The Lackluster National League Central

Just a short two years ago the National League Central was the cream of the crop in baseball.  The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs all finished with 97 or more wins.  This gave them the top three records in baseball, which had never been done before.  The only other division to have three teams with more than 95 wins was the 1977 AL East.  So it would be easy to say the 2015 National League Central may be the best division in baseball history.

Two years can make a big difference in sports, which is evident in this division alone.  As of June 26th the Brewers sit in first place at an underwhelming 41-37.  Even the defending World Champion Cubs are a mediocre one game above .500.  On top of that, the Cardinals who always seem to be at the top of the league are struggling with a 34-40 record.

What could have possibly led to this steep decline?  Well when it comes down to it, the key players in the Central just aren’t performing up to expectations.  Other than Joey Votto and Zach Cozart, not a single qualifying hitter has above a .300 batting average in the division.  This is surprising considering the talent in the Central such as Kris Bryant, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Carpenter.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Schwarber, one of the heroes for the Cubs last October, got sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday.  He is supposed to be part of the core for the Cubs but he was not pulling his weight with his splits showing .171/.295/.378.  He is in a sense the poster boy for the failure of many players in the division this year.  If things don’t start to turn around soon, jobs will be on the line.

The Cubs are 14th in the National League in hitting at the moment, but that will turn around.  Jason Heyward is currently on the DL, but he showed signs of improvement from last year at the plate and is doing a decent job of filling the hole in outfield production left by Fowler.

Once the trade deadline comes, Theo and company could be going after Sonny Gray or Ervin Santana to bolster their struggling rotation.  At that point they could go steam-rolling like they were just one year ago.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are at a critical spot for their organization.  The next four weeks will determine what will happen in the coming years for them.  Whether that be sell some of their key players, or maybe even decide to push Mike Matheny out the door.  The bottom line is that John Mozeliak may have over-valued some of his pieces and put stock in the wrong players for the future.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

 

Over the course of the year the Cardinals have been streaky. It is a common struggle for a lot of teams when they can’t get their pitching and hitting to go on hot streaks at the same time, but it has been a glaring issue for them this year.  At this point, Carlos Martinez is the only starter that can be relied on and the middle of their lineup has been missing that spark to get them going.

The National League West has already pretty much determined the wild card race.  So the only thing giving the Cardinals hope is how lackluster the division has been.  If they don’t string together some wins in the coming weeks then we will possibly start to see some pieces moving elsewhere and the Cardinals will be planning for the coming years.

Milwaukee Brewers

There have been several instances where it appeared that the Cubs would take over the Brewers.  However, that day has yet to come.  Eric Thames has been a great surprise for Milwaukee thus far–powering the club with 20 home runs. Travis Shaw is also proving himself to be a legitimate threat in the lineup.  They don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, however, the question for Milwaukee is whether or not their pitching is going to hold up.

So far the Milwaukee has been serviceable but nothing special.  They do not have a bonafide ace but have been relying on Chase Anderson who has been pulling the rotation so far this season.  If he is able to keep this pace along with Jimmy Nelson then the Brewers may have a chance to hang in there come the race for October.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have the best hitter in the division in Joey Votto.  On top of that, Scott Schebler and Zach Cozart have been pushing the offense to be perhaps the best in the division.  The problem has been their lack of pitching.  They are just now getting some of their top pitchers back in Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan.  However, their 30th ranked pitching also doesn’t bode well despite their return.  So look to see the Reds possibly moving some pieces at the deadline.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh has been getting back into the mix of things thanks to the improvement of Andrew McCutchen.  Despite the rough start, he has comeback with a line of .380/.462/.671 in the month of June.  The suspension of Starling Marte has not helped however, as they have sorely missed his bat in the lineup.  The Pirates have showed some signs of life but they will also need some help from their pitching staff.  Their -33 run differential will not translate to any improvements.

