Friday, August 28, 2015

NL Playoff Preview

With the season winding down, the contenders have been separated from the pretenders in the National League. Six teams have put there attention towards next year, the Phillies, Marlins, Braves, Rockies, Brewers, and Reds. The Padres and Diamondbacks are long shots at this point. Even the Nationals chances aren't looking very good. Like with the American League preview, I'll list the teams in order of their World Series chances (starting with the least likely).

Washington Nationals


Going into the season, the Nationals were among the favorites to reach the World Series. After the signing of Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper declared, "where's my ring at, bro." While Harper and Scherzer have both produced, the Nats have been decimated by injuries and poor performance. Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth missed big chunks of the year, while many other regular players have had down years. Stephen Strasburg has battled injuries and hasn't pitched well until recently. Gio Gonzalez has an ERA over 4, and Doug Fister has been shifted to the bullpen. The rotation hasn't lived up to the preseason hype.


The Nats have fallen 6.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East. They are even farther behind the Cubs for the second wild card spot. Washington's playoff chances aren't looking very good at this point. It would take a huge winning streak for the Nats to get back into serious contention.

Chicago Cubs


I have mocked the Cubs chances several times this year, and they sit in third place. However, that third place ranking comes with the fourth best record in baseball. In another division, they would be in first place. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant both had All Star seasons, and helped improve the Cubs offense this year. The offseason addition of Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero were also a big help. Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber are two other rookies that have made a big impact. The addition of Jon Lester was designed to improve the pitching, but the emergence of two other pitchers have made the difference. Jake Arrieta has gone 16-6 with a 2.22 ERA, and has been one the NL's best pitchers. Closer Hector Rondon has had a breakout season as Chicago's closer, and has a 1.55 ERA.


Joe Maddon has done a great job with this young team on the North Side. This team will likely find itself in a do or die Wild Card Game against division rival Pittsburgh. In the best season this organization has had since 2008, they could find their October run over in one game. If they do manage to win the Wild Card Game, a Division Series against the Cardinals would be waiting for them.

Los Angeles Dodgers


The biggest strength of the Dodgers is their combination of Zack Greinke (14-3, 1.61) and Clayton Kershaw  (10-6, 2.29) at the top of the rotation. It's easy to see a historical comparison between these two pitchers and Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. While they Greinke and Kershaw have the Cy Young Award pedigree that Drysdale and Koufax had, they have not had the postseason success to match it. Offensively, the roster if full of big name stars, but they don't seem to have the same grit that teams like the Cardinals and Giants have.


The Dodgers still have the same flaws that the Cardinals exposed the past two postseasons, lack of rotation depth after Kershaw/Greinke and a thin bullpen. Los Angeles maintains a 2.5 game lead against their arch rival Giants, and this race is the most competitive in the National League. This team is certainly talented enough to make a deep run into the postseason, but given their recent history, I would expect more disappointment for Dodgers fans.

Pittsburgh Pirates


The Pirates set a goal of winning the NL Central, but despite having baseball's third best record they are still in second place behind St. Louis. In the NL East, they would 6.5 games up ahead of the Mets. The Pirates would be 7 games ahead of the Dodgers if they were in the NL West. Since they play in the same division as the Cardinals, they are 4.5 games out of first place. While they still have time to take first, they most likely will host their third straight Wild Card Game. The Pirates have a very good team, that ranks among the league's best in offense, defense, and pitching.


One big question is who will the Pirates start in the Wild Card Game? Will it be Gerrit Cole or Francisco Liriano? Andrew McCutchen's team is looking to advance further into the playoffs, but it will be a tough road for Pittsburgh that goes through St. Louis.

San Francisco Giants


For a team that wouldn't make the playoffs if the season ended today, I have them ranked pretty high. Given their recent stretch of postseason dominance, why wouldn't I? This is the same team that won the World Series after barely winning the last wild card spot last year. They have also won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. After losing Pablo Sandoval to free agency, the Giants have replaced him internally with Matt Duffy. Duffy is one of the leading Rookie of the Year candidates, and has had a much better year than Sandoval has with Boston. They have also overcome injuries to Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, Joe Panik, and several different starting pitchers.


Buster Posey has had another MVP caliber season, but the improved performance of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford has been the difference for the Giants. The Giants offense was thought to be weak after losing Sandoval and Michael Morse, but they rank third in the NL in runs scored. Madison Bumgarner has shown no signs of last year's postseason innings load affecting him this year. There are some question marks behind Bumgarner, but the Giants have a lot of pitching depth. Bruce Bochy also seems to know all the right buttons to push in October. A dangerous team if they qualify for the postseason.

New York Mets


The Mets have been one of the hottest teams in the league in the second half. They are firing on all cylinders, and the offense has improved with the addition of Yoenis Cespedes and the return of David Wright from the disabled list. They seem to have a different hero every night offensively. The pitching is what's really scary about this team to opponents. In a short series, New York can trot out Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard. The back end of the bullpen with Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia is very solid as well.


Despite their lack of playoff experience, the Mets aren't a team that other teams want to play in October. Their combination of dominant pitching and timely hitting could sink an opposing team in a short series.

St. Louis Cardinals


The season couldn't have gone better for the Cardinals, despite all of the injuries. Every time a key player goes down, someone else steps up. The team's ERA is historically low at 2.66, and every starting pitcher (Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Jaime Garcia) has an ERA under 3. The back end of the bullpen with Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal has been dominant this year. The offense has been hit or miss, but has heated up lately. Numerous players such as Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Jon Jay, and Randal Grichuk could be ready to return from the disabled list in September.


