The Lackluster National League Central

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

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

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

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

Chicago Cubs

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

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

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

St. Louis Cardinals

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

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

 

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

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

Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

Cincinnati Reds

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

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

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

What to look for in the coming months?

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

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Where does Marte’s Suspension Leave the Pirates?

Starling Marte will be out 80 games for the Pirates this season after failing a PED test. This is a crushing blow for a franchise that has been struggling in the NL Central since the rise of the Chicago Cubs.

Losing Marte has a much bigger impact than just this season. A full season from Marte may have been just what the Pirates needed. Instead, they must fill the hole left by their star center fielder.

Who will Take his Place?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen will have the first shot at the center field job (Jim Mcisaac/Getty Images).

The two-time Gold Glover was making the transition to starting full-time in center field after playing the corner outfield spots for the majority of his career. That move was brought on in part by the decline of Andrew McCutchen last season.

The veteran may make a return to center field, given the lack of major league talent. Gregory Polanco is assumed to be the incumbent in center field, but he’s been out with a groin pull.

Even when Polanco comes back, it will leave an empty outfield spot. Former top prospect Josh Bell has been the presumed incumbent at first base for a while, but could return to his natural position. He played the corner outfield spots well in the minors and has flashed good pop.

Adam Frazier could also be in line for some playing time. The 25-year-old has 185 major league at bats and a .303 career average. Even with Bell and Frazier, the Pirates may be tempted to call on their farm system to fill the hole.

Austin Meadows is ranked as baseball’s sixth best prospect according to Baseball America. He is a natural center fielder with good range and solid power, but still raw at 21 years old. If Bell and Frazier can’t carry the load, he will surely see the major leagues.

Are the Pirates sellers?

Gerrit Cole could net the Pirates a treasure trove of talent in a trade (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images).

The Pirates had a down 2016 season after making the playoffs three straight years from 2013-2015. The team went 78-83 last year and many wondered in the offseason if they would start rebuilding. This question will be brought to the forefront now with the loss of Marte for 80 games.

Marte is arguably the best player on the Pirates roster, and his loss may be too much for the Buccos to overcome. If the Pirates do enter sell mode, who do they move, and at what price?

The first choice would be McCutchen. The outfielder struggled in 2016 and was the talk of trade rumors in the offseason, so expect those to start ramping up again. He’s still a solid player and would be a valuable addition to a playoff contender.

Another trade chip in the Pirates’ possession is Gerrit Cole. The 26-year-old pitcher is one of the best young arms in the majors and would net a major haul for the Pirates if they moved him.

The Pirates very well could move both McCutchen and Cole, or neither one. The roster in Pittsburgh is talented, but the competition in the NL Central is fierce. With a roster devoid of Starling Marte for 80 games, it may be in the Pirates best interest to start moving towards a rebuild.

 

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Injury Update

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

  • Kris Bryant (CHC)  

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

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

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

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

The National League Central is one of the most top-heavy divisions in the majors. With the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, perennial playoff contenders St. Louis Cardinals, and the ever competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, this division is one of the toughest in the National League. The top team in the National League Central is a no-brainer, but 2-5 are another story all together.

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

Joey Votto headlines a rebuilding Cincinnati club . (Credit: Al Behrman/ AP Photo).

The Cincinnati Reds seem to be on the tail end of a long rebuild with three straight losing seasons. Reds stalwart Brandon Phillips was traded in the offseason. Accordingly, infielder Jose Peraza will be the Opening Day starter at second base. He will join Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton to form a solid young core for the Reds.

Veterans Joey Votto and Adam Duvall will support the offense while the younger players come along. Those two won’t be enough to carry a weak offense and a developing pitching staff.

The Reds will use 2017 as a tryout year and will be putting out lineups that will not be competitive. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but the sun should come up soon in Cincinnati.

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

Its been half a decade since the Brewers tasted postseason baseball. Three of the team’s top 12 players by WAR in 2016 are gone, and their roles will need to be filled. Gone are solid relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress, as well as catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers will rely on a mix of veterans and prospects to lead them.

