2018 Cy Young Award watch

MLB: 2018 Cy Young Award watch

In the game of baseball, no position is as praised or scrutinized as the pitcher. The pitcher has to ward off batter after batter and keep as many off base as possible. The pitcher also has to work with varying amounts of run support in the process. For those few who are the coolest under this kind of pressure, the Cy Young Award awaits.

This watch will highlight some of the early favorites to win the coveted hardware in 2018. Will there be a new, young ace reigning supreme? Will there be a veteran looking to expand his trophy case? These are some notable aces making their cases this season.

Cy Young Award Watch: American League

2018 Cy Young Award watch

(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

The Houston Astros house several pitchers off to a great start, as well as the first stop of this Cy Young Award watch. Picking just one from this bunch was difficult, but ultimately, Charlie Morton takes the marginal lead here.

Yes, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole boast lower ERAs than Morton (both below 2.00). However, Morton has more wins and an undefeated record to his name.

Morton has no doubt found his footing in Houston, rocking a 19-7 combined record in his two seasons as an Astro. As a pitching unit, the Astros lead the American League in ERA and batting average surrendered. Morton’s role has become a huge part of this feat.

Over in the AL East, Luis Severino of the New York Yankees has entered the conversation as well. The 24-year-old has tallied a 6-1 record on the mound this season. He has also surrendered a meager 2.14 ERA in his nine starts this season. Severino’s arm has more than helped the Pinstripes as they look to take over the division. If he can remain hot, he will end up in many more All-Star rosters and Cy Young Award conversations to come.

Another AL East arm to keep an eye on for the hardware is Boston’s Rick Porcello. Though Chris Sale holds a better ERA, Porcello remains undefeated this season. Porcello retains a 2.79 ERA, plus a 5-0 record in 51 2/3 innings pitched. Porcello and the rest of the Red Sox rotation will need to stay hot with their archrivals on their tail. As for Porcello, a second Cy Young Award to his name would not hurt.

Cy Young Award Watch: National League

Over in the NL East, The Washington Nationals are now on a tear. In the NL Cy Young conversation, Max Scherzer is among the first names to pop up. It is not very hard to see why.

2018 Cy Young Award watch

(Photo from SI.com)

“Mad Max” currently sports a 7-1 record, along with the second lowest ERA in the National League.

But it does not stop there. Scherzer’s ERA has been below 2.00 in each of his starts this season. The 33-year-old ace is now eyeing a third Cy Young Award in a row, which would be the fourth of his career.

Another NL East name has entered the fray, from the Philadelphia Phillies. Meet right-hander Aaron Nola.

The 24-year-old has put together a 6-1 record with a 1.99 ERA this season. Not to mention he is undefeated in the month of May with a 0.89 ERA. Nola has shown significant improvement throughout his career. It is very likely he will be at the All-Star game in D.C. But if Nola can remain this imposing from the mound, the Cy Young Award, and possibly a playoff spot, will be a sight for the sore eyes of the Phillies faithful.

Over in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are fighting for the division with Milwaukee and Pittsburgh (all within only 0.5 games of each other). Pitcher Miles Mikolas of the Cards has done his part to keep the Cards in the race. Mikolas boasts a 5-0 record with a 2.51 ERA this season. He has also yielded a mere .233 batting average in his seven starts. With pitchers like Mikolas on board, the St. Louis pitching staff has become one the most ferocious rotations in the big leagues, with the third lowest ERA in baseball.

As the Seasons continues…

There are plenty of candidates worthy to be mentioned in the Cy Young Award conversation. At any time, unknown faces can become household names, if not take over the spotlight completely. As the season continues, the race for the playoffs, as well as yearly player accolades, will intensify with time.

 

Featured image from Baseball-Almanac.com

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MLB early takeaways

Early takeaways from the first weekend of baseball

Although all 30 MLB teams have played no more than five games, now is a perfect time to overreact to the results of the first weekend in the 2018 season. Below, we have seven early takeaways that may, or may not, matter.

1. Houston does not appear to have any World Series hangover

The Astros kept the momentum going into 2018, as they took three out of four from the Texas Rangers to kick off their season. George Springer led off the season with a home run, and Houston’s offense forced the Rangers starters to average 18.1 pitches per inning. In the four games, Houston scored 22 runs.

Carlos Correa is off to a tremendous start, hitting .438 with four runs, a home run and five RBIs. Correa showed his ability to hit both lefties and righties on Saturday, when he roped a double off Matt Moore and later homered off Jesse Chavez.

Correa’s double-play partner and 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve, is off to a sizzling start as well. After going hitless on Opening Day, Altuve collected two hits in Game 2, four on Saturday and three more on Easter. The second baseman is batting .563 with five runs scored.

In his Astros Debut, Gerrit Cole did not disappoint. On Sunday, he pitched seven strong innings and allowed just one run on two hits while striking out 11 batters. The 11 punch-outs is the most for Cole since 2014.

2. Washington probably has the best roster in the NL

Albeit against the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals showed how dominate their arms are, as well as how potent their offense can be. Washington started the season with a 2-0 win, and proceeded to score 19 runs over their next two games, en route to sweeping the Reds. The Nats leads the NL with nine home runs.

MLB early takeaways

Bryce Harper slugged two home runs on Sunday. (Photo from The Washington Post)

Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez had a combined 0.98 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. Keep in mind, these were three of the top four pitchers in terms of WAR in 2017.

A healthy Adam Eaton may be the difference maker in Washington’s lineup. Eaton is batting .615 with seven runs scored, two home runs and five RBIs. On Saturday, Eaton went 5-for-5, and became the fourth player since 2010 to have five hits, two doubles, one home run, four runs, and at least three RBIs.

Last season, in the 23 games with Eaton and Trea Turner hitting ahead of him, Bryce Harper batted .405 with 25 RBIs. On Sunday, Harper clubbed a pair of home runs and ended the series batting .400 with three runs scored and four RBIs. If this Nats team can stay healthy, there is no reason for them not to win around 100 games.

3. Are the Braves ready for a playoff run in 2018?

Most people expected Atlanta to continue to improve in 2018, but I don’t think anyone imagined them scoring 27 runs in three games, including a 15-2 romping of the Phillies on Saturday.

Atlanta’s offense was led by Freddie Freeman, who has already drawn seven walks in three games, which is good for most in the league. Freeman has scored at least one run in each of the first three games. Ryan Flaherty, a career .219 hitter, batted .538 with three doubles and five runs scored, while Nick Markakis drove in five runs and walked four times.

Obviously Flaherty will cool off, but if Atlanta can get some production out of their staff, as well as some magic from Ronald Acuna when he is called up, don’t sleep on a Wild Card berth for the Braves.

4. 2018 could be the year in which Boston’s big three all perform

In 2016, Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award, going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. The following season, Porcello lost 17 games and gave up more home runs than anyone, allowed the second most hits and finished fifth in earned runs. After a shaky 2016, David Price was injured almost all of 2017, making just 11 starts. Chris Sale, who was acquired before the start of the 2017 season, was tremendous last season, but had no help.

The lines for Boston’s three starters against Tampa Bay:

Sale – 6 innings, 1 H, 0 ER, 9 SO

Price – 7.0 innings, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BBs, 5 SO

Porcello – 5.1 innings, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

5. Cain and Yelich look good in Milwaukee

The Brewers, who swept the Padres to start the season, have to be happy about the performance of their two new outfielders, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Cain collected multiple hits in each of the first three games, including two three-hit performances. He is batting .571 with three steals. On Saturday, Yelich went a perfect 5-for-5 and scored four runs with three RBIs in the series.

