Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks: Veterans to Keep Your Eye On in 2017

I present you with my fantasy baseball tips and tricks: veterans to keep your eye on in 2017.

Veterans commonly go overlooked in fantasy baseball. They are assumed to have undergone regression from the previous year. Multiple veterans disproved this theory last year, including David Ortiz, Justin Verlander and Adrian Beltre.

Ortiz astounded baseball fans around the world with arguably his best season since 2005. His 38 home runs and 127 RBIs helped crown the Boston Red Sox as the best offensive team in baseball. The 40-year-old finished sixth in AL MVP voting and received his seventh Silver Slugger award to validate him as an elite player.

Verlander underwent some struggles in 2014, sporting a 4.54 ERA and a career low strikeout rate of 6.9. He hoped for a bounce-back season in 2015, but only made 20 starts after being sidelined by a tricep injury.

Many people lost faith in the former Cy Young winner and MVP. However, the 33-year-old proved everyone wrong. He finished with 16 wins, a 3.04 ERA and a league high 254 strikeouts. Verlander finished second in the AL Cy Young voting and 17th in AL MVP voting.

The first ballot Hall-of-Famer, Adrian Beltre, also entered 2016 with some question marks. He was a 37-year-old who had failed to play 150 games and hit 20 home runs since 2013. The four-time Silver Slugger went to work and batted .300 with 32 home runs and 104 RBIs. Beltre subsequently finishing seventh in AL MVP voting.

Many veterans slide down the board on draft day, but the following old-timers should stay on your radar come 2017.

 

The following players are all 34 years of age or above and are being selected out of the top 100 players according to fantasypros.com average draft positions (ADP’s). Players are listed in order of ADP, with their age, position, team and composite 2017 projections following.

 

Position Players

 

Albert Pujols, 37, First Base, Los Angeles Angels (128)

  • 536 AB, 72 R, 29 HR, 91 RBI, .265 AVG, .792 OPS

Pujols has dealt with nagging foot injuries over the course of his last four seasons. However, he has still managed to play 150 or more games in his last three. The 37-year-old remains a staple of power and production. He will continue to bat behind Mike Trout, making him a 100-plus RBI threat until he retires. Injuries will remain threat to his success, but his ADP makes him well worth the risk.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Adrian Gonzalez has quietly been one of the leagues most consistent players. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

Adrian Gonzalez, 34, First Base, Los Angeles Dodgers (146)

  • 539 AB, 69 R, 22 HR, 84 RBI, .273, .790 OPS

Gonzalez has remained one of the most consistent big leaguers of the last decade. He has amassed 90 or more RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will continue to be a cornerstone of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup that is bound to improve. Young stars Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig will continue to grow.

The first overall pick in 2000 has a career .290 batting average, which makes him a very safe selection as your first basemen in 2017.

 

Carlos Beltran, 39, Outfield, Houston Astros, (190)

  • 499 AB, 62 R, 21 HR, 72 RBI, .271 AVG, .783 OPS

Beltran will jump from one AL West team to another, leaving the Texas Rangers to join the Houston Astros. The 39-year-old had begun to fall off in 2014, although his 2016 campaign began a resurgence. Beltran smashed 29 home runs, which is something he hadn’t done since 2012.

If Beltran can find consistent at bats as an Astro, then there is no reason that he cannot be a top-20 outfielder once again in 2017.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Victor Martinez is still a cornerstone of the Detroit Tigers offense at 38 years old. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

Victor Martinez, 38, Designated Hitter, Detroit Tigers (192)

  • 514 AB, 61 R, 21 HR, 76 RBI, .278 AVG, .785 OPS

The former catcher has found a home at designated hitter. He has been able to manage at least 150 games in three of his last four seasons.  Martinez’s career batting average of .301 makes him a great late-round pick who can boost your average.

If the Detroit Tigers are successful this season, it will be in part because of this 38-year-old’s production. He has amounted 100 RBIs five times in his career, which is not out of the realm of possibility if he can stay healthy once again.

 

 

Yadier Molina, 34, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals (195)

  • 434 AB, 43 R, 7 HR, 48 RBI, .286 AVG, .733 OPS

Molina is a future Hall-of-Famer because of his glove. However, he batted .307 last season while finishing 23rd in NL MVP voting. Molina may be a 34-year-old catcher who hasn’t surpassed 150 games played ever in his career, but he remains one of the safest choices you can make late in the draft. The Cardinals will only go as far as Molina, Carpenter and Piscotty will take them.

 

Starting and Relief Pitchers

 

Rich Hill, 37, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers (122)

  • 132 IP, 10 W, 3.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 143 K

Hill inked a three-year, $48 million deal after finishing 2016 with 110.1 innings pitched, 12 wins, a 2.12 ERA and 129 K’s. The 37-year-old will remain a staple in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation for years to come. If he were to come close to 200 innings, he is a sure-fire top-25 starting pitcher. Hill is a late bloomer in the MLB and commonly sliding in drafts. However, should not be overlooked due to his incredible strikeout upside.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

John Lackey has remained an innings eater for which ever team he suiting up for. (Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune)

John Lackey, 38, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs (142)

  • 182 IP, 11 W, 3.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 162 K

The Chicago Cubs veteran remains a consistent innings eater, reaching the 180-innings mark in four straight seasons. The 38-year-old will continue to pitch every five days for the Cubbies come 2017, which makes him extremely valuable in all formats. He is sure to win games, strike batters out and have respectable ratios.

