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).

Why You Should Root Against The Chicago Cubs

When the Chicago Cubs visited Miller Park earlier this year, I engaged in some discussions with their fans about the state of their franchise versus the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s obvious the “Lovable Losers” are in a far better position right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the continued struggles to win (or even reach) the World Series.

Yes, they look like an unstoppable force right now, owning the best record in MLB at 47-22 entering play Wednesday. With a relentless offense ranked 2nd in scoring (5.35 runs/game) and a pitching staff on pace to break the single-season team ERA record (2.70), Chicago has outscored its opponents by 169 runs to potentially threaten the all-time record for run differential set by the 1937 New York Yankees (+411 runs).

With all these positive numbers coming out of Wrigley Field, it would be easy to crown the Cubs the champs now and stew about as Brewers fans – or fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Still, baseball is a funny game, so I would implore you to keep root, root, root against the Cubbies and feel no guilt about it.

Great team or not, there are reasons to sit back and soak in the Cubs’ past pain…for now:

 

Baseball Curses Are Fun To Believe In

While the logical side of my brain knows there isn’t an actual curse held over the Northsiders (or any team), it’s fun to find supernatural reasons a team can’t win it all. When the Boston Red Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, it knocked off some of the mystique.

The Cubs, however, still have Steve Bartman with his infamous headphones, turtleneck and deflection away from Moises Alou‘s urine-soaked hands. They have the black cat that ran around Ron Santo, kick-starting the Cubs’ collapse, ultimately blowing a an 8.5-game lead in mid-August.

And of course, the actual curse supposedly has to do with a goat. A tavern owner and his goat were kicked out of Wrigley Field during the Cubs’ last World Series appearance in 1945. He cursed the team by saying “they’d win no more.” They haven’t even made it back to the World Series since.

In 2015, Chicago owned a paltry 97-65 mark, but still came short of their ultimate goal. They were swept by the 90-72 New York Mets in the NLCS to end the year with a thud. Adding more intrigue to the curse last season was the incredible performance of the Mets’ Daniel Murphy in the NLCS. He had a HR in all 3 games, adding a .417 average and 1.628 OPS.

In reality, the name Murphy might be the actual curse.

When the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, the owner’s name was Charles Murphy. He was not a well-liked man and was left off the guest list for the celebration dinner, something he was quite upset about.

The famous goat in ’45? Well, his name was Murphy, too. In 1969 (the year of the black cat), the Cubs blew that big lead to the Mets whose GM was Johnny Murphy and broadcaster was Bob Murphy. Then in the 1984 NLCS, Chicago had a 2-0 series lead (best of 5), only to lose all three games at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego.

Hey, does anyone know what Steve Bartman’s middle name is?

Meanwhile, Game 5 of that ’84 series included a brutal error by first baseman Leon Durham, helping the Padres erase a 7th-inning deficit and go on to the Fall Classic. Durham was the first baseman because Bill Buckner was traded from Chicago to the Red Sox at the beginning of the season.

Buckner, of course, has the most famous between-the-legs error. When he committed that gaffe in the 1986 World Series, he was actually wearing a Cubs batting glove. Apparently curses have some crossover effect. Like I said…curses are fun! Why not keep the count going in the Windy City and make it 109 years – just for kicks and giggles.

 

From 2006-2014, The Brewers Had More Success

Since I was arguing on the side of Milwaukee against Cubs’ fans who would simply say the Brewers were awful, I made sure the have actual facts to shoot them down. Sure, the Cubs took an enormous step forward in 2015, but where were they the previous 9 seasons? From 2006-2014, the Brewers had 5 winnings seasons and went 740-718 for a .508 winning percentage.

In the same time, Chicago had only 3 winnings campaigns and went 677-779 (.465). Not to mention, Milwaukee also won more playoff series than the Cubs in that time frame.

In fact, Chicago never won a playoff game in that 9-year stretch, getting swept in both series they played. Milwaukee earned 6 playoff victories, and came just 2 wins shy of the World Series in 2011. The Brewers have no argument now, but how quickly Cubs’ backers forget.

 

Chicago Cubs Fans Are The Worst!

As a disclaimer, every fan base has their fair share of idiots and drunkards who can make games less enjoyable for everyone around them. With that said – Cubs fans are the worst. Well, technically the 2nd-worst behind Cardinals’ supporters (aka “Best Fans in Baseball” ).

