Tag Archives: Rockies

MLB Postseason Preview: National League Wild Card game — Rockies at Diamondbacks

This year’s Wild Card game in the National League pits two teams from the NL West who are familiar with each other as the Diamondbacks, who finished the regular season 93-69, host the 87-75 Rockies, who are making their first postseason appearance since 2009. The Rockies are giving SP Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67 ERA) the start and SP Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20 ERA) gets the start for the home team in the winner-takes-all game.

The Rockies went 41-40 on the road this season, and the Diamondbacks were 52-29 at Chase Field.

Greinke has the distinct experience advantage over Gray, including in the playoffs; this is his 10th career start in the postseason so he knows what it’s like to pitch on a big stage like this. Greinke is 3-3 with a 3.55 ERA in the playoffs. Gray, on the other hand, is getting his first taste of postseason action. In his 20 starts this season, Gray recorded 112 strikeouts in 110.1 innings to go along with his 3.67 ERA. He has gone 13 straight starts without allowing more than three earned runs and only exceeded that number three times in 2017. Greinke struck out 215 batters in 202.1 innings over 32 starts in his second season with the Diamondbacks. Other than allowing eight earned runs in his penultimate start of the regular season, Greinke has also put up good numbers over the last several weeks. Both pitchers have put up good numbers this season, but I like Greinke in this game more because of his extended history of success in the majors, including in his nine previous postseason starts.
Advantage: Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks have a better bullpen, with their 3.78 ERA ranking as the fifth best in the majors this season with the Rockies’ relievers posting a 4.40 ERA that was 20th in MLB. Rockies RP Greg Holland recorded 41 saves this season, but put up a subpar 3.61 ERA in the process, which tied him with RP Jake McGee for the best ERA among the team’s main relievers. Holland recorded 70 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. Serving as closer for the Diamondbacks is veteran RP Fernando Rodney, who posted a pedestrian 4.23 ERA while saving 39 games.  He did strike out 65 batters over 55.1 innings. The star of Arizona’s bullpen is RP Archie Bradley, who had 1.73 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 73 innings over the course of 63 appearances. Relying on Rodney to save the game is worrisome, but I think Bradley is the best reliever on either team and could be called upon to pitch more than an inning if needed. He could be an X-factor in the game.
Advantage: Diamondbacks

On the offensive side of things, the Rockies’ .273 batting average was the second best in the majors while the Diamondbacks were just below league average at .253. The Diamondbacks have more power, though, racking up 218 home runs compared to the Rockies’ 192. A big factor in Arizona’s home run total was the July trade for OF J.D. Martinez, who knocked 29 balls out of the park after joining the team on July 19. He also hit .302 in the 62 games he played with the Diamondbacks. Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt added 36 home runs and a .297 average for the team. The Rockies had three players who reached or surpassed 30 home runs — 3B Nolan Arenado and OF Charlie Blackmon each hit 37 and 1B Mark Reynolds got 30, with another 24 from SS Trevor Story, who had a disappointing season after a monster rookie year in 2016. I think the Rockies offense is more evenly spread out and less top-heavy than the Diamondbacks so I’ll give Colorado the advantage here, with the caveat that Martinez and Goldschmidt are each capable of hitting multiple home runs in the game.
Advantage: Rockies (barely)

The Rockies have the advantage on defense, with their 77 errors ranking as the third fewest in the majors. The Diamondbacks were in the bottom 10 with 105 errors.
Advantage: Rockies

I think Greinke will be able to outduel Gray and give the Diamondbacks the victory at home, earning them their first NLDS appearance since 2011. My biggest concern is having Rodney come in late in the game if it’s a close score, but he’s a veteran and I think he’ll be able to get the job done if called upon.

Whoever wins advances to the National League Division Series to play the NL West champion Dodgers. The other NLDS is already known and will pit the NL East champion Nationals holding home-field advantage in the series with the Cubs, who are looking to defend their World Series championship after winning the NL Central this season. Both National League series begin on Friday.

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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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MLB Weekly: Trades, injuries highlight the week

Looking Back

Some big-name players were moved before the non-waiver trade deadline and more stars went on the DL in this week’s MLB Weekly.