 

J.A. Happ, 34, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays (169)

  • 183 IP, 12 W, 3.93 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 156 K

Happ came out of nowhere in 2016 to win 20 games and finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting. Regression may be in store for the veteran. However, if he can match his 195-inning total last season, he is sure to be a solid fantasy pitcher in 2017. The 34-year-old will be pitching for an intriguing Blue Jays team that is sure to compete in the AL East as they have for the last few seasons.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Francisco Rodriguez will remain the closer to start 2017. (Courtesy of Blessyouboys.com)

Francisco Rodriguez, 35, Relief Pitcher, Detroit Tigers (143)

  • 58 IP, 35 SV, 3.57 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 55 K

Once arguably the greatest closer in the game, Rodriguez has since fallen off that pedestal. His strikeouts per nine innings has dropped in consecutive seasons since 2013, which is a bit disconcerting. However, the Detroit closer will continue to have the opportunity to be a premier closer in this league, as the Tigers will be a contender in 2017.

 

 

 

Fernando Rodney, 39, Relief Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks (241)

  • 57 IP, 23 SV, 3.95 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 60 K

Rodney will make the move to the desert in 2017 and become the Arizona Diamondbacks’ closer to start the season. Rodney still has plenty of strikeout potential, and will be saving games for a Diamondbacks team that is sure to be better than they were in 2016. Rodney will make for a great late round pick for teams that need some cheap saves.

 

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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.

5 NL Pitchers to Watch this Offseason

Here I’ll continue to analyze some of the biggest names to watch in the free agency this offseason. I previously focused on positional players heading into the free agency from National League teams, but this piece will focus on pitchers, both starters and relievers. Again, these players are not ranked in any particular order, as I feel all of them will be highly sought after this offseason.

1. Aroldis Chapman – Closer

Image result for aroldis chapman cubs

Where will the ex-Cub bring the heat in 2017? Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

While closers tend to find themselves traveling to new cities every few years in the offseason, teams know just how important they are to a successful season. A weak bullpen has been the death of numerous teams, especially come postseason, over the years. Chapman was one of the biggest names to hit the market around the trade deadline, and I don’t expect that to change this offseason. A World Series victory on his resume will definitely help his case. He’s got the fastest stuff in the MLB, averaging 100.88 mph per fastball in 2016. He made 13 appearances in the 2016 playoffs, posting a 2-0 record, recording four saves, and striking out 21 in 15.2 innings of work. It may not have been his most dominant showing, but he still proved that he has what it takes to close on a World Series roster. The experience from doing so certainly boosts his value heading into 2017.

 

2. Kenley Jansen – Closer

Image result for kenley jansen

Where will 2016’s NL Reliever of the Year end up in 2017? Image courtesy of CBS Sports.

Jansen is the second of three big closers hitting the free agent market this offseason. He was tied for second in the MLB with 47 saves during the regular season, and was the final piece of the Dodgers’ dominant bullpen in 2016. While he doesn’t offer the same overpowering stuff that Chapman does (and to be fair, I don’t think anybody does), he was still awarded the NL Reliever of the Year honors. The Dodgers were a team plagued with injuries in the starting pitching role, putting even more stress on the bullpen, and yet Jansen and his teammates delivered over and over in 2016. He also furthered his postseason experience, pitching in seven games and nabbing three saves over 11.2 innings. Like Chapman, Jansen will be another highly sought after closer for 2017.

 

 

 

3. Mark Melancon – Closer

Image result for mark melancon nationals

Where will one of the MLB’s most successful journeyman closers end up next? Image courtesy of USA Today.

Rounding out the trio of big-name closers to become free agents is ex-Nationals/Pirates closer Mark Melancon. Melancon stabilized a Washington bullpen that was shaky at best with Jonathan Papelbon in the closing role. He recorded 30 saves in 33 opportunities with the Pirates, before recording another 17 in 18 chances with the Nats. In the postseason he displayed his versatility, even coming into games where the Nationals were trailing, and delivering. Melancon is no stranger to moving, having played on five teams during his eight years in the MLB. He’s a strong closer who has experience acclimating himself to new teams and performing well without drawing unnecessary attention to himself. He’ll certainly warrant some looks from a number of teams looking to build or retain a strong bullpen in 2017.

 

 

 

 

4. Rich Hill – Starter

Image result for rich hill dodgers

Rich Hill has proven that he’s a force on the mound when healthy. Image courtesy of USA Today.

Rich Hill showed us two things in 2016. The first is, he spends a lot of time on the Disabled List. He made two stints on the DL in 2016, both taking place in Oakland, although one of them carried over to when he was traded to LA. He’s now made seven trips to the DL in his 12 years with the MLB (nine if you count two more that occurred while he was rehabbing in the Minors). He’s also 36 years old, which begs the question of how much teams will be willing to give him, and for how long. But all of these things can be offset by the second thing we learned in 2016. He’s really freaking good when he’s healthy. He posted a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts during the regular season, 14 with the A’s and six with the Dodgers. He did have a couple of short, rough postseason outings against the Nationals, but he showed up big time when his team needed him most. Even though the Dodgers lost the NLCS to the Cubs, Hill posted a stellar six shutout innings against one of the best offenses in the MLB to tie the series at two. Hill should get plenty of looks this offseason, it just comes down to which teams are willing to chance his injury-prone past.