Anyway, ask any Brewers’ fan how those Cubs’ backers act when they infiltrate Miller Park. Don’t get me wrong, a quality fan base will always travel well to opposing ballparks; however, I’ve never seen a group – as a whole – behave so ridiculously obnoxious that even I wondered if I’d ever go to a Cubs-Brewers game again.

For one, they barely know anyone on the team or actually understand what’s going on. During the hey-day of Sammy Sosa mania, they would jump out of their seats in exuberant joy anytime the ball went skyward. Never mind it was foul by 500 feet or that he catcher was camped under the ball.

Somehow it became cool to call yourself a Cubs fan, regardless of knowledge, loyalty or competence. There’s a strange arrogance and elitist attitude from the lot of them – odd since they haven’t won a title since 1908, and until last year, had won only one playoff series since 1990.

Of course, I heard from many “Cubs fans” in May tell me they “haven’t paid much attention to them in the last 5 or 6 years, but they’ve been glued to the guys the last couple of seasons!”

For being the 3rd-largest market in the US, they seem to have an inordinate amount of fans who are of the fair-weather variety.

 

The Cubs Are Going To Be Scary Good For Years To Come

Here’s the reality, and why you should embrace every Cubs’ failure as much as you can. Take pleasure in the Cubs’ pain right now, because they look primed to be one of the best teams for a decade or more. They already have stud, young hitters up and down the lineup, and a couple of good-to-great veteran hurlers.

With Chicago’s wallet size, you better believe GM Theo Epstein will be able to snag another pitcher or two that he thinks is worth the money. It might even happen this year or in the offseason.

They are also so stocked with young talent, giving Chicago multiple avenues to collect impact pitchers and hitters as needed via trade. The 97 wins last season – and NLCS appearance – were slightly ahead of schedule, so now there is little reason to believe the Cubs aren’t going full steam ahead. Considering how they look in the middle of June, it’s a bit frightening.

The Brewers are a number of years away from truly competing, so unless you really think the Pirates or Cardinals can catch the Cubs for the NL Central title this year (doubtful), we can only hope that either A) The randomness of the playoffs works against the Cubs’ talent or B) The Cubs truly are cursed and the “baseball gods” will intervene whenever they see fit.

Both are unlikely – so enjoy this as possibly the last moment the Lovable Losers moniker will make any sense.

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.

 

 

 

Rookie Watch 2.0

 

Before the season began, you might recall, I offered a glimpse at possible rookie of the year candidates. Since then, a few relatively unknown rookies have burst onto the MLB scene. One has already made MLB history and the others have some fans asking “Who the heck is (insert player name here)?”.

So, without further ado, allow me to provide you with an updated ROY candidate list:

 

 

5. Kenta Maeda (Los Angeles Dodgers P)

Prior to this season, Maeda spent eight years pitching in the Japanese Central League for the Hiroshima Carp. Nevertheless, this being his first season in the majors with the Dodgers, Maeda is ROY eligible per MLB ruling, and has began his rookie campaign rather nicely.

In his first two starts this season, Maeda has thrown a total of 12 scoreless innings with a 1-0 record and eight strikeouts. Maeda also managed to hit a solo-shot home run in his major league debut, adding to his early success out west. Maeda will be someone to keep your eye on as the season unfolds.

 

4. Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers SS)

In just 27 games and 98 at bats last season with the Dodgers, Seager hit four home runs, 17RBI, and slashed an impressive .337/.425/.561. In 11 games this season the 21-year-old shortstop is off to a solid start with one home run, six RBI, and is slashing .267/.292/.714.

Seager appears to be Los Angeles’ shortstop of the future and will likely be battling with a few of these candidates for the National League ROY award at seasons end.

 

3. Jeremy Hazelbaker (St. Louis Cardinals OF)

Called up by the Cardinals on April 2nd, Hazelbaker has been on a tear to begin the season. In 11 games Hazelbaker is 13 of 32 hitting with three home runs, seven RBI, and a nasty slash line of .406/.432/.844.

If the 28-year-old can keep this pace up, or even produce at half of his current hitting rate, St. Louis will have one of the stronger outfields in the majors this year.

 

2. Tyler White (Houston Astros 1B)

Just when you thought the ‘Stros had all of their young talent on the field and they couldn’t possibly have room for more, enter first baseman Tyler White.

White has hit four home runs with 11RBI, and is slashing .395/.467/.789 through 12 games this season. White appears poised to become the Astros everyday first baseman for 2016, barring any type of major setback.

White may also run away with the American League ROY award as well, unless Minnesota Twins rookie center fielder Bryce Buxton can climb out of his current hitting slump.