Taking two of three games in St. Louis this past weekend could possibly give the Pirates a spark they needed.  Marte is also nearing the end of his suspension.  His bat being back in the lineup could also give them a boost in morale and keep them tight with the Brewers and Cubs.

What to look for in the coming months?

It is hard to see the Cubs not making any big moves at the deadline as they still have a lot of their pieces from their championship team.  So look for them to be aggressive.  Schwarber’s demotion should also serve as a notice to the rest of the team that they are under-performing.  It is doubtful to see the Cubs trailing the Brewers for much longer with all the talent they have.  If the Cubs do not start pulling away soon though, then the division is up for grabs for any of these teams.

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Fantasy Baseball Buy Low Targets

Fantasy baseball 2017: Buy low targets

In fantasy baseball, the best time to trade for a player is when their value is at its lowest point. The buy low theory is clearly the best way to acquire top-tier talent for fairly cheap prices. Below are four players that could be considered buy low targets, as they offer immense upside despite their current levels of performance.

Manny Machado, Third Base/Shortstop, Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Buy Low Targets

Manny Machado is on pace for 35 home runs, but his low batting average makes him a perfect buy low target. (Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images).

Machado’s 2017 campaign has not gone as planned. After batting over .285 with at least 35 home runs in his two previous seasons, he was considered one of the top 10 fantasy hitters in the game. So far in 2017, he is batting only .224 with a raised strikeout rate by over four percent.

His career BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, is .303, although his current BABIP sits at a mere .234. BABIP tends to represent whether a hitter is getting lucky or unlucky. According to fangraphs.com, a BABIP “in the .230 range is very atypical for a major league hitter”, so for Machado, it is clear he is getting extremely unlucky.

His home run totals have sustained as he has an ISO, or isolated power, of .224 and is on pace for 35 home runs. If you have an opportunity to pick up Machado, as his value seems to be at its deepest point, now is the time.

Francisco Lindor, Shortstop, Cleveland Indians

Lindor had gotten off to a slow start in 2017. His current BABIP of .251 is quite far off from his career BABIP of .315. This is negatively affecting his batting average as he is currently batting .255, whereas he is a career .295 hitter.

The 23-year-old’s strikeout rate has continued to drop in every consecutive season which shows how he is progressing as a hitter. Also, his ISO is an amazing .227 and his HR/FB rate is a fairly sustainable 13.3 percent, showing that his power seems sustainable.

Lindor will surely set a career high in home runs this season as he is currently on pace for 32. If you can get your hands on Lindor while his value is still low, it will be an incredible steal as his performance is sure to improve.

Rougned Odor, Second Base, Texas Rangers

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Buy Low Targets

Rougned Odor had an extremely slow start in 2017. (Photo by MLB Trade Rumors)

Odor’s struggles were very real in 2017, as he had been batting under the Mendoza line for about three months. So far in June, he is batting .228, although his BABIP remains under .240, suggesting he is in line for major progression as his career BABIP sits around .281.

In 2016, Odor exploded onto the scene, hitting 33 home runs and stealing 14 bases while batting .271. Odor’s current .212 batting average is due to be on the rise because of his extremely low BABIP.

If you can pick up Odor now before his performance improves, you will have found yourself a top-tier fantasy asset, as he has the potential to be a great producer of home runs, RBIs, runs and steals.

Kyle Schwarber, Outfield, Chicago Cubs

Schwarber was recently sent down to Triple-A Iowa to clear his head and improve his approach. According to reports, the minor league stint shouldn’t be long, although it is well deserved. The 24-year-old is slashing a poor .171/.295/.378 with 12 home runs and 28 RBI.

His production has been solid even while batting well under the Mendoza line. His .193 BABIP suggests that he is getting absurdly unlucky, as he currently has the lowest BABIP in the MLB out of qualified batters.

His value has declined due to his current struggles and demotion, so now is the time to make a move for the former fourth overall pick.

