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MLB Hot Stove: End-of-year recap, where are Harper and Machado going?

It’s been two months since the Red Sox won the World Series, and MLB has seen quite a bit of player movement in the hot stove. The two biggest pieces available this winter, however, have yet to sign as the calendar turns to 2019 and OF Bryce Harper and SS/3B Manny Machado are still on the market. The biggest names to be moved so far this offseason have come via trades.

Trades

The biggest story of the offseason to date has been the rebuilding of the Mariners, who saw their playoff drought extend this season after a promising first half of the season turned into a disappointing second half that saw the team fail to make the postseason for the first time since 2001. The Mariners’ first trade saw a package highlighted by C Mike Zunino go to the Rays in exchange for OFs Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley. The next trade was their most significant, as they sent veteran SP James Paxton to the Yankees in exchange for several minor leaguers, with the centerpiece of the package being SP Justus Sheffield. They also made two trades on December 3. One sent 2B Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets for four players, including OF Jay Bruce and P Anthony Swarzak. Seattle’s other trade that day included SS Jean Segura and Ps Juan Nicasio and James Pazos going to the Phillies for 1B Carlos Santana and SS J.P. Crawford. The Mariners subsequently flipped Santana to his former team, the Indians, in a three-team deal in which the Mariners acquired DH Edwin Encarnacion. All of that action by GM Jerry DiPoto helped the Mariners shed salary and get younger as part of a rebuild, which is likely to extended the team’s streak of missing the playoffs by at least a couple more years.

The aforementioned three-team trade with the Mariners and Rays wasn’t the only deal the Indians have made, as they also sent 1B Yonder Alonso to the White Sox and extended the contract of SP Carlos Carrasco with a team-friendly three-year, $37.5 million that will keep him under team control through 2022, with a vesting option for 2023. While Carrasco will be with the Indians long-term, there have been rumors that they will trade either SP Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber as they also look to pare down their payroll.

The biggest trade at this point of the offseason occurred a few days before Christmas and involved the team that has lost the World Series in each of the last two seasons. The Dodgers traded OFs Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, SP Alex Wood and C Kyle Farmer to the Reds for SP Homer Bailey and a couple of minor leaguers, SS Jeter Downs and P Josiah Gray. Making those moves helped clear some room on the payroll for the Dodgers, who have been linked to Harper and are believed to be among the teams most likely to land the coveted free agent, who is expected to sign for more than $300 million.

Free-agent signings

As has been the case in recent winters, the free-agent market has been slow to get moving with the biggest names still available heading into January. Some of the bigger names behind the big two — including OFs Marwin Gonzalez and A.J. Pollock , SP Dallas Keuchel, C Yasmani Grandal, DH Evan Gattis and closer Craig Kimbrel — are likely waiting for Harper and Machado to sign before the other dominos begin to fall and we get a better idea of what teams’ rosters will look like heading into spring training and the regular season.

The Red Sox re-signed a couple of their World Series heroes, including inking SP Nathan Eovaldi to a four-deal and bringing back World Series MVP 1B Steve Pearce for another season. The team the Red Sox beat in this year’s ALCS, the Astros, who are likely going to lose Gonzalez and Keuchel, have made a couple signings with C Robinson Chirinos and OF Michael Brantley agreeing with the team to one-year and two-year deals, respectively. Among other playoff teams, the Braves brought back C Brian McCann, who started his career with them, and signed 3B Josh Donaldson each to a one-year deal. The Phillies, hoping to keep pace with the Braves in the NL East, signed veteran OF Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal, and another division rival in the Mets signed C Wilson Ramos for two years and RP Jeurys Familia — who they traded to the A’s during the season — for three years.

