Shohei Ohtani and five other players with surprising starts

Although he entered the season as the number one prospect in baseball, Los Angeles Angels DH/RHP, Shohei Ohtani, had a very disappointing Spring. The two-way Japanese star not only hit just .125 (4-for-32), but he also struggled on the bump, surrendering eight earned runs, including three home runs, in just 2.2 innings of work.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Ohtani has taken the world by storm. In his first career start on the mound, Ohtani earned his first win, after allowing three runs and striking out six over six innings of work. On Sunday, while most were glued to the TV to watch the ending of the Masters, Ohtani was flirting with a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Oakland. His final line, in seven innings of work, one hit allowed, one walk, zero runs, and a total of 12 strikeouts. He got a ridiculous 25 swings and misses, which is the most by a pitcher at this point in the season.

Shohei Ruth? (Business Insider)

Oh, and, by the way, Ohtani has three home runs and is slashing .389/.421/.889. His three home runs aren’t just brazing over the fence either. They are going an average of 415 feet. Ohtani currently ranks second in the MLB in regards to highest average exit velocity (97.3 MPH), and fourth in highest average four-seam fastball velocity (97.1 MPH). He’s got more home runs this season than Aaron Judge, and more strikeouts than Max Scherzer.

Thought we were done with Ohtani facts? He is also the third player to ever homer in three consecutive games, while also recording a double-digit strikeout game in the same year. The other two were Ken Brett (1973) and some guy named Babe Ruth (1916). The last time a player earned two wins and hit three home runs in his team’s first 10 games, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, and the national average price of gasoline was 25 cents per gallon. That’s right, the last person to accomplish this feat was Jim Shaw in 1919.

Obviously, its only April 10, but are you not entertained by this kid’s start? Guys like Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper are also off to hot starts, but that’s expected. Below, we will take a look at some surprising starts, and predict if these guys will stay hot throughout the season.

Didi Gregorius

Being the guy to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop is no easy task, but Gregorius has excelled since stepping foot in New York. He is coming off back-to-back 20HR-202B seasons and set career-highs in batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs, SLG, OPS, and total bases. This season, Gregorius is leading the league in runs (10), RBIs (10), walks (9), OBP, SLG, and OPS. He has also launched three home runs.

Gregorius’ scorching start may have a little to do with the players around him. He is in a lineup surrounded by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez to name a few. In the home opener, the “infield captain”, a nicknamed given to Gregorius by manager Aaron Boone, became the first Yankees shortstop to drive in eight runs in one game.

While he most likely won’t finish atop the leaderboards in the statistics above, Gregorius should continue to have a very solid season, possibly his best as a pro. He may not be mentioned with guys like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Francisco Lindor, but Gregorius might have a legitimate argument to be amongst the best after 2018.

Gregory Polanco

In 2016, Polanco had a breakout year. He played in 144 games and hit 22 home runs, 34 doubles, and swiped 17 bases. A year later, Polanco battled injuries last season and missed a good chunk of time. In his 108 games, The Pittsburgh outfielder slashed just .251/.305/.391.

Now healthy, although he was scratched on Saturday because of right foot discomfort, Polanco is hitting .310, with three home runs, eight runs, and an MLB-leading, 13 RBIs. With no McCutchen, Polanco is thriving in the heart of the Pirates order. While the average may dip, as he is a career .253 hitter, Polanco has a chance to hit 20+ bombs, with 100+ RBIs.

Jameson Taillon

Polanco’s teammate, Jameson Taillon, is poised for a big 2018. After fanning nine in his 2018 regular season debut, Taillon, on Sunday against the Reds, threw a complete game shutout with seven strikeouts and just one hit surrendered. He is 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA, and 0.49 WHIP.

Taillon’s story is tremendous. He underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2014, and last season, was forced to have surgery for testicular cancer in May. The second overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Taillon is the real deal. He stands tall at 6-5, and has a fastball which hovers around 95. At 26, Taillon looks to be the ace of the Pirates for the next five years.