The Cardinals currently sit at 82-45, at 37 games over .500. They can't afford to let off the gas with the Pirates and Cubs on their tails. That might pay off come October, keeping this team sharp. This looks to be a 100 win team. More often than not, the team with the best record in baseball doesn't win the World Series. For example the 2004 Cardinals, who won 105 games. That's not always the case either, as the Yankees have done both  a couple different occasions (1998 and 2009). The Cardinals show no signs of letting up, and are the team to beat this October.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

AL Playoff Preview

With about six weeks left in the baseball season, the playoff races have been heating up. Today, we'll take a look at the American League playoff picture. The playoff spots are hardly set in stone as of late August, and much could still happen in the remaining weeks. I would say the Royals have a spot wrapped up, but that is about the only certainty. I'll list the teams in the hunt, going in order of who I think has the best chance to represent the AL in the World Series. With apologies to the Tigers, White Sox, Indians, Mariners, Red Sox, and Athletics; I only included teams with records .500 or better. Starting with the least likely, and finishing with the most likely.

Minnesota Twins


The Twins were one of the first half surprises this season. Going into the All Star break, the Twins were at 49-40, 4 1/2 games out of first place. They also held on to the first wild card spot. Rookie manager Paul Molitor and veteran outfielder Torii Hunter added a spark to a team that was coming off four straight last place finishes. Brian Dozier made his first All Star team, and Miguel Sano made his major league debut. Sano has hit 10 home runs in 43 games. The pitching held up better than past years, but lacks star power.


Since the All Star break, the Twins have went 13-21. They are now on the fringes of the wild card race, with the division likely out of reach. Joe Mauer has finally been healthy this season at first base, but is no longer the elite hitter he was when he won three batting titles, two on base titles, and a MVP from 2006-12. For a team that was a doormat, being a game over .500 at this point of the season is progress. Minnesota is in a five way race for the last wild card spot, and the odds aren't good for them. I don't see the Twins as one of the five best teams in the AL right now, but they are getting better.

Tampa Bay Rays


After an offseason that saw both GM Andrew Freidman and manager Joe Maddon leave (as well as many key players), the team has stayed respectable in 2015. New manager Kevin Cash has kept this young team in contention, and in the wild card hunt. The strength of this team has been it's pitching, and it ranks third in the AL in ERA. Chris Archer has stepped up to fill the ace role that was vacated by last year's trade of David Price. Tampa Bay has been able to overcome a season ending injury to Alex Cobb, and a minor league demotion of Matt Moore.


The Rays were picked for last place by many prognosticators before this season, but have exceeded expectations. They have been able to do this despite ranking last in the league in runs scored. Evan Longoria hasn't had a lot of help this year, with the exception of second baseman Logan Forsythe. The Rays pitching will keep them in games, but it looks like a long shot for a playoff run.

Texas Rangers


While the injury problems aren't as bad as last year, the Rangers have had to deal with numerous injuries to key players. The good news is that Prince Fielder is healthy and productive again. Adrian Beltre has also returned from a mid-season injury. The Rangers made several trades during the season, picking up former Rangers Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. Texas also made a big splash acquiring former Phillies ace Cole Hamels. Hamels solidifies a rotation that was ravaged by injury, including season ending surgery to Yu Darvish. 


Texas currently has a half game lead over the Angels for the last wild card spot. They are in tough competition with the Angels, Orioles, and a few other teams for that spot. It is very possible that they can win that spot, but how far can this team go? This isn't the powerhouse offense that the Rangers had during their playoff stretch of 2010-12. The bullpen is also shaky, with the Neftali Feliz experiment not working out. Hamels improves the rotation, but the back end of it still has question marks. I don't see this team going far in October.

Los Angeles Angels


The Angels remain in the hunt, despite some off-field distractions. Starting with the Josh Hamilton saga. Hamilton admitted to a relapse in the offseason, and then was given away to division rival Texas. Then GM Jerry DiPoto and manager Mike Scioscia feuded over what analytical information the coaching staff was sharing with the players. This feud led to DiPoto's ouster as GM. On the positive, former MVP's Mike Trout and Albert Pujols both have had All Star seasons. The Halos have also had strong seasons from Garret Richards and Hector Santiago. Rookie lefty Andrew Heaney has impressed since his callup mid-season.


This team isn't as strong as last year's 98 win version. Last year, the Angels led the AL in runs scored. This year, they rank 11th. Jered Weaver has had a down year, and CJ Wilson has been shut down for the rest of the season due to an elbow injury. The pitching is still good, and could get this team in the playoff hunt. I would expect Trout and Pujols to carry the offense the rest of the way. The Angels still have a good shot at making the playoffs, but this is a flawed team with a few holes on it.

Baltimore Orioles


There was a lot of concern on how the Orioles were going to replace Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller this year. The return of healthy Manny Machado and a productive Chris Davis have helped in that regard.  Machado has had a MVP type season. Adam Jones is having another strong season, and Matt Wieters has returned from injury. At the deadline the Orioles picked up Gerardo Parra, who has hit five home runs since joining the team. The rotation is solid, but not spectacular. Even with the loss of Miller, the bullpen has been outstanding. Both closer Zach Britton and setup man Darren O'Day made the All Star team this year.