 

 

5. Ivan Nova – Starter

When the Pirates acquired pitcher Ivan Nova from the Yankees at the trade deadline, a lot of people were left scratching their heads as to why. They had already given up closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals, so the team had realistically lost a lot of its talent on the mound to make a serious postseason push. But Nova quickly silenced a lot of doubters, delivering a red hot August, going 4-0 in five starts. While his win-loss cooled off some in September, going just 1-2, his numbers still looked great. In two months with the Pirates, Nova posted a 3.06 ERA over 64.2 innings, with 52 strikeouts. While these numbers certainly aren’t going to blow anybody away, Nova proved himself to be a solid starter, even on a team with a middle-of-the-pack offense like Pittsburgh. I could see him garnering a fair bit of interest on a strong team needing a middle-rotation starter, or a weak staff looking for a potential dark horse ace. Nova is a guy who probably won’t receive as much media attention as the big three closers or Hill this offseason, but is certainly worth keeping tabs on.

Image result for ivan nova pirates

Ivan Nova quietly stood out on the Pirates in August and September. Image courtesy of Rum Bunter.

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One Step Closer: NLCS Preview

With the NLDS out of the way, the Cubs and the Dodgers now sit just one series away from the World Series. Both teams showed a flair for late game heroics, with the Cubs tying the largest ninth inning comeback in MLB playoff history to win game four in San Francisco.  The Dodgers scored five runs in the final three innings in games four and five to eke out a series win vs. Washington. During the regular season, the Cubs won the series 4-3, capped by some stellar pitching against some of the Dodgers best bats. Like every series so far, the Cubs vs. Dodgers matchup will pit some of the NL’s best against one another on the mound. Here’s what I think each team will have to do, and who will have to do it to win the series.

Cubs

The Cubs come into the series the favorite, and with good reason. Joe Maddon’s Cinderella Cubs appear to be the team destined to end Chicago’s World Series drought. Jon Lester and the rest of the pitching staff have been fantastic on the mound throughout the year, and Kris Bryant heads a Cubs offense that’s almost unstoppable when it’s running at peak performance.

Image result for kris bryant

Can the NL MVP favorite lead the Cubs to their first World Series since 1945? Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bryant has to be one guy that everybody is looking at coming into this series. He put up fantastic numbers against the Dodgers during the regular season, batting .320 and hitting four homers in seven games against the team. He hit .375 against a stout Giants rotation, and is one of many weapons the Cubs will look to utilize on offense. Another guy who we may not have expected to be looking at coming into the series is Javier Baez. There’s no denying Baez’s talent, but he wasn’t putting up the same gaudy numbers as Bryant or Anthony Rizzo during the regular season. He showed up big against San Francisco, providing the only run for either team in game one of the series. He also batted .375 throughout the series, and scored four runs during that time.

Two guys that Chicago needs to step up at the plate against the Dodgers are Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo. Heyward had a lot of success against LA during the regular season, batting .360 with a homer in seven games. However, he didn’t provide much at the plate in the series vs. the Giants, squeaking out a lone double in game two for his only hit of the series. Anthony Rizzo also only had one hit during the series against the Giants, but also worked his way on base with two walks in the series. The Cubs will definitely need to see more than that against the Dodgers from their regular season leader in RBI’s.

On the mound for the Cubs, Jon Lester is obviously one guy you have to watch. Lester went eight scoreless against an anemic Giants offense. We’ll have to see how he fares against a Dodgers offense that should provide significantly more resistance. Eyes will also be on Kyle Hendricks, who took a line drive off his arm in game two against the Giants. While he’s been cleared to pitch in game two, we’ll have to see how he fares and if his arm has any lingering tenderness that could take him off of his game. We’ll also have to see how the Cubs bullpen as a whole fares. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts showed that he’s not afraid to go to the pen early and often in the NLDS; we’ll see if Joe Maddon responds in similar fashion, and if the Cubs bullpen is up for the additional pressure.

 

Dodgers

The Dodgers willed their way past the Nationals in a gritty five-game series that came down to the wire. While they aren’t sitting on a drought quite as long as the Cubs, the organization hasn’t been to a World Series since 1988, when they won the series 4-1 against the A’s to cap off Orel Hershiser’s monumental season. Hershiser may be long retired, but this Dodgers pitching staff still looks plenty strong, perhaps even more so in the bullpen than the rotation.

Manager Dave Roberts went to the bullpen early and often against the Nationals. Only one starter made it past the fifth inning, Clayton Kershaw, who went five innings in game one and 6.2 in game four. Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill combined for just ten innings of work in their three starts. The Dodgers bullpen looked very strong for most of the series, just as it had during the regular season. The Dodgers had six of its arms combine for no runs allowed in 14.2 innings over those five games, with only Kanley Jansen and Grant Dayton surrendering runs from the pen during the NLDS. Joe Blanton saw the most work during that time, aside from Jansen, allowing just one hit in five innings of work over four appearances. On the mound, I’ll be watching for him to bridge the gap between Dodgers starters and the back of the bullpen if Roberts continues his current bullpen-centered pitching style.

Of course, I’ll also be looking for the Dodgers starters to step up in this series, to ease the stress of a potential seven-game series on the pen’s arms. Kershaw surrendered eight runs combined in his two starts against the Nationals, and the Cubs offense has a lot more weapons than Washington did. Rich Hill surrendered five runs over seven innings in two starts as well. The Dodgers rotation will have to step up to the postseason pressure to keep the game within striking distance for their offense.

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Justin Turner showed up big vs. the Nationals, can he continue his hot hitting against the Cubs? Image courtesy of Fox Sports.