With Jimmy Nelson out, the Brewers will rely heavily on Chase Anderson to carry the load. He opened the year with a wonderful start, throwing six shutout innings with six strikeouts. The Brewers bullpen, in 15.2 innings of work, posted a 1.72 ERA with a 10.91 K/9.

6. Will Ohtani and the Angels reach the postseason?

Aside from the one bad pitch to Matt Chapman, which resulted in a three-run home run, Shohei Ohtani’s highly anticipated MLB pitching debut was a success. He earned the win and struck out six batters while walking just one in six innings.

MLB early takeaways

Ohtani earned the win in his pitching debut against Oakland. (Photo from The Mercury News)

The Angels, who won three out four in Oakland, have to be ecstatic about their new infielder Zack Cozart. Cozart, through the first four games, hit .368 with four extra-base hits, three runs scored and three RBIs. Despite going 0-for-6 on Opening Day, Mike Trout finished the series batting .300 with five runs scored, one home run, one steal and four RBIs.

Tyler Skaggs looked great in his 2018 debut, tossing 6.1 shutout innings without issuing a walk. Skaggs has never thrown more than 113 innings in a season, but if he can stay healthy and perform, this team could make some noise in October.

7. The Dodgers started off 2-2 with just two runs allowed

Staying in Los Angeles, the Dodgers pitching was tremendous against the Giants. In their 36 innings, LA’s pitching staff posted a 0.50 ERA with a .192 opposing batting average. Unfortunately, it took them until the third game of the season to cross home plate. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager went a combined 3-for-24.

 

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2018 Pittsburgh Pirates preview

2018 MLB preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017: 75-87 (fourth place in NL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2015

Last World Series title: 1979

2017 Recap

From 2013-15, the Pirates were a nice story. They made the postseason in all three seasons and won over 90 games in 2013 and 2015. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for them to compete in the near future officially closed in 2017.

After winning just 78 games in 2016, Pittsburgh finished 2017 with a record of 75-87. They were one of the worst offensive teams in the league, ranking 26th in hits, 27th in batting average, 28th in runs, 29th in home runs and 30th in total bases.

McCutchen led the Pirates in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, batting average, walks, SLG and OPS. (Photo from SI.com)

Among the 15 NL teams, the Pirates pitching ranked seventh in ERA and 12th in hits and strikeouts. On the bright side, they did finish with the fourth fewest home runs surrendered in the MLB.

Andrew McCutchen, one of the top 15 Pirates of all time in regards to WAR, bounced back after a tough 2016 season. He silenced the doubters by slashing .279/.363/.486 with 28 home runs, 88 RBIs and 11 steals. The 2013 NL MVP led the Pirates in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, batting average, walks, SLG and OPS. Talk about carrying the load.

Josh Harrison was the lone Pirates member of the NL All-Star team. Harrison hit 10 home runs in the first half and ended the season with 16 long balls, 12 steals and a .272 batting average.

A big reason for the lack of offense was Starling Marte’s off-the-field decisions. Marte, who led Pittsburgh in WAR in 2015 and 2016, was suspended 80 games for PED use. In his 77 games, Marte hit seven home runs and stole 21 bases.

One of the feel-good stories of the year was Jameson Taillon, who underwent surgery for testicular cancer in May. He was able to return and make a total of 25 starts. The 26-year-old went 8-7 with a 4.44 ERA.

Felipe Rivero was absolutely fantastic out of the bullpen for the Pirates. He had 21 saves, and was the only pitcher in the MLB to throw at least 75 innings and post an ERA less than 1.70. Gerrit Cole wasn’t great, but he did strike out 196 batters over 203 innings.

2018: Around the Diamond

For the first time since 2008, the Pirates will enter the season without Andrew McCutchen, who was traded to the San Francisco Giants in January. Obviously, he has been the face of the franchise for quite some time and clearly did everything for this offense in 2017. 2018 will be a rebuilding year for the Pirates.

To help mirror the production of McCutchen, Pittsburgh traded for 2017 AL All-Star, Corey Dickerson. The OF/DH hit .282 with 27 home runs and will replace McCutchen in left field.

Joining him in the outfield will be Marte and Gregory Polanco. Last spring, Polanco dealt with shoulder issues, which must have had an effect on his game throughout the season. He only stole eight bases and posted a career-low .305 OBP.

2018 Pittsburgh Pirates preview

Bell hit 26 home runs in 2017. (Photo from Sporting News)

Pittsburgh will showcase one of the weaker infields in regards to production. Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz will split time behind the plate, while David Freese, who led the team with a .368 OBP, will battle Colin Moran for playing time at third. Moran, a former first-round pick, came over from Houston in the Cole trade and is off to a great start this spring. In 23 at-bats, Moran is hitting .304 with three runs scored.

Up the middle will again be Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer. Josh Bell will play first base and is not only a fantasy baseball sleeper, but possibly Pittsburgh’s best offensive player for 2018. In 2017, Bell hit 26 home runs with 90 RBIs. He is only 25 years old and has potential to be a .280, 25 home run player in 2018.

The most likely candidate to start at DH, for when Pittsburgh travels to the American League, is Adam Frazier. He should see time at the middle infield positions also, along with Sean Rodriguez.

On the Bump

No more Gerrit Cole means Pittsburgh is need of an ace. Ivan Nova, who had the fourth-best BB/9 last season, has been named the Opening Day starter.

Following Nova will be Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams, who started 25 games for Pittsburgh in 2017 and went 7-9 with a 4.07 ERA. If you play fantasy baseball, stay away from anyone in this rotation, besides for Taillon, who could turn into a quality starter.

Keep in mind, Pittsburgh also has Tyler Glasnow, who they badly need to develop. It would not be fair to label Glasnow as a bust since he was a fifth-round pick, but he has been dreadful at the MLB level. In 85.1 career innings, Glasnow has a 6.75 ERA and 6.0 BB/9. He excels in the minors, going 9-2 with a 1.93 ERA in Triple-A during 2017, but needs to figure it out at the big-league level. So far this spring, Glasnow has made three starts and has an 11.74 ERA.

Rivero will remain in the closer role, while George Kontos, who came over from San Francisco last season, will most likely serve as the setup man. Kontos was great in his 14.2 innings of work with Pittsburgh in 2017, posting a 1.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts.

The Future

The Pirates have two pitchers, along with outfielder Austin Meadows, who cracked the Top 100 prospects list on MLB.com. Pittsburgh’s top prospect, Mitch Keller (No.15), was a second-round pick back in 2014. The 21-year-old pitched well between A+ and Double-A in 2017. Overall, the righty went 8-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 116 strikeouts over 116 innings of work. Keller hopes to make his MLB debut in 2018.

This Spring, Meadows is hitting .462 with two doubles, a triple, one home run, and 7 RBIs in just 14 plate appearances.(Pirates Prospects)

Pittsburgh’s best non-pitching prospect is outfielder Austin Meadows (No. 45). Last season, Meadows hit just .250 in Triple-A, but he was dealing with hamstring problems throughout the season. The ninth overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft is off to a scorching hot start this spring, hitting .462 with two doubles, a triple, one home run and seven RBIs in just 14 plate appearances.

