home runs in 18 games. MLB named Buxton the American League Player of the Month, and he had arguably the best offensive month in team history. It was hard to imagine him playing at a higher level, and then the 2022 season began. Over the weekend, Buxton showed his value across multiple games, including some dramatic moments. On Saturday, he went 4-for-4 and reached base in all five plate appearances as the Twins won a blowout. Sunday's game was a nail-biter, and Buxton left the fans happy as he tied the game with a home run in the 7th before a massive three-run walk-off shot in extra-innings. One weekend series doesn't qualify someone to be baseball's best player, but plenty of other signs point to Buxton's greatness. His six home runs tie him for the MLB lead, and he has over 20 fewer at-bats than the other players at the top. His 1.361 OPS would lead all of baseball by close to 200 points, but he doesn't have enough plate appearances to appear on the leaderboard. Baseball's leaders in slugging percentage are tied at .727, but Buxton's OPS is .946 through Sunday's game. At the season's start, MLB Network counted down baseball's top-100 players right now. Buxton ranked as baseball's 39th best player on that countdown, a 52-spot jump from the beginning of the 2021 season. At that time, he was directly behind players like Nick Castellanos, Shane Bieber, and Brandon Woodruff. With his start to the season, he has to move up the list, but would it be enough to get to the top? Players at the top of the list include multiple former MVPs and other budding superstars. Shohei Ohtani, the reigning AL MVP, is coming off a season where he did amazing things as a two-way player. Mike Trout is widely considered the best player of this generation and a perennial MVP candidate. Bryce Harper is the reigning NL MVP, and he continues to live up to the hype surrounding him as an amateur. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto are two of the other highly ranked players that have achieved a lot at a young age. So far this season, many of these top players haven't been able to do what Buxton has done on the field. Ohtani is hitting .206/.265/.397 (.662), and he's posted a 4.40 ERA in three starts. Trout was limited to 36 games last season, but he is back to his old ways so far in 2022. Out of qualified players, he leads the AL in OPS and SLG. Harper has posted an OPS of over 1.000 in his two MVP seasons, but this year he has a .766 OPS while still leading the NL in runs. As expected, Soto leads baseball in walks and gets on base nearly 43% of the time. All of these players are great, but none may be able to impact the game quite like Buxton. At this early juncture, Trout is the lone top player producing at his expected level. Other players off to hot starts include Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, and Wander Franco. There is a lot of season left to separate one player from another, but it's clear that Buxton is playing at an otherworldly level. Do you think he is baseball's best player? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  3. Now just a week from Opening Day most Major League Baseball clubs have their 40 man rosters set and are working through their final cuts before kicking off the regular season. Although we don’t have Opening Day on its original scheduled time, a full 162-game season following the lockout is as good as it gets. The Atlanta Braves are looking to repeat as World Series Champions, but they will be doing so with some new faces after letting franchise favorite Freddie Freeman walk. The American League will certainly be out to recapture the trophy, and there’s a ton of new talent being thrust into the highest level. You can look back at my 2021 picks here. A dark horse MVP candidate wound up taking the crown, and it was good to see Bryce Harper pick up his second iteration of that award. Here’s what I have for 2022. MVP: American League – Luis Robert (Dark Horse Byron Buxton) National League – Juan Soto (Dark Horse Manny Machado) Maybe Robert is a post-hype type player, but he’s far too much of an afterthought with just two seasons in the big leagues. Robert played just 68 games last year for the White Sox, but the 24-year-old posted a .946 OPS. He has the complete package of speed, power, and athleticism to make an impact all over the diamond. The strikeout rates are still ugly, but he makes enough hard hit contact to generate a strong average. Chicago should again be good, and that puts him in a good spot. Byron Buxton is going to be healthy this year if I have to manifest it into existence. Should that happen, he’ll find himself squarely in the conversation. He began 2021 on a ridiculous pace and was only overshadowed by Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Betting on himself in his new extension, that paying off early would be nice to see. On the National League side it really feels like the MVP is Juan Soto’s to lose. He’s an otherworldly talent that hits for average and power while having a great eye. I don’t think the Nationals are going to be very good this season, but if Nelson Cruz has any positive impact on the youngster allowing him to take his game up a notch, that’s pretty scary. It’d also be somewhat of a nice development to see Manny Machado step up in a big way for the Padres with Fernando Tatis Jr. out to start the season. He’s been close to an MVP award previously, and maybe this winds up being the year. Cy Young: American League – Shohei Ohtani (Dark Horse Luis Severino) National League – Max Scherzer (Dark Horse Logan Webb) If there’s a way to follow up an MVP award after putting up the best individual season baseball has ever seen, Shohei Ohtani could grab a Cy Young as an encore. The greatest thing working against him will always be the amount of starts he makes. That said, another year of learning the league, I think this could be his true breakout on the mound. Another step forward and he’ll be in the conversation with Gerrit Cole as the best pitcher in the American League. Speaking of Cole, his teammate Luis Severino looked to have elite stuff prior to dealing with injuries since 2019. If he’s at all healthy, I wouldn’t be shocked to see that play again. Max Scherzer jumps teams within the division, but now he’s in a place that’s willing to spend big. Paired with Jacob deGrom, the Mets have the best one-two punch in baseball. New York should be a very good team, and those two arms are going to do the heavy lifting. It’s been a few years since Scherzer won a Cy Young, and maybe he tired a bit in the postseason last year, but I think he shows well for his new club. San Francisco Giants star Logan Webb is an intriguing choice here. He’s not far down the list of odds, but may be somewhat of an afterthought. The Giants probably won’t be as good this season, but Webb could take another step forward as he cements himself as a legitimate ace. His FIP was sub 3.00 last season and the strikeout numbers are there. It wouldn’t shock me if he puts up a head-turning performance. Rookie of the Year: American League – Bobby Witt Jr. (Dark Horse Julio Rodriguez) National League – Hunter Greene (Dark Horse Max Meyer) It’s hard to go against the Royals superstar prospect Bobby Witt Jr. He’s going to make the Opening Day roster and looks like someone that should be an impact player from day one. Kansas City won’t be good, but they shouldn’t be terrible either. The highlight reel play on both sides of the ball are impressive, and he should be fun to watch from within the division. Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez may also be in the conversation, but that will largely depend on how much runway he’s given this season. Once considered among the best draft prospects ever, Hunter Greene’s debut should finally come in 2022. The Reds rotation has arms that need to still be moved, but Greene should see plenty of action for a team that’s clearly not trying. His stuff is going to play, and the triple-digit fastball is going to be fun to watch. If the Marlins promote Max Meyer with any amount of longevity destined for this season, he too could be in the running. Postseason: American League – Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, Red Sox, Rays, Twins National League – Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Phillies ALCS – Blue Jays over Rays NLCS – Phillies over Braves World Series – Phillies over Blue Jays Toronto had a stellar offseason adding Kevin Gausman and Matt Chapman. Already having a strong rotation and top talents like Jose Berrios and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., it’s hard not to see them as the juggernaut in a competitive American League East. They picked up depth talents as well, and we’re already trending towards being among the best teams in baseball. I’d be far from surprised if they finish with the best record in the American League. On the other side, I think the Phillies give themselves a nice chance to play spoiler as somewhat of an underdog. The Braves and Mets are seen as the best in the division, but Philadelphia shouldn’t be far behind. Castellanos and Schwarber are two big bats, and the addition of the designated hitter hides the latter from playing the field. Bryce Harper is still the reigning MVP winner, and adding what they did to a formerly bad bullpen should help a lot. We’re so close to regular season action in a season that should bring the return of normalcy. It’s time to settle in for the fun. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  4. Brief Overview: As is to be expected from any National League club, the Nationals are relative strangers to Target Field. This will be their first visit without Bryce Harper, and thankfully for the Twins, Max Scherzer is not scheduled to pitch in this set either. Washington is wrapping up a brief two-city road trip and is just 1-3 after leaving Atlanta with a series loss. What They Do Well: You have to start this section with their resolve and resilience. Expected to be a postseason team when 2019 began, the Washington Nationals raced out to an awful 20-31 start. By the beginning of June it looked like Davey Martinez’s squad was left for dead owning a 24-33 record and trailing in the NL East by nine full games.Since that point they have gone 55-30 being one of the hottest teams in the sport, and are now firmly entrenched in the first wild card spot. It’s not a surprise that a team with Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin in its rotation would pitch well. At fifth in overall fWAR as a staff, it’s the rotation that does the heavy lifting on this club. Washington’s starters own the best fWAR in baseball and have generated a full win more than the second-place Dodgers. Just because they can pitch doesn’t mean they don’t hit as well. Bryce Harper’s departure wasn’t ever going to be inconsequential but the lineup has had plenty of players step up. The lineup has produced a top third fWAR and they’ve scored the seventh most runs in all of baseball. What They Do Not Do Well: Technically we could put fielding in this category as the Nationals own the 19th-rated team in terms of defensive WAR. That’s essentially middle of the pack though, and it’s only two spots shy of the Minnesota Twins. Relief pitching has been atrocious. Washington owns the 25th overall fWAR from a relief perspective, and the poor performances have come from all over the place. Sean Doolittle looked like a lock-down lefty until just shy of the trade deadline, and now he’s got a 4.09 ERA. Tanner Rainey is the only arm with an ERA south of 4.00 to pitch more than 25 innings for the Nationals, and they’ve turned to Oakland Athletics castoff Fernando Rodney as a steadying presence. The bullpen is a hodgepodge of no-names and has-beens, while the group as a whole has hardly lived up to expectations (or performed right on par with them depending on how you look at it.) Individuals of Note: You know all about Strasburg, Scherzer, and Corbin. You probably know that Juan Soto is one of the best young players in the game right now. The outfielder has a .968 OPS through 131 games and he’s making it look incredibly easy. Former divisional foe Yan Gomes is on this club, and previous fan favorite Brian Dozier comes back to town for the first time as well. The most important individual, and one that flies under the radar most often, is none other than Anthony Rendon. Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger have gotten all of the NL MVP hype in 2019, but you best believe the Nationals third baseman is deserving of consideration as well. Rendon is just 29, has a 1.047 OPS and has blasted 32 dingers this season. He hits for average, he hits for power, and he does it all while playing a strong third base. If it’s Gerrit Cole being handed a blank check on the bump this free agency cycle, teams should be lining up to pay Rendon whatever he wants to join their lineup. Recent History: Minnesota last played Washington in 2016 going 0-3 against them. The last time the Nationals were in Minnesota the Twins still played at the Metrodome. In 2008 the Twins swept the Nats over a three-game series in June. Recent Trajectories: Minnesota has gone 6-4 over their last ten games but are coming off a dropped series to begin this six game home swing. The Nats are 5-5 in their last 10 and went 1-4 against the Braves to start this trip. Pitching Matchups: Tuesday: Berrios vs Sanchez Wednesday: Perez vs Strasburg Thursday: Gibson vs Corbin Ending Thoughts: For whatever reason I was convinced that the Twins were scheduled to play the Nationals in 2020. That isn’t the case though, and Stephen Strasburg will be making his Target Field debut this week. Juan Soto was all of 9-years-old when Washington last came to Minnesota. This is going to be a clash of two good, likely playoff-bound, clubs. The Twins need to get healthy, and showing a lineup that resembles that during this series is a must. With the starter tipped in their favor just once, the Twins are in an uphill battle, but this team has risen to the occasion often in 2019. I’ll say the Fightin’ Rocco’s take two and keep the train moving.
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