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Why I Don’t Agree With New York Banning DraftKings and FanDuel

On Tuesday, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman ordered daily fantasy sports (DFS) operators DraftKings and FanDuel to stop accepting bets by state residents, arguing that the companies’ games are considered illegal gambling, according to state law. I disagree with the decision, which affects me as a New York resident who has been playing in NFL contests on DraftKings this season. The companies plan to appeal the decision.

For some background, DFS companies are legal under federal law; a 2006 federal law exempted fantasy sports from a prohibition that was instituted on online gaming, under the guidance that it is a game of skill as opposed to luck. Schneiderman apparently doesn’t agree that DFS is legal under that law, saying “it is clear that DraftKings and FanDuel are the leaders of a massive, multibillion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country.”

In his letter to DraftKings, Scheiderman stressed some of the differences between DFS and traditional, seasonlong fantasy sports that makes DFS illegal while the seasonlong variety is legal, including that the “instant gratification” makes it easy to play DFS, which has “no long-term strategy.” He also argues that DFS is closer to poker — in that a small number of pros profit at the expense of more-casual players — than a lottery. According to Schneiderman’s investigation of the site’s data, the top one percent of winners get the majority of the winnings.

Let me address the points made by Schneiderman. First, I think comparing DFS to poker hurts his argument because I have long argued that poker is a game of skill that, like DFS, should be exempt from that 2006 ban on online gambling. Schneiderman seems to think that because the outcome of the contests relies on outside forces that the DFS players cannot control — namely the athletes — there’s no skill involved in winning at DFS. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, DFS participants have no control over the performance of the players they select, but there is skill involved in choosing which players you want on your team. The people who do it right study stats of previous games and the players’ matchups in the coming games to determine who to select — you’re not randomly selecting players with no basis for your choices.

This also goes into my counterargument to Schneiderman’s point that the top one percent of DraftKings players win the most money. Many of them are DFS professionals who do it full-time. They spend hours, and even days, to select their lineups each week. Conversely, a casual player like me often spends some time on Sunday morning choosing players before the kickoff the 1:00 games. Naturally, you would expect the people who are able to put more time and research into it to win more often — and that would kind of indicate there’s some skill involved in DFS, not that it’s a “multibillion-dollar scheme,” which was the conclusion that Schneiderman jumped to.

Further, those DFS pros are wagering a lot of money, with the possibility of a large payout. So, of course, they’re going to get the majority of the winnings when most DFS players are probably closer to me; I play in one $3 contest a week, and sometimes add a second, similarly priced contest. I don’t expect to win thousands of dollars when I’m wagering so little. I’ve won $10 each of the past two weeks, which is a decent return on my small investment.

Going back to Schneiderman’s letter, he charges that DraftKings promotes its games as “a path to easy riches that anyone can win,” enticing player with claims of becoming a millionaire. That scenario sounds familiar. Where have I previously heard claims of easy riches and becoming a millionaire? Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m thinking of New York Lottery commercials. Of course, that’s it.

So how do DraftKings’ and FanDuel’s claims of winning big differ from the New York Lottery’s? Simple. New York runs its lottery and profits from the people who gamble on it, hoping to win millions in contests in which they have no control over the outcome. Which is pretty much the argument Schneiderman makes for banning DFS — which, I should point out, New York doesn’t make any money off of. And that, in my opinion, is why Schneiderman is going after the DFS companies — he wants his share of the pie from the more than 500,000 New Yorkers who play DFS, according to DraftKings spokeswoman Sabrina Macias.

The fact that Schneiderman only banned DraftKings and FanDuel — by far the two largest and most successful DFS operations — and not the other, smaller sites that run DFS games seems to confirm my suspicion that it’s about money. He is going after the two sites that make the most money off of DFS becasue the state stands to gain the most by going after those two sites.

