Luke Weaver is quietly dominating

Weaver

Weaver has been one of the best starters down the stretch (SD Union-Tribune)

Nobody is talking about Luke Weaver, and it is about time we should. The St. Louis Cardinals are starting to fade into obscurity after being swept by the Cubs at Wrigley over the weekend. Over the past few weeks however, we have gotten a glimpse into the rotation of the future.

Luke Weaver was the 27th pick in the draft for the Cardinals in 2014. Since then, he has been dominating the minor leagues with a career 25-11 record and 1.99 ERA. He was called up in July and has started seven games while appearing in 10. He now sports a 1.89 ERA on the season and is 6-1 with a 1.8 WAR already despite starting 20 less games than the leader, who has a 3.5 WAR.
For any fantasy baseball players out there, this is a great guy to get on your team at the most crucial time in the season. Players have picked up on that as he is now owned in over 70 percent of ESPN leagues. He has been paying off for them as well as he has been racking up the wins with an average of 8.4 K/9 over these last five wins he has earned.

The one thing that is worth mentioning about Weaver is the quality of teams he has pitched against. Four of five teams he has faced on this win streak have a sub .500 record. The Brewers are the only team that are in the playoff hunt out of the group, but he did strike out 10 in that appearance. The best team that Weaver has faced is the Diamondbacks who teed off him for four runs in five innings.

What he has to offer

Weaver features a 94-96 mph fastball that stays consistent throughout the game. He has an excellent changeup to back it up that has plenty of sink to throw off opposing hitters. Where Weaver excels is his control though. If you are to watch a game where he is pitching you will not see much of a mix up between him and Molina.

Where Weaver can stand to improve is with his breaking ball. He seems to have figured out a better way to control it since reaching the majors, but this is where he struggled in the minors. Look for him to work on that breaking ball because if the 24 year old can reign it in, he will be a force to be reckoned with

What Weaver means for St. Louis

Weaver

Alex Reyes will emerge as a star in the coming years (MLB.com)

With his performance as of late, the Cardinals should be very happy with what their young core looks like in the rotation. Alex Reyes is St. Louis’ best prospect, but he has been sidelined this season due to Tommy John surgery. He is still ranked as the 14th best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com despite the injury. Reyes just turned 23 so the Cardinals should be very hopeful about his future.
Jack Flaherty is another prospect the Cardinals are excited for. He is still adjusting to the big leagues as he currently has an ERA over 6.00, but he is still only 21 years old. Flaherty still has time to get used to the big leagues at such a young age. He has a solid fastball-changeup combo that should play well. The stuff is there, he just needs time to mature.
These three guys are all names that are starting to set in at the big league level. They should give GM Mike Girsch some excitement though knowing they will be joining Michael Wacha and potentially Lance Lynn if they choose to re-sign him.
Weaver fits right into the Cardinals future and potentially dominant rotation. He and Reyes seem to be the ideal candidates for Wainwright to pass the torch to once he retires.

Will he be able to sustain his success?

There is not much to suggest Weaver won’t be able to become a successful major league pitcher. He has had an easy schedule, but it is tough to take much away from a young pitcher who is having his first extended look at the majors. His impeccable control is what suggests he will be able to continue his dominance through the season.

He should become a fixture in the rotation next season, especially if Lance Lynn does not return. It will be interesting to see how the rotation will turn out with Weaver and Reyes potentially leading the way in the young rotation.

 

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National League DH

Why the National League needs a designated hitter

As a classic baseball fan, it is hard to say this, but it is time for the National League to adopt a designated hitter position. This has been a topic of conversation ever since the American League established a DH in 1973. However, many have been resistant to the new position because baseball needs to remain pure.

Pitchers are getting hurt

National League DH

Nelson hurt his shoulder sliding back into first base (Photo from MLB)

Jimmy Nelson is the latest pitcher to go down with a non-pitching injury. This is a huge blow for the Milwaukee Brewers as they just swept the Cubs at Wrigley in a pivotal NL Central showdown. The Brewers were out of the division race after getting swept by the Reds, but they did what they had to do to get two games behind Chicago.

Other big name pitchers have also been getting hurt on the base paths unnecessarily. Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett are all big name pitchers who have been hurt on the base paths. After their injuries, Wainwright and Scherzer both expressed an open mind to a DH in the NL.

The Nelson injury is a tough pill to swallow for Craig Counsell and company. Nelson was in the midst of a career year and was the ace of an otherwise mediocre rotation. He is on the Brewers to shut down opposing offenses, not leg out doubles.

It is easy to say this is a gross overreaction to an injury that just went down over the weekend, and it may be. The first base coach wouldn’t have tried to send him if he knew what was going to happen, but hindsight is 20/20 of course. However, is it really necessary to put pitchers at risk when they are not in the league to hit?

Pitchers can’t hit

National League DH

Pitchers will only continue to get worse as time goes on (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Having pitchers batting can be very exciting at times. One of the best moments in recent memory was when Bartolo Colon mashed his first career home run at the ripe age of 43.

Another show stopper is Madison Bumgarner, who seems to be able to hit the ball as far as most players in the league. However, pitchers like Bumgarner don’t grow on trees.

According to fangraphs.com, the 2014 slash line for pitchers as hitters was .122/.153/.153. Is that entertaining to watch? Can anyone really argue why that is worth keeping in the lineup? That is not just bad, it is atrocious.

The only real purpose that pitchers serve at the plate is bunting runners over. That is when small ball comes into play, and it can be really helpful when moving runners over for the top of the lineup.

