Tag Archives: Giants

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Detroit Lions

We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2017 season in the  NFC North with the Detroit Lions, who are coming off a second-place finish in the division last season.

The Lions barely missed winning the division last season, falling a game shy of upending the Packers for first place. They did make the playoffs but lost in the wild card round. Their notable free-agent signings this offseason include CB D.J. Hayden and RB Matt Asiata, who will look to help shore up a running game that was among the league’s worst in 2016. Among the team’s losses on offense is the departure of veteran WR Anquan Boldin

QB Matthew Stafford had a good season last year, completing more than 65 percent of his passes for 4,327 yards and 24 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. His leading receiver was WR Golden Tate, who recorded 91 receptions for 1,077 yards but just 4 touchdowns. Despite only catching 55 passes, WR Marvin Jones had similar numbers, totaling 930 yards and 4 touchdowns. TE Eric Ebron had 61 catches for 711 yards and 1 touchdown in 13 games. RB Theo Riddick was the team’s leading rusher, but that included carrying the ball just 92 times for 357 yards and 1 touchdown in 10 games, eight starts. He added 371 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns on 53 receptions. RB Zach Zenner played in 14 games and scored 4 touchdowns on 88 carries. With the Vikings, Asiata had 121 rushes for 402 yards and 6 scores. Overall, the Lions were 20th in the league in points scored while the defense was near the middle of the pack in points allowed.

Offense looks to be a challenge again for the Lions, entering the season without a running back who has proven to be a top-of-the-line starter at the position. Asiata could be the best of an underwhelming bunch, but he’s never started more than nine games in the first five seasons of his career. Stafford will have to increase his touchdown output to allow the Lions to score more points to keep the team in games. While Jones and Tate aren’t necessarily big-name receivers, they are able to put up decent numbers, with 1,000-yard seasons possible for both if they can stay healthy. Ebron has never been able to play all 16 games in a season, if he can do it this year he also has a chance to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.

The Cardinals come to Detroit to open the Lions’ schedule, which then takes the Lions to New Jersey to battle the Giants in Week 2. The Super Bowl runners-up are up in Week 3 with the Falcons visiting the Lions. Week 6 has the Lions visiting the Saints, followed by a bye and a home game with the Steelers in Week 8. The first game against the Packers is next on the slate, with a Week 9 visit to Lambeau Field. The Lions visit the Buccaneers in Week 14, with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in Week 16. The team ends the season hosting the Packers for the second straight year. The Lions won nine games last season, and it’s looking like they’ll be right around there again in 2017. That was good enough to make the playoffs last year, but 10 wins may be needed to make it this time around.

Sources: http://www.detroitlions.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Chicago Bears

We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season with the NFC North. Up first in the division is the Chicago Bears, who are coming off a last-place finish last season.

The Bears are coming off a three-win season, their first since 1982, and the team didn’t have a great offseason  The team was highly criticized for trading up to the No. 2 spot in the draft to select North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky after signing QB Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract with nearly $20 million guaranteed. Neither of those quarterbacks is likely to be among the top 10 in the league at the position. Other free-agent signings this offseason include DB Prince Amukamara and WRs Markus Wheaton and Victor Cruz, who provide high-upside options if they can stay on the field throughout the season, which has been difficult for Cruz in recent seasons. They’ll have to make up for production that will be lost with the loss of WR Alshon Jeffery, who signed with the Eagles in the offseason.

None of last year’s quarterbacks is on the roster entering this season, and none of the guys on the team — which includes QBs Connor Shaw and Mark Sanchez in addition to Trubisky and Glennon — had a starting role last season to provide analysis of their performances, which isn’t a good indicator of what to expect from them in 2017. On the ground, RB Jordan Howard led the team with 252 carries for 1,313 yards and 6 touchdowns, with 29 receptions for an additional 298 yards and a receiving touchdown. RB Jeremy Langford carried the ball 62 times for 200 yards and 4 touchdowns. WR Cameron Meredith was the team’s leading pass-catcher in 2016, grabbing 66 receptions for 888 yards and 4 touchdowns, while TE Zach Miller caught 47 passes for 486 yards and 4 touchdowns. In 15 games — 12 starts — with the Giants last year, Cruz had 39 receptions for 586 yards and 1 touchdown. The offense was tied for 28th in the league last season with 279 yards, and the defense gave up the ninth-most points at 399.

