Tag Archives: Braves

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The 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame class: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez

Due to a rule change several years ago, a player only has 10 years on the writers’ ballot to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame before having to wait to potentially get inducted by the veterans’ committee. Since this was LF Tim Raines’ final year on the ballot, it was a make-or-break election for him. With 86% of the 442 ballots cast — well over the 75% needed — Raines was finally elected in the Hall of Fame this year with 380 votes. Also voted in by the writers this week are 1B Jeff Bagwell — who led all candidates with 86.2% of the vote, with his 381 votes edging Raines by one — and C Ivan Rodriguez, who netted 76% (336 votes) in his first year of eligibility. P Trevor Hoffman and RF Vladimir Guerrero fell just short of election, with 74% and 71.7% respectively. With those numbers, both are virtual locks to be elected in 2018. For comparison, Bagwell garnered 71.6% of the vote last year before vaulting up nearly 15% this year and Raines had 69.8% in 2016.

Jeff Bagwell spent his entire 15-year MLB career with the Astros after being traded to Houston in 1990 (for veteran P Larry Andersen) as a minor-leaguer while he was in the Red Sox organization. He earned National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1991 with a .294 batting average, 15 home runs and 82 RBI in 156 games. That marked the lowest full-season home-run total of his career as his power numbers increased throughout his time in the league, peaking at a career-high 47 home runs in 2000. He was voted NL MVP in the strike-shortened 1994 season, when he hit a career-best .368 with 39 home runs and a career-high 116 RBI in 400 at-bats over 110 games. His 116 RBI and 104 runs scored both led the National League that season. He was named to the NL All-Star team in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1999. Although he continued to put up decent home-run totals, his batting average started to decrease starting in 2001 as he started dealing with an arthritic right shoulder that eventually ended his career following the 2005 season.

Bagwell wasn’t just a power hitter — he could also steal bases, entering the 30-30 club in ’97, when he swiped a career-high 31 bases, and ’99. With 43 and 42 home runs, respectively, those years he actually was in even more rarified air in the 40-30 club. When his career ended, he had a .297 average and set Astros records with 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI in 2,150 regular-season games. He also had 202 steals and 1,401 walks by the time he called it a career. Before he hung up the cleats for good, though, he finally got to play in a World Series, playing in all four games of the Fall Classic when the White Sox swept the Astros.

Other honors Bagwell received during his career include a Gold Glove in ’94 and Silver Slugger awards in ’94, ’97 and ’99.

Tim Raines is most often associated with the Expos, with whom he spent the first 12 seasons of his career. He later spent five seasons with the White Sox, three with the Yankees and one in Oakland. After taking a year off in 2000, he returned in 2001, spending time with the Expos and Orioles (for four games) before joining the Marlins for his final season in 2002. He is known as a base-stealer, and for good reason; he is the most successful base-stealer — by percentage — in MLB history (min. 400 steals). He didn’t waste any time showing off his speed, notching 71 steals in his first full season of 1981, being caught just 11 times. He led the National League in steals for four straight seasons, from 1981-84, with a career-high 90 steals in 1983. He made the NL All-Star team in each of his first seven full seasons from 1981-87. His best offensive season came in 1986 when he led the NL with a .334 average and .413 OBP. The height of his power came the following year, when he swatted 18 home runs.

Raines earned a World Series ring in 1996, when he was part of the Yankees team that swept the Braves in the Fall Classic, the only time in his career that Raines made it to the World Series. He won a Silver Slugger award in 1986.

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is a rare catcher who excelled both at the plate and behind the plate. Rodriguez spent most of his 21-year career with the Rangers, also playing for the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros and Nationals for various lengths of time. Of the 2,543 games he played in his career, 2,427 were as a catcher — the most games behind the plate of any player in major-league history. His 14 all-star selections (1992-2001, 2004-07) and 13 Gold Gloves (1992-2001, 2004, 2006-07) also are the most all-time for the position.