The Nationals — in all likelihood preparing to be without Harper starting in 2019 — have signed four free agents so far, with the biggest deal being a six-year, $140 million contract for SP Patrick Corbin, with SP Anibal Sanchez also signing a two-year deal with the team. They also signed C Kurt Suzuki for two years, with a one-year deal going to 1B Matt Adams. The Rays signed Astros 2017 postseason hero SP Charlie Morton to a two-year contract, and the Cardinals’ biggest signing has been RP Andrew Miller, with a two-year contract worth $25 million. The Yankees re-signed SPs J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia.

Other notable players who have come off the board so far in the offseason (with the team that signed them) include: 2B Jonathan Schoop and DH Nelson Cruz (Twins); RP Joe Kelly (Dodgers); SPs Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill, OF Justin Bour (Angels) ; OF Billy Hamilton (Royals); SP Tyson Ross (Tigers); and 2B Daniel Murphy (Rockies).

Likely landing spots for Harper and Machado

With Harper and Machado both reportedly seeking long-term deals in excess of $300 million, the number of teams that could sign them are limited. The Yankees, at times entering the offseason, have been linked to both players but appear to be focusing in on one while some high-profile National League teams appear to be leading the pack for the other.

The Yankees, Phillies and White Sox are the three teams thought to be pursuing the services of Machado, who visited all three cities and met with the teams prior to Christmas. The Phillies and White Sox — especially the former — seem to be willing to spend more money for Machado than the Yankees, but I think if the money is close Machado could still sign with the Yankees due to the perceived prestige of playing for the team. The Yankees are reportedly shopping 3B Miguel Andujar in trade talks, which could be a sign that the Yankees may still sign Machado. Signing him would make Andujar more expendable, as Machado can play either shortstop — where he would likely begin the season while SS Didi Gregorius is out — or third base. In the end, I think Machado signs with the Yankees.

The Dodgers’ biggest intention in making that big trade with the Reds was likely to clear room on the payroll to sign Harper. Other teams that have been connected to Harper are the Cubs — who have 3B Kris Bryant who, like Harper, is a Las Vegas native — Phillies and Nationals, who are likely still in on Harper, even though he reportedly turned down a $300 million team late in the season. Being from Vegas, I think Harper wants to sign with a West Coast team to be closer to home, and why not make it the team that has represented the National League in the World Series each of the last two seasons? I think the Dodgers ultimately sign Harper.

Possible trades still to come

Even though there have already been several trades this offseason, the trade market likely isn’t closed yet. All winter, the Marlins have been trying to shop C J.T. Realmuto, with teams like the Mets, Dodgers, Yankees and Astros reportedly among the teams interested in the backstop. Signing Ramos means the Mets are out. Reports have tabbed the Yankees as wanted a straight swap of Realmuto-for-Gary Sanchez, which the Marlins have seemingly balked at. If the Yankees sign Machado, maybe they’ll be willing to include Andujar in a possible deal. The Dodgers may not have enough trade pieces anymore after the Reds deal, and the Marlins are reportedly asking for one of the Astros’ top prospects — SP Forrest Whitley or OF Kyle Tucker — for Realmuto. Whitey is reportedly untouchable from the Astros’ perspective, but Tucker would likely be the centerpiece of the trade if the Astros are successful in acquiring Realmuto, even though they signed Chirinos earlier this winter. The Marlins may keep Realmuto for now and reconsider trading him near the trade deadline this summer, but if they trade him this offseason — which I think they will — I think he goes to Houston to fill one of the holes on the Astros’ roster.

Another trade to watch out for is the Mariners dealing Encarnacion. They are reportedly shopping him around, and drawing interest from the Rays, White Sox and Astros. The Mariners likely want to get rid of as much of the $25 million remaining on the veteran’s contract as possible because the 1B/DH, who is almost 36, doesn’t fit in with the team’s rebuilding effort. If he is traded, whichever of the Rays, White Sox and Astros doesn’t get him may turn their sites to Cardinals 1B/OF Jose Martinez, who has also been the subject of trade rumors.

With almost two months remaining before the start of spring training, there is still plenty of time left for free agents to sign and teams to make more trades. We’ll be updating the moves that happen as the hot stove continues.

