2017 National League Preview: National League West

The National League West has two of the most storied franchises in MLB history. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are always in a dog fight for the top spot. In the past 10 seasons, the Dodgers have six division titles, while San Francisco has won two division titles and three World Series titles.

The adage of the wild west certainly fits here, so don’t be surprised to see a major shake up in the division’s top teams.

5th: San Diego Padres

Projected 2017 Record: 64-98

National League West

Hunter Renfroe made a splash in San Diego in 2016 (Credit: Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports).

With six straight losing seasons, the San Diego Padres are one of the worst teams in baseball. However, there is some talent in San Diego.

First basemen Wil Myers was an absolute steal for the Padres. He was acquired in 2015, and flourished in his first full season in the majors, hitting 28 bombs and swiping 28 bags. In addition to Myers, outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe will try to earn starting roles for the club. Both are top prospects and have tons of potential.

The Padres are sorely lacking in pitching. Jarred Cosart, Jhoulys Chacin and Trevor Cahill are the top pitchers in the Padres rotation. Top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza is not expected to make it to the big leagues this year.

The Padres are in for another long season, given their inept pitching and developing offense. There is still hope as prospects start to make their way to the majors.

4th: San Francisco Giants

Projected 2017 Record: 82-80

You would think the Giants are one of the top teams in the National League West after coming off a loss in the 2016 NLDS. That is not the case. As the offseason progressed, the teams around them got better, and the Giants stood pat.

They will rely on phenom Buster Posey to provide offense along with Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Those four could be their only main contributors, with a question mark in left field and poor seasons from Joe Panik and Eduardo Nunez in 2016.

The pitching staff will be the strength of the club in 2017. Anchored by perennial Cy Young candidate Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, they boast one of the best rotations in the National League. Pitching has been, and will remain, the focus of the Giants.

An adequate offense will benefit from their stellar pitching staff. If the Giants can find a spark on offense, they could get into the Wild Card.

3rd: Colorado Rockies

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League West

Nolan Arenado looks to provide the power in a deep lineup. (Credit: Ben Margot/AP Photo).

Presently, the Colorado Rockies are a dark-horse candidate to make the playoffs. The additions of Ian Desmond and Greg Holland coupled with the improvements in their rotation have Colorado on the road to success.

Their offense is one of the deepest in the majors, with five players hitting 20 homers or more in 2016. Nolan Arenado is the rainmaker in Colorado’s lineup, posting back to back seasons with at least 40 homers and 130 RBIs. He is joined by Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez to form one of the most powerful lineups in all of baseball.

The thin Colorado air that helps fuel the offense also helps fuel the pitching staff’s ERA. 2016 was still a good year for pitchers in Colorado. If Tyler Chatwood, Chad Bettis, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson can improve from last season, this club could be lethal.

A playoff run is not out of the question for the Rockies in 2017.

2nd: Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected 2017 Record: 85-77

With a busy 2015 offseason, the Diamondbacks were picked by many to be a dark-horse contender in the National League West. After underperforming, the Diamondbacks hope to turn things around in 2017.

Outfielders David Peralta and A.J. Pollock will look to return to form. Both of their seasons got cut short last year due to injuries. Full seasons from Brandon Drury and Jake Lamb helped to soften the blow, and they enter this season as entrenched starters. The offense will be led by Paul Goldschmidt, who hit 24 home runs and stole 32 bases in 2016.

Pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller will need to get back on track if the Diamondbacks are to contend this season. After posting a sparkling 1.66 ERA in 2015, Greinke’s ERA ballooned to 4.37 in 2016. However, a full offseason in Arizona will only help Greinke on his road back to dominance. Miller fared far worse in his first year in the desert. With a 6.15 ERA, Miller can only go up from here.

The talent is there in Arizona’s pitching staff to return them to contention. If they can put it together in 2017, the offense will be more than capable to drive the team to the playoffs.

1st: Los Angeles Dodgers

Projected 2017 Record: 92-70

National League West

Clayton Kershaw looks to return to Cy Young form in 2017 (Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

The Dodgers are looking for their fifth straight division title this season. With the emergence of Corey Seager and steady veterans like Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner, Los Angeles has plenty of fire power to make it back to the playoffs.

Another source of offense will be outfielder Joc Pederson and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Also, don’t leave out veteran acquisition Logan Forsythe, who will solidify second base.

The Dodgers will also rely on some big names on the mound to return them to the playoffs. With a full season from Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, the rotation is one of the deepest in all of baseball. 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias will be playing his first full season in the majors after making 15 starts last season.