Buck Showalter seems to find a way to keep his teams in contention. Despite the losses, injuries, and revolving door at the corner outfield spots, this team is in the hunt. Not quite as strong record wise as last year, but last year's team was without Machado, Davis, and Wieters for the stretch run and postseason. Of all the team's competing for the last wild card spot, I think Baltimore is the best.

Houston Astros


Almost no one predicted that the Astros would be in playoff contention this year, let alone leading their division in late August. Houston has a solid offense, and leads the AL in home runs, stolen bases, and strikeouts. Second baseman Jose Altuve has had another All Star campaign, after winning the batting title in 2014. He now has a double play partner that matches his talents in Carlos Correa. Since being called up on June 7th, Correa has batted .275, slugged .518, hit 15 home runs, stole 10 bases, and plays elite defense.George Springer was off to a great start before fracturing his right wrist. The trade for Carlos Gomez lengthens the lineup, especially when Springer returns. He is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. On the pitching side, Dallas Keuchel drew the All Star Game starting assignment, and is the leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award.


It looks like the Astros are going to the postseason, barring a major collapse. Their pitching improvement has been a big key to that. Along with Keuchel, the team also has Colin McHugh, newly acquired Scott Kazmir, and rookie Lance McCullers to likely get starting assignments in October. The bullpen has been improved with the additions of Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. This is a young, inexperienced team, but a team with a lot of talent. Maybe they aren't ready to make a World Series run, but the Royals weren't that experienced going into last October.

New York Yankees


The Yankees run to first place has been aided by bounce back performances from several aging stars, including Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. Surprisingly, Alex Rodriguez has hit well since returning from his year long suspension. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been good table setters for the sluggers on this team. The rotation has some concerns, but has pitched well enough to keep New York in games this year. The back end of the bullpen has been dominant with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller closing down games. 


The rotation is probably the biggest concern of this team going into the postseason. CC Sabathia is no longer the ace he used to be, and has a ERA north of 5 this year. Both Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka have had moments of brilliance, but are injury concerns. Nathan Eovaldi has been the team's most reliable starter, leading the team in innings pitched. However, Eovaldi is hardly a pitcher you would want to open a playoff series with. Rookie Luis Severino could be the pitcher that steps up and solidifies the rotation. With a lock down bullpen, a dominant rotation isn't necessary to make a deep run into October. Look at the Royals last year.

Toronto Blue Jays


No other team in the league can match the offensive firepower that the Blue Jays have. Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and Edwin Encarnacion are all multiple time All Stars with pedigrees. No wonder they lead the AL in runs scored. The pitching isn't as strong, but the addition of David Price helps with that. Price gives the team an ace that takes the pressure off of veterans RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle, as well youngsters like Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchinson.


Since Joe Carter hit the game winning home run in Game 6 to win the 1993 World Series, Toronto hasn't been back to the postseason. The Blue Jays currently occupy the first wild card spot, but have their eyes on the division crown. They are currently right on the Yankees heel, only a half game back of first place. It would be very disappointing for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs, and lose the wild card game. The main thing that should concern Blue Jays fans is the bullpen, which has been shaky this season. It has improved since rookie Roberto Osuna took the closer job away from Brett Cecil. Toronto made all the moves a contending team can hope for, so it's up to them to get it done.

Kansas City Royals


This time last year, no one expected the Royals to come within a game of winning the World Series. Not many even expected them to make the playoffs last year. Since the All Star break last year, the Royals are 115-65, which is the second best record in that time period. The strong October performances of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Lorenzo Cain has carried over into 2015. The bullpen has been just as strong this season, with Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera actually pitching better than closer Greg Holland. The addition of Johnny Cueto gives the rotation a legit ace that it lacked. Ben Zobrist has been on fire since being picked up at the deadline. With the expected mid-September return of Alex Gordon, Zobrist will likely be shifted from left field to second base to replace the struggling Omar Infante.


The Royals are the odds-on favorites to be the American League champions again this season. This team might be better than last year's edition. This team no longer flies under the radar, and has been a marked team this year. That might explain all the fights the Royals have been involved in this season. It hasn't changed the Royals desire to win, though. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Randal Grichuk, Rookie of the Year?

There have been many hyped rookies come onto the scene in the National League this year. Kris Bryant made his debut with the Cubs after spending the first two weeks in the minor leagues. Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson found himself on the All Star team after a fast start. Mets fireballer Noah Syndergaard has made a name for himself after his May call up. Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang has played well at two different positions with the Pirates. Other notable rookies include Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, Giants third baseman Matt Duffy, the Diamondbacks Cuban defector Yasmani Tomas, Cubs second baseman Addison Russell, and Giants pitcher Chris Heston.

While all those players have made an impact with their teams, the Cardinals Randal Grichuk has put himself in Rookie of the Year contention with a strong second half. In 20 games since the All Star break, Grichuk has 7 home runs, 17 RBI's, and a 1.017 OPS. Since getting regular playing time after coming off a DL stint on May 16th, Grichuk has become a regular starter. First at left field filling in for Matt Holliday, then shifting to center field after Holliday came back (Fellow rookie Stephen Piscotty has filled in for Holliday since he re-injured his quad).

Grichuk has outproduced the Cardinals other center fielders this season. Jon Jay opened the season as the starter, but has had two DL stints because of a wrist injury. Peter Bourjos plays better defense, but hasn't hit. Grichuk has more hits than Jay and Bourjos combined, and much more power. Grichuk leads the team with 7 triples, is third with 14 homers, and tied for third with Kolten Wong with 20 doubles. He has accomplished this despite being 7th on the team with plate appearances.