 

Featured image by David Klutho

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Injury Update

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

I will begin my outfield rankings with one of the more intriguing positions in 2017: left field. This position hasn’t been this deep since the early and mid 2000s when we witnessed Manny Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun dominate fantasy as perennial top ten picks.

Many left fielders, young and old, have begun to emerge and make the position much deeper than many people originally anticipated.

The top 30 left fielders have been grouped into five tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Alex Gordon (KC), Brandon Drury (ARI), Roman Quinn (PHI), and Matt Holliday (NYY).

Exceptions include: Ian Desmond (COL), who will miss six to eight weeks, approximately 50 games, after undergoing hand surgery, and Yasmany Tomas (ARI), who may start on DL with an oblique injury, and currently no time table for return.  

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Kris Bryant headlined a World Series roster for the Cubs (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

  • Kris Bryant (CHC)  

Kris Bryant is the lone man in tier 1 of left fielders in 2017. He exploded onto the scene in 2015 to smash 26 home runs and drive in 99 RBIs. That was good enough to win the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Bryant continued to improve in 2016 with 39 home runs, 121 runs scored and 102 RBIs. That resulted in him winning the NL MVP award.

The 25-year-old is a career .284 hitter and has stolen 21 bases in two years. Bryant will be the first left fielder selected in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong play in 2017. (Jeff Curry, US Presswire).

  • Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)
  • Ryan Braun (MIL)
  • Starling Marte (PIT)
  • Christian Yelich (MIA)

Yoenis Cespedes is once again an elite fantasy option in all formats heading into 2017. The three-time MVP candidate has been on pace for 100 RBIs per 162 games in four of his five MLB seasons.

The 31-year-old, who is batting .277 since 2014, remains an integral producer in the New York Mets lineup and is sure to be a top 25 overall hitter if healthy.

Christian Yelich had his first breakout year in 2016 with career highs of 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. The 25-year-old has a career .293 batting average and is averaging about 19 steals per 162 games.

Yelich is a perennial 20 home run and 20 steal candidate. He could be a menacing 30/30 threat for years to come should he continue to improve. The Marlins three hitter will be selected within the top 50 picks in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Michael Brantley is poised for a bounce back in 2017. (Courtesy of TLA Worldwide)

  • Gregory Polanco (PIT)
  • Kyle Schwarber (CHC)
  • Justin Upton (DET)
  • Matt Kemp (ATL)
  • Khris Davis (OAK)
  • Michael Brantley (CLE)

Like Yelich, Gregory Polanco was another left fielder who broke out in 2016. The 24-year-old managed to reach career highs in home runs with 22 and RBIs with 86 in only 144 games.

Polanco has averaged 25 steals per 162 games, which shows his five-category potential. The 6-foot-5 230-pounder is also bound to increase his power numbers as he continues to grow into his frame. A 30/30 season isn’t out of the realm for Polanco, which warrants him as a top 60 pick in all formats.

Michael Brantley is arguably the most overlooked player in 2017. He is healthy and ready to bounce back. The 29-year-old has been battling a chronic shoulder injury since the end of 2015. He is now officially ready to go for opening day.

The third-place finisher in the AL MVP in 2014 will rejoin the most talented Cleveland Indians lineup since the late 1990s. With the emergence of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley should have no problem producing. He is currently being selected as the 140th player on ESPN according to fantasypros.com. I believe he is well worth a top 120 pick.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Andrew Benintendi intends to take home the AL Rookie of the Year in 2017. (Photos via Getty Images)

  • Andrew Benintendi (BOS)
  • Jose Ramirez (CLE)
  • Willson Contreras (CHC)
  • Marcel Ozuna (MIA)
  • Carlos Gomez (TEX)
  • Adam Duval (CIN)
  • Ben Zobrist (CHC)
  • David Dahl (COL)
  • Nomar Mazara (TEX)

My selection for AL Rookie of the Year, Andrew Benintendi, has an uncertain potential. His MLB sample size is a mere 118 plate appearances. The former Golden Spikes award winner is a five-tool player who has batted .313, .312, and .295 in three seasons at five different levels, including the MLB.