Furthermore, the Dodgers boast a talented roster loaded with all-star level players. It is their pitching that steals the show and should be the strength of a deep ball club.

 

 

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Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

The MLB season is closing in! With only sixty-six days of preparation left, it’s time to tackle our early 2017 fantasy baseball pitcher rankings.

I have categorized the top 100 pitchers into twelve different tiers. Creating tiers allow owners to separate and compare players based on their projected value and cost. Players at the bottom of a tier present more value, as they project to have similar stats as a player at the top of a tier, with less of a cost.

Tiers below are given a star rating. A five-star rating is given to the best of the best, where a zero-star rating is given to an average, waiver wire pickup type player.

The top and bottom pitcher in each tier will be profiled below.

Tier 1 – 5 StarS

Kershaw looks to reign in fourth Cy Young heading into 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

To qualify as a five-star pitcher, a player must consistently have seasons with a sub three ERA (earned run average), sub one WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched), and over 200 strikeouts.

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Max Scherzer
  3. Madison Bumgarner

Clayton Kershaw remains the golden standard of major league pitching. He has eight consecutive seasons with an ERA in the twos and a career strike outs per nine innings (K/9) of 9.8. If the 28-year-old retired today, he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Kershaw looks to recover from his back ailments and return to his godly form in 2017.

Madison Bumgarner emerges as a five-star pitcher in 2017. Last season was his sixth straight with 200 innings pitched. He has averaged 214 strikeouts per year over the last six seasons, and continues to improve those totals every year. The great playoff performer sports a career 2.99 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP. Bumgarner, at only twenty-seven years old, will remain in Cy Young talks for years to come.

Tier 2 – 4.5 StarS

Thor looks to electrify the competition in his third MLB season. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

This tier is home to the man that will one day overtake Clayton Kershaw for the number one ranked pitcher spot in baseball.

  1. Noah Syndergaard

Thor looks to continue his dominance heading into 2017. The Mets ace enters his third season with hopes of being a top 20 MVP candidate for the second year straight. With a career K/9 of 10.4, Syndergaard will be fanning batters into oblivion for the next decade. A lack of experience is the only reason he is left out of the five-star tier, as he is yet to log 200 innings in a season. He has the potential to be a top 3 fantasy pitcher in 2017.

 

Tier 3 – 4 StarS

Arrieta looks to impress in important contract year. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

To be considered for tier three, one must have multiple seasons with 200 innings pitched, 200 strike outs, and an ERA in the low threes.

  1. Chris Sale
  2. Corey Kluber
  3. Johnny Cueto
  4. Jon Lester
  5. David Price
  6. Justin Verlander
  7. Jake Arrieta

Confident Chris Sale enters 2017 with adversity, will he perform in his first season with Boston? The answer is uncertain, but the numbers suggest he will. Sale has a career 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 10.1 K/9. He joins a talented and seasoned pitching staff that will relieve him of pressure, as he no longer the lone ace in the rotation. There is no reason Sale can’t finish as a top five Cy Young finisher for a fourth straight season.

Jake Arrieta schemes his way into the four-star category in 2017. The 31-year-old is coming off of two consecutive seasons of 197 plus innings, 190 strike outs, with an average ERA of 2.44. Arrieta signed a one year, $15.6 million contract for 2017, and looks to impress in order to receive a pay day in 2018. With the Cubs lineup currently projected as the top offense, a fourth consecutive top ten Cy Young finish for Arrieta is more than likely.

 

Tier 4 – 4 StarS

Darvish looks to bounce back from injury ridden 2016. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

To qualify for this tier, player must have a high floor and high ceiling. They must show a strong potential to reach 200 innings pitched, 200 strike outs, and a low three ERA. Players in this tier may or may not have reached these marks before, but will do so in 2017.

 

  1. Yu Darvish
  2. Stephan Strasburg
  3. Jacob deGrom
  4. Cole Hamels
  5. Chris Archer
  6. Carlos Martinez

Yu Darvish looks to return to super star form in 2017. He is coming an injury ridden season where he was limited to a mere seventeen starts. When healthy, Darvish is a menace. His career K/9 is 11.3, showing that he has the potential to strike out 260 plus batters. Also, his career ERA sits just below 3.30. Darvish’s extremely high upside is accompanied by injury concerns, but name a player that isn’t.

St. Louis Cardinals Ace, Carlos Martinez, looks to build on his early Major League success heading the upcoming season.  With two consecutive seasons of 180 innings, and a career K/9 of 8.5, Martinez provides a high floor with a potential to continue to improve. The 25-year-old hurler provided a 9.2 K/9 in the minors, which shows that his strike out totals can continue to improve as he adjusts to life in the big leagues.