So the solution is simple. Rather than banning DFS, New York should regulate and tax it. By regulating it, the state can control how DraftKIngs and FanDuel run their games, to make sure it’s not the “scheme” that Schneiderman thinks the sites are running. By taxing it, New York gets its share of the millions of dollars that the sites take in from New York residents. New York is obviously not opposed to gambling; in addition to the lottery, the state regulates the New York Racing Association, which runs several horse racing tracks across the state, and a couple years ago legalized casino gaming other than the Indian casinos that have long operated on Indian reservations in the state.

Thoughts?

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One month later: My updated MLB All-Star Game ballot

It’s been a month since Major League Baseball first released the All-Star Game ballot and accepting votes. At the time, just three weeks into the season, was too early to start picking all-stars, but I decided to play along has make my way-too-early All-Star Game selections. It’s a month later now, and we’re closing in on two months since the season began so there’s a better idea of what players deserve all-star recognition. So a month after my initial ballot, here are my latest MLB All-Star Game picks for the game, which will be played in San Diego on July 12.

Some of my selections have changed in the last month, and for those positions I have noted in parentheses who I picked at that position last month. Now, here are my picks for the American League and National League all-star teams.

American League

1B Eric Hosmer, Royals (Chris Davis): I switched from the Orioles’ Davis to Hosmer despite Davis having a couple more home runs, but Hosmer has been the better overall hitter, with his .311 trumping Davis’ .237 to get the nod.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros: Altuve hit a career-high 15 home runs last season, and he’s already up to 9 this season. Even with the added power, he’s still running — he has 15 steals — and hitting for average, at .328.
SS Carlos Correa, Astros: Correa had a strong start to the season but has slowed down since then. He’s still having a good season and without a breakout player at shortstop this season in the American League, he’s still my pick to make it to San Diego in July.
3B Manny Machado, Orioles: Machado’s 13 home runs are second at the position, behind White Sox 3B Todd Frazier, but Frazier is hitting just .238 so Machado’s .308 average helps him keep this selection in his favor.
C Matt Wieters, Orioles (Brian McCann): This was a close call, but switching from the Yankees’ McCann to Wieters was again because the latter is having a better overall season at the plate, with his .283/4/16 winning out over McCann’s .258/5/17 for me.
DH David Ortiz, Red Sox: Ortiz continues to hit in what he says is his last season before retiring. I can’t leave him off the ballot while he’s hitting .329/11/37.
OF Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox; Mike Trout, Angels;  Mark Trumbo, Orioles (Colby Rasmus): There was some movement here, with the Astros’ Rasmus replaced with Bradley, who  is on a 27-game hit streak and hitting .342 on the season with 8 home runs. Trout and Trumbo remain, hitting .321/10/31 and .293/13/31, respectively.

American League all-star ballot

My second ballot for the American League all-star team

National League

1B Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Adrian Gonzalez): Rizzo has been slumping of late, but he still has 11 home runs on the season, giving him the edge over the Dodgers’ Gonzalez, who I removed from the ballot as he has only 4 home runs so far. I’d like to see Rizzo raise his average some, but I think he’s having a season worthy of an all-star selection.
2B Daniel Murphy, Nationals (Neil Walker): I replaced the Mets’ Walker with former Met Murphy at second base. He is hitting .387, which is bound to come down some as the season progresses, with 6 home runs and 28 RBI.
SS Trevor Story, Rockies: Many people expected Story to regress after his quick start to the season, but he’s still hitting. He’s up to 12 home runs and continues to hit for a decent average, at .278.
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: Arenado is up to 14 home runs on the season with an average just below .300 as he continues to have a good follow-up to his 42-home run season from a year ago.
C Welington Castillo, Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks backstop keeps providing offense at a position where we don’t see much of it. He’s hitting .288/7/20. Defensively, he is also above the league average in terms of throwing out potential base-stealers.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Yoenis Cespedes, Mets; Bryce Harper, Nationals; Marcell Ozuna, Marlins (Dexter FowlerCarlos Gonzalez): Cespedes and Ozuna replace the Cubs’ Fowler and the Rockies’ CarGo in the outfield. Harper remains from my initial ballot. His .260 average isn’t great, but he’s making up for it with 11 home runs, 30 RBI and 7 steals. At .303/15/36, Cespedes is showing the performance he had in the second half of 2015 was not a fluke. And Ozuna is having a good year, hitting .311 with 8 home runs.

