Tag Archives: postseason

MLB Weekly: Midseason analysis, All-Star Game preview

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Week Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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MLB Weekly: Judge powering the Yankees, Nats lose Eaton for the year

Looking Back

Young players have helped the Yankees to the best record in Major League Baseball while the Nationals’ biggest offseason acquisition is out for the season in this week’s MLB Weekly.

After finishing in fourth place in the AL East last season and missing the playoffs, the Yankees have the best record in the majors as we head into May. And they’re doing it differently than they did things when they were at the height of their dynasty in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Back then, they signed big-name free agents like Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens and, of course, Alex Rodriguez. Now, they’re doing it with home-grown talent from their minor-league system.

Leading the way is OF Aaron Judge, who wasn’t even guaranteed to have a job on the big-league roster until late in spring training. In 21 games, he’s hitting .301 with 10 home runs, which is tied for the most in the American League entering Sunday. Those 10 home runs, which include a two-homer game on Friday, also tie the rookie record for the month of April, matching the mark set by White Sox 1B Jose Abreu in 2014 and Rockies SS Trevor Story last year. At 6’7″ and close to 300 pounds, Judge obviously has power, as he has shown to date this season, but he is also hitting for average, which is somewhat surprising, after putting up a .278 average in his minor-league career.

Also performing well in the Yankees youth movement is SS Ronald Torreyes, who had been filling in for injured SS Didi Gregorius before he came off the DL this week, Torreyes is hitting .318 in 66 at-bats entering Sunday, but his six strikeouts without a walk shows a lack of patience at the plate that could be concerning.

The Yankees are winning despite being without C Gary Sanchez, who has been on the disabled list since April 8. He is expected to begin a rehab assignment soon and should rejoin the Yankees within the next couple of weeks, barring any setbacks. C Austin Romine has putting up decent numbers while filling in for Sanchez, hitting .300 with two home runs in 16 games on the season. But Sanchez will provide the team with an even bigger offensive boost when he returns, if he maintains close to the power he showed after coming up late in 2016, when he hit 20 home runs in 201 at-bats.

The Nationals have the best record in the National League entering Sunday, at 16-8, but the injury news isn’t looking as good for them as it is for the Yankees. OF Adam Eaton injured himself in Friday’s loss to the Mets while trying to beat out an infield single in the ninth inning. The injury didn’t look good as he had to be helped off the field, but the Nats’ worst fears were realized on Saturday with reports that Eaton suffered a torn ACL that will end his first season with the team, who traded for him in the offseason. The loss of Eaton will not only leave a hole in the lineup — he’s hitting .297 with two home runs and 13 RBI — but also in center field, where he is known for his strong defense. OFs Michael Taylor and Chris Heisey, whose offensive numbers pale in comparison to Eaton’s, will see increased playing time with Eaton done for the year, unless the Nationals make a trade to acquire another outfielder.

Eaton isn’t the only player to suffer a season-ending surgery this week. Diamondbacks SP Shelby Miller, who has been a disappointment since the team traded for him prior to the 2016 season, left his start last Sunday with tightness in his right forearm. He has since been diagnosed with a partially torn UCL and has chosen to undergo Tommy John surgery. With a typical recovery time of 12-18 months, he likely won’t be ready to return to action until at least the middle of the 2018 season.

Other notable players to be placed on the disabled list this week include Dodgers OF Joc Pederson, Red Sox 3B Pablo Sandoval, Mariners SP Felix Hernandez and OF Mitch Haniger, Nationals RP Koda Glover, Astros OF Teoscar Hernandez, Mets OF Yoenis Cespedes, and Angels SP Tyler Skaggs and 1B C.J. Cron.

The Week Ahead

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May begins with a series between the Orioles and Red Sox at Fenway starting Monday as they try not to fall too far behind the Yankees in the AL East. The Astros get their first series of the year with the Rangers, against whom they struggled last year, at home beginning Monday. The Blue Jays, who are in last place in the AL East, get a chance to make up some ground in the division as they visit the Yankees Monday through Wednesday. The Dodgers and Giants renew their rivalry Monday with three games in Los Angeles, and the Nationals host the Diamondbacks starting Tuesday as they continue their season without Eaton. In the latter half of the week, the Angels host the Astros in a series between the top two teams in the AL West. The Yankees make one of their rare trips to Wrigley Field for an interleague series with the Cubs starting Friday, and the Rockies start a home series with the Diamondbacks that day in what should be a series to determine first place in the NL West.

