MLB Overreaction for each Division

NL East: Braves are not going to compete for the division.

Atlanta got swept over the weekend by the new look Philadelphia Phillies. The reigning NL East Champs have dealt with some injuries to their rotation to start the season including 2018 All-Star Mike Foltynewciz and Kevin Gausman.  Atlanta was forced to start Bryce Wilson and #2 ranked prospect of 2018 Kyle Wright in 2 of 3 games in Philadelphia. Wright was able to show off some of the skills that made him a top prospect the Braves bats were held in check by Jake Arrietta Sunday night to cap off the series sweep.

The Braves had a tough matchup to start the season versus the revamped Phillies in a city that was already hyped because well its philly.  Atlanta’s offense will carry the load early as they wait for the injury bug to work out.

NL West: Padres will compete for the division.

San Diego was able to take 2 of 3 from the rebuilding San Francisco Giants in San Francisco making us all wonder maybe they are more than just a young team with some promise in the future.  Will Myers and Eric Hosmer went a combined 10 for 26 in the series, both will be heavily looked upon to provide protection for the newly acquired franchise player Manny Machado. 

Pitching was the story for San Diego as Eric Lauer, Joey Luchessi and rookie Chris Paddack combined for a 1.80 ERA in 16.1 combined innings.  If the Padres starting pitching can continue to perform they may have a shot to compete in a top heavy NL West. 

They did face the Giants though so I wouldn’t count on it.

NL Central: Cardinals need to sign Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel

Rabid wolverines..oops I mean Cardinals fans are not happy after a tough 1-3 start to the season. The Cardinals were supposed to have the best rotation in the NL Central but that is not how if worked out against the powerful Brewers lineup.  Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson combined of a 7.84 ERA over their first three starts. No what most thought but remember it is week one.

Now the bullpen.  The dream lineup of Alex Reyes, Andrew Miller and Jordan Hicks were supposed to be the “big three” in the backend of the bullpen.  They combined to blow a 3-run lead on Sunday causing panic in within Cardinals nation. 

Overreacting by signing Keuchel and Kimbrel will backfire for a team that just needs to be patient and allow their young arms to develop in season.

AL East: The Orioles may not lose 100 games.

The Orioles took 2 of 3 from the New York Yankees in New York!  Obviously the Orioles are going to come out of nowhere and compete in the AL East.  Baltimore winning the opening series versus the Yankees is almost quarter of the wins most people expected them to have in 2019.

The Orioles started their season better than most thought.  Sadly they will come down to earth very quickly.

AL West: Mariners are the best in the west.

Anyone notice the Mariners are 5-1 after taking 3 of 4 from the world champion Boston Red Sox?  The Mariners made more moves in the offseason then a 12 year old playing MLB the show for the first time.  Literally moving on from their best starter, reliever and hitter from the 2018 season. Seattle quietly picked up a potential impact bat with Domingo Santana but their hot start isn’t going to last.  Seattle will do what they always do and stay in it enough to let their fans believe that they have a chance and then completely bomb in the end.

Seattle can hit and they will hit but they pitching will not be able to keep up for long.

AL Central: Indians are not going to hit

The returning Carlos Santana went 5 for 10 in the opening series versus the Minnesota Twins. Outside of Santana thought he Indians did not look great at the plate during their first series.  The rest of the Indians had a total of 7 hits the entire series.  The injury to Fransisco  Lindor will hurt the offense but the struggles of Jose Ramirez has fans very worried about the potential of this offense.

Cleveland fans can worry for now but eventually Ramirez will find his way and the supporting cast is there for a reason.  This team will hit, just have to be patient.

Grading NL Central Offseason- Right Now

Pittsburgh Pirates: D

It was a quiet winter in the steel city adding just outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall whom you would think is just competing for a bench spot. The loss of Josh Harrison will hurt from a clubhouse perspective, while Ivan Nova’s movement will hurt from an innings eating perspective.

The Pirates would have a much higher grade if you considered the work they did at the trade deadline.  Having a full year of Chris Archer will make a difference for a team that was a surprising contender for a large part of 2018. Archer adds to their rotation that also features young stars in the making Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, making as solid top three.   The depth of the rotation takes a little plunge after that.

Cincinnati Reds: B+

The Reds got a B+ mainly for unloading the contract of Homer Bailey.  Getting rid of Bailey seemed like only a dream at the beginning of the offseason but they were able to do it while bringing in a potential steal of talent in Yasiel Puig.  While Puig has not lived up to the original hype he still brings some excitement to a Red’s organization that needed to show their fans that they are still trying to win.

The Reds were able to add some nice pieces to their rotation with former Dodger lefty Alex Wood and former Nationals righty Tanner Roark.  Both add depth to a very thin rotation.  These players both come from winning organizations which can only help the young starters during a season the season.