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World Series preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Boston Red Sox — Two storied franchises meet

The ALCS and NLCS didn’t go the way I expected and as a result, the World Series will be contested between two the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball, with the Dodgers and Red Sox meeting in the Fall Classic for the first time since 1916, when the Red Sox beat the then-Brooklyn Robins. The Dodgers went to the full seven games in the National League Championship Series, getting past the Brewers, while the Red Sox needed just five games to beat the defending champion Astros in the American League Championship Series. The Dodgers are in the World Series for the second straight season after losing to Houston in a seven-game classic a year ago, and the Red Sox are in it for the first time since 2013, when they beat the Cardinals. Los Angeles is looking for its first title since 1988.

The Dodgers won the NL West — after winning a tie-breaking Game 163 over the Rockies — and finished the regular season with a 92-71 record that was the third-best in the National League. The Red Sox, on the other hand, won a franchise-record 108 games en route to securing the best record in the majors over the course of the season. That MLB-best record gives the Red Sox home-field advantage, securing them Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park, along with Games 6 and 7, if necessary.

Games 1 and 2 are at Fenway Park on Tuesday and Wednesday with first pitch scheduled for 8:09pm. After a travel day Thursday, the series moves to Dodger Stadium for Games 3-5 set for Friday through Sunday. First pitch for Games 3 and 4 is also at 8:09pm, with Game 5 (if necessary) set to begin at 8:15pm. If the series goes beyond five games, Games 6 and 7 are back in Boston on October 30 and 31, respectively. First pitch for both of those games is again at 8:09pm. All games are on Fox in the U.S., and all times are Eastern.

How did they get here?

After winning the NL West in the aforementioned tiebreaker, the Dodgers beat the Braves in a four-game NLDS and then eked past the Brewers in the NLCS that went the distance. The Red Sox finished eight games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East before beginning their postseason run by beating the Yankees, 3-1, in the ALDS and then the 4-1 ALCS victory over the Astros.

Pitching

Game 1 looks to feature a matchup of two top-tier pitchers, with the Dodgers expected to start SP Clayton Kershaw — who pitched the ninth inning of Game 7 of the NLCS — with the Red Sox likely going with SP Chris Sale, who didn’t make his scheduled Game 5 start in the ALCS after being hospitalized for a stomach infection. Both pitchers spent time on the DL during the regular season and threw around 160 innings, but they put up good numbers when they did start. Kershaw posted a 2.73 ERA with a 9-5 record, while Sale went 12-4 with an impressive 2.11 ERA. I think Sale is the better pitcher at this point in their careers, so I have the Red Sox the advantage in Game 1 starting pitching.

Beyond those starters, things get a little more murky. The Game 2 matchup looks to be Dodgers SP Rich Hill opposing Red Sox SP David Price, who has historically struggled in his postseason career but is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 10.2 innings in two starts this month. As the series moves to Dodger Stadium for Game 3, the anticipated pitching matchup pits Red Sox SP Nathan Eovaldi, who they acquired in a trade with the Rays during the summer, facing Dodgers SP Walker Buehler, who had an impressive rookie season. Fourth in line to take the mound are SP Rick Porcello for Boston and SP Hyun-Jin Ryu for Los Angeles. I think Buehler is the best of this group, and each of the Red Sox starters behind Sale have question marks, so I give the Dodgers the advantage in starting pitching from Nos. 2-4 in the teams’ rotations.

Both teams were top 10 in the majors during the regular season in bullpen ERA with an identical 3.72 ERA . The Dodgers’ bullpen has been impressive through the first two rounds of the playoffs, posting a 1.30 ERA in their 11 games. Boston’s bullpen ERA is closer to its regular-season numbers with a 3.62 ERA in nine games. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has yet to allow an earned run in 6.2 innings over his six appearances, with 10 strikeouts on his ledger. Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, on the other hand, has struggled to the tune of a 7.11 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP in 6.1 innings over five games; he has struck out eight batters. And Kimbrel’s ERA could be worse, but he has stranded a number of runners on base through the first two rounds. The Dodgers have the advantage in relief pitching.