The non-waiver trade deadline was on Monday afternoon, and there was a flurry of activity as contenders tried to improve for the playoff push and October baseball, while struggling teams did their best to build for the future. The Yankees focused on improving their pitching staff leading up to the deadline, trading for RPs David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox, as well as SP Jaime Garcia from the Twins — who acquired him from the Braves earlier in July — and A’s SP Sonny Gray, who was one of the most-sought-after players on the market. Adding Gray gives the Yankees a formidable top of the rotation of SP Luis Severino, SP Masahiro Tanaka and Gray, which would suit the Yankees well in the postseason, if they make it there and the starters are all pitching to expectations at the time. With the bullpen the Yankees have built up, the starters only have to pitch six innings and hand a lead over to the relievers, who should be able to hold the lead more often than not with the likes of RPs Dellin Betances, Robertson and Kahnle acting as a bridge to closer Aroldis Chapman.

With the trades the Yankees made, they seemingly closed the gap between themselves and the Astros, who hold the best record in the American League but only made one — relatively insignificant — trade. They made a deal with the Blue Jays to add RP Francisco Liriano as a lefty coming out of the bullpen. Liriano — who now has a 6.02 ERA entering Sunday after getting the loss in both of his appearances with the Astros — was a starter in Toronto. Given his lack of success this season, he isn’t much of an improvement for the Astros, who reportedly had a deal agreed to with the Orioles for RP Zach Britton before the deadline, but the deal was nixed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Britton would have been a nice addition for a bullpen that has been overworked in recent weeks due to injuries to SPs Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, who went back on the DL with back discomfort shortly after the deadline passed. McCullers’ latest DL stint makes the lack of action by the Astros even more perplexing, given the fact that with injuries to and subpar performances from their rotation of late, the Astros pitching doesn’t look like it’ll be good enough for a deep playoff run.

Other AL contenders who made trades this week include the Red Sox acquiring RP Addison Reed from the Mets, the Royals getting OF Melky Cabrera from the White Sox and the Indians getting RP Joe Smith from the Blue Jays.

In the National League, the Dodgers have the best record in Major League Baseball, but they weren’t content to stick with what they had. Their big move was getting SP Yu Darvish from the Rangers, but they also added to the bullpen by getting RP Tony Watson from the Pirates and RP Tony Cingrani from the Reds. Adding Darvish to a rotation that includes SPs Clayton Kershaw — when he comes off the DL — and Alex Wood gives the Dodgers what could be the top starting rotation in the playoffs.

The other NL team that is virtually assured of making the playoffs also got help for what had been a very mediocre bullpen. In the last two weeks of July, the Nationals traded for RPs Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle — who has seemingly settled into the closer’s role — from the A’s and RP Brandon Kintzler from the Twins. They also added some outfield depth, acquiring OF Howie Kendrick from the Phillies.

Other trades made by NL contenders include the Cubs getting RP Justin Wilson and C Alex Avila from the Tigers, to go along with SP Jose Quintana, who they traded for during the All-Star break. The Diamondbacks added RP David Hernandez from the Angels and SS Adam Rosales from the A’s, and the Rockies got C Jonathan Lucroy from the Rangers, who also traded RP Jeremy Jeffress to the Brewers.

The biggest takeaways from the trade deadline are that the Yankees, Dodgers and Nationals positioned themselves for success in October, while the Astros allowed the rest of the AL contenders to close the gap that the Astros had built up in the first half of the season and make the AL postseason more open than it looked a few weeks ago.

More trades could be made before the end of the month for players who pass through waivers. The biggest name to look out for in an August trade could be Tigers SP Justin Verlander.

As has been the case virtually every week this season, some stars landed on the disabled list. Among the bigger names are Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia, who is out with left knee inflammation; Indians RP Andrew Miller, who is suffering from knee tendinitis; Tigers SP Michael Fulmer, with an elbow injury; Cubs SS Addison Russell, with a foot strain; Mariners SP Felix Hernandez, with bicep tendinitis; and Astros C Evan Gattis and Giants 1B Brandon Belt, both with concussion symptoms. It also appears that Royals C Salvador Perez will be placed on the DL Sunday with an intercostal strain.

