Rockies

Can the Rockies hold on to the Wild Card?

The NL West has been wild this year. It seemed as though the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies were all the teams to beat in the National League at one point (apologies to the Nationals).

At the moment, the Dodgers are sliding and the Diamondbacks are rolling. Both of those teams are locks for the playoffs though.

The same thing can’t be said for the Rockies though. On Aug. 5, Colorado found themselves a comfortable 17 games over the .500 mark. Just one month later, the Rockies are nine games over that mark and are only two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.

As stated earlier, the Diamondbacks are rolling and have all but mathematically locked up a playoff spot. The Dodgers, although struggling, are also a lock to reach the postseason. The real race is going to be for that second wild card spot that is currently held by Colorado. Here is a look at the two teams that are threatening the Rockies’ playoff hopes.

St. Louis Cardinals

Colorado Rockies wild card

Paul DeJong has been one of the big names in the Redbird renaissance (Photo by KSDK)

Not many people have been talking about what is going on in St. Louis this season. Yes, the Cardinals have been very inconsistent in many facets of their game. However, there has been a Redbird renaissance going on in St. Louis. That is the Memphis Redbirds to be precise.

The Triple-A affiliate Redbirds finished the season with an impressive 91-50 record, and their success is starting to spill into the big leagues. The list of players that have made an impact on the team this season that would typically be considered Triple-A players is long. Those names include Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, Luke Weaver, Luke Voit, Harrison Bader and many more.

Tommy Pham has played a vast majority of the year in St. Louis and has been their best player, so he doesn’t figure into that crowd. One thing that is worth noticing though is the Cardinals lineup on Tuesday. Seven of the Cardinals starting nine have played significant time down in the minors.

DeJong may even be a favorite for Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Cody Bellinger’s breakout campaign. DeJong has been hitting homers at a very similar rate (given that he has a lot less at bats), and has a much better batting average.

This team has been up and down all season long, but may be hitting a stride with these young players. It is going to be a tough test for them coming up though. All of their remaining games are against NL Central opponents. Their record in their own division is pretty strong in most years.

However, this year they have been getting by with a weak 23-31 record inside of an already weak division. It will be interesting to see though if Mike Matheny will continue to play these young surging talents in the stretch. He is not usually one to pick the young guys over the more experienced veterans. It may be in his best interest though to play the hot-hand this time of year, before other teams start to figure out these new faces.

Milwaukee Brewers

Colorado Rockies wild card

Travis Shaw has led the Brewers to contention in September (Photo by ESPN)

The Brewers controlled the NL Central for much of the the season. The Chicago Cubs were at their heels for a long time, and they finally took over as many expected. Catching the Cubs is still not out of the realm of possibility for the Brewers or the Cardinals, but for the purposes of this, we will talk within the context of the wild card.

Milwaukee is now 2.5 games back of the Rockies for second place in the wild card. They just let the Cardinals surpass them, which of course is not something they wanted to let happen.

Their offense has not been playing as well as of late. Eric Thames has slowed down his production, and the supporting cast has not been keeping up. At the moment, the leader in batting average for the team is Travis Shaw at .276. That is very low for the best on the team and does not bode well if they wish to contend.

The Brewers have still been resilient this season and fight back as long as people keep counting them out. They are playing below .500 baseball since the All-Star break, so it is going to be difficult for them to keep up at this juncture.

One of the key moments that kept them from losing a series to the rival Cardinals was a stellar, literal game saving catch by Keon Broxton. That was a shot in the arm that the Brewers needed. They have since fallen behind the Cardinals in the chase for the playoffs, so they are hoping that some of their key players will show up in the stretch.

Can the Rockies fend off the competition?

Colorado has a tough schedule coming up for them. They are about to play a four-game set against the Dodgers in LA, and then fly to Arizona for a four-game set against the red-hot Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are hoping to prolong the Dodgers’ struggles, because this is an eight-game road trip that the team has probably been keeping an eye on for a long time. They have been 7-13 on the road since the All-Star game, so the time is now for them to pick it up outside of their home in Colorado.

The Rockies have a relatively easy schedule after they finish in Arizona on the 14th, so this eight-game stretch could make or break their season. The Cardinals have a fairly easy schedule during that time span, so the standings could look much different if they capitalize on this.

What the Rockies need to hope for is for the Cardinals to continue their struggles against teams in their own division, and go back to their inconsistent ways.

It is hard to imagine a team with the kind of offensive fire power the Rockies have may not make the playoffs. Their division is just that stacked this year. It has been very difficult for them to pull away from other teams in the National League.

If the Rockies are able to take four of the eight games they have coming up, it will be hard to see them not playing the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card. However, if they get bullied by their division rivals, the Cardinals may make another push for October, much like they did in 2011.

 

Featured image by Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Dodgers

What NL team has the best shot at dethroning the Dodgers?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the creme of the crop in baseball right now. No other team looks remotely close to reaching their level of dominance. However, we have seen teams like this before. The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, but lost in five to the Yankees who only had 95 wins in the playoffs. That means these regular season super teams can be touched.

The Dodgers are only 4-4 in their last eight games. This may be because Cody Bellinger has been on the DL, but he will be coming back on Wednesday. The 4-4 “skid” may also be a sign that the Dodgers are not as untouchable as we all thought. While they are still the highlight of baseball this year, here is a look at National League teams that could have a shot of keeping the Dodgers away from the World Series for the 29th consecutive season.

Washington Nationals

Dodgers

Harper’s absence has not slowed the Nationals down (USA Today)

The Nationals have been without their star since the 12th of August. However, Washington has managed to stay more than afloat with an 8-5 record. They are a lock for October at this point as they are 12 games up on the second place Marlins.

Washington has proved that they have the depth that is needed in order to do well in the postseason, unlike in the past. Part of the reason for that is because of their acquisitions at the trade deadline.

Howie Kendrick has been spectacular since joining the Nats as he has slashed .341/.374/.600 slugging percentage since being traded and has five home runs.

Sean Doolittle has also been bolstering the previously struggling bullpen. Other than a three-run blemish against the Brewers, he has been all the Nationals could have asked for. The team has also won in every appearance he has made.

How can the Nationals beat the Dodgers? Well if these teams were to meet in the postseason, it would be in a must-see NLCS showdown. The Nationals have the second best rotation in the NL after the Dodgers. The return of Max Scherzer also gives Washington some hope in that category. Clayton Kershaw historically is not nearly as good in the postseason as he is during the regular season. The Nats may have the edge in a Kershaw vs Scherzer matchup.

