Mike Trout MVP

Milestones and Records to Watch for in 2017

Opening Day is just around the corner, which means fans will be flocking to ballparks all over the country. Fans will be in store for more than what they bargained for in a season sure to be full of fun and feats.

Records and milestones are reached around the league every year, and this year will be no different. Here’s what you should be on the look out for in the 2017 MLB season.

Albert Pujols Reaches 600 Homers

Milestones Records 2017

Albert Pujols has done this plenty of times, 591 to be exact (Jae C. Hong/ Associated Press).

There is a reason Albert Pujols earned the nickname “The Machine” in St. Louis. The slugger smashed 445 homers while averaging 155 games played per season over 11 years. That massive amount of production earned him a huge free agent contract from the Los Angeles Angels. Many correctly predicted his decline while in an Angels uniform. However, the 36-year-old can still mash.

Pujols enters the 2017 season sitting at 591 home runs, just nine short of entering the illustrious 600 home run club. This isn’t just a milestone, but a historic moment for the game of baseball. Only eight players have reached 600 or more home runs in MLB history. It’s one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports.

Pujols will certainly have earned it when he makes it. He has averaged 29 homers per season in five years with the Angels. That is a far cry from his 40-homer average in St. Louis, but respectable nonetheless.

When Pujols launches homer number 600 over the outfield fence, he will enter the pantheon of baseball legends. All we have to do is sit back and watch.

Jose Reyes Reaches 500 Stolen Bases

The skill of stealing bases is becoming a lost art in an age of power. Stolen bases have been on the decline for years. Only two players in the past five seasons,(Dee Gordon and Jonathan Villar) have stolen 60 or more bases in a season. Jose Reyes has been on the decline in recent seasons, but has been a speedster throughout his career. Reyes is sitting at 488 career stolen bases and on the verge of a historic milestone.

Reyes burned his way through the league after coming in at 20 years old. The speedy Mets shortstop amassed 290 stolen bases by age 25. He had seasons of 56, 60, 64 and 78 stolen bases.

Reyes did experience some legal troubles last season after playing for Toronto and Colorado in 2015, but was able to return home to Flushing in 2016. What better place to reach 500 stolen bases than in a Mets uniform?

Clayton Kershaw Reaches 2000 Strikeouts

Milestones Records 2017

Clayton Kershaw is on the cusp of 2000 strikeouts (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

This one may not be as big of a career milestone as the previous two, but it’ll be historic in its own right. Clayton Kershaw has been almost immaculate since he entered the league in 2008. After putting up a 4.26 ERA in his rookie season at 20 years old, Kershaw hasn’t had a single season ERA higher than 2.91. He’s been able to limit runs and rack up huge strikeout numbers.

He put up his best statistical season in 2015 with 301 strikeouts in 232.2 innings pitched to support his sparkling 2.13 ERA. He was on his way to an even better year in 2016 before injuries knocked him out for the season. Even with an injury-shortened 2016 season, Kershaw enters 2017 at 29 years old with 1918 career punch outs.

When he records his 2000th strikeout this season, he will be among the fastest pitchers to reach the milestone. He will join some of the games greats like Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan as some of the fastest to reach 2000 strikeouts in MLB History.

Mike Trout Reaches 200 Home Runs

Mike Trout is widely considered the best player in baseball. He is set to solidify that reputation at the seasoned age of 25.

Trout entered the league at 19 years old in 2011 and struggled mightily. After posting a .220 batting average in 40 games, many doubted Trout entering the 2012 season. However, he quickly put those doubts to rest by smashing 30 homers in 139 games played that season. Trout has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory ever since.

Trout will need 32 homers to break the 200 mark for his career, but it isn’t far-fetched to expect that type of production from the slugging center fielder. He has one 40-homer season already under his belt (2015) and has the ability to go far beyond the 32 homer mark this season.

What’s most impressive is just how fast he could accomplish the feat. Trout will be among some of the youngest players in the history of the game to reach 200 career homers, joining the likes of Mel Ott, youngest to 200 career homers at 25 years, 266 days old. Just when it seems we are becoming used to Trout’s greatness, we can’t overlook how historic his career is becoming.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Shortstop are commonly known for their glove, but after the explosion of home runs in 2016, shortstops have emerged as a power position heading into 2017. 15 shortstops hit 20 or more homeruns last season, where only two did in 2015. The shortstop position has transitioned from one of the weakest to one of the deepest.