Matt Chapman

A first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Chapman had a tough start to his MLB career. In 2017, in 84 games, Oakland’s third basemen hit just .234 with an OBP of .313. However, he finished seventh in defensive WAR, and hit 14 home runs.

Chapman finished seventh in defensive WAR in 2017(ESPN)

Chapman is currently slashing .375/.444/.675 with three home runs, nine runs scored, and eight RBIs. He has always had power, slugging 36 home runs in 135 games between AA/AAA in 2016, and now Chapman looks real comfortable at the plate. This guy has 35+ HR potential in the bigs, and could turn into one of the best third basemen in the AL. Chapman was a first round pick for a reason, and is thriving in the latter half of the order for Oakland.

Charlie Morton

Let’s be honest, Charlie Morton was a bit of a scrub before joining the Astros. Although he had a few decent seasons in Pittsburgh, Morton was converted to a reliever for the Phillies in 2016. Unfortunately, in April 2016, Morton tore his hamstring and missed the rest of the season. Last season, the Astros brought on Morton, at age-33, as a member of the starting rotation.  Morton went on to have his best regular season, posting a 3.62 ERA, and finishing with a record of 14-7.

Over his last five starts, including Game 7 of the ALCS, and two World Series starts, Morton has thrown 28.1 innings, allowing just two runs, seven walks, and striking out 29. In his first two 2018 starts, Morton is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA. This is a guy, as a 26-year-old, went 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts. Now, a savvy veteran, Morton has found some magic in Houston. Expect the 34-year-old to have another solid season with the Astros.

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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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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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Starling Marte 2018

Starling Marte’s outlook for the 2018 MLB season

After quite a controversial 2017 season, let’s assess Starling Marte’s outlook heading into the 2018 MLB season.

Background

Starling Marte 2018

In his 2013 rookie campaign, Marte was impressive, batting .280 with 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases in 135 games. (Photo by USA Today)

In 2007, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed a then 18-year-old Starling Marte for $85,000. He spent two seasons playing in the Dominican Summer League, improving his batting average from .220 to .290 during that timespan. Marte played the majority of his next two seasons in the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues, batting .312 and .315 respectively with a total of 50 stolen bases in 114 games.

In 2011, Marte received the call-up to double-A Altoona, where he batted .332 with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases in 129 games. He then went on to play 30 games in the Dominican Winter League, where he would continue to rake, batting .328.

Marte was first called to the majors in 2012 after a 99 game stint with triple-A Indianapolis, where he batted .286 with 12 home runs and 21 stolen bases. In his first major league action, Marte was fairly mediocre, batting just .257 in his first 47 games. He returned to the Dominican Winter League in 2012-13, where he once again found his stroke, batting .304 in 29 games.

In his 2013 rookie campaign, Marte was impressive, batting .280 with 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases in 135 games. His 2014 season was very similar, as he played an identical 135 games and batted .291 with 13 home runs and stole 30 bases. He continued to find success at the major league level in 2015 when he hit .287 with 19 home runs and stole 30 bases. Marte exemplified his .300 average, 20 home run and 40 stolen base potential.

In 2016, Marte batted .311, hit nine home runs and stole 47 bases in only 129 games. He won his second consecutive Gold Glove while also being voted an All-Star for the first time, showing that if healthy, he is capable of being an MVP candidate.

2017 Season

Starling Marte 2018

Marte’s 2017 campaign got off to a rocky start, as he was suspended 80 games in mid-April after testing positive for Nandrolone. (Photo by USA Today)

Marte’s 2017 campaign got off to a rocky start, as he was suspended 80 games in mid-April after testing positive for Nandrolone, a performance enhancing drug on Major League Baseball’s banned substance list.

Marte then released the following statement:

“I have been informed that I have tested positive in one of the tests that are regularly done in my job. In this very difficult moment I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans, and baseball in general. Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much. With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you.”  

Marte returned to action after the All-Star break on July 18. He would go on to bat .282 with five home runs and 19 stolen bases the rest of the way, putting him on a 162-game pace to hit 13 home runs and steal 50 bases.

