2016 All-Star Preview

In the coming weeks baseballs brightest stars will descend upon Petco Park in San Diego for this year’s All-Star Week.

So, here’s an update of the top All-Star Game vote leaders and possible Home Run Derby candidates.

(All voting information is accurate per MLB.com as of June,27th,2016.)

American League All-Star Ballot Leaders by Position:

Catcher

  1. Salvador Perez (KC): 3,754,594
  2. Matt Wieters (BAL): 1,033,217
  3. Russell Martin (TOR) 981,618
  4. Brian McCann (NYY) 578,013
  5. Robinson Chirinos (TEX) 511,308

First Base

  1. Eric Hosmer (KC): 2,638,022
  2. Miguel Cabrera (DET): 2,088,920
  3. Chris Davis (BAL): 952,053
  4. Justin Smoak (TOR): 772,948
  5. Hanley Ramirez (BOS): 769,385

Second Base

  1. Jose Altuve (HOU): 2,186,949
  2. Robinson Cano (SEA): 1,276,010
  3. Dustin Pedroia (BOS): 1,081,667
  4. Omar Infante (KC): 949,308
  5. Ryan Goins (TOR): 757,923

Third Base

  1. Manny Machado (BAL): 2,196,732
  2. Josh Donaldson (TOR): 1,590,183
  3. Mike Moustakas (KC): 1,135,431
  4. Adrian Beltre (TEX): 1,099,086
  5. Nick Castellanos (DET): 789,144

Short Stop

  1. Xander Bogaerts (BOS): 2,825,025
  2. Alcides Escobar (KC): 1,478.645
  3. Troy Tulowitzki (TOR): 1,136,479
  4. Elvis Andrus (TEX): 917,112
  5. Carlos Correa (HOU): 694,103

Outfield

  1. Mike Trout (LAA): 2,972,582
  2. Jackie Bradley Jr. (BOS): 2,184,884
  3. Mookie Betts (BOS): 1,915,637
  4. Lorenzo Cain (KC): 1,821,746
  5. Mark Trumbo (BAL): 1,801,969
  6. Jose Bautista (TOR): 1,707,134
  7. Alex Gordon (KC): 1,165,980
  8. Ian Desmond (TEX): 1,133,422
  9. Paulo Orlando (KC): 1,065,647
  10. Carlos Beltran (NYY): 964,473
  11. Kevin Pillar (TOR): 934,982
  12. Michael Saunders (TOR): 903,050
  13. Adam Jones (BAL): 726,916
  14. Melky Cabrera (CWS): 518,476
  15. J.D. Martinez (DET): 497,102

Designated Hitter

  1. David Ortiz (BOS): 3,400,200
  2. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR): 1,131,827
  3. Kendrys Morales (KC): 1,102,349
  4. Victor Martinez (DET): 865,194
  5. Nelson Cruz (SEA): 799,967

As you can see above, certain AL starting positons like catcher (Perez), second (Altuve), and designated hitter (Ortiz) appear to be locked in. But, first base and the last outfield spot could see tight finishes when the final votes are tallied this Thursday.

Betts currently has a slight edge over Cain and Trumbo, meanwhile Cabrera could see his current (tied for the majors longest active streak with Bautista) six game All-Star selection come to end should Hosmer hold his lead.

(Starting pitching, bullpen, and backups will be chosen by AL All-Star manager Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals)

 

(Photo Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

(Photo Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

 

National League All-Star Ballot Leaders by Position:

Catcher

  1. Yadier Molina (STL): 1,568,930
  2. Buster Posey (SF): 1,563,800
  3. Wilson Ramos (WSH): 1,282,287
  4. Miguel Montero (CHC): 854,629
  5. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL): 846,380

First Base

  1. Anthony Rizzo (CHC): 2,630,049
  2. Brandon Belt (SF): 1,233,499
  3. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI): 977,889
  4. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD): 734,448
  5. Brandon Moss (STL): 522,808