The top 25 shortstops have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Orlando Arcia (MIL), Ketel Marte (ARI), Jose Iglesias (DET), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Jose Reyes (NYM).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Manny Machado’s consistency warrants a first round pick. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  • Manny Machado (BAL)
  • Carlos Correa (HOU)
  • Corey Seager (LAD)
  • Trea Turner (WSH)
  • Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  • Xander Bogaerts (BOS)

 

Manny Machado, primarily a third basemen, played 44 games at shortstop in 2016, after an injury sidelined Baltimore Orioles starter, J.J. Hardy. Machado, a career .285 hitter, has tallied at least 35 home runs and 100 runs in his last two seasons.

The 24-year-old has yet to reach the 100 RBI plateau, although if continues to progress, he could easily see a .300/100/40/100 season in his near future.

Machado’s consistency and potential make him the first shortstop that should be taken in 2017.

Xander Bogaerts is one of the safest picks an owner can make in 2017. The 24-year-old will be entering his fourth season in the majors, where he is a career .286 hitter.

His .320 batting average in 2015, and .330 batting average in the first half of 2016, suggest that he can sustain a well above .300 average for a full season in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 180-pounder raised his home run total from seven in 2015, to 21 in 2016. Bogaerts power is sure to improve one day, although I believe he will focus solely on sustaining contact rates next season.

Whether the power numbers show or not in 2017, Bogaerts is well worth a top 25 pick.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Trevor Story is healthy and ready to go for 2017. (Courtesy of Sporting News)

  • Trevor Story (COL)
  • Jonathan Villar (MIL)
  • Jean Segura (SEA)
  • Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  • Aledmys Diaz (STL)
  • Addison Russell (CHC)
  • Dansby Swanson (ATL)

 

Trevor Story had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time, and only played in 97 games due to a hand injury in 2016. After mashing 27 home runs with 76 RBI’s, Story managed to be one of the most productive players in the league during that stretch.

He will bat in the middle of an electric Colorado Rockies lineup, which may put up historically great numbers this season.

The only drawback on the 24-year-old is his atrocious 31.3% strike out rate, which may suggest that he sees a decline in batting average.

Regression of average or not, Story is well worth a top 35 pick, as his power upside is tremendous.

Dansby Swanson is currently being drafted as the 170th overall player, and 17th shortstop off the board, although I have him ranked as the 13th. The upside with Swanson is incredible, as he has the potential to bat .300 while batting second for the Atlanta Braves. This gives him the potential to score 100 runs in his rookie campaign.

The big power numbers have not shown yet, although he had sneaky power in college, hitting 15 home runs in 71 games. He also hit eight home runs in 84 games at the AA-level, which shows that he has the potential to hit 15 or so this season, giving him a chance to be a top 10 shortstop.

I’m reaching on Swanson’s potential in all drafts in 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Can Didi Gregorius continue to improve upon his breakout 2016 campaign?(Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Didi Gregorius (NYY)
  • Brandon Crawford (SF)
  • Brad Miller (TB)
  • Javier Baez (CHC)
  • Eduardo Nunez (SF)

 

Didi Gregorius, most notably the player that replaced Derek Jeter, quietly had a breakout seasons in 2016. Gregorius has continuously improved his batting average, going from .257 in 2014, to .276 in 2016. He has also seen a huge jump in power numbers, as he hit 20 home runs, which is 11 better than his former career high of 9.

The 27-year-old still has room for improvement, although his power numbers may fall, as the majority of his homers limp out of the Yankees short porch in right field.

Gregorius is a safe late round selection, but may have limited upside.

Eduardo Nunez spent his 2016 split between the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants. The All-Star batted .321 with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases in the first half of 2016. This shows how good Nunez can be when he is playing every day at his best.

The reason for Nunez’s low ranking is because of his lack of consistency and poor production with the Giants. Hitting home runs as a righty in San Francisco can be quite challenging, which makes me think his home run totals will drop severally.

Nunez has a solid average and will continue to steal some bases, which makes him a good mid to late round pick in all formats.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

  • Jose Peraza (CIN)
  • Elvis Andrus (TEX)
  • Danny Espinosa (LAA)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM)
  • Marcus Semien (OAK)
  • Matt Duffy (TB)
  • Tim Anderson (CWS)

 

Jose Peraza has been compared to Jose Altuve, in not only their size, but also their skill set. Both have elite speed and get on base at a well above average clip. Peraza will finally have an everyday role with the Cincinnati Reds as they have parted ways with their franchise second basemen, Brandon Phillips, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Peraza has stolen 281 bases in 611 professional games, which is about a half a steal per game. This alone gives Peraza elite stolen base value, as he has the chance to steal over 60 bases. This paired with the fact that he is a career .312 hitter gives him great potential to be a breakout star in 2017.

Tim Anderson commonly flies under the radar, as he will bat at the bottom of an inconsistent Chicago White Sox lineup. 2017 will be Anderson’s first full MLB season, which could mean a breakout is in the making for the 23-year-old.