 

1. Trevor Story (Colorado Rockies SS)

Story has been nothing short of sensational so far this season. The young Rockies shortstop made MLB history by becoming the only player to hit at least one home run in each of his first four career games, as well as hitting the most home runs in a teams first six games with seven.

Along with his seven dingers, Story has 13RBI and has posted a respectable .292/.314/.833 slash line in 11 games.

Story has undoubtedly caused some Colorado fans to forget about former shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and will likely edge Jose Reyes for playing time if and when Reyes returns to baseball this season.

 

Honorable Mention: Trea Turner (Washington Nationals SS/2B), Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers 3B/OF), Stephen Matz (New York Mets P),  and Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins P).

 

Final Thoughts:

Sure most, if not all, of these players will regress at some point this season.  But until then, enjoy the highlights while they’re still hot.

I’ll have another rookie revision coming your way once the calendar flips to July, and the season reaches its half way mark at the All-Star Break.

 

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

 

 

Where Ian Desmond Could End Up

One of the top free-agents that is currently still on the market is Ian Desmond. The 30-year old right-handed hitting shortstop has put up good offensive numbers in his career while playing for the Washington Nationals. However, he didn’t have his best season last year. This is part of the reason that he still remains unsigned.

A three-time Silver Slugger Award winner and one-time All-Star, Desmond is a career .264 hitter. He’s always been a power threat, hitting 20 or more home runs in a season three times over the course his career. Desmond’s best season so far came in 2o12 when he batted .292 and hit 25 home runs while driving in 73 runs. He collected 80 RBIs the following season and 91 in 2014. Unfortunately, 2015 was not such a good year as he only hit .233, a career low. To make matters worse, he also committed 27 errors at shortstop. This disastrous season is the main reason for Desmond’s stock plummeting.

With Alexi Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera both off the board, Desmond is the best remaining free-agent shortstop. There aren’t too many teams currently looking for someone at that position right now, although there is some interest in Desmond as a second baseman. He’s never played the position before in the MLB, but the transition probably wouldn’t be too difficult. Second base is actually an easier position to play. He might even play better defensively there.

The St. Louis Cardinals have reportedly expressed interest in Desmond. According to Jon Morosi of MLB Network, their starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta has spoken to team officials about playing different positions in the future. He could potentially be moved to the outfield. If the Cardinals did end up signing Desmond, he would most likely play shortstop and serve as a backup second baseman to Kolten Wong. That is, if Peralta is willing to try another position right away. The Cardinals have always valued depth at all positions. Adding Desmond would definitely help add depth in the middle of the infield.

The Tampa Bay Rays are also apparently interested in Desmond. Right now, Brad Miller is the team’s starting shortstop. He was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Rays back in November. Miller is a young player and the Rays reportedly think he could be the starting shortstop of the future. This combined with the fact they’d lose a draft pick by signing Desmond means that it’s unlikely that the Rays really pursue him. Also, the money he’s going to want is probably more than they’re willing to spend.

The Arizona Diamondbacks could potentially land Desmond. This is a team that would probably play him at second base as opposed to shortstop. It’s been reported that Arizona is looking to upgrade at that position. Chris Owings is their starting second baseman as of right now. Desmond would certainly be an upgrade over him. The Diamondbacks have dramatically improved their starting pitching this offseason, and are expected to to compete for a division title in 2016. Adding Desmond would help improve their offense and cap off a very good offseason.

A return to Washington seems very unlikely at this point. Desmond turned down the Nationals’ one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer. He figured he’d make more money somewhere else. This seems very improbable, especially considering where we’re at in the offseason. The best thing Desmond can do is sign with a team as quickly as possible, whether that team be the Cardinals, Rays, Diamondbacks, or someone else. The sooner, the better.

2015: The Year Of The Met

There has perhaps been no more impressive team in the 2015 Major League Baseball Postseason than the New York Mets. In the National League Divisional Series the Mets were able to beat a very strong Los Angeles Dodgers team in five games and did so by beating Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 and beating Zach Greinke in the decisive game 5.

The Mets have continued to surge forward and after two games in the National League Championship Series they lead the Chicago Cubs two games to zero. The Mets have outscored the Cubs 8-3 in two games and with staff ace Jacob DeGrom set to start game 3 tonight against the Cubs at Wrigley, the Mets are very close to making the World Series for the first time since 2000.