It looks like Grichuk has found a permanent home in center field for the Cardinals, after playing the corner spots last year. He has a lightning quick bat, and one of the hardest swings in the majors. Grichuk has the type of power to be a 30 home run hitter in the major leagues. After all, Grichuk was drafted one spot ahead of Angels superstar Mike Trout. John Mozeliak's trade of David Freese and Fernando Salas for Grichuk and Bourjos is looking more and more like a steal everyday.

How does Grichuk compare to fellow NL rookies this year? He ranks fourth in batting average behind Duffy, Kang, and Tomas. He leads all rookies with a .574 slugging pct., which is almost 100 points higher than the next rookie. He is third in homers for rookies, and that's despite missing over a month. Here's how Grichuk compares to the rest of the ROY contenders.

Player                     AB   R    H   2B  3B  HR RBI SB  BA  OBP  SLG
R Grichuk, STL     269   41   77  20   7    14   43   4   .286  .332  .569
M Franco, PHI      292   42   80  21   1    12   47   1   .274  .336  .476
J Pederson, LA      369   53   82  18   1    21   43   3   .222  .354  .447
K Bryant, CHI       365   58   91  17   4    15   65  11  .249  .360  .441
M Duffy, SF          385   48  111  20  5     9    51   5   .307   .345  .476
Y Tomas, ARZ      314   32   93  17   2     6    39   5   .296   .329  .420
J Kang, PIT           300   42   88   17  4     9    39   5    .293  .368  .453

Pitcher                            Record  ERA WHIP   IP     SO
N Syndergaard, NYM      6-6      3.01   1.12   98.2   106
C Heston, SF                   11-6     3.48   1.20  134.2  102
A DeSclafani, CIN           7-7       3.75   1.36  132.0   98

Grichuk has entered the top tier of ROY candidates with his recent tear. He has outperformed hyped rookies like Bryant and Pederson, who both have slumped in the second half. Duffy and Kang have also been talked about as ROY candidates by the national writers. Syndergaard could also capture the award with a strong finish, similar to his teammate Jacob DeGrom last year. It's a strong field, but Grichuk is one of the better candidates. If Grichuk keeps up his hot second half, he could find himself with a Rookie of the Year trophy.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Recap of a Busy Trading Deadline

A total of 31 trades were made in the final 8 days before this year's trading deadline involving 20 former and current All Stars. Ace pitchers David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Cole Hamels all have changed addresses during this time. After years of rumors, Troy Tulowitzki was traded by the Rockies to the Blue Jays. Carlos Gomez was almost traded to the Mets, then traded to the Astros a day later. Below is a division by division review of the action.

NL East

The last place Phillies made the most noise at the deadline. Embattled GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has came under fire for refusing to rebuild, and some felt that Amaro wouldn't be allowed to make any moves. New team President Andy MacPhail likely had more say than Amaro did with these trades. Philadelphia unloaded unhappy closer Jonathon Papelbon to Washington, and later traded away center fielder Ben Revere to Toronto. However, their biggest piece was lefty Cole Hamels.

Hamels was sent to Texas along with reliever Jake Diekman in a 8 player trade that brought back Matt Harrison and five prospects. The biggest piece is catcher Jorge Alfaro, who is at Double A. The trade also included outfielder Nick Williams, and 3 pitching prospects. The Revere trade brought back two pitching prospects, and the Papelbon trade brought back prospect Nick Pivetta. In total, the Phillies acquired 6 pitching prospects for the future.

The Mets had a very strange week at the deadline. They acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Braves for two prospects, but neither player is going to turn around a putrid offense. They then had a pending deal with Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez for Zack Wheeler (who is recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Wilmer Flores. Terry Collins left in a upset Flores in the game after he had been traded, only for it to be rejected by the Mets about concerns on Gomez' hip. Instead, the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers for two pitching prospects. The Mets are hoping that Cespedes can improve an offense that struggles to score. If so, the pitching rich Mets could find themselves in October.

The Nats major move was to acquire Papelbon from the Phillies to shore up their bullpen. Washington already has a very good closer in Drew Storen, but Papelbon won't accept a set up role. So, Storen has been demoted in favor of Papelbon. The Nationals haven't been quite as good as expected, but have several injured players like Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon returning. Both the Braves and Marlins were sellers, trading away veterans for prospects. It looks to be a battle between the Nats and the Mets in an otherwise weak divison.

NL Central

The Cardinals possess the majors best record, despite numerous injuries to key players such as Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday. The rotation has been very strong in Wainwright's absence, with Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez stepping up. There has been some injuries to a couple of bullpen arms, and fears of overworking star relievers Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal. John Mozeliak went out an acquired Steve Cishek from the Marlins and Jonathon Broxton from the Brewers. Both pitchers got off to rough starts, but both have closing experience. Cishek has pitched better in recent months, and has a similar delivery to former Cardinal Pat Neshek.

The other move the Cardinals made was acquiring outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss from the Indians for minor league starter Rob Kaminsky. Kaminsky was drafted two years ago, and has good upside. Unlike with the Cishek and Broxton deals, the Cardinals gave up a good prospect. Moss is a left handed power bat that strikes out a lot, similar to Mark Reynolds. Moss has hit only .217 this year, but has 15 home runs. He was an All Star with Oakland last year, and hit 30 homers in 2013. The Cardinals are unsure about Holliday's status, so they will go with a mix of Reynolds, Moss, and Stephen Piscotty at first base and left field.

