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2016 World Series preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians — A battle of the droughts

With the conclusion of the ALCS and NLCS, we have reached what may be the most anticipated World Series in quite some time with the Cleveland Indians, who haven’t won the World Series since 1948, taking on the Chicago Cubs, whose World Series-winning drought famously dates back more than a century to 1908, and their last World Series appearance taking place in 1945 — before the World Series was even televised.

Regardless of the lack of World Series success the teams have had in their respective histories, they both deserve to be in this year’s Fall Classic; the Cubs had a MLB-best 103 wins during the regular season, while the Indians’ 94 wins left them one victory behind the Rangers, giving them the second-best record in the American League. The Indians bulldozed their way through the American League playoffs, sweeping the Red Sox in the ALDS and beating the Blue Jays in the ALCS, losing just one game to win the series in five. The Cubs’ path to the World Series was a little more difficult; they needed four games to beat the Giants in the NLDS and the Dodgers took them to six games in the NLCS.

The American League won this year’s All-Star Game for the fourth straight season, giving the Indians home-field advantage in the World Series. As a result, Games 1 and 2 will be in Cleveland. Wrigley Field will host its first World Series game in 71 years on Friday when Game 3 takes place, with Games 4 and, if necessary, 5 following it over the weekend — assuming there are no weather issues that affect the schedule. If Games 6 and 7 are necessary, they are scheduled for Cleveland on Nov. 1 and 2, respectively. First pitch for all games, except Game 5 on Sunday, are scheduled for 8:08pm Eastern; first pitch Sunday is at 8:15pm Eastern. All games are on Fox in the U.S.

The Cubs have the advantage in the starting rotation, led by likely National League Cy Young winner SP Kyle Hendricks, who pitched 7.1 innings of 2-hit ball in Game 6 of the NLCS to clinch the pennant for the Cubs. During the regular season, Hendricks was 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA. SP Jon Lester also had a big season for the Cubs, going 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA. After a strong start to the season, SP Jake Arrieta was inconsistent in the second half en route to a 18-8 record and 3.10 ERA. If a fourth starter is needed in the series, the task would likely fall to veteran SP John Lackey, who is a two-time World Series champion, having won it with the 2002 Angels and 2013 Red Sox. Injuries have had an affect on the Indians’ rotation, with SPs Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar missing significant chunks of the season; Carrasco is out for the season, but Salazar has recently started throwing and could be added to the World Series roster. Leading the Tribe’s rotation is SP Corey Kluber, who led the team during the season with a 18-9 record to go with his 3.14 ERA. Behind him in the rotation are SP Josh Tomlin, who was 13-9 with a 4.40 ERA this season, and SP Trevor Bauer, who is confident he’ll be able to pitch in the World Series despite a well-publicized finger laceration caused by a recent drone accident. If Bauer can’t go, P Ryan Merritt may get his second start of the postseason; he went 4.1 scoreless innings in the Game 5 clincher.

While the Cubs have the better rotation, the bullpen advantage goes the other way, with the Indians. RP Andrew Miller, who was acquired from the Yankees in a midseason trade, was an X-factor in the ALCS and could be the same against the Cubs. He can come in in the middle of the game if needed or pitch later in the game to get the ball to closer Cody Allen with the lead intact. In six appearances in the postseason, Miller has struck out 21 batters in 11.2 innings while earning a win and a save and not allowing an earned run. Allen is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities this postseason. Like the Indians, the Cubs acquired a top-level reliever from the Yankees before the trade deadline, RP Aroldis Chapman, who saved 18 games for the Cubs during the regular season after the trade. His numbers in the postseason haven’t been great, however. Chapman has gone 8 innings, with 10 strikeouts and a 3.38 ERA. He is 1-0 and a has 3 saves in 5 opportunities. That’s not the way you want your closer to be pitching heading into the World Series.

Offense is another part of the game in which the Cubs have the edge.  OF Javier Baez has been leading the charge at the plate for the Cubs, with 13 hits in 38 at-bats, with 4 doubles, 1 home run and 2 steals. 3B Kris Bryant is right up there with Baez; he’s 13-for-39 with 5 doubles and 1 home run. 1B Anthony Rizzo and SS Addison Russell have underperformed in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Each of them is currently hitting under .200 so if they can get back to the offensive production the Cubs have come to expect from them, that would give the Cubs more of an offensive boost. For the Indians, SS Francisco Lindor is the sole regular hitting over .300; he has 10 hits in 31 at-bats, with 2 doubles and 2 home runs. Other key hitters, like 2B Jason Kipnis and 1B Mike Napoli have sub-.200 batting averages in the postseason. If they can’t get out of their slumps early in the series, don’t expect them to have much success against the Cubs’ stellar starting pitchers.

Neither team is lacking in the managerial department, with Cubs manager Joe Maddon and Indians skipper Terry Francona both considered among the best in the majors.

My preseason prediction for the World Series was the Blue Jays over the Cubs. Toronto fell just shy of making it, but the Cubs are in it. With the way the Cubs played all season and the strong starting pitching they’ve gotten in the postseason, I’m going to pick them to win their first World series title in 108 years. I think the series will go six games, which would mean the series would finish in Cleveland and the Cubs wouldn’t be able to celebrate the title at Wrigley.