Rodriguez was voted American League MVP in 1999, the best offensive season of his career when he hit .332 with 35 home runs, drove in 113 RBI and stole 25 bases. His 199 hits fell just shy of the 200-hit milestone. Defensively that season, he threw out 55% of potential base-stealers — that number topped the majors, one of nine seasons in which he led the majors in caught-stealing percentage. His best season in that category came in 2001, when he threw out 60% of runners who tried to steal a base against him. Back to the offense, he finished his career with 2,844 hits, which is the most in history for a major-leaguer who played at least 50% of his games as a catcher. HIs career batting average is .296, with 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI. He also stole 127 bases, which puts him near the top of the career list among catchers.

Rodriguez played in two World Series — winning it in 2003, his only season with the Marlins when they beat the Yankees in six games, and making it there again in 2006 with the Tigers, who lost to the Cardinals in five games. In addition to his MVP and 13 Gold Glove awards, Pudge won seven Silver Slugger awards (1994-99, 2004).

Also being inducted this year, who were voted in by the Today’s Game Era committee, are former team executive John Schuerholz and former commissioner and Brewers owner Bud Selig.

Percentages for other notable players on this year’s ballot include: DH Edgar Martinez, 58.6%; P Roger Clemens, 54.1%; LF Barry Bonds, 53.8%; P Mike Mussina, 51.8%; P Curt Schilling, 45.0%; OF Manny Ramirez, 23.8%

Players set to appear on the ballot for the first time in 2017 include P Chris Carpenter, OF Johnny Damon, P Livan Hernandez, CF Andruw Jones, 3B Chipper Jones, P Brad Lidge, OF Hideki Matsui, P Jamie Moyer, 3B Scott Rolen, P Johan Santana, 1B/DH Jim Thome and SS Omar Vizquel.

The 2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony is scheduled for July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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MLB Hot Stove Catch-Up: Sale gets traded, Fowler and Chapman get paid

It’s been more than a month since the Cubs  won their first World Series title in more than a century, and with the MLB Winter Meetings now in the books, there have been a number of trades and signings that have sent notable players to new teams. The White Sox, clearly in rebuilding mode, have gotten rid of a couple of their top players in exchange for prospects while the Cubs have lost a couple pieces of their championship team.

Perhaps the biggest move of the offseason this far has been the Red Sox acquiring SP Chris Sale, who has a career 3.00 ERA, from the White Sox in exchange for a package of prospects led by 2B Yoan Moncada, one of the top prospects in baseball, and SP Michael Kopech, who is still early in his development but has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation guy as he gains experience in the pros. The other players going to Chicago in the deal are OF Luis Alexander Basabe and P Victor Diaz. For the Red Sox, Sale adds another top-of-the-line starter to a rotation that already includes reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and former Cy Young winner David Price. If the Red Sox can get good performances out of the bottom of their rotation in 2017, they could be among the best teams in the American League.

A day after dealing Sale, the White Sox traded CF Adam Eaton to the Nationals in exchange for a trio of pitchers, led by SP Lucas Giolito, who made a few starts in the majors last season but has a 2.73 ERA in 369 innings in the minors. Giolito adds some depth to Chicago’s rotation while Eaton allows the Nationals to send Trea Turner, who played the outfield for much of 2016 after being brought up, back to his natural position of shortstop.

In another trade involving notable players, the Mariners dealt SS Ketel Marte and SP Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks in exchange for SS Jean Segura and two minor league players. In Segura, the Mariners get a young second baseman who took a big step forward in his offensive production in 2016, hitting career highs with a .319 batting average, 20 home runs and 64 RBI. He also has speed, stealing 33 bases last season. That gives the Mariners strong offense with their middle infielders in Segura and 2B Robinson Cano. Walker hasn’t achieved much success yet in his major league career, posting a 4.18 ERA with 322 strikeouts in 357 innings. Marte, who has played in 176 games in his major league career, is a .267 hitter without power, but he can steal some but he has some speed.

The Astros, who failed to live up to the high expectations set for them last year after making the playoffs in 2015, have made some moves to boost their lineup. In addition to signing free-agent OF Josh Reddick to a four-deal, they traded a couple of minor league pitchers to the Yankees in exchange for C Brian McCann, which allows them to use Evan Gattis as their full-time DH. The Astros also signed veteran OF Carlos Beltran, who played for them in the second half of the 2004 season, to a one-year contract. That gives the Astros an outfield of Reddick, Beltran and CF George Springer to go along with an infield that includes 2B Jose Altuve and SS Carlos Correa, who are among the best players in the league at their positions. In a lesser move, the Astros signed SP Charlie Morton, who will likely slot into the bottom of their rotation.