Some scheduled pitching performances to look forward to include Orioles SP Dylan Bundy, who’s been having a good season, taking on the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, Red Sox SP Rick Porcello to start the week on Monday. Also Monday, struggling Giants SP Johnny Cueto is slated to duel with Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw, who is putting up typical Kershaw-esque numbers. After the complete game gem Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka threw last week against the Red Sox, he’ll take the mound Tuesday against Blue Jays SP Mat Latos. It’ll be a battle of underperforming aces in Detroit on Tuesday with Indians SP Corey Kluber opposing Tigers SP Justin Verlander. A’s SP Sonny Gray is slated to make his season debut on Tuesday, taking on the Twins and SP Ervin Santana. Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman battles Yankees SP CC Sabathia on Wednesday, along with a matchup of former teammates in Atlanta with SP Jacob deGrom going for the Mets and SP Bartolo Colon pitching for the Braves. Coming off two straight strong starts, Rangers SP Yu Darvish is scheduled to pitch on Thursday, going against SP Joe Musgrove in the series finale against the Astros.

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MLB Weekly: Marte suspension, more injuries

Looking Back

The big story of the week in Major League Baseball was the surprising 80-game PED suspension to a Pirates star and an ace pitcher hitting the disabled list for the first time in his career.

The Pirates announced on Tuesday that OF Starling Marte received an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. Marte, who was named to the National League All-Star team in 2016, reportedly failed the drug test for the use of anabolic steroid nandrolone. He is currently eligible to return to the team on July 18, although that date could be pushed back if the Pirates have any postponed games before then.

Although Marte should be back sometime in July, the suspension could hurt the Pirates in October if they make it to the postseason because players who are suspended during the season for a PED violation are ineligible to play in that year’s postseason. That means one of the Pirates’ best offensive players — Marte hit .311 and stole 47 bases last season — would have to sit on the bench if the team makes it to the playoffs.

Losing Marte for half the year will make Pittsburgh’s path to the postseason even tougher. Joining OFs Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco in the outfield during Marte’s absence are expected to be the likes of OFs John Jaso, Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison — who can’t match the offensive production of Marte. The team already sits in last place in the NL Central, giving them a big hill to climb to make it to the playoffs.

Under MLB’s PED policy, a second positive test would result in a 162-game suspension while a third violation leads to a lifetime ban.

Marte tweeted on Wednesday this statement regarding his suspension

Elsewhere in MLB, the injuries keep piling up for teams around the majors. We told you during the week about SP Madison Bumgarner’s dirt-bike accident that could keep him out of action for a couple of months, though more recent news reports say he is not expected to need shoulder surgery, which is good news for the Giants, who currently sit in last place in the NL West.

The hits keep on coming for the Blue Jays, who hold the worst record in the majors. With 3B Josh Donaldson and SPs J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez already on the DL, the team can add SS Troy Tulowitzki to the list of injured starters. The five-time all-star went on the 10-day DL on Saturday, a day after leaving Friday’s game early with a right hamstring strain. He shouldn’t miss much more than the minimum time, given that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons acknowledged that the new 10-day DL was “definitely a factor” in making the move.

Also hitting the DL this week were Angels closer Cam Bedrosian (right groin strain), Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera (right groin strain), Mets 1B Lucas Duda (hyperextended left elbow) and IF Wilmer Flores (right knee infection), Red Sox OF Brock Holt (vertigo) and Dodgers 2B Logan Forsythe (fractured toe).

Taking a look at the standings, the Twins’ hot start didn’t last long, as they’re already below .500 with a 8-10 record and just 3-7 in their last 10 games. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, are continuing their quick start to the season, competing with the Rockies for the top spot in the NL West. After struggling somewhat out of the gate, the Cubs have risen to first place in the NL Central with a 10-8 record. Will they hold that spot for the rest of the season? The Nationals remain in first place in the NL East. Division leaders in the American League include the Orioles in the AL East, Indians and Tigers tied for first in the AL Central, and the Astros in the AL West — the first team in the majors to 13 wins this season.

The Week Ahead

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In series to look for, the Yankees and Red Sox face each other for the first time in 2017 this week, when the teams start a three-game series Tuesday at Fenway Park. American League playoff contenders have a three-game set when the Astros visit the Indians starting Tuesday. It’ll be a battle of division leaders in Denver when the Rockies host the Nationals Monday through Thursday. And a West Coast rivalry gets underway Monday with the Dodgers and Giants playing four games in San Francisco. The Red Sox get a highly anticipated interleague series starting Friday when the defending World Series champion Cubs come to town for three. The two teams that currently sit atop the NL West begin a series on Friday when the Diamondbacks host the Rockies, while NL East rivals do battle in the nation’s capital when the Mets take on the Nationals.