The Nationals also have their shortstop, Trea Turner, returning from injury. Once he is back to the mix along with Harper, the Nationals ought to give the Dodgers a run for their money if they meet in October.

Chicago Cubs

Dodgers

Lester has the postseason poise to give the Dodgers a run for their money (Photo by dailyherald.com)

The boys from the north side have been having a relatively rough year. Last season they managed to win the NL Central handily with a 103-58 record. Chicago looked to be the team to beat this year as well. There was no reason to think Joe Maddon’s ball club would regress at all. It did however.

Much of the regression can be credited to a weak starting rotation and an underperforming offense. The Cubs have the fifth worst rotation in the National League despite the fact they have Lester and Arrieta.

They addressed the rotation problem by trading their best prospect, Eloy Jiminez, to the cross-town rivals for Jose Quintana. Quintana looked very promising as he pitched a scoreless seven innings with 12 strikeouts in his first start. Things were looking up for the Cubs, but Quintana has gone back up to a 4.50 ERA since joining the Cubs.

Kyle Schwarber did not play for Chicago for most of last year. However, they were relying on him big time this year to be the big bat they know he could be. It would round out their stud hitters in Bryant and Rizzo. He has not lived up to expectations though as he was sent down for a Triple-A stint in June.

Wilson Contreras was a nice surprise for them as he was the best hitter on the team since the All-Star break before going down with a hamstring injury. He should be back by the end of September though.

The Cubs are on this list because they have the potential to beat the Dodgers in October. However, they are no guarantee to reach the postseason. They are only 2.5 games in front of the Brewers at the moment, so they still have a division race to be concerned with. The thing is that if the Brewers win the division, it will be highly unlikely they would be able to beat the Dodgers or even face them.

The reason why the Cubs are here is because they have the kind of talent that could breakout at any time. They have one of the most threatening lineups top to bottom when healthy. If the hitters show up, then they have a shot.

The rotation is also in good shape for the postseason. Lackey and Lester are both experienced playoff pitchers, and Lester may be one of the best in recent memory. Thus, we know they have the potential to go head-to-head with the Dodgers rotation if they do meet.

Arizona Diamondbacks

It’s difficult to believe that a team that is 19 games out of first place in their division in August is going to make the playoffs. At the moment though, Arizona has the best bet to take the first wild card spot.

Arizona would feasibly meet with the Dodgers in the NLDS. Zack Greinke would hypothetically start the Wild Card game, so they would not be able to get two starts out of him if need be against the Dodgers.

Arizona has been able to match up with the Dodgers okay this season. They are 5-8 against the best team in the league but three of those losses came in the last series they played. Arizona has also been an excellent home team so if they can manage to win one in Los Angeles if they play in the NLDS, then they have a shot at doing something.

The Diamondbacks do not have the same kind of firepower as the Dodgers do of course. They do have Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke who can put up a fight against Los Angeles. They also have Paul Goldschmidt who is a perennial MVP candidate at this point who can take the Dodgers for a ride. However, it is unlikely that they could prevent the Dodgers from moving on especially with the Wild Card game being played.

The reason the Diamondbacks made it on the list is because they have not been pushed around by the Dodgers nearly as much as other teams have. Arizona also has the capability of going on a role at any time, so if they can manage to get hot in late September then the Dodgers ought to be on the lookout.

Will the Dodgers win the NL?

Oddsmakers would give a heavy advantage to Los Angeles moving onto the Fall Classic. However, with the history there is in dominate regular season teams and their performance in the postseason, it could be easy to see the Dodgers losing in the NLCS.

The Cubs and the Nationals have the talent that can match up with the Dodgers pretty well, so the Dodgers should not coast into the playoffs for any reason. Either way, these matchups ought to be must-see come October.

 

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Ronald Acuna

Why has Ronald Acuna not been called up?

Background

Ronald Acuna

Acuna is currently on a 14-game hitting streak, where he is slashing .406/.418/.672. (Photo by Last Words on Baseball)

Ranked eighth by MLB.com on the 2017 prospect watch list, Ronald Acuna has continued to prove himself at every professional level. The Venezuelan international was born on Dec. 18, 1997, and was signed in 2014 by the Atlanta Braves as a 16-year-old for $100,000.

This deal was an enormous steal for Atlanta, as they spent a combined seven million dollars on prospects Kevin Maitan and Abraham Gutierrez, who are both 17-year-olds playing in the Gulf Coast league.

At 17 years old, Acuna spent time in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues, where in 55 games he batted a combined .269 with four home runs, 18 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. He took a huge leap forward in 2016, batting .312 in 42 games in primarily the South Atlantic League, proving he is one of the Braves top prospects moving forward.

In 2017, Acuna began the year in high-A, although after batting .287 with 19 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 28 games, he was called up to double-A. Acuna continued his tear, batting .326 with nine home runs, 30 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 57 games for the Mississippi Braves.

The 19-year-old was then called-up to triple-A Gwinnett, where he has since batted .358 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 43 games. Acuna is currently on a 14-game hitting streak, where he is slashing .406/.418/.672 with four home runs, 13 runs scored, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases.

His heroic rise up the minor league ladder has been halted, as he has yet to receive a call to the majors despite his incredible levels of success.

Give this man a chance

Ronald Acuna

According to MLB.com writer Mark Bowman, former Atlanta Brave Superstars Chipper and Andruw Jones had “raved about Acuna” during spring training. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Acuna has continuously decreased his strikeout rate, while increasing his home run to fly ball rate at each succeeding level. He has also shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields, as he is currently hitting 36.8 percent of balls to the opposite field.

His speed is worth noting, as his speed score has ranked anywhere from 5.4 to 9.3 in his career, which is recognized as above average to excellent according to Fangraphs.com. His batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, measures over .400 in 2017, although this seems to be more skill based than luck, as BABIP has not dropped .359 since rookie ball in 2015.

According to MLB.com writer Mark Bowman, former Atlanta Brave superstars Chipper and Andruw Jones had “raved about Acuna” during spring training. The five-tool prospect has been compared to the likes of Starling Marte, who is a two-time Gold Glove winner and one-time All-Star.

With the Braves 19 games back of the Washington Nationals in the National League East, and 11 games back in the wild card race, it seems like a perfect time to bring up the red-hot 19-year-old.