The one thing that is always hard to watch is when a team mounts a rally. Imagine a scenario where a team is down 2-0 in the fifth with runners on second and third and one out. The eighth place hitter comes up to the plate with the pitcher on deck. What would any sensible manager do? They would walk to get to the pitcher of course. That way the fans of the offense just hope that the pitcher strikes out so it doesn’t run the risk of grounding into a double play.

The point of the scenario though is that pitchers can be a real rally killer, which is always hard to see. Remember the slash line for pitchers in 2014? Well, the slash line of the worst hitter in the NL that year, Melvin Upton, was a much more respectable .208/.287/.333 comparatively. Who would you rather have in that nine hole when an important opportunity for runs comes up in the middle of the game?

The DH leads to more excitement

National League DH

If it wasn’t for the DH, Big Papi may not mean the same thing as it does now
(Photo by John Macki of the Boston Globe)

As someone who has followed the National League for the most part, it is always strange to watch interleague play. Once the NL team gets closer to the end of the lineup, it is easy to write off the the ninth spot as an automatic out. What is refreshing to see is that they never reach that gap in the lineup that pitchers usually provide.

What is also nice to see is players that are not as mobile as they used to be can still provide a pop in the lineup in AL formats. That is why older hitters may look to move to the American League. If you average out all the major stats from qualified designated hitters this season, you will get a slash line of .253/.323/.443 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs.

The DH gives older hitters the chance to focus on what they are good at rather than a hitter that will get one hit every ten at-bats.

There will be resistance

Baseball players as well as fans are very much stubborn when it comes to their beloved game. Baseball is most famous for its unwritten rules and history behind it. That is why many people will be extremely reluctant to the idea of a DH in the National League.

Many baseball purists say that big changes to the game like this are more likely to push away current fans rather than bring in new ones. That is a hard argument to keep up though since viewership didn’t go down after the AL introduced the DH, and replay review has improved correct calls significantly.

It will be a hard adjustment to make, but a designated hitter will lead to a better product on the field.

 

Featured image from Yahoo Sports

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Game five

Pitch Please! Why the MLB pitch clock is inevitable

Baseball has been going through some big changes in recent years. The most notable one in recent memory was the replay review. The game needs to move into the future, so the change was important. Every other major sport has video review, so it was good to see the MLB catch up.

There have been some growing pains that have come with the replay however. The extra time in the game that comes from it is one of them. Game time is one of the biggest issues facing the game today other than substance abuse, which the league has done a good job of fazing out. Major league games are taking longer than ever, and there are a variety of reasons why that is. The best way to combat this problem at the moment, is instituting a pitch clock.

Why are games taking longer?

MLB Pitch Clock

MLB game time has steadily increased over time (SB Nation)

MLB games are longer than ever. Since 1950, the average game time has gone up 48 minutes from 2 hours and 21 minutes to 3 hours and 9 minutes. There are a variety of reasons for this as I mentioned earlier. There aren’t more innings in a game and teams aren’t scoring more runs. What has changed though is the number of pitching changes by each team.

In 1960, the average number of pitchers used in a game by each individual team was 2.45 according to baseball-reference.com. That number has shot up to 4.15 pitchers per team per game in 2016. Teams are using more pitchers in order to get the righty-lefty matchup favorable, and also because pitchers are wearing out their arms more easily. Having a specific pitcher for the 8th and 9th inning is also relatively new, so this is contributing to extra time.

The extra commercial breaks also come with the territory. With how commercialized sports are these days it is not hard for advertisers to make their mark in the game.

The biggest hindrance in the game though is the constant fidgeting by players. This contributes to more dead time in baseball than ever. In an article by nydailynews.com, Rob Manfred and Joe Torre talked about the dead time in baseball and how the MLB will approach it. They believe that it is not the game time that needs to be addressed but rather the fidgeting that goes on between the batter and pitcher almost every at bat. Batters didn’t always re-adjust their gloves or step out of the batters box after every pitch.

Why MLB Needs to Address the Problem

According to Nielsen’s Year in sports media report, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older. The MLB needs to address this issue in order to have a promising future. Baseball will never have the same celebrity status in the mainstream as football or basketball, but the MLB can still compete for top dog between these leagues.

What scares me about the typical age of baseball viewers is what it will look like 30 years from now. The MLB needs to address this issue before it catches up to them. Many kids love playing baseball and following the sport and the big name players. The problem is having people being able to sit down and watch a game on television. We are in a time where people do not have the same attention span as they used to, so it is hard to have someone sit down and watch a three-hour baseball game, especially with all the dead time there is in between plays.

According to a study done by The Wall Street Journal, there are only 18 minutes of actual game play during a game. This stat probably won’t change with a pitch clock. It would not be bad if the game was 30 minutes shorter like it used to be though.

The length of baseball games does not personally bother me. I don’t mind sitting down and enjoying baseball and listening to fantastic stories the broadcasters have to tell. If the length is not addressed, baseball may lose popularity. If that happens, we might have fewer talents go out for the game and the quality of play might ultimately suffer. This wouldn’t be in the near future perhaps, but it is a possibility down the road in my eyes. Rob Manfred and Joe Torre seem to have a similar view of the situation as well.

What the league has done already

MLB Pitch Clock

The pitch clock is already being used in A ball (Grantland)

The MLB has already made some changes in order to address the issue. One is that batters have to keep one foot in the box in between pitches, another is the 30-second clock in between hitters.

Baseball also started using a 20-second pitch clock in the minor leagues already. There has not been a whole lot of news on how that has been going thus far, but it will factor into Manfred’s decision to implement it on the big league level.

