Behind the Seams with Blake: Unexpected MLB Team Records So Far in 2021

These teams have surprised viewers thus far in the 2021 baseball season, posting win/loss records that aren’t in line with preseason predictions.

What’s going on readers! No really…what’s going on here? Who had the Reds being one of the hottest teams and the Orioles sweeping their opening series against the Red Sox on their 2021 MLB Bingo card? Who thought the Braves would begin the season by losing their first 4 games and the As would start out 1-7? Nobody. In this post, I will chronicle how the Reds, Braves, and Athletics got to their current records and explain whether I think their performance trends will continue in the same fashion for the entirety of the season.

Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have begun the season on fire offensively, averaging 9.5 runs per game, en route to a NL Central leading 5-1 record through their first 6 games of the season. Key players on offense have been top prospect 2B Jonathan India, RF Nick Castellanos (pictured above), and LF Tyler Naquin. Interestingly, Naquin was initially in the lineup just to fill in for regular LF Jesse Winker, but if Naquin continues hitting like he is (.316, 4 HRs in 19 ABs) I’d imagine the Reds will have a tough time deciding who to start in left once they are both fully healthy. The Reds have also gotten solid performances from 4 of their 5 starting pitchers through their first go-around in the rotation, with only their ace Luis Castillo (no, not the Marlins infielder from the Steve Bartman game) struggling so far this year. Now for the real question, is this sustainable? No, a team cannot average 9.5 runs per game through an entire season, as it’s the nature of the game for players to get into hitting slumps throughout the course of the season. The Reds can hope that their best hitters alternate times to go into slumps to avoid completely shutting off on offense for prolonged stretches of the season. Additionally, the team lacks proven starters in their rotation beyond ace Luis Castillo, as the rest of the rotation consists of 34-year-old Wade Miley, back of rotation starter Tyler Mahle, and 2 of the best starting pitching prospects of 2016 who’ve struggled to this point in the big leagues, Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon. It’s been entertaining to see the Reds showing a lot of fight to start the season (pun intended), but I still ultimately see the Cardinals winning the NL Central this season.

Atlanta Braves: Starting out the season 0-4, the Braves picked up their first 2 wins of the season on Wednesday, winning both games of a doubleheader against the Nats. The team has been shaky all around to start the season, as Ronald Acuna is the only player on offense who is not struggling to a certain extent. Top 2020 starting pitcher Max Fried has struggled in his first 2 starts of the season, and the back end of the bullpen hasn’t been a sure thing to this point either. Regardless of their struggles early on, I believe the Braves will turn their season around quickly and find themselves in the hunt for the NL East title once again, as they have so much young talent on their roster to go with several veteran players who have been on playoff-caliber teams already in their careers.

Oakland Athletics: It’s been pretty painful to watch As games thus far, as they have been quite pitiful though their first 8 games of the season, falling to a 1-7 record and landing at the bottom of the AL West division standings to start the season. Their franchise cornerstone Matts with the Bats; Matt Chapman and Olson have scuffled offensively to start the season. Additionally, the starting rotation has been awful, with nobody having an ERA lower than 5. The As have also experienced misfortune on the injury front, with offseason signee and expected closer Trevor Rosenthal having to undergo Thoracic Outlet Surgery, one of the hardest procedures to come back from (for example, Matt Harvey). The As will now have to figure out who is going to close games for them this season while also correcting their issues with starting pitching and hitting. Perhaps replacing shortstop Marcus Semien with the aging Elvis Andrus in the offseason will have a more negative impact than the organization anticipated. I predict it will be more difficult for the Athletics to right the ship than the Braves, as the Oakland squad has many more question marks at the moment. I’d expect to see them third in the AL West standings behind the Astros and Angels when it’s all said and done. 

Written by: Blake Koziel 

Photo Source: Red Reporter

Behind the Seams with Blake: 5 Surprising Hitters of Spring Training with Regular Season Predictions

Let’s check out some of the most interesting top performers of Spring Training 2021!