With Ender Inciarte being the everyday center fielder, and veterans Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis in the corners, there is no place for Acuna to play, hence why he has been kept in the minors, as they want him to get as many at-bats as possible.

With no real chance at making the playoffs, the Braves should give Acuna a chance to begin his major league career. He will undoubtedly need to make an abundance of adjustments, so why not allow him to begin progressing, and/or struggling, now when the results do not matter?

The Braves would be stupid to allow veterans like Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis to steal major league at-bats away from their up-and-coming prospects like Acuna, which is why Acuna will likely be called up in September, rather than getting his first shot with the big league club next April.

 

Featured Image by Getty Images

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Deadline

Dodgers, Cubs, others make big moves at trade deadline

One hour before the 4 P.M. MLB trade deadline, nothing was happening. There were rumors and whispers here and there. Some decent names had been moved but nothing that we have been looking for over the past few weeks. All of a sudden news broke that the Yankees would be acquiring Sonny Gray from the Athletics. Would this be the first domino to fall?

As the hour went on nothing else seemed to be happen. Everyone was expecting the Dodgers to make the big move they needed but nothing was coming. Is Los Angeles really going to stay put with the roster they have? Every World Series champion in recent memory had made moves at the deadline to bolster their team. Are the Dodgers really that good that they don’t have to go out and get anyone?

When 4 P.M. hit it seemed like that was the case. After about 20 minutes the news started to break however. The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers in the blockbuster trade we were expecting. This trade also punctuated a trading season that emphasized pitching and had very little movement with hitters.

This was a very interesting deadline to track. There were some surprises as well as moves that we expected. Here are some of the notable teams that were making moves at the deadline.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquisitions: Yu Darvish, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson

Los Angeles bolstered its bullpen with two solid left-handed relievers in Watson and Cingrani. These guys are a great compliment to Kenley Jansen and it takes a lot of pressure off of the starting rotation, especially seeing that Kershaw will be out for the coming weeks.

Yu Darvish has been expected to go to Los Angeles for the last month. Most were surprised that no news had broke when the 4 P.M. deadline approached. I was ready to criticize the Dodgers for their lack of improvement. When the news was announced, it immediately became World Series or bust for this team.

Darvish provides the same sort of punch to the rotation that Zach Greinke provided when he was in LA with Kershaw. These pitching acquisitions may make the Dodgers the most complete team in the majors now. They filled their pitching needs and left their offense alone which has been fantastic. What might be the one of the biggest upsides from this trade season is that the Dodgers did not give up any of their top three prospects for Yu Darvish.

The Dodgers know that they will be making the postseason. These trades were specifically for October because they know that it is now or never if they want to break their 30-year championship drought.

Houston Astros

Acquisitions: Francisco Liriano

The Astros currently have the best record in the American League. Going into the deadline, it was obvious that Houston needed to bolster its pitching staff. Dallas Keuchel has been dealing with injury issues and may not be the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young. Lance McCullers has also not been consistent. On top of that, the Astros are in much need of bullpen help.

Houston acquired Liriano from Toronto, but this was not the attractive pitcher that many were looking for them to go out and get. They needed a pitcher to fill into a rotation that looks a bit shaky. However, Liriano will not be in the starting rotation and will be filling in the bullpen.

This had to be disappointing for Houston fans because they did not make the improvements that other contenders made. Even though they are sitting comfortably in first place in the West and are a sure thing for the playoffs, they may be sweating a bit.

Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and George Springer are all on the DL right now. The Astros must be comfortable with the injuries since they didn’t make any moves. However, the gap seems to be closing between them and the Yankees and Indians.

New York Yankees

Acquisitions: Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, David Robertson

The Yankees made a big move a couple weeks ago acquiring Todd Frazier and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox. Robertson really helps out a bullpen that needed some help and Frazier is a bat the Yankees needed to fill a hole in the lineup.

Deadline

The Yankees got one of the most valuable pitchers at the deadline in Gray (Getty Images)

The big news from Monday was the Yankees acquiring Sonny Gray from Oakland. This was a trade that made a lot of sense for the Yankees because it helps answer questions in their rotation for 2018 and 2019 as well.

The Yankees may lose the majority of their rotation after this year so getting this deal done is a big deal for New York. For this year though, Gray provides a big punch in the rotation for October seeing that the young pitcher already has postseason experience.

Starting pitching was one of the biggest question marks for the Yankees. Boston made a solid move in getting Addison Reed, but the excellent job at the deadline by Brian Cashman may make the Yankees the better team.

Look for the Yankees to separate themselves from Boston and give Houston some trouble in the postseason potentially.

Chicago Cubs

Acquisitions: Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila

The Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed to do in order to finally separate themselves from the rest of the NL Central. They addressed a rotation issue, a bullpen issue and a catching issue.

Deadline

Quintana is the highlight of the deadline for the Cubs (Sporting News)

Quintana was a get for the Cubs that was way ahead of the rest of the field at the deadline. Chicago knew what they needed and got a pitcher in the prime of his career that will be under team control for the future.

The rotation has been underperforming for the most part and Quintana provides a spark that has gotten the rest of the team going. With the potential this team has, they may be one of the best teams built for the postseason after the acquisition of Quintana.

Alex Avila adds experience at the catching position that the Cubs really needed. Miguel Montero was sent to Toronto after he ragged on the pitching staff for the Cubs’ shortcomings. He was the veteran presence that the pitchers need behind the plate.

Wilson Contreras has been very productive with a bat in his hands but he does not have the skills needed to call a good game in the playoffs. He is a converted infielder that is still learning the craft, so Avila provides the presence that the Cubs needed.

Theo Epstein went out and addressed the exact problems that needed addressing. Cubs fans should be happy with how he approached the deadline. The only downside is that the Cubs now have no prospects in the MLB Top 100. Much of their talent is at the big league level so that is a big reason for that. However, their talent has been underperforming this year.

The Cubs are hoping that their players play to their potential. If they do, then they are as good as anybody in the league.

Washington Nationals

Acquisitions: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle

The Nationals’ bullpen has pretty much been a joke this year. It is by far their biggest weakness, so much so that a fan ripped on the bullpen in his obituary.

Deadline

Scherzer got the bullpen help the rotation desperately needed (Getty Images)

Washington has one of the best hitting trios in baseball with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. They also may have the best starting pitcher in the game in Max Scherzer.