Second Base

  1. Ben Zobrist (CHC): 2,474,852
  2. Daniel Murphy (WSH): 2,167,918
  3. Joe Panik (SF): 768,312
  4. Neil Walker (NYM): 500,384
  5. Chase Utley (LAD): 488,170

Third Base

  1. Kris Bryant (CHC): 2,459,852
  2. Nolan Arenado (COL): 2,108,503
  3. Matt Carpenter (STL): 882,135
  4. Matt Duffy (SF): 665,802
  5. Martin Prado (MIA): 396,859

Short Stop

  1. Addison Russell (CHC): 1,741,182
  2. Trevor Story (COL): 1,423,547
  3. Corey Seager (LAD): 1,082,434
  4. Brandon Crawford (SF): 1,002,201
  5. Zack Cozart (CIN): 528,785

Outfield

  1. 1. Dexter Fowler (CHC): 2,230,877
  2. Bryce Harper (WSH): 2,253,083
  3. Yoenis Cespedes (NYM): 2,249,489
  4. Jason Heyward (CHC): 1,485,679
  5. Ryan Braun (MIL): 1,327,209
  6. Carlos Gonzalez (COL): 1,155,982
  7. Jorge Soler (CHC): 992,174
  8. Starling Marte (PIT): 893,952
  9. Andrew McCutchen (PIT): 816,079
  10. Stephen Piscotty (STL): 793,912
  11. Hunter Pence (SF): 764,004
  12. Matt Holiday (STL): 680,416
  13. Charlie Blackmon (COL): 644,191
  14. Marcell Ozuna (MIA): 578,015
  15. Angel Pagan (SF): 561,677

 

(Starting pitching, bullpen, and backups will be chosen by NL All-Star manager Terry Collins of the New York Mets)

 

You might have noticed a slew of Cubs players are currently projected to be All-Star starters this year. Granted at a few of those positions the vote separation margin is thin. As it stands today, though, fans could see Chicago accounting for more than half of NL-All-Stars starters (which would include the ENTIRE infield).

Fans will also want to keep an eye on who is chosen at catcher as it’s neck and neck between Molina and Posey. Meanwhile, those aforementioned cubbies infielders, Rizzo aside, could all be replaced (see Murphy, Arenado, Story/Seager) by the time it’s all said and done.

 

Home Run Derby Contestants (based on current HR leaders in the majors)

The derby has no doubt seen its share of rules and total contestant numbers change since 2013. Nevertheless, the 2016 Home Run Derby should feature eight players competing in a bracketed format with the NL and AL winner squaring off for the championship crown.

Rounds are likely to be timed rather than allotting players “x” number of outs as in years past. For a further history on the derby, and to see past winners, you can check out this link .

Below is a list of likely candidates for this year’s contest:

Mark Trumbo (BAL)-22HR**

Nolan Arendado (COL)-21HR**

Kris Bryant (CHC)-21HR**

Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)-21HR**

Adam Duvall (CIN)-21HR**

Todd Frazier (CWS)-21HR**

Robinson Cano (SEA)-19-HR**

Carlos Beltran (NYY)-19-HR

Nelson Cruz (SEA)-19HR

Trevor Story (COL)-19HR**

Chris Carter (MIL)-19HR

David Ortiz (BOS)-18HR**

Manny Machado (BAL)-18HR

Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)-18HR

Anthony Rizzo (CHC)-18HR**

Evan Longoria (TB)-18HR

Khris Davis (OAK)-18HR

Chris Davis (BAL)-18HR

Carlos Gonzalez (COL)-17HR

Mike Trout (LAA)-17HR

Josh Donaldson (TOR)-17HR

(** indicates a player I believe will likely be selected as a HR Derby participant)

 

Final Thoughts:

In the event you missed it above at any point, All-Star voting will conclude at midnight this Thursday June 30th. Fans can vote at MLB.com or anyone of the 30 MLB team websites and can do so up to 35 times.