2018 Outlook

Starling Marte 2018

In fantasy terms, Marte could be a top-10 player in the majority of formats. (Photo by USA TODAY Sports)

The Pirates may be well out of contention this season, but with their core of Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison, they promise to be a productive offense heading into 2018. Marte will bat at the top half of the lineup next season, either leading off or batting second, which bodes well for fantasy value. He will be 29 years old at the start of next season, placing him within his prime. Marte will be a threat to bat .300 with double-digit home runs, triple-digit runs and fifty stolen bases.

In fantasy terms, Marte could be a top-10 player in the majority of formats, specifically ESPN standard formats, as they tend to value steals heavier than most. Keep your eye on Marte heading into next season, as his price could be discounted on draft day due to his suspension and the Pirates 2017 struggles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

I present to you my 2017 fantasy baseball right field rankings.

The top 30 right fielders have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below. The average draft position of each player, according to FantasyDraftPros.com, are listed adjacent to the player.

Honorable Mentions: Michael Saunders (PHI), Brandon Drury (ARI), Aaron Judge (NYY), Shin-Soo Choo (TEX), Josh Reddick (HOU), Avisail Garcia (CWS), Danny Valencia (OAK), Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE), Steven Souza Jr (TB), and Travis Jankowski (SD)

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Besides Mike Trout, Mookie Betts is the only other player you should consider for the first overall pick in 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox, (4)
  • Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, (10)

 

Mookie Betts is the only player other than Mike Trout you should consider for the first overall pick this season. Betts had a breakout campaign in 2016, batting .318 with 31 home runs, 122 runs scored, 113 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases.

The runner-up in MVP batted .338 in the second half, suggesting we could see further improvement from Betts in the near future. The five-category contributor will remain in the MVP conversation for years to come.

Bryce Harper had a rough 2016 and battled injuries all season. The 2015 MVP had a career low batting average of .243, while only hitting 24 home runs. That is quite low by his standards.

Harper decided to forgo the World Baseball Classic in order to be fully healthy come opening day. Be confident in a bounce back season for the 24-year-old because he has all of the potential in the world.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

George Springer will finally prove himself as a contender for 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. (Courtesy of The Unbiased MLB Fan)

  • George Springer, Houston Astros, (28)
  • Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates, (54)
  • Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners, (42)
  • Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies, (34)
  • Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, (39)
  • Matt Kemp, Atlanta Braves, (96)
  • J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers, (40)
  • Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays, (67)
  • Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles, (77)
  • Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals, (118)
  • Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals (103)

 

George Springer is a highly sought after commodity in all fantasy leagues, and for good reason. The 26-year-old played in all 162 games last season and finished with a .261 average, 29 home runs, 116 runs scored, 82 RBIs and nine stolen bases.

Springer lead the league in times caught stealing in 2016, although he stole 37 and 45 bases in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Be confident in drafting Springer in 2017, as his 30/30 potential is very real.

Adam Eaton will join Bryce Harper and company in Washington D.C. in 2017. The 28-year-old will bat in the leadoff or two-hole for the Nationals, which will give him a great chance to eclipse the 100-run mark for the first time in his career.

The move from Chicago to Washington will also help Eaton increase his steal totals, as the Nationals are a much more aggressive base stealing team than the White Sox. Eaton will be a great source of runs and speed with solid floors in all other categories, which makes him well worth a top 100 pick.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Stephen Piscotty went overlooked in 2016 fantasy drafts, but this will not be the case this season. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • Stephen Piscotty, St. Louis Cardinals, (98)
  • Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels, (144)
  • Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants, (122)
  • Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros, (174)
  • Jay Bruce, New York Mets, (153)
  • Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins, (122)

 

Stephen Piscotty flew under the radar in 2016 after playing in 63 games in 2015 when he finished with a .305 batting average, seven home runs and 39 RBIs.