Other injuries from this week include: Astros RP Michael Feliz (shoulder) and Tony Sipp (calf), Reds OF Scott Schebler (shoulder), Brewers C Jett Bandy (rib), Blue Jays C Miguel Montero (groin), Rockies SP Kyle Freeland (groin), Phillies OF Aaron Altherr (hamstring), and Yankees DH Matt Holliday (lumbar strain).

The Week Ahead

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Series to watch this week include a four-game interleague home-and-home between the Cardinals and Royals, with both teams looking to stay alive in the playoff race. They play in Kansas City Monday and Tuesday, then shift to St. Louis Wednesday and Thursday. It’s a similar setup for the Twins and Brewers, who play two in Minneapolis, followed by a couple in Milwaukee. The Red Sox visit the Rays for two games Tuesday and Wednesday in a series between AL East contenders, and the Diamondbacks host the Dodgers for three games starting Tuesday in a series between the top two teams in the NL West. Later in the week, the Red Sox head to the Bronx for a weekend series with the Yankees starting Friday. The Texas teams also have a three-game series over the weekend when the Rangers host the Astros. The Diamondbacks week of games against NL contenders continues Friday when the Cubs visit.

Some notable pitching performances to look for this week include Cubs SP Jake Arrieta looking to follow-up one of his best performances of the season with another good start against the Giants and SP Matt Moore. Red Sox SP Chris Sale, on the other hand, had one of his worst outings the last time he took the mound, but he’ll try to improve upon that Tuesday at the Rays, who are starting SP Austin Pruitt. Keuchel was charged with his first loss last week and he’s still looking for his first win since returning from the DL. He’ll look to get it Tuesday at SP Derek Holland and the White Sox. Astros SP Collin McHugh, who also came off the DL recently, is looking for his first win of the season Wednesday when he pitches against the White Sox, with SP Miguel Gonzalez on the mound. Darvish makes his second start for the Dodgers on Thursday, opposing the Diamondbacks. White Sox SP Reynaldo Lopez, one of the club’s top prospects, is slated to make his season debut on Friday at home, taking on the Royals.

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MLB Weekly: Martinez moved, Correa injured

Looking Back

A star outfielder was traded to a team in the thick of a playoff push and a team sure to make the playoffs lost one of its stars for up to two months in this week’s MLB Weekly.

As we get deeper into July, trade talks heat up as teams try to get deals done before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. One of the biggest names on the trade block was already traded last week when SP Jose Quintana went from the White Sox to the Cubs. There were more trades this week, with the biggest name changing teams being OF J.D. Martinez, who the Tigers traded to the Diamondbacks on Tuesday for a trio of prospects, including 3B Dawel Lugo. Martinez made his debut with his new team the following night but left the game early after being hit by a pitch in the hand while swinging. He was diagnosed with a left hand contusion and X-rays were negative, but he has not played since that game. The team is calling him day-to-day.

Martinez is having a good year at the plate, hitting .302 with 16 home runs, but just 39 RBI. He is in the last year of his contract and will be a free agent in the offseason, which means the Diamondbacks acquired him as a rental as they try to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2011. They’re currently in second place in the NL West, 10.5 games behind the Dodgers, but they’re currently tied with the Rockies atop the wild card standings in the National League, 5.5 games ahead of the Cubs entering Sunday.

Other trades this week included the Yankees acquiring 3B Todd Frazier and RPs David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox for RP Tyler Clippard and three minor leaguers. And the Marlins traded RP David Phelps to the Mariners for four minor leaguers, including OF Brayan Hernandez.

Players who are rumored to be on the move before the end of the month include A’s SP Sonny Gray and Braves SP Jaime Garcia — who was reportedly close to being traded to the Twins but the teams couldn’t come to terms on who would be going to Atlanta in exchange for Garcia — Tigers SP Justin verlander, Rangers SP Yu Darvish and Orioles RP Zach Britton.