We cannot forget that he stole 49 bases in 125 games in 2015. While he bats at the end of the order, which limits his run and RBI potential, he should be given plenty of opportunities to swipe bags.

The former first-round pick in 2013 is a career .283 hitter, which is a solid floor for a starting fantasy short stop. Anderson’s ADP of 191 makes him well worth a late pick as a middle infielder or starter in deeper leagues.

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Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Top Sleepers Candidates at Each Position

The Game Haus presents our fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates at each position for the upcoming Major League Baseball season.

According to Yahoo.com, the following players average draft positions, or ADP, are in, or after round 22. Standard fantasy baseball drafts range from 23-25 rounds, so these players are low risk, high reward.

They offer greater value than other players at their position, as they are being overlooked and selected in much later rounds than players who offer similar value.

 

Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Mike Zunino is no longer the backstop of the future for the Mariners as 2017 is his year to shine. (Courtesy of lookoutlanding.com)

The 2012 first-round pick has struggled in his time in the show, but 2017 is his year to earn his spot. Zunino is a pure power hitter who has hit fifty career home runs in 350 games.

He will bat sixth behind Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. If this doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will. He will have plenty of chances to rack up some RBIs.

Unfortunately for Zunino, the Seattle Mariners traded for veteran Carlos Ruiz from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. This is a bit unnerving, as Ruiz will inevitably steal some at-bats from Zunino. However, I believe that it will be Zunino’s job to lose.

His ADP is currently above 260, as he is commonly going undrafted.

 

Mitch Moreland, 1B, Boston Red Sox

The Gold-Glove award winner in 2016 heads north to join Boston’s star-studded lineup lead by Dustin Pedroia and the killer B’s. Moreland will be the everyday first basemen for the Red Sox and will bat sixth or seventh in the lineup. The Red Sox are looking to make a World Series run in 2017, and Moreland will be a key contributor.

He is currently being selected in the 23rd round, after fellow first basemen Travis Shaw, Brandon Moss, and Danny Valencia. I prefer Moreland to the aforementioned options for multiple reasons.

First, he has a more proven track record, hitting twenty plus bombs three times in his career. Second, the Red Sox lineup adds immense value, as we all saw how well Travis Shaw produced in the six hole last season. Finally, Moreland’s glove will keep him on the field, so there is no need to worry about losing at-bats to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, or Allen Craig.

Moreland should do just fine in his first season in Boston.

 

Jose Peraza, 2B, SS, OF, Cincinnati Reds

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Brandon Phillips, Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

The Cincinnati Reds have officially traded second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Atlanta Braves for two pitching prospects. This means that it is officially Jose Peraza time!

Peraza is a top 100 prospect according to MLB.com, Baseballprospectus.com, and Baseball America. The speedster has stolen 244 bases in 611 career games. Also, he has logged innings at second base, shortstop, and center field in his professional career, which will help him remain in the lineup throughout the season.

Peraza will primarily play second base, and will presumably start the season batting at the bottom of the order, but a promotion to the leadoff spot could be in order if he continues to find success at the plate. He has a career batting average of .312 at all levels.

He offers tremendous value through his speed and versatility in 2017.

 

Yangervis Solarte, 3B, 2B, San Diego Padres

Solarte, once a utility man for the Padres, will have the everyday third basemen job in 2017. He will bat in the heart of the order behind All-Star first basemen Wil Myers, allowing him to have plenty of opportunities to do damage. Solarte played in only 109  games in 2016, but managed to manufacture 71 RBIs on 15 home runs, while batting .286.

El Nino may be the most overlooked player in 2017, as he is a clean-up hitter playing an everyday role, but is being selected after utility players like Sean Rodriguez, Jurickson Profar, and Howie Kendrick.

Solarte has a great opportunity to surpass all of his career highs this upcoming season.

 

Danny Espinosa, SS, Los Angeles Angels

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Danny Espinosa has escaped the platoon that held him back in Washington. (Courtesy of Zimbio.com)

New doors have been opened for Espinosa, as he heads from Washington to Los Angeles to be the Angels everyday second basemen. The slugging middle infielder hit 24 home runs with 72 RBIs in 2016, surpassing his former career highs.

He will bat towards the end of sneaky deep Angels lineup, which will give him ample RBI opportunities. Espinosa is being selected in the 23rd round, after other shortstops including Alcides Escobar, Jose Reyes, and J.J. Hardy.

The 29-year-old can still improve his approach at the plate, and I would not be surprised by a 30 home run, 70 RBI campaign.