If you invested in Piscotty last season, you reaped the benefits, as he ended the year with a .273 batting average, 22 home runs, 86 runs scored and 85 RBIs. The St. Louis Cardinals clean-up hitter is a safe top 100 selection in all formats, as he is a career .282 hitter entering only his third major league season.

Miguel Sano’s upside has been duely noted for years. He has hit 107 home runs in only 453 minor league games. The knock on Sano has been his atrocious strike out rate of 36 percent. It severally limits his upside, especially in leagues that consider OBP.

I don’t see myself drafting Sano this season as his ADP is fairly high at 122. However, the 23-year-old has all the time in the world to prove me wrong.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Hunter Renfroe should be on everyone’s radar come 2017. (Courtesy of the San Diego Union Tribune)

  • Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres, (262)
  • Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers, (205)
  • Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs, (123)
  • Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins, (230)
  • Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks, (191)
  • David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks, (279)
  • Domingo Santana, Milwaukee Brewers, (297)
  • Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers, (258)
  • Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs, (232)
  • Curtis Granderson, New York Mets, (181)
  • Jarrod Dyson, Seattle Mariners, (219)

 

Hunter Renfroe was called up by the San Diego Padres in September of 2016. He batted an astounding .371, with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his short stint of 11 games.

I understand this sample size is too small to consider relevant, but his minor-league statistics also suggest that he will be successful. In four minor-league seasons, he has batted .281 and hit 77 home runs in 438 games. The upside is real, and the ADP is very low. Renfroe will be a game changer in deeper leagues come 2017.

Jarrod Dyson will be an everyday player for the first time in his career. The 32-year-old will bat lead-off for the Seattle Mariners to begin the season. This alone makes him a candidate to score 100 runs.

The career .260 hitter is most known for his prowess as an elite base stealer, who has stolen 176 bases in 550 MLB games. Dyson could be everything fantasy owners are looking for in Billy Hamilton, except Dyson is going 150 picks later. If you need cheap speed, Dyson is your man.

 

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Injury Update

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

  • Kris Bryant (CHC)  

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

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

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

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

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

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

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

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

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

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

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

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

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

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

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

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

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

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

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

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

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

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

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

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

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

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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NL Playoffs: Priority Players Entering September

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

Chicago Cubs – Kris Bryant

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

Washington Nationals – Max Scherzer

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

Los Angeles Dodgers – Corey Seager

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

San Francisco Giants – Madison Bumgarner/Johnny Cueto

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

St. Louis Cardinals – Stephen Piscotty

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

New York Mets – Yoenis Cespedes

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

Pittsburgh Pirates – Starling Marte

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

Miami Marlins – Christian Yelich

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

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Sizing up the NL Wild Card Race

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

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

San Francisco Giants (64-49) +4 GB

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

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

Los Angeles Dodgers (64-49) +4 GB

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

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

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

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

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

Miami Marlins (60-53) 

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

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


St. Louis Cardinals (59-54) 1 GB

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

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


Pittsburgh Pirates (56-54) 2.5 GB

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

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

New York Mets (57-55) 2.5 GB

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

NL Wild Card Race

Photo: sportsinformationtraders.com

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

Colorado Rockies (55-58) 5.5 GB

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

 

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NL Central Preview

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Chicago Cubs won 97 games last year, good for only 3rd place in the National League Central. The Cubbies’ 97 wins was not only the 3rd highest total in the NL Central, it was also the 3rd highest win total in all of MLB.

The NL Central was without a doubt the best division in all of baseball last year. With the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the aforementioned Cubs all making the playoffs.

With a big offseason for the Cubs, the Pirates relatively standing pat, and the Cardinals being the Cardinals, the NL Central is once again set to be one of the better divisions in all of baseball.

Here’s how this interesting division will shake up, with a player to watch for each club included.

1st Place: Chicago Cubs 100-62

The Cubs are looking for their first World Series title in over a century and are coming over an impact offseason. With sabermetric superstar Jason Heyward and the dependable and versatile Ben Zobrist infused into a lineup already dripping with young talent, the north siders look poised to have one of the better lineups in the NL. Manager Joe Madden will be able to keep the clubhouse together and help the team live up to expectations, something winners of the offseason have had trouble doing in recent years.