Hello again readers! We are just days away from opening day of the 2021 MLB season, and I am excited to say the least. As many in the baseball world agree, spring training stats can be taken with a grain of salt in most cases. Regardless, I always love to pick out a few players not many expected to be at the top of the leaderboards and think about how these performances will impact their roles with their team for the coming season. In this post, I will discuss five players who are having great springs, including three under-the-radar sluggers on non-contending teams, one franchise great who hopes to pack a punch as a bench bat, and finally a slugger who hopes to prove doubters wrong and be an everyday player with a change of scenery. Additionally, following in the footsteps of the hosts of MLB Tonight, I’ll be giving my bold predictions of what each player’s stats will be by the end of the 2021 season.

Bobby Dalbec – 1B, Boston Red Sox

We’re starting out with a boom. As of Friday, Dalbec is tied for the MLB lead with 7 spring training homers in 42 at bats. The 2016 4th round pick has been putting up big time power numbers in the Red Sox minor league system since 2018, so it was expected that his power would transfer to big league production. That’s not to say Dalbec doesn’t have room for improvement however, as he showed some worrying strikeout tendencies along with his 8 home runs in 92 trips to the plate during the short 2020 season. He’s struck out 18 times in his 42 spring training at bats, so limiting the strikeouts remains a work in progress, but we can’t ignore the massive power potential that he has shown. The Red Sox will hope that he figures out how to keep the Ks at a minimum during a 2021 season in which they’re not expected to be a contender. If he can do so, Dalbec will surely be key to the Red Sox next World Series run.

Prediction: .260 AVG, 36 HRs, 195 strikeouts

C.J. Cron – 1B, Colorado Rockies

I’ve been excited to see what Cron can do in Coors Field since the moment I saw the signing. The former first round pick is currently hitting .372 with 4 big flies in 43 spring training at bats and looks to have won the starting first base job for the Rockies over former Yankee Greg Bird. Cron has shown plenty of pop over recent years but has had trouble sticking with one team for longer than a season since his Angels days early in his career. He will look to firmly establish his value and do damage in the middle of the order for a rebuilding Rockies team that traded superstar 3B Nolan Arenado away in the offseason. I’m going big with this prediction because I can see each of Trevor Story, C.J. Cron, and Charlie Blackmon having good seasons and making the loss of Arenado a little less painful for Rockies fans.

Prediction: .288 AVG, 41 HRs in 150+ games played

Ty France – 2B/1B/DH, Seattle Mariners

I’m happy to include former Padre and SDSU alum Ty France in this post, as he’s proving why he deserves a starting spot in the lineup for the rebuilding Mariners this season. He has posted a .364 average with 5 homers in 44 at bats this spring, keeping with his strengths of having great contact ability and sneaky power. He was drafted by the Padres in the 34th round out of San Diego State in 2015, so he’s always been a player I’ve rooted for because of that underdog storyline and the fact that we attended the same university. I’m glad that he will get the chance to be in the lineup everyday this season, even though it won’t be for the Padres, with whom he was primarily a bench bat due to the significant depth they have at the positions he plays. Will we see the 2nd coming of the Louisiana Purchase in Seattle this year? I predict the answer will be yes; the Mariners will get a lot from France this year.

Prediction: .315 AVG, 24 HRs in 550 ABs

Ryan Zimmerman – 1B, Washington Nationals

The man they call Mr. National has demolished spring training pitching this season, hitting a sky high .455 with 5 home runs through a smaller scale 22 spring at bats. There was nothing to suggest this production from Zim this year, as he’s entering his age 36 season after sitting out the 2020 season. The career-long National was the first player ever drafted by the team in 2005, and he’s stuck with them ever since. Preseason heroics aside, Zimmerman isn’t expected to play a large role for the team in 2021, as the Nats went out to make a big splash acquisition of first baseman Josh Bell during the offseason. Their desire to acquire Bell is completely understandable given the low expectations for Zim entering the season, along with Bell’s history of being a top 5 first baseman in the game as recently as 2019, and he’s looking great in spring as well. While I don’t believe Zim will continue this magical level of production through the regular season, I think he will deliver some big hits off the bench for a Nationals team that hopes to contend this season.