Leading the injury report this week was news that Astros SS Carlos Correa is out for six-to-eight weeks after being placed on the disabled list with a thumb injury that he originally suffered in a game against the Braves on July 4 and reaggravated during the week. He was putting up MVP-type numbers this season — hitting .320 with 20 home runs, just two shy of his career high, and 67 RBI in 84 games. Utilityman Marwin Gonzalez will be Correa’s main replacement while he’s on the DL, and Gonzalez is having a career year, hitting .316 with 18 home runs and 58 RBI — both career highs already. Losing Correa isn’t a big deal for the Astros, who hold a 17-game lead in the AL West, but if his rehab doesn’t go as well as expected or it takes him time to get back to his usual production once he returns, the injury could hurt the Astros heading into the postseason.

Other players who were placed on the disabled list this week include: Phillies OF Aaron Altherr (hamstring), Reds P Scott Feldman (knee), Brewers C Stephen Vogt (knee), Marlins 3B Martin Prado (knee), Diamondbacks OF Rey Fuentes (thumb), Angels OF Cameron Maybin (knee), Padres SS Erick Aybar (foot), Blue Jays SP Aaron Sanchez (blister), Pirates OF Gregory Polanco (hamstring) and Astros 3B Colin Moran (facial fracture).

The Week Ahead

Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox

This week’s series of note include the Orioles heading to Tampa for a three-game series with the Rays starting Monday as the two AL East teams continue to stay alive in the hunt for a playoff spot. Windy City rivals meet for four games, with the Cubs hosting the White Sox Monday and Tuesday, then the White Sox getting two home games Wednesday and Thursday against their crosstown opponents. The Mariners also host the Red Sox starting Monday. The Rockies visit the Cardinals for three starting Monday, then the Nationals host the Brewers starting Tuesday in a battle of division leaders. Later in the week, the Yankees and Rays try to stay close to the Red Sox in the AL East race when they start a four-game series in the Bronx on Thursday. The Diamondbacks head to St. Louis for four with the Cardinals that day as well. Friday, the Cubs visit the Brewers in a weekend series that could determine first place in the NL Central. Friday also sees the Rockies visit the Nationals to start a series between the NL playoff contenders. And the best and worst teams in the NL West meet in a rivalry series with the Dodgers hosting the Giants starting Friday.

Pitching performances to pay attention to this week include Verlander taking the mound for the Tigers Monday as trade rumors surround him, opposing the Royals and SP Jason Hammel. Diamondbacks SP Zack Greinke looks to bounce back from a subpar performance last time out when he gets the home start Monday against Braves SP R.A. Dickey. Mariners SP James Paxton looks to continue his impressive July, but it’ll be a tough matchup Monday against the Red Sox, who throw SP Eduardo Rodriguez out there for the start. Gray pitches Tuesday, with Blue Jays Sp Cesar Valdez, taking Sanchez’s spot in the rotation, opposing him. Royals SP Danny Duffy faces Tigers SP Michael Fulmer Tuesday in a matchup of aces who have been struggling of late. Garcia is slated to start for the Braves against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday — if he’s still on the team then. Red Sox SP Chris Sale already has 200 strikeouts on the season, and he looks to add to the total on Wednesday, taking on the Mariners, who have struggling SP Andrew Moore getting the start. Darvish faces the Marlins at home on Wednesday, which is also the day Dodgers SP Alex Wood gets his next start after suffering his first loss of the season his last time out; he faces the Twins at home. Mets SP Zack Wheeler looks for his first win since May as he takes on the Padres on Thursday. Also of note, Astros SP Dallas Keuchel could be ready to return from the disabled list over the weekend to make his first start in the majors since June 2; he was 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA before hitting the DL.

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MLB Weekly: Injuries strike after the all-star break, Trout returns, Quintana moves

Looking Back

The first few days after the all-star break haven’t been kind to  Major League Baseball teams with a number of players hitting the DL, while a former MVP returned from his DL stint and a pitcher changed teams but not cities in this week’s MLB Weekly.

Included in the recent spate of injuries are two pitchers for playoff contenders who are facing Tommy John surgery.  Yankees SP Michael Pineda was diagnosed with a torn UCL on Friday with a recommendation of going under the knife, though he is seeking a second opinion. Over in the National League, the Nationals confirmed on Saturday that SP Joe Ross will have Tommy John surgery on Wednesday due to elbow damage. With a typical recovery time of 12-18 months, both pitchers are likely to be out until after the 2018 all-star break, with the possibility of not being ready to return to the majors until 2019.

