Cuban INF Yulieski Gourriel Available For Hire

According to MLB.com, Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel has been cleared to become a free agent and could sign with a team as early as this season. The 32-year-old has primarily played third base over his career (13 in the CNS and two in the JPL). He has also played at second base and short stop.

Gourriel has repeatedly expressed a desire to leave Cuba with permission of the Cuban government. He and his younger brother Lourdes (22-years-old) left Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following its Caribbean Series back in February of this year in search of MLB contracts (per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com).

Gourriel is regarded as the best baseball player in Cuba and it’s easy to see why when you look at his numbers.

Last year with the Industriales, Gourriel slashed a ridiculous .500/.589/.874 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in just 49 games. Throughout his professional career Gourriel has a slash line of .335/.417/.580 with 1,585 hits, 250 HR, 1,018 RBI, and 611 BB.

Given that Gourriel is considered by many to be Major League-ready right now, I thought I would provide a look at one team from each division who could potentially sign him.

 

National League East: New York Mets

According to ESPN, the Mets may pursue Gourriel aggressively (and understandably so).

With perennial third baseman David Wright likely sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a herniated disk, the Mets could use someone with Gourriel’s experience who’s ready to make an impact.

Gourriel would also have a clubhouse friend in countryman Yoenis Cespedes, so this would seem like a match made in heaven on paper for both sides.

 

National League Central: Pittsburgh Pirates

Sitting at third place in the NL Central and two-and-a-half games back for one of the two NL Wild Card spots, the Bucs could use a potential offensive boost and change of pace in their infield.

Currently Pittsburgh is comfortable at third base with David Freese and Jung Ho Kang. They also seem comfortable at second base with Josh Harrison, but Gourriel could possibly platoon at short stop with Jordy Mercer.

If nothing else, Gourriel would be welcomed infield depth and could add some needed pop into the Pirates’ lineup.

 

National League West: San Francisco Giants

I’ll admit, the Gigantes are a bit of a stretch here when you consider their more than serviceable starting infield comprised of Matt Duffy (3B), Brandon Crawford (SS), Joe Panik (2B), and Brandon Belt (1B).

However, it wouldn’t hurt to have Gourriel behind any of those guys or allowing them to rest come the dog days of August.

With Hunter Pence possibly out of the everyday lineup until after the All-Star break with a torn hamstring, San-Fran could use a batter of Gourriel’s caliber.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

 

 

American League East: Baltimore Orioles

The O’s aren’t exactly in dire need for an infielder either (see Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Jonathon Schoop, and JJ Hardy).

Nevertheless, with JJ Hardy still out and rehabbing a fractured left foot and the flexibility of the DH position, Baltimore could use Gourriel as infield depth in a platoon with Alvarez. The O’s could also put him at the hot corner over current starter Ryan Flaherty (while Machado covers at SS in Hardy’s absence).

As you can see, Baltimore would have options by signing Gourriel. And when you are trying to stay atop the AL East, having options is quite the luxury.

 

American League Central: Cleveland Indians

The Tribe, in my opinion, is the AL team who would benefit most by signing Gourriel now. Cleveland currently has a solid middle-infield with short stop sensation Francisco Lindor and veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis. However, the corners of their infield are getting a bit old (Mike Napoli, 34) and worn out (Juan Uribe, 37).

At 32 with 15 seasons under his belt, Gourriel isn’t young either but would seem more serviceable than Uribe at third. Though the Indians do have another promising young talent in Jose Ramirez (currently starting in left field but a third baseman by trade), the addition of Gourriel would give the Tribe more flexibility.

Cleveland is on top of the AL Central by a thin margin and Gourriel could offer assistance in helping distance that lead (you’re probably sensing an AL pattern by now).

 

American League West: Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been red hot lately and have a seven-and-a-half game first place lead in the AL West over the Seattle Mariners. A large part of that success stems from one of the more crowded infields in the majors (see Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Jurickson Profar).

However, they could make room for Gourriel at first base by rotating with Mitch Moreland.

At the very least, Gourriel could share DH responsibilities with Prince Fielder while also acting as infield insurance.

 

Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees

 

Final Thoughts:

While I feel the Mets or Indians will make the most aggressive run at Gourriel, you never know who might throw their hat in the ring.

This development will be one to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. It would be surprising not to see Gourriel on a Major League roster by the All-Star break.

Cubs Lose Jake Arrieta’s Start

The Chicago Cubs finished their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 2nd. The Cubs won three out of the four games against the Dodgers, but failed to take advantage of a Jake Arietta start in their one loss. Arrieta went seven innings giving up no runs.

The Cubs lost the game in the last two innings. After seven innings, the game was scoreless, but two runs were scored off pitcher Clayton Richard in the eighth and three runs were scored off pitcher Adam Warren in the ninth.  The Cubs lost 5-0.

The last time the Cubs lost a game when Jake Arrieta started a game was in July of 2015. The game was officially a no-decision for Arrieta so it didn’t affect his win-loss record.

On June 5th, however, The Arizona Diamondbacks managed to put up three runs on Arrieta. The Cubs offense only managed to put up two runs in that game. The final score was 3-2, giving Arrieta his first loss in eleven months.

Best Rotation in the MLB?

As of June 4th, the five starters of the Cubs rotation all have an ERA under three. John Lackey has a 2.88 ERA, which is the best among starters. The average ERA of the five starters is 2.55, the best statistically in the MLB as of June 4th.

Hot Streak

The Cubs have won ten of their last twelve games as of June 5th. This comes after the Cubs had lost eight of twelve at one point in May. The Cubs are hitting especially well in their current stretch.

The home run ball has especially helped the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo hit one out to right field on the on June 4th and Kris Bryant has hit 400-foot home runs on consecutive days this past week. Dexter Fowler recently hit his 3rd leadoff home run.

Fowler has been especially good against opposing fastballs. According to an infographic posted on Inside Edge’s twitter account, Fowler has a .405 batting average when a fastball is thrown to him. Five of his home runs have also come off fastballs.

Looking for Relievers?

According an article published by ESPN’s MLB Rumor Central, the Cubs are possibly looking for a lefty reliever on the trade market. The news come in the wake of Clayton Richard’s struggles. Richard has an 8.00 ERA in sixteen appearances as of June 3rd.

The article specifically mentions Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees as trade targets for the Cubs. The Cubs have recently done business with the Yankees, trading Starlin Castro this past winter. The Cubs got Adam Warren in return, who has a 2.75 ERA as of June 5th.

Will the Yankees will be willing to trade one of their relievers? It is not guaranteed. The Yankees are currently six games back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, but could improve their standing as the summer goes on. It is too early in the year for the Yankees to give up hope on the postseason.

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.

Potential Landing Spots For Lincecum

There was a time when current free-agent pitcher Tim Lincecum was referred to as “The Freak”. From 2008 to 2011 Lincecum won two Cy Young awards while posting a 62-36 win loss record, 977 strikeouts, and an average ERA of 2.81.

Since then, Lincecum’s numbers have significantly declined as his 2012-2015 win loss record was 39-42 with an average ERA of 4.60. After undergoing hip surgery in September of 2015 and no longer a member of the San Francisco Giants (as his contract expired in 2015), Lincecum is looking for a new home in 2016.

The regular season is fast approaching,  but a showcase date to see what the right hander can still offer has yet to be announced. Lincecum though, has reportedly been pitching in private sessions out west and his agent, Rick Thurman, claims that 20 MLB teams have asked for the 31-year-olds medical information (per Yahoo Sports Israel Fehr).

So, despite a declining stat sheet and injury concerns, it sounds like more than a few teams may be interested in the nine year veteran.  But, instead of guessing who those 20 teams might be, I thought it better to provide a list of ballclubs that are most likely to sign “Big Time Timmy Jim”. Let’s get to it then.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Bucs already have a more than capable starting rotation of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Neise, Jeff Locke, and Ryan Vogelsong entering this season. However, with the National League Central likely being extremely competitive again this year, it wouldn’t hurt the Pirates to take out a flier on Lincecum.

Lincecum could add depth to either the bullpen or rotation, and when the calendar hits August, a playoff hopeful team like Pittsburgh would relish being able to rest a starter or reliever and send Lincecum to the hill instead.

Also, Lincecum would be re-united with his former Giants teammate in Vogelsong. The two pitched together for San Francisco from 2011 to 2015.

 

Miami Marlins

Since former Marlins closer Steve Cishek’s self-destruction in 2015, Miami is left with only A.J. Ramos to take over in the ninth this year. Factor in losing expected set-up man Carter Capps to season ending Tommy John surgery, and the Fins might want to consider adding Lincecum as bullpen insurance.

Like the Pirates above, Lincecum could also be used as a change of pace for the Marlins pitching staff, or even earn the fifth and final starting rotation spot.

 

San Diego Padres

According to MLBTradeRumors.com and the San Diego Tribune’s Dennis Lin, the Padres have been “aggressively pursuing” the right hander for his services. It makes sense for San Diego to be targeting Lincecum, seeing as he is very familiar with the National League West division.

Lincecum could be used not only for pitching depth, but also as someone in the clubhouse who can provide guidance for Padres pitchers like Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.

 

(Photo courtesy of Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

(Photo courtesy of Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

 

Kansas City Royals

You may be wondering why the Kansas City Royals are being mentioned in this post. Remember those private pitching sessions I mentioned earlier? Well, according to MLB.com’ Jon Heyman, the reigning World Series champions discovered Lincecum’s secret throwing spot recently, and were politely escorted out.

So, why would a team with a solid pitching staff and one of the MLB’s best bullpens be looking at Lincecum you ask?

For starters, the Royals have lost reliever Greg Holland for most if not the entire 2016 season, as he underwent Tommy John surgery late last season. Add the departure of short-term starter Johnny Cueto in free agency this off-season, and Kansas City could use an experienced arm for good measure.

Granted, the team still has a great pen in-tact with Wade Davis & Co. and their rotation can no doubt get the job done in 2016. Still, the fact that team scouts are sneaking to see what Lincecum looks like is stimulating enough.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore certainly had an interesting off-season that included signing veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo, thinking they signed and then losing out on free agent Dexter Fowler, and most recently inking former Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez to a deal .

Those moves, would lead me to believe the Orioles are still trying to figure out their 40-man roster, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lincecum become their next target.

If the O’s were to add Lincecum, he could provide Baltimore some breathing room in the event Gallardo doesn’t pan out, or if the Zach Britton lead bullpen suffers a setback.

Also, since the O’s and Giants share a similar uniform color scheme, we already know Tim looks good in orange and black.

 

Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles currently has two of their starting pitchers dealing with injuries this spring, and it could have a significant impact on the regular season rotation. Veterans Jered Weaver (neck) and C.J. Wilson (left shoulder) are listed as questionable to begin pitching by April.

Wilson and Weaver are currently shown as the second and third starters behind Garrett Richards on the depth chart (per MLB.com). In the event either of their injuries linger longer than expected, or should the ailments resurface this season, the Angels could do a lot worse than Tim Lincecum in trying to stabilize the pitching staff.

 

Honorable Mention: The Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, and Colorado Rockies.

 

Final Thought:

Tim Lincecum is far from “The Freak “on the mound that he once was. But after watching the resurgance of Scott Kazmir and Bartolo Colon in 2015, I don’t see why Lincecum can’t be next in line for a comeback.

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Top Ten Current MLB Droughts

It’s been said time and again that “Good things come to those who wait.” and “Patience is a virtue”. While those statements can certainly prove themselves to be true for most people, fans of the teams listed in this post may have a bone to pick with those proverbs. Heck for some fans, their patience has been stretched so thin, you could use it as fishing line.

WARNING: Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, and Rangers fans may not wish to continue reading (and nobody would blame you). For everyone else still reading, I won’t keep you waiting. Lets dive into the top ten MLB droughts:

 

10. Baltimore Orioles

While the O’s were able to end a post-season appearance drought of 17 years back in 2014 (previous appearance was in 1997), they are still enduring a World Series title drought dating back to 1983 (32 years). Couple that with the string of last and fourth place finishes throughout their previous 17 year playoff drought, and the fans of Camden Yards are left clamoring for a championship. If nothing else to finally have some bragging rights over the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who have won four of the last 10 World Series.

Finishing last year at 81-81 (.500 on the dot) and in third place in the AL East, Baltimore’s chances of ending that 32 year drought, in my opinion, is much like last years finish, 50/50.

 

9. Pittsburgh Pirates

Much like the Orioles, the Bucs ended their previous playoff drought of 20 years back in 2013, and just this past season had fans thinking they’d be raising the jolly roger flag in the World Series for the first time since 1979. Pittsburgh won 98 games in 2015, but saw their impressive season end abruptly after a 4-0 loss to the Cubs in the National League Wild Card game. This caused a 35 year old World Series drought to turn 36.

Despite being cellar dwellers in the National League Central during the majority of that previous 20 year playoff drought, the Bucs are now making the playoffs consistently. So maybe, just maybe, their World Series drought is close to being quenched.

 

8. Seattle Mariners

While the Mariners may have recently had another former star enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Ken Griffey Jr., something  you won’t find in Cooperstown is a Mariners World Series trophy. That’s because since entering the league in 1977 (39 years ago), Seattle has never won the fall classic.

The Mariners 2001 season in which they won an MLB record 116 wins, along with the National League West division, is by far the franchises one shining moment amongst a collection of otherwise forgettable seasons. With 2001 being the last time the M’s made the playoffs, they currently have the longest post-season drought at 14 years. Despite some nice off-season acquisitions over past few seasons, and a solid pitching rotation headed by “King” Felix Hernandez, Seattle fans will likely remain sleepless for years to come.

 

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

 

7. San Diego Padres

Padres fans share a similar pain with Seattle in that they too have never experienced their team winning a World Series. Fans of the Fathers have suffered a bit longer though than the folks in Seattle. With the Padres entering the league back in 1969, San Diego’ drought stands at 47 years. To make matters worse, unless the Padres can pull of their best season since 2006 in 2016, it will be 10 years since San Diego last won the NL West.

San Diego can take some solace in knowing that they aren’t the only team to have a 47 year old championship drought. The next two teams on this list also have never won the big one in their franchises existence either.

 

6. Milwaukee Brewers

Like San Diego, Milwaukee has also never won a World Series since entering the MLB in 1969 (47 years). Additionally, the Brewers have never won a National League Pennant since joining the NL in 1998. The last time the Brewers did win a Pennant (1982), they were still in the American League. Bringing the total pennant drought for Milwaukee to 33 years.

As if those stats aren’t sad enough for fans of the Brew Crew, Milwaukee finished last years tumultuous, injury riddled 2015 season at 68-95 in fourth place of the NL Central. What’s ahead for 2016?

All signs point to them battling for who gets top bunk at the bottom of the division, with the Cincinnati Reds this year. My prediction, more of the same pain for the foreseeable future.

 

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

5. Washington Nationals

Entering last year, the Nationals were odds on favorites to win their first World Series in franchise history. As you’ve probably caught on to the theme of this post by now, things went sour for Washington in 2015. By the time the post-season arrived, the Nationals were on the outside looking in.

Like the aforementioned Brewers,  Washington has also never won a National League Pennant. Bringing their drought total to 47 years for both a pennant and a title. Fans of this franchise are used to waiting however.

This is because there was a 33 year absence of the teams existence in our nations capital from 1972-2005 (In 72′ the Washington Senators left DC for Fort Worth to become the Texas Rangers).

2015 aside, I feel that Bryce Harper & Co. can certainly rebound in 2016 and vie for the franchises first championship.

 

4. Houston Astros

After losing to the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series, the Astros started to slip in the standings steadily from 2006-2010. Then from 2011-2013 they managed to finish last in both the NL Central (2011-2012) and American League West divisions (2013, switching from the NL to the AL). In 2014 they avoided a fourth straight last place finish by placing fourth a few games ahead of the Rangers.

When you add that slump to a 54 year World Series drought, it doesn’t exactly cause your fan base to believe it will end anytime soon. However, finishing in last place year after year doesn’t have to be all bad.

The Astros have used their top draft picks and made a few savvy free agent signings over those years, to build a playoff caliber team that surprised many last year. Houston bowed out, however, in the American League Divisional Series to the Kansas City Royals (The Royals would go on to win it all and end their 30 year title drought) .

Only time will tell if the Astros can continue their 2015 success story and possibly put an end to their Texas sized title drought.

 

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers surged last year on their way to edging the Astros in the AL west to claim the division for the third time in five years. Coincidently, they also edge Houston on this list by one year as their drought for a World Series title stands at 55 years.

Although fans have been experiencing a yo-yo affect with Texas’ seasonal outcomes of late (Nearly winning it all in 2011, then finishing last in 2014), the Rangers seem to be only a few pieces of the puzzle away from putting together a championship team.

It will certainly be interesting to see if these Texas teams continue to shine in 2016, as both fan bases could use some reassurance that things are looking up.

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

2. Cleveland Indians

There’s no denying the state of Texas has suffered over the years when it comes to professional baseball, but no sports city in the country has suffered more than Cleveland. Enter the Cleveland Indians, whose fans are apart of a Tribe that’s endured a 67 year long World Series drought. The last time the Indians won a World Series, was way back in 1948.

Despite multiple fall classic appearances in the late 90’s, the Tribe tripped and stumbled each time leading them to an 18 year AL Pennant drought as well. The closest Cleveland has come recently to ending both droughts was in 2007, when they lost a seven game ALCS to the Boston Red Sox.

Hope, however, may be on the horizon for Chief Wahoo and the city of Cleveland. According to another Sports Rants contributor, the Indians  are the AL’s sleeper team in 2016.

 

1. Chicago Cubs

If I had a dollar for every year a Chicago Cubs fan said “This is the year, we’re winning the World Series” I would have $107. When you have to go back farther than an entire century to find your teams last World Series title (1908), superstitions, curses, even supernatural events start to become believable.

To put this into perspective, the last time the Cubs won a title the president was Theodore Roosevelt, gas was 20 cents a gallon, and the number one song was “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (per the Huffington Post).

Chicago like Cleveland, has also suffered playoff collapses and heartache during their drought (see the Steve Bartman Incident from 2003). To make matters worse, as if the drought and playoff fiascos haven’t been enough, the city of Chicago has already seen a drought end. The Cubs longtime rival Chicago White Sox  (mentioned earlier in this post) defeated the Astros in 2005 to end their title drought of 87 years.

Despite all of this, the 2016 Cubs actually appear to be in a position to finally put that old Billy goat to bed. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see, but at least fans of this franchise have some hope again.

 

Final Thought:

While these droughts have no doubt been daunting for each respective franchise, we’ve seen a number of teams end their  post-season and World Series woes over the last 15 seasons. So, whether it’s been a few decades or over a century, just remember, there’s always next year.

 

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

 

 

NL Wild Card Recap-Arrieta cannonballs the Jolly Roger

Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, the Pirates were shutout in the NL Wild Card game for the second year in a row. The Cubs Jake Arrieta went the distance in a 4-0 victory that did feature some excitement which was missing from the AL Wild Card game the night before.

The NL Cy Young contender nicked Francisco Cervilli in the 5th inning with a 94-mph heater that sent the Pirates catcher to the ground. In the 6th inning Arrieta hit Josh Harrison with a breaking ball near the shoulder. Trailing 4-0, the Pirates would load the bases in the 6th giving them their best threat of the night, but Starling Marte grounded into a crushing inning ending double play to kill the rally.

The Pirates were none to happy with the plunkings and their inability to hit a pitcher who is the best in baseball right now. Only Zack Greinke Cy Young voters dare to disagree. With two outs in the 7th inning the Pirates’ Tony Watson hit Arrieta in the side. Arrieta provided a glare, the benches cleared, the bullpens emptied which never ever makes sense, and before you knew it Pirates infielder Sean Rodriguez’s throat was inadvertently in the grasp of Cubs catcher David Ross. It was Rodriguez who was ejected for throwing punches that didn’t land while most everybody else stood around or tried to hold others back for dramatic effect. Rodriguez later connected several times against a more stationary Gatorade cooler in the dugout. It was a way better promotion for Gatorade than the dumb bottles that sit in front of the manager during the postgame press conferences.

You really can’t fault the fight of a 98-win Pirates team that felt another night of frustration in a wild card game. They had ten more wins than in 2014, but still finished 2-games behind the Cardinals setting up another must win playoff game.

Following the melee, Arrieta swiped 2nd base, but did not score. He then had the audacity to return to mound and not let the Pittsburgh score over the final three innings. In the process he matched the feat Madison Bumgarner pulled off against the Pirates in last year’s wild card game, a complete game shutout. Arrieta’s final line was an 11 K, 4-hitter with no walks.

The Pirates’ Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60, 202/44 K/BB) is really good, but not on Wednesday. The Cubs Kyle Schwarber has been hitting under .220 since the beginning of August, but singled home Dexter Fowler in the 1st inning. Schwarber then homered home Dexter Fowler in the 3rd. The Cubs finished off the lump that was Cole when Dexter Fowler hit a solo homer in the 5th to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead. Fowler was 3 for 4 with 3 runs scored and a steal. Schwarber had the two hits and three RBIs. Other than that, only catcher Miguel Montero and shortstop Addison Russell collected a hit for the Cubbies.

It’s on to the NLDS where the Cubs will play the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time ever in the postseason. It’s a fact that will be overblown and mentioned way too many times. It’s not that big of a deal unless you want to pick on the Cubs for only making the postseason 5 times since Division Series play began in 1995, while the Cardinals have been in the playoffs 13 times. It’s certainly not the Cardinals fault the two teams haven’t met over that time period.

In fairness to the Cubs they have played in the Cardinals division every year since 1969 making postseason play impossible until 2005. Before that the two teams were partnered in the NL dating back to 1892 when the Cards were the Browns and the Cubs were the Colts. Once again that made postseason series play impossible.

What also seems impossible is Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA, 236/48 K/BB) ever losing again. An odd declaration for a pitcher whose previous career high in wins was 10 in 2011 and 2014. Sure he’s just one pitcher and the Cubs will need more than him in order to keep winning this postseason, but consider the numbers. Dating back to his June 21st start Arrieta has allowed as many as three earned runs in a game just once over a 20-start span. In 11 of those outings he didn’t allow an earned run. A big doughnut. He was 6-5 back in mid-June, but finished the year 22-6. Well, make that 23-6 after sinking the Jolly Roger on Wednesday.

The Cubs’ Jon Lester and Cardinals’ John Lackey are slated to pitch in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. If you’re already tired of the Cubs, hate the Cardinals, and love pitching then stick with the Mets and Dodgers series where nobody figures to score.

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Pirates vs. Cubs: What You Need to Know for the NL Wild Card

(Photo Courtesy of sports mockery.com) 

Two teams. One with 98 wins. One with 97. Yes, believe it or not, this is a Wild Card matchup. At the beginning of this long Major League Baseball season, it may have been a common prediction to see two teams out of the NL Central playing in the Wild Card game. But honestly, who would have thought that these teams would own the 2nd and 3rd best record in all of the majors? Thank the St. Louis Cardinals for that.

In their third straight year in the postseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates are emerging as a regular contender amongst the league after a 20 season drought. This isn’t new to them anymore. Chicago, on the other hand, who regularly competed with Pittsburgh for the bottom spot in the NL Central standings, haven’t been to the dance since 2008, where they were swept in the NLDS by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Back in 2013, this was Pittsburgh. As they emerged into the postseason for the first time since Sid Bream was safe at the plate in the 1992 NLCS, they were the team with young talent ready to make some noise. Now in their third straight do-or-die Wild Card game, this is familiar territory. Now it’s Chicago who is rolling into the postseason on a hot streak with a plethora of young talent.

This game has generated an immaculate amount of anticipation. I know I can’t wait. Pirates Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen took to The Players’ Tribune to ignite energy into the entire city of Pittsburgh on Tuesday. In a heart-throbbing essay, McCutchen explains what it’s like to play in front of a sold out crowd in an MLB Playoff game. This included mention of Russell Martin’s 2013 homer off of Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, after a consenual “CUUEETTTOO” chant that filled PNC Park. He also called upon his fans to fill up the park with energy come tonight:

“It feels like Christmas Eve already. I don’t want to be able to hear myself think, Pittsburgh.”

Talk about a pump up speech.

Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta also pulled something out of his sleeve to give his crowd a boast. He took to Twitter to respond to a Pirates’ parody account, who warned Arrieta of the environment he and the Chicago Cubs were about to enter, engaging in some friendly trash talk. What Arrieta said certainly should have got some Cubs fans excited, and is something he’s earned the right to say.

 

Yeah, he went there.

Currently in a 107 year World Series drought, it only seems fitting that the Chicago Cubs are ready to make a deep run.

What will it take?

What will it take for the Pittsburgh Pirates to avenge last year’s NL Wild Card loss to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, who just so happened to become World Series champions?

The Case for the Cubs

Well, we all know who is on the mount tonight. That’s right, Jake Arrieta. Posting 22 wins and hotter than any pitcher since the All-Star break, he is as good of a CY Young candidate as any. Arrieta will get the rock tonight, as he has posted a 0.75 ERA since the mid-summer classic and 1.77 ERA for the year. Those numbers haven’t changed a bit against the Buccos, as he has gone 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA against them this season. Did I mention the beard too? That thing is in tip top shape.

Alongside Arrieta’s dominance, Chicago has found much success out of its young talent. Kris Bryant, NL ROY candidate, has been nothing short of outstanding since his emergence into the league on Opening Day. Bryant has posted a solid .275 batting average, drove in 99 runs, and has homered 26 times on the season. A stat line like that on your rookie campaign doesn’t get too much better than that. He also has not treated Pittsburgh very kindly, posting a .400 batting average as well as driving in 15 runs and drawing 13 walks in 70 at bats.

Anthony Rizzo, a bit more experienced than Bryant, is also another young talent who has come up big this season. He has hit .278, sent 31 baseballs over the fence, and drove in 101 runs this season (3rd NL). Not too shabby. With this combination of balance and power, the meat of Chicago’s lineup is a force to be reckoned with. Starlin Castro has provided a consistent bat in the Cubs’ lineup, and the maturing rookie Addison Russell has provided stability in the field and at the plate.

As for veteran support, the Cubs don’t have all that much. At the plate, outfielder Dexter Fowler has provided some depth in the Chicago lineup, as he batted .250, hit 29 doubles, while even having stolen 20 bases in the process. On the mound, Jon Lester, who lost the ace role to the great Arrieta, gives veteran leadership to the pitching staff. He fanned 207 batters and posted a solid 3.34 ERA this season.

As most people predict this to be a low scoring game, I feel no differently. If Jake Arrieta is Jake Arrieta, and if Gerrit Cole is Gerrit Cole, this will be a defensive, nail-biting dog fight. For Chicago to take this game, they will need to get ahead and get ahead early, as they will be able to continue their reliance on Arrieta. If they can knock in 3 runs in the first 6 innings on Cole, this should triumph Chicago to victory.

The Case for the Pirates

Jake Arrieta this. Jake Arrieta that. That has all the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans have been hearing this week. Well, yeah. He’s good. But you know who else is good? You guessed it, Gerrit Cole. Cole has been pitching in Arrieta’s shadow for most of the season, but has been nothing short of incredible, which would certainly be a CY Young contending season in any other year but this one. Cole has posted 19 wins (2nd NL), a 2.60 ERA (5th NL), and 202 strikeouts. With an outstanding fastball-slider combination, Cole has dominated hitters this year. Not to mention, throughout his career, the Pittsburgh Pirates have come out victorious in 8 of the 9 times Cole has started the game against the Cubs.

Ah, what’s next? That’s right, the man who is responsible for almost single handedly saving the Pittsburgh Pirates’ franchise. Andrew McCutchen. In what many saw as a down year for Cutch, he still produced solid numbers. A .292 batting average, 96 RBIs, and 23 home runs is nothing to mince about. This team fuels on McCutchen’s leadership and energy, and the whole city of Pittsburgh, including the teammates, are excited more than ever to play this game due to his article in The Players’ Tribune.

The Pirates have also gained moral support from newly acquired catcher Francisco Cervilli (.295 BA), the speedy Starling Marte, Neil Walker, and mid-season acquisition Aramis Ramirez, who began his career in Pittsburgh. Since the season-ending knee injury to Jung Ho Kang, the Pirates have missed him dearly. Thankfully for the Pirates, the depth in their batting lineup have picked up the slack.

What about the bullpen, you might ask? Well, I figured I’d save the best for last. With a Major League leading and franchise record 51 saves this year, Mark Melancon has led the charge in a Pirates’ bullpen that has been stout all year. In fact, they have posted a major league leading bullpen ERA at 2.67, which compares very favorably to Chicago’s 3.38 reliever ERA.

So yeah, low scoring game. What does that mean for Gerrit Cole? Well, I think it’s going to take 6+ innings with one run or less to get past Arieta, and to then dive into that outstanding bullpen. A lot to ask from your pitcher, isn’t it? Who better though, than Gerrit Cole? Cole thrives in these situations, and if he comes through, so will his team. It may be hard to string together multiple hits against Arrieta, but if Cole can keep his team in the game, the Pirates can get the Cubs’ ace out of the ball game and win it late.

So, Who Wins?

This really is a toss up. There are a lot of experts out there who predict the winner of this game to meet the AL champion in the World Series. A bold call, but certainly fair. I’m going to have to go about half-head, half-heart on this one. My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, will prevail. With 2 previous years under their belt, they know how and how not to win a wild card game. Expect PNC Park to be as rowdy as ever. Gerrit Cole will execute, but so will Arrieta. This comes down to who makes one more mistake, and I think the young, inexperienced Cubs will be that team on the big stage. I think this ball game ends 3-1 in favor of the home team in a game to remember.

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Nick’s MLB Playoff Picks

It is finally here. The Major League Baseball postseason begins this week with some highly anticipated Wild Card games. Here are my picks for this year’s edition of October baseball.

Disclaimer: these opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the rest of the Sports Rants staff.

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Wild Card Games

American League

Houston Astros @ New York Yankees

It will likely be Dallas Keuchel against Masahiro Tanaka. Keuchel has allowed just four earned runs in his last four outings. Tanaka has allowed 6 runs in his last two starts. The Astros also have the hotter offense right now. Anything can happen in these games so I am just going to go with the hotter team.

Winner: Astros

National League

Chicago Cubs @ Pittsburgh Pirates

Make no mistake, neither of these teams are your typical squeak-into-the-playoffs kind of wild card teams. I would not be surprised at all if the winner of this game goes on to the NLCS or even World Series. The Cubs are the hotter team and have the better ace. Jake Arrieta is a top Cy Young candidate and is the National League’s only 20-game winner.

Winner: Cubs

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Division Series

National League

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets

The Dodgers have home field advantage. This will be an epic battle of top rotations. The problem with the Dodgers is, who will pitch Game 3 after Kershaw and Greinke have had their turn? The Mets have three solid starters they can ride throughout the playoffs.