Some players have said that they haven’t noticed the changes on the big league level too much. Alex Avila of the Tigers stated that he does not even think about the pace of play during the game, so the changes have not made a big impact of the quality of the game yet. However, that does not mean baseball has to proceed with caution when implementing pace of play rules.

Current popularity of the pitch clock

According to a study done by ESPN the Magazine in 2015, 60 percent of surveyed fans were not in favor of the pitch clock. As expected, the players aren’t especially fans either. 

MLB Pitch Clock

Adam Wainwright thinks a pitch clock could damage the quality of play (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Adam Wainwright spoke to The Guardian in 2015 of what he thinks of the idea.

“You have to be of sound mind, you have to step off and slow things down occasionally. Sometimes you have to move quickly, but as a pitcher you have to have the ability to slow the game down at those big moments – that’s just so key in the postseason. If you’re a young pitcher and you’re worrying about the pitch clock, you’re not worried about getting the hitter out.”

Many baseball purists weren’t fans of the replay system being introduced either. There was a lot of talk of the game being tainted because the human element was taken out of the game.

Thus far, replay has been a success though. It is true that it slows down the game a bit but at least they are getting the call right. Fans also didn’t stop watching because of the replay system, now it is accepted as part of the game.

What makes the pitch clock different though is that it can change what happens in the game drastically. As Wainwright stated, speed matters when delivering.

Many fans are afraid that the game will be fundamentally hurt if a clock is instituted. That is exactly what Manfred and Torre are trying to avoid.

Baseball players may have some trouble adjusting to a pitch clock. However, the game is ultimately a business and needs to do what is best for its future. There are going to be plenty of people that are opposed to such a change in baseball as well, but eventually it will become as much as a part of the game as anything else.

 

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St Louis Cardinals

How the St. Louis Cardinals will win the NL Central

In one of my previous articles, I mentioned that the weeks leading up to the trade deadline will determine the Cardinals’ future. Thus far, they have seemed to turn things around a bit. They have won eight of their last 12 games which includes a couple of tough matchups against the Diamondbacks and Nationals. Because of those two series, they may just have shown what it takes to win an underwhelming division.

In 2006, the Cardinals won the Central with only 83 wins. It looks like someone may win just by nudging over a .500 record this year as well. The year they only won 83 games the Cardinals made a run to win the World Series despite going into the postseason slow. It can be done, so it is important not to discount any of the teams in this division. Here are some ways the Cardinals will make it to the postseason once again.

Move Dexter Fowler to right field

The Cardinals signed Fowler to a hefty five-year, $82.5 million contract this past offseason. While he had a rough go of things in the first month of the season, he began to pick it up before landing on the DL in late June. He has also had one of his best power hitting years so far with 13 homers, while his career-best is 17 in a season. Fowler has performed better than the Cardinals would have hoped so far. Now that he is off the DL, St. Louis should consider moving him to right field.

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Pham has been one of the best hitters on the Cardinals this year (MLB.com)

Why move a guy out of center field that has been playing there for a decade and is having a great year? Well, frankly he has never been that great of a center fielder. Bernie Miklasz of 101.1 ESPN in St. Louis noted that Fowler has always had his fair share of struggles commanding the outfield.

While he has not committed any errors so far his year, he is sitting at -9 defensive runs saved. This means that his fielding has cost the Cardinals nine runs so far. It does not look any better in the past either. In his career he has actually cost his team 64 runs.

It is apparent that he is not doing many favors for the Cardinals in center field, so who could replace the $82 million man? The answer is actually already manning center for the Cardinals in Tommy Pham. It is difficult to keep his bat out of the lineup as it is, so being in the National League, the Cardinals have to find a place for him in the field. He currently has a slash line of .289/.377/.492 which is one of the best on the Cardinals.

Pham also has shown that he can be more productive in center field. He has started 18 games at the position and has a total of six defensive runs saved. Knowing Fowler’s defensive performance in the field over the past decade, it is hard to argue why Fowler should keep his spot in center.

Some people may argue that because of his contract. he should be able to play where he is comfortable. In order for the Cardinals to maximize their chances of winning though, they will need to move Fowler over to right field and keep Pham in center.

Stephen Piscotty has also been having a rough go of things as of late. His hitting numbers are down, and someone is going to have to make room for Fowler. Randal Grichuk has been much better since returning from the minors, however he has still been very streaky. He should be given the chance to display his skills.

The one downside to this move is putting Piscotty aside. However, he will need to show signs of turning around in order to stay in the lineup during this critical time for the Cardinals’ season.

Don’t make any big moves at the trade deadline

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Matheny and Mozeliak have some tough decisions to make to get the Cardinals to the postseason (101 Sports)

The Cardinals are coming pretty close to being a healthy ball club. Kolten Wong will be returning to the field after the All-Star break along with veteran reliever Zach Duke.

St. Louis has a lot of good pieces still on the team from last year, a club that won 86 games. Eighty-six games may be just enough to win the division this year as well. What is important for them to remember, which they have done in the past, is to trust the players in the system and not jeopardize the future.

One glaring hole the team has is in the closing role. Both Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal have the potential to be reliable closers. However, Rosenthal has been wild recently and Oh fails to remain reliable.

If the Cardinals do anything, it should be to find a decent reliever that they can get on the cheap. It does not have to be any eye-popping names, but it needs to be someone who is consistent. If all else fails, the Cardinals could potentially give Brett Cecil a couple of opportunities to prove himself in the closing role as he has picked it up from his slow start this season.

Some small changes made by the Cardinals can fix problems they have been facing. John Mozeliak evaluated the talent in his system well.