 

Michael Saunders OF, Philadelphia Phillies

The first-time All-Star in 2016 signed a one-year deal with a team option for a second with the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason. He will be one of their everyday corner outfielders and will bat sixth behind the young Phillies core of Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, and Tommy Joseph.

Saunders provides great upside as he hit .298 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs before the All-Star break in 2016. His value comes as he is being selected in the 23rd round after fellow outfielders Nick Markakis, Melvin Upton Jr., and Steve Pearce.

Saunders will have to bounce back to his first half form from 2016 if the Phillies want to have any serious success in 2017.

 

Chris Tillman SP, Baltimore Orioles

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Chris Tillman looks to recover from his disastrous second half of 2016. (Courtesy of csnmidatlantic.com)

Tillman has completed four consecutive seasons with over 170 innings pitched, with an average of 147 strikeouts per year. He will be atop of the Baltimore Orioles rotation for another year as he looks to improve on his career high win total of 16 from 2016.

Tillman had a phenomenal first half last season, sporting a 3.4 ERA and 7.8 K/9. His second half was atrocious, but he has shown enough consistency in the past to not warrant any serious regression.

I suspect Tillman to make adjustments, as he did from 2015 to 2016, where he went from a 4.99 ERA to a 3.77. Also worth noting that he had a sub three ERA on the road, and a four plus at home, so take that into consideration as well.

He is being selected in the 22nd round, after other starters including Clay Buchholz and Mike Montgomery. Tillman will eat innings and have great opportunities to win games for the Orioles come 2017.

 

Fernando Rodney, CL, Arizona Diamondbacks

The veteran closer signed a one-year contract for $2.75 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason. He is coming of a 25-save season where he exhibited a K/9 of 10.2, which is well above league average. His K/9 has surpassed 10 three times in his last four seasons. This is encouraging as his K/9 have not dipped even though his velocity has.

The 39-year-old will be the closer for the Diamondbacks to start 2017. With the return of A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and others, Rodney could be in store for an abundance of save opportunities. He is being selected in the 24th round, after many set-up men, including three Chicago Cubs, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Koji Uehara.

Rodney’s value should spike as owners realize his value as a closer, so do not be afraid to “reach” for him in 20 or 21st round.

 

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Spring Training Storylines

February has finally come, which means Spring Training is on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks. With roster spots up for grabs and offseason moves and contracts still being discussed, this spring training offers plenty to look forward to.

Will the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen be able to reconcile?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Andrew McCutchen will be reunited with the Pirates in Spring Training after they almost dumped him in the off-season (Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was the subject of trade rumors all offseason after having a down year in 2016. With the drop in his offensive production and prospects knocking on the door to the majors, moving the former all-star made perfect sense. That is, until it didn’t happen.

The Pirates decided to stand pat, and in the process alienated their franchise cornerstone. He will return in 2017, but his role with the team is still in question. Will he be the everyday center fielder? Or will young speedster Starling Marte make the move to center? What about Austin Meadows, who according to MLB.com is the ninth highest ranked prospect in baseball?

All of these questions pale in comparison to only one question: will Andrew McCutchen return to normal form? He will have the opportunity to prove it in 2017, with the team many thought had already given up on him.

How will Ian Desmond look at first base?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Ian Desmond will be making his second position change in the past three seasons (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

The Colorado Rockies made a surprising sign in the offseason, inking outfielder Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal. With a glut of outfield talent, you would think that money would’ve been better spent on the bullpen or the starting rotation. After signing Desmond, they made an even more surprising announcement.

Desmond is being penciled in as the Rockies starting first baseman for the 2017 season. Changing positions is something Desmond has experienced before. As a shortstop, he made the move to the outfield for the Texas Rangers in the 2016 season. First base is still a whole new world for Desmond.

First base, besides catcher, handles the ball on more plays than any other position. While Desmond is a terrific athlete, asking him to learn a position such as first base in one offseason may be asking too much of him. It will be interesting to watch Desmond in Spring Training, as he will certainly see the field often.

Where will Jose Reyes play?

When the Mets signed Jose Reyes during the 2016 season after his release from the Colorado Rockies, he was expected to take over third base for David Wright. That he did, albeit with poor defensive metrics. What Reyes did provide was solid offense, posting a 104 OPS+ for the Mets. With the return of David Wright in 2017, that leaves Reyes without a position.

2017 MLB Spring Training

The Mets hope Jose Reyes can fly in the outfield just as he has in the infield (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

It seems the Mets have the answer. Jose Reyes has been practicing in the outfield this offseason, leading many to believe that he will become a super utility player. His experience at shortstop, third and second base give him the ability to play all over the infield. His athletic ability should transfer to the outfield, giving him the ability to play the corner outfield spots or maybe even center field.