This year’s All-Star game could be one of the more memorable ones, it’s Ortiz’s 10th and final outing, Story or Seager might be making a first time appearance, and getting to see Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale pitch on the same night is about as good as it gets.

Also, and this is an understatement, the Home Run Derby (July 11th) will be nothing short of a fireworks show, but with baseballs instead of roman candles.

The All-Star game will be played on July 12 at 8:00pm (EST).

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.

Lincecum To Make Angels Debut Saturday

After three minor league starts, via the Los Angeles Angels Triple-A affiliate Salt Lake Bees, longtime Halo’s skipper Mike Scioscia says Tim Lincecum is “definitely ready” to join the team this weekend against the Oakland Athletics.

Linceum, the former two-time Cy Young award winner and three-time World Series champion, is fully recovered from a hip surgery he underwent last September and signed a one year $2 million contract with the Angels back in May.

In those three previously mentioned minor league outings, Lincecum posted a 2.65 ERA, 19 SO, and six walks in 17 innings of work.

His best performance came this past Sunday against the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate whom Lincecum pitched with before being called up to the San Francisco Giants back in 2007. “The Freak” took a no-hitter bid into the seventh inning, struck out eight Grizzlies, needed only 89 pitches to get 21 outs, and finished the day with a one-hitter performance. Fresno, however, still managed to win the contest with a final score of 1-0.

After Sundays game Lincecum had the following to say: (quotes courtesy of MiLB.com’s Michael Avallone)

 

These fans have been always good to me,” Lincecum said. “I try to return that. I don’t take it for granted. It’s pretty crazy. The baseball community is big here. There’s a lot of following obviously for San Francisco. It’s pretty great. It’s just fun to have that kind of support out here when I’m trying to remake myself.”

“It’s a little different,” he said. “I’m in a different place. I’m not trying to make my path anymore, I’m trying to re-create it. I feel like the three starts I had definitely got me ready.”

“I just need to throw more strikes,” he said after his first start on June 2. “My stuff showed that I can play and I can get outs in the zone. As long as I stay there, that’s going to benefit me the most. I know you get in trouble when you get behind in counts, you put guys on base. I know I’ve been able to get out of situations like that, but you try to limit those situations so you can go deeper into games. That’s what I’m looking for.

 

Lincecum is understandably eager to make his first start on a major league mound in almost a year ( last start was June 27th, 2015 with San-Fran), and the Angels are equally excited to have a healthy hurler for a change.

Los Angeles, more than any other team in the majors this season, has dealt with a multitude of injuries and ailments to its pitching staff.

To date, the Halos have Ace Garrett Richards (right elbow, UCL) and lefty Andrew Heaney (left elbow, UCL) on the 60-day disabled list (both may not return this season), Nick Tropeano (right shoulder) on the 15-day disabled list, and both C.J. Wilson (left shoulder) and Joe Smith (left hamstring) listed as TBD for possible return this season.

The Angels current starters are composed of longtime staff member Jered Weaver, followed by Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, and Jhoulys Chacin (with Lincecum becoming the fifth starter to round out the rotation).

Per Y! Sports and MLB.com, Lincecum is scheduled to start this Saturday afternoon at 4:05 p.m. EST (1:05  p.m. PDT), in the middle of a three game series with the A’s (as mentioned at the top of this post), opposite Oakland starter Sean Manaea (2-4/6.02 ERA/40 SO) at the Coliseum.

 

Finals Thoughts:

Prior to his hip surgery that brought last season, and his time with the Giants, to a close, Lincecum had been declining. From 2012-2015 he posted a win loss record of 39-42 with an average ERA of 4.60.

Nevertheless, it would appear “The Freak” is ready to try and “re-create himself” as a Halo starting this weekend.

Given last year’s resurgence of Bartolo Colon (New York Mets) and Scott Kazmir (Los Angeles Dodgers), Lincecum could become this seasons feel good story, and provide the kind of stability the Angels so desperately need.