How about pitching performances of note coming up in the coming week? Reds SP Amir Garrett tries to continue his surprisingly strong start to the season on Monday when he opposes the Brewers and veteran SP Matt Garza. Nationals SP Joe Ross gets his second start of the year Monday in the high elevation of Denver against Rockies SP Tyler Anderson. Astros SP Dallas Keuchel takes the mound in Cleveland Tuesday when he hopes to continue his bounceback season, as he is 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA entering the game. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw gets the ball in San Francisco Tuesday night, opposing Giants SP Ty Blach, who takes Bumgarner’s spot in the rotation. White Sox SP Jose Quintana, who was expected to take over as the team’s ace following the offseason trade of Chris Sale, looks for a good performance against the Royals on Wednesday as he tries to get on track after starting the season 0-4 with a 6.17 ERA; SP Nathan Karns goes for Kansas City. Cubs SP Jon Lester looks to nail down his first win of the season Wednesday against Pirates SP Tyler Glasnow, while Orioles SP Dylan Bundy goes for his fourth win of the 2017 campaign at home against Rays SP Alex Cobb. Coming off his best start of the year, Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka duels with Sale on Wednesday as well. Braves SP Bartolo Colon is slated to face his former team on Thursday when he goes against the Mets and SP Matt Harvey.

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MLB Weekly: Struggling Blue Jays lose Donaldson to the DL

Looking Back

As the second week of the 2017 Major League Baseball season wraps up, this edition of our MLB Weekly column takes a look at a former MVP hitting the DL and teams that continue to surprise — positively or negatively.

The Blue Jays, who are coming off of two straight ALCS appearances, are already struggling this season with a 2-10 record after losing to the Orioles 11-4 on Sunday. Things got worse for the team this week when 3B Josh Donaldson, who won the 2015 American League MVP, was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sore right calf. There is no timetable for his return, but the team is hoping he won’t miss much more than the minimum time. While he’s out, light-hitting infielders Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins are expected to get the bulk of the time at third base, and OF Chris Coghlan was brought up from Triple-A Buffalo to take Donaldson’s roster spot.

In other injury news north of the border, the team placed SP Aaron Sanchez, who led the AL in ERA last season, on the 10-day DL with a blister, and SP J.A. Happ left Sunday’s start with left elbow soreness. Anytime a pitcher’s injury involves an elbow, you can be sure it’s likely to result in a DL stint.

Other notable players who were placed on the DL across the majors this week include Orioles closer Zach Britton, A’s SS Marcus Semien, Reds SP Brandon Finnegan, Rockies SP Jon Gray, Nationals SS Trea Turner (who could return to the team this week), Mariners SS Jean Segura and Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

Taking a look at how teams are doing early in the season, the Rockies lead the majors with nine wins on the season. Four teams currently have eight wins, including the Reds, who finished in last place in the NL Central last season with a 68-94 record. The Astros and Tigers both lead their divisions with 8-4 records, while the Orioles are atop the AL East at 8-3. There’s a tight race going on in the NL East early in the season, with the Marlins and Nationals tied at 7-5 and the Mets right behind them at 7-6.

The Cubs are among the teams who are so far not doing as well as people expected them to do; they are 6-6 and tied with the Pirates for third place in the NL Central. The team they beat in the World Series last year, the Indians, currently sit in the basement of the AL Central with a 5-7 record. The Rangers and Mariners — who finished first and second, respectively, in the AL West last season — each have just four wins so far and sit in fourth and fifth place, respectively. And the Blue Jays’ aforementioned 2-10 record is the worst in the majors, putting them in an early hole as they try to make the playoffs for a third straight season.

The Week Ahead

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The week gets off to an early start on Monday when the Red Sox host the Rays in the final game of their series for Boston’s annual 11am start on Patriots Day. The Indians look to get into the thick of the AL Central race when they start a four-game series at the Twins on Monday. The second-place Brewers get a chance to increase their lead on the Cubs when they start a three-game set at Wrigley that same day. The Dodgers host the Rockies for a quick two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday that could decide the early leader in the NL West. The Rangers visit the Royals for four games starting Thursday in a series involving teams struggling to meet the expectations people had for them in the preseason. The Indians have another divisional battle on the schedule next weekend when they visit the White Sox, while the Tigers and Twins start a series at Target Field on Friday. In other series involving divisional rivals that get underway Friday, the Reds host the Cubs, the Rockies host the Giants, the Diamondbacks host the Dodgers, and the Mets host the Nationals.

Looking ahead to some scheduled pitching performances of note, Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman looks to continue his strong start to the season when he opposes Red Sox SP Eduardo Rodriguez on Tuesday. Also that day, Mets SP Zack Wheeler looks to right the ship of what hasn’t been a good season so far when he takes on the Phillies for the second straight start, this time at Citi Field. Nationals SP Max Scherzer heads to Atlanta Tuesday to take on the Braves and SP Mike Foltynewicz. On Wednesday, Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks, who had a 2.13 ERA in 2016, gets a chance to improve upon his 5.73 ERA from his first two starts when he takes on the Brewers at Wrigley. Two struggling starters do battle in Toronto on Wednesday with Red Sox SP Rick Porcello, coming off his AL Cy Young-winning season, and Blue Jays SP Francisco Liriano taking the mound. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to get his next start Wednesday, opposing Rockies SP Tyler Anderson, while Red Sox SP Chris Sale and Blue Jays SP Marco Estrada, who are both coming off strong starts, are slated to face each other on Thursday.

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: San Francisco Giants

Finishing up the NL West, the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the San Francisco Giants, who finished in second place in the division last season

The Giants will look to pass the Dodgers and win the division this year after a quiet offseason in which their most significant move was signing RP Mark Melancon to a four-year deal, taking over the closer’s role from RP Santiago Casilla, who is now with the A’s. SP Madison Bumgarner, who is one of the best starting pitchers in the majors, continues to lead the pitching staff as he throws to C Buster Posey, himself one of the best in the game. OF Hunter Pence and 1B Brandon Belt also lead the offense as the team hopes to return to the playoffs to avenge last season’s LDS loss to the Cubs.

The Giants hit .258 last season, which put them near the middle of the pack among the 30 Major League Baseball teams. Their hitters didn’t show much power, as their 130 home runs were the third-fewest in the majors, and their .728 OPS ranked in the bottom half of the league. Pence led the team with a .289 average to go along with his 13 home runs and a .858 OPS. Posey finished the year with a .288 average, 13 home runs and a .796 OPS. Belt led the team with home runs, but he hit just 17; his average was .275 and his OPS was a team-high .868. SS Brandon Crawford set a career high with a .275 average, but his 12 home runs were nine fewer than he hit in 2015. He also hit a career-best 11 triples, which put him in a tie for the most in the majors.

The pitching staff ranked fourth in the majors with a 3.65 ERA, but the Giants’ pitchers were in the middle of the pack with 1,309 strikeouts. The bullpen recorded 43 saves, which matched the MLB average. Bumgarner, of course, led the staff with a 2.74 ERA and 251 strikeouts in 226.2 innings, putting him in the top 10 in the majors in all of those categories. His 34 starts tied him for the National League lead and was one behind the major-league leader. Bumgarner’s 5.0 WAR was the best of his career and was tied for the eighth-best among NL pitchers. SP Johnny Cueto’s numbers were right up there with Bumgarner’s. Cueto posted a 2.79 ERA with 198 strikeouts in 219.2 innings over 32 starts, and he put up an impressive 18-5 record. He posted a 5.6 WAR, which placed him in a tie for the second-best among pitchers in the NL and fourth among all pitchers. SP Matt Moore, who the Giants acquired in a midseason trade with the Rays, posted a 4.08 ERA for the season with 178 strikeouts in 198.1 innings. But perhaps most importantly, his 33 starts was the most of his career and it was the first season he stayed healthy since he made 27 starts in 2013. With the Pirates and Nationals last season, Melancon posted a 1.64 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 71.1 innings, and he saved 47 games in 51 chances.

The offense was a bit of a disappointment last season, and it likely won’t get much better this year since the team didn’t add any notable hitters this winter. One guy to watch to perhaps step up his game this season is 3B Eduardo Nunez, who hit 16 home runs in 141 games last season — just his second season of 100-plus games in his career — if he can get up to the 20 range in home runs, it would help the offense a bit. Otherwise, it seems like the team will again be relying on Cueto and the rest of the pitching staff to lead it through the season. The Giants have one of the best 1-2 punches at the top of the rotation of any team in baseball and Melancon gives them an upgraded option at closer. If the middle-of-the-rotation guys like Moore and Jeff Samardzija can give the team more than they’re expecting to get out of those guys, their pitching would be even more formidable.

The Giants won 87 games last season, which wasn’t enough to win the West as the Dodgers won 91. It’ll likely take another 90-win season to take the division this year, and I’m not sure the Giants quite have what it takes to get there. While the Giants have a good team — particularly pitching — I think the Dodgers are better overall and will again finish a few games ahead of the Giants, who should get another second-place finish in the division and have a good shot at landing a wild card.

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.sfgiants.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Los Angeles Dodgers

Continuing with the NL West, the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the division last season

The Dodgers have been the class of the NL West in recent years and are looking for a fifth straight season of 90-plus wins. They’ll be looking to achieve that with a new second baseman, having acquired 2B Logan Forsythe from the Rays in exchange for P Jose De Leon. They also re-signed SP Rich Hill, who they traded for in the middle of last season and sits in the middle of a rotation led by SP Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers re-signed RP Kenley Jansen to a new five-year deal that will keep him as the team’s closer for the foreseeable future. Forsythe joins an infield that includes SS Corey Seager, who is coming off a strong rookie season, and veteran 1B Adrian Gonzalez. OF Joc Pederson leads the offensive attack in the outfield, which also includes Yasiel Puig, who has not lived up to the hype when he first entered the league in 2013.

The Dodgers’ .249 average ranked as the ninth-lowest in Major League Baseball, but their 189 home runs put them near the middle of the pack. The team had a .728 OPS, which was in the bottom half of the majors. Seager’s .308 batting average was tops among the team’s starters, and his 26 home runs ranked second on the team. His OPS sat at .877 last season, and he posted an impressive 6.1 WAR — fifth-best in the National League — in his first full season in the majors. Seager ranked seventh in the NL in batting average and his 193 hits were second-most in the NL and sixth in MLB. 3B Justin Turner hit 27 home runs — tied with C Yasmani Grandal for the team lead — with a .275 average and .832 OPS. Pederson hit .246 with 25 home runs in 137 games, and Puig played in 104 games, due to injury and being sent down to the minors in August, with a .263 average and 11 home runs. Gonzalez hit .285, but had 18 home runs, which was a drop-off of 10 from 2015.

Pitching was what led the Dodgers last season, with a 3.70 ERA that ranked fifth in the majors. The pitching staff led all of baseball with 1,510 strikeouts, and the bullpen’s 47 saves were tied for eighth in the majors. Kershaw spent some time on the DL so only started 21 games, but posted an impressive 1.69 ERA in those games with 172 strikeouts in 149 innings. He also tied his career high with 3 shutouts, which was tied for the fifth-most in the majors. In his first season in the majors after coming over from Japan, SP Kenta Maeda put up a 3.48 ERA in 32 starts, with 179 strikeouts in 175.2 innings. He posted a 16-11 record, which tied him with several pitchers for the sixth-most wins in the majors. With the A’s and Dodgers last season, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA in an injury-shortened season — which has been a problem throughout his career — in which he made 20 starts. Jansen continued his streak as one of the game’s best closers, recording all 47 of the team’s saves (in 53 opportunities) while posting a 1.83 ERA and striking out 104 batters in 68.2 innings over 71 appearances.

The offense has a couple of young guys in Pederson and Seager who had breakout years in 2016, but there are also veterans like Gonzalez and OF Andre Ethier who are on the backsides of their careers and have declining production. Then there’s Puig, who has never hit more than 19 home runs in any of his four seasons in the majors and got on the team’s bad side last year, which led to his demotion, and he could see his playing time diminished this season if he doesn’t start to put up better numbers at the plate.

If Kershaw can stay healthy this season, he should be able to have a typically outstanding season, but there are question marks behind him in the rotation. Maeda pitched well last season and will be a viable No. 2 starter if he can repeat that performance this year, but then there are veterans like Hill and SPs Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir who have all spent a lot of time on the disabled list throughout their careers. An X-factor on the pitching staff could be Julio Urias, who posted a 3.39 ERA in limited time in the majors last season. The Dodgers took things very cautiously with him last year and will likely do the same this year with the 20-year-old, who is expected to pitch mainly out of the bullpen but fill-in as a starter as needed, and he likely will be needed with the injury history of some of the starters. When the team gets a lead to Jansen late in the game, he should be able to secure the victory most of the time while racking up the strikeouts.

The Rockies are probably going to be improved this season, but it’s still likely to be the Dodgers and Giants fighting it out for the top spot in the West. I think the Dodgers have the edge, especially if they can get a third starter to put up good numbers behind Kershaw and Maeda. I expect to see the Dodgers playing in the postseason again this year, even if it’s as a wild card if the Giants manage to pass them to win the division.

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.dodgers.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Kansas City Royals

The next AL Central team in our monthlong series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Kansas City Royals, who came in third place in the division last season.

A season after winning the World Series, the Royals took a step back last season, finishing third in the division with a .500 record. The biggest story of the offseason for the Royals is the death of SP Yordano Ventura, who was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic on Jan. 22.

Back on the field, the team made a number of trades this offseason, but many of them were minor. The one that should have the biggest impact on the team was trading RP Wade Davis to the Cubs in exchange for OF Jorge Soler. Another trade acquisition who should be on the major-league roster at the start of the season is SP Nathan Karns, who came over from the Mariners in exchange for OF Jarrod Dyson. The team also signed DH Brandon Moss and SP Jason Hammel in free agency. They will likely slide into the roles vacated by DH Kendrys Morales and SP Edinson Volquez, who both left in free agency. Overall, none of the players they added or lost this offseason should have a major impact on the Royals in 2017. The Royals got a scare when C Salvador Perez was involved in a home-plate collision in the World Baseball Classic — with backup C Drew Butera — but it appears he escaped significant injury and should be ready for Opening Day.

The Royals finished in the top 10 in Major League Baseball with a .261 batting average, but their 147 home runs were the fourth-fewest in the majors and the fewest in the American League — and 30 of those home runs left the team when Morales signed with the Blue Jays. The squad’s .712 OPS also ranked as the fifth-lowest in MLB. 1B Eric Hosmer hit .266 with 25 home runs and a .761 OPS, while Perez hit .247 with 22 home runs and a .725 OPS. OF Alex Gordon added 17 home runs in 128 games and rookie 2B Whit Merrifield hit .283 in 81 games after being called up from the minors. OFs Lorenzo Cain and Paulo Orlando also hit for a decent averages — .287 and .302, respectively. With the Cubs, Soler hit .238 with 12 home runs in just 86 games, and Moss hit 28 home runs, but just a .225 average, in 128 games with the Cardinals.

The pitching staff posted a 4.21 ERA, which ranked in the bottom half of the majors, as did their 1,287 strikeouts. The team finished with 41 saves — two fewer than the MLB average — 27 of which were recorded by Davis. SP Ian Kennedy posted a 3.68 ERA with 184 strikeouts in 195.2 innings and SP Danny Duffy struck out 188 batters in 179.2 innings to go along with his 3.51 ERA. With the Cubs, Hammel started 30 games, posting a 3.83 ERA with 144 strikeouts in 166.2 innings. Karns started 15 of his 22 games with the Mariners last season but put up a disappointing 5.15 ERA — significantly below his 3.67 ERA from 2015 — but struck out 101 in 94.1 innings. In the bullpen, RP Kelvin Herrera — who is expected to take over the closer’s role this year with Davis in Chicago — went 12-for-15 in save chances with a 2.75 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 72 innings.

Perez escaping an injury in that collision with Butera is important for the Royals because he is an even bigger part of the team’s offense this season with Morales gone. While Moss has power to make up for some of Morales’ lost home runs, he does not hit for a high average and is a feast-or-famine type of guy. Soler will need to step things up this year to help out the offense after a regression in nearly 25 points of batting average from 2015 to 2016. One guy who will help improve the offense is 3B Mike Moustakas, whose season finished in May when he suffered an ACL tear that required season-ending surgery. If he can come back and produce numbers similar to 2015 — when he hit .284 with 22 home runs — he will settle nicely into the middle of the lineup.

There are definite questions about the quality of the starting rotation with Duffy expected to serve as the No. 1 with Kennedy behind him. Those pitchers are more middle-of-the-rotation guys so the Royals having to rely on them as their top starters doesn’t bode well for the season. Herrera should have the stuff to do well in his first full season as a closer, but the question is how often he will have a lead given to him to be able to close out games.

The Royals are a long way away from the team that won the World Series two years ago and are likely still around a .500 team like they were last year. The offense shouldn’t be bad, but the starting pitching will be the team’s downfall without a true ace on the staff. They’re still probably the third-best team in the division behind the Indians and Tigers and will miss the playoffs for a second straight season.

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.royals.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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