Up the middle, shortstop Orlando Arcia will pair with second baseman Jonathan Villar to form a young infield tandem that should provide a spark at the top of the order. They will rely on Ryan Braun and former KBO star Eric Thames to drive them in.

Veterans Junior Guerra and Matt Garza bookend a young rotation. Zach Davies, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson all need to improve. The offense should be around league average, but the pitching staff will need to make solid improvements to make 2017 anything more than a rebuilding year.

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

Andrew McCutchen should return to form in 2017 (Credit: Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

The Pirates are coming off a dramatic offseason in which they almost traded away their franchise player Andrew McCutchen. He will enter the 2017 season in a new frame of mind and at a new position. He will move from center to right field, accompanying a reshuffle of the outfield.

Even with a realignment in the outfield, it remains the team’s strength. McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco form a robust top of the lineup. Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli also add to Pittsburgh’s solid offense.

The rotation is filled with former top prospects. Ivan Nova is the only non-home grown starter. Gerrit Cole is the ace, and it remains to be seen if the rest of the rotation can turn its promise into prosperity.

With a solid club all around, the Pirates could finish anywhere in the top two of the National League Central.

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

After two World Series appearances in the previous five seasons, the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason in 2016. This year’s team is full of talent and NL All-Stars all over the diamond.

On the mound, 25-year-old Carlos Martinez will lead the rotation. He will be backed by Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and veteran Adam Wainwright. All five have at least one NL-All Star appearance.

Nevertheless, the talent isn’t limited to just the mound. Matt Carpenter headlines the lineup. The addition of Dexter Fowler provides speed St. Louis has been lacking. He will be joined by outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to give the Cardinals an excellent outfield trio. Stalwart catcher Yadier Molina will be behind the plate for his 14th season in St. Louis.

A deep pitching staff is the strength of the Cardinals, but their offense is not far behind. They will compete for one of the two National League Wild Cards in 2017.

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

Kris Bryant and the Cubs should easily win the National League Central (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

Coming off a dramatic World Series victory, the Cubs are the de facto favorite in the National League Central, if not a favorite to repeat as World Series Champions. It’s easy to see why.

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester sit atop of a solid rotation. Young starters Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery will be joined by grizzled veteran John Lackey to round it out. The talent on the mound is good, but it’s what’s off the mound that has Cubs fans drooling.

Former top prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez form one of the elite shortstop-second base tandems in the National League. In the corners of the infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant are some of the top producers at their respective positions.

Supported by super utility man Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward, the Cubs are stacked in the field. That doesn’t even include uber-prospect catcher Willson Contreras, who will play his first full season in the majors in 2017.

Chicago Cubs fans have plenty to be excited about in 2017, as a repeat title is well within reach.

 

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Left Field

In this seventh installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will move from the infield to the outfield. Left field has long been known as a place to stash the slugger, but that is changing. With defense and speed changing the way the game is played, let’s see if it has spilled over into the top five left fielders.

5. Khris Davis- Oakland Athletics

2017 MLB Season

Khris Davis has mastered the third base high five during his tenure with Oakland. (Ben Margot, AP).

Khris Davis was a force in 2016. After putting up solid power numbers in Milwaukee, Davis was shipped to Oakland in 2015 and was able to tap into his power even more. He slashed .247, .307, .524 in his first season in Oakland. While his average and OBP are nothing to write home about, his .524 slugging percentage, as well as his 42 homers and 102 RBI’s certainly warrant some credence. With a newfound power stroke at the plate, Davis is the big bat the Athletics have been searching for. Although Davis has been a monster at the plate, he was a behemoth in the outfield.

Davis performed below league average on defense in 2016, putting up -1 defensive runs saved. While he was only slightly below average in the field, his bat certainly made up for it in 2016. Davis is only 28 years old and entering the prime of his career. While his defense may not improve, his bat certainly seems here to stay. If Davis can survive another season in Oakland without being traded, he will be relied upon to produce again in 2017.