Of course, as with most things, only time will tell.

http://SportsRants.com

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.

 

 

 

Chicago Cubs Redefining the Term Slump

Recent Results

After coming out with one of the best starts in MLB history, the Chicago Cubs have slowed down in the past week and a half. After losing a double header to the Padres, the Cubs lost their series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The team has lost 5 of its last 8 games against considerably weaker opponents and now will travel to San Francisco to the Giants and Saint Louis to play the division rival Cardinals. The level of competition is rising this week and the Cubs will have to adapt.

In their 5 loses, the Cubs have posted 4 runs or less. In their 3 wins, the Cubs scored a total of 19 runs, 17 of which came against the Pittsburg Pirates, a team the Chicago Cubs have dominated this season.

While individual players, such as Ben Zobrist, are hitting their stride, the Cubs offense is faltering. The Cubs have left a number of runners on base in scoring position. According to Carrie Muskat, the Cubs went 1-for-24 with men in scoring position against the Brewers. They left 24 runners on base in the series, 14 coming of Wednesday.

In the grand scheme of it all the Cubs still lead the NL Central by 6.5 games and still have baseball’s best record. Even the best teams have their slumps. Right now it doesn’t seem to be an issue for the Cubs.

Facing the Champs

On May 20th, the Cubs will begin their series against the defending World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs also played the Giants last year and swept the would be champions.

This will be a good test for the Cubs. If they can rebound from their recent slump and beat the Giants in the series, they will be a good place going forward. The Giants are the real deal and still are a very good team.

Adding A Reliever

The Cubs recently signed Joe Nathan to a contract. Nathan is on the wrong side of 40 and is coming off Tommy John surgery. He could be a good pickup if he still has something left in the tank. He is currently on the disabled list rehabbing his throwing arm.

The Cubs have most of their relievers returning from last season. Guys like Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, and Travis Wood are still effective, but this move could further bolster their bull pen if Nathan pans out.

The Future Of Cubs Catching

This is David Ross’ last season in the major leagues. He has made it known for a while now that he won’t be coming back. How much of a priority will it be for the Cubs to replace Ross?

The Cubs still have Miguel Montero and Tim Federowicz who are currently listed as catchers. They also have Kyle Schwarber, who is naturally a catcher, but is versatile enough to play outfield. While it may seem like a rather obvious answer, there is more to it than what is listed on paper.

The Cubs will have a number of young studs to pay in the near future. Should salaries become an issue, the Cubs could consider trading Montero and his large contract. Montero is currently making $12 million this year according to mlb.com and that number will rise to $14 million next year.

Should it come down to it, and the Cubs do trade Montero, Schwarber could move back to catcher in order to keep Jorge Soler in the lineup who is currently filling in for Schwarber.

 

 

 

 

Pablo Sandoval Needs Shoulder Surgery

According to multiple reports yesterday, Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval will undergo shoulder surgery and could miss the remainder of this season. This news only adds to what has been a pitiful 2016 for “Kung Fu Panda”. Allow me to provide a quick recap.

Earlier this year during Spring Training Boston showed concern over Sandoval’s weight, which resulted in the circulation of some less than flattering photos on the web.

Sandoval went on to lose his starting job, as Sox skipper John Farrell decided to go with up-and-comer Travis Shaw in Boston’s Opening Series. Shortly after that on April 11th, Sandoval was placed on the disabled list with a strain in his left shoulder, which brings us back to the shoulder surgery and his indefinite absence from the team.

Not to add insult to injury, but Sandoval, who signed a five-year-deal with Boston back in 2015, is looking more like a $95million mistake and less of a marquee third baseman.

 

(Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports)

 

Sandoval, was ultimately signed by Boston for his solid bat (slashing for .294/346/.465 with 106 home runs and 462 RBI in seven seasons with San Francisco) and the clutch post-season performances he had with the Giants.