However, they were not taken as seriously to compete with the Dodgers in the postseason because of how important relief pitching is these days.

Sean Doolittle has been struggling this year, but he is still a step in the right direction for Washington. However, Ryan Madson has been a very reliable reliever and Brandon Kintzler was an All-Star this year. Kintzler has converted 28 of 32 saves this season and also provides reliability at the back end of the bullpen.

Relievers were a hot commodity at the deadline this year. The Nationals knew that relievers are what they needed in order to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Mike Rizzo did a good job of getting these guys in order to be a threat in October.

Chicago White Sox

Deadline

Jimenez is the 7th ranked prospect in the majors (Baseball America)

Acquisitions: Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Blake Rutherford, AJ Puckett, Andre Davis, Tito Polo, Ian Clarkin, Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, Byrant Flete, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez

As you can tell, the White Sox had a busy trade season. They traded away many major leagues such as Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. Even though it is pretty apparent that you could say the White Sox are tanking, fans have to be happy with general manager Rick Hahn’s job this past month.

The White Sox now have two of the top 10 prospects in MLB, and eight in the top 70 according to MLB.com. Chicago is the only team on this list that are not contenders this season but they may have had one of the best months in the league.

The benefits from the past month will not show this season or next season. In a few years though the success of the front office will be apparent.

This may be a slight overreaction, but there is a possibility that we could see a Cubs-White Sox World Series down the road. That may be a bit dramatic but wouldn’t it be exciting to see a Chicago championship series? The only thing I would be concerned about is whether or not the city would still be standing in the aftermath.

Final thoughts on the deadline

The most glaring detail of this trade deadline was the emphasis of pitching. Outside of J.D Martinez, there were no major position players that were moved this year. Yes, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were moved as well. However, all of the big trades were centered around pitching.

It seems that many teams are content with the hitting they have. It may not be a coincidence that major league players are hitting home runs at one of the highest rates in history. Bullpen and rotation help is the attractive thing these days. Especially considering how difficult it is to close out a game in today’s game.

By no means is the 2017 season decided already. There is still a long way to go in the season and anything can happen in October. Championship teams do look back to the trade deadline though to see what they did right at that time. Monday was a pivotal point in the season, but baseball is a crazy game so it will be fun to see how these moves pan out.

 

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Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check 2.0

In the beginning of June, we looked over some players who were on fire and analyzed if they should be sold. In this heat check, we will identify and analyze some more of the hottest players in baseball right before the deadline.

They are who we thought they were!

These players were drafted early, although they have reached or exceeded expectations. All players were selected within the top 25 overall picks, and are ranked within the top six at their respected position in ESPN standard scoring formats.

Jose Altuve, Second Baseman, Houston Astros

ADP (average draft position): 3.5

Position Rank: 1

2017 Season: .369 AVG, 74 R, 15 HR, 59 RBI & 21 SB

Last seven: .615 AVG, 8 R, 1 HR, 6 RBI & 1 SB

Altuve is having a career year. The 5-foot-6 phenom is legitimately chasing .400 and is nearly a lock to earn his third batting title in four years.

He is currently on a 19-game hitting streak where he has tallied four home runs and 10 doubles, while driving in 19 and scoring 21 runs. Altuve is, and will remain, an elite fantasy asset for the long-term future.

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

Chris Sale is having a once in a generation season. (Photo by: USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Sale, Starting Pitcher, Boston Red Sox

ADP: 18.1

Position Rank: 1

2017 Season: 148.1 IP, 13-4 W-L, 211 K, 2.37 ERA & 0.88 WHIP

Last three: 20.2 IP, 2-0 W-L, 33 K, 0.00 ERA & 0.73 WHIP

Sale’s expectations heading into 2017 were enormous, as for the first time in his career he found himself on a contending team. He is currently on pace to set career highs in wins and strikeouts, and career lows in WHIP and hits per nine.

After finishing as the ninth-best fantasy pitcher in 2016, it is safe to say that Sale has exceedingly outperformed his expectations. He is now firmly entrenched in the elite tier of fantasy pitching along with Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw.

Bryce Harper, Outfielder, Washington Nationals

ADP: 9.9

Position Rank: 2

2017 Season: .338 AVG, 86 R, 27 HR, 79 RBI & 2 SB

Last seven: .348 AVG, 6 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI & 0 SB

The first-overall pick in 2010 is healthy and performing like his former MVP self. Harper is on pace to hit 47 bombs, score 151 runs and drive in 139 runners, which would all be career highs.

He is leading the National League in OPS as well as OPS+ and is arguably the favorite to win the NL MVP award. His fantasy value moving forward is just a hair below Mike Trout’s, who is the undisputed number one fantasy player in baseball.

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

Corey Kluber has gone full-Klubot in 2017. (Photo by: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)

Corey Kluber, Starting Pitcher, Cleveland Indians

ADP: 22.8

Position Rank: 6

2017 Season: 108.1 IP, 8-3 W-L, 149 K, 2.74 ERA & 0.96 WHIP

Last three: 20.0 IP, 1-0 W-L, 33 K, 2.25 ERA & 0.90 WHIP

Kluber missed almost all of May with a back injury, although he still manages to be ranked a top-10 starter in 2017. He has struck out double digit batters in eight of his last 10 starts and is on pace to set career lows in ERA and WHIP.

If he can stay healthy, the 31-year-old will be a Cy Young candidate for a fourth straight year and possibly an MVP candidate for a third time.

Nolan Arenado, Third Baseman, Colorado Rockies

ADP: 4.5

Position Rank: 1

2017 Season: .313 AVG, 69 R, 23 HR, 89 RBI & 2 SB

Last seven: .350 AVG, 4 R, 1 HR, 7 RBI & 0 SB

Arenado is arguably the best third baseman in the game today. Many overlook his greatness, or dismiss it due to his home and away splits, although he will have the opportunity to go down as the greatest third baseman of all time.

Arenado is on pace to have 148 career home runs and 520 RBIs at the end of this his 26-year-old season, which puts him on pace to be more productive than Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett (74 HR & 461 RBIs at age 26) and Mike Schmidt (131 HR & 373 RBIs at age 26).

Kansas City Resurgence

The Kansas City Royals struggled mightily to begin 2017, as they sported a record of 7-16 through April. In the next three months, the club went 47-31 and now are in second place in AL Central behind the Cleveland Indians.