The offense wasn’t great last season and it looks to only get worse this year with the quarterbacks they have on the roster. Barring a strong performance from Trubisky in training camp, I expect Glennon to be named the starter heading into Week 1, but he hasn’t started more than five games since his rookie year in 2013, when he put up decent numbers in 13 starts with the Buccaneers. That was a few years ago, though, and there’s no telling how he’ll do if given a shot at starting this season. If Glennon does begin the year as the starter, I expect Trubisky to get the job during the season but don’t expect much out of him. The Bears have some decent options in the receiving game, including WR Kevin White, who only made four starts in 2016 after missing his entire rookie season in 2016. If he stays healthy and performs to the expectations the Bears had when they drafted him, he can help if the offense if the quarterback play is better than expected, which isn’t likely. The running game is likely going to be the best part of the offense with Howard and Langford leading the way, but without a viable quarterback it won’t be enough for the team to have much success.

The Bears get a tough game to start the season, with the defending NFC champion Falcons coming to Soldier Field in Week 1. The Bears then hit the road to take on another NFC South in Week 2 when they play the Bucs. The Bears host the Steelers in Week 3, then visit the Packers in Week 4’s Thursday night game as the rough early stretch of the schedule continues. The Bears play at the Saints in Week 8, then get their bye before hosting the Packers in Week 10. The Lions then come to Chicago in Week 11, and the Bears head to Detroit for the rematch in Week 15. They end the season at the Vikings in Week 17. The Bears won three games last season and I’m not expecting them to do much better than that — I’m looking at three or four wins for them — with the combination of a bad team and a tough schedule leading to another mediocre season in Chicago.

Sources: http://www.chicagobears.com, http://www.pro-football-reference

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MLB Weekly: Trades, injuries highlight the week

Looking Back

Some big-name players were moved before the non-waiver trade deadline and more stars went on the DL in this week’s MLB Weekly.

The non-waiver trade deadline was on Monday afternoon, and there was a flurry of activity as contenders tried to improve for the playoff push and October baseball, while struggling teams did their best to build for the future. The Yankees focused on improving their pitching staff leading up to the deadline, trading for RPs David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox, as well as SP Jaime Garcia from the Twins — who acquired him from the Braves earlier in July — and A’s SP Sonny Gray, who was one of the most-sought-after players on the market. Adding Gray gives the Yankees a formidable top of the rotation of SP Luis Severino, SP Masahiro Tanaka and Gray, which would suit the Yankees well in the postseason, if they make it there and the starters are all pitching to expectations at the time. With the bullpen the Yankees have built up, the starters only have to pitch six innings and hand a lead over to the relievers, who should be able to hold the lead more often than not with the likes of RPs Dellin Betances, Robertson and Kahnle acting as a bridge to closer Aroldis Chapman.

With the trades the Yankees made, they seemingly closed the gap between themselves and the Astros, who hold the best record in the American League but only made one — relatively insignificant — trade. They made a deal with the Blue Jays to add RP Francisco Liriano as a lefty coming out of the bullpen. Liriano — who now has a 6.02 ERA entering Sunday after getting the loss in both of his appearances with the Astros — was a starter in Toronto. Given his lack of success this season, he isn’t much of an improvement for the Astros, who reportedly had a deal agreed to with the Orioles for RP Zach Britton before the deadline, but the deal was nixed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Britton would have been a nice addition for a bullpen that has been overworked in recent weeks due to injuries to SPs Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, who went back on the DL with back discomfort shortly after the deadline passed. McCullers’ latest DL stint makes the lack of action by the Astros even more perplexing, given the fact that with injuries to and subpar performances from their rotation of late, the Astros pitching doesn’t look like it’ll be good enough for a deep playoff run.

Other AL contenders who made trades this week include the Red Sox acquiring RP Addison Reed from the Mets, the Royals getting OF Melky Cabrera from the White Sox and the Indians getting RP Joe Smith from the Blue Jays.

