Tag Archives: NL Central

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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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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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MLB Weekly: Trades galore as the deadline approaches

In this week’s MLB Weekly, trades are dominating the news as the non-waiver deadline approaches on Monday.

Looking Back

Traditionally, the non-waiver trade deadline is on July 31, but with that date falling on a Sunday this year, Major League Baseball decided to push the deadline back a day to August 1, giving teams an extra day to complete deals. A number of contenders aren’t waiting until the 11th hour, though, and have made trades this week in hopes of improving their teams.

The Blue Jays are among the most-active contenders on the market this week. making two deals on Tuesday. In one, the current AL East leaders added offensive depth by acquiring OF Melvin Upton Jr. from the Padres for a minor leaguer. The other was a swap of relievers, with the Blue Jays sending RP Drew Storen to the Mariners in exchange for RP Joaquin Benoit.

The first deal made this week saw the NL Central-leading Cubs looking to boost their bullpen’s performance by acquiring RP Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees in exchange for a quartet of players, including P Adam Warren and three minor leaguers, led by former international free-agent signee SS Gleyber Torres, who was one of the Cubs’ top prospects in their farm system. Giving up the young talent for Chapman, who is in the final year of his contract and will likely command big bucks on the free-agent market as one of the game’s top closers, shows that the Cubs are in win-now mode and are willing to give up some talent for the future if it helps them get their first World Series title in more than 100 years this season.

In other notable trades this week, the Marlins — who are currently tied with the Cardinals for the second Wild Card in the National League — acquired veteran SPs Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from the Padres and sent some prospects from San Diego, who made a number of moves aimed at dumping high salaries and getting young talent for a rebuilding effort. The NL West-leading Giants hope to hold their slim lead over the Dodgers after getting IF Eduardo Nunez from the Twins by trading minor league P Adalberto Mejia.

Elsewhere in MLB, with August starting tomorrow time is running out for teams to make up ground in the standings and get into the playoff picture. In the American League, the AL East is the closest division, with the Blue Jays at the top but the Orioles and Red Sox both within two games. The Indians currently hold a 4.5-game lead over the Tigers in the AL Central, and the Rangers’ lead in the AL West is currently at five games over the Astros, who have lost ground on Texas in the last week. The Orioles and Red Sox currently hold the two Wild Cards in the American League, with the Tigers and Astros both within 1.5 games and the Mariners and Yankees within striking distance.

In the National League, the NL West is the only division that seems to still be in play as we enter August this week, with the Dodgers two games behind the Giants. The Nationals currently hold a five-game lead over the Marlins in the NL East, and the Cubs’ lead in the Central stands at 6.5 games over the Cardinals. In the Wild Card, the Dodgers hold the first Wild Card, with the Marlins and Cardinals tied for the second. Of the teams on the outside looking in, the Mets, Pirates and Rockies are the only teams with a realistic shot at catching the Wild Card leaders, all no more than four games back.

The Week Ahead

The Mets and Yankees Subway Series.

The Mets and Yankees play a home-and-home in a four-game Subway Series this week.

As we take a look at this week’s schedule, there are a couple of key four-game series between American League playoff contenders getting underway Monday as the Red Sox visit the Mariners and the Astros host the Blue Jays. New Yorkers’ eyes will be on the Subway Series, though, as the Mets and Yankees play four games against each other, with the first two at Citi Field and the back pair at Yankee Stadium. The Astros play another important series later in the week, hosting the Rangers beginning Friday as they attempt to make up some ground on the division leaders. Both NL West contenders also have important series starting Friday, with the Giants heading to D.C. to take on the Nationals and the Dodgers hosting the Red Sox.

This week’s probable pitchers could be a little more subject to change than usual pending any more trades that are made by Monday’s deadline. Having said that, here’ a look at some of the pitching performances expected this week. Rangers SP Yu Darvish looks to continue his post-DL comeback when he takes the Camden Yards mound against the Orioles on Tuesday. White Sox SP James Shields hopes to continue his streak of six straight quality starts Tuesday at the Tigers. Citi Field could be home to a pitcher’s duel Tuesday when Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka and Mets SP Jacob deGrom get the starts for their respective teams. White Sox SP Chris Sale, who has been surrounded by controversy in recent weeks, is scheduled to pitch Wednesday at the Tigers — if the White Sox don’t trade him before then.

2016 MLB All-Star Game MVP Eric Hosmer

MLB Weekly: All-Star Game recap, Red Sox trade

In this week’s MLB Weekly, the all-star break dominated the week, while the Red Sox made a trade to improve their starting rotation.

Looking Back

With the all-star break extending until Friday, there wasn’t much action this week. During the break were the traditional Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton won the derby in impressive fashion. The All-Star Game was won by the American League for the fourth straight year. Royals 1B Eric Hosmer won MVP honors, going 2-for-3, including a home run, with 2 RBI. Indians SP Corey Kluber got the win, throwing a scoreless inning in relief, and Orioles RP Zach Britton closed out the ninth for the save.