Shane Baz (No. 67), was the 12th pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. The pitcher was drafted out of high school and is still just 18 years old. His fastball can get up to 98 mph, while his curveball has great movement. The Pirates seem to always develop pitchers, so Baz is in a great situation.

2018 Prediction: 72-90

It’s a rebuilding year for Pittsburgh after trading away its best pitcher and hitter to help plan for the future. They realized they did not have what it takes to get over the hump, so now it will be a tough couple of years for Pirates fans. Hopefully Taillon and Glasnow can develop into big-time arms, while the growth of Josh Bell will be fun to watch this season.

 

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2018 MLB Preview: Houston Astros

2017: 101-61

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017

Last World Series Title: 2017

2017 Recap                       

In the past, we have seen teams like the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals (83-78) and the 2000 New York Yankees (87-74), win the World Series despite not being the best team in baseball. In 2017, the best team won the World Series. The Houston Astros were, by far, the most elite squad in 2017.

2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve (SI.com)

Houston finished the season with 101 wins, and an incredible 53-28 record on the road. Although their second half did not mirror their 60-29 first half, Houston never had a problem. The Astros offense finished first in hits, runs, doubles, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, and total bases. The ringleader behind their offensive success was the 5-6, 165lb, second basemen from Venezuela, Mr. Jose Altuve.

Last year, Altuve was clearly the best player in baseball. He was named the AL MVP, and hit .346/.410/.547 with 112 runs, 24 home runs, 81 RBIs, and 32 steals. He became the first player ever to lead the AL or NL in hits for four straight seasons. 2017 marked Altuve’s fourth season with at least 200 hits, 50 extra-base hits, and 25 stolen bases, which is tied for TY Cobb for the most all-time. He is the first player to have multiple seasons of at least 200 hits, 20 home runs, and 30 steals. Here is a table to illustrate how amazing he was in 2017. 

JOSE ALTUVE IN 2017

 

STAT ALTUVE’S RANK IN MLB
WAR 1ST
BATTING AVERAGE 1ST
OBP 6TH
RUNS TIED FOR 6TH
HITS 2ND
TOTAL BASES 9TH
STEALS 6TH
ADJUSTED OPS+ 5TH
RUNS CREATED 5TH

 

Of course, Houston had plenty of other stars. Altuve, along with Carlos Correa, George Springer, Chris Devenski, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers, were all named All-Star’s. Correa, who missed a good chunk of time because of a torn thumb ligament, still managed to hit .315 with 24 home runs, 85 RBIs, and a .391 OBP. He joined Alex Rodriguez as the only two shortstops to have at least 390 hits, 80 doubles, 60 home runs, 200 runs and 240 RBIs before turning 23.

2017 was probably the best year of George Springer’s life. He finished tied for sixth in runs, and set career highs in home runs (34), RBIs (85), batting average (.283), and OPS (.889). Although he struggled in the ALCS against New York, Springer erupted in the World Series and earned World Series MVP after hitting .379, with 5 home runs (tied for most in a single World Series), 7 RBIs, and a .471 OBP.

The offense was obviously stellar, but, to bolster the pitching, the Astros added some guy named Justin Verlander at the trade deadline. The former CY Young and MVP winner went 9-1 with a 1.66 ERA in the regular and postseason with Houston. Pretty damn good if you ask me.

2018: Around the Diamond

As scary as this sounds for the other 29 teams, the Astros probably got better. They have a plethora of young talent who have yet to reach their full potential. Correa, 23, is still improving and could put up incredible numbers over a full-season, Altuve is right behind Trout as the best player in the game, and third basemen Alex Bregman is just 23 years-old and is coming off a stellar 2017.

Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa are both just 23 years-old. (Houston Chronicle)

Bregman hit .284 with 19 home runs, 17 steals, 71 RBIs, and a .352 OBP. He hit .331 against lefties, and .302 in high leverage situations. The brighter the lights, the better Bregman performs, as we saw this against the Dodgers in the World Series when he hit two home runs and drove in five.

Yuli Gurriel, first basemen, finished tied for seventh in doubles with 43, and hit .299 with 18 home runs. The most ridiculous Gurriel stat is his average in 0-1 counts. When he is down 0-1, Gurriel hit .331. As absurd as this sounds, when the count was in his favor, 1-0, Gurriel hit just .263. He actually performed better when the odds were stacked against him.

Behind the plate, for this stacked infield, will be a mix of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, who will most likely start at DH. Gattis hit 20+ HR from 2013-2016 and was banged up last year, playing just 84 games. If Gattis struggles, Tyler White, who hit .300 with 25 home runs in AAA during his 2017 campaign, should step in. Josh Reddick, who finished 10th in batting average at .314, including .346 with men in scoring position, and had a career high .847 OPS, will start in right, while Springer will be in center.

Left field is an interesting spot for Houston in 2018. It appears Marwin Gonzalez, who finished seventh in adjusted OPS+ last season, will start there, but there is a good chance Derek Fisher will steal his job if he has a good spring. Gonzalez was great last year, but his previous best WAR season was 1.2. Fisher is a power-speed guy who hit .318 with 21 home runs and 66 RBIs in 84 games at AAA in 2017. Houston also has Jake Marisnick, who will get some playing time in the outfield.

On the Bump

Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers, and Charlie Morton were all great last year, but Houston decided to bolster up the rotation even more. In January, the Astros traded for Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole. Cole won 12 games with a 1.25 WHIP in 2017. He is now 27 years of age, and is still on the rise. Don’t forget, this is a guy who went 19-8 with a 2.80 ERA in 2015. If Cole can get back to his elite self, and let up fewer long-balls, this team might be unstoppable.

Ken Giles, who had 34 saves last season, will remain the closer. Devenski, and Will Harris are still with the ball club, and Houston also brought in Hector Rondon and Joe Smith to beef up the ‘pen.

The Future

Even with arguably the best roster in baseball, Houston has three prospects ranked in the Top 100 Prospects list on MLB.com. Headlining this list is RHP, Forrest Whitley, who comes in as the ninth-best prospect, and second-best RHP. Whitley was drafted by Houston in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, and has yet to disappoint. In 23 games, 18 starts, between A/A+/AA, Whitley posted a 2.83 ERA and struck out 143 batters in just 92.1 innings.

Whitley is facing a 50-game suspension for violating the drug policy. (Baseball America)

He stands tall at 6’7”, and, not only has a fastball that can get up to 97 mph, but Whitley also mixes in a 12-to-6 curveball, a slider, and a changeup. He is currently facing a 50 game suspension for violating the drug policy, which will slow down his progression, but expect to see this guy on the mound for Houston in the near future.

Kyle Tucker (No.17), is someone who you should expect to see at some point in 2018. The 21-year-old OF, in 120 games, hit 25 home runs, with 90 RBIs, and 21 steals between A+/AA. Tucker was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft and looks like he could be an offensive beast at the MLB level.

Houston’s final member on the Top 100 Prospects list is J.B. Bukauskas (No. 76). Bukauskas was the 17th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, and has drawn comparisons to Sonny Gray. He was a star for the UNC baseball team, going 9-1 with a 2.53 ERA.

2018 Prediction: 98-64

Because the Mariners and Angels got better, Houston may win a few less games, but this is clearly the best team in the AL. Springer, Correa, and Altuve are all MVP candidates, and if Cole can limit the home runs, there is no reason to think that this team cannot repeat as World Series champions.

