Mike’d Up: The race for Kumar is on

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Oakland Athletics' Mike Minor is removed by manager Bob Melvin during the fourth inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the Houston Astros in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. Photo courtesy of Jed Jacobsohn / AP Photo.

Over the past decade, we have seen tremendous tank-jobs in professional sports. Teams in the MLB, NBA and NFL have all been bad – and no matter how much they deny it, we all know it has been on purpose. 

The Chicago Cubs were terrible from 2010 to 2014, finishing in 5th place in the NL Central in each of those seasons. Two seasons later, they won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. The Houston Astros lost 106 games or more for three straight seasons from 2011 to 2014, before winning 100 or more in each of 2017, 2018 and 2019. They also won a now-controversial World Series in 2017. 

We can’t have this conversation without mentioning “The Process” in Philadelphia. From 2013 and 2016, the 76ers won a combined 47 games, which comes to a total winning percentage of .193. They were easily the worst team of the three we’ve talked about. What have they gotten out of it? Not a championship, not even a conference final berth, but a Rookie of the Year from Ben Simmons in 2018. 

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Krazy But It’s True.

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That being said, there has never been a better time to lose in Major League Baseball than right now. Especially after the top tanking teams of last year got hosed with a five-round draft in 2020. The MLB season is almost one-third of its normal length – so theoretically that means one-third the pain, right?  

The top of the 2021 MLB draft is particularly interesting for the league’s worst teams. There are two stud right-handed pitchers out of Vanderbilt at the top of draft rankings: Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. Of the two, Rocker is the clear No. 1. He’s MLB.com’s No. 1 prospect for this upcoming draft and looks to be a special, special player.  

The 6-foot-5 right hander pitched potentially the greatest game in NCAA history in 2019 with a 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in the Super Regional his freshman year. It was the first individual no-hitter by a Vanderbilt pitcher since 1972 and the only one ever pitched in a Super Regional. 

Throughout his entire college career, Rocker owns a 3.06 ERA with 142 strikeouts and 29 walks through 114.2 innings. That ratio’s out to an 11.1 strikeouts per nine and a 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio – which is better than Trevor Bauer, Lucas Giolito and Max Scherzer this season.  

In the shortened college baseball season this year, he threw six scoreless against Jim Penders’ UConn baseball team in his first start. He struck out nine batters and walked three.  

He will have another full season to prove that his freshman and sophomore seasons were no fluke. Well, hopefully at least. 

There are realistically five teams in the competition for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 MLB draft.  

As it sits, the 15-29 Boston Red Sox have a half-game lead on the field, but there are four teams within one game of them, according to Tankathon.  

Boston Red Sox players celebrate after winning the second baseball game in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Matt Slocum / AP Photo.

The Red Sox have more pitchers that I hadn’t heard of coming into this season than those that I had. Despite a relatively strong offense, the 617’s designated favorite team has a league-worst 6.17 team-ERA – ironic, isn’t it? That’s the worst in baseball by almost a half-run on the 29th-place Colorado Rockies. They have also committed the second-most errors in baseball, tying the San Francisco Giants with 32 errors through 44 games. 

Considering all of that, the Red Sox also have the third-strongest schedule going forward, according to Tankathon. I have a good feeling they will remain at the bottom of the barrel over the next couple of weeks.  

Then there is the Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals all within a half-game.  

The 15-28 Diamondbacks aren’t great, but they’re underperforming, and I don’t think they will be as bad as they have been recently. In their last 19 games, they have won a grand total of two games. 

They have one of the better defenses in baseball but are 23rd in baseball in both scoring and team-ERA. They should start to rise back up the standings over the next two-and-a-half weeks.  

The 15-28 Royals are a bad baseball team, but the statistics show they’re a bit better than they’ve played this season. They are closer to the Diamondbacks than they are the Red Sox, with the 24th-best scoring offense, 17th-best in team-ERA and the 23rd-fewest errors. They are the lower-middle class in terms of talent but are above the talent poverty line.  

CORRECTS TO GROUND BALL, INSTEAD OF BASE HIT – Los Angeles Dodgers’ A.J. Pollock scores on a ground ball by Chris Taylor as Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Daulton Varsho makes the late tag during the 10th inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Matt York / AP Photo.

The 14-27 Rangers are also on a massive downslide, winning just four of their last 22 games, but they just don’t have the talent to flip the switch right now. They have the worst offense in baseball, scoring less than the St. Louis Cardinals – who have played just 35 games this season. 

All three of them have fairly easy schedules ahead, with the Rangers at 23rd, Diamondbacks at 24th and Royals at 25th hardest schedules from here on out. 

Rounding out the bottom five we have the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have almost caught up on games after a pair of stoppages early on in the season. At this point, they have the fewest number of wins in baseball, with a 14-26 record 

They have the worst defense by far and one of the worst offenses, but their pitching is decent enough to keep them winning games. They’re actually 7-7 in their last 14 games, so who knows how long they’ll be in this conversation.  

At this point in the season, there’s about 16 to 18 games left for teams, and whoever wins the race to the bottom is going to get a massive prize. It’s officially time to begin the quest for Kumar. 

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