While trades were the main story the resigning of hard throwing closer Raisel Iglesias is an underappreciated move.  The Reds are not going to be frontrunners for the division next season, but their moves have made them no longer a push over.

Chicago Cubs: D-

Not that there was much expectation in the Chicago offseason with a cash strapped team but making virtually no improvements is never going to grade out well.  The Cubs should be getting back the services of last season’s big acquisition Yu Darvish. They will also have a full season of Cole Hamels.  The Cubs are hoping reclamation project Kendall Graverman still has something in the tank.

The rotation will be stronger to start the season. But the bullpen will still be a problem in the back end.  Uncertainty of the injury to Brandon Morrow and thee losses of Justin Wilson and Jesse Chavez leave the Cubs very vulnerable if there are any further injuries. 

Replacing Tommy La Stella with Daniel Descalso is a nice upgrade but other than that not much to say here.

Milwaukee Brewers: C+

We you have a team with very few holes you would think they would look to fill those holes.  Added another starter was a sensible move for the defending division champs.  Instead the added to the opposite end by adding the best catcher on the market Yasmani Grandal.  An already potent lineup made themselves even more dangerous.  Grandal whose offense has always been the story of his career, but his defense has been an underrated aspect of his career for a long time.  Grandal ranked first in the league pitch framing ahead of defensive juggernauts Yadier Molina and Jeff Mathis

The Brewers chose to nontender their two lefties opening up a spot for former Rangers closer Alex Claudio.  Claudio will have to pick up the slack of a few different lost relievers. He’s held opposing lefties to a .194/.220/.278 line in 315 total plate appearances over his five-year career, thanks in part to a deceptive delivery.

The Brewers getting a C+ is based off of their previous work.  The 2018 offseason and trade deadline were clearly an A+.  I would have liked to see the Brewers bring back a second baseman that is more proven rather than have Cory Spangenberg play hold over for top prospect Keston Huira. 

Bonus points for trading away Domingo Santana, he deserved a shot to play every day.

St. Louis Cardinals- A-

The Cardinals needed a corner infield and a reliver.  They added the best first baseman in the majors for a group of players that were not going to be a part of their plans in the 2019 season. Luke Weaver had fallen out of favor, Carson Kelly was quietly becoming too old to be a prospect and I couldn’t remember the other guy’s name, but he was a 26-year old infielder. 


The Cardinals didn’t stop at Goldschmidt adding long time reliver Andrew Miller to the fold, while he is not considered a closer he gives the Cardinals a lot of options at the backend.

St. Louis gets an A- because they still have a need for a bonifide closer and there is a gap in right field.  Still the Cardinal had a very successful winter.

DFS Picks Day Slate

I Talk Sports DFS Lineup (Day Slate) September 12 2018-

P: Carlos Carrasco, Ross Stripling

C: Martin Maldonado, Astros

1B: Edwin Encarnacion, Indians

2B: Brian Dozier, Dodgers

3B: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

SS: Alex Bregman, Astros

OF: Corey Dickerson, Pirates

OF: Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals

OF: Joc Pederson, Dodgers

Looking at the day slate you have multiple options at pitcher.  Carrasco has the best matchup at a more affordable price.  The Rays can be a tricky to understand at times but they strike out a lot.  Gerrit Cole is an obvious choice vs the Tigers but his cost will leave you will little to know room to stack some potentials stud hitters. Save yourself almost 2K  for some hitters.

For potential lineup stacks the obvious choice is the Astros going against Daniel Norris. The Astros middle of the order can feast of of Norris.  Alex Bregman and red hot Tyler White are potential bats that can bring you some power.  White was a little to pricey so I decided to go with the upside of a cheap Edwin Encarnacion.  I also like the Dodgers in a . must win spot against the pesky Reds and Anthony Desclafani.  Brian Dozier and Joc Pederson were affordable options that have homerun potential in Great American SmallPark.

Matt Carpenter the best at the top.

Matt Carpenter has entered himself into the National League MVP race over the last two months of the 2018 season after many wrote him off, including yours truly.   I went so far as to write an article about the Cardinals moving Tommy Pham into the leadoff position was what was best for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Just like Carpenter and his salsa I am ready to eat my words.  Carpenter has found himself in this situation while being primarily in the lead off role. His potential MVP status has opened my eyes to the evolution of the lead off hitter as a force in MLB lineups.

Traditionalist have a predetermined idea that a leadoff hitter should be someone with speed. A player that can turn a single into a double or even triple by being on the move. But today’s MLB doesn’t work that way anymore.  Baseball is a game of statistics as well as ever changing dynamics.  Players like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon can change the game with their speed, but they are the leadoff hitters of the past.   The new form of leadoff hitters are players that force a pitcher to be on their game right away or be down by one run.