The 22-year-old may begin the year at the bottom half of the order. However, he will find his way to the top in no time. Batting ahead or directly behind of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Hanley Ramirez will allow him to be an extremely productive player.

He is currently being selected as the 111th player on ESPN, and certainly warrants a pick this early.

Nomar Mazara has seen his draft stock fall as of late. Word of a possible platoon against lefties has concerned owners about his at bat totals in 2017. I’m a full believer in Mazara’s ability to be an everyday player in this league, He has continuously improved his batting average throughout his minor-league career.

The 21-year-old has shown he has the potential to be a .280 hitter with 20 or more home runs over a full season. If an injury or poor performance were to occur to his platoon partner, Mazara could take the everyday spot and run with it.

He is being selected as the 260th player on ESPN, which makes him a sleeper in the majority of leagues. I wouldn’t hesitate selecting him top 200, especially in keeper leagues and dynasty leagues.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Corey Dickerson sheds 25 pounds in the offseason, is this a sign of good things to come? (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

  • Corey Dickerson (TB)
  • Jayson Werth (WSH)
  • Eric Thames (MIL)
  • Melky Cabrera (CWS)
  • Jorge Soler (KC)
  • Curtis Granderson (NYM)
  • Michael Saunders (PHI)
  • Rajai Davis (OAK)
  • Brett Gardner (NYY)
  • Jarrod Dyson (SEA)
  • Ender Enciarte (ATL)

People tend to forget about Corey Dickerson’s success in Colorado. He batted .312 and .304 in consecutive seasons. The 27-year-old has dropped 25 pounds in order to obtain the starting left field spot as opposed to being the designated hitter, which is where he spent the majority of his time in 2016.

Either way, Dickerson will be an everyday player for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 and is a threat for 30 home runs and solid RBI production. His current ADP on ESPN is 276, which is very low for someone with .300/80/30/80 potential.

Ender Inciarte has quietly been a career .292 hitter while averaging about 24 steals per 162 games. Inciarte will be the leadoff hitter once again for a young but talented Atlanta Braves lineup that commonly goes under the radar.

Although there is a lack of power, it isn’t out of his realm to sport a stat line of .300 100/10/50/20. The 25-year-old is currently being selected as the 196th player on ESPN, putting him just outside the top 50 outfielders, which I believe he is.

 

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How Did the Cubs Build a World Series Squad?

The Chicago Cubs won Game seven of the World Series on Wednesday, ending the longest drought in MLB history. In one of the most exciting games in baseball history, the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in extra innings and were thus crowned World Champions. GM Theo Epstein has assembled a team in Chicago that is built for the long haul, a team that can truly compete for the next five World Series. How did Theo Epstein assemble such a talented squad of players?

The answer may seem simple, but in truth, is a lot harder than it sounds. Epstein nailed his draft picks and won more of his trades than he lost. Before the 2016 season commenced, Epstein knew his team had a chance to compete, and went out and signed players that could fill the missing roles in the team. It is a recipe for success that Epstein established at his previous tenure in Boston where he had broken another curse in 2004 before winning the 2007 World Series with Boston as well.

Epstein began his most recent tenure in Chicago in October 2011. He would proceed to finish in the cellar of the division his first three seasons before getting to the NLCS in 2015 and winning the World Series in 2016. This is important because those three seasons in the cellar led to very nice draft picks for Epstein and the Cubs organization.

epstein

Theo Epstein assembled a World Series team in 5 years. Could he be considered one of the greatest GMs of all time? Photo courtesy of Boston.com

2012, aka Epstein’s first draft, led to the Cubs drafting Albert Almora Jr. with the 6th overall pick. The 2013 MLB Draft saw the Cubs owning the second overall pick, which would be used on Kris Bryant. 2014 sparked controversy for the Cubs, as the organization drafted Kyle Schwarber, which was seen as a reach for the Cubs at the time by pundits. These three first rounders were all on the World Series squad, with Bryant and Schwarber both contributing heavily with their production at the plate.

