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CSN Insiders make their World Series picks


CSN Insiders make their World Series picks

The 111th World Series features a historic matchup: Did you know this is the first time two expansion franchises have met in the Fall Classic? That’s right, each of the previous 110 series included at least one of baseball’s original 16 franchises. Pretty remarkable, huh?

Not that the Mets and Royals don’t have plenty of their own history, of course. New York owns two titles (1969, 1986) and two other World Series appearances (1973, 2000). Kansas City owns only one title (1985) to go with two other appearances (1980, 2014). Either way, the winner of this series is going to end a championship drought of at least 29 years.

How do the two teams stack up? And who do we think will prevail? Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman offers five points in favor of the Mets, while Orioles Insider Rich Dubroff gives five reasons to pick the Royals. Enjoy…


1. The best rotation in baseball
With all due respect to the Nationals and everyone who gushed over their rotation heading into Opening Day — yes, including yours truly — the Mets actually have baseball’s best group of starters. How good? You can make a legitimate case for any one of three young right-handers to start Game 1 of the World Series, with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard a collective 6-1 with a 2.36 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings pitched so far this postseason. Harvey gets the ball for the opener, but those three young aces are positioned to start six of a possible seven games in the series. And it’s not like Game 4 starter Steven Matz is any slouch. These guys are the real deal, and the fact they can consistently provide six or seven innings per start (unlike the Royals’ erratic rotation) means Terry Collins doesn’t have to worry about going to his bullpen too early.

2. An explosive lineup
Has one team’s lineup ever been so completely transformed in-season like this one? On July 31, the Mets ranked last in the majors in runs scored. Yes, last. From that point on, they ranked second (behind only the crazy-explosive Blue Jays). The addition of Yoenis Cespedes obviously made a huge difference, but it’s not all on him. David Wright returned from a long DL stint. Michael Conforto was called up from Class AA and became an immediate contributor. Travis d’Arnaud continued to develop. Curtis Granderson was an experienced force at the top of the lineup. And then Daniel Murphy … well, he turned into Babe Ruth. Put that all together, and you’ve got a lineup that can out-slug anybody right now.

3. A veteran-laden bench
Just as important as the Cespedes acquisition were the additions of Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson to the Mets roster. They’ve since been bumped from the lineup, but they’re both experienced and dangerous bats for Collins to summon when he needs something off the bench. (Johnson serves as DH in Game 1, hardly a disadvantage for the AL club.) New York also has Michael Cuddyer, a true professional hitter. Late in a tight ballgame, you can just about guarantee the Mets will send a productive batters to the plate with a good chance to deliver.

4. Jeurys Familia is near-perfect and can go multiple innings
The Royals’ bullpen gets all the love, but how about the job the Mets’ closer has done this month? Familia’s total pitching line through the NLDS and NLCS: 9.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K. Opponents are batting a pathetic .065 against him. Right-handed batters are 0-for-12. With an upper-90s fastball and a forkball that dives down in the zone, Familia is able to induce nothing but groundballs and weak contact. And he has already shown the ability to record more than three outs, doing that three times in eight total appearances so far. No, the Mets’ setup men don’t compare to the Royals’ setup men. But the dominant rotation and dominant Familia afford Collins the luxury of not needing very much bridge work.

5. The magic factor
Let’s be honest here: The Mets have had something special going on for three months now. Nobody — and I mean NOBODY — thought they’d make the postseason, let alone, the World Series in late July. They looked like a trainwreck, especially after their proposed Carlos Gomez trade fell through. Since then, just about every possible thing that could go their way has gone their way. And that has continued through the playoffs. Call it intangibles, call it confidence, call it destiny. Whatever you want to call it, the Mets have it.

Why Mark likes New York to win the World Series
There’s only one thing that leaves me leery about picking the Mets: The long layoff they just sat through. They had five full days off between the NLCS and World Series, and if you don’t think that can be a problem, you haven’t been paying in recent years. The last four teams that swept their LCS (and thus subsequently had a long layoff) went on to lose the World Series, three of them in five games or fewer. That’s troubling, because all that momentum and magic the Mets built up could have disappeared in the last week. That said, the Royals just had three days off themselves, so it’s not like they haven’t had a chance to cool off in the interim. And ultimately, I just can’t get past New York’s trio of aces and deep lineup and bench. This isn’t a perfect team, but they’ve played just about perfectly for months now. I was a skeptic throughout, but no more. Mets win in 6.