Today’s leadoff hitters focus more about getting on base and provide much more power.  Look at the impact that George Springer had for the World Champion Astros during their great 2017 run in the playoffs.  Springer was able to jump on get me over fastballs to start the game and put an immediate run on the board.  Lead off hitters now rely on patience and launch angles to beat up on the opposition rather than using their speed.

Look at a list of impactful leadoff men in today’s game and see that there is a new trend in the game.  Joining George Springer are star caliber players like Charlie Blackmon, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Dickerson, and even Bryce Harper have spent time in the leadoff spot for their respective teams.  Managers are beginning to understand that their best hitters will not only be getting more at bats but they will also be in a position to see a few get me over fastballs that can be deposited in the seats.  Instead of pitchers trying to pitch around these players they are forced to pitch to them at least once rather than start a game with a runner on base.

Matt Carpenter is currently leading the National League in homeruns. While a large portion of those homeruns are solo shots he is still making an impact from the lead off position.  What is overlooked is that he has the protection of the middle of the order forcing pitchers to throw to him.  The worst thing a pitcher can do is to put a man on in front of the middle of the order.  Carpenter has to see strikes, he has to be challenged and he more you challenge him the better he has been.  This is the new idea of lead off hitters.  In a way its like a slow pitch softball approach, why not get your best player as many at bats as you possibly can?

3 Things Cardinals need while Pena starts

When Yadier Molina went on the disabled list after his unfortunate incident with Kris Bryant and a 101 MPH fastball the time had come for the world to see what prize prospect Carson Kelly was going to bring to the table. For the Memphis Redbirds, the 23-year-old Kelly was slashing .234/.337/.364 with four doubles, two home runs, and 11 RBIs in 21 games. Kelly is the team’s top catching prospect and is rated third overall by MLB.com behind right-handed hurlers Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty. Kelly’s familiarity with the young pitching staff was thought to be an easy transition. As the Cardinals enter June they have yet again seen another set back at the catching position. Kelly has been placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury which has forced the Cardinals to rely on the next man up, Francisco Pena.

Son of former Major League All-Star Tony Pena, Francisco will now be called upon to take over the role as primary catcher until Molina is able to return.  Pena was signed from the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason to serve as backup, allowing Carson Kelly to continue to get consistent at bats in the minors. He will now be asked to keep the Cardinals afloat for the next three weeks (hopefully).  The Cardinals currently sit one game out of the NL Central.  Even with the injuries they should still be looking to contend if they can do these three things.

1.) Young arms must prove they are ready at the Major League Level

The Cardinals rank #4 in team pitching ERA despite the loss of veteran Adam Wainwright and ace Carlos Martinez. Miles Mikolas has been everything the Cardinals could have asked for from a preseason #4 starter leading the team in wins (5), innings (51.1) and first among starters in WHIP (1.05). Adam Wainwright has been moved to the 60-day DL which means that Jack Flaherty will finally be a member of the rotation without the worry of one bad inning means he is headed back to Memphis. Flaherty has shown that he has major league stuff after his first two stars. It will be up to the the youth to guide them through the first half of the season. The youngster will have to trust Pena.

2.) Defensive consistency behind the plate

Pena has been used primarily as defense-first organization depth for more than a decade, with the Mets, Royals and Orioles. He is not fleet of foot and has struggled to hit consistently over 11 Minor League seasons. But he brings a strong arm, good receiving skills and fundamentals in spades. The Cards tracked several of Pena’s throws to second this spring in the 1.80-second range, which is considered an elite pop time.

Replacing a multi time gold glover behind the plate is nearly impossible but Pena will give the Cardinals a serviceable replacement for the time being.

3.) Struggling bats will have to step up

Yadier Molina’s offensive output has been great during the 2018 season.  His 6 HR 17 RBI’s have helped pick up the slack of struggling mainstays in the lineup.  Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler have to pick up their production. They are the veterans of this team that have the track records.  Harrison Bader and Jose Martinez have been great for the Cardinals but it is time for the guys that were projected to be at the top of the order to play to their potential.  If they don’t Matheny cannot wait for them to come around.  Tyler O’Neal is ready to come up and make an impact.  If the Cardinals are relying on Francisco Pena to help the offense they are going to have a tough couple of weeks ahead of them.

The Cardinals made the right decision leaving prospect Andrew Knizner in the minors.  They must allow him to continue to develop his defensive skills.  If they did bring him up and it didn’t go well you can burn what could be a future asset to the club.  Going with Pena is the only option for the Cardinals, it is up to the rest of the team to get them through these weeks with out their leader.