Speaking of their offense, they’ll have to turn in a stronger performance against the Cubs in the postseason than they did during the regular season. I’m looking at Justin Turner specifically, who was just 2-for-24 with eight strikeouts in seven games against Chicago in the regular season. Turner was a huge performer in the NLDS, batting .400 and driving in 5 RBI’s, including the deciding two-run triple in the seventh inning of game five against Washington. Corey Seager is another guy who will have to step his game up in the NLCS. He had just three hits in the NLDS, including two solo homers, all coming in the first inning of the game. Outside of the first inning, he was 0-for-18. While it’s great to get your team started on the right foot, Seager will have to provide more support at the plate later in the game to give his team a chance. Joc Pederson is the last guy I’m looking at in this series. He, also had an abysmal time against Chicago in the regular season, going 0-for-20 with eight strikeouts. Pederson hit .333 in the NLDS, and provided the catalyst for their game-winning seventh inning in game five with a solo shot on the first pitch from Max Scherzer. He’ll have to continue to come up clutch to help his team overcome the juggernaut that is the Cubs.

Tracking the Transactions: Rating NL Deadline Trades for Contenders

Earlier this week, I evaluated how all of the trade deadline moves made by contending American League teams panned out. Now, I’ll give my take on how National League trades fared.

Chicago Cubs – Aroldis Chapman/Mike Montgomery: 5/3

The Cubs came in to the deadline with plenty of offensive firepower, so they made some deals to acquire some lefty relievers to diversify a right-hander flooded bullpen. Chapman has looked fantastic in Chicago, to nobody’s surprise, he’s 13 for 14 in save conversion in 18 appearances. He’s surrendered just three runs in 17 innings, and hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances this September. With the Cubs having clinched the NL Central on Thursday, I doubt Chapman will see as much play as he did in August, in an attempt to preserve him for the playoffs. They’re still looking to solidify home-field advantage, however, so he certainly won’t be shut down entirely.

Montgomery was originally brought in as another southpaw in the pen. He now sits apart of the Cubs rotation, and frankly, he’s looked better there than he did starting off in the pen for the Cubs. He allowed runs in three consecutive outings, two of them lasting just one-third of an inning, while in the pen. Since his relocation to the rotation, he’s looked better on the mound, even if his starts don’t last particularly long. He averages just under five innings per start, and has only thrown over 90 pitches on one occasion. Recently his starts have improved, and he even notched his first quality start in their division-clinching victory vs. the Brewers. Since becoming a starter, Montgomery has posted a 3.33 ERA. We’ll see what Joe Maddon has planned for him over these next two weeks heading into playoffs.

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LA hopes Rich Hill can stay healthy for the playoffs. Photo courtesy of todaysknuckleball.com

LA Dodgers – Josh Reddick/Rich Hill: 2/4

The Reddick plus Hill deal was seen as the Dodgers’ power play to take control of the NL West. Reddick has certainly struggled since the deal, however, batting just .225 since heading to LA. He’s only hit one homer, driven in three RBIs, and stolen one base. His August numbers (.161 BA, .172 slugging) are certainly not what a team wants to see from their deadline acquisition. Things are beginning to look up for Reddick at the plate this month, he’s hitting .394 and slugging .576. He’s still not producing runs, though, with just a lone homer and two RBIs to show. We’ll see if he can get back on the up-and-up in time for playoffs, however, let’s not forget he had a spectacular May following a sub-par August. Maybe the Dodgers just need him to have a good month at the right time.

The only reason Rich Hill doesn’t get a five here is because he’s only made four starts since the Dodgers acquired him at the beginning of August. With that said, three of those four starts have been spectacular, including a flirt with perfection against the Marlins. The Dodgers are playing it smart, not allowing him to hit triple-digit pitch counts while still working off his injury. Thursday’s start against the D-Backs was a return to Earth for Hill, who was riding a 24 inning scoreless streak, spanning back to July, coming into the game. With a four game lead over the Giants in the heart of the home stretch, we’ll see if Hill and Kenta Maeda can continue to make life miserable for batters and secure the division for the Dodgers.

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Photo courtesy of miamiherald.com

Miami Marlins – Andrew Cashner: 1 

Oh Miami, when are you going to catch a break? I guess losing the other half of the deal, Colin Rea, to injury after his first start should have been a sign of things to come. Cashner only recently picked up his first win with the Marlins against the Phillies, making him 1-4 in eight starts with the team. His stat line as a starter since the move isn’t much prettier, a 6.18 ERA through 39.1 innings of work, a 32/22 K/BB ratio and opponents batting .303 off of him. Cashner was supposed to provide a solid arm, replacing injured Wei-Yin Chen, in a rotation that has been cluttered with inconsistency for Miami from the get-go. Needless to say he hasn’t lived up to the expectations set for him. Combine that with Marcell Ozuna’s massive second-half slump and the loss of Giancarlo Stanton and you can see why Miami currently sits four games out of the Wildcard.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of nypost.com

New York Mets – Jay Bruce: 2

If it’s true that, prior to the deadline, Bruce explicitly said that he didn’t want to go to the Mets, then maybe we can attribute his stats since coming to New York to spite instead of an actual drop in his caliber of play.  Regardless of why the numbers have dropped, they certainly aren’t what the Mets wanted from their deadline acquisition. He was supposed to provide a shot in the arm for a Mets offense that had sputtered all year, and only really saw (limited) success via the long ball at various points throughout the season. Bruce, who had 25 homers on the year with Cincinnati, seemed like the perfect candidate for the offense’s playstyle. He’s hitting just .192 since coming to New York, with four homers and 11 RBIs in 36 games. He looked like he might be heating up at the end of August, piecing together a five-game hit streak from August 30 to September 4, but he’s now hit just .120 and notched a lone RBI in his past seven games. The Mets have, against my predictions, remained in the hunt for the Wildcard and even hold the last spot in, currently, but Bruce’s contributions have been below average at best.