However, many of their issues come from the lack of ability to execute simple plays on the field. The Cardinals are among the worst in fielding in the league, and make silly outs on the basepaths that can end up costing them games. The answers to some of these problems are within the organization and decent coaching should be able to remedy some of these issues.

remove Adam wainwright from the rotation

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Wainwright has had one of the most difficult years of his career (MLB.com)

It is one of the hardest things to watch in baseball, but it happens often. Adam Wainwright used to be one of the premier starting pitchers in the major leagues. Despite finishing in the top three of the Cy Young voting four times, the prestigious award eluded him.

Wainwright has severely regressed over the last two years. Last season, he finished with a 4.62 ERA which was the highest of his career. This year he has not shown many signs of improvement.

Wainwright currently has a 5.48 ERA this year and he is not showing signs of getting better. He had an excellent month of May in which he looked like his old self with a 3-0 record and 2.64 ERA.

Since then, he has given up 30 runs in 34 innings. His nine wins can be credited to his large run support this season, getting 6.1 runs a game which ranks 10th in all of baseball.

It isn’t easy to watch some of the league’s best players regress, especially when it is such an important leader and personality in the clubhouse. However, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals have to keep in mind what is best for the team. It is obvious that Wainwright is not getting the job done at the level he needs to.

Matheny is a player’s manager though and has a rough time making these kinds of decisions when he needs to. What would be best is to potentially move Wainwright to the bullpen and then move young prospect Luke Weaver to the rotation.

It may be a different story if one of the league’s best prospects, Alex Reyes, was not hurt. Because he is most likely out for the season, the Cardinals are faced with the dilemma of having to replace their most notable pitcher of the past decade with one of their new arms.

Final thoughts

The theme of the NL Central this year has been underperforming. Many of the clubs in the division have players that are better than they have been playing. Even the Reds have one of the more daunting offenses in the league, yet they are in last place in the division.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs have come out and said that the answer to their problems are in house. This may be true with all the teams in the division. The Brewers are starting to roll and may be a tough team to catch. They stuck with their guns though and it has been paying off.

The NL Central has the potential to be a much more powerful division with its given pieces. It has just yet to show up this late in the season.

St. Louis has begun to show signs of life this summer. Their rotation is still proving to be one of their strengths, led by All-Star Carlos Martinez. Michael Wacha has also started to get back on track which means a lot for the team.

If Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak can find the right formula of where each of their pieces fits into the lineup, they can compete and make it a fun race for October.

 

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Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

In this heat check, we will identify and analyze some of the hottest players in baseball. This segment is intended to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these players will continue at their torrid pace, or if it’s time to sell high.

The Houston Astros’ big three

Fantasy Baseball

Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer are propelling the Houston Astros into elite company. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

As many expected, the Houston Astros lineup has emerged into one the league’s most elite offenses. They are currently ranked third in runs scored per game with 5.45. Their three-headed monster of Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa are arguably the hottest hitters in the game. The trio is batting a combined .452 with eight home runs, 26 runs and 24 RBI in their last seven games.

Altuve is sporting a career high in both BABIP (.363) and ISO (.197), although to say regression is in store would be incorrect, as his career BABIP is a mere .28 points off of his current and his ISO nearly matches his 2016 mark of .194. Barring injury, you can pencil Altuve’s name into the MVP conversation for a fourth consecutive season.

Springer, even as their leadoff hitter, is leading the Astros in home runs, although his power surge may begin to slow down. His ISO is about .40 points higher than his career mark and his HR/FB rate is at an unsustainable 30 percent. Springer is a career .260 hitter with a current batting average of .272, although with a career BABIP of .318 and a current BABIP of .304, we can say that there is still room for progression. The only knock on Springer, who many considered to be a 30/30 candidate heading into the season, has yet to steal a base.

Former first-overall pick, Carlos Correa, had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2016. Many expected the 2015 Rookie of the Year to blossom into a top-10 MVP candidate, although he had less home runs and stolen bases in 153 games in 2016 then he did in 99 games the year before. So far in 2017, Correa is proving that he is a true MVP candidate, as he is batting a career high .310 while leading the Astros in RBIs and walks. The 22-year-old shortstop looks as though he will put together his first 30 home run campaign, which makes him an elite power threat at one of the shallower positions in fantasy baseball, as only three shortstop eligible players hit 30 or more home runs in 2016; Manny Machado (37), Jedd Gyorko (30) and Brad Miller (30).

The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff

Fantasy Baseball

Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn along with the rest of the Cardinals rotation are keeping St. Louis afloat in the NL Central. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

The Cardinals always find a way compete. In 2016, their bats carried them, as they finished fourth in runs scored, although in 2017 it has been quite the opposite. Their pitching staff is now ranked fourth in ERA, whereas their offense ranks outside of the top 20 in runs scored. The Cardinals had many question marks heading into the season; including Michael Wacha’s place in the rotation and Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn’s health.

There was speculation that Wacha would begin the year in the bullpen after struggling in 2016. After the team lost Alex Reyes to season ending Tommy John surgery, Wacha’s opportunity to return to the rotation arose. Since then, he has proven himself by pitching six quality starts in his last nine appearances. His ERA sits a tad below four, although his xFIP and SIERA are both below the marks they were at in 2015, where he finished 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. All signs point up for the 25-year-old.

Lynn missed the entire 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, causing many to speculate if he could return to his All-Star form. So far in 2017, he has proven all doubters wrong, as he has a sub-three ERA to go along with a respectable 8.34 K/9 and 1.07 WHIP. Unfortunately for Lynn owners, he looks to be in line for serious regression as he has a BABIP of .204, xFIP of 4.33 and SIERA of 4.22. Now may be a prime sell high period for the 30-year-old.