 

Tier 5 – 4 Stars

Pretty Ricky looks to double his Cy Young total in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Players in this tier WILL contend for a Cy Young, although are being over looked as they have less of a track record.

  1. Rick Porcello
  2. Aaron Sanchez
  3. Michael Fulmer

Rick Porcello was a completely different pitcher in 2016 than in any of his previous campaigns. He started to make better in game adjustments, allowing him to get through lineups multiple times over. Also, he has done a great job eating innings, as he managed to finish sixth in innings pitched in 2016.  Pretty Ricky has the potential to win another twenty games, and compete for back-to-back Cy Young awards.

2016 Rookie of the year award winner, Michael Fulmer, shows promise of being a future Cy Young candidate. With a career K/9 of 8.4 and an ERA of 3.17, his potential is through the roof. The 23-year-old former first-round pick will look to record 200 innings for the first time in 2017.

 

Tier 6 – 4 StarS

Can Kyle Hendricks repeat his miraculous 2016 season? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

These players are proven inning eaters, have great ratios, but lack the strikeout upside that makes a top ten pitcher. These players are lower risk than the comeback candidates, but have a lower ceiling as well.

  1. Kyle Hendricks
  2. Masahiro Tanaka
  3. Kenta Maeda
  4. Jose Quintana
  5. Julio Teheran

Top three Cy Young finisher in 2016, Kyle Hendricks looks to continue his dominance heading into 2017. He managed to finish with a 2.13 ERA, .979 WHIP, 170 strikeouts in 190 innings. Even if Hendricks adds an entire point to his ERA, he will still be under 3.2. His dominant sinker and change up will continue to keep hitters off balance in 2017.

Two time all-star Julio Teheran looks to help a young Braves team reach new heights this upcoming season. With a career ERA of 3.39 and K/9 of 7.8, Teheran has continued to impress on a lack luster Braves team. The Braves offense started off 2016 at a historically bad pace, but managed to be a top five offense in the second half. This gives Teheran hope improve his career high win total of fourteen.

 

Tier 7 – 3.5 StarS

Gerrit Cole looks for redemption in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

This tier includes players who look to recover from sub-par or shortened 2016 campaigns. These players are higher risk draft picks, with higher ceilings.

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Danny Salazar
  3. Carlos Carrasco
  4. Zack Greinke
  5. Matt Harvey
  6. Felix Hernandez
  7. Dallas Kuechel
  8. Sonny Gray
  9. Garrett Richards

Gerrit Cole finished 2015 as a top five Cy Young finisher and top twenty MVP candidate. He endured a tough 2016 campaign where he made twenty-one starts with his career worst ERA, WHIP, and K/9. A lingering rib injury, which is gone by the way side, was the cause of his 2016 struggles. The twenty-six-year-old will return to form in 2017, rejoining the Cy Young conversation.

Garrett Richards elected to skip surgery to repair a UCL tear in his throwing elbow in 2016, and instead received a plasma injection to repair the injury. Before the injury, Richards started six games, nursing a 2.34 ERA and 8.8 K/9. Richards will be the ace for the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, and hopes to return to his 2014 or 2015 form, where he averaged a 2.82 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 170 strikeouts.

 

Tier 8 – 3.5 StarS

Will Danny Duffy go into cruise control after inking five-year contract? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

This tier may be small, but is important none the less. These players have proven to show top-twenty pitcher upside, but don’t have the names to match. They tend to fall in drafts but have tremendous value.

  1. Danny Duffy
  2. J.A. Happ
  3. Tanner Roark

Danny Duffy is expected to be the number one starter for the Royals heading into 2017. He just received a five year, $65 million deal. The twenty-eight-year-old made the transition from the bullpen to the rotation look easy last season. Duffy struck out 188 in 179.2 innings, resulting in a 9.4 K/9. He will reach the 200 innings and 200 strikeout marks in 2017.

Tanner Roark is the most over looked and undervalued players in my opinion. He has two seasons with over thirty starts, over 198 innings, under a 2.85 ERA, while averaging 154 strikeouts. He will slot in behind Max Scherzer and Stephan Strasburg in a very strong Nationals rotation. With the success of the Nationals imminent, Roark’s chances of matching or passing his career win total of sixteen is likely.

 

Tier 9 – 3 Star

McCullers looks to transition from prospect to prodigy in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Tier nine consists of young studs who are ready to explode. These players will have the opportunity to be enormous contributors come 2017.