The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Pineda, who is slated to be a free agent this offseason. Assuming he has the recommended procedure, it will make teams leery of giving him a long-term, big-money deal. He hasn’t pitched well in the last couple of seasons, posting a 4.82 ERA last year and a 4.39 ERA in 2017. Ross has been shuttling between the majors and minors this season, with a 5.01 ERA in his 13 starts for the Nationals. He has been a disappointment this season after putting up a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts last year.

The injury news was better for a couple of sluggers who returned from the DL this weekend. Orioles 1B Chris Davis returns at a time when his team has been falling further behind in the AL East race, now in fourth place in the division and on a 3-7 stretch, including losses in their first two games since the break. Davis has been having a disappointing season to date, hitting just .222 with 14 home runs. Also returning is Angels OF Mike Trout, who was having a typical MVP-caliber season before landing on the DL for the first time in his career. He’s hitting a career-high .339 with 16 home runs in 49 games. With the Astros running away with the AL West, the Angels’ only hope of making the playoffs is as a wild card; they’re currently four games back of the second wild card in the American League.

Other notable players hitting the DL this week include: Cardinals OFs Randal Grichuk (back) and Stephen Piscotty (groin), Padres OF Hunter Renfroe (neck), Indians OF Lonnie Chisenhall (calf), Giants SP Johnny Cueto (blisters), Red Sox P Joe Kelly (hamstring), Twins OF Byron Buxton (groin) and Astros RP Will Harris (shoulder)

In non-injury news, the Cubs and White Sox did something this week that they hadn’t done since 2006 — make a trade with each other, and it was a big one. Trying to stay in the playoff chase and in need of starting pitching help, the Cubs sent four minor leaguers to the White sox for SP Jose Quintana. Highlighting the prospect package being sent to the Sox are OF Eloy Jimenez and P Dylan Cease, who were considered by most experts to be the best prospects in the Cubs’ farm system. The Cubs gave up a lot for Quintana, who has been having the worst season of his career in 2017, going 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 104.1 innings. Some of the those losses were the result of poor run support, so a better Cubs offense should help him win more games, and being in the National League and not having to face designated hitters should help Quintana pitch better than he had been thus far this year. He joins a Cubs rotation led by a couple of other struggling stars in SPs Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, who is a free agent after this season. Quintana will make his first start for his new team today in Baltimore (so he’ll have to face a DH there) as the Cubs look to sweep their three-game series with the Orioles.

The Week Ahead

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We’re back to a full of slate of games this week, with the notable series including the Yankees heading to Minnesota Monday to take on the Twins in a series between two teams sticking around in the AL playoff picture. Two surprising teams — one surprising in a good way, the other in a bad way — meet when the Braves host the Cubs for three starting Monday. The Pirates host the Brewers for four starting Monday as the home team tries to make up ground in the NL Central race. Later in the week, the Orioles host the Astros starting Friday, which is also when AL wild-card hopefuls the Rays and Rangers start a series at Tropicana Field. The Nationals visit the Diamondbacks next weekend in a series between two likely NL playoff teams. And one of the game’s best rivalries resumes Friday when the Cardinals head to Wrigley Field to take on the Cubs.

Pitching performances to look out for this week include Lester trying to recover from the worst outing of his career last weekend when he takes the mound Monday against Braves SP Julio Teheran, who has a 7.58 ERA at home this season. Diamondbacks SP Robbie Ray looks to continue his strong season Tuesday against the Reds and SP Sal Romano. Cubs SP John Lackey makes his first start coming off the DL that day, facing Braves SP Sean Newcomb. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw goes for his 15th win of 2017 Tuesday against White Sox SP Miguel Gonzalez, making his first start since mid-June. That is also the day that recently signed Twins SP Bartolo Colon is set to make his team debut, at home against the Yankees. Pirates SP Gerrit Cole, a potential trade target in the second half, could be making one of his final starts for Pittsburgh on Wednesday against the Brewers and SP Zach Davies. Red Sox SP Chris Sale tries to get another double-digit strikeout game on Thursday, with the Blue Jays standing in his way at Fenway Park.

