Tag Archives: NLCS

Astros beat the Dodgers in Game 7, win first World Series title in franchise history

The matchup of the Astros and Dodgers in this year’s World Series guaranteed, for the second straight year, a team with a long championship drought would win the title — the Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Astros have yet to win a Fall Classic since entering Major League Baseball in 1962. With both teams winning more than 100 games this season — the first such World Series matchup since 1970 — it was set up to be a competitive series, and that proved to be the case. Ultimately, the ‘Astros won their first title in a series that went the full seven games.

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Photo credit: @JuliaMorales

The Dodgers struck first, winning the battle of the aces at Dodger Stadium in Game 1 as SP Clayton Kershaw outdueled Astros SP Dallas Keuchel, helping the home team win the game 3-1, as he and RPs Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen held the Astros to three hits. Kershaw struck out 11 batters in his winning effort. OF Chris Taylor and 3B Justin Turner provided the offense for the Dodgers, hitting a solo home run and two-run homer, respectively. A solo shot from 3B Alex Bregman accounted for the Astros’ run.

Game 2 looked like it was going to go the Dodgers’ way as well when they held a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, getting the best of Astros trade-deadline acquisition Justin Verlander, who allowed three runs in six innings. When Morrow gave up a lead-off double to Bregman to start the inning, manager Dave Roberts brought in Jansen for what he hoped would be a six-out save. Jansen struggled, however, allowing the inherited runner to score, which made it a 3-2 game. The Dodgers went down quietly in the bottom of the inning, giving Jansen just the one-run lead to protect in the ninth. That lead didn’t last long as OF Marwin Gonzalez hit a game-tying solo home run to begin the inning.

That was the only run the Astros scored in the inning, and closer Ken Giles held the Dodgers hitless in the bottom of the ninth, so the game went to extra innings. The Astros got the scoring started in the 10th with back-to-back solo home runs by 2B Jose Altuve and SS Carlos Correa off of RP Josh Fields. After a double by 1B Yuli Gurriel, Roberts brought in RP Tony Cingrani, who got C Brian McCann to fly out and ended the inning when OF Josh Reddick grounded into a double play following an intentional walk to Gonzalez. Giles stayed in the game to pitch the 10th, but he immediately allowed the lead to be cut in half when OF Yasiel Puig hit a lead-off home run. After back-to-back strikeouts, Giles walked 2B Logan Forsythe, who made it to second base on a wild pitch and scored the tying run on a single by OF Kike Hernandez. RP Chris Devenski relieved Giles and got Taylor to fly out to bring the game to the 11th inning.

RP Brandon McCarthy came into the game for the Dodgers and after a single by OF Cameron Maybin gave up a two-run homer to OF George Springer that gave the Astros another two-run lead, 7-5.

McCarthy didn’t allow any further runs to score, leaving his team down two heading into the bottom of the inning. Devenski got SS Corey Seager and Turner to line out, then OF Charlie Culberson hit a solo shot that made it a 7-6 game. Devenski struck out Puig to end the inning, and 4 hours, 19 minutes after first pitch the Astros finally won the game, picking up the first World Series victory in franchise history.

The series shifted to Houston’s Minute Maid Park for Game 3, which was filled with significantly less drama than the previous game. The Dodgers started a trade acquisition of their own with SP Yu Darvish, and the Astros jumped on him early. He lasted just 1.2 innings — the shortest outing of his MLB career — and allowed four runs on six hits.

The four-run second inning was enough offensive support for Astros SP Lance McCullers Jr., who gave up three runs in 5.1 innings of work, but they tacked on a fifth run in the fifth inning. After McCullers departed, RP Brad Peacock pitched the remaining 3.2 innings, striking out four and not allowing a hit, to finish out the game and earn the save. That was the Astros’ first-ever home World Series win, and the 2-1 series lead was also the first time the team held a series lead in the World Series.

Game 4 featured a pitchers duel between SPs Alex Wood and Charlie Morton, who each gave up just one run in 5.2 and 6.1 innings, respectively. That 1-1 score held until the ninth inning, when the Dodgers put up a five-spot — three runs charged to RP Ken Giles, who didn’t record an out,  and the other to tagged to RP Joe Musgrove — highlighted by an RBI double by likely NL Rookie of the Year OF Cody Bellinger that broke the tie and a three-run home run off the bat of OF Joc Pederson that made it 6-1, which was more than enough of a cushion for Jansen, who gave up a solo home run to Bregman to make it a 6-2 final.

And then there was Game 5, which many called one of the best World Series games they’ve ever seen. Featuring the same pitching matchup as Game 1, the final game of 2017 in Houston turned into an offensive explosion. The Dodgers scored three runs in the first inning and another in the fourth, staking Kershaw to a 4-0 lead that he promptly gave up in the bottom of the fourth, with Gurriel doing the bulk of the damage, tying the game at 4 with a three-run home run, the first of what would be a World Series single-game record eight home runs in what ended up being a 10-inning game that ended up in a 13-12 victory for the Astros, who came back from two separate three-run deficits and lost a three-run lead of their own, with Devenski giving up three runs in the ninth inning to force extra innings. Musgrove held the Dodgers scoreless in the top of the 10th. After recording the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, Jansen hit McCann on the arm, then walked Springer to put the winning run in scoring position. Derek Fisher was brought into the game to pinch-run for McCann and ended up scoring on a line drive to left field by Bregman to give the Astros the victory in what ended up being the second-longest World Series game in history at 5 hours, 17 minutes.

There was way too much offense to try to summarize it so here’s a summary of it, followed by the box score

Winning that marathon gave the Astros a 3-2 lead, leaving them one win shy of their first championship in franchise history. But they would have to win another game in Los Angeles to get it.

In a fairly non-descript Game 6 in which Verlander gave up two runs and struck out nine batters in six innings but got the loss as the Astros only managed to score one run in a 3-1 loss that tied the series at 3-3 and forced a deciding Game 7 in Los Angeles.

The final game of the series featured the same pitching matchup as Game 3 with McCullers going for the Astros and Darvish for the Dodgers, and the result was even worse for Darvish this time. He lasted just 1.2 innings for the second time in the series and gave up two runs in the first inning, followed by a McCullers RBI groundout and a two-run home run off the bat of Springer in the second inning, putting the Dodgers in a 5-0 hole early.

After Morrow got the final out of the second, Kershaw came in and threw four scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out four with two intentional walks. On the other side of the docket, McCullers was also wild, lasting just 2.1 innings. He allowed three hits and didn’t walk anyone but did hit four batters, including Turner twice. Peacock relieved him, going two scoreless innings with one hit allowed, one walk and two strikeouts.

After Peacock, Francisco LIriano and Devenski each recorded one out before getting the ball to Morton, who pitched the final four innings, allowing one run — a pinch-hit RBI single by Andre Ethier — on two hits with four strikeouts and a walk, earning the win in the Astros’ 5-1 victory, giving them their first championship in franchise history, and the first World Series for a Texas team.

Unsurprisingly, Springer earned World Series MVP honors. He had 5 home runs — tying Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley for the most in a single Fall Classic —  and 29 total bases, a new World Series record. He also became the first player to homer in four straight games in a single World Series. And he did all of that in the last six games of the series because he was 0-4 with four strikeouts in Game 1. Fitting that he was named the MVP because he was on the cover of the now-famous 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated that declared the Astros the 2017 World Series champs.

So a year after the Cubs won their first title in 108 years, the Astros win the first in their 50-plus-year history as a franchise.

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World Series preview: Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers — Another title drought ends

For the second straight season, we have a World Series consisting of two teams who have not won a championship in decades, with one team that has never won the Fall Classic. The Houston Astros, who are representing the American League after shutting out the New York Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 of the ALCS, have never won the World Series since entering the league in 1962 (as the Colts .45’s). This is just their second World Series appearance, having been swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005. On the National League side the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing in their 20th World Series, but it’s their first since 1988 when they won their sixth title. They advanced to the World Series with a 11-1 win over the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS.

Both teams finished the regular season with two of the three best records in MLB during the regular season. The Astros won 101 games, which was the third-highest total in the league, three behind the Dodgers’ MLB-best 104 wins. This is the first time since 1970 (and eighth time overall) that two teams that won more than 100 games during the season are meeting in the World Series. For the first time, the team with the better record has home-field advantage, giving the Dodgers Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home. If the old rule — the winning league in the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage — was still in effect, the Astros would have home-field thanks to the AL’s win in July.

Games 1 and 2 are at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday with first pitch scheduled for 8:09pm. After a travel day Thursday, the series moves to Minute Maid Park in Houston for Games 3-5 set for Friday through Sunday. First pitch for Games 3 and 4 is at 8:09pm, with Game 5 (if necessary) set to begin at 8:16pm. If the series goes beyond five games, Games 6 and 7 are back in Los Angeles on October 31 and November 1, respectively. First pitch of Game 6 would be 8:09pm with Game 7 getting underway at 8:10pm, if it’s played. All games are on Fox in the U.S., and all times are Eastern.

How did they get here?

After winning the AL West by 21 games, the Astros began their postseason run by beating the AL East champion Boston Red Sox, 3-1, in an ALDS before beating the East’s second-best team, the Yankees, in an ALCS that went the distance, with the home team winning all seven games. The Dodgers ended the regular season as NL West champions, winning the division by 11 games, then swept the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-game NLDS. They then beat the defending World Series champion Cubs, 4-1, in a NLCS that was a rematch of last year’s series. Through their first two series of the postseason, the Dodgers have played just one game over the minimum.

Pitching

Some of the game’s best pitchers are in this series, with two of them scheduled to kick off the series on Tuesday. The Astros send 14-game winner Dallas Keuchel to the mound in Game 1 to face potential NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who went 18-4 during the season. Game 2’s pitching matchup has Justin Verlander — who has been stellar since the Astros acquired him from the Detroit Tigers on August 31 — going up against Rich Hill for the Dodgers. The teams haven’t announced their starters yet beyond that, but the Astros are expected to go with Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. for their other two starters, with the Dodgers expected to use Yu Darvish, who they acquired at the July 31 trade deadline, and Alex Wood.

I give the Astros a slight advantage in starting pitching. Kershaw may be the best pitcher of the bunch — though Verlander’s 9-0 record and 1.23 ERA (including the postseason) since joining the Astros may have something to say about that — but I think the Astros have the better rottion overall. Verlander and Keuchel are a strong 1-2 at the top and the way McCullers pitched in the ALCS makes it seem like he’s healthy and has his stuff back, making him a better No. 3 in my mind than what the Dodgers have. Morton could be an X-factor. If he can have another start like he had in Game 7 against the Yankees, he would be a solid No. 4 for the Astros.

There’s no question the Dodgers have the advantage in the bullpen. During the season, they had the fourth-best ERA in the majors at 3.38, while the Astros ranked 17th with a 4.27 ERA. The difference is even more distinct in the postseason, with the Dodgers bullpen leading the pack with a 0.94 ERA. The Astros’ 5.03 ERA out of the bullpen ranks seventh out of the 10 postseason teams. Having RP Kenley Jansen in the closer role at the end of the game should give the Dodgers more confidence he’ll be able to close out games than the Astros have in their closer, RP Ken Giles.

Offense

The Astros had the best offense in the majors during the regular season. Among the offensive categories in which they led MLB were hits (1,581), doubles (346), RBI (854), average (.282), OBP (.346), slugging percentage (.478), OPS (.823), OPS+ (127) and strikeouts (1,087). They were also second to the Yankees in home runs. 2B Jose Altuve, who I think should win the AL MVP award, led the majors in hits for the fourth straight year and batting average for the third straight season. He also had 24 home runs, which tied his career high. Overall, the Astros had 11 players with double-digit home runs. OF George Springer led the team with 34, and SS Carlos Correa and utilityman Marwin Gonzalez — who led the team with 90 RBI — also had more than 20 home runs. The offense did go through a bit of a slump in the ALCS, including OF Josh Reddick going hitless until Game 7, but they scored 11 runs in the final two games of the season and it appears as though they are back to how they were during the regular season. In 11 games this postseason, the Astros are hitting .247 with 12 home runs.