4. Justin Upton- Detroit Tigers

Tigers fans were ecstatic when Justin Upton moved to Detroit last season. Upton was an established run producer and he was slotted into a deep Tigers lineup. As the season progressed, Upton’s offense stagnated. He was able to turn around an otherwise poor season with a torrid finish in 2016, putting up a slash line of .246, .310, and .465. He also hit 31 homers and drove in 87 RBI’s. Upton fits the traditional mold of a left fielder: a big slugger who will hit tanks and drive in runs. He has also proven to provide more than just power.

Upton posted 1 defensive run saved while playing 146 games in left field for the Detroit Tigers last year. That is solid, but not spectacular glove work. He was also able to swipe nine bags in 2016, a good amount for a slugger like Upton. Upton has always been known as a streaky hitter, but he has always been consistent in one category: putting up above average offensive seasons. That won’t change in 2017 as the Tigers look to regain the AL Central crown.

3. Ryan Braun- Milwaukee Brewers

2017 Season

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

Ryan Braun has been a star player in Milwaukee for almost the entirety of his time there, but his PED use has but a black mark on an otherwise stellar career. He has admitted to PED use in his NL MVP season in 2011, but has since passed all drug tests from Major League Baseball. Braun is assumed to be clean of any PEDs, and is putting up good numbers for the Brewers. He batted .305, .365, .538 in 2016 and slugged 30 homers to go along with 91 RBI’s. Braun also stole 16 bases, proving to be one of the top speed/power players in the majors.

Braun was also able to utilize his speed in the outfield. His six defensive runs saved in 2016 were second best of his career, proving him to be a more than capable fielder. Braun is the total package in left field. His power and speed make him a premier offensive player, and his defense lifts his overall game to a whole other level. If Braun can put up more clean seasons like he did in 2016, he will certainly climb this list. Until then, he remains one of the best left fielders, just not the best.

2. Starling Marte- Pittsburgh Pirates

Ever since Starling Marte was called up by Pittsburgh in 2012, he has been a spark plug for the Pirates’ lineup. He is one of the new breed of left fielders becoming more prominent in the majors, utilizing his speed and defense to become a game changer. Marte stole 47 bases in only 129 games played in 2016, proving to be an elite base stealer. He also was able to make a huge impact in the field. He also provided elite defense 19 defensive runs save. His offensive game, while trailing his base running and defense, is still better than advertised.

Marte was able to hit .311, .362, and .456 last year, all three being career highs. While his nine homers and 46 RBI’s won’t blow anyone away, it is still solid production for a limited season. Marte will always be known for his glove and base running, but don’t sleep on his bat. If he can put up a full season in 2017, look for Marte to accumulate some monster numbers.

1. Yoenis Cespedes- New York Mets

2017 MLB Season

From flipping bats over and over, to flipping balls over the fence, Yoenis Cespedes can do it all. (Brad Penner USA Today Sports).

Yoenis Cespedes was shipped from Detroit to New York at the trade deadline in 2015, and has been an offensive juggernaut for the Mets ever since. He was so good in his first full season with the Mets that he finished eighth in the NL MVP voting. Cespedes achieved this by batting .280, .354, and .530 as well as hitting 31 bombs and driving in 86 RBI’s. He has been the run producer the Mets have sorely needed since the departure of Daniel Murphy and the decline of David Wright. Cespedes has also flashed the leather and his arm during his tenure in New York.

Cespedes had four defensive runs saved while playing left field in 2016. He was helped in large part by the cannon attached to his right shoulder. Video of Cespedes firing the ball to home plate will be played for years to come. His arm strength is already legendary. Cespedes combines stellar offensive production with strong defensive skills to claim the top spot in the left field rankings. He is poised to maintain his perch with 2017 providing another chance for Cespedes to dominate.

Left field is slowly changing. No longer can you have a plodding slugger in the outfield. Players with strong defense and good speed are taking over left, and seem here to stay.