The Pirates made a few minor moves at the deadline. The biggest move was trading for Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez to fill in for Josh Harrison while he is hurt. Ramirez has said he will retire at the end of the season, and returns to the team he started with. Unlike his first go around, the Pirates are a contender now. Pittsburgh swooped up Michael Morse, who was traded from the Marlins to Dodgers, and then to the Pirates. The Cubs added starter Dan Haren and reliever Tommy Hunter. There were rumors that they were shopping Starlin Castro, but they held on to him for now. The Cubs are out of the division race, but still have a shot at a wild card spot. Theo Epstein decided not to make any major moves and held on to his prospects, which is a realistic approach for where the Cubs stand now.

The Reds traded away their two top pitchers at the deadline. Johnny Cueto is up for free agency at season's end, and with the Reds out of contention, it's no surprise he was traded. Cueto brought back Brandon Finnegan and two other pitching prospects from the Royals. The Reds also traded away Mike Leake to the Giants for two prospects, including slugging prospect Adam Duvall. Milwaukee dealt away Carlos Gomez to the Astros after a trade with the Mets was rejected. Mike Fiers was dealt along with Gomez for a four player prospect package headlined by oufielder Domingo Santana. The Brewers also dealt away Gerardo Parra to the Orioles for pitching prospect Zach Davies.

NL West

The Rockies trade of Troy Tulowitzki was the biggest move of the deadline. Tulo was traded along with reliever LaTroy Hawkins to Blue Jays for shortstop Jose Reyes and three pitching prospects headlined by Miguel Castro. There were also rumors surrounding Carlos Gonzalez, but he stayed put. Reyes is also a possibility to be dealt, but maybe not until the offseason. The Diamondbacks kicked the tires on Aroldis Chapman and Cole Hamels, but decided not to trade away the farm in their longshot chance at the playoffs. The Padres were rumored to be shopping several players, but also stayed pat.

The NL West race will come down to the Giants and Dodgers again this year. The Giants decided they needed to add a arm to a rotation that has question marks after Madison Bumgarner. They picked up Mike Leake from the Reds to add some stability to a rotation that has injury and performance concerns. The Dodgers are also worried about the back end of their rotation. Some thought they might add a third ace to go with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, but decided not to. The Dodgers picked up Mat Latos, Alex Wood, Luis Avilan, and Jim Johnson for pitching depth in two separate trades.

AL East

When you haven't made the postseason in 22 years, it's justifiable to take risks. That's exactly what the Blue Jays did when the acquired Troy Tulowitki and David Price for the stretch run. Tulowitki is signed through 2021, and has some injury concerns (especially playing his home games on the artificial turf in Toronto), but is the best shortstop in the league. They traded away Jose Reyes, who isn't known for his durability either. They also traded away three pitching prospects in the same deal. Tulowitzki joins a powerful lineup that already has Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Russell Martin. Toronto later traded for speedy center fielder Ben Revere from the Phillies to be the table setter for the big boppers.

Offense wasn't a weakness for the Blue Jays, but pitching is. Price gives the team a legitimate ace in what was a pretty mediocre rotation outside of Mark Buehrle. LaTroy Hawkins came along in the Tulo deal, and should help out a struggling bullpen. Toronto traded away 8 pitching prospects in three separate deals, so they went all in for a playoff push. Time will tell if they can overtake the Yankees for the division crown, and return to the postseason for the first time since Joe Carter hit a walk off World Series winner in 1993.

The rest of the division was pretty quiet. The Yankees uncharacteristically held on to their prospects, and only traded for Dustin Ackley from Seattle in a minor move. The Orioles made a move to pick up Gerardo Parra from the Brewers. Parra was batting .328 this year, and is a very good defensive outfielder. The Red Sox traded away Shane Victorino to open up room for Rusney Castillo. The Rays made a couple of minor moves, trading away David DeJesus to the Angels and Kevin Jepsen to the Twins.

AL Central

The Royals have proved that last year's World Series appearance was no fluke. After falling a game short of winning the World Series, the Royals are making another push for a championship this year. They acquired Johnny Cueto from the Reds for two pitching prospects and 22 year old lefty Brandon Finnegan. Cueto gives the team the ace it sorely lacked. The Royals later traded for super utility player Ben Zobrist from Oakland for two pitching prospects. Zobrist will fill in for injured Alex Gordon in left field, and then could take Omar Infante's second base job.

The Tigers have fell out of contention, which coincided with the injury to Miguel Cabrera. Detroit decided to part with pending free agents David Price and Yoenis Cespedes in what seems like a lost season. Price netted left handed pitcher Daniel Norris and two other pitching prospects. Norris is major league ready and should take Price's spot in the rotation. Cespedes was traded to the Mets in exchange for two pitching prospects. With pitching being the Tigers weakness this year, they have added some youth and depth for the future. This team still has a good offense, and these deals could pay off next year.

The White Sox were expected to be sellers, possibly moving Jeff Samardzija. A recent winning streak put them back in the wild card hunt, so they decided to do nothing. The Indians parted ways with Brandon Moss, which brought back a pitching prospect from the Cardinals. The Twins made a move to shore up their bullpen, acquiring Kevin Jepsen from the Rays.

AL West

Not many people thought that the Astros would enter August leading their division. An improved bullpen and the rise of several young players has catapulted Houston into contention. The Astros have the AL's second best offense that leads the league in home runs, stolen bases, and strikeouts. Second baseman Jose Altuve and left handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel both were All Star starters this year, while right handed starter Lance McCullers and shortstop Carlos Correa are both Rookie of the Year candidates. Still, GM Jeff Luhnow decided the team needed more help to avoid a late season collapse.