The Dodgers didn’t have nearly as potent of an offense during the regular season, finishing outside of the top 10 in home runs and in the bottom third of the majors with a .249 average. Rookie 1B Cody Bellinger led them with 39 home runs, with OF Yasiel Puig behind him at 28. Their power was more top-heavy, with eight guys hitting at least 10 home runs and six of them at 21 or more. 3B Justin Turner led the team with a .322 average and 1B Chris Taylor was at .288 during the season; Turner and Taylor each hit 21 regular-season home runs. In the postseason, the Dodgers are hitting .273 with 13 home runs in eight games.

Now that it appears the Astros are out of their slump they were in at the start of the ALCS, I think they have the offensive advantage.

Defense

Although the Astros made some nice plays in the ALCS, the Dodgers are a better defensive team statistically. During the regular season, the Dodgers made 88 errors compared to 99 for the Astros. In the postseason, the Dodgers’ two errors are half of the four committed by the Astros.

Managers

A.J. Hinch, the 2015 AL Manager of the Year, is in his third season managing the Astros and fifth season overall as a manager. The 2016 NL Manager of the Year Dave Roberts is in his third season as a major-league manager, second with the Dodgers. Both are managing in their first World Series.

Prediction

I expect this to be a close series. One concern for the Dodgers is SS Corey Seager, who was left off of the NLCS roster as he dealt with a back injury. He is expected to be on the World Series roster and ready to play in Game 1 on Tuesday, but you have to wonder if he is at full health. I think the Astros have the advantage in starting pitching — assuming McCullers can pitch as well as he did in the ALCS — and on offense, where there’s no easy spot in the lineup for opposing pitchers to face. I’m going against the “pitching beats offense in the postseason” adage and the Dodgers having home-field advantage, but I think the Astros offense will be able to put runs on the board against Dodger pitching and will fulfill the prophecy predicted by Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter in 2014.

Astros in seven.

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LCS Predictions: Yankees-Astros and Cubs-Dodgers

With the division series in the books, we’re down to the final four teams in Major League Baseball’s postseason, with the Astros and Yankees battling for the American League crown and the Dodgers and Cubs in the National League as the Cubs look to continue their quest to repeat as World Series champs.

American League Championship Series

The Astros didn’t have much trouble taking care of the Red Sox in the ALDS and the Yankees went the distance, upsetting the Indians in five games. I think the Astros will take a 2-0 lead at home coming off what I expect to be strong starts from SPs Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 2, respectively, of the ALCS. The Astros offense, which led the majors in most offensive categories, should be able to score against the Yankees rotation. The Yankees’ biggest advantage is the bullpen, but the Yankees may be playing from behind in most games, which would negate that advantage. OF Aaron Judge — who struck out more times in the five games of the ALDS than Tony Gwynn did in the entire 1995 season, 16 to 15 — should be able to do better against the Astros because, aside of Verlander, they don’t have the same type of strikeout pitchers that the Indians do. That said, I think the Astros win the series behind their top two starting pitchers with potential AL MVP 2B Jose Altuve, SS Carlos Correa and OF George Springer leading the way offensively.

Astros win in six games.

National League Championship Series

Like the Yankees, the Cubs needed to play all five games to beat the Nationals in the NLDS, and they needed some bad baseball by Washington to help them. The Dodgers, on the other hand, dispatched of the Diamondbacks in a three-game sweep. The Dodgers went on a lengthy losing streak in September but they seem to be back on track after that. Despite getting the win, Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw’s postseason struggles continued in Game 1 of the NLDS, giving up four earned runs. But he’ll be on seven days rest when he takes the mound against the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLCS. Neither the Cubs offense — 3B Kris Bryant and 1B Anthony Rizzo each hit .200 in the series — nor the bullpen did well against the Nationals, and they won’t have much of a chance against the Dodgers if those struggles continue. The Dodgers are the better team right now, and I think that will lead them to their first World Series appearance since winning it in 1988.

