Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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Postseason

National League playoff predictions

The National League has been interesting so far this year. In the Central, there’s a jam-packed division with teams floating around the .500 mark. In the West, the Dodgers have a strong grip on first place but the Rockies and Diamondbacks are also having great years. The East however is pretty much a lock with the Nationals having little competition getting in their way.

Here is a look at who will most likely be making an appearance in October.

Los Angeles Dodgers, National League West

National League playoff predictions

The Dodgers hope Kershaw’s injury will not keep him out for long (nydailynews)

The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball and they have been tough to stop. They had a stretch of winning 30 of 34 games and are playing like they will be able to break their championship drought.

Los Angeles just took a major hit to their rotation. Clayton Kershaw left in the second inning of Sunday’s game with lower back issues. He landed on the 10-day DL and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Kershaw has kept up his typical excellence thus far, so the Dodgers will have a lot to overcome with this injury. They are sitting pretty with a 10.5-game lead on the Rockies, but with how the division is playing this is no time to coast.

It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers will be looking for starting pitching help within the next week with this new injury. If Kershaw misses significant time, they may look for some rotation help to shore things up.

The Dodgers’ pitching staff has the best ERA in the majors, however the Diamondbacks are right behind them in that category. Los Angeles should not take the injury lightly as it is important for them to maintain their strong lead in the West. Otherwise, the Rockies or Diamondbacks could make a run for them.

All around, the Dodgers are still the best team in the National League even without Clayton Kershaw. The young duo of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger have been fantastic this year on top of the stellar season from Justin Turner. The Dodgers have also been in the mix for Orioles closer Zach Britton. If the Dodgers make a move for Britton, it will be nearly impossible to beat them if they have a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Chicago Cubs, National League Central

National League playoff predictions

Jose Quintana has won his first two starts for the Cubs (CBS Sports)

The Cubs have finally started to hit their stride. They are 8-1 since the All-Star break and have caught the Brewers in the Central.

The Brewers however are starting to regress like a lot of people predicted. They are 3-7 since the break with six of those games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Things aren’t getting easier as their next two series are against the Nationals and the Cubs.

Chicago has gotten a spark since the Jose Quintana trade. They gave up their best prospect in Eloy Jimenez, but may have received one of the key pieces they were looking for to fill out their roster.

One more thing they may look for at the deadline though is bullpen help. Wade Davis has been an excellent add this season for the Cubs, but they may need more help to fill out their relief pitching. The Cubs have been linked to Pat Neshak of the Phillies who is having a stellar year. He would make for a great combo of Neshak-Davis in the eighth and ninth.

The offense is also starting to play to its potential as of late. The combo of Bryant-Rizzo-Schwarber was supposed to be one of the most feared cores in the majors. Bryant and Rizzo are playing to expectations while Schwarber is slowly improving from his abysmal first half of the season.

The Cubs are starting to return to their 2016 form though, and if it keeps up then there will be no team in the Central that will be able to keep up with them.

Washington Nationals, National League East

National League playoff predictions

Harper has had an MVP caliber year (Sports Illustrated)

The Nationals may be the surest bet for the postseason at this point. They are not the best team in the league by any means, but they do not have any competition in their division that will come close to threatening them for the title in the East.

As with most teams in the league, the bullpen has the biggest question mark on the team. The Nationals do have some prospects they can deal in order to shore things up, because it will be vital for them to have a more reliable bullpen in the postseason.

Their bullpen currently ranks as the worst in all of baseball, and that simply will not suffice if the Nationals want to compete in the playoffs.

Although they have the worst ranked bullpen, they have the top ranked offense in the National League. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy have been a deadly combo this year that will throw any pitcher fits. Each one of them could be in the conversation for MVP, but the Dodgers have some serious contenders themselves.

Either way, the offense has been a big reason for their success along with their ace, Max Scherzer. It has been discussed that Scherzer may actually be the best starting pitcher in the league today.

Arizona Diamondacks, National League Wild Card #1

National League playoff predictions

J.D Martinez makes the Diamondbacks lineup much stronger (arizonasports)

The Diamondbacks showed the league that they are serious this year with their acquisition of J.D. Martinez. Martinez makes the Diamondbacks’ lineup strong enough to perhaps be able to compete with the best offenses in the league. The Goldscmidt-Martinez combo along with the other Arizona hitters who are having great years would be tough to stop in a playoff series.

Robbie Ray is having a career year and Zack Greinke has returned to his Cy Young form. It seemed that Greinke may have lost his edge when he went to Arizona. However, he is proving that 2016 was a fluke and he is still an elite pitcher.

