Chicago Cubs Pull Out of Recent Slump

 

The Chicago Cubs have won three straight games as of May 27th. The Cubs beat their NL Central rivals the St. Louis Cardinals in the last two games of that series and won the series opener of against the Philadelphia Phillies on the 27th.

In their series opening win against the Phillies, the Cubs rested Anthony Rizzo and put Kris Bryant in his spot at first base. It was an unusual sight, as Bryant usually plays third base. This is the first time all season that Anthony Rizzo has not played a game for the Cubs.

The Cubs were also beneficiaries of well-timed home runs. Jorge Soler hit a 461-foot bomb that bounced off the Cubs Video Board in left field during the 4th inning. David Ross also hit a home run in the fourth inning. The home run hit by Ross was his 100th career homer.

Also helping the Cubs in their last few games was the return of outfielder Jason Heyward. He was injured during the series against the San Francisco Giants. He was only out for a few days and managed to return in time to play the Cardinals, his former team.

Prior to their current win streak, the Cubs had lost eight of their last twelve games. In that stretch, the Cubs lost games to teams that rank in the bottom half of the league. The Cubs dropped two games to the San Diego Padres and two games to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Despite that rough patch, the Cubs are still listed first in the weekly ESPN power rankings. The Cubs also still have the best record in the MLB. Every team has its slumps and the Cubs seem to have pulled out of theirs.

Going Forward

After their series with the Phillies, the Cubs will start the month of June at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are 25-24 as of May 27th. After that, the Cubs will host the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 3rd before traveling on Philadelphia to play the Phillies again on June 6th.

The Cubs a very favorable stretch of games coming up in the next week and a half. The Dodgers are their most difficult opponents and the Cubs will play at home until June 6th.  The Cubs should be able to take most of their games in that stretch.

Starting June 13th, however, the competition heats up. The Cubs travel to Washington D.C. to play the Nationals and then come home to play the Pittsburg Pirates on June 17th and the St. Louis Cardinals on June 20th.

The Cubs have a 4.5 game lead over the Pirates after their series opening win against the Phillies on May 27th. Prior to their slump, the Cubs had an even bigger lead in the NL Central. Depending on how the Cubs do over the next few series, the division could have a new leader by the time the Pirates and Cubs meet.

The Pirates are no joke and despite the recent dominance the Cubs have had over them, it is still early in the season. Anyone could come out on top of the division. No one expects the Cubs to tank, not with all the talent they have on their roster, but it is still possible.

 

 

 

Week Five In The MLB: Chicago Cubs

It is now week five of the MLB season and The Chicago Cubs are still garnering serious interest across the league. In addition to their recent success, a few developments have recently come out of The North Side.

Recent Results

The Chicago Cubs still lead the overall standings at 25-8 and a .781 winning percentage. The team is still the number one team on ESPN’s weekly power rankings.

At their current pace, the Cubs can win 126 games to go 126-36. According to newsday.com, that record would beat by the next best all-time record, set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs who went 116-36, by ten games.

Despite being the best team in the game, the Chicago Cubs have shown signs of weakness recently. On March 11th, the Cubs lost a doubleheader to the San Diego Padres, a team that most of the baseball world would consider inferior to the star studded Cubs.

The Cubs lost 7-4 in the first game and 1-0 in the second game. Usually the Cubs have no problem putting up runs, but only scored five on Wednesday.

This doubleheader comes on the heels of a four game sweep of the Washington Nationals, one of the best teams in the league.  The Cubs actively avoided Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, walking him repeatedly throughout the four game series, but managed to limit his effectiveness on the bases with solid defense.

The Cubs will play division rival Pittsburg on Friday. As of May 12th, the Cubs lead the Pirates, who are second in the NL Central, by seven games, the largest gap in the MLB.

Extension for Arrieta?

The contract for Cubs ace Jake Arrieta is set to expire after next year. He will be a free agent after the 2017 season if an agreement between Arrieta and the Cubs front office is met.

Arrieta’s 1.13 ERA is the best in the league and he has entered the discussion for best pitcher in the MLB. If he does manage to become a free agent somehow, it will be difficult to replace his production.