My National League all-star ballow

My second ballot for the National League all-star team

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I’m sticking with a pair of Chicago aces to start the All-Star Game, Chris Sale of the White Sox in the AL and the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta in the NL.

Stay tuned for more ballot updates as the season progresses.

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Tim Lincecum pitching showcase

MLB Weekly: Angels sign Lincecum, Braves get rid of Fredi, MLB gets rid of intentional walks?

In this week’s MLB Weekly, the struggling Angels sign a veteran hurler, the Braves fire their manager and Major League Baseball takes the first step toward rule changes.

Looking Back

For a period of several years over the last decade, Tim Lincecum was one of the best starting pitchers in the majors, striking out more than 200 batters in four straight seasons from 2008-2011 and winning the NL Cy Young in 2008 and 2009. He began to regress, though, in 2012 and since then has not had an ERA lower than 4.13, which he achieved in 15 starts last season. He was a free agent this offseason but didn’t sign with a team. He recently held a pitching showcase for teams to show them what he has left in him, and on Thursday the 31-year-old right-hander signed with the Angels. The nine-year veteran will have to pitch in the minors for a while before being called up to the big leagues, which could be in about a month. The $2 million deal covers the rest of the season and has incentives valued at $1.7 million depending on how he pitches. The Angels were in need of starting pitching, with three of their starters on the DL, and are willing to take a chance on  Lincecum to see if he can improve his performance from the past several seasons.

We had the season’s first managerial firing of the season this week, with Fredi Gonzalez becoming the fall guy for the Braves’ 9-28 start at the time of his firing on Tuesday. Overall, Gonzalez was 434-413 over six seasons with the Braves, his second managerial stint in the majors after leading the Marlins from 2007-2010. The team named Triple-A Gwinnett manager Brian Snitker, who has been with the Braves organization for 40 years, as the team’s interim manager. Entering Sunday’s game against the Phillies, the Braves were 3-1 so far under Snitker.

Also this week, the league’s competition committee agreed to changes to the strike zone and intentional walks that would take effect for next season if they receive the needed approvals from the playing rules committee. Both rules are intended to help speed up the game, a key interest of commissioner Rob Manfred since he replaced Bud Selig last year. One rule would raise the bottom of the strike zone from the bottom of the knee to the top of the knee. The other would do away with actually throwing the ball during an intentional walk; after a team indicating its intention to issue an intentional wall, the batter would go straight to first base without the pitcher needing to throw the customary pitches out of the strike zone. Neither of these changes is likely to make a big impact on the game. For one, most umpires have their own strike zones and don’t stick to the zone as defined in the rulebook. And intentional walks are so infrequent — there were just 951 in 2,429 MLB games in 2015 — that it won’t have much of an effect on the league overall.

Elsewhere in MLB, not much has changed at the top of the standings over the last week with the same teams still leading their divisions. The Cubs still have the best record in the majors, but the Orioles have passed the White Sox to take over the best record in the American League entering Sunday’s action. As for individual performances, with a hit today Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr. has extended his hitting streak to 27 games, nearly halfway to Joe DiMaggio‘s record 56-game hit streak.

The Week Ahead

Mets at Nationals this week

The Mets head to Washington D.C. to take on the Nationals this week.

First place in the AL Central is on the line early in the week with the White Sox hosting the Indians for four games, including a doubleheader on Monday. The top two teams in the NL East are also playing each other Monday through Wednesday as the Nationals host the Mets. Later in the week, it’s a battle of second-place teams as the Rangers host the Pirates in an interleague series and the White Sox travel to Kansas City to take on the defending World Series champion Royals, who will look to gain ground in the division. The Rockies, currently second in the NL West, also take on the division-leading Giants.

Some scheduled pitching performances and matchups to keep an eye on this week include Nationals SP Stephen Strasburg looking to go 8-0 on Tuesday when he faces struggling Mets SP Matt Harvey. White Sox SP Chris Sale also looks to keep his undefeated record intact on Tuesday as he duels with Indians SP Josh Tomlin. Rockies SP Tyler Chatwood, who has been solid on the road this season, with a 0.53 ERA, looks to duplicate that success at home when he is slated to take to the Coors Field mound on Thursday against Giants SP Matt Cain.

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Max Scherzer strikes out 20

MLB Weekly: Strasburg gets $170 million, Scherzer gets 20 Ks, Bush gets to the majors

In this week’s MLB Weekly, we take a look at a couple of big stories involving Nationals pitchers and a redemption story for a Rangers pitcher making his Major League Baseball debut.

Looking Back

Off the field for the Nationals, SP Stephen Strasburg got paid, signing a seven-year extension with the team valued at $175 million. He was due to become a free agent in the offseason, but he apparently decided he wanted to stay with the team and sign the long-term deal without going out to the open market, which likely would have gotten him a bigger payday. Strasburg becomes the first pitcher in MLB history to sign a contract this big after undergoing Tommy John surgery, which he had in 2010; the previous highwater mark for such a deal was former teammate SP Jordan Zimmerman, who inked a $110  million deal with the Tigers this past offseason. Strasburg is enjoying a strong season so far through eight starts; he has a 6-0 record, 2.95 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 innings.

On the field, SP Max Scherzer through a gem this week for the Nats. He became the fourth pitcher in MLB history to strike out 20 batters in a game, doing it against the Tigers on Wednesday. The 20 strikeouts tied the major-league record, and he had a chance to break the record but induced a groundout from C James McCann to the end the game, which Washington won 3-2. Scherzer threw 119 pitches in the game, just 23 of which were balls. He allowed 6 hits and 2 earned runs in the complete game. For the season, Scherzer — who threw two no-hitters last season — is 4-2 with a 4.15 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 52 innings over the course of eight starts.

In Texas, Rangers RP Matt Bush made his major-league debut on Friday, He pitched the ninth inning of a 5-0 loss to the Blue Jays, striking out defending AL MVP Josh Donaldson, then getting OF Jose Bautista and DH Edwin Encarnacion out for  a perfect 1-2-3 inning in his first appearance in the big leagues. Bush’s story is notable because he was selected by the Padres as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft but then went nearly 12 years before getting his first taste of the majors. Part of that is because he spent several years in jail following a 2012 hit-and-run DUI in which he allegedly hit a motorcyclist and then fled the scene. He was released in October, then signed a minor-league contract with the Rangers in December. Bush is now living with his father and says he does not drink  anymore.

Elsewhere in MLB, there continues to be surprising teams leading their respective divisions in the American League, with the Orioles, White Sox and Mariners leading the East, Central and West, respectively, entering Sunday’s action. The White Sox also have the best record in the AL and the second-best record in the majors, behind the NL Central-leading Cubs. The division leaders in the National League aren’t as unexpected, but the Phillies continue their surprising season in second place in the NL East behind the Nationals, as good young pitching led by SPs Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola continues to propel them to victories.

The Week Ahead

Dodgers-Angels Freeway Series

The Dodgers and Angels play four games in the Freeway Series this week.

It’s the battle of Los Angeles this week, as the Dodgers and Angels have a home-and-home on the docket, with two games at Chavez Ravine Monday and Tuesday, followed by two in Anaheim on Wednesday and Thursday. After a day off Monday, the Nationals and Mets have a three-game series at Citi Field starting Tuesday in what could be a key NL East series, with 1.5 games separating the team’s going into Sunday’s action. Later in the week, the White Sox host the Royals as the defending World Series champions look to lessen the gap between themselves and the division leaders.  And the next chapter of the Silver Boot Series is on deck starting Friday as the Astros host the Rangers for a weekend series at Minute Maid Park.