  1. Lance McCullers
  2. Kevin Gausman
  3. Marcus Stroman
  4. Steven Matz
  5. Jameson Taillon
  6. Alex Reyes
  7. Jared Eickhoff
  8. Joe Ross
  9. Sean Manea
  10. Aaron Nola
  11. Julio Urias
  12. Blake Snell
  13. Carlos Rodon

2012 first round pick, Lance McCullers, looks to continue his tirade on the MLB. He has started a total of 26 games, resulting in a career 3.22 ERA and 10.2 K/9. McCullers will slot in as Houston’s number two starter in 2017. He will start over thirty games and log over 200 innings for the first time in his career next season.

Carlos Rodon, former third overall pick in 2014, looks to finally reach his potential in 2017. He has struggled early in his career, with an ERA of 3.9 and WHIP of 1.4. Although the bright spot in Rodon’s game is his devastating slider, which helps him strikeout 9.1 batters per nine. Rodon will begin to figure things out in 2017.

 

Tier 10 – 2 Star

McHugh looks to bounce back and revitalize a young Houston Rotation. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

The tenth tier of pitchers is loaded with upside. These players show high K/9 potential, along with being young enough to continue to improve their ratios.

  1. Colin McHugh
  2. Drew Pomeranz
  3. Jake Odorizzi
  4. Matt Moore
  5. Jon Gray
  6. Robbie Ray
  7. Drew Smyly
  8. Michael Pineda
  9. James Paxton

Colin McHugh finished 2016 with his worst ERA and WHIP in his three seasons as a starter, although he had a career high in strikeouts. McHugh looks to rebound to his 2015 Cy Young candidate form where he won nineteen games, with 171 strikeouts. The Astro’s look to impress in 2017, and McHugh will be a huge part of that.

James Paxton is ready to break out. The six foot four lefty managed 8.7 K/9 in 2016, along with a career high in innings pitched and games started. Paxton will be a heavy contributor for the Mariners this upcoming season where he will log a career high in innings pitcher, strikeouts and wins.

 

Tier 11 – 1 Star

We have to respect our veterans! These veterans provide above average value as they are reliable inning eaters with proven track records. They provide value later in drafts because as they tend to fall in draft position due to age concerns.

Invader Zimm looks to recover from 2016 blunders. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

  1. Rich Hill
  2. Ian Kennedy
  3. John Lackey
  4. Gio Gonzalez
  5. Marco Estrada
  6. Francisco Liriano
  7. Jeff Samardzija
  8. Jason Hammel
  9. Chris Tillman
  10. Adam Wainwright
  11. Lance Lynn
  12. Hisashi Iwakuma
  13. Jeremy Hellickson
  14. Mike Leake
  15. Jordan Zimmerman

The anomaly Rich Hill just received a three year, $45 million contract as a thirty-six-year-old pitcher. The age may affect people’s desire to select Hill, but his skill set says otherwise. He has a demoralizing 12-6 curveball, which helped him reach a career high in K/9 as a starter, with 10.5. He will be an integral part to the Dodgers rotation in 2017, and should be drafted in all leagues.

I’m not sure who showed up in Jordan Zimmerman’s uniform last season, but it wasn’t him. The imposter registered career worsts across the board, with a 4.87 ERA, 1.367 WHIP, and 5.6 K/9. No one was more frustrated with Zimmerman’s 2016 than himself, which leads me to believe he will not stand for another disappointing season. If the Tigers have any hope of making the playoffs, Zimmerman will have to step up and return to his form, as his career averages are 3.45 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 7.3 K/9.

 

Tier 12 – 0 Star

Will Bundy find success post Tommy John surgery? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Players in this final tier will commonly go undrafted in standard ten team leagues, and are worth the low risk investment. They have had hype in the past, and show potential to be successful in 2017.

  1. Dylan Bundy
  2. Joe Musgrove
  3. Tyler Glasnow
  4. Anthony Desclafani
  5. Eduardo Rodriguez
  6. Trevor Bauer
  7. Taijuan Walker
  8. Dan Straily
  9. Mike Foltynewicz
  10. Matt Shoemaker
  11. Wei-Yin Chen

    Can Conely improve his ratios enough to become fantasy relevant in 2017? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

  12. Ervin Santana
  13. Mike Leake
  14. Mike Montgomery
  15. Robert Gsellman
  16. Brandon Finnegan
  17. Patrick Corbin
  18. Zach Davies
  19. Ivan Nova
  20. Tyler Anderson
  21. Andrew Triggs
  22. Jharel Cotton
  23. Tyler Skaggs
  24. Daniel Norris
  25. Alex Cobb
  26. Adam Conely

Former fourth overall pick Dylan Bundy looks to gain more major league experience in 2017. He has battled adversity throughout his short career as he underwent reconstructive Tommy John surgery in 2013. Bundy will be an important part of the Orioles fragile rotation come next season. He will continue to improve on his career highs by staying healthy and striking out batters. His career 8.4 K/9 bodes well as Bundy has shown above average strikeout ability at all levels. Whether or not the ratio stats are there, the K’s will be.

