Tag Archives: Royals

3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Colorado Rockies

The next NL West team up in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Colorado Rockies, who came in third place in the division last season

The Rockies are on a positive trajectory in recent years, having gone from 66 wins in 2014 to 68 in 2015 and 75 in 2016. They hope to continue that trend in 2017, but that might be complicated by a rash of injuries that will leave the team short-handed to begin the season. 1B Ian Desmond, the team’s big offseason acquisition, underwent surgery to repair his broken left hand earlier this month and will start the season on the DL, but with a four-to-six-week timetable, he could be back before the end of April. It’s expected to be a similar timetable for C Tony Wolters, who has a hairline fracture in his right forearm. And OF David Dahl suffered a rib injury early in spring training, but he has optimistically said that he thinks he could miss as little as one to two weeks of the regular season. Although none of those injuries appears to be serious enough to require an extended absence for the player, having all the players out at the same time could put the team in a hole early in the season. In a more serious situation, SP Chad Bettis is out indefinitely after announcing that his testicular cancer, with which he was diagnosed in November, has spread and he will be starting chemotherapy treatment.

The Rockies had the best batting average in the National League — and second best in Major League Baseball — last season with a .275 mark. They hit 204 home runs, which ranked 10th in the majors, and their .794 OPS was also tops in the NL and second in the majors. Among the offensive leaders was 3B Nolan Arenado, who hit .294 with 41 home runs — which was tied for the most in the NL and sixth in MLB — and a .932 OPS, which was 10th-best in the majors. His 6.5 WAR ranked 10th among all position players in the majors. OF Charlie Blackmon had a career year, hitting .324 with 29 home runs and a .933 OPS, which was ninth in the majors, and he posted a WAR of 4.4. The offense continued with OF Carlos Gonzalez, who hit .298 with 25 home runs and a .855 OPS. SS Trevor Story came out strong in his rookie season, hitting .272 with 27 home runs in 97 games before being shut down after undergoing thumb surgery. 2B DJ LeMahieu led the majors with a career-high .348 average and a 5.2 WAR, which ranked eighth among position players in the NL.

The pitching wasn’t as successful as the offense last season, with the staff’s 4.91 ERA tied for third-worst in the majors. The pitchers compiled 1,223 strikeouts, which was seventh-worst, and the bullpen racked up only 37 saves, tied for sixth-fewest in MLB. SP Tyler Chatwood was one of the better starters with a 3.87 ERA, but he only struck out 117 batters in 158 innings. SP Jon Gray led the team with 185 strikeouts in 168 innings, but he had a 4.61 ERA. SP Tyler Anderson only made 19 starts, but he led the rotation with a 3.54 ERA and had 99 strikeouts in 114.1 innings. In limited time in the majors — eight games, including six starts — prospect Jeff Hoffman posted a 4.88 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. RP Jake McGee got most of the save opportunities, going 15-for-19, but posted a 4.73 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 45.2 innings. RP Adam Ottavino pitched most of the second half of the season after returning from Tommy John surgery and recorded 7 saves in 12 opportunities to go along with a 2.67 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 27 innings.

Offense isn’t an issue for the Rockies, it’s the pitching that is questionable. The starting rotation, in particular, needs help and since the team didn’t acquire any starters this winter, it’ll be up to young pitchers like Hoffman and German Marquez, who is expected to make the rotation out of camp, to pick up some of the slack of the veterans who aren’t exactly aces. RP Greg Holland, who the team signed in January, is expected to get the first shot at closing out games. The former Royals closer hasn’t pitched in about 18 months while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the last three seasons he pitched, he recorded 47, 46 and 32 saves in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively. It might be unreasonable to think he can return to that type of performance, but if he can save about 30 games with decent peripheral numbers, it would improve the bullpen. If he isn’t able to pitch at the start of the season, Ottavino should get another shot at the closer’s role.

The Rockies are on the verge of competing in the NL West, if they can just get some better pitching. Unless they trade for a starter during the season, I don’t think they’re there yet. I think they’ll win more than the 75 games they won last year, but I think they’ll be a .500 team at best so they’ll still trail the Dodgers and Giants in 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.rockies.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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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Detroit Tigers

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 Detroit Tigers, who finished in second place in the division last season.

The Tigers are coming off an 86-win season in which they failed to make the playoffs, but they have most of their stars returning so they should again be in the discussion for a postseason run. They traded for OF Mikie Mahtook, who joins Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez in the outfield. In the infield, you have 1B Miguel Cabrera and 2B Ian Kinsler, along with DH Victor Martinez. SP Justin Verlander leads the pitching staff, with RP Francisco Rodriguez ready to close out games in the ninth.