The pitching staff has overall been a real plus this year as only the Dodgers have been more successful. With the injury to Kershaw, the Diamondbacks may have a better opportunity to catch up to them.

The Diamondbacks have only won three of their past 10 games. This most likely will not last though. Every team has ups and downs during a season, and Arizona is just in the middle of it right now. Although they probably won’t be able to catch the Dodgers, they have a good enough team to take a wild card spot. In any other division in the NL they would have a much better shot at a title, they just happen to be in the best one in the majors right now.

Colorado Rockies, National League Wild Card #2

National League playoff predictions

Blackmon is having a career year in Colorado (The Denver Post)

The third team that has a good shot of making the playoffs from the National League West is the Rockies are having a breakout year. Colorado has some good young pitching but much of their success comes from their offense. Nolan Arrenado is proving to be an elite third baseman and Charlie Blackmon is having a career year.

Colorado is tied with Washington for the second best offense in the majors. What is interesting about this stat is that one would think that this is because they are hitting a lot of home runs since they are in Colorado. However, the Rockies actually rank 16th in home runs in the majors. They are getting guys in all sorts of different ways.

The Rockies will have a tough time holding their lead in the wild card over the Diamondbacks. Since Arizona has such a stronger pitching staff, it is most likely that they will overrun them.

They are looking for players to bolster their rotation, the only problem is that they are in Colorado. Yu Darvish has already stated that he does not want to be traded to the Rockies. The reason why the Rockies have a such hard time getting good pitching is because of their ballpark. However, Colorado needs a stronger rotation in order to compete in the postseason and stay ahead in the National League.

 

 

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Big Three

Which Team has the Big 3 of Baseball?

With all the talk in the NBA about big threes and super teams, I got to wondering if there are any teams like that in baseball. Now, it is a bit different in the MLB as you don’t have as many superstars moving teams to create these unstoppable forces.

Baseball is also much more of a team game. One or two players in the NBA can carry a team far into the playoffs. In baseball, the entire team needs to be carrying their weight because each player doesn’t have the same opportunity to make a big play throughout the game.

On that note, let’s take a look and see who might have the best “big three” in their lineup in the 2017 season. This is referring to what three players contribute the most to their team as a collective.

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa

Combined WAR: 12.1

Altuve: .347/.417/.551 13 HR 50 RBI | Springer: .310/.380/.613 27 HR 65 RBI | Correa: .325/.402/.577 20 HR 65 RBI

Baseball super teams

Correa might be the best shortstop since Jeter (Bleacher Report)

The Houston Astros are proving to be one of the greatest teams in recent memory largely thanks to the work of the core hitters in their lineup. It seems though that their years with high draft picks are finally starting to pay off.

Houston has the best record in the American League and second-best in the majors behind the Dodgers, and they’re putting in a bid to win their first world series in franchise history.

All three of these young hitters are All-Stars in 2017 and it is well deserved. Correa may be the front-runner for MVP over Trout, seeing that Trout has been on the DL for the past few weeks. Not to mention, Correa is only 22 years old.

It is also hard to recall a middle infield combination that has been so threatening in recent years. The first one that comes to mind is Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano for the Yankees. Seeing how young Altuve and Correa are now, they may end up being more effective of a duo than Jeter and Cano ever were.

Springer is also really starting to come into his own now. Everyone always knew that he had some serious punch in his bat. At the All-Star break, he is already two home runs away from his single-season record. On top of that, he is hitting the ball much more effectively as his slugging percentage is at an all-time high.

Seeing as none of of these three players are going to be unrestricted free agents for another two full seasons, this powerhouse doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Even though the best player in baseball is in the same division, it seems that the Astros will be running the division for the coming years largely because of this hitting core.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy

Combined WAR: 8.4

Harper: .325/.431/.590 20 HR 65 RBI | Zimmerman: .330/.373/.596 19 HR 63 RBI | Murphy: .342/.393/.572 14 HR 64 RBI

Baseball super teams

Harper has continued to live up to his high expectations (Sports Illustrated)

Despite the fact that these three hitters are leading the National League in batting average, I had to think about who belonged in this big three. Anthony Rendon had a pretty good bid into this but it was just too difficult to leave the other three out.

Zimmerman has reignited his career and may be having his best year. He has only batted over .300 in his career once but now he is competing with his teammates for the best in the NL.

Harper has continued his rise to super-stardom and nobody seems to be getting in his way. After a somewhat slow 2016 he has reached new levels in 2017. He is currently on pace to break 100 RBIs for the first time in his career and could also reach 40 home runs for the second time.

Thanks to his teammates also hitting the long ball, it is not as easy to pitch around Harper either. Because of Murphy’s success with the Nationals thus far, it is giving Harper more opportunities do excel.