The Royals’ recent success is due to their red-hot bats, as within the last 14 days, the team is on a nine-game winning streak, in which they are batting .302 with 21 home runs, 76 runs scored and 70 RBIs.

Eric Hosmer, First Baseman, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 88.9

Position Rank: 6

2017 Season: .320 AVG, 63 R, 16 HR, 54 RBI & 6 SB

Last seven: .400 AVG, 8 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI & 2 SB

Hosmer began the year slow, batting only .225 with one home run, five runs scored and six RBIs in his first 23 games. On the contrary, in his last 23 games, he is batting .374 with 6 home runs, 21 runs scored and 19 RBIs.

Hosmer is beginning to prove his true value and is likely to return to the AL MVP conversation, which he has been absent from since 2015.

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

Mike Moustakas is an integral piece to this Royals lineup. (Photo by: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Mike Moustakas, Third Baseman, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 187.6

Position Rank: 8

2017 Season: .279 AVG, 53 R, 30 HR, 69 RBI & 0 SB

Last seven: .333 AVG, 6 R, 4 HR, 9 RBI & 0 SB

Moustakas is on the final year of his contact, although he is expected to remain a Royal for the remainder of the year, as the Royals have recently became a contender. His team-high 30 home runs and 69 RBIs have helped carry the load, as he has accounted for over 12 percent of the team’s runs scored and 16 percent of their runs batted in.

The 28-year-old has been, and will continue to be, a great contributor in real life and in fantasy, as he offers well above average power and production in the heart of a red-hot lineup.

Salvador Perez, Catcher, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 177.0

Position Rank: 1

2017 Season: .284 AVG, 44 R, 21 HR, 63 RBI & 1 SB

Last seven: .278 AVG, 3 R, 3 HR, 4 RBI & 0 SB

Perez is the most important piece to the Royals’ puzzle due to his ability behind the plate. The fact that his bat is producing at its current levels is simply a plus.

The 27-year-old is currently ranked as the top catcher in fantasy due to his position-high 21 home runs and 63 RBIs. He is on pace to set career highs in almost every major hitting category and should treated as one of the MLB’s elite at his position.

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

Whit Merrifield has taken full advantage of his everyday role in 2017. (Photo by Rotoprofessor.com)

Whit Merrifield, Second Baseman/Outfielder, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 260

Position Rank: 6

2017 Season: .294 AVG, 42 R, 11 HR, 43 RBI & 16 SB

Last seven: .360 AVG, 5 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI & 0 SB

Merrifield went undrafted in almost all formats, although he has managed to become a top-10 player at his position in 2017. He has found a home in the leadoff spot, as he has played 54 out of his 68 games in that position, which gives him a better chance to produce than if he were batting in the bottom third of the lineup.

Merrifield’s ceiling isn’t miraculously high, although a 15 home run and 30 steal campaign isn’t out of the question. The 28-year-old is taking full advantage of receiving everyday playing time and is sure to continue his production moving forward.

Jorge Bonifacio, Outfielder, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 260

Position Rank: 64

2017 Season: .265 AVG, 44 R, 14 HR, 32 RBI & 1 SB

Last seven: .400 AVG, 7 R, 3 HR, 4 RBI & 0 SB

Bonafacio is having a very solid rookie year. He was called up in late April and has been particularly impressive, as his 162-game average would predict him to hit 29 home runs, score 90 runs and produce 66 RBIs.

The 24-year-old has batted primarily in the two-hole for Kansas City, which is a pivotal spot in the lineup for production purposes.  His value is low right now, but it should increase as the Royals continue to find success.

 

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MLB second half performances

Best MLB second half performances of 2016

With the second half of the 2017 MLB season in course, it’s time to assess the best MLB second half performances of 2016. The players are organized in groups according to whether they were an All-Star, veteran, breakout performer or rookie.

All-Stars 

Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 9-4 W-L 3.01 ERA 1.08 WHIP 8.8 K/9 110.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 10-1 W-L 1.76 ERA 0.94 WHIP 8.7 K/9 92 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jon Lester finished second in the NL Cy Young vote after a miraculous second half. (Photo by dailyherald.com)

In his 11th major league season, Lester ended the year with 19 wins and a 2.44 ERA. He finished second in the National League Cy Young vote and was a key part of the Chicago Cubs’ championship run.

In his 14 second half starts, Lester was nearly unhittable. He had a record of 10-1 with a 1.76 ERA and .189 batting average against, or BAA.

His home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, dropped from 16.2 percent in the first half to 6.8 percent in the second. This, along with the fact that his left on base percentage, or LOB%, rose from 83.7 percent to 86.4 percent, made him arguably the most successful pitcher in the second half of the 2016 MLB season.

 

 

 

 

 

Miguel Cabrera, First Baseman, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 86 GS 18 HR 53 RBI 49 R .293/.370/.507 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 70 GS 20 HR 55 RBI 43 R .346/.423/.653 BA/OBP/SLG

The future first ballot Hall of Famer had an incredible second half. Cabrera batted .346 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIs and 43 runs scored in 70 games.

The largest analytical differences between Cabrera’s first and second halves included his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, rose from .314 to .366, as well as his weighted on-base average, or wOBA, rose from .368 to .438.

The 33-year-old’s second half of 2016 is a prime example of why he is one of the greatest hitters of this generation.

Veterans

Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 8-6 W-L 4.07 ERA 1.13 WHIP 9.2 K/9 117.1 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 16 GS 8-3 W-L 1.96 ERA 0.86 WHIP 10.9 K/9 110.1 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Justin Verlander’s 2016 campaign was a success due to his incredible second half. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander managed to finish 2016 as the American League Cy Young runner-up even after failing to make the AL All-Star team. How is this possible you ask? Well, it may have something to do with his poor 4.07 ERA in the first half.

His astonishing second half resulted in a 1.96 ERA, .180 BAA and 134 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. The 33-year-old’s success could be attributed to his ability to limit walks and strand runners on base. His strikeout to walk ratio, or K/BB, was an incredible 5.58, while his LOB% was an astronomical 90.6 percent.

Many people argue that Verlander was snubbed of the 2016 AL Cy Young award, and for good reason, as his mind-blowing second half lead to a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA, .204 BAA and a league leading 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts.