One of the most underappreciated pitchers of the decade, Adam Wainwright, has a 140-79 record, winning at least 19 games in four different seasons. After rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2015, Wainwright returned for an abysmal 2016 campaign which resulted in a career worst 4.62 ERA. The questions continued to swirl heading into 2017, as many wondered if we had seen the last of the Cy Young candidate Wainwright.

He is no longer the ace caliber pitcher he once was, although he has returned to a serviceable form. He has a 3.79 ERA to go with his 6-3 record. Also, he is arguably the hottest pitcher in baseball over the last month, as he has a 0.47 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in his last four starts. His age is worrisome, although he has never experienced any serious upper body injuries and has less mileage on his arm than most 35-year-olds.

There were nearly no question marks heading into the season when it came to the Cardinals unquestioned ace, Carlos Martinez. The 2015 All-Star has a career ERA of 3.29 and K/9 of 8.7. He is currently sporting a 3.08 ERA and 9.86 K/9. His above average xFIP of 3.45 and SIERA of 3.63 suggest that his success is very sustainable.

The most interesting name on this staff is Mike Leake, who struggled severely in his inaugural season with the Cardinals. He currently has a 2.64 ERA, which is bound to regress due to his .234 BABIP and 83 percent LOB percentage, which are both unsustainable. His 2016 xFIP (3.76) and SIERA (3.92) are very similar to his current xFIP (3.62) and SIERA (3.81), suggesting that his struggles a year ago may have been a fluke. In my mind, now is the perfect time to sell high on the 29-year-old, although, even with regression, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ranked inside the top-50 starting pitchers at years’ end.

The Miami Marlins’ power hitters

Fantasy Baseball

Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton continue to make the Miami Marlins relevant. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

The Marlins rank just inside the top-20 in runs scored and home runs, although three men specifically are to thank for keeping their offense relevant; Justin Bour, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton.

Bour is arguably the hottest hitter in baseball. He has a .377 batting average and six home runs in his last 15 games. The 29-year-old is currently sporting a career high BABIP and ISO, so regression should be expected, although I would ride this hot streak out as long as possible, as first base is the deepest positon in fantasy baseball, in turn lowering Bour’s value tremendously.

Ozuna exploded onto the scene in 2016, batting .307 with 17 home runs in the first half of the season. After falling off of a cliff, not literally, his batting averaged regressed to .266 and he finished with only 23 bombs. In 2017, he is batting an astounding .322 with 14 home runs and 40 RBI. His BABIP of .361 and HR/FB rate of 28 percent suggest that regression is absolutely in his future. If you expect another fall from grace, like myself, then now would be the time move the Marlin slugger.

Stanton is having similar success to his two teammates, although his seems much more sustainable. He is batting a career high .291 with a BABIP of .326, which is very similar to his career mark of .323, suggesting that his batting average is sustainable. Also, his current HR/FB ratio of 26 percent is less than one percentage point off of his career rate, showing that his home run production is sustainable as well. Stanton seems like the one to own of the three, although because of his name, he will have the highest price.

Featured image by Laurie Robbins/Pintrest

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Intriguing Opening Day Games

April 2, 2017, is the date all baseball fans are looking forward to. Opening Day is less than two weeks away and fans and players are gearing up for the start of the season.

It may be hard to forget all of the Spring Training “news” and prepare for the regular season, but don’t worry. Here you will find every game you need to watch to start off the 2017 MLB season on the right foot. So dust off that ball cap and bust out those peanuts because the regular season is about to begin.

Opening Day

Zack Greinke will look to lead the Diamondbacks to the post season in 2017 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

The battle for the NL West begins on Sunday, April 2 at 4:10 p.m. (EST). Many aren’t expecting much from the Diamondbacks this season after a disastrous 69-93 record last season.

They will return in 2017 looking to right the ship. The return of a healthy A.J. Pollock and a deep lineup could be something special in Arizona. Zack Greinke should return to form, and the already good pitching staff added Taijuan Walker. The Diamondbacks are slithering into the 2017 season under the radar.

Arizona is probably off the radar due to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants finished second in the division with a 87-75 record before they were ousted by the team of destiny: the Chicago Cubs.

Don’t think the Giants spent much time licking their wounds. They enter the 2017 season with one of the deepest pitching staffs in all of baseball, crowned by Madison Bumgarner. Pair that with a solid offense and the Giants are poised for another playoff run in 2017.

The starters haven’t been announced yet, Greinke and Bumgarner are projected to start. This marquee match up of aces will be energized by the atmosphere of Opening Day. Look for this matchup to be a defining factor in the NL West playoff race late into the season.

Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers

Opening Day

Edwin Encarnacion will bring his power south of the border this season (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports).

The Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers are both projected to be among the elite AL teams in 2017. They both had solid playoff runs, but it’s their offseason moves that help make this a must-watch game.

The Indians wasted no time improving their roster after dropping the World Series to the Chicago Cubs 4-3. The addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to an already potent lineup makes Cleveland an offensive juggernaut. Cleveland’s deep pitching staff also makes them a force to be reckoned with. No team is perfect, and the Texas Rangers will have the first crack at trying to expose the weaknesses in the Indian’s roster.

The Texas Rangers finished the season with a 95-67 record and earned the AL West crown. The Rangers needed to improve their club after being swept by the Blue Jays in the postseason.

Pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross were brought aboard to stabilize the rotation, and fan-favorite Mike Napoli returns to man first base. They are not as flashy as Encarnacion, but they surely boost Texas’ talent level. The Rangers are set to return to the postseason in 2017, and earning an Opening Day victory sure would help.

Cleveland’s Danny Salazar and Texas’ Yu Darvish are projected to square off on on Monday, April 3 at 7 p.m. (EST). A matchup between two of the top teams in the AL is sure to be informative. How will Encarnacion do in the Indian’s stacked line up? Will Mike Napoli be able to recreate his 2016 season? Those questions won’t be answered Opening Day, but we will be given a glimpse of the answers.

Opening Day

Adam Wainwright has been a mainstay atop the Cardinals’ rotation (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports).

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in an odd position after completing their Cinderella season and winning the World Series. Instead of being the hunters, they are now the hunted.

The St. Louis Cardinals will have the first chance to knock off the defending champions on Sunday, April 2 at 8:30 p.m. (EST). The Cardinals finished with 86 wins in 2016, but it wasn’t good enough to earn them a playoff spot. They will look to make the postseason in 2017 with the majority of their roster returning. A deep pitching staff and above average offense will define this team.

The Cubs enter 2017 with sky-high expectations. They boast one of the best cores of young talent in the majors with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez forming the nucleus of the team. Include veterans like pitcher Jon Lester, outfielder Ben Zobrist and a number of other solid players, and you have the monstrosity that is the Chicago Cubs. They will need every ounce of their talent to repeat their 2016 success due to their tough division.

Lester and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright are expected to start the game. Both are grizzled veterans and fierce competitors and will give even more of an edge to this rivalry game. Look for both of these teams to battle for the top spot in the division throughout the season.

 

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National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

The National League Central is one of the most top-heavy divisions in the majors. With the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, perennial playoff contenders St. Louis Cardinals, and the ever competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, this division is one of the toughest in the National League. The top team in the National League Central is a no-brainer, but 2-5 are another story all together.

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

Joey Votto headlines a rebuilding Cincinnati club . (Credit: Al Behrman/ AP Photo).

The Cincinnati Reds seem to be on the tail end of a long rebuild with three straight losing seasons. Reds stalwart Brandon Phillips was traded in the offseason. Accordingly, infielder Jose Peraza will be the Opening Day starter at second base. He will join Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton to form a solid young core for the Reds.

Veterans Joey Votto and Adam Duvall will support the offense while the younger players come along. Those two won’t be enough to carry a weak offense and a developing pitching staff.

The Reds will use 2017 as a tryout year and will be putting out lineups that will not be competitive. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but the sun should come up soon in Cincinnati.

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

Its been half a decade since the Brewers tasted postseason baseball. Three of the team’s top 12 players by WAR in 2016 are gone, and their roles will need to be filled. Gone are solid relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress, as well as catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers will rely on a mix of veterans and prospects to lead them.

Up the middle, shortstop Orlando Arcia will pair with second baseman Jonathan Villar to form a young infield tandem that should provide a spark at the top of the order. They will rely on Ryan Braun and former KBO star Eric Thames to drive them in.

Veterans Junior Guerra and Matt Garza bookend a young rotation. Zach Davies, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson all need to improve. The offense should be around league average, but the pitching staff will need to make solid improvements to make 2017 anything more than a rebuilding year.

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

Andrew McCutchen should return to form in 2017 (Credit: Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

The Pirates are coming off a dramatic offseason in which they almost traded away their franchise player Andrew McCutchen. He will enter the 2017 season in a new frame of mind and at a new position. He will move from center to right field, accompanying a reshuffle of the outfield.

Even with a realignment in the outfield, it remains the team’s strength. McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco form a robust top of the lineup. Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli also add to Pittsburgh’s solid offense.

The rotation is filled with former top prospects. Ivan Nova is the only non-home grown starter. Gerrit Cole is the ace, and it remains to be seen if the rest of the rotation can turn its promise into prosperity.

With a solid club all around, the Pirates could finish anywhere in the top two of the National League Central.

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

After two World Series appearances in the previous five seasons, the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason in 2016. This year’s team is full of talent and NL All-Stars all over the diamond.

On the mound, 25-year-old Carlos Martinez will lead the rotation. He will be backed by Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and veteran Adam Wainwright. All five have at least one NL-All Star appearance.

Nevertheless, the talent isn’t limited to just the mound. Matt Carpenter headlines the lineup. The addition of Dexter Fowler provides speed St. Louis has been lacking. He will be joined by outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to give the Cardinals an excellent outfield trio. Stalwart catcher Yadier Molina will be behind the plate for his 14th season in St. Louis.

A deep pitching staff is the strength of the Cardinals, but their offense is not far behind. They will compete for one of the two National League Wild Cards in 2017.

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

Kris Bryant and the Cubs should easily win the National League Central (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

Coming off a dramatic World Series victory, the Cubs are the de facto favorite in the National League Central, if not a favorite to repeat as World Series Champions. It’s easy to see why.

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester sit atop of a solid rotation. Young starters Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery will be joined by grizzled veteran John Lackey to round it out. The talent on the mound is good, but it’s what’s off the mound that has Cubs fans drooling.

Former top prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez form one of the elite shortstop-second base tandems in the National League. In the corners of the infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant are some of the top producers at their respective positions.

Supported by super utility man Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward, the Cubs are stacked in the field. That doesn’t even include uber-prospect catcher Willson Contreras, who will play his first full season in the majors in 2017.

Chicago Cubs fans have plenty to be excited about in 2017, as a repeat title is well within reach.