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Ivan Nova has been hot since coming to Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of rumbunter.com

Pittsburgh Pirates – Ivan Nova/Antonio Bastardo: 5/4

Why the Pirates made acquisitions at the deadline after selling closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals boggled my mind at the time. But the Pirates have at least remained in contention for a Wildcard spot, currently 5.5 games behind the Mets, in no small part due to the efforts of Ivan Nova. He’s looked spectacular since coming to Pittsburgh, posting a 5-0 record alongside a 2.41 ERA in eight starts for the Pirates with a stellar 43/3 K/BB ratio. Nova came in from New York with a 7-6 record, a 4.90 ERA, and a 75/25 K/BB ratio in his seventh season with the Yankees. I don’t know what pitching coach Ray Searage does to these guys in Pittsburgh, but you can’t argue with his results. At this rate, Nova will be one of the more interesting pitchers to hit the free-agency after the season.

Antonio Bastardo is also showing marked improvement from his performance in New York. Bastardo was acquired in a deal that brought him back to Pittsburgh, after half a season with the Mets, and returned Jonathon Niese to New York. Bastardo posted a 4.74 ERA in 43.2 innings with the Mets; since returning to Pittsburgh, his ERA sits at 2.41 and he’s got a 2-0 record to show for it. Stats-wise, I’d definitely say Pittsburgh came out ahead of their awkward pitcher exchange program with the Mets.

San Francisco Giants – Matt Moore/Eduardo Nunez: 3/4

The Giants stayed true to their pitcher-first, small ball mentality with the acquisition of Matt Moore. It should be noted that Moore wasn’t brought in to provide the same level of performance as guys like Johnny Cueto or Madison Bumgarner at the front of the rotation. Moore’s job is to be a guy who holds things down and keeps things close at the back of the rotation. I would say been hit-or-miss in that department. His production with the Giants sits almost exactly where it did in Tampa, a record around .500 (3-4), and an ERA in the low 4s (4.08). He’s had a mix of really good starts with really bad starts almost at random; I think if he’s able to begin to build momentum with a string of good starts heading into the postseason, then he could be in good shape.

Eduardo Nunez fits the typical depiction of a Giants position player. He’ll help the team manufacture runs via small ball, work his way on base, and make productive at-bats. Nunez is sitting with a .329 OBP, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored, and nine stolen bases. None of these numbers are going to blow people away, but then again I think that can be said for anybody on this Giants offense. He seems to be getting more and more consistent at the plate, as well. He’s currently on a nine-game hitting streak, spanning back to September 3.

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Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

St. Louis Cardinals – Zach Duke: 4

Duke has been quietly performing since the Cardinals nabbed him to help out their bullpen. While his record is 0-1, he’s allowed just three runs in 18.1 innings over 20 appearances with St. Louis. His biggest concern comes in the control department. Since coming to St. Louis, he’s walked 11 men and fanned 20. 11 walks in 18.1 innings isn’t the most optimal way to operate as a reliever, but he’s been able to play damage control thus far.

 

Washington Nationals – Mark Melancon: 4

The Nationals bullpen has been the bane of their existence in September/October for seemingly years now. As of right now, Melancon appears to have aided those bullpen woes in Washington. He hasn’t blown a save opportunity yet, although September has looked rockier than August. Last month he allowed just one run over 13.2 innings, posting a 0.66 ERA. This month, his ERA sits at 4.50 with four runs surrendered in eight innings. Luckily for Washington, the Nats sit ten games ahead of the Mets with 16 games to play, so if there was a time for Melancon to get the bad mojo out, it would be now.

Rich Hill and The Perfect Game That Almost Was

This past Saturday, September 10th, Rich Hill was pitching a gem of a game. Hill pitched seven innings, dishing out nine K’s without giving up either a hit or walk. Hill was on the verge of throwing a perfect game, with only two innings left and sitting at only 89 pitches going into the 8th inning. Yet, amidst the potential perfection, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Hill in favor of a reliever fresh from the pen. The move drew the ire of fans post game, as the feat of a perfect game has only occurred twenty-three times in major league history and Hill was only six outs away.

Rich Hill could make a significant impact for the Dodgers playoff run...so long as his blisters do not get worse. Photo courtesy of Mark Terrill of the AP.

Rich Hill could make a significant impact for the Dodgers playoff run…so long as his blisters do not get worse. Photo courtesy of Mark Terrill of the AP.

Roberts did not pull Hill simply because he wanted to ruin Hill’s perfect game chances, but actually had legitimate reasons for doing so. Rich Hill has spent the past month and a half battling painful blisters on his throwing hand, making only three starts since July 17th. Every inning during the perfect performance, a trainer checked Hill’s hand to make sure the blisters were not becoming worse. The blister’s condition was the true reason Roberts pulled Hill despite his historic performance.

The situation Roberts was put in was a lose-lose situation. Leaving Hill in there could lead to another DL, or season ending stint for Hill due to inflammation of the blisters. How would Dodgers fan react if their trade deadline acquisition was going to miss the rest of the season/the playoffs because of overuse, especially since there was no guarantee that Hill could have closed out the final two innings of the game perfectly? The truth is, nobody will ever know, but what we do know is that Hill may still have a shot at pitching for the Dodgers come playoffs time, as the Dodgers currently reside in first place of the NL West with a four game lead.