The first move the Astros made was acquiring Scott Kazmir from Oakland for two prospects. Kazmir joins a rotation that includes Keuchel, McCullers, and Colin McHugh. That would be a pretty solid playoff rotation. The Astros also looked for bullpen help, including Padres closer Craig Kimbrel, but decided the price was too high. Instead, they acquired Carlos Gomez in a six player deal with Milwaukee. Gomez joins a crowded outfield that already includes Colby Rasmus, Preston Tucker, Jake Marisnick, George Springer(currently on the DL), and sometimes Evan Gattis(who plays DH and 1B). Just two seasons off a 111 loss season, the Astros are a potential World Series team.

The Angels are also in the running for the division crown, after finishing last season with the majors best record. The Halos traded away troubled left fielder Josh Hamilton to the Rangers, and Matt Joyce has really struggled as his replacement. The Angels acquired three outfielders at the deadline, Shane Victorino from Boston, David Murphy from Cleveland, and David DeJesus from Tampa Bay.

The Rangers are on the outside edge of the playoff picture, but made one of the biggest moves at the deadline picking up Cole Hamels. The Rangers traded away Matt Harrrison and four prospects, including top catching prospect Jorge Alfaro. The Hamels trade was made with an eye to the future, with Hamels being signed through 2018. The Rangers envision Hamels teaming up with Yu Darvish at the top of the rotation.

Oakland has had a forgettable year, and Billy Beane decided to pawn off his assets for prospects. Both Kazmir and Ben Zobrist were pending free agents, and with the Athletics out of contention; it made little sense to hold on to them. In exchange, Oakland received four prospects. The Mariners are also out of contention, but made no moves with the exception of trading away Dustin Ackley, who never lived up to the hype.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cardinals First Half Review

Despite the Pirates taking 3 of 4 in Pittsburgh right before the All Star break, the Cardinals have had an unbelievable first half. They are off to one of the best starts in franchise history, and on pace to win 100 games this year. At 56-33, they enter the All Star break with the league's best record. All of this with injuries to Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay, Jordan Walden, and several other players.

One of the main reasons for the Cardinals success is their pitching. They currently have the majors best ERA at 2.71. Even without Wainwright, the starting staff has thrived. Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are both first time All Stars this season. John Lackey has had a solid season, and has emerged as the staff's veteran leader with the absence of Wainwright. Lance Lynn has followed up an excellent 2014 with another good year. All four of these starters enter the All Star break with sub-3 ERA's. Garcia has a 1.69 ERA in the 7 starts he's made.

The bullpen has also been very solid this year. Trevor Rosenthal has put up an All Star first half, blowing only two saves out of 28 chances. Rosenthal had a sub-1 ERA until Sunday night's debacle against the Pirates. With the exception of that hiccup, Rosenthal has been much improved this season from an off year in 2014. While Rosenthal had an off year by his standards in 2014, Kevin Siegrist had a nightmare season where he was hurt and ineffective in 2014. This season, the lefty has been dominant. Siegrist sports a 1.55 ERA in 45 relief appearances. The one two combination of Siegrist and Rosenthal has solidified the back end of the bullpen.

In the second half, there are some questions about the Cardinals pitching. Can the team rely on Garcia to be it's fifth starter? Garcia had pitched very well in 7 starts, but recently went down to a groin strain. Other options after Garcia include Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons, both dropoffs. Another left handed prospect, Marco Gonzales, would be an option once his rehab is completed. GM John Mozeliak may seek out a trade for a veteran innings eater, but has been patient so far.

On the bullpen side, there are some depth concerns behind Rosenthal and Siegrist. Other relievers such as Seth Maness and Randy Choate have been inconsistent this season. The middle relief is definitely a concern right now. That could be alleviated once Matt Belisle and Jordan Walden come off the disabled list. Carlos Villanueva could have an expanded role in the second half, after pitching very well as a mop up reliever in the first half.

Offensively, the Cardinals have been improved from last season. There is more power and speed on this team than last year's edition. This still isn't the 1927 Yankees lineup, but the Cardinals should have several players in the 15 to 20 home run range. Improved team speed has helped this team score more runs than last season. They already have 42 steals at the All Star break, and should easily beat last year's measly total of 57 for the season.

The return of a healthy Matt Holliday would be a big kick start to the Cardinals. The team's offense hasn't been the same since he went on the DL with a quad strain. Matt Carpenter has fallen off since then, possibly in part of not have Holliday's protection. Carpenter had dealt with some exhaustion issues earlier in the season, and went into a slump during June. He played his way off the All Star team after a hot start to the year, but the four day rest might be the best thing for Carpenter.

Jason Heyward was the Cardinals big acquisition in the offseason. Heyward got off to a slow start, but has heated up in the last month. He has raised his average to .273, hit 9 home runs, and leads the club with 11 stolen bases. Heyward has also made several spectacular defensive plays, and has a cannon for an arm. The Cardinals are getting much better production out of right field than they did last year.

While St. Louis is getting better right field production, first base has been a black hole for the team this year. Matt Adams went down with a quad tear in late May, and he wasn't exactly tearing things up when healthy this year. Adams had a subpar .656 OPS at the time of injury, which is below average for a major league first baseman. Adams is expected to miss the rest of the season. This put Mark Reynolds in a full time role. Reynolds had played well as a part time player, but has been overexposed as a full time first baseman. Reynolds has a lot of power, but he strikes out a lot(84 K's in 234 at bats).