As mentioned, the Cubs lost two of their players to free agency. Closer Aroldis Chapman signed a five-year, $86-million contract with the Yankees, who traded him to the Cubs at the trade deadline. Also leaving Chicago is OF Dexter Fowler, who is staying in the NL Central after signing with the Cardinals. Fowler’s contract is worth $82.5 million over five years. Even though they lost Chapman, the Cubs won’t be without a top closer after trading for RP Wade Davis from the Royals. They traded OF Jorge Soler to get Davis.

In other deals:

  • OF Yoenis Cespedes, who opted out of his contract with the Mets after the season ended, re-signed with the team, inking a four-year deal reportedly worth $110 million.
  • The Braves added veteran pitching with the signings of SPs R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, as well as trading for SP Jaime Garcia.
  • The Giants signed RP Mark Melancon to a four-year contract. He should slot in as their closer to start the year.
  • The Dodgers kept SP Rich Hill, who they traded for during the season, by signing him to a three-year contract. He should slot in as the team’s No. 2 starter behind SP Clayton Kershaw.
  • The Marlins signed SP Edinson Volquez to a two-year contract.
  • The Nationals traded 2B Danny Espinosa to the Angels for a couple of pitchers.

This likely isn’t the end of the transactions this offseason, with more than two months to go before spring training gets underway.

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MLB Postseason Preview: National League Wild Card game — Giants at Mets

It’s October, which means it’s time for the MLB postseason, and we’re previewing the wild card games that get the playoffs underway. We previewed the American League Wild Card game last night, now it’s time to do the same with the National League game. The New York Mets (87-75) host the San Francisco Giants (87-75) in this year’s NL Wild Card game, with SP Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74 ERA) taking the mound for the Giants and SP Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60 ERA) drawing the start for the Mets.

With the numbers Bumgarner and Syndergaard put up during the season, you can expect a pitcher’s duel in this one. Syndergaard and Bumgarner finished third and fourth, respectively, in the majors in ERA this season. Bumgarner started to stumble a bit in the latter part of the season, giving up at least 3 earned runs in four of his last five starts, including a 5-run outing at the Padres in his penultimate start on September 24. Bumgarner struggled a bit on the road, going 6-5 in 17 road starts, with a 3.39 ERA away from San Francisco. Other than a 5-run outing against the Braves in his second-to-last start of the season, Syndergaard finished the year strong, allowing 2 earned runs or fewer in seven of his last eight starts. He was 6-6 in 16 home starts this season, with a 2.87 ERA at Citi Field.

The pressure of postseason baseball typically doesn’t faze Bumgarner. In 13 career postseason starts, he is 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA. In his most recent postseason appearance in 2014, Bumgarner 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in seven appearances, including six starts. In his four postseason appearances last year, including three starts, Syndergaard was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA. Despite Syndergaard’s numbers trending better of late than Bumgarner’s, I give the Giants the advantage in starting pitching because the pressure of the big stage doesn’t seem to affect him as much as it does other players.

The Mets have the advantage in the bullpen. Their 55 saves this season were second in the majors, behind only the Rangers’ 56. The Giants were middle of the pack with 43 saves. Led by closer Jeurys Familia, the Mets’ 3.53 bullpen ERA was sixth best in the majors, while the Giants’ 3.65 ERA was 15th best. Familia was 51-for-56 in save opportunities with a 2.55 ERA for the Mets, and RP Santiago Casilla saved 31 games for the Giants in 40 chances while posting a 3.57 ERA. If the game is decided by the bullpen, the Mets have the advantage there.

Offensively, the Mets have a distinct advantage over the Giants in the power department, hitting 218 home runs compared to San Francisco’s 130, which was the third fewest in the majors. Mets OF Yoenis Cespedes was tied for ninth in the National League with 31 home runs, while the Giants’ leading home-run hitter, 1B Brandon Belt, had just 17. The Giants are better when it comes to making contact with the ball, though, with a .258 average vs. the Mets’ .246.