As for some probable pitchers in the coming week, Dodgers SP Kenta Maeda tries to get back on the right track after posting a 5.09 ERA in his last three starts as he takes the mound Monday against the Angels and SP Matt Shoemaker. We could see a couple of pitchers’ duels on Tuesday. One in Toronto, where Rays SP Chris Archer, who has gotten better lately after a rocky start to his season, goes against Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman, who is a perfect 4-0 on the season and has a 2.14 ERA in his last three starts. The other one is in Queens, with Scherzer getting his first start after striking out 20 last week; he’ll oppose Mets SP Noah Syndergaard, who hit 2 home runs the last time he pitched, the same day as Scherzer’s gem. There could be more good pitching Thursday in the finale of the Nats-Mets series, with Strasburg going up against SP Matt Harvey, who has put up good numbers the past couple years but is struggling so far in 2016. Cubs ace Jake Arrieta is slated to put his undefeated 7-0 mark on the line when he is scheduled to take the mound in San Francisco on Friday.

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Bartolo Colon hits his first career home run

MLB Weekly: Bartolo does the “impossible”, Yankees lose 2 to injuries

In this week’s MLB Weekly, we recap a historic at-bat for a veteran pitcher and take a look at two injured veterans for the struggling Yankees.

Looking Back

What should have been a run-of-the-mill at-bat for Mets SP Bartolo Colon on Saturday afternoon turned into a historic hit and social-media phenomenon. The 42-year-old former Cy Young winner, whose hitting style has become a bit of a running joke on social media in recent years, recorded his first hit of the season — a two-run home run to left field in the top of the 2nd inning off of Padres SP James Shields. The home run put Colon in the record books, becoming the oldest player in Major League Baseball history to hit his first career home run. Hall of Famer Randy Johnson previously held the record, hitting his first long ball in 2003 at the age of 40; Colon will turn 43 later this month. Colon also becomes the second-oldest Met to homer, behind former infielder Julio Franco, who homered as a member of the Mets at the age of 48. Mets broadcaster couldn’t believe it, stating that “the impossible has happened” by Colon hitting his first home run in his 226th career at-bat. Colon’s career batting average now stands at .092.

There’s not as much fun to be had for the other New York team these days, as the Yankees remain in last place in the AL East, with an 11-17 record entering Sunday night’s series finale against the Red Sox. This week, DH Alex Rodriguez and SP CC Sabathia both went on the DL. Rodriguez suffered a hamstring injury in Tuesday’s game and Sabathia injured his game in Wednesday’s game. Both players are hopeful to be able to come off of the DL when they are eligible after 15 days. For the team, things appear to be on the upswing; they have won the first two games of the three-game series with the Red Sox but remain six games under .500.

The league announced this week that the two-game series between the Pirates and Marlins that was scheduled to be played in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 30 and 31 has been moved to Miami due to concerns with the Zika virus in Puerto Rico.

Elsewhere in MLB, the Cubs continue to roll, winning a series with the Nationals, as they maintain a sizable lead in the NL Central. The Mariners have surged into first place in the NL West, despite a loss to the Astros Sunday, after starting the season 2-6. And the White Sox are still on top of the AL Central with a 22-10 record, trying to keep up with the other Chicago team.

The Week Ahead

Chase Utley slides into Ruben Tejada

Dodgers 2B Chase Utley with a controversial slide into Mets SS Ruben Tejada during the 2015 postseason

Taking a look at series to watch for this week, the Rangers host the White Sox for three games beginning Monday in a battle of teams at or near the top of their divisions. The same can be said for the Dodgers and Mets, who play in Los Angeles Monday through Thursday in a rematch of last season’s NLDS. Later in the week, the Angels try to make up ground in the AL West when they head to Seattle for a series with the Mariners. The Rangers host the  underperforming Blue Jays, who need to start winning to try to get back into the race in the AL East, beginning Friday. And the Pirates, who currently sit in second place in the NL Central, visit the division-leading Cubs starting Friday as they try to close the gap between the teams in the standings.