1. The Royals’ hitters are much more experienced than the Cubs
Chicago featured a lineup of powerful, young players who had difficulty adjusting to the Mets. While Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are terrific, they’re still inexperienced. The Royals have an experienced lineup with players that have lots of postseason experience. Six of their nine regulars (Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez) came within an eyelash of winning the World Series a year ago. Two of the three regular additions (Kendrys Morales and Ben Zobrist) have plenty of postseason experience, and the third (Alex Rios) played in more regular-season games without reaching the postseason than anyone.

2. These guys can score in a hurry
Twice in this year’s playoffs, the Royals have scored five runs in an inning to turn a loss into a win. Kansas City was six outs from elimination in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the ALDS against Houston. The Royals began the inning with five straight singles and turned a 6-2 deficit into a 7-6 lead. In the Game 2 of the ALCS, Kansas City scored five in the eighth on six hits — five singles and a double — and after falling behind 3-0, they led 5-3. The Orioles saw this quick work, too. On Aug. 24, they led the Royals 3-1 after 5 1/2 innings. Kansas City scored seven runs on eight hits, dizzying the Orioles. No team in baseball has this combination of speed (their 104 stolen bases were second in the majors) and terrific fundamentals. Cain’s dash home from first base with none out on a single was the play of the postseason.

3. Kansas City’s starters may not be as good as New York’s, but they’re still plenty good
Anyone would rather have Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard’s future than the Royals’ four, but Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Chris Young are good enough to keep Kansas City in any game. Sure, Cueto has struggled since coming over to the American League, and has been fragile in opposing parks in the postseason, but current Mets batters are hitting just .205 against him, and the ultra-hot Daniel Murphy is 3-for-17 with no homers off Cueto.

4. Daniel Murphy can’t stay this hot, and the Mets may get cold
No one can hit home runs in seven straight postseason games. Until Murphy came along not a single Met in the team’s 54 seasons had hit a home run in six straight games. The Mets will have been off five days since eliminating the Cubs, and that can’t help. Only once in the Division Series era, which began back in 1995 has a team which won the LCS in four straight games won the Series. That was in the first year of the Division Series when the Atlanta Braves beat the Cleveland Indians.

5. The Royals bullpen is superb
Greg Holland went down in September, and Wade Davis took over as closer. What were Davis’ numbers this season? He was 8-1 with an 0.94 ERA. Davis averages an astonishing 4.4 hits per nine innings. Ryan Madson, who was saved from the scrap heap this season, took Davis’ place as a setup man. He was 1-2 with a 2.13 ERA and struck out more than four times as many as he walked. Kelvin Herrera is an effective bridge, and among these three, none are prone to giving up home runs. Danny Duffy, the Royals’ fifth starter, can be a long man, if necessary.

Why Rich likes Kansas City to win the World Series
The Royals and Mets have played just nine games against each other, but will play each other at Kauffman Stadium to begin the 2016 season. That’s never happened before. Every year, National League partisans claim that the American League team will be at a disadvantage in the World Series because they lose the designated hitter. Let’s put that argument to bed. In the 20 World Series since the Division Series began, the AL and NL have each won 10. In 2013, John Farrell found a way to use David Ortiz in St. Louis, and this year, Ned Yost can find a way to use Morales at Citi Field, too. Kansas City’s lineup is far better than New York’s, and its pitching, which had some issues with Toronto, will shut down the Mets’ hitters. A deep lineup, good starting pitching and outstanding bullpen give this one to the Royals in five.

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Bryce Harper to the Dodgers? Looking at the chances Harper ends up in Los Angeles

Bryce Harper to the Dodgers? Looking at the chances Harper ends up in Los Angeles

Winter has been coming for quite a while for the Washington Nationals. Specifically, Winter 2018. And much like last season of HBO’s beloved Game of Thrones, winter has finally arrived.

Bryce Harper has potentially played his final game in a Nationals uniform, and all fans can do over the course of the next few months is play the waiting game. Instead of sitting around twiddling our thumbs, however, we’re going to take a look at some of the major players who will be active in Harper’s free agency this winter.

We’ll do our best to gauge how genuine each team’s interest in the superstar is (spoiler alert: they are all very interested) and try to guess how good their chances are of landing him. 