Featured image by MLB.com

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NL Central division

New Year’s Resolutions for NL Central teams

2018 is upon us, and that means it is time to look forward to the year ahead. The NL Central division proved to be one of the most lackluster divisions in 2017, with the Cubs not quite hitting their stride until September, and the Cardinals floating around .500.

With that being said, here are New Year’s resolutions for the five teams in the NL Central to make it a more exciting year.

Cincinnati Reds: Get extended work from young starters

The Reds finished in last place with a 68-94 record. That would make you think they are an all around bad team right? Well, not exactly.

The Reds had a pretty good offense. Joey Votto may have won the MVP if the Reds had more wins, and Scooter Gennett had a breakout year at the plate. They ranked 14th in runs and still have the potential to be one of baseball’s better teams.

What the Reds struggled with was pitching. They were second to last in ERA and could not get much of anything from anybody. However, 2018 is the year where many of their young pitchers should be getting a full season worth of work. Their young core is highlighted by Brandon Finnegan, Luis Castillo and Robert Stephenson.

If these three guys can start to put together a full season worth of solid work, the Reds may be closer to competing than most think.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Plan for the future

NL Central division

Andrew McCutchen may be in his final year in Pittsburgh (Photo from Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Andrew McCutchen is entering the final year of his six-year, $51.5 million contract. He finished 2017 with a respectable .279/.363/.486 slash line, along with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs. Those are stats that can help any team in the majors. The reason I say that is because the Pirates ought to seriously consider moving him before he hits free agency next winter.

The Pirates have a couple good players coming up through their system, such as Austin Meadows, who is the the ninth best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. Josh Bell also had a great rookie year, and Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte add to a solid outfield.

The only problem is that this team does not seem to be getting anywhere. Pittsburgh finished at 75-87 and fourth in the Central. Marte being suspended for half the year may have had something to do with that, but his presence for a full season alone won’t help them compete for the NL Central crown.

There have already been intense discussions about Gerrit Cole moving to New York. The move does not seem as serious as it once did, but just the fact that there are credible talks out there speaks as to what the Pirates think they can accomplish in 2018. With some of the young talent they have, this is a good opportunity for them to build up for 2019-21.

This coming year looks to be more of a year in limbo for Pittsburgh, so it would be best to get what they can for McCutchen and Cole.

St. Louis Cardinals: Add another bat and a reliever before the regular season

NL Central division

The Ozuna trade shows how serious the Cardinals are about winning now (Photo from Walsh Sports Analytics)

The Cardinals have been the center of multiple rumors this offseason. They were able to land Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins for a fairly reasonable price, so they have that to be happy about. They also signed a pitcher from from the NPB not named Shohei Ohtani in Miles Mikolas. Both acquisitions should make an immediate impact on the ball club.

With Trevor Rosenthal released from the team, the Cardinals are in search for a closer. There are still plenty of names available. Alex Colome has been brought up in multiple trade rumors with the Cardinals, and Greg Holland and Wade Davis are still on the market as well. Any of these three guys would bolster the back of a bullpen that does not have a closer at the moment.

St. Louis should also be in search for one more impact bat. Adding Ozuna was nice, but the front office knows that there is more work to be done.

With the outfield in a comfortable position at the moment, the Cardinals ought to be looking for corner infielders. Ideally, they would like to have Matt Carpenter move around the infield and have Jedd Gyorko as a utility man. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are two free agents that come to mind that fit the mold. The only problem is that these two do not provide any extra pop that the Cardinals don’t already have. It would just clutter the infield more.

The Cardinals are still looking for a team to trade with. Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are both on their radar, but it seems they won’t be traded at least until the All-Star break.

The Cardinals may have to wait until 2018 free agency to add one of these guys, but that should not stop them for looking for a bat this offseason. They are not that far off from competing with the Cubs for the NL Central title in 2018.

Milwaukee Brewers: Build off 2017 success

NL Central division

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017 (Photo from Pintrest)

Even though they did not make the playoffs, the Brewers were a pleasant surprise in 2017. Travis Shaw and Eric Thames emerged as above average hitters and made the Brewers a threatening lineup. Jimmy Nelson also broke out as a potential ace in the rotation. They were able to give the Cubs fits and were neck and neck with them until the end.

The organization knows that this is not the time to take any steps back. The Brewers have real potential to make the playoffs, so they are doing what they can to ensure they play at the same type of level they did last year. They have not landed any big name free agents, but the signings of Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo show they are serious about improving their rotation and doing what it takes to stay in the thick of things.

Although it is unlikely, signing an arm like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvsih would be tremendously helpful. The Brewers had the lowest payroll in 2017, so that says a lot about what they were able to accomplish in the NL Central. If they were able to spend a little more money, who knows what they might be able to do.

Chicago Cubs: Stay separated from the rest of the pack

After the Cubs broke their legendary drought in 2016, it looked as if it would be impossible to dethrone the Cubs for the years to come. After 2017, it is evident that is not the case. Kyle Schwarber struggled at the plate greatly and Jason Heyward is not playing up to his contract. Now that Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis have hit free agency, the Cubs look vulnerable.

It is still important to remember the Cubs have the best pieces out of anyone in the Central. There is no reason they can’t make 2018 the fourth consecutive year they make the NLCS. However, the Cardinals look like they have a decent shot at making things more difficult for the Cubs. The Brewers also may be even better next year.

The Cubs have had some solid signings thus far. They signed Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow, who are two excellent pickups for their rotation.

What the Cubs are hoping for is continued growth from the 2016 MVP, Kris Bryant. He still had a great 2017, but he has the potential to be a perennial MVP contender. Along with Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have a lot of pieces in place for success. They just need to make sure it is enough to fend off the Brewers and Cardinals.

Either way, this should be an exciting year in the Central and could lay ground for what happens in the future as well.

 

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Bounce back candidates for 2018 MLB season

Bounce back candidates for the 2018 MLB season

Baseball fans were lucky to witness an incredible 2017 World Series this October, where bounce back players like Dallas Keuchel and Yasiel Puig were significant contributors. It is officially time to look ahead to the 2018 MLB season, where a new group of bounce back performers are sure to emerge.

The following players are not the only bounce back candidates, but are the ones who I believe are most likely to return to their previous form. Keep an eye out for these players heading into the 2018 season, as their price on draft day may be discounted due to their struggles in 2017.

Honorable mentions: Jose Bautista (FA), Jonathan Villar (MIL), Kyle Schwarber (ChC), Addison Russell (ChC), Ben Zobrist (ChC), Odubel Herrera (Phi), Maikel Franco (Phi), Carlos Gonzalez (FA), Kole Calhoun (LAA), Joc Pederson (LAD), Greg Bird (NYY), and Gregory Polanco (PIT).

Players who EVERYONE anticipates to bounce back, whose cases I do not feel are worth explaining: Noah Syndergaard (NYM), Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Mookie Betts (BOS), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR), A.J. Pollock (ARI), Kyle Seager (SEA), and Jason Kipnis (CLE).

Batters

Hanley Ramirez, Designated Hitter/First Baseman, Boston Red Sox

Games BA/OBP/SLG R RBIs HR XBH SB
2017 Season 133 .242/.320/.429 58 62 23 47 1
162-game AVG 162 .291/.362/.490 103 89 26 66 28
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Hanley Ramirez had a career low batting average (.242) in 2017. (Photo by the Boston Herald)

At this stage in Hanley’s career, we obviously aren’t expecting a 20/20 MVP candidate season, but his 2017 campaign was a clear disappointment. His .242 batting average was a career low, while his 21 percent strikeout rate was at a career high.

Ramirez dealt with soreness and inflammation in his left bicep and shoulder throughout the year. According to rotoworld.com, he underwent a “relatively minor” surgery on his left shoulder on Tuesday, Oct. 17, which should allow Ramirez to return healthy for 2018 season.

The Red Sox, who finished 27th in home runs in 2017, will rely heavily on Ramirez to provide power in the heart of their order. If the Sox have any chance of returning to the playoffs next year, Ramirez will have to be a major piece to their puzzle.

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher, Colorado Rockies

Games BA/OBP/SLG R RBIs HR XBH SB
2017 Season 123 .265/.345/.371 45 40 6 30 1
162-game AVG 162 .281/.343/.433 68 76 16 51 5

Lucroy’s 2017 campaign made people forget that he is only one year removed from being the top ranked catcher in fantasy baseball. Aside from his rookie year where he played only 75 games, he managed to set career lows in home runs, slugging percentage and runs scored.

The 31-year-old was traded for a second time in as many years, this time heading from the Texas Rangers, whose stadium ranks second in terms of runs created by park factors, to the Colorado Rockies, whose stadium ranks first. The difference in scenery may not seem like a significant change, but Lucroy’s slash line in Colorado, .310/.429/.437, was substantially better than in Texas, .242/.297/.338.

Lucroy is currently a free agent, but according to purplerow.com, “there has been a lot of mutual interest expressed by the Rockies and Lucroy in reuniting.”

In Colorado, Lucroy spent the majority of the year batting eighth, which clearly isn’t ideal for your fantasy team. However, any spot in the Rockies’ lineup is fine, as they ranked third in runs scored, fourth in RBIs and second in batting average in 2017.

Whether Lucroy were to re-sign with Colorado or not, he still promises to be a major bounce back candidate in 2018.

Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays

Games BA/OBP/SLG R RBIs HR XBH SB
2017 Season 66 .249/.300/.378 16 26      7 17 0
162-game AVG 162 .290/.361/.495 96 98 28 64 7
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

According to Rotoworld.com, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons expect “Tulowitzki (to) be healthy come spring training in 2018”. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Tulowitzki’s production has been on a steep decline since being traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015. The two-time top-five National League MVP candidate slashed .299/.371/.513 in his 10 years in Colorado, while he has slashed just .250/.313/.414 in his three seasons with Toronto.

Now 33 years old, Tulowitzki was placed on the 60-day disabled list after suffering ligament damage in his right ankle in July. According to Rotoworld.com, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons expect “Tulowitzki (to) be healthy come spring training in 2018.”

According to Alec Gentry of Sportingnews.com, Gibbons also stated that “Tulo is our shortstop,” showing that despite his struggles, the team will continue to deploy him at shortstop for the foreseeable future.

The only real case for Tulowitzki bouncing back is his track record and opportunity. He is signed through 2020 and must be desperate to prove his worth to the city of Toronto.

 

 

 

Adam Eaton, Outfielder, Washington Nationals

Games BA/OBP/SLG R RBIs HR XBH SB
2017 Season 23 .297/.393/.462 24 13      2 23 3
162-game AVG 162 .284/.358/.416 104 57 11 52 17

There were high expectations for Eaton in 2017, as it would be his first season batting leadoff for his new club, the Washington Nationals, whose star-studded lineup ranked eighth in runs scored, 11th in home runs and seventh in RBIs just a year prior. With Eaton atop their lineup, the Nationals became that much better, as the 28-year-old was coming off of back-to-back seasons with at least a .280 batting average, 175 hits, 90 runs and 14 stolen bases.

Sadly, Eaton’s 2017 campaign was cut short after suffering a torn ACL on April 28. According to Jamal Collier of MLB.com, Eaton stated, “I’m going to work my butt off and give myself the best-case scenario to play. This year would be great, and if that is the case, that means we are playing in October, that is for sure.”

Unfortunately for Eaton, the Nationals failed to make the World Series, which was the earliest Eaton was expected to return. His clear hunger to play and prove doubters wrong inspires me to draft him in 2018. The Nationals lineup improved in 2017, ranking fifth in runs scored, third in RBIs and fourth in batting average.

If Eaton were to bat atop their lineup next season, he would likely return to his top-30 outfielder status.

Pitchers

Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees

Games W-L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2017 Season 30 13-12 4.74 1.24 178.1 9.8 2.1 1.8
162-game AVG 34 17-9 3.56 1.10 216 8.6 1.7 1.3
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Tanaka’s 2017 regular season was an absolute disaster. (Photo by the Japanese Times)

Tanaka’s 2017 regular season was an absolute disaster. The 29-year-old once had a reputation for limiting walks, hits and home runs, but that status has officially been revoked. His 1.8 HR/9 ranked third worst among qualified pitchers, while his ERA ranked ninth worst.

One interesting stat for Tanaka is the decline in the frequency of his fastball, as it has been in decline every season since 2014, where he was throwing it about 40 percent of the time, down to 28 percent in 2017.

In turn, the frequency of his off-speed pitches has continuously risen, which may have contributed to the rise of his strikeout rate, as his 2016 strikeout rate of 7.4 increased dramatically to 9.8 this season.

A positive sign for Tanaka moving forward was his 2017 playoff performances. In his 20 innings pitched, Tanaka allowed just two earned runs, 10 hits and three walks. This was the Tanaka baseball fans expected heading into 2017.

Looking ahead to 2018, Tanaka will once again be expected to play a key role atop the Yankees rotation. If he is able to continue his postseason success into 2018, there is no reason he cannot bounce back to his top-20 fantasy starter status that he earned just a year ago.

Felix Hernandez, Starting Pitcher, Seattle Mariners

Starts W-L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2017 Season 16 6-5 4.36 1.29 86.2 8.1 2.7 1.8
162-game AVG 34 15-10 3.20 1.18 227 8.4 2.6 0.8

Hernandez has been in a downward spiral over the course of his last two seasons. After four straight Cy Young caliber seasons from 2012-15, the 31-year-old has thrown a total of 240 innings while posting a 4.01 ERA. Many factors could be contributing to Hernandez’s struggles, although fatigue and injuries seem to be the main causes.

King Felix has had one of the heaviest workloads among starting pitchers in the last decade, as he has recorded over 190 innings pitched over ten different seasons, most notably in 2010 where he pitched a league high 249.2 innings.

I personally refuse to believe that Hernandez, one of the best pitchers of his generation, is out of gas. Shoulder bursitis and bicep tendinitis cut his 2017 campaign short.

If a healthy Hernandez returns next season, his 2018 campaign will be a very different story.

Aaron Sanchez, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays

Starts W-L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2017 Season 8 1-3 4.25 1.72 36.0 6.0 5.0 1.5
162-game AVG 22 11-6 3.01 1.21 158 7.0 3.5 0.8
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Aaron Sanchez finished seventh in American League Cy Young voting last year after tossing 192 innings that resulted in a 15-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Sanchez was considered a blossoming star in 2016, as he finished the year seventh in American League Cy Young voting after tossing 192 innings that resulted in a 15-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts. In 2017, his story was quite different.

Lingering blisters on his right middle finger resulted in four separate stints on the disabled list for Sanchez. Although it may seem like this season was a lost cause for the 25-year-old, he thinks otherwise.