Epstein was a trade machine in Boston, and the same philosophy carried over to his tenure in Chicago. Epstein was a master of selling players at their peak and actually netting a strong return in terms of prospects. For example, the Cubs traded Scott Feldman to help shore up Baltimore’s rotation in exchange for reliever Pedro Strop and starter Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had never pitched with great success in Baltimore, averaging an ERA of 5.46 while playing for the Orioles. Since joining the Cubs, his ERA since 2013 has averaged out to 2.52 over his last three seasons.

Arrieta is not the only present core Cub to be received in a trade. Anthony Rizzo, a stud first base prospect at the time, was picked up from San Diego for a package built around Andrew Cashner. Cashner  had some inconsistent success in San Diego, but Rizzo is currently one of the top first basemen in all of baseball. The Cubs traded starter Ryan Dempster, who was having a very strong season in his own right, to the Rangers in exchange for Kyle Hendricks. Addison Russell was also picked up in a trade by Epstein, who had to give up Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel (yes, the same Hammel who would go on to resign with the Cubs in the following offseason) for the package built around Russell.

russell

Addison Russell is the reason Starlin Castro was traded by Epstein. Russell proved the faith was true as he knocked in 6 RBIs in Game 6 of the World Series. Photo courtesy of realsport101.com

Epstein also made the right decision in regards to personnel choices on the roster. Epstein had acquired a plethora of talent at nearly every position in the minors. Epstein leaned on this talent as he traded veterans to be replaced by the inexperienced rookies. Epstein dumped Starlin Castro so both Addison Russell and Javier Baez could have starting positions in the Cubs middle infield. Plenty of talent were traded or axed for marginal returns to make room for the future stars of the Cubs. Yet, despite all these wily veterans being traded, none of the talent really amounted to much after the trades. The biggest names include players like Justin Ruggiano, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Zambrano, and Alfonso Soriano.

Looking at all this wheeling and dealing, Epstein is bound to come across a couple trades that could be viewed as losses right? In all honesty, there is really only two trades that could be viewed as losses and both trades have reasonable defense for the action. First, was DJ LeMahieu being traded to the Rockies. LeMahieu has since produced an All-Star season playing second base for the Rockies, but the trade can be defended as Epstein already had his future middle infield in Castro and Baez (with Russell on the way). The only other lost trade was trading Welington Castillo to Seattle for next to nothing. Truth be told, Castillo never really was an offensive threat in Chicago, and the Cubs had already turned to alternatives to replace him at the catching position.

In truth, Epstein has been nearly flawless in constructing this 2016 World Champion squad. A few things shook out in his favor, like Jake Arrieta shaking off his kinks and becoming an ace pitcher. That being said, every team needs a little luck to win in the playoffs. Epstein’s impact trades and draft picks have setup the Cubs for success for the next five years. Now the final test will be to see if Epstein and the Cubs can sustain this success for the next decade or so, potentially putting together a team that can be a true dynasty, much to the dismay of the rest of the NL Central.

X-factors For Each World Series Team

Two games down and the series is split 1-1. The teams alternated who would dominate each game, as the Tribe took Game 1 with a masterful pitching performance from Corey Kluber and a couple of bombs from Roberto Perez. The Cubs took Game 2 with Jake Arrieta pitching well in his 5 2/3 innings and the Cubs playing some small ball to get their win. This article will analyze some of the players that may not be superstars, but will be relied upon nevertheless by both teams.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs showed Game 2 why their lineup is one of the most feared in baseball. The team constantly worked the count and strung plenty of hits together to produce a lead that would not be surrendered. One player who has been producing all playoffs, only sputter out in the World Series so far is Javier Baez.

