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The 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame class: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez

Due to a rule change several years ago, a player only has 10 years on the writers’ ballot to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame before having to wait to potentially get inducted by the veterans’ committee. Since this was LF Tim Raines’ final year on the ballot, it was a make-or-break election for him. With 86% of the 442 ballots cast — well over the 75% needed — Raines was finally elected in the Hall of Fame this year with 380 votes. Also voted in by the writers this week are 1B Jeff Bagwell — who led all candidates with 86.2% of the vote, with his 381 votes edging Raines by one — and C Ivan Rodriguez, who netted 76% (336 votes) in his first year of eligibility. P Trevor Hoffman and RF Vladimir Guerrero fell just short of election, with 74% and 71.7% respectively. With those numbers, both are virtual locks to be elected in 2018. For comparison, Bagwell garnered 71.6% of the vote last year before vaulting up nearly 15% this year and Raines had 69.8% in 2016.

Jeff Bagwell spent his entire 15-year MLB career with the Astros after being traded to Houston in 1990 (for veteran P Larry Andersen) as a minor-leaguer while he was in the Red Sox organization. He earned National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1991 with a .294 batting average, 15 home runs and 82 RBI in 156 games. That marked the lowest full-season home-run total of his career as his power numbers increased throughout his time in the league, peaking at a career-high 47 home runs in 2000. He was voted NL MVP in the strike-shortened 1994 season, when he hit a career-best .368 with 39 home runs and a career-high 116 RBI in 400 at-bats over 110 games. His 116 RBI and 104 runs scored both led the National League that season. He was named to the NL All-Star team in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1999. Although he continued to put up decent home-run totals, his batting average started to decrease starting in 2001 as he started dealing with an arthritic right shoulder that eventually ended his career following the 2005 season.

Bagwell wasn’t just a power hitter — he could also steal bases, entering the 30-30 club in ’97, when he swiped a career-high 31 bases, and ’99. With 43 and 42 home runs, respectively, those years he actually was in even more rarified air in the 40-30 club. When his career ended, he had a .297 average and set Astros records with 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI in 2,150 regular-season games. He also had 202 steals and 1,401 walks by the time he called it a career. Before he hung up the cleats for good, though, he finally got to play in a World Series, playing in all four games of the Fall Classic when the White Sox swept the Astros.

Other honors Bagwell received during his career include a Gold Glove in ’94 and Silver Slugger awards in ’94, ’97 and ’99.

Tim Raines is most often associated with the Expos, with whom he spent the first 12 seasons of his career. He later spent five seasons with the White Sox, three with the Yankees and one in Oakland. After taking a year off in 2000, he returned in 2001, spending time with the Expos and Orioles (for four games) before joining the Marlins for his final season in 2002. He is known as a base-stealer, and for good reason; he is the most successful base-stealer — by percentage — in MLB history (min. 400 steals). He didn’t waste any time showing off his speed, notching 71 steals in his first full season of 1981, being caught just 11 times. He led the National League in steals for four straight seasons, from 1981-84, with a career-high 90 steals in 1983. He made the NL All-Star team in each of his first seven full seasons from 1981-87. His best offensive season came in 1986 when he led the NL with a .334 average and .413 OBP. The height of his power came the following year, when he swatted 18 home runs.

Raines earned a World Series ring in 1996, when he was part of the Yankees team that swept the Braves in the Fall Classic, the only time in his career that Raines made it to the World Series. He won a Silver Slugger award in 1986.

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is a rare catcher who excelled both at the plate and behind the plate. Rodriguez spent most of his 21-year career with the Rangers, also playing for the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros and Nationals for various lengths of time. Of the 2,543 games he played in his career, 2,427 were as a catcher — the most games behind the plate of any player in major-league history. His 14 all-star selections (1992-2001, 2004-07) and 13 Gold Gloves (1992-2001, 2004, 2006-07) also are the most all-time for the position.

Rodriguez was voted American League MVP in 1999, the best offensive season of his career when he hit .332 with 35 home runs, drove in 113 RBI and stole 25 bases. His 199 hits fell just shy of the 200-hit milestone. Defensively that season, he threw out 55% of potential base-stealers — that number topped the majors, one of nine seasons in which he led the majors in caught-stealing percentage. His best season in that category came in 2001, when he threw out 60% of runners who tried to steal a base against him. Back to the offense, he finished his career with 2,844 hits, which is the most in history for a major-leaguer who played at least 50% of his games as a catcher. HIs career batting average is .296, with 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI. He also stole 127 bases, which puts him near the top of the career list among catchers.

Rodriguez played in two World Series — winning it in 2003, his only season with the Marlins when they beat the Yankees in six games, and making it there again in 2006 with the Tigers, who lost to the Cardinals in five games. In addition to his MVP and 13 Gold Glove awards, Pudge won seven Silver Slugger awards (1994-99, 2004).

