Tag Archives: NL Central

3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: St. Louis Cardinals

Our look at the NL Central teams, part of our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, concludes with the St. Louis Cardinals, who came in second place in the division last season.

The Cardinals’ biggest acquisition of the winter to help in their pursuit of catching the defending World Series champion Cubs in the division was a former Cub, signing OF Dexter Fowler to a five-year contract. He’ll be joining OFs Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. The infield will once again by led by veteran C Yadier Molina and 1B Matt Carpenter, who missed the World Baseball Classic and some spring training action with tightness in his lower back. SP Adam Wainwright still sits atop the starting rotation, while RP Seung-hwan Oh handles closing duties out of the bullpen. Among the losses the Cardinals experienced this winter were SP Jaime Garcia, who they traded to the Braves, and OF Matt Holliday, who signed with the Yankees. The team will also be without SP Alex Reyes, who underwent Tommy John surgery in February that will result in him missing the 2017 season and potentially cause him to miss the start of the 2018 campaign.

Last year’s team hit .255, which matched the MLB average, and hit 225 home runs — the most in the National League and second-most in the majors — with a .767 OPS that was fifth in the majors. Piscotty had one of the best overall seasons among the Cardinals’ hitters last season, hitting .273 with 22 home runs and a .800 OPS, while Grichuk hit 24 home runs in 132 games to go along with a .240 average and .769 OPS. SS Aledmys Diaz hit .300 with 17 home runs and a .879 OPS in 111 games, and Carpenter hit .271 with 21 home runs and a .885 OPS in 129 games. Jedd Gyorko, who is expected to provide depth filling in around the infield, led the team with 30 home runs last season, which just missed making the top 10 in the NL, to go along with a .243 average. Molina played in 147 games, which is a lot for a catcher, and hit .307 with 8 home runs.

The pitching staff finished in the top half of the majors with a 4.08 ERA, but the team’s 1,290 strikeouts was below the league average. The bullpen recorded just 38 saves, the eighth-fewest in the majors and fewer than six closers had individually. SP Carlos Martinez led the starters with a 3.04 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 195.1 innings over 31 starts. Coming off an injury that limited him to four starts in 2015, Wainwright was able to start 33 games but didn’t put up good numbers; his 4.62 ERA was the worst of his career and his 161 strikeouts were the fewest since 2008, when he made only 20 starts. SP Michael Wacha also put up a career-worst 5.09 ERA and struck out 114 batters in 138 innings over 24 starts (27 games overall). In his first season in the majors after playing in Japan, Oh made 76 appearances, saving 19 games in 23 opportunities, to go along with a 1.92 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 79.2 innings.

The Cardinals have a good-enough offense to win games, but it’s their starting pitching that could limit their success this season. The offense could take a step back from last year, though, with Holliday gone and Carpenter dealing with the back issues that could cause problems if it continues into the regular season. Wainwright has a history of pitching well, but he’s now 35 and on the backside of his career, so his down year in 2016 is likely part of the natural decline as a pitcher gets older. If he can’t return to form with the way he pitched earlier in his career, someone like Wacha will have to step up to make up for some of the production lost with Wainwright.

The Cardinals are a good team but are disadvantaged by being in the same division as the Cubs, who are likely still the best team in the majors. The Cardinals are clearly the second-best team in the NL Central and should win enough games to get one of the National League’s wild cards, but they likely won’t be able to keep up with the Cubs unless the Cubs are hampered by injuries during the season.

Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. And be sure to subscribe, check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.stlouiscardinals.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates

Our look at the NL Central teams, part of our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, continues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished in third place in the division last season.

If you watch the Pirates play in 2017, you’ll see a team whose core is essentially the same as it was last season. It’s somewhat surprising they didn’t go after any major free agents considering 2016 saw the Pirates win 20 fewer games than they did in 2015. The main change on the diamond is on the defensive side of things, with the outfielders changing positions. Andrew McCutchen is moving to right field, with Starling Marte in center and Gregory Polanco patrolling left field. Other than that 1B Josh Bell, who played 45 games in the big leagues last season, takes over full-time as the team’s starting first baseman. Pitchers Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow, who were on the major-league roster for part of last season, are expected to start the season in Pittsburgh as part of the starting rotation, joining SPs Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova.