According to Sportsnet.com, Sanchez stated that missing the majority of the year was “a benefit for (himself) honestly… (as) it gave (him) a full year to… rest,” as he had thrown over 200 innings in the regular and postseasons combined in 2016.

Sanchez won’t begin throwing until December, so we won’t know the status of his finger until then. What we do know is that Sanchez is one of the top young talents in the game and is sure to be overlooked in fantasy circles due to his “wasted” 2017 season.

 

 

 

Gerrit Cole, Starting Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates

Starts W-L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2017 Season 33 12-12 4.26 1.25 203 8.7 2.4 1.4
162-game AVG 34 16-11 3.50 1.22 209 8.4 2.3 0.8

Although Cole started a career high 33 games in 2017, he had career worsts in ERA at 4.26, hits allowed with 199 and HR/9 at 1.4. Cole ranked 10th worst in home runs allowed with 31, which is nerve-racking, although in 2015, Cole ranked fourth best in HR/9 at .48, and home runs allowed at 11.

At only 27-years-old, it is more than realistic for Cole to bounce back to his Cy Young caliber form we saw just two years ago. The former first overall pick in 2011 needs to be on your draft radar next season, as his price is sure to be discounted due to his mediocre 2017 campaign.

 

Featured image by 710 ESPN Seattle

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Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Results of my ten bold predictions for the 2017 MLB season

On April 3, 2017, I published an article recording my ten bold predictions for the 2017 MLB season. With fantasy baseball playoffs rapidly approaching, it is a good time to look back and assess my projections from early April.

 

Jarrett Parker becomes the everyday left fielder for the San Francisco Giants, and finishes as a top-50 outfielder.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Parker suffered a broken collarbone in mid-April and didn’t return to the big leagues until August 3rd. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Well, tough prediction to start to the list. Parker suffered a broken collarbone in mid-April and didn’t return to the big leagues until August 3rd.

Currently the Giants have Brandon Belt, Michael Morse and Austin Slater on the disabled list, allowing Parker to fit in as their everyday left fielder. The 28-year-old has split time in the lineup between batting third and seventh. If he can continue to get at-bats in the three-hole, he will show why I predicted him to be a top-50 outfielder this season.

 

Lance Lynn will win 16 games and finish the season as a top 50 starting pitcher.

Lynn seems to be surpassing my high expectations, as he is currently ranked 15th among starting pitchers in ESPN standard formats. He is currently 10-6 with a 3.05 ERA.

The 30-year-old has eight quality starts in his last eight appearances, making him one of the most consistent and reliable pitchers of the second half.

The former first-round pick in 2008 has career lows in batting average against, or BAA, with .211, batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, with .232 and strikeouts per nine, or K/9, with 7.47.

All of these trends suggest that his luck may be running out, although he has yet to let up all season.

 

Newly acquired Seattle Mariner, Mitch Haniger, will finish the year as a top 25 outfielder.

Although he is far from being a top-25 outfielder, Haniger still has been impressive in 2017. In his first 21 games, Haniger batted .342 with four home runs, 20 runs scored and 16 RBIs. The 26-year-old strained his oblique muscle and missed all of May.

After returning, Haniger was clearly still affected by the oblique, as the former first round pick in 2012 batted a mere .176 in July. Haniger found himself on the disabled list once again in late July after being hit in the face by a 95-MPH Jacob deGrom fastball. Haniger has since returned to the lineup, where on August 19th he went two for four with a home run and four RBIs against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Haniger’s early success was enhanced by the fact that he was batting primarily second in the Mariners order. So, now batting mainly sixth or seventh, Haniger’s fantasy ceiling has dropped significantly. We cannot forget about how successful he was in April, as he will be an integral part to the Mariners success in the future, although his lack of a track record is a bit concerning.

 

Kendall Graveman will become the unquestioned ace of the Oakland Athletics staff, after finishing the season with a sub-4 ERA and over 140 strikeouts.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Kendall Graveman began the season on an incredible tear, posting a 2.25 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his first 24 innings pitched. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Graveman has been another player plagued by injuries in 2017. He began the season on an incredible tear, posting a 2.25 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his first 24 innings pitched.

In the first half combined, he finished with a respectable 3.83 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 47 innings, and besides at-the-time Jesse Hahn, he was the Athletics most consistent and reliable arm. Unfortunately, Graveman was inflicted with a shoulder injury in mid-May which kept him out until early-August, making the 26-year-old completely irrelevant in the fantasy universe.

Next year promises to be bright for Graveman, who was formerly traded for Josh Donaldson, although his health problems are a major issue.

 

David Phelps will finish as a top 20 reliever in standard formats, and a top 10 in formats that include holds.

Phelps began the year as a part of the Miami Marlins, although he was subsequently traded to the Seattle Mariners in mid-July for three minor league prospects.

In the first half of the year, Phelps posted a fair 3.68 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 44 innings. So far in the second half, the 30-year-old has registered a 1.80 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Since being moved to Seattle, Phelps has only let two earned runs in his seven appearances, both coming in the same game against the New York Mets.

Phelps is currently on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, although he is expected to return sometime in late August according to MLB.com. When he returns, he will likely be used primarily in the 8th inning behind closer Edwin Diaz or possibly in the 7th behind set-up man Nick Vincent.

Either way, it is valid to roster him in leagues that count holds, especially due to his starting and relief pitcher eligibilities.

 

Yangervis Solarte hits 20 home runs for the first time in his professional career, and finishes as a top 100 hitter.  

Solarte missed nearly all of July as he was plagued by an oblique injury. He has batted primarily in the clean-up spot in the San Diego Padres order, giving him extra RBI and run scoring opportunities.

The 30-year-old has batted .268 and .269 respectively in each half of the year so far, so you can essentially pencil him in for a .270 average, especially as his BABIP is a career low .270.

Also, Solarte has seen a decline in his strikeout rate, as it has dropped from 14.2 percent in 2016 to 11.1 percent in 2017, which shows his progression from years past.

Over the course of a 162-game season, Solarte would be on pace for 23 home runs and 84 RBIs, which would comfortably make him a top-100 player. He has recently gained shortstop eligibility on top of his second and third base eligibilities, making him a very versatile fantasy asset.

 

Gerrit Cole will be a top-5 Cy Young candidate behind a sub-three ERA and 200 strike outs.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Since the All-Star break, Gerrit Cole has recorded a 3.13 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 innings. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Cole hasn’t been the same since his 2015 campaign where he finished fourth in the National League Cy Young vote.

His first half was a mess, as he recorded a 4.43 ERA and 7.86 K/9 over 107.2 innings. Although since the All-Star break, Cole has recorded a 3.13 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 innings.

The former first overall pick in 2011 has had serious issues giving up home runs, as his home run to fly ball rate is an astronomical 16.8 percent.

His second half so far has given fantasy owners a new-found hope that Cole can return to his 2015 form, although clearly 2017 was not the year for his resurgence.

 

Christian Yelich will put together a 25 home run/25 stolen base campaign for the first time in his career.

Myself and many others anticipated Miami Marlins star to take the next step in 2017, although we were wrong.

In 2016, the former first round pick in 2010 batted .298 with 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. There was a general assumption that Yelich would continue to progress, although he is currently on a 162-game pace to bat only .277 with 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases.

