What’s up, guys!
Today, I’d like to announce a new weekly article series that I’m pretty pumped about. Welcome to “MLB Burning Questions,” where new Noahsports writer Ben Auten (you can go follow him on Twitter @bauten7) and I offer our opinions on some of the hottest topics across baseball.
If you have something you’d like us to break down in an upcoming article, be sure to let me know in the comments below. Let’s hop right into it!
Bigger story right now – Michael Conforto or Aaron Judge?
Ben – Aaron Judge. It’s hard to be 6’7″ and 282 lbs and come out of nowhere, but that’s just what he has done. Judge finished out last season in AAA, and if it weren’t for some injuries and an impressive Spring, he probably would’ve been headed back there. However, Judge has gotten his chance and has taken it. He has 15 HRs this year, which is tied for the league lead with Mike Trout, last season’s AL MVP. Also, Judge is winning games for the Yankees. They are 27-17 and 2.5 games clear atop the AL East. Conforto has been a pleasant surprise, but he was the 10th overall pick in the 2014 Draft, so Mets fans knew he’d contribute. Yankees fans couldn’t have forseen Aaron Judge having the start to the season he’s had.
Noah – I think Judge is easily the bigger story – I’m not one to argue with the Judge’s Chambers – but I will say that I believe Conforto is slightly more valuable to his team at the moment. (Disclaimer – this is not a knock on Judge at all) Without Michael Conforto, where are the Mets right now? One shudders to think…
I also respectfully disagree with Ben’s notion that the Mets knew Conforto would contribute. Obviously, they were aware he would contribute eventually, but on this level? He really didn’t do much in 2016 to suggest he would be a key component in the Mets offense this season, posting an underwhelming slash line of .220/12/42 in 109 games. If it weren’t for a Juan Lagares injury, the 24-year-old would have started the season in Triple-A Las Vegas. His performance doesn’t possess the shock value or bring the fanfare of Judge’s, but both have been equally impressive in my book.
Of these 3 unlikely division leaders – the Twins, the Rockies and the Brewers – which has the best shot at making the playoffs?
Noah – We’ll get rid of the Brewers first, but when it’s all said and done, I believe 2017 will be seen as a big step forward for the Crew. David Stearns has done some incredible work at Milwaukee, and is just a few pieces away from a contender.
Frankly (pun intended), he might have one right now. But I’m not going to bet against the Cubs. You know they’ll go out and get guys to patch up the questionable-at-times rotation. After that, what’s holding them back? Sooner or later, they’ll click, and leave the rest of the Central in the dust. And the Cardinals are just to experienced for me to take the Brewers over them as well.
The Twins’ pitching – namely Ervin Santana (see below), Jose Berrios and closer Brandon Kintzler – has been amazing, but if it’s down to them and the Rockies, I’m taking Rockies. Here’s why.
We all know these guys can hit. And not only at Coors Field – the Rockies lineup, from top to bottom, would be elite at ANY home ballpark. An MLB-best 17-8 road record backs that up. The question for Colorado has always been – stop me if you’ve heard this before – the pitching. And this year, they have pitching. And an impressive collection of it at that, considering the Rockies plethora of hard-throwing young starters and the best closer in baseball in Greg Holland. (If you think I’m blowing smoke, remember that this guy has 6 more saves than everyone else… with half of his appearances at Coors).
These guys really look legit. And by “legit” I mean “better than the Dodgers.” This is their year.
Ben – I’m going to say the Rockies, more out of process of elimination than anything else. Milwaukee has an unbelievable offense with some real surprises like first baseman Eric Thames. However, the Brewers are in an extremely tough NL Central Division, and I don’t see them continuing to play like this. As for Minnesota, they are also in a tough division and are just too inexperienced. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are great young pieces, but for the future.
The Rockies, however, have been a pleasant surprise in the NL West, which usually only has the Dodgers and Giants as contenders. This year, though, you have to add Colorado to that mix. Charlie Blackmon is having another great season as their leadoff hitter, Nolan Arenado is finally beginning to look like an All-star third baseman, and Mark Reynolds is this year’s candidate to enjoy a career resurgence hitting at Coors Field. But more than anything else, it’s the Rockies pitching that impresses me the most. Kyle Freeland is a solid starter, and closer Greg Holland is a perfect 19 for 19 in save opportunities with just a 0.96 ERA. If the Rockies can get one more reliable starting pitcher before the trade deadline, they should be in playoff contention.
Is Ervin Santana the best pitcher in baseball right now?
Ben – Ervin Santana has been quite the surprise in Minnesota these first two months, but I wouldn’t even say he’s the best pitcher in his league. The Astros’ Dallas Keuchel has had an unbelievable start to the year. He’s 7-0 with a 1.84 ERA and has 54 strikeouts to just 14 walks thus far. Coming into last season, many expected Keuchel to compete for the AL Cy Young award, and he was underwhelming to say the least, but this year he seems to have found it again.
The numbers don’t lie; Keuchel has held a lot of high-powered offenses in check. He gave up 1 run, it was unearned, in 6 innings against the Yankees while striking out 9.c He also threw a complete game against Cleveland, giving up just 2 runs in that start. Keuchel won’t light up the radar gun, but he’s a crafty lefty who really knows how to pitch, not just throw. And his beard is just as good as his stuff.
Noah – No, because Kershaw.
I’m missing the point, though. The fact that we’re even comparing Santana to him is MORE than enough for Twins fans. The 11-year veteran has been special this season. He repeatedly befuddles lineups from top to bottom by working off his dazzling fastball to get easy outs. Watching this guy work his stuff is downright mesmerizing.
If the season ended today, Santana is easily my pick for the Cy Young. Keuchel has been very good, but can he compete with a 1.34 opponent batting average that is best in baseball by 30 percentage points? Or two shutouts, compared to six for the rest of the sport combined? Or the fact that Santana, an accomplished veteran, is having by far the best season of his life at 34 years old? I don’t think so.
It’s early, though. I can’t say for certain that he will continue at this astounding pace – the BABIP should even out at some point – but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does.
That’s all, folks! Hope you enjoyed it. Remember to subscribe, follow us on Twitter @noahsportsnet and check back often for more MLB content!