In the National League, the Dodgers have the best record in Major League Baseball, but they weren’t content to stick with what they had. Their big move was getting SP Yu Darvish from the Rangers, but they also added to the bullpen by getting RP Tony Watson from the Pirates and RP Tony Cingrani from the Reds. Adding Darvish to a rotation that includes SPs Clayton Kershaw — when he comes off the DL — and Alex Wood gives the Dodgers what could be the top starting rotation in the playoffs.

The other NL team that is virtually assured of making the playoffs also got help for what had been a very mediocre bullpen. In the last two weeks of July, the Nationals traded for RPs Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle — who has seemingly settled into the closer’s role — from the A’s and RP Brandon Kintzler from the Twins. They also added some outfield depth, acquiring OF Howie Kendrick from the Phillies.

Other trades made by NL contenders include the Cubs getting RP Justin Wilson and C Alex Avila from the Tigers, to go along with SP Jose Quintana, who they traded for during the All-Star break. The Diamondbacks added RP David Hernandez from the Angels and SS Adam Rosales from the A’s, and the Rockies got C Jonathan Lucroy from the Rangers, who also traded RP Jeremy Jeffress to the Brewers.

The biggest takeaways from the trade deadline are that the Yankees, Dodgers and Nationals positioned themselves for success in October, while the Astros allowed the rest of the AL contenders to close the gap that the Astros had built up in the first half of the season and make the AL postseason more open than it looked a few weeks ago.

More trades could be made before the end of the month for players who pass through waivers. The biggest name to look out for in an August trade could be Tigers SP Justin Verlander.

As has been the case virtually every week this season, some stars landed on the disabled list. Among the bigger names are Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia, who is out with left knee inflammation; Indians RP Andrew Miller, who is suffering from knee tendinitis; Tigers SP Michael Fulmer, with an elbow injury; Cubs SS Addison Russell, with a foot strain; Mariners SP Felix Hernandez, with bicep tendinitis; and Astros C Evan Gattis and Giants 1B Brandon Belt, both with concussion symptoms. It also appears that Royals C Salvador Perez will be placed on the DL Sunday with an intercostal strain.

Other injuries from this week include: Astros RP Michael Feliz (shoulder) and Tony Sipp (calf), Reds OF Scott Schebler (shoulder), Brewers C Jett Bandy (rib), Blue Jays C Miguel Montero (groin), Rockies SP Kyle Freeland (groin), Phillies OF Aaron Altherr (hamstring), and Yankees DH Matt Holliday (lumbar strain).

The Week Ahead

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Series to watch this week include a four-game interleague home-and-home between the Cardinals and Royals, with both teams looking to stay alive in the playoff race. They play in Kansas City Monday and Tuesday, then shift to St. Louis Wednesday and Thursday. It’s a similar setup for the Twins and Brewers, who play two in Minneapolis, followed by a couple in Milwaukee. The Red Sox visit the Rays for two games Tuesday and Wednesday in a series between AL East contenders, and the Diamondbacks host the Dodgers for three games starting Tuesday in a series between the top two teams in the NL West. Later in the week, the Red Sox head to the Bronx for a weekend series with the Yankees starting Friday. The Texas teams also have a three-game series over the weekend when the Rangers host the Astros. The Diamondbacks week of games against NL contenders continues Friday when the Cubs visit.

Some notable pitching performances to look for this week include Cubs SP Jake Arrieta looking to follow-up one of his best performances of the season with another good start against the Giants and SP Matt Moore. Red Sox SP Chris Sale, on the other hand, had one of his worst outings the last time he took the mound, but he’ll try to improve upon that Tuesday at the Rays, who are starting SP Austin Pruitt. Keuchel was charged with his first loss last week and he’s still looking for his first win since returning from the DL. He’ll look to get it Tuesday at SP Derek Holland and the White Sox. Astros SP Collin McHugh, who also came off the DL recently, is looking for his first win of the season Wednesday when he pitches against the White Sox, with SP Miguel Gonzalez on the mound. Darvish makes his second start for the Dodgers on Thursday, opposing the Diamondbacks. White Sox SP Reynaldo Lopez, one of the club’s top prospects, is slated to make his season debut on Friday at home, taking on the Royals.

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MLB Weekly: Martinez moved, Correa injured

Looking Back

A star outfielder was traded to a team in the thick of a playoff push and a team sure to make the playoffs lost one of its stars for up to two months in this week’s MLB Weekly.