In the playoffs, good pitching usually beats good hitting. I think Bumgarner gives the Giants a decisive advantage in that area and I think he’ll be able to keep the Mets hitters from getting the ball into the stands of Citi Field. I say Bumgarner leads the Giants to the win in a low-scoring game as they try to make it to the World Series in a fourth-straight even-numbered year.

The winning team moves on to play the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs in one NLDS on Friday; the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers play the NL East champion Washington Nationals in the other NLDS, which also begins Friday.

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Clayton Kershaw

MLB Weekly: Kershaw hits the DL, top prospect Giolito debuts, pitchers land new homes

In this week’s MLB Weekly, one of the best pitchers in the majors has landed on the DL while other pitchers found new homes via trades.

Looking Back

Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw is among the best pitchers in the majors. This season, he has a MLB-best 1.79 ERA in 121 innings over 16 starts. He has struck out 145 batters while walking just 9. He is sidelined right now, though, after being placed on the disabled list on Friday with a herniated disc in his lower back. There is currently no timetable for his return, but he likely will be out until after the All-Star Game on July 12. Veteran SP Brandon McCarthy, who has been out since undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2015 is expected to come off the DL to get the start for the Dodgers Sunday. The team also made a trade for another veteran starter this week to help out the rotation in Kershaw’s absence. The details of that trade can be found below.

Nationals SP Stephen Strasburg was also placed on the 15-day disabled list this week, but it was made retroactive to June 16, making him eligible to be activated and get the start on Sunday. SP Lucas Giolito, one of the top prospects in the minors, threw 4 innings of 1-hit ball in his MLB debut earlier this week while filling in for Strasburg. Giolito’s debut outing was cut short by a rain delay that forced his exit after just 45 pitches. It looked like he might get the start on Sunday, but manager Dusty Baker has announced Strasburg will get the call there. It is unknown what the team will do with Giolito, but he could be sent back down to Triple-A.

SP Bud Norris was the pitcher the Dodgers acquired in the aforementioned deal. Norris and minor-leaguer Dian Toscano came over from the Braves in exchange for a couple of minor-leaguers. Norris has been pitching well of late, including in his Dodgers debut on Friday when he threw 6 innings of shutout ball against the Rockies. He struck out 8 and walked 1 in the 5-0 win for his new team. His ERA was 5.71 on June 1, but he has since lowered it to 3.89 after his latest strong outing. The other notable trade this week sent veteran RP Fernando Rodney from the Padres to the Marlins. Rodney had 17 saves in 28 appearances for the Padres this season. He has posted an impressive 0.30 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. At this time, Rodney is expected to serve as a setup man for closer A.J. Ramos and the Marlins who, unlike the Padres, are contending for a playoff spot.

Elsewhere in MLB, despite faltering a bit this week and having lost three straight to the Mets, the Cubs still have one of the best records in the majors and a nine-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central. In the AL Central, the Indians have opened up a six-game lead on the defending World Series champion Royals after a 14-game win streak, which was snapped on Saturday. The closest division race right now is in the AL East, in which the Orioles lead the Red Sox by four games. As we approach the halfway point of the season, the Wild Card races start to take shape a little more. The Red Sox and Royals currently hold the Wild Cards in the American League, with the Tigers, Astros and Blue Jays each .5-game out, while the Dodgers and Mets lead the National League Wild Card, with the Cardinals and Marlins within striking distance.

The Week Ahead

Royals at Blue Jays in a rematch of last season's ALCS

The Royals visit the Blue Jays in a rematch of last season’s American League Championship Series

As we enter the final week before the all-star break, we see a few series featuring teams fighting for playoff spots. Early in the week, the Orioles visit the Dodgers for a three-game series beginning Monday, the Royals head north of the border to take on the Blue Jays Monday through Wednesday, and the Rangers and Red Sox do battle in Boston for a three-game series. Later in the week, the Mets host the Nationals for a four-game series starting Thursday that pits the top two teams in the NL East, as of now, against each other.