Advantage: Red Sox 

Offense

The Red Sox finished the regular season at or near the top in many of the major hitting categories. Their .268 average, 829 RBI, 355 doubles, 876 runs and .792 OPS all led the majors, and they were in the top 10 with 208 home runs. The Dodgers were closer to the league average with a .250 average, but they were second in the majors with 235 home runs and third with a .774 OPS and were in the top 10 in many of the other categories on offense, and they had a MLB-best 647 walks.

The Dodgers have continued their power surge in the postseason, with their 13 home runs so far second only to the Astros, but their .268 average places them around the middle of the 10 playoff teams. The Red Sox are hitting .253 through the ALCS, second in the postseason, but their nine home runs are the fewest among the four teams that made the league championship series and played the most games so far in the playoffs.

Leading the offense for the Dodgers are OFs Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson, 1B Cody Bellinger, IF Max Muncy and midseason acquisition SS Manny Machado. Leading the Red Sox lineup are offseason free-agent addition DH J.D. Martine, who hit 43 home runs during the regular season,  American League MVP candidate OF Mookie Betts, 3B Rafael Devers, SS Xander Bogaerts and OF Jackie Bradley Jr., who was named MVP of the ALCS.

Advantage: Red Sox 

Defense

The Red Sox were the better team defensively during the regular season, making 77 errors compared to 100 for the Dodgers.

Advantage: Red Sox 

Managers

The 2016 NL Manager of the Year Dave Roberts is in his third season as a major-league manager, and managing in the World Series for the second straight season. Red Sox skipper Alex Cora is in his first season as a manager in the majors.

Advantage: Dodgers

Prediction

Throughout the season, the American League has had the best teams at the top of the league, and many people expected whatever AL team made it to the Fall Classic to win it. I have been of that opinion, and I am sticking to it now that we know the World Series participants. I don’t think the Dodgers can match up with the Red Sox, and I expect Boston to win its ninth World Series title.

Red Sox in six.

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LCS Predictions: Dodgers-Brewers and Astros-Red Sox

The wild card games and division series are in the books, and I did pretty good with my predictions. I got both wild cards right and went 3-for-4 with the division series. Unfortunately, the one I got wrong was the BravesDodgers series, and I had the Braves making it all the way to the World Series. With four teams left in the Major League Baseball postseason, I’ll have to change my pick for the National League champion, as the NLCS features the Dodgers and Brewers. In the ALCS, it is the Astros and Red Sox, which means I can stick with my pick of the Astros making it to the World Series, if I still feel that’s going to happen. With the Astros and Dodgers both still alive, we have the possibility of having the same World Series as in 2017, when the Astros won it in seven games. Let’s take a look at my predictions for the National League Championship Series and American League Championship Series.

National League Championship Series

The Brewers swept the Rockies in a fairly noncompetitive NLDS, while the Dodgers needed four games to dispose of the Braves in their series. Both teams won quickly enough that they had enough rest to be able to set their rotations they way they wanted. That means Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw is the projected Game 1 starter for the defending NL champs, and the Brewers will be opposing him with SP Gio Gonzalez, who posted a 2.13 ERA in five regular season starts after being traded to the team at the end of August. Where the Brewers probably have the biggest advantage is in the bullpen, which includes three pitchers — Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress — who could be a closer on most teams in the majors. The Dodgers’ pen struggled this season, including Kenley Jansen, who isn’t the elite closer he once was.

Offensively, the Brewers have the hottest player on either team in the NL MVP front-runner, OF Christian Yelich, who hit .370 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI in the month of September and added a home run and two steals in the team’s three NLDS games. Brewers 1B Jesus Aguilar also had more than 100 RBI in the regular season. For the Dodgers, IF Max Muncy had a breakout season with 35 home runs and 79 RBI, and veteran OF Matt Kemp had a bit of a resurgence this season, with a team-best 85 RBI to go along with 21 home runs and a .290 average — his best mark since 2012.

The Brewers have the better overall team and are hotter right now, riding an 11-game win streak, including the regular seaso. Add in home-field advantage for Milwaukee, and I think they have a good chance to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1982, and the first time they would be representing the National League in the Fall Classic.

NLCS Prediction: Brewers in six games

American League Championship Series

Like in the National League, the top two seeds in the American League are battling it out in the ALCS. The Astros swept the Indians in three games on the strength of their strong starting pitching, and the Red Sox knocked out their hated rivals the Yankees in four games in their ALDS. Two of the best pitchers of this generation are scheduled to take to the mound for Game 1 Saturday night at Fenway, with SP Justin Verlander going for the Astros and SP Chris Sale for the Red Sox. This is probably the most even pitching matchup we’ll get in the series because after Sale, the Red Sox don’t have starters who can match up with what the Astros are able to throw out there. The rest of Houston’s rotation consists of SPs Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, while the Red Sox likely have SPs David Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello slotted behind Sale. Those guys have been inconsistent this season, while the Astros had the best starters’ ERA and bullpen ERA in the regular season. That bullpen is now anchored by RP Roberto Osuna, who the team traded for during the season, and includes the likes of  P Lance McCullers Jr. and RP Collin McHugh. The Red Sox have RP Craig KImbrel at the back of their bullpen to close out games, but the rest of their bullpen is good but not as good as what the Astros have. The pitching advantage definitely goes to Houston.

Both teams have good offenses, but the Red Sox probably have the advantage at the plate. They’re led by AL MVP candidates OF Mookie Betts and DH J.D. Martinez, who both hit well over .300 during the regular season, with Martinez hitting 42 home runs and knocking in 130 RBI. SS Xander Bogaerts hit .288 with 23 homers and 103 RBI, and 3B Rafael Devers also surpassed the 20-homer mark. The Astros’ lineup doesn’t have anyone who can match up to the numbers Martinez put up, but it is deeper and led by 3B Alex Bregman, who hit .286 with 31 home runs and 103 RBI during the season, with another two home runs in the ALDS, during which he hit .556 in the three games. 2B Jose Altuve hit .316 but has a decrease in power with just 13 home runs, and OF George Springer hit .265 with 22 homers, but he hit three dingers in the ALDS and has homered in seven of his 10 postseason games since the start of the 2017 World Series. The biggest question mark for the Astros is the health of SS Carlos Correa, who continues to suffer from back pain that caused him to miss a significant amount of time during the regular season. He was just 1-for-10 in the ALDS, but his hit was a home run.

The Astros’ biggest strength is their starting rotation, while power hitting — and offense in general — is where the Red Sox excelled this season. If the Astros’ pitching is on-point, like it was against the Indians in the ALDS, it may be able to mitigate Boston’s strength, which gives the Astros an advantage in the series.

ALCS Prediction: Astros in six games

So, I am projecting a Brewers-Astros World Series, which would be a matchup of the last two teams to change leagues. It would also pit the defending champions against a team that has never won a World Series title, which was the situation the Astros were in last October.

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MLB Postseason Preview: 2018 Predictions

After two Game 163s on Monday, in which the Brewers beat the Cubs to nab the top spot in the NL Central and the No. 1 seed in the National League and the Dodgers beat the Rockies to win the NL West, it’s time for the 2018 postseason to begin.

Image courtesy ESPN

It begins Tuesday night with the Cubs hosting the Dodgers in the NL Wild Card game, then the Yankees host the A’s in the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday. The winner of the NL game faces the Brewers in the National League Division Series, with the AL winner facing the Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

The Cubs have been reeling of late, losing a five-game lead in the division in early September to end up in the Wild Card game. The Rockies, meanwhile, went 19-9 in the month of September. With the teams headed in different directions, the Rockies have positive momentum on their side. It should be a good pitching matchup with SP Kyle Freeland going for the Rockies and SP Jon Lester taking the mound for the Cubs. Despite the game being at Wrigley Field, I don’t think the Cubs are good enough right now and I think the Rockies win the game to advance to the NLDS.