The Tigers’ .267 average was the third-highest in Major League Baseball and the team’s 211 home runs ranked eighth in the league and its .769 OPS was fourth. Unsurprisingly, Cabrera had the best offensive stats, hitting .316 with 38 home runs and a .956 OPS — he ranked ninth in the majors in average and sixth in OPS and had a 4.9 WAR. Upton tied his career high with 31 home runs, but his .246 batting average was more than 20 points below his career average. Three other players on the team also surpassed 20 home runs last season: Kinsler with 28, V. Martinez 27 and J.D. Martinez 22, who hit those in just 120 games while hitting .307.

The pitching staff finished in the bottom half of the majors with a 4.24 ERA and 1,232 strikeouts, but the bullpen’s 47 saves ranked ninth in the league. Verlander posted a 3.04 ERA in 227.2 innings — his most since 2012 — in 34 starts. He struck out an American League-best 254 betters — behind only Max Scherzer in the majors — and also led the AL with a 1.001 WHIP. He had a 6.6 WAR, which was ninth in the majors but the highest among pitchers, edging out Corey Kluber, who had a 6.5. SP Michael Fulmer had a strong rookie season, putting up a 3.06 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 159 innings over 26 starts. Rodriguez recorded 44 saves — more than 18 teams — with a 3.24 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 58.1 innings.

If guys like Cabrera, Verlander, Upton, Rodriguez and both Victor and J.D. Martinez can repeat their performances from last year, the Tigers would have another good season. A foot injury J.D. suffered recently could prevent him from being ready for the start of the season. Another problem is that a lot of the team’s best players are getting up there in age. So you would expect a natural regression for someone like Verlander or Rodriguez, who are 34 and 35, respectively. So it’ll be up to younger players like Fulmer, C James McCann and SS Jose Iglesias to get ready to take over as the stars when the older guys’ performances start to suffer. Another question with age is players tend to become more susceptible to injuries as they get older, so that could play a factor as the season progresses. But given how well the older players performed last season, any drop-off shouldn’t be too steep and they should be able to keep the team competitive throughout the season.

The Indians still appear to be the best team in the division, but the Tigers are right up there, as are the Royals. It should be a battle between those three teams for the AL Central title, but I think they’ll finish in the same order as last season with the Tigers in second place. That, then, opens up the question about whether they can compete with other teams to earn one of the AL’s two wild cards.

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

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Cleveland Indians

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 Cleveland Indians, who won the division last season.

The Indians last year came as close as a team can get to winning the World Series without actually getting rings, losing to the Cubs in the 10th inning of Game 7. Getting back for another shot at the Fall Classic is certainly on the radar for the Indians, who are returning the core of their team from last season, minus 1B Mike Napoli. They added to the offense, inking DH Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year deal. It’s not all good news, though, as 2B Jason Kipnis is looking like he’ll start the season on the DL as he deals with a strained rotator cuff that is sidelining him for at least a couple of weeks. In other injury news, OF Michael Brantley is progressing in his recovery from biceps surgery but isn’t a lock to be ready for Opening Day. It’s looking better for SP Carlos Carrasco, who appears to be on-track to start the season in the rotation after missing a chunk of 2016 with injuries.

The Indians’ .262 average was the fifth-highest in Major League Baseball last season, but their 185 home runs put them near the middle of the pack. Their .759 OPS ranked seventh in the majors. 1B Carlos Santana led the team with 34 home runs, hitting .259 with a .865 OPS to go along with the dingers. Rookie OF Tyler Naquin showed some promising signs in 116 games, hitting .296 with 14 home runs while veteran OF Rajai Davis hit .249 with 12 home runs, but he really excelled on the bases, nabbing 43 steals, the most in the American League and fourth-most in the majors. Kipnis hit .275 with 23 home runs last season.

In his 25 starts in 2016, Carrasco posted a 3.32 ERA with 150 strikeouts in 146.1 innings. SP Corey Kluber had a 3.14 ERA with 227 strikeouts in 215 innings — eighth-most in the league in both stats — over 32 starts. SP Trevor Bauer put up a 4.26 ERA with 168 strikeouts in 190 innings, and SP Danny Salazar posted a 3.87 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 137.1 innings. RP Cody Allen went 32-for-35 in save opportunities to go along with a 2.51 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 68 innings, but perhaps the most important member of the bullpen is RP Andrew Miller, who was acquired in a trade with the Yankees at the deadline, who posted a 1.55 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 29 innings with the team (1.45 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 74.1 innings overall in 2016).