The 25-year-old has a career BABIP of .356, although this season it sits at only .328, which suggests he is getting a bit unlucky.

Yelich continues to bat third for the mighty Marlins, which bodes well for his fantasy value moving forward. He still has a very promising future, although 2017 was clearly not his MVP caliber breakout season.

 

Clayton Kershaw has the best year of his career, winning the NL Cy Young and MVP behind a sub-2 ERA and 300 plus strike outs.

This one is simple, a back injury slowed down Kershaw from continuing his domination as greatest pitcher of his generation.

Before the injury, Kershaw had thrown 141.1 innings while recording a 15-2 record with a 2.04 ERA and 168 strikeouts. The 29-year-old was on pace for 260 plus strikeouts over 220 innings pitched, which would have only been the second time in which he reached this feat.

When healthy, he remains the most reliable and elite pitcher in fantasy baseball.

 

Andrew Benintendi will not only win the Rookie of the Year, but will also be a top 25 finalist in the MVP race.

If Aaron Judge didn’t exist, Benintendi would be the favorite to win American League Rookie of the Year. He is currently batting .276 with 17 home runs, 68 RBIs, 63 runs scored and 14 stolen bases over 113 games.

The seventh overall pick in 2015 has met his expectations head on, as he is on a 162-game pace to hit 24 home runs and 97 RBIs. He has decreased his strikeout rate from 21.2 percent to 16.6 percent, while also raising his walk rate a full two percent.

Benintendi is a lock to finish top three in AL ROY, while also having a strong possibility of finishing within the top-25 in AL MVP voting.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017: Can the Pirates be contenders?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been on a run as of late. They have won 12 of their last 14 games and stand three games back of the Brewers. There has been talk as to whether or not the Pirates will be sellers at the trade deadline. With how they have been playing lately though, they have to look at why they may be able to make a push for the postseason.

Here are some reasons why the Pirates may find their way to October.

Starling Marte is back

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Marte’s return has ignited a spark in Pittsburgh (Yahoo Sports)

The Pirates found out at the beginning of the season that their best player from a year ago would be serving an 80-game suspension. This was a major blow to the team, and it seemed there would be little hope for them to compete with the world champion Cubs. What was needed was for the team to battle through adversity and try to stay afloat until Marte returned.

Pittsburgh has done a pretty good job of staying in the hunt. They have been lucky with how mediocre the division has been, but they are in the thick of things. With Marte back, they should expect to get a lot production from their outfield.

Last season, Marte led the team with a 4.0 WAR and a .311 batting average. He also has plus speed and was able to swipe 47 bases which was third in all of baseball. His presence complimented by McCutchen’s is one of the most dangerous duos in the National League.

Andrew McCutchen has been on fire

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Cutch may be the best hitter in baseball since June 1st (Sports Illustrated)

Over the past couple years, it appeared that Andrew McCutchen had lost his edge. Last year, he had a career-worst slash line of .256/.336/.430.

The Pirates might have been thinking that they missed their opportunity to get a good return on the center fielder. His first couple months of the season were not evident of the All-Star of the past either. In the months of April and May, he posted a batting average that floated around the Mendoza line and was only had a OBP floating around .300.

In June, McCutchen caught fire. He caught enough fire to make him perhaps the best all-around hitter in the league. He finished with a slash line of .411/.505/.689 in the month. He has not slowed down much in July either, with his batting average still around .400 since the start of June.

Cutch has been almost unstoppable, so right now would be the perfect time to trade him, right? Neal Huntington, the Pirates GM, has to consider the future before trading away the best player the Pirates have seen in a long time. When we talk about the near future, we have to talk about how good the Cubs will be in the coming years.

There is a chance that the Cubs may not be as good as we thought. More than likely though, this is a fluke year and the Cubs may return to their 2016 prestige. With that being the case, Pittsburgh may have to take advantage of the year at hand. They have a chance to take a weak division, so it may be in their best interest to hold on to what they have and see if they can make a run for it with their stellar outfield.

The NL Central is wide open

As I mentioned before, the Cubs are struggling in 2017. They have been showing life since the All-Star break though, recording six consecutive wins. However, the Pirates have been able to keep pace with them during this time. With how weak the division has been, it has been very competitive, and there are four teams that are vying for the division crown.

The Brewers are starting to slide as many people expected. Pittsburgh is the one beating up on them, sweeping Milwaukee in a four-game series. This will probably convince Neal Huntington that this roster has enough to take over first place in the division.

Especially with their recent success against NL Central opponents, the Pirates should be feeling good about where they are right now. Look for Pittsburgh to possibly makes some moves to bolster their rotation at the deadline.

Will Pittsburgh win the division?

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Marte came back at the right time, as the Pirates swept the Brewers in four games (Rum Bunter)

Pittsburgh has been able to deal with a lot of adversity this season. Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games, Andrew McCutchen struggled mightily the first two months of the season and James Tallion had to fight cancer.

The Tallion story is rather inspiring, seeing he had to go under the knife to treat his cancer and then still make it back out on the field not long after.

This is perhaps representative of what the Pirates season may be.

Their ace, Gerrit Cole, also seems to be back on track this season. Since June 8, each start has been a quality one besides one blemish on June 30 in which he gave up seven runs.

With their ace back on track and their stellar outfield back to what the Pirates hoped it would be, there is a good chance that they will be competing for first place in the Central until the last day of the regular season.

Pittsburgh has a real chance to ruffle some feathers in the National League. Even the Dodgers, who seem unstoppable right now, should not take a game for granted against the Pirates. Expect Pittsburgh to be a tough competitor for the rest of the season.

Will what they have be enough to win the Central? Well, that largely depends on whether or not the Cubs have found their stride as many expected. It will be tough to keep pace with Chicago if they are back to their 2016 status. The Pirates may just have a shot if they keep doing what their doing though.

 

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MLB trade deadline: What AL contenders must do to stay in first

Baseball is back and the second half push to the playoffs begins. The MLB trade deadline comes in the second half as well and is Christmas in July for baseball fans. Strategy, money and moves galore (hopefully).

This period is a chance for teams to either sell off parts in order to rebuild or make the trades necessary to help their squad make it to the playoffs and an eventual push for the World Series. These are the moves the teams currently in first place for their respective divisions need to make to remain in first by July 31.

Boston Red Sox

If you follow baseball or this team at all, then you know their weakest position currently is at third base. Pablo Sandoval has been anything but useful or even available and has been designated for assignment. Also they traded away Travis Shaw who is having an excellent season for another first place team.

While everyone believes Todd Frazier is the best and only option available for trade, I would like to look at another in Nick Castellanos.

MLB trade deadline

Courtesy of: Bleacherreport.com

The Detroit Tigers are having a very disappointing season and will most likely be sellers during the trade deadline for the first time in a long time. They also have arguably one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Most of their top players are in Double-A ball and below which means they have a long time to wait to see if they develop.

To speed up the process of their inevitable rebuild, they could and should be looking to trade away as many players as possible.

Castellanos is only 25 and is under team control until 2020 which means Detroit could ask a decent return. So why would the Red Sox make this trade?

To start, they would get a solid everyday third baseman that could grow with the young players they are building around now like Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and more. Rafael Devers is still at least one or two years away and wont be able to help them win now. It is unlikely they would have to part with him to get Castellanos as well.

Castellanos has been in the league for four full years now. You know what you are going to get out of him, whereas you never truly know with a prospect. He has experience, making playoff runs with the Tigers and still has room to grow.