Dodgers win in six games.

If the Astros-Dodgers World Series comes to pass, that means one team will win the championship for the first time in a long time; the Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Astros have never won a World Series title.

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MLB Postseason Preview: 2017 Predictions

Now that the Wild Card games are over and the division series are set, time to predict what’s going to happen in the rest of the postseason.

American League
Division Series
Astros beat Red Sox in 4 games
Indians beat Yankees in 4 games

Championship Series
Indians beat Astros in 7 games

National League
Division Series
Nationals beat Cubs in 4 games
Diamondbacks beat Dodgers in 5 games

Championship Series
Nationals beat Diamondbacks in 6 games

World Series

nationals

beat

indians

in 6 games.

I’m 2-0 after the Wild Card games, let’s see how I do with the rest of my picks.

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MLB Weekly: One more week

Teams are making a final playoff push as the last week of the regular season begins in this week’s MLB Weekly.

Next Sunday, October 1, is the final day of the MLB regular season, which means teams in the playoff picture have just a week left to either qualify for the postseason or improve their playoff seeding.

All but one of the playoff spots have been clinched in the American League, with just one Wild Card spot up for grabs. But playoff seeding is still left to be decided among the Indians, Astros, Red Sox and Yankees, who are the four teams who have guaranteed their spots in October baseball. The Indians and Astros have clinched the Central and West, respectively, but they are fighting for the top seed in the American League, which would guarantee home-field advantage in the ALDS, ALCS and possibly World Series. The Indians currently lead the Astros by 1.5 games for the best record in the AL.

The Red Sox currently lead the AL East, but the Yankees still mathematically have a slight chance to pass them in the division, sitting four games back entering Sunday. The Twins are in possession of the league’s second Wild Card and are 4.5 games ahead of the Rangers, Royals and Angels, who have slipped in the standings after losing six in a row. In both cases, that kind of lead is hard to make up with fewer than 10 games remaining on the schedule. The Rays and Mariners are also technically still alive but need a lot to go right for them to make it to the postseason.

AL standings

In the National League, there is more uncertainty. The Nationals and Dodgers have locked up the East and West, respectively, but the Central and the two Wild Cards still haven’t been clinched. The Cubs, who have won eight of their last 10 games, lead the Brewers by 4.5 games and appear to be headed to their second straight division title on the way to defending their World Series championship. The Brewers are more likely to make the postseason as a Wild Card rather than a division winner. They are one game out of landing one of the NL’s two Wild Card spots that are currently held by the Diamondbacks and Rockies. The Cardinals are also part of the four-team race for the NL Wild Cards, just 1.5 games behind the Rockies. Every other team in the National League has been mathematically eliminated from contention.

As far as the seeding goes, the Dodgers still hold the best record in the NL despite being just 7-16 in the month of September. They are 4.5 games better than the Nationals and, barring another extended losing streak like they had earlier this month, should be able to hold on to the No. 1 seed in the National League playoffs.

NL standings

The coming week is critical to teams like the Brewers and Cardinals still hoping to make it to October. In the National League, the Cardinals host the Cubs for a four-game series starting Monday that could give St. Louis a chance at closing the gap in the division race if they can win at least three games, and that would also help them stay alive in the Wild Card race. The Brewers have Monday off before playing three games at home against the Reds from Tuesday to Thursday. The Diamondbacks and Rockies begin the week hosting the Giants and Marlins, respectively, Monday through Wednesday before getting their final off-day on Thursday. Then for the final weekend of the season, the Brewers and Cardinals play each other in St. Louis, while the Rockies host the Dodgers — who likely will have the top seed wrapped up and may be resting some of their stars — and the Diamondbacks visit the Royals.