 

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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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Marcell Ozuna’s All-Star Case

The Marlins don’t have a single player even close to contention for this year’s All-Star game, with the deadline for voting just two days away. As we get closer and closer to seeing the rosters, opinions over players who were “snubbed” from well-earned opportunities become more prevalent.

Marcell Ozuna is a guys that I have very high on my snub list for the National League team this year. He sits in the top ten among NL outfielders in a majority of categories, but doesn’t even sit in the top 15 in the NL All-Star Vote (ASV). The current voting standings are based off of MLB.com’s latest report on them, published on June 23rd.

Marcell Ozuna (.321 BA, 16 HR, 44 RBI)

Ozuna currently leads the team in most major batting statistics, aside from OBP, so his case is certainly the strongest of anybody on Miami (aside from Jose Fernandez). Just looking statistically, Ozuna is putting up some solid numbers thus far in 2016. His .321 batting average currently ranks 4th among all outfielders in the National League, only behind Carlos Gonzalez (currently 7th in ASV), Starling Marte (9th), and Ryan Braun (5th).

He’s got a better batting average than the top four players currently in the All-Star Vote, but isn’t even within ten places of them. And it’s not like they all make up for it with a much higher walk count to beat Ozuna in OBP, either.

Ozuna ranks 7th in the NL in OBP, and only Bryce Harper (2nd in voting), and Dexter Fowler (1st) have higher OBPs than him despite having lower batting averages (in Harper’s case, .063 points lower). So even if Ozuna’s case was to be made entirely based off of batting average and on-base percentage, he should at the very least be in the top six.

But, Ozuna’s case doesn’t end with just batting average, he’s also sitting high in the RBI and homer categories as well. Ozuna sits at 44 RBIs on the year, which places him 8th in the NL among outfielders. The only two guys ahead of him in the top five in outfield voting currently are Yoenis Cespedes (3rd in ASV, 7th in RBIs) and Bryce Harper (2nd in ASV, 6th in RBIs). Ozuna sits just two RBIs behind Harper, and three behind Matt Holliday, who currently sits at #12 in the vote and is fifth in RBIs.

Honestly, a lot of outfielders in the NL aren’t being given the chances they deserve in the Vote this year, as the top three in the NL in RBIs all sit outside the top 15. Cincinnati’s Adam Duvall (playing his first full MLB season and is currently tied for the NL lead with 21 homers and tied for second in RBIs with 53) is another guy who doesn’t even make the list, much to my dismay.

As far as homers go, Ozuna is currently tied for fifth in the NL among outfielders. Of those tied with or above him Bryce Harper, Yoenis Cespedes, and Carlos Gonzalez are the only guys on the All-Star radar.  Matt Kemp, Jay Bruce, and the aforementioned Adam Duvall all sit well outside the top 15 when it comes to outfielders. Much like Ozuna, despite having seasons statistically comparable to guys at the top of the outfield vote.

There is one category where Ozuna isn’t showing up, and that’s the stolen base category, but even there, only two guys in the NL top 15 for outfielders have double-digit steals so far this year: Bryce Harper (10 steals) and Starling Marte (20).

So, no, I’m not saying that Marcell Ozuna should have been the a shoo-in for starting in the outfield for the NL in San Diego this year. What I am saying is that he (and a few other outfielders) deserves a lot more respect for his performance this year than the vote gives him.

He ranks top ten in batting average, RBIs, and home runs among outfielders in the NL this year. That’s not just a fluke in one category, or spurred on by a single hot streak at some point. Ozuna has been a consistent hitter throughout 2016, and arguably one of the best outfielders at the plate in the NL.

But he doesn’t even make the top 15 in All-Star votes, where you instead find guys like Jorge Soler (.223 BA, 5 HR, 13 RBIs) in 6th? Ozuna certainly isn’t the only snub of 2016’s All-Star Vote, but he’s definitely one of the bigger ones in my mind.

In my opinion, Marcell Ozuna is one of the biggest snubs of the 2016 All-Star vote. Photo courtesy of ESPN.com