 

 

 

 

Joey Votto, First Baseman, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 84 GS 14 HR 42 RBI 48 R .252/.386/.446 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 71 GS 15 HR 55 RBI 53 R .408/.490/.668 BA/OBP/SLG

Votto managed to continue the lore of being one of the greatest second half hitters of all time, as he slashes .327/.440/.569 on his career after the All-Star break.

His 2016 campaign resulted in a .326 average, 29 home runs and 97 RBIs. In the second half alone, Votto managed to bat .408 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs in 72 games. The major changes in his analytics included his strikeout rate, which decreased from 24.2 percent to 10.2 percent, his BABIP, which rose from .308 to .418 and his wOBA, which rose from .357 to .478.

Votto’s 2016 second half will go down as one of the most dominant in baseball history.

Yadier Molina, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 2 HR 28 RBI 30 R .259/.329/.341 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 65 GS 6 HR 30 RBI 26 R .365/.398/.529 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Yadier Molina batted .365 in the second half of his MVP caliber 2016 campaign. (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the greatest catchers of his era, Molina has been a National League MVP candidate on five separate occasions, while also winning eight Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award. His 2016 second half helped him re-enter the MVP conversation for the first time since 2013, where he finished third in the NL MVP vote.

His first half in 2016 was quite abysmal, as the 33-year-old batted only .259, which was well below his career batting average of .284. Although in the second half, Molina batted a phenomenal .365.

The major analytical difference between Molina first and second half was his BABIP, as it rose from .291 in the first half to .388 in the second.

Molina has always been a more productive player after the break, but he had never taken his production to levels like this.

 

 

 

Breakout performers

Kyle Hendricks, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 16 GS 7-6 W-L 2.55 ERA 1.03 WHIP 7.8 K/9 98.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 9-2 W-L 1.68 ERA 0.92 WHIP 8.3 K/9 91.1 IP

Hendricks finished third in the NL Cy Young vote and 23rd in the NL MVP vote in 2016. The 26-year-old led the league in ERA and ERA+, which exemplifies his utter dominance over the entirety of the season. Although he was great all year, his overall success was majorly due to his impeccable second half.

Hendricks managed to finish the second half with a 9-2 record, 1.68 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. One major analytical difference between halves was his ability to strand runners on base, as his LOB% rose from 74.1 percent in the first half to 90.7 percent in the second.

The interesting thing with the rest of Hendricks’ splits include that his BABIP and hard contact rates both rose from the first half to the second, which would suggest he got luckier in the first half, even though he was more successful in the second.

D.J. LeMahieu, Second Baseman, Colorado Rockies

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 5 HR 32 RBI 53 R 7 SB .334/.398/.490 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 66 GS 6 HR 34 RBI 53 R 4 SB .363/.437/.500 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

D.J. LeMahieu had a fantastic year in 2016, although he was that much more special in the second half. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

After being snubbed in the NL All-Star vote, LeMahieu had an exorbitant second half that landed him 15th in the NL MVP vote.

His BABIP rose from .379 in the first half to an even better .397 in the second, which kept his batting average well above .300. LeMahieu finished the year with a league leading .348 batting average, although it was his .363 batting average in the second half that blew fans away.

The 27-year-old had almost identical contact rates from one half to the other, although the direction of the contact had changed drastically. His pull percentage decreased from 24 percent to 19 percent, while his opposite field percentage rose from 35 percent to 41 percent. LeMahieu was able to spray the ball across the diamond while sustaining contact rates, which makes his 2016 second half even more impressive.

 

 

Rookies

Trea Turner, Second Baseman/Outfielder, Washington Nationals

2016 First Half Stats 3 GS 0 HR 0 RBI 0 R 0 SB .429/.500/.571 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 67 GS 13 HR 40 RBI 53 R 33 SB .340/.367/.567 BA/OBP/SLG

The 13th overall pick in 2014 exploded onto the scene in the second half of last season. Turner batted .340 with 13 home runs, 53 runs, 40 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 67 starts, which resulted in a runner-up finish for the NL Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager).

His second-half success can be attributed to his .387 BABIP, which positively impacted Turner as 44 percent of his batted balls went for ground balls. His contact rates were also great, as he made over 80 percent medium and hard contact on all balls batted in play.

Turner showed glimpses of what could be an elite fantasy asset, as he displayed contact, power, production, speed and consistency atop the Washington Nationals’ star-studded lineup.

Jose Peraza, Shortstop/Second Baseman/Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 15 GS 0 HR 4 RBI 6 R 9 SB .246/.278/.246 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 41 GS 3 HR 21 RBI 19 R 12 SB .355/.380/.477 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jose Peraza exploded onto the scene during the second half of 2016. (Photo by WKRC)

Peraza was called up in May of 2016 for his first extended stint in the majors, as he made his major league debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.

After struggling in his first 15 games last season, he finished the year with a .324 batting average, 25 runs scored, 25 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 56 starts.

The 22-year-old put together an amazing second half, where he batted .355 with 19 runs scored, 21 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 41 starts.

Peraza’s second-half success can be attributed to multiple things, including his .389 BABIP, his ability to make 83 percent medium or hard contact and his ability to spray the ball over 29 percent of the time to each field.

His ability to make solid contact and spray to all fields helped propel him to having one of MLB’s best second halves in 2016.

 

 

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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Big Three

Which Team has the Big 3 of Baseball?

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

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

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

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa

Combined WAR: 12.1

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

Baseball super teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy

Combined WAR: 8.4

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

Baseball super teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto, Zach Cozart, Adam Duvall

Combined WAR: 8.8

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

Baseball super teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combined WAR: 9.3

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

Baseball super teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combined WAR: 10.0

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

Baseball super teams

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

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

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

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

The Final Rankings

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

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

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

 

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St Louis Cardinals

How the St. Louis Cardinals will win the NL Central

In one of my previous articles, I mentioned that the weeks leading up to the trade deadline will determine the Cardinals’ future. Thus far, they have seemed to turn things around a bit. They have won eight of their last 12 games which includes a couple of tough matchups against the Diamondbacks and Nationals. Because of those two series, they may just have shown what it takes to win an underwhelming division.

In 2006, the Cardinals won the Central with only 83 wins. It looks like someone may win just by nudging over a .500 record this year as well. The year they only won 83 games the Cardinals made a run to win the World Series despite going into the postseason slow. It can be done, so it is important not to discount any of the teams in this division. Here are some ways the Cardinals will make it to the postseason once again.