The Cardinals have also sparingly used Xavier Scruggs and Dan Johnson at first base, with neither being major league caliber starting first baseman. This could be a spot where the Cardinals seek outside help. There is still one more internal option before Mozeliak looks for a trade. Top outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty has been playing first base at Memphis, and could get a call up after the All Star break.

The team's middle infield as been outstanding this year. Jhonny Peralta won the fan vote to be the NL's starting shortstop in the All Star Game, and has been the Cardinals best hitter this season. Peralta leads the team with 13 home runs, 46 RBI's, and a .473 slugging pct. Kolten Wong made a strong All Star case, but was snubbed from the team. Wong has played outstanding defense, making several highlight reel catches. Wong has hit .280 with 9 home runs, 37 RBI's, and 10 steals. He has hit towards the top of the lineup most of this season, batting either first or second.

Jon Jay entered the season as the team's starting center fielder. Jay had hit .303 last season, and won back the starting job from Peter Bourjos. This year, Jay has dealt with wrist problems and struggled. Bourjos is a tools guy, but hasn't been able to put it together. He does play good defense and is the fastest runner on the team. Still, Bourjos has never developed into a consistent hitter. Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham have also seen time in center field this year. Grichuk has one of the hardest swings in baseball, and has amazing bat speed. He has hit 7 home runs, and could find himself as the regular center fielder once Holliday returns from injury.

As usual, the team's rock has been catcher Yadier Molina. His leadership with a young pitching staff minus Wainwright cannot be overstated. At age 33, Molina has a lot of wear and tear on him. He probably isn't going to be the hitter he was from 2011 to 2013, when he hit double digit home runs and .300 plus. Still, Yadi is batting .284, which is third on the team behind Holliday and Peralta. Molina's defense is still very good. He is good at framing pitches, and has thrown out 44% of runners trying to steal this year. In the second half, the Cardinals might want to play Tony Cruz more often so Yadi doesn't wear down late in the year.

There still are some question marks, but manager Mike Matheny and Mozeliak have to be pleased on how well this team has played so far this season. Especially with all of the injuries to key players. So far, the team has been able to take advantage of it's internal depth. One of Matheny's biggest strengths is his ability to work with younger players. However, Mozeliak hasn't been gun shy about making a move to improve the club at the trading deadline in the past. The NL Central is perhaps the toughest division in baseball, that includes the Pirates(who have the league's second best record) and an improved Cubs team. The Cardinals won't have the luxury of coasting to the division crown, which might be a good thing. They have typically played better in the postseason when they had to fight to get in there.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Giants Challenging Dodgers in NL West

Many predicted that the Dodgers would easily cruise to a third straight division crown in 2015, myself included. After all, it was an even year, and the Giants have had a trend of missing the playoffs following a World Series championship. Plus, they lost Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse from last year's team. The Padres made big moves that were supposed to thrust them into contention. The Dodgers had an eventful offseason that saw the additions of Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal, Brett Anderson, and rookie Joc Pederson. For a defending World Series champion, the Giants entered the season under the radar.

Besides losing Sandoval and Morse, the Giants also had concerns about their rotation. There were questions about age, injury, and performance behind postseason ace Madison Bumgarner. The injury concerns proved true with Jake Peavy limited to two starts, and Matt Cain is just coming back. However, the team had enough depth to overcome that. Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, and Ryan Vogelsong have been serviceable starters this year. 27 year old rookie Chris Heston has stepped up to fill in, and has been the team's second best starter so far this season. Heston also recently pitched a no-hitter. Yusmeiro Petit is also an option if needed.

Bumgarner hasn't showed any ill effects over the postseason workload last year, and is poised to make his third straight All Star appearance. He has been the Giants stopper, and has beaten Clayton Kershaw twice this year. The bullpen has been outstanding as usual, and loaded with experienced veterans who have been around for several postseason runs.

The other question mark for this season was the team's offense. Losing Sandoval and Morse was a big hit for the team's offense. Sandoval had been known for his clutch hits, especially in the postseason. Morse had been one of the team's best power threats last season. Even worse for the Giants, Hunter Pence has been limited to 18 games this season. Pence is not only one of the team's best hitters, he is the heart and soul of the team.

The Giants offense has been better than expected this season, ranking fifth in the National League in runs scored. A big reason why is other players have stepped up. Angel Pagan has returned from injuries that ended his season prematurely in 2014. New acquisition Nori Aoki was batting .317, although he has recently been placed on the disabled list. Buster Posey is putting up another monster season, helping pick up his teammates.

That said, the Giants homegrown infield has been the key to replacing the lost offense. Each one of their infielders has an OPS over .800. Brandon Belt has been healthy this year, after being limited to 61 games last season. Belt hasn't had the breakout year that some of predicted from him, but has been a solid contributor to a winning team. Brandon Crawford debuted the same year as Belt did in 2011, and is likely to earn his first All Star spot this year. Crawford has been known for his glove, but has made a name for himself with his bat this year. He has already tied his career high of home runs (10) midway through this season.

Joe Panik solved the team's second base hole in the second half of 2014. The Giants faith in Panik paid off, and he made a terrific defensive play during Game 7 of last year's World Series. Panik has proven that last season wasn't a fluke, and is currently 7th in the NL in batting average. Casey McGehee was acquired to replace Sandoval, who left as a free agent to Boston. McGehee struggled early on, and lost his job to Matt Duffy; and has since been released. Duffy was a rookie bench player last year, but looks to be the Giants long term solution at third base. He has hit .297 with 8 home runs, and has outperformed Sandoval this season.

The Dodgers currently have a 2.5 game lead in the West. On paper, the Dodgers look better than the Giants. They don't seem to have the heart or desire of the Giants, though. Kershaw for all his regular season dominance, has gained a reputation as a pitcher who can't win the big game. That may not be fair, but Kershaw will have to win in the postseason to shed that label. Yasiel Puig is one of the game's most electric talents, but doesn't seem to be focused at all times. Still, the one two combination of Kershaw and Zack Greinke, combined with a dynamic offense; is one of the league's better teams. This should be an interesting race between a very talented team and a three time championship team.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cardinals Roll Despite Injuries

The injury bug has bit the Cardinals pretty bad this season. First, they lost their ace Adam Wainwright with a torn Achilles tendon on April 25th. A couple of weeks later reliever Jordan Walden went down with a muscle strain in his shoulder. Walden will be out until around the All Star break. Matt Adams then suffered a Grade 3 quad strain on May 26th, which will likely shelve him at least until late in the season. Minor league starter Marco Gonzales was shut down in late May. The injuries did not let up in June. Matt Holliday suffered a less severe quad strain diving for a ball on June 8th. A few days later, Lance Lynn went on the disabled list with a forearm strain.

This rash of injuries put five players who were expected to play a big role on this year's team on the DL. The Redbirds opening day starter is out for the year. Their first baseman and sometimes cleanup hitter out for most of it. One of the team's top relievers. The Cardinals All Star left fielder, as well as the team's number two starter. Yet, this team has not let up.

The Cardinals enter Tuesday with the game's best record at 42-21. They are 21 games over .500, and are 5 1/2 games better than the Dodgers, who have the second best record in baseball. Not bad for a team with so many injuries. The organization's depth has paid off this year, and GM John Mozeliak hasn't been forced to make a panic trade.

The depth this organization has allowed the Cardinals to weather this storm. Oft injured Jaime Garcia has stepped in and contributed since returning from the DL. Garcia has only made 16 starts in the previous two seasons, and hasn't pitched a full season since 2011. The left hander has pitched much better than his 2-3 record would indicate, and has only average 1 run per game in support. Garcia has a 2.06 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 5 starts. With Lynn likely to come back soon, a healthy Garcia could eliminate the need to trade for another starter. That's always a big if, though.

The rest of the team's starters have stepped up in Wainwright's absence as well. Lynn was solid before his DL stint. John Lackey has given the Cardinals innings and a veteran presence in the rotation this year. Two 23 year old starters have made a difference this year. Michael Wacha has put his shoulder problems behind him, and has a 8-2 record with a 2.45 ERA. Carlos Martinez has really stepped up his game, pitching deeper into games and starting to realize his potential. Martinez has nasty stuff, and has been really dominant as of late. Martinez is 4-0 with a 0.80 ERA in his last five starts.

The team's bullpen has dominated opponents this year. The one-two combination of Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal has been lights out this year. Rosenthal leads the NL with 21 saves, and has only blown one save all year. Both pitchers have been much improved this season. Rosenthal was inconsistent in 2014, and Siegrist had an injury plagued year. With Walden coming back soon, this bullpen is more stacked. Matt Belisle and Carlos Villanueva have been good low cost pickups similiar to Pat Neshek last year.

Pitching has been the main reason why this team has been so successful this season. The Cardinals lead the majors with a 2.65 ERA, which 1.19 runs less than league average. This has happened even with Wainwright limited to four starts, and trading away Shelby Miller. Miller is having an All Star quality season in Atlanta this year. Yadier Molina has worked well with a young staff this season.

The Cardinals offense has improved from last year. They hit better in key situations than last year, and are getting more production from their bench. This isn't an offensive juggernaut, but it is a solid lineup when everyone's healthy. It's still not a team full of home run hitters, but they do lead the National League in doubles. The Redbirds are quicker and more aggressive on the basepaths than they were last season.

The move of Kolten Wong to the leadoff spot and Matt Carpenter to the 2 hole has lit a spark on this team when they change was made early this season. The team had tried Jason Heyward and Jon Jay towards the top of the lineup, but they got off to slow starts. Heyward has shown flashes of his potential, especially on defense, but hasn't been consistent at the plate this year. Jay has split time with Peter Bourjos, who has hit better than he did last season.

With the injury to Holliday, Jhonny Peralta has become more important to the Cardinals. He is the team's biggest power threat, and is hitting .316 this year. He is also been a good fielding shortstop for the Cardinals. After setting the club's single season home run record for a shortstop, Peralta is in line for the All Star game start at shortstop.

Two hitters that have been key for the Cardinals this year are Mark Reynolds and Randal Grichuk. Reynolds was penciled in as a bench bat that would back up at first and third. He has done more than that, even playing some left field. Reynolds has took over first base since Adams injury, and has raised his average and OBP this season. Grichuk has been a power bat off the bench, but has been getting regular playing time in Holliday's absence. Grichuk can use some work on plate discipline, but has played well this season.

This has been a challenging season before it even started, going back to the untimely death of Oscar Taveras last October. With all of the injuries and adversity, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals coaching staff have done a terrific job guiding this ballclub. This team has fought back and came from behind on quite a few occasions this year. They have put away teams in the late innings. It's still possible the organization will need to make a trade to fill a need, but the organizations depth has filled those holes to this point.