Bovada updated their odds on Harper’s ultimate landing spot after the regular season ended, and they’ve got the Nationals as the fifth-most likely team for him to (re)join. Number one on that list was the Chicago Cubs.

Number two? The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Narrative

Some fans were surprised to see the Cubs top Bovada’s odds, and I expect even more will think the Dodgers at number two is curious. We don’t have years of subtle hints, personal connections, and conspiracy theories to link Harper with Los Angeles, like we did with Chicago. Still, there are a few dots here worth connecting. 

The most obvious (or, at least, the most recent) came this past August. After the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in July, Major League Baseball teams have the month of August to trade players who pass through waivers. These are referred to as revocable waivers, because even if a player is claimed, the team that owns his rights is allowed to pull him back. 

When a player is claimed in August, the claiming team has 48 hours to try to strike a deal with the original team. It’s essentially a formality for every player to be placed on waivers in August, knowing teams can revoke them at any point. Still, fans online were all over Twitter when it was reported that the mystery team to have placed a claim on Bryce Harper was none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers.

No deal ended up being reached between the Dodgers and the Nats, and it’s entirely possible the Dodgers only made the claim to keep Harper from going to another National League contender. Still, it’s hard to view the near-move as anything other than a sign of interest from the team with the deepest pockets in baseball.

That last line is important, as it plays into the narrative for Harper-to-LA as well. The Dodgers are the Yankees of the West Coast (and, in reality, probably have more money to spend than the Evil Empire). Ever since an ownership group including Magic Johnson acquired the Dodgers in 2012 for a staggering $2.15 billion, the Dodgers have flexed their financial might over the rest of the baseball world. 

Let’s also not forget one of Harper’s biggest “flaws,” his rooting interests in Duke, the Cowboys, and yes, the Los Angeles Lakers. Playing in L.A. for a team owned by the greatest player in Lakers history has to appeal to him on some level, even if it won’t end up being the most important factor.

There are plenty of connections to make with Harper and the Nationals, Cubs, and Yankees, but more often than not, free agents tend to follow the money. If the Dodgers are inclined to pay whatever it costs to sign Harper, then it’s hard to imagine another team topping them. That’s narrative enough for them to be considered strongly in the mix.

The Roster

Of course, there’s still the question of if the Dodgers actually would be inclined to pay whatever it costs. Just because a franchise can afford to sign someone doesn’t always mean it makes the most sense, from either a financial standpoint or roster construction.

The Dodgers, as mentioned earlier, have more money than God. According to Spotrac, their Opening Day payrolls in the last few seasons are outrageous.

2018 - $199.5 million (3rd in baseball)
2017 - $259.1 million (1st)
2016 - $268.7 million (1st)
2015 - $301.7 million (1st)
2014 - $246.3 million (1st)
2013 - $239.8 million (1st)

Those numbers are just plain silly. In 2015, the Dodgers spent more than twice as much on payroll than all but five teams. Outside of a flukey “low” spending season this past year, they haven’t just lead the league for five straight seasons, but have run away with it year in and year out. Spending more than $300 million in a season is wild.

So, obviously, the Dodgers can throw money at any problem (or player). They’re probably itching to get back on top of the heap after not even cracking $200 million in 2018. But does it make sense from a team-building perspective?

None of the team’s pending free agents on Spotrac are outfielders, so there’s no obvious hole to fill. One of the strengths of the Dodgers is their positional versatility, which adds to their depth but makes it harder to evaluate their offseason outlook. Cody Bellinger started 50 games in the outfield in 2018, and appeared in 81, but while his versatility is a nice bonus, he’s ultimately an athletic first baseman, and he certainly wouldn’t get in the way of Harper playing for that reason.

That said, if the Dodgers retain Brian Dozier at second, then Max Muncy would need to play first, which pushes Bellinger to the outfield. Plus, Chris Taylor can play second, shortstop, third, and the outfield.  You can see where the headache comes in.

Still, for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume Bellinger is off the table for outfield playing time, but bear in mind that Taylor could find his way out there on occasion.

Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernandez, and Matt Kemp are the remaining outfielders. Puig, Pederson and Hernandez are in their arbitration years, and almost certainly will be kept around at reasonable deals. It’s hard to evaluate the three of them relative to each other. Each hit 20-25 home runs, and each hit between .248 and .267. Pederson has struggled to live up to his immense talents, and the same could be said for Puig. Hernandez is yet another Dodger who plays all over the diamond.