Move Dexter Fowler to right field

The Cardinals signed Fowler to a hefty five-year, $82.5 million contract this past offseason. While he had a rough go of things in the first month of the season, he began to pick it up before landing on the DL in late June. He has also had one of his best power hitting years so far with 13 homers, while his career-best is 17 in a season. Fowler has performed better than the Cardinals would have hoped so far. Now that he is off the DL, St. Louis should consider moving him to right field.

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Pham has been one of the best hitters on the Cardinals this year (MLB.com)

Why move a guy out of center field that has been playing there for a decade and is having a great year? Well, frankly he has never been that great of a center fielder. Bernie Miklasz of 101.1 ESPN in St. Louis noted that Fowler has always had his fair share of struggles commanding the outfield.

While he has not committed any errors so far his year, he is sitting at -9 defensive runs saved. This means that his fielding has cost the Cardinals nine runs so far. It does not look any better in the past either. In his career he has actually cost his team 64 runs.

It is apparent that he is not doing many favors for the Cardinals in center field, so who could replace the $82 million man? The answer is actually already manning center for the Cardinals in Tommy Pham. It is difficult to keep his bat out of the lineup as it is, so being in the National League, the Cardinals have to find a place for him in the field. He currently has a slash line of .289/.377/.492 which is one of the best on the Cardinals.

Pham also has shown that he can be more productive in center field. He has started 18 games at the position and has a total of six defensive runs saved. Knowing Fowler’s defensive performance in the field over the past decade, it is hard to argue why Fowler should keep his spot in center.

Some people may argue that because of his contract. he should be able to play where he is comfortable. In order for the Cardinals to maximize their chances of winning though, they will need to move Fowler over to right field and keep Pham in center.

Stephen Piscotty has also been having a rough go of things as of late. His hitting numbers are down, and someone is going to have to make room for Fowler. Randal Grichuk has been much better since returning from the minors, however he has still been very streaky. He should be given the chance to display his skills.

The one downside to this move is putting Piscotty aside. However, he will need to show signs of turning around in order to stay in the lineup during this critical time for the Cardinals’ season.

Don’t make any big moves at the trade deadline

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Matheny and Mozeliak have some tough decisions to make to get the Cardinals to the postseason (101 Sports)

The Cardinals are coming pretty close to being a healthy ball club. Kolten Wong will be returning to the field after the All-Star break along with veteran reliever Zach Duke.

St. Louis has a lot of good pieces still on the team from last year, a club that won 86 games. Eighty-six games may be just enough to win the division this year as well. What is important for them to remember, which they have done in the past, is to trust the players in the system and not jeopardize the future.

One glaring hole the team has is in the closing role. Both Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal have the potential to be reliable closers. However, Rosenthal has been wild recently and Oh fails to remain reliable.

If the Cardinals do anything, it should be to find a decent reliever that they can get on the cheap. It does not have to be any eye-popping names, but it needs to be someone who is consistent. If all else fails, the Cardinals could potentially give Brett Cecil a couple of opportunities to prove himself in the closing role as he has picked it up from his slow start this season.

Some small changes made by the Cardinals can fix problems they have been facing. John Mozeliak evaluated the talent in his system well.

However, many of their issues come from the lack of ability to execute simple plays on the field. The Cardinals are among the worst in fielding in the league, and make silly outs on the basepaths that can end up costing them games. The answers to some of these problems are within the organization and decent coaching should be able to remedy some of these issues.

remove Adam wainwright from the rotation

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Wainwright has had one of the most difficult years of his career (MLB.com)

It is one of the hardest things to watch in baseball, but it happens often. Adam Wainwright used to be one of the premier starting pitchers in the major leagues. Despite finishing in the top three of the Cy Young voting four times, the prestigious award eluded him.

Wainwright has severely regressed over the last two years. Last season, he finished with a 4.62 ERA which was the highest of his career. This year he has not shown many signs of improvement.

Wainwright currently has a 5.48 ERA this year and he is not showing signs of getting better. He had an excellent month of May in which he looked like his old self with a 3-0 record and 2.64 ERA.

Since then, he has given up 30 runs in 34 innings. His nine wins can be credited to his large run support this season, getting 6.1 runs a game which ranks 10th in all of baseball.

It isn’t easy to watch some of the league’s best players regress, especially when it is such an important leader and personality in the clubhouse. However, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals have to keep in mind what is best for the team. It is obvious that Wainwright is not getting the job done at the level he needs to.

Matheny is a player’s manager though and has a rough time making these kinds of decisions when he needs to. What would be best is to potentially move Wainwright to the bullpen and then move young prospect Luke Weaver to the rotation.

It may be a different story if one of the league’s best prospects, Alex Reyes, was not hurt. Because he is most likely out for the season, the Cardinals are faced with the dilemma of having to replace their most notable pitcher of the past decade with one of their new arms.

Final thoughts

The theme of the NL Central this year has been underperforming. Many of the clubs in the division have players that are better than they have been playing. Even the Reds have one of the more daunting offenses in the league, yet they are in last place in the division.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs have come out and said that the answer to their problems are in house. This may be true with all the teams in the division. The Brewers are starting to roll and may be a tough team to catch. They stuck with their guns though and it has been paying off.

The NL Central has the potential to be a much more powerful division with its given pieces. It has just yet to show up this late in the season.

St. Louis has begun to show signs of life this summer. Their rotation is still proving to be one of their strengths, led by All-Star Carlos Martinez. Michael Wacha has also started to get back on track which means a lot for the team.

If Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak can find the right formula of where each of their pieces fits into the lineup, they can compete and make it a fun race for October.

 

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Biggest surprises of the 2017 MLB Season

Biggest Surprises of the 2017 MLB Season

This Major League Baseball season has brought many big surprises. One being that MLB hitters are on pace to hit about 500 more home runs this season than ever before. With this in mind, it’s time to look at five players who have been the biggest surprises of the 2017 MLB season.

Ryan Zimmerman, First Baseman, Washington Nationals

Biggest surprises 2017 MLB Season

Ryan Zimmerman is finally healthy and on pace for over 40 home runs in 2017. (Photo by Nick Wass/Associated Press)

At 32 years old, Zimmerman is having a career year. He is currently ranked within the top 10 in National League home runs, RBI and batting average.

Unfortunately, he has been riddled with injuries in the last three seasons, as he hasn’t played in 140 games since he was 28 years old in 2013. In 115 games in 2016, Zimmerman batted only .218 with 15 home runs.