Player to Watch: John Lackey

With all the young talent oozing from the Cubs roster it seems odd to pick a 37 year old right handed starting pitcher who isn’t even the ace of the staff. However, if Lackey can fight off father time in 2016 and repeat his 2015 season that saw him post a 2.77 ERA in 218 innings, it could result in the Cubs having the best starting rotation in the NL Central.

2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals 95-67, 1st NL Wild Card Spot

On paper the Cardinals got worse over the offseason, losing Heyward and Lackey to their division foes. Still, the Cardinals will find a way in 2016 as they always do. Mike Leake was brought in to solidify a strong and deep rotation. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist anchor a bullpen that is the best in the division. An injury to everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta in spring training definitely hurts, but, the Cardinals still have a good mix of dependable veteran performers and high upside youngsters rounding out their lineup.

Player to Watch: Randal Grichuk

Grichuk is slotted to be the Cardinals every day center fielder in 2016. In 2015 he posted one of the highest average exit velocities in all of baseball in 2015 at 92.2 mph, a testament to how often he makes hard contact. If Grichuk can continue this trend and be a respected top or middle of the lineup bat, it would go a long way toward the Cardinals having one of the better lineup in the National League to go along with their always solid pitching.

3rd Place: Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74, miss the playoffs

The Pirates will fight for a playoff spot all season long, but, come up just short in the end due to stiffened competition across the National League. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco make up the most athletically talented outfield in all of baseball. Meanwhile, Fransisco Liriano and Gerit Cole anchor a rotation that is good enough to keep the Pirates contending. At the end of the day the talent of the Cardinals and the Cubs along with an improvement from the NL East and West will result in the Pirates coming up just short of another trip to the NL Wild Card game.

Player to Watch: Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow could be the piece that puts the Pirates over the top and into the playoffs. His 6’8’’, 225 lb frame is hard to miss and his upper 90’s fastball jumps off the page at you. Best case scenario: Glasnow harnesses his potential in the Major Leagues early and joins Cole among the elite young starters in the game. If that’s the case it would give the Pirates an impressive trio atop the rotation. Glasnow could also possibly join Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the bullpen to form a terrific back end of the ‘Pen.

4th Place: Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

While the top of the NL Central is talented, the bottom two teams in the division are more likely to be contenders for the no. 1 overall pick next June than a playoff spot. The Brewers get a slight edge over the Reds in this prediction because of a better bullpen and a more experienced starting rotation. Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith form a nice duo at the back of a bullpen that will be better than your typical 90 loss team. Meanwhile Ryan Braun will be his regular self and Jonathan Lucroy will return to form after an inconsistent showing in 2015.

Player to Watch: Orlando Arcia

As anyone who has ever followed a rebuilding team knows, sometimes tracking the minor league box scores can provide more excitement than actually watching the Major League club. Jonathan Villar is around to keep SS warm until the organization deems Arcia ready (or until after the club delays his service clock another year). Arcia is the brightest prospect in the Brewers system and the 21 year old should be the Brewers’ everyday shortstop sooner rather than later.

5th place: Cincinnati Reds 65-97

The Reds should be fun for their fans to watch this year, but, it won’t result in much on field success. They will have plenty of young talent in the rotation, but, the young arms will most likely come with supreme inconsistency. Devin Mesoraco will look to rebound from a hip injury that kept him out the majority of the 2015 season and fan favorite Joey Votto will remain the anchor of what has become a feeble looking lineup.

Player to Watch: Rasiel Iglesias

The Reds will have plenty of young guns in the rotation that will be fun to watch grow as a group. Of the bunch, Rasiel Iglesias appears to be the most likely to be successful in the 2016 campaign. The 26 year old Cuban native posted 9.8 K/9 over the course of 18 appearances (16 starts) last year to go along with a 3.55 FIP. The Reds will entrust Iglesias with the Opening Day start and hope he hits the ground running as the staff ace in 2016.