How much it will cost to keep Arrieta at Wrigley field is unknown, but according to several sources, he is not willing to take a discount to stay with the Cubs. For reference, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg recently received a 7-year, 175-million-dollar contract.  Arrieta believes that he is worth more than Strasburg, but how much more?

No Extension For Theo, Yet

The architect behind the Chicago Cubs ascension, Theo Epstein is in the final year his contract. Epstein would be a great pickup for any team’s front office, but he is not expected to leave Chicago anytime soon.

According to CSN Chicago, Epstein believes his contract situation is a nonissue and Patrick Mooney that the players deserve to get paid first. Epstein specifically mentioned Arrieta as someone who should be a new deal before he does.

Cross Town Classic World Series?

The Cubs have the best record in the MLB, but closely behind them is their cross town rival The White Sox. The Sox are currently sitting atop the AL Central at 23-12, the 2nd best overall record in the MLB. The Sox are somewhat of a surprise are finishing 76-86 in 2015.

Just like the Cubs, the Sox have relied on the solid top three pitchers in their rotation. Chris Sale is the team’s ace. He and Jose Quintana have and ERA under 2.00. Signed in the offseason, Mat Latos has been a solid addition to the team posting a 3.40.

While both teams are very good, it is highly improbable that both will make the World Series next fall. If they do both make it, however, it would be the first time that the two teams have played against each other in the World Series since 1906, the year the Cubs posted their 116-36 record. The Sox won the series that year.

Going Forward From Here

The Cubs have only played 32 games. They still have another 130 to go. They must keep winning consistently to have a shot at the postseason. It is far too early to guarantee anyone a playoff spot.

The Cubs biggest free agent addition, Jason Heyward, has .216 average this season. Heyward has started out slow and has done so they past few years. Each time he has been able to get out of the slump. He hasn’t needed to produce superstar numbers yet, but it probably hurt the Cubs if he did.

The Cubs don’t need improvement in any one area on the diamond. They’re the best team in baseball right now and just need to keep winning. More importantly, they need to win come October when the playoffs start.

Chicago Cubs Early Season Recap

The Cubs are now 25 games into their regular season and with their most recent win, a 7-1 win over the Pittsburg Pirates, have improved their overall record to 19-6 which is still good enough for best in the Major League.

Once again showing his magic on the mound was Jake Arrieta. Pitching seven shutout innings and allowing only two hits against the Pirates, Arrieta once again dominated. This has become the norm for Arrieta even against superb competition like the Pirates who are the 5th best team in ESPN’s most recent power rankings.

It’s not just Arrieta that’s having a great season so far. Several Cubs players have contributed to the team’s success.

 

Pitching

The Cubs rotation is among the best in the league. Lead by Cy Young Winning Pitcher Jake Arrieta, Cubs starters have a combined 16-4 record. After their win against the Pirates on May 3rd, Arrieta now leads the league in wins for a starting pitcher along with Chicago White Sox’s Pitcher Chris Sale.

In addition to Arrieta, starters Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have an era below 2.00. Only John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks have ERAs above that mark, 4.32 and 3.52 respectively. Hendricks is the only Cubs’s starter with a losing record at 1-2.

The relievers are also performing at high level. Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Travis Wood, and Adam Warren have ERAs below 2.00. Trevor Cahill, who helped seal the victory against the Pirates has a 3.86 ERA.

The only Cubs pitcher with an ERA above 5.00 is Clayton Richard at 6.75.

 

Offense

The Cubs are loaded with offensive talent. Dexter Fowler is currently leading the regular starters with a .352 average, 31 hits, and a .473 on base percentage. Given a one-year deal in the offseason after searching for a long term deal in the open market, Fowler is proving his worth.

Anthony Rizzo normally has a higher average than his current .242, but he now has sole possession of 1st place in the RBI standings with 26. Rizzo also leads the team in home runs with 8.

Former Rookie of the year Kris Bryant is hitting above .300 again after Tuesday’s game. He also has 17 RBIs and I second on the team in hits at 29.

Free agent acquisitions Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist are hitting .211 and .253 respectively. While Heyward is not performing poorly, his number are down from last season’s career highs with the Cardinals.