Panda though, has underperformed since his arrival to Beantown, as he struggled to slash .245/.292/.366 with just 10 home runs and 47 RBI in 2015. Add the season ending shoulder surgery, and Sandoval might be caught between a Brock and a Shaw place next season (that pun read better in my head originally, sorry).

Boston currently appears comfortable with Travis Shaw as their everyday third baseman, with ultra-utility man Brock Holt backing him up. Presuming Shaw continues to hold down the hot corner in 2016, and if Sandoval comes into next years Spring Training with more questions than answers, the Sox may end up eating a good portion of his contract when the 2017 trade deadline arrives.

 

Final Thoughts:

Behind closed front office doors, the Pablo Sandoval situation could become quite frustrating for Boston. Unless Sandoval can bounce back in a big way in 2017, I foresee him playing elsewhere in the not so distant future.

Sandoval’s contract currently runs through the 2020 season, but 2020 is a club option year and Boston could buyout the contract for $5million (per Spotrac.com) after the 2019 season.

Of course, given the Red Sox infield depth and the retirement of long-time designated hitter David Ortiz this year, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that Sandoval may be used to temporarily fill the vacancy at DH.  Until then, the Fenway Faithful can only watch, wait, and see what happens.

 

http://SportsRants.com

New York Bans Smokeless Tobacco at Yankees Stadium & Citi Field

When the Houston Astros and New York Yankees took the field on Wednesday night they were the first players to be prohibited by law from using smokeless tobacco for a regular-season game, a ban covers every person (not just players) in the ballpark as well. New York mayor Bill de Blasio signed the ban into law just before 5:00 pm, a ban that immediately went into effect as soon as the ink was dried.

The new law applies to all sports and recreational areas that issue tickets. New York joins San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles in enacting such laws but the Yankees became the first team to exercise it as they were the first team to have a home game among the group.

“We don’t want our young people to think smokeless tobacco is a cool thing,” de Blasio said.

A ban approved by Chicago’s City Council is expected to take effect by midseason while California has enacted a ban effective in 2017. By that time, 10 of 30 MLB stadiums and teams will have the bans in place. Legislators in Washington and Toronto are also considering the same.

“The bill sends a clear message: Tobacco has no place in New York City professional sports” said New York bill’s sponsor, Councilman Corey Johnson.

The MLB Players Association has resisted a league-wide ban despite an estimated 30% of MLB players using, an issue that will certainly be a major debate topic during negotiations with owners over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,  said his expectation is that MLB players and others will voluntarily comply with the regulations, as have most people when smoking bans have become law at athletic venues.

Johnson, who chairs the New York City Council’s Committee on Health, cited the late Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and former All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling as prime examples of the dangers of smokeless tobacco and the long-term effects it can have. Gwynn and Schilling attributed their cases of oral cancer to smokeless tobacco.

Major League Baseball and the teams in cities with the new laws have expressed support for the legislation.

 

Can Arizona Make The Playoffs?

The only thing that might get hotter than the Mojave desert this summer in Arizona, is the Diamondbacks. There’s no denying the D-Backs sent a shockwave through the National League West when they signed free agent starting pitcher Zack Greinke, formerly with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After inking the veteran to a multi-year mega deal, the Diamondbacks didn’t stop there. Arizona went on to trade for ex Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Shelby Miller, as well as former all-star and Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura. Combine those moves with their recent signing of relief pitcher Tyler Clippard (formerly with the New York Mets) and you get a revamped roster that’s ready to compete in 2016.

So, as the title of this post asks, are the D-Backs in a position to make a push for the post-season?

Before I address that question, I’ll recap where Arizona was last year, and what lies ahead in 2016. Like the saying goes, “You can’t know where your going, until you know where you’ve been.”

 

 

(Picture Courtesy of FOX Sports)

(Picture Courtesy of FOX Sports)

 

Recoiling to Strike Back

 

Arizona ended last season at third place in the NL west, failing to reach the .500 mark with a record of 79-83.  Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers, helped in part by Greinke’s 19-3 pitching record, won the division with a record of 92-70.