Adam Conely is will end up on all of my teams this season. He has struggled mightily in the Majors, displaying a career ERA of 3.82, WHIP of 1.36, and 3.7 walks per nine (BB/9). I understand this is disconcerting, but his K/9 keep me believing. The twenty-six-year-old has averaged 8.2 K/9 through all levels, which gives me hope that he can continue to improve and possibly break out in 2017.

National League West

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Starting Pitchers

With the start of the 2017 MLB season still about three months away (85 days, six minutes, and 43 seconds, but who’s counting?), players and teams are beginning to gear up for the first pitch on April 2.

Let’s take a look at the top five starting pitchers for Opening Day 2017.

5. Justin Verlander- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

Justin Verlander will hope his 2016 success carries over to 2017. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander turned in a renaissance season for the Detroit Tigers in 2016. At age 33, he had his most innings pitched since 2012, posting a solid 227.2 innings. He coupled a full season with a return of his strikeout ability. Verlander struck out 254 batters and limited base runners with a WHIP of 1.00. The former Cy Young winner will look to continue his success into 2017.

4. Corey Kluber- Cleveland Indians

Corey Kluber bounced back in 2016 from a disappointing 2015 when he posted a record of 9-16. He matched his win-loss record from his Cy Young Award winning season in 2014 of 18-6. Kluber posted a solid ERA of 3.14 as well as striking out 227 batters over 215 innings pitched. He helped anchor a staff that would be a key component in the Indians run to the World Series. A surprise contender in 2016, the Indians won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season, led by staff ace Corey Kluber.

3. Madison Bumgarner- San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner is coming off of a season in which he posted career highs in strike outs (251), innings pitched (226.2), and ERA (2.77). All of that was good enough for him to garner his fourth straight All-Star game appearance, as well as a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Bumgarner led San Francisco to the NL Division Series, but the Giants were beaten soundly 3-1 by the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Surrounded by a strong pitching staff, Bumgarner will anchor the Giants starting rotation for 2017.

2. Clayton Kershaw- Los Angeles Dodgers

Even the casual baseball fan knows of the legendary dominance of lefty Clayton Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is only going to be 29 years old when the season starts, leaving his already stellar career all the more impressive. All this lauding may lead you to wonder why he is only second on this list. That is because of all the pitchers in contention for this list, Kershaw had by far the lowest number of innings pitched with only 149. He had his 2016 season cut short by injuries. Before he got hurt, he was on his way to posting an ERA below two (1.69) for the third time in four seasons! If it wasn’t for injuries, Kershaw would have been the runaway NL Cy Young winner as well as number one on this list. Kershaw is on track to to start Opening Day for the Dodgers.

1. Max Scherzer- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

Max Scherzer will dominate the NL in 2017. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

Max Scherzer won the NL Cy Young Award in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. He posted an ERA of 2.96, but it was his peripheral numbers that vaulted him to the Cy Young Award. He struck out an astounding 284 batters over 228.1 innings pitched. Scherzer also got batters out with ground balls and fly outs, supported by his WHIP of .097. By limiting opponents to an average of less than one baserunner per inning, and striking out batters at an astronomical rate, Scherzer was able to claim the NL Cy Young Award in 2016. In his prime, he is poised to add to his trophy case in 2017.

As the 2017 season draws nearer, look for these top five starting pitchers to dominate in 2017. Also watch out for some other names that just missed the cut. Pitchers like Chris Sale, David Price, Jake Arrieta and Noah Syndergaard will all be looking to make the cut next season.

 

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And then there were Four: NLDS Preview

With the Giants defeating the Mets 3-0 on Wednesday night, the National League playoff picture is set to begin on Friday night. Each of the four teams comes into the playoffs with very different stories: the Giants are looking to solidify themselves as the even-year juggernaut, the Cubs are looking to end a 100 year drought, and we’ll finally get to see either the Dodgers or the Nationals get into the NLCS.