Looking at pitching matchups scheduled for this week, Nationals SP Stephen Strasburg puts his perfect 6-0 record on the line Monday against Tigers SP Anibal Sanchez, and Yankees SP Ivan Nova takes Sabathia’s spot in the rotation while CC is on the DL; Nova faces Royals SP Chris Young at Yankee Stadium. Mets SP Jacob DeGrom tries to pick up his first career win at Dodger Stadium Tuesday as he opposes Dodgers SP Alex Wood. There are a couple notable pitching matchups projected for Wednesday, with former teammates facing off in D.C. with Tigers SP Jordan Zimmermann, who has a 1.40 ERA this season, going up against Nationals SP Max Scherzer and Mets SP Noah Syndergaard getting the start against Dodgers SP Kenta Maeda.

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Marlins 2B Dee Gordon

MLB Weekly: Batting champ suspended, playoff teams struggling

In this week’s MLB Weekly, we take a look at a lengthy suspension for a reigning batting champion and a couple of last year’s playoff teams who are struggling this year.

Looking Back

Marlins 2B Dee Gordon set career highs last season in batting average (.333), hits (205) and steals (58) on his way to winning the National League batting title. He was hitting just .266 in the 21 games he played this season when the league announced this week that Gordon has been suspended without pay for 80 games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He tested positive during spring training for two banned substances, exogenous testosterone and clostebol. Although the failed tests came during March, he had been playing during the appeal process, which he dropped on Friday when he accepted the suspension despite claiming he did not “knowingly” take prohibited substances. The 28-year-old, who is the son of former major league closer Tom Gordon, parlayed last year’s successful season into a five-year, $50 million contract with the Marlins this offseason.

The Astros and Yankees played each other in one of the Wild Card games in last year’s playoffs, but if the first month of the season is any indication neither team will make a repeat trip to the postseason. Entering Sunday, only the Braves had a worse record than the Astros, whose 7-17 mark was tied with the Twins for the second-worst record in the majors. The Yankees aren’t faring much better, with a record of 8-14, putting them in last place in the AL East. Both teams’ struggles involve pitching, as they hold the two worst staff ERAs in the American League. They rank a little better in batting average, and the Astros, who still haven’t won two games in a row, are tied for the third-most home runs in the AL.

Looking at teams who are doing well, Chicago continues to be the center of the baseball world this spring, with the Cubs and White Sox both holding the best records in their respective leagues entering Sunday’s action. The Cubs got a scare during the week when 3B Kris Bryant appeared to injure his ankle, but the MRI came back negative and he returned to action today. Their pitching continues to shine, with the second-best ERA in the National League, led by SP Jake Arrieta. The White Sox have the AL’s best ERA (2.72), buoyed by sub-2.00 ERAs from SPs Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and, surprisingly, Mat Latos. In the bullpen, closer David Robertson is throwing well, with a 0.87 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 10.1 innings; he is also 8-for-9 in save opportunities.

Elsewhere in MLB, the Phillies continue to surprise people with a 15-10 record, which is good for just third place in the NL East behind the Nationals and Mets. It remains to be seen if they’ll be able to keep up that pace throughout the season, but as long as their pitching continues to perform at the level it has been, with the fifth-best ERA (3.79) in the National League, they will have a chance to remain in the thick of things in the division, sitting 2.5 games back in the division entering Sunday.

The Week Ahead

Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen

Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen batting against the Cubs

Taking a look at series to watch for this week, the White Sox and Red Sox do battle Tuesday through Thursday in Chicago in a series featuring teams competing for the top spot in their divisions. The Rangers visit the Blue Jays for four games starting Friday in a rematch of one of the American League Divisional Series from the 2015 postseason. The Cubs travel to Pittsburgh for a three-game set with the Pirates Monday through Wednesday in a key NL Central series. Later in the week, the Yankees host the Red Sox in a weekend series that could help the Yankees climb back up toward contending in the division. And the top two teams in the National League have a four-game set Thursday through Sunday, when Bryce Harper and the Nationals travel to Wrigley Field to take on the Cubs.

Some scheduled pitching matchups of note this week include the Cubs-Pirates series finale, with Cubs SP Jon Lester, who has a 1.83 ERA, taking on Pirates SP Juan Nicasio, who has had a good season so far. SP Stephen Strasburg puts his perfect 4-0 record on the line Wednesday against the reigning World Series-champion Royals. As things stand now, there is a nice pitching matchup in Toronto on Friday, with 3-1 Dodgers SP Kenta Maeda and 4-0 Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman slated to take the mound.