Pham leading off makes sense

The St. Louis Cardinals lineup debate has been centered around the struggles of Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler. Both players have spent time in the leadoff spot for the majority of their careers, because of this the casual fan has this predetermination that they have to be at the top of the lineup to be effective.  That isn’t what makes sense right now in the Cardinals lineup.  During the two game series with the Chicago White Sox, Mike Matheny decided to put Tommy Pham in the leadoff spot.  While the offense didn’t explode, it could be the move that ends up making the Cardinals better offensively the rest of the 2018 season.

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler in December, 2016, they were wanting a player with speed who could get on base at the top of the lineup.  This would allow the Cardinals to shift Matt Carpenter to a more RBI-producing role in the middle of lineup that they believed he was better suited for.  The Cardinals abandoned that approach early in 2017 more out of necessity than anything else.  Opening the 2018 campaign, Matheny decided that it was time to put Fowler back in that role in order to accommodate his new toy Marcell Ozuna in the number four spot in the order.  It did not hurt that the top four in the lineup would now feature switch hitter, right handed hitter, left handed hitter and right handed hitter 1-4 in the lineup.  The traditionalist that Mike Matheny is assumed this would cause problems for opposing managers late in games. Matheny’s plan made sense to start the season but with the struggles of Fowler much like 2017, Matheny has been forced to make a change to his lineup once again.

Matt Carpenter was not the leadoff batter for the Cardinals last season until June 7. Once June 7 hit, so did Carpenter. His xwOBA (Execpted Weighted On-base Average)was a solid .368 and his wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) was 20 points higher at .388, indicating Carpenter’s results might have been a bit lucky. In 2018, Carpenter has seen his luck change a bit even though most advanced statistics have stayed the same and some have improved according to baseballsavant.com. It took Carpenter awhile to find his groove in 2017, I look for him to turn it around as the season goes on.  If he continues to barrel the ball at at 17% rate he will eventually find the holes in the defense.  So the question is why not put Carpenter in the lead off spot?

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 3.39.59 PM.pngScreen Shot 2018-05-03 at 3.39.41 PM.png

The answer is no, with Matt Carpenter in the two hole Tommy Pham can feel free to take off whenever he sees an advantage.  Carpenter famously likes to take pitches,  at times seems to prefer to hit with a few strikes on him.  Carpenter’s patience can be a virtue.  The more he takes the better read Pham can get on a pitcher which will allow him to utilize his speed.   With Pham on the move, it can move the defense out of their lefty shift opening up more hitting lanes for Carpenter.  The argument for Carpenter continues to be that he only hits while in the leadoff spot.  His stats do prove the historically he is a better hitter in that spot. Is is just that he can’t hit anywhere else or is it that he has never been given a chance to prove himself anywhere else for long enough?

The movement of Tommy Pham into the lead off spot will allow the Cardinals to put their most productive hitter in a position to get more at bats.  Pham’s .330 BA, .447 OBP both lead the club.  Pham will also be able to move on the base paths more freely while hitting in the lead off spot.  Matheny has to find a way to spark the offense. Tommy Pham is the spark that can light the offensive fire.  He can bring immediate energy to the team similar to the way he lead off the first game of the White Sox series.  Mike has to continue to let this play out.  Carpenter will adjust and Fowler will benefit from the move.  Fowler will be able to let his swing loose and utilize his power from both sides of the plate.  A free swinging Fowler at this point in his career is his best option.  Tommy Pham leading off makes sense for him and for the team as a whole.

 

 

 

Cardinals/ White Sox Preview

The Cardinals look to rebound from a frustrating weekend as they head to Chicago to take on the young White Sox. The Cardinals find themselves in a situation where they need to come out and create their own momentum heading into their first matchup with the Chicago Cubs at home.  They have the perfect team to help them forget about their trouble in Pittsburgh.

St. Louis will have the difficult task not looking ahead.  Talk in St. Louis will be about the anticipation of the second round of the Cards/Cubs showdown. The Cardinals have to stay focused on the task at hand, taking care of business against a team they should beat.  The Chicago White Sox enter this two game series with a record of 8-18.  Five of those eight victories were against the the lowly Kansas City Royals.  The Cardinals need to take advantage of a White Sox team that is currently having a season long tryout camp to find out who they will be building their organization around for the coming years.

The White Sox are currently in tank mode, cutting bait with essentially all veteran personal.  The salary cuts and trading of assets has paid off for the White Sox. MLB Pipeline and Baseball America each released their latest organizational rankings  anointing the White Sox as the top system among baseball’s 30 teams. The White Sox also received the No. 2 farm system ranking from Baseball America behind the Atlanta Braves. While the White Sox wait for super prospects Eloys Jimenez, Luis Robert and Dylan Case, they currently sport some of previous years top prospects on their roster.  Yoan Moncada, Nicky Delmonico, Yolmer Sanchez and Matt Davidson have been put into the starting lineup on a day to day basis in order to find out what the team has for the future.

The White Sox will send one of their last veterans to the mound, James Shields will take the hill in game one of the series.  Shields has been a punching bag for opposing lineups in all for most of the year up until his most recent start.  Shields will look to build on a solid outing on Wednesday against the Mariners. He worked six innings and allowed six hits and four runs, but he wound up taking a 4-3 loss.  The loss dropped Shields record to 1-3 with an ERA of 6.14.  Opposing Shields in game one of the series will be Micheal Wacha. Wacha conquered some lingering command issues in his last start vs. the Mets, when he struck out eight against one walk. He’s won four straight starts. The victory for Wacha brought his record to 4-1 3.62 ERA.

In game two of the series the White Sox will send one time Nationals prospect Lucas Giolito to the mound against Cardinal ace Carlos Martinez.  Giolito, the prize of the Adam Eaton deal last winter, has yet to establish himself as a major league starter holds a 1-3 record with a 7.71 ERA.  Giolito has limited opponents to a .240 batting average, but he leads the team with 21 walks. The 26-year-old Martinez got tagged on Opening Day but has been sensational since, yielding two earned runs over 33 1/3 innings while striking out 35. After walking 17 in his first five starts, Martinez didn’t give up a free pass in his last outing.

The White Sox enter this series with a team ERA of 5.08 which sits third in the American League and fourth overall.  The southersiders have had an issue holding down their home field advantage during the 2018 season holding a record of 2-10 at Guaranteed Rate Field.  The Cardinals need to walk in angry after suffering a sweep at the hands of division rival Pittsburgh over the weekend.  They will have a chance to feast on two pitchers that have continually struggled the first month of the season.  Having the advantage at pitcher in both games of the series should set them up to be successful.  Allowing for the DH to come into play should also help the Cardinals as double switch machine Mike Matheny’s questionable decisions should be taken out of his hands going into this series.

No team can ever be overlooked in the Major Leagues but heading into this matchup I would like to see the Cardinals come out and continue to dominate lesser competition.  I expect the Cardinals to win game one 7-4  and the second game 3-1 after a strong performance from Carlos Martinez.  The Cardinals need momentum heading into the Cubs series, they also need to have a rested bullpen.   If they can get a strong performance from Martinez in the second game of the series, accompanied by an extra day of rest the Cardinals could be set up for a great weekend against the Cubbies.

 

NL Central Infield Rankings

Spring training has begun, before you know it the 2018 season will be upon us.  Last week we took a look at the NL Central’s top outfields, the St. Louis Cardinals coming out on top of our rankings, now lets dip into the infields.

5.Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 WAR: 6.6

Projected infield: Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Colin Moran

Potential Starter: David Freese

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of a rebuild. Players like Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will claim roles on this infield most likely until the trade deadline hits.  Two players that can play multiple positions have become a hot commodity in the MLB.

The emergence of Josh Bell at first base has given this infield a bright spot for the future. Bell’s season went under the radar to most baseball fans, clubbing 26 Homers while driving in 90RBI’s solidified his place in the middle of the Pirates order for many years come.  Bell very well could be the new face of this franchise, fans love the long ball and Bell will hit a lot of the them.

Mercer, Harrison and now Bell have become proven MLB players.  The biggest question facing the potential of this infield will be at third base.  Jung Ho Kang was set to be the 3rd baseman of this team for many years, until a drunk driving incident in his native Korea caused a loss of his work visa.  This unfortunate event opened up the chance for veteran and former World Series hero David Freese to assume the starting job. Freese put up solid numbers last season, but ultimately the Pirates are hoping Colin Moran, acquired in the Gerrit Cole deal, will take over the starting spot. Moran, 25, will have a chance to be the starter right away.  Projections show that he has the power of a major league player, but can he consistently hit.  The main reason the Pirates rank last in our projections is that we don’t think 2/4 of this group will even be on the team by the end of the season.

There is some young talent here but overall it’s not great.

4. Milwaukee Brewers 2017 WAR: 7.8

Projected infield: Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Oswaldo Arcia, Johnathon Villar

Potential Starter: Hernan Perez

The Milwaukee Brewers have a stacked outfield, but the infield has question marks.  Third Baseman Travis Shaw and potential second baseman Hernan Perez had career years in 2017.  Shaw’s power is for real, but he his lefty’s at a much more solid clip then he has in previous seasons.  If Shaw can keep those splits where they are we could see a future star in the making.  Perez on the other hand seemed to come out of nowhere for the Brew Crew in 2017.  His 14 homers and 13 steals were a nice boost to the team in spots starts.  He has to work on pitch selection though as his .289OBP is not something you want to see from a starter.  My guess is he keeps his role as spot starter in 2018, leaving the door open for former hight level prospect Jonathan Villar.

Villar entered 2017 with some high expectations, moving over to 2nd base was going to help him with his defensive issue and allow him to focus on getting on base.  The 2016 stolen base champ with a measly .293OBP, losing at bats the previously mentioned Perez as well as career backup Eric Sogard.  Villar still stole 24 bases in 2017, that part of his game is going anywhere.  But with uncertainty at the plate, expectations can’t and won’t be to high in 2018.

The final pieces of the puzzle, Korea’s Godzilla Eric Thames and Oswaldo Arcia round out an high upside infield core.  Thames proved to be worth the money handed out by the Brewers, bashing 31 homers in 2017, backing it up with a respectable .359OBP, Thames will most likely platoon for the Brewers in 2018, unless he figures out how to hit lefties, still not a bad option at first base.  Finally rookie Oswaldo Arcia impressed in his first full season.  Arcia, could very well be the best shortstop in the MLB one day, we don’t believe that will be in 2018 but very shortly we could see a version of Francisco Lindor on the National League side.

The Brewers have a lot of potential in the infield but with multiple platoon situations coming and the uncertainty of the 2nd base position, we can’t put them higher then 4th.

3. St. Louis Cardinals 2017 WAR: 10.5

Projected Infield: Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyroko

Potential Starter: Jose Martinez

The St. Louis Cardinals made efforts this offseason to improve their offense.  Reports of potential deals for Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado were being reported nearly everyday of the offseason.  But by the time spring training began the only real additions to the infield were prospects, Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock.  While Munoz has been a bright spot early in spring training the infield lineup seems pretty set.

Paul DeJong emerged from out of the shadows of the Cardinals prospect system taking over previous years rookie phenom Aledmys Diaz’s starting spot.  DeJong, has power and a solid glove, but his pitch selection is similar to Diaz’s, he will have to work on the strikeouts to finalize his potential.  While Dejong has the tools to be a star, his double play teammate Kolten Wong has slowly developed into a productive player with star potential.  Wong, is coming off a steady 2017 season, nothing flashy about his numbers, .285BA to go along with .375OBP are both hug improvements for Wong.  Both of these players should see a huge growth on the defensive end as well.  The Cardinals have brought back 3rd base coach and “secret weapon” Jose Oquendo.  Oquendo is well known for his ability to coach up players are the defensive end.

While the middle infield of the Cards is showing potential the real backbone of the organization is on the corners.  Veterans Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyroko both have there strengths and their flaws.  Gyroko, has found a home at 3rd base, ranking in the top 3 in defensive runs saved, with the addition of Marcell Ozuna, Gyroko will also have less pressure in the lineup, moving down to a role that suits his attributes much better. Matt Carpenter is one of the best lead-off men in baseball, that’s really his only good attribute.

The Cardinals are good on the infield, but they are much better in the outfield.  Third is a fair assessment.

2. Cincinnati Reds 2017 WAR: 13.3

Projected Starters: Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza

The Cincinnati Reds were a surprising second in total war for Central infielders in 2017 and this total was added up without All-Star Zack Cozart who left for California in the offseason.  The Reds have built a very strong in field heading into the 2018 season.  Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez are perfect fits for the hitter friendly confines of Great American Ballpark. Both supplied power in 2017 and there is no reason to expect anything less in 2018.

The question is can Peraza filled the void of Zack Cozart.  Cozart not only brought production at the plate but he also brought it with the glove.  Peraza has been a utility player for most of his career, establishing a position for him in 2018 could be the push he needs to make him a consistent major leaguer.  With the long time troubles of Billy Hamilton to get on base, Peraza could be thrust into the leadoff role in 2018, while his OBP doesn’t make him the clear canidate, his speed and 30 point higher BA gifts has to make him the frontrunner over Hamilton.

Finally we have Joey Votto, arguably the best first baseman in baseball.  Votto has every offensive tool. He alone, propels this group to the near top of the list.  Such a shame he seems to be wasting away in Cincinnati, hopefully they begin the track back to the top.  A player of this ability needs to have a chance at a World Series

1. Chicago Cubs 2017 WAR: 14.4

Projected Starters: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Addison Russell

Potential Starter: Ben Zobrist

The Cubs are the most talented defensive and offensive infield potentially in the league.  Their ability to plug in a plus defender at any position is second to none.  The Cubs may plan to use Ben Zobrist or Javy Baez and super utility men in 2018, rotating them as they see fit.  The argument can be made that both players would be plus starters at multiple positions.  We are going to assume they go with Baez at second base and Russell at short.  Both players have limitation at the plate, but the upside far out weighs those limitations.

Russell and Baez make the best defensive middle infield in baseball, Baez took major steps on the offensive end in 2017, his 23 homers along with a .273BA showed a glimpse of his offensive potential.  Baez’s continued emergencs along with a healthy Addison Russell could make the Cubs infield incomparable.

Rizzo and Bryant are MVP contenders every year.  This team’s questions are on in the infield.  The Cubs are the best in the Central, maybe the league.

 

 

NL Central Outfield Rankings

The NL Central has been one of the most continuously active divisions in an offseason that has been mostly dull.  As we begin spring training we have to decide which teams stand out from the rest in each category.  We are going to begin with the outfield, additions and subtractions have set a few teams apart from the others.  Let’s get to ranking!

5. Cincinnati Reds, 2017 combined WAR: 5

Projected Starters: Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton

Fourth Outfielder: Jesse Winker

The Cincinnati Reds currently sit last in our rankings due mainly to the fact that they are unsure of the future os speedster Billy Hamilton. Jesse Winker proved that he is ready for the big leagues but with Hamilton still in the fold manager Bryan Price may be forced into a platoon situation.

Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler combined for 61 homeruns in 2017, both however showed that they can be boom or bust a large percentage of the time.  Schebler and Duvall both hit just above .230BA and hovered around .301 OBP.  While they have been tasked with driving in runs the lack of production from speedster Billy Hamilton left them with few options to drive in.

The Reds have a solid future to grow on in the outfield but right now it is full of unproven potential.  Great American Ballpark will help them provide the power but outside of that and Duvall/ Hamilton’s solid defense, there is much to like about this outfield core.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates, 2017 Combined WAR: 3.3

Projected Starters: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Adam Frazier

Fourth Outfielder: Jordan Luplow or Daniel Nava?

It wasn’t long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates sat on top of this list.  Andrew McCutchen claimed that they the best young outfield in the game.  Now he sits in a San Francisco dugout wondering what could have been.

The Pirates still have two potentially dynamic players in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but with Polanco’s injury history and lack of true star production you have to question whether his ability will ever match expectations.  Polanco still has never hit above .258 in three full major league seasons.   Marte entered 2017 as the potential breakout star of baseball senior circuit, a gold glover with the ability to one day be a 30/30 man in the majors with a strong .350OBP.  Sadly a early season steroid suspension put a hole in a season that looked to have big time promise.  Marte has now taken on the role of team leader and star as he shifts to centerfield for 2018, can he pick up for the lose of McCutchen not only on the field but also the locker room?

The Pirates also have to determine whether Adam Frazier, infielder by trade, is the answer in left field.  Frazier provides stability but pretty much no power for a team that will be looking to replace 28HR from its lineup.  The Pirates just added veteran Daniel Nava to it’s roster to compete for the position but, let’s be honest, Daniel Nava is what he is and that is not a consistent MLB starter.

Rookie Austin Meadows is still developing, but as of right now, the Pirates have to options in the outfield and the rest is a coin flip.  Marte and Polanco’s ability though allows them to stay ahead of the Reds for last place.

 

3. Chicago Cubs, 2017 Combined WAR: 5.4

Projected Starters: Jason Heyward, Albert Amora, Kyle Schwarber

Fourth Outfielder: Ian Happ

The Chicago Cubs have a lot of potential players that could spend a lot of time patrolling the outfield in the friendly confines.  But I see Ben Zobrist as more of an infield option at second base.  That leaves us with a few question marks with serious potential.

While I am sure the Cubs regret the amount of money spent on Jason Heward, they will never admit it because you still get the best defensive outfielder in baseball.  While Heyward has been great defensively his offensive output has been subpar over the last two seasons and there is no reason to think it will improve.

Luckily for the Cubbies Albert Amora showed flashes of brilliance in 2017, defensively he has the talent to play center and he bat has begun to show signs of life, his .338OBP and .298BA lead all cubs outfielders in 2017, with another year of experience under his belt he can only improve.

Kyle Schwarber will be the greatest mystery of the bunch.  While Schwarber supplies the power that fans and GM’s drool over, he has not developed as a complete hitter.  Being sent down last season seemed to do him some good but the Cubs need an improvement from the .211BA.  Schwarber’s limitations defensively will force Joe Maddon to sit him in big situations of games as well as limit his overall usage.  Reports say that Schwarber has come into spring training in great shape, but does that really magically turn him into a viable outfielder?

Ian Happ is good, if the Cubs can find AB’s for him he will hit 30 homers, but who do they sit to make room?