Cubs vs. Giants

The Giants come into the NLDS riding yet another stellar postseason performance by Madison Bumgarner, who might be one of the most clutch starters in MLB playoff history. He’s the first pitcher to record multiple shutouts in sudden-death postseason games, his third postseason shutout gives him the second most in MLB history (Christy Matthewson had four). But, Bumgarner won’t be the only guy pitching this series, and this Giants staff will be going against arguably the best team in baseball. The Cubs ranked third in total offense in the entire MLB, and ranked first in team ERA. While the Giants pitching staff should be able to match up, it’s their offense that looks very outmatched on paper. The Cubs have one of the most talented, young offensive units in the MLB, led by MVP candidate Kris Bryant.

Image result for johnny cueto vs. jon lester

Cueto and Lester have both been great in 2016, and look to start off this series on the right foot. Image courtesy of ESPN.com

Even in their game against the Mets, the Giants offense was dormant until a clutch three-run homer from Conor Gillaspie broke the stalemate in the top of the ninth inning. This series could very well open with a similar pitching duel, with Johnny Cueto squaring off against Cy Young Candidate, Jon Lester. It will be up to Cueto, who posted a 5.40 ERA last year with the Royals on their postseason run, to set the tone for this series if the Giants want to have a shot. If San Fran wants to continue their even-year magic in the postseason, they’ll either have to step up their offensive game, or have their pitching bring the Cubs down a few pegs at the plate.

Realistically, the pitching scenario seems to be their best bet, so we’ll have to see if the rest of their rotation is up to the task. The Giants bullpen also offers some areas of concern, it didn’t see any action on Wednesday, so everybody should be fresh heading into the series; but they don’t have the same dominant staff that the Cubs have. The Giants blew 29 saves in the regular season, and they’ll have to avoid that level of inconsistency if they want to have a shot in this series.

I’ve picked against the Giants twice already this postseason, and been proven wrong both times. Maybe the third time, and a much stronger team, is the charm I need. I think the Cubs will take the series 3-1 because the Giants won’t be able to muster the same level of offense that the Cubs will when Cueto/Bumgarner aren’t on the mound.

Nationals vs. Dodgers

This matchup features two teams plagued by playoff failures in the past. The Dodgers haven’t made it past the NLDS since 2013, where they lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nationals have only been to the playoffs twice since moving to the nation’s capitol, losing in the Divisional Round both times. The franchise itself hasn’t made it to the NLCS since 1981, when they were still in Montreal, where they lost to (guess who?) the Dodgers 3-2. The Dodgers handled the Nationals in the regular season, winning five of the six games between the two teams.

Image result for max scherzer vs. clayton kershaw

Kershaw and Scherzer have both had stellar seasons, all that matters now is how they perform in October. Image courtesy of newsreportcenter.com

This series starts off with a titanic pitching clash between Cy Young candidate, Max Scherzer, and Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw could have very easily been apart of the Cy Young talk in the National League if he hadn’t missed two months on the DL. This series appears much more even on paper than the SF vs. Chicago Cubs series. Both teams had top-five pitching staffs during the regular season, and both teams were in the top half of the NL in terms of offense. I think the Dodgers actually come in as the series favorite, despite being the lower seed (57% chance that the Dodgers make the NLCS according to fivethirtyeight.com).

I think the one X-factor for the Nationals coming into the playoffs has to be Daniel Murphy. He led the MLB in batting average for a significant portion of 2016, and put together one of the most clutch hitting performances throughout the 2015 playoffs with New York. Murphy has been the catalyst for the Nationals offense all season, with Bryce Harper slumping throughout the middle of the year. Both Murphy and Harper missed playing time late in September with injuries. Since Washington had secured its place in the playoffs, it wasn’t too surprising to see them get extra time off. While they are on the roster and appear to be fine, we’ll see if these injuries affects their performance at the plate.

I also think that the Dodgers have the edge in this series. While Scherzer is great on the mound, and can definitely go toe-to-toe with Kershaw, the rest of the Nationals rotation has been inconsistent throughout the year. Gio Gonzalez looked underwhelming throughout 2016, and while Tanner Roark isn’t facing the Marlins, he was just 2-3 in six starts from September to October 1. I think that it will be a very tight series, but in the end I think the Dodgers have looked stronger and more consistent in the second half, and that will carry over into their postseason play. LA wins, 3-2.

 

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One Game to Rule them All: The NL Wildcard

It’s finally here, October baseball. After 162 games, only five teams remain standing in the National League. For the Mets and the Giants, who square off Wednesday, game 163 will be the most intense game for either team up to this point. Their reward if they prevail? A chance to play the Chicago Cubs: certainly not the best thing ever, but definitely better than the alternative.