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The latest MLB All-Star Game voting results: How are the fans doing?

The MLB All-Star Game is scheduled for two weeks from tomorrow in San Diego, which means voting is almost over, with the deadline being 11:59pm ET on Thursday. Earlier today, MLB released the latest results from the All-Star Game balloting. As usual, the fans who vote are choosing some players who frankly don’t deserve to be starting in the game. So which positions are the fans getting it right and which selections seem to be the result of popularity contests rather than stats?

Last year, Royals fans seemed to be stuffing the virtual ballot boxes in support of their players on the American League side, but this year it seems to be the Cubs fans trying to get as many of their team’s players on the National League as possible. Do the Cubs deserve five starters, as they currently have? Let’s take a look.

American League

1B The Royals’ Eric Hosmer leads the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera by about 550,000 votes. I had Hosmer as my selection in the last ballot I published, and I’m sticking with him. I would, however, put the Orioles’ Chris Davis over Cabrera as the runner-up at the position.
2B Jose Altuve of the Astros is on pace to far surpass his single-season home run mark; he currently has 13 long balls and is hitting .347 to go with the power. He definitely deserves the nod here, and he has a significant 900,000 vote lead over the Mariners’ Robinson Cano in second place.
SS I previously had the Astros’ Carlos Correa as my selection here, but I’m jumping off that bandwagon. It’s hard to go against Xander Bogaerts, who is hitting .344 for the Red Sox with 9 home runs and 50 RBI. He’s currently in first, nearly doubling the vote total of the Royals’ Alcides Escobar, in second place. Surprisingly, Indians SS Francisco Lindor doesn’t even make the top five; he would’ve been my second selection behind Bogaerts.
3B The Orioles’ Manny Machado has been my selection all along at the hot corner, and I’m sticking with him. Todd Frazier, of the White Sox, has more home runs (21 vs. 18) but his .201 batting average isn’t in the same neighborhood as Machado’s .325 so Manny gets the nod from me — and the fans. Machado is in the lead, with about a 600,000-vote lead over the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson, who is in second (Frazier doesn’t make the top five).
C Royals backstop Salvador Perez is the leading vote-getter at any position in either league, with more than 3.7 million votes and a lead of about 2.7 million over the Orioles’ Matt Wieters. Perez is the top offensive catcher in the American League so far this year so it’s hard to argue with that selection.
DH There’s no competition here, with David Ortiz having a monster year for the Red Sox, and it is being reflected in the voting. He has the second-highest overall vote total, with more than 3.4 million. The Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion is in a distant second, with about 1.1 million votes.
OF While the Angels’ Mike Trout has the most votes among AL outfielders, the Red Sox are well represented, with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts in second and third, respectively, earning them starting nods if their totals hold. The Royals’ Lorenzo Cain and the Orioles’ Mark Trumbo are about 100,000 votes behind Betts. I think Trumbo should be in the top three, replacing Betts. The Astros’ George Springer is having a good season, as well, but I have to put him behind Trout, Bradley and Trumbo on my list. The fans aren’t voting for Springer, who isn’t even in the top 15.

The latest selections on my AL all-star ballot

The latest selections on my American League all-star ballot

National League

1B Anthony Rizzo is the first of five Cubs leading the voting at their position. He has a sizable lead over the Giants’ Brandon Belt. I think it’s a toss-up between Rizzo and the Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt, who currently sits in third in the voting. I had Rizzo on my previous ballot, so I’ll stick with him, although I couldn’t argue with people who prefer Goldschmidt. Belt is also having a good season, but I’d put him behind Rizzo and Goldschmidt.
2B The Cubs’ Ben Zobrist leads the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy by about 300,000 votes, but the fan voting is getting this one wrong. Murphy is having a better season in just about every notable offensive category. Zobrist is having a good year, but Murphy is having a better season. Let’s see if Murphy can pass Zobrist in the final days of voting.
SS This may be the position in either league that I disagree with the most. The Cubs’ Addison Russell is in the lead despite hitting .241 with 7 home runs and 40 RBI. Compare those numbers to the Rockies’ Trevor Story, who is hitting.271/19/50, and there’s no question that Russell doesn’t deserve to get the start. Story needs more than 300,000 votes to surpass Russell. It’ll be tough to do in just a few days, but Story definitely deserves to be the National League’s starting shortstop with the rookie season he is having.
3B Once again, a Cub is atop the vote — this time at third base. This time, it’s Kris Bryant. His 18 home runs and 51 RBI are good, but he’s hitting .263, which prevents me from picking him when the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado has stats of .296/21/63. There’s no comparison there; Arenado deserves the start, but he needs to make up about 350,000 votes to get it.
C This is the tightest race is either league, with the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina leading the Giants’ Buster Posey by a mere 5,130 votes. Unfortunately, neither of them deserves to be the starter, with Nationals C Wilson Ramos — who’s currently third in the voting, nearly 300,000 votes out of first — hitting .342 with 12 home runs and 41 RBI.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF The Cubs’ Dexter Fowler, the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets are the top three in voting among outfielders. There’s a significant margin separating that threesome with the Cubs’ Jason Heyward and the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, who round out the top five. Of the top three, only Cespedes would be on my ballot. In addition to him, I’d go with the Marlins’ Marcell Ozuna and the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez. Braun is having a good year but not as good overall as the three I selected.