The Pirates hit .257 as a team, which put them near the middle of Major League Baseball. They didn’t show much power, though, hitting 153 home runs — the fifth-fewest in the majors — to go along with a .734 OPS, which was below the major-league average. After being in the National League MVP discussion in 2015, McCutchen’s offensive production dropped last season, hitting .256 — nearly 40 points under his career average — although his 24 home runs were right on target with his average. McCutchen’s .766 OPS was by far the lowest of his career, nearly 50 points below his previous low. Marte played in 129 games last season and hit a career-best and team-leading .311, but he hit just 9 home runs, the first time since his rookie year — when he played just 47 games — that he failed to reach double digits in home runs. Rounding out the outfield, Polanco hit .258 with a career-high 22 home runs — 13 more than 2015 despite playing in nine fewer games. 3B Jung Ho Kang hit .255 with 21 home runs, and in his limited time in the majors Bell hit .273 with 3 home runs in 128 at-bats.

The Pirates’ 4.21 ERA put them in the bottom half of the majors, as did their 1,232 strikeouts. The bullpen recorded 51 saves, which was the fifth-most in the majors. Cole, who was dealing with an elbow injury for part of the season, started only 21 games  and put up disappointing numbers compared to 2015. In 116 innings, he posted a 3.88 ERA with 98 strikeouts, the first year of his career he finished with fewer than 100. Nova made 11 starts for the team after being traded by the Yankees and was surprisingly effective in those games, recording 52 strikeouts in 64.2 innings with a 3.06 ERA and a 5-2 record. Taillon made 18 starts in the majors, posting a 3.38 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 104 innings. RP Tony Watson spent the bulk of the second half of the season as the Pirates’ closer after the team traded RP Mark Melancon at the deadline. Overall for the season, Watson went 15-for-20 in save opportunities with a 3.06 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 67.2 innings, not up to par with elite closers but not that bad.

The key for the Pirates offense this year will be for McCutchen to get his average back up to the .290 range that he has averaged for his career. He can’t hit .256 again and expect the team to be significantly better because he is the heart of the offense. He needs to hit better this year so the team can put more runs on the scoreboard and have more of a chance to win games. A situation that is hanging over the Pirates is the legal trouble facing Kang, who was arrested in his native South Korea in December after a crash that resulted from him allegedly driving drunk. The team has placed him on the restricted list for now as he has been unable to obtain a visa to travel to America. It is unknown when he’ll get the visa so his availability for the start of the regular season is in doubt, which means 3B David Freese could see more playing time than expected if Kang’s legal troubles linger into April.

Much like McCutchen has to step up his game and return to the performance people have come to expect from him, Cole is in a similar situation as he hopes to lower his ERA from near 4.00 to closer to the 3.00 range. If they want to stay in the rotation all season,Taillon and Kuhl need to prove that they can perform well in the majors if they don’t want to get sent back down to the minors. Although he’s a veteran, Nova similarly needs to prove to the team that the good numbers he put up in less than half a season with the team last year weren’t a fluke because they were significantly better than what he has done for the majority of his career. Continuing with the prove-you’re-legit theme, Watson needs to improve his numbers a bit to solidify himself as a legitimate closer.

The Pirates won 78 games last season and I think they’re a little better than that. They’re probably about a .500 team but not much better than that. I think they’re still the third-best team in the division and probably won’t be able to pass the Cardinals to move up to second place in the division behind the Cubs.

Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. And be sure to subscribe, check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.pirates.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Milwaukee Brewers

Our look at the NL Central teams, part of our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, continues with the Milwaukee Brewers, who finished in fourth place in the division last season.

The Brewers are coming off of two straight fourth-place finishes in which they finished more than 30 games back of the division champs. They had a fairly quiet offseason, with the most impactful move possibly being adding RP Neftali Feliz to serve as their closer. The team also made a trade that sent RP Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox in exchange for a package highlighted by 3B Travis Shaw. The team also traded for C Jett Bandy, who is essentially replacing C Jonathan Lucroy, who the Brewers traded to the Rangers at the trade deadline last season. OF Ryan Braun continues to be a veteran presence on a largely inexperienced team.

The Brewers struggled offensively in 2016, with their .244 team average ending up as the fourth-worst in Major League Baseball. They were better with their power, hitting 194 home runs, which was higher than the MLB average of 187, which helped them finish around the middle of the league with a .729 OPS; 41 of those home runs were hit by 1B Chris Carter, who is now with the Yankees. Braun had his best season since 2012 at the plate, hitting .305 — 10th in the National League — with 30 home runs and a .903 OPS, which was ninth-best in the NL. SS Jonathan Villar, who is sliding over to second base this season, hit .285 with 19 home runs, but his biggest value came on the bases, collecting a MLB-best 62 steals, which helped him earn a 3.9 WAR. With the Red Sox last season, Shaw hit .242 with 16 home runs.