There’s a similar story at Yankee Stadium as the A’s are coming off a 16-10 September while the Yankees were just 15-12 in the month, their worst record in a calendar month this season. Neither team has announced its starter yet, but SP Luis Severino figures to get the ball for the Yankees with the A’s potentially going with a bullpen game. Even though Severino hasn’t pitched well in the second half of the season, the Yankees would probably have the advantage there. And they certainly have the advantage on offense after setting a new MLB record for home runs in a season. If the A’s have a lead after six or seven innings, I trust their bullpen — especially closer Blake Treinen — more than the Yankees’. I don’t think it’ll come down to that, though, and I think the Yankees will win the game to go to the ALDS.

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

Championship Series
Astros beat Red Sox in 6 games

National League
Division Series
Brewers beat Rockies in 5 games
Braves beat Dodgers in 5 games

Championship Series
Braves beat Brewers in 6 games

World Series

beat

in 5 games.

So I think the Astros will become the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to repeat as World Series champions.

We’ll update these predictions, with further analysis, after each round as the postseason progresses.

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MLB All-Star Game Final Vote: Who deserves to make the teams?

The American League and National League rosters for next Tuesday’s All-Star Game were announced yesterday but, as has become customary in recent years, there is one spot left in each league for fans to vote on who they think deserve it. There are five candidates for each league’s Final Vote, and here is who I think should make the cut.

American League

Given the size of their teams’ fan bases, I think either Benintendi or Stanton will win the vote, probably Stanton, but I don’t think either of them deserves it. My vote goes to Rosario, but playing for the Twins will hurt his case.

National League

This is a tough call. I think Muncy will get a lot of votes because he’s a bit of a feel-good story, hitting 20 home runs already after not playing at all last season and having just 215 at-bats in Major League Baseball prior to this season. But he’s not the best candidate in my opinion. My vote goes to Aguilar, who has a couple more home runs and a batting average that is more than 30 points higher than Muncy’s. Out of the 10 players in the Final Vote between the two leagues, I think Aguilar is the one who most deserves to be in the game.

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MLB All-Star Teams: Altuve leads the pack, Markakis gets his first nod

All the votes have been counted and the 2018 MLB All-Star starters have been announced. Reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve led all players with 4.84 million votes. It is his sixth All-Star selection, including five in a row. The top votegetter in the National League was Braves 1B Freddie Freeman, with more than four million votes cast for him, his third selection. Freeman’s teammate, OF Nick Markakis, is among the notable players selected to start. The veteran will be appearing in his first All-Star Game in his 13th season in the majors.

Here are the full rosters for both leagues, with some analysis:

STARTERS

C Wilson Ramos, Rays: He had a late push to get past the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, which was the right call by the fans. Ramos was my vote.
1B Jose Abreu, White Sox: He’s one of the few bright spots on one of the worst teams in the majors. I voted for Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox, but you can’t argue with Abreu.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros: He’s the best second baseman in baseball and plays for one of the best teams in the league. No-brainer.
SS Manny Machado, Orioles: He may not be on the Orioles by the end of July, but he’s having a season worthy of being on the All-Star team.
3B Jose Ramirez, Indians: He’s putting up good offensive numbers for a team that is likely going to be a division winner.
DH J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: He is one of the keys to the Red Sox success this season. The only real choice at DH.
OF Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Aaron Judge, Yankees; Mike Trout, Angels: No surprises or arguments to be made with these three selections.