As we get deeper into July, trade talks heat up as teams try to get deals done before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. One of the biggest names on the trade block was already traded last week when SP Jose Quintana went from the White Sox to the Cubs. There were more trades this week, with the biggest name changing teams being OF J.D. Martinez, who the Tigers traded to the Diamondbacks on Tuesday for a trio of prospects, including 3B Dawel Lugo. Martinez made his debut with his new team the following night but left the game early after being hit by a pitch in the hand while swinging. He was diagnosed with a left hand contusion and X-rays were negative, but he has not played since that game. The team is calling him day-to-day.

Martinez is having a good year at the plate, hitting .302 with 16 home runs, but just 39 RBI. He is in the last year of his contract and will be a free agent in the offseason, which means the Diamondbacks acquired him as a rental as they try to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2011. They’re currently in second place in the NL West, 10.5 games behind the Dodgers, but they’re currently tied with the Rockies atop the wild card standings in the National League, 5.5 games ahead of the Cubs entering Sunday.

Other trades this week included the Yankees acquiring 3B Todd Frazier and RPs David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox for RP Tyler Clippard and three minor leaguers. And the Marlins traded RP David Phelps to the Mariners for four minor leaguers, including OF Brayan Hernandez.

Players who are rumored to be on the move before the end of the month include A’s SP Sonny Gray and Braves SP Jaime Garcia — who was reportedly close to being traded to the Twins but the teams couldn’t come to terms on who would be going to Atlanta in exchange for Garcia — Tigers SP Justin verlander, Rangers SP Yu Darvish and Orioles RP Zach Britton.

Leading the injury report this week was news that Astros SS Carlos Correa is out for six-to-eight weeks after being placed on the disabled list with a thumb injury that he originally suffered in a game against the Braves on July 4 and reaggravated during the week. He was putting up MVP-type numbers this season — hitting .320 with 20 home runs, just two shy of his career high, and 67 RBI in 84 games. Utilityman Marwin Gonzalez will be Correa’s main replacement while he’s on the DL, and Gonzalez is having a career year, hitting .316 with 18 home runs and 58 RBI — both career highs already. Losing Correa isn’t a big deal for the Astros, who hold a 17-game lead in the AL West, but if his rehab doesn’t go as well as expected or it takes him time to get back to his usual production once he returns, the injury could hurt the Astros heading into the postseason.

Other players who were placed on the disabled list this week include: Phillies OF Aaron Altherr (hamstring), Reds P Scott Feldman (knee), Brewers C Stephen Vogt (knee), Marlins 3B Martin Prado (knee), Diamondbacks OF Rey Fuentes (thumb), Angels OF Cameron Maybin (knee), Padres SS Erick Aybar (foot), Blue Jays SP Aaron Sanchez (blister), Pirates OF Gregory Polanco (hamstring) and Astros 3B Colin Moran (facial fracture).

The Week Ahead

Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox

This week’s series of note include the Orioles heading to Tampa for a three-game series with the Rays starting Monday as the two AL East teams continue to stay alive in the hunt for a playoff spot. Windy City rivals meet for four games, with the Cubs hosting the White Sox Monday and Tuesday, then the White Sox getting two home games Wednesday and Thursday against their crosstown opponents. The Mariners also host the Red Sox starting Monday. The Rockies visit the Cardinals for three starting Monday, then the Nationals host the Brewers starting Tuesday in a battle of division leaders. Later in the week, the Yankees and Rays try to stay close to the Red Sox in the AL East race when they start a four-game series in the Bronx on Thursday. The Diamondbacks head to St. Louis for four with the Cardinals that day as well. Friday, the Cubs visit the Brewers in a weekend series that could determine first place in the NL Central. Friday also sees the Rockies visit the Nationals to start a series between the NL playoff contenders. And the best and worst teams in the NL West meet in a rivalry series with the Dodgers hosting the Giants starting Friday.

Pitching performances to pay attention to this week include Verlander taking the mound for the Tigers Monday as trade rumors surround him, opposing the Royals and SP Jason Hammel. Diamondbacks SP Zack Greinke looks to bounce back from a subpar performance last time out when he gets the home start Monday against Braves SP R.A. Dickey. Mariners SP James Paxton looks to continue his impressive July, but it’ll be a tough matchup Monday against the Red Sox, who throw SP Eduardo Rodriguez out there for the start. Gray pitches Tuesday, with Blue Jays Sp Cesar Valdez, taking Sanchez’s spot in the rotation, opposing him. Royals SP Danny Duffy faces Tigers SP Michael Fulmer Tuesday in a matchup of aces who have been struggling of late. Garcia is slated to start for the Braves against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday — if he’s still on the team then. Red Sox SP Chris Sale already has 200 strikeouts on the season, and he looks to add to the total on Wednesday, taking on the Mariners, who have struggling SP Andrew Moore getting the start. Darvish faces the Marlins at home on Wednesday, which is also the day Dodgers SP Alex Wood gets his next start after suffering his first loss of the season his last time out; he faces the Twins at home. Mets SP Zack Wheeler looks for his first win since May as he takes on the Padres on Thursday. Also of note, Astros SP Dallas Keuchel could be ready to return from the disabled list over the weekend to make his first start in the majors since June 2; he was 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA before hitting the DL.

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MLB Weekly: Injuries strike after the all-star break, Trout returns, Quintana moves

Looking Back

The first few days after the all-star break haven’t been kind to  Major League Baseball teams with a number of players hitting the DL, while a former MVP returned from his DL stint and a pitcher changed teams but not cities in this week’s MLB Weekly.

Included in the recent spate of injuries are two pitchers for playoff contenders who are facing Tommy John surgery.  Yankees SP Michael Pineda was diagnosed with a torn UCL on Friday with a recommendation of going under the knife, though he is seeking a second opinion. Over in the National League, the Nationals confirmed on Saturday that SP Joe Ross will have Tommy John surgery on Wednesday due to elbow damage. With a typical recovery time of 12-18 months, both pitchers are likely to be out until after the 2018 all-star break, with the possibility of not being ready to return to the majors until 2019.

The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Pineda, who is slated to be a free agent this offseason. Assuming he has the recommended procedure, it will make teams leery of giving him a long-term, big-money deal. He hasn’t pitched well in the last couple of seasons, posting a 4.82 ERA last year and a 4.39 ERA in 2017. Ross has been shuttling between the majors and minors this season, with a 5.01 ERA in his 13 starts for the Nationals. He has been a disappointment this season after putting up a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts last year.

The injury news was better for a couple of sluggers who returned from the DL this weekend. Orioles 1B Chris Davis returns at a time when his team has been falling further behind in the AL East race, now in fourth place in the division and on a 3-7 stretch, including losses in their first two games since the break. Davis has been having a disappointing season to date, hitting just .222 with 14 home runs. Also returning is Angels OF Mike Trout, who was having a typical MVP-caliber season before landing on the DL for the first time in his career. He’s hitting a career-high .339 with 16 home runs in 49 games. With the Astros running away with the AL West, the Angels’ only hope of making the playoffs is as a wild card; they’re currently four games back of the second wild card in the American League.

Other notable players hitting the DL this week include: Cardinals OFs Randal Grichuk (back) and Stephen Piscotty (groin), Padres OF Hunter Renfroe (neck), Indians OF Lonnie Chisenhall (calf), Giants SP Johnny Cueto (blisters), Red Sox P Joe Kelly (hamstring), Twins OF Byron Buxton (groin) and Astros RP Will Harris (shoulder)

In non-injury news, the Cubs and White Sox did something this week that they hadn’t done since 2006 — make a trade with each other, and it was a big one. Trying to stay in the playoff chase and in need of starting pitching help, the Cubs sent four minor leaguers to the White sox for SP Jose Quintana. Highlighting the prospect package being sent to the Sox are OF Eloy Jimenez and P Dylan Cease, who were considered by most experts to be the best prospects in the Cubs’ farm system. The Cubs gave up a lot for Quintana, who has been having the worst season of his career in 2017, going 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 104.1 innings. Some of the those losses were the result of poor run support, so a better Cubs offense should help him win more games, and being in the National League and not having to face designated hitters should help Quintana pitch better than he had been thus far this year. He joins a Cubs rotation led by a couple of other struggling stars in SPs Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, who is a free agent after this season. Quintana will make his first start for his new team today in Baltimore (so he’ll have to face a DH there) as the Cubs look to sweep their three-game series with the Orioles.