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The Nationals celebrate a win

MLB Weekly: Chicago teams winning, Harper and the Nats stay hot

With another week in the books, it’s time to take a look back at the last seven days and see what lies ahead for next week in MLB Weekly. As we head into May next weekend, the Cubs and Nationals are tied for the most wins in baseball, with 14 apiece, while the White Sox are surprising many, just a game behind with 13.

Looking Back

The Nationals continued their hot start, going 5-2 last week, largely behind the bat of OF Bryce Harper, who hit 3 home runs this week, including as a pinch-hitter today after getting the day off to rest. That game eventually went to 16 innings, with the Nats winning on a walk-off home run by OF Chris Heisey. The Cubs also went 5-2 in a week that included SP Jake Arrieta throwing his second no-hitter in the last two seasons, a game in which the Cubs beat the Reds 16-0 on Thursday.

The Cubs aren’t the only team winning in the Windy City. The White Sox, who were 76-86 last season, are off to a 13-6 record, leading the defending World Series champion Royals in the AL Central. SP Chris Sale is having his typically good season on the mound, 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 26 strikeouts. He’s not the only pitcher on the team who is 4-0, though; SP Mat Latos, after winning today, has the same record and an even lower ERA — 0.74. As the season continues, we’ll see if Latos is for real. The ERA will likely go up, but if he can keep it below 3.00, he’ll make a strong 1-2 combo with Sale.

The Orioles are still leading the AL East at 11-6. It’s the offense continuing to do the damage for the Orioles, led by 1B Chris Davis, OF Mark Trumbo and 3B Manny Machado; Davis and Trumbo each have 6 home runs so far, while Machado has 5 and a .380 batting average, while Trumbo is hitting .373.

The Astros continue to be the most disappointing team in the majors thus far, with just six wins entering Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox. The Astros still have not won back-to-back games, with much of their lack of success due to the pitching staff, which has an AL-worst 4.94 ERA. Even reigning AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel is just 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA. No one else in the starting rotation has a sub-4.00 ERA. The Astros had a chance to make up ground in the AL West this week, playing a three-game series at Texas, but the Rangers swept that series. The Rangers then got swept by the White Sox this weekend, allowing the A’s to tie Texas for the division lead at 10-9.

The Week Ahead

The series to keep an eye on early in the week is the White Sox visiting the Blue Jays Monday through Wednesday. It’s a battle between the AL Central leaders and the team many picked to win the AL East. At 10-10, the Blue Jays are in second in the East, 2.5 games behind the Orioles, who have played three fewer games than Toronto. After Toronto, the White Sox travel to Baltimore for a four-game set against the Orioles. With seven games against Toronto and Baltimore, the White Sox could face their biggest test of the season thus far. If they do well, it could mean their hot start is for real. If they falter, it could be a sign they are pretenders more than contenders the rest of the way.

There are some pitching performances to pay attention to on Monday, with Orioles SP Kevin Gausman coming off the DL to make his first start of the season and Diamondbacks SP Zack Greinke, who has a disappointing 5.25 ERA, looking to get on the right track in a tough matchup with the Cardinals. Tuesday could see a good pitching matchup in D.C., with SP Vincent Velasquez, who has had a couple of impressive starts early this season, going for the Phillies against SP Max Scherzer and the hot Nationals. Wednesday, Arrieta tries to complete “the Vander Meer” with back-to-back no-hitters; he faces the Brewers at home.

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The 2016 MLB All-Star Game is set to be played in San Diego.

My way-too-early MLB All-Star Game ballot

I think the MLB All-Star Game is the best all-star game among the four major pro sports leagues in the U.S., but there are some things about it that I don’t like. One is the fact that the winning league determines home-field advantage in the World Series; an exhibition game shouldn’t factor into something as important to that. The other thing I don’t like is the voting, with MLB allowing up to 35 ballots per person — which really means per (throwaway) e-mail address — allowing them to write articles touting how many hundreds of millions of votes are received during the voting period.