The Stories

Since the one-game wildcard playoff was added in 2012, it has delivered some of the most thrilling moments in baseball. This particular match-up takes place between the two previous National League champions, both limping across the finish line in the regular season (quite literally for some Mets). The Giants come into this series under familiar circumstances, in 2014 they were also a part of the wildcard game, and became the only wildcard team to win the World Series since 2012. They looked primed to avoid this game altogether, finishing the first half of the season 6.5 games ahead of their division rival, the Dodgers. They lost control of the division and didn’t end up securing their playoff berth until their final regular season game, beating the Dodgers 7-1.

The Mets came into 2016 with one of the most anticipated rotations of 2016, but a combination of offensive struggles and injuries kept the team from achieving its full potential. Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon are the only two pitchers from the Opening Day rotation who aren’t on the DL coming into the postseason. The offense took its fair share of hits as well, losing first baseman Lucas Duda and catcher Travis D’Arnaud to the DL for multiple months, along with losing captain David Wright and second baseman, Neil Walker for the year. The catalysts for their late-season surge, Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera, also had DL stints. Despite this, the Mets stuck around against all odds, and are just one game away from returning to defend their National League pennant. They have the advantage of hosting this game at Citi Field, a site for so much of the Mets’ magical 2015 run.

The Pitching: Noah Syndergaard (14-9) 2.60 ERA vs. Madison Bumgarner (15-9) 2.74 ERA

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Sergio Romo looks to provide stability as a closer now on the Giants. Image courtesy of outsidepitchmlb.com

The Mets and the Giants both sported fantastic pitching throughout 2016, ranking third and fourth in National League ERA respectively (funny enough, Syndergaard and Bumgarner also rank third and fourth in ERA in the NL). It’s only fitting that the teams send their biggest arms to face-off in this winner-takes-all game. Thor and MadBum squared off once in the regular season, all the way back in May. San Francisco ended up getting the win 6-1, but Syndergaard would exact his revenge on the Giants offense in August, tossing eight shutout innings at AT&T Park. While Syndergaard has the advantage between the two in terms of raw velocity, (averaging 98.29 mph per fastball vs. Bumgarner’s 90.95 according to MLB.com) Bumgarner has one of the most deceptive deliveries in baseball at his disposal. Both pitchers also aren’t afraid to swing away at the plate, hitting three home runs apiece during the regular season.

Given how tight this starting match-up is, the game may ultimately be decided by some clutch bullpen action. The Mets appear to have the advantage in this category this year. New York closer, Jeurys Familia led the entire MLB with 51 saves during the regular season, while set up man Addison Reed had 11 more holds than any other reliever in baseball. On the other side, the Giants bullpen blew 29 save opportunities throughout the regular season, which played a big part in their near collapse. Sergio Romo appears to be the Giants’ new closer heading into the postseason (they seem to have a thing for closers with beards in the postseason) and he’s slightly allayed the fears of Giants fans, converting four of four save opportunities since getting the position.

The Hitting

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Despite time on the DL, Yoenis Cespedes led the way for the Mets offense in 2016. Image courtesy of mlbtraderumors.com

With how good the pitching is, batters on both sides will have their work cut out for them putting up any kind of production. Luckily, neither team is a stranger to close games, with the Giants going 28-27 in games decided by one run. The Mets were 25-22 in that department. Both teams had fairly weak offenses throughout the regular season, averaging slightly above four runs per game.

The real variance comes in how these teams produce their runs. The Giants take a much more cerebral approach to the game, playing small ball and manufacturing runs. They rank 4th in the National League in hits, despite ranking 9th in runs. They didn’t really have much of a power game whatsoever, ranking 13th in the NL in homers, with 130. Brandon Belt led the team with 17 big flies in the regular season.

The Mets have relied heavily on the long ball throughout the year. They ranked second in the National League with 218 home runs, 31 by team leader, Yoenis Cespedes. This reliance on the home run has led the Mets offense to be incredibly streaky throughout the season, but it can be a real menace to face this offense when it’s firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately for the Giants, it has been coming into this game. The Mets scored the second most runs of any NL team in September, and hit the second most home runs. The Giants offense was 12th in runs scored this month, and 14th in home runs.

My Pick

Right now the Mets are my favorite to win this game. They’ve got the advantage of playing at home, and their offense has been worlds better as of late than the Giants. With that said, it is an even year, so it’s hard to really ever count the Giants out. I think that viewers will be in for a spectacular pitching duel, regardless of the outcome and it’ll definitely be a game worth watching.

NL Playoffs: Priority Players Entering September

As the MLB regular season nears its conclusion, injuries become more frequent and more costly for teams looking to make a postseason run. Here, I’ll identify players that teams simply cannot afford to lose as they make the race to October. I’ll start with the division leaders and then go by wildcard standings.