The Week Ahead

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We’re back to a full of slate of games this week, with the notable series including the Yankees heading to Minnesota Monday to take on the Twins in a series between two teams sticking around in the AL playoff picture. Two surprising teams — one surprising in a good way, the other in a bad way — meet when the Braves host the Cubs for three starting Monday. The Pirates host the Brewers for four starting Monday as the home team tries to make up ground in the NL Central race. Later in the week, the Orioles host the Astros starting Friday, which is also when AL wild-card hopefuls the Rays and Rangers start a series at Tropicana Field. The Nationals visit the Diamondbacks next weekend in a series between two likely NL playoff teams. And one of the game’s best rivalries resumes Friday when the Cardinals head to Wrigley Field to take on the Cubs.

Pitching performances to look out for this week include Lester trying to recover from the worst outing of his career last weekend when he takes the mound Monday against Braves SP Julio Teheran, who has a 7.58 ERA at home this season. Diamondbacks SP Robbie Ray looks to continue his strong season Tuesday against the Reds and SP Sal Romano. Cubs SP John Lackey makes his first start coming off the DL that day, facing Braves SP Sean Newcomb. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw goes for his 15th win of 2017 Tuesday against White Sox SP Miguel Gonzalez, making his first start since mid-June. That is also the day that recently signed Twins SP Bartolo Colon is set to make his team debut, at home against the Yankees. Pirates SP Gerrit Cole, a potential trade target in the second half, could be making one of his final starts for Pittsburgh on Wednesday against the Brewers and SP Zach Davies. Red Sox SP Chris Sale tries to get another double-digit strikeout game on Thursday, with the Blue Jays standing in his way at Fenway Park.

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MLB Weekly: Midseason analysis, All-Star Game preview

Looking Back

The MLB Weekly takes a look at what teams are underperforming and overperforming at the all-star break and previews the All-Star Game.

With the all-star break upon up this week, we’ve reached the unofficial halfway point of the 2017 MLB season, even though all 30 teams have played more than half of their 162 games. So this is a good time to take a look at what the standings look like and see what teams appear to be contenders for playoff spots and which teams seem to be just playing out the string for the remainder of the regular season.

The Astros and Dodgers hold the best records in the American and National leagues, respectively. The Astros have a seemingly insurmountable lead in the AL West, 15.5 games ahead of the second-place Rangers entering Sunday. I picked the Astros to win the division  in my preseason preview but didn’t expect them to perform this well. I thought they would win around 90 games, but they’re already at 59 wins with 74 games remaining. If they just go 32-42 the rest of the way, they’ll surpass that 90-win prediction. And they’re doing it all with their ace Dallas Keuchel on the disabled list for the past month. He is expected back shortly after the break and, if healthy, can provide a major boost to a team that is already one of the best squads in the majors. The Astros are for real and barring any major injuries the rest of the way should be able to play deep into October.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, hold a 6.5-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the NL West. They have come on strong in recent weeks as the D-backs and Rockies have faltered after fast starts. The play of rookie OF Cody Bellinger has helped propel the Dodgers to the top of the division. He has hit a team-best 25 home runs in 69 games since being brought up from the minors. Meanwhile 3B Justin Turner is hitting .375 on the season. In addition to getting strong pitching from perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers are getting a surprisingly good performance out of SP Alex Wood this season. He is having a career year with a 10-0 record and a 1.67 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 80.2 innings. While there is more competition in the National League than the American League, the Dodgers look like they have the type of offense and pitching and could set them up for a long playoff run.

Perhaps the most surprising division is the NL Central, where the defending World Series champion Cubs are a game under .500 and 4.5 games behind the division-leading Brewers, who won 34 fewer games than the Cubs last season. 1B Eric Thames is having a breakout season, with 23 home runs so far. On the mound, the Brewers aren’t getting particularly strong pitching out of their rotation, but closer Corey Knebel has posted a 1.76 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 41 innings while recording 13 saves. For the Cubs, they are getting disappointing seasons from guys like 3B Kris Bryant and 1B Anthony Rizzo who were among the key pieces that led to ending the team’s infamous championship drought in 2016. And the disappointments extend to the starting rotation, with SPs Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta sporting ERAs of 3.94 and 4.35, respectively. The Cubs clearly aren’t a 108-win team like they were last season, but they’re also better than being around a .500 team so you can expect them to improve their record in the second half of the season. The question is will they be able to make up the deficit the Brewers have opened up. And the Cardinals are also lurking, currently just a game back of the Cubs. If the Brewers don’t add a starting pitcher before the trade deadline, I think they can be caught in the second half, especially if the Cubs get their act together.