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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: Keuchel goes to the DL, Taillon ready to return

Looking Back

The best team in Major League Baseball will be without its best pitcher for at least a week and a young pitcher is getting ready to come back from a serious situation in this week’s MLB Weekly.

The Astros are the best team in the majors, with a record of 44-19 entering Sunday. A major reason for the team’s success is the performance of ace Dallas Keuchel, who is 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts. But he won’t be taking the mound in a game for at least a week after the Astros placed him on the 10-day disabled list Thursday.

He was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday for what the team termed an illness, but the next day it was revealed that team doctors were examining him for neck discomfort. This is the second time this season he’s gone on the DL for neck issues. After his first DL stint ended in late May, Keuchel made two starts before landing on the DL again. He is not expected to throw for at least a week and will miss at least two starts.

The Astros are expected to get a pitcher back from the DL on Monday when SP Joe Musgrove is slated to make his next start. He went on the DL May 30 with shoulder inflammation and has missed two starts since then. For the season, Musgrove is 4-4 with a 4.89 ERA in 10 starts.

Pirates SP Jameson Taillon is also expected to get the start on Monday after being out for about a month, but he hasn’t been dealing with an injury. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery on May 8 to treat it. He has since made three minor-league rehab starts and is ready to return to the big club. He says he’s 100 percent both physically and mentally, and “probably in a better spot now than [he] was before.” He has made six starts this season, going 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA.

In off-the-field news, two players this week were accused of domestic violence against women. On Wednesday, the former fiancee of Rays C Derek Norris alleged that he “physically and emotionally abused her” during an October 2015 incident that included putting her in a choke hold. The next day, Cubs SS Addison Russell faced similar allegations, with a friend of his wife accusing him of “mentally and physically abusing” his spouse. Both players have denied the allegations leveled against them. MLB is investigating both cases, and the players could face lengthy suspensions if the league determines that either or both violated the league’s domestic violence policy.

This week’s injury report also includes the following players hitting the DL: Nationals OF Jayson Werth (foot), Blue Jays RP J.P. Howell (shoulder) and 2B Devon Travis (knee), Braves P Bartolo Colon (oblique), Diamondbacks OF Yasmany Tomas (groin), Indians SP Danny Salazar (shoulder), Marlins 1B Justin Bour (ankle), Rangers 1B Mike Napoli (back), Padres SP Jarred Cosart (foot), Rockies OF Gerardo Parra (quad), Brewers SP Matt Garza (chest) and 2B Jonathan Villar (back), Rays 2B Brad Miller (groin) and OF Kevin Kiermaier (hip), Pirates C Francisco Cervelli (concussion), Twins SP Hector Santiago (shoulder), Giants OF Michael Morse (concussion), Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks (hand), Orioles RP Darren O’Day (shoulder), Dodgers RP Sergio Romo (ankle), and A’s SP Andrew Triggs (hip).

The Week Ahead

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The Astros look to continue their dominance of their in-state rivals when they host the Rangers — against whom they are 6-1 this season — for three games starting Monday. The AL Central-leading Twins host the Marlins Monday through Thursday in a four-game set. Tuesday sees the Dodgers traveling to Cleveland to take on the Indians in an interleague series featuring second-place teams. The Nationals-Mets NL East rivalry continues Thursday with the first of four games in Queens. On Friday, the Red Sox head to Houston to start a series with the Astros and the Twins host the Indians for four games — including a Saturday doubleheader — that could determine first place in the division. The Cardinals also head to Baltimore next weekend for an interleague battle between teams looking to stay afloat in the playoff races in their leagues.

Some pitching performances of note this week include Taillon getting the start at home Monday against the Rockies and SP Kyle Freeland. Red Sox SP Rick Porcello looks to right the ship that day when he faces a Phillies team with the worst record in the majors. Cubs SP Jon Lester tries for his 150th career win on Tuesday, facing Mets SP Zack Wheeler. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw gets a break from hitting Tuesday when he takes the mound in Cleveland against the Indians and SP Trevor Bauer. Mets SP Matt Harvey hopes for a second straight strong performance Wednesday when he takes on the Cubs. Astros SP Mike Fiers is coming off a strong start Saturday, but he faces a tough test on Friday taking on the Red Sox, who send SP Drew Pomeranz out to oppose him.

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