Chicago Cubs – Kris Bryant

The Cubs don’t really have one guy that will sink the team if he’s lost. They have so much depth and talent that it’s actually not fair. If I had to pick just one guy, I would say Kris Bryant. Even though Anthony Rizzo leads the team with 93 RBIs, Bryant is right behind him with 91 and leads the team in every other major hitting category. He’s tied for second in the MLB with 36 home runs, and his 91 RBIs are fourth in the NL. Losing any guy in the heart of your lineup can be a huge detriment, but Bryant has been a catalyst for the Cubs, and losing him could do some serious damage to their power game.

Washington Nationals – Max Scherzer

It was a really tough pick between Scherzer and Murphy for Washington, but I decided that pitching ultimately wins out on a team that’s already lost Stephen Strasburg. Scherzer has made a strong case for the NL Cy Young this year, posting a 15-7 record with a 2.89 ERA and an MLB leading 238 strikeouts. He’s really turned it on since the All-Star Break, going 6-2 with 90 strikeouts in 11 starts. With Stephen Strasburg ending up on the DL on August 22, the Nats now have two of five Opening Day rotation members on the DL. Tanner Roark has had moments of brilliance on the mound this year, but it will ultimately be up to Scherzer’s consistency to guide this ailing Nats pitching staff to the playoffs.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Corey Seager

The Dodgers lost the obvious bid for this pick, Clayton Kershaw, at the end of June. Despite that, the pitching staff has still done remarkably well, with Kenta Maeda stepping up big time in his absence. The Dodgers have struggled more on the offensive side of things this year, and Corey Seager has been a big part of this team’s offensive production. He’s having a standout first full season in the MLB, posting a .315 average and a .375 OBP. His consistency in getting on base has allowed the Dodgers to get ahead and let their pitchers work. While he may not be the most experienced player in October, losing him would certainly affect the team’s ability to manufacture runs.

San Francisco Giants – Madison Bumgarner/Johnny Cueto

The Giants don’t have a supercharged offense coming into September. The Giants are often a small ball team that relies heavily on their pitchers to keep games close while they produce runs. Both Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner have been stellar on the mound for San Fran this year, and losing either of them would put a significant damper on their ability to compete in September. The Giants made it very clear they’re a pitching-oriented team with their moves at the end of July, shoring up the back of the rotation with Matt Moore. With Brandon Belt leading the team with just 14 homers this year, I think it’s safe to assume that this dynamic won’t dramatically change in September, and that any disruption of it could be disastrous for the Giants.

St. Louis Cardinals – Stephen Piscotty

The DL in St. Louis is already looking pretty long, so any injury to this Cards team would be a tough loss. Piscotty has been a breath of fresh air on a Cards team that consists of a lot of older veterans. He leads the team with 73 RBIs and has played a big part in the Cardinals offensive success this year. That offense will have to step it up even more with the addition of two rookies into the Cardinal rotation, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes. While both of these guys look like stud prospects, Weaver showed that he can be rattled on the mound, and strong run support could do wonders for his composure on the mound, especially in these high pressure games.

New York Mets – Yoenis Cespedes

It’s hard to pick any one Met, since basically every guy on the team seems to have an injury of some sort. The offense has been the problem for the Mets all year, and Cespedes has been the guy to try and lead this team at the plate. With Jay Bruce underperforming, whether due to his injured calf or otherwise, the pressure on Cespedes’ shoulders is even greater than ever. His quad injury from July seems to still be bothering him, however, so the Mets will have to be sure to use him with caution as they continue to hang on in the wildcard race.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Starling Marte

The Pirates continue to hang around in the NL wildcard race, and Marte’s offense is a big reason why. He leads the team with a .306 batting average and a .360 OBP, along with 46 stolen bases on the year, which ranks third in the MLB. Marte is a big part of the heart of Pittsburgh’s lineup, and losing either him, Gregory Polanco or Andrew McCutchen could severely hamper Pittsburgh’s run production.

Miami Marlins – Christian Yelich

You thought I was going to say Jose Fernandez, didn’t you? While it would be catastrophic to lose Fernandez, the Marlins are in desperate need of bats with Giancarlo Stanton out for the remainder of the year. Yelich had been the most consistent of the trio of Ozuna, Yelich and Stanton, but Marcell Ozuna has struggled mightily since the All-Star Break (and left Wednesday’s game with a wrist injury himself), leaving a lot of the weight on Yelich’s shoulders. He delivered with a homer against the Mets last night, and while he probably won’t put up Stanton-like power numbers, we saw back in April that he can be a menace to face at the plate.

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