The pitching staff finished a bit better than league average with a 4.08 ERA, but the pitchers had the third-fewest strikeouts in the majors with 1,175, and the bullpen recorded an above-average 46 saves. SP Junior Guerra led the staff with a 2.81 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 121.2 innings. SP Jimmy Nelson led the team in strikeouts with 140 in 179.1 innings while posting a 4.62 ERA. SP Zach Davies had a 3.97 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 163.1 innings. RP Jeremy Jeffress recorded 27 saves with a 2.22 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 44.2 innings over 47 games. With the Pirates, Feliz struck out 61 batters in 53.2 innings to go along with a 3.52 ERA.

Going from Lucroy to Bandy, who hit .234 in limited playing time with the Angels last year, is a significant offensive downgrade at the catcher position, but putting Shaw in at third in place of Aaron Hill should provide the team with more power at the hot corner, but probably not enough to make up for Lucroy’s lost production. Braun is likely a key to how successful the offense will be in 2017. He had somewhat of a rebirth at the plate last season and the team needs him to repeat his performance this season to have any chance of a good offense in 2017, but it would hurt the team if Braun regresses toward the numbers he had been putting up in the 2013-2015 time frame because the team counts on him to be its leader at the plate.

The pitching staff lacks a true ace, with Guerra slotted into the No. 1 spot. He pitched well last year in his rookie season, so if he can pitch to a sub-3.00 ERA again in 2017 he could earn that “ace” label, but I need to see him do it again before believing it. Davies is going to have to see a significant improvement this season to solidify the No. 2 position in the rotation because posting a nearly-4.00 ERA doesn’t cut it in the NL. Veteran SP Matt Garza sits at the backend of the rotation, but don’t expect him to last there all season. He is coming off of two mediocre seasons and will likely wind up in the bullpen at some point, giving way to a another pitcher to get a chance to start — probably Chase Anderson, who made 30 starts last season but currently is listed sixth on the starting-pitching depth chart. Feliz is coming off of the two worst seasons of his career so he may not last the full season as the closer, but there’s no young prospect behind him in the bullpen waiting for the opportunity to replace him.

While the Cubs and Cardinals are at the top of the division, the Brewers will again be battling with the Reds to avoid finishing in the basement in the NL Central. They just don’t have enough talent to win enough games to be competitive. If they’re lucky, they may win 70-75 games, but that may even be a little on the high side of expectations.

Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. And be sure to subscribe, check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.brewers.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Cincinnati Reds

The next NL Central team up in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Cincinnati Reds, who finished in last place in the division last season.

The Reds, coming off a 68-win season, have finished in last place in the division each of the last two seasons, and are clearly in rebuilding mode. Last month, they traded veteran 2B Brandon Phillips to the Braves for a couple of minor leaguers and earlier in the winter traded SP Dan Straily to the Marlins. Their biggest acquisition this offseason was RP Drew Storen, who provides a veteran presence in the bullpen and could compete for the closer’s role, a position he has experience in from his time with the Nationals. Phillips’ departure leaves 1B Joey Votto as the only experienced position player in the starting lineup. Replacing Phillips at second is speedy Jose Peraza, with more speed in the outfield represented by Billy Hamilton. SP Anthony DeSclafani looked like he might be on track to lead the rotation — which also includes SP Scott Feldman, who the Reds signed to a one-year contract in January — but he has been shut down for a month with a torn UCL sprain, so he’ll be starting the season on the DL.

The Reds’ .256 batting average last season was just above the MLB average of .255, but they were in the bottom 10 with 164 home runs and a .724 OPS. Thanks to Peraza and Hamilton, the team ranked second in the majors with 139 steals. Votto’s .326 average led the team, and he hit 29 home runs for a .985 OPS. OF Adam Duvall hit 33 home runs, the most on the club, but hit just .241 with a .795 OPS. 3B Eugenio Suarez hit .248 with 21 home runs in his first full season in the majors. Peraza hit .324 and stole 21 bases in 72 games, while Hamilton swiped 58 bases, which was the second-most in the majors.

The team’s 4.91 ERA was tied for third-worst in the majors and the pitching staff’s 1,241 strikeouts were in the bottom half of the league. The bullpen recorded just 28 saves, which was the fewest in the National League and second-fewest overall in the majors. DeSclafani posted a 3.28 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 123.1 innings over the course of 20 starts. SP Brandon Finnegan put up a 3.98 ERA and struck out 145 batters in 172 innings in 31 starts. RP Tony Cingrani led the bullpen with 17 saves in 65 appearances. His 4.14 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 63 innings don’t stand out as part of a particularly successful season. In 37 games, RP Raisel Iglesias recorded 83 strikeouts in 78.1 innings with 6 saves and a 2.53 ERA. With the Blue Jays and Mariners, Storen pitched in 57 games last season with a career-worst 5.23 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 51.2 innings; he also added 3 saves to his career total.