Rich Hill as a young pitcher early in his career with the Cubs. Photo Courtesy of Jamie Squire of Getty Images

Rich Hill as a young pitcher early in his career with the Cubs. Photo Courtesy of Jamie Squire of Getty Images

Hill’s career, historically, has seen a lot of bouncing around various clubs. Hill started in the rotation for the Cubs before bouncing back and forth between rotation and bullpen for the Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox again, Athletics and finally the Dodgers. Hill pitched well as a reliever, but was never really used in high leverage situations, never recording a save. 2016, however, has seen a new Hill rise from the ashes of the old one, as he started fourteen games for the Athletics, amassing an ERA of only 2.25. Hill was one of the few bright spots on the Athletics team, which led to Athletics’ GM Billy Beane moving him at the deadline for prospects.

The blister issue was known before the trade was finalized, but the Dodgers were paying for the potential Hill could provide to the rotation once healthy. The Dodgers’ rotation has been decimated by injuries already, but even healthy, Hill could still slot in to the middle of the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda. The truth is, there is no guarantee that Hill’s blisters will subside by the postseason, but monitoring and being conservative with them can give the best opportunity to help the Dodgers in the long run.

Perfect games are a rarity in baseball, with the idea of twirling one a fantasy for about all pitchers in the modern game. Rich Hill came close, going seven perfect innings for the Dodgers before being pulled after 89 pitches by the manager Dave Roberts. Roberts made the right call, however, for the good of the team, despite the backlash from baseball fans nationwide. If saving Hill’s throwing hand for two innings now can lead to two more innings in the playoffs, then I’d say it is worth it for the Dodgers, especially if he keeps pitching the way he has been all season. I mean, just check out how nasty of a curveball Hill can unleash

Rich Hill unleashing his devastating curveball to Brad Miller of the Rays. GIF courtesy of giphy.com

Rich Hill unleashing his devastating curveball to get Brad Miller looking absolutely silly, on a full count no less. GIF courtesy of giphy.com

 

All stats courtesy of baseball reference

 

 

Sizing up the NL Wild Card Race

As we near the home stretch of the regular season in 2016, the NL wild card race continues to heat up, with some of the divisional races beginning to look out of reach for some teams. The NL Central appears to be all but secured for Chicago, who currently sit 12 games above second place St. Louis in the division. The Nationals in the East, while not holding quite as large of a lead, are comfortably ahead of Miami by 6.5 games. The NL West is the only division that, barring a late season meltdown by a current division leader, looks like it will be a dogfight for first place between the Giants and the Dodgers.

Here, I’ll give my opinions on the teams currently in the thick of the Wildcard race in the National League. Since the NL West is currently a deadlock, I’ll look at both the Giants and the Dodgers, since they will both be competing for that wildcard spot while trying to nab the division crown. Teams are listed in the order they currently sit in the Wildcard standings, not where I think they will end up.

San Francisco Giants (64-49) +4 GB

Luckily for both the Giants and the Dodgers, they’re currently sitting pretty in the wild card standings. San Francisco had held sole position of the NL West since May 14, appearing to be in typical Giants even year form. The Dodgers have finally caught up, however, and that can be attributed primarily to a complete lack of offense from the Giants since the All-Star Break. The run production has looked bleak for them, averaging just 3.4 runs-per-game, leading to a 8-16 record in 24 games. Brandon Crawford is trying his best to carry the offense, pounding out seven hits against the Marlins on Monday and hitting a solo homer for the only run of the game on Wednesday, but he can’t be expected to keep up this performance for the rest of the season.

Their deadline acquisition of Matt Moore to replace Jake Peavy has looked like an improvement thus far (not saying a whole lot, frankly), but it’s hard to leap to any massive conclusions after just two starts. He does need to find his control on the mound again, though, as his 11 walks in two starts is just one less than he had in all of July. I’m sure he’ll look more composed as he acclimates, but my biggest concern with this team is still the offense. They didn’t go out and get a big bat at the deadline, so they’re gonna have to continue to rely on what they’ve always done and play small ball, relying heavily on pitching and defense. With that said, even small ball requires you to score some runs.

Los Angeles Dodgers (64-49) +4 GB

The Dodgers have to hope veteran pitchers Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw can return from injuries sooner than later. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Even if the Giants still had a lead over the Dodgers in the division, I’d still like their odds of making the postseason with how they have looked lately.

Clayton Kershaw’s return has been further delayed, being moved to the 60-day DL a week ago, and this team already has a laundry list of players on the DL, but they’re still finding ways to win games. The Dodgers actually have the best record in baseball since losing Clayton Kershaw (23-13 since June 27), according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield. They’re still waiting to see what deadline acquisition Rich Hill can do on the mound, as blisters on his hand will prevent him from making his would-be debut with the Dodgers on Friday.

The Dodgers other big-name deadline pickup, Josh Reddick, is having some serious troubles at the plate since coming to LA, batting .074, but the rest of the offense is performing well enough to help Reddick through his slump. While averaging 4.4 runs-per-game on the year, the Dodgers are up an entire point from that since the All-Star Break. Corey Seager continues to have a special second year in the Bigs, leading the team with 21 homers and batting .310 in his last 30 games.

So long as the Dodgers don’t let the Yasiel Puig sideshow get out of hand, and can keep up the offensive production, I like the direction they’re headed down the home stretch, especially when they start getting more of their veteran starters healthy.