The AL Central is essentially a three-team race, with three games separating the first-place Indians from the Twins and Royals. Of those three, I think the Indians are by far the best team and will likely hang out to win the division. The Twins were outperforming everyone’s expectations early in the season, but I think they’re going to fall further behind the Indians. And I don’t think the Royals have enough to keep up with the Indians through September. I don’t think the Indians have a good enough team to return to the World Series, though.

The Nationals hold an 8.5-game lead over the Braves in the NL East and, barring a major collapse, they should easily win the division. They’re similar to the Dodgers in that they have a couple of big hitters and OF Bryce Harper and 2B Daniel Murphy and good starting pitching with SPs Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, but their Achilles heel is the bullpen. The ineptitude of the Nats’ relievers has been well-documented this season and if they don’t make a trade for a good closer, the bullpen could prevent them from going far in the postseason. If they had a top-end closer, they would probably be my pick to make it to the World Series in the National League, but with the bullpen as it stands now that’s not the case.

The Red Sox lead the AL East with the Yankees and Rays 3.5 games and 4.5 games behind them, respectively. The Yankees have been falling in the standings over the last couple of weeks while the Red Sox are rolling. Yankees OF Aaron Judge is a star, but I don’t think the Yankees have enough pitching to catch the Red Sox. No Yankee starter has a sub-3.50 ERA and RP Dellin Betances has not looked good in recent appearances. If the Yankees don’t trade for a starting pitcher who can slot into the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the rotation, they’ll be out of the race in the division. And I don’t think the Rays are for real. They’ll likely fall back in the standings over the coming weeks. I expect the Red Sox to ultimately win the division.

As for the wild cards, I think the Yankees and Royals are the frontrunners in the American League, while both National League wild cards will almost surely come out of the West. With the Dodgers looking like favorites to win that division, I think the Diamondbacks and Rockies get the wild cards. All the other contenders in the NL are too far back and have too much ground they would have to make up.

The Week Ahead

Stanton HRD

After Sunday’s action, there are no regular-season games until Friday after the all-star break ends. Before then, there’s the Home Run Derby on Monday and the All-Star Game on Tuesday so let’s break down those exhibitions.

They’re using a bracket format for the derby, with defending champion Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton as the top seed in his home ballpark. He’ll face Yankees C Gary Sanchez in the first round. Other first-round matchups include Royals 3B Mike Moustakas taking on Twins 3B Miguel Sano, Bellinger against Rockies OF Charlie Blackmon, and Judge facing Marlins 1B Justin Bour. I expect Stanton, Sano, Bellinger and Judge to get past the first round.

That would set up semifinal matchups of Stanton against Sano and Bellinger versus Judge. I would give Stanton and Judge the advantage in those matches, giving us the finals that most people want to see — No. 1 seed Stanton versus No. 2 seed Judge. Both of those guys can hit the ball out of the park, but I think Judge would end up winning.

As for the All-Star Game itself, I think the American League has the better starting lineup as far as position players go, with the likes of Judge and Astros 2B Jose Altuve and OF George Springer, but I give the edge in pitching to the National League. With Kershaw, Scherzer and Strasburg leading the starting pitchers on the roster and two of the season’s best closers in Rockies RP Greg Holland and Dodgers RP Kenley Jansen, that pitching staff will be hard to beat. Good pitching typically beats good hitting, so I’ll take the NL to win the game.

And looking ahead to next weekend, the top series to look forward to when MLB resumes regular-season games on Friday are the Orioles hosting the Cubs in a battle of teams looking to stay alive in their divisions, the Yankees visiting the Red Sox in an important AL East battle.