With the trio of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have the advantage in starting pitching. The Mets also have Yoenis Cespedes who has 7 HRs and 18 RBI in his last 26 games. New York has also had better bats in the last month. Things seem to be tipping the Mets’ way. This could be a 5-game series.

Winner: Mets

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

This rivalry will spill into postseason play and it will be epic. The Cardinals won the season series 11 to 8 and they have home-field advantage. In the last month or so, it has been the Cubs that have played better baseball.

The Cubs will have to deal with a hot batting combo of Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward. They both hit over .300 with 10 home runs combined in the last month. Lucky for the Cubs, Kris Bryant and Starlin Castro have been equally as hot.

This series will come down to pitching. Each team’s bullpens will be tested. The Cardinals had the superior bullpen throughout the season.

Winner: Cardinals

American League

Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Rangers got a late push to win the division and have plenty of momentum. That may die off in their 4 days’ rest. Cole Hamels and David Price can set the tone in this series for their respective teams. Price is 5-0 with a 2.32 ERA in his last five starts. Hamels is 5-0 with a 3.43 ERA in his last 6 starts.

If there is a tie between those two aces, the tiebreaker would be the offense. The Blue Jays have a far superior offense. They were 2nd in the MLB with 43 home runs in September and also were third in batting average in that same span. The Rangers were 14th and 13th in those categories respectively. The Blue Jays also won the season series 4-2.

Winner: Blue Jays

Kansas City Royals vs. Houston Astros

The Royals seemed to be the class of the American League from the word “go” this year. Johnny Cueto was a great addition but he does not have a good track record in the postseason (see the dropped ball incident in Pittsburgh). He finished the year with a 5.50 ERA in his last 6 starts. Yordano Ventura has been their ace all year.

The Astros won the season series 4-2. They have also had the better offense through the last month of the season. It will come down to clutch hitting and the bullpen. Throughout the season, the Royals were in the top 5 for hitting with runners in scoring position. The Astros have been in the bottom ten in that category. The Royals have also had the better bullpen throughout the year.

Winner: Royals

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League Championship Series

National League

St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Mets

This series could go seven games easily. The Cardinals won the season series 4-3. This series would feature two of the top 5 starting rotations in baseball. The Cardinals actually have slightly better numbers with their top 3: John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha. You can also add a fourth, Carlos Martinez, who as a rookie, posted 14 wins and 181 strikeouts.

The Cardinals have the deeper rotation and the bullpen was more reliable. The Mets offense has come to life recently. Lucas Duda, Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson can hurt you in a lot of ways. The deciding factor in this series is whose bullpen can come through. If recently returned ace Adam Wainwright is effective in the bullpen for St. Louis, they will win the NL Pennant for the third time in the last five years.

Winner: Cardinals

American League

Kansas City Royals vs. Toronto Blue Jays

This series features teams with completely different philosophies. The Royals got here with solid pitching and timely hitting. The Blue Jays with a powerful offense and sufficient pitching. However, in the last month the Blue Jays have had better bats and even better pitching than Kansas City.

Any team that has a lineup featuring Edwin Encarnacion (39 HRs, 111 RBI), Jose Bautista (40 HRs, 114 RBI), Josh Donaldson (41 HRs, 123 RBI) and Troy Tulowitzki, they will be hard to get out.

The Royals have more speedy, on-base guys like Lorenzo Cain (28 SBs, .361 OBP) and Alex Gordon (.377 OBP). When it comes down to it, the Blue Jays have a deeper offense and a true ace in David Price. The Jays will party like it’s 1993.

Winner: Blue Jays

World Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Toronto Blue Jays

I was hoping for an All-Missouri World Series a la 1985 but the Blue Jays spoiled that fun. This will be a great series between a solid pitching staff against one of the most powerful lineups in recent years. It will be great to watch John Lackey, Carlos Martinez and Co. face off against Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

The Rogers Centre will rock with an entire country behind the Blue Jays. The Cardinals represent all that is good about baseball (minus a hacking scandal). A deep farm system with classy front office representatives in St. Louis against a spendy, trendy, sexy Blue Jays team. It will come down to this, can the Blue Jays pitching match that of the Cardinals?

The old saying goes “good pitching beats good hitting.” We could see that exemplified here. Adam Wainwright could emerge from the bullpen as this year’s Madison Bumgarner. The Cardinals battled injuries that everyone expected to doom their season and they overcame them all. It will all pay off come early November.

World Series Champion: Cardinals in 6 games.

 
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