RESERVES

C Salvador Perez, Royals
1B Mitch Moreland, Red Sox
2B Gleyber Torres, Yankees
SS Francisco Lindor, Indians
3B Alex Bregman, Astros
OF Michael Brantley, Indians; Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers; Mitch Haniger, Mariners; George Springer, Astros; Nelson Cruz, Mariners

The American League reserves are outfield-heavy. One of the biggest snubs here in my opinion is Astros DH Evan Gattis, who has been crushing the ball since the end of May. Torres is on the DL and isn’t expected back until after the All-Star Game so will likely be replaced on the roster.

PITCHERS

SP Trevor Bauer, Indians; Jose Berrios, Twins; Gerrit Cole, Astros; J.A. Happ, Blue Jays; Corey Kluber, Indians; Chris Sale, Red Sox; Luis Severino, Yankees; Justin Verlander, Astros
RP Aroldis Chapman, Yankees; Edwin Diaz, Mariners; Joe Jimenez, Tigers; Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox; Blake Treinen, A’s

Bauer was chosen as a replacement for Verlander, who is scheduled to pitch Sunday and will be unavailable for the game. Availability may require other pitching replacements to be made as well. Hopefully that includes Rays SP Blake Snell making the team. He’s having a breakout year and is probably the biggest snub in either league. He’s probably more deserving than Berrios or Happ, but those players are both on the team because their teams each needed a representative. There are a few good candidates to start the game. I would lean toward Cole, but it could also be Kluber or Severino.

STARTERS

C Willson Contreras, Cubs: He surpassed the Giants’ Buster Posey in voting and is having a good year, but I voted for the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, who I still think should have gotten the nod here. He’s having a better season than Contreras, but playing for a team with a pretty small fan base obviously hurt Realmuto in the voting.
1B Freddie Freeman, Braves: He got the most votes in the National League, and he is deserving of being selected for the team.
2B Javier Baez, Cubs: Like his teammate, Contreras, he made a late push, overtaking the Braves’ Ozzie Albies in the voting. I voted for the Reds’ Scooter Gennett.
SS Brandon Crawford, Giants: He got my vote, and is the right call at the position.
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: He’s having the type of season people have come to expect from him. Another no-brainer pick.
DH Fans don’t vote for a DH in the National League
OF Bryce Harper, Nationals; Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Nick Markakis, Braves: At the start of the season, only Harper would have been expected to be on the team. Kemp and Markakis are surprises, but are both deserving of the honors. All three (eventually) got my vote.

RESERVES

C Buster Posey, Giants; J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Joey Votto, Reds
2B Ozzie Albies, Braves; Scooter Gennett, Reds
SS Trevor Story, Rockies
3B Eugenio Suarez, Reds
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; Lorenzo Cain, Brewers; Christian Yelich, Brewers

Despite being a last place team, the Reds have three reserves on the team. It’s good to see that Realmuto and Gennett made the team after being snubbed in the voting. Dodgers OF Max Muncy has hit 20 home runs, coming out of nowhere this season, and should be on the team. He is a final vote candidate so still has a chance to make it.

PITCHERS

SP Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks; Jacob deGrom, Mets; Mike Foltynewicz, Braves; Jon Lester, Cubs; Miles Mikolas, Cardinals; Aaron Nola, Phillies; Max Scherzer, Nationals
RP Sean Doolittle, Nationals; Josh Hader, Brewers; Brad Hand, Padres; Kenley Jansen, Dodgers; Felipe Vazquez, Pirates

Scherzer should get the start for the National League, based on the numbers he’s putting up this season and the fact that the game is in his home park this season. DeGrom is among the best pitchers in the majors this season and gets the Mets’ obligatory spot on the roster.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the five final vote candidates in each league and make my selections.

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What does the MLB playoff picture look like on July 4th?

July 4th is typically considered to be the unofficial midway point of the Major League Baseball season, so it’s a good time to take a look at what teams are in a good position to make the playoffs and which teams are likely just playing out the rest of the season before they can begin their offseasons on October 1st.