With the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaching the number of trades is likely to increase in the coming weeks. The Red Sox aren’t waiting until the deadline; they acquired SP Drew Pomeranz from the Padres on Thursday as they continue to nail down one of the American League’s playoff spots. In exchange for the 27-year-old lefty, San Diego got Boston’s top pitching prospect, Anderson Espinoza. In 17 starts this season, Pomeranz is 8-7 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 115 strikeouts over 102 innings.

Elsewhere in MLB, not much movement in the standings with four days this week without meaningful games, but the NL Central-leading Cubs have won the first two games back from the break after slumping toward the end of the first half. Things are tightening up in the AL West with the Rangers, who had a double-digit lead in the division a few weeks ago, just 4.5 games ahead of the Astros in the division. The AL East continues to be the closest divisional race, with the Orioles leading the second-place Red Sox by two games and the Blue Jays just four games back in third place.

The Week Ahead

The Mets visit Wrigley Field this week.

The Mets visit the Cubs at Wrigley Field this week.

As we get back to a full week of games in the wake of the All-Star Game, the Royals face an important three-game series against the AL Central-leading Indians as they try to stay in the division race. The Mets, who are falling back in the NL East race head to Wrigley Field for a three-game set with the Cubs. In the second half of the week, division leaders meet when the Orioles host the Indians starting Friday. The Mets visit the Marlins as the two teams battling for second place in the NL East meet for a weekend series. And it’s a battle of second-place teams when the Dodgers head to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals.

Taking a look at pitching matchups for the week, Cubs SP Jon Lester looks to get back on track Monday when he opposes the Mets and SP Steven Matz, who is dealing with bone spurs. Indians SP Corey Kluber gets his first start since winning the All-Star Game on Monday, against Royals SP Edinson Volquez. Cubs SP Jake Arietta takes the mound on Tuesday, hoping to improve upon the 8.27 ERA he has in his last three start, against Mets SP Noah Syndergaard. On Friday, Rangers SP Yu Darvish is slated to make his second start since coming off of his latest DL stint, hoping to last longer than the 4.1 innings he went in his last outing, when he faces the Royals.

Mets SP Matt Harvey is scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery

MLB Weekly: Harvey’s done, Carpenter goes to the DL, Cubs struggle

In this week’s MLB Weekly, injuries hit stars on contending teams while the Cubs struggle heading into the all-star break.

Looking Back

Mets SP Matt Harvey hasn’t been having a good season, and now it’s over in the first half of July. The team has announced that Harvey will have season-ending surgery next week to try to take care of his thoracic outlet syndrome, which is causing muscles in his neck and shoulder to impinge a nerve in his right shoulder. In 17 starts this season, Harvey is 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. He is expected to be ready for the start of next season. In other injury news, SP Noah Syndergaard and OF Yoenis Cespedes both left Friday’s games with injuries; Syndergaard is suffering from a dead arm while Cespedes has a strained right quad. With the all-star break coming up this week, it is possible both players could avoid the disabled list, but it’s something to watch heading into the second half of the season on Friday.

The Cardinals, who are in contention for the National League Wild Card, also suffered a significant injury this week when 2B Matt Carpenter suffered a grade-2 oblique strain in Wednesday’s game against the Pirates. Unlike Harvey, Carpenter is having a good season. Through 78 games, he’s hitting .298 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI. Although a timetable for his return hasn’t been determined yet, similar injuries to this usually sideline a player for about a month, so a mid-August return seems likely for Carpenter, which would allow him to help the team in its playoff push during the latter portion of the season.

The Cubs, the Cardinals’ NL Central rivals, started the season strong but have struggled of late, going just 5-15 over their last 20 games. The Pirates, meanwhile, have won 12 of their last 15 games to pull to within 6.5 games of the Cubs in the division, entering Sunday. Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, has lost three of his last four starts, giving up at least 4 ER in each of his last three games. The all-star break could be coming at a good time for the Cubs, who are still tied for the third-best record in the majors despite their swoon in recent weeks.

Elsewhere in MLB, the AL East race is tightening up, with the Red Sox and Blue Jays each two games behind the first-place Orioles. The Indians have opened up a 6.5-game lead in the AL Central, while the Rangers’ lead is shrinking in the AL West. The Astros, who are 6-4 in their last 10 games, are now 6.5 games back of the Rangers, who are 3-7 in their last 10.  In the National League, the Nationals and Giants continue to hold decent leads in the East and West, respectively; the Nationals hold a five-game cushion over the Mets, and the Giants are 6.5 games ahead of the Dodgers.

The Week Ahead

Petco Park is the site of the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday

Petco Park in San Diego is the site of the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday

There isn’t much regular-season action, with the all-star break from Monday through Thursday. The home run derby is on Monday with the All-Star Game on Tuesday before regular action picks back up on Friday. Some notable series coming up next weekend include the Rangers traveling to Wrigley Field to face the Cubs in a battle of division leaders who have been going in the wrong direction of late. Another series featuring two contenders will take place in D.C. when the Nationals host the Pirates.

Most teams have not yet announced their rotations for after the all-star break so we can’t discuss any pitching matchups for next weekend.

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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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