The Red Sox would most likely only have to give up two of their top 25 prospects, most likely ones in the teens and below. They may also throw in a PTBNL or just an extra pitcher to sweeten the deal.

Nick Castellanos would solidify the Red Sox third base problem not only for now but also for the future. Todd Frazier on the other hand may cost only one top 25 prospect but he would also be a free agent at the end of this year and has seemed to have trouble batting for average ever since he was traded to the White Sox.

Cleveland Indians

It took the Indians awhile to catch up to the Twins, but they have taken hold of first and wont let it go for the rest of the season. This team can hit and is being led by its young superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor while getting help from players like Edwin Encarnacion who struggled mightily to start the season but has figured it out.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: Sportsblog.com

Another strength of the World Series runner-ups is their bullpen. Their weakness? Outside of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and surprisingly Mike Clevinger, this team’s starters have struggled. Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and Josh Tomlin all have ERAs over 5.

There are many attractive options on the market for the Indians. The question will be how much are they willing to give up in order to get the starting pitching help they need?

Last year, they traded away Clint Frazier and a multitude of other prospects in order to get their stalwart setup man, Andrew Miller. That being said the Indians still have some pieces that they could trade. I highly doubt they will trade Bradley Zimmer as he is with the club now and making a solid contribution.

There are a multitude of options for the Indians to help make their second World Series run in as many years. I like Sonny Gray, but I think his asking price will be too high considering how he has pitched in the last two seasons. This leaves two options: Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto.

Both the Pirates and Giants respectively have been under-performing and it looks like they will have to be sellers. While Gerrit Cole is better, he and Sonny Gray have a similar problem. They are going to cost more than the Indians are willing to give.

That is why they could trade for Cueto. He has won a World Series and has been in Cy Young contention, but the Indians could get him for a bargain. He has not pitched extremely well this season and the Giants are desperate (or should be) for prospects as they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

The Indians could give up one top 25 prospect not named Zimmer or Mejia and two others right outside their top 25 for Cueto. He would be a great pickup and if he could find his form again, he could be a top of the rotation guy to help the Indians try to make it back to the World Series.

Houston Astros

The Astros were my World Series pick back in January and I am glad that they have yet to let me down. Their lineup can hit from 1 to 8 and Keuchel and McCullers make up an amazing top of the rotation.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: SFgiantsrumors.co

Brad Peacock is finally living up to his potential, whether he is in the bullpen or the rotation. While most are looking at the rotation, and they could improve there, Peacock may actually be a legitimate option that will help them keep their first-place standing. Also, Colin McHugh should be coming off the DL soon and can help to solidify the rotation.

The Astros are missing another reliable bullpen arm. We saw how important they were in last year’s playoffs and right now the Astros have a pretty good bullpen. But if they are going to want to make a real run, they need a great bullpen.

They won’t give up what teams gave up to get pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last season. Instead, they will go for options that are a small step down.

In steps another Giants player and someone who has been a crucial piece in their bullpen for a long time, George Kontos.

Kontos has a career ERA under 3 and he has been in many high-pressure situations, including helping the Giants win multiple World Series. While he is not a flashy pickup, he is a reliable one, and should be relatively cheap, as he’s still under team control until 2020.

The Astros would not have to part with any of their major prospects. They could easily throw the Giants one of their lower top 25 prospects and some cash or another lower level prospect with high potential.

Kontos would solidify the bullpen as the Astros head into October. His experience would help the younger Astros team and again he would cost a lot less than someone like Sonny Gray or David Robertson.

Conclusion

The trade deadline is an unpredictable time and has a major affect on the way the rest of the season and future seasons will play out. Look out for what first place NL teams needs to do in order to stay in first place.

 

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MLB Trade Deadline Targets

With a quarter of the season in the books, we are drawing ever closer to the trade deadline. Contenders and pretenders are weeding themselves out, and the trade market is forming. Accordingly, we will analyze four of the top trade targets and their potential landing spots.

SS Zack Cozart – Cincinnati Reds

After hitting a career high 16 home runs last season, Cozart has improved his play in 2017. The 31 year old is batting .352/.433/.602 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has been a key cog in the Red’s offensive attack, but his days in Cincinnati may be numbered. With the Reds slowly fading to the bottom of the NL Central, the Reds may have no choice.

Sitting at 20-22, the Reds are fourth in their division and 4.5 games back of first place. While they have performed well to this point, they are starting to show their true colors. With a 3-7 record in their past 10 games, Cozart may become expendable. Given his age and his potent season, the Reds may sell high and get a crop of young players in return.

Best Fit – Baltimore Orioles: Sitting at 25-16, the Orioles are primed to wrestle control of the division. J.J. Hardy has not had an OPS+ over 100 in the past five seasons, and at 34, it may be time to move Hardy to the bench.

1B Justin Smoak – Toronto Blue Jays

A solid 8.5 games out of first place and a 18-26 record have the Blue Jays as sellers at the trade deadline. And with all the moves the team has made in recent seasons, the organization could use an influx of young prospects. That leaves first baseman Justin Smoak as a prime target at the trade deadline.

His .279/.344/.537 slash line is by far the best of his career, and Toronto could capitalize on his success. And with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs, Smoak has proven to be a consistent contributor in the Blue Jays’ lineup. Given his hot start and his teams struggles, it makes too much sense to hold onto him.

Best Fit – New York Yankees: Even if trades to division rivals are few and far between, this is one that could be the exception. Chris Carter has been absolutely dreadful in pinstripes. And Greg Bird, when healthy, hasn’t been much better. Given the Yankees’ deep farm system, Smoak should be easy to acquire.

SP Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh Pirates

As the season progresses, the fate of Pirates ace Gerrit Cole is becoming all too clear. Sitting in the cellar of the NL Central, it seems the Pirates’ window of opportunity has finally closed. And with star center fielder Starlin Marte out for the season, there is little hope in Pittsburgh. But what hope does exist lies with Gerrit Cole.

The staff ace sports a 2.84 ERA in his nine starts this season, providing a great opportunity for the Pirates to earn a W every time he takes the hill. The 26 year old also has four years of MLB service, and will demand top dollar on the open market. And with the Pirates falling deeper into obscurity, the time is now to capitalize on Cole’s value.

Best Fit – Houston Astros: With a 29-14 record, the Astros have seemingly no holes. But if the team is serious about being top flight contenders, then a player like Gerrit Cole would elevate them to the next level. He would fit in perfectly behind Dallas Keuchel to form one of the best one-two punches in any rotation.

SP Andrew Triggs – Oakland Athletics

Andrew Triggs has been a revelation for the A’s (John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports).

The Oakland Athletics are always one of the more active sellers at the trade deadline. And sitting at nine games back of the Houston Astros for first place in the AL West, this season will be no different. But one of their top trade chips is someone you have probably never heard of – Andrew Triggs.

His 2.12 ERA in eight starts for the A’s has been spectacular. The 28 year old was solid in Oakland last season, but has brought his production to new heights in 2017. Given his age, performance and the A’s willingness to trade away players, he won’t be in green and gold for too much longer.

Best Fit – Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are 27-17 and in first in the NL West, but the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are hot on their heels. Pitching has always been a source of woe for Rockies fans, but Triggs could help stabilize the rotation. With a short track record of success, Triggs shouldn’t demand a king’s ransom on the market. Triggs would be a welcome addition in Denver.

Feature image by Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo.

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