Miami Marlins (60-53) 

The Marlins would currently be the last man (fish?) into the postseason, a pleasant surprise given the struggles this team has had in past years. This team can attribute a large part of its successes to its offense, which seems to be consistent regardless of who is currently going through a slump at the plate. Marcell Ozuna has had some woes since the All-Star break, but the rest of the offense has been hot, driving in the fourth most runs in the MLB since the Break (116), and averaging 4.6 runs-per-game.

The concern for Miami in these last seven weeks will be the same as it has all year, will their pitchers not named Jose Fernandez be able to contribute enough to help this team win? The Marlins tried to get some help in that department, acquiring Andrew Cashner at the deadline, who replaces an injured Wei-Yin Chen. I wasn’t sold with his stuff in San Diego, but I won’t judge him on just two starts with the Marlins. What I will say is that Adam Conley has shown dramatic improvement from where he was at the start of the year; if the rest of the staff can hold it down for this offense, I think Miami will be a wildcard contender down to the wire.


St. Louis Cardinals (59-54) 1 GB

The Cards are the last team that I think will be hanging around in the wild card hunt through the remainder of the year. Starter Michael Wacha has ended up on the DL with shoulder inflammation, meaning Alex Reyes and potentially Luke Weaver, two of the organization’s most promising pitching prospects, will be coming to the Bigs. If they can make a splash upon arrival, it might give this pitching staff the kick in the pants it needs to get back into gear.

St. Louis is bottom-five in ERA since the All-Star Break, but they’ve made up for it in the power game, cranking 34 homers, the second most in the MLB, during that time as well. The situation in St. Louis really hasn’t changed all that much, they’ve got a respectable offense with solid enough pitching to hang in most games. If they’re able to keep that up, and maybe see an improvement in their pitching with Reyes and Weaver coming up, I think the Cardinals are in a decent spot as we near the end of the season.


Pittsburgh Pirates (56-54) 2.5 GB

I don’t like the Pirates’ odds in this wildcard race. Sure, they’re only down 2.5 games right now, and they could prove me wrong, but I think they should have just fully committed to rebuilding for next year when they traded Mark Melancon. I’m not saying that Melancon was the make-or-break guy for Pittsburgh this season, but their trying to play both sides of the buyer/seller card really just leaves them in limbo here down the stretch.

If they wanted to buy, they should have at least looked at their offense, too. Pittsburgh has the least runs scored since the All-Star Break, 76, averaging just 3.8 runs-per-game. Andrew McCutchen says he isn’t in a slump, but the numbers don’t lie, he’s hitting below the Mendoza line in his last 15 games. And now with Gregory Polanco struggling this month, the Pirates don’t have anybody to consistently look to for run support. To top it all off, the rotation lacks a real ace starter; the Buccos traded Jonathon Niese (not that he was an ace, himself) who led the team’s starters in wins (8) and ERA (4.91). I think the Pirates gave it a good run, but they’re not in an enviable position in these final two months.

New York Mets (57-55) 2.5 GB

The Mets are in the same state offensively as the Pirates, although they can contribute the bulk of those woes to a massive list of offensive players on the DL. Three quarters of the team’s Opening Day starting infield is on the DL, not to mention their offensive leader in almost every category, Yoenis Cespedes. The Mets offense saw success (relatively speaking) during the year via home runs. Now that they’ve lost the bulk of their power bats, despite adding Jay Bruce at the deadline, they just continue to struggle to bring in runs, averaging just 3.4 runs-per-game.

NL Wild Card Race

Photo: sportsinformationtraders.com

The one thing the Mets have that the Pirates don’t is pitching, but it’s incredibly difficult to win games with this little offense. I think the Mets caught several strokes of bad luck this season, which leaves them in a really bad spot as we near the home stretch. I think it would take nothing short of a small miracle to get the offense in workable enough condition to contend for this wilcard spot.

Colorado Rockies (55-58) 5.5 GB

The Rockies are trying to will themselves into wildcard contention on the back of one of the MLB’s best offenses, statistically. Colorado is top three in all major batting categories in the MLB, and they’re continuing the hot hitting in the second half of the season, averaging 5.32 runs-per-game thus far. Their pitching was looking better too, but they’re now in the midst of a three-game skid that’s proving you have to succeed in more than one category to secure these key victories late in the season. I don’t think they’ll make it, though, because their pitching still isn’t good enough, and because they’re already a bit behind in the race. I think Nolan Arenado will continue to crank in the runs, and the Rockies can still give their fans something to look forward to down the road, but they won’t be making the postseason in 2016.

 

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Deadline Approaching: NL East Trade Thoughts

As the trade deadline approaches, the picture of who could be making a playoff push and who should be preparing for next season is beginning to take form. Lower teams on the totem pole should begin looking to see what they can do to make the most of the remaining season, while the higher teams begin thinking about what areas they can shore up in to further their playoff hopes and dreams. The NL East trade situation is beginning to take shape.

In the East, I’d argue that it’s beginning to look like the two teams everyone expected to be at the bottom fall into the first category, while the two everyone thought would be at the top fall into the latter. The Marlins remain in limbo, because while they’re just a game back of the second place Mets, they’re still a full six behind the Nats at the moment and, in my opinion, are unlikely to solve all of their needs (mainly in the pitching category) within the next few weeks and make a serious run.

With that in mind, we’ll take a look who the potential buyers and sellers, as well as what may be on the table, as we near the 2016 trade deadline (August 1).