Adding Encarnacion — who hit 42 home runs with the Blue Jays last season — gives the Indians a viable replacement for Napoli and provides some depth to deal with the injuries if they start to linger into the season. They have SS Francisco Lindor who provides the team offense at a position that typically lacks it. The Indians also get back C Yan Gomes, whose 2016 was essentially lost to injury. If he’s healthy, he can provide some pop out of another position not knowing for its offense. If Carrasco returns to form coming off his injury, he’ll form a strong 1-2 punch at the top of the Indians’ rotation with Kluber. If someone like Salazar or Bauer can take the next step in their career, the Indians could have formidable starting pitching, with two good relievers in the bullpen to close out games.

Injury concerns aside, the Indians are definitely the class of the AL Central. The injuries to Kipnis and Brantley don’t look like they’ll keep them out for extended periods of time this year and  the sooner they can come back, the more help they’ll give the Indians as they try to fend off the Tigers and Royals to repeat as the division champions. If they make it to the playoffs, they certainly have a better-than-average chance of advancing far again, possibly making it to the World Series for a second straight season — after waiting more than 50 years since their last appearance — perhaps for a rematch with the Cubs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: New York Mets

Up next in our preview of all 30 MLB teams, leading up to the start of the 2017 season, are the New York Metswho finished in second place in the NL East last season

 

A season after losing to the Royals in the World Series the Mets had an 87-win season in 2016, finishing behind the Nationals in the division, and losing to the Giants in the National League Wild Card game in the playoffs. The Mets didn’t make any notable moves in the offseason. They lost SP Bartolo Colon in free agency, opening up a spot in their starting rotation, which has high upside with the likes of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, who is coming off an injury that limited him to 17 starts last season and ending his season in early July. Barring an injury SP Steven Matz should be able to get 30-plus starts for the first time in his major league career, which could provide a boost to the pitching staff if he can pitch well out of the No. 4 spot in the rotation. OF Yoenis Cespedes will likely be relied upo to lead the offense with injury questions surrounding veteran 3B David Wright, who had to leave spring training early to head back to New York to have doctors look at a shoulder injury, which could prevent him from being ready for Opening Day.

The Mets ranked near the bottom of the majors with a .246 average last season but their 218 home runs were fifth-best among the 30 teams. Cespedes and OF Curtis Granderson led the team with 31 and 30 home runs, respectively, while 2B Neil Walker‘s .282 average was tops among the team’s starting position players. Cespedes’ 31 home runs put him in a tie for the ninth most in the National League and his .530 slugging percentage was also ninth in the NL. 3B Jose Reyes, who played 60 games with the team as a midseason free-agent signing, had one of his best seasons in recent years, hitting .267 with 8 home runs. Young OF Michael Conforto showed some power last season, hitting 12 home runs in 304 at-bats, but hit just .220 and struck out 89 times. On the mound, Syndergaard had one of the best seasons among all major league pitchers, posting a 2.60 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings while compiling a 14-9 record. His 6.0 WAR ranked sixth among all players in the NL. The Mets also saw a good year out of deGrom, who had a 3.04 ERA in an injury-shortened season during which he threw 148 innings in 24 starts, striking out 143. Harvey, who was limited to just 92.2 innings put up a disappointing 4.86 ERA and struck out just 76 batters. Closer Jeurys Familia recorded 51 saves in 56 opportunities. He notched 84 strikeouts and a 2.55 ERA over 77.2 innings.

Heading into this season, the Mets need to get more consistent at getting on base, they can’t rely on the long ball as much as they did last year. A key piece to the offense will be OF Jay Bruce, who struggled at the plate after being traded by the Reds to the Mets at the trade deadline. Bruce is the projected starter in right field, but he may not hold that job long if he doesn’t improve upon the .219 he hit in his 50 games with the team last season. Conforto is lurking behind Bruce on the depth chart, waiting to take over for the veteran if he can’t perform to the Mets’ expectations. It might be hard for Syndergaard to repeat his performance from last season, but if he can even come close to that he’ll be a strong ace of a young rotation. The questions come with the rest of the starters, including whether Harvey is fully recovered from his injury and can make it through the full season and if Matz can handle a full-season workload after throwing 132 innings in the majors last season. The Mets shouldn’t have much concern about their bullpen, with Familia coming off two seasons with 43 and 51 saves. The caveat with that is a possible suspension looming for Familia, who was arrested for domestic violence last year. If he misses time for that, RPs Addison Reed or Hansel Robles would likely to get the bulk of the save opportunities in his absence.

The Mets and Nationals should continue to fight for the top spot in the East this season, though the Mets are likely going to be on the worse end of that battle if the offense doesn’t pick things up. The team will likely have to rely on the starting rotation to keep them in games and help them get victories if they want to make it to the playoffs for a third 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.

Sources: http://www.mets.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

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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.