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MLB Weekly: Keuchel goes to the DL, Taillon ready to return

Looking Back

The best team in Major League Baseball will be without its best pitcher for at least a week and a young pitcher is getting ready to come back from a serious situation in this week’s MLB Weekly.

The Astros are the best team in the majors, with a record of 44-19 entering Sunday. A major reason for the team’s success is the performance of ace Dallas Keuchel, who is 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts. But he won’t be taking the mound in a game for at least a week after the Astros placed him on the 10-day disabled list Thursday.

He was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday for what the team termed an illness, but the next day it was revealed that team doctors were examining him for neck discomfort. This is the second time this season he’s gone on the DL for neck issues. After his first DL stint ended in late May, Keuchel made two starts before landing on the DL again. He is not expected to throw for at least a week and will miss at least two starts.

The Astros are expected to get a pitcher back from the DL on Monday when SP Joe Musgrove is slated to make his next start. He went on the DL May 30 with shoulder inflammation and has missed two starts since then. For the season, Musgrove is 4-4 with a 4.89 ERA in 10 starts.

Pirates SP Jameson Taillon is also expected to get the start on Monday after being out for about a month, but he hasn’t been dealing with an injury. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery on May 8 to treat it. He has since made three minor-league rehab starts and is ready to return to the big club. He says he’s 100 percent both physically and mentally, and “probably in a better spot now than [he] was before.” He has made six starts this season, going 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA.

In off-the-field news, two players this week were accused of domestic violence against women. On Wednesday, the former fiancee of Rays C Derek Norris alleged that he “physically and emotionally abused her” during an October 2015 incident that included putting her in a choke hold. The next day, Cubs SS Addison Russell faced similar allegations, with a friend of his wife accusing him of “mentally and physically abusing” his spouse. Both players have denied the allegations leveled against them. MLB is investigating both cases, and the players could face lengthy suspensions if the league determines that either or both violated the league’s domestic violence policy.

This week’s injury report also includes the following players hitting the DL: Nationals OF Jayson Werth (foot), Blue Jays RP J.P. Howell (shoulder) and 2B Devon Travis (knee), Braves P Bartolo Colon (oblique), Diamondbacks OF Yasmany Tomas (groin), Indians SP Danny Salazar (shoulder), Marlins 1B Justin Bour (ankle), Rangers 1B Mike Napoli (back), Padres SP Jarred Cosart (foot), Rockies OF Gerardo Parra (quad), Brewers SP Matt Garza (chest) and 2B Jonathan Villar (back), Rays 2B Brad Miller (groin) and OF Kevin Kiermaier (hip), Pirates C Francisco Cervelli (concussion), Twins SP Hector Santiago (shoulder), Giants OF Michael Morse (concussion), Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks (hand), Orioles RP Darren O’Day (shoulder), Dodgers RP Sergio Romo (ankle), and A’s SP Andrew Triggs (hip).

The Week Ahead

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The Astros look to continue their dominance of their in-state rivals when they host the Rangers — against whom they are 6-1 this season — for three games starting Monday. The AL Central-leading Twins host the Marlins Monday through Thursday in a four-game set. Tuesday sees the Dodgers traveling to Cleveland to take on the Indians in an interleague series featuring second-place teams. The Nationals-Mets NL East rivalry continues Thursday with the first of four games in Queens. On Friday, the Red Sox head to Houston to start a series with the Astros and the Twins host the Indians for four games — including a Saturday doubleheader — that could determine first place in the division. The Cardinals also head to Baltimore next weekend for an interleague battle between teams looking to stay afloat in the playoff races in their leagues.

Some pitching performances of note this week include Taillon getting the start at home Monday against the Rockies and SP Kyle Freeland. Red Sox SP Rick Porcello looks to right the ship that day when he faces a Phillies team with the worst record in the majors. Cubs SP Jon Lester tries for his 150th career win on Tuesday, facing Mets SP Zack Wheeler. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw gets a break from hitting Tuesday when he takes the mound in Cleveland against the Indians and SP Trevor Bauer. Mets SP Matt Harvey hopes for a second straight strong performance Wednesday when he takes on the Cubs. Astros SP Mike Fiers is coming off a strong start Saturday, but he faces a tough test on Friday taking on the Red Sox, who send SP Drew Pomeranz out to oppose him.

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