Jacob DeGrom faces Cub starter Kyle Hendricks in tonight’s game and so far in the postseason DeGrom has been lights out and boasts a 2-0 record with a 1.38 earned run average in 13 innings pitched. Hendricks has not been as effective in the postseason and he allowed three runs over 4.2 innings in his single start against the St Louis Cardinals.

The Mets have played very well in the postseason and through 7 games they have a team earned run average of 2.90, which is the best of any playoff team. This 2015 New York Mets club is eerily similar to the 1969 ‘Miracle Mets’ who were led by 25 year old starting pitcher Tom Seaver and 22 year old Nolan Ryan. That Mets team relied on its stellar young pitching and timely hitting to get them to the World Series and that year the Mets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles four games to one to clinch the World Series title.

This year the Mets have been carried by young pitchers and after 27 year old DeGrom starts tonight’s game against the Cubs, 24 year old Steven Matz will start game four tomorrow night. The Cubs will salvage a game at Wrigley Field, but they will not be able to cool down this high octane Mets team and the Mets will win games three and five to get back to the World Series.

However, the player that has been the most instrumental to the Mets postseason success is 30 year old second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy was a rookie in 2008 for the Mets and has spent seven years with the ball club and is now finally getting to taste success. The spotlight has been great for Murphy, who has been sensational for the New York ball club and is hitting .357 with five home runs and eight runs batted in in the postseason. The second baseman leads all players in the postseason in home runs and is second behind Kendrys Morales in runs batted in.

After dispatching the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, the Mets will await the winner of the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays. Both teams are far more experienced than the Mets, but neither club has the dynamic starting pitching that the Mets have and the New York ball club will be able to handle the pressure of Toronto’s hitting or the Kansas City bullpen.

The Blue Jays will win game four tonight against the Royals and will win the series in seven games setting up a World Series that will feature dominant hitting versus dominant pitching. The Blue Jays will get off to a slow start in the series and the Mets will split the opening two games in Toronto before coming back to New York and winning games three and four. Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey will be huge for the Mets in the series and will likely start games one and two for the Mets.

Perhaps no pitcher wants to prove more than Harvey just how much he wants to win and he has been excellent so far in the postseason, going 2-0 with a 2.84 earned run average in 12.2 innings. Harvey will win two games for the Mets in the World Series and the Mets will win the series in six games, capping off a truly magical year for a team that is built to succeed for a long time.

Cubs Surge Into NLCS For the First Time in 12 Years

It was quite a scene at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night. The Chicago Cubs, a franchise that has been known for their struggles and championship drought finally had something to celebrate. They had finally won a playoff series, and by doing so cliched a birth in the NLCS for the first time in over a decade. For the Cubs and their fans, this was a long time coming.

The Cubs used their high-powered offense to beat their division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the NLDS. After getting shutout 4-0 in St. Louis in Game 1, the Cubs’ bats woke up. They scored six runs early in Game 2 and were able to hold on and win 6-3 thanks to a strong outing from their bullpen. The series shifted to Wrigley Field on Monday for Game 3.

That’s when the Cubs took control of the series. They had an offensive explosion, hitting six home runs in the game. Kyle SchwarberStarlin CastroKris BryantAnthony RizzoJorge Soler, and Dexter Fowler all went deep for the Cubs. The six home runs in a single postseason game set a new MLB postseason record. The Cubs offense picked up Jake Arrieta, who was surprisingly didn’t have a good start. The Cubs ace only lasted 5 2/3 innings and allowed four earned runs on five hits. The man who allowed only two earned runs the entire month of September actually had a bad start. Michael Wacha and the other Cardinals pitchers couldn’t couldn’t capitalize on Arrieta’s struggles however, and the Cubs won the game 8-6.

The Cardinals wouldn’t go down in the series without a fight. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in Game 4. The Cubs responded in the bottom of the second inning with an RBI single by their pitcher Jason Hammel. The next batter was Javier Baez, and he took  John Lackey deep for a three-run homer to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. Unlike Game 1, the Cubs were actually able to get to Lackey. The Cardinals still would not die however. They tied the game in the top of the sixth with RBIs from Tony Cruz and Brandon Moss. Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs the lead back in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run. Kyle Schwarber padded the lead in the bottom of the seventh with a towering home run that landed on top of the video board in right field. That home run pretty much sealed the deal for the Cubs. The bullpen finished the job. The Cubs had finally clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field.