 

Coaching

Not much needs to be said here. Joe Maddon is one of the best coaches in baseball and was the National League Coach of the year in 2015.

 

Fielding

Out of 27 qualifying players, 18 Cubs’ fielders have a 1.000 fielding percentage, and another 5 have at least a .900 average. Only Adam Warren hasa fielding average below .700.

 

Injuries

In the third game of the year, the Cubs lost outfielder and catcher Kyle Schwarber to a season ending leg injury. Since then the Cubs have not missed a beat and continue to be a powerhouse without the young phenom.

More recently, Jason Heyward is dealing with a wrist injury. According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs are hopeful that Heyward can be back in the lineup Wednesday May 4th in the series finale against the Pirates.

Matt Szczur is also injuried. Gonzles is reporting that Szczur has a right hamstring injury and has been put on the 15-day disabled list. His temporary replacement on the Cubs roster is Ryan Kalish.

 

Expectations

The Cubs are considered the best team in Major League Baseball. Going forward they have to keep winning in order to keep steady in the rankings. After finishing their series with the Pirates, the Cubs will travel back to Wrigley Field and face the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are currently 18-7 and are the number 2 team in the ESPN power rankings. The Nationals should be a good test for the Cubs and a means to test expectations going forward.

 

Looking Ahead: 2018 MLB Free Agents

Picture this…

It’s the winter of 2018. A few months earlier, the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in 110 years by defeating the Houston Astros (hey it could happen). After jubilant Cubs fans everywhere calm themselves from a long overdue celebration, Chicago and the other 29 MLB teams turn their attention to the off-season.

The Free agency pool looks like the 1992 Olympics “Dream Team”. It features a host of all-stars, gold glovers, silver sluggers, Cy Young and MVP award winners. One major leaguer from this group will become baseballs first half-a-billion dollar man, others will strike deals that far surpass previous contract figures at their respective positions.

Reality Check

Ok, so the bit about the Cubs winning the World Series was purely for fun (though it’s not out of the realm of possibility), however, the rest could actually happen in 2018.

In what promises to be one of the best free agent classes we’ve seen in a long time, the 2018 off-season will be nothing short of astounding. Below are just some of the top names that could be available for hire:

Starting Pitchers

David Price*

Clayton Kershaw*

Matt Harvey

Jose Fernandez

Shelby Miller

Dallas Kuechel

Garrett Richards

Jose Quintana

Jake Arrieta

Closers/Relievers

Craig Kimbrel

Wade Davis

Trevor Rosenthal

Andrew Miller

Luke Gregerson

Jake McGee

Steve Cishek (pending he hasn’t completely combusted by 2018)

Infielders

Josh Donaldson

Manny Machado

Dee Gordon

Eric Hosmer

Mike Moustakas

Jose Iglesias

Outfielders

Bryce Harper

Andrew McCutchen

Jason Heyward*

Michael Brantley

Adam Jones

Lorenzo Cain

A.J. Pollock

(* indicates players who can opt-out of their current contracts in 2018)

Depending upon who ends up where, there could be a tremendous shift of power in both the American and National League. Of, course there are still three seasons to be played between now and the winter of 2018.

This means a number of the individuals listed above could very well be re-signed by way of contract extensions, or stick out their current contracts. Also, a few of these players could decline significantly in performance, suffer career altering injuries, or even become part of a blockbuster trade before 2018 arrives.

Nevertheless, the level of talent available by then will still be plentiful. While it’s difficult to say where these and other free agents will wind up, I will take a shot at projecting where four of the above free agents might land in 2018.

 

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 

Fantastic Four

 

1. Bryce Harper (NYY,WSH,LAD)

Harper will be the most coveted free agent prize in 2018 for a plethora of reasons. At 27-years-old, he’ll be in his prime as a player and will likely command a record setting contract. Per ESPN.com, the gifted outfielder was interviewed recently by 106.7 FM The Fan, and was asked about his thoughts regarding his next contract possibly exceeding the $400 million mark, to which Harper replied

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t really think about that stuff” Harper said. “I just try to play the years out and do everything I can to help my team win. But don’t sell  me short. That’s what you’re doing right now to me, so don’t do that.”(quote per 106.7 FM The Fan interview)

Given that Harper himself expects a big payday, there are only a few teams I feel that can cash his potentially historic check. It’s no secret, or surprise, that the New York Yankees (notorious for big off-season spending sprees) are a likely destination for Harper in 2018.