Also being inducted this year, who were voted in by the Today’s Game Era committee, are former team executive John Schuerholz and former commissioner and Brewers owner Bud Selig.

Percentages for other notable players on this year’s ballot include: DH Edgar Martinez, 58.6%; P Roger Clemens, 54.1%; LF Barry Bonds, 53.8%; P Mike Mussina, 51.8%; P Curt Schilling, 45.0%; OF Manny Ramirez, 23.8%

Players set to appear on the ballot for the first time in 2017 include P Chris Carpenter, OF Johnny Damon, P Livan Hernandez, CF Andruw Jones, 3B Chipper Jones, P Brad Lidge, OF Hideki Matsui, P Jamie Moyer, 3B Scott Rolen, P Johan Santana, 1B/DH Jim Thome and SS Omar Vizquel.

The 2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony is scheduled for July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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2016 World Series preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians — A battle of the droughts

With the conclusion of the ALCS and NLCS, we have reached what may be the most anticipated World Series in quite some time with the Cleveland Indians, who haven’t won the World Series since 1948, taking on the Chicago Cubs, whose World Series-winning drought famously dates back more than a century to 1908, and their last World Series appearance taking place in 1945 — before the World Series was even televised.

Regardless of the lack of World Series success the teams have had in their respective histories, they both deserve to be in this year’s Fall Classic; the Cubs had a MLB-best 103 wins during the regular season, while the Indians’ 94 wins left them one victory behind the Rangers, giving them the second-best record in the American League. The Indians bulldozed their way through the American League playoffs, sweeping the Red Sox in the ALDS and beating the Blue Jays in the ALCS, losing just one game to win the series in five. The Cubs’ path to the World Series was a little more difficult; they needed four games to beat the Giants in the NLDS and the Dodgers took them to six games in the NLCS.

The American League won this year’s All-Star Game for the fourth straight season, giving the Indians home-field advantage in the World Series. As a result, Games 1 and 2 will be in Cleveland. Wrigley Field will host its first World Series game in 71 years on Friday when Game 3 takes place, with Games 4 and, if necessary, 5 following it over the weekend — assuming there are no weather issues that affect the schedule. If Games 6 and 7 are necessary, they are scheduled for Cleveland on Nov. 1 and 2, respectively. First pitch for all games, except Game 5 on Sunday, are scheduled for 8:08pm Eastern; first pitch Sunday is at 8:15pm Eastern. All games are on Fox in the U.S.

The Cubs have the advantage in the starting rotation, led by likely National League Cy Young winner SP Kyle Hendricks, who pitched 7.1 innings of 2-hit ball in Game 6 of the NLCS to clinch the pennant for the Cubs. During the regular season, Hendricks was 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA. SP Jon Lester also had a big season for the Cubs, going 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA. After a strong start to the season, SP Jake Arrieta was inconsistent in the second half en route to a 18-8 record and 3.10 ERA. If a fourth starter is needed in the series, the task would likely fall to veteran SP John Lackey, who is a two-time World Series champion, having won it with the 2002 Angels and 2013 Red Sox. Injuries have had an affect on the Indians’ rotation, with SPs Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar missing significant chunks of the season; Carrasco is out for the season, but Salazar has recently started throwing and could be added to the World Series roster. Leading the Tribe’s rotation is SP Corey Kluber, who led the team during the season with a 18-9 record to go with his 3.14 ERA. Behind him in the rotation are SP Josh Tomlin, who was 13-9 with a 4.40 ERA this season, and SP Trevor Bauer, who is confident he’ll be able to pitch in the World Series despite a well-publicized finger laceration caused by a recent drone accident. If Bauer can’t go, P Ryan Merritt may get his second start of the postseason; he went 4.1 scoreless innings in the Game 5 clincher.

While the Cubs have the better rotation, the bullpen advantage goes the other way, with the Indians. RP Andrew Miller, who was acquired from the Yankees in a midseason trade, was an X-factor in the ALCS and could be the same against the Cubs. He can come in in the middle of the game if needed or pitch later in the game to get the ball to closer Cody Allen with the lead intact. In six appearances in the postseason, Miller has struck out 21 batters in 11.2 innings while earning a win and a save and not allowing an earned run. Allen is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities this postseason. Like the Indians, the Cubs acquired a top-level reliever from the Yankees before the trade deadline, RP Aroldis Chapman, who saved 18 games for the Cubs during the regular season after the trade. His numbers in the postseason haven’t been great, however. Chapman has gone 8 innings, with 10 strikeouts and a 3.38 ERA. He is 1-0 and a has 3 saves in 5 opportunities. That’s not the way you want your closer to be pitching heading into the World Series.