Despite finishing 2015 behind both the Dodgers  and the San Francisco Giants (who did some fine off-season work themselves), the Diamondbacks managed to finish in the top 10 or higher in nearly every team batting statistic (aside from ranking 14th in the majors for home runs).

Pitching ultimately kept Arizona from placing higher in the standings, as they ranked towards the middle to bottom half of the MLB in each category.

Hence the desire to grab Greinke, trade for Miller, and solidify the bullpen with Clippard. Given the probable rotation of Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, and Robbie Ray, Arizona should likely see those pitching numbers improve this season.

Meanwhile, the addition of SS Jean Segura (25 steals in 2015) should add to last years success of stolen bases by Arizona. The D-backs finished 2015 second only to the Cincinnati Reds (134) in total team steals with 132. Outfielder A.J. Pollock (who recently avoided arbitration with Arizona) led the team in 2015 with 39 steals.

I believe with an improved pitching staff, new role players, and perhaps some luck, the Diamondbacks can make the playoffs this year. However, Arizona’s path to the post-season will not be an easy one. Lets examine what could keep them from playing further into October.

 

(Photo Credit to Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit to Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

 

Potential Road Blocks

 

When searching for reasons why Arizona would not make the playoffs this year, look no further than last years NL West champs. The Dodgers, in my opinion, will be one of the key reasons the Diamondbacks do or don’t make the playoffs.

For those wondering if I’ve forgotten how the Giants will affect Arizona’s chances, I have San Francisco reclaiming the NL West title this year (as I feel they can win 95-97 games).

Meaning one playoff spot will already be taken if the Giants do in-fact win the division. So, presumably that leaves second place in the West and one of two wild card spots up for grabs between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. So, unless Arizona can capitalize on their divisional games against LA this season, their chances of being in the playoff hunt come September will be slim.

Another wall that could stand in Arizona’s way, is the number of playoff teams from last year appearing on this years schedule. Of the 10 teams that made the post-season in 2015, eight of them are on the D-Backs regular season schedule.

(Picture Courtesy of MLB.com)

(Picture Courtesy of MLB.com)

With multiple series against the Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, and interleague play with the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Toronto Blue Jays before the All-Star break in July, Arizona could struggle to be above .500 early in the year. This leads to one last, and probably the biggest, speed bump.

To sneak into the playoffs, these desert snakes will need to win between 92-94 games this season (a 12-15 win improvement from last year). Why 92-94 wins? The 2015 MLB Playoffs featured three National League Central teams that won 97 or more games (Cubs-97, Pirates-98, Cardinals-100), with the Dodgers (92) and the Mets (90) rounding out the rest of the playoff field.

Considering most of those teams from the 2015 playoffs look primed to put up similar 2016 win-loss records, Arizona will have to get 92-94 wins in order to be in the playoff picture for 2016.

Final Thought:

If Paul Goldschmidt and the offense has another top ten overall finish, Greinke & Co. can total 60 wins from combined pitching records, plus say 25-30 saves from the bullpen, a 92+ win season doesn’t seem impossible for the Diamondbacks in 2016.

Cardinals vs Pirates and more to watch this week.

Who: Cardinals at Pirates

When: Monday through Wednesday

Why watch the Cardinals?

Their defense had four interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns against San Francisco on Sunday, but then Trevor Rosenthal took a 3-1 lead in the 9th and imploded by putting three guys on base and serving up a grand slam to Brewers’ pinch hitter Jason Rogers. It was part of 7-run 9th inning for the Brewers as they beat the Cardinals 8-4.

Sticking with the baseball Cardinals, we find they have a 3-game lead over the Pirates in the NL Central heading into a key series against Pittsburgh to start the week. It begins with Lynn-Happ and then Wacha-Morton. Carlos Martinez (14-7, 3.01 ERA) has been shutdown for the rest of the regular and postseason with a strained right shoulder. Tyler Lyons will be called upon to start the final game of the Pirates series against Gerrit Cole.