Many MLB experts believe the Bronx Bombers have been inactive in the off-season recently, in order to cash in on the likes of Harper and others once 2018 arrives.

While there could be some risk involved with the Yankees playing the waiting game, being able to unload hefty contracts such as Alex Rodriguez (free agent in 2018, C.C. Sabathia (free agent in 2018), and Mark Teixeira’ (free agent in 2017) will allow New York to spend freely in the 2018 Free Agency.

Imagine a NYY outfield composed of Bryce Harper, Jacoby Ellsbury, and a still effective Brett Gardner entering the 2019 season. Harper’s home run power coupled with the hitter friendly dimensions of the New Yankee Stadium would be a match made in heaven for New York.

Furthermore, it would be fitting for the Yanks to yet again break the contract record books (as they did with A-Rod before, 10 years at $275 million) by signing Harper to say a 12-year $450 million deal.

Of course, just because the Yankees will have money to spend in 2018, doesn’t mean everyone else is out of the running for Bryce Harper. His current team, the Washington Nationals, could go all-in and up the contract ante to a whopping 15-year $500 million mega deal.

Then again, they could structure the deal to guarantee “x amount” of dollars in a 10-year $400 million deal ($40 million annually) that might appeal more to Harper.

The Nats, however, may not be able to best New York in a bidding war in 2018. Over the next three seasons they will have other key players looking to cash in for their time and services to the team (Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa, etc).

Meaning, even if they manage to keep some of those players around by 2018, there simply may not be enough money in the bank to convince number 34 to stay in D.C.

Finally, another big market team (like the Yanks) that could potentially court Harper…the Los Angeles Dodgers. LA hasn’t been shy in seasons past when it comes to spending big money on top talent, though they have yet to see the desired results from said investments. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say the Dodgers pursuing Harper would surprise no one, and is highly probable.

Imagine for a second a Dodgers outfield consisting of Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and Harper. This would give LA one of the scariest 3-4-and-5 hitter combinations in the league, for years to come. Combine that offensive output with a Clayton Kershaw led pitching staff, and the Dodgers would be heavily favored champions entering the 2019 season.

 

(Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

(Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

 

2. Clayton Kershaw (LAD,ATL,PHI)

Speaking of Kershaw, and as previously mentioned in this post, he could very well opt-out of his current contract and seek an even bigger pay-day in 2018. While I think Kershaw will ultimately stay with LA, it is becoming more commonplace to see players using the opt-out clause of their contracts to seek larger contracts elsewhere, rather than stay with a franchise for their career.

Kershaw has been with the Dodgers since 2008, which would bring his tenure with the team to a decade in 2018. By todays standards, that’s a long time playing in one uniform. Given the post-season struggles LA has faced in Kershaw’ time out west, he very well could be ready for a change of scenery.

For the sake of this post at least, lets pretend Kershaw tires of being on the hill in Hollywood and opts out of his contract. One of the teams who I feel will be interested, is the Atlanta Braves. While they may not look like much entering the 2016 season, the Braves can certainly turn things around in 2018 by adding some top tier pitching and other pieces to go along with franchise player and first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Should Kershaw become available, Atlanta would likely try and persuade the three time Cy Young award winner to come to tomahawk chop country. As far as being able to afford Kershaw or outbid the Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks signing of Zack Greinke in 2016 is proof that a deal can always be made.

Lastly, and this team comes in as a total dark-horse for Kershaw, the Philadelphia Phillies could shock the baseball world and strike a deal. The Phillies would not only have the salary cap space to sign Kershaw, but could also add another top-tier free agent like a Josh Donaldson, or Jason Heyward (should he also opt-out). This is because in 2018, the Phils have virtually no money going towards major contractual commitments (per MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince).

Again, Philly may be a bit of a stretch, but like Atlanta, they’ll be rebuilding over the next few seasons. No better way to do so, than going after one of the best arms on the open market.

 

3. Josh Donaldson (TOR,BOS,NYM)

The reigning AL’s most valued player could bring in another MVP award between now and 2018, and will likely convince Toronto to keep him in Canada. The Blue Jays have certainly shown the other large market teams of the AL East that they too can splurge of talent. Of course, like the Dodgers, those dollars spent haven’t yet translated into gold rings.

Nevertheless, Toronto should be in a good position by 2018 to not only keep their multi-talented third baseman, but also compete for a championship. The Jays, will not be alone, however, in trying to talk money with the “Bringer of Rain”.

Another team that may be in need of Donaldson’ services could be the division rival Boston Red Sox. Sure the Sox have current third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval under contract until the year 2021. But, considering that the Panda hasn’t exactly panned out the way Boston originally hoped, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sox trade Sandoval away before the 2018 free agency, thus allowing the pursuit of Donaldson.

Of course, by trading Pablo away, the Bo Sox would have to eat a chunk of his contract. Throw in possibly having to re-bid or restructure a contract for David Price (should he opt-out in 2018) and the Sox might think twice about splurging the way they did back in 2011 (and we all know how that worked out, see 2012 Sox Collapse).

One last possible destination for Donaldson, could be the revamped New York Mets. Seeing as David Wright (who will turn 36 in 2018) could possibly hang up his cleats after an illustrious 14-year MLB career by 2018, Donaldson’ availability could be perfect timing for the Mets. Add Donaldson to an already potent lineup, with a rising, young,  and talented pitching rotation, and the Mets have a championship caliber team for years to come.

 

(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

 

4. Dallas Kuechel (HOU,TEX,PHI)

Last but certainly not least on my brief list of possible 2018 free agents is Dallas Kuechel, currently with the Houston Astros. While Houston standouts such as second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielder George Springer, and short stop Carlos Correa all sound like future Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals members, Kuechel may be one guy that the Astros can hang onto for a while.

Granted those other Astros listed above won’t hit the free agency until a few season after 2018, so Houston may still be able to keep a solid core together out West. If Keuchel plays his cards right, he could command a high dollar contract that rivals other top arms in this class. Whether or not Houston will be willing or able to pay up to keep their ace, will depend on who else throws their hat into ring for the talented lefty.

The in-state and AL West rival Texas Rangers could be one team that challenges Houston for Kuechel’s arm. The Rangers will still have the majority of their current 2016 pitching staff under contract through 2019 and beyond (Yu Darvish 2019, Derek Holland 2019, Cole Hamels 2020, Martin Perez 2021). When you add Dallas Kuechel to the mix, Texas’ rotation could rival other top staffs around the majors.

While multiple other teams could be in need of this lefties pitching power, I feel like no other team will need a left hander to build a team around more than Philadelphia. As previously mentioned about the Phillies in this post, the team will have the capital needed to bring in talent.

Quick Question: What if the Phils pulled off a major off-season sweep and sign Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, and say Manny Machado?

Answer: That would be a great start to rebuilding a franchise that has suffered multiple sub .500 seasons since 2012.

(All contractual information and statistics for this post is courtesy of http://spotrac.com )

 

Final Thoughts:

While the majority of this post is pure speculation, a good number of these players will become free agents in 2018. Contracts will no doubt reach all-time highs, and depending upon how the upcoming collective bargaining agreement goes, teams will likely crush 2016′ $2 billion spending spree by a significant margin.

It will be a class to remember, and could be an off-season that leaves a decade long impact on the majors. Until then, we can only watch, wait, and wonder.

Opening Day 2016: What To Watch For

Ah, Opening Day. The field grass is trimmed up just right, fans from all over the country pack stadiums to see the MLB’s best perform, and another season of America’s favorite past time is underway.

With just over 40 days left until the MLB regular seasons first pitch is thrown on Sunday April 3rd, 2016, anticipation is mounting for baseball fans everywhere. A total of eight teams will start the season off on that Sunday, 20 more teams will begin play on Monday April 4th. 2016, and the Miami Marlins host the Detroit Tigers in their home opener on Tuesday April 5th.