Prediction: .295 AVG, 12 HRs in 245 ABs

Joc Pederson – OF, Chicago Cubs

Joc signed with the Cubbies in the offseason because he wanted the chance to play every day and hit against lefties; something the Dodgers didn’t let him do very often. So far, Pederson is looking great as a Cub, as he is tied with Bobby Dalbec for the lead in spring training home runs with 7, to go along with a .366 average in 41 at bats. He and the Cubs will hope that he continues to produce above average results in the regular season as well, as the Cubs look to compete with the Cardinals and Brewers for a playoff spot this season.

Prediction: .250 AVG, 32 HRs, 500+ ABs for first time in career

Honorable Mention: Bobby Witt Jr. – SS prospect, Kansas City Royals

One of the biggest surprises of the spring was seeing the impressive tools of Royals top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. Though he’s never played above Rookie ball, the 20-year-old proved that he could hold his own against higher level competition before being sent down to the minor league camp. His crowning highlight was when he launched a 484-foot home run, leaving fans and teammates in awe. It may be a stretch to say that he’ll be called up during the 2021 season, but the future is bright for Witt and the Royals organization.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

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Behind the Seams with Blake: Baseball Players You’ve Never Heard of, Volume 2: Hank Sauer

Shedding some light on 1952 NL MVP, Hank Sauer!

I am back with my second installment of my Baseball Players You’ve Never Heard of series. For this post, I will focus on Hank Sauer, who played primarily left field for the Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, and Giants over his 15-year career from 1941 to 1959. Sauer had quite the journey to becoming a steady performer in the MLB. He spent his mid to late 20s bouncing between the minor and major leagues for the Reds and missed the 1944 season serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II. Upon his return from service, he spent the ‘46 and ‘47 seasons in the minors.

It’s safe to say that Hank Sauer was a late bloomer. Sauer never hit more than 21 homers in a minor or major league season until his age 30 season in 1947, when he hit .336 with 50 homers for the Syracuse Chiefs of the Reds minor league system. This otherworldly production in the minors finally earned Sauer a full-time job in the bigs at age 31 in 1948.

Sauer hit 35 home runs in his first full season with the Reds in ‘48, while also leading the league in strikeouts with 85. (A massive total, I know) Unfortunately for the Reds, Sauer got off to a very slow start in 1949, leading to a trade to the Cubs mid-season. The Windy City was where Sauer really took off as a major leaguer.

The Cubbies were not a great team in any of the seasons Sauer was there from 1949-1955, with the best record being an even 77-77 in 1952, Sauer’s MVP season. It’s because of this that Sauer was viewed as the reason to go see Cubs games, as he hit at least 30 homers in four of his years there, topping out at 41 big flies in 1954. In his MVP winning 1952 season, he led the NL with 37 homers and 121 RBIs. One might be curious as to why he only finished 26th in MVP voting in the 1954 season, as that season’s stats (41 HRs, 103 RBIs, .288 AVG) largely outperformed his 1952 stats (37 HRs, 121 RBIs, .270 AVG). I believe that the emergence of fellow NL 40-homer hitters Willie Mays, Ted Kluszewski (whom Volume 1 of this series chronicles), Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Eddie Mathews caused Sauer’s 41 homer output to not be viewed quite as highly as in 1952, and no doubt the fact that Sauer’s team was out of contention hurt his chances as well. One funny thing I must point out about the 1954 season is that both Cubs OF Hank Sauer and Yankees OF Hank Bauer received MVP votes. What a shame that the MLB never got to see an outfield shared by fellow Hanks Sauer and Bauer.

Hank Sauer ended his career with some lower performing seasons, as he was already up there in age for a ballplayer since he established himself in the MLB so late to begin with. He managed to hit 26 homers as a 40-year-old for the Giants in their final season in New York in 1957, then retired in 1959. He ended up being a longtime MLB coach and scout after concluding his playing career, so Sauer definitely had himself a nice lengthy career in baseball.