Despite the fact that the 2016 MLB season began just three weeks ago today, MLB has already opened up the voting for mid-July’s All-Star Game. I think it’s too early to start voting for all-stars but I’ll play along. So here is my way-too-early all-star ballot for both the American and National leagues. I’ll be updating my ballot in the coming weeks and months as we approach the game on July 12 in San Diego.

American League

1B Chris Davis, Orioles: He’s not hitting for a high average, but he already has 6 home runs, a strong start to his follow-up season after hitting 47 last season. Astros rookie Tyler White got off to a strong start to the season but has slowed a bit over the last week or so.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros: White’s teammate is off to his usual game of hitting and stealing bases, but he’s also continuing the increased power he showed last season, when he hit a career-high 15 home runs; he’s at 5 so far in 2016.
SS Carlos Correa, Astros: The defending American League Rookie of the Year is starting off strong in his first full season in the majors, hitting .286 with 3 home runs.
3B Manny Machado, Orioles: This was a close one between Machado and the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson. Donaldson has 1 more home run, but Machado is hitting for a higher average and having a better overall season, in my opinion.
C Brian McCann, Yankees: Catcher is a position that historically isn’t known for offense and the veteran catcher is among the best-hitting catchers in the league so far this season; he’s hitting .300 with 3 home runs.
DH David Ortiz, Red Sox: In his final season before retirement, Ortiz is hitting .284 with 3 home runs. Combining his good season with the fact that he plays for the Red Sox and is on the verge of retirement, I think he’s a lock to be voted in as a starter.
OF Colby Rasmus, Astros; Mike Trout, Angels; Mark Trumbo, Orioles: Rasmus may be a surprising pick to people who don’t follow the Astros, but it’s hard to keep him out of the voting right now, as he’s slashing .302/6/16. Trout’s power isn’t quite there yet, with just 3 home runs, but he’s hitting .302 and is still among the AL’s best outfielders at this point in the season. Trumbo is another name that people might not have expected to see here, but he’s hitting well over .300 with 5 home runs and 15 RBI to date in 2016.

American League all-star ballot

My first American League all-star ballot

National League

1B Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: The veteran first baseman is hitting .352/3/14, helping to lead the Dodgers to first place in the competitive NL West. There are others who have shown more power than Gonzalez so far, but his average puts him over the top. The Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt could overtake him as the season goes on if he can get his .246 average higher.
2B Neil Walker, Mets: The Mets signed free-agent Walker in the offseason, and so far it’s paying off to the tune of an average approaching .290 and 7 home runs three weeks into the season.
SS Trevor Story, Rockies: The rookie got off to a scorching start, hitting 7 home runs in the first week of the season. He’s hit just 1 since then, but he’s still one of the big stories of the season and I think the leading candidate to get the nod at shortstop as of now.
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: Story’s teammate has 7 home runs of his own so far, to go along with a .284 average. Unlike Story, Arenado’s hot start isn’t surprising after he hit 47 home runs in 2015.
C Welington Castillo, Diamondbacks: While the Giants’ Buster Posey is perennially thought of as the best catcher in the National League, it’s hard not to recognize Castillo’s 5 home runs in the first three weeks of the season versus Posey’s 2. Posey can easily overtake Castillo in the coming weeks, but for now I’m giving the Diamondbacks’ backstop the nod.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Dexter Fowler, Cubs; Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; Bryce Harper, Nationals: Fowler is swinging a hot bat for the Cubs, helping to take up some of the slack of disappointing seasons to date by the likes of 3B Kris Bryant and 1B Anthony Rizzo, helping them to one of the best records in the majors. Gonzalez is having a typically strong year, hitting well over .300 with 4 home runs in the early going. Harper, the reigning NL MVP, is already making a strong case to earn that title again this season, with a .311/8/22 slash line.

National League all-star ballot

My first National League all-star ballot

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I’ll go with a couple of Chicago pitchers, Chris Sale of the White Sox in the AL and the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta in the NL.

Again, I’ll be updating the ballot as the season continues so keep checking back in for updates.

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