Baez was the best hitter for the Cubs all postseason before the World Series. The man has accumulated 22 TB’s (Total Bases) and a .316 avg so far this playoffs, but only 2 of his 15 hits have come from Games 1 and 2 this World Series. Baez is in an important position of the lineup, hitting behind Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist, who have been the hottest hitters for the Cubs between the first two games. Baez needs to hit like he did in the ALCS and ALDS to knock in the hot hitters in front of him and maximize the run support for the rotation, especially since The Cubs Official Twitter Page has already come out and said Schwarber has not been medically cleared to play the field. Baez has always had high K totals, but has been able to hit at a well enough clip to still be included in the Cubs lineup, now is the time to prove he belongs.

hendricks

Kyle Hendricks is one of the many young Cubs players that have stepped up all playoffs. How will he pitch in one of the biggest games in Wrigley Field history? Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The rotation is the one part of the team the Cubs have been able to truly rely upon all season. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester were expected to produce, but it is Kyle Hendricks who has seemingly come out of nowhere to be the best pitcher for the Cubs this season. Hendricks was a little rocky his first start in the NLDS, but rebounded big time in the NLCS.

Hendricks made two starts in the NLCS, putting together a stat line that nobody could frown upon. in 12 2/3 innings, Hendricks only gave up one run (0.71 ERA) and managed a WHIP of 0.71 as well, amassing 11 k’s in the process. The fact he did not get two wins in the NLCS just goes to show why wins is not a good stat for comparing pitchers. His biggest stage is still yet to come, however, as he will pitch the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945. Hendricks will also be relied upon to pitch either Game 6 or 7 if the series reaches that point. A Cubs team that relies so much on the rotation pitching well, it will be fun to watch to see if Hendricks is up to the task.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians dominated Game 1 of the World Series. Corey Kluber twirled a pitching gem before getting pulled early for one of the best 1-2 relief punches in baseball of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Game 2 saw the opposite, as Trevor Bauer constantly put his teams into jams and the hitting seemingly disappeared. The Indians only run Game 2 came from a wild pitch. Now the Indians go to Wrigley for three games, hoping to pull out at least one win to give themselves a chance at home.

In order to pull the win, however, the Tribe needs their star to step up. Jason Kipnis may not be as big a name as he should, but he is worshipped in Cleveland (maybe not after his two errors in Game 2). 2016 was a rebound season for the man who has always had double digit stolen bases, but finally put up more than 20 home runs in a season (23, which cannot be a coincidence right?). All postseason, however, Kipnis’ has been putrid, only putting together 6 hits in 39 AB’s (.154 BA). Hitting second in the lineup, he needs to get on base in front of Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli. Kipnis is no slouch on the basepaths either, which leads to Lindor and Napoli seeing more fastballs and hopefully jumpstarting the Indians offense. The Indians offense is going to need somebody to get the lineup going, as playing a World Series game at Wrigley is a very difficult experience.

The second X-factor for the Indians is a big name player, their best pitcher, Corey Kluber. The truth is, Kluber may have to start three games in a seven game series, potentially pitching games 4 and 7 to go with his game 1 start. The man is a machine (or Klubot), who despite a rough April, put together a potential Cy Young season to lead a young rotation through much of the season.

kluber

Kluber has been lights out all postseason. Can he carry that momentum into Games 4 and 7 this World Series? Picture courtesy of the USA Today

Kluber has carried that momentum into the postseason, where he has been unrelenting to opposing hitters. The man has made 4 starts this postseason, giving up only 2 ER’s the whole time. He has a K/9 of 10.73, which is comparable to a stud reliever, but done with a sample size almost five times larger. Indians manager Terry Francona knows he needs Kluber to win this series, which is partially why Kluber was only pulled 88 pitches into Game 1, despite not giving up  a run through 6 innings. Kluber gives the Indians the best chance to win, so having him pitch potentially three games this series will be an interesting experiment for the Tribe, but one that should pay dividends for the team if history is anything to go by for Kluber.