That’s three days set to be chock-full of home runs, outstanding pitching, “web gems”, and will feature all 10 of last years playoff teams. So, with the regular season right around the corner, I’ll provide you with a rundown of five must see matchups, and some key players to keep an eye on:

 

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (PNC Park on Sunday April 3rd at 1:05 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Adam Wainwright (STL) vs. Gerrit Cole (PIT)

Players to Watch: Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Matt Carpenter (STL), Josh Harrison (PIT), and Matt Holiday (STL)

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Sunday April 3rd at 3:05 p.m. EST on FSW)

Probable Pitchers- Jon Lester (CHC) vs. Garrett Richards (LAA)

Players to Watch: Mike Trout (LAA), Anthony Rizzo (CHC), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Kris Bryant (CHC)

New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals (Kaufmann Stadium on Sunday April 3rd at 8:37 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Jacob DeGrom (NYM) vs. Edison Volquez (KC)

Players to Watch: Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Alex Gordon (KC), Neil Walker (NYM), and Lorenzo Cain (KC)

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium on Monday April 4th at 1:05 p.m. on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Dallas Kuechel (HOU) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)

Players to Watch: Jose Altuve (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY), Carlos Correa (HOU), and Starlin Castro (NYY)

Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians (Progressive Field on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. on Sports Time Ohio)

Probable Pitchers- David Price (BOS) vs. Corey Kluber (CLE)

Players to Watch: Michael Brantley* (CLE), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Francisco Lindor (CLE), Mookie Betts (BOS)

 

Honorable Mention: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds (Great American Ball Park on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. EST)

The Phils and Red Legs game may not be a “must watch”, but growing up 30 miles east of Cincinnati, I felt compelled to recognize the rich history of Opening Day in Cincy.

 

Other Opening Series Players to Watch:

Jason Heyward- After switching National League Central teams this off-season from the Cards to the Cubs, posting a .293/.359./.797 slash line in 2015 with 79 runs, 13 home runs, and 60 RBI, Chicago will hope to see Heyward improve on those stats for 2016 in pursuit of the teams first World Series title since 1908.

Zack Greinke- Posting a 19-3 record, a 1.66 ERA, and 200 strikeouts with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Greinke begins 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Greinke will likely be the D-Backs Opening Day starter against the Colorado Rockies on Monday April 4th.

Daniel Murphy- Despite losing his post-season magic in last years Fall Classic with the Mets, Daniel Murphy still posted a solid .288/.322/.770 slash line with 56 runs, 14 home runs, and 73 RBI  for 2015. Murphy begins 2016 anew with the Washington Nationals, and it will certainly be interesting to see how he affects a clubhouse that could use his positive attitude.

Johnny Cueto- The reunion of former Reds pitchers Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez in last years post-season and World Series with KC was only temporary. After an 11-13 record with 176 strikeouts and a 3.44 ERA in 2015 (split between the Reds and Royals), Cueto will try to better those numbers with his new team, the San Francisco Giants in 2016.

 

(All probable pitchers are based solely off of team depth charts as of February 22nd,2016, and may be subject to change after Spring Training results)

(* Brantley may not be available to the Indians until April or May, as he is still recovering from a right shoulder injury)

(For a complete 2016 regular season schedule, visit MLB.com)

Final Thought:

I’ll simply end with a fitting quote from one of the games all-time greats:

You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.- Joe DiMaggio

 

 

The St. Louis Cardinals Keep Winning Despite Losing Their Ace Pitcher

(Photo courtesy of Bleacherreport)

A winning week with 7 games against division rivals

Shortly after getting the news that they had lost ace Adam Wainwright for the season, the Cardinals entered a stretch of ten straight games against the two teams in the National League Central expected to be their top competition this season.  Michael Wacha has stepped into the role of being the ace of the Cardinals’ pitching staff, and with veteran pitchers to back him up, the team has not missed a beat so far.  After sweeping the Pirates with three straight walk-off victories on the first weekend of May, the Cardinals welcomed the Cubs into town for four games for the first time on the 2015 season.  The Cubs’ offense seemed to gain the upper hand early in that series, but back to back come from behind victories had the Cardinals in position to take at least three out of four games with veteran starting pitchers in line to start the next two.  Lance Lynn and John Lackey have provided the Cardinals with a stable presence behind Michael Wacha at the top of their rotation in the absence of Adam Wainwright.  Young phenom Carlos Martinez has already experienced some peaks and valleys this season, but by leaning on his superior talent, he has been a strong contributor for the Cardinals pitching staff.  A further look at what the Cardinals have in place, and what they could put in place for the rest of the season, will help to determine if St. Louis has what it takes to overcome the loss of their veteran ace starting pitcher.