The Cardinals finish the season this weekend with three games at the Braves.

Why watch the Pirates?

The Pirates only managed a 7th inning Gregory Polanco single on Sunday night in their 4-0 loss to the Cubs Jake Arrieta, whose Cy Young candidacy is full steam ahead like a locomotive. Pittsburgh had won their previous 8-games and because of that they have a chance to catch the Cardinals at the top of the NL Central with a sweep.

The Pirates finish the season this weekend with three game home series against the Reds

Who: The Cubs

When: During that perfect game Jake Arrieta (21-6, 1.82 ERA) had going until the 7th inning last night.

Why watch the Cubs?

To see Arrieta pitch and hit. He homered on Sunday night. The Cubs can’t win the NL Central being 7.5 games back with 7 to play, but they could host the NL Wild Card game. It’s a longshot as they trail the Pirates by 4.5 games. The Cubs have a make-up home game against the Royals on Monday and then a three game series in Cincinnati and in Milwaukee to end the regular season.

Who: Dodgers at Giants

When: On Monday when they can clinch the NL West.

Why watch the Dodgers?

Los Angeles enters the week with a six-game lead over San Francisco, but the Dodgers just lost all three games of a weekend series against the Rockies. Barring a collapse, the Dodgers will take care of business against the Giants on either Monday, Tuesday,  Wednesday or Thursday. If not, then the Dodgers postgame call-in show on Thursday will feature mayhem and chaos and just a 2-game lead with a home series against the Padres meaning something on the final weekend.

Why watch the Giants?

To see if Jarrett Parker can hit three homers in a game again. He did it on Saturday and has 6 career homers in 30 at bats. Also, it will be interesting to see if the Giants are simply out of this world at avoiding the stroke of midnight in the NL West.

Who: Red Sox at Yankees

When: Monday through Thursday

Why watch the Yankees?

The Yankees magic number to clinch an AL wild card spot is 3 after rookie sensation Luis Severino pitched 6-scoreless innings in his win against the White Sox on Sunday. New York has a 4.5 game lead over the Astros as it concerns the top wild card spot. Flags were at half-staff at The Stadium this weekend to honor the late Yogi Berra. Their hall of fame catcher passed away on Wednesday night. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, but luckily for the Yankees that logic may by more appropriate to the situation developing in the AL West.

Why watch the Red Sox?

Rich Hill (2-0, 1.17) has been awesome in his three starts with the Red Sox this September. Last week the 35-year old former Cub, Oriole, Red Sox, Indian won his first game as a starter since 2009. Rick Porcello has also been pretty good since late August. 23-year old Henry Owens, won’t face the Yankees, but he won on Sunday against the Orioles and figures to be a key part of the Red Sox future.

Who: The Blue Jays

When: Any time they are in the batter’s box.

Why watch the Blue Jays?

They have a 4-game lead on the Yankees in the AL West and look a team ready to clinch the division before this weekend. The Blue Jays magic number is 4 following Josh Donaldson’s walk-off homer on Sunday that swept the Rays out of Toronto. The Blue Jays have four games in Baltimore and three games in Tampa to end the season.

Who: Any game involving the Rangers, Astros or Angels

When: All week

Why watch the Astros?

It’s always a good idea to check out Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Sunday, Dallas Keuchel improved to 15-0 at home with a win against the first place Rangers. The struggling Astros won the final two games against Texas and trail the Rangers by 2.5 games in the AL West. Houston plays three at Seattle and then three at Arizona to end the season.

Why watch the Angels?

Because Mike Trout may climb a wall and rob a home run again or maybe Albert’s foot will explode as he guts it out. Somehow the “disappointing” Angels are just 0.5 games behind the Astros for the 2nd AL Wild Card spot. Heck, the Twins are just 1.5 games behind the Astros too. The Angels host the Athletics on Monday through Wednesday. Angels’ closer Huston Street ruined his groin in Saturday’s game so Mike Scioscia gets to play bullpen roulette for as long as the Angels still have chips to gamble.