Then you have Kemp, who would have been easy to rule out entering 2018 but then proceeded to have one of the best comeback seasons in baseball. He hit .290 and made his first All-Star game since 2012, and he’s owed a ton of money next season.

None of that includes Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers’ best prospect and one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. He probably already should have been an everyday Major League outfielder in 2018, and there’s no way Los Angeles can continue to keep him in the minors next year. He needs to play every day, and certainly will get that chance.

Ultimately, the Dodgers have a ton of bodies to play the outfield already. That said, Puig and Kemp will no longer be under contract after next season, and outside of Verdugo there are no clear-cut future standouts in the Dodgers outfield. The fit for Harper, position-wise, is fairly weak compared to the other contenders. 

At the end of the day, however, none of their current guys are necessarily better than Harper, and if the Dodgers are willing to deal with a crowded outfield for one season, things shore up nicely in 2020 and beyond. A future outfield with Verdugo and Harper would be pretty appealing to any team, especially considering how relatively cheap Verdugo will be until he hits free agency.

The Odds

Call it a gut feeling, but at the end of the day, I just don’t see Harper in Dodger blue. There are plenty of factors in which they are one of the top three choices for him, but they aren’t a clear leader in any. The Cubs have more personal connections, the Phillies are more of a positional fit, and the Nats are the “hometown” team. The one area in which they stand out, however, is possibly (probably) (okay almost definitely) the most important: money.

It will be telling to find out what their best offer ends up being, but for now, I think the +500 odds are actually pretty spot on. I’d take issue with the Cubs being so much further ahead of them as the betting favorites, but they should probably be ahead of the Dodgers at least. I just wouldn’t have them so far out ahead of the pack. 

The Dodgers have a lot going for them. Harper has always wanted to play in a big name city for a big name franchise, and he has always wanted to be the highest-paid player in the game. Plus, getting to play for Magic Johnson doesn’t hurt. The Dodgers can offer all those things. The only question remaining is if they want to?


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Breaking down Bryce Harper's early years of stardom with the Nationals


Breaking down Bryce Harper's early years of stardom with the Nationals

We’ve written plenty of times about the potential end of Bryce Harper’s Nationals career. We’ve examined what were maybe his final days at Nationals Park, started discussing where he might end up, and taken a look at the journey that brought us to this point.

Over the course of a few posts, we’re going to take a deeper look at some of the highlights of the last half-decade in Nats history through the lens of Harper. We’ll be breaking this up into a three-act series, but who knows? If he ends up re-signing in D.C., we may end up looking back on 2012-18 altogether as just the first act of a storied career in the nation’s capital.

Whether or not he comes back to Washington, it’s clear that we’re entering a new era in both D.C. baseball and Harper’s career, so it’s a natural point to take a step at and review where we’ve come from so far.

Act I (2012-2014)

Really, the story of Bryce Harper dates back to 2010, the year in which he was drafted (or possibly back to 2009, the year of his notorious Sports Illustrated cover story). 2010 was a year of endless excitement and optimism for the future of Nationals baseball, with the franchise enjoying the second of their back-to-back top overall draft picks.

In just about the most fortunate setup in draft history, Washington’s first two No. 1 picks came in 2009 and 2010, which happens to be the two draft classes headlined by the most hyped prospects entering the league in recent memory. 2009 brought the future ace in Stephen Strasburg, and 2010 brought the future face of the sport in Harper.

The Debut

After continuing his rise to fame through the minors, Harper finally made his big-league debut in April of 2012 at the tender age of 19. The recent success of Juan Soto may lead some fans to believe it’s normal for uber prospects to reach the majors this quickly, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most prospects are still in college or the lower levels of a team’s farm system at the age of 19, but Harper wasn’t most prospects.

Based purely on the crazy hype surrounding Harper, it’d be tough to exclude his Major League debut -- the Nats played the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 28, 2012 -- among the early highlights of his career. He showed off a lot of the skills we’d see over the next six years. There was his rocket arm, his flair for the dramatic, his pure strength and his steely demeanor in the face of overwhelming pressure.

What made his debut game even more special was that Strasburg was starting for the Nats. The team lost to the Dodgers in extra innings, but in one glorious evening, fans could see the future taking place right before their eyes.

The All-Star

The next major milestone for Harper was making the All-Star Game, which he did somewhat controversially in that magical 2012 season. Harper became the third teenage All-Star ever, and the first one to do so as a position player.