Offense is another part of the game in which the Cubs have the edge.  OF Javier Baez has been leading the charge at the plate for the Cubs, with 13 hits in 38 at-bats, with 4 doubles, 1 home run and 2 steals. 3B Kris Bryant is right up there with Baez; he’s 13-for-39 with 5 doubles and 1 home run. 1B Anthony Rizzo and SS Addison Russell have underperformed in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Each of them is currently hitting under .200 so if they can get back to the offensive production the Cubs have come to expect from them, that would give the Cubs more of an offensive boost. For the Indians, SS Francisco Lindor is the sole regular hitting over .300; he has 10 hits in 31 at-bats, with 2 doubles and 2 home runs. Other key hitters, like 2B Jason Kipnis and 1B Mike Napoli have sub-.200 batting averages in the postseason. If they can’t get out of their slumps early in the series, don’t expect them to have much success against the Cubs’ stellar starting pitchers.

Neither team is lacking in the managerial department, with Cubs manager Joe Maddon and Indians skipper Terry Francona both considered among the best in the majors.

My preseason prediction for the World Series was the Blue Jays over the Cubs. Toronto fell just shy of making it, but the Cubs are in it. With the way the Cubs played all season and the strong starting pitching they’ve gotten in the postseason, I’m going to pick them to win their first World series title in 108 years. I think the series will go six games, which would mean the series would finish in Cleveland and the Cubs wouldn’t be able to celebrate the title at Wrigley.

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MLB Postseason Preview: 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 playoffs.

American League
Division Series
Red Sox beat Indians in 4 games
Blue Jays beat Rangers in 5 games

Championship Series
Blue Jays beat Red Sox in 6 games

National League
Division Series
Nationals beat Dodgers in 5 games
Cubs beat Giants in 5 games

Championship Series
Cubs beat Nationals in 6 games

World Series

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beat

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in 7 games.

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

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MLB Postseason Preview: American League Wild Card game — Orioles at Blue Jays

With another MLB regular season in the books, it’s time for the postseason to begin, with the first game being the American League Wild Card game, taking place Tuesday at Rogers Centre in Toronto, with the Toronto Blue Jays (89-73) hosting the Baltimore Orioles (89-73) in a battle of AL East teams. SP Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.77 ERA) is slated to get the start for the Orioles and SP Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37 ERA) is set to take the mound for the home team.

The Orioles were only three games under .500 on the road this season, which isn’t that bad, so having to play in Toronto may not be a big disadvantage for them despite the Blue Jays being nine games over .500 at home.

I’ve got to give the advantage in starting pitching to Tillman, as Stroman didn’t live up to the expectations that some people had for him this season. Tillman hasn’t been going deep into games as of late, however. The last time he pitched more than 6 innings in a game was on August 11 when he went 7 innings at Oakland, allowing 5 hits and 2 earned runs. He didn’t last more than 6 innings in any of his four starts against the Blue Jays this season. Stroman, on the other hand, went 7 innings in each of his last two starts of the regular season, going 7 scoreless against the Yankees on September 24 and giving up 4 earned runs against the Orioles on September 29. In four starts against the Orioles, Stroman went 7 innings twice, but went just 3.2 innings and 5.1 innings in the other starts.

Given those stats, you can’t expect either starter to go deep into the game, so the bullpens will likely have an impact on the outcome. The Orioles have the definite advantage there, as their relievers finished the year with the third-lowest bullpen ERA in the majors at 3.40, and the Blue Jays’ 4.11 bullpen ERA was the 22nd best in the majors. Orioles closer Zach Britton led the American League with 47 saves, which was tied for the second-most in the majors. He did not have a blown save all year. RP Roberto Osuna served as Toronto’s closer for most of the season, notching 36 saves in 42 opportunities.

Offensively, the teams are pretty evenly matched, with both set up as power teams that don’t necessarily hit for a high average. The Orioles led the majors with 253 home runs, but the Blues Jays can also hit the long ball, as their 221 home runs were good for fourth in MLB. Orioles OF Mark Trumbo was the major league leader with 47 home runs while Blue Jays DH Edwin Encarnacion was tied for third with 42 home runs.

Stroman will have to keep the Orioles’ bats quiet early in the game so Baltimore can’t get a lead to hand off to Britton in the latter innings of the ballgame because of he comes into the game in a save situation, that’ll be trouble for the Blue Jays if Britton’s season stats hold true in this game. It’ll be a close game, but I’ll pick the Blue Jays to win it.

The winning team moves on to play the AL West champion Texas Rangers in one ALDS on Thursday; the AL Central champion Indians play the AL East champion Red Sox in the other ALDS, which also begins Thursday.

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MLB Weekly: A-Rod and Teixiera announce retirements, Story’s season ends

In this week’s MLB Weekly, two notable Yankees announce their retirements, a home run-hitting rookie undergoes season-ending surgery and the Dodgers send a once-promising slugger to the minors.