2. Milwaukee Brewers, 2017 Combined WAR: 13.7

Projected Starters: Chritian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun

Fourth Outfielder: Domingo Santana

It’s hard to argue with the depth of the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers.  The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain vaulted them right into the stratosphere of athletic/dynamic outfields.Yelich and Cain immediately provide upgrades in the lineup as well as defensively.  The Biggest question about this new look outfield is who is what Ryan Braun is going to show up in 2018

Braun featured career lows in every statistical category in 2017 outside of his injury riddled 2013 season.  Braun will have less pressure as the big names come into the fold but for the Brewers to overcome the arch rival Cubs they will need some form of the former MVP.

Another question that comes is what to do with Domingo Santana. Santana smashed 30 dingers for the Brew Crew in 2017 and now he has to relegated to a bench role.  Finding holes in the Brewers outfield depth was tough but, Cain has only played two full seasons in the majors without any injury issues and Braun seems to be a shell of his former self.  They are dynamic and talented but there are a lot of questions that still have no answers.

1. St. Louis Cardinals, 2017 Combined WAR: 14.3

Projected Starters: Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna

Fourth Outfielder: Jose Martinez

The Cardinals entered the 2017 offseason with a goal to add a power bat.  They were successful and now Marcell Ozuna will play in the most talented outfield in the NL Central.

The biggest question about the Cardinals outfield is whether or not Tommy Pham’s monster season was a fluke or not.  The fact is that Tommy Pham has his on every level in professional baseball.  If not for his injury history then he would have been in the majors a long time ago.

Now you may ask, What if he does get hurt again?  The Cardinals feature a stable of young talented outfielders ready to step in on a moments notice.  Guys like Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader have come to the majors and made an impact.

The pickup of Ozuna gave the Cardinals the flexibility in the lineup and defensively, what gets lost in Ozuna’s gaudy power numbers is his defensive ability.  The pickup of Ozuna allowed the Cardinals to move Pham to center and Fowler to right.  Each of these players made MLB’s top 10 outfielders by position and they are set to dominate the league.  The Cardinals have their flaws but the outfield is not one of them.

 

 

NL Central Chess Game- Yu Darvish

The NL Central has seen the most activity as a league during the 2018 off-season, Yu Darvish was just the latest move in a three way chess match for dominance.

The final memory of the 2017 MLB season was forgettable for Yu Darvish.  Two starts in the fall classic ended with Darvish setting new career lows in innings pitched per start. But the Chicago Cubs remembered Darvish a little differently, 6.1 innings pitched allowing 1 run while striking out 7.  Darvish helped end the cubbies season, now he looks to be the final piece for a potential championship.

Saturday, the Cubs inked the All-Star starter to a 6year $126million contract, taking the number 1 rated free agent pitcher off the market.  The Cubs effectively addressed their biggest concern leading into the 2018 season.  After several down seasons the Cubs utilized draft picks to build a strong core of position players which allowed them to make the moves necessary to fill a pitching staff with hired guns.  The Cubs rank dead last in innings pitched by “home grown” talent since 2012. Darvish will take the spot of departing free agent Jake Arrieta, presumably finalizing the 2018 rotation.  Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and fellow newcomer Tyler Chatwood,  forming the most complete rotation in the top heavy NL Central.

While the Cubs had an available spot in the rotation, this can be looked at as a reaction to the moves made by fellow NL Centrals rivals.  The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers made moves to bolster their offenses to catch up with the powerhouse NL Central Champs.  The Cubs made the best counter move they could by bringing in Darvish.  Questions still loom around the Cubs bullpen, can they replace All-World closer Wade Davis with Brandon Morrow or Steve Cishek?  They also have to question the ability of long time ace Jon Lester, whom saw a nearly one run per game increase in ERA in 2017.  Darvish will provide stability to the rotation, playing his first five season in the bigs in hitter friendly Ballpark in Arlington, Darvish should have no fear of fellow hitter friendly Wrigley Field.

The Cubs inability to build pitching has been the lone criticism of a team that has now made three straight playoff appearances as well as two straight NLCS appearance.  But while the Cardinals and Brewers have to wait for young arms to develop, they Cubbies have been able to build a strong rotation that comes in immediately MLB ready.  The length of the contact will also give GM Theo Epstein a chance to continue to build.  If Lester is on his last leg and Kyle Hendricks comes back to the real world, Darvish will be able to fill in as the ace of a staff that will be competing for many years behind the great position player core.

While $126million sounds like a big number, in todays pitcher market Darvish comes in at a bargain price.  The Cardinals and Brewers have just been put on notice.  The Cubs have a grasp on the Central that they will not give up.  With great free agents still on the market it is the Cardinals and Brewers move.