In the end, baseball is a team game, where anything can happen and anybody can step up and elevate the team. That being said, the aforementioned players elevating their game for the rest of the World Series will be a large step forward for either team who are looking to go home World Champs.

 

Why the Indians Will Be World Series Champions

The Indians have surprised many national MLB pundits due to them being national underdogs coming into the playoffs. Despite having the second best record in the American League, the Indians were not the favorites, according to Vegas, against either the Boston Red Sox or the Toronto Blue Jays. Once again, the Indians will assume the title of underdog, as the Chicago Cubs have been the best team in baseball all season. This may be the toughest challenge yet for the Tribe, but I am here to tell you why the Indians will be victors when the dust settles.

It starts with the manager. The Indians have Terry Francona, one of the best managers in the business. Francona has two World Series rings under his belt already from his time managing the Red Sox. He knows what it takes to succeed in the postseason, as seen by his bullpen management in the previous series. Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, may be one of the top managers as well, but Maddon has never had to manage a World Series game. Any sort of edge helps in the World Series, and Francona’s experience puts him at a higher level than Maddon.

coco-crisp

Coco Crisp has been hot for the Indians this postseason. Considered nothing more than a veteran addition at the waiver deadline, can he keep up the momentum going into the final series? Photo courtesy of cleveland.com

The Indians lineup has been so successful this postseason because the lineup is so balanced. Coco Crisp, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez all provide hitting from both sides of the plate. Switch hitting is important because that means these four hitters cannot be manipulated so the pitcher’s breaking balls break away from the hitter. These four hitters are match-up proof. The Indians have also received home runs from all parts of the lineup this postseason. Coco Crisp, who was picked up at the waiver deadline, had only 2 HR’s in 20 games with the Tribe during the regular season. He has already matched that this postseason, stepping up at key moments to put the Indians ahead in games.

Most important, however, may be the Indians bullpen this postseason. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen have combined this postseason to produce amazing results while being inserted into the game anywhere from the 5th inning to the 9th. Francona has shown that he is not afraid to lean on Miller at the first sign of trouble from one of his young starters. It is a move that is surprising, especially so early in games, but also proven effective this postseason. Miller and Allen have shown that if the Indians’ starter can get through five innings, the dynamic duo can get the Indians through the last four unscathed.

danny-salazar

Danny Salazar had the best k/9 ratio of any of the Indians starters this regular season. He could provide some valuable work in a tired bullpen or potentially start Game 4 for the Tribe. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

All the talk this Pre-World Series has been that the Cubs have added Kyle Schwarber (shoutout Middletown, Ohio) to the 25 man roster to be the designated hitter when at Progressive Field.  The media has not been discussing the return of Yan Gomes and Danny Salazar to the Indians 25 man roster. Yan Gomes will strengthen the weakest position in the lineup, as Roberto Perez has only amassed .174 avg this postseason. Even as just a pinch hit situation, Gomes could provide a lift much like Schwarber can for the Cubs. Salazar’s limit has been set at 60 or 70 pitches, but it could prove vital in either a long relief role or a potential game 4 start.

Finally, the Indians will have home field advantage during the series due to the American League winning the All-Star Game. This may be just something minor, but it gives the Indians the opportunity to establish momentum through the first two games, before being able to play the last two at home (if necessary). It may be just something small, but any edge helps come World Series time.

The Chicago Cubs may have the better team on paper, but the same could be said of the Red Sox and Blue Jays in prior series. The Indians have thrived in their underdog role this postseason and will rely on the experience Terry Francona provides to pull out another championship for Cleveland. The bullpen will be used early and often these upcoming games, so it will be interesting to see how Francona utilizes Miller and Allen as the series unfolds. Combine that bullpen with a lineup that does not rely on one single guy to carry the team, and we could see one last upset this season as the Indians beat the Cubs in six games.