He entered the game as a reserve, and in two at-bats, walked and struck out. He had very little impact on the game itself but was still one of the biggest stories at an event made for baseball’s biggest stars.

The Playoffs

There were other highlights during his rookie season, of course, as the team experienced its first success since returning to Washington. The Nats won 98 games that year to take the NL East, and Harper was helping lead the charge. The NLDS that year pitted the Nats against the 88-win St. Louis Cardinals, and the back-and-forth series went the full five games.

Harper notably struggled during his first exposure to October baseball, hitting just 3-for-23. He struck out eight times, which the most between both teams. The highlight, however, was a Game 5 home run off Adam Wainwright. Harper had already tripled in the Nats’ three-run first inning, and he led off the third with a solo blast to extend the lead to 4-0. At the time, it felt like the team’s youngest superstar cemented a franchise-altering win.

This is the part where Nats fans yell at me for reminding them of what came next.

Drew Storen fell apart in the ninth inning, the Cardinals completed the comeback victory, and the Nats were eliminated from the playoffs. Harper did get an at-bat in the 9th inning and struck out swinging. Say what you want, but he wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

The Recognition

Harper deservedly won the National League Rookie of the Year that season, and looking back, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t that close to unanimous (his stiffest competition came from Wade Miley and Todd Frazier). His 5.2 WAR and 57 extra-base hits both represented modern era records for a teenage hitter, and Harper even found himself getting down-ballot MVP votes (he finished 30th).

It was a historic season, and Harper has the accolades to show for it. The future was bright.

The Follow Up

Bryce Harper’s 2013 season didn’t go as well as 2012 for a litany of reasons. The team surrounding him was worse, failing to follow up 2012 with another postseason run. He struggled with injuries, including missing time after crashing into an outfield wall that May. It was a signature aggressive Harper play, going all-out in an attempt to help the team, but ended up being costly. He only ended up playing in 118 games and hitting 20 home runs. He was still an All-Star, but that was partially aided by his fame and stature.

That said, he kicked off the 2013 in incredible fashion, and that Opening Day stands out as his clearest highlight from the entire season. Harper didn’t just become the fourth-youngest player to ever homer on Opening Day (trailing names like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Robin Yount), but he ended up hitting home runs in his first two plate appearances. He was the first player to do so in franchise history and did it at the prodigious age of 20.

His powerful start to the year sent fans into a frenzy, and he gave them a curtain call four innings into the new season. The success wouldn’t last throughout the summer, but it was a wild start and is one of the lasting highlights from the early years of Harper’s career.

The Postseason Return

The 2014 regular season would be a forgettable one for Harper. Thanks to a thumb injury he suffered running the bases, Harper set a career-low in games played with exactly 100. The time missed contributed to a third straight season with fewer home runs than the last, but his rate stats suffered as well. He had the lowest slugging percentage and OPS of his career, and it remains the only season in which he wasn’t named to the National League All-Star team.

For his regular season struggles, however, Harper experienced much more success in his second postseason. The Nats bounced back from a down 2013 team, beating up on a weak division and winning 96 games to lead the National League. They ended up facing another inferior NLDS opponent in the San Francisco Giants, and the end result was the same as in 2012.

The Giants may have won the series thanks to a dominant performance by their pitching staff (the Nats batted .164 as a team), but Harper held his own this time around. In what still stands out to this day as his strongest postseason performance, Harper had a slash line of .294/.368/.882, buoyed by his three home runs in four games. The 1.251 OPS represents by far a career-high, and his three home runs were 75 percent of the team’s total in the series.

He went 0-for-7 in the 18-inning Game 2 marathon, but essentially was the entire Washington offense in Games 1, 3 and 4. He even launched a ball into the third deck at Nats Park in Game 1. It was a titanic blast that won’t soon be forgotten.

The clear highlight, however, came in Game 4. The Nats fell behind 2-0 early, but Harper got them on the board with a fifth-inning double. Trailing 2-1, he came to bat in the seventh and blasted his third home run of the series to tie the game. The Nats were eight outs from elimination, and Harper had saved them.

Of course, once again, the bullpen would go on to lose the game for the Nats and end their season. Harper again had a chance in a do-or-die 9th inning, and this time, the Giants learned their lesson and walked him. His team lost, but the legend of Bryce Harper was cemented.