Why watch the Rangers?

To see how badly they beat down the Tigers who have mailed it in. However, Texas didn’t exactly take care of business against Houston this weekend. A 3-0 first inning lead on Saturday was a 4-4 tie after three innings and ultimately a 9-7 loss. They lost to Keuchel on Sunday, but JV, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd are not Dallas Keuchel. Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland are under the radar performers who are hidden behind the giant shadow cast by Prince Fielder.

Oh by the way. The AL West champ and that 2nd AL wild card probably won’t be decided until this weekend. The Angels and Rangers meet in Anaheim this Thursday through Sunday.

Clinch Update:

The Kansas City Royals and New York Mets have clinched division titles so they get a small note here.

The defending AL Champion Royals proved the prognosticators wrong by actually getting better and winning the AL Central for the first time.

The Mets started strong at 13-3 and held strong to win the NL East and make the postseason for the first time since 2006. Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper’s neck put a wrap on what wasn’t for the Nationals in 2015.

The Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs and Blue Jays have clinched playoff berths. Wild Card is the best the Cubs can do at this point.

The Cardinals have clinched home-field advantage in a potential NL Wild Card Game or NLDS.

 

Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC

All New Beckett Daily Fantasy Sports - PLAY . WIN .COLLECT

Big Fish Games

http://SportsRants.com

The Cardinals Become First Team To Clinch A Postseason Birth

On Saturday the St. Louis Cardinals became the first team in Major League Baseball to clinch a postseason birth despite losing to the Chicago Cubs 5-4 because of a loss by the San Francisco Giants.

The Cardinals own a dominant 94-56 record on the season despite injuries to key players such as Adam Wainwright and more recently Yadier Molina, who has a partially torn ligament in his thumb and could miss the last few weeks of the regular season. The Cardinals have banded together and been the best overall team in baseball thanks to great team play and help from a very good starting rotation led by Michael Wacha.

St. Louis has a team ERA on the season of 2.90, which is first in all of baseball, with the next closest team (Pittsburgh Pirates) at 3.20. The Cardinals have the best pitching in all of baseball and their starting pitchers John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia have ERAs of 2.79, 3.28, 3.08, 3.01 and 2.45 respectively.

Barring a major collapse the Cardinals will enter the playoffs with the best record in the National League and will likely end up playing the winner of the Pirates and Chicago Cubs wild card game. Either matchup will be fun to watch and the Cardinals own an 8-8 record against the Pirates and an 11-8 record against the Cubs.

The Cardinals will be a dangerous team to face in the playoffs because any of their starters could start game one and it is likely that at least one of their starters will be used for long relief out of the bullpen if needed. Adam Wainwright is also expected to return to the bullpen for the Cardinals in the playoffs and the last time he was used in that role the red birds won the World Series in 2006.

With the Cardinals likely to enter the playoffs with the best record in the National League it will be the daunting task for teams to beat the red birds on the road. The Cardinals own the best home record in baseball at 51-24 and for a team to advance past the St. Louis ball club they will have to beat them at Busch Stadium.

The two teams that will have a shot at knocking the Cardinals off in the National League Division Series both could clinch playoff spots in the next two days. The Pittsburgh Pirates will clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight and if the Cubs win tomorrow they will also clinch a playoff spot. The Kansas City Royals of the American League are the third team that could clinch a playoff spot if they win tomorrow.

The playoffs are drawing nearer with each day and the Pirates and Cubs will have tough decisions to make when they play each other in the wild card game. For either team to beat the Cardinals in the National League Division Series they will have to win at least one out of the two opening games in St. Louis.

The two teams will have to decide whether they want to use their game one starter in the wild card game, or if they want to gamble and hope that their number two starter can win the wild card game allowing them to use their ace in Game one against the Cardinals. No matter what happens it is set to be a great postseason for baseball and the road to the World Series will lead through St. Louis.

http://SportsRants.com