The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Looking Ahead to 2018: Predictions, Prognostications, and Prophecies

The 2017 baseball season offered up its usual dose of excitement with new heroes, major milestones reached, surprising teams, new home runs records, winning streaks, and the like.  However, the Hot Stove season has been relatively quiet so far with regard to major free-agent signings, as teams seem to be willing to wait out the players and their agents in the hopes of getting more team-friendly contracts.  In any case, it’s always fun to project what’s going to happen for the upcoming season.  So here’s my early forecast for some the key happenings in 2018.

Edgar Martinez Finally Gets the Call from the Hall

Edgar Martinez will finally get enough votes to be elected to the 2018 Class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  In his 9th year of eligibility, he will make a big jump from last year (58.6 %) and squeak in, along with ballot newcomers Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero.  Martinez has been left out up until now because voters haven’t valued players who were primarily a designated hitter during their careers.  Sabermetricians have recently been making the case that his offensive career accomplished over his 18 seasons compares favorably with other current Hall candidates.  Martinez finally get the boost he needs and paves the way for other designated hitters (such as David Ortiz and Jim Thome) to also get serious consideration induction into the Hall of Fame.


Aaron Judge Comes Down with a Case of Sophomore Jinx in 2018

Aaron Judge was the American League Rookie of the Year last year, setting a rookie record of 52 homers.  He helped the Yankees get within one game of the World Series.  Naturally, there are great expectations for him again in 2018, especially now that he will be teamed up with newly acquired Giancarlo Stanton.  However, Judge will experience the “sophomore jinx” phenomena when his power numbers drop significantly next season.  While he has been praised for making the necessary batting adjustments in the past when he had slumping periods, pitchers will continue to find ways to expose his weaknesses that resulted in league-leading 208 strikeouts last year.  Oh, he will probably still hit 30-35 home runs, but he won’t be the same level of threat he was last season.


David Price Makes Big Comeback for BoSox

After leading the Red Sox in 2016 in starts and innings pitched in his first year with the club, David Price struggled to pitch at all during 2017.  Because of elbow problems, the former Cy Young Award winner didn’t make his first start until May 29, and then he also missed the month of August and the first two weeks of September, accounting for only 11 starts during the season.  The $217 million investment in Price the Red Sox made in late 2015 was being second-guessed.  Look for Price to rebound in 2018.  He’s a real throw-back competitor and will relish the opportunity to complement teammate Chris Sale in leading Boston’s pitching staff to fend off the Yankees for the division title.


New Manager Dave Martinez Leads Nationals to World Series

Dave Martinez got his first major-league managerial job with the Washington Nationals during the off-season, replacing veteran manager Dusty Baker whose team won 97 games and finishing in first-place in the NL East Division in 2017.  The move sparked questions about what else Dusty Baker could have done to keep his job, since he also had a first-place finish in 2016.  Well, Baker could have gotten them a National League pennant, and that’s what Martinez has been charged to do by Washington’s ownership.  Martinez is a disciple of former Rays and current Cubs manager Joe Maddon, having served as a bench coach for him on both teams.  He’ll bring new thinking and new energy to the Nats.  The team is already solid, led offensively by superstar outfielder Bryce Harper and featuring one of the best starting rotations in the game with Max Scherzer, Steven Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and Joe Ross.  The Nationals will easily win their division again and then defeat the Dodgers and Cubs for their first-ever pennant for the franchise that had its beginnings as the Montreal Expos in 1969.


The “Brew Crew” Has Sobering 2018 Season

After a promising season last year with a near-wild card showing, the Milwaukee Brewers will regress in 2018.  They had been touted as an up-and-coming team the past few season, and their second-place finish last year in the NL Central Division, six games behind the Chicago Cubs, seemed to be evidence their bright future was coming to fruition.  The Brewers even held first-place from May 27 to July 25, while the Cubs were struggling.  But they played above their talent level, and their finish was partially assisted by uncharacteristically weak St. Louis and Pittsburgh teams.  Their record against division opponents was 40-36.  The Brewers don’t figure to be terrible next year, but their hopes of being a perennial contender will go on the shelf again.


“Fish” Fans Experience New Lows

Miami fans thought former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria treated the city wrongly during his tenure, immediately dismantling a World Series-winning team and failing to invest in top-flight players.  The team hasn’t had a winning team since 2009.  Loria left the team with a whopping, multi-year contract with Giancarlo Stanton, including $295 million still owed, before he sold to a new ownership group that includes Derek Jeter as the head of baseball operations.  Now “Fish” fans are being primed to experience a whole new low, as Jeter’s business strategy is taking a page out of the Cubs’ and Astros’ old organizational handbooks, which involves tearing down the existing team, shedding the most expensive players, and re-building from scratch with cheaper players and young prospects.  Jeter has initiated a fire sale that is unloading the better young talent the Marlins had assimilated, already trading Stanton, Dee Gordon, and Marcel Ozuna, and most likely unloading Christian Yelich and J. T. Realmuto before the season starts.  Consequently, the Marlins will lose over 100 games with the decimated team in 2018.  Unfortunately, their losing ways will continue for another 3-4 years before they are competitive again.  The Miami market is already among the worst in baseball, but it could actually get worse in the short-term.  Don’t be surprised if the franchise ultimately leaves Miami (see prediction below about MLB expansion).


The Pitch Clock Starts Ticking

MLB will announce prior to spring training in 2018 that it is implementing a 20-second pitch clock this season to address concerns around the length of games and pace of play.  There are many reasons being offered as to why the game has evolved to its current situation of longer and slower games, but recent studies are showing the time between pitches (with pitchers and batters both contributing to the problem) is the main culprit.  While it may initially be unpopular with the players, most observers believe they will eventually adjust to abiding to the new time limit that will be enforced by the umpires.  The pitch clock has already been implemented in the minors.


Bullpenning Goes Mainstream

In 2014 the Kansas City Royals first popularized the concept of automatically calling on several of its hard-throwing relief pitchers after the fifth or sixth inning of games to finish games, versus relying on its starters to routinely go deep into games.  Since then, the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees were among other prominent clubs to adopt the strategy, and it became highlighted in last year’s World Series between Houston and Los Angeles.  Consequently, middle relief pitchers were in high demand for additional teams during the off-season, even commanding record-breaking salaries for a role that had historically been among the lowest paid.  Look for more clubs to embrace the analytics-driven approach in 2018 and beyond.


MLB Announces Expansion Plan

Major League Baseball wants to expand the appeal for its product internationally, possibly even overseas.  But first it will take a step forward in the North American continent, by announcing plans to expand the number of teams for the 2021 season.  Montreal Canada and Monterrey Mexico will be new entrants, although a transfer of an existing franchise to one or both of these may be in the cards.  Oakland and Miami are currently struggling franchises in their respective markets.  Montreal will get a second chance by building with a new stadium.  (They previously had a franchise from 1969 to 2004.)  Monterrey with 4-plus million in population is the most Americanized city in Mexico.  The opening of U. S. diplomatic relations with Cuba have some people hopeful that Havana will land a franchise, but that will take a while longer to materialize (perhaps justifying a move from Miami in the interim).  Detractors of expansion (i. e., the baseball purists) will argue that the league is already over-saturated and the overall quality of play will suffer by adding more teams and players; but in the end the almighty dollar will prevail.

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