Cardinals meeting offensive expectations early

The Cardinals have complemented a strong middle of the lineup this season with another strong showing from the top of their order.  Whether it is Matt Carpenter or Jon Jay batting leadoff, the team has consistently gotten quality at bats from their first batter in the order.  Both of these left handed hitters do a great job of using the whole field, while displaying the plate discipline to foul off pitches often enough to work their way on base at a high rate.  Kolten Wong has occupied the second spot in the batting order for most of the Cardinals’ early season schedule, while displaying most of the same skills that make St. Louis leadoff men such a tough at bat for opposing pitchers to face.  Matt Holliday continues to anchor the middle of the Cardinals’ order from the third spot in the lineup, while Jhonny Peralta and Matt Adams alternate roles in the cleanup spot depending on the pitching matchup that night.  Peralta hits left handed starting pitchers quite well, and Matt Adams regularly displays his power against right handed starting pitching.  With Jason Heyward and Yadier Molina both batting towards the bottom of the order, the Cardinals have proven they have the lineup depth to compete offensively at a high level.  Even though the Cardinals’ bench does not feature as much offensive depth as it has in the past, a strong starting lineup leads what should be a sufficient offensive attack throughout the 2015 season.

Will the pitching staff hold up?

Michael Wacha takes over the role of staff ace for the Cardinals now that Adam Wainwright is out for the season, but he has yet to pitch a full season in his MLB career.  So far this season, Wacha has embraced the new role by pitching very well against the opposition’s best starting pitchers.  His inability to generate many swings and misses is a cause for concern though, as Adam Wainwright was able to maintain the role of staff ace for the Cardinals for so many years on the strength of his significant strikeout rates.  Wacha’s superior stuff as a big right handed pitcher, should allow him to register significant strikeout rates, but so far that stuff has led to an elevated ground ball rate against him rather than significant strikeout totals.  The numbers early this season have him striking out only 4.4 batters per nine innings, after striking out 7.9 per nine innings in 107 innings pitched last season .  If Wacha is going to be the Cardinals ace this season, that strikeout rate will need to climb throughout the rest of 2015.  With Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Carlos Martinez all being pitchers with significant MLB experience, it is Marco Gonzales who becomes the second most pivotal pitcher in the Cardinals’ starting rotation behind Michael Wacha.  After pitching only 34 and one-third innings at the MLB level last season, Marco Gonzales retains rookie status for 2015.  As a rookie this season, Gonzales’ efforts could go a long way towards stabilizing the back end of the Cardinals rotation, with an above average effort.

Can the Cardinals compete for a title without Wainwright?

Even though the Pirates finished up their stretch of ten straight games against divisional opponents, with their first series loss of the season, they were still able to go 7-3 during that tough portion of the schedule.  Carlos Martinez scuffled some during those games against divisional opponents, but after a low scoring weekend leading into that stretch, the Cardinals’ offense was able to take over some ballgames the following week.  Even with two losses to finish out last week, the Cardinals still have the best record in baseball with a six game lead for first place in the National League Central.  Michael Wacha will need to start striking out more batters if the Cardinals hope to make a run at another National League Central division title, but even without Adam Wainwright, this team is still very likely to make the playoffs.  If Marco Gonzales is able to pitch like a middle of the rotation starter for the Cardinals, the Cardinals will likely take their third straight division title with another season where their pitching staff shows its depth.  Michael Wacha still needs to prove that he can get through a full season, however the Cardinals are in good hands with plenty of veteran leaders on the club to help the young guys get the job done.

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