The latest selections on my NL all-star ballot

The latest selections on my National League all-star ballot

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but if I were to choose, I’d go with White Sox SP Chris Sale in the American League and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in the National League.

The all-star teams and candidates for the Final Vote ballots will be announced next Tuesday, July 5.

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Angels SP Tim Linecum

MLB Weekly: Lincecum gets a win, Ichiro passes Rose?

In this week’s MLB WeeklyTim Lincecum makes his first start in nearly a year, Ichiro Suzuki gets a controversial hit and the Mets could be without captain David Wright for the rest of the season.

Looking Back

A few weeks ago, we told you about Lincecum signing a one-year contract with the Angels and told you he’d spend some time in the minors before getting up to the big leagues. After performing well in his three starts with Triple-A Salt Lake City, he got the start for the Angels on Saturday, marking his first start in a Major League Baseball game since June 27, 2015 — nearly a full calendar year. He put up good numbers in the 6-inning effort at the A’s. The 32-year-old veteran allowed 4 hits and 1 earned run while striking out 2 and walking 2 in his 6 innings of work. He got the win as the Angels won the game 7-1. The numbers look good, but it was against an A’s team that ranks near the bottom of the league in offense so you shouldn’t put too much into it. That being said, his next scheduled start is also against the A’s in Anaheim on Thursday. With the Angels not in playoff contention, if Lincecum can put together a string of good starts through July, he could be trade bait if a contending team is in the market for a veteran to add to the back of their rotation.

Ichiro got 2 hits in the Marlins’ 6-3 loss to the Padres on Wednesday, which gave him 2,979 hits in his major league career, a number that normally wouldn’t be a big deal. But when you add it to the 1,278 hits he got in his professional career in Japan, it gave him a total in the two countries of 4,257 — one more than MLB’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose. That has caused a discussion of whether to consider Ichiro as the new hit king. Some people say he is, but I’m in the camp that says his hits in Japan don’t count as part of his MLB total, so the 2,980 hits he now has is the number that matters when it comes to his major-league stats. That’s still an impressive number for the 42-year-old who is in his 16th season in the majors. Needing just 20 more hits, he will likely surpass the 3,000-hit mark (in the U.S.) sometime in the next few weeks, and he will likely land in the Hall of Fame after he retires. After hitting a career-worst .229 last season, Ichiro is enjoying a bounceback season, with his average sitting at .354 in 56 games.

Although he’s not having a great offensive season, Wright is still an important part of the Mets clubhouse — after all, he is the team’s captain — but they might have to do without him for the rest of the season. Wright underwent surgery on Thursday to repair a herniated disk in his neck and, although a recovery time is not yet known, it looks likely that he won’t be able to return this season.

Elsewhere in MLB, all three division leaders in the National League have big leads, with the Nationals leading the East by 6.5 games over the Mets, the Cubs ahead of the Cardinals by a seemingly insurmountable 11.5 games in the Central, and the Giants 7 games clear of the Dodgers in the West. It’ll be hard for any of those second-place teams to overcome those deficits so they’ll likely be fighting for the league’s two Wild Card spots, with the Pirates likely in that mix as well despite a 33-35 record entering Sunday. Things are closer in the American League, with the Orioles leading the East with a 1-game lead over the Red Sox and the Indians holding just a 0.5-game cushion in the Central, with the defending World Series champion Royals on their heels. The Rangers have a bigger lead in the West, 7.5 games ahead of the Mariners.

The Week Ahead

Citi Field World Series rematch, Royals at Mets

Citi Field hosts a World Series rematch this week when the Mets host the Royals

Featured series this week include a World Series rematch with a 2-game series between the Royals and Mets at Citi Field. On the West Coast, there’s a battle between potential playoff teams in the National League as the Nationals visit the Dodgers from Monday through Wednesday. Later in the week, two of the division leaders in the American League meet starting Friday when the Red Sox visit the Rangers in what should be a series with a quite a bit of offense. There will also be an interleague battle featuring second-place teams facing large deficits in their divisions when the Cardinals-Mariners series gets underway Friday in Seattle. And the Dodgers face another potential playoff foe as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates for an extended weekend series Friday through Monday.

This week’s pitching performances are highlighted by a West Coast duel on Monday when Nationals SP Stephen Strasburg is slated to oppose Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw in what should be a strong pitcher’s duel. Indians SP Corey Kluber will look to bounce back from an 8-run outing his last time out on Tuesday when he goes against young Rays SP Blake Snell. Yankees SP CC Sabathia, who is having a surprisingly good season, takes the mound against Rockies SP Jon Gray Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. Royals SP Yordano Ventura is scheduled to return from his suspension Friday to for a home start against the Astros and SP Dallas Keuchel, who is coming off one of his better starts in what has been a disappointing season for the reigning AL Cy Young winner.

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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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