Buyers: Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Miami Marlins

Papelbon’s DL visit and his rather lackluster stuff on the mound could make the Nats willing to shop for another closer as the deadline approaches. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

Nationals: The Nationals are in a pretty good spot compared to the rest of these teams right now. While the other four teams in the division all have offenses in the bottom ten of the MLB in runs, Washington sits in the top ten. But with recent performances bringing questions, Washington may be looking for some new arms to toss in the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon hasn’t been as crisp at the closing role, surrendering runs in two of his three in June. On the season, he’s allowed baserunners in 17 of 25 appearances, and multiple runners in ten of those games. Papelbon has been having one of the most underwhelming seasons of his career, so even when he returns, the Nats might be looking for, at the very least, a plan B at closer. Former setup man Shawn Kelly struck out four of the five Cubs he faced, grabbing his first save of 2016 on Tuesday against the Cubs.

So who will the Nats look for out of the bullpen? It’s difficult to tell, if they go for anyone at all, since Papelbon is quite a pricey guy to not have at closer, and limits the money available to give to new guys. Aroldis Chapman, currently with the Yankees, is a closer who is up on the market, and would definitely provide the heat and power that Papelbon has been lacking this year. Another guy from New York who sits deep in the bullpen, Andrew Miller, could also garner some attention from the Nationals. With closers always being a hot commodity with playoff contending teams, Chapman’s destination could come down to who makes the offer that most tempts the Yankees organization.

Mets: The Mets are a team that might find themselves forced to make some moves at the deadline in order to stay in the fight in the East. They’ve currently dropped three straight games, and while a lot of things can change in the next month and a half, injuries are currently a noticeable problem for New York. Captain David Wright, first baseman Lucas Duda, and catcher Travis D’Arnaud are all currently on the DL; Neil Walker and Michael Conforto are still active, but also battling injuries. The offense has been the major weakness of this Mets team anyways. Sure some of their starters have struggled this year, but I don’t think New York sees itself in a selling position at this point in the season, and definitely has faith that its young rotation will fix itself in time. Currently, the Mets don’t have any big name guys to fill the voids left at the various positions littered with injuries. James Loney is currently filling in for first base, and while he’s not a bad player, I don’t think he’s going to carry this Mets team to another shot at the World Series. The same goes for Rene Rivera at catcher.

Jonathan Lucroy is a player who is projected to find himself in another jersey by the trade deadline. It might just be a Mets jersey. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

So who will the Mets look for? As a team that seems to love power, the Mets might find themselves reuniting with long-time Met, Carlos Beltran, who is currently playing with the Yankees. Beltran, despite his age, has hit 16 homers so far this year, which ties with the Mets’ homer leader Yoenis Cespedes. Beltran certainly wouldn’t be a long-term fix, but if the Mets moves from last year are any indication (when they acquired Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes) the organization is willing to take on players for only a brief time, so long as they feel it will help them make a playoff run. Of the five players they acquired last year, only Cespedes and Reed still wear a Mets jersey. Another guy who the Mets may look for is Jonathan Lucroy. While Travis D’Arnaud is slated to return from the DL next week, it never hurts to have multiple catchers on standby, especially when Lucroy is one of them. Lucroy currently has ten homers are 31 RBIs this year.

Marlins: I currently have the Marlins as a buyer, although by the time August rolls around they could very well end up being a seller. So I’ll try my best to run through both scenarios as best as I can. If the Marlins are able to begin making headway in the division or wildcard picture, then they will want some more starting pitching. Jose Fernandez cannot single-handedly carry this team to the postseason, and the rest of the arms in the rotation are struggling to provide much support. I personally don’t believe that the Marlins will have enough of a shot in the playoff race to deem making a big trade, but I don’t think they will be in the market to sell anything either (unless a team is willing to break the bank for Jose Fernandez, I give it a 1% chance of happening).

Rich Hill is one of the bigger starting pitchers currently on the trade market, will the Marlins buy? Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

But let’s say the Marlins do hang around, and they’re in the thick of the playoff race: who would they look for on the mound? I think the biggest name circling around the MLB currently is the A’s Rich Hill.  This does depend a lot on how Hill recovers from his current visit to the DL, but he’s 8-3 with 74 strikeouts and a 2.25 ERA so far in 2016. Another guy who could be on the market, depending on how the Braves are feeling, is starter Julio Teheran. Teheran doesn’t have the same flashy record as Hill, but he has been impressive with Atlanta despite the pitiful amount of offense around him. Teheran is just 2-7, but has a 2.93 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 14 starts this year.

As a final bit regarding the Marlins and Mets: Cuban defector Yulieski Gourriel has been granted free agency by the MLB. Gourriel is considered a potentially valuable infielder for any team that is willing to take a risk on him. Mets GM Sandy Alderson told ESPN’s Adam Rubin in a report that the Mets are hesitant to take a chance on Gourriel because he did not regularly see quality pitching in the Cuban League, and it’s a lot harder to scout guys in Cuba, especially give the United States’ relationship with the country over the years. With that said, both the Mets and the Marlins might find themselves needing to take a chance on an infielder with a bat like Gourriel.

Seller: Atlanta Braves

Braves: The Braves have claimed that they’ll be willing to discuss trading anybody on their roster not named Freddie Freeman. With Jason Grilli gone to Toronto, Julio Teheran is now their most lucrative piece on the table. Teheran will pull a fair price, though, and if the Braves’ recent moves have been any indication, the teams willing to talk Teheran better have a lot of young pitching prospects to offer.

Teheran is probably the guy who is most likely to be a headline trade offer come late July, but some young bats like Mallex Smith or Chase D’Arnaud might find their ways to other teams as pieces of a deal if they continue to perform at the plate.

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