American League

We’ll begin with the American League, in which five teams may already have the playoff spots clinched. The junior circuit has four teams that are currently on pace to have 100-win seasons and, barring a major second-half collapse, those teams will make it to the playoffs, securing the two AL wild cards in the process. The Red Sox and Yankees hold the top two spots in the AL East, with the Red Sox a game ahead of the Yankees, and the Rays in third place, 15 games out of first. There’s a similarly close race in the AL West, with the Astros holding a half-game lead over the Mariners, with the third-place A’s eight games back of the division lead. With the wild cards likely coming out of the East and West, that means there will only be one playoff team coming out of the Central, and that appears to be the Indians, who are 11 games ahead of the Tigers; the Indians are also the only team in the division with a winning record.

While the five playoff teams seem to already be determined, seeding will be important heading into the postseason. The three division winners will secure themselves spots in the two ALDS, while the wild cards will have to play each other in the one-game playoff for the opportunity to play the No. 1 seed in an ALDS.

al-picks

Looking back at my preseason picks, it looks like I’ll have an 80% success rate on the five AL teams I projected to make it to the postseason, with my only miss being picking the Angels over the Mariners for the second wild card. I had the Red Sox and Astros winning their respective divisions, and I’ll stick with that despite the fact that the Yankees and Mariners could easily end up as division winners.

National League

The playoff picture in the National League is much murkier than in the American League, with seven teams currently within a half-dozen games of the league’s two wild cards. Not only are more teams in the race, but there are more surprising teams that weren’t expected to compete for playoff spots this season.

The biggest surprise is probably in the NL East, where the Nationals were the preseason favorites to win the division for the third straight season but find themselves a game under .500 after losing to the Red Sox on Wednesday, their fifth straight loss and giving them a 2-8 record in their last 10 games. Their subpar season has opened the door for the Phillies and Braves, and those teams are taking advantage of the opportunity for a different team to win the East. Despite losing their last series to the Yankees, the Braves remain atop the division, holding a 1.5-game lead over the Phillies. Most people expected both of those teams to start being competitive in a season or two, but they are ahead of schedule in their rebuilding processes and both look like they could be playing meaningful games in October for the first time in several years. The Nationals are seven games behind Atlanta.

Both the Phillies and Braves are getting production out of young guys, with young SPs Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin both recording sub-3.00 ERAs through the first half of the season for Philadelphia. For the Braves, 2B Ozzie Albies leads the teams in home runs and OF Ronald Acuna looks like he is on his way to earning NL Rookie of the Year honors. But it’s not just the rookies helping the Braves get to first place in the East. 1B Freddie Freeman is putting up good numbers and OF Nick Markakis could have a career year at the age of 34. While those teams are overperforming, its a subpar performance from OF Bryce Harper that is hurting the Nationals. The power is still there, with more than 20 home runs, but he’s hitting just .216 on the season.

The top two teams in the NL Central aren’t surprising, but the order may be. The Brewers hold a one-game lead over the Cubs, with the Cardinals seven games back, in third place. And there are four teams with a realistic chance of winning the NL West. The Diamondbacks currently lead the pack, followed by the Dodgers at 1.5 games back. The Giants are in third, 3.5 games out of first, and the Rockies are five games behind the D-backs.

The Cubs and Phillies currently hold the two wild cards in the NL, with the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals and Rockies all within five games of the second wild card; the Nationals are 5.5 games back, while the Pirates still have a shot as they sit 7.5 games behind the Phillies.

nl-picks

Taking a look at the mess that is the NL playoff picture, I’m going to say that four of the five teams that currently hold playoff spots will stay there, with the Cardinals overtaking the Phillies for the second wild card. I think the Phillies will struggle a little in the second half and fall out of the wild card. I think the Cardinals have a run in them and will make the postseason. So my five playoff teams as of today are the Braves, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Cubs and Cardinals. So that is two changes from my preseason picks, above, with the Nationals and Dodgers falling out of my postseason projections.

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