Probable pitchers are more in flux during the last week of the season than usual, depending on how all the playoff positioning works out as the week progresses, but here’s how it currently looks. The Diamondbacks have their three best starters slated to go against the Giants, with SPs Zack Godley, Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke set to take the mound on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They likely could have the first Wild Card wrapped up by the time the series with Kansas City gets underway. The Rockies are set to have SPs Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray go against the Marlins, with SPs Chad Bettis and German Marquez currently scheduled to face the Dodgers. For the Brewers, SPs Zack Davies, Brandon Woodruff and Brent Suter are scheduled to start in the Reds series, with SPs Chase Anderson and Aaron Wilkerson penciled in for the Cardinals series. The Cardinals have SP Luke Weaver scheduled to begin the all-important Cubs series on Monday, followed by SPs Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn. SP John Gant is currently slated to begin the Brewers series, with Weaver then set for a second start in the seven-game week for the team.

The schedule for the American League contenders sees the Red Sox hosting the Blue Jays Monday through Wednesday, then the Astros come to Boston for the final four games of the regular season. Interestingly, those two teams could also play each other in one of the two American League Division Series. Before the Red Sox series, the Astros are on the road against the Rangers for three games starting Monday. After an off-day Monday, the Indians have six home games — three against the Twins and another three against the White Sox. After visiting the Indians, the Twins host the Tigers for their final series of the regular season. And the Yankees have a makeup game against the Royals in the Bronx on Monday, followed by three-game series against the Rays and Blue Jays at home as they look to overtake the Red Sox in the division.

The Red Sox have a mixed bag of starters set to go this week, starting the week with SPs Drew Pomeranz, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello scheduled to face the Blue Jays and SPs Eduardo Rodriguez, Doug Fister and Pomeranz again set to go against the Astros. Indians SPs Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer are on tap to face the Twins with SPs Carlos Carrasco and Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber penciled in for the White Sox series, but if the Indians have the top seed locked up by then don’t be surprised to see that change. The Astros have set up their rotation to avoid having aces Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander pitch at Fenway Park, so they’ll take the mound against the Rangers, along with SP Collin McHugh, who’s slated to get a second start in Boston along with SPs Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock. The Twins have SPs Bartolo Colon, Adalberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson facing the Indians, with SPs Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios set to go against the Tigers. As the Yankees look to catch the Red Sox, they’ll send SPs CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray to the mound against the Rays, with SPs Jaime Garcia and, potentially, Sabathia facing the Blue Jays.

With all of that in mind, I don’t think the Brewers or Cardinals will be able to sneak into the playoffs and all of the teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today will actually make the postseason when the season does end in a week.

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Giants place Bumgarner on DL, could miss 6-8 weeks

The Giants are off to a disappointing start in 2017, with a 6-10 record that puts them four games out of first place in the NL West entering Friday’s action. A roster move the team made on Friday may put the Giants in an even bigger hole over the next couple of months.

The team placed SP Madison Bumgarner on the disabled list. While there is currently no timetable for his return and he will be re-evaluated next week, initial reports say Bumgarner is expected to be out for six to eight weeks. It is the first time since Bumgarner entered the league in 2009 that he has been placed on the DL. The 2014 NLCS and World Series MVP suffered bruised ribs and a sprain of his throwing shoulder on the team’s off-day Thursday when he had an accident while riding his dirt bike.

Bumgarner is 0-3 in his four starts this season, but he has only received 4 runs of support from the Giants’ offense. He has put up good numbers other than the record, which is out of his control and relies on help from his teammates to get wins. Bumgarner has a 3.00 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with 28 strikeouts over 27 innings.

SP Ty Blach, who made two starts for the Giants in 2016, will take Bumgarner’s spot in the rotation, getting his first start of the season on Tuesday at home against the Dodgers. In six appearances out of the bullpen this year, Blach has posted a 5.79 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with just 1 strikeout in 4.2 innings.

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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

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