With a bat like Reyes’ on the bench, manager Terry Collins will look to utilize him as much as he can. Reyes will see plenty of time in the field during Spring Training. Just don’t expect him to stay in one place too long.

Will any of the remaining sluggers be signed?

Spring Training offers many players the opportunity to prove themselves and earn a starting gig. It also catches many players off guard. Some players wind up getting injured or under performing. That is where these players come in.

2017 MLB Spring Training

Plenty of power hitters remain on the free agent market, but will any of them make a team in Spring Training (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports).

Names like Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Howard are still on the market, drawing little interest. So much so that Chris Carter, who tied for the most homers in the National League last year with 41, is looking to Japan for employment. With the start of Spring Training, that could change.

These players are likely to be the first to sign during Spring Training due to injury or under performance. The question is which one(s) will it be? Will playoff hero Mike Napoli be the first off the board, or will Pedro Alvarez be able to leverage his massive power into a major league job? What about aged slugger Ryan Howard? Or will Chris Carter be able to avoid the cross-Pacific trip?

With so many questions to be answered before the season starts, Spring Training provides the perfect opportunity to answer them. These and many others will be asked and answered before the season even begins. Just like spring, baseball will burst forth anew in just a few weeks. I for one can’t wait for it to begin.

 

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NL East Weekly: 6/20-6/26

Remember that lead I said the Nationals could grow last week? That’s gone now, and the NL East is once again a tight race through the top three spots. Washington saw its divisional lead shrink to just three games over the course of last week, on the back of some light offensive production and mediocre pitching performances. It gets worse for Washington, too, as they saw one of their best arms in Stephen Strasburg end up on the DL for the first time in 2016.

Meanwhile the Mets and Marlins were able to take advantage of the Nats’ off week, with the Marlins taking three games out of four from the World Series favorite, the Cubs. The Marlins bats have been heating up at the right time, and I honestly they might be the contenders atop the NL East at the All-Star break.

Meanwhile the Braves continue to make the Mets’ life difficult, splitting the four game series vs. New York this week, making them 5-2 in their last seven meetings. Then there’s the Phillies, who continue to make their own life difficult, dropping two of three to the Twins, despite actually putting up a decent number of runs throughout the week.

This division just continues to get more difficult to predict as we near the home stretch of the first half of the 2016 season. Injuries, massive slumps, and Minor/Major League reassignments continue to play a factor in a division that struggles with consistency in the first place. Now we’ll take a closer look at the (once again) tight NL East.

1. Washington Nationals (44-32)

The Nationals had arguably their worst week of baseball last week, winning just one of their six games. As if this wasn’t hard enough for the Nats and their fans to swallow, throw in Stephen Strasburg ending up on the DL with an upper-back strain and you’ve got a living nightmare for Washington.

Last week the only guy who was giving Washington hope was Wilson Ramos, who continues to have a phenomenal year at the plate. Ramos hit .409, hitting a homer and driving in three RBIs. Ramos spilled the beans on his success a few weeks ago, telling ESPN that he had Lasik surgery in the offseason. I’m just saying, if Lasik can take a guy who hit .229 last year and turn him into a .342 hitter, I think Ramos should introduce the rest of his team to his surgeon, because some of them need it currently. The two that need it most are the current guys splitting time in center field, Michael Taylor and Ben Revere. Taylor hit .143 while Revere hit just .111 last week, with Taylor only coming around to score once (which was still more than Revere). When your two players who are supposed to be splitting time at the leadoff position are going a combined .125, your offense is going to struggle.

Even if Taylor and Revere were able to get on base, it’s hard to tell if the middle of this order could even bring them home. Daniel Murphy is by far the most consistent hitter here, but even he’s fallen from grace as of late, hitting .254 in his last 15 games, causing his average to drop from .376 to .349. He still leads the team in RBIs, driving in two more last week to give him a season total of 48. I’m sure Bryce Harper was wishing he could complain about his batting average “only” being .349 this year, as he continues to battle a mid-season slump. Harper did hit a solo homer last week, but otherwise hit just .214 on the week and is now batting .236 in his past 30 games.

Last week was not a good week to be a Nationals pitcher, because they were all getting hurt or suffering losses, with Tanner Roark being the sole arm with a W last week. Roark looked solid in both of his outings, giving up three runs in 7.1 innings against the Dodgers on Tuesday, before shutting out the Brewers through seven to secure Washington’s only victory on the week. Joe Ross turned in a quality 6.1 innings of two run ball against the Dodgers on Wednesday, but aside from that it was fairly ugly for the Nats’ staff. Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez both had rough times, with Scherzer allowing five runs in six innings against Milwaukee on Friday and Gonzalez lasting just three innings and surrendering six runs on Saturday. If Gonzalez keeps up this pace, he’s 0-4 in five starts this month, don’t be surprised to see him being optioned to Minor League ball to find his stuff again soon.

It wasn’t a much better time for the Nats bullpen. Yusmeiro Petit was moved up to fill in for Stephen Strasburg with a start against the Dodgers on Monday. It was a tall task for Petit, facing off against LA ace Clayton Kershaw, but he didn’t do poorly by any stretch of the mind, giving up three runs in six innings, but ultimately took the loss. Interim closer Shawn Kelly blew a save opportunity in game three of the Dodgers series and also took a loss because of it, but was able to convert his second opportunity of the week against Milwaukee on Sunday.

The Nationals start up another key three-game series against the Mets this week, looking to re-extend their now three game divisional lead. They then remain at home to play the Cincinnati Reds in a four game bout beginning Thursday.

2. New York Mets (40-34) 3 GB

The Mets started off the week well, sweeping their World Series rivals from 2015 two games to none. Then they headed to Atlanta, looking to exact revenge for the sweep dealt to them the weekend prior. They didn’t exactly do that, but they were able to at least take a couple of games this time around.

James Loney has quietly produced in the absence of Lucas Duda. Photo courtesy of nj.com

Yoenis Cespedes suffered some slight left wrist discomfort in the middle of the week. Mercifully for the Mets, this discomfort only cost him one start, but we’ll see if the issue persists throughout the year, or alters his plate approach. Cespedes went 3-for-13 in three games following Thursday’s missed start, driving in one RBI. He was 4-for-6 in the two games prior, against the Royals, hitting a solo homer in Tuesday’s win. James Loney remains a consistent bat in place of Lucas Duda, hitting .364 with a homer and four RBIs last week. Meanwhile Travis D’Arnaud, who returned from the DL on Tuesday, recorded just two hits last week, but still turned in quality ABs, notching three RBIs. Hopefully, D’Arnaud is able to turn his season around, as he was hitting just .196 before heading to the DL in April. The three RBIs are a good start, however, as he had just one before his injury.

The Mets also executed some high profile transactions last week, involving outfielder Michael Conforto, along with former (and now current) Met Jose Reyes. Conforto was optioned to triple-A Las Vegas on Saturday, recalling Brandon Nimmo, who went 0-for-4 in his debut on Sunday. Prior to Sunday, Nimmo had no previous MLB at-bats; but the Mets felt that Conforto, who was hitting .135 in his last 30 games, wasn’t producing at the level the Mets needed him to, and needed time to re-focus with Las Vegas. Meanwhile Reyes made his debut with the single-A Brooklyn Cyclones at third base on Sunday. Reyes has no significant experience at the position, but wouldn’t be the first shortstop to convert to the hot corner. Current third baseman, Wilmer Flores, is batting .240 with three homers, 12 RBIs, and a steal on the year. Reyes’ most valuable attribute would be his speed, as Sandy Alderson wants to use him as a leadoff man. This allows the Mets to move Curtis Granderson out of the top spot and put him somewhere where his power can drive in more runs. It also means the Mets should be able to manufacture more runs with speed; their current top base stealer is David Wright (the same on who has been on the DL for a month) with three steals this year.

On the mound, Steven Matz continues to struggle while Jacob deGrom continues to operate with little to no run support. Matz lasted just 4.1 innings and surrendered six runs against the Braves on Friday. He’s now 0-2 in June, with a 5.91 ERA; he was 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA last month. Let’s not forget that the Mets didn’t option starter Matt Harvey when he was struggling earlier this year, so they’ll handle Matz the same way, and let him work out his problems on his own. Meanwhile, deGrom turned in a gem with eight shutout innings against the Braves, but didn’t factor in the decision due to a lack of offense. DeGrom hasn’t looked horrible this year, but certainly appeared to be on a lower level than he was in 2015. Hopefully this start is a sign of good things to come from the Mets starter, who hasn’t won a start since April 30th. Closer Jeurys Familia continues to be a rock when given the opportunity, converting all four of his save opportunities this week. He now leads the MLB with 26 saves.

The Mets play some of their most critical games of the year before the All-Star break. They begin this stretch on Monday, with a three game series in Washington. They then host the Cubs for four games at Citi Field.

3. Miami Marlins (41-35) 3 GB

The Marlins are picking up speed in the division, splitting a two-game set with the Braves before taking a four game series against arguably the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs. This week finally saw the power trio of Ozuna, Stanton, and Bour all produce this week, and shows just how scary this lineup is when all three of them are on.

Justin Bour cranked three homers and drove in nine runs last week. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

Marcell Ozuna has been the most consistent of Miami’s big three this year. Ozuna hit .333 and belted three solo homers last week. Justin Bour also had a killer week at the plate, also smoking three home runs en route to a nine RBI week. Bour has really begun to turn it on in the past couple of weeks, batting .372 with five homers and recording 17 RBIs. Giancarlo Stanton has had the roughest 2016 out of Miami’s big three, but looked to get things back on track last week. He hit his first two homers of the month last week, and drove in six RBIs.

Adam Conley had another good outing on the mound last week, this time looking much more in control of his pitches. Conley, who had five walks in 5.2 innings against the Rockies a couple of weeks ago, walked just one man, and shut the Braves out through eight innings of work on Wednesday. Conley has been the best starter not named Jose Fernandez for the Marlins this year, and if he’s able to continue developing and maintaining control of his pitches on the mound, the Marlins staff may not look like as much of a hindrance as it did in the first two months of the season.

Speaking of Jose Fernandez: he had not one, but two masterful outings, despite only picking up one win last week. He went seven innings in starts against both the Braves and the Cubs. He allowed one hit and no runs against Atlanta, then struck out 13 and allowed just one run against the Cubs on Sunday.

Starter Paul Clemens, who replaced Justin Nicolino in the rotation this week, made his first two appearances of 2016 last week. While neither performance was jaw-dropping, he was able to pick up the win on Saturday against the Cubs. The offense won’t be able to bail him out of every start, however, as his 6.30 ERA last week was offset by Miami’s average of nine runs per game in his starts. Still, as a whole this rotation seems to be getting better, and if the Marlins are able to snag a quality starter before the trade deadline, they could make some serious noise in the playoff picture this year.

The Marlins play two games in Detroit beginning Tuesday before heading to Atlanta for four games.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (32-45) 12.5 GB

The Phillies actually saw their bats come together and create some runs last week, after an abysmal showing in weeks prior. Unfortunately, the Phils arms continue to struggle, causing Philadelphia to pick up just a couple of wins last week.

Freddy Galvis led the way in the RBI category, notching seven last week. Galvis is looking to get back on the right foot, hitting .280 last week after hitting just .083 the week prior. Tommy Joseph also had a rough go of things a couple weeks ago, but was able to knock a homer and bring in three RBIs last week. Cameron Rupp slugged three home runs last week and had four RBIs.

Peter Bourjos and Cody Asche had the most consistent weeks at the plate last week, both hitting above .400. Bourjos hit .478 with a homer and four RBIs, while Asche hit .400 with a pair of runs driven in. The Phillies had an uncharacteristically good week at the plate overall, but just haven’t been able to put the offense and pitching together most nights, causing them to drop more and more games.

The pitching has been the primary concern as of late in Philly. After carrying the team through the first 41 games, the last 36 have been rough. Aaron Nola continues to slump on the mound, allowing 13 runs in his two starts last week. Seven of those runs came in three innings against the Twins, handing Nola his seventh loss of 2016. Nola has had a disastrous June, going 1-3 with a 10.42 ERA in contrast to a 3-2 May with a 2.31 ERA.

Jeremy Hellickson also had two starts last week, but neither were quite as bad as Nola’s. Hellickson picked up his first win of June on Saturday against the Giants, but also took the loss in Monday’s start against the D-Backs after allowing three runs in seven innings of work.

Jerad Eickhoff remains the one bastion of hope in this current Phils rotation, getting the win after tossing six innings of two-run ball against the Twins on Thursday. Eickhoff is 3-2 in June, with a 2.01 ERA and hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start since May 28th.

The Phillies play three games in Arizona before returning home for a three game series against the Royals over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (26-49) 17.5 GB

This season hasn’t been great for the Braves and their fans, but honestly, they’ve looked a lot better in June than they did in May or April. The Braves have actually looked competitive the past couple of weeks, splitting both series last week against two of the top teams in the division.

Adonis Garcia only recorded three hits last week in 17 at-bats. But two of those hits were big home runs against the Mets, one of them being the game winner off of Addison Reed in the eighth inning on Thursday. It’s hard to see where exactly Garcia fits in this Braves team, he’s a decent bat with some good pop, but he isn’t one of the several young guys that the Braves are relying on to build the franchise over the next couple of years. Still, he remains to be a decent bat, and may continue to prove a valuable asset to Atlanta. Another older guy who has been getting things done at the plate recently is Nick Markakis. He hit .417 last week and came around to score four times, as well as notching his team-leading 40th RBI. He, like Garcia, is still proving to be a valuable asset, despite not being as young as the majority of this Braves roster.

Of course, Atlanta’ s most valuable asset continues to be Freddie Freeman, who hit his 13th homer of the year last week, and drove in two runs. Along with Freeman, Jace Peterson hit .308 with a homer and three RBIs last week. The Braves are starting to show a solid mix of older and younger guys both producing, as this offense continues to trend in the right direction, despite its poor start to the year.

On the mound, Julio Teheran continues to lead the way for these Braves arms. He tossed another scoreless gem through eight innings against the Mets on Saturday. Teheran’s June looked very similar to May: hosting a record that doesn’t reflect how good he’s pitched. He’s gone just 2-2 over his five starts this month, but has posted a 1.91 ERA, struck out 37 batters, and surrendered just eight runs in total. I still think Teheran has the biggest chance of ending up in another jersey this year, as the trade deadline approaches.

Aside from Teheran, this staff still needs some work. But Bud Norris has looked a lot better since returning from the bullpen earlier this month. He’s picked up a couple of wins and is 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in six appearances, five of them starts, this month. Norris made two starts last week, including seven shutout innings vs. the Mets on Sunday.

The remaining young arms continue to struggle. Matt Wisler had some control issues on Thursday against the Mets, walking four men in 6.2 innings. John Gant didn’t walk a man in his 5.2 innings, but surrendered three runs in his loss against the Marlins on Wednesday. Aaron Blair failed to make it five innings against the Mets on Friday, giving up eight runs on seven hits through 4.1 innings of work. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves continued to ferry guys throughout the organization until they have a suitable fifth-slot starter. Gant and Wisler have shown some potential this year, but Blair may just need more time and confidence with triple-A Gwinnett.

The Braves play seven games at home this week, starting with three against the Marlins. They then host the red hot Indians for four games.

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More Mets’ Injuries: Cespedes & Syndergaard

The Mets found themselves entering their second World Series rematch of the season against the Royals not quite in panic mode, but certainly in need of some good news. New York had lost six of their last eight games prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the Royals.

The good news is that the Mets have won both of their games against the Royals this go around, after splitting the season-opening series against the reigning World Series champs. The victories came at a cost, though. Tuesday’s starter, Bartolo Colon left after facing just one batter with a thumb injury. The injury was incurred after Colon took a comebacker hit by Royals leadoff man, Whit Merrifield, off the thumb. Luckily, for both Colon and the Mets, the x-rays on the thumb came back negative; manager Terry Collins expects to see Colon make his next regularly scheduled start on Sunday, in Atlanta.

Yoenis Cespedes is currently the Mets’ leading hitter. He left Wednesday’s game against the Royals with left wrist soreness. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

However, Colon wasn’t the only player to be bitten by the injury bug against Kansas City. Wednesday’s concluding game took its toll too, seeing both starter Noah Syndergaard, and top hitter Yoenis Cespedes leave the game with injuries. Both players were pulled in the sixth inning, Syndergaard surrendered three runs on eight hits before leaving the game with right elbow discomfort. This isn’t the first time Syndergaard has been checked for this ailment, also doing so after his May 1 start but not missing any scheduled time.

Cespedes’ injury isn’t a new one, as he had similar troubles last year, but the injury had been dormant so far in 2016. Cespedes was 2-for-2 with a walk by the time he left, and was replaced by Alejandro de Aza for the remainder of the game. Both were sent to visit the team doctor on Wednesday night.

The Mets’ preexisting injury situation wasn’t in the prettiest of states, either. While catcher Travis D’Arnaud was reactivated from the DL on Tuesday, team captain David Wright and first baseman Lucas Duda currently reside on the 15 day DL. Along with them, outfielder Juan Lagares and reliever Jim Henderson are also on the 15-day DL, while starter Zack Wheeler is on the 60-day DL.

Jose Reyes may find himself back in a Mets uniform, especially if Yoenis Cespedes misses extended time. Photo courtesy of rollingstone.com

Cespedes is the best hitter on the Mets roster, statistically, leading the team in batting average, RBIs, home runs, and on-base percentage. Depending on the severity of the injury, this injury could further the Mets’ interest in former Met and current player in the Colorado Rockies organization, Jose Reyes. Reyes played with the Mets from 2003-2011, and played just 47 games with the Rockies in 2015. He hasn’t seen any Major League action so far in 2016 after a domestic violence claim cost kept him off the field. Reyes is slated to become a free agent on Saturday, and has voiced interest in reuniting with his former club.

Also thrown into the mix is ex-Cuban infielder, Yulieski Gourriel, who is scheduled to work out with the Mets. Even if Cespedes’ injury does not prove to last long, the Mets offense is in a sorry state regardless, so the Mets could feel compelled to make a move to acquire whichever of the two the organization feels can best suit their needs at the dish while not being a liability in the field.

Data from ESPN.com was used in this report.

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