There aren’t many pitching matchups that stand out this week, but there are some pitching performances to look out for. Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman takes the mound Wednesday against the Royals’ Ian Kennedy, looking to have a second straight quality start in what has been a disappointing season to this point. Also Wednesday, Red Sox SP Steven Wright, who could be a candidate to start for the American League in the All-Star Game, looks to continue putting up the good numbers he has posted so far when he opposes Rangers SP Martin Perez.

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Yu Darvish

MLB Weekly: Darvish returns, Royals lose Moustakas

In this week’s MLB Weekly, the Rangers get a starting pitcher back from the disabled list while the Royals lose an infielder to a torn ACL.

Looking Back

The Rangers are in a fight for the AL West, currently in second place just behind the Mariners. On Saturday, they got SP Yu Darvish back from the disabled list, as he made his first major league start since Aug. 9, 2014. After that start, he experienced elbow inflammation that caused him to miss the rest of that season, then he had to undergo Tommy John surgery during spring training in 2015. In his first start in more than 20 months on Saturday, Darvish pitched well en route to leading the Rangers to a 5-2 victory over the Pirates. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t go deep into the game — throwing just 5 innings — but he made the most of the time he did pitch. He allowed just 3 hits — all singles — along with a walk and an earned run while notching 7 strikeouts. He needed 81 pitches to get through his 5 innings of work. Darvish is expected to make his next start Friday.

While the Rangers got one of their stars back after a lengthy absence on Saturday, the defending World Series champion Royals lost one of their stars for the season this week. 3B Mike Moustakas collided with OF Alex Gordon last Sunday against the White Sox while going for a foul ball. Gordon broke a bone in his right hand that will keep him out for about a month. The news on Moustakas is much worse; it was announced a few days after the collision that he tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the 2016 season. Moustakas already had 7 home runs on the season, putting him on pace to set a new career high, surpassing the 22 he hit last season. Without Moustakas, the Royals are going to rely on rookies Cheslor Cuthbert and Whit Merrifield to man the hot corner as the team looks to stay in the midst of a competitive AL Central.

Elsewhere in MLB, as June begins in a couple days, we’re getting a clearer picture of which teams are playoff contenders and which aren’t. The Red Sox have overtaken the Orioles for the AL East lead, holding a one-game advantage entering Sunday. The Indians have taken over first place in the AL Central, a half-game ahead of both the Royals and White Sox, who have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games after having the best record in the American League for much of the first few weeks of the season. Don’t be surprised to see the White Sox fall out of contention in the coming weeks. In the AL West, the Mariners are still hanging on to first place, a game better than the Rangers. Over in the National League, the Mets and Nationals are tied for first in the NL East as the Phillies, like the White Sox, have begun their expected regression; they now sit 2.5 games out of the division lead. At 33-14 the Cubs still have the best record in the majors and hold a 5.5-game lead over the Pirates in the NL Central. In the NL West, the Giants maintain their hold on first place, with a 4.5-game lead over the Dodgers after going a MLB-best 8-2 in their last 10 games.

The Week Ahead

Dodgers-Cubs at Wrigley Field

The Cubs host the Dodgers for a four-game series at Wrigley Field this week.

The week gets started with a key four-game series between the top two teams in the AL East when the Red Sox travel to Baltimore to take on the Orioles. Two of the best teams in the National League also begin their weeks with four games at Wrigley Field, when the Cubs host the Dodgers. Later in the week, top AL Central teams do battle in Cleveland as the Indians host the Royals for four games starting Thursday. And first place in the AL West will likely be on the line with the Rangers visiting the Mariners beginning Friday.

Those are some series of note, but what about pitching performances to look out for? Struggling Mets SP Matt Harvey looks to get back on track when he takes the mound Monday against White Sox SP Jose Quintana while Giants SP Jeff Samardzija tries to continue his strong start to the season against the Braves and SP Mike Foltynewicz. Tuesday should feature a good pitching matchup in Miami, with Pirates SP Gerrit Cole taking on Marlins SP Jose Fernandez. Cubs SP Jake Arrieta hopes to make his record 10-0 when he gets the start at home against the Dodgers, who are expected to throw SP Scott Kazmir out on the mound. As mentioned, Darvish is expected to make his second start on Friday in an important game against the Mariners.

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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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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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