On a side note, I am proud to say that the image I provided at the top of this post is of my own signed 1959 Topps baseball card of Sauer. Every card in that year’s set came with the darker-colored signature, however my card also has the blue signature, which Hank himself signed when he was mailed the card by a previous owner. I’m really glad to own this card, and many old personally signed baseball cards like it, as it makes me feel that much more connected to baseball’s past.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

Photo Source: Blake Koziel

Behind the Seams with Blake: Baseball Players You’ve Never Heard of, Volume 1: Ted Kluszewski

“It was either that (I cut the sleeves) or change my swing, and I wasn’t about to change my swing”

Hello readers! I am back once again for another semester of sports blog posts. Since there aren’t a great amount of things happening in the MLB or NFL worlds at the moment, I am excited to bring you the first installment of Baseball Players You’ve Never Heard of. In these posts, I will write about fantastic sluggers from the mid 1900s who would likely only be recognized and known by about 1% of casual baseball fans.

Ted Kluszewski, nicknamed Big Klu, has got to be one of the most interesting players of Cincinnati Reds/Redlegs history, combining power with a great eye at the plate to become one of the most feared hitters of the early to mid-1950s. The left-handed first baseman had a .298 batting average in his career and hit .300 or better in 7 seasons. From 1953-55, he hit at least 40 homers each year, with 1954 in particular being his most impressive. That season, he led the National League with 49 home runs, 141 runs batted in, and a .326 batting average, en route to finishing 2nd in MVP voting behind the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays.

Perhaps the most intriguing stat Big Klu compiled over his career was the fact that he walked (492) more times than he struck out (365). In his aforementioned 1954 season, he hit 49 home runs, while striking out just 35 times and drawing 78 free passes. That’s leading the league in homers while walking more than twice as many times as he struck out. Insane. With the exorbitant levels that modern day hitters are striking out, it would be something of a miracle to see a player put up a walk to strikeout ratio as Kluszewski did. Nowadays, players are seen as statistical outliers if they end up having more walks than strikeouts, but those totals usually differ only by very small amounts. (Barry Bonds had several outrageous walk to strikeout ratio seasons, but he was literally on a different physical level than most players, so I exclude him from this argument). Yes, I know that Kluszewski likely wasn’t facing 100mph gas every day like modern day players do, but I must give credit where it’s due, and Big Klu had an excellent eye at the plate. In fact, according to Baseball Reference, Kluszewski is the only player in MLB history to hit 35 or more home runs in four seasons while having fewer strikeouts than homers.

While Kluszewski put up some awesome numbers over the course of his career, merely looking at the statistics does not do him justice. Big Klu was feared by opponents because of his massive arms, and he actually managed to upset Reds front office personnel when he cut off the sleeves of his uniform upon arriving to the Reds in 1947. In an article for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Big Klu said he needed to cut them off because they were too tight and constricted his biceps and shoulders, interfering with his swing. Kluszewski was also a big-time tight end in college football at the time he signed with the Reds, so one could say that he wanted to keep the intimidation factor in play even though he was no longer on the gridiron.

Keeping with the humorous tone, according to a Sports Illustrated article, Kluszewski in 1959 became the first player to appear in a game with the name on the back of his jersey misspelled, with the z printed backwards, and an x instead of the second k. As a fellow Polish person with a very Polish last name that is often mispronounced/misspelled, I can empathize with the awkward feeling that comes with that type of situation.

Big Klu was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1962, but I can’t help but wonder why he didn’t get more consideration for enshrinement in the larger-scale MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. His peak years from 1953-56 were about as good as it gets, as he hit over .300 with 35+ homers and 100+ RBIs in each season. Along with his offensive production, it should be pointed out that he was a standout performer defensively at first base as well, leading NL first basemen in fielding percentage for 5 straight seasons in 1951-1955. Despite these accomplishments, he failed to gain enough traction to reach the 75% induction threshold, as 14.5% was the highest percentage of votes he received in any of his 15 years on the voting ballot. 

While most people would be quick to say current Red Joey Votto is the best first baseman of Reds history, I believe Ted Kluszewski still warrants consideration to be in that discussion.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

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