Without adding any big-name hitters after trading away Phillips, the Reds are likely going to remain an average to below-average offense this season. You would expect Votto to exhibit power again this year, but Duvall likely won’t be able to repeat the 33-homer season he had a year ago. Having Peraza and Hamilton on the basepaths with their speed doesn’t benefit the Reds as much as it could other teams since they can’t capitalize on having the runners on base as much as they should. The pitching staff is mediocre for the most part, lacking both a proven ace and closer. The team has SP Homer Bailey waiting in the wings as he recovers from offseason elbow surgery, but he likely won’t be able to pitch until June at the earliest. Iglesias is probably the best option to close games, but he has virtually no experience in the role so it’s a gamble as to whether he would succeed as the closer. Storen has closing experience — he’s just a couple saves shy of 100 for his career — but he didn’t have a good year in 2016 and the Reds may not want him closing out games.

The Reds are likely still the worst team in the Central and playing in the same division as the World Series champion Cubs obviously won’t do them any favors. If their young players can develop into stars, the Reds could be good in a few years but for now they’re just a bad team that will finish another season well under .500.

Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. And be sure to subscribe, check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.reds.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Chicago Cubs

Our next NL Central team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Chicago Cubs, who  won the division last season en route to a World Series title

No matter what the Cubs do this year, it’ll pale in comparison to 2016 when the team finally ended its curse and won the World Series for the first time since 1908 after winning 103 games during the regular season. As they look to repeat as champs, the Cubs have the core of their team returning, including reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant at third base, 1B Anthony Rizzo and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist at second base. The team should get a boost with the return of OF Kyle Schwarber, who only had a few at-bats during the regular season but came up big in the World Series after returning from a season-long injury. SP Jon Lester leads the rotation that also includes SPs Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta. They added RP Wade Davis to the bullpen, acquiring him in a trade for OF Jorge Soler, to close out games. Their most significant losses on offense are OF Dexter Fowler, who signed with the Cardinals as a free agent, and C David Ross, who retired following the season.

Despite winning over 100 games last season, the Cubs offense was just average with a .256 batting average and their 199 home runs ranked 13th in Major League Baseball, but their .772 OPS was third-best in the majors. Bryant led the offense with a .292 average, 39 home runs and a .939 OPS. Bryant’s 7.7 WAR was best in the NL and placed him third in the majors. Rizzo also hit .292 to go along with 32 home runs and a .928 OPS; his 5.7 WAR ranked 10th in the NL. SS Addison Russell hit 21 home runs but had just a .238 average while Zobrist hit .272 with 18 home runs. OF Jason Heyward didn’t perform well in his first year with the team, hitting .230 with just 7 home runs, down from .293 and 13 homers in his final year with the Cardinals in 2015.

Pitching is where the Cubs excelled last season, with a MLB-leading 3.15 ERA and 1,441 strikeouts, which was the third-highest total in the league. The bullpen, however, had only 38 saves — fewer than six closers — putting them near the bottom of the league in that category. Lester had the best overall season on the staff, going 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 202.2 inning spread out over 32 starts. Hendricks, however, bested Lester with a 2.13 ERA in 30 starts. He threw 190 innings, striking out 170. In the follow-up to his 2015 Cy Young-winning season, Arrieta took a step backwards but still pitched well; he went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA and 190 strikeouts in 197.1 innings in 31 starts. RP Hector Rondon made 54 appearances, posting a 3.53 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 51 innings and earned 18 saves before giving way to trade acquisition Aroldis Chapman in the second half of the season. With the Royals last year, Davis pitched in 45 games, saving 27 of them. He put up a 1.87 ERA and had 47 strikeouts in 43.1 innings.

The Cubs look to have another dominant season, with 100 wins not out of the question once again. Adding Schwarber will boost the offense and add to the team’s home-run total while Davis provides a solid backend option in the bullpen with a track record of success as a closer. Hendricks can probably be expected to regress a bit as it would be hard to repeat his performance from last year. Lester’s ERA will probably go up some, as well, as he enters his 33-year-old season. But if the team can get some production from the back of the rotation, as they did out of SP John Lackey last year, the Cubs could have some of the best starting pitching in the majors.

The Cubs’ only real competition in the division is the Cardinals, who are clearly a step below the Cubs, who should cruise to another NL Central title. The question then becomes how far can they get in the postseason. While it won’t be easy to repeat as World Series champs, one thing seems certain: with the group of players the Cubs have — not to mention one of the game’s best managers in Joe Maddon — the team likely won’t be waiting another 108 years to bring the next title home to Wrigleyville.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.cubs.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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.

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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine