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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 Weekly: A-Rod and Teixiera announce retirements, Story’s season ends

In this week’s MLB Weekly, two notable Yankees announce their retirements, a home run-hitting rookie undergoes season-ending surgery and the Dodgers send a once-promising slugger to the minors.

Looking Back

This morning Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez and the team announced that the final game of his major league career will be this Friday, August 12 at Yankee Stadium against the Rays, the team’s next home game after today. He will be released from his player contract with the team but will sign a new contract to serve as a special advisor to the team, acting as a mentor to young players, through 2017. In his 22-year career, Rodriguez has hit 696 home runs but has not seen much playing time this season as he is hitting just .204 in 62 games this season. Earlier in the week, Yankees 1B Mark Teixiera announced that he will retire at the end of the season. Teixiera is a 14-year veteran who is hitting .199 this season, which has included some time on the disabled list. He is in the final year of his contract, while Rodriguez had a year remaining on his deal.

Rockies SS Trevor Story was expected to begin the season in the minors but a suspension to SS Jose Reyes changed those plans, as Story landed the starting gig by way of an impressive spring training. And he really took advantage of the opportunity, hitting 7 home runs in the first six games of his major-league career. He continued to hit home runs throughout the season, getting up to 27 by July 30, which ended up being his final game of his rookie campaign. Story tore the UCL in his left thumb in that game, an injury that required a surgery that is expected to keep him out for the remainder of the season — a loss that hurts the Rockies’ already-slim hopes of making the playoffs.

Like Story, Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig put up big offensive numbers in his rookie season back in 2013, hitting .319 with 19 home runs in 104 games. His production has dropped off each season since then, though, eventually bottoming-out this year with .260 average and just 7 home runs in 81 games. That lack of production, combined with reported issues in the locker room, led the Dodgers to demote Puig to Triple-A Oklahoma City this week. The team made the move after acquiring OF Josh Reddick from the A’s at the trade deadline, giving them less of a need to use Puig in the majors. The Dodgers reportedly tried to deal Puig to another team but came up short before Monday’s non-waiver deadline. It’s possible Puig could still be traded this month if he is able to clear waivers, but he’ll probably have to produce in the minors before another team would want to take a chance on him. If he’s still in the Dodgers organization at the end of the season, don’t be surprised if they try again to trade Puig this winter.

Elsewhere in MLB, there is a three-way battle going on for first place in the AL East, with the Orioles and Blue Jays tied atop the division and the Red Sox two games behind them. The same two-game margin separates first place and second place in the AL Central, with the Indians ahead of the Tigers, who have won nine of their last 10 games. The Rangers have a bit more of a cushion in the AL West, 6.5 games clear of the Astros. Baltimore/Toronto sit atop the American League Wild Card, with the Tigers in the second Wild Card spot, with the Red Sox just .5 game behind them. In the hunt are the Astros and Mariners, at four and five games back, respectively.

In the National League, the Nationals and Cubs continue to hold significant leads in their divisions. The Nationals’ margin in the NL East is 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Marlins, while the Cubs — who still hold the best record in the majors — have a 10.5-game cushion over the Cardinals in the NL Central. Things are much tighter in the NL West, as the Giants’ lead over the Dodgers is down to two games as San Francisco has gone just 4-6 in the last 10 games. The Dodgers currently hold the first Wild Card in the NL, with the Marlins in control of the second Wild Card. In the hunt are the Cardinals, Mets, Pirates and Rockies — all within four games of landing one of the Wild Cards.

The Week Ahead

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry continues this week

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry continues this week at Fenway Park

There are a couple of rivalry series in the coming week. The first is a three-game set between the Red Sox and Yankees in Boston beginning Tuesday. The other sees the Cardinals visiting the Cubs for four starting Thursday. Other series to look out for include a short series between playoff contenders as the Nationals host the Indians Tuesday and Wednesday. Later in the week, the Astros look to stay alive in the Wild Card race when they visit the Blue Jays for a weekend series north of the border starting Friday. That same day, the Orioles host the Giants in another interleague series featuring teams that could be playing well into October.

Pitching performances to look for this week include the Giants-Marlins game on Monday, with SPs Johnny Cueto and Jose Fernandez — who both hold sub-3.00 ERAs for the season — scheduled to take to the mound. Diamondbacks SP Zack Greinke is scheduled to return from the disabled list Tuesday and get the start against the Mets and SP Steven Matz. Rays rookie SP Blake Snell looks to continue his stretch of good starts Wednesday when he gets the ball against Blue Jays SP J.A. Happ, who has already won a career-high 15 games on the season. Mets SP Bartolo Colon gets a home start on Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, the only major league team he has never gotten a win against in his 19-year career; SP Robbie Ray is slated to start for Arizona.

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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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Mets 3B David Wright on the disabled list.

MLB Weekly: Wright goes to DL, White Sox acquire Shields

In this week’s MLB Weekly, the Mets lose their third baseman to a neck injury and the slumping White Sox trade for a struggling pitcher.

Looking Back

The Mets are in a battle to win the NL East, currently sitting a game back of the division-leading Nationals entering Sunday’s games. The road to first place for the team in Queens is about to get more difficult, with veteran 3B David Wright being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a herniated disk in his neck. He will not participate in any baseball activity for six to eight weeks, likely putting his return in August at the earliest. Although the 33-year-old hasn’t been particularly productive at the plate this season — he’s hitting just .226 with 7 home runs and 55 strikeouts in 137 at-bats — the Mets’ internal replacements at third base aren’t great options for an extended period. Utilityman Wilmer Flores is getting the first chance at filling in for Wright, but he’s hitting .224 in 67 at-bats this season — and that includes him going 5-for-7 in his first two games starting at third, he was hitting below .200 before that. If Flores can’t produce offensively, the Mets may need to look to trade for someone who can handle third-base duties.

Speaking of trades, the White Sox are looking to shake things up after going 12-18 since May 1 to drop from first place in the AL Central to third place. They now sit just two games above .500 and are two games back of the division lead. Outside of SPs Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, the starting rotation has been disappointing so they made a trade this week to acquire SP James Shields from the Padres, but he hasn’t been having a great season himself, particularly in his last start when he gave up 10 earned runs in 2.2 innings at the Mariners. Overall for the year, Shields has a 4.28 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. He has a 2-7 record in 11 starts so far. The White Sox hope a change of scenery could mean a change in performance for the better for the veteran pitcher, who hasn’t finished a season with a sub-3.00 ERA since 2011, when he was with the Rays. To get Shields, the White Sox sent SP Erik Johnson and minor league 3B Fernando Tatis Jr. to San Diego.

Elsewhere in MLB, the standings atop the six divisions look similar to what they were a week ago, with the Indians sitting in first place of the AL Central the only first-place team that wasn’t at the top of its division last weekend. The Cubs, who have gone 9-1 in their last 10 games, continue to have the best record in the majors with a 39-15 mark entering Sunday’s game with the Diamondbacks. Looking further down in the standings, the Phillies continue their drop, now sitting in fourth place in the NL East, at 27-29, after getting off to a surprisingly strong start to the season. The Blue Jays, who were my preseason pick to win the World Series, have gone 8-2 in the last 10 games to get closer to the AL East lead, now sitting in third place, 3.5 games behind the Red Sox. The Astros have also gone 8-2 in the last week-and-half to get to within three games of .500. In the AL West, though, they still sit seven games back of the division lead.

The Week Ahead

The Giants host the Dodgers this week.

The Dodgers visit the Giants for a key AL West series this week.

Some series to watch out for this week include a battle of second-place teams looking to move up in their divisions when the Orioles host the Royals Monday through Wednesday. The AL Central-leading Indians travel to Seattle for a four-game series with the Mariners, who sit in second place in the AL West. The AL West-leading Rangers take on their in-state rival Astros at home for four games starting Monday, giving the streaking Astros a chance to get closer to the top of the division. Later in the week, a key four-game series in the AL East gets underway Thursday, with the second- and third-place teams in the division playing each other when Blue Jays host the Orioles. The top two teams in the AL West beginning a series Friday when the Mariners host the Rangers, and it’ll be a similar situation in the NL West when the division-leading Giants host the second-place Dodgers starting Friday.

Some pitching performances of note for the coming week include Indians SP Carlos Carrasco making his second start since coming off the disabled list when he opposes Mariners SP Wade Miley. On Wednesday, Rangers SP Yu Darvish makes his third start since Tommy John surgery and looks to continue the success he’s had in his limited work so far this season; he’ll go against SP Doug Fister, who takes the mound for the Astros and is 1-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his last five starts. Red Sox SP David Price, who has thrown quality starts in his last five outings after a slow start to the season, is scheduled to take the mound in San Francisco on Wednesday against Giants SP Madison Bumgarner, who has posted a 1.91 ERA for the season and a 0.42 ERA in his last three starts.

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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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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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