Looking Back

This morning Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez and the team announced that the final game of his major league career will be this Friday, August 12 at Yankee Stadium against the Rays, the team’s next home game after today. He will be released from his player contract with the team but will sign a new contract to serve as a special advisor to the team, acting as a mentor to young players, through 2017. In his 22-year career, Rodriguez has hit 696 home runs but has not seen much playing time this season as he is hitting just .204 in 62 games this season. Earlier in the week, Yankees 1B Mark Teixiera announced that he will retire at the end of the season. Teixiera is a 14-year veteran who is hitting .199 this season, which has included some time on the disabled list. He is in the final year of his contract, while Rodriguez had a year remaining on his deal.

Rockies SS Trevor Story was expected to begin the season in the minors but a suspension to SS Jose Reyes changed those plans, as Story landed the starting gig by way of an impressive spring training. And he really took advantage of the opportunity, hitting 7 home runs in the first six games of his major-league career. He continued to hit home runs throughout the season, getting up to 27 by July 30, which ended up being his final game of his rookie campaign. Story tore the UCL in his left thumb in that game, an injury that required a surgery that is expected to keep him out for the remainder of the season — a loss that hurts the Rockies’ already-slim hopes of making the playoffs.

Like Story, Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig put up big offensive numbers in his rookie season back in 2013, hitting .319 with 19 home runs in 104 games. His production has dropped off each season since then, though, eventually bottoming-out this year with .260 average and just 7 home runs in 81 games. That lack of production, combined with reported issues in the locker room, led the Dodgers to demote Puig to Triple-A Oklahoma City this week. The team made the move after acquiring OF Josh Reddick from the A’s at the trade deadline, giving them less of a need to use Puig in the majors. The Dodgers reportedly tried to deal Puig to another team but came up short before Monday’s non-waiver deadline. It’s possible Puig could still be traded this month if he is able to clear waivers, but he’ll probably have to produce in the minors before another team would want to take a chance on him. If he’s still in the Dodgers organization at the end of the season, don’t be surprised if they try again to trade Puig this winter.

Elsewhere in MLB, there is a three-way battle going on for first place in the AL East, with the Orioles and Blue Jays tied atop the division and the Red Sox two games behind them. The same two-game margin separates first place and second place in the AL Central, with the Indians ahead of the Tigers, who have won nine of their last 10 games. The Rangers have a bit more of a cushion in the AL West, 6.5 games clear of the Astros. Baltimore/Toronto sit atop the American League Wild Card, with the Tigers in the second Wild Card spot, with the Red Sox just .5 game behind them. In the hunt are the Astros and Mariners, at four and five games back, respectively.

In the National League, the Nationals and Cubs continue to hold significant leads in their divisions. The Nationals’ margin in the NL East is 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Marlins, while the Cubs — who still hold the best record in the majors — have a 10.5-game cushion over the Cardinals in the NL Central. Things are much tighter in the NL West, as the Giants’ lead over the Dodgers is down to two games as San Francisco has gone just 4-6 in the last 10 games. The Dodgers currently hold the first Wild Card in the NL, with the Marlins in control of the second Wild Card. In the hunt are the Cardinals, Mets, Pirates and Rockies — all within four games of landing one of the Wild Cards.

The Week Ahead

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry continues this week

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry continues this week at Fenway Park

There are a couple of rivalry series in the coming week. The first is a three-game set between the Red Sox and Yankees in Boston beginning Tuesday. The other sees the Cardinals visiting the Cubs for four starting Thursday. Other series to look out for include a short series between playoff contenders as the Nationals host the Indians Tuesday and Wednesday. Later in the week, the Astros look to stay alive in the Wild Card race when they visit the Blue Jays for a weekend series north of the border starting Friday. That same day, the Orioles host the Giants in another interleague series featuring teams that could be playing well into October.

Pitching performances to look for this week include the Giants-Marlins game on Monday, with SPs Johnny Cueto and Jose Fernandez — who both hold sub-3.00 ERAs for the season — scheduled to take to the mound. Diamondbacks SP Zack Greinke is scheduled to return from the disabled list Tuesday and get the start against the Mets and SP Steven Matz. Rays rookie SP Blake Snell looks to continue his stretch of good starts Wednesday when he gets the ball against Blue Jays SP J.A. Happ, who has already won a career-high 15 games on the season. Mets SP Bartolo Colon gets a home start on Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, the only major league team he has never gotten a win against in his 19-year career; SP Robbie Ray is slated to start for Arizona.

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MLB Weekly: Trades galore as the deadline approaches

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Week Ahead

The Mets and Yankees Subway Series.

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

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

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

2016 MLB All-Star Game MVP Eric Hosmer

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

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

The Week Ahead

The Mets visit Wrigley Field this week.

The Mets visit the Cubs at Wrigley Field this week.

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

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