Daniel Murphy has far exceeded the expectations of the Nationals in his first two years with the club. He has become a power threat which he had never been before. We all know how valuable power-hitting second basemen are too. Murphy is also running for the hitting title for the second year in a row. The bottom line is that there is no break from this Nationals lineup. Every batter will be a battle, but these three especially will drive any pitcher nuts.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto, Zach Cozart, Adam Duvall

Combined WAR: 8.8

Votto: .315/.427/.631 26 HR 68 RBI | Cozart: .316/.394/.547 9 HR 35 RBI | Duvall: .278/.321/.557 20 HR 61 RBI

Baseball super teams

Votto, Duvall,and Cozart have continued to be the only bright spot for the Reds (USA Today)

The Reds have not been great this year. As I mentioned in the introduction, three players cannot carry a team to greatness. The Reds are a perfect example of that.

Votto and Cozart are both All-Stars this year and along with Duvall they have been a bright spot for Cincinnati. However, their abysmal pitching keeps them in last place in perhaps the worst division in baseball. We are not here to talk about poor pitching however.

Votto has continued a spectacular career despite him being on one of the worst teams in baseball in the past few years. He leads a club that currently ranks in the top 10 in hitting in the majors.

What makes Votto so difficult to pitch against is his smarts at the plate. He is not easy to fool, as he currently has 62 walks on the season compared to 42 strikeouts. With players that hit home runs as much as he does, it is more typical to have a higher rate of strikeouts. That is something that you can see with Votto’s teammate, Duvall.

Adam Duvall broke out as a serious power threat last season. However, he is striking out in 25 percent of his at bats and only walking in five percent of them. In order for him to be an even bigger threat, he is going to take after Votto. He has improved as an overall hitter though as he is on pace to have the highest average and OPS of his career.

Cozart may be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. He has still been hitting on all cylinders despite his injury issues. He provides good pop at the top of the lineup and is a good setup man for whoever follows him. Knowing the Reds’ need for young pitching, they may deal him because of his current value. Because of this, the Cincinnati big three may not be in tact much longer.

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorious

Combined WAR: 9.3

Judge: .329/.448/.691 30 HR 66 RBI | Sanchez: .276/.360/.491 13 HR 40 RBI | Gregorius: .291/.346.458 10 HR 38 RBI

Baseball super teams

Judge has already passed Dimaggio for most home runs by a Yankees rookie (Sporting News)

Aaron Judge has come onto the scene and is already one of the best hitters in baseball. He largely carries this big three due to his ability to hit the ball out of the park as well as hit for average.

There is no getting around him and his surrounding hitters have made is especially difficult. While the Yankees are fairly banged up at the moment, his supporting cast has been coming through.

Gregorious is not typically known for his bat but rather his glove. He came onto the scene at the plate last season with 20 home runs. This year, he is picking back up where he left off and is nearly a .300 hitter. While he is just an above average hitter on the moment, he is proving to be a key part of the lineup.

Gary Sanchez is proving to be one of the better power-hitting catchers in the league. Despite only playing in 57 games at the midway point in the season, he has 13 home runs. He and Judge are bringing back the Bronx Bombers, and they will be hard to stop for the coming years.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner

Combined WAR: 10.0

Seager: .298/.395/.502 13 HR 45 RBI | Bellinger: .261/.342/.619 25 HR 58 RBI | Turner: .377/.473/.583 10 HR 37 RBI

Baseball super teams

Bellinger is the latest Dodgers rookie to make a splash in the bigs (Sports Illustrated)

These three All-Stars have led the best team in baseball to a 61-win season at the break. They are the best team in the National League while being in perhaps the best division in baseball. Cody Bellinger is a big reason for that with his breakout season at the plate.

Justin Turner won the final vote to get into his first All-Star game. The only reason he probably didn’t get in originally was because of the time he has missed. Once he gets enough at-bats to be eligible for the batting title, he may run with it.

Corey Seager is showing that he deserved to be ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball. After his Rookie of the Year campaign last year, it looks like he wants to pass the torch along to his teammate. With Turner coming onto the scene in Los Angeles at the right time, these young players are showing how the Dodgers can win their first championship in almost 30 years.

The Final Rankings

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Washington Nationals
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Cincinnati Reds

Honorable Mentions:

Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado, Mark Renyolds, Charlie Blackmon: Each of these guys have some serious pop.

Tampa Bay Rays: Corey Dickerson, Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison: Dickerson and Morrison are having big years while Longoria continues his stellar career.

Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber: If this was any other year, they might be at the top of the list.

 

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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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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.