Before Tuesday, the Cubs had never clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field in the field’s 100 year history. The team last won the World Series back in 1908. Before this postseason, they had only won one postseason series since 1908. That was in 2003 when they beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS in five games to advance to the NLCS. They were unable to get to the World Series that year, as they were beaten by the then Florida Marlins in seven games. What everyone remembers about that series though was the infamous “Steve Bartman incident”. The Cubs have been a franchise more remembered for the negative things that have happened to them over the years rather than the positive things. That’s mainly because not a lot of positive things have happened to them since 1908. So far, this year’s an exception.

This could finally be the year that the Cubs break the Curse of the Billy Goat. That of course was the curse put on the team by Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis when he was asked to leave a World Series game at Wrigley Field in 1945 because of the odor of his pet goat. Many Cubs fans attribute their team’s lack of success over the last 70 years to this curse. They haven’t been to the World Series since then, and have only won one playoff series. They have reason to believe the curse is real. We’ve witnessed the Curse of the Bambino be broken in the last decade. In fact, the Red Sox have won three World Series titles since 2004. Maybe it’s time for the Cubs to break their curse.

Whatever happens the rest of the way for the Cubs, this year was certainly a success. They went from being a last place team in 2014 to a Wild Card team in 2015. Manager Joe Maddon has his team in the NLCS in his first year managing in Chicago. He’s got a very talented young team that will be good for many years. In the coming weeks, we’ll find out if the Cubs have what it takes to win it all this year. The way they’re playing right now, they definitely have a good chance.

MLB Playoffs: What We Have Learned So Far

The playoffs are in full swing. Each division series is yet to be decided and we have at least two game fives, both in the American League. All four division series could feasibly have a Game 5. You would be hard pressed to find the last time that happened.

Here is what we have learned so far, a week into the playoffs.

1. The Royals, Like Last Year, Will Be a Tough Out

The Kansas City Royals were six outs from elimination last night, down 6-2 heading into the 8th inning. The Royals got baserunners on to start the 8th and the merry-go-round started. With the bases loaded, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer get base hits to score two runs. Then thanks to a Carlos Correa error, two more runs scored to tie the game at 6. Alex Gordon drove in a run with a ground out and Eric Hosmer sealed the deal with a two-run home run, giving the Royals a 9-6 lead and eventually a win to tie the series.

In both wins in this series for Kansas City, the Astros had at least a two-run lead. These Royals are resilient and will not go down quietly, much like the 2014 American League Champion version. With Wednesday’s game being in Kansas City and Johnny Cueto on the mound, the Astros should be nervous after having a 2-1 series lead.

2. Different Year, Same Problems For Dodgers

For the past three years the Dodgers seemingly cruised to an NL West division title with good bats and a top-heavy rotation led by Clayton Kershaw. In the past two postseasons, the pitching has sunk the Dodgers with a very un-Kershaw like performance.

The Dodgers are down 2-1 to the New York Mets with an elimination game in New York tonight. Kershaw allowed three runs and walked four in Game 1’s loss. He has a chance to redeem himself tonight. Greinke and Kershaw in the first two games combined for five earned runs in 13 innings. For a normal 1-2 duo, that isn’t bad but for two pitchers who were in the heat of the Cy Young race, we should expect more, especially in the playoffs.

3. The Cubs Could Actually Do This

The Chicago Cubs passed the first test, winning the Wild Card Game on the road in Pittsburgh. Now they are facing the mighty Cardinals who led the major leagues with 100 wins. They have a 2-1 lead thanks to a six-homer performance in Game 3.

The Cubs are one win away from the NLCS. They will have to beat John Lackey to do it (Lackey pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game 1). Behind Kyle Schwarber’s bat (two home runs in postseason) and Jake Arrieta (two wins in two starts), the Cubs are gunning to end a 107-year drought. If they can top the MLB’s best regular season team, their path gets a lot clearer.

4. Whoever Wins the Rangers/Blue Jay Series Will Be a Handful

This turned out to be one of the better division series in recent memory, and that is before we play Game 5. The average runs scored between these two teams in this series is 9. The Blue Jays won the latest slugfest 8-4 thanks to three home runs and six total extra-base hits.

Whoever wins this series will be a tough out in the ALCS and possibly World Series. Both teams have the tools to make it happen. Adrian Beltre is swinging a hot bat for Texas and the Rangers will throw ace Cole Hamels in Game 5 in Toronto on Wednesday. He has been in these situations before, winning the 2008 World Series with the Phillies and being the MVP of that postseason. The Rangers could ride him to the ALCS and beyond.

The Blue Jays have the deepest lineup in the league starting with Josh Donaldson, who is likely the AL MVP. In a win-or-go-home kind of game, this lineup would scare anyone.

 

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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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