Now finally 100 percent healthy, Zimmerman is batting .337 and is on pace to set a career-high with 40-plus home runs. He has been an integral piece to the Nationals league-best offense.

Ervin Santana, Starting Pitcher, Minnesota Twins

Santana was suspended for 80 games in 2015 after testing positive for PEDs. Post-suspension, he managed to have a solid 2016 campaign, as he mustered up a 7-11 record with a 3.38 ERA in 181 innings.

Due to Minnesota’s newfound success in 2017, Santana has a 10-5 record and sports an impressive 3.07 ERA. The analytics would suggest he is getting fairly lucky, as his FIP is 4.71 and xFIP is 4.86, although as they say, “it’s better to be lucky than good”, and in this case, Santana has been both.

Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees

Biggest surprises 2017 MLB Season

Judge has become the best power hitter in baseball in 2017. (Photo by The New York Daily News)

Judge’s first major league stint came in August of 2016. He struggled mightily in his first 27 games, batting a mere .179 and striking out 44 percent of the time. Many questions arose to whether Judge’s raw power would translate to the major league level.

He has since proved all doubters wrong, as he is batting .326 with a league-leading 27 home runs and 62 RBIs. He has set the Statcast record for hardest hit home run at 121.1 mph, while also having the farthest home run recorded in 2017 at 495 feet and highest average exit velocity at 96.9 mph. The 25-year-old has officially emerged as an elite ballplayer and will continue to impress for years to come.

Jason Vargas, Starting Pitcher, Kansas City Royals

Vargas tore his UCL in 2015 which caused him to miss almost the entire 2016 season. After over a full calendar year of recovery, Vargas is back and playing better than ever.

He currently has a league-best 12 wins with a 2.22 ERA. The 34-year-old is in line to make his first All-Star team in his 12-year career.

Cody Bellinger, First Basemen/Outfield, Los Angeles Dodgers

Biggest surprises 2017 MLB Season

Cody Bellinger has been the most pleasant surprise of 2017. (Photo by Dodgers Photo Blog)

Bellinger had been tearing the cover off of the ball in the minors, hitting a combined 56 home runs and 174 RBIs in 245 games at three different levels. He was called up in late April after the Dodgers placed outfielders Joc Pederson and Franklin Gutierrez on the disabled list.

With a slew of outfielders including Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles, Scott Van Slyke, Kike Hernandez, Brett Eibner and Trayce Thompson along with the aforementioned Pederson and Gutierrez, Bellinger wasn’t expected to stick with the club, but rather be a short-term replacement.

The 21-year-old had different plans, as he took his opportunity and ran with it. Bellinger is currently batting .267 with an NL-high 24 home runs and 56 RBIs. The young phenomenon has been arguably the biggest surprise of 2017, as he has made a severe impact on a first-place Dodgers team that didn’t expect to see him until September call-ups.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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Fantasy Baseball Sell High Targets

Fantasy baseball 2017: Sell high targets

In fantasy baseball, it’s important to take advantage of selling high on players, rather than riding out their hot streaks until their value begins to fall. In the past, we have seen players like Joc Pederson be nearly untradeable after hitting 20 bombs in the first half of his rookie season, although his value dropped immensely after his batting average and home run totals plummeted in the second half.

On Saturday, I listed some players that you should buy low on in trade talks. Today, we’ll talk about who to ship away.

The following players may be having incredible seasons, but their values are clearly at their peak, making them perfect sell high targets.

Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Sell High Targets

It is time to sell high on Judge’s immense value. (Photo by The New York Daily News)

Judge has become one of the premier power hitters in the MLB, although now is the time to cash in. He is currently batting .328 with 26 home runs and 64 RBIs. If you were to move him now, you could likely get yourself an ace caliber pitcher in return, possibly a Chris Sale, Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw.

The 25-year-old’s BABIP of .420, or batting average on balls in play, is extremely unsustainable and has dropped about .13 points in the last seven days. Also, his HR/FB rate is at an astronomical 42 percent, which is also clearly unsustainable.

His batting average will drop and his home run pace will slow down. If you want to take advantage of Judge’s exorbitant trade value, now is the time.

Editor’s note: You can find more information on why Aaron Judge is a player to sell in this in-depth article.

Gio Gonzalez, Starting Pitcher, Washington Nationals

Gonzalez is having arguably his best season since 2012 when he finished third in the National League Cy Young voting. He is currently sporting a 2.96 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and an 8.30 K/9.

Even with the recently found success, this is the prime time to sell high on the 31-year-old. His left on base percentage is an unsustainable 85 percent, whereas his career rate is 73 percent. Gonzalez’s BABIP also seems unsustainable, as his career mark sits at .296 and his current mark is .268. Finally, his FIP of 4.28 is considered below average and his xFIP of 4.38 is considered poor.

Gonzalez seems to be getting very lucky in a multitude of ways. I would sell high before he is once again considered simply a streamer.

Marcel Ozuna, Outfielder, Miami Marlins

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Sell High Targets

Marcell Ozuna is notoriously a poor second half player. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Ozuna has begun to emerged as one of the league’s best power hitters. So far in 2017, he is batting .320 with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs.

His career BABIP is .323, although his current BABIP sits at .355, suggesting that his batting average is bound to regress. Also, his current isolated power, or ISO, is .260 and his HR/FB rate is 29 percent, which both seem unsustainable as his career ISO is .175 and career HR/FB rate is 14 percent.

All of the analytics point towards regression, but if you also look at Ozuna’s track record of being a very poor second half player, it will make it easy to move on from the 26-year-old slugger.

On the career, his first half stats are .285 with 59 home runs, whereas his second half batting average is .243 with only 20 home runs. Now would be the time to move Ozuna before he likely burns out.

Ervin Santana, Starting Pitcher, Minnesota Twins

Santana is blatantly a sell high candidate. He is currently 9-4 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and a 6.66 K/9.

His FIP of 4.81 and xFIP of 4.93 are considered poor and awful by fangraphs.com, showing that the fielders behind him have kept his ratios afloat. The 34-year-old’s BABIP of .190 is the lowest among qualified starters and is absolutely unsustainable. Also, his left on base percentage is 85 percent, which is about 12 percent higher than his career rate.

There is no doubt in my mind that Santana’s performance is bound to regress, so now would be the optimal time to sell.

 

Featured Image by MLB.com

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