 

 

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NL Wildcard Down the Home Stretch

We’re finally at twilight of the MLB regular season, and while all of the divisions in the NL have been clinched, there’s still three teams hunting for the final two wildcard spots. Here, I’ll look at the remaining schedule for each team and make my picks on who ends up snagging the last two spots in this photo finish to make the postseason.

New York Mets – (83-73) +1 

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Asdrubal Cabrera has been phenomenal this September. Photo courtesy of northjersey.com

The Mets have been one of the biggest surprises in the second half of this season, and they’ve continued to make their shocking playoff run with fewer and fewer players from their Opening Day roster. With Jacob deGrom undergoing season-ending elbow surgery last Wednesday, and Steven Matz ending up on the DL in late August, only Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard have made it all the way from April to the end of September in the rotation.

The injuries haven’t only only plagued the Mets’ pitching, though, but this offense has really stepped up in the face of adversity in these past couple months. Asdrubal Cabrera, in particular, has been on fire since returning from injury in mid-August. Since then, he’s hitting .360, with ten homers, including a monster, come from behind, three run walk-off homer in extras against the Phillies last week (followed by a wicked bat flip). But it hasn’t just been Asdrubal Cabrera providing at the plate, the entire Mets offense seemed to wake up in that four-game set against the Phils, averaging 11 runs per game, compared to their average of four per game throughout 2016. Obviously this is a small sample size against a Phillies team that isn’t that great, but to be cliche, every win counts at this stage of the season regardless of who it’s against.

The Mets head to Miami for a three-game set against a grieving Marlins team before getting another three games against the Phillies team that their offense saw so much success against to finish out the 2016 regular season. If the offense stays hot, they can really take advantage of these struggling pitching staffs, it then falls on the remnants of the Mets pitching staff to hold things together on the mound.

San Francisco Giants – (82-74) 

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Hunter Pence will have to provide a spark for San Fran’s offense this week. Photo courtesy of nbcbaseball.com

The Giants currently hold a half game lead over St. Louis for the second wildcard spot, which certainly isn’t where most people saw them sitting coming into the All-Star Break, up eight games over the Dodgers (LA’s playoff odds were 24.1% at that point according to ESPN). San Fran has been having some trouble lately, going 10-14 so far this month. However, they can eliminate all of their past mistakes and continue their even-year legacy by cementing a playoff spot over these next six games.

The bullpen has been shaky for the Giants, and hopefully a day off on Monday before their final six games will give them a chance to recollect themselves before crunch time. They blew a six run lead against San Diego on Saturday, but were able to salvage the game in extras. They weren’t so lucky the following day, giving up the tying and winning runs in the 5th and 7th runs respectively, on their way to a 4-3 loss, which also allowed the Mets to take a full game lead over them in the wildcard.

The bullpen isn’t the only struggling entity for the Giants right now, as their offense ranks at the bottom of the MLB in a number of categories, according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield. The team is hitting just .220 as a whole, which puts even more pressure on the bullpen by not being able to provide insurance runs later in the game. Hunter Pence has been the team’s top performer this month, and is looking much stronger now than he did when he was first returning from his two-month stint on the DL. He’s hitting .315 with four homers and 12 RBIs. He, and the rest of the Giants offense, will really need to step up and provide their starters and bullpen with some breathing room in this final week.

The Giants play six games at home to end out the season, three vs. Colorado and three against the Dodgers. Their final series is highlighted by some critical pitching duels: Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw on Friday, and Johnny Cueto vs. Rich Hill on Saturday.

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Can Adam Wainwright lead the Cards back to the playoffs? Photo courtesy of grantland.com

St. Louis Cardinals – (81-74) 0.5 GB

The Cards are the only team of the three that plays a game every day this week. They have a chance to level the playing field with the Giants on Monday, making it a very simple race beginning on Tuesday. Their offense has been getting help from some unexpected places this month, with some of the bigger names on the roster experiencing some very untimely slumps. Randal Grichuk has led the team with 15 RBIs and four homers this month. Brandon Moss, on the other hand, has hit just .071 in what has statistically been the worst month of his career. The offense as a whole has struggled with consistency, but all of that can be erased with a strong showing for seven games this week.

The rotation saw a lot of hype with the additions of prospects Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes being added to give an air of pseudo-rebuilding while still making a playoff run. For Reyes, it’s been great. He’s 4-1 since joining the rotation in August (3-1 in September) with a 1.58 ERA and has won his last three starts. Weaver, on the other hand, has gone 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA in eight starts. He’s been replaced by Jaime Garcia coming into this critical week. The older guys on the team, Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright, have been doing nicely this month and Wainwright will get the start in the Cards final regular season game on Sunday.

The Cardinals play seven games at home to finish out the regular season. They play four against the Reds before finishing up against the Pirates. Luckily, their struggling offense avoids any major pitching threats in their final week, which I think will play to their advantage. Both offenses have also been mediocre this year, so barring any pitching meltdowns I think St. Louis is in decent shape coming down the stretch.

Last Two Spots – New York & St. Louis

I think the Giants have the most difficult schedule here at the end, and they’re playing a Dodgers team who can still try to snag the higher seed for their series against Washington in the postseason. The Mets offense has come from out of nowhere as of late, and they have defied all expectations set for them thus far in the second half, and I think they’ll continue to do so here.

 

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NL Central Recap Week Three

Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

The NL Central is holding steady so far, with the teams still in the same spot in the standings as they were a week ago.

The Chicago Cubs maintain one of the best records in baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are lurking around .500 and the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers are staying in it.

There were plenty of story lines in week three for the Central including a special performance on the mound from perhaps the best pitcher in all of baseball. Let’s dive right into it and take a look at how each team fared this week.

Chicago Cubs: 14-5, 1st place in the NL Central (6-1 last week)

This just in, the Cubs and Jake Arrieta are really good. Over the past week the Cubbies swept their arch rival Cardinals in a 3 game set and took 3 of 4 from the Reds.

The 6-1 week improved what was already one of the best records in all of baseball coming into the week, and helped them stretch out a 4 game divisional lead in the early going.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter, 9.0 innings, 0 H’s, 0 R’s, 4 BB’s, and 6 SO’s. This was a pretty easy one. No-hitters only come around so often and Arrieta took care of the Reds with ease on Thursday while seeing his teammates give him 16 runs of support.

Player to watch: Jake Arrieta. Spotlighting the same player twice in this recap may be overkill, but, Arrieta’s historic start deserves it. Now with a 0.87 ERA on the young season, Arrieta is starting to look like the best pitcher in all of baseball. Clayton Kershaw might have something to say about that, but if Arrieta continues this trend he started in the 2nd half of last season, he may just have one of the best seasons by a starting pitcher ever.

St. Louis Cardinals: 10-8, 2nd place in the NL Central (2-4 last week)

The Cardinals ran into a freight train in the Cubs to start the week, getting swept in a 3 game set, before taking 2 of 3 from the San Diego Padres to cap off the week.

With the win over the weekend the Cardinals were able to finish the week above .500 and maintain their 2nd place status in the division.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Adam Wainwright 6.0 innings, 7 H’s, 3 ER’s, 1 BB, 2 SO’s. Coming off an Achilles injury last season, Wainwright is off to a tough start to the season. His quality start against the San Diego Padres is an improvement upon what he had done prior, but, it’s still not particularly impressive. If Wainwright can return to pre-injury form for the Red Birds it would be huge, it doesn’t look like he is there quite yet though.

Player to Watch: Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko once looked like a future star with the Padres, blasting 23 HR’s in his rookie season in 2013. Since then it has been mostly disappointment for the young infielder. Already with four HR’s on the young season to go with a stellar .289 batting average and .999 OPS, Gyorko may force his way into everyday at-bats if Kolten Wong continues to struggle at second base for the Cardinals.

Pittsburgh Pirates 10-9, 3rd place in the NL Central, (3-3 last week)

The Pirates failed to capitalize on an opportunity to beat up on the subpar San Diego Padres, losing 2 of 3 to them to start the week. They managed to bounce back over the weekend to take 2 of 3 from the D-Backs and remain over .500.

The Pirates have avoided the same slow start they had last season, and are set up in good position to make a run at some point and be right in playoff contention.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Jordy Mercer. 3 for 4, 1 HR, RBI’s, 1 BB, 2 R’s. Mercer has been given the opportunity to bat leadoff against lefties and he is making the most of his early season opportunities. His great game on Friday was a good showing that justified the Pirates batting him leadoff against lefties.

Player to Watch: Jung Ho Kang. After an impressive rookie season cut short by a gruesome injury, Kang is on the road to recovery playing in rehab games with AAA Indianapolis. Provided there aren’t any setbacks, Kang should rejoin the Pirates this week and presumably take David Freese’s spot in the lineup.

Cincinnati Reds 9-10, 4th place in the NL Central, (3-4 last week)

The Reds continue to lurk at the bottom of the division, keeping themselves within striking distance. They managed to take 2 of 3 from the Rockies to start the week. They even managed to snag 1 game in the 4 game set against the Cubs despite being outscored by a whopping 24 runs in the series.

Facing the Mets and Pirates in 3 game sets on the road this upcoming week will be a good test for the Reds. If they go 3-3 against these playoff teams from 2015, it might be time to start taking the Reds more seriously.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Robert Stephenson 7.0 innings, 3 H’s, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO’s. In just his second big league start Stephenson dominated a power filled Rockies lineup. The 23 year-old rookie is looking solid so far through his first 2 big league starts and should be considered a part of the wave of young pitching talent set to contribute to the Reds in 2016.

Player to Watch: Eugenio Suarez. Suarez continues to look like one of the top breakout players in all of baseball in 2016. He’s currently slashing .300/.355/.529 to go along with five HR’s and three SB’s. Suarez makes the Reds lineup look much better if he can continue to be a productive bat.

Milwaukee Brewers 8-11, 5th place in the NL Central, (3-4 last week)

After splitting a four-game home and home series against an interleague opponent in the Minnesota Twins, the Brewers missed a chance to capitalize and have a winning week by losing a 3 game set to the Philadelphia Phillies.

They remain within striking distance, and despite the possibility of a full on rebuild later on in the season, the Brewers are doing enough currently to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Jeremy Jeffress 1.0 inning, 3 hits, 3 ER’s, 0 BB’s, 0 K’s. Tapped as the Brewers closer after an injury to Will Smith toward the end of Spring Training, Jeffress has been mostly fine so far. He came in on Saturday to hold a deficit at 1 for the bottom of the 9th and instead surrendered a 3-run HR to Odubel Herrera. The Brewers need Jeffress at the back end of the ‘Pen so hopefully this was just a mulligan of an outing

Player to Watch: Chris Carter. Carter is somehow managing to slash .295/.361/.689 with five HR’s and nine doubles to start the season. The power numbers aren’t surprising, but, the batting average is as he’s coming off a season where he hit below .200. His BABIP of .333 is a little high, but, nothing astronomical